June 30, 2004

On Michael Moore

I will take it on faith that Michael Moore's film is humorous propaganda. As lefty humorous propaganda goes, I tend to prefer that of Al Franken. From the Right, I prefer that of Dennis Miller. So when is Dennis Miller going to make a movie?

Who cares?

I find it disheartening that the Left does itself in so simplemindedly by trumpeting this kind of tomfoolery as serious polemics. Then again it most certainly speaks to the level of thought and gut responses many people take to their political views. What can I say? There are certainly those among the blogosphere whose reputations would suffer by quoting Cobb's wit and wisdom. I'm happy to be on the blogrolls of many an august writer out there but I don't expect all that many trackbacks from all of those who even link here permanently. My point is that everyone has their level of seriousness, and it's a disappointment that my ideological antagonists stoop so low for aid and comfort. Then again who am I?

I am someone who refuses to be taken in by Moore, and I'm rather ashamed that it has come to this - faux documentaries. Then again, our side has Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. Celebrity Deathmatch anyone?

Posted by mbowen at 06:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Second World & Internal Empire

The other day I had lunch with Andy and Pete. The conversation came around to hypenation, grade point averages, and a small town in Kentucky.

Since late last year, I have gone downmarket. I am not trying to crack the Fortune 500. Been there, done that. Now I am on my own pursuing software contracts in the mid-market, companies with from 100M to about 2B in annual revenue. I used to need a team of sharp sales guys and spiffy marketing in order to get into the IT department of a large company with my knapsack of quarter million dollar software tools. Now it's just me and my partner chasing down companies and the knapsack of tools cost about 60 grand. In one way it could be said that I have encountered the proverbial Glass Ceiling. I have never thought of it that way until this moment, but I must say that I am fairly pleased with my accomplishments regardless of whether or not that is true. I am embracing the Second World.

The Internal Empire is how I often conceptualize the hundreds of millions of people living in the US who are not among its ruling class. Among them are First Worlders, Second Worlders and a small but real contingent of Third Worlders. The First World consists of that segment of the middle and upper classes who live up to all of the modern standards of the world. Think 'Friends' and 'The Practice'.

Living in the Second World means that you live among faces that don't make the headlines or the soap operas. In Los Angeles, the Second World is where I'm making my money. It's a very different part of town than where I've lived. There are lots of trucks around here. It's Pico Rivera, Industry, La Mirada. It's industrial and warehousy over here in the Second World. But if there is any town in LA County that looks the most like the 2W to me, it must be Downey right in the neighborhood where the huge abandoned Boeing plant is. The Second World could go up or down.

Pete grew up in a household where the parents spoke flawless Spanish. Pete's high school age son is in trouble if he slips below a 3.5 GPA. He told me yesterday about his friend the electrician who just bought a house in Hawaii. It reminded me about my Tupac Epiphany and the days I seriously considered driving a cement mixer.

Andy worked in his parent's restaurant as did all the boys in defiance of what child labor laws might have been on the books. His brother changed his last name and had surgery on his eyes to make him look Japanese, disowning his family in the process. But according to his brother, looking Japanese was an improvement from being Vietnamese. I find it surprising that Andy feels hyphenated himself, but I know that my expectations of people are different than the average bear.

The three of us at lunch represent not much more than we are, a trio of IT guys shooting the bull. But in a way, we can be taken as the faces of the Second World. With any luck we can retire and watch our kids get through college and graduate school. But what's attractive about the Second World is that it needn't be so very attractive. It needn't signify a great deal. We just know what we know and do what we do. In a proper America, this would be sufficient. Alas.

We live in a country run by, or at the least managed by people signifying the First World. I think of Bill Murray in 'Lost in Translation' posing for whiskey commercials in Tokyo. He gets a cool million for taking pictures because symbols in the First World are weighty. The weatherman has to have personality as well as telling the weather. The candidate has to adhere to a 'presidential' code of behavior. These are the requirements of people who do a slightly better job to become kings and captains. The difference between first place and second place is often a small degree in practice but massive in theory. It's why Carl Lewis cares about getting his picture on the box of Wheaties, whereas nobody bothers putting pictures on generic cereals in an aisle with 100 different brands.

I am still struggling to understand how we'll all fit together in a system of ethics that can work for all of our socioeconomic classes. I expect to be pleasantly surprised and at turns quite disappointed. As I have found genuinely inspiring reasons why working class people are attracted to the Republican party, I have also found impenetrable partisan quibbling that nullifies all distinctions other than rich and very rich. Yet I hold out the hope that in the end it is not our economy that makes America so great as it is our peaceable and open society. People may come for the money but they stay for the domestic tranquility.

I believe that it is because we have so many idle and otherwise non-struggling rich people that our standard of living is high. It may be something of a cyncial view, but perhaps our roads are well maintained because so many of us want to drive our fast new cars. That's not a good enough reason, but the professions chug along maintaining that level of civilization for the best of us. We have stable markets and the trains keep running on time because it is in the interests of those who can do, and can profit. The internal empire keeps running, the cops keep showing up for duty, young people keep going to medical school, accountants keep accounting, insurers keep insuring, teachers keep teaching, big wheels keep on turning.

These wheels must continue to work for middle America, the Second Worlders. Our democracy has to become accellerated to keep up with where the First Worlders and ruling class can go. In that is the vitality of the Nation which I am not certain can afford juggling the ethics of each world. Because we are not an actual empire, it must be the demonstrable proof of democracy which makes an insuperable bond between us all. This democracy must show itself able to be in all of our interests no matter which world we inhabit. This is how America will survive - by making this system extensible and robust beyond those ethnic, geographic, economic and religious boundaries that have traditionally separated mankind. A tall order to be sure.

I'll continue to make notes from the Second World.

Posted by mbowen at 05:47 PM | TrackBack

The Cross in the Seal

I haven't followed up so I don't know what the status of this controversy is, but I'll stop saying this is ridiculous and weigh in with some finality against the ACLU. I'm speaking about the proposal to rid the cross from the seal of Los Angeles County. There may be some good reasons to whitewash history, but this isn't one of them.

Yes, I've had a dose of Padre Junipero Serra over the long weekend, and I'm still feeling it. But I cannot see how the comfort of people offended by a 'non-welcoming' cross can outweigh the factual history of the settlement of California. It seems to me that anyone who is incapable of dealing with the offense given by the presence of that symbol in the Seal is also incapable of bearing witness to what actually took place. If it is too grim a reminder, should history be redacted?

I understand that the Seal is just a symbol and it is not itself history. Symbols can change. But this symbol never meant anything more than an acknowledgement of the missions. In that, there is no parallel to the Segregationist symbology of the Confederate Battle Flag in the State Flag of Georgia. But to strike that part from the Seal on the grounds that it tramples the line between Church and State is unacceptable to me.

Now is a good time to remember the Missions and some of California history, not to sweep it under the rug for this empty gesture to the sensitivities of a few.

Posted by mbowen at 05:17 PM | TrackBack

San Diego

San Diego is a pretty cool place to vacation. It worked for the Nuke.

We started out Sunday morning with a big breakfast at Coco's in Capistrano, halfway there. Then we proceded straight to our first stop, La Jolla for a little sea kayaking.

This is the first time I can remember F8 being out of her depth. My wife and I tend to extremes in our evaluations of our kids. She worries about them riding bikes down the sidewalk, I'm ready for them to kayak in the Pacific solo. We compromised of course and went double up with the girls, while the boy got his own kayak. 20 yards off shore we get upended in the shorebreak and F8 is under the boat. She comes up snotting and screaming and is terrified. It takes me a good 5 minutes to calm her down as we get past the breaking one-footers. The water is a pleasant 68 but there is no sun; she's shivering and blubbering. I'm still shocked. This is my fearless daughter and now she's crying to go back to shore. Ach! Finally she's OK.

The other three are coming up behind us but haven't gotten their strokes together yet. Meanwhile, we're drifting North, oblivious to the strength of the current just watching everyone else get through the break. They do fine but then they start paddling toward us. This is a bad thing because nobody thought to tell us about the northbound current. You see the logical way to kayak on the open ocean is to start your trip going against the current. That way, when you are tired and ready to come back onshore, the tide will do half the work. We got it backwards, and took 30 minutes to all rendezvous back at the starting white bouy. Finally, we headed towards the legendary caves of La Jolla.

Meanwhile I haveto figure out where the buckles are on my backrest. I can't get any leverage and I'm sore and tired already. I finally got my seat adjusted properly in time to get scared to death at the Spousal Unit, F9 and M10 heading towards the sea wall. I'm 700 yards northwest away and they seem right back into the break up close to some rocks. The prospect of having to do another rescue is making me sick. It turns out that they were perfectly safe anyway.

We reach the caves and flat water where we are greeted by a pack of sea lions. This was a pleasant surprise - something else the outfitters didn't tell us about. So finally F8 gets into the spirit of things. M10 is all prepared to run the current into the caves. This time, I'm the worry wort. Despite my admonishments nobody wants to stay seaward of me. Everyone flirts with the rocks instead.

We're 75 minutes out and I get everyone to turn back towards the shore. M10 races me and beats me, then poops out. My arms are killing me. F8 has given up all pretenses of rowing. We get halfway back and M10 is too whipped to continue. Hoo boy. Now I turn around and prepare to tow him back. Of course, as I reach out to grab his boat, I flip out into the drink. By the time I get my lard ass back into my craft, he's rested and rows merrily home.

As we all march back into town with our oars on our shoulders, everybody seems to have forgotten all the headaches. I'm thankful that my carkeys didn't fall out of my pockets. It's rather nice that the adventure turned out to be an adventure after all. Next stop, Hotel Circle.

We check into the Marriott after passing it twice. The suite is very nice, and the kids start behaving as if they've never seen a dishwasher before. I have to admit that it is something of a novelty to put the mountain of snacks we overpacked into a sparkling clean and empty refrigerator, but it's still the kind of thing that can be embarrassing when you're in front of other families. 'Wow we have a dishwasher and a refrigerator!'.

I plug in the laptop and check my Gmail and webhits. Nothing. OK I'm on vacation, I don't care. Really.

It turns out that all the restaurants we extensively checked out from Citysearch are closed on Sundays. The tourist season doesn't officially start until July. Wonderful. But we do find a joint called the Butcher Shop. You know me, I dig chophouses with red leather and Sinatra playing. This one is no disappointment. The kids are actually showing themselves to be fairly decent company. M10 orders from the adult menu and F9 has us cracking up with her Monty Python jokes. (I showed Holy Grail, last Friday night, and we have been saying 'Ni' ever since. Right about now, though, if I hear one more crack about my mother being a hamster, or the airspeed of an African swallow, I'm going to scream). Thus endeth day the first.

Monday was dedicated to me being reminded that I forgot to turn in invoices for my prior week's work, or so it seemed as my celll phone kept interrupting a perfectly good day at Sea World. I was so elated that one of my good customers actually paid on time and I was able to afford this extravaganza that I forgot about the other ones. Nevertheless, it was M9's turn to scream in fright. A roller coaster water ride was the object of terror this time.

Sea World is corny. I've never been before and I could see how people would be bored to death were it not for their two latest exhibits, 'Wild Arctic' and Shipwreck Rapids. Wild Arctic is really the star; a very impressive site - especially on this cloudy day. The giant walruses and polar bears are magnificent, but the Belugas were incredible. These huge white creatures were completely otherwordly. You could sit and stare at them for hours. They are massive, on the order of 17 feet long, but very graceful and twisty swimmers. You just try and figure out their skeletons as their muscles and fat bulge and bend in their underwater acrobatics.

Practically everything about Sea World involves getting you wet, but the water rides are really tame as compared to the dolphin and orca shows. You wouldn't think a fluke could move so much water. They didn't have any stats on it, but I'd guess Shamu displaced a good 75 gallons per swish. This is the maneuver in which he faces down and leaves his fluke above water then soaks a few rows with a quick flick. And that is nothing compared to the trick where he swims right along the perimeter of the tank and creates a huge wake. The jumping and bellyflopping doesn't get anybody wet, it's the other tricks that do it.

Anyway. We did the park in 9 hours. It was time to head back to the hotel. Chinese take-out and 'Elf' on pay-per-view. I was out by 10pm.

Yesterday was much more mellowed out. We did a bit of jacuzzi soaking, and blueberry muffin eating first. Then we packed up the car and headed over to Old Town. We ended up at the Serra museum at Presidio Hill and then headed over to the original Mission San Diego de Alcala. It was truly a sacred kind of affair. I was in a nicely vegetative and not overly contemplative state, as we navigated our own tour of this the first Mission in Alta California. The history was actually quite interesting and I could very well see how living in those days might work. Since all fourth graders need to do their mission projects, the spousal unit was insuring F9's A in advance. Not that we're much concerned, she has a knack for such things. At any rate, we checked out the digs, the chapel, the garden, the baptismal font, the wishing well, the bell tower and other artifacts. M10 found some lizards and that was the end of his attention span.

Afterwards we had an early supper with the certificates the kids earned at Mimi's Cafe and then took in that excellent film 'Two Brothers'. I recommend the film more than the Cafe, but you can't beat free.

Sometime after the film, the Unit took over driving. I don't remember much about how I got home. But it's good to be back. I heard something happened over in Iraq while I was gone...

Posted by mbowen at 11:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

On Vacation Y'All

I'm taking my biggest break from the blog ever. It should be about 5 days. I'm headin' on vacation with the Nuke. So the Spousal Unit, M10, F9, F7 and I are going to get some sun and fun. I'll see ya next Wednesday evening.

And I'm out.

Posted by mbowen at 02:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

MIA: Steve Coleman

Steve Coleman is not actually MIA, but for the life of me I cannot find the name of an album of his that first turned me on. Several years ago when I was working in San Francisco, I had my backback and my discman busting sounds of Steve Coleman and Five Elements. It was precisely in these days that I had still not given up on hiphop and I was rolling in the glorified sounds. At the time I was still striking both poses to the max, either the drop dead sweet suit and long coat, or the pure b-boy complete with hoodie and (Gap Leather) backpack. And if you have to know, I stopped sporting white athletic shoes the day I came back from London in '93.

Nostalgic for those old days when I still bounced like a young man, in the metaphysics of the Boohabian realm, I am searching for the Steve Coleman album with rap lyrics. Hep a brotha out. I know it's not Def Trance Beat and that's what's killing me.

UPDATE: I found Steve's website and some very interesting information, but not what I have determined is 'A Tale of 3 Cities', the EP was looking for. I should have been looking for Metrics, not Five Elements.

However people have asked me "if you are going to give away music then how will you survive and make a living?" It does cost money to make recordings, engineers and musicians have to be paid and materials needs to be purchased. However it is not necessary to have the mentality that we need to make a profit from all that we produce. If a person has a strong conviction and a reason for what they are doing, that alone should be enough motivation for the action to be consummated.
Spoken like a true artist.
Posted by mbowen at 12:20 PM | TrackBack


I'm not the average brotha from your video
I'm not beat down everywhere that I go
I respect law and order unconditionally
Because it's all for me.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't taunt cops like an idiot, yo
No matter where I'm going you can count on me
To always remain free.

When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me
I don't screw up my face to try to look like some OG
And I know that my father would be proud when he looks at me
My job, my tie, my fam, no lie, I'm where I'm 'sposed to be.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't crip walk everywhere that I go
I respect peace and justice unconditionally
Because it's all for me.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't do crime like an idiot, so
No matter where I'm going you can count on me
To always remain free.

Am I less of a man if I don't call my woman a ho?
I don't sing about bling, or try to be a thug, you know
I've made a decision
about all this division
collision's the name of the game
A fake separation
dividing the nation
something's got to change.

Don't be offended this is all my opinion
All I do is support the law
It's just common sense
you can weigh the evidence
and tell me if you find a flaw.
Get a grip on your life
Just stop the hate
acting all irate
Truth's you fate
Put your beef on the shelf
Enjoy yourself
Real men are gonna be just fine.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't crip walk everywhere that I go
I respect law and order unconditionally
Because it's all for me.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't do crime like an idiot, so
No matter where I'm going you can count on me
To always remain free.

Keep your platinum chains and your addled brains
I'm not impressed with the things you have
Keep your record deals
and your spinning wheels
All I need is home cooked meals
Keep your stupid rants and sagging pants
Me and my lady just slow dance
Don't need your sports attire
I'm not a liar
And God blesses me just fine.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't do crime like an idiot, so
No matter where I'm going you can count on me
To always remain free.

I'm not the average brotha from your video
I don't wear a big unruly afro
I respect God and women unconditionally
And that's how it should be.

Apoligies to India Irie, but you can quote me on all that.

I wrote this in response to the news that somebody got beatdown by cops the other day in Los Angeles. This time, I'm just going to back the cops and not sweat it. The reasons are several, but I'll handle that under separate cover.

Posted by mbowen at 09:17 AM | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

An Opening

I've been linked to Rafe Coburn for a long time. He's a great programmer and has a very sharp and analytical mind, but his politics have often grated on my nerves. But today Rafe has said something that gives me a greater measure of respect for him. It's not often that a Liberal will admit that they are closed-minded and it is a sign of maturity when they finally say so.

Granted, he uses the opportunity to say that the President is the kind of loser he used to be, but at least the parallel is made. As we discussed earlier, it is ever a quality of leadership that you must sacrifice pondering to the Cause.

Posted by mbowen at 10:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

John Conyer's Jazz

A nice little piece at the WSJ on another side of John Conyers.

"But," he continued, "although this is an African-American created music, it's available to everybody if you want to get it. I've always argued that white guys can learn to play jazz." Citing baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, the congressman said, "He was the greatest on that instrument there ever was--and he came out of Detroit! There are African-Americans that can't play jazz. But if you've got it, you can play it. You're never too old. It's never too late."

Sometimes I wonder who is going to replace these guys when they are gone. Not only the aging CBC members, but the Jazz musicians. So often the answer is Second Worlders.

Posted by mbowen at 09:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Black Politics: The Reasons for Change

I have talked about the supply side of black politics and I'll get to the demand side soon. I probably will never cover all of it because figuring out what the people want is a full time job and it never ends. That's appropriate. I really want to comment on the discussion going around about Hiphop Summitry and that particular flavor of politics, noisemaking and exploitation. But in the meantime I want to bring up three points that I made back in January of this year, just before I started going to Ofari's on a semi-regular basis.

These three points constitute the context of what I think black politics needs to address. It is my starting point.

Patronage Or Else
Black Politics will continue to exist so long as the political desires of African Americans are not met. The problem with the very idea of replacing MLK is that, as great as he was, MLK was not elected. When the hopes and aspirations of African Americans are placed in people who are not elected, they do not develop the collective skill of demanding patronage or else. The result is the miserable amount of clout black voters actually have because of the perception that they will only react.

Bring Out the [Stereotypical Black] Vote
In fact the pattern that I see is that political activism in black communities winds up being little more than voter registration drives with the presumption in mind that all the black votes cast will be of one form in order to combat the threat Democrats have agitated against. Without such an external threat, this predominating form of political activism is silent. Between elections, black political desire is ignored.

Republican Integration
I think of integration of the Republican party as additional enfranchisement for African American voters. Today, everyone expects that they know exactly what is on the mind of black voters, and that their influence is merely a question of voter turnout. The apathy is real on both sides. Joining the Republican party takes all presumptions off the table. All parties involved in such political activity have to really think hard about why this is being done. That thinking is not taking place, by and large.

Posted by mbowen at 09:35 AM | TrackBack

The Bad Plus

Music, fine music is creeping into my veins again.

I'm at a weird point which is climbing down from the madness of assuming I must know more to engage the world. Now 10 years into being a family man, I still get the nightmares of a missed final and the unanswerable question from the reading assignment. And my History professor was wrong to give me an Incomplete - yet I digress. The solution is a fine groove, or even finer still a twisty rhythm and melody. So I'm buying CDs again. My first selection has been a big winner, they are The Bad Plus (two tracks in the Radio Blog sidebar)

The Bad Plus
The opening cut of 'Give' is surprising in that it has the bumptuous beats of something from the Lounge Lizards, but it doesn't go into a completely discordant direction, which is typical of those musicians bored with fine melody. And so it stays in a bouyant key with fine resonances down into the deep registers. I haven't been so happy with bass like this since Ambitious Lovers.

The monster cut for me is Velouria which always hints at something powerful and then jumps up and goes boom right in the middle with an astonishing riff.

There is a whole lot of music exhaled by this trio. It's definitely worth the effort to pick it up.

Posted by mbowen at 07:51 AM | TrackBack

Victory Over Al Sadr

It wasn't long ago when a lot of whiners were telling us that the Sadrists were taking the victory from the Coalition of the Willing after the fall of Baghdad. Well, here's the news now buddy.

The Army's powerful 1st Armored Division is proclaiming victory over Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr's marauding militia that just a month ago seemed on the verge of conquering southern Iraq.

The Germany-based division defeated the militia with a mix of American firepower and money paid to informants. Officers today say "Operation Iron Saber" will go down in military history books as one of the most important battles in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

So Iron Saber has delivered the proper smackdown that the Wanker has been deserving for quite a while now. I am glad that the WTimes has given a military type, if somewhat abbreviated accounting of this victory which is the kind of reporting we've been missing. Clearly occupations aren't so very dramatic as wars, but our troops are still doing important work, and as I said before, we could use this kind of news.

As time moves forward, I expect that the Sadrists will take some political responsibility now that we have showed them the pain of choosing bullets over ballots. Still, they will have little as compared to the Dawas and that's a good thing.

I am unclear as to whether Al Sadr himself is still subject to murder charges.

Posted by mbowen at 07:23 AM | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Moon?

There's a blip in the news over having Sun Myung Moon in the Dirksen Office Building spewing whatever it is he spews. My immediate take is that he's just a big rich guy who will never take over the world, no matter how hard he tries.

Gorenfeld has a handy checklist.

Posted by mbowen at 05:32 PM | TrackBack


'Arboretum' is the code name for a project that I've been needing to do forever. This is a programmer's tool for understanding and maintaining hierarchies of all sorts, but in particular those associated with enterprise software.

Every time I go to a customer I have a huge headache in getting their charts of accounts straight. It's such a simple concept that you would think that somebody would have made this kind of tool before. But no.

So I'm going to specify this and sell it into my client base. The trick is that it will support plugins that talk to all of the major packages. If I can do this, I'm going to make a fortune. All I need is time and a programmer.

Posted by mbowen at 02:47 PM | TrackBack


Posted by mbowen at 07:23 AM | TrackBack

June 22, 2004

Richman's 'Open' Primary Initiative

Warren Olney reports an interesting controversy in California politics. I'm clearly biased in favor of the status quo which was rescued by some legislative fancy footwork in the State Senate.

Almost a million California voters signed petitions circulated by Democratic State Controller Steve Westly and Republican Richard Riordan to put the Voter Choice Open Primary Act on November’s ballot. It would establish nonpartisan primary elections in California, a move other leaders of both parties label un-Democratic. So, yesterday, by a 28-to-3 vote, the State Senate passed a competing measure to maintain party primaries pretty much as they are. Supporters of the Voter Choice Act call yesterday’s measure a “Trojan Horse.” Warren Olney previews the latest fight over open primaries with State Senator Ross Johnson, author of the bipartisan legislation, and Assemblyman Keith Richman, who supports the Open Primary initiative.

The way I see it is simple. Richman's idea makes it 'two winners take all'. You have a primary and the top two votegetters advance to the general election. It could be two Greens, two Republicans, two anything. The ultimate result is that in the general election you'll only have two choices, and if your party is not represented, you have no choice but to vote for the top two.

Needless to say, this will dramatically change the dynamic of primary elections. This means that strategically interesting jurisdictions can be stacked with candidates with money. It basically means smaller ballots and less choice. Not a good idea.

Posted by mbowen at 08:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

McWhorter Revisited

I found this interesting interview on McWhorter at Booknotes. Perhaps the Manhattan Institute is worth a look-see.

Posted by mbowen at 02:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Black Politics: Supply Side

I am thinking of black politics these days in terms of 'give to get'. What is it that specific constituencies of African Americans can get from their political representatives and what do they have to give?

The give side is relatively easy. There are three components of political support. Time, Loyalty, Money. Money is what blackfolks supposedly don't have, but what costs the most money in campaigns? Television. Without television, campaigns would be cheaper - and political decisions made upon the basis of what gets covered in campaign spots are fairly lightweight. They are to 'energize the base' or 'tip the balance'. In that way, they can be thought of as expensive, last ditch kinds of moves by candidates. If a black constituency knows the candidate before they appear on television, it ups the value of the other two components of political support. It also must be noted that the trend is toward focusing television ads at particular potential constituencies and that the money raised in campaigns is already 'too much'. You cannot say with your political donation "I want this money to go to a TV ad that says X". So it doesn't appear to me that increased black donations will result in increased black oriented TV.

Loyalty is something of a fixed asset on the left side of the ledger, which is to say that the Democrats have it from black voters and it doesn't seem to be moving anywhere. Because they have it, Democrats don't fight for it. Because Democrats have it, Republicans don't fight for it. So the value of this asset is somewhat diminished. It is commonly understood that the black vote is taken for granted. It's either Democratic or non-existant. Loyalty as a stick is not working for black politics because the Donkey's mouth is full of carrot.

Time is the final entry in the equation and it is difficult to quantify. What I mean by time is time away from your own life and donated to the life of the Party. Showing up at protests, registration drives, fund raisers, public events, hearings etc are all investments of time that draws one closer to the Party of choice. How much or little African Americans do this bit is unclear to me. Certainly only a fraction of the people who vote are active in this manner; I have no reason to believe that African Americans are significantly different. All I know is the anecdotal evidence of politicians meeting with black clergy. How many Sundays a year is that?

All told it seems to me that African American constituencies still have a lot more to give in order to influence what they might get. The status quo could use some improvement.

Posted by mbowen at 07:26 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

The Good Old Days

Posted by mbowen at 05:38 PM | TrackBack

June 20, 2004

Elder on Reagan

In the myths once over lightly department, Larry Elder weighs in on Ronald Reagan. Even though I'm hardly likely to fall for the overstated causality in all of this pro- and anti-blackness of Reagan, it's nice to know there are some comebacks worth of the random spitting.

The whole text is here. Download file

My favorite:

Myth: Reagan signaled his racism by giving a campaign speech in
Philadelphia, Miss.

Does it matter that when Reagan left Philadelphia, Miss., he traveled to New
York to give a speech before the Urban League, a major civil rights
organization? Some did, indeed, interpret Reagan's speech in Philadelphia,
Miss., as a signal to anti-black Southerners. According to Lou Cannon,
author of "Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio," the "states' rights
speech" so bothered Nancy Reagan that she pushed for a shakeup in Reagan's
campaign to avoid any other such missteps. Not exactly segregation then,
segregation today, segregation tomorrow.

Posted by mbowen at 02:22 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Chocolate Covered Fish

Dave Chappelle is in trouble in Sacramento. He discovered that some of the people in his audience were stupid. Well, I'm going to have to appropriate Prince's comment and insert it into Cobb's Rules. To wit: You eventually get the audience you deserve.

I like Chappelle, and I think he's a brilliant comic. But he's about to have some growing pains, and they just might kill him. Check this:

"People can't distinguish between what's real and fake. This ain't a TV show. You're not watching Comedy Central. I'm real up here talking."

Shouts continued to interrupt Chappelle's routine until he stopped to give a lecture on "how comedy usually works: I say something. You mull it over and decide whether you want to laugh or not, and then you do or not. Then I say something else, and you think about that.

"It's worked well all across the country, but you people ..."

Performing in Sacramento, the comic said, might turn out "to be a bad idea - like chocolate-covered fish."

Chappelle told the crowd he knew why they liked his sketch-comedy show: "Because it's good. You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong.

"You people are stupid."

I don't know for certain, but I think he has violated some cardinal rule of show business. Which means Chappelle has more going for him than most. I certainly hope he's made enough money in two seasons to retire, because he's going to have to go upmarket to HBO and break that Comedy Central contract.

You go Dave. Handle your business so we can get some more. Sooner or later you are going to have your Richard Pyror moment and stop with the n-word. Exploit yourself for the moment, then get to the plane of independence.

Posted by mbowen at 10:51 AM | TrackBack

CCR 47 Major Concepts

I am doing some planning and brainstorming for the CCR 47 Chapter (Soutwest LA) and I thought I'd put forth some of the first ideas for charter and agenda:

  • Statement of Purpose
  • Key Contacts
  • Who We Are
  • Short Term Goals
  • Long Term Goals
  • Framework & Organization
  • Resources & Officers
  • Schedule of Events.
  • Local Businesses
  • Swag & Tchochkes
  • Issues and Answers
  • Political Advocacy
  • Local Schools
  • Local Hospitals
  • Local Legislation
  • Neighborhood Footsteps
  • Street Teams & Precinct Captains
  • Speaker's Bureau
  • Liason Committee
Posted by mbowen at 10:39 AM | TrackBack


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June 19, 2004


Posted by mbowen at 08:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Devil I Know

Drezner has an excellent suggestion, which is that Bush 43 not wait until November to change up his White House. He suggests a new Cabinet. That he hasn't shaken up any departments according to any philosophy other than blind loyalty strongly suggests to me that he was a man of few ideas going into the White House, and that he see it as merely a scaled-up Governor's mansion. In my estimation, GWBush is hanging on to mediocrity with a deathgrip and is starting to appear like a one-hit wonder.

I disagree with Drezner that Powell is not a good Sec'y of State. But I guess I cannot get the idea out of my head that in the runup to the shooting in Iraq, French diplomats were singing his praises. Then again, I guess that's why Bush has kicked him to the virtual curb.

That Drezner's is such a good idea underscores the fact that GWBush hasn't had it. So I think this is as good a time as any to summarize my gripe with his White House.

I am inclined to believe that the political nature of this Administration is extreme with regards to authoritarianism. They are intolerant of dissent, secretive, defensive and their rationale tends to be expeditious. In short, they have a bunker mentality. I think that they have been unable to get over the profound shock of the nine-eleven attacks. Once their constitutions allowed them to, they were politically unwilling to give up the authority it gave them. They have applied this state of mind to a war and occupation which required a more comprehensive evaluation than they were willing to undertake which has had grave political consequences. They have undermined the State Department, bullied the Intelligence services and abused the Pentagon. The White House is at war with the war making branches of the Executive and for all intents and purposes disengaged with the other parts of the Cabinet.

Posted by mbowen at 08:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Aristocracy of Mind

I've been thinking of a way to describe what I think is the problem with a great deal of left intellectual dissent. David Brooks, once again, proves his value and insight.

I just got yet another entreaty from Front Page to send money to support poor pitiful Republicans on college campuses. I don't go in for that kind of charity, and quite frankly David Horowitz has gotten on my last nerve several times. On the other hand, it is true that he suggested I get a sponsor for my writing. Perhaps that is foreseeable, but in the meantime I get quite annoyed with the suggestions that there is something wrong with the academy. I have tried to reconcile what I think is obviously true about it - those who can't do teach. And there's a great deal of utility in any institution that forces one to examine all the possibilities.

But out here in the marketplace, all the possibilities don't count. And it is a mark of great intelligence to know what to discard.

Now read David Brooks:

Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.

Excellent. This is exactly what I think.

Posted by mbowen at 12:44 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sixoseven In The House

One of my dozen faces is Sixoseven. It happens to be my XBox Live gamertag, as well as a composite of my favorite character from Toni Morrison's 'Beloved'. Probably most importantly it is the name of my 'band'.

Through the magic of RadioBlogs (thank's S-Train), I have finally been able to publish some of the music I have composed over the years. Scroll down the left sidebar to find the player. It's a combination of House and Ambient, some decent Funk and Acid Jazz. I've even got screaming metal. Underneath most of it, of course, is a hiphop rhythm section.

Since I am relatively impervious to embarassment, I present to you without shame, some of my better works. There actually is a cut I did called Green Destiny that truly sucks. I was trying to do with my voice what Bobby McFerrin did. It was a lonely night in Burlingame, CA after too many glasses of merlot.

I've put together about 40 songs, and I'll put more of them here as I convert them to streaming format.All of my music is kid friendly (with the possible exception of The Ashcroft Smack, which includes sampled Congressional Testimony (gasp!) ). And a good majority of it is happy music worthy of dancing to, even if you are of the Barbie variety. So if you like dark snarky grungy stuff, you're going to be disappointed.

Tell me what you think anyway.

Posted by mbowen at 11:24 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 17, 2004

If Not Perle Then Whom?

Long ago I read George F. Kennan's 'Around the Cragged Hill'. I recall very little of it. I am brought to mind of it at this moment by the following bit of a paragraph:

Although Kennan's influence ultimately waned, he seemed to make his greatest contribution to realist thought from the sidelines, where he served as a relentless critic of the dominant role that Wilsonian idealism or "do-goodism" came to exert on U.S. foreign policy. In this respect, Kennan joined the other realists in condemning U.S. interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, and elsewhere as stemming more from an effort to improve the world than from vital national interests.

The Perle-Wolfowitz axis of neoconservatism owes much to that Wilsonian idealism. I have always been a neocon in much that fashion. However I have been saying the 'E' word out loud. America is an improper but should strive to become a proper Empire. It's the only thing that will stop the world from eventually crushing us out of spite.

But here we stand with an ingrateful Iraq, a staggering bill, and domestic bickering that seems to never end. Were we not realistic in our projections? Perhaps we could use some measure of political realism? Hmm.

Rakiir gives Truman (Kennan) credit for the victory of Containment and takes it away from Reagan.

So the historical record seems clear to me. Reagan continued a policy which was started in 1947 and continued over 33 years by six different presidents before Reagan assumed the presidency. Claiming that Reagan “won the Cold War” seems unjustified by any rational standard. What you can say is that Reagan increased the pressure on the U.S.S.R. on a number of fronts (diplomatic, military, and rhetorically), especially compared to the first three years of the Carter presidency. Reagan's efforts weren't small but they weren't ground breaking or particularly dramatic compared to what Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon both said and did (Korea, Vietnam, and Nixon's trip to China).

Considering the state of Venezuela today, and the absolute inability for anyone to declare any victory in Central or South America vis a vis Reagan's anti-communist interventions in this hemisphere, I think we'll have to concede Rakiir's point.

I have been reluctant to parrot the argument that Cheney and Rumsfeld rejected the Powell Doctrine out of spite and arrogance. But more people are weighing in on that notion. Is Admiral Crowe among that bunch who are now standing tall against GWBush? He and Hackworth just don't fade away do they? But as we come to transition day, there are no maypoles and confetti in Baghdad, just bigger car bombs and more effective sabotage.

There is a significant difference between Containment and Appeasement, but there seems to be a bigger difference between Containment and Regime Change and we don't seem to be made of the proper imperial stuff for the latter. Considering we have yet to lose one day's worth of Iwo Jima fighters, volume and pervasiveness of the political wimpery of our low-carb dissenters is a poor mark on the strength of the President. He chose Perle (or did Perle choose him), and Perle's time is just about over. June 30th marks the day in my book.

Is anybody shopping around for new ideas? I'm really tired of Stonewall Cheney and the haughty 'you try doing my job, you traitor' snorts of Rumsfeld. Maybe it's time we got real.

Posted by mbowen at 05:39 PM | TrackBack

GWBush's Slam Dunk

Juan Williams makes a convincing case that the President has a secret weapon in his arsenal: the black vote. He states little more than the obvious but I'll focus on his second point:

Second, it's increasingly clear that blacks are no longer willing to vote as a bloc, automatically lining up with the Democrats. This is particularly true of younger black voters. A 2002 poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington, found a shift in the political identification of black voters. For example, 34 percent of 18- to 25-year-old black voters identified themselves as independents. Overall, 24 percent of black Americans of all ages see themselves as independents — a four percentage point increase since the 2000 election. And now 10 percent of blacks call themselves Republican, a six percentage point rise since 2000.

Young black Americans seem ready for a forthright conversation about race and politics. While many older blacks responded with anger to Bill Cosby's recent call for poor black people to take more responsibility for their problems, the young people I encountered were uniformly supportive of Mr. Cosby's words.

It's worth noting that for this group, the president has an issue with considerable appeal: school vouchers. Despite strong opposition from civil rights leaders (and Democrats), 66 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, according to a recent Newsweek poll. That is higher than the 54 percent of whites who say they want to see vouchers used to give students access to better schools.

Williams, because he's an NPR kinda-guy has no reason to overstate anything here. So while a lot of statistics about black voters in transition have been bandied about, I'll add these to the pile with a measure of credibility.

The Joint Center has pretty much a monopoly on black think-tankery. If I were a political scientist I'd be breaking my neck to get grant dollars for a second opinion. But even giving Bositis and company the benefit of the doubt, how likely is it that those black independents and conservatives are getting the kind of questions ranging of a sophisticated non-liberal issues?

Cosby has given us a new talking point about an old political dilemma, and people may just be beginning to reach inside of the black monolith (aside from the token contrarians) and realizing its depth and complexity.

So while it's a slam dunk, even for George W. Bush who is certainly unproven in his subtle grasp of domestic racial politics, to make big gains by appealing to 'the black vote', there remains a great deal of unknowns and unfocused energy and opportunity out there. Even Shaq sometimes misses slam dunks.

Posted by mbowen at 04:43 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Weapons of Moral Destruction

A particular turn of phrase by Kieran Healy has provoked a chain of thought I should get in writing.


I think there is no shame in being viscerally repelled by the prospect of state-sponsored torture, even when — hypothetically — there might be utilitarian benefits to be gained from it.

also in context:

I think that Eugene’s post from 2002 shows, in outline, what the torture memo might have looked like had it been written by government lawyers who were genuinely concerned with the question at hand rather than with writing a brief on how the President could circumvent the law. Although it doesn’t examine the constitutionality of torture and the limits of executive authority to authorize it in a time of war, it honestly explores the utilitarian calculus of torture without indulging what Mark Kleiman has called “the human capacity for courage in the face of pain felt by strangers.”

I think that it should go without saying that torture is an inherent evil. The question is whether or not it is a redeemable evil. It is a question that I believe redounds to the matter of the one. Under what circumstances might an indidividual be justified in using torture?

It is the phrase, state-sponsored, that catches my eye. So put, there doesn't seem any possibility of justification. And yet we understand that there is a kind of utility in thinking the unthinkable. Is there value to be found in doing the undoable?

It is a premise of mine that human beings, since they are capable of making life and death decisions, must take responsibility for life and death decisions. This implies that there must be some consequence for the action of killing. This is the warrior code and it is the basis for the moral organization of armies. We accept that there can be honor among killers. We do it for cops and for soldiers all the time.

In my review of 'Man on Fire', I applied some utilitarian justification for the character John W. Creasy's use of torture during interrogation. It was done with the understanding that death was inevitable. Not only the death of the torture victim, but the sacrificial death of Creasy the interrogator. We are facing the moral organization of assassins, torturers and suicide bombers. Is there any honor for them? In the context of John W. Creasy's torture and assassination of Mexican kidnappers, he willingly sacrificed himself to them in order to save the life of a child. In his assassinations and torture he saved many more lives by disabling the machinery of kidnapping piece by gory piece. By sacrificing himself he created peace between the remains of that organization and the child's mother. In the end as in the beginning he knew that he could not be forgiven. So I am willing to suggest that such acts can be honorable in a very limited context - that is the context of sacrifice.

Nevertheless suicide bombing, assassination and torture are weapons of moral destruction. Those who call for their use must stand to be judged as well as those direct participants. No honor can accrue to any victory which relies primarily of such means. They can only be of limited tactical value. As I said in 'Monsters on a Leash', there can be no question about the moral disposition of the employment of such weapons. We do it. They do it. I am unsure about the utility of torturous interrogation. I believe it can be effective but I am not inclined to believe that it is reliable. But I limit it not because of its effectiveness as a weapon but the damage it does to the moral standing of those who employ it as a weapon. Therefore we are bound to keep our supply of torturers low, be willing to sacrifice them and not call them into service readily.

The CIA honors its members with stars posted on a memorial wall. Some of those are anonymous. I would not be surprised to find that some of those spies were involved in extracting information by morally suspect means. If a state is to sponsor assassination or toture or suicide bombing, this kind of arrangement should be the deal. Note that here, for the entire history of the CIA there are only 83. I can live with that.

Posted by mbowen at 01:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

So It Has Come To This

The 9/11 Commission says there was no relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. This morning President Bush says there was a relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

I guess that depends on what your definition of 'was' was.

Posted by mbowen at 09:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

Abu 2

According to the latest buzz, there is coming to an FTP site near you, is the 'rest of the story' at Abu Ghraib. Evidently, members of Congress have witnessed some filth which is evil on par with the Nick Berg video, done by our guys.

That bile is rising in the collective throats of hawks is a good sign that we are getting to the bottom of the naked pyramid, and that there's more than has previously met the eye.

It makes me a bit more settled that this is coming to light, because the level of indignity we have thus far been led to believe the prisoners were suffering has been marginally excuseable or if not excuseable at least nothing that sounds so extraordinary in the world of suffering. Hitch calls it a 'Moral Chernobyl'.

Again, I will advise folks to leave this evidence to those who can describe it with words. Watching will be hazardous to your sensitivity.

Posted by mbowen at 03:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Evil, Wicked, Mean & Nasty

It just occurred to me the three most captivating television shows, the ones I tend to never miss have as their protagonists powerful, corrupt bullies. I wonder what goes on in the heads of the writers of these shows, but whatever it is, it has my attention. Perhaps we all ought to have our heads examined.

I'm talking about Tony, Vic and Al, the stars of The Sopranos, The Shield and Deadwood. Each of them has their own special combination of darkness, ruthlessness and vulnerability. In that they are variations on the same theme - if you want omlette, you've got to break some eggs.

What I think is attractive about these characters is that they reveal our suspicions about powerful men, that they are basically rascals and that given the opportunity, would not hesitate to murder. My mother used to say, "If you'll lie, you'll cheat and if you cheat you'll steal and if you steal you'll kill". These men are already at the bottom of the slipperly slope and yet for all their moral tupitude, they remain admirable. Are we really so twisted?

What makes these bad men not bad is that they constantly emote. Even though their minds are stunningly devious, we know their hearts. They are not mysterious, strong silent types. They are not out to conquer the world, they are hanging on by threads like the rest of us. Their schemes and accomplishments are always on the brink of collapse. Despite the fact they break all the rules it doesn't gain them the world. The put our struggles in perspective, they deal the way we wish we could deal, almost superhumanly, and yet they are very human. They are perhaps even more human than we, because when things go wrong for them, they don't merely think of smashing things, they smash things.

We know why they do everything that they do and we are only surprised by their confidence, their flat out audacity, and yes, their wisdom. None of these men are stupid. Flawed, certainly but not foolish. These men are enveloped in worst-case scenarios and they survive. There is always some turn of events and cadre of enemies and associates aiming at their throats. that are dogging their big-dog status, but they are preternaturally tenacious. They are absolute leaders. They are not merely movers and shakers, but knee deep in their moral shit, hands-on, red handed, underhanded and dirty handed. They bark out orders without a moment's hesitation and they never back down. They win.

The season for all of them is over. Now we have to watch the second stringers.. CSI, Law & Order CI and Touching Evil.

Posted by mbowen at 02:53 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

He's Back

Posted by mbowen at 08:35 AM | TrackBack

From Rabid to Reasonable

Six Apart's new pricing scheme for MT now makes perfect sense. Good job guys. This is something I think everyone can live with.

Posted by mbowen at 08:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Posted by mbowen at 07:34 AM | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

Riddick Immersion

These days before I go see a movie, I basically see one review in the form of a letter grade over at Yahoo. The Chronicles of Riddick got a C from the critics. I wonder what they were smoking.

Yesterday, at the Puente Hills Mall in their best theatre, which rivals the best I've been anywhere including the Bridge in Culver City, I saw the Chronicles of Riddick with the sound punched up to the max. This movie has the best sci-fi production design since Alien Resurrection. When it comes to other worlds and oddities in space, there are several flicks that come to mind. If you like, we can get into a top ten discussion here. Alien Resurrection, Minority Report, Event Horizon, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element. I'm putting Chronicles of Riddick into that company. Somebody needs to get an art direction and set design award here. No question.

The goofily named Necromongers' architecture is a burnished iron Roman motif that simply oozes power and pain. It's overwhelmingly masculine and stylistically dominating. When compared to the brute ugliness of Middle Earth's baddies, you kind of wonder why everyone was so afraid. Of course the Necros flip dice to decide which way they want to capture entire planets, no real comparison here. It's a good thing that the acting was so stiff, or the theory behind their evil would have been a bit more compelling. (The theory is essentially a ripoff of the Borg, but the Necros are way cooler than the Borg - as fanatic totalitarians go.)

The action sequences in COR are a mix of old and new. What's new is fairly exciting. Riddick is just about as violent as one can manage without a substantial amount of gore. As he rips through enemy after enemy, he does so with a blur of speed that makes it much less explicit than say Brad Pitt's Achilles. And while you must suspend logic for a moment to accept that he's stabbing warriors through armor plate that looks as thick as manhole covers, he does a convincing job of being almost unstoppable.

It also must be said that the environment plays a good role in this flick as well. On a planet with yet another cornball name: Crematoria, its sun is the implacable foe. This was done once with Armageddon, but this time the effect is way better. Freakin' scary that sunrise is.

The CG in COR is first rate. Swirly waves of anti-gravity exhale from the Necro spacecraft. Some truly frightening beasts rampage through an underground prison. A wispy Judy Dench proves to be the first *ever* believable apparitional creature (even better than the albino Matrix twins).

A lot of people thought Vin Diesel was off his nut when he turned down Fast & Furious 2, to do a Pitch Black prequel. It turns out that this film has everything it takes to become a cult classic. And guess what, the ending is brilliant.

Posted by mbowen at 09:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin just sang the National Anthem for the opening of the NBA game this evening. It's rather impossible to forget what country you live in when there's a voice like that singing. Wow!

I'm leaving work. By the time I get home, the Lakers should have brought everybody to their senses.

Posted by mbowen at 06:09 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Tortured Logic

People with a great deal more patience than I have with the tangle of legal concepts being twisted in the memos regarding torture and culpability seem to have concluded that there's much to be concerned about. Why is it that I can't seem to give a gnat's 'nads? Am I really so insensitive?

Not really. I found, while lurking through my journal, a full sense of outrage and despair over a question of torture. The victim in question was Amadou Diallo. I found it utterly dispicable that American police officers would even attempt, much less get away with such acts as sodomy with a broom handle. The memory of the event is rather blurred with that of the other New Yorker who got shot 34 times. His name escapes me at the moment, but it was clear that my prior sense of respect and admiration for Rudy Guiliani as a law and order type guy was completely destroyed by those events. Further, the departure of Chief Bratton sealed the lid on Giuliani's political tomb which was hardly loosened by his subsequent demeanor in the wake of nine-eleven.

Death with dignity is the reason we can make war. Indeed it is the reason war can be honorable. A man shot in battle whose body is turned over to his own army is what allows us to respect our enemy, and respect for the enemy is the only thing that makes an honorable peace possible. But a man whose body is desecrated is always an invitation to slaughter. No matter what one makes of the particular definitions the Geneva Conventions have established, lines must be drawn. And yet there are always huns among us. We share this planet with people whose suffering would make them particularly brutal warriors. Indeed I am inclined to believe that matters of imprisonment, interrogation, arrest and yes even torture are much more subjective than those of life and death.

It is this subjectivity I refer to when I read the following over at DeLong's. According to some standard, the following five acts are considered 'inhuman and degrading treatment'

a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a “stress position”, described by those who underwent it as being “spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers”;

b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees’ heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;

c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;

d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;

e) deprivation of food and drink.. subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.

And then there is the American standards of 'cruel and unusual punishment'. Supreme Court Justices Thomas, Renquist and Scalia several years ago notably tried to push the envelope of immunity for prison guards. In the case of Hope v Pelzer we note the use of 'unnecessary and wanton inflictions of pain'.

In 1995, petitioner Hope, then an Alabama prison inmate, was twice handcuffed to a hitching post for disruptive conduct. During a 2-hour period in May, he was offered drinking water and a bathroom break every 15 minutes, and his responses were recorded on an activity log. He was handcuffed above shoulder height, and when he tried moving his arms to improve circulation, the handcuffs cut into his wrists, causing pain and discomfort. After an altercation with a guard at his chain gang’s worksite in June, Hope was subdued, handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and transported back to the prison, where he was ordered to take off his shirt, thus exposing himself to the sun, and spent seven hours on the hitching post. While there, he was given one or two water breaks but no bathroom breaks, and a guard taunted him about his thirst. Hope filed a 42 U.S. C. §1983 suit against three guards. Without deciding whether placing Hope on the hitching post as punishment violated the Eighth Amendment, the Magistrate Judge found that the guards were entitled to qualified immunity. The District Court entered summary judgment for respondents, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The latter court answered the constitutional question, finding that the hitching post’s use for punitive purposes violated the Eighth Amendment. In finding the guards nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity, it concluded that Hope could not show, as required by Circuit precedent, that the federal law by which the guards’ conduct should be evaluated was established by cases that were “materially similar” to the facts in his own case.

Is torture like pornography? Do you only know it when you see it? I say yes, that torture, what is 'inhuman', what is 'wanton infliction of pain' are all subjective. Yet we must have laws to help guide us in this no matter how strong our stomachs may be. But following the letter of those laws may not help. Once we have gone beyond our enemy's ability to stomach pain, or even that of our political allies, we have crossed a threshold over which positive sentiment is unlikely to return. All we can do is hold by our standards. The enemy knows what to expect.

I think that the Administration has every right to push the envelope as regards immunity. To the extent that we are sovereign and we have to fight dirty the President ought to have the leeway to do so. Absolutely. But the inevitable consequence of crossing over that grey area is rooted in the implication of reserving the right. That is that you cease to respect your enemy, and that is the thing that obliterates the possibility of an honorable peace.

This is very likely America's intent in the WOT. There seems to be no question that this Administration wants to give no quarter to terrorists. Our aim is not an honorable peace with them, but their total destruction. I think also that American are fairly united in that sentiment. I believe GWBush's term 'bringing them to justice' is something of a euphemism. 'Capture or Kill' is more the sentiment, and my reading of 'capture' absolutely means interrogation to find the rest of the AQ gang.

So while a great deal of noise is made about what has transpired at Abu Ghraib, and while it is still important to have guidelines in a fuzzy world, I don't believe at bottom we really care what happens to actual terrorists. Our understanding that we want no honorable peace with al Qaeda should help explain the purpose of this legal judo.

Posted by mbowen at 10:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


George brings up a good point with his three references:

Perhaps useful: Jack White's Time article "Lott, Reagan and Republican Racism," Steven Hayward's National Review article Reagan, Lott, and Race Baiting" and Kevin Baker's Harper's review "The magic Reagan: more misguided arguments for his greatness"

Before I go there, I find it interesting to note that I am Enneagram 9w8, which means that very little of this caca fazes me. Or as Phife says, "I wear New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path". So in the midst of strife, I tend to see things a different way.

To the heart of the matter, I still believe we are talking about rhetorical patronage. While many folks are ready to suggest that Reagan courted the white racist vote, they also say that Reagan did little to help poor whites. This underscores my point. As the Great Communicator, Reagan appealed to a wide spectrum of Americans, and while he lowered the tax rate dramatically for the very wealthiest Americans, he wasn't exactly evenhanded about it for the poor. So the same headscratching that goes on about what he actually did for poor whites, should go on about what he actually did for racist whites.

I happen to believe this argument is a standard part of the 'racist, sexist, homophobic' cluster bomb thrown by the Left to tar Reagan.
But how much of that sticks when it comes to policy? Is Reagan sexist because he opposed passage of the ERA? So I will continue to ignore the labels and continue to respond to the real effects of real legislation passed by Congress.

Posted by mbowen at 06:57 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Lakers Collapse

The Lakers came within 6 in the final 5 minutes but just sucked. Kobe converted nothing. The Pistons didn't drop the ball and the Lakers couldn't force any turnovers. Jackson was right to make Kobe pass the ball because he wasn't hitting for shit. Trade him and get some depth on the bench. It's perfectly clear that the rest of the Lakers ain't shit. When Rush was sinking baskets, they dominated but now Jackson doesn't seem to be able to put them in.

Shaq did his job. If I were him I'd be pissed. Where are all the shooters on the Laker team? Can't any of the drive the lane? I haven't been following the team so maybe this is obvious, but where the hell is their power forward? If Karl Malone is lame then put somebody else in and stop passing to Shaq mid post. Walton is the only one that makes that work with any flair and creativity anyway. The rest of the team is just afraid to shoot from the outside or too slow to beat the Piston coverage.

If I were Larry Brown I would make the next game physically punishing on the Lakers. They will come unglued.

If I were Phil Jackson, I would make Karl Malone play until he was bloody. Run his ass into the ground and make him get offensive boards. Make Fisher and Kobe shoot the outside and drive and then bring Shaq upcourt. This passing to the baseline was a complete failure. Nobody hit those shots and nobody got the long rebounds. Force the shooting guards to force some fouls instead of playing safe on the perimeter and passing to Shaq. If they can't get Ben Wallace in foul trouble and take out his rebounding it's over.

Then again what do I know? I know I'm pissed.

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June 13, 2004

Cobb on the Air

I will be on the air this evening defending the Reagan Legacy from a black perspective. At 7pm Pacific time, I'll be a guest on the 'PowerPoint' radio talkshow originating out of Atlanta's WCLK. It's a call in show and will go for an hour.

WCLK is a Pacifica affilliate, so I'm pretty sure that the other two guests will be trying to shoot me down, but I think it will be an interesting opportunity to reach a lot of folks that wouldn't ordinarily hear my particular point of view. I'm looking forward to this and I owe a debt of thanks to my man Spence.

I have my own of course, but are there any talking points you think I should bring up?

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Jamie Foxx

The spousal unit has subscribed to Entertainment Weekly. It is for that reason alone that I know somebody somewhere in Hollywood is thinking about putting together a Marvin Gaye biopic.

Jamie Foxx should play it. You would know this if you've ever heard him sing.

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Canned Peaches

Every day when the kids come home from school they have a snack. If I'm working from my home office, then it's my job. The other day we had canned peaches.

I had spoken to my mother about our memorial day weekend and asked her about other veterans in the family. Her father was in the Army, which I didn't know, and her Uncle Adam served in the Pacific. In fact, he was one of the marines who fought on Guadalcanal. The short summary of the story was that he landed there and his ship was sunk. So for one month, he lived on canned peaches. When he came home (he survived!), he never wanted to eat another canned peach.

So my kids know about Uncle Adam, 30 days, canned peaches and Guadalcanal. But they really don't know about Guadalcanal and neither did I until I looked it up.

The battle for Guadalcanal was fought between August of 1942 and February of 1943. There are many different accounts of the battle. This is my favorite, the first account that I read.

On January 3rd 1943, Japanese headquarters conceded defeat and ordered the evacuation of their remaining troops from Guadalcanal and on the 7th the last of the defeated Japanese left the island via destroyers. They left 25,000 dead on the island and between 600 and 900 pilots in the sea. I don't have any figures on the number of sailors killed. 1,600 Americans were killed on the island and many more killed at sea. The rest of the Solomon Islands chain would take almost another year of fighting before being entirely in American hands.

We lost at least six ships in those six months. And Uncle Adam survived on canned peaches. Just a little perspective on our little occupation of Iraq.

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June 12, 2004

On Assault Weapons

I note in passing, this diatribe against the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban.

If I were president, I would have the language amended to conform with our own military's assessment of the lethality of the weapons against regular troops if deployed by militias. I think that by now in our Iraqi occupation, we know what's dangerous and what's not. Yes we should keep assault weapons out of the hands of the civilian population.

Gun control is impossible, but it's a good idea. Doesn't the failure to find WMDs prove that? It does to me.

As far as I'm concerned with regard to the right to bear and keep arms for a well-regulated militia, the contingency is fully accounted for by the National Guard and Reserves. If we're going to have a Civil War in this nation, there will be plenty brothers and cousins on the wrong side of the fence with access to National Guard Armories, and plenty of black market trade to supply any American rebellions. There is absolutely no need for citizens to defend themselves from their own government which needs Constitutional protection. Demanding that concession is like requesting unfettered access to 'protest zones'. The Constitution in that regard is a clue, not a guarantee.

The suppression of gun crime is a different matter altogether. I have few ideas on that matter which go beyond the thinking given to any night's episode of 'The Shield'. Street gangs do enough damage with knives and drugs. We're back to the axiom that it's not the gun, it's the sick mind. True.

Just in case you're wondering, I love battlefield sims, cloak and dagger work and all that stuff. Had I a bit more disposable income, I might have become something of a paintball warrior in my youth. I've fired a real gun and I wouldn't mind owning one for the fun of target shooting. But I also hate revolution and I think a lot of militant blowhards are not only full of caca but one eighth as lethal as they think they are. Suppress 'em.

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Red Blue Myth

John Tierney throws a well needed wrench in the Red vs Blue debate. Nota bene:

If you've been following the election coverage, you know how angry you're supposed to be. This has been called the Armageddon election in the 50-50 nation, a civil war between the Blue and the Red states, a clash between churchgoers and secularists hopelessly separated by a values chasm and a culture gap.

But do Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens? Have Americans really changed so much since the day when a candidate with Ronald Reagan's soothing message could carry 49 of 50 states?

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

And this in particular:

"The two big surprises in our research," Professor DiMaggio said, "were the increasing agreement between churchgoing evangelicals and mainline Protestants, even on abortion, and the lack of increasing polarization between African-Americans and whites. Evangelicals have become less doctrinaire and more liberal on issues like gender roles. African-Americans are showing more diversity in straying from the liberal line on issues like government programs that assist minorities."

I thought I'd just pass that along without comment.

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June 11, 2004

Lynette Boggs McDonald

Lynette Boggs McDonald narrowly missed being the first black woman elected to the Congress on the Republican ticket. The man who told me about this practically had tears in his eyes about the missed opportunity. I feel him. She appears to be a sterling public servant, and please note her sorority affiliation. Bam!

Lynette Boggs McDonald was appointed by Governor Kenny Guinn to be the commissioner for District F, effective April 20, 2004. She replaces Mark James, whose resignation was effective April 2.

McDonald served on the Las Vegas City Council from 1999 until her appointment on the county commission. She was the first woman to lead a city council ward in the history of the city of Las Vegas, receiving 70 percent of the vote in Ward 2 during the 2001 election. From 1994 to 1997, she served as assistant city manager for the city of Las Vegas.

McDonald spent her childhood on American Army bases in Germany and Italy and has lived in Las Vegas for the last 13 years. She is a business graduate of the University of Notre Dame, attended the University of Oregon Graduate School of Journalism and received a master's in Public Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

She is married to Steven D. McDonald, J.D., and has a son.

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Peer Recognition

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A Word on Ray

My sister sung with Ray Charles. She was one of the Uh Huh girls of the Pepsi commercials. Well, not one of the models who did the commercials, but one of the real singers who did the voice over. She also toured with him various places here and around the world back in those days.

What she told me was that Ray Charles was a musical perfectionist, and when he was on stage giving a performance he was one man, but during rehearsals and recordings he was somebody else. Certainly a stage personna is going to be dfferent from the real man, but it's something I never really thought of when it came to Ray.

Ray Charles had a staggering work ethic, and brooked no BS when it came to the music. If you can imagine that I've been tough on hiphop, try to think what this blind black international superstar composer would be like. I recall hearing that he had absolutely no tolerance for people who couldn't read music. Sometimes he would, depending on the room, decide to perform a song in another key and anyone who couldn't hack the transformation got kicked to the curb. He was a tough old dog.

I've never been a fan of his music, but there was no escaping it. He was a man who got his due, and yet somehow didn't. All people wanted to hear were the same old songs. Georgia, America the Beautiful, Hit the Road Jack. How that must have worn on his nerves. But he delivered. Those songs are Ray Charles, and really nobody else can do them. I do remember when he played America the Beautiful for Ronald Reagan. That song was never the same.

Ray was another man who at some point in his career lived near 'The Dons'. We used to drive by and point out his house. Ray Charles lives there, we'd say. Of course we'd never see him. Ray, we only knew the half.

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Mike Ruppert is at it again. I had almost forgot about this ex-LAPD officer who shouted down DCI Deutch when he came to Los Angeles' First AME Church to try and explain the CIA-Crack connection. This time Ruppert sees devilish doings in the resignation of Tenet having to do with the Plame investigation. His angle? It's part of a setup by the CIA to take W down.

If you have nothing better to do than stew in Ruppert's juices, take a peek. Of course there's more than a grain of truth. But who can tell which through his breathlessness?

For the record, I think Ruppert's not a loony, but he'll never get dignified. He's a muckraker whom any day might find himself in a politically engineered character assassination. In other words, he's pissed off the powers that be, and for that he has earned the title of lone wacko, whether or not he deserves it. He has been deep enough undercover in joint LAPD / intelligence community activities to understand how twisted our tactics can get, but he's betrayed the colors. He's always looking over his shoulder, poor blighter.

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June 10, 2004

CCR South Central

The South Central chapter of the California College of Republicans had its monthly meeting this evening. The two hours flew by. I am so jazzed about the opportunity these guys are offering that I didn't even mind much that the Lakers got smashed.

We got off to a rousing start over the issue of the County Seal. Several of the people in attendance had been to the hearing the other day. I don't have a great deal to compare this with, but the passion over this issue is a real hornet's nest. I just wrote that this is a stupid fight, but I think it's a lot bigger than I imagined. There was plenty of ACLU bashing going on, and while I agree that this was a dumb move by the ACLU, sometimes they are right. But I wasn't about to speak up for them tonight. Mike Antonovich, it is rumored, will be trying to put the question up to the public. Republicans are going to get a petition going. This is going to be a litmus issue and I suspect that Yvonne Burke, Gloria Molina and Zev are going to be regretting their intemperate characterizations of the defenders of the cross. Molina says she's willing to go down for this. Good.

There was a touching presentation on Reagan by Jay Master, the man who created in 1981 the biggest political club on Cal Berkeley's campus - a Republican club. His experience reminds us that impossible odds can be defied.

There was much to comment about in this, the first of my meetings with the CCR, but what impresses me the most was the enthusiasm and sense of serious mission that all the folks in the room had. Men and women, young and old, black, white, latino and asian. Everyone had their individual connections and people wanted to know more people, get connected and meet up.

There was a palpable collective concern about Republicans willingness and ability to 'march down Crenshaw', but one of the the black old timers in the room reminded us that's exactly what George Deukmejian did and it wasn't too difficult. This same gent reminded us that he had run for office and managed to get over 50,000 votes with only $1,500 in campaign funds.

The manager for the Bush campaign for the Valley was there and we spoke for a short time. He told me of a candidate from Las Vegas who narrowly missed becoming the first black female Republican to be elected to Congress. His hunger for candidates was palpable.

I can't help but notice, from my own perspective, how similar this desire for African American participation is to other experiences. I'm telling you now, from my own eyeballs, that it's genuine. I've been in rooms full of fanatics before and I know what it's like to have a scary kind of feeling in your gut when you really don't want people around you to succeed. I didn't expect for a minute that it would be that way and it certainly wasn't, and I can't say that I was surprised by the enthusiasm. Yet it felt very oddly like a tremendous secret, and like a new adventure.

In many ways it reminded me of my first days with NSBE. In college, blacks in engineering along with the business majors were often the butt of jokes. There were always those who mocked our ambition to work in Corporate America. But we did what we set out to do, and there are still plenty of people who don't know NSBE, and cannot imagine the kind of successes it has delivered.

What excites me most, of course, is the machine. I'm in on the ground floor of Republican inroads to West LA and LA County which is dominated by Democrats. There's nothing but opportunity ahead.

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You See This?

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A PhD in Mortal Kombat

(full reprint)
A PhD in Mortal Kombat
By Mary McNamara
Times Staff Writer

June 6, 2004

A pioneering USC group tries to get into the heads of players to learn if the pastime harms or can help.

Ever since they were children, Steve Choi, Ethan Levy and Elaine Chan have been told by people who never met them that the great passion of their lives, the thing that captivated and moved them, was the enemy of intellect, emotionally damaging and quite possibly the end of civilization as we know it.

Choi, Levy and Chan are gamers. That is, they play video games with serious devotion and intensity. They are also students at the University of Southern California — Choi and Levy, both 22, are entering their senior year, and Chan, 21, is working on her PhD. But far from merely overcoming their digital predilections to succeed in college, these three and others like them are using their knowledge of games like Mortal Kombat and the Sims to further their education. As members of USC's Computer Games project, they are the local vanguard of a new academic discipline: video game scholarship.

Choi recalls that his mother gave him a computer when he was 8 because she felt computer science was the career path of the future; she was, however, less then thrilled when her son began spending much of his on-screen time playing games.

"All our lives we've heard how terrible it is," Choi says. "I wanted to offer the other side of the question."

Created through the Annenberg School for Communication, the Annenberg Studies on Computer Games is a multidisciplinary, multigenerational, multilingual research group dedicated to the study of computer games. The year-old group is one of several game-related projects springing up at universities around the country. MIT, Stanford, the University of Michigan and Northwestern University have various projects researching different aspects of interactive media. But USC's computer games project is probably the largest and most diverse collection of professors and students studying the vast yet mysterious world of video games. The research at USC focuses on the gamer rather than game design or development, and much of what they are doing is groundbreaking.

The project is the creation of Peter Vorderer, who heads the school's entertainment studies program, and Ute Ritterfeld, a German research associate professor with a background in health sciences and psychology. "We are trying to find out not only what is bad but what is good," Ritterfeld says. "Every new technology is met with fear and criticism. When picture books first came out, people said they would ruin children's imaginations; with radio it was the same; movies, television the same. We are trying to find out what is real and what is just fear."

After years of snubbing video games as a phenomenon not worth researching, scholars are now frantically attempting to catch up with an interactive media industry that is increasingly prevalent, seemingly permanent and still so new that the people developing it are the ones who are using it.

Ritterfeld says the topic itself is polarizing. "The nongamers consistently criticize the games, the gamers defend them. They honestly can't imagine any harm in them. What's really needed is more research."

Chan knows what true gamers face — she spent one summer doing nothing but playing the online role-playing games she favors. Over the years, though, she has learned to keep her gaming habits to herself. "Whenever I mention that I'm sort of obsessed with video games everyone is shocked and horrified and asks, 'Well, how did you make it to USC?' " she says. "Even in the computer group," she adds with a laugh.

The 20-person USC group is an international lot, including members from Germany, China, Ukraine, India and Korea as well as all over the U.S. In the past years, it's developed or launched studies into areas as diverse as the effect of violent games on brain activity, the motivation of gamers, the benefits of interactive learning, and the role of narrative and character development in the games themselves.

While two of the studies will focus on the hot-button issue of violence, most are geared toward discovering what psychological needs the games fill and what role they can have in education and mass audience entertainment.

In one study planned for this summer, researchers will test the conventional wisdom that interactive learning is more productive than rote. "Everyone assumes children will learn more if they are playing a game," Ritterfeld says. "But we do not know that because it has never been tested."

Vorderer, who has edited several books on the psychology of entertainment, is already compiling a book about gaming, which he believes is changing not just the industry but the definition of entertainment.

"When we started, we thought, 'Well, games are cool and under-researched so this will be a good area,' " Vorderer said. "But the more work we do, it is so striking how everything is connected to games. The military, the movies, education, everyone is doing games."


Here is what is known about computer games: They are the fastest-growing area of the entertainment market; last year, when games sales reached $11.4 billion, which surpassed U.S. box office figures, studios all over town began opening or gearing up their interactive divisions. The median age of gamers has risen to 27, and almost half are women. Men prefer violent, combat-heavy games, women are more into role-playing. The Sims, in which players create virtual families and homes and lives, is the most popular computer game of all time with 6.3 million units sold.

Here is what is not known about computer games: Why people play them often with a dedication that borders on obsession. What effect the violence in the games has on the brain activity of the players. If gaming is a social or antisocial activity. If computer games can be more effective as learning tools than other educational games. How gaming is changing the entertainment industry and, more broadly, the cultural landscape.

Traditionalists may shudder at the thought, but it is now possible to minor in computer games at some American universities, including USC, where courses in game design and development are offered through engineering or computer science departments. Earlier this year, Redwood City-based Electronic Arts, one of the largest game developers in the country, gave the USC Cinema-Television school $8 million to help set up, among other things, an interactive entertainment design program.

But academics in the humanities are traditionally more interested in impact and motivation than design. There are some firmly held opinions about people who play video games, from the idea that violent games somehow contribute to school shooting tragedies — after the Columbine High School massacre, the Federal Trade Commission pressured the video game industry to enforce ratings to keep violent games out of the hands of kids — to the general fear that the game-happy Gen X, Y and Z will grow up with brains turned to mush and thumbs morphed into club-like digits by Game Boy.

Yet little empirical analysis has been done on anything having to do with gaming. Video game companies regularly conduct research, but most of it is simple focus group reactions to games near completion. The relatively small number of academic studies that exist focus almost exclusively on violence, the most recent linking aggressive behavior during play to aggressive tendencies after play. But thus far the research has been done mainly through surveys set up along lines similar to television research. Which, Vorderer says, is not necessarily applicable.

"This is a completely different medium," he says. "It is proactive rather than passive, so it fills different needs, uses different portions of the brain."

One of the first studies Ritterfeld and colleague René Weber initiated involved doing MRI brain scans on 14 gamers while they played Atari's Tactical Ops. (Because the study was conducted by the neuroscience department at the University of Tübingen in Germany, Ritterfeld had to send for the American version of the game, the German version being markedly less violent.)

The brain impulses of the participants, all young men, were recorded for an hour, a length of time unheard of in MRI research. Typically, Weber says, people who are not being tested for a life-threatening disease can withstand the loud and claustrophobic MRI machine for a maximum of about 20 minutes. But the gamers, who were asked at regular intervals if they would like to stop, were so focused on the game that they not only made it through the requested hour but almost to a person agreed to do another hour for comparison purposes.

"It was just amazing," says Weber, who, as the group's methodologist, has been analyzing the data by comparing, in 24-second intervals, exactly what was on the computer screen with what was going on in the participants' brains. "It was like they were unaware of anything but the game."

Ritterfeld and Weber will compile their findings this summer and present them at the National Communication Assn. conference in Chicago in November. Though it's too early to draw definite conclusions, Weber says he thinks "we can see aggression-like brain activity when they play." One hypothesis, Ritterfeld says, is that some players are just trying to play the game well, while others enjoy the violence.

Vorderer and some of his PhD students are launching another study gauging players' reactions to different scenarios — civilians versus soldiers, women versus men, animals and inanimate objects versus people, even young people versus adults (although he was not able to create targets that were children. "We had to make them look 18 or older," he said.).

About 70% of video games contain violence. And although this year's crop includes a larger number of women as protagonists and victims, the figures in most games are men in their 20s, and these, Vorderer says, appear to be the most expendable, at least in the gamer philosophy. "But that could just be because that is all there are, young men to shoot at," he says. "We want to see if changing the target sensitizes the players in any way."


Vorderer and Ritterfeld, a married couple, came to USC in 2002, from Germany. Experimental researchers in all areas of the media, they had familiarity with video games, but like many others they were inclined toward criticism of the violence and what they considered mind-numbing repetition. Only one of the other seven professors in the group had played computer games except as a form of research. But when they began mentioning the group in undergraduate classes, gamers started introducing themselves, wanting to know what was going on. The group asked them to share their experiences, and the students were happy to do so. Which was how Levy and Choi got involved. They help design and conduct the studies, but they also serve as reality checks and translators for the academics, many of whom came of age pre-Pac-Man.

Levy says he's been playing since he was a conscious human being — his first game experience he thinks happened when he was 3 — and he considers himself an advocate for his generation.

"I felt like I had a spot as an expert in that I was someone who had actually played the games," Levy says. "There's not enough respect shown by academics toward games except this group and some design classes. Academics view it as a children-designated industry, but that's not true. Gamers are playing for life now."

Levy, who has also worked for the last year and a half as a game designer at Pandemic Studios in Westwood, says he is tired of arguing with people who have never even played a video game.

"Yes, it's violent," he says. "But football is violent and no one has a problem enrolling kids in Pee Wee league."

At a meeting this spring, Levy and Choi found themselves explaining various aspects of the Sims to several of the faculty who had considered the game in theoretical terms. The Sims, which has a spinoff, Urbz, due out soon, crosses gender lines. This summer and next year, Choi will be working on a survey of Sims players, looking at the game from the players' point of view. But he already has a few ideas, based on personal experience. "Girls play Sims to play house and explore relationships," he says. "Guys play it to play God. Control."

Although the undergraduate students involved in the group are gamers, many of the graduate students are more interested in video games as extensions of research on child psychology or entertainment theory. Kate Pieper is interested in how shifts in technology affect learning and whether actual violence can be triggered by digital violence. "It's a whole new area, so little is actually known," she says when asked why she joined the group.

Chan, however, is in it for the games. "I'm interested in people," she says, "but it's always been about the game. My whole application [to Annenberg] was about studying games."

The Annenberg School provided the group's initial funding, but now its members are seeking financial backing for the studies they have begun, as well as new research, from a variety of academic and industry-related sources.

Vorderer and Ritterfeld note that when they proposed a panel on video games for the recent International Communication Assn. convention held in New Orleans, they were refused. So they decided to organize a breakfast. Within a few days, they had more people signing up for the breakfast than for most of the panel discussions.

"See," Vorderer said to Choi when he announced this at a recent meeting. "Now your parents will understand how important it was that you were playing games when they thought you should be studying."

Recent coverage of video games and the E3 convention in L.A. is at latimes.com/videogames.
Contact Mary McNamara at Calendar.letters@ latimes.com.

"We are the digital drummers of the technical ether, counteracting the inherent arrhythmia and harmonizing the fundamental discordance which is the wilderness West. As soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, mind to mind, I & I be warriors, our weapons lightning & the music of thunder."

jamal ali
copyright 18 march 1991

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed to the individual members of this list who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for criticism, comment, scholarship, non-profit research and educational purposes only without permission from the copyright owner(s) under the "fair use" provisions of the Federal copyright laws. It may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner(s), except for "fair use."

As always, utilize your discretion & wisdom in reviewing & using information, based upon their source and sensibility.

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June 09, 2004

There's Always a Bigger Fish

Today I had an extraordinary conversation with somebody who used to be rich. He was the first black somebody to buy property in a snooty neighborhood. He got heavily involved in local politics in this snooty city over such issues and got in trouble with the city fathers.

Once upon a time when all we had was Eddie Murphy movies, there were all sorts of dramatizations about what happens to blackfolks who piss off the wrong whitefolks. These days we pretend that everything is cool, and it's true to the extent that for most of us below the glass ceiling, it is. But what happens when a black multimillionaire pisses off several white multi-multi-millionaires. Well, if this brother's story is to be believed, it aint much different from Rodney King.

I exaggerate slightly. But let me ask you this. What would you do if you had a choice of being beat down like Rodney or sued for $15 million (that you actually have?). Well it turns out that this is what happened to homeboy; he faced cops that were, how shall we say, connected to a spiteful district attorney. They lied and it cost him more money than most of us make in a lifetime.

At every level of society, we all have our struggles. There is nothing gained that cannot be lost and there is no immunity from predators. You just bump up a class to where the sharks have platinum teeth.

Now in case I'm sounding alarmist, understand that this happened quite a while ago and he has recovered nicely, thank you. But the story served to remind me that petty vindictive bullies are at all levels of society, and there are a great number of creative ways to destroy people, even wealthy people.

Watch your back and remember Cobb's Rule #7.

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Not long ago I was talking about rhetorical patronage. Here's an example of the kind of reaction to a failure to get rhetorical patronage.

"Politically, African-Americans can hardly get past that he started his campaign in Philadelphia, Miss.," said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), referring to the area where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. "It was such a strong statement that the KKK endorsed him on the same day."

"You can't forget that," Jackson added.

Well, he's right. You can't forget it if you never knew it. Jackson's failed Rainbow Coalition still stakes its claim over the memories of African Americans, and here he's claiming to represent us by saying we never got over Reagan vis a vis this. Granted, I wasn't paying attention to Reagan at the time, I supported Anderson. But I also wasn't out looking for ways to be offended, much less trying to establish that large swaths of African Americans are offended in retrospect.

Somebody send the Rev a Hallmark card and a box of tissue.

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June 08, 2004

Republican Antipathy to Civil Rights

In domestic American political talk, it is a token of faith that the GOP is hostile to non-whites and against Civil Rights in general. There are many reasons for this talk, but I won't go into them at length. Most of them focus on the 'Southern Strategy' and I want to get a little bit closer to that logic.

I can't recall when I first heard about Glenn Loury, but it was probably back in the early 80s when he was cited as one of the first black neocons. I didn't pay much attention to, nor was I familiar with his work, but I did know that he was a member of the Heritage Foundation. He famously quit that organization upon the publication of Dinesh DSouza's 'The End of Racism' a book with with Loury has serious questions along with many other Americans. In particular it was DSousa's failure to examine the history of the Republicans' race baiting tactics in the South that angered Loury. The details of this controversy are somewhere.

In my own anti-racist activism it was precisely this kind of disrespect from both parties that I sought to highlight. My own Race Man's Home Companion stands as an attempt to dig below the politics of identity to the common values of Americans of all races who would, properly informed, act in concert to remove racism from American politics. I believe I found a solution but it is a situation many consider not to be a problem. In light of that, I have begun to think of American politics in terms of the amount of racism inherent in its states of equilibrium. There is a certain amount of lip service required of both parties which pacifies the majority of Americans. It is only when events overtake the casual discussions of race that the party figures (and chatting classes) feel motivated to debate with some force.

It is because I recognize those tipping points that I feel that both parties must be racially integrated. Whether or not people believe it, Loury's resignation represented a stinging reproach to conservatives. After all, his academic credentials far outstrip those of the young D'Souza, and if after all you need credibility on economic issues a Loury is worth several D'Souzas. Be that as it may, politics is politics and that means sentiment often trumps reason. But when it does and policy is made the arguments on both sides are well worth examining.

It was in the spirit of tipping points and political argument that I have decided to examine the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I will refer to it in this light as HR7152 or 7152 (which is, if you ask me, a very l33t tag). It is when you begin talking about HR7152 that you must inevitably confront the work of Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Republican who famously said that Civil Rights guarantees was 'an idea whose time had come'.

Joining the Republican party has been a salutory experience for me because it has forced me to face doubt, cynicism and hostility. And in meeting those critics I have refined my understanding of my own ideas as well as the merit of those opposing mine. One of the arguments I have found particularly useful in countering much kneejerk opposition is the acknowledgement of bipartisanship. If Republicans were all racist, why would they ever vote for things that benefitted blacks. I can already hear "they don't". But instead of going into all of the other bills which have become law that benefit African Americans I think the point is best made by the granddaddy HR7152. To that end I have established as a permanent part of my website, artifacts of that historic Congressional session.

At the Free Republic, I found these words a challenge to conventional wisdom. There was just enough information to get me started.

Mindful of how Democrat opposition had forced the Republicans to weaken their 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts, President Johnson warned Democrats in Congress that this time it was all or nothing. To ensure support from Republicans, he had to promise them that he would not accept any weakening of the bill and also that he would publicly credit our Party for its role in securing congressional approval. Johnson played no direct role in the legislative fight, so that it would not be perceived as a partisan struggle. There was no doubt that the House of Representatives would pass the bill.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Everett Dirksen had little trouble rounding up the votes of most Republicans, and former presidential candidate Richard Nixon also lobbied hard for the bill. Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield and Senator Hubert Humphrey led the Democrat drive for passage, while the chief opponents were Democrat Senators Sam Ervin, of later Watergate fame, Albert Gore Sr., and Robert Byrd. Senator Byrd, a former Klansman whom Democrats still call "the conscience of the Senate", filibustered against the civil rights bill for fourteen straight hours before the final vote.

The House of Representatives passed the bill by 289 to 124, a vote in which 80% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats voted “yes”.

The Senate vote was 73 to 27, with 21 Democrats and only 6 Republicans voting “no”.

Check out the site. I'll continue with more later.

Posted by mbowen at 04:39 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Boot to the Head

The other day, I was listening to some old comedy routines. One of them is entitled 'Boot to the Head', in which a mystical martial arts instructor teaches urban wise-asses a lesson in patience. One of the urchins, challenging the ancient Chinese secrets of the master quotes the character Mel from the old TV show Alice. For his insolence he gets a boot to the head. This illustrates a theme in my writing, or something that should be a theme in my writing, which is the sustainability of black culture.

Simply stated, one hundred years from now, people will forget Nelly, but they will still be playing Thelonius Monk. In the words of Stanley Crouch, there is some music which seeks to 'elevate with elegance', and then there is music to shake your ass to. Seeing as men and women will always have reason to shake their asses, it won't really matter if it's Nelly or someone who has yet to be born, rise to pop stardom and then fall into obscurity. The asses will be shook, the tune forgotten. But for those cultural productions which are part and parcel of the will to reach excellence and perfection, for those which sustain the spirit, the memories will be strong.

Yet one could argue that the baser and more vulgar instincts will also be with us forever and arts appopriate to those should be remembered as well. Perhaps that is true, but as I look to culture in regards to the strength of a nation, there are clearly things that build us up and those that tear us down. There is nothing I find redeeming in such bling hiphop as Nelly's, no matter how clever and artful he may be. We should remember that our churches are hundreds of years old, and songs of faith are known by heart and will be sung through generations. Try singing "Its Getting Hot in Here" in church. You won't be there long.

This underscores my point. Black culture which is sustainable is so because it is superior. Those things which lead in the paths of righteousness will be clung to and revered. They give us strength to carry on, they bring us through the pain, they remind us of our value. These are the things that deserve to be called black culture. But the cult of the sagging pants, aping the ways of the jailhouse, do not deserve to be called black, no matter how many African Americans are living that nightmare. We are not sustained by the life on the inside. That is the way of death.

I hold out a great deal of hope that America can and will sustain a variety of classes. We already do with much success. And in that context there will always be some contest of authenticity over which whose preferences will mark African American culture. It might be the sonservative suburban black of Atlanta's Cascade Road. It might be the urban blue collar of Detroit's Belle Isle picnicers. It might be the hip cool mix of Brooklyn's bohos. America will help those who help themselves. But it cannot and will not be the culture of hate, despair, thuggery, and other social dysfunctions that are often called 'black' today.

There are many legitimate reasons why African Americans suffer in this nation. We are right to give our aid and comfort to those who have fallen off track. But we cannot afford the luxury of cosigning with those who settle for diminished and degenerate expectations of themselves. That is not a black thing. It is a thing of despair. Chuck D said it many years ago "You're headed for self-destruction". And we who have enough family to know ourselves should wave those people goodbye and not let them appropriate black culture. Let our warning be clear.

There will come days, when we are called to instruct, that we will be challenged by our students. They will try to take shortcuts and they will bring all types of ghetto philosophy to bear. Remember what your mother said when you got fresh. "Who do you think you're talking to? I'm not one of your little friends."

Boot to the head.

Posted by mbowen at 10:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Allawi Speaks

5_6_2004_Allawi.jpgThe carping haters are going to have to shut their mouths for a while. They'll come up with new excuses, of course. In the meantime, the Iyad Allawi is saying things like:

"In conclusion I would like to remember our martyrs who have fallen for freedom, for honour and for Iraq, and in the battle for the liberation of Iraq."

That means the coalition. He also reserved some special passion against the militias, bringing to mind GWBush's speech singling out Al Sadr as a criminal.

“These cowardly terrorist acts have delayed and will delay the return of normal life and destroy the national economy and the souls of the people and their daily bread.”

I'm looking forward to hearing an Iraqi leader as a credible ally. I expect the haters won't be shushed long, but perhaps they'll turn off Al-Jazeera for a minute.

Posted by mbowen at 10:11 AM | TrackBack

Bluehats & The Grid

One of the harsh lessons of Iraq is that it is now a bit more difficult to expect a proper empire. Anti-Americanism is a lot easier to spread than one might have previously expected.

The Left pretends that they have solutions and they are half right, if Sally Struthers is any example. But Americans on the whole I think share a sense of responsibility for victims of tyranny abroad. We engage philanthropically in humanitarian relief and aid. Still I have a strong sense that our efforts would be so much more meaningful were we able to take ourselves to those remote places and live among the people we seek to help.

On the international grid, we could support a distributed empire. Everyplace that is FedExable, GSMable and ATMable could be a potential outpost for the largesse of the West. And why not? Do we not have Iraqis in America who repatriated? I wonder why it is we haven't heard back from them on NPR? Perhaps they are quite satisfied with the American engagement and therefore don't square with the program directors sense of outrage at Bush's 'aggression'. That aside, we do have Americans of every persuasion who have lived here in the nation that functions well. Who better to spread love, joy and endless commodities?

But there is the matter of security. Even before the sums of cash from Western investment assists the new third world economies of choice, there must be a stable government. And it is is in this shadowy time period that we find ourselves in Iraq. After the ceasefire and disarmament of militias and before the national army is in place. This is the time, under optimistic circumstances, that Americans somewhat less hardy than Halliburton roughnecks, Red Cross volunteers and Wackenhut mercenaries might sieze the opportunity to ply their trades in countries like Iraq.

Imagine what an American plumber could do in a land needing plumbing where the per capita income is $500 a year. Could he purchase a compound and ramp up a business? Could he stay on the international grid and with a translator demonstrate what know-how he learned in the good old USA? It seems to me that the answer is yes, provided there was security.

I don't know how to judge the effectiveness of the UN Development Program, whose job this is supposed to be. But we have reason to believe that it is full of corruption given what we've seen on the Oil For Food program. That's a shame. But sooner or later the edge of the Global Grid is going to encroach on every habitable part of the world and Americans are going to be there, not only just watching on television or following blogs.

This is the new empire; get used to it. What remains to be seen is why we use the UN at all and if they can be trusted with security.

Posted by mbowen at 09:41 AM | TrackBack

Visualize Industrial Collapse

Gerard published this beauty. It embodies so much about what unnerves me about lefties, which is their spiteful disregard for the world they refuse to understand. Considering that this heap seems to be in a junkyard, it probably wasn't difficult for its driver to visualize industrial collapse. And like a good socialist, he surely believed that nobody should drive a factory fresh car so long as he lived in his lumbering billboard.

I just keep wondering about the smell on the inside of that thing. Some combination of weed, patchoulli, sweat and dog.

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June 07, 2004

'Ist Bombs' to Swallow

There are three words that dainty and sophisticated folks are able to use which putatively disable practically every movement since the Stone Age. You've heard them. They are the unholy trinity of evil ascribed to everyone from Thomas Jefferson on down. Racism. Classism. Sexism.

I would include Colonialism, but that's just a kind of clumping of the other three. Colonialism, in the newspeak is predicated on the arrogance of rich, white men who want to advance upon and possess the bodies, minds and spirits of the poor, the brown and the female. Or so I hear all the time.

This morning Jelani Cobb comments on Cos again over in Africana. His is an interesting piece that makes the last minute concession to the universality of uppityness. It would have been a damn sight better had he thrown in some other characters besides Jerry Springer. After all, not everyone white got cleaned up at the same time. Some of them needed Christ, others of them needed to get off Booze. There have been all kinds of temperance movements in American history and a decent comparison of the many could have given us access to a bit more literature from which to measure the effectiveness of Cosby's career. Instead all we get is the narrow context.

From the Old School perspective, as should be clear by now, Cosby was and is correct. But if the bomb of Classism is to be thrown at his feet, the question is whether it should be absorbed, deflected or disarmed. Me personally, I'm ready to swallow the Classist bomb as part of a daily meal. By now it causes little indigestion. But to do so begs the question of what uplift is all about. I take a simple approach, and say that integration is sufficient to give us the view of the benefits of American life. After that, pursue happiness.

I am as proud of the Civil Rights Movement as anyone. But despite the fact that every playing field hasn't been pressed flat, there are still leg muscles to develop and sprinting to be done. Those of us who are lucky enough (The harder you prepare, the luckier you get) to have legs which can help us bound hurdles (if not tall buildings) should not be ashamed of our progress nor our attitude towards it. But is it inevitable that black progress will entail use of the 'master tools' which brand their users Racist, Sexist & Classist? Well that's the message implied in criticisms of Cosby and of most movements outside of the aegis of the black left.

But specifically to Classist. Yeah, we're Classist. We participate in a system that treats different people different ways. But the very mobility of African Americans demonstrates that the system is open, and whether or not you believe that all blacks who move up a class are tokens or not, their existence cannot be denied. African Americans are graduating from highschool in astounding numbers as compared with 50 years ago, and I take that as absolute proof. Those who crab over black success in the American system need to think more carefully about what they suggest if only because they make fools of themselves by not recognizing those blacks who have passed the bars. Black highschool graduates are not an insignificant minority. We are the majority. And yet to take the Classist criticism to its logical conclusion, there is something wrong with those who have a highschool diploma when they act superior to those without. But what is the left saying about Cosby? He's wrong because the highschool dropout rate is not 50% among all blacks. It's clearly not, we're all doing better. So it is insulting to those blacks who are not dysfunctional.

Let me repeat that in bold: Cosby is insulting to those blacks who are not dysfunctional. So to dismiss Cos you have to assert that most blackfolks are actually possessed of some class mobility - that we're doing better than all that. Well of course we are. But who considers black highschool graduates uppity? Nobody, which is as I said, evidence of the fact that blackfolks are making their own legs work no matter what the angle of the playing field. This is the exact same recognition which will come in every aspect of black life by the ethnic champions. But they need (estimated) numbers not principles.

For those of us who stand on principle and have our uppity aims, we are certain to be targeted with the Classist bomb. Eat it with pride. It's an acquired taste, but you'll eventually find yourself in broad African American company. Those ethnic champions will sing your praises eventually, in the abstract of course. They don't know you, just the statistics.

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Welcoming Seal

The ACLU is an example of an organization that is so broadminded that it has become flatheaded. What the hell is up with these people? Too much time on their hands, I suspect.

What's wrong with this picture? Why it has a cross on it. And some people might be offended by that? According to the ACLU the presence of the Christian icon makes the seal of the County of Los Angeles less welcoming. According to that logic, we might as well change the name of the city. Or why not rename Pico Boulevard to someone other than that outlaw Pio Pico? Or better yet, why not rename the ACLU because in this case they clearly don't have A CLUE.

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Full Spectrum Warrior: First Look

As combat sims go, I have to say that this is the most realistic I've played. I think it's going to have a serious hold on me for some time to come.

I've only gotten through the basic training of Full Spectrum Warrior, something that took me the better part of 2 hours, and I am very impressed. The first thing I notice about this is that it doesn't give you a whole lot of fancy weaponry. It gives you soldiers. What's so incredibly cool about FSW is that it's not cool.

I've played Ghost Recon, its follow up Island Thunder, Rainbow Six 3 but this one is by far the most realistic. Although Splinter Cell comes close, I'm more dependent on info over the squawk in this game than any other. Whereas in Metal Gear, it gets downright annoying talking to Otacon, I really look forward to hearing Charlie 32. Second only FoeHammer, Charlie 32 is the best voice to hear.

On the last part of the MOUT, I encounter the tank. Hey, I can call in support! Gnarly! So I light up the tank and the mortars start dropping and the whole damn place is shaking. I'm a whole block away and it's still scary. Brings it home.

Now that I've put in several hours in the actual game, I see exactly what the sniping at the game is all about. It's true that MOUT is so detailed and comprehensive that your team becomes practically invincible in the normal mode. I think I'm going to switch to tough mode before I complete the game. I expected to find a whole lot more civilians and snipers. I also expected that I would have to clear buildings, but that would have necessitated more of the Ghost Recon type maneuvers. Clearly the answer is to have swappable control modes - this is something nicely doable as Splinter Cell demonstrates in the Live vs Single modes.

All in all a very impressive game for it's great use of cover and street tactics. It's extraordinary in that it makes you care for wounded. The dialog is excellent, probably the best I've heard in any game. Enemy AI borders on the retarded - I kept wondering if there would be any rearguard action and I got in the habit of leaving by Bravo team to scope out the rear. But I never got outflanked, out manned or out maneuvered. I never had to use individual skills pointing a team in different directions for Fog of War stuff. (That was the scary part during MOUT, I felt for sure things would get very hairy).

This is a game that has excellent potential for a sequel. The ideas expressed in it are exceptional, and I hope they are copied in other combat sims.

Posted by mbowen at 09:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Couch Potato

I spent a lot of time reclining this weekend. Instead of being interactive, I settled for the gut-out hands in the pants slouch. All I needed was stale pizza, flat beer and flies and it would have been American Gothic a la Homer Simpson. Still, there's something to be said for an America that affords so much retarded relaxation. A full fridge and paid bills makes one ready for entertainment.

Harry Potter
Like most parents, I enjoy the idea of a fascinating and popular series about kids meeting the challenges of school. So it was a pleasure to say "We're going to see Harry Potter" and have the kids yelp with delight. We got great seats in a theatre 3/4 full Sunday afternoon.

So what happened to Pavarti Patil and Lee Jordan? More than ever this flick focused on the three protagonists, and brought forth a bunch of subtle and clever touches illuminating Hogwarts. Hagrid's hovel is more unforgettable than ever now, as is the Whomping Willow. Nice job, full of some genuine frights and adult speed plot revelation in the Shrieking Shack. Finally Malfoy is revealed to be a complete ass clown with almost no power whatsoever over Harry. A fine job overall.

What an embarassment. If Malone thinks he's going to get a ring playing like that, what 5 points a game, he must be smoking. That had to be the least impressive game I've seen in a long time. Shaq is not what I watch basketball for. I suppose I should give props to Detroit for shutting the Lakers down, but the whole thing looked sloppy. I don't think I've seen so many kickballs and jumpballs.

OK it had me going for a while. Was Tony going to give Christopher a knock upside the head? But it turns out that Christopher is the only true believer left, and it was clear in their clench that Tony recognized this. So next season he should get more action. The question is did he really thing Adrianna was going to do 5 years for him or is he just lying to himself. He's off the booze and clear. Wow. So Brooklyn opens up and the Feds are back. That was truly a surprise. Buscemi's out. We saw that one coming. Domestic tranquility is being restored to the Soprano household, which will start in new digs for next season. I wonder who owns that real house in Jersey. Should go for big bucks...

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June 06, 2004


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June 05, 2004

The Death of the President

GW Bush is lawyering up for an investigation into L'Affaire Plame. If he is re-elected and winds up dirty, he'll be impeached. I'd vote for his impeachment if he proves dirty enough. I said it before, and I'll say it again, this was unforgiveable.

Let's get to the bottom of this rabbit hole, shall we?

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Nigritude Ultramarine

What is Nigritude Ultramarine? It doesn't mean anything, but it might prove useful for reasons I'm still unclear about. Anyway, Anil and Gerard did it, so I'm doing it too. Someday I'll understand.

Posted by mbowen at 07:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Ronald Reagan, more than any American seemed utterly invulnerable. He was the Teflon President. I was not one of those who fell under his spell but I do appreciate how he changed the nation.

Whenever I am inclined to think of Reagan in a positive light, which is better than half the time, I think of the days before him as cynical and defeatist. The image that comes to mind is that of the prototypical 70s action movie, especially those cheesy ones with bad guys on dirt bikes. 'Escape From New York' was a pre-Reagan movie. 'The Warriors' was a pre-Reagan movie. In the pre-Reagan days, there was nothing America could do right, our self-image was that of a place doomed to nuclear armageddon or polluted wasteland. Our future was Love Canal or the bombed out South Bronx or 1984.

But we have to think of the days after Reagan as that of a truly changed nation. One that looked into its soul and decided that it had a can-do attitude. That sometimes it took a little arrogance and a swift kick in the pants to get things done. That it was worth taking the risk and going with a gut reaction.

It took a long time for America to right itself, and while we are myth-making, it's probably reasonable for me to consider my own attitudes as somewhat typical of the times.

My political education began with reading the newspaper in class. In the 7th grade we learned of the President's disgrace. We read transcripts of the tapes. Nixon was what the presidency was all about. I tell you, these days I truly regret the kind of bullshit education I got in the 7th and 8th grade. I have to name her, Eileen Sweet, the kind of white liberal.. argh! Another time. Another time. But the damage was done to me personally, and that was the kind of world we lived in during the mid 70s.

My life's most embarassing moment came at hearing the news of the attempt on Reagan's life. I was working downtown LA at City National Bank onf 6th and Olive and my boss announced that somebody tried to shoot Reagan. I blurted out 'Did they get him?'. I didn't have any particular animosity towards Reagan. I just know I didn't vote for him. I voted for Anderson. Anderson made more sense to me. So the cynicism was still clinging to me. The System was wrong, it needed subversive heroes like Billy Jack or Bruce Lee because it was inherently corrupt.

Those years after the oil shocks and the energy crisis and the price freezes and the runaway inflation had the business world crazy. But I got into banking because I wanted to understand money. If I hadn't learned how to program computers in highschool, I would have become a loan officer and learned credit analysis. I had seen the bigshot bankers weild power over businessmen in the days that short term interest rates were over 16%. I remember how everyone watched the prime rate rise and fall as if their lives depended on it. So when Reagan presided over the recovery, I understood what a miracle had been accomplished.

By the time Reagan was up for re-election in 1984 our man Mondale was already a loser. I didn't hate America, but I hated the empty-headedness of the flag waving patriots. I didn't need to believe in America so much as my contemporaries seemed to, and in Reagan they had found a reason to be proud once again. I participated in the pride, and while in college those days I took a hard look at the Left was babbling about. At the time I was reading everything by Thomas Sowell that I could get my hands on. I was fascinated and entranced. I thought like a neocon and didn't mind the label. But I also could not resist the opportunity to work for the Rainbow Coalition. The conflict was clear, and yet both things seemed right. How could we keep on talking about Willie Horton if America's future was to be bright?

Still we seemed, in the early 80s still unsure of our strength. But I was always ready to give the government the benefit of the doubt. While many folks around me believed that everything Reagan said was a lie, I didn't see things that way. In fact conservatives emerging like Bill Bennett were downright inspiring. In my junior year, I was something nobody could quite put together. I loved Ayn Rand, Malcolm X, Wynton Marsalis, Run DMC, Henry Miller and William F. Buckley. Only now at this writing do I see that I liked people who came with the unflinching hardline. I was very attracted to people who said It's like that and that's the way it is. And that's the way the Reagan government was. 1984 came and went and the world hadn't ended.

My faith in the boastful hardline of Reagan broke with the 'war' in Grenada. But there can be no denying that this was a new kind of engagement. Going in, I supported it. When the LATimes reported that the purported 10,000 foot runway was not even close to that length, that was the first strike. When the weapons cache shown on television showed rusted old Russian rifles, that was the second strike. But when I learned that the Commerce Department had authorized American contractor to work on that runway, I was in a kind of shock. How could that be?

And yet what remained was the ascendance of the business community. Corporations were changing in the 80s from stodgy old boy clubs to dynamic new entities. The Reagan Era created and fed Peter Drucker, Tom Peters and Alvin Toffler. This bright new enthusiasm was the result of the Reagan economy, and while the Government might not be so trustworthy, the economy was lovely.

Ronald Reagan reinvented the future. He had the kind of attitude which was unreconciled with reality and yet it was what we all needed to hear. Yes he was a cowboy. He made people afraid that America might do something crazy. He reminded us that we could. He was ready to unleash the beast and he put everyone on notice that America was going to have its way in the world. That was his great gift. Things could be uncomplicated and good.

Whereas Carter created the disastrous B-1, one got the feeling that Reagan's military actually could begin bombing in five minutes. So when he stared down the Soviets through the SALT II, you could feel the relief. It was almost miraculous that he could play such hardball and win.

Reagan also reminded us quite painfully about government power and taught me a lesson. The lesson was that America is not the government and that even if you can't trust the government, you can trust America. That's the lesson I should have learned in 1974, but it took Iran-Contra to bring it home. There were three people in the Reagan Administration who retained my respect throughout. They were David Stockman, Bill Bennett and George P. Schultz. Schultz most of all. Watching these men perform amid the contradictions of Reagan proved to me that the System could function properly with the right people, that there reasons to believe even as one's faith was hobbled.

I viewed Iran Contra with some sophistication. And yet it stretched my credulity. During those same days I began to pay attention to world conflict. I learned of South Africa's engagement in Namibia. I came to terms with Schultz's insistence on Constructive Engagement. We went back and forth over Central America. I read an Amnesty report about the 'shiny kiddie bomblets' in Afghanistan - mines decorated with toys designed to cripple children. We scorned Khadaffi. We lived in fear of Beirut. We boycotted the Evil Empire's Olympic Games. We watched Maggie Thatcher and her Tories with our mouths open.

It just seemed impossible that America could be so right in the world with such a creature as Ronald Reagan as the leader, a man who laid wreathes at the wrong place at the wrong time. The man who seemed incapable of matching wits with Gorbachev, and yet produced victory in Reykjavik. He was the man who demanded and who got that wall torn down.

To me, Reagan was emblematic of the nation because he didn't get bogged down. He was loved because he gave a lot of people exactly what they wanted in a president. His was a kind of leadership that cared more about America than about his party. We watched people do for him because they wanted to do for America, and he had no problem serving up that role. He was genuinely inspiring and wore the suit well. He was frustrating and successful, enigmatic and plain. He was the right man at the right time.

Was he a shadow president? Perhaps. To my eyes, he demonstrated what presiding meant. He got other folks working. He had good instincts to get out front and set a direction. If there was dirty work involved like lying to the American public, he 'let other people do that.' He tested the limits of checks and balances and revived the idea of a powerful president. He revitalized the Anglo-American bond. He gave conservatives a new lease on life without pandering to the Religious Right. We'll be talking about him for a long time.

Posted by mbowen at 05:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

XBox Fantasy

The game world just gets better and better. This weekend I'm going to be immersed. Say bye bye family, daddy's going gaming. I've got four new titles to play with and it's going to rock.

This is a big surprise. I've only played a little bit but this is a really innovative game. It's one part Splinter Cell, one part Doom, one part Deus Ex. It's totally cool and confirms that Vin Diesel is going to be the next Bruce Willis. It's got the most fabulous use of shadows I've ever seen in a game. I'm going to have a lot of fun with this one. I thought the latest Hitman was too dark. This one seems to have struck the right balance.

MX Unleashed.
OK this one is for the kids, but I had to try it. Not bad. Not quite as engaging as Moto GP or Rallisport Challenge, but not bad.

Full Spectrum Warrior
I'm going to write a whole piece for this game. The greatest thing about it is that it's not cool.

Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow
I turned this one in much too soon. Forget Blockbuster, this is on Gamefly now, so I'll keep it until I finish all the levels. I just got to Paris and am still in the subway.

Posted by mbowen at 10:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bloody Peasant!

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Better than Israel

The latest figures show African American unemployment at 9.9% up .2 from last month. Where is that in world standards? Check it.

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Mixed But Unequal

Several months ago I missed an opportunity to exercise my public speaking skills. I was going to stand up at the local School Board meeting and invoke the spectre of Eminem. In fact, I was going to rap and drop a few curse words in. The reason? The school district was cutting back on music education.

A point that I'd like to emphasize over the next week has something to do with what happens when we allow people to fail. I think the principle stands for just about every relationship I can think of, and I find it to be a very powerful idea.

Aside from fuzzy notions of altruism, this point was slammed home to me a couple summers ago when I was the first casualty of an IT project meltdown. As a contractor, there's a sort of work called 'at will employment', which basically means you can quit at any time for any reason without giving notice. It also means they can fire you at any time for any reason without giving notice. The latter happened to me. I had a job on Friday, I was told over the weekend not to go back to work. I practically had to threaten to call the police in order to get my property from the office.

The lesson I took from this is Cobb's Rule #7. An enemy is someone who doesn't mind if you fail. There are all sorts of ways to qualify that assertion, but I leave it plain. You'll find it comes in handy if you ever find yourself wondering how you're going to pay the rent while surrounded by smiling faces.

What has this got to do with music lessons for elementary school kids or any larger examples? Here's the bug for your mind. The next time you hear a car with a booming system playing offensive lyrics you should get mad. You probably already do. The more refined your tastes are the more likely you are to be offended. Not every booming system spews rot, but you know it when you hear it. But you shouldn't be too mad at the poor knucklehead who actually believes Biggie Smalls to be a role model. Some of your anger should be directed at the public school system which never taught that kid how to appreciate good music.

My point is that we have let these kids fail, and although the occasional annoyance of boom boom clack (or an exposed tit for that matter) is not about to grind our civilization to a halt, it illustrates that we cannot escape this failure. We are all the public, mixed in together. We are unequal and we are enemies.

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June 03, 2004

Poetic Blacks & Commie Rats

Now is one of those occasions that the corrective influence of blackfolks on particularly rabid elements needs to be heard. I heard somebody going 'round saying Langston Hughes was a commie rat and there ain't gonna be no crap like that. Although I don't see it as my life's mission to defend every African American from every smear any nut is liable to make, beating up on Langston Hughes is something I don't take very kindly.

Like most elementary school kids in my neighborhood, I was instructed to memorize poems by Langston Hughes. The Negro Speaks of Rivers was the first. And how many times after hearing the Negro National Anthem (felt in the days when hope, unborn had died), have we had our eyes well up at the sentiments of a Mother to her Son?

Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. It's had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor— Bare. But all the time I'se been a-climbin' on, And reachin' landin's, And turnin' corners, And sometimes goin' in the dark Where there ain't been no light. So, boy, don't you turn back. Don't you set down on the steps. 'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. Don't you fall now— For I'se still goin', honey, I'se still climbin', And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Pops was always a fan of Hughes' character Jesse B. Simple and although I was a bit young to understand the humor, I certainly understood the effect on my parents.

But life ain't no crystal stair, so it comes as no surprise, not that we should take it in stride, that in an effort to crush Kerry, folks feel nothing about spitting in the face of Hughes. Kerry has a hard enough time standing on his own two feet without such insults. And it is not without irony that the very basis upon which this sensational claim is made points to that sham witch hunt, the McCarthy Hearings. Do read the entire piece, you'll see that it makes my point precisely.

Of course Langston Hughes was not likely the kind of man who would be troubled by such commentary from certain Americans. After all, he went away to live in Mexico and found respect. He went away to live in France and found respect. And yes, he travelled to the Soviet Union too. But to suggest that his inspiration for criticism of America came from Marxist dogma is the profoundest ignorance.

And I suppose I would let that lying dog lie, but today I just cannot. That is partially because of something I learned of his influence on Thurgood Marshall as I wrote about him in these days of reflections on Brown. (Listen to Juan Williams' audio). Hughes was the man at Lincoln University who convinced Marshall to take politics and law seriously. But it's also because he's black like me.

Posted by mbowen at 02:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What the Hey @ CIA?

Trigger Fish shows scuffling and rumbling for a new head honcho at CIA. I don't know what the hell is going on over there. Is it just me or does it strike anyone strange that there have been too many DCIs over the past 20 years? After Casey came (Webster, Gates, Woolsey & Deutch) four in 10 years. Tenet seems to have stuck around longer than any, and 7 years is a good long time. But did he turn it around? Is the CIA over its shuffling at the top? Every time they have a new head of the CIA or FBI I get a very weird feeling.

I think something big and dirty has gone down, let's see if the insider gets it.

Posted by mbowen at 10:53 AM | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Chalabi Dropped

Today's news about Chalabi is especially juicy, and I think it points directly to the storms of intrigue and infighting between the White House, Pentagon, CIA and FBI. In particular, I think Richard Perle is looking especially egg-faced today.

Assuming you know the story and/or are vaguely familiar with basic spycraft and/or information theory, you were probably laughing out loud at this paragraph in today's NYT.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

That's rich. Echoes of Cryptonomicon huffduff.

My money says some spymaster at DIA who has been pissed at Chalabi for a long time put into motion this plot to discredit him once and for all, with the possible cooperation of State (or at least with the knowledge that Colin Powell could benefit from a discredited Chalabi who now becomes the 'source' of 'all' the 'bad intelligence' about Iraqi WMDs).

Sooner or later, Chalabi would become expendable especially given the way things have turned out in Iraq which make the PNAC crew look better than they deserved to. What career Pentagon intel officer could stomach Perle's pontifications and the general besmirching of CIA and other US intelligence organizations? Time to show what they can do.

So, suspecting as any spymaster should, that Chalabi is playing both sides of the fence, they set him up with a 'drunk' agent who 'inadvertantly' says that Iranian codes are broken. Chalabi falls into the honey pot and spills the beans.

The other possibility here, as suggested by Canistraro is that some guy really was drunk and no US intelligence agency knows any other Iranian codes. That would be incredibly stupid, in fact, unbelievably so. But in any case, Iranian agents in Iraq are going to have to be restrained considering that this news is all over the place and their codes and cyphers are going to be changed anyway.

I say this is a fairly interesting turn of events. The question now is, where are Chalabi's deadly enemies and what excuses are they going to find to wreck the Iraqi National Congress? Hmmm.

Posted by mbowen at 08:27 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

Whose America?

Word is that Candidate Kerry has decided to make a line from a Langston Hughes poem his campaign slogan. In truth, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is Langston Hughes. On the other hand, it's Kerry. On the whole I think I'm going to end up being negative about it primarily because we all know Kerry's a zillionaire who has got a lot of nerve appropriating this poem considering line #5.

Sentiment is not enough. My bogosity senses are tingling. Somebody help me. I could even accept this from Al Sharpton, but John Kerry? Something's wrong here. I don't know. Read it yourself and see if John Kerry comes to mind.

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Posted by mbowen at 05:17 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

A Chilly Reception

As disaster movies go, The Day After Tomorrow, is too lighthearted to be taken seriously. Forget what people say about the science. Forget the ham-handed messages. Forget the stereotypes, gratuitous holes and the throwaway acting. Hmm. Maybe this whole thing will be forgotten. But the thing that kills me about this flick is all the goodness. Everybody in the film reveals their essential goodness in the face of disaster except for the evil politicians. Puhlease, it's never too cold for people to loose their morals. No riots? No panic? No murders of convenience? No looting? Not even one snowmobile? What kind of disaster flick is that? If society doesn't come apart, what's the sence of watching? Where's the entertainment value?

Oh wait, this is supposed to be a political flick. Sheesh.

It's a typical jab by liberals that politicians are stupid because they don't listen to scientists. It's true enough, but the politicians in this flick were so stupid that they didn't realize something was up when LA got destroyed by 4 or 5 tornadoes. Critics who ripped into 'Independence Day' for it's willingness to make audiences cheer the White House exploding. But when you can't accomplish politics by normal means, it's always nice to pull some Leviathan out. Emmerich pursues world peace. Uh Oh.

There's a Hobbesian Leviathan in this film too. Instead of it being some alien species making America look silly, it's mother nature. I'm not going to knock Emmerich for doofus, implausible pseudo-science; it's a fantasy film. But he fails miserably in his preaching even by science fiction standards. In that way this film falls far short of the level established by 'Contact' which actually did government vs science vs religion on one neat package.

Emmerich tried to tone down effect of the special effects and pump up the human drama by doing the old Finding Nemo theme, but it didn't really work. In that regard, these storms were hardly a match for human drama evoked by 'The Perfect Storm'. We wanted more storm! There was just too much not covered. Emmerich really should have gone for bigger and more global destruction. So much of the commentary 'and Europe and Asia are getting big storms too' should have been filled in graphically. I was waiting for the equivalent of the huge meteor hitting downtown Paris that one of those metor movies gave us a few years back. No such luck. In the end, we just wanted to see more things freeze.

For the parts delivered, they were juicy. Almost nobody thinks about microwave freezing, temperatures so bitterly cold and rapid that they could freeze your body in mid step. A whole film on dealing with the cold itself instead of the politics of global warming could have made this as good as Twister. Formulaic for sure, but entertainingly formulaic. Instead of making interesting observations about cold or its effects on people or the environment, our crew of scientists in their arctic gear navigate with a handheld GPS and collapse haplessly in the snow. Hell, anybody could have done that. Aside from the weather, being deadly, we get some CG wolves terrorizing plucky heroes. They were decently rendered but decidedly un-wolflike in their hunting tactics and behavior.

DAT was ultimately entertaining enough just for the concept. You are really afraid of the cold, and the I haven't gotten the same kind of goosebumps of seeing NYC thrashed since, well, Godzilla 2000. Even for an LA native, it was rather cool to see the goofy stereotyped LA airheads get smashed up. (Doesn't anybody care about what happens to Chicago any longer?) The hailstorms were cool. But there should have been some rivers overflowing, a train wreck or two.. Like I said, a bit too much time was spent with on the smarmy charm of the good guys and not enough on people losing their freaking minds and getting smashed in cinematically stylish fashion.

This is one of those films that you basically need to see on the big screen because there's not enough in it to be satisfying at normal levels of volume. Go ahead and waste your bucks, at least its not another 100,000 man army meeting on an epic field of battle...

P.S. The film gets an A- for it's rendering of African American (men) in the flick. There are more than a token number, they play good and bad and indifferent roles. Nicely transparent.

Posted by mbowen at 04:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ahmed Hikmat Shakir

We've all heard a lot of smoking gun bedtime stories. But here's one that has got my attention and I daresay should be all the proof anyone might possibly need proving a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Check out this story over at the WSJ. And this column at the NRO.

Don't forget this name. He's got to be the most wanted criminal on the planet.

Posted by mbowen at 12:51 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thieves in the Temple

I was cruising blogs and landed over at Shayla. Her post reminded me of one of the dumbest announcements I ever heard at a company I worked for.

"Be on the lookout for a black man with glasses. He is stealing laptops. He looks like he belongs here."

Posted by mbowen at 12:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Libations for the Dead

Not much of a Memorial Day for me this time around. The spousal unit and I got into a very long and deep discussion about which of our families is more dysfunctional. At the end we determined to hold our heads high for the nuke, but I suspect this issue isn't dead and buried.

The dead and buried also didn't have much of our attention this breezy Monday, but we did at least bow our heads and pour some of our drinks on the ground. In mind was Uncle Fat Phil who died last year from complications of colon cancer.

Uncle Fat Phil served in Korea. He was one of the crew that my father grew up with, a jolly and crusty ne'er do well with an appetite for salty jokes and a fondness for skinny women. The only job I can ever remember him having was working at an old jeans outlet called Beno's. Other than that, he would show up at Thanksgiving and at family picnics and with his recipie for beer boiled hotlinks. Uncle Fat Phil was transformed by the sweetness of kids. Around us he was always a barrell of laughs, but I could always tell that my father shushed him when we showed up unexpectedly. He never talked about Korea. Nobody ever talked about Korea.

Phil, in his later years lost both of his legs and lived in a fleabag hotel in Downtown LA. He existed on VA money, period. I would talk to him on the phone occasionally, and I could hear him croaking out a smile in his raspy voice. He made us kids think, even when we were no longer kids, that we were just about the only happy part of his life.

When you kill someone in war, or even if you merely ran for your life and froze your balls off somewhere south of the Yalu river, the comfort of home and children is never far from your mind. We may delude ourselves into believing that our work is stressful and that after a hard day's work a cold beer and a foot massage makes everything OK. But a stint in a war that you lose and people would prefer to forget requires a great deal more comfort.

As I hear over and over how great the 'Greatest Generation' was and how WW2 really had defined us as a nation it becomes almost numbing. I watched portions of the dedication ceremony for the new memorial in our nation's capital noting how different people appear when they are working so hard to be dignified and serious. It marks us that we aren't more often, and it shows. Still, such things must be said, such ceremonies must be held. But nothing can substitute for the comfort of friends and families with barbecues and boomboxes out on a sunny day generating good times and pleasant memories. The veterans will have their salty talk, but they will gladly put it away when children come to play. The pundits will have their serious intonations, the geopolitical analysts will have their policy points. But somewhere along the line, the soldiers must have their apple pie and homecomings.

Yes we poured out our drinks on the grass yesterday, but I wish they could have been poured into the cup of a veteran friend of the family. Saluting gravestones is too little too late.

Posted by mbowen at 10:37 AM | TrackBack

A Noble Sound

I've always been a fan of Wynton Marsalis. The last album of his that I purchased was 'Blood on the Fields', a large work evoking the American nightmare of slavery. I don't often listen to it. To be honest, I haven't listened to the whole thing at one sitting to absorb its import. But there are several cuts with which I'm quite familiar, my favorites being 'You Don't Hear No Drums' and 'Calling The Indians Out'. What I didn't know was that this 2CD collection won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997. The Pulitzer Prize for Music? I didn't know there was such a thing, and yet there it is.

I don't have quite enough Wynton in my rotation, so I'm ripping a few more CDs this morning. I chuckle to note that J Mood still has its 9.99 price tag, purchased in the days before it was possible or worthwhile to share digital music, 1986. I am fond of J Mood, not only because its title cut was the first of Wynton's to make airplay on KJLH, LA's R&B station, but because in that album he answered his critics who said he was a bit too sterile.

Yet it wasn't until Levee Low Moan that Wynton got dirty. I was during this period. somewhere around 1992 that he began to play the old rusty trumpet and mute it with a plunger's bowl. He started getting into the deep New Orleans roots of jazz and brought forth a sound I had never heard articulated in that way. By this time, Wynton had truly learned to swing, and he revelled in doing so.

I met him backstage at BAM after his closing performance of Griot New York with the Garth Fagan Dancers. It was a wonderous show. I very much miss that element that only New York seems to possess. They still perform Griot New York, 13 years later.

My favorite Wynton Marsalis album is 'The Majesty of the Blues' most notably for 'The Death of Jazz' and the sermon Premature Autopsies. I've said that this album was the music I wanted played at my funeral. I can remember my father chiding me about thinking too much about a glorious funeral, but the power of that album was irresistable to me.

I think it speaks a great deal about what I think about when I am considering the ways and means of the Old School when I read the words to Premature Autopsies. Furthermore, when I criticize hiphop (less out of love these days) it is often because it fails to inspire a sufficiently deep sentiment such as this:

But there is another truth and that truth passes through time in the very same way an irresistible force passes through an immovable object. That’s what I said: this truth is so irresistible that it passes through immoveable objects. It is the truth of a desire for a refined and impassioned portrait of the presence and the power and the possibilities of the human spirit. Can you imagine that? I said: a desire for the refined and impassioned depiction in music of the presence and the power and the possibilities of the human spirit. That is the desire that lights the candle in the darkness. That is the desire that confounds dragons who think themselves so grand. We have heard the striking of the match and have felt ourselves made whole in the glow of the candle for a long time.

It is possible that we who listened heard something timeless from those who are the descendents of the many who were literally up for sale, those whose presence on the auction blocks and in the slave quarters formed the cross upon which the Constitution of this nation was crucified. Yet, even after that crucifixion, there were those who rose in the third century of American slavery with a vision of freedom; there were those who lit the mighty wick that extended from the candle and carried it; there were those who spoke through music of the meaning of light; those who were not content to accept the darkness in the heart that comes of surrender to dragons who think themselves grand; those who said- LISTEN CLOSELY NOW-who said, "If you give me a fair chance I will help you better understand the meaning of democracy" Yes, that is precisely what they said: "If you give me a fair chance I will help you better understand the meaning of democracy" These are they who were truly the makers of a noble sound.

There's not much else to say.

Posted by mbowen at 08:28 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack