The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Do you have recurring dreams or nightmares?

I'm going to the Democratic National Debates tonight in Hollywood. Can't believe I'm doing this, but this election cycle is just too much serious fun. Any suggestions on what I should be looking for as Obama and Hillary Gingham Dog and Calico Cat each other..?

I’ve never believed in Dream Books, those compilations of standardized “interpretations” of imagery. But I do think that dreams represent pieces of information being coded from short to long term memory, and the nudges of the subconscious trying to communicate to us about things that we can’t look at directly. Keeping a dream diary, then can be a powerful way of connecting the different levels of our minds.

I first remember interpreting dreams was in childhood. My mother had a recurring dream about being chased by Frankenstein’s Monster. She would wake up screaming and moaning. Not surprisingly, there were real monsters plaguing us: we were broke. She was constantly fighting to find money for the mortgage, or even for food. I still remember mom cutting dandelions off the front lawn so that we would have salad for dinner…
The monsters are coming.

But personally, the recurring dreams I’ve experienced over the years are:
1) Since my mother’s death, I’ve dreamed many times of returning to my childhood home. Her car is in the driveway, but she won’t come to the door. Or…the car is gone, but I expect her home soon.
2) Gardeners are digging up the back yard. I am a serial killer, and have buried victims there, and under the concrete. I am terrified that the corpses will be found. (I’ve had versions of this one since my teens)
3) The living dead are coming for me. I try various means of escaping, evading, or deceiving them. Sometimes they get me.

My rough interpretations of the dreams:
1) Obvious. I miss my mother terribly, and would give anything for another conversation, another hug, another bit of advice from her. Or a chance to apologize for past wrongs.
2) I have guilt about things I’ve done, or fear that if people could really see me, they would reject or accuse me. “Buried” guilt.
3) I have a sense that too many of the people around me are “living dead”: trapped in jobs, lives, bodies, or relationships that do not serve them. I move among them, but feel apart (typical existential loneliness stuff, there). But as I move among them, they inevitably “infect” me with some of their attitudes…I risk becoming one of them unless I can remain apart…but God, that gets lonely.

How about you?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Does Hillary's Florida Win Matter?

Honestly, I don't know. I've heard comments back and forth, on either side of the issue, and frankly, I am too ignorant to sort through them. So that's our question for the day. Comments?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Video Games into Books

A Brazilian magazine asked me to write a short article about turning video games into books. This is what I sent them:

Having labored to bring the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED from the game-screen into the world of novels, I have a few suggestions:

1) Note the basic image systems of the game’s world. Magic? Technology? Time? Place?
2) Note whatever can be determined about the personality of the lead character(s). What they do, especially in the cut scenes, is more important than the game play, which may reflect the personal choices of the gamer more than the intentions of the creators.
3) Consider that the game is limited by the need for continuous forward action. Take a look at some of the 007 games. How do they relate to the movies? How does the game play vary? More exposition and “down time” in the movies. More interstitial material, time for romance, etc. The game follows a movie’s action line, only.
4) Remember that the book can only simulate the action of a game to a degree. Don’t try to imitate a game’s constant action-action-action or you’ll create a terrible piece of work.
5) Write the book AS IF IT CAME FIRST. Think “they wrote this game based on my book” rather than the other way around.
6) Character and Situation and plot must all dovetail. Think of Character and plot as heads and tails of the same coin. Whatever you can determine about either, make them fit.
7) Use the game as visual reference. Get as much of the original research from the gaming company as possible.
8) Remember that your audience is BOTH gamers and readers. You are straddling a fine line.
9) Remember that from the perspective of the gaming company, you are just creating an advertisement for their game. You will have to make them happy, and simultaneously create something that furthers your career.
10) Make certain the game company has done their research. With ASSASSIN’S CREED, Ubisoft forgot to ask the actual descendants of the Hashashiyyin for permission. Oops. They got a very nervous-making visit from some polite Middle-Eastern gentlemen who lectured them on cultural misappropriation. As a result, the entire book project was cancelled.
11) A corollary to the above: get paid in advance. I was.
And the Question of the day: how can one reconcile the requirements of Art and Commerce?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Over-Trained vrs. Under-recovered

Here’s how I see the difference between the words “over-training” and “under-recovered,” the source of a disagreement between Steve Perry and Scott Sonnon. In many ways, they are two sides of the same coin, but the implications are a bit different. “Beware of over-training” generally means: “don’t train too much, too hard.” Other wise, the system can break down. I’ve always looked at the positive spiral of physical adaptation goes: Stress, Nutrients, Rest. Get too much or too little of any one of them, and the system breaks down.

“Under-recovered” puts the emphasis more on the idea of “Stress, Nutrients, Recovery.” Rest would be an aspect of recovery—the only one that the average person knows. The more educated also include massage, Jacuzzi, icy/hot therapy, etc. The chemically inclined add various growth hormone and steroid cocktails in that, trying to speed the body’s ability to heal tissues or metabolize fatigue toxins.

Scott has an entire library of techniques for recovery: specialized breathing patterns, vibration drills, joint rotations, and movement stuff that goes beyond my understanding. All are designed to tease out the last bit of recovery potential.

There MUST be an absolute limit to the amount that the body can recover. What is it? I really don’t know. I do know that there are two basic positions among the athletic.
1) The longevity, sustained health approach, working for general energy, fitness, appearance, etc.
2) The competitive approach, employed by professional and committed amateur athletes. This flirts with the famous “Achilles’ Choice: a long dull life, or a short glorious one. Competitive athletes accept walking close the “Red Line” of potential damage or break-down. The truth is that, all other things being equal, the athlete willing to more closely approach this point of destruction—so long as he does not wobble over it—will outperform.

The difference, then, is both one of intent, and psychological preparedness to accept risk. That said, assuming that you have a set of objective/subjective standards for recovery: morning pulse rate, joint pain, muscle insertion point ache, reduction of swelling, quality of sleep, sex drive, morning temperature, etc., the “insufficiently recovered” approach is just one of attitude. In other words, you assume the process of recovery is not just one of not exercising too much, and getting enough sleep, but of actively seeking out techniques to speed that recovery. Will there still be limits? You bet. Is this approach appropriate for most people? I’m guessing not. Most people can barely handle a 30 minute walk three times a week, and won’t stretch afterward. Screw a “vibration drill.”

There are simply limits to the amount of time and effort anyone is willing to focus on the physical aspect of our lives. Everyone looks at this differently. Scott is a competitive athlete. From time to time my screwball friend climbs into the ring and lets someone take a shot at knocking his teeth out. For someone like this, inching close to the “red line” makes perfect sense. He’s willing to accept that risk. He’s an explorer of the very outer ranges of human physical potential.

Perry and I ain’t out there on that edge. Not that far. Both of us accept risks that many others will not, but discretion is the better part of valor: shit just takes longer to heal these days. Sad, but true.

All this is just to say that there is a continuum in, well, any activity. The question “what would you be willing to die for” which we just asked ties in. The competitive athlete walks the tightrope. Scott knows more about the recovery phase of this than anyone I’ve ever known, and I am slightly in awe of him. But I’ve taken ghastly risks with my financial life and career in pursuit of writing goals. Some of them make me shake my head, and were one hell of a lot more dangerous than risking a busted tendon or chronic flu. When we decide to love, we take risks there. Tananarive and I, by some standards, barely knew each other when she married me and moved cross-country to begin our lives together.

We human beings don’t have infinite resources, or infinite options. We must clarify our values and goals, be certain that our emotional time-bombs don’t doom our effort, decide how much risk we are ready to accept…and go for it.

“Over-trained”? “Under-recovered”? Two terms that mean pretty much the same thing, but one looks at the recovery process as a discipline every bit as manipulable as the process of inducing adaptation stress. Just like a person who meditates deeply can handle emotional stress that would crush the average person.

You pays your money, and you takes your chances.
I kind of like the tone Hillary has been taking lately. A little more sense of her speaking to the audiences rather than at them. Yeah, she’s the smart kid in class. We get that. But who is SHE? That’s an important thing to know, and I think Obama’s forced her to step up her game in this sense.

Bill, on the other hand…instinct tells me that he has definitely been playing nasty, and I’m starting to grasp a bit more of what Conservatives have been saying about him. Of course, since I can’t get myself to believe he’s doing anything really unscripted, looking at him gives us better insight into her. So they’re both politicians of the old school. You already know I hate that shit. Sigh.

The thing about Obama I like is that I routinely hear him synthesizing Yin-Yang into the Tao, something that a lot of people can’t even grasp. This is, by the way, something I NEVER heard Bush do, even once. For all his flaws, I heard Bill do it frequently. I haven’t heard Hillary do it much, but my instinct tells me that she absolutely has the capacity. In my mind, this is what constantly excites audiences: they sense that he is seeing the game from a different position than most human beings. I’d guess that being bi-racial and bi-cultural FORCED him to do this, or that he began life outside the “This OR That” perspective 99% of human beings are forced into. You can get out of that box with certain types of high intelligence, certain philosophical studies or inclinations, or certain kinds of life experience. You can have too much of this: thinking “the mugger and I are one” as the knife comes at your guts will end you in the morgue unless you’re an aikido master. Sometimes, unless you have the energy and training to function at that higher level, it’s better to say “you OR me” and treat life like a zero-sum game. You’re more likely to survive.

But I gravitate toward the statesmen and philosophers who have that higher perspective, and I believe they are the ones who have the potential to lift us up as a nation, and as a species. But you hav to have the energy and clarity to sustain it, otherwise, well, you’re a flake, a Hippy in the pejorative sense.

My suspicion, at this point, is that Barack Obama sees that resolved duality, and has the intelligence to synthesize information effectively. If so, he’s a once in a generation leader, and I’m having a great time watching the game.

And you know? Even if he doesn’t make it, there are a thousand young men and women out there watching him, saying: “if he can get that close to the goal line, I can carry the ball over it.” That’s how winners think. He may very well be the first 21st Century politician. He won’t be the last.

DAMN, this is fun to watch.
And the question for the day is: Who in your life helped you through an apparently insoluble problem? How did they do it?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Threshold Experience coming in November!

All right, my answer: I would be willing to die if I could communicate cleanly to all—or the majority of—people on this planet that they can lift themselves up an entire level by believing they are spiritual beings having a human experience. That would change everything, just everything. And since we all die anyway, I’d choose that. In addition to the usual: for my family, especially my children. I’d die for Nicki or Jason in a heartbeat, and would place my life in jeopardy at insanely long odds for Tananarive—but wouldn’t put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger for her. Sorry, T.
My flinching at the half-truths and smearing of politics isn’t really a criticism of those doing it. Seems to be the nature of the beast. But I couldn’t do it: it would kill my soul. Since politics seems to be necessary (at least in a dualistic world) I guess I’m glad there are people who can handle it.
Scott’s traffic over at RMAX has been EXPLODING! And the beautiful thing is that a big part of his growth has been associated with the Prasara Yoga books and DVDs. As you know, I think this is kinda advanced stuff, so the new interest suggests that there are a ton of people who are beyond the basics stage in their yoga practice, willing to look at new ideas. Fantastic. My belief: Scott has touched the place where motion originates, and has been waiting for his spiritual/emotional levels to rise up to his intellectual insight of the subjects. I suspect that his marriage to an incredible woman, fatherhood, and work with Amma (one of the two human beings I’ve seen who project their energy beyond the physical form. Pretty spooky. BTW—I understand how crazy that sounds, and that I can’t separate my subjective impressions out enough to be intellectually certain of what I experienced.) have facilitated his growth at a rapid pace. So…he’s ready to do the next Path seminar, what we’re now calling (due to trademark issues) the THRESHOLD EXPERIENCE. Looks like it’s set for the first weekend in November, in Los Angeles. I’ve got eight months to get ready. Wow. Can’t wait! I’ll let you know soon how you can sign up…
Scenario for South Carolina: Obama wins, Edwards and Hillary come in nearly tied. IF that happens, and the black vote is split, Obama isn’t labeled a “race candidate” and Edwards gets momentum enough to have real bargaining position. He could be a king (or queen) maker. If he really wants the vice-presidency, he could campaign for Obama the way Bill is campaigning for Hillary, providing some much needed good cop/ bad cop energy. That would be interesting.
We’re having a meeting of T’s book club at the house tonight. Largest gathering we’ve had since moving to California. I want to have more parties…
As I’ve said, I’ve been trying to work my way through a Century Density cycle for the Gama Cast for two years. My body won’t handle it, but I won’t quit, either, until I’m sure there is just no way. Intermittent Fasting increases my recovery rate, so I want to give it a real shot. But it’s a complex movement, and that may have been my problem. The aftermath went beyond Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) to shoulders that felt wrecked, and I can’t afford that.
I’m starting over, but trying something different. I’m going to break down the Gama Cast into two different segments: a Clean to Order (swinging the Bruiser back between my legs, bringing it up to the front) comes first. I’ll do the behind the head part next—IF I can work through a Century (100 reps without stopping). So Wednesday I did twenty sets of 5 reps, one per minute. It was rough, but manageable. The soreness on subsequent days was OK. I woke up too early in the morning, a sign that my body wasn’t finished recovering…but I can handle that with the Jacuzzi.
A very real possibility: on work-out days, I may have three entirely different workouts I cycle through on a weekly basis: Double Kettlebells, Century Bruiser, and Jumprope/FlowFit 2 cycles. Call these modules the “Work” (just for simplicity’s sake) and my pattern goes:
Alternate days Work and Recovery (Yoga)
Work days:
Warrior Wellness

Recovery days
Yoga (either Ashtanga or Bikram)

Five Minute miracle practice on “Work” Days: Martial arts, KB C&J, Prasara Yoga Chains.

Five Minute Miracle practice on “Recovery” Days:
Martial Arts, Prasara chains.

If I can anchor this in, I may start “waving” it in a “4 x 7” format. Right now, I’ve got enough to balance.

Total morning time: About 40 minutes on Work days, and about 60-90 on Recovery days. Sundays: off, or Recovery Only.


Question of the day: How has reading affected the quality of your life?

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Would You Be Willing to Die for?

Reading political commentaries is something I’ve only really done for the last four years or so. During this election cycle, I’ve come across dozens of women quoted as being eager for “a woman in the White House” but have yet (to my recollection) come across a quote by a black person about being eager for a “black in the White House” even if they’re voting for Obama. I can think of a couple of basic reasons:
1) They don’t consider his ethnicity a factor in their preference.
2) They don’t feel safe saying it—they know it would doom his chances if he is labeled as the “black candidate.” (Incidentally-I think this part of the Clinton strategy: to let him win South Carolina by a landslide among blacks, and thereby los his trans-racial status. Nasty. Smart.)

I think it’s the second. Whether this can be interpreted as any kind of statement about the relative power of women versus blacks is left to the reader.
Michelle said that I can’t ask people to imagine what they would want if “I knew they could not fail” and then qualify it. I didn’t. I just dealt with the dreams as they came up.
I could have said: "goals that have been achieved by others" but that wouldn't open the floodgates of imagination. I'm sure there are airline pilots inspired by the dream of being Superman. Physicists inspired by the dream of FTL travel. Doctors inspired by the dream of healing all mankind. We must dream. And then we can take that inspiration and use it to power our lives.
It is my belief that the way to align our lives for greatest success is to have our minds, our hearts, and our bodies all going in the same direction. That is, we should have maximum physical energy, open and excited emotions, and clear goals in alignment with our values. At this point, we’re not fighting ourselves.

Too damned often, we limit ourselves because we’ve been told we can’t have our dreams. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I heard this growing up: from my mother, my friends, my community. I had no role models of my ethnicity, and was told point-blank by teachers and authority figures that I couldn’t do it. But I clung to my dream, burned my bridges behind me, and powered forward. What would I aspire to if I knew I could not fail?
1) Be the best, and best-selling writer in the history of the world.
2) Be the greatest martial artist who ever lived.
3) Inspire everyone around me, and ultimately the entire world, to a joyous epiphany and acceptance of their inner divinity.

That’s what I’d do. So…how does that translate into my actual actions? I am prepared to do the best I can with what I have in the time I have. That’s it. Every single day, without fail, I work on my writing, on the unity of breath and motion, and tell the people I love that I love them. Every single day. Without fail.
Here’s a corollary question: What would you be willing to die for?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What if you knew you could not fail?


I’ve been diving fairly deeply into my stuff the last 14 months, and this morning during meditation, I think I hit a new level of integration. I’d grazed across it about four months ago, then lost it…so I’m not certain how long it will take for me to hold it. If past experience is any measure, I’d say about three or four more months. But the point I reached seems to be a resolution of several interesting dualities: black/white, male/female, child/adult, parent/child. Resolving the duality would allow me to function above the level of apparent lack or hurt, and would free up the energy currently locked in that emotional scar tissue.

Great, if I’m right. Movement from one to another level requires an increase in available energy: that either means MORE energy, or more exquisitely focused energy. Frankly, I like to go for both simultaneously.

What would you aspire to, if you KNEW you could not fail?

That’s our question of the day. We limit ourselves in so many ways. Our heads are filled with ideas of what is not possible—for us, or for anyone. And yet the leaders and shapers of the world dare to dream beyond those limits. Sometimes they fail. So what? I remember someone saying to me: “Steve, you dream too big. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.” So what? I’m a big boy. I can handle it.

But you know what I can’t handle? Feeling that I’m not living up to my potential. That’s just me. I imagine two scenarios:
1) At the moment of death, it is revealed to me that my dreams exceeded my capacities.
2) At the moment of death, it is revealed to me that my capacities exceeded my dreams.

I don’t know about you, but the second one sucks. I would rather go all out, break my heart again and again and again, pick my self up bloody and bruised and hurl myself at the locked gate again, than slink off and nurse my wounds and join the “you can’t win” crowd.

Now, better still is to simply operate in a Zen state of awareness where your normal daily activities, approached with intensity but not strain, naturally takes you through your personal evolution. Just awaken every day, chop wood and carry water, love your spouse, play with your children, play with your toys, tend your garden, rejoice in the life God gave you, and go to bed each night pleasantly exhausted and ready for renewal and a new day. Effort, but no strain. Just hunting and gathering and loving and giving and growing.

And I think that it starts by re-claiming your dreams. So ask yourself: What would you aspire to if you KNEW you could not fail? Choose goals in all three major arenas. Begin to move toward them. Find role models in all three areas, and determine their belief systems, mental syntax, and use of physiology. As you run into barriers, mark them on your mental “map”: you are exploring the intersection of internal and external reality. As you experience fear investigate it, and see where your emotions are knotted. And every day, celebrate the joy of sheer existence.

Let’ s make 2008 a fabulous year for all of us. There’s enough joy to go around. Love, health, and success are not a zero-sum games.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Father like me?

Rory said something to me last night that no one else has ever said. It was to the effect that I’ve spent a gigantic amount of my energy wondering what my life would have been like had I had a father like me.

It had a ring of truth in it: I’d refine it to “if I had a father like the kind of man I strive to be.” That gap has certainly loomed large in my life, just like the gap between what my childhood was and what I suspect it would have been had I had the same cultural context as my White or Asian friends.

I remember years ago, I was involved with a woman who made a gigantic mistake. She was in trouble, no doubt about it, but was not honest enough to admit it. Sanity, and the majority of my friends, thought I should drop her. I couldn’t. Just couldn’t. I’m almst constitutionally incapable of walking away from a friend in trouble, even if it’s the smart thing to do. I couldn’t walk away, and she wouldn’t let me help her, and she couldn’t get out of it. What a horrific mess. I was utterly torn emotionally, and over the months that this drama played out, it actually tore a hole in my psyche. When I meditated, it was as if I was looking at a basement built over a sewage tank: no matter how much work I did, more crap seeped in. Gushed in. Over weeks, the seepage slowed. And then, one day…

The basement remained “clean” for a day or so at a time. And then a week. And then…the sewage was gone. Although it threatened to continue without end, in reality it was finite. The value conflict within me was resolved on some deep level beyond my consciousness. Notice a similar situation with my ex-friend who abused the young girl? I posted about it, talked about it, and got over it. Cycled through it much much faster.

I believe that what I’m doing is the blogging equivalent of Spiritual Autolysis, working through the is-is not of my existence in public. Forces me to put into words the stuff rolling around in my “basement.” And a big chunk of that has to do with father stuff.

I remember when my mom first dated after sh and my Dad broke up. I was maybe seven years old, and this nice guy is sitting on the couch, and I’m curled up behind him on a chair like a little kitten, trying to look as cute as possible. Hoping that he’d want to be my Daddy. Hoping someone would. Wondering what was wrong with me that no one did. Was I so ugly? So bad? Such a weakling? That shit went deeper than any conscious stuff I can reach, and has taken decades to even begin healing. I have no memory of eve playing catch with my dad, or an uncle, or anything. No brothers or cousins to step into the breech. This is one of the reasons I am so committed to my family—I know what it cost me to have this piece missing.
Recently, I had the chance to train with my first real karate instructor, Steve Muhammad (Sanders). He is now 68 years old, and moves perfectly. He was attending another instructor’s workshop, and I asked if I could partner with him, and he enthusiastically agreed. It was wonderful, exchanging techniques with this great man, and great martial artist, one of the three men most responsible for who I am as a human being.

I was so nervous afterward: I wanted to know what he thought of my development as a martial artist. When he was quite complementary, it felt like your Dad saying “you done good, kid.” It was like a door opening in my mind and heart. This was just about five weeks ago, and I’m still sorting through the debris of the emotional architecture his words knocked down.

There are three major aspects of my life that I can have conscious influence over: my career, my relationships, and my physical skills. And I enter 2008 freer in each than I have ever been in my life. I’m so swamped with work that I haven’t been able to really consider the implications of what has happened over the last 13 months. But the time is coming when my slate will clear, and then my conscious mind will engage. And I’ll see what my unconscious has been up to.

Who would I have been had I had a father like me? Don’t know. Who am I now? Don’t know. But I can’t wait to meet him.
So, here's a question for you: who would you be, if you'd had a mother or father like you? How is that different from who you are today?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Out of Sight...

Frank seemed to say that his opinion about racist liberals comes from comments he's heard when black folks aren't around (or that he has special knowledge about this I can't have. I agree) So I ask white readers to respond:
When you've heard someone making negative/racist comments about black folks, when said black folks aren't around, and you are aware of the speaker's political attitudes, has it been your experience that those political attitudes are Liberal or Conservative?

Clintons lying

Thank goodness someone is starting to talk about this. I find it offensive, and find it VERY difficult to believe its accidental, or inadvertent. It's lying, out and out.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ooh! An existentialist discussion arises!

The fun thing for me in the whole Race versus Gender discussion is that any intelligent person looking at it will see the edge of the map. There simply is nothing that we “know” other that there is something that seems to think it’s “us” that seems to think there is a world outside itself. That’s it. Every other thing is agreed-upon perception. Opinion. The weight of many voices over years.

Think there’s a mountain over there? Why? Because you’ve seen it? Walked it? Seen pictures of it? Seen it on a map? All nothing but perception, and human perceptions are fallible.

Think Jews were subject to the Holocaust? Opinions vary. Just because I believe with all my heart that they were, or that I’ve spoken to people who claim to be survivors, or others who say they saw these people in camps, and others who claim to have dug up vast numbers of skeletons…and some who confess to murder and torture on a scale to boggle the mind, while I’d say it crosses any reasonable definition of proof, it doesn’t make it so.

Was there slavery? Just because witnesses said so? Because you’ve seen pictures of people in chains? Photoshop.

It there was, was it bad? Wow. There’s a purely subjective measurement for you. Compared to what? Plenty of disagreement there. Listen to people who claim that slavery was just the price for blacks to participate in the American Dream. That’s an interesting perspective. I disagree with it, but just because I agree with myself, does that make my opinion So?

Are women worse off than men in America? According to what measurements? And did God come down from heaven and say those measurements are the ones we should pay attention to? Have Whites mistreated Blacks? Said who? According to what? Again, just because I agree doesn’t make it true.

I think that almost everything we agree is “true” is based upon a certain trust that people are capable of perceiving, and will be honest in reportage. The amusing thing to me is that, in saying “black women have the strongest right to an opinion” those groups excluded feel a certain prickly exclusion. I PROMISE you that more black women will like this idea than white males, white females, or black males. People want to believe that they can figure the world out, that their opinion is not just valid…but more valid than average. Now, obviously I’ve taken the position that my opinion about who can have an opinion here is more valid than other opinions. But I also laugh at it, because I know that nothing can be known. The absurdity of that last sentence is crystal clear to me, by the way.

It’s a corollary to the question: if nothing ultimately matters, why keep going? Because I enjoy the game. If there are no ultimate answers, if no human opinion can really give us ultimate answers (and everything that has been said to criticize my little thought experiment can be applied across the board, to everything everyone thinks they know about anything. There is no sample size large enough to reach Truth. No set of criteria separate from the minds that devise and select them. No measuring apparatus independent of the senses that interpret, or the minds that tabulate. No minds free of perceptual filters. Nothing is anything beyond the Cogito Ergo Sum, and yet…God, I love my son’s smile, and my daughter’s laugh, and my wife’s touch. It’s as real as it gets) then why bother?

Because we choose to. And in building a society, we listen to each other’s views of the world. Note that I disenfranchised myself too, folks. I have no dog in this fight. Except that the entire discussion REALLY points out the difficulties inherent in talking about the advantages or disadvantages in any human interaction. Blacks? Whites? Males? Females? Frankly, I identify most strongly with the part of me that cares about as much about that crap as I do whether black ants or red ants are “better.” Who cares? Apparently the vast majority of us do. The game called human existence has uncounted millions of these judgments wired into the laws and customs of every society on earth, and every single one of them is ultimately based on shifting sand. Go ahead. Find something that isn’t ultimately based on opinion, or faith. Please. I’d love to hear it.

It’s a fantastic, delightful, terrifying joke. And the joke’s on us, unless we can laugh at ourselves.

Race and Gender and Class

All right, I proposed a five dollar bet with Steve Perry on the only aspect of the Race versus Gender question I'm willing to bring to definitive focus. If people want to ask black women "which has caused more pain and difficulty in your life: your race or your gender" go ahead. Want to rank each on a scale of 1 to ten, it gets more precise. Now, here's the only part of this I am willing to really stake a position on: that regardless of income or class or education, the answers will be similar, say within 5 or 10 percentage points, however you want to stack that up. I'll trust whatever answers people say they got. Just don't post the poll at sites or within organizations that are specifically gender or race political. The more people who ask, the more accurate our answers will get.

I guess I think that it IS possible to find answers which, while not "truth" are very useful to understand the world we live in. It's worth five bucks to be wrong. Assuming Perry takes the bet, anyone out there want to help him take my money?


Right-wing blogger Denesh D’Souza is a strange guy. I was looking at his blog, and he made a comment I found reasonable: that Martin Luther King was not his choice for greatest African-American. He liked Booker T. Washington better, relating to the need for responsibility in the community and economic strength. I kinda liked that…until I remembered that he wrote it the day before the MLK birthday celebration.

What a creep, and what a standard political tactic: to disguise an insult with a complement to a secondary figure. On the MLK holiday. Didn’t he ever see “Bambi”? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” What a tool. I still remember reading his “The End of Racism” book, where he claimed that black women were not raped by white men during slavery, because by his analysis of a whore house’s books, the black prostitutes didn’t get at much business as the white ones. He is one bizarre, ass-kissing, Massa-loving brown-skinned man. Yuck.

And to think that, for a bare moment, before I realized the timing, I almost sent him a note agreeing with him…
Played a little tennis with Nicki yesterday. Well, actually I don’t know how to play tennis, so we just rallied, batting the ball back and forth to work on racquet control and accuracy of ball placement: literally TRYING to give it back to each other. I figure that that’s better than trying to make each other miss, at this point. A little sore this morning, but that’s cool.

What you have above is a link to Coach Sonnon's fighter, Jorge Rivera, fighting UFC last Saturday. His fighter, Jorge Rivera, was considered an underdog. As Roy Jones Jr. used to say, Ya'll musta forgot.

I think that the Clintons have found the best tactic against Obama. By making him run against both of them simultaneously (has any former President ever campaigned like this before? I don't remember it) and then Good-Cop/Bad-Cop-ing him, they force him to seem more churlish and not a "uniter." Combine that with attacks which bring up race and ethnicity, forcing Obama or his surrogates to remind voters of his genetics and his father's religion. Again and again and again, and if he's not careful, they'll wear him down. Not pretty to watch, and I admit to a grudging admiration for the surgical efficiency of the entire operation. I bet Bill and Hillary are getting along better than they have in years. I don't resent them, because if he can't handle this, he shouldn't be our President. The man has to show who he is under pressure. I'm watching carefully, but I have to admit I've got an aorta in my throat...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nation article

Katha Pollitt in the nation observes that if the election becomes about race versus gender, the winner will be whatever white male Republican takes the oath of office in 2009. Yep.
I guess that's why I keep talking about this. I do think that any grouping or orientation tends to create or sustain a point of view. If every single occupant of the Oval Office has been a White Male, there are other views of reality, equally valid, that have never ever had peak expression. To the degree that that is true, it is dangerous for the nation. Reality is what it is, and our points of view on reality are never the thing itself. Assuming all basic measurable attributes are roughly equal, the mere changing of point of view can provide an advantage--the old point of view while valid, has been far more thoroughly expressed and explored. I am curious about what a white woman would bring to the Presidency. Or a man of African heritage. Not enough to sacrifice objective quality in any way, but I am curious. I think that the country is excited about it as well.

The Tragedy of Coriolanus (1608)

Oh! I forgot to note that today I begin reading “The Tragedy of Coriolanus”, the vey last play in the Pelican edition complete Shakespeare. For the last five years I’ve been reading all of Shakespeare aloud, one act per day. I miss lots of days due to travel and stuff—otherwise it would have taken me about 2 ½ years. But wow, I can’t believe I’m almost there.

After I finish? I’ll probably buy a new compilation, and start over at the beginning. The idea is that you can probably learn everything you could want to know about literature by reading Shakespeare and your favorite best-selling author. Fast and dirty literacy, to be sure…



I notice that over on Jerry Pournelle’s blog, he’s starting to talk about Iraq as a “Trillion dollar war.” When someone as far Right as Jerry talks that way, I suspect the cost of this thing is really starting to sink in.
You know, when people talk about how bad Saddam was, and how good it would be to help his people, I partially empathize. It’s kind of like saying that if a kitten falls into a well, we should save that kitten. I agree. What if it costs enough money to cripple a nation? Is it still a good idea? What if it was a child in the well? Do you spend enough money that you have to deny education to millions of other children? Or health care? I’m sure everyone has a different calculus for these matters. But I’m not convinced Saddam was that much more problematic than the Saudi Royals. Especially considering that none, not one, of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi.
Fun push-polling in Nevada, eh? Mentioning “Barack Huessein Obama” four times in a robo-call is obviously playing to fear of Muslims. This is politics as usual, and about as ethical as a robo-call asking if someone believes that Hillary can keep control of a government when she didn’t know her husband was getting blown in her own house. Both are honest, both loathsome. I hate politics, and seriously hope that Obama can work his game without resorting to such crap.
Intermittent Fasting. Basically, it is controlling food intake by jiggering the hours or day that nutrition is taken in. There are several different methods, including:
1) EOD. You eat every other day.
2) “Warrior Diet.” Eating in a particular time slot at the end of the day, say between 7 and 9. Ori Hoffmeinkler recommends very specific eating patterns here: first salad, then protein, then carbs. Drink a large glass of water, wait 10 minutes, and if hungry, start over again.
3) “Waving” caloric intake. Every other day you depress the intake to about 600 calories.

There are others, but those are the ones that come first to mind. The list of positive benefits is astounding, and at this point the scientific research looks quite strong. If you’re looking at this to lose weight, I’d suggest EOD or Warrior Diet. The reason is that once you eat ANYTHING, you awaken “Limbic Hunger” and the urge to munch gets pretty powerful. If you eat nothing on a given day, your hunger is a low-level growl rather than a roar.

I know of no serious research that suggests healthy person MUST have “all nutrients every day.” That wouldn’t match our ancestral hunting-gathering pattern at all. For health, there’s no need to lower overall caloric intake. The EXACT SAME caloric intake (averaged over a month) on EOD might very well result in weight loss. Why? You’ll be healthier, and healthy people move their butts more than unhealthy ones. It’s natural.

However, if you want to lose weight, you need to have an exercise program of some kind integrated into your schedule. If you aren’t sweating for a minimum of twenty minutes at least three times a week, there should be no mystery why your butt is spreading. Trying to control your weight through monitoring food alone is simply nuts. Lower your food intake, and you’re likely to send your body a message that there is a famine: best to preserve energy. You start walking more slowly, moving less. Next thing you know it’s “I’m dieting and can’t lose weight!” leading to the illusion that your body disobeys the laws of physics. You need both.

Intermittent Fasting simply works. You might want to use Hoodia to help you with the hunger pangs, though. “Desert Burn” brand is the real thing. There are others.
Has everyone who is interested in an answer to the question “is gender or race more of a barrier in America” asked several black women their opinions? I can’t read your minds, and am aware how wrong I could be, but my thoughts on it are as follows:
1) If you haven’t asked, you either don’t really care, don’t know any black women, or are so invested in a position that you don’t want to know the truth.
2) If you don’t know any black women, I’m curious why you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the matter.

And because I KNOW that some of the people reading this will misinterpret (it happens every time) I want to state clearly: I am not taking a position either way. My only position is that the people with the best ability to answer the question are black women. Where’s the best place to live: New York or L.A? Ask a dozen people who have lived both places. What is more limiting, being blind or having one leg? Ask one-legged blind people. And so on.

If being female is more limitation, black women would know. If being black is more limitation, black women would know. If you can’t trust them to say, then how can you trust women as a whole to answer, or blacks as a whole to answer? Or whites. Or men. Or anyone, about anything?

White women, and black men have equal investment in being “right” about this issue. (Vote for me! I’m more disadvantaged!)
White males? That’s interesting. They get it from both sides. I suspect that they might have clearer minds on the subject than either white females OR black males. But…(yeah, there’s always a but) remember that all white males know women. All of them. Without meaningful exception. Most white males love at least one woman (a mother, sister, wife, SOMETHING). Just as a white person who knows and loves at least one black person might be expected to have more racial empathy than one who does not, I find it reasonable to believe that white males would be, on the average, more sympathetic to women than to the “Other” group he may have little contact with. And during the 60’s it was a common joke among guys that one of the best ways to get laid was to profess empathy with feminist causes. Hey, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, I really think my position is safest: the question can’t be answered definitively, and for anyone other than a black woman, there is an element of voyeurism involved: ranking income above life expectancy, rape above murder, incarceration above personal insult, sexual harassment above infant mortality, etc. etc.

Leave it alone, or perform the experiment and let us know. Suggest others do it. Send us THEIR results as well. Either no one can be trusted to tell the truth in such surveys, or a trend would reveal itself pretty quickly.


Jason is entering pre-kindergarten. It’s so interesting that when he was the OLDEST kid in the younger group, his behavior tended toward the younger. But as the YOUNGEST kid in the older group, he’s maturing rapidly. His potty training, a little spotty just weeks ago, is getting better at mach speed.
I hesitate to say it, but it looks as if Shadow Valley is finally coming together. It’s felt like pushing a Velcro boulder up a Velcro hill over the last couple of years. But T is reading it now, and that’s a huge advantage.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

It rocks. I love it, and was ready to see it again immediately. The best American giant monster movie in decades, it’s as simple as a rock, and brilliant in it’s basic idea: let’s see a city-destroying beastie through the eyes of the insignificant people running for their lives. Not the military. Not the President. Not the brilliant scientist working on an “oxygen destroyer.” Nope. What we have here is a bunch of Yuppies throwing a going-away party for a friend in downtown Manhattan when something bizarre and deadly happens.

Warning should be issued: if you have problems with motion sickness, stay away. If you have problems with the idea that some people are willing to accept danger to help those they love, stay away. Frankly, I’ve been saddened by the number of critics (mostly minor critics) who think it is “stupid” or “unbelievable” for the lead character to head into the city to rescue the woman he loves. Really? Either these people don’t know themselves as well as they think they do, or they aren’t the kinds of people I’d want as friends. There. I said it.

Yes, it plays with 9/11 imagery. If that offends you, stay away. Yes, it’s shot with hand-held video, the entire film supposedly consists of “found” footage shot by the very people running frantically for their lives in the midst of the utterly incomprehensible.

Another thing you want to know: the monster is fabulously bizarre and terrifying. At times it looks boneless, at other times like a titanic crustacean. Really, it reminds me of the stupendous beastie at the end of “The Mist” more than any other critter I’ve seen onscreen, but we don’t see much of it. Just enough. If you surrender to “Cloverfield” you’re in for a tense evening. I suspect it’s going to be a huge hit. Made for just 25 million, they’ll probably make their money back the first weekend. Wow. For Creature Feature lovers, this is Christmas a month late. An “A” if you like this kind of things. Otherwise, a “B”.
An interesting thing: Hillary has been talking about the Lewinski scandal, and her reaction. I kept hearing about how she discussed her “anguish” and so forth. I didn’t see the entire interview, just snips, but noticed something: in not a single clip did she talk about her feelings. There was no kinesthetic component at all. She talked about what she thought, and reckoned, and wondered what to do, and so forth. All “head stuff” with no heart at all.

And that can’t be true. Either I missed it, or her feelings have been so burned out that she can’t access them. My suspicion leans toward that unfortunate circumstance. My sense is that she killed her heart to feed her ambition—or perhaps her dreams for America. Sort of goes along with that cackling laugh: it sounds just a little like someone who can’t calibrate an emotional response, like a sociopath who practices his smile in a mirror. Disturbing. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

Princess and the Frog

Steve Perry is quite right that is you ask your friends a question, the answer will be slanted by the choice of group. That’s one of the reasons I refused to “come to a conclusion” about the Race versus Gender issue. But I still think it’s a neat trick. Want to know if measles or chicken pox is worse? Ask ten people who’ve had both. Being homeless or being a dwarf? Ask homeless dwarves. How about being shot or stabbed? You get the point. No, not definitive by any means. But I think it cuts closer to the truth than asking the separate groups. And miles better than a mere hallucination or thought experiment.

First image from “Princess and the Frog”, the new Disney animation, and their first black Princess film. Looks pretty. I loved Aladdin, and thought Beauty and the Beast was classic. Have never actually sat down and watched all of “Little Mermaid”, can’t handle “Pocahantas” and thought “Mulan"” great fun. Definitely a huge change: I consider Disney to have been THE most racist studio in the 20th Century (uncounted thousands of character images in animated films. Not a single animated black person in a full-length animated film during all that time. I worked with former Disney animators while working on “The Secret of NIMH and spoke with them about this. It was no accident. Only when the new generation of animators came in as the “Old Men” retired did this have a chance to change. Another reason why I say that time is gonna take care of this. Thank God for old age and death, eh?)
My meditation this day was strange. Ordinarily my visualization goes from my third eye to the base of my spine. This morning…BANG! It went WAY lower, down into the sub-human animal stuff. There are teachings that have to do with past-life, and trans-evolutionary charkas. I have no idea what that was about, but if I had to say, I’d think my subconscious was giving me a visual metaphor for some kind of internal shift. Like opening up a sub-basement. More work, but wow, get those sump pumps running and see what comes out.
Director’s Guild has come to an agreement. Let’s see if the Writer’s Guild follows. Wouldn’t mind if it takes a few more weeks. I’m still struggling to clear my desk of projects backed-up from last year. An embarrassment of riches, to be certain.
Today is Cloverfield day! Can’t wait. Read some reviews reviling it for “exploiting” 9/11 imagery. You know, I wasn’t in New York when the towers fell, so I can’t say anything about what that felt like. But I’d bet there were Japanese critics criticizing “Godzilla” for exploiting Hiroshima imagery. I think monster movies have always functioned partially to allow us to take REAL fear and vent it through imaginary image systems. I bet Cloverfield will make monster box office in New York.
See Tom Cruise’s Scientology video? Strangely enough, while Scientology is strange stuff, it’s certainly no stranger than some of the stuff I’ve experimented with over the years. And I think that people criticize its beliefs kinda unfairly. I’m not at all certain that the stories in Scientology are that much stranger than the core stories of most other world religions. In fact, I sometimes wonder if that’s part of what disturbs people about it. But then there’s another part of me that just laughs. I remember A.E. Van Vogt telling me that he was playing poker with Hubbard back in the 50’s, and Hubbard complained that there was no money in S.F.

The “real” money, he said, would be in starting a religion. Then he set out and did it. Wow. Impressive man. My guess is that he had some genuine insights, and then went down his own rabbit hole. I can only hope he believed his own ideas. But considering stories I’ve heard about the end of his life, I tend to doubt it…
I gained about ten pounds in the last 6 weeks of 2007, and it’s coming back off pretty fast. About 2 ½ pounds a week, actually. Amazing the way people shove food at you, attached to serious emotions.
Ah, Huckabee and the Confederate flag. Do I think he’s playing to racists when he says it should be up to the states whether the flags come down? Yes, I do. I’ve known hundreds of black folks proud of their Southern Heritage. Never seen one flying a Confederate Flag. Are whites who fly it bad people? I’d say no. But I do think they are either oblivious, or don’t give a shit. That’s all right. That’s their privilege. As it’s my right to factor that flag into my overall evaluation of them. Poking around that wonderful site “Stormfront” and you’ll see the EXACT same arguments about cultural identity and so forth…but the racism is more nakedly visible. And follow a link or two to some of the even viler sites, and you can find yourself mired in human sewage.
Do I think the Surge is working in Iraq? Well, many stats are more positive, so I’d say “yes” from a narrow perspective. And if you put a cop on every corner, crime would drop. Everyone knows it. But if you can’t sustain that level, you’ve just put on a band-aid. In fact, if some of the intelligence folks are right and our efforts are creating terrorism, then as soon as we pull back, things will get worse—so it’s purely cosmetic.

On the other hand, maybe the reduction in violence will give public institutions in Iraq a chance to catch their breath and root. I’d like that, I really would.
Yoga yesterday was relatively easy, but I was sore as hell. I think I must have dug deeper into my body/mind complex than usual. HEY! That might have something to do with my meditation this morning! Just made that connection. Strange how this stuff fits together. Just finished reading Coach Sonnon’s new book on “Prasara Yoga.” It is an attempt to go beyond Ashtanga (which links static poses with a single flowing motion) to create “movement flows” of varied intent, releasing tension from the body across all major planes of motion. He’s created five flows (Forest, Spider Monkey, Diving Dolphin, Flock of Pigeons, Tumbleweed) that incorporate the ideas of Shadow Yoga and his own Russian disciplines. Wonderful.

Note, though: I still shade toward considering Scott’s stuff more “fitness” than “health”—although he deals with health issues one hell of a lot more efficiently than 99% of what passes for fitness in America. Most “fitness” stuff is really about looking good in the mirror. Scott goes WAY deeper than that. But if you’re just starting out, I’d seriously suggest traditional yoga first. Those static poses are like putting your car up on the rack to look at the suspension, and running a diagnostic on the engine. Scott’s Prasara is like taking your car for a controlled run on a closed track, with sophisticated diagnostic equipment running computer-assisted scans. An order of magnitude more sophisticated—and difficult for a raw beginner.

But that said, if you have your foundation, I see nothing out there to touch what Scott’s doing, and I watch his excellent core expanding to include an entire range of movement, all the way to ultra-performance. So if it isn’t quite “rooted” yet, you can compensate for that at any bookstore or strip-mall. What Scott has, is as rare as an honest politician.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

No "Yee-Haws" Please

In the race versus gender discussion, Steve Perry points out that anecdote doesn’t equal science. He’s right. The trouble is that the relative significance of any non-subjective data (rates of violence, longevity, income, status, etc.) all have to be ranked, ultimately, by human beings. Now, I’m perfectly willing to take the position that the question (Do blacks or women experience more discrimination in America?) can’t be answered. That was MY original intent. It got broadened into “worldwide”, which was NOT my intent, but O.K., I guess that’s an even more important question.

But here’s my point: how do we decide which standards are most important? Each and every one of them can be deconstructed, or de-emphasized according to someone’s political or philosophical position, and I’ve either heard or been a part of discussions in which that happened. Here are some for instances:
1) Income. How important is the comparison between males and females? Or blacks and whites? Feminists typically take the position that the raw figures can be taken into account. Anti-Feminists take the position that this isn’t fair, since you aren’t considering time in job, height, percentage of group willing to compete in this arena (and thus available for networking, etc.) Afrocentrists take the position that white women benefit from being married to those high-earning white men. This forces us to talk not about men and women, but SINGLE men and women. And the argument goes on, with people on each side screaming that they’re right.
2) Life expectancy. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d consider life expectancy to be more important than anything other than Infant Mortality Rate. But the infant mortality rate for white males and white females favors women. For the children of white males and white females…well, that’s pretty obvious. Again, factor in “single” and the stats shift, but that wasn’t a part of the original question, was it? Women live LONGER than men, but that’s partially biological, and partially the result of men having more of the dangerous jobs and being more likely to die due to violence. Perfectly natural for women to point to the fact that men COMMIT most of the violence, so it’s natural they should die from more of it. To which a man can reply that men are programmed, partially by women, to be aggressive and power-seeking. And the two sides scream at each other. Racially, black women live a shorter time than white women, and their children die sooner. Oops! That would seem to be pretty strong, considering that the survival of our children is central to every human group, everywhere in the world. But it could be argued (and is by books like BELL CURVE) that this is due to intrinsic differences between the groups (namely intelligence) and not due to racism. And the two sides scream at each other.

Whether you’re talking about deciding on the arenas in which data will be measured, or giving relative weight to the different arenas, subjectivity is involved. Every human group other than black females will have MORE axe to grind here. Sure, they will too. But even the axe they choose to grind is indicative of whatever stresses they have experienced. Unless we have Martians, completely outside the system of black-white, male-female, I think that this one group comes the closest to having clarity.
Now please note that I’ve worked very hard to keep from coming to a conclusion here, because when it comes right down to it, I don’t believe I can. I am “inside the box” myself, and even my choosing this standard could be somehow loaded. An example is the way I began asking black women this question some years ago. I figured that about ten answers would give me something to average, and an indication of which way the wind blew. I asked about five, and every one of them said the same thing: race.

All right, I said to myself. That wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought that it would be more evenly distributed, and realized that my sample was hardly random. And stopped asking the question. When I decided to do an NPR piece on it, Ellen Silva at All Things Considered asked me to continue canvassing. I combed through my address book, discounting some possibilities (one woman ran a black-themed book shop. I refused to ask her on the same grounds it would have been silly to ask a woman who ran a Feminist book shop), and had a range of ages from 35 to 80, raised all over the country. And I STILL got the same answer.

But I know that my sample is too small, and still slanted. I still don’t believe I can come to a conclusion. But I’ve tried very, very hard to be fair here, I hope you can see. More importantly, Dan Moran hits a nerve (a good thing) when he points out the nature of damage from rape and abuse. I will die and burn in hell before I deliberately cause a fraction of a hair of pain in women who have been hurt by men. Not in this life time. So I stay with the position: “we can’t know. But if we could, there’s only one group that could tell us.” I’m not trying to convince anyone else. Just describing the way I think.
Muddy meditation this morning. 2007 was the year from heck. Woulda been the year from hell, but after we got the Fox Searchlight papers signed in July or whatever, the stress was all an embarrassment of riches. Most writers would kill to have the “stress” I have in my life right now. I need to keep that in perspective.
Still, I have to be aware of how my brain is processing stuff.
Note that Obama is beating Clinton handily among black voters. Just six weeks ago, the polls were completely different. The shift is that black voters now believe that whites will vote for him. That’s the big one. My cynical side says that they’re looking for plausible reasons to jump ship without making it look as if race is involved. Because if it is, they give whites implicit permission to vote along racial lines as well—a losing position. Note that Hillary can openly talk about “a woman in the White House” while Obama does not. I suggest that this is because of both his inherently non-dualistic philosophy (which I embrace) and because he knows he’ll lose if he tries it. It’s entertaining to watch the two groups jockeying for position. It’s actually the most fun I’ve ever had watching politics. As long as I don’t become convinced she’s some kind of monster (and frankly, I just don’t understand the venom many people, male and female, feel toward her) it’s kind of a win-win for me. Pop the popcorn. And watch people lying with a straight face. Here’s hoping no one pulls a Howard Dean “Yee-Haw!” although I really don’t understand why that screwed up HIS candidacy, either. I guess I’m just oblivious about these things.
My body is finally allowing me to jump rope more easily—I’m working on ten minute segments, while tripping over my feel too damned much, of course. But it gets a little better every time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Race and Gender and NPR

I almost got the following piece on NPR today. The sudden "make nice" last night made it obsolete.

Recently, a question has been bandied about the airwaves and internet. Which causes more pain: Being black or being female?

There is only one group who can answer that question, and I'm not a member.

Only African-American women have personal experience with both femininity and blackness.

I've asked this question of five black women, who agreed to be referenced so long as I didn't use their names. Four of five said that race was more problematic, and the one who chose “gender” warned me that, due to her very light skin, her experiences might not be typical. She mentioned gender as a problem largely because of cultural expectations about child care, and pay discrepancies at work.

On the “race” side, I heard stories of being denied entrance to a private school. Of lacking networking opportunities that benefited white students at university. One lady said race was hurtful from the day her schoolmates and teachers first saw her. Another that race has been more painful by a margin of three to one, and described a childhood attempt to lighten her skin with baby powder.

In truth, my sample was small, and skewed. I don't take the results seriously. If you'd like an answer, I suggest you perform the experiment for yourself.

The subject of race versus gender has raised its ugly head at parties, and I've proposed this same challenge. The most consistent comment I've gotten back is: “I don't know any black women to ask.” I find that interesting, but rather admire the mind that can form an opinion about black people without actually knowing any.

It's sad so many people need to quantify the pain of others. I suppose that the “winner” of the Pain Game gets to take the moral high-ground. The logic of Victim Politics suggests that if women are the most disadvantaged group, then women, and the men who love them, should naturally gravitate toward Hillary. If Blacks are most disadvantaged, then blacks and non-blacks who believe in social justice should gravitate toward Obama.

Pioneering Science Fiction author Octavia E. Butler once told me that the two tendencies placing us at greatest risk as a species were hierarchicalism, and the tendency to place ourselves above others on that hierarchy.

But rather bizarrely, not only do human beings want to believe that they are best, they also want to believe their wounds are deepest, the knives that have worried their flesh the most cruel. In some minds, being the greatest victim is almost as good as being the champion.

This is a momentous election, in which the stakes are stratospheric. Potentially, change is not merely on the agenda or the stump, but in the Oval Office itself. Vote for Hillary, or for Barack, or for McCain, or Romney, or the candidate of your choice. But if you vote for them primarily BECAUSE they are black, or white, or male, or female…then you are a part of the problem, not the solution. More importantly, you are yesterday's news, rather than tomorrow's revelation.

Cloverfield is coming...

Glad to see the Dems acting more civilly last night. At this point, it looks much as if the only way they can screw up their chances is if they shoot themselves in the foot. Don’t want that: I think that eight more years of what we’ve had, and this country won’t right itself in my lifetime.
“Cloverfield” looks like it’s going to be fantastic, “The Godzilla Witch Project,” a gigantic film told in completely personal terms. The buzz has been great, and it’s been too long since I’ve seen a really good giant critter movie. Can’t wait!
Speaking of “Cloverfield”…got off on Cloverfield avenue yesterday to work at Moonview Sanctuary. Their new marketing coordinator, Alexandria, asked me lotsa questions about what I do, and I had to laugh. I can barely describe it. But the approximate narrative goes something like this:
I knew that I had some big holes in my psyche, from the lack of a father in my home, the lack of cultural support, and a profound sense of fitting no-where. The physical violence (not severe, but chronic) sent me into the martial arts. Emotional problems there inhibited my ability to express motion freely, and I went looking for those missing pieces. NLP, Eriksonian hypnosis, Transcultural Shamanism, yoga, therapy, various meditation forms and almost anything else you can think of followed, for decades. As a science fiction writer, I was most interested in human mental and physical development, so I got to “cheat,” both theorizing about transformative technologies and interviewing experts for my books when what I really wanted was answers for myself. The introduction to Harley “Swiftdeer”Reagan was a major threshold—he taught me to connect the inner and outer worlds through concept and ceremony. But it was meeting Scott Sonnon, whose “Be Breathed”, “Flow State Performance Spiral” and “Fear Removal” ideas finally created a critical mass of all I’d studied. It collapsed into a singularity, and suddenly I understood what my teachers had been talking about all these years. In terms of my clients, I seem to have an understanding of something that can’t quite be put into words, and can communicate, or “conduct” it through personal, interactive work combining visualization, FlowFit, and Push-Hands type exercises combined with a theoretical framework tailored to the client’s background and needs.
## do I work with a client? First by getting them to define goals in all three major arenas. What would their lives look like if their problem didn’t exist? Then they commit to reaching their goals. Second, I teach them the “Be Breathed” exercise, moving so that the movement itself creates compressive exhalations. This allows you to train your body to get exactly the amount of air it actually needs, as well as returning you to a pre-intellectual breathing pattern similar to that of an infant. Third, I put stress on them (through complicating the “Be Breathed” into FlowFit, or using Push Hands drills to impact them emotionally) until they lose their breathing pattern or posture, then I re-integrate again and again. By giving them home-work to breathe five times a day (The Five Minute Miracle) for sixty seconds, we start re-wiring their nervous system, so that eventually we get a Pavlovian stimulus-response loop between Stress and re-integration.
Here’s the beautiful thing: if you confront the challenges that stand between you and the next level of your life, and can keep stress from becoming “strain”, the only thing your body and mind can do in response is grow, change, evolve.
That’s it. That’s all I do. I assume that within each of us is the strength and skill we need to reach any goal we can hold in our hearts and minds. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I just love working with people. This year, I want to start making a shift toward making my Coaching work my “full time” job, and my writing a hobby. A hellaciously profitable hobby, to be sure…
I notice that I've been accused repeatedly of saying that "blacks have it worse than women," or "race is a more important issue than gender." Wow! Did no one notice that I never said that? NEVER. But that is what people hear. My point is that the only group who can judge are black women, since they are members of both groups. It's interesting how strongly people distort what is said, even if it's said repeatedly. I suspect that this particular problem arises because most people cannot think in terms other than "Y versus X". Without a hierarchy, they aren't comfortable. My dear friend Octavia Butler once said that she thought this tendency would be the death of us. She may be right.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Boxing critics, and the Obama trap

Yuck. Intermittent Fasting yesterday dumped some holiday toxins into my blood stream, and sleep last night was wretched. Ah, well, I’ll survive. Figure one more day of that nonsense, then I’m back in form.
I have a nasty feeling that some of the recent race-gender flap was designed specifically to pull Barack into a discussion he can not win. Any specific discussion of race versus gender, or white versus black, is a losing position. Suspicion: Gloria Steinem, working as a Clinton surrogate, dangles a provocative Op-Ed piece stating Gender is more limiting. Sparking a national discussion. If Barack bites, no matter how reasonable his comments, he can no longer be seen as a Uniter, canceling out one of his most powerful selling points. Jeeze, I hate politics…but that’s pretty smart on Hillary’s part.
Coach Sonnon sent me a copy of his new Prasara Yoga book. When does this guy sleep? Haven’t have a chance to crack it yet, but am sure it’s brilliant. In my opinion, in about ten years Scott will be so far ahead of the pack that most “fitness gurus” won’t even be able to see his dust. He’s looking at the entire question from a higher elevation. Frankly, that can make it a little difficult for Newbies to really appreciate what he’s doing. Sort of like people who’ve never practiced Martial Arts have no idea just how sophisticated Silat is, and don’t really appreciate it until they go to a typical “march up and down across the floor” school.
Anyone make a New Year’s Resolution about fitness? Remember that you can accomplish a HELL of a lot in just 15 minutes a day. It’s consistency that does the job. Combine that with intelligence and a little grit, and you can change your entire life.
“In The Name of the King” (2008)

Nicki and I have a tradition of seeing bad movies and laughing our butts off. Wow. This one was almost too wretched. A bargain-basement knock off of “Lord of the Rings” (complete with Orks and stolen camera moves) I really don’t even want to synopsize this. Stay away. Director Ewe Boll recently offered to box five of his critics. He had it backwards: he should let anyone who’s paid good money for one of his drek-fests to punch HIM in the nards. I’d give it an “F” but that would be an insult to failing students everywhere. This is just dreadful. But hey, Nicki and I had fun.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The New Year Begins...

The Clinton-Obama mess over the MLK-Johnson connection isn’t going away. It’s unfortunate…but what’s really going on is that the gloves are coming off. I think that on all conscious levels, the Clinton’s merely meant to say that oratory is great, but you need a person in the White House who can deliver. Inspiration isn’t enough. Obama’s people are both GENUINELY disturbed, and simply looking for a place to put the knife.

Better to watch are the black leadership getting all offended. There’s a dirty little secret that no one on this blog could possibly know: people tend to side with “their own” in whatever way they define “theirs.” Now, for 350 years, black people have had to look to nice white people and ask them to be fair. For the very first time, we see a black candidate who can actually have a chance to take the best power position in the world. The Clintons have spent long decades building up their bona fides with black folks. I think that Hillary tolerated Bill’s infidelities on the promise that he would help her get back to the White House, and he’s doing his best. The timing was right: Bush left the Republicans weak. The mood is right for change. Hillary must have been feeling her oats, and seeing the history books even as we speak. And look! How cute! A junior senator from Illinois is running too! Too bad a Woman-Black Guy ticket would probably be too much for voters, eh, Bill..? I can just see the chortling conversations. And then…his candidacy gets real, and the Clintons are faced with a political nightmare. And black leaders like Jesse Jackson are torn. Go against the Clintons and seem ungrateful and racist? Or fail to support Obama, who is the literal Hope and Dream of the slave? Hell, slaves didn’t dare DREAM of a Barack Obama. Get real.

And if said leaders jump ship, and Obama loses…can they mend the fences later? They are DYING to get behind Barack, but if they play the “race card” (as Hillary has played the “gender card”) they will lose: by giving whites implicit permission to do the same thing. It’s almost funny.

Their answer is to find a flaw in the Clintons’ behavior or words. In effect, they’re looking for an excuse to bail. And trust me: a lot of ‘em are gonna find it. Black commentators, writers, spokespeople, etc, are going to back Obama fairly healthily, but NONE of them will say “it’s about race.” They can’t. But trust me: it’s not just that Barack is a black candidate. He is walking history, and everybody wants to get onboard the history train. Unless they have a damned good reason not to, they’re gonna sign up. And in private, they’ll talk about their real motivations.
If two candidates were approximately equal, I’d go for the one that looks like me. If I were white, I’d be less likely to do that, because there’s less novelty there: I’ve seen white presidents my whole life. Might be interesting to see what happens with a different color. As long as they seem about even with the other candidates. But…how much discrepancy between the candidates would there have to be for me to vote for a lesser candidate on the basis of race? Well…I’d like to think no more than an overall percentage point or two. I might be lying to myself, but I’d certainly like to think that.
Today is the real first day of 2008. My first “normal” work day. I’m meditating, exercising, getting back into the real groove after the holidays, and a devastating 2007. What a year. I’ll be formulating goals and stuff very soon. We’ll talk about that.
Intermittent Fasting is a pain in the butt over Holidays. So much food! So much emotional association with it that it seems Grinchly not to gorge every day. Damn! I did all right, and any excess poundage will drop off pretty quick. Still, I have to shake my head.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rosanne Barr and Gender/Race, and barfing

Why do I choose FlowFit over Prasara? Understand: I’ve done Prasara yoga, and enjoy it. But I like to separate performance and recovery COMPLETELY (Steve Perry will understad). Frankly, my body doesn’t recover as fast as it once did (sob!) but I still love to work out hard. I know my psychological tendencies: if I did dynamic yoga, I’d start competing with myself, and pretty soon my yoga “recovery” days would be an invitation to burn out. So I separate the two completely.

That said, the entire FlowFit complex IS a Prasara flow…a very simple one, but comprehensive in all of the important ranges. FlowFit Two is even better and more challenging. Combining FlowFit Two with Jumping rope is a current exploration. Accidentally, I did FlowFit Two in-between laps on the track. I loved it. I’m trying to duplicate that feeling with the rope, for a lot of reasons. Partially just because I love messing around with my exercise program: it’s a happy compulsion, and keeps me happy.
I was asked about signs that the country has swung too far to the Right. One sign is the way homophobia is used as political coin. I have felt and heard much more negativity about gays from the right than the left. And I find that objectionable.
Whether she was calculated in her tears at that moment, I do believe Hillary’s emotions were genuine, even if the timing is suspect. No harm. She IS a human being, with human emotions and fears. Period. And she’s been more “real” since then. Undoubtedly at the urging of her advisers, but I get more of a sense that she’s being closer to her heart right now, and I like it.

I’m about to rant. It is clearly labeled as a rant, because I honestly don’t know how logical all of this is.
When Rosanne Barr threw her hat in the ring about the Race/Gender issue, I kinda wanted to vomit. The following things ran through my mind. THE FOLLOWING IS CLEARLY SELF-SERVING AND A BIT EGOTISTICAL. PLEASE BE WARNED.
Like I’ve said, I use this blog to flush out my head, not to propose Earth-shaking truths…

When I hear white women say that the gender issue is more important than the racial one, it makes me ill. I know more women than they know black people. I know more black people than they know black people. I’ve spent all but maybe two years of my entire life LIVING with women. And I don’t think I could say “which” is more disadvantaged, because any standards I would use are artificial, self-serving or “politically correct.”

Now, for years, I’ve had some standards that I’ve used racially, saying “when these standards are equal, I’ll believe that racial problems are pretty much over.”
1) Incarceration rates.
2) Inherited Wealth
3) Life Expectancy
4) Education Stats

There’s another one that we’ve talked about on this blog: love scenes in movies.

If I were trying to “win” the discussion (in my own mind, or preaching to the choir) I would apply these same standards to the questions of men and women…and women do better than black people on every one of these standards, whether blacks in general, or black women specifically. And yet I know that I can’t map them over and think I’ve found some “truth.” There are interesting rebuttals to each question. Most of them, I think, looked at carefully, suggest that women are actually SUPERIOR to men—an implication that lurks right under the surface of much if not most Feminist rhetoric I’ve heard. That’s o.k.—everybody thinks they’re better. But I don’t have to roll over for that crap.
I have another problem with Hillary, by the way. She claims to have 35 years experience. Most of that time that experience was being the wife of a governor, or a President. All right—are we supposed to believe that being married to a man of power is the same as wielding that power? Really? Think about your answer carefully…
Because if it is, then let me ask: how can that statement (or position) be true, without affecting the contention that women have been kept out of power? If Hillary has 35 years of experience based on being married to Bill (and what she did in that position) then women haven’t been kept out of power as much as the radicals would like you to think. The vast majority of elected Presidents have been married. Probably governors, senators, and what not as well. Hillary is making the point (or would seem to be) that, by the standards she’s using, women have had power since the very beginning. So…where is this “women are more disenfranchised” coming from in the light of her claim of 35 years? Compared to men? In terms of overstructure, external power, sure. Compared to minorities? I doubt it sincerely. BUT IT WOULD BE FOLLY TO TRY TO QUANTIFY THIS, THEN POINT AT YOUR QUANTIFICATION AND CALL IT "TRUTH."
Like I said, any standards I use have the danger of being either self-serving, or politically correct. I try to be neither. But slavery and Jim Crow benefited white people--male and female. It’s great to have status, even at someone else’s expense. When I saw photos of blacks lynched, women were there. Pictures of Civil Rights marchers spit on, beaten, and hosed—white women were shaking their fists and screaming at the marchers, just like men . Slave narratives showed that female owners could be just as nasty. White women sent their men off to fight in the Civil War and mocked those who didn’t join—they wanted their social prerogatives protected. Understandable. People say that the Civil War paid the price for slavery. (and I’m not saying it did—that was about preserving the Union. If Lincoln could have done that without freeing a single slave, he would have done it. His words.)
(By the way, I've heard people suggest that America owes nothing to blacks because slavery gave blacks the opportunity to participate in the American Dream. Interesting. How much did a boat ticket cost? Subtract THAT cost from the labor extracted from multiple generations of black folks. Bill me. The rest, is owed and will never be paid. I have no interest in reparations. Just setting the record straight.)

But if the Civil War paid the cost of slavery, and both men and women benefited from slavery, then men paid most of the cost for it. Suggesting that women on the home front suffer as much as men at war (which I’ve heard women say) makes as much sense as saying that fathers in the delivery room suffer as much as the woman having the baby. Any man who said that would get bopped—rightfully—by every mother in the room.

Every standard I used to measure differences: infant mortality rate, percentage of children in poverty, whatever—white women’s statistics and white men’s are pretty much identical. SINGLE women and men have different stats, but that’s a different discussion. Yes, I think that women have LESS racism, but anyone who tries to make the point that they can quantify human misery and consider their hands clean is just full of shit. Ever notice that there weren’t a lot of black women in the Women’s Movement in the sixties? I’ve had black women activists tell me that they felt the same racism there that they felt from men. That’s not definitive (too small a sample, and probably slanted) but look at the images of Feminist leaders and tell me that it doesn’t look just as segregated as other political movements. Men and women are two halves of the same species.
Fewer women in high corporate positions? Certainly, AND THIS MUST CHANGE. Period. However, do the same percentage of women WANT to operate in the corporate arena? Really? I know lots and lots of educated, intelligent women who would love to marry a guy who makes enough money for them to stay home and raise their children. You have to factor that in. There really ARE differences between men and women that relate not just to social conditioning but actual biological differences. None (in my mind) influence intelligence or capacity, but some seem to influence inclination. Women who want (or need) power are definitely at a disadvantage to men. No question. But men who DON’T want power, or to be aggressive, are at a disadvantage as well. A little straw poll—any guys out there who disagree with this basic position: As men get more power, women find them more attractive. That’s not as true for women: I’ve heard few women suggest that as they became more successful their social life improved. So women are penalized for having power, men for NOT having it. This is the game that men and women play with each other. It is different from the game that different racial groups play with each other. THAT game is: keep them from breeding. Keep them living where you want them to live (there was never, anywhere, a “women’s side of town.”) control their access to jobs, education, health care. Rape/impregnate their women, kill their men, and brainwash their children that you are superior. Or…eradicate them. Kill them ALL. Regardless of the horrendous repression and control women have faced, they’ve never faced THAT one.
I’ve suggested asking black women the answer, and that they are the only group who can answer the question. I’ve only suggested this about eight times. Interestingly, seven out of eight times, the person I suggested it to said something to the effect of: “I don’t know any black women.” Excuse me? Can we interpret this to mean they don’t know any black people? And yet they believe they “know” that women have it worse? This is self-serving ignorance, and frankly, I find it deeply offensive. On the other hand, it’s just politics, really. I hate politics. But I love people, and people apparently need politics. Sigh.
Like I warned you. All just a rant. Truth is that I’d love the chance to vote for a woman president. Most of my life has been spent with women. Most of my close friends are women. In my next life, I think it would be fun to come back as a woman (multiple orgasms sure seem interesting). But I don’t think the Race-Gender question can be answered. Not even by black women. But they would be a hell of a lot closer to the truth than a man, or a white woman, or anyone this side of a Martian. All of us are caught up in the system: either black, white, male or female. Anyone out there not ANY of those? I thought not. So if you can’t get out of the system, go right to the core, and talk to someone who has experienced both sides. All the rest of us are just self-interested observers of other people’s pain.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Back on the Horse

On the question of Do Blacks Have It Worse Than Women…no one on this board has done anything other than muse and offer some perspectives. Anyone who tried to say it’s A or it’s B is automatically stacking a deck by deciding which standards are applicable, and I promise that they’re forgetting or deleting other data. We get down to that lack of objective ultimate standards for truth. For instance, what should we make of the level of repression that makes millions of black voters reluctant to vote because they can’t believe he wouldn’t be assassinated? Can anyone quantify such fear, or truly grasp how deep that goes? Remember what I said about my mother telling me that if I let White people know how smart I am, they’d kill me? What’s the equivilent to that for women? “If you let boys know how smart you are, they won’t like you.” Wow! That’s awful, truly. And unfair. And hurtful. But not quite the same, is it?

On the other hand, women are the object of serious violence perpetrated by men. No, I don’t think it’s “society” except in the sense that society mirrors the human beings within it. I think it arises from men’s desperate, fearful need to control the mechanism of reproduction and to justify the dangerous shit men do by believing women are weak and dependant. Societies arise in response to such needs…and reinforce both the positive and negative aspects. It must change. There is absolutely no question about that. I am completely comfortable with my own efforts for change in that department: I’m down twenty thousand dollars supporting the Women’s Self-Defense workshops created by Dawn Callan back in the 80’s. It was worth every penny.

Gloria Steinem is welcome to take any position she wants—she perceives the world through her filter, and I know many people who feel she’s been a tiger for her cause. As I’ve said: be a good person, love yourself and others, and believe in a cause larger than yourself. Do I think she and Clinton are dividing people to conquer? Sure, that’s politics. One of the reasons I couldn’t be involved.
Yesterday, I finished the current draft of SHADOW VALLEY. Thank God. For the first time in almost a year and a half, I can start normalizing my life again. More on this later…
So what exercises have made it with me into the new year?
1) Scott Sonnon’s Warrior Wellness. Superb, short time investment for major return. I can FEEL the difference within a week if I don’t do it. Yuck.
2) Silat. The djurus are core movement, and insanely sophisticated: moving one base at a time translates beautifully when you’re practicing other martial forms.
3) Core Ab exercise. Roller wheel, Get-ups, sit-ups. Whatever. But burning out the core just a bit gives the rest of the body more time to warm-up. Combine with Be Breathed to link into the Perpetual Exercise system.
4) Kettlebell C & J. Terrific.
5) Clubbell Gama Cast. Frankly, I have to be very careful with these, or I strain tendons in my elbow. I don’t like that, so I’m backing off and trying to approach them more gradually.
6) Jump-rope. Experimenting with jump rope has been great, a big return for a small investment. Two different chunks of time: 5 minutes “anystyle” just seeing how many reps I can get in 5 minutes, cruising. Most days, it isn’t pretty. And the other, which is more important:
7) Jump rope sprints (30 sec/100 reps) followed by one rep of FlowFit2. I’m going to start integrating a “recovery” drill (RESET) created by Coach Sonnon. The sprints need to be at the rate of 200/minute to cross a very specific time-slicing threshold, and affect the brain. Now, under ideal circumstances, I would do five reps of this in about 7.5 minutes. It takes me about 13 minutes, and I feel lucky to finish. Trust me: this works everything. EVERYTHING. Now, if I could only integrate the Be Breathes more fully…

Today is Jason’s 4th birthday. For the first time, he’s aware enough to grasp its meaning, and that’s just great. We’ll have a party for him over at his preschool. As for me, I have a crapload of projects about to fall on my neck, but for the first time since I took the ASSASSIN’S CREED project on, I’m feeling the pressure roll off. And I needed that like roses need rain. I’ve been running on reserve tanks for MONTHS, and it feels like shit. Back on the horse…

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Clintons must love this...

So...apparently Barack's father came to the U.S. as part of an exchange program created by John Kennedy. Barack hasn't mentioned it much, but it just came out in this Guardian article.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire

Being a political beast, Tananarive was more disappointed than I was about Hillary’s win last night. I’ve got nothing against Hillary (so sue me) and frankly, I would have been disappointed had she gone down like a punk, so to speak. After all, the Clinton’s are arguably America’s premier politicos right now. If Obama motored over them, he’s not quite human. And I’d kind of like a human being in the White House.

Also, if due to some odd set of factors he crushed her, we would learn nothing about him—although we’d learn a lot about those who support him, primarily their numbers.

Nope. You want someone who can dig in, and come back. Heck, people act as if there was some kind of gigantic upset. Really? Iowa was an upset. New Hampshire was Clinton performing closer to the way people predicted, but Obama doing better than National polls suggested. I think. It’s a horse-race.

In boxing terms, the Kid knocked the Champ on her duff in the first round, and then the Champ came back and outpointed him in the second. Ding Ding! Third round coming up…
I think most people in this country grasp that there are both internal and external factors that influence poverty. I’ve spent my whole life concentrating on the factors that an individual can influence: goal setting, focus, continuing education, building alliances, clarifying values, and so forth. The building of political coalitions or even participating in politics (beyond voting) has never really been my thing.

So for me, the best thing about Obama is that, win lose or draw, were I say 12 years old right now, I would have the opportunity to see a black man performing at the outer edge of human capacity in the arena of politics. Intelligent, focused, with a clear message and the ability to bond people to him and raise A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS in a year. Beloved of a huge chunk of the country. Trust me, I never saw anything like that as a child. If I had, I would have had a clearer role model for success than I ever had. I might have decided on Law School, tried my hand at running for office, or at the very least extracted from his current success metaprinciples that could influence my own life.

As long as he doesn’t implode, or get caught on video having sex with a teenaged amputee, his campaign is nothing but gravy, regardless of what happens. I LOVE this. Trust me—if he loses, there will be black people who grouse “it was race.” Of course. Like there will be women who grouse if Hillary loses. Of course. But there will be millions of black children, and little girls, who say: “he got that close? She got that close? I COULD DO THAT. I COULD DO BETTER THAN THAT.”

Role models are fantastically important, really.
And a role model for women? If she gets elected, those who think she’s doing a good job get a powerful role model. If she DOES do a good job (by an impossible objective standard: every President has their defenders and detractors) its even better.
I don’t think it’s really possible to determine whether blacks or women have it worse. It would be necessary to decide on some set of standards, and that would be automatically somewhat arbitrary and subjective. It would be like looking at the score of a football game and deciding that the victors were better people.
Really, I would have no interest in “deciding” such a thing, although I do suggest my little experiment in asking black women—the only ones who could resolve the question, in my mind—for those who need a position. What I WOULD support is people being healthy, successful, and loving. Clear in their own values and committed to making a better world. Whatever such people choose to believe in and fight for, I think ultimately is for the good.

I believe in the basic evolutionary nature of human beings—in a spiritual sense as well as biological. Because that is the basic position I come from, I believe in us. I think that fear and greed, the “lowest” emotions, can be trusted to lift us up, if our eyes are clear and we actually engage with our lives fully. In my mind, all the lessons we need to become balanced human beings are applicable to also building a better world. So I concentrate my attention there, on individual health and balance, rather than on mass movements. Believe there is much to be done for group X? Go for it. Makes the world better for my daughter, or my son, or someone I care about…as long as you don’t diminish the humanity of group Y in the process, we’re cool.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama, the Jukes and the Kallikaks

A note: whether Obama wins the nomination, or the Presidency, something remarkable is happening. Educated, successful black people I know are STUNNED by his success. They can't believe it, and the undercurrent of hope and optimism is just amazing. I think that the 21st Century's racial issues will be much different than the 20th's. But this lack of believe is the result of BOTH actions by whites over 400 years AND the protective self-pity that human beings use to shield their egos. When you fail, (and we all do) it is tempting to look for a scapegoat. Well, we've had a perfect one, a genuine historical boogieman. But while you can't get rid of racism completely, you CAN reduce its effects to the point where a black person willing to give 110% (Tananarive says 125%) can get the results of a white person giving 100%. And you know something, frankly? That ain't fair, but it ain't bad, either. Life, for all human beings, has been a hell of a lot worse than that.

Let me address one question indirectly. Decades ago, before I was ever a professional writer, I had the idea of writing a story about a black scientist who develops a sort of EEG that measures intelligence in unborn infants, a completely culturally neutral device…and discovers that blacks really do have lower I.Q.’s. His dilemma was whether or not to publish his results. My mother was aghast that I would even think about such a thing.

Years later, when black friends knew I was reading “The Bell Curve” I was subtly accused of being a race traitor. My take on it is that, at a very deep level, they had been so hurt by racism that they were afraid that B.C. might be correct. I HAD to read the book, because
1) I had faith that the thesis was flawed.
2) I had to know what the truth was, regardless.
3) I believe that, if an intractable difference DOES exist, it is far better to know it than not. Whatever the ills are in the black community, better to have an accurate diagnosis than treat the wrong disease.

I hope I’m still that clear on it. Mike, is it possible that among the permanently impoverished there is a lower amount of “basic stuff”? Well, honestly, I can see that possibility. In fact, it’s almost certain, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who believes that there is no difference between people at all. God knows some folks are just smarter and have better memories and ability to correlate data than others. I’ve seen it since kindergarten.

But…and this is a big “but,” to the degree that my perceptions about the costs of racism in America (I’m not saying I’m right, just asking you to look at the world through that lens for a moment) I have never met ANYONE who proposed a biological difference in intelligence between whites and blacks who struck me as having the slightest real awareness of the barriers. That doesn’t make them wrong, but it definitely makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Because when people talk about 1 1/2 standard deviations difference between whites and blacks, they also often explain how this difference is responsible (in their minds) for the gap in academic performance, crime statistics, health and longevity, income, and so forth. In fact, it is amazing how precisely the intelligence difference seems to explain this.

In fact, one needs no other explanation to see how poor, unfortunate blacks are actually performing at the outer edge of their ability, and (sniff sniff) they just don’t quite have it…

The problem here is obvious. Either I’m wrong about the barriers I’ve seen to performance, health, self-image and accomplishment…or THEY are wrong about that 1 1/2 standard deviation difference being biological, intractable, and responsible for the measured difference.

Now, of course this is an over-simplification, but it will give you a broad view of my reasoning. Until I meet one of the biological I.Q. folks who strikes me as having any grasp at all of the cultural and social problems attending 400 years of bullshit, I feel no obligation to respect their conclusions.

And so I would say that, within a population with similar environmental pressures and opportunities, those who over generations accomplish consistently at lower levels could reasonably be suspected to have less…capacity. So a thousand black families who has lived in the ghetto or in poverty for ten generations might be reasonably suspected to, on average, have less capacity than a thousand black families who have lifted themselves to upper middle class and remained there over the same period of time.

However, it would be dicier comparing the lower-class black family with a middle-class white family because of the advantages the white family has. Drawing THAT comparison is risky. Personally, if I see two people, one white and one black, operating at the same level of income and excellence, I assume that the black one is smarter just because I know the obstacles that person probably overcame to get there.

So…from my POV, looking at intergenerational poverty ain’t a bad way to make guesses about the Jukes and the Kallikaks. But when you compare them to the Jeffersons, you have to take a whole lot more into account to catch my attention.