Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Infamous Christmas Post: A 97-year old disses Facebook

...or Facebook as metaphor for what's messed up about us all? Yesterday, Nat spoke to his 97 year old grandmother. She's slightly older than the state of Arizona; she's seen, heard, experienced just about anything a person, an African American, a woman, a mother, a wife could in this fatally beautiful American epoch. Somehow the conversation moved to Facebook.
Her take: "Chris, I just don't understand these computers. The computer tells you who your 'friends are?"
Nat: "Well, sort of."
Grandmother: [chuckling] "But it says you are friends with people who want to tell you all about themselves or their people, but don't care truly about you or what your family is doing?"
Nat: "Um...sometimes"
Grandmother: "It will give you friends who just want to sell you something, or boast about things. If they aren't courteous and caring about people all the way, then they will be so on the computer. I don't understand why people want to be friendly at first if they couldn't be bothered or only think of themselves, especially at Christmas, dear."
Nat: "I guess. But they care about their kids, their families and we usually post that."
Grandmother: "Well, Christmas is about caring about more than your own people, and that is what being a friendis , too."
Well, at that point, I didn't want to explain what "un-friending" was. And she was fading out; it'd been a long day for her up in NYC and Westchester. We talked about Oprah at the White House w/the Obamas, we talked about how much we both missed my mother. It dawned then that my gradmother, if she were more sentient, more one of these "tech-savvy geriatrics" younger people smirk over, she still wouldn't be on Facebook. Not because of our need for both detachment and self-promotion, insouciance and faux-warmth. Naw. Because maybe the technology would tempt her to have 2,000 "Friends," and she'd need 26 hours in a day to share & care & at least try to find common ground, as she feels friends should. And that's regardless of whether anyone answers her back, or cares, or shares, or attacks rather than reconciles. Look, she knows the good ole days weren't that great. But there're some things about now that aren't so glorious. This is one of them.
So Happy Holidays. It's about sharing, caring. Umprompted. With nothing expected in return.
Nat Turner

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Cryptic Take on Barack Obama. Be gentle with me...

Nat played hookie from Natly duties to watch Kevin Costner’s not half bad history-drama “Thirteen Days.” It wasn’t as wacky as Kevin playing Jim Garrison in “JFK,” but nor was is utterly contrived as in Danny Devito’s directorial debut in “Hoffa.” (ironic, Kennedy-Hoffa, eh?) And then, in Busboys & Poets on 14th Street, Nat sat at the bar with a relative of one of JFK’s principal aides. Wolf Blitzer was growling on the tube above about politics. This relative, which I shall NOT name, is very close to JFK White House special counsel and speechwriter Ted Sorensen. Sorensen was among the first old head Democrats to endorse Barack Obama.

You know Nat loves historical parallels. Barbara Tuchman, you are missed. This is an age of celebrated ignorance (I should show you the emails and texts…not to mention the essays, they’d only make you cry I get from 18 to twentysomething students…even Georgetown students. Credibility has come to mean with you mindlessly agree and who you hate. It used to mean critical thinking, preparing a researched position that is supported with logical appeals, emotion, evidence, and the ethical treatment of other points of view. It was about dignity of accomplishment, rather than splatter. It embodied a time where even Huey Long was somehow more palatable, credible, than Sarah Palin.

I’m thinking of doing a long essay on how 2008-10 is really 1867-1876 (Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction), in a snow globe, at light speed. Hey, 50% of the treatise would be dismissing the redneck myths about that time when America was truly made. Here’s a little warm-up, and little discourse for shits and gigs, with another parallel as model. Remember my Busboys & Poets encounter, above…

When Obama ran, when Obama was elected, some supporters and detractors spoke of him as a newfangled JFK. Sorensen’s analysis and analogies where thoughtful though a tad rose-colored. Most of the statements entailed ill-informed second “Camelots” or Michelle as a 21st century Jackie, or “empty suit” talk; some comments were paeans to vigor (“viggah” in Kennedy-ese) and a new age, some were truly loony “ACORN as Joe Kennedy and the Mafia stuff.”

The parallel cures and solidifies when you look at their presidencies with a historian’s eyes, both one year in. Huge promise, yet huge divisions and mistrust. Enemies of all stripes thinking neither deserved to be in the Oval Office. Big missteps, small victories. Bold ideas, small and sickly conventional follow-through. Two men in charge who were/are products of their upbringing in the most pinpoint sense of that admittedly hackneyed term. You lay the outlines side by side and say…whoa.

So here’s my cryptic measure of Barack Obama’s first year: What would the Obama White House—this supposed “Change” movement—be like if Barack had true counterparts to P. Kenneth O’Donnell by his side. And a Robert Francis Kennedy. If Joe Biden was more Lyndon Johnson and less, well, Joe Biden? Hell, if Glenn Beck et al were less clowns, and more like James Reston or Walter Lippman? If Al Sharpton was more Roy Wilkens, and Hillary Clinton a younger Eleanor Roosevelt in her? Beyonce was Eartha Kitt. Blake Lively was young Helen Gurley Brown? Or if Joe Lieberman was less a tool, and little more like Everett Dirksen?

Would this nation, the world, be a better, safer, more just place? Probably not. Would there be Tea Partiers? Likely more so. Look at what was happening in the South then. Made the “Don’t tread on me” nonsense look like a Victoria’s Secret show.

But I’d feel a lot more comfortable about things. I was an infant when Sorensen and this person’s famous granddad were in there where Barack, Rahm and Eric, Susan and Hillary were in 1962. Now I am middle age. I wish I were a baby again, yet with adult ears and eyes.
I hope for the best in 2010. That word hope hasn’t been cheapened. Not yet...

Snowball Fight on 14th Street...and a Black Cop

Mrs Nat and I live in this general neighborhood cluster of Columbia Heights, U-Street/Shaw. It is amusing that a bunch of yuppies would take time off from cross-country skiing or shovelling their sidewalks to pelt each other with snowballs. It's not so funny when folks paste passing driven by folk who are already agitated by dangerous conditions (I don't care if you are from Rochester or Chicago--24 inches of snow in less than 24 hours is still a bitch! So stop grousing, Mr. President & Mrs. First Lady!!!).

And it would have been quite another thing, my children, had these people been black or Latino teenagers, pelting cars as well as each other. Yeah, Nat went there. He likes going there. Feel like grumbling yet, or agreeing? Read on...

African American cops I know in this sub-district--and you gotta know the cops when you live in the cit-tee--suck their teeth and shake their heads when I ask them about this incident. The detective was pissed off and dead-ass wrong they say. What was going through his head, they ask? He often does undercover work in a city that's still resembles Mordor despite gentrification. But, Lord how these same yuppies would have demanded MPD guns at a snowball fight had the shoe been on a "local" teenage foot they say. Nat agrees.

Indeed, what's interesting is that while the footage was all over our local news and displayed on national downright hemorrhaged from right wing outlets like Fox, Reason TV et al. More evidence of evil black Obama ciphers oppressing good and true whitefolk. Even my mole at the...[edited] [Group/Foundation/Network] hahaha confirmed this. A Reason TV young Republican was on hand at the snowball event to record. [Oh don't worry, my man/woman is in deep cover, Donnie Brasco style. Now if I can only get someone into Fox. Maybe put a microchip in Juan Williams' head and a minicamera in his eyeball?]

A neighbor who's co-worker and co-worker's boyfriend were present broke it down this way: "She[the cowroker] admitted then when they started throwing snowballs at cars and a couple of pedestrians who weren't part if the 'event' [ah those young folk and their Twitter] , that was noot good. I could then see maybe one cop showing up to break the thing up and everyone goes home for hot toddies or coco. But this guy [the 25 year veteran undercover dick] created a potentially deadly situation."

Now that's pretty straightforward.

MPD Chief Kathy Lanier, ever eager to please a vengeful public in areas of high voter turnout, quickly put a foot in the gun-brandishers butt. We won't really know the extent of the disciplinary action; you never do when it comes to cops. But quite a few folk want this kept quietly in the family. No harm, no foul, I suppose? Concurrently, however, no one seems to want to ask why it's okay to have a melee, no matter how good spirited or organized via Gen Y social networking media rather than urban pay as you go cell phones...on a public street...a busy intersection in the middle of a snow emergency in a city that doesn't do snow? Had it been young Pookie with braids and droopy jeans, or callow Esteban with his hand-me- down Redskins jacket just wanting to have a some winter fun, we'd have gotten a definite answer...

Stay tuned for the infamous Christmas post.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Missing Pakistanis: maybe Howard U and other HBCUs should enroll African Americans?

Read the MSNBC story here about the DC-area Muslim young men--all fitting the profile of middle-class, educated rather than goat farmers--arrested in Pakistan after bolting the country in pursuit of Jihad glory. Of course these guys were rebuffed as amateurs once they naively showed up, but what motivates young men with everything to lose? Look at US Army Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan--a trained MD and shrink. What is this inner voice that says I am somehow unworthy of my accomplishments in this world...this alien world that has given them so much? Why do they think it's robbed them of their souls as Muslims?

The mosque in Virginia where many were members has been outspoken in their opposition to radicalization, and is largely a congregation of families. Regular people. But the refrain's the same: "He/they were cool people, never giving an indication they would disappear, run to Pakistan, try to join al Qaida or other radical groups, or assist the Taliban in Afghanistan." So how well do they really know these fellows? There is a similar refrain in when folks are asked Did you know he was in a gang...a drug dealer...selling her body for meth/crack...did you know he was a serial killer? Sometimes it's not a lie or covering up. It's denial, disbelief. Willful blindness.

Then we come to Howard and other HBCUs. One of the Pakistani 5, Ramy Zamzam, is an honor student at Howard Dental School (I can see the campus from my window as I type this). At one time, the best and brightest of black America went to places like Howard and the suberb graduate/professional schools attached thereto. But in the last 20 years things have morphed from a brain drain to the UN. Medical school, law school, dental, school of pharmacy studies, engineering and even liberal arts/humanities related gread programs are full of well...Ramy Zamzam. Yes, white Americans have discovered these schools as lower cost, high profile, but the unstated truth is that they are filled with Iranians, Iraqis, Nigerians, Congolese, Syrians, Russians, Ukrainians, Albanians, Chinese, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Indians, Saudis, billionaire kiddies from that mega Disney fanstasy called Dubai, Tanzanians, South Africans etc etc. Many can pay in cash or cut a check that won't bounce, or that mom/dad didn't have take out a second mortgage to cover. Uncle Sam isn't going to sweat them for financial aid...Uncle Sam actually likes having them as much as the colleges' comptrollers do. Well, some parts of the government aren't as happy. Like the State Department, Homeland Security, etc. The African Americans there? Well, they are trying to carry the flag as minorities in an HBCU. Irony? Oxymoron? Nope. And most of these are females. Young men like Zamzam are welcomed with open arms (and deposit slips); young African American men? Ummm...

So what are you thoughts, fanboys & girls?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Latinas, Fertility and Jonathan Swift?

I'm feeling Swiftean today. No, not quite the biting satire of A Modest Proposal. This is a bit more tame, but the debate should be vigorous. As I look around at the first generation immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, et al in this area, I see young women with lots of kids. Very young. I see Latinas in their 30s who look fifty...and again, with kids. Is it the same with Mexican teens and young women in California, in Texas, or Puerto Ricans & Domincans in New York? Or with the "hey we're just white people with accents, not Indians & negroes" Cuban nobility in Miami?
Public intellectual Richard Rodriguez posits that the label "Hispanic" (a Nixonian construct designed, ironically, as with his formulation of affirmative action, to control or divide rather than empower minorities) is uniquely American because as Americans we are in reality all a mixture, all impure. So I pose this question, Swiftean style: How would Hispanic culture, politics, economic concerns be utterly transformed if young Latinas would simply stop having kids, perhaps putting that off till their 30s? [whew imagine the maschismo metldown...the illegal alien & healthcare wingnuts' building budgets etc on top of that...]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Last...and Best...word on Michael Jackson

Yes, Schmuley Boteach has "branded" himself, in Dr. Drew Pinsky style, as "America's Rabbi." You've seen him on TV, in print, on his glossy website. From Oprah's guest chair to canting the An'im Zemirot, he's everywhere. For ten years he's been the most visible cleric in Hollywood, out-positioning even TD Jakes. Call it a calling. Call it rank self-promotion.
From 2000 to 2002 the rabbi counseled Michael Jackson in this millieu of ambivalence.
He taped the conversations. MJ's own words, thoughts, honesty, effusiveness, reticence, delusions. Nuff said. The result is The Michael Jackson Tapes
The topics ranged from lost childhood, to children (MJ's and those he had over to Neverland, problematically), to fear of Joseph, to Lisa Marie to women, to his brothers. And fame. Ego. Idolatry. His own, as Shmuley harps as a thesis. MJ was a Jehovah's Witness. Ego, worship of symbols and self are A-1 sins. And yet here was MJ, doing that. demanding adolation, bending of the rules. Not in cruely narcissistic way. No, with childlike prodding. Instance after instance, Shmuley pinpoints this one flaw, and the cumulative effect is stunning. Poignant. Aggravating. Fantastic nonfiction reading--even when you squint as Shmuley's seemingly self-serving reasons for not calling MJ out more forcefully in the interview sessions. In essence, he feared MJ might--and eventually did--dump the rabbi when things got to uncomfortable.
Shmuley posits in spiritual terms what Wanda Sykes put so indelicately: that Michael Jackson died not of massive opiates, but of Michael Jackson. The last 20 pages of the book are instructive, not reflective. For instance, Shmuley describes the sight of MJ's massive likeness floating down the Thames on a barge to be erected in London for the HIStory album. Then there is the interesting analogy to J.R.R. Tolkien's ragged Lord of the Rings character "Gollum." Once a pleasant, loving and lovable hobbit, Gollum lets the ring consume him, to the point that his appearance and mannerisms becomes grotesque, bizarre. Sound familiar?
Luckily Shmuley provides his own mea culpa on the dangers of celebrity. On the ring. Perhaps MJ just could not have been helped. I saw the film This is It as is closed Thanksgiving weekend. I think I can understand Shmuley's saddness. So can you, reading this book.