April 30, 2003

Brains Are A Cheap Commodity

Just the other day, I heard this excerpt from the film 'Good Will Hunting':

You're a first year grad student. You just got finished
reading some Marxian historian -- Pete Garrison,
probably -- you gunna' be convinced of that till next
month when you get to James Lemon, then you're
gunna' be talkin' about how the economies of Virginia
and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist
way back in 1740. That's gunna' last until next year,
you're gunna' be in here regurgitatin' Gordon Wood.
Talkin' about, you know, the pre-Revolutionary Utopia
and the capital forming effects of military mobilization.

CLARK
Well, as a matter of fact I won't because Wood
drastically underestimates the impact of social di--

WILL
Wood drastically...Wood drastically underestimates the
impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth,
especially inherited wealth. You got that from Vickers.
Work in Essex County, page 98, right? Yeah, I read
that, too. You gunna' plagiarize the whole thing for us?
Do you have any thoughts that...of your own on this
matter? Or do you-- is that your thing? You come into a
bar, you read some obscure passage, and then pretend
you, you..pawn it off as your own..as your own idea just
to impress some girls..? Embarrass my friend? See, the
sad thing about a guy like you is in fifty years you're
gunna start doing some thinkin' on your own, and
you're gunna' come up with the fact that there are two
certainties in life: one, don't do that, and, two, you
dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin'
education you coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late
charges at the public library.


What immediately popped into my head is how glad I will be when someone finally writes a program to perform exactly that conversation. Instead of fifty dollars in late charges at the public library, it will be a 99 cent download from ackster.com.

I have been writing online for at least a decade, I guess. It was at least that long ago when I asked Cornel West to put up a website for the third time. It was about that long ago when I stood up at an academic conference at MIT and suggested that some people put transcripts up on the net if they really cared that their message got out. It was certainly that long ago when I was dismissed by a bagman from Harvard University Press when I suggested that some of Ella Bell's research on women in the workplace be shared publically online. Not being part of the liberal arts clique, I had no idea how cheeky I must have sounded.

I must admit that I am a sucker for academic discipline. I never had much. I was only smart, curious, perceptive and articulate. It's about all I've ever claimed to be and I often don't believe it when people I think are awfully clever say nice things about what I write. I'm an outsider to the land of the degreed, I fell off the train at an early age. Still it bucks me up to hear dissent, although I try not to go overboard on Zinn & Chomsky.

One of the few things I remember learning that still makes a lot of sense to me was Cornel's categorization of the organic intellectual. That and Paulo Friere's pedagogy were the first inkling I got that I was not simply a piker who thought he was smarter than he actually was, but that perhaps my originality was something of value. I only had the smallest clue when I read some quote, I think by Voltaire, about the sciences confirming the humanities and vice-versa. Sure I knew about computer programming, but what did I know about life, and writing essays, and understanding whatever it is that liberal artists understand? It wasn't until my thirties that I finally got over my elbow patch envy. Before that, all I could say was that yes, I did read and enjoy John Updike.

None of that alters the fact that I could save myself and others a great deal of time by knowing when and when not to quote Weber (or Pete Garrison or James Lemon). Others may have the academic equivalent of a relief map and a GPS nevertheless, I still feel the thrill of getting to good sized ideas by dead reckoning. And so I have used the augmentation of the computer mediated communications to good effect, happily linking here and there and using its socratic interactivity to slake my thirst.

Sooner or later this may be all there is to much of academic research. It will all be there in some academic blogosphere. Instead of a million monkeys, there will be a million scholars worldwide who will finally rest, having made it all plain as day for anyone who would bother querying the interface. And so the future of reality television may be assured after all. We'll require an age of kicking up dust in realtime, a rebirth of poofy sleeves, skin tight britches and swordplay. Once the Interpretation Algorithm begins cranking out Strunk-perfect conjectures on all soft thought we can go out and play.

Today, writers write to get paid, and they speak, or so it seems to an outsider, ever mindful of what others steeped in the same fluids might absorb. There is a good deal of contempt in all that which I have taken personally over the years in my attempts to insinuate myself into various conversations. It reminds me of a comment I recall vividly from a dreadhead assistant professor holding court in the corner of some Fort Greene model's brownstone party. He was talking about how arrogant whitefolks would take issue with him on some topic or another. He would then drop the bomb that he was a he was a university professor at a top ranked school and that these same whitefolks would save money their entire lives so that their kids could sit in his class. For what? So they could say the man in dreads is just acting black. OK so that's tangential, but what if it's not?

What if the answers are all there and what we really like to do is fuss about them just because we're not ready to shutup and listen? Or perhaps nobody has the time and energy to organize the answers better, and their minds are cluttered with ultimately insignificant nuances. The more words published, the lower their value, especially if they're all mostly right. I'm not suggesting that an Interpretation Engine replace college professors, but that like chess computers, it gives them an opportunity to admit that they're in it for the fun of the exchange and banter - that any idiot script kiddie could know the difference between Lemon and Garrison; that most academic publication is like Obfuscated Perl Contests.

As it turns out, MIT is revolutionizing education by giving it away. This is the fissure that may crack much of academia wide open. More power to them.

Posted by mbowen at 11:44 PM | TrackBack

Drawdown

The war is over, bloggers sit with their mouths open. There's nothing in the world to write about and the blogosphere is flush with apologies, notices of hiatus and big chunks of calendars without little blue lines. The high-minded turn ham-fisted, what should we talk about next?

I have long been overstretched with 7 blogs 3 forums and a comic. For me things are particularly acute at the moment because I'm dealing with three or four personal traumas. These will inevitably translate into writing material but now they are just making my head swim and my stomach sway.

Turn away, I say. Turn away from the mainstream and its blogospheric rivulets and go introspective. That's what I'm doing here at Cobb for the moment, inspired and/or slapped about by the intimate tribulations of an heiress playing hooky. I am in an extended meditation about the nature of intimacy and friendship, the perception of self and the ability to communicate that with all this computer mediated communication we have. There's a lot to be said in this vein and I'm obligated to say some of it, but it would be nice if others did the same. Why? Because I want you to listen to me and acknowledge that I have a good idea, that whole blogosphere peer schmere.

But beyond that is the whole notion of alienation in our society. Are we a kind of people that mediate so much of our lives through institutions and commercial cultural exchange that we have lost the ability to relate to humanity? There is a great deal of criticism that our sophistication deserves some of which we are getting from Islam, albeit mixed with fear and ignorance. I'll only mention Kerbala in passing because I am fascinated by such things as those which bring hundreds of thousands of bodies together. I hate crowds absolutely, so this can be rich.

At any rate, I expect that many bloggers will be flogging themselves as they climb down from the war rush. We have excess pundit capacity these days and its about time we turned it to the national culture. Let's see how we do.

Posted by mbowen at 07:33 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 29, 2003

Where's the Bomb?

The battle cry of weenies everywhere goes a little something like that, as if they were promised weapons of mass destruction for breakfast and were disappointed with oatmeal. The cruel gruel is torture kids, and Iraqis have been eating it for decades. Here are a few quick hits: Also, this story is irresistably funny to me. It reminds me of an extreme sports blooper reel.
Posted by mbowen at 07:17 AM | TrackBack

April 28, 2003

George Is Your Friend

As you may have surmised, I am going through a rather tender period on the matter of friends. I have underestimated the emotional impact of simple statements like 'George is your friend'. It really made my day. In fact, I owe quite a bit to George for a number of reasons I don't believe I've said out loud.

The first thing has to do with my blogroll. I have categorized them into chunks, one of which is 'Existential' which is short for 'Existential Partners'. When I moved to NYC back in 1991 it was quite a shock for a socialite of my standing in Los Angeles to lose all credibility. For the first time in my adult life, I didn't have a built-in audience. I would go to clubs and there would be nobody there I already knew. It seems silly upon retrospect, but it was quite a revelation at the time. My whole LA buppie clique, even though I dissed them for the afrocentrics and the dreads, was nowhere to be found. I had no reputation with party promoters, no clout with bouncers, and even my shoes were wrong. That was part of the problem.

The other part of the problem was, having a well-paying slightly sub-professional job, I was bohemian. Or more properly, boho. If you were one of the people who read Nelson George's book, you know exactly what I'm talking about. To be more precise I was a bap gone boho. I was writing poetry for the underground slam scene, writing software for a Fortune 50 corporation, and writing as one of the first 5 blacks on the Well, not to mention panix.com. It was a terribly alienating experience, especially considering that I wasn't happy with any of that. I was trying to connect with an emergent black literary scene in NYC that really actually wasn't happening. Most importantly I was trying to find my perfect woman. She turned out to be Zadie Smith, although it might have been Suzan Lori-Parks or Lisa Jones.

So at this particular time in my life, it was extraordinarily important to present the proper identity. What I needed was the safety of a clique of people who could keep me sharp in the ways and means of a bap/boho representing the next wave of black cultural production. I needed existential partners: folks I could count on to laugh at jokes about Ousmane Sembene. People who would jump at the chance to go hang out with Gina Dent at the Studio Museum. People who weren't overwhelmed at the talent and significance of Terry McMillan. In fact, to be a real partner, you had to reserve a certain level of contempt for Terry McWriter. But also people with a sense of humor about it all, who wouldn't be above cruising chicks at Audre Lorde's funeral.

I never met my existential partners - the NYC black writers collective I imagined as The Wigs or the Tribe of Gorgik. I endured a series of near misses, failures of nerve, mind numbing frustrations, commercial hack hateration and increasingly debilitating alienation; you know typical poet stuff. Fortunately for me I was rescued from that alien world by my wife and children who took me off the path of unsustainable righteousness. Nevertheless as I continued my writing projects in cyberspace, the idea continued.

I should say that two of my best friends ever, I did meet in cyberspace, and they have a lot more in common with my bap side than my boho side. Charles and Kenny are men I wouldn't want my son to grow up to be because then he'd be too much like me. Other than the fact that they owe me money, they're as good a friend as I could hope for. But I never see either of them on a regular basis, they're just out there in cyberspace, and like most people as obscenely geeky as I am, they are unmarried and without children.

Then there is George. Someone whose writing I admire and whose coolness is beyond question. A man with a conscience as persnickety as mine and certainly better taste. The man who blogged 100 posts in 24 hours and still kept coming up with interesting things to say. He has the discipline of the writer I sometimes attempt to be, and he walked right up to my website and offered his friendship. Just like that. In fact, he said he had been reading me since my very beginnings online. I am humbled by his attention, and then reinvigorated. In many ways he is the existential partner I was hoping to clique up with in Brooklyn back in 1991. But it's too late to cruise Audre's funeral and I got kids who watch Scoobie Doo the Movie.

So even though it was mediated by some beta software, the impact of 'George is your friend' was not wasted on me. It's almost as good as 'What are you wearing?'

Posted by mbowen at 08:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 27, 2003

Contempt

The other way to get over the Sunday Night Blues is to rise to anger. Right now I'm pretty pissed but I'm not sure which direction to piss. Part of the problem is that I have hung around too many people who don't have sufficient amounts of money and/or personality for me to justify the time spent. I don't know whether I should be angry at them or at myself.

Every moment that I consider the sheer obscurity of my blog, considering the peculiar biases of the GoogleBrowser, I get these feelings. It doesn't help that in my present state of mind I am apt to call Sean-Paul Kelley a total sellout. But such is the state of blogging for people with sufficiently large egos. I'm trying to work my Buddha, but it just ain't working.

Swerdloff is the cause of this anger too. But I wouldn't feel so bad if I lived in NYC. It's easy to have friends in NYC.

Posted by mbowen at 11:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday Night Blues

To use Search Interests, you must have people in your Personal Network. There is no one in your network yet because you need to Add Friends.
These messages are from Friendster, an online friending service that I was not invited to by word of mouth. A guy I once had a drink with in a bar and have had several online drive-by conversations with - well he's on my blogroll but I'm not on his - was talking about it. So I checked it out. It hasn't helped me get through this evening.

I've got the Sunday Night Blues. That feeling of vague dissatisfaction with the weekend that you try to get rid of before you finally turn into bed. In especially bad cases, the nausea can extend back several years or even consume your parents lives as well. On the other hand it can all be erased in a moment by a 'What are you wearing?' phone call. I haven't had such a phone call since my prom, and then it wasn't even a girl calling.

Last night I had an extended set of nightmares. I woke up several times and went back to the same set. The second was mercifully quick but incredibly devastating. It involved my wife telling a busload of senior citizens bound for Las Vegas that she got HIV from the last man she dated before she married me. She kept referring to me in the third person as 'the man I tolerate now', as if I weren't there. That's something to make you snap to attention in a cold sweat.

The first nightmare involved a tour through an interminably huge housing development set in some hills above Atlanta called Factory City. There is no Factory City, thank God, but one who writes horror stories could imagine one up. It was concrete and vertical and had 500,000 residents. It clung to the mountainside like thousands of small apartment buildings all honeycombed and joined by flagstones and short walkways. Every cluster had a tiny courtyard and the whole city had the feeling of concrete treehouses. It was humid and jungly and when it wasn't raining, the drips continued. There were no streets or sidewalks, just stairways and a warren of passages from building to building to building. No ambulance could ever get in. People were robbed, raped and murdered in the courtyards and banistered outdoor halls. There were bodies of children and the elderly twisted face down in puddles under the banana trees and ferns and elephant ear plants in the courtyards. There were racial revenge killings everywhere, and mudslides constantly stained the stucco and spackle walls. Teens smoked in elevators and played mumbltey peg with switchblades into the same wet rotting cardboard boxes their younger brothers and sisters used to slide down the muddy slopes between buildings.

The reason this creation was fouling my dreams was certainly a product of the film 'Identity' that I watched last evening. I believe I am finally getting towards the age at which I cannot physically stomach pop culture, I know that to be true of most candy and all gum. That remainds me, I'm going to pour myself a glass of whiskey, don't go 'way.

I was trapped in Factory City trying to find my way out listening to the AM radio news. The broadcasters reported snippets of clues from various murders which may or may not be connected and they were all flashing through my mind in the darkness and drizzle of the concrete honeycombs. I was supposed to have a clue but I couldn't remember. I kept going around in dreary circles stepping over puddles of bloody mud. The maze had no escape, rusty handrails led every direction but out. The words of the killers kept being broadcast until I couls play the whole scene. And then it came to me - I saw the entire thing. Now I was reliving last weeks episode of Law & Order.

I purchased one book at the Festival of Books at UCLA. I was profiled as the black father in both of my conversations. A recent graduate of Morehouse with a 200 watt smile and a muscle shirt sold me a laminated poem about black mothers and the universe. A man with gold rim glasses and a pale blue oxford shirt sold me a book of 1000 questions to ask your children. His examples: 'Does having different color skin make me stupid' and 'What do you do if somebody hits you?'. I patronized them right back, I suppose.

Yesterday we wound up in Rancho Palos Verdes for the flick. I'd never been to the bad side of RPV. If you would have asked me, I wouldn't have known there was one. The Marie Callendars didn't even serve booze. Another telephone pole neighborhood with green haired youth outside the liquor store. We saw the murder mystery in what is certainly Southern California's last first run flick without stadium seating. Here's what you do when somebody sits in front of you in an empty theatre. Talk angrily about what you did last time that happened. Whether or not it did.

I'm a grouchy old Episcopalian tonight. But the whiskey's good.

Posted by mbowen at 09:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2003

Majnoon


Posted by mbowen at 11:00 PM | TrackBack

Innumeracy and Angry White Math

Kevin Drum suggests that some backing off of advanced math should be appropriate for high schoolers. I suppose that depends upon what one considers advanced math. There are so many different skills that get packed under the rubric of mathematics and scientific thinking that I believe we should break them out. So if you don't take calculus, then perhaps you should take 'critical thinking'. The guys over at Innumeracy.com have done a great job in breaking out some of the subjects that are very important, even though they may not help one integrate by power series.

I tend to disagree that history and geography should take precedence, primarily because they are directed at ancient history in such a way as to render the meaning of things in the present marginal. A school that would have me study the Punic Wars but not be able to come correct on the difference between the Black Consciousness movement and Pan Africanism is not fulfilling its role as a public institution molding citizenry.

I for one, would like to have people deal with facts and figures and understand the difference between causation and coincidence. Innumeracy produces Angry White Math, which would not be displaced by any amount of geography or history. Issues like Affirmative Action and racial profiling are directly impacted by peoples' [in]ability to put numbers in context. People need to think through problems, and quantify the impact of events by putting numbers in perspective. That's never been part of any kind of history class I've had. History, especially at the high school level is rather like a set of received facts which are subject to the barfback method. OK maybe I put myself in Alexander the Great's shoes and think which way I should direct my armies, but is that really useful. Nothing speaks to this lack in the American public than the extended speculation about Halliburton and oil money. If people were capable of some simple crude calculations, perhaps we wouldn't trust regimes of truth and falsity so easily.

What could be more important to a democracy?

Posted by mbowen at 02:02 PM | TrackBack

April 25, 2003

Crude Calculations

Let's imagine the worst. Say GWBush is only in Iraq because he's an oil man and all he wants is to use the power of America to grab as much oil from Iraq as possible. Does it add up? I'm looking at a great site with facts and figures about Iraqi oil, and am considering at length the 'crude' calculations: what does America have to do to get it for itself? We have spent at least 65 Billion during the hostilities and may yet spend another 10 on humanitarian aid. Can an economic case be made for war for oil profits?

According to the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), problems at Iraqi oil fields include: years of poor oil reservoir management; corrosion problems at various oil facilities; deterioration of water injection facilities; lack of spare parts, materials, equipment, etc.; damage to oil storage and pumping facilities; and more. MEES estimates that Iraq could reach production capacity of 4.2 million bbl/d within three years at a cost of $3.5 billion, and 4.5-6.0 million bbl/d within seven years.

As of October 2002, Iraq reportedly had signed several multi-billion dollar deals with foreign oil companies mainly from China, France, and Russia. Deutsche Bank estimates $38 billion total on new fields -- "greenfield" development -- with potential production capacity of 4.7 million bbl/d if all the deals come to fruition (which Deutsche Bank believes is highly unlikely). Iraq reportedly has become increasingly frustrated at the failure of these companies actually to begin work on the ground, and has threatened to no longer sign deals unless firms agreed to do so without delay. Iraqi upstream oil contracts generally require that companies start work immediately, but U.N. sanctions overwhelmingly have dissuaded companies from doing so. In 1992, Iraq announced plans to increase its oil production capacity to over 6.3 million bbl/d following the lifting of U.N. sanctions. This plan, which was to be accomplished in three phases over a five-year period, assumed billions of dollars worth of foreign investment. Much of the production was to come from giant fields in the south (Halfaya, Majnoon, Bin Umar, West Qurna), plus the Mishrif reservoir (Luhais, North and South Rumaila, Zubair, etc.), East Baghdad, and others.


So here's my preliminary assessment. It's not worth the 70 Billion.

Right now Iraq's best case operating production is about 2 million barrels a day. Assuming they export 84% of their oil and consume the rest, that gives them approximately 15 Billion dollars in revenue per year, not counting what it costs for them to get it out of the ground and into the hands of buyers.

Let's just assume that it magically comes out of the ground for free and that with no further investment, they can increase their output by 25% per year. At the end of 6 years there will be just short of 175 Billion in oil revenue.

Let us further assume that the 38 Billion in deals Saddam did with China, Russia and France amount to absolutely zip. That is to say America masterminds a way to keep their hands out of it and it all goes to Exxon. Well what is 'it' anyway? Exxon doesn't get all the oil revenue. They have to buy rights to drill and pump and refine and all that. But let's say they make a deal with the new Iraqi oil minister who turns out to be a pure puppet. Exxon gets half of the oil revenues for all of the oil from all of the oilfields in Iraq. Fat chance right? Well, we're just supposing.

That means at the end of 6 years, Exxon will have scooped out 86 Billion of oil money out of poor old Iraq. Now they pay their taxes to Uncle Sam. Companies like Exxon always pay their fair share right? OK - top tax bracket 40%.

Expense made for one month of war: 70 Billion dollars
Tax Revenues from Exxon over 6 years: 35 Billion dollars
The wrath of China, Russia, France, the Arab World and the American taxpayer: Priceless

Hmm. There must be another reason for this war.

Posted by mbowen at 05:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Quick Hits

I note with some satisfaction that empire is on more and more lips.
If a Martian historian with Methuselah's life span devoted himself to observing from afar the broad patterns of human activity over the past millennium, he would see an explosion of energy in the British Isles from the 16th century onward. In particular, between the early 1600s and the 1950s more than 20 million people emigrated from Britain and settled in other lands. The British also developed dense patterns of trade with such faraway areas as India and Africa. Only a few of them emigrated to those countries, yet they reshaped them in line with their own practices.

  • Tariq Aziz remains my favorite Iraqi. I am hopeful that he works out a deal with the US and possibly gets a role in new government. He will come with a load of information to dump on Americans.
  • China is going to have to decide which side it is on. North Korea is the catalyst. I think they will side with us.
  • The NFLI looks to be a new troublemaker in Iraq. They've already tried to kill Chalabi.
  • The State Department last year funded six Iraqi opposition groups. This is actually rather amazing. These are diplomatic Contras. This 'Iraq Liberation Act' of 1998 has allowed them to finesse the laws against recognizing, let alone militarily funding governments in exile.

Posted by mbowen at 07:05 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 24, 2003

American Muslims Go To Hell

I'm perplexed by a question I would like someone of Islamic faith to explain. That is quite simply, is America such an evil place that the light of Allah cannot shine here? Are American Muslims destined to fall into disfavor of their God? In other words, isn't the call for an Islamic state merely one of convenience?

What kind of Islam cannot stand the rigors of secular rule, and what kind of Muslim cannot bear its tribulations?

On the other hand, there are some with a more reasonable position.

Posted by mbowen at 10:36 PM | TrackBack

The Cost of Not

Several months ago, I pretty much tossed my interest in American Reparations for several reasons, many of which I may have actually forgotten. What follows is certainly the last thing I wrote. There is nothing bold in the original, I highlight now.

april, 2002

christopher edley jr. says elsewhere and i concur that there should be no such thing as a debtor race and a creditor race, but certainly some transfer of wealth is in order. but the irony is, i think, that in the case of america, blacks are probably not going to do what is necessary for this transfer of funds.

in all the time that has transpired since i last considered this subject, since september 10th [2001] to be precise, it dawns on me that perhaps the time to make the case for economic reparations may have passed. like around 1969. there are several factors which drive this.

#1. a lack of extremist recourse.

#2. a lack of a geopolitical claim.

#3. globalization.

i don't know the details of the plaintiffs or complaint in a recent reparations suit, but i have head that one of the respondants is aetna insurance. i think one of the others was an old boston bank, which reminded me of first boston. but first boston is now credit suisse first boston. many of these old line firms have been and are being merged out of existence. it's going to be difficult to deal with corporate immunities, as enron proves. american and multinational corporations simply cannot be punished other than through shareholder pressures. the irony of this is that puts jesse jackson front and center again, because he, more than any individual or collective in america can get a company's stock to quiver because of racist charges. a friend of mine works in community relations for toyota and she tells me that company is absolutely petrified of jackson.

on the matter of geopolitics, there simply isn't any international support for african american causes. we used to matter to the world, and now we do not. not at all. it is something i haven't considered in all this time, but i don't believe there is any forum anywhere which considers the plight of the american negro. that is because the american negro doesn't exist any longer. there is no negro problem in this world, and even if there were, it pales in significance to the kurdish problem, the hutu problem, the albanian problem, and a dozen others.

i'll be called a bum and worse but the lesson of the holocaust seems to be that nationalism solves nothing. it only gives armies a home. these days i'm rather curious to check out what non-zero sum game theorists had to say about world government and pay close attention, because the way things are turning out, nations seem to be playing an old dysfunctional game and the moral high ground belongs to radical, violent liberation movements. in mind are subhas bose' indian rebel nationalists in concert with gandhi, malcolm x in concert with king, hamas in concert with whomever we eventually recognize as the good negroes of palestine, the 'good' mujahadeen in concert with karzai, etc.. [ok this all sounds grasping and far-fetched beyond utility]. but my point is that a good portion of negoitiating a peace requires a credible threat of war. that's how nations are reformed. african americans are not going to issue a credible threat of war for reparations, and the amount of reparation due from this nation requires that much. i believe olgetree will make the case and prove the theory, but the cost of not repairing is not high enough.

So wither integration? I have a problem, which may be a contradiction fixed in an ocean of theory, with accepting the notion that America is at a positive racial equilibrium. It seems to me that things are out of balance, not progressing and that we are losing the capacity to deal cogently with those two facts. Because of that, time is running out for consideration of solutions, and the current ideas of racial identity will become ossified.

Is it OK for Compton to remain Compton from here on out? Will America declare that nothing that overproduces for black Americans should ever be accepted? Will the talented tenth always falsely represent the entire caste half the time and the criminal hundredth represent us the other half?

Perhaps I am underestimating or undervaluating the benefits of a creative tension. Certainly as a pedagogical device, the trope of black vs white brings us to issues close to the core of American liberty and true freedom itself. This is easy for me to say. I've inherited a world of meaning through my skin and for similar reasons, no property. So I am a writer and heir to intellectual and social struggle, a privilege born in the desire to untangle the riddle of race in our national life. A coon boon.

I don't like being subsumed into the America I see. So I will continue to scratch at this until I find a more satisfactory set of answers.

Posted by mbowen at 09:40 PM | TrackBack

April 22, 2003

24 - The Destruction of Trust

Again the Fox series '24' reveals something desparate about our culture. Aside from the fact that the protagonist has been pulled back from the brink of brain death and lung collapse at 3:30 in the morning, there may yet be something eerily accurate about this show.

I'd like to get to know a bit more about Islam during my time on the planet. I find it a likeable religion, primarily because of its robustness. My Episcopaleanism could not survive in Pakistani caves. My Buddha could, but not my Book of Common Prayer. I need incense. What I am hoping to find in Islam is something which is completely lost in America if 24 is to be believed. That is trust. It's not for me, mind you, but I'm having some difficulty understanding exactly what it is besides oil the suicidally militant radicals of the Middle East actually believe they have to offer our 'corrupt' culture. It can't be material.

The manipulations of trust in this series are so byzantine that they have to be the central theme. The show has taken each of its characters beyond their breaking points into the zone where only adrenaline and animal cunning keep them alive. The entire 24 hour period is a binge to be reflected upon with disbelief like the memory of a personal best marathon by an aged portly cripple. How did I possibly get through that, and what was I thinking has to be the sentiment. 24 slows that period down to realtime.

But the level of deception and anticipation of betrayal is mind-boggling. When a phone call is not returned in 30 minutes it smells like a palace coup. When a wife 'only wants to help' the paranoid hackles are raised. In 24's world, the explosion of a nuclear device is only a pretext for stretching the limits of confidence of every human being to the breaking point. The world hangs in the balance between jealous co-workers, sinister traitors, thuggish patriots, religious zealots, mercenary spies, secret lovers, neurotic armed robbers, two-faced family members, slippery survivalists, crusty bosses and various and sundry unscrupulous conspirators. Nobody is credulous. Everyone watches their backs in anticipation of the worst.

The world of 24 lacks lasting principles. There is no time for reflection. Everything must happen now and everything is life or death. There isn't a single character in the show who can even be bothered with what happens tomorrow or next week. The formula won't allow it. So every decision requires trust, but is there any to be had? The answer is no. Nothing is certain, not the news nor the messengers. This is a perfect metaphor for a culture of amnesia. People have no reason to develop character and no chance to rest and reflect. There are no lessons of the past that will get you through. Crisis is the constant companion. The only thing old is old suspicion. The only value in human nature is the hunch, the instinct for survival.

I would hate to live in 24's world. I'd crawl under a rock and hibernate until all the paranoids kill each other off. I'd get off the grid and be incgonegro at all times. I'd go native. To be connected to the need to know basis is to inherit superhero's disease of eternal peril, secret identity and super villain emnity. There would be nothing to celebrate except survival, and that only means you live to be tortured another day.

There would be nothing to celebrate except survival.

There would be nothing to celebrate except survival.

Here is the moment at which I self-referentially seque back to suicidally militant Islamic extremism. OK you get the point. We Americans are equally prepared for seige mentality, and the popularity of this show is the proof.

What we do not have are ways and means of trust which are embedded into the fabric of everyday life. Instead we have electronic proxies of regimes of trust authenticated by the fleeting transactions of our thin cultural intercourse. If all we can do is trust in God, or trust in Empire or some other (well) capitalized entity we lose our ability to operate independently to secure the commons because we don't trust each other outside some chain of command. 24 proves that all chains of command are vulnerable to perversion either by commission or omission. So long as this is a dangerous world that can push us into the adrenaline zone, the culture of amnesia and constant necessary action is inevitable.

The answer is to slow down and reflect. Take time to empathize. Grow trust in your networked neighborhood. Press flesh. Demand bourgie brotherhood and write to your brother, before dire circumstances overtake us.

Posted by mbowen at 11:24 PM | TrackBack

It's About That Time

It's about time to be thinking about BBQ Chicken. This is just a friendly reminder.

Posted by mbowen at 11:14 AM | TrackBack

Jump Jump

My nine year old son is memorizing rap lyrics. My daughters are dancing to it.

They are early risers since they go to bed at 9. We are all of us up at 6:30 with nowhere to go until 8. In this time a fair amount of playing goes on, witness this missive. But what is that bumping in the living room? It's the bounce of Spongebob sneakers (the kind with zippers but no laces) on the hardwood. It is the beat of Will Smith, no check that, a Will Smith clone on a Disneyfied rap cd. Boom Boom Shake Shake the Room.

I tried to play the original MC Hammer. I showed them a picture of the real Kris Kross. I hoped they would understand the difference between the real Vanilla Ice and the fake one they were listening to. I wished they hated the operatic falsetto of the woman trying to sing 'Sweat' as much as I did. Something tells me this is about as hopeless as hopelessness gets.

My children cannot dance. At least they do pretty decent cartwheels.
So they are not destined to be as soul deprived as Marcus Mabry. This kind of bubblegum karaoke hiphop will inevitably lead to a kind of social courage that can only do them good. I hope.

Sign me, the miggety miggety mack daddy's daddy, because I'm naughty by nature, not cause I hate ya. How do I know, because my kids said HO!

Posted by mbowen at 07:53 AM | TrackBack

April 21, 2003

The Art of Introspection

I am a good subject, and I am extraordinarily good about writing about myself. It began when I started going broke in college. I suddenly realized that I wasn't ever going to go to Harvard, there was no noble arena awaiting my participation and I would never have enough cash to play all the practical jokes that burbled to the surface of my overactive imagination. So I made newspaper collage bookcovers out of the pages of Graphis magazine that I stole from Oviatt and imagined that in my meditations I was the center of the universe.

It wasn't very difficult a transition. I had been a young black man for quite some time, which means that I spent an inordinate amount of time second-guessing how the functional and mainstream world was second-guessing me. In fact, like most young black men, I was very good at that skill and I mastered it to the point at which I could easily control what other people would think of me by reading their minds and anticipating their next underestimation. It's an excellent skill for keeping people off balance, but not very useful for filling out resumes. Since I was a bit more interested in positive cash flow than positively reflected self-regard, I decided at some point to jump out of that ring of fire. Of course I retained the talent and I am using it these days as I re-enter the world of deep geekery. I spent Saturday afternoon reading Mastering Regular Expressions as I waited in ride lines at Legoland. See?

Somewhere along the line, writing about myself became a liberating experience, but actually the subject of this angle of me is not so much focused on my own liberation but that of a certain flight risk. A woman who goes by the name of Isabella is about to become something of a celebrity for introspective reasons. So this has me intrigued as a writer. I have been compulsively writing about things other than myself and biannual reblackification and am anticipating some success at that. I have also been intrigued by the circuitous feedback loops of the blogosphere and am caught up in its ways and means of popularity. Finally, I am energized by the pure geek factor of coding and concentration. So reading Isabella has the shock of self-recognition in a mode of expression I have been avoiding, until these very paragraphs.

I have been blogging for a short five months. I rolled my own set of links to essays then moved to Radio and have now settled to Movable Type. I'll have a Slash page before long, knowing me. I'll change and the technology will change and I will feel uncomfortable about not sticking to one theme in Cobb. I need a sense of mission, the gestalt of this has to add up to something. I got started wanting to represent the Old School. That is a cultural and political task but it's also existential. Yet I think my existentials are somewhat extreme and unrepresentative. Ha. Don't we all? Therefore I've spawned a couple of other sites which handle fractions of the task, one being OldSchoolRepublicans.net which is suffering a bit from my divided attention. The other site is doing fine because it's not all about me. My birds are nesting there. This shock of recognition has reminded me that I have been avoiding The Voice and I shouldn't be ashamed to use it. This must be the place. There are enough html links and comments and trackbacks to push and pull a reader to appropriate spots in my multitasked and comparmentalized worlds, so I'll try not to worry about the missions.

I have taken some pride in having leashed the fearless man my father raised as an acknowledgement of that success. Perhaps I should chase a bit more and remain true to the spirit by looking a little bit closer and transducing a world and its effects on me via Cobb. Such a mission, O God hear I go, will revive The Voice and give me the satisfaction of knowing I am still alive in a way I always have been. It may also give readers the kind of satisfaction I am getting from overhearing the thoughts of an odd duck on the run who knows herself pretty well.

Thanks Isabella, I needed that.

Posted by mbowen at 10:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Dumb Questions

Depending on your view of government procurement, the questions being asked in Congress are either provocative and opening a can of worms or dumb and disingenuous. Bob Herbert writes:

Among those in Congress who are beginning to challenge this loathsome process is Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is one of the lead sponsors of a bipartisan bill that would require a public explanation of any decision to award Iraqi reconstruction contracts without a "fully open, competitive bidding process."

In an interview, he said, "You look at this process, which is secret, limited or closed bidding, and you have to ask yourself: `Why are these companies being picked? How's this process taking place, and is this the best use of scarce taxpayer money at a time when seniors can't afford medicine, kids are having trouble getting access to a quality education and local communities are just getting pounded? The administration has been keeping the taxpayers in the dark with respect to how this money is being used, and that information ought to be shared."


Exactly how many companies can you name who can put out oilwell fires and rebuild sewage plants? Not many. But building new cities and malltowns is an American specialty, just ask your neighborhood contractor. I'm a contractor, but I've never done government work. In fact, I've not, for 15 years, worked in a company which can do business with the Feds. They have been too small. It takes a small army to sell to the Army. It has everything to do with the enormous amounts of paperwork and bureacratic phlegm required. Understanding how to get government business is an arcane art which has little to do with capitalism. Anyone who prepares their own taxes should have an idea how complicated it is to pay the government. Imagine what it's like trying to get the government to pay you.

I'm all for the Iraqis getting nice schools in their local communities, medicines and fresh water. Certainly they will send us a list of their priorities. And we will build them, and we will pay for it. And they will do business with America. This strikes many as a horrible thing, not me.

Posted by mbowen at 07:02 AM | TrackBack

April 20, 2003

MET Alpha

The NYT seems to finally have gotten close to something like a smoking gun. Stay tuned. Let us listen to what Ritter, Butler and Blix have to say about them.

I'm not particularly comforted that the UN Security Council is unbiased and that their independent confirmation of American discoveries are inherently useful. Still. I will reserve judgement until I have a closer inspection of the International Red Cross' Humanitarian values FAQ.

Posted by mbowen at 11:51 PM | TrackBack

Fisk, Briefly

"The people who came in here knew what they wanted. These were not random looters," Donny George, the director general of Iraq's state board of antiquities, said Wednesday in front of the museum as he held up four glass cutters - red-handled with inch-long silver blades - that he found on the floor of the looted museum.

This report blunts some of Fisk's latest pregnant questions.

When I first heard of Fisk, it was through a documentary I heard in Houston in which he launched into a fascinating deconstruction of Western journalism. He came with a sufficient amount of historical information to run circles around the recycled rhetoric of that which has come to characterize the endless droning on the Middle East. This was refreshing, and so I heard him out. Of the few anti-Israeli arguments I heard, few sounded as brutally honest as Fisk's recounting various acts againsts civilians.

Later, I have come to find him villified as chief 'idiotarian' by less charitable denizens of west blogistan. But I can't say that anything he said irked me until recently. It wasn't Fisk nor was it a particular reaction to Fisk, but just the general slippery rhetoric laden with lumps of historical facts that I find irritating.

So I'm a bit miffed about this whole looting focus and his role in giving the story legs. I comment a bit more over in Vision Circle.

Posted by mbowen at 11:30 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2003

Get A Life

If you were an Iraqi of any merit, you'd probably be at your wits end right about now. You'd have little or no fresh water. No electricity. No gas for your car. You'd be standing in line for free handouts of food and water. You wouldn't have a job, and your savings would be gone. In other words, now would be about the time when you would spend a lot of time praying.

Some your neighbors will have lost their minds if not more family members. Foreigners would be introducing you to this elusive thing called 'more freedom' which seems like nihilism to you. It's still not safe enough for major clerics to speak out in public. There'd be little comfort for you.

When times are a bit better, you'll need to go get a life. What kind of life are you going to get?

Here in America, we tell people we consider socially misfit to go get a life. But they already have electricity, water, and food. In fact, they probably live with their parents for free, pay no taxes and just lay around watching television and eating potato chips. We call such people losers. If you were an Iraqi, what would you call such a person?

What kind of life should one get?

Posted by mbowen at 10:44 PM | TrackBack

A New Idea, Really

They're at it again. Elected officials in Georgia are about to vote on yet another referendum for the state flag. Republican Governor Sonny Purdue re-ignited this controversy with his campaign "Boot Barnes", the former Democratic Governor who had rid the segregationist emblem from the former state flag.

Purdue's legislative agenda is in all kinds of trouble as it stands. This can't help.

Posted by mbowen at 07:48 AM | TrackBack

April 16, 2003

Modern Careers

One of my old arguments about the fallacy of meritocracy in affirmative action arugments centered around the fact that most tenured professors did not themselves take the SAT or ACT tests. They applied to college the old fashioned way, with essays. I myself applied to a paltry three colleges, one of which was a state university. It was the state university that cared only for the numbers. The two more prestigious joints required some paragraphs out of me.

It occured to me several minutes ago that while I dig the old-fashioned methods for college admissions, despite my soft spot for racial preferences in the context of integration, there are some newfangled ways that make the old outright silly. One of these has got to be in the realm of publishing.

The particular event was looking up sort in my Korn Shell book. sort, is a unix command that does sorting and a few more things. I should be looking it up in a unix manual, but I don't have one. Instead I am relying on my index. An index in this context is that part of the back of a book, you remember books don't you, in which certain key words are listed with references to the pages in the book where they can be found. In the Korn Shell book there is a mistake.

My curse was against an idiot software program, not against a person. But what if it actually was a person who made the index to that book. In fact, 20 years ago certainly all indices were written by people. There are probably lots of people in the publishing industry today that got their start writing indices.

It's almost inconcievable that such a task would be done today by a college educated human, in America anyway.

Posted by mbowen at 09:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 13, 2003

Meta Agonist Blowback

A number of people are knicker-twisted over a plagiarism scandal over at the Agonist. I haven't heard so much whimpering since the days of Brill's Content. Remember when? Let me be the one to suggest that while there is something morally fungible about stealing words, one has to understand exactly how cheap words are. They are practically worthless and losing value by the moment.

In the days of yore, somewhere around December a good Agonist post was something like this or this. On subjects like North Korea, he was brilliant. In the billions of words that slog through the blogosphere, these clusters were demonstrably useful. They were original analysis. The Sean-Paul Kelley indeed was an agonist as he defined it:

The germ of the idea behind The Agonist came to me last October while I was walking atop the Acropolis in Athens. As I looked down into the well of an ancient amphitheatre I recalled that in Ancient Greek tragedy there was always an 'agonist', usually the lead and someone beset by intellectual or spiritual conflicts, and an 'antagonist', the principal opponent or foil of the main character. I remembered Antigone and her struggle between honoring her brother, whether he was shamed or not, and obeying her king. It was an honest, if tragic struggle she waged. The odd, stream-of-consciousness associations of the mind led me to the idea of a weblog dedicated to an honest intellectual struggle to understand the world, its nature and its past.

The new Sean-Paul Kelley on his best day is a human Google. He is a now less an analyst and agonist than a news aggregator. Granted, he a news aggregator with excellent instincts and taste but something about the popularity of his site has mitigated his value as a writer. In fact, he has transformed the flavor and impact of his website entirely since he became a star. I for one was disappointed at the change in direction and I said as much. Understanding that the war and popularity changed what the Agonist website has become, I am less inclined to browbeat Kelley for plagiarism, not that it's such an awful charge to level at anyone blogging as an aggregator.

This adds to the list of reasons we should all hope this conflict ends soon. We can get back to the business of second guessing and analyzing and reinterpreting and otherwise restating the obvious with our own (mostly) unique, original, individually generated blather. That it won't be about war will devalue the words even further, and we can continue our petty thievery once more below the scrutiny of the self-righteous guardians of intellectual property.

Posted by mbowen at 08:58 PM | TrackBack

The CNN Thing

The prison in question is at the General Security Services headquarters, which was inspected by my team in Jan. 1998. It appeared to be a prison for children toddlers up to pre-adolescents whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene. Actually I'm not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace.
-- Scott Ritter, September 2002

Well, that was actually enough for me. The blogosphere seems to be falling all over itself trying to make something out of CNNs recent confession, as if they were shilling for Saddam. Eason Jordan sounds reasonable in his explanation.

The truth is that we don't want to know. Our hearts are too big. It would make us responsible for others. By the Fourth of July, Iraq will be on page 20. Ritter has said some interesting things that I'm going to review over at Vision Circle. In retrospect, a lot of things are becoming clear.

Posted by mbowen at 12:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 12, 2003

Self, Three Years Later

I've looked up boohab in the new Yahoo search engine, as I do whenever I hear about a new search engine. It did a fairly good job of connecting me to boohabs past. In fact, I found my very first blog which I started when Blogger first came out back before there was a blogospheric ecosystem. I can recall my invention of the Sixo personna. It went a little something like this:
ok. this isn't much. i recall the project now. it was to kill boohab and rebecome michael. i am me again. a kind of post-michael b. michael b. the michael b. that was, was 1991 and desparately specific, in the way that people are when they want to have read george eliot just like everyone else, but be able to tell everyone how their life was *uniquely* informed.

i am not desparately specific any longer. i even gave up my pager, and i don't care what my area code is. i split up my website into multiple fragments on multiple servers and i don't even care if they all link together properly. i don't write about non-fiction books any longer. i can't even remember the last one i read. oh yeah, 'money' by andrew hacker.

i am not desparately specific any longer. i don't mind forgetting the details. it's children and money that give me this freedom. when you have to go to the movies for drama, you're more demanding of directors. you're more loving of actors. i have three closely spaced children who manufacture drama. on cue, at 12:45 am, my four year old daughter has arisen from sleep, weeping. she huddles on my lap as i type into the ether. everybody has got a weepy daughter. i'm fine with that. you know what i'm saying. it's not a question. i am not desparately specific any longer.

long ago i wrote a poem about this me. back when i wrote poems that i thought could change things, i scribbled a few lines that went a little something like this:

I'm livin' medium.
Looking for garlic and window cleaner.
Marley's on the box and I wriggle my toes.
I'm not the sheriff.
I got Pampers and tedium.
I got an ATM card and a bush with one rose.

of course back then it was all wishful thinking. it was an excuse not to carry a gun. it was an excuse not to live in tibet. it was an excuse not to save the planet. i guess i was preparing myself for failure. so i started mocking people who take npr too seriously, people with amnesty international stickers pasted conspicuously.

now i need them, because i've changed my convention. i walk amongst those who have visions of capitalist sugarplums. and i do the sugarplum dance whose intricate steps require all the attention i once spent on being excruciatingly specific, aesthetically disciplined, philosphically precise, visibly distinct, and in all things politically progressive, radical or subversive as the situation demanded.

it's a new dance.

i expect to succeed.

i have placed new demands upon myself. predictable ones, you might say, but demanding nonetheless. i carry me round in this different body, humming johann strauss. and now that my daughter is finally sound asleep, i will put her to bed. just like every other 'american'. and i will then log off my computer, finish up that white russian in the fridge and sack out in the den on the futon infront of the tube. just like every other 'american'.

it's the 21c, and i've decided to be like everybody else everywhere else. it took me 38 years to realize that this 'american' thing was desparately specific, small and pathetic.

On the other side of that, I'm not desparately specific. I no longer rant in lower case (much). I have come to admire and respect the American middle-class. I am an order of magnitude more selfless than I was, and I have come to accept humility as a constant companion. I think that I am a marginally better person, a bit more free, and a lot more comfortable in straying from an old self without making every turn into a medal of honor. I have grown accustomed to closing my eyes and leaping. I have grown accustomed to being blindsided and stabbed in the back. I have stared my own failures dead in the eye and walked out the other side standing. Everything is alright, and its OK to be nobody.

Nothing reminds me of this so much as this picture of Hasankeyf. I am taken with the place. In my American bubble, I sympathize in a unique way with the struggle of people who are strong but have been beat down.

Posted by mbowen at 10:53 PM | TrackBack

Black Nerds

george is riffing on the black nerd thing. i'm so glad that now i can trackback... i remember a piece in the village voice that somebody handed me a while back on the rise of the black nerd.
notice the zadie smith look. such women are irresistable to me.

i expected this to be a broader thing, but it appears to be another fashion of radical chic. it's a decent jumping off point though. i'm trying to figure out if any of the names mentioned aside from loury and carter have been heard of outside of nyc. it definitely sounds like the crowd i would have hung out with, and i cannot tell you how incredibly pleased i am to hear that kevin powell got his ass handed to him. that's delicious.

i tend to believe that the racial thing will hew closely to class in the states. i also agree with the social aspects of it with respect to the notion that racist acts don't necessarily have racist motivations. it something that dovetails exactly with what i have written about a lack of anti-racist praxis. you can't really know unless you take the hard line, otherwise you will always have a lack of disciplined sensitivity. it's sad that it has fallen to the 'nerds' to expend their energy to maintain this disciplined sensitivity (as if that alone is their duty and calling), but when the world doesn't change after it's been explained, i don't expect them to care. i don't care much any longer, but i am more desparately aiming to make dollars and stay out of trouble...

on an international level, i have kurds in mind. reading in kaplan's travels 'the ends of the earth' i find a parallel between them and african americans. the kurds are a kind of centralized diaspora in central asia. they don't seem to require a nation and they are certainly not in the proper moment in history to be assigned one by a turf carving super-colonial power. yet they can change the balance of things where they are. i think ultimately that african americans will become such a moderately coalesced ethnic group within america. i think that the facility with which african americans will get along across class lines will be maintained, more or less, in the future. i think of this because i strongly believe that african americans will look for each other as they climb through the american class system. just as folks like me are quick to make examples of 'the ceo of avis, the ceo of american express, the ceo of aol time warner'.


But directly to the woman of PhD. I've dated a couple in my life. Or have I? OK one was an M.D. and the other was undoubtedly on her way. If she doesn't have it by now, I'd honestly be shocked and amazed. She too was an English major. One more thing. If I ever leave my wife, I'm going straight to the Claremont Colleges. I can't remember her name for the life of me. I remember the face, the hair, the voice, the skull of Yorick in her hands. So for what it's worth, here's my two cents.

If you think that the average black woman gets into it about the behavior of black women, you haven't seen a thing until you've heard this kind of criticism from an intellectually sophisticated black woman. They feel that they have to dumb down, there's a feeling of distance and insecurity about feelings they might have for an average black man. Women all around them fall for the okey-doke and get their hearts broken. They catch diseases and black eyes. Those foolish women... But then exactly how foolish does a woman have to be to catch a black man these days? This is their eternal calculation.

There is this kind of strange assumption that a woman who can beat the the odds at a predominantly white institution should be able to beat the odds of tragic black love. So for me, instead of enjoying the sense of equality, I couldn't curse or smoke or drink or fall outside the mold. So everything we did was 'slumming'. We were on display. The non-dysfunctional black couple. It made us dysfunctional. In both of these relationships, I was pushing to feel the way a woman who thought as much as I did felt. I too wanted something transcendant. In the end, we were all just too full of ourselves to trust in and wear comfortably the push and pull of ordinary relationships.

In retrospect, I don't think it was an extraordinary thing. One of the women was third generation medical doctor, she was able to diss me appropriately. The other was emergent. Our failure hurt her more. It hurt me more as well. So I look at it now in the context of class a bit more than I did then.

I expect my oldest daughter to be an attorney and then a judge. The younger of the two is the smartest of us all, a real polymath. It's impossible for me to guess what she might do - she succeeds at everything with ease. My father still kids me about not getting my PhD, and that's probably his way of kicking himself for only getting a Master's, since his brother probably kicks him with his PhD. But I certainly won't kick my daughters for not getting the degree. I will kick them if they hookup with a knucklehead. I hope I provide a decent example.

Posted by mbowen at 03:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

What Alone Feels Like

Solitude is beautiful to me.

Those days when I'm feeling like I could use a vacation from family life, I daydream about retirement. I hope beyond hope that something I do will net me a pile and that I can afford to plunk for the big house in the trees. When I'm old and thin and prepare my own sushi, life will be fantastic. I will sit and listen to the silence, and I will be rewarded with the mind I have cultivated too early in life.

Like now.

All I want to do is write and program and create elaborate paths for people to think their way through. I'm a writer. It's compulsive. A couple years ago I got the opportunity to break the cycle. I was a business development guy in Silicon Valley and I got into other people's pockets and business for a living. I was a boisterous, man in black. I had the cell, the palm, the laptop, the blue shirt, the frequent flyer miles and preferred rentacar. I had the look, the feel, the right stuff and the $75 pen. I was smooth, I had a corner cube and I was learning Mandarin in preparation for my sabbatical in Asia. But I've gotten over myself.

I had to ramp up to get to that spot anyway. I never quite believed it all, but I didn't put it past happening. But when I got there, I was happy. Very happy. I'm adaptable like that. Today I'm happy in a completely different dimension. I'm dowdied down, letting my hair grow (I'd been bald going on 7 years), and got my Buddha on. It's not all about me.

This evening I have a problem.

Writing in several dimensions is joyful, and it is painful. I am dependent on audience in a way I haven't felt before. The hype life is creeping into my writing life. I can feel the pull every time a comment gets posted on my site. I feel the need to be heard and acknowledged like never before, and the silence is killing me.

I might as well wrap in a review of Phone Booth while I'm at it. It's better than it looks, which is very good. Simple story, perfect acting, slick production. But the dilemma of the central character is that he's a fake, and he's forced to get real. I'm real. The things I like to do are actually beneficial to folks, and I have very few secrets. I'd hate to die next week because it would devastate my kids, but I've done enough for me to face it. Almost.

I feel the need to keep writing until a mountain moves. And I'm particular. I want to write about things I can't talk about wiht my friends and associates. I want to drag people into my world, but it takes so long.

My boy Iz says sometimes he feels like the only person who can do right the things he cares about. He said that in response to me asking if he ever felt like the only person who cares about what he cares about. That's how I feel oftimes. What do I have to do to get the people I know to read all my shit? I don't want to write a screenplay. This is where I am. It feels alone, which is different from the solitude I wanted for my future.

Posted by mbowen at 12:35 AM | TrackBack

Carlssin Redux

Over in the old blog, I wrote about Andrew Carlssin. I got a lot of comments, so I thought I'd drag 'em over here. To wit:

Some cat named Andrew Carlssin was busted for insider trading. If the story scans right, he took 800 bucks and turned it into 350 million. He claims to be from the future.

Check his teeth.
They should appear to be perfect. Dentistry is one of the most quickly advancing medical fields.

Hum a few tunes.
Even if he does Beethoven, it would probably the very recording and timing of something on CD now. There is no reason to believe the interpretations and timing would be the same 200 years from now. Besides there'd be lots of new tunes he'd know, we've never heard of.

Check his fibers.
What are the chances that his whole apartment would be devoid of artifacts from the future?

Check his timecraft license.
Either he stole it or he has some very interesting ways to explain how he got licensed to get it.

Ask about his job.
It's the one thing he'd have enough details to talk about which ought to be verifyable enough. Most of us don't know how our cars or computers work but we know enough to operate them.

Check his stock history book.
This would be key. Either he cracked security here and learned in place, or he brought back sophisticated records with him.

Check his blood.
What's aspirin like in the 23rd C? There'd be some trace of something incredible in his bloodstream.

All that aside, it stands to reason that if the guy's from the future, he's a criminal, period. He's got no business being here.

Hey man, might want to check this out http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,630-627115,00.html

Interesting story though

Jerrod Ewing � 4/4/03; 4:03:33 AM

I have to say that I love this guy, even though he's clearly nothing more than a con man who got caught. Timothy Burke � 4/5/03; 6:10:39 PM

THERE IS NO CARL ANDERSON.. ER, ANDREW CARLSSIN... Gregorius � 4/10/03; 2:51:37 PM

OK, so SEC says that there is NO Andrew Carlssin to their knowledge. Well if you had this gem in your care would you let on that he existed? I mean, he'd be under such tight wraps that "W" himself might not know about it. What I wonder is, if they ever do let him go, how will they explain the 1500 people following him, hoping to find his time machine.
Patrick Burke (no relation to Tim, sorry) � 4/11/03; 8:58:22 PM

Posted by mbowen at 12:12 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 11, 2003

PKC 55

I'm actually dying to see some of these Iraq enemies trading cards on eBay.

Posted by mbowen at 11:16 AM | Comments (1)

Remembering Red

When I was a kid, there was no Discovery Channel. We basically had to wait for National Geographic specials. Half the time they were Jacques Cousteau, who was interesting enough, but occasionally we would get the only kind of documentary that made kids squirm with excitement.

Red Adair! Oil well fires! Explosives!

I am remembering Red in the context of reversal of fortunes and the inconsistencies of those finding fault all over the map with the liberation of Iraq. As you may have heard, Halliburton is no longer a candidate for the rebuilding of Iraq in the main, although they are subcontracting out their oil well fire duty to a couple of firms like Red's.

Halliburton's recusal is one less excuse for recognizing the thousands killed by Saddam. But those who remain steadfast in their conspiracy theories might do well to remember Red Adair. When it comes to these kinds of operations, there are in fact very few companies in the world who are well suited to it. Sure they just happen to be American, but there is something about America that generates such firms and such men as Red Adair. That's a good something.

One more thing to remember is that there were awesome predictions of how the world would suffer for years from oil well fires. Remember that? How they would blot out the sun and cause global warming to be accellerated. Here's an interesting post-mortem.

Sometimes extraordinary situations bring out the best in human beings and we surprise ourselves with how much we can accomplish.


Posted by mbowen at 08:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

God Games

I believe that God exists as a social creation of man, and that onmnipotent monotheism is a narrow and incomplete view of the nature of God. It is for that reason that I took a hit in my survey at Battleground God.

You've just taken a direct hit! Earlier you agreed that it is rational to believe that the Loch Ness monster does not exist if there is an absence of strong evidence or argument that it does. No strong evidence or argument was required to show that the monster does not exist - absence of evidence or argument was enough. But now you claim that the atheist needs to be able to provide strong arguments or evidence if their belief in the non-existence of God is to be rational rather than a matter of faith.

The contradiction is that on the first ocassion (Loch Ness monster) you agreed that the absence of evidence or argument is enough to rationally justify belief in the non-existence of the Loch Ness monster, but on this occasion (God), you do not.

This presupposes that the Loch Ness monster and God are the same kinds of creatures and that the rules of evidence for their existence are the same. It is acceptable evidence that God exists by observation of the consistent way that millions of people over thousands of years behave with respect to their belief in God and the way that their spirits are changed by that belief. But the evidence of a few dozen researchers in the past 100 years of the existence of the Loch Ness monster is less credible.

Furthermore, what we know about animals is that they eat, and they die and they leave fossils. They are physical creatures. Gods and spirits are not physical creatures. Therefore we would expect someone proving the existence of some animal to present physical evidence of the creatrue itself, whereas proving or disproving the existence of a God is done through rational discourse such as this.

Posted by mbowen at 08:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 10, 2003

Trying Times

I've been spread from pole to pole, and finally just exasperated myself into partial oblivion. But I'm back on top I think. War has had me plastered to the Agonist and my other sources all over. So what's new:

  • Trying to understand the CSS for MT so I can get this site to look decent.
  • Trying to understand RSS for Radio so that I can import all my history from the original Cobb, the Blog.
  • Trying to figure out some way to get people over to OSR.
  • Trying to keep the ball rolling over at Vision Circle.
  • Trying to find my creative juices, well - I did. So there's new stuff at Cobb, the Comicstrip, finally after 10 days.
  • Trying to finish all my taxes. That's 75% done.
  • Trying to decide Tivo vs Replay.
  • Trying not to lose my momentum in going to the gym.

But there's a lot of good news.


  • My boy got his 5th straight A in as many tests.
  • Everybody is coughing, but it's not serious.
  • My foresight in overbuilding my database automation routines at work paid off. They just invented 4 new streams of data from the ETL.
  • My boy D is in town, and we'll hang out this weekend.
  • We won the Little League Raffle (that pays for the Tivo, or is it Replay?)
  • I really am happy with Dreamhost.
  • I got six authors signed up at Vision Circle.

All in all things are good and looking up.

Posted by mbowen at 11:05 PM

April 07, 2003

Trying to Think

Don't ask me how I feel. I'm trying to think.

I went through a lot of pain and agony before the hostilities started. Now that they are in full swing I can't be moved one way or another. It gives me a kind of immunity from having my desires confirmed or denied. I wonder if I have created a new kind of rule for the relief of anguish. For me it had been, since the death of my brother, to cry right when it hurts and let it all out. No suppression of feelings. Scream. Rip. Run. Roar. There is honesty in living in the moment. This war. I saw it coming like a freight train. I wandered from one side of the track to the other and then back again. By the time it was upon me, I had picked a side and one good reason. This has survived the rush of wind and noise. I watch the train rush past and I don't try to stop it or question what it has come to be. I don't feel the train, I study it. I wait for the end.

Posted by mbowen at 08:06 AM

April 06, 2003

Eye on Chalabi

Ahmad Chalabi is the man in the middle. Chances are that you've not heard of him before, but after this conflict is over, you will hear more and more. An early start beats fast running. Here are a few things I've been able to dig up. The Perlez article will cost you money but the interviews are priceless. Read them before they get destroyed.

Chalabi & Jordan

In "The Washington Times," editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave, currently also with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses Iraqi National Congress (INC) chief Ahmad Chalabi, who some view as a potential post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi leader. De Borchgrave says Chalabi's detractors argue he has only known "comfortable exile, first in Jordan, then in Britain," and is ill-suited to the rigorous test that would await him leading a postwar Iraq. De Borchgrave also points put that on 9 April 1992, Chalabi was sentenced "to 22 years hard labor by a Jordanian state security court on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds, and speculation with the Jordanian dinar" for his actions as founder and head of Petra Bank, Jordan's third-largest. At the time of the sentencing, Chalabi "had already skipped across the border to Syria."

Chalabi denies the charges "and claims jealous royal courtiers framed him." But de Borchgrave says Petra Bank undeniably failed, "and some $300 million in depositors' accounts had suddenly vanished." He says Jordan's ruling establishment "does not look forward to a Chalabi-run Iraq, propped up by the U.S. military." However, considering Jordan's "total dependence on Iraqi oil, it's a safe bet that a President Ahmad Chalabi would receive a royal pardon in Jordan."

Chalabi & Neocon Hawks

In Washington, Team Chalabi is led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the neoconservative strategist who heads the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. Chalabi's partisans run the gamut from far right to extremely far right, with key supporters in most of the Pentagon's Middle-East policy offices -- such as Peter Rodman, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and Michael Rubin. Also included are key staffers in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, not to mention Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey.

Chalabi on Saddam

Saddam's regime is of a similar nature. In Iraq, Saddam has control over the security services, the army, and he has a complete monopoly on instruments of violence. He has complete control over any foreign exchange, any money that comes to Iraq. He also has total and absolute mastery of the media. Every newspaper in Iraq, every day, has on the front page a picture of Saddam, without a caption. He is just there--like the sun, he always shines. He is there. So people know that Saddam is omnipotent and omnipresent. Every significant public space in Iraq has a huge mural of Saddam in every garb--Saddam the great leader, Saddam the Kurd, Saddam in Arab dress, Saddam with a feather in his hat. All these things are displayed.

And also Saddam demonstrates his control by spending billions of dollars to build new palaces, while he claims the children of Iraq are starving. And he says, "I, Saddam, am more important in my trappings of mastery of you than the food for your children." There are details of how this happens.

Saddam has divided the armed forces of Iraq into broadly three structures, which are separate--in concentric circles--they don't join. The regular arm is weak, hungry and ill clothed. They have no ammunition. They have old equipment, and they are deployed on the periphery of the country. They cannot get near the capital. Then there are the Republican Guards, who are better off than the army, but also they cannot enter the capital. And in the capital only, there is the Special Republican Guards. . . . And they are an urban control force.

Posted by mbowen at 10:48 PM

Dancing With Sluts

My sister in law has been unilaterally liberated. Well, she had help from family court. I went to celebrate her birthday last night with my wife and her circle of girlfriends at one of those places they call 'clubs'.

It didn't start off as a club. We had the white linen at our long table and so did all the others upscale around the joint. The chanteuse with her quartet showed off her age and grace in black sequins and jazz standards. It was lovely, and we munched on overpriced crab cakes and talked about the good old days.

After a while however, the jazz ended and the DJs took over the stage. Tables were cleared and shuffled from the center of the floor and the noize was brought. Now I can stand a good bit of funk, especially of the caribbean flavor. In fact, not only do I stand it, to paraphrase Robert Bell I get down on it, not just in theory. I have become adept to dancing in my jacket and sweater without breaking a sweat, but am nevertheless quite funky. That was until the funk got straight nasty.

I can't say that the entire thing was a surprise. I have been a top rank club predator. Something takes over my brain, like hunting instincts. I circle and eye and place myself in lines of sight. I move sideways through dancers knowing who and how to bump and sample flesh along the way. I know which of the three girls dancing together really wants some serious company. I've got lines in reserve like "What's a nice girl like you doing in a gay bar like this?", as I slyly undermine all male competition. I have a cigarette lighter with my initials at the ready. All of the tools of seduction lie quietly beneath the surface and I summon them like an old master. My inner dog is on a leash tonight, as he has been for some time now, but I give him some rope. Nevertheless, he won't eat anything.

The angel on my right soldier is parsing this scene as well. When he's not outright laughing at the absurdity of this multithreaded vertical fuck, he reminds me how fortunate I am to have a low tolerance for flaky people. That would include the 5 foot 2 woman with the crisscrossing leather belts and the navel shirt that says 'real'. That would include the brother with the dead expression, bud light, layered sweats and skull & crossbones on his sagging denim pockets. And of course it includes everyone who is taking in this remarkable scene with any notion resembling hope and optimism instead of amused disgust. The DJ asks for the fifth time "Do the ladies run this motherfucker?", and for the fifth time the response is "Hell yeah!". He then stops the music and asks all the ladies who have a nice ass to scream. Screaming is appropriate, but by the time the lyrics had gotten to "Pop that pussy", I was sitting down.

I told my wife, who had more expectations of a second caribbean set than I, that her inviting me here was going to get me kicked out of the Republican Party. The problem is that she has an appetite for voyeurism which is satisfied without engagement. In contrast, I am the kind of man who skis black diamonds on my third snow trip ever. I am more disgusted by the scene because I can do it. And I don't want to do it. I want to go home, now. I am not tempted, I just wish everyone here would just grow up.

One of our party of 10 and her boyfriend are slithering and gyrating approximately 13 inches off the floor. It looks, with the others participating, like a doggy hump circle. Been there, done that. Bought the T-shirt, wore it out, gave it to Goodwill, recognize it 10 years later. Where's my firehose? Then of course, it happens. Oochie Wally comes on. This shocks even me, and now it's personal. I said that I protect myself from this kind of behavior. But here I am, dipped into it, surrounded by freak daddies and hoochies.

It's not who we are. After all, this is just Saturday night, the moon is bright, shining down its harvest light. Every body is showing out. It's a show. We give ourselves license to get wicked by serving up dollars and nuff respect to hiphop's master sex symbols, starting with Luke and going through to Lil Kim. Am I right? Is it still Lil Kim? But of course before Luke there were others going back through history including Millie Jackson who did bad things to my teenaged mind.

I woke up this morning with my Barry White voice. I like the way rye whisky does that to me instead of giving me hangovers. I was ready for the new day and managed to squeeze out some good times with no ill effects. Since I have a pledge not to second guess blackfolks, I have concluded that I have come to a new understanding of the acceptance of R. Kelly and Michael Jackson and other entertainment thugs.

Still I wonder how many of the freaks who came out last night are living in the same reality as I do. I can understand my sister's desire to break out of her bad marriage in an explosion of foolish abandon. I can understand my desire to let the dog out for a while. I can understand my wife's desire to take in the wild scene sipping champagne on the sidelines. I guess enough such feelings, transitory as they are would be enough to fill any club regularly on Saturday nights, and bankroll an industry. But I can't for the life of me understand how anyone could consider the club, black culture.

Shit. Maybe I can.

Posted by mbowen at 11:56 AM

April 05, 2003

I Was Wrong

I expected the Goodwill trucks to be pulling up to the houses of the pacifists and collecting their cast offs and canned foods for aid to Basran Shi'ites. It didn't happen. I blame Oxfam for some of that, but I also blame the American media, which is generally pretty good at striking the appropriately heart-rending tones. Somehow we've become a bit self-aggrandizing and bloodthirsty.

Posted by mbowen at 03:07 AM

April 04, 2003

Effective Resonance

Colorblindness cripples. How much it does so becomes apparent when its principles are applied without nuance. The plaintiffs who argued their case before the Supreme Court this week sounded to me to be of the persuasion that there should absolutely be no regard to color. This is a problem.

I'm not close enough to the law to understand what the Constitution directs historically with regard to its ability to percieve race but I do have a principle I think which ought to be applied. I call the idea 'effective resonance'.

The reasoning behind it has to do with the notion that all racist acts are not equal either in intent or effect. The state does have a compelling interest in insuring that society does not exclude groups but I don't see that it is useful in policing all instances of racist discriminations. For this reason I have come up with three classes of racist offense. These of course are informal and don't stand up to legalistic definitions but you should get the picture:

Class Three - Background Noise
This will include all such insults, slights and disrespect as is generally expected to be found everywhere in this nation. Examples include but are not limited to being ignored by cabbies, flying confederate flags, nazi propaganda, being mistaken for the help, being shown costume jewelry, being asked one's opinion of, or to account for the opinions of the Fungibles, and most nigger calls.

Class Two - Political Intransigence
Class Two racism involves denials of public accomodation or private standing which are not criminal, yet grossly unfair and unjust. Such acts would include imposition of glass cielings, racial profiling, white flight, medical misdiagnosis, educational tracking, false arrest, false imprisonment, racist vois dire, racist jury nullification, denials of service with plausible deniability, any institutional individual or institutional racism which must be tried in civil courts and all such active bigotry one associates with hate groups which fall short of incitement.

Class One - Crime
Theft, criminal defamation, cross burnings (now), hate crimes, murder, rape & all that stuff for which America has never made any extraordinary effort to repair.

The matter of Effective Resonance adds a second dimension to this classification. I consider it an important context because it takes into account the ability of a group to withstand the inevitable turmoil of ethnic, religious or racial animus. I believe this to be something that changes over time and that the law should be sensitive to that robustness or lack thereof.

Let us consider several well known examples from the not too distant past. In the first case consider the significance of the restrictions place against blacks from sitting in the front of the bus. In the course of human events, this is little more than humiliating. And yet in the case of Rosa Parks, the willingness to defy this racist rule was quite courageous. That is because at the time such rules exemplified the extraordinary control whites had over blacks.

One could hardly imagine it necessary today to escort black highschool children into a white school with federal troops. Yet this precaution, dare I say this remedy, was entirely appropriate for the integration of Little Rock highschool 2 generations ago.

What has changed greatly since those days is the power of black American individuals to move freely in society. This derives not soley from the change in the law, but because of the collective power of the group to work around such difficulties. Today the law is fairer and the power of individual blacks to absorb such pains as sitting in the back of the bus or not accept police escorts is greater.

What I am suggesting is that for the same reasons Class Three racist offenses have not been outlawed and criminalized is not because they are not racist, but because despite the fact that they are racist and offensive black mobility in society is not restricted inordinately. Blacks as a group and those interested in black success are too strong.

On the other hand, could we say the same thing for Arabs and Muslims in post 9/11 America? No. Today they are more vulnerable.

When we look at racial discriminations we should consider the robustness of the context of the group in question as well as the severity of the act itself. This is an important distinction that many critics of Affirmative Action make when they say it is not as necessary today as it was 20 years ago. Despite the fact that individual blacks may be just as underprivileged today as the very first Affirmative Action beneficiaries does nothing to diminsh its stigma today. One cannot escape the fact that individuals are judged in the context of the benefit to their group, in fact the entire question of Affirmative Action is one of social justice. Is America made weaker or stronger because of it?

If the legitimacy of positive discriminations for individuals of a group owes something to the status of that group, likewise the severity with which we judge negative discriminations should be considered in light of the status of the group to which the discriminated individual belongs. The aim after all is to keep all groups in the mainstream of American life with special regard to their race, gender and creed.

Posted by mbowen at 09:00 AM | TrackBack