Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What does it entail?

Being a black man in America brings about many ordeals, including the cliché hardships, the obligatory stereotyping, and the residue of bitterness that plague many of my Baby Boomer forefathers.

But I stand here, to profess what being black means from my vantage point:

As a 22 -year-old Atlantan born and raised in the city, but has experienced a few other cultures and geographic presentations that this world has to offer.

As a brown-skinned, wide-eyed, inquisitive kid who had, like everybody, his sense of innocence about the world burst like a pin in a balloon. As a college-educated individual, who has spent the better part of the last five years sitting, studying, and sweating side by side with people of the Caucasoid division. As a sports and music aficionado who –along with the rest of the world - have followed the collapse and decadence of black America’s biggest stars: Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson, and Clifford “T.I.” Harris.

Which brings me to my first point: Being black does not absolve you from acting right. Seems like common sense, right? But these days, that sentence has to be said. There are certain standards that transcend race, gender, and occupation. Decorum is one of them.

Being a black man is when you are working in a newsroom where you are the only man of dark hue, thinking that you are a token and realizing that somewhat, your skills and effectiveness are a representation of the whole black race.

Being a black man is watching your fellow brethren become statistics on a weekly basis. It is riding around on Campbellton Rd, Cascade Rd., and College Park and seeing many youth fall by the wayside, whether by neglect, apathy, or incompetence.

Being a black man is watching my father and mother and uncles and older cousins shake off the vestiges of having to integrate schools and experience firsthand the degradation that the fairer-skinned people dished out.

Being a black man involves witnessing your peers wallow in their self-pity and ignorance. By maintaining a provincial mindset, self hate and lethargy remains rampant.

Being a black man is combating the easy and embracing the challenge, so that new statistics such as more black accountants, black doctors, black journalists, black owners in professional sports can be forged.

Being a black man is realizing that that will never happen.

Being a black man is rejecting that last sentence and pushing for it anyway.

Being a black man is realizing that misogyny and philandering has no place in the progression of our race.

Being a black man is dealing with the back-handed compliments. It is sitting in your Marketing Problems course in your last semester of college, and having a fellow Asian classmate loudly saying to you, “I love your vocabulary man. Black people really have a way with words.” It is wondering whether he was being funny or paying homage. It is having to thwart the discomfort and embarrassment of having been called out on account of your race in front of many.

It is me asking “What you mean by that?” and realizing that that question was more from ignorance and awe than from disparagement and contempt. For that student was, as I found out later, a student of hip-hop, an avid admirer of the wordplay of Jay-Z, Nas, and Lil Wayne, among others.

Being black is the dichotomy of loving Tupac, Biggie, and Jay-Z’s rhymes, but realizing the damage that their lyrics can cause on impressionable minds, which constitutes a great many.

It is knowing that, as Ebony founder John H. Johnson said, to change institutions and acts you must change images. Which is why it is a problem when BET and other networks contribute many of the images that contributes to the lowered self-esteem of our race.

I am 22 years old, and I have read and glimpsed the currents of those rivers that Langston Hughes wrote of. The legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medger Evans, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, and James Costen set the tone.

The unsung heroes of the civil rights movement in America, Nelson Mandela in his fight for freedom in South Africa, Booker T. Washington in his zeal for black economic empowerment, and W.E.B. DuBois in his fervor for civil rights and education, wrote the composition.

Being a black man is internalizing that and running with it.

Utilizing your talents.

Knowing your personal responsibilities, and handling them.

Calling an ace an ace, a spade a spade and taking on a higher internal locus of control.

It is discerning that fast wealth is fleeting and real wealth is slowly built.

It is making the decision to do what you can everyday, by yourself, to handle yours.

It is being the father to your children that mine was to me.

That… is what being black is to me.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dirk Nowitzki

The main problem I had with the selection of Dirk as MVP was the fact that outside of scoring, he did not help his team win. Watching this Dallas-Golden State game tonight, this deficiency is made more conspicuous. Among the cornucopia of flaws in Dirk's game, his defense and rebounding are the aspects that brings down the Mavericks more than anything.

Quick, name another past MVP who only lifted his team in only one aspect of the game?

Just what I thought...

Case in point tonight:

He is again rendered ineffective by this Golden State defense, sitting at 3-10 from the field with 10 points. But more infuriating for a basketball purist such as myself is the lack of interior presence against the Warriors, and his lack of presence on the boards. He is seven feet tall, there is no reason that a big man as skilled as him shouldn't be eating right now. Compound the fact that he can't get any reprisal against a Warriors team that punched, slapped, drop-kicked, and trash-talked him out of the playoffs last season. I expected to see more than this.

The 2006-2007 NBA MVP will forever be marred. The man who received it wasn't/isn't worthy. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan...Dirk Nowitzki.

Give me a break.


Cooler Talk

The NBA season, in its plus week-long existence, have managed to offer us the tantalizing (the Celtics), the surprising (Clippers), the rejuvenating (Sam Cassell, more on this later), and the glimpse (the Hawks). Of course, there are more entries to fit in each of those categories but I just gave the most salient ones that came to mind.

Kevin Durant looks to be the deal, sans a few amino acids. Scoring 18 in the first half against the undaunting defense of Phoenix in his second game, he put up another nine in the next half on the way to a 106-99 loss.He is putting up 22 a game on 40 percent from the field (not great, but better than I'd expected), but so far the young fella is winless in six tries. It appears to be getting to him:

"I hate to lose, basically. I don't care if it's an 82-game season and people say you have to lose - I hate to lose. Period," Durant told the Canadian Press. For a kid who just turned 19, team atrocity will either embitter him or fold him. I would bet on the former. People are made when exposed to the hard-knocks of the world, not by pampering. It is almost always better to suffer with a losing team first, and then come up with a winning team than to win and then have a sucky team. Such is life: Better to not have and gain - for it will humble you to not ever not have again - than to have and lose. Look at Kobe Bryant. He came into a situation in LA when they were making the playoffs with Shaq, Nick the Quick, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, and company. Now he is insufferable, because his team isn't winning like he is accustomed to winning.

Bet on the wunderkind to exhibit perseverance a la Jordan (yes I said it) before it is all said and done. He doesn't seem prone to giving up.

An interesting Kevin Durant comparison here...Michael Beasley is his name.

What is up with the Clippers? The lone lossless team in the Western Conference, they are winning with Brevin Knight as their starting point guard. They are doing it with Cuttino Mobley shooting the lights out, Corey Maggette being the free-throw machine he is, and a where-did-this-come from game by Sam Cassell. Paging Bill Simmons! This looks like a perfect case for the Patrick Ewing theory, with the Clippers doing all of this without 6'8 rebounding, scoring, and blocking behemoth Elton Brand.

Chris Paul had the season's first 20 assist game Tuesday night. This guy has done nothing but perform since he came into the league in 2005. And he is not even the best point guard in that class.

This guy is.

Game to watch tonight: Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State. 10:30 pm on TNT. The Warriors are still looking for their first win (0-4), however, they are going against a team who they have trumped seven out of the last nine times they have faced them. Dallas hasn't won in Golden State since January 2006.

The Southwest Division is hands down the most competitive division in basketball. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans will all make the playoffs. Memphis will compete - well, they should compete. That leaves four spots for the rest of the conference. Just saying.

Why are the Bulls winless???

Now for the BEST:
I (along with countless others) have seen every second of every Hawks game, here are the most palpable, yet subtle points of the young season for the Birds.

The Hawks have knocked off the two best Western Conference teams (record-wise) last season. I can't find another team whose schedule is as brutal as the Hawks right now.

Joe Johnson seems hesitant to take over games. Perhaps because of his selflessness, fear of alienating his teammates, or zeal to make the Hawks' success an egalitarian effort, it is an obvious, yet unmentioned occurrence so far this season. Johnson is lacking that Dwyane Wade-esque killer instinct, which showed in the Detroit game, in which Joe waited too late to take over (hence his two three pointers with under a minute left to play). What if Joe would have taken over earlier, when the Hawks offense was sputtering? Just a question. We'll see how this plays out...for this must change!

Josh got to take the bad with the great. There is nobody else in the NBA who produces more anger-provoking yet jump-out-your-seat-in-jubilation moments than Smith. One one hand there's that awful 38% field goal percentage (which is just dreadful for a 6'9 power forward) and turnover problem (four a game). And then there are the blocks, the steals, the passing, the stat stuffing. It is hard to argue a case against him, so I won't. But I will propose a turnover reduction solution: Post him up more. Kudos to my man Sekou at the AJC for pointing that out. Stop giving him the ball at the high post and ceasing all ball movement. Do you see Phoenix giving Shawn Marion the pill far away from the basket while granting him the liberty to do as he please? No! The point guard on the floor must enforce this. They cannot let Smith do as he please on the offensive end.

Al Horford has done everything the Hawks have asked of him defensively. It is clear in bold letters why Florida won those championships. Those who say he is another Shelden Williams is clearly not paying attention (no shot at Shelden, who is also playing well). He will be a perennial All-NBA defender in the coming years. That is apparent. His offense isn't there yet, but it is more because of diffidence than a lack of ability. I guess Billy Donavan really imprinted that team philosophy in his head, because he seems extremely deferential to his teammates. It also appears that his teammates aren't looking for him as much in the post either. Feed the big man more. You got to feed the beast if you want him to keep guarding your house.

Acie...looks like a rookie. But that is not exactly a bad thing. He is feeling out the offense, also showing a deference to his teammates. The best way to combat this is for Woodson to let him play through his mistakes and trust him to run the team. Acie will probably not be an high-assist guy with the Hawks, simply because Joe Johnson is the lead guard in this system. Also, Joe rarely catch and shoots: he prefers to iso for a jump shot. Teams with shooting guards who play in this manner tend to have low assist point guards (see Jordan's Bulls, Lakers with Kobe, Dwyane Wade with Heat, any team with Tracy McGrady, etc). So Acie shouldn't get down on the low assist totals. He should focus on running the team to its maximum efficiency, i.e. getting the ball to players in spots where they can make a play. So far his defense leaves a little to be desired...just a little.

Marvin Williams is playing great. His jumper is automatic from mid-range. He is helping on the boards (six a game). He is playing within his game (only two three-point attempts, both to beat the buzzer). He is also playing admirable defense (helped hold a red-hot Tayshaun Prince to eight points).

Mike Woodson is doing a good job of keeping his team upbeat and playing hard on the court. Nobody has ever accused Woodson's teams of quitting on him over the past three years. However, rotation and making in-game adjustments has not been Woodson's forte. Keeping Lue in the game at crunch time against Detroit was brutal, and like the smart team Detroit is, they took advantage. Taking Marvin out in the first quarter against the Nets while he was hot is equally as brutal. Managing players minutes, exploiting mismatches, and ensuring that they keep up the desired pace of the game are a coach's main responsibility. In crunch time against Detroit for example, the players played tense and slowed down the pace, which played right into Detroit's hands. Against the Nets, when the Hawks were looking for offense, why was Salim Stoudamire on the bench? Woodson admitted to this mea culpa after the Phoenix game, in which Salim played for the first time this season and drained two huge three-pointers in the third quarter to thwart a Phoenix run Monday night. "I probably should have played him in Detroit or New Jersey when we were struggling for offense," Woodson said to reporters after the game.

By the way, here is the box score for that game

As the coach of this team (any coach on any team for that matter), Woodson has to play to the Hawks strength at all times. Capitulating to another team's style is the biggest sin for a team that wants to win. A winning team forces the tempo at all costs.

So what if two teams have the same strategy, but unequal talent? The team with the lesser talent, to win, must find a mismatch somewhere and drill it endlessly. If a coach cannot find that, then that is one must concede victory, but only after a well-fought game.

The Hawks shouldn't have this problem. They can find a mismatch every night (even San Antonio: Tony Parker isn't exactly Dennis Johnson on the defensive end, and Bruce Bowen can be taken in the post, Joe. Just a couple of them). The Hawks mixture of length and quickness on the defensive end can cause any team fits, if applied efficiently. Some nights offense will be a problem, simply because the Hawks don't have another play-maker who is skilled enough to create their own shot consistently. Even so there should be no reason why this team shouldn't make the playoffs, barring injury. If they do, we know exactly who should get the finger.

Not that finger; the one that points.

Directly at the strategist.


Friday, November 2, 2007

The power of sex transmutation: Turning salacity into sagacity

Is there anything that is more salable than sex? From the porn industry to sitcoms to talk shows to music videos and down to the content of books, music, and even video games, lasciviousness is everywhere we go. Even the strongest spiritual giants get sidetracked with the issue of sex. Pastors, priests, deacons, deaconesses, and even your mentors, they battle lust daily. Sexual preference notwithstanding, it is an issue.

Many parents and overseers use Biblical doctrines and palliatives to keep people from indulging, but it fails in many cases, because sexual desire is so innate. How do you tame a beast that you were born with in abundance? There is no sense in running from this power. Embrace it, and learn how to transmute.

In the long-standing classic Think and Grow Rich, Napolean Hill writes about the virtues of transmuting sexual desire into genius, and more tangibly, wealth. He states that the driving power for most great men is the desire for sex, namely women. He states that the “desire for sex is the most powerful of all human desires,” and that when driven by this desire, “men develop keenness of imagination, courage, will-power, persistence, and creative ability unknown to them at other times."

History is full of characters of great accomplishments that had a muse (or muses) to propel them: Cleopatra (Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony), Napolean Bonaparte (Josephine), John Kennedy (Jacqueline and others), Martin Luther King Jr., Sigmund Freud, Duke Ellington. These are among the few who used the boost from that sexual energy to produce greatness. Whether these characters were consciously aware of this energy is irrelevant, the fact is that it was there!

It is there! Problem is, many feel that overindulgences in sex is what is necessary to neutralize this power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before I go into how to transmute sexual energy into works of art (or high effectiveness), it is important to understand why sex is so salable:

1) It offers a deviation from reality. We all love life, but let’s face it, reality is harsh. And for the black population, it can be downright cruel. Fro dealing with drug addict relatives to leeching friends to looking over your shoulder at every step, we have so much to focus our attention on that it becomes a war to stay relaxed. Relaxation is the enemy of turbulence, which is the killer of effectiveness. The emotion of sex heightens awareness and sensitivity, two keystones of creativity.

2) Sexual emotions drives, lifts one from complacency to achievement, so the prevalent notion goes. There is an inborn yearning to have that beau or beauty on your side. As a man, there is nothing more esteeming or aggrandizing than a beautiful woman on his arm, for everybody to see! When a man is after the woman of his desire, he concocts an array of creative material to hook her with, whether it is a night at a poetry lounge, a fulfilling of a woman’s most embedded fantasy, or an elaborate dinner. But the most important thing to remember is the creativity caused by the stirring of sexual desire. It is often stated by scholars that the Beethoven classic “Fur Elise” was inspired by a woman named Therese (Beethoven was a notorious hopeless romantic). A number of Bob Dylan records were inspired by Joan Baez, including the often referred “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

3) It makes you feel good. Simple as that. People, at their most primitive levels, are driven by pleasure, and few things are more pleasurable than sex.

Corollary to the last point: This becomes a problem when it is abused (like anything) and when it is the sole force operating. That is exactly what this column is intended to prevent: controlling and channeling something potentially bad into something that could yield one much fortune, or at the very least, peace of mind. At the same time, this is not a piece to persuade one from enjoying sex per se. Its purpose is more about delayed gratification; to use the power of sex to augment other areas of life.

Sex addiction is an underreported problem in society, perhaps because of our proclivity towards it. But as Napolean Hill wrote, a sex-mad man is as dangerous as a dope-mad man. Both signal the loss of one’s control over the zeal for ecstasy. Dutch scientist Gert Holstege reported that scores of men liken climaxing to shooting up heroine. That instantaneous high, followed by that low (men often become sleepy and want again; women don’t experience this instant low, they are aroused and lowered more slowly than men, but the effects are still the same) is what perpetuates the addiction.

Many are being robbed of their potential by debauchery, unwarranted sexuality, and clouded reason. This is not a problem exclusive to men. Women of all locations are susceptible to being influenced foolishly by lust. Too much sex, not enough love and romance. Love is the balancing beam of a relationship, the rock. Romance is the companionship aspect, the mentally stimulating component. Sex is the life force, the physical enjoyment. No relationship can healthily survive on love alone, just as it cannot survive on sex and romance alone. But all three elements fused together, form a synergy that is the key to genius (and ultimate success in relationships).

The discipline lies in keeping a balance of all three together. Being that sex is the most powerful of the three, this requires the most attention. So the next time you are faced with venereal urges, turn it into confronting a problem that you have been facing. Exercise. Write a screenplay. Read a book. Clean that kitchen you’ve been putting off. Construct a business concept. Write down your goals. You will be amazed at the level of productivity you will accomplish with this newfound outlet. Then you will be catapulted above the rest and be a step closer to living the life you want to live.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

American Gangster: My take


In the midst of all the anticipated theatrical releases of 2007 - Saw IV, The Borne Ultimatum, The Simpsons Movie, Rush Hour 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: World's End, Spider Man 3, to name a few - one movie ranked supreme on the most wanted list. Two Academy-Award winners in the lead, an Academy-Award winning director, a star-studded cast, and a storyline that is sure to excite and horrify at the same time.

American Gangster. A play off the BET series documentary that airs every week on Wednesday, it is almost an arrogant announcement to the world of underworld thugs that, yeah there may have been gangsters, but this is THE gangster, so make way.

And make way, director Ridley Scott did. He attempted to capture the essence of one of the most notorious gangsters of the 70's. Few would argue that he didn't do that. You be the judge.

The movie takes place mostly in Harlem, where the movie's opening scene shows a grotesque harbinger of things to come. Denzel captured Frank Lucas' sadism off the bat, completing Bumpy Johnson's (played by Clarence Williams III) dirty work. The credits roll in, with the caption American Gangster in bold red. It was clear that Scott wanted to establish a dark, iniquitous tone for the movie, showing Frank Lucas as a dry, focused, pupil, imbibing the wisdom of Bumpy Johnson. Johnson would have a heart attack, but not before sharing a nugget with Frank that would shape the rest of his life:

Go straight to the source, cut out the middleman.

So Franks heeded, and headed to Thailand to get the reduced-priced but high quality heroine (100% to be exact). Going through the jungle to meet the "source" of the junkies in the Vietnam war, Frank established a connection that would be lucrative and yet destructive at the same time. Instantly, Frank branded Blue Magic and became the man on the streets. Assuming mega-profits (relative to the other dealers of that time) because he cut out the middle man - he was the middle man - he rose to the top in the streets. He was even above the Italian mafia.

Naturally as a black man, this was sure to arouse jealousy among the fairer race, for no black man - as it was euphemistically put in the movies- "has ever accomplished what the Italian mafia has" in hundreds of years. The premise of the movie was cliche enough: the rise and fall of a drug kingpin. But this movie also added an interesting twist: The insertion of a cop's life that adds spice to the movie.

In essence, the movie featured the dichotomy of Richie Roberts (ably played by Russell Crowe) AND Frank Lucas life (quadrotomy?). Roberts was the super-honest cop who once turned in a million dollars of unmarked cash, but was a womanizer who was in the middle of a combusted divorce. Lucas, as I pointed out earlier, was the ruthless, reflective, enterpriser who harbored a contorted mix of morals and leadership that would make Zig Ziglar proud. He took his mother to church every Sunday, he was honest, exhibited integrity, and loyalty. He made money for his family, with whom he shared his business empire with. He was also a man with a quick temper, exemplified with his quick strike lash-outs with his incompetent family members.

Many business parallels can be salvaged from this movie; the kind of parallels that makes you wonder if Frank Lucas would have been as successful a CEO of a software company as he was as a heroine distributor. He gave a lot of business lesson platitudes and aphorisms (the use of brand naming, trademark infringement, the importance of wholesale purchasing versus retail purchasing for a business owner) that any aspiring entrepreneur can use. At its underlying core, you realize the core genius of a man who took what life gave him and made lemonade. He saw a life with no options - or shall I say limited options - and made the most out of it. Problem was, it was illegal. Perhaps his race increased the fervor with which the law - and opposing underworld members - brought about his incarceration. Or perhaps it was because of his belief in family loyalty (which greatly precipitated his demise). Or his nature to please his woman (which seems to be a common trait in the downfall of man).

But I am afraid that the masses who see this film will take the wrong message from it. They will see a guy, uninhibited, full of temerity, and smart who took what was his. They will see a guy worth emulating, because they will only take away the mistakes he made, and say to themselves "I won't make that same mistake." They will see the money. The respect. The front row seats. The beautiful wife. The mother who he moved into his home. All of which caters to the self-interest and vanity that plagues society.

They will forget how he brought a great many of his family down. How he led to the destruction of one of the richest black communities in the U.S. How black people are still suffering to this day as a result of the heroine, later turned crack trade. How he snitched his way to 7 years instead of 70 (albeit it was cops who he snitched on, snitching is a code irrespective of who is the snitched). How he grieved his mother and lost his wife.

Masses will miss the major point: That these type of people set goodwill and the balance of society back exponentially. And that disturbs me. Hopefully I will be proven wrong, but a conversation I heard among a group of four while exiting the movie theater did nothing to allay my fears:

Guy #1: Did you see how gangster he was (he exclaims this with the excitement of a six-year old at Christmas)?!?
Girl: I know! Denzel was so sexy! He is the man with those roles.
Guy #2: That is how you do it...the way he went about his business, how he popped that guy in full view if everybody...BOOM!
Guy # 1: What a great movie!

Well, he wasn't lying about that last sentence; it was a great movie. A few things were missing though. The lack of subtlety of the film: in baseball terms, it was more Nolan Ryan than Bob Gibson (and let's face it, Gibson was by far the better pitcher), the lack of a back story that led Frank into a life filled with murder, mayhem, and money. The egalitarian focus on Crowe and Denzel: it appeared that the director wanted to make them equal, but it was clearly Denzel's movie. I leave the minutiae to the Eberts and Alan Smiths of the world.

But Denzel and Russell, the scene in which they finally met face-to-face, was chilling. It was a bit awkward, yet scintillating. A climax of the movie indeed. But again, I'll leave it to the film critics to analyze the denouement and buildups.

I am more interested in the anthropological effect of the movie. A friend of mine told me early in October that this movie will have the same impact on black people that Scarface had on the Latino community. I disputed this, simply because this is a different era and we are more progressive now than we were then. But I didn't fully believe that.

Am I right? Only time will tell.

Oh yeah, I would be remiss to forget to include the rest of the stellar cast that was in this film: Chiwetel Ojiofor, Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ruby Dee, Rza, Common, T.I. (minus $3 million dollars...that's a bad joke), and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Now go see for yourself, for research is the first step in intelligible banter.