February 28, 2003


So the spousal unit and I went out on the town the other night. It only serves to remind me of how degenerate our nation truly is, how we are addicted to entertainment. Of course, I retain all the tastes of the ridiculous and that's what makes old(er) age such a rich and jaded paradise.

I'm one of those brothers who does not jump a sudden loud noises. When cars wreck or guns pop I only wish I knew what to do. I'd like to remain expressionless and competent. The one thing I don't want is to become paranoiac and otherwise scared shitless.

Let this paragraph be a quick detour, because there has been a word that has lingered in my brain for several weeks. I have avoided using it on the off-chance that some certain folk responsible for hiring me might be perusing this website. That word is 'girlyfucked'. I don't think I have heard it since I used to hang out with Todd Person in the 10th grade, but it came out as one of the first sentences I distinctly recall in my interview of several weeks ago. It's one of the reasons I remember fondly wanting to go to work for B. Any boss who can utter such a priceless sentence in response to my desire for more money as "We're all girlyfucked" is definitely a mensch in my book. Needless to say, one must have the appropriate mental geography and experience for such a sentence to be hilarious. By experience, of course, I mean knowing that very girl, doing that very deed, and remembering the very look on her face and the very timbre of her voice. Evocative n'est-ce pas?

This kind of richness of experience is available to the masses, and yet who knows if they partake? I don't write much about sex, ever. Nor do I write much about spectator sports. Me, I've always much preferred to engage. Those who can't do, write. So that's why I write about geopolitics. Be that as it may, B. could only guess that his use of the word would work on me. This is genius and risk-taking, and nothing describes that quite as thoroughly as the presumptions of the business of stand-up comedy.

I write this after seeing the performances of Dave Chappelle, and his two front men on the Blackzilla Comedy Tour Friday night at the Wiltern.

You should know by now that I hate crowds, especially crowds of stupid people. I take the opposite presumption of Cornel West these days and assert that everyone, without exception, is working in their self-interest. The implication of this is that the idiot in the row in front of me with the 7 inch black lucite ring that stretched his earlobe to an inch above his shoulder truly is a loser. In order to survive masses of idiots who use cool to mask their stupidity, one also must wear the mask. These days, my mask is camouflage pants and loud plaid hunting jackets. I've explained some of that before. But that mask is appropriate to suburbia, not for this crowd. This crowd, this Hollywood, 20 something HBO soft porn audience, this laid back snarkpit of toungue studs, black pants and volumninous jackets, this panoply of weed-friendly party people, are not good subjects for camo. Besides this was Valentines day, which meant that I had to wear the Hollywood Power Suit, slum village version. The Slum Village version of the HPS is still all basic black, but instead of the Armani jacket, a zipped Claiborne is appropriate. Of course you leave the Coles at home and wear the Sketchers. This way you don't mind so much bumping into people you would ordinarily keep at small arms' distance.

I wasn't particularly needful of entertainment. I wasn't suffering from an egregious week of labor. No company was in from out of town. We had reserved the tickets weeks ahead of schedule. All in all I wasn't amped and due.

Posted by mbowen at 09:38 PM

Flag vs Constitution

Hear Hear for the independent judiciary branch, the last bunch that hasn't been bought.

Here, ladies and gents is where the rubber meets the road. This issue cuts to the core of what America is all about, and I hope to god that people see Ashcroft for the grasping zealot that he is. I don't hate to say it again; Ashcroft has a lot of nerve to even ask. While I'm flying my little Gadsden banner (and it will probably stay for quite a while), I will endeavor to start work on memorizing the Constitution and facts about it.

Appeals Court Won't Reconsider Its Pledge Ruling

'Under God' Remains Unconstitutional, According to 9th Circuit Panel  

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press Writer
Friday, February 28, 2003; 6:41 PM  

SAN FRANCISCO - Rebuffing the Bush administration, a federal appeals court Friday refused to reconsider its ruling that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of the words "under God."  

The case could go next to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Attorney General John Ashcroft condemned the decision and said the Justice Department will "spare no effort to preserve the rights of all our citizens to pledge allegiance to the American flag." But he stopped short of saying the administration will appeal to the high court.  

In June, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the words "under God" amount to a government endorsement of religion and violate the separation of church and state. The ruling was attacked by President Bush, Congress and many others, and the Bush administration asked the full 9th Circuit to reconsider.  

Only nine of the 24 active judges on the 9th Circuit backed that move.  

This is where you all should start instructing your children to start understanding the principles of the Constitution and stop whinging about patriotism and war. Whether or not bombs are bursting in air, there are certain things worth fighting for, and they aren't loyalty pledges.

I'm re-energized. This becomes Constitution central. I'll start with Jon Roland's fine stuff over at, where else, Constitution.org.

Posted by mbowen at 08:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 27, 2003

Barlow on Cheney - The Wackjob Empire

Ahh. I do love being right. John Perry Barlow writes:

Veteran Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanied me on one of my futile visits to his office, where she spent better than an hour listening to us argue about ³circular errors probable² and ³MIRV decoys² and the other niceties of nuclear nightmare. When we were leaving, she, who had seen a lot of politicians in her long day, turned to me and said, ³I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous person I¹ve ever seen up here.² At that point, I agreed with her. What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over. As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision of implacable, irrational, lethality that the Soviet leaders would decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation. It worked. While I think that rock Œn¹ roll and the systemic failures of central planning had as much to do with the collapse of communism as did Dick¹s mad gamble, I have to confess that, by 1990, he didn¹t look quite so nuts to me after all. The MX, along with Star Wars and Reagan¹s terrifying rhetoric, had been all along a weapon for waging psychological rather than nuclear warfare.

I¹m starting to wonder if were aren¹t watching something like the same strategy again. In other words, it¹s possible Cheney and company are actually bluffing.This time, instead of trying to terrify the Soviets into collapse, the objective is even grander. If I¹m right about this, they have two goals. Neither involves actual war, any more than the MX missile did.

First, they seek to scare Saddam Hussein into voluntarily turning his country over to the U.S. and choosing safe exile or, failing that, they want to convince the Iraqi people that it¹s safer to attempt his overthrow or assassination than to endure an invasion by American ground troops.

Posted by mbowen at 08:23 AM | TrackBack

February 24, 2003

Reparations Q&A

(from the archives - April 2001)

10 Reasons

1. "Assuming there is actually a debt, it is not at all clear who owes it. "

Slavery constitutes several affronts to humanity. Let us first talk about theft. Slavery requires the theft of wages. The theif is the individual or organization directing and commanding the labor whom, in a free society, would be responsible for payment of those wages. Simple.

The government is also responsible for allowing such a system of theft to exist. It is a conspirator in this theft through the maintenance of laws which denied property ownership to the slave or even the standing to defend his claims in court.

There is also an industry responsible for this theft. Just as the fortunes of American high tech depend on the exploitation of the technologies in microchips, the fortunes of American agriculture depended on the exploitation of the slave. Just as the fortunes of American high tech's new economy drives and effects the national and international economy, so did the fortunes of America's slave economy.

"It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters."

So it was. A supply of African slaves was created due to the demand of the American appetite for slaves. There was not some great surplus inventory of slaves in Africa held by African slave traders just waiting for buyers. There were no African sales representatives running offices in Charleston, New Orleans and Savanna trying to drum up business. In fact, the unique nature of American chattel slavery (in which slaves are bred to produce more slaves) was a response to the fact that Africa was unable to export enough slaves who could survive the deadly conditions of the Middle Passage.

"There were also 3,000 black slave owners in the antebellum United States. Are reparations to be paid by their descendants too?"

A simple principle to follow is this: If you descended from slaves, you get reparations. If you did not, you don't. We could add a dizzying array of moral qualifications on that, but it complicates something that can be kept simple and obscures the fact of the original theft.

Reparations will represent an effort to collect on a debt, only a fraction of which can be expected to be recovered. Each part of the industry of slavery has some margin of responsibility. Each part will have some ability to pay. All these are calculations which can be assessed.

2. "The idea that only whites benefited from slavery is factually wrong and attitudinally racist."

"If slave labor created wealth for all Americans, then obviously it created wealth for black Americans as well, including the descendants of slaves. Free blacks in the antebellum United States surely benefited from the free labor of slaves, along with whites. Are they to be exempted from payment of the debt just because they are black?"

America benefitted from slavery through the profits of the slave industry and supporting industries. Just as there are some blacks today who do benefit from profits in the stock market, certainly there had to be some then who were clever enough to profit from the theft of labor.

"The GNP of black America is so large that it makes the African-American community the 10th most prosperous "nation" in the world. To translate this into individual realities, American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of 20 to 50 times those of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped."

Their tax dollars will contribute a significant amount to any payment recieved from the Federal Government and/or the States.

3. "In terms of lineal responsibility for slavery, only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves. This is true even for those who lived in the antebellum South, where only one white in five was a slaveholder. Why should the descendants of non-slaveholding whites owe a debt? What about the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves? They gave their lives. What possible morality would ask them to pay (through their descendants) again?"

Again? The matter of reparations has not been tried by the Supreme Court or decided with any finality. The case by Ogletree and company has not even been made, much less heard by the American government and people. If indeed it had every American would be able to point to *the* reparations case as readily as they point to Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education.

We would appeal, having finally made the case to America, to the same morality we ask of all citizens to pay taxes despite the fact that they may disagree with government policy. In general, we can call it patriotism. The truest America abhors slavery and owns up to its responsibility. The truest Americans will support that principle. Beyond that, there is a case to be made on the world stage. Humanity responds to appeals for justice.

4. "Most Americans living today (white and otherwise) are the descendants of post-Civil War immigrants, who have no lineal connection to slavery at all. The two great waves of American immigration occurred after 1880 and after 1960. Is there an argument worth considering that would, for example, make Jews (who were cowering in the ghettos of Europe at the time) or Mexicans and Cubans (who were suffering under the heel of Spain) responsible for this crime? What reason could there be that Vietnamese boat people, Russian refuseniks, Iranian refugees, Armenian victims of the Turks or Greek, Polish, Hungarian and Korean victims of communism should pay reparations to American blacks? "

Most Americans living today are American citizens. Anyone who accepts American citizenship inherits America's fight for freedom. We don't ask new immigrants to rewrite the Bill of Rights, nor do we require them to re-fight the War of 1812. Yet they are beneficiaries of that history. New immigrants also inherit the bad with the good. They inherit all the responsibilities of every American citizen no matter how long they have been here, no matter where they came from or why, without regard to their race, creed, color, religion, gender, sexual preference or other distinction.

5. "The historical precedents generally invoked to justify the reparations claim-that Jews and Japanese-Americans received reparations from Germany and the United States, respectively-are spurious. The circumstances involved bear no resemblance to the situation of American blacks, and are not really precedents at all. The Jews and Japanese who received reparations were individuals who actually suffered the hurt."

Either you believe in inheritance or you don't. If you choose not to, that doesn't absolve you from the fiscal responsibility inherent in estates. Kin can inherit wealth or debt from their forebears. Money laundering itself is a crime. The original theft of labor and the conspiracy to deny property rights from African Americans has never been resolved to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs.

America may owe blacks a great number of things that will not and cannot be corrected or even addressed by reparations suit. Respect is certainly one of them. It is true that one cannot compare internment with genocide with slavery. And so one cannot judge the merits of one case only by looking at the procedures carried out in the resolution of another. However, where there are similarities and the laws and principles are applicable, then they should be applied in proper consideration of precedents.

6. "Behind the reparations arguments lies the unfounded claim that all blacks in America suffer economically from the consequences of slavery and discrimination. It would seem a hard case to prove over a 150-year (or even 50-year) gap, and the only evidence really offered by the claimants is the existence of contemporary "income disparities" and "inequalities" between the races. No actual connection (as far as they're concerned) need be made. On the other hand, African-American success stories that contradict the conclusion are abruptly dismissed."

If we pursue the simplest qualification for a beneficiary class - "The descendents of slaves should get reparations, others should not" - then this question has no standing. If, on the other hand, we decide to divide the beneficiary class into segments then it stands to reason that the plaintiffs themselves should organize that matter.

Aside from that, there is overwhelming evidence that unlike any other ethnic minority, the significant majority of African Americans live in geographically segregated areas. Institutional racism can be described in terms of 'redlined' black neighborhoods all across the country. These neighborhoods, without question, are economically and otherwise disadvantaged. One could easily allocate reparations on the basis of geographic isolation in the major cities of America and cover an average of 73% of blacks in the North and 76% of blacks in the South


7. "The renewed sense of grievance-which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create-is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities. Virtually every group that has sought refuge in America has grievances to remember. For millions of recent immigrants the suffering is only years behind them, and can be as serious as ethnic cleansing or genocide."

Whatever messages so-called 'black leaders' send to their constituency is a matter of free speech. Whatever claims recent immigrants have in their home countries is not the subject of debate, but it is preposterous to suggest that they would not recognize the impulse of African Americans to have their grievances addressed.

"How are these people going to receive the payment claims from African-Americans whose comparable suffering lies in the distant past? Won't they see this demand as just another claim for special treatment, for a rather extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others, many of whom are even less privileged than they are?"

Only if they buy this partisan argument.

"To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans did to their ancestors 50 or 150 years ago is to burden this community with a crippling sense of victimhood. It is also to create a new source of conflict with other communities."

If conflict exists, it is because resolution has not taken place. Avoidance of conflict is denial of the possibility for justice.

8. "This raises a point that has previously remained off the radar screen, but will surely be part of the debate to come: What about the "reparations" to blacks that have already been paid? Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and the advent of the Great Society in 1965, trillions of dollars in transfer payments have been made to African-Americans, in the form of welfare benefits and racial preferences (in contracts, job placements and educational admissions) -- all under the rationale of redressing historical racial grievances."

One can glibly misstate the merits of the Civil Rights Acts and of the Great Society, but I would challenge anyone to find language in any of that legislation which refers specifically to repayment and compensation for slavery's theft of labor.

9. And this raises another question that black leaders might do well to reflect on: What about the debt blacks owe to America-to white Americans-for liberating them from slavery?

This is a simple-minded question with an obvious answer. African Americans owe their allegiance to the American struggle for freedom. In short, they should remain in and of this nation and continue the never ending fight to make it live up to its promise. In general, we can call it patriotism. The truest America abhors slavery and owns up to its responsibility. The truest Americans will support that principle.

10. The final and summary reason for rejecting any reparations claim is recognition of the enormous privileges black Americans enjoy as Americans, and therefore of their own stake in America's history, slavery and all.

Black Americans also have the privilege, and responsibility to reject drivel, and pursue the best interests of American freedom. Repairing the theft of African American labor, and removing the stain of government conspiracy to systematically and continually deny property rights to its own people is our collective duty to this nation and those principles upon which it was founded which enjoy worldwide recognition today.

Posted by mbowen at 06:03 PM

February 23, 2003

The Post-Racial Future

(from the archives april 2001)

white supremacy defines what white is, just like black consciousness defines what black is. if you give people a choice to question the underpinning philosophies of their racial/cultural identities, then they will be willing to improve. it's just human nature that people want to be on the right and winning side of things. and as mlk said, the arc of history bends towards justice.

so in a post-racist society, black changes AND white changes. to what, i don't know, but i am willing to let everyone who wants to move forward do so. i am working towards getting whitefolks (average americans with an average amount of white racial consciousness) to walk away from the same white as white supremacy. i believe most of them are willing to do so. while i know that most of them benefit from white supremacy, i also know that few of them are consciously invested in it. most whitefolks are very offended and disturbed to find that they might be racist and they want a way out. most hard afrocentrists refuse to let them out. (hell, even that dead white male shakespeare knew enough to see iago was conniving racist asshole who deserved a serious beatdown for his schemes on a righteous black man)

i say let them out. liberate whitefolks from whiteness. it's easier to do today than it was just 5 years ago, witness the tim wise memo on columbine and the stupidity of mcveigh apologists. the census is letting them out. and young people today don't want to be a part of their parents' hypocrisy.

i'm saying the Struggle can now be open source. its never going to take away from the greatness of malcolm x, or cinque or sojourner truth or stephen biko or subhas bose or cesar chavez or chief seattle. but it has the potential of kicking down some doors that have always been in white control. i submit that if you wait for every colin powell, then you are waiting too long.

i don't have the patience to wait for 10 million blackfolks to get up the power to make america righteous. and i'm not stupid nor prideful enough to forgo the opportunity to make 10 million whitefolks my partners in the struggle. i don't expect a huge majority of whitefolks to take up the struggle. frankly a lot of them ain't up to it, mentally, spiritually or otherwise.

but i do believe that 10 million whitefolks under a new banner would be willing, on any given day to do better than what we know 'white liberals' have been perpetrating for the past 30 years. and it's time we all step up and move towards that end.

Posted by mbowen at 06:07 PM | TrackBack

Belly Up

I posted the following at Discrminations a few weeks ago, and then the site died. Since that time, a large number of significant institutions have showed support for the University of Michigan in the Bollinger case, and our friends at Discrminations have been scrambling frantically. It wasn't me, of course

my parents were sociologists, but i learned to program computers when i was 13 years old in 1974. i could explain nuclear fusion and fission in the 7th grade and independently figured out negative numbers when i was 9.

as a national achievement finalist (and national merit semifinalist) i was invited to the mite program. i regularly scored in the high 80th percentiles on all standardized tests.
but i was a junior in highschool before i ever even *heard* of MIT.

the mite program had an extension at georgia tech (which i also never heard of) which was handled through the atlanta university center, and it was into that specific program i was invited.

my college advisor had essentially no advice.

i declined the program. i never met any engineers or scientists. my jesuit prep school had a lousy math program, and my math education essentially stopped. although i applied and was accepted to usc on early decision for their electrical engineering program, my interest was solely in computing, and software at that (i took early classes, the full curriculum and directed study in computers). there were only 5 kids in the student body of 1200 who understood anything about computers.

at the age of 17 i took a summer job after highschool graduation running all the scientific computing programs for a chemical reprocessing facility. evidently, i had a knack for thermodynamics programming. my boss said that i had great potential to be a chemical engineer. but by this time it was obviously too late in my highschool career (i had already graduated) to take honors chemistry, which this practicing chemical engineer said i would have passed with flying colors.

if i would have taken the mite invitation, i would have learned from real engineers at the university level which way my talent could have taken me. instead i muddled through highschool, uninspired and told in no uncertain terms that there are no such things as black engineers (or partners in accounting firms). since there were no computer engineers that i could have contact with, the entire area was a complete mystery.

i have no doubt that such a program would have shown me exactly what i needed to know, as i have subsequently met many mite graduates, including one of my best friends who is now a research professor at georgia tech. despite the fact that by any standard, i have landed on my feet and have a rewarding career, there is no question that i could have done better had i taken advantage of that opportunity.

most people who don't make it their business have little idea of what it takes to discover and nurture the talent and hunger of kids who have racist and other presumptions against their undernourished ambitions. i've been that kid, and i've helped others who are that kid.

the broad net cast by programs like the mite program is appropriate, and yet there are many fish, like me, that still get away.

i can assure you that there is institutional patronage in programs like mite and that many black and latino folks who have come up through the system the hard way will continue to fight for it.

i can also assure you that organizations like nsbe (of which i was a national officer) will continue their unique missions, and i can further assure you that despite the complete lack of racial restrictions or preferences in membership, whitefolks will continue to ignore them.

i could argue for years that there is something very different about being black or latino and persuing arguably the most difficult of all undergraduate programs. it is a story that doesn't translate well, especially in light of the tabula rasa of context-free colorblindness. what doesn't go away, however is the sense of duty and purpose of those deeply involved in such programs.

the fact remains that america wants engineers, scientists and technologists. furthermore it is undeniable that programs like mite and groups like nsbe and shpe have been very successful in their missions to recruit, retain and graduate black and latino engineers.

i say more power to them.

Posted by mbowen at 11:40 AM | TrackBack


P>If you don't understand a word, look to the dictionary. If you don't understand blackfolks, look to science.

This is evidently the regime in place as folks tiptoe through the minefield of heritable intelligence. I'm not going into a long expository thing here because this kind of thing is best worked through interactively, like a game of 20 questions. There is entirely too much ground to cover.

Since this matter involves The Bell Curve, I suppose it doesn't help in my distinction that I'm against it. But my primary argument against the Bell Curve is that it was a shoddy attempt to undermine the political process with weak science. In any case what I'm going to suggest is that there is a philosophical framework we should keep in mind which reigns in our scientific inquiry and directs it. Racism has no place in our republic, whether or not there are ultimately scientific findings which support certain axioms of racial supremacy. Free inquiry isn't automatically valuable.

To the subject at hand, I have no problem with the idea of heritable intelligence. It makes perfect sense that some brains are physically more well adopted to performing certain computational tasks, just as some eyes see better than others. But as you map such things onto race, it's like saying categorically that blue eyes see better than brown eyes. The external morphology we can recognize has nothing to do with the qualities of the eye's ability to see. In a society such as ours, which is predisposed to seeing things in racial terms (which have no consistent correlation to genetics) it's not surprising that things get twisted.

The question arises as to what social significance we attribute to scientific discoveries. What I cannot seem to fathom is how seemingly intelligent people have completely lost their understanding of the lessons of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. If the lessons of the corruption of a eugenically enhanced society were not made plain enough in that book, there are surely other examples. But I think this is a matter we can solve with a tiny bit of reasoning and common sense.

The reason racism is odious is because to controverts the premises of civil equality, the entire point of the French and American revolutions. But to understand this we must go a bit deeper than the common understanding of racism. I'll use the following terms. Racialism, Extrinsic Racism, Intrinsic Racism.

The belief that there are differences between human beings which are inherited such that they can be ordered into separate races in such a way that each race shares traits and tendencies which are not shared by members of any other race. Each race has an 'essence'.

All forms of racism build from the premise of racialism. Notice that racialism is not saying anything 'good' or 'bad' about races just that mutually exclusive races absolutely exist and divide the species. The racialist would argue that you could trace the bloodlines of jews throughout history and that you can definitely determine the 'jewness' of any human being according to his racial 'essence'.

A racialist does not necessarily believe that the races, as we understand them in America are complete. He may say that there are, in actuality, 37 races. We just don't know what they are yet. The racialist's point however is that race, whatever it turns out to be, is deterministic of human behavior and that we need to know.

extrinsic racism:
The extrinsic racist says that there is a moral component to the 'essence' of a race which warrants differential treatment. These differences are, to the extrinsic racist, not particularly controversial. The extrinsic racist, while maintaining the belief for example that Jews are greedy, might not feel anything wrong with befriending a Jew. The extrinsic racist might very well applaud the Jew who proves himself not greedy and call him a credit to his race.
intrinsic racism:
The intrinsic racist says that the moral 'essence' of a race establishes an incontrovertible status for the race. no matter what an individual member of a race does he should be treated just like the rest of his race. the extrinsic racist would argue that the Jew is so greedy that he would hide his greed in order to gain other's confidence or that this generous person is simply not a Jew.

(I specifically use jews in this definition because I understand that jews are not a racial group per se)

If one can quantify a particular type of intelligence which is inheritable then one is clearly saying that it is distinct and mutually exclusive. If it weren't, why bother with genetic research? As far as I know, nobody has figured out which brain shape helps one multiply numbers without the use of paper, or which gene governs the ability to speak multiple languages but that's the aim of the science. Find the definitive link. In short, the logic of genetic inheritance of intelligence works exactly as racialism does. There are genes, intelligence is expressed through the genes. You either have the gene or you don't. It's a hardware question. Ultimately the science will map the various intelligences into mutually exclusive genetic groups. These will be the races of intelligence.

I'm not going to get bogged down in questions of how much difference environment makes because it doesn't mitigate the intent of the genetic science. Analagously speaking, it doesn't matter that eyesight can be corrected, the search goes on for the gene for perfect eyesight.

In America, we are infatuated with the idea that we are a meritocratic society. That's hardly as well-wrapped a concept in reality as in theory, ask any investment counselor who deals with heirs. Nevertheless much of America operates in persuit of that principle. It is this infatuation with meritocracy which pushes the morally neutral racialism of those I'll call 'genetic expressionists' into questionable territory, into racism, and this is exactly where the Bell Curve begins.

If intelligence is meritorious, then those who are intelligent *should* have enhanced standing in our society if our society *should* be meritocratic. This is the morally provocative statement. Any way you assert it, either as a plan for a future elitism or as an apology for the present inequality, it is an express appeal for that singular value to have weight in an individual's standing. What's particularly galling about this is that of all human attributes, intelligence is probably the most amoral. Rewarding people for being smarter than their neighbor is a quick road to hell. Should the energy traders who outsmarted the State of California deserve those profits? Should the terrorists who outsmarted the entire American intelligence community be commended? Of course not. There are other things that are clearly more important to the well being of our nation than the collective intelligence of its population, or the standing of its more intelligent people within it. To suggest otherwise is to present an America which stands outside of the fold of human history.

Let's look at some practical scenarios in a future of gene mapped races of intelligences. Say that 10 years from today we have a scientifically vetted equivalent of four intelligence types. These work rather like Meyers-Briggs, and people know that they are ESTJ as well as they know their SAT scores. If the American Bar Association polls its membership and finds that it is objectively lacking in genetic intellectual diversity, should it give affirmative action points for INST intelligence types? If the Southern Pacific Railway hired an ERFX should they be indemnified at a lower rate for train collisions? If my wife divorces me when she finds out that I'm an RDES, can I sue the lab that tested me for alimony damages?

Speculation is fun. That doesn't change the fact that this country is ripe for overselling intellectual determinism, and has centuries of experience in segregating its people into neat, false, destructive higherarchies. If some genetic science makes a new class of hierarchies true, is that progress?

Swinging back around to the top. Blackfolks provide a neat if poorly understood example in all of this wishful thinking about brains and meritocracy. So the supposed gap between average black intelligence and average white intelligence bears more weight than it deserves. People seem genuinely surprised to find that whites own on average 8 times as much property than blacks. If I could, by increasing my IQ score by 15 points, gain 800% value of my assets, then I'd focus on this debate as if it really mattered. But I know it's just dancing around the same primitive fire.

Posted by mbowen at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

February 11, 2003

Power Law Distributions

I'm somewhat skeptical of this, but it makes for a fine theory.

A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.
Posted by mbowen at 08:32 PM | TrackBack

Overdue Shouts

Interesting Monstah reminds me that I need to recognize the Browns. So here is a long overdue shout out to those who have befriended and influenced me, lo these many years.

The first, must go to Fathi, who mentored me through the big X. Next must go to Nick whose patience with my brash ass must have even tried his infinite patience and gentility. Sunil, the ordinary guy. You were a first example to breaking my stereotypes. Ramcharandas, you were just too set, you should have stood up to those guys. Hoshi, you are stll the man wherever you go. Remember that I was right about computers and business.

Partha, thanks for the warmth. It was always a pleasure. I hope we meet again. Ranga, you always represent to me the power of youth, brilliance and energy. Rishi, my old pal, what can I say? You are one of the few people whose cool equals and sometimes even surpasses that of my own. Srini, you are and always have been a genius. Your inventions feed my family, thanks for everything. Sreedhar, you really need to leave that French company's software alone. Kumar, whenever I think of you not wearing your turban it brings tears to my eyes, stay strong brother.

Peace to Nanda, Elesh & Joseph, you guys were great. I miss lunches. And although I could go on, my final shout out goes to Peace. Your graceful loss at Rio Mar made this old man feel like he can still play volleyball. I hope the day finds you all well.

Posted by mbowen at 08:05 AM | TrackBack

February 10, 2003

Woodson First


I have started the Black History Month discussion at the family dinner table. The kids are old enough to begin to understand these things, and I'd like to catch them up in it before the MLK cult of personality warps their appreciation of history. Deet reminded me of this yesterday. He and his wife and their pianist have a program that's beginning to become an institution in the private schools northeast of Los Angeles. I've got a little catching up to do.

I started, naturally, with Carter G. Woodson. So I grabbed some short facts out of memory and then googled up a few. What got me rolling on the blog was the fact that Jawanza Kunjufu has managed to get himself as the writer of the intro for the African American Images first edition which appears to be the most popular version of this classic on Amazon. Well, I never thought I'd see the day. I'm going to spare you a rant against Kunjufu, the author of "Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, but rest assured that one is coming.

Woodson never loomed large in my firmament of black stars, and I never read The Miseducation of the Negro. By the time I was being raised, the points he raised were fairly common knowledge. Like vaccinations against polio, certain elementary facts and lessons must be repeated to every generation. I got mine first hand from Pops, whose rather staggering personal library continues to delight. Not everyone is blessed with such a mentor and so this mitigates somewhat against the excesses of the likes of Kunjufu. Woodson was the father of all, and for this we are in debt to his memory.

Posted by mbowen at 09:20 PM | TrackBack

Implicit Assumptions

Personal anecdotes are just data points. They can be either representative or exceptional. A broader study has more statistical weight. Here's a piece reported merely last month. There is no level playing field.

MIT News Office
What's in a name?
JANUARY 24, 2003
Sendhil Mullainathan

Tamika and Brendan had identical backgrounds and credentials. Yet when their resumes were submitted in response to help wanted ads in Boston and Chicago, many more prospective employers were interested in Brendan.

Tamika and Brendan were two names selected by researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago School of Business to test whether applicants with black-sounding names received a fair shake when applying for a job. The answer: No!

After submitting 5,000 resumes to 1,250 advertisers seeking administrative and sales help, researchers in both cities found that Brendan, Gregg, Emily and Anne received 50 percent more responses across the board than Tamika, Aisha, Rasheed and Tyrone. Family names used for white applicants were Baker, Kelly, McCarthy, Murphy, Murray, O’Brien, Ryan, Sullivan and Walsh. The African-American family names were Jackson, Jones, Robinson, Washington and Williams.

The “white” applicants received one response—a call, letter or e–mail—for every 10 resumes mailed, while African-Americans with equal credentials received one response for every 15 resumes.

“There was as much discrimination for the cashier-type jobs as there was for jobs like assistant to the president,” Professor Sendhil Mullainathan, who was one of the researchers, told WBUR radio’s Dick Gordon on “The Connection” on Martin Luther King Day.

“We designed this study to examine how much credentials matter on the resume,” said Mullainathan, an associate professor of economics at MIT. “We created two of the resumes to be better than the other two,” claiming an unbroken record of employment, volunteer activities and other “things employers like.”

“Then we made one of the good ones African-American and one of the good ones white, at random,” Mullainathan said. “What we were interested in is how much did these credentials actually help African-Americans and how much did they help the white names?”

Candidates with superior credentials who had typically white names received 30 percent more callbacks. The same credentials meant little to those with typically African-American names.

“Perhaps they didn’t look past the name … Or perhaps they look past the name but they discount the skills when it belongs to Tamika but they don’t discount it when it belongs to Brendan,” Mullainathan speculated, searching for an explanation.

Prior to the study, Mullainathan said human service managers anticipated a reverse discrimination gap. After receiving the results, he noted that the managers acknowledged the problem and wondered how to rectify it. Many of the firms listed themselves as equal opportunity employers in the ads.

“It doesn’t seem like the problem is that they’re sitting there going, “‘Well, I really don’t want Tamika here,’” he said. “The problem seems to be that they read through hundreds of resumes very fast and try to form an impression of the person from the resume. And subconsciously, if you see the name Tamika it’s going to bleed into your overall impression, it’s going to cue all the negative stereotypes you might have implicitly … of African-Americans, and I think that’s hard to challenge.”

Posted by mbowen at 07:57 AM | TrackBack

February 09, 2003

Are You a Terrorist

My purpose here at Cobb the Blog is to represent the Old School of black American culture and politics. Tangential to that is to demonstrate why more blackfolks should be Republicans. The Republican party needs a strong dose of civil libertarianism, and they should expect that as folks from the Old School join and participate in party matters, they will bring that strong dose with them.

If Patriot II is passed, more and more Americans are going to start experiencing the kind of things that African Americans have been exposed to for some time. Already we know what it's like to deal with the hassle of security in airports. One day you may experience the hassle coming to you. This isn't left wing theoretical paranoia, this is the reality of blackfolks, before the War on Terror, after the Civil Rights Movement.

In one of my discussions about perceptions about police in black communities, I had to come forward with some personal experience in order to give the proper perspective. I think now that I am considering Patriot II, it is a good time to repeat that post.

i'm going to list out a litany of complaints, as it were. i hate to be pedantic and cynical but i think that it's the best way to explain how relations between police and blacks get the way they do and why certain formalities which appear to address problems do not.

as i took a shower this morning 10 minutes ago, i imagined myself in a seminar with grover and others making an example of myself starting off like this...

you can't start off with statistics. you can't approach the way that police deal with the black community with statistics because starting there shows that you don't deal with blackfolks on a regular basis. if you knew them, then they would tell you what i'm about to tell you which are things that will never end up in any database.

if you were black then you would experience these things because how police behave in the black neighborhood is completely different than in the rest of the world - otherwise you would have the same experiences as me.

cops roll up and get out of the squad car to order me off of my dad's ten speed right in front of my house. i'm 12 years old and they've got guns. 'that bike is too big for you.' it belongs to my dad. 'where did you steal it'? i didn't steal it, it belongs to my dad. 'where did he buy it?' sears. 'how much did it cost?' 'show me a reciept'. (no citation)

cops roll up and ask my gang name. i am 18 years old sitting on my friend's car with him in front of his house. i don't have a gang name. 'well what about your nickname, your street name?' people call me michael. 'we're looking for [pookie], do you know pookie?. no i don't know any gangbangers, there are no gangbangers around here. 'pookie lives near west boulevard'. people from west boulevard don't come over here. 'where do you work?'... (no citation)

cops tell me. 'i pulled you over because this car is the most often stolen car in southern california'. i'm driving a 1968 karmann ghia. (twice - no citation)

cops tell me. 'i pulled you over because your high beams are on.' it's raining and one of my regular headlights is broken. 'show me how you operate the high beams'. what? 'most car thieves don't know how to properly operate sophisticated european cars like this bmw'. (no citation)

cops tell me. 'you didn't signal'. then 'show me your left forearm'. what? 'there is an escaped convict named michael bowen who has a tattoo. (three times - no citation)

cops tell me. 'you are driving with no front license plate' (twice - one citation)

cops pull me over for speeding on my motorcycle; my girlfriend is with me. we are pushed up against the fence. i am told not to turn around. both of us are frisked for weapons. officers talk shit for 5 minutes. they felt up my girlfiend. (no citation.)

cops tell me. 'you were driving with your windows down and music blasting' and? 'and it's late at night and you're downtown in a nice bmw'. i am cuffed while they run computer checks. they uncuff me and give me a sobriety test. (no citation)

an off-duty officer flashes a gun at my girlfriend as we pull into 'his' parking space. we later testify against him in superior court. so actually there is a record of this.

cops roll up as i'm walking down the sidewalk. cops tell me. 'are you a terrorist?' no. 'why are you walking outside at night in this neighborhood?'. the stars are out. 'where do you live?' in the valley, tonight i'm staying with a friend who lives here. 'where is that?' a couple blocks away, i don't know the address. can i go now? 'do you see this dog?' yes. 'if you run away, you gamble that i will use him on you. so are you going to leave?' no. 15 minutes later 'i have an outstanding warrant for a code violation on your car.' i don't own that car - i sold it two years ago. 'well you didn't take care of the warrant'. how should i know about a warrant? (arrest & transfer to another police department, the hawthorne pd who issued the code violation (broken taillight) three years prior.)

the first question that should come to mind would be, how is it that you have had so many incidents with the police? (duh!) but my point is this, if you grow up in a black neighborhood, you have a completely different perspective on who the police are, what they do, and how you should behave around them.

Posted by mbowen at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

Spaghetti Code, Stare Decicis & Patriot II

Someone once told me that you never know how your writing is going to affect other people. I am thinking about that and something my friend Charles told me.

Charles recounted a scene in Thomas Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" in which Thomas More compares the complexity of law to the trees of a dense forest. More, a great lover of the law, argues that if we were to knock over all the trees in the forest, any fool could get through. He errs on the side of complexity in law. Since there will always be usurpers and traitors, it is better that the complexity of the law makes it difficult for them to achieve their ends, even if the result is that the law becomes too sophisticated for the ordinary good man to understand.

I was struck by this reasoning despite the fact that for most of my life, I hoped that the United States would enact flat taxes and clear the books of silly laws like those against spitting on Sundays. We have huge numbers of laws on the books. I have also always held a gripe against the irony that most attorneys must pay Lexis in order to use that electronic law library which contains some of the only copies of certain obscure laws. Lexis' categorization of the law is the defacto standard naming convention, and it's copyrighted. You must pay Lexis to use the law.

A week or so ago, I did a one week engagement at a local motion picture studio. Part of my job was to fix some spreadsheet macros. I haven't programmed in Visual Basic, Microsoft's scripting language, for about 4 years. Suddenly I was confronted with a problem and a deadline. Sure enough, I worked through it, but I swear that I was going to quit first. I took one look and I saw a tangle of code as dense as any untrackable forest. Spaghetti code is what we call it. Software is not narrative. It travels back and forward in loops and recurses back on itself, and that's just the structure of the program. The data that travels through that structure flies through a hundred tangents, mutates constantly and often inexplicably. Just as often as not you just leave entire sections of code alone hoping they'll do the same thing every time without bothering to understand it. On other occasions, you slash and burn whole forests of code, growing your own groves and gardens. In this case, I did both.

One principle that works for me as a programmer is that if you are going to do something complicated, you should use simple tools. That's because sooner or later you are going to have to change it or adjust it so that it will continue to be useful to others long after you are gone. A conscientious programmer leaves a trail of crumbs through his forest of code. But sometimes, you want to leave your code so complicated, even obfuscated, that it cannot be repaired by anyone less sophisticated than yourself. This is defensive spaghetti. Often, your customer will change their mind in the middle of a project saying that they want to do 'B' instead of 'A'. The best use of defensive spaghetti is around such 'assumptions' of a system. You leave in the code which accomplishes 'A' even though it is never used. When you do this enough times, you often just put in a bunch of 'A' code, just in case. It makes it difficult for someone else to understand and modify, but the entire program is more robust.

I understand and respect defensive spaghetti code and now I realize that I will have to respect that in the law. I have always seen parallels between the kinds of programming that I do - writing to influence people's behavior, and that of the law. I have always felt, however, that legalese was the kind of obfuscation which deteriorated the quality of public life. I don't want to simplify my applications so some newbie can walk up to them and take immediate ownership. They need to grasp the subtleties of the craft and understand why every statement in my code exists, even if it seems unreasonably complex. There is a reason for the complexity, it addresses the robustness of the system, but it has the added benefit of saving my customer from the inexperience of junior programmers and amatuers.

Finally, I have been able to see and hear people discuss the matters of the day with some sophistication. The web has finally grown up and the blogosphere is what I have been awaiting for some time. I have been most impressed with law professors and those who would engage in the arcane arts of policy writing. Now that I have made this concession, it has put me in a deep bind which has a great deal to do with trust. My trust is being tested this weekend by the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, also known as Patriot II.

Unlike Visual Basic, I've never taken a class in reading the law. Although I used to test myself with sample LSATs and assisted some friends with their preparation back in the day, I've not come close to a disciplined and nuanced understanding of what goes into construction of legal spaghetti. I would imagine that a conscientious attorney or legislator would provide some bread crumbs through the tangle, but as a layman, I cannot tell how elegant or not this particular piece of work is in its technical merits. I must trust some interpretation of all that. What has outraged me from the interpretations I have gotten seem to have left most of America in silence.

I am in a quandry as to the reasons for this silence. I have taken it upon myself to initiate a kind of simple and symbolic campaign any idiot with half a brain and a website could follow. So far the reaction has yet to sweep like wildfire. What is more disturbing however is the lack of interpretations I might follow to better understand what the hell is going on here. This suggests to me several things.

1. People are waiting for clarification and not jumping to hasty conclusions.

2. People are waiting for their favorite pundit to declare something

3. People are slowly stewing frogs who don't realize they are in the soup.

4. People are apathetic idiots.

5. People are incapable of seeing their own fate sealed in this.

I've been writing this essay for a long time, and I've been trying to say something elegant for a long time. I want to say something that any number of people can look back on 50 years from now trying to debug the past. I'm trying to lay some bread crumbs myself, because we are deep in a thorny thicket. What worries me the most is that the twisted sophistication of this proposal will become ossified into the petrified forest of an authoritarian police state which was once America.

Since I'm of type 1 above, and I don't want to rant in ignorance, I'm going to pace the floor while people who understand how this spaghetti could be unraveled chop it up into small pieces. I'll tell you now, that I don't need to untangle it to know that I don't like the smell, and I'm not going to swallow it.

Posted by mbowen at 08:18 AM | TrackBack

Military Defends Use of Affirmative Action

(EXCERPT) By Natalie J. Mikhail, News Writer February 07, 2003

As the fairness of affirmative action in higher education becomes an
issue for the Bush administration, the U.S. Armed Services Academies
are defending the use of race in their admission policies to maintain
both integrated student bodies and officer corps.

The issue gained attention after President Bush criticized the
University of Michigan's policies that preference some applicants
because of their race instead of "any academic achievement or life

Last month the Bush administration filed a brief in the Michigan case
with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the preference minority students
receive in the admissions process violates the constitutional
guarantee of equal protection under the law.

University of Wisconsin political science lecturer Martin Sweet said
Bush might have legitimate concerns.

"Affirmative action splits a lot of people," Sweet said. "Bush may
actually believe affirmative action is wrong."

The Bush administration hopes to achieve diversity in higher education
in a "race-neutral" way. The system would require schools to admit a
specific percentage of students from every high school in a given
state, but this standard would not apply to national institutions like
the academies.

Sweet said this solution is not balanced, because every high school's
diversity is different.

While the military academies do require all of their applicants to
meet standard qualifications, race plays a part in who is finally

Maj. Kent Cassella, chief of public information at the United States
Military Academy at West Point, said race is important because
officers need to be a reflection of so...

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Posted by mbowen at 07:58 AM | TrackBack

February 06, 2003

War Assessment Update

I caught about a half hour of Powell's testimony on tape. He sounded exactly like himself. Reasonable with a capital R. At the moment, I feel the need to go and list all of the UN resolutions on Iraq ask the question, how much does Iraq violate, let me count the ways. I imagine it would be a large number.

There isn't much question that Iraq has no intention of compliance. This is what has changed in my perspective. Yet knowing that, I still find Bush's reasoning to be weak. So I'm still going to play 'blame Bush' and criticize him, while praising Powell.

The way I see it is thusly: Bush, having been led by the nose by his chickenhawks is now in material breach of his campaign promise "No Nation Building!". As I've said before, my problem with Bush is that his foreign policy stinks, he's not a proper emperor and he is not leading us towards proper empire. He did not differentiate between the War on Terror (which should be properly an international police action and shared intelligence operation, which by the way are we still doing with the French? Of course we are.) and the Shooting War against Iraq. This is a consequence of not having a strong vision of the world, and now the overkill in the hired hawk department from Rice to Rumsfeld has got him in a bind.

Some folks have suggested that Blix should have been on the recieving end of the kind of intelligence declassified for Powell's speech. No way. That would have given everyone yet another excuse to say that the US is acting unilaterally by tweaking the process. Blix' independence is crucial. But knowing that Blix would not come up with the type and quality of intelligence that we have should have tipped the White House into setting up different parameters for the case for militancy. A six month rope for Saddam to hang himself would have been preferable to the expectation forced on Blix to find a smoking gun. We know Saddam has the gun, and we know that with Blix in country, he couldn't procede forward with any loading of that gun or building of another, so why build up the unilateral military buildup and provoke the Security Council? I think that is a consequence of not letting Powell lead. Then again Powell has his job to do, and he did a fine job of moving the White House from 'regime change' to 'disarmament'.

Obviously this was a compromise that Rumsfeld probably took spitting and cursing. I see him as the man pushing materiel and troops to the Gulf. So now we are playing hurry-up and spending money on readiness that may or may not have international support. We knew Iraq would defy, that's why 1441 was created. The trap would have been enough, and it still is enough, without the provocations of the White House hawks. And now that it's clear that Saddam is indeed defiant, where we could have and should have had unanimity, now we don't. I'm saying that the White House war rhetoric has given all self-respecting nations no wiggle room and made them uncomfortable with their own UN resolution. We could have just shutup.

There's really no excuse here, because we have shutup about Iran and Korea. I don't know about you but I was rather shocked when that Korean ship was let go. The White House position?

"There is no provision under international law prohibiting Yemen from accepting delivery of missiles from North Korea," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "While there is authority to stop and search, in this instance there is no clear authority to seize the shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. Therefore, the merchant vessel is being released."

Yike. Scud missiles go to Yemen? The same Yemen as this?

Cole was in the Yemini port for a refueling stop when a small boat laden with explosives was detonated beside the ship, blasting a hole in its side. Following the attack in which 17 Sailors were killed and 39 were injured, Cole was returned to the U.S.

So what's Yemen got that lets them have Scuds, while we chase down Iraqi Scuds? I don't get it.

Posted by mbowen at 08:11 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2003

Reflections on the Blogosphere

starting today, every blogger and his mama are going to be talking about the shuttle disaster. you will read through a million blogs before you find out more about what actually happened to cause the explosion. you certainly will have a wealth of tangential information (if you can call that wealth), but the core truth of the matter will become distributed like light through a house of glass and mirrors after an earthquake. take away one shard/blog and what do you have? an imperceptible loss of value. add another million shard/blogs and what do you have, very little more light.

now the analogy breaks down because these blogshards are more like transducers of light with their own power supply than inert glass, so they add their own light which may amplify, distort, color and block out the original source. but they do so without any coordination or direction. they merely zoom in on a few reliable sources of light, link and then do their translating/transducing business. what you get is a marvel of emergent behavior, but it is still incomprehensible. you cannot ask anything of the blogosphere and get a coherent answer. for that, your best bet is to go back to the source and make your own interpretation from that.

now that i've used the word 'coherent' in the context of light...

what if you could smartly coordinate all these blogshards in such a way that they continually reflect upon their collective reflections and transductions? what if you made it impossible for light to escape the blogosphere until it had reached a certain threshold of uniformity? what if you designed a chamber in which all the little mirrors with all their own sources of power focused issue by issue until they had a resolution? and finally what if you looked not at the reflection business but the resolved light? you would be blinded by the power of that light because you would be staring into a laser!

building that chamber is my aim. until that time, i view the blogosphere as a house of broken mirrors reflecting the news of the day every which way. very nice for the connoisseur of the eclectic, but practically useless for seekers of verified knowledge.

Posted by mbowen at 08:36 PM | TrackBack