October 31, 2003

Fulani Scores!

Remember this moment well ladies and gentlemen. Lenora Fulani, one of the whackiest of whackjob politicians has scored a political coup. Fulani has joined in an alliance and convinced Michael Bloomberg to abolish party primaries in NYC.

The only thing Fulani ever stood for that made sense was her fierce opposition to the stranglehold Democrats and Republicans had on the election process itself. This necklock worked to keep third party candidates from getting exposure, raising funds and most importantly, debating head with the major party candidates. She should know, everybody in the major parties did everything they could to keep Fulani away with a legalistic 10 foot pole.

Bob Herbert is completely flabbergasted by this development. It just sounds like good news to me.

Posted by mbowen at 07:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Loyalty of Hard Men

Quite some time ago, I used to hang out at the Aquarian Bookstore. Sometime after I read City of Quartz by Mike Davis and became intrigued about the origins of the Crips and Bloods, I ran into Donald Bakeer at the Aquarian.

Bakeer wrote a book called 'Crips', and he was involved in some deep hateration of the white woman, Leon Bing, who first broke the big story on Kody Scott aka Monster Kody, now Sanyika Shakur. Kody was a killer and he grew up near 54th Street and Kenniston, where my best friend used to live. This was a neighborhood that was nicer than any one you saw in the film 'Boyz N The Hood' and Kody was harder than any thug in that film. But it was not that contrast that interested me, it was the politics.

Kody finally wrote his own book. While I never read 'Do or Die', I did read Monster and didn't have to undo some notion not from the horse's mouth. Some years later I had a brief correspondance with Kody (which is always how I think of him, the sharp kid who was impossible to contain, the manchild trying to contain the rage). We are both autodidacts and we come from the same neighborhoods, we have a kind of strange bond. He wrote to me of his theory.

What Kody was trying to explain actually makes the most sense when it's done simply and it has remained with me in that simple form. The essence of it is this. Young men - the way they think - they will do anything to prove something. I beleive he called it his theory of Adherence. A boy needs a man to follow. Loyalty is a young man's most precious value. I know this to be true and I know it of my own son. I know he will do anything including destroying himself to retain respect in my eyes. And he will do so until I respect him as a man. Loyalty and Respect.

I have added S-Train to my blogroll tonight. I thought I may have already but I hadn't. He reminds me of what it's like to be in that zone.

Once upon a time when I was a skinny kid in a knuckle-up neighborhood, I found a palm branch with huge thorns. It made a great big stick. And in those days when kids got jacked for grocery money, walking the alleys was a risk. In the days before the Crips sold crack, knives and guns weren't used. Besides, I lived in neutral turf and only the occasional Blackstone or Brim strolled through. Still, for that afternoon, I had the biggest baddest stick, and I just wished somebody would try something.

I retain a solid amount of street smarts. Up until 1980, I was in them. I walked alone at night through the infamous Jungle at the foot of Baldwin Hills, all the way to Crenshaw and Jefferson from time to time. That was well in my range. I lived on the cusp of the devolution but I still had the senses and the reflexes. By the time the game became more serious, I was gone. I don't know how to read the eyes of a man and tell that he's carrying a gun, but I'm sure I could learn in short order. I know when a man is acting a fool, I know the difference between a loud conversation that will end quietly and one that will end bloody, and on more than one occasion my intervention has made the difference. My brother is a cop and I understand his humor. Funny when I think of it, I was harder than he was. But I had to be, I was the big brother.

When you have a little brother to protect or a family and especially if you have the big stick and even more especially when you are being loyal to a man from whom you desire respect, you can be the most dangerously single-minded creature on the planet. Its the same for armies as it is for gangs. This is what Kody discovered upon reflection at Pelican Bay. It came across loud and clear in his book.

Once you have your crew, your team, your platoon, your road dogs, and you are bonded by pain and violence, there are very few forces that can break that bond. But when you are your own dog and you're only trying to inspire that fear and respect in other people, that is when you go beyond dangerous. You know things. You could do things. The only one to stop you is you.

What Kody and S-Train represent to me (whether or not they want to) is the absolute necessity of brotherhood. There is no thing out there called civilization. Ultimately, there is loyalty and respect that must be forged between men who can do damage. That bond must be made before we all become our own dogs. Wherever the slot for the missing man is, it must be filled, like a control rod before the reactor goes critical and unstoppable. If you were ever that sharp kid, impossible to contain, you know what I mean. You had to develop that discipline, you had to be mastered and commanded if only by yourself. You have to control that monster, you can't follow demons and shadows in your own head, but real men who care about where you land.

This is not an essential violence in men. It is the battle we must do, but it is responsive to our environment. I always had love and respect at home, and I had mental and ethical challenges from my father. Still do, dammit. I had to fight on the street but it was not that singular dimension. I felt the thug life, I walked out into it, but I didn't have to live it because I always had a safe home. I was owned and protected by the right kind of man; he makes me the kind of fighter I am. We should all be so fortunate all of our lives. Whatever our past, we need to get it sooner or later.

I'll say one more thing. My friend Charles who grew up partially in South Africa told me today that I need to do some writing before he is gone. I cannot wait until I retire. I need to start saying what I need to say today. I don't know how to respond to that, but I must. And I have to get to know his son as well.

As I write all this at 2 in the morning, I feel that I must complete it, but I don't know precisely how. I understand something about the care and feeding of a man's soul and I understand how important it is that we are linked in some way. To know someone has got your back across the distances is something we need to hear and it's something we need to say. I hope this says so.

Posted by mbowen at 01:04 AM | TrackBack

October 30, 2003

Soldiers Die - So What?

Swerdloff reminds us that this kind of war we're experiencing in Iraq is nothing like the ancient wars. Specifically the war on Iraq bears no resemblance to the Peloponnesian War. Iraq lost, and they unlike Sparta, are never going to take over the attacker's capital. What's killing Americans is obesity.

This gives me yet another comfort in my willful ignorance of current Iraqi events. As I said before, the interesting part is over. It is now reduced to the level of Intifada, hardly military. So it's not surprising that the neocon policy wonks are suggesting a series of operations with cool names in the service of counterinsurgency.

Posted by mbowen at 11:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Blaxploitation II

I only want to mention this briefly, because I've got enough grief dealing with a little culture war that I've enjoined over hiphop. But my prediction is that we are on the verge of a second-coming of blaxploitation.

I was cruising imdb this evening riffing off Leon Issac Kennedy and doing something I haven't done in a while which is 2 degrees of separation with Vivica Fox. This is the game in which you can connect every black person in Hollywood. What's also surprising is that you find some of the same whitefolks associated with those blackfolks. It's a very interesting circle of circles.

At any rate, I found something surprising. The first was, when you look at it, Eddie Murphy has only really been in 7 really good flicks. (48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop) Those came in rapid succession; three movies, three years 82-84. Then nothing really until Coming to America in 88, then Boomerang in 92. Now Boomerang didn't count as a major hit but it was his funniest movie ever, period, no contest. Nutty Professor in 96, Life in 99. That's it.

Now imagine this. It's scary, but imagine it anyway. DMX is going to make a film based on a book by Donald Goins. There's a lot of Goins books out there and they are tailor-made for a new wave of blaxploitation films that are gangsta rapper's paradise.

OK. I just wanted to poison your mind with that thought. If you don't think it's going to happen, then you obviously haven't played 2 degrees of separation with Vivica Fox, or you have no idea how popular Leon Issac Kennedy used to be.

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The Gripe

First it was Novaslim. Now it's Santagati. Way back when it might have been me, but I've been on the other side so long that the memory is fogged. What do we have in common? The Gripe.

De La Soul's version of The Gripe was best exemplified in the rap "Stakes is High"

I'm sick of bitches shakin' asses
I'm sick of talkin' about blunts,
Sick of Versace glasses,
Sick of slang,
Sick of half-ass awards shows,
Sick of name brand clothes.
Sick of R&B bitches over bullshit tracks,
Cocaine and crack
Which brings sickness to blacks,
Sick of swoll' head rappers
With their sicker-than raps
Clappers and gats
Makin' the whole sick world collapse
The facts are gettin' sick
Even sicker perhaps
Stickabush to make a bundle to escape this synapse

Folks in the grip of The Gripe are mostly well-meaning and sensitive, intelligent and hopeful. But there is a difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is the belief, based on evidence, that things will get better. Hope persists in spite of evidence to the contrary. Those who Gripe about hiphop are hopeful, because hiphop ain't going anywhere. This is why Gripers get on my nerves, because in the end they are just pissing and moaning about market share.

Tell me what is more ridiculous than hoping for a new and improved public? It is the public, the masses, the proletariat, the hoi polloi, everyday, joe schmoe, mainstream, faceless, American grade-B peasant that constitutes the bulk of the populus. This is the nation of millions that makes Proctor & Gamble billions just because each of them buys lotion, soap and deodorant. (And now 5 dollar toothbrushes in case you haven't noticed). And this is the nation of millions that holds back the aspirations of the Gripers, who seek refinement, discernment and enlightenment in their entertainment. Say What? As sympathetic as I am to the elevated cultural and political sensibilities of my bretheren of taste, I find myself constantly having to remind them that they are a minority inside an enclave within a fraction of an elite.

Hollywood, Madison Avenue and all other capitalistic enterprises bent on prying the last nickel of disposable income from the great unwashed masses don't give a rat's gnat about the breathless desires of the Gripers. They do a good job of pretending which ironically is just enough to keep the Gripers in thrall. It is this half-assed codependence which generates the kinds of screeds against the Bad in hopes for any Good.

My advice to Gripers is not to get a life, but to get a child. Because when you get married and have a baby, you suddenly find that you don't spend so much time at Tower Records or the cinemaplex. You can't shake your ass down at the club or bullshit at the local head's hangout as much as you used to. All that unfocused vagued disillsionment finds direction and purpose in the integrity of your child's mind - that and wiping baby food off the cieling.

The mavens of the cultural marketplace are not heeding your calls. The best you can do is get invited to their parties, because once they blow up and collect enough ducats, they too get sick of the peddled pabalum that paved their paths to plenty. Does anyone honestly believe that J Lo listens to her own records? That's a scary thought; it might be true.

Ultimately Gripers grow up. We finally decide that there ain't no public worth reforming and grow comfortable in our own little nasty worlds. We take time and read books, and then get our Vladimir Horowitz on. We dig on Terrance Blanchard and Countee Cullen. We decline backstage passes to Black Eyed Peas and everyone else who's trying to make the Crowd say 'Ho!'. And best of all, we don't miss it. Post-Gripers don't say 'Ho!', and there's not a party over here and we don't really care any longer.

The sooner you know it, the better off you'll be.

Posted by mbowen at 09:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

Mass Markets & The N Word

Down in Playa Del Rey, pops, Doc and Dutz and I had a great lunch over Vodka Sauce Penne with baby shrimp. We talked about the fire, of course, and caught up. The subjects turned to the Disney Hall and Diane Reeves' rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the procedures that the Torrance PD used on me when they thought I was a bank robber, the skating that Usher is doing right now, a gangland shootout at the Inglewood Cemetary, Wynton Marsalis hateration, Uma Thurman, Tarantino and Woody Allen. It wasn't until Woody that I got to get my rant on.

Pops leaned in to talk about what respect Jews get in their movies, whereas Tarantino takes it for granted that everybody is one of his niggaz and feels no reticence in sprinkling the word in his dialog. I spoke on my theory why this is so. And it goes a little something like this.

The stop dead in your tracks argument in my hip pocket about 'Why can't white people use the n-word when blacks like xxx use it all the time?' has changed. The answer I now give, when asked, turns the tables. Of all the African Americans there are, why is it that you wish to emulate blacks like xxx? This answer helps the clueless to understand that blacks recognize class distinctions between themselves, which is part of my reason for bloviating on behalf of the Old School into the blogosphere. But let's take this distinction one step further and talk about the commercialization of black culture.

'Black' culture which doesn't recognize class is a misnomer and a holdover from the early days of black nationalism. Negroes of all backgrounds subsumed themselves into black identity for the common cause of a post-Negro identity, and of course the purposes of the Civil Rights Movement. But friction between all these African Americans was only temporarily suspended and never went away. For the sake of anti-racist activism and politics, blacks will always put class & religious distinctions on hold, but they never abandon them. So despite the fact that most everything falls under the aegis of 'black culture', there are a lot of strains. It's difficult to say how much the mainstream appreciates this fact; mistakes are often made. You can point to a Nelly rap and say that's black culture. You can point to a Wynton Marsalis song and say that's black culture. But unless and until you can point to Colin Powell's funeral, I don't know how you will get the both of them in the same room.

Jews and Asians are small. It takes a much greater rising tide to lift all black boats. The net weight of African America is more than double theirs. The black lower middle class is bigger than the both of them. So Nelly is, commercially speaking, much more likely to make enough money to survive a million dollar jewelry loss than Wynton. This is key. You won't see a movie with Jews calling each other 'kikes' because the class of Jews who do so in real life is not large enough to sustain a commercial market for that kind of lowbrow entertainment. 15 million blacks who live in the ghettoes of this nation is more than enough to make Nelly a millionaire, plus of course there's low rent crossover for that segment of the hiphop generation. The Jews or the Asians cannot fund a UPN and a BET, but all those low rent blackfolks can, do and will. They can afford it. That does not and will not ever change the direction and consistency of the Old School, brothers and sisters on my side of the fence. If anyone cared to compare us head to head, matters would sound more like Dinesh and Abigail's rosily false scenarios for all African Americans.

Knuckleheads will continue to abuse the broad nature of African America to suit their rhetorical purposes. When they want to paint black America in foul colors, they'll find a shade of charlatan like Sharpton, mouth off about a murderer like Malvo or natter nastily about Nelly's niggaz. When they want to prove that all is well and perhaps too good for Reparations, they'll pontificate about a prince like Powell, or enjoin a geremiad about some giant like Jordan. They'll use class when it's convenient or suggest something stupidly broad about 'black culture' which cannot be denied, literally. It works because few folks bother to recognize the strains of cultures within the aegis of the race.

Blackfolks know, although we sometimes slip, like pops. He has every right to be pissed at Tarantino, but no need to be defensive about what all blackfolks do. But he was one of the original nationalists and I understand his love for the whole of our people.

I suggested that if there were only 8 million African Americans, we'd be more like the Jewish Americans. There'd be no UPN and whatever cultural artifacts of ours got commercialized would be more consistently highbrow, just as they were in the first days of crossover when only bands like Ellington's got on the radio. But since we have many millions of other African Americans who haven't heard or heeded the sound of the drum, we get to hear niggaz call niggaz niggaz. Pops got it immediately, laughed and suggested snidely that perhaps the Crips and Bloods aren't doing their jobs quite well enough.

Posted by mbowen at 04:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Fire Quickies

Doc, having pulled some special duty on the LAPD mentions a couple interesting factiods.

Many cops are on 'firewatch'. For many this means trolling Mulholland Drive for illegally parked vehicles which would hinder or block the progress of emergency vehicles.

Some idiot tried to start a fire in Eaton Canyon in Altadena. They busted him right away. He was heard to mutter 'Don't put it out, it's beautiful'.

Civilians are transfixed by the fire and are literally drawn like moths. Several officers had drawn weapons on a looting suspect and a little old lady with her walker shuffled right through the circle of cops, just staring at the flames across the street.

KROQ has been cracking on the reporters whose van caught on fire as they tried desparately to get closer than anyone else. The reporter actually cried on the air about the loss. They put some other reporter in a wind tunnel to show viewers what 45 mph winds looked like.

Posted by mbowen at 04:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Game Design

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1000 Suspects

Rap star Nelly has been ripped off to the tune of 1 million dollars worth of jewelry. Las Vegas police are searching for suspects. They might start here. On the other hand, maybe it's one of those crazy muslims:

"What's next, 'Whore Kool-Aid'?" asked Najee Ali, founder and
director of Project Islamic Hope, the National Alliance for Positive
Action. "We intend to chase Nelly's Pimp Juice out of our
communities all around the country.

It's gettin' hot in here.

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No Clowning

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October 28, 2003

DRM Eats Its Young

Like Rafe Colburn, I like iTunes but I'm not likely to buy any DRM protected music from the Apple Music Store. Why? Because as an old head in the software industry, I know how often formats change and how easy it is to lose passwords.

I've gone through about 4 different PGP ids and at least that many versions of the software. I don't use it any longer because I don't have anything worth encrypting that I can't do with ssh to my trusted friends' machines, and two because I forgot how.

Let's think about what we know about human error. In my iTunes Advanced pulldown menu there's an option that says 'Deauthorize Computer'. If there was ever a red cape to bull hackers that's it. But it's also an idiot magnet too. If it does what I think it does (and how would I know, I'm not going to try it), it would disable your computer from using the DRM protected music you've already downloaded and paid for.

Imagine what customer service is going to be like when somebody loses their music. Hello, Apple Music Store? My song doesn't play any more. It gives me this error, "Illegal Attempt Made To Play Music", but I just installed it.

Posted by mbowen at 08:57 PM | TrackBack

Tanking Down Big Media One Peg At A Time

Kieran Healy takes a swing at Gregg Easterbrook over at Crooked Timber.

As some folks have noted the blogosphere is a catalyst in changing the balance of power in the wider 'memepool'. As the most broad, deep and visible avatar of the chatting class, the blogosphere with its interesting divisions of labor, has the capacity to take down stars of traditional media, politics and just about every other intellectual activity. Note that this is a function of the entire sphere and not necessarily the work of one or two individuals. I claim that the emergent behavior of the network of political and cultural bloggers are making their impact felt as a whole.

The most notable tool of the blogosphere is the 'fisk', named after outspoken journalist Robert Fisk who was often the target of 'anti-idiotarian' rants and other verbal puncturing. A fisking represents the evolution of the flamewar. It is smarter, it is more detailed and it is more effective.

Since the blogosphere is open and news travels fast through it, people are likely to criticize certain controversial or popular positions from many angles. The blogosphere supports the highly focused interest of partisans of all stripes and once a higher order blogger in its ecosystem latches onto a topic, it quickly brings out almost all angles of opinion.

The fisk represents the level of interactivity and detail orientation I have been hoping to find within computer mediated communications for some time. That the blogosphere demonstrates this proves several things. The first and most important is that collaboration is a necessary part of the effect and impact of blog writing.

Provocation is a necessary component of this activity. Someone of a particularly partisan bent can speak out on a particular issue in such a way that it provokes a reaction. Thus a critical mass of bloggers and their commenters.

One of the features of this emergent behavior involves a kind of indemnification accorded to certain bloggers once they reach a certain status. It can either be an indemnification of link mass or of credibility. Often they are both. Once an issue to be debated reaches one of the indemnified bloggers

Sometimes the issue needs only a brief glossing over or a reference to other bloggers at an indmnified site. This doesn't detract from the value of the indemnified blogger because even these small inputs sustain interest and add fractal detail to the overall debate.

Posted by mbowen at 08:14 PM | TrackBack

Book Review: Confessions of a Street Addict

by Jim Cramer

there are a lot of folks who have discovered plenty of reasons to hate jim cramer, but if you are a more pedestrian or heaven forbid, emotive person who happens to be interested in high finance, jim cramer could be your hero, and this book shows you why.

i should say that i have been a part-time hack investor for about 17 years. i am not employed in the financial industry, i'm a software guy. as a software guy, i appreciate a rowdy sense of irreverence and an ability to get to the nitty-gritty of a problem with a minimum of foo-foo. and after years of putting up with rukeyser's waspy effete mannerisms and cornball puns, guys like cramer are a godsend. when i think of all the years that i listened to lou dobbs and paul kangas before we got to the likes of david faber and joe kernen, i shudder. finally, here's a book about wall street for people not born in the hamptons.

jim cramer is the bill clinton of financial commentary. all brains and ego and no tact. so right away you love him or hate him. reading this book (i swallowed it whole in one weekend) is a raucus journey straight to the heart of obsession. cramer has got the money bug in his blood and you can tell he thrives on his business just as some of the extreme folks in the software industry are fiends for their craft. you can taste his desire and you can also feel his anxiety. his is the story of a man who found he had a knack for something he never expected and the nerve not to let wealth change the fundamental kind of crusty individual he was. he's a straight-talker in a world where people paint themselves in muted pastels all the while participating in the most brutal of zero-sum games, hedge fund trading.

if puritans are right in their edicts to never a lender or borrower be, cramer's story fleshes out the cautionary tale. nothing makes for villification like theft, but cramer shows how even association with theft or being a victim of theft can quickly destroy a reputation. he also shows how honest mistakes feel like theft when you're the investor. wall street is shown to be close but not clubby. implicit in every transaction is "i'm the one who is making you rich/poor and don't you forget it." given the stochastic nature of the stock market, clearly one needs nerves of steel, a great deal of luck and exhaustive research and great communication to succeed. considering the hate mail cramer obviously gets, it's clear how harshly individuals can suffer at the hands of those who obviously never forget it.

do i feel sorry for cramer? no. he's a sympathetic character for the arc of his journey and the boldness with which he pursued it, not because he's a nice guy. he lived and died by the sword over and over and that's fair. his industry has given him all the rewards and punishments he deserved. i find his story admirably honest in a self-serving way, and in this book you are treated to an insider's view with perspective. yet he doesn't speak out of school or punish people in his pages. you get the feeling that there is a great deal more that he knows but didn't say (and shouldn't)

there is no question that this book is about cramer by cramer and crammed with cramer, but it also offers insight into what it *feels* like to be on the line every day trying to make things happen with other people's money. it shows the kinds of rules wall streeters must live with and how integrity is deeply part of the business. i've read nothing which illustrates it better than the section dramatizing the run on cramer berkowitz as a collateral effect of the fall of long term capital management. it's a real nail biter.

i wrote a review about the inside game on IPOs in 2000 and basically said that you'd be a fool to try and play that game. i've been a month-trader but never a day-trader. i think my review got panned because i said those who thought they were joking by calling themselves 'fools' would find the joke on them and it's funny looking back on that now. i also had the good fortune to meet one of the principals of sanford c. bernstein co and he suggested subtly that 'irrational exuberance' was an understatement. i thank cramer for being out there with a loud, cranky voice that speaks passionately about the investment world with the level of energy that the gaining and losing of career sized chunks of fortune deserve.

in these days of enron and worldcom, americans will be thankful that mouths and brains like cramer are out there with the inside scoop on the wallstreet culture. on the other hand, maybe i just think louis rukeyser is a crashing bore.

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Theoretical Anger

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Book Review: The Emperor of Ocean Park

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter. is a quite compelling if not evenly flowing or artistic read. It's an ambitious book that works on many different levels. As a first time novelist, Carter should have stuck to one or two, but in the end you are glad that he didn't.

As a thriller, it bites you slo-o-o-wly. I get the feeling that if Carter weren't so interested in putting us in his protagonist's stubborn and provincial shoes, we might figure out exactly what is going to happen next. Of course you cannot guess because the twists and surprises go for almost 650 pages. The thriller could have been shortened by half. But if we were to do that, we would have had to make the protagonist less harried and more intrigued.

Talcott Garland is not intrigued, he is haunted by being the scion of a legendary judge and patriarch who has set in motion wrecking ball from the grave aimed directly at his upper middle-class life. Carter is not content to trace the trajectory of this wrecking ball as it crashes through the many windows and wall of Garland's complicated life - no that would be a thriller. Rather he draws out the contemplations of a man who may by his actions and reactions to the threats of this wrecking ball, may be going insane, or who may be becoming a hero. And since Talcott Garland is a member of the darker nation, Carter has reinscribed a new class of Negroes into the duBoisian dilemma of dual consciousness. What's so thrilling about that?

What's thrilling about it is that this is certainly what Carter must know he is doing. And as we like to say in the black upper middle class, 'this sets us back 100 years'. But that's just one angle on this story and I'll leave it at that.

Carter also injects a healthy dose of his most potent moralizing into the conscience of Talcott Garland who is forever trying to keep his wits and perspective about him. While he is surrounded by a whirlwind of manipulators and players, he tries desperately to play it straight. Talcott Garland has no guile to rely upon which gives him the courage to fight. Yet his abiding faith in his ability to recover the love of his cheating wife alone and finally serve honorably as head of his family pushes him to seek answers to the questions he'd rather not know. Garland comes armed with a host of virtues sown deeply in the ways and means of the talented tenth, but they are supplied not inherently but through his extended family. Each of a dozen family members and friends has a slice of those virtues and each imparts a bit of strength or knowledge upon poor Talcott as he valiantly struggles to unlock the mystery.

Furthermore as a story of the times, of the moral mishmash of career ambitions in academia and in Washington, it's a marvelous book that continues his non-fiction scolding by other means.

What absolutely floored me was the patience evidenced in the setting of traps by certain characters - there's not much you hear about anything so subtle in any fictional intrigue which has such a long horizon. Instead you hear the reverse, that mistakes made are long hid and only newly discovered by the hounding media or political opposition but that once discovered they are immediately brought to bear.

Further, I think Carter does an admirable job of bringing race in and out of focus naturally as the story progresses, which is how it happens in life.

It's a very ambitious book and quite a tall order for any writer. As an artist he's not quite up to the task. Although there are a number of gems in the form of page-long paragraphs you can just tell couldn't be dickered with, most of the writing is just writing. His habit of dropping annoying little bomblets of discovery at the very end of his chapters serves the purpose of helping keep parts of Talcott's recognition obscured to the reader, but gets tiresome. But the ending 200 pages makes up for it, given Talcott's final machinations and collaborations.

I think the book is a bit chaptery, and it comes as no surprise that he created 64 to coincide with the number of squares on a chessboard, but I would have liked Talcott to be a lot more chess-wise in his thinking. Even having him think "protect the queen" would have been better. Also I think Talcott needed to be frayed a lot more. It would have drawn me in deeper. One never gets the feeling that Talcott's ruination would evoke in him the ugly side of losing one's status, I didn't sense his contempt for his potential lower-class neighbors, or his sense of how he would adapt. Talcott's mushy self-esteem is not a compelling place for a reader, but it does serve the purposes of Carter's moral lecture...

Carter's imagery of Martha's Vineyard is not so descriptive so much as evocative for those who already have some emotional resonance with the place. But I found myself riding along on the ferry, gazing of the cliffs at Gay Head and lazily walking the Circuit along with him.

The book is fascinating and bears up under different layers of scrutiny. That is what makes it good, and a must read for those of us who have shared, at various points in our life, the muddled consciousness of Talcott Garland.

Posted by mbowen at 01:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Book Review: Great Apes

I have never been inparted with 'Grnn' any of Will Self's previous books. So I can't sign much about the 'euch-euch' cuffing he has received from critics in the past. But through my introduction to Self in this novel, I am thoroughly impressed with the efulgence of his ischeal pleat and submit to his literary suzerainity. Why do humans bash Self, 'huuu'? His effectiveness in taking up such a difficult task is ample evidence of his skill. Yet with all the potential he has for a devastating critique of modern society, he is modest. Amis' "Times Arrow" comes immediately to my mind in parallel, as well as T. Boyle's satire. Both those artists reserve a much more serious tone in their critique of western civilization. Yet Self maintains a delicate balance hovering around the personal which lends itself to extension without ever losing the pure joy of his parallel universe's perversions of what humans consider natural. Self's chimps are not locked inside their own minds as are humans. They quickly resolve their existential dilemnas with a quick mating or a brutal yet brief brawl. And for this, the world of chimpunity has no use for weapons. What chimps lack is sexual attention from their parents. Such a world! Self could do worse than to extend and expand in such fertile 'euch-euch' terrian. I for one would like to see more. For now, a hearty HoooGraah! Self is my kind of chimp.

Posted by mbowen at 01:24 PM | TrackBack

Book Review: Good to Great

Jim Collins, in the tradition of the case study, names names and finds unique properties in the management of a number of Fortune 500 companies over a 30 year period. From a unique set of criteria he pursues, with no preconceived notions, what it takes to sustain profitability in a large public corporation which had previously been only mediocre. His findings are clear, well thought out and often surprising. In the realm of business books, this one is especially refreshing for a number of reasons.

This is a hardheaded skeptic's book. What makes it so special is that it does not assign magic to anyone, neither to himself as a writer or to any of the officers interviewed. Collins exposes his own learning process and allows the reader to understand the nuance in the emphasis of each of his concepts as he spells out the skeptical questions that his research team posed and the deliberation they went through. Collins doesn't come off as a 'guru' who has found some magic that only he and a handful of CEOs can see so much as a disciplined and curious leader of a research team struggling with difficult questions. So not only do you understand what he means as he moves from 'chaos to concept', you also see arguments against his initial reasoning. And since he is dedicated only those conclusions supported by facts rather than fitting random companies into some grand theory we see exactly what he sees and why. There is none of breathless exuberance that characterizes so much of business writing.

What is most refreshing and reassuring about this book's studies is that it puts us back in a sensible framework for understanding long term success without making a fetish of 'leadership' or 'innovation' or 'excellence' or other buzzwords. This is the kind of book that demonstrates the sort of objectivity possible in business - it doesn't obfuscate or take the position that there is something mysterious out there. Rather he makes the complex comprehensible and when the answers are simple, they are presented simply. He constantly checks and compares the difference between unsustainable and sustainable profitability. All of Collins' concepts lend themselves to the sorts of metrics upon which rugged methodologies can be built. This is more than a book of management theory; it is a learning tool, which explains itself. I cannot remember the last book where the appendices were as interesting (and sometimes more interesting) than the main text.

It might be corny to say so, but I think his findings are self-rewarding. Working from the premises put forth, it makes sense for smaller companies and organizations some of which might not even be businesses at all. 'Good to Great' offers solid lessons among which are that it doesn't take more energy to behave smartly but it does take nerve. Collins dared to work smartly and has created a great book.

Posted by mbowen at 01:16 PM | TrackBack

The Worst Films In Memory

On the backside there are pretty awful movies I've seen. Movies where I said, not only is this bad and boring, but what is wrong with the people who made this? In no particular order.

Legend of the Overfiend
This film deserves special mention as by far the most gruesome, hideous excretion ever. I left the theatre wanting to track down the filmmakers and line them up before a firing squad so that they could never make another movie. People had dared me to go watch it and I should have just stayed home. I am angry that the images are still in my head.

Argh! So horrible it defies description. OK how's this, every racial stereotype in the book. A litany of horrors dressed up as sophistication.

Chinatown The Two Jakes
I was asleep within 12 minutes of watching this movie. (My bad - Ed.)

Mulholland Drive
As lousy movies go, this was fairly watchable, but it is narrative hell.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Everything that is wrong with Jim Carrey is amplified in this obnoxiously saccharine technicolor vomit.

Any Superman Movie

Super Mario Brothers
Don't even ask me why I watched it.

Clash of the Titans
Mega Cheese.

Battlefield Earth
I think I held out for about 20 minutes before I had to take a shower.

Idiot 20something programmers save the world...

I've got to quit. I'm making myself ill just thinking of all this junk.
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Posted by mbowen at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

Persistence of Hulk

The merchandising geniuses have shown a bit of stick-to-itivness on the Hulk meme. From the dad-side view, the boys have forgotten about Hulk. But Halloween seems to be an opportunity that they won't let go. I've already seen Hulk Macaroni & Cheese, and Hulk Freezer Pops deeply discounted at Big Lots. So clearly somebody has taken a cold bath. But Hulk resurrection persists. Beware!

Posted by mbowen at 10:27 AM | TrackBack


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October 27, 2003

Righty Blogger's Reading List

I submitted, last week, a list of 20 influential books. Each of these has substantially changed the way I think about things. Oddly enough, the two that have had the most recent effect on my 'conservative' thinking, I neglected to mention. But I suppose it's only fair because I didn't finish either book. They are Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom' which I only read the Reader's Digest version, and Martin Amis' 'Koba the Dread', which I found completely overwhelming. It brought me to tears upon each reading, and I found that I simply couldn't handle it.

The Righty List, compiled by John Hawkins, is rather an LCD affair, with an embarassment of Ayn Rand and C.S. Lewis. I would much prefer to browse the full list and some background. I'll periodically update this post to fill in some details FWIW.

Here's mine, in no order.

  • The Examined Life - Robert Nozick
  • Ethnic America - Thomas Sowell
  • Edge City - Joel Garreau
  • American Mythologies - Marshall Blonsky
  • The Mind's I - D.R. Hofstadter
  • The Black Power Imperative - Theodore Cross
  • Modern Manners - PJ ORourke
  • Integrity - Stephen L Carter
  • Japanese By Spring - Ishmael Reed
  • Money - Andrew Hacker
  • Cultural Literacy - ED Hirsch
  • We Are All Multiculturalists Now - Nathan Glazer
  • The American Evasion of Philosophy - Cornel West
  • The Fate of the Earth - Jonathan Schell
  • Art of War - Sun Tzu
  • Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
  • Faces At The Bottom of the Well - Derrick Bell
  • Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman - Dick Feynman
  • Beloved - Toni Morrison
  • Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

Posted by mbowen at 09:44 PM | TrackBack

Better Random

I've decided that I'm going to stick with iTunes for the time being. I've been trying it for a few days and it has one major advantage over Winamp2, and that is its random music playing. According to iTunes, I've got about 21 days worth of MP3s on my machine - that's about 6500 songs, some of which are duplicates. But there are a whole lot of them I just haven't heard - playing as I do with Winamp I felt as though I were hearing the same tunes over and over but I couldn't prove it. The difference is night and day, plus now I can prove it.

iTunes is a pig to be sure and when I installed it on my C: drive somehow it sucked up over 4GB of disk. I still don't know how that happened or what was going on, but it was headed for the dustbin. I installed it on a remote drive with no ill effects. Still, it hogs a lot more memory than Winamp and when the tasking gets tough, iTunes flubs up big time. Fzample, ripping and playing are a bit much for iTunes in 356MB of Win2kPro. That's piggy.

A big advantage it has is the ability to correct multiple tags at once. I can finally get rid of all the bogus genres. It also adjusts to play songs recorded at different volumes at a consistent volume. This is incredibly useful for me because I put some soft classical on at night before bed and then I'm suddenly jarred awake by a loud cut, or I can't hear anything after the first song.

I'll keep Winamp for my DJ duties because iTunes doesn't fade nicely when I'm manually cueing up tunes, plus the CDDB doesn't work at all with iTunes even though the ripper is decent.

Posted by mbowen at 08:34 PM | TrackBack

My Dungeon Shook

For reference, I need to keep a little James Baldwin on hand:

Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, "No! This is not true! How bitter you are!" but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven't made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn't hard to find. Your countrymen don't know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me you were a big baby, I was not here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children's children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, "You exaggerate' " They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine-but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man's definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off."

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,


Posted by mbowen at 07:45 PM | TrackBack

Right To Choose

Posted by mbowen at 05:28 PM | TrackBack

Assimilation, Multiculturalism & False White Neutrality

Much is being made in certain circles about the matter of SB 60, which is a provision which allows 'illegal aliens' to be legally licensed as drivers in California. The bill which was signed into law by ex-governor Grey Davis was supported by both the mayor and chief of police of Los Angeles. It restores a privilege that was denied several years ago. Arnold Schwartzenegger has promised to repeal it and activist groups are passing around a petition.

This is just the kind of situation that brings up a dozen questions but the one that has got me thinking is that of citizenship. What is it, who can tell, and what difference does it make?

My first talking point is Assimilation, Multiculturalism & False White Neutrality

Assimilation, Multiculturalism & False White Neutrality
I think that when one talks about assimilation into the mainstream, every ethnicity has their own path. This is not trying to put value into ethnicity, it's simply respecting the history of real people. The point of multiculturalism is that certain types of assimilation are destructive. I think that for the sake of whiteness, a great deal of useful ethnic knowledge was destroyed. What people did to prove themselves to be American varies group by group depending on what kind of crap is thrown at them.

Since I don't want to live in a post-modern bullshit factory where everything is relative, I want to see people's knowledge of themselves and their ways of life retain meaning. So that means I think people have a responsibility to their heritage in representing its strengths, language, customs, etc. So someone who says "I'm colorblind" is kind of like the person who walks into a church and says "it doesn't matter what religion you are" or someone who says "I'm just white" is like the person who walks into a church and says "I'm agnostic, I don't have any interest in all this investment in God crap". But when you talk about race, saying "I don't care" is a particular thing that whitefolks are privileged to do. It's a luxury because Irish aren't in the frying pan to say it doesn't matter that your grandmother was Irish. But it also disrespects your grandmother in exactly the way Germans did when they were white and Irish were not. Her ethnicity is something negative, what do the Irish know about being American?

Because I grew up black, I talk about blackfolks and whitefolks, but I know different Asians have different takes on it. Chicanos have talked about Cornel West being 'Anglo'.

Anyway the question is how does one sustain the value of ethnic life lessons without buying into fictions and oppressions of race? How much can one put that forward in identity in the America that is, and what is appropriate to what we want to be? I think defaulting that to just 'white' by whitefolks is a serious cultural and political barrier to progress.

I'm rather settled in my opinion of these matters, true, but I'm sadly interested in knowing how people think and feel about it nevertheless. My despair in actually seeing a citizenry properly interested in the resolution of these issues makes me do the same thing, which is to say it doesn't matter who the fuck your grandmother was, all that matters is how much money you make and what neighborhood you can afford to live in.

This relates to citizenship and SB 60 in that you can bet that it's whitefolks who are supporting it's repeal and whitefolks that killed it in the first place. I beleive they are doing so because they feel that the 'illegal aliens' are not doing their part in becoming American in the same way they (the whitefolks) did. The question is, whether that is a good enough reason. I don't believe it is. This is a different America than it was 50 years ago and assimilation isn't what it used to be.

I think we are going to have a difficult time maintaining an English Only nation. The dictates of the Internal Empire will eventually have to smack down that rule, especially if we are to compete with a European Union.

Posted by mbowen at 05:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Science vs Business

Cringely understands what a number of capitalists don't about this new technology. It will win. If you are trying to make money, don't bet against Microsoft, but if you are trying to make software, don't bet against Linux.

Posted by mbowen at 04:26 PM | TrackBack

The Outrage

Jim Marcinkowski lays down the hardline, Larry Johnson provides the outrage and Vince Cannistraro adds flavor to Daschle's hearings.

I'm looking for a transcript. C-SPAN has the full video, but there is a lot of quotable stuff.

Posted by mbowen at 03:27 PM | TrackBack

In Poor Taste

Posted by mbowen at 02:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bling Eye for the White Guy

Ted at Crooked Timber has

been fascinated for a long time by this: quite a few black and Latino rappers fill their albums and videos with images of ostentatious, even cartoonish wealth. With the possible exception of Vanilla Ice rolling in his 5.0*, I’ve never seen a white rapper portray his success in a remotely similar way.

First of all, white rappers don’t get rich, relatively speaking. Secondly, flossing bling is just a genre of rap. It’s here today, it will be gone tomorrow. Thirdly and distinct from the flossing bling, there is a ghetto fabulous fashion statement that a lot of artists indulge. But most important is that black artists and producers are crowing about something they’ve only recently been able to, their own money.

It may surprise folks, but rappers like Coolio and several others have donated tens of thousands to the Republican party in order to crash their affairs. These are the exceptions proving the rule that there are separate royalties in American celebrityhood for blacks and whites, and it’s the rare black star who gets play on both sides of the line.

This gets back to what’s ghetto fabulous. Black stars find out quick fast and in a hurry what it feels like to hit the glass cieling of celebrity in America which are not devoid of racist stereotypes. You are a black NBA star, therefore you are not expected to date Hollywood starlets and show up at the Emmys, etc.

What Dr. Dre had to do to break into Hollywood films was to essentially disown all of gangsta. He masterfully played the politics of the game directly in the wake of NWA’s Fuck the Police. Suddenly it was OK to have rap songs in Hollywood films. You can split up the film industry’s treatment of hiphop into pre- and post-Dre. The movement is still not complete.

My point is that the entertainment industry is still wrestling with the fact that black artists and producers are making big money after its entire history of exclusion and ripoff.

Every black hiphop artist on the planet hates Elvis Presley and spends massive amounts of energy to avoid being one person: Little Richard. Every self-referential message in rap records about which producer and crew is on wax in ‘03 (going back to ‘89) is a spit in the eye of White Mr. Money-Minder and the old-boy network of the music industry.

The Hollywood Hills are littered with hundreds of white has-beens and also-rans who bathe in past glory or languish in relative obscurity. But chances are that when they head down from their mansions in their old Jags and Benzos they don't have to hassle with the Beverly Hills PD. But old black entertainment money is elsewhere. This is the first generation to have multi-ethnic success of this sort, but it's still very different.

When black money in entertainment is big enough and works like everybody's else, when the word 'crossover' disappears... hmph.. why am I even predicting?

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Less Choice

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October 26, 2003

A Fool and His Hose

Gina Ferazzi's picture captures the frustration and foolishness perfectly. It seems unbelievable to me that people would attempt to fight a fire with a garden hose, but this is what folks are actually trying. This man needs to get the hell out of Dodge.

Posted by mbowen at 02:09 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


We're surrounded by fires. There are over 100,000 acres burnt or burning in Los Angeles and San Bernardino County. Down here at the beach the familiar pinkish brown haze is everywhere, ash has dirtied up everyone's car and the air is thick with the smell of burned brush.

IFR flights are cancelled. So if you are on radar, you're grounded. All the major airports are closed due to some damage to one of the radars. Winds are blowing so fiercely that air support to drop water is not happening.

What a difference a day makes.

Posted by mbowen at 10:55 AM | TrackBack

October 25, 2003

A Shift in Writing Direction

Over the next several weeks and months, I am going to go through my litmus questions one by one and refine them out with the 'talking points'. Having done so with the Abortion post, as well as with the Vouchers post, I think this is a very good way to handle the complexity of these topics.

This is significantly different than the kind of back and forth the blogosphere gives. It is at once expository and less than opinionated. Rather it is a mapping of discourse capturing the major arguments that hold sway in my own decision making process. In this I'm going to attempt to be a one-man forum along the lines of XRepublic guidelines.

In doing so, I will also break the convention of blogtime. I won't be putting little 'update' notes in the blog, I will simply edit the pieces as new ideas come. There's not going to be any, who knew what when, as these attempt to be comprehensive. I'll set them up into this new category 'Eruditorium' so that they will more easily accessible.

My aim is to practically test my powers of abstraction as well as the XR concept of talking points. It will also give me some focus on bigger subjects; I'm getting a little tired of blogging twists on things like Plame incrementally over time.

This should be good.

Posted by mbowen at 10:03 AM | TrackBack

Next Six

Continuing on talking about jazz albums has me thinking that I ought to do this a bit more. That is to say on a regular basis, I ought to talk about Jazz and the Old School. I haven't read any jazz criticism recently and I used to fulminate about it quite a bit. I'm at a significant disadvantage, not being a musician, but I have cultivated quite an appetite and taste for good music. But more on that later...

In This House On This Morning
Blood On The Fields
The Majesty of the Blues

I include these three works all as one, and will be all of the Wynton Marsalis I will talk about. There is so much of his work to admire not only because he is probably the most prolific jazz musician of his generation but because his gifts speak beyond the realm of pure music into the soul of the nation. Each of these works delves deeply into a theme which moves beyond the context of a jazz album per se. Tthe first two are more like concertos with a number of different movements. Revisiting 'In This House' this Sunday last I can't help but be drawn to the magic of gospel music without lyrics. It's a pure distilled kind of gutbucket celebration. It's the holy ghost without sweating ladies falling into the aisles, its the moaning rocking rhythm without the broken contrite faces of the darkling race. There's something deep here for me personally all evoked, like Shug Avery going back to sing in her father's church. God is trying to tell you something. Wynton lets you fill in the blanks. Blood On the Fields is deeper still, a three volume expedition into the days of the whip. The Majesty of the Blues is a complete album in the more traditional sense which contains, The Death of Jazz which is the song I want played at my funeral.

Beyond Words - Bobby McFerrin
This is the curveball I'm throwing. This is one of the most beautiful collection of songs I've ever heard. If you know Bobby McFerrin, you have an idea of what he is capable of creating. This album is far and away his most refined and well-balanced work as well as his most serious jazz compositions to date. If you are still thinking of the silly lightness of 'Play' or the antics of 'Spontaneous Inventions' you are in for a great shock. McFerrin goes straight to jazz roots with Chick Corea as well as with Omar Hakim and several other fine musicians. In a departure from his showcasing of vocal virtuosity, he truly collaborates with his musicians into a new kind of fusion. McFerrin has evolved scatting to a new plane and created an international platform for wordless lyricism. This is truly a remarkable achievement.

Birth of the Cool - Miles Davis
It's difficult for me to disaggregate my Miles Davis. Before I bought his complete Columbia box set, I had listened primarily to his newer stuff, the kind that all the purists hated, namely Tutu. I am still discovering Miles in an ass backward sort of way. I fall in love with a song and then come to discover Miles authored it 20 years before the cover I'm listening to. Birth of the Cool is one of the few Miles Davis single albums I have, but I know a classic when I hear one.

Romantic Warrior - Return to Forever
A lot of things about jazz fusion have soured over time. I was weaned on Stanley Clarke's bombast, halfway up that food chain, not quite ready for Mahavishnu. Four years after wigging out on Mannheim Steamroller and Earth Wind & Fire's jazzier pieces (like Sun Goddess) I ran smack dab into the sonic wall of RTF and was flattened. To this day, Romantic Warrior stands as a singular masterpiece. It seems almost impossible that musicians could play so quickly and intricately in synch, flare out to improvisation and slam back to the improbably complex choruses that they do. But this is the essence of this complex music, and you don't want to miss that.

I've been told apropos RTF that I need to check out the tangent that leads to King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Yes. I am fortunate not to listened to any of these bands, so I know good times await me.

Posted by mbowen at 09:41 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 24, 2003

Fire Approaches

The Inland Empire is on fire. Santa Anas are blowing what is now called the Grand Prix Fire into the housing developments of Rancho Cucamonga. Schools in Fontana are closed and the weekend forecast is a firebug's fantasy. Low humidity, 50 mph winds and temperatures in the 90s.

The fire is only 17% contained and thousands are being evacuated. Sikorsky choppers are hovering in the thick smoke and making water drops. Two freeways are closed and 2000 houses are threatened. 4000 acres have burned since Tuesday and 240 firefighters and volunteers are on the ground doing battle.

Arson is suspected.

Posted by mbowen at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

Twenty Films - Twenty Years

For each of these films with few exceptions, there is an alternative. So I'll cheat just a touch and throw in the category alternative. I've tried to pick my favorite by director. Joining in the blogmeme from Drezner, Simon, Tagorda and Greg at BTD, my list follows.

Ran - Kurosawa
It's almost not fair. This is my single favorite film of all time.

Do The Right Thing - Spike Lee
The most controversial film in the world. Never forget Public Enemy in the soundtrack. Also one of the last big black cast movies. Still quotable.

Titus - Judy Taymor
A most impressive work. A period film of Shakespeare's play all made for contemporary sensibilities. Magnificent acting, earthshattering drama.

Daughters of the Dust - Julie Dash
Stunningly beautiful lyrical mysterious film. You almost remember it as if it were slow motion. Family, tradition, food. A truly moving family history.

To Sleep With Anger - Charles Burnett
A story of a black family in Los Angeles, a vivid cast of characters. The Color Purple would go here but that would be a bit too cliche, wouldn't it?

True Romance - Tony Scott
I'm going to buck the trend and not put Tarantino into the top 20. I simply don't think you can have True Romance and Pulp Fiction in the same list. This film is such a romp, it makes us feel like a simple confused roughneck life might be alright, if we find love.

eXistenZ - David Cronenberg
While The Matrix easily the coolest sci-fi 'is this really reality' movie ever made, eXistenZ is the creepiest by far. The implications of what jacking into an artificial reality could mean are far more deliciously and dangerously rendered by Cronenberg.

Pi - Darren Aronofsky
Aronofsky captures the madness of genius, greed and faith. It is truly a great New York film.

House of Games - David Mamet
A lovely, twisty caper film. Brilliant from start to finish. Now that I think of it, I haven't watched it over and over quite enough times.

Lone Star - John Sayles
I'd have to say that this is Sayles' best work and probably one of the saddest stories on film, a multicultural manifesto.

Zelig - Woody Allen
This is for me, easily Woody Allen's funniest work. I laugh just thinking about it. Brilliant filmwork, and just hilarious. It shows off Allens intelligence, sensitivity and wit without the pretensions of some of his dramas.

Clerks - Kevin Smith
*The* American indie film.

Heat - Michael Mann
This is a tough one, because Ronin has the best car chase ever filmed, finally surpassing Bullit after n years. But how can you miss with DeNiro and Pacino? Heat inserted reality into gun battles not seen before and is brilliant in its capturing of Los Angeles.

Saving Private Ryan - Steven Spielberg
Between this film and Schindler's List I had to pick SPR. It's odd because both films are so great it almost sounds like a moral choice. In the end, however I am more drawn to stories of sacrifice rather than of heroism. SPR also destroyed all pretense in combat scenes forever on film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Ang Lee
A beautiful epic work. Not many films have two great romances, and there has never been a romance with this much action. All that and a fine story.

Like Water for Chocolate
I've always thought that The English Patient was somewhat derivative of this. It doesn't really make sense but loving the wrong person and suffering... well this is a very fine romance.

From Hell - Albert Hughes
As much as I loved Dangerous Liasons, and Sleepy Hollow I'm going to give the nod to the Hughes Brothers for the best period piece of the last 20 years. I think they did a great job.

Unforgiven - Clint Eastwood
A great moral tale with a perfect cast of characters. A classic illustration of the American fascination with violence and a very thoughtful rumination on manhood.

Sea of Love
This is probably the sexiest film ever made. I don't care what people say about throwing chairs through plate glass windows or scummy apartments in Paris. Pacino and Barkin were IT.

Koyannisqatsi - Godfrey Reggio
Without a single word of dialog this film said so much. It's also one of my all time favorites. See more here.

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October 23, 2003


Yglesias is covering vouchers.

I wrote some ideas on the subject in 1998:

busing was always a second rate idea, but it acknowledged two facts
which were cast in stone at the time, and one that remains today.

#1. you cannot get white taxpayers to directly subsidize non-whites in
what appears to be a zero-sum racial game.

#2. separate but equal is a bad idea.

the second idea has been losing currency, but the first is just about
as rigid today as it ever was. the clearest indication of that to me
is white support of vouchers, as contrasted to the summary dismissal
of geographic restrictions on public school enrollment. vouchers will
always privilege those who are smarter with money, and those who can
organize. in other words, them whose got, gets. vouchers = liquidity
which means it will accellerate the desires of everyone involved. i am
convinced that the desire to abandon rather than renovate ghetto
schools will not change with the advent of vouchers, and that the
liquidity vouchers provide will accellerate their destruction.

the second clearest indication of that is the willingness of suburban
schools to accept bussed children concurrent with their refusal to
allow circulation of highly qualified teachers. magnet schools are
proof positive that putting the best materials and best teachers in
the worst ghettoes results in drastically improved students.

So these are my essential talking points on vouchers. Overall Opinion, Thumbs Down

Religious Right Overproduction
At the bottom of some of the original thinking on vouchers was the absolutist point on tax abatement. Citizens hiding behind the mask of 'taxpayer' decided selfishly to defund the public school system which was racially separate, unequal, mediocre in suburbs and pathetic in racial ghettos.

Soccer Momism
Overfocus on test scores tend to falsely objectify the value of schools. What is defective in poor schools is not simply measured in grades. A school which is not a community center fails as well. The difference an active PTA makes is critical. Vouchers do not create soccer moms. Single parents will not suddenly be able to dedicate more time to making the school a better institution.

Supply Side Failure
Development of new schools is very expensive. Capital improvements are required for older schools. Capital is required for the purchase of land for new schools. Vouchers don't address these issues. If overcrowding is a problem in any school district or any argument is made about class size or dumbing down better schools that will not be diminished until new high quality schools appear.

Liquidity vs Equality
Smart families will do better with money directed at them. Vouchers will simply create a new kind of flight. The problem is not mobility. Improvement in schools should not be directed to individual families but to reform of the system.

Management Not Money
Most school districts are administratively incapable of executing quickly. This is a function of management, not of privatization. School districts should be reformed, not revolutionized. Firing incompetents does not create leadership, and overpaying high profile 'education executives' will not improve the education of children.

Open Bussing
You can provide school choice without adding vouchers. Boundaryless public school districts work on the same principle. Tracking students by geography into particular schools can be unfair. Vouchers don't help children who don't have private schools nearby. Transportation is a big issue.

Posted by mbowen at 11:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Having It Both Ways

The UFCW union is suing the supermarkets for not paying striking workers. This really stretches the limits of credulity.

Posted by mbowen at 11:09 PM | TrackBack

Reality Slapstick

If you haven't already, do check out MXC on Spike TV. It has got to be the funniest thing on television this side of Eddie Izzard. The downside is that it's still a very niche show, therefore there are only about 5 sponsors, and the commercial breaks are really awful. Oh yeah, and it's unsophisticated juvenile slapstick.

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It gives me great pleasure to announce that I have found that the original cartoonist of FORTRAN Man is alive and well and living in the midwest. (Thanks to MJL) I'm sad to report that he, like I, is underappreciated by those capitalists who run things in this hemisphere, but the persistence of fond memory gives us joy in spite of that.

My memory fails me however when it comes to remembering which publication's editorial staff had the requisite sense of irreverence to include the offbeat humor. I tend to believe it was the original Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calasthenics & Orthodontia. But as you can imagine, they've gone corporate and relatively bloodless lo these many years. It's today that makes me think that yesterday wasn't even possible, but it most likey was Dobb's.

I hope one day to find a precious copy of one of those hilariously geeky cartoons. Hell, they might not even be funny any longer, but that's not the point of nostalgia is it? If you, like me, have fond memories of the good old days of cassette audiotape mass storage, just give a shout out here in the comments section. My website is currently the Googlistic center of gravity for 'The Adventures of Fortran Man'. Add to the huzzahs for Fortran Man and pretty Parity, and a big boo hiss for the evil Count Algol.

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Eminem and Them

It's funny how critiques of Eminem have to deal with untangling the racial tangle of the music business. Writers have to get into the game of comparing him to Elvis, etc, not because he bears any resemblance musically or even in terms of 'appropriation' of culture, but because somebody has to explain why rappers can be white and rockers can be black and on what terms.

So there's a lot of hyperbole surrounding Eminem because of the critical acceptance of his 'authenticity', which is the magic word meaning the artist has somehow properly tiptoed through the racial minefields on their way to commercial success. If something is to be made of an artist's blackness or whiteness vis a vis any political ramifications to the content of their work, it must be done just so. Eminem's opus on the matter, 'white america' was one of the keys to unlock the right doors.

There are other critical hurdles particular to hiphop Eminem has passed and no one can doubt his talent, he's much better than mediocre. If there were a hall of fame, he could fall off tomorrow and still get in.

As for his style and content, I find that he resembles Big Daddy Kane more than anyone. He is lyrically dense and brings internal rhymes out multiple times across multiple lines. He's rather intense but doesn't try to convince he's done serial crimes but crossed political lines. On the matter of race he'll self-efface and play the role not set the pace whatever it takes. But he's down with Dre anyway whatever bustas say don't make a damn bit of difference on payday.

hmm. I should do this more often. I did a bit of flow myself back in the day. Anyone who says rappers aren't poets should have their head examined.

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The New Concert Hall

Everyone is thrilled by the new Walt Disney Concert Hall which was dedicated today. The acoustics are said to be some of the best on the planet.

Toyota says that he had never experienced such an acoustical difference between a first and second rehearsal in any of the halls he designed in his native Japan. Salonen could hardly believe his ears. To his amazement, he discovered that there were wrong notes in the printed parts of the Ravel that sit on the players' stands. The orchestra has owned these scores for decades, but in the Chandler no conductor had ever heard the inner details well enough to notice the errors.

I will be getting tickets somewhere around this time next year. Everything is sold out up to that point.

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October 22, 2003


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Note To Self: DynDNS

Try what Rafe Colburn did.

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New blogger, oldhead Sebastian Holsclaw pens a brilliant aphorism:

You can want to restrict abortions. You can want to restrict contraceptive use. You can want to severely restrict welfare. But you can only want two out of the three of those things simultaneously unless you are an uncaring bastard.

In starting his new blog, Holsclaw doesn't waste any time getting to the big issues. Abortion is front and center. I should review my position. Here is my litmus quote:

i am principly against abortion, but it's one of those very ugly things that are part of civilization, like armies. just like a nation has to have armies to protect the freedoms that we all deserve (and we hope we never have to go to war), a society which values the freedom of women has to have abortion to protect them. i am also strongly against politicians or religious evangelists telling doctors what medical procedures to do. human beings have every right to make life and death decisions.

I'll start with the last stated but most important point. Human beings have every right to make life and death decisions. I think this applies especially to those choices about reproduction owing to the personal nature of sex.

Life & Death
Humans can kill each other. They also can give life. They can save lives and throw lives away. Given that these things are possible, there must be ethical systems to deal with them. I take it as axiomatic that there are ethical disciplines over all human activity, especially those of life and death, and that therefore people have rights to exercise these activities by dint of being human. It is appropriate therefore that over the course of history we determine better and worse systems of ethical discipline.

Fetal Viability and Infinite Regress
What Holsclaw illustrates is the critical concept of fetal viability, which up to now I hadn't realized was a term of Roe. This legal definition of human life is perfectly acceptable to me as one who is moderately pro-life. This is why I have no problem with RU-486.

Pushing the legal definition of viability ever back is absurd. It is absurd to artificially sustain the lives of premature infants as well as it is to suggest that ffetuses are persons. In the business of sustaining the species each of these 'advances' are marginally valuable and ethically suspect.

Women's Freedom
I am not in a position to declare what portion of freedom reproductive freedom is. Nor am I inclined to state unequivocably that such freedom is of necessity more important for females. But we do have the history of feminism to contend with; if it weren't for real oppression we wouldn't be discussing it.

So to clarify my pithy litmus statement, I do not want to say that the freedom of women depends on access to abortions, but that women should have reproductive freedom. Which is to put things in the context of Holsclaw's Three. To deprive a woman of the choice of whether or not she must bear children in order to enjoy sex is to basically force them into a kind of slavery to their body. Clearly contraception is an order of magnitude more thoughtful, convenient and safe. My jury is out as regards the implications of a fundamental need for sexual gratification outside of the social structures of marriage and babymaking, but it something substantial to deal with. The reproductive is a subset of the sexual.

Balance & Responsibility
My point is that there are more and less ethical ways to achieve reproductive freedom, however important that may be. Abortion is allowable because humans reserve the right to make life or death decisions over other persons. Even though this right may be given over by proxy to the state, it is a human right. Obviously it is not one that can be taken lightly, but the weight of the decision to abort is mitigated by one important fact.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is as private as the decision to create one. There should be no state interest in intervening in either direction, given the limits of viability.

But the state interest is complicated by the fact that people have the right to cede moral authority to their religious order. That is to say some people, as an article of faith do not accept the human right of life and death decisions. It is a matter of consistency for them to insist others do not have this right either, and they organize politically to limit that right for others.

Twisty neh?

Matters of abortion essentially boil down, in my view, to matters of personal responsibility. I feel an obligation to politically keep the government out of people's sex lives.

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Order Restored

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October 21, 2003

Tupac Epiphany

I listened Monday at my housepainting engagement to more Tupac Shakur than I ever have in my life. I understand.

I am both impressed and saddened by this enlightenment. One can only be impressed with the skills of this rapper. I can't tell you why Tupac is Makaveli, but I'm sure there's a fansite with the full scoop. This album, the one with 'To Live & Die in LA' and 'Me and My Girlfriend' - if those are the proper titles was the one I heard. But anyone with the feeblest knowledge of hiphop knows that rappers today are still making entire songs, if not lifestyles, out of stuff Tupac said in passing.

Tupac flows in a way that is deeply narrative. Everything about the arrangements serves the purpose of his rhymes, and his rhymes are all stories, tales of woe. There is something about the way it works together (and if Dre is the man behind the music, it's obvious why he does so much soundtrack work) that makes it very listenable. It's a smoother sound from the huge boom and shouting of Mystikal, DMX or Jay-Z. Tupac by comparison is downright lyrical. It is this state of affairs that brings to mind some kids playing it over and over again.

The other vibe I got very strongly from the music was the powerful sense of dedication and love in a hard world that overburdens the relative purity of youth. Tupac evokes an environment in which everyone over 30 is dead or weak and all the power struggles are over the minds and bodies of the shorties coming up. Imagine a place where a 20 year old woman with one child needs a 24 year old man to be every stability, and there is no other strength greater than the gun. No church, no economic stability, no older generation, just the egos of the principles determined not to leave the world without respect where daily bustas get beat down.

That's a soundtrack for a generation unable or unwilling to venture into another world; a Lord of the Flies philosophy as old as time itself. Anyone who cannot let go of Tupac is not leaving that world anytime soon. That's sad.

Posted by mbowen at 11:24 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Demand Side Bidding

It has been many years since I built some information systems for a power company. But Abiola reminded me with some terms I haven't heard in a while -Baseload, Intermediate and Peak. These are standard classifications of power generators that get their own P&L.

I happen to know that power generators who buy oil or natural gas watch those commodity futures years in advance and plan ahead. The ratio of baseload to intermediate to peak determines the price of power to customers. So it makes sense to me that any customer that is not buying long term power contracts is likely to get screwed. Peakers, in the case of the utility I was working for, were generally small generators that were not always online. They don't get as much maintenance and tend to be flaky. Consequently, the power they generate cost a lot more per MW.

If and when I start working again, I'll have the nerve to crank up my professional software and work out some models. These days I can't stand to look at the software. This Demand Side Bidding sounds interesting.

Posted by mbowen at 11:13 PM | TrackBack

Obligatory Seriousness on Terri Schindler-Schiavo

A woman has been in a coma for 13 years. Technically, and only technically, she is alive. Her heart hasn't beat on its own for 10 years. Why isn't this a no-brainer? Her limbo state is holding her family in limbo. She needs to be legally dead.

Of course declaring her dead is complicated by legal machinations, just as her life is sustained by medical machinations. But this woman is only technically a person. She is less capable of being a family member than a pet lizard. It is therefore not surprising that her parents and her husband are fighting. Who could bear dealing with this kind of heartache for over a decade?

There is no way that any politics in this matter cannot be shameful. Elected officials have no business in this. Neither do we, really.

What kills me about this is the idea of family coming to watch her once a month for several hours while she blinks at them. How completely awful. This represents to me a psychological failure of scary dimensions. Death with dignity isn't even possible here. It's already been ruined by the fact that people were able to accept the state she's been in as 'life'.

This is sad, disgusting and politically despicable, and I hope I never have to think about it again. It's none of our business.

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Inner Child

Posted by mbowen at 10:15 PM | TrackBack

Kill Bill

I sometimes struggle with my willingness to accept the world on its own terms and the capacity I have as a middleclass American to do a damned thing about it. It is for this fundamental reason that I have a difficult time finding the proper perspective from which to judge Kill Bill. I'm outraged, I'm intrigued, I'm entertained, somewhat.

"He's an amateur", some critic said of Tarantino. He does it for the love of the genre. This sticks in my head as the only preview I've had of the film, which only makes it worse. I'd rather not hear anything. But it's very accurate. QT has a brilliant pacing for simple dialog which makes his films border on camp yet extremely memorable. If there's a flaw in Tarantino's style it is that he gives his films the quality that makes them perfect for adolescent boys to repeat. You can just see them gathered on the highschool steps repeating dialog like "Wiggle your big toe", over and over again. I know this. When I was an adolescent boy, the highschool steps were the scene of our recitations of Richard Pryor. We were ever so prepared to mimic and cause similar outrage.

What Tarantino has delivered is a set of interwoven vignettes of violence. The theme: vengeance. The vehicle, samurai swords. The virago, Uma Thurman, whose character is by far the most dangerous woman on the big screen since La Femme Nikita. With this woman, there is no memory loss, no hesitation about what she has become. She is a warrior, unblinking and deadly.

Where Kill Bill falters, oddly enough, is in the fight scenes. It's almost not a good martial arts film. When Jet Li takes on a police precinct full of cops, there is juicy choreography and a lot worth looking at. When Thurman slices and dices her way through an entire gang of Yakuza, it's just slaughter and hardly artful. I find myself questioning my entire visual vocabulary of swordplay. If kendo is that swift and brutal in actuality, it requires much more drama than we get. Which Kurosawa film was it in which the master swordsman kills his opponent so quickly? Imagine the master doing that with 4 people at once, taking a beat and then repeating over and over again. It doesn't work as martial art.

Tarantino is quick to remind us that we are not watching a typical big budget Hollywood film. He gets away with long slow closeups, uniquely Asian action gore motifs, anime, split screens, subtitles and extra cool music. It's stylized to the nth degree.

What is completely unique about Kill Bill is of course that it shows women killing women. I don't believe we are to be edified by this, but it certainly changes the sort of tension one experiences. It goes to the edge of repulsion and then pulls back in a distinctly feminine way. If you've ever watched girls play soccer, you might notice how they carry grudges over into different matches. Pow! That foul was for what you did to my friend last year. Thurman simmers then strikes. We think we know what it is that pushes a man over the edge; it's a familiar narrative. We know what to expect of the man-spy, the man-hunter, the man-mad for revenge. We don't know what to think of the orphaned girl twisted into sadism, the female crime boss who brokers no back talk, the woman who catches up to the man who has pimped her comatose body. The world is certainly not a better place now that Tarantino gives us this. Therein lies the dilemma. Is it porno or is it drama?

If you are a fan of the hardboiled action flick, you can appreciate the lack of cheese in Tarantino's craft. He is visually potent and every scene packs a wallop or a clever something. But what punch it delivers in a dozen different places, it makes up for in a profound lack of continuity. There is no sense of locale or flavor seeping into any of the characters. In that, it is very much like a video fighting game with a bunch of cool environments thrown in for relief. Nobody seems to touch any props which aren't weapons, or interact with anything on the set except as collateral damage in a fight. Since this was the first half of a twofer, it's easy to say that as of now the whole seems less than the sum of its parts, but it's unlikely to change.

What question is unanswered is whether this uberbitch will grow a heart - if she ever gets tired of revenge, if she'll ever get a far off misty look in her eyes that suggests she's tired of being a stone cold killer. But I don't think she has anywhere to go.

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Free Bird

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The New Twenty

I like it.

Way back in the day, when I worked for Xerox, I got an opportunity to read up on some of the security risks associated with the old paper currency. Xerox Research had been tapped to suggest ways to outsmart their own reproductive technology. The two suggestions they mentioned are now both included on the new twenty dollar bill.

The first was two color ink. This has been used for a while now. As soon as the '2nd Generation' bills were released, the bottom right number has used ink that is green from one direction and black from another. It's a very cool idea and I understand that it's very difficult to do.

The other idea of Xerox's was to insert some holographic or reflective material into the bill. This was based on the new technology in the 80s which is now commonplace on credit cards. The new twenty now has a small eagle and shield to the right of the portrait which is sparkly. I think it's the most quickly identifiable of all the security features. Note that there is no perceptible rise in the paper, that's not stamped on there like glitter on a christmas card.

The paper feels very different. As an ex-bank teller, I'm fairly certain they are using a different stock. It's a lot less crisp and sharp than ordinary new bills. It almost has a 'pre-washed' feel to it. That's good news for tellers, because we hated new bills because they stuck together and we would invariably overpay customers. These don't seem to have that problem. I want to see how the paper feels over time. Since I'm not a teller, I don't particularly like the feel, but I'll get used to it.

I'm indifferent about the choice of color. I understand the choice of keeping it bland. I think it's very subtle that the width of the manilla color is different on the front and the back and that it fades from one into the other. The little yellow twenties on the back, however cleverly random they appear, are cheesy.

I do prefer the portrait without a frame. I think relying on that old check of the fine line of the oval portrait frame was probably pretty lame anyway. Jackson's cloak is very well done. That's going to be very hard to reproduce it's a Moire nightmare.

All in all, I think they did a fine job. And I love the dollar coin too.

Posted by mbowen at 09:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Occam's Evil Razor

I used to like Tariq Aziz. Well, I respected him at any rate. Considering that he had a gun to his head and lived with his head up Saddam's ass, I think he did an admirable job of stating the Iraqi case. But that was in the first war. This time around, I simply hoped, based on that sentiment that he might have some role in the future of Iraq. He could confess to the Allied powers and give some real dirt on Saddam. He wasn't very high on the list of 52 and probably wasn't a killer so maybe. He did negotiate his surrender, but Aziz has had his chance and won't be given another. Sorry.

Part of my respecting Aziz many years ago had to do with the Sivanandian imperative. Sivanandan, whom I only read briefly, had a dictum that could be expressed thusly: Don't travel the world helping poor people in the Third World, stay at home and disable those things within your country that hurt people in the Third World. This seemed entirely reasonable. Sivanandan was against the McDonaldization of the world. As an organic, this made perfect sense to me. If Aziz could say things about America that Americans were afraid to say, he could shine light on American corruption; I could use that in a Chomskyesque search for the whole and hidden truth.

I am no longer such an organic. I am a willing and able participant in the system employing enlightened self-interest having been struck by:
1) the remarkable resiliancy of the American middle-class
2) regimes of tyrannical chaos elsewhere
3) the prerogatives of wisdom and age.
4) the fantastic vapidity of lefty wishful thinking
5) the concrete reality of collaborative skills

There were several big secrets that kept me feeling quite self-righteous about my opposition to the 'No Blood for Oil' Gulf War. The secret I refer to is the influence of the Kuwaitis and Saudis on institutions like Citibank and certain rules which keep all third parties from know about the size and extent of their investments in American banks. Word was that there was at least a trillion dollars invested in American securities which were at risk if the US didn't intervene militarily. The implication was that the American invasion was kinda bought and paid for by secret Saudis and Kuwaitis whose identities could never actually be revealed. I had, and still have a strong aversion to the American Military being used as mercenaries. So I had a pro-American reason to refuse and resist. Also Tariq put a good face on Iraq, and certain Jewish public radio station manager unnerved me to no end as she cut off caller after caller who suggested Israel's future did not hang precariously in the balance. But that was then. This hardly applies to the recent war against Iraq.

As I heard Aziz' name surfacing the other day, I am brought to mind about this Sivanandian imperative and the conspiratorial nature of big Chomsky-sized secrets. What is better at motivating strident insurgent political activism than the existence of secrets and a pledge to correct America from within? This is a potent combination. There is a huge problem with it however. It forces the insurgents to assume evil motivations and elide the complexity of real power relationships.

Nothing illustrates this quite like the gutteral noises made by lefties whenever they utter the word 'profits'. People who don't understand business generally don't understand how profits are created. The complexity of running a business is a big mystery to them. It's a secret. They just understand that people at the top get lots of money, people at the bottom don't, and that 'everything' is all about profits. Even Sivanandan himself criticizes the left for not understanding how capitalism is actually working and relying on old Marxist dictums.

The same fallacious attribution of evil applies to war, naturally. But there's also no reason moralists of any political persuasion are immune to this type of error. Reducing Saddam Heussein to one dimension of Evil is clearly the kind of mistake GWBush has presented steadfastly.

Nevertheless I am noticing, and you may to, how Left moralizing often employs they mystery of complex power relationships, business practices and substitutes simple venality as the cause. Also note how Christian Conservatives do so with human sexuality and reproductive science. Both types of these morally outraged loudmouths refuse to have their arguments clouded by details or mitigated by extenuating circumstances. To them, this is more mealy-mouthed excuse making. The moralists pervert Occam's Razor to suit their purposes, the simplest explanation, Sin, is the most likely as far as they are concerned.

We would all do well to remember unintended consequences. Perhaps the best we can do many times is judge in hindsight and find out who knew what and when. Even if that knowledge doesn't prove intent. What I sincerely hope is that a better parsing of the details of complexity will serve us all when we seek to find out what went wrong. It's not always simply evil.

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October 20, 2003

Doggy Style

A thought:

Isn't 'doggy style' sex what we would do if we didn't have porno? Somebody has got to be a doctor out there who knows the answer to this question. The very idea that the 'missionary position' is considered the natural, normal form of coitus suggests to me how deeply cultural we are in modern society.

This idea got stuck in my head today and I just couldn't wait to blog about it.

Posted by mbowen at 09:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Blackneck In Effect

Today was my second day doing some housepainting. It feels good.

An old frat brother of mine, several years ago, decided to chuck the white collar world. He's now a firefighter and every once in a while he tells us tall tales of that adventurous world. He says it's one of the best decisions he's ever made. No more office bullshit, basically. He's in great shape and no day is the same.

Today I'm feeling some of that blue collar bliss. I've been up on ladders stretching my arms and rolling rollers, masking trim, and telling dirty jokes. At the end of the day, I got paid in cash and cruised home with Eric Sardinas on full blast.

It took me a while to find a good old pair of jeans. I'm almost embarassed to say that all I have are Gap jeans. My only pair of 501s are black and I wasn't about to use those. I threw on my one pair of athletic shoes, which are at least 5 years old but still pretty new from lack of use (until a month ago). I put on my contact lenses, got my holstein pattern bandana and got to work. No watch, no wedding band, no cell phone.

Painting has no mythical figure, but if it did he would have a forearms of steel and be able to paint without masking tape during an 8.4 earthquake and never spill a drop. We actually decided that we couldn't complete the job though. Some of the gables were simply out of reach of our ladders and better judgement. So the boss man decided to call a professional over for an estimate. I felt exactly like somebody at Albertson's about to be locked out. He kept snickering at us for using paintbrushes and rollers. Evidently the professionals take half their time just masking the whole house like a stencil and then spraypainting what's left to be painted. Still, we soldiered on with our 2 inch horsehairs on the paint-sopping wood trim. Take that, John Henry.

I've got about 3 more days worth of painting to do. So the back of my neck is going to be a couple shades darker in this October sun. I can live with that.

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Profound Dissonance

Robert Johnson is on my box this morning. My eight year old daughter walks up and says, "That sounds like Elvis." This is going to be an interesting day.

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Levitra Trials Continue

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October 19, 2003


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Edelstein over at the Head Heeb has sparked a lively debate on the status of Arabs in Israel. His reasonableness has convinced me that I can approach a reasonable set of positions on an interminable set of dilemmas I have always been loathe to approach. Do read everything on this matter of the Waitangi Option.

I am particularly noting this in that it gives a bit of perspective on the proximity between America blacks and whites, legally speaking as well as a comparative standpoint with which to compare American Natives' legal rights. It fits nicely into discussions about the tension between nationalism and pluralism and the necessity (or lack thereof) for a legalistic framework. At what depth into the legal framework of a nation should minorities be recognized?

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Chilling Effect

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October 18, 2003

Geeks Exemplifying Peasant Theory

I'm going to develop a vocabulary of history, American and British, in order to better explain and justify my way of looking at things. I keep thinking of my Peasant Theory whenever I come across a geek of the sort that Andrew Lipson is. The Peasant Theory includes the idea that all contemporary geeks are hermetic Monks babbling in a panoptical echo chamber. They only really understand themselves but have been spared the vicissitudes of natural survival because they exist at the pleasure of Royalty and the loose association of Grand Viziers.

Since most of us in the chatting class are geeks and quite unable to set broken bones or slaughter our own beef, we tend to view other geeks as valuable to society but threats to us. They are neither. They are an actualized I Ching of skills that exist for those occasions that the powerful are bored or confused and decide momentarily not to decide. Geeks understand this and are therefore appropriately humble, that is to say completely invested in the objective value of their finely honed skills, for they have had the Geek Epiphany. This is the moment you understand that the nature of the panopical echo chamber and recognize your true value to the great manipulators of social reality. After this realization comes the inevitable sense of humor.

Depending upon the fungibility of one's skills, the humor goes dark and practical jokey or self-effacing and perverse. More intense geeks may even turn to poetry.

My Lipson-Shiu type is ILIG. According to Lipson:
The ILIG is the ideal person to be in charge of anything: trustworthy, effective and devoted to the cause. Unfortunately, none have yet been found. If the test evaluated you as this you are probably an ILIE or ILUE (and covering it well) or a SCUG or SCUE (and not safe to be typing on anything electrical).

And yet I am flattered that I might actually be ILIE:
The I LIE has probably carved a ruthless trail to the top, but left no evidence of it. At least, if you find the bodies you're in very bad trouble. Highly adept at serving their own ends, I LIEs are not people to be on the wrong side of. Here is someone who has made the system work for them (examples: Sir Humphrey, Lex Luthor).

I may as well divulge some of my favorite geeks.

Jef Poskanzer reminds me of the reasons I put together my Linux box. Bryan Alexander has style. I like Cliff Stoll too. I knew ultimately that he would be correct. I am only slightly perturbed that I don't have a blog entry to prove it. Also I like Rafe Colburn and Clay Shirky, but everybody knows them already.

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The Monthly Bin Laden

Every month or so, we hear some idiotic threatening jibberish from Osama Bin Laden, some waffled mutterings and then certainty that it actually is Bin Laden. And then we go back to watching our regularly scheduled television program.

Are we supposed to be concerned? I'm not sure.

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Been There Blogged That

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October 17, 2003

Safe, For Now

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The Blackman's Lesson, Again

All you are ever told in this country about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact - this may sound very strange - you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.
--James Baldwin

How many years has it been since Mike Tyson or OJ Simpson? Well, here we go again. This time it's Kobe Bryant.

Long ago, I wrote a rather long piece about the moral lessons we black men teach America by myths attached to us. But as I make my brief note about Kobe Bryant this morning, I am struck by the extent to which this is so very racially stereotyped rather than simply racial. In the old piece I made points that don't seem very convincing to me today as I extended them to Joe Jett. These days, I don't believe that anyone is any more likely to remember Jett because he was black (or remember Jett at all) than they are to remember the Nicholas Leeson who destroyed Barings Bank. Now I tend to believe that it's not because black men in total are so despised that such mythic lessons emerge, rather it is that they fulfill a racial stereotype. It's a subtle but notable difference.

The counterexample is that of Malvo. America is certainly prepared to send him to the electric chair, but he doesn't fit the profile. Mass muderers are still white psychopaths in the public imagination, as are embezzlers. Surely the idea that blacks are disproportionately criminal hasn't lost currency, but it is the outsized fear of sexual predation, and violent rage by black males that we are mostly dealing with. That we have black examples of both mass murderers and embezzlers is not what those fanning the flames of racist fear focus on, rather the black rapist and the black mugger.

It's difficult to say what pains Kobe may or may not have taken to be a 'non-threatening black man'. But he's good looking, smart, rich, successful and well-liked. He's got everything going for him except this racist monkey on his back. Others don't have it so easy, which only underscores the point. Kobe's ability to face a camera and say that he did not have forced sexual relations with that woman has been undermined from the start, and it wasn't all Clinton's doing. He, like millions of other black men are fighting stereotypical presumptions.

I predict, therefore that no matter what happens in the Kobe Bryant case, whether or not justice prevails, black male athletes will be the focus of sexual scrutiny. It's difficult to even think about the name of any white male athlete whose sexual hijinks raise eyebrows, not that I look at sports that often or that critically. But everyone knows Simpson, Tyson and Bryant. Who's left? Pete Rose?

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Wrench in the Wal-Mart Theory

Reader Frank had this to say about the supermarket strike:

However, what we've found through our discussions with industry experts, and by examining the data of countless chains, is that customers traditionally won't travel much more than a three mile radius to get their mainstream groceries. This is the traditional geographic market division for supermarkets. Sometimes freeways, rivers and railroads make the geographic boundaries.

This presents a serious challenge for Wal-Mart. Indeed Frank went on to inform me that it's a standing challenge for Target Greatland as well. These big box format stores need lots of real-estate. So geographically in Southern California, there aren't a lot of locations amenable to the format, especially in Los Angeles. I can attest to this fact as we are Costco shoppers; it requires a bit of discipline when we go for those items once a month several miles out of the way.

In strike news there are no talks or negotiations underway. Safeway (Vons) is taking the hardline and saying there will never be a better offer on the table. City Councilmen are taking sides. The LATimes comments on the benefit package:

The strike was called over employer proposals to cut health care and pension benefits and create a substantially lower tier of wages and benefits for new hires. The proposed contract — rejected by 97% of voting union members — also would allow stores to shift union work to outside vendors and to open nonunion stores.

Top wages for store employees range from $7.40 for baggers to $18.19 for meat cutters. Union officials say the average is about $12 an hour and that most workers are part time.

All employees receive fully paid family health benefits. The grocery chains say workers must start shouldering some of these costs, citing escalating health insurance expenses and competition from nonunion stores. Under the proposal, workers would among other things have to contribute to premiums, paying at least $780 a year for family coverage.

That's a very reasonable figure, but I suspect it may not characterize the median expense.

Other stores are doubling their reciepts, especially the upscale stores like Bristol Farms and Whole Foods. On the discount end, Costco saw a 10% jump in sales Monday. As for our family, we've been learning about the discounts for quite some time now. There's a surprising lot of shopping that can be done at the 99 Cent store. Everyone is talking about Trader Joe's as a first among alternatives, and there is always 7-11 for staples.

Sister mentioned that when the Detroit Free-Press went on strike, customers seeking alternatives didn't return and the paper has never been the same. Likewise speculation as to where customer loyalties will go is in the air. Most people I talk to expect that prices will be higher at the affected stores (almost 800) when this mess is all over.

Right now there is no end in sight, and so now this weekend more and more people are going to be personally affected. Decisions are being made. We're relying more on our alternatives, but as I said, we're in a tight money situation and haven't been going to Von's (our regular) for quite a while. It's tough all over.

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October 16, 2003


This afternoon, I dropped my sister off at the Bonaventure. This is a birthday weekend and I'm stuck with the brats as the wife and her two sisters live it up in their suite. I got to take in and relive a bit of Los Angeles.

It has been quite some time since I was last walking downtown. I circled around for a while until it was 4pm so I could get the five dollar flat rate at the self-park over on 5th and Hill. The creaky old building right there was where I interviewed for a job with Metaphor Computer Systems back in the late 80s. Never did get that job which is too bad. Several of my would be peers became famous, and I'm sure they made a bundle. Who knows whats in that place now. The big ugly pastel blocky things over Pershing Square are as hideous as ever. I don't know how patrons of the Biltmore can stand it.

I headed west on 3rd uphill along the south facade of the Gas Company Tower and across Grand to one of my favorite buildings, the Mellon 1st Business Bank. It's a mysterious and classy stone building. Suits were coming in and out. You forget about the suits. Unless you work downtown among the bankers and attorneys you forget about the Jonathan Club and the California Club and the LA Athletic Club. As I remembered them all, it was arresting. You forget the formality of Downtown Los Angeles.

The Library Tower has another forgettable name these days but it remains impressive as ever, but what I really want to see is the Disney Hall. I can't imagine how I might live with calling it the Walt Disney Hall. There seems no way to dignify the name Disney. That doesn't change the fact that it is stunning and yet as realized less confusing than you would think. Rising from stone very much reminescent of that used at the Getty, Disney Hall's sweeps at ground level are logical and inviting. Everyone is raving about the sonic qualities of the hall. I feel sorry for the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. What'll they do with it?

The Bonaventure too is a bit dowdy these days. The red tower elevator sports a plaque saying that Arnold Schwartzenegger filmed some part of 'True Lies' there. (insert snarky remark here). The rooms however seem fairly nice. Sister got one on the 20th floor. It is reminescent of the W in San Francisco, but not so overdone. I made a mental note to make a reservation at LA Prime the next time I have a wad of cash.

The 4th floor is where the food court was. Nothing fancy, just some Korean BBQ. Sister had Bimbin Bob and I had a BBQ Beef with a good sized portion of Kimchee. Either this was extra mild, or I have been completely assimilated to kimchee. It's only about my fifth dose and I could tell that my breath could drop sparrows in mid-flight, but I stuffed it down like I was born in Seoul.

Down on the lobby level we ran across the man whose cigar we could smell two floors up. It's miraculous. I guess hotel lobbies are still civilized here in California. I had no idea.

As I headed back to my car, I stopped by the Library. The Riordan Library. I doubt anyone calls it that. I doubt anyone calls Riordan any longer. The copy of Los Angeles Magazine in the hotel room had an article about Magic Johnson. If Schwartzenegger can happen, Johnson can happen. Why am I encouraging my son to be a scientist? Maybe he can figure out a way to make public bathrooms work better. These in the north side of the Library have no stall doors and Clanton gang signs carved into the toilet seats. I turn quickly back onto the street narrowly missed by the third cop on a bicycle I've seen this afternoon.

The Gas Company Tower now has security. I ignore the clipped 'May I help you sir' as I gaze at my favorite curved wooden cieling. I tell the short man with the moustache that I'm from out of town and ask him wasn't this the building where they filmed the opening scene from the movie 'Speed'? Of course it was but he doesn't know. If this were NY he'd know. Whenever I'm incognegro and find myself suddenly feeling as if I should be better dressed, I assume alpha status so as to appear as if I am an undercover FBI agent. I could easily take the moustache. I fiddle with the Carson M16-13Z in my right side pocket.

Back on 3rd street as I turn into the parking lot to head home, I pass the 7th homeless man of the day. No. He's wearing Nike Air Shox. Another man is using a payphone. No I don't have a dime.

As I drive back through downtown I am reminded of the days 23 years ago when I drove my 1968 Karmann Ghia and parked 5 blocks away from my $600/month job. I am reminded of my daily hamburger at Carl's Jr., and the appetizing secretaries who paid me no mind. I recall someone telling me about how smart you had to be to work at Lloyds Bank which doesn't exist any longer. I recall the first Diebold ATM machines in First Interstate Bank with the moveable periscope viewscreen showing my two digit balance in orange glowing alphanumerics. I think about the arcade on Broadway and playing Defender in my narrow wool knit tie and gold chain during my lunch break. I remember the kruggerand rings, gold at $700 an ounce and 18% on jumbo CDs. Those were hectic days when the Bonaventure hosted free outdoor concerts, one even starring that hot new group Duran Duran.

It was a long time ago. My downtown. I'll want to get back there one day.

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Shut 'em Down

It's about to get ugly. The Teamsters are about to support the supermarket strike. That means that the distribution centers are going to be picketed and the trucks are going to stop rolling. That means that the union is going to the scortched earth policy. They want to shut them down. Classic confrontation.

Behind all of this is the spectre of Wal-Mart who is considering a move to California. If and when they do, they will steamroll over Ralph's, Vons & Albertson's market share. Wal-Mart pays the prevailing wage in retail, but here in Southern California, the unionized workforce in the supermarket industry are making good money and extraordinarily nice benefits. Wal-Mart employees, by comparison, have miserable healthcare and most rely on public health. If and when Wal-Mart comes to SoCal, there will be hell to pay in the labor market.

Today there are 70,000 folks on the street because of this strike. The eyes of the industry are all here.

I haven't spoken to many folks about this, but of course most of my pals are management. But what is amazing to me is that these stock clerks are demanding continuance of their pension plan. Pensions!? Since when did supermarket employees get pensions? What the hell is up with that? The local talk radio meme I'm hearing is that sentiment may be turning against the strikers, especially among people who used to work for supermarkets.

My personal experience with working with the Kroger organization was less than savory, and it is my professional understanding that Wal-Mart and HEB are the leaders in retailing. They are well-managed and smart and employ information technology (my domain) as a strategic advantage. So it doesn't come as much of a surprise that Ralph's, Von's and Albertson's are wetting their pants over the potential advance of Wal-Mart. One of them will probably bite the dirt within 5 years if Wal-Mart is a success. The other two will have to go upmarket and sell service and quality. It won't be easy.

I don't understand the fundamentals of why American healthcare is so expensive. But I suspect that the geniuses at Wal-Mart are not about to be pressured to up their benefit package per-employee expenditures. Consumers want low prices, period. And in a razor thin margin industry like supermarkets that means unionized workers will have hell to pay.

What remains to be seen is how paranoid the three chains are. None are likely to throw in the towel in anticipation of the Wal-Mart entry, but now that matters have escalated they may very well go to the wall.

Also, I have heard that union workers who cross the pickets are making $6, losing strike pay and paying a fine to the union. Scabs are making $20.

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My Virtual Dawg

Anybody who knows me recognizes that I am easy to know but almost impossible to understand. It's a long story. So there is an apparent contradiction between the fact that I am an Old School cultural and political commentator and critic, and rather attracted to the blackneck lifestyle. Blackneck may be an evasion of some other direct adjectives, but I will admit there is a bit of the warrior code in there, and it is for the little blackneck warrior in my head that I acknowledge and welcome back S-Train.

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You've heard this word a thousand times if you are a fan of Reggae music. Today I saw it spelled for the first time.

There are times when you hear the variation 'clot' for short. Mostly, however I've heard it pronouced 'BOOM-ba-claht' or 'BOOum-ba-claht' It's an insult of some sort and it sounds very cool when sampled at the right moment. But that's just about all I know.

UPDATE: A little curiosity kills a lot of dance hall music. I knew there was some connection between this word and 'blood clot' which I was going to put into the entry, but 'bomber' threw me off. Now I feel like a little kid who just first understands the meaning of the curse word he's been saying. Yike. It's a tampon.

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The Problem With American Catholics

The Pope is in the news these days, and I am just about done with Quicksilver. So I've had it up to here with babble about papistry. But since it's on my mind I think I'd write out a few paras. The question today on Talk of the Nation is, what would you recommend that the Catholic Church do? Indeed.

First, y'all should know that I attended Holy Name of Jesus School for my middle years under Sister Mary Leone Rock. I got honorable mention for getting 72 swats in two years. I audited Catechism and learned all the Catholic ways without actually being accepted, which I didn't really resent until I found out that Patrick Reese got the Knights of Columbus scholarship instead of me. Patrick Reese ended up dealing drugs from the Pizza Hut in Westwood, but he really was a nice guy (and a Star Scout). Life is complex. I also attended Loyola High School and suffered mightily under the rule of the Jesuit order. Actually I really like the Jesuits, it's just that I took their worldview a little too seriously, and that is one of the reasons it took me so long to become Republican. Be all that as it may, I decided to join the Episcopal Church instead of the Roman Catholic Church.

Why? Then it was because I thought the bloody papists were entirely too hermetic and out of touch with spirit of Christian Charity so that when they indulged in Christian Charity, it always seemed like quid pro quo. The Episcopalians, were better stewards by contrast. (Here's my current position on Gene Robinson by the way). And, quite frankly, it seemed as though the Catholics were trying to change and catch up to the point where the Episcopalians already were, with regard to the contemporary liturgy.

Today, I think that American Catholics are selling short the strengths of the Catholic Church. Next to the Mennonites, the Roman Catholics are probably the most social conservative and disciplined sect of Christianity. What makes them special are their rites and traditions. But I think the Catholic Church and Catholics themselves have retreated from the public sphere with regard to the symbolism and power of these rites. Does anyone take Lent seriously? How many Catholics would show up to work on Ash Wednesday with their anointment prominent? They should celebrate their rites and mysteries in a more public and inclusive way and yet maintain them very strictly.

Folks say that Catholics are out of touch with modern sexuality. That's true, but what does 'modern sexuality' prove? That is a simple yet subtle question that could be answered strictly in terms of sin, but there's a great deal more there. My assessment is that the primacy of sexual intimacy in human relations needs to be evaluated. We need some way of determining who is the repressed and who is the sybarite. The Catholic Church has always deemed fit to side with the repressed and to sublimate sexual behavior from masturbation on up. This has compromised it and introduced double standards. What would be more majestic than a Catholic Wedding if it could bless the sexual desires of man and wife rather than repeat the same set of restrictions it has on every other man, woman and child save one.

Furthermore, the Latin Mass is very sacred and quite frankly very cool. I only regret that I didn't learn it all, damned Vatican II. I think that a Latin Mass can be very appealing.

But let me focus on the Catholic Priesthood for a moment. You really have to have a very good reason to enforce and respect a celibate male priesthood. The Catholics have as good a reason as any, whatever exactly it is. (Let's not go to the Gnostic interpretations of the sexuality of Jesus right yet) But I think it is becoming clear that such a life is not as heroic as it might have been. Are poverty, chastity and obedience restraints that generate a pure spiritual strength in the man? Or do they simply cripple?

The concept of a Father Confessor is brilliant and as far as I'm concerned it is the cornerstone of the Catholic Church's presence. Catholics are decidedly not evangelical but their frocked priesthood used to be a very public symbol and strength. Today one only sees the collar in public on Halloween. If I were a Catholic Priest, or Nun, I would always be in the public eye at all manner of public functions as an extension and exemplar of the Church. But the celibate priesthood is not garbed and fearless. They are a shadow of their former selves. Who thinks of priests as heros any longer?

Once upon a time, if you had a problem whether or not you were Catholic, you could go to a Catholic church and speak to a priest. Today if you have a problem, you go to the internet, or you watch Oprah or you call into talk radio. Why is the Catholic Church ineffective in America? Because nobody expects them to know anything. If the priests were doing their job, Dr. Laura wouldn't have a job. Neither would most of blab radio, and the quality of moral advice Americans get would be a damned sight better. Where the Catholic Church could provide clarity and reason, it provides mystery and withdrawl.

If you contrast the role of the Catholic priesthood in this country with that of Latin America, nothing stands out so clearly as the weakness of the Americans when contrasted with the heroism of Archbishop Romero. American Catholic bishops symbolize nothing so much as stodgy partisans, satisfied with the status quo. None come forth to do battle in public on the questions of our time. The men of the cloth here are not men of the people.

I will not belabor points already made about sexual scandal. It is a horrifying development and a monstrous crime. I beleive it demonstrates the sclerotic nature of the Catholic leadership and is a consequence of its inability to draw strength from the laity. It speaks volumes of the distance between clergy and laity and underscores my point about the hermetic Church. This distance has reduced the sacraments from living rites of passage of the faithful and community to rote exercises and instructions for people divorced from the spirit of life, calculating their way towards salvation.

One should also take note of this flaming dissent:

"As a successful black [Roman Catholic] priest, I recognized I could write my own ticket, but I never felt at peace. No matter what I wanted to do, I always had to get the stamp of the white establishment," George A. Stallings, Jr., the founder of the African American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C., explained in an Ebony interview. "I realized the church is a white racist institution controlled by a preponderantly Euro-American white male hierarchy that for a century had decided the fate of black people in the Catholic church," Stallings continued. "My blackness could no longer tolerate it!" And every Sunday since July 2, 1989, the Most Reverend George Augustus Stallings, Jr., has celebrated the so-called "Gospel Mass"--a blend of Catholic and traditional black Protestant worship styles--at his independently established Imani (Swahili for "faith") Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

The jury is out on Stallings. I've heard nothing of him in many years. His bold assertions certainly seemed appropriate to 1989 but I wonder if they have brought him true success.

In summary, I would say that the Catholic Church needs a revitalization of its priesthood and a new engagement with the laity and public which breaths life into the sacraments and rites. I strongly believe that the new Rosary is a step in the right direction. It fits perfectly within the tradition and extends it. The Church needs to summon its resources and become more of a sanctuary than simply a place of worship. Priests need to straighten up, fly right and regain not only the trust of the laity but the public trust. That will require acts of heroism. Most of all, American Catholics need to do right and show some pride. It's a tall order, but the Catholic Church is capable of all that and much more. After all, it was the parent of the Anglican Communion.

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Self Promotion

If this particular blog post works. I will self-nominate Cobb into the Bear Flag League of California bloggers. Stranger things have happened.

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October 15, 2003

American Fatwa

Right about now, Steve Bartman should be on the phone with Salman Rushdie. That's because Bartman, the infamous fan who assisted in defeating the Chicago Cubs is probably the most hated man in America at this moment. Well, the most hated man in Illinois to be sure. Unless you've been on another planet, you've heard the story. Hell even that Chinese astronaut was watching the Cubs game while he was in orbit.

My suggestion is to do something noble. Here's what I say. Let the owner of the Florida Marlins, Jeff Loria buy this guy tickets to the World Series and all-expense paid vacation somewhere remote. If he shows his face anywhere, he's going to get beat down. I'd rather it were some other way, and surely Cubs fans are used to wallowing in self-pity, but right now I'd say this guy needs a break.

Better yet, let the owner of the Cubs show some class. Naaah.

Poor slob.

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Educational Values

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By The Numbers

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More Digital Feudalism

I have some disagreements with this essay that I'll get back to at a later date, but I want to note it now because I'm on a tribal/fuedal kick at the moment. Plus I really want to finish Quicksilver today. Note this for disagreement.

There are now a number of forums and devices on the Internet where people come together to compete in some way. To name a few examples: Blogging is where you maintain a public diary, but can also attempt journalism and news analysis; Online games, where you pit strategy skills and reflexes against remote opponents; and discussion forums where you engage in debate. And least we forget the realm of amateur enterprise such as fanzines, novels and short stories, essayists, artists, musicians, pundits, advice givers and so-on. Where people come together in creative endeavor they will compete, but on the Internet nobody has been dividing anyone up into featherweight and heavyweight—except, perhaps, by how much traffic your web site gets.

That in turn has meant the pressure to excel is enormous on the young and the unaccomplished. Without visible class distinctions there's no filter, and without the filter there's a compulsion to compete with people who are “out of your league”. We'd be happy to say this is universally good, since it appears a few of those low-income kids have been motivated into performing as well as, or even better than older, wealthier, better educated peers. But that brings us to the second effect, which is that the higher classes are now looking for other ways to recognize each other within the context of the Internet.

...Therefore, pulling strings and passing laws to get underprivileged kids into college may have exactly the opposite effect of what was intended; diluting the true value of a college education until it's no longer the key to a higher paying job..

Note this for Agreement:

The only limit on digital classes is how far they can scale, because after a certain point it becomes impossible to guarantee the... er... quality of a person with a signed key. It's not like your butler can't trace the naughty fellow who let the riff-raff join, but that as you get closer to the base of the pyramid there simply aren't enough butlers to keep up. The most effective digital classes won't grow much larger than a few thousand members. Digital identities won't stratify human status, but cluster it, instead, and the Internet equivalent of the caste system will look distinctly tribal.

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October 14, 2003


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Cringely Gets Tribal

Cringely puts another foot forward in advocating what I see as the feudal future:

My system is based on a registry of friends because we all participate in
virtual tribes that are geographically dispersed. Every person who wants to have
credit, to make a big purchase, or to board a 747 has to have a list of 10
friends -- people who can vouch for their identity and know how to test it if
needed. That takes us out of the realm of the mother's maiden name, replacing it
with, "What was the nickname I called you in the fourth grade?"
I am Bob, and these are my 10 friends.
They don't even have to be friends -- just people who know you. You don't have
to tell them they are on your list and you can change your list as often as you


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Yellow Unity

I wonder if any of you would agree (and why) that it should be a priority of people of color to gang up on white supremacy. If part of the problem is that asians have in America is that being 'asian' submerges their identity / culture in debilitating ways that some collaborative expression under the rubric of 'PoC' is appropriate. If so how much?

It may be that the culture wars are over and multiculturalism has won, but it has won on white terms, ie 'diversity'. I for one prefer being a black unit than a 'diverse' unit, because I want folks to understand the positive and unique aspects of black culture and politics, not only for its effect on whitefolks but for its own intrinsic value and history. That the NAACP is not the focus of such PoC activity is a constant source of annoyance to me. Nevertheless, it's difficult to say how necessary such activism is.

We've all witnessed the model minority thing, and I've always presumed that 'asians' were simply incapable of raising a large enough voice to keep themselves from being used as a club over the heads of blacks and browns. Surely some fraction decided to go with the honorary whiteness, but did most? I doubt it. What did the white politics of Affirmative Action backlash interrupt in Chinese American affairs, or was it the biggest issue to date? Without some grasp of various asian political and cultural activities, its nearly impossible to disaggregate what they say about themselves from their portrayal by white partisans. As a parallel, now that Cruz Bustamante has failed to win in California, you'll hear no more about MEChA. But I for one, can't even identify a similar Japanese American group.

What I am coming to believe is that 'asians' are forced to be individuals and simply deal with assimilation on a family by family basis; that they are incapable and despair of defending their ways. This despair results in a greater insularity which hurts average and poor asians much harder than successful ones. So I percieve an invisible majority of asians which is neither assimilated nor truly able to resist assimilation, while a highly visible cherry picking minority of asians are assimilated and taking all the credit/blame for their race.

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Reflections on Unions & Strikes

Several major supermarket chains are in the middle of a strike. Folks have asked me to support the pickets. So I've been thinking..

The existence of organized labor is proof of poor management, but it is also proof of commoditized labor. Proper management would never allow commodity labor to have separate tiers of benefits and pay ranges based on seniority. This is a situation that leads exactly to scab/union conflict even in the absence of a union. If Joe make 6 bucks and Jane make 8 doing the same job, there's going to be a problem. I think the union introduces this problem because it's trying to limit the labor pool. Yeah it raises salaries artificially, and you see how high when scabs take jobs for what they're really worth.

That's the status quo, and it won't be under control until management controls everything. However since the unions aren't going away, you'll always have two sets of interests trying to negotiate the proper salaries for employees, and so you'll always have these artificial tiers of salaries based on the periods between collective bargaining negotiations which has nothing to do with the market value of the labor involved.

On the other hand, the existence of unions allows management to be lazy and fail to treat employees well. Management can then look at labor as a fixed cost and arrange their profitability different ways. Over time they grow retarded HR departments and fail to develop the proper loyalty with their employees.

As for crossing picket lines, I'll do what's convenient. It's not my problem.

I was a union employee at Fedco back in the days. You came in at maybe a 25 cents above minimum wage and were on probation for 90 days before you get to be union. Believe me, lots of people worked for 89 days and we never saw them again, especially during the summer and holiday shopping season. At Fedco, we were Teamsters, and the real Teamster jobs were in the warehouse. If you drove a forklift or some such extremely technically sophisticated job, you could make 11 or 12 bucks an hour. But if you worked as a cashier or stocked the floor, you'd be around 6 or 8 bucks with maybe 3-5% annual raises. Yet if you worked at Boy's Market, whose union was the Retail Clerks, the same cashier job just 5 miles away paid 13 an hour. When you work in the union, what you get paid has nothing to do with how hard or well you work, it's all about what gets negotiated on your behalf by the union.

We struck Fedco and got strike pay of about 37 bucks a week. We closed the store. There was no picket line to break. We had a big meeting at the Shrine Auditorium in which us rank and file had an opportunity to speak. I didn't have enough seniority in the union to actually have a vote, but I did get in front of the whole crowd and embarrass myself, like the rest who went up there and cursed a blue streak. I complained that I couldn't afford a car and an apartment on my salary. They looked at me like I was an idiot. What did I expect? I was only 19 years old. Some days I think I should have gone to the Army.

From my personal experience the union owns you because the union owns your friends. There have been no experiences in my life when the relationships between myself and my co-workers have been so close as when I was at Fedco. Kevin Douglas and Mark Robinson were my boys. I still remember Clave Marks, Deborah Brown, David Ashby, Big Charles, Claude Grant the tennis player, and sneaky Angel Espin, quiet Lau Lam, irratable Wah Gee, and the Vietnam vets in the warehouse, Ward who loved Ritchie Blackmore, The Cowboy, and another man whose face I see but cannot remember his name. I also remember our opponents. Mr. Tobak, Mr. Gross, and the cabal of Japanese women including Satsu Sunoda. I remember the earnest ligaments of the business who caught hell from both sides, the supervisors whose faces stay with me but names have long faded since 1979.

After the strike was over, I can't remember getting any big raise or anything. I left Fedco after about a year and a half to go work at a bank.

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Low BS Guide

The Internet Archive allows us to see the glorious history of the 'net. Part of the the most appealing thing about the internet is that we can use it to see people and places that are ignored by the major media. But this only works when the people from those places speak up.

One of the greatest examples of just that kind of writing was created by a reticent guy named J. Brad Hicks. His Low Bullshit Guide to St. Louis was a brilliant piece of cultural geography. But one day he decided to pull it. Nobody knows why, everybody missed it. But guess what?


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October 13, 2003

The Liberal Fairy

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Colorblind Racism

For the record, Sally Lehrman:

African Americans with a college diploma find themselves unemployed almost twice as often as whites with the same education. Hispanics must get by on only about half of the individual income that Asian Americans and whites divvy up among the bills.

And when blacks and Latinos are hospitalized with a heart problem, they are less likely than European Americans to receive catheterization, be sent home with beta blockers, or even be advised to take aspirin to protect their health.

While many Americans agree that open racial bigotry is generally a thing of the past, stark disparities in daily life persist, as documented by academic researchers, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Institute of Medicine.

Frustrated with theories plainly unable to explain the problem, sociologists increasingly are relying on a new framework to understand racism and develop solutions. "It's not just Archie Bunker any more," says Troy Duster, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University who is president-elect of the American Sociological Association.

Just in the past six months, at least five books – including one co-authored by Duster – have put forward a fresh analysis of racial injustice. They set aside overt prejudice and individual acts of discrimination, which they assert actually may have little impact in today's world. Instead they pull back the covers on social practices and policies sewn into the fabric of work, school and the medical system that favor whites. Even the most well-intentioned white person, they say, benefits from a legacy of accumulated preferential treatment.

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Thernstrom Again

The Thernstroms are stirring up muck again. This time they argue, according to William Raspberry, that black attitudes towards education are poor and that they flunk out because of that, basically. Whites love education, blacks hate it. Whites are smart, blacks are stupid. Clear? Good.

I find it difficult to believe that the Thernstroms have any black friends of substance or have stopped to wonder how in the world there got to be so many black colleges in this country. But I am always puzzled about such claims about blacks hating education. I suppose I've just been hanging around the wrong blacks all my life. Abigail reminds me of those whitefolks who always complain about the unfairness of black people being able to say nigger, but whitefolks can't. If she's so smart, why does she pick those blackfolks who call each other niggers for her examples about blackfolks? Maybe she wants to be a nigger. If so, fine. I'll ignore her and her niggas.

Of course Abigail Thernstrom (shades of Glenn Close) will not be ignored. She's got a fatal attraction to the underachievers. I wonder if she has any solutions. Not if Raspberry's interpretation is to be trusted. So what is the point of her book? Evidently it's to point out that racism is not to be blamed. OK. If racism is not to be blamed, why should we listen to Thernstrom about education? I thought she was an expert on race. Hmm. This is just too complicated.

If somebody leaves her new book at a Starbucks, maybe I'll skim it. But since Abagail gets almost as much press as Jesse, I suspect I'll hear some nice partisan reviews in no time.

So what do I think? I think it's very simple. We all know that we had two societies separate and unequal in the middle of the 20th century. We also know that 'inner city' and otherwise ghetto / barrio schools were strikingly inferior. We also know that we had white flight and a huge boom in private schools after the Brown decision. We also know that lots of people fought bussing tooth and nail, and still do. So the poor black neighborhoods are in the same places they always were, and the mainstream white suburban neighborhoods are in the same places they were. But we got some Affirmative Action and the some integration and a good 20-35% of African America got mainstreamed, which is damned incredible for a population as large as ours. But by and large the remaining 65-80% of black America is lower-middle class and lower (although within African America class is read a little differently than it is for the Joneses). So you can still say 'black' and speak about the majority of blackfolks and say educationally inferior results on standardized tests without breaking a mental sweat.

If you slave over a hot calculator for a couple years, you could probably cook up some statistics which could show an underproduction of educational results among the black demographic. It would take a bit more doing to show the cultural intentionality of aversion to educational achievement. That's probably the miracle Abagail is trying to pull off. Maybe she has.

But it strikes me as odd to think that 'stay in school' is not the message of the black Christian Church. So I wonder if dear Mrs. T. included that in her research. After all we are talking culture. I also wonder if she talked to many black educators. I'm also curious to find out what music she sees as representative of black culture. (There's a cliffhanger).

I think if Thernstrom has qualified her black American sample appropriately she might be talking about a fraction for whom anyone with common sense might guess would have educationally poor results and backgrounds. And if what she says about the culture of those people is correct, then it suggests that a better culture can be learned and once learned those people can be helped. Then she'll scratch her head and wonder why her ideas are not taken to heart by those poor people. And the blistering answers she'll hear from those who have dedicated their lives to actually teaching those poor folks will shake the walls.

Thernstrom has earned her reputation for disrespecting the best of black culture and condescending to the rest, and she has done it with the kindest language and the best intentions. One is reminded of no one so much as Dolores Umbridge of the latest Harry Potter book. Unless I miss my guess, there won't be anything striking she has to offer in her newest treatise.

You cannot look at the life of MLK and suggest that his life was defined by anything other than black culture. Yet Thernstrom and others like her claim to be the kind of colorblind people who have learned best from King's example. How is it then that she is able to completely ignore that black culture when she speaks about it now? She must be misguided into believing that the values of black culture are only those values of the underachieving blacks. If hiphop music is purchased more by white kids than by black kids, how does such a perscription not apply to whites as well? How can her analysis which says race and racism are not substantial in this not apply to white losers?

Perhaps it is not her point to improve the educational potential of black and white losers alike. So why are we even listening?

UPDATE: Dr. Spence reviews 'No Excuses'

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So I've Been Told


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Bustamante's Revenge

Cruz Bustamante made a lot of noise against the energy pirates which hasn't echoed very well in his bid for the governorship of California. As rumors of AS' backroom dealing with Ken Lay echo loudly, I think few people are coming correct as to what may actually be happening. As much as I prefer pure debate, I'm going to do a little internet sleuthing here, because I believe that since the Lt. Governor has not been recalled, we may see a few fireworks. Since it's clear that the State of California needs all the revenue it can get we should watch and see whether or not there is a real conflict between the two offices when it comes to getting money back from the energy companies.

Firstly, from what I see, Bustamante was more intemperate about throwing the book at the energy companies than was Davis. Bill Lockyear, the state Atty General and Treasurer Angelides were also more incensed.

From Overlawyered - June 2001:

Other California politicos have also stepped up the business-bashing to an intensity not heard since the 1970s, to judge from an account by Chris Weinkopf in the Los Angeles Daily News. At a press conference, state senate president pro tem John Burton "announced the solution is for Sacramento to 'terrorize the bastards' [electricity generators] by seizing their power plants. If he were governor, he said, he 'would have taken them yesterday.' The actual governor, Gray Davis, is more subtle in his attacks. He's only called the generators 'marauders,' 'pirates' and 'the biggest snakes on the planet Earth.' ... Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has called for empowering the state to put energy executives in jail. ...Treasurer Phil Angelides has suggested that if generators 'don't take their foot off our throat,' the state should 'seize a plant or two to sober them up.'" (Chris Weinkopf, "California’s Assault on Energy Producers", Los Angeles Daily News, April 24, reprinted at FrontPage magazine).

Bustamante tells KTVU of his participation in class action:





Bustamante was unsatisfied with offers from Duke Energy - May 2001:

Duke Energy released details of its offer to Gov. Gray Davis to cut its energy charges retroactively and into the future in exchange for "prompt suspension of State investigations, lowering of rhetoric and stay of State litigation."

Its proposal listed an alphabet soup of investigations by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the Public Utilities Commission, Energy Oversight Board, state auditor, Independent System Operator, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, private class-action and antitrust lawsuits, and claims by investor-owned utilities.

The disclosure came two days after Williams Cos. agreed to refund $8 million to settle a federal investigation into alleged improper charges for electricity.

It came the same day Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante filed suit against five generators. Bustamante is sponsoring legislation that would allow corporate officers to be jailed and part of a company's assets seized if the company was convicted of price gouging.

Here is the Executive Summary:

Five multinational corporations overcharged the State of California billions of dollars for power, after the Governor declared the electricity emergency in January, in violation of state antitrust and unlawful business practices laws. The defendants control the critical 19 gas-fired electric generation plants, located in 11 California counties, that provide critical amounts of electricity to the state’s consumers. The plants were owned for decades by California’s utility companies and were operated under the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Under deregulation, the power to turn the plants’ generators is held by executives in the five defendant corporations. These companies used their power over the generators to extract billions of dollars of unlawful overcharges from California consumers. The defendants’ excessive charges were a substantial cause of California’s electricity crisis, in which power prices have risen from $7 billion in 1999 to a projected $70 billion in 2001.

After California declared a State of Emergency, these generators raised the prices even higher. The complaint alleges such conduct violates other state laws that prohibit unscrupulous price gougers from excessive profiteering during state emergencies. The complaint is based upon published reports that the defendants used their market power in 98% of the bids they submitted to California’s electricity spot market. In other words, these five companies acted like monopolists 98% of the time they sold power to this California power market.

Also named as defendants are the five companies’ 14 key executives. These individuals are making millions of dollars from stock options, salaries, and the increased stock values. The individual defendants also include the heads of the five companies’ trading floors. It is through these massive unregulated electricity trading operations that billions of excess costs are added into the paper trades of California power generation transactions.

The plaintiffs are proceeding under well established California law that allows taxpayers to bring actions to stop the waste of taxpayer funds. They are also proceeding under California’s unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent business acts and practices law that allows consumers to sue violators on behalf of the general public. The plaintiffs are also suing under California antitrust laws.

The complaint details the history of deregulation and the false message the defendants delivered to consumers - (that they were helping to create a competitive California electricity market that would enjoy lower prices). At the same time, these same five companies were telling their investment bankers that the companies stood to make billions of dollars from California by imposing higher prices on consumers. The complaint also details how power plants were sold on the basis of their market power attributes, their strategic locations throughout the state in areas where there were known shortages, and provisions that would allow the new owners to raise prices without losing customers because of the high inelasticity of demand for electricity.

The suit seeks to recover billions of dollars of overcharges, and injunctions that would stop the five companies from any further violations of the state’s consumer and emergency gouging laws. The case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday 2 May 2001.

Here is the press release from Bustamante's office. A PDF of the filed complaint is available there too.

Posted by mbowen at 12:38 PM | TrackBack

Rape Law & Immediacy

Someone name Barbara Amiel comes with troubling thoughts which amount to a shot across the bow of our current legal definition of rape.

Technically it's rape if the woman says no. Anytime. By my reckoning this is something of a new standard which was established by popularization of the concept of 'date rape'. The context, of course, was college - that particularly American middleclass island of hedonistic abandon where date = sex. But then again, I'm not a lawyer nor a radical feminist, and being married I don't have a dog in this fight. Nevertheless, I had a personal guideline I used in light of the idea of date rape. If she takes off my shorts, then it's on. Who knows if such a defense would stand up in court? I've never had the misfortune to come anywhere near such a charge, but I have been jokingly told 'no' by a particularly legalistically minded girlfriend.

Ameil's point is perfectly logical:

The complainant's name is now kept secret. Men can be charged on the uncorroborated say-so of a woman who voluntarily entered into a sexual situation with them and whose motives, name, background and psychiatric record cannot be questioned or disclosed.

This is sexual terrorism. Rape charges can be laid one week or 20 years later, without the judge having to instruct juries that they may draw an adverse inference from the delay. Men have only the protection of a jury's common sense - and juries have been acquitting some - but even the acquitted find their names besmirched and their jobs wrecked. Meanwhile, the Government is hellbent on cutting back the right to trial by jury.

In the past, any woman crying rape under such factual circumstances would have had to show feeble-mindedness to warrant society's protection. Going voluntarily up to a stranger's room for intercourse or its preliminaries, and expecting a man to behave as a light switch that can be turned off at will, may be technically her right, but it is both biologically and logically mad.

And although she speaks about the legal system of the UK, her point certainly resonates with me. There doesn't seem to be much appreciation in such a law for the way men actually have sex with women. That is to say the notion that a woman, once penetrated, has the right to demand an immediate withdrawl or else, violates the idea of consensual sex.

This is tricky territory, but I am inclined to believe that the law may be too much with us in the bedroom. A more common sense approach should probably take into consideration the time and place as well as the sexual history and preferences of the two. A woman certainly has the right not to be brutalized, but a man has a right not to have his ordinary sexual appetite turned against him. This should especially apply in cases where the parties know each other or the act in question takes place at their residence.

There is no question that in the main men are the initiators in sexual relations. Men hunt for women, women make themselves available. That's about as simplistic a view as possible; certainly there are many degrees of initiation and reception. The idea that a female has the right to immediate rejection should have as much moral standing as the idea that a male has the right to immediate capitulation, which is to say, little.

I believe furthermore that this equality extends beyond the act. The warming up towards consensual sex raises the level of implied consent beyond the first act. A woman who would say several days after consensual sex, "Hey, I probably shouldn't see him again." is on the same murky ground as the man who says "Hey, I probably shouldn't see her again." The reflective rejection of the validity of the act reflects poorly upon both parties. This is rather clear when the warming up takes place over weeks or months, but not so clear when it takes days or hours. Which is why it is so important to categorize the sexual history of both parties.

I am confident that there are societies in our world where puritan squeamishness is not so firmly attached to sexual relations and women do not feel their civil and social rights are so tightly bound to sex. I think we may have something to learn from them as our own short history of feminism matures along its course. A society of law is, by definition, one whose cultural values are not strong enough to be a reliable source of order. We are meddling with very basic human desires and need all the wisdom we can get.

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October 12, 2003


Posted by mbowen at 08:56 PM | TrackBack

Good News from Iraq

Thomas Friedman was just rebroadcast on CSPAN praising the grass-roots democracy building process that US Army officers have been undertaking in Baghdad. It's working.

I'm also going to replicate Dean's post of Bremer's report in full because it bears repeating over and over again. You can see it here.

Six months ago today Coalition Forces liberated Baghdad. I am sure that many of you were as thrilled as I was to see Saddam’s statue and his regime fall.

Most, but not all, of what has happened since then is good.

The Coalition has completed over 13,000 reconstruction projects, large and small, as part of our strategic plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. That plan has four elements:

· Create a Secure Environment.
· Begin Restoration of Essential Services.
· Begin to Transform the Economy.
· Begin the Transformation to Democracy.

Before taking your questions I would like to review briefly some of the progress in each of these areas.

Create a Secure Environment:

Six months ago there were no police on duty in Iraq.

· Today there are over 40,000 police on duty, nearly 7,000 here in Baghdad alone.
· Last night Coalition Forces and Iraqi police conducted 1,731 joint patrols.

Six months ago those elements of Saddam’s military that had not been destroyed in combat had buried their airplanes and melted away.

· Today the first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active duty.
· Across the country over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.

Six months ago there were no functioning courts in Iraq.

· Today nearly all of Iraq’s 400 courts are functioning.
· Today, for the first time in over a generation, the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.

As today’s events have made clear, much remains to be done to establish an acceptable security environment. Even so, things have improved enough to ease the curfew in Baghdad to only four hours.

Begin Restoration of Essential Services:

Six months ago the entire country could generate a bare 300 megawatts of electricity.

· On Monday, October 6 power generation hit 4,518 megawatts—exceeding the pre-war average.
· Please notice these photos of central Iraq:
o The first was taken February 1, 2003.
o The second was taken April 11.
o The third was taken October 1.

· If we get the funding the President has requested in his emergency budget, we expect to produce enough electricity for all Iraqis to have electrical service 24 hours daily—something essential to their hopes for the future.

Six months ago nearly all of Iraq’s schools were closed.

· Today all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.
· Many of you know that we announced our plan to rehabilitate one thousand schools by the time school started—well, by October 1 we had actually rehabbed over 1,500.

Six months ago teachers were paid as little as $5.33 per month.

· Today teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.

Six months ago the public health system was an empty shell. During the 1990’s Saddam cut spending on public health by over 90 percent with predictable results for the lives of his citizens.

· Today we have increased public health spending to over 26 times what it was under Saddam.
· Today all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.
· Today doctors’ salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.
· Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.
· Since liberation we have administered over 22 million vaccination doses to Iraq’s children.

Six months ago three-quarters of Iraq’s 27,000 kilometers of irrigation canals were weed-choked and barely functional.

· Today a Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of those canals. They now irrigate tens of thousands of farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and women.

Additionally, we have restored over three-quarters of pre-war telephone services and over two-thirds of the potable water production.

Before the war there were 4,500 Internet connections and important services, such as instant messaging were forbidden.

· Today there are 4,900 full-service connections.
· We expect 50,000 by January first.

Begin to Transform the Economy:

Six months ago Iraq’s economy was flat on its back.

· Today anyone walking the streets can see the wheels of commerce turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and towns.

Six months ago all banks were closed.

· Today 95 percent of all pre-war bank customers have service and first-time customers are opening accounts daily.
· Today Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.
· Today the central bank is fully independent.
· Today Iraq has one of the world’s most growth-oriented investment and banking laws.

Six months ago Iraq had two currencies.

· Next week Iraq will get a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.

Begin the Transformation to Democracy:

Six months ago there was no freedom of expression. Satellite dishes were illegal. Foreign journalists came on 10-day visas and paid mandatory and extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for “minders” and other government spies.

· Today there is no Ministry of Information.
· Today there are more than 170 newspapers.
· Today you can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.
· Today foreign journalists and everyone else are free to come and go.

Six months ago Iraq had not one single element—legislative, judicial or executive-- of a representative government.

· Today in Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils. Baghdad’s first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the city council elected its new chairman.
· Today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing their leaders all over the country.
· Today 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq’s history, run the day-to-day business of government.
· Today the Iraqi government regularly participates in international events. Since July the Iraqi government has been represented in over two dozen international meetings, including those of the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, the World Bank and IMF and, today, the Islamic Conference Summit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced that it is reopening over 30 Iraqi embassies around the world.

Six months ago Shia religious festivals were all but banned.

· Today, for the first time in 35 years, in Karbala thousands of Shiites celebrate the pilgrimage of the 12th Imam.

In six short months we have accomplished a lot.

We are also aware that the progress we have made is only a beginning. A quarter century of negligence, cronyism and war mongering have devastated this country. Such profound damage cannot be repaired overnight.

Bringing Iraq up to minimum self-sufficiency will require the full $20 billion the President has asked of Congress in his supplemental budget request.

We are fighting terrorism here and we will continue to fight it until it no longer threatens the hopes of Iraqis, the hopes of the world.

The importance and urgency of this task was underscored for all of us today when terrorists car-bombed a police station and assassinated a Spanish diplomat.

As the President just said, "We will wage the war on terror until it is won."

L. Paul Bremer
Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator
Press Conference 9 October 2003

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Double Tailwhip

I just turned on the television, randomly and landed on the Gravity Games. Some kid named Chad Kagy just performed the world's first Double Tailwhip over the Channel in competition. It's a heart-stopping manuever.

If I haven't written about it before, I have a gripe about organized sports for kids these days. It's too organized. When I was a kid, you had a football, you go to any neighborhood on the planet and play tackle ball with whoever. No parental supervision. No mandated helmets. No dumbass signs saying 'No Football'. No insurance waviers. Just kids playing ball and enforcing the rules of sportsmanship without adults telling them to play fair and all that crap.

But since I've been carrying that gripe for a long time I've been thinking that today's kids are soft, dependent and cheated, but I've recently had an epiphany. Skateboarding is just like the old days. It's the one thing kids do on their own in their own neighborhoods without grownups telling them how, what and why. Kids develop their own skills, they have their own hierarchies of talent and adults, for the most part, let the kids do it independently. Good.

At the high end of this sport, is some incredible talent. And although nothing makes me laugh quite as hard as watching rollerbladers fall on their asses (I was a road cycler, and lardass bladers are real pests), I've got a good amount of respect for the best of the Extreme sporters. There are limits, of course. I can't stand folks who feel the need to inject danger into their own lives for its own sake. Base jumpers I think are pretty idiotic. But the competition and the art of many of these new sports is very attractive.

If you haven't checked it out before,... Wait Dave Mirra's on.

Wow. He did a 540 tailwhip, a double tailwhip over the channel and a one-footed flair.


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Dyson's Utopia

I'm having a very healthy discussion about a number of things over with the AfroFuturists. It's sending me to the stacks. One of the subjects is a post-fossil fuel world economy. I've been expecting something along the lines of what Freeman Dyson was talking about.

I've read the article twice since it was published and it still made sense. I'll review it again today, but I absolutely had to have it here at Cobb for future reference.

Download file

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Blog as Amenuensis & Factotum

Every once in a while, like today, I get upset that I can't place my finger on a name or fact or reference. Right now I owe a big up to Joe Bob over in Yglesias' comment section for reminding me of the name of Steven Levitt.


You are thinking of Steven Levitt, currently with the University of Chicago. There was a profile of him in the NYT magazine a few weeks ago.

The analysis he wrote on this subject is titled 'An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang's Finances.' You can view an abstract of it here:


Among his findings was that over the four-year period studied the typical street level dealer earned $6-$11/hour.

So if you see some notes in here that seem to make no contextual sense, know that I am making mental notes for reference at a future date. It'll probably go into Brain Spew.

Posted by mbowen at 12:42 PM | TrackBack

Not Since Cash

Racist hate mail has killed a blogger. Not literally of course, but S-Train says, through his ISP that he won't be blogging any longer. The story behind it will test your patience.

I am almost at a loss for words to describe how despicable these blockhead bastards are. S-Train suffered, in the dead of night, an armed attack on his house. To make a long story short, S-Train, who is black, stopped one of the armed white attackers with a shotgun. After the first shot, almost begging for a second, the attacker confessed his intent to kill all the niggers in the house. S-Train's wife saved the man's life by tapping her husband on the arm to inform him that the police were on the way. The second attacker fled, was apprehended by and confessed to police. No charges were brought against S-Train. He blogged the story, obviously shaken. 95% of the comments posted to his blog were positive and supportive. Then the cretins crawled in.

Certain individuals were convinced that since they didn't see it on the news, the story was a fabrication. They claimed that S-Train made up the story to cover for his hatred of white people whom he just couldn't wait to shoot. This is what was said on the website. We may never know what came in the mailbombing of his ISP.

The link that facilitated the widespread publication of S-Train's self-defense was Instapundit via Clayton Cramer whose skeptical take on the story may have encouraged the racist attackers.

What we have here is a first hand account of an aborted hate-crime that has spawned hateful defenses of the attacker. If we ever needed a reason to believe that hatred of blackfolks is alive and well, I couldn't invent a more blatant, twisted example.

I am literally stunned by this. I really can't think of anything so dastardly and poisonous since Cash defended Strohmeyer.

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October 10, 2003

Blog Degrees of Separation

I've been talking about dissonance in race relations, here and a couple other places.

Race, although I don't want it to be, is one of those compelling subjects that simply won't leave us alone. How we prepare for it says a lot about how we are prepared for life, or not. It gets deep from my perspective because I think the experience of these two bloggers exemplifies the difference between theory and practice.

I don't believe that most Americans prepare for the fact that their race may put them in a life or death situation. But it can. Don't assume progress.

I've had the good fortune to think about stuff. Events in my life haven't generally overtaken my life. So when a deadly situation presented itself, I didn't have to engage. I take some pride in having some ethics in evading such occasions. But it is an evasion as much as it is a moral choice. I know there are places where I couldn't avoid the conflict, and I have worked hard to stay away from those places. Yet I know:

i would have shot him, i would have felt good about it. if the situation presented itself again would shoot again. the only thing that saved that boy's life was the fact that i didn't have a gun.

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The first time I saw Ghettopoly a day or so ago, I thought it was pretty funny. I'm not laughing any more, but I'm not jumping up and down either.

I wasn't going to blog it for the same reason I did this. I decided that even though the Kwaku network had frothed over a bit, it really wasn't worth spit. But I can smell a controversy and it's gathering heat. Here's the bottom line:

...the Ghettopoly board depicts figures labeled "Malcum X" and "Martin
Luthor King Jr." -- intentionally misspelled -- noted Rev. Glenn Wilson,
pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
"This is beyond making fun, to use the caricature of Dr. King in this
regard," Wilson said. "There's no way that game could be taken in any way
other than that this man had racist intent in marketing it."

Note well that nobody is going to lose their job over this, except maybe Chang, the creator of this cockeyed parody. So it doesn't rise to the level of anything more than background noise. But it's worth noting that anybody who defends Chang who is aware that he's lumping MLK with crack dealers deserves a verbal beatdown.

So before anybody says 'black leaders' (a non-starter anyway) don't have a sense of humor, watch your step. It will sound like the prejudice it is, and around here at the Old School, we don't take too kindly about that sort of thing.

UPDATE: Chang is about to bite the dust.

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October 09, 2003

Two Societies Separate & Unequal

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” - 1 Cor 13:11

Novaslim asks 21 questions. There's only about 3 of them that I have enough context to answer. That's because they are the kinds of questions one can only answer if one follows hiphop, mtv and whatever other mindless stuff that passes itself off as black culture these days.

He's on the edge I think, of leaving childish things behind, but still calling it 'our culture' in the monolithic sense. But it's not 'our culture' meaning African American culture, it's pop culture for the hiphop demographic. It's consumer product masquerading as real people with real lives. But the script has already been written all the way up to and including the breakup of Eric Benet & Halle Berry. If you look at contemporary black culture, that small part of African American culture, there are two actually cultures, separate and unequal. One is the culture of McCoy Tyner, the other is the culture of Murder Inc.

I've got a little product called Acid Music. It has several hundred hiphop rhythm tracks. I've mixed up enough songs for 3 cds. On a good number of them, I let my kids do the singing and picking the beats. So when we go driving in the car, they can ask for their songs and I can play them instead of listening to whatever is on the radio. There is a such thing as good, even great hiphop music, but most of it works at the level of my elementary school kids' musical sophistication. When they hear their own voices over the speakers, they don't miss anything. Nothing At All.

It doesn't seem fair that I name this other thing hiphop culture. Once upon a time hiphop was fresh. In fact, that was the best word you could say in the argot. It wasn't nearly as sophisticated as it is today, but it was a bit more honest and a whole lot less jaded. Somewhere along the way, what was fresh became dope. Now it's just [the] shit headed towards some shiznit that is off the chain. Something like that is just begging to be locked up. But what else can we call it but hiphop? I wouldn't want to call it black youth culture not only because I know non-blacks dig it but because I have a problem insulting black youth. I certainly wouldn't want to call it black culture. It happens in the context of the porno that is American pop, hiphop is the cutting edge of that porno. Nothing quite says it like the new Napster bits. Click on hiphop. That's all it is. OK call it hiphop culture.

Even Napster serves to remind us that Reggae and Blues are still real in American lives. Hiphop can have all its madness and still be black. But it's not black enough to be much in the full context of black culture, even when it appropriates the term 'Old School'. Some people actually believe Snoop Dogg is Old School. If you hear somebody say that, remind them to say Old School of Hiphop (which he really isn't, that would be Bambataa, or even the Jonzon Crew).

As some of you may know, I used to have some kind of epiphany on a regular basis and I would write an essay entitled 'The End of My Blackness' every five years or so. But I'm pleased to be stuck in the current mode which hasn't changed much in 10 years, past caring about hiphop, those who sacrifice themselves for it and those bitter hopes that it might have become something more than the soundtrack of the violent porno / action film of American pop. If you live in Los Angeles, you know that 94.7 the Wave has swallowed up the 16 beat and bass lines and incorporated it into smooth jazz. When I was mixing records back in college, my boy thought I was wack when I tried to get the bassline from Steely Dan's 'Hey 19' into an extended groove. I wasn't a musician then and I'm not now, but I knew what I was talking about. That's not hiphop, that's music for people with peaceful souls. Hiphop is all about drama. But it's the equating drama with blackness that fails. There once was a time in the early post-soul when blackness was all one branch, or so it seemed. Now there is no chance. The lines are drawn.

Louis XIV famously said "I am the state." He said it in French, and he meant it. Nobody could deny it because he was, after all, king. But I'm here to tell you that hiphop is a pretender to the throne of black culture. It will certainly last at least as long as rock & roll, but hiphop doesn't own the music. Hiphop owns the illiterate lifestyle and the commercial grasping. It may very well last for three more generations, but not three of my generations. Three generations of babies having babies will replicate Sorry Miss Jackson. Damn. Even Miss Jackson wasn't married. Hiphop tried, valiantly, to become more than just beats and raps, grooves and fashion. But it could not transcend. I'm weary of beating it down because it's only a genre.

A little man in my head says don't forget Savion Glover's Noize. Don't forget that there is true artistry in hiphop. By the same token I can't forget that there's true artistry in cartoons, football and cooking too, and those are just three double 'o' words off the top of my head.

In the end, culture lives or dies with the people it inspires. And I'm one to tell you, from the Old School and from the Old School of Hiphop, that it cannot and will not inspire anyone of a certain maturity and class. The questions Nova asks are a clear indication of that, and I suspect it is something any number of hiphopers already know, but they hold out hope. The only way to hiphop until you die is to die young and ignorant.

I'll close with this from Fishbone.

Fight the Youth--
The Youth with poisoned minds
Ignite the truth--
Restore sight to these blind
Fight the youth--
The youth with poisoned minds
And if they suffer it's no fault but their own

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Moderate Republicans & Powell's Last Chance

Von at Tacitus gets verbose about what I've predicted. But let me turn it into a meme that I hope has legs. Schwartzenegger is to the Republicans as Clinton was to the Democrats. Schwartzenegger can also be the key in turning the tide for a potential Powell presidency.

Now I happen to think that Powell has blown it and that his chances against Clark would be kinda slim. If he doesn't show his nerve in 2004, and it may well be too late, then he's finished. On the other hand, four years to distance himself from GWBush may be exactly what is needed, if his wife doesn't kick him to the curb.

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The Daily Plame

I'm getting tired of all of my favorite blogs getting glutted up with Plame commentary. So would somebody do us all a favor and start Plameblogging.com?

This seems to be an issue that just won't die within the next several months, so get with it won't you? As it stands, I have to hop all over the blogosphere in and out of comments. It's just too tedious. Use the technology people!

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Bass Station

This is a very cool idea.

The Bass-Station is a mobile, visually loud, and funky 1980s Boom Box. Imbedded within its shell is a modern computer and wireless networking components. By creating a locally accessible wireless network, people of an intimate community can use the Bass- Station as a hub through which they can freely and democratically exchange information. By actively observing the exchanges of a small community, you can learn things about that community that you couldn't by talking to any one of its members. The Bass-Station is also a shared stereo that makes its presence fun and entertaining.

Sony should be all over this, and I mean like yesterday. I want one.

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I Say Potato

I was pointed over to an interesting article by Richard Rorty in the Boston Globe. Here he discusses the significance of a cat named Donald Davidson in the never ending battle against the epistomological nightmare:

In a 1983 paper titled "A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge," Davidson startled the philosophical world by pointing out that this Wittgensteinian way of thinking entails that most of anybody's beliefs about anything must be true. His point was that you have to have a lot of true beliefs about something before you can have any false ones.

Take beavers, for example. If you believe that beavers live in deserts, are pure white in color, and weigh 300 pounds when adult, then you do not have any beliefs, true or false, about beavers. For you are using the word "beaver" in a way that has no connection with its ordinary use. What the rest of us mean by the word "beaver" is a function of our commonly held beliefs about beavers. If the beliefs you express by sentences using the word "beaver" are too different from ours, then we are not talking about the same things.

Even if they grant this point, philosophers who remain loyal to Descartes will fall back on asking: What if there are no beavers? Maybe beavers are illusions. You cannot have true beliefs about illusions, can you? If you do not know what is really real and what merely seems to be real (and how could you, since you might be a brain in a vat or a character in "The Matrix") then you are not in a position to say that you have any true beliefs.

Davidson would reply that Cartesian skeptics are misusing the expression "really real." It makes sense to say that the people I encounter in my dreams, or the things I see after taking hallucinogens, are not really real. For denying them reality is just a way of saying that we cannot make beliefs about these people or things cohere with the rest of our beliefs -- specifically, with our beliefs about other people and things. The expression "not really real" is, in such contexts, given its meaning by contrasting cases in which we are prepared to say that those other people or things are really real.

Davidson's point is that retail skepticism makes sense, but wholesale skepticism does not. We have to know a great deal about what is real before we can call something an illusion, just as we have to have a great many true beliefs before we can have any false ones. The proper reply to the suggestion that beavers might be illusory is this: Illusory by comparison to what?

As soon as I got to the words 'you do not have any beliefs, true or false, about beavers' this solution flashed to me as why it is whitefolks are often so clueless in discussions about racism. They don't have enough experience with it.

As you may or may not know, I played a 'race man' for several years in cyberspace. As the Boohab, I've discussed race with more whitefolks over more subjects than any sane person who doesn't get paid to do so. What can I say, I needed some clarity on the whole matter. After about 3 years, I had all the answers, and I still do. But the above paragraphs give me some interesting theory behind my observations about dialog.

I'll sum it up in the form of a problem statement. The reason 'racism' seems to be such a squishy term is because of racism. That is to say, blacks and whites and others are not engaged on a permanent basis in discussions about race and racism. They are separate. So if you grow up white talking about racism with whitefolks, then you will have a separate idea about what it is from that of blackfolks. What's also implied is that you will have fewer ways to talk about it in practice because it is a theory to you. So being provocative about it, theoretical discussions about racism within in a single race group only exacerbates the problem of racism itself because it reinforces words with meanings that are not shared outside of the group. Without firsthand experience this dissonance may be irrevocable.

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September Films

This past month I've seen only a few films.

Out of Time is a first-rate thriller set in southern Florida present day. Starring Denzel Washington, it's a tightly wound little flick, a bit more complicated and twisty than I expected. Denzel is good in any kind of cop drama, but here he plays someone who is not so confident and swaggery as his other cop selves. He is not quite as subtle, sophisticated or muted as he was in his excellent portrayals in 'Fallen' or 'The BoneCollector'. He's nobody's hero in this film, nor does he represent. He's just a small town police chief who gets caught up in some madness between the DEA, an ex-wife detective, and a hot babe who spells trouble. This is one that can wait for the DVD, but you don't really want to miss it if you like twisty plots, suspense or Denzel. Directed by Carl Franklin, the music and pacing is tight.

The Rundown is one of those dizzying action films that are almost irresistable. I always wanted to see it but I let it slide for a while. The Rock is almost an actor. He has no internal life, he's just a man on a mission, and it works. Of course you never think of him as an underdog, rather as a caged fury. He's one of those guys who is trying to walk around dangerous situations saying "Don't make me hurt you." But the bad guys just don't listen, and he has to deliver the smackdown. When he does, it's really worth seeing. This director has a pretty good eye for action and it could even stand up to Michael Bey if it weren't for those damned dunebuggies and motorcycles. Other than that and a little bit of cheezy matte work, this is a fairly good action flick. Fight sequences are definitely novel, there's some fabulous capoeira in this one.

The Salton Sea is one of those films that combine the kind of romantic gorgeous photography of Downtown Los Angeles with a dark blusey noir feeling and ludicrously dangerous characters. In otherwords, it's a film lover's film. If you liked 'Choose Me' or 'Brother' with Omar Epps, you are going to really dig this movie.

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Napster is Back

I'm signed up. Check it out.

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October 08, 2003


Yesterday I was thinking about the possibilities of splits, but it was about the Democrats. On the one hand, you have eight or nine candidates for the Democrat's nomination and on the other, nobody running against GWBush. Yet while the election of Schwartzenegger suggests that the Republicans are off track, the Democrats can't even decide on whom to run.

Both parties have the same problem which is that they offer too little to too many people whom they end up selling out in the end. There has been so much frission over the contretemps at CIA and the White House over Plame that people really get out of hand with the kinds of excuses they make simply to score something against the other side. Truth survives and serves neither party well, but it is awfully depressing to watch people bend themselves out of shape in an endless cycle of reprisals and oneupmanship. I don't like the partisanship of a two partys system because half the people have to be wrong or perverse just to be comfortable.

There are several political/cultural commentators that I am gravitating towards who don't go for that, and so after a year of blogging I think I am finding myself more comfortable with the likes of Totten and Simon. There are more of that style but that's where I hope to fit in.

To the issue, I don't think that Libertarians are a significant enough minority to hold their own on the national scene, and it is unclear to me how they would attract a broad coalition of voters. I beleive that the Libertarians, as they present themselves, are entirely too yuppified to sustain themselves outside of the wings of the Republican Party. But I'm also terrified of what a Republican Party without direct libertarian influence would become. I believe it would become hostage to the Limbaugh coalition and the Christian Right. Would Arnold Schwartzenegger (or someone with his ideological positions) go with the Libertarians and leave the Republican party to people like Tom McClintock? Perish the thought. Instead, the Libertarians should strive to control the Republican party and force the Conservatives to bolt and form their own Right Wing.

This Republican party could then easily recover the Center, which Clinton moved cynically right, and allow Democrats to snap back to their pre-1990s dimensions. Alternatively, the Democrats could split into a real Labor party and form common cause with the Greens.

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First Four

Norm Geras asks for the Fifteen Greatest Jazz Albums. These kinds of polls are always lovely. They're always personal so I'll do a personal twist on each of my favorites. It's probably the only thing about these albums you as a true jazz fan haven't heard already.

But let's take small bites first shall we. Here are Four.

Clifford Brown with Strings - Clifford Brown
I had heard Clifford Brown before. It was a Live at Birdland recording on Blue Note Records with Art Blakey of course. (How 'bout a big hand there?) But when I heard this album given my love of American Standards, it just knocked me over. I reserved this album for the time I would fall in love, and so it happened that the woman who would become my wife came by my apartment for the very first time, we slow danced throught the entire album. If you are in love, or want to be, I guarantee you this album can be a secret weapon.

Thelonius Monk & John Coltrane
have only recorded one album together. It was one of the first jazz albums I ever got and was my introduction to Monk. Functional, is one of the greatest songs Monk has ever done and my favorite cut on the album although it's just him. Coltrane on Trinkle Tinkle is at his best, just flying. One of the great things about listening to this cut is that no matter how well you know it, you'll never be able to hum exactly what Trane is playing. He's smooth and reserved on Off Minor and brilliant all around. This is one of those albums that I lived with in a tiny aparment when I was in my mid-twenties and struggling. But being able to listen to this made the place feel larger and me richer.

Giant Steps - John Coltrane
Listening to this album makes my BBQ chicken come out better. Over the years, I have developed a groove of putting the meat on the grill just at the beginning. I don't know exactly when at what point in which songs, but there are some subliminal things going on in my head that let me know when to turn the birds. It's just that deeply a part of me.

Herbie Hancock Quartet
My personal favorite jazz song of all is on this album. It's "I Fall In Love Too Easily". For me, it epitomizes the perfection of the jazz ballad. It starts off with a soft lonely trumpet, the purity and muted strength of Wynton Marsalis, and it just falls into an easy pace. It kicks up to happy pace and runs, then slows back down to a dead haunting stop. I mean with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, how could you not expect a perfect ensemble? Eye of the Hurricane is also great, as is the lengthy A Quick Sketch. They way they wind up and deliver is awesome.

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Plan B

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Wally George: Dead!

He'd probably want to be buried ass up. The godfather of conservative shockjockadelica has kicked the bucket. Long may he remain dead.

The poster boy for vulgar television and audience insult has left the building. Pshaw. Long may he not be missed.

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Animal Riots

Some people are like slinkies. Not particularly offensive but it does make you smile to see them tumble down the stairs. -- Anon

Every summer for the last 13 years, Timothy Treadwell fled Malibu for the wilds of Alaska, where he lived among dozens of grizzly bears. He photographed the bears, slept near them and crawled into their dens when they were off fishing for salmon.

In the words of one friend, "he became feral."

On Monday, Treadwell, 46, and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, 37, both of Malibu, were found dead in the remote Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, the victims of a bear mauling, according to the National Park Service and Alaska state troopers.

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October 07, 2003


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Yom Kippur

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Diehard Retards

Some retards over in Iraq have the unmitigated gall to assert that they are going to put the Baath Party back in power through the power of guerilla insurgency. I don't think they understand that there is going to be an American military base in Iraq from now until doomsday.

Love him or hate him GWBush is not going to reduce troops down to zero. Do these people just not understand? We won the war. Let me repeat that. We won the war. We decide when we come or go. Long after the United States make friends again with the French and Putin or whoever's next is having Caviar in the White House, and 90% of the civilized world forgets the numbers of all the UN Resolutions that had anything to do with Iraq, the US will have a military presence in Iraq. Three years from now, nobody in America will care and everyone will accept it - it really doesn't depend on much.

The mighty Baathists have struck out. They have been reduced to lobbing grenades and plotting kidnappings. SWAT team level problems. They will be squashed like bugs, and you know what? We should let the Turks do it, just for spite.


Posted by mbowen at 09:30 PM | TrackBack


I drove the wreck over to the polling place this morning. I was wearing my blackneck gear. I strolled casually into the joint, the rec room of a senior citizen condo village which serves this section of 90277.

There were about 5 poll workers there, all elderly women. The line was short, only one person was in front of me. My name was easily found on their printouts. They have some pretty nice laser printed stuff complete with bar codes. Everything was in order. Nobody asked me for any ID. I signed and verified that my address was correct, proceded to a second station where I recieved my ballot and got my named crossed off a second ledger in blue felt tip. I noticed some of the other names were crossed off in red.

My ballot was your standard pink thick paper punched card deally. You know the kind, the old-fashioned controversial type. I found a little booth and made my four punches. I checked to see that the punches were clean. No problem. I headed out, watched the last worker drop my ballot into the box marked 'got chads?' and got my little stub and 'I voted' sticker. 7 minutes tops.

Voting always seemed to be a kind of exercise in futility for me. I can't remember anything I ever really cared about voting for winning. Today the whole thing seemed relatively carefree - like picking up a dozen eggs from the supermarket.

It's all rather remarkable that so much (so little?) can change because of this simplistic little ritual. So much passion and fury attached. For some reason, I'm just not in a mood to be too excited about it this time. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because now that 14% of the precincts are reporting, everything I expected is happening. I'm casually in the majority rather than gnashing my teeth like the losers. Perhaps it's because I was ready for everything and see the significance of the election in ways not directly related to the first order effects. Perhaps it's because I'm already sick of hearing about it and no further hype or noise is going to do anything for me. Perhaps it's because I had a really good workout at the gym and am just looking forward to hot chocolate and 'Quicksilver' this evening.

Whatever the reason, I'm rather enjoying the simple pleasure of voting and the luxury of knowing whatever the result, yahoos with AK-47s aren't going to rampage in the streets tonight. I'm comfortable in the belly of the beast that transfers power to mediocre intellects peacefully.

I raise my glass to Warren Buffett and George P. Schultz. We're all fat, happy, lazy Americans tonight. Let's enjoy it while the Dollar still means something.

Posted by mbowen at 09:20 PM | TrackBack

Cobb Recommends

In the spirit of editorial pages everywhere, I offer my recommendations to California Voters on today's special election.

Cobb recommends that Californians vote FOR the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

The recall is the right and privilege of our voters and the demonstrates the ability for motivated citizens to change things. However, the primary reason we are in a fiscal crisis is from a failure of bipartisanship in Sacramento to fund what is necessary and tax what is necessary. Changing governors will not substantially affect that deadlock but it demonstrates the high price to pay for politicians who are not fiscally accountable to the people.

Furthermore, Cobb believes that objections to the recall were largely fair and well considered but that the 9th Circuit was correct in rejecting appeals to delay. The people have spoken in calling for this special election and Cobb is pleased that they have it.

Cobb fully expects the recall to pass but would prefer that it be close thereby emphasizing the effects of voter turnout and individual initiative. However a Recall is not the proper way to resolve this fiscal crisis in California and that is the most important issue.

Gray Davis has not been incompetent. He has inherited an ugly set of problems and he has failed to resolve them quickly, painlessly or deflect them by remaining politically popular. Cobb finds nothing extraordinarily damning about Davis' performance and believes that we have yet to see any candidate strong enough to muscle the California Legislature and Government into the kind of compromise necessary. Davis has been ineffective in communicating to the people the true nature of the problems that generated this fiscal crises. He suffers from bureacratic inertia and lacks the energy and focus Californians need.

The Recall election says that the People are angry and we want change. Everyone now knows that. The change however needs to come from the Legislature and the People themselves. By recalling Davis, the California Legislature should feel the pressure to know that they are next.

Cobb recommends that you cast your vote for Governor to Arnold SCHWARTZENEGGER.

Schwartzenegger is not likely to be a much better leader than Gray Davis but it is significant that such an outsider can get the people's mandate. We at Cobb don't believe that he will be particularly effective nor particularly divisive as Governor of California. But the election of Schwartzenegger will demonstrate to Republicans and Democrats alike that fresh faces, and fresh ideas can come from anywhere and that when business as usual results in partisan deadlock, the people can and will force change. Schwartzenegger will not likely fix the budget deficit any time soon. It will not be fixed unless and until Californians decide to raise and pay taxes.

Schwartzenegger has the opportunity as an outsider to expose the failure of the Legislature. If he takes that initiative, the people of California will be well served by getting to know the limits of power of the executive branch and the effect of cronyism on the Legislature.

Cobb is concerned however that Schwartzenegger may take his mandate to signify something more than a rebellion in California, but to the legitimacy of his own political ambitions. His feet must be kept to the fire and he must be accountable. He must embody the spirit of the Recall. He must speak often and clearly.

Finally, Cobb believes that the election of Schwartzenegger, despite his being a political novice, sends a strong message to the Republican party that conservative ideologues are no longer the standard bearers. The Contract with America days are over as are the Culture Wars, and moderates are the future of the Party.

Cobb recommends that Californians vote AGAINST Proposition 54 aka The Racial Privacy Initiative.

Proposition 54 is essentially a campaign to force California to adopt a set of laws which conform to the racial vision of one man; Ward Connerly. Connerly has never been elected to any office and represents his own interests. He is a crusader appointed by Pete Wilson who has travelled around the country trying to rewrite the civil rights laws of various states through the force of his own personality and money. He is not well informed about civil rights and only claims to be by virtue of the color of his own skin. Proposition 54 works against enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Reject Connerly and his Propositions.

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Why Volokh is Cool

Nothing like a nice statistical syllogism to make one's day.

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Startling Revelations

Startling Revelation #1

But they were black. And my husband whispered that in a nation where 70 percent of black children are born into homes without fathers, it was great to see a picture-perfect black family dining together. "I almost want to go give the guy a high five," he said, somewhat sheepishly.

Somebody named Jennifer Graham is raising eyebrows in the blogosphere in the afterechoes of Limbaugh's NFL flap about the nice side of prejudice. That of pleasant surprise in meeting a black family which is not from the twisted imaginations of the UPN. Read the whole thing if you've got nothing better to do. Graham doesn't get out much, apparently. Or rather, she is living proof that diversity is good for white people. Whatever. Nobody's losing sleep over the clueless, although it would be nice for me to get my retarded stuff published at the NRO every once in a while.

Startling Revelation #2.

Graham told CNN's "Larry King Live" that he's made the judgement that he cannot be elected president. He said his campaign failed because he started too late and had trouble raising money.

Startling Revelation #3.

Oliver Willis sez:

For a while when you were inside the industry (as I was) it would be easy to think: everybody is doing this. When the truth of the matter is that they weren't and they aren't. The vast majority of Americans are not online, and even those that are online only a small portion of them are reading blogs, and an even smaller amount are reading politically oriented blogs. That small percentage does tend to be quite influential (particularly if they're a part of the media) but it is our duty as bloggers to understand that we aren't exactly changing the world yet.

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Point Man

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October 06, 2003


Conscious self Overall self
Take Free Enneagram Personality Test

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Black Men Don't Dance

This morning I happened to be playing one of my favorite albums of the 90s, Prince's 'Diamonds and Pearls'. The song that captured my attention was 'The Jughead'. It's a great funky dance song, moreover it is a song about a dance. It's got some James Brownian horn hits in it that would make it great for a live concert, so I visualized it. Unlike 'Hot Pants' however, 'The Jughead' never inspired people to dance it. Tony, the rapper from the NPG, describes what the Jughead might look like and I found myself trying it this morning. I caught myself in the mirror and stopped immediately.

A couple years after the Jughead was released I was living in Boston, the coldest city in the world. I found myself lamenting the lack of love duets from the world of R&B. Aside from 'Somewhere Out There' with James Ingram at the time, the whole Ashford & Simpson era had disappeared. People wanted to be Usher OR Mary J. Blige, but the two would never meet on wax. Sadly, love duets are gone from popular black music. I don't listen to KJLH much so I could be wrong, but I don't think I'm wrong.

So as I stopped dancing this morning I think that the same has happened once again. Black men don't dance.

I'm not about to research this. I'm just intuiting. But my sense is that black men in my generation know the Point, the Camelwalk, the Funky Broadway. More importantly we know Pop Locking, the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch. Some of us can Butterfly and a few of us are not above the Bankhead Bounce. Most importantly we know how to slow dance, we know how to Get Flat and we know the Cha Cha. I'm not going to dignify the Cha Cha Slide or the Electric Slide with much more than honorable mention, but anything is better than what seems to be happening in hiphop right now which is the feminization and elitism of dance. The boyz in the hood don't know how to dance and it doesn't seem important to them that they learn much more than humping on the nearest clapping booty. What's up with that?

You all go to the clubs. You watch MTV. You tell me.

My theory is this. Ever since Hammer, rappers have not danced. In fact, everybody has been miming Run DMC since 'Walk This Way'. Clue: It was a song, not a command. Rappers have made it point not to dance, and with the possible exception of Jamiroquai there haven't been any with any decent moves whatsoever. Again, I could be wrong but I doubt it. Dancing is women's work in videos, that is unless you're Usher or Justin Timberlake.

So what is the common black man of this generation to do, hump the floor like Bobby Brown? I don't know. I don't know where the social pressure on young black men to know how to dance might be coming from. Sure you can go to the club and move your body to the beat. Anybody and everybody does that - hell line dancers at Gilley's do that, with some precision I might add. I hope that the black frats are holding up their end on college campuses in the stepshow tradition, but I believe that mainstream hiphop is dropping the ball.

I'd like to be proven wrong, of course.

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Suicide Marketing

Have we passed the point at which mass media is capable of supporting literacy? Let me define the PSP, the porno saturation point. This is the point at which one must resort to the perverse in order to achieve significant market share.

Imagine if you will, the good old days of Rinso. Most of you can't of course, even I'm not that old. But I do have some old radio recordings of the Amos and Andy show which was sponsored by the Rinso dish soap company. Boring commercials. Effective though. All they had to do was say "Rinso is Good" or some such simpleton-proof jingle. To support an enterprise such as the Amos & Andy Show with a listening audience of say 1 million (who knows?), such a simple marketing strategy was effective. And dare I say back in those days, there were businessmen who were clever enough to stay in business on a budget and audience as small as we might imagine.

As Whoopi Goldberg once said, American television is the only place where you can have 5 million friends and be considered a total failure. Today, you need to appeal to zillions to stay in business. It may be difficult to imagine but we live in a nation where it is possible to have 100 million in revenue and fail miserably in business. Many of our businessmen try to solve that problem not by reducing costs or improving their product, but mastering the art of hype. If I can think of nothing else that so brilliantly illustrates this, it is the incredible stupid profitability of the Swiffer. That damned thing can't clean up dirt. But P&G sells millions of 'em. There are many millions of Americans who are just waiting to waste their money on something foolish - the trick is tricking them.

This is where the PSP comes in. If you have to be more exotic than Whoopi Goldberg, you have some tough choices in marketing. But some folks have a head for such things. Who else but a marketing genius could think of the idea that lead to this:

The webcast of a concert by Florida band Hell On Earth that was supposed to occur this past Saturday night (October 4), and feature a live suicide, did not happen, according to the Associated Press. The show and suicide were both scheduled to be broadcast on the band's website from two separate, secret locations, but the site was brought down Saturday night by a flood of data from computers in Hong Kong.

The global market provides great possibilities for kicking all reservations of breaking the PSP barrier. This is what your children have to look forward to.

If I might be sanguine about it for a moment, the probability still exists that we will get the Doctors Without Borders Channel, or the Insurgency Channel. Reality TV could get really real and that could be a gift to democracy. For the moment, however we've got porno. It will get worse before it gets better.

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October 05, 2003

Honestly Honestly

My kids, like most elementary school kids, overhear some stuff from television that I have to tone down and deflect. One of those things are the allegations about Schwartzenegger's misconduct with women. My kids also hear from other kids that Arnold is cool. Naturally, I instruct my children that other children are stupid knuckleheads that don't always have the benefit of brilliant and loving parents. So there have been several occasions upon which I've had to grumble audibly when Schwartzenegger's name or commercials come up on TV for the benefit of my children's critical thinking skills.

It occured to me, that with the exception of 'Twins' and 'Kindergarten Cop' both very admirable films, most of Schwartzenegger's oevre (did I spell that correctly?) is patently objectionable to parents of young children. So I wondered today, why it is that there hasn't been a TV commercial by the Democrats which made something of this point.

It's easy to point the finger at things that the world is just finding out about Schwartzenegger, but are his opponents so dense as to believe that everyone finds his body of work genuinely appealing? Do soccer moms have Schwartzenegger films playing at home? This home does not.

I have my reasons for preferring AS over McClintock. That's party politics. I would have much rather had a larger choice of Republicans.

For other parents like me who have cable, there is probably a good amount of familiarity with the Fairly Oddparents. The toughest fairy is a charicature of Schwartzenegger, and quite frankly he's pretty cool. But the real deal is not so cool and I can't imagine that California mothers honestly, honestly want to have to explain the differences to their children.

That said, it's foolish to believe that in 2003 most of our choices are paragons of virtue, but honestly...

UPDATE: "Yuk" is what the daughter said this morning.

SECOND UPDATE: Dissident Frogman nails the stupidity of the ad that actually tried to spin this.

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Honky Pain

I recently happened upon a discussion in which some offense was taken by a white man over the term 'Angry White Guys', a variant of 'angry white males' - the term which has been in use since the beginnings of the culture wars.

I think that the dimensions of suffering here over what seems to be little more than verbal abuse and hurt feelings could depend a bit more on loosening the deterministic grip of 'white' on whitefolks.

In otherwords, can't 'angry white males' just evade the category and say - they can't mean me? I have problems with Americans who decide to feel victimized by racial rhetoric.

Another 'fair and balanced' yet provocative response might be to suggest all of the other actual reasons Angry White Males are abused rhetorically and suggest that racism might be the last reason. In otherwords, allow non-whites to play the 'asshole card': that black person who said 'ofay' is not racist, just an asshole.

Those two things said, I am perfectly willing to accept that some term like {'greybaby', 'whitey', etc} is exactly equivalent in racist meaning as 'nigger'. There is however one important distinction, that being the material consequences (apart from the psychological) of being treated like a nigger. In other words, we can all accept that whitefolks can be hurt and made to feel small by racist labels. Now what?

I think the willingness to play this rhetorical symmetry is a trap because it masks what is most important in matters of racial justice. From my perspective all of this name calling is little more than that. It allows whitefolks to have a victim status and attribute racial animus to others in the same slippery and vague way it is attributed to them. The difference in any case is the material difference between institutional racism and petty personal prejudice. But who talks about institutional racism any longer? Rush Limbaugh on the NFL? Ward Connerly on Affirmative Action? The rhetorical dimension of defenses against anti-white rhetoric is large and all-consuming, and this is the tone of racial discourse today. The very idea that something like Proposition 209 or 54 gets on the California ballot, for example, demonstrates this verbal judo.

But I think people really must ask themselves to what degree they believe their own material success depends on their ability to track through the ways and means of racist abuse. I think we will find, as uncomfortable as it may sound, that race means the same thing to day as 50 years ago.

Where does it all end? We're here already in a post-modern hell. The suffering of the many whites on the rhetorical level suffices to highlight the suffering of the few whites on a material level. This is politically sufficient to reverse white support for adjudication of the suffering of the many non-whites on the material level. It's OK to get rid of Affirmative Action because 'honky' hurts just as much as 'wetback'. It's OK to stop counting by race because racial identification (& name calling) 'hurts us all equally'.

It seems to me that this reinscribes the same kind of white citizenship that stewed the American frog in the bad old days. One has to be invested in 'white' in order to have a dog in this fight. Otherwise it's just sophistry. This is complicated and I don't want to ascribe motivations, in fact I want to see whiteness evaded or reconstructed. But it seems to me to go beyond the matters of name calling into the politics of anti-racism that deals with things like health, crime, & wealth seems too far for such whitefolks. So long as these Americans are on equal footing in the name game, everything is OK. Or is it?

Posted by mbowen at 08:52 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Revenge of the Manual

Over at K5 they have a lovely guide for subtle sabotage. If you are one of those who would rather be programming and get stuck with the onerous task of actually documenting your work, this is for you.

In every tech's life, there comes a time when management starts to insist on better documentation.

Perhaps a round of layoffs or outsourcing is imminent. Perhaps the simmering disdain between techs and management has escalated into open hatred. Either way, you are clearly on the way out, and management wants to grease the wheels for your successor.

You wish to produce documentation that:

  • will impress your management, and facilitate your remaining time in that job.
  • will not substantially help your replacement(s).
  • does not betray obvious signs of sabotage.
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October 04, 2003


This is what I want for Christmas. Just in case you wondered.

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Andrew Sullivan exerpts some decent geopolitical reasons to smash Saddam from Inspector David Kay, which are hardly debatable at this point. But for the record, here my two favorites.

* Plans and advanced design work for new long-range missiles with ranges up to at least 1000 km - well beyond the 150 km range limit imposed by the UN. Missiles of a 1000 km range would have allowed Iraq to threaten targets through out the Middle East, including Ankara, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi.

* Clandestine attempts between late-1999 and 2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to 1,300 km range ballistic missiles --probably the No Dong -- 300 km range anti-ship cruise missiles, and other prohibited military equipment.

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Battle Lines

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Secret Weapon

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October 03, 2003

Obligatory Seriousness on Limbaugh

Five things:

1. Rush Limbaugh doesn't know football. Tom Jackson who does, was fit to quit the ESPN program because of Rush's hiring. The idea that his program, of which he was the star, had been hijacked by Rush Limbaugh was unacceptable to him. If it hadn't been the McNabb comment, it would have been something else.
Source: P6

On Wednesday, Jackson told an ESPN executive by phone he was going to attend the "Countdown" production meeting tomorrow, tell Limbaugh what he thought of him, quit the show and fly home.

Jackson's stance was exactly opposite to the one ESPN wanted the "Countdown" cast to take. With outside pressure mounting, management wanted Jackson & Co. to cooperate and help cool things down.

That might explain why Berman went on the record saying he didn't believe Limbaugh's tone or intent was malicious, but "I probably should have looked to soften it."

Spies say Jackson wasn't buying Berman's spin, or the words of ESPN executive VP Mark Shapiro, who rushed to Limbaugh's defense in Wednesday's USA Today.

Even Shapiro had to know there would be major problems if Jackson had quit. If that happened, the rest of the "Countdown" cast members, all close to Jackson, would have been forced to do something.

2. I've seen no evidence of McNabb's special media darling status. Explain exactly what 'overrated' means, as compared to whom? All I know is that McNabb does Campbell's Chunky Soup commercials with his mother. Any NFL QB with a nationwide commercial endorsement might be a target for being overrated. Name 'em, and compare their seasons.

3. Limbaugh is being defended not because he's right, but because Michael Irvin, a black person, agreed with him. Anybody with the most casual familiarity with Michael Irvin's career should know that just about everyone has gotten cushy treatment by the media relatively speaking.

4. Read JP.

5. This is Class Three. Since when did Rush Limbaugh not do that?

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The Mouse that Roared

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Too Many Comics

Today I have hit upon a great goldmine of plot material for my comic. I must have gone on a tear and thrown together 7 of them in the course of an hour. I can't decide how many to publish at a time, but I've got to get them all out here. One of these days, I'm going to have to get a new domain and publish them in a more traditional way.

Kaddar, my ghost, has put up a dozen new characters and several more variations on the current crop, so I'm introducing them as a new subdivision to the neighborhood. I'm starting first with the animals (as you know Cobb's Neighborhood exists in three dimensions), but I also start with the rich kid directly conflicting with the gangsta mouse. It's going to escalate to some large battle of sorts, and I'm ramping up all of the characters as possible to get them involved. It's going to be interesting.

So if you see a whole lot more comic than usual, please be patient.

Posted by mbowen at 03:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sowell & Hoffer: Aphorisms A GoGo

Check this guy out. He's one of Thomas Sowell's most oft-quoted gadflies.

Here's a cute one that brings to mind last night's episode of ER.

Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.

Still, I like the idea of ER shooting an episode such as this.

Anyway, here's another gem:

The monstrous evils of the twentieth century have shown us that the greediest money grubbers are gentle doves compared with money-hating wolves like Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, who in less than three decades killed or maimed nearly a hundred million men, women, and children and brought untold suffering to a large portion of mankind.

That's a really good one. It is surprising how few people look beneath the surface of their 'evil' and find out what kind of monsters they truly were. So here's another quote to ram that home although it's not by Hoffer:

There is no safety for honest men but by believing all possible evil of evil men.

--Edmund Burke

Of this by Burke, it feels very Old School. I'm sure I said something about that here. Which brings up an interesting contradiction in the set of Sowell's set of quotes. Here he quotes D'Souza.:

Publicly inconsolable about the fact that racism continues, these activists seem privately terrified that it has abated.

--Dinesh D'Souza

So should one be on the lookout for the evil of racism all the time, or is that a special case of evil that is the exception to Burke's rule?

That's what you get for parsing quotes...

Posted by mbowen at 02:59 PM | TrackBack

Ig Nobelity

This is the kind of stuff television should do so much more of. If not, then do tell a friend with broadband that a webcast of the Ig Nobel award ceremony is available here.

You might be interested to know, for example, that Beer Froth does indeed decay at an exponential rate, thus revealing that some clever manipulation of the laws of physics are at work in Budweiser commercials.

But it is the spirit and pageantry of the affair that makes it most worth watching, especially Miss Sweetie Poo.

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Succinctly Stated

Thank you Roger Simon:

What an election we’re having between two pathetic extreme political hacks (Davis and Bustamante), a hypocritical witch (Huffington, now resigned), a right-wing ideologue with a mullah-like religious fanatic campaign manager (McClintock) and a libertine (Arnold). I guess in the end I’m sticking with the libertine. But that probably says more about me than anything else.

Me too.

Posted by mbowen at 10:19 AM | TrackBack

The Catbird Seat

The sooner the US gets out of Iraq, the faster Ahmad Chalabi accumulates power. He, more than anyone, has played us. Clever bugger. Considering the time and effort he has made in pursuing contacts with power-brokers in the US, I wonder which other parties in Iraq can compete in terms of access. Is Paul Bremer simply going to retire when he's done, or will there be some ongoing relations through him personally?

In the end, I believe that Chalabi's wit and sense of ingratiation, and simple experience in chumming the US waters will serve him better than most of the other contenders for power in post-war Iraq.

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October 02, 2003


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The Wrong Foot

Some new black blog I just happened on yesterday had a narrator who was commiserating on his love-hate relationship with black folks vis a vis his recent participation in the Caribbean Festival in Brooklyn. I know what he means, but I always had a good time at the Festival. But I don't let ignorant blackfolks bother me because I understand that Peasant Thang.

But it does bother me to look at political intransigence dead in the eye and have it spit at me, which is why I'm momentarily pissed at whichever clownperson erased my comment from the new blog AfroNetizen, accidently on purpose. It just so happens that I know a couple of the folks who have posted there, and I was quite surprised to find them. So instead of making a long, lengthy and thoughtful post, I just said Hi. Since I understand that whomever, is attempting to be serious, I can understand why such a frivolous post might be erased. On the other hand, even a retard who is just starting a blog might check the link and see who or what is on the other end. I don't know what to presume about the person who deleted my comment. Hell, it might even be a glitch. [ed. it was a simple honest mistake. no hard feelings anywhere]

Be all that as it may, the subject of this piece is the mock-candidacies of Carol Mosely-Braun and Al Sharpton, and what the significance of two black candidates for the Democratic nomination means. Aside from the fact that it means very little to someone of the Old School, I expect that it symbolize something of importance to the nation.

This is the season of a kind of wacky pluralism that fits well in a television season crammed with 'reality TV'. Here in Cali, there are at least two and probably three maybe four black candidates for Governor. The LATimes put together a very nice interactive website that showed their pictures and quotes. For most of them you could also listen to their voice. Ignoring Gary Coleman, I found the black candidates quite un-loony, and one black woman who I actually would vote for. But as I've said before, voting is the lowest common denominator of politics, I think I do a lot better writing and thinking about policy and politics which is why I put Vision Circle together. But inside that LCD and mass appeal, are inevtibably going to be votes that people will count and analyze. This will be one of the last major elections when 'the' black vote can be taken for granted.

That said, my biggest hope is that Sharpton and Mosley-Braun net about 30% of the black vote. I hope that most of the black vote goes to Wesley Clark because I am becoming convinced that he is the man to beat, and I sympathize most with blackfolks who are in the services because they've dealt up close and personal with the geopolitical turds that the GWBush White House has squirted into the world. I think it would be poetic justice for the armed services to vote Bush out, and vote Clark in. But I think the white vote should go to Clark as well.

As for Sharpton and Mosley-Braun, I still believe it is important for that segment of the black left to make its mark on the Democratic party in such a way that their policy considerations will be taken seriously. But it's very hard to tell whether either of the two will gather enough electoral college votes for it to make a difference at the Democratic Convention in Boston. So who can deliver that? For my money it would be Mosley-Braun, who is a veteran of getting votes. Sharpton, on the other hand is a strange creature of New York politics and stupid media who would rather pretend that no other black politicians, save Jesse Jackson, exist. Sharpton knows this, which is why he should start dating Ariana Huffington as soon as her marriage crumbles. On the other hand, why wait?

It's rather sad that of all the people we focus on in these days of economic crisis, the black politician I'd deem most capable of dealing with such matters is resigning under a cloud at the NYSE. Carl McCall is on the fast-track to has-been land. And yet there is no question that a man with his connections could do a world of good for some Democratic hopeful. Alas, when America talks about black politics (as if America understood), they generally mean the populist politics of the proles. We in the Old School resent that, of course, being as we prefer jazz to pop, we understand that everything that's of quality is not necessarily prepared or consumed in mass quantities. Of course, once you are satisfied with Ornette Coleman, it doesn't make much sense to compare Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige. More power to those who do, however.

Speaking from this chip off the monolith, I understand the value of having Schwartzenegger win rather than Tom McClintock in California. So I would cast my vote for AS even though I consider him inferior to.. well too many people to mention. I would advise blackfolks to do the same because I'm convinced that Bustamante cannot win. Even if he did win, it only gives McClintock and the right wing of the Republicans more hope than they deserve. And in case you haven't figured it out already, it's more important to me that black voters swing Republicans to the center by bombing the right wing, than it does that black voters swing the Democrats into Sharptonville.

So the question of primary importance is how to declaw the right wing, not how to empower the Left. This is America, the Left is dead and it is incapable of playing hardball with the big boys. There is no magic Negro Lever that is going to do in 2004 what King did in Memphis in 1968, which is to scare the bejeezus out of the everybody.

Donna Brazile must already be working with Clark. There's the correct path. Get black about that.

Posted by mbowen at 04:37 PM | TrackBack

Warning Label

A certain big fat idiot forgot to read the label.

Are there any activities that I should not perform while using OxyContin for pain relief?

OxyContin may interfere with your ability to do certain things that require your full attention. You should not drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or do other possibly dangerous activities while taking OxyContin. You should not refer to the race of NFL quarterbacks, answer phonecalls from rednecks while on the air, or pretend to have any intellect, political savvy or taste in clothing while taking OxyContin.

Side effects include oral flatulence, vomitous speech and nauseated audiences. Use only as directed. See your doctor.

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Devious Peasants

An old dear friend of mine and I are so much alike that it freaks me out every time we speak twice or three times a year. He and I are both entertaining visions of overbraining a light manufacturing or other blue collar business and employing our less educated bretheren for power and profit. We both kick ourselves periodically for going the corporate route. The other day we cracked each other up wondering about the fortunes of Master P, the ghetto fabulous multi-millionaire impressario whose son is a teen idol with a show on Nickleodeon and whose brother is a gansta [rappper] who just got convicted of murder. There is nothing that describes Master P so much as his film "I Got the Hook Up", the ghetto hiphop version of how to succeed in business without getting busted by the cops.

I'm currently reading the second section of Stephenson's 'Quicksilver' and am extraordinarily entertained by the misadventures of Jack Shaftoe. He's a Vagabond, and like his distant descendent in 'Cryptonomicon', exemplifies the ways and means of empircal wit. He runs for his life, understanding and never second-guessing that he will ever amount to anything. He is as anti-bourgie as any character can be, and so he is a soldier after what he can get his hands on. Fortuitously for the story and all us riveted readers, he gets his hands on plenty.

Shaftoe's world is that of illiterate peasantry who survive by hook or by crook. He is well versed in their argot and understands how to move through their milleu. Among the People of Quality, he knows when his capacity to work or fight is a liability and so becomes artful at deceptive appearances, covering his sword with wood to make it appear to be part of the [phony] splint tied to his 'lame' leg. Shaftoe's ways are the distilled best practices of castaways, and in 17th Century Europe, there are plenty of those.

I often look at the outcasts of American society with the very same eye I do of Shaftoe's ilk. That is with an appreciation of their cunning and consequently a disdain for their whimpering. It is difficult for me to assess whether or not this nation is adequately constructed to contain the masses of modern peasantry as citizens.

The news story that a 2 year old girl survived three weeks on her own abandoned by her mother in an apartment serves as a poignant reminder of both the harsh depravity of people and of our systems in stark contrast with the plush abundance of our nation and the survival instinct of our genes. We bourgie people are always suggesting that losers 'get a life', but they have life. How scary it would be if everyone recognized that.

On television, the premier episode of 'Cold Case' was an interesting exercise in part of the 'class warfare' which is our future. It showed how the mighty can be brought down by the crafty. The Clever are those where I stand, in the shifting sands of meritocracy. It isn't what we do so much as how we tread water by doing it. The peasantry are the Devious, and the People of Quality, those who play at court among giants are as they ever were. Crafty.

Part of the difficulty I and my friend have, as Clever buggers, is that we are also Americans and believe that we have a choice. We are not too far removed from the Devious, but have survived well enough among the Crafty to expect that we might graduate. Nobody but the Mighty can tell for certain if we are smoking crack. As time goes by and we lurch about the shifting sands of meritocracy, it becomes too late to become Devious and too late to become Crafty. Perhaps it is that recognition in both of us that we turn to exploit the Devious, knowing full well that they'll never match wits with us Clever. Easier said than done.

Topically, I'll end this with an observation about California. Our next governor will be Arnold Schwartzenegger, a bounder if there ever was one. He's definitely not Clever, and yet he has been touched by the Crafty, grudgingly accepted by the Mighty and elected by the Devious. I know he'll be Devious but never help the Devious be they God's Poor or the Devil's. But since he is one of them, he'll give them the disrespect they give one another. Only by beating up on the Clever and the Crafty will he remain popular. The question remains, what is the destiny of America and who should lead it there? Listen for the gnashing of teeth to come.

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The New 'Hood

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Unbearable Heaviness

Some days are better spent in bed. This is not one of them, but every once in a while it gets awfully damned difficult to justify why anything matters. I swear that it's not jealousy or envy or anything, but I am stunned when I find out that some bloggers can get 7 comments just for saying "My goodnesss, it's October already."

Last night I seriously considered redesigning Cobb into a gothic motif and joining the cult of Gnostics, immersing myself in the Book of Enoch. But I'll talk about that more in the upcoming piece on peasantry.

What else is getting me down? The job search is an exercise in whipsawed emotion, but at least I have some bright prospects which are full-time rather than just contracts. Hopefully I won't starve before an offer is made.

Some fool woman and some foolish bureaucrats have gotten their foolishness in the national news in the shape of a toddler who survived 20 days alone in an apartment eating catchup, mustard, drinking out of the toilet and watching cartoons on television.

Knuckleheads are asserting that there are no conscientious Republicans left on the planet with real criticisms about how GWBush is running the White House. Of course that's a derivative gripe about the lack of appropriate traffic here.

Glenn Ligon has fallen a notch in my estimation through his extended signifying on his blackness/maleness/gayness and the fact that people can write essays with 16 footnotes about an artwork which is nothing more nor less than a family album encrusted with amateur porno posing with clever HTML. In fact, gay pride is starting to get on my nerves.

Im still somewhat conflicted about the fact that I watched The West Wing and Law & Order instead of Charles Burnett's film in the Scorcese Blues Series.

Plus I'm in the doghouse with the spousal unit. I need a drink.

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Wanna Buy a Diversity Essay?

There's a snarky piece at the NRO which outlines the ever sophisticating fraud of Diversity. Pursuant to the Bollinger decision, applicants to the University of Michigan will, rather than using a check box to indicate their racial identity, write a 250 word essay.

But the "diversity essay" isn't merely a smokescreen. It is also a device to ensure that candidates commit themselves, at least rhetorically, to the campus ideology of diversity. I suspect most high-school students are plenty capable of figuring out what kind of essay they need to submit to earn the "diversity bonus" that will vault them ahead of academically better qualified candidates. But The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that leaders of some campus groups expressed fear that "young applicants might have difficulty writing essays that adequately reflected the impact of their race or ethnicity on their lives." A UM senior, Ricardo Valle, declared that, prior to coming to college, "I did not know what diversity was or how to interpret my experiences as a Latino youth."

I've said that it's almost an insult to expect that so much might be said in as little as 250 words, but to serve the purposes of racial integration it's a decent enough alternative. So if any high school seniors out there want to use my essay, here's one.

I am Black.

Once upon a midnight dreary, my father got arrested for going on a date with a white woman. If he had not spent the night in jail for pursuing such folly, the first line in this essay might have been different. As it stands we are a society of law and the law enforced by the jailing of my father has expressed the will of the people in making me black.

There are other laws which express the will of the people and such laws have determined the shape and format of this essay. It might have been a simple checkbox; instead it is this personal rendition. What does my race mean to me, and more importantly what does it mean to you as an admissions counselor? The balance is in your favor because since I only have 250 words it would be impossible to communicate all that it means to me to know what effect the jailing of my father has been on my life in the space of a few paragraphs. In fact, it is difficult for me to believe that anyone's consideration of matters of race in their life can be summed up so quickly.

I am trying to get the best education I can. I deserve it, and I'll work hard for it. The fact that I am not applying to an all-black school demonstrates my willingness to be integrated. If the stigma of Affirmative Action is the pain I get for my pursuit of my folly, I can accept that. I am at least as strong as my father.

That's 267 words. It could probably be edited down by a professional.

My advice is to basically talk about the differences or the sameness between yourself and your parents and what that distance means to you in the context of recieving a higher education in the United States of America. That's a pretty rich mountain to mine, if you can get it down to three paragraphs, more power to you. If you can't, my suggestion would be to give 'em both barrels, and a short one too. But you should probably ask if the rules exclude them from considering a longer essay.

Posted by mbowen at 07:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 01, 2003

Twisting the Kingpins

A very good article in the October 2003 issue of the Atlantic goes to some length to explain the different types of torture and coersion in use today and the difference between them. Read it if you can.

Posted by mbowen at 11:22 PM | TrackBack

Keepin' It Real

Gangsta rapper C-Murder was just, you guessed it, convicted of murder. Life follows Art. I can't tell you how much this upsets me. Boo hoo!

Posted by mbowen at 08:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

XMen, Seriously

I always thought Storm, of the XMen, had pretty stupid powers. Now I know that I was wrong.

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The Inspector

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Nowhere to Hide

There's only one safe place to be in America: behind mahogany.

As Jill Nelson has said, barring a meteor strike, Arnold S. is destined to be the next governor of California. Given the field, I think it was inevitable. On the one hand, I want to hang my head in shame because I honestly believe something is radically wrong when we elect an action figure to get us out of a fiscal crisis. On the other hand, I wonder if I should really worry at all. America may survive all this madness.

The only way to find out, it appears to me, is to have enough wealth and smarts to survive the dumbing down of American electoral politics. The whole schmere is almost too ridiculous to take seriously. Look at what we can stomach. I feel that it doesn't make sense to be outraged, or correct, just smart and wise enough to keep out of harm's way. What school of belief is this? Am I just maturing to the level of perception I should have had long ago? Is the best we can hope for a lack of civil war?

What has to break, I wonder, for the serious among us to make thoughtful things happen again?

Trauma surgeon! That's what the voice in my head keeps saying. Trauma surgeon, that's what you ought to be.

Posted by mbowen at 04:20 PM | TrackBack

Running It Like A Business

I don't know how many deeply probing journalists read Cobb, but I think now is the time to look quite closely at the relationships between Andrew Card and Carl Rove and determine exactly who is in charge at the Bush White House.

Now is the time for George W. Bush to be called on the table for his management style. Aside from the 'character' issue that was made for Bush the candidate, the biggest boast about this new White House was what a tightly run executive ship it was going to be. So is there a shadow government or not? It is entirely inconsistent with everything that was made about the efficiency of this administration to suggest that the top dogs don't know. If there are 300 people in an organization, even if there are 3000, the CEO can find out who sent such a message in a day or a week at most.

It's time to look at the difference between the theory and the reality. Looking back at some interesting comments, here's a TNR exerpt:

Throughout last year's campaign, George W. Bush described the role of president as akin to that of a corporate CEO--part visionary, part manager, part talent scout. "My job is to set the agenda and tone and framework," Bush wrote in A Charge to Keep, "to lay out the principles by which we operate and make decisions, and then delegate much of the process to [staff members]." Sure enough, as Bush has picked his Cabinet nominees, what began as a campaign strategy to neutralize criticism of his inexperience has become his administration's governing theory. "I'm going to work with every Cabinet member to set a series of goals ... for each area of our government," Bush told reporters at a recent press conference. "I hope the American people realize that a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate." A Bush adviser told The New York Times that the administration would be returning to the model of the 1950s: "Bush is going back to the Eisenhower-type cabinet, where it's more like a board of directors."

So who is the Cabinet member in charge of destroying political enemies? Who set the tone for beating up on the CIA?

This is the biggest challenge yet for the Bush White House itself. I really want to hear what Andy Card has to say about all this. Consider this angle by Marty Peretz from Slate:

George W. is not the first president to promise us Cabinet government. A very smart article by Ryan Lizza in the next issue of the New Republic--you can already see it this morning on the TNR Web site--explains why we won't have one. Dwight Eisenhower was the last president who presided over something remotely akin to Cabinet government, and even his dissipated over time. The phrase itself connotes a gravity that it cannot have here in America, and that is because it is a concept that has intrinsic functions in the parliamentary system where Cabinets are in a way extensions of majorities (or coalitions) in legislatures, like in Great Britain and (to take an extreme case) Israel. In the United States, it used to be a matter of presidential style: A relaxed president who truly wanted strong structures around him would defer to other personalities strong in character and in opinion. But that meant they had to be strong in those areas themselves.

This is not the case with poor Dubya, whose presidency--which does not begin until Saturday--is already being defended as if it had been under siege for years. But this is pre-emptive defense since no one has even touched him yet. This also speaks of the man's fright. And George W. won't have a genuine Cabinet because he is such a frightened man that he will need to have the decision-makers real close, like in the next room.

My guess is that he also has a terror of press conferences. Can you imagine Bush fielding the highly complicated queries with consequences for life-and-death policy, which, unlike those during a campaign, will be put to him?

His supporters know of his inner fright. No one who struts like he does, no one who smirks like he does is truly secure. I think there must be moments when he wishes that he'd been made baseball commissioner in a straightforward deal rather than been forced on the country as president in a brazen robbery.

Posted by mbowen at 11:43 AM | TrackBack