February 18, 2006

Feminism, Evolutionary Biology & The Cellphone Shopper

Over at Booker Rising I read an interesting bit of speculation as to whether or not women select for patriarchy in contemporary American society. The answer is, only hot women do.

You know the saying. Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go anywhere they like. It's true in our society but only near the top and the bottom. That's because in the middle, life is so easy. Why indeed would a women choose a dominant male if all of her needs could be met by a sensitive new age guy with a 75,000 salary?

I've tried to critique feminism in the contexts of evolutionary biology, conservative philosophy and cultural traditions but I never seem to get a handle on the whole thing. It only comes through to me in short examples that make perfect sense. For example, most guys (and speaking for myself, definitely me) feel quite manly going to Home Depot to buy some lumber or power tools in order to build something for the house. You know it's a job for a man and you know that you're doing the provider thing. It feels like hunting and gathering. You get home, you sweat, curse and build the damn thing and when it's done the family marvels and hands you a beer. Manly. On the other hand there is nothing quite so un-manly as the poor schlub in the supermarket being told to get some radicchio by his wife over the cellphone.

Another element of suburban life that leaves me gobsmacked is seeing Mercedes sedans parked in the handicapped zone. If our lifestyle can be so comfortable as to give essentially crippled people 300 horsepower chariots, then we are really flipping evolutionary biology on its head - at least while the oil lasts.

And so while we have crafted out an economy of rewards where women can do most everything men can do, is it any wonder that both women and men are more highly sexualized than ever before? The great failure of feminism is that it doesn't really tell women what to do with all that 'freedom' and 'equality'. It hasn't really created a new woman, merely women who do what men used to do, which is make enough money and have enough mobility in society to take care of themselves. Feminism hasn't changed how women actually raise children when they do, it suggests that child-rearing is just an arbitrary selection among many. The revolution is in contraception, fertility and virility drugs, but feminism doesn't adequately modify our understanding to prescribe what to do with all that. What works? Still the same old basic drives. Women want to be hot, men want hot women. Women want to be wanted by men who can get hot women (as opposed to men who want hot women but don't stand a chance). This is as it ever was, except that it has accellerated in this country to levels of public obsession and obscenity.

Of course I have no problem with the idea that women should have money and mobility. The question is whether the amount of money and mobility should overturn patriarchy. Should a woman be the breadwinner in a married family? Should she wear the pants and let the dad raise the children? I think that in a society as wealthy as ours with a white collar middle-class so full of cellphone shoppers that the inverted model could be stable. But it certainly could not and should not upset the norm. I worry about a suburbia filled with single women and small dogs.

I have no real conclusion here. The territory to cover is vast. I'm merely observing that a certain amount of middleclass cushion is taking us into an area where our entire lives can be led by fashion, wrecked and even recovered by yet another fashion. This is not what we have evolved to be. It is more temporary than the warm spot in this Ice Age.

Posted by mbowen at 08:09 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Snow Foolin'

Some (loser) folks have gone off on mini-tirades against one of the last honest men in broadcasting, Bryant Gumbel over his remarks against the Winter Olympics. I'll give what I've seen of his entire quote, you can guess which part mealy-mouthed crybabies are whining and cracking wise about.

"Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don't like them and won't watch them ... Because they're so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something's not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what's called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they're done, when we can move on to March Madness - for God's sake, let the games begin."

Now if you're like me and not particularly interested in finding stupid sniglets of 'racism' under every rug, you get to the heart of the matter. Byrant Gumbel's show is called 'Real Sports'. Righteous. When I grew up we used to have debates about whether or not something was a sport or an activity. Remember that? Well I'm sure Gumbel had that in mind when he named his show. Now consider some common sense observations:

bowling, darts, golf..anything that lacks defense is not a sport

I consider golf a sport, I guess I would consider sand and water the "defense". Poker and gymnastics are not sports. Definitely anything that has judges deciding the outcome is not a sport(gymnastics, ice skating, cheeerleading). Those are more competitions than sports.

Running is not a sport. Nor is NASCAR.

Wrestling, boxing, kickboxing and other types of indivdual fighting are the only true sports.

No aparatuses aiding the athlete.

All that makes sense and we could get a discussion going here. But I think the question has already been settled by ESPN when they did their Degree of Difficulty study. In that famous evaluation, 60 sports were ranked in ten categories: (Endurance, Strength, Power, Speed, Agility, Flexibility, Nerve, Durability, Hand/Eye and Analytic Ability). I happen to think it takes more nerve than 4.38 to play Lacrosse, but other than that I find the results very satisfying.

Take the word of our panel of experts, a group made up of sports scientists from the United States Olympic Committee, of academicians who study the science of muscles and movement, of a star two-sport athlete, and of journalists who spend their professional lives watching athletes succeed and fail.

They're the ones who told us that boxing is the most demanding sport -- and that fishing is the least demanding sport.

In that list, Ice Hockey and Alpine Skiing make the top 15. Also Figure skating and Speed skating make the top half as do Bobsledding and Luge, just ahead of Badminton. Ski Jumping is in the bottom half, but it is rescued by the second highest score when it comes to Nerve. (The highest goes to Rodeo). Snowboarding didn't make the list, nor did Skeleton. And Curling is right near the bottom where it belongs, below Cheerleading.

Now I don't follow Hockey close enough to know whether or not anyone takes Olympic Hockey seriously as compared to the NHL, but my guess is that other than the US vs Russians, nobody cares. So when it comes to keeping it real, Gumbel is dead on it. Now I suppose we could go ask the Nielsen people if more people watch March Madness than the Winter Games, but my guess again is no contest and the NCAA wins hands-down, not to mention the NIT. (According to my Google Toolbar 'NCAA Basketball' gets 7.5million entries and 'Winter Olympics' get 2.8million Case Closed).

I'm not going to dignify the squirrel chatter about Bryant Gumbel's remarks being racist, just like I'm not going to ask what kind of beer Dick Cheney drinks. Some people need to grow up. As for the Winter Olympics.. eh. I'd rather watch the new Tour of California.

Posted by mbowen at 09:48 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Black White: A Prediction & Some Advice

Much of my FX viewing has been interrupted of late by promos for an upcoming reality show called 'Black White'. The premise is basically an unfunny rendition of an old Eddie Murphy joke. What happens when a black man (or family in this case) dresses up in whiteface, and vice-versa. My prediction? Not much, just about as much as one could expect from several episodes of a reality series.

Reading the preview somewhere in the news, I figured as much. It's somewhat interesting that the original white guy in blackface expected to be called a nigger, and wasn't. Big surprise there. No white person has called me a nigger to my face since highschool, as in the late 70s. In fact, the last time it happened was somewhere around 85, from a passing car. Whatever to that.

As usual, Ice Cube and the rest of the usual suspects are going to tell us how good it is for us to share and bond and express our deep innermost feelings on this most sensitive of subjects. I say phooey. Is it just me or is all this 'constructive dialog' starting to sound boring, repetitive and self-serving?

My advice? Go rent Sounder.

Posted by mbowen at 12:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 09, 2006

Vanity of the Physical Word

Back in the days when the only people who knew the Internet were people who had read Ed Krol's book we all understood something to be true: All information could be digitized and searchable. Back in the glory days of Panix.com, the first ISP, we would WAIS and Gopher and Archie ourselves into a pleasant oblvion of treasure hunts through the then sparsely populated and scantily indexed 'net. It wasn't even the world wide web (that's what 'www' means, by the way) because it didn't even span the globe. So when Project Gutenberg came along, we knew we were on the edge of a new world.

Of course, nobody took us seriously. Nobody believed that money could be made or attention could be maintained. It has taken roughly a dozen years, and now the implications of the thing we all knew, Moore's Law, has made the improbable, reality. And so today Google blows people's minds. It shouldn't. We've wanted this all along.

So their spat with publishers was entirely predictable, but here's the thing. Books don't move. Books are for sitting still, taking your time, working alone in relative quiet. Knowledge and information are useful all of the time, and those restrictions limit the usability of books. There was a time when it didn't matter that books didn't move, because nobody did business any other way. But now we in the IT /Software/Telecom industries require that information previously jailed in books move. The information outside of books now dwarfs that inside.

What I am doing with music, I expect soon to do with books. What am I doing with music? I am buying it piece by piece and recalling it at will. Today I can listen to The Family, George Duke, and St. Etienne on the same CD, in my car, from my laptop, from my phone or over my home theatre. When I want, how I want. I manage a huge library. I'll do the same with written material in the future. When I want to recall that passage from 'Dry September' or from 'Battle Royale' that intrigued me in highschool, I can bring it up. Maybe it costs me a nickel. Maybe it costs me a dollar.

Remember. There was a time, just 10 years ago, when eBay didn't exist. The very idea seemed impossible. People scoffed at Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com. Right now, people doubt the poltical influence of the blogosphere. There are certain fights not worth fighting. It doesn't make sense to fight the digitization of the information in books.The very crux of this matter is this - did Shakespeare write, "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well"?. No, but that is the most popular adaptation into television. Chances are more people have learned it the wrong way. Some may not even know it to be Shakespeare. One of these days, coming soon, we will consume cultural knowledge from around the globe the same way we sample food and music. If the authentic producers don't get with the digital program we will live in a world of Chef Boyardee info.

The obvious lack of mobility for non-digitized documents can be an asset or a liability, as folks on the Google Blog note:

"Nature, politics and war have always been the mortal enemies of written works," she said. "Most recently, Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the libraries of the Gulf Coast. At Tulane University, the main library sat in nine feet of water -- water that soaked the valuable Government Documents collection: more than 750,000 items -- one of the largest collections of government materials in Louisiana -- 90 percent of it now lost."

A book is a form of a document, and document is a loaded word, coming as I do from Xerox. Don't fence it in.

I enjoy the vanity of the physically printed word. I would love to be able to order books printed to spec, just like those custom collections they used to sell on TV like so many KTel album collections. Dear Barnes & Noble, I would like to order a fresh printing of a leather bound 'Gullivers Travels' and a new paperback copy of 'Oliver Twist'. James Frey's book, I'll take as a PDF.

Posted by mbowen at 09:23 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Re-Undoing Reverse Anti-Racism

I don't know what the title of this post actually parses to mean, but I'm going to hazard a guess. Racism is racism, anti-racism is the fight against racism. Reverse anti-racism is the leapy thing because it's like reverse racism. Except there is no such thing as reverse racism, it's simply a euphemism for black people 'being racist towards' whites. 'Being racist towards' someone is an overblown way of saying that something insulting happened that could possibly be construed as racist... and thats about as much patience as I or anyone should have for this mumbo-jumbo.

People without a logical bone in their body have been trying to wordsmith themselves into a fairy-ring of colorblind nirvana for generations in this country. Dollars to donuts Harriett Beecher Stowe didn't get it right herself. That doesn't stop Americans from trying - but since there is no justice, all we can do really is comfort ourselves with the notion that our consciences are OK. And for the sake of salve, opportunists find their ways into the public every once in a while.

My buddy Dave Hoggard put his foot down on some such nonsense which I haven't the patience to investigate. Since he's my pal, I trust his judgement, but since I'm something of a hardass on the subject, I think I'm in decent enough proximity to the subject to say 'Undoing Racism' is yet another farce. The conversation started off something like this:

In today's print edition of the Rhino Times, editor John Hammer takes my councilwoman, Dr. Goldie Wells, to task because she (ed: allegedly) called him a racist. Hammer reports that Wells, " ... said that I was a racist because I'm white and my parents are white, and my parents taught me to judge people by the color of their skin because my parents are racists."

So that means I must be a racist, too. Right? My parents are white ... just like John's. So logic tells me that Dr. Wells is calling my parents racists... just like John's. But the problem is, my parents are not racists. Just as John says of his parents in his column, mine did not teach me "...to judge people by the color of their skin..." as my councilwoman accuses without having ever having met them. To the contrary, I believe it was my dad who coined the phrase "... but by the content of their character" several years before Dr. King uttered those famous words. Calling my parents racists is offensive. Moreover, it is just an outright baldfaced lie.

How can it be that it is acceptable for a black person to stereotype me and my parents, and all white people with white parents, by labeling us all as racists when no evidence exists to support such a claim? I'll tell you why. Because many otherwise intelligent black people, and many white ones as well, are buying in to a bunch of revisionist horse manure.

And in the comments I heard something like this:

Our Undoing Racism workshop group (large and racially diverse) couldn't come to an agreement on the definition of "racism," so it doesn't surprise me that the small and less diverse group of commenters on this thread can't agree either. I don't believe there is a public consensus on the definition of the word.

And if we can't agree on the definition of the word, then it's difficult to discuss or debate a person's use of it without confusion and conflict, both of which we have here.

Horse manure indeed.

According to a survey I started about four years ago, about 14% of people surveyed are straight up racist. It doesn't bother me to know if they are black or white. In fact, the way I wrote the test, it doesn't matter. I designed it according to some fairly strong definitions which well researched. You can take my word for it, or you can read 'In My Father's House'. OK let's not be extreme, I'll give you a two shortcuts. The long shortcut is here, the short shortcut is as follows:

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

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

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

extrinsic racism:
The extrinsic racist says that there is a moral component to the 'essence' of a race which warrants differential treatment. These differences are, to the extrinsic racist, not particularly controversial. The extrinsic racist, while maintaining the belief for example that Jews are greedy, might not feel anything wrong with befriending a Jew. The extrinsic racist might very well applaud the Jew who proves himself not greedy and call him a credit to his race.

intrinsic racism:
The intrinsic racist says that the moral 'essence' of a race establishes an incontrovertible status for the race. No matter what an individual member of a race does he should be treated just like the rest of his race. the extrinsic intrinsic racist would argue that the Jew is so greedy that he would hide his greed in order to gain other's confidence or that this generous person is simply not a Jew.

So the very idea that people would be willing to pay 250 bucks to participate in a seminar that doesn't have definitions that are this good is prima facia fraud as far as I'm concerned. But the various failures of anti-racism don't really surprise me. We have endured two generations of liberal politics cowed by various radical sentiments and fuzzy wishful thinking and swallowed it whole. It's no wonder that we're barfing up garbage. I could take that metaphor even further, but I'm not really upset by the pervasiveness of idiocy. I just call it as I see it. I dont' think much has changed since the last time I called it.

So here's the quick answer for people who get confused over the matter of power and racism. Racism is a moral error. So long as a person is in moral error it doesn't matter what they do. It matters what they think. Most Americans are powerless anyway. What matters is their intent. Free your mind and your ass will follow. If you want to know how, you can start with the Survey and then on to the Race Man's Home Companion. I'm not going to link you to it. Find it yourself.

Posted by mbowen at 10:28 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 31, 2006

McWhorter Spinning on His Head

A thoughtful reader directed me to a budding academic smackdown on hiphop linguistics. Apparently, some noob declared himself the first Canadian research to recognize the double-negative in black American speech. I had that discussion with my french teacher when I was a sophomore in highschool. Apparently, the bigger mistake is studying AAVE through the lens of hiphop. That's a chicken and egg or a chicken and coq au vin problem. I mean deconstructing a lyricist like Pos is hardly going to give you insight to what's being said on the corner by Jamal 40Dog (that's Joe Sixpack at the Albee Square Mall). Nor is looking for what's being said in the Dirty South going to give you any indication of what rappers are going to say next.

Dr. Darin Howe recently contributed a book chapter that focuses on how black Americans use the negative in informal speech, citing examples from hip hop artists such as Phonte, Jay Z and Method Man. Howe is believed to be the only academic in Canada and one of the few in the world to take a scholarly look at the language of hip hop.

As Friedman remarks, a little basic fact-checking would have helped
here. There's been plenty of serious academic research on hiphop,
including linguistic research, for quite some time now. Friedman
quickly Googled up a bibliography of hiphop scholarship compiled by
John Ranck of Simmons College, to which I'd add the even more extensive
bibliography maintained at the Hiphop Archive website.

I think the subject is fairly devoid of profundity and I defer to Avery Tooley in these matters anyway, but I always find the etymology of hiphop a curious subject. To the extent I find lyrics mistranslated it's cool to understand the idioms of the 'hood. But the sociological impact of lyrics on the hood and vice versa isn't a particularly insightful meme if you ask me. While I complain about the derangement of hiphop and the vulgarity of its creations, I don't harbor any illusions that something special is going on here. Human beings are apt to be crude and even perverse for the sake of perversity. When nobody cares, there's nothing to keep that perversity in check. You can call it 'the culture of the ghetto' if you like, but it's still universal. Just because some slick American businessmen figured out a way to commoditize it doesn't make it more than what it is.

I mention McWhorter because I think his love for blackfolks gets him in trouble in this regard. He espouses, as an educator, a high standard of conduct and despairs at the conduct (and language) of the black masses. So while I might punt this football his way, even if he carries across the goal it doesn't score many points in the game of life.

See, I think all of those National Geographic specials with native folks music have been edited for television. Anywhere women don't do the equivalent of vote, all the love songs are just booty songs. You do know what 'squaw' means, don't you?

Posted by mbowen at 08:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 26, 2006

A Refreshing Breath of Malcolm X

I'm not going to say a lot here other than remark about how perfectly reasonable the old guy sounds from this distance. Particularly in this interview, I am struck by the extent to which Malcolm suggests that the cure for the black man is Religion. In fact, he doesn't strike me as political at all. Nothing quite underscores that as this clip, although who can tell what the full context might be.

It would be useful for me to get a good handle on the split between Albert Murray and Malcolm X.

Posted by mbowen at 11:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 20, 2006

The Futures of Conservatism & Religion

After Jeffrey Hart says this:

Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms.

What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy. The representation of this metaphysics through language and ritual took 10 centuries to perfect. The dome of the sacred, however, has been shattered. The act of reconstruction will require a large effort of intellect, which is never populist and certainly not grounded on emotion, an unreliable guide. Religion not based on a structure of thought always exhibits wild inspired swings and fades in a generation or two.

It's hard to know what to say. That is perhaps because I have already spoken about my concern about gay activists' secular effect on the clargy and spasms of emotion seems to have been the subtext. I must have absorbed those sentences elsewhere in some other context. And I am in agreement.

Yet his idea of a completely rebuilt metaphysics. Yikes. Is that the revolution of Conservative thought given by the fellow over at Body Parts? Hard to reckon. And what of this Ressurection? Is that the Ressurection of Christ? Must the empire be Holy?

The Conservative Mind, it seems to me must have some understanding and recognition of change and improvement and the hard slog back up when chaos rules. What will it cost to reform what we know can be broken so easily? More specifically, what is it that draws us to the East, and how is it that films like 'Hero' so completely outshine films like 'Munich'. We have lost our spiritual Long Now and our sense of eternal beauty, nothing quite speaks to that as our failures in Architecture and our slavery to fashion. Our appropriation of the 'timeless' is a semiotic farce. It's a Ralph Lauren sticker, a Martha Stewart band-aid. And it's destroying the Hamptons, by the way. Those who know, know what I mean.

I think there is certainly within me a powerful sense of dimunitive status when confronted with the austere simplicy of certain Asian aesthetics and philologies. I am embarrassed by the West's need for Feminism in its evolution. I am struck by the high-falutin' mumbo jumbo of psychoanalysis. We have mastered so much externally, and yet the Western soul is restless. It is restless because it hasn't yet crafted a home appropriate to its accomplishment. Are we just starting to understand the clues and truly integrating what we lack, or will it be a reduction?

Those who call themselves conservative, namely Social Conservatives, are having nothing to do with a proper multiculturalism, which is actually a middling step towards global-ready diplomacy. And I think Hart nails it when he speaks of hard utopias. That is what Social Conservatives want.

I think that Religion needs to be Catholic in the best sense of that word. There needs to be a new Cathedral built that evolves ever so slightly the wisdom of centuries - that recognizes the usefulness of wide open doors at the front and precise narrow passages at the back. I am hoping for an evolution of thought in the West, although I suspect it may have already taken place in rare places I have yet to find. What I hope to find is a disciplined rationality that does away with silly dichotomies and recognizes an ecology of thought. We should be able to see in Religion a true essence of the timeless and the transcendant, and we should build upon that wisdom of ages while we continue to reach for the stars...

OK, do I sound more like Deepak Chopra or Carl Sagan? Enough.

Posted by mbowen at 04:27 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 19, 2006

The Case Against Racial Preference

Joe Hicks challenged Colin Powell and Condi Rice to give up their support for Affirmative Action. I'm not sure either Colin or Condi were listening, but I sure heard him. The angle he took was very clever in that it actually made sense to me.

What he said was that as the University of Michigan case was decided in favor of an Affirmative Action program, the deciding vote of Justice OConner was worth noting. She expressed a desire for colorblindness as policy but said that the school and the nation wasn't ready for it. Maybe in 25 years we might be ready for that ethos. Joe said, if it's a good idea now, why wait?

Is institutional colorblindness a good idea in principle? Yeah. It is. Does it therefore make sense to apply that principle if you are the president of the US? How important is it that you do right and be right despite what the unwashed millions think? This is a very compelling argument and I buy it, except I feel funny when I do.

Let's go to the quibbles for a moment then circle back. First off, there is a such thing as reasonable Affirmative Action. It's called Balanced Workforce. It's legal, it's sensible and it no more discriminates negatively than any hiring or promotion scheme. It makes sense to implement under certain circumstances and is, as far as I can see, the only self-limiting scheme of racial integration.

But Balanced Workforce was a form of Affirmative Action in that it mandated hires and firings according to numbers. It has given way to a softer form of integrative priority known as Diversity Management. I happen to think that diversity in all of its manifestations is squishy and full of contradiction, but there is something to be said about the evolution of managment ethics in American corporations. I really can't speak to a broad number of industries, but my experience with managers today is that they are a great deal more respectful and capable of managing an ethnically diverse workforce in 2005 than they were in 1985. This is due, from my perspective, in no small measure by the real experience of black women being the boss of white men, etc, etc. People recognized that companies would not fall apart, that they could even thrive and become more profitable when broadening the scope of markets and management.

Affirmative Action was the crowbar.

When it comes to a very specific and narrowly tailored vision and version of Affirmative Action, programs of racial preference can be very effective and Constitutional. I think this is the Supreme Court's vision and I think, without quibbling, this vision is appropriate. But when I quibble, I do so in the context of anti-racism and the progress of blackfolks in America. Those are huge and complex subjects which are far from resolution. In that context, hardball zero-sum Affirmative Action is both a drop in the bucket and a kick in the pants, which is to say it is bracing remedy that only fixes a small fraction of the problem of race in America. If I wanted Affirmative Action to be the singular government remedy to racial inequity it would be an onerous burden on both the government and the people. That is a burden Affirmative Action cannot bear. Our fundamental guarantee of racial equality is that the government make no distinction on the basis of race.

It is in the matter of the Constitutional principle of colorblindness from which my funny feelings arise. Because people don't read the Constitution. People read the Bible. People read the newspaper. People read blogs and magazines and cereal boxes more than they read the Constitution. The Constitution is right and the people stay wrong, and there are no racial cops who are adjudicating the American mind on race. Yes the EEOC is handling the ugliest cases (at what pace nobody knows), but that's out of the spotlight. So what is desired, I beleive, by all Americans is a colorblind legal ethic and an activist politics that fights racism.

So here's where the quibbles arise again. Where exactly should matters fo fighting racism be adjudicated? If you have a colorblind Constitution and anti-racist politics, how does that work out if racial preferences are Constitutional? That's where we are right now. And in a way it's good that all of the racial traffic is happening in society more than in law and legislation. We have a Jesse Jackson not elected because he doesn't need to be running an administration.

While there is still wide interpretation over what the effects of drastically diminished racism might be in this country, I tend to beleive less and less in the exceptionalism of the Civil Rights Movement within the context of American history. I say that it was inevitable and that it has run its course. Furthermore I say that there is no turning back. There only remains some measure of political consensus on the declining significance of race. I predict that this will be established by the maturing and growing black middle class, and once done will be done for good. We won't be white, we'll be American and suddenly everybody will see.

Posted by mbowen at 10:32 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006

Are You Poor?

I recently watched 'Millions', an enjoyable little tale about the naivete of schoolboy dreams and an interesting exercise into the unfulfilled fantasies of many an 'adult' mind.

The cute and clever protagonist of this tale is a young English boy of about 9 who, with his 12 year old brother were recently orphaned. They move, at the beginning of the film, with their father from old row houses to a new suburban subdivision somewhere in Britain. This takes place just before the clock runs out on the British Pound Sterling and the UK is expected to convert to the Euro (which never actually happened if I remember correctly). A train taking the old bills for destuction is robbed and a Nike bag with a quarter million pounds is dropped in the lap of this young boy whilst in the midst of summoning saints in his daydreams. His conversations with a dozen Christian martyrs during the story underlines his morality and fascination with death in light of the creation of the newest saint, his mum. While taking their advice (his own), he decides to give away as much money as he can to the poor.

For most of the film, his father and all other adults are completely out of the loop, and his brother as co-conspirator is preternaturally practical and stealthy about their newly found largesse. He goes about bribing his middle-school chums and trying to speculate in the real-estate market as his younger brother gets more and more generous, threatening to expose the whole deal.

It's a great premise which doesn't quite go to logical enough extremes to satisfy my inner philosopher, but enough to prod me beyond the simplistic equations of charity being good and materialism being bad. Fzample. The little philanthropist is rather blunt about his intentions to give away dough, and essentially goes around asking people whether or not they are poor. He immediately tells them that he's got moola for them. The older brother manages to keep their wealth on the down low. And so in his greatest fib he manages to convince the headmaster and all adults concerned that the thousand quid dropped into an African relief bucket was stolen from neighbors. That only worked because these were the very same neighbors they had just previously stuffed with a mailbox full of cash.

As an aside, I'm pretty enthused by British productions these days, and I've set the Tivo to hook me up with the latest AMC series called 'Hustle'. God help me, I'm turning into a stereotypical Anglophile.

At any rate, the bad guy in the film is the only one who sees through the artifice of the boys. He stole the money first. With the boy's father they set up an interesting foursome. One boy of pure heart who wants to become a saint by giving away money he didn't earn. One boy of craft and deceipt who wants to increase the pile of money through investment and buy influence over others. One man who stole the money and is trying to steal it back without alerting anyone. One man who discovers the money and feels it is owed to him because of hard knocks.

That pretty much covers it all, eh?

The story clearly takes the side of the boy whose ambition, to make peace with his mother's death, is beyond any such earthly concerns as the material well being of those directly around him. And as with much of the liberal attitude towards self-aggrandizement, the foil of Africa is amply used to demonstrate unadulterated love for mankind. I cannot be sure if the filmmaker was aware of the striking illustration made by the use of the device, but I sure did pick up on the idea. And so what I've taken from this flick, along with the satisfaction of an evening well spent on family entertainment, is some of the sheer folly of philanthropy. I still love the idea of being the Kung Fu Santa Claus, but I'll need to take the kink in the idea some straightening distance before I'll be as happy about it.

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January 16, 2006


Jack's in trouble. Again.

The most fun thing about the 24 series is its directness. There's nothing quite so satisfying as watching Jack Bauer in action because, he knows what he's doing, you know he can get the job done, you know that deep down he's the kind of man you want on your side even though he goes to extremes. The way he gets loyalty from viewers is the same way he gets loyalty from other characters on the show. He earns it by delivering. Whenever you pay attention to the many subplots in this series, half of the dramatic tension is sustained by you trying to figure out when all the other losers are going to put their heads on straight and listen to their inner Jack. But there are always complexities.

This season has started off with a bang of a different sort. I'm hooked already. I'd have to say that the same thing is happening with The Sheild, but I'll handle that separately. This time around, we're rather prepared for the ugliness to go full scale. Which is something I think I'm taking a bit differently than last season with Marwan and company.

For a while in 24, I watched to see how the kind of mess they get into would outstrip the prior seasons. The pure audacity of the tangos is now rather expected. Last season they kidnapped the Sec'y of State and hijacked a stealth fighter. The season before they got a nuke. This time, they've already killed an ex President, car bombed CTU agents and taken hostages at an airport (echos of Entebbe).

This time the moles are high and deep, and the instability of the President and First Lady are making this thing a real nervewracking prospect.

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Boondocks' Empty Revolution

Aaron has gone to the well and too the wall, and considering what I just read from Bomani, it seems as if he's gone as far as he can go.

But after watching him channel Dr. Martin Luther King for the purpose of calling folks a bunch of niggaz, I have to reconsider that and seriously reconsider the cartoon. Between this and the "nigga moment" premise--one that delineated the difference between black folks and niggaz, something I absolutely refuse to stand for--I might be done with Aaron's cartoon.

The premise of this week's Boondocks was that King lived and came out of a coma in 2000. After becoming a pariah by invoking a turn the other cheek attitude post-9/11, King finds himself lonely, confused and out of touch. So much so that Huey Freeman has to talk him into starting a black revolutionary party. The only people who show up to the inaugural are niggas and bitches who got tickets from urban contemporary radio station 'The Freak' KFRK. King calls them out and basically takes the Cosby rant up an order of magnitude. Then he moves to Canada. After which black America realizes it is actually trifling for not enjoining the Revolution; they stay in highschool now, revolt and blockade the White House. In 2020 Oprah is elected President.

As funny as this can be, you really can't call McGruder a political sophisticate of any depth. We already knew that. What we didn't quite realize over here in the Old School was how long McGruder must have suffered in the ghetto, because he's not seeing black people at all in his cartoon. He's only seeing niggas and bitches - the Fourty Percent, the loud minority. As a creative font, that's showing signs of desparation. The only one of these knuckleheads he has given any backstory to is the pop-eyed character who wanted to shoot King himself, but believed that the white man has better aim. The rest are anonymous, ignorant crowds. In other words, there are no niggas to love for any reason. McGruder's King isn't the only one who has been in a coma for 40 years.

It's really too bad that there's nobody in The Boondocks who is a young adult. It must be frustrating for young adults to watch. It must be frustrating to be the young adult McGruder is when any such portrayal is lacking in his artistic vehicle.

How I miss Kyle Baker.

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January 13, 2006

My Christian Political Enemies Defined

I started off last week with a rant against the Fundamentalist Christian Right, and I see myself doing it again last night at the Republican Club. I think I need to be a little bit more clear. So here follows my definition of the Fundamentalist Christian Right who is twisting the arm of the Republican Party against its better judgement.

You are in the Fundamentalist Christian Right if you answer yes to the following questions.

A. If given a choice between the Constitution and the Bible I choose the Bible.
B. I am uncomfortable with the separation of church and state.
C. I believe that Christmas is under attack.
D. I don't like that we have a secular society.
E. America needs to be a Christian nation.
F. My political activity is all about building the power and influence of people who believe A through E.

I think this makes it clear what I am talking about, and helps people understand why I jump on Karl Rove's case. To the extent that he's going to master polling to figure out if this demographic is going to be the swing vote to win elections, it does damage to the core of the Republican Party. People who are energized by such motives have demonstrated that they can be employed by the party but that's not what Goldwater and Reagan were all about. So I think the Conservative movement has to make itself clear, as Joe Hicks said, that it is about reforming America strictly from the context of what political parties are supposed to do according to the vision of the Founders. I will not accept putting Scripture in the mouth of Thomas Jefferson, and that's my direction here.

Understand further that I bear no hostility or ill will towards Christian Fundamentalists other than as a political partisan. They are certainly free to ply their evangelical trade, and I would do nothing to hinder their free expression of religion. But I make the distinction between those people who are good for American government and those who are bad, and I'm not about to cosign any Christian Sharia for the US.

As to whether I have other ecumenical issues with various sects... well that's a topic for another day.

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January 12, 2006

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Perusing the Last.fm rankings of artists and songs a friend has, it suddenly occurs to me that his list must be manipulated. If not, then perhaps I am more eclectic than I'd like to be - but I'm not and I know it. But what I really want to illumninate here is how much experience is actually not directly useful in describing what people are all about.

As a little background, let's start with the brilliant premise of Last.fm. You stick this little bug into your iTunes mp3 player and every time you play a song, the bug goes and tells Last.fm. As a member of Last.fm, it cobbles together a homepage for you and creates charts of what you've been listening to. Clear? If not, just check out mine.

Now if you were a data miner for the Department of Homeland Security, it's a damned good bet that you could say that my favorite group was De La Soul, right? Actually, no. It just so happens that I like Bobby McFerrin about 3 times as much. However, I have unchecked all of my Bobby McFerrin (and all of my Prince) records specifically because I want to listen to other things. As it turns out, I own more Prince music and more Bobby McFerrin than any other of my ripped CDs. Furthermore, I have lost about half of my collection of MP3s due to a disk crash that happened about year ago. So determining what I like even with this perfect transcription of my listening is constrained by what I actually own, and then what of that I actually play.

Continuing on, Sixoseven is my own band. I like my own music but not nearly as much as Bill Laswell. I also love Miles Davis, but I'd much rather listen to Paul Schwartz. I have lots of Public Enemy but I'd question that I play it more than Beethoven even the objective facts are there for all to see. So we basically have the problem of frequency of playing music as an accurate indicator of preference in music. It's certainly a reasonable correlation but there's so much more objective information (ignoring the subjective for a moment) that is not captured accurately by this entirely voluntary submission of data about my listening habits.

I think of this in consideration of various investigations and interpretations of Alito's background, as well as (obviously) my objections to the notion that data mining for national security is a good idea. Even with perfect and objective data of a persons actions, you have no real way of understanding that person's intentions or the context within which they are acting.

While I'm bleating about this, I would like to add a personal bit of frustration that I had yesterday. I've been to London once or twice. The first time, I went via a little town in Surrey called Chertsey. I only know it's Surrey because yesterday I happened upon a railway map and a series of Wikipedia entries. Now over the course of the trips I took to London by rail, I recall several of the station stops. One was Woking, another Staines. I saw them both on the railway map, which is not in front of me at the moment, but I never found Chertsey. I downloaded a new version of Google Maps and it couldn't find Chertsey either. I kept sleuthing and found to my surprise that the Thames River runs West to East, and I had thought it went North to South. The more I looked across the train map and Wikipedia, the more frustrated I got. I have memories of Chertsey, I know I was there, I know it exists and I know there are plenty of people who have been there. Even though I learned a lot more about the geography of Southeast England, including the County of Runnymede where Chertsey is located, I was unable to find the obective location of the place, given the time I spent. On the other hand, Stratford Upon Avon was a cinch to find.

I have come to the conclusion that people are not what they do, but what they say they want to do, and what they remember about what they have already done. It's the only thing that's consistent about them, in spite of any objective data that might be applicable to them. Even from the perspective of the fact that the body's cells are not constant thoughout one's life. You are not the physical you, but the process of staying you, and the only process that is consistent is one's sense of self - again based on the desires that people have and fulfill about themselves.

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January 11, 2006

The Infinite Patience of Richard Dawkins

I ran across this dangerous idea by Richard Dawkins this afternoon.

Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?


Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

My immediate reaction is to wonder how it is that Dawkins got so spoiled that he would think others would bother studying the faults of man as one might study the mysteries of the universe. But that may be a failing on my part. I simply don't see people as so fascinating, and considering his aim for normative corrections to the presumeably congenitive failures, how this is anything more than super socialized medicine. Listen to the Alphas and deploy the Betas, it's time to correct those faulty Gammas. Serious business.

This is truly dangerous. It means that we will become dependent on some institutions that correct us, that perfect us. By definition the budget for such an institution would have to be infinite, because the capacity of humans to be wrong, to be immoral, is practically insatiable. I think Dawkins or anyone could be quickly disabused of this notion simply by dropping them into the appropriate Third World asylum for a seven year stint.

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January 01, 2006


I had a chance to go Arclight yesterday in the rain. The destination was Syriana.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable flick. At once I very much enjoyed it and was afraid of it. Films such as this tend to remind me of my distance from the level of success I think I should be having, and yet at the same time remind me of the very real costs of stepping up to that threshhold. Watching it brought me back a year to when I was in negotiations to do a big deal. You get in the face of someone powerful and you don't mince words, and suddenly you're enmeshed in big things you can only see a very small part of. It's exhilirating and dangerous. This is the real world, where people are decieved, derailed, destroyed.

As a propaganda film, which it may or may not be, there's a certain sense of 'so what' in it for me. Such intrigues as this are hardly surprising. But it was nicely done in that it blended a good number of memorable characters into a mix that gave a much broader view than is ordinarily done with a single character's narrative. As filmmaking it works extraordinarily well, and I would hope to see more of this kind of film in the future. It reminded me very much of the huge novel I once attempted where people of all sorts of ambitions wind up on a collision course.

What Syriana does better than any film I can remember is puts the actions and influence of the CIA in what appears to me to be a very good perspective. Rather than an all powerful agency capable of infiltrating and turning around governments with master spies, it shows how their own internal politics put them at odds with themselves. Even though I am a big fan of espionage fiction, this is a welcome change. There are powerful multinationals involved, there are powerful lawfirms involved, there are powerful government agencies involved. These dances are more than tangos, they are political waltzes with multiple and sometimes unknown partners.

The money scene in which the defending attorney played with muted sophistication by Jeffery Wright is lambasted as a naif struck me as a bit over the top. 'Corruption is why we win', is certainly plausible, but the reason why Syriana works is because who knows what and when is also a thing that's always in play. People decide between shades of grey all the time. It's not about what's true, it's about what can be proven as true. The truth itself, serves no one and is all but impossible to pin down. There are only facts - ie those things people and paper and computers remember as facts, and big ideas. Satisfying big appetites, the appetites of executives, law partners, congressmen, agency hierarchs, families, the public, the religious impulse; this is the subtext of Syriana. Nothing is as clean as we wish it could be.

And so it comes as no surprise that even as America could be seen to be portrayed as the bad guy, it makes perfect sense that such matters occur as they do. You ride the horse in your stable, you love the ones you're with. Anyone can be a good man, but you can't always know whose good man you are, and you can't always know at what moment or for what reasons you become most expendable, or most valuable.

This particular lesson, while made clear by the film, is not exploited for maximum dramatic value by a thematic opposition between radical Islam and Western capitalism. In fact, while we have probably seen the most fully fleshed out Arabs and Pakistanis in the history of American film, one cannot say with any specificity what their gripe with the West might be. The imam who weighs against the separation of church and state pontificates in abstracts and the specifics of young Pakistani man are lost. But perhaps that is part of the point the film wishes to make - that only in conflict are the differences and distances between Islam and the West best illustrated. The plot does not flesh out those themes and instead sticks, more or less, to plot.

As twisty plots go, Syriana's is not too bad, but folks who don't think in the fahion that Soderberg films might have some serious difficulties in following the story. This is the most up-to-date mode of storytelling. Multiple perspectives, multiple characters, hidden motives, gigantic piles of unassimilatable facts, changine allegiances, public interpreteations. In that Syriana captures this mind boggling array of complexities is a tribute to the medium of film itself. I could watch these kinds of movies all day and never get bored. I hope that more of this style are made.

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December 27, 2005

Too Many Movies: 2005 Edition

Now that it's time to review the year, I realize that I have seen far too many mediocre movies. I've probably eaten too many hamburgers as well. The thing is, you don't recognize the extent of the poisoning until you take in a full view. So here's the litany.

Jarhead, Transporter 2, Domino, Chicken Little , Unleashed, Sahara, The Interpreter, Four Brothers, Serenty, Batman Begins, Sin City, Star Wars III, Wallace & Grommit, Constant Gardener, Lord of War, The Island, Corpse Bride, The Pacifier, Harry Potter & Goblet of Fire, Rize, War of the Worlds, Madagascar, Hitchhiker's Guide,Constantine, Be Cool, Assault on Precinct 13.

There are only about four of these films that were worth seeing. So they'll be my top films of the year and remind me that I've got to leave the junk alone. Understand that I go to see big screen films that are visual and auditory experiences. I'm really not down for art flicks nor message movies, although I did go see Hotel Rwanda last year. I have grown somewhat intolerant of movie fiction in the literary cast. I used to be a big fan of them but these days I simply can't stomach any pretense in film, and it seems to me that most 'important' films are overly pretentious. Still, I'll probably go see Syriana and be disappointed anyway.

1. Serenity
This was unqualifyably my favorite flick of the year. A big surprise in plenty of good ways. I was supposed to get the Firefly boxed set for Xmas but maybe I was too naughty this year.

2. Lord of War
A textbook exercise in storytelling that takes me into a credible vision of a world I think I know but don't. That to me is perfect entertainment. This one was very grownup with no simpleminded characters. Very nicely done.

3. Sin City
This was a brilliant looking film but man was the dialog crummy. I don't know how they missed that so thoroughly. I'll probably end up with the DVD of this one simply because it's so unique.

4. War of the Worlds
This is the first movie to deal with horror appropriate to the mindblowing that was 9/11. It also confirmed that I absolutely cannot stand Tom Cruise as an actor. It should have been Willam Dafoe.

5. Madagascar.
I like to move it, move it. It was as good as it promised to be. What more could you ask for?

The worst movies?

Chicken Little was pure PC drivel from end to end, but at least the first part of it was funny. The end was horrible.
Jarhead was a complete waste of film - an insult to soldiers and citizens.
Domino was pure incoherent excess. It did look good in spots though.

Honorable Mentions:

I have a feeling that King Kong will be close to great but I haven't seen it.
Harry Potter was what it was supposed to be, so was Star Wars.
Sahara was a pleasant surprise for the kids
Rize. Yeah.

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December 25, 2005

Still Bonin'

moore.jpgI still can't hear very well, but I sure did party well the other night at the Knitting Factory. Fishbone was in the house.

I realize something about myself. It's hard for me to be disappointed in Fishbone. But if I didn't know the band, I would have only been moderately impressed with last night's extended jam. It's been a long time since I bought new Fishbone stuff - since Angelo became Dr. Madd Vibe, I was still expecting to see Dirty Walt in the lineup but he wasn't. Still, it's only because, like a silly kid fanboy, I expect that the world will someday recognize the genius that is Fishbone. So this is part two of the extended Fishbone rant and review. See I bought four CDs off Angelo himself after the show, so I've got more stuff to digest. This is about the show in Hollywood Friday night.

Fishbone these days are six cats onstage. That's the right size for a band. Anything less can't make much music unless they are in perfect synch - which is what one should expect from jazz and electronica - or maybe acid jazz if you have a really tight single artist. But when it comes to jamming, which is what Fishbone does well, you gotta have at least five. So they did that right.

It took a while for them to get their asses out of cruise, but by the fourth or fifth song, Y and I were down on the dance floor in front of a crowd of about 50. As soon as we finished skanking to the song after 'Shine', the band ripped the head off of 'Freddy's Dead'. It was as if all of a sudden there was just a magical convergence of tightness and they showed how they can rock the shit out of a song you think you knew. What's subtly ironic about that was up until that point I had been hearing in the band, strains of a kind of Curtis Mayfield extended groove style. One can easily see the band doing gigs at the Mandalay Bay to huge crowds of drunk dancers, and doing dark smoky funky dub. Except they were amped up pretty loud for that.

I like the dub direction the band has taken. They could use somebody with a huge fat keyboad, fatter than the one used last night. In fact, if I was the manager of Fishbone, I would get them hooked up with Adrian Sherwood, because for all of the talent he has put together with On U, none of it is 1/3 as danceable as what Fishbone does. Angelo's spooky theramin is perfect for it, so is Norwood's bass. Who could possibly be a better front man for the next groove in dance? Nobody.

There's a new kid on trumpet which is a good punctuation for the band. As soon as they find out what to do with him, things could start seriously poppin' off. Trumpets are supposed to lead and define, and that wasn't going on. He was doing a kind of Milesish Tutu stuff behind the rhythm. So here's the deal, the horn arrangements aren't jumping off yet. I mean I don't know who was the man behind the orchestration on Nuttmeg, but that was bloody brilliant and it has not yet been approached by anything I've heard in rock. This set didn't have that kind of clarity where the Fisbhone horns are carrying the energy.

When they got to 'They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes' the groove was fully baked and everybody swung into it. By this time I was pogoing a hole in the floor like a goddamed fool. So I made sure that my sunglasses stayed on, just in case. Half the audience was just on the verge of getting moshified but it didn't fully happen. I can't speak for anybody else in the room but I was getting too pooped to pop. So even though the music didn't slow down, I had too. I mean Old School ain't just a label, this grey is real.

Angelo was his usual jumpity self, but kept his shirt on. He continued to rant on in what I have now learned is 'Cencor This & That' from The Medicine Cabinet. And now that I'm listening to that (one of the 3 albums I bought), things would have to go on a different angle, because Madd Vibe is a different variation on the species altogether - a new kind of blues, but more on that later. So after about two half-spontaneous encores, the fish finally finished. It was an evening of exuberated funk with strains of the quickness and beat-change up that is classic Fishbone. Yeah I wanted to hear some old stuff, then again, everything I know about the band is old stuff. Yet I'm pleased with what they're doing - I just hope the new band gels as nicely as the old did.

Now I'm going to say two things that need to be remembered, and I will underscore them in part three. Number one is that Angelo Moore is still one of the few people out of my generation and 'hood that retains a significant amount of cool. Hmm. That didn't come out just right. Let me try it this way. Angelo is still cooler than me, and that's damned hard to be. OK. But he's also as cryptic as an author 12 novels into an apocalyptic groove, which means he has to be taken seriously. The only person who gets that kind of regard from the critics and the masses is George Clinton, who, unlike Angelo, hasn't really done butkis in the past decade. Oh. So that's the second thing. Angelo still has something to say, whereas the rest of funk is dead.

I woulda thunk that the man to put this level of party genius forward would have been Sinbad or Chappelle, but clearly ain't nobody got legs that long. So mebbe if Jay Z has a reggae nightmare or Babyface or LA decides there's some dirty on the West Coast, not just the South, then the 'bone may rise again, under more than just it's own power. But I have no idea how that industry works... but maybe somebody somewhere might trip over these verbs and get an idea.

Speaking of which, there was another genius in the house. Overton Lloyd, the man who drew the bird. What bird you say? The bird screaming at Sir Nose on the cover of Aquaboogie. Now that is some stuff from way down in your psyche ain't it?

Soon come.. part three.

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December 22, 2005

Fishbone, Sadness & Rebellion

In the darkness, I have found my vision
I've seen the Queen that thrives on desolation

-- Fishbone (End the Reign)

This week I burned a CD with Squarepusher and Fishbone. Listening to Fishbone is always bittersweet. They are such an awesome and musically gifted band, and they never got their due commercially. People have debated who was better between them and Living Colour. They have to be compared because they are the 'black rock bands'. Some dig Bad Brains, but I could never get into that. Still, people who know Fishbone, know.

But they are bittersweet to me also because, now that I listen to them a dozen years after the release of 'Give a Monkey a Brain', I recognize some of the differences that age and experience make with regard to one's view of the world. They say that if you're young and conservative you don't have a heart and if you're old and liberal you don't have a brain. But of course it's more than that.

When I listened to 'End the Reign' for the first time, I must have been in exactly the same state of mind as the band members. Los Angeles was in chaos in the wake of the riots. Just 3 years earlier I had shed my buppie skin in order to sensitize and acquaint myself with the flavor and feel of the city I grew to love only to be bitterly disappointed by its increasingly divisive politics. But it wasn't just the politics, it was the real dirt that had gone down and continued to go down. I had gone through the gamut of emotions around Latasha Harlins and Rodney King. I had my own videocamera and was setting up my own private stings. I followed the travails of excommunicated cop Don Jackson aka Kamau Diop. I even attended a couple meetings with Michael Zinzun in hopes that his million dollar settlement might yeild a real watchdog organization (with a BBS I might sysop). You cannot listen to the despondant glamour of the wailing tones of Fishbone without feeling all that come to the surface.

Black Flowers have lost their way
They've lost their way again
Cursed for their will to dream
Raped by mankind again
Like the auction blocks of castrated dreams

Kills the heart of love
Turned into disease
And each day I pray
Please take me away
Please take me away

Black flowers have lost their way
Black flowers have lost their way
Black flowers have lost their way

Why does this hatred linger on
Voices in my mind remind me everyday
And the passing time has healed no wounds
Deep inside my heart the pain it lingers still
And the love
Away the colors
Oh the love
Fade and blur
Has rotted away
Outside my window sill
And I can't bear this feeling anymore

No I won't give into hatred
And I'll never stop dreaming
And I'll love
Oh I'll love
Till my very last breath
Is taken away

"You have to put on your imagination
Heart glasses to see the rest!"

But not only the hopeful despondancy of Fishbone was in evidence but the face off. Which side are you on? It's not even right to put the lyrics to Servitude here. You have to hear the thrash and feel it. It's not whiney moaning about a whole symbolic planet gone to shit, it's about the here, the now and the real. They were willing to both fight the corrupt powers that be and the youth with poisoned minds. That's what set Fishbone apart from bands like U2 and REM in my mind and made them just as great if not greater. Fishbone had intellectual and musical range. I think they suffered for being too good.

But as an old conservative, not simply because I have a brain, I am a critic of the youth with poisoned and empty minds. Furthermore I am a critic of Rock for the sake of Rock. Permanent rebellion, permanent sensitivity to the injustices that plague us is not growth. And one has to ask how long is that dangling cigarette and caustic cynicism useful? Sure Mick Jaggar and Bob Dylan are in their 60s and people still come back for more. I say that there's something wrong with that - something's wrong with the person who remains a bleating sheep for a generation instead of becoming a sheepdog. Rap and Rock both are at their best when they are ragged and renegade. There is something Papa Roach has that outdoes Punk. There was something Marilyn Manson did that unseated all before him. Rock always needs a more jagged little pill. But after a while it gets hard to swallow. What good is all that rebellion?

More importantly what state of mind does it take to preside over an artform that at its best brings forth the raw emotions righteous indignation and contempt for the status quo? This manifest in a social disease of chronic dissatisfaction. There is nothing quite as sad as an old hippie whose revolution never happened. And you cannot listen to 'Give a Monkey a Brain' without feeling the strains of a grand dissolution of society. So many rock bands become the chorus of decay as if they were Nero's own fiddle. For the most part there is no greater calling for Rock and Rap. That's why there was no better rap group ever than Public Enemy and why there was no more trenchant commentary that 'Nation of Millions'. America felt like it was coming apart for those who decided to feel. But in the end it didn't. The prophets of rage were left with recordings of what now sounds almost shrill. And the music industry had to look for something new when the whole of California didn't fall into the sea after the LA Riots. Where is there to go when society itself doesn't collapse? You go to the collapse of the soul, and that's where we are in rebel music.

That is the cautionary tale I am considering in advance of the Fishbone concert I will be attending tomorrow evening. But I know Fishbone had a secret weapon: Nuttmeg. Never above bonin' in the boneyard but always above the pimp narrative, Fishbone had a soulful celebration of skin on skin. Because of that they never debased themselves. They could always sing happy even extatic songs of human hope, always wary of cynicism.

I see you setting up your shot
I'm gonna git out of your range
I'll never sing your sad sorry song
Lemon Meringue
Sour to the taste and sweet to the teeth
Death by saccharination,
And the criminal charge is the same
A chance to tell the crimes of the cruel
A chance to wave the flag of the fool
But the cross on your road is twisted
And reflects an imageless tool

So I know the world is not coming apart so long as builders build. Let the lamenters cry their chorus, let the rebels pierce their toungues, let the old rockers ripen. We cannot stay forever stunned by misfortune and tragedy. The hunger artist must ultimately eat or die. Fishbone's show is now called The Familyhood Nextperience. I predict progress, because.. well those that know Fishbone, just know.

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December 21, 2005

Scope Creep: The Costs of Total Victory

People who care a tad bit more have certainly digested and spit out a phlemball of analysis on the recent flap over the Presidents' Thirty Authorizations. I'm going to play it like a numbers game, as I usually do, but in the end toss it back at W. I don't like it.

Anybody in Project Management knows the evils of scope creep. That's when you set out to do something and because nobody is quite sure what the beast you're building is going to look like at the end, they keep throwing in little things. If scope creep were allowed at the pizzaria, instead of a pepperoni cheese pizza, you end up with a pepperoni cheese pizza, pulled out of the oven 3 times to add anchovies, olives and chicken. But since you have to cook the chicken first, you get burnt cheese and underdone chicken. In the end the whole pizza tastes like crap, you've spent too much and pissed off the Italian guy. Fortunately most of the Italian guys I knew in Brooklyn wouldn't take all that crap, and they wouldn't take the pie out of the oven to add new stuff. Unfortunately, we've never fought a War on Terror before, and Congress and the public are meddlesome.

It has been four years and we still haven't lost as many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as we lost civilians on 9/11. As significant as that is, the excuse of 9/11 has provided a whole lot of cover for a massive change in the government bureacracy. You would think that by now the plan to deal with this War On Terror would have some farily specific guidelines - all strictly legal. But no. We have scope creep. Given that Bush won his second term, it's difficult to tell whether it is Bush's pigheadedness or the electorate's meddlesomeness that is driving Bush to put on whatever toppings on this strategic pizza. After all, we demanded that he connect the dots - and that meant connecting intelligence agencies. So today the FBI is connected with the NSA. Whereas the FBI's domestic spying is not a matter of concern, using the NSA to do that breaks down an interagency firewall that has been around since day one. The dorkwads on NPR had the nerve to compare this type of domestic surveillance to Nixon's dirty tricks, making me stop to wonder if their reporters are that stupid or that biased. (I think it's a hefty scoop of both faults). Still, I don't like scope creep and that's what this feels like.

Dare I say 'incompetence'? George W. Bush gets a fair amount of credit from me, but one thing he is not is a brilliant administrator. Nor do I believe that he's using his political capital to defend brilliant administrators. It's all spent on his corner of the White House. So when it comes to managing the Federal bureacracies, I know he runs roughshod all over their professions. Career government employees hate W as a boss, and I sympathize with them.W doesn't master the details and government bureaucrats live on details. These are the details that keep coming to bite him in the butt.

I'm in agreement. in principle, with the concept. If enemies of the state are in Wisconsin, then bug Wisconsin. I also think that despite all the noise some activists have made over airport security, our civil liberties have done just fine since 9/11. I still hate to take off my shoes, and I'm not even convinced that the TSA is making me safer. After all, most of the masterminds of AQ are killed or captured and yes Iraq is still the central front in the WOT. But the Bush Administration is pushing its luck, and every inch they take which pushes the boundaries of executive privilege is particularly irksome, even dangerous. I recognize that this is a particular privilege that the President ordered a long time ago, but it still feels like scope creep. What we have is a no-account Congress whose slatternly ways have not been effective in doing anything but raise pointless points against this imperial president. They keep indicting themselves for a lack of oversight in every finger they point at the President. In the end it's embarrassing to see all the things he is doing thrown back in his face. Why? Because all this sniping does nothing to make an effective policy. It just satisfies critics who take the letter of the law to be wise.

What is clear to me, having heard out a couple Constitutional scholars on the matter of FISA authorizations is that this is a matter of responsibility that Bush is going to have to take. It's not a brazen violation of the 4th Amendment, but technically it could be interpreted as such. But nobody is going to enjoin the President or impeach the president for piercing this veil. The fallout will be mostly political, and now as the resignation of Judge Robertson shows, more corrosive of the government bureacracy. Wreckless George, wreckless.

George W. Bush has to recognize that he cannot deputize everyone in this War. Surely he has to take some extraordinary measures as the imperial president, but they should be legal. We need to win, and we will if we don't break our resolve. Nothing will break our resolve more quickly than forcing people in government to choose between lawlessness and 'total victory'. We will be happy with an ordinary victory, thank you.

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December 13, 2005

The Death Penalty Itself

I believe that human beings have every right to make life and death decisions. Sometimes we make good decisions, sometimes we make poor ones. While everyone is debating the subject I'd like to pull away from Tookie into the abstract. Do some people deserve to die? If so are we right to kill them, how about just to leave them to die?

I wrote some of this before, you should see it again:

A Gulag In Our Time

Gitmo doesn't cut it of course.

I've not been able to locate any of my previous writings on my support and qualifications on the matter of the death penalty, but I do have this brief set of axioms and corrollaries.

People have the right to make life and death decisions.

That is consistent with me being FOR legal abortion, and FOR assisted suicide, and FOR second amendment rights and FOR the raising of armies under civilian control and FOR the death penalty and FOR authorization of police to use deadly force under certain circumstance, and generally FOR a man or woman to spill their seed on the sidewalk if they damned well please.

Perfectly consistent to me.

However, I believe equally strongly two corrollaries from this. One is that people have the right to shirk this responsibility and punt it off to a proxy. That is to say, that if you feel squishy about guns, you can pay taxes to have cops carry the guns. If you feel squishy about torture, you can extradite prisoners to third countries. Everybody is not disciplined to the responsibility of their natural right to make life and death decisions. Some people I wouldn't trust to take care of a three legged dog.

Secondly, if you live by the sword, you damned well better be prepared to die by the sword. In other words, you have to have a warrior code if you're going to be a warrior. Otherwise, you're just a criminal. I'm not a warrior. I'm a writer. There are plenty of days when I feel that I should be a warrior, but that's another story.

Before I get to the core of my argument, I want to take this out onto a religious tangent. I have heard people suggest that Christians cannot take life, that this is a power reserved for God. Clearly it's not. If God didn't want man to have the power to shoot people in the head, he would have given us monkey brains. So far as I know no monkey has ever leveled a shotty at a human being and pulled the trigger. That aside, God has indeed given us the capacity, and thus the responsibility for killing. We can do so, therefore there must be some moral case for us to do so, unless biting the Apple didn't actually give us full moral capacity or maybe God forgot something when He created free will, namely a moral reason for everything we are capable of. Discussion for a later date, those sins which are unredeemable - ie something the Blood of Christ is incapable of washing away.

In the meantime, specifically, it has been suggested that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is more acceptable than a death sentence. I suppose there are some ethics which support that, but both of these punishments fulfill the same role to my way of thinking which is the permanent removal of an individual from society. I'm all for that. In fact I have dreamed up a number of Capital Punishments of that sort. We'll leave most of them for another day, what I'm thinking of right now is Permanent Exile.

Does anybody remember that gay movie 'No Escape' with Ray Liotta? Sure you do. A bunch of sweaty dirty macho men out on a prison island? Well I think that's a perfect solution for those who have some queasiness around lethal injection, electric chairs, firing squads, gas chambers and gallows. Our job? Ferry the miscreats to the prison island and make sure no females ever get there. Then we leave them there to rot, kill each other and/or otherwise create whatever sort of society a desert island full of serial killers, kidnappers, rapists, murderers and terrorists figure out for themselves.

For the record, let's talk about rehabilitation. I would rather move the whole of Palestine into East Texas than rehabilitate American criminals who have been convicted of multiple felonies. Can that be any clearer? Send us your hungry who are willing to work peacibly under the law, we'll send away those who have decided to be violent predators and flaunt the law.

Posted by mbowen at 12:01 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

December 09, 2005

The Razor's Edge

There's not a single African of any sort in The Razor's Edge, except for the drummer in the raucous Parisian Jazz Club. I recently watched the 1946 rendition of this film over a few days and it holds up rather sketchily to my contemporary sensibilities. If W. Somerset Maugham's depiction of American and European society is close to accurate in the film version, it sets me to wondering how it was that Paul Robeson's head didn't explode. If I had lived in those days, I think I would be about as obsessed with race as it's humanly possible to be, and I would have been as tragic a story as any other. Then again, I can't say that I dash my head against the rocks of relative injustice today.

There doesn't seem to be as much to say about The Razor's Edge as I thought there might be after having seen the entire film. Yet for some reason I find it reassuring to me that I understand women better for having watched. What I've never quite understood in all of my life is how much men and women's virtues depended on each other, that neither can be virtuous or debased without each other's virtue or debasement. The whole of the film turns from something of a meditation on the character of man in his quest for enlightenment to a slighly stiff melodrama. And yet simply as a view into a past America and Europe where a certain manner of deportment was mandatory it is very illustrative. What is astonishing to see is the lengths to which a woman of that age would go to maintain a certain standing of virtue. It is heartfelt and singly uncommon, I think. Not that I have had the good fortune, being a technical geek most of my life, to enjoy the company of such women. I am brought to mind of Grace Kelly's character in Rear Window - a society girl who isn't phony.

Is there such a thing in contemporary America? Are we even capable of imagining her? Our women today are of two minds in their ambition and having abandoned the virtues of making a man honest and staying true to him, they seek to compete with men. I am coming to see how this is destructive not only of some 'old fashioned' fantasy of family, but of our very sense of the virtue of fidelity. When we seek truth and honesty from each other today we don't know which truth to reveal. Instead we only confess insecurities about ourselves and our roles in life, indeed each other's lives. That kind of soul baring not what we need - we become too delicate in our intimacies. Rather what we need is to be honest, possesed of integrity in our daily affairs. We need that thing in ourselves that encourages us to become one who might be introduced as Maugham does of his protagonist, as a man of impeccable character. We need that thing in us that allows us to speak up and protect each other from the corruptions of the soul. Instead we compete to show how well we can indulge ourselves and get away with 'respectability'.

I fear we have lost the habits of politesse and high expectation of moral character. In our political correctness, we give it away as if nobody has to conform in any way. In that way PC is just the opposite of what it pretends to be. It is not a refined sensibility at all, but it sacrifices highmindedness in order to avoid highhandedness. It decides to slight nobody in order to raise the low. It's literally an affront to civilization. We think of civilization as a thing to live in, an address to occupy rather than an attribute of ourselves. What a shame.

The uncle in The Razor's Edge is indeed highhanded. A first class snob he is, and yet in his own desparate yet successful way he is relentless in his every effort to perfect himself. Because of this he is utterly without duplicity. I would expect contemporary Americans to hate and mock him on sight. He has mastered the arcana of diplomatic high society in which there is a right and proper convention for every aspect of gentlemanly and ladylike demeanor. And while it is most certain that Americans and Europeans of that age made grotesqueries of themselves because of their inability to, by dint of such class barriers, put their wealth in perspective, the protagonist of The Razor's Edge walks freely across those lines. If he was to be the new man of the West, we have forgot his name.

Maugham bears more review, but I think I'll stick to the books. This movie was a fine introduction.


Are 'nice' and 'honest' mutually exclusive?
Not for people who refine their manners. That is the struggle that few seem to have mastered. But we should try.

Ambrose Bierce called politeness 'The most acceptable hypocrisy.'

Posted by mbowen at 12:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 30, 2005

Calling All Hiphop Scrobblers

So I'm going to have to call you by name. I just got dropped a line that the fine folks that put together AudioScrobbler, being as they might be a bit challenged vis a vis American hiphop musical critical tastes, are looking for some of us in the know, to show up and help them along with their catalog.

In case you haven't heard Last.fm aka AudioScrobbler is the best thing to come along in online music since the CDDB. They basically wrote a plugin for iTunes (and some other players) that tracks your listening habits in realtime and puts them on a profile page at last.fm. Note that .fm is a high level domain so there's no dot com at the end of it. So what a lot of us have been doing is manually writing out what we've been listening to, Last.fm allows you to share playlists. But that's just the half.

Along with cool things you'd expect like affinity profiling and the addition of friends and groups, Last.fm gets licenses of all the music its people listen to and generates realtime streaming webcasts. So you can literally listen to the music I listen to as if you were plugged into my iTunes and listened on scramble. Is that cool or what?

The problem is that apparently they don't have a sufficiently critical mass of discerning hiphop listeners. They're scratching their heads on this. My guess is that they just haven't stepped on the right viral for marketing until this very moment. So since I think Last.fm is very cool, (and they still haven't stopped putting in new features), I'm doing my share.

First of all, you need to check out my Last.fm page. As you can see, I have a rather (ahem) refined taste in music. To take a typical set of artists towards the top of my list gives you a clue (Dub Syndicate, Sade, Soul Caughing, Herbie Hancock, Public Enemy & Paul Schwartz). BTW, Sixoseven is me. I've created about four CDs worth of ambient and dance music. So you can see all the stuff I listen to on the whole as well as what I'm listening to right now. As I write, it's Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man.

Since I'm fairly self-absorbed, I don't listen to other people's music as much as I ought to. Honestly I could use some fresh ideas. Last.fm makes it easy. Anyway, enough plug. Here's the bottom line. Starting with me, let's expand the hiphop vocab of Last.fm. All you do is register (it's free) and play what you play. Make me a friend and we'll follow up.

Who am I calling out? Jimi Izrael of course, Avery Tooley, Byron Crawford, EJ Flavors, Mister JT, Lynn Johnson, Honeysoul. All Y'all. You are the blogosphere's top dogs of hiphop crit and hype. Everybody else too, naturally. One cannot have too many cyber-associates. On this one, I would even accept ex-Crips. Let's spread the meme and crank up the theme. I will be getting feedback on more specifically what kind of feedback Last wants us to feedback.

And because I'm on the subject I will subject myself to the torture of naming the best hiphop song ever. I have a 1/10 chance of hittin' it. So here's the ten.

Ladi Dadi
The Choice is Yours
The World is Yours
Bring the Noise
Flava in Ya Ear
Mona Lisa
Bring the Pain
Follow The Leader
The World is Yours

Posted by mbowen at 10:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

A Gulag In Our Time

Gitmo doesn't cut it of course.

I've not been able to locate any of my previous writings on my support and qualifications on the matter of the death penalty, but I do have this brief set of axioms and corrollaries.

People have the right to make life and death decisions.

That is consistent with me being FOR legal abortion, and FOR assisted suicide, and FOR second amendment rights and FOR the raising of armies under civilian control and FOR the death penalty and FOR authorization of police to use deadly force under certain circumstance, and generally FOR a man or woman to spill their seed on the sidewalk if they damned well please.

Perfectly consistent to me.

However, I believe equally strongly two corrollaries from this. One is that people have the right to shirk this responsibility and punt it off to a proxy. That is to say, that if you feel squishy about guns, you can pay taxes to have cops carry the guns. If you feel squishy about torture, you can extradite prisoners to third countries. Everybody is not disciplined to the responsibility of their natural right to make life and death decisions. Some people I wouldn't trust to take care of a three legged dog.

Secondly, if you live by the sword, you damned well better be prepared to die by the sword. In other words, you have to have a warrior code if you're going to be a warrior. Otherwise, you're just a criminal. I'm not a warrior. I'm a writer. There are plenty of days when I feel that I should be a warrior, but that's another story.

Before I get to the core of my argument, I want to take this out onto a religious tangent. I have heard people suggest that Christians cannot take life, that this is a power reserved for God. Clearly it's not. If God didn't want man to have the power to shoot people in the head, he would have given us monkey brains. So far as I know no monkey has ever leveled a shotty at a human being and pulled the trigger. That aside, God has indeed given us the capacity, and thus the responsibility for killing. We can do so, therefore there must be some moral case for us to do so, unless biting the Apple didn't actually give us full moral capacity or maybe God forgot something when He created free will, namely a moral reason for everything we are capable of. Discussion for a later date, those sins which are unredeemable - ie something the Blood of Christ is incapable of washing away.

In the meantime, specifically, it has been suggested that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is more acceptable than a death sentence. I suppose there are some ethics which support that, but both of these punishments fulfill the same role to my way of thinking which is the permanent removal of an individual from society. I'm all for that. In fact I have dreamed up a number of Capital Punishments of that sort. We'll leave most of them for another day, what I'm thinking of right now is Permanent Exile.

Does anybody remember that gay movie 'No Escape' with Ray Liotta? Sure you do. A bunch of sweaty dirty macho men out on a prison island? Well I think that's a perfect solution for those who have some queasiness around lethal injection, electric chairs, firing squads, gas chambers and gallows. Our job? Ferry the miscreats to the prison island and make sure no females ever get there. Then we leave them there to rot, kill each other and/or otherwise create whatever sort of society a desert island full of serial killers, kidnappers, rapists, murderers and terrorists figure out for themselves.

For the record, let's talk about rehabilitation. I would rather move the whole of Palestine into East Texas than rehabilitate American criminals who have been convicted of multiple felonies. Can that be any clearer? Send us your hungry who are willing to work peacibly under the law, we'll send away those who have decided to be violent predators and flaunt the law.

Posted by mbowen at 04:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Triumph of Demographics

This morning I hear yet another example of how 'the Democrats don't get it'. It's true they don't, but for more subtle reasons than you might imagine. Let's put aside for the moment the fact that Democrats don't have new ideas, there's no really new ideas from Republicans either. The primary difference between the approach of the two parties is that one believes it can evangelize and convert and the other thinks it can re-energize a majority base. The problem that both parties have is that they are anti-modern with respect to the kinds of people they believe their ideas appeal to.

There's a new book out called Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. Now before you read the excerpt, which party do you think appeals the most to Country & Western music fans? Correct. Now read it and notice the exceptions to what you thought.

s a snapshot of the range of political opinions held by country music artists "during the critical three and a half years between 9/11 and Bush's reinauguration, with only minimal editorial interruption," this entertaining if overlong collection of profiles is clear and effective. Entertainment Weekly writer Willman applies his magazine's breezy, irreverent style to explore the left- or right-wing leanings of his subjects, from heavyweights like the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, Steve Earle, Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black and Merle Haggard to newer, minor artists like the Drive-By Truckers. In spite of Willman's success in presenting these artists in depth, the results aren't too surprising: while there certainly is "a good chunk of Democrats" in the industry, "the stereotype that country music has become the house genre of the GOP isn't easily or persuasively disproven." Most fascinating are the moments when Willman gets the artists to let down their guard, such as when Toby Keith talks about his Democratic tendencies, Ricky Skaggs shows his genuine affection for his more leftist friends such as Rodney Crowell, and Travis Tritt discusses his duet with the left-wing rocker John Mellencamp and unintentionally shows that success still trumps politics in Nashville.

The fact of the matter is that it could go either way. There's no reason whatsoever to think that Willie Nelson should be a Republican, but demographically speaking, and that's how we're all speaking, we all tend to believe that Country = Conservative.

What we are not seeing by the Democrats is a fundamental challenge of the power of demographics. It's not because demographics are definitive, but it's because Republicans have mastered the art of the niche. Any evidence that they can gather that there is a demographic niche to be exploited over 'values' which don't actually change very much, they go after it. They have been on a rampage for decades in their efforts to become a majority party, and they have done so over matters of values moreso than ideas. Yet in doing so they have changed the way campaigns have worked.

Do Americans believe that the GOP is smarter than the Donkeys? Probably not. But we tend to believe they have more sense. The point is not for me to make a biased statement, but to illustrate that it's not ideas that are winning the GOP votes. They are not outthinking the Democrats, they are out-defining the Democrats. And by the time the Dems try to sell their ideas, for what they are worth, the defeat has already been conceded. There are huge swaths of America that Democrats won't touch, like Country Music fans and the South, because they have conceded that demographics are destiny. This is the same reason Democrats take 'The Black Vote' for granted.

The last president to look at all Americans as part of America and not of a niche and decided to appeal to all of them at once was Ronald Reagan. And that's why he crushed at the polls. The opponent he crushed the most? Jesse Jackson who was relying on the idea of a 'Rainbow Coalition' an assembly of demographics that would somehow gel into a majority.

The GOP retains the upper hand because, despite their niche attacks, they are still speaking towards the vision of Reagan which is that there will be one standard against which all Americans are judged, which is that of the successful upper middle class standard, the standard towards which so many Americans are aiming. The Democrats on the the other hand are trying to create a great coalition of many multicultural demographics and trying to find each and every reason to defeat the GOP. Where in principle the Democratic stance is anti-conformist and good, in practice it cannot keep from horsetrading with radicals which pollutes its appeal to Americans who honestly look towards upward mobility. Tookie's case is a perfect example. There's no reason whatsoever for any GOP candidate to support Tookie's clemency. It's not what the upscale demographic wants, therefore not what a standard American wants. The Dems have to represent the poor, gangbangers right in their demographic, and they are philosophically bound to stick up for the minority of Oddball-Americans who think Stanley Williams has something to teach our children.

I would hope that both parties stress that theirs are ideas which are so compelling that no matter what your demographic, they will appeal to you. Clearly the GOP is closest to that ideal, but it would be nice if they both tried harder.

Posted by mbowen at 04:10 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 27, 2005

How Hard Can It Be?

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

Jay Nordlinger asked Michael Steele of Maryland some pointed questions about race in political campaigns:

Anyway, I asked Mike Steele, "Do you have your chin strap buckled?" He answered, "Oh, I've got mine buckled. The question is, do they have theirs buckled, because they've never run across a Republican like me. I learned the game from them. I've watched them for years. And they'd better be buckled up, because I'm ready to go."

What's harder? Being black or being a black Republican? Neither. I said as much in BYO Blackness.

When I was a junior in college, one of my roommates, Bernard was failing Optics. He took it hard. So my other roommate, Darius, said this isn't hard work. Shoveling asphalt in 100 degree heat is hard work. But let's be clear aobut something here in America. Being black is existentially hard work, until you lick the problem. The answers are out there and some people never find them, just like some people bounce from Yoga to Born Again Christianity to Wicca in search of their spiritual home. I can't say that there's nothing to it. But dammit by the time you grow up, and people are supposed to grow up, you ought to have an answer that works for you that can't be undermined my criticism. Being black is hard work for people who can't decide if Tupac is a role model. Being black is hard work for people who aren't sure whether they are really black or not. But if you're one of those people, you really can't represent blackness can you?

This is why I have a hard time with the argument that it's hard work to be a black X because nobody understands black Xs. So what? A billion Chinese don't understand a word I say, but I don't lose any sleep about it. The world doesn't owe anybody an understanding, or even a hearing. Stand up and say what you have to say. Fight for what you believe in. It ain't hard to be yourself, that is if you have a self. If you don't have a self, well then you don't count anyway - not even to your 'self'.

We in the Old School are not losing any sleep over people who find existence tough. It's tough all over.

Posted by mbowen at 04:19 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

Please Grandad Don't Feed Her

Bomani, him say:

Most of us pictured Huey as being a precocious child, but the cartoon has sorta eliminated that. Huey and Riley are definitely children on this show. They're frequently irrational like children are, and they frequently oversimplify issues like children have a tendency to do. Using King for his voice makes him more child-like than anyone of us had given him credit for being, and that sorta changes the dynamic when I read the strip.

Yup yup.

Three, I say three episodes into the Boondocks and I'm worried. First of all, I don't think anything is going to be as funny as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but it took 3 years for the really good stuff to come out. The question is, with all the high-priced talent that Aaron has put into the show, are they ever going to be able to afford to do that many episodes? Doesn't sound like it.

Already I'm thinking maybe that this is going to be redubbed into Japanese and they can make some money over there, not that I want to be represented by these increasingly lame plots. I mean, grandpa falls for a ho? The whole joke is recursive. Didn't the writers know? Did they think we were in love with the Boondocks? I mean you gotta admit that for pure porno sensation, they basically outdid 'Drawn Together' with the nice low angle shots between the legs of Crystal Like the Champagne, but I was watching with the Spousal Unit and couldn't put the Tivo on slowmo... I'll get back with you when I'm sure. Still, that ain't love. Game knows game and I can't see ya. Oh well, at least I can pretend that I'm up on my urban slang.

Yes it's Regina King. The wife noticed that straight off the bat. I have to say that I haven't watched nearly enough of the appropriated black drama to recognize her voice. Witherspoon, yeah. King, no. And I think Huey... well I think he's a bit wimped out. Couldn't they have gotten, I don't know, Lil Bow Wow or some'in? I was expecting a junior version of Damon Wayan's prison philosopher and I'm sorry but the resonance just ain't resonating. That contract needs to be ripped up and a new kid dropped in. Even Little Bill sounds more like Huey than this Huey.

I say the writing is about to gel, but the execution is kinda weak right now. I think that there's a fight going on right now between black comic timing and Anime convention and that's a tension right in the middle of the show. So far the most funny scene has been when the protesters outside the R Kelly courthouse start flying though the air. This is where the series could go - get inside of Huey's head and let the anime off the chain, because the current narrative pace is so...so Speed Racer. Credit due to Witherspoon. He makes Grandad work, and his timing comes through. But the rest of the place needs some depth.

Still, if it ain't Huey's story, then the whole thing is a bust. Grandad can't afford to steal the show. This thing is still a housewife, you got to turn it into a ho.

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November 17, 2005

Elizabeth Wright's Apolitics

Elizabeth Wright offers an interesting and fairly decent analysis of the choices faced by African Americans in contemporary society.

I think it's worth reading as a critique of both left and right politics vis a vis their efforts to change the destiny of masses of blackfolks. I have a feeling that this kind of even-handed spite appeals to the Ed Browns among us, but the real upshot of her essay is in final agreement with Thomas Sowell's political disincentives.

So, what is it that blacks need to do? They need to come to their senses and extricate themselves from their intense commitment to politics. They need to turn all that energy now spent on building the careers of politicians and other opportunists to the economic development of every predominantly black neighborhood. Their concentrated focus should be on bringing wealth to those neighborhoods and keeping it there. They need to reach back in time, to those "bad, old days" when blacks were forced to cooperate with one another, and take their cues from practical, wise men like Fuller and Gaston and those Chicago realtors. By building wealth, blacks could no longer be the pawns of manipulative leaders, whose only assurance of power comes through maintenance of the status quo.

When I speak of black 'aggregation', this is generally what I mean, and it is heartening for me to hear such an appeal. It warms the cockles of my heart. Unfortunately, poltiical reality suggests that such notions, romantic as they seem may be a long way from practicality, and I think Ms. Wright engages in a bit more wishful thinking.

Even as I attempt to emphasize the roles and responsibilities of the Old School, I am painfully aware of the difficulties of reifying this minority within a minority. Yet it is a reliable strategy because blacks make distinctions between themselves. Any political attempt to get the attention of blacks with no regard to any other aspect of their selves than their racial identity or racial politics is doomed to fail. Just as it has been generally accepted that the monolith of 'the black community' is a myth, Americans are going to have to accept that 'the black political interest' too is a reductive myth.

Since the goal is to win over the black masses from the opposition, whatever works for the Democrats is fair game -- even to the point of handing out ATM cards to hurricane victims. By becoming enthusiastic riders on the "diversity" bandwagon, as well as indulging in an unprecedented form of cronyism, Republicans prove that merit means no more to them than to the people they so vigorously disparage.

It is an improper goal. The only person that cares about the black masses is Jesus. So when are political pundits going to stop acting like black conservatives are supposed to be John the Baptist. We're not voices crying in the wilderness about the coming of a savior for the black masses. We're just calling 'em like we see them.

I'll admit that I talk about the things I think blackfolks like me ought to find appealing about the Republican party, but I'm not even trying to evangelize. That's why I talk about the Old School. It's where I come from, an admitted minority within a minority. But I also scoff at blackfolks on the fence - those who take false pride in calling themselves 'independents' because they are too high an mighty for the compromises of the Democrats and Republicans. Politics is all about negotiation and compromise - it's what makes it interesting, and human. But sitting on the sidelines with haughty highmindedness.. well that's cool if you're a priest, but middle-class citizens really have few higher callings in a democratic republic.

Posted by mbowen at 08:36 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

Boondocks: Here's to the Old School

The first two episodes of the Boondocks are about as funny as I could have hoped. The whole palette of McGruder's oevre is in full effect, well 80% full effect because evidently you can say 'nigger' on Adult Swim, but not 'shit'. Ain't that some shit? And so as with Dave Chappelle, we're going to have to wait for the DVD. In the meantime, though I haven't read The Boondocks on the regular in a couple of years, I'm pleased to see that he hasn't missed a step. It all comes rushing back.

McGruder has done some excellent casting in all this. The look and feel is nothing more or less than American Manga. The animation is absolutely perfect. Casting Adam West as the voice of DuBois was beautiful. Granddad is done up just right in voice and tone, a little sweeter than I recall from the 'toon, but nicely done. As for Huey himself, he seems to be a bit out of center. This may have something to do with the way the strip has run since I last saw it, I'm not certain. Still, Riley's about right.

I think that the series is going to have to take Huey and Riley as in the second episode, through a wide variety of adventures. Snark in place is not going to work here, and the opportunity to see them all over is just too tempting to ignore. It's going to have to be Huey's world, and he's going to have to see a lot of it. Doing that will give the series legs.

I find the show a bit to niggafied, which is to say the word is used too much. If he doesn't tone that down, not that I mind salty language but there are limits, McGruder is going to lose my thumbs up pretty soon. If there's a point to be made, it only takes an ep or two, but it's already more signature than it needs to be. There's only so much juice you can get out of that, especially in consideration of the rest of the bleeping. So, something has got to be done about that.

So I'm pleasantly surprised. I'd say that putting Cornel West into an anime brawl with R Kelly supporters is a mark of genius, and funny as all get out. But the perfect touch, (I know you read my blog, boyee) is the toast to the Old School at the end of the first ep. Nice going McGruder.

Now make us laugh again and you can retire in three years to South Africa.

Posted by mbowen at 11:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005


I didn't think it could be that bad.

When I first saw the previews for the current film, 'Jarhead', I thought to myself that finally there was going to be a movie that I could enjoy. Watching the one clip with Jamie Foxx thanking God for the Corps, believed that we were going to get some decent entertainment for a change.

I had been warned and still, I trusted my first impression. Marc told me that Blackfive hated it. But did I listen? No. Pops told me, as I was on my way to the theatre that I should see 'Capote' instead. Did I heed that advice?

I swear to God if I see another movie with some idiot kid losing his mind, screaming and crying because he can't take the pressure I think I'll lose my mind, screaming and crying. 'Jarhead' is like a psychological thriller except that the psychology is like highschool psychology and there are no thrills whatsoever. If I ever wanted to convince my side that American soldiers are all paper-thin pansies living on the verge of a nervous breakdown, this would be the film to show them.

As the scenery became more and more shimmery, otherwordly and bizarrely beautiful, the plot fell apart chunk by chunk. There was almost nothing in this film that resembled a mission or military duty, and as the troops wandered the desert on their merry way to self-destruction I was brought to mind of nothing so much as Johnny Hart's Lost Patrol from the Wizard of Id comic.

I walked out.

This is the worst movie I have seen in a long time. It's an insult.

Posted by mbowen at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 07, 2005

Dissonance and Divides

Who really cares?
Who's willing to try to save a world
That's destined to die?

-- Marvin Gaye

I just managed to take a hot phone off my ear and sit down to write. In the time that it takes to make sense of the issues buzzing around my head, I will have made up my mind that what I'm writing is worth writing and in due course miss a point.

Basically, this began with a SMS sent to me that said my Digital Divide stuff is full of crap. How much crap, the world will never know, which is something of a shame, yet something to be expected entirely. This is exactly the crux of a set of disagreements between myself and my pal, who cares enough about me to tell me when I'm making an ass of myself in the company of people who know better (but won't say). And so perhaps from that, I will coin a new one for Cobb's Rules. Only passion teaches thoroughly.

It turns out that Y was one of the heads in the old days that did a great deal heavy lifting in support of the universal internet access that we take for granted these days. In her story, some cat named Larry Irving was the head honcho riding herd on CLECs and other forms of clueless capitalists who left to their own devices would redline a host of Americans into internet-less limbo.

The organization deeply embedded in this process was the NTIA, which up until this point was a complete mystery to me and the reason Y says that hole in the ground may very well be my sphincter. I'm not sure which is which. She says that during the early days of internet-dom, people who should have known better had to be dragged kicking and screaming in massive schemes to wire anything other than prime communities. At that time, when I was in NYC, I had been a customer of the top dogs, Panix, the Well. Prior to that I was on Compuserv, Delphi, Prodigy and Lord knows how many other services. What I was familiar with, and certainly Okolo had even more exposure to, was the battles of Panix, a nascent ISP in the days before 'ISP' was a business model capable of getting a loan from the bank, much less stock issue. Alexis Rosen would constantly gripe about the screaming he had to do with the local bandwidth providers so he could connect our community of early internet surfers. Recall that these were the days before the HTTP protocol - the days of WAIS and the Ed Krol book.

When I arrogantly scoff about the so-called 'Digital Divide', I do it from the perspective of one of those people who was absolutely dedicated to putting black content online and ready to dismiss any foot-dragging on the matter from any quarter. In other words, I was an early adopter who had always been trying to push things forward. As such, and as a college-educated, big-city type with disposable income, I have always managed to find a way to get online and networked to where the public networked work was being done. Of course, others are not so privileged, and isn't the temptation always to be looking out for their best interests?

It's the gap between folks like me and folks like Y that make the gap between folks like you and the purported victims of the Digital Divide so interesting. You see, I have come to conclude that once computers were available at Best Buy, circa 1996, that was the beginning of the end of the Digital Divide. And further that between 1991 and 1996, the essential factor of the Digital Divide was demand. In other words, the economic gap between somebody like me and somebody who had been 'divided' shrunk to essentially nothing during that period, however if there was any significant divide it had to do with the percieved value of what was online.

Given that if you lived in the boonies, where according to Y, there were huge geographic barriers to providing dialup service, from the days when PPP first became available and the birth of AOL, there argument is essentially that.

So what was the killer app? What was this thing that the poor, black, uneducated and rurally isolated people needed, and what was keeping them from it? Was it supply or demand? Well, from my perspective as someone who always found a way to get online, it was demand. There was simply nothing so compelling in the online world.

There's an interesting story in here that I should interject which might make this otherwise dull dissection of history more flavorful. I was at a conference at USC, somewhere around the days before HP made Motif commercially available. The legendary Stallman himself was there. I had been out of school at least a year and he was babbling on about 'free software'. The odd thing was that I hadn't been availed to any free software while I was in college myself, and I was completely in the dark about where this stuff would be coming from. Part of this was wholly my ignorance, and so I stood up and asked what I thought to be a fairly provocative question. If free software is supposed to be so valuable to the planet, how come we can't get it at Egghead - not that there are any Egghead software joints in the 'hood. You basically had to be a college student in one of the colleges that actually had a node on the internet such as it was in those days (around 1987). Then, the killer app was USENET, and even while I was a full time employee at Xerox, it was nearly impossible to get access to USENET inside this massive corporation. Bottom line, if there were a quarter of a million Americans in the late 80s that could use GNU stuff, I would have been pretty amazed.

What this has to do with the value of things Internetworked is rather key to this entire discussion of the Digital Divide. As my example showed, it was and is perfectly possible to get a good job, even in the computer industry in America, and still not have access to the coolest stuff which is supposed to drive the value of the internet.

Which brings me to the central question. What was it of value that those traditionally redlined people were missing before the economics (and laws?) of the hardware, software and networked access became available and affordable? The answer is basically raw technology services, because that's all there was. Email and NNTP, to be specific. Those were the killer apps in the early 90s, other than that, everybody had BBS access - that is to say everybody who knew what it was.

But I am going to leave this otherwise thought-provoking issue die a quiet death. In fact, I'm going to crack jokes at its funeral. Why, because nobody cares to correct me, least of all my pal Y, who is quite satisfied to leave such matters to the mists of historical documentation somewhere in the bowels of the NTIA archives, and perhaps someday in Mr. Irving's memoirs. In the meantime, I will count myself among the oblivious millions who might have given a turd about the valiant and selfless acts done on our behalf, but are too busy watching stuff like Joe Cartoon.

Posted by mbowen at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ethnic Socialism

Part of the problem with being one of a scientific mind is that you tend to believe that other people do things for logical reasons. A scientist without a mean streak tends to believe the best of people, which means that he equates their passion and conviction with a commensurate amount of logical effort. If I become an evil cur in my age, it will because I will have realized that I haven't done a commensurate amount of effort into studious investigations of human nature. Millions of dipdunks just don't think, and it does nothing to suppress their volume or influence on others of their ilk.

On my thick list of things to do now halfway done is to look at what's up with Syria's Baathists. Since it is now clear that you can inherit power from your dad, and that your government is capable of assassination, perhaps there is something of the same sickness in Syria as there was not too long ago in Iraq. Is the common thread Arab Socialism? Perhaps it is. It merits investigation.

This has to do with my growing disgust with Black Identity politics through the link to Nasser, who can be said to be the father of Arab Socialism. See, like most blackfolks, I have been told that Nasser was a Black Man, and that his anti-colonial struggles were part and parcel of my struggle. It was one more opportunity for the We Love Black People contingent to slip another shiv into us. Or maybe I should take the razor's conclusion that they were just stupid and it wasn't a conspiracy. Sounds fair to me.

Anyway, that's my 12 minutes of due dilligence. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Posted by mbowen at 09:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 03, 2005

Liberation isn't Black Liberation

"John Brown's effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed."
-- Abraham Lincoln

I've been reading Lincoln in response to a charge that the Republican Party started off as a bunch of radicals. They were not as far as Lincoln was concerned. But this bit of business about John Brown, a hero of mine, struck me cold. So I'm going to say something for the sake of argument, that I really don't believe and see what happens, and combine it with something else I've been thinking of a way to say. First the other something.

I imagine myself walking into a room of black college students and telling them that I have found a black power amulet. This amulet, I say, is so powerful that it has the effect of instantly changing whitefolks' suspicion to trust and even admiration. If you wear this amulet, you will find that suddenly whitefolks from all over this country will see you in a different light and recognize you for the human being you are. If you wear it, cops will give you a second chance when they pull you over. Job interviews will go better, and all of this is guaranteed. I say this and people shake their heads in disbelief. I tell them that I know it works because it has worked for me.

Now I ask them if I tell them what it is would they wear it? The answer is a resounding yes. I say, are you sure? They say yes. I show them the magic amulet. It is an American Flag lapel pin. They throw me out the window.

There are several variations of that daydream, and the end result isn't always so violent, but it illustrates a point that cannot be overlooked, which is the point of this essay. There is a certain permanent anti-social component of blackness. In some ways it is inherently rebellious and anti-American.

The matter of John Brown brings us to the second point in this argument that I really don't believe. Having written some 'End of My Blackness' essay number 3 some years ago (before this one), the matter was more appropriately the end of my political blackness. Having elevated past the foibles of generic middle-classness, there was a full compliment of 'The Struggle' that I had transcended. And since I was full of black pride, I wondered what I could do to continue my loyal contribution and still write 'Aluta Continua' at the end of all my posts to the web. The answer was pure, unadulterated anti-racist politics.

There is pretty much universal agreement than even given all of the diversity within African America, there is one thing that no self-respecting black man would do, which is to pretend racism doesn't matter. Didn't Cornel West's book prove it? Well, I didn't need convincing, and so I created the Boohab. And since I was intentionally playing with identity as a cyberspace construct, I accepted a postmodern personna, although I would be loathe to call it postmodern drivel. (Mr. Geib never responded to my emails and has long since left cyberspace. You'd think Google would purge their caches.) Bottom line, I became a race man, and did that whole thing for a few years, thus the Boohabian Project, later semi-revived as the Boohabian Slamdance.

On to my bold assertion. The irony of the failure of John Brown's insurrection is one that should be lost on noone, especially given Lincoln's commentary. Brown reminds us that interpretations of black sucess is very narrow and tends to require black leadership - that blackfolks don't believe in objective measures of liberation. If it's not black owned, operated, controlled, and led it can't be right for black people. So if indeed blackness has digressed to the point at which it is no longer existential/cultural liberation and considered the font of all liberation (economic, spiritual and political) then we have a problem. This is the thing I don't want to believe, but perhaps I'm wrong.

If it is the case that young people today are expecting all manner of liberation from blackness, they're in for a rude awakening. They'll take it out on blackfolks too. If they are not capable or willing to accept gifts from the John Browns of the world, aid in their own struggles which are well-meant if dissonant (or foolish), then they will keep returning to the empty home of blackness and fall deeper into the domestic violence of self-hatred.

To accept with grace the benefits and limitations of blackness is to be prepared for all manner of growth. America has all that for its citizens. People offer a hand all the time, there's no good reason to leave them hanging.

Posted by mbowen at 07:43 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

The Sambo Paradox

This week Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a man I respect and admire, was called a 'sambo' because of his association with Gov. Erlich of Maryland. The rationale behind a particular nasty smear of Steele was given as follows:

In an e-mail interview with The Sun, Gilliard said he considers Steele a traitor to his race because he initially dismissed news that his political partner, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., held a golfing fund-raiser this year at the Elkridge Club of Baltimore, which at the time had never admitted a black member in its 127-year history.

"Generally, it is an accurate depiction of Steele's groveling, lackey behavior," Gilliard said of the image. "It is 2005, and such an institution [as the Elkridge Club] should not exist, nor should a governor with as many black people as the state of Maryland attend a function at such a place.

I've been thinking about causality recently vis a vis the permanence of the American black ghetto. The first is the issue of ghetto brain drain. Does the black ghetto fail to flower because all of the talented people leave and integrate the mainstream leaving nobody capable of improving the place? Or do the young, gifted and black leave the ghetto because it is such a failure and holds no promise for them? A difficult question indeed. Connected with that question is whether it is in the interest of the getting investment is good for the ghetto. Is it better for poor people to retain the benefits of lower cost housing which is affordable for their low pay jobs? Or should they deal with the challenges of gentrification as proof of a higher standard of living?

These questions are tricky to plumb, but I think I've found one that is not. That is the question of blacks and Republicans. I'll quote an argument that is very common. In fact, a thoughtful person emailed me such an argument just this morning:

The failure of the politics of conservative thought in the Black community has never been a surprise for me I have always known that black people are very astute in rejecting backward ideas, underdeveloped thoughts and philosophies. The media fiction that the GOP and conservative principles are gaining a new foothold with Black folks is nonsense and is nothing more than the exaggerated press releases of GOP balloon blowers and black apologists seeking affirmation from conservative whites as they mine the lucrative cottage industry of black conservatism.

Even absent the bloviation and my claim that such propagandists wouldn't know Hayek from a kayak, there is one thing clear. Most African Americans have looked upon the GOP as a white bastion and have decided to steer clear. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the vaunted '98%' of blackfolks who have recently polled in opposition to GWBush were even more - say 99.9%, and presume that the GOP was in fact, 99.9% white. It would be very easy to see how a top official in the GOP like Governor Erlich of Maryland would be attending all-white clubs and functions. So here's the tricky question.

Are such GOP functions all-white because of white racism or are they all-white because '99.9%' of blacks refuse to join?

Everybody knows, or should know as black Republicans daily attest, blacks are more than welcome into the GOP. Nothing quite speaks to this fact as the Senate campaign of Michael Steele itself which brought heavy hitters in the GOP to raise over $400,000 recently. He is their best chance to swing the state of Maryland, so this race is key. But if the identity component of some black politics is to have its way, Steele and other African American candidates, movers, shakers and grass roots Republicans will never be considered legitimately black. So despite their presence in the GOP, for cynics like Steve Gilliard a reverse one-drop rule is in effect. If you're black and you have one-drop of Republican blood, then you are considered white. And as long as such twisted logic is taken seriously by black voters, the GOP's 'whiteness' remains an implacable stumbling block.

I have argued in 'The Worst Case Republican Scenario' that if there is any good to be had with influence in America's majority party, then African Americans ought to shed their fears and cross that Pettus bridge into the heart of the GOP. But in this crossing they won't be met with billy clubs, or at least not from Republicans. It seems that black Democrats are the ones with the biggest axes to grind.

You will note that here at Cobb, there are no advertisements. I've gotten a free hotel room for speaking at a conservative function, but even though C-SPAN was there, they didn't even turn on the camera at our session. If that's a cottage industry, I'm still at the curb. But I am fully in the Republican party and doing my part to do Republicanism the way my experience and values dictate. I don't happen to think that this is a very courageous or dangerous operation. I endured being called a 'sambo' in highschool.

I'll paraphrase Gilliard to show the flaw in his logic. In 2005 a whites-only political party should not exist, nor should a country with as many black people as America allow such a place to exist. So who is involved in integration, and who is making racist threats against those who cross the lily-white line?

Others Weigh In

  • Diktat
  • Q&O
  • Malkin

    Posted by mbowen at 07:53 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
  • October 29, 2005

    Black vs Negro: A Note

    I am very influenced by the understanding that black consciousness was created in order to liberate the Negro from his mental condition of servitude. It was an intellectual achievment of significant dimensions not only here in the US but in Africa, the UK and Brazil as well.

    Black isn't a color, it is a concept. However the meaning of that concept has become degraded. Some Negroes think everything they do is Black. Not so. I say there are some very precise definitions that were generated by Black Nationalism that remain useful today and that much of what goes by the term 'Black' is only derivative of that. I'm also saying that there were some very foolish and shortsighted ideas in Black Nationalism that need to be dumped. My purpose in black conservatism is to separate the good stuff from the junk using an historically accurate and realistic assessment of African Americans and their liberation movements, culture, religion and bearing. All that is what I call the Old School.

    I start with what I call the Old School Core Values, and get more detailed from there. This is the project of Cobb.


    So from the perspective of a very basic understanding that 'every brother aint a brother' I have no more problem in making distinctions between African Americans than in distinguishing Catholics from Methodists. There have been occasions when this discrimination has been misinterpreted because I am active with Republicans, that my distinctions flow from some anti-black pathology. (as if they owned black and accurately represented) In fact it flows from the same school of public self-criticism engaged by Bill Cosby and Booker T. Washington.

    So yeah, the kitchen is hot.

    When I speak of 'blackfolks', I am talking about average African Americans of no particular stripe. The same counts of 'whitefolks'. African American and European American sounds so demographic and precise. I don't always want to be that formal.

    When I speak of 'Negroes' it is casually derogatory and should be interpreted in the context of some particular African American who has somehow lost sight of the benefits of Black mental liberation. A 'Negro' may be a fine person but they are not reaching their full human potential primarily owing to a condition of using whitefolks as their existential model. The Negro is provincial and not directed towards self-improvement. And that's way more than I needed to say about that because I almost never use the term. Nevertheless it is useful to recognize that I considered all African Americans (with the possible exceptions of Garveyites) to be Negroes during the period between Reconstruction and WW2.

    I bring up this definitional note in reference to a discussion held elsewhere over a prior post of mine "Who Owns Black", which I consider to be both a cultural and political provocation.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:03 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

    October 25, 2005

    A Conservative Review of Black Identity Politics

    I've just had a bracing experience in one of the other realms of cyberspace, a webchat forum. It reminded me of the good old days which in the end weren't so good. But like many of our cherished memories, we didn't know how poor we were.

    It's certainly because of this experience which I'm fairly certain was witnessed at least in part by Dell Gines (whose blog is currently undergoing a rather queer thematic change from 'urban conservatism' to 'adequate defense') that this post emerged at Booker Rising. Subsequently to that, Ms. Manhdisa registered a few axioms at her site.

    Like with the Gay Banana Split, I am fairly convinced that what black conservatives want to achieve and express has little to do with what black progressives and liberals want to hear. So as well-meant as this coaching might be, I think it addresses a point that doesn't need to be made. In fact, I believe that a bit of combat is perfectly well in order precisely because entanglement isn't necessary. Then again I'm only speaking for conservatives like me.

    In my case, I found it rather sad that the cat engaging me was literally screaming for the answer to the question - What is the Republican plan for helping blacks in the ghetto? The quick answer to that question, any conservative will tell you in well rehearsed soundbites: We need you to help yourself out of the ghetto - it's a plantation of dependency from which you must escape. Of course when you get down into the details there's much more nuanced stuff to say, but there is one basic undeniable point on which most all on the Right will agree. America is not responsible for solving the ghetto dysfunction. In the infamous post-Katrina phrasing: "You're on your own".

    This really sounds harsh to progressives, who are looking for ways to improve life through innovation and reform in government. It sounds downright evil to liberals whose expectations of government are to manage the problems of the relatively indigent. To conservatives, it sounds bracingly honest, forthright with a minimum of BS. It is the political equivalent of spinach, an ugly vegetable that actually is good for you and makes you stronger.

    But here's where it get's particularly ugly - we inject race into it. And with race comes identity. As soon as you say 'black progressive' or 'black conservative' you've raised the complexity and volume of this simple ideological conflict. Here's why.

    The Black Nationalist movement sought to, and very successfully wedded black identity to political struggle. In moving from Negro to Black, African America enjoined a broad redefinition of itself in the immediate post-Civil Rights America to push harder for those rights and privileges long denied. It was a brilliant idea and it worked. But what it has failed to do since then is adapt to new economic realities, new crossover influence and new multicultural perspectives, not to mention a Republican majority. But its greatest failure has been to evade the trap of identity politics that it laid for itself. If I were more scholarly, I would adequately qualify the separate and distinct influences of Black Consciousness, Pan Africanism, Black Power, Black Arts and Black Nationalism in this mix but I'm shortcutting that. Suffice it to say, that's a lot of blackness in a lot of different directions and it left very little room for any African American to assert any other kind of identity.

    The very invention of the term 'African American' was largely due to the problems created by this monolithic identity. In the 1980s we needed within 'the black community' to realize that we weren't all one community. Further, we needed the rest of America to recognize that too. We had to transcend the boundaries of Black and yet be true to history as well. So while the term 'African American' connoted a little afrocentricity, it also allowed us to compare and contrast ourselves to Irish Americans. It put us here in America and there in our land of origination equally, like other ethnics. That was an excellent change. And yet blackness persisted in ways both good and bad.

    Just as with 'Negro' in 1968, you'll find people today who can't stand the idea of giving up 'Black' for a new term. People are invested in blackness for an entire spectrum of reasons. The most important is one of identity and positive self regard. Unfortunately very close behind that is the reason of political struggle. 'Black' is potent political stuff. And as many have written, matters of authentic identity are very often entangled with political positions. Both are important, but they are also independent, and I worry that only a few (especially those of us who were born Negro) recognize the difference. People tend to forget that black political/cultural nationalism was an invention, and it's orientation to America was an invention as well. It can't be uninvented, but the pieces must be separated.

    For the purposes of my discussions, I have used the example of Nikki Giovanni's Poem to illustrate the difference between mental liberation and political liberation.

    I maintain that black mental liberation in the classic Carter Woodson sense is still a necessary component of African American life. African Americans still suffer the deprivations of self-doubt and identity crisis among the hobbling portrayals and racial stereotypes. 'Knowledge of self' is still crucial. It's not hard to get, but it's still crucial.

    I further maintain that having achieved this one is free as anyone. And yet the presumption persists that any African American who is truly liberated must only select from a narrow selection of political ideologies. Conservatism is not one of them. Why? It's not because those people we idolize as leaders of the Movement weren't conservative, but because they didn't initiate anything that could be called 'black conservatism'. In the pantheon of black creations of the 60s and 70s there was no 'Black Conservatism'. And so black conservatism is percieved largely as a new invention rather than simple conservation of African American traditions that predate Blackness. Well, that's partially black conservatism's fault for calling itself black - a practically no-win situation.

    So the first major problem with black identity poltics is that it's static and monolithic. The second major problem is the rhetorical device I call the 'Black Human Shield'.

    When confronted with a conservative opinion which appears to be or is actually in conflict with the expressed or assumed interests of 'the majority of black people', progressives and liberals tend to respond not only in an attack agasint the opinion, but of the blackness of the conservative himself. So deeply ingrained is the notion that the fate of all blacks are tied to that of a few that this attack is inevitable.

    Let me be clear in saying that this black human shield phenomenon works both ways based upon the racial myth that the fate of all is sealed by the fate of a few. Black conservatives make the mistake of thinking their exceptionalism can save the race. Black progressives and liberals make the exact same mistake. Where the conservatives tend to speak for themselves as arbiters of advancement for the race, progressives and liberals tend to speak of themselves as spokesmen for the downtrodden whose advancement speak to the advancement of the race. Progressives and liberals have one thing going for them, if the masses of African Americans suffer or gain, more or less as statistical abstracts of them present, they do have the legitimate claim that 'the race' is moving in one direction or another. But they run double the risk of not actually being of the people for which they speak and that there is actually a disjoint between progress for certain blacks and real progress.

    For example, law and order conservatives generally draw a hardline on illegal drug use. Progressives and liberals have long argued for decriminalization of marijuana and liberalization of crack cocaine laws because of sentencing inequities between blacks and whites. Liberals and progressives take up the black human sheild of convicted black drug users and say that conservative opposition to liberalization and decriminalization is against the interests of the black race. They engage these positions even though they don't actually advocate drug use and know it to be destructive of black families. So here you have conservatives facing off with others taking polar opposite positions on matters with both claiming the interests of blacks.

    This is where the great divide lies between black conservatives, liberals and progressives - over the fate of black communities. And here's where I simply must reiterate what I've said earlier.

    Just as for all other Americans, African Americans' greatest responsibility is to their families, not to politically ineffective, overburdened and outdated notions of black cultural nationalist unity. In other words, they should pursue happiness. After all, they're free.

    I find it fascinating that I got into this kind of mess precisely coinciding with the battle that Robert George has gotten into. It's personal.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:22 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

    October 22, 2005

    What Do We Not Know?

    And how much is it worth to know it anyway?

    Tim Burke still sends a decent amount of traffic my way, and while I'm not sure he supports trackbacks, I ought to reciprocate. He concludes:

    The cost of higher education worries me enormously. It appears unsustainable as well as unjust. It is aggravating a problem that is somewhat separate in its causal underpinnings, the increasing degree to which universities are exacerbating the reduction of economic and social mobility in the United States. But I’m not sure what to do about it. I think at the least that some of the people most aggravated about it are going to need to get real about what it is that they’re asking for: curricula that are pared down radically to what external funders judge valuable and thus heavily biased to technical subjects with immediate professional payoffs, and institutions with few if any meaningful services beyond education. It would be interesting, at any rate, to see an institution of higher learning built on those principles start up in this marketplace, at least one that wasn’t built around online education, and see how it fares (and just how low it could get tuition).

    There is a certain difficulty to be found in attempts to rise above your station via intellect. If a society is not shaped by a fairly restrained idea of intellectual merit, then you end up with the equivalent of tens of millions of monkeys on their respective typewriters. And who is to say which of them is approaching Shakespeare?

    This started out to be a thoughtful post, but I've downshifted because of some other recent matters. I'll pick it up if you do.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:07 PM | TrackBack

    October 19, 2005

    A Casual Review of the Digital Divide

    I realize that I don't go buck wild quite as much as I used to in these pages. I've become so bloody serious. I need to write some more comics and get those other humours flowing through the veins.

    At any rate, since I'm bent beyond recognition and dedicated to living on the bleeding edge of my passions, its difficult for me to redact the mix of characters that pushed me to this vector. So I guess I may as well make all concerned aware of some crudely frank yet strikingly correct original positions by way of the following links.

  • The Death of the Digital Divide
  • Race, Cyberspace & The Digital Divide
  • Computer-Show.com
  • PeoplePC
  • And now to the serious summary which is what I used in Greensboro - the following string of axioms.

  • There is no Digital Divide. The Digital Divide is a proxy for cultural dissonance.

  • My favorite show on television is Dirty Jobs. Our civilization doesn't depend on white collar work, so the digital revolution wasn't supposed to be about blue collar folks.

  • The internet is what people who use the internet say it is, and it is way, way too big for anybody to say. People talk about white males being 75% of the internet as if anybody could possibly make sense of 1% of the internet.

  • When Russians build rockets to leave Earth's gravity they call the thing they're in 'the Cosmos'. When Americans do it, they call it 'Space'. Therefore the Russians will always win the Cosmos Race and the Americans always win the Space Race. So that begs the question. Who wants to be in the 'Blogosphere'? I say everybody who wants to be there is there. If people are there for different reasons, who is to say that they're not happy? If people aren't there, who's to say they're missing out?

  • Last year, a black guy came out with a blog and said he was the first black blogger from Detroit. Only he wasn't. He was at least two years too late.
  • So what we're essentially dealing with is the question of the value of information which has been abstracted onto the net. There is a false presumption that the form and content of information that has value for an arbitrary group of people defines:
    A) What the Internet is all about.
    B) The stuff of value that Others have to get.

    Those who push the concept of digital inequality basically have to take their fight to exotic locales, because every town that has a Wal-Mart has cheap computers for little budgets.

    All of this is easy for me to say because I recognize various classes of people, and I don't make it a habit to second-guess blackfolks in particular. So if there are 34 million blackfolks who don't spend any time online, it doesn't concern me. I've been online since there has been an online, and I'm sure there hasn't been 100,000 blackfolks who have seen my work. I'm cool with that. If I suddenly discover:

    [African American] Internet usage: 61%. Percent who regularly go online for news: 25% (up from 16% in 2000)

    I'm cool with that too.

    Now there was a time, in my progressive days, that I had a certain amount of serious concerns about getting IT to the 'hood. In those days I approached a young woman named Micheline Wilcoxen who was at the time Program Director for a joint called Breakaway Technologies. This was fairly early on. It turned out that her big problem wasn't money, but the kind of bureaucratic fights she had to enjoin just to get access to public school kids in the 'hood. I met Micheline at the African Marketplace many years ago and we talked a few times about computers in the 'hood. I was especially interested because Breakaway was located around the corner from where I grew up near Crenshaw & Jefferson in Los Angeles.

    Understand that Breakaway had its own building, all the computers they needed, funding and staff. But the public school teachers would not let them on campus - basically because they would be showed up. The existence of Breakaway made public schools look bad, so they refused to let the kids learn. Yeah. I was shaking my head too.

    I have no idea what it takes to become certified as an afterschool program, but I got the distinct flavor at the time that the whole situation was mostly politics and mostly impossible. So I didn't volunteer.

    Apart and separate from that, I spent a lot of time trying to talk to community groups of various sorts to put their information online via bulletin boards in the days before the net and on the web in the days after. Notably I spoke to Haile Gerima about making a QuickTime version of his film Sankofa and making it available on CD for community groups. This was in the days just after the Power Mac was born and people were nuts about this thing called 'New Media'. Gerima dismissed the notion out of hand. I asked him why, and he looked at me like I was crazy. It's all about the big screen, he said. And he went on to reminesce about the great experience he had when his film debuted in Germany. For Gerima, it wasn't about getting a message to people in the 'hood, it was about filmmaking. Macs aren't film. They're low budget devices.

    Of course I wasn't the only black person with such ideas about low cost distribution of black mental liberation. There were plenty of pioneers back in the day, but for all kinds of reasons, there was something we couldn't see. The thing I couldn't see in 1993 was demand. I thought that good ideas provided their own juice. It's something of a naive belief, but I had plenty of company in that regard. I still thought that "If you build it, they will come." It's not true. You don't know who 'they' are until they show up. And if you think 'they' are the target market, the black, the poor - those for whom so much rhetoric and moral suasion is invested these days, you will be sorely disappointed. It's only a question of how quickly you'll be disappointed.

    So when I was trying to figure out why the cats at Netnoir were so upscale and shiny, whilst my partner and I were focused on serious black history, what I didn't really want to accept was that everything needs a business plan, and that communications is big business - even on the web. Generally speaking, you can't reach millions without spending millions, and millions aren't just lying around waiting to be spent.

    There are too many reasons to be online and to remain offline for anyone to suggest they have a handle on them when it comes to African Americans. So the Digital Divide is a theory ever in search of a target, and as time moves forward it adjusts again and again. There may be a new Digital Divide theory that evades every criticism I've laid down here. Maybe the Digital Divide is in Somalia today. I can't say. I don't study it.

    The joy I get out of computing and computer mediated communications is practically boundless. I've been playing and working with computers since 1974. Everything here has always made perfect sense to me, but I don't have a hard time recognizing that lots of folks don't get it and don't need to. I think the barriers against those who want to experience the joy are negligible. Even water's not free, but I don't think any real divide is keeping Americans from quenching their digital thirst.

    Posted by mbowen at 05:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 16, 2005


    Tony Scott's latest film, Domino, is a disappointment. Maybe it's because I fell asleep too many times and missed the details that would have kept me into the film. In fact, I'm pretty sure of that and that it has something to do with a baby.

    Like most action flicks, this one had a killer trailer. I had every expectation that this was going to a smashing film. Instead it got bogged down as a failed poser flick mired in the wasteland halfway between 'Natural Born Killers' and 'Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels'. It looks good, and has its moments, but those moments are not enough to get one through the twisty narrative. Somehow it just doesn't work.

    I can see Scott's torture. He's got scenes that are so pulverizingly gritty and close-ups on Mickey Rourke and his costars that are so compellingly delicious that it's almost impossible to want to cut them. And so at an overlong two hours, you have a pile of hardcore music and video, that alternatively pumps up the adrenaline and then abruptly switches gears leaving you nowhere. The pace of the film is jerky, like the camera and the colors and the music - but that's what we expect from Scott and he's in good form here.

    We get Mickey Rourke in full on degeneracy and nasty hotness from Keira Knightly. We get Delroy Lindo doing Delroy Lindo which is always a treat, but we don't have any bad guys. Or at least we don't seem to have any baddies that make us want to root for the relatively un-bad guys. But maybe I fell asleep on that part too.

    Either way, you've got to see it on the big screen, because like Sin City, it's about the visual experience. Take it to the next stage Scott. Make an opera.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:20 AM | TrackBack

    October 12, 2005


    My critics have been losing their cool and their minds recently. I've been called all kinds of names by people who should know better. Most recently, I've discovered that I'm supposed to be an admirer of 'Bulworth'. So I dug this out...

    (from the archives - October 1998)

    12770. boohab - Oct. 23, 1998 - 5:16 PM PDT bulworth is, in the end, the movie that we go to when we want to see how clueless whitefolks have matured since 'grand canyon' which it now replaces as the stupidest movie on the racial subjects in memory.

    i had managed to miss this movie as it passed through the various distribution channels, but a long conference in dallas set me up for a bunch of free time in front of spectravision. and so i got bulworth. as some of you may recall, i made a wild guess at the scope of the film with a quote from james baldwin as a review, giving bulworth no benefit of the doubt. not only was i right about the story's level of pathos, but the film gives me reason to suspect that warren beatty and everyone else associated with the film are grossly pathetic as well. i must say it makes me honestly feel sorry for halle berry, who has basically been dealt a one, two punch. with this and the film baps, to her 'credit', i'm starting to take david justice' side in the divorce.

    the plot for this bomb is disgustingly simple. a corrupt politician decides to end his life by arranging his own assassination. but before the deed is done, he gets a case of jungle fever. he then decides to rap his campaign, and in a fit of insomniacal delerium, paints himself 'black' through a campy set of encounters with the most incredibily one dimensional parade of black ghetto stereotypes i have ever seen on film. ever. and i do mean ever. what's worse, is that everybody seems to take this seriously. this film's ideas are perverse, bankrupt, self-righteous, self-parodying and idiotic all at once.

    12771. boohab - Oct. 23, 1998 - 5:18 PM PDT bulworth is useful as a litmus test on racial perceptions in the same way that real dicks and pussies would be in inkblot. reasonable and sane people would look and seriously question the ethics and sense of the person administering the test, not to mention utter lack of imagination. but right now i'm more interested in seeing how and which critics have been bulworthed into saying something profound about this shitheap of a message movie.

    it gets a 55%, which should clarify my percentage scale, everything below 50% means it's not worth seeing.

    Though I'm no longer the notorious boohab, as far as the flick is concerned nothing has changed.

    (Link added)

    Posted by mbowen at 02:38 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    October 09, 2005

    A Sense of Small Places & The Shape of Diversity

    There are a number of observations that I have made upon reflection of my recent trip to Greensboro. The first has to do with the big city fantasy of small city life.

    Out here on the Coast, we're all scrambling around - most of us on the upper edge of the middle class anyway - to find that million dollar idea or deal. We say, once we attain that we're going to chuck it all. All the stress and the traffic and competitiveness that we thrive on that occasionally overwhelms us, we say we'll leave the city for some peace and quiet. Maybe finally learn how to play acoustic guitar or fish with our sons. And since we recognize the huge distortions in the value of real estate, we look outward across the country in search of an idyllic place where our tract house mortgage could afford us a mansion and a yacht. And so by consensus, the location of choice seems to be Asheville, NC.

    They say that Asheville is growing, that it's progressive and that it's a very nice place. They say the schools are good, the people are friendly and it's up against the mountains in a beautiful location. They say that 400k can get you a 4,000 square feet house on an acre of land in the better 'burbs. They say that there's an airport nearby and the cable modem service is top notch. I'm sure that there's enough branches of Starbucks around to make you feel as though you're never far from civilization. Sounds like paradise.

    In Ravelstein, among the many ideas presented is that there is a reason that solitary confinement is the worst punishment. We humans are social animals. We need each other desparately. We'd go mad without each other. So the very idea of retiring to the woods is foolish. And yet that fantasy persists. Somewhere along the scale, with New York at the upper end and Timbuktu near the bottom, there is the right level of crowds we need for our mental health and well being. Maybe a small American city has that level, but there's a problem and that problem is the mix.

    As a big city creature, there's a certain level of cunning and wariness I have among crowds. There's a lot to expect from people when there are millions of them in close proximity. Living in LA and NY has made me come to expect just about anything from just about anyone. It's the characteristic of the large set. But when you downscale, you reduce variety by definition. And so I am coming to appreciate that there are various flavors of diversity. Growing up in Southern California, sure you speak a little Spanish, but you also learn to distinguish Veitnamese from Japanese from Chinese from Korean from Philipino. I can't say I'm so good differentiating Indians from Pakistanis, but I'm not completely inept. Point? It's more than just 'Asians'. And let's not even get started on 'Hispanics'.

    In Greensboro at the conference there were many testimonies of pride in their own diversity, but there was not one Asian in the whole joint. I haven't seen one during the whole trip, not even at the airport. As far as I can tell, Greensboro's diversity is a species of black and white. And so, I may very well imagine, is the case for other Southern cities of its size and shape.

    When I spoke to Jill Williams with a skeptic air at the Flatiron over the fate of her Truth & Reconciliation Commission, I did so from the perspective of the impact of 5 murders in the global scheme of things. But I also did so as a race man on the far shore, across my own lake of fire. Anti-racist activism is an absolutely necessary yet relatively thankless task, and it's a hard thing to face that success doesn't often resonate as globally as it might seem. I think it's a function of the relative size and shape of our diversity.

    I want to live in a neighborhood like Aycock. There are several like it in South Pasadena. It's the big house with the big trees and the big porch and the wide street with not much traffic. It's the warm glow of lights on in the evening in wide open windows. It's the free traffic of children and food from house to house and neighbor to neighbor. In all of us lurks the dream of the beloved community. South Pasadena is very very expensive. It draws from a huge metropolis, and so while supply is low, prices are high. Those that got, get, and in LA there are lots of ways to get and consequently a bigger kind of diversity in its cozy places. This is to be expected of a world city.

    I checked IBM's website for jobs. There are none of my description anywhere in the entire state. Troubling. I think we have Jefferson Pilot as a customer, but I didn't find out what the other big employers are in the area - most likely the schools. Of couse the ultimate goal would be to keep my big city salary and live with the small town economy like a big fish in a small town. I could make a difference. I could connect with the city patrons and do. There's a great deal of attraction in that.

    But what troubles me is my own commitment to the small - to the close up and the lost ability to escape. In the big city, I can be conservative easily. That's because the alternative is so large and ungainly. But in the small town one needs to be liberal, because the narrow becomes stifling. The size of the diversity is smaller and therefore embedded with more meaning. A diversity of black and white means little in Los Angeles County. A diversity of black and white is a big deal in the town where the Woolworth Sit In took place.

    I don't mind good old boys, tractor pulls, NASCAR and trailer parks. It's a small part of my big world, and so I can tolerate it. I don't mind slow church folk, and quiet. I can always go to where the action is. It's a balance I've been able to achieve living in my big cities. So the fantasy persists and I'm still attracted to the small, and yet I remember the feeling of isolation when I recognized that even in Atlanta, there were days when I missed the big oceans of humanity I grew up and thrived in.

    Not quite 9 months ago, I was studying Mandarin and poised to head to Beijing. Things change. I've got a lot more thinking to do.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:25 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

    October 02, 2005

    Confessions of a Street Addict

    (from the archives: July 2002)

    I reviewed Jim Cramer's book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by mbowen at 11:49 AM | TrackBack

    October 01, 2005

    Ofra Bikel's Journey

    Americans think they know America. The only people who really look closely are the ones who don't feel quite American. That would include myself and Ofra Bikel. Bikel has returned to OJ Simpson in her new PBS documentary. A thoughtful person forwarded this information to me and so I am considering the nature of journeys pursued in search of each other in America.

    I know that I am a special brand of American, and I'm particularly proud of that brand, which is why I spend hours pontificating here in the 'sphere. I recognize that, no matter how clear, comfortable and obvious I appear to myself, family and friends, that there are millions upon millions of America who simply don't get it. And so I write. But I am also compelled to listen more closely and try to make sense of this complex society, its politics, values, philosophical and existential dilemmas. I love the very idea of cultural geography - that where you live makes you something different.

    So this country must seem all that and then some for those fascinated by it around the world. And those who come to live in our cities and towns must find it remarkably strange that we don't even know ourselves very well. And it's true - we don't.

    For me, this discovery goes back to Marshall Blonsky's American Mythologies and his investigation into the signs and symbols of American wealth, power, privilege and taste. Where they come from, what they actually mean and how people interpret and give meaning to them. I was rather shocking to me that much meaning is invested in a thin veneer of respectability that once punctured leaves people drifting aimlessly and then clutching more tightly to other symbols and signs.

    This was particularly difficult for me to deal with, given my own profile as a successful professional in a new field of endeavor, computer science, that had never before had a class of successful professionals. When I moved to New York City, everyone told me I wore the wrong kind of shoes. When I flew to Logan Airport with West African print pants and no luggage, the FBI agent told me that I looked like a drug courier.

    But this is not about the existentials of 'being black', this is about a journey of discovery in a nation beside itself with confusion, and how we are emerging into a new world of classes and philes even as old ones are being clutched in desparation.

    As human interest goes, there are few things as compelling as matters of life and death, war and peace, justice and injustice. So it comes as no surprise that we might find investigations into matters which have implications in all three dimensions as most worthy of getting the attention of television producers. After all, as Whoopi noted, television is the only place where you can have a million friends and still be considered a total loser. The economics of attention are what they are. So if you are on a journey to discover black Americans, there are few places to go in television journalism but to matters of the Justice System, and what better symbol of all that than the OJ Trial.

    I can't tell you how tired I am of the story. I was tired of it when the Bronco Chase interrupted the ballgame I was watching that night in a bar on 7th Avenue in Park Slope. I was tired of it when my pager beeped me with the verdict however many months later. I was focused and exasperated because within the sense of a collective fate, so many millions were hoping and praying for a sign, a symbol that Justice was present in their homeland.

    I wrote a poem about that whole thing, and I'd say it's one of my better poems. It made the pages of HotWired's Net Soup back ten years ago. The effort made to write that and this other piece about OJ the Black Male Image was about all I cared in that particular direction. It was all a part of the effort to convey ones humanity in a nation too large and too preoccupied to care beyond symbols. And so I wrote, before the verdict came down:

    As for O.J., either one hopes against hopes that O.J. will be freed and that symbolically the black man will be free or, like me, we continue to laugh at the punk. Whether or not he gets a fair trial is beside the point, because only the jury and the court officers and the appellate knows for sure. One can have faith, but I think there are much better things to have faith in. The point of us looking at this trial anyway, I have already described. We are to learn a lesson about spousal abuse. It doesn't matter what happens with O.J., what matters is that we were supposed to learn a lesson. Either way the jury decides, all the legal followup on the technical merits of the case will take place for the benefit of the legal community. America doesn't pay attention to that. The question for America is does the wife-beater get away or not? Either way, the black male face is imprinted on this cautionary tale. But that is the manipulation. The individual black male has nothing to do with it. But we knew that before, didn't we? So after all, this is really nothing to get excited about. Unless of course, you are some kind of orphan.

    The OJ trial was racialized because OJ represented something to blackfolks as we are, in our own way, trying to make sense of our emergence in America. Wealthy, powerful or famous blacks are not role-models so much as they are crash-test dummies to us. We want to know if, how and when they will be destroyed and on what terms. We expect that nobody makes it, that there is some kind of inevitable pain associated with black greatness. It might be the relative poverty and powerlessness of Hank Aaron, the greatest baseball player alive. It might be or the bullet reserved for Colin Powell if he were to announce his candidacy for president. It might be the ignomy faced by Paul Robeson. We all want to be the Emperor Jones, but we still hear dem drums. We are paranoid climbers on the great mountain of America and no matter how high we get, we keep looking down.

    Because we keep looking down, we look down upon each other and we allow others to look down upon us. And somehow all blackfolks end up in some kind of collusion when the subject of attention (economics being what they are) centers around the least fortunate of our brothers. Everybody has to 'keep it real', and so all of our fates are tied to the fates of prisoners, crack dealers, pimps, whores, thugs, theives and the occasional, assimilated, well-off, suburban dwelling moral miscreant. There is no such thing as black success, it is only a figment of the imaginations of real successful blackfolks - you know, the kind you never see on television.

    Never is a harsh word. Of course blackfolks are doing OK. Otherwise all the cities would be burning down, right? African Americans have nothing to complain about, right?

    There is no Negro Problem of substance any longer. One cannot stand in the United Nations or have a conference in Bandung declaring the plight of the American Negro as uniquely poignant in the world. The loss of the Negro Problem has left many of us perplexed. How exactly should we see blackfolks? What are the appropriate symbols? How can we deal with the obvious differences in how we all think and view the world? What are some fungible sources of information? It's an enormous problem because the race problem has become too complicated, and there's no simple way to discuss all we have to discuss at a distance. There has arisen no appropriate vocabulary to contain all of the hopes and concerns of a liberal impulse to share. It was so much easier back in the 60s when your average privileged graduate student could say it all in a couple paragraphs. Yet even by 1971 it was too late. All we could do was cross-over and be polite, but the questions remained. Who are you people? What do you want? That question can and never will be answered in the abstract. Who blackfolks are depends entirely upon your direct relationship to them. If you have none, it's your fault. Go read a book blog or something.

    Last night I listened to a Beach Boys song whose refrain was 'I wanna go home'. I never heard the recording before, but I distinctly remember somebody white in my distant past trying to get us kids to sing it at camp or someplace. All the lyrics seemed, both then and now to be ridiculous. Immediately before that song on the radio last night was Aretha Franklin's song, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Everybody knows that song, or at least I think so. The lyrics still make sense to me today, though I pity the fool to whom they were originally directed. Music might be a way to know America. It's a good start, I suppose. From my perspective, it gives human beings the dignity of distance not afforded by curious strangers who dare to bound the boundaries of daily discourse.

    There's no upscale black neighborhood. There is no old black downtown. The dream and the paradigm of the pre-integration Talented Tenth caring for our own has been shattered by a new integration and a new economy. There's no place to gather a thoughtful collection of black middle class Americans to see where we were, are and are going. That town hall does not exist. You pretty much have to take individuals' words for a consensus that defies practical reality. If Cosby speaks, then it's Cosby. But nobody elected him. We want to listen, we want to believe, but in the end there is no mutual binding contract. We're just free. We're just free.

    Black freedom has taken away our metaphors. It has wrecked havoc on our symbols. There's too many of us going in too many directions at once. All that remains certain of black is that it is the color of would-be aborted babies to lower crime, or would-be savages rampaging maniaclly at the Superdom, or would-be victims of injustice, persecution and oppression. With 38 million of us, you're bound to find plenty who fit the profile. Perhaps that's all anybody needs to do. Perhaps that's all anybody needs to know. And yet, in the shadow of that monolith are those of us who are what we are, just as materially unaffected by stupefying poverty as the rest of the world who watches PBS, yet with the same thoughtful curiousity and human empathy as those who have the budget and time to knock door to door at Robert Taylor Homes, or wherever the hot getto mess is this week.

    They say that all it takes for evil to triumph is for men of goodwill to turn away. I feel that. In that same way I feel that all it takes to undermine the image of strength is to promote an image of decay. I feel that troubling investment everywhere, because I personally feel like a character from Thomas Mann. The great loneliness of thoughtfulness and discipline is my companion. So I too journey through America. My journey is to find justice and harmony. And when I get there, bounding over boundaries, it takes a while. And then the people there discover that I too speak English, and then they start opening up and talking.

    If I could put out a couple of symbols for our negotiation, I would suggest that there is a conservative black America and a liberal white America, both with deep roots. Both are trying to get what the other has. One is an emerging force of righteousness and confidence, the other is a disillusioned force of guilt and confusion. And yet the guilty force has the resources the confident force lacks. I don't know when those powers will be balanced and righted, probably not in my generation. But it is strange how our paths cross these days.

    So now we look back at the OJ Simpson verdict ten years later. Where are those black and white Americas going? I don't know, maybe I'll talk more about it.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 23, 2005

    A Minority Minority Party

    I was introduced today to Ragged Thots, something I've been missing for a while, an old head Republican apparently from the 'hood. In the wake of Katrina, there's something of a bit of resignation in the air between Republicans and Bush that I really haven't been paying attention to, but I find myself agreeing with P6 on the matter of hardness. He has no such bonds.

    Although I haven't looked at my writing in a while to see if it accurately reflects it, I am done being a black republican. I'm a republican, period. In other words I've used, it's all about 'do' and not about 'be'. So I'll take this moment to start into tearing identity politics a new one, because I'm afraid that this is an ugly part of black conservatism.

    The same impulse that takes the personna of George W. Bush more seriously than the party of his origin is that same sentiment that says who is nearly as important as what, or how. If we are to lead our nation's policy through polling, then Bush's popularity matters, but I think it doesn't, at least until Congress is willing to undertake some kind of vote of no confidence.

    Bush has spent exhorbitantly. This is not in question. But he is not as cocky as Reagan was with the economic voodoo. If Greenspan is to be believed, we're not yet in trouble, nor is it certain that trouble is just around the corner. That doesn't change the fact that 'fiscal conservative' is not simply a label. Republicans are going to be concerned about government spending no matter who is in office, and that's the important lesson here. Principle and ideological fidelity count for something more than just litmus tests. And for these reasons, blackfolks, whitefolks whomeverfolks shouldn't so heavily weight their attraction to the party based upon the personalities involved. In the case of Katrina and 9-11, a bunch of money had to be laid out. And while I think it's clear that the debacle that is unfolding over the incompetence of W's massive reorg of our security agencies, I hardly think it's a reason to bolt the party. Then again, I discounted Bush's organizational ability a long, long time ago.

    From the very first day I decided to join the Party, I understood that it would be a long hard slog to getting black popularity. My premise is and always has been that class similarities between traditional Republicans and upscale blacks would make for a natural fit, but that it would be foolish to expect that more than 25% of African Americans would go for it. I did so with the express understanding that a lot of hard-working politicos have tried and failed to get that bread-breaking thing going on. So I have always anticipated that being a interracial broker for the black masses and the GOP would be a dead-end job. Quite frankly, I think it's a dead-end job no matter where you're trying to broker relations with 'the black community'. That's because you're ultimately playing with stereotypes. It's hard enough for me to keep things rolling with Progressives I understand and respect, much less try to get the black hoi polloi to come the a Republican Jesus.

    In 1992 I had a baseball cap stitched with my email address on it. Wearing it backwards in Brooklyn elicted very little curiosity. In fact, I think the only person whom I didn't know who noticed it was a research prof I walked past on in first class on a plane flight. While black college professors were ginning up their vocabulary to rail against another phantom institutional racism soon to be known as the 'Digital Divide' I had to basically take a stand. "The Internet", I said, "is for me and people like me. The rest of y'all can take the bus." But I did so after a not-insignificant amount of effort to communicate the benefits. I reasoned that being way ahead of the curve would put me in the ranks of 'first blacks', and so it did. But being first didn't really help in the end. I am inclined to believe that 'first black' is a trap, as is racial brokerage. There's always a bigger fish, and second and third generations not on the bleeding edge have fewer headaches. Of course I knew more about the Internet than Richard Parsons, but Parsons got to be the boss of AOL, making a lot more splash than any of the pioneers at The Drum, Netnoir or NYOnline. In the end, you simply have to be comfortable being alone. It's nobody's responsibility to nudge the race along. You and your 1000 black friends are still a molehill in this great big crazy world. Again, it boils down to principles and ideological fidelity.

    Chances are, that whatever it is that gives you the cojones to lead, is the same conceit that will make it difficult to get people to see things your way. Unless you are just in a popularity contest, the only people who are going to get it are those people who have been trying to get it. And so it goes with black Republicans, who will all inevitably be compared (by those who don't get it) variously to everyone from Clarence Pendleton & Alan Keyes to Thomas Sowell & Condi Rice. Cults of black personality. Is that what Republicanism is all about?

    There is something greater at stake here, and I don't know exactly how to communicate that yet. But somehow racial identity must be subsumed for a higher and more substantial purpose which is core to Western values.

    In the meantime, with the understanding that we must make sense of individualism, at the heart of our culture we're going to have to go it alone. Or to quote P6:

    "This shit is hard, and you have to be willing to deal in the kind of truth that pisses off both friends and enemies. Not like you should try to piss them off...if you constantly search for the angry truth, you got issues. But if you be avoiding things, it's not your friend you're hiding from."

    Posted by mbowen at 02:15 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    The Whatever Dude

    Matthew Yglesias is onto something here.

    Namely, the intelligent, well-educated aristocrats of 19th century Russia, "informed by idealism and goodwill" believed they were the beneficiaries of a fundamentally unjust social system dependent both on political autocracy and what amounted to chattel slavery. Something similar could be said about young, urban, educated white men in contemporary America who, unlike other brands of white men, are politically liberal.

    He's not quite so sure, but it sure is a knockout to read this observation of American anomie right next to a blogad on his site that reads 'There Is No Crisis'. Yglesias informed me a while back that he's from the third person school of social observation, and I am reminded constantly by another irritating commenter that 'just-so' stories are insufficient to be convincing. But the trenchant observer often finds himself in the trenches and should be counted upon to speak of the consequences of speaking up. In other words, if you can't be passionate about it, why write?

    I happen to think that America suffers from an overabundance of snark. No one quite embodies this surfiet so much as David Spade who is launching a new comic broadside on Hollywood which cannot be so much more than inside dirt served up with a heaping helping of snide. It's likely to be a hit. Spade's witty dishing is the flipside of the Alpha SNAG, and yet you know that Spade's characters are never far from Joe Dirt, incapable of being truly uncaring. But is the SNAG a myth? No, just a clearly identifyable character defect posing as something attractive.

    It has been several long years since I last took a peek at my copy of Iron John, but I've been thinking about passing it on to my son recently. But I'll certainly want to reread it in light of my search for the character of the Classic Citizen as I read on in VDH. We can be fairly certain that a sarcastic passivity won't be high on the list of values, an inaction borne of guilt is not likely to be there either.

    Once again, I think Baldwin is instructive here:

    "For several years it had been his fancy that he belonged in
    those dark streets uptown precisely becuase the history written
    in the color of his skin contested his right to be there. He
    enjoyed this, his right to be being everywere contested;
    uptown, his alienation had been made visible and therefore,
    almost bearable. It had been his fancy that dangere there, was
    more real, more open, than danger was downtown and that he,
    having chosedn to run these dangers, was snatching his manhood
    from the lukewarm waters of mediocrity and testing it in the
    fire. He had felt more alive in Harlem, for he had moved in a
    blaze of rage and self-congratualation and sexual excitement,
    with danger, like a promise, waiting for him everywhere. And,
    nevertheless, in spite of all this daring, this runing of risks,
    the misadventures which had actually befallen him had been banal
    indeed and might have befallen him anywhere. His dangerous,
    overwhelming lust for life had failed to involve him in anything
    deeper than perhaps half a dozen extremely casual
    acquaintanceships in about as many bars. for memories, he had
    one or two marijuana parties, one or two community debauches,
    one or two girls whose names he had forgotten, one or two
    addresses which he had lst. He knew that Harlem was a
    battlefield and that a war was being waged there day and night
    -- but of the war aims he knew nothing.

    "And this was due not only to the silence of the warriors --
    their silence being, anyway spectacular in that it rang so loud:
    it was due to the fact that one knew of battles only what one
    had accepted of one's own. He was forced, little by little,
    against his will, to realize that in running the dangers of
    Harlem he had not been testing his manhood or heightening his
    sense of life. He had merely been taking refuge in the outward
    adventure in order to avoid the clash and tension of the
    adventure proceeding inexorably within. Perhaps this was why he
    sometimes seemed to surprise in the dark faces which watched him
    in a hint of amused and not entirely unkind contempt. He must be
    poor indeed, they seemed to say, to have been driven here. They
    knew that he was driven, in flight: the liberal, even
    revolutionary sentiments of which he was so proud meant nothing
    to them whatever. He was just a poor white boy in trouble and it
    was not in the least original of him to come running to the niggers."

    James Baldwin - Another Country - 1960

    Now ain't that something?

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

    September 22, 2005

    Celibate & Gay

    The Vatican is about to drop a small bomb in the form of a new rule which says gays cannot be priests. I expected something of the sort when Ratzinger was elected, but not so soon. This development is appropriate to the Catholic Church as a hedge against creeping nihilism, however one has to wonder exactly how you can be celibate and gay at once.

    You can't of course. Gay is to homosexual as black is to African American. It's about a pride of expression and a celebration of difference. You can certainly be homosexual and celibate, but being gay and celibate is like being OJ and black. The blackness is not there if it's not celebrated.

    So if the Catholic Church is so very focused on that level of purity, that the very thought of homosexual pleasure is a sin forbidden the priesthood, then we can expect that they are going to be very strict in any number of areas of dogma. Perhaps a smaller more well-disciplined Catholic Church could pull this off, and certainly the Pope has said as much. So let's see if throwing this 'dead' weight off the ship actually makes it steer a truer course.

    I have said that the Catholic Church made its error in insisting on the duality of sexuality and intellectuality - a celibate priesthood was a decision made in a day of sexual ignorance. (Nor could Henry VIII be considered prescient in retrospect.) Chastity is a heavy burden on any man. As well, I have supported the ordination of gays and women in the Episcopal Church in support of a liberal notion of support and empathy with congregations in a representative / democratic fashion.

    A more authoritarian Catholic Church may be necessary in today's world. If that is the case, the course they are pursuing will certainly put them there.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:55 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    September 21, 2005

    The Reversals

    In reading 'Bonfire of the Humanities' I have bought into the concept that a goodly chunk of the American ideosphere is chock full of nuts. And yet they are professional nuts who have yet to be stared down, primarily because people spend so much money sending their children to sit at their feet. Yet something I wrote 13 years ago resonates with Victor Davis Hanson and his chums: That so many write for each other otherwise write to be paid.

    As a non-academic, I am probably on the late-freight in this revelation. I've know about 'Invisible Adjunct' and the meme about the lack of Conservative college profs, but I've long thought them mostly irrelevant. In fact, I've been blaming Hollywood and the Liberal Media for treason of intellect that actually has a more sinister source.

    In the meantime as I ingest the import of the treason against Western Civilization, (and come to understand at a deeper level the material gluttony of China) I will split Multiculturalism into half. The hindmost I will abandon to Hanson's sword and the milder version to myself. In between that is the simple truth that I do recognize the problem with Identity Politics (and have for a while) and yet never saw that coming when I read the Greywolf Annual lo these many years ago.

    I hate Eclexia, and I have a distaste for discovery that doesn't institutionalize anything of lasting value. My adoption of Conservatism is a hedge exactly against that. There is something worth knowing of King Lear and my soft multiculturalism says that James Earl Jones' version is worth seeing not only for its intrinsic value but as a confirmation of modernity. It is this confirmation that integration bears out and it is the heat and agitation of affirmative mixings that instigate the chemical transformation of a new and improved society. Not for the sake of separate racial or 'other' destinies, but for a shared destiny.(1) New people must be integrated into our way of life so it is all of our way of life.

    I haven't spoken of Empire recently, but that may be the only way.

    So I am looking for the rhetorical tells and the reversals of my logic to find the implications of the dreams of our leftist malcontents. It's not enough that I am right, I want to see the contradictions of my opponents.

    (1). Hmm. That's a ding against my opposition to gay marriage. (Don't ask and I won't tell).

    Posted by mbowen at 10:46 PM | TrackBack

    September 18, 2005

    Pluralism: A Rambling First Stab

    Not more than a week ago, somebody progressive chided me for putting Pluralism at the bottom of the Old School Core Values. None of the values are in any order, but.. Just last evening, we in TCB have begun our own discussion about the meaning of the word.

    I'd like to do some explaining about the context and my original intent in writing:

    Pluralism We believe in a tolerant and open society, and we welcome all people to enjoy its benefits and responsibilities.

    This is going to be difficult.

    I guess I start with the basic premise of loving America. And then I say, whom do I love America for? My favorite toast is, "To us, and those like us.", the appropriate response is "Damned few left." But it is hardly a toast I would have as America's motto which is, I believe; "In God We Trust". In God We Trust is much more general than in "I have accepted Jesus Christ as my own personal savior." or any of a thousand creeds. You are very likely to hear me say "We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church". I think it is an unquestionable axiom of our nations' first principles that as strange as that creed may sound to some people, that as an American citizen, you are bound to tolerate it. Not to accept it. Not to give it credibility. Not to trash it. But to tolerate it.

    What is tolerance?

    As I was writing it, that question was left mostly dangling. What I intended to stress was a rejection of intolerance, most specifically religious and racial bigotry.

    Fifteen years ago, I read Harold Cruse's 'Plural but Equal', and the clearest thing I can say in summary is that 'Plural but Equal' means exactly the same thing as 'Separate but Equal' except that the separation is completely voluntary. If you're Mormon, you are free to hang out in any city in any state of the Union, but if you'd rather hang out in Salt Lake, we understand and we're cool with that. No love lost. To each his own. Live and let live.

    But I recongize that such platitudes are unacceptable for zealots and activists. For many Americans are engaged in a struggle. They want to continually wage a Culture War. They are threatend by the status quo and they desire to persuade. They run the gamut from gentle persuasion to radicalism. But all of them have something in common, a creed, a dedication to goals they feel are superior to those of the average American.

    When I was such an activist, I was progressive. To a certain extent I still am progressive. I was a reformer in every dimension. Now I am not. I am more interested in keeping that which works working, and I have lost all measure of contempt for the average American.

    Inclusion vs Openness
    I don't believe that America is inclusive. It is open. That means that this is a kind of first-come first-served society. There is an implicit open invitation to participate in the society at any level you can compete. But there is not any particular effort to make sure that everyone gets and explicit invitation. We figure that if you're all about it, you'll show up.

    I think this is eminently fair and appropriate to a society as large and complex as ours. In fact, I don't think it should be any other way. So when I'm talking about a plural society I mean that the expectations should be largely the same for each of us. We rise according to our abilities and luck. This is a major virtue.

    Inclusiveness, on the other hand is a minor virtue, but it is not something that should be handled as a large scale goal for society. It is one thing to build community, it is another to build a nation.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:49 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    Back to the Drawing Board

    A combination of events has got me thinking about the utility of speaking into the void.

    In order to get a handle on that matter, I am reviewing a couple of books. The first is 'Civility' by Stephen L. Carter. The second is 'The Bonfire of the Humanities' by Hanson, et al. At issue is the inevitable misinterpretation and dissonance among us. Why do we not know how to communicate things that should be basic to the very nature of our civilization? My excuse is that I pursued Computer Science and had to pick up all my liberal arts in my spare time, and I feel I'll probably blogging for another decade working through it. 'It' being a nuanced understanding of the rest of the world through Socratic dialog.

    Part of the question has to do with Pluralism, an investigation which I have conceded is beyond the scope of one overloaded essay. But let's start with the following from Carter:

    The Five Reasons for a Democracy to Value Sacrificial Civility

    1. By encouraging us to see even those with whome we disagree as full equals before God, civility enables us to hold the respectful dialogs without which democratic decision-making is impossible.

    2. Civility reminds us that in a democracy all our actions must meet the test of morality, and that our ability to discipline ourselves to do what is right rather than what we desire is what distinguishes us from animals.

    3. That self-discipline, in turn, enables us to resist the tendencey of the values of plitics and the market to swallow all of social life.

    4. Our adherence to standards of civil behavior servs, in Arthur Schlesinger's ter, as our letter of introduction to our fellow citizens, thus helping us to build community.

    5. By treating each other with the respectful civility that our shared cratedness requries, we help make bearable the many indignities and frictions of everyday life.

    I have no substantial disagreement with that. So that's a start.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 17, 2005

    The Constant Gardener

    The Constant Gardener is one hell of a movie. But in fact it's only about 62 dead people.

    Long ago at the beginning of this blog, I set my sights on matters no less trivial than 3,000 deaths. I called it a Lynch Factor - essentially the sum total of all blacks who have been lynched since Reconstruction. I haven't been able to stick to that goal. The original reason for that was that I was sick to death about hearing about every rock thrown in Palestine, every Israeli exploded, every West Bank Palestinian sniped. The interminable skirmishes of the Middle East were the daily bread of NPR, and it was making me sick. Not because every life isn't precious, but precisely because of that, and we weren't hearing about other lives. Now I am convinced, especially with my newly found fascination with infants, that 3,000 is too high a number.

    'The Constant Gardener' is a film about the kind of privileged woman who gives me the creeps. She latches onto the cause of poor non-white destitute people and uses her every wile to draw people into her conspiratorial web. It is an archtypical story and one that makes me queasy. 'The Constant Gardener' the story in which passion and love are traded for the moral sanctimony of privilege.

    I once wrote about a day at the beach from the eyes of a lifeguard. He wonders how many he can keep from drowning. Maybe on the Fourth of July, out of a crowd of a million, only ten drown. That's a good day and that's a good number. It's the calculus you must apply if you're a lifeguard. Even if you aren't a lifeguard, ff you are bold enough, you take it upon yourself to make your own moral calculus and you move according to it. You gather the facts and become an arbiter of life and death. Whom do you let die so that others might live? Whom do you kill? Whose face do you avoid in order to keep your mind clear enough to support the purpose you feel in your heart to be the right purpose? How do you represent, and at what cost do you devote yourself to the institution of your ambition? In this film, it's all about a seemingly capricious woman who has dedicated her life to a calculus nobody fully understands.

    In one scene from the film, a woman, infant and child are walking. The white woman recognizes her and knows her village to be 40 miles away. She tells her husband to stop and give them a ride. He refuses. He tells his wife, I want to care for you more than I care for them. This makes the privileged woman furious.

    The privileged woman wants to care for them more than she cares for anyone, and decieves all of here privileged peers for the sake of undermining their calculus. She leaves her husband in the dark and tells him nothing of her many deceptions. She wrecks the lives of her intimates for the sake of the lives of strangers. She uses her privilege and access to be the spoiler, the spy, the subversive. She plays a sly game where the stakes are life and death, and for this all she offers is her love in return. Her love, her promises of sex, her attentions and smiles - these are the bits she dangles to keep all the players in play. These are the cards of the privileged woman, and she abuses and flaunts her role.

    She doesn't want to be the wife of a diplomat, she wants access to what the wife of a diplomat has access to, the bigger diplomat. Because all she sees are corrupt men, and she uses one to destroy another - the one responsible for the destruction of 62 lives. She proves it.

    What does the privileged woman know? She knows the depravity of her ilk. She wants the simple purity of those who don't conspire to the calculus of making global millions selling life-saving drugs. She just wants women to have babies.

    The Constant Gardener must tend to his privileged woman and her mission. He cannot walk away because he was in it for love. When she ends up dead, he cannot walk away because she was in it for life. She has the high hand, and now he must live within the parameters of her calculus. She looks from the bottom up, not from the top down. It is not about the company that might save 1000 lives, it is about the man who ordered the death of 62. So if she must sacrifice her own and her husbands and her would be lover for them, she will, and she does.

    This is what is so disturbing about this story. It's about the treacherous intimate who must latch on to drama greater than the value of family and friends. It is about the moral crusader who sees in every habit of her upbringing and peers, nothing but contempt.

    Who could love such a privileged woman? Ahh perhaps that's not so much the question as how could she possibly be avoided? The rebellious daughter of privilege. She goes where she wanna. Beware her intimacy, for her true love lies elsewhere and her ambition is without bounds. She wants the life or death decision in her hands. Don't sleep. For she will bring all the machinery to a halt and she will reduce all of the artifice and posturing to the rawest motivations. She will strip away everything until there is nothing but the brutal facts, and there they will lie in front of you.

    Can you handle the truth?

    This is also the story of meddling in Africa. Of taking advantage of wealth and power and the arrogance of benevolence.

    'At last he lays his head flat on the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as hea had done before; and after this, made all the signs to me of subjugateion, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me as long as he lived.' -- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

    'The problem of internalizing the master's tongue is the problem of the rescued. Unlike the problems of survivors who may be lucky, fated, etc. the rescued have the problem of debt. If the rescuer gives you back your life, he shares in that life. But if as in Friday's case, if the rescuer saves your life by taking you away from the dangers, the complications, the confusion of home, he may very well expect the debt to be paid in full.' -- Toni Morrision, 1992

    The great danger of charity is that it has no public price tag. It is a debt that can only be negotiated one way and the grantee has no rights worth respecting. The grantee must remain a symbol of the grantor's largess. This is the moral calculus of charity. It's never enough to save one life. You have to save the village, you have to save the tribe, you have to save the whole teeming nation of unfortunates, and you have to crawl the globe looking for people who fit the profile.

    This is the hunger of sanctimony. It is as deadly as greed.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 14, 2005

    No Class

    So apparently Kanye West has been taken seriously. While I'm out here in Arizona, I have yet to find adequate time to peruse the news. Instead, I'm getting bits here and there. What I'm sampling is unsavory.

    Here's the thing. It's hard to estimate the gullibility of people who on the one hand say that the media is completely warped and then on the other hand give a bunch of credibility to what passes for commentary in the same media.

    When is the last time this happened? OJ Simpson. You got everybody trying to bring it down to a simple case of race without looking at any other factor. I don't know who is saying what in this matter but anybody who is not taking a bunch of things into consideration is wrong. So I have a couple of reactions:

    1. Nobody is accustomed to looking at poor black people on TV for days at a time. That in and of itself is just plain remarkable. The fact that it happens so rarely is testimony to the state of the big networks and their decisions. We know this, and we always say so. We said so when whatever her name is wound up missing in the Caribbean. If she was a poor black woman, it wouldn't have made CNN.

    2. Poor black people are a reliable scapegoat for dysfunction. BUT. The 'but' is that non-moronic people know that there are more whitefolks on welfare and there are a huge class of whitefolks who are slipping. Just this month there were new economic studies up saying that white poverty is increasing while black poverty was staying the same. Non-moronic people know that the crack epidemic is over and that we are in the middle of a meth epidemic. BUT. We're still overburdened with the same old ideas about the 'inner city'. SO, the guys at Vision Circle have hit upon an interesting conclusion which is that white supremacists are going to gain strength because of the focus on poor blacks at the expense of poor whites.

    3. There are no heroes in Congress.
    This is so patently obvious that it's almost a shame. Everything is focused on the President and there have emerged no heroes in Congress who have even said something we could all rally around.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    September 06, 2005

    The Old School is Grey

    It seems as if everyone in the 'sphere has read some part or all of Bill Whittle's extended paen to Courage. It is only a hair short of classic, and quite frankly it ought to be taught in high school.

    Even though here at Cobb I tend to be particularly analytic and give every angle consideration (especially in the comic), there are a set of core values that I'm not going to slip on. I have found this particular catastrophe more personally devastating than 9/11 for a number of reasons I won't get into right now. And so I'm a lot more likely to ask questions and analyze than try to be right from the perspective of values. And I think a few too many of us have been a bit too quick on the moral pontification. What Whittle brings home and settles down for us is the fact that there is nothing new about character in crisis. And when it comes to facing disaster, no value is more central than Courage.

    I think it's very useful then, for me to reiterate the values of the Old School which were born of courage. And it is precisely because of these values that I talk about the Old School as its own kind of tribe rather than assuming that all blackfolks are going to have them. While many Old School values were exemplified in the best of the Black Nationalist, Black Consciousness, Black Arts and Civil Rights Movements, not everybody emerged with the full set intact. It's why we draw the distinction. We recognize that every brotha ain't a brother.

    They are right on the homepage of the Conservative Brotherhood:

    Old School Core Values:

    We are African Americans of all backgrounds and ethnicities. We are proud of our heritage, and respect the lives, triumphs and tribulations of our forebears in this country and beyond. We aim to represent their greatest hopes for us and honor their memory.

    The United States of America is our home, not simply by default but by choice. We take our duty to our home seriously and we defend it. We seek to improve it by our work and values and leave it better than we found it.

    We are extended families and we put family first. It is the primary organization to which our lives are dedicated. We fight for the proper upbringing of our children. We demand respect and consideration of our elders. We love and support our brothers and sisters.

    We work twice as hard and sometimes get half as far, but we work with dignity and we expect and enjoy our rewards. We are not materialistic but we know the value of a dollar. We seek self-improvement through creativity, dedication and effort in our jobs, businesses and partnerships.

    We have abiding faith in God and the principles of righteousness. We strive to be true to transcendent values and take the long view of our purpose on Earth. We conduct ourselves as vessels of spirit and we guard our own souls and the souls of others from corruption.

    We believe in the rule of law and rights of people to be free and to determine their own fate. We fight tyranny and oppression of all kinds keeping in mind the battles of those who struggled and died that we might be free.

    We believe in a tolerant and open society, and we welcome all people to enjoy its benefits and responsibilities.

    Each of these values requires sacrifice. You have to be pretty damned sure of yourself in this world if you're going to stand up for things you believe in, with the additional nerve that others ought to be about the same thing. Each of these values requires integrity. You can't be wishy washy about it. Each of these values is hard to stand by, but worth it. And they come from deep within the life lessons learned from a people who didn't get the benefit of the doubt, to say the least.

    It's worth saying, from time to time, that you stand for something greater than yourself, and it's worth re-affirming your dedication and commitment. That's all this is, and I thought you should know.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:03 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

    September 04, 2005

    If Kanye West Is Racist

    If Kanye West is racist, then so is every reader of Dean's World.

    As the founder of The Conservative Brotherhood, and being something of an intellectual evil genius, I often have some strange feelings about being less popular in the blogosphere than I believe I should be. As well, I concern myself with the ability of the blogosphere to be an adequate broker of information of concern to Americans. The root of my problem devolves to one essential fact - whites are too popular. In short, no matter what you choose to make of it, there are white owned and operated blogs that will continue to be more effective in disseminating information about blackfolks and black culture than those which are black owned and operated. This unfortunate fact is not, however, racist.

    For the sake of brevity, let's call this reasoning existential. All things being equal, people choose bloggers to read because at a personal level, they connect with the writer. They do so because they hear a voice, and that voice speaks to them in the way they want to be spoken to. Even though they may not always agree, it is that tone of voice they adhere to.

    So let's consider this axiomatic and evaluate what has just gone down with respect to the great temptation for somebody to call somebody racist, in the context of the New Orleans catastrophe. I submit to you that many of us, drawn to the subjects of race, could have but very few of us should have and that Kanye West is the wrong target. Dean has succumed to the temptation, and draws an interesting loop of logicians attending the discussion.

    One theme of this disaster, quickly and easily identifyable by those of us on the Right, is the relative wisdom of depending on government for one's well-being. And my Brotherhood mates were quick to point this out, but not without some considerable hesitation. Nobody sane wants to appear to be callous with regard to the fate of those people suffering greatly in New Orleans. But their is no way to avoid that singular principle of Left vs Right. The very suggestion that Nagin or anyone would tell the poor blackfolks of NOLA, "you're on your own" is either an article of faith (for the Right) or an abandonment of duty (for the Left). And yet the very severity of this crisis has made that matter unavoidable. By definition, those poorest, weakest, blackfolks were inevitably going to be hurt most by any disaster. What would be a poor excuse for anyone capable is going to be a fact of life for somebody else.

    I count myself as a member one of the many families who have seen the good and bad, but on the whole sad news that although all of us are accounted for, we have lost property - homes, jobs, pets. And if I would be so bold as suggest it, I would bet the majority of these families took one clue from Nagin "you're on your own" and got the hell out of Dodge with no further government assistance.

    I don't listen to Kanye West. But there is no question about the fact that his business is black cultural production. Hiphop is not all there is to black culture, far from it. But he was stating the truth, he just didn't qualify it the way a politician would. Is there anybody who would question whether or not GWBush listens to Kanye West's music? Of course he doesn't. Is there anyone who questions whether or not West's music has special appeal to blackfolks? Of course not. If there is any reality to the fact that West's primary audience are black and that they are not part of the Bush electorate? So why is it racist to acknowledge this - surely there are plenty of other reasons why West's people don't like Bush and vice versa.

    Hell I'm black and Republican and conservative and GWBush, as the head of the Republican party doesn't care about me. So really, how much of a stretch is West making? None. And there's nothing racist about it.

    What is anyone to make of the fact that GWBush mentioned Trent Lott's house in his first public statements? Why didn't he find the most troubled person from the ghettoes of New Orleans and say *their* house would be first to be rebuilt? One hardly need think twice to know that's exactly the kind of press conference that Bill Clinton would have staged? This is not in either case, West's or Bush's anything more that them speaking to their constituencies.

    If we cannot be comfortable in acknowledging that people are different without drawing it into simplfied racial terms, then we are not going to be able to deal with the real complexities of the underlying politics. Ultimately all Dean is saying by labelling West 'racist' is that West's politics are bankrupt and not worth any consideration. It's the end of negotiation. So now you have to dismiss that camp with prejudice. And who are the followers of Kanye West? A bunch of racists? Hardly.

    So this is where so many of the analysts of this issue fall flat. They don't give any consideration to how these constituencies are constituted other than a simplistic racial demographic. And it's simply black & white and not even mildly ethnic. What happened to the Latinos here?

    Now it doesn't surprise me that all the angles are taken into consideration. After all, I'm just jumping into the trackbacks now. I think my audience understands a bit more about this tricky territory.

    So I'll make a couple quick hits and take questions from the audience.

    I'm rather surprised that people don't seem to be ready to recognize that all the shootings we've witnessed in New Orleans this past week were probably going to happen anyway. Only this time the victims weren't the same 'poor black' folks in the ghetto, but rescue workers. New Orleans is a murder a day city, and its been like that for a long time. Nevertheless, McMillan's main thrust is well-taken. There is a special kind of poverty we have in America where thousands of people too obese to walk or work have motorized chairs subsidized by Medicaid. Now we're forced to look at them.

    Yet when Goldstein is ready to get into a verbal war over this, I don't think he realizes what he's getting into. What is Kanye West saying which is substantially different than 'Blame Bush'? And if we're going to bring Moynihan into the mix then it's clear we're headed straight into 'blame the victim' territory. That's difficult enough to negotiate in peacetime, which is one of the reasons I've had my piece on Moynihan in draft for over a month. It's going to be a very tough slog to bring all this weight over the dead floating bodies of poor blacks in New Orleans, and that's only going to hurt, not help.

    I'm finding lots of reason to enjoy RightWing Nuthouse, primarily because of the new timeline posted there. However Rick Moran has loaded up a big gun and is shooting it off in the air to get attention just like the ruffians in the ghetto. It may very well backfire for him as well. Remember I said so.

    Race isn't simply culture, it's class and politics too and until people start putting those three things together into identifyable quantities, blackfolks are going to get blamed for everything whitefolks want to blame them for, without specificity. There will always be one person to prove the point, which demonstrates how small a point it actually is.http://sixmeatbuffet.com/archives/2005/09/02/george-bush-doesnt-care-about-black-people/#comment-7534


    I find it mildly amusing that a few others who have blogged about West's apparent idiocy have never heard of him before today. That would include Dave and PunditGuy. Again, this underscores my point about who elect whom to speak for blackfolks. Just check out the comments at this joint

    Posted by mbowen at 06:54 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

    August 29, 2005

    Off the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

    I've checked out two of the winners of last night's award ceremonies. I'm not so sure who produces the 'VMAs', but I gather it's MTV Networks, that tremendously successful American multibillion dollar corporation. I put it that way because although they are peddlers of a sort, what they are selling is the culture between cultures. For us in the West, MTV and Hollywood provide a very valuable service, if only we know how to appreciate it.

    Green Day's winning entry 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' is a very good piece of the truth. Watching the protagonist walk through poses of anomie, every word of his lyrics rung true:

    I walk a lonely road
    The only one that I have ever known
    Don't know where it goes
    But it's home to me and I walk alone

    I walk this empty street
    On the boulevard of broken dreams
    Where the city sleeps
    And I'm the only one and I walk alone
    I walk alone I walk alone
    I walk alone I walk a-

    My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
    My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
    Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
    'Till then I walk alone

    Except that his band members are walking with him, it's actually a video, and last night confirms that it's the most popular video of all. How does one balance this contradiction? A generation ago, another great poseur of our age, Sting, sung about loneliness. In the resolution we found:

    Walked out this morning
    Don't believe what I saw
    A hundred billion bottles
    Washed up on the shore
    Seems I'm not alone at being alone
    A hundred billion casatways
    Looking for a home

    I've walked down Hollywood Boulevard in the wee hours of the morning feeling as alone as anyone possibly can. And I've looked at the torn pages of my little black book and narrowed the hundred names to seven and counted the reasons I am forever bound and yet lost to them. I have heaved the shudder with my back against the dumpster and watch the tears drop on my silk sweater. We all have. That's the point.

    At some moment, it becomes clear, that we are all alone in this world together. But until you reach that moment of clarity, you are a danger to yourself and to others. Without the realization that your pain is the same, you black your own eyes, you muss your own hair. If you're an American man, you become an icon of yourself and you see yourself in the haggard faces of every video star. You keep it real.

    The 'real' of MTV Networks, that hugely successful multibillion dollar American corporation, is the image of despair. The kind of world-weary pose of knowing it's all shit, and here I am a survivor, won't somebody send me somebody to love. It's done in every flavor, for every MTV sub-demographic. One of my favorite music groups, The Gorillaz, have done it in animated form. They won the other award - but the snagga-tooth alienation is there too, drenched in irony of 'Feel Good Inc.' That's who MTV is, Feel Good Inc, but only if you know how to properly use their product.

    As I said, the product, has the bite of truth, and the truth is that the world can be a hideously destructive place. And people who walk those cold streets (me and you) grow souls that are as large as the stage of the Video Music Awards, and though they mumble and stumble, the 'real' that they know imprints itself on their hearts. But everybody gets that. Because everybody gets it, MTV gets rich selling it to everybody who thinks their pity party is the only one happening. But it's not. Everybody who watches this stuff on the regular is crying into their meth stash as well. The whole world is lonely, ugly, soulful, real. Everybody knows that things fall apart.

    So how do babies get made?

    Babies get made by accident for people who starve themselves so they can look 'real'. Men who hide under hoodies with their eyes like Jawas, women who pierce and tattoo themselves numb. They despair of the prospect of 'bringing a baby into this world' because they've only lived in the selfish part of the real. They've only lived in the self-pitying pain of it all. They haven't realized that us is all we've got and in that world where things fall apart on the regular and those who keep it together. And we go back to the Premature Autopsies:

    But there is another truth and that truth passes through time in the very same way an irresistible force passes through an immovable object. That’s what I said: this truth is so irresistible that it passes through immoveable objects. It is the truth of a desire for a refined and impassioned portrait of the presence and the power and the possibilities of the human spirit.

    That's the part where you throw your hands in the air and wave them like you actually care. Where you tell people don't shoot up the place because there's somebody here tonight who should be having your baby, baby. And inside of all that pain and suffering of a world constantly falling apart, and not in spite of, but because of your knowledge of all that, you wash your face extra clean and do everything to bring joy and honor and dignity and love.

    You're not likely to see, anytime soon, any product sold by MTV Networks, that powerful and influential massive media conglomerate, that celebrates joy and honor and dignity and love. They can't sell that. The reason is because only human beings can generate that stuff and since we do it out of our souls, it's free, and no substitute can equal it. You cannot sell the joy spring - it's buried deep in the soul. You can sell tickets to a party and hope people infuse it with the right spirit but that's up to chance. What you can sell for sure are visions of despair.

    When you recognize the power and the possibilities of the human spirit, you're ready to have babies. If you're still wallowing on the boulevard of broken dreams, stay away from mine. But if you're living on the dark side and you have an accident, try to keep in mind that life itself is the only miracle. You are not alone.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:18 AM | TrackBack

    August 13, 2005

    Poor Brothers

    John Singleton has earned my permanent wrath as a storyteller in black and white. It started as the kind of hate only poets can sustain, way back in the early 90s when he broke onto the scene with Boyz N The Hood. Of course it was his trumpeted brilliance as a USC Film student that got me interested in the first place. But the fact of the matter is I hate how he eviscerated all of my bourgie friends in the Dons from his filmic vision of the emerging myth of Southcentral LA. I can't remember which one of the two gave me greater heartburn, Terry McMillan or John Singleton. But that was then.

    Today, it cannot be argued that Singleton is anything but an accomplished and mature filmmaker. So there are really no excuses to be had for his latest film 'Four Brothers'.

    FB lies in the space between action and drama, a good story and clever entertainment. In the end, the thing it's not is a smart and funny film. It's almost smart and almost funny. In the end, the whole thing just breaks apart when you realize that somehow you are suppsed to feel empathy for a gang of brothers who shot up half of Detroit in a vendetta against the killers of their mother.

    The timing and the editing of this film is just miserable. Too many shots of actors looking off in the distance behind the camera. Turn the camera around, dammit. Too many drawn out scenes.. ah. It could have been better but it wasn't.

    Since I'm feeling rather combattive and restive this evening, I'll just cruise around looking for people to defend Singleton's singularly gritty hard-knock life. This one could have been fun like 'Biker Boyz' but I think he scotched the potential of this one.

    I give it 72%

    Posted by mbowen at 08:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    July 30, 2005

    The Island

    I was surprised that 'The Island' opened weakly last week. I had a bit of a hankering to see it based on the crash bang smash em up preview I saw. It rather amazed me that I had not seen more marketing, like I have for 'Stealth' which I truly have no desire to see. Today, after having seen it, I would say that I have something of an emotional investment in wanting it to be big.

    'The Island' is a spicy mix of The Matrix, Soylent Green and Logan's Run. It's lit like a video and has one of the least contrived story lines I've seen in the action genre. I basically bought the emotional hook, which has to do with emotions of 15 year old kids. Michael Clarke Duncan has a fabulous couple of scenes.

    With the best car crashes since Bad Boys II, Island delivers but good when it comes to chase scenes. Michael Bay's relatively near future Los Angeles is nicely believable although simplified, and the set design of concrete, chrome and glass come close to Speilberg's 'Minority Report'.

    The concept of 'The Island' is rather simple and it is so well developed in the mystery of the narrative that it would truly be a spoiler to reveal it. Since this discovery is what basically adds kick to all the action I won't. Bay, unlike Speilberg, does not give us a set of open-ended imponderables upon which to meditate, nor does he give us great depth and resonance, but there was no time when I jumped out of the skin of the characters to a level of not caring. The thrill of survival and discovery remains to animate the action.

    Second to Sahara, I'll say this is the best action flick of the season. Way better than Fantastic Four.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    July 26, 2005


    Restaurant Halie in Pasadena on Green Street is a treat.

    The spousal unit and I enjoyed a long lazy dinner at Halie the other night. It was a lovely experiment. Halie is big old converted building with a small courtyard out front. We dined in the main room with the big old fireplace and high ceilings and deep red walls. The tables are spaced out from each other and in that combination gives you a sense of intimacy in a big room.

    I realize that I'm not likely ever to become a wine snob. A crispy margarita straight up is just fine. And so I started with that. I got a bowl of seafood bisque. As you know I'm a big fan of bisques. This one was buttery on the edge of too much, and since we split it into two bowls, we spoiled the balance. I got too much cream and butter in my side. Next I had a plate of mussels. Now this was done just right, and the broth it came in was so delicious that I was mopping it up with my bread.

    For the main course, I had several medallions of caribou in creamed spinach, mushrooms and a light brown sauce with truffle mashed potatoes. It was a toss up between the hare & squab and the caribou, but relatively speaking, you can get hare anywhere. I made sure that I filled up on the mussels just in case I might not like the caribou, but it was sensational and perfect for spinach. It's got a texture somewhat lighter than beef and a taste somewhat heavier than lamb with interestingly indescribable high notes. Whatever 'gamey' is, this was not, and it works just right medium rare.

    Halie is a culinary adventure with a no nonsense attitude. Simple, classy, anti-trendy. The wine list is superb and affordable and the service is top notch. I just love how our waiter responded with 'of course' to our every request.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 12, 2005

    War of the Worlds: Scary As Hell

    One of the reasons that I walk some streets at night is because I have some street smarts. The reason cops are relatively fearless is because they train. All this is to say that some dangers are manageable, precisely because of experience and training. When you know what's coming, you can deal. When you have no idea what's coming or even what's possible, you freak. Steven Spielberg has freaked me out.

    What separates War of the Worlds from just about every other science fiction film in memory is that there is no science. This film is told from the point of view of a blue collar deadbeat dad who has no clue what is going on. There is no news report voiceover, there is no embattled scientist trying to prove his theory was correct, there is no government conspiracy revealed, no succession of battle plans discussed and implemented. There is just a dad, his kids, and trying to figure out how the hell to survive in a world without answers.

    When things start going boom in this film, everybody's first question is 'Is it terrorists?'. This is kind of cute and funny, and I did have that in mind as I wrote cartoons and essays today and yesterday. It has become tedious to hear what terrorists are doing these days. Terrorists are as lethal as lightning and just about as predictable. But the first thing Speilberg does is invert the predictability of lightning storms, that's a very neat trick. When the first machine stirs underground, the asphalt is not hot, but cold.

    This is a film that, if you are ready to roll with it, gives very little insight as to the nature of the threat. You want to ask what, how and why, but then the person next to you is vaporized. The film gives no time for analysis, there are simply moments of shock and awe and the adrenaline rush of deadly necessity. My nickel says that everyone who hates this movie does so because it is so short on explanation. Well, there is also Tom Cruise who is about as emotionally simpathetic as Martin Short is heroic. Was the film miscast? Yeah.. if you ask me, it should have been Bruce Willis, or better yet Willam Dafoe, but I'm not here to try to prove I know casting better than Speilberg. Rather I am particularly impressed as I was with 'Saving Private Ryan' that he has once again changed the nature of the genre by giving his film an extraordinary chaos that changes the nature of the narrative. In War of the Worlds, less science makes for more terror. This is his new verisimilitude; no way to Google a context.

    The film is full of clever and not-so-clever devices; an actual reporter shows the news face to face that she ordinarily would have broadcast from her van, if only there were a station to pick up the signal. Cool. How tired are the news voice-overs? Tom Cruise drives his minivan through the compacted debris field of a plane wreck. Uncool, I'm sorry but that was just fake. Unless one of the alien machines snatched the plane out of the air and dropped it vertically, it would have been a great deal more scattered. A train on fire runs through a crossing at 60 miles per hour. Devastatingly cool. That was pure genius. A field of blood greets Cruise as he searches for his daughter. Uh. Yuck, and well, that's a hell of a lot of blood.

    There are some very cool battlefield scenes, the sound editing and direction of this film is superb. The alien machines are as frightening as promised. I have a feeling that he spent a lot of time engineering them to be psychologically fearsome.

    I did spend some time thinking of ways to get around the enemy attacks during the film. The machines seemed to be fairly coherent in their actions, as if they were operated by a single mind. They didn't appear to coordinate their attacks. I couldn't be certain, but there appeared to be several different types of machine - they seemed to vary in size and power. They clearly only attacked frontally and seemed to pick their targets at random. Those that consumed humans appeared to move a bit slower and be single threaded in their actions, and they clearly worked with a terroristic intent giving their victims and witnesses plenty of time to be scared. Of course any and all of these characteristics might have been done for the effect of the narrative rather than to accurately depict the capabilities of such alien weapons.

    The emotional centerpiece of this film was awkward and unbalanced. I was already somewhat prepared for it and its failure left me wanting. This is, of course, the basement scene where the aliens try to find a safe place for their kids to hang out, having unsuccessfully rid it of humans who thought it was safe for themselves. In fact, it turned out so badly that I'm not sure if it's reasonable to say the film had an emotional centerpiece. It's Cruise's fault of course. His emotional distance from his kids is supposed to be central to the film, and yet he never quite seems to bridge that gap. I can't tell if Speilberg wanted it that way or if Cruise is so horrible an actor that I can't even believe he understands children. Given what Dakota Fanning did in 'Man on Fire' with Denzel Washington, I tend to believe that Cruise is deeply flawed as an actor here. I'm sure I have plenty of good company on that score.

    None of that changes the ways and means War of the Worlds does actually work. Speilberg seems to have captured the emotions of crowds perfectly, what other directors do with CGI armies on battlefields Speilberg has done with hundreds of extras, and he's nailed it. One of these days he's going to make a film about refugees that is going to destroy us emotionally. Given Schindler's List, it's just a matter of time. Despite its flaws, War of the Worlds, is a truly chilling horror flick and a real departure from your standard sci-fi.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 10, 2005

    A Theory of Idea Circulation

    It occured to me as I was reading P6 this the other morning tangential to the Memin Pinguin kerfuffle. (I'm going to use that word because it's just right for that level of nonsense masquerading as a serious issue.) The idea is that despite the fact that black blogs are not media powerhouses, that at this point in their maturity, they do in fact capture the vast expanse of black opinion.

    I wrote:

    I mean I agree entirely that Jackson is just the type to suck oxygen away from sites like P6, but you also have to consider the probability that everything that needs to be said is actually being said and there basically *is* no greater political interactivity in black communities. I mean even if you go to Wyatt Tee Walker's church in Harlem, Sunday is a one way discussion, and the mumbling after church isn't captured because there's no need to. What's captured in black political sites like P6 is the entirety of black opinion.

    My biggest gripe with this site is that the discussion threads are so haphazardly named that it makes it almost impossible for me to tell what subjects are being handled. But I don't doubt they are being handled at some respectable level.

    Everything else is just advocacy. And that means the same thing everywhere. Money and pressing the flesh. But there are no more ideas that need expression 'from the community' - those would just be exemplary details.

    Leave my gripe aside for the moment. What exactly is it that we expect from the community but a assent to ideas we want to attribute to them? Either 'the community' wants school vouchers or they don't. But the arguments pro and con are going to be spinning endlessly. How much do people need to think about it.

    I think we in the intellectual elite have been cowed by the notion that there is some extraordinary 'grass roots' phenomena that is not essentially captured in our debates. If there is, I would submit that it is nothing more than chaos, solopsism or force of personality. Let me stress as clearly as I can that what we pundits do is control the publicity of rationale. All the logic in the world is pretty much out there, but the reasons those charged with making the final decision is are different from our own and everyone elses. Right now, there doesn't seem to be a way to change or deal with that.

    We are not changing what people can think, we are influencing how they think by giving them paths of rationality towards our opinions and away from the opinions of our opponents. I think this is (heh) an interesting way to think about the business of all punditry, whether it be MSM or New Media. In other words we are not owners of the ideas, we are facilitators between people's emotions and their decisions. We offer a publically referenceable decision making augmentation process. This is a great value add, especially if and when people can accept and vibe with our existentials.

    I need to say that I think is one of the more profound insights I have come upon. The reason that I'm here is because of the confluence of events that have transpired for me in the past few weeks with regard to my acknowledgement of the value of progressive politics in African America, my broadcast TV debut as Cobb and my recognition of the value of porch conversations.

    Speaking of porch conversations, I may as well reference 'Rize' while I'm at it. The other thing I neglected to mention about the film is how much it works as an almost transparent proxy for the 'voices' of those 'inner city kids' with a very solid parallel to Gwaltney. This underscores my decision not to second-guess blackfolks. These krumpers know very well the value of their lives. One doesnt' need to be a social scientist to understand all that. They don't need 'leaders', and in many ways don't seem to need politics at all. I'm saying is that this is not exceptional. It wasn't so surprising for me to find the truth and beauty of their youthful energy as it was surprising for me to find how well the film captured it without editorializing into the context of a white liberal monologue on the significance.

    So let me come back up to the top and capturing the vast expanse of black or public opinion by those of us in the chatting classes. What is very valuable, as was quite well explained by Dubner to Charlie Rose last week when describing his role in the book 'Freakonomics', is the skill of a writer making ideas accessible. Yes there are some specialists who can do it - Carl Sagan could do the science and he could also explain the science - but such individuals are rare. Some politicians can are stars as well. Bill Clinton could walk the wonk walk and talk the public talk. We blog-pundits offer the same service but our audience isn't quite as well-defined yet. I believe that we are offering something to our large literate public what it has long needed, an order of magnitude more lines of rationale and existential models into the big ideas that shape our society. But let us not make the mistake about whose ideas those are or in which direction the power flows.

    In due time, there will be a new kind of arrangement of discourse with the public and the New Media which will improve on our system of press conferences, gucci shoe lobbiests, etc. I think the lowered cost of communications, the distributed nature of the future power structures and the greater diversity of the American polity make this inevitable.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    July 09, 2005

    Rize: An Hermetic Gift

    I have finally managed to squeeze off a few hours of free time, and so I witnessed the Rize documentary first-hand. Nicely.

    For the dancer in me, I am stunned at how swiftly the articulations subdue the context. All of the 'bam' moments of which there are a good dozen in the flick - the dance floor equivalents of a basketball reject - are almost subsumed into the cuts. It's as if LaChapelle was wary of capturing moments of dance in order to leave more for the future of filming the form.

    What's nicely done about 'Rize' is that in the end it feels very much like a gift of a cinematographer to his subjects. He has understood just enough and crafted just enough of a narrative and captured just enough of the life to frame the dancing itself - for the dancers. It's as if he said 'tell me the story of your dancing, and show me your dancing, and I will tell it back to you on film'. And while it doesn't feel as though we in the audience are opening somebody else's present, it does feel like a present nonetheless. In that I mean to suggest that the documentary doesn't project so much as one might expect from the opening sequences. Here's South LA, a dangerous, impoverished place, and here are some kids in it.

    There's enough of a continuity in this dancing, though you won't hear it editorialized, that I find many aspects of it as a direct descendent of the kind of dancing I did as a kid, and into my adulthood. About one of the last times I did dance on the regular, at joints like 'Giant Step' in Los Feliz and the West Village in the early 90s, I could feel that feeling. And in recent months, with my abortive attempt at Capoeira, some of that energy was in my bones. In my chair I could feel my own interpretations taking place, starting with pieces of the Bankhead Bounce. I'll have to do some more, me and my gut, to say what more there is to say.

    What I like about the style itself, if there's much more of a distinction between clowning and krumping, is the collaborative style of krump. The yanking and the pulling right at the 'bam' moment is really arresting. The momentum that could be gotten out of these moves must certainly be some of where the form has gone since the filming, or at least one hopes.

    I hope there's more to see of this.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 06, 2005

    Hiphop Lit: The Serious Question

    Chances are that if they come, they'll come through Bomani or perhaps through Negrophile. There's no direct link between Honeysoul and here and EJFlavors doesn't do links any longer. I live in the same town as Mister JT but we don't know each other. So that's why I ask a question that might not be answered.

    Who is the best hiphop author?

    What is the literature of the today's hiphoppers? There has got to be something to grab onto here. See, I'm tempted to come out the side of my neck, but I really want an honest answer - and I'll roll with that.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:46 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    The Sound of the Drum

    I've been sharing MP3s with a 70 year old man who gets bored with all the interpretations of Coltrane because right about now all the disagreements are agreed to. He's having a bit of a time distinguishing Black Sheep from Black Eyed Peas but that won't last for long because I know this man as Pops, and he doesn't sleep. You see all those MP3s are my rips of everything under iTunes under the label 'hiphop'. Every once in a while he mumbles something about a candy store, and I still don't know what he's talking about.

    So yesterday before it got dark and the fog rolled over and squashed the biggest boom the pyrotechnicians could explode, I peeped his copy of the big fat detailed book of hiphop that people been buzzin' bout.

    After skimming a good third of the book in rapid fashion, I found several things worth saying. And so I said it to Y, one of the few people who know as much about Jessye Norman as they know about Mandrill. which is to say plenty. She, like I, has that annoying habit of squirting out title, artist and year whenever the music changes within 5 seconds of the opening note. I have to confess that she's faster and more comprehensive. And so when the 80s band at Wilson Park, Night Ranger, played Bow Wow Wow, I had to shutup and give props. And the simple fact is that she is older both me and Jimi (but not put together). Still before that, I had the moment - and the better part of wisdom is knowing precisely when it's time to respond, even if you're not called - and I said that that young man Jeff Chang was entirely too quick to dismiss Malcolm McLaren and made too much of the Zulu Nation.

    Now Y and I had been commiserating all afternoon over filling in the gaps in 1975. It came down to a lot of ConFunkShun and Kool when it was time to exchange bytes, but we had also done a lot of thinking about Lonnie Liston Smith and most especially Cuba Gooding's group, The Main Ingredient. Which brings me to a confession about 1975 and my father's Webcor. I made a 7 inch reel that summer at 7.5 ips, and spent untold hours writing my own liner notes and calligraphic letters on the custom cover that I designed. The two greatest songs on that reel were 'Rolling Down a Mountainside' and Al Green's 'Take Me to the River'. I shouldn't jab but Y agrees that Luther's version got nothing on Major Harris. That was the summer of 1975 and we had just only begun to get back to it, irony of ironies that Pops wants 2005.

    When I took my daughter's braids out the other night, I decided that we'd watch a DVD together for the 90 minutes of mutual tedium, pain and love. I went to the shelf and pulled the first volume of Jeeves and Wooster. PG Wodehouse has a new 8 year old fan. I've been forgetting something about PG Wodehouse. It's his English, not the King's that makes Jeeves and Wooster all that. As dashed topping as it is to suck up that world, I have to force myself to remember that I'm watching through his brilliant eye. History belongs to the drummers.

    And so now, when I damned well ought to be sleep, I'm caught once again in the drum circle over the spirits of hiphop, that thread of blackness we are all forced to grapple with because of the insistence of that spirit and that thing it does to us with enough nerve to put bits into the ether, pen to paper, hand onto skin.

    So it occurs to me as I figure a way to leave this and catch my winks that we have to roll with the context. The long view and the interweaving is what's going to keep the beats echoing. That's about life, meaning that it's not about anybody's life in particular. That's the thing to remember when you're dealing with spirits - they pass through you like an irresitable force, and trying to make your hand remain your own hand on the drum just makes for an ideosyncracy in the rhythm. That's your moment, but your moment comes and goes. So there will always be someone to remind you that Luther was second, and maybe even third to say Love Won't Let Me Wait.

    It's always good that there are another umpdeump thousand words trying to carry the spirit of the boogie. Detail is good, it's evocative of your own dislocation. So Chang's obsession with the South Bronx brings my South Los Angeles into sharp focus (and half that story ain't never been told). Even Bam's hand only defines his moment. Give him this, Bambataa understood that he could only say 'Here's a perfect beat for you'. It wasn't the perfect beat, it was an offering.

    And so here we are still serving the spirit, trying to be a drummer for history. That's what can't stop.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    July 05, 2005

    Schneier's Next

    I don't often say so, but in my world some of my greatest fascinations lie with economics, the nuclear industry, and espionage. I've never really said that out loud in that order and it strikes me that the combination of the three would make for a fairly interesting airport paperback. In fact, I'm sure I've read a Marcinko like that.

    So on the heels of the last book I read 'My Life as a Quant' and while Cortazar's short stories are still open, I have started Bruce Schneier's 'Beyond Fear'. I love the way this guy thinks and I wouldn't mind studying what he's written for a long time. Even though this book is light on the geek factor, I am finding it to be one of those great books that capture something seminal about the way our society works.

    Here is a man who understands the emergent behavior or complex systems and how we make security decisions in our daily behavior. These are the true dynamics of our society and I see very broad implications in understanding these interactions, not just in how they relate to security, but all of the systems we inhabit and tweak.

    So far it's adding up to be a very good read. I think Schneier sees things as well as John McPhee.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:39 PM | TrackBack

    July 03, 2005

    The Black Political Spectrum

    In my unceasing efforts to distinguish and differentiate African Americans from the monolithic reductions imposed upon them, I add yet another breakout for your consideration.

    This comes after some thought about what it is about VisionCircle that I do and do not like and what is behind my finding political debate in the blogosphere increasingly tiresome. I have claimed for myself the somewhat odd lineage of the progressive side of the Old School. I have discovered that from the national perspective this makes me a Moderate Republican, a geopolitical neocon and a mainline Hayekian as well as one mostly in line with the Chicago School of economics. (Thanks Quizilla). But it doesn't explain why I continue to pay so much attention to non-conservatives, and why the Free Republic isn't in my blogroll.

    I have discovered that the reason primarily owes to my respect for the Progressive tradition in African American politics.

    We have touched on the differences between 'conservative blacks' and 'black conservatives' and while that has been useful to a certain extent, it's a bit to personal for my tastes. It leaves too much sting and ad hominem on the 'black conservative' label which inevitably leads to notions of 'race treachery'. What that evokes once more is the errant notion that black unity is destiny and that the coalition of African American interest that assembled during the 60s is not only inevitable but permanent. I think a more accurate telling of the story of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement acknowledges that many different classes of Negroes from different regions and backgrounds found common ground with themselves, whitefolks and people from around the world for a brief period. I identify three main streams of thought emerging from that period as Liberal, Progressive and Conservative.

    I will not attempt to map out an entire taxonomy of buckets and litmus tests for these groups, but there is something more than "I know 'em when I see 'em." going on here. The greatest difference between the streams, in my estimation, are their respective orientations to the mainstream of American society. I think it is especially appropriate to consider this for Independence Day. We have clearly inherited the American tradition of free political thought and as blacks, expressed it in three ways.

    The Black Liberal Tradition
    The black liberal presumption is that the mainstream of American society is largely rich and corrupt, and owes something of its redemption in tribute to blackfolks. It sees American iniquity and wealth as an annuity that should accrue to its downtrodden and oppressed, and focuses its political energy in both keeping this idea alive and finding every instance applicable. In this tradition, the core of black life is survival against an implacable System, of subversion and revolutionary triumph. It should come as no surprise that there are deeply held socialist credos at work. The patron saints of the black liberal tradition are Harriet Tubman and the pre-mecca Malcolm X its poets laureate Audre Lorde and Tupac Shakur. Their aim is to escape and fight. They insist that black America is too different, it's history too painful. It says to America, all you can do for me is shutup and fix me a sandwich.

    The Black Progressive Tradition
    The black progressive presumption is that 'there is much work to be done' to the American Mainstream to make it acceptable. Of the three traditions, it is the most pro-black and independent. To the black progressive, any idea or concept that isn't vetted by a black intellectual vanguard is suspect. It wants to design an organic vision of the future which is specifically crafted by black people for black people. It sees America as a country that has simply not been designed with blackfolks in mind, a country that requires significant reform in order to be compatible with the destiny of the African American. Their mission is to establish that reform and insure that everybody gets with the program. The patron saint of the progressives is W.E.B DuBois and its poet laureate is Carter Woodson. For the progessive, knowledge is power. They aim to be the underground hiphop, the drop squad, the boule, the nouveau Negroes, the New World Afrikans and all things cutting edge. They are creative, innovative and sophisticated. All of their ideas and terminologies change every 7 years.

    The Black Conservative Tradition
    To black conservatives, the American mainstream is no more and no less than it needs to be. The black conservatives say give me that old time religion, it's good enough for me. Their attitude is that America is just fine, and if you could put down your pride and figure out how to live in it, you'd be just fine too. Black conservatives say that everything blacks need for success is right in front of their faces and it focuses its political energy in trying to urge blackfolks to use tried and true methods. They say that the destiny of the African American is lockstep with the destiny of America and the existentials of blackness is more hindrance than help. Stop trying to make blackness more than the color of your skin, they say, and the importance of skin color will evaporate - the sooner the better. The patron saints of the conservatives are Booker T. Washington and Colin Powell. Its poet laureate is Thomas Sowell.

    I have cast my lot with the conservatives primarily owing to the fact that I have come to accept that the public we have is all the public we get. In other words, I don't see much practical use in black attempts to reform American society. The great strength of conservatism lies in its ability to make use of the status quo. The liberal looks at the status quo with contempt, sees a hopeless situation and seeks to extract a ransom which supports the only valuable pieces. The progressive looks at the status quo with condescention and seeks to create an island of advanced rationality within it. The conservative looks at the status quo with disbelief and seeks to exploit its very nature.

    The conservative's disbelief of the status quo owes to his inate understanding that things fall apart. So if things are not falling apart, there must be something people believe strongly that are holding things together - that something must be the strength of the system. Grab hold of those things and make them your advantage - defend them at all costs, otherwise everything will fall apart.

    African Americans, with respect to their history in this nation, must confront their single worst enemy, racism, (white supremacy more properly) in order to formulate political strategies. The question of the racism of the status quo is very likely the strongest determinating factor in which direction is taken. If one take the liberal route, it can be accurately inferred that the individual percieves racism as a permanent and implacable foe in American society. The best one can expect to do is get what you can in a society determined to destroy the African. This is the driving force in black liberal politics. To the progressive, racism is a symptom of the stupidity and erroneous notions that an unwashed majority posesses. The strategy is therefore to fight that ignorance and expand the ways and means of anti-racism until such point as it is the majority sentiment. The progressive thereby defeats the greatest foe of the African American. The conservative perceives racism as an enemy that defeats the weak, that the very existence of African Americans proves they possess something that survives it. Therefore their strategy is not to fight the racism of the world, but to grab ahold of the principles that guarantee survival against it.

    I believe that the primary gripes between African Americans with regard to their political affilliation can be explained along these lines. I will refer to this taxonomy in the future.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:22 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

    July 01, 2005

    A Buppie Rejoinder on the Death of R&B

    I'm reading Mark Anthony Neal's three parter and I've run over the rumblestrips of the term 'organic' once too many. So I'd like to run some commentary in parallel from the bap & buppie perspective.

    This is already inside poker, but I'm not too stingy to offer a few hints. Baps are black American princes/princesses and buppies are like yuppies, just black. These are the people I partied with in from the Dons, back in the days of which Neal speaks, and there are just some things I gotta speak on. He paints a nicely complicated history but one that doesn't shy away from dropping a conspiracy theory nor painting over-glowing portraits of pre-dirty south gutbucket blues in that way that academics chasing 'authentic voices of the people' do. I, for one, have never heard of Denise LaSalle or Archie Brownlee. The one thing that could have made his series more awesome than it is would have been some quotes from the artists and managers themselves. His presumptions about the way recording artists dealt with the forces of the industry are just that, presumptions. What we cannot see are the motivations of those other than the putatively culture stealing kingpins at the top of the heap. He wants to follow the money, I want to follow the music and the musicians.

    Let's pick-up somewhere between Wilson Pickett and Whodini.

    Out here in LA at the foot of Baldwin Hills and the edge of Culver City were the sons and daughters of first, second and third generation college graduates. During the 70s we were the bleeding edge of integration, attending private schools with the sons and daughters of white privilege. We brought our Bar Kays and Mother's Finest they brought their Foghat and Led Zep. Some of their stuff wasn't bad, and some of them thought the same. So despite their tendency to steal the basketball straight off the brothers' court and run and ours to initiate stomps without telling them the rules, our musical tastes rubbed off on each other.

    So by 1980 lots of brothers and sisters like me were not only diggin' on easy stuff like Steely Dan and Toto, but harder stuff like Pat Benetar. Our parents may not have liked Rick James' Funk & Roll but we were responding to the hard rock guitar licks not only of the Stone City Band and the Isleys, but of the original Walk This Way and AC/DC too. I have yet find a brother (not that I do surveys) who didn't feel the Doobie's China Grove or Stanley Clarke's hardest rock fusion.

    But that wasn't the only distraction from the monopoly of R&B. It was the synthesizer. Starting deep in the bowls of funk was the magnificence that was George Duke, but let us not forget the king prototype black geek: Larry Dunn of Earth Wind & Fire surrounded by keyboards and synthesizers. What would hiphop be without Kraftwerk and Bambataa? What was Donna Summer without Giorgio Moroder? It can be reasonably said in retrospect that the vibe established by Herbie Hancock's Rockit has never been eclipsed in hiphop, but the love for systhesizer music had been a long time coming and took black kids out into David Bowie territory along with a lot of the New Wave acts of the 80s.

    So between 1978 and 1988 my cohort was doing a hell of a lot of partying and hiphop was just a part of that. With the rhythm it took to live through what we had to dance to, you could dance to new wave and not get white. We were the ones who suffered through the bad old days of Midnight Star and Newcleus but broke out with the Family, The Time, Orbit, ABC and Thomas Dolby. We survived on Roger Troutman in the days when hiphop was still half-witted and half-baked. Unless you lived in the South Bronx, there was no sophistication to hiphop, nor a reason to expect much from it. And it wasn't until the debut of groups like Loose Ends, Tone Toni Tony [sic, I know], Guy that it was worth turning back to black radio stations which had developed a serious aversion to the music that worth listening and dancing to. Nothing quite said it like the two underground hits that had my crew on fire 'Irresistable Bitch' and 'Tricky'.

    The early 80s was a hectic time of transition for the tastes of black college students. We had, on one hand, Paul Hardcastle, Art of Noise, Arif Mardin and Scritti Politti with the leading edge stuff and 'commercial' hiphop idiocy like Egyptian Lover, Rockberry, Full Force and 'The Cars that Go Boom'. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Evans had suddenly been cast to the dirt - how did that happen? But still, we got 'Lets Dance'. But it was a bit too much when we had to deal with The Powerstation as an example of the new Rock. New Wave was cool but it only rarely had the slammin' beat we needed. The only consistency we had was Prince, and you couldn't love Prince if you couldn't hang with Rock. It was frustrating - made a brother want to scratch Steely Dan's 'Hey Nineteen' and so we did.

    There was a lot to love about early hiphop that wasn't getting the love it needed on the air. Since we were all supposed to be black back then it was a great deal harder to express this frustration at black radio without hearing a lot of flack. So a lot of us went underground, and underground clubs in LA were where the action was. That took us into Ska, Rap, Reggae, Punk, Funk & New Wave all blended together culminating in the scene which became 'Funky Reggae & White Trash' at the legendary Oskos disco in Beverly Hills. It was here where I danced on top of the speakers with Rosie Perez to 'Dopeman'. By then it was all about the mix. We had no patience for any musical genre. There would be no hero but the DJ, no act worthy, no genre to which we owed our allegiance. It was a new kind of freedom.

    It was costly though, especially for those like me, who put on the white shirt and yellow power tie during the day, the black tank top, boots and fingerless gloves at night.

    Hiphop in the era of the megamix just before the breakout of the New Jack Swing was interesting enough. Suddenly it wasn't all about who was the real Roxanne or whether or not 'Milk was chillin', but Salt & Pepa and Heavy D and the Boyz delivered some anti-idiot flavor into the mix. Guy was fly enough to swing with, even though Bell, Biv & Devoe were a bit too downscale for anybody's taste. Still, a taste for the underground gave them a pass. The only one worthy of superstardom was Bobby Brown. When 'New Jack City' broke, it was primetime.

    Thereafter, from my perspective, black music was no longer R&B. There were four directions for the music to take and everything else was derivative. Tracy Chapman / Soul II Soul / Public Enemy / De La Soul. I, like millions of others, was surprised by Gangsta naively thinking that there could be more like Michael Jackson's 'Remember the Time' and Arrested Development's 'Tennessee'. But I think it's also fair to say that my patience with black popular culture pretty much ended when they stopped making movies like 'Boomerang' and 'Strictly Business'.

    By the time dancing in suits had trickled down to the masses, the inevitable song played to death was 'Before I Let Go' with some clown named Woody Wood. This was the death knell and initiated a clear point in time that locked all that was great about R&B, even Frankie Beverly behind a door marked 'back in the day'. Behind that door were Anita Baker, Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton the only divas the 80s produced to these ears. We would have liked Zhane and En Vogue to have survived, but they seemed to be like Robin Givens - talented but not realizing that having layed down with hiphop brutality, that there was no escape, and poor Caron Wheeler...

    As for the brahs.. well, Eddie Levert? Keith Sweat? No self-respecting brother with a college degree could let these jokers stand in for a romantic Cyrano. For me, it fell back to jazz instrumentals. I let Clifford Brown do the talking. Luther would do in a pinch, but there were always questions about his weight and preferences. Teddy Pendergrass was a safer bet. More likely to be sophisticated in the day and let Prince do the talking in the night.

    When I found recognizing that Peabo Bryson was doing duets for Disney movies, I began to worry for the whole of society itself. Janet's album took the last gasp out of the corpse of R&B sealing its commercial fate.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Political Victory & The Rules of Engagement

    I've been thinking about the principled questions surrounding the role of women in warfare which has taken me up to questions about the political contexts of victory and how these dictate the rules of engagement.

    For example, there is no current political context for which rape would be considered a valuable weapon. The aim is not to save our bloodlines from extinction. But there is a political context in which victory could be defined as destroying the infrastructure of command and control over the enemy. That can be done with jets and missiles, instead of rape squads. How do you deploy jets and missiles? Sometimes it's just as easy to use a female as a male soldier. The answer is in the details.

    The rules of engagement are always dictated by the political terms of victory.

    I can see how liberal politics might decide to change the rules of engagement so that a war might necessarily become a 'quagmire', and what conservatives like me are constantly bitching about is how liberal opposition to the entire war in Iraq, keeps jumping on every minute opportunity to redefine victory away from the Bush policy and what makes sense to soldiers on the ground.

    First it was antiquities, then it was missing ammunition in dumps, then it was firing on mosques, then it was naked pyramids, then it was body armor... the list is as long as every liberal complaint.

    So I would like to invite my liberal and progressive friends and enemies here to outline their definitions of victory in Iraq, and speak honestly about what kinds of costs they are willing to endure appropriate to their investment in victory. Those not interested in victory need not apply.

    My challenge to you is to explain how your belief that the expenditure of 2000 or even 5000 American soldier's lives outweighs the benefit of victory in Iraq as the president has promised. I suspect that you believe Iraq's a quagmire not only because you want it to be. I believe in the minds of many Americans, opposition to Bush is more important than victory. Their objective is to politically alienate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz but not to deliver victory in war. From this moment until the withdrawl of every last American, they will continue to scour the news for failures of every sort to retroactively call Bush's plan a failure.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:55 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

    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

    June 28, 2005

    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

    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 22, 2005


    "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

    June 20, 2005

    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 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

    June 05, 2005


    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

    May 26, 2005

    The Dark Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    May 20, 2005

    Implications of Stereotype Threat

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

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

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

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

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

    May 12, 2005

    Black Rage

    (from the archives - august 1996)

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

    black rage is not a theory.

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

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

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

    rage is not hate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    articulation of rage is a valuable skill.

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

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

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

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

    another response to black rage is the black church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    but that's hard work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    black rage is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    May 03, 2005

    Egocasting, Literacy & Relativism: The Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by mbowen at 05:39 PM | TrackBack

    May 01, 2005

    The Interpreter: An Emotional Portrait of the UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by mbowen at 12:19 PM | TrackBack

    The Hitchhiker's Guide

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

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

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

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

    Posted by mbowen at 10:57 AM | TrackBack

    April 30, 2005

    Healing, Curing & Hate Crimes

    (from the archives, November 1998)

    While you are away on vacation, some hooligans break into your house and have a drug party. They trash your rooms and steal all your valuables. They draw satanic symbols on your walls in blood and they tell you that they have pictures and addresses of all your relatives, whom they intend to hunt down and slaughter.

    You come home to discover this disaster and alert the proper folks. Within a week the police have captured the responsible parties, the insurance company has paid up and refurnished your home, and your relatives are all safe. However you still have an enormous sense of violation and victimization.

    You have been cured, but you have not been healed.

    So you speak to professional counselors, your spiritual leaders, your family and friends. You take some more time off and you read a book on the subject. 3 months later you are better than new, you have a new sense of strength and have learned from this the value of life.

    So the trial date comes and you look for the first time upon the perpetrators of this crime. You are without anger, and you find it easy to forgive the defendants, and so you do.

    You have been healed and cured.

    The point I wish to make is that I don't believe it is appropriate to expect both healing and curing from the justice system.

    So. Now what if the jury decides to acquit the defendants of all charges? Are you then not healed? Do you recant your forgiveness? Are you actually weaker than you thought? Were those counselors and spiritual leaders and books and friends all wrong?

    I think of hate crimes legislation in the context of communities which are much accustomed to the miscarriage of justice. These are the people who have known this experience, and their decision to strengthen the *cure* rather than to recant the *healing* is the best evidence I can think of showing them to be exemplary people. That is why phrases like 'protected class' grate on my nerves.

    What is *fair* is not necessarily that which is blind to distinction. A system of justice whose ability to cure is faulty, especially in light of people's ability to heal, desperately needs reform, not abandonment. To suggest that hate crimes cannot 'legislate morality' or introduce 'inequality' among 'protected classes' is to ignore the healing spirit of those who have demanded them.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:29 PM | TrackBack

    April 25, 2005

    Current Reading

    I pushed the 'buy' button last week on whatever was in my Amazon queue because I had a few extra bucks.

    Ragged Robin
    I have been looking for this book for about 7 years. As soon as my little ones started to read, I went back into my own memory for all the books that I remember reading as a child, and Ragged Robin was at the top of the list. Except that I could not, for the life of me, get anyone to remember it, including myself and harried librarians in Redondo, South Pasadena, and the main branch of the LA Public Library. All I could remember was 'Zachary Zed, the last man on earth'. Finally, the search engines made sense of my earliest childhood memories. They delivered when my own parents couldn't, and gave me the ISBN of this incredible book by James Reeves. It had the most profound impact on me when I finally saw its pages after 35 years - I was brought to tears.

    My Life as a Quant
    I'm just getting into this one and it's going to be a geeky ride. Finally, someone is writing about what has basically been my unfulfilled professional ambition - applying scientific algorithms to the business of equities. As soon as I heard the call for 'rocket scientist' programmers at Cal State back in 83, being a Wall Street programmer has been all I ever wanted to do. I never really came as close as I wanted to and I can't say that I put my whole heart and soul into it. The discipline was so extraordinarily arcane, I couldn't even find anyone who knew someone on the inside - even when I lived in NYC. I settled for the next best thing, Business Intelligence, which is pretty much what everybody outside of Wall Street does, kinda.

    Most business computing specs aren't so demanding analytically but interesting nonetheless. That is, unless you're Emanuel Derman, theoretical physics grad. Just reading Derman brings out the persnickety overdisciplined manic in me. I check my fingernails for dirt, straighten out the papers on my desk and go through my full mental queue of all things done and left undone. While I'm on the subject, I have a confession. I harbor a secret admiration for the Notary Public in Redondo at the UPS Store. There is something about the meticulous way she purposfully lines up her stamp on the page. It's her fingers, the precision. That she grew up speaking another language than English only heightens the feeling for me. When I was 10 years and graduating from the 6th grade with straight As except for a C in handwriting, my father made me practice cursive for hours on end. This is the kind of appreciation I have for the world-ordering instincts and compulsions of the fastidious. The desire to be correct is very deep in us, and it is that resonance I am feeling with Derman right from the start.

    He has the Jewish thing, a God above his head. He has the South African thing, a perfect ability to be oblivious to other orders. He has the American thing, a crushing desire to be the best at something. He is a brainy rube in NY looking to the brightest minds in the most demanding discipline of his day, and he has gone the whole nine yards on the geek side in the classic way I have heard countless times, of recognizing the stunning brilliance and beauty of Maxwell's equations. In other words, he is in so many ways, a hopeless romantic in thrall to the life of the precise and dominating mind. Oh the suffering that can bring. But at this stage in the book, I haven't witnessed that part yet.

    The Teeth of the Tiger
    It's Clancy, what can I say? This along with the latest stealth video game, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, is keeping my paranoia fed. Did I tell you that I was reading that other Dan Brown 'Digital Fortress'? Yike. What a pooter. (It stinks like your girlfriends fart, almost cute). I got halfway through that pulp in New Orleans and decided I needed to pump up the volume, and Clancy has delivered in these two forms a much superior class of fiction. I must say that I still much prefer the Splinter Cell fiction to the 'Tiger' fiction, but I haven't tossed Tiger yet.

    I may never finish 'Secrets and Lies' by Schneier because it's so dated and commonsensical now. But it remains a decent reference if not a decent read. I now have 'Beyond Fear' and haven't cracked it yet. Soon come.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    April 22, 2005

    Servitude: Ambition, Mastery & Power

    You cannot achieve Servitude without having attained Mastery.

    I while ago I came up with a pedagogical hierarchy for my craft, the craft of computer programming, systems building and data architecture. I have found a certain resonance in this and in life.

    I have been learning lessons in humility the past couple years and many of them could be summed up in this quote by John Boyd:

    "The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom — you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero."

    Furthermore, I am motivated at this point in my life to be a vessel of spirit. One of the heads of CocaCola said famously (although he probably wasn't the first "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you are willing to share the credit."

    I think that the first time I comprehended the idea of Spirit outside of the context of religious teaching was via Allen Wheelis. It had a resonance that I could see, it added a transcendent quality to the kind of writing I planned to do as a Freshman studying Computer Science. I was going to embed knowledge into the soul of a new machine. I felt demiurgic. And so I have come back to collect this matter more than twenty years later.

    The Roles of Ambition

    The Clueless Newbie
    The Newb has no idea but he's absolutely dumbstruck by the possibilities. He knows it, and he's just ansking questions and trying not to get on anybody's nerves. He wants to get in on it because he realizes the value of this whole area of expertise. What the Newbie needs most is to get taken seriously. He needs to try something

    The Apprentice
    The apprentice knows what he wants to do, but not quite how. He has skills but not experience. He has ambition and drive and he's out to prove something. He's full of 'I can do this' and he hates making mistakes. He's looking for ways to do what he knows can be done, and he sets out to find the right tools. He hates hearing that it's been done and that his thoughts have been thought before, but his callsign is determinate. He's aiming to be graceful. What the Apprentice needs most is a win.

    The Workhorse
    In my craft, that of software, it takes at least two years to get to know anything about anything. Whatever the tool is (and you're lucky if you get to pick a tool that has enduring value), you're going to be using it inefficiently for at least two years. Unless you have the good fortune to get onto a very well organized project that allows you to concentrate on a decent variety of applications of a single tool, you're going to fumble around with it. The Workhorse knows his toolset. He can make it do whatever it's supposed to do. He has confidence and competence. You can throw anything at the Workhorse and he can explain it in the language of his tool. He'll make it work, and that's what he likes to do. What a Workhorse needs is a steady stream of work and a stable environment. The Workhorse stands on the brink of Mastery. He knows two or three ways to accomplish the same task. He stands in fear of the irrelevance of his toolset.

    The Hotshot
    The Hotshot has achieved Mastery. He has explored the limits of his tool and has made it do things that it wasn't designed to do. He's ready to get to the engineers of the tool and tell them what they ought to do with it next. He is arrogant with his capabilities and is ready to shout down pretenders. He has done The Big Thing that his toolset was designed to do and now he's unstoppable. He is now hungry to go out and conquer.

    The Roles of Mastery
    At this level we reach the plateau of Mastery. When a tool stops changing, there is nowhere to go , The first step above mastery has two forms. One is the Guru and the other is the Goto Guy.

    The Goto Guy
    The Goto Guy is the one to you go to for results. He is the Hotshot who is now dedicated to creating others in his own image. He is all about market domination. He has earned the respect of most and the envy of Hotshots. He is the first person a Newbie wants to talk to. The Goto Guy must be approachable and gregarious. He can see the big picture but is focused on results. The Goto Guy needs resources and opportunity. He builds momentum and seeks to establish permanance through engendering real-world dependence.

    The Guru
    At the same level of Mastery as the Goto Guy is the Guru. The Guru is like the Goto Guy but as the Goto seeks domination in the world of application, the Guru seeks perfection of the tool. He adds to Mastery, the extraordinary details and subtle refinements of technique. He is worldly but extrapolates and projects. He is the keeper of the integrity of the toolset refines its Way. He seeks to establish permanance through engendering adherence to conceptual
    beauty and completeness.

    Below Mastery is Ambition. At Mastery is Balance. Above Mastery is Power. The Servant moves in all these directions at once.

    The Roles of Power

    The Lord
    The Lord is a man with long arms, busy hands and a loud mouth. He is the bossman, and he knows you only too well. He makes it his business to make your business taking care of his business. The function of the Lord is to attach himself like lamprey at he base of your skull and insert himself into your thought process so that you considere your every action with respect to the Lord's business. He lords over you. The Lord employs spies and . What the Lord fears most is treachery and heroism, for these are the generators of unpredictability. The Lord is a master planner and strategic thinker, he gets his fingers into everything.

    The Demiurge
    The Demiurge is the Second Soul to God. His power is the generate awe and inspriration through magnificent acts of creation. The Demiurge consumes resources and is impatient. He is visionary and seems to pass through life with a different sense of time and space. The Demiurge is equally creator and destroyer. He is urban renewal, he is revolutionary, he is dramatic. He splits the world into two, those who stand behind him and those who stand in his way. The Demiurge is already an irresitable force, the most important question is where does he get his license, for very rarely unless they play in the realm of the mind or spirit, is the Demiurge his own source of power.

    The Primary
    The Demiurge builds the amusement park, the Lord makes you stand in line. The Primary is why you are all there. The Primary needn't exist and usually does not. The Primary is the Reason, the Idea. The Primary motivates everything. He is unquestionable and irresistable. He is not only Master of the tools but Master of the environment. He stands with his finger on the center of gravity of his domain, he balances the Tao. Everyone believes they know the Primary, and everyone thinks they know what he wants, but only the Lord and the Demiurge get that close. The Primary takes all the credit and all the blame. He is Servant of the system of his creation, he directs the creation and destruction.

    The Way of the Servant
    So now that you've lasted this far, we arrive at the way of Servitude, Service and Servility. I haven't decided the best term, but the concept is clear. The lessons of middle age are that Servitude is a result of power. It rather goes full circle. As Primary, Demiurge or Lord, you are subject to attack. The mistake of the Gangster is that he wants to be all three, but a Hegemon disappears into his system. He becomes at one with the process and can assume any role. He is in service to his creation, his tools, his system and at a certain point, doesn't care which role he takes. His only concern is the success and integrity of the system of which he partakes.

    This is truly sublime and it is the beauty of this that attracts me. If power corrupts, it is because people forget to Serve. And it is only in absolute Service that absolute power can be borne. This applies to Kings as well as Popes, and this is the point I wanted to support about Ratzinger's humility. This is the thing that will enable him to weild power. American liberals want him to be a Demiurge but they forget that inherent in great creation and reform, is great destruction and the chaos of change. They want him to serve the ideas they have championed with no regard to the balance of the Catholic Church.

    I have had in the China Deal, my opportunity to become Demiurgic, and it will be some time before I see such an opportunity to come again. And so I have returned in the mode of Service to become once again, a Goto Guy in my old domain. It's a good place to be.

    The Servant is free to move no matter what his ambition. But the Servant can be false. He can feign servility and actually be self-serving or serving a false ideology or a treacherous master. But the dedicated Servant, the true Servant is brother to all in the system.

    There is something greater than power in the Way of the Servant, it is the beauty of the expression of the human spirit, for our power lies not within ourselves or our actions, but in our collective shape. We are constrained from knowing our collective destiny and so it can be said that all we know for certain is the depth of our commitment. In this is found our honor, and if we achieve, our glory.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    April 21, 2005

    Sideways: The 'American' Male

    It's out on DVD and so the spousal unit and I watched it at home with a big deli spread and a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.

    Life is rated R, in case you haven't noticed, and so is this mild-mannered comedy about the foibles and failings of two friends trying desparately to reach the fun zone in California wine country before a fateful wedding. It is a formula I would hope to see more of - a romantic comedy that is not about romance, not about coupling and the awkward dancing that comes before, but about trying to get yourself together (as a man in this case) in advance of a life-defining moment.

    Miles, the middle school English teacher and Jack, the commercial hack actor are two friends who know each other's weaknesses and manage to overlook them. But you already know the plot...

    What strikes me about this movie is how profoundly cynical one must be to write it, how little jay the author must have found in an ordinary life, what little respect and nobility they must find when one is not making it. The entire desparation of Miles, this insurmoutable anomie that makes him a half-drunk. He clings desparately to the signs of success and destroys himself abeyance to the one trade that might make him happy. But for him, wine appreciation is half cosmetic, half obsession. It's something he cannot do for its own satisfaction, rather something he must have as an avocation, quite frankly to pickup women. He is not embedded in his domain and therefore he is half a man. The resolution of this dilemma is not faced, but elided. He needs approval, just like his precious pinot grapes, tending so that his complex flavors might surface. But is he that, or is it just a figment of his imagination? He doesn't even know himself.

    Jack is just a different flavor of the same bad vintage. In the end he is an empty shell, nothing without the hand of his princess.

    I cannot help but wonder if this film could be seen by anyone as an accurate portrayal of American manhood. And yet the film has become a phenomenon as upscale consumers have gone on a binging rampage over the very bottles of wine which are the subtext of the film.

    What's odd about it is that the substance of the good times in the entire film is also elided - it kind of falls into the muted set piece of laughing happy fishheads at the restaurant. Half of the movie looks like an Olive Garden commercial. Crack the right bottle of wine, and it's good times. That is if you behave happily, if you pretend that nothing's wrong.

    If the movie wasn't funny, I'd think it almost an indictment. What else could you do, but follow the lead of Stephanie and beat Sideways over the head with a motorcycle helmet?

    Part of this review comes from a nice warmed over slice of contempt for the American middle class, not as people, but as a people. I grew up with the sort of expectation of the upper middle class of America that I found in Neil Simon plays and Blake Edwards & Woody Allen movies. Perhaps I comsumed those at too early an age because I thought these were simple mockeries, and the real people had a bit more integrity and sense. But it turns out that they were a bit more on target, but do they take themselves seriously? Hard to tell? After all, whom is there to recieve the complaint? Do people actually watch Six Degrees of Separation or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and modify their behavior?

    I don't know. Perhaps Tony Kushner is the last moralist in the American arts and the popularity of Sideways is the proof.

    Hmm. Thank God I didn't go to Haverford. I'd be like this all the time.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:31 PM | TrackBack

    Kung Fu Hustle

    Aside from Million Dollar Baby, all the best movies seem to be Chinese. Kung Fu Hustle kicks it up a notch. It's like the Chinese equivalent of Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

    Maybe I'm predisposed to seeing things this way, having long ago written of many of the sensibilities of art house movies and engorged myself on Bruce Willis and Gene Hackman, but I'm only intellectually moved by the subtext of the fine Chinese product. Kung Fu Hustle is a surprisingly delightful film with a moral as nicely done as Iron Monkey and action which is a combination of Wiley Coyote, Master of the Flying Guillotine, The Mask, Drunken Master and Sargeant Swell of the Mounties.

    This movie is more than extraordinarily fun, it is a tribute to common folks and a life of humble bonhommie. I haven't seen anything as tender and respectful of the common man, without taking itself so damned seriously, since 'Stand By Me', and that hardly counts because it's easy to get kids to act like that. But when is the last time you saw.. Oh wait, I take that back. Make it 'O Brother Where Art Thou?', sorta. It's got an honesty that makes it feel rather like watching The Little Rascals with its cast of crazy characters.

    This flick takes all kinds of liberties of the sort you never expect. It's a completely unpredictable show and breaks a lot of boundaries. It feels like a classic fable and an over the top spoof at the same time. I guarantee that it will become a favorite. This is top drawer entertainment, and you will split your sides laughing. I mean when have you ever seen a kung fu movie where people actually did bad kung fu? There are a couple of scenes with bad kung fu that will have you cracking up.

    Is the rest of the martial arts good? Heck yeah. There's stuff in here that I've never seen before anywhere, not even in concept. For that alone it's worth the ticket. I'm actually so impressed that won't even spoil it, which is rare for me.

    This is just magical. I can't wait for the DVD.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    April 16, 2005

    Kilson on Black Elites

    I didn't read all of the tables in Kilson's interesting article. That's mostly because the most interesting of them didn't have any data for my father's time, let alone my generation. If there's anything I'd like Fryer to check out it would be the distribution of African American professionals, longitudinally. In other words, I'd like to see evidence documented by statistics, that indicates the extent to which the black middle and upper middle classes have diversified and expanded in the post-war and post-civil rights eras.

    Meanwhile Kilson concludes:

    One crucial lesson for today’s Black elite at the dawn of the 21st century can be drawn from the foregoing discussion of the formative-phase Black elite outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern (from 19th century to 1940s). Namely, the formative-phase Black elite set a high-standard example of the outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership orientation, especially in light of the racist-restricted miniscule modernization resources that our White-supremacist structured American society permitted the formative-phase Black elite to acquire.

    There is also a second crucial lesson to draw from the foregoing discussion. Namely, that today’s early 21st century Black elite has a tremendous obligation to bear in regard to replicating an outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern that is comparable to the pattern fashioned by the formative-phase Black elite from the 19th century to 1940s.

    Indeed , as I will discuss in Part II of this essay, given today’s Black elite’s new mainstream status in both the economic and political structures of early 21st century American society – providing it new economic resources and public policy influence – the future outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership pattern should be superior in quality to what the earlier Black elite could achieve. I myself believe that today’s early 21st century Black elite will fulfill its outreach-to-Black-masses-leadership obligation. Today’s Black elite confronts a situation involving 40% of today’s African-American households that suffer numerous social crises.

    I have mixed opinins about Kilson's conclusions. I agree that there are Talented Tenth aspirations among us, but that Progressivism and race raising is nowhere near as important as it once was - that the relative amount of time elite blacks need to consider and dedicate themselves to their inferiors is less . Furthermore, I would argue that the social capital with which blacks are endowed allow their elites broad responsibilities in mainstream organizations which far outweigh those that can be accomplished via progressivism and aggregation. This sets up a paradox that Kilson seems to ignore. There are more things that black elites can do, but it's not entirely clear that they need to or want to.

    I think that it is very difficult to establish the connectivity the black elite would require to become a self-sustaining force in American life. I am optimistic and hopeful about that becoming an eventuality, but I do have grave concerns that a great deal of energy my be dissapated in search of that Black Establishment. But I also say that it's a great mystery which I am bound to pry open and discover, not the least because I think I deserve a seat in the star chamber. But beyond my selfish reasons for wanting to be a part, I think that there are a goodly contingent of my peers who are puzzled about how this thing might come together.

    As much as most of us complain about the NAACP, it's always there (like BET) and you can rely on its ability to draw attention to itself. So whatever they say cannot be ignored, nor can Sharpton or any of the other Fungibles. And yet it seems impossible to determine with any accuracy the extent to which their policy pronouncements and rationale is shared by the African American public. All we hear is criticism, but where is the consensus? This whole problem of working with a default consensus is what keeps black politics stagnant between the Rock of the Republicans and the Hard Place of the Democrats. (I don't know how to spell Schilla or Charibdis). Most of us would rather be elsewhere, but elsewhere has no permanent address.

    So latent in the energy and motivation, and even egos of the black elite, is a formula for black political amplitude if not unity. And what must happen is that the content of that political desire must be made manifest through self-representation. This is central to the Black Power Imperative. It is what we want for Iraqis, it is what we want for ourselves.

    Still, will we aggregate successfully? There is a paradox. America has to be open enough for successful blacks to feel as though the limits on their success is entirely their own doing and not due to latent institutional racism. Yet America has to be closed enough for them to take the burden of lifting their racial brothers seriously. Absent both conditions, there's no real reason for this elite to take its duties beyond friends and family. Cues will continue to come from the big dogs like Cosby, but it's still an iffy proposition. I agree with Kilson that the spirit is willing and the chances are good, but this cuts awfully close to home in many ways. Is it essential or is it optional?

    Posted by mbowen at 02:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    April 05, 2005

    Mark Anthony Neal, Naming Oneself & The Troubling Word

    Check this:

    In some regards this whole "ThugNiggaIntellectual" stance is about black intellectual etiquette. Many of my elder black academics had to shovel Brazil nuts (what they call "nigger toes" in the south) and displace the rage of witnessing undercover, closed door name calling and credential scrutinizing. For sho', a bunch of us new-breed younguns butt heads with these cats all the time. I was a brand new, ready for the exploitin' Ph.D. when I trekked down to a little Negro school in Louisiana (nicknamed "the little engine that could" for the number of students they send on to medical schools). I was full of the belief that I would impact young black minds. As one of the youngest folks on the yard, I relished the rapport I had with my students, some of whom were less than a decade younger than me. It was my first real experience teaching classrooms filled with black students and I loved having a space where I didn't have to translate every nuance of black ghetto vernacular to audiences that on some level would never get it. It was during this time that an administrator at the university tugged my coat, yanked it really, to query me about my rather . . . hmmm, how shall I say it . . . "gleeful" use of ghetto vernacular in the classroom.

    He reminds me of my boy Jim back in my first days of the corporate corridor. Jim called himself a 'nouveau nigger'. I imagine it was because nobody, including Jim, knew what to call a man with a degree in Physics, who had done two tours of duty in Vietnam, owned a Computerland store, drove a red Ferarri and dated only blondes just to see the look on everybody elses face. Jim looked like Jim Kelly in a three piece polyester suit with a 6 inch afro, in 1987.

    It is some manner of etiquette between those who would claim title to HNIC as to what the existential model is going to be. I like brass rails and cigars as much as anyone, but I think I would be most impressed by someone who takes the Einstein approach. Buy 15 pairs of identical black suits and dress the same way everyday, so as not to draw attention to anything but your ideas. At the same time, as lovely as it must be for Professor Neal to hum a few bars in the dialect and have the mellifluous harmonies exude from the Young, Gifted and Black, there's something about his label that annoys me.

    Part of the problem is that I've kind of experienced my own Afrolantica. There has arisen an island in my mind that has liberated me from the despair of continually measuring myself against the ever changing profiles that black and white Americans would subject me to. I don't need to declare myself in such a fashion, even though I Represent from time to time. In the end, I'm happy with the name my parents gave me. At least I know that its definition and melioration are not going to be the subject of any debate. I can be true to it without fear.

    Like the people in Derrick Bell's book, the Island never fully materialized and I never actually got there, but the idea rescued me. Part of this idea was that someday I would be responsible for the well-being of people who had no idea who I was. They wouldn't understand my metaphors or my well-wrapped universe, but they would respect my wisdom nonetheless. I will have not only overcome, but become, and in becoming I had to spread the word far and wide. Wider than America's shores. Wider than America's names and terms and metaphors and mythologies and ontologies.

    How do you guess what your name would be in a language you never heard before? How do you name yourself in such a way as to respect the true self before you have even become that? This is the task of someone who expects harmony at the end of the rainbow, but to be a black American is often to be embattled with an endless line of intransigents. Sometimes you gotta battle. Sometimes you gotta jump out of line.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:52 PM | TrackBack

    The Africanity of Black Greeks

    One of the first questions out of my mouth when I attacked the Alpha brothers on the stage was why they didn't use African symbols of pyramids and ankhs and sphinxes et al instead of Greek letters and symbology they used. If you could have harnessed the energy with which they rolled their eyes, you could light up a small city. They had two answers. The first was unsatisfactory, the second made me think.

    The first answer was that if I had done any freaking research, I would have known that the pledges were called 'Sphinxmen' and that there were plenty of Egyptian symbols in Alpha Phi Alpha. The second was that Alpha brotherhood was not about promoting symbols and wearing colors, but it was about the relationships formed between brothers. You could call us Men from Mars or whatever you like, but this is about lifelong friendship. Next question.

    I had learned that a good friend of mine was an Alpha, and I didn't know that. When he told me that it pledging was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, I had to do it. After all, he was a Computer Science and EE double major. I ended up pledging Alpha Phi Alpha, but not that semester. Besides, they said they weren't likely to take anyone who hadn't been in school at least three semesters because they didn't want any dropouts on line. And I discovered a lot of things the easy way and the hard way about manhood, friendship, trust, pain and nobility. It turned out to be a very different experience than I expected, filled with disappointment, surprise, and a great number of other emotions.

    After I had gone through the public shame of pledging Alpha, I found myself on the stage answering the same questions. I tried not to roll my eyes so hard though. It truly was about brotherhood, and I understood that from the perspective of an insider.

    So I would say that one of the great misconceptions about black frats is that they exist to be community service organizations. There is nothing about the experience that makes anyone more public spirited or community minded. You just do some community work as part and parcel of the pledge program. If you're a community minded person when you come in, you have the opportunity to leverage your ambition within the context of an established organization. There's no conversion going on.

    But I think the thing that most folks understand the least is the extent to which individuals and groups of brothers are unable to change the organization to which they belong. Alpha, after all, represents a 100 year old tradition. And as loudly as one brother can say that he's in the same organization as was Martin Luther King Jr, it doesn't make him MLK (or Thurgood Marshall, or Marion Berry for that matter). That's a lot of baggage to drag around. And of course every brother pledges for different reasons, every chapter has a different reputation and every pledge program emphasizes different elements of brotherhood. It means a lot of different things to many people at once, and you really can't get booted out of the fraternity once you are a member.

    I appreciate that there are folks who would like that Alpha and other black frats took a leadership role in black communities, but I don't believe that it will happen or that the organization is structurally capable of doing so. That said, I know from personal experience that there are a lot of brothers who are right on target with that mission. Now that I know that I will be in Los Angeles and not Beijing for the mid-term, I am re-establishing my roots and Alpha is going to be a part of that.

    Alphas and other black frats and sororities are an excellent example of a small but important minority of middle class African Americans who demonstrate a commitment to each other. There's a lot of love and pride in that which cannot be denied. More power to them, but don't expect them to change their colors.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:39 PM | TrackBack

    Globalism vs Catholicism

    (I'm never going to finish all my thoughts on this)

    I wonder if the Pope isn't the sort of man we globalists might all expect to be someday. Although Hitch has got his panties in a twist over the Pope's [dicey] complicity over the regime of rape in the Boston archdiocese, it's something of the level of evil we expect that slips through bureacracies as large as the Catholic Church. The Catholics were the first globalists, and in the review we are bound to witness over the next few weeks, that will be the angle I'll keep in mind.

    My investment in Liberation Theology, sparked by a liberal Jesuit upbringing, the polytheism of Ishmael Reed and the progressive-minded Cornel West is a spot of contention I might have with this Pope. And according to a BBC profile I ingested a bit of last evening, JP2 never did much for Archbishop Romero who had always been something of a hero. And while he is broadly acknowledged for being a fighter of communism, it's not a mark of great distinction as a religious leader. Surely we don't love the Taliban simply because they hated the Soviets.

    So it is a bit ironic that our last Pope was both a great world-traveller and yet very protective of the integrity of nations. Catholicism, with its prelates, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, nuns and various other offices is an absolute hierarchy. And yet its authority is not absolute - Catholicism, like any religion, deals with whole person and yet is voluntary. When one deals with questions of identity, authority and belonging surely those of us in the West consider our citizenship to be very static but the soul to be fluid. The Church is a global phile in Neal Stephenson's (Diamond Age) sense of the word. It is a widely distributed organization which occasionally demands you perform some feat to confirm your belonging. Most of the time, however, it is a crucial but passive part of your identity. This is especially true of Catholicism which is, by definition, not evangelical. In America, the question, if it was ever real, has been answered about loyalty. Kennedy did it, but that was before my time. Clearly, national identities take priority.

    So should a church which is subordinated to nation rule be more strict in enforcing its code of ethics, or more lax? John Paul II said be stricter. I think upon reflection, he was right. Membership in the church is voluntary, and as such, its precepts should be strict. But I think that it's difficult for most peasants to conceptualize that a religion is such an entity subordinated to nations. For many people, nations gain their authority from the blessing of religion, but even the Pope knows better.

    If we are to have a clash of civilizations in the coming millenium, the matter of the separation of church and state will be answered with finality. I find it difficult to believe that national interests will coincide well enough for it to be a true alliance of christian states vs muslim states vs china but these are the three poles as I see them now. What has fallen off the radar is how Islam bankrolls states and vice-versa. Nor do we much talk about what real estate the Vatican controls. I think these are powerful but marginal on the world stage as compared to the larger state / trade and multinational interests.

    More later..

    Posted by mbowen at 02:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    April 04, 2005

    Social Mobility: Assume the Position

    OK here's the deal. I think social mobility in America is fairly good but that people don't necessarily respect the mobility they have. But I also believe that there is a certain arrogant humility that most Americans don't have and don't strive for that restricts their social mobility.

    'Arrogant humility' sounds oxymoronic don't it? Well, it is something of an ineffable quality, but that's the best handle I can put on something real that I've noticed in people in my line of work. But let's get racial for a moment in order to undermine some political correctness taht I suspect might be lurking in everyone's thinking as I 'go there'.

    A long time ago, not long after I made friends with an impressive, but rather ordinary looking white guy named John, I wondered how I would cope with America if I were an ordinary looking white guy named John. It occured to me that if that were the case, I would have nowhere to go, and nothing to distinguish me except my skills. Just like Hilary Swank in 'Million Dollar Baby', just like Richard Gere in 'An Officer and a Gentleman'; nowhere else to go. You're nobody until somebody loves you.

    Since I am something of a social climber in a society whose rules and expectations I often challenge just by showing up, I pay close attention to my peers. It has been a long time since I was in that prep school where the last names actually did connect. When they said O'Melveny it was *that* O'Melveny. When they said Crosby it was *that* Crosby. And now I find myself often in the company of guys who went to Kentucky U. rather than Yale. And yet they are successful by any measure of Americans. What you do when you are in the middle is that you simply assume the position.

    How arrogant humility works is that you submit yourself to the process. If there is a career path, you follow it. If there is a manual, RTFM. Call yourself a square, play fair and try your hand, always assuming what? May the best man win. That's keeping it real middle America style.

    Now there's a great deal of sentiment out there that this formula only works for ordinary white guys named John. In fact, the sentiment is almost hegemonic. But it's so plainly false that I have to keep pointing out the other thing that everybody knows to. It's easy to sell out. It's easy to be a Tom, a brown-noser, a toady, a kiss ass, a bootlicker, a stooge, a flunky and a pawn. In fact it's so easy that millions of not particularly intelligent Americans get mortgages. If they were anywhere else on the planet, there's no way that they could get a loan for $200,000 just for driving a truck.

    There's the second key. You have to work the system. You have to understand what you get out of it and you have to bend your life around that. Just remember this: You're just an ordinary white guy named John. You've got nowhere else to go. You are forced to be humble, you're just an American citizen and that's all you got going for you. Your parents can't help you, you can't marry into success, you've got no title. All you've got is your honest face and elbow grease. And if the bastards in your little hick two horse town won't give you a break, you move to the city. Get in where you fit in.

    I don't see what Americans under the influence of the hegemony don't understand about these facts.

    Ahh but there's the arrogance. There's a very definite crabby mentality in the humility of John. See, since he can't get away with anything, he doesn't want you to get away with anything either. See, he's bitten the bullet and put his big red neck on the line and he doesn't see why you should take a different path. After all, you're none of the things he wants to be when he grows up. And so John will do what he can to insure that the system that worked for him only works that same way, it's only fair right?

    Posted by mbowen at 04:30 AM | TrackBack

    April 03, 2005

    Sin City: The Darkest Noir

    'Sin City' is porno. The good kind. I'd tell you more about it but I fell asleep.

    Part of the reason was because I couldn't stand waiting in line for the 9:30 show. I hate crowds, and I especially hate crowds of bored youth wringing their hands in anticipation of a deluxe helping of noir blood and guts. So I went to the 10:30 show, and around midnight, I was snoring in the 8th row. Part of the reason was that Sin City is long and it completely lost momentum about 2/3rds of the way through. Imagine a dark city street with 6 deadly hookers in fishnet stockings and only one of them is talking. Exactly.

    Sin City is drop dead gorgeous. It is better looking than 'Dark City', better looking than 'Mulholland Drive', and better looking than 'Devil in a Blue Dress' and 'LA Confidential' put together. Only it's about half as smart as any of them. If it weren't for the colors, nobody in their right mind would watch 'Sin City'. It's too violent to even think about. Its metaphors are apt, it's sex with the perfect woman, who turns out to be a whore to the core. It's jumping out of a three story tenement house, landing in a pile of garbage and then slamming, boot-first through the windshield of a police cruiser.

    I was hoping for a lot more sex in this movie, but instead I got a whole lot more violence than I expected. There was one completely throwaway character who kept calling her mother and wasting time on the screen. I have no idea what she was all about, then again maybe I slept through that part.

    I cannot determine whether it will be worth my while to see this film again. It's clearly the best Mickey Rourke flick since '9 1/2 Weeks', but it doesn't quite cut it as a Bruce Willis flick. Benecio Del Toro proves that he can even make a stock noir gritty character have character, and Clive Owen proves that he can't. Rutger Hauer has a brilliant cameo and Rosario Dawson does a bangup job being everything that every Prince girl, from Vanity to Apollonia, wishes she could've been. I'm so glad they didn't give that role to Halle Berry.

    About the Yellow Bastard, I have no idea. But I can tell you that he gets hurt pretty bad, twice.

    Basically, this is Mickey Rourke's movie. Once he leaves the screen, he leave a great void which is never quite replenished, or at least it wasn't for sleepy me. If you ask me, the whole flick could have been his stripped down narrative without any diversions. Rourke's Marv is an indestructable wrecking ball of a giant driven by the memory of the smell of his murdered blonde angel. He's a one man vintage 1990 Abu Ghraib careening through back alleys looking like the last man standing at Omaha Beach. Imagine the XMan Wolverine without self-consciousness or restraint out for slow methodical torturous revenge.

    This is the hardest of hardboiled noir, and it gives us the appreciable shock value that ice box moms must have felt about the first Mickey Spillane. It's populated hot dames with nefarious brains, real hips and curled lips. It's so American that it sweats red dresses, whitewall tires and blue saxophones. It's as violent as the backstreets of hell, as seductive as Jezebel's jealous little sister and as corrupt as whoring bishop. This is sin, straight up and straight down, layered on thick and slavish. See it on a Saturday night, then pray for your soul on Sunday morning.

    Josh Chafetz worries for the American soul. So do I, but I know that those of us with a stomach for this kind of porno are like the parasites in the belly of the nation which assist in the digestion of hard-assed molecules which would ordinarily rip a hole in our guts. Sure it's all shit, but we handle it, and that's part of our function. This is the intestine of America, not its brains. This is the muscular viscera of our nation, built on the struggle and strife of people too uncivilized and grungy to rise in the bourgie ranks of Old Europe. Everybody doesn't like it like that, but Sin City is the art that describes it.

    I guess I've decided that I'm going to give it another shot, in the middle of the day. I may come to regret looking into the face of it. But I hope it is the sign of things to come from Frank Miller, because I've had about as much Spiderman as a grown American man can stand.


  • Matt Singer
  • Matt Yglesias
  • Posted by mbowen at 09:11 AM | TrackBack

    March 31, 2005

    Harold Cruse: The Last Organic

    Harold Cruse was one of those rare scholars who wrote so much about things nobody ever talks about that you have to stop every 20 pages or so just to absorb it. It has been quite a while since I read 'The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual' and 'Plural But Equal' so it's difficult for me to disaggregate his lessons from my thinking. Very little of it seems to have distinguished itself in my memory as distinctly belonging to Cruse. But there are some distinct ideas.

    Cruse was one of those who asserted that the Brown case was improperly decided. Seperate and unequal was certainly a problem, but the problem was not with separate, but with unequal. Cruse argues that the law should have been used to force the equal funding of public schools in black communities, instead what arose in the ethos of integration was a double strike against blacks. Firstly, the very assertion by Brown that black and white kids be integrated degraded the quality of all public schools by generating white flight. Anywhere there were significant numbers of blacks, many whites left the public school system and created new private schools. It has been noted that many private schools around the South were founded in 1954. This not only hurt blacks but damaged the public support for public schools.

    Secondly and somewhat more on point with how many black nationalists feel, the thrust of integration undermined black independence. The famous proximity premise, has by all measures pretty much been discredited. Black students don't become better people simply by sitting in the same schools as white students. The 'goodness' of whites doesn't 'rub off'. There are plenty ways to argue around the matter of the proximity premise, but I essentially don't buy it either. Some of the weakest ideas which have become ossified into the conventional thinking are the root of the fallacies surrounding the Diversity industry.

    As many of you might guess, I could bust a gut talking about black political dependence on white liberal spew a la Howard Dean. There is a low intensity war between Integrationists and Aggregationists. (Separatists don't stand a chance.) Perhaps Cruse's passing will re-ignite a debate on the merits. As an Old Schooler, I might seem conflicted, but if you understand that I am an elitist than you'll see how I'm for Aggregation for me and those like me, and Integration for the rest of you who can't afford to do any better. I still say bomb the ghetto.

    Many folks are acknowledging Cruse's way of seeing integration. The NAACP famously started questioning the wisdom of Brown along Cruse's line of thinking. What's odd about that is that they seem ill-prepared to do anything about it but give blackfolks a reason to complain. The NAACP is not organized to assist in aggregation, but perhaps they only see their job as 'raising the issue', which is fair. I'm not so sure anyone expects anything more.

    The question of aggregation is open, and I've seen some efforts going on here in Los Angeles, with regard to the charter school movement. These are mostly done in partnership with other non-whites with conservative lip service support. Charter schools are all experiments as far as I can see and I'm all for school reform (primarily skills-based promotion starting at middle school).

    Cruse also speaks of the Blair Bill which, had it been implemented when the idea first arose, the progress of African America would have had a 100 year headstart.

    I agree with Cruse with respect to colorblindness. In fact I have spent many years arguing in public debates that colorblindness is the moral equivalent of racism in this country. It was most likely Cruse that got me started on this angle.

    It's difficult for me to tell how and where Cruse might be influential, because quite frankly, black public intellectuals are not so ready to engage the public outside of the academy, or specifically here on the web. This is an old complaint of mine and I've worn a groove in my mind repeating it, even though it's not as true as I'd like it to be. But I think I've internalized enough of his ideas about pluralism and equality to be an adequate representative outside of the professoriate. I trust my man Spence's judgement that I have been properly informed. If I had the time, I'd certainly reread him, and I'll probably do some skimming this weekend. I'm also going to take the opportunity to see where his name pops up in the 'sphere. Watch this spot for updates.

    I think that the most important thing to understand about Cruse is that he regrets the amount of dependence blacks have assumed on the general fairness of society based upon the political alliances between the Negro leadership and white liberal race politics. It has resulted in laws and ideas that have suppressed the vigor of black independence. I agree with him there. Clearly I am interpreting him through an appreciative and conservative lens but I think when we get to the heart of arguments like matters of pluralism vs assimilation or what is meant when people talk about 'equality', Cruse's thought on the matter will be salient.

    Cruse is exceptional because he writes books that don't read like academic treatises, but deliver scholarship nonetheless. He's a comfort-busting individual thinker worthy of emulation and much respect. Ahh, I guess I can't just put him into the past tense so easily can I. None of us should.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 28, 2005

    The Drop Squad

    Following up on Fryer, is a lot of static although much of it not noise. Several folks from Prometheus to Spence to Bomani Jones (new on the blogroll) have taken a few shots at Fryer's dome, none of them deadly. It's more like slapboxing.

    As a non-academic I've got to sit back in the peanut gallery while the experts argue methodologies, but a comment after my comment reminded me about something else I'd been thinking about. See I'd mentioned something to the effect that it's refreshing to hear a scholarly opinion about the meaning of black names especially when so much out of the academy is 'mostly unintelligbly cryptic'. And so I got corrected:

    Keep in mind that economics is a complex 'science" and much of it,
    contrary to the simplicity of principles of economics courses in
    undergraduate colleges/universities, cannot be conveyed to the lay
    public--which includes policymakers. Unlike Physics, most people think
    they are conversant and knowledgeable about economics--but they aren't.
    So, to say that a black-sounding name has a causal effect on say human
    capital investment sounds absurd and ridiculous---unlike black holes
    swallowing up universes.

    And yet I feel sometimes to an absurd degree perhaps that the demand for engagement with the lay public is not even met in undergraduate survey courses. That's what blogs are for, continuing education. It takes a special kind of meliorist to bridge the gap, and when it comes to black issues (if there are real black issues suitable for public debate), I think perhaps we are a little light. There's a huge gap between the periodic popular books, the CNN specials and memes that go through various online communities. It seems that rectification goes on forever. We don't know if drinking a glass of wine every day is good for our heart or not. All we know is that 'the experts disagree', and who knows what they say to each other? So when it comes to black issues, whatever blackfolks decide them to be, there is a species of this general confusion made more acute by our ambitions.

    But maybe I'm just wrong. I can't see myself well enough. We are living in the days of the post-Tavis-Smiley universe. He's not on NPR any longer and I recall the reason given was that he simply wasn't sustaining a large enough black audience. I listened every once in a while, but even when he occasionally had West and Watts, I was mostly turned off by the show. I don't think that Smiley has the right stuff to walk with kings and keep the common touch. But yeah it's that accent too, where the hell does it come from? So I don't think he's at the right level between the well-researched and the dumbed down for broadcast news. But I have to admit that in the end, the Black Summit was something good.

    I am one of the millions of black Americans that believes in the Drop Squad. The concept is simple. We live and work and learn so many degrees of separation from the simple ability to get things done, that we expect any moment that somebody with juice can eradicate all the pretense. Imagine you're a black man working in accounting. You know your white boss is an idiot who slept her way to the vice presidency and now she and some other officers are trying to get away with some Enron shit. You try to delicately raise the issue and then she starts telling you that your lucky to have a job. All blackfolks have one of these moments. That's when we wish the Drop Squad would show up, complete with a new job and well-deserved promotion and indictments for the ho and her pimps.

    We've also had the other side of the fantasy, when driving down the ave and we see a beautiful young black woman sitting on the bus stop. The look on her face says 'all men are dogs' and worse. And you just wish you could be the Drop Squad and kidnap her to your 500 acre estate, correct her English and otherwise do that Pygmalion thing.

    So my excursions into cyberspace like those of many of my young, gifted and black bretheren of the previously proud group formerly known as the Talented Tenth, are all about the Hookup. We assemble our virtual Drop Squads and we attempt again and again to come with the hard line, to drop some science, to update, inform and otherwise continue in The Struggle. We want to be part of the uncorruptible source, p-funk, uncut funk, The Bomb.

    The cultural desire in black America for the operations of the Drop Squad was articulated best in several different ways by Derrick Bell. Yes there was a movie by that exact name in 1994 which starred little black stars who became big black stars never again to costar in the little movies Hollywood budgets for big black casts (Eriq LaSalle & Ving Rhames). But it was Bell who in several different flavors in his book 'Faces at the Bottom of the Well' who gave us the Quad A. He also gave us Afrolantica Rising. Hell, he even gave us redneck survivalists ready to die fighting racism against blacks. All these are variations on the same theme. Somebody needs to come correct racial prejudice with extreme prejudice.

    But the Drop Squad is not, in case you didn't catch the drift, only about dropping bombs on errant whitefolks. It's Officer and a Gentleman stuff for blackfolks who trip as well. This is what Cosby believes he is doing. This is what all established or wannabe black leaders are trying to do, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Drop Squad. All that is, except for our martyrs, Malcolm and Martin.

    So Fryer is going to have to stand in line with the rest of us, as we all get our crack at bat. And maybe he'll strike out, or maybe he'll bunt a sacrifice to advance some other player we've left on first. Who? That is the question. But whether we're coming from the Right or Left field, I'm pretty sure we're all playing the same game, and it ain't over til it's over.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Hostage: A Dadjerker

    I think maybe I have figured it out. Bruce Willis I mean. I love just about everything he touches, and the first time he got to me on a second level it was with Mercury Rising. Critics hated it, but I thought it was great. It's one of those movies I still quote from today, well we joke about Simon drinking his hot cocoa 'sloooowly'. Last night I saw 'Hostage' and the secret is no more. Bruce Willis owns the dad zone.

    The last movie that smacked me right in my dad-zone was 'The Road to Perdition'. But 'The Hostage' is a bit more gut-wrenchingly contemporary. The film has made me bring up the subject of security with my family - what do you do if a stranger breaks into the house? (My boy says throw the XBox controller at him).

    This one doesn't go quite as far as 'Saw' in making a contemporary thriller hit very close to home, but it still kicks one in the gut rather like an amped up version of 'Panic Room'. Willis is his usual stoic, competent and sensitive self, and there are sterling performers by the juveniles of the film.

    The moral of this story is basically, these are the kind of things that go wrong when there's no dad around, and it couldn't be dramatized in a better way. As an action and suspense thriller I think that puts it in a fairly unique class. Guys are always being asked to go see chick flicks, but I think this is the kind of movie women might want to check out to understand the paranoia of middle-aged fathers. We know the evil that men do.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:27 AM | TrackBack

    March 26, 2005

    Torture: Rendition, State Proxies & Credible Threats

    I might go all around the blogosphere looking for places to comment, but I'm satisfied at stopping at Kleiman's because I think he provides some fairly useful terms I would like to use as well.

    Firstly, we should examine the question outside of the context of our society. The value or morality of an idea should be established independently of people's ability to realize it. I happen to believe that most of the legitimate arguments against torture-execution have this as their key rationale: Any society that legitimates torture-execution sets a liberalizing precedent that is intolerable because it is apt to be systematically miscarried. Once you torture and kill Eichmann, people will always look for 'another Eichmann'; a crime to fit the punishment.

    I wonder if the rationale against torture and torture-execution is based upon the principle that certain things simply cannot be right, vs certain things cannot be proxied. In the first case the result would be that lethal injection would always be our most severe punishment. The second case suggests that more severe punishments could be justified, but we simply cannot allow the state to perform them. I tend to believe that our legal principles are based on the second case rather than the first. The example that immediately comes to mind is that of the man who defends his home with a shotgun. I cannot think of any circumstance under which a state which executes convicts would allow their guts to be blown out with buckshot and left to bleed out. That would be cruel and unusual. I also can't imagine any state that would blame the parent whose child was held at knifepoint by an intruder from using Mr. Mossberg.

    What concerns me most about the use of torture or of a particularly painful death sentence is not that they might be cruel or unusual, but that they might be applied irresponsibly or liberally. However I cannot agree that 'torture is always wrong and should never be used'. That is self-limiting and self-defeating, and it suggests that there is absolutely no use for torture under any circumstances. There must be, if only for its provision of a credible threat. From what I've gathered, it's torture to threaten torture rather in the same way raising your hand is assault even if you don't hit. Such hairs must be split I imagine, but in either case, the threat of torture must be credible.

    This is why I have some two kinds of difficulty with what our Attorney General is saying about the president's policy on rendition. Firstly, I simply don't believe his flat denial. We torture. There can be no question about the fact that American culture is tolerant of what goes by the label of torture. We are a culture that remains positive on the matter of 'rough justice'. Furthermore, I don't believe we have any real good faith that our allies to whom we deport or render prisoners don't torture. It's a double lie, but I hope it's a transparent one.

    Secondly, I don't think ruling out torture is good policy, but if you're going to, leave rendition off the table. The way I see it, rendition allows us to have our cake and eat it to. Rendition allows us to retain a credible threat of torture without actually having to practice it. With an absolute statement like the one made by Alberto Gonzales, we are committing to a lie. It may be effective in a disinformative way; anyone within earshot of the AG will believe that they are in deep doodoo if they find themselves facing real torture at the hands of Americans, but it puts us on the hook to punish our monsters. What we really want is for our monsters to have sharp teeth at the ready.

    I'm going to come back to this matter over and over because there are a wide number of angles to consider, but what breaks this post out of 'draft' this evening is my consideration of the matter of nuclear weapons.

    I can hardly imagine anyone reasonably arguing that the employment torture is worse than the use of nuclear weapons. What then is the rationale for us having them? Our possession of nuclear weapons is a deterrent, and our defiance of the Test Ban Treaty is raising our hand in assault and reminding the world of the credible threat. But what then would it sound like if we were to say out loud that it is our president's policy never to use nuclear weapons, nor do we expect any of our allies to use them? I think everyone would see that it is a transparent lie, because clearly we reserve the right to under certain circumstances.

    In the end, with torture as with any weapon our confidence can only be in very strict rules of engagement. This alone allows us to have any justfication in reserving the right to have the capacity. It is strict adherence to those rule that justifies our collective proxy and avoids the true evil of arbitrary and liberal use of force. This is nothing more or less than a strictly maintained chain of command and control - the backbone of the military.

    All this is a bit off Kleiman's topic of torture-execution and justice as a proxy for revenge, but I did want to establish my first principles. The scary thing is not that our monster has sharp teeth, but that it has a weak backbone.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:12 PM | TrackBack

    March 23, 2005

    Happy Darkies

    Yeah it's black culture again. I'm waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to America and the obsession over Schiavo to relent. Plus these 250 mile commutes are killing my blogging. But I had a pretty interesting counter-intuitive thought last night, on the highway, in the rain. We need happy darkies.

    Basically, African American success is messing with our culture. We strive to achieve so much, and yet having achieved so much we are still not satisfied. As it has been demonstrated, when you control for education and the age of the mother and income, the black-white gap in the educational achievements in children is effectively zero.

    So the big question is whether or not black communities sustain today's black middle class? I think not. It's because we a bit too bourgie for our own good. As the theories about nation-building go about in the post election Iraq, one theme that is consistently raised is the critical necessity for a functional middle class - people who do honest work for an honest wage. Whether they are considered an apparatchik of the Soviet system, a materialistic drone in America, or a domineering ethnic group in Iraq, stable societies (and Iraq was stable) require people well suited to keep the trains running on time. Without this, relative chaos.

    Here in the states, the promised dream of good solid work and education has evaded many blackfolks who live in the defacto segregation of the inner-city. There simply isn't the economic base for much of a middle class suitable for black ambition. That's why, everywhere you look, more and more blacks in the middle class are migrating out of traditional black ghettoes.

    The 'obsessiveness' of black culture in its constant comparison to white, is part and parcel of the quintessential American desire to keep up with the Joneses. It's just that for black Americans, all the Joneses are white, and we keep jonsing to be in their shoes. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, blacks have a surfiet of desire and expectation. The existence of a black middle class is not enough. We want Oscars, we want never to be insulted even in passing or unintentionally. We want Affirmative Action for the sons and daughters of college-educated blacks. We generate these desires not because we are obsessed with race, it has simply always been the way we express our ambition in America: to live as well as the white man.

    So what's left behind? Hypersegregated areas, non-white, poor, bad schools, weak economic base. The internal third world, some with folks who are incapable of seeing success in any other terms than 'acting white'.

    Are these black ghetto dwellers happy? I don't think so. They may not be motivated to rise in political anger though they may give lip service to such rhetoric. But unlike the dissaffected in weaker nations, gangs don't overturn local governments. There is no political fire to spread - no black Hamas in Harlem. But so many of our black brothers and sisters are in close proximity to this dysfunction that it affects broader black culture. We are never too far from this struggle. So as I consider my own, and the ambition of my African American peers, especially in contradistinction to the lowbrow ambition of Bling I see elements of the same desire. We want to get away from the haters.

    I still keep coming back to the line that Cedric the Entertainer busted out in 'Be Cool' and I hope somebody transcribes it somewhere. He essentially said that if you looked at the sum total of black cultural creations in America, you have to recognize, and the least you can do is be grateful for it and say 'thanks brother'. But nobody, politically or economically is giving thanks, and culturally all the thanks are going to hiphop. The result? A huge sense of political frustration in the black middle that keeps them falsely aligned with the interminable dissatisfaction of those at the bottom. This is wrecking hell with black politics and I think the primary cause of black political apathy.

    The scary thesis that underlies this thinking is that we are basically at racial equilibrium. Whether anybody likes it or not, the capacity of blacks to advance in American society depends primarily on the political consensus. That political consensus is basically, "Do it like everybody else." In other words there are no more publicly supported initiatives for blacks that are separate. What can be fast-tracked on the public dime is means tested for class, and simply blackness alone won't do it. Ultimately, and inevitably, blackfolks are on their own.

    So the political and cultural desires of African Americans at large are not satisfied with what the public at large believes we deserve. This is a source of constant irritation among progressive blacks whose ambition is frustrated. Put aside for a moment the terminal cases of ex-militants, socialists, and would-be prison prophets, there is a good plurality of black political interests whose primary interests are frustrated. The overwhelming majority of blackfolks I talk to want to slap the mother whose son was shot by cops for driving a stolen car at 4 in the morning. But they also are saying, that's our sister, frustrated that they can't really help. So you get this situation that I talked about before, that the Democrat agenda does nothing for blacks that it does for anyone else. The entire Democrat appeal to blacks is premised on the suggestion (but is it true) that everything they do benefits blacks more because blacks suffer more. So you get a series of boilerplate 'duh' comments like "We are for health care." And the best that frustrated black progressives can say is "Blacks are dispropotionately ill, therefore we have to support Democrat initiatives." It's a dumb game that even GWBush has gotten burned playing on Social Security vis a vis life expectancy. But the hypocrisy is clearly evident to me, is it to you?

    So my brain addled solution considered while driving home in the rain was that we need to put the brakes on black ambition and figure out how our forefathers muddled through. Why is it that a black man in the 40s, who suffered few of the great deprivations the black left often repeats, would be satisfied with a job as an electrician or a plumber? How is it that today we get this huge inordinate focus on college-prep entrance exam test scores on a class of students that everybody knows is ill-prepared for the rigors of University? Maybe that 40s black man, that Easy Rollins character, had some of that old time religion. He had a satisfaction in being a Negro that todays African Americans are just too uppity to settle for.

    The rules of scarcity limit the ability for all of us to get to the promised land. But didn't Sula find happiness in The Bottom? Didn't Celie finally get her family together? Isn't there a home for some of us in deepest, darkest Mississippi?

    Where I come out on this matter personally is exceptional. I'm the guy who has just closed down his fourth (or fifth) business and walked into a six figure job. I'm the guy who lives quite happily in the vanilla suburbs where my braided daughters and braided son are all popular at school and they keep trying to get my wife to run the PTA. I'm well integrated into the upper-middle 'do we need a third sofa or should we go on a cruise instead' class. I'm also Old School and also well adjusted to the class distinctions within African America. So what I'm saying is that Bling culture is wrong and that while I'm very pleased with our surfiet of ambition, but I think we need to be more realistic about where most African Americans live. I don't believe that mainstream culture is going to give non-Cosby black middle class folks their due props, it has to come from within.

    The ghetto is not where we all belong, and those like my family who got out as soon as possible sped along the collapse. I'm very concerned about those working class and lower middle class blacks. Will our traditional roots & culture sustain them against the cielings? The political consensus on racial integration is, 'just do it', which essentially means nobody is going to get off the dime for any assistance. For the millions of African Americans who *are* middle class and have those values, with a corresponding lack of middle-class institutions to support them, on the edge of the dysfunctional ghetto what is their hedge?

    I think it's the Black Church, and I'm not sure what to make of that.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:22 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

    March 22, 2005


    Of all the rogues described in Henry Miller's Paris, my favorite was "Monsieur L'Econome" the man who made Henry pay the rent. He was a pain in Miller's side, always there to remind him of economic reality. Steven Levitt is Mr. Freakonome and his book 'Freakonomics' will not so much remind us, as astound us with heretofore untold economic realities.

    A 'freakonomy' might be described as a highly indexed and tabulated view of something of curiosity to the average American, but probably an unlikely subject in the staid academy. For example, what are the statistical probabilities that a girl named 'Molly' will be white? Levitt is not mollified by just one name, he goes multivariate. Among whites in California who makes more money, the parents of Sarah or the parents of Ashley? Levitt has a habit of asking the kind of questions you and I would ask, and he employs state of the art tools and methods to cull out fascinating facts. He's rather like Cecil Adams with a slide rule. But these are not idle questions merely for the curiosity. They go deeper still. What are the chances that DeShawn Williams will get a job when his resume is identical to Jack Williams? Why does Shanice name her daughter Deja? Is that correlated to their chances of success in America?

    Levitt offers us a fresh look at a number of subjects which are bound to turn the conventional wisdom on its head. He covers race, parenting, crime, cheating, abortion, drug dealing and gun control with the forthright honesty that we are fortunate enough to expect from his generation (Mr. Levitt is under 40), and the academic discipline of an award winning economist of the Chicago School. His first book, Freakonomics is a tour through the mindset of a man bent on discovery - unafraid to ask any question of our society.

    It's difficult for me to distance myself from the excitement attending the opportunity to review this book before publication. It's significant for me personally as a blogger and it also indicates that folks at William Morrow take the blogosphere seriously. Both are great news. But even if I'd found this book in the dusty stacks of some second-hand bookstore, I'd marvel at its approach and conclusions. And yet I'm hungry for more. Freakonomics serves to remind us how uncritically we have looked at race and how rarely statistical facts bear up the most common arguments we are accustomed to hearing. The discipline of distinguishing correlation from causality serves Levitt and his researchers well, and so does having mountains of data. But the most important thing is that the questions are being asked in creative ways and the whole nine yards of research are covered. As a black parent in a predominantly white suburb, there are a wide variety of topics that I have found relevant to my life in Levitt's book that have to do with what is assumed about parents, children, school, race and class. This alone could be a momentous study.

    If Freakonomics is flawed, it is because it is a compendium without a theme. One wonders if there is anything compelling enough to gain Levitt's undivided attention. Then again, we'd have to wait years and years for another book, and Freakonomics just screams for a series of sequels. There is simply no theory thick enough to hold predict the trajectories of the bullets he's shot through conventional wisdom. Or perhaps Mr. Levitt has been kind enough to withhold the names of the fellow economists he's shamed. It seems more likely that Levitt's peers are all packed in the same posse and they are headed off into a new direction. I just wonder if any of this freaky wisdom is going to stick in the interim. In that, Levitt rather blows a hole in the field of economics and sets us all to wondering what the hell economists have been doing all this time.

    One thing is clear, however. Levitt & Dubner make approachable some of the inner workings of economics. They make it look a lot easier than the work probably was, and a geek like me would have appreciated if they jumped meta every once in a while. I mean, how does one come upon a database of 16 million birth certificates from the state of California and what does it take to get access? Beacuse if Levitt can do that, what could be done with all of the huge marketing databases we have in America? See? The door has been thrown open on the fact that a lot of conventional wisdom, including the belief that experts like real-estate agents are working in our best interests, is wrong. All it takes is a little creative thinking, a good database and some economic grinding. Who knows how difficult and time consuming that grinding may be, but as they say in the X Files, the answers are out there. Levitt's approach begs to be hacked and replicated because we tech folks know, there are galaxies of data out there.

    I highly recommend this book. Although I wish it were a bit more geeky and unapproachable, there's no denying the juicy insides. The writing is light but thoughtful and it's a solid introduction to a new way of second guessing the experts. Key to this is Levitt's keen sense of being able to identify how and to what extent people are incented to do the things they do. If you're looking for a Michael Pollan or a John McPhee, you're going to be disappointed, but Levitt and Dubner do well. This is a mass market book which is going to make a big spash, and you will no doubt be hearing more about Steven D. Levitt (and his economic posse) in the future.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 19, 2005

    Million Dollar Baby & Assisted Suicide

    I finally understand why Terri Schindler Schiavo's story has such ridiculously long legs. It's Morgan Freeman's fault.

    Million Dollar Baby, in case you haven't seen it, is a multileveled parable about living and dying. Depending on whom you are, the central moral of the story is about forgiveness, the meaning of sacrifice and family or the moral dilemma of euthanasia. It is the story of an over-protective boxing trainer who, at the urging of his ex-boxer partner, takes on a new fighter, a not-so-young woman with nowhere else to go.

    It's a brilliant film in many ways. Let's talk about the movie. The first thing that struck me about this flick is that Eastwood has managed to make it timeless. It has a look which is so different and out of place among Hollywood films that you have to look closely at the automobiles to find out what year it's supposed to be. It succeeds by only being vaguely contemporary, it's a classic American story. Its characters look each other up and down, they stand in shadows, they talk around each other. They are their bodies and their voices in ways that we are not often presented. It is a close and intimate film empty of pretense. It isn't weighty and it didn't make me cry.

    Watching Eastwood is making me want to take movies seriously again, something I haven't done for many years. For me, it has all been about converting bits that challenge my home electronics and assault my senses. For inspiration, I'd be happy with reading, thank you. But films like this, if they are not as rare as they seem, might turn that about. In this, the characters speak, not the writers. So emotional impact is not a target - there aren't engineered impact moments. Maybe it's the lighting, maybe it's the music, maybe it's the pace or some combination, but in the end you live through it. I felt as though I have been told a good story, and not had a 'moviegoing experience'. There were no women in faded white dresses with British accents awakening inner feelings somewhere in Africa. There were no broken men finding transcendent moments of redemption. It was something unusual, and perhaps unique: an honest film.

    The story might end here, but that would be too simple. There is politics and moral posturing to do in a nation of infidels, and no rest for the weary symbol jockeys of the blogosphere. So I'm obliged to offer the suspicion that a goodly percentage of Terri's 'pro-life' fans are stung by the courageous transgression of Clint Eastwood's Frank. In order to make the following clear, note that there are two kinds of do-gooders in the Florida fracas. There are people who think Terri should live on. There people who think Mrs. Schiavo has lived long enough. Both claim to be friends looking out for hers and the best interests of the nation. Who's right? I think Clint Eastwood was right.

    If Eastwood is right, it is because he created family where none truly existed. He grasped the unflinching truth of the danger and risk of skilled competition, and half-heartedly at first, yet finally with conviction and soul, he dedicated himself to bringing to fruition the passionate dream of someone who trusted him to. It is not selfless mentorship. It's investment of self. And if I might pontificate for a moment, this is all the difference between mendacious charity and leadership, which I think is a distinction more of us need to understand. Which is why I wrote the following paragraphs:

    Yesterday, the last word in political hypocrisy under the guise of morality brazenly spun its words into my radio's stream. Somebody had the nerve to say Shiavo's death is all about 'judicial activists' changing the definition of life. Aside from the fact that it generally takes an act of congress to get Congress to act, I've not seen such a reactionary bit of grandstanding as yesterday's moves by Hastert and DeLay to jump into Shiavo's business.

    The heads at NPR are finally saying '15 years' which is about the first time I've heard it said in any of the numerous radio stories I've been listening to for the past month. It occured to me that the pennance due those who can't abide her assisted suicide would be to watch a one hour video of Schiavo winking and gurgling. Every day. For a year. Let's see how their enthusiasm for political grandstanding weathers that grueling ordeal.

    But I don't want that to be what comes out of my mouth today. It's why this post is late, because now I have to think. I have to slow down and stop reacting. Eastwood made me think about my own children and what I am helping them to become. He made me reconsider the notion of whom I might be living for and why. Indeed we should all reconsider the meaning of life in that regard.

    Life is not a precious possession. It is not some treasure that can be banked. Life is a vigorous process. It is not something one has, rather it is something one moves with. You can't just get a life. Rather you engage in living. It's all about the dynamism. It's all about the achievement.

    If you haven't seen the film, do. It can't be mitigated in the retelling and so I haven't hesitated.


  • The Ethics of Death, Strength & Weakness
  • Obligatory Seriousness on Schiavo
  • Posted by mbowen at 02:19 PM | TrackBack

    March 17, 2005

    Freakonomics - First Peek

    In my current reading, I've gotten an advance copy of Steven D. Levitt's new book, Freakonomics. The title is just weird enough to draw a good-sized audience of non-wonks, and the folks at William Morrow have got their audience right. Anybody who likes Michael Crichton, Oliver Sachs, David Brooks, Andrew Hacker or Malcolm Gladwell's eyes for the interesting will be immediately sucked in.

    Co-written with Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics is a smooth and entertaining read. Levitt has the mind of a scientist, but the eye of a curious wanderer who suddenly gets hooked on a subject. Anyone who reads blogs on the regular will recognize his willingness to take a curiosity and turn it inside out for inspection. But Levitt brings the rigor of statistics to bear on this as well as a disdain for simple answers. In many ways his discipline to go beyond the obvious is reminescent of business researcher Jim Collins the author of 'Good to Great', with the caveat that Levitt is a one man operation. If and when he gets to assemble the kind of team that Collins had, we will be in for a whirlwind of revelation.

    Levitt is a little out of his depth when it comes to information theory, but he gets the fundamentals right. He makes timely observations about insider trading, citing Martha Stewart, but broadens the scope to look at the incentives of more garden variety professionals who interact with the public. I would have thought that the most interesting aspect of the Stewart, indeed of any high profile case has to do with identifying how any number of relatively weak individuals are suddenly rendered powerful by dint of their possession of the right info.

    I've been very busy the past few days since I got it, otherwise I'm sure I would have finished by now. It will be digested this weekend. On the whole I think I will recommend it highly, and I guarantee that at least one of Levitt's stories will become the new common wisdom - like IBM's Diapers & Beer story.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:05 PM | TrackBack

    March 15, 2005

    Urban Hacking, Effete Republicans & The Spirit of Mega

    In the coming weeks and months, it is my intention to get back in shape and do a bit of urban hacking and amateur spyjinks. I think it's an excellent idea for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that, well, every once in a while I get my fill of bourgie bloviation.

    I came across this notion in three or four stages. The first was the realization that Glenn Close is going to play a detective in this season of 'The Shield'. Make sure to get a season pass on that. She researched the project by spending some time with an actual real woman cop in NYC. The second was the idea of 'Blame the Enemy', which I will post in the future - stay tuned for that. The third has to do with my continuing security focus, and the fourth with my discovery of yet another blog I wrote several years ago in the months leading up to September 11th.

    That blog was called 'Obscura' and I'm republishing it here. The archives may or may not work as of this publishing. Speaking of which, Blogger has gotten its act together since I last checked. I'm liking it a lot more and will probably do some serial hit-and-run blogging.

    One of the Obscura posts led me back to Jinx Magazine. A very little known fact was that I used to be a tagger back in highschool. That's right, I belonged to a prep-school cholo-wannabee gang, and we tagged various joints in the very old school style of pre-wildstyle graffiti. Anyway my name was Jinx, so the site appealed to me immediately. Then I discovered what they were all about and was immedately transfixed by stories that took me way back. So I predisposed a portion of myself to GPS hacking, dumpster diving and like activities. Intellectually and culturally these fit nicely into part of the 'new tactical', and 'blackneck' themes. [Un]fortunately as the case may be, I have not pressed any compatriots into this manner of sport.

    In reading up on the highlighted hacker of the day, Citizen Chris, it occurred to me that there's a bit of an anarchist component in this cohort. Chris writes with a bit of snarky irony:

    There is this vast Republican conspiracy to underfund the entire infrastructure of the nation. Few repairs are made to highway systems so that more Americans are stuck in gridlock and thus have more time to be brainwashed by the Limbaughs, O'Reilly's, and Hannity's of hate radio as they sit and stew in traffic. The anger of the horrible commute creates a Pavlovian conditioning situation in which hatred of the gridlocked commute is transferred to Democrats, liberals and the their vast evil communist plots.


    Be that delusion as it may, there is an element of truth in it, which is that they are talking about a class of Republicans that do exist out there. One of 70 classes I'd imagine. But for those of us Republicans who own boots, workgoves and chainsaws (you know it!), there's a bit of an attitude adjustment we have yet to deliver in the national electorate.

    So I'm digging the angle of how close knowledge, power and (for lack of a better word) transgression are to what is generally percieved by dainty people to be criminality. The line is not so thin as many would like to think, and those of us whose responsibility it is to make things work, know very well what it would take to sabotage those very things. But we never do, we're responsible and we consider it our duty to remain that way.

    America has millions who own 4WDs that never get engaged. And I think there is an image that youth has that only lefties and anarchists get dirty. Those on the right who do are all either 'stupid rednecks' or 'gullible soldiers'. Whatever to that. I'm going to have fun getting dirty and going to places where it is expected that only delinquents and homeless people are. So I'm looking, through Jinx, for folks in LA who won't mind getting their feet wet in the LA River. I know just where to start too, Civil engineering departments.

    BTW, Chris, misguided as he is politically, has admirably gotten himself a 100-ton master's license. (Google that one your damned self.) Reminds me to call my boy Bernard who used to hang out with Liberian freighter captains.

    One more thing. Remember the Spirit of Mega.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 13, 2005

    Robots (Starring Robin Williams)

    Is it me or is Robin Williams just too manic and full of himself?

    I think I've listened to my last unsubtle 1.5-entendre. After about an hour of it, it goes downhill. 'Robots', at a theatre near you, is about as formulaic as it is possible to make an animated feature and still have it actually be funny. But after it's over you feel like you've been tied down, sent through an MRI and tickled strategically.

    But I'll tell you what it is that irks me where I have no business being irked. It's the unrelenting reactionary anti-corporatism. Jeez what a load of shallow grease. I think that as time moves forward, there's a clear difference between the writing at Pixar and everywhere else. Pixar is the class act. Everybody else sucks. I mean if you're going to launch a screed against corporate greed, do it with real characters, not a ragtag gang of automatons with less personality than the crew at the Rugrats (or the Teen Titans, or Jimmy Neutron, or The Fairly Oddparents, or Spongebob Squarepants, or Monsters Inc, or half a dozen other kid-friendly joints).

    I lay odds that this whole mangled affair was the brainfart of Robin Williams who must have had a bet with somebody that he could do half his routine in drag without offending anyone. It's not offensive to anyone doesn't know the difference between a hero and a sidekick, or people too slow-witted to know that there are other moral forces in the world besides the violent rebellion of the angry masses.

    It's Robin Williams all over the place overacting roughshod over what might have otherwise been a charming movie for adulds as well as goofy fun for kids. Instead, Williams runs his robot through at least 20 different voices without so many as 3 costume changes. Instead of a flawed hero overcoming his own insecurities, Rodney Copperbottom (oh yeah him, this is his story right?) is just an ordinary guy trying to fill a need; Robin Williams as 'Fender' is the flaw.

    Ick. The more I think about the spindly legs upon which the clunky morality of this tale does the robot, the more I hate thinking about it and the less I can recommend it. Not that it's not funny, but it's fart-joke funny and I can only take my debasements in pairs. If the ensemble would have gelled, if only there had been more to the story than just plot, if Williams would have just fit inside his character, if Halle Berry had said more than 100 words, if somebody could explain why Big Weld was so fat...

    Giving credit where credit is due, I can't recall the last evil mother working through her pretty boy script since The Manchurian Candidate. Nice touch. A passive-aggressive momma's boy - the only character with a tie. On the other hand, poor Rodney Copperbottom, not only does he not really get the girl (or if he does, we can't really tell which one), but he does the whole thing for his dad.

    This is a film with no real heroes, and in that regard it is inferior even to 'Shark Tale'. Yes that's right, Shark Tale is superior to this bucket of bolts when it comes to the story.

    Where Robots shines is in its slapstick. There's a brilliant scene in which Copperbottom gets magnetized - classic. It does a pretty decent job making jabs and takeoffs on other movies, but seems a bit shy to lay it on as thick as it should have - well with any actor other than Williams. Aunt Fanny is as big a crackup as she should have been, and the fart and booty jokes are top shelf.

    I swear I hope this flick doesn't get past the DVD.

    Posted by mbowen at 05:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 09, 2005

    Healing, Curing, Black Politics & The Doppler Effect

    I found something from the archives that I found particularly interesting. I was actually searching for something on Steven Levitt (the Chicago economist) but found William Levitt (the Long Island real estate developer) instead. Indulge me for a moment:

    The early Levittowns also had an ugly secret: no black families allowed. "As a Jew, I have no room in my mind or heart for racial prejudice," Levitt insisted in 1954. "But, by various means, I have come to know that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community. That is their attitude, not ours."

    i was paraphrasing levitt in my westbury example because half of my library is in the garage.

    let me step back and give you my interpretation of the scope of this thread because i do want to engage you on common ground. first off, i contend that the biggest racial problem in america is the institutional racism inherent in segregated housing, and that every major obstacle facing blacks and latinos in particular in achieving social equality stem from the fact that they are living, by and large, in internal third worlds. if you ever hear me say that america is a racist country i am talking about the structural facts of american apartheid. jim crow and racial segregation were the law of the land, and until the overwhelming majority of racial minorities are dispersed into housing built *after* fair housing laws, all those enequities will remain permanent. you cannot evade the fact of white flight, and you cannot evade the fact of ghettoes. by extension, everyone who has participated in this housing market strengthens this aspect of american racism.

    that is the short way of saying it. i am in 100% agreement with the theses put forth by glenn loury. here is his piece.

    now. there is but one way out of this situation and it involves nothing short of the destruction of the ghetto. this implies mass migration and/or massive transfers of capital. these measures would, by and large, eliminate economic basis of and structural component for racism in america.

    both mass migration and massive transfers of capital are, to put it mildly, politically unacceptable. and therefore we have moved from the area of CURE to the area of HEALING. when you move to the area of healing, you address the symptoms but not the root causes of racial inequality. nevertheless, HEALING is an important part of solving the entire problem.

    so my approach to this part of the discussion of race first asks the question, exactly how important is healing, and who should be responsible for doing it? i contend that we have quite enough healing, and that our positive attitude towards healing ought to help us focus on curing.

    so when i bring up the matters of white flight, segregated neighborhoods, and racist institutions i am pushing the envelope towards the personal. i am asking us to consider the political acceptability of curing. i am trying to get people to accept responsibility for failure to act on a curing basis, and i call into question the rationality of further healing.

    moving forward, for example, it's clear that a sizeable portion of the electorate has had its fill of affirmative action. i would argue that affirmative action is part cure and part healing. to the extent that it removes people from the ghetto and places them into areas of american that *work*, it is a cure. yet to the extent that it is considered an act of charity and goodwill, of bending rules and making exceptions then it is an act of healing. in the largest scope of things, all of the affirmative actions in america have not significantly changed the relative gap in employment rates between the mainstream and the beneficiary class (except perhaps for white women). so affirmative action is clearly not a final cure.

    enterprise zones and set asides address more directly the matters of transfers of capital. CURES. and yet the political acceptability of the combination of enterprize zones, set asides AND affirmative action is just about dead. so politically speaking, we are at an impass. american refuses to cure.

    so all the healing leftover goes out to blacks and latinos who have essentially already entered the middle class, leaving ghetto residents in the lurch. the only thing left that will help those barrio dwellers are real cures.

    The other day over at P6, we got into analogyland talking physics. We screwed up the physics, but the basic idea made sense, which is that the speed of the observer makes a difference in the perception of something that is actually constant.

    To put the Doppler Effect into the black political analogy, the economic progress of certain segments of African America skews their perception of Republican politics. If they are moving forward, it sounds good, if they are falling backward it sounds bad. Republicans say the same thing and different folks hear it differently. To extend this metaphor of physics into the quantum realm, whenever a certain group of blackfolks investigates that message, it changes.

    Now add on top of this epistemological problem the question of patronage. Let's just reduce it to a three dimensional problem with just a few variables.

    Factor One: Progress
    Individual Progress v Group Progress

    Factor Two: Racism
    Healing v Curing

    Factor Three: Social Mobility
    Moving Forward v Moving Backward

    Now cross this matrix with what Spence is saying about Newt Gingrich and black health care and you have an interesting formula, which might be the beginning of an understanding of which African Americans might be attracted to the Republican Party and vice-versa.

    [Republicans] They go after blacks who have the resources to carve space for themselves and their families without the aid of the federal government. And they go after blacks who believe in the cultural agenda of the evangelical wing of the party: health initiatives that focus on the individual rather than the community; school voucher programs that focus on individual parents rather than on neighborhood school systems; and empower those individuals best able to take advantage of the opportunity. In this case we're talking about a thin slice of black professionals who are more likely to have grown up imitating "The Cosby Show" rather than "Good Times." If the GOP is successful here and raises the 12 percent they received in 2004 to around 15 percent in 2008, then they look to be hard to beat. And as the number of African Americans leaving cities like Detroit for the suburbs increases exponentially, this scenario looks more and more possible. Probable even.

    This is very much what I expected, a class-based split. The monkey wrench in this theory is that it doesn't account for the pure ideological affinity between social conservatives and many African Americans on the socially conservative side of the Old School. (I'm on the progressive side of the Old School).

    Note however in asking blackfolks about the kind of patronage they expect from any political party, I think the matrix is very instructional in indicating an ideological preference independent (or maybe deterministic) of one's stances on particular government programs like Affirmative Action.

    I will continue to use them as we talk about other issues.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 08, 2005

    Equality vs Destiny: The Right Fraction

    Somewhere in the past few days I read a tale of despair over the low numbers of African Americans in some high profile positions. If I'm not mistaken it was Robin DG Kelly, the renowned professor and the percentage of blacks in his profession was something like 2%. And on the face of it, that seemed to be a fairly dire situation. Then I thought about it a little bit.

    If African Americans are about 12% of America, then 2% representation in a profession would mean that only 1 out of 6 of us is doing what we 'ought'. Given what we know about African America, that's not so bad as it seems.

    I'd have to check out Booker Rising for the stats again, but I think that by American standards, only about 2/3 of African America is part of the broad middle class by economic standards alone. We know that most of us live in ghettoes and ex-ghettoes and otherwise segregated un-mainstream places, so even those who are doing well economically are generally a bit underserved, underemployed and over-beat down. But we're still middle class, by and large, with middle class values. What do right-handed blacks have on their left wrists? Watches. Maybe a little bit cheaper watch from the Wal-Mart instead of a nicer one from Target, but it still tells the same time. So we have issues with mobility, there's no doubt about that.

    It's not so easy for the black middleclass kid to become an upper-middleclass kid. By and large, he is not as mainstreamed, and has greater fidelity to home and 'hood, than his white counterpart. It's part of the same old formula, that blacks have to work harder to get equality. And so I think we understand all of the reasons that the black upper-middleclass is not as large, relative to the race, as the white upper-middleclass is. But black geeks understand the same anti-intellectual challenges as white geeks. Upward mobility is tough all around, and pretty damned rewarding if you get up.

    But how many blacks get up? If you look at African America as its own nation as I often do, I'm concerned about how high the upper class of blacks get in the context of American power. I think that's what I think Malcolm would have me do. And in the context of a Black Contract with Black America, by and for, what the focus ought to be is not so much what fraction of blacks are doing exactly what whites are doing, but what fraction of blacks are doing better than before.

    It seems to me that it is reasonable that African America may not produce as many pawn shop owners as Russian Americans. However we may produce more police detectives. The important question to me is whether our Old School values will put us where we deserve to be in the world, in other words what will be the ultimate fruit of our history in the New World? I'm convinced the expression of that victory will not be in the representational percentages of white vs black in American bourgie institutions.

    America is the vehicle and African American destiny is intimately bound to the America's destiny. But America's destiny is equally bound to what free black men and women decide to do with their lives. I know that's more than just keeping up with the Joneses. So I have no doubt that we could have more upper-middleclass black professors, but a more important question is should we. Furthermore, how well are we accomplishing the upward mobility within our own ranks? What we do with equal opportunity is the burning question, bringing up arbitrary inequalities by race in any profession is not necessarily a productive one.

    I the game really that of equality or destiny?

    Posted by mbowen at 01:35 PM | TrackBack

    March 06, 2005

    Finding Neverland

    I don't know what it is about movies these days. Are all critics interested in doing is finding tearjerking melodramas? Gawd, are there any serious films left for adults? I'll tell you, the last one I saw was 'Sexy Beast'.

    I seem to be losing my ability to jump meta in dramatic films. The reason for this is that I respect my $8.50 too much. If it's on the Tivo, that's another story, I'm a regular Crowbot. But on the big screen, I shut down my inner critic and let the waves overflow. So I had no idea that the main actor in this deally was Johnny Depp. Hell I didn't even recognize The Rock in 'Be Cool'. Whatever. I'm too busy being entertained, or sobbing my eyes out, one.

    This weeper is supposed to be about - oh hell you know what it's about. It's about the story behind the story of 'Peter Pan', a slow motion dissolution of a marriage and the whimsical adoption of a greatly imaginative writer and a family of four boys, their beautiful but ailing and widowed mother and their meddling hairshirt of a grandmother. It's a very charming affair, but I couldn't help thinking that it's a mix between Howard's End and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And man I've got to say, there's nothing quite like those thick tweedy period suits. I gotta get one before I die.

    'Finding Neverland' is a completely arresting story. Depp's character is instantly likeable, as he negotiates the line between stiflingly unselfconscious London propriety and the delights of the imagination. He's admirably restrained in this role and that's probably why I didn't recognize him. I can only thank the Fates of Hollywood that Jude Law wasn't cast.

    So what have we got? Brilliant acting, a touching and heart-rending story full of rosy cheeks, toity intrigue, allegorical richness of a depth rarely approached in Hollywood, and a tie in to the latest Trial of the Century, en passant. What we've got is bucketloads of honest, puritan tears, the likes of which you probably ain't shed since the last time you thought Tinkerbell was going to kick the bucket.

    I had been told that as a writer, I would relate to it - that it would touch me because I go off someplace most people don't understand when I'm on a writing jag. I don't know about all that. In the end it just left me feeling a little silly. OK now say it all together: 'Peter Pan' is actually profound.


    Posted by mbowen at 07:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 28, 2005

    Ode to Daddy Freddy

    If you never heard Daddy Freddy, you missed something special. Daddy Freddy represented an alternative future for the hiphop of the early 1990s. I listen to his music today with an air of regret and resignation. We could have been here.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:22 PM | TrackBack

    Nowhere in Africa

    The wife and I watched 'Nowhere in Africa' on Tivo last night. It was the story of a family of three German Jews who found their way to freedom from Nazi atocities by leaving Germany for Kenya. It portrays their adjustments to this reality as the war progresses and their child grows. There's a lot to this excellent story, but this is not a review of that film. This is a question about racial integration in America.

    Over at K Street Friend and here provocative questions are raised about the success of residential integration. Questions like these:

    Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

    In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

    But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

    Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

    Yes. Everyone wants to distance themselves from the black poor. Even you don't want to hang around your poor cousin. So? The answers are all yes. And while it would be interesting to engage in all of the questions presumed by the presence of these questions, we really don't have a forum for that anywhere do we? I mean I could build one in a week but I really don't have the patience (nor the budget at the moment) to do the marketing. It'll happen, don't worry.

    It occurred to me yesterday while I was cleaning up the garage to find my football to go on a walk with my son, that I don't trust blackfolks who refer to whitefolks in the abstract or vice versa. If you don't have the social skills to make a lie of all the stupid stereotypes we put up with, you really are a social failure. I think a goodly number of Americans have to admit to themselves that they lack the skills to take their own personal relationships beyond the state of the races, circa 1950. That's just too bad.

    Families are trying to do right by their own values. But how often are they really questioned? Sometimes living outside of your comfort zone means having to listen to other people talk about the way you raise your children. How many times have we heard about the village it takes to raise a kid? Yeah all well and good when the village of folks is just like you. But have you ever dealt with a village of strangers?

    I'm going to take it personal for a hot moment. You see one of my children is a superstar. That child has always been a straight-A scholar athlete, popular leader in school. Also one of my children is a ball of absent-minded energy with a penchant for boo boo jokes. So I know what it's like as a black parent at a predominantly white school to watch other parents as they push their children to being friends or pull their children from being friends with one or another child from my family. I leave most of those matters to the spousal unit, and am not particularly sensitive to them, but I recognize the dynamic.

    So what am I saying? I'm saying that I could make mountains of these molehills in self-righteous black anger. I don't because living in the predominantly white 'burbs is not the holy grail. It's just another place to live. And until more and more legions of blackfolks get over that hump, we are going to continue to hear moans in anticipation that the answer to all those questions is "Yeah, so?"

    It's hard living in rural Kenya if you are a German Jewish refugee during WW2. It's not hard living in Euro-American suburbs if you are an Afro-American in 2005. So when I ask people about whether or not the legendary dysfunctions of the ghetto are worth suffering, I do so with that in mind.

    One cannot deny the historical fact of the Great Migration. The South Side of Chicago is black because blacks fled north in the wake of the failure of Reconstruction. This is why the Urban League was formed. Millions of African-Americans got sick of sharecropping and left the rural South for the urban North. And today millions of African-Americans are abandoning the urban centers for the suburbs. That's the effect of the aggregate progress of thousands of families who have, one by one, made their decision to leave the old ways behind - as was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. We should expect new Urban Leagues formed in support of this new migration.

    If there are any scholars out there, I would be interested to know how the politics of the new urban dwellers evolved.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

    February 27, 2005

    Hollywood Shuffle

    "The difference between a nigger and a black man is that the nigger believes he's a nigger."

    All I know at this moment is that Morgan Freeman won best supporting actor. Good on him. But I imagine that there's going to be a lot of pontificating tomorrow morning and I decided to get a few words out there first.

    As I've said before, speaking on behalf of the Old School, we don't play the 'positive images' game around here. So it's not particularly interesting whether or not 'Ray' is a true black film. One of these days I'm going to check it out though. I hear it's very good. On billboards all over the city is Halle Berry. She's to star in the upcoming feature, 'Their Eyes Were Watching God'. It's an Oprah Winfrey production, and as such has all the earmarks of what I would imagine to be the perfect black on black on black film. As well, I hear that 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' is due to hit the theatres soon, and it will be co-starring none other than the legendary Cicely Tyson. Quite frankly, I thought Cicely was dead - you see I saw some of her scenes in a special preview of Eddie Murphy's 'Life' several years ago and none of them made it to the theatres. Last time I checked 'Tuvok' had a cast role on ER, showing he survived the passing of his Star Trek role. And there are probably a dozen other examples I could give to show that blackfolks are alive and well in Hollywood.

    Of course it will never be enough.

    I think the sooner people realize that there is no satisfying blackfolks, they'll stop trying. And that will be a good thing. Because then blackfolks will stop thinking that everything they do is progressive and they'll start being conservative. Some of us already are, of course. When I read Cane by Jean Toomer, it hit me in a unique way. Suddenly I understood that what I needed to move forward as a human being was already done. It wasn't about what Hollywood had or had not produced for me, but what I hadn't done to deal with myself. The book had collected dust on my father's bookshelves since before I was born, and had been mentioned in a thousand anthologies, but I had not reached out and read it. My bad. Not Hollywood's.

    Chris Rock is right, you know. The very idea of handing out awards for art is ridiculous. Craftsmanship? Sure. So to think of the Oscars as that makes perfect sense in that context. But the very idea that the peer recognition of professional filmmakers should resonate socially with people who have the same skin color as the recipient is an error.

    It is inevitable that blackfolks will win Oscars. But they will always be different from the average black person hungry for existential validation. And here's where it gets deep.

    Life keeps moving. African American life keeps moving. They are the same. But black stays still. It is a historical moment in time, the end of which is coming soon. There will soon come a day in American history when it will be clear that everything blacks promised each other and the world will come to pass and simultaneously become irrelevant. There will soon come a day when the actual Negro Problem will be forgotten. It will be renamed and redefined of course. Some minority within the minority will claim the stage and continue to shout while the overwhelming majority will have gone home. But all of the symbols and signs of struggle will seem odd, clunky and distant - like what fingers look like after a day of picking cotton. Like the adjective 'cotton-picking'.

    When that day comes, the ability for people to represent black desire will be indistinguishable from their ability to represent human desire. It will be the day everyone recognizes blackfolks as humans. Today, there are lots of folks on both sides of the color line who can't, because that fixed thing that is Black, that Negro Problem, still substitutes for the actual real complexities of actual real people.

    So today people can still jump up and down and claim that Nelly's videos really do set the black race back 50 years. And people can still jump up and down and claim that Condi Rice's success means goodness and light for all blackfolks. And people can claim that Morgan Freeman winning something for his work means something to black you and black me, or that Jamie Foxx stands for more than just Jamie Foxx, or Halle Berry, or Oprah or Denzel or whomever...

    They don't. They're just people who are good at what they do.

    I think I represent some of the best that Black Nationalism has to offer. I think I learned most all of its lessons. I'm very proud of where I come from, and I know that to be a very real Black place. I catch crap for it every Kwanzaa. Such is life. But I also know a hundred ways that Black Nationalism, Black Consciousness and Black Arts did not prepare me for the large life I have. People don't speak much about 'Black Macho & The Myth of the Superwoman' much any longer. In fact, I'd bet the name recognition ratio of Malcolm X to Michele Wallace is 100 to 1. I know the Black Nation was a Man's nation where women were allowed to have larger afros, but that's about all.

    So how can I explain it other than to simply and flatly state that in a million years, no Hollywood writer is ever going to get Queen Latifah to that level? Don't expect it. All the static theories are going to come up short. All the limits of concepts and ideas and thoughts and literatures and arts are going to fail to represent life faithfully. The images simply cannot be real and perfectable. Choose one.

    The Black Problem, the Negro Problem, all of those things we think we know, become outdated and passe. All the performances cannot be abstracted to symbolize anything that applies to all of us, or even most of us, nor even some of us. I say the symbolism stops pretty much at the red carpet. To be inside that room on that stage getting that award is what those lives are dedicated to. Anybody who believes much more than that is a liar or a fool or both.

    If I remember correctly, Nell Carter died in her plush livingroom somewhere in Beverly Hills. It happens every day, you know. Somebody with a star on the walk of fame, or three dozen episodes to their credit, kicks the bucket. Do like I did. Take a walk at dusk in Beverly Hills. Search the eyes of the men bent over their walking sticks or the women with the small dogs and arthritis. They were somebody once - maybe she was the voice of Betty Rubble or he was the guy who came up with the slogan "Where's the Beef?". Maybe he headlined in Vegas. Maybe she was the second wife of a studio mogul. They all had their parts to play.

    I know without a doubt that I'm a human being and there is nothing extraordinary about that. I also know that in three generations the entire film industry cannot and will not ever adequately describe much about the human condition. On the other hand, if I thought I was just a nigger, or just a Negro, or just Black, then I suppose there might someday come around the perfect symbol for me. I might even wait patiently for it, but life keeps moving on.

    This is just too precious to not quote in its entirety.

    Love Ya. Loved the Pitch. We'll Do Lunch. I'll Call. By Martin Kaplan Martin Kaplan, a former Disney executive, is associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Norman Lear Center (learcenter.org), which studies the effect of entertain

    February 25, 2005

    When you watch the Oscars on Sunday, you will see winners thanking their worst enemies, losers concealing their disgust and weasels being honored for their commitment to uplifting the human spirit. In some circles, this kind of dissembling is little more than good manners. But in Hollywood, being a good liar is a prerequisite for professional success.

    Late last year, for example, Michael Eisner took the stand and testified that his former best friend, Michael Ovitz, was a liar. Ovitz testified that Eisner was a liar. Both, no doubt, were right. They didn't become two of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry by being Boy Scouts. Like showmen from P.T. Barnum to Harry Cohn, they rose by learning to bluff, bedazzle and shill.

    These are venerable American skills. But Hollywood is a special case. It's not just that the entertainment industry, like other corporate sectors, is short on scruples. It's that entertainment itself is a tissue of lies.

    That's why Plato banished the poet from the Republic; because poets — the pop stars of his day — get people to believe things that aren't true. Then as now, entertainers con us into thinking that illusions are reality, that dreams come true, that actors are the characters they play. They persuade us to suspend our disbelief. Show business is about talking the suckers into the tent to see that magic.

    The problem is that when you lie as a matter of professional duty on a regular basis, sooner or later you lose touch with reality even on the big things.

    I spent 12 years on the Disney lot, four of them as a studio executive, the rest as a feature film writer-producer. My initial training as a suit consisted of watching the masters at work. Early on, I sat in a meeting where a chieftain told a producer and a writer who'd just pitched a project: "I love this movie. Let's do it." After they left, the executive, without missing a beat, told me: "Get me out of that."

    The operating principle, I learned, was never to say no to someone's face. And because both sides of the transaction assumed that rank insincerity was baseline behavior, everyone also understood that "yes" could just as easily mean "pass." No wonder Eisner told Larry King he'd rehire Ovitz in a heartbeat, even as he tried to offload him to Sony.

    Everything in Hollywood is always fabulous. ("Fantastic" is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite word.) No studio executive is going to admit that the tent-pole picture on which he just spent $150 million tested miserably with preview audiences. Virtually every human interaction in the business involves marketing, salesmanship, promotion. If you say a casual "How are you?" to someone in the industry, the minimally acceptable reply is, "Excellent." I have also heard, "Perfect." And from an agent's assistant, on the phone, I once heard this: "I can't imagine how I could be any better."

    Executives and producers spend their days playing God. In development meetings, they invite writers, who themselves play God, to re-imagine their scripts. "What if she doesn't die, but gets married instead?" "How about setting it in Malibu, instead of Sparta?" "Hey, what if the president uses the space shuttle as a doomsday plan to escape a nuclear war?" (actually proposed to me by one of Hollywood's most successful producers).

    No suggestion by a studio executive — no matter how idiotic — is ever laughed at. As at Versailles and the Vatican, acceptable answers range from "yes" to "Why didn't I think of that?"

    The illusion of omnipotence and infallibility is fostered not only by a sycophantic corporate culture but by the staggering amounts of money that people are paid. Super-agents and their clients, and super-executives and their courtiers, need never butt up against the real world's limitations. Your flowers are always fresh. Your office can look like a Cotswold cottage or the flight deck of a starship; your home can resemble a movie set or a theme park. Private jets exempt you from civilian inconvenience. Not everyone lives in a bubble as impermeable as Michael Jackson's, but we shouldn't be surprised that even minor Hollywood royalty risk confusing the exquisite sensory input they permit to reach them with the foul rag-and-bone shop of reality.

    "Nobody knows anything" is how screenwriter William Goldman famously boiled down entertainment industry epistemology. Most players in town know how subjective their opinions are and how much luck goes into success. That's why accountability often means failing upward.

    "If I said yes to all the pictures I said no to, and no to all the pictures I said yes to, it probably would have all turned out just the same" is a saying I've heard attributed to Eisner, as well as to half a dozen other moguls. But in Hollywood, even apocryphal tales can be true. Psychologists talk about an impostor syndrome, in which people have nightmares that they will be discovered to have no credentials for their job. In that respect, Hollywood is probably no different from politics, punditry or any other part of the infotainment economy. There's no way to credential yourself to pick hits.

    If actors and actresses are simply grown-ups who are rewarded for playing and pretending, the way they did as children, then it should be no shocker that the suits who make their deals and sign their paychecks also believe in make-believe.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:17 PM | TrackBack

    Cyclotrimethylene Trinitramine

    Every once in a while I wonder for a hot moment, whether or not America has lost its gonads. Then I remember that guys like me are not so rare, and that we get pot bellies because we're safe. It is not a trivial thing, our safety.

    I think of my brother the cop in his righteous indignation against moonbats who say we're the bad guys. Doc is right on, and what he says is what we should know: it takes a non-trivial amount of brainwashing and/or evil intent to do really wrong.

    It has been a while since I ranted about the foolishness of the militias in rebellion in Iraq. That's because we've handed them their asses for the most part. Yet and still there's a daily kaboom over that way, and it takes its macabre toll. There is no great mystery to bomb making. In fact, it's surprising just how many different ways there are to make explosive devices. It's not a wonder that there are so many IEDs going off in Iraq, the technology is not the problem. It is a wonder that people can be so wrong as to engage in anarchic destruction.

    Today I've been reorganizing my files and came across 'pranks.txt'. Really hilarious stuff can be done with a bucket of liquid nitrogen, a hacksaw and a can of Barbasol. So as I was browsing through it, I found a couple formulae for stink bombs. The best one seems to take several weeks to bake, so I let loose the Google hounds to find a better one. Instead I found... well, let's just say I found some fairly obscene recipies. So I read a bunch of stuff, including how I could make C-4, the plastic explosive.

    I remember the early days of the 'net when most every law enforcement agency in the country was deathly afraid of Loompanics and other anarchist cookbooks online. Anybody could get this stuff. And it's true, there are so many step by step manuals on the internet, you could arm... well an entire insurgency.

    There aren't insurgencies or armed militias in the US aiming to do major damage to the republic. That is the province of the cowards whose most potent weapons are the adjectives of disgust. None of them has the courage to mix a batch of chemicals which might stain their carpets, much less the temerity explode them in a police station. So today I am giving thanks for dissent, even and perhaps especially that of ridiculous extremism. Because whatever we have over here, we have a civil society which is a great distance from turmoil.

    Today in the news is the arrest of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti I am reminded how unlikely it is for some American dissident to leave the US and try to direct a militant campaign from abroad. We're doing OK here. We're doing OK.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 26, 2005

    Pick a Subject, Any Subject

    Max Gordon sounds as if he's paid by the word, and rants in about seven directions at once in his massive rambling broadside against the usual suspects. Any one of these could have been brilliant, but taken together they are, in the immortal words of Rodney Allen Rippy, "too big 'a eat".

    Let's see. There's the trauma of great-grandmother's bones:

    My great-grandmother was educated in rural South Carolina through the sixth grade, when racist whites burned her school to the ground. Several children were still inside. As the story is told in my family, she went back to the school and searched the ashes for the charred bones of her classmates, some of which she kept and placed on a mantle piece. My grandmother grew up with those bones as a reminder of what education means in America for a black person, what it has sometimes cost.

    There's the lowly entry-level peon's-eye-view of Godless Corporation:

    If you are a black employee of an American corporation and have decided to file a complaint about racism, you may be dismayed to find that the entire human resources department is black (with the exception of one white supervisor). Having to face this black army you are immediately disarmed. To have to tell a black face, with your black face, that you've been passed over for a promotion or raise, or that you're underpaid and you think it is because of your race, seems more than a little odd.

    There's some Queen Latifa:

    What I want to shield the child from is not sex-talk or naked bodies; it's the contempt the movie has for her, for humanity. It's never the sex in pornography that eats away at us, nor is it just the sexual contact of incest that ultimately destroys; it's the cynicism, the overwhelming psychological burden of despair that an adult pours into a child's body and mind.

    How is that about Queen Latifa, you ask? Unfair question. Meanwhile, Max takes us to some Affirmative Action in what must be the longest single sentence this side of the Nuyorican Reverse Poetry Slam:

    However, for the working-class black student who may come from a community with inferior schools, inadequate money for materials and no advanced placement classes; whose relatives have taken out loans to get her a place to live on campus; who has to barter at the financial-aid department, filling out scholarship applications and concentrating this year on how she's going to pay for next year; who feels isolated on a predominantly white college campus and has to guard herself against the potential racist epithet uttered by the white person on her dormitory hall, or by her professor under the guise of "intellectual discourse"; who wants to stay in bed all semester, overwhelmed with the anxiety of trying to prove to herself and everyone else that she is there because of her achievements and not a number; by the time this student sits in a classroom at an American university, believe me, she's earned it.

    Then Death Row (not thankfully not Suge Knight's Death Row):

    In his Atlantic Monthly article of July 2003, Alan Berlow described how Alberto Gonzales, legal counsel to then Texas Governor Bush, helped in deciding the fate of prisoners on death row. (It is estimated by the ACLU that of the more than 2,000 people on "death row" virtually all are poor, a significant number are mentally retarded or otherwise mentally disabled, and more than 40 percent are African American, a disproportionate number Native American, Latino, or Asian.)

    OK you get the picture. Or maybe you don't. Somebody needs to focus. Slow down. Chew your food, Max. You have a whole blog to get your points out. Try pieces that lend themselves to critical dissection because right now they're falling apart under their own weight. You can't go from Alabama to World Peace in 11 paragraphs, which is about as long as this monstrosity about Condoleeza Rice(!) made sense.

    I paid attention because Professor Kim did. Then again she has the saintly patience that has to grade bad papers. Me, I hope that Max stays around long enough for me to play rope-a-dope Ali to his firebreathing (and ugly) George Foreman.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    February 25, 2005


    Shasta McNasty goes racial. I'm going racial so let's all go racial. It's all about the moral posturing of reading controversial books in public. Lot's of fun, especially if you look like either Alistaire Cook or Dr. Dre.

    But seriously, I thought the issue of white identity was generally accepted and understood, and since I just posted about that, I figure that I would bring forth some more from the archives.

    I contend that the most telling aspect of racism latent and present in American life is existence of what I call white citizenship. The problem is that many Americans may strive for it without giving it much thought. it probably will take a bit of doing for one to recognize this concept because white citizenship is, for the most part, considered to be neutral and the default of the American mainstream. To be able to remove what is actually racial and cultural from the concept of citizenship, we become better citizens. Constitutionally, our citizenship should have nothing to do with our race or creed.

    I must admit that I have had some difficulty in formulating this argument for presentation. It seems overly harsh to say that Americans who consider themselves 'white' might be 'natural' candidates for racist ideas. Yet what, if anything, must the purported neutrality of whiteness entail which is racist? Why indeed would anyone call themselves 'white'? White as compared to what?

    My own interest goes beyond some shallow vilification of the term 'white', although I believe that to be a good pedagogical device. African Americans have certainly had to wrestle with the idea of being 'Negro' or 'colored' or 'black' even in the complete absence of racial discrimination. This is part and parcel of our being. For the sake of slavery in which none of us alive has taken part we African Americans deal with that question of identity. That living white folk too, have had no participation in that institution should not exempt them from self-examination. But beyond that, I am curious to know what if any influence can be made on people who consider themselves white which works in racist ways.

    In short, how are ordinary white folks who have no pathological reason to be racist, taken in by racist appeals to their identity as Americans? In doing so, I am not suggesting that there is some mysterious force visible only to the proper race man which stealthily infects only white people, but I point to racist appeals we have all seen work, such as the Willie Horton ad crafted by lee Atwater and the presidential campaign of David Duke.

    M. Bowen, 1996

    BTW, I can remember that BTD Steve was a bit upset with me for not going racial about 18 months ago. Some time since then I've decided that it is better not to pre-determine whether not you are going to comment on something racial or not. Just go when the conversation goes.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Racial Identity vs Racial Consciousness

    (from the boohabian archives)

    June 1996
    Boohabian Provocation:
    disempersoned ideas! humbug!

    someone asked about the observations of those to whom race is a non-issue.

    on this question, i make the general assertion that in a racist society, colorblindness is the moral equivalent of racism. if a judge declares integration the rule of law and all the white kids leave the city school, it is immoral to say 'all i see are children going to private school'. but even in situations which are not so drastic, the specificity of racial consciousness must be considered.

    one's own individual experience does not take place in a vacuum. to 'objectify' one's experience is to deny individuality. to disembody experience is to dehumanize. if i say 'i am x and i feel this way', to create a forum in which x cannot be discussed is to take away a part of an individual's weight. it also cheats from the observers point of view. if an observer only hears 'i feel this way' and has no experience with an individual who claims to be 'x', the observer can deny the fact that being 'x' can lead to that feeling.

    fill in the blanks. i pursued a phD in engineering because when i was 15 and black in highschool, my white counselor told me that black folks can't do engineering. so every time i hear 'black folks can't do engineering' i know that somewhere people who don't want to hear about blackness are denying black individuals who are enigneers to say 'im black and im proud and that's why i am an engineer'.

    sure you can say that race is a non issue regarding what an engineer does, but in effect you are using the passive voice. it's like saying 'the hoover dam got built' without a whit spoken about *who* built it or why. 'the civil rights bill passed', 'the revolutionary war was fought', 'some churches burned', 'shit happens'...

    hmph again i say.

    how is it that when we shed race and gender we become pure? what a farce! this experiment of pure revelation has already been done. it's a failure in general and has grave consequences for civil society.

    you can take note of my black identity in cmc page and take special note of heidegger's observation in the 'it could happen' section.


    I find it interesting that you can make the argument that one's racial consciousness is somehow intrinsic to one's identity, while this Jamaican fellow i know (and an awful lot of Indian people, African people, and Muslims i've met) of the same "race" laughs at your suggestions. Seems to me that there are an awful lot of people in the world (even with the same color of skin as you) who consider "race" to be nothing more than an exotic quality. For them, "race" is primarily an aesthetic issue -- except when they hafta deal with racists.

    I find your idea that "racial identity" is somehow intrinsic to one's character insulting. Furthermore, it is "racist" (in the sense that "racist" simply means "one who believes in/supports the ideology of 'race'). I am not a racist, and i think those who are are silly, dangerous people. I have a father who is French/Amerindian, and a mother who's English/Scottish. What am i?

    Who are you to tell me?

    Noone has ever suggested that with the shedding of race and gender one becomes "pure." The suggestion has been made, however, that perhaps the idea of eliminating the names from these posts would be an interesting experiment. I agree. Not because it would negate anyone's sex/gender -- all would still be free to say, "i am a black american, and my experience here is...." Rather, it would eliminate the ego that goes with seeing one's name in print, while making distinctions between who is saying what unclear. Thus a conversation could be carried by four different entries, four different people, but still give the illusion of a "dialogue." It would be an attempt to see a sequential process of thought be supported through vastly separated, different minds.

    I totally agree with your second paragraph. It has, however, no bearing on this conversation. The only way i know that you're a "black" man is because you say so. And noone has ever suggested that we take that power away from you.

    Boohabian Followup Answer & Snark:
    well, i am not saying what i think you are saying that i'm saying. but let me say it in another more basic way.

    first of all, if you read any of my background material, you would see clearly that i beleive there is no essential character to any racial identity - that racial identity is a social construct. i have a racial identity because there are laws and social customs in this country which said i must. into that identity are poured any number of ideas which are mine to accept or reject. i am conscious of that racial identity and in order not to be subsumed by any negative or positive idea associated with that racial identity, i must make individual choices. my racial consciousness means i know that i am african-american as society and law dictate. my individuality has to do with what i do about that, in the face of those societal and legal definitions.

    as a white american, you must do the same thing. as an asian american you must do the same thing. americans have racial identities, period. americans have racial identities whether or not those identities are positive, whether or not they are accepted as face value, whether or not they are scientifically proveable, and whether or not they believe it. that is nothing more or less than a description of the racialist nature of american society. race exists.

    most adults are conscious of their racial identity. just as they are conscious of their gender identity. but i'll leave all analogies there, because i am speaking specifically about race.

    now, you claim that i imply that racial identity is intrinsic to one's identity. if i do imply that, it is only to the extent that racial identity is a given to be dealt with and as a result one's individuality can be discerned. what i am not saying is that one *is* of necessity what one's racial identity connotes. a person who takes a look at his skin and seeks to fulfill a role presented in strictly racial terms, is making an individual choice to be that thing. a weak choice, but an important choice nonetheless. but hear me out. nobody has *no* choice. american society always has a racial bucket for you and no-one is excused.

    let me put it in other elementary terms. king said one should be judged by the content of one's character and not by the color of one's skin. without deconstructing that too much, you can see how it implies that the color of one's skin can substitute for a character judgement. it also means that how one decides to deal with the fact that they may be judged by the color of their skin has a direct bearing on the content of their character, and that applies to all americans. so i say again. one's own individual experience does not take place in a vacuum.

    now exactly what does this have to do with jamaicans, and who are you to compare them with me?

    your simple definition of 'racist' is in error. let me correct you. with the following pointer.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:50 PM | TrackBack

    February 23, 2005

    Hunter S. Thompson, Eclexia & The Alternative Mainstream

    I hate suicides and lushes. So a suicidal lush gets no props from me. I also have no experience whatsoever with Hunter S. Thompson's actual work. All I knew yesterday is that one of the Doonesbury characters (which I don't read) is supposed to be vaguely based on this guy. He was certainly influential.

    I am given to believe that people in search of alternate realities are generally desparate. Of course I was educated in the sciences, I have to believe that. Still, no desparation speaks louder than that of extreme excess. A supernal desire to blot out reality says to me, 'I don't know how to get my life to make sense given what I see'. That's an understandable problem, which is why there are 500 religions in the world. The religion of drug abuse, I reckon, has its global devotees. And so they've lost a prophet of rage. But what have we lost? What has humanity lost? Someone who dealt with reality? Are we so convinced by the fact that he wrote non-fiction?

    In reading much of what people had to say about Thompson, I sense an anti-authoritarian resonance. Hunter S. Thompson is the man everybody wanted Michael Moore to be. Most are convinced he had actual genius and sustained his inspiration long enough to be considered one. I think rather that he was a creature of his day and marked its boundaries by his extremity. In admiring Thompson, like admiring Leroy Neiman, we are admitting to loving a moment in time. A crazy time.

    Back in 1978, when I was a freshman at USC, I was transfixed by the cryptic language of the Reader, LA's original alternative weekly. I'm sure that was the psychedelic reality of gonzo.

    What was a secret was that I wanted to live in 'The Swamp' which was filled to the brim with wise-cracking, subversive, geeky whiteboys. In 1978 I registered to vote and later cast my ballot for John Anderson. I was only 17 but the student who registered me said it didn't matter, nobody ever checked other than him. What was most fascinating to me were the classified and political sections of the L.A. Reader. It was the most cantankerous thing I had ever read. Here was a newspaper with curse words and rambling cryptic messages in the back pages, rants against the system, my great introduction to the world of snark. I wanted to be in there. I wanted to play Moog synthesizers, program computers and repair pinball machines. I wanted to figure out a way to hack the timesharing system.

    Being charitable, I recognize that there are few temptations as appealing as having the power to invert somebody's world. To generate the act which is so perverse and mind-altering that some individual or group is forever marked. What could be more gratifying than conversion, to seduce the meek beauty, to decorate the soldier's gun with flowers, to show with implacable logic and inimitable style that the core beliefs of your opponent are dead wrong and stop them in their tracks. These are the head swelling rewards of conversion and it must be that which lies at the heart of the devotees of the alternative.

    Witness Charles Monroe-Kane. His is the story of an impetuous youth determined to pull off a moral stunt.

    I have struggled mightily over the past several months to find something upon which to hang my thoughts about the 'alternative mainstream' and this must be it. It explains the the sin of Eclexia. I think I have broken through, excuse me while I absorb the import.

    It's ironic and perhaps only appropriate that taking seriously someone I was bound to disrespect cued up this insight.

    Part One: The Sin of Eclexia

    "A little bit of everything adds up to a whole lot of nothing."
    -- Cobb's Rule #1

    There is probably no such word as 'eclexia', I just made it up, but the sin is real. It is the fatal attraction to novelty and change. It is the mindless sacrifice of tradition at the alter of the new. It is the inability to find satisfaction in the settled.

    Eclexia is characterized by a restless antipathy to the established and an overweening desire to get away from it. The eclexic is eclectic to a fault. Their fatal flaw is that once the novelty of the thing has worn off, once it becomes established, their interest and respect fades rapidly.

    Eclexia is a sin because it is fundamentally disrespectful of the efforts made by people who bother to study something specific. It acts against collaboration in solving standing problems. It refuses to focus. Thus the eclexic requires some outre personality which allows him to eschew the 'mundane' tasks that are faced by all of us. In that regard, eclexics are dependent on an established alternative subculture - something that allows them to easily be understood as 'cutting edge' or 'radical' even if they are not talented or committed in any way.

    Part Two: The Alternative Mainstream
    I don't believe that the world operates singularly in zero sum terms, but that a cultural win-win is possible. Still there is a certain cost to alternative culture which isn't countercultural. It's the cost of dissonance.

    I'm trying to guage what is transient about American culture. It has to do with my conservatism and also with a better understanding of class. It's particularly compelling for me to gain this understanding since I expect to be doing a bit of business with some Chinese folks.

    I am convinced more than ever that society advances through adherence and conflict. At all levels there are power struggles - people follow their desires and adhere to what gets them what they want. But of course a lot of people opt out. Some opt out loudly. This loud dissent is sometimes the very stuff of which progress is born, but sometimes it's simply noise. We have so many competing versions of what happened in the 60s that it's often difficult to distinguish between the useful dissent and simply dropping out.

    But we have survived all of that era intact and a great deal wealthier. The alternative has become substantial. Today you could be a billion dollar business selling music and clothes for tongue pierced youth. The alternative is established. The good news is that the social pressure towards conformity has dropped below the suppressive, although I'd rather not be queer. The bad news is that we must often share the social stage with people whose lifestyle, indeed their lives, make no sense.

    Eclexics and noisy alternatives often mistake their differences for sentient dissent. Indeed we even have a 'politics of difference' as if such a thing were consistently ethical. While I'm not certain Hunter S. Thompson was a creature existentially tied to such madness, he certainly seems to have inspired those who are to devotion.

    I have just been arguing that the good thing about the blogosphere is that it can serve to counteract the cults of personality surrounding broadcast media stars in the category of 'news'. What was Thompson but a media personality who 'reported' the facts?

    Thompson belonged on the fringe, in the alternative scene, and was part of the movement of the 70s that altered the landscape of pop culture. Now that we have an alternative culture in the US that is at least as big as Catholicism, it seems appropriate to honor the Gonzo. It's part of our correctness.


    I take a small bit of comfort in knowing that eclexics will bore of Thompson reverence within a week.

    GVDL, ever mature, demonstrates his ability to repel the hordes.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    February 19, 2005


    I am almost convinced that Keanu Reaves has no acting talent. He's almost all surface, all motion and pose. He's been living too long in the Matrix. But that is not enough to destroy the intriguing film that is Constantine.

    Constantine, the video effects film noir is a mixed bag, but it is a huge bag. Visually, this film takes you to places that have not been accomplished since 'The Cell'. As a film noir, the script almost works, except that Reaves walks too upright, he is too possessed of inner strength to fill this character out properly, a man deathly afraid of dying yet trying desparately to save his soul. Reaves is still a bit too heroic to make stoicism work. And so the emotional resonance we should have with him fails a few times.

    Instead of the kind of depth that we could have expected from the grit of this film Reaves passes through it zombie-like. He gets beat to a pulp but seems not to tremble. That's some classic bad direction of human resources. I kept thinking to myself, this was the perfect movie for Mickey Rourke or Benicio del Toro, a man whose sweat would cling to the cross around his neck. A man whom we could believe had a great deal of love be squeezed out of him, a man with an awesome, trembling fear of God who walks with scorn and pity among the agnostic. A man who marvels at all the wonders and signs given, and cries for humanity in between long draws on the cancer sticks. That's the man at the center of a movie that could have been great.

    Instead we have the possibility of a new genre, the religious noir thriller. It's got magic, dive bars, sketches of Santeria, angels and demons, and Lucifer himself. Madre de Dios! That bastard was beautifully evil - Peter Stomare has a scene that rivals Michael Madsen's torture dance in Reservior Dogs, better than Pacino in 'The Devil's Advocate' and damned near as good as Christopher Walken's trailer scene in 'True Romance'.

    The film starts off with a bang mixing elements of horror and a detective thriller. Exposition isn't quite what it should be - again, all Reaves' fault, but good enough to leave an adequate amount of intriguing confusion. You never know what might happen, and when extraordinary things do happen, they are visually rewarding if not quite viscerally.

    The excellent news is that CG is advanced enough so that we can expect more angels and demons in the future. We've come a good ways since Van Helsing. This is the genre to watch. So what's next?

    Posted by mbowen at 12:05 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack


    Vinx is unleashed, passionate and unique. I watched this man squeeze hundreds of sounds out of his drum with casual ease, and marvelled at his vocal improvisations last night at Ghengis Cohen on Fairfax.

    What you can tell immediately is that he hears quickly. Vinx is in the midst of his beats without a doubt, but directly on top of that is a somnambulant vocal that moves at the pace of slowly building emotions.

    His sidemen brought some extraordinary musicianship to bear. As a quartet they work very well considering they don't seem to have worked together long. Vinx entire set had the feel of a jam, cut loose and funky, grooving well and occasionally synching into brilliant moments. His simple lyrics of love and longing are amplified through the big man's range, which cracks every once in a while like roadhouse blues singing.

    Vinx was bouyant and on his marks. He's a talent that will persist, bumping and grinding through the snitty and heartless industry that is the music biz. I hear he was something of an athlete. Today he looks like a big friendly football coach as he strokes his massive hands across the skins. But his is close your eyes and groove music and you know that within that frame is the soul of an artist, a free loving spirit, bold, large & honest. What he is not is a discrete professional, and in the end, you have to ask yourself who would you rather have singing your love songs?

    In that regard, Vinx has both the soul of an old bluesman, the edgy charm and intimacy of a standup comedian, and the rhythmic sensibilities of anyone on the world music scene. Plus, he can sing, and in harmony with Smith on vocals, does some real sweat stuff. I'd like him to purr a bit more sweetly on occasion, because I can tell he's got the soul for it, but he didn't descend to crying depth this evening. If you ever hear that on record, you'll know that Vinx is about to capture the world.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 14, 2005

    Tivo To Go: Crippled & Crazy

    I waited a month and a half for this?

    Finally, having submitted a request to upgrade my Tivo software to the latest version that enables transfer of movies from my Tivo to my home network, I have gotten it. It took at least 30 days. In the IT world, that's the kind of software delivery that kills a company.

    So I get the upgrade and download the new desktop client. Along with that I get a 'Media Access Key'. OK they're encoding the mpeg so it can't be transferred all over the globe (as if bandwidth was free). There's also a password. But when I went to download the movies that I've been storing on my Tivo since December, it tells me that the service is not installed. Not a terribly useful error message. It turns out that it takes another 24 hours for the Tivo itself to get the access key.

    OK so finally yesterday it's ready to go. I start downloading something small. One episode of 'Aqua Teen Hungerforce', a 15 minute show. It takes 40 minutes. What? Well, maybe it's because I'm running my anti-virus at the time (every Friday evening). So I kill the AV scan and try another two episodes. One hour and 28 minutes. This is retarded.

    Clearly, they have crippled the transfer mechanism. Plus the end quality is weak. I get weird stripes on the top few pixels in the view like it needs to be cropped. Full screen expansion is lousy. All the stuff only plays in Windows Media Player.

    On the whole, it's worth it, but mostly because I wanted it so badly. This is clearly something that will be worth it if I can get it on my laptop, but for the home computer as an alternative to the TV, the quality sucks much worse than DVD or P2P mpegs.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 08, 2005

    Michael Jackson, Secular Sex & The War on Terror

    I've been watching more VH1 than ever recently. My Tivo misrecoreded and I got stuck with 60 minutes of a 90 minute documentary on the Gloved One. I think that Michael Jackson is going down because he's guilty.

    Jackson is guilty of thinking that he could trust children. When he his found guilty, it's going to destroy him. He won't be right for a decade. It will be interesting to see Michael Jackson on the other side of this, but what's going to happen in immediate future is fairly easy to guess.

    First of all, anyone who sees this documentary as I did, will finally understand Jackson's weirdness. This is the first time any explanation made perfect logical sense to me. Sparing you the details, Jackson believed all sex was damnibly evil according to the principles of Jehovah's Witnesses. The cleanest possible sex, therefore would be sex with children. At most, probably dry humping and touching through clothes, but who knows really? This is the guy who read the bible to prostitutes sent up to his room.

    Why Michael Jackson decided that he needed to be purer than anyone in the world is anybody's guess. But the unintended consequence of it was that he couldn't simply screw chicks like an ordinary dude. Screwing chicks, and I use this terminology purposefully, would have saved his soul from a jury of his peers. However, Mr. Jackson felt the need to be extraordinary. His prison was of his own creation, something he couldn't escape partially because he was always wealthy enough to keep it functional.

    Bottom line. Jackson is a victim of his own tortured psyche. By refusing the dirt of the world, his unique dirt has no sympathy in the world. He never learned to make lemonade from life's lemons. Instead, he sought the company of people in his own narrow emotional niche. Boy stars, boy cripples, Vienna choirboys, those enchanted with a naive innocent boy's eye view of the world.

    The interesting thing is that it's not too difficult to believe that Jackson's perversion is not particularly shocking. The story of how he became to be a pedophile is more shocking and intersting than the perversity of what I believe to be the alleged crimes. Our taboo's [in]appropriate as they may be are sufficient to put him under the jail, but I hardly expect that the evidence will show Jackson to be a predator. Think of the evil genius who obsessively strokes his cat. It's not normal, but is the cat really harmed?

    We know, or perhaps we in the lay public only think we know, how vicious and sick child predators can be. And there is plenty about our society that makes it damned near impossible to grow up straight given our general inability to talk straight about sex. So it's going to be difficult to get perspective on exactly how sick an entertainer with a dirty sinner boy's view of sex is.

    For one thing, the revelations about the source of Jackson's dysfunction is more of an indictment of the Jehovah's Witnesses than anything. Their moral constraints on sex cause an insurmoutable conflict for Jackson, as they must for anyone with any moderate amount of contact with contemporary American society. Even as I think about Witnesses I have known, the parallels are striking. Jackson, and possibly millions of other Americans, are psychologically damaged by draconian restrictions on sexual expression to the point at which no sexual act can be considered moral, but rather a necessary evil.

    That there are sects of Christianity that impose such restrictions on sex, it is the fact that America is a secular democracy that gives us the right to laws which supercede such 'wills of God'. (And we secularists hope (to God?) that Iraqis choose wisely in this regard).

    I think it is arguable that we are sexier people because we Americans must deal with this sexual duality. If Prince couldn't scandalize us, he wouldn't be sexy. If the Moral Majority hadn't piped up, Janet's would be just another boob. The very fact that there is something to virginity in the American psyche is what made Britney Spears whatever it was that she was. Oh yeah, a sex symbol. America creates and markets sex symbols on a daily basis. It's a huge economy that would flop over dead in a truly libertine society. Sexual liberty (freedom under the law) is a very large part of the capital L Liberty that we cherish. It should surprise no one that when we raise our hackles against other societies we look at the status of women. One of the first questions we ask is whether their women can be sexy or not. I'm not saying we're right or that our judgement is sound in any case, but we ask all the same. After all, why would any American care about 'female genital mutilation'? Because we think of sexual pleasure as a fundamental right, a measure of liberty.

    So denying freedom to Michael Jackson, a sex symbol if there ever was one, strikes a deep chord. There must be a great deal of righteousness attending this matter, because we will need to strike a blow for the right kind of sexual freedom. We'll draw a line in the sand. We'll send a message. We'll say 'never again'.

    It's too bad that we couldn't have gotten over this hump with Gary Condit. The death of Chandra Levy was a great deal more scandalous in all kinds of dimensions than Jacksons bumps and grinds, dirty as they may be. But there's the unwritten rule that only black men truly exemplify evils. White men may offend and make errors in judgement. They may even become tragic anti-heros, but only the black man can embody the spirit of wrong. And in case you forgot, we have a black serial killer too. There are two white exceptions to the embodiment of evil rule, however. They are Clinton and Bush. Other than that, we save our best hateration for the uppity and errant. Condit might have broken that cycle, but instead some lunatics dropped a bomb on our moral circus and we had to get serious.

    Today, however, there is no question about who is legitimately in the White House. We have given our souls back to the Beatles again and the Patriots are victorious. The Iraqis have spoken loud and clear in defense of democracy. Rice and Gonzales have integrated the top jobs in government service to the astonishment of nobody, and Cheech and Chong are getting back together. In other words, all is well with America, so we can get back to the mindless business of moral mythologies. By the way, I keep forgetting to mention because I kept forgetting that everyone forgot about terrorism marring the Rose Parade or the Super Bowl.

    We're complacent again. What a country!

    It is my sincere hope that our complacency has not taken place in a vaccuum. We should by now have been hardened to the concepts of 'advanced interrogation' and unilateralism. We should already be nice and deaf to the lamentations of Sudanese women and babies in our complacency. This hardness will prepare us for the inevitable dirty bombs and ugliness to come in the asymmetrical war we wage on behalf of truly free people in the first world and the hope that the rest of the planet hopes this way. I think we are properly reserving our rage for the right enemies, and we are prepared to spill the right amount of blood in our righteous indignation.

    But I do worry that we may not have enough money in the bank.

    Chances are that, for the sanctity of family and the protection of children, such a deviant as Michael Jackson will be removed from the public and sent to his doom under some prison somewhere. He's sure to get his due process. And most certainly every American with an opinion will note that justice was done. By the time he gets out of jail, we'll have our Megan's Law databases indexed by Google with alerts automatically emailed just in case he is released to a halfway house in our immediate vicinity. In fact, we'll know about all of the sexual predators and violent offenders by then, if the current trends continue. but I wonder if we'll be any safer from those who are truly after our balls.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    February 04, 2005

    Mo Greene: Gone

    I'm sure that in the world of Track & Field, somewhere out there Maurice Greene is getting his props. But as we approach this Super Bowl Sunday, amidst all the blather about what [black] athletes lack in character, we in the American public have truly forgotten this man.

    It hasn't been a year since the Olympic Games in Athens. What can you remember? If I say 'Marion Jones', what's the first thing that comes to mind? Drug scandal? It's a shame that she was slandared like that. We destroy those whom we are supposed to respect and raise higher the profile of twisted characters. What's wrong with us?

    I have endured long, long, long conversations about the value of whathisname who almost sorta mooned some football fans a couple weeks ago. But in my universe nobody from the NFL approaches the inspiration of Olympic athletes. From my odd point of view, football players are most fun when they are something of charicatures of themselves. 'Remember the Titans' factor notwithstanding, people like Emmitt Smith are boring. Give me Deion Sanders or Jeff McMahon any day. What football fans are loathe to admit is that the days of Vince Lombardi are long gone. Football is no longer the noble metaphor it once was, and there is no team capable of being 'Americas Team' the way the Packers once were.

    There are coaches out there in basketball and football, notably Bill Belichik and Larry Brown who have done well to generate all for one and one for all attitude that shuns the cult of personality around superstardom. But none of the major leagues today seem capable of sustaining such an attitude. Major League sports are in the same kind of crisis as is the Catholic Church and it speaks poorly of us all. But what's worse is that we ignore those possessed of singular talents and character, like Maurice Greene.

    Greene remains the patron saint athlete of this blog, as I said in the beginning. He's the man in my book though he may not have the popularity he deserves. And as the antics and scandals escalate in the world of pro sports and people look for some way to outdo or undo what was done last year at the Super Bowl, there I will sit mildly amused and a little disgusted.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:08 AM | TrackBack

    Remembering Turkle

    I found this paragraph:

    Turkle (1984) vividly describes nerd self-identity in her ethnographic study of undergraduate men at MIT. In one social event "they flaunt their pimples, their pasty complexions, their knobby knees, their thin, underdeveloped bodies" (196); in interviews they describe themselves as losers and loners who have given up bodily pleasure in general and sexual relations in particular. But Turkle notes that this physical self-loathing is compensated for by technological mastery; hackers, for example, see themselves as "holders of an esoteric knowledge, defenders of the purity of computation seen not as a means to an end but as an artist's material whose internal aesthetic must be protected" (207).

    Back in the first days of the internet, the world turned to people like Donna Hoffman, Howard Rheingold and Sherry Turkle to understand what the wired world was all about. Each of these individuals are alive and kicking in their respective disciplines and better informed about the medium than ever. Yet somehow in the wake of the acceptance of the stereotypical 'geek', their particular studied genius is ignored. These days we are just as likely to grant credibility to anyone with a fetish for cartoon penguins or puts numerals in their spelling of computer jargon. More's the pity.

    These days, there seems to be a boom market for manifestos. But they all seem to be pointed to the cult of the dead cow and other elite programmers, hackers, coders, crackers, open source devotees, distro evangelists, p2p mavens and others heavily invested in the new world of geek cool. But this is all Guild-speak. The rest of us need to pull our heads up periodically to look at how all this effects us as people. Turkle's paragraph, now 21 years old, reminds us that there are basic human things going on here. So let's try to keep that in mind, eh?

    Next up, decoding the latest manifesto.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:30 AM | TrackBack

    Eason Jordan: Tick Tick Tick

    In the steady disintermediation presaging a major shift in the way industries do business, Eason Jordon is being hoisted on the petard of disclosure. Blogs do it better than major media, and as others in the blogswarm have noted correctly, we are going to hound down and parse the question of journalistic privilege during wartime.

    For excellent reading on the subject, see Rony Abovitz.

    Right now I believe that US soldiers were too busy doing real soldiering, that nobody here really reported, to target harmeless and discredited Arab journalists. But I would not be surprised if Arab embeds on the rebel side got blown up collaterally, many times.

    But the larger question, it seems to me, keeps coming back to the nature of what our attention sustains, and what value it truly has. I certainly feel indebted to those journalists who are truly war correspondants, like Dexter Filkins who are not afraid to go into the middle of the shooting and bring some perspective about battles onto our screens.

    Somewhere in this blog, I have advocated for WarTV, all combat all the time. I want to see video images from the fronts. I know this to be impossible - there is a certain Heisenberg effect that would be generated by live coverage that no self-respecting general wants. I think the 'video game' coverage of laser guided bombs is about as close as we're ever going to get to that. Short of this kind of 'trial of the century' wall to wall coverage, I think we as an audience have to judge the effect our attention has on what data becomes ethically distributable. In other words, our hunger for news is the sole reason that journalists are in the middle of wars anyway.

    If Knowledge = Pain, then the curious are masochistic, and voyuers are sadistic. (wrings hands, twists moustache) Let's see what happens as the clock runs down on Eason Jordan.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:26 AM | TrackBack

    February 03, 2005

    Everybody Loves Oprah

    I'm going to throw out a wild idea. I've been in some fairly vigorous debate over at Vision Circle with the gents who make me think the hardest about black politics. There, I wrote the following:

    Perhaps Democrats have only recently become non-racist enough for their liberal ideas to come from behind the condescention of radical chic and actually deliver some worthwhile patronage to black constituents. Hey but that's not my issue. I discount the racism on both sides, and thus have taken away the power of 'we love black people' to focus on more hardball issues - like the kind of permanent economic improvement that is not dependent on the political will of the majority.

    As soon as I wrote that, it occurred to me that there is a very cynical way of looking at Oprah's success. America loves Oprah because no matter how wealthy and powerful she becomes, she is always open, friendly, accessible and (gulp) non-threatening. Oprah stays middle class. No matter what she does, she's still right there.

    In the North, they say you can get high & mighty as you like, but don't get too close. In the South they say you can get as close as you like, but don't get too high & mighty. Oprah is from the South, can't you tell? She seems incapable of offending, and I believe that is her genuine personality. I don't dislike Oprah, but I do like Cosby better. I favor my father, who is from the North, can't you tell?

    I am far from convinced that blacks and whites in this country have separate destinies. But there remain a host of things we have yet to do as blacks that stand out to me like sore thumbs. Unfortunately, those are things that are generally reserved for upper class folks with money, brains and/or power. So my sore thumbs are not considered 'authentic'. I know better than anyone that unique rage of the privileged class that Ellis Cose wrote about a decade ago. Every now and then, we get closer to the kind of promised land I could retire in, but I still look at films like Eddie Murphy's Boomerang and dream on.

    What is the power of 'I love black people'? How does it disarm and disable? Just throwing it out there.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:39 PM | TrackBack

    February 02, 2005

    Straight Liberals

    It has been a long time since I have called myself a 'straight liberal', but I recall the occasion that made me think so. It was a visit to a club in Los Angeles called Catch One which was, at the time, a eye-opening if not mind-blowing experience.

    During that particular point in my life, around about 1989, I was getting tired of my old buppie cadre and decided to go out on a limb, experimenting with such radical concepts such as reggae music and fashion, Pacifica Radio, and Multicultural Politics. I ended up being something of a spoken word artist and a host of other things, but I never forgot where I had come from or why I left. And it was this sense of realism that made me choose the term 'straight liberal' because while my new girlfriend who very much resembled Joie Lee suggested that I explore my feminine side, I wasn't at all conflicted about my own sexuality nor my distrust of 'the personal as political'. Still, I was not averse to letting such ideas run free in my mind, and I surely recognized the power of such artistic endeavors as Marlon Riggs' 'Tongues Untied' and Mapplethorpe's photographs.

    I think that my experience of those years was instructive in that I got enough of a taste for the boho lifestyle to understand its limits, strengths and weaknesses. After about 4 years of it, I got married to my old buppie girlfriend and never looked back. More recently I have viewed much gay activism with skepticism, especially that over the question of marriage. It may be the particular set of politically and culturally active gays I came to respect, but I never could see that wedding rings and mainstream social acceptance were their endgame. My recent smackdown of Larry Kramer speaks to this.

    Trolling Negrophile for potential ways and means to improve my blogtraffic, I came across the following:

    The black gay movement has been hijacked. Yes hijacked by these —self-promoting ambulance chasing looking pretty for the camera manufactured cookie cutter stepford fags who are into activism because they could not cut it in Hollywood. Or America's next top male model. Or the AIDS divas who are mostly, though not all, terribly dysfuctional. They hold groups of black men hostage with their self-righteous rhetoric and "brothas are dying" proclamations while they finance their trips to get manicures and wear their designer clothes to AIDS conferences bringing to mind Mother Teresa in Manolos. Not that people doing good work should not get paid and wear what they want. But thinking of some AIDS divas that are not doing good work, who I would not let run my little cousin’s lemonade stand, or my grandmother’s yard sale, let alone an AIDS agency, brings to mind the corrupt preacher stealing out of the collection plate.

    I can't say exactly what I expect from hearing sexuality discussed intelligently, but I have to admit that if there's something to be learned, you could do a lot worse than Charles Stephens.

    I've not expected much from, nor invested much time in black gay blogging or writing in general. In the long view of things, I think that our intimate relationships speak more to issues of self than they do to issues of society. I believe that the gulf between the personal and the political is, and should be wide - that ones duty to others is a matter of selfless obligation. To bring ones sexual history into it is simply inappropriate, and quite frankly selfish. I thought of that in particular yesterday as Terri Gross interviewed the black daughter of the late senator & arch segrgationist Strom Thurmond. His sexual exploits were legendary to the Washington insiders. To the rest of us, he was something else entirely, but we needn't have known the whole man to know enough, and none of us should have been the ones to judge. His paternity serves no political purpose, and yet I recall the outrage and theorizing that went into much of the verbiage of that scandal. In the end what good did it do us? None. That woman is no political symbol, she's somebody's daughter.

    And so we are faced with the problem of this blurring of lines in American politics in which people put greater and greater amounts at stake in having their own existential situation confirmed or denied in the personal politics of the days or the personalities of politicians. Meanwhile, I think men of goodwill are turning their backs to the entire charade. That spells trouble.

    We should not confuse the personal with the political and it's about time people started standing up and saying so. I care about the health and robustness of our pluralistic democracy, but I don't care about what you do on your knees, religiously or sexually. I think more people should make the distinction and I'm glad to find one whom I think has.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 31, 2005

    Grind Date: Very Good But...

    The latest DeLa album is pretty slammin' but it's not fun. The demands of the business of being the age they have attained has squeezed all the humor out of their album. OK, DeLa, you're X years in the game, serious with multiple mortgages, kids and troubles. It's like they don't party any more.

    This is a workman-like album working on a formula that is anti-forumula but formula nonetheless. 'Trying People' from Bionix was clearly the deepest cut they ever did and they knew that. So there's several cuts in that vein on Grind Date. And just as predictably as every other rap group on the planet speaks their producer's name over the track, DeLa says they are whack for doing so. No it's not sucka-MC talk but it is all the same.

    DeLa shows the world what they are not. They are not trifling. They are not unskilled. They are not lightweights. But damn!

    But what's up with Dres and Black Sheep? Why are the Natives still dragged along implied on every record?

    DeLa collaboration is something they do better than any other group. In that, they are a whole section of the industry in miniscule (of course, like nobody else). Only De La could put Flava Flav on the same track which was essentially sampled from the last album where the Beastie Boys were guests. And it works. Everything DeLa does works, and that's what the Grind Date is all about, thematically.

    There are enough little gritty bits of innovation and lyrical content to keep me jabbering for a while, not to mention some standout flow, although nothing reaches the levels of 'View' which I think is going to stand as Plug 1's dopest. The male backup singers from "Am I Worth y of You" are back.

    My favorite cuts are 'Shopping Bags' which ought to blow up big, but how would I know considering that I don't listen to pop radio, and 'He Comes' until the other rapper comes on. But 'Verbal Clap' is the bomb cut.

    The Grind Date is straight in the groove of the best of Bionix, and adds a little innovation, but less than is usual for De La. The lack of humor on this one is a disappointment but it's still very good hiphop.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:27 PM | TrackBack

    January 27, 2005

    I Keep Having the Same Dream

    I hadn't griped about it this year, but for several years I used to complain fairly vociferously about the lack of publically available works by Martin Luther King Jr. I think about this in consideration over several commentaries about copyright and civil rights.

    Year in and year out the same video and the same soundbites from King. It has become tiresome. So when the Stanford Papers Project was announced several years ago, I jumped for joy. Too soon. As I looked closer, I recognized that the King heirs had put a contractual headlock on the papers. They were going to dribble them out for years to select groups, for money. So while I and other battlers on the fresh fields of the internet trying to homestead some black cultural space, we would have liked to have quoted King, citing him as relevant to the day. No such luck. We in the general unwashed public couldn't get at it. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    And so King has, in certain parts of the intenet, been dropped from the discussion. I speak specifically about the Affirmative Action debates of a few years ago. We had individuals like Ward Connorly and Clint Bolick suggesting that King would have never been a supporter of Affirmative Action. All we ever had was the same tired quote, as if King had only considered the question for the few seconds it must have taken to write it.

    "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro"

    Consider Professor Randall's web page. Not much there from King. Everybody claims him, nobody knows him. And the above quote is just about as much as anyone ever heard.

    NPR has done as much, I think, is as possible to give King to the masses, but that is hardly useful for anyone who wishes to do more than tip their hat and acknowledge King. Even the Wikipedia is stifled.

    On the other hand, if King's significance to America can be reduced to the few thousand of his own words in only five speeches, then we know all we need to know. Until his life's work is liberated, the rest is just spin.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Hotel Rwanda

    Hotel Rwanda bears many of the earmarks of a Hollywood film that's ready to sucker punch you into weeping submission. As we join Cheadle, we find him to be an admirable and likeable enough fellow. We follow him home to the surburban ranch-style to find kids' toys on the lawn and loving relatives. We see his calm command of employees at the job and his admirable capacity to schmooze with the powerful. He's a good guy and we know he's headed for Hell.

    However, the descent is not so clunky, sudden nor simple as one would think, and the filmmakers have done an admirable job with a subject that could have easily been ruined. In fact, I'm not sure that much of a better job could have been done. There are a lot of opportunities for this film to have gone meta-documentary with voice overs from CNN or scenes of people watching an abstraction of the situation on a tlevision somewhere. Instead, people listen to transistor radios as the vile ethnic hatred spews in the now infamous broadcasts.

    Hotel Rwanda is a film about the very essence of the human spirit; of the courage born of desparation. I was astounded by the turns of fate and the extraordinary mix of luck, wit and finesse of the main character. But I think these are things that anyone could, and probably should see. For that alone I would give this film one of my highest recommendations, which comes rather easy after several years of ignoring serious film.

    The towering lesson I see in 'Hotel Rwanda' is the danger of isolation. It is a lesson, were I a pessimist, that I think might be the hardest lesson the Western, modern man will ever face. We are individualists, but there seems nothing our individualism can do for us when confronted with ethnic genocide. There is only safety in numbers.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:01 AM | TrackBack

    January 26, 2005

    Nice Soldier

    I am satisfied that the implications of affirming Mr. Gonzales as our next Attorney General will nowhere as dire as many assert. Ashcroft was worse, and in the end, he didn't get away with murder. At least he didn't sue any 12 year old girls. I find the American interest in the ethics of combat at once comforting and disturbing.

    I think that anyone will agree that one of the things that annoys most people who have decided to gripe with America is that our great fault lies with our pretenses of superiority. So much of the war of words over Iraq has been of a moral tone that I have worried that Americans have forgotten or ignored the basic principles of warfare. Destroy the enemy. Make the cost of war so great that they relent. Force them to sue for peace. Instead, much of America supports the troops because it is morally appropriate to do so, not because they are interested in destroying the enemy.

    All this highmindedness is dangerous because it creates a kind of self-justifying moral superiority. If there were weapons of mass destruction, or if abuses at Abu Ghraib had not occurred, what could have possibly stopped the American onslaught? While I am certain that people principly against the war would have found any number of reasons to find fault with its morality, I'm not certain that their doing so changes the fundamentally American character as percieved by non-Americans.

    What exactly are we asserting by raising concerns about our adherance to the Geneva Conventions? We are admitting shame because our soldiers are not the best behaved soldiers in the world. We are suggesting that American misbehavior presages the descent of the world into chaos. If we don't uphold the highest standards, then God help us; we lose credibility and moral authority. We become like them.

    Perish the thought!

    Posted by mbowen at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 23, 2005

    Class and Race, 1998

    This below is a fragmented response giving my perspective about talking about the subject of race online. It still holds together pretty well, even though it was never edited or completed. For this and more, check out Kali's Questions from Boohab's Factotum.

    (From the Archives - January 1998)

    Class complicates racial issues in cyberspace because of the relative opacity of African American culture and poltical history in the mainstream. Folks come to cyberspace to discuss racial issues from a variety of perspectives. Most black folks get together to network and they wish to do so in a space where they feel comfortable. For example, students in a far off corner of the United States, where they may not feel especially comfortable in a predominately white environment, go to 'come home'. There is a latent social nationalism aspect to why black folks get together in cyberspace - they use it to cross the boundaries of distance. They want to find out what is going on in other black communities, and they come to seek common ground with other black folks in the spirit of unity which originated in black consciousness and civil rights movements.

    Within the African America, there is some difference of opinion on matters of unity. The strong legacy of the civil rights movement as well as the successes of the black nationalist movement both concentrate on the idea of unity in struggle as a pre-requisite to overcoming racial barriers. Only recently in the past 10 years has there been a general acceptance of the diversity of African America which has been facilitated by the creation of the term 'African American'. We no longer talk about the black community, rather black communities. We are aware of a varying set of successes in different , in some ways class exists absolutely in African America where it did not before. Blacks who have the experience of relative comfort in a community of middle-class and upscale whites are more and more physically removed from the ghettoes and traditional black residential areas in work and play.

    However the presence of racism forces most black folks in the middle-class to evaluate thier relative proximity to other classes of African Americans from a different perspective than that of other Americans. Thus far, black cultural nationalist strategies have not significantly diverged across socio-economic class within African America. The black church, while not central, is still significant across class lines. Afrocentrism as practiced and understood by most black folks unites, rather than divides blacks across class lines. The perennial stress on education and 'working twice as hard' to get ahead in America holds in both affluent and poorer black families. So while there are real class issues in African America, blacks are mostly united on issues related to fighting racism and 'race raising'. And it is from this perspective of responsibility that many African Americans find themselves discussing race in cyberspace.

    So when non-blacks, in discussing race, misunderstand these class distinctions or , it is never seen as a class issue. The idea of separating class from race doesn't happen by and large in black on black discussions - even when the class differences between blacks is clear. Solving racial issues, which generally falls under the category of defeating white supremacy, calls for unity. Chances are, it is class *and* race, but that's a 'dirty laundry' issue.

    It is important for me as a black individual in cyberspace to state my class credentials straightforwardly, because of the phenomenon of black neo-conservatism. Black neocons represent a challenge to the long-standing political orthodoxy of African American leadership of the past 50 years. But the black neocons have failed to gain popular support mostly because of their lack of standing in more traditional centers of black social power. Ironic, isn't it? Thus the question of their conservatism becomes more of an ideological point which is complicated by the fact of their non-membership thus perceived lack of investment in real black communities. The instrumentality of their power often stands outside of black institutions. In view of the latent cultural nationalism within African America, it is important that I situate myself in the historical continuum of black leadership. So I will make reference to my church, my college fraternity, the city of my mother's birth. From a mainstream, or racial perspective, all blacks are equally black. But within African America, all blacks are not equally credible on racial issues.

    So any value or set of values which are presumed to be acceptable to non-blacks may be interpreted to be the right program. 'If all blacks were like Colin Powell...' So black folks immediately point to the fact that Colin Powell speaks to black folks on racial issues. Powell is part of the solution to help all African Americans. He would be, like all other blacks in cyberspace vying for a position of leadership, presumably on racial and race raising issues. But never in the history of African America has a successful leader achieved through the admonishment 'be like me'.

    This is the framework upon which to view the dynamic of class identity in cyberspace with regards to African Americans. If you begin from the perspective that all black folks are equally black, and the more valid

    Posted by mbowen at 01:40 PM | TrackBack

    January 21, 2005

    On Western Journalism

    Long ago in The Well, somebody remarked of my writing that in its finer moments there were object lessons which should be taught in J-School. The remark that brought forth this praise was a poem about OJ Simpson.

    there's nothing much to learn at all from tv murder trials
    but prosecutors faces and defense attorney styles
    and what a witness looks like when he's lying through his teeth
    proving perjury needed no tapes so where's the beef?
    the evidence admissible to television crews
    spin doctored, sliced and diced and skewered daily on the news
    for weeks on end, ubiquitous no matter where you tune
    is bound to be quite dubious and yet since back last june
    the country has sat spellbound in a simpson trial jones
    a broken family's father spills his grief into our homes
    a dozen pseudo witnesses sold their tales to feed the flame
    a million hours of advertising bankrolling the game
    but worst of all americans, despite that we've been warned
    have swallowed so much swill as truth and think that we're informed.
    and thinking all this edutainment legal evidence
    believing the renditions of this tv farce made sense
    accepting that all reason is on our side of the fence
    have made ourselves the greatest fools, with racial consequence.

    I've had gripes with TV journalism almost forever, and print journalism when I moved to New York in 1991 and began reading more than two or three daily journals. It has always been part and parcel of my prospects for the online world for there to be a new kind of communications that would surpass what I call the 'false objectivity' of journalism. One of my first efforts was called 'B: An Electronic Magazine of Black Experience'.

    In my view the editorial style and physical limitations of what we call newspapers force researchers into particular ways of seeing things that lack the authenticity of the voice of people, African Americans, especially. The very manner in which newspapers and televised journalistic reports are assembled are biased to profess the false objectivity of journalists who themselves have become a very powerful class of Americans. This bias for me has become unendurable and I find it most annoying to parse through a multiplicity of papers to get at the truth. Having done so, the truth I arrive at seems much the product of oppositional cross-examination of institutions with much to hide. Yet often there are odd spots of writing I happen upon which ring with the flavor of authentic experience. It is this type of information that gives me the confidence that the world is indeed populated by human beings who can understand and explain it and do so out of genuine curiosity and love.
    Through B, I was trying to create a countervailing stream of personal evidence about the character of people's lives. I was trying to get some texture and nuance into the air. I was so upset and offended about the generic characterizations about blackfolks regarding their 'singular' 'experiences with police', which were asserted with such regularity after the OJ verdict and trial of the cops who beat Rodney King. It's interesting in retrospect that no mainstream journal came up with any shorthand term for those four, (Koon, Powell, Wind & Brisneo) but those blacks who beat Reginald Denny became known as the 'LA Four'. As an aside, those cops got many millions for their defense funds, so there is ample precedent for the recent awards in Inglewood.

    I have more recently been parsing through some of the discussion at Dan Gillmor's joint which I discovered through the arrival of Faye Anderson to the blogosphere. Faye's history is something I think has never been quite well understood by the public and it is important, by the way. But some common themes are arising in these and other criticism of the mainstream media. Aside from bloggers' bluster, I think that as more and more professional journalists elect to blog, there will be a tipping point at which the industry will be shaken. The right story could do it, it meaning the marking of the moment when some trend when the editorial practices of major news outlets will be consciously changed to reflect a new ethics as prompted by what's going on online.

    But as I peel slowly through Kishore Mahbubani, I discover other, more borad criticisms of Western journalism from an Asian perspective, and I have found significant parallels between his attacks and my complaints. I give you his list of heresies:

    1. American journalists do not believe in the Christian rule "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
    2. Power corrupts. The absolute power of the Western journalist in the Third World corrupts absolutely.
    3. A free press can serve as the opiate of society.
    4. A free press does not necessarily lead to a well ordered society.
    5. Western journalist, in covering non-Western events, are conditioned by both Western prejudices and Western interests. The claim of 'objective' reporting is a major falsehood.

    He goes on to level some heavy criticisms of Western governments.

    I am particularly attuned to item number three as it relates to both 'manufactured consent' and the flatheadedness of eclecticism. I find that the idea that we can know most everything about most everything, and that our variety of news sources gives us that to be an enormous deception. I don't seek to belabor this point but merely bring it up in the context of this ongoing discussion about the ethics of journalism at Gillmor's and other joints. However there are many ramifications of this deceptive 'ability' which relates to the frame of the debate over Iraq, the character and nature of Islam and the daily lives and aspirations of Americans themselves.

    If it were not for the online world, I think we would know ourselves a lot less well. It is my sincere hope that this medium continues to challenge notions of how, why and to what extent we learn about the world.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:18 AM | TrackBack

    January 20, 2005

    On Profanity

    Nykola offers her spin on a story that's been going around about 'America being the greatest fucking country in the world', as described by a performer at a benefit including political royalty and young kids. I have been a bit shamed by the common sense dictum that there isn't really a need for profanity under any circumstances. It's tacky. Yes and no.

    I've always said that profanity is the measure of someone's robustness. If you want to know when someone is stretched to the limit, you'll know when you hear them start cursing. But you'll likely run your eyes over the occasional expletive here at Cobb. Am I stretched? Am I crude? Am I inappropriate for children?

    My two favorite characters on Lost, Michael and Locke, locked horns on last nights' episode. I believe that deep in their hearts, they are very much alike, and yet Michael threatened Locke's life if Locke came around his son. There are some adults who, even though they are fundamentally good people, are by the nature of what they do, inappropriate for children. Locke is a hunter and a philosopher. Hunting and philosophy get very ugly, and there is purpose in that. It requires some maturity to go to the 'there' of hunting and philosophy. It is something many adults lack as well as children.

    As a writer, I take literary license. I do so with purpose and discipline, and it is in the context of creativity, passion and fearlessness that I occasionally spice up this column. Then again, sometimes my shit is just shit. I can't say with a great deal of confidence that I am always so highminded when I write here, but I'm certain that I don't intend to offend so much as inform. I have a very high regard for people in general and my readers in particular, none of whom I hope are insulted by my occasional crud. I know it only takes a small amount of effort to chose a less salty phrase without any loss of comprehension or effect. And yet I choose to leave the profanities in. Time will tell.

    Part of me is weighing in against those people I call 'dainty'. And that is partially born of a well-nurtured contempt for the American middle class of a skinny black kid from the 'hood who was too big for his britches. Part of it is the lusty appeal we all occasionally feel when we remember Jack Nicholson saying "You can't handle the truth"; and part of it is genuine concern for the backbone of our bourgie nation. But I think the largest fraction of it comes from the notion that I'm a free man, and dammit who's gonna stop me?

    This is the blogosphere and while it may not be the antidote to political correctness, the false objectivity of professional journalism and the arrogant arcana of academic scholarship, it's a damned refreshing alternative. That is due in part because we are free of the conventions of.. whatever purpose those conventions serve, which ain't always Sweetness, Light and Truth. We don't always keep it real here in the blogosphere, but we do keep good company. The people shine through, and that's part of the beauty of blogging - except for law bloggers. I don't know what they're trying to pull. (heh)

    Anyway, I'm not going to change much. I'm not apologizing in advance, I'm just telling you the way I see it. Thanks for listening. And by the way, this is a pretty fuckin' great country.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:26 AM | TrackBack

    January 19, 2005

    Evangelism & Politics

    Somewhere in the history of Britain that I never really studied is the story of the Roundheads. If I remember correctly, they eventually got their butts kicked out of the country. As they landed over here, they were called Puritans, derisively.

    The central tenet of Puritanism was God's supreme authority over human affairs, particularly in the church, and especially as expressed in the Bible. They believed, for example, that the worship of the church ought to be strictly regulated by what is clearly commanded in Scripture. Where their opponents defended many worship practices based on tradition alone, the Puritans considered these practices to be idolatry, regardless of their antiquity or how widespread they were among Christians. Thus, Puritan reforms were typified by a minimum of ritual and decoration, and an unambiguous emphasis on preaching.

    I think what we're just about due for is a spate of relgious intolerance, but my guess is that's it is going to come in the form of Christian on Christian violence.

    I wonder at what point Christian prosletyzing is going to get on somebody's nerves and someone smart in government is going to try to get the Constitution out of it. This deft move will get a couple sects battling each other in a circle. When you get down to it, Baptists don't really like Methodists. And there's plenty of emnity to go around.

    The questions of Christian sectarianisms are likely to be the subject after the blog after this. The blog after this is going to be my China blogging, and then we'll turn loose Lucifer Jones. Until then, I am rubbing my hands with glee at those opportunists soon to be busted by the IRS and 'fellow' Christians. This is not how the thousand points of light were supposed to go down, and the marginal benefit Republican strategists have gotten in broad electoral politics is going to blow up socially over the next 4 years.

    Here's what you can do. Ask Christians who their Bishop is.

    Suspicions Confirmed:

  • Blogcritics

    Posted by mbowen at 02:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
  • Around the Way Art

    Jimi warns Kanye West that he's about live the white critical equivalent of Stevie's 'Rocket Love' with his 10 Grammy nominations. Sounds about right, and no I don't remember 'Zingalamaduni'.

    He's right about Lauryn Hill, of course.

    I wonder how long the trend is going to last that folks from outside of the well-wrapped universe of black existentials are going to keep studying the insides of our heads in order to grok the deeper lyrical meaning. It's a tough call, because nobody really likes wiggers. Even when there are those I would venture to call 'partner' tell me that they like Miles Davis, I'm like 'what?'. That ain't love of Jazz, that's a correct answer. Piker. I can't imagine that blackfolks are ever going to give whitefolks a break when it comes to music appreciation, and isn't that a snitty little turn? We arrogantly say that we *do* own Jazz and Hiphop. It's black music, dammit! The rest of the world can only approximate true love for this music, so goes the arrogant chauvinism we show for it. We're like Japanese listening to Gaijin trying to speak our language. What expresses that better than the trailer for the new Will Smith movie, when he patiently explains to the chubby white guy that he should never, under any circumstances, try to bust a move on the dance floor? Ain't we something?

    I believe that something about the music gets into other people's pants too. In fact, I'm counting on it. Because when I go abroad, I think that's going to be the only way I'm going to connect at a substantial lesson without a translator. I'm absolutely for getting the gutbucket of specifics on wax, never let it be said that I didn't groove when LL talked about Farmers thought I've never been there. BUT. Still, there's nothing like an instrumental, and I need instrumentals because it's hard to describe or talk about them, and that non-verbal has to get me a connection.

    When I made this cut last week, I wondered whom it would affect. You have to have a bit of context to understand what a simple yet profound mix this is. So it came as no surpise that the dreadlock man selling incense in front of Boys Market on Crenshaw gave me props on the cut. (The sign may say 'Ralphs' but that will always be Boys Market.) And isn't that the heart of it? Knowing something OG is always more satisfying, especially as it is transformed into something else. That fat woman is always sexy to you because you knew her when she was a cheerleader.

    Demystifying this is actually not so difficult. I think I know what it is. It's about falling in love. You see even though I know there are lots of blackfolks out there who know 'Wildflower' by New Birth, only my 8th grade class of '74 from Holy Name of Jesus School knows it to be the only slow record we were allowed to dance to at our heavily chaperoned grad party. And only Steve and Alfred and Patrick and I know what Veronica's dress felt like that night. It was cut up to here. >Hey hey hey hey!

    Sorry, I'm very distracted with that memory.

    What was I saying? Something about the dual edged sword of the particular. I think we should cut nons a break. It's not about transcendance, it's about sharing intimacy. Even if I never set foot in Asia, I have been given a chance to relearn the world. I put myself in the shoes of the outsider looking in. Let let me in.

    BTW. Nobody makes slow dance records like that any more. What's up with that?

    Posted by mbowen at 08:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 17, 2005

    The Hard Case

    Are the people at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean black? If they survived the Middle Passage, would they consider us black?

    I raise this provocative question in the context of the perennial topic of The Survival of the Black Race. Presuming that this is a difficult and worthwhile outcome, who gets to decide? It sounds like an ignorant question but I think not. The answer, inevitably, is that the successful get to decide.

    I wonder these days out of genuine concern rather than partisan bluster whether or not my lefty counterparts will survive. One of the things that prompts me in this direction were three vignettes that keep playing in my mind. The first has to do with Dave Chappelle, the second with Hotel Rwanda and the third with Black History Museums.

    Part One: Chappelle
    On Tivo I watched an episode of Dave Chappelle and at the top of the show he did a skit involving some character named Lil Jon. As it stands, I just happened to guess that this was based on an actual person. The extended riff of "What?" must have something to do with a song popular with the hiphop crowd - I could be wrong. But I happen to know that Chappelle is a smart dude who is not above telling his audience that they are stupid, if they are. I also don't doubt that he has the best of hiphop's stars on his show including Common, Mos Def, De La Soul and Kanye West. I'm going to appropriate Prince and say "You eventually get the audience you deserve." I am concerned that my lefty buddies, and maybe Dave Chappelle will only have the legacy that they moderated the dysfunction of society's undesireables. I have a difficult time with that being the Black legacy. But the argument of my colleagues always hinges on the center of gravity of the black population being relatively close to destitution.

    I discount Hiphop because in the main it ain't about much. I imagine that you could split up the black population on the basis of asking them which music they could not live without {hiphop, jazz, gospel, r&b, funk}. Damn, I'd have to choose Jazz. But you and I know that the conversation these days is always about hiphop carrying the bulk of black culture. I say it doesn't and it shouldn't, but that's not an easy call. I get plenty of static about it and people think I'm ignorant of reality. OK.

    Part two: Hotel Rwanda.
    (I swear I'm going to get that review out one of these days.) As my boy Lee says, between the lion and the hunter only one gets to tell the story of conflict, the one that survives. What saved the refugees was Paul's relationship with powerful people. Without his network of power, he'd be at the mercy of the militia. Despite the fact that he felt completely abandoned and foolish for wearing the suit and tie, it was the relationship he cultivated with the Western world that made the critical difference. There is something very important and real about the connections between the powerful and the middle class that completes the cycle of humanity. If those links fail, then there can be no progress. There must be mutual trust and respect.

    This is a trust and respect I think many in the Left have lost, or never established with American power. It is clearly something many don't understand, especially those to like to toss the term 'sell out' around.

    Part Three:
    Black History museums around the nation are hanging by a thread of government funding. The museum in Detroit was recently saved from bankruptcy by an emergency rescue funding by a coalition of black millionaires in the area. I think this is a prime example of the kind of action African Americans can come to expect if we actually *do* expect it.

    I find myself conflicted at the heart of this issue. I desire to see some cogent black upperclass which embodies the spirits of black nationalism and the traditions of African American family & history. In fact, I am convinced that the future of black history depends upon its establishment. If there is a mainstream pop culture which carries the vulgar burden of ugly Americanism, it would break my heart to see that the black elite has bought into it. But I doubt that seriously given my personal experience and the obvious distance between black talent and American pop. At the same time, I know this is just my hope speaking, and I further know that there must be some very good reasons such a cogent upperclass is not in clear evidence today. I rationalize this by asserting that we simply have not reached a critical mass. But I also know that the ways of this world bring us away from the ways of our world. One establishes oneself through market values or constituencies, and the simple fact is that black wealth doesn't often owe itself directly to the black masses in the same way that black political power owes itself largely from black constituencies. The success of wealthy and influential black families may ultimately be dissapated.

    And yet the legacy of African American history is at stake. How will we appear? I wonder. I worry.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    Disowning Success

    It turns out that there's a pretty hot thread about Absolute Poverty & Black Empowerment that I started at Vision Circle which migrated over to P6. The new hot thread is called 'So What'. I weigh in again.

    Did you ever wonder why black power activists hate Nelly as much as they hate Condoleeza Rice? Because both of them have power, influence and money gained from their mastery of systems that deliver such things. Black power activists have no mastery of any systems which deliver power, influence or money. That's why they're such strident moralists - its the only realm where their rhetoric works. And so they use tools of shame and pride as stick and carrot on the black masses. They have nothing else to give. They are the enemies of competence.

    To answer the question 'So What' is to give some perspective on the size of the domain that America cedes to the black power activist. This is the default 'black vote', who unlike the rest of the country, is unable to separate issues like slavery (and whatever else) from their bread and butter issues. Why? Because 'black leaders' tell them so, they have a separate and distinct moral universe from the rest of the world. And so they continue to believe that what the rest of the world knows or has learned does not apply to them. It's a trap.

    At this point I should take a moment to pub up the activism of Ted Hayes who will be staging a rally downtown in LA in support of Condoleeza Rice tomorrow Tuesday Jan 18th. I met him this weekend at Ofari's. We got into it with another sister who can't stand Rice or her 'master', GWBush.

    Eventually, she had to turn her back on us and find a less confrontational area of the cafe. But she had nothing to say about Rice's work against AIDS in Africa or any of her other 'Black Ops'.

    I am coming to believe that many black power activists have no idea how to appeal to African Americans who are not dysfunctional. They are literally making success their enemy. For them, it is more important to network with the black man in prison than the black man in business. I understand, respect and recognize the fact that a certain aspect of our political responsibility is to the least of our brothers. Without noblesse oblige, we are savages. But when the politics of uplift have no vision of success beyond 'black survival', they need to be dismissed. That's worse than the legacy of white liberalism, because at least some of those whites had limousines.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:22 AM | TrackBack

    January 12, 2005

    Hollywood Work: The Subtext of Subjectivism

    After the set with Wolff last evening, I got into one of those strange situations which is the Hollywood conversation. A couple of cool dudes and several musicians were hanging back and talking with Wolff while Pops did his thing and pressed up for an autograph. Pops doing his thing is a rather unique experience, because when I'm around it means a graceful and proper introduction. It has a continuing strange and powerful effect on me even though he's done it hundreds of times throughout my life. My father always introduces me to people as if I were the most important person in the world, and he makes everyone feel it, especially me. I have yet to become deft enough to evade the implications of my introductions; I'm not sure I want to.

    But I'm a scientist at heart. I'm an explorer come to map and digitize, to survey vast areas and find their centers of gravity. I am perceptive and articulate, and I judge. Such are character strengths in my line of work although my manner of doing so makes me appear to be arrogant in just about every other endeavor. My professional demeanor is both aggressive and conservative. My job is to understand problems and deliver solutions - to take mind numbing complexity and make promises that A = A at the end of the day.

    So it is very difficult for me to talk about what music and other creative productions do, and in the company of musicians and creatives, I lack the technical vocabulary to last in any conversation about the subject at hand. My aim is not to deliver criticism, nor to be a cloying fan, but to collaborate, to clap or hoot on the backbeat at just the right time during the performance. And when I think about what a extraordinarily fine joint Catalina's is, to figure out how I could finance one in Beijing.

    But I have started to become aware of how it is that creatives talk about their work understanding that there is no objective standard for it. In contrast, when you are 'a techie' the aims of performance are clear, and what you know in every situation is that when you are presented with a piece of code or a system that it must submit to both real time and forensic examination. At the end of the day, a good system is good in the same way to everyone who can understand it and fulfills the same needs everywhere it can be appreciated. But there is no such ubiquity of appreciation in music or film. And it is because of this that I have just begun to appreciate the ways in which the Hollywood types talk about each other.

    It appears to me that for the Hollywood creative, the only constant is dedication to craft and reconciliation with self. So conversations about relationships employ references to the work in a veiled way. The overt narrative is about workmanship and relationships between working people, but only the subtext is about the work itself.

    There were several things on my mind as the introduction happened. The first was the sensation of loss I felt that I would endure in China and how do I get Jazz like this into China and what is the Chinese instrument that will bring them into World Music like the Tablas have for India? The second was whether or not the last tune they jammed was 'St. Thomas Way' because it was all I could hear (lovin' it) although the melody was never expressed. The third was how do I get this autograph without looking like a complete ass. Fortunately Wolff was multitasking in and out of a Hollywood converation and we hounds were clearly a background task. This gave me an out, so I went to talk to the drummer.

    By the time I got to his table, I had formulated what I thought was a reasonable question to address my first concern. "Where do jazz cats play in China?" As I watched Mike during the set, my mind kept saying Gene Krupa, Gene Krupa. Don't ask me why, but it was something about how his left thumb would pop back as he adjusted his grip on the sticks or flipped his grip from underhand to overhand and back. Mike surprised me with his classical jazz gravelly cool voice. He knew about Thailand and he knew about Japan but not about China. That was good. I wanna be the guy. I want to open The jazz club in Beijing. Something just like Catalina's would work perfectly.

    Several of us went through the confusion of chasing down the single Sharpie in the joint so that liner notes could get signed. By that time, I had been reduced to blubbering. There could be no cool way to find out what Wolff listened to but to ask that exact question. His kids listen to Eminem and Usher. I have no idea whatsoever what Usher is doing these days. Hopefully he's growing up, but I got the feeling that Wolff was playing a joke on a non-Hollywood person such as myself. I got caught flatfooted asking a typical idiot question. But it's true that he admitted biting the St. Thomas Way bassline - the real cut is on the disc.

    So remind me to find out who is the guy who did the film score for Solaris. There's supposed to be a single note song that's pretty cool. I guess. He too was in the house in a higher priority foreground Hollywood conversation which drifted to the status of Keepnews the younger or record production fame.

    I have no business in Hollywood conversations, and it's difficult for me to bear them, especially when I'm not wearing the Hollywood suit and I look only 1/3 as charming as I truly can be. But I do think that I'm making progress in understanding them. You can't talk about the work directly. Such opinions only matter to insiders who understand the workmanship. We consumers are simply, consumers.

    So I promised Wolff 500 words of rave in the blog, mentioned The Bad Plus and got the hell out of there. Maybe it registered, but it's hard to follow up Pops' introduction from my perspective on the world.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Impure Thoughts, In the Moment

    mikewolff.jpgMichael Wolff is the kind of jazz musician that I had presumed to be dead (or Chick Corea), somebody whose mastery of the keyboard and improvisational skill transforms Jazz into something with heart instead of something merely crafty. It turns out that his vivacity has reminded me how much more music there is, and how exciting it is to find it. His quartet, Impure Thoughts was at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood last night. I showed up on a lark, or more like a coconut held between two African swallows, but boy am I glad I did.

    Wolff is in the class of improvisational genius I don't often hear. He has a brilliantly fast mind and can move nicely on top of very complex rhythms and never gets bogged down. There was so much in the group's performance last night that I kept finding delicious references sprinkled lightly throughout his work. It's something you expect to find, this being Jazz, but he does it so deftly that it all sounds original. Sebastian, the cat at the next table said that Wolff reminded him of Keith Jarrett. Me, I kept hearing the tenderness of Herbie Hancock, and then I would hear the improvisation and quickness of Chick Corea. But where Wolff is exceptional is his ear for integrating complex rhythms that have no chance of driving his melodies, and to do so against the crackalakin' drums of Mike Clark is really saying something.

    I was sitting on Clark's side, so he was occasionally drowning out Badal Roy who was working the tablas on the other side of the stage. I don't think there was anyone in the booth, but by the time the set progressed to the gentler numbers, it was clear to me that there was more than one spot of genius here. This group constitutes is a musical arrangement that isn't done yet. It is capable of doing some very impressive stuff. Impure Thoughts' rendition of 'A Love Supreme' is exstatic. So let me not understate it. It was the most comprehensively joyful expression of Coltrane I have heard since Laswell's seque into Naima on the 'Hallucination Engine' album, which is by the way one of my all time favorite records. That's going back ten years. The version on disc doesn't even catch up to it, but studio time is expensive. Somebody get these boys some time, please.

    By the middle of the set, I was thinking how fortunate I am to have this background. To understand the music. And at the same time I kept thinking to myself, how am I going to hear this in China, and how are the Chinese going to learn jazz?

    As I watched Badal Roy work the tablas it looked unimpressive. As things worked out, I needed to be closer to him because on the right, most of the time Mike Clark was bangin'. But when I got a chance to really feel him, it seemed almost miraculous. Working his left hand on his bass drum was astonishing. So I closed my eyes and bowed my head and kept time. Suddenly I started feeling it and hearing it on a different level and it instantly blew away so much of the tabla stuff I've been hearing mixed everywhere.

    I have to say something more about that, because and maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but tablas seem to be much more than just percussion. I mean you can't rightly compare Roy to Paulino DeCosta or that Escovedo cat. He's doing something different. He seems to be adding space in addition to marking time. That's the best way I can describe it. It's like he's literally splitting up time and slowing it down so you can start to hear faster. It's not so much a beat that you get into and groove with as it is something that opens up time and space. So you can get into a 7/4 time without feeling that it's something mind-bogglingly clever which is the feeling you get listening to the Lounge Lizards or Brubeck.

    Impure Thoughts works almost against being a tight quartet. They are subtle and spontaneous but not rambling into a circle of solos. They are evocative and energetic but they don't riff. As you look at them perform, you get the distinct impression of old pros effortless banging out honed skills and making music on the spot. More than any band I've seen or heard recently, these men listen to themselves play and get excited by what they hear. That's why having a song called 'In the Moment' is such a perfect metaphor for what they do. They reinvent this tabla/piano duet from scratch each time they perform.

    As for the bassman John B Williams, I have one word: Quartet, as in Herbie Hancock Quartet. Yes that one with Ron Carter. There was no piece in the set that let him run with the bass but he was bending the notes sweetly.

    So here's what they are about to do, and I can hear it in the St Thomas Way improv. They are about to connect West African kalimba chord stuff, where you can do things like One Note Samba on just a few keys, and then they are going to immerse it and highlight it with Corea-like arpeggios. They're going to do it with Caribbean speed and energy, with bending bass notes in the tabla space-time continuum, and then its going to have (man this is a great word) a crackalackin' back beat. I've already seen its potential to render Coltrane into new dimensions.

    World Jazz? Don't even say that until you hear Michael Wolff and Impure Thoughts, because they are going to open you up again and you're going to see what's possible.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:28 AM | TrackBack

    January 11, 2005

    Contesting the Standard Model

    Gladwell and Surowieki and are running an excellent dialog which is of interest to those of us in the Business Intelligence field. Even though much of what I do is considered IT, and I'm a hands-on guy, I'm always fascinated by the theory of Cognitive Science, and have long been a champion of the Doug Englebart's Augmentation theory. So every once in a while I go back to the old PARC heads like Butler Lampson et al for a fresh look. Thinking about thinking is great fun in and of itself and these two are thinking about decision making. Who does it best and how?

    Good stuff.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:54 PM | TrackBack

    Jack is Back

    I'm three hours into the new season of '24'. The best part so far is that we have not had to endure Jack turning CTU upside down on behalf of his daughter. But we are repeating several of the strengths and weaknesses of last season.

    First of all it's absurd how Jack can just take over all the protocols of the CTU on his damned hunches. The force of his personality is just obscene. If I were the head of CTU I'd shoot him my damned self. His cajoling of Chloe makes he and she a silo of action. If the writers have any insight to our real CTUs, then this ladies and gentlemen is exactly the problem with American intelligence. Any idiot could see that there ought to be 30 people watching a satellite over Jack in persuit of the kidnapper. If only 10 people at one agency was in on this, we'd deserve to lose the Secy. Of course this is done for the sake of drama..

    They've already gone straight to torture and kidnapping, and we've already seen some waffling. The reactionary son of Heller is a perfect character to throw into the CTU mix.

    The soap opera elements are already making CTU itself a hotbed of distrust. It accentuates the paranoia of the entire series and allows CTU to get away with certainty in action that it oughtn't have.

    The new female head of CTU, whose name I just can't recall, is making a monumental ass of herself. She is professionally incompetent. She 'hopes'. By following procedure she demonstrates how the best of the best can still make no progress. Just keeping the chain of command intact, she illustrates to great effect the limits of bureacracy. Although it adds to the soapyness, it's a good point to make in the series.

    CTU life is already starting to seem cheap. This season I'm counting the number of friendlies that Jack's actions kill. My guess? 40 in 24 hours.

    Three solid hours and I can't put the pieces together. The writers have done an excellent job of juggling multiple plotlines. The fact that I can't stand Jack's seemingly irrational hunches, even knowing that he will essentially solve this puzzle is just the right tension for results vs law and order.

    That stupid red code scrolling on the screen 'with arabic comments' was a big huge gob of compu-fakery.

    Jack isn't crazy or self-doubting this time. He is not a man possessed with super instincts that he's not in control of.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:43 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    January 08, 2005

    Sowell vs The Bell Curve

    I didn't know that Thomas Sowell was one of the folks weighing in against Murray and Hernstein back in the mid 90s when people were all up in arms over the Bell Curve. I would have liked to have had him at the ready when I was debating here in the second tier. It is interesting to note that I cannot detect anything horrendous that has happened as a result of the publication of the infamous book. Then again, I'm not quite the policy wonk - not that any policy wonk the web has produced has outed the name of the welfare reformers who considered TBC gospel.

    DeLong updates us nicely, and Atrios is, as usual, the comment magnet. For myself, I'll just add the following to the archives. I would like to see Atrios' archives as well.

    Herrnstein and Murray... say:

    The national averages have in fact changed by amounts that are comparable to the fifteen or so IQ points separating blacks and whites in America. To put it another way, on the average, whites today differ from whites, say, two generations ago as much as whites today differ from blacks today. Given their size and speed, the shifts in time necessarily have been due more to changes in the environment than to changes in the genes.

    ...[T]he failure to draw the logical inference seems puzzling. Blacks today are just as racially different from whites of two generations ago as they are from whites today. Yet... the number of questions that blacks answer correctly on IQ tests today is very similar to the number answered correctly by past generations of whites. If race A differs from race B in IQ, and two generations of race A differ from each other by the same amount, where is the logic in suggesting that the IQ differences are even partly racial?....

    Posted by mbowen at 04:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    The New Tactical

    As part and parcel of my immanent entry into the corporate stratosphere, and the jetset, I'm going to have to get my luggage thang on. Now this is an advert on the home page of Zero Halliburton, maker of breifcases that just scream 007.

    The New Tactical is the look that I'm going to try to establish. It's going to be a kind of Pacific Rim upscale look with blues, blacks, charcoals, with silver, ice blue, platinum and white. So far, there's definitely Oakley in the picture. Also there's the practicality of some Eddie Bauer. The high style is more Kenneth Cole and Claiborne, which is what I do already. But there's this Japanese dude that I like from way back I could never afford.

    I can't wait for there to be a Chinese International look. I'll definitely integrate those elements. Ahh, stylin'.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:32 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 04, 2005

    Why Philanthropy?

    I've been wondering the past few days why it is that there is no giant organization in the world that has done all the things people who want to save the world want to do. I think part of the reason is that once the do-gooders got a snootful of their own artifice, they'd chuck it all. And perhaps that is the legacy of do-gooder organizations everywhere - they can only grow so big.

    On the other hand, Americans still seem to believe that we can cure cancer, all we need are enough... stem cells. Like UFO fanatics, people who believe in utopia believe that the answer is out there somewhere. If only we had enough... money, then the solution would be obvious. Just like those people who knew that GWBush was a total idiot, the world would be better off if only they had enough... votes.

    It must be said that the natural order of things is that things fall apart. There is never enough... whatever. Scarcity. I think we are going back to econ 101.

    On Charlie Rose last week, a UN assistant to Kofi Annan was explaining that for 100 billion per year, we could cut world poverty in half. He explained patiently that half the civilized world (outside of the US) had pledged to do a great deal towards funding some Millenial Principles on the way to ending half the world's poverty somewhere around 2015. If we only had 100 billion dollars per year.

    The poor chap was exasperated and confounded by our President's lack of following up on promises made in 1999, and offered a soundbite from Colin Powell to suggest that it all ought to make sense to our national security interests to do all those things Steve Miller sung about in 1978.

    But it hasn't happened. It might be an organizational thing.

    You see, if I have my way, smartmobs could become something of the next generation of organizing principles of global significance. We're on the verge of it. We're on the verge of philes and when the DNA stuff is done. (I'm thinking of opening a new topic 'Philes & Panoptics' but I need to read some more sci-fi first.) The point is that this new organization will be the way that humans begin to organize their interests. According to my theory, Nazi Germany was the last nation and demonstrated the end of nationalism. The US is not really a nation. So aside from transnational corporations, CIA-like proprietaries, publically funded NGOs, governments, and the Churches there are no other ways of harnessing the desires and resources of millions. Such organizations have no interest in eliminating world poverty. Regardless of whether they are capable of doing so (which I doubt, not because of capacity, but because of political logistics) the principles of hierarchical organizations require certain abstractions that constrain their ability to reach. And I have the distinct impression that the elimination of poverty works by hooking people up to the grid. But that is best accomplished one on one and hierarchical orgs don't do that well. My point is that there's a problem with institutional philanthropy and I believe it is an inherently structural one.

    These structural and response deficiencies can be overcome via new communications and organizational technologies, but will they end up reducing poverty? I don't think so. I believe that the more affluent world is going to start slumming, and that as we get more electronically connected, the importance of the metropolis will decline. Like superheroes and villians of comic lore, we will have remote underground headquarters (where the real estate is cheap) and still be able to save (or dominate) the world.

    In the meantime, I find the lack of will to solve the world's problems something of an indication of what actually is a problem. Remote suffering, so long as we are not substantially interconnected, remains remote. Out of sight, out of mind, out of funds.

    I also want to drop in a bit of propaganda against coersion in the interests of private property. Well meaning gents like the UN attache, tend to believe that doing best cannot be harmful and that any means to establish that end are worth it. Fortunately, the UN is not in a position to coerce, or we'd all be slaves to UNICEF.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 03, 2005

    Fundamentalists, Gay Activists & The Hegemonic Mainstream

    As usual, I did a bit of mumbling to myself on the freeway home tonight, and it occured to me, in this new year, that the chickens of domestic partnership are coming home to roost.

    As of Saturday January first in California, domestic partners now have to go to court to have their breakup recognized by the state. This is bad news for the bathhouse boys who thought they could become the new welfare queens. What percentage of the alternative lifestyle scene that is, I have no idea. But at least John Waters is on my side when he questions whether 'gay marriage' is the proper legacy of Stonewall. Bottom line is that it ain't so easy to swing, even if you swing that way.

    So in disparaging all that is to the left of me I thought to myself what is the biggest mistake 'they' make. I think that the biggest mistake lefties and progressives make is the dismissal of the work done in the Hegemonic Mainstream.

    Yes, I am in the Hegemonic Mainstream. I am the straight, conservative, father and husband, Old School Episcopalian, married to my straight, hard working stay at home wife and mother. We are a two car, suburban family, and our children have Christian names. But the incorrect lefty presumption is that because we are 'all' socialized to accept that as the dominant norm, that it's not work, or whatever work it is, the alternative is harder. I think they break their arm patting themselves on the back and otherwise drown in their own koolaid. Sure being a single mom is hard, but is it necessarily harder?

    Ooh. Taboo broken here.

    It seems to me that if one chooses to be a single mother, then one is choosing *not* to be a wife and mother. Now, by choosing to be a single mother, there are certain duties one must assume, presumeably for the love and benefit of the child which would ordinarily be handled by (or shared with) the husband & father. I'm saying that isn't necessarily more difficult than being a good wife and making a marriage work. Of course I wouldn't know, because I chose to play my part in a real marriage. But the lefties wouldn't begin to suggest they don't know. It's automatically assumed that whatever work goes into being a wife and mother, that being a single mother is harder work. The word I choose today to describe this assertion is bodewash.

    Marriage is hard work, and those who take up the cudgels for alternative lifestyles doth protest too much of their struggles for respect and recognition. Married people don't waste their time championing marriage, because those of us who have seen (or done) what it takes to keep a marriage and family working well, know damned well how much hard work and sacrifice that takes. I'm quite sure that it's nothing like battling the prejudices at children's publishing houses lobbying for books about Adam and Steve, then again what is? If the 54% divorce rate doesn't tell you something, then you maybe more than your finger is up your butt.

    Of course I can't help but think that much of the carping is at least in part based on experience with the dysfunctional up close and personal. It's difficult for me to imagine that people from strong and loving families don't want to replicate the experience, but it's easy for me to see why those who had reasons to avoid family eschew the institution altogether. I am not suggesting that gay love isn't love but rejection of family. Not at all. I'm saying those who don't know how to do it are probably wise in choosing not to try. After all, marriage is about sacrificing freedom and subordinating oneself to the good of the whole. Making marriage and family work is about aligning your happiness to the success of the marriage and family, not trying to extract benefits from being part of it. I understand and respect that everybody isn't up to that task, and that a goodly segment of the gay lifestyle is all about rejection of precisely that kind of commitment.

    That leaves, most assuredly, some segment of the gay and lesbian community that genuinely crave the cradle of marriage and family. But it's hard for me to see how it is that they reconcile those feelings. If you want your children to have what you had, then why not do that? Or did you perhaps always secretly wish your happy family had two moms instead of mom and dad? I extend the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not buying the existentials. The Hegemonic Mainstream family is what it is and nothing else. A good Marriage is a good Marriage. Man + Woman. Marriage + Family is all that plus kids, and it's damned hard work, and it's damned rewarding when done right.

    But those who advocate for gay marriage must understand that the difference is real and all their experiences getting book publishers to play their counter-hegemonic battles notwithstanding, nobody else is going to buy it. And all of their insistence that we take them seriously and that their alternative is just as legitimate is so much wasted effort. It's as fruitless a battle as Fundamentalist Christians trying to sell creationism as science. You can say it and protest that you're marginalized until you are blue in the face, when the cows come home, at Kingdom Come. But the difference is real and the work is real whether or not you care to understand or do the work yourself. Just as the science of evolution is real. You're never going to convince the people that do the work that your marginalization is a valuable currency.

    So give up.

    Don't worry. Be happy. Reap your own whirlwind. Use the freedom you have to make the life you want. Just don't expect the others to give you the honor of using the title of Marriage or Science, just because that's what you want your belief to be. We work too hard to get our thing right.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:12 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Jared Diamond Disses Richard Lynn

    "Biological differences between people plays no part in my theory."
    --Jared Diamond.

    He goes on to exemplify how the Norsemen, blonde and blue founded two civilizations, the Greenlanders and the Icelanders. Iceland is rich, the Greenlanders are no more.

    Listening to him now on KPCC with Larry Mantle, I find him a bit too swayed by environment, but I think he's got a good grasp of the high level. At this very moment, he is echoing my thoughts with regard to the collapse of civilizations due to overthrow due to events actually beyond the control of the leadership.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 29, 2004

    No Worries, Mate

    • Social Security is Fine.
      Well, here's one less thing to worry about. Amazing.
      Ten years ago Social Security trustees predicted that the system would become insolvent in 35 years, meaning 2029. Five years later they were still predicting that insolvency was 35 years away � doomsday had been postponed to 2034. Today, they're predicting that insolvency is 38 years away, in 2042.

      What happened? Why does the insolvency date keep getting further away? How could the trustees have been so continually wrong?

      The answer is all in the numbers. For instance, the future of Social Security is highly sensitive to predictions of economic growth, and the trustees assume a very conservative growth rate of 1.8% per year. That compares with expected growth of 3.9% this year, a fairly average year for the U.S. economy.

      Posted by mbowen at 10:01 AM | TrackBack

    December 28, 2004

    Gaia Germs

    Simon Winchester is jocking Lovelock and suggesting, among other things, that human beings are irresponsible with the environment. In case you haven't heard me say it before, I'll say it again. The planet is fine.

    So here's a what-if. What if Agent Smith is correct? What if humanity is a virus? Or better yet, what if we were just a benevolent microbe? It seems to me that there is really no way for us to know, even given Gaia theory. Either way, humanity and all its creations are a part of the whole system. Who's to say that our purpose is not to cleanse the earth of all other mammilian species?

    Whatever happens, the planet will survive us. Don't worry, be happy. Our greatest duty is human justice, not planetary stewardship.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:28 PM | TrackBack

    December 24, 2004

    HRL, American Provinciality & The Asian Emergence

    I had dinner with my brother Doc, the cop, last night high atop the Magic Johnson Building in downtown LA. We talked about the futility of the ghetto. Doc and I hold up the Right end of family politics here on the Left Coast. The subject drifted, of course, to my growing understanding and perception of things Chinese. What was new this time was the notion of the parallels between the ghetto mentality and the Asian identity crisis.

    The what? Asian identity crisis? It's a subject that never was mentioned in America's most intense discussion of Asians which was over the controversy of Affirmative Action. And instantly Doc says, Americans are so provincial. Doc, by the way is narrowing down where to spend the month of March, which he has off. He has picked out a condo on the beach in Rio which goes for 1000/mo. But if I'm in Beijing, he'd love to hang out. This is his dilemma. A nice problem to have. But he's also scratching his head about the factors and forces that have the potential of expanding the Internal Third Worlds in southern LA County. He talks about the fact that crack is now just $5 a hit.

    He mentioned that the political victory of southcentral politics has been the unconditional retention of incompetent medical staff at 'Killer King' hospital and rejection of Wal-Mart, the biggest capital investment in the area since the building of the 105 Freeway. How do people get it so twisted? Ghetto Mentality, provinciality. I agree.

    You see, looking at Asians strictly in the terms of the battle between blackfolks and whitefolks over Affirmative Action forces them to be the 'model minority'. Most people know that's wrong but have left a great gap in their understanding of where Chinese (for one) are coming from and going to. The confluence of chatter about China now is heading towards another new reaction in the popular mind. A new Yellow Peril attached to the release of import quotas on Chinese textiles. The smart money expects China's market share in clothing the American market to go from about 15 to 50 percent over the next three years.

    Doc laments that the American Way is being forgotten, that we have lost the edge of our homesteading and sharecropping forebears. He recently watched a school janitor in upscale South Pasadena belt out the National Anthem with operatic quality. Half the parents in the audience didn't bother to take off their hats. We're forgetting what it is to be American. I say that America is still only an Idea. Whomever lives it, gets it. But sometimes I wonder who is going to fight for us, who is going to volunteer for our volunteer army? (As a tangent, multinational forces and interventions are going to be more necessary in the global future, we may as well be a prime supplier.) I'm not particularly concerned if a large number of middle-class North Americans forget what's up. Events will catch up enough times. We'll feel it. Word will travel fast and we'll pay attention. Nothing sneaks up on the American public, we'll know it.

    But what of the American ideal and our provinciality?

    What I'm hearing is that Asians in their own countries are turning the corner of emergence. The identity crisis isn't at the individual level so much as it is at the national level. They are asking themselves how did they lose it as a people - just the way Afrocentrists freak when they think about the pyramids and the cradle of civilization. So I see a natural alliance or at least a direct parallel with the black experience. Everyone in the 20th Century assumed that America itself was the future - that the American model was what everyplace had to be recast as. But America has been pushed further than that. We are the laboratory, we are not the finished product, and I think Asians are coming to understand that our talents and resources are for appropriation, not emulation. America such as she stands is not the destiny of the character of global modernization. She is the R&D lab and the showroom. We go through all the iterations and experimentation here - we are spiritually imbalanced, introspective and a bit psychotic. We are the bleeding edge of the leading edge. We are driven to innovate and change to be irreverant and constantly dissatisfied with ourselves. Understand that, and you can make peace with America.

    I happen to think that we will retain enough cohesion in a multi-culti America to remain a global destination. In fact, this may be the only place capable of voluntary federation. The fifty states are an amazing diversity in and of themselves. I can't wait to get rich and buy a town in Montana or Alabama. I'll be happy to have Belizians, Uzbeks, Somalis and Hmong living, working and schooling there.

    To the title:

    HRL is the acronym for Human Relations Lab. At Episcopal Camp Stevens in San Diego County, if you were to be a counselor back in the 70s, you had to endure HRL. HRL was essentially a one week psychological exercise in dealing with the agony of teenage life and insecurity. As prospective camp counselors we were give a few conceptual tools and instructions twice a day, and twice a day we would spend four hours locked in a cabin with 7 of our peers. As you can imagine, we teenagers started to stare each other down and ask questions about each other and bare our itty bitty souls. At the age of 14, for the first time in my life, white people stopped being indifferentiable. I knew what they freaked out about. I understood them better than they understood themselves. At the end of the week I had the kinds of friends you write 10 page letters to. Then again I didn't, because I still lived in LA and for the most part, I never saw them again.

    Nevertheless, I still remember Coby, Bob, Gina Del Bene, Gwen, and a bunch of others whose names remain in my Outlook Contacts. I still remember the Jewish girl who was smarter and friendlier but fretted about the shape of her nose and couldn't believe she could possibly be as cool as the others. I still remember the chunky girl with black hair and brown eyes who had a fraternal twin sister who had blonde hair and blue eyes. She watched her sister, with her uncomplicated and merely sweet personality, get all the friends. I remember the boyfriend swapping, the mooning over Coby who played all the girls, Bob's convertable Mustang, the kid who could play 'Stairway to Heaven' on his guitar, Lida the Slut, the Dogtown Stoners, and me being the champion QB in the Roach Bowl.

    After HRL, people were no longer mysterious to me, even the fat acne-faced kid who smoked, cursed everybody out and refused to open up. That trailer trash kid who played the role and everyone decided to hate, I understood him too, because he and I were still niggers in our own way. Except that I had already decided that I was going to get in on the fun, and he decided to maintain his cool pose. See, I didn't have a lot of confessions in HRL. I could jump on the bandwagon and say I was jealous of the attention the blonde twin from Newport Beach got, but I couldn't break down and cry about my parents not loving me or getting a divorce. My deep secret was that I was a masturbator and that I believe that I thought too much - that I could too easily withdraw from whatever people actually did and turn reality into another set of concepts to manipulate in my mind. Except these things didn't make me cry.


    The provincial discussion is this. We Americans keep going back into the cabins and rehashing the same topics. The black and white dialog dominates, just like all the other familiar topics. These days the red and blue. We don't get to know the fat trailer trash kid who smokes. As Stuart Buck's quote of Chesterton states, there are no uninteresting subjects, only uninterested people. Every subject can have it's rewards for mastery. But America doesn't have to look beyond. We are in such a state of introspection and insecurity that our chaos is creative. We keep making that blonde blue girl the endpoint of all speculation; we keep making that big Negro the endpoint of all speculation. They are bookends of a Universe, overloaded symbols inapplicable to real people. We Americans masturbate and ignore reality for the fun of manipulating the ideas in our minds. We dream a world and remain insecure. Isn't it interesting that I say America's problem and strength are the same as mine? Typical, I suppose, but easy enough to undestand I hope. But the point is that we keep coming back and trying to fit the Universe between those bookends.

    I said at Jimi, as he speaks about the Unbearable Whiteness of Being that we don't really want to graduate from HRL and ditch race. We want to keep re-inscribing it. On the one hand we literally shy away from all discussions that lead to the scary questions. But then when we finally get into the scary question and say it we feel like we have got to find another way to imply it. Because, just like in HRL, the real human being shows up, and cries, and bares their soul. But it's not enough. Somebody, somewhere, is still a nigger. Somebody, somewhere is still white trailer trash. Even when everybody else reveals themselves to be quirky individuals with their own hangups which are not racial, it's not enough. We have to get back to that same old tired duality. That's provincial.

    For the longest time, I've had a problem with the relative silence of the Asian kid in the room. We do our blackfolks vs whitefolks routine ad infintium as if we're channeling some twisted offspring of Richard Pryor and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And where I've been dialoging to my race man's heart's content, nobody Asian has seemed to have any skin in the game. What I've assumed, with some accuracy I think, is that our volume was too loud anyway. And I've been working off Bryan Hirota. But the idea that's emerging now has a lot to do with what an immigrant can expect. It makes even Dat Phan more sympathetic.

    What I know is that in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, there are a hell of a lot of newly minted manufacturing millionaires in China. But there is no professional, 'investor' class. I think it is reasonable to think the same thing of India and much of the rest of Asia. We get the rich kids, scions of those who can afford to send theirs overseas to America for a world class education. And what is to be expected of those Gen X asian kids? Same as the New Jacks whose parents are still Ghetto, minus the cultural currency of the New Jack Swing. The English they speak is Becky English. They don't understand the blackfolks vs whitefolks racial mesh at any appreciable level. They're trying to get theirs in America and not step on anybody's toes. Some end up being twinks. It's inevitable. Not everybody rich enough to get their kids into American schools is Rich. Just like black college kids. Add what? Plane fare from Bangalore and a couple thousand more? Not everybody is bold enough to play the existential braggadocio raps like Boyz from the Hood. Some folks are here on a bounced up house note, with cousins left behind. And I think more than a few of them ain't thinking about going back.

    But the Asian emergence means that more MBAs and PhDs, fresh dressed are thinking maybe they don't want to live in North Hollywood. Maybe they see a glass ceiling over here and are thinking maybe now it's time to go back and live large in the old country. So there's the parallel.

    The open question is the cultural future of a modernized Asia. And that's the question I want to take to Asians here, most of whom I suspect only speak English, but some of whom with which I will be collaborating in the future.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 20, 2004

    Coolest High Tech Thrillers

    OK. Here's the deal. If you were a real gearhead like me, what would you say are the top high tech thriller media of all time? This includes, basically, books and movies. The reason they include books is because nobody has yet made a film of Cryptonomicon which in my estimation is number One. Nobody has also yet made of film of Robert Littel's 'The Company' which would also have to be way up there. What remains are movies, and maybe a few more books. You tell me.

    I say nothing matches Cryptonomicon for sheer scope, geek factor, and drama. It's really the top. And in a certain way, I think we must be forced to take Stephenson all of a piece, since without mentioning 'Snow Crash' and 'The Diamond Age' we're not nearly there.

    Now we have to get into Gibson, Sterling, Eco, Ludlum, Burroughs, Pynchon, DeLillo, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Littel, et al. What are the masterpieces and what gems lie out there?

    I mean take a classic like 'The Conversation' or an updated classic like Denzel's 'The Manchurian Candidate'. Don't forget stuff like '12 Monkeys', 'Strange Days', 'eXistenZ' and of course 'The Matrix'. We also have to take into consideration great comics like 'Akira' and 'Watchmen'.

    Posted by mbowen at 01:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Steps To Risk

    Subtitle: Professional To Executive To Principal, like Parents

    I'm just about fed up with being a professional. I need to get kicked upstairs and I'm about to. Some of this is an echo of The Vector. But it also is a bit of a cockeyed attempt to show some continuity and parallels between these roles and that of parent and child. It's all about exposure to risk.

    When I reflect back on my work in 2000 and 2001, I was really upset that there were no bosses of mine at the time who were much more than 3 or 5 years older than me. I had finally done some international work, I was a go-to guy. I recognize now that I was at the top of the professional game and needed to be booted upstairs into management. But as the division got canned, I fell victim to the decision of the principles not to fund the operation. So while I had some fairly substantial gripes about the management of our operation, they could never really come to fruition because we didn't live long enough for significant problems to materialize.

    Why am I not a manager of a bigger org? Why don't people think strategically? Where's our funding? Where's our marketing? Such were my gripes as a professional. I was running at full throttle, all capability and motivation. My biggest concern was that there were shenanigans going on behind the scenes and dumb politics playing with our funding. That one group of professionals, us, would be subsumed under red tape and relatively lethargic pace of company bureaucrats. All that happened and worse, and when the hammer came down it was none of our fault. We hadn't failed because we hadn't been given an adequate time to succeed. This is the nightmare scenario for the professional. I could have done it, but they wouldn't let me.

    In the wake of nine-eleven, we were all reminded that anything is possible. Aldrige Ames reminded us that CIA veterans could be working for the enemy. If that could happen, we need to readjust our understanding of human capacity for duplicity and betrayal. People have to check themselves when they preface comments with "I'd like to believe that...". Yes you would, we all would but some of us don't have the luxury of such assumptions. This is the difference between professionals and executives.

    Executives get their direction from the desires around money, and the patience of principals. As my new fearless leader has told me, it's damn near impossible to get 50,000 cash. That's living money. That's gangster money. That is too fungible and too theivable a sum. But 10 million? That's easy. 10 million is nobody's money, it works in abstract terms and it mostly sits. But 50k is anybody's money. It flies. 10M can be risked, it connotes a professional operation in the hands of exectives. 50k cannot be risked, it connotes a precise action under strict control. When a 10M venture fails, there are a thousand reasons and plenty of blame to spread around. When a 50k venture fails there can only be a few reasons and suspects; an ass-kicking is just around the corner.

    So in retrospect I realize that my fears as a professional of having to deal with shenanigans and nasty politics was precisely the thing that should indeed have kept me as a professional and not a manager. I didn't want the job of kicking ass and taking names. My own children were still babies, I hadn't yet learned to speak openly of bullshit and what somebody had better do if they wanted to keep the number of holes in their ass to one. In middle management you can do this on the force of personality, but ultimately authority devolves from the top - from the people with budget authority - the people who presumeably know how much it costs to get things done.

    How expensive is money? It all depends upon how willing people are to expose it to risk, in other words what excuses they will accept when it's gone. What recourse is allowable to the funder? What does the investor need to see to make him happy? These are the reigns on executives. They need to know, or so it seems to me, how much they can get away with and for how long a period of time. How many professionals they can corral for what price and duration in order to create that fungible something for the principals. Execs put up with the petty brain spew of professionals and the petty politics of managers. The exec has to keep the ball rolling despite all of its flaws because in the end, the exec works for even harsher taskmasters; the people he talked out of their money.

    Like parents among our children, we would like them to handle about as much as they can handle, but not too much. We've seen it, whatever it is, and we hope that they can deal with harsh reality at least as well as we did. The difference is of course, there is love. As parents we assume the risks - we are always sensitive to the fact that anything could happen and yet we establish to the best of our abilities the stability and illusion of control necessary for our children's growth.

    I see the parallel.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

    December 14, 2004

    California Knows How To Party

    Subtitle: Being & Nothingness

    Continuing on the racial angle, because really today is a great day and I'm not at all purturbed at any part of the world, I'll follow up on Ambra.

    One of the offhanded remarks I made at her site was that although I'm from California, one can't say I'm the same as the others who aren't black. It's a really awkward thing to say, but I was speaking French. My point, because I made it in the context of a Mandarin and a Spanish sentence immediately previous, is that we're not quite sure what we are supposed to be with regard to ethnic / racial identity..except that we do.

    The way I see it is that there are the mainstream stereotypes which are half ignorant, half disrespectful and half true. There is your interpretation of the intention of those who repeat them and there is your reaction to them. This is the threefold factoring of ones place within an ethnic comfort zone. Most of us are accepting of most of that.

    Fzample. Let's take the single stereotype of black male (predatory, insatiable) sexuality. It's half ignorant, half disrespectful and half true. So what should I do about it. I can reject it and say I'm not black like *that*, but black like *this*. I'm still responding as black along the same axis, so no matter where I am on the spectrum the stereotype is reinforced. So long as I respond as a definer or redefiner or blackness dealing with the stereotype of black male sexuality, I'm part of the cycle, for better or worse. But what of my sexuality? Am I predatory and insatiable? Hell if I know. Maybe, maybe not. Compared to what? Everyone is unsure about where they fit on various scales of human performance. We all will continue to be until there are web-accesible Olympic records and actuarial tables for every human endeavor, which means forever.

    Oh. Think I'm a sexual predator? Well according to Google, the average sexual predator seduces a median of 27 people every year. I've only had sex with 18 different women in the past three years, that puts me in the 14th percentile of American males aged 13-35.
    Such data coming soon to a WiFi hotspot near you. Thanks, Starbucks. Still, this doesn't disable the stereotype because you've got to be something, why not be black? Isn't it cool to be an American who *didn't* vote for Bush? Yes, because you understand the perversions of those Americans who did, at least you can pretend so when in the company of non-Americans. Same deal. There is always something special about being part of and yet not part of a semi-understood group.

    Again. Stereotypes are half ignorant, half disrepectful and half true. You accept the premise, you define or redefine depending on your interpretation of the intentions of those repeating it. But you can't afford to walk away. Because some part of your real identity is vested in the ease with which you can wear the mask, even though you don't really know where you stand in absolute terms with the rest of your cohort. Interesting isn't it?

    I think about this a little because I'm going to be representing Meiguo (America) when I go to China. But I'm not American, I'm from Cali!

    What is California? We're more multi-ethnic than just about anywhere on the planet. It seems as though I'm always hearing some statistic about how there are more Xians in California than anywhere oustide of the capital of Xia. (Interestingly I always percieve that it's whitefolks who need to remeind us of all this.)

    But California is athletic, more or less tolerant, imaginative, perverse (in the good way), young, affluent and mercurial. It happens first in California. We're cutting edge. People come to California because the place is plastic and accomodating. You don't have to change. We eat everything in California, we speak everything in California, we wear everything in California. We have snow, we have deserts, we have mountains, we have lakes, we have rivers, we have caves and just about every other geological feature. We're agricultural, we're industrial, we're post-industrial. We have grinding poverty and lawlessness, we have arrant manic egotism and... wait. Aren't all these stereotypes? They've got to be at least half true.

    Part of the problem with dealing with race and ethnicity in America is America itself. It's too big. Bigger even than California. I've gone the whole nine yards dealing with racism and I've discovered that people are a bit too quick to jump from what's happening around the way to tha national significance of race. It's the fault of blackfolks because we invented Black Nationalism and we've been dominating the discussion of race for a half century. Even though we accomplished a great deal, we didn't really succeed in our own nationalism. But we've begged the question of what the Nation thinks of the Black Race. And everyone has been trying to figure that out and come up with adequate answers. They won't be found. It's more appropriate, I think, to ask a whole lot more smaller and more answerable questions and not try to aggregate them up.

    What are the prospects for college educated children of black parents who from two different states who grow up in a third state? Damned good, I'd say. A damned sight better than the kid from Biloxi who's high school educated parents are both from Biloxi.

    I think that taking regionalisms and class markers are more definitive than those of ethnicity and race. Not that I would leave the latter two out of the question. Add to that some generational stuff and you've got a handle on a mask that fits a bit better. That's what I believe.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 12, 2004

    Image Peddling

    Since I'm going into the entertainment technology business, I'm probably going to spend a lot more time thinking about what's good entertainment. In a couple discussions chez Nykola and Tooley, the age-old question of black images has resurfaced.

    Part of the plan which has a lot to do with the fortune I may leave to my offspring owes its economic deliciousness from the default and incompetence of communist regimes to sufficiently entertain their masses. There is probably no greater oxymoron in the modern world than Communist Entertainment. Anywhere you are likely to find a Ministry of Culture, you're not likely to find a production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible".

    Then again, my money says you won't find anything approaching that level of edification in Western popular culture either. This is half the unspoken gripe of the positive images crews, I think. I mean even though we have great culture, it's not all very entertaining. My smackdown says only 10% of the folks who complain about Hollywood images have any Shakespeare in their DVD collection, and I'm being generous. Yes I do have more than 3 including James Earl Jones rendition of King Lear, arguably the most outstanding portrayal ever filmed. There's no shortage of excellent, erudite and uplifting material out there, but who's buying?

    But specifically to their points, is there something to the sexualization of black images? Only to honkies, is my answer. I think people give Hollywood and the entertainment industry too much credit for being persuasive and constructive. Surely the high-paid flunkies who fly around the country in service of Jennifer Lopez' highly crafted hair, nails, eyebrows and ass must think of her as a goddess, but do we? Really?

    I can really not think of a more perfect example of this thing, this economy that the American entertainment business wants to create than the person of JLo, the ultimate sex symbol. It's probably not on point with regards to the aesthetic of hiphop's bling & bitches theme which is probably the cause of all the drama and ire at my fellows' blogs, but I think it is what Hollywood and America want most. Even so, is it really the perverted creations of the honky mind that is making millions of hiphop fans percieve all those images as 'real'? So let's keep it real, shall we? Nobody created Lil Kim but Lil Kim. Nobody wrote Ice Cube's lyrics but Ice Cube. They are exactly what they want to be, and the unwashed millions are buying just what they want to see.

    So if this is a species of the argument that millions of [African] Americans are degenerate perverts consuming swill by the buttload, then I have no gripe or disagreement whatsoever. It's absolutely true. And if you think what's on TV is disgusting, take it from me, you really are incredibly naive. You have no idea what's going on in the massive American porno industry. Furthermore, on the world scene America is a prude.

    However, if this complaint is a species of the argument that the [White] Man is destroying African America through a vast conspiracy aimed at distorting the truth about the value of our souls... Well, get a life. And take a long hard look at your own DVD collection.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 11, 2004


    I spent too much time at the Y today.

    There's something about the unmistakeable flavor of watered down fruit punch that lets you know that you are at a boring function and it's just about time to get out. If you have a paper plate in your hand as well, it had better be a picnic. But if it's indoors, you're too late.

    It's that time of year again. Winter Program. The offspring did an admirable job at their school's function. M10's duet in the last piece of the evening came the closest any of the acts got to a standing ovation. F9's little speaking role got the appropriate laugh, and F7 got a chance to stand in the front row for the 2nd Grade singers. All in all the family's rep at the elementary school is in excellent standing. But the YMCA is a different story.

    I complain too much but this little gong show only carried the thinnest pretenses of a real community happening. After each and every of the 12 acts, another slice of the mob of parents abandoned the chairs and prime videotaping vantage points they squabbled to get in the first place and headed off elsewhere. By the time we got to Act 12, my two daughters' Jazz/Hiphop/Modern Dance Recital (otherwise known as pre-teen booty shaking, but not too much), two thirds of the joint was deserted.

    Hey, I'll admit it. I was in the second to last row of plastic fold up chairs enjoying the hell out of John King Fairbank's "China: A New History" and was too deep into making sense of the effect of Buddhism in the wake of the Early Han Dynasty. I did my back of the hand opera claps when every one else did, but I wasn't really being much of a good citizen. Why fake it?

    I'm thinking about how interestingly powerful and yet shallow is our multiculturalism. I mean, I've known since I read 'Japanese by Spring' a dozen years ago that nobody is really serious about capital M Multiculturalism. And while reading about the rise and fall of Chinese empires this realization slapped me around a bit. I've stepped back and started thinking about civilizations, and it's screwing with me a bit. But now that I understand about 50 words of conversational Mandarin (pu tung hua), pardon my pinyin, the distance between us neighbors is annoyingly evident.

    At my Y, there are a hefty number of Chinese families, who until about a week ago were relatively undifferentiated Asians to me. Sure I have a native Californian's ability to distinguish Japanese from Chinese from Vietnamese from Korean just by looking at folks in the face, listening to the rhythm of the language and checking their body language. But none of this registers with the smacking finality of beginning to grasp meaning in their heretofore unintelligible blathering. I had no particular reason to watch or listen intently or try to decypher their conversations until now. These days I listen to AM 1300 and hang out in the Ping Pong Room just to get familiar with the cadences.

    But I broke the shell this morning and excused myself to venture out a sentence or two. You see, the Y has excused itself from providing ping pong balls. So when a table was finally free, I had to cadge one off one of the Mandarin speakers. M10 and I were there listening for him to say 'ma' at the end of his sentences so we'd know they were questions, and I had inadvertantly left my idiot 'Chinese in 10 Minutes' book out of my backpack, which I take nowhere near as seriously as the Pimsleur CD course I play in my car everyday. So while the (dweh bu chee) excuse me didn't raise an eyebrow, the (syesye ni) thank you got half the room laughing. What the hell, I did get a ping pong ball out of it.

    It wasn't until 3 minutes later when he mentioned the title of the book to more laughter that I started feeling like an idiot. Surely the whole scenario made it appear as though I might have purchased the book for ping pong room conversation, then again I can't decrypt Chinese laughter. But it was the clear change in the tone of his speech from then on which was messing with my mind, plus the fact that M10 can't resist hitting the ball hard but it never stays on the table. Bottom line, I'm embarassed. Plus, the old Chinese guy that I usually talk to wasn't there at all.

    I did explain to Boy that inflection is everything in Mandarin. Like most black dads, I have a series of non-verbal grunts that I use in everyday family life which are implicitly understood completely by inflection. Further I have used to fairly good effect some parallel rhythms and cadences to help me wind phrases together, my favorites being (wo shwo da bu hau) and (jr dau, wo jr dau). The Chinese also use a construction which translates almost literally to "a little somethin' ". For some reason, I almost immediately feel like I've always known how to say (ni xiang tchr yidyar dong shi ma), so if you want to eat a lil sumpn sumpn, I'm the man to ask you in Mandarin.

    As confident I am in my growing yet piddling language skills, I know there is terrain I'll never navigate with much confidence. I took 4 years of French and I absolutely hated ordering in Paris restaurants. I can accept on one level that I will look as foolish as some of those 6 year old Chinese girls dancing in my daughter's hiphop recital even though the very prospect grates. Somehow I am going to have to deal with the laughter and disrespectful regard of the natives as I go hang out on their turf. It may be that I'll only make social inroads with subordinates and synchophants. I'll be a haughty misunderstood uppity negro on the other side of the planet too. I can live with that.

    My attitude about solitude and isolation is becoming rich, and it is in that regard that I am finding a moral tug. I am thankful and fortunate that I reach this state of mind without regret for anti-social mistakes. I have always been goodhearted in that respect. I am just coming to understand the deeper implications of the openness with which I have lived my life, especially in my writing; it's so deeply a part of me. The necessity of recognizing interdependence is critical, otherwise old men die alone and friendless. What could be worse? I could ask Qing emperors, I suppose. They didn't see it.

    In my learning Mandarin and in the efforts of millions of Chinese to learn English there is great optimism. I believe that if Multiculturalism is anything it ultimately must mature to that level, despite the difficulties. I'm not sure where it goes from there or what might not happen without it, but it clearly allows me as a middle aged man the opportunity to see the world a completely different way, which is a stunning development as far as I'm concerned.

    I can't say with much certainty that the opportunity I feel personally is matched by a general optimism at the prospects for our two civilizations, despite the fact that it is indeed the theme of my new business venture. It's going to take a lot of time to find the tactical and strategic commonalities. It's harder than music appreciation. Ultimately, we're talking about managing huge amounts of power between us. Our ways and their ways are very different...

    I have a feeling that I should just shut up and read Kipling. More later.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:29 PM | TrackBack

    December 10, 2004

    Crighton's Smackdown

    I finished Michael Crighton's latest (audio) book 'State of Fear' this story yesterday afternoon. I thought I had gotten to the didactic part that morning, but he was just getting warmed up. He delivers a blistering critique of sloppy thinking and hidden agendas which borders on stentorian. By the time you get to the end of the book, it sounds like a stern lecture from Professor Bullfinch *and* Dr. Grimes. His appendix is a dramatic summary judgement on the massive errors of the Western world's romance with the deadly pseudo-science of Eugenics. It makes this book something more than I originally guessed, and it just might take America for a little controversial ride.

    Crighton has basically outed academic whoredom and cults of certainty. He has called into question our motivations for seeking knowledge and free inquiry. There have been plenty of folks, like by buddy Tim, and the Invisible Adjunct, who have called into question the ethics and reasonableness of some (if not most) of what goes on in the American Academe. Crighton dramatizes the results of the madness. It's a fairly slamming broadside. Let's see what shakes loose.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 09, 2004

    Botox, Drag Racing & Athletic Nobility

    In drag racing, you can use regular gasoline, or you can use nitro. You can use normal aspiration or you can supercharge your engine. Each modification has a class and those classed together race together. The sport is all about getting over the finish line the fastest. However, the most popular class of dragsters, top fuel dragsters, are not the fastest. The fastest dragsters are the jet cars. In this model of sport we can find answers to the ethical mind-pretzels now twisting sporstwrigeters all over this country over recent revelations about drug use in pro baseball.

    My position is this. Let them take drugs.

    There are two primary arguments I hear against the sanction of drug-based performance enhancement in pro sports. Only one of them makes sense to me. That is that the rules say no drugs, so all drug users are cheaters and thereby debase the game. I can live with that. But the prohibition against drugs themselves for the purpose of leaving asterisks off of records is a silly sentiment.

    Part of me wants to poo the folks who sweat bullets over the 'messages' sent by drug-taking athletes, because I'm not a part of sports fandom. I have no sports heros, nor do I seek them. I appreciate a good game, just like the next guy, but rarely do I retain enough information from season to season to be a real participant in the meta-game. So I don't care if Kobe is a homewrecker or not. He's a ball player, is he any good? Yeah? Good. Is he better than Jordan? No. OK. End of discussion. That's about as far as it goes with me, unless I'm trying to make an allegorical point about something larger than sports.

    But the fact of the matter is that sports heros are real and they do have social weight for many of us. People care about the demeanor of top athletes, they are real role models. So prohibitions against drug-taking by athletes makes sense for more reasons than the integrity of the game. But we should understand that which athletes we choose to idolize is somewhat arbitrary.

    There seems to me nothing inherent in the values we seek to revere in sport which limit them to football or baseball. If there is a such thing as athletic nobility, surely it can't be limited to a handful of contests. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition, certainly all of these are found in sports other than those we dote upon. So it seems to me that some of our ethical dilemma in picking the wrong sports heroes because we are picking the wrong sports. Think about it this way, there was once a time when boxing was considered the domain of athletic nobility. That is no longer the case. Although some would argue that we have lost something permanently as a showcase for heroism, I say it has just moved on to another sport. We are not at a loss for heroes, they just work another arena. Or maybe our society doesn't value courage, strength and speed as much as we thought.

    But let's say we allowed drugs in our pro sports. Whatever the values our society places on its mastery I think it is absurd to assume that the critical elements of every sport would become threatened by generally allowing dope. I could be wrong, but I don't believe that we know so much about long distance running as we know about weightlifting. Every highschool kid knows that steroids will grow the kind of muscle mass that makes for a better weightlifter, but what kind of drug makes one a better ski jumper, a better hockey goalie, a better golfer a better video gamer?

    So I think that people should admit that it's not the drugs, but the cheating that makes the difference in athletic nobility. If we allowed it, the drug regimen would become just another part of the diet and training discipline athletes use. For those who believe that a drug free purity is necessary, create another class of competition. I happen to think that the Olympic Games best suits the class of competition which should be drug free. After all, many of these are the sports which have little else going for them but the prestige of athletic nobility.

    What's interesting about all this is that we already embrace the augmentation of the critical element in the realm of entertainers. Who believes that Hollywood stars are all natural beauties? Living in Los Angeles, I can tell you that the classifieds are full of ads for every kind of physical enhancement imaginable. Dermatologists and cosmetic dentists and surgeons in LA live better than royalty. But is Chris Rock any less funny because he has $40,000 worth of dental work? Is Baywatch any less watchable because some of that stuff ain't real? No. This kind of preparation just comes with the territory, and isn't it fun to see what Whitney Houston looks like without makeup? Sure it is. Just like it's fun for me to know I'm taller than Mike Tyson and Lee Majors.

    I know a guy who was the captain of the lacrosse team at Ohio State in the 70s. He said they practiced without pads. There will never be another Jim Thorpe or even Bo Jackson. Time, diet and training regimens move on. Let 'em use drugs. So long as it's not cheating, it raises the bar.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    State of Fear

    I'm listening to Crighton's latest novel on CD. Within its pages are the most devastating critique of the environmental movement you're likely to encounter. This is something of a different twist for Crighton; it feels different. There's enough swashbuckle to keep the story going, but where it really delivers is in the stunning arguments. It's precisely the kind of thing I expected from the internet, and ultimately the blogosphere - to take popular conceptions two steps deeper and reveal the fallacies and misinformation beneath them.

    The plot is fairly pedestrian. Get a spectator enmeshed in a series of global events which are driven by conspiracy and throw in some characters who explain the technical details of what's actually going on. In this story, science - Crighton's usual nemisis - takes something of a backseat to pseudo-science, what I call scientific animism. This is the strong belief in scientific-sounding, professionally delivered information without the ability to understand the theory, or the proof behind it.

    It's a compelling story of eco-terrorism and 'The Ecology of Thought'. Now I'm going to get back to it.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 06, 2004

    Larry Kramer, Shaddap!

    Patton Oswalt has gone soft. Whoda thunk? But he did have something of his old edge in his standup special last night. He hates hippies, and although he could have refined that piece, the way he ripped NPR was delicious. I'm ready to rip NPR again, because all I've heard today is bleating about 12 gay soldiers and whining by Larry Kramer.

    Message to the Gay Man. America doesn't hate gays, we're just sick to death of you. Message to all combattants in the Gay Wars. Shut the hell up. Go home and get some sexual satisfaction and be happy.

    I am getting the distinct feeling that I'm going to come back from China with some of the same 'Anti-American' criticism of American media that I did when I came back from Sydney in 2000. I'm going to be full of piss and vinegar, all vitriolic about the lame mindlessness of it all. Why? Because the softness and cynicism of American journalists is getting on my nerves - this is what they report, the sense that gays in America are losing their rights.

    Gays in America are not losing their rights, because gays have no additional rights to protect. And perhaps I am unduly emboldened by the recent Supreme Court decision in Texas, but how much is a lifestyle a right?

    Free to be Me.
    Is state-mandated tolerance a Constitutional principle? Should it be? To what extent should laws lubricate the inevitable friction between people? In the coming world, I see the value of 'PC' as a personal skill, like courage or intelligence. In this nation we will cyber our way into each others lives, very carefully negotiated. And we will be surprised and somewhat astounded at the ability of others to trust without electronic verification. Why? Because we somehow have lost the ability of discernment in the main. We didn't realize that kid would grow up to be a serial killer, he was just 'challenged', remember? Too many of us have gotten so accustomed to saying "OK, I guess so" and "But there's nothing wrong with that.." and "All he needs is a little.." that we've practically forgotten how to say No. We have disabled, or perhaps I should say crippled, our ability to use the words 'superior' and 'inferior' as adjectives for people.

    Understand that this has nothing to do with the suggestion that gays are either inherently or even transitively inferior or superior. It has to do with the fact that we have zoned out so far from dealing with what King would have us do, the content of character, that we have confused volume with credibility. And nothing speaks volumes like the ability to launch organizations like GMHC and ActUp.

    See, I refuse to believe that Larry Kramer has a bigger heart than I do. And I don't think that anyone should buy that as a premise of his credibility. Any normal person who watches people die feels that kick in the gut. And I beleive he is invested in the kind of rhetoric which suggests that anyone who disagrees with him is a heartless hater. Understand that this is a fallacy that so undercuts his credibility that he deserves to be verbally beat down. And yet it is something that we cannot depend upon our journalists to do, at least not those at NPR. Not today.

    In fact, I have Acted Up with ActUp and I have danced my feet numb at the Javits Center with the GMHC crowd. When you're at the party, you drink the Kool Aid, but you don't take the recipe as Gospel. A bit of critical thinking shows the ordinary strange people to be simply invested in hope for ill friends, neighbors and fellow Americans. But those of us who wear Eddie Bauer and keep our hair cut short have souls too, and if I may indulge in a bit of rhetoric, we probably care more for you than you care for us. After all, I don't need to rebel against society to be happy. The grudge is yours.

    I'm trying to imagine how Larry Kramer calculates that on November 2, 2004 that every pharmaceutical company in the world stopped their research into finding the cure for AIDS.

    Yes 13 out of 13 states have this year just said No to Gay Marriage. It is a reality check on the ambitions of activists who have, I think, been watching too many Broadway shows. The drama of AIDS activism doesn't motivate everyone, but mistaking that for the single avenue to compassion and mutual understanding is a severe error of judgement. Then again, haven't I already said that we are losing ours?

    When it comes to fighting disease, we all have mutual interests in reasonable progress. (The reason I moderate this takes some understanding, follow the neonatal thread.) But when it comes to public declarations of support for our sexual choices, everybody stands in line behind Brittany Spears. We don't give a fig and you can't make us. Elope, dumbass. When we're done griping, we'll give up half a banana split, but not until the volume is turned down and the credibility is turned up.

    It's time for a new poster boy. We can't expect our namby pamby media to give Kramer the thorough fisking he deserves. I am hopeful we can do better.

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

    Neonatal Tech and the Meaning of Life - Part One

    In 1990 I dated a pediatric surgeon. It was one of the strangest relationships I ever had. I've never met anyone with a more twisted sense of humor. I never quite laughed along with the cracks about meconium inhalation, but I understood finally where that came from.

    Now my cousin was a trauma surgeon once. So I grew accustomed to hearing things like "I can't wait to get my hands into somebody's guts." And according to those elaborate skill inventories, I've been assessed to have three perfect careers, architect, programmer and surgeon. So I truly understand the mentality of the men and women who keep their hands bloody for a living. So I finally understood that part and parcel of the professional ethos was a healthy respect for the human body. As a part of this I think it is only when you understand how incredibly complex and robust a system it is, do you begin to respect it. Still, bodies succeed and fail in inexplicable ways. You have to accept the capriciousness of the system too. It's an odd mix of temperaments.

    I don't know how one can be a GP without having a healthy dose of cynicism, especially when one practices medicine in the United States. One of the first surprising things I learned was how doctors get sold by drug companies like us ordinary folks get spam. I attended a black tie event - some medical awards ceremony - and it seemed like half the people there were drug dealers, er pharmaceutical salesmen. We were plied with branded pens, post-it notes, refrigerator magnets and all sorts fo junk. I played along with the game, pretending to be a throat specialist (since it's well known that there are a healthy number of African Americans in that specialty here on the West Coast) just to see how far one of the guys would go.

    Now back in that day, part of the cynicism extended to the widely reported phenomenon of the 'crack baby'. At Children's Hospital, they were spending millions, literally, to show that they could save low birthweight babies who were born addicted to crack cocaine. And they did. There was a revolution going on in being able to keep premies alive with newfangled procedures and advanced incubators that were practically synthetic wombs. Just for those pictures we all remember so well - little grey infants smaller than an adult hand, shivering weakly. That's what got the rich old codgers and dowagers out of their seats and into writing fat checks. The irony that crack babies were driving what would inevitably save thousands of premies was not lost on anyone, especially not me.

    Right about that time, the culture wars were still in full swing, as were the accusations about 'black genocide'. The idea that the black man was an 'endangered species' did the rounds, not without probable cause. As well, diatribes about 'welfare queens' and teen motherhood were all anyone ever talked about in those days before The Verdict and OJ. From my perspective, I preferred to cut through the BS. How could this so called genocide be successful if all the black teenagers were having so many babies? It has long been one of my arguments about the persistence of African America - there are more of us now than there were back then, plus now we have Yo MTV Raps. We're not going back to Africa, we're doing just fine here. Part and parcel of that argument was that 'God don't make mistakes.' If a human body can get pregnant and deliver a child, then it's our economy that is out of joint if that child suffers, not 'black sex drives'.

    The medical fact is that teenage mothers don't deliver as healthy a babe as a more mature woman comepletely aside from socioeconomic factors. Furthermore as a proper definition of survival of a species is concerned, all that must occur is that creatures' life expectancy gets through and beyond reproductive age. So there are almost none, if any, endangered ethnicities on the planet, strictly speaking. What we really care about is the longevity of the cultures, not the actual humans. The actual humans were doing well biologically. But then again, some were not. Enter technology.

    If a couple cannot get pregnant, they had better have some money. Because if you want a baby and your own body is in the 'pathetic' category - if you swing that hammer but can't ring that bell - you had just better come out of your pocket and buy that kewpie doll. They are for sale, you know. My new partner says there is an incredibly brisk adoption business in China, the clients are all woefully out of shape Swedes, Finns and Danes. Make a note of this vis a vis Gay Marriage. But if your body can't reproduce, maybe God is trying to tell you something. We've all heard the stories of fertility clinics etc. This is all part of the equation..

    I'm going to break off this piece and continue it later. The points I want to associate here have to do with the economic and professional incentives of the medical industry to get and spend on sperms, eggs, fetuses, premies and infants. Most babies in the world are born via midwifery, a cultural artifact that is all but extinct in the US of A. Go around and ask women you know about an epidural. Of course the desire to have a baby is very strong in everyone. Some folks will bear the pain, others will just shop. There is an economy here, and American values weigh in heavily. It's about race, it's about money, it's about technology, it's about culture and values and God and politics.

    People want to chop each others heads off about Roe V Wade. I'm about to live somewhere where the government dictated how many children you can have. So I'm going to be particularly interested to understand what happens when you let the state that close. I'm civil libertarian on this matter, not pro-life, but anti-abortion. Where should the lines be drawn? To be continued.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

    November 30, 2004

    Somebody's Idea of Black Culture

    Baldilocks is meditating on an old meditation. I thought I'd bring back some flavor to that discussion that we've discussed here and there.

    The way I see it, there are two bogus arguments that fuel such problematic discussions and and one shady argument. The first bogus argument is the racist one. Blacks are genetically predisposed to be blockheads, so ugliness is inevitable. Second bogus argument is a slippery version of the first, racist, but trying not to sound racist: Black *culture* is predisposed to ugliness and so such behavior is to be expected. The third argument is the shady one which suggests that Black culture *should* have ugly elements in it because it's appropriate to the political struggle of African Americans.

    If people really respected Artest as an individual (or disrespected him as an individual) we wouldn't be talking about black people, culture or authenticity. But now that we are, Mr. Peabody, crank up the wayback machine.

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

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

    Soul Plane & Minority Pride
    Again, the little white man in some black heads still isn't dead. Worrying about what whitefolks think will drive you to drink. It's precisely because there will always be some who believe just what you fear. What these insufficiently proud African Americans forget is that Hollywood is irrelevant to that racist thinking. The Klan doesn't need Soul Plane as an excuse. And nobody needs white liberal guilt shushing people in sensitive response to the bleating boycotters.

    There. That should keep their heads ringing for a minute.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:31 PM | TrackBack

    November 29, 2004

    Sounds Like Genius

    It appears that we have a genuine prodigy in our midst. According to all who ought to know, Jay Greenberg is our once in a millenium composer. I just want to hear it, and I wonder why it is that I believe that this is a genius that is readily found simply because of the context of what he produces is likely to find resourceful ears.

    In the previous story, hearing Sophia Stewart ramble about the eyeball on the back of a dollar and why the NAACP is not defending her claim to capitalist largess reminds us that only certain kinds of genius are going to be recognized. That is the genius that the king appreciates. The rest is merely cleverness.

    What if his mind were drawing a tabla instead of a cello? He'd probably be beating paint cans in the IRT instead of inverting treble clefs at Julliard. Speaking of which, have you ever listened to Squarepusher?

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

    November 15, 2004

    My Heart Goes to the Heartless

    Liz recently invited me, graciously and thoughtfully as usual, to comment on questions regarding the seemingly irreconcilable differences between left and right in this post-election 12 step season. I demurred silently, as rudely usual. I think there's too little blur in top 20 lists, and I'm definitely in the blur zone when it comes to crisp definitions of my conservatism and conservatism in general.

    However there are salient points that I think can be illustrative, but only when I think of them. To wit.

    The phrase 'Character Counts' stands in contradistinction to the phrase 'Competence Counts'. If you ask me what separates liberals from conservatives that dichotomy splits the difference. Conservatives care mostly about performance and don't give a damn how you feel about it. Liberals want everyone to feel a sense of belonging no matter what kind of lamer they are.

    Now there's a cat named Blackwill who is yet another leaving public service under a cloud of suspicion. It ails me to hear this kind of newsm he's the kind of guy who appeals to me. Why? Precisely because of this kind of testimony about him.

    By the time I'd arrive in my office at 0730 (early, because I knew there'd be a lot of work waiting), I would find between 20 and 30 e-mails from Blackwill, time-stamped from 0330 onward, most dealing with materials he'd gleaned from the Internet. He was exceptionally demanding of his staff, to the point where they were breaking down with overload.

    While Blackwill made my life difficult, he was always a decent human being. I think his major fault was that he simply lacked empathy toward other human beings, whether they were staff or foreign counterparts. It seemed, at times, that what he knew about managing personnel he'd read in a book. He could and would argue his side exceptionally well; he was not quick to realize that other sides might have some merit on occasion.

    That being said, I'd go back to work with Blackwill in a flash..

    I haven't been as international in my life as I might have expected given what I was up to three years ago. So I'm not quite as experienced as I should be to talk about human nature vis a vis the expression of power and wisdom. Yet I retain the distinct feeling that many, perhaps too many Americans, are spoiled in that they expect talented people to be heroic as well. The world isn't gentle, and people who deal with it needn't be. But for these false expectations we shun men like Blackwill. I call that hateration, but I could just unconsciously be regurgitating the moral of the story of 'The Incredibles'.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:29 AM | TrackBack

    November 14, 2004

    Standing of the Unborn

    As a Christian, I am fully aware of my proclivity to challenge moral thinking in the public sphere, but I engage this within the context of our civil society. This provides an ethical challenge between what I think, feel and believe and what I am willing to do. I choose the moral framework of religion and the instrumentality of the law.

    Fifteen years ago, I poisoned my mind with a dose of critical legal theory beginning with the works of Derek Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw. In those days I was seeking a legal understanding of racism and legal strategies against it. Basically I was trying to get under the question of whether or not our Constitution and/or founders were principly racist and if so, irreparably so. One of the legal terms I learned was that of 'standing'.

    Standing basically means the ability of a person to his or her testimony be recognized in a court of law. If you are a space alien or a lizard or anything but a human, you do not have standing in a court. Anyway, all I was interested in was the diminished standing of Africans here in America, but I did learn this powerful concept.

    So when the question of legalizing abortion or making abortion illegal comes up, I see it in terms that pro-life advocates suggest which is that a fetus is a person. IE an individual, IE someone who is endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights among which is certainly life. So abortion is a constitutional question if a fetus is a person, just as slavery was a constitutional question if an African was a person. In many ways the the question is parallel - is a woman's unborn child her property or does it own itself? There the similarity ends.

    I say that an unborn child is property and not a person endowed with rights. So I am very interested to guage people's position on the matter of the standing of the unborn.

    If one believes as I do, that an unborn child is the joint property (or if the word property is sounds too harsh, say 'responsibility') of the parents, then they must consciously relinquish that property in order for the state to act in their stead in the matter of its disposition. Or, as I said before, the state must meet some burden to show that the pregnant pair are like a car out of control without brakes and intervene on behalf of society.

    If one believes that the unborn child has some kind of standing to exercise its right to life. (very consciously using the phrase 'right to life'), then the state has a much more powerful interest in intervention. They probably shouldn't have to prove any matter of capacity, simply the intent to deprive the unborn of their right to life is sufficient. It is the standing of the unborn as a person endowed with inalienable rights that makes this a very central legal question in our nation.


    Posted by mbowen at 05:59 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    November 10, 2004

    A Woman's Value, A Woman's Duty

    In my continuing moral exploration of the issues surrounding abortion, my first step was to suggest in the political realm that there is much wiggle room. I think it is a radical position to want to reverse Roe and that both sides could be satisfied with a healthy dose of government regulation.

    At this point I'd like to look at the sense I have of the relative value of a fertilized egg and fetus vs the woman who bears it. My theory is that the value of a woman's life, and that the value of the eggs, fertilized eggs, fetuses and infants varies society by society, but that no matter what the society the woman is at the top of that chain. That being the case, what is the duty of a woman, or of society to these items which are putatively subordinate to her? At what point should that value be inverted?

    The argument that struck me was this:
    If the life of an infant were equal to the life of the mother, then our institution of marriage would not exist. That is because we would be perfectly willing to have women die during childbirth. In addition to the old adage, an eye for an eye, we'd say 'a child for a mother' and call it even.

    But there is no society in the history of mankind that has subordinated the life of a woman to her progeny. We might find some places where kings had harems and that a woman bearing a child of noble blood would be killed, but I hardly think that's what we're aiming for today. It's certainly not marriage and family as we know it or want it.

    What we must face is the fact that human life is valued relatively in our society and in the world, and if duty to life is based on the value of lifem then a woman's duty to herself is greater than that owed to her unborn.

    I think that quickly reverses once a child is born, but not before. "Kill me, but leave my fetus alone", doesn't quite cut it.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:13 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    November 07, 2004

    Selma and Falluja

    Everybody with half a wit knows that the coalition forces will produce a military victory in Falluja. From TPD:

    We're going to "win" in Fallujah, at least in the military sense. We'll most likely raze it to the ground. But can we ultimately triumph over all this animosity, from within and outside of Iraq? After all, our winning formula from the very beginning was "hearts and minds."

    I would like to remind people that some hearts and minds are not worth winning.

    It is my understanding that Samarra and Falluja represent the main cities in the two provinces that stand against Alawi in Iraq. Everybody else can't wait to vote and prove that they can cobble together a functional government with real power sharing. In the meantime, Falluja simmers with militant resentment. And while most opponents to Bush have had a full election season to ignore all kinds of realities, sooner or later they are going to have to recognize that when the other 18 or so provinces vote, there is going to be a greater mandate in Iraq than there is here in America - and once and for all they are going to have to admit that Bush did in fact bring Democracy to Iraq. As Agent Smith says, it is inevitable.

    But there remains a particularly annoying fascination with the outlayers, and it is at this point that I as an African American suggest how to look at Falluja. Look at Falluja as the heart of the Confederacy. Look at Al Sadr like the head of the KKK. And look at the international coalition in Iraq as you looked at all of the nations in the world who expressed concern at America's old Negro Problem.

    Clearly the severity of the oppression and the militance of the resistance in Iraq is much greater than ours was. But if you asked blackfolks in 50s Selma Alabama if they would mind thousands of soldiers rumbling through with tanks to crush the Klan, I think you know the answer. There is nothing of value worth preserving in the ideology of the anti-coalition militant rebellion in Iraq. It is intransigent and serves only to promote chaos, and Americans are wrong to suggest that simply because they are Iraqis, they deserve more consideration than Alawi is giving them. There is no case for the rebellion that stands any reasonable test, indeed they stand against the necessary progress for Iraq.

    Moreover, they have produced no equivalent to MLK. Instead they have consigned civilians to thuggery and cosigned the terrorist kidnappings and executions of various outlaws. For these reasons alone they should and will be crushed.

    Good riddance.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:53 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    November 05, 2004


    Pixar has done it again.

    I think we have seen the future of family entertainment. Pixar has created characters that are better people than people. Clearly this movie is going to make half a zillion bucks over its lifetime. There is no way you could get any teenaged girl to remain a teenaged girl if she were to play that role in a live action 'Incredibles'. There would be no end to the celebrity deathtraps that would spontaneously generate around humans saddled with the stardom such a film creates.

    I was just thinking this morning how great a show is 'The Fairly Oddparents'. It's great just be being solid family entertainment without the odious burden of child stars. My God, who could suffer another Hillary Duff, Raven Symone, Mary Kate & Ashley or any of the rest of the twisted, denatured suburban avatars, who grow up and try to do music videos.

    In 20 years, people will still smoke. But we can hope that there will be no child actors left. Pixar has showed us how, with style, morals and brilliance.

    Go and see it before your kids get ridiculed on the playground for not.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    November 01, 2004

    Again, They Rise

    My cousin's theatre company, Rising Circle, is in the news. Good reviews for good work:


    Only 5 performances left! This week come celebrate DEMOCRACY with the people!!!!!

    nytheatre.com's PICK OF THE WEEK
    Check out www.nytheatre.com/nytheatre/the_list.htm


    'Pulling the Lever':The people have spoken
    October 30, 2004

    A rabid Republican, desperate to charge Michael Moore with treason, thrusts a leaflet at you.

    You can view the entire article at http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater/story/247586p-212050c.html

    Posted by mbowen at 11:56 AM | TrackBack

    October 30, 2004


    Here is a movie not to see. Why? Primarily because I'm a guy and guys are emotionally detached and guys don't want to other people to know what gives them watery eyes and an emotional kick in the balls.

    Now I'll be the first to admit that I've become more sensitive and that there are a lot of flicks that can move me to tears. This is what I admitted about 'The Road To Perdition'. That movie hit me right in the Daddy Zone. But a horror flick?

    Saw is more complicated and more horrible than one could reasonably expect from any movie released around halloween. There is only one reason that I went to see it anyway, which was that 'Ray' was sold out. But there was an off chance that I might, because I do remember choosing a while ago between this and 'The Grudge'. The problem with Saw is that there is very little disbelief one has to suspend in order to watch it. It makes it all the more horrifying that this could indeed happen - of course it could, if a screenwriter can imagine it.

    The film opens up with dialog. It's almost a textbook acting school scene. Two men in a room with a dead body between them. They don't know how they got there. And it's off. That premise alone probably would have gotten me to voluntarily see the movie even though I don't do horror. The plot thickens like coagulating blood moving backwards and sideways in time with expertness.

    The last horror film I watched was '28 Days After', and I thought it was pretty brilliant, but the conceit of that film is that if you were a fairly reasonable person, you might figure out how to survive. And indeed people do while becoming predictably barbaric. But by putting all the horror into one room, a new dimension of helplessness pervades. It's one thing to die in misery when there is no civilization around, it's completely different to die when it's going on without you.

    There are elements of torture in this film that are utterly frightening, and one of the single most heartwrenching scenes I've ever put up with. In 'Passion of the Christ' (which was worse), I knew I was being manipulated for the sake of evangelism. The idea that this sick and twisted crap was on the screen for the sake of entertainment was really getting under my skin. It took me to the edge of coming to my senses and walking the hell out. The problem was, of course, that none of this was over the top. Very little of the live action in the movie was excruciating - instead there were several gruesome backstories that gave you an idea of what an evil genius the manipulator was.

    Indeed the 'killer' in this film is not a killer at all per se. He is very much like what we imagine horror directors like to think of themselves. He is that person who controls your thoughts and puts you face to face with grisly circumstances and forces you to contemplate how lucky you are to be alive. Like the mastermind of 'Telephone Booth' the characters in Saw are under the control of an invisible hand. He puts them in a deathtrap and forces them to escape in the worst way.

    Like the homicide detective who loves and hates his job, critiquing this film is a dirty chore. At once, I want to admire the handiwork of the artist who has put together this brilliant and horrifying puzzle, and at the same time I shake my head in amazement. How have we come to this? This is what entertains us. I have to tell you, I don't like being emotionally ripped the way this movie did, but if that's what the total movie experience is supposed to be, he did it to me. It hurts. It's truly scary. When I watch spy movies, which I love, I dig the elements of hyper-realism. I like to see the ex-CIA guy go to Mexico and torture the bad guys - because I know I'm never going to be anywhere near that kind of situation. But a man who might kidnap you and put you in a death chamber because he thinks you don't appreciate your life according to his twisted sense of justice? That's the kind of crime that happens all the time, except most of us poor victims don't have the luxury of being caught by a monsterous genius, just by evil idiots.

    This film is intellectually satisfying on every level and emotionally distubing on several levels. It's real horror. I have been scared and I don't like it.

    Posted by mbowen at 10:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 25, 2004


    You say that it's the institution, well
    You know you better free your mind instead.
    -- The Beatles

    Spence is undertaking the decision to homeschool his kids. Aside from the drain on scheduling, I really can't see where he might go wrong - other than raising kids who might not excel at team sports and other sorts of collaborative endeavors. I'm sure he'll work it out.

    His initiative is courageous and independent-minded. Why can't more people be like Spence? Such observations and questions, in a black vein bring to mind older more persistent questions about leadership and prospects for the future. Let's start, as usual, with King and X.

    One of the first things I recall absorbing in regards to these towering figures of American history was that they left little in regards to institutions that would carry forward the work they were doing. Aside from this very dynamic nature of history, I was inclined to believe that if somebody did something excellent that everyone saw, we as a people ought to have learned the lesson and not made the same mistakes twice. And yet many of the same problems blacks had back in the day were resurfacing - every year someone was discovering the brilliance of King and X all over again.

    Although we've had some reasons to lower the volume of our complaint of late, blackfolks have always argued that we could never progress as a nation unless the real stories behind these exceptional men was taught. Continuing in the tradition of Carter G. Woodson, we insist that black progress depends upon a sound understanding of black history. And in the early 70s much of the energy off the street was deflected towards the academy. With all the emphasis on the documentation of the black experience, it was inevitable that America would find some element of compromise by swallowing whole cloth every aspect of every complaint mau-mauing radicals could get across. The university was under assault, a non-violent intellectual radicalization whose effects remains staggeringly weighty now 30 years later. The revolution went to off the streets and onto the page.

    We have also made, rightly I think, the unavoidable point that there is this thing called 'institutional racism' that persists beyond the bigotry of individuals. And so these opposing twins of institutionalized revolt and institutional racism have commanded the attention of people interested in the fate of blackfolks. It is an institutionalized battle.

    We all remember the old joke that marriage is a great institution, but who wants to be committed into an institution. I oftimes wonder if our attention to institutions isn't buried a little to deeply into the psyche of black liberation. Surely any freebooting conservative will argue you into a corner about the liberating power of individualism. The traditional response to that has been that the success of any one or few blacks does nothing to raise the condition of the people. (One of the great ironies is that this very argument is a classic attack against affirmative action.) I dig affirmative action even when it's tokenism because of the freight that is handled by exceptional black individuals. For better or worse, we deal with the consequences of the acts and utterances of a few extraordinary blackfolks on the national scene. Whether it's Bill Cosby or OJ Simpson, some individual is always sucking up the oxygen. So sooner or later we ought to deal with individualism, keeping in mind the costs and benefits of institutional progress & battles.

    On the leading edge of black society, those individuals show us things that we need to know - just as exceptional individuals like Angela Davis was showing us how universities could be transformed, pioneers like Earl Graves showed us how businesses could be transformed. These were new Americas to be exploited by masses of African Americans, and so in the 80s my generation did. For the first time, we started attending 'predominantly white' universities in numbers larger than HBCUs. For the first time, 'Corporate America' was under siege by massive numbers of black entry-level and mid-level employees. We changed the institutions forever.

    In doing so we straddled individualism and collectivism. We advanced the race through mass integrative action. We institutionalized those initiatives that embedded us deeper in the institutional power structures of America. Affirmative Action was, by and large, the institutional engine of that initiative. But even without it, our cause was singularly focused on the establishment of a permanent black presence in instititutions that had previously barred us. It was our institutional integrations and revolutions against their institutional racisms.

    Have I used the word enough times? Are you getting sick of hearing it? Me too.

    Over the past 2 years or so, I've been focusing on class in the political context of Republicanism and the Old School. I see this now as part of gaining confidence of going down to the one. When I was growing up, everyone was a Negro. Then we split into Negroes and Blacks. We could handle that. As I started dealing with class (in college, big time and on the job with finality) it was mostly Buppies vs the rest of blackdom. Nelson George evolved us a good step with splitting up our generation, the post-soul generation, into B-Boys, Buppies, Bohos and Baps. In the early 90s I was a Bap/Boho. Having traveled to and lived in the 'Mecca' of Atlanta, I was able to see for myself how strongly class lines could be drawn between blacks, and as a family man I chose without hesitation. More recently I have colloquialized five classes of blackfolks - (Projects, Ghetto, Hood, Burbs, Hill). If my evolving consciousness signifies anything, I think it is the realization and reconciliation with that realization, that African Americans are all progressing and regressing at different rates, socioeconomically speaking. When America catches a cold, all Black America does *not* catch pneumonia. We're too diverse.

    Whether or not the rest of America is ready, willing or able to deal with black America as something much more discrete than a monolith, we who see each other all the time, know it. The question is whether or not our politics is ready to deal with our socialization. But I don't want to frame this as a political question, so much as one that deals with the instrumentalities of our liberation and emergence. It's bigger than politics.

    Just as I don't want anyone to glom on to the instrumentality or purported centrality of Affirmative Action policy in black progress, I want us to understand all of the different ways and means blackfolks have moved towards the mass institutions of power. Because now I see opportunities for smaller groups of blackfolks to cut paths into smaller institutions which are equally if not more empowering than those we changed over the past 20 years.

    I'm talking Russell 2000 instead of Fortune 500. I'm talking Inc instead of Forbes. I'm talking charter schools instead of massive bussing. I'm talking Third World Kings and Second World Princes instead of First World Dukes. I'm talking about blacks taking advantage of the powers of decentralization and disintermediation heralded by virtual corporations, flat organizations and internet thinking.

    There will be no institution, not even the United States Government its massive self, which will be able to provide the empowerment to masses of African American in our interminable quests for power and respect. There will be smaller ones giving a variety of powers to smaller groups of blackfolks heading in all sorts of different, and yes conflicting directions. This is what we should expect.

    So when we begin to ask questions about education, our choices need to be more complex and diverse than those facing the black families of Little Rock 50 years ago. Don't be surprised if there is no one answer or that nobody institutionalizes the answer or result. We will be flexible and only that way will we persist and succeed.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 20, 2004

    Blue Eyed Soul

    I have a DVD with about 3GB of music that I listen to. Everything I have rated 4 or 5 stars on my iTunes collection is on it. I've not heard anything from Suzanne Vega before nor since her hit 'Tom's Diner'. The significance of this is that Suzanne was the first white girl to put an unquestionably hiphop rhythm track on her pop song. Today it still sounds great. If the inscription on my MP3 is correct, this song broke in 1991. That's quite a gap after '79 when Debbie Harry did her 'Rapture' rap. Does this mean that rap is more fundamental than hiphop?

    While I'm on the subject, I can't tell you how tickled I am whenever I hear The Gourds' version of Gin and Juice. It's a perfect cover. Also, if you haven't heard the Hallmark greeting cards version, you don't know what's up.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Team America

    Team America is the funniest film I've seen in a long time. It's one of those movies that I couldn't imagine enjoying, but did. Doc told me that it was the funniest thing since 'Airplane!', so we went together last night. TA's crude mockery works on multiple levels. As a musical, the songs are hilarious and strike just the right mood in all of the stock, hack scenes. I found myself singing the theme song over and over.

    Yeah there's a lot of political subtext, but it's done evenhandedly and with a complete lack of seriousness, or at least it said enough of what I liked for me to not groan. Any film that blows up Michael Moore and the Garafolo chick is alright with me. It's worth seeing.

    Posted by mbowen at 07:50 AM | TrackBack

    October 19, 2004

    The World of Tomorrow

    If ever there were a film that one could wait until television, it's 'Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow'. Zero plot twists, incredibly wooden acting and stifling dumb dialog.

    I have to say that the look and feel are quite interesting, if imbalanced at times. But whoever directed this stinker couldn't have possibly been awake at the retro flicks it evokes. The whole attraction of flicks it emulates is the snappy dialog. Drop the 'n' and that's the adjective here.

    It's a great movie to play silently on a wall at a party, or on your desktop when your brain needs to be occupied elsewhere, but don't even bother trying to be entertained. If you like the retro concept, go see Hellboy. Ten times better.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 18, 2004

    Pulling the Lever

    There's a new play opening in NYC off Broadway by the Rising Circle Theatre Collective that's all about elections and how people come to think about the decisions they make about voting and democracy itself.

    When talking to the cast in rehearsal, I frequently use the analogy of onions being peeled. The whole onions at the top of the show are the characters being seen as simply 'that guy in the coffee shop', 'that woman in the airport', 'that Republican', 'that liberal', etc. But as the play progresses, the layers of the onions are removed and the audience is exposed to the feelings and stories that inform, not only the characters' political perspectives, but also who they are as people. I hope that the audience will experience both recognition of the familiar and a better understanding of the unfamiliar. I hope the show reveals the personal side of political perspectives and highlights the importance of making a choice that will help shape how our country relates to itself and the world.

    In an inteview with the principals of the company, NYTheatre.com looks at how the project came about and details about Rising Circle. It's not a coincidence that one of them is named Bowen. He's my cousin and he's really a sharp cat. Do check it out, and if you're in NYC, go see it!

    Posted by mbowen at 08:51 AM | TrackBack

    October 10, 2004

    VH1 Don't Stop

    I kept finding myself saying "I didn't know that". Considering what I think I know about the Old School of hiphop, I am very pleasantly surprised by how informative VH1's documentary 'And You Don't Stop' has been.

    I was up and energized until 0230 hours this morning checking out 4 out of the 5 Tivofied episodes of the series. It took me back. Even after having seen 'Style Wars' within recent enough memory to recognize scenes bitten from that documentary, there was more than enough new material here to clarify. A couple of journalists, one of whose middle name is Hodari, had some precision heretofore unexpected. I've been hearing Nelson George completely dominate hiphop history for too long, and here his interpretations were leavend by interviews with Ice T, Flash, and some of the originals.

    I think the biggest surprise of the series was that Sylvia Robinson has written 'The Message' for Melle Mel and his gang two years before they decided to record it. What? I must confess that I had yet another Tupac Epiphany. He is suddenly comprehensible on the other side. Surely here is a young man who should have lived longer. It makes me even more angry at Suge Knight for the seedy life and Dick Griffey for his apparent ignorance.

    The first episode 'Back in the Day' is definitive. It sticks tight to the core of hiphop and documents the transition from street phenom to record industry in a way never before done. It becomes even more clear how seminal Russell Simmons is to the commercial development of hiphop. It can be said to be a purist's view of hiphop.

    I expect that in the missing episode will cover Biggie and De La Soul. (But it didn't). It's interesting that there was a whole section of hiphop that was left out which left me a little bit frustrated. To look at the entire series, you wouldn't know about a dozen hiphop artists who really held together the highbrow. As late as 1995, I believed hiphop could be saved, needing a renaissance that never really came other than with the Roots (not that I believed in them so much) and the Fugees. Common on the Stakes Is High album was a wowser, and the rumors that Dallas Austin was producing the new Fishbone album (which had Busta Rhymes on it but never went commercially big) kept hope alive for a while, but not long enough. By the time Lil Kim and Bonethugs were on the scene I was audi.

    So completely left out was what I suppose one ought to call 'alternative hiphop'. Just as you could talk about Metallica, Aerosmith and Led Zep for years in rock and never mention Frank Zappa, Rush or King Crimson, I think there is always going to be a hiphop which deserves its own thread which simply is not pop hiphop.

    In the alternative hiphop world, MC Solaar looms large. You really, truly cannot just get into this silly East Coast West Coast thing and leave France out of the picture, as VH1 did. Rappers like Menelik and all those produced by Jimmy Jay, the group Raggasonic took hiphop to new levels 10 years ago. Lucien was a member of the Native Tongues. You can't talk strictly about the commercial influence of hiphop without dealing with the artistic influence of hiphop. If you look at the tremendous difference between the relatively music of Quincy Jones' 'Back on the Block' in the late 80s and the work done on Buckshot LaFonque in the mid 90s, you know that jazz itself was undergoing a change. A far cry from Prince's Madhouse project. If you listen to smooth jazz today, half of it has a hiphop bassline. Artists like Ron Carter and Lenny White (if you don't have Lenny White's 'Edge', run don't walk.) have taken hiphop places that define the vacuum between the commercial actuality and the artistic potential of the form. Thirdly, although VH1 hit on it briefly, it's possible to consider all female rappers as alternative as well. Monie Love was a phenomenon no less extraordinary than Craig Mack.

    And what about Kwame?

    AT speaks of hiphop like a member of the family. I think of her as a beautiful woman gone bad, or more accurately a beautiful mistress gone behind your back with lowlife. But there are too many threads to look at her as just one woman or even as a multiheaded or schitzophrenic woman. It's time to give the alternatives their due. I think that this way I can be a purist, a snob and still enjoy the music and rhymes I know to be influential.

    I listened to Slick Rick a lot today, and it's fascinating how many of the lyrics in just two of his songs 'Children's Story' and 'Ladi Dadi' have resurfaced. (or maybe I've just been listening to too much Black Sheep).

    I wanted to say something else about Public Enemy while I'm thinking about the existentials of living hiphop. Nothing annoyed me so much as PE's insistance on permanent radicalism. It did PE in, just as it has claimed Spearhead. By the time they did 'Fight The Power' I was reversing the lyrics. I was the one rapping "Be the power that fights". But maybe that's why I'm a Republican and Chuck D is not.

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

    September 29, 2004

    Black Jews

    Today is Sukkot, I think.

    I listened at length to an interesting inside story about a Jewish cat who found the equivalent of a Jewish Almanac which had references dating back about 350 years. He is using it to help wayward Jews find their way back to knowing Sukkot and other holidays as more than just dates on a calendar.

    It immediately occured to me, as such parallels do, that 350 years is the kind of authenticity we modern Americans drool over. So it comes as no surprise that this cat made it to NPR's radio show. But it didn't escape my notice, as he began describing the feeling of connectedness that this newfound old knowledge game him, that it sounds precisely like what blackfolks are often found wanting. I know, having represented, how cavalierly some folks have dismissed Kwanzaa as a wannabe Jewish holiday. I take their point, but only so far.

    As the Jewish cat rambled on about the significance of doing things just like the enslaved Isrealites, my tolerance hit a wall. Nobody really wants to be an Isrealite slave. Reenactments are so bourgie, and modern. What we want is the feeling of home and belonging. Everybody wants that, and especially wayward Jews and American blacks. But can anyone really trace their bloodline back to the house of Levi? That's very dubious for the overwhelming majority. What Jews have, after all is said and done, is their faith. Faith is learned. Those who do, get. So as you can imagine, I began to become slightly peeved at this cat whose newfound pride had him representing the Israelites, kinda like Whitney Houston at the Slave Castles.

    So what have Jews got that blacks don't? It's a dumb comparison that everyone keeps doing. It's the slavery thing, it's the political thing. There is supposed to be the special bond that Jesse Jackson famously unmade for us way back when the Rainbow Coalition was still something of a good idea. But the fact is that Jews have nothing blacks don't, culturally speaking, because whatever Jews can get by faith, blacks can too. Just join your local synagogue.

    Huh? What?

    There's something slightly unbelievable about a 40 year old man receiving First Communion in the Catholic Church, but there is nothing unserious about it. I don't see why it is that Evangelical Christians should get all those who 'get it' later in life. Furthermore, there are so many different degrees and sects of Judaism, there must certainly be one ready for new converts. Considering how many slacking Modern, Reformists for Jesus there are (if you believe the Lubavichers) it's a wonder that more folks don't take to Judaism. Well, I can see why certain whitefolks might think they have something to lose, but for blackfolks that might not apply.

    As for me, I'm rather devout to the church of American Black History, so I've always looked at our acceptance of our Africanness not so much as a necessary recovery but as a global cosmopolitanism. There was a time when I considered myself a New World African, never so much as when I was dating an Afro-European within a year of my first trip to Europe. It was a Diaspora thing and she did a lively business in Kente and Mud Cloth. But that was then. The point is that I'm hardly looking for that ineffable something that Jews supposedly have 'over' us putatively 'rootless' blackfolks. I know my family tree back 7 generations. That kind of kills a lot of longing for me - and I think the more one knows one's family the more ideological Black Nationalism suffers, but I digress.

    For those who need a groove and something a bit more historically weighty than Kwanzaa.com, the Jewish faith should be wide open. So consider it.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    September 24, 2004

    Einstein's Negro

    Care of Art McGee

    There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the "Whites" toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

    Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards
    Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which
    we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this
    country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense
    of responsibility, reliability."

    I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers
    from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these
    black people from their homes by force; and in the white
    man's quest for wealth and an easy life they have been
    ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery.
    The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the
    desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

    ---Albert Einstein
    "The Negro Question", 1946

    Posted by mbowen at 02:06 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

    September 16, 2004

    A Man's Home is His Castle

    On my way to Wal-Mart last evening I was cursing traffic, wondering who's blogging Ivan, and rehashing an old argument about the Civil Rights Movement being over and done with in conjunction with thoughts about McWhorter's rejection of 'African American'. The other thing, which is a bit closer to my core, that has gotten under my skin is some reference P6 made about the Ownership Society and Feudalism.

    Feudalism is good.

    Here's what I believe. I believe that in 15 years the blogosphere will be to big media news what cable TV is to broadcast TV today. That means there will be '500 wire services and no real news'. As the proliferation of information technology transforms the literate world, a great number of societal norms will break down. Are you with me so far?

    The paradigm is every man's home is his castle. It's becoming more real. We are less a grey flannel suit hierarchical society than we were 30 years ago. Secretaries don't do our typing for us, we don't hold jobs for 25 years, and the idea of the pension is about to go the way of the tie clasp. The upside is that we are more independently able to do for ourselves than ever before. Through technology and our changing culture, we are composers, publishers. We depend less on traditional structures of organization, we do more of our own networking. Community is more important - we do play dates. We get our own circle of close friends and families, cell phones, email distribution lists, frequent flyer clubs, online gaming clans, investment clubs, Tivo profiles. This is feudalism people.

    Quick. Who is the richest person you know? If it's not somebody you work for, chances are you're on your way to figuring out why your fortunes lie somewhere outside of traditional paths.

    I bring this up tangentially to the extraordinary point Nykola brought up this Spring. An all abiding trust in our secular society and the promise of education is being eroded. The creation of our own private networks is more important than what's out there for the public. Now perhaps this is something I just see because I am climbing through certain social classes I hadn't previously experienced. But the power available to the average American with regard to financial instruments, and other dangerous accoutrements of the Ownership Society do indeed move us towards feudal networks.

    I see feudalism going from the bottom up, it is the ultimate expression of self-determination, of family bonds and trust in self as opposed to dependence upon institutions. Feudalism is the exact opposite of corporatism and to a certain extent of modernism itself. Feudal relationships and peer networks should be unbreakable.

    Here in the blogosphere we're all great examples. We all know who our blogfathers are - those who send us the most traffic. They are our lords. Our recognition owes not only to our own skills but with our association. The organization may be flat and shallow, but the direction of power and notariety goes from the top down. When I'm blogrolled by Glenn Reynolds, I don't pretend that he needs me more than I need him (though I haven't gotten much traffic from Glenn lately... hmm). These links are far more important than the generic ones people get to broadcast news.

    One more tidbit to add to this is that over in La Puente, there are old Chinese women who drive S Class 420s at 25 mph in the 40 mph zone. You'll never see them on the Westside. Where do they come from, where do they go? It doesn't matter - they're just hooked up in their little networks. That's where we're headed. There will be no mainstream.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:13 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    September 15, 2004

    John McWhorter and the Beginning of Blackness

    What strikes me most about John McWhorter's latest essay on blackness is that he spells out his name. It's a deeply personal thing that resonates with me, and with my father as well. The long and short of it is that John would appreciate it if we never call him 'African American' again. I agree with him, fundamentally. But when he says we should use Black with a capital 'B', I become enthusiastic.

    I don't know how many times I've written about African American vs Black. It's pointless to search this site for a citation. (But this is interesting, especially given my evolving appreciation of JM) The basic way I've been using the terms since Jesse encouraged the use of African American is this: African American is demographic & ethnic. Black is cultural and political. Black is a self-definition, it is an intellectual construction of mental liberation from the chains of an identity defined by white supremacy.

    In order to substitute Black for African American, as McWhorter suggests, leaves us in a bit of a quandary. You see, in order to accept Frederick Douglass as Black, one has to do a bit of anachronistic fudging. Is it reasonable to say that Douglass' problem was very much like my problem? Do we have the same problem with the Fourth of July? No, not exactly. Douglass predated the Black Consciousness Movement. But if you broaden the principle, you could say that Douglass' solution was a Black solution. In fact, in order to call Sojourner Truth or Mary Bethune the same Black as Medgar Evers or Stokely Carmichael you'd have to do some awfully clever trickery. But let's assume that were possible. The great advantage is that you could place the best of all historical African American (demographic) political philosophy, into one big Black bucket, and then have all African Americans feed from the same trough.

    I hear scholars screaming 'Ahistorical'. OK, true. But not quite as ahistorical as Africa's effects on us blackfolks as any good linguist will tell you. I will leave it to the scholars to work out the kinks in such a program. However, I will enthusiastically endorse the existentials of capital B Blackness, because I know where this fifth generation McWhorter is not taking it. He is not taking it to the hiphop streets.

    I've been using the term 'blackfolks' and 'whitefolks' here. So let me remind you what exactly I mean by that. Blackfolks would be average African Americans who have an average amount of Black Consciousness and apply it to themselves. Whitefolks would be the average European Americans with and average amount of White Consciousness applied to themselves. You're black if you understand what it means to be black in America and you have some sense of the lessons of Black Consciousness. Simple. Consequently, as Boohab, I have demanded that whitefolks ask themselves why they continue obliviously to act white. Because everybody knows what that means.

    But a new capital B Black would force a renewed evaluation of whether blackfolks are indeed acting Black. Considering the fact that he's claiming it positively I do not doubt that the inevitable conclusion is that there is something of value he sees in it. In other words, there must be a false 'black' which stands in distinction from the true 'Black'. Otherwise why would he care to claim 'Black' instead of the falsity of 'African American'? It has to do with pride, and that must be the pride of accomplishment. In other words to be Black you have to claim the right accomplishment, you have to be proud of the right things.

    This is not the end, but the beginning of a new Blackness.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:46 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

    September 08, 2004


    I find myself astonished by the magnitude of the Ossetian crisis, and I don't like to be. Yet I am not familiar with the history of armed conflict which must inform military commanders; surely there must be some.

    Are there not massacres of this sort throughout history? Where? When?

    As I listened to the latest report the other day, the BBC reporter suggested that there were about 700 hostages, double the original number reported. Now I am hearing the number was around 1200 and the Russian news deliberately deflated the number. Now there are some 300 plus dead, half children and another 450 hospitalized and 200 missing. This is the sort of madness that can inspire generations of hatred. What to do?

    It seems to me that the Russian people must be appeased. Now is the time for grand gestures. I'm never going to be Putin, but if I were, I would do two very large things. I would destroy a city and I would offer unconditional independence. I hesitate to even say.. this is the level of atrocity that make people crazy. I'm glad I'm not Putin.

    Posted by mbowen at 06:49 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    September 07, 2004

    The Ownership Society

    I just gave a skeptical once-over to David Boaz' essay on 'The Ownership Society'. I don't buy it. (heh)

    I think everyone was being more realistic when they were talking about 'The Investor Class'. In fact, I think this is fairly weak logic of the investor class trying to persuade more people to get in the game, and having done that proclaiming an ownership society. I can't guess the ulterior motives of the proponents of the this new idea, but there were two other terms that set me in my direction on this. They are 'consumers' and 'wage-earners'. That's what most of us are and that our economy works primarily to our benefit as such is what we ought to focus on - and keep it that way.

    There are many hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans in the investor class. A good portion of them make money simply through being smart about money. The best of them are pillars of our society - they are the wealthy that can make some of us rich. But there's only so much of that talent and money going around. The essence of free market capitalism is that it punishes mistakes by the wealthy as well as the poor. There will always only be a transitory few at the top of the pile. The answer to the question "If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?" is that markets are fickle and timing is everything. You've got to make the right move at the right time for investments to payoff, and then you start all over again. The only truly safe place to hide money away from the angels and demons of the market is in government securities. Keep that in mind.

    When I was a kid, my parents didn't have credit cards. In fact, most Americans didn't have any line of credit with their banks. Only the rich had those kinds of instruments, and they weren't even done with cards, but with personal contact with bankers. That was stuff that the Beverly Hillbillies did. They called up Mr. Drysdale and make him do something clever with their money. The rest of us just saved and waited. That changed around the time Hank Aaron hit #715. Do you remember the famous video clip? There was a big Bankamericard billboard on the back fence of the Fulton County Stadium. Today, lots of consumers and wage-earners have lines of credit, most of us have done well playing rich with all these financial instruments, 401Ks, Roth IRAs, Term Life Insurance, Flex Benefit Health Plans, Mutual Funds, Second Trust Deeds. Every few years there are more of these tricky instruments afforded to the public. Do you have an accountant and a tax attorney? I do. This stuff ain't easy, it's damned difficult. Keep that in mind.

    No matter how many copies of Microsoft Money and Quicken are sold, we are never going to turn our consumers and wage-owners into miniature capitalists. Nor should we try. I'm in a business where a significant percentage of the workers are independent contractors and small business owners. We're sorta like tradesmen and sorta like professionals. That's difficult too - we sink or swim not only for knowing the trade but running the business. Gnarly buggers like me enjoy the challenge, but it's not for everyone. These days I have to think about how to pay mortgages, payoff tax debt, put kids through school, plan for retirement, value the business, pay employees, get investors, all kinds of crap. Some days I'd rather be a ski instructor.

    But there is an attraction to living la vida rica. We'd all like to retire early and have mojitos brought to our cabana. We'd all like our investments to remain safe and lucrative, flash our cards and make jokes about how much everything costs and what's priceless. It ain't gonna happen. Don't forget the dark side. Layoffs are just the tip of the iceberg of financial disasters that await capitalists. Consumers and wage-earners have it cushy, relatively speaking. The grandmother who loses her pension has our sympathy. The businessman who loses his bond rating drinks alone. Playing rich may be attractive, but holding on to your money is no joke. There are only a few ways to lose fifty cents, there are a million ways to lose a million dollars. Just ask anyone what they'd do with a million dollars.

    There is a fundamental capitalist slant in angling towards an ownership society. But how it actually would play out in terms of class is what I'd be more interested to know. Sure owners are going to be a lot more fussy over their money than those who have it taken care of. Sure things will be more efficient when more people maximize. When you're a wage-earner, you worry about whether you're going to get a 3% or a 5% raise. But you don't worry about whether the next paycheck is going to be there. What would it do to our society if we converted all of the union employees into independent contractors? It would be like that Lending Tree commercial where all the bankers fill up your living room - suddenly a lot of self-important people like middle managers would become commodified headhunters. Not only that we'd start dealing with business cycles and volatility that we don't have now because of the stability inherent in the premises of wages and salaries. The ravages of capitalism will destroy pikers trying to keep up, just like seconds on the house, 28% credit cards and internet stocks. Everybody can't do this, and the more who try, the more it sucks the profit away from those who can. That's what commodification does.

    We can invent new classes of 'investors' and 'owners' from now until doomsday. And we will. But we're not going to transform a society of people who can barely manage a 1040 form into junior capitalists. The door should be open and remain open. Let's hear it for the woman who jumps ship mid-career and for the love of sewing opens her own dress shop. Keep those SBA loans coming. But let's not pretend that many more millions of Americans who want to play rich can manage their own investment portfolios out among the expert investor class. Who do you take us for Motley Fools?

    When I used to watch Louis Rukeyeser every week and Squawk Box every morning I watched lifetime investors scratch their heads in wonder about which way certain stocks would go. I've day-traded, channeled, optioned and hedged. I've won and lost big time. Government securities (and Inktomi) saved my bacon. Like a lot of relatively new investors I thought I knew more than I knew. In the end I wound up losing because even though our broker was a personal friend, he didn't have time for us little people. When it comes to investment brokerage, if you're not humping 6 figures, you're insignificant. Even then, you're small fry. Try to get in the first class of any mutual fund - if they didn't call you, you're too late, and beware of the ones they do call you for. Now I exaggerate because I lost somewhere around six figures all told between 94 and 2000. I'm over it, but lucky to still be married (she's a long term investor).

    If Social Security is destined to tank, the best thing to do is stop new investment now. We cannot let it fail just like any other security. This ownership society rhetoric hides the fact that capitalists lose huge amounts of money, but depend on the government bedrock as a hedge. If that government hedge of Social Security fails, it will be no comfort to those sorry investors that they are now part of an 'ownership society'. They are consumers and wage-earners and cannot be instantly converted into capitalists.

    Somewhere, somehow the full faith and credit of the United States, the most powerful nation on the planet, needs to mean something real to American consumers and wage-earners. We don't owe anyone any right to retire with ease. Investment is a tricky business. But we do need to convert those pensions into as safe an investment as possible as was promised in the prospectus. And if we must, we can say that's just not available any longer and new kids have to swim with the sharks. But let's not think that the virtues of capitalism are going to accrue to Joe Average when it comes to some arbitrary privatization of Social Security.

    I have a tough time believing that the heavy hitters of the investment class will be denied the hedge of government backed securities. In fact, I believe they have first shot and that the pool is too small for them and Social Security. Somebody needs to tell Social Security pensioners just what class they belong to.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:52 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

    The Death of the Digital Divide

    Ha ha ha I spit on the grave of the Digital Divide, and I declare victory for me and people like me.

    13 years ago I famously (for me anyway) went to a black academic conference at Harvard and sat amongst the elite including Robin DG Kelley, Lani Guinier, Ella Bell, and others semi-forgetable in crap-talking retrospect. I made myself as loud as possible in proclaiming the future of the internet in reaching out to the blessed Community the Left Professoriate keeps ranting about. I explained to them that it could disintermediate those monstrous institutions they kept railing on about and allow them to speak directly to the People.

    Naturally, they figured I was crazy. The People, quoth they, don't have computers. It is an elitist tool.

    Chief among my targets was my intellectual hero of the times, Cornel West. I accosted him on several occasions in NY and Boston. Professor West employed a secretary to print his emails. I couldn't believe it. I have come to expect and have yet to be dissuaded from the conclusion that it lies directly against the interests of the Professoriate to publish on the Internet. It doesn't pay. It competes with their lucrative positions within the academy. Why give away for free that which you get paid to talk about within the hallowed halls? I have come to accept this rationale as perfectly acceptable and I probably won't accept any other. It's all about the benjamins, baby.

    At any rate, all these lefties spewed back Digital Divide rhetoric a year after they figured out what I was talking about. (I shudder to think how many scones were consumed during those seminars.) And from there it was perfectly understandable how they ganged up to concoct all manners of arcane policy fodder to insure that there were 'offramps' from the 'information superhighway' that went to the ghetto. Meanwhile, normal people bought modems from Best Buy.

    The beginning of the end was the long in the making as Moore's Law continued its inexorable influence on the macroeconomics of the industry. But the coup de grace arrived in the person of Marc John Jefferies, cute black kid spokesman for PeoplePC.

    Over here, it's been a slow year for digital divide issues for left wonks. In fact it has been a total bust. There is no successful policy against the digital divide. It was solved by the economics of the PC industry, whose aim was to sell as many PCs as possible and by the ISP industry whose aim was to connect as many people as possible to the Internet. There was never a regulatory parallel to a 'universal dial tone' for internet access; it was never needed. Here's an interesting paper whose abstract indicates agreement with me.

    UPDATE: NIH is battling for free information.

    Aside from my gripes with black left professors, there is an interesting new twist that I am considering. I'm sure some clever folks will come up with a new name for it, but it is an extension of something I noticed then as now. Back in the day, when one perused the hand-countable links to black websites and black interest on the world wide web, you could be sure to find a service called 'Fedix/Molis' somewhere near the top. I had not heard of it before and have done nothing with it since. But all of the experts I spoke to back in the early 90s were fairly unanimous that this was the most important resource for blacks on the 'information superhighway'. When brought up in the context of direct connections to the Community, many thoughtfully observed that the mere existence of a very easy way (the Internet) to get access to federal databases would not make ghetto dwellers more inclined to use it.

    And so as people bemoaned the relative paucity of (poor, ghetto) African Americans online as compared to whites (ignoring all of us middle class college educated blacks who had been online for years) there were two unmentioned elephants in the corner. The first was that many black academics and politicos invested in the myth of the Digital Divide had to support the notion that computer networks were elitist tools dominated by (evil) white males and therefore territory too unsafe for the (theoretically) average black. The second, closely related, and unmentioned fact was that there was no demand in that ghetto demographic. I've gone back and forth over the role of underground hiphop as an intellectual backchannel for black youth. In the end, I don't buy it. Neither did I ever buy the Source magazine, so what do I know?

    Bottom line was there were all kinds of lame excuses for talking about (poor, ghetto) blackfolks not being on the net. My attitude? The internet is for me and people like me, the rest of y'all can take the bus. Today, I think there's a lot more people like me than those suffering the symptoms predicted by the socialist theories. Ordinary people buy computers and internet access with credit cards. Simple.

    But here's the twist which is a reflection of something I heard in a movie last night. The flick was 'Hidalgo', a tawdry excess of high-handed multicultural reverse bashing set in the 19th century. But the sensitive new-age half-breed cowboy did lay out a zinger halfway through this snorer. A sheik asked whether that was a real Colt revolver on his waist. Quoth the cowboy, "God didn't make all men equal; Mr. Colt did."

    Despite the fact that we are not going to be an information economy so long as people use trucks to get food to other people, there is a definite advantage that computers can provide which is parallel to that offered by Mr. Colt. But not everyone in the Old West was ready, willing or able to learn how to shoot. And certainly as Hidalgo's portrayal of Wounded Knee reminds us, not everyone with a gun is entirely wise. But there's no discounting what the right tool in the right hands can do. It takes us back to demand.

    Today we all have , or at least we could all have, computers as powerful as those owned by the most powerful corporations of a dozen years ago when this digital divide theory began. Who knows when it will plateau? Already multiprocessor super computers are being offered for sale to individuals. But we'll always have the same problem with people. The goods will be right in front of them and they will fail to grasp. They will invent excuses to remain ignorant. I'm never going to call that a black problem no matter how many (poor, ghetto) blackfolks or (left, professorial) blackfolks it applies to. I'll resist such racial theories because I know better.

    But I will look out for myself and people like me. We eventually figure things out.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:21 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

    September 06, 2004


    Somewhere in the middle of watching 'Hero', I wondered if I might not be living in the Old Country.

    What is coming out of China has impressed me over the past few years as being a kind of fundamental expression of humanity. I see Chinese people as the emptiest of humans, completely without affect, translucent even, such that whatever their character is, it shines through completely. Whatever their skill, their ailment, their vice, their sorrow it is that which they are and nothing more. It is only through their interaction with each other that I percieve this. Somehow they become complicated when dealing with me or other non-Chinese. But to themselves, the Chinese reveal.

    I am wanting to say that the Chinese in this way have no eternal soul. If you are a farmer that is all you are. The only interest anyone or anything can have in you lies in your ability to farm. If you are a warrior, it is the fight in you that is beheld and nothing else. It is this notion that carries the weight of tragedy in the film Hero - an assassin who seeks the wisdom of the world to assist in his perfection as an assassin ultimately makes him something else, and as soon as this happens, he must die.

    Many people will tell you how fabulously beautiful this film is. But I found it transcendant, in the way special American films must be to those who dreamed of America when they lived in their old countries. These days as I purchase DVDs in search of tales worth owning, I am drawn to the performances of Shakespeare's history plays. But in the American cinema I have yet to find a thread as noble. Yet with Iron Monkey, Crouching Tiger and now Hero I find three excellent examples in Chinese, and so they take the fore. Perhaps it is unreasonable at this moment in history to expect much else. Lessons in English might be those which warn against the dissolution of decline, perhaps we should look to Thackeray. But for now it is that spirit churning in the blank slate of the Chinese body that fascinates.

    Hero says so much without words. I have not seen such breathtakingly brilliant color in filmmaking since 'The Cell' and 'What Dreams May Come'. Yet as ugly as the poisoned minds of those films were, even the bad guys in 'Hero' remained, well, heroic.

    Just last night, several days after my viewing of Hero, I watched Kill Bill 2. That film says so much about our capacity for deciept and our vulgarity. There is nothing quite like the metaphor of a one-eyed woman who comes with a million dollars and a poisonous snake to ransom a stolen Asian sword from a drunk killer who lives in a trailer at the edge of a desert. The only pure emotions are avarice and revenge. And next to that was 'Love Actually' whose distorted emotions all going by the name of 'love' were a hash of confusion and cowardice. Granted, I fell asleep before the jaded old rockstar's record reached the top of the charts but a saw no true love worth consummating in that motley bunch. Nothing that compares to that exemplified in Hero.

    I don't like to dog America for what it lacks. Instead I prefer to inoculate my family and Recover that of lasting values. One would think that artists would be a bit more bold. Even if I can't be forgiven for not knowing where to look in American film, the fact that it's hard to find speaks loudly enough to this problem. We should be thankful for those few who made it their priority to import soul from China.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:12 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    September 03, 2004


    I guess that I'm going to break my promise and actually say what I think about this Esmay vs Willis thing. I don't want to say that I'm defending Dean, because I'm really trying not to care. But I have been down this road with him before - I've heard the hardtime Chicago story. I understand where he's coming from, and this is what it sounds like to me.

    Dean is kind of coming at blackfolks right now with a straight gangsta rap attitude, but before he did that, he was minding what he thought was his own business. He was talking on his website to his people and saying some crazy shit about race, trying to get a rise out of them. Then a lot of people called him on it. The ways he responded reminded me of black street performers at Venice Beach trying to get money out of white gawkers:

    "Stop looking at me funny - this is just entertainment. You got to pay me some respect as an entertainer. If it wasn't for this job I'd be robbing you, be glad I'm an entertainer - but I'm letting you know the deal. I'm keepin' it real." He's smiling when he says it, but people are clutching their purses.

    Like the gangsta rapper who is representing thug life, Dean cannot abide people who are genuinely offended by his message. If they can't take the message, how the hell could they deal with the reality behind the message? He's right.

    Like the gangsta rapper who is representing thug life, Dean is feels he has a right to artistic license and people shouldn't mistake him for the real thug. He comes from a place where thugs rule and he turned away from that so he's really not a thug. He's wrong.

    The substance of this debate has been long lost in everybody's willingness to say what it means or doesn't mean in the context of our society. I'm as guilty as anyone pointing fingers. Hell, I double dipped. This is my second post. But I tell you I don't have any sympathy for all the hurt feelings. This is what happens when you talk about race. And what's more, this is what happens when you only talk about race when it suits you. If you think you can get in and get out of the discussion, if you think it only applies to other people, if you think you can sum it up all in one quick MLK soundbite, this is exactly how you get screwed over. Because when you don't talk about race on the regular, you forget how deep it goes. You find yourself talking about your dying grandmother, and experiences that formed you when you were a kid. You start talking about violence and hatred - and you sorta know it, and then you find yourself feeling it.

    I've been retired from talking about race for a while. I had my Vietnam War of race. I signed up for multiple tours of duty. And that's how I felt about it, duty. I don't like to talk about it, that's why I use all these metaphors. But here I am at 30 minutes past midnight writing about it. I am concerned that we have lost our ability to talk about race; that we are at a point of equilibrium at which people don't give a rats ass one way or another. We all know, or think we know enough examples of everything we knew nothing of, and still haven't experienced, to say that it doesn't matter what we think. We can say 'Tiger Woods this' or 'Eminem that' and somehow that proves that we individually don't have to work any harder. We all think we understand quite enough. I know I feel that way.

    Perhaps out of a sense of obligation we ought to sacrifice a bit of our pride at being above and beyond this nasty business, and get down and dirty into it. Talking about race is difficult and nobody likes it except maladjusted weirdos. But we even-tempered people, at the horrible life altering risk of being called a name ought to do so. Especially if we consider ourselves thoughtful.

    Posted by mbowen at 12:39 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

    August 28, 2004

    How Black Nationalism is Conservative

    There are three touchstones in my understanding of race and economics in the US. I've just been handed a nice example that works well within that framework. This shouldn't be surprising, as it comes from one of the authors.

    Massey & Denton
    America is segregated by race in the legacy of its very own Apartheid. Residential segregation affects the prospects for non-whites by isolating them from mainstream products and services.

    Oliver & Shapiro
    The primary economic difference between blacks and whites is the matter of inherited wealth. While there may be parity and equality in some areas of American life, equity makes a transformative difference in every respect.

    Glenn Loury
    The legacy of race discrimination is bound up in the economics of America. Civil Rights Law in and of themselves are not sufficient to make up the gap. A passive non-racist attitude is no help. Ghettoes must be destroyed.

    It's all fairly simple, really.

    George, ever vigilant and right on target, sent me this from Thomas Shapiro. It took me a while to get past the egregious first example of a black family, but I didn't let that daunt me. It is a nicely nuanced revelation of what I consider the single most important understanding in the back of people's heads. Do they have the assets or not? It's a bit of text to chow down but worth it. Here's a nice quote:

    No question about it. I mean, if my parents hadn't had the money to send my kids to [the private] Hills School, we couldn't have considered it. We would have had to really do belt tightening, and financial aid, and many more loans, more mortgages. It would have been very difficult and a real strain on us, especially with two. And we probably would have felt like we just couldn't swing it as a family. So, I don't know, I would have had to have gone out and gotten a job that would pay enough to justify two kids in private school. With that, it would have meant not being able to mother them as much myself. Or my husband having to change work, and all the soul-searching that would have meant for him. It's unimaginable. I can't envision a path that we would have been able to so comfortably just sail on over to Hills School. And, yeah, [we would have had to] go through a lot of heart-wrenching decisions about Alexander [school and tutors]. But they never had to do with money. None of these decisions have had to do with money. I can't imagine it being any other way.

    As I post this, I am concurrently writing a piece about a few of my cohorts, the young gifted and black. I consider our fate in light of what I understand about wealth. All of my best friends are extraordinary achievers coming from relatively modest circumstances. I'm consider myself very lucky in that, and all of us seem to be drawn to each other in that way. I beleive that this hunger we have is a good thing, but that we ultimately will be replaced. Some other set of historical circumstances will create the Jordans of the next era. It is part of my aim to capture some of that spirit here as I write about myself and the Old School. It's the spark of Black Nationalism to challenge every aspect of America for the fate of true self-determination within us. How have we transformed that in our lives to meet the demands of survival and achievement?

    For myself, I have found in America this very real matter of class. The notion that we are not class-bound is a foolish sentiment. We all recognize it vaguely, just as we recognize race sharply. But the success of the Civil Rights Movement and of Multiculturalism have take the edge off race. And yet we have not, as a society made that transition completely with regard to our acknowledgement. Too many are still thinking of black and low class in the same bucket and that has always rubbed me the wrong way, even in elementary school.

    I bring forth the idea of 'Natural Aristocracy' again. It is more than simple meritocracy in that it involves values as well as merit. Consider this coming from a white family, something people like us, and notably Cosby, would often say:

    I had cousins growing up in the city, andthis is my own blood, but basically they turned out really trashy. Their friends were trashy. [I] did not even want sometimes to bring my own children around my cousins, because their lifestyles were different, their values were different. Things that were important to us were not important to them.

    And Also

    It is unfortunate that it is bound by race too. As far as I am concerned, that has nothing to do with it [lack of diversity]. I think it's economic because it's the same issue we dealt with when we lived in the city. It didn't matter if our neighbors were white or black, as long as they had the same standards we had.

    This is precisely the attitude of the Old School and I am not surprised to hear it from upscale white families. I happen to believe that many of our white neighbors are a bit more wealthy and a bit less talented, which makes for an interesting edge in our relations, but we're still in the same world. My point is that this is the way the Natural Aristocracy replaces itself, through family values. It's not only talent and merit, but manners and priorities and values and these are things that arise from the socialization of families in neighborhoods, and they are maintained that way.

    Noblesse Oblige is an absolute requirement for this kind of Conservatism to work. Careerism cannot prevail. People who are incapable of recognizing how success must be replicated and how the fate of the group depends upon how the resources of the successful are employed are to be weeded out. This is expressed in different way by successful blacks but consistent with Old School values.

    I will conclude by saying that my generation has peeled back the onion. We have done Corporate America and we have done international business. Our parents may have marched in Mississippi, but we manage deals in Milan. We are bringing home strong understanding and valuable lessons. Our children are poised to make waves, but wealth is the key and we know it.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:24 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    August 27, 2004

    What Jimi Can't See

    Jimi Izrael wrote a scathing critique of hiphop, he just doesn't realize it. Although he says that "Hip Hop music is the voice of America's poor blacks and Latinos.", when it comes to whitefolks he says:

    First, there is the presumption that putting rappers at the podium will turn millions of black kids into a political force. But most of the millions of people who buy hip-hop music these days are white, and they have little or no comprehension of the deeper meaning of hip-hop culture or the social forces that begat it. They know only about rap music, break-dancing and baggy clothes. Young white kids can't truly relate to being black, but many can relate to being alienated. They grasp that message, along with the cartoonish violence, slanguistics and fantastical opulence of hip-hop life. They can't be rallied to adopt hip-hop's social agenda because they only listen to hip-hop, while we live it every day.

    What Izrael says about white suburbans actually applies to every hiphopper, what he says about the first person plural only applies to hiphop's literati and others so inclined.

    There is no deeper meaning of hiphop culture. It is what it is, and anybody anywhere can walk into any level of hiphop consciousness. It's exactly the same for opera, bhangra, dance hall, oi, gregorian chant and any other kind of music on the planet. Hiphop's social agenda is about as thin as as the pants on Lil Kim's ass. There is absolutely nothing hiphop has discovered through its 'politics' that adds any dimension of understanding to what black and latino politics have been. Hiphop consciousness is not political, it's simply about understanding and appreciating the music, which (duh!) over the past 20 years lots of people around the world have done. White kids understand everything about hiphop there is to understand which is rap music, break dancing and baggy clothes. If black and Latino kids are more invested in this 'deep meaning' of hiphop, more's the pity for them. But there is nothing about being black or latino with regard to hiphop that make them any different from their white brothers and sisters who consume the same products.

    There is a real and significant difference between appreciating hiphop and actually performing hiphop dances, designing hiphop clothes or performing on a mic. But hiphop is merely a style, a flavor. Being down with the flava doesn't make you a dancer or a designer, and it sure as hell doesn't make you effective in politics. People who study dance, clothing design and politics have more to teach hiphop than hiphop has to teach them, and until we see the Hiphop Institute at Harvard, it will always be that way. As far as I know there is a turntablist instructor at Berklee, but the rest is all street apprenticeship. Street wisdom is good around the way. Didn't somebody rap about dying for a rock and dying for a block?

    Hiphop's industrial base is disposable income. It's a bourgie institution which feeds on itself. It's politics, were they expressed, would bear the same contradictions and conflicts as that of the larger society. Hiphop, which is incapable of forming coalitions of any sort (not since Self-Destruction) would be hard pressed to get any coherent policy developed. But Russell Simmons does not make a think tank any more than Bono, and anyone with any hope for a new politics in the US needs to think long and hard about how Rock and Hollywood have developed their politics. Scary huh?

    I know enough about hiphop to know that Aaliyah, Left Eye & De La Soul all took a great deal of pride in the fact that they could take their money and go hide away in other countries. That's where they found their peace away from the dimegrabbers, bootyshakers and sucka MCs who were just shorty versions of themselves. Hiphop's hierarchy despises its own roots because it exposes clearly how much it's just the ego trip of spoiled young Americans masturbating in the mirror or pointing a nine at it's own head.

    Hiphop is a revolution of expression, but it only rarely expresses anything of enduring value. To desire hiphop politics is simply a desire to transcend the shallowness of the hiphop world. I think many hiphoppers will do just that, but I think they'll be loathe to call their mature politics 'hiphop politics'. Hiphop, just like Rock is all about youth. We hope that they'll grow out of it.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:27 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    August 23, 2004

    Greene Still Great

    Moe Greene got bronze in the 100 meters last week. Scott Ostler has taken a moment to talk smack.

    Justin Gatlin ran faster than the speed of Maurice Greene's sound.

    Greene was clocked talking a mile-a-minute after the 100-meter dash Sunday night, but Gatlin stopped the real clocks in 9.85 seconds.

    Greene claims he's still the Greatest Of All Time. Gatlin didn't have to say it, but he's the World's Fastest Human. Which title would you rather have? One title is made up and debatable and drawn in tattoo ink on Greene's shoulder. The other title is now etched in gold and in the Olympic record books.

    But I think the guys at MSNBC have the proper perspective:

    Greene has run 3 of the 4 fastest times ever in the 100 meters. But he does not hold the current world record. That was set in 2002 by another American sprinter, Tim Montgomery, who is currently under investigation by the U.S. anti-doping agency.

    Montgomery's time was 9.78, Greene's previous world record was 9.79. Montgomery was running 10.12 or so and failed to qualify for the team. Furthermore Greene has overcome two injuries, including a broken leg, and has had to completely rethink his start. Amazing.

    We haven't heard the last of Mo Greene.

    Posted by mbowen at 03:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    August 22, 2004

    NAACP: Co-Opted by the Majority

    I'm going to cross a line here for the sake of provocation. It's strange because I'm not sure we're big enough to attract the kind of attention of somebody in the know, but I don't want to be dismissed, I just want some high level informed answers. Here goes:

    I'm not sure that the NAACP doesn't fall into the bucket of special interest group. What do they do besides interpret reality into the argot of racial offense to a group of constituents whose sole political concern is racial offense? I think if you 'left race out of it' for a moment with the NAACP, you'd have a transparently socialist organization. Why would anybody on our side want to meet? And hash out what?

    If I say that the NAACP has outlived its usefulness, I say it because it has been a success. Over the course of its lifetime, it has fulfilled its destiny in raising the racial consciousness of America to something that is fair. Not equal mind you, but fair. It is now incapable of doing incrementally more because there are no new ideas. It fights increasingly narrower battles at an increasingly pitched volume for diminishing returns, and now to maintain its own image it must overreach.

    Therefore it must be relegated to the status of a watchdog organization with its eyes focused, not on the future, but upon the present. Its past doesn't matter. It doesn't need a general membership, it needs a few wealthy sponsors. It doesn't need an awards show, it needs big staff in Washington.

    Am I wrong?

    Posted by mbowen at 10:41 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

    August 21, 2004

    The Libertarian Task

    Here is how Libertarians can earn my unending respect and admiration: work out the microeconomies and advocate for open pricing in every aspect of life. Where should they start? Health Care.

    I believe it was Thoreau who said that we who have never done things such as set a broken leg, have any idea of what real life is all about. I tend to agree with that sentiment. But what I break my leg, how much does it cost to fix it? I don't know. In fact if you try to Google up an answer, you'll find more information about dogs and cats than humans. That is absolutely pathetic.

    But there's a reason why you can't find out about this enormous inefficient market. It's because the powerful interests are so deeply embedded that they cannot be extricated. Republicans and Democrats are incapable of even getting started to talk about reform. If Ralph Nader wasn't such a pompous ass, he'd focus the media on this issue. If Libertarians weren't such impractical dweebs, they'd quit showing off their ideological purity and get down to this business.

    Hospital A:
    Broken Leg Fixed $1500

    Hospital B
    Broken Leg Fixed: $1700

    Now for every broken leg, as for every broken automobile, there are a million reasons why and two dozen ways to fix it. And you can be sure that there are nefarious characters ready, willing and able to scheme us out of our bucks. But Libertarians ought to dedicate themselves to opening up these markets and giving transparency. They will make themselves heroes and take down a lot of Republicans and Democrats in the process.

    Hop to it.

    Posted by mbowen at 08:16 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

    August 20, 2004

    Social Conservatism, Elitism & The Natural Aristocracy

    There has been a lot of blabber about the concept of aristocracy that has somehow filtered its way into the mind of Phil Agre, and thus into this corner of my worldview (and the blogosphere). We're going to have a problem here.

    Agre begins:

    Q: What is conservatism?
    A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

    Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
    A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and
    civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality
    and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the
    modern world.

    As it happens, I have fortunately stumbled, by way of Hispanicpundit whom I now thank, onto the work of Russell Kirk, a heretofore unknown progenitor of Conservative Thought. And while the very idea appears oxymoronic to the liberal flacks who dot the landscape with their yelps and insults, there are certain consistent principles which there abide. Yet it is true that having personified so much of Conservatism itself in the undeserving bodies of Barry Goldwater, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay and Trent Lott and indeed in much of what goes by the name of Republican these days, a very large host of Americans are misled and confused. It is only natural that pinko rats take advantage of this confusion. It is only appropriate that we on the Right seek guidance from history.

    But since I am a writer all too familiar with my own nomenclature, this opportunity allows me to dig up a few terms that I think contemporaries will find more familiar, which is why I allude to the Matrix, elitism and social conservatives. To wit:

    I am not a social conservative. I am an elitist. If the Merovingian were not a corrupted ghoul, I think I'd very much enjoy hanging out with him. He is powerful, intelligent, erudite and arrogant. Excellent qualities for a member of the ruling class. Unfortunately, he wasn't wise enough to ally with a circle of equals, and instead hired leagues of flunkies and goons. Thus it was inevitable that he would be defeated by a group of bounders of extraordinary caliber.

    A social conservative would insist that a certain set of inflexible values be ascribed to in order to dine with the Merovingian. An elitest would devise a serious of tests. Social conservatives value loyalty and obedience. Elitists demand performance and competition.

    I leave you with Thomas Jefferson:

    I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly, bodily powers gave place among the aristoi [aristocrats]. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness, and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground for distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say, that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendency.I think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi [pseudoaristocrats], of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the really good and wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them, but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society.

    This is the aristocracy of which Kirk speaks. Now you know.

    Posted by mbowen at 04:07 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    August 19, 2004

    Russell Kirk: Once Over Lightly

    One of the leading lights of Conservative thought is a gent by the name of Russell Kirk. Considering that I studied Computer Science and not a Political Science, it is not surprising that I've not heard of him before today. How then could I be a true Conservative? The same way any scientist who observes correctly the effect of air pressure on object even if he never heard of Bernoulli. Independent discovery still has a place in this world, however I would have preferred that somebody had hipped me to this cat many years ago. It would have been more Conservative, wouldn't it?

    The first thing I'd like to note about Kirk comes from this excerpt of an Amazon reviewer's on his book The Conservative Mind:

    One repeated note throughout this book is that markets and economic forces are disruptive and need to be tamed. Alternative sources of human values, other than what they command in a wide-open economy, must be preserved. The market, left unchecked, has the potential to overrun settled ways of life, to undermine religious faith, and to coarsen standards of behaviour. While this is not Kirk's only point, it is the one that seems most conspicuous today.

    Now the first person I heard say anything like this was in fact Cornel West. I agreed with him then and agree with him now. Human value does not come from Markets. Indeed unregulated markets can be and probably generally are destructive of human value. I say markets need to be regulated by sustainability, which will require a revolution in accounting, and by strong declarations and defenses of human rights and civil rights. This, my friends, is the very basis of my gripe against Libertarians, whom I consider irresponsible and leaning towards anarchy. Libertarianis is certainly understandable as an ethos in the context today's complex and often over-regimented society, however it doesnt' stand on its own.

    Now onto the famous Six Canons:

    1. The principle of moral order -- a belief in a transcendent moral order to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.

    I tend to believe that this is absolutely true, but I think that people get bogged down in the matters of discovery. Which is to say that atheists have a hard time accepting that Theists have recieved any revelation, and this somehow unhinges their moral credibility. The hell with it, say it's all 'self-evident' and hash it out. Ultimately people will discover that murder is wrong. I believe their is a cognitive theorist who suggests that our emotions are hooked to our minds and bodies in such a way that we are inately capable of knowing (because it makes us feel bad) what is right and wrong vis a vis the low end of Maslow's Pyramid. There is a reason that the sight of blood or of human skeletons is revolting and scary - we are innately moral. The religious way to describe this is that God made that so. Fine. Transcendence is transcendence.

    2. The principle of social continuity -- Conservatives prefer the devil they know to the devil they dont know.

    This is a no brainer. Of course it's true. I don't even see how this is debateable.

    3. The principle of prescription -- A reliance on the wisdom of our ancestors.

    Well, now the value of this really depends on how broad a faction of ancestors one is willing to claim, no? But the basic principle stands. Human knowledge evolves slowly. Just as we physically evolve slowly. What is valuable doesn't change, so heed your grandmama.

    4. The principle of prudence -- Public measures should be judged by their long-term consequences.

    Really, what more needs to be said here, other than what I keep saying about Bush blowing the budget makes him more my enemy than my friend. But you already know this. Conservatives like me are all about the Long Now.

    5. The principle of variety -- A healthy inequality is necessary for civilization.

    This could mean any number of things, but presuming that it says something specifically in defense of a Class System (as contrasted to a Caste System), then I tend to agree. Throw in a little Peter Principle, a little meritocracy and open markets and I think it works just fine. People need to do what they are good at doing, and they need to be rewarded appropriately. Somewhere, some man needs to get a passionate night of lovemaking for not stealing a truck, but he's in another class than I.

    6. The principle of imperfectability -- Since man is imperfect, no perfect social order can be created.

    Abso-frickin-lutely. So now I suppose I need to check out this Jeremy Bentham character and see exactly which of his screws were loose. There's a task for another day. I've blogged quite enough today.

    Posted by mbowen at 02:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    Abortion: An Individual Right?


    First of all let's clarify something about rights. I say they are the gift of the strong. Others might say they exist independently, we just have to recognizen them. I disagree.

    I could claim that God created a right for me to read your mind, but until the device is created that enables me to do so, does that right exist? If I claim God created the right, then it exists in perpetuity since the beginning and to the end of mankind, but I can't exercise that 'right' until I have the capability. Once that capability is expressed, then law springs up around it as does political rhetoric. Rights evolve owing to the relative importance they have in society.

    Understand here that abortion is an invention. It is a medical invention that adds to the convenience of modern women such that they don't suffer the responsibility of childbirth and rearing if they choose not to. There are a lot of good reasons and bad reasons for this choice. But to speak of it as a right, I think mischaracterizes it. Rather I think of it as an enabler, or perhaps a consequence of the expression of something that more resembles a right which is sexual gratification.

    Humans need sexual gratification. It's way down on Maslow's Pyramid. But there are also a huge number of choices there too. And I wouldn't be so quick to talk about a woman's right to choose abortion without talking about a woman's right to choose lesbianism or marriage or masturbation. Which is more fundamental, the sexual needs of the body or the need to be free of childbearing and childrearing?

    Abortion is brutal contraception. Sure you have a choice, and I defend wise choice, but I don't give license.

    One more thing that I want to add to this stew is the question of where one body ends and another begins. A woman cannot get pregnant on her own. She must have possession of someone elses genetic material in order to conceive. So it is inevitable that the other person has some 'right' to determine the fate of the development. A child, or an embryo, or a fetus or whatever you want to call it inside a woman's body is not hers exclusively. It is only half hers. So her individual rights are compromised the moment she becomes pregnant.

    I say this because whether or not one agrees that a fertilized egg is a person, it could conceiveably be brought to term outside of the body in which it was fertilized and still exists as 'joint property' of the two parents until it reaches some measure of selfhood. It could go into another woman's body. It could go into an artificial womb. It could go into storage. Hell, it might even go into a pig or a cow or the bloody Matrix for all we know.

    So if a woman's right to abort is absolute, then it stands in direct opposition to a man's right to sire. So what if he's a rapist. So what if she's a murderer? One person is still plotting to deprive the other.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:17 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    August 17, 2004

    The Last Word

    I've heard a lot of discussion about Ebonics and BSV and whatever slanguage blackfolks are accused of speaking, but I've not heard anything so potent and clear as Avery Tooley's piece. Love it.

    He's got the verbiage for all the explaining that needs to be done, plus the right attitude, and in this I make the distinction between proper and right. Language is that which flows from the self. It is the most personal of creations. It is your voice. What can it be besides a version of boastful scientific animism when some pretentious fop tells you that you're not. The most honest criticism that might be made is that one is not speaking the King's English. Fine. See Monty Python.

    I've always seen language as power, and I've been a shape shifter. It was always clear to me that one speaks appropriate to the situation. Most of my teen years, there were three venues each with its own propriety when it came to speech. Home, School, Neighborhood. In my neighborhood, everyone sounded exactly like Ice Cube. At school everyone sounded like a character out of 'Donnie Darko' which shouldn't be a surprise since they filmed it there at LiHi. At home it was a mix of Cosby Show and Roc. Plus having learned conversational Swahili as a child and having Fracophones in the family, not to mention the Mom's lapses into Creole, flexibility and fluidity was always the order of the the day.

    But I leave it to Tooley.

    Posted by mbowen at 09:25 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    August 14, 2004

    What's Wrong With This Picture?

    This is one of the most critical litmus tests I have on America. If you can't understand this picture, I'm really out to slap you around. I put up with the shame and embarrassment of people dissing Moe Greene four years ago and I really am not having it any more. I wasn't having it then, but I'm also putting people on notice because the subtle subjects have pointed me in this direction again.

    We have just been discussing 'Race: Public Dialog vs Single Combat' in the context of Dr. F's comment about blacks and Japanese vis a vis white respect. Here's cutting to the chase for you: When you see this picture, you need to shut up and salute. If there is anything in you that finds it difficult to accept that these Americans are the absolute best in the world at what they do and deserving of your unconditional support and respect, you need to get a sharp knife and cut it out. He who wins the gold makes the rules. So this is what it looks like. And if you can't respect that, then it's civil war.

    Obviously, I get very exercised about this particular issue, because I think it is symbolic of the fate of African America and of America itself. I don't care who you think you might be, you cannot afford not to respect black men who triumph like this. And I might be betraying a mote of insecurity to think that there are those who don't get it, because I'm prepared to write vulgar threats. This one goes deep for me.

    In my right hand is a pen. In my other hand is a CRKT M16-13Z. You don't want to know what it's like when a man like me doesn't have a country.

    Posted by mbowen at 11:47 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

    August 12, 2004

    Olivier's Hamlet: Take One

    Since I happened on the UK Google News, I've been on a little bit of a Olivier trip. Last week I purchased two of his DVDs. Hamlet and Richard III. I've discovered a neat tool that allows me to watch DVDs on my PC in the background of translucent windows. So I can read the script of Hamlet (via Gutenberg or others) and watch Olivier perform.

    That got tedious - interpreting text and watching acting is a bit much, even for a multitasker like myself. So I started watching it straight. Although I fell asleep last night shortly after Hamlet's admonishments to Ophelia (that was cold-blooded) I am gathering that Olivier's Hamlet is nothing like the weasel other interpretations have floated by my ears.

    If memory serves me correctly, the good prince's elaborate ruse is masterfully rendered up to the end, but that he must sacrifice his best man in a swordfight in order to reveal the duplicity of his uncle the usurper. All of his protestations at the beginning of the play are in recognition of his new sworn duty.

    The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!

    Loaded words for sure, and yet sets the mood for all of the rest of his action and plotting. That's the way I take it watching Olivier, who truth be told, makes wearing tights look cool. Don't tell anybody from my old 'hood that I said so though. Plus, I've got to hand it to Olivier in doing the scene where he goes through all of the expressions that Ophelia describes without overacting. Amazing.

    The most fun about watching Shakespeare is hearing his phrasing which has come down to regular use in the language completely outside of the context of the play and then reconciling it in real time to the situation on stage. It's like (OK I'm going to hear it for this) Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and actually gives a new dimension to watching. But then again, Polonius is supposed to be a cagey old fool.

    Anyway, that's what I'm doing this week, as well as listening to the new Modest Mouse and breaking out a few new action DVDs and XBox games.

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

    August 09, 2004

    The Scariest Thing

    The scariest thing about being a black Republican of my sort has to do with alienation from Old School partisans on the other side of the fence. Advocates like Faye Anderson who failed to succeed with Republicans can be de-emphasized, however women like Wilma A. Lewis must be taken more seriously. I find it difficult to believe that someone like Ms. Lewis would be a big partisan, but I find it equally difficult to believe that she might be a Republican from way back.

    What if 80% of blacks in the 99th percentile were all Democrats? What if they have decided that more diversified political power is simply not worth pursuing?

    Nevertheless, much of this has to do with integration. In my lifetime, the very thought that there would be black fatcat bankers or Wall Street brokers and traders seemed impossible to believe. And when I joined, with leagues of others, the corridors of Corporate America (that's what we used to call it back then), we hardly expected to find managers anywhere but in Personnel. Line managers with signing authority and huge budgets were still considered in league with The Man. They were the guys who kept "last hired, first fired" alive in the self-defeating ghetto mentality many of us used to share. That has changed, as has the attitude of line managers towards blacks, whether or not they themselves are black.

    So while it's reasonable to expect that blacks in the big fat powerful law firms might mostly be of the dyed in the wool Democratic and Civil Rights defender variety, I look forward to the day when other sorts will be just as easily found. In the meantime, my elitist suckup senses are quivering. What if it's just Don King?

    Posted by mbowen at 04:53 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

    When Time Allows My Mind to Sleep

    Rick James is dead.

    In his day, Rick was the most revolutionary dude in music. I attended his concert in Long Beach when he was at his peak. 7th row Motown comp tickets. I have never seen before or since a huge crowd of blackfolk on their feet screaming for a white guitarist, but for the dude in Rick's band, it was done. There was no question. Rick James was the king of Funk & Roll.

    The Stone City Band, broke us out of L 7, and Rick James, more than anyone short of George Clinton got under your skin and into your mind. He wore the braids and the tight pants. He sung straight out about Mary Jane. He dared us to be different and pushed us to the edge. He was a funker, a rocker and a balladeer. He crossed over without selling out.

    I can't imagine that anybody who really loved Rick James' music would say that Super Freak was what he was all about. If you ask me, his greatest song was his duet with diva Teena Marie - 'Fire and Desire'. As I listen to it, it brings tears to my eyes, and memories of my old girl Tracy. Behind that would be 'Dream Maker' and 'Bustin' Out'.

    Rick James in jail made a lot of people happy. In the Jack & Jill world I used to hang around, simply dancing to a Rick James song was frowned on, and the very thought of wearing African braids was just too much. I enjoyed the tension he brought to such parties. But when Super Freak came out, I started to wonder if this was the same man. I knew he was, but I smelled blaxploitation. Sure white radio stations would play Super Freak, but they wouldn't play 'Mr. Policeman' or 'Ghetto Life'. When it came to socially conscious songs Rick James was right behind Stevie Wonder. Rick James was too honest.

    Hey Rick, you were the man. I'm Just a Sucker for your music. Still.

    More Cobb around Rick James

    Posted by mbowen at 09:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    August 05, 2004

    Equilibrium vs Equality

    I brought up the concept of 'cultural equilibrium' in my recent review of Affirmative Action. It's a tricky thing to establish formally but important nonetheless. The point of thinking of cultural equilibrium has to do with fine tuning the political demand and priority into a set of expectations that can be reasonably well-served by elected officials.

    Affirmative Action is a good place to start thinking about equilibria. I do so because I was involved as a programmer in the Manpower Planning systems established by Xerox in the mid 80s, when Republicans like Bob Dole had regular meetings with blacks like Vernon Jordan in the context of the Business Roundtable. During those years, the Business Roundtable would contribute to the shaping of corporate management by awarding companies who had demonstrated leadership in integration.

    Much of my perspective on Affirmative Action was shaped by the days when men like Vernon Jordan exemplified what it was all about. I don't know if I've written much about it here, but my experience at Xerox was quite instructive. Although there weren't large numbers, there were black managers at just about every level of that multinational corporation all the way up to Jordan who was on the board of directors. Other notable blackfolks at Xerox included the late Guy Dobbs, my personal role model and President of Xerox' Special Information Systems - the closest thing they had to a military wing. Just to give you an idea of what kind of man Dobbs was, I'll just say that I personally met one of the scientists on this page who was typical of the class of individual who worked at XSIS. Also notable was the black man (whose name I forget at the moment) who managed XVMS, the Xerox unit that essentially invented digital voice mail and of course A. Barry Rand who famously went on to become the CEO of Avis.

    During my stint in Personnel Systems (back in the days before the concept of the IC, the precursor to today's IT), I wrote software code for several of the mangers, on of whom was the Affirmative Action Compliance Officer. Xerox' policy was based on the 'Balanced Workforce Model' of Affirmative Action. The short description of it is that it identified underpromotion, and overpromotion, by race and gender, established metrics and goals for promotion and RIF in a self-correcting model. It worked in the context of a grading system similar to the GS system used by the Federal Government and the Armed Forces. In my many years of (boohabian) discussion of race on the internet I have met few people who understood that Affirmative Action could be so logical, precise and fair. Once upon a time, the American Management Association used to run courses and certify managers in Succession Planning and Balanced Workforce. I don't think they do any longer.

    The beauty of the BWF model was that you could immediately see how many individuals who were eligble for promotion to the next level by race and gender. And you could see the race and gender composition of the level into which they would be promoted. What we could very clearly see in the model back in 1986 was where the glass cielings were, by department all over the Group. (I didn't have access to the corporate wide model). This objective data, along with the subjective understanding personnel managers had, gave a very clear picture of what was possible and what was not. It was this encounter with the facts and the feelings that gave me my first true glimpse at the strengths and weaknesses of an Affirmative Action program, which was according to the Business Roundtable, the most successful in the nation. I should also mention that David Kearns, the CEO of Xerox at the time made it abundantly clear that he wanted black executives in his company - his program was a top down get your ass in gear directive. The best of all possible worlds.

    What we discovered, among many other things was that women and minorities were not doing as well as one would hope in several of the technical areas of the company. At the lower and entry levels, there was a big spike in 'protected classes' who were eligible for promotion. But at the mid management level there were only a few who sat below the cieling. So while one could look at the overall mix of minorities and women and see a big gap, the future was bright. There was also a reversal of this in other departments. There were places where blacks in particular had made big strides into upper levels of management, but at the lower levels there were no young bucks queuing up. So they typical gripe you hear today about whites losing their grip on power was the case for these black managers.

    The predicament of the 'endangered' black managers proved to be an interesting dilemma. Within the parameters of the system all had fought tooth and nail to establish, they found themselves on the bubble. So the controversy of the day became what to do on the margins. Xerox had proven itself to be operating in good faith by implementing BWF which illustrated the defacto racial discrimination proven by the glass cielings. But nothing could be done within the context of that system to get more blacks into this, the best of all systems. As a proportional representation argument looking strictly at the inside of the corporation, there was little that could be done to change the process. So black managers looked outside, and in doing so illustrated the problem of equilibrium vs equality (and equity).

    Inside the company, BWF was policy. There were no secret glass cielings - we knew where they were. We objectively saw progress over time. The system worked and was at equilibrium.

    Before I get further into this, I want to emphasize that although things were good on balance, I don't want to give the impression that they weren't contentious. There were more than a few lawsuits and ugly loud discussions going on. There were entrenched positions on both sides and nothing was conceded without a fight. However there was a substantial critical mass of blacks in management that insured that nobody got away with murder. In the end cooler heads prevailed but all was not wine and roses. When I talk about Affirmative Action as a peaceful concession to a militant demand I mean just that. I don't want to overstate my position as a pawn in this game, but the Compliance Officer was very glad to see my BWF reports. I also want to give the context of the Black Manager's Office, so I posted that from the archives.

    So the black employee organizations, having established a large beachhead in Xerox Corporation, like most black organizations were oriented towards giving a helping hand to those on the outside. They raised the question of community representation. Ultimately, the aim was to force the system to overproduce. You see inside the corporation, blacks were somewhere around 7% if I remember correctly. But that was far short of 12% of the American population. When blacks were running things in one of the large sales organizations under a cat named Bernard Kinsey, there were complete blocks of territories that were black controlled. The managers had the ability to recruit, hire, train, groom and promote blacks from the bottom to the top.

    The experience of those managers proved a cultural sea change for Xerox, but it didn't change the rules of engagement for the Affirmative Action program. The Sales organization might have had its own independent way of hiring and firing, but they were not using the same rules as the general organization with its structured annual reviews and standardized pay scales. But what the sales organization did know, as