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ebogjonson's August 2006 archive

August 29, 2006

one year later

new orleans one year ago

A year ago I had just moved into my apartment in Downtown LA. It was a happy, auspicious move for me, but in many ways (most?) I was completely freaked-the-fuck out. I had just left a high-stress (but lucrative) gig under generally annoying circumstances, and I had also just moved to a new city where I knew few people and certainly didn't have the socio-professional network I was leaving back on the East Coast. The oft-touted attractions of LA - the beaches, the mountains, the industry - are of limited interest to me, and my new neighborhood was tripping me out as well, our spacious loft situated in a zone that is not so much post-apocalyptic as it is post-virtual, the streets seemingly stocked by some invisible programmer with quasi-autonomous non-player-characters from a game I barely understood and less wanted to play. There was piss everywhere and our building was full of very nice folks who claimed I'd soon be feeding on a uniquely downtown nutrient that they shorthanded as "the energy," but that I quickly came to believe was an essence distilled from the suffering of downtown's largely black and male homeless population. It seemed completely crazy to live here, but I do/did, so I very understandably came (by various associative and commutative properties) to think of myself as completely crazy as well.

Being primed by the peculiar mental state I was this time last year, it didn't take much for me to see Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath as a world ending sign. It seemed at first the stuff of myth, and then when nothing happened except suffering piled on suffering it made myth seem beside the point, if for no other reason than there is no book in any testament where the exile or death of large numbers of black people portends anything in particular. That kind of thing is just business as usual, a heckuva job.

I had somehow contrived to get to the west coast before the truck with all my furniture and comfort infrastructure, so my girlfriend and I spent the first few weeks of our new existence living like mildly discomfited squatters, sleeping on a too-small futon, not enough underwear, eating the same take-out over and over. (The grub choices downtown after dark are fairly constrained.) We in no way imagined that our situation bore any relationship to what the displaced survivors of the hurricane were going through, but we did wonder if some new regime had somehow been instituted, some line in history crossed where diminishment and deprivation would increasingly be the norm. What if there is an earthquake we wondered? A dirty bomb in a truck? What if it happens before my books and my telescope and my tools get here? Before I can imagine taping the windows up and putting towels under the door and making a brave face forthe Lady and saying, well. At least we can catch up on our reading. We had the feeling that something like the loss of an entire city must by definition permanently re-order the basic facts of life for everyone, and the feeling felt incontrovertible for a few weeks, inevitable, world historical. And then the truck arrived. The first thing I did was break out my drill so I could build a flight of vaguely cubist stairs to get us up to our loft bed as easily as possible. I moved the good TV so that I could watch it while I was working. When I was done all I could think was that the stairs look nice and that it really is true that there is no meaningful outrage to be had among the comfortable.

Before the arrival of the truck we obsessively followed the coverage of the disaster on a busted TV that had been left in the loft by the previous occupant. It served up pictures and sound, but they were fucked-up pictures and sound, the images and audio distorted as if fighting the grip of some powerful electromagnet, perhaps a tractor beam. I didn't think to take a picture of the images of Katrina as processed by that TV, but I did record an image of James Blake playing Andre Agassi in last year's US Open. We aren't even tennis fans and the tv's funny flicker gave me a headache, but we rooted for Blake all the way anyway, structuring our evenings around the matches. Watching the Open offered us a kind of useful normal, an easy counterbalance to the other images that were still streaming from the screen all day long. We weren't even disappointed when Blake finally lost, made no half jokes about him letting the race down. Instead, we mentally thanked him for all those well-layed matches. There's always next year, we said.

james blake playing andre agassi at the 2005 us open

Next year is here now. Looking back my introduction to LA I am amazed that I stayed here, think: you were kind of out of your head. But what else was there to do in September of 2005 besides go a little off? The moment seemed to call for it, and the subsequent return to a livable middle suggests the simultaneous advent of both real relief and of complete retreat. Slavoj Zizek has a line about utopia where he says (and I'm paraphrasing) that utopias can't be pre-imagined, that the impulse towards utopia is something that strikes you like lightening when you find yourself at a life-or-death juncture, which is to say, precisely when the choice before you is a new world or death. I imagine that thousands of people likely had that lightening strike moment in New Orleans last year, that for the vast majority it came too late to do them any good. You couldn't count the possibilities that drowned after the levees broke, but how many are being pieced together day by day in isolation, away from the television, fragile and portentous? Sitting in my loft the way I still do, watching the various feeds, would I know a utopia if I met one? I want to say "probably not" because I'm negative that way, but really: it's impossible to say. It's only been a year, and you can't tell anything in a year.

Posted by ebogjonson in brain maintenancecity of angelsnew orleans at 3:53 PM | Permalink

August 28, 2006

wash my hair, please

Anglophone African shampoo advert, circa 1960, via we make money not art:

Also on youtube, an ad for bug spray from the Ivory Coast:

That last one strikes me as a potential parody, but then again Kola Boof struck me as a web-art performance piece the first time I encountered her.

Posted by ebogjonson in link dumpmediarace and other identitiesscreened at 7:47 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2006

charter schools, not so hot

From the New York Times:

Exploding the Charter School Myth

A federal study showing that fourth graders in charter schools score worse in reading and math than their public school counterparts should cause some soul-searching in Congress. Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

The study, based on data from 2003 on students' performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found charter school students significantly behind their non-charter-school counterparts. But it also showed that not all charter schools are created equal.

On average, charter schools that were affiliated with public school districts performed just as well as traditional public schools. That may be a disappointment to advocates who expected them to show clear superiority. But the real stunner was the performance of free-standing charter schools, which have no affiliation with public school systems and are often school districts unto themselves. It was this grouping that showed the worst performance.

Charter schools are a core obsession of the Cory Bookerite/Talking Android wing of the Democratic party. You don't know how many genuinely nice black Ivy League graduates I know who get all het up about charter schools, swearing up and down how a new generation of non-ideological race men (i.e. them) is going to roll their sleeves up and finally, really get something done in the community at the most basic levels, starting with its children.

It's a noble aim, but the hype over charter schools has always struck me as neo-conservative un-cola. (I guess it is technically true that it's a different color and has hint of lemon-lime, but at the end of the day it's just another can of soda.) I feel slightly bad for charter school folks, who tend to be genuinely well meaning and are likely assuring each other that study or no they are just getting warmed-up. But to parody some the movement's own rhetoric, there is no "E for effort" when running an underperforming school. You claimed you had a better way to do this, so maybe you should spend a little less time at the think tank, and shut the fuck up and educate some black kids, already.

Posted by ebogjonson in talking androids at 9:59 PM | Permalink

just us folks dancing on the head of this pin


From the Virtual China blog, this link to Chinese online gaming giant Shanda. From what I've been able to tell, Shanda's online games (like the one pictured above) have close to 30 million subscribers. Since I'm bent in predictable directions, that figure echoed for me in racial terms, as in: Holy Cow! In China there is a single gaming company servicing almost as many gamers as there are African Americans.

When I worked at BlackPlanet.com we had some or another data that suggested 1 in 11 African Americans were BP members, more in big cities and in the HBCU crescent extending from DC, down the coast and darting west along the Gulf. With that data in mind, I would sit on the subway and count off black folks: 1, 2, 3, 4... 9, 10, member. 1, 2 3, 4..., but thirty million! It's difficult to imagine every black person joining a website in much the same way it's difficult for me, even with my hatred of the talking android, to imagine every black person a Democrat. The great galvanization of black folks behind the Democratic party is, of course, a result of the encounter with racism, but as that encounter becomes modulated, distant, transmitted along new axes and lines of force, the choice of party becomes less a matter of life and death and more a question of taste, affinity. Not quite like joining a website or choosing a gaming platform but still not so far away from it as to make the comparison completely without value (rhetorical value, if nothing else.)

Or put another way: if blackness was a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, how many total players would there be? What would the character classes be? Skill sets? And how would we understand the various forms of profit to be reaped from the reenactment of virtual identity? Is it like playing World of Warcraft or "playing" Second Life?

More on gaming in China.

Posted by ebogjonson in race and other identitiesvideogames and other cracks at 3:55 PM | Permalink

August 22, 2006

who can say for sure, really?


From the autobiography of Kola Boof:

Osama kept coming back to Whitney Houston. He asked if I knew her personally when I lived in America. I told him I didn't. He said that he had a paramount desire for Whitney Houston, and although he claimed music was evil, he spoke of someday spending vast amounts of money to go to America and try to arrange a meeting with the superstar. It didn't seem impossible to me. He said he wanted to give Whitney Houston a mansion that he owned in a suburb of Khartoum. He explained to me that to possess Whitney he would be willing to break his color rule and make her one of his wives. I tried to hide my outrage at his racist remarks, but it would come to pass that for the entire time that I would be trapped in his palm, Whitney Houston's was the one name that would be mentioned constantly. How beautiful she is, what a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and her husband--Bobby Brown, whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have women's husbands killed. In his briefcase I would come across photographs of the star, as well as copies of Playboy, but nobody in the West believes me when I tell them this. It's like they have this totally bogus image of Osama bin Laden. Anyway, it would soon come to the point where I was sick of hearing Whitney Houston's name. [full excerpt from harpers.org]

Posted by ebogjonson in race and other identities at 6:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

the IV drip - a dream


Just a fragment today, or maybe just a premise: I dream about going about my day in downtown Los Angeles, hours days and weeks compressed into bright flashes--that or concealed through sleight of dream-editor's hand, the passage of time implied through various acts of suggestion and misdirection. It's all completely regular right down to the stench at the corner of Fifth and Spring, except for the way time is being fast-forwarded and how I am going about my business in the dream while tethered to an IV drip. It a towering unnatural thing, maybe 8 feet tall and I drag it around everywhere I go, sometimes pulling the stand, sometimes letting it trail behind me like a slow dog on a leash, bag and stand securely linked to me by a generous length of tubing that has been discretely buried in by right forearm by a spike hidden beneath neat loops and bands of tape.

I am mortified by the assembly, by the spectacle I imagine my biomedical ball and chain must present. I have to tip it to get through doorways, meaning I have to wait until I am the only person going through as not to present an obstruction to traffic. Revolving doors are out of the question as are certain elevators, bathrooms, stairwells. The stand makes a constant clanging racket and I try my best to minimize the squealing the thing's loose metal wheels make as they wobble against the concrete sidewalk. I put a great deal of energy into being invisible and then realize that I already am, that my embarrassment is misplaced. No one is paying me or my IV drip any attention, not even the homeless addicts and junkies and last-stop hustlers who are tethered in their own way to their own set of invisible toxins and chemistries. I barely register on the radar of the flophouse security guards, ranking neither as threat or local curiosity. No tourists stop to take my picture.

I don't have a clue what is the in IV drip. I can't recall when it was prescribed or attached to me. Adding to the mystery is the fact that thing releases just a single drop into my system every 24 hours. Why not a nice, neat pill, I wonder? One a day, like a commercial, something I could get at the pharmacy and put in my pocket. It strikes me as a kind of extravagance to prescribe a single drop drip on a 24 hour cycle. I am tethered to the drip but the drip in turn seems utethered to any legitimate medical purpose, suggesting art projects, obscure forms of masochism or sadism, the pleasure of hidden audiences, arcane scientific experimentations. Each time a drop falls I take to paying extra careful attention to my mental and physical state in hopes of spying telltale side effects that might point me towards the IV's contents or chemical composition, but weeks go by and I come up with nothing, bupkis. Is the thing some kind of cronenbergian organ, a permanent prosthesis, new flesh from medical waste and debris?

Just before I wake up I wonder if I am going to dream through to the end of this actual, IRL week, specifically to Friday when I have made plans to go see a movie with some friends. I stare at the IV stand and am filled with worry and wariness, paranoia, really, my mind bubbling with unanswered questions that lead me to further imponderables. For instance: the stand will clearly not fit my in my car, and that being the case, how will I get to the movies and how did I get it home with it in the first place? It really is baffling: I might be asleep but this is still LA, and no story that precludes the use of my car can properly be understood as being set here, not even when it's a dream.

Posted by ebogjonson in dream log at 1:25 PM | Permalink

August 16, 2006

ann hearts harold

I mean, really. Unless you are secretly doing her [NSFW, bub], I don't think there is any possible justification for having Ann Coulter ever say anything like this about you, ever:

Ms. COULTER: And it's especially bad for me because you know how I hate saying anything kind about a Democrat. Harold Ford is one of my favorite Democrats, but the problem is he belongs to the Democratic Party. And if he does not, as reasonable as he sounds today--and you do, Representative--if he does not toe the lunatic anti-war, high-tax line, he'll end up being primaried like Joe Lieberman. [full story]

Posted by ebogjonson in talking androids at 2:02 PM | Permalink

August 10, 2006

and in other hip hop liquids news

Jay-Z is getting wet for a good cause:

UNITED NATIONS -- Jay-Z boycotted premium champagne Cristal at his clubs after the brand's owner made some remarks he didn't like. Now the rap superstar has a new favorite drink: water.

Jay-Z, president of Def Jam Records, teamed up with the United Nations and MTV on Wednesday to get children involved in the fight against the worldwide water crisis. He cited statistics that 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water and 2.6 billion lack proper sanitation.

"I figure that once I stumbled upon that, if the information was out and young people knew that these problems exist while we're having Poland Springs at Cipriani and things like that, that we'll get involved," said the 36-year-old rapper, referring to the high-class restaurant chain.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, said he had been looking for a way to help people, and when he visited Africa on tour he was struck at how many of the world's poor lacked such a basic necessity.

"As I started looking around and looking at ways that I could become helpful, it started at the first thing -- water, something as simple as water," he said at a news conference at U.N. headquarters. "It took very little, very little to see these numbers."

I was underwhelmed by Jay's Cristal boycott ("hey! look at me! I'm so fucking rich and bored I can boycott, like, DIAMOND ENCRUSTED SOLID GOLD TOILET SEATS and shit") but as Jay points out water is a bit more fundamental. There was also something moving encoded in the line "as I started looking around and looking at ways that I could become helpful." Due to various upheavals and dislocations happening in my own life, I've developed an over-attunement to the sound of soul-seeking and personal transformation, so the image of Jay-Z sitting around on whatever it is Jay-Z sits around on and asking himself "what is to be done?" struck a warming chord in me.

Water - specifically bottled water - has actually caused more than one tiff between me and The Lady. Basically, she's constantly fretting about her tap water being delivered through rusted or corroded pipes, whereas I am of the mind that bottled water is a gigantic, fucked up scam.

Jay-Z: will you please come to our house (ideally with Beyonce) and settle this once and for all?

Posted by ebogjonson in environmenthhop-ish at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

barack and harold

This is old, but:

Barack Obama looks to me like he's asking himself what THE FUCK he's doing campaigning for Harold Ford.

What the fuck indeed, Barack.

[These links are semi-generic due to the passage of time, but credit where credit is due: The pic was lifted from brassmarket, which I got to via The Pesky Fly.]

Posted by ebogjonson in politricknal sciencestalking androids at 11:30 AM | Permalink

August 8, 2006

oh, fudge

Did I just post about getting up early and stuff? Did I mention that I've spent most of the morning on Myspace?

(my first myspace blog posting)

I suppose the logic is that if I get all this wandering, posting, blog reading, emailing shit out of my system before 8AM PST, I am ahead of the game.

Also: This morning I found a very nice blog by black comic / sci-fi writer Pam Noles. She has an interesting post up about a gender-related dust up at the "black creators" panel at the most recent San Diego comic con. (I, of course, had made a not to attend the con that day, but let the usual, proverbial shit got in the way. A lesson to me, let that be.)

Posted by ebogjonson in brain maintenancevideogames and other cracks at 8:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

ay em strat-er-rer-gems

So the idea is to set the alarm to get me up early in the morning as if I had some kind of day job, this ideally putting me at the desk before any of my various demons (notorious layabouts!) wake up. We'll see...

Posted by ebogjonson in brain maintenance at 8:10 AM | Permalink

August 4, 2006

I was just following orders...

... from the market!

The Chicago Defender takes a look at BET President and COO Debra Lee:

We must come to terms with BET's truth as a network handcuffed by a marketplace ruled by advertisers, the chase for young viewers, and the added burden of being a black media company.

"We always hear, `All you guys are interested in is making money," Lee says. "We're a business. That's what we do." [full story]

The Defender's take on BET is typically muddled, but Lee's core proposition is a classic form of bullshit. BET doesn't suck because "we're a business," it sucks because many of the folks involved in crafting its shows can be relied upon to produce work that's mediocre and generally low in terms of outlook and quality. Things have improved slightly since Viacom took over and and the new management team has done a few interesting things (like The Chop Up, if you can ever find it on the dial). Still, despite such additions, BET still pretty much sucks, and it's NOT because it's a business. HBO, Comedy Central, VH1, ESPN are all "businesses" (successful ones at that) and 20 hours out of 24 the programming on any of those channels beats what you find on BET.

Hey, speaking of bright spot The Chop Up, something about the premise strikes me as familiar:

Welcome to "The Chop Up," BET News' weekly dissection of the people, places and issues rumbling in the hearts, minds and souls of Black folk.

Where have I heard that before?

Every Friday, the A-List compiles a listing of the most important topics African America discussed the previous week. This week on the A-List: Tiger Terror in Harlem?

I'm just joshing and even if I'm not, I can't complain too much. Everybody steals from somewhere.

Posted by ebogjonson in media at 10:29 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2006

biohazards in my lawn

JeepBastard a.k.a. John Lee has this bit up of 90s Brooklyn nostalgia up:

I can't possibly answer all the questions that this raises, but I was there and live through it. Ask anyone from Fort Greene who was here before the gentrification and they will tell you about the painful blood curdling screams that erupted every night from 80 Hanson Place, echoing down to 4th Avenue on a quiet night. Was Brooklyn home to a BioWarfare Lab? [full story]

I actually lived around the block from 80 Hanson Place on South Elliot Place for most of the early 90s, and I remember that stretch of block as always having a particularly odd vibe to it. John's posting recalls a day (what year?) when Hanson was blocked off on both ends by the cops, the better for some mysterious hazmat/biohazard/bomb squad hijinks to ensue. I don't recall this particular incident (not home? too high?) but the picture below could have been taken from my roof (provided, of course, that my brownstone was 10 stories taller.)

Wikipedia describes 80 Hanson as "a state facility for testing cocain abuse on rhesus monkeys," and although John is thinking outbreak the photos could also depict a bomb squad responding to some or another threat phoned in by an animal rights org.

The whole things does make me wonder about the garbage, though. A door or so down from 80 Hanson was a boarded up wreck inhabited (I thought) by various homeless, addicts and morlocks, and I wonder if they ever went dumpster-diving in the likely super-hazardous goop/refuse produced by 80 Hanson.

(What I'm really asking, is: If one were to eat or roast or somehow smoke the corpse of a crackhead rhesus, does one get high? Only Tony the King of the Fort Greene crackheads knows for sure.)

Posted by ebogjonson in memoryplaces at 5:05 PM | Permalink

August 1, 2006

speaking of being on the wrong side of history

"Are my wife and kids terrorists, do they have rockets?" [via juan cole]


I'm sitting here, for example, in my house tonight in darkness -- there's no electricity -- next to a car park. What if someone launches a missile from the car park? Am I supposed to die for that? Is that a death sentence for me? Is that how Israel wages war? If I have children in the basement, are they to die for that? And then I'm told it's my fault or it's Hezbollah's fault? You know, these are serious moral questions. [full story][also via juan cole]

When my children ask me about this time we're living through, when they ask what I was doing while these people killed children and subverted the Constitution, will my "DON'T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR GORE AND KERRY!!" bumper-sticker be enough to protect me from their disgust and condemnation?

oh! also:

The US has heavy legal and moral responsibilities for what is now happening. Of all the CO2 emissions produced from fossil fuels so far, we are responsible for almost 30 percent, an amount much larger than that of the next-closest countries, China and Russia, each less than 8 percent. Yet our responsibility and liability may run higher than those numbers suggest. The US cannot validly claim to be ignorant of the consequences. When nations must abandon large parts of their land because of rising seas, what will our liability be? And will our children, as adults in the world, carry a burden of guilt, as Germans carried after World War II, however unfair inherited blame may be? [full story]

Posted by ebogjonson in politricknal sciences at 10:14 AM | Permalink