Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year??

In stark contrast to romantic notions of Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men, the seemingly perennial conflict between Palestine and Israel have most recently come to an alarming height- Hamas-led militants launching missiles at Israeli communities, and Israel-led airstrikes turning Palestinian-territory neighborhoods to rubble:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-12-30-israel-hamas-gaza_N.htm

Leftist conspiracy-theorist types are not pleased with the choosing of Rahm Emanuel for President-Elect Barack Obama's chief of staff. I have to admit, I was not familiar with him before his impending selection. A former member of the Bill Clinton White House cabinet and later a Chicago congressman, he was the inspiration for the Rob Lowe character on "The West Wing" and his brother Ari, a real life hollywood agent is the inspiration behind the Jeremy Piven character in "Entourage", a 'type-A-jerk' played for laughs in the show.. More on Rahm's background here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahm_Emanuel

..I'll stop short of saying that Emanuel is a closet agent of the Mossad, but it's probably fair to say that he is a hawk on Israel security (though in fairness, his reputation is that of a hawk in general, having openly derided oppositional forces like Republican congressmen and even the 'liberal' wing of the Democratic party while an advocate for President Clinton). He was apparently in favor of the original Iraq invasion, like Senator Joseph Lieberman (who initially lost in the Connecticut Democratic primary of 2006 to an anti-war platform candidate; he then he switched his affiliation to "independent" and won the November election.)

Technically, since Mr. Emanuel is not Secretary of State, he shouldn't get first dibs on foreign policy advice-- that would go to Hilary Clinton (though I'm not ultra-pleased with that choice, I'll leave it at that.)

Israeli native Daniel Barenboim released this statement recently- that there is no military solution to this ongoing conflict:
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_PEOPLE_BARENBOIM_ISRAEL?SITE=MIDTF&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

The Bush White House aggressively lays blame on Hamas, but only gives Israel the mildest admonition for seemingly reckless retaliation. Is it that because the ‘offenders’ in this conflict (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.) are 'brown' that most Americans in general are inclined not to care about civilian Palestinian deaths, with a dismissive rationale of “Well, they shouldn’t be living in neighborhoods with terrorists.”?

An interesting article about the conflict was published in Playboy back in 2007: (scroll down after link)- http://sabbah.biz/mt/archives/2007/10/03/playboy-magazine-goes-anti-semitic/
In summary, the author (who self-identifies as Jewish) asserts that while most Americans of Jewish cultural descent, especially younger folks, may identify as political moderates or even liberals who don’t have a problem with the idea of a two-state solution and who feel that at least some of the moves made by the Israeli government are indeed wrong, most established, prominent, and politically influential organizations based around the Jewish identity tend to be very hard-line conservative, with uncritical support for Israel as their “ride or die” dealbreaker.

Contemporary Black Christian culture doesn’t really help matters in terms of awareness about the conflict. In this respect as well as others, they often take their cues from white Evangelical customs by default. Many of the most devoutly religious of black folks will talk about how it’s a dream of theirs to visit Israel. In fact, many of them don’t even refer to Israel by name, instead sticking with the Sunday sermon analogs of “The Holy Land/The Promised Land”. Most don’t mention they’d like to go anywhere in Africa but I guess that’s a discussion for another day.

Frequently, in the black American community there is relatively little intellectual research or inquiry into the history of modern-day Israel/Palestine, let’s say, for the past 100 years. All many people know (sort of) through rote memorization of passages in Revelations and a few other scriptures, is that when Armageddon/The Rapture comes, “Israel” will be at Ground Zero, so anyone who wants to get on the “up” elevator needs to be lock-in-step with Jehovah’s people. And right now, that’s contemporary Israel. Most black pastors tend to reinforce the worldview that when modern Israel was established in 1948, that it was one of the key signs of The Last Days.

A hopefully non-loaded question comes to mind: Just how are the black people treated in Israel? The black people. When you see news reports about Israel (not necessarily concerning violence, just everyday life) when do they ever show black people? If this is supposed to be such a multicultural, tolerant society (and I'm not saying it isn't), where are they? There are at least several relatively credible news articles out there detailing that the lives of native black Africans, black American expatriates and others who live there are not experiencing the romanticized “Promised Land” that Sunday school here in the States teaches us about.

War is profitable. All those who manufacture guns, bullets, rockets, bombs, will profit from the destruction on both sides. The USA needs to totally divest from any and all involvement in this conflict, and that includes ‘unofficial’ involvement, i.e. the CIA.

I am not in the camp of crazy people like Al-Qaeda, their copycats, or right-wing Islamic clerics who wish to see Israel rendered to dust. I am not a Holocaust denier. Still, I believe that American opinion and traditional U.S. stances on the Middle East matters have been severely unbalanced for far too long. What does it mean to me that Israel gets high-tech radar equipment, missiles, road construction and other help from the USA, when infrastructure is disintegrating in Gary, Detroit, St. Louis, and elsewhere? People can’t meet their basic needs here. Heck, in Baghdad plans are underway to build a subway system, while Gary and other cities are still stuck in the mid-20th century as far as transportation options are concerned.

My hope is that Barack Obama has the foresight to practice a moderate stance on Middle Eastern issues. I don’t want to see the USA dragged into World War III via Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan or whoever else overseas who has an ethnic beef. It can only cost more US soldiers their lives and cost billions to the overall US economy that is already teetering.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Trick Trick Plays "The Villain"
Artist: Trick Trick
Album: The Villain
Koch Recordings, 2008

Chris Mathis, aka 'Trick Trick', has a history of being a Detroit-area underground/local rap personality since the 1990s, and is a contemporary of people who have since come to national prominence like Kid Rock and Eminem. “The Villain” is his second official LP on a mainstream label.

Music-wise, the bulk of production on the album is credited to the artist, incorporating live keyboard and funk-bass riffs with drum-machine rhythm tracks. It will bring to mind post-millennial West Coast hip-hop. Lyrically, the usual targets are here as befits gangster-rap standards (player haters, cops, disloyal associates), amidst shout-outs to Detroit neighborhoods and Trick’s extended posse the Goon Sqwad. Perhaps incredibly, Trick also includes Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen Degeneres on his list of folks to be mad at (on the self-referential “Trick Trick”).

Trick Trick enlists various Detroit-based friends for collaborations on the album. Among them include Eminem, who contributes vocals to “Who Want It” (he also produces here as well as on “Follow Me”). Royce Da 5-9 guests on “All Around the World”. “2 Getha 4 Eva” is a posse cut featuring Kid Rock (who contributes a now-rare rap verse), Esham and the late Proof of D-12, updating Run-DMC’s “Together Forever”. Other collaborations include “Let it Fly” with Ice Cube, who makes a humorous reference to a recent political scandal involving a former Detroit mayor. One of the best songs on the LP is “Hold On”, produced by Dr. Dre’, which should have been a lead single.

One of the closing songs on the album is “Let Go” where Trick reminisces about his spiritual journey and belief in higher power. That this track is preceded by over 40 minutes of violent threats may come across as disingenuous, but like DMX before him, one can only presume that Trick is being sincere.

If there is a downer on this album it’s the relentless homophobia on certain songs. It may be par for the thug-culture worldview, but if Eminem can work with Elton John and not blink… In any case, hardcore rap enthusiasts will find a standard-bearer in Trick Trick, but this is likely not the LP to make him a breakout star like his pals.

Grade: B

Monday, November 24, 2008

MC BREED: 1972 - 2008

Flint, Michigan-bred hip-hop performer MC Breed has died. Just this past weekend, public statements confirmed his death in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

In the summer of 1991, “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin’” became a regional, then national, hip-hop hit, especially in clubs and for underground rap enthusiasts. The song remixed Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” and the Ohio Players “Funky Worm” for its rhythm track. The original music-video shot for the single included a now-prescient hanging of a Saddam Hussein stand-in (the 1990-91 Gulf War had only recently ended; a second video was filmed once the single went national). Detroit figured greatly in the promotion of the single, as urban station WJLB and a few others added the song to playlists. Breed soon found himself in the company of hip-hop’s major stars of the 1990s before his career cooled off toward the end of the decade.

Lyrically, Breed’s style earned him respect from East coast, Southern and West coast fans alike. He spent most of his recording career on Atlanta-based independent label Ichiban Recordings, and relocated to Atlanta’s growing hip-hop scene not long after “No Future” became an established hit.

Breed’s success helped to increase hip-hop’s geographic diversity, helping Midwestern rappers to have a national platform. His backing crew, the DFC, was spun-off and recorded two albums of their own. His Atlanta sojourn found him aligned with local producers including future standout Jazze Pha. Other collaborators would include Warren G. and Too Short, who had also adopted Atlanta as his home base. Outside of “No Future”, Breed’s most enduring hit was 1993’s “Gotta Get Mine”, featuring Tupac Shakur.

In recent years, Breed’s fortunes began to wane. He separated from Ichiban in the late 90’s but subsequent albums failed to get much attention. He ended up moving from Atlanta back to Flint, and as recently as early 2008 was arrested for child support arrears. In October of 2008 he was reportedly playing a game of pick-up basketball when he collapsed. A physician’s diagnosis identified kidney instability as a factor. As recently as November 3, 2008 he did a radio interview with Detroit’s WJLB, and announced plans of a comeback album, planning to collaborate with Scarface, Jazze Pha and the D.O.C. among others.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hype's Retro Reviews: Public Enemy, Greatest Misses, 1992

"Greatest Misses" was the first `anti-concept LP' (according to an interview with bandleader Chuck D) from hip-hop group Public Enemy. Originally released in August of 1992, it hit stores just following the Los Angeles riots of that year as well as being in the midst of the U.S. Presidential campaign that year as well. Perhaps for the first time, the group reaches outside its traditional Bomb Squad production team for remixing select album cuts and singles from previous albums. Those remixes comprise the second half of this release, the first half containing all-new recordings.
1. "Tie Goes to the Runner" - Some wah-wah guitar samples anchor the rhythm track, where Chuck goes off on recent events: "Not surprised at all about the riot zone... This was predicted not self-inflicted By the rap outta the 'hood.."
2. "Hit Da Road Jack" - The group gives a middle finger to racists but also lament the apathy for some in the black community "When I come they all run and hide and they quit, and yell loud, here comes Chuck with that black..."
3. "Gett Off My Back" - Flavor Flav's solo opus (previously heard on the Mo' Money soundtrack) finds the rapper warning people about substance abuse, ("monkey, get off my back!"), with a nice Parliament-inspired hook.
4. "Gotta do What I Gotta Do" - Congas percolate on this track where Chuck explains his role as an activist and agitator- "They come & try to get some They had the nerve to call the president/ An' I wasn't hesitant, To scream I was a resident"
5. "Air Hoodlum" - Rhyming over a deceptively smooth jazz-based rhythm track, Chuck tells the sobering tale of a basketball prodigy whose dreams go terribly wrong. "The fall began When Mickey Mack fell; Hell ripped his knee, Drafted last by personnel."
6. "Hazy Shade of Criminal" - For the first single on the album, Chuck re-interprets the title of an old Simon & Garfunkel tune to indict the imbalances on how the American justice system deals with minorities- includes a timely swipe at the serial killer "Jeffrey Dahmer, enters the room without cuffs, how the hell do we get stuffed in the back of a cell on an isle..."
7. "Megablast" - Horns blast away on this remix of a Bum Rush the Show album cut, Chuck and Flav trade verses about the ills of dope addiction: "An antique fork, how long would it last.. we'll see in 12 minutes when he wants that blast.."
8. "Louder Than a Bomb" - Run DMC's Jam Master Jay helms a relentless heavy-bass uptempo remix of this Nation of Millions album cut, and the second single from Misses.
9. "You're Gonna Get Yours" - A scratch-heavy tweaking of the group's first single from their first LP.
10. "How to Kill a Radio Consultant" - New York pioneer DJ Chuck Chillout remixes this Apocalypse 91 album cut, with a special message for anti-hip-hop radio programmers. 11. "Who Stole the Soul?" - Ice Cube producer Sir Jinx gives PE a left-coast flair for this Black Planet album cut remix, including a hilarious audio clip of Eddie Murphy.
12. "Party for Your Right to Fight" - Live bass & guitar make for an engaging re-interpretation of the Nation of Millions album cut.
13. "Shut Em Down" - a live performance on UK television of the Pete Rock-produced remix. Note: liner notes include an art piece from comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz..

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

HOPE IS HERE AND NOW

"Although it seems heaven sent, we ain't ready to see a black president"
2Pac, "Changes", 1998.

Had he lived, the late Tupac Shakur would likely have been glad to eat his words in light of the events of November 4, 2008. Illinois Senator Barack Obama is now the President-Elect of the United States of America. Besting his opponent Senator John McCain of Arizona, Senator Obama has cleared over 300 electoral votes, nearly doubling the count of Senator McCain. Key to this were reputed battleground states of Ohio and Florida, both of which went to Obama. Other developments included Obama making strong stands in normally Republican strongholds like Montana and Indiana. Footage has been shown of not only American celebrations in many communities but in communities around the globe: Japan, Kenya, France, Haiti, Indonesia. People are rightfully celebrating a man whose vision, sophistication and determination clearly resonated with a global audience.

Despite my own enthusiastic support, up until Tuesday, I had to fight off a lingering skepticism, wondering if most of America could ‘go there’ and vote for a black presidential candidate (on either side of the party coin). Bless me, most of America did. Black Americans who lived through Jim Crow and the tumult of the 20th century Civil Rights Movement (including many family members of mine) are seeing what was once thought to be an abstract dream finally made manifest.

A black woman will soon become the First Lady. Two black children will spend a good portion of their childhoods in the White House. America’s armed forces now have a black Commander-in-Chief. In a bit of nice turnaround, predominately African-American Washington D.C.’s status as a ‘Chocolate City’ now has reached its full potential, to have black faces residing both inside and outside the White House.

As far as the issue of America being ‘post-racial’ goes, this is certainly a big door to kick down. Still, the challenge now becomes for people to continue to work on their personal and family goals as well learning to work together with people from different backgrounds to achieve change locally, which feeds into what communities need regionally and nationally.

Despite the unassailably progressive step that was made in most of the electorate voting for Barack Obama, many of America’s individual cities and towns still suffer from racialized tensions which plays out in varying ways depending on the ethnic population of a given region. In Detroit, the biggest political controversy in its history has only recently begun to wane—former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is currently in the second week of a four-month stint in county jail, relating to guilty pleas on four felony charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Even in jail, Kilpatrick is still a polarizing figure—supporters who appeared at his formal sentencing called for him to be freed and Kilpatrick’s father called it a railroading. Bernard Kilpatrick and several others (including staff on the current city council) are currently under an FBI probe into possible corruption involving city-contractor grants and whether Kilpatrick’s non-profit civic & political committees (officially he has five) were being used for private purposes (including paying his criminal defense attorneys) . Meanwhile, Christine Beatty, the former chief of staff (and former mistress) of the ex-mayor still awaiting her trial on perjury charges, not set to begin until January. Meanwhile, there are still thousands in the metro area who are culturally allergic to urban Detroit, who take every opportunity (especially online) to bash it on principle, assuming the worst of the local electorate, who will loyally wear sports gear from local teams but are quick to tell anyone from out of town that they are not from Detroit, per se’.

Now that there is a President-to-be who is genuinely from an urban background who has worked to improve conditions for urban districts, hopefully most if not all his planned urban initiatives will have traction, especially working with sympathetic local and regional officials. Implement mass transit. Push for progressive educational reforms. Radically rethink the war on drugs.

I credit Senator Obama with reaching out to those who did not vote for him at his acceptance speech. Just the same, I can’t feel sorry for any of those people who were in the McCain-is-Superman camp, who carped that Obama was a closet Muslim and therefore terrorist in disguise, among other canards. As the right-wing cranks like to say, “why don’t you just get over it?” Oh, before I forget: Barack. Hussein. Obama.

Here’s to at least four years of some truly revolutionary change.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

JAY-Z ENDORSES BARACK OBAMA

Saturday, Oct. 4, @ Cobo Arena, Detroit, MI. The crowd was about 10,000 people. Tickets were free, mostly secured from Obama campaign offices throughout the Metro area. T-shirt vendors were perched outside the venue, hawking Obama shirts and more. The show was set up to raise awareness for voter registration- the deadline being Monday, October 6. Local radio personalities hosted the introductory segment- an African-American Iraq veteran leads the pedge of allegiance; local singer and Oprah Winfrey Show-singing-contest winner Lashell Griffin sang the Star Spangled Banner; a judge running for michigan's supreme court said some brief remarks; finally a trio of Obama campaign workers urged the audience to engage their friends and family members to be registered and to vote on November 4th. Finally the main event: wearing a T-shirt, jeans, gymshoes and a NY Yankees cap, Jay-Z took the stage around 9:30, and did an hour-long set, no guest performers, just Shawn Carter and his band.

Songs where he performed at least two verses:
Roc Boys; Blue Magic; Jigga my Ni**a; 99 Problems; Show Me What You Got; Give it to Me; What More Can I Say; Encore; Dirt on Your Shoulder; Excuse Me Miss; Izzo/Hova; Big Pimpin; Jigga-What-Jigga-Who; Dead Presidents II; Minority Report

Jay Z took the time out to give several shouts out to Senator Barack Obama, "I'm not telling you who to vote for, but I'm telling you who i'm voting for".. "when they tell kids that you can grow up to be" (anything they want), it comes across as a "cliche', but now I believe it.." Jay remarked about his childhood in Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, and how now (the system) "finally include us" in this election; "the most important election in our lifetimes". The giant video screen behind him on the stage flashed imagery from various things from song to song, in particular when he was performing "minority report" he showed footage of katrina, and recurring images of President George W. Bush, at the end of the song, the screen stopped at a close-up of Bush looking pensive, to massive boos from the audience.. he included a couple songs from his upcoming album, 'Swagger Like Us' and 'Jockin' Jay-Z'.. After the main set was over, he came back and stood next to the DJ to run through brief snippets of various other songs, including "Who Ya with", "Can I get a..", "Hard Knock Life", "Crazy in Love", "Money, Cash, H*es", "The City is Mine", "Money Ain't a Thing", "What We Do", "Ain't no Ni**a", etc.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

LEE FILM HIGHLIGHTS FORGOTTEN SOLDIERS

Miracle at St. Anna is the latest film from director Spike Lee. It is his first war movie, and arguably only the second action-based thriller after 2007’s Inside Man. The WWII period film actually opens in the early 80’s: A post-office clerk (Laz Alonso) abruptly shoots a customer with a vintage military pistol. An ensuing police investigation finds an Italian stone bust worth millions in the suspect’s apartment. A rookie reporter (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) prods him about it, and the main narrative begins: in 1944, four black men, members of the 92nd Infantry "Buffalo Soldiers" fight their way behind enemy lines in Axis-controlled Italy. They include the towering Train (Omar Benson Miller), level-headed Stamps (Derek Luke), preacher turned apostate Bishop (Michael Ealy), and Afro-Latin/de facto translator Hector (Alonso). Train obsessively carries the aforementioned bust, retrieved from a previous battle.

The quartet manages to find shelter in the Italian village of St. Anna- locals there include partisans who fight against the Nazis. The group also looks after an injured Italian boy (Matteo Sciabordi) with a dark secret, whose foreign tongue and vivid imagination endears him to the God-fearing Train. Meanwhile, resident cynic Bishop frequently butts heads with Stamps, not just over orders but in getting the attention of the pretty Renata (Valentina Cervi).

The narrative touches on the conflict and the comfort that the soldiers manage to find in the sleepy village: A Nazi radio broadcast mocks the soldiers’ plight as they fight for a country that won’t allow them to be served at a restaurant (a scene at an American ice cream parlor illustrates this, with a twist); the group openly dance and flirt with local women, and debate whether their efforts will truly have any impact back home. Conflict with a racist commanding officer threatens to undermine everything as Nazis march toward the town.

Lee adapted Miracle at St. Anna from James McBride’s 2004 novel, who also wrote the screenplay. The film even manages to offer some quasi-sympathetic Nazis- one, an officer (who likes to read poetry) whose complaints about lack of food and supplies falls on deaf ears; another, a soldier who balks at slaughter of civilians. The cinematography from Matthew J. Libatique is at least as sympathetic as Ernest Dickerson’s was to Lee’s early work. Lots of wide shots are seen of the Italian countryside, giving scope to how overwhelmed and isolated the four protagonists are.

The film lingers a little too long in a few scenes with the villagers and a sub-plot involving a traitor among the partisans, and a court trial epilogue ends rather abruptly, but overall the story is extremely engaging, a portrait of men who sacrificed greatly not only for their country but for a community that was not afforded the same human rights that were being defended on the world stage.

Friday, September 05, 2008

NORTHERN (OVER-)EXPOSURE

Aang!

That’s ‘hello’, in the Aleut Inuit (Eskimo) dialect.

For those folks out there who haven’t heard yet, Senator John McCain has chosen Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate and vice-presidential candidate (thus securing all 3 electoral votes from a state that is rarely even mentioned during a Presidential campaign). Just recently both Palin and McCain have formally accepted their nominations from the GOP, and now are locked as the Republican Party’s hopefuls for the White House. For the past week or so, a ‘scandal’ of sorts has reared its head: Palin, married mother of five children, is now expecting to be a grandmother. Her 17-year old daughter Bristol is currently five months pregnant, and poised to be married to her 18-year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston. Conservative pundits, delegates and activists have vigorously stressed that this should not be an issue, and that Governor Palin should be applauded for supporting her daughter instead of, you know, kicking her out and calling her a libertine.

Fine. But I find it curious that far-right conservatives, including some of the most hardcore of Evangelicals are seemingly willing to sweep this issue under the rug, instead of using it as a teaching moment to highlight the very real issues that are at stake for Bristol and various other young people and their families.

It may not be fair to ‘bash’ the governor for her daughter’s situation. Still, hopefully this will help highlight some very serious issues that Presidential candidates and other elected officials will look at with empathy and take seriously.

Needless to say—or maybe it needs to be repeated—the GOP for roughly the past 40 years or so has presented itself as the “morals” party, especially as the Christian Coalition and other such groups started cozying up to them.

The daughter has chosen to keep the baby—so for the moment, we can duck the pro-choice/pro-life debate. Some of the other issues may not be considered ‘hot-button’ by political analysts, but they are very real nonetheless. They include, but are not limited to:

“I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick.”- Sarah Palin at the GOP convention

*Health Care- certainly for Bristol, prenatal care is a priority, but after the child is born, I doubt if her mom's current health care plan covers grandchildren—and so far anyway, a Vice-President’s health-care benefits don’t include grandbabies, either. So, just let the market sort things out? Right now, McCain’s status-quo view on U.S. health care system reforms has got to look a little quaint. Make sure to include dental considerations in the plan—after all, any Hockey Mom (to use the senior Ms. Palin’s self-description) also has to worry about loose teeth from her kid’s bad fall (or brawl).

“So I signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education even better”- Sarah Palin

*Primary Education- Clearly Bristol and her (ahem) fiancée already know about the birds and the bees. I’m curious to know what McCain’s vision is for bolstering public school education, including (hey now) sex education, which tends to make most social conservatives howl and throw up their hands. To paraphrase an Internet colleague (thanks to Redjack), a sex-education program in school is not there to upend or supercede whatever value system that the parent(s) at home should be already teaching their children. A sex-ed class in middle or high school is not going to make your kid gay or promiscuous. Those who don’t want their kids learning ‘anything’ about sexuality in a school setting are certainly free to home-school them or enroll them in a school that totally bypasses the topic. Still, I can remember my own parochial high school days when some of the girls were known to—eh, let’s skip it.

*Higher Education & Job Development- for Bristol, and certainly for the child's father, Levi-- he's likely going to have to look at continuing his education while holding a job to support his future wife and child-- what prospects are there for an 18 year old in rural/semi-rural Alaska with just a high school diploma? Is Wal-Mart out there yet?

*Child Care-
Generally speaking, child care nowadays isn’t simply a matter of paying a young girl to watch the kid(s) for a flat fee and free access to TV and the fridge. In-home (nanny) care costs money which most working-class types can’t afford—outside, registered and licensed family day care homes and day care centers are also businesses that aren’t cheap, even for people with otherwise solid incomes. Certain individual child care businesses sometimes offer scholarships, but they are hardly far-reaching. Similarly, subsidy assistance from privately-owned agencies is typically finite (that is to say, for a set period of weeks or months) To date, the only federal subsidy program is Head Start, which only covers children aged 0 – 4 (approximately), and depending on the parent(s)’ income status and the length of the waiting list, even that kind of help isn’t guaranteed for new parents. Some more information can be found here: some information can be found here: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/Child-Care99/mi-rpt.htm

Commonly, the only programs for continued (i.e., year-to-year) child care subsidy assistance are administered through a state’s social services/human services department. However, day care subsidy eligibility protocols vary: in the state of Michigan, a parent can choose a relative or other adult to be a paid caregiver, but the hourly pay rate fluctuates from county to county—and only parents whose cases are determined to be eligible for 100% of the subsidy get the full rate- (depending on the county, ranging from $1.66 to $3.10 per hour), for those determined eligible for less than 100% subsidy, the rate is chopped accordingly; for non-relative caregivers, the parent is also required to take out taxes before administering pay to the caregiver, and keep all relevant records for tax filing. Since this subsidy is administered by state governments, they fall into the category of—coughwelfare assistance, the no-no phrase for most GOP political candidates and their supporters. Now let's say if Barack Obama's daughters were teens and one got pregnant, I wonder if the family would avoid being pilloried under the premise that "If he can't keep his daughters in check, how can he lead the country?" Fox News alone would likely have hourly updates; Alan Keyes might even chime in: "See! You should have elected me to the Illinois Senate instead of Obama! I made sure to disown my gay daughter before I ran!"

So do Bristol and her beau deserve to be heckled? No. Does this realistically have any bearing on what would be expected of Sarah Palin as Vice-President? Not really. But is this “scandal” simply something altogether dismissible and irrelevant to public policy? Another Alaskan regional term comes to mind- Bullchitna.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

POR QUE INFERNO?

Daddy Yankee (Ramon Ayala), a Puerto Rico native and prominent Latin hip-hop ('reggaeton') performer, has publicly endorsed GOP Presidential candidate John McCain, appearing with him at an Phoenix, Arizona high school rally.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-mccain26-2008aug26,0,4019667.story
http://newsroom.mtv.com/2008/08/25/daddy-yankee-endorses-john-mccain-too-bad-he-cant-vote-for-him/

Some general insight on Latino voting trends can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanic_and_Latino_American_politics

Current U.S. Census statistics identify American Latinos as the largest minority group in the USA (http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/011910.html). That McCain has been openly attempting to make inroads with American Latinos and youth voters is laudable as it is transparent; but while the much-described "maverick" makes said appeals with star power via Daddy Yankee, it's important to note, however, that:
Puerto Rican natives are already considered U.S. citizens, since 1917. However, those who are residents of the island territory (like Daddy Yankee) cannot vote for a U.S. President, and their elected official who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican Luis Fortuño) has severely limited legislative influence. In any case, people of Puerto Rican descent have a distinct political advantage compared to someone from Mexico (or any other Latin American country) who comes to the United States legally or illegally.

For the record, McCain has not taken a definitive stance on the Puerto Rico Independence Movement (http://www.independencia.net/ingles/welcome.html): P.R. already participates in the Olympics as a separate 'nation'. McCain has also not taken a public stance on whether or not to admit P.R. as a fully participating U.S. state (51 stars! somebody call Betsy Ross!).

Thus, Daddy Yankee is kind of an odd fit to tangentially insert into the U.S./Mexico border-immigration debate, a hot-button issue that is not likely to go away anytime soon.
Not to mention-- well, who was the guy who started the whole "don't trust celebrity" ads?

Still, if Yankee can get McCain to try and dance, the spectacle might be worth it since it's bound to be YouTubed..

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

KNIGHT OR KNAVE?

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Andrew Klavan praises the recent film The Dark Knight, and makes flattering comparisons between the film's superhero protagonist Batman and sitting U.S. President George W. Bush:
http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB121694247343482821.html

Well, God bless Mr. Klavan for enjoying the movie. One of the great things about pop-culture films is that people from "both" sides of the political fence can watch and be entertained.
Still, while I am amused by Mr. Klavan's logic model, I would have to disagree. To me, our Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush is less like Batman, and more like one of the Dark Knight movie's villains, Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two-Face. In the film, Harvey Dent is an elected official--a crusading District Attorney who wants to rid Gotham City of its criminal element, especially the Mob. Dent hides a dark side, however, and when he is kidnapped and disfigured in an explosion, he goes mentally over the edge, seeking lethal revenge against anyone who he feel has crossed him-- he lets his enemies live-- or die-- based on a coin toss. With the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nationwide home foreclosures, wallet-busting gas prices (no, $3.95 a gallon compared to $4.30 isn't really a great deal) and other sad states of affairs home and abroad, it could be argued that many of President Bush's choices have been made with all of the depth of flipping a coin, that's for sure. Bush originally ran for office back in 2000 based in part on his carefully crafted image of a 'compassionate conservative'; in the years since then, Bush quickly settled into the far-right comfort zone of the Neo-Con club, compassion be darned. Talk about two-faced, eh?

But in the spirit of fun, let's see who else from Batman's Rogues Gallery has something in common with the most prominent people in the Bush White House cabinet:


  • Dick Cheney (vice president.)- The Penguin: in the comics, the Penguin owns legitimate businesses while conducting all kinds of skulduggery behind closed doors. As a key stakeholder in Halliburton, war and related mayhem has apparently made good for profits for Cheney and company.
  • Karl Rove (former senior adviser)- The Riddler: Thanks in great part to his labyrinthine plans, the United States invaded Iraq to find Weapons of Mass Disappearance (er, Destruction), and some five years later, the riddle hasn't been solved- why are we still here?
  • Donald Rumsfeld (former Secretary of Defense)- Mad Hatter: In the comics, this crook has high-tech gizmos to control people's minds to do his bidding, with sinister results. I'll leave it at that.
  • Robert Gates (current Secretary of Defense)- Scarecrow: In the comics, this villain uses 'fear dust' to make people unduly scared. What does the color-coded terror alert say today? "Be afraid. Be vary afraid. Of Everything! Hey, is that an Al-Qaeda operative or your shadow?"
  • Condoleeza Rice (Secretary of state)- Poison Ivy: In the comics, she's beautiful to look at, but deadly to touch. Dr. Rice will smile and say that things are going better than ever in Iraq; wait, wasn't there another suicide bombing yesterday?
  • Michael Chertoff (Secretary of Homeland security) - Joker: Certainly, homeland security has been a joke for a long time, the Katrina tragedy being only the most glaring example.
  • Henry Paulson (Secretary of Treasury)- Mr. Freeze: With the United States currently having a deficit of nearly $500 billion (http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008807280333) layoffs and unemployment strangling even the middle class, the country's economy might as well be in an Ice Age.

Needless to say, we'll have to wait and see what develops next- Same Bush time, same Bush channel?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

THE BOSS & THE BADGE

Well, let’s see—circa ’95, I was working at a Super K-Mart, in case anyone is thinking about blackmailing me.

As revealed in a report at The Smoking Gun, popular Florida-based hip-hop star Rick Ross apparently did an 18-month stint as a correctional officer in the Florida Department of Corrections. So far, Mr. Ross has vehemently denied this, going as far as claiming that a photograph of a younger Ross shaking hands with a D.o.C. official must have been doctored. State of Florida transcripts say otherwise:
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/0721081rickross1.html?link=rssfeed

I will stake my own non-profit agency meager salary that there is not a single rapper in the business who comes from a background of selling dope along the lines of a Tony Montana (people know he was fictional, right?), Freeway Ricky Ross (the real guy from L.A.) or Frank Lucas. There is also not a single rapper who came from a gang background who was remotely touching anything that a John Gotti was involved in. All of the neighborhood Bloods, Crips, Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings combined aren’t touching the real Mob outfits. If heads were in the game that deep, they wouldn’t need to rap to make money, if they were smart enough. Hustlers with the really big dough invest in entertainment companies, construction, sanitation, real estate, etc., they aren’t hawking demo tapes!

I don’t have any of Rick’s albums yet; from the stuff I hear on the radio and video channels, it’s decent and catchy enough for current Dirty-South rap. Still, I have to chuckle when these guys talk about how they were allegedly pushing mad weight back in the days. I don’t see why people have to come up with such elaborate backstories to justify getting into the rap game. Then again, I guess that’s where the business is at now. Who knows if Rick came up with this by himself or if he had help from the A&R folks at Slip-N-Slide/Def Jam.

I guess the question is, now that the truth has been revealed, what will his response be? Own up to having a 9 to 5 job that wasn’t great but paid some bills? Continue to deny the revealed facts as an elaborate hoax? Maybe try to awkwardly spin this into some street credibility (“I was a crooked C.O., handling weight on the low, ya feel me?”)? I can only imagine what his publicist is going to try and say, if anything. More intriguing, is how his fans are going to react, and why. Will they be ‘disappointed’ that he was, for 18 months anyway, pushing steel gates closed instead of pushing narcotics? Is some teenager’s dream crushed because his idol was apparently not the uber-coke merchant referred to in his favorite songs? Will fans who are actively involved in drug & gang activity feel ‘betrayed’ now that ‘one of their own’ used to be on the other side?

Unfortunately, this situation just kind of highlights the silliness that goes on in today’s hip-hop landscape. In the same year that Vanilla Ice rose to stardom, he got lambasted for apparently fabricating parts of his biography (for the curious, it had to do with allegedly being a gangbanger in his Miami high school and being a winner of amateur motocross races). Needless to say, his career was never the same.

Rick, O Voluminous One, whither thine own career?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everything in Moderation…
Except When I Don’t Feel Like It

Sour Grapes Turned to Whine?

“(He’s) talking down to black people… I want to cut his nuts off..”

These were the words which shocked the world, African-Americans in particular, when Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to Fox News journalists concerning a Father’s Day speech made by Senator Barack Obama that revolved about black men taking the initiative to be more involved in their children’s lives and to and turn away from the ills of crime and social nihilism. For reasons which hundreds of barber shops and hair salons are debating as to why, Rev. Jackson’s comments insinuated that speeches which seemingly scold the urban poor give little weight to addressing macro concerns of corporate and government responsibility (or the lack thereof).

The Rev. Jackson’s words (which he immediately apologized for—uh, he didn’t tap the mic?) were condemned by virtually anyone with a public platform, from both conservative and progressive circles, including his own son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Chicago). Senator Obama, for his part, publicly accepted the apology, and at a recent speech at an NAACP convention, reiterated his commitment to speaking on personal responsibility in the black American community. Much ado has been made concerning the senior Jackson’s presumed political irrelevance and his image to many as more of an opportunist than an activist. For the political left—certainly for anyone a part of senator Obama’s campaign—Jackson’s Freudian slip was a backhanded compliment—a chance to show the unconvinced electorate (among whites, anyway) that Obama is not the firebrand dashiki-in-his-bureau-drawer black candidate who goes out of his way to point the finger at Whitey. For the political far-right, it’s another confirmation of why they hate Jesse Jackson on principle—not that they were even slightly interested in voting for Barack Obama anyway.

Beneath the Rev. Jackson’s vitriol, however, just may be a granule of something worth considering: Specifically, the see-saw of stances taken by various politicians during campaigns, and the developments—or the lack of them—afterward.

I guess the jury is out on how things will continue to develop in this campaign. Senator Obama, far from a far-leftist to begin with, has crept more centrist in recent months—ostensibly, this is to woo the much-vaunted ‘moderates’ and Independents (mostly suburban and rural) who can vote either way in an election, and thus become the main people to cater to once securing the nomination becomes nearly secure. I vehemently disagree with this, as especially with progressive-minded folks, we see ‘our’ candidates seemingly flip-flopping just to appease people who have no vested interest in many (most?) of the issues that frame our point of view. Prison reform? Drug law reform? Comprehensive urban renewal? Mass transit options? Affirmative Action? Gun law reform? Forget it—they’re not interested—ambivalent at best, hostile at worst. Many of these folks are the types who apparently are easily swayed by the rumor-rhetoric that Obama is a closet Muslim, which of course, in the USA means he is a terrorist sympathizer, and his wife is apparently a disciple of the Black Panthers for doing a fist-bump. These are the ‘moderates’? The ‘everyday folk’ who represent real ‘American integrity’?

I’m not buying it.

The internal debate now among various Obama supporters is how heavily to criticize—or to criticize at all—the senator’s seeming shifts on issues like government wiretapping, the commitment of military troops to the Middle East, a blanket repeal of NAFTA, among other topics. Says one side, it’s more important to simply push to get Sen. Obama elected, and the minutia of various issues/grievances/requests as articulated by those who supported him early on will ‘probably’ be addressed in time. Says the other side, maintaining integrity and not waffling on the above-mentioned issues is more important than pandering to people who withhold committing until November. As much as I may sympathize with the former, I tend to identify with the latter. Bill Clinton was elected back in 1992 in part based on the idea that he would bring sweeping change—some of the issues at hand at the time were drug-law reform, welfare bureaucracy, a universal health care plan, and lifting the ban on ‘outed’ gays in the military. Time has since proved that Clinton was hardly any kind of Razorback-state hippie, and on select interviews Clinton fumed at the ‘liberal left’ concerning critiques on his decisions. Of course, once Monica Lewinsky told a secret, maybe the liberal lefts were among the few who didn’t look forward to roasting him at the altar of Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich.

“Since you came here, you have to show and prove…”
Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul”, 1987

How many people have accompanied someone to an event, only to have them ditch you for someone else soon after? You know, someone cooler, or better looking. That’s how a hell of a lot of progressives feel about developments like this. When Democrats regained a numerical advantage in Congress after the 2006 elections, near-immediate change on several fronts was promised again (thank you, Sen. Pelosi), only to have it more or less disappear like some Iraqi gold. Again, time will tell if Sen. Obama is simply “playing chess” to get the house keys, after which he would presumably start initiating and implementing some fair-minded reforms.

I fully ‘get’ that the senator is running for the President of the whole United States and not to be de facto president of Black America. I’m not remotely expecting him to be any kind of Mauist, either. I am, however, keeping a close eye at all these, ahem, adjustments to his policy views, and if (okay, shame on me, when) he gets elected, how all his talk compares to his walk. If the Democrats maintain a majority standing in the White House, there will be even less of an excuse for policy execution than there might be otherwise. Barack Obama being elected to the Presidency will inevitably have thousands of people rejoicing in their homes, campaign offices and in the streets—and heck, why not?

But I’m not celebrating anything if I’m not really welcome to the party.

Monday, June 16, 2008

‘Hulk’ Bulky on Action, Light on Talk

Grade: B-

The Incredible Hulk is technically the second theatrical release based on the Marvel Comics super-hero. However, this film, directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2, Unleashed) apparently ignores the events of 2003’s adjective-free Hulk which was directed by Ang Lee. Lead actor Edward Norton plays haunted scientist Bruce Banner in addition to contributing a script draft which was conditional upon his hiring as an actor (the WGA gives Zak Penn final official credit for the screenplay).

The story continues—or begins again—the saga of former research scientist Dr. Banner, whose body was drastically mutated in the aftermath of a botched experiment involving improving human resistance to radiation. Now, in times of extreme anger or stress, Banner’s gamma-irradiated cells expand exponentially, turning him into the outsized, super-muscled Hulk—driven by rage and prone to lash out at his tormentors with little restraint.

General Thaddeus Ross (played by William Hurt) was present at the experiment that birthed the Hulk, as was his daughter Betty (Liv Tyler). Obsessed with bringing the fugitive Banner into custody, the general recruits a special commando unit, including one Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), on loan from the British military. When the general’s team finally tracks down Banner to a Brazilian shantytown, things begin to go downhill for both Banner and the general—the Hulk is unleashed and makes short work of everyone involved. But while most of the team is at least humbled by this turn of events, it only intrigues Blonsky, who then volunteers to be injected with a top-secret performance-enhancement cocktail.

Unfortunately, the grim Blonsky doesn’t remotely have the conscience of Banner, and he becomes increasingly aggressive in his attempts to bring down his quarry. Meanwhile, the trouble-prone scientist hitchhikes from Latin America all the way to the Virginia college where he and Betty worked. Stumbling into an awkward reunion with his former love, a second Hulk flare-up prompts the two to head to New York City, where a heretofore mysterious colleague of Banner has the equipment necessary to attempt a cure—but the dogged Blonsky’s lust for combat derails everything; his own mutation spins out of control, turning him into the monster Abomination. With military personnel literally being crushed by this new creature, a reluctant Banner realizes that the only thing that can stop the rampaging Blonsky may be the Hulk.

If one is apt to believe circulating entertainment reports, Norton was allegedly miffed with Marvel studio executives who wanted a leaner, more action-driven final cut of the film compared to Ang Lee’s slower, ponderous interpretation. As viewed, the film is a taut action vehicle, essentially becoming a chase thriller after the first Hulk-eruption. Quieter moments such as when Bruce and Betty first reunite or trailer-glimpsed scenes of an Arctic sojourn and Bruce’s chat with a psychologist (Ty Burrell) are either truncated or not seen at all. Marvel Studios is self-financing their comic-strip based features now, so there is legitimate commercial concern here.

Still, accommodating viewers who don’t have stunted attention spans isn’t really that bad. The Lord of the Rings movies found a way to keep the story literate and the action exciting. While prose-fiction hardliners may blanch at comparing Stan Lee’s comic-book series to Tolkien, it helps to bear in mind that cool art-visuals alone aren’t enough to keep a comic-book going for 45 years like the Hulk. The story, whether simple or complex, still needs to be in place. Hopefully it won’t be another five years (or longer) before the Hulk shows up at cinema again, and maybe his handlers will believe in him enough to make the narrative as strong as the spectacle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing

"Wack MC's have only one style, gun-buck! But when you say 'let's buck for revolution', they shut the f--- up..." KRS-One, "Ah Yeah", 1995.

So, in the aftermath of the judicial verdict in the Sean Bell case (New York City) and the pending lawsuit in the death of Maurice Cox in Los Angeles, folks in hip-hop circles are wondering about the seeming lack of outrage from most of hip-hop's premier recording stars. Both cases involved an unarmed man who was killed by a barrage of bullets fired by police officers.

Allegedly, 50 Cent meekly eked out a neutral answer when questioned on BET's popular 106 & Park show. In fairness to 50, Curtis Jackson is officially (as in, his tax returns) an entertainer.. as are, well, pretty much all of the hip-hop singers out there. To be sure, they can perform their songs (in the studio, anyway) with charisma, conviction and clarity (regional accents aside). Yet when it comes to, say, giving interviews, a lot of today's artists come across as just barely astute enough to even really hold an extended conversation about their own careers and lives, let alone social-political topics. Reaching back to the so-called 'golden age' of hip-hop (the exact dates are amorphous, but are generally considered circa 1985 - 1994) rap personalities like Chuck D, Ice Cube, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Salt N Pepa, Queen Latifah, Daddy-O and Luke could hold a conversation-- even if one didn't agree with their points of view, at least one couldn't say that rappers were, by default, ambivalent types.

Today's hip-hop/rap stars tend to portray themselves as something other than entertainers, ostensibly for marketing purposes-- i.e., hustler, killer, dope dealer, pimp, etc.-- but unless they're just crazy ignorant like that-- and some of them are-- most tend not to actively participate in the activities they rap about on record.

Based on various interviews and workshop panel appearances, the education level of a lot of today's rap elite speaks for itself-- and it isn't all flattering. Not to imply that they're all unintelligent-- I would argue that most are intelligent, and yes, book-smarts aren't literally everything. But let's face it-- just like the general public, how many of these guys (and, uh, the girls, too) probably even read a daily newspaper? How many take the time to have some genuine "insight" on local issues where they're from (let alone national/global topics)? how many of them would even vote, if their legal status allowed? A lot of rappers have issues with felonies, so the attitude is like "I can't vote anyway, so whatever"..

So does Snoop Dogg, Game, et. al even care about a Sean Bell case? I would give them the benefit of the doubt and argue that, deep down, most do. Still, as much as the 'average' rapper of today considers themselves as careerists first, most of them are on some "I-want-your-money-but-I-ain't-a role-model" vibe, and though all would likely vehemently deny this, seem to have psychologically accepted the notion that black/minority life doesn't mean much, tacitly accepting second-class citizenship.. just look at the whole dynamic of "don't snitch & don't trust the police", a mobster's mantra that has trickled down from prison culture into the general public.

Based on the thematic/lyrical content of the most popular hip-hop songs out, many-- and possibly a clear majority-- of today's rappers will give a casual co-sign to the excesses of the urban underworld-- the pimping, drug-dealing/murder culture, rationalize it as "people are just doing what they have to do to survive" and some will claim not to blink when they get a prison sentence for however long. It's curious, then, to note that one issue today's stars will get passionate about is over the file-sharing/illegal-download/burning issue: "y'all are violating, y'all are costing me my gwap! (money)". Never mind that mixtapes, in and of themselves, are effectively bootleg releases (which at this point have been quietly endorsed by major labels as unofficial marketing plugs).

Proper CD sales have been shrinking for several years, compared to the rise in individual-single downloads from legal outlets and music-based cell-phone ringtones, which have become a major percentage of an artist's overall music sales. The major labels have downsized staff, artists on these labels are feeling increased pressure to deliver competitive sales. So has big money put a muzzle on rappers when it comes to speaking on issues social relevance-- beyond the strip club?

"Like a dull knife just ain't cuttin'/ We're just talkin' a lot and sayin' nothing.."; James Brown, "Talkin' Loud and Saying Nothin'", 1972.

Monday, May 12, 2008

PIONEERS OF HIP-HOP SHOW

May 3, 2008 @ the Fox Theater, Detroit, was the “Pioneers of Hip-Hop” concert, running from 8 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. The first act was the Sugarhill Gang—at least, the current ‘official’ lineup- four guys and a DJ spinning the discs: The only original member remaining is Big Bank Hank, with others filling in for the original Master G and Wonder Mike (according to Melle Mel’s website, the pair are currently touring as a duo, “The Original Sugarhill Gang”). The group warmed up the crowd spinning excerpts from recent hip-hop hits, then going into “8th Wonder”, “Apache”, and eventually “Rapper’s Delight” (and an encore of the latter closed the set).

The next act was Kurtis Blow. First doing some call & response ad-libs over the “Christmas Rappin” instrumental (via DAT or CD), he then performed “AJ Scratch”, “If I Ruled the World”, “Basketball” and “The Breaks”. He peppered his set with some b-boy moves, and announced that 2008 was his 25th anniversary as an MC.

The following act was the sole female performer, MC Lyte, whose voice can currently be heard in a Tide detergent (!) commercial. Lyte, backed up by DJ K-Rock and a drummer/bass combo, performed “Stop Look Listen”, her verse from “Self Destruction”, “Paper Thin”, “Ruffneck”, “Poor Georgie”.

Next up (“I believe that’s me”) was Big Daddy Kane. Wearing a tangerine shirt, jeans and white fedora hat, Kane went through a set of abbreviated renditions of “Nuff Respect Due”, “Warm it Up”, his verse from “Symphony”, “I Get the Job Done” “Ain’t No Half Steppin”, and “Raw”. Toward the end of his set, Skoob Lover came on stage and he and Kane revisited some of their old dance routines to the crowd’s enjoyment.

“Six minutes, Doug E. Fresh, you’re on…” Doug and the get fresh crew (Chill Will & Barry B on the turntables) largely kept the crowd rapt with excerpts from assorted 70’s and 80’s soul and funk jams, even TV theme songs (thousands of black people singing the “Cheers” theme- priceless). He book-ended his set with “Keep Rising to the Top”, “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di” (with a throng of concertgoers onstage).

“Now that Whodini’s inside the joint..” Jalil, Grandmaster Dee, Ecstacy were up next (along with Ja’s brother Dr. Ice from UTFO), and they performed several signature songs, starting off with “I’m a Ho”, then going into “One Love”, “Five Minutes of Funk”, “Freaks Come Out at Night”, and “Friends”. Jalil poured out hennessy and champagne to people in the front row, announcing that 2008 was the 25th anniversary of Whodini.

Last but not least, the teacher finally took the stage. BET Hip-Hop Awards I Am Hip Hop honoree KRS-One was joined by a DJ and a young crew of breakdancers; his standards performed included one-or-two-verse renditions of “Sound of Da Police” (dedicated to Sean Bell), “Love’s Gonna Getcha”, “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”, “My Philosophy”, "Criminal Minded remix 2008", “Hip Hop vs. Rap (a capella)”, and “Step Into a World”, but the Teacher seemed to mostly focus on freestyles and poetry interludes over instrumentals such as “Above the Clouds”, “All About the Benjamins”, and “Shook Ones pt. 2”. Sound problems seemed to happen about midway through the Blastmaster’s set, but he soldiered on. Clearly he could have gone longer, but the promoters started turning on the house lights at 12:30… ah well.. Still, an excellent show overall, I hope they come back soon, especially KRS-One.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE LIES THAT BIND....

I am disappointed at Senator Barack Obama’s recent seeming repudiation of Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Based on his comments made (while seeming unduly despondent) it was summed up as Dr. Wright “not being the same man” Obama knew some 20 years ago. Who knows—as some folks on black-culture message boards have suggested, maybe the good Senator is just playing chess, making terse statements to appease skeptical ‘moderates’ while planning to still achieve the greater good. Still, I feel all the intensified questioning from mainstream press outlets is shameful commentary on today’s journalism. The subtext around the ‘controversy’ of Dr. Wright’s recent interview with the US press corp highlights this. Wow, it’s got even Dr. Phil McGraw and Jay Leno talking about it right now. You know, I happen to like Jay, and I’ll give Oprah Winfrey’s Texas-bred buddy some credit for not coming across as too sanctimonious half of the time. But here’s a news flash for both of them:

psst: certain white folks out there still don't get it-- even those who think they do.

Concerning prickly social topics like race relations, especially in relationship to the black experience in America, the paternalism of the dominant culture effectively hobbles any frank discussions on the matter. Many folks, especially self-described conservatives, claim to hate political correctness. Still, somehow it seems that when a person—in particular, a person of color—diverges from commonly acceptable statements concerning such a topic as race relations or American history, then status-quo types raise their hackles: “How dare they?”

As Dr. Wright pointed out in his keynote speech to the NAACP, “different does not mean deficient”. He used metaphors relating to the performance styles of college marching bands, but the issue goes much further. Blacks in this country—and largely, other ethnics of color as well—in general, learn a different cultural history than what most whites tend to learn. I’m not talking about books, here—though chances are, the average school book disbursed to students in any inner-city district is probably not going to be as up-to-date as those disbursed to their suburban contemporaries.

What Lies Beneath

In school, blacks have to learn American and ‘world’ history largely from the standpoint of European-Americans. They learn of the struggles of the Puritans who crossed the Atlantic to the New World. They learn of the colonists and the tension that rose from the increasing demands of King George III’s regime. They learn of the heroism of George Washington, John Adams, and all the other nice folks who are on our assorted dollar bills. That a great many of these men owned blacks as slaves is given minimal attention and import compared to chopping down cherry trees and discovering electricity with a kite & key.

Relatively speaking, blacks learn little about what people who look like them contributed to America and the world—except, well, that they were slaves, and the masses of kindly whites up North fought exclusively to free them (heh) and then, black people didn’t do much until, um, Martin Luther King came along and helped eventually introduce his people to the great coffee and ice cream served at Woolworth’s café.

In short, the contributions of blacks to world culture is largely marginalized in America’s school systems, public or private. Blacks largely have to learn from outside of school that there is a reality “beneath” the reality that they are being formally taught. It’s taught to them by the words and experiences of their parents, grandparents and others. Taught to them in books that are not a part of their formal curriculum. Taught to them by their own experiences. Yet all of this is quite dismissible in the court of white public opinion.

I’m convinced that far too many people out there still tacitly hold on to history as learned through elementary-school eyes. From 1619 up until now, almost every American protagonist they read about had impeccable personable character, impeccable personal motives. The reasons behind any and every subsequent conflict which subsequently erupted—whether external (the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam) or internal (the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican wars)—had clear cut beginnings, clear cut enemies, and clear-cut, pat endings. No matter what the shameful episode entails, American nobility remains intact. Dissenters—especially if you are black—need not be considered. This is what is so infuriating to much of black America—that hegemonic white value system that informs public discourse assumes to be the final arbiter on what is logical, what is moral, what is truthful—and what is not.

"History is a Lie, Agreed Upon"- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Ignorance is not unlike a virus. It can attack silently. As time marches on, it spreads. Whether it’s the human body or the body of the public at large, disease unchecked leads to ruin.

The mainstream, corporate-owned press has perniciously hounded Senator Obama on what is arguably a frivolous issue—his pastor said something that he disagreed with. It has turned into the linchpin issue of his candidacy. Will he disown this man? Will working-class whites turn on him and vote for Hillary—or McCain? Little focus is on the genuine issues of ending the wars overseas, addressing health care access, addressing youth education, addressing employment, addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic—So you don’t agree that AIDS was a government plot? Fine. Still, for all the money being spent in Iraq, no one can tell me that the U.S. government has genuinely made solving this crisis a top priority—carp at me all you want, but I can’t say that I expect U.S. pharmaceutical corporations to dive-in with everything they have, as long as a ‘cocktail’ is more profitable quarterly than a vaccine. The people who want to bash Rev. Wright for being a ‘conspiracy theorist’ are not remotely as willing to bash George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and company for the lies that they have collectively told that have cost the country billions in money and multiple thousands in lives.

Discernment is a character trait that I would love to be able to condense into a serum and just give away (hopefully Bayer, Pfizer or Glaxo-Smith-Kline won’t come after me). I’m simply not buying the notion that the reporters needling Dr. Wright and Senator Obama are just doing their jobs: The job of truly bringing balanced coverage and sensible commentary about the real issues Americans face is not happening, and I wonder if it ever will.

Monday, April 28, 2008

WRIGHT ON TARGET—

The Detroit chapter of the NAACP held its annual Freedom Weekend Celebration on April 25, 26, and 27, 2008.

I attended a pair of panel discussions Saturday—the first concerned “Which Way, Young Black America: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?
There were eight panelists, and among issues discussed were of course the presidential candidates, and the most attention was given to the “Proposal 2”, the successful effort to ban Affirmative Action statutes from all educational institutions in the state (and IMO, unofficially, other institutions). Among panelists were Munson Steed of Rolling Out Magazine, and editor Bankole Thompson of the Michigan Chronicle, one of a few remaining historically black newspapers in the country. Local educator and Detroit resident Akindele Akinyemi (http://whoisakindele.info/), self-identified as a Republican, offered that he sees nothing wrong with black pride, and he’s no fan of G.W. Bush nor John McCain, but supports certain GOP platform items like school choice/vouchers and leans conservatively on the ‘morals’ issues (unspoken but presumably abortion, etc.); giving some information on his own background, he said that it wasn’t until after he graduated college that he found out that blacks had historically supported the GOP until the civil rights movement spurred the shift.

Steed offered his opinion that many large corporations—he pointed out Starbucks (Magic Johnson’s stakeholder position notwithstanding)—tend not to advertise in urban/black media publications and despite arguably having a black constituency for their product, really do little or nothing to have a genuine relationship with black communities (I would offer that Starbucks’ policy of mandatory tip-pooling and Chairman/Chief Executive Howard Schultz’ defiance at a lawsuit decision regarding this probably doesn’t help) . He also claimed that no black-owned corporation has gone public since Cathy Hughes’ Media One several years ago. Other issues that came up inevitably concerned hip-hop and the role that contemporary musicians are thought to have—or should have—concerning the voting process. Sean Combs’ 2004 “Vote or Die” campaign was mentioned—unmentioned was the fact that apparently he chose not to vote in the 2004 elections (I believe that rap musicians can certainly get people’s attention when it comes to voter registration—certainly when they speak, fans tend to pay attention. Still, it’s not terribly realistic to expect most of these folks to be any more informed than the average person when it comes to certain issues—though, as often as some of them get arrested, some could probably benefit as spokespersons for drug-law reform and prison-reform advocacy.) Most panelists reiterated the thought that voters should be encouraged to participate but to have some discernment on the issues that are important to them, and not to just assume allegiance uncritically.

The next workshop panel was the “Town Hall Meeting”. Here, panelists- two women, six men, some local, others from other cities—were all pastors of various churches. First though, there was 15 minutes of footage shown from the forthcoming CNN documentary—“Black in America”— a six-part series, narrated by Soledad O’Brien, concerning several topics concerning the modern state of black Americans. The first part will be “Black Men”; the second part “Black Women & the Black Family”; the third part will be a re-examination of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. The footage shown was of the King segment, and it showed O’Brien as she gets a tour of the hotel where Dr. King was killed; there are also interviews from people who were present that day, including ministers in Dr. King’s camp, as well as firefighters and police who were on the scene that day. Two producers who worked on the documentary were present to answer questions about the overall project. When asked of the veracity of a straight-up government plot to murder Dr. King, the producers acknowledged the COINTELPRO existence and the open hatred that the Hoover regime had for Dr. King and the civil rights leaders, but stopped short of saying that it was the FBI/CIA who murdered him. I asked the producers how much the overall documentary gets into the presence of blacks in the (journalist) media, i.e. newspapers, magazines, and TV—not just on-air folks and anchors but news directors/program directors and other decision-makers, to make for more diverse newsrooms—and, ideally, more diverse news. They answered that the overall documentary doesn’t really get into that, but during the forthcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans later this year there will likely be a panel that delves into this topic.

Roland Martin of CNN was a co-moderator (along with local Detroit radio personality Ms. Frankie Darcell), and as the panel conversation switched to what the black church’s role should be with respect to social justice: Is it important to continue the legacy of Dr. King, or is it paramount (as Christians) to continue the legacy of Christ?

It wasn’t hard to figure that the specter of the controversy about Dr. Jeremiah Wright was the recurring issue being addressed. All the attending pastors (including Rasul Muhammad of the Nation of Islam) spoke of their support for Dr. Wright and the mis-portrayal of his history and views. Martin offered a question to all panelists on how current their congregations were with respect to state-of-the-art technology—pointing out that it was roughly three weeks after the Wright controversy first hit before members of Dr. Wright's Trinity Church uploaded the entire sermon that was previously chopped up by various news outlets, and that “right wing evangelicals” have their tech-preparedness resources well in hand when it comes to circulating their points of view.

Panelists also offered that denominational divisions weaken blacks politically, and some added that pastors who “eat of the King’s meat”, i.e. allow themselves to be too close to the political establishment, are misleading their congregations; other questions challenged the black church to do further outreach and services to people in the community beyond the “converted”.

At the Sunday dinner, where Dr. Wright was to be the keynote speaker, awards were given to Eleanor Josaitis of local machinist-training program/non-profit center Focus: Hope and Soledad O’Brien, among others. Speakers who made brief remarks before Dr. Wright included Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D), Michigan senators Carl Levin (D) & Debbie Stabenow (D), Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter. Dr. Wright’s keynote address directly answered the controversies about certain sermons, playing video clips and explaining what was not shown. He further pointed out the various differences in black church culture in comparison to white church culture, and how black mannerisms, cadence, humor, and certainly music, inform the experience in a way that is markedly different from how the aggregates of whites tend to experience church—a major component, from his point of view, in how he was portrayed as a ‘cultist’, among other things. He made no apologies for his sermons, pointing out that in their full context, they were not what certain people were making them out to be (giving a brief ‘shout-out’ to suburban politicos who expressed skepticism over his invitation to the event- "I'm sorry your local political analysts are saying I'm polarizing and my sermons are divisive. I'm not here to address an analyst's opinion. I stand here as one representative of the African-American church tradition, believing that a change is going to come.") Despite retiring from Trinity Church, Dr. Wright said that he will continue to speak on various matters of import, especially concerning the black community.

Addendum:
A leaflet was passed on to me by a lady while I was at one of the panels. I suspected who it was about when she gave it to me, but it was still amusing to read:

In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia (Virginia Union) and voluntarily joined the Marines.

In 1963 this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. The man did so well in corpsman school that he was chosen to be class valedictorian. In fact, he ultimately became a cardiopulmonary technician.

He was assigned to the Navy’s premier hospital, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the Commander in Chief’s Medical Team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after Pres. Johnson’s 1966 surgery.

For his service on the team (which he left in 1967), the White House awarded him three letters of commendation. What is even more remarkable is that this man entered that Marines and Navy not many years after these two branches began to become integrated.

While this young man was serving six years on active duty, future Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was borne the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student, and one for being a prospective father. Future Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than this African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both avoided going on active overseas military duty.

Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years, or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something, or those who merely talk about their love of the country?

After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America’s biggest cities. Who is this devoted patriot?

…Kind readers, I suspect you know the answer, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

OH, I'M GONNA GET IT NOW...

(preliminary blessings go to YBullard, Cecile, Mark Essex, PettyofficerJ, Bookworm616 and others for their input on my latest Desperate Cry for Help ™) For all others (un-)concerned, feel free to heap your perfectly justified scorn my way..

Ah, some days.. Ran into a guy friend I haven't seen in some time. We get along just fine, but somewhat inevitably, a certain question was hurled in my direction, and I think I told them some perfunctory excuse that wasn't my response below, but I'm thinking it should have been.. forgive me..

Friend to Hypestyle:“So why don’t you want to meet a nice church girl?” Um, let me get back to you on that. Why? Just because the way my luck works! Some folks like to go darn near all day, and then expect to come back from 6 pm to 8 for a second dose, and maybe the third tithe offering ("I sense a $500 blessing, saints.. who's got it?").
Heck, come August, I’ve got football to watch! Even if it’s a BYE week! And naturally, because I’m a human magnet for everything that I don’t want, The universe never let’s me get what I want.. I love the Lord, and I dig women who do, too. Still, I can’t be bothered with any Aunt Esthers in training, I’d have to be ‘Woody’ and start drinking to deal with it (google or wiki Sanford & Son); to them, everything, this that & the other is secular, is worldly; she doesn’t want to eat at a Chinese restaurant, not that the food isn’t good (no MSG/cat jokes, please), but they have some kind of Buddha statue up in there, and that’s blatant paganism, and you know, since it’s Chinese, it might turn into a giant robot, so you might want to call homeland security while you’re at it— Really, a kid-free, riches-free guy like me justs wants a jump-off buddy, who herself is just looking for a jump-off buddy, that’s all! I don’t think it’s really that complicated? Other people get that when that’s what they want.. but no, because that desire, happens to be spoken or thought of by me, because that request happens to come out of my mouth, all of the sudden the universe is like “Is that Hypestyle bleating again? uh-uh, no can do, we’re fresh out, screw that, we gave it all away at the office!” The way my luck works, either I can expect to meet the woman who expects me to be the type of guy who doesn’t have King Magazine, and/or Halle Berry tribute magazines in his possession, or they expect me to be the guy who’s genuinely offended at comedy movies (like Wedding Crashers or The 40 Year Old Virgin)when women lose their tops for no good reason- and heck, I don't feel like having to lie about it.

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #1
Let's see, who's out there? Single moms ain't what they used to be. Especially nowadays, you have the demographic of the single mother whose baby’s daddy—or maybe there’s even more than one—is some parolee type: either he's been to the pen, there right now, or getting ready to get on the bus. As the saying goes, I ain’t no punk, but I’m not looking forward to, I don't know, being confronted at random at a gas station or a movie theater: “Yo, whassup kid, yo, you been kickin’ it with Monique? You tappin’ that? You hit that? Yo who the f*** told you you could all up on my baby’s moms, son? Ni**a don’t you know I'll put some hot ones on you (etc., etc.)”; ..and even if he’s not the violent type, inevitably when I come to visit the gal then he starts banging at the door, finally wanting to visit the kids. "Yo where you at? I know you got a ni**a up in there! Stop frontin'!"

How many phone conversations can I expect to overhear where she all of a sudden starts cursing the other person out? “Mothafu*ka, that’s why I left your ass to begin with… Hell no, I’m not coming over your place to braid your hair; your triflin’ ass ain’t pay me for the last time I did that; no, a gallon of milk and a box of skittles don’t count, mothafu*ka… What? No, Ni**a, fu*k you! (click)… So the way I look at it—any single mother worth seeing is naturally going to have priorities to put her children first, which means whatever her job is—if she has a job—then she’s probably working some intense hours, and probably has to pay somebody to look after the kids, which means she’s probably more than a little financially tapped, and she probably wants to be able to spend more quality time with the kids, which dating more or less cuts into by default, unless every time you go out on a date somehow it ends up involving (shudder) kids' restaurants (ahem, Family Restaurants) like Jeepers or Chuck E. Cheese or adding (potentially several) kid’s admission and a popcorn combos (who's got some big pockets? here, put some Snickers in before we go) along with whatever money you’re having to shuck out for the movie tickets. So the way I see it, I’m doing single mothers a favor by not bothering them, I’m actually giving them the space they need to bond further with their child without the outside interference from a man who may not even be there in the long run. (See? I'm sensitive.. )

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #2
Or, maybe, you know, there’s the woman where the only missionary position they’re interested in is one where they stay in Haiti or Israel or Nicaragua, where they’re teaching foreign kids English most of the day or some drudgery that I can't pretend to be courageous enough to be bothered with, and hoping that some rogue militiamen or a suicide bomber don’t stop by to visit, “say, we’re really sick of all that Michael Bolton & John Tesh music you keep playing over the loudspeakers; have a grenade!” Let’s see, who else would I probably end up meeting?

OVERLY GENERALIZED FEAR #3
Oh, lastly there’s the woman who willingly was a freak on wheels for at least a several year stretch, but then maybe they slipped in the bathtub, knocked their head and decided it was a religious experience and so now they’ve declared their “second virginity” (groan) and they intend to live a life of celibacy until that distant day when she marries the guy who looks forward to waiting as much as she does, and who will gladly save 4 months worth of salary for an engagement ring, and who knows how many month’s salary for a down-payment on a house; if the prospect of being expected to cover a house note, insurances and other utility bills doesn’t take your h*rd-on away, I don’t know what will..

HOPE SPRINGS INFERNAL (apologies to Alexander Pope)--
..a longtime female friend, "Lisa" (not her real name)who i used to have a crush on, recently got married.. through conversation, I guess I told her about some things.. so Lisa gets an idea..
I need a makeover! (sound the alarms!)

she (along with some of her female friends) wants to help me put together a new wardrobe, new haircut, etc. She wants me to write up some basic bio information about myself, and what i'm looking for in a date.. from there, i'd set up some kind of listing on one of the dating websites; she's willing to help me in 'screening' people for any possible responses, and then do some one-on-one interviewing herself.. Oh, this is just going to be wonderful, cats & kittens.. Where's my camcorder, I might as well make a short film out of the experience..

A Final Disclaimer
If it didn't come across with my frequent stabs at self-deprecation, I don't remotely see all religious women and/or single moms as, uh, "problem types", but for whatever reason the most gratingly eccentric ones seem to hover in my orbit... and kind of like Ray Romano's mom on Everybody Loves Raymond, they're kind of cheerfully oblivious to their own eccentricities.. while I tend to lay mine bare on Internet message boards.. :)

Blessings to all!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Foul Ball!

Nope, for all you nice folks out there who dig our (long-reputed but in-practice questionable) national pastime, opening day for most ball clubs isn’t until the end of March. Armchair umpire that I am, I’m actually talking about what’s going on in that other pennant race, which starts off which maybe a dozen or so over-35 types jockeying for position to be frontrunners, then for any number of various reasons gets winnowed down to at least two. Sometimes there’s a third, but for whatever reason nobody tends to take him or her seriously; heck, sometimes there’s even a fourth or fifth final candidate, but no one ever gets to know their names until they actually go into the polling booth. Huh..

As of mid-March, 2008, the presumed GOP nominee for the Presidency is John McCain. A career Navy man and Vietnam War veteran, he was a prisoner of war for several years before finally being freed of those tortuous conditions. Despite having publicly disagreed with President George W. Bush on several occasions, including (at least for a few minutes) questioning if the USA should continue torture-tactics on prisoners in relation to the War on Terror, McCain has in recent weeks publicly embraced Bush, implicitly or explicitly vowing to continue his domestic policy plans for the American economy—what’s more, he says he also plans on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ostensibly leaving an open window for American military presence in these regions and beyond. Despite various polls that seem to indicate that general American sentiment has become weary of the war (I’m lazy; check Zogby or somewhere relatively reputable; please not Fox.com).

On those occasions where I have read interviews with McCain or seen him give a brief speech, he’s struck me as a fellow who is, at the surface level at least, intelligent, but fairly vague on any specifics on just what he would do to try to Steer America Back on Track ™ or however the standard ‘vote-for-me-because’ song and dance goes. So far, I haven’t noticed that he’s said anything in particular about addressing urban issues—recommitting federal moneys for infrastructure, attracting private investment dollars, addressing education (including early childhood education, improving public schools, and making post-high school more affordable); shortcomings in law enforcement and prison reform (especially as it relates to non-violent offenders). Detroit, in particular, has a nasty problem of an atrociously nonexistent trans-regional mass transportation system (i.e, light rail, short-and-long distance commuter shuttles/buses, etc.) Federal cooperation would go a long way in giving the region mass transit options that it has desperately needed, which stalemated squabbling among the region’s civic and business leaders (not to mention the presumed indifference from the auto industry: “That’s right, who needs a monorail, when you can buy a Hummer-Deluxe! Next year’s model will be 5 miles to the gallon! Act now!”). Also, even though any number of people will point out to me that this doesn’t matter, I have never seen John McCain speak to a mostly-minority audience, at all. Even if he were to give them the same speech as he gives to Joe and Jane NASCAR, it would certainly show that he’s not afraid to reach out where others have not: Unfortunately, on this score, McCain seems positively un-maverick-like despite his now-reputation as the Republican who Dared to be Different. Back in late 2007, there was a forum for GOP candidates organized at Howard University. Only the lower-tier (and lower-funded) candidates showed up like Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback. Giuliani? Romney? McCain? Nope. Oh, my Catholic guilt won’t let me ignore the fact that perennial also-ran Alan Keyes (who probably spent his campaign funds on cab fare to the debate) did show up to the forum—and one of his first remarks was to passionately defend the other guys who didn’t bother to show up. Moving on

To recap, McCain so far hasn’t presented himself, to my vantage point, as anything but another aging career politician (albeit one with a much younger, hot wife) who wants to be President, because, you know, it’s cool. Former Law & Order actor Fred Thompson (who also has a much younger, hot wife) tried courageously to present himself as the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, and maybe he figured the TV reruns showing himself as a tough-on-crime District Attorney would balance out any lack of fundraising (or, uh, personality, platform, etc.) on his part. As we know by now, Fred is presumably back home in Tennessee enjoying his wife and quite possibly contemplating TV offers again. Considering the drubbing that McCain endured for the past year or so, being pilloried by even right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, conventional wisdom had McCain pegged as inevitably finishing a distant second to Romney, or possibly even behind Mike Huckabee, whose background as an Evangelical pastor had him quasi-anointed as preferable to the light-on-religious-talk McCain.

But as someone on the web pointed out to me (thanks, Priest), out of all the candidates—on either side—McCain looked and talked the most like A President ™. He’s got the Right Build, the Right Cheekbones, the Right Hair, the Right Look in a Suit. As Jon Stewart pointed out at the Oscars this year, when have we ever experienced a woman or a black man as president, unless it’s blatantly a science fiction movie?

He’s Not Black. He’s Not a Lady.

As unmercifully depressing as this may sound, there are a great many people who only respond to The Look and The Sound. Right now, John McCain is the John Wayne archetype that was first channeled by Reagan, then Bush I, then Bush II. Compared to George W., McCain doesn’t even have to fabricate anything about his military service record during the Vietnam War. For the cult who still insist that there are probably some of “our boys” over in Vietnam, McCain is going to be their Good Guy ™ (action figure coming soon). The Grownup who will defend America aggressively from all Bad Guys ™ and not be bothered with the wimpy qualities of temperance or even regret in the aftermath of any drastic consequences to follow.

I see McCain absolutely burning Hillary Clinton if she ends up being the Jackasses’—er, the Democrats’ nominee, come November. I’m talking, Mongolian Barbecue here. Missus Clinton just rubs far too many people the wrong way—in some respects for dumb reasons (like, you know, she’s a lady, and they get too emotional to push the button; real leaders don’t wear teal; she wants to *shudder* make health care universal!), in other respects, she rubs people the wrong way for reasons which I will have the uncalled-for gall to point out below.

Okay, so she married a guy who likes soul food, and one who doesn’t look uncomfortable in a black church setting (unlike the vast majority of even well-meaning white folks). Right On. Still, it’s clear that she and her advisors (and, yes, even Darling Billy) underestimated the grassroots momentum of Illinois Senator Barack Obama. With only a few years under his belt as a senator (but several years as a state legislator and community activist), Obama managed to build a multicultural coalition in record time, winning the Democratic contest at the Iowa Caucus—a state where finding the African-American population is like trying to get that one colored gumball out of a sea of white ones in the candy machine. When it became apparent that Mr. Obama’s candidacy was shaping up to be the real thing and not a here-he-comes-there-he-goes quickie, the Clinton campaign started showing some none-too-pleasing new colors (*cough* green, *cough*, red…)

Bill Clinton left office in 2001 being credited with balancing the federal budget with a surplus of funds (certainly nothing to sneeze at, though I wondered where was the trickle-down effects to be seen in urban America), as well as having to endure a taxpayer expensive, Republican-led, draconian impeachment hearing, ultimately more or less for hooking up with the help. I felt for him during the Monica Lewinsky scandal (though, unlike Toni Morrison, I never once thought he became black in the aftermath). Still, there were recurring incidents during his tenure that left an uncomfortable impression on me that my personal memory banks never let me forget. Hopefully my mother isn’t reading this, she would never let me live it down (hey Mom! Do we have some Spanish-rice mix left?) While she’s busy, I’ll continue:

Though pretty much anyone who commonly regards the Clintons as Black Folks Friends Forever (BFFF for you instant-text heads) will naturally want to boink me in the head for saying this, I still remember some incidents that lost Bill some cool points with me (or at least, left me scratching my head) back in the days. First, in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots there was the war of words with rap singer/activist Sister Souljah early on—which indirectly embarrassed Jesse Jackson at a black political convention. There was the abandonment of federal court nominee Lani Guinere. There was the see-sawing on welfare reform, which today is still largely a mess that’s creating generational poverty. There was the quasi-firing of black female Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders (she resigned, under much public pressure and zippo defense from Clinton) when she brought up the notion that teen self-masturbation was preferable, say, to teen pregnancy or STDs. Perhaps most disturbing to me was the mysterious plane-crash death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown (and several others), amidst controversy concerning alleged campaign finance impropriety (the subtext of all of this being, Bill was showing conservatives, even white Democrats, his willingness to, ahem, put ‘them’ in their place if he had to). To his credit, Clinton did start a Commission on Race Relations toward the end of his term, but it vanished rather quickly after a much-ballyhooed beginning.

One might legitimately ask, “Okay, buddy, all of this talk about Bill Clinton, what’s it got to do with Hillary?” Well, for starters, Hillary has thus far not had a problem with claiming quasi-credit for being involved with policy planning on various fronts during her husband’s tenure. Since she’s willing to share the credit, I’m willing to share some blame. There was really no cause for Bill Clinton to go overboard and negatively compare Barack Obama’s South Carolina primary win (getting a clear majority of African-American votes) to Jesse Jackson’s 1988 primary win—effectively implying that it didn’t, and won’t, amount to much overall. In the controversy that followed, Bill apparently felt like he had to call Jimmy Carter to assess the damage that may have been done. Democratic debates have been touted like boxing matches, if you follow most of the mainstream news outlets: It’s Hurricane Hillary vs. the Obama Bomber (ooh, almost sounds like a terrorist, right, Ms. Coulter?)

Hillary has come across as not just two- but three-faced at various points in this campaign. I couldn’t follow what the hell she was saying when confronted on the issue of whether or not to give illegal residents drivers’ licenses in New York State. For any ignorant allegations that have been made against Obama and are legitimately traced to her camp, she seems to shrug it off but not fully take ownership of it; instead, a campaign worker will resign, thus, presumably, leaving her unscathed. Most glaringly was one-time Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s maddeningly negative dismissal of Obama’s candidacy. When the fallout came, then she suggested reverse racism, proving to many that even self-avowed liberal feminists can go to that well if they need to (honorable mention must be made of Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem’s similar screed a month or so ago). Then, there was the vague racial undertone to the “3:00 A.M.” campaign ad, focusing on cherubic white children who are, presumably, at risk of Something Bad happening to them. Who is it? Maybe some brown terrorists from Latin America or the Middle East. Or heck, maybe Willie Horton just got out of jail again. I will stop short of calling Senator Clinton and her husband racists (hi again, Mom.) However, I don’t have a problem with calling them calculating politicians who are willing to exploit cynicism, and yes, the racism of others for their own political benefit.

Most recently, maybe the biggest debacle to come out so far in the (ahem) race is the conflagration that began with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and comments from him at certain church sermons that were released to the public. The video clips, in part, find the Rev. Wright commenting on everything from George Bush to 9/11, and even, yes, Bill and Hillary. And, yes, much of it is indeed negative, and laced with the type of black-charismatic preacher cadence and fervor that even if he were just reciting the ABCs tends to make many white spectators ill-at-ease.

The Rev. Wright and Barack Obama have had a relationship for some 20-odd years, with the former having performed the latter’s marriage ceremony and baptism of his daughters. But what’s got most of white America in a hissy-fit is the fact that Rev. Wright apparently wasn’t willing to just say nice things about America, like Any Normal Pastor should be doing in their worldview. For anyone, especially a person of color, to look at the history of America as anything less than blameless nobility is tantamount to high treason.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can make you laugh, cry, experience all types of emotions. Unfortunately, in my estimation, nostalgia can also prove addictive. All types of old TV shows are available now on DVD as well as being all over cable television. Naturally, any type of television program or movie from a certain time period will have some dated aspects in the years to come. But for many people—especially white conservatives, the Greatest America was somewhere between Truman’s short tenure and before the Civil Rights Movement started gaining major momentum in the early 1960s. No coincidence, that any number of early, and iconic family sitcoms were produced in this time period—you know, Beaver, the Nelsons, Dobie Gillis, and the rest. Whoops, silly me, can’t forget about Beulah and Amos & Andy. Hey, who says TV wasn’t kind to colored folk? But as the Kingfish might say, “Trickeration!”

These old shows have perfectly knowledgeable husbands, perfectly coiffed (and home-bound) wives, perfectly cut lawns & shrubbery, and not an ethnic of color in sight (and whatever troubles that probably come along with that). This is the self-sustaining Matrix-style program that most (again, mostly white) people who consider themselves mainstream Americans have themselves tuned into, seeking to connect only with those who watch the same channel. The look of most amusement parks fall into this paradigm if you think about it. Archie Comics’ Riverdale brought to life. Any number of period-set modern movies and TV shows find comfort in suggesting If Things Were Just Like the Old Days…

When someone points out that the Good Old Days weren’t necessarily the Good Old Days for everybody, white folks, in the aggregate, act like the drug addict whose addled state of euphoria is interrupted- “You’re messing with my high! Get outta here!” The heaviest thing the kids of George Lucas' coming-of-age film American Graffiti had to deal with was maybe getting caught drag-racing and a police escort home. Some of their black counterparts were getting attacked for attending a once all-white school. As much as the music and personality of Elvis Presley became a target of the conservatives of his era (while giving his audience plenty of future nostalgia to hold onto), he could still walk through the front door of any restaurant or hotel without, you know, getting attacked on principle. Little Richard? Chuck Berry? Forget about it.

Sustained carping that Davy Crockett and the Alamo crew just don’t mean a hill of beans in black culture might start a fight if you’re in a bar with a big American flag (or a Confederate flag) planted on the premises. For significant majority of black folks, Old Glory is just the flip side of the Stars n’ Bars. At sporting events or concerts, yeah, black people sure can sing the hell out of the Star Spangled Banner (Aretha, Whitney, Marvin)—but let your eyes wander to the black folks in the audience, especially at an urban venue. Count how many people are singing along just as passionately. Surprised?

The grim realities of running for public office in America virtually dictated that Sen. Obama quickly and decisively distance himself from Rev. Wright’s comments, if not disowning him entirely. However, the whole process of disowning and disinheriting has largely existed within the realm of so-called blue-blood, old-money types, a nearly exclusively-white demographic which has eluded all but perhaps a microscopic sliver of America’s black population (nope, Russell Simmons, Sean Combs, Will Smith, and even Oprah Winfrey don’t count).

Whether or not one agrees with any conspiracy theories about 9/11, most rational people would argue that there are still outstanding questions that have yet to be seriously addressed concerning the before, during, and after. To black Americans, “terror” as a domestic concept didn’t start with 9/11, or even the Oklahoma federal building bombing of 1995. For black Americans, “terror” was the entire era of American slavery, and the Jim Crow that followed. Black individuals and families knowing that at any time, some white person (or a group of them), armed or unarmed, hooded or not, could invade their living space, to take men, women, and children away:
A) to sell as slave labor
B) to physically and/or sexually abuse
C) to arrest and send to jail without the pretense of due process (not that any white judge or jury of times past would really think of doing otherwise)
D) to murder outright
E) Any and All of the Above

The further America has gotten, chronologically, from the height of the Civil Rights Era, it seems like the awareness of it and the ideals it brought to light, are swiftly eroding. The long-stewing backlash to Affirmative Action is one aspect of it. Another aspect is the fact that corporate-controlled media outlets—newspapers, magazines, and television, for sure—now effectively offer news as their “product”, and so an adherence to profit-driven motives becomes the unofficial driving force behind them—not necessarily to illuminate people, or to dispense truth. Sensationalism sells. So when the Rev. Wright makes his comments—however logical they could be argued from a standpoint of the black experience in America—he is almost immediately labeled as a crackpot, the Black Racist ™, the guy who is “really” making it worse for race relations in America, because he isn’t singing ‘Kumbaya’, or offering some extremely watered-down cliché’ interpretation of the Inoffensive Negro Preacher Apologist, who seemingly goes out of his way to explain that a racist act or reaction is not, really.

The people who might be quick to say that Martin Luther King would never go there ala Rev. Wright are forgetting just how hated the man was during the time he was alive. And not just in the Deep South. King’s Chicago stay was just as illuminating at showing how deep the racial bigotry in Chicago was (and by extension of this, America in general). Self-proclaimed Christian conservatives of the time had no use for him. Many organized and protested against him. Yet some of these same folks—and their heirs—would now offer Dr. King’s vision of a “colorblind” society as their rationale for ignoring or repealing laws that have attempted to address the racial disparities in education and the workforce.

Author Tim Wise, who regularly opines on race in American society, has a near-tear-inducing essay in response to the furor, which you can find here (http://www.counterpunch.org/wise03182008.html). I doubt if I can trump Mr. Wise’s assessment of the hysteria; but for the fact that there is so much hysteria over this, I feel compelled to offer some counterpoints to all of the far-right reactionary rhetoric out there (and, if I may be so bold, counterpoints to even some self-described liberals outrage) over these current events.

As the saying goes, denial is a river, and most Americans are swimming in it. Denial that racism is more endemic than even Senator Obama may be willing to admit. Denial that racism even really exists at all in modern American society. Thus, when a black candidate for high office gets bashed with not facts but innuendo and the cherry-picking of soundbites for sensational effect, it is not seen as overt slander or libel, but just par for the course that “anybody” would have to put up with if he or she is seeking That Job. And who knows? Maybe the Wright-bashers and Obama-bashers are right. After all, cultural hegemony, in large part, shapes reality to its own whims:

It’s like this. Say I’m minding my own business in my house. Looking out the corner of my eye, I see the neighbor’s kid in their yard, he’s trying to hit a baseball by himself. Suddenly, crash! A window breaks, and I see there’s a baseball. Looking directly out the broken window, I see the neighbor’s kid with the bat, still in his yard, staring right at me. So I walk over, knock on the neighbor’s door, and the kid’s dad answers. I explain to him nicely that apparently his son hit the ball that broke my window. But Dad isn’t trying to hear any of this. “Not my son! He’s too classy!” Incredulous, I still try to nicely explain what I saw with my own eyes and the evidence at hand. Dad responds, “What ball, and what bat?” I’m more than a little flustered, now, but I’m keeping my cool.

Then the son shows up, and I ask him to tell his Dad what happened. The son starts parroting Dad, claiming he was trying to fry ants with a magnifying glass. Then Dad takes it to another level: “How do I know you didn’t break your own window?” Only when I finally blow up and start cursing him out, then I can probably find myself getting labeled as A Troublemaker, and maybe the next day I find myself with a citation for not having my front yard bushes trimmed to some arbitrary figure. Insult upon injury. Your intelligence, your ways of reasoning, your method of interpretation, is always called into question when it contradicts something within white cultural defaults. Your grievances, your concerns, are not addressed, ultimately, because they are not even “real”. This is the burden that black America bears that white America has never truly had to deal with in the aggregate.

So as the foul balls continue to head Obama’s way, come January 21, 2009 (and beyond), it may be America that strikes out in the end.