Thursday, December 01, 2005
So I have had a few people ask me for more information about some of the songs and the artists on my CD so here is a breakdown.
1) The Roots, ft. Musiq - Break You Off (Yam Who Remix): As far I know, this version of the song is not available for sale anywhere, and is only available as a white label. You can find the original version on the Roots' Phrenology album. If you look hard enough on the internet, you may find a demo version of this song with D'Angelo singing the hook instead of Musiq, or at least there are some cats who claim to have it.
2) Blue 6 - Love Yourself : This song is one of the more soulful selections from the album Beautiful Tomorrow on the Naked Music Label. Naked Music is one of the best indie labels out there right now. I think they are only eclipsed by Ubiquity (see John Beltran below) and Stone's Throw. There are some remixes to this song out there too.
3) Aya - Looking for the Sun: Available on the album Strange Flower, its not even the best song on the album. If you like this track, you will probably enjoy the entire CD.
4) Da Lata - Pra Manha: This song is like seven years old, but Brazillian music takes a while to make it all the way to the states. You can find this track on the album, Songs From the Tin. Da Lata has a couple other newer albums as well.
5) Louie Vega, ft. Blaze - Elements of Life: From the album, Elements of Life, a fairly consistent offering from Louie Vega. Also check for the Elements of Life - Extensions album.
6) Sade - Stronger Than Pride (Detroit Mix): I think this might be available on an Japanese import, but you will probably have to pay a grip.
7) John Beltran - Kissed by the Sun: Taken from the superb In Full Color album. Also there are some remixes of the song available on wax directly from the his label Ubiquity.
8) Madrid de Los Austias - Los Canos Se Meca: This song has a more Bossa feel than the majority of the Spanish influenced album, Amor, that it is taken from.
9) Mondo Grosso, ft. Amel Larrieux - Now You Know Better (ananda project remix): I took the acapella intro off of this song so that it would blend with the CD a little better. You can find this track on the MG4 album. The original of this track is pretty cool tool. Can you find lyrics that aren't more uplifting?
10) Gaelle - Falling: From the album, Transient.
11) 4hero - Naima: Classic jazz standard to sound just right for right now. I think this cut shows up on a few albums. One of them is the 4hero's The Remix Album, Vol. 1.
12) Damu, ft. Valerie Etienne - Sail Away With Me: White label out of Germany I think
13) Red Astaire - Follow Me: This is really a white label remix of D'Angelo's Back and Forth. Red Astaire is known for remixing songs and restructing the vocals to make a whole new chorus/hook out of a song. Sometimes he establishes a whole knew theme, as he does here taking D's voyeruestic ode to the stripper and kind of making it more about being under the spell of a woman.
That time of year has come. There is a chill in the air and mother nature is brewing her first major storm of the year that is just making land-fall in the Sierra Nevadas as I type this. This weekend, I will return once again to Mammoth Lakes, California...my home away from home. I am a knuckle-dragger, a one planker, a shredder...I am a snowboarder.
I plan to narrate my experiences on the mountain this year on a separate blog. Years ago when I first started snowboarding, my best friend and I toyed around with the idea of writing a book about snowboarding, and how it was a metaphor for living. Every year, I wonder why I haven't even attempted to write the first sentence to that book. Well, I don't want to keep wondering anymore, so Steep & Deep* is being born today. Feel free to check it out throughout the season.
*editors note: obviously this is a failed experiment as of Jan. 12. 2006. I just haven't had the time and the energy to contribute much to either blog this winter.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Are you familiar with synchronicity? Not the classic album by The Police, but Carl Jung’s theory that the collective consciousness weaves the interactions of our discrete psyche’s in a way that thing that appear to have no causal relationship happen in a strangely coincidental way? I think many of us at least superstitiously believe in synchronicity to a certain degree. The act of gambling with knowledge that the house has the advantage is a nod to synchronicity. I remember once running into a woman at a bookstore (where she was reading a book about synchronicity) and then encountering the same woman at a restaurant that was about three miles away later that day. I remember thinking that maybe she was someone I was supposed to meet for some grand purpose in her life or my own, but of course I could have been just rationalizing because she was fairly attractive. She actually left her purse behind in the restaurant and I was able to catch up with her as she was exiting the parking lot and give it to her…we chatted for a moment and I gave her my card, but she never called. I think the fact that I still think about that encounter with the beautiful woman with an interest in Jungian psychology ever once in a while is evidence enough that I believe in synchronicity (or I am a pathetically sentimental romantic).
So why this talk of coincidences? Well, in the last two days something peculiar happened. I have had a coincidence of ideas presented to me that are highly correlated to last week’s post, and they have come in strange ways. Yesterday, one of my co-workers was telling me about this movie/book “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. There is a scene in the movie where the protagonists are being pursued (in their spaceship I suppose) by two nuclear missiles when they hit the Improbability Drive (an “emergency” feature of the ship that causes something improbable to happen). Well the improbable does happen, and one of the missiles instantly transforms into a sperm whale careening through the atmosphere of a planet and the other missile transforms into a potted plant. The viewer is allowed to hear the thoughts of the sperm whale now careening toward the planet who’s gravity it is caught in:
“Ah....! What's happening? it thought.
Er, excuse me, who am I?
Why am I here? What's my purpose in life?
What do I mean by who am I?
Calm down, get a grip now...oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it? It's a sort of....yawning, tingling sensation in my.....my....well I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let's call it my stomach.
Good. Ooooh, it's getting quite strong. And hey, what about this whistling roaring sound going past what I am suddenly going to call my head? Perhaps can call that.....the wind! Is that a good name? It'll do....perhaps I can find a better name for it later when I've found out what's it for. It must be something very important because there certainly seems to be a hell of a lot of it. Hey! What' this thing? This....let's call it a tail-yeah, tail. Hey! I can really thrash it about pretty good, can't I? Wow! Wow! That feels great! Doesn't seem to achieve very much but I'll probably find out what's it for later on. Now, have I built up any coherent picture of things yet?
Never mind, hey, this is really exciting, so much to find out about, so much to look forward to, I'm quite dizzy with anticipation....
Or is it the wind?
There really is a lot of that now, isn't there?
And wow! Hey! What's this thing suddenly coming toward me very fast? Very, very fast. So big and flat and round, it needs a big widesounding name like....ow.....ound....round......ground! That's it! That's a good name-ground!
I wonder if it will be friends with me?
And the rest, after a sudden wet thud, was silence."
A curious scene, no?
Today, I was reading a book, “I Am Charlotte Simmons”, the newest Tom Wolfe novel which is about modern college life. Interestingly enough, there is a professor in the book who is not a main character (at least not yet up to where I have read in the narrative) who presents the following hypothetical situation:
“Let’s say you pick up a rock and you throw it. And in mid-flight you give that rock consciousness and a rational mind. That little rock will think it has free will and will give you a highly rational account of why it had decided to take the route it’s taking…am I really…merely…a conscious little rock”
A curious notion, no?
Well these two “spins” on the same idea forced me to look back at what I put forth last week about the evolution of consciousness. Am I no different than the sperm whale (albeit with more time and the ability to see other sperm whale’s falling in their trajectory with a strong idea of how it will eventually end)? Am I just a rock coming to life mid-flight, and thus developing the best theory that I can for why I am going the way that I am going but none the less on a deterministic journey?
Before I answer, let’s get back to synchronicity. Do I find it odd that these concepts that are quite novel to me were introduced to me in the span of less than a week after I put forth my entry on consciousness being somewhat of an algorithm with a very deterministic element to it? Is it coincidence or some manifestation of the intent of the universe to impress something upon my consciousness? I don’t think it matters. I think the complex world around me is constantly revealing its mysteries, but these revelations are so overwhelming that I probably ignore most of what I am exposed to. I once heard it said that all of the mystery of the universe is written in a single grain of sand, if we care to observe it. But I am after all flesh and blood, and much of my mental energy is going to be spent on things such meeting needs whether they be physical or emotional, so I guess I miss out on quite a bit. But I think sometimes my mind comes to these lulls where I am allowed a deeper vision or insight into my experience. It seems that the consciousness of the universe allowed me to pick up a little of its mystery last week and it continues to impress on my whenever I care to take notice. I can only wonder about the billion or so mysteries that sailed right past me last week, without me caring to notice. I am reminded of a line from Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple,” where Shug Avery states, “I think it pisses God off if you walk past the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” I don’t know about pissing God off, but my experience has always shown that the more you care to notice the beauty of the universe, the more beauty it seems to want to reveal. It really doesn’t matter where you look either, it really is everywhere, even in our own hearts.
So back to the question at hand…am I a conscious little rock? Well in the last entry I talked about the possibility that free will could spring from entropy if the consciousness imbedded in the universe simply set the parameters of the universe such that free will would develop inevitably. How free is free will, if it was destined to develop as a result of the human condition? It seems to me that the key to understanding free will is that it is relative. There are some things in life that are inevitable in terms of our own immediate desires. Just like the rock is being hurled through space and is not instantly aware of how to take control over its final destination, there are aspects of the human experience that appear beyond my control: when I was born and who I was born to, having human emotions, early behavioral adaptations to my environment, and the extreme likelihood that I will die one day. With that said, there are so many things that we do have perceived control over. So even if I am a rock hurtling through space, I have what Viktor Frankl refers to in “Man’s Search For Meaning” as the last of all freedoms: the freedom to choose how I feel about my experience, the freedom to develop my free will. With that said, I see one of my greatest responsibilities with being given life, the development of my ability to expand this freedom of mind and thought pushing the limits, but accepting what I have not yet learned to change or control. We have the benefit of seeing the rock with “god’s eye”, but in my own case I see no point in assuming there are any limitations on what my consciousness is capable off. In other words, free will is only limited to what the rock can never develop an ability to affect through consciousness, and it is arguable if the rock can ever come to a finite awareness of something that appears so unlimited as its own potentiality. I am not wise enough to say what the limit of that consciousness is in my own case, nor in the case of the rock.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Also, for some of you reading this, it may be a more palatable entry if you replace the word “universe” with “God” whenever you encounter it throughout the rest of the entry.
It’s a typical Southern California day outside today. Blue skies, warm but not uncomfortably warm. I was sitting in my car after lunch preparing myself mentally to return to the office, and I started staring at these two palm trees against the pale blue beach sky. I started to think about how those trees just looked like an old content couple happy to have grown alongside each other, happy to have existed, resigned to the fact that they were only playing their role in a larger scheme. I guess I had my mini Bodhi Tree moment although The Buddha probably wasn’t sitting in a Subaru at the moment of his enlightenment. I will attempt to share my thoughts, although it is always difficult to communicate a moment of transcendence:
I found myself staring at those trees and thinking about how intelligent the universe must be at a sub-atomic level. The universe knew 14 billion years ago to release all of this energy and matter and left a consciousness vibrating throughout everything. I thought about how the universe set a few parameters for itself (physical and metaphysical laws that we may or may not understand) and began organizing itself, based on the conscious intentions that it had infused into everything that was present after the “big bang”. Sub atomic particles came together to form matter and the matter clustered just perfectly to create the solar system and planet Earth. Did Earth form because it is just one of the billions of permutations that were possible as a result of the cataclysmic birth of a universe? Maybe, if you want to leave things up to mathematical probability…but even given that theory, the consciousness of the universe must have understood its own potential for spawning a planet (or millions of planets) capable of sustaining more organized systems of discrete consciousness, i.e. capable of sustaining life. Whether the Earth is the singular intention of the universe or one of billions of statistical inevitabilities doesn’t really matter. I believe what matters most is that the intelligence and consciousness had a desire and that desire has been manifesting for as long as the desire has been present.
Then I began to think of myself. I am a human being, but what is that? Although I am not the universe, I am of the universe and every single conscious thought or notion has implications on a universal level. I have within myself the power to send out energy that touches every corner of the universe. As a matter of fact, thinking of the universe in terms of a three dimensional space is merely a human concept, a product of my experience-limited awareness and consciousness. Now by experience-limited, I don’t mean there is a boundary of awareness that I cannot cross. What would be the point of drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and telling myself I cannot cross it? I simply mean if the universe contains all there is…there is really no describing it relative to something else. But we tend to try to simplify all abstractions with limiting terms whether it be math, love, or the universe.
I continued to think to myself while watching those trees. Are those two palm trees self aware in the way that I am? I assume that those palm trees are one of countless manifestations of the intention of all the released energy and matter reacting over the last 14 billion years. Those trees are perfect products of the energy and matter that created them, just as I am a perfect product of the energy and matter that created me. Was it the chemical nature of sexuality in my parents, their love, their lust, their desire to affirm the goodness of life by perpetuating it, their reactions to the psychic pressure of wanting to do what was expected and/or normal in their estimation? Perhaps it was all those things coming together and more that resulted in me, a perfect emanation of the consciousness of the universe after 14 billion years of experience (apparently on a two for one deal…twins are evidence that the universe is a bargain shopper).
Here is where it gets interesting (thanks for reading this far if you are still here). Every single feeling I have is a result of that 14 billion years of organization and experience, a perfectly produced and finely honed aspect of consciousness. My desire for love and comfort is a perfect manifestation of consciousness. My fears are perfect products too. Shame, guilt, rage…they may seem like pointless destructive emotions but in the same way that humankind harnesses the destructive power of combustion to create energy, these “destructive” emotions have creative potential too. But it is important to realize that no matter what the emotion, it is a carefully measured reaction of consciousness. Emotion is probably the most powerful form of consciousness there is, for it trumps pure rationality every time How amazing that with six billion people on the planet, that nearly all of us have the same basic psychic structures that allow us to experience love, grief, and a whole gamut of other emotions. Their universality is a testament to how perfect our natural emotions and feelings truly are. Our entire emotional world is a perfect reaction to the environment and our own perfect programming, much the same way that those palm tress have a perfect reaction to rich soil, wind, rain, and sunshine. A tree losing its leaves due to strong winds is natural. A child bawling its eyes out over something an adult might consider unimportant is just as natural. An adult’s emotional reactions are still just as natural and perfect. Of course along the way to adulthood, our environment (that is also infused with consciousness) will shape how we process feelings, but our feelings will never stop being genuine messages of consciousness, a sincere and unambiguous language of the soul.
But it is not just my feelings that are a perfect product of the last 14 billion years. My thoughts and choices are perfect products too. No, I am not saying that every thought and idea that I have is ideal for the betterment of society, but my mind is a natural aspect of me being a human, just as the roots are a natural aspect of those two palms being trees. If the roots expose the trees to a toxic substance in the dirt below, the trees will be poorly affected, but the roots are doing what they are meant to do. It would be pointless for the rest of the tree to resent the roots. In that sense any thought my mind produces at any moment is a product of what the universal consciousness (working inside of me and outside of me) has infused me with up to that point. My mind is doing its job no matter what thought it conjures or what choice it makes. The branches and leaves of the tree are organized to choose to grow toward the light, but the tree cannot grow in complete darkness. My mind is the same way. It will produce the best thoughts and choices given what it has access to. My mind and my thoughts are doing nothing but manifesting the desire and will of the consciousness that exists in the trillions of sub-atomic consciousness packets all uniquely organized within me.
The fact that I have a conscience, and a sense of morality is a product of my perfect thoughts and the perfect thoughts of those who helped teach me. My choices that have tested my conscientiousness and morality have also been perfect. The repercussions such as guilt, shame or lack thereof I have experienced as a result of those actions has been the perfect feedback that has shaped future decisions. I have been born into a society that has laws with discrete repercussions to be carried forth if I am found guilty of violating these laws. These laws function to influence my perfect thinking, but more importantly they work to influence the perfect thinking of those who may not have been infused with the same conscience and morality. Those who fear the results of other’s decision are having a perfect emotional reaction, but what other choice do we have but to respect the legitimacy of other’s conclusions. We can throw people in jail, but we can never have the authority to damn someone to hell, except maybe ourselves. I guess I could judge a law breaker as good or bad and speculate about what is wrong, but I would have to have some kind of personal knowledge about being consciously amoral to identify the wrongness wouldn’t I? How could I conceive of an evil in someone else greater than the evil I can conceive of in my own heart? If I consider myself basically good, but I have acted selfishly under certain conditions, why am I any different from anyone else? I mean if we aren’t all inherently perfect, than we are all inherently imperfect, which basically still means we are in no position to decide one kind of imperfection is worse than another. I just find it hard to be believe in my own inherent perfection without assuming that everyone else has the same thing.
Although I will never know what goes on inside of others, I have a fairly strong feeling that every human being is feeling and thinking for themselves, that we are all naturally programmed to make choices based on an ultra-complex algorithm that seeks optimum results for the individual given their desires, experiences, and inborn inclinations. (Only a sociopath would have desires, experiences and inclinations that drive his algorithm to make choices that completely disregard other human beings.) All of our choices are just products of this algorithm which varies from person to person. Of course, I assume that most of us arrive at a point where we realize that we can expose ourselves to certain things that will shift the output of our own algorithm, but we only arrive at this point by virtue of indwelling intelligence and instinct. We are not born with any sense of responsibility for what we expose ourselves to. Somehow we are infused with enough organization of consciousness (and blessed by a particular environment and set of circumstances that are a result of that same kind of organization of consciousness) that we succeed in coming to the awareness that we might all be algorithms. By the time we realize that we are algorithms, our algorithms are very sophisticated, and we also realize that we are quite inexperienced at programming.
Essentially, I consider the beginning of my self-determinism to be the moment we stop questioning and resenting certain aspects of our algorithms that we didn’t like, and accept the state of the algorithm in its totality. At that point we began slowly learning what inputs create what outputs and some crude methods for modifying the coding. (Incidentally, the modern American mind[main]frame often arrives at the conclusion that it is easier to control the inputs to the algorithm in the first place and thus the typical American mental algorithm spends most of the time figuring out how to control the external world that produces the inputs, rather than fuss around with the code. I have observed that the more focused I am on controlling the external world, the less faith I have in my ability to impact how my own algorithm processes those inputs I am trying to control. e.g. if I don’t trust myself to get through some kind of failure without feeling shame, the harder I will work to not input the experience of failure in the first place.)
Now some may say, “Kacy, you are reducing yourself to nothing but a product of fate, a predetermined chemical reaction simply being governed by entropy.” My statement is so what if I am? Why can’t the same laws that govern how oxygen reacts with iron to create rust, be at work within me in a form that is so complex (and evidence of the grand intelligence of all matter) that it creates free will. Why can’t free will be the product of entropy? Perhaps free will is nothing more than the awareness that we are perfect beings and thus constrained by nothing but ourselves? As my friend Rod always says, “the one thing you can never fail at is life.”
There is saying (I think from Aikido) that says “there are many paths to the top of Mt. Fuji. Similarly I imagine there are a lot of ways to change our algorithms, some for the good and some for the bad I am sure. I think the different spiritual and religious disciplines are often time-tested processes that create certain results in terms of how they impact the algorithm. I imagine that some will always feel most content traveling the path that appears to be well populated with fellow pilgrims. Of course when it comes to the algorithm, some of us are always going to be “open source” types who will develop our own implementations drawing from wherever and striking out on their own path all together. I would like to think the universe intended for things to be just as they are. As a natural result the intention manifested the universe in the first place has unfolded through consciousness to produce some people who chose the well documented path, and it has also produced some who experiment more in their journey, or we would not have the well worn paths we have today. Maybe the universe has to create conditions that spawn a few thousand “megalomaniacal naval gazers” writing unremarkable blogs in cyberspace in order to spawn a Jesus, a Buddha, a M.K. Ghandi, a M.L. King, Jr. Then again, as far as the universe goes, I am probably just as much a part of its intention as anyone else, even those guys…
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Who knew the world of the light-skinneded black man was mired in so much existential angst? He seems to enjoy being a slight asshole so that he can assume it is his assholishness that makes people dislike him and not his soaring intellect. I wouldn't know anything about that. I am fairly certain this guys is smarther than me because he is much more comfortable with being an ass than I am.
Before I get my cultural critic on, I have to say that I really wish I were able to address a weightier issue than throwbacks, oversized white-T's, doo-rags, and 40" cables being banned from the NBA sidelines. But sometimes exploring a small issue illuminates the same societal pathologies that leads to the bigger issues...
Although the dress code may help sell the NBA, it won't probably make a dime's worth of difference in the way the players carry themselves or in truly changing the image of the league. And we are losing something here. Hell, knowing that the players are being forced to wear suits/business casual attire will rob us of the benefit of separatigng the good negroes from the bad ass stag-o-lee types. At least we knew to keep an eye on Allen Iverson all these years, and not let our kids worship him, right? Now we will be forced to judge players strictly on the merits of the way they play the game. Without the context of seeing gawdy jewelry on a player, how will we be able to dismiss him as having no heart and passion for the game, calling him squandered talent and a freak of raw unthinking athleticism?
But seriously, my problem with the dress code, is that the league is not interested in the well being of these young men that make them so much money. The NBA works like any other corporate industry in that they try to keep the talented people as clueless about their real worth and yet extract as much profit from their abilities as possible. In my estimation, the league simply wants to control these young men that are the key resource in making money, the same way the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal wants to control oil reserves. Just like America claimed to be liberating the Iraqi people, the NBA is preteneding to be doing this for the betterment of the players, the sport and society.
So you don't want the league being represented by a bunch of rebellious 20 year olds? Your best solution is to try to make them dress up...no way Ron Artest is going to lose his temper if he has an Armani to throw over all that internal conflict. Why not make counseling sessions with a specially trained therapist mandatory for rookies? You can even include financial incentives. Why is some kind of professional development program not enforced if you really want to exude professionalism in the first place? If the NBA is really interested in conveying an image, why not come up with more creative ways to foster the development of character in these men? Nah, don't want to educate them or they might end up outspoken and keenly aware of how much power they do have. We just want the big bucks to make us some bigger bucks by dressing a little better and doing a better job of fooling the world about the true nature of their character. Is that it David Stern?
I have heard a lot of people speaking about how the players shouldn't complain about having to wear a uniform because of all the money they make or something to the effect that it is a condition of employment, like all jobs have. I love how we like to point our fingers at these guys unsympathetically and call them a bunch of whining, ungrateful multi-millionaires, but the majority of the people reading this post are probably in the richest 1% of the world population or will be once they become professional wage earners. These NBA players are still young men who may be talented and have access to resources, but they are also human beings under a lot more scrutiny than any of us at an early age. All of us know that dignity and individuality are hard to give up for any amount of money so why are we so quick to assume these guys should not gripe and express their dissidence, even if it isn't very articulate dissidence. Forcing these guys to accept more mainstream (and WASP-y) image guidelines might just stir up more resentment by illuminating the hypocrisy of America every time they get dressed. It might anger me more if I have to put on a tie/noose everyday, and I am constantly reminded of how much my identity goes unaccepted by America even if my athleticism is lauded. It might arouse even more anti-social and misanthropic behavior in me just to re-establish my sense of pride and self estem. And lets be real here...the NBA brought this forward just as the season is getting under way and the players have other issues to deal with. They don't have time to organize and really come to some group conclusions. So the players will comply, but why shouldn't they at least be vocal and express their dissidence? It seems that they are being good role models for a democratic society by not simply caving to power without at least speaking out about it.
On a personal note, if my company enforced a dress code on me, I would be highly upset...why? Because as a professional, I like to be left to my own decision making about what kind of image I put forth and how I go about earning the trust and respect of my customers. True I could wear a suit every day or be more formal and professional in the way I carry myself, but it is not a sign of immaturity if I would rather be informal and express who I am through my attire. As a professional, I am glad that I am given the room to choose the balance between being myself and being consistent with expectations. And besides, if i know what the hell I am doing, I do it well, and I do it with an expertise that cannot easily be replaced, my appearance becomes less and less important. You deal with a surgeon based on how successful he has been in the operating room. You deal with a lawyer by how successful he has been in the courtroom. Who gives a damn what they present if they get results?
The sad part about this is that the mainstream American public has never been good at discerning those with character from those who lack character, so we get caught up in dumb things like appearance, religious affiliation, etc. I cannot understand why in spite of knowing a book cannot be judged by its cover, that a society we still continue to harvest mostly fools who cannot see through image. Some of the people with the most integrity and professionalism do happen to wear doo rags from time to time. Hell, I have on one as I am writing this. At the same time, the truly criminal and sociopathic knows to exude a conservative professional image so as to go unsuspected for as long as possible. All those Tyco, Worldcom, Adelphia, and Enron fellas probably wore suits every day. Maybe Tom Delay got away with so much bullshit because he knew the secret to being an extraordinary criminal was to not look like a common one. So next year when some NBA player in a suit gets caught up in some criminal or unethical behavior, remember that it was the NBA that suggested a cosmetic approach to changing the image of the league. Maybe it is a good start, but they have a long way to go.
One final thought. If they stop with this dress code, it will probably backfire on the NBA anyway? Don't underestimate the ability of urban black men to look completly unorthodox within the supposedly conservative guidelines put forth...or have you not seen Steve Harvey. They will continue to express their unique identity within the framework of any dress code.
Friday, September 30, 2005
I don’t believe in silencing anyone’s voice nor do I want there to exist a person or group who get to decide who is "allowed to be on the radio". I think we simply need to give equal access to media outlets to all viewpoints and then we wouldn't get so upset when something a little controversial finally leaked in. Anyway, I really had a totally different reaction to the article so I will put my two cents out into the blogosphere to see if I can offer some counterbalance…
This article is not crazy to me. Bennett is using the fact that we cannot make ethical and moral decisions based strictly on statistics, especially by extrapolating what the statistics say. He drew from a book that has been the on non-fiction bestsellers list for quite some time called Freakanomics written by Stephen Levitt (and cowritten by Stephen Dubner). The book is an interesting read and the unifying theme is how we can use regressional statistics to measure the social impacts of policies such as federally legalizing abortion in 1970 vs. violent crime rates. I was the first one in my office of engineers to read it, and many of my co-workers have now read it and it has started meaningful discussions. Freakonomics is not a book of morals but simply a book of data and statistics and the reader is left to make his own decisions about human kind, abortion, dignity, morality, etc.
The author’s data is highly compelling but his academic rigor is not presented in the book. We can only hope that the fact that the author is an economist at the esteemed University of Chicago indicates that his methods are scientifically sound. With that said, according to Levitt's data, it turns out that legalizing abortion has a higher correlation to crimes, and in particular violent crimes such as homicide, than size of the police force, unemployment, GNP and a whole slew of other variables that conventional wisdom has focused on. Compared to conventional wisdom about crime, the numbers tell a different story (and most of us engineers tend to understand the reliability of numbers vs. intuition since nobody ever intuited a cell phone network or a turbocharger without some rigorous mathematical work) and it is important to try to understand the causal relationships of phenomenon in our society. No matter what the raw numbers say, we still have our very human system of morals and values, but why not dispel as many myths and incorrect theories as possible when we are allocating resources and passing laws? What if we could find the most highly correlated variable when it comes to suicide bombings and terrorism? Perhaps we could really fight a war on terror if we used regressional analysis to see what leads to the psychic development of a suicide bomber, but we are allocating all of our resources with little understanding of how a terrorist gets made....our current war on terror is really an effort to control terror (at best, even though it smacks of a corporate crusade to rape and pillage if you ask me). But even if you follow the party line that we are in fact at war with terrorists, wouldn’t it make sense to try not to do the very things that can be shown to increase acts of terrorism in the first place.
But back to the comments of Bennett. I think this gentleman was taking it as obvious that aborting children based on race was morally irreprehensible, and using that fact to explain why you don't make political policy strictly based on statistical data. Unfortunately, men like Bennett do not always understand how raw the wounds of racism still are in this country, and how vigilant black people must remain in spite of the fact that things are different today than they were fifty years ago. Not all, but some white people in particular have the privilege of being ignorant about how other people think and see the world that always leads to some making insensitive comments. (Remember after the 9/111 bombing when it was virtually ONLY white people asking “why do they hate us” or remember after the OJ Simpson trial when millions became disillusioned with the American justice system FOR THE FIRST TIME). But even though what Bennett said might be inflammatory and unwise given the fact that people will react to such powerful rhetoric, I think we as a culture have more to worry about than this guy. To be honest, I think that fighting racism in this country shouldn’t even be the number one priority of any socially minded African American. Any of us African Americans that harangues about the injustice of this country is a powerful hypocrite if we cannot see that WE as Americans are guilty of the same policy globally that we convict white people of practicing domestically. How could I take shots at white people as if they consciously perpetuate racism en masse, and then shirk my own responsibility as an American when MY government tries to enslave the third world without the rights I enjoy here, even if I am part of the most maligned group subset of Americans. Remember that this subset of African Americans has turned out a Ken Chenault (CEO of AMEX) and a Richard Parsons (CEO of AOL/Time Warner) and a Colin Powell whereas I don’t know how much opportunity folks have in East Timor or Fullajah. I think that black people such as myself who have ascended to a professional level that at least kind of works like a meritocracy should remember that as an American citizen and co-owner of the economy (though my shareholdings) I participate in a global racism and oppression that is much worse than what is being visited upon black people in the United States these days. After all, would you rather be an undereducated and underemployed black man in the United States...or gainfully employed in the Sudan.
Its time we accept our dual identity as oppressor and oppressed. We are in a unique position to draw on our experience of being attacked, misunderstood, and misrepresented and yet having found the courage to participate and thrive in the very culture that has marganilized us. No one is better suited to be the moral compass this country needs in this day and age…
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Maybe I am distraught over the fact that Hurricane Rita is baring down on a portion of the country that at least 75% of my family lives in, but I really cannot say I have been that conscious of Hurricane Rita. I have glanced at enough articles in the last 72 hours to know that Hurricane Rita is Category 5. The funny thing is that I haven’t been that concerned about Hurricane Rita in spite of what I can only assume has been total media saturation. After Hurricane Katrina, I just figured it was only natural that the media cater to the fears and fascination, so I assumed that maybe the powerful coverage was mostly buzz. (Kind of how the media's decision to cover a “string” of freeway shootings or kidnappings ends up creating the perception that these crimes are on the rise when they might not be happening any more frequently, statistically speaking.) I am almost ashamed to admit that some of my friends have been more concerned about my family than me. Of course, its been mostly my friends who have never lived through a hurricane who are reaching out to me. My mind has been too focused on the people who have already lost so much in the past three weeks due to Katrina. As for my friends, I have accepted their thoughts and prayers, but I have pointed out that Houston is further inland than New Orleans plus reminded them that it was the failure of the levees that caused most of the New Orleans disaster, not the powerful winds and rain.
Of course the only really bad hurricane I ever experienced growing up was Hurricane Alicia in 1983 which I found out was only a category 3 thanks to Google. My memory of that storm is that it rained really hard all night and the power went out for a little while, but by morning, I was out in the driveway catching crawfish in the storm runoff and having “leaf races” with my brothers. I was only 9 back then, but I remember all of the adults being anxious. I remember being relieved yet disappointed that the windows had not blown in, and except for a few loose roof shingles and the blown-over saplings in the front yard, not much had happened.
Anyway, just before I started writing this entry I checked my G-mail account and there was an e-mail from my father talking about the current situation in Houston. He doesn’t seem very concerned for his own safety and health as he was joking about playing golf earlier today while many were buying up batteries, water and plywood. He went on to express mock disappointment about not being able to administer his first test of the semester since classes were canceled at HCC this evening. But my father did go on to also let us know that he was a little concerned about the wind damage blowing the very large trees in his aunts yard over and into the aunt’s house. Both his father and his aunt live in that house and they are both in their 90’s. He spoke about his plans for evacuating them.
In reading the e-mail I re-discovered something that I admire in my father and I have always hoped I would somehow inherit. My father is lovingly responsible enough to evacuate his Dad and aunt from a house that in all likelihood is going to be fine. He will do this with an almost cheerful sense of duty even though moving them (both are fairly fragile) is going to be a fairly difficult task, especially if my grandfather (moody Cancer just like me) is “on one”. At the same time my father is aware enough to re-assure those of us family members who are away from Houston that everyone is taken care of, and not to worry about him. And in spite of what I am sure is a ton of panic around him, my father is at ease and lighthearted enough to get in a round of golf. (Of course that could just be a sign of addiction.) I guess what I have always observed in my father is a great sense of responsibility without the world weariness and cynicism that impact so many other serious people. In spite of the fact that my father is far from ignorant, he has always seemed to be just as capable of bliss as any fool I have met. He has always been a role model of balance teaching me how to wake up early and on-time for school, but doing it by shaking me out of bed while blasting Michael Jackson’s Thriller through the house. Even if he didn’t mean to do it, he showed me how possible it is to be a mature adult firmly aware and respectful of the child he once was.
Anyway, I just wanted to say before the universal many refer to as God that I am thankful for my father and please bless him through the oncoming hurricane.
mr. wilson, jr.
P.S. By the way the title of this post is an album by Horace Silver…if a little late night jazz can’t put me to sleep now, nothing can.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
And already the cynic in me has noticed a small troubling detail about the Katrina aftermath. Let's just say that I think the corporate driven media and government have learned a valuable lesson from magicians by learning to keep us focused on things of little consequence like exposed breasts and some R&B singer peeing on a fourteen year old girl. I have been really disturbed by the amount of people seriously discussing the brief, obviously extemporaneous comments of a Mr. Kanye West when he gave his honest reactions to what was going in New Orleans just a few days after the flooding from Katrina. Check out links like these:
Washington Post columnist addresses whether George Bush cares about black people
Black apologist article that addresses kanye's lack of political awareness
National Review article that addresses the need for the democratic leadership to distance themselves from Kanye
Well if Mr. West intended to be controversial and use his fame to start a dialogue, he has been successful, but I just find it strange that in the midst of having real questions that need to be answered about the direction of this country economically, globally and socially, that Mr. West's name is on so many people's lips. Who knows how we are going to pay the aftermath and a war in Iraq, especially without a tax hike? Who cares that the administration that has made virtually no headway on domestic issues like health care in the last five years is being entrusted to fix a problem far more difficult and complex. Let's dissect the statements of “the college dropout" instead. The media can easily find 100 other people who are saying truly insightful things and raising serious questions, but instead we are collectively wrapped around the axle over what a rapper said. Not that rappers cannot be astute and savvy...but this is a fairly easy fraternity to join considering that Snoop Dogg, Paul Wall, and Lil' Kim all maintain esteemed positions in the rap world.
So why Kanye? Maybe he actually struck a nerve, but I just don't understand why so many people who have nothing to do with hip hop or pop culture are focusing on Mr. West. Here is a man whose music career is based on a) being a producer with a strong ear for what will sound good on radio (yet he possesses very little musicianship) and b) being a rapper whose image is built on exposing a typical middle class identity crises: accepting the money/power oriented values system of a global market economy or trying to transcend that through some form of self awareness and introspection and observation of the human condition. Oddly Kanye ends up generally being cynical about his ability to transcend the values of the culture he lives in and always returns to the safety and comfort of identifying with money, fame, and popularity rather than a more self-determined since of self worth. Kanye always seems to be winking to the listener that although he is caught up in the rat race, at least he can claim to be a winner even if he still is a rat. (Don't get me wrong, Kanye's honesty is refreshing because at least we can identify with him instead of the alpha male ruthless warrior image of a 50 Cent.)
So given this guy's modus operandi why are people looking to him for social commentary? Do we really expect some insight to come from a guy who struggles with the decision of whether to where his jewelry or not? Yet so many people are going on tirades criticizing him as a conspiracy theorist and racist or just an immature unaware celebrity, which by the way he is entitled to be since his job is to make pleasant sounds and rhyme words. Why are engineers at my job asking me about what I thought of Kanye's comments as if that is a good starting point for a dialogue between two people who work for a major defense contractor and have tons more insight to how the government really works? I feel silly even having to respond to , but probably not as silly as they feel when I ask them how they would feel if I asked them about what Britney Spears or Tom Cruise has to say.
I think the media people addressing his comments are either just trying to get some publicity or they must feel like Kanye is representative of black people in general. To a certain degree, Kanye's perspective is very typical even if it is simplistic, but that applies to most Americans who have never developed the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and accept how broad the and complex the truth tends to be. I understand some people will chalk Kanye's statements up to his being black...but these are people who don't want what they think challenged in the first place and so they just dismiss Kanye as racist or absurd. Dismissing Kanye is easy to do given what he said...but if he had been eloquent, balanced and insightful these people would have only had to strain a lot harder to find something wrong with him and dismiss him none the less.
The strange thing is that no amount of character assassination is going to change the fact that we live in a country that is creating large communities of people who feel the way that Kanye does (even after they make money and prove themselves capable of thriving in this money driven culture). So I just don't understand why a legitimate columnist in a newspaper like the Washington Post actually feels a need to stir up the debate about whether George Bush does in deed care about black people, as if answering this burning question will put us on the path to enlightenment and the betterment of society. I read an article where Laura Bush was agitated enough to call Kanye's comments disgusting. I wonder if Ms. Bush realizes that by even feeling a need to respect Kanye's accusation with an emotionally charge retort, she makes me more suspicious that maybe Kanye had struck a tender little sore spot.
I don't understand why George Kane [writer of the second article linked above], who is black, feels a need to dumb himself down to have a one sided debate with Mr. West as a means of criticizing the perspective of the general black community (which as we all know gets treated as some monolithic uniform political and social perspective). Large segments of the black community tend to be insular in terms of political and social views and several powerful perceptions linger that lead to gross accusations like: "white people are all racist, the government wants to destroy the black community, etc." But large segments of the white community are insular and hold on to several powerful perceptions. This is a product of people of all colors not interacting with folks of diverse backgrounds and coming to naturally see how human just about everyone is on a personal level. So what purpose does it serve for George Kane to attack poor black people who blame racism for the failure of our government to give their lives more economic priority? Does it make it any better if the disregard for someone's life is due completely to classicism? It appears that Mr. Kane just wants to establish how erroneous Kanye's thinking is so he can establish how erroneous most black people's thinking is...so that he can dismiss the legitimacy of anything the angry victims or the angry people who sympathize with them have to say.
Finally, I am saddened that a portion of the democratic leadership has to think about distancing themselves from the "Kanye perspective" in order to attract votes from the centrists who have drifted over to the Republican party. What they are essentially saying is that Democrats may be able to appeal to the marginally racist angry white people who might vote along their class interests if the Dems can just avoid the perception that they sympathize at all with the poor black people who are angry and dissatisfied with the government. I guess being a college drop out really did hurt Kanye, because to hear the media tell it, his limited political awareness and inability to find more acceptable ways of articulating his feelings is going to determine the next president. And they have the nerve to criticize this guy for having a big head...
The funny thing is that Kanye will probably have a field day with this on his next album when he decides to criticize those who got his "celebrity" confused with his "credibility". It could have been worse though...Mike Jones would have slurred thought diamond and platinum encrusted teeth that George Bush don't care about black people and then repeated himself twice to punctuate his statement.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The article echoes a great deal of what I have been tossing around in my head lately. Here is my reaction to the article:
The essay is very in-line with some of the ideas put forth in that Thomas Friedman book "The World is Flat". I have been giving a lot of thought as of lately about the average aspirations of members of our culture, especially Generation X and Generation Y. We are watching "Cribs", "Pimp My Ride", "Wild On..." and a whole slew of other television shows that glorify not only a life of privilege and access, but a life of easily obtained and maintained wealth. The biggest celebrities are rappers like Snoop, heiresses like Paris, sports stars like Anna, and moguls like the Donald. There is a funny passage in the Friedman book that I will paraphrase here...
[Bill Gates is an unmatched celebrity in China. When he speaks at public events there, his engagements immediately sell out, and one has to pay ridiculous scalper prices (or risk hanging from the rafters) in order to get in to see him. This man who leveraged technology and made a fortune is an icon to the Chinese people...he is the Britney Spears of China. The problem with the United States is that Britney Spears is the Britney Spears of the America.]
It seems the American dream is to have access to wealth but not work very hard for it...or maybe to get rich for doing something we appear to do effortlessly and naturally such as Jay-Z's heralded gift for lyrics or Paris' gift for knowing what's hot. Our media is chiefly obsessed with wild consumerism and we all compete to appear affluent yet non-plussed by the demands of creating that affluent lifestyle. Almost everyone I know of is trying to figure out how to "flip" some real estate and make a quick $100,000. I say live it up if you catch a windfall because $100,000 U.S. isn't going to be much in ten years. American currency has been so stable for so long that most people just don't understand how quickly the dollar is crumbling. I don't think very many Americans have an idea of how much the currency is being devalued (although current gas prices and the higher cost of goods driven by Hurricane Katrina hurting so much of the nation's shipping infrastructure will probably make some people sit up and take notice.) Maybe that haven't noticed that a night out at the movies is getting more expensive even though the movies aren't getting any better, unless you find The Dukes of Hazzard to be truly groundbreaking cinema. Most people that I interact with these days cannot fathom why America cannot support a significant segment of its population retiring and living off the passive income from investments...that investing in America is only a good idea as long as America's economy continues to grow. If ain't nobody working, ain't nobody eating. I am not anti-investment. Even without much sound economic know-how, it is probably a good idea for most of us to invest some money as a hedge against whatever the future holds, but I really think most folks just don't see how we cannot have a country full of poor people doing service jobs, and a large upper class that does little else but check there net worth from time to time. The "get-rich-quick" types are everywhere and what amazes me is that some of them can barely do long division much less make sense of the reams of financial information out there.
Don't get me wrong, the rich have gotten rich because they understand how to make money work for them, but becoming rich and staying rich still takes a great deal of hard work and skill. My friend (let's call him Alex) who left a moderately well paid engineering position at a defense company last year to manage his real estate investments full-time is still just as busy as ever. He has to hustle even more because he doesn't have the benefit of a steady income provided by labor laws that protecting him from being abruptly fired for making a mistake. If he makes a mistake it can be costly. But I am not talking about people like Alex when I speak of "get rich quick types". Alex still has enough economic and analytical sense to spot good financial deals regardless of what "experts" who stand to make money off of him have to say. Alex is adaptable enough and perceptive enough to see the winds of change start to blow and make the adequate adjustment, but he will tell anyone that it is a full time job monitoring so much. The "get rich quick type" feels like there is a simple formula (that they are usually getting out of some book or program that made made some other guy rich, or even worse just following the advice of someone who makes money off of investing their money) to success, and they never ever question why they are so blessed as to have stumbled upon the secret to wealth.
Underneath all of this is a growing crisis of a large population that is for lack of better words, not very bright. They watch the news which is dumbed down for their consumption. (Remember how turned off most of us were by Shakespeare because of how hard it was to understand? People surf the channels until they find a palatable news source that doesn't make them feel stupid. Fox News gets the great ratings they get because they "do all the thinkin' fer ya".) And you don't have to be a genius, but you do have to be self aware enough to just use your own good common sense and experience no matter how much it flies in the face of the "conventional wisdom" being pushed by all the pundits. A country in which more people know Brad Pitt is dating Angelina Jolie than know how to calculate compound interest is a country full of people just waiting to be duped. A fool and his money, indeed.
Of course America isn't totally screwed. America's main advantage still is the stable and highly regulated capital markets and the fact that it still leads the world in technical innovation. This is great for the truly wealthy or connected people who have access to valuable trust-worthy investment expertise (i.e. not the free crap you get on CNBC) or those who are developing their scientific and rational faculties in the sciences, technical institues, med schools, law schools, B-schools and other upper echelons of academia that don't include 90% of the diploma mill universities and colleges in this country. In spite of their credentials, most average Americans simply cannot get very far thinking independently for themselves. They cannot think in the rational terms needed to deal with economics, accounting, the sciences and technology, and they are living off the froth of fifty years of American dominace in the global market place. But that dominace is fading as the very globalization we pushed in order to gain access to cheap goods and labor, means that all the world's most industrious people no longer necessarily want to live here and let our economy benefit from their brilliance. With outsourcing sending simple (and not so simple) jobs overseas, how many people know how to update their skills and their abilities and be adaptable? How many are talented or creative enough to develop a highly specialized service or product that will keep them financially viable?
I hate to be a doomsdayer, but I really see dark days ahead for a large portion of the American public. Maybe it will be good thing as America will be forced into acting more like the meritocracy it has always claimed to be, finally searching out the most talented people for positions instead of nepotism, the good old boy network, and other bad business practices that have repeatedly put unqualified people in positions of power...like the head of FEMA for instance. Maybe this is why our military is so out of control...maybe the only way for America to keep the party going for much longer is to continue looting and robbing the rest of the world and acting like some kind of global mafia forcing the world to pay "protection" money so that we can keep the cess pool swirling a little longer...
I hate to say it, but it looks like 1:45 a.m and the bar is closing, and everyone is starting to look a whole lot worse as the lights are coming up...
Thursday, June 02, 2005
The author, Bruce Perry, that wrote the Malcolm biography that all of the controversy stems from is a fairly reputable scholar. Of course Perry seems most interested in putting forth a psychological profile of Malcolm, and so his bio focused primarily on Malcolm's early years (when psyches are most powerfully shaped). It does appear that Perry was most concerned with uncovering childhood traumas and speculating on how those traumas impacted his later public life. It is left to the reader to determine how objective and discerning Perry was in the interviews he conducted for his book.. I tend to believe there is some veracity to Perry's account, but you don't need to turn to Perry to see evidence that Malcolm had at the least, less sexual inhibitions than most of his contemporaries. Even in Malcolm's own autobiography, Malcolm recounts stories of when he was an addict, being involved in some rather illicit behavior with "fetish" clients.
Now whether Malcolm was drawn into this world due to fighting the throes of drug addiction or using his addiction as an excuse to act out his own latent fantasies (that he had been acting out for years according to Perry's book) is not of much consequence to me. Those who feel a need to protect Malcolm's legacy from his alleged past are reflecting their own attitudes, not only about sexuality, but about morality on brother Malcolm. Malcolm was a pimp, a numbers runner, and a junkie before going to prison and joining the Nation of Islam (NOI). Once ostracized from the NOI he continued to develop in his faith and morality, putting down the hate mongering rhetoric that had promoted him to the most visible minister under Elijah Muhammed. Most people use Malcolm's life arc from common criminal, to pedagogue, to true spiritual leader and humanitarian as a shining example of growth and development of the human spirit in love and compassion as it seeks out truth. So my question is, even if one feels that homosexual behavior is wrong (or at the least believes homosexual behavior is not becoming a leader such as Malcolm), why do they feel like this part of Malcolm's history would mar his entire legacy if all of this occurred in the same years as his criminal youth? Is it because our own homophobic society feels that homosexuality is not only a sin, but an unforgivable one? If this is the case how is consensual sex between any two individuals less forgivable, than exploiting one's financially hobbled community with a numbers racket, or exploiting another person as a sexual object. Why would it not magnify his luminosity if it could be demonstrated that he overcame his 'sexual pathologies' just as he overcame other social pathologies like drug addiction and hate? My gut feeling is that most mainstream attitudes are informed by the personal experience that "we can run from, but we cannot hide from what we desire sexually." You might not act on those desires, but they are always there and too visceral to be tamed by reading, fellowship, and natural maturation. How ironic, that some would believe in Malcolm's ability to exorcise the demons of drug addiction, ignorance, hate, and materialism, but we don't really believe he could have changed his internal world? But in this accusation lies the confirmation that we believe in the the immutability of one's sexuality. So aren't we also admitting that the feelings and internal reality of homosexuality are not a conscious choice, even if one has unlimited control over how to deal with those feelings?
No matter how much one deems homosexuality as unnatural, it seems to me one must either assume that Malcolm transcended and overcame, or made the best set of possible choices given what he could never hope to change? So the question remains, why fight so vehemently to protect Malcolm's legacy from these allegations?
On the other hand, those who jump to believe any conjecture about the extent of Malcolm's homosexuality are still seeking the approval of a hostile society. At one level, I understand the need to try to change the opinions of society at large thus increasing one's freedom within that society. (Even as a heterosexual man, I find the limitations imposed on me by a society that is hostile towards not only homosexuality, but anything it deems associated with homosexuality to be a superfluous constraint on my own self-fulfillment. One is constantly made aware of the "witch hunt" mentality, even those who are best qualafied to hunt out a concealed sexual identity are persons who have experience in concealing their own identity, but I digress.) But I don't know if trying to use Malcolm's actions as some kind of proof of the legitimacy of all sexualities makes a lot of sense. Brother Malcolm stood up for black people, poor people, and ultimately stood up for the human race, but he never expressly stood up for sexual liberation, that I know of. If Malcolm was indeed homosexual, his failure to disclose this fact demonstrates an attitude of shame or at the least indifference, which doesn't make him a role model for self acceptance or even embracing diversity. If he had meant to fight that battle for the liberation of sexuality, most certainly he had the courage to fight that fight. So my strongest thought about those who seek to "de-mystify" the sexuality of Malcolm is they are still trying to convince themselves of the rightness of their own actions or attitudes. They still do not trust in their own indwelling sense of determining what is right and true for the spirit that lies within. This is not unlike when black people used to have that argument over whether Beethoven was black. History does suggest that Beethoven had some ancestors who migrated from North Africa, via Spain, but the racial make up of these ancestors was most likely Arabic, not the presumed native Nubian. But what does it say about my own talent and ability and worth if Beethoven was or was not black? If I trust in the unique and intrinsic worth of my own life I will not seek out other people with similar races, sexualities, or any other arbitrary personal quality to validate my own worth, goodness, or correctness. Using Malcolm's stature as one of the greatest men of the twentieth century to justify one's own choices is about as mature as using Bill Clinton history of marijuana use or George Bush's history of cocaine use as justification for one's own use of drugs. If I really trust in the legitimacy of my feelings/actions I am completely indifferent to the choices others have made in the same regard. My only concern is with trusting my own experience and understanding the repercussions of my choices.
Of course this is a path that requires constant improvement because few of us can say we truly defer to no one. As I write this...I am wondering what some of you will say in response...?
Thursday, May 19, 2005
My first attempt at loading a photo. This was taken at Mammoth Mountain, CA this past March when my brother and my roomates (Joel on the far left, Jay middle left) rolled up to Bad Boy 2005 with me playing host. We are standing at the top of Chair 5. Feel free to spread my ashes here when my time comes.
I will try to post more photos of my adventures here and also include pictures of anyone I name drop...My digital camera has been out of commission for a while so don't expect a whole lot of visuals...
Monday, May 16, 2005
I don't think humans ever forget either. Some of us are all too aware of what our tattoos say about us, but we are very adept at hiding them from others and ourselves. After all, few people want to rescue a hurt soul (especially when they are hurting so much that they too want to be rescued) so we cover the wounds as best we can. As adults, we get to create our identity, and in creating our image, we can try to fool the world about our past...about what is still raging inside of us. But no matter how good we get at walking the walk and talking the talk, our hearts and souls still remember every detail of our past. Our histories inform our inner experience even if we completely transform the outer appearance. We may not consciously remember all of our experiences, but its obvious to me that they are documented succinctly in the way we seek love, make choices, search for joy, and parry fear. (I have observed in myself how much time I have spent trying to develop attributes within, that I was really seeking out in other people. I know this is completely ass backwards, but there is a very logical reason for this behavior: knowing what it is I truly desire in my companions, I have always assumed that there would be other like-minded folks who are seeking the same things that I am seeking. I could live vicariously through their experiencing what it is that I always wanted, yet was too fearful or pessimistic to think i could ask for and receive.)
No one blames the dog for being the way that it is when it gets older. We can instantly empathize with the dog. Even if the dog gets vicious and hostile when cornered, we might be scared of the dog, but we can still understand that the dog is reacting to its past, its history, and its training. But for some reason we expect humans to turn eighteen and instantly start transcending their entire past, history and training. Any poor decisions or unhealthy behavior made as an adult is completely the responsibility of the adult, and rarely do we take that person's past, history and training into account. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone needs a free pass. After all, if a dog becomes too dangerous we put it down, and in much the same way we have a penal system that is supposed to discourage acting out any kind of way. But in the realm of legal behavior, there is still so much that we as a society remain hostile towards. We remain hostile towards the promiscuous woman who offers her own weak form of love in a desperate attempt to feel loved. She is a whore, or a tramp, or a slut. We remain hostile towards the drug user (maybe a crime depending on the drug of choice and the location of the user) who seeks to escape the oppression of this own internal reality. We remain hostile towards just about everyone who has a past that is painful to the point of being unmanageable. I guess we are all so busy just barely trying to manage our own bullshit, that we are already up to our eyeballs in it, and cannot stand another ounce of it...kind of how nobody seems to mind their own vintage of flatulence, but are disgusted if they have to suffer through someone else’s stink.
Still it seems sad that we tell ourselves that all dogs go to heaven, but we never seem to really believe in our own innocence and goodness before the internal abstraction we call God.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
I ain't mad at you, Paul. You have $20 billion dollars. You could spend it on a lot worse things than a yacht. As a matter of fact, exhausting your money on petty consumer spending sprees is good for the economy. But then again, The Octopus is now the world’s largest privately owned yacht, and Allen already owned the world’s 3rd largest yacht before he had this one built. He who has the gold, makes the rules and in this case we can do nothing, but respect the fact that fact that Paul Allen appears to have a ton of gold and is unashamed of what his spending says about his own internal rulebook. I am not judging Paul Allen, nor do I have the time and inclination to research him so that I can judge him. He could be giving away more money to philanthropic interests than anyone else in America and his yacht (and the Trailblazers) is his one weakness. I am concerned about what Paul Allen's boats say about all of us and our own inability to recognize insatiability within ourselves. What I am wondering is how healthy is capitalism for the soul?
It just seems that there is some insidious force in the average man’s psyche that never tires of acquiring or at least managing physical resources. Although the uber-wealthy like Allen are not average economically, there is no logical reason to think the wealthy have a different psychological foundation, especially the noveau riche who achieve their wealth after a loss affluent childhood. I have read websites that claimed that an American with an income of $60,000 is in the top 1% of the world in terms of affluence. These websites might have a questionable way of arriving at their numbers, but we can all agree that the U.S. is grossly wealthy compared to South America, Africa, the Middle East, and most of Asia. Even with an adjustment for the relatively high cost of living in the United States, your average middle class citizen who has time to read this blog is a wealthy capitalist.
So this insidious psychic force that lies within the heart of the democratic majority is real. Whatever that force is, wealth (and the accompanying power) often gives that force enough leverage to allow us to endlessly try to demonstrate our own triumph over powerlessness and meaningless. But ultimately we never feel truly in control of all the factors that generate anxiety and threaten our contentment, nor do we ever come any closer to the certainty of our own meaning and significance. (In my own experience, I have not found tithing and charitable giving, to be any more fulfilling than spending or saving ). We can never insulate ourselves from the randomness of the universe, nor the smaller things we fear like betrayal, physical suffering, loss and grief.
But what is to stop a man with 20 billion dollars from pursuing his fantasy that having the biggest yacht and the third biggest yacht in the world are going to bring him the experience he is searching for. Nothing. After all, I suffered from the delusion that my original IPOD which only held 10 GB (approximately 500 hours of music) was not enough and I just HAD to have the 40 GB model. My friends (who are all capitalists and therefore not necessarily objective about consumer spending) probably encouraged me to splurge. Maybe they really empathize with me emotionally and understood the role music plays in how I experience life, but I think most of their encouragement is based in their attempt to resolve their own inner conflict concerning their consumer habits. As for the 10GB IPOD in question. I lost it while travelling, but I cannot help but think I did that unconsciously in order to ease the conflict, by creating an artificial need to replace what I had already grown accustomed to having. I did upgrade to the 40 GB model, rationalizing that the art is so important to me and my existence. Truth is that contained within my search for the bigger and better things, is the tacit admission that I suspect my current set of resources and belongings are far from optimally enhancing my experience on this planet. In short…I suspect that I can be happier if I buy stuff.
I mean don’t get me wrong. If hungry, I should recognize those feelings and feel blessed that I can afford to eat. But when I pass grocery stores and small family run restaurants in Mid City, to hit the tony coffee house on Melrose, or the California-cool diner on Beverly with the dope jukebox….I am obviously trying to satisfy more than just physical hunger. For some reason, I cannot always tell the difference between sincere emotional desire and unrealistic fantasies that can never be satiated. Without that ability to discern I am left playing an endless game of trial and error that requires an intense amount of being honest with myself. Whether the investment be money are time, it takes a lot of honesty to admit to myself that I did not get the results I wanted when I went to the club or when I went to church or when I hung with folks that I strain to be myself around.
I hope I am not just being optimistic in a "New Agey" kind of way when I say that I have learned more and more how to be truthful with myself over the years (and although I reserve a lot of grief/anger for what my parents did not teach me, I can never thank them enough for teaching me the one value of trusting myself that has saved me from self destruction time and time again). With my honesty I have learned from my experiences. I can eat a large meal and feel full, but that inner hunger is much harder to satisfy with consumerism. As I have acquired more money and power, I have not increased my ability to satisfy the internal hunger, but those “lotto” fantasies of the answer being out there in the places we go and the stuff we have (and in my case the intellectual capital I amass) are hard to let go of. How many gym rats know better, but suffer from a sneaky suspicion that another abs class is the key to maintaining their whole social standing? How many engineers know better, but suffer from a sneaky suspicion that more understanding of technology and mathematics will give them mastery over an internal world that is too subjective to interpret with objective scientific reasoning. How many billionaires know better, but suffer from the suspicion that they must answer to that little boy inside that still wants more and more big toy boats that they didn’t get as a child.
What a sneaky suspicion, but it is so ubiquitous that it nearly runs the American consumer economy. Plus having the means to address the suspicion means we all hold a great responsibility. And even those of us who are more conscientious of that responsibility have to contend with the pressure of general consensus, not to mention the fact that marketing/mass media has evolved into being the art of creating and amplifying our sneaky suspicions about what is missing from our lives in the most powerful yet covert ways, whether it is selling someone the new 3 series BMW or a bottle of Corona. An entire industry has popped up that attacks us psychologically every day and says, “bigger and better house, bigger and better car, bigger and better erections”….all the while implying the greatest fantasy of them all: bigger and better you. “Be like Mike” indeed.
And thus capitalism is the ideal economic system for allowing us the most empowerment towards chasing these fantasies and acquiescing to the sneakiest of suspicions. Of course it is also the ideal economic system for not restraining the destructive potential of our single-minded competition driven value system. It seems that capitalism is an arduous test of the spirit and the soul and the only real problem is that it appears that most of us fail the test and never get to enjoy the true freedom capitalism was intended to nurture within our democracy. What I appreciate about living in a relatively free country is that I have had the chance to experience unfettered capitalism and I am slowly being allowed to develop the wisdom to not succumb to its seduction. I still have lapses. As we speak, I really want a new set of noise canceling headphones for my IPOD, and I still frequently fail the test of turning off Nelly’s 'Tip Drill' video when it flashes across my screen and hypnotizes me at my most visceral level. (One of these days, I am going to do an entire entry about the marketing brilliance in terms of appealing to the fantasies of young men of that video). But I still wonder if one man’s decision to rebel makes a difference, so that is why I shared this with you today. I hope it spoke to you, but just in case you too feel too weak to resist the seduction, I leave you with this final quote:
‘Not one snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche’
Go with god.
*I did not check the veracity of the information in the powerpoint presentation, nor has my father proved to be consistent in filtering out erroneous information in his prodigious amount of forwarding. However the information contained in the powerpoint presentation did stimulate the ensuing thoughts and whether the data in the presentation be true or not, I still find that it resonates with my own experience.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
As far as I can tell, addiction is a compulsion to repeatedly do something that is either physically unhealthy, emotionally pathological, or really annoying to others. My addictions are many, but there is one addiction that I must confess to for I can no longer hide the pain, guilt and shame within…
I am addicted to parenthetical remarks (you know those comments that reveal the inner feelings of the speaker by establishing an entirely new, yet candid thought mid-sentence). I cannot remember the last time I wrote a journal or blog entry that did not contain at least one parenthetical remark (not that I am all neurotic and would actually attempt to write a parenthetical-less entry just to demonstrate the ability to myself). I even converse in parenthetical remarks (dropping my voice an octave to dramatize the parentheticality). Maybe I am just in love with the actually punctuation mark. The soft curve of the parenthesis is so inviting (not rigid and formal like the brackets, yet not overly ornate like the braces). They almost appear to be giving the text they surround a big group hug.
But everyone makes a parenthetical statement from time to time, you say. Its okay to indulge in a little digression from time to time, right? Maybe so, but I came up with this little test to identify my fellow addicts. If you see that someone has opened a set of parenthesis, but forgotten to close them, are you saddened (or angry and disturbed that anyone could be so cruel as to leave a parenthesis mark out by itself in the middle of the page, without its cosmic twin to provide closure and balance to the universe? Do you forget you are in mid-parenthetical and nest parenthetical statements within parenthetical statements? (As an aside, I know it is okay in mathematics, but is it grammatically acceptable to put a parenthetical statement inside a parenthetical statement (like this) or is that poor form?) Do you rationalize to yourself that your use of parenthesis has never led to anything stronger, like say…abusing ellipses…all on some stream of consciousness shit…with no regard whatsoever to if anyone can actually follow your crazy ass train of thought? Do you secretly feel superior to people who rely heavily on commas, viewing their inability to truly break free of traditional sentence structure as some character flaw or sign of cowardice. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you my friend, might have a problem.
But there is one sure fire way to know: If you cannot stop sitting on the fence with every statement you make by parenthetically playing devil’s advocate to your own statements, you are certainly addicted to parenthetical statements.
Thanks for indulging my silly mood today (like you actually read this far.)
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
I don't think I have ever loved anyone beyond a certain kind of semi-noble non-committal brotherly/paternal style of love. I don't even know if I have the capacity to love a singular person, but I have spent most of my life on an emotional island. The island is deserted but just lush enough to seem like I could live here indefinitely without starving to death or succumbing to the elements. I have access to a small dinghy, but I don’t know how to navigate so I have spent most of my life hoping someone would come rescue me from my island. I always reasoned that someone who is patient enough to wait for me, confident enough to know their own worth, and tenacious enough to deal with my faltering could draw something more genuine and sincere out of me, but why would someone like that be interested in rescuing people. Occasionally in my life, I think people have come and visited me at the island. Many of them I have charmed for a while, but of course no one will stay on my island forever and they have invited me to follow them out on the open seas. I have hopped in my boat to chase after them, but there is always a critical point where I see my little island fading in the distance and realize that if I go any further I will be lost. Lacking faith in my ability to catch up with anyone (everyone else seems to be in a clipper ship) I have never strayed far from island.
I have known I was this way for years. I recently found this poem that I had written years ago and I still find it applicable to me today. It was meant to be a performance piece so forgive the style…
Cast a Way
I feel alone on a deserted island...like a castaway
you know...like this tom hanks movie I saw the other day
that didn't really make any sense to me when it ended
but neither does my life so I guess me and tom are kindred
the weirdest part was that he pretended
a volleyball was his best friend-did
you see this flick kid?
Maybe its just me but I felt like Tom just killed it..
but on further review...I know my situation is different.
After all, I don't have a clue how I got to my current location,
and no amount of tracing through my history reveals the exact causation
of my facing this separation...
this aloneness...this solitude...this insignificance
and I am unrepentant
for any decisions that resulted in my current predicament.
For I have no regrets
I still find myself unable to get
off this fucking island...
so I keep staring at the horizon
hoping someone will fly in
and rescue me.
So I continue to cry out profusely
Anyway, that’s my fantasy:
freed from the jail to which my own ego has banished me
without having to leave its security on my own…
to face the unknown
made even more aware of my insignificance
in the infiniteness
of the abyss
that surrounds my current existence.
I guess I forgot to tell you that I have a boat.
Its in perfect working order as far as I know.
I mean I have gotten in it and rowed
To where the waves cease to throw
the hull to and fro.
But alas, I can go
no further then my eyes can see,
the boundaries of my rationality
won’t allow me the feat
of testing the seas
without first solving its mysteries;
to go out on faith in things so non-concrete
is so foreign to me.
I guess I’d rather face eternity
here in solitary
then face my fears indefinitely.
Most days I smile feeling blessed to have this place that I dwell
But I know that what I call my heaven is really my hell
persisting through pain of purgatory in paradise lost
lingering in limbo rather then paying the cost
of my soul's freedom which seems far too steep
to gain my heart's passion, must i let go of everything?
Sunday, February 13, 2005
They are good kids. After initially seating themselves, the girls notice that there are other patrons standing around. They hop right back up and find out if there is a waiting list to sit down. There is . So they wait, but they end up right back next to me anyway. If I had to guess, I would have said big sister was out for brunch with her best friend, but saddled with taking her little brother and his buddies along. Those car keys come with a lot of strings attached, sweetheart. But its worth it to her so she doesn’t even complain, today.
I conjure up some “just-turned-40” mother-figure somewhere in View Park delighting in her childless and suddenly tranquil home. She still has a beauty about her, but her face is rigid in spite of the soft signs of age creeping in. She is smiling now though, probably relishing the moment over the phone with her sister-in-arms. “Girrrrrl, I am so glad Tianna can drive now." Mom is still hanging on to her vanity and is a couple years shy of that humility and wisdom folks seem to acquire the moment their children are grown and no longer have to even pretend to listen. She actually catches herself in the mirror in mid-conversation and sees a glimpse of what she is going see later when those kids have left for good and don’t need her anymore, but she shakes off the panic at the letter "p", and comforts herself with the prospect of freedom from the last 16 years of semi-dutiful service...
The youngsters snatch me back from my cynical daydream with all of their unmitigated energy. Somehow they are demanding my attention without them actually desiring it, but they don’t mind me too much because I look just young enough to sorta, kinda understand, or so I tell myself. They look really happy to be out and unsupervised, but I only see flashes of their excitment because they are all wearing that same requisite "bored as fuck" expression. A man is strolling over towards this end of the cafe, and one of the girls lights up at the sight of a familiar face. They exchange kisses, hugs, and warm, familiar small talk, but he leaves quickly not wanting to wear out his tenuous welcome. "That was my uncle Bernard," she reports still beaming from the fact that Uncle Bernard is smart enough to say something sincere to his niece almost everytime he sees her to let her know how special she is to him.
With Uncle B. gone and out of earshot, its back to kicking it hard. You remember those first few experiences of glorious teenage freedom - that self satisfied feeling of budding maturity and unrestrained optimism about what the future held now that life might finally be really beginning? Oh yeah, a couple of these little angels are feeling quite grown judging by the way they are letting loose, now. Early on, I hear a “fuck” here and a “shit” there and I glance up trying to give them a look that says, “I recognize y’all little heathens from church AND I know your motherAND I will tell her how yall was cuttin' up in Jordan's today,” but my face betrays me. I cannot help cracking an amused little smile at the awkwardness of how young people sound when first learning to curse. They don't have the "fffah" or the "kuh" sound quite right, and it just sounds so un-vulgar. They decide right then in there, the dude that looks like a broke Bob Marley at the next table ain't tripping.
As I sit trying to read my magazine and do my best “sensitive artistic dude in the corner of the restaurant” impersonation, I keep picking up bits and pieces of their conversation. What they think of as just "everyday conversating" sounds like them trying to pick apart each other's self-esteem to me. Every word reminds me of how indoctrinated I was with destructive concepts of self image from an early age. “She is light-skinned with long hair,” I hear one of the boys say about some girl who is not present, but with an inflection that confidently confesses that it is not just his preference, but the obvious preference of all boy-dom. He is not old enough to be ashamed of the fact that he has accepted some ill-favored notion of beauty, nor is he cunning enough to mask his objectionable predilection. He is certainly not empathic enough to see that the two beautiful girls before him don’t fit that mold and are already resigned about it. Neither of them even blinks, but one matter of factly admits, “her hair is longer than mine.”
I start to feel sad for these girls. I start thinking of why my community still cannot break these cycles rooted in self-loathing no matter how many times we tell the next generation how it all started. Somehow the kids see through us and realize that we still haven’t gotten over our own issues, and are not practicing what we preach. Why should they be strong where we are weak? I want to interrupt their conversation and tell them its bullshit and that they don’t have to accept anyone’s definition accept their own…but I don’t. Maybe its because I am still struggling with how I define myself and feel some guilt over all the secret pleasure I took as a child in being light-skinned with "good hair". "Nah," I rationalize to myself. I need to listen to these kids because they are me, without the sophistication and pretense, and expertise at cloaking all of my own insecurities and uncertainties. They can teach me a thing or two not only about who I was, but who I am still. And besides they are just expressing themselves.
But they don't let me off the hook that easily. I think the oldest girl realizes she has a unique chance to demonstrate to all of the others just how grown she is, because half way through her brunch she decides her new favorite phrase is “nigga, please”. Startled by the fact that I thought she was talking to me (no other niggas around here), I find myself subsequentlyy eavesdropping behind my hoisted copy of Psychology Today. But after she drops that first one, she just starts letting them fly in spite of the fact that everything about her says, she NEVER speaks that way at home. And she isn't speaking to the imaginary nigga in the sky either. She is slapping down every other comment her brother and his friends make like Big Six on a domino table. She starts exploring the phrase like John Coltrane covering the melody of an old pop tune. First she stresses the "Nigga". Then she accentuates the "Please". Then she comes with the rapid fire "niggaplease", and finishes up her masterpiece: the staccato and drawn out "Nig-Ga-Puh-Leaze".
Am...am I flinching?
Thankfully she stops here...She mercifully keeps "nizzle, plizzle" in the chamber.
And it seems strange that she keeps addressing these handsome little men with the term “nigga”, but what do I say? I have not exorcised the word from my own vocabulary and even if I cease using the word out loud, how do I erase it from my mental lexicon. Still, I don't think nigga is being used appropriately in this setting. These boys are not old enough to be niggas. They don’t even look like little niggas in training. Well, one of them does have on a throwback, but its almost cute like pajamas or something. Niggas are man-children who cannot take responsibility for themselves and blame their environment. Niggas are brothers with no sense of history or concern for the future. But these little fellas are still wide eyed and searching. Niggas are self-defeating and caught up in a vicious cycle…and know it. They buy those rims that never stop spinning, because they need to express to the world from somewhere deep inside their soul that they are stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to outnigga the next nigga. But I guess this is the age where it starts to happen…I am watching these innocent little children turn into niggas right in front of my face. They are trying to fight it, but the evidence is strong and compelling that the fight cannot be won at all. Afterall, sitting right there at the table next to them is black man who has been struggling against that same stereotype his whole life and knows how insidious it is. The furrow in his brow displays the wounds of a battle to stomp that word and everything it represents to death with his dynamic, unique, relavent, complex, and damn near brilliant self, and in spite of all that...the nigga is dead silent.