Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mojo Rising?

I have been meaning to do two things:

1) Call my car insurance company.
2) Write about my mojo.

Somehow, they have wrapped themselves together in what will be this posting.

I wanted to ask the car insurance company about some information which appeared on my last statement. Mostly, I wanted to make sure I didn't have to do anything to actually renew the policy. I also wanted to inquire about a line item that seemed to indicate my rates were about to decrease.

I had been wanting to do that since...oh...last Tuesday. I kept putting it off and putting it off until this Wednesday night finally forced my hand.


On the way to Trader Joe's to grab some groceries, someone two cars behind me had some trouble stopping. And by trouble, I mean they stopped themselves all the way into the car in front of them which so kindly planted a kiss on my back bumper.

As fender benders go, it was nothing to write home about. But for the damage to the front bumper of the car that seemed to initiate the contact and the rear bumper of the car that kissed mine, it almost wouldn't be anything to write your insurance company about either.

But, since all three drivers exchanged insurance information, I figured I may as well give Progressive a ring and knock out a nest of birds with just one stone.


My mojo has been...how shall we say...off...for a while now. I don't recall when it started. Why. Or how. I just know that I've felt like I'm watching a third-string (or maybe a D-League) version of myself in action for quite some time now.

My stories aren't as entertaining as usual. My jokes don't hit like they ought to. And I've been having trouble with words. Like, I'm frequently blanking out on simple things. Not even stuck-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue blank. More like The-Haitian-just-paid-me-a-visit blank. I can't explain it. I just know that I've felt this way. For several weeks.

(Yes, it is possible that my stories were never entertaining at all. That my jokes are notoriously unfunny. And that I am truly an imbecile. It's all possible. Likely, even. But humor me, okay?)

On Thursday, I dialed Progressive from my office. A woman named Roxanne answered. I've only known a couple of Roxannes in my life and, from what I know, a woman named Roxanne is always equals good.


I explained the purpose of my call and we started into the business. Turns out my policy was scheduled to automatically renew. Also turns out that I was eligible for some discounts I wasn't even aware of. Something to do with level of education. Which lead to a tangent about how Roxanne was still stutterstepping her way through grad school. We discussed it for a good 15 minutes. During which I suggested that she parlay her background in archaeology into a career as an astronaut.

(I know archaeology is supposed to be the study of human culture, but why limit it? Can't it be the study of all sentient cultures? Besides, it made Roxanne laugh. And that's what counts.)

We eventually rounded back to the discounts for which I was eligible. $40 lopped off my monthly charge. And a credit of a hundred-some dollars. I explained to her the story of the fender bender that drove me to call. Which caused us to trade stories of other fender benders for 10 minutes or so before Roxanne reported that no claim has been established for the Wednesday night incident.

We traded another couple of jokes. I opted not to initiate a claim (Figuring one of the other drivers might call and want to handle damages offline) and thanked Roxanne for her help. She thanked me for providing the best little chat of the day.


After I hung up, I stepped out of my office and I felt...kinda...normal. Like my mojo had just returned. I didn't know what to do with it. Other than celebrate it with a sandwich and a cup of creamy tomato soup. And to announce on twitter that I had just enjoyed the most pleasant phone call with a car insurance company. Ever.

On Friday, I received a call from State Farm. One of the other drivers had launched the claim process and my angle of the story was needed. It was...a dry, benign experience. Neither good nor bad for the mojo.

I also got a call from the homie Dominic. He shared an idea that sparked a series of conversations which lead to me vaguely helping him connect with RYZ.

Today, Saturday, the homie Donnie called to share some news about his documentary project on the Finday College Prep Hoop team. I gave him what I hope will be some similarly beneficial information.

And now, as I sit in the basement watching college hoop, I'm feeling a lil more like the starting line-up version of myself. Maybe it's the basketball. Maybe it's the reconnects with the old friends. Maybe it was the phone call with Roxanne. Maybe a lil bit of everything.

Who knows? Who needs to?

The mojo. Is rising.

(Maybe.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Is Love?

There are many splendid arrangements driven by love.

But where human mating habits are concerned, there are really only two motives anyone has for choosing to "love" anyone else.

1) Conquest
2) Companionship

You can think of them as stages that comprise a continuum.

You can think of them as competing desires.

You can think of them...as both.

The Conquest Motive has, at its core, the urge to discover.


For some, discovery is an end in and of itself. They love in order to learn about themselves. To learn about other people. To learn about processes. This application of discovery would seem to contradict the word "conquest." But if you channel Derrida for a moment, you can zoom in on descriptors like "acquire" or "gain mastery of" and the idea of a conquest meant to nurture starts to sound pretty feasible.

For others, discovery is the means that leads to some sort of triumph. The literal application of "conquest." I don't know if people still make notches in their bedposts every time they've finished a new lover, but that's kinda how this one works. Maybe you know the concept as a "Cooch Count" or a "Peter Meter." Whatever the case, this application of discovery is all about victory and volume.

Meanwhile, the Companionship Motive is self-evident.


Most people don't like to be alone. Most people prefer familiar company to share...well...pretty much everything. It can start with a laugh and build up to an entire life. Some of it may be compelled by customs. Like, you're just supposed to get married and have kids. Much more of it is inspired by an innate need for simple human contact that is most efficiently fulfilled by choosing a partner who will promise to provide you that point of contact. Maybe it's a permanent arrangement. Maybe it grows out of whatever is most practical at that moment. Bottom line: people need people.

Of course, there are the unlucky ones. The people who genuinely wish to be alone. Those people don't really have a place in this theory. They are evil and heartless. Sub-human, even. And they are known by their scientific name: the San Antonio Spurs.

Now that we understand each of these motives, how exactly do they work?


If we consider them as stages, at some point every person's hormones will scream at them to go out and discover what that thing is that is making the spine tingle, the belly flutter or the heart pound. Which means that Conquest usually comes first. After a person has discovered enough things, their emotional architecture can transform to house a yearning for shared intimacy. That shift signals the kicking in of the Companionship Motive. Basically, Conquest colors adolescence and Companionship is the driver during adulthood.

However, the motives are not exclusive to those two life stages. Which, in short, is why love is messy. But not for everyone.

Some people do all their discovering. Then they get boo'd up. And they're good.

For a lot more people than that, the motives wage something of a civil war. They want to conquer, but they also need a partner. Or maybe the partner doesn't provide the right degree of human contact. So the urge to discover overpowers that unsatisfied desire for fellowship. Or maybe a person realizes there was more to conquer than they had conquered before they opted to jump the broom. Or maybe they picked the wrong partner, the pairing ended and now they're left to go back to the discovering stage whether they really want to or not. The scenarios for this kind of conflict really are endless.


So...that's love. In a nutshell. It's a whole lot easier to type than it is to do. But it's not nearly as perplexing as it might seem.

It's just a matter of understanding why you're doing whatever it is that you're doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Writing Since

If you don't know who Suheir Hammad is, shame on you. If you've never heard the poem below, give up the next 7 minutes of your life to change that.



Now that we've got that out the way, this entry has nothing to with Ms. Hammad. (Except for the homage being paid by its title.) Or Sept. 11. It might have to do with anti-Islamism. But only in a very tangential way.

Two weeks have passed since the United States of America elected Barack Obama as its President.

And it still feels weird to type that. Or say it. Or know it to be true.

The pinch-me-ness of the good guys finally winning something big has yet to dissipate.

The piece-by-piece assembling of President-Elect Obama's cabinet tends to bring it into focus and make it feel more real.

I liked the Rahm Emanuel choice. But am feeling underwhelmed by everyone who has come after. Or everyone who has been rumored after.

While I don't doubt that Barack remains the smartest guy in the room, I am beginning to wonder how many concessions he had to make in order to collect the full support of the established Left.

I believe that change happened.

And I hope change will continue to come.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations to America

There is a non-descript government building that opposes a McDonald's on the corner of 14th and U in NW Washington, DC. Outside this building, a row of flags--an American flag and a couple of other anonymous banners--sprouts from the sidewalk. On any normal day, or night, it is an ordinary site that plays host to little other than a cool breeze and some passing pedestrians.

Last night--as 50 Stars and 13 Stripes whipped jubilantly overhead--I danced in a drum circle while hundreds of citizens of the District of Columbia chanted "USA! USA! USA!" and a warm, Autumn rain washed all of us.

It was a fine American mess. The finest I've ever seen. Or expect to see in my lifetime.

Many better-informed, better-paid, more eloquent people than I will seek to capture for you what the election of Barack Obama means. They--along with many others who hack away like I do--will probably describe their version of the moment. The moment Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America. Every version of the moment will contain its own magic. And every description will rise with ambition to approximate the power that surged within all of us last night.

I can list for you the details of my moment. A cubby hole with a liquor license and a kitchen full of delicious. Stone's throw from Howard University. Old friends. Happy strangers. Tears. Hugs. Applause. Smiles wide like it was a wedding day. Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come." More tears. More hugs. More applause. A toast. A pledge. More hugs. Smiles still wide, unremoved and beaming.

Eventually, many of us took to the streets after a symphony of car horns beckoned us. Someone handed me a pile of Obama'08 signs to pass out. I kept one for myself and wandered west on U Street trying to pierce the sky with it like any good son of Norma Rae would be expected to do. A young, midnight-complected woman hanging out the passenger side window of an Explorer waved me over, squeezed me as if she was trying to pull me into her skin and screamed "OBAMA!!!" for the entire ether to hear.

That drizzle that fell on our nation's capital late last night fell a little bit harder with each passing minute. Sometime after midnight--after Obama delivered the last word of his acceptance speech--the skies dried up. The rain had come. And the rain had gone away.

The rhythm from the drums grew louder. Police sirens wailed halfheartedly. The rhythm grew even louder. Car horns helped keep the beat. Sub-woofers from stoodstill cars blared whatever song the iPod shuffled up next. Someone started an Electric Slide. Everyone else seemed to join in. It was a celebration worthy of Rick James himself.

To some degree, we witnessed an affirmation of American-ness last night. If we have learned anything about this Grand Experiment of ours, though, there lies a mess beneath the make-believe monolith that is these United States of America. Our one nation, some might argue, is structured in a fundamentally divisible way. You can draw up whatever teams you want. Based on whatever terms suit you. In every case, tax-payers will be pitted against each other. There will be an "Us." And there will be a "Them."

On this day, after last night, "Us" can be defined much more broadly than it ever has been. You didn't need to ask anyone on U Street to know that. Their eyes, their smiles and the hugs they gave declared as much. It was as if a good many of us had finally arrived at 1776.

Much later in the dry darkness of this morning, I sat in my bed in Northern Virginia. Inhaling a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and some McDonald's fries. Bar-b-que sauce dripping on my t-shirt. A good friend called from Texas--interrupting the feast--to celebrate and discuss what had happened and what could happen next. There remains, we agreed, a massive amount of work to be done.

For there is a fine American mess that a very different, brand new "Us" can claim, in part, as our own.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Prepping for Election Night in the US

I've heard, read and witnessed a wide variety of emotions being expressed today across the United States as decent and not-so-decent Americans alike have made their choices in the quadrennial clash between good and evil.

This evening, predictably, TV sets will flicker late into the early part of tomorrow. Revealing the ultimate deceit for some and confirming the joys of an impossible reality for others.

Regardless of whom you drew your sword for today, we can be certain of one thing:

Celebration and consolation will taste very much alike. They'll both taste like whiskey.

And the first Wednesday in this November will be a pretty shade of ugly. Or an ugly shade of pretty.

Or, perhaps, it will deliver another fine American mess.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Early Season NBA Thoughts

LeBron James will win an NBA championship before his current contract expires.

I trust Mike D'Antoni. Knicks fans should, too.

D Rose is already the best Chicago Bull.

For as much as people will focus on the importance of New Orleans signing Posey, Mike James and Julian Wright will be the role players who tilt the Hornets' fortunes.

As long as he stays healthy, which he should, D Wade will take Miami to the play-offs.

I love watching Kevin Durant play basketball, but I can't stomach the idea of watching the Oklahoma City whatevers. It just feels wrong.

If I was any player who was nearing the end my third contract and my team was more than 15 games under .500 in Feb, I'd ask for a buyout so I could go play with Kevin Garnett for the veteran minimum.

I'm lukewarm on the Sixers.

I still don't believe in the Rockets.

I do believe in OJ Mayo. And I can't wait 'til he escapes Memphis.

I also believe in the Hawks. Joe Johnson and Horfy are the truth. Acie Law IV is gonna be a ice-cold killer of a third wheel for them. Eventually.

The real Greg Oden won't arrive until sometime in 2010. He'll dominate when does show up, though.

I like the Clipper roster. In a best case scenario, they're this year's Sixers. In a worst case scenario...they're the Clippers.

If the world will simply let Dirk, Kidd and Josh Howard play basketball...I think they'll be pretty good at it.

Tim Duncan looks very fit, very rested, very aggressive and very focused to start the season. He'll probably win the MVP award after the Spurs clinch their division. Unless LeBron or D Wade averages a quintuple double.

Socialism has arrived in America and it wears a Laker uniform. Only two guys (Odom and Ariza) are playing for contracts and neither of them plays a game that requires them to get big numbers to prove their worth. The roster is two (three?) deep at every position. They can play any style they want to play and may invent four new styles this season just for the hell of it. The only thing standing between Showtime 3.0 and the employment of a no-star approach to spreading the stats around is...Kobe. Does Kobe still need the numbers at this point in his career or does he really only care about the ring? Could the effective Europeanization of his team be the intended destination of Phil Jackson's coaching career? I don't know, but it might be the most interesting subplot of this season. And, thankfully, there's reason to believe Mayor Villaraigosa may host a parade down Figueroa in June. Maybe. If Chick Hearn's ghost smiles on the Laker Nation and helps everything break right.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My New Resumé

I am not currently looking for work. Nor do I have a compelling need to update my resumé. I can, however, reduce my resumé to the most essential information you need to know about my working self:

Tim Adkins
Media Guy/Creative Type/Professional Empathizer

Skills:
Can give a very sincere shit about any problem you have and will collaborate with you thoughtfully and artfully to create a solution that leaves you feeling good about yourself and profoundly satisfied with whomever or whatever I have been tasked with representing.

Salary:
Six figures gets you a conversation. Seven figures gets you a meeting. 18 figures gets you my soul for half of eternity. 36 figures gets it 'til the end of all time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Name That Tune

I know this is exactly what Nike wanted bloggers to do for its new Chalk commercial with LeBron, but I'm doing it anyway. Here goes...



What's the name of the song in that ^^^ video?

UPDATE: The answer is "Candyman" from Cornershop.



It took the internet less than 24 hours to answer that one. What'samatter y'all? That's type slow, yo.

Opening Day

With the Lakers-Celtics Finals and the Olympics, there's been very little time for many hoop fans to feel like our lives have been missing anything so far in 2008.

But it has been, like, two whole months since Team USA vanquished the Spaniards to claim this year's Gold.

Thankfully, basketball is back. Are you ready? This guy is:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Be Don Draper

If you don't watch Mad Men, you probably should. If you don't look fantastic in a suit, you probably should. If you don't strut around with supreme confidence, you probably should. If you don't drink and smoke constantly...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Message Is the Message

Yes, I know Marshall McLuhan is spinning in his grave. Which makes this Thursday no different than any other day that someone has invoked or remixed the most famous sentence that ever emerged from McLuhan's typewriter.

To support the title of this post, I'm sharing two clips from my favourite show on anything, C-SPAN's Washington Journal.

Before I do, I want you to put your own personal opinions on these terrifically divisive subjects on the shelf and really listen to what each of the panelists is saying. Taken together, the following clips provide a master class in message discipline.

This one, on both sides I think, is how message discipline is done well:

Washington Journal 10.22.08
Frank Schubert, Yes on CA Prop. 8, Co-Campaign Manager & Kate Kendell, No on CA Prop 8 Campaign discuss California's ballot initiative on same-sex marriage

This one, also on both sides I think, is how tangential elements of your argument can subsume the core of it:

Washington Journal 10.23.08
Crystal Clinkenbeard, No on Colorado Amendment 48 & Bob Enyart, Colorado Right to Life, Director focus on Colorado Amendment 48, known as the "personhood" amendment, defines the term "person" to "include any huan being from the moment of fertilization."

In the case of the second clip featuring the folks from Colorado, Mr. Pro appealed a little too much to the emotions associated with his debate and, though extremely bold in places, he also came off as a lil bit irrational to me. Mrs. Con, on the other hand, raised her hands in defense, but failed to counterattack what she called mischaracterizations with any substantial data of her own.

Having said all that...I hope both measures are soundly defeated. Like the Celtics crushing the Lakers in Game 6. (Yes, I think I'm finally over the NBA Finals.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

How to Save a Life

I don't know much about suicide. But I have an idea about suicide prevention. And I learned it from Rocky IV. Let me share two scenes that explain my theory:





The obvious lesson should be that there is no easy way out; no shortcut home. That what you need to do after you've endured yet another wrist-slitting Monday is sprint up a snow-covered mountain while listening to some super synthy '80s music then beat the crap out of a giant, spiky-haired Russian. It will, undoubtedly, renew your purpose. And, quite possibly, you'll vanquish Communism in the process.

In the event that this John Henry mission leaves you at all unsatisfied, then you can also drink two bottles of wine and pass out at 10:30. That will work, too.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fear Not

I hear talk that there are some people who confess reluctance about voting for Barack Obama because he is not White. (Not White like them, anyway.)

I also hear talk that there are people vigilantly opposed to Barack because they fear creeping socialism. Or an outright move to the furthest, presumably most dangerous realms of liberalism.

And I see a fair amount of exhortations like this:


Obama '08 - Vote For Hope from MC Yogi on Vimeo.

Put it all together and a person can't help but ask, what, really, is the worst that can happen if Barack Obama is elected to serve as the 44th POTUS?

Seriously. What is the worst that can happen?

And, please, be rational. Keeping in mind that there is a system of hard checks and balances (as engineered by T. Jeff and company) and soft checks and balances (as evidenced by the unwavering influence of philosophical hardliners who remain entrenched in the process of governance) that work in tandem to keep the Grand Experiment chugging along.

Granted, we have arrived at a crucial moment in our nation's history where looming executive decisions could forever alter the course toward which we chug.

But, really, what's wrong with backing a smart guy who inspires people to engage in acts that positively impact the greater good(*)?

Why is that something to fear?


(*) "Good" here really does mean "good". Like, your rights to be better off are preserved. Mine are, too. So are all the rights of all our neighbors. And no one is forced to suffer injustice as we preserve those rights or as any of us try to make ourselves better off(**).


(**) "Better off"...well, I can't really say exactly what that means. Something about life, liberty and the pursuit of driving a Cadillac. Or maybe it has something to do with amber waves of grain and purple haze. It's probably not my place to even say. You figure it out for you. I'll figure it out for me. And if we figure differently from each other...well, I'm pretty sure we both retain the right to punch the other in the mouth. Hoo-rah.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Christmas List

I am not asking that any of you buy me anything for the upcoming celebration of the birth of Santa Claus, but if you insist, then please buy me this:

Searching

It's never a good idea to lose someone's phone number.

Especially when she volunteered it.

Especiallier when she already teased you about why you hadn't called her.

Especialliest when she has a cute sister she might (heavy emphasis on might) be trying to hook you up with.

*Resumes what is now a three-day search*

EDIT: Found it. Um...now what do I do?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"You have one ___ message."

There is a voicemail message currently residing on my work phone that was left for me two Septembers ago. Which should tell you three things:

1) I'm a pack rat.

2) I've been collecting paychecks from the same place for a while now.

3) It's one helluva message.

Actually, it's not necessarily the message so much as the person who left it. The guy's surname is Teodorescu and with his accent from wherever it is that he comes, the message begins with him saying what sounds like "to the rescue".

Which is fantastically silly. And never ceases to crack me up.

Especially on those days that feel like they last a week. Or during those weeks that feel like they last a decade. Or during those decades...

Lord, I hope I don't spend 10 years in the same place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scissor Me

No, this isn't about South Park.

It's actually about coupon cutting.

And a woman who might be the best who ever did it.

NPR's Morning Edition reports. Circa yesterday.

(Oh, but if you want to see that episode of South Park again, go here. Season 11. The D-Yikes episode.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hero

I. Am. A little bit slow.

(You knew that already, but you probably would like a reminder, no?)

I bought Nas' "Untitled" album when it was released earlier this year.

(May? June? I don't remember. It was a while ago.)

And I listened to it. A few times. It was cool. Didn't change my life. Or even qualify as leaveonrepeatforamonth. Just another record. Among hundreds of others mountaining up in my house.

Couple weeks back I saw it on my work iTunes and decided to give it another listen. It sounded better than I remembered. A little more cohesive. Like it really wanted to say something. Like it wanted to be more than just another piece of sonic detritus filling the pop culture trash heap.

And I think it does. Really. On the strength of one song, "Hero."



It should have been the epicenter of the album, but managed only to rise to the level of lead single. Which is less than the same thing. And which is no one's fault but Nas'.

It's clear that Nas wanted to explore his own iconography while explaining one recent controversy he's been linked to--and he did--but he didn't construct the story that deserved be told. Not exactly.

Verse 1 is the rise of Nas. 12(?) bars of straight autobiography looking at where he is and where he came from.

Verse 2 is...more of the same. With a little bit of reflection on how his idea of what's really good has evolved.

Verse 3 explains how his album came to lack a title and lays out the intent behind his original choice of a title.

Verses 1 and 3 are vintage Nas. Verse 2 is...dope...but mildly superfluous. We got enough braggadocio in verse 1 and could have used a lil more heart in verse 2 than Nas delivered. Less about Nas and more about how Nas thinks the world has changed in correlation to the way he himself has changed. That would have been the ideal connector between the first and third verses. Instead, we got clever redundancy. What we deserved was a full story where the artist contemplates his own journey, the state of the world he inhabits and the political ramifications of his efforts to express himself. Two out of three ain't bad. It's good. Which is less than great.

I lived with the song for three days before arriving at that conclusion. During that time, I fell in heavy like with the beat. The elements are so simple that when taken apart, they might make your average okay-hater cringe. But the way they are assembled is just shy of brilliant. Somehow, Polo layers a poor man's Bomb Squad of a drum break under a potentially cheap sound effect then sprinkles it with some Keri Hilson-ness, some Storch-y keys, and some marching band. It really worked for me. Perhaps because it sounded so dramatic. But I digress. Way too much here.

The point of all this (there is one, if you can believe it) is to commend a good effort. After re-listening to that song--and to the rest of that album--I came to appreciate the thought Nas put into it. It's not Illmatic. But nothing ever could be. (Nor should it be.) It is a good album. With some flashes of greatness. Rather, near greatness. Like "Hero."

Time may be more kind than I've been here. Or not.

It is worth saying that an old MC still has some fire to spit. And that he maintains his sense of purpose. Even if his storytelling abilities have faded a little.

He is still very good. Heroic, even. But not quite great.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Playing Hooky

There is a pretty famous Englishman who theorizes that public schools often kill creativity. Here's his argument:



Personally, I think he's on to something.

Which is, in part, why I played hooky from work today. Sorta.

Early this week, I got an e-vite for this event.

Which was quite timely as I had just finished reading this collection of mini-essays.

Since Friday is normally my work-from-home day, it presented the perfect opportunity for a field trip.

So I took one.

Naturally, I learned some cool new stuff. Notably from the guy who runs this organization.

Then I wandered DC a lil bit. Checked out a couple book stores. Furniture stores. And some sneaker spots, too. It was, after all, a truly blue sky autumn afternoon in the nation's capital.

Now I'm home. Getting caught up on email. Flirting with some of the "work" I missed this afternoon. And I'm thinking that I've stumbled onto a new rule that would make Sir Ken (the guy in the video up there ^^^) proud.

Everyone should play hooky from work once a month.

It does a body--and a spirit--good. Lotsa good.

The catch, though, is that you probably shouldn't simply sit at home and watch The View. Or ESPN Classic. Or a My Name is Earl marathon.

This rule should have a clause that you have to do something that inspires you. Doesn't really matter what it is. Or even what it inspires you to do. Just that it gets the neurons in your brain firing. That's all.

'Cause the thousand paper cuts of death that await you in the cube farm don't actually need to succeed.

No matter how important that TPS Report is.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Bunch of Sofa Kings

I'm still deciding whether I like Santogold or not. I am certain that I like Jack Davey's voice better. But there's enough stuff on Santi's first album to keep me listening. For now.

One song may or may not be construed as a response to Barack Obama. It also might be the mantra of your average hipster.

If you've never run across Adbusters...firstly, you're forgiven...secondly, check this article out. Especially this passage:
"An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution. Western civilization’s well has run dry."

If you read the Washington Post this past week, you might make that as an answer to this question:
"The stock market has gone nuts, and the federal government is treating Wall Street with experimental cures that will cost nearly $1 trillion. An unpopular foreign war, now in its sixth year, has resulted in more than 4,100 American deaths. For the first time in history, the presidential campaign includes an African American candidate for president and a Republican female candidate for vice president.

Taken together, these data points give this moment in American history a once-in-a-great-while feel of Something Large. But if this is truly a pivot in time, its most peculiar feature may be how un-peculiar it feels. For all the social and political upheaval, for all the 60-point headlines and for all the bipartisan calls for change, there is plenty of unease -- but a very notable lack of unrest...

...How come?"

To extend a phrase...the kids are alright because the kids just don't care.

Naturally, that's a gross generalization. One that leans heavily on the predictability of teenage angst. And one that relies upon the idea that youth has been extended indefinitely so that traditional teenage angst prevails as the default emotional status of 20- and 30-somethings. In other words, Xers and Millenials never really grow up. Since they don't, they are possessed of the vanity and insecure nonchalance we typically associate with the US high school experience.

(It also assumes that all young people are hipsters. Which they are not. But the point about self-involvement holds true for anyone who has a myspace page. Which is everyone under 40.)

Like I said...a gross generalization.

But is it utterly incorrect?

Kinda. Kinda not.

In terms of historical moments, we can best describe this one by borrowing from last year's live action version of Transformers and Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF).

In Transformers, there's a scene right before Barricade confronts Sam. The one where Mikaela is sitting at a Burger King while Sam is pedaling his mother's bike down the sidewalk as the Decepticon gives chase. Sam hits a crack and flips the bike. Mikaela sees Sam stumble and says:

"Sam...That was, um, pretty awesome."

(I'd link to that clip, but I can't find it online.)

In the scene, Mikaela actually searches for the words to describe what she's just witnessed. And all she comes up with is "awesome." If you've had a conversation with any English-speaking person in the last year you know that "awesome" is the new "like." If "like" were multiplied by "dude" then that sum were multiplied by "cool."

It is spoken. Frequently. Which brings us to ATHF.

You may have seen this scene from the cartoon. Or heard it on the DangerDoom album.



What you wanna pay attention for is the line "Loses meaning." That, I think, is the point of all this rambling.

If high school is the dominant cultural motif of our times (which was being hinted at earlier), then what is the peak moment of high school?

It's four letters long. And it's not lunch. Or graduation.

The Prom.

And what's the prom about? Other than busting your cherry, it's about hyperbole.

Now, if "awesome" is the verbal pinnacle of hyperbole and is also the most conversationally used word in the English language, then it stands to reason that "awesome" has lost all meaning. By extension, meaning itself has been dulled. We wake up expecting each morning to deliver us to the prom. Based in part on the deluge of 60-point type telling us what is happening in the world. Whether or not that day is a prom day, there really isn't anything more to experience. It's that. Or, so it feels, nothing.

Which may or may not be a bad thing.

I really can't tell.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Darling Nikki

Chris Rock is not going to win an Oscar for his acting.

Or his directing.

But he may win one for casting. That is, if he had any hand in choosing the female lead of his second adventure in directing, I Think I Love My Wife.

(If he didn't, then tall props to Victoria Thomas.)



That's Kerry Washington. Chewing up scenery as Nikki Tru.

If you've not seen the movie--and most of you probably haven't--here's the 40-word synopsis:

Married banker reconnects with smokin' hot acquaintance (SHA). SHA asks favor. Banker delivers. SHA asks more favors. Banker keeps delivering. Emotional experience of an affair transpires, but no sex is involved. Nonetheless, banker's marriage threatens to disintegrate.

Interesting premise. Some very funny bits that feel as if they come from one of Rock's stand-up films. And...this is a KRS-ONE-sized AND...a whole lot of Kerry Washington.

Rather, of Nikki Tru.

I've met Nikki Tru. A couple versions of her. She is always stunningly attractive. Immaculately attired in a way that invites you--commands you--to stare at her. She flirts with you in a way that feels much more like actual foreplay than playful banter. If she doesn't know everyone in the room, then everyone in the room certainly wants to know her. She carries no money because she is her own currency. She lives in every major US city. And there are small posses of her preying on the unsuspecting (willing?) men who live in (or visit) LA and NYC imparticular. You might call her--every her--a muse. You might call her a shatterer of the ordinary. You might even call her a drug. You'd definitely call her "Yes."

That type of woman--for whom sex is a semi-commercial enterprise--affects a man in a way that defies explanation. Your moral fibre may be rich with things like logic, loyalty and temperance. But once a Nikki Tru locks eyes on you, you're gonna do whatever she wants you to do. For the better. (Or what feels like it ought to be called better.) Until something worse occurs. (Something really, really worse.) When the worse hits the fan, Nikki Tru will probably leave you. And if she doesn't, then you might find yourself standing in line at the courthouse trying to file papers to get a restraining order.

This isn't to say that a Nikki Tru is generally a bad human being. Just that she's so good, she tends to be unaware that bad exists. So she does her good thing to you and whatever happens...well, it happens.

I've watched I Think I Love My Wife a half dozen times now. And I'm reminded of that phenomenon every time I see it.

To be honest with you, I envy Chris Rock's character. Well, I envy his character to a point. He makes some decisions I probably wouldn't have were I in his situation.

Which is probably why I'm in my situation. Thinking I need to find me a new Nikki Tru.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still Isaac Hayes

Death is a difficult thing to digest.

The gag reflex of the heart (or is it the soul?) tends to produce a vomitous outpouring of sadness, anger and the most profound of all human vulnerabilities: that we are merely human after all.

Somewhere in some Parisian apartment--in the moments just before either of Daft Punk were a glint in their father's eyes--there was, probably, a record spinning on a turntable. This record would have helped spark that glint in their father's eyes. This record would have served as the soundtrack to the session that conceived either of Daft Punk. This record, of course, would have featured the voice of Isaac Hayes.


It's both easy and predictable to say that Isaac Hayes was a bad mother--shutyermouth. It's also true.

A week (two?) has passed since Black Moses suddenly escaped planet earth. I'm sure there have been a dozen kadrillion fitting eulogies for him. Each of them celebrating the epochs that comprised his career. Some of them exploring the man and his choices of faith. And, I'd guess, that a fair amount of them included the phrase "chocolate salty balls."

Ultimately, there's nothing tragic about the death of Isaac Hayes. There is only tragedy in the timing and/or the circumstances of his exit. This is true for all of us. We all finish the human race in the exact same place.

While I know that everyone mourns differently--digesting death individually--I feel a bit dismissive of the whole process where someone of Isaac Hayes' stature is concerned. He became something. Rather, he became several somethings. Equal to the expectations of different people depending on what role he performed in at the different plot points that comprised his career.

I suspect that some of those people feel as if one of their icons has fallen. Truth is, he could never fall. Once he came to stand for something, he would forever stand for that thing. If there's any doubt whatsoever, then put your head phones on and journey back to that day when that bad mother--shutyermouth took center stage at the Los Angeles Memorial Coleseum. The day he performed at Wattstax. Live. Put that CD on. Or pop the movie in. And there he. Still standing. Still the icon. Whatever happened in addition to that moment, there always will be that moment.


Maybe a better example of the permanence of iconography is Michael Jackson. For a lot of people, he's a crazy child molester and that's it. (Which is much more extreme than Isaac Hayes being reduced to Chef.) But, if Thriller or Heartbreak Hotel or A-B-C ever meant something to you, I'd bet that you could listen to those records and still connect with that thing. No matter how far the icon seems to fall, there is still that place where he once stood. And, for whatever reason he stood there, there is always some relic to transport those who bore witness back to that place.

So, there was Isaac Hayes. And there is Isaac Hayes.

Wherever his spirit is traveling to right now, that doesn't change.

He still stands accused. And he's still a bad mother--shutyermouth.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Future of Team USA

The first half of the Battle of Beijing is now over. (Getting to the Gold Medal Game)

The second half of that battle will probably be as awkward as the quarterfinal game against Australia. (The looming rematch with Spain.)

Once that game is over--regardless of who wins--then what?

For all the talk about the importance of the short-term mission tasked to this iteration of Team USA, the larger takeaway may be the strategic groundwork that has been laid to re-envision the way our national men's basketball program is run.

(There's also no shortage of talk about Jerry Colangelo's leadership, but humor me here as I break out the crystal ball.)

Assuming that the new permanent rule is to require a multi-year commitment from a pool of 25 or so players who will be eligible to compete for a spot on the national team, what might we be looking at come 2010? Or 2012? Or 2016?

Well, we can expect that at least 4 and as many as 8 (more?) of the guys ballin' in Beijing will suit up in the red, white and blue in London. Certainly for the next World Championships in Turkey.

It's hard to project whom that would be, but you have to assume that Jason Kidd won't be one of them. And you have to hope--or pray--that LeBron James will be.

(Sacrifice 40 goats if you have to, just do whatever is necessary to make sure LeBron plays. And let's pencil in Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, too.)

The key thing is the pool of players who would even be invited. Right now, the bulk of those players would presumably be younger than 30. And, each would have either proven to be capable as an NBA starter or be widely thought to be a franchise-calibre player.

If we throw the names of most of this year's roster into that pool (excluding Jason Kidd), we would probably add the following guys to the short list of possible, future Team USA team members:

Gilbert Arenas
Michael Beasley
Caron Butler
Andrew Bynum
Kevin Durant
Monta Ellis
Danny Granger
Devin Harris
Josh Howard
Andre Iguodala
Joe Johnson
Kevin Martin
OJ Mayo
Greg Oden
Rajon Rondo
Dereck Rose
Brandon Roy
Amare Staudemire
David West

(Actually, that's not a very short list at all. It safely covers, like 70% of the best US-born NBA players under 30. Naturally, it omits people like Chauncey Billups and Elton Brand who might also be part of the pool. But those guys are the very, very, very-near future. At best. And that's it.)

I don't know about you, but when I think about those players--and consider them alongside the current Team USA--what jumps out to me is that all of the possible combinations of US-born NBA players moving forward look pretty much the same.

Lots of stupidly freakish athleticism. Most guys somewhere between 6'6" and 6'9". Very few with etched in stone positions on the court. And, most importantly, not much in the way of classic pass-cut-shoot basketball that every other country on Earth seems to play.

(It's almost as if all the best American players learned their games on the streets of Chicago. Too much wind to worry about shooting any Js. So just get out and run and try to jump over the other guy.)

All of this to say that the style of basketball we have watched in the 2008 Olympics (the swarming perimeter defense and the offensive acrobatics) is what we're going to get plenty of during the next 10-12 years. At least. And unless some major revolution takes place in the way teenage basketball talent is developed, (Stephon Curry, please save us!) it's entirely possible that US basketball has forever committed itself to that style. (Forever = until David Stern retires.)

Frankly, as we've seen in these games, that's not entirely a bad thing. Our guys can still perform some amazing basketball feats. And the generations coming up after them will presumably be capable of more of the same. And, clearly, the best American ballplayers can generally still kick the crap out the best players any other country can throw together.

We just need to be sure that we stick to what we're good at. And hope that amazing will always be enough to bring home the gold.

Rather, that controlled acts of the amazing will be enough. 'Cause amazing by itself didn't do too well in '02. Or '04. Or '06.

Which means that the coach (whether his name is Krzyzweski, Popovich, D'Antoni, McMillan, Howland or Izzo) is just as important a choice as the players.

The common thread when forecasting the future players and the coaches of Team USA, I s'pose, is that the fundamental challenge facing USA Basketball is to overcome our own predilections for vanity. Which is basically the thing that caused the semi-final game against Argentina to be so close.

'Cause we really are bigger, stronger and faster. (Mostly 'cause we have LeBron and Superman.) What ails us--if anything does--is a queasy gut. It's just too easy to marvel at our own natural brilliance and neglect the little bits of willful effort that yield great champions.

Maybe that's why some people in some countries hate America. Or, maybe it's just basketball and I'm one member of the sad, but likable mass of hoop fans who cares a little bit too much.

Either way, we have met the future. And it is us. As we are now. And will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The New Silk Road

On the new Silk Road, they don't trade much silk. (That I know of.)

And, it appears, that there isn't actually much trading going on.

Just "the most bare-knuckled resource grab the world has ever seen."

If I've emailed you or talked to you during the last 2-3 months, there's a good chance I've referenced the series that follows or even shared these links with you. It is, quite simply, the finest piece of journalism I've come across in 2008.

It is long. But reading it represents a great investment of your time. Whether or not you were curious about the relationship between China and the African continent before you poked your head into this post.

Without further ado...

China in Africa Part 1

China in Africa Part 2

China in Africa Part 3

China in Africa Part 4

China in Africa Part 5

China in Africa Part 6

There is something very pyrrhic about how the people of those African countries have entangled themselves with the Chinese government and the Chinese business community.

Mutually assured destuction is too hyperbolic, but I don't think there's a more fitting phrase to project the outcome for both China and the Continent. It just can't end well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Open Letter #003

Dear Lolo Jones,

I, like the rest of America, don't mind that you nipped a hurdle in Beijing.

I, like any reasonable Pac-10 fan, am not particularly bothered that you chose to attend an SEC school.

I, unlike a lot of other curious people, don't really care how many or even which ingredients make up the pretty gumbo that is you.

Mostly, I care that your name is Lolo. Which might be the coolest thing about any person on earth at this point in history.

So...you have that going for you.

That and the perfect URL.

Keep your head up, Lolo. And keep running.

Sincerely,

The MGMT

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

She Said "JaJaJaJa"

An email huddled in a long line of unread messages in my inbox when I logged in at work this morning. It was a response from a colleague based in Puerto Rico. She was following up on an interview we were working on. She, the subject. Me, the interrogator. I mean, inquisitor. I mean...aw hell...I was the guy asking questions.

In that message, she commented about one line of questioning and typed "jajajaja" in one conspicuous place that looked like a typo. Which made sense given that she was writing in her second language. Even though she spoke and wrote her second language quite well.

After initially raising a curious brow, I forgot about it and dug into what was a crazy ambitious schedule.

In the afternoon, she and I continued our dialogue on the phone. She does some really interesting work with furniture, space and architecture. Which is cool. But not quite as attention-grabbing as the way she spelled out the URL for her home page.

She said "blank blank blank blank blank blank punta com."

OOOOOHHHHHHHH.

Right.

"Punta" = "point." Or "dot."

And "jajajaja" = "hahahaha."

I get it now.

I think I'll be boarding the small yellow bus today. You s'pose they'll let me have the same seat I sat in yesterday?

Friday, August 01, 2008

I Have a Theory About Cheerleaders

Whether you read Deadspin or not, stories of cheerleaders "behaving badly"* are probably not new to you. (*FTR..." behaving badly" is an easy headline that really means "having harmless fun.")

It has happened at the professional level.


At the collegiate level.


And, since high school is the place where everyone learns to behave badly, I presume it has happened there, too.

(I, for one, am not googling "teen cheerleader" or posting any pics yielded by an image search. You can if you want. But I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing that got Pete Townshend in trouble.)

This entry is, probably not so clearly, more than a gratuitous exercise. There's also a point. And it's on it's way.

Where my own volume of experience with women is concerned, I would never claim to be Hugh Hefner. Or Wilt Chamberlain. Or Bill Clinton. But I have known a couple of women in my life. So, I'd like to think I know a couple of things about them.

Rather, I think I know something. Maybe just one thing. And this thing will be called "The Cheerleader Theory."

Remember when I blathered on about The Origin of Yay? Well, this theory is a build on that.

Whereas Deadspin posits that cheerleaders are just a bunch of brazen exhibitionists, I figure cheerleaders are actually a hyperbolic expression of one of the most basic tenets of femininity. Affirmation.

In English, that means any woman--to some degree--is a natural born cheerleader. More importantly, any woman--to some degree--needs to be the subject of cheers. Which is probably why cheerleadering comes so easily to a woman. Because she wants affirmation, she's inclined to give affirmation. The inherent expectation being that giving will lead to receiving. And not just receiving any old thing. But the exact same thing that was given because that thing--affirmation--is assumed to be very high in the remixed version of the hierachy of needs.

It's kinda like what Rosie Perez was getting at here:



It's also a promient theme of Sex and the City. Or in Stuart Smalley's work. Which means that The Cheerleader Theory is much less about men v. women than it is about understanding femininity. Rather, one element of it.

Masculinity is, in part, about confirmation. If you think you can do something or if you claim to be capable of it, then you go out and do it. To confirm to yourself and whomever else might be interested that you can.

Femininity, is in part, about affirmation. If you think something or feel a certain way, then you express it. Once you've done so, you expect someone else to affirm that thing to be so. Or, less likely, to have them argue in the contrary so you can externally elaborate on your position.

In English, that means the masculine thing to do is to get it in while the feminine thing to do is to get out that which is already in.

Which is, reductively, what cheerleaders do. They yell. They yell out positive, motivational things. They affirm.

Just as there are both male and female cheerleaders, affirmation is a pursuit for either a man or a woman.

But, just like there are about a jillion more female cheerleaders than male cheerleaders, femininity is more likely to be exhibited by a woman than by a man. Which means that women are more likely to seek out and give affirmation. More likely to be cheerleaders. Possibly programmed by nature to be.

What exactly does any of that have to do with half naked women posing provocatively?

Umm....I'm not sure. But girls going wild is a good thing, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Would Dr. King Think?

I love those kinds of questions. For their rhetorical ridiculousness.

No matter how tempting it is to cut and paste the wisdom of those who are no longer with us to understand and negotiate contemporary scenarios, it is hardly in the best interest of anyone.

Wisdom, you see, is a slimy baton.

It exists in and of itself and has value as it is. But the most important thing you can know about wisdom is that it is transferrable. And that it must be that. It is something that can be built on. And something that should be carried. Advanced, even. Wisdom, after all, is as much an act as it is an object.

This makes total sense when you understand that life ain't a sprint or a marathon. It's a relay. And we all have legs to run.

Dr. King knew that. Probably 'cause he had seen the mountaintop. And that was enough for him.





As that speech reveals, Dr. King recognized that the tape stretched across the finish line was probably not waiting for him to break through it. Just as the feet that bolted from the starter's block were not his own.

He carried the baton. Added his own sweet slime to it. And handed it to the next runner.

Just like you should.

(Me...I'm not a runner. I hoop. We're much more about emasculation than emancipation. Some of us might even be just plain ignorant.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Think I Won the VietNam War

I started reading this book, The Best and the Brightest, way back in November. Of last year. On the day I met the single most memorable person I know. For lunch. The day before her birthday. Several hours before I planed across the Atlantic. To the Netherlands. Seven months--and three countries and two broken hearts and one haircut--later, I have finally arrived at its 672nd page. I am done reading it. Finally.

Which is something of a shame.

Firstly, because it is a spectacularly good read.

Secondly, because it never should have taken me that long to slog through it.

Lastly, because that damn'd Halberstam is gonna make me start writing. Again. For the second time.

When I logged entry #100, I thought it a nice milestone to savor. And a good occasion to take a break. Maybe re-design the layout. Possibly re-think my tagging system.

Then I got enveloped by the NCAA Tournament. Swallowed by the NBA Play-offs. Addicted to IBeatYou.com. Wildly distracted by my dayjob. And trudged ever more slowly toward finishing and releasing that movie. You know the one. All of which left me grossly uninspired. Unmotivated. Probably both.

Which is all a tapestry of excuses for saying I had nothing to say.

(Perhaps I still don't. But let's pretend for an entry that I do.)

History exists mostly in slivers. Highlights. This thing happened. Then that thing happened. Now, here we are. Slivers are often bundled together conveniently to express what we come to know as eras. These chunks are charged with telling the stories of the events that deliver us to the holy surprise of right now.

Which allows me to say something like "The '60s" and have you instantly call up the 32kb of data stored in your own walking hard drive to understand what that means.

But in doing so, do you actually understand what took place on the planet Earth from Jan. 1, 1960 through Dec. 31, 1969?

(You don't have to answer that. It's a rhetorical question. Which you knew. But I needed an excuse to plop parentheses here.)

Context is, mostly, a luxury for any contemporary storyteller. It probably should be a prerequisite, but often isn't. In the race to the point, you're often forced to splice in whatever context the attention span of your audience will afford you. That challenge is not unlike the way that warfare is waged during the digital age. Or the last days of analogue. The ones that took place during the '60s.

Which brings me to the explanation of how I think I won the VietNam War.

It is, to be sure, a facetious claim. But one that someone should make. There were too many lives, too many resources, too many careers and too much talent squandered in the accidental, yet desperately purposeful chasing of ghosts in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Halberstam gave us an epic recounting of how many men went so very wrong. And dozens of others--through books, movies, etc--have weighed in on the same. The gift that all of them--especially Halberstam--can offer is the gift of context.

(That, BTW, means you can win the VietNam War, too.)

The war wasn't some monolithic collection of slivers. There were a whole lot of ideas, philosophies, flukes of circumstance and political pressures that delivered us to 1965. And then kept the US tab running until 1975. VietNam isn't simply synonymous with the '60s. And the '60s aren't simply synonymous with VietNam. The decade--like the war--was richly comprised of visible and invisible forces which drove the events--some connected, some not--that unfolded during it. Neither can be neatly captured. And both must be exhaustively recounted in order to really understand what happened.

It's not something you can do in less than seven months.

Apparently.

Friday, March 21, 2008

100

I'm not supposed to be here.

Probably not at this milestone post. And certainly not in this place. Either in life. Or in this corner of the internet.

But here I am. My 100th post.

(And here I am...well, I'll spare you the as yet untold gory details of my own misspent journey. Today.)

I will confess to launching this thing as an attempt to land a book deal. I figured that a cleverly compiled record of my own travels through re-adolesence would be enough of a hook to grab some publisher's attention and get me paid.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

This thing has become a cool little hoop in the backyard where I can shoot around whenever I feel the urge. It's also surrounded by a large grandstand perpetually filled with millions of people.

(By "millions," I mean "four." Like what 2 X 2 equals.)

I am not one for ceremony. But I do believe we should pause a moment to celebrate what might be called my:

TENTH TENTHENNIAL EXTRAVAGANZA!!!



BTW...today is my 32nd. If you need to get at me, I'll be at the bar. Watching the Tournament. And the Lakers. Setting a new record on the pop-a-shot machine. You can send a pretty senorita after me if you like. (Preferrably one who looks makey-outy.) 'Cause I'll probably need a ride home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humility in the Porn Industry

I'm late on this. But I only just watched it last night on Showtime when Dr. Insomnia paid me a visit. Not to mention that it's definitely worth sharing.

Of all the absurd moments you might expect from something called the 25th Annual AVN Adult Movie Awards, this one was definitely the most surreal and it offered the tightest statement about the business of intimacy in the 21st century:



Of all the lessons a person might take from watching porn, who'd have thunk that "respect is the key to good sex" would be among them?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Disappearing Soul

When a person--or a group of people--is defined by something which s/he (or they) are not, how do they maintain their sense of identity when that negative is removed?

More to the point, when a group of people are bound together (in part) by a shared sense of struggle, of hardship or of profound oppression, how is that group impacted by a potentially positive change to that circumstance?

And perhaps this is the real question: what happens to you when you start to get what you want?


There are several cliched answers to those quasi-rhetorical questions. Most of them involve the costs associated with compromise.

"Compromise" is an interesting word. It is a paradox that can be used in very different, but fundamentally connected ways:

"Blending qualities of two different things"
"Settle by mutual concessions"
"To cause the impairment of"
"To expose to an unauthorized person or enemy"


That's almost a four-step outline of how to sell one's soul.


The first step is fairly benign. If you're Black and you live in a post-slavery, still-segregated America, you'd probably want the freedom and equality that some white dude long ago wrote into the founding documents of the country you might call home.

The second step speaks to the process associated with obtaining that freedom. Basically, the people oppressing you are gonna have to agree to stop that shit and you, as the oppressed group, are gonna have to agree not to kick the shit out of all those people for everything they ever did wrong to you and your folks.

The third step furthers the second by implying that getting what you want (rather, getting some of what you want) will cause you to sacrifice some things that you already have. If you're a group of people who has previously been segregated (either in part or holistically) then your forced and logical communal ties could suffer once you and the group you are a part of are integrated into a larger society. In short, both your collective and individual identities are gonna need to be rethought and possibly re-expressed.

The fourth step indicates that something may have disintegrated in the quest to obtain the goal outlined in the first step. If you're Black and you live in a post-Civil Rights, legally-integrated America...well...I'm not sure exactly how you'd feel. There are millions of people far more qualified than I am to intimately articulate that experience. BUT...from an outsider's perspective...I have to think that you might feel as if you've sold a piece of your soul in order to enjoy the basic rights and freedoms that had been so egregiously denied to you, your parents, grandparents, etc.

At least, that was one of my takeaways from watching ESPN's documentary mini-series, Black Magic.


Frankly, that should be part of the jump-off from that film. Granted, Black Magic is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. Something I wish I would have made myself. Something I will be among the first to buy whenever it's made available for sale. Mostly so I can cherrypick from the craftsmanship of it for my own future reference.

I suspect, though, that Dan Klores and Earl Monroe (along with Ben Jobe, Jon Chaney, Earl Loyd and the rest) would be terribly disappointed in all of us if we didn't dive a little deeper than that after seeing the film.

If you haven't seen it yet, Black Magic is nearly four hours of stories about the forgotten generation of Black basketball players who played at HBCUs during the 50s, 60s and 70s and who integrated that sport while America itself was being integrated. As you can imagine, there's lots of ugly history there which is offset by magnificent stories of personal triumph. Along with some personal tragedies. Both minor and major.

In sum, it argues that the people who just wanted to play ball (at the highest levels) and the people who created the space for them to do so (when the highest levels weren't accessible) gradually sacrificed the integrity of that space in order to obtain the right to play ball at the highest levels possible.

Or so it would seem the argument goes.

Whether it was intended or not, we could scale that argument to apply it to the identity chronology of Black folks in America during the last 150 years. We could also scale it to explore the principles associated with the process of reaching compromise. We could even scale it to the assorted acts of being alive.


Really, that last one is what I s'pose I'm most interested in. On some what is soul? steez.

I have neither the time nor the energy to even count, let alone read about and meditate on all the various ideas and theories about what the human soul is and how it contributes to a person's existence. I do, however, default to Funkadelic whenever anything about the nature of life is in doubt for me.

(If I wore acronymic wrist bands, mine would read "WWGCD?" After all, there may be worse moral barometers (or better ones) than George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Fuzzy Haskins, Bootsy and co., but what's really funkin' with them? You can have your Moses or your Buddha and I'll be just fine with all the Woo in the world.)

Soul, as Funkadelic would tell us, has everything to do with how you relate yourself to the world around you as well as, conversely, how you digest that world to achieve your own ends.

At some point, every soul arrives at a crossroads faced with two choices: 1) stand on principle every time in perpetuity without flinching no matter the cost or 2) compromise once and once again every day for the rest of your journey because once you make one concession, you'll never reach a point where you concede no more forever.


If a soul (or a group of souls) chooses the path of compromise, it is not necessarily a well tread road to hell. Nor is it an easy path to paradise. It is a struggle. One that is different from its prideful (patently stubborn and generally courageous) counterpart. No less prone to success or failure. Just different.

But (here's the rub, kids) a soul who chooses compromise has to understand the potentially pyrrhic nature of that path. The choice to compromise could be the most mutually beneficial for everyone involved, but it's going to cost someone something. Sometimes, it costs some folks everything.

Going back to the takeaways from Black Magic, I can't say that I feel hopeless. Nor would I encourage anyone else to be. I do believe that enough time has passed since the close of the Civil Rights Era, that we can place certain issues of identity in their proper context thereby adopting a healthier approach to solving today's problems which are clearly rooted in the problems of the past yet are altogether different.

Which is why I'm particularly curious about the dialogue Barack Obama is about to launch concerning race.


If for no other reason than a leading presidential candidate is about to tackle the biggest, meanest elephant that has ever thundered through any room in this old American house.

Certainly because, now that we know the cost of compromise, we might actually be able to address this thing with some candor and without the belligerence that so naturally accompanies it.

All of us may have shaved a little piece (or two) off our souls to get some of what we wanted, but we haven't made them disappear completely.

Not yet anyway.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen thoughts about the one holiday that is truly worth celebrating: The NCAA Tournament.

Merry Christmas
Dionte Christmas' name will be the source of many bad puns. But the best name in the Tournament actually belongs to Haminn Quaintence. I can't pronounce it, but I can tell you the kid's game is directly descended from Devin Davis.

The Only Sneaker That Matters
Brand Jordan. I've seen some cool newish designs in the conference tournaments. There may be more to come. Everything else feels like we've already seen it before. Didn't used to be that way. Shame how the game has changed.

What's in a Name?
Belmont. Butler. Cornell. Davidson. Drake. Siena. Winthrop. One-word schools are the new hotness in Cinderella picks. Two of 'em will stick around for the second weekend.

St. Mary's Meet Mt. St Mary's
Yes, there are two of them. The former has all the Aussie Ex-Pats. The latter has the smallest good player in the Tournament. The former should have a chip on its shoulder after getting knocked out in its conference semis. The latter won't be able to handle the press against a long, quick team.

Up Goes Down
Arizona and Kentucky. George Mason and Gonzaga. Blue bloods. Underdogs. Which one is really which? I honestly can't say any more.

Separation
Apart from the 6 best and the 6 worst teams in the field, there isn't much distance between the other 53 programs invited to the Tournament. Which means most upsets really aren't upsets. Which diminishes the natural drama of the dance rendering it slightly less riveting than the NBA's ongoing Western Conference Play-offs. Which, FTR, started two weeks BEFORE the All-Star Break.

Eff the Selection Committee
For 2 years in a row now, they called out my Pac-10 loyalty by matching 'SC up with one of my favorite Big 12 teams. As much as I'd like to see K-State make an '88 Kansas or '04 Syracuse run...they just don't have the guards to deal with the Trojans back court.

Four Big Finales?
Kevin Beasley would be better off in the NBA. Tyler Hansborough and Kevin Love would be better off in college. Blake Griffin would look great in a Laker uniform.

Shaq-In-Training
The Suns desperately need Roy Hibbert or Hasheem Thabeet to fall into their lap. Hibbert would help Nash now in the way Shaq is supposed to. Thabeet would allow Amare to have the career he wants to have.

The Beast(s)
At least one Big East team is going to make a deep run. It could be Georgetown. Or UConn. Or Louisville. Or even Notre Dame. Sadly, it probably won't be Pitt.

"Let's Go Pee!"
I mean, "Let's go, Peay!" There will be no better or more entertaining cheer heard this March. Not even "Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. KU."

Clean Sheets
Of all the 1's and 2's, Kansas is the least likely to shit the bed. UCLA is the most likely to wake up with brown sheets.

Power U's
The best conferences in college basketball this year were (in this order) the Big East, the Pac 10 and the Big 12 (2a and 2b respectively). There is a very small gap between the first and second(s) spots--which only exists because the Big East has so many more teams.

New Rules
The rule change concerning the way players line up for foul shots is going to come into play at some point in the story of one of this year's big upsets. Probably in the form of an offensive rebound off of a missed 1-and-1 in the closing seconds. Matter of fact, this situation might actually save Memphis from itself.

Brick City
We are all going to quickly tire of people talking about how poor of a free throw shooting team Memphis is. But we're going to have to hear about it for at least 2 weekends.

The Pick
Sike. I'm not giving anything away here. Just in case you're reading this and you're in a pool with me. But let's be honest, there are only 6 teams who can win 6 in a row beginning on Mar. 20: Carolina, Georgetown, Memphis, Kansas, Tennessee and UCLA. You can pick a dark horse if you like (Duke, Louisville, Michigan St, Texas, UConn or Wisconsin, for example) but you'll probably be wrong. Or maybe not. Go with your gut, kids.

Enjoy the madness!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Value of Idiocy

At one time, I worked with some one who--as anyone who ever met Pat* would tell you--was the nicest person. Pat was very hard working. Terrifically compassionate. Consistently pleasant. And extraordinarily friendly/ gregarious.


Pat was also an idiot.

Pat never hesitated to ask the dumbest questions. Pat always took 3 times as long as anyone else to understand new information. And Pat's face displayed a perpetual vacancy--as if there were an empty skull behind Pat's eyes.

None of which are necessarily bad things.

Pat's idiocy allowed Pat to be a generally happy and liberated person. Like that dingy, shredding t-shirt of an axiom: ignorance is bliss.

Had Pat been any kind of self-aware, Pat would likely have lived in a permanent crouch hidden in some corner afraid that the next minute would be more embarrassing than the one that just passed.

But Pat was never that.

Pat was comfortable. Pat was cool. Pat was the kind of person you didn't mind helping because you knew that Pat would do anything you asked.

While most folks would agree that Pat was a certain kind of fool, no one would ever say a bad word about Pat. Everyone loved Pat. Because, above all, Pat's heart was always in the right place.

I think of Pat every March when I find myself at that point in the Tournament experience when all of my meticulously generated logic about college basketball gets shredded by some kid from Prairie View Tech State College who banks home a three from half court to knock off an undefeated Kentucky team.

At that point, I feel like an idiot. And I am acutely connected to that feeling. For at least a day. It sucks. It drains a little bit of the fun out of the Tournament. And it makes me envy Pat.

If only I didn't have to know how much of a fool I am.

Then again, there's a whiskey for that, right?

[The asterisk (*) denotes that "Pat" may or may not be a real person. In fact, Pat is more likely a composite of several people I've observed or encountered over the years. If you think that you are Pat. Don't worry. I'm not talking about you. I swear. ;)]