March 12, 2013
The Myth of Guns in America or Chekhov’s Gun.

One of the biggest, and strangest, myths of America is the myth of the gun. We hope to find strength, not in ourselves but in a piece of metal in our hands.

Anton Checkhov said that “…if you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

And the gun was a part of America’s first chapter. It has been repeatedly fired over and over again. What current gun advocates  forget is the Chekhov’s theorem. I argue that it is not just a dramatic device, about plays and theater, but proving itself true to politics, people, and violence.

If we demand to have a gun in our house, in our nation, and in our hands we must know that it will go off. Guns are not static objects, they are made to fire.

Nothing proves this like This American Life’s recent episodes about Harper High School. Listen here. 

Harper High School is an inner-city school where TAL reporters, “spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot.”

The school is a petri dish where the American Chekhov gun has gone off over and over again, killing children.

Gun advocates call out over and over for their constitutional rights for ownership but what about the constitutional rights of children who are shot? What about the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
 The constitution does not mean one right over others. It is not a document that we take part of, we must take it all. (Not to mention the constitution was written in a entirely different time where assault rifles, armor piercing bullets did not exist,  and the entire structure/geography of the nation was different).

We are demanding a gun be present but are not willing to admit that it must, and will, go off. Who will it hit?

March 6, 2013

March 6, 2013

Jazz On A Summer’s Day

I randomly picked to watch this film a year or so ago, it was on Netflix and I wanted some good jazz in the background while I puttered around the house. At first, I just listened to it in the background but soon I got sucked in. Yes, it is mostly music. There is no plot, no narrative. The film is a documentary, almost cinema verite, that chronicles the 1950 Newport Jazz Festival. 

But the film, by no means, is not just soulless cataloguing of an event. It is an engaging portrait, at times realistic and at times impressionistic, that captures the feel, the emotion, the heat of the summer, the cool of the evening, the blue notes, the hot jazz, the sweet sounds of scat vocals, the late night jam sessions, the zeitgeist of the time, and the joy of jazz on a summer’s day. 

1958 was a glorious time for jazz. Some early innovators still lived and pushed the form, while new emergences popped up and made new sounds. Louis Armstrong performs “Up A Lazy River”, reminding us of the down south origins of the blues and jazz forms. Chuck Berry prophesies the rise of rock and roll, taking the blues to electric frontiers. Thelonius Monk sits and creates abstract tones, the avant garde future and crazy cousin in one form. 

Jazz, in all its forms, is represented. The cool jazz, the hot jazz, and the pop jazz. 

The music is a huge focus but the cinematography is the real stand out. Subtle shots of fans singing along, tapping their toes, or the amazing scene of the house party with random musicians off the stage but equally a part, capture the frenetic and the relaxed. Never have I seen a film communicate such emotion through the visual medium. Never has something felt so romantic, transporting the viewer back in time to a moment when the future and the present were so wrapped up together. 

It never feels old. It never feels dated. It always, like jazz, whispers/shouts/sings in your ears and eyes. 

March 5, 2013
Only one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university if current trends continue


By: Teresa Watanabe
LA Times, February 26, 2013

African American public school students in Los Angeles County demonstrate significant learning gaps by second grade; those gaps widen with age and lead to the highest school dropout rate among all races, according to a report released Monday.

Black students are far less likely to take the rigorous college preparatory classes required for admission to California universities and miss more school days because of suspensions than their white counterparts, according to the study by The Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group.

Only one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university if current trends continue, according to the report, which compiled data on academic achievement, suspensions and the psychological conditions of 135,000 black students in 81 public school districts in L.A. County.

“What we have in this state for African American students is a school-to-prison pipeline, where they are more likely to go to prison than college,” said Arun Ramanathan, the group’s executive director. “We need to forcibly intervene as a California community to prevent this from continuing.”

But how to make lasting progress against problems that have been debated for decades drew no easy answers at a community meeting Monday at the California Community Foundation, which funded the study.

Franklin Gilliam Jr., a UCLA professor of public policy and political science, said that early childhood support was “the single most important thing you can do” to give black children a solid start.

The report, for instance, cited research findings by the Rand Corp. and Children Now that found African American toddlers were less likely than their white peers to have books at home or be read to everyday. The report also cited 2004 Rand findings that only 13% of black children attended preschools with teachers who have degrees in early childhood education, compared to about 41% for whites and Asians.

Nearly 150,000 children under age 6 are on county waiting lists for child care, according to Children Now, a nonprofit advocacy group. And $1.2 billion in cuts to state funding for those services since 2008-09 budget year has reduced the number of child care spots by 110,000, according to Sydney Kamlager, district deputy director for Assemblywoman Holly J. Mitchell (D-Culver City).

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of the nonprofit Community Coalition, was a bit more upbeat, saying that although only 20% of African American students in L.A. County take college prep courses, that percentage has nearly tripled in the last decade.

He said the federal government’s move to provide student-achievement data by race in 2001 was a key factor in raising public awareness about the needs of African American students. Last year, a state Assembly committee held hearings on minority males and the academic, economic and health challenges they face.

“As a rule, things get better when people are willing to fight over it,” he said.

He added that his organization would continue to push for lower class sizes, courses linked to careers, better college preparation and more effective discipline policies.

Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, added that racial profiling in tracking students into low-level classes and other examples of “unconscious bias” bedevil both Latinos and African Americans, underscoring the need for the communities to work together. He also urged protests against moves to eliminate race-based data collection.

The report found that African American students are doing well in some school districts, particularly those with higher concentrations of other races. In the diverse Culver City Unified School District, more than two-thirds of African Americans are at grade level in reading and math, and 88% graduate. Officials there credited more counseling support, a culture of high expectations and targeted actions to support African American students, such as focus groups and teacher training on diversity.

The best performance was in such Westside districts as Wiseburn Elementary and Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified. In Palos Verdes, where African Americans make up 3% of the 11,840 students, 100% graduate, 60% complete the college-prep course work and three-fourths are at grade level in reading and math.

Those bright spots, however, are exceptions in an overall troubling picture. School districts in the north, such as Antelope Valley Union High, and the south, such as Lynwood Unified, showed particularly low levels of achievement.

In Los Angeles Unified, about four in 10 African American students perform at grade level in reading and math, two-thirds graduate and one-third complete college-prep courses.

“Whatever adjective is worse than bad, this is it,” Gilliam said about the plight of black students. “We’re concluding, either explicitly or implicitly, that these are throwaway kids.”

March 4, 2013

The Roots: America’s Band

By Patrice Evans on December 14, 2011 5:15 PM ET image
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

OK, Grantlanders. Pop quiz!

But with a twist: We’ll provide the multiple choice answers (a la Jeopardy!) and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out the correct question.

Looks like this:

a. The Beatles
b. The Beach Boys
c. Nirvana
d. Coldplay
e. The Rolling Stones
f. Jeez, are our music sensibilities still colonized by the Brits?
g. The Roots

The answer is: “g. The Roots.”


[tune of the Grantland Theme Song plays in background]

OK. Sorry, I forgot to mention the timer, but: Time’s up!

The question is — Questlove drum roll, wait for it — Who is America’s Band???

Hmm, I feel a bit deflated. Is that not a sexy enough question? Maybe: Who is most likely to influence the next presidential vote? Or: Who is least likely to follow Lindsay Lohan in being featured nude on the pages of Playboy?

Look, never mind nude Lindsay Lohan! The point for me is that I’m an American. And dadgummit, I want to know which band is representing me as an American in 2011. And surfing on the wave of critical acclaim for their latest album Undun, I think it’s high time to big up The Roots as “America’s Band.”

I know what you’re thinking. Actually, I have no idea. But among the infinitude of thoughts might be the stray notion that technically, yes, there’s no such thing as “America’s Band.” You’ve Googled, and there’s no reality show. No Twitter account. No Tumblr. The Facebook page doesn’t exist. Nada, zero, zilch. Only a 404 error message and you have no idea what to click on.

It’s also possible, being that your brain is such a dominant beast of thinkerly thinking, that in close proximity to the previous brain flash you’re now wondering how, in a variety of ways, this Q&A lacks logical consistency. In search of America’s band we have old bands, new bands, non-American bands? Also missing are all the rest of the bands? What are the rules? I don’t know the rules! I only know the answers. But in search of the best question, here’s four primary lines of argument to focus on:

The Generational Argument: This allows us to scratch off The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, etc. and move on with our lives!

The Genre Argument: Rock music is no longer the centerpiece of the music conversation. This is in some ways an old, outdated argument, but then again there’s the recent GQ’s “Gods of Rock” co-opting Wayne, Em, Badu, and of course there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of our most distinguished musical honors. That’s racist! (Just kidding.) This argument doesn’t scratch any band off the list, but it does mute the immediate reflex to say “Nirvana!” or “Radiohead!” (Brits in our head, man.)

The Indisputable Argument: The Roots are the only indisputable “best band” in an influential genre of music. Even if rock were still the soundtrack to everything American (sorry, Bruce!), we would still have to argue over The Black Keys vs. Foo Fighters vs. St. Vincent vs. The National, etc. (tie between Black Keys and St. Vincent, btw). This goes for country music, which I’m less familiar with so I won’t embarrass myself. But I am familiar with the fact that if someone is comfortable with a hip-hop band being representative, then The Roots are the only choice to be that band. They are also the only band that can cross platforms to respectfully cover popular songs from other genres, while most rock or country bands will strain to cover Kanye or Jay-Z or Drake with the same sincerity.

The 2011 America Argument: The Roots represent “how we live now.” When The Roots joined Fallon for Late Night, folks still used the term “sellout.” Now that’s a quaint, old-fogey notion from a time when your career represented “you” as a person. Now your Facebook page or Twitter feed does the selling out, and every job is just another “gig,” whether you’re a blogger, rapper, or financial consultant to the subhuman demons on Wall Street. Throw in Quest’s fluency with Twitterese, and generally avid use of social media (even breaking some Occupy Wall Street news), and add a pinch of their newfound political prankishness and you have a band that represents America in a way that runs deeper than sales and digital downloads.

Heretoforewith: I pledge allegiance to The Roots of the United States of America, and to the music for which they stand, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice and hot beats and rhymes for all. Amen!

Patrice Evans is a Grantland staff writer. Check out his (excellent) book Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro’s Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience.

From: Grantland.

February 26, 2013
I have been reading Lonesome Dove. Yes, it sounds like a romance novel. One friend of mine said it sounded like erotica. And YES! It is romantic but not in the Fabio novel kind of way but the grand, epic, and American sense of the word. 
McMurtry (the author) is a profound writer who builds characters like no other. The way he moves from character to character is cinematic. We pan to McCall sitting on his horse and zoom in, in to his thoughts his past and his ideas. We than slowly zoom out and pan to the the next person and the next…
Little is wasted. The story is long but not overly. The narrative is sparse like the land the men cross.  The geography is Lonesome Dove is a stage where the character of a few men (or all of us) is revealed. 

I have been reading Lonesome Dove. Yes, it sounds like a romance novel. One friend of mine said it sounded like erotica. And YES! It is romantic but not in the Fabio novel kind of way but the grand, epic, and American sense of the word. 

McMurtry (the author) is a profound writer who builds characters like no other. The way he moves from character to character is cinematic. We pan to McCall sitting on his horse and zoom in, in to his thoughts his past and his ideas. We than slowly zoom out and pan to the the next person and the next…

Little is wasted. The story is long but not overly. The narrative is sparse like the land the men cross.  The geography is Lonesome Dove is a stage where the character of a few men (or all of us) is revealed. 

February 26, 2013

My friends and I each shared our top 20 songs. This is a first attempt, though its in flux and shifting.

(Source: fictionalanimal)

February 26, 2013

I, Too, Sing America

 by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

I keep coming back to Langston Hughes. This poem, in response to Walt Whitman's masterpiece, "I Hear America Singing," is shorter but holds its own.
It may be stronger, though I may argue with myself, but it is powerful. It portrays the overlooked, the oppressed, sitting in a kitchen. This human, in the servant's quarters,
is possibly more America than those in the front room. Hughes calls out "I, too, am America" but it is entirely that this speaker would be more correct to say, "I am America."

January 14, 2013
Human atoms.

“In that high place in the darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each other tightly and waited. In the mind of each was the same thought. “I have come to this lonely place and here is this other,” was the substance of the thing felt.”
Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood is one of my favorite writers. His simple and focused stories transport the reader deep into the personal and haunting presence of haunting people. While in no means derivative of each other, John Steinbeck and Sherwood (who came before Steinbeck) seem to echo each other.

The above quote reminds me so deeply of many pieces of Steinbeck. Two human atoms pulled together and their presence together is everything. They are merely together and that is enough. That is the essence of community. No grand gestures but the simple presence, the simple act of being. Read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio for this. Read Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath etc. etc.

I am also reminded of a recent episode of my favorite podcast, The Memory Palace. In that episode we learn of two lives revolving around the events of the infamous Donner Party. One is the supposed cannibal, murderer and villain. The other is the victim, daughter of those eaten, who lived her life under the shadow of that horrible event.

Listen to it here:

Without spoiling the end, it is about two atoms pulled together. It is about being and grace and community. Presence, healing, and forgiveness.

also check out: This.

January 7, 2013

This song haunts me through and through. Perfect for a long road trip and melancholy times.