June 30, 2005


New York City used to have balls. There used to be a creative spirit there. Now that I've seen the latest design for the WTC, all I can say is 'Skidmore, Owings & Merrill'.

The new design for the new WTC is so completely and utterly pedestrian that it's hard to believe they even held a competition at all. The new Freedom Tower looks to be something a highschool kid could have designed. In his sleep. Jeezus! Check out the Skidmore site. The building is so boring they try to spice it up with a laser show. Talk about business as usual.

You know what it looks like? A skyscraper. Period. Nice going NY. I hope you lose the Olympics to Paris, you gutless wonders.

Posted by mbowen at 05:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Kelo: Strategic Holdouts vs Subjective Value

All I need to know about the recent Kelo decision starts here:

This "holdout" power potentially becomes a problem in a case such as Kelo, where the buyer needs to assemble several pieces of land to build a building. Any individual may decide to hold out to try to extract a larger share of the surplus associated with the higher economic value from the transaction.

The problem is that in theory, in any given situation when someone refuses to sell we can't tell whether it is because of strategic holdout or subjective value. If we knew this, then we could get rid of market transactions in general, and move to a system of central planning where the planning czar just assigned various goods to their highest valued user. But that obviously won't work. But there are better, and worse, ways of dealing with this problem. The overall facts of Kelo illustrate one of the worse ways of dealing with it, and why we need to have a real "public use" doctrine that doesn't permit taking from A to give to B.

There's got to be a t-shirt.

Posted by mbowen at 03:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Must Read on War & Peace

Every once in a while there's an extraordinary essay that goes a good deal to help me contextualize many of the debates that fly back and forth among the chatting classes. This one by RJ Rummel is one that I'll certainly use in the future.

How could it be missed that democracies do not make war on each other and are generally more peaceful? For one there has been an unfortunate tendency to focus on the many wars of a few democracies while ignoring the many wars of many nondemocracies. Moreover, to the disadvantage of democracies, there is an inclination to treat all wars equally, such that the American invasion of Grenada, the Falklands War, and World War II, are each counted as one war.

Still, how could it be missed that democracies do not make war on each other? The problem is that many who write and speak about these issues do not ordinarily think dyadically. They think of nations as developed or undeveloped, strong or weak, democratic or undemocratic, large or small, belligerent or not. That is, they think monadically.

Since Rummel is in something of a discussion with Dean Esmay, part of the question at hand is refinement of the definition of 'classic liberalism' as expressed through Enlightenment thought and the specifics of:

Kant, de Montesquieu, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill, among others, it became an article of classical liberal faith in the 18th and 19th centuries that:

Government on the old system," as Paine wrote, "is an assumption of power, for the aggrandizement of itself; on the new [republican form of government as just established in the United States], a delegation of power for the common benefit of society. The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation.

Good stuff. I am particularly piqued by his context of nationalism which fits very nicely with my globalist perspective. I've relied on the notion of global economic grids that lock us into cooperation, but the neoconservative in me is very encouraged by the argument presented that democracies tend not to war against each other, not only because the republican limit on tyranny but because of shared values of democracy itself.

It is in this context that the 'clash of civilizations' may very well be best expressed, although I'm not so convinced as others that China aims to be or eventually will be an implacable foe. In fact, it is Putin that worries me a bit more, and I am really loathe to 'go there' with regard to Iran, not least because I like the overtures that Mohammad Khatami made when he assumed power. On the other hand, he's out as is Rafsanjani. That's a head scratcher.

However it is clear to me that Rummel is onto something. I'm sure others will make the retrospective case and apply future cautions to foreign policy wonks that our neoconservative and imperial ambitions be restricted to those undemocratic regimes regardless of the WMDs they may or may not possess. I'm with them though I would certainly not make the mistake of the monadists.

So this gives me another reason the put the DPRK coordinates into the cruise missles before I consider other coordinates on the axis of evil. It also makes me sweat just a little less about the prospects for the EU (starring France).

Posted by mbowen at 01:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

I Believe the Word is Exoneration

Doing research among the blog entries for my manuscript, I found this old post on Michael Jackson and I am reminded that:

Jackson is a good guy who has donated many millions to black charities over the years, quietly and consistently. So there are a number of good reasons for him to have black political support. But even if he didn't do any of that, I have learned something about Jackson today that makes me respect him a great deal - for which if he did nothing else in his entire life this would be good enough. We are mostly aware that Jackson owns most of the Beatles' songs. What I didn't know was that he owns most of Elvis' recordings too. Most symbolic of all, he purchased the rights to Little Richard's music. He gave that all back to Little Richard, so now he won't die broke. Whether that is materially too little too late or not, it is a trenchant symbol of respect for black culture we probably didn't know Jacko had. That may count for a great deal from where I stand, but it doesn't mean squat in a court of law.

What I've been hearing is basically another species of "you're not guilty, but you're guilty". Having stayed away from the back and forth that generally surrounds these kinds of trials, I'm pretty safe in saying that I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. He may be a weirdo, but as far as the law is concerned, he's cleaner than Martha Stewart.

I suspect that a lot of people see a scattering of rat turd evidence in the trial and testimony, but if Sneddon was incapable of finding the actual rat, I don't see why we should. Were Sneddon's charges too trumped up to get a conviction?

A Cobbian Retrospective:

  • Michael Jackson, Secular Sex & The War on Terror
  • Weapons of Ass Destruction
  • The Man in the Mirror
  • Michael Jackson: Going Down
  • Posted by mbowen at 07:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Xala at Your Boy

    Back in my relative youth, when I was preparing myself for participation in the cutting edge of World African society, rather than domestic family life, you could light up my face just by mentioning two films. One of them was 'Fear of a Black Hat'. The other was 'Xala'.

    I think I get about as much kick out of films like 'Sugar Cane Alley' and 'Sankofa' as the next guy, but there was something extraordinary about Ousmane Sembene that stood (and stands) head and shoulders above the rest.

    It turns out that Sembene is finally coming out on DVD. It's about freaking time. You'd think that this business has advanced far enough for this to be a relatively cheap deal. If I had a couple million socked away and too much time on my hands, I'd give Donald Bogle a call and do some of what needs to be done. I mention this also because of something Nulan mentioned over at Vision Circle about an old John Ford movie about a buffalo soldier. It cannot be found on DVD right now although the VHS can be gotten at Amazon.

    This is the kind of stuff you could bootleg under the radar...

    Posted by mbowen at 02:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    No You Didn't

    You know you're ghetto if you've ever been to more than one play with the word 'momma' in the title.
    -- Anonymous

    Several years ago a little cartoon book made the rounds after Jeff Foxworthy had come and gone as a comic sensation. This book was entitled 'How to Tell if You're Ghetto'. I'm sure I'd seen some of the one-liners somewhere on the internet before the publishing contract, but that's the way it goes with those things.

    Well, there's a new entry in the sweepstakes which will have you bustin' a gut with recognition. It's called 'HotGhettoMess.com' and is a nice testimony to the sanctimony of us upper middle class jerks. And like the billons of dollars of potato chips factoid, it offers evidence that we blackfolks ought to do better, dammit. We do of course, just not all of us.

    Not so long ago when I was acting particularly sanctimonious, I decided to scrap with a fellow black Republican and conservative. It was strictly a class thing and now I'm rather embarrassed about it. But there are a whole set of American attitudes and behaviors that are relatively predictable; we're all nouveau something. You just have to pick the right set to hang with and the right set to look down on. The real trick is handling downward mobility. I raise my hand, now being an official part of the lower upper-middle class (high income, high education, high status, zero wealth).

    I say this to give Hot Ghetto Mess a boost because I find it insightful and hilarious, (even though the layout is tacky as hell). Plus, I want a link in the Not Ghetto Mess section, because I am the embodiment of class, without being seditty.

    One of the interesting things I will be writing about African Americans at this juncture in our history is what might do with the lessons learned from the bad old days of forced and legacy segregation. 90% of my black friends grew up in black neighborhoods - which meant when it came to homebuying in their parents' day, there was almost no choice. You couldn't pick a range of regions, cities, suburbs and subdivisions. You basically lived with the rest of the blackfolks. In that soup we had to make peace with neighbors from a broad variety of class and regional backgrounds. Especially during the black consciousness movement we found ways to call that triflin' negro up the block 'brother'. I don't think my kids are going to have that skill close to their existential kernels. We're out here in the land of Brownies, and it's all about petty meritocracy, and making 'good choices'. I wonder if Hot Ghetto Mess will be amusing or truly shocking to them. (No I don't.)

    So here I am a Conservative, who wouldn't touch any of those people with a ten foot pole trying to preach a bit of amused tolerance. I'm playing my class role of noblesse oblige - to whom much is given, much is expected. And yet I must moderate that impulse lest I start sounding like a condescending liberal micromanager saying things like "What can we do to to alleviate the vitamin deficiencies in black women that make them fall victim to the evil hair weave industry?"

    Anyway, now you know. Enjoy, but don't forget to come back to Cobb. Wash your hands before you read my blog again.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    June 27, 2005

    African American History vs Afrocentric Curriculum

    I probably don't have as much to say about the issue of the curriculum changes in Philadelphia as my colleagues. My opinion on the matter pretty much hinges on one question which is unlikely to be answered to anyone's satisfaction.

    African American history is a critical dialog on American history, and in the hands of a capable instructor can give students an opportunity to learn a great deal about this country. Or it could be used to boost the self-esteem of 'inner-city at-risk youth'. It is the presumption of the latter that disables a sensible discussion in most places because when it comes down to it, there is no reason not to study African American history. It's history, therefore it should be studied, period end of discussion.

    So weighing in on this early, I'm going to pull a lamer and say there is no hope when issues like this get political, as they are bound to. However this can be properly interpreted as a Conservative argument, because I am one who believes that there is no need to saddle the educational system with courseware that caters to the epistemological health and well-being of the students. People who flunk, flunk.

    The other day on NPR, I flunked yet another of the BBC World's Geo Quizzes. Every day, they describe some remote point on the globe and delve into some current event going on there. This day, it was one of the centers of Mediterrenean culture, a great city on Sicily that shared a name with a city in upstate NY. Troy? Nah. It was Syracuse. And we're supposed to know Greek and Roman history right? But the fact of the matter is, we use Greek and Roman history less than we use Algebra. So understand from jump street that I am not buying any arguments about African American history not being 'practical'. There is no practical use for history at all in this world, because the very nature of information is undergoing a revolution. If we were Civil War surgeons, we might as well be talking about the value of teaching the history of leeching.

    Which brings me to my final point, if I have one to make at all. The only value in teaching history is to get people to think critically about the value of material presented to them as truth. Considering the controversy surrounding African American history, that makes it probably the most valuable historical subject of all.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:57 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    Cosmic Justice for Terri McMillan

    Back in the early 90s when I was singlehandedly trying to engineer a black writers collective in NYC, the bane of my existence was Terri McMillan. Fresh from the Multicultural Wars, I and others like me were trying to explain to the world that there was more to black literature than Baldwin and Wright. For a quick moment, it looked like there might be a new flourish of creativity at a deep, black level. But..

    But 'Terri McWriter' as we derisively called her, was sucking up all the oxygen in the black literary movement, and it wasn't helping that all the poetry slams in the world were getting covered most by MTV. Gangsta Rap was going bigtime and soon it became clear that highbrow black literature was most definitely going to take a back seat in the new world of black cultural production. I can't tell you how we used to whine and moan down at Nkiru Books in Brooklyn.

    To add insult to injury, McMillan was blockin' a brother bigtime. All of her sorry-excuse-for-a-man characters became the new stereotype, adding to Gloria Naylor's Brewster Place complaints and the rest that old nonsense. (It's been a long time since I was single so I don't hold a grudge, but dayum!)

    McMillan made McMillions on the backs of us non-dysfunctional brothers very much the same way Jerry Springer did. So there was some comfort in not having to take her seriously even though, if a white woman had written the same things, her head would be on a pike. You would think that the non-dysfunctionals would benefit, but in the end all she did was lower women's standards by showing them literary love despite their trifling men. Hmm. Maybe these wounds are getting fresher by the moment. At any rate, by the time Stella and her infamous Groove made the big screen, I had totally dismissed McMillan and paid her work no mind.

    Isn't it rather funny to hear that was all based on a true story? And who's to blame? McMillan of course, for believing her own hype and that of her sob-sister readership, by saying there are no good black men out there. But it gets worse.

    There's nothing much to do but suck your teeth and roll your eyes. Poor Terri. A victim of low expectations.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    June 26, 2005

    Critical Mass

    It occurs to me that I have compiled enough material to write a small book. I've already got the title. 'Keeping It Right: The Future of the Talented Tenth in the Post Civil Rights Era'.

    Or something like that.

    From the pages of Cobb, I'm going to assemble and repurpose 40 to 60 essays and reviews, and try to get published. I really have no excuse not to. It's time to wrap this up and create something for the non-blog universe. Especially now that I'm getting invited to conferences and whatnot, I should have an artifact.

    What should I cover?

    Posted by mbowen at 12:57 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    Music & Books Meme

    There are a couple memes floating around about books and music. I'll bite.

    I'm reading Julio Cortazar, and that's about all.
    His collection of short stories are fairly interesting but leave me a bit cooler than I thought they might. He has a sense of existential irony which is something like that of Borges. It's been a while since Borges has intrigued me so seeing it in Cortazar makes me wonder if I might still be the same me who was so intrigued with Borges or has Borges changed me into someone who is disturbed by the sad insight that self is not self? See, I can do this stuff too, with smaller less sophisticated words. In my realm these are strengths.

    I own probably only 400 books which is something of a shock, because I thought surely I had double that. I just talked to Pops the other day and he's trying to get his library up to 1000 from 750.

    I have about 13000 mp3s but they're not all scanned. I lost half of my collection to hard drive failure and now have to re-rip. However I gave a couple crates of CDs to my sister after my last ripathon before the crash. Having survived the wake of that disaster I find myself in the zone of Not Wanting. So I get along with less.

    I find myself attracted to Jay-Z and Linkin Park's Collision Course CD which is the latest thing I purchased. Before that I bought four CDs by guitarist Paco de Lucia.

    I'm kinda into soloists these days, so I'm listening to a lot of:

  • Vladimir Horowitz
  • Marcus Roberts
  • Bill Frissell
  • I've got a feeling that I'm going to be looking for some contemporary Jazz soon. Something like Lounge Lizards, Bad Plus... Either that of Klezmeric jazz of some sort. Also for some reason I'm just stuck on Cibo Matto's 'Moonchild'.

    Oh yeah this: Last week at the Proud Bird, for Father's Day, we had a jazz quintet that had a Mexican dude on trumpet. I have now heard a new possibility in Jazz that I've never heard before, and I'm looking for anyone who knows what I'm talking about - I'm talking about a ripping stentorian trumpet leadership with the kind of blisteringly fast staccatto reminescent of Mexican troubadour bands in the cast of jazz improvization.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Too Real for Memos

    The other day I surprised myself by recalling a couple incidents in my youth that I don't often think about: two fights I had with a couple of gangbangers. Not for any good reason, though. I have very few thoughts worth supressing. But these two fights reminded me of the kind of person I am, tough. I probably haven't given myself enough credit for their influence on me, nor have I spoken much about them to anyone to see how others might reflect on them.

    The first incident took place just off Crenshaw Boulevard one block south of Adams in the mid 70s as my brother and I came back from a church dance by bus. It was about 10 or 11 at night. Some Crip named 'Punkin' or 'Pookie' tried to jack me with a knife. I told my brother to stay on Crenshaw while Pookie and I took it to the alley. I basically told Pookie that he was chickenshit for fighting with a knife, and he wasn't going to get my money. Pookie was stunned that I never heard of him. The fact was that he was in my turf, and sure enough some of my buds happened by. Pookie took off.

    The other time was at Vineyard Playground where we had supervised play. The Parks and Rec guy, having seen myself and another Crip trading blows offered to hold my glasses for me. I was a horrible puncher and wasn't doing a good job blocking blows, but the kid couldn't hurt me. He kept getting tired and asking if I quit. After a while the Parks and Rec guy got embarrassed and made us take our fight to the bathroom so we couldn't be seen. I emerged bloodied and defiant. The other kid kept talking shit but he knew he hadn't beaten me.

    I know what it's like to look at my face in the mirror and marvel at the pain I feel even though it doesn't show other than black eyes and bloody nose. After Vineyard I remembered that my friend Teedee's father taught him how to box. My father never showed us how to fight with our fists, though we were naturally gifted wrestlers. I always thought that if I didn't wear glasses, the Vineyard fight would have been more completely mine. I wonder if I should teach my son how to fight.

    I imagined that my own son might fight someone at school causing the lot of us to be lectured by a middle school vice principal. I could not forsee anything but a pseudo-intellectual drubbing including all of the dainty drivel that accompanies such conflict avoidance. And so I envisioned myself replying in kind with the following threat:

    I'm going to write an essay with your name in it that will keep you awake at night and plague you with self-doubt for the rest of your life. You have studiously avoided physical conflict your entire life and you have no concept of right and wrong when fists start flying. All violence is senseless to you because you are willfully ignorant of the dynamics of combat. You are ruled by fear and you lackadaisically punt off your responsibility to third parties who take your outrage at face value. You are the kind of people who get people like me killed.

    I imagine her face going pale and having the same sort of bewilderment as those two Crips. She is beaten in a way she never expected. This is part of that essay.

    My daughter and I spent last Saturday together hanging out. She was wearing 'baller bands' from her Awana and Score classes. She gave me one of the brightly colored rubber wristbands to wear. The blue one said 'Strength' and 'Courage'. Even though it was missing 'Wisdom', I thought it very appropriate.

    Lately, I haven't been able to get juiced up over any of the (insert insulting phrase here) that passes for political discussion these days. Especially over the Downing Street Memo, I simply cannot grasp the motivation of those who get amped over the 'smoking gun'. It's not a smoking gun, it's a memo. But like vice-principals, for these people a memo, a vitrolic essay is the currency of note. The Blogosphere self-ignites over these words and battles with words. I find myself just about as indifferent as the Cisco routers that spit and multiplex the bits across the fiber.

    They say that nobody who survives to adulthood has weaknesses, per se. They simply overuse their strengths. When there is a crisis, people respond to the crisis with their strengths. Legislators legislate. Warriors war. Whiners whine. Bloggers blog. Everything just goes a little faster, and people are just that more passionate about their own passion. Very few actually change direction. Everybody who was a baby Bin Laden before 9/11 is just a little more encouraged. As MLK said, the test of a man comes during the crisis. Everyone is a bit more true to their true selves.

    During war, people have their excuse. Somewhere on the planet there was a man who has lived all of his life in fear that his holy book would be pissed on, and when he heard the news he went out to fulfill his destiny. The Crip, the Vice Principal, the Secretary of Defense, the Memo Leaker. They are all doing what we expect them to do, and for most of their lives they will be meeting their expected opposition with their salient yet conditioned responses. How rarely are they gobsmacked with the unanticipated. It is said that you can see in 3D if your glasses are Red and Blue. I doubt it.

    On the tube last night was 'The Girl at the Cafe'. It's a pretentious romantic comedy written and produced by Hollywood people doing what they do. And yet there is that juxtaposition of destiny and the unexpected truth in the moment we are all conditioned to know and never express or acknowledge.

    In the news today is 'news' via Kelo that the Government can appropriate private property for their own ends without offering compensation. What a shock!

    How Americans stand in abeyance of the fact of Crips wanting to take you to the alley and steal your money at the point of a knife is beyond me. We have so many laws and so many movies and so many essays and so many history books and so many memos. We have so many interpreters and critics and pundits and evaluators and negotiators. Where is the Strength, Courage and Wisdom? Where are the people who turn the desk upside down and stand eyeball to eyeball with the enemy?

    There's no way to finish this essay. It was finished before I wrote it. I know the answer. I know that the answer is not a memo that keeps you awake at night riddled with self-doubt, and I defy anyone who says it is.

    Since the 70s, I've never walked the city streets at night without a knife.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

    Misery Loves Company

    Posted by mbowen at 09:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 25, 2005

    Insular Me

    I just took the MIT Blog Survey. Interesting questions.

    I suspect that my profile is going to stick out a couple ways.

  • I started blogging before 9/11. I was an original blogger with Blogger. Obscura was my little blog.
  • I use IM almost exclusively for business purposes.
  • But the most interesting part of the survey was the last, in which the survey asks what kind of people you know by profession. A good quarter of the people that I actually know are family. I've only met 4 of the 38 types of people I know online. I only know 3 of the 9 blue collar types they listed in the survey. Hmm.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:52 PM | TrackBack

    I Know My People

    Just went back several weeks of the photos of the week over at Time.com and voted 5 times. Each time my vote for the photo of the week was the same as the majority. In this ever changing world, it's good to know your people.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    You Asked

    Posted by mbowen at 09:20 AM | TrackBack

    Scary Thoughts

    Posted by mbowen at 08:18 AM | TrackBack

    June 24, 2005

    Labor vs Marketing

    There's a guy somewhere in the 'sphere who calls me a 'cheap labor conservative'. For the most part he's right. I think that the long curve of economic history bends towards cheap labor, not expensive marketing. So those of us who believe in cheap labor are being more realistic.

    There are a couple of things that bring me to this point today. The first is what's being said over at Vision Circle about Customer Service. The corollary to 'you get what you pay for' is that you pay more for service. Service sometimes is exactly what you want, sometimes service is part of the 'buying experience'. For example, when I go to Best Buy, I'm the ubergeek. I don't need or want any assistance from the guys wearing the goofy vests. Best Buy gets my money over Costco generally because of selection, but not service. If I want service, I go to The Good Guys or Circuit City and let those guys crawl all over me. But for the most part, all I care about is product. And to be honest, Fry's gets more of my business than Best Buy. The same scenario applies.

    Back in January I was buying new business wear for my (planned) trip to China. So for the first time in years I went to Nordstrom. I had a lovely conversation with the woman who helped me pick out shirts. She even had a recommendation on which hotel to pick in Hong Kong. That's what you get for a $60 shirt. (Hey remember The New Retail?) I like the shirts and the service. So I pay more.

    The other thing that points me in this direction is thinking about cereal boxes. Of all the things on the planet that any idiot company can manufacture, breakfast cereal has got to be one of those things on the easy side. The next time you are in a supermarket check out the cereal aisle. Pick a box off the shelf. What size is it? If you're like me, you'll notice that it makes no sense whatsoever to sell cereal in quantities of 10.3 oz. No it doesn't round out to the nearest gram either. It's all about the precise size of the box, not the amount of cereal. Our friends at Walmart know everything about product mix, and so cereal manufacturers are allocated very precise amounts of shelf space. They fit the box to the shelf.

    Part and parcel of this is what's called 'sensation transference'. Malcolm Gladwell has a nice description in 'Blink' that goes into detail. Suffice it to say that Fruity Pebbles sells because of Fred and Barney, not because of Fruity Pebbles. Anybody can make a fruit flavored corn cereal, but only Kraft can make Fruity Pebbles in the perfect sized box with just the right colors. ($3.99 at Safeway)

    When it comes to America's role in the world, we are number one when it comes to Service and Sensation Transference. Both of these things, when they have nothing to do with the actual content of a product, like a shirt, a hamburger or breakfast cereal come under the broad category of Marketing. Sure there are some hella expensive machines that make the full-color process stick onto the kind of cardboard used in cereal boxes, but that means nothing if the characters are Fred and Barney. Safeway's Cocoa Pebbles cost 13 cents/oz. Kraft's Cocoa Pebbles are 31 cents/oz. It ain't just a box.

    As a corporate boss, there's only so much labor cost I can squeeze out of the profit equation. If I want my product to survive in the consumer zoo that is America, sooner or later I'm going to have to build brand equity. There's downward limit on how cheaply I can pay workers to increase my profit, but there's a much higher limit on how much I can raise my prices if I spend smartly on marketing. Clearly, there are any number of ways to balance the two, and there are other factors involved but I think it is key, when talking about cheap labor and outsourcing how we are balancing our desires.

    Marketing never gets outsourced. It's all about being close to the customer and anticipating their desires. You can't have muslim Arabs selling shoes to American women. It's a cultural impossibility. If you want to sell Coca-Cola to the hiphop generation, you need to hire people who understand hiphop and you need to pay them well. If you want to sell Fruity Pebbles, you need to buy the license for Fred and Barney and you need somebody to write and produce the commercials. That ain't cheap labor. Somebody somewhere is driving an Escalade because they are the voice of Barney Rubble. Only in America.

    What I keep trying to explain to folks who think everyone deserves a $350k 1200 square foot house in California is that people are not going to keep paying for Fred and Barney forever. Or will we? The more of our economy which is leveraged on the idea that we will have lots of white collar high paying jobs that come up with clever ideas like Fred & Barney, Star Wars and Reality TV, the more nervous I get.

    If you look at the broad range of products available to American consumers as compared to those for the rest of the world, you'll quickly see how deeply engrained is our preference for high-priced, highly marketed products. The rest of the world buys plain wrap, we dig the Fruity Pebbles. Not only that, we buy for the secondary effects as well. We pay for a Nordstrom shirt because the people at Nordstrom dress richly; we like JLo because she drives a Bentley and spends $1000 to get her eyebrows waxed. We watch Morgan Spurlock because he's a TV Star.

    We could save trillions of dollars if we eschewed our sophistication. Hell, we could probably feed the world. Alas, we are members of the cult of consumerism and we can't just drink regular coffee or wear $10 shoes or just use black & white lettering in our direct mail advertising. We want American jobs that pay American salaries catering to American tastes with American marketing. All overpriced in relation to the value of the goods and services we get.

    I don't know what it's going to take to get us to cheap labor.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 23, 2005

    New Zoo Review

    I don't do this often, but here are some interesting fragments from around the 'sphere.

  • PG County has fleas. Apparently this 'burb lacks the kryptonite that keeps real gangstas and mayhem away.

  • Amsterdam is jumpin' off. Bomani checks in with a love letter from the town he says is everything New Orleans wants to be.

  • Lost as a text adventure. Crack up.

  • Another one bites the dust. Some rapper named 'The Game' is over. Pshaw.

  • There may be more to Fred and Barney's friendship than we've been led to believe.

  • It starts with beef. It ends in tears. I didn't finish this piece on Pimp C, but I'm definitely getting back to it. Compelling story.

  • My new desktop wallpaper.

  • This Wikipedia entry doesn't seem to do anything for my trope on 'The Legacy of Stonewall', which now opens the possibility that I have completely misjudged the Gay Liberation Movement. Well, I've been wrong before.

  • I wanted to write something up on Hamilton Naki, but P6 has got that covered.
  • Posted by mbowen at 07:54 AM | TrackBack

    Toon Time with the RZA

    My brother Deet checks in with the following cool item:

    I just returned from a special night at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater. Tonight featured a live performance by the RZA, musical architect and leader of the hip hop supergroup Wu-tang Clan in an event that is a part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

    RZA took the stage about 9:00pm and thanked everyone for attending. He mentioned that we were about to witness a project that he’d always wanted to do in a public setting since he’d been doing it privately ever since he hooked a couple of VCRs together as a kid in the 1970s. Even then, he loved cartoons (who didn’t?) but wanted a fresh approach using the sounds he could create.

    RZA took his place on the raised platform to the right of the stage, elevated to give him clear view of the enormous movie screen (those who remember Deb’s graduation ceremony last Friday can picture the platform where the live musicians played) and those of us in the packed house braced ourselves, not knowing what to expect.

    Actually, what I expected was to see old cartoons with RZA updating them to the 21st Century by utilizing his enormous audio archive.

    He did that and took it to a whole new level using the latest technology. He told the audience that 3 weeks ago he got his hands on a new video device that allowed him to manipulate video images with extreme dexterity. In essence, RZA was able to “scratch” the digitized 1950’s cartoons as easily as he DJ’d the vinyl albums on his dual turntables.

    The result was astounding.

    He flipped the script by making the cartoon images follow his rhythm---not the other way around. And even though things started rather roughly (he warned us that there might be a few kinks), by the third cartoon the characters were moving (forward and backwards) to the sounds of everyone from the Beatles to Al Green to Johnny Mathis to Wu-Tang Clan. Mainly heavy blues with a great beat sampled in.

    It was incredible to hear him play a live drum track, use sampled sound effects, scratch vinyl records AND change the speed and direction of the video images….all live! To call him the maestro of the rhythm is the best way I could describe RZA’s performance. Animated scarecrows dancing to Al Green; Superman soaring through the sky to the Brothers Johnson "Strawberry Letter 23"; Birds moving to the beat of “Fly Robin Fly”…. a remarkable achievement.

    RZA performed for about 70 minutes nonstop with deft control of the video and audio scratching. The amazing thing is he seemed like an artist before an enormous canvas with a crate full of records and a DVD full of classic cartoons from the 50’s (think of Mickey Mouse/Steamboat Willie Style obscure animation) and almost seamlessly blending them together in a well-rehearsed manner.

    At the conclusion he played a video tribute to ODB, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan who died of heart failure last November at the age of 35.

    It was also announced that RZA was the “musician in residence” for the LA Film Fest and three of his favorite films (“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, “36 Chambers of the Sholin”, and “Ghost Dog—The Way of the Samurai” will all be screened at this year’s festival.

    It was a great event and one that highlights RZA’s remarkable skill, control and creativity.

    By the way, this was a great way to close out "Wu-Tang Month" for me: I bought two of their CDs, read RZA's new book "The Wu-Tang Manual" and watched "Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2", films scored by the RZA. Whew!

    Posted by mbowen at 07:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 22, 2005


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    "We're not going to be clones of the commercial hiphop world."

    If you asked me last week, I would have told you that you were pronouncing krunk incorrectly, not that I know much difference between krunk and drunk. Krump is dancing. It's hot, it's fresh and it's jumpin' off.

    As with most such barbershop matters, the spousal unit was more in touch with this particular reality than I was, but she was at a loss to explain it. So I checked out a couple websites to find out the deal at her instruction. She said that she had seen a movie trailer featuring this. At the moment there were only two that Google could find, and although there is one pretty fabulous website, the video clips were too short. Speaking of short(y), the first time you and I saw Krump was in the sequel to Get Shorty, aka 'Be Cool' the John Travolta movie out this year. While I did forget a lot of the flick, I did not forget the scene with the Krump dancers with their war paint makeup at the community center. So be on alert. Hollywood knows about Krump.

    The cast of 'Rize', which seems to be the premier troupe on the scene made their debut on the Tonight Show last evening. They ripped it up. The film breaks this Friday.

    The rise of Krump, which is inevitable, brings to mind a number of interesting questions about doing and being. Here's a perfect paragraph about white liberal sentiment of the sort which sets my teeth on edge:

    Like “Paris is Burning” or “Style Wars” before it, “Rize” illuminates an entire community by focusing on an artform as a movement that the disenfranchised have created. But the true stars of the film are the dancers themselves: surrounded by drug addiction, gang activity, and impoverishment, they have managed to somehow rise above. The film offers an intimate, completely fresh portrayal of kids in South Central as they reveal their spirit and creativity. These kids have created art – and often family – where before there was none.

    Whether you decide that this is marketing drivel or a philosophical approach, one thing is clear: these kids are setup to represent a whole lot more than dancing. It's not enough that they are fabulous dancers, they are fabulous dancers whose achievement has already been fabricated into a tired-ass inner-city narrative that we've already heard 1000 times. But I'm going to direct it into the same direction that I heard from the clip, they're against the grain of commercial hiphop.

    At any community center or YMCA in the country, there's a good chance that there is some halfway decent, halfway embarrassing hiphop/jazz dance class. If I were a bit more versed on the subject, I would take this moment to expound on the corner of American life into which we have painted dance. I've seen Bill T. Jones and Garth Fagin once or twice back in my Brooklyn days when I was searching for a trophy wife life. I only got into one or two discussions about the difference between dance as an artform vs soft porn for the TKTS crowd so there's only so much credibility I can be assigned. Nevertheless I think I am within the realm of reasonableness when I say that we could do a lot better as a society if dance were more central to our culture.

    What dance is to black culture is different from what black dance is to American culture, and I have a difficult time accepting the whole inner-city trope on Krump. See, I'm prepared to see that krump (can I do it in lower case now?), like every other black dance from the funky chicken & camelwalk, to the electric slide & the bus stop hustle to the butterfly & the bankhead bounce are deep inside black culture from house parties to clubs to weddings, not just this whole gangbangers who have nothing better to do but 'take out their aggressions on the dance floor' okey doke. I'm not about to claim krump in the Old School, but if the kids coming up on this are saying they don't want to be commercial hiphop, then take them at their word. Don't stuff them into that same narrative.

    Everybody knows that filmmaking is a rich man's game. So we have to come to expect that there's not going to be many ways that it crosses over except through the culture vulture eyes. I'm sure LaChapelle has already had his fill of embarrassing dinner conversations. However noble his intentions or sensibilities we can't wish him into the context of the house party like we know the house party in the Old School. Plus, there's only so much film even rich folks can afford. It's going to have to come down to the money shots until such time as.. well the next class of academic culture vultures get their hands on it and start writing papers. Krump is going to be lost in translation - we can already see the confusion between clowning and krump.

    Again it's hard for me to say what the right way for krumping to get out there. Clearly my boy is going to see movies and videos and want to learn how to do it, just as much as he wants to learn breaking. He's not the only suburban pre-teen who will. So I hope it grows in all the streets, just like skateboarding. Short of that, I'd be happy to blogfather anybody with the inside track. Whose story is krump now, and whose will it become?

    Posted by mbowen at 06:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Don't Forget Tae Bo

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    June 21, 2005

    Morgan Spurlock, Idiot for Hire

    It's kinda fun and kinda tedious to identify how sensible values are inverted in popular culture. Take this bonehead Morgan Spurlock who volunteers for an idiotic venture, eat the worst food you can for a month and makes a movie about it. Well, that's made him a hero among the Prius Pansies and they've bankrolled him a series. I hear he's going to pretend to be poor so he can whine at another American institution for not taking better care of him.

    Of course these complaints are legitimate. After all, he is an idiot.

    Fortunately for you, I have discovered Soso Whaley whose new documentary 'Debunk the Junk' shows how a person who takes responsibility and uses her brain can eat at McDonalds, lose weight and lower their cholesterol. Spread the word.

    Like Wal-Mart, I almost believe that McDonalds was invented to serve poor people. They're both so cheap, ubiquitous and convenient. It's no surprise that they are co-located. Oh but wait, they are evil. Yeah, for idiots.

    BTW, the new WalMart opened on 190th and Vermont last week. I went by there Saturday to pickup a graduation gift. It was absolutely packed, and they had a bouncer in the parking lot with Tupac music playing in the background. What a grand opening!

    While I'm being provocative, I suppose I should go the whole nine and suggest that we return to putting Home Ec in high school curricula. The sooner we get to Borkies the better. If there's a problem with McDonalds, it's that people are too stupid to know how to eat. That's a withering criticism of our society.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:12 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

    On The Downing Street Memo

    I haven't followed this controversy at all, but I can already guess the salient phrase:

    Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

    What I find interesting at this moment in history is that anybody with a vote can probably deliver a soundbite reason for every war we've engaged in the past 60 years. And of course at least half of America would say without equivocation that Lincoln fought the Civil War 'to free the slaves'.

    As far as I know, the American body count remains under 2000. So we can consider my Murder by Numbers and Supersize Me. This level of casualties simply doesn't phase me. If this level was considered unsustainable, we'd certainly hear louder squawking from the appropriate parties. In that silence roars the self-appointed 'blue' folks.

    I'm afraid this is all still beneath my radar.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

    TCB: On Reparations

    The last thing I was thinking about before September 11th 2001 was reparations. I came up with a brilliant solution in fact. Even people who were staunchly against the concept thought it was a pretty good idea. But I'll get to that later. Right now I want to describe my position on Reparations in the first of what will be many Conservative Brotherhood cross-posts.

    I always speak of justice in terms of healing and curing. There is no question that a great injustice was done to us blackfolks through the institutions of and supporting slavery. It is an injustice that can never be repaid. We African Americans have healed ourselves, but the cure will remain unachieved.

    Three Parts
    The United States should repair. The moral case is clear. The United States will not repair. The politics are clear. African Americans should not worry about it. Our strength is clear.

    There are plenty of legitimate aruguments for reparation and I suspect that our legal system cannot really bear their burden. Charles Ogletree of Harvard is the man on point and I'm sure that he can make a case. But like everyone else, he'll have to come at it sideways, because at root, ours is an indictment of America itself, and of nations. We were a conquered people. We were exploited. We were left politically, for dead. And the interest of the Union superceded our dignity as a people - Reconstruction, which would have been the proper repair, was abandoned.

    Nobody can argue that whitefolks never had the sense God gave them to recognize and do something about our horrid condition. There were many who saw us as brothers. I think that John Brown was one of this nation's greatest heroes. In the end, they failed. But we have not failed ourselves and our American journey only proves the indomitability of the human spirit - which we can never ourselves forget. We have become what we are primarily through our own efforts and nothing can take that away.

    The strength of African America is what keeps this nation together, for we could clearly rip it to its foundations. This nation is always in debt to an idea that probably will never die, the idea that a black underclass can and will revolt. The idea is a bit colored, but only great injustice can bring it to fruition. Any such great injustice will itself be causus belli, it needn't be specifically racist persecution of blacks. If this economy fails, if some civil war breaks out for other reasons, if we become a dictatorship. As a conservative, I break with my colleagues in that they believe such events are imminent or already at hand. They seek revolution; they seek a purging by fire next time. They seek to collect that debt in blood and chaos. I am for stability and growth.

    I believe that African Americans have it good enough and that our progress in marked by our quick study of this nation's infrastructures and institutions. And so when it comes to the question of Reparation, I believe that our system is not morally capable of repairing. I also believe that the relative condition of the African American nation is not nearly agitated enough to demand reparations. In other words, it would require an extraordinary effort to extract the payment due and African Americans by and large are letting the nation slide.

    So I suppose the more reasonable question is whether or not blackfolks are cancelling the debt. The answer is no. That elephant is too big to ignore - even if we hanged every living Klansman. We're just holding it in our pocket while we shake your hand and smile. We are healed, our smile is genuine. But we are not cured and we both know it.

    Now the idea: The Slave Dollar
    (from the archives November 2000)

    As a matter of apology and reparation, I propose the minting of a coin. This coin, preferably gold in color, would be distributed directly to [African] Americans through the US Post Office. What is important is that a sufficient number of these coins be minted such that their circulation through this country and the world such that their very presence indicate the breadth of the impact of any market orignially directed at the labor of African Americans..

    The amount minted might be, instead of reflecting an interest bearing debt on 40 acres and a mule, representative of some fraction of todays economy as expressed in proportion to that of the slave economy in its day. For practical reasons, it is not likely to be a 1:1 ratio. But if the slave economy was estimated to be 1/3 of that time, it might be reasonable to mint 1/3 of all dollar coins as the "slave dollar".

    There are other practical considerations, such as the success of the coin itself, but I have little doubt that it would circulate widely among African Americans. There are currently many popular theories of 'recycling black dollars'.

    The presence of these coins in the national circulation would show, over time, how pervasive the effects of money generated by the slave economy would be. One of the great excuses often given in resistance to reparation and apology is that no one living was directly responsible or directly victimized. But a coin minted and circulated specifically as the currency of apology ultimately reaches everyone, just as the money generated specifically by the institution of slavery.

    In retrospect and in consideration of the Sacagewea Dollar, the 'disappearance' of the coin from circulation could cause bigger headaches than the gesture might relieve. But I still think it's a good idea.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:59 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack


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    June 20, 2005

    Happy Dad


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    Why Do We Fall?

    The last thing I expected from a night of escapism was a dose of wisdom, but this episode of Batman has eclipsed all other superhero narratives and applies well to our society.

    'Batman Begins' has reverse-engineered the legend of Batman into something serious enough to be transcendent of the genre. It's a critique on society that actually works. Unlike the facile comparisons I've heard about the latest installment of Star Wars, I believe that Batman discussions might yeild something hidden.

    The bad guy in 'Batman Begins' is a man who seeks to destroy Gotham City for becoming corrupted beyond repair. His 'League of Shadows' aims to purge with fire that which is considered irredeemable. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, now transformed into Batman must part ways with the very man who made him. Why? Because the man who made him was without mercy and considers Wayne's mercy the very weakness that tolerates crime. Wayne's legacy is that of the family who sought to inspired the good in those of the wealthy who could make a difference. Batman must negotiate the narrow path which goes beyond vengeance towards justice. He is no punisher, but a catalyst.

    On his way to recognizing and fulfilling his destiny, he does a lot of falling. The answer to the question is 'so that we may pick ourselves up'. It is this trajectory towards nobility that is the subject of 'Batman Begins', and I think the film makes a good distinction between elitism and nobility.

    I often say that I am an elitist. Considering that I am not phenomenally, nor even marginally wealthy, I recognize that attitude is often all I have. So I sometimes overplay it. I have certain expectations of the elite, most primarily that they exhibit nobility. I am reminded very much of these moral expectations at bottom, so despite the fact that I might tend to rail against incompetence of all sorts as well as engage in a healthy about of ragging on the American peasantry, I do not hold great value in elitism for elitism's own sake.

    The sterling character of this tale is none other than Alfred, played admirably by Michael Caine. I find it odd that in our own set of archtypes, it's difficult to imagine someone not British to play the part. We seem to have lost the very idea of propriety he, Alfred, embodies. It is Alfred, after all, whose fierce loyalty and understanding of the gravity of young Wayne's obligations to Gotham enable him to become and remain Batman - that thing Gotham needs most.

    What indeed are our obligations to the wealthy? And so I turn to politics.

    If there is a useful distinction to be made by the example of Alfred, it is how Americans are so quick to find in the wealthy and powerful some flaw worthy of exploiting. It is not enough that those who are truly corrupt are busted, but we suspect all of our betters to be equally corruptible. In fact, this is so pervasive a presumption that the only wealthy people we find admirable are those who 'keep it real'. There is no other reason to celebrate gangster culture than to believe that power always corrupts. By expecting corruption, we tolerated it. By tolerating it, we never face it down. By abdicating that responsibility, we cry out for superheroes, superweapons, supervengeance. We end up on the path of Batman's nemesis. We say that it is too late, and we seek a cleansing fire.

    I believe that this sentiment is at the heart of every revolutionary and most liberals. Anyone who could cheer Michael Moore is certainly one who feels nothing of the responsibility Alfred bears. The key to this understanding is the one that strikes at my own heart. The merciless instructor understood that what Bruce Wayne feared was his own power. Ahh.

    To fear your own power is to know that you can create or destroy. And yet 'there is always a bigger fish'. How difficult is it for us to see in our life's work some greater plan? Why should we help our bosses and our bosses' bosses? Isn't it all about money and power? Wouldn't we all like to take a pile of cash and live like PDiddy or JLo if we could? We fear our own power because of temptation, and because of frustration. When we realize that given a million bucks we would do something entirely different than what we are doing now, we admit that we don't really care about the integrity of the process we are working under today. We're just getting paid. What difference does it make who we work for? That, my friends is what makes us corruptible. Since there's always a bigger fish, there's always corruption we can't stop. Unless.

    Unless we are to adopt the propriety of Alfred and work to insure that the good and powerful remain engaged in the well-being of society, there is nothing to stop corruption. That means we cannot afford to become merciless and cynical, that puts us on the side of destruction and chaos.

    Quite a moral from Batman.

    Posted by mbowen at 05:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 19, 2005


    The best thing about having the kind of father that everybody loves and respects is knowing you can do it too, and sometimes even thinking that you can do it better. Today I'm going to think about Pops in the ways I know I will never match, because it's all about him today.

    I often think about my father not in terms of who he was or is as a man, but in terms of what he made us do. They say you've got to break down a person in order to build them up. It's not my turn to do that with my kids yet - they are still in elementary school so that's mom's job. Pops didn't wait so long or so I seem to recall.

    When I got straight As and a C in handwriting in the 6th grade, my father made me practice my handwriting every night. He made me draw precise loops on page after page. When we moved to our new house across the street, the weeds were taller than I was and the house was pink. None of those things lasted long. My father who served with the Marine Corps at Pendleton was all about discipline. And so we learned the discipline of cutting weeds and painting houses, and painting sidewalks, and trimming trees, and replacing windows, and carpentry.

    We four boys were addressed as 'The Crew', which meant working crew. On the refrigerator was the infamous 'List'. We not only had to make the house spotless, we had to clean the neighbor's side yard and the gutter. During the summer months, Pops would make an occasional 'pop call' driving home the County issued 1975 Chevy Vega to make sure we weren't just playing football and Monopoly, but actively showing off to the neighborhood how tightly the Bowen family was run.

    Our driveway consisted of two strips of concrete with a path of grass in the middle that extended back to the garage. In the front yard, the grass remained. Behind the redwood gate (that we installed) (yeah it was fun using the pole diggers and setting the 4x4s in concrete) Pops had us rip up all of the grass and have a six inch deep trench between the concrete strips. Into this trench was placed four 50lb bags of ornamental tree bark. The bark filled the spaces around a dozen geometrically shaped stepping stones like a sea of Lucky Charms. Every summer we had to wash the bark. Each piece was about the size and shape of a computer mouse. There were thousands of them. We picked them up and washed them in one of our 30 gallon trashcans, set them out to dry and then replaced them in the driveway of Hell. Then we closed the redwood gate so nobody could see it.

    This was one of many construction projects at Wellington Road. We converted the garage twice. Once into a neighborhood theatre complete with custom built seats and a stage, and then later split it in two into an office and my bedroom. We placed the studs at 18 inch intervals and braced them so that the wall would survive an earthquake. For the Bicentennial, we painted the back of the house and the garage red white and blue. We dug out the rose bush and poured a couple of tons of concrete to extend the patio. We built several basketball contraptions, none of which survived the slam dunks of the neighborhood kids. We built various fences and even a tool shed.

    Our two favorite projects were, of course, the go kart and the Two Storey. The Two Storey was our playhouse, complete with a trap door and a hangin' post. It had, of course, two stories and from the top which was a little over 8 feet off the ground (with 2x4x10s from Cooper's Lumber over next to Sears Pico) we had a nice view of things. The hangin' post was a 2x4 that overhung the concrete path that led from the patio alongside the garage to the back corner of the yard where the Two Storey stood. We arranged triple pulley rigs and jacked up objects too heavy to lift; we swung from it. The Two Storey was orange and green the first time, then dark red later. We cut geometric and puzzle shaped windows in it. It was our castle.

    The go kart was slow, converted from an old power mower. We cut the blades out and left the axle intact but didn't regear it to do much more than 5mph. Steered with ropes, even the little guys could drive it. Not that we let them often enough.

    We were a building family. We even re-creosoted the telephone pole in our backyard. The Wellington house still frequents my dreams. I lived there from 66 to 82. It was in the 'hood, but we were its creators without question. This is what Pops gave us. A home of our own creation, driven by his discipline and determination.

    There's so much more I could say about Pops, and inevitably will have to. I could talk about the Angeles National Forest, the jogging at 6 in the morning, the incessent letters, the library, and Saturday morning trips to the film library. He influenced us in so many ways. But today, I'm just thinking about Wellington House and what we made it, because he's the kind of man who leaves things better than the way he found them.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    What I Think of You

    If you ask me, I'd say that I have been a mediocre blogger for the past couple of months. I've shown some bright spots here and there. At least one or two posts per week have been something to chew on, but the fire that was once Cobb has seemed to have been put on simmer. At the moment, my writing is in something of a transitional period. I have not recently provided enough coverage of the Old School perspective on current events. I let things go to the comic that I should be writing on. I hope to turn that around and pump up the volume.

    Still, new people are finding Cobb every day and now that the comments work pretty much like I want them, I am getting real feedback. Furthermore, I am hearing from folks out of the blue (who are not actually all about Texas HoldEm). This has provided me with a great deal of encouragement, so I wanted to send an appreciation.

    I think my readers are people who want to challenge themselves to think outside of the box. They want detail and novelty but they also want me to get to the bottom line. I write for people who are constructing a vision of the world and I want to provide them with the raw materials of argument. What I often hear that gives me a great deal of satisfaction is that people don't often agree with me, but they appreciate my clarity. That's just the right balance.

    I've heard from many journalists, once. I often wonder what it is that gets them halfway to me and then throws them off the trail. I've been invited to provide material for an interview or guest write and then suddenly they disappear. Whenever such rejections occur and no reason is given, I am left to search my insecurities. I don't search long, but do have a theory which is that my novelist's sense of profanity and self-depreciation leads journalists to believe that I am some sort of rap figure (I dunno), seemingly articulate yet profoundly retarded or abrasive and rude. Or it could just be spelling. Perhaps they consider me hostile to journalists. Well who knows, because they don't say. The notable exception would be Grace Lee, who lives up to her name. It's annoying being teased and I wish you journalists would cut that out, especially since nobody has really covered what The Conservative Brotherhood is all about. I find that relatively astounding.

    Now that I think about it, this would be a good time for me to compile a 'best-of' so that people can examine my fundamental cases for conservatism and the Republican party, which is very close to the center of why Cobb was initiated. Once I tried to assess the most popular posts (by number of comments) at the blog. I'd probably be wiser just to pay my host to enable their hit counter. But my preliminary results told me that 'Mystery of the Black Blogger' was a biggie, as was 'Man on Fire'. I only remember the silly ones that blew up at the moment, but I do recall that the specifically racial stuff was a bigger draw. I don't consider Cobb a race-man's work but I don't avoid going there. Instead I prefer to focus on culture and politics from an analytical perspective. I am rather espcially proud that recently, my recommended reading list for college-bound black kids has been getting a lot of hits as well as 'Return of the Bogard' my advice to the young brothers on success in America. I very much appreciate that. I don't think that I sustain enough readers to post an open thread, but you can consider this one open. Tell me which subjects you'd like to hear pontification about, friends.

    I have successfully launched my professional websites, and like LL Cool J in that movie with Robin Williams, I like to keep my peas and potatoes in separate piles, only to mix in the stomach. I have no way of knowing who frequents both but I do know there are a few people at work who know about Cobb and Cubegeek.

    I am bouyed and sustained by my readers. I am happy to make you laugh with The Comic, associate new ideas with Critical Theory and walk you a mile in my shoes with Diary of a Black Man. I'm going to try to do a bit more with Local Deeds and Domestic Affairs in the coming months. Thanks to all of you for stopping by.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 18, 2005

    Epitaph for Mike Tyson

    Mike Tyson started off as a twisted kid with talent and potential. He morphed into a fierce fighter with no class. Today Tyson is a loser with no class and no potential. This picture now goes down in history as the dictionary reference for 'washed up'.

    When Tyson finally got served by the British champion Lenox Lewis it was clear that he was over many rounds before it happened. I distinctly remember one of the commentators saying how that fight seemed like the one fight that showed us all to be suckers. As it proceded you thought how was it that we ever thought this guy in the ring was a heavyweight champion boxer? He was too short, he couldn't get inside the jab, his punches didn't hurt his opponent. Suddenly, everything wrong with Mike Tyson as a fighter became obvious. Regardless of his history and problems, I just momentarily felt sorry for the outmatched loser in the ring who was desparately trying to live up to the reputation of Iron Mike Tyson. And then I simply wanted Lenox Lewis to crush him and end it for good.

    Lewis lacked the killer instinct to deal the death blow to Tyson's career. That ended up being a great misfortune for Tyson who screwed up the courage to return to the ring instead of learning a lesson with some finality. And today he will enter the zone of ignomy reserved for the mighty who have fallen, Skilling, Simpson, Koslowski, Ebbers, Tyson. Beat down, knocked out, bled dry. No chance for redemption.

    The place for Mike Tyson is some retreat in New Zealand. If he can afford the ticket, he should flee, learn to appreciate music and find some trees to chop in his spare time. At least there he might find somebody to appreciate his tats.

    Stanley Crouch said of Tyson that he was a hiphop boxer, and that's probably true. There were moments when his punches ripped opponents heads so quickly and viciously it was like something nobody had ever seen. The moments were edited and spliced into montages of awesome destruction. You would think, looking at these merciless seconds, that Tyson was a supernatural force, an embodiment of a jackhammer jack move. But like the great moments of a breakdance, these were but unsustainable backspins. If you put a breakdancer on a pommel horse they fall off. Tyson didn't have what it took to do the entire routine and the camera cut away before his energy faded.

    Tyson had to destroy his opponents utterly. Those he could not destroy in rapid fashion, he bit just like a crab rapper. And that's how he went out, like a sucker. He could freestyle, but he couldn't write. In the end, he couldn't box. He didn't have the heart.

    That said, Tyson delivered what was necessary. I don't particularly care about an professional sporto's off-field demeanor. That's probably why I am more of a gamer than a true sports fan. I just dig the action, the person creating it doesn't even have to be a real person, much less a respectable one. So you're not going to hear from me what a tragedy Tyson's life circumstances were. Whatever. We paid to see him knock out opponents in the ring, and with any luck we'll always have those video clips, the literal hooks that we can sample. That's all we'll ever need from Tyson.

    Here lies Mike Tyson: Action Snack.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:41 PM | TrackBack

    June 17, 2005

    The Natural

    Ah the existentials of blackness. So complex. So unnegotiable.

    I'm annoyed again, this time because I hear little history in the blackness stuff. But let me say my few things then shutup.

    Blackness leapt into existence a generation or so ago. It was constructed. It was an intellectual and cultural construction, not simply a response to 'conditions'. Nor was it a part of the 'legacy of slavery'. It was an action, a project, a mission, a Struggle. It was about asserting pride, political cohesion and a new outlook on self, power, brotherhood, integration and religion. The creators of blackness were an intellectual elite. Interestingly they were not so elite then as they are now, but they were an elite. How soon we forget.

    Fortunately, I have some photographic evidence to present in the form of these covers from the Johnson Publication of Negro Digest. There was also Freedomways and The Liberator. If you were to be black in the ferment of the Black Consciousness Movement, you had to be intellectually sharp and you had to keep up.

    There is no such ferment today, and most African Americans wear blackness like an old suit. People consider themselves 'naturually black' and black can be anything anybody African American wants it to be, generally posed in defensive terms. But I say there is nothing natural about blackness and anybody who says so is ignorant, lazy or both.

    So here's the soundbite and anchor of this talking point. That thing which we now call an 'Afro' was once known to all of us who wore them in the 70s as a 'Natural'. The point of calling it a 'natural' was to distinguish it from permed and processed hair. Thoughtful decisions were made to understand the implications of accepting European standards of beauty and after this thought was born the natural. The Dashiki fit into the same framework. But if there was an existential breakthrough to be had in doing all of this, I don't think we have to consider it that much of a trek. How long does it take to 'get it'? How long? Not long? The Natural was not natural any more than dreadlocks are natural or cornrows are natural. Wearing a natural was a sacrament, on outward expression of an inward commitment. Today, the afro is just another hairdo.

    I hold, and have always held, that the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Arts, Black Consciousness, Free Speech, Gay Rights and Feminist movements were all resounding successes, and what took place in the streets and universities have changed our society for the better. We're all multiculturalists now. But like rural electrification, it's done. We're all on the grid and dependent on it. We can't take it for granted although we do, but we also can't keep pretending that it's as electrifying today as it always was. Somebody telling me today that they are proud of their blackness runs my temperature up about as much as hearing them describe the three prong outlets in their house. If you're not an electrical engineer you don't know anything about electricity worth knowing. If you're not in the intellectual elite, there's nothing about blackness you know worth knowing. OK? Blackness is no longer a revolutionary concept, it is a commodified consumer good.

    There's a reason that Amiri Baraka is not heard. He said what needed to be said when the time was right. That time has passed. Johnson Publications ain't publishing. The world is no longer interested in the plight of the American Negro. A more interesting question might be, what hasn't Toni Morrison said that needs saying in black literature? I think that no further ground needs to be broken, but that we should be building upon the foundation we know. It's not about being black or getting to blackness or even defending it. It's about moving up.

    Blackness is not over. We are not at the end of blackness. Black pride remains. But the Black Consciousness Movement is over, and blackness is not going to undergo a radical revision. There will be no new Black Nationalism, there will only be conservatism of the best of the old black nationalism. There will be no new Black Arts Movement, but there will be an auction at Sotheby's some years hence of Murray's manuscripts. There will be no new Black Consciousness Movement, we can testify that as cool as Soul II Soul, Junior and Loose Ends were, they couldn't bring British Blacks closer to American Blacks. Despite the hopes of the 90s, the New World Afrikan Diasporan Hookup did not materialize. It's just Dave Chappelle going to Durban, not them coming here (Mark Matabene notwithstanding). For all the hype of hiphop's revolutionary power, the indisputable fact is that it has brough American whites closer to black culture than it has blacks in other nations. Black culture and blackness are dispersed like pollen in the air, but that's not agriculture.

    I'm going to stick out a complaint which has been irking me for a few days and leave it. I've googled the Great Plains and found fascination in the flow of the Missouri River. And my gut tells me that I could flow along that river for days without passing any land on any side that belongs to African Americans. It takes me back to a painful subject which is how the West was Won and blacks lost out on getting land. It's a reason I am not compelled to watch whatever emotional whining is coming out of that new show on television called 'Out of the West' or some such melodramatic schmaltz. There could be great lands here in the US with African American deedholders. But there is not, and someday that bill will come due.

    It will come due because human ambition is what it is, and while some are satisfied with just human rights, some will strive for civil rights. While some will remain fixated there, some will want more. Many will be comforted by social equality, integration and acceptance, but some will continue to desire and amass power, wealth and influence.

    When I speak of the Old School I am working an intellectual patch which is itself a construction. It is a direct outgrowth of an integrationist, soft cultural nationalism of a scholarly bent. It is elitist, intellectual and literary and bears a burden that hiphop cannot carry. I tried, really I tried. It is conservative of African American patriotic traditions (like Booker's ethos) and it is also modern and integrative of the Western world, (like James Weldon Johnson's ethos). It is nationalist and conflicts with my globalism I must confess. It is also ideosynchratic and flavorful (like Jess B Semple) which conflicts with my appreciation for the classics. I haven't figured the whole thing out. But I know that it resonates with blackfolks who are on similar intellectual journeys, as well as with a class of African Americans I believe I know well.

    The Old School can be said to be a faction in an African American Culture War. On some days, I'm not entirely sure that war should be waged, and yet I believe it to be inevitable. But like the Natural, it isn't natural. It's a construct, it's a framework for understanding - a solution to a problem developed by thinking ahead and generating ferment you believe people will understand and engage. At bottom, I don't think it takes long to understand. How long? Not long. People will 'get it'. It will provide what people need, and if it works, I'll go the way of Amiri Baraka in due time.

    I want people to leave blackness alone. It cannot bear any more overloading with meaning, especially since it has been so commodified. We need to recognize new distinctions which are applicable to out contemporary lives, and simply being black and proud doesn't cut it. As long as we've known rivers, when will we control a county off the Missouri? It doesn't seem to me that talking about being black outside of the historical context will deliver.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:59 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    June 16, 2005


    Posted by mbowen at 12:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    The Virgin Pagoism Problem

    We've decided to get M11 a cellphone for his fifth grade graduation. And in doing so demonstrate our appreciation for his maturity and tie another leash around him. And now to the Dad question. How much is this going to cost me?

    Virgin Mobile has a pay-as-you-go system that looks attractive for a low priced entry. We can get him a $25 phone without a contract. Seems nice. There are two plans, but which to choose? Plan A costs 25 cents a minute for the first ten minutes a day and 10 cents a minute for the rest of the day. Plan B costs 10 cents a minute all day plus 35 cents a day.

    It sounds like a fairly simple math problem, however I am at a loss to understand how to put it into a function and determine the crossover point. I know how to develop a simulation in Excel, but having done so, I still don't know how to characterize the breakpoint at which one plan cost more than the other. Virgin, in their ad says that the breakpoint is at 200 minutes per month, and they are truthful in their advertising, but I'm distrustful of the number and I want to know the scheme under which they developed the revenue model.

    Here is my spreadsheet which allows you to enter a factor (the bolded number) which drives a 30 day simulation of daily calls. You can see that Plan A is cheaper if you call just a little bit, but you can also see that there are months where you could call less than 200 minutes and Plan A would still be more expensive than Plan B.
    Download file

    Clearly, M11 is going on Plan B to start. He'll make a mountain of calls when he first gets it and then he'll slow down. When he slows down to a trickle, we can switch to Plan A. Virgin's pricing is unique - I like it. I can also clearly see that this plan is way more affordable than that of Boost Mobile which is a straight .25/minute and .15/minute on nights and weekends.

    The 'nights and weekends' pricing schedule was clearly developed around demand schedules of the first pricing revolution started by MCI in the 80s. I've got to believe that the capacity of the cell network has far outstripped that of those days. That's why Cingular has introduced 'Rollover' and other interesting pricing schemes. The simple excuse that business use during the weekdays creates a supply constraint thus prices must rise simply doesn't cut it.

    Eric Schmidt of Google has suggested that the alternate content that phone carriers can charge for, like ringtones, sms, photomail, video content, gps, themes and games are so profitable that they can more than pay for voice carriage. Voice could be free just to get people on the platform of subscription services. Already Sprint has such a rebate system in place that most of the handsets are free. Clearly any digital system capable of delivering video games, has umpteen times the bandwidth required for monaural duplex voice.

    Me myself, I've got the Treo 650 on Sprint PCS. I get unlimited SMS, internet, email pop client and all the Palm goodies, and 1000 minutes for about 65 bucks a month. So I'm not complaining at all considering that finally all of that works. Lots of folks have griped that Sprint has disabled some of the bluetooth and wi-fi capabilities of the Treo, but I don't mind. It's just a leash.

    In the meantime, pay as little as possible for voice. Hope the spreadsheet helps. Now, what's the formula?

    Posted by mbowen at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Thursday Brain Spew

    Twin Otter Realtime Synthetic Aperature Radar
    I don't particularly feel like killing any homies in San Andreas tonight so I decided to go googling instead. My endless fascination with our nation's nuclear infrastructure took me to find our gaseous diffusion plants and a few national labs. Brookhaven seems to be in the nicest neighborhood, but Sandia has the monster computers. Or at least they always used to back in the days I used to monitor the supercomputer showdowns.

    But the cool thing I found at the Sandia site was a description that makes be believe that I could understand radar imaging. Awesome stuff that. Plus, I needed to be reminded that there are people who do have computers that actually crunch huge datasets without going off into zombieland - which is the current state of affairs on the crappy segmented IBM Regatta I'm babysitting (without enough access to run 'top').

    Curse of the Obstetric Fistula
    The other day's NYT had a fascinating story about a medical condition, known as an obstetric fistula, that in every way seems to fit the curse of women throughout history. How many times have I come across the concept that menstruating women were considered unclean in ancient cultures, or that a 'barren' woman was unfit and cast out of the village? There's no doubt in my mind that this condition could be the source of a great deal of pain as well as a cultural disposition to exile women from society. It's not hard to imagine a time when the underlying cause of such horrid symptoms was not understood. I never heard of such a thing until this week. Yike.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 15, 2005

    A Separate Piece

    I've been asking and answering questions in my head in advance of several interviews and panels I've been invited to. The toughest question I imagined being asked was "What's the hardest thing about being a black man?" My answer was convoluted and still is, but I found in it an interesting argument.

    The basis of my response to this question was rooted in the fact that I don't second-guess black people any longer. I began this pledge back in 1992 after having read Gwaltney. I don't unconditionally love or suspect them. I simply pay attention, which is evidently too much to ask. Why? Because there's nothing hard about being a black man except answering such questions. I am what I am and comfortable in my skin, so the very question presumes that I can't be, that I need something extra. I don't.

    So I presume that nobody needs anything extra. Nobody black that is. But since we deal with the question, we have to have answers, and that continually needling question makes black people think that perhaps (other) black people do need something extra. Sounds like double-talk I know, bear with me.

    Now take this question:

    Why is that that "Black conservatives" and conservatives in general, in denouncing "Black leadership", never promote the people and organizations like those listed here, as being "Black leaders" or being representative of the Black community or the strengths of the Black community?

    Here's my black conservative answer:
    If you take it as a given that the Civil Rights Movement was a success, then you must consequently believe that the only leaders black people need are those they elect in the context of democracy. There are no political leaders, there are only political representatives. They are either doing the right thing with your tax dollars, or not. Pay no attention to anyone else.

    What other direction are blackfolks to go except in the direction of the mainstream of America? Do we require a separate national agenda? A separate nation? Is assimilation wrong? What do blackfolks lose by ceasing to oppose the mainstream of America, and if that something is real, is it really black? In short, are we looking to take a separate piece of America, or the share the wealth?

    I have as a Republican, embraced the politics of social power with every expectation that the battles for human rights and civil rights have already been won and are unlikely ever to become necessary again in my lifetime. I don't think it is a particularly big gamble either. But certainly others must feel differently. I am taking an affirmative stance on the future, and this is not based on unseen evidence but of the facts of American life and black progress in it. It's a bet I don't hedge, because it's my future and my children's future.

    I feel the hedge in a lot of begged questions about black politics and presumptions about the existentials. It annoys me. I think it should annoy you to.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:51 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

    The Grinchbag Theory

    (soon to be translated into Suessese)
    The story of the grinchbag is simple. It is an IT parable based the story of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

    Whoville is where all the users live, and throughout the year they gradually pile up their little Who requirements and expect at the end of the year that the IT Santa Claus will fulfill all their desires.

    Now the Grinch may be anybody in this tale, but the point of the grinchbag theory is for whatever reasons, all of the goodies and wishes are accumulated into one giant bag and taken away from Whoville. And whenever you put everything into one grinchbag, it's awfully hard to move all at once.

    So if you're holding the grinchbag at the top of the hill and you change your mind for any reason, you're going to have to grow your heart three times and attain superhuman strength to save Christmas. The fact of the matter is that you won't. You can only hope that the Whos will sing Dahoo Dory without their goodies, because the only thing superhuman strength does is save you from being crushed by the grinchbag.

    The moral of the story is to spread goodies throughout the year and not try to gather up everything in one grinchbag. The Whos are going to sing with or without you. You really aren't in charge of their spirits, which you can't possibly understand because you don't live in Whoville.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:05 PM | TrackBack

    June 14, 2005

    San Andreas

    I'm not much of a gangbanger, but I'm trying to get better.

    The first thing that strikes you about playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is that it's hard and you better get with it. The game is an order of magnitude more interesting than its predecessor for several reasons that are apparent within the first hour of gameplay.

    Firstly, they're out to get you. In GTA Vice City, you basically walked around as a badass looking for trouble to get into. It required you to have an positive attitude towards mayhem and corruption. It was all about becoming a dangerous bigshot. In San Andreas, the moment you show up on the scene, you need to watch your back. Cops are out to get you, rival gangs are out to get you. You are broke and bony and your mama has been shot dead, you have no respect and people who walk by are constantly reminding you how badly you stink.

    Secondly, the music is bomb quality. There are several soundtracks to choose from as you cruise around in stolen cars. The folks at Rockstar have pulled off a licensing coup. These aren't just rehacked samples, there are real songs by real groups you know - Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Rick James, Isley Brothers, Cameo, Roger & Zapp. Even the soft music and country music is real.

    Living as CJ puts you into a number of knuckle dragging situations. You beat down busters for fastfood money. Life is cheap. You generally get maybe 15 dollars for braining somebody with the various melee weapons you find in alleys and under underpasses, or on unconscious bodies.

    I'm about three hours into the game and I've probably killed 15 civilians 3 cops and 25 rival bangers. I've got a couple cool tatoos and I've stolen every kind of car in the game, including a Bentley, several motorcycles and a police SUV. I've tagged half a dozen buildings, done several drive-bys and dented so many cars and pedestrians that I can't keep count. It's not fun. All I care about is getting respect from my homies. I want to beat the game, and I use the tools that the environment provides.

    San Andreas feels very clunky as a shooter and it's much easier to get sent to the hospital in this game than any other violent videogame I've played. I swear I felt a great deal safer commanding commandos in terrorist territory. So there is never a real sense of confidence one gets in the San Andreas mayhem. The easiest thing to do is jack civilians while they're eating at Cluckin' Bell. I've come to resent the busta civilians; they just walk aimlessly through the 'hoods of San Andreas without the need for respect and without a bounty on their head.

    How accurate this portayal of gang life is, depends on people like DJ Pooh in the credits, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that it is a lot more compelling as a game than I imagined it could be, although it's hardly the guilty pleasure of True Crime. It's more akin to Silent Hill. You're in something of a horror movie and you have to see how it ends.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Tuesday Fragments

    On Lynching
    It is said that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. The Senate's recent mea culpa for not making lynching a federal crime is, of course, too little too late, and hardly worth mentioning. If there's money to come for the families of victims, I could see it being worthwhile, but from my little point of view this is hardly a big deal. When it comes to harsh anti-racist action, people of color have come to expect nothing from the US Senate or any other government body. No love lost here.

    On Jackson
    Somebody called me on the phone yesterday furiously saying that the system doesn't work. It was a wrong number. I've only had two tiny thoughts on the matter in recent weeks. The first is that Tom Sneddon has been made a complete fool, poor sap. The second is the gobsmacking hauteur and irony that can be taken from Michael Jackson's latest recordings. Three songs in particular ought to be ire-inspiring: 'Unbreakable', 'Threatened' and of course 'Cruel Man'. You probably won't hear them on the radio.

    On First Impressions
    Cobb has been getting a bit of extra publicity and recognition recently, and I must say that I'm fairly embarrassed by my lack of recent inspiration. Part of this is that political activism has simply left me flat uninterested for the past few months. This is a consequence of a combination of things, not the least of which is my increased reading on technical subjects. Yet I am not entirely inclined to do much about it. I know my writing will pick up. I know that people are accessing the wide body of work here at Cobb. I've attracted some good attention at my technical blog, and there will be August. So, like any middle aged man, I am aware that I'm not looking particularly attractive at first glance. Stick around.

    Work Sucks
    Well, it has been about 90 days on the job and I have finally had my first series of very bad days. I am weary with toil and realize that crisis mode has got me working stupid. The worst thing you can do to is make someone solve a crisis when they are supposed to be designing. I have yet to flush the crabs from my mind. At least the servers are cranking these days.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 13, 2005

    Oh Quit

    Posted by mbowen at 06:47 PM | TrackBack


    If I were working for a sane organization, I would be in London this week. But if the organization were working for a sane customer, there would be no need for me to go. As it stands, I need to go but I am not going - a victim of dueling insanities. As such, and having watched Steve Zissou, I am likely to get on people's nerves this week as I crank up the persnickety machine.

    I don't like the unpleasantness of failure, and I don't like telling people they are behaving stupidly. But I'm going to have to do the latter or suffer the former.

    Pray for me. I might not blog much this week.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:33 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 12, 2005

    I Felt It

    This morning I felt the earthquake as I got out of bed. Nothing was knocked around, it was swaying a bit with only the slightest bit of jolt. I came out to the living room to alert the family who was wrestling on the couch. Nothing else shook in the next few seconds so I knew the thing was done. I was going to look up the CalTech seismo, but after a bit of wrestling I forgot the whole thing.

    Getting into it, it was a gradual rolling for about 3 seconds that sharpened to a quiver that could be heard in the windows with approximately the same noise as an adult throwing their weight against an outside wall of the house. Then about 3 more seconds of swimming. It was subtle enough for me to think that more might be coming, but it didn't alert me that much.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    The Blacker the Berry

    Posted by mbowen at 09:05 AM | TrackBack

    June 11, 2005

    Advent Rising

    I picked up Advent Rising from the Blockbuster rather than waiting for Gamefly. It's a fabulous game, but M11 likes it much more than I. The concept is great, no doubt because of the influence of Orson Scott Card. But what strikes me about this game is that it is clearly a genre breaker. It has every intention of being its own movie, and I very much like the direction that takes.

    Advent Rising, in aiming to be its own cinematic experience sets a new high for scope, just short of Halo, but something of a new low for gameplay. For me the battle action was just too sloppy and fast. It felt like Unreal but less precise. Unreal is already too fast for me, not that I don't like fast action, I just don't dig the physics. It's simply unreal, blurry, jaggy - the edges don't meet.

    There's one thing that is astoundingly cool about Advent Rising is that it gives your fighter a lot more power than any avatar usually gets, and in this I find the greatest possibilities. Most games until this point make you slave very hard to get your powers, and the best of them like KOTOR or Fable, make results strategic. The best multi-forker in that way was the LA street cop game True Crime: Streets of LA. But like most video games, you are all too human. In AR, you very quickly get to superhuman skills, ala Psy Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy another great favorite of mine. (I'm surprised that I hadn't already written a review of Psy Ops, and I certainly hope to be that character in a sequel.) And although AR gives no indication that it will do any forking based upon choices between good and evil, it's just the kind of mix of action, role-playing and strategy that hopefully will arise in the next generation of games.

    Right now Psy Ops has the best chance of taking our hero off-world to battle greater forces. Here's the great fork. Allow your guy to rampage or crusade to a level where he's got country capturing skills. Instead of just defending an oil refinery from terrorists, let our guy vaporize one with mind powers and plunge a nation into chaos. He walks among the streets, impervious with an edict to 'take me to your leader' whom he crushes instantly. He directs epic battles from the front and conquers the globe. Just as soon as world domination is his and he gets the ultimate power, aliens drop in and exile him to another planet on the far side of the galaxy. Now he has to start over, a planet at a time. This is more on the KOTOR scale, and I haven't gotten far enough into KOTOR II to see if this is the arc - but I basically don't want to have to deal with Pazaak, see?

    Anyway, Advent Rising has already announced itself as a trilogy, and the guy behind the effort has already said it is the 'least awesome' of his many ideas. Bears waiting for. Meanwhile, I gotta turn it in today - not worth the late fees.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:19 PM | TrackBack

    Than Thou

    Posted by mbowen at 11:09 AM | TrackBack

    Obscure Movie Reference

    Posted by mbowen at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

    June 10, 2005

    An Oily Fiction

    I have finally gathered the courage to erase from my Tivo, the faux documentary 'Oil Storm' having decided that it is not worth more than a couple hundred words of discussion.

    I was very pleased to watch the FX production with my 11 year old boy. The news montages were very reminescent of those that we watch in Tom Clancy videogames. As soon as I showed him that the dates were in the future, just like with Splinter Cell, he immediately got it.

    More than the actual content of narrative which seemed very quickly to be hinged too tightly around scenarios all too closely spaced, I was eager to eyeball the footage for clues of fakery. I mean when you photoshop an entire documentary, there have got to be some non-ideological clues.

    The best one that I could come up with, on a hunch, was that the hurricane that started the first domino was spinning in the wrong direction in the satellite photos, or that it was heading in the absolutely wrong direction. As long as I can remember, hurricanes move from southwest to northeast. I could be wrong, being from California, but there was something distinctly whacky about that storm.

    It turns out that there is a LOOP pipeline and the Fourchon Station is a real place. But I'm sure that I've seen some of the 'oil' riots footage from WTO protests in Seattle.

    Overall, however, I know there are some very strict rules employed by serious documentarians that were bent and broken here. I probably could have gotten better lessons by helping line Michael Moore's pockets. But the interviews with the experts were a bit too pat, and the experts themselves were too well-behaved. Of course the thing that killed the entire flick was putting the 'typical' family in the middle of the drama.

    This is the world I expect to raise my children into. They are going to have to have some extremely sharp critical skills, because this kind of propaganda will continue to draw ratings. The political potential for full-length scenario spinning is a temptation which will not be easily avoided. Given how it has made Moore a zillionaire, who can doubt that there is much more to come?

    Posted by mbowen at 08:08 AM | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 08:00 AM | TrackBack

    June 09, 2005

    Acting White, Acting Not

    Roland Fryer is hot news again. He's published a paper about 'Acting White'. I haven't read it but it boils down to this abstract:

    There is a debate among social scientists regarding the existence of a peer externality commonly referred to as ‘acting white.’ Using a newly available data set (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health), which allows one to construct an objective measure of a student’s popularity, we demonstrate that there are large racial differences in the relationship between popularity and academic achievement; our (albeit narrow) definition of ‘acting white.’ The effect is intensified among high achievers and in schools with more interracial contact, but non-existent among students in predominantly black schools or private schools. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a twoaudience signaling model in which investments in education are thought to be indicative of an individual’s opportunity costs of peer group loyalty. Other models we consider, such as self-sabotage among black youth or the presence of an oppositional culture, all contradict the data in important ways.

    Before I tour the blogosphere and get into this interesting debate, I want to get my fresh thoughts out because I was thinking of this very matter just yesterday.

    What I was remembering was how difficult it was to be the smartest kid in my elementary school. I sat down at my desk just after work, and as usual there was a pile of corrected homework, quizzes and tests. I review all of my kids work and I give an accounting of every A. They get a dollar. A+ gets two. B's get nothing. To my surprise, F10 (my middle child) had an A a B and a C. She almost never gets two 'bad' grades. I thought back to myself and I know there were times that I struggled with being called 'brainiac', which was my nickname at Virginia Road School, all black, in 1970 when I was in the fifth grade. (actually I had skipped two grades and was 9 years old in the sixth grade). Still, nobody ever accused me of acting white. It must have been something different.

    I then went to Catholic Middle School for a couple years, also all black. I didn't study hard any longer but still got good grades. Little Elaine Takai got straight A's but nobody *ever* played with her. I rode with her in the hammer at the school fair, but I was the only one who would. Landis Balthazar was smarter than me, also genuinely weird (who would name their kid 'Landis'?) and nobody called him white. In fact, we had a whole family of Geechee looking kids called the Wiltzs. Felita Wiltz was in my class, and they were all so pale that they could pass for white, sorta - in that strange Tai Babalonia way. Of course when they opened their mouths, they were black as all get out. We teased them like they were albinos but we didn't say they were acting white.

    The reason these ideas stuck in my head was because I went and Google Earthed my growing-up 'hood with my [white] colleagues at work yesterday. One grew up in a damned nice place, real upper middle suburban from the looks of it. One showed that where he lives now is a damned nice place, California upper middle beach. (Nicer than Redondo). This left many questions in my head about what growing up in an upper-middle class suburb is good for. It's probably an excellent preparation for a career as a psychoanalyst, but not worth much if you're going to be a baker. What does America need more, mental health or bread? I know suburban dads deal with problems motivating their kids. What is success or failure in a suburban context? Is it a failure not to get a house bigger than your parents' house? Is it a failure to not be cool?

    Then my Tivo'd Charlie Rose started off with a couple do-gooders who accused the public school system of cheating people in the non-white, non-suburban, non-upper-middle state of affairs, in that they are not preparing these American schoolchildren for college. I have a lot to say about that subject, but the abstract is 'of course not'. No country's public school system was designed to get kids into college, and it's a farce to think any amount of reform of the current system will achieve that. Americans may like the idea that all of us should get college degrees and work in product design, marketing and distribution, instead of manufacturing like those lowly Chinese with their 1% profit margins; but that's not our destiny. We all can't afford to be chiefs.

    This goes also to the questions about what immigrant children are doing in East LA schools but fighting with black kids. Nobody expects them to go to college, not even their parents, many of whom don't speak english and maybe had no schooling in their whole lives. Just getting into highschool is a big deal for them. And why not? That's the American middle class too, as it ever was.

    So if acting black or acting latino means not having college aspirations or having intellectuality as a hallmark of one's personality, it can only be repulsive to dainty folks with multiple degrees after their names. It is not necessarily an injustice. It's simply counter to the wishful thinking that suggests we all need to be *that* literate as a society. I say we become that literate at our peril and it is this nations ability to deliver Constitutional guarantees to its poor huddled masses and internal Third Worlds, that will make us robust enough to survive the challenges of the future and global economy. I say if the Chinese can pay $20 a day, why can't we? I say we need lower class workers to feel just as American as I do without feeling jealous and envious of me. I talk to my gardener like a man. What's the problem?

    From this large context, I say dealing with Fryer's import is one of the curiousities of the black intelligencia, myself included. We're wrestling with the fact of class in the shadow of race.

    The Vision Circle podcast on this subject is now available.

    Here's what I said over at Vision Circle:

    If Fryer is an ass-clown, some of us sure are quick to find out what's coming out of his ass. But that's because he's black and we're black.

    YOU KNOW HOW WE DO is an encoded message to everyone, blacks and white alike, to keep an ongoing dialog about what is black behavior and what is white behavior. Richard Pryor was the first to air this conversation and it has continued ever since.

    If you don't go the the Boogie Down, where everybody keeps it pegged to Hot 97 and BET, then you get out of touch with the common dialog of the continuous invention of vulgar blackness. You could very well, as conservatives such as myself do, immerse onself in the relatively dead culture of classical jazz and old school black literature, but you wouldn't be fresh or have an urban contemporary context. You wouldn't be 'ackin white' nor 'doin how we do'. And the only people who are going to even think about calling you a Tom, are those in the Boogie Down whose vulgar dialog and limited experience have put old school achievement out of their 'black' context.

    Fryer's context, although I haven't read the piece, is probably too narrow to include this insight. I know that blackness is being reinvented all the time, so when blackness can be flying American Airlines just after the days when only TWA was cool to blacks, some blacks who ride the bus will still say that flying American is acting white.

    What I would like to remind everyone (and I'm so deep that I should have posted this independently, aha!!) is that when Malcolm X said 'by any means necessary' I believe that meant *any*. So why are we checking back with the Boogie Down to see if Fryer is OK? Harvard is one of the means. Afrocentrism is one of the means. But you cannot doubt that there is some continuously neological dissonance in style if not substance that perpetuates the gap between 'black' and 'white'. It's what people want to do.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:14 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

    Microsoft vs Google

    The way to understand how Google competes with Microsoft is to understand how Google's business model is the direct opposite of IBM while Microsoft's is not.

    Back in the days when people believed that computers were evil, they were mostly right. That was because computers forced people to reduce their ideas to the small kinds of symbols that then primative computers could manipulate. The reason your check has an ABA routing number that reads 16-66 is because in 1966, it was too expensive to just enter 'Bank of America' into a computer.

    An entire generation of programmers and consequently people, learned to think in the way that reduces complex meanings and media to simple codes.

    The IBM computing paradigm was to squeeze the most performance out of their machines, and in those days it meant disciplining everyone and everything to use simple short codes. Nobody had the luxury to support strings, much less complex data structures or objects as we do today. So it was hierarchical and a great deal of effort was made to make the use of the computer's memory and processing power as efficient as possible. IBMs operating systems are still unmatched in managing queues of instructions. The paradigm: You translate your thoughts into computer code. You wait in line to have your simple codes processed. The computer is master, you are slave.

    The invention of the personal computer greatly altered that paradigm. It shifted it, but I would argue that it didn't reverse it. Instead, it redistributed it.

    You see Bill Gates' business model isn't really much different from IBM's. IBM charged you for the privilege to have time on their computer. You couldn't own the software because you would clog up their precious computers with your idiot code which couldn't possibly be as efficient and secure as IBM's own code. They were masters of the algorithms and queue management. The upside, guaranteed reliability. The IBM data center never got a virus.

    Gates made people feel free by allowing you to own your own little computer - the PC. IBM scoffed. Gates made people feel free by letting them run whatever kind of software they wanted on their own computer. Moore's law saw to it that these little computers became powerful enough for it to seem that they are waiting on you. Software can now handle more complex and abstract data structures. But the business model is still the same. You pay to use the computer.

    Gates doesn't let you really own the software. It's licensed. Most software run on PCs is licensed, not owned. In that way, its not very different from IBM's rules about the software. You can use it, but you can't remove the cover and service it yourself. You can't, having 'purchased' it, take it apart and sell off parts to your friends, like you could if it were your car. Software is essentially as inviolate in the PC world as it was in the mainframe world, and you still have to pay to use it.

    Now let's look at Google.

    Google does not charge the user. All of Google's software and hardware is at Google, behind locked doors, just like the IBM data center. To Google, you are a user, not an owner. You couldn't own the Google software because you would clog up Google's precious computers with your idiot code which couldn't possibly be as efficient and secure as Google's own code. They are masters of the algorithms and queue management. Google releases no product that doesn't scale to infinity. Google never gets a virus. Google is a free IBM datacenter. Google is the opposite of IBM despite all these similarities because its business model does not involve charging the user. Microsoft and IBM are the same because they charge the user. Microsoft makes you configure your machine and calls it freedom.

    Furthermore, Google deals in human scale media. Google does not deliver compacted abstracted codes. Google delivers whole books, whole libraries of books. Google delivers satellite images of the whole planet. You are incapable of asking too much of Google, and their orientation is to deliver that all to you for free. Plus they take away all of the headaches that Gates delivered, the world of limitations of PCs. Clunky, insecure software written by anybody.

    Google is one of the only computing products that hasn't bloated. Even Linux is running into controversy over kernel bloat. Pigs aren't flying, they're recompiling RPMs on their anti-Microsoft boxes. Same paradigm, same headaches. Free software approaches perfection, but there is no guarantee. Google guarantees, and that is why Google is rich and there are only two or three Linuxes left worth mentioning, all equally user poor.

    Google and Microsoft are in the same business only in the broadest sense, but if they are Google is far superior. If you think of them as being service providers, they are similar. Microsoft's delivery vehicle is an operating system that the end user must install, configure and outfit with a ragtag collection of software. Microsoft, in order to retain its OS value must be backwards compatible. If they were transportation companies, Microsoft would be selling personal locomotives to which you can attach any kind of rail car you like - stuck on narrow guage. Google would be selling you passage to your destination in a customized seat. It could be on a train today, a jet tomorrow, a quantum transporter next week. You don't know or care, you just get there.

    Invention in the computer industry is going to continue, but it has reached a plateau of penetration. The mass market has been established, the networks have been built, the infrastructure is there. Now is the time that the real future can come. But the way to think of all of the businesses is en masse. How does IBM deliver its services, how does Google deliver its services, how does Microsoft deliver its services?

    Google is a service bureau, an ASP, a utility. Microsoft is a tools peddler. Microsoft will be a force to be reckoned with so long as people continue to like configuring PCs. That generation is aging. Microsoft understands this failing. That is why XBox Live is such a huge success. I'm not sure that it is as profitable as it should be, but it is a step in the right direction (even though it's not free). The XBox is a commodity item. You don't configure it, you don't tweak its software. You plug it in and you have scaled gaming services. The service paradigm will win out after we stop giggling about the technology.

    This leaves us with certain questions about the PC industry itself. If all computing is a service industry, what of the hardware? It's either going to be built to consumer or industrial specs, just like other durable goods. The trick is to insure that the high quality highly branded players we have now stick around while commodity knockoffs flood the market. It's something of a tough differentiator since everything is getting cheaper, but I think we may be in for a crisis in quality. At that point of inflection, Apple could make money making high end wintel hardware, just like Sony - not that they have to, but they could and maintain their profit margins.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    June 08, 2005

    Step One

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    June 07, 2005

    Black Googlewhack

    A couple years or so ago, I got twists. It took me about 9 months to grow my hair out. My wife thinks that I'm insane. I'm one of those guys who could grow a foot of hair out of my head but I shave my head. A complete waste of talent, says she. At the time I figured I'd go all the way to dreads.

    The reason I'm bald today is because of the dearth of information I could get about locking and so forth. I liked the way my twists looked, but I was basically told that I couldn't wash my hair. What!? After about 3 weeks of itching out of my skull I went back to level zero, and I've pretty much been there ever since with a few one or two month exceptions.

    Part of the dearth of information had a lot to do with what Google was then. I can tell you without question that the searching has gotten better, but not good enough. I put in half a dozen searches for black men's hair care and the only thing you could get off Google when you put it 'black men' was porno. I'm talking about Google Images here. People can say what they want about hair, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't see what it looks like. Well I've got news for you, you still can't - not from Google. It's nice to know that they've put a porno filter on, but there are no pictures.

    Do you remember that picture that used to be on the wall of your barbershop in the hood? The one with all the crazy afro styles that nobody in their right mind would get - well in the days before Kwame. Well, you're never going to find that on Google. At least not today. It's easy to find just about anything you want on Google, except pictures of black men that aren't porno.

    Your best bet? Find a name that sounds like the name of a black man, like say 'Kwame' and then search that. 'Leroy' works. 'DAndre' does not. 'Nigga' works. 'Homey' does not.

    I'm not particularly disturbed about this Googlewhack fact. I'm very happy with my head the way it is, and I actually do know what black men look like. Besides, there's always Wikipedia.

    By the way, some of y'all need to do something about Wikipedia's blank spots. Are there or are there not 10 thousand Black Studies grad students out there? Tsk!

    Posted by mbowen at 08:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Music in Context

    Pops dropped by the other day to give me a chocolate cake and hip me to Zocalo. I was too late to get a seat for this cat named Gary Phillips who is a writer and associate of Jervey Tervalon. Tervalon rememebers Los Angeles just like I do. He and Wanda Coleman don't get enough attention when it comes to portraits of LA. Perhaps those days will come to a close. I won't be there to edge the momentum tomorrow night, but clearly the joint is sold out.

    What suprised me about Pops this time was that he has gotten into hiphop. Now I don't know why a 70 year old man needs to be listening to Jay-Z for so I had him explain this to me. He does it because it's new. He's looking for context.

    We're a lot alike in that respect. We go sometimes on a musical tear and try to absorb some new artist or sub-genre. For us, jazz is second nature. While I had my back to the TV which was tuned to the digital cable jazz channel, I quickly identified Wayne Shorter and a couple others while I mistook somebody for Joe Zawinul. I didn't know that I didn't know Chet Baker, so at the very least I've got one more thing to learn. It's so easy, Pops said, for him to talk jazz and make all kinds of associations. All of the greats are gone and so they're easy to contextualize. Their body of work is complete, finite. Living artists, hiphop artists in particular, are in flux. It's much more mentally challenging to talk about hiphop in context.

    So basically, my pop, the New England liberal scholar likes Ice Cube. He has absolutely no patience or use for Snoop Dogg. Outside of that, he likes Common, doesn't like 50 Cent but won't turn him off completely. He likes DMX but not Jay Z. Although I didn't bring it up, he has raved in the past for Eminem so I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't changed. He and I both think that Tupac is quite overrated. I didn't catch his opinion of Biggie. He hates Ludacris.

    We got around to discussing the 'even white kids listen to hiphop' argument. I think the 'even' is superfluous. Picking up on Jimi Izrael's milestone, even though I disagree with his theory, you basically had to drop the 'even' when the Beasties dropped 'Licensed to Ill'. By that late date, all the crossover has been done both ways. And since then every white kid that listens to hiphop is authentic, says me.

    Put it this way. Everybody who rejected black music basically made all that achey-brakey happen. Put that at an arbitrary 30% of the white listening audience who go straight for country. The other 30% went down the grunge and goth track to the exclusion of hiphop. That leaves 40% of whitefolks who, basically by the time Janet Jackson broke out in 92, were already there. Jackson's rebirth was the final straw. Now you can say that Janet Jackson isn't *real* hiphop. By that standard 'hiphop' radio stations aren't 'real' hiphop, because there ain't one of 'em that plays strickly conscious, underground stuff, with the possible exception of one or two 500 watt college stations and podcasts.

    Pops listens to KIIS 102.7, 92.3 Hot 92, the new KDAY, 100.3 The Beat. They're all 'urban contemporary' and 'hiphop' according to the Radio Locator. KIIS is Top 40, but that means mostly hiphop these days. You don't have to go far to get your hiphop.

    Pops had recently been to Seattle during their Drum Festival. He was pleasantly surprised by an African Drum ensemble comprised of a dozen white kids in West African garb, with mad skills. Their mentor was an old brother who had taught them djembe as well as lyrics in original languages. When they played, according to pops, it was serious indeed. For this reason, as well as the trees and an invitation by UW to extend their classrooms into housing projects, Pops is enchanted by Seattle. I said he could borrow my flannel.

    On the grunge note, we found that we like the same new rock, which we divided into the 'intelligent rock' and the 'gothic'. On the intelligent side, we both dig Coldplay, Modest Mouse, Radiohead & Stone Temple Pilots. On the harder side I pointed out Korn, Papa Roach, Linkin Park. He anted up Nine Inch Nails, to which I raised him a Rammstein. That took me back to Skinny Puppy and Bauhaus... whoa.

    He suggested a project 'Music in Context' because as strange as it sounds for old black men to be discussing this kind of music, much less listening to it, is because we have our reasons. The reasons oftimes, as well as the associations, are more interesting than the collection of songs. I suggested a group blog, he nodded. If we get Dutz and Deet involved, it would be the bomb, because we always have things to say about music. God knows we can't talk politics for long.

    We shall see.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


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    June 06, 2005


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    June 05, 2005

    True American

    Posted by mbowen at 04:52 PM | TrackBack

    Polite Conversation

    Posted by mbowen at 01:56 PM | TrackBack


    My desk is clean. I have opened all of the envelopes and sent as much money as I felt like. In one of the envelopes was the documented evidence that I have come a long way. It was my Social Security document.

    So I broke out the Excel and plotted my income over the decades. Althought there are some deviations, and off-book income, my chart looks like Horatio Alger's hockey stick. The late seventies and early eighties hardly register on the same scale as the late 90s and now. Simply stated, I did good. It took me three years in the 90s to make as much money as I did in all of the 80s, and I graduated from highschool in '78. I'm on track to double my 90s income this decade.

    My daughter's favorite episode of Star Wars is Episode One, especially the part where Quai Gon says "There's always a bigger fish." There's always a better job. There's always a bigger corporation. There's always more money somewhere else. I keep this in mind, look at what I have and chill.

    This morning I read the latest installment of the NYT's series on class. The Rich vs the Hyper-Rich. There's a poor old money dude babbling at his cocktail party about his twin engine prop. Little does he know he's talking to somebody with a Gulfstream IV. End of conversation. My bling is bigger than your bling. Not even people with $15 million mansions can be secure in America. You just don't know how big and ugly it gets.

    I'm not convinced that the money game is the only game in town, but you have to admit that it's pretty easy to keep score. Knowing that you can get to the answers in a few short sentences gives a certain element of finality to our social exchanges. You don't have to believe that you can be rich to win, you just have to score better than the guy next to you.

    When I used to hang out with Lisa B., I was the first mad with a BMW she dated. We were an interesting couple, to say the least. She was a radical feminist academic, I was me. When it comes to black success we represented, or so we thought, the two dimensions of our generation. Some of us used our brains to train other brains and did the school thing. Some of us used our brains to do the business thing. Interestingly we agreed that part of our job was to demystify for the next generation. So we agreed that we should 'break the silence' about what kind of money we made. It was cool for me, because I had passed what my buddy Ted and I facetiously spoke of as the Southern California Poverty Line of $38,000 a year. It was cool for her because she didn't care about money.

    People will not tell you how much money they make. They take their income too seriously. Why? Because we all play the game. There is an element of insecurity we have about it, and it's all reduced down to a number. Is it a good number? You know people are judging you and there's no way to escape it. Net Worth. SAT Score. FICO Score. Frequent Flyer Class. All closely held secrets. Sure I say that I live in Redondo and I don't immediately say that I rent, but I know people are sizing me up and saying hmm, he must got money. In many ways I'm oblivious to that as I am the Large Black Man Effect Field I radiate, but I know it's in play at some level. But there's always a bigger fish, and what you are isn't what you *be*. It's just the mark of the moment.

    These days, I have started to shut my mouth about my money. I use as a counter-example a fellow consultant with whom I worked several months ago. See he's a big fat brainy guy with a Porsche. Not just a Porsche, a fairly new 911 Turbo. This means that he spent at least 120k on his car. So we're sitting in the wide open area and he's Mr. Loudmouth on the cellphone talking with his mechanic. The guy is sitting right next to full-time employees who make 30k maybe 40k and he's talking about what his mechanic better do right. Declasse. Rude. Wrong. There's a joke that used to go around about why Arthur Andersen is like a flock of seagulls. On the one hand, they remind you of the beach and nice things. On the other hand, they swoop down, make a bunch of noise, eat up all the resources, shit all over everyone and leave the place messier than when they came. Nobody misses Arthur Andersen or Enron. Businesses move on, people move on. People say that money doesn't matter, but everybody likes when rich people take a bullet to the head.

    I actually felt that feeling this morning. Wouldn't it be cool to show some of these rich fools what hate feels like? How about planting some claymores around the Great Harbor Yacht Club? I mean it's not like they're hiding their big boats. They're showing them off. The Hyper-Rich are all about out-blinging Old Money. And having had some relatives who prided themselves on their services to some Connecticut Old Money, I have to say my sentiments are with the merely rich; the ones with class.

    There's a good WaPo article today about the differences between the .. It begins:

    The unmasking of former FBI official W. Mark Felt as "Deep Throat" has given the country a rare glimpse into the two separate spheres that coexist uneasily within the U.S. government. Let's call one of them Hidden World and the other Talk Show World.

    The guys on talk shows make more money than those in government service. David Brooks documents this well.

    So here's what I'm seeing. There's a pocket full of rich and extra rich, and they're playing pissing games with each other. Actually, I should correct these terms. They are the Wealthy and the MegaWealthy, because when we're slicing the demographic that thin, the difference between Rich and Wealthy is that Wealthy people can make other people rich. Rich means you basically don't have to work another day in your life and still buy everything you want. Affluent means you still need income but you can basically splurge - you have plenty disposable income. And there are larger pockets of affluents and not-so affluents playing the same games, and so on and so forth on down the line. It really takes some gumption to remain self-satisfied. But down here in the mosh pit below Rich, there's a lot of mobility; you can go up or down. You definitely need to be self-satisfied more than most because you feel the tides of the economy more than most. I mean the poor folks don't care if durable goods orders are up or down. But when you're the CFO of a company that makes durable goods, that's the difference between you retiring next week or ten years from now. Wealthy folks only care to the extent that they win a bet against Mortimer, but so what?

    From where I stand, it's difficult to see how much of what we call America is run by Old Money or New Mega Money and what difference it makes. Just like with Deep Throat, those who know don't say, those who say don't know. I'm hoping, just like most folks, that my boss isn't an asshat, and that there's another million or two out there that I don't have to kill or die for. But today is a good day to look over the size of your kingdom and decide to be happy, because wherever you go there's always a bigger fish.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Listen to Leon

    People say that I talk too much about myself in this blog. No I don't. You still don't know the half. I'm a writer and I am constantly fictionalizing. Don't try to figure me, Cobb is just a personna.

    However, I stumbled upon somebody today that cracks me the hell up. It's Leon. So if there are several things you might be able to impute about me by knowing that Leon's last three blog posts have me on my knees rolling with laughter, go ahead and impute. See if I care.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:08 AM | TrackBack

    Cultural Literacy

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    June 04, 2005


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    Karenga, Elijah Muhammed and Bill Cosby

    Americans seem to have lost the belly for creating the new man. Anytime we try to determine the value of Emmitt Till's remains or the integrity of a story leaked a generation ago, it means we are more conservative than progressive. It's not a bad idea this conservatism, but it's also not exciting.

    What was exciting was the creation of the Black Man and the Black Woman, beyond the age of the Negro and out of the Negro Problem. It shouldn't be surprising that at the base of the radicalism that help create that consciousness is the root of a new vision for African America. What is surprising is the direction it is coming from.

    Elijah Muhammed, founder and high priest of the Nation of Islam asked in his 'Message to the Blackman' one fundamental, disturbing and radical question. It boils down to this. What has Christianity done for Africans in America? He provoked every Negro to ask himself whether or not Christianity was truly liberating or did it stand in the way of the Negro's freedom. It upset the status quo by begging a question. If you want to get from here to there, you need to analyze the value of your current position with the Christian Church.

    Elijah wasn't the only one pulling back the covers of Negro identity in search of a new existential model. Atheist, communist and socialist intellectuals were all about that too. Somewhere in that bucket fell the founder of United Slaves, Ron Karenga. As far as his group was concerned religion itself was in the way, not just the Christian Church, but all churches, mosques and synagogues. Culture had to rule with a capital C. African culture goosed along with celebrations gleaned, improvised, recast and refined for the Negro was to be the vehicle. Was American bougie culture liberating? Evaluate your current position, said Karenga.

    If these can be seen as two legs of a stool, clearly what's left is politics. I say today's black conservatives are the only ones who are boldly and fundamentally challenging the status quo of the majority of today's African Americans.

    It might seem odd to suggest that conservatives are radical. After all, conservatism means perservering against chaos, instability and wishful thinking. But Islam and West African culture weren't invented by Elijah Muhammed or Ron Karenga. They were merely appropriated and tweaked to be oriented to the lives of African Americans in order to move them out of their positions of comfort into a vision of a new order.

    Whether or not anyone wants it to be, Bill Cosby is the lightning rod of this new provocation. What he has started, like John the Baptist, is now a permanent part of our history. All the debate for the future of African American politics and identity starts with Cosby. This is something I perceived even before his fateful comments, and it is why early on in my quest to sharpen the focus of black conservative politics, I reached out to Joseph C. Phillips. It is why I very seriously considered calling what I refer to as the 'Old School Republicans' the 'Cosby Show Republicans'.

    The die is cast. It is not a simple matter of 'black' any longer. You must decidedly speak to culture, class and politics. Cosby is henceforth embedded as a talking point, someone on whose attitude and opinion credible thinkers must give the thumbs up or down. His opinion is not new, nor groundbreaking, but it is seminal and it is exposed. The exposure is new and it must be reckoned with in all public discussions from here foreward. We owe something of that to Michael Eric Dyson, but from here on out he has sealed the fate that black liberals and progressives cannot and will not have the last word.

    Cosby is Old School. He is conservative and traditional. He exemplifies our own paleoconservatism with regard to his dubious escapades with women. The dirty laundry on Cos is that there is something irresistable about knockout women. That is why he is alleged to have used a lot of knockout drops on them in the past. Be all that as it may, he drops the hammer on his political foes with regard to this one undeniable set of values. He updates our sense of the integrity of the politics and ideology of racial integration. Cosby is taking the high bourgie road. More power to him.

    When Cosby excoriates on the matter of self-respect and what it is that the unwashed Forty Percent do to bring themselves down, he is not being irresponsible. He is personifying the very thing that blacks with middle class values all claim, which is the value of higher education and the character of the collegian.

    Today, what most (middle class) Americans respect about blackfolks is the degree to which we share (middle class) values. These issues and values are undeniably central because whether you are a black liberal, black progressive or black conservative, you still talk about the same issues. Education, Work, Family, Crime, Health Care. Cosby put his money where his mouth is, and sent many millions to the traditional black colleges in Atlanta. Nobody on any side of the debate expects those 'who weren't holding up their end of the bargain' to waltz into college. Cosby represents the sentinel at the gateway to the American college educated middle class. No foul mouths. No teenage parents. No drug addicts. No thugs. No thieves. No dropouts. No slackers. No exceptions. Everyone, black, white, foreign and domestic knows those rules and very few question them. It's no more assimilationist than any foreign exchange student's visa. It's Old School and it's right.

    At some point in the future, there may be a Michele Wallace to put the undeniable mojo on the fatal flaws of Karenga, Muhammend and Cosby. Somebody has to have the last academic word on the effects these clear shortcomings have on the acceptability of their respective messages. But that will not the center of gravity of their legacies, but what they provoked us all to consider.

    As one on the progressive end of the Old School, I have my differences with Cosby, but I consider him fundamentally right. His ideological attitude will be found in greater and louder numbers in the future as conservative blacks come out of the closet. All the laundry is out folks. Have at it.

    Note to Dyson: The black middle class hasn't lost its mind. The black liberal elite has simply lost its monopoly.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:09 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

    Oh Yeah Him

    Posted by mbowen at 11:59 AM | TrackBack

    Gamey Weekend Stuff

    OK I'm hooked. But at least I can pretend that it's educational. 2/3rds of my kids are somewhat hooked too. What a fabulous game. It's something that was designed with geeks like me in mind. You see it's a perfect seed for cyphers. Sorta.

    Advent Rising

    OK so it's full of glitches and the speed is unnatural. It is imaginitive and Halo-like in it's immersion. For a third person shooter, I much prefer the action of Brute Force, but hey, it's Orson Scott Card and it takes itself seriously as a cinematic experience. I haven't been bored yet, although I'm only an hour into it. I still wish it didn't have boss battles. How tired is that?

    Posted by mbowen at 11:33 AM | TrackBack

    June 03, 2005

    Novaya Zemyla

    I am fascinated by Wall Street bond trading and nuclear weapons. You can talk about these things all your life and never really understand them. I am also fascinated by remote places on the globe, not because they are particularly hostile, but because they are remote. So this evening by chance navigation by way of Google Earth and Alamogordo, NM, I have arrived at a Russian nuclear test site. It's an island called Novaya Zemlya.

    Chances are you've never heard of the place before. I know I haven't. And yet isn't that extraordinary? The biggest explosions in the history of mankind, these nukes. But none of us know where they happened or might be happening.

    Do you rembmer when the Kursk went down in the Barents Sea? It's still there. Makes you wonder what else is out there.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:27 PM | TrackBack

    Friday Fragments

    John McCain
    I haven't said it much when the time was right, but John McCain is my kinda Republican. I really hope he is getting set to run in 2008.

    Olympic Deadline
    Today is the last day for NYC to get it's ass in gear and approve the building of an Olympic Stadium adjacent to the Javits Center. I say f the Madison Square Garden and move forward into the future. We want the 2012 Games in America and we want the WTC to be rebuilt by then. Get it together New York.

    Leadership Lessons
    The other night I was surfing through the Tivo captures of the week trying to find something to watch in the wake of missing the season finale of Alias. I had five episodes of Charlie Rose waiting. The thought alone was daunting enough, so I skimmed. I did find a great program of his, and it was very surprising to me that I have been inspired by a chef, of all people.

    In the interview Rose showed a couple clips in which this master chef took a bite of his students' food and then literally went outside and threw up. Unforgettable. But he said that if you want to learn from the best, it's hard. I think I'm going to learn how to be a more patient hardass.

    So far I've beed directing all the hardassness to myself and in writing, but as I take command of the things I've always wanted to do, I can see how being a hardass on others is going to help them.

    Joe Hicks vs Michael Eric Dyson
    Joe handles Dyson well. I caught the last 15 minutes of Airtalk this morning and it really fired me up. Surprising that. I always feel the need to connect with Joe Hicks because he's my kinda brother. So I just might head out to EsoWan this evening at 7pm to throw a few skewers at Dyson and pub up the Brotherhood.

    I got one of those boardwalk artist charicatures of my three kids done in pastel chalk. It was just what I wanted. I'm going to frame it and take down the current picture over my desk. Sorry Spivey. Yeah and I bought myself a new XBox.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:16 AM | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 08:11 AM | TrackBack

    June 02, 2005

    Wanting What You Want

    I'm not going to pretend that I understand a damned thing that William S. Burroughs says, but it makes for a damned fine monologue in the music of Bill Laswell. One thing that he said in 'The Road to the Western Lands' went something like, why doesn't a man know that he can't want what he wants? I think I understand that, even though I don't want to.

    BTW, The Naked Lunch was one of those movies I used to be embarrassed to say that I was embarrassed about. Now I know it's expository crap.

    Aside from all of that, it's my birthday tomorrow. The Spousal Unit was well on her way to taking care of me, as she does so well, but we ran into a budget issue. So now she had to ask me, in lieu of the surprise she had waiting, what I want. What do I want? That's impossible to answer.

    I recall believing only one fortune cookie. It said that I will never be a millionaire, but I will be so accustomed to living low that I won't care. I think that it's coming true. I think I have found my place.... Naaah. But what do I want? There has only been one person who has ever come close to giving me exactly what I wanted, and he flaked out on me big time. If he hadn't, I'd be writing this blog from a penthouse in Beijing. Nobody can give me what I want. You can't afford me. Listen to my attitude. Who in their right mind would give me what I want?

    So I have a level of desire which is moderated, as well as a sense of humility and practicality which has to do with the Way of the Servant. I am the master of my fate, and I find myself managing and moderating, having experimental mental flirtations with the dark side. I watch the fictional character Vic Mackey and even though I want to be a crusader for justice, I let him do it. I am vicariously satiated, because I have to run in place. I am a river to my people.

    My people are my family, and they get all the rest of the chicken after I take the big piece. I don't often want chicken *and* steak. I'm cool without it, in fact I'm happier when I announce that I will be providing steak for the fam. That's more fun than eating my own.

    I know that selflessness is self-destructive. Ayn Rand wasn't wasted (or overspent) on me. I love myself in the mirror, but I'm Daddy. It's not about me.

    But what do I want?

    I want a bike, but I know that my wife knows that my kind of bike is too expensive. I'd have to have a Trek or else it wouldn't be worth it. Why? Because I had a Trek back in the day when biking was important to me, when it was what I really wanted. Do I want to relive my past? No. Been there, done that. Who cares what I do next? Nobody really. So what difference does it make what I want? I only thought about a bike because of the guy I saw on the cover of Men's Health yesterday at the drug store. I ought to look like that. It's something I want for myself, but like Neo in the Matrix, it's just my reflexive self-image. It's how I see myself even though I don't look like that. So what would I be trying to prove by looking like that? Do I want other people to see me as I see myself? I guess I'm not sure I care enough to find out.

    I have a right to be demanding. I know how to get what I want, but the fact is that I mostly do get my way, and I am satisfied enough so that I don't feel like I have to prove anything. I don't have anything to prove - there's a formula for a lack of desire. But there must be something I want.

    I want a million dollars to fall into my lap. If I wished for this and got it, it would probably be in the form of my neighbor's house in Laguna sliding down the hill. I don't engage in wishful thinking. I don't really want what I want.

    You see, I'm in transition from feeling relatively assured that I was going to get most everything I could wish for. It was right there in the palm of my hand. And it failed in the best way, in the way that I could take none of the blame for the failure. I had my moment of glory in knowing that my moment of glory was close at hand. I had the moment before capture, I was like the youth on the grecian urn with success in my grasp. And then the urn shattered but it was not my fault. I was liberated by the prospect of liberation. And now I am living that down, knowing that I am just one or two degrees of separation from my destiny - the alternate destiny, the wealthy and international me.

    I wanted it. I had it. I simply didn't realize it. Now I feel lucky and unlucky about it. But what do I want?

    I think it would be interesting to get what I want just to see what happens. I really want to be Santa Claus - a rogue philanthropist with the juice to play Mr. Rourke of Fantasy Island. But see, that's not about me, it's about me giving people what they want.

    This sounds so very uplifting and charismatic, but it makes me prone to the Dark Side. I am a prisoner of good character because I am genuinely empathetic. I like helping, and I rarely get in a mood to be destructive. Wreckless perhaps, but never purposefully destructive. I like Adam Sandler's Mr. Deeds. I like Adam Sandler - the very idea of him getting drunk and wrecking his girlfriend's new Lexus. That's funny to me. Wreckless...

    Perhaps what I want is license to be wreckless. That requires more money and time than I can afford. It would be a luxury for a responsible ass like myself. I don't mind that I can't afford it because life has luck ahead for me - good or bad, it will be a surprise, and I am confident I'll pull through. So I just want to be around to be a good example for my kids. I need the good health, that's all. It's not about me.

    On the other hand, there are always fine watches. A Hamilton Trent would be nice right about now. Eh.. maybe I'll just get the XBox fixed. No, scratch that... What I need is more socks. Socks and underwear. ..and this chair. That's all I need. But what do I want?

    I guess I'm like a reverse Hall & Oates, singing 'I could go for that'. Let's just see what happens.

    Posted by mbowen at 05:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 09:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Laguna Hills: Slip Sliding Away

    I have been made to feel small, black and insignificant about three times in my life. I know that lots more people have tried, but I've never actually been deflated by their efforts. But the one humiliation that made my stomach sink came from a couple of Volvo driving parents from Laguna Hills back when I was a teenager at camp. Basically, I made friends with one of their twin daughters, the one who had Jonathan Livingston Seagull earrings and Cali blonde hair. I was the winning QB of the big football game on the day before the end of camp complete with 6 inch fro and winning smile. So when it was time to go, homegirl introduced me to her folks after our teary hugs goodbye.

    "Yeah hi. Get in the car!" said without more than a second's appraisal made me wonder what the hell kind of people lived in Laguna Hills. I'm sure my 14 year old assessment was correct. Unfortunately, I was a bit too stunned, having made some of my first white friends in life, to undo a week of positivity, to say something appropriately witty. But in my head I was burning and beat. It actually hurt.

    But during that same period I learned how sad some of those kids were knowing that their parents thought that they were cool enough to get divorced, change their hair and get a new 'relationship'. It was the 70s after all; I could relate.

    Today's news of overpriced houses crumbling to the dirt leaves me unsympathetic, and actually wishing the damage had been more widespread. The other story here is that I've been a transient basically since I left the 'hood in 1982. I've never lived in the same building for more than 3 years since then. I'm a leaser. I have no home equity, and so there is a discernable amount of scorn, envy and contempt I have for people who, for no real reason of intellect or moral capability, have amassed wealth simply by sitting still. I like earthquakes in California, they are the only economic justice in the face of half-million dollar homes with 1100 square feet. I don't really hate the players, I hate the game, and I hate not having mastered it. I hate not having that thing easily as is expected of persons of my station. I wonder if I'll ever get over it.

    So I have no pithy words of condolence to those losers in Laguna, but these. Yeah hi, get in the car.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:22 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    That's Deep

    Posted by mbowen at 07:46 AM | TrackBack

    KOTOR Again

    Once again I have jumped off the high dive of Star Wars myth and legend thanks to XBox and Lucas Arts. I have assumed the person of Fargo Tazmin and am fighting mining droids in the Paragen asteroid belt. Trying to find my way off that rock without being a total butthead so that I can get light side bonus points is a bit more time consuming than I expected. But it's better than dropping quarters in an arcade.

    Unfortunately the XBox is literally on it's last legs. I don't think I'm going to make it to Christmas and the Xbox 360 release. It has been about three months since the green light blew out, and the disk chugs like a old cement mixer. Last night it spontaneously turned itself off a couple times. I've got a bad feeling about this.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:38 AM | TrackBack

    June 01, 2005

    Felt: Fiction Stranger than Truth

    Deep Throat is revealed, the country yawns.

    It turns out, very simply, that the insider who finked on Nixon was a simple, straight guy just doing something a little bit extraordinary. He wasn't particularly heroic, he just did what we commonly refer to as a 'CLM', a career limiting move. Except he did it on the sly, with a little bit of spycraft, and he helped take down a giant.

    The legend has grown larger than the man, W. Mark Felt, and that is as it should be. There's nothing really dramatic about doing the right thing, because most everyone knows what that is. But the very idea of a secret crusader hiding amongst us is exciting.

    I'm glad that Felt appears in every way to be less than extraordinary. It should inspire us to know that just being the good guy and taking a chance which might hurt our chances at promotion within a bureacracy can be a very good thing. An anonymous good deed can be the stuff of legends.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:54 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Where Have All the Xeroids Gone?

    I talked to my boy Marty this long weekend. He runs part of the facilities department over at Xerox El Segundo. His was a tale of woe. I owe a lot of my professional development to the management style of Xerox - continuous quality improvement and all. So it was hard for me to hear what he had to say.

    I started my first internship for the Big X back in 1983, my first summer in college. Since I had some real-world work experience, I was fortunate enough to land a spot with the MBA candidates and worked in the Centralized Printing Systems Division several levels beneath the legendary Hoshi Printer. Yes, Printer was his last name. Last time I checked, he was making moola at Cars.com. So I had seven years of Xerox on my resume by 1990 when I went full-time into the software business.

    About that time, Xerox had proven two things. Number one, it was master of the copier and printer business. Number two, it didn't know squat about the computer, software and networks business. Xerox stock limped along in the low 20s for my entire career there and its employee count was about 100,000. Here in El Segundo, where we used to actually sweat about being a target of Russian nukes, there was a vigorous set of employees of Xerox. The legendary A&E building housed first rate engineers and brown shuttle vans took folks around the campus of about 18 buildings. I myself had worked in CP-8, CP-10, XC-1 and XC-2. I sometimes had lunch in one of the 'M' buildings, the big M1 cafeteria. As an intern, I toured through M2 where some of America's first 'surface mount' technology was being deployed for Xerox printer circuit boards.

    Marty says that there are about 60k people who work for Xerox now. A&E is down to about 600 employees and only two of the eight M buildings still even belong to Xerox. Over in Xerox Centre, office space had been empty so long that Xerox was renting to all comers for as little as 1.50 per square foot. The boom days of El Segundo are long gone.

    Today, Lexmark printers are no joke. HP dominates the 'decentralized' print world. Warnock made Adobe and all the rest is history. But it remains stunning to me that these very buildings, the whole of the Xerox campus has been so drastically reduced. Where have they gone? How long are those who are left going to stay?

    It's all design work, so I've been told. It's what we do best in the US, come up with new ideas and figure out ways to sell them. But I miss the days of end to end, where you could be on campus and know you were 10,000 stong. Where the spirit of a company pulling together, from design to test to manufacturing to sales and marketing distribution and support were all in walking distance. The virtual corporation is real. We in IT and our crafty MBAs made it possible. Now El Segundo is less than it used to be.

    I wonder what's going on at Northrop.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


    Posted by mbowen at 07:43 AM | TrackBack