May 31, 2005

Snappy Answers

Posted by mbowen at 07:10 PM | TrackBack

Borkies: The Easiest Catch

The most fascinating thing about the latest gadget I have, Google Earth Plus, is finding out how sparsely populated the planet is.

If you spin the globe and point your finger, chances are that you're going to land in the ocean, a good place to find nothing. Having watched the marathon of 'The Deadliest Catch' in which 210 boats brave the treacherous Bering Sea for a few days to bring a couple million pounds of crab back, it makes me wonder what might be found in the middle of the Pacific. I have no idea of knowing how and where fishermen drop their nets and traps worldwide, but my newfound gut is telling me that there's a lot more fish out there. It seems more likely to me that we're cherry picking what we know how to cook, but that were we to develop a taste for octopus, we'd worry less about the sustainability of the world's fisheries.

In the sci-fi book I thought I might work on in the Biome category, I came up with the concept called 'borkies'. Borkies are just small bits of fish, generally squid, which are seasoned in such a way as to be individually delicious. As part of your highschool education, you are 'taste-tested' to see what your very favorite flavors are, and you cannot graduate until you learn how to prepare your own borkies. You then can exist in a semi-dependent, semi-independent way by purchasing or making your own borkies seasoning. Most people eat theirs with rice or noodles & broth in a bowl. People basically get addicted to what's good for them.

Squid borkies were chosen because I've heard that squid are some of the easiest marine protien to mass-produce. They eat anything and they're easy to catch or farm. In the Biome, eating your borkies is one of the basic tenets of civilization.

Here in Los Angeles, a great deal is artificial. We're in a desert, after all. So gazing at Google Earth, I am drawn to places with rivers and deltas and lakes. I watch towns which were established and grown in the eras of river travel, train travel, automobile travel. I look for the docks, the stations, the interchanges that shape the physical city. Los Angeles would adopt to borkies because we are accustomed to, and welcolming of the external, the import. We are integrative and dependent. We would know how to cook our borkies.

I think mine would be squid with wheat udon in broth. Warm and spicy with a bit of egg.

Posted by mbowen at 08:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

Under Represent

Posted by mbowen at 10:51 AM | TrackBack

Internet Privacy: Knowing vs Doing

Despite all the guns out there, chances are, you're not going to get shot. Despite all the credit cards you have, chances are your identity is not going to get stolen.

I've been a little lax on following up on the many interests I've cultivated in my life, among them security and paranoia. So I've only vaguely heard tell of Bank of America's loss of private information to crackers and identity fraudsters. But I'm not really worried.

Back in the days, before the internet bubble, our division got into a lot of PR hot water over the matter of privacy. I had a nicely complex argument that shot down most arguments against our cookies and weblog inspections that went a little something like this. You need to take into consideration the value of your information. Why would a thief buy $500 tools to steal a $50 item? And while it may be true that part of the value of these recent identity theft break-ins is the size of the theft, sooner or later there has to be a fence value for each one. What is, indeed, the value of you mother's maiden name?

I've been thinking about what the value of my writing on the internet for the past 12 years has been. I've always assumed that some poor graduate student would have to troll through it after I'm gone to make some anthropological sense of the contribution of the post-civil rights black middle class. But more recently, especially since my mother says I confess too much, I've been thinking about its value to my own children. After all, they're probably the only ones who really care enough to read more than a little bit. I don't tell people to read my blog, and I don't often mention that I do blog, but I think that most of my friends know about it - and don't read it. I know that my mother is the only family member that reads Cobb on the regular. Such facts, combined with the fact that my IQ is right about at the same level as my FICO score, I don't particularly worry about my identity being stolen.

I have several issues with 'action at a distance', and so while I am often the first to indulge in the latest technological goody, I am far from being dependent or overly respectful of all this stuff. I know how fragile it is and how wrong it can be.

Since I'm not cheating on my wife or stealing from my employer or blackmailing anyone, I can see no particular enemies looking to do me in. When you think of the guns and violence, we know that people are generally killed by people they know for reasons that don't take long to figure out. It's likely to be your own son who is out joyriding in the family sedan. Because it's a family sedan, it's not so attractive to professional thieves. My identity is no Mercedes Benz, at least my identity as tied to financial data about me in hackable computers somewhere. But if there is dirt doable to me, it would most likely be by an insider. Did I spend 200 bucks on a dinner in Salt Lake City? My wife would kill me if she found out. That's my kind of worry. (Actually it was only 74 bucks).

So considering the massive amount of information about me through my blog, and who knows what the google archive has via google groups, there's a lot to know, but little to do. What's the motivation? How is the information valued? Moe importantly, how does it get fungible? Which is to say, where is the fence? What is the eqivalent of a pawn shop for the last four digits of your social security number? What do you care if your eyeglasses perscription falls into the wrong hands?

Still, I'd be a bit more comfortable if we had the option to generate our own passwords and identifyers. PGP with a picture and a signature would be plenty. Some joint like the UPS Store (where my favorite Notary Public can be found) or Kinkos could provide this service to customers - live authentication. Banks would be uniquely qualified to do similar things. In fact, I could see a privatized national ID system coming to fruition sooner than a Federal one, and I'd be all for it. Until then, all my business is in the street, and who cares?

Posted by mbowen at 10:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


Posted by mbowen at 09:35 AM | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Looking for Talent

Speaking for myself, I am looking to bring some talent on board.

It's not often that I get so absorbed in work that I don't have time to blog, but that has been the case for the past week or so. I've only been onboard in my new gig for about 10 weeks and I can clearly see it's all about momentum. So I'm piercing the veil between Cobb and Michael Bowen on the off chance that one or a few of you might be interested in getting some serious job satisfaction working on our team. Plus I'm using this to warm up whatever I'll be writing in Craigslist in a week or two.

I've got a dilemma. I have lots of work and not enough bodies. Here in Southern California, we are pulling down so much business, that I need a clone army. Unfortunately I don't have an emissary to send to planet Camino.

I am looking for four profiles of candidate to work in major accounts using Hyperion technology in Southern California for the Western Region. If you are somebody or know somebody who fits one of these general profiles, I can get you started quickly.

Profile #1. Oracle Old Head
You are a master of PLSQL and you use Toad. You're plenty comfortable on UNIX and have done your share of VLDB. You've been around since Oracle 7 and you've built all kinds of DW implementations. You may even have a passing familiarity with Express. People take you for granted and don't use half of your knowledge and quite frankly the projects are getting boring. You've been thinking about getting into a new technology or two, like Informatica just because the pay is good. You don't want to waste your time with upstarts.

Profile #2. SQL Server Hotshot
You can do anything in SQL Server but nobody gives you anything interesting to do. You can write anything in DTS or VB but are not really called to write new stuff - they keep throwing the same old VB at you. You thought .Net was going to take off faster than it has and quite frankly not much has changed in the last two years. Yukon is a big plus but you're tired of waiting. Plus, how come all those Business Objects and Cognos guys get to do front-ends? You are hungry for big projects, new technology and some variety.

Profile #3 Technical Finance
You are a functional power user who understands allocations, eliminations, legal entities and COAs. You understand how SarbOx does or does not affect the way a company reports its numbers, but you are really ready to tackle applications from a technical point of view.

Profile #4 Wild Card
You have a range of technical skills and you're tired of messing around in an area of the industry that has no excitement, direction, rewards or motivation. You've heard about Business Intelligence and you want to work with the best. You've got 'can do' and 'lets roll' in your blood.

Here's what I'm offering.

I'm looking for people who are good and they know it, people who don't want to waste their time doing the same thing for the same people day in and day out. Somebody who picks up an O'Reilly book and says 'How hard can it be?' Somebody who is cool under pressure and delivers on time. Someone who enjoys being the person who saves the day and cracks the tough problems. Somebody who is harder on themselves than other are because you know what you are capable of doing and when it has to be done right, you step up.

My company is hiring and I am building up the first class BI apps development team in the Western Region of the US. I've been building EIS, DSS, DW, Financial Reporting & Multidimensional apps since 1986 through 4 generations of software, and I'm looking to beat the competition and raise the level. I need people to step up to the Relational, Multidimensional, Master Data, Visualization, Statistical, Reporting, Java and Web tools in the broad Hyperion platform. My aim is application domination. Supply Chain, Billing, Earned Value, Retail, Entertainment, Health Care, Manufacturing - you name it. We're in the biggest and most demanding clients on the West Coast and we are poised for growth. I am building the best team on the field and I need you.

The more you bring to the table, the more you can get out, the more we build and the more deals we can close and the more bonuses we get. If you've got ETL, RDBMS, Scripting, OLAP, ERP, UNIX & Excel VBA in some combination and you're ready to roll, let's talk.

We are all about building world class applications with top tier technology. We indulge both the geek factor and the serious business focus. I am all about mastery and architecting elegant, robust interactive systems that solve real world business problems.

Call me.
Michael Bowen
Mgr. Best Practices Solutions Group
Los Angeles - Business Intelligence
310 872 7373

Posted by mbowen at 02:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Don't Eyeball Me Boy

Once upon a time in the good old days, a man named Louis Gossett Jr, became an American hero. He did so by beating the crap out of Richard Gere.

Gossett played the character Sargeant Foley in the award winning film 'An Officer and a Gentleman' back in 1982. Like all drill sargeants before him and after his job was to break men and remake them in the image of a soldier.

I would challenge those who waste all of our time with their whinging over the excesses of Abu Ghraib to review the film and challenge their positive feelings about it. I think it would be a suitable exercise for those Americans who have an inner dainty voice on the hotline to the ACLU. Because it was a rare American who didn't cheer the movie or sing the song 'Love Lift Us Up'. It was a rare American who didn't think Lou Gossett should be a role model for us. But today it seems that those who are hogging the podium would have Gossett hanged in effigy. (Metaphorically of course)

You see Sargeant Foley used (oh horror of horrors) sleep deprivation. He had his recruits in boot camp stand out in the rain holding their rifles above their heads running in place. This is I believe what they call a 'stress position'. Good heavens.

Could it be that the US Military tortures all of its own recruits in boot camp so much that when they do similar things to foreign combattants and POWs that we don't even recognize our inhumanity? What are we to make of G.I. Jane? What about Men of Honor? What about the very concept of killing? It's all so confusing! Yeah right.

Posted by mbowen at 10:51 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack


Posted by mbowen at 10:45 AM | TrackBack


What wouldn't Jesus do? He wouldn't have children. Why not? Any ideas?

Posted by mbowen at 08:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 26, 2005


It's not very often that I disagree with Frank DeFord, but having heard him pontificate on the matter of the naming of our sports teams, I have to wonder where his head is at. You can count DeFord as one of the many who have sided with those who suggest that naming a sports team after 'Indians' is cruel. I think not.

I could split the difference over a team born yesterday, but not over the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins or the Florida Seminoles for that matter. The difficulty has everything to do with intent, an issue with which most crusaders cannot bother to give the benefit of the doubt. You see, I associate the Cleveland Indians only with the Cleveland Indians. I would be more upset if they moved the team to Miami and still tried to call them the Indians. You will find, however, that most of the folks behind the movement to change these team names insist that the names are nothing but denigrating to Native Americans.

DeFord notes this and swallows it. He argues that, yes, he has heard arguments to the contrary - that such a named team or mascot brings pride to Native Americans. I say that the very fact that they are stereotypes proves that they have nothing whatsoever to do with Native Americans, and that Native Americans should pay the names no mind, unless of course they decide to root for the team in the context of sport.

I've been asked what I would think of the New Jersey Negroes or the Pittsburgh Pickaninnies. I would think 'whatever'. It is difficult for me to believe that any modern interpretation of Native American culture is near enough to actual appropriation to be anything more than an empty stereotype. But there are those who would like to fill it up, and there's the problem. But let's go there.

Coming back from the 2000 Games in Sydney, my plane made a stop in Aukland. I decided to pick up some souvenirs in the very nice and modern airport. As I grabbed a good 5 foor digideroo, what do I see to my surprise but a huge rack of sportswear for the All Blacks. It turns out to be the very popular rugby team, and the gear is very sharp. Better looking than the Raiders. I thought about it for a minute. All Black. How radical is that? I could see very well appropriating the gear and making it into an American Black Thing (tm), but to what end? No Americans know about the All Blacks, they would only know what I would try to make it out to be. It's the same as the case with the Negro Leagues. It's not about the team, it's about black pride.

So I think that people are fooling themselves if they believe that changing the name of a sports team has anything to do with Native American pride or their real culture. It's just another empty bleeding heart gesture which in no way affects the material circumstances or Native Americans.

I suspect we're going to hear more about it. I hope so.

Posted by mbowen at 04:48 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Dark Side

There's a lot to be said for the Dark Side of the Force that isn't said explicitly in Lucasfilm's latest 'Revenge of the Sith'. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to play, for weeks, Knights of the Old Republic on XBox.

In that role, you have to attend the Sith Academy and understand the ways of power and passion. Having done so, it puts you in the position of understanding the limits of selflessness. Although this is the philosophical background for Revenge of the Sith, the film does not work out the details in a way that could have made it great.

Anakin faces the same challenge as Jesus or any other Chosen One. Certainly Jesus chose wisest but the depth of that wisdom needs much explaining. You see, to be selfless, one must be dedicated to principle and principle is always broken. What then needs to be the object of your loyalty? That collective you that best upholds the spirit of the principle, those people who have helped you become what you are. This selfless way always requires sacrifice. With any luck, you get to sacrifice those people who have helped you become what you are for the sake of principle. It makes you an asshole, but a principled one. I say luck because this is the thing that helps you understand the significance of Yoda's advice to Anakin which was one of the most profound statements of the film, yet almost thrown away. Yoda told Anakin that you must be prepared to let go of everything.

Sting had that stupid song that played forever and made Hallmark another million dollars. If you love somebody, set them free. This is something you cannot say to a parent. This is not something you can blithely assert because it says love for the one is inferior to love for the many. This is the way of the Jedi and it is why the Jedi are a celibate preisthood. It is also the weakness of Christianity - and why Christianity is not philosophically reconciled with the Family.

The Dark Side gives powers to passion, instinct, deception and our animal wisdom. These are the things that give us the edge over machines, that are worth loving. The way of the Sith gives structure to this philosophy but in the Star Wars galaxy it is done mostly in terms of good and evil. While it is true that there is a certain Machiavellian ruthless efficiency to Sith, it is equally true that balancing the Force requires more than the Jedi provide.

Anakin falls squarely into this gap. His ambition and desire for security come straight from his desire to protect women and children. In that he is pure of heart, it is perhaps his most admirable quality. And yet it is this fear of losing love and family that has made the Jedi Council suspicious of him from the time he was a child. Anakin is not fearless and selflessly dedicated to the way of the Jedi. He wants *his* family. He wants *his* wife. He wants *his* love and he doesn't want to hide his passion. But he must. And this is what drives him apart from Padme as he becomes a Jedi and must hew to the arcane directives of the Jedi Council. Yoda demands that he be emotionally aloof that he be ready to sacrifice all. To be a Jedi Master like Yoda, you must be a solitary sexless dispassionate Seer, fearless, selfless and emotionally unavailable except to the high calling.

This is why chicks go for the bad boys. They don't play that.

There are three episodes remaining, and perhaps Lucas might loosen his grip on the Empire that is the Star Wars franchise so that Leia's adventures might begin. Leia on the Dark Side and Luke on the light, battling for the fate of the Force in the Galaxy would make for an excellent series. This is a chance to review the role of the Sacred Feminine.

Revenge of the Sith is a disappointment precisely because it doesn't express the Yang of the Dark Side in the Sacred Feminine. That falls to the great failure of Padme to act like a real pregnant woman. A real pregnant woman would not allow Anakin to be emotionally distant or traipse off to distant planets to run down some Trade Federation. They don't stand at the window pining away silently at the distance between themselves and the father of their child. They are demanding of comfort and attention, and well they should be. Pregnancy demands that the world stop and focus brought on the home and the baby. That Anakin escapes these demands is a romantic goof and the necessary diversion to reduce the Dark Side to the evil of abuse of power. But the Dark Side is much more than that, and now you know.

Posted by mbowen at 07:43 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Wikipedia, Finally

These days I find that I don't have much time or energy for thinking outside of my box. Everything is coming in fragments. However one thing that I find myself doing repeatedly is consulting the Wikipedia. It is easily becoming my favorite spot on the web. So I have signed up as a member and am working to add a some dimensions to it in my areas of expertise, beginning with OLAP.

I'd also like to expand a bit on bits and pieces of Johnnie Cochran because I think it's more important for people to know the details of some of the cases that made him infamous with local law enforcement than what made him famous in the mainstream media. But I need to get a feel for how good the fact-checking is on the site and what is and is not considered relevant to post. For example, Cochran was the man who got the million dollar judgement in the case of Ron Settles, which led to taking the LAPD's infamous chokehold out of their repretoire. An unintended consequence of that is that cops were more edgy and tended to rely more on batons than before. Result? Rodney King.

There's an interesting entry on Subhas Bose, whom I often compare to the shock and delight of many Indian friends, to Malcolm X. He's quite the controversial figure.

As I retreat from the hash and rehash, I am finding comfort in my geek hat. Nights like this I wonder about the future of the blog and whether or not the Cobbian mission is accomoplished. I'll know for certain by the end of the summer. Right now the direction is towards more technology and research and less politics and current events. That means I'll spend a lot more time at Cubegeek and at Wikipedia.

Posted by mbowen at 08:01 PM | TrackBack

Consider This

I don't listen to KCRW any longer. I'm on the other side with KPCC. In every way except for broadcast quality in certain parts of the Southland, I find KPCC superior. So now you know. I'm also not a big fan of Sandra Tsing Low, so I only paused a moment when she got the boot.

Today I've learned that Cindy Burkey got the boot from KCRW and it has given my aggravated camel yet another straw named Ruth Seymour. Something about her gets on my nerves, and perhaps it is her very tenacity. The problem with tenacious people is that sometimes they barnacle on to bad ideas and it makes you wonder if they ever had an original thought. As a conservative, you need to be constantly on the lookout for such people. Especially when the sound of boots echo.

Posted by mbowen at 11:03 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2005


Posted by mbowen at 08:14 AM | TrackBack

May 22, 2005


Lee told me, and Lee should know as a slightly waifish Armenian woman, that men with my appearance tend to intimidate. Although I tend to notice that people seem to say 'Oh excuse me' a lot unnecessarily in supermarkets, I am completely oblivious to the Large Black Man Effect Field that I apparently generate. Nevertheless, I do recall walking my boss out to the parking lot way back in '92 and her confessing to me that every night she brought a pair of scissors for self-defense.

I just do not have any sense of the danger that women and dweebs must feel at night in areas where bad people might be. However I've always attributed that to street smarts, which I know that I possess; I've never attributed much to my ability to appear intimidating. Sure, I have the homeboy suit and I can dress up to be perfectly at home on the set of American Chopper, but me? Threatening? I chuckle.

Nevertheless, as Matt Yglesias mentions books that he should have read, I begin to wonder about such matters, but it wasn't until somebody mentioned Catcher in the Rye that the angle for this post hit me.

I've always kinda not read books because of the thrill that books give me. Counter-intutitive eh? Until you realize that most of my life I've struggled with my concept of the 'noble arena'. It goes a little something like this. I'm single and I'm living in my two bedroom apartment in Park Slope. I ask myself, self, what should I do this evening? Should I head out to the city or should I stay home and read a book? This is a dilemma because I generally stay home and read the book, which only makes me want to go out to the city and find some people to talk about the book with. Except that there is no place for me to go where anyone ever talks to me about books. In my life, there have been about 12 people who have ever asked me what books am I reading. That includes every job interview, every cocktail party, every poetry reading, every co-worker, blah blah blah. I've lived with this

As far as I'm concerned, the noble arena exists merely as a construction of like minds in cyberspace. It's why I have spent so many years here, because when I walk out that door, apparently people are too busy trying not to piss their pants much less ask me my preferences in literature. It's not as if I hadn't spent the requisite hours trolling Waterstones on Newbury Street in Boston, or Coliseum off Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Then again, I do use the term 'dweebs', so perhaps it's entirely my fault.

There was a cat named Black who once worked for The Nation magazine. We taught Saturday school at St. Luke's up near City College, back in the day. He gave me the impression of being the kind of dweeb to whom I generally refer. I told him that the Nation should run personal ads and publish a version on the Internet. He thought that if I ever had a mind, I had lost it completely. Then again, I thought he lived in the wrong part of the Village and that perhaps his judgements were dismissible. After all, I was right and he wasn't long for The Nation.

On the other hand, I could just shutup and answer the question in the form of, "No I haven't bother to read Dostoyevsky and I don't really think I'm missing out." But the fact of the matter is that I am still at a loss to say what society I am missing out on for not having done so. This has been the case for so long that it makes me doubt two things, firstly the value of the books themselves, and secondly the extent to which the value of those books imparts themselves onto their readers. This is problematic only if those readers are not dweebs and actually do hold court and sway some real flesh and blood places. I remember being told that it helps to know Shakespeare because your boss might drop the phrase 'There is a tide in the affairs of men..' and I should know the implication. More likely I'll hear co-workers mumble quotes from 'Office Space'. And so while I don't tend to hold people in contemtuous disdain, I have rather given up the idea that I'll be hearing from the more literate end of the spectrum outside of my cyberconnections.

My other observation, which I've made before, is that I've never met any black man who said "I am Holden Caufield!" And while I expect that may change over time, and I don't often ask, I have also never met any white man who said "I am Bigger Thomas!". And so perhaps there is a real gap between those who would wax literate in any particular direction.

I am not convinced that some intellectual and cultural unity is a necessity for civil society. Even the sappy Lionel Ritchie knew that everyone finds their own way, somehow, some way, some day. So I suspect we'll all zoom the points familiar and kind even though different books and dreams take us there, and what gets said in American interpretations of English translations of Russian novelists could be recognizeable as a rhymed couplet in a rap I know, or a Gospel song I grew up with. We're all human after all. Experience teaches.mike90-2.jpg

It certainly makes sense from the point of view of academics that if we're ever going to get anywhere, knowledge needs to be codified and ranked. There are roccocos and their are efficiencies, and a troubled world needs efficiency, or so it's been said. So there may be a real sense of a missed mission in all our relatively illiterate heads. But I think we'll all float on alright.

For the record, I wish I had come to understand Maxwell's Equations, and I still believe I could have saved myself a life of questions had I read my basic philosophers. I purchased the Decline and Fall of Rome, but never got anywhere whatsoever, and I'm sure I would like to be, on occasion, the devil quoting the Bible to suit my own ends. But hey, at least I read Ravelstein, and guess what, I'm just like those guys.

Posted by mbowen at 06:20 PM | TrackBack

Fruit of Is-Loom

Posted by mbowen at 06:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 21, 2005

Currency Manipulation?

Suddenly we are hearing talk of Chinese manipulation of their currency. I think the hype is preposterous, and I am hoping that I can get a straight story.

What I know is that China has refused, for decades, to let its currency float against the Dollar. The value of the Yuan is basically pegged to the dollar. The exchange rate never changes. No matter where the American dollar goes relative to other currencies (clear enough?). Suddenly, this has been called 'manipulation'. Why? because some politicians tied to the American textile industry are crying foul about recent trade agreements that allow more Chinese clothing to come to the US. They want the Chinese Yuan to appreciate to the point at which the price of a t-shirt from China makes consumers buy American? Fat chance. I don't know about you, but I have no idea where my clothing comes from. The status of American clothing comes 98.5% from the brand of the store you buy it from, not the country of its manufacture or origin.

Already, the Chinese have increased internal tarriffs on textile products to be exported to the US in response to American pressure. That suits Chinese officials just fine. They line their pockets with that tax and Americans still buy more cheap products. What are we talking about? A dollar?

Here's something else I know. Chinese cotton and silk are the raw materials that are shipped outside of China, mostly to Nigeria and other West African countries, to be made into fabric and dyed. The fabric is then shipped back to China and sewn into clothing. So anybody concerned should understand that China is not single-handedly undermining free trade, but that they already are a player in a global market. It's not just China involved in 'Chinese' textiles.

It seems to me that the net result of floating the Chinese currency is going to be felt in a huge number of other ways and that the political pressure brought to bear for the sake of the trade deficity will have unintended consequences elsewhere. The trade deficit isn't the only consideration here, but the billions in Treasury bonds held by the Chinese. Already the (NPR) news on this story makes it sound as if something inevitably has to happen soon and that the Congressional rumblings on this matter must be attended.

How shortsighted can we be? For t-shirts.

Posted by mbowen at 11:23 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Paris is Burnt

The NYT brought back an old memory today. Vogueing.

During 1990 or thereabouts in my flight from all things conservative and bourgie, I encountered more than your average number of representations of gay life. It had a lot to do with my new academic pals, some of who were trying to get me to admit to something of which I wasn't guilty.

There was Mapplethorpe, of course, and the Catch One. There was Marlon Riggs and all that jazz. There was also a very memorable trip to view the film 'Paris is Burning'. I can't tell which came first, but I was also really digging the Malcolm McLaren album 'Waltz Darling' which could be considered the soundtrack to the style. To my ken, Madonna' Vogue was on the late freight. But she did have the dancers. At some points later I hung out for a long frustrating night at a GMHC dance at Javits Center. Nothing particularly striking for gay folks, but certainly a good resume for a 'straight liberal' like me.

I have mentioned, from time to time, the Legacy of Stonewall. I have done so because my understanding of the entire point of being gay was to celebrate a freedom and creativity. The resentment against us 'breeders' has everything to do with the liberation available to those who eschew a range of domestic responsibilities and monogamous restrictions. In other words there is more to homosexuality than sex - it depends upon how gay you want to be.

So while it makes sense to me that there are folks who would try to blackmail the nation into believing we are all the same and we should all be married the same, there is some comfort in knowing that there remain others who are emblematic of the gay stuff I learned that gayness was, and perhaps still is. I speak of the House of Ultra-Omni. Who knows which is the majority.

As the NYT story says. Everyone seems to have forgotten what this scene was all about. The remnants remain but the talk around it has faded to zero. Paris is burnt and the embers are cold, and nobody remembers that gays used to be flaming. Might as well marry 'em all up, eh? After all, we're all the same, right?

As ever, my point remains. Marriage is a sacred institution ordained by God, the blessing of a union between a man and a woman.

Posted by mbowen at 09:35 AM | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

Implications of Stereotype Threat

The February issue of Scientific American reviews the growing acceptance of Claude Steele's research on Stereotype Threat. This is the pheonomenon also recounted in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink' that subconscious suggestions materially alter the process of deliberative cognitive ability. In other words, performance anxiety can be generated and people's ability to counter negative vibes may beyond their control. That's the downside.

The upside is, of course, that Steele's initial insight and methodology will help us better understand how people think under a wide variety of situations induced by suggestions and the 'cognitive temperament' of the thinker. This has broad implications in educational testing.

Right now the implications are very likely to be exploited for the purposes of determining the effects of racial stereotypes and suggestions on various folks. I suspect we will see some quantitative measures of the stress or benefits of workplace diversity. In the end, I don't think that race will be as potent as other factors. In my race man days, I recall relating to questions about the indirect effects of racism as analogous to blonde sex. It doesn't matter whether or not something specifically 'racist' happens to you for it to affect your attituded and performance, surely your ordinary white male can understand what might happen in their workplace if Christie Brinkley were introduced. It doesn't matter what actually happens, it matters what you believe could happen. So I expect that these various factors will show, for example, that male police officers are not necessarily as safe when partnered with female officers, but not because they are simply 'sexist'.

Such advances in cognitive psychology are part of a brave new world I thought might be more closely aligned with computer science. When we believed that we would be building human-like intelligence, this was the case. It turns out that intelligences are a great deal more numerous and complex than we imagined.

Posted by mbowen at 01:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Big Deal

Posted by mbowen at 07:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Black Rage Revisited

Part of the reason I am attracted to the Republican party is because it is not the party of rage. It's not always the party of reason, but you cannot generally expect that any street protests are going to be Republican.

When I first posted about Black Rage last week, a commenter asked where do we go from here? The answer is, as always, found in integrative strategies which leverage black power. This speaks to something central in my reasoning which is that I believe that the works of a black elite who are nationalist and raise the American flag reflects well on the race. This elite must be independently powerful. With regard to the politics on the street, there must be some sense of the Hookup with that black elite, and I must say that the Hookup is in danger as African American express their class distinctions. Nevertheless, a continuing successful politics that does not depend on dissent from the mainstream and is integrative is the best hope against the nihilist non-politics of rage.

(from the archives, April 1999)

Preface: My thesis, going way back, is that black rage is nothing but rage, but that it has come to be accepted as political currency. it should not be, but that requires that some real democratic politics replace it. if whites cannot enjoin in this real politics which is ultimately more effective than rage, then this democracy is doomed to failure.

in other words, black rage should be co-opted by the mainstream in such a way that the causes of that rage are eliminated. this will make america civilized.

Q: Boohab, what does "co-opted by the mainstream" mean? Can you give specific examples of what you'd like to see happen? Has anyone read the essay "Mau-mauing the flak-catchers" by Tom Wolfe? He discusses how the social-reform bureaucracies in the seventies encouraged a really warped system which required that a minority group "organize" and dress and act like militants, and march on the government offices and demand jobs, which would then be dispensed according to how effectively the "militants" scared the sh*t out of the white people in the offices... of course, Tom Wolfe describes it MUCH better than I do, so I encourage you to read HIS essay, and not trust my summary.

A: "co-opted by the mainstream" in this context means that there would be no question that mainstream politics effectively deals with black issues so well that blacks are not better served by radical politics.

for example, if effectively dealing with the issue of police brutality and racial profiling did not require blacks to do anything out of the ordinary, then this could be counted as a success.

i think the benchmark would be something to the effect that the race of a candidate would have no bearing on whether that individual was more or less likely to satisfy the black constituency. furthermore, putting a dupe in with 'the right color skin' would also be unacceptable. the proper candidate should be able to articulate issues and resolve them in such a way that they *serve* the black constituency in direct response to their needs, without *isolating* them. but this is something, across many issues, mainstream politicians have been singularly unable to do. this forces blacks to seek more radical ways and means of achieving their political ends.

does anyone doubt that police forces have become *less* racist over the past 20 years? yet TODAY there is overwhelming evidence that they are still *too* racist. every opportunity mainstream politicians have had to bridge the gap (when they even bother to pay attention) they have failed. from the politics surrounding mark fuhrman to diallo, to gammage, to luima, to tyisha miller to rodney king the result is failure failure failure. we cannot name one white politician in power today who has given blacks any satisfaction on those matters. not even rhetorical satisfaction.

the result is that this gives more credibility to radicals who consistently *address* the issue, even if they have no solutions and no chance of attaining the power to implement any solutions. this is a classic case of whitefolks making themselves whiter than they need to be. in the end, the intransigent status quo remains in force, and blacks must resort to higher and higher pitched volumes to get america to wake up.

it is at this point where mau-mauing becomes more effective than ordinary franchise. but the mau-mauing does not take place in a vaccuum - the underlying tragedy continues. then whites excuse their unwillingness to listen from the tenor of the discussion. blacks excuse their hyperbole from white sangfroid. then somebody gets killed. suddenly whites realize there is some reality to the claim, but they can't figure out what black rhetoric is real - they blame the process. blacks say i told you so, but they can't figure out what white sympathy is real - they blame the process. blue ribbon bandaids are put in place, to keep 'the natives from getting restless', the issue gets incredible press, and then it goes away. the process is still broken.

the responsibility to fix the process lies with the people who *have* the power. why does it have to be considered 'reform' to get cops to stop killing black people? why does a white politician ever have to feel that he's stepping out on a limb to address this fundamental issue of personal safety? it is obvious that blacks and latinos are not receiving equal protection under the law when it comes to policing.

Posted by mbowen at 07:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Posted by mbowen at 07:28 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Thursday Fragments

Friedman v Dyson
I am astounded at the cheek of Thomas Friedman. For the first time, I saw him on Charlie Rose last month and I hardly imagined that anyone could blurt so many buzzwords per minute. But it isn't that his rehash of things many in our profession already understand (after all, we conceived and built the tools that are the infrastructure of the practices which. It's that he uses all of this in a half-assed attempt to slap around GW Bush. It's really pathetic that smart people use all of their powers in such trivializing ways.

I believe that you have to accept when people do the right things for the wrong reason, and it is in this spirit that I welcome the hype to be associated with Friedman's 'vision'. It was clear that he's doing what I've been doing in generating an ontology for things I observe to be true. But at best, all Friedman can do is guess where these concepts will lead, and in that regard, considering the depth of the thought of the people and institutions who generated the artifacts of his 'flatism', Friedman is wasting his prescriptions on Bush and gives up too easily.

I would like to point out one thing that I believe may be very influential in the short term and I hope gains favor here and elsewhere, and that is Dyson's Utopia.

Now you look at a mind like that of Freeman Dyson and you have someone who clearly can visualize the world in a novel way, but doesn't waste it all for political cookies.

Oil Storm
The Peak Oil meme has made it to Hollywood. Hopefully, it will give the Greens something more constructive to talk about than global warming. Please understand the extreme irony of the situation. It's got to be one way or another. Either we run out of fossil fuels in the next 50 years or not. If we run out, there's no way we can heat up the planet appreciably. So please spread the news of the dualism.

24 Moments

This week's episode of 24 was pretty decent. Finally somebody said 'torture' instead of interrogation and they managed to get some gay pimpslapping into it. I really am astounded, however, by the kneejerk associated with "the public's right to know" in the case of a disaster. Do people think a missile launch could go so undetected?

Posted by mbowen at 06:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

US Citizen

I was in Seattle this Monday speiling up my consulting group's ability to solve a particularly nasty problem in government procurement pricing for a large aerospace manufacturer. (Hmm who could that be?). We met in a very nicely lit and carpeted secure facility and showed our drivers licenses at the reception. But I use the term 'we' loosely, because I whipped out the passport.

My passport expires next year and I will have to renew it without having filled all the pages with visas from around the globe. That's ok I suppose, because I do a fair bit of domestic travel now, and I just love using it.

In all the foofoorah about the 'Real ID', there's something that frequent flyers and our attendants understand. The passport is a superior piece of identification. It takes longer to get, it's harder to forge and generally a class of more serious people use it. The idea that some new database or registration process at the DMVs of this nation are going to make us marginally more secure is a dead issue as far as I'm concerned. It's a half step. Simply said, a passport is harder to get, fewer people have them. It's a more important document and it's a better form of ID.

It should be common sense that if you want more security, then you should add a more stringent requirement for identification purposes. But giving that same ability to everyone defeats the notion. It simply raises the bar for everyone, including forgers.

Posted by mbowen at 08:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


The Playstation 3 is way more beautiful than the the XBox 360. I say this as a diehard XBoxer. It's not a pity, because I love my XBox now and it's ugly as dirt. Still you have to give MS a little credit for making their new box look like a large iPod, sorta. But Sony has done the right thing and gave us a swoopy burnished machine in three different finishes. Nicely.

I'm following the E3 happenings on the GamesBlog. So far so so. I live in LA but haven't had a moment's rest, so I haven't been able to cruise the bars near the Convention Center and catch some drippings. I can't say that I'm really that excited anyway. It turns out that we've got THQ and Activision as customers. I heard EA uses our stuff too, so sooner or later I'll get out to see these guys, LA being the headquarters for all things gamey.

In the meantime, I haven't been on Live for months and am still enjoying the heck out of being Sam Fisher.

Posted by mbowen at 07:38 AM | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

V is for (Empty) Victory

Yesterday, the spousal unit put in work for the city as an exit pollster for the LA Times. As her day wore on, she had no idea which way the race was going. This morning, we have normality. Or so it would seem.

The notable experience she brought from her outpost in South LA was twofold. Firstly, most people don't like to talk about whom they vote for. If you ever had suspicions about there being a silent majority, they are hereby confirmed. Maybe 1 out of 8 or 1 out of 12 people were speaking to her at all.

Secondly, paperwork associated with voting is a huge headache. She collected a good number of survey sheets but a significant percentage of them were spoiled and had to be disregarded.

I get the feeling this kind of stuff is rather commonplace. It only goes to assure me that it is our confidence in the democratic process rather than the mechanics of the process itself which delivers us from evil. And considering that only 30% of us showed up at the polls yesterday, it's a slim margin of confidence after all. But what's done is done, and for better or worse, we have proven once again that we can have an orderly transition of power. Way to go.

As for Villaraigosa himself, I'm with the 70% who didn't feel it was necessary to say anything. I'm glad some people will get a kick out of him, being Hispanic and all. But I'm of the notion that he won't be as chauvinist about it as people make out. He clearly had the energy and the spirit during the campaign, but I found him to be a bit too opportunistic. Let's see if he can bring as much good news as he chronicled Hahn's bad.

Villaraigosa is a winner without a mandate. Nobody elected him to do anything special. We all know we need to raise taxes and get more (not just a couple hundred but 7-10 thousand) cops on the street to make the community policing initiative truly work. We all know he's lacking the the testicular fortitude to do so as was Hahn. He's talked a good game about transportation, but the Gov snaked him with a billion and a half of extra state revenues. V is not going to turn around the declining state of our health care provision either.

Villaraigosa is mayor. So let us continue to expect nothing and we won't be disappointed. Oh yeah, and keep an ear open for ethnic humor.

Posted by mbowen at 07:50 AM | TrackBack

Down the Toilet

Posted by mbowen at 07:35 AM | TrackBack

John Bolton & The Discovery Channel

The Discovery Channel is not a part of the liberal media conspiracy. In fact, the more I watch it, the more I like it.

I've been a fan of Monster Garage from the very beginning. Jesse James is the real man originator of this kind of reality show. The Discovery Channel has been doing a bit of this before, and I've always encouraged my kids to watch the emergency room documentaries. None of us are strangers to blood and guts.

But now there is a whole franchise of mainstream 'reality' programming, very little of which is documenting anything interesting except the perversities of annoying people. The problem is that in the mainstream reality shows, nobody is building anything interesting except for dysfunctional relationships, whereas on the Discovery Channel, they're doing engineering. I've gained a real appreciation for what serious mechanics do, and now this week, today in fact, I'm going to check in once again with 'Deadliest Catch' about the reality of crab fishing.

Unlike many of my professional peers, I have a hacker's respect for the gripping and grunting of handiwork. I've had to look at my own disfigured thumbnail for months as the bloodclot grew out. Working with certain tools can leave marks. Yes I did curse out loud. Sometimes cursing out loud is an integral part of hard work. Sometimes when a part is a piece of shit, that's exactly what you have to call it. I give a lot of respect to the Discovery Channel for airing (though bleeping) the grit. A hard work ethic isn't dainty, and a lot of times it is only the ego of a leader that gets work done. You need carrot and you need stick, and chewing somebody's ass out is a pretty good stick. This is something the editors at the Discovery Channel leave in. That's educational television.

It's been said that the best sign of intelligence is the ability to get to the heart of a problem. It's knowing what to focus on and what to ignore. Even though I haven't followed the Bolton nomination, I think a valid point can be made about the suitability of an abrasive personality. A good leader can be abrasive, and sometimes intransigence demands that. The bottom line is the bottom line.

I just wanted my liberal friends to understand that everyone isn't ideological all the time, unless the Discovery Channel is.

Posted by mbowen at 07:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Osage Avenue, Our very own Waco

Professor Kim recounts with some excruciatingly painful detail bombing of MOVE and the birth by fire of crusader Mumia Abu Jamal. What she doesn't do is give me a reason to let my heart bleed. Maybe I'm just not charitable, or maybe I am authentically pride of my blackness for orthogonal reasons.

I happen to be one of those individuals who, pretty much from day one, thought Mumia was a dumbass. There are some people who think that to be truly free as the white man, you have to be as free as the white man has been to take life. And so their appreciation of Western culture has something to do with the awesome power of demolition - they are fascinated by Hitler's genocide, for example. So for anyone who picks up a little red book and is ready to quote Mao against the evils of the West, why should the life of a miserable pig matter? I have always marvelled at the balls of hardheads who felt like they were proving something by pontificating the idea of shooting back at cops. Invariably, 99% of these guys are nutjobs. What's worse is that they are intellectually incapable of pulling off anything spectacular. I mean, when it comes to anarchic sociopaths, you've got to hand it to Colin Ferguson. He killed what 6? And the Beltway Sniper, man he had the whole country on alert. But unfortunately these guys were a little bit too transparently loony for any crusading journalists like Mumia to pick up their cause as symbolic of Black Liberation Struggle. The kings of this sort of madness were, of course, David Koresh and Tim McVeigh. Honorable mention goes to Randy Weaver (Ruby Ridge), Ted Kaczinsky (the Unabomber) and Eric Rudolph (Centennial Park). Yes we hear them go boom, but are they really saying something?

Now I know that there's a Radio Raheem out there who feels put out by the idea that blackfolks don't have our own extremely dangerous killah. And certainly there have got to be some passive aggressive radical black vegans out there who desparately need to hear some news of a revolutionary vanguard based on some Afrikan values. (Please don't forget the use of the 'k', as in AmeriKKKa). So I offer MOVE as a combination of the two, even though, they apparently couldn't shoot straight. Add to the domestic discontents Hall of Fame, the showdown at .

Anyone who has done any little bit of traveling in this nation understands one thing. This place is big, and there are a hell of a lot of awfully remote places. It's a bit odd that Chappelle had to go clear over to Durban, he could have gone to the Olympic Peninsula and been more isolated from the types of people that cause headaches. And so I ask the rhetorical question why is it that these fake revolutionaries who complain so much about their desire to be truly free of the Man don't head straight out to the boondocks. Because they are codependent asshats. The person who complains loudest about the amount of MSG in their diet is the same person who can't cook and always spends their last 3 dollars at the cheap Chinese joint. In otherwords, MOVE should have moved it's lame ass to the the woods and survived on their own. Perhaps they didn't have bus fare or strong enough legs to walk the distance. So like the rest of the subculture of complaint, they squatted. How refreshingly original.

The American Dream dies hard. I don't know exactly how we started the concept of 'community' as in the cliche 'give back to the community', but it sure as hell is established. We may not be glued together in the beloved community, but we sure as hell don't like the bum who doesn't mow his lawn. So it comes as no surprise that characters like John Africa ended up on his neighbor's most wanted list.

There's a place for misfits, anarchists and cults here in this country. It's somewhere between way out in left field, the sticks, the boonies and the hinterlands. So long as they stay far away from the reach of the System, then they can minimize their beef with the System. I don't quite understand why anyone should believe that people who are incapable of learning this basic lesson have anything to teach us at all. Except perhaps what it looks like to be stupid and in jail and less free than when they started making all their idiotic noise.

Posted by mbowen at 05:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Not Even Blacks

Once upon a time in America, in order to be someone of note and substance to be quoted in major newspapers on issues which might be of concern to blackfolks, you had to be a labor leader like A. Phillip Randolph. Today I have come to a realization why that isn't necessary. Mexican President Vicente Fox provides an example.

You see what everybody realizes is that African Americans have made dramatic progress over the past generation. People change slowly, but blackfolks have changed quickly. Just like it's hard to believe that most everybody now has a cell phone, whereas 20 years ago only the wealthiest among us did; it's hard to believe that blackfolks go whereever they please and do whatever they want. Just like your mother, despite the ubiquity if Linux, still can't manage to upgrade from Windows 95, lots of people here and around the world cannot manage to upgrade their racial programming. This doesn't provide a real barrier to blacks of substance and ability so much as it provides a permanent sense of dumbfounded astonishment in the American media, and therefore the minds of the world.

Imagine that you are your old bigoted parents. You would look at a black man like me - six figure salary, $600 cellphone (Treo 650), black Hollywood suit, shaved head and crisp diction - like some kind of amazing phenomenon. I'm sitting in first class on the plane talking to my business partner how we just blew their minds at Boeing. This to you, in your parents' mindset, would generate an incredible sense of jaw drop. I meet your eyes with no sense of the ethics which used to dominate American social life. I am as oblivious to your ignorance as a Sony PSP is to a phone booth with a dial phone.

And so it is with a good number of journalists and observers who have decided to be more comfortable with their own old racial programming. They say that they don't need to be up on the latest version, unaware of what they are missing. Even when you hand them an update, they fumble with the options and end up confused and frustrated. They admit that their life and worldview doesn't need all the new features. They don't see themselves as broken, just a little old-fashioned. Besides, everyone is backwards compatible with old racial programming. We all can pulse dial. We can still believe that a blackface charicature is a horrific insult worthy of national attention. We can still believe that some anonymous black criminal who gets shot by white cops ought to be national news. We can still believe that it's a goddam shame that black men work on trash trucks, just like the same old stereotype that Sammy Davis put up with in the original Ocean's Eleven.

So when Vicente Fox said: "There's no doubt that the Mexican men and women _ full of dignity, willpower and a capacity for work _ are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the United States," we in the blogosphere are forced to remember that one four letter word in this context must surely insult black progress.

Boo hoo.

Multiculturalism is supposed to awake us to the understanding of where ethnic traditions come from. Yet many liberal takes on it try to make it modernist and anti-modernist at the same time. On the one hand, they would have us respect the great traditions of an ancient culture, say the ability to use blowdarts to catch eels in the Amazon rainforest. On the other hand they would have us feel some great loss if children of that tribe were to wear sweatshirts from USC or Nike track shoes. It is this same contradiction that would have us worry that Shanequa can't get a job as a legal secretary on K Street. Sooner or later people, we're going to have to decide whether or not to upgrade our racial programming. We're either going to be modern and have the same standards of judgement for everyone, or we're going to be anti-modern and assert nonsense like "It's a Shi'ite thing, you can't understand."

When it comes to African Americans, we live with this racially essentialist dualism, and of course as you might expect, I grumble about how some of y'all manage to live like that. Still I understand what must be going through those heads, the astonishment that so many upgrades have taken place even though the old ideas still work.

I'll only add one more dimension to the analogy. It has to do with a kid from a small town, or since this is Star Wars week, a small planet. A lot of Americans skip the bonds of small town gravity and migrate successfully up the ladder of mobility. Sometimes they go back to that small town to find that their old running buddies are taking pride that they are a shift manager in the ball point pen factory. We all have to be reminded, especially those of us elites, that there's dignity in all kinds of work we would never condescend to perform. You couldn't pay me enough to retrain my mind to have the kind of focus that the short Mexican woman has at LAX as she takes her pole and erases the scuff marks off the marble floors. Only four year scholarships for my three kids would get me back in housepainting gear. My point is that all of us are from somewhere but half of us have gone elsewhere. The rich don't all stay rich and the poor don't all stay poor. Mexicans and blacks are no exception.

I don't like the fact that some folks have refused to upgrade their racial programming and still think that the majority of blacks' ambition is to compete for the same jobs as non-English speaking immigrants to America. I don't like the fact that some folks can't divest themselves of the stereotype that blacks ought to be the ones to take downscale labor. But neither of those facts get me all bent out of shape. It's also true, that blacks have had those historical struggles in our own past. There was a time when A. Phillip Randolph was our own Ceasar Chavez, and the railroad stations were for blacks what today's airports are for many Mexicans. So even with our proper modernist sensibilities, we need to recognize that some things, like the building of economic, intellectual, social and political capital, take time.

African Americans are still moving forward, many of us at different paces, as are Mexican Americans. Here in Los Angeles, I bear happy witness to that progress. Whether or not observers of these matters want to upgrade their racial software and screw their jaws shut, people from both groups are going to pursue their ambitions. Depsite the difficulties for the straight stories to emerge, the people will. Maybe some journalists ought to think about who's willing to do their jobs for less.

Others Observe:

His comments however have opened the door, slightly, to discussing illegal immigration and how it affects African-Americans. This is a taboo subject mostly because in the United States real class analysis has been absent among the left with many viewing societal issues through a lens of 'politically correct' notions about race. It also doesn't help that those most affected by illegal immigration are those with the least amount of voice in our society.

Dead right. But that's why I emphasize the Old School black opinion from an elitist position and never neglect class over here at Cobb. I'm willing to say and always have, that our reaction to racist insult needn't be ignorant of class. I think everybody should be aware of the fact that Jackson isn't truly a labor leader. Perhaps he ought to be, why is he not?

David Card via Tyler Cowen

On the question of assimilation, the success of the U.S.-born children of immigrants is a key yardstick. By this metric, post-1965 immigrants are doing reasonably well: second generation sons and daughters have higher education and wages than the children of natives. Even children of the least educated immigrant origin groups have closed most of the education gap with the children of natives.

I've been talking about the internal Second World. I'm willing to suggest that Mexican immigrants have a bit more entrepreneurial in the cities precisely because of a lack of integrational social capital. Whereas many blacks took the path of civil service in the post Civil-Rights era, the doors open here in Los Angeles are notably in the construction trades. Lots of pickup trucks and overalls, and even though it goes down to the day labor at the Home Depot, maybe the reasons blacks aren't getting picked up is because Mexican shift bosses are doing a lot of the picking up. If you're not bilingual on building sites and in kitchens in California, you're not skilled.

Bomani Jones says

But some people just have to do it. It's gotta be done, and rent has to be paid, which draws a lot of people into work that could easily be called for the fact that little is as dehumanizing as homelessness. Mexicans are just disproportionately chosen to do those gigs. Maybe black folks are unwilling to do those things--and history has shown black folks have a need for sustinence that has made us willing to do a lot of subhuman shit--and I wouldn't blame anyone for being unwilling to do a lot of jobs if they're able to find some other way to eat.

Yeah here in the Southwest, but not so much in the South. Blacks were still running kitchens in New Orleans when I was there this spring. We'll see how well Mexicans do in other states. So far, so so.

Posted by mbowen at 10:09 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Tuesday Fragments

Off the Road Again
I am finally off the road, which has wrecked havoc with my avocational trains of thought. I have no idea what is transpiring in the news, and have been focused on getting my company to the next phase in a fat aerospace contract. That's looking good by the way. We had a fantastic meeting yesterday. Now I can breathe.

I'm almost finished 'My Life as a Quant' and I'm trying to figure out what kind of person Derman is. It is a curious matter that eludes me. He's there and yet he's not. As I have embraced my inner geek over the past several years (by dint of humility and fascination) there is a certain bit of personality I have exchanged. I am now wondering exactly where the ego of someone like Derman resides. Mystery.

Jill Stewart

The big news is that Jill Stewart is going to help run Pajamas Media. This is revolutionary. You wouldn't think it, but there is a serious possibility that the real endangered species in MSM is going to be the alternative weeklies. Jill will add a great deal to this effort and I'm really proud of what we should be able to accomplish.

Pontiac G6

I rented this hooptie from National the other day, and I've got to say, that's a spirited ride. I expected a lot and I got a lot. I got what looked to be the standard model. It had chrome five spoke rims and a Monsoon stereo system. It was the four door but didn't have the fancy sunroof. Even so, the right was very tight. The interior was sporty, and the power was pretty nice.

The auto-stick took some getting used to and it slipped a couple times on the upshift during hard accelleration, but the ponies kicked in when you needed it. It's really a level up in driving expectations, and the performance is clearly there.

Oddly enough, I rented a new Malibu just yesterday and the interior is clearly done by the same guys. Nowhere near the power.

Posted by mbowen at 05:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

On Dave Chappelle

There's an old saying that people who talk don't know and people who know don't talk. The weird thing about Dave Chappelle is that I'm not sure I know what I know, but I feel compelled to talk. The more that I think I know what I know, the less I want to say, because it's better to say things to people face to face anyway.

This is all about two extraordinary evenings, one that I had with someone I know for sure is very close to Chappelle, and one with a man I remember as Dave himself, only I can't be positive. Let's start with the first.

Just a couple of months ago I had one of those lightning rod evenings where everything falls into place. I may have actually written something about it. And one of the dudes at the table was an extremely bright and level-headed young brother. A lot of things about him suggested to me a great deal of conscious reflection. He had something which reminded me of this thing I called 'programmers dyslexia'. When you ask a programmer or somebody with a sophisticated understanding of a complex system a seemingly simple question, they slow down their speech and give tentative kinds of answers. You can just see the gears whizzing in their heads as they try to answer just right, and suddenly a new idea springs into their head as if there was a new solution and the act of consideration changes things. And they have to try and settle on one answer with respect to the dynamic. In the end it looks just a little clumsy, especially if you have no idea of what the variables are. This cat was like that, except for the soul. When he rose to talk about relationships between people, you could tell that he was more perceptive than he let on and very respectful about what he said. In him I saw that quality of overthought when it came to people's souls.

Since I happen to know for a fact that this man is close to Dave, I am very secure in the knowledge that there is at least one person on this planet for whom Mr. Chappelle has someone who seems a good sounding board. On the other hand, sometimes decisions need to be made by someone with a strong stomach and instinctual courage. All circumspection aside, sometimes ass kicking is in order.

Of course it's impossible for someone at my distance to see if such an ass-kicking is necessary, and I'm not likely to find out. But if my interpretation of African American history is appropriate, as well as my appreciation of the existential dilemmas of the blackfolks of my generation, I think that somewhere there is an asshole that needs shutting down even if he's just a spectre inside of somebody's head. When, in fact, an ass-kicking must be delivered, it is absolutely essential that you have someone who overclocks their empathetic reasoning. And so for that reason, I knew that Dave Chappelle was never far from the influence of well-considered sanity.

And while there were certain visual clues to suggest that this extraordinary individual might very well be muslim, the explicit subject didn't arise. But in the wake of yesterday's Time article, I have put two and two together.

The second evening takes me back to New York in the 90s at 42nd and Lex. The Houlihan's which is basically like a TGIFriday's was the spot for the young, well-dressed and black that evening. I my particular frame of mind, I'd rather just have a beer. At some point, in alien-observation mode, me and another cat sitting across the way simultaneously busted out laughing at the parade of characters heading downstairs to the dance floor. For some unknown time, solidified in the ambers of memory, we started crackin' on people in the club, blackfolks in general, and hell just about everything. We busted each other up laughing half the night.

He told me he was a standup comic doing the New York thing. I knew he had the gift. I remember that man as Dave Chappelle. I only wish I had a diary entry to confirm it, because we were 'right there' in terms of the connection.

The other day I was listening to a black radio station and on it was a conversation between some editor/publisher of a magazine I think was called 'Sister Sister', the DJ and some black comic celebrity. They, like everyone else in that world, were sustaining the conversation about how impossible it is for 'everybody' to deal with black entertainers who have money. The conversation seemed to me incredibly stuck-up, paranoid and self-serving, and not the least because the participants defended Lil Kim's idiocy. As well, they remarked about Gerald Levert, who evidently has his own problems with the courts. I gather it is difficult for people who know very well that it is now KKBT who has incorporated 'Dont get it twisted' into their call sign shout out / motto, to see black entertainers as mere dismissible human beings. You've got to wonder what it is that keeps people buying the piss-boy's albums. (I heard his latest song that same day 'The Closet Part Two' - it was like a bad soap opera on wax.) Sometimes too many people don't realize stupidity is just stupidity.

There are two lessons that must be balanced. The first is: Give the people what they want. The second is: Sooner or later you get the audience you deserve.

I think of what discipline is in view of scarcity. I mean I don't have a hard time not running around being a fool playboy because I drive a Chevrolet. It's all I can afford. Can I honestly say that if I had that Porsche that I want, that I wouldn't find myself cruising Sunset Boulevard? I strongly believe that I have the discipline, but maybe I don't. It's not the kind of test I've been given.

So when I think of Dave's dilemma with regard to doing the kind of work he wants, it's difficult to say what kind of money makes the difference. On the one hand, he's paid to be at the top of his game, and now is the time to wrest some permanent scratch from the machines that deliver cashflow from ever changing demands of disposable income. It's good enough to be proud that machine works. On the other hand, Dave has already bought the farm, so to speak. He's made the move Bobby Brown found impossible to make, which is to throw down some cash and get property back off the road so deep that you never hear the booming jeeps. Why put yourself in the middle of drama city if you are truly a man of peace? Chappelle has proven that he knows when to walk away and call a spade a spade. On the other hand, who is he standing up in front of?

I've written more times with less depth on Chappelle than I recall, as I use the old search engine on myself I find the following.

  • Chocolate Covered Fish
  • Curses
  • Rick James, Bitch
  • Chappelle

    So I guess I'm one of those people who wonders when Chappelle is going to give up hiphop and the shallow crowd that worships it. I mean just look at the comments I get from 'Rick James Bitch'. The power is in the honest, funny vulgarity. But how long do you feed that monster, and who owns whom? That's why you have to be a pilgrim. You have to form a kind of detachment that allows you to go anywhere. That's when you know you transcend. When you can let go of something for 3 years and then come back. Just keep that farm.

    I'm going to go on some more about this, but honestly I've got sick computers, restless children, a plane to catch and a huge meeting tomorrow.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:32 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
  • May 14, 2005

    99 Problems

    Spence tells me that he's falling in love with Hiphop all over again. I had one of those days when it's absolutely necessary to listen to loud music and drive 90 mph. So I called him to find out what kinda beats I could buy - it being Friday and I just got paid. No answer.

    So I head down to Fry's off Edison north of Irvine and pull up my rented Pontiac G6 in the lot. I've got to get yet another hard drive for my wobbly home network. This time I'm getting a Seagate Barracuda. No more Maxtor for me, ever.

    Unfortunately, as the case may be, I have found the right music to speed to, remixes of Jay-Z and Limp Bizkit. Or is it Linkin Park? Whichever. It was loud, it was vulgar, it was rude and it was rockin'. Just what I needed at the end of a long ass day.

    This morning, 5% into the recovery of my machine, I tried to get the OS to recognize the video card. No luck. I enable the ATI drivers, it only allows it go secondary. I disable the primary, the secondary doesn't engage. Now I have a black screen. I can't RDP into the machine, I don't have a VNC server running and I can't think of another way in. If I had a S-channel or other converter, I could stick in a second monitor and fix the first. No such luck.

    I'm behind in everything except for my big proposal for Monday. I'm not getting enough sleep. I have to get on the road tomorrow. I'm losing my mind.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:02 AM | TrackBack

    May 12, 2005

    Black Rage

    (from the archives - august 1996)

    I wrote this over the course of a couple weeks back when I was working the internet as a race man over at Cafe Utne. I leave it in pretty much it's original form, although I haven't done all the bolding for emphasis as I have had in the collected piece.

    black rage is not a theory.

    i'm not sure that it makes so much sense to explain it in any other terms than malcolm x's. 'whatever you will do to me, just know that i will do the same to you'. considering what happens to black americans ever day *not in theory* but in reality, it's a mutha to face. most white folks who have lookedmask.jpg (22395 bytes) closely at the situations many blacks find themselves often recoiled in shock. to a person, in my experience, it comes out like 'man if they did shit like that to me...'. in the end, there is a profound respect for the many black strategies used to displace or redirect that rage.

    coming from that perspective, i respect that many folks are likely to respect the words and deeds of mlk. but that is rarely the case. there is often a sense of resignation americans feel in confronting the facts that justice is so often an impossibility - that oj will be virtually barbecued forever, yet the korean shopkeeper videotaped shooting a black teenaged girl in cold blood received a suspended sentence and is forgotten by the nation. white folks and blacks alike come to agree that black rage, given american society, is inevitable. that is why white people live in white neighborhoods, stay away from downtown at night, understand the fear of bernard goetz, get the message of willie horton and respond in all sorts of ways in every aspect of american society in a predictable fashion to the images of danger associated with black rage.

    black rage becomes not only a self-fulfilling prophesy but a necessary component of american politics. white folks accept their guilt and fear, as they realize their collective historical incompetence as the political majority in addressing the injustices faced by blacks. they bow out. they accept the destruction of cities and the perpetuation of tragedy. black folks do the same thing in their relationships to each other. we abandon our brothers at the first sign of trouble despite what we know, better than anyone, about the content of their individual characters, and we use our own successes and absence of (external) rage, as a justification of our own evasions of responsibility. thus the enraged black man or woman has become a staple symbol in everyone's rhetoric. but few of us are serious or busy addressing the fundamental injustice.

    rage is not hate.

    rage is visceral reaction to a severe victimization when all else seems hopeless. rage is the explosive last lashing out of a man facing death with his back to the wall. it is not sustained or calculated like hate. one speaks of acts of rage, not strategies of rage or ideologies of rage. you rage to get shit out of your system and scare folks into not pushing you any more. it's a natural thang.

    what's unnatural is that there is black rage. that a society is so predisposed to pushing black folks to the limit that their rage is almost predictable.

    although i never do, well - i haven't in memory - i know very well what this rage looks like and how to use it. the expression of black rage as a dramatic device is (over)used by black and white artists alike. it's part of the american lexicon. but that is very distinct from the real thing, as different as individual rap artists are in rhyme character in a recording studio are from real killers behind bars. the expression is romanticized in typical american fashion (i can think of no better example than the western movie, and in particular the role of the writer in clint eastwood's 'unforgiven').

    also, black folks front. that's not rage, that's frontin'. and i know one of you stupid punk ass white boys is going to want me to please explain frontin'. don't even try it. you know what i'm sayin? just be glad i didn't straight wax your sorry ass from the jump. cause you wouldn't be standing there with that stupid look on your face gettin all huffy. you'd be pickin your ass up off the floor. oh oh oh now you know what i'm saying. damn skippy. if your shit was correct i wouldn't have to go there. lame ass mu'fukas.

    (i need to invent a new smiley to cap off that last paragraph. it is the following expression: i am tilting my head to the side, rolling my eyes up and smacking my teeth and straight walking away - kind of like what dennis johnson did to chris collingsworth last night)

    i think there is a real recognition, despite the rages we witness, that 'the fire next time' will be put out next wednesday. yet in that light, i'm not sure that people want to temper enduring desires for vengeance. if you subscribe to the idea that no matter *what* black people do in this country, white people will always have all the power, then it is not temperance so much as an instinct for survival that keeps rage in check. the only people willing to risk that intemperance that are people who shoot back at cops. that would include the most violent of gangs, militias and separatists. (same difference).

    more moderate and sensible folks angle towards the political symbols of rage *with* temperance. in other words, i think the aspect of christian charity and forgiveness is overstated. although there is some revenge in living well, most folks just don't have the power to attain justice (or payback as the case may be). if you look at the black community in crown heights, i don't believe the death of gavin cato will every be forgiven or forgotten. but the fact is, they will never be able to make their enemies pay. that's why the next 'black vs. jewish' incident in new york city will echo back to cato/rosenbaum.

    again, new incidents of rage will have political echoes into essentially powerless communities. both sides will evade acting on deeper issues of social justice (with greater responsibility held by the side with more political power) and the symbolic raging of spokesmen will run the day.

    i do think there is a kind of self-righteous posturing that takes place in defense of this type of political intransigence. but it goes right back to the symbols of rage which is just like my fronting in the previous post. to wit: you ought to be glad that we didn't do what we *felt* like doing - maybe somebody else would be dead.

    in the end, the political group who owns the police follow up on that threat. that's called law and order, but it has nothing to do with justice.

    i live in a country with pockets of civilization. today, i am not afraid to go into the occupied territories, because i grew up in a ghetto. i believe that those in the territories are willing to hear me out, but i was in no way prepared for the fact that america was so willing to abandon those places.

    i fear that appropriate power to bring infrastructure and hope to those abandoned places is not forthcoming - that in every way the gap is widening.

    articulation of rage is a valuable skill.

    so often black folks feel it, but don't know exactly where it is coming from or what to do about it. they equate that existential anger, confusion and the resulting frustration as an essential characteristic of being black. but it is not. while it is certainly part of the black experience, the permanency of which white supremacy replicates generation after generation, it is not the defining core of who we are.

    every generation (and ethnicity) of african americans finds different ways to articulate and diffuse or redirect this rage.

    one answer to black rage is afrocentrism, which has little to do with welfare. conservatives strike the wrong chord, but one or two notes are right: liberal paternalism sucks. and part of the 'liberal' agenda is legislation. the problem is that you cannot legislate peace into raging minds. by the same token you cannot deregulate peace into raging minds, so conservatives are no closer to the solution. yet the only way (or so it seems to me) that those people overcome with rage (which is probably a poor way to address a class of black folks) are going to achieve is under the direction of black folks who have achieved. yet those of us who have achieved are only marginally powerful.

    if i had the 12 billion dollar multinational 'africa inc.' under my direction, i could fix a half dozen communities lickety-split, extend my influence and make a major difference. such is our amenability to corporate power.

    another response to black rage is the black church.

    i am reading derrick bell's latest book 'gospel choirs'. he is about to do an end around the system, and i am curious to see how it pans out. in his previous book of this sort, 'faces at the bottom of the well', he argued that racism is a permanent part of america and that we are all best off recognizing that fact. although the expression of racism changes (in 1940 blacks were considered inferior because we didn't drive cars as much as white people - therefore a racialized statistical category of 'automotive ability' was often used by negro scholars as a benchmark of equality) racism itself does not. bell, would have us abandon such standards, it appears, as he - a harvard professor of law - turns to the tradition of black spirituality in search of lessons.

    the articulation of black rage or any other black sentiment or thought serves as a critical discourse on american society.

    however, as hall exemplifies in his admittedly undernourished comprehension of articulate black voices, most of america does not pay attention. there are certainly *reasons* behind white fear, defensiveness and reactions to perceived threats posed by blacks. but they are not good reasons, and they must be challenged. 'consistent patterns of thought' within black communities are either well articulated or they are not. those which are well articulated have names as do those who represent them. if there are issues to be discussed and contention about the validity of claims, then there are real ways to deal with them which are not grounded in fear, defensiveness and reactionary rhetoric. to direct such discussions are the reasons black thinkers of all types write histories, teach classes, create novels, compose music, sculpt, rhyme, dance, preach, witness and otherwise work to expose their thoughts.

    yet despite this fact, americans continue to believe in or be unduly influenced by the racist hype, often believing themselves to be as well-informed as anyone. because of this there is practically an industry dedicated to knocking ignorant people upside the head. i take up the cudgel of the race man from time to time, but this time i'll defer to farai:

    certainly ms. chideya is not the first, nor will she be the last to bring clarity to issues of racial prejudice, oppression and injustice. there are today and have been so many who have directly transformed rage into productive lessons without pandering themselves as victims. they don't expect nor ask for pity; these are teachers. and their lessons stand in defiance of fear. too often we extract soundbites out of these lessons believing there are golden platitudes that stand for all time in any variety of circumstances. but how many times have americans consoled themselves with the pathetic plea of a brain damaged man beaten into submission by brutal police officers? (if there was ever any question of whether or not rodney g. king was willing to surrender, consider those words). there is no excuse for americans to pretend to understand the lessons of the past without any consistent discipline and evaluation. racism invariably leads to injustice.

    like disease, racism needs to be fought with thoroughness and vigor every generation. yet unlike disease, if you harbor racist ideas wittingly or not, it *is* your fault and your responsibility. whether or not we live in a democracy, everyone's attitude should bear scrutiny on the issues.

    there are white folks who dance to hiphop in public at centennial olympic village, and there are white folks who make it their business to read franz fanon.

    at some level, most conflict between blacks and whites is political. if you are a political enemy, then be a good enemy. if you are a political ally, then do it up right. but if you are unable to bring the potential conflict into political terms, then you are just like the korean in spike lee's film 'do the right thing' who says *after* real conflict has begun 'we're all on the same side'. HA. a bit late. (then again everybody except smiley in that film was light on articulation).

    the point is that everyone is capable of perceiving the reality of racial injustice in america equally well. some people take the task more seriously than others. one way or another there will be a reckoning. it would be a shame if the color of your skin speaks louder than your thinking on the matter.

    that means sooner or later everybody is going to have to put aside the penny ante bs and deal with the question of the health of communities. i suspect people who are counting the color of noses in photographs are way deep in left field without a clue. but that could just be frontin - an angle to provoke the question what's your bottom line? you have got to be able to respond to the question, what's the bottom line. are you down with the struggle or not? you have to be prepared to ask the question too. of course that implies that you can come correct, which implies further that you are familiar with the political territory. which means rodney kingisms are out of the question.

    but that's hard work.

    maybe white people *cannot* "conceive of the level of penetration of racial injustice into American society" and that is part and parcel of their white identity and racial self-interest. but the euro-american citizen must divest himself of that white identity.

    thus on that principle the phrase 'it's a black thang you can't understand' is directed at *white* people and a significant number of americans who are not black needn't concern themsleves. but the difference between whiteness and a non-racial euro-american identity is a complicated test. in the end, however white people are all in denial and it is that naivete which makes them 'innocent victims' of black rage.

    sometimes it is black rage that provokes white folks out of their complacency. how many times have i heard the phrase, 'but nobody in my family ever owned any slaves..'? unfortunately their introspection ends at the point at which they have convinced themselves that they are relatively non-guilty of what they percieve as the main thrust of white supremacy.

    in the end however, such excuse making falls flat. that's why white folks need sophisticated 'answer it all' books like 'the bell curve', or jared taylor's 'paved with good intentions' or d'souza's 'end of racism'. yet still uncertainty persists and so these same white folks must face black rage yet again... in fact, they seek it out. hmmm...

    black rage must be very comforting for white folks against whom it is not directed.

    it's a black political thing that history shows, the majority of americans refuse to grapple with.

    show me the anti-racist plank in the republican party convention coming up.

    nobody here can say, "i'm not white, i'm a socialist, and the socialist party of america refuses that racial definition. one cannot be a socialist and be white because the socialist party recognizes how anti-democratic race is. we never make racial appeals in any of our campaigns, we always involve ourselves with racial justice as a priority."

    nobody can say that because no political party in america is so constituted. and the white people who control the majority parties in the united states of america have dictated that reason why white folks everywhere have that vague sympathetic personal reaction to the issues of racial justice. it is because there is no political program. and as long as white identity has any political power it is because it lies in the political interests of the major parties to leave it as it stands.

    race is a social construct, it is not an essential part one's biology. so when i say all white people are in denial i am saying it because i believe that euroamericans choose to be white. if i say america is racist it is because that white identity is the default for euroamericans. when i say that american politics bear the responsibilty for the racism in america i say so because these politics do not allow euroamericans to be anything but white - it doesn't force them to deal with that racial question. so it pushes the discussion off and re-frames it in terms of class to the exclusion of race or race to the exclusion of class which ever way suits the comfort zone of white people.

    this is tangential to the subject of black rage, but of course we have to stuff it in here because this particular forum is one of the only places in america where a good mix of people discuss the issue day in and day out. but i don't see any party leaders lurking - do you?

    black grass roots political efforts are largely ignored in american politics because when it comes to black political demands, the focus is placed on personalities rather than on issues.

    so long as african americans remain largely segregated by the legacy of racial discrimination in housing, grass roots political organizations will always reflect such efforts at self-determination on a separate and unequal basis. it is the absolute foreclosure of the possibility of local political clout which has necessitated that blacks seek political power at the federal level in the first place. the gerrymandering of black political districts has always been a strategy to get political power because in every way, black ghettoes have always been neglected by municipalities. and the current decentralization of political power, coupled with disaggregation of federal minority districts points more and more back to the old school of political marginalization.

    in 40 years, i can tell you that south atlanta is still black and north atlanta is still white. and i bet you a nickel that wherever you live, the black ghettoes are still in the exact same places they were before brown vs. board of education. now find me, for example, a multiscreen theatre complex in any of those neighborhoods. now tell me that black people don't watch enough movies to justify the investment. HA. what is the difference, people? what is the difference in the economic infrastructure of black ghettoes in 1996 and 1956? half the suburbs where utne readers live *didn't even exist* in 1956! so what did anybody do to deserve the economic investment that their community got, while the black communities got zilch? that's *your* politicians, people.

    while politicians in white communities were busy lobbying and getting commercial zoning for new malls, politicians in black communities were busy trying to insure white cops didn't shoot black people down in the streets. while politicians for the suburbs were insuring there were public parks for little league, politicians in the barrio were trying to get money into the public schools or get children bussed out.

    americans bear responisiblity for these politics. only you can tell what kind of politician you are putting in power. now if you call yourself white, and you elect your politician without some mandate for racial justice, then yes it's going to come back to you, sooner or later. becuase when it mattered, you didn't act. and it's not because of the color of your skin, it's because of the political road you chose.

    i don't know how people reconcile 'underclass nihilism' with afrocentrism. it seems to me that one is largely a myth and the other is a real constructive program that people are using not only to redirect rage, but to improve the quality of their lives. who is afrocentric? who is nihilistic?

    and since when was mlk gelded? and when did the congressional black caucus lead to destroyed lives?

    consider bob dole's candidacy, there seems no question that he is lacking 'passion'. but what is passion but redirected rage? since rage is the reaction to injustice, the passion it generates should serve the cause of justice. so where is dole's passion? nowhere. now reflect on the conditions of black ghettoes and the leadership position resolved in post 104. i think one could expect some passion from those quarters. yet there were no extraordinarily popular 'black leaders' which drafted up that resolution, just people with the motivation to put in words what common sense dictates should be said and done about ugly circumstances. so the question: is 104 a 'positive' message. if so, how is it ignored by the mainstream?

    what i'm saying is that resolution and dozens like them i have seen in my experience with black community politics are very common. that this hype about a lack of 'black leaders who act like mlk (gelded)' are a fetish of the white political majority. when faced with the real considered demands of thoughtful elected black leaders, such as those represented by the congressional black caucus, we witness things like a 'sea change'.

    so america has an overabundance of political activists who are intimately familiar with, and passionately dedicated to the improvement of conditions in black ghettoes. their accumulated wisdom is dismissed by political hacks like clint bolick who is able to manipulate white opinion with phrases like 'quota queen'.

    black rage is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

    there is a vested interest in american politics to use black rage. white political majorities are particularly attuned to black rage, whether that is constructive or raw rage. in short, black rage is a legitimated form of political protest. a lot of blacks recognize this and make use of it. if i sit here in this forum and complain that black folks get harrassed unnecesarily by the same police that should be protecting them, that does not carry the same weight in american society as the artist ice cube writing the rap 'fuck the police' and having 17 year olds pump the beat in the car next to you with an evil stare on their face. when black representation on the city council of los angeles is resisted for decades, and there is no forum given for the tyrrany of the darryl gates administration, that doesn't get the same attention as video of blacks burning police cars. often enough, there are no acceptable political compromises offered by a polity which ignores the facts of black life. consider how it is that 'law and order' has become a 'white man's burden' in our society. such political intransigence is often enough reasonable provocation for black folks to take rage to the streets. the spirit of compromise - cant we all just get along - is not proactive. it comes after the violent fact. clinton has demonstrated this in his dismissal of sista souljah, for example.

    the example with r.g. king is perfect. the christopher commission had special investigative powers that many black community activists had long sought and never received. the findings of the committee were largely taken with a grain of salt. as it turns out, mark fuhrman was one of the cops the commission cited as a bad apple. but he retained his job as did the majority of the officers the commission singled out.

    in the effort to get rid of darryl gates, there literally was NO legal recourse left. no citizens could force him out of office. the mayor had no power, the city council had no power. gates position was established in the first place by his, and political conservatives' opportunism in various wars on gangs, illegal immigrants and drug offenders. all significantly racial issues.

    i was in los angeles for the original beating, though by that time it was merely the latest in a series of outrages i and my colleagues gnashed over. people tend to forget the dismissed life story of black police officer don jackson who was hustled out of the hawthorne police department (on permanent leave or some such) after revealing klan-like activities. he became more widely known as the man involved in several self-styled 'sting' operations in which he demonstrated police abuse of blacks, his most famous being the videotape of him being shoved through a plate glass window by long beach police officers. he had also schooled young black men on their rights regarding probable cause and took a group of them to westwood where they were predictably harassed by officers there. that too was videotaped.

    eventually his crusade was twisted against him and he became a pariah. he did make a rather goofy point of trying to get into the members' only los angeles country club - i believe he handcuffed himself to the gates. but his courageous example was not lost on the black and latino communities of los angeles county.

    as well, outspoken activist micheal zinzun won a civil suit against the police (defended by johnny cochran) in the amount of 6 milliondollars. he lost the use of one eye. the hanging death of ron settles in a signal hill jail was never far from anyone's mind, another cochran victory. 'gang sweeps' which netted about 3% criminal bookings but added massive amounts of data on black youth into the lapd arrest records system was a big issue long before the simi verdict. the recent videotaped shooting death of latasha harlins and subsequent wrist slap given her korean killer reverbrated injustice.

    by the time of the r.g. king beating (and subsequent harrassment while he was in the hospital), most of the major media and especially npr and pacifica radio were all over the issue and beginning to take sides against gates. but their propensity to put typical victim spin on everything got under my skin. and you know how pacifica jumps from conspiracy to conspiracy. at least daniel schorr maintained a level head.

    mike woo was losing ground in local politics, pete wilson was attacking gays in the uc system and clarence was tomming his way to the top court. i was following cops around with my video camera and looking to get on public access cable. by the time operation desert sheild went ballistic, just around mlk's birthday in 1991, i had my fill of los angeles. getting into some very ugly arguments out at ucla at the federal building protests against the gulf posturing with some screeching asian neocons from orange county had pushed me over the edge. i was just about ready to start knocking heads.

    so i was very fortunate to be living in brooklyn when the verdict of vindication for briseneo, koon, powell and wind came down. i know i would have been scheming some very devious raging were i home in los angeles. i had often considered kidnapping a police officer and removing his trigger finger as the ultimate expression of the rage i felt at the time. i cannot imagine how i could have resisted the temptation to organize a posse to carry out such a deed during those days. my distance allowed me to save my life, such as it is. all of my posts would be prison notes.

    much of what i witnessed at that time between 1989 and 1991 in los angeles fuels my exposition in cyberspace though there was much before it and after it. it made it clear to me how important it is for public debate to be informed by personal experience which is driven by the quest for justice. as well it made it clear to me how life and death issues are manipulated in politicized and half understood versions of fact.

    ..i can't think straight right now...

    Posted by mbowen at 09:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Black Stuff

    I'm going to spend a bit of time blogging at Vision Circle as we bend the discussion towards black paradigms of organization and leadership. My focus for followup will be there, but I'll post both places in case everybody doesn't get there.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:55 AM | TrackBack

    May 11, 2005

    Get It Right

    Sometimes you can read the words and still not get the point. Here, Scott Johnson thinks the Northerners were wrong and the Southerners were right vis a vis the 3/5s Compromise.

    It should be obvious to anyone concerned that the African slaves were denied the right to vote. Therefore the basis upon which Southern politicians sought to increase their own enfranchisement had nothing to do with the purer democratic motive. So to give them any credit over the Northern politicians, who opposed counting slaves, is ridiculous.

    Scott Johnson, I fart in your general direction.

    If one is particular persnickety and on a mission to vindicate the Southern way, one might make the assertion that the Southern politicians at the time of the Compromise had manumission and enfranchisement directly in mind under this scheme. One might go as far as to say that the failure of Reconstruction was contrary to the will of the South and that Southerners of goodwill had always intended for the African slaves to be their political equals. After the War. Yeah right.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Apple's Los Angeles

    I purchased 'Apple's America' last week in hopes that I, as a discriminating traveler, might gain some benefit from the renowned NYT writer R.W. Apple. So I was very disappointed to find, in his review of all things Los Angeles, that he hadn't done much to stray from any hackneyed stereotype about the joint. I just hate the way most people not from Los Angeles write about Los Angeles and I don't know why I expected any better from Apple.

    So I'm definitely going to have to continue my series on black barbershops, if I can manage to stop hitting the road for the bossman long enough. And I'm also going to have to compete with the single white female blogger who is walking the city. I can't remember where I heard about her, but I'm certain to keep hearing about her as time goes by.

    And since I'm in a foul mood I'm finally getting a distinct sense that NPR's incestuous conspiracy of tweaky individuals is starting to get on my nerves. If I hear another plug for Scott Simon's 'Pretty Birds' I am going to rip the knob off the poor rentacar stereo. I mean I've already had it up to here with David Sedaris and Sara Vowel. 'This America Life' is already psychotically voyeuristic, but do we still have to listen to these creeps for years afterwards?

    I swear I'm getting to the point where I want to go native. Anywhere. Just keep me away from the coasts.

    Which brings me back to Apple. He makes me want to go to Vancouver and so I'll read the rest of the book with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Then again, Apple himself and his generation are anachronistic today and there's a certain lack of hipness that is refreshing. I know he's going to give me the brass rail tour and place me in places somebody like him would be comfortable. Serves me right for skipping ahead to Los Angeles. I think he got Boston right.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 10, 2005

    Not Having Fun

    I just finished working on a piece of a proposal that can make me a star, but I'm starting to feel like Dean Martin in the original Ocean's Eleven. Maybe I'm a little bit too old for this.

    My sales shark called me this morning and reminded me that Utah is a great place for mountain biking. And so it hit me like a ton of copper ore that I'm not really having fun on this trip and I'm not going to. The locus of my discontent which has overcome my otherwise sunny disposition is a particularly gimpy data pump created by Vignette that the mother company has decided to OEM. Why? Because you don't have to write code! Which means it's a perfectly idiotic tool for those of us who do write code.

    So I have come to discover that this gnarled piece of caca between an AS/400 and a SQL Server doesn't pay much attention to SQL code if you don't also draw the little field connector lines in it's idiot proof visual drag and drop fecal-torium. Instead of something simple like just writing a spool phrase as one would in Oracle's SQL dialect, this crap collector makes you grab a little text object from a toolbar. Try to imagine a DTS connection object with about 50 properties. IT'S A FLAT FILE FOR CHRISSAKE! I connect this monstrosity to my query object but not before I have to manually click the 'add field' button as many times as my query is bringing over columns.

    Now here's the killer. Imagine you determine, an hour and 3GB later that you'd like to make your query results a little smaller. It's not enough that you remove fields from your select statement in the gawdawful query object, you also have to pretty much destroy your flat file object and recreate it from scratch. This is something it takes a veteran like me all day to figure out.

    What a waste.

    I take that back. What's so absolutely perfect about this product is that it allows you to generate executable code that you can drop into obscure directories on your customer's servers. Only you know what they do and only you can fix them. That's evil genius.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 08:36 AM | TrackBack

    May 09, 2005

    Ten Questions Answered

    In which I answer ten questions posed by a guest blogger over at Drezner with snark, insight and aplomb. Says me:

    1. Does the rise in anti-Americanism concern you? If so, do you link it to the Bush Administration's policies? Even if you don't think it's a major issue that should be guiding policy choices, do you think it matters at the margins and can make it tougher to build support for U.S. goals?

    It matters at the margins and I have no problem assigning blame the GWBush. However, I think most anti-Americanism is practically, by definition, less than rational and noisy. It's actually very simple, there is really a stark short list of real offenses for which that the Bush administration is responsible all originating in the Iraqi conflict, and the divisions in this country amplifies the cascade of bitterness. We are too close to this history to know what the real effect will be.

    2. Do you really think we can make the UN further U.S. interests by criticizing and beating down the organization? Do you believe that John Bolton's style will enable him to actually accomplish things, or is it more a matter of his standing in the way of the UN doing wrong?

    I have no opinion on Bolton's style or substance. I don't know where the liberal defenders of Andrew Young are. After all, he made a Nixonian gesture to Arafat in the days before Arafat refused his Best Offer. This UN Ambassador will be forgotten too. The UN simply doesn't move things geopolitically. Hell, they can't even stop Nike sweatshops. The UN ought to simply be a clearinghouse for NGO activities. When Amnesty Internatational subjects its pronouncements to UN approval, then the US can too. Until then, UNICEF cards are cute, and Annan strikes a stunning profile. BFD.

    3. Do you believe that in order to effectively promote goals like democratization and human rights around the world, the U.S. must itself be seen as an exemplar of these values? Do you believe that our status as a standard-bearer of justice and liberty is so well-entrenched that revelations like the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo won't negatively affect it?

    We're at least as good as the French. On the other hand, Canada has never done anything, so far as we know, like Abu Ghraib. But when Liberians suffer at the hands of their dictators, they don't call out for help from Canada. I don't hear any stories of Sudanese sending messages of thanks to the Canadian government for their shining example. The Roadmap to peace between Israel and Palestine is not coming from the model written up by Finland. The world depends upon the US because of our strength, not because they like the way we hold elections. Hell, even Mexicans get a holiday to vote. That wasn't our idea.

    4. What do you really think of the failure to find WMD in Iraq? Do you believe that the Administration was genuinely as surprised as the American people were? Does this make you question intelligence assessments on other matters like North Korea and Iran; why or why not?

    I think it was an honest mistake, and not an unpreventable one, nor one that mitigates the threat of Saddam. Hussein was the same kind of menace as DeKlerk. I don't think that many citizens, myself included, are in a position to assess the capacity or the proper deployment of our intelligence services. I haven't plowed through the subcommittee reports and I'm not going to. Congress has been a herd of cows through this whole matter, and largely irresponsible. I'm sick of hearing all the blame tossed at the Executive.

    5. Do you believe that an international criminal court would be likely to indict U.S. servicemembers for war crimes, notwithstanding the provision that when countries are capable of investigating and prosecuting crimes in their own court systems, an international court will not have jurisdiction? Is this a real fear, or a stand-in for a broader concern over the impact of an international criminal justice system?

    I believe that no nation on this planet, save those who are powerless, have any great hopes or respect for an international criminal court. America is a nation that won the Cold War and assisted in the destruction of the Soviet Union. An international tribunal's worst damage are mere pinpricks and all nations will inevitably subvert it according to their interests. There is no international anything, save currency exchanges and trading blocks. Wait until cell phones work like Babelfish, then we'll all talk.

    6. Do you believe that development aid is important in its own right, or do you see it more as something the U.S is compelled to do for image reasons, much of which winds up being wasteful? How important is the Millennium Challenge Account, in your view?

    It seems aimed in the right direction. I subscribe to the view that some authoritarianism is necessary for the safety of international investment. So long as investors are willing to try and governments are willing to assure some stability, good things can happen. I'm all for a new and improved Imperium. I'm not sure the US can pull it off though.

    7. How important is intelligence reform? Is this a real priority, or more a political exigency driven by the 9/11 and Silberman-Robb reports? As the profile of those reports fades, is intelligence reform likely to recede as an issue?

    Tenet was the longest serving DCI in a generation. There is something radically wrong with an organization as huge and powerful as the CIA that goes through so many management shakeups. Let's not forget that Aldrige Ames was the equivalent of an Enron at CIA. Reorganization for its own sake will not improve the organization because there will always be egos involved trying to take the credit. Only a crisis will bring focus, selflessness and the willingness to slash bureacracy. Quite frankly, I don't think Al Qaeda actually poses a big enough threat of crisis to reform the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community. We need doodoo much deeper than the sort on our shoes now, otherwise nobody anywhere would be making such a fuss while our silly airports do what El Al did decades ago.

    8. How worried are you about China? What about in the long-term?

    The question of China depends primarily on America's willingness to be a better trading partner. Which is to say that as America and China compete for the resources driving their respective consumer economies, supplier countries will have to decide whom they like better. I think that the future favors us because we allow our trading partners to put their money in our very safe banks and domestic investments. The Chinese don't have open markets in that way, and so until they develop them all of the traders they make rich will feel more like high paid flunkies instead of sharers in the wealth of China. China will in that regard seem domnineering. Besides, they compare themeselves more to India, and I think the world likes Indians more than Chinese too. China is a great place to be Chinese. The rest of us may wind up annoyed.

    9. How worried are you about the sagging dollar and yawning balance of payments deficit?

    About as worried as I am that the Pope can't prove God exists. Nobody's going to quit over such imponderables. America will pull another economy out of its hat, and the Chinese will not let the Yuan float. Even if worse comes to worse, could it possibly be worse than the failure of LTCM or the Savings & Loans? The most powerful country on the planet has infinite credit, by definition.

    10. What to you is most problematic about the Bush Administration's foreign policy? If there's one thing you don't like, what is it?

    I don't like that GWBush cannot talk a good game like Tony Blair, but there's not much that can be done about that, neh? More seriously however, he has wasted Colin Powell and overspent Rumsfeld. There's a lot of patching up to be done at the Pentagon for the sake of the Neocon picnic. I happen to love the menu at the neocon picnic, but GWBush seems incapable of finessing the situation which proves that he depends a great deal more on Carl Rove than he should. The very fact that liberals believe that the Christian Right is in control of anything in this nation only proves that Rove is a genius. If I had it my way, it would have been Cheney-Bush.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    The Moment of Death

    (from the archives, may 2000)

    so let me tell you a story.

    i have moved to new york and it's about 2 months into my stay. i am becoming familiar with the nabes in and around park slope brooklyn. i'm enjoying the proviciality and the crust of the people and the architecture, especially the stark desolation of the 4th avenue - 9th street F. the F is probably the most used, yet slowest and therefore most frustrating train in the mta. foggy mornings headed inbound found me staring across double sets of deserted tracks at odd individuals who for reasons known only to themselves and god were headed deeper into the bowels of brooklyn. this was an attractive mystery which i contemplated often in the piss aroma of the stairwells of the 9th street F.

    one evening i was going by train to festivities somewhere in manhattan that required my homeboy suit. the homeboy suit in early 90's brooklyn involved black silvertab levi's, tall matte black leather laceup boots fashionably splayed, a tight fitting black or stark white tee and long flowing black duster. at times the duster could be exchanged for a 3/4 length leather coat, but it was not that cold this early evening. in previous incarnations of the homeboy suit i had fingerless gloves; this occasion was lighter, yet my bowie knive was ever present. years later i would reflect on the fact that this knife made me and my homeboy suit the most dangerous man in the thames river valley, but this was 90s new york. i was considered unarmed.

    if i had ever considered arming myself more seriously, what happened that night changed my view forever. i still hadn't memorized the trains and retained a bit of anxiety about the frequent yet petty crimes i had already witnessed in my first 8 weeks; the occasional, even gracefully choreographed chain snatchings, the in-your-face threatening mendacity of panhandlers and the wicked yet almost comic squabbling between two ham-fisted nigerian watch peddlers the other day on 42nd and lex. yet my anxiety was a product of my willingness to step in and stop that violence which was still only verbal. i have a gut instinct for stepping between combatants. i don't know where it comes from, but i must fight myself to resist stopping fights between others. i'm like the fonz, believing a well place 'hey' will cool hot heads. yet i know deep down that i should know more kung fu in order to satisfy my interventionist urge. i want to be a bhuddist cop because i hate the destruction.

    so this on night, headed more or less fearlessly downtown i was shocked. a young black kid on a dirtbike heads up the ave towards my position and stops at the back door of a chinese takeout as the man steps out. the old chinese man and his old chinese bicycle are preparing their way to deliver a handlebar-bike-basket full of food somewhere in brooklyn, but they are stopped by a 9mm pistol aimed straight at his head. the dirtbike kid's heft of the glock is practiced as he pulled it from his backpack while coasting to a stop. he is as focused as any 14 year old can be, silently laughing his ass off at the terror he sees in the old man's eyes. he barks something threatening as i move slowly out towards the curb, nearly parallel to the chinaman yet still behind him enough to see over his shoulder the grinning face of his deadly teenaged adversary.

    within the space of 2 seconds i realize three things. one, the kid was paying no attention to me at all - all he wanted to do was scare that man. two, i could have gotten at least three bullets into him and used the fire hydrant for cover before he realized what was up. three, if i had my own gun there is absolutly no question that there would have been another dead black teenager in brooklyn this evening. i would have killed him without hesitation.

    the event was so clear, so perfect that it felt like a scenario described on usenet as a strawman. as the tears welled up in my eyes and the kid turned his bike and rolled back downhill, with his 'ha ha made you flinch' laughter, i asked myself if this was what i was put on earth for. my desire for peace led me to the unequivocable destruction of the kid with the deadly sick sense of humor.

    i don't know where i went on the F train that evening. i kept playing the scenario back in my mind, a prisoner of the moment. yes. yes. no doubt yes. the answers kept coming back in the affirmative - i would have shot him, i would have felt good about it. if the situation presented itself again would shoot again. the only thing that saved that boy's life was the fact that i didn't have a gun.

    some people tell me that i think too much. perhaps like a bhuddist, i am constantly refining my mind so that in every moment i can act with the discipline that my moral soul requires. i do not live in the active moment, it simply procedes from the many rehearsals in the passive hours. such is the well-considered life i hope to lead. i am never one to look back in regret - it is the great benefit i have discovered now in middle age. tears spent promptly and properly never cleanse in vain. this is one of the lessons of mourning my younger brother's death. and so in that moment, while i felt powerless, i soon realized that power was not properly mine. i didn't lose the moment, it was as it should have been and now serves as a powerful lesson to me.

    it's almost cliche to think about great efforts being worth it if their benefits changed just one life. so too must go the thinking of the assassin. the one life properly taken justifies a life of disciplined struggle. i can respect the ethics of a warrior - there are those whose duty it must be to engage battles. in my longing for kung fu intervention, i have felt the pull of that duty. but oh the mindless ranting of bourgie american voices defending deadly force at their fingertips. these are not warriors, they are cowards, afraid to even live on the same side of the bridge as places where dirtbike drug couriers are known to operate.

    god does know why people take the desolate train deep into brooklyn on foggy, lonely mornings. there are human beings there who must be cared for. it may be a complete turnabout from our standard notion of rush hour into midtown, or perhaps it's a contiunuum of the same idea of daily work. as proud as we are of our job struggles, our creativity, our productive lives, we must realize this as our great contribution. for most of us, this aggregation of work does not result in life or death of our creation outside of our own families. this is as it should be, for we are not all warriors or shaolin priests. so taking the gun in hand cannot be a part of the same rote commercial exchange as the rest of our consumer activity - because the most disciplined mind i possess or can imagine possessing will, mastering the moment, use it for it's ultimate destructive purpose, without hesitation. even if we had no such mental mastery, the gun directs all of our passion to the single end of spitting deadly projectiles. we, like the dirtbike kid, are not meant for such things. our contemplation is too shallow, the meaning in our lives would be shattered and squandered by killing. killing is simply too large a deed for us to bear. we would be rightly crushed by our own action.

    and so, almost ten years later, i have finally put these thoughts to the page. i suppose i would just be getting out of prison now, hopefully with the same wisdom. or perhaps i would have been released long ago, or perhaps never even arrested by a society eager to see me as a 'warrior'. but my mamma didn't raise me to kill black children, or any other kind of human being. so i reject such instant, fake honor. and i reject it when people tell me it is my right to bear arms. that's not what my arms are for. i could only accept the honor of being a warrior as my duty, and i know that this is not my life's duty.

    i might hope to learn a little more kung fu, but perhaps if these paragraphs can touch just one person...

    Posted by mbowen at 09:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Hotel Wifi

    Posted by mbowen at 08:53 PM | TrackBack

    Standing Your Ground

    "Guns, we don' like to use 'em
    Unless our enemies choose 'em.
    We prefer to fight you on like a man
    And beat you down with our hands."

    -- Mohandas Dewese

    I've been hearing people talking about new laws that change the burden of proof slightly in favor of people defending their lives outside of their homes. It used to be that if you were not in your home and someone was using violent force against your person, you had a duty to run away. Passage of this law means you are not obligated to run. I'm for it, but.

    I'm street smart. Before drug gangs and the Crack Wars, nobody used guns or even knives where I grew up. I lived in a knuckle-up neighborhood where kids slapboxed on the regular. We weren't afraid to go anywhere, day or night. But that wasn't because there was no danger at all, but because we had a good sense of how much danger is danger.

    Today we live in an era of zero tolerance for roughhousing and martial skill. At least it seems so to me. And so it is with great skepticism that I consider any law that makes people feel that it's more OK to use a gun. This is not an argument for or against gun control, it's about people control, and I'm not sure the average person is in enough control to understand and recognize the subtleties of danger.

    As I read, for this piece, my slapboxing essay, I realized that I could apply that subtle kind of logic to other dimensions of danger as well. There was a great scene in the recent movie 'Sahara' in which the hero, sidekick and femme drive up to a pass. The hero immediately reconizes the signs of ambush and gets everybody to drop their weapons and move slowly. The femme, a doctor, is completely perplexed by the situation. She's the one who squeezed the trigger and then threw away her AK-47 like it was infected with Ebola. She's the one who now lives under the new rules of Standing Ground. But she needs more than a law, a permit, a gun and some training. She, and a whole lot of Americans need Rules of Engagement.

    Lots of black men like me have The Voice. Not everybody can say 'motherfucker' and make people shiver. You know it. Sam Jackson has it. Avery Brooks has it big time and he doesn't even have to shout. I understand that some people are never going to get it but should they go straight to guns?

    The Rules of Engagement should assist people in saying what they need to say when danger comes their way. Anybody who watches cop shows has a passing familiarity with how people are urged with The Voice to drop their weapons and move slowly. Ordinary folks should be able to understand some verbal judo which is close to legally binding. Remember 'I warn you, my hands are registered as lethal weapons'? How about 'I am in fear for my life and if you take one step closer, I can shoot'. Well, that's what one would expect from a Standing Ground training. But there's a great deal more street smarts that can be drilled in.

    Perhaps today's self-defense classes in the strip mall karate studio is perfectly adequate for providing a layer of graded sensibilities about danger. I further hope that there are sensible roughnecks out there like me who can lend a hand when it goes palm to palm. But I'll tell you what, when bullets start flying, I'm out. There's the problem. A citizen who is ready to shoot a gun abdicates the possibility of assistance from others who might be within screaming distance. Who knows how often that's going to be, but there's a lot of distance between pulling the trigger and finding an alternative - and I wonder if it's not also a matter of character.

    That's right I'm going there. Bernard Goetz is a wimp, and I don't like laws that give wimps courage. What we need is a little less anger management and a lot more fear management. Nevertheless this entails some public spiritedness that perhaps we are not quite ready to give. But if this law and the rhetoric and ideas behind it are heading in a direction that puts personal safety above public safety, I'm not sure I like that at all.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:36 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Tommy Edward Scott

    Last week a black man was violently killed on the street. Almost nobody cared.

    He got jacked, you see. He was doing his ordinary job when a dangerous fool grabbed his car away from him. The man ended up hanging onto the steering wheel and hanging out of the open driver's door as the fool sped away. The fool hit a fire hydrant, the door slammed shut and it took off the black man's head.

    Now you would think that when a black man is dragged from an automobile and gets decapitated, that there would be some outcry, some noise, something. But there's a very particular reason why there wasn't in this case. That's because that black man was Tommy Edward Scott, a police officer.

    My brother Doc was furious at the Fungibles and the 'black community' because of this relative silence. I suffered through his tirade against LA Urban League Mogul John Mack whose opinion on the matter was probably not sought by local media, but he sure did make enough noise about the flashlight upside Stanley Miller's head. No charges were brought against the arresting officers in the Miller case because of a lack of evidence. If that sounds too technical, understand this: Miller didn't bleed. He took an aspirin. The LAPD officer's blood was all over the car door, and the sidewalk, and the windshield.

    They shut down the city, the LAPD cops. There were about 90 motorcycle cops who shut down the freeways for the motorcade. For Doc, this made up for the silence. The show of strength and pride and loyalty in a police funeral more than helped him cope with the fact that not everybody cares. Saturday night, he went to bed early after the dinner we fixed for Moms so that he could be ready when his shift started at 4am Sunday morning.

    I tend to get annoyed with my Progressive friends as they speculate about what institutions we ought to support in assisting with the great task of fulfilling our African American destiny, whatever that may be. My answers these past few years tend to be pretty simple. If you want to get up, you need an accountant, an attorney. I'm glad I have those and a cop too. The cop is in the family and I'm extremely proud of that. But I know that dealing with such people as bankers and cops and accountants as friends don't seem quite right to many. I don't know what to tell them.

    I don't need the 'black community' to demonstrate its humanity to me. I'm assured. But I wonder what would happen if for once in the entire history of Los Angeles, somebody would think something of this nature would merit a big turnout from the people who live where I grew up. It's not a revolutionary idea, but it's a good one.

    My condolences to the Scott family.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    May 08, 2005


    Posted by mbowen at 10:41 AM | TrackBack

    Another Failure

    A power outage has destroyed two more of my hard drives. Blogging will be light.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 06, 2005

    Teh Ghey Reality Check

    One of the downsides of being somewhat serious and rather intellectual is that you tend to organize your many thoughts into something sensible. And if one does this with patience and discipline something resembling a system of knowledge emerges. All such systems are a bit hermetic, and certainly mine is. Why is this not good? Because it isolates you often enough from the flow of the real world. So in order to counterbalance that, you need to take a reality check. Generally when you do, you find that the people in that flow harbor ideas that are strange and, relative to your logical edifice, bizarre, unhealthy and straight fricken wack.

    It is with such jaundice that I approach the world of hiphop criticism despite the obvious dedication and wit of its mavens. All I can say is let's see how they spit when they turn 40. Needless to say, sooner or later I'm going to have to read Can't Stop Won't Stop, which is being hailed as the reference. Until then let us come to terms with the latest terms out there in the non-hermetic world.

    Gay, as much as I can tell, has been transmuted into 'teh ghey'. I don't know how to pronounce that because I don't hang around people who are likely to use it in conversation. Truth be told, I haven't been on XBox Live in about 6 weeks, thanks to my busted machine and Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. So my exposure to the dudes has been limited. No Homo.

    What? No Homo? Yes this is the other term of art now being promulgated amongst the proletariat. Any time a male expresses some bit of admiration for another, the phrase must be appended, just in case somebody gets the wrong idea. It's rather a reversal of Seinfeld's 'not that there's anything wrong with that'.

    For me, homosexuality is not wrong, just thoroughly distasteful, yet not offensively so. And gayness is neither threat nor menace, it's just damned annoying. And so as I approach these new new appellations I wonder if they might be substantial enough to support my own sentiments in the area. But I can already tell you that I won't use them, not the least because I already have my own hermetic system of knowledge and I don't need to borrow the terms. Still, I might hold out some ray of hope that those who do use them are not as homophobic as they sound, or perhaps the liberalization of our culture requires such terms in common conversation because we are called upon more often to voice our particular angles on the gay life.

    I have a feeling, according to the weblinks I blinked at Google that no such subtlety is connoted - that these terms are as simpleminded and hostile as they first appear. And I think there's a significant difference between distaste, disgust and hostility.

    Anyway. Now you know.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:21 AM | TrackBack

    May 05, 2005

    Emmitt Till and the Panopticon

    Emmitt Louis Till died about 50 years ago, but it has been decided that his body should be exhumed in order to discover new forensic evidence which might lead to others who might have participated in his killing.

    In a related story, a registered Oklahoma sex offender was not captured in a Georgia arrest because of a 'failure' to match his fingerprints with all of his known aliases in the FBI database.

    People keep mumbling about national ID cards and drivers license requirements. All three subjects are fueling the fire for construction of the American Panopitcon.

    Since I'm a civil libertarian, as is most of the Old School, considering that it was our Civil Rights Movement that gave birth to that infrastructure, I have my reservations about panoptic security. That means that I recognize the tension between liberty and security. If I remember correctly, Patrick Henry didn't say "Give me security and give them death." I think we're on the same side of the fence.

    And yet the more we try to get justice 50 years late, by using new techologies, the more we tip the balance towards building the perfect system of security. Sure murder is murder and there is not statute of limitations on that, but such matters cannot be taken in isolation. The proper legacy of Emmitt Till is not to be found in a murder conviction, but the moral conviction his death fired in 1950s America. To ask more of Till's dead body is to enable the panoptic forces.

    Gladwell's best aphorism of 'Blink' comes to me in the form of the notion of panoptics and chess. Those who argue that enabling the electronic eyes ears and noses of the Justice Department (or the Defence Department or the Intelligence Services) will make us win, because we'll be able to see and hear everything. But consider a chess game. Surely there is nothing you can't see in a chess game. But does seeing everything help you win? No. You cannot see what your opponent is thinking. All you know are the moves he has made in the past.

    Surely providing for our security is more complex than a chess game and it's better to see than to be blind. But there are limits at which the price of seeing is not worth the marginal benefit of security. We should be more robust in ourselves and stop wishing for intervention under all circumstances.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Torture? What Torture?

    When I was a kid, we used to play a game called Cowboys & Indians. It worked basically like this. If you were a cowboy, you had a gun. If you were an indian, you had a tomahawk. You both had horses. The cowboys would come around to where he thought the indians were and if they could find them first, they'd use their guns. Bang Bang You're Dead. The indians on the other hand had to sneak up on the cowboys. If they were successful they got to tie the cowboy to a tree, dance around and then scalp him. It was much more fun to be the indian, because we got to tie all the knots and make the cowboy struggle. Sometimes new kids would join the game in the middle and turn things around.

    Today, American children are not encouraged to play such games. Chances are that you're not going to see any kids in your neighborhood riding a bicycle and trying to lasso another kid.

    I don't think there is anything particularly redeeming about learning how to hogtie a 'cowboy', but it sure was fun. Times change as do a lot of sensibilities about what is supposed to be good for children, what is supposed to be useful knowledge, what is the line between roughhousing and danger. It was not long ago when knowing how to tie a knot was considred more important than mousing skills. But there are still a lot of roughnecks among us.

    I've made a literal rut in cyberspace repeating the idea that the atrocities at Abu Grhaib were not particularly atrocious to American sensibilities. I believe the soundbite was directed towards 'Fear Factor'. Basically, there are conventions on the definition of torture, because people's sensitivities vary widely. Yesterday, the judge in the Lynndie England trial agreed with me by declaring a mistrial. He says he doesn't believe that England thought she was torturing prisoners and thus her guilty plea is not legitimate.

    The judge, Col. James L. Pohl, ordered the mistrial after Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., testifying on behalf of Private England, his former lover, portrayed their handling of a leashed prisoner as legitimate, contradicting her sworn admission of guilt and said she had acted at his request in helping to remove an obstructive prisoner from his cell.

    "I was asking her as the senior person at that extraction," Private Graner said.

    Clearly taken aback, Colonel Pohl broke in, lecturing the defense lawyers. "If you don't want to plead guilty, don't," he said. "But you can't plead guilty and then say you're not. Am I missing something here?"

    There are all kinds of slippery slope arguments to be made here but I won't defend them. The fact of the matter is that what any international conventional definition of cruelty states, one cannot expect anyone to naturally understand that convention. Under a justice system that requires that people understand that they are in violation of a law or treaty, one could hardly expect irregulars like England to be strictly guilty, especially if she's an American who grew up watching cartoons like 'Tom & Jerry'.

    This argues for prosecution at a higher level which is probably a dead end. What may be due for public review is the strict policies of interrogation. There are two problems with this. In the first place, it's water under the bridge. Abu Ghraib was extraordinary and the need for it has passed. Secondly, the cries of the outraged will not be satisfied by a policy review, and I am speaking specifically about the noise raised over the candidacy of our current Attorney General.

    So where does it leave us? It leaves us in the unfortunate position of being the nation that enslaved one race of people and exterminated another. Which is exactly what we were before Abu Ghraib, and no amount of trials, mistrials or policy wonk sessions is going to change that history. Own up. We bad.

    Around the Blogsophere there are other modalities of questioning torture. Tyler Cohen implies that there doesn't seem to be any way out of torture no matter what you do.

    If this is the case, one must ask of torture as a weapon in war why is it more effective now than before? Well I ask that question. If you ask me whether it is morally preferable to have tortured 500 prisoners to death or to have firebombed the city of Dresden during WW2, I think I would have had to say bomb Dresden. After all that was WW2 and Dresden was the manufacturing center of the German's warmaking machine. But these tactics don't make sense in today's world. In order to avoid the firebombing of Dresden, I think you could get 500 volunteers who would fight to the death.

    If fighting to the death is worse than torture then the only other question is which is worse, the killing of an innocent or the torture of an innocent? Or as Volokh has suggested, the marginal cost & value of torture when death is certain.

    But I'm going down the wrong slope, because ultimately what is most important is whether or not torture can be an effective weapon. And I think that the inevitable answer is that it is a more important weapon in the context of the current American War on Terror than it has ever been before. Whether or not that weapon is used on innocents is besides the point, rather is it actually a valuable weapon. If you accept that it can be, then we owe it to ourselves and everyone concerned to see that it is used properly, and that is the scope of the moral dimension of Abu Ghraib.

    There we put the weapon in the hands of amateurs and we shouldn't have. It was abused and its use was of no discernable benefit in the war effort. There's the crime.

    Some will argue that there is no proper way to manage the weapon of torturous interrogation. I tend to doubt that argument. There must be many ways to get to the truth, just as there are many ways to kill the enemy. I think we must carefully weigh the forces brought to bear on the enemy and ruling out torturous interrogation is premature.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:45 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    May 04, 2005

    Malcolm Gladwell's Hair

    gladwell.jpgSomewhere in the fourth or fifth chapter of his [damned good] book 'Blink', Malcolm lets the cat out of the bag. He's a brudda. I'm reading it now and am resisting the temptation to thin slice it. But I know a good thing when I read it.

    I recorded his interview with Charlie Rose about a month ago and the first thing I notice about this guy is the way that his hair shoots up and accentuates his forehead. As he went on to explain the premise of 'Blink' about the congnitive engine of our first impressions, I was working out what it was about him that struck me as different. It was the hair, it was the bearing, it was the suit.

    Then he told Charlie that he was from Canada. Aha! I knew there was something about this guy that made him different from the run of the mill American intellectuals. He's sharp, dammit, he's sharp as a tack. And since he's got this bearing of intellectuality I'm saying that the hair is his Blink signal. It makes him look a little bit like a mad scientist, not quite as mad as Beakman, but close. I like his style, and more importantly I like his concept.

    So over the course of the last few weeks on the road, I've been doing a lot more reading and this time out I picked up Gladwell's book. I've been meaning to get around to it and the other one about distributed collective decision making, since that's what I do for a living - build systems that aid in business decision making. Last night I read the sentence, his moms is from Jamaica. What a surprise.

    And now suddenly, especially in Googling an image for this blog entry, I see in a series of other pictures that which had not been evident in my first impressions. Negrosity! Funny how that works. What's interesting is that he was discussing his results from Harvard's Racial Implicit Assumption Test which I have taken several times without chagrin. To the extent that this is a brief and light meditation on race, Gladwell's book (and not his appearance) adds yet another drop of reason onto the pile of evidence about Class Three Racism - the background bigotry of American culture. In short, first impressions are significantly determined by a large number of associations which the brain manifests subconsciously. I don't believe that raises it to a significant political level, but the associations and sublime reactions are real nonetheless.

    What's fascinating is that I hadn't taken Gladwell's hair as seriously as he had. I had read the following paragraph before and considered him a rather thoughtful guy with that experience. I was not surprised at how he had taken it in stride, neither then nor now.

    Believe it or not, it's because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, "The Tipping Point," you'll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time--and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United State suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn't about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers' thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

    One of the reasons I have been very specific about not calling people racist when I was a race man is because very few people actually are. Nevertheless we all swim in the same soup they piss in, and few of us are unaffected. Stay tuned for the actual review of the book.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:07 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 06:01 AM | TrackBack

    May 03, 2005

    Utah Moments

    So today I'm struggling with my diet and did something unprecedented I had a salad for lunch and a salad for dinner.

    I saw my first black person today in Utah. Now there might have been some at the airport, but that doesn't count. She was the speaker-girl at the McDonalds drive through. As I pulled up to the window, I overheard her saying to her co-worker, "I knew he was black!". That was funny.

    The nightly news is actually bearable here. The big news is that there's about 8 feet of snowpack in the mountains and farmers in the flatlands are getting flooded out. The local flood control folks didn't bother to notify people downstream that they were lifting gates on the dams and now people are snarling. They say in 6 months, they'll put together a notification system.

    The mayor of Salt Lake is increasing property taxes to pay for 15 new bicycle cops. It doesn't seem controversial.

    Some small border town has a polygamist municipal domination by the a sect of the LDS. The feds are cracking down.

    The LDS Temple, just a few blocks north of where I'm staying is a gorgeous set of buildings. But I don't have time to do much sightseeing at all. I'm working overtime.

    I'm generally unselfconscious to a fault, but I notice the hotel staff freak when I dance around naked as they bring up room service. No, wait. I'm not naked, just black. Who knows? Who cares?

    I've been noticing a number of strange germanic accents around here. I'm not sure if it's a Utah thing or if there are a number of out-of-towners. I know that there are many Basques in Boise...

    On the whole, the town has a strangely empty feeling. Main Street has empty storefronts, and those annoying chirping traffic signals. The light rail goes down the center. It's busy but not crowded. I haven't been out at night. This place is a bit too far west to be on Mountain Time, so it doesn't get dark until past 8.

    I don't suppose one could be in three more different places in a month than Salt Lake, New Orleans and Santa Clara. What a country.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:15 PM | TrackBack

    Egocasting, Literacy & Relativism: The Question

    Yesterday morning on NPR was a woman, Christine Rosen, who held an interesting thesis about the power of television. In particular, the power of the remote control and what our ability to control our content streams has done to ruin our capacity to encounter and deal with new ideas.

    What is true of the television set is also true of its most important accessory, the device that forever altered our viewing habits, transformed television programming itself, and, more broadly, redefined our expectations of mastery over our everyday technologies: the remote control. The creation and near-universal adoption of the remote control arguably marks the beginning of the era of the personalization of technology. The remote control shifted power to the individual, and the technologies that have embraced this principle in its wake—the Walkman, the Video Cassette Recorder, Digital Video Recorders such as TiVo, and portable music devices like the iPod—have created a world where the individual’s control over the content, style, and timing of what he consumes is nearly absolute. Retailers and purveyors of entertainment increasingly know our buying history and the vagaries of our unique tastes. As consumers, we expect our television, our music, our movies, and our books “on demand.” We have created and embraced technologies that enable us to make a fetish of our preferences.

    The long-term effect of this thoroughly individualized, highly technologized culture on literacy, engaged political debate, the appreciation of art, thoughtful criticism, and taste-formation is difficult to discern. But it is worth exploring how the most powerful of these technologies have already succeeded in changing our habits and our pursuits. By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised. They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish. And they contribute to what might be called “egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste. In thrall to our own little technologically constructed worlds, we are, ironically, finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate genuine individuality.

    I come at the phenomenon from a different perspective. I think what we are wintessing is the destruction of our ideas about the centrality and value of individual intelligence.

    The way I see it is that we are profoundly affected by two simutaneous artifacts of the information age. Firstly, the intelligence of our society is embedded in systems, objects and organizations to a greater extent than ever before. Therefore our loyalty belongs less to people than ever. Secondly, there are more intelligent and literate people in the world than ever before. Consequently, there are countless economies of intellect. Perhaps Rosen fears that brains are a cheap commodity. Well, they are.

    But that can be a very good thing. I means that there are a great deal more of us who can live above the reptilian level. There is a reason that Europe had what was known as the Dark Ages. All the books were locked away in monasteries, and they had all of the authority. One could even think of monarchy as a monopoly where there is a scarcity of intellect. Today, however we can all live like kings. There is a lot more authority to go around than ever before. Things that are consequential on a human scale now get out to more humans. There is a greater capacity in today's world for more humans to encounter more of the artifacts of intellect and creativity than ever before.

    One consequence of this is that people of average intelligence seem to be fetishizing certain ideas. But I think it's more correct that there are a surfeit of intelligble ideas out there and because we are aware of so many of them, the interests of any individual seems relatively limited. You might consider yourself the King of Monty Python scripts. A thousand years ago, that much memorization might have gotten you a nice comfy seat in the Vatican. Today, you need to command a great deal more. Consider how much knowledge the average contemporary medical student has to absorb before she makes the first incision into someone's belly. More than two decades from birth. What we know about getting someone's appendix out is massive, and as any news junkie knows, what we're supposed to think about wine in our diet, or our optimal weight changes every year.

    I caution against the excesses of Eclexia now from the perspective of capacity and sanity. There is a delicate balance to be struck between the quest for novelty & new tribes to hang with, and the quest for transcendant principle. Throughout our young lives we're constantly open, but as adults we need to discriminate. We have to sample and integrate. But when do we stop sampling and decide that we are informed enough? How exactly do we know if we are getting closer to something real if there's already two million Google hits on the subject? If Foucault is to be taken with any seriousness, our hermetic discipline my isolate us from the very reality we seek to master. Are we buried in our preferences, or in real knowledge?

    I think there is one sure way to know which is to trust our emotions. I don't think I might have come to this conclusion as a student of science, but I have come to belief that they are critical. More in Part Two.

    Posted by mbowen at 05:39 PM | TrackBack

    Michael Eric Dyson on NPR

    Dyson is flippin' off the wall on NPR. Do yourself a favor or not.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 05:51 AM | TrackBack

    May 02, 2005

    Who Do I Know in Salt Lake City?

    I am on the road yet again. This week's work takes me to Salt Lake. I've never been out of the airport before and it just figures that I didn't bring my camera because let me tell you something, this lake is massive. If I had three wishes, one of them would be to fill up the Great Salt Lake, it would make this place one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth. The ring of snow-capped peaks is just dramatic. It helps that I got up a bit into the hills and looked out. Wow.

    As it stands, Salt Lake City looks just like Boise, only bigger. The food is better too, or at least this time I can afford a better class of restaurant, which brings us to Bambara.

    I just had one of the best soups in my life. I am ready to say that it is number two, just behind the lobster bisque at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. This was the Utah Corn Bisque. Remarkable. It has got to be the most satisfying bowl I've ever tasted, but nothing's going to outdo the smoothness and flavor of Boston. Still. What's so extraordinary about this is how it just filled my mouth with a kind of warm popcorny flavor. And it had heat. It was as spicy as anything could be without actually being spicy and this just added to the sense of fulfillment. The bisque was very smooth but not buttery so. It was filled with soup, not butter, so everything was flavor and nothing was filler. The texture was perfect, and then the bits of crab were delectable. Add a touch of sweetness with the cilantro oil and it just becomes a miracle. The whole bowl had a beautiful mustard yellow color. Considering that I was 15 years younger when I had that lobster bisque in Boston, this has got to be the better bisque to my more jaded palate. Congrats, Bambara. You are it.

    With my Sonoma-Cutrer I had their scallops which were fine, and their nicely spiced mashed potatoes with the bursty bubbles of caviar burre blanc and port wine syrup. I think I'm going to go back Wednesday for the duck.

    The service was exceptional and flawless. The attitude was cheery and attentive without being bothersome, you know like when they ostentatiously scrape the breadcrumbs off your table in other restaurants? They went out of their way to mix me up a Ceasar even though it was off the menu. Next time I'm sticking around for dessert too.

    The atmosphere was just right, bright with big windows above ground level, not too noisy. They clearly have improvised the place which was not always a restaurant. Yeah. I'm going back, which is rare when I'm out of town.

    Hmm. Doug S. is the only person I know here, but I'm stuffed. Time to watch TV and crash.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:11 PM | TrackBack

    So That's What It's All About Alfie

    From the What-I-Should-Have-Said Files in the All-Men-Are-Dogs Department.

    I have been run ragged this weekend, but I did get a quick mo' on the couch with the spousal unit. The object of observation this time out 'Alfie'. (What, you think we do anything else on the couch but watch TV?) I'm a big fan of Michael Caine, and I always knew he had a bit of the devil in him, but I had no idea how much of the in jokes about him were a result of his debut(?) performance in this drecky diary. I come to this realization admittedly late, but what a revelation. OK I'm also the guy who didn't know that Freddy Mercury was gay and kept wondering aloud why he wasn't a bigger star. But there it is.

    Not withstanding the fact that I was dead tired, I just couldn't keep watching. I wasn't in the mood to deal with the lovable scamp, and he didn't seem likeable at all, much less lovable.

    Have I been feminized or is this guy a real cad? I got up to the part where he starts playing with the kid, so I guess I didn't get to see much of the redemption of his character, if there was any later in the film. But I was just not entertained. For the first 15 or so minutes, I'm cracking up, and then it comes to his attitude with his pregnant girlfriend and I'm ready to crack him one.

    Although I'm not feeling particularly racial, I may as well go there. It's the gut again. But I recall suffering through so many what-is-wrong-with-black-men discussions that I wish I would have had this movie to shove in the faces of all those annoying people. Now I don't know how the movie wraps up, but the opening bits are enough to make any judge of character wince, even though it's all a sly joke.

    You can be sure Alfie's a seminal moment in white male dog history. I just have to make sure I rip it from my Tivo before they never show it on TV again.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:53 PM | TrackBack

    May 01, 2005


    Posted by mbowen at 03:59 PM | TrackBack

    The Interpreter: An Emotional Portrait of the UN

    I swore that I was not going to see this movie because of the crapstorm its advertisement made in the Tivo community. I changed my mind and it was worth it. As a meditation on the hopes and dreams of non-violent negotiation as the central purpose of the UN it does a fine job, but misses being more by leaving out one crucial dimension.

    Sean Penn has created a memorable character that seems to blend Peter Falk & Robert DeNiro into a smoldering soul on the verge of enlightenment, explosion and collapse. For some reason I am reminded of Samuel L. Jackson in 'Red Violin'. There is a combination of strength and sensitivity both characters possess.

    I got particularly annoyed by Nicole Kidman's hair which obscured her right eye five different ways in each close-up. Every time the camera would switch away from her and come back, the strands of blonde would be somewhere else on her face. It completely destroyed the continuity of some critical scenes. Where her voice acting was crisp and perfectly precise carrying a perfectly impenetrable subtext, I had to close my eyes to stay in the drama a couple times.

    But where there was drama, it was nicely done. As a deeply layered and nuanced mystery, 'The Interpreter' will hold up well. As twisty plotters go, 'The Interpreter' is deliciously emotional. Not since 'The Siege' has the emotional relationship between individuals gone through wrenching changes like this. It's a nice change and makes many more such twisty movies look like cheese mazes and gauntlets. Nobody's agenda is particulary clear and in Pollack's hands it makes restraint the only virtue of consequence.

    Pollack captures the run-down, low-tech worn out look and feel of the UN. Never has the place's grit and granduer been captured quite this way. Although the byzantine quality of its operations is not quite revealed, the UN is presented as a functional bureacracy that nevertheless commands respect and attention if not inspiration of any sort from any of the film's characters, save Kidman. Her very life is profoundly influenced by patience with nuance, and yet because of her background she has little faith herself in public spiritedness. Negotiation is her forte and she holds all of cards closely while maintaining a straight face and a demand to be respected. She thus becomes an apt metaphor for the institution, an impractically idealistic and brave creature that lies through its teeth on a daily basis.

    'The Interpreter' is full of mystery and competence and handles its subject matter without being preachy. It works on both metaphorical and personal levels. It reminds us that everything remains possible and that the only thing that is final is death. So why not put down the gun?

    The central lesson of 'The Interpreter' is revealed as a 'Ku' custom of justice. Whether or not such a Southern African tradition is real is beside the point, it is nonetheless deeply resonant and reflects a dimension of healing and curing I have often been attuned to.

    The Ku do not speak the name of the dead until a suitable period of time has elapsed. To call them back into one's life is to prolong the suffering of their loss. It is not until the memory is purged of ill feelings of pain and loss that the name can be spoken, the aim is to defeat grief.

    When a 'Ku' family discovers the man who has killed one of their members, a year from the day of the murder they bind and gag the killer and march him into the river. The killer's family stands on one shore and the victim's family on the other. The victim's family decides whether or not to go into the river and save the killer. If they do not, then they are believed to greive for the rest of their lives - they cannot be healed. But if they save the life of the killer, then they prove that the value of life itself transcends that of revenge. They are healed.

    I cannot imagine that healing alone can be sufficient. There must also be a cure. But that is an angle of the process of grief that Pollack misses, and so he reduces the dimensions of death and life to the terms of expediency. This is acceptable for an artist who is concerned primarily with matters of the heart, and suitable for the telling of the story 'The Interpreter' tells. But take his call on the use of guns vs words any further than dramatic entertainment we must be compelled to include the matter of cure. Aside from the dimensions of hope and frustration so vividly portrayed in this film, my judgements about the use and value of the UN must include that missing dimension of material practicality. Justice that heals but doesn't cure is not justice.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:19 PM | TrackBack

    The Hitchhiker's Guide

    So it turns out that I missed my introduction to HUB for a conference call that didn't materialize. So in order to make the best of the moment, I directed myself over to the Mercado for a quick dip into pure Silicon Valley geekdom - the 2:30pm showing of The Hitchhiker's Guide, opening day.

    It was actually something of a surprise that the theatre was 3/4 full in the middle of the afternoon, but there it was. The skinny on the deal, from a fan of the series is this; good job, but wasn't there some way that you could have gotten John Cleese to be Slartybartfast? In such case, we might have had a movie that was laugh-your-arse-off funny instead of merely laugh-out-loud funny.

    I'm a recent reader of the series, having missed the drama of anticipation between novels. In haste, I consumed them all at once, a thoroughly delicious experience. Yet since it has been many years since I read the stuff, and I tend to forget where one book ends and another begins. So I had a vague sense of disappointment that my favorite funny parts were not all included, in particular I was expecting more from the robot. Nevertheless, I think the Vogons as well as all the characters were rather well realized, as was the guide itself. In fact, exerpts from the guide done in bubbly animated poster graphics were some of the funniest scenes in the pic.

    I think nobody felt that there was anything untrue or false about the translation, once you suffer through the tedious opening credits. They could have done a bit better with the silent situational British comic pauses, but other than that - no complaints. I imagine it will make it's way to my shelves one of these days. What geek home would be complete without it? I suspect we'll all walk down this road 42 times.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:57 AM | TrackBack

    Fools Being Fooled by Foolishness

    My gut instinct was to file this under the heading 'Stupid White People' but sometimes my gut gives more than just me indigestion. Nevertheless there are several stupid whitefolks involved in two stories that I happened to be bombarded by over the past week.

    Stupid the First
    Three stooges, as reported by CNN found about $100k in old dollar bills buried under a tree in their backyard. The story was all over Headline News, 24/7. Every 30 minutes I heard the story. That's part of the pain of being on the road and not having a wide variety of progams to view on cable. Three days later, the men are arrested. It turns out that they just stole the money from the attic of some people they were supposedly working for.

    Stupid the Second
    250 dupes, as repored by CNN could not find anywhere in their Atlanta neighborhoods, a bride who was to be married. The local police official mumbled into the waiting cameras that foul play was suspected, and as was often reported every 30 minutes on CNN, the bride to be did not have 'cold feet'. Three days later, the bride is found in New Mexico taking a personal time-out. She said she was kidnapped, but that was just a lie.

    Today is not a good day to be an editor at CNN.

    But why bring up the whitefolks angle? Aside from the fact that I feel the distinct necessity of speaking from the gut, this series of unfortunate events can be seen through the lenses of racial equality, most clearly for the second story, but also for the first. To my way of seeing things, this says a great deal about access to the media and who gets what kind of attention for what reasons.

    Call the Annenberg Center, but my guess is that over the past year you can count the number of human interest stories involving non-white, non-celebrity weddings on your thumb. And when is the last time you saw a story about some lucky chinese kids? I'm not the one to answer these questions because, thank God, I don't have to watch CNN that often. Pray for those who do, what a whitified world they must bear.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:22 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack