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Electric Cars Are Nothing New

This morning CNN was reporting on a guy with a collection of six electric cars. One of them was a ten year old Toyota RAV4 with plug in technology. He bought off of eBay for something like four thousand dollars a few years ago. The reporter, I think it was Miles O’Brien, asked how much his car would cost now that a gallon of gasoline is running on the north side of four dollars. The man replied that he saw a similar vehicle going for seventy thousand dollars. The ten year old RAV4 had a range of one hundred twenty miles with an overnight charge. For most people, that would be more than enough for their daily cruise back and forth to work. And that was with technology from ten years ago. And the car is still running! It is a Toyota after all.

The CNN article recounted General Motor’s attempt at an electric vehicle, the EV1. When the vehicle was introduced, it was test program of something like a thousand vehicles leased to various people, mostly in California. After the leases were up, the General mandated that the cars be returned. All the electric cars were rounded up and destroyed except for handful that stays in the General’s hands. The last leased car was returned in August 2003. GM claimed it couldn’t turn a profit on the EV1 and decided to ditch the program and focus on more profitable ventures like its Hummer production.

I bet GM wished it was selling an EV1 now. Today, the company couldn’t give a Hummer sport utility vehicle away. Want to buy a Hummer? You could probably buy the whole division for the price of what it used to sell one of their H2 models for. With Toyota enjoying a year long waiting list for people trying to buy its hybrid Prius, there is little doubt that the discontinued EV1 would have been a huge money maker if GM executives had the forethought to think ahead. Unfortunately, it is the lack of forethought that has led to a situation where GM is about to lose its world’s largest automobile manufacturer status to, no surprise, a company like Toyota. Toyota conglomerate has a market value of over one hundred forty billion dollars today while GM, still tenuously number one, has a market value as about five billion dollars. Somebody like Bill Gates could buy the whole company by writing a check. The once mighty have truly fallen.

John McCain suggested that as President, he would like to create a three hundred million dollar prize for the first person or company or organization that can create the next generation battery technology for the next generation of electric cars. That might sound good. But ten years ago, GM and Toyota had electric car technology that appears to have been doing just fine without the next generation battery or a three hundred million dollar prize. The technology appears to be here. Historically, we simply made the choice to minimize it or ignore it. Most people think that buying an electric car is too expensive and too geeky when we can buy cooler vehicles like Hummers that get single digit miles per gallon.

But that’s not the most surprising part. There is a car company that is actually working on a car that runs on air. I’m about as far as one can get from being a mechanic. Although I’ve managed to muddle through it, I don’t even trust myself to change the oil on my car properly. I’m more than happy to pay someone else to do it. However, the concept is pretty simple. In the normal automobile with a combustion engine, fuel is used to make an explosion that drives the piston down that turns a crankshaft. Instead of creating an explosion, the air car uses compressed air to push the piston down.

I originally thought the idea sounded pretty farfetched until I stopped and thought about how some of the most powerful machinery in use can be driven with pneumatics. And it would be an absolute zero emissions vehicle. The engine would need a fraction of the parts the typical combustion engine needs. And without the generation of heat as a byproduct the engine could be made out of lighter, cheaper materials regardless of any thermal dynamic properties. The company believes it can bring this vehicle to market for fifty million dollars. Fifty million is a fraction of the three hundred million that John McCain wants to give for the development of another expensive car battery.

The biggest problem with bringing the air car to market is probably the same problem that made the electric car financially unfeasible. The car would do much to free its owner from the perpetual teat of corporate America. I believe the reason the electric car didn’t come to market was because it was a clear and present danger to the profitability of the petroleum companies. All those people plugging their cars into the wall at night would have rendered oil unprofitable and reasonably priced oil is the foundation of the American economy. The compressed air car would be an even greater danger. I would imagine that this vehicle wouldn’t even need to be plugged in at night. All it would need is to pull up to an industrial strength compressor for a quick shot of compressed air. The drain on our power grid would be minimal.

It’s been said that America has an addiction for the type of power that runs our cars, houses, and workplaces. But even America’s addiction for power falls short of America’s true addiction which is money. The air car would make a lot of industries unprofitable. People and companies with a lot of investment in the delivery of power, whether it be petroleum, natural gas, coal, electricity, or even hydropower, want their addiction for money satisfied and their investment in infrastructure rewarded for as long as possible and for as lucratively as possible through the protection of their business. These investors wouldn’t hesitate to pay protection money to the government or anyone else to keep others from infringing on their profitable operation. Money is the true power source.

Thursday, July 31, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Cars, Economy, Life, Oil, The Economy, Thoughts | Leave a comment

The Party’s Over

The Party’s Over

The September 11th, 2001 attack against the World Trade Center was an attack against our economy. The attack on the Pentagon was a challenge to America to respond with all her military might. Humiliated and enraged America took the bait. We collectively swallowed the poison pill of war and activated our military machine. We engaged al-Queda in a battle in the mountains of Afghanistan and in urban guerilla warfare of Iraq. We pulled out the stops of our military only to be bogged down in a twenty first century quagmire against a foe that used caves for shelter. Ironically, the greatest and most technologically advanced war machine the world has ever seen was being handed a generous slice of humble pie by a bunch of cavemen.

A couple of decades ago the Soviet Union was in a similar conflict with these same cavemen. The Soviet Union used their military against this elusive foe to the point of national economic ruin. Eventually, the Soviet Union had to submit to a humiliating withdrawal for its incursion into Afghanistan. The Afghanis, trained, funded, and supplied by the United States, were able to declare victory. The Soviet Union spent their next years trying to rebuild their shattered economy. We remember watching the images of the long lines and empty store shelves as people did what they could to survive some seriously hard times. The empire of the Soviet Union was devastated. Their attempt to rebuild their communistic economy in the mold of capitalism had created a chasm of disparity between the people who have and the people who have not which continue to date. Although more billionaires are being made everyday, Russia is suffering with some serious disparity.

But one thing Russia had in its favor is an abundance of natural resources. Russia was one of the world’s largest oil reserves, natural gas reserves, and coal reserves. And with the price of oil now topping well over a hundred dollars a barrel Russia is sitting very pretty these days. Russia has dialed back the investment on its military machine and is now able to invest money back into its long neglected infrastructure. The Russian government stared into the abyss of financial ruin and has bounced back in a better position than ever.

The administration of the United States learned nothing from this Russian example. With the arrogance of superpower status our enthusiasm to pick up Russia’s failed war was voracious. Our technology is greater and our will is stronger. The United States Army ditched the old slogan promoting the idea that civilians can be all that they can be and boasted a new slogan of joining an army of one. Watch out axis of evil because America is coming! No one on the planet has the ability to escape our wrath. You’re either with us or against us. Bring ‘em on! Bad guys have until sundown to get out of town. Weapons of mass destruction are evil and no one has more weapons of mass destruction than the United States. America will destroy anybody who defies the United Nations as we defy the United Nations and attack other countries with preemptive strikes with weapons of mass destruction.

Like a script from the book The Russian Guide to Losing Wars and Destroying National Economies In the Process we engaged in Afghanistan. And our arrogance was so huge we attacked Iraq at the same time. Five years and well on our way to a trillion dollars later in direct cost we find our economy in shambles. The dollar is plummeting in value against other currencies. And unlike Russia’s ruble, the dollar is supposed to be the economic standard of the world. Oil is traded in dollars. And as the dollar plummets the economies of the world are dragged down as well. Other nations have to support the dollar in order to keep their economies from collapsing. And as time goes on it is getting harder and harder for these other countries to support an economy that insist on concentrating the vast majority of wealth into a smaller and smaller pool of people. Something like ninety percent of America’s wealth is held by one percent of the population. With this type of financial malfeasance, the only way the average American can buy a television is to go into debt. We borrow money to support our lifestyle from other countries. Credit is the substitute for a descent wage. This arrangement cannot continue into perpetuity.

Economies around the world will abandon the United States dollar and will start trading oil in Euros. One country will start and the others will follow. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business. Without the exclusive trade of oil as a means to keep people interested in dollars the currency could drop even faster and lower. These days of recession and inflation will be a thing of the past. We will look fondly on this time as the good old days.

The Unites States was able to come out of the Great Depression largely because of our ability to sell our manufactured goods overseas. Germany was just beginning its invasion of the rest of Europe and this country was selling supplies to England as well as Nazi Germany and just about anybody else who wanted to buy our goods. The following world war was good for the American economy. Manufacturers were building weaponry on a scale the world has never seen. Tanks were rolling off the assembly line faster than they could be destroyed. Ships were leaving the docks faster than they could be sunk by U-boats.

But these days, our economy is no longer based on manufacturing. It’s cheaper for our manufacturers to pay Indonesia or some other nation to manufacture everything the global economy needs. Our economy is no longer based on the service industry. It’s now cheaper for corporate conglomerates to export call centers and information technology jobs overseas to nations like India. Our economy is now based on consumption fueled by credit. It will be a long time before our economy can change its current status.

A few weeks ago it was reported that the United States economy lost almost five hundred thousand jobs in the month of February. Every month we hear about the evaporation of tens of thousands of jobs. But the good news was that the American economy has become weak enough where the cost of manufacturing products here is cheap enough to compete with third world countries in some areas. BMW announced that it will add two hundred jobs to its assembly plant here in South Carolina. Now all we need is just another five hundred thousand or so jobs to make up for what was lost so far this year. Hopefully, but not very realistically, our economy won’t lose any more jobs.

Just like in the depression we will have thousands of people trying to apply for a handful of jobs. The corporate conglomerates that exported jobs overseas will simply focus their attention to these other nations until it becomes more economical to bring those jobs back here to the states. And unlike the Russian example we don’t have natural gas or oil reserves to tap into to rebuild our economy. And even if we did make the choice to open up Alaska to the oil companies, the money that would come from selling this oil is more likely to go into the coffers of big oil the individual pockets of politicians instead of going into the public economy. The public will stand in long food lines waiting for our economy to recover while the top one percent will continue to get even richer during America’s depression.

If we allow everything to run its course, eventually the United States will be able to stabilize its currency. But instead of being on parity with the Euro or even the Canadian dollar we will probably be more on par with the Mexican peso or the Japanese yen. The United States is in danger of fading away as an economic superpower. It happens to the best of nations. No one can be on top forever. And our way of life will adapt. It is not doom and gloom. It is change. It can actually become a good thing for the United States to get its economic house in order. And as long as we faced it together as a nation of people we would do fine. We could stop worrying about the next American Idol or the America’s Next Top Model or whatever entertainment whims that adds zilch to our lives but are able to hold our collective attention. America could probably get back to working to live instead of living to work. We could actually learn to live as a collective for the first time in a long time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Life, Thoughts | 7 Comments

Alabama Politics

I saw Crimson Tide about a week ago. There was the scene when Captain Frank Ramsey, played so well by Gene Hackman, is waiting with his executive officer Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter, played wonderfully by Denzel Washington, for radio contact to be restored. The captain starts talking about the Lipizzaner stallions. I found it interesting that the most highly trained horses in the world were born black but turn as white as any horse on the planet. I saw it as a perfect analogy for how some talented and high profile black people, through intensive education and training akin to the cattle prod applied electric voltage up the ass approach suggested by the captain, will shed their black community affiliation for the much more appealing affiliation with the dominant community. Many high profile black people are harder on less fortunate black people than any white conservative can ever be. I recorded the show on the DVR for later reference.

This morning I picked up the remote and decided to do my post. I fast forward to the scene in the command center of the nuclear submarine where the executive officer is attempting to get the ship up to periscope depth in order to reestablish radio contact and determine if indeed a third world war has started with nuclear missiles the weapon of choice. The captain punches the executive officer twice in the face in order to force the X-O to comply with orders and allow the submarine to fire her missiles. The X-O refuses and the captain rages. The captain has already threatened to murder one of the lower ranked crewmen, petty officer Hilaire, in order to force the weapons officer to unlock the safe holding the tactical firing trigger to the nuclear missiles. The captain is ready to win the war at any and all cost.  The X-O remains unflappable and willing to take a chance that things are not as dire as we may believe, even at the expense of being physically assaulted by an old white man whose greatest fear is appearing weak.

Suddenly there was a bigger analogy at play here and it manifested itself right before my eyes. I couldn’t help but see an analogy between John McCain as Captain Frank Ramsey and Barack Obama as Lieutenant Commander Hunter. Right there on film I saw the captain as Mr. McCain, a seasoned military professional with tons of experience and patriotism oozing out of every orifice of his body with his totally simplistic view of the world where nothing is more important than duty to the politicians who run America. Before my very eyes I saw the X-O as Mr. Obama, trying to apply rational reasoning to a crazy situation that could literally destroy the very country everyone loves.

I saw the men of the Alabama weighing the choices between supporting their captain and supporting the executive officer. The captain has no reservation against killing. And it appears there are a number of men in the crew of the USS Alabama that feel the same way. On the other hand, there are a number of men in the crew who are not comfortable being the catalyst for a calamity that could devastate the world. The radio was damaged right in the middle of receiving a message during a violent exchange of torpedoes with an Akula-class Russian submarine. The message could have been an order to stand down.

While the majority of the crew has a history of working together, the executive officer is new to the crew and a lot of the men aren’t ready to trust him. Regardless of the clarity of the situation some of the crew just doesn’t know what Mr. Hunter’s motivations are. The fact that if the Alabama fires her missiles they are guaranteeing war is lost in most people’s reasoning. An order is an order. And until an order is properly rescinded with another order the order stands. Blind obedience to patriotic fervor is what is required. As the crisis escalates, Captain Ramsey portrays the X-O as an upstart Harvard graduate who does not respect the chain of command and is too arrogant to understand that he is just a small cog in the military machine.

Today, Barack Obama has just returned from his whirlwind tour of Europe and the Middle East. Prior to this trip, Mr. McCain complained that the presumptive Democratic nominee did not visit Iraq or Afghanistan and is therefore not qualified to be the person to lead the country out of these predicaments. Not only did Mr. Obama go to those two countries, he’s gone to Germany, Israel, Palestine, France, and Britain. He may have visited more but that’s all I remember off the top of my head. By any measure the Senator from Illinois looked more presidential than anyone seeking or holding the oval office in a long time. And now Mr. McCain complains that Barack Obama is too presumptuous and too arrogant to be going overseas and talking in a presidential capacity.

A lot of people in America act like the unfortunate crew of the USS Alabama. We don’t know whether to follow the man who has the experience and is more than ready to wear his patriotism front and center like a freshly pressed shirt with just a tad too much starch or whether we want to follow the man who might be willing to take a more intelligent approach to the problem at hand who will be willing to temper his patriotism in order to do what’s right not just for his country but for everyone under the assumption that waiting leaves the country vulnerable to an attack. We don’t know whether to follow the man who we already have a tried and true relationship with and are aware of all his leanings or to follow the man who is new and has yet to prove himself. The old adage that experience is always best doesn’t always fly straight and true. All too often more experience leads to an assumption of correctness which is in itself a manifestation of arrogance.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, Democrats, John McCain, Life, Politics, Republicans, Thoughts | 12 Comments

Feeding Our Oil Addiction

I just heard a news article about the South Africa energy producer SASOL. SASOL can produce gasoline from coal. This company has a huge, ten square mile facility devoted to nothing but the production of various forms of energy. The gasoline produced through the mining and refining of coal burns cleaner than gasoline produced through the refining of petroleum. Only problem is that refining coal produces upwards of twice the polluting emissions of refining petroleum. Yet, there are people who feel that America should adopt the SASOL technology for implementation here in the States, any contributing factors to global warming and carbon emissions be damned.

There is also talk about opening up our coastline to offshore drilling to take advantage of the massive amounts of oil reserves available there. There is talk about opening up more land that is currently restricted from drilling to the oil companies even though these companies have only taken advantage of a tiny fraction of the land currently at their disposal. There is a suggestion to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to help satiate our national appetite for fuel. There are a number of suggestions to help lessen the impact the price of oil is having on our American way of life.

When I lived in Texas, just about every household I knew had either an automobile with an eight cylinder engine or a sport utility vehicle that easily weighed north of two tons or a pickup truck that could pull a schoolhouse off of its foundation. I knew one guy who had an accident and totaled his four cylinder Honda Accord sedan. When he got his insurance check, he used it as a down payment for an eight cylinder Ford Expedition. What really made this move stupid was the fact that the man traveled more than one hundred miles roundtrip to work. He lived in Houston and drove down to Lake Jackson, Texas on a daily basis. His Honda got about twenty seven miles per gallon on the highway. The Expedition would do well to get fourteen (the guy had a heavy right foot). His poor choices doubled his fuel bill. The truck nearly ran the guy into the poor house. And that was pre Bush when gas was relatively cheap at a dollar and a quarter.

For a long time I’ve had the belief that we waste energy here in America. We needed an increase in the price to make people think long and hard about their fuel expending choices. When the price of gas began to climb shortly after George Bush took office people should have seen the writing going on the wall. I knew two guys who parked their Dodge Rams and one of them was a super cab. One guy got a Honda Shadow and the other guy bought a scooter. Other than these two, most people went bigger and bigger.

The price of gas has impacted my pocket just like everyone else’s. I went from spending about four and a half cents per mile to drive my little blue Honda wagon about five years ago to now spending about twenty five cents a mile to drive our newer Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Going from bachelorhood to an expanding family will do that to you. I was ridiculed for not buying a little sport utility vehicle and spending even more money to move an even more inefficient vehicle. But thankfully, I am confident enough in my manhood to let any soccer mom reference roll off my back like gasoline rolling through a 7.2L V8 motor. I have to confess that it is good to see so many people regretting their poor transportation choices and doing their best to curb their fuel consumption. This energy cost crisis will have a positive impact on our environment.

The two oil embargoes of the seventies did a lot to curb fuel consumption in this country. We went from those seriously big Lincolns, Buicks, and Cadillacs to the much more reasonably sized automobiles of today. Automobile fuel efficiency was increased and we made better choices. But because we forgot the lessons of the seventies, because the rest of the economy eventually caught up to the cost of a gallon of gas, because our incomes increased while the price of fuel stayed relatively steady, we went back to buying thirsty vehicles. In order to get the big, wasteful, transportation fix of yore, people bought vehicles like the Navigator and Suburban. And we bought a lot of them.

Opening the coast to offshore drilling, developing refineries that convert coal into gasoline, allowing oil companies to drill anywhere they damn well please will do little to make a dent in the price of fuel right now. The theory is that the more fuel we produce for ourselves we can cutoff the greedy oil producing countries that refuse to flood the market with more oil, creating a glut that would drive down the price of gas and make Hummers attractive again. The only thing that all the oil companies would do is take the new oil supply and put it on the global market so that the American people will have to compete with the rest of the world to purchase it. Oil from Alaska already makes the trek to Asia. Why? Global demand means oil companies can make more when people pay more. And a company that makes twelve billion dollars in a quarter is looking to break that record.

If we can get the price of gas back down to three dollars a gallon a lot of people will be thankful. At three dollars a gallon we’re bound to think happy days are here again and go back to big sport utility vehicles and thirsty cars with big motors that waste a lot of gas. Detroit can go back to making more profitable cars and trucks again. And we can pretend that we will live happily ever after. Or at least until we make the mistake of repeating the mistakes we’ve already made when it comes to our collective attitude towards oil consumption.

Monday, July 28, 2008 Posted by | ANWR, Cars, Economy, Life, Oil, Politics, The Economy, Thoughts | 5 Comments

Sick Of Being Sick

Like many others I listened with amusement at Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s explanation for what happened in the men’s room at the airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was Mr. Craig’s contention that the foot play between the stalls and the hand play under the stall dividers was just an accident of happenstance. Mr. Craig claims that he was so oblivious to what happens in the men’s room that he didn’t realize his foot was hitting the cop’s foot in the stall next to him because of his extra wide stance. That would be quite a feat if he was sitting on the toilet with his trousers down around his ankles.

I’m sorry but when I go inside the men’s room I’m so aware of my person that an accidental brush of a foot is an utter impossibility. I don’t make eye contact. I’m not there to make friends. And I don’t go in there to socialize with other males. The last thing I want to do is come out the men’s room with someone else looking like the overly friendly and exceptionally close men in a Flomax commercial who usually emerge from the bathroom all smiles and patting each other on the back. I don’t know any guy that I want to be so close to. When I’m out socializing, I don’t look around and ask do any other men in want to go to the men’s room with me. I honestly don’t know how women can do it.

I don’t even want to touch the door handle in the men’s room. I’ve seen too many men walk in, do their business, and walkout again as if they just walked in and out of a hotel lobby. And what’s just as bad is the guy who walks over to the faucet, runs water on his hands for about a quarter of a second, turns the faucet off, grabs a paper towel, and then grabs that door handle without a care in the world.

My routine is to enter the men’s room with the single purpose of doing my business and emerging as germ free as possible. We can talk as long as you want outside. But the men’s room is no place for a friendly conversation. I’ll make a beeline to the urinal or the toilet, do my business, and then a second beeline to the faucet. I’ll turn on the faucet, three squirts from the soap dispenser, and wash my hands thoroughly and completely. I’ll head over to the paper towels and grab three of them. I’ll dry my hands thoroughly and completely and then use the towels to turn off the faucet and then use it to grab the door handle. I’ll carry the towels with me back to my desk. I wash my hands so much that I have to keep lotion in my desk drawer otherwise my hands will dry out.

Watching the way other people go in and out of the men’s room, I was not surprised at all to hear that the keyboard at work harbors a variety of disgusting, literally sickening, germs. The computer keyboard can harbor nasty viruses such as the common cold, the flu bug, and even e coli. How many times have we seen or heard someone sneeze on their keyboard and keep on typing barely missing a single keystroke. I’ve been guilty of sneezing on my keyboard myself. You sneeze and the video screen will be peppered with tiny droplets of spittle. The smell of spit permeates the air in the vicinity. I’ll do my best to keep my desk clean. I will break out the cleaner and take a stab at keeping a clean working environment every now and then. I’m not as clean as some. I know I do better than most.

Recently, I was shaking hands with a coworker I had not seen in a bit. Right after I shook his hand he sneezed and used his hand to cover his mouth. The guy said that he was trying to shake off the flu. All kinds of alarm bells started going off in my head. I know I kept talking to him. I know I kept a calm outward appearance. But as soon as that conversation was done I made a beeline to the men’s room. I wanted to ask the dip shit why he shook my hand if he had the flu. Why did he come to work if he had the flu?  I could’ve slapped his sick ass!

The last thing I needed was to take some bug home and make my family sick. My faith in America’s healthcare system isn’t very healthy. I hear too many stories of people not getting enough attention from medical personnel and simply giving rote treatments for what ails them. Coughing? Take this! Head’s pounding? Take this! You’ve got the flu? Take this? And with all the unhealthy people visiting these facilities not everybody practices even the most basic form of hygiene. There was a story about a medical clinic that was recycling syringes by changing the needles. The clinic had infected a number of its patients with hepatitis C. In order to save a few dollars a week the clinic really screwed some people’s lives. No thank you!

I will practice my own common sense and do my best to limit my exposure. I will continue to wash my hands and do whatever to minimize exposure. I might look like a big germ-a-phobe to some of those Flomax guys in the men’s room at work. But that’s okay. I don’t know those people from Adam. They can stand in the hallway and exchange their viruses. It might look funny and be blown totally out of proportion. But if anybody touches me I’ll make that beeline to the men’s room in a New York minute.

Saturday, July 26, 2008 Posted by | Life, Thoughts | 4 Comments

Black In America Is Not About The Black Community

It should come as no surprise that I didn’t expect much out of Soledad O’Brien’s earth shattering documentary Black in America being featured on CNN.  Ms. O’Brien has never given me the impression that she recognizes or understands or sympathizes with the issues that plague the black community.  In fact, none of the reporting on the CNN network has given me the impression that these people are aware that the black community even exist.

I remember watching CNN when Tony Harris was reporting breaking news on the incident that became known as the Jena Six more than a year after the incidents were initiated.  While CNN was busy reporting on such perils as the dangers of people having fat pets or Roland Martin reporting on What Would Jesus Do to talk about the commercialization of Christmas or some other nonsense from Jenny Moost, six young black men were being railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor for second degree murder for a school fight with a young white man.  The network could have given a rat’s ass about this first class example of racial prejudice and racial discrimination.  And instead of the network reporting the facts of the case, the article simply reported the opinion of people living in Jena, Louisiana.  We were given a chance to hear what the white people of Jena think and then we were given a chance to hear what the black people of Jena think.  Then we were allowed to formulate our own opinion about what actually happened.

So when CNN started promoting its Black in America series with the tag line, everyone will learn what it means to be black in America, I honestly didn’t expect much.  But I could have been wrong and waited with everyone else to see what CNN thinks being black in America means.

I’ve seen four of the segments.  There was the one that started with the report from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee talking about Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior and his dream for the black community.  There was the report from the town hall where some notables from the black community got together to discuss issues of education in the black community.  Wednesday was a report about individual experiences of a handful of black people in America.  And Thursday night’s broadcast focused on a few stories about how some black men can make the American dream and make it very successfully while some black men will suffer the American nightmare of incarceration, drugs, alcohol, and poverty.  I watched these shows and I’ve come away scratching my head and wondering what exactly is the common connection all these people have that makes their experience exclusive to the black community.

I know for a fact that there are white people who suffer with poverty and poor education.  I really don’t think the black community has an exclusive on this experience.  I know that there are white people in America who have to deal with losing their homes and being evicted for not being able to pay the mortgage or paying the rent.  I know there are white women who are raising their white children alone because the white father is absent.  I know there are white people who are looking at dating outside their race.  I know there are white people who are doing well while their siblings are doing poorly.  I know for a fact that there are white people who suffer with issues of drugs and alcohol.  Believe it or not, I know there are white people who get thrown in jail.  Are we to believe that these white people are now experiencing what it is like to be black in America?

These shows do little to show me what it means to be black in America.  Ms. O’Brien has simply taken the experience of a handful of black people and pasted their stories into a documentary.  If somebody did the same thing with people from the white community, who would come away with the impression that they now know what it is like to be white in America?  While some people might find the program entertaining not every white person would relate to these examples.  There really is no reason to think these stories define what it means to be black in this country.

I was hoping to see something that would help to explain what people in the black community are going through as a collective.  Black people have to deal with higher rates of school dropouts.  Why?  Black people have to deal with higher rates of unemployment.  Why?  Black people have to deal with higher rates of incarceration.  Black people have to deal with higher rates of home foreclosures.  Why?  I was hoping to learn what the main components were of the complex social issues that all of these black stories share in common.

The purpose of the program was never to show the issues facing the black community.  The program was designed to show instances of how black people choose not to respond responsibly to their environment for whatever reason.  I came away thinking that we are depicted as simply surviving instead of assessing our situation and planning to act accordingly.  Many of us simply refuse to pick ourselves up by our boot strap and instead simply adapt to our circumstances.  The majority of people in the black community continue to do what we do and simply hope for the best outcome or we simply fail to better ourselves for our future and the future of our families.  And all of this of course happens in a vacuum without any external influences from outside the black community.  As far as being an eye opening documentary on life for black people in America, this piece of work falls terribly short. 

But in at least one respect, Ms. O’Brien really does hit the nail on the head on what it means to be black in America.  To be black in America is to be depicted in the most simplest of terms.  Negative experiences of most black people are the result of a stereotypical lack of planning and black people’s refusal to take responsibility for developing their own solutions.  Some black people made it.  Black people who study hard will get the good job and the nice house and drive the nice car and will become examples of how it can be done for others in the black community.  Because we all know that if everyone in the black community gets a doctorate today come tomorrow unemployment will drop to zero.  Black people who make the choice to stop acting like typical black people will stop being typical black people in America.

Friday, July 25, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black in America, Black Men, Black People, Black Women, CNN, Jena 6, Justice, Life, Philosophy, Racism, Soledad O'Brien, Thoughts | 19 Comments

Animal Farm

Animal Farm

I’ve never seen or read the story Animal Farm by George Orwell. But it’s my understanding it’s the story about how farm animals are able to develop a community void of oppressive humans and how the pigs became the new oppressors of the farm. The pigs took on the most repulsive and oppressive characteristics of humans and actually became more human than anyone thought possible. In the vacuum left by the humans the pigs became humans. The moral of the story could be summarized to say that a community should have vigilance lest the absence of an oppressor could lead to an opportunity for someone or some group with a concealed desire for control or a latent superiority complex to become the oppressor.

There is a belief by some people that if the black community would simply take over the management of our more critical community resources such as schools, police, government, hospitals, and etcetera, then we would take a giant step in the right direction for retaking control of our destiny. It is natural to think that someone who shares our community values would share our community goals. However, problems come into play when people in the black community assume that just because someone shares our skin color that they would then share black community values and therefore share black community goals.

I am reminded of this phenomenon several times a day on a regular basis. The number of black people who vigorously support the status quo that maintains the disparity between the dominant community and the black community appears to grow exponentially on a daily basis. Black people who claim to have a love of self and of the black community are quick to abandon black people at the drop of a hat.

One concrete example of this phenomenon are the number of black people who say that they are proud of their brown skin but they just so happen to fall in love with a white person. In itself there is nothing wrong with dating or marrying a white person. But it is interesting to note that these black people refer to themselves as brown skinned but don’t refer to their significant other as peach or cream skinned. These people willfully sacrifice or downplay their link to their blackness but let the partner in life keep their link to their whiteness. Black people who have children with non black people run a greater risk of having their children identify with a non black community. It is my personal prejudice that black people who only date non black people may not be as committed to the future of the black community as they like to assert. If they did they would make having black children with strong black identities and black community affiliation a priority in their life.

Another example is the various black houses of worship that will have spiritual leaders that live in conditions separate from their flock. There are ministers, preachers, pastors, reverends, spiritual teachers, religious entrepreneurs, or whatever title is applicable, that will feel entitled to live rather lavishly in a series of palatial mansions that would rival Citizen Cane’s vision for Xanadu while members of their church are facing eviction from their most humble of dwellings. The prosperity doctrine says that if you live righteously and do your tithing religiously then you too will have the gift from god of material wealth. However, materialism and spiritualism are actually mutually exclusive. In fact, the love of money is supposed to be one of the most depraved sins in the bible. Yet, we all aspire to be the next pharaoh, living large and in charge, off the labor of others. The singular focus on the accumulation of personal wealth is not a community building activity, unless the goal is to build a community of paupers.

Regardless of how or why, there are too many instances of black community organizations, components, institutions, and situations that are led by black people that are not at all focused on the welfare of the black community. In the absence of a white skinned devil that takes advantage of the black community, many of us will rise to the occasion to become the black skinned devil that will seek to subjugate others in the black community. And unfortunately, like most things that exist at our level of understanding, it is far easier to feel the repercussions from the negative effects more so than the positive ones.

The person looking to be the leadership of the black community will appeal to black people’s collective ego and work on our insecurities and will promise to work hard to restore our self worth and take away all of our social problems will undoubtedly be appointed as the leader of our community. These black leaders promise to have all the solutions to our problems. Unfortunately, it never crosses anybody’s mind that the charismatic person at the front of the crowd doesn’t have much experience being the person at the rear most people ignore. The problems are hardly the same from these two extremes. But somehow, we are sold a poor fitting bill of goods that says one solution will fit all. How many times do we have to hear that the system worked for some high profile black person and therefore it must be fair? It’s fair despite the fact that for every high profile person there are thousands of people at the other end of the spectrum.

A lot of high profile black people make fine examples of the problem with the alleged leadership in the black community. It is a fact that many so called black leaders are actually people that the dominant community promotes as black leaders who are in fact working to undermine the black community. These people have thrived in this environment of disparity and are more apt to argue that the status quo must be maintained. These are the type of black leaders who distance themselves from the black community when black leadership can be most effective. These black people will stand in front of the dominant culture and say something to the effect that they are not the average black person but a fellow member of the dominant class that is not identified by race but happens to take virtually all operating procedures from the predominantly white culture. Black people will do better if black people will just do better. Pick yourself up by your bootstrap. Get good grades and get a job and you too will distance yourself from the black community. The key to the good life is kicking blackness to the curb.

Conversely, the black person who sees that something is wrong in the black community but is honest enough to say that they don’t know all the problems and certainly don’t have all the answers is dismissed as nothing but a complainer with a victim mentality unwilling or unable to do the work necessary to resuscitate the black community. Without a grand master plan that rescues us all, this person is not seen as a black community asset but just another lost soul looking for personal relief. We have been conditioned to think the solution to centuries of oppression and subjugation by a dominant culture that controls every aspect of life including, but not limited to, government, entertainment, law enforcement, manufacturing, banking, financing, travel, distribution, education, employment, and justice can be solved in a paragraph or two, or with a charismatic individual who can stroke people’s egos.

But the bottom line is that it will take all the black people who truly care about the welfare of the black community to come together to repair the black community. In the history of the African American the dominant culture never gave our ancestors and elders anything without a hard fought fight. Black people stood in unity when they fought for civil rights and the right to vote. Why we can’t figure out the unity factor now is beyond me. The psychological programming that keeps black people divided runs deep. I’m not saying I or any other single person have all the answers. I believe that we all have a small piece of the answer. Only when we bring those pieces together will we once again take control of our destiny.

We can leave the welfare of the black community to charismatic black leaders who promise nothing but we believe can change things for the black community simply because they exist. But don’t be surprised when you see the black leader personally gaining and gaining large. And before you know it nothing will change. Before our very eyes these leaders evolve into the very devils that we have come to know so well. If we want change we all must do our part to recognize the need, come together to deliver ideals and develop a plan, and then work together to assure that the plan comes to fruition.

Too often people say that it is somebody else’s job to develop the plan or it’s somebody else’s job to develop concepts of racial equality or that it is somebody else’s job to make sure that whoever steps to the plate to be the spokesperson of the black community is kept on the up and up. It is all too easy to sit back and say that somebody else should do it. But until we all roll up our sleeves and make the choice to take an active role in spreading awareness, identifying the issues that are most disastrous and dangerous to the black community in general, until we all contribute to the development of plans at the neighborhood level, community level, and every level all the way up to the national level, the black community will never experience anything resembling equality or self determination. Until will all step up to the plate we will repeat the mistakes just like the characters in Animal Farm.

Thursday, July 24, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Life, Thoughts | 7 Comments

American Whiners

When Phil Gramm slammed Americans for being a nation of whiners and having a mental recession mindset, he was body slammed hard and heavy by many pundits as well as the man he was campaigning for, John McCain. Barack Obama ridiculed Mr. Gramm saying America already has one doctor Phil. When people are losing their homes, their jobs, their ability to earn a comfortable living, and provide for the future of their families it is not a crisis of psychology. When people are having difficulty just buying the basics such as food and gas for transportation, it is a crisis of real consequences that can have repercussions for us all. For Mr. Gramm, no doubt a handsomely paid and wealthy individual compared to the average American, to dismiss the problems with people’s finances as nothing more than a mindset is to demonstrate a serious lack of compassion for others who are not as fortunate.

In essence, Mr. Gramm was trying to tell people to quit having a victim mentality and a lot of people took exception to his indifference to most people’s plight. No one said that Mr. Gramm might have a point. No one said that things would get better when everybody took more personal responsibility for their conditions although it goes without saying that we the people could have better prepared for these rainy days. More of us could have purchased more efficient living accommodations. More of us could have purchased more efficient forms of transportation. More of us could have used our credit resources more sparingly. Most of us could have done things more wisely. But should haves and would haves and could haves do little to help alleviate the fact that people are concerned about what they need right now. We can point the finger later but right now people need help.

The parallel between the current economic conditions of America compared to the economic conditions of many people in the black community since forever are similar. Black people have always been given rhetoric to quit being a whiner and pick ourselves up by our boot strap. Many people have the attitude that black people are just a bunch of whiners and need nothing more than to change. Despite the overwhelming evidence that says there is a fundamental economic dysfunction within the black community, regardless of the reason it’s there, most people are content to turn a blind eye and say this problem would not exist if people in the black community didn’t suffer from their weakness of character that prohibits us from rising to the challenge and meeting our problems head on.

It is a matter of public record that on average people in the black community earn only seventy eight percent what people in the white community earn. And that is if black people can find a job. The rate of unemployment in the black community runs approximately twice the rate of unemployment in the white community. Black people are much more likely to be incarcerated and to have less access to adequate legal representation. The lack of compassion for people in the black community is tremendous.

But now that the other economic shoe is free falling and more people in the nation are being impacted with the specter of unemployment, unaffordable housing, poor public education prospects thanks to the ill conceived program called no child left behind and the other maladies that are plaguing us as a nation, more people want reassurance and some understanding that their problems are not psychological but are real and our frightening.

Why doesn’t the dominant community take this rare opportunity to show the black community how easy it is to just quit being victims and whiners when there are no jobs available or when there is no money available? I believe there is a lot to learn here! Everybody in the black community can learn first hand how to get a job when the job market is shedding jobs at a rate of fifty thousand a month. We can learn how to balance budgets between income and expenses when there is no income. We can learn how the responsible people are paying for housing even though foreclosures rates are rising almost exponentially. And mostly of all, people in the dominant community can take this golden opportunity to show exactly how we should respond to uncompassionate rhetoric from someone who just doesn’t give a damn.

So far, the reactions from the dominant community have not been very educational or enlightening. In fact, if anything, the responses from the dominant community have been quite similar to the type of responses that would originate from the black community. I would dare say that no matter the skin color, when people feel like they could use some help, it would be appreciated if others would show some kind of empathy or concern for their plight. If anything, the dominant community demonstrates that when you are a victim, there is nothing wrong with having a victim mentality. Picking up a boot strap to lift your self out of a predicament really is pointless if there’s nothing to hook that boot strap to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black History, Black People, Capitalism, Economy, John White, Life, Politics, Racism, Republicans, The Economy, The Race Card, Thoughts, Unemployment | 5 Comments

Getting Back To Traditional Ifa

Recently I was admonished by an Ifa devotee for suggesting a break from the so-called traditional interpretation of Ifa doctrine that requires the majority of people to give their spiritual guides or teachers full control of their spiritual development. The traditional interpretation of Ifa does not encourage everyone to learn the techniques necessary to develop the inner calm to communicate with our individual personal spiritual universe. Traditional Ifa keeps people dependent on their babalawos and iyanifas and every other person with a priestly title so that they can charge considerable amounts of money for spiritual development.

Who needs to take the time to establish a personal relationship with Orunmila and the other Orisas when you can just pay your local neighborhood Ifa priest for a reading every now and then? And an Ifa priest with an unhealthy craving for wealth and material goods, a very human condition, would never be tempted to manipulate a devotee’s reading for personal gain. Everything will always be honest and above board. Olodumare help the person who tries to encourage people to take control of their own spiritual development. Why, that’s like somebody getting in a car and doing their own driving instead of simply getting in a car and going for a ride while letting someone else choose the destination, the route, and the time of arrival for you. Surely the second option is much more appealing for most people. And it’s a very lucrative way for Ifa teachers to make a good living to boot!

From what I have been able to learn first hand of Orunmila, Baba does little to interfere with people’s personal development. Baba doesn’t tell people where they need to live, what they need to drive, who they should marry, or what profession people should pursue. But more often than not, people who go and get readings will be told that they have to be initiated and that they have to become some priestly title. And more often than not the priestly title requires outlays of cash that will run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The person conducting the reading will tell the devotee that Orunmila requires them to be initiated to a particular Orisa. By accepting the reading the devotee accepts the burden of finding the resources, the money, to be initiated. That is the tradition of our belief system. And it is rather interesting that Orunmila never tells the initiate that they need to be a doctor or an educator or a blacksmith or some other profession.

People like to say the traditional way of practicing Ifa has been around for thousands and thousands of years. The ancient African tradition of Ifa is older than most of the world’s more notable belief systems. Most Ifa practitioners know this and accept this without question. However, when this tradition was started, it was started without any knowledge of the concept of money. Money and economics are artificial concepts that have no root in nature. Our African ancestors knew nothing of money until they were introduced to economics by the European. The ancient Africans practiced the purest form of socialism and worked together for the benefit of the community at large without the slightest thought as to how much their bank account can be enriched.

Traditionally, an Ifa initiation wasn’t done for the individual. An initiation was done for the benefit of the whole community. The more spiritually developed the entire community was, the less likely the community would submit to the influence of wealth, materialism, status, and power. It was not until materialism and greed entered the picture that spiritual development required huge amounts of money. It is because of the introduction of money that many of us who grew up in this tradition believe that wealthy people can literally afford to be more spiritual than people who are impoverished. And as Ifa devotees, we allow ourselves to be manipulated into thinking that paying thousands of dollars for an initiation is the way this tradition has been practiced for years.

If we all exercised a better idea of what it means to be a student of Ifa, if we had a better idea of what it means to be spiritual, we would know that spiritual development does not depend on the size of our bank accounts or the amount of weighty status we have to throw around. Spiritual development requires little more than a sincere desire to be spiritual. It does take effort and a commitment and some financial resources. But spirituality does not require a devotee to spend tens of thousands of dollars. If a devotee has that kind of money to throw around then all I have to say is good for them.

But the more we allow others to control our spirituality and to connect the amount of spirituality we have to the size of our wallets then we lose sight of the tradition. Literally, our ancestors practiced this tradition without a dime to their name. That is the way this spiritual tradition was founded. That is the way it developed for thousands and thousands of years. It is only since we have been introduced to concepts of money and individual wealth have we confused the ability to pay large sums of money with conditions of spirituality. If we are to get back to being traditional practitioners of Ifa we will learn to do it the way our ancestors did it. We will learn to be spiritual without letting money get in the way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Ancestors, Black Community, Black Culture, Black Men, Black People, God, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | 10 Comments


“[A]s an independent filmmaker focusing on issues in the black community I found that many black males between the ages of sixteen and perhaps twenty six believes to be educated is to be considered weak and sometimes even feminine to the point where I’ve seen young black men rebuke their male children for reading books. So my question is why and when this trend gets started and what can we do to encourage and make more black men realize that education is still one of the main ingredients to healing the social ills in our communities?” – A question from Cindy Hurst during Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America.

“Well, I mean one, I don’t want to over exaggerate. There are, there may be a slice of the black community, a slice of young black brothers and sisters who feel that way. But the vast majority of young black brothers and sisters really want to be educated. So we don’t want to begin by isolating this slice as if that constitutes the lens through which we look the vast array of young brothers and sisters.” – A response from Professor Cornel West to Cindy Hurst during Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America.

“The percentage of black men who graduated from high school has more than doubled since 1970.” – A statistic displayed during Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America.

Much too often the standard representation for the black community will depend on our lowest behavioral denominator. We will see examples of black people committing a variety of criminal, immoral, or just plain thoughtless acts and use such examples as a barometer of all black people’s potential. Such behavior is followed with comments that will condemn the entire black community for the problems of one person or for a very small minority.

According to the numbers published by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations for the year 2006, for every heinous act committed by a black person there were more than two crimes committed by white people. Out of the 10,437,620 crimes committed in the United States in 2006, 7,270,214 were committed by white people while 2,924,724 were committed by black people. In terms of percentages that means 69.7% of the crime in 2006 were committed by white people and 28% committed by black people. Black people should be far from being considered America’s number one problem. And yet, we perpetually hear that the black crime phenomenon is skyrocketing out of control.

We have been conditioned to see black people not as individuals but as a group with a collective mentality for irresponsibility. People who live and dwell in the black community and have first hand experience with our black neighbors have been conditioned to see the negative behavior of one black person as an indication of what is happening to the black community in general. We allow ourselves to be manipulated to judge our neighbors negatively at the drop of a hat even though we have a wealth of experience with people in the black community that says we are not the cesspool of humanity. We are constantly bombarded with the image of the black criminal and the association of black people to crime or black people to acts of immorality or acts of self defeatism.

When I heard Ms. Hurst asks her question in the forum hosted by Ms. O’Brien, the first thing that popped into my head was a need for more information. Instead of simply nodding my head in the affirmative and ingesting a heaping helping of the typical black people are bad poison propaganda from one of our own, I wondered exactly how many black men did she see rebuke their son for reading. I also wondered how many black men this sister saw that actually supported and praised their sons for learning to read. And I also wondered if this sister saw a white man ridiculing his son for learning would she be so quick to judge the entire white community as harshly.

Personally, I have only witnessed one black man who ever ridiculed his sons for learning. By far the overwhelming majority of black men support their sons’ quest for knowledge and learning. Fathers who try to extinguish their sons’ love of reading and learning are retarding not just their sons’ future, but the future of their family as well as the future of the black community. Such attitudes are not indicative of the black community in general.

The bigger problem for the black community is the people who continue to judge us all based on the poor choices of the few. Yes, it is true that there are some black people who want to keep the future of the black community rooted in ignorance and propaganda. But I firmly believe that, although a detriment to the community, the man ridiculing his son and trying to discourage the young from learning is not the biggest problem for us. The bigger problem is the fact that some black people find it so easy to perpetuate stereotypical myths that the black community is full of people who promote ignorance and irresponsibility

Monday, July 21, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black Men, Black People, CNN, Life, Racism, Thoughts | 5 Comments