Thursday, October 30, 2008

Higher Learning

Yesterday an official at a local university patted me on the back after chortling, "Students are customers. We provide a commodity. We have to keep the customers happy." And the pat came when I said, "The customer's always right." This person nodded.
When the official removed his/her hand from my scapula I wasn't chilled, chagrined or confused. I laughed in his/her face for that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard from a college official's mouth. Oh yes, that's a dominant "business model" now, whether you're at an elite instituition or a large public land grant university or community college, competing for bucks and bodies with proprietary online diploma mills (which indeed help a select few yet rip off the great mass of both hopeful folk and near- do- well retards alike, enticed by slick prime time commercials or low budget offers during Judge Hackett or Maury).
Let me repeat. Customer, like a someone in Wal Mart or Safeway or Carmax. Commodity, like cooch and crack and slave labor and packages of bacon and Jimmy Choo slingbacks. OK, I'd agree are "consumers." Consumers who must have access to accurate information so they may informed choices, and be protected from chickanery. We homo sapiens have been on this planet a mere pubic hair's breadth of time. Even in our own pitifully short tenure, it's only been in the last 9,000 years that we've truly re-invented ourselves as farmers, herders, then urban dwellers and true creators of great things. One of which is formal schooling, and its supreme expression: higher education. A pillar of our civilization.
Usually the "customer" paradigm is the province of bean counters or moronic politicians and loudmouths who want to short-shrift education. Indeed many of the latter two groups' denizens where dumbasses in school anyway, and such is their revenge. But to hear college officials who should know better recite this as some mantra, or worship it as golden calf, well, I just have to laugh. Laugh till I puke. Education is exposure and engagement, not pandering. We see the pander element destroy or news media, our political institutions and parties and set our religious sects to war. Hey, why leave university educations out? A workforce flows from enlightened people, not a least common denominator pipedream whereby everybody learns Excel and takes multiple choice exams, and are thus ready for an "Office Space"/Dunder Mifflin nightmare (only to be downsized or outsourced to Mumbai). Indeed, places like India are merely cheap. many of the folk doing the work however, have struggled hard to attain top flight university educations while we figure out to challenge students the least, or work around their desires, prejudices, entertainment schedules. Oh, and put butts in the lecture hall seats. Get the $$$. That's the most important. I mean what's next--the new proprietary "DillingerOnline University" for death row convicts? The experimental Princeton-Harvard-Yale funded The MS-13 get a B.A. in materials management and human resources based on gang experience? Or better yet, a large state system opening a distance learning center at Gitmo. Get your accounting degree with GI Bill money and it'll only take a hour a week away from the ennui of walking a post and the occasional thrill of waterboarded a raghead!
There HAS to be something mystical, wonderful, semi-unattainable about higher education, else it becomes trivialized, even abandoned. We have enough twisted anti-intellectual crap in this country, teenage wannabe hip hop moguls to Ted Nugent, from Sarah Palin to "Gossip Girl" and "Dancing With The Stars." And of course it shows in our economic, scientific and political standing abroad. But we've been lucky. Our size, our resources have been hedge and prop. That won't last. We must invest--if you like business terms like "customer"--in our physical and intellectual infrastructure.
So aren't customers but rather they're instruments. Securities. Seeds. And that official who patted my back would be wise to think of his/herself as an investor, a farmer, a nurturer, a herder, and not a carnival barker with an E.d. or Ph.d. By the way, I don't work for that college. I just know this official. But I'd laugh at anyone one else who comes at me with this customer bull. Better still I'll just give "A's" to lazy fools, send them out in the world, and then we'll see what happens to a college, university or community college's rep then. No matter, as long as the conveyor belt puts butts in the lecture seats (or online), and robots in the workplace. Nobody loses, eh? Except civilization.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jennifer Hudson: the hood closes in

The South Side. Where life is cheap? No, but the quality of life's cheapened, too often by the very folk who tolerate the mess. Look, sorrow is a facile, weak term for what we're feeling for Jennifer Hudson now. Her mother and brother shot to death, her nephew missing. Just yesterday we were shrugging off "The Secret Life of Bees," and laughing at her engagement to "Punk" of I Love New York. Black drag queens were emulating her full lips.
But we seem to forget one thing. Jennifer is a Chicago girl...from the hood. The hood's like a werewolf's curse. It never goes away no matter how many Oscars or appearances on The View. And then there's all the stuff you think you've left behind. The place, the people--even family. The pathologies--of place. Of the people. Too much sorrow. Are you mad at me for these opinions? You've had them too. Don't lie.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"W" and "The Secret Life of Bees:" Were it not an election year...

W ere it not for our Third Post-Reconstruction period in America (e.g. McCain-Palin campaign's vile march to the right, rather than the unified middle), these two flicks would've held a tad more impact. Mediocre, yet still important. Now, they seem quaint. Yes...quaint. Tugging us back to a time of the rotten Tootsie Pops, perhaps? 1992-2007 America. You know--flick the ants off and the candy shell's still sweet. The stick's white and not soggy so it must be right, right? But the Tootsie Roll center's been rancid since it left the factory.
"W": Freudian father issues. Nuff said. Oliver Stone has cooked, warmed over and diced into hash this tale in what--about five of his flicks now? It's got nothing to do with liberal vs. conservative, or destroying Bush's legacy or Hollywood snobs offending O'Reilley's America. It's plain Ollie working out his issues on us, which would offend anyone regardless of politics. Ultimately, however, the film proffers empathy...then sympathy. I liked it on that level. A cross between Hamlet and an SNL/MadTV skit.
"Secret Life of Bees" is based on Sue Monk Kidd's paeon to post-racial sisterhood. Oprah's favorite novel. Of course, per my thesis, this was Oprah pre-Barack, as with Al Roker when he railed against Don Imus. Before the white housewife magic was gone. Director Gina Blythewood (who I met this summer) does the material proud. But make no mistake, this stuff is the next level of evolution vis. Donald Bogle's thesis of black woman as magical symbol/mammy/transformative benign necromancer/sassy sexual alter ego for a white female protagonist--and by implication white female audiences in middle America. The mamy stuff's been with us since "Gone With the Wind." Male counterpart: most Will Smith flicks from "Bagger Vance" to "Hancock." Indeed, the construct here is Black male as Peter Pan fantasy antithesis to The Color Purple's buffoons (Harpo) or brutes (Mister). There's pathos galore in the film. No banal reality, ugly reality. The film's set in the 60s when stuff expressed at Palin rallies or Southern wingnut churches was a daily occurence. And yet, womanly co-sanguinity and love conquers all. This is the old paradigm. Pre-Hillary vs. Obama. "Bees" is essentially a Lifetime movie on 'roids. Bring your box of tissues to collect your tears of angst and joy. And even Sarah Palin pre 2008 would have sniffled for a thick armed hug from Queen Latifah, right? The honey metaphor discussion at this point would be facile. Still, like W, it all seems quaint these days. Lifetime movie or not, conveying quaintness was neither the goal nor intent of Kidd or Bythewood. Ironic huh?
Too bad. We're coming to the gist, grist and graveman of my thesis. It stings us with why the DiCaprio-Crowe flick was a flop, as was "Miracle at St. Anna" (okay, Spike's style has something to do with that). It's why "Max Payne" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" rule the box office and "High School Musical 3" will rule them all. In our 2008 milieu of cognitive dissonance we retreat to things that tickle our base emotions. Ignorance is warm, safe. Mindless fear is energizing. In good times, calm times, even scary times like 9-11 mediocre flicks like W and Bees become pleasant distractions. But there's a difference between a distraction and pathological escape. Distraction, dear fanboys & girls, seems quaint these days...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Book Award Finalists

Not that anyone cares in our so-called texting- and- short- attention- span- lemme- read "Superhead" -and- watch -Tyler Perry culture, but here are the nominees. Bravo to all, especial Peter (Mr. Matthiessen), Annette, Drew--


Aleksandar Hemon, “The Lazarus Project” (Riverhead)
Rachel Kushner, “Telex from Cuba” (Scribner)
Peter Matthiessen, “Shadow Country” (Modern Library)
Marilynne Robinson, “Home” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Salvatore Scibona, “The End” (Graywolf Press)


Drew Gilpin Faust, “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” (Alfred A. Knopf)
Annette Gordon-Reed, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton & Company)

Jane Mayer, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” (Doubleday)
Jim Sheeler, “Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives” (Penguin)Joan Wickersham, “The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order” (Harcourt)


Frank Bidart, “Watching the Spring Festival” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, “Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems” (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, “Creatures of a Day” (Louisiana State University Press)

Richard Howard, “Without Saying” (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, “Blood Dazzler” (Coffee House Press)

Young People’s Literature:

Laurie Halse Anderson, “Chains” (Simon & Schuster)
Kathi Appelt, “The Underneath” (Atheneum)
Judy Blundell, “What I Saw and How I Lied” (Scholastic)
E. Lockhart, “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” (Hyperion)
Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” (Alfred A. Knopf)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Che Bush, Fidel Paulsen...Patrice Lumumba Cheney?

Ponder, now, the immortal words of Prince-James Brown-Little Richard: GOOD GAWD! What's next--Toby Keith and Ted Nugent (he's certainly safer and a much better American than...gulp...Rev. Wright) playing Bob Marley at concerts?

A right wing GOP Administration essentially nationalizes some of the biggest banks in the US. Joe and Josephine Sixpack are left sucking their thumbs and asking Palin and Liz Hasselback for guidance. Right wing sewer-radio is struggling for spin and trying so damn hard to interpose the tried and true racist bait and switch. Fire doesn't burn without oxygen, you dipshits. Yeah the audience is still there, but a bigger monster's sucked the air out tha' room.

Perhaps the next president (yes, McCain too--he'll turn like a weather vane) should consider channelling FDR rather than Reagan or Andrew Jackson or either Bush and 1/8 of Slick Willie, and ressurrect New Deal regulations on the so-called markets and of the banking industry. Go after the consumer lending, credit reporting and the collections industries while your at it. It's not like the GOP will be able to say "Hey...that's socialism, yo. Tha' shit ain't right." Yeah, they ain't "red" states for nothing! Viva la Revolucion! Attica! Free Scooter Libby! (wait...he already is...)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Christopher Columbus and the hadjis...

Funny how we belittle history by attaching labels such as "revisionist" or "politically correct." How about just calling it history? History is ugly and luscious, bloodthirsty and kind. Intelligent people can hold divergent ideas in their heads without their brains exploding. Yet that's not the nation in which we live. Now the wingnuts are ablaze over all facets of history--akin to their loony tunes attack on science. They tells us hey, this is just a reaction to left wing "humanist" assaults on "culture." OK I think I can train acolytes (alterboys and girls) while accepting science for science's sake, and heck, even admitting that the queerest of the queer shouldn't be spared the minute by minute horrorshow and fairy tale that is marriage, kids. Columbus fits into this contrived battle. Such was even a Rudi Giuliani identity politics rallying point from back in the day (Chris Columbus is for Italian Americans what Jay-Z is to us folk. LOL). And Columbus is, ironically, the harbinger, if not lynchpin, of Catholism in the New World to this day. But enter native American (from Arctic Canada to Terra Del Fuego) activism in the 1960s, and the myth of Columbus met fact. Nasty stuff.
Fact: Whether intentional or as an afterthought, Columbus ushered in probably the worse human crime of of this Age of Exploration--the depopulation of the Americas and its utter exploitation and appropriation. Civilizations razed, tribes destroyed. And it was not one of the Catholic Church's better set of centuries, either. Indeed, Pope John Paul II "apologized" for this crap before he even got to witch trials, the Inquisition and complicity/turning a blind eye with Mussolini and Hitler. You can thus argue that Columbus' arrival set the stage for the second biggest crime of this portion of human history: the African slave trade.
Why did he sail? Rapine plunder? Spreading the Holy word? Intrepid exploration? None of those things, folks. It was Islam. Yeah, the folks whom our redneck GI's call "Hadjis" (Hadji was a Hindu in Jonny Quest, but hey, this is the Age of W). Even before the Muslims put the long- decayed Byzantine Empire (last vestige of the Roman Empire if you don't count the Franks, etc. in Western Europe) out of its misery, they controlled access to China, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, the "Spice Islands" (pretty much everything else in the Pacific). They set themself up in the old Roman capital of Constantinople (Istanbul) and supported the Moors in Spain and North Africa. The Portuguese found a way around that by going East--hugging the coast of the African continent. But that did the Spanish and everyone else in dirty, stinky, messy Western Europe no good. Put a lot of Italians out of work (whether you're from Genoa or Venice). The Spanish just concluded a Holy War with the more advanced (yes--cleaner, smarter, more artistic) Moors and thus cutting a deal with them was out of the question. The Portuguese likewise told the rest of Europe fuck you, we run this shit. And they didn't employ Italians. By the way, everyone who wasn't the Renaissance equivalent of Sarah Palin knew the world was round. They just didn't know how big the earth was, or the locations of land masses and passages to the Pacific. Another lovely irony--thanks to global warming, the mythic "Northwest Passage" is now a reality, north through a melting Arctic Ocean.
How to make money without cutting in the Portuguese? How to get at the Pacific's and India's riches without paying tribute to the heathen, low, savage Mohammedeans?
Duh! Sail west. Find some patsies who'll bankroll you. And it's all thanks to the Hadjis. What I've imparted isn't exactly new. But it's still not taught in this age of No Child Left Behind standardized tests. Perhaps that's why Baptist preachers in Red Stateland never say a prayer for Islam, thanking it for this home called America (named for another Italian, sad for Chris). I can give thanks that I'm here tapping on a brand new Dell Studio whilst I sip my bourgie coffeedrink, rather than walking five miles for a pail of clean water controlled by guerillas in the Motherland. hehehehe Then again, the Vikings were settling Newfoundland over 400 years before Chris was conceived around the time Allah supposedly spoke to the Prophet. That's for another post. Enjoy your day off, for whatever reason makes you comfortable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

White Trash or Hardworking Americans? Hmmm...

Actually, the best part of this sign is the buck teefs. The artwork & the message conjures and embodies such wonderful history, quaint folk tradition. hehehehe Listen carefully fanboys & girls: whitefolks invented identity politics & tribal culture here in the USA. Not Jesse Jackson or som unnamed 60s radicals. Not Cesar Chavez. Indeed, this fact made many careers and destroyed many movements (the Populists for example). And I'm not talking about late 19th and 20th century blowhards. Neither George Wallace or even Rudi Giuliani (seriously I have a lot of respect for Rudi on other levels). Neither Ben Pitchfork Tillman nor Nathan Bedford Forrest. No, I'm talking about people like Thomas Jefferson, who, were it not for identity politics, would've just been some genius flake who diddled his 14 year old black slave. Or Andrew Jackson, who would've been just another redneck manic depressive. Or Woodrow Wilson. And Martin Scorsese wouldn't have had a script for Gangs of New York. Sarah Palin's the latest incarnation of this fact. Note the issues important to the sign painter. Banking and financial markets reform? Rehab of our critical infrastructure? Investing in new energy sources? Noooo. Think about this. Almost two hundred years ago did the average schlock who painted such a sign care about slavery, access to land, farm debt, Indian policy and funding for canals and turnpike roads? Unh-unh. It was Irish immigration (Catholicism) and temperance (booze). Slavery only inasmuch as it meant no free blacks would be taking "white" jobs. Indians only inasmuch as they'd been wiped out so there was land to be had on the frontier. What's changed?
I was curious about West Plains, Missouri. It's near the Arkansas border. What are the major industries there? Well, sewing machines, chemicals for Armstrong Flooring. There's the usual high cash industries such as meth-cooking/sales and convenience stores slinging beef jerky and Bud. Not as many mobile homes as you might think, but more than in Silver Spring Maryland. One thing's certain: the commercial legs of such a locale has one foot on outsourcing to Indonesia (hey...isn't that were Barack learned to be a raghead extremist) and the other on the Chapter 11 banana peel. Maybe your patriotism will be tested when your woorkplace's bought by yet another foreign company? Well, well.
Now let's check this place against the 2000 and 2004 electoral maps (which gave us the famous Blue-Red state division). Red. Pretty red, despite the selling down the river Red leaders have given them. And you note something else. Sublimely counter-intiutive. In addition to being depressed, scoring low on No Child Left Behind tests without the ability to blame it on minorities and illegals, these burghs and counties appear to be utterly dependent on...zounds...Uncle Sam. Farm subsidies, military (from bases to contractors to the employer of last resort for dullard children), pork procured from Congressmen and Senators who grandstand and posture aginst such liberal sloth when on Fox? Lot's of Medicare and Medicaid--dirty little secret. Okay, Medicaid's from the state not the feds, but it's still sissified Blue state entitlement socialism right? Well, only when it's not hard working white people getting it. Here's the rub: Blue burghs and counties generate $$$, don't depend on the government tit. Weird, huh?
So we come back to the bilboard. Is it a subconscious cry for help: "We are ashamed of our socialist need for government handouts?" Is it merely cathartic? Is it performance art? Give me some real nice spin other than "it's free speech." hehehehe
But do it soon--I got tickets to the West Plains Motorspeedway. Liberal pussy night, though: Go Karts rather than dirt racers. Still it's good fun. Especially if you've been laid off, foreclosed upon, obese with no health insurance (if you had any), and having to watch your nephew hobble around on that fake leg he got in Falujah. But as the billboard states--you know what's important! Pass me a Bud Lite....

Friday, October 03, 2008

I, Madea...The Madness of Tyler Perry

You know I've never been a fan. I've even predicted that Tyler Perry will be the Jerry Lewis of blackfolks. Rising from obscurity and living in his car to become an empire-building sot, living forever, contributing nothing of artistic or lasting value. So check out the trade, Variety, declaring that the Writer's Guild union is taking the blush off the rose (rather, the grocery store carnation), by filing unfair labor practice charges against him for firing writers on House of Payne (his latest minstrel show). Tyler's lawyer says (1) the writers aren't necessarily union members and (2) were fired because their work-product quality had declined. Tyler Perry firing someone for bad quality is like Orson Welles worrying about cholesterol.

Now, Tyler is apparently a SAG and Director's Guild card-carrier. They all shit on writers. Who doesn't? But there is such a thing as labor solidarity, as evident by the big name directors and actors who honored the picket line in the writer's strike of 07-08. Black folks love unions. Imagine the internal conflict, then? Will that translate to a backlash? Will the Tom Joyners and the Steve Harveys out there call Tyler out? Hmmm. Tyler has a following analogous to Sarah Palin's among so-called "real" people--didn't you know? And among churchfolk who don't seem to mind how wonderfully smooth his skin shines. LOL Of course, we "elite" bastards "don't get it." Oh, we get it, all right...