Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just back from the Midwest...

Well, I just got back from the Midwest. I had to do a presentation for Iconoculture in Chicago, and then I headed out to Minneapolis. Chicago turned out to be pretty warm compared to the previous week. It was about twenty degrees. I got in about midnight and then decided to save the company a few dollars by taking the EL. That took an hour, so I didn't get to bed until around two in the morning, with a ten thirty appointment. But no worries, the presentation went off without a hitch.

Our company meeting in Minneapolis was pretty good. With the wind chill, it was forty below zero, but it was a dry cold. It was good seeing everyone and I did a mean version of the Commodores "Brick House" during our karaoke night.

Back to the crib. I still have some work to do for the company, so I will be doing some tonight.

No change on the rest of my writing. I know, it's nine o'clock right now, so I should be writing, but I think I'll just rewatch the Obama/Clinton debate. Obama's going to win this Super Tuesday deal, they just don't even know.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Part of the change up...

Instead of my normal 9pm to 1am writing period, I decided to get an early start and got up at 6am this morning and wrote about two thousand words on Slaveryland. And that was by noon. Not bad. I think I'll run some errands, got take my suit coat to the cleaners to get pressed, and then write some more. Feels pretty good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Catching up...

Okay, been concentrating very much on the 9-5. We have our company meeting in Minneapolis coming next week and I have a presentation to give in Chicago. Plus, I'm in training to take over more responsibility at work. So busy, busy, busy.

Since the New Year, I've been decidedly unproductive when it comes to my writing. That probably explains why I have lagged on the blog. But I'm about to knuckle down and get somethings done.

I've always bragged that I wrote five books lying on the couch, and I think it's time to change up. My three white boards containing my writing objectives haven't been looked at in three weeks. It just ain't working, Esther, rock and roll.

I know I used to drone on about getting in shape, but I'm convinced that as I've gotten out of shape, my writing has gotten less sharp. Don't know if I can prove it, but I know I need to get in shape this year. A lot of things are happening and I need to be at my peak performance.

Okay, on to my writing. Writing the umpteenth draft of The Bestsellers. My boys Ben and Aram from UCLA are giving notes and they're good. Problem is that I'm writing it one line at a time. Right now, I'm on page 63 of the latest version and I think I want to get to page 75 by the end of the night. I'm going to stop grinding as much as I used to. Terrible on the sleep patterns, and basically makes me feel crappy.

Next on the docket is Slaveryland, my next novel. I did a bit more work on it, so I'm in around 42,000 words. I think I'm going to go for about five thousand words per week. A nice steady rate. This means I should be done with Slaveryland around the middle of March. More or less.

My Jackboots and Monkey Calls proposal needs to be sent to Manie. He'll vet it and I kind of expect that he'll see problems with it. It's pretty much written, but it still seems to be vague. And I know it. But I'll take a look at it this weekend and read it again. Boy do I hate book proposals. They're a pain in the ass.

Lastly, I'm pecking out The Dreaded Beautician. Not too bad. So far, I've got a lot of dreaded, but not too much beautician. I need to do a bit more research on the lives of black beauticians before I feel comfortable with my character. It's crucial that her profession influence her violent actions.

That's pretty much it. The writers strike looks like it'll be settled in a month or so. So this town will be back in business, which is good for everyone.

My son needed to learn a poem, so I taught him Langston Hughes' A Dream Deferred. He learned it in about an hour. Memorized. Last year, I taught him Invictus and he learned it in a snap. Just a smart kid.

So that's it. Look for fairly regular blog entries.

Will get back to regular posting soon...

Don't despair. I'll be posting regularly very soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

BET Bob smears Obama...

Obama attacked by 'Big Bobcat'

by Frank James

The Big Bobcat tried to get his claws into Sen. Barack Obama today. The question is, did he draw blood?

The New York Times's political blog, The Caucus, is reporting that Robert Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, or BET, and owner of the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Bobcats, was campaigning with Sen. Hillary Clinton in South Carolina when he criticized Obama.

It was there that, as Katharine Seelye reports, Johnson made what appeared to be an allusion to Obama's use of illegal drugs as a young man.

It was Johnson's way of defending the New York senator and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, from accusations from the Obama camp and beyond that some recent Clinton comments were dismissive of both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama.

At a rally here for Mrs. Clinton at Columbia College, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments that Mrs. Clinton made regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She did not mean to take any credit away from him, Mr. Johnson said, when she said that it took President Johnson to sign the civil rights legislation he fought for.

Dr. King had led a "moral crusade," Mr. Johnson said, but such crusades have to be "written into law."

"That is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership," he said. "That's all Hillary was saying."

He then added: "And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood - and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book - when they have been involved."

Moments later, he added: "That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, 'I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.' And I'm thinking, I'm thinking to myself, this ain't a movie, Sidney. This is real life.

Johnson has since tried to make his comments seem more benign, saying he was talking merely of Obama's time as a community organizer and that anyone who thinks he was alluding to anything else (read drug use) is "irresponsible and incorrect."

So he wants us to believe the invidious comparison he was making contrasting the Clintons to Obama was to say that Obama was a community organizer when the Clintons were advancing civil-rights? To borrow a phrase from Obama, that really does seem like the audacity of hope on Johnson's part.

Johnson certainly has a right to issue a "clarifying" statement. But the public also has a right to be dubious, to believe that Johnson was indeed making an allusion to Obama's self-admitted use of pot and cocaine as a young man.

Assuming that that's what Johnson, a lawyer by training who knows how to use language, meant to do is interesting on a few levels.

Johnson made his fortune through a cable channel known in black America for showing so many rump-shaking music videos (videos with scantily clad women shaking their derrieres in the camera) that many people over the years have come to apply the term "bootylicious" to the genre of videos his channel showed.

Furthermore, many of those bootylicious hip-hop videos shown by his channel featured young male rappers whose subjects tended to run the very narrow gamut of guns, drugs, cars and women. (Did I mention drugs?)

Watch long enough and you'd likely see a "gangsta" light up a blunt, a marijuana stogie. This was the fare many black kids across America grew up on as they watched Mr. Johnson's channel.

For that reason, even though Johnson became that rarest of rare creatures, a black billionaire after he sold his channel to Viacom, there's ambivalence about him among many black Americans who viewed much of the programming on his channel as adding to many of black America's problems.

So casting even veiled aspersions on Obama over his youthful use of drugs will no doubt make many people who know Johnson's story and BET say "Now, wait one cotton-picking, bootylicious minute."

As far as Sidney Poitier is concerned, how many young people in a college audience would get that reference to a 1967 movie?

Not only that; did Obama really ever say he wanted to be Poitier? Don't remember that one.

Wonder what Rep. James Clyburn's going to make of Johnson's comments? As many people know by now the lawmaker, the highest ranking African-American in the House leadership and a very influential man in South Carolina, didn't take kindly to the Clinton comments and now he's got a whole set of new ones to ponder, along with whether he should remain neutral or show his unhappiness with the Clinton's by endorsing Obama.

One thing that makes Johnson's comments more interesting in connection with Clyburn is that Johnson, the chief executive officer of RLJ Cos.,. has generously contributed to Clyburn, as he has to other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. For that reason, it would be a stunning thing indeed if Clyburn rebuked Johnson the way he has the Clintons.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

By William Jelani Cobb
Sunday, January 13, 2008; B01

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when "black president" was synonymous with "president of black America." That was the office to which Jesse Jackson appointed himself in the 1970s -- resigned to the fact that the actual presidency was out of reach. In 2003, Chris Rock wrote and directed "Head of State," a film about the first black man to win the presidency. (It was a comedy.) And in the ultimate concession, some African Americans have attempted to bestow the title of black president upon Bill Clinton -- a white man.

In the wake of his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama has already permanently changed the meaning of that term. It is no longer an oxymoron or a quixotic in-joke. And this, perhaps more than anything else, explains his tortured relationship with black civil rights


The most amazing thing about the 2008 presidential race is not that a black man is a bona fide contender, but the lukewarm response he has received from the luminaries whose sacrifices made this run possible. With the notable exception of Joseph Lowry, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference veteran who gave a stirring invocation at Obama's Atlanta campaign rally in June and subsequently endorsed him, Obama has been running without much support from many of the most recognizable black figures in the political landscape.

That's because, positioned as he is between the black boomers and the hip-hop generation, Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence.

The most recent example of the old guard's apparent aversion to Obama was Andrew Young's febrile YouTube ramblings about Bill Clinton being "every bit as black as Barack Obama" and his armchair speculation that Clinton had probably bedded more black women during his lifetime than the senator from Illinois -- as if racial identity could be transmitted like an STD. This could be dismissed as a random instance of a politician speaking out of turn were it not part of an ongoing pattern.

Last spring, Al Sharpton cautioned Obama "not to take the black vote for granted." Presumably he meant that the senator had not won over the supposed gatekeepers of the black electorate. Asked why he had not endorsed Obama, Sharpton replied that he would "not be cajoled or intimidated by any candidate." More recently Sharpton claimed on his radio show that the candidates' recent attention to issues of civil rights was a product of pressure from him.

Although Jackson is not entirely unfamiliar with the kind of thing that's happening to Obama -- Coretta Scott King endorsed Walter Mondale over him in 1984 -- he also got into the act. He criticized Obama for not championing the " Jena Six" cause -- the case of six young black men in Louisiana charged with beating a white classmate -- vigorously enough. After Obama's Iowa victory, Jackson demanded that the senator bolster "hope with substance."

Taken as a conglomerate, Jackson, Young, Sharpton and Georgia Rep. John Lewis represent a sort of civil rights old boy network -- a black boy network -- that has parlayed its dated activist credentials into cash and jobs. Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, has become a CNN host; Young was mayor of Atlanta and sits on numerous corporate boards; and Lewis is essentially representative-for-life of the 5th Congressional District in Georgia. Sharpton is younger than the others but a peer in spirit.

To the extent that the term "leader" is applicable, these four men likely represent the interests of Democratic Party insiders more than those of the black community. Both Young and Lewis have endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ; Sharpton and Jackson have acted ambivalent, alternately mouthing niceties about Obama and criticizing his stances on black issues.

It may be that, because they doubt that he can actually win, the civil rights leaders are holding Obama at arm's length in an attempt to build their houses on what looks to be the firmer ground. And there are certainly patronage benefits should Clinton win. She owes black pols, starting with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who first suggested that the party endorse her for a New York Senate seat. Rangel has also lined up behind Clinton.

There is far more to politics -- even racial politics -- than skin color. Still it is counterintuitive to think that Lewis, whose political career began when he was bludgeoned in Selma, Ala., fighting for black voting rights, is witnessing the rise of the first viable black presidential candidate and yet opts to support a white machine politician.

One of the most telling aspects of Young's YouTube commentary was his statement that he'd called his political connections in Chicago about Obama and been told "they don't know him." There are certainly reasons not to support Obama, but not having friends in common isn't one of them. Young went on to announce that Obama was too young and should wait until 2016 -- a curious statement considering that Young was apprenticed to Martin Luther King Jr., who was 26 when he launched the Montgomery bus boycotts that eventually toppled segregation.

The cynical braying about Obama's prospects has not been confined to the liberal civil rights quarters of black America. The conservative commentator Shelby Steele argued in his book "A Bound Man" that Obama isn't perceived as "black" enough to win over African American voters.

In fact, Obama strategists have been struggling to convince black voters that Obama can actually win over white voters and be a viable candidate. Many blacks want to support a winner and hope that Obama will become more attractive to white voters, not less.

Part of this disconnect is a generational divide, one that is apparent in Jackson's own household. Following Jackson's criticism of Obama in the Chicago Sun-Times, his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., wrote a passionate defense of Obama's activist


As polls show increasing black support for Obama, Jackson, Sharpton and Young begin to look like a once-wealthy family that has lost its fortune but has to keep spending to maintain appearances. Obama's tepid early showing among blacks in the polls had more to do with name recognition and concerns about his viability as a candidate than with Jackson or Sharpton withholding their endorsement.

Ignoring Sharpton or Jackson is not the same thing as taking the black vote for granted. It is a reasonable calculation that neither of them can deliver many votes and certainly not enough to offset the number of white votes that their approval could lose Obama. Jackson and Sharpton might be holding out for a better deal in exchange for their support, but with Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock among Obama's list of supporters, they have little to bargain with.

If Obama makes a strong showing in the South Carolina primary -- the first with a substantial number of black voters -- it will become apparent that the black boy network has begun bouncing checks.

The irony is that for generations of black "firsts," the prerequisite for entering an institution was proving that you were just like the establishment that ran it. (Think of Jackie Robinson's approach to the major leagues, or the host of "articulate Negro" roles in Sidney Poitier's body of work.)

Obama has been vastly successful by doing just the opposite: masterfully positioning himself as an outsider. In the process, he's opened the door even wider for black outsiders. Too bad his predecessors refuse to help push him the rest of the way inside.

William Jelani Cobb is an associate professor of history at Spelman College and the author of "The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays."

Now Available from NYU Press: To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In a rut...

For the past week, I've been in a rut. I fleshed out the second act for The Bestsellers, but when I started writing it, I didn't like how it was going. Some of the scenes felt too long, too flabby and I needed to get in even later and leave earlier. So I decided to stop working on it for a week. I don't know if that helped, but I'm aiming to get it done by this weekend.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's on now...

Barack wins Iowa. Historic.