December 31, 2002

antwone fisher

antwone fisher is about as touching a film as i can stand to watch. i realize that i am getting weepy in my old age, but this one just grabbed my by the heart and wrenched it until there were no more tears for me to cry. except now that it's been 12 hours since i saw it, and it manages to bring up more.

what is it? it's a love story which is at once very simple and challengingly complex. what's simple about it is the deft way in which it handles love between a man and a woman. love is such a rarely told story, because hollywood is infatuated with infatuation, romancing romance and seducing audiences into watching seduction. such are subjects for sandra bullock, meg ryan and any dozen hotties sleeping their way up the studio food chain. this film gives us simple, honest young love, that's about as pure as i've seen. derek luke delivers in terms of pure emotional honesty, i have to go back to john cusak in 'high fidelity'.

what's complex about it is that it is a total repudiation of culture of poverty arguments which are inevitably the subtext of one of any discussion of the difficulties black men face in america. i'll let this sentence stand and debate the points for another year and a half.

one might think the film resembles 'men of honor' with cuba gooding, but it is an order of magnitude more subtle and personal. antwone fisher has no public statements to make about himself. military honor and recognition do not serve as proxies for triumph and pride. this is all about the man and his own journey from a childhood of terror to a manhood of strength and sensitivity. it is more redemptive than 'the shawshank redemption'.

denzel has made a cinematic smash with something i have never seen anyone do in film before. which is to get an audience to cheer, cry and grin at the mere presence of 30 blackfolks in a frame. in that, despite the conventional nature of this love story, denzel is proved this to be the cosby show of film. and as with the cosby show, i have been shocked into recognition of the power of video when the characters are drawn from slices of life that look like mine. but you don't have to be a member of alpha phi alpha to be moved by this film.

four stars, three hankies, see it twice, it's the number one film of the year.

Posted by mbowen at 09:45 PM | TrackBack

December 28, 2002

What Negroes?

i can see that this is going to be difficult.

d-squared is suggesting that 'nigger' is not as bad as the orwellian lie of 'minority', and seeks to recast the negro problem jumping straight from toqueville to himself without a moment's consideration of the negros who did. america doesn't have a negro problem, it has a problem with the implications of the fact that negroes solved their own problem and decided to become black.

let's forget dubois for a moment and come around to malcolm x. why? because i was thinking about him this morning. first of all, we all understand that malcolm and i would not hesitate to punch you in the nose if you call us a nigger. it is not because you uttered the word, but it is because you seek to treat me like one. simple really. as for my nigga, well let's not get bogged down, but if you require completeness, i come with that too.

now in case you went to one of those pathetic american public highschools, let me take a moment to remind you that 'black consciousness' solved the negro problem. now there were a large number of people and a great deal of effort put into this, but it essentially solved the duboisian dilemma. that was the debilitating psychological whirlpool of being of america and yet not feeling any belonging. the problem was that there was a little white man in every negro's mind telling him what was right and wrong, and the negro could not avoid that conscience even though he knew it to be hypocritical. so the poor negro was mired in an existential quagmire that undermined his willpower in every aspect of his life. the negro failed because he loved the white lies of america more than he loved god or loved himself. black consciousness essentially lobotomized that little hypocritical white man. aka 'the man'.

dealing with black consciousness and black nationalism is a very difficult problem for many americans precisely because it doesn't give them a way to blame slavery and culture-of-poverty arguments for everything. so they pretend that it doesn't exist. they pretend that when men and women are asserting themselves as blacks, whether sitting at a table of their choosing in the cafeteria or celebrating a non-christian holiday, they are just doing it because they are too stupid or too hateful to be friends with whitefolks. the fact is that they just have no experience in recognizing and respecting these free african looking people, especially when these blacks had brains, nerve and god-forbid, ambition.

not having slavery as an excuse means that racism is contemporary and still effective. scary huh?

so it's facile to go to the black ghetto of your choice, pick a dysfunction and claim it to be some essential characteristic of 'black culture'. this is the thing that really burns me up, especially since eminem ain't no joke. but it is not so easy to suggest that there is an extraordinarily successful pedagogy within this thing called black consciousness that those poor ghetto folks are missing. because that would suggest that all the successful [do we still call them] black men and women in american society aren't just existential mirrors of whitefolks just with darker skin.

so here's your blacker-than-thou litmus test of the day. go find an african american man you trust and ask them this very personal question. as a young man, who did you identify with more, bigger thomas or holden caufield? i will pay 1 dollar via pay pal for every negro you can find who says holden caufield. they will make good republicans too, but by the time i'm finished with them, they will pay homage to the funk! and on your side of the deal, you should pay me if they turn out to be black. but guess what, those african american men will have transcended bigger's dilemma because they have the strong black kernel, whereas bigger was still very much a negro.

it is true, that a 'minority' is not a man and that newspeak is par for the political course. but that is a symptom of the political course swerving around the reality of actual successful black americans. when you deal with successful blackfolks, they will tell you in no uncertain terms what they want and how they expect to get it. that's why so much of the race question in america is framed in black and white terms. social capital of chinese my ass. blacks don't have the extraordinary links and associations of chinese americans (do i hear a sowell reader here?) because we don't need them, existentially to survive. when chinese americans change the very structure of the american protestant liturgy i will be the first to light a candle. when chinese americans lead our troops into battle, i will be the first to salute. but let's not fall into the trap that says blacks have to be like irish and chinese have to be like vietnamese. this is the same kind of thinking that says 'negroes' are what toqueville said they are umpdeump generations ago. it disregards what the people have done for themselves and the real changes it has made on america's pluralistic society. and i, for one, ain't having it.

so back to the n-word. a punch in the nose is something a lot of us bourgie people can't handle. it forces us to deal with the reality of human nature. and in case you haven't done so in a while, you should re-read the preface to ralph ellison's 'invisible man', because it was about this same refusal to see what a full man is all about and the consequences of treating someone like a nigger. it is black consciousness which freed the negro from being what the man wanted him to be. so here's some ammo for those who say colin powell, as an afro-caribbean is substantially different from native born african americans. you're right, he didn't have to unlearn the man's servility. that's why he was a world class ass-kicking g.i. staring down the barrel of a nuclear gun in western europe and in the sands of iraq. negroes, on the other hand, are congenitally spineless. militancy, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with the recognition that some things are worth dying for (with george c. scott's patton soliloquy in mind). martin luther king, jr. was a negro until the night he said he feared no man. so he had to be killed before he started leading troops.

as for al sharpton. he is powerful simply because he delivers votes. with any luck i (or somebody like me) will be the al sharpton of the republican party, and i have better taste in clothes.

Posted by mbowen at 07:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 27, 2002

my big tent

after some confering with some black men i trust, i have decided to drop the name 'monkey whip coalition'. don't ask.

what do jimmy walker and denzel washington have in common? nothing. ok you guessed. how about this: what do tom bradley and colin powell have in common? nothing! right again. ok here's a tough one: what do i have in common with clarence pendleton, alan keyes, j.c. watts, shelby steele, john mcwhorter, larry elder and ward connorly? ahh see. i got you. despite the fact that..

i am a black republican.

the answer is still nothing. now being a black republican is interesting because actually people don't call me black to my face, nor do they call me a republican. they're generally too embarassed, angry or befuddled. which is just as well, i'd rather be called by my name. be that as it may, i haven't sworn allegiance to any 'black leader' or 'republican leader'. so what's the point of being a black republican anyway?

the point is simple. i hate to lose, and i hate not getting my way. i hate not getting my point of view heard out and respected. and i hate those things more than i hate the republican party. 

once upon a time i lived in the beach volleyball capital of the world. and despite the fact that the cops just loved to pull me over for the first six months or so until word got around that the black guy in the red bmw does actually live on manhattan avenue, i learned to play and soon mastered the game. i was about as good as you can get without obsessing, both at the two-man sand variety and at the six man hardcourt variety. it wasn't long before my roomie and i were throwing volleyball beach parties. ok. close your eyes. you are at a beach in sunny southern california. there are 100 blackfolks in a crowd having a hell of a good time playing volleyball. you did a double take. that was us. that was 14 years ago, 12 years before dain blanton. not that we had anything to do with dain, but we understand.

our gang was known as gdz productions. gdz stands for 'geographically desireable zipcode'. dig integration? so did we. but we always knew we were the second blacks. who the hell wants to be a first black anything? that's brutal sledding. first blacks never get anything done or have any fun because people are always touching their hair and asking questions about chitterlings. second blacks get to be themselves. (nobody cares about third blacks - first mexicans are catching all the flack)

i'm a spoiled, arrogant, uppity kind of jagoff. so i expect to be a republican. the kind of republican i intend to be owes butkis to the first blacks. (cue analogy flashback). i don't seem to recall denzel thanking jimmy walker from the podium. i look at so-called black republicans today and i see 'dy-no-mite!', and for this i'm supposed to give thanks? i don't think so. i have come to view the mission to achieve black political power through the republican party completely convinced that todays neocons are paving no roads i will long travel. besides, i don't think my feet will fit in their kneeprints.

i am not impressed with today's black neocon pundits. they don't deliver votes, they deliver excoriations and flog anonymous black communities in effigy. that's weenie work. one of these days, somebody smart in the g.o.p. is going to realize these clowns are doing zilch for attracting the old school into the party. the black old school is chockablock with characters like reverend frederick k.c. price. and as pops says, if gw is halfway serious about his faith-based initiative, he's going to find his party introduced to men like this reverend doctor in a few years. (and since i'm talking about denzel, i may as well plug his church too.)

here's my moment of humility.  i owe some debt of gratitude to thomas sowell for his writing which was rather enthralling in 1982 when i first encountered it. and i thank ward connerly for being honest with me during his short online stint at the sfgate. other than that, us'ns ain't cousins. but yeah i do like glenn loury. bill bennett, you already know i like.

once i think of some name better than 'cosby show republicans' i will begin amassing recruits into sleeper cells. don't ask.

Posted by mbowen at 08:54 PM | TrackBack

American Wa'benzi

There is a scene in the film 'The Killing Fields' in which our journalist hero finds his life saved by a skinny Khmer rouge teenager with a machine gun. The kid holds up a Mercedes Benz hood ornament that the reporter had given him years before as a gift and says 'Mercedes Benz, number one'. He takes off the bonds of the journalist and sends him on his way.

I've been thinking here to myself about why I like rednecks. (les cou rouges?) And why conservative pundits give me gas. It has to do with a metaphor I have invented for the infrastructure of the United States.
The United States offers every one of us a Mercedes Benz. But it is up on blocks in a junkyard. Most of us will use it just like kids, as a big plaything to climb on and play drive. We will never be able to afford to put on the wheels, fix the carb, fill the tank and have regularly scheduled maintenance. It costs too much. But if you have the cash and a little luck, you can have that thing on the road and have plenty places to go. The manual is in the glove box, and you can read it for yourself, or have somebody do the whole thing for you.
When you literally ride a bicycle, or walk, or take the bus to work, when you clip coupons and try like hell to make your kids do well - when you take shit from your boss and you finally make peace with the fact that your big TV makes you happy, you're a peasant American. Peasant Americans, workers, and people who sometimes don't even get the work they deserve - these people don't have time for good manners. They are not, and never will be vice presidents in the Fortune 500. So they don't know how and don't bother to learn how to bridge cultural gaps. Moreover, rednecks, say f the Mercedes and f everybody who drives one. Why do I like that? Because I admire how people make their lives efficient.

This country is run by people who own fully functional Mercedes Benz automobiles. The wa'benzi. Despite the fact that they get killed in the same kind of drunk driving accidents as the rest of us, there is something about *our* dreams that make the wa'benzi seem a little bit taller. We expect them, perhaps not properly so, to treat us with respect, to not run us over with their fast cars. We expect them to be politically correct, because if *we* had that Mercedes we would be better people.

I think everybody loves Bob Vila. He's just the kind of American we'd all like to be. He knows something very well, and he gets to go all over the country to meet the kind of nice people who have fixed up their houses to be castles. If I had Bob Vila’s money, and I had the time to visit and learn and share, I’d be smiling all the time - I would be a wonderful person. We all would, because we all are natural Mercedes Benz drivers. But I don't, and so I’m more small-minded and more selfish and all I have time to care about is my family, my mortgage, my taxes, my kid's school, my bills and my problems. I don't have time to grow nice manners. And the slower the mode of transportation I take to work, the more of an asshole I am. Not because I spend time thinking about being an asshole, but that as compared to Bob Vila, most of us are. And that Mercedes Benz is sitting out there, taunting us.

When you're wa'benzi, Americans need you to be sophisticated. You need to know how to keep people happy. You need a lot of skills. It's not an option. This is America, number one. They eyes of the world are watching and you need to be responsive. You need to be as classy, durable and performance oriented as your Benz. This is the country with all the layers of infrastructure for the life of the wealthy, brainy and powerful. This is the country that promises all of that for every one of us, peasants though we may be. You need to be possessed of all the virtues Stephen L. Carter writes about. You need to be diplomatic, urbane, articulate, witty, bright, engaging, civilized. What you cannot be, under any circumstances, is a peasant.

There are few things I find more repellant (in a snooty chatting class way) than a peasant Republican. This fact leaves me with a number of problems, not the least of which is the level of mendacity inherent in the cast-iron stomach of Ralph Reed. Yet and still, I like rednecks. Well, I like rednecks in redneckville, and I can even appreciate redneck behavior in French restaurants - in fact, I look forward to it. However, I expect that rednecks who succeed in putting their Mercedes Benz together bolt by bolt to drop their peasant ways and be more like Bob Vila, which shouldn't be so difficult if they truly love America. America is full of all kinds of different wa'benzi, and to deal with diversity of the wa'benzi forces one to grow some manners. So you would think.

Half the point of this is to send out a virtual middle finger to Sean Hannity. I recall Hannity's early days in redneck radio when he spent lots of time lamenting the firing of WABC's Bob Grant. It just never ceased to amaze me how Hannity could get away with the yang he was talking. I like redneck radio as much as the next guy; it's blunt, honest and crude. It is possessed of the same authentic raw passion as gangsta rap music. True American stuff going on here. Yet there's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief one engages in with redneck radio and gangsta rap. You know that there's a man in a million dollar studio surrounded by engineers and producers making product for huge media corporations and that guy pretends to be the voice of the streets and dirt roads even though they make wa'benzi moola. So you dig it for a while. Then they go national and still try to 'keep it real'? This is an embarrassment.

I'm a new blogger. I'm decades ahead of talk radio call-in shows. I know that Americans, while they may live like peasants, still have Mercedes Benz dreams and Mercedes Benz expectations of the big dogs. Anybody who says different should apply for a job as Bill Clinton’s press secretary, (zaftig brunettes need not apply.) They're also damned smart when given a chance, and damned apathetic when disrespected. I hope one day the angry white men who believe they can continue their studio gangsta front are called into account by people with class. It's only funny to blast that loud crap from your Benz for a short while, but we're getting really tired of that video. Grow some manners, peasant.

Even illiterate peasants are capable of remembering the gift of the Mercedes America gives us, and it is certainly better to have your life spared by one such as the Khmer kid, than to be executed by the rest. But I still am lamenting whatever day it was that we lost the kind of leadership we had and wound up putting microphones into the hands of these vulgar populists, like so many teens with ak-47s. We can do better than this.

P.s. This goes double for Bob Novak and John McLaughlin. Every time I listen to you, which isn't often, I long for Bill Buckley.

Posted by mbowen at 02:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 25, 2002

Oh Yeah, Love

i also wanted to say that the spouse and i scared each other. the prospect of losing what we've built came close, and now we realize what idiotic hotheads we were being. at least i do. yesterday, for the second or third time since our blowup, i've gotten The Look. and if you have ever loved a woman and she gives you The Look, then you've been in paradise. it's that one ineffable magic that you can never catch on film because it's the look of love, given at a hand's distance face to face. the eyes glow slightly upwards and towards you, pulling you in. you can physically feel the heat from her forehead. in that moment you know you are in love and that she's in love with you.

it's christmas morning and everyone is still sleeping. the girls tried to make it to midnight but didn't last. so we took their pictures with clocks to prove that they just missed santa. chris called from new york and i talked him through the setup of his east coast xbox, that's why i'm up so damned early.

i've split enough logs with my handy hatchet to support several fires. me, i love the tradition of throwing all the colored paper into the fireplace as everything gets unwrapped. this year we unstitched the barbie hair and twistie ties beforehand. as i sit and type, i hear the soft snoring. we are but a few moments away from that precious time.

i am bedeviled by the spectre of karenga the crook. my love for kwanzaa doesn't parse well enough. people are thanking me for exposing him and it as frauds, and i was just being balanced. one email had me up until 2:30 putting together a black mental liberation booklist at, because the poor girl suffered through a 'black man think tank' (presumeably for disaffected frosh) featuring the maulana himself. she was devastated to find in him, a woman beating past. why does everything have to be so perfect? how have we become so fragile and demanding, so desparate for god's own grace? hmm. well, there it is. god.

and so now i feel strange for the analogy to easter. i said that we couldn't celebrate it without pilate's unoriginal demand for crucifixion, but that of course we don't celebrate pilate.

perhaps it is faith itself that requires perfection. perhaps this is why we both admire and ridicule those with abundant faith in mankind, why p.t. barnum's edict and the golden rule are so permanently with us. faith is damnably difficult, so why bother unless there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. with god, that's easy. with people it's both angelic and foolish. there will always be a battle between the cynics and the stalwarts.

..but wait! a creature is stirring. time for gifts!

Posted by mbowen at 10:54 AM | TrackBack

Living Medium

once again it's on. life has settled into a decent enough rut to celebrate the mundane. so what am i doing these days between drama? nothing much it seems to me, but then again there's always something on my mind. you see i'm always 2/3rds the way somewhere, like a man with two turntables and no microphone. by the time i get my grip on the mike, one of the tables wobbled and fell down. so i am on approach:

i'm 2/3rds the way through the latest harry potter. he's just been accosted by snape and filch, but saved by mad-eye moody. christopher lloyd should be cast as mad-eye, there's no doubt in my mind.

2/3rds of my children are home. c. is out in nyc with the biomom. those of you who know me know she's a maniac. the rest of you simply have to imagine. he missed his awards ceremony and i will have to get his soccer trophy from the team parent. here, the house is quiet and for once, mom and i aren't outnumbered. it makes a huge difference. so i got a chance to start courtney on her allowance and get her counting money again. she needs lots of practice.

i've been on the job two weeks over at the world's greatest toy company. although i still feel a bit odd wandering those halls with rowling in my hands, there is something comforting about the fact that the corporation is all about making childhood enjoyable and rewarding. but the important thing is that they are flush and i'm getting paid.

the feds still await my latest raft of excuses and paperwork, as does blue cross. such things annoy me. some days i want to live off the grid.

2/3rds of my christmas shopping is done. mom and i are sending you cards and whatnot. it's actually a pretty good picture this year. but some of you don't have real addresses. we're thinking of you anyway.

i've been playing boohab for a few rounds over at i think i'll leave it at that.

my bro graduated!! yay, he's got his shield, and advanced the family in a new and admirable direction. what kind of black man is an officer for the l.a.p.d., well at least one of them is the best kind of black man, a bowen man. fascinating what he says about pepper spray. it's the worse pain he's ever experienced, something akin to a feral cat and a porcupine battling on your face for an hour. tazers hurt worse, but only for a short time. i think i may have to revise my punch in the nose theory.

auntie is all well and good, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and a little james brown. she collapsed last week while out to dinner with friends, evidently the result of a huge pothole in blood pressure. so after her brief sojurn at l.a.'s most prestigious hospital, she has returned to us cheney-fied. ten year battery in that pacemaker. she's sore, but back on the good foot.

my lovely neice who has been going through a bit of it herself is in limbo these days. i think the family is keeping me from her. or basically just not asking my advice for her. i don't see why, i've dropped out of more colleges than anyone. anyway, who's going to pay that cell phone bill?

my nt server is nicely working again. i've decided to let it stay on the win2k. i'll get a separate linux box some other day. oddly enough, the main reason i wanted it was for, but it just may turn out that this userland stuff may obviate the whole point of it. still i'd love to have the solaris for intel to keep up my ksh and perl finger memories.

on the xbox, i am having a ball with fifa world cup 2002. morrowind now leaves me cold. i don't know. i think some of it has to do with me living a bit less hermetically than when i first moved to atlanta. also i think that i like a bit more skill based playing. when i finally got my hands on metal gear solid, the contrast was clear. skill development in morrowind is painstaking and slow. the arsenal is too large. morrowind is very much like life. the range of skills is enormous. i mean clearly, you need to be able to kill the various sentries and guards in order to progress to the level implied in the game, but it would take at least 3 months of game playing to reach that level.

in the middle of playing as a nightblade, basically the equivalent of an auror in the harry potter series - a killer of evil mages, i suddenly got interested in alchemy. so here i'm developing the skills so that i can be a good thief and short swordsman and political being all so that i can get lots of money to buy powerful potions and charms, and i discover that an alchemist, with just a few tools, can go around picking mushrooms and make their own. so i sell all my weapons and go picking flowers and looking for books with recipes. but clearly no matter what i do, i can't get my alchemy skill level up to par.

they do some fairly interesting things with genetic predispositions in morrowind. it's very nicely balanced though. there are obviously many approaches to the same problems but either way, it takes a virtual eternity.

so that's it. merry christmas.

Posted by mbowen at 05:49 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2002

The [Im]materiality of [Lott's] Racism

there is a simple litmus test here which could begin to uncover whether or not a candidate is principally racist. yet so many folks, including lott himself, have weighed in on the matter of the significance of comments and apologies spun this way or that, that the underlying principles are fundamentally ignored. furthermore, few things annoy me more than the lazy excuse to elide to black popular opinion on matters of principle.. but more on that later.

one should indeed consider whether or not lott and his constituency are racist. such determinations are possible. we can take it as a given that they lean towards that way, simply because the ccc are fairly unreconstructed, and as several people have astutely pointed out, lott has brought legitimacy to them and other such organizations by dignifying their agendas, en passant. but given that some significant fraction of lott's constituency is racist and that lott, like byrd, wallace, thurmond, helms and dozens of others like them in past as well as contemporary politics, faithfully represent their interests, should such people remain in office and/or have leadership positions? (what do i mean by 'significant fraction'?)

gwbush has, for principles unknown, made the proper decision. in essence, lott is a racist and as a racist, should not lead the party in the senate, but should remain on as a senator and continue to represent his constituency. i think that is a simple enough decision, but this is all anybody seems to care about, which ultimately evades the substance of what racists do, or a racist constituency would have beholden politicians do. 

instead it is at this point that we consider the merits of affirmative action, census categories, and other politically fungible proxies for non-white political interests. the false axiom being replicated is that a satisfied or silent minority electorate is consistent with a principally anti-racist republic. this is the fog of a self-induced colorblindness and other fuzzy thinking which is placated by BET programming and the relative silence of minister farrakhan. 

who would dare look deeper than the spectre of a theoretical dixiecrat presidency? 'special interests' of course. those hardcore civil libertarians forged in the only part of recent american history in which people actually fought and died for their political beliefs.

a lot of congratulation goes around, but the harsh reality is that it has taken almost two generations for the country to muster the political will to knock over someone like lott, a mere cheerleader. too little too late. after all, everybody was actually celebrating strom thurmond. it does say something profound that such a man lives to be 100 years old making laws in the most powerful deliberative body in the free world and someone like medgar evers is shot down in his prime.

Posted by mbowen at 11:47 AM | TrackBack

Review: Jeeves & Wooster The Complete First Season

faithful & funny.

back in 1987 before i owned a complete stereo, i used to listen to the radio. i happened on a broadcast of 'what ho jeeves' and was regularly doubled over with laughter. it gave me an appreciation of wodehouse which i misappropriated to the english language itself. it's all good though, english can be beautiful.

fast forward 15 years. i'm stuck with the onerous task of driving from houston to los angeles (or vice versa, who remembers such things?) so i pick up the audiobook of 'the inimitable jeeves'. fortunately i have learned to laugh without doubling over, otherwise i would be in a mangled pile of german engineering somewhere in new mexico.

as soon as i reached houston (yeah now i recall), i jumped onto amazon and ordered this dvd set. wouldn't you know that i had to move to atlanta before amazon delivered it. so i ended up buying an audiobook of 'baudalino' to last me from atlanta to houston where i finally picked up 'jeeves & wooster'.

it was with great relish that i finally vewied the stories, many of which were picked from 'the inimitable'. i was fully satisfied. these are, go get a tub of moo goo gai pan and a smirnoff ice, fluff your pillows and get ready to laugh stories. the kind of entertainment you really enjoy. it was all i could do not to watch all of the episodes at once.

which reminds me, i gotta put the next set on my wish list.

Posted by mbowen at 11:15 AM | TrackBack

Review: Morrowind - Got Months?

as has been said, morrowind is massive, immersive and all that. in this review i want to simply warn you about what happens next. you have to be like me, and take it to a level at which you can conquer at will and then switch to a completely different character or else your interest may fall off a cliff.

morrowind now leaves me cold. i don't know. i think some of it has to do with me living a bit less hermetically than when i first bought it. also i think that i like a bit more skill based playing. when i finally got my hands on metal gear solid, the contrast was clear. skill development in morrowind is painstaking and slow. the arsenal is too large. morrowind is very much like life. the range of skills is enormous. you can only guess how long it will take you to master them, and you don't really know if that is the thing that will bring you success, but you try it anyway. you are invested because of the time, you really build a self in morrowind.

i mean clearly, you need to be able to kill the various sentries and guards in order to progress to the level implied in the game, but it would take at least 3 months of game playing to reach that level.

in the middle of playing as a nightblade, basically the equivalent of an auror in the harry potter series - a killer of evil mages, i suddenly got interested in alchemy. so here i'm developing the skills so that i can be a good thief and short swordsman and political being all so that i can get lots of money to buy powerful potions and charms, and i discover that an alchemist, with just a few tools, can go around picking mushrooms and make their own. so i sell all my weapons and go picking flowers and looking for books with recipes. but clearly no matter what i do, i can't get my alchemy skill level up to par.

switching play styles in the middle of a game is an enormous and interesting challenge and it made the game more worthwhile to me, but the character you choose will have some hard limits. they do some fairly interesting things with genetic predispositions in morrowind. it's very nicely balanced though. there are obviously many approaches to the same problems
but either way, it takes a virtual eternity.

so the deal is, get into it deeply, and when you have the hang of it, switch to a new character and start over. this will double your pleasure. but then finally, you will be sick of it and wonder how you spent all that time on the game.

Posted by mbowen at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

Minority Report the Videogame


this is the kind of mindless violent idiocy that people who have never played videogames think all videogames are like.

how crappy is this game? let me count the ways. it is crappy in the way it's a third person shooter and weapons automatically lock on. it has crappy camera positioning. the animation is jerky, and looks like something for nintendo 64, not xbox. anderton's face is a mask of brutality.

the premise is cool, the way you can throw someone through a plate glass window is cool (but the execution is nowhere near as nice as spiderman), and the heat-wave effects in the stun weapon is cool. all that adds up to is about 1 hour of basic training and gameplay and then utter disgust.

Posted by mbowen at 09:18 AM | TrackBack

December 22, 2002


i have a problem with restraint.

it has something to do with the kind of joy i am accustomed to getting when i see a spark of recognition in someone's eyes, or hear it in their words. adam suggested that i join a support group for survivors of gifted childhood. i don't particularly recall what i was talking about when he made that remark several weeks ago, but now that i'm retrieving out of that corner of my mind where i cast unpayable bills and vaguely understood latin phrases, i think i have something to process it with. that is the context of exposition. smart ass kids just never shutup do they? always telling somebodys business often enough their own familys business. sometimes, thats a very good thing.

the moment that brings this to mind took place thursday night in pops' den. on the walls are a couple dozen plaques and certificates of admiration from various legislative bodies and non-profit organizations. intermixed in the natural hues of the large sunken room are west african motifs and some of my cousin's original woodcuts. on the box is gigi, but then finally james brown. we plopped and noshed waiting for my two brothers and cousin to arrive, and i tried to maintain, as i rediscover the true meaning and beauty of olive-clad pimentos, silence on the bloglaunch & cosby show republican project.

everybody arrives, dock with ribs and deet with golden bird. (in order to maintain some reverence for the family, you gentle reader, shall know them as pops, moms, deet, dock and dutz. my cousin podd, in town for the week was to arrive too. ) something pops seems to sense, or perhaps not, is how some strenuous joint activity, like moving impossibly cumbersome furniture is the perfect precursor to excellent bonding - as long as that moving starts before the second beer.

now with everyone full, present and in the absence of back injuries we get down the the business at hand, which is sharing our lives up to the minute, joy and pain. i cant recall the last time the five of us were together. podds wedding was the last time i saw him, this past summer. he has dreadified remarkably since then and stands far past the stage i wimped out. hes looking good. dock is completely clean, head and face which matches his new serenity. he is the warrior and appropriately so, he is a soul of integrity and unencumbered with artifice. moreover he is happy. two hours into the wilderness you empty yourself and become aware of the absolute beauty of everything around you. his beacon is the image of beethoven beaten deaf lying face up at midnight into the million stars and finding absolute peace. deet wears his new glasses turtleneck sweater. as usual he exudes joie de vivre and the kind of humble discipline in maintaining that always makes me say what am i doing? he should manage my money. i am deeply incognegro with the red doo rag, red plaid hunting jacket and baggy jeans completely lounged out in my chair with bits of cole slaw in my salt and pepper goatee. pops, incongruous as ever, in orange fleece sweatpants and mandelas temple-grayed afro starts off the question. how is life treating you?

we go round. the subject is women, mostly. the one thing in our lives that we ultimately manage never to fully understand and control. everything else is, if not some sort of discipline, chaotic within reason. somebody needs a new road manager, somebody needs a new financial plan, somebody needs a new contract, somebody needs a new school. all within grasp.

but the moment is found in the breaks of our talks, a small part of the subtext (of which there is very little, nobody hides or dissembles here) is the lack of existential partners we find. this family circle, even if it only repeats once a year, is all we get. i think we are all thinking the same thing, if spike lee had a camera on these five hours, he would have a film that would have america buzzing for years. and although i hate to make the point, something about me is always trying to make a point, this is part of what we black men need in our lives. if america could see what we just said and what we mean to each other, it would be a better place. i cannot estimate how often what we do happens in black america, but you can be sure it does. and yet podd says that antwone fisher is the first time hes ever seen a black man portrayed like that on film. understanding that we have always been the family we are and this convocation, while infrequent is a simple and natural consequence of the kind of men we are and are trying to be, the point seems almost inconsequential. there ought to be a movie about who we are and what we do and how we relate and deal with the problems of our lives. but the simple fact that we do have and always will have each others love and respect and dont need some film demonstrates the value of the point and the need for it. we know this kind of love and respect works, and all that can be represented and distributed. thats why podds a playwright. thats why im a writer.

this kind of writing i do is unusual. im never going to know, as a woman once told me in a san francisco restaurant, how my writing is going to affect someone. somehow if i could communicate some part of the touching beauty and inspiration we experienced thursday night just by being who we are honestly with each other, well, id love to. its odd that i think of it in terms of a spike lee movie, but thats what weve got.

ive got love and respect and i get so full of joy and inspiration that it makes me wanna holler. and half of that story aint never been told.

Posted by mbowen at 03:46 PM | TrackBack

December 17, 2002

Dog Town Stoners

dog town and z-boys, last night on dvd. wow. no history of california would be complete without this.

i must have known, for a brief time, some of those kids. i went to paul revere junior high in the summer of 74 and i too skateboarded on that asphalt wave. for some reason, pulled from deep in my memory, i seem to know the names of alva and peralta, though i never read any skateboard magazine. i was also a junior lifeguard at venice beach in the summer of 75 and definitely adopted a 'locals only' mentality in our competitions against zuma and huntington. i also smoked weed in san diego county in summer camp with a dogtown stoner. his name was dan heffernan and he played guitar. coolest white kid i ever knew. we were strait buds. i wonder if i could ever find him again.

Posted by mbowen at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

December 15, 2002

The Elephant Man

from my perspective, the republican party offers african americans today the same thing the jim crow south offered 50 years ago, a sterling opportunity to be turned around.

the republican party, much like american cities before black mayors, simply doesn't have the bodies at the top nor the ability to correctly interpret expressions from outside. in other words, you are going to have to wait for extraordinary blacks to bust a power move and throw out dozens of bums. it's wishful thinking to believe it *can* happen any other way. when the republican party gets the institutional memory of black leadership, then it will be over and done within a matter of years. a friend of mine is tight with the political leadership somewhere around northwest dallas. plano, lewisville, denton - that area. it's not so distant as one would think.

in the mean time, individual blackfolks are going to have to tough it out. they have to be the j.j. walkers before there are the denzel washingtons. (as you can see, we are clearly still at the j.j. walker stage).

the fundamental problem with a lot of conservatives is that they are not so willing to be worldly. in other words, they spend a great deal of time and effort trying to get into a situation that works and then they defend and freeze that worldview. this works very well with voters who break their necks to get into the 'right' suburb, the 'right' schools, the 'right' congregation, etc. when you get over that middleclass hump and live in that zone for a dozen years, it's very difficult to understand where the rest of the world is coming from. cons think everybody is jealous of their 'values' and 'lifestyles' and 'freedoms', but they are only marginally correct.

the elephant men of the republican party are gross and disgusting. revolting even, but deep down inside they are human beings.

Posted by mbowen at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

High Tech Lynching Only

arabs are not getting lynched. in fact, here in the states, nobody is getting lynched. america, in that regard, is almost civilized. i happen to think australia is civilized. jamaica is pretty civilized too. as regards the latter, somebody asked me (yay) in preparation for a paid (yay) marketing research thingy, whom would i hang out with in history. i decided that i would perform on stage with bob marley. so this week, if you catch me in my car that goes boom, it will be belting out reggae songs of peace, which always sound more credible to me than bob dylan's. australians are civilized because i don't perceive them as particularly belligerent, plus they really love animals. canadians, i am evaluating. i am particularly struck by the fact that canucks have about the same number of guns per capita as we do, but only a fraction of the gun crime.

in america, the hangin' tree has been replaced by the microphone and the camera. the posse of spin-doctors and ideological pundits (and i'll be damned if i dignify them with their own 'ocracy) slither around and dig up incredibly deep dirt and toss it into their media stew, served hot or cold 24/7 for two weeks. a story with legs has about two weeks until there can be a trite conclusion. as you think about it now that trent lott is spinning slowly on the media-rotisserie, my guess is that 1 in 50 of us thought about the washington sniper this past week. but i told you this.

the point of this installment of the blog is to point out that the african american task is just about complete, and trent lott's demise & clarence thomas' passion on cross burning are close to being some of the final milestones. but first, lemme tell you about a colleague of mine - from the archives:

damn, i can't find it. well, somewhere i'm sure i waxed eloquently about this kuwaiti sikh i worked with during the season of nine-eleven who had to take to wearing an oakland raiders baseball cap instead of his traditional turban. this was incredibly poignant to me and every time i saw him in that ridiculous cap i really wanted to sock somebody in the nose. first of all he wasn't muslim, much less a radical islamicist. second he was a kuwaiti, the guys we busted up iraq to defend. he wasn't lynched but he was scared. i seem to recall that somebody pitched a rock at his car, or perhaps i'm conflating the memory of a semi-veiled woman with a huge hole in her windshield whom i saw driving in pasadena.

when los angeles broke out in flames after the not guilty verdicts for wind, koon, briseno and powell, i wandered the midnight streets of brooklyn feeling the oddest sort of brotherhood with every black man in america. during the season of nine-eleven, that brotherhood stretched. i was down with the browns. i still am, of course, and with everyone else who has reason to be afraid of patriotic crowds and overzealous security forces i offer my experience as bitter comfort. when you grow up black in los angeles under darryl gates, you recognize the face of the police state. mind you it's just the face of fascism. well, it's got the arms too. yet, i have a strong feeling that men like johnny cochran would not be bothered with celebrity if we had the guts, legs and hobnail boots of a full bodied police state. yes i've been detained by cops about 30 times for no good reason, but i never got beat down. few people disappear here. it's horrid enough but it still ain't lynching - we've had lynching.

you brothers out there still stinging from pete wilson's take on asian superiority and knee-jerk reactionary whites who all of a sudden conceded yellow intelligence? here's your answer, because it's mine. try it sometime. the african american project was to make this nation of barbarians civilized enough to let asians in and thrive. whether we like it or not, blacks and civil rights are inextricably tied, as they were to human rights in the days of the whigs. the project is almost done, because almost anybody can come here from almost anywhere in the world and not get lynched. blacks bodies satiated the racist bloodlust of the american body politic. foreigners still get spit on, and they still have reason to be scared, as do gays and others america still considers misfit. but african america was too large to get ground to bits in the american sausage machine. we will survive it without fully assimilating because we fielded several classes, just as italians and germans and other europeans have and hispanics will. (remind me to tell you why i say 'hispanics' instead of latinos - it's that damnable richard rodriguez, he's right you know.)

nobody else is going to sing the blues like billie holiday. nobody else is going to rap the streets like whoever it is that's keeping it the realest this week. nobody else is going to amend the constitution and rock the supreme court like african americans. nobody else's plight is going to engender the support of so much fundamental nation-building. why, because somebody is going to have to nuke us back to the stone age before our infrastructure lets us backslide too far. yeah i hear you on reconstruction, but i'm more optimistic.

as i've said elsewhere, we go from human rights, to civil rights, to social power. eminem serves to remind us that there are more generations to come who will be in 2020 where harlem was in 1920. it is inevitable that they'll sing the african american songs. we made the military what it is. ok you get the picture.

so high-tech lynching is all arabs can expect. yeah there will be some chokeholds and some sleazy plea bargains and some intimidation tactics. maybe 10 will get maimed or shot under various ugly circumstances. surely several hundred will rot in jail for no good reason, and the majorities will be justifyably scared and resentful in public. trust us, we've been there.

the arab world will survive america, *in* america. it's the safest place to be.

Posted by mbowen at 07:14 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2002

Return to Neverland

sometime last summer, i took my three cherubs down to the theater to see the sequel to that beloved flick, 'peter pan'. i myself have never seen 'bambi', 'peter pan' or 'gone with the wind' and am generally immune to the drama emoted by people who have. now, these many months later, something about that flick brings me back to the question of america, the improper empire.

if this generation of republicans can do anything to save their reputation in the pantheon of american history, it will be to convert this nation into a proper empire. i hope to see it before i die. why just yesterday i heard that several baltic states have been slated to join the european union, that south america is going the way of africa and that the world is crowding to sell autos to the chinese crowd. all very well and good in a 20th century way, i suppose, but america can head in a direction that is truly great. like the agency of oscar goldman, we have the technology, we can be better, stronger, faster.

of course this is no easy task. how exactly does one create a democratic empire? i think it is accomplished by emphasizing the right values for the empire and the right values for the people. our problem is that we blur the distinction. we'll speak of this in detail as time goes by. (i did see casablanca).

i cry at movies. i never used to. i could sit through the excruciating pain of the rape scene in 'billy jack' as a teenager over and over again with no ill effect aside from the embarassment of the memory as i now recount it. today, however, a combination of emotional maturity and unwillingness to prejudge has left me vulnerable to the hack devices of the filmmaker's art. but something about 'return to neverland' just crushed me as i sat watching a young animated girl and her dog try bravely to make it home as the air raid sirens began wailing.

now christopher hitchens is mulling over the question and i think he's on the right track. what should happen when the biggest kid on the block is actually kind, sensitive and interested in the welfare of the smaller kids? oops, well there i go blurring distinctions. but hey i only have so much space here.

given the full and permanent conclusion of the african american project, to establish and maintain world class civil liberty in the wake (and midst) of abject hatred. america will have earned stripes worthy of initiating and supporting such projects *and interventions* elsewhere.

if we could march through baghdad with the credibility of a march from selma to montgomery, you'd be surprised at how welcome we would actually be.

Posted by mbowen at 07:12 AM | TrackBack

December 13, 2002

Material Breach

so somebody help me here, how many times does lott get to apologize? isn't he already in material breach? racist segregation is a weapon of mass destruction, do we just sit around on our butts until he uses it again? we already know that he used it against his own people. we already know that he was in the jihad in his youth.

i say we get kweisi mfume to head up an inspection team that gets unimpeded access to all republican controlled states, including 'election headquarters' palaces, where they were impeded last time. until trent lott produces a document of about 13,000 pages in length and prove he is harboring no racists, we cannot give him the benefit of the doubt. but it doesn't matter what lies he publishes because we already know that he is - we just can't share that evidence with the general public because it would be a cookbook for racism.

none of us wants to fight the same racial battles that our parents did, but the same guys are in power. everybody agrees that we'd be better off without them, but as soon as we get tough about it, the coalition gets squeamish.

doesn't anybody around here care about the values of civilization? jesse helms, strom thurmond and trent lott are an axis of evil. we need to be about bringing them to justice.

Posted by mbowen at 09:10 PM | TrackBack

Lovers vs Fighters

trent lott has become an easy target. i don't think he's going to get knocked over, because this is really just his second strike in public, the first being his dalliance with the CCC. although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his head is in the wrong place it would take a bit of sleuthing to find where the rubber meets the road. this is not the kind of sleuthing that is going on. i take a lot of pleasure in his being knocked around, especially now that bill bennett has joined the fray. but this should really be about what legacy segregation really had, not what lott says about it.

the only people really interested in depths of lott's depravity for something other than political horsetrading are the 'special interests'. which makes an ugly point about the republican majority and their constituency. lott has stepped in it, and people who fussed about his prominence in the first place are not being interviewed in depth.

to my eyes, the elephant in the corner here is the legacy of white-flight private schools in the south - all founded around the passage of brown. just like its lack of union labor, this is the legacy of southern politics designed to keep blacks poor and uneducated. today public schooling in the state of georgia is horrendous, and the prices for private schools are going from rediculous to outrageous. it's not as bad as the 92nd street y, but it is where segregationists voted with their feet. now everybody is paying the price. so what does it take to stop the separate and unequal trend? it brings you right back to vouchers and republican policies on public accomodations.

you *can* look at the kind of issues like environmental racism that cynthia mckinney harped upon many years ago and draw lines. you *can* look at issues like manipulation of taxes to defund public services in poor and black areas. you *can* look closely at the kind of newly allowable discrimination exemptions bush will give to federally funded religious groups. you *can* draw attention to the legacy of the dixiecrats, but then you will have to indict the boiling frog of rightward public opinion. you would have to ask just why is it that *this* kind of republican is leading the party. does anyone really want to do this, or would americans just wish it all went away with an apology?

it seems to me that you can't have it both ways. if you feel that lott is getting a raw dose of 'pc' backlash and character assasination, then you'll have to look at what his philosophy brings to the republican party, and the effect of that on real people. in other words you should have some hardball tests for lott's thinking. this has become a litmus test for what 'racism' is and what the punishments for it are. so far the answer seems to be 'loose talk' and 'harsh words'. bfd!

Posted by mbowen at 02:38 PM | TrackBack

December 12, 2002

Cross In Mouth Disease

well trent lott has gone and done it. he thought he could apologize his way out of the paper bag which is the prison of racial politics. apparently, he's no jesse helms. which is too bad. political racists, like everybody else these days in washington, are shadows of their former hardball selves.

bill quotes hillary in calling washington d.c. an 'evidence-free zone'. it is clearly that kind of rhetoric which pervades lott's attempt at being above the fray. but when it comes to the vagaries of race, people actually prefer there to be black and white rules.

lott's an easy target. is he racist? probably? can i prove it? probably not. but that's no longer the question. is he anti-racist enough? clearly not. his downfall will be credited to the power of the black vote. that's a joke but it's still blacks that are the ones quoted as the reason why. truth be told, we have other fish to fry, but it's still nice to get credit for being the consciousness of america. we're not it, we just started the fire.

the fact is, everybody is vaguely sensitive enough, if not disciplined and precise enough to be a decent arbiter of racial politics. i hope lott doesn't make it, but i tell you it's difficult living in the future when your traditional enemies are so pathetic and weak that even the colorblind can toss bombs.

arabs, by the way, are not being lynched. more on that later.

nytimes says fire him

tpm has juicy details

lovers vs fighters

material breach

Posted by mbowen at 09:46 PM | TrackBack


part of the difficulty in representing kwanzaa is that people take it entirely too seriously, or dismiss it out of hand. yet the dismissals are indicative of the seriousness at which they expect to take it.

and so in my further investigation of the my family complicity in the matter that is kwanzaa, i relate some of my father's reflections on black society, the holiday and the person of ron karenga. but i will do it gently for reasons that i'm certain are compelling but as of yet unknown to me. ordinarily i would just post directly words from his recent letter to me, but that's not going to happen.

firstly, i was a little bit surprised to find that the nobody in the family were ever members of united slaves. i had been itching to confront the characterization of them as a cult of personality for karenga as a bunch of revisionist hogwash with myself and my family as proof. however there were no bowens in US. on the other hand, i myself was a member of the young simbas. my bright yellow simba sweatshirt was my absolute favorite at the age of six. who wouldn't be proud to be a lion? having recently found a picture of myself marching in front of the aquarian center, i've recalled a few choice memories about the photo shoot which landed on the cover of 'look' and one other magazine.

i hadn't thought about the simbas until about 1990 when i found that very magazine on display at the afro-american museum in los angeles' exposition park. the first and foremost memory was that it took a good amount of prodding for me to put on the angry black face most appropriate for a magazine cover. i was a happy boy, not an angry boy, and i never saw the simbas as some paramilitary group. in fact, we did very little marching at all, and none that i remember for any other reason than the photo shoot. for the most part, we studied swahili and the nguzo saba in preparation for the kwanzaa equivalent of the elementary school christmas pageant. i recall being the 'z'; we held up signs and recited.

this brings up an interesting point. for as long as i can recall, i've always spelled kwanzaa with three a's. but both my parents use only two. i distinctly remember that we added another 'a' to the end because each of us kids was to recite one of the nguzo saba in the first celebration. but if there were only six letters in kwanza, the last kid wouldn't have have a placard. so there was a third a tacked onto the end. bratty prodigy that i was, i got shunted into the 'z' spot because that kid couldn't wrap his mouth around 'cooperative economics' or some such. i wanted to be the 'k', first in line, but i ended up being the 'z'. so depending on your take, kwanzaa owes it's own spelling to deference to the needs of children and parents.

Posted by mbowen at 09:26 PM | TrackBack

Redondo Kwanzaa

last night was the christmas pageant at redondo union highschool. beryl heights elementary's children took the stage and sung joyous songs in celebration of diversity in the holiday season. the third graders were first, followed by 1st then kindergarten. the fourth graders followed, then the 2nd years preceded the fifth grade and the all grades finale. there were songs of winter, christmas & hanukkah. new years songs came in mexican and japanese flavors, and of course there were songs of kwanzaa.

one might very well wonder, in these days of trent lott, why white kids would sing about kwanzaa. one might be out of one's mind, this is america. in any case kids are never quite as white as their parents are, or would have them be. nevertheless, the coughs were in evidence (as opposed to polite laughter and applause) when a poor kid choked their festival of lights speech by imporperly naming the holiday kwanzaa. i hope for her sake she gets to live it down.

but it raises an interesting point about the interchangeability of youthful hope which matures into diversity under the best circumstances and adversity by default. (elaboration goes here)

the other point it underscores for me is that undying fact about american culture, its ability to levitate in the anti-gravity field that i've called the semiotic swamp. (elaboration goes here)

what remains real is the bitter conflict which underlied the development of kwanzaa, which makes it all the more american. who else but americans would swing the blues into a song? aren't holidays supposed to take our minds away from struggle? yet kwanzaa, born of struggle, finds itself as the latest in the american pantheon of ex-pagan rituals. it is now celebrated by so called white kids in a so called suburb were so called struggle does not exist. and yet as it crosses over and blends into the fabric of more and more lives it will bring hope and purpose there as well.

i am strongly of the opinion that the african-american deed is done. we broke open america and made it, for the enduring moment, truly a place of civil liberty. while our wars on terror and drugs continue to erode this world historical accomplishment, the window was opened into which millions of foreigners found our society open enough to try. and having tried and succeeded, their incremental influence has changed and continues to change what the american middleclass is. this america needs a new name because it is no longer a european thing, resembling little in its expression of a mere 50 years ago.

to sing of imani and nia in this america will require exactly that. the only grit which survives down to the last breath is that born in the intimate knowledge of struggle. birth is such an appropriate word, for childbirth is an intimate and painful struggle. birth can always be celebrated in songs of youthful hope, it can even generate an immaculate mythology unconnected to mortal existence. at root, birth is laborious and unpredictable. its ritual of first fruits are as old as time, but only truly connected to the single passion which created it.

we witness kwanzaa some 35 years after its birth as a youthful celebration, respected by most yet fully and intimately celebrated by few. its destiny is uncertain, no matter how certain its creator's intent, and its fate lies in the spirits of its celebrants, no matter how near or far they are to the intimacy of struggle.

as american children sing songs of kwanzaa in an international mix of celebration there can be little doubt that such a light embrace of the hopeful creation of darker days bears witness to the triumph of hope. if we can always expect this of our children, then our future holds marvels.

Posted by mbowen at 05:25 AM | TrackBack

December 09, 2002

Episode Two - A Look Back

ok. here is my obligatory review of this obligatory episode in the double trilogy. (written the week it debuted, of course)

i, too have recently seen 'a new hope' again on the tube within the past week or so and it still made me laugh. understanding that i would probably not laugh much through the latest installment, i have prepared myself for poor reviews by saying that "it's all about the effects anyway". the starwars series is much like an exotic sports car. it doesn't really matter who's driving, the point is to look at the car. secondarily, the man who drives the flashiest car might be overcompensating for other deficits, and i suppose that's true enough of the characters er actors in starwars.

the whole story seems to be suffocated by the apparent seriousness of all this. and if this film has one debilitating and glaring flaw it is this: despite the fact that the whole damned galaxy is about to explode, nobody loses their head. surely there must have been some exclamation points in the script, but you wouldn't know - or perhaps i should say wooden't, because for all the incredible metals, composites, plastics and plasmas in episode two, all of the humans are made of wood.

yes anakin gets a bit arrogant, but then manages absolutely no sarcasm in his 'yes master' when the scolding obi wan comes back around. what a twerp. even when he loses his cool, he's unblinking. perhaps the vacuum of space has sucked all the vivacity out of this film.

star wars needs a hiphop soundtrack, and it's never going to get one, and that's why it will never be as cool as the matrix. and oh by the way, i'm 40 years old and that's exactly what's wrong with star wars. it's for 40 year old men. star wars is all about the treachery of old men and clones and robots and hapless children that get sucked up into their thievery and deception. isn't it fascinating that there are only a dozen jedi in the galaxy that protect it? well, it's no wonder considering the lack of emotions.

once upon a time there was jabba the hut, spice mines and lando calrissian. jackanapes and ne'er do wells populated this galaxy. now there are entire races and planets who manage to involve the totality of their populations and gdp in the silly little treacheries planned in the mind of one dark lord of the sith. good christ almighty george lucas has lost his freakin mind and we have been sucked in.

i say liberate the gang at industrial light and magic and let them bring their tech to some other galaxy, because this one is full of itself. it needs destroying, and anakin skywalker is just the twit to do it.

i'm going to buy the dvd and maybe see it again, because the theatre i went to was weak. ie no super sound system. -- so what of the effects. hmmm. i think we are at about a turning point. that is to say, lucas' ability to fill the screen with effects which are an order of magnitude better than his peers is lacking. or rather i should say that the incremental impact of knowing that all those clones are digitally generated doesn't have the impact it did in episode one. i actually found the battle on naboo in episode one to be more dramatic than the one on the new planet. so now that the digital thing has been done, we can say with some finality that having more doesn't make everything better.

i could sit and talk about the effects all day and it won't do justice to the film, and the one thing that there is absolutely no question that lucas' team has mastered is the ability to make his worlds immediately recognizable. starwars *is* the state of the art in art direction. make no mistake; you are *there*. but i found myself, over and over again, wanting to pause the environment and take a walk through it myself, because who gives a hutt's butt what these cornball jedi monks are mumbling about? get the damned thing onto my xbox is what i say. i can be a lot more creative in lucas' universe than he can. but hey, thanks a couple hundred million for the atmosphere - that's what we love.

Posted by mbowen at 05:04 PM | TrackBack

December 05, 2002

Ligon Forgotten

i was there. i was about 6 or 7 years old and participated in the first kwanzaa. my family knew ron as well as the rest of the US collective. we used to meet on a fairly regular basis at the aquarian center on santa barbara blvd before it became king blvd.

the simple story is that ron as well as a number of others in the movement at the time had very powerful enemies in the government which undermined the ability for blacks to organize any sort of reasonable community political group. however karenga was one of the first to realize that a positive cultural celebration could not be targeted like a political movement. it is a fallacy to assert that karenga was the only person with any ideas at the time. part of the reason the US group disbanded was simply because intelligent black folk don't need 'leaders' the way some folk assert. out of the black arts, black consciosness and black power movements there were several brilliant ideas, but once they were developed and cultivated there was no longer a need for the movement.

as for the slanted question which appears more bent on discrediting kwanzaa rather than understanding it or any of the cultural, political and philosophical background surrounding its inception, i don't know whether or not karenga went to jail. i do know that he fell out of favor with my parents due to some ego problems (there are certain people who feel like they need blacklight posters of them, like were made of huey and angela) and that he was a 'playa' with more than one girlfriend. in any case, it is doubtful that he was convicted of any felony level matter. he is a tenured professor at long beach state as we speak. but also, let me put it to you this way. i have been detained by police officers 27 times, cited 6 times out of those for traffic violations, and arrested once for a traffic warrant. all i am is an ordinary black man. i don't have the fbi out looking for me in the context of 'national security'. trying to discredit a radical black figure of the 60s because they went to jail, is like trying to discredit a republican candidate because democrats say he's a liar. it's all part of the same process.

as for kwanzaa's links to africa, they are simple and plain. we spoke swahili. we spoke swahili like parents who send their kids to french immersion private schools speak french. it wasn't like a phrase here or a phrase there. it was conversational. if you read 'japanese by spring' by ishmael reed, you can get an appreciation of what i mean by the centrality of language in culture. in that way, the originators (note the s) of kwanzaa were more afrocentric than those of the 90s afrocentricity movement. pan africanism was real at the time, members of my family regularly visited west africa, i had an uncle who was an economics professor at the university of ghana. most of the people involved in the early kwanzaas were progressive, as one might imagine. dr. ligon, proprietor of the first and largest black bookstore on the west coast (the aquarian center) was a father figure to most. many people admire king because he studied gandhi, but ligon knew much more of eastern metaphysics and religions. the black arts movement which spawned the watts poets, and was the origin of the career of famous critic stanley crouch, now of the lincoln center jazz organization, was also centered around ligon's aquarian center. alfred ligon and his wife were the property owners and many significant political, cultural and philosophical activities began and were done in his building. the late dr. ligon is the unknown hero here. if karenga was the father of kwanzaa, ligon was the grandfather. however there were many artists and thinkers who congregated around the aquarian center over the years - certainly every major black writer from the west coast over the past 30 years has paid some tribute to dr. ligon.

as others have said, the origins of kwanzaa are important, but what is more important is how it lives on. i am satisfied that kwanzaa is here to stay and that most celebrants have got the spirit right. as i was going to say when i began speaking about progressives, those who would be black instead of negroes in the 60s were also likely to be outspoken critics of the contemporary black christian church. those who found the confrontational, and racist aspects of the nation of islam too strident were the type more likely to find kwanzaa more acceptable. our family declared christmas commercial, hypocritical and lacking in spiritual purity in a christian nation that would subject blacks to second class status. (what a unique insight) so we celebrated kwanzaa instead. later we changed back to christmas, because by the early 70s most of the black power intellectuals like those in my family were making their impact on college campuses instead of just the streets and communities. blackness was solidified and turning the mood in the country towards crossover.

it is foolish to demonize karenga and kwanzaa. in the larger scheme of things history will show what i know to be true. these black cultural nationalists spawned the best of what most americans freely admit, as well as the world recognizes as the best of african american contributions to the world. it is facile for know-nothings to badmouth and search out "he went to jail" in looking at the person of karenga, but that's only a fraction of the story. i think that official history has forgotten dr. ligon, and that his role in the black arts movement should be emphasized especially as it relates to kwanzaa. karenga rightly deserves the credit for selecting the artifacts, but he didn't work in a vaccuum. some of the very first kwanzaa karamus were held under my roof, and i feel that i should also be an ambassador for its roots.

as i celebrate it today (not religiously), many things have changed. ujamaa, for example, has a completely different context today than it did 30 years ago. i expect that kwanzaa will continue to change. but what will continue is its ability to inspire people to be their best, and remind them, in the context of a materialistic society that marginalizes and suppresses original spirits and impulses towards real freedom, that there are certain basic values that cannot and will not be denied. all that is needed is a little honest dedication and a ritualized reminder. that's kwanzaa.

Posted by mbowen at 07:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hard Work

ok i admit it. probably the best time for writing a blog is the time when you are in the middle of a crisis. this time, my writing skills, public ones anyway, failed me. and so i have, redirecting my energies, have survived a few crises.

the first was the non-trivial exercise of saving my marriage from taking a long walk off a short pier. the recovery is in motion bouyed by a lot of holiday cheer, soul searching, declarations and demonstrations. aluta continua.

the next was negotiating myself into a new contract. yea! i have work. yea! it is in los angeles. yea! the pay is good. that was not easy. i am still moving stuff from atlanta as we speak, and i'll be moving it all back in 2003, if my plan goes well.

the next has to do with the irs, the next has to do with the lunatic. i'm sure there's more that i have suppressed, but that's plenty. now i just have to survive on a thousand bucks between now and the 20th, which sounds a lot easier than it is given that my monthly household budget has swollen to 4600 not including food and clothes. how did that happen? it's a long story, and of course, this is a long blog, so i suppose you'll hear some of it. i may be shopping at walmart with humility, but somehow i'm going through too much money. well, i don't think so but the feds will, inevitably. at least nobody's suing me.

Posted by mbowen at 05:45 PM | TrackBack