Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Props + P-Funk on PBS + Meth & BSGLS + Summers Out + Shani's #2

First, I want to thank Rod McCollum of Rod 2.0, one of the most exciting and wide-ranging blogs on the Net and one my daily essentials, for his very nice mention. Thank you, Rod, and I hope you're feeling better soon!

Second, and it's grossly tardy, but thank you also to Keguro for his beautiful meditation, last December, on Annotations, on Gukira, a blog that where I know I can always find singular, provocative, playful, lyric reflection on display. He takes his brilliance lightly, but as my uncle James would say, "The brotha's heavy." His comment section is also a delight!

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ClintonTonight, in addition to the Olympics, I'm catching Independent Lens's feature on one of my favorite bands: Parliament Funkadelic: One Nation under a Groove. The show details the history of one of the most original and influential groups of the 1970s and 1980s. I've been transfixed by story of the band's evolution, from a conked-out doo-wop group called the Parliaments to a Motown band that had its first big hit in 1967 to a group that began to include elements of free jazz, psychadelia, protest music, science fiction and afrofuturism, and rock & roll, all the while pushing the limits of their self-presentation and public performances. When the show got into the discussion of how they split into two identical groups--Parliament and Funkadelic (remember "Chocolate City"? Ray Nagin, we understood where you were coming from), I found myself getting very excited, because I knew what was coming...P-Funk, Dr. Funkenstein, Sir Nose, and the Mother Ship!!! It's also great to see how Clinton and Co. utilized all sorts of media to create a holistic aesthetic that matched P-Funk's burgeoning collective creative community, drawing in all sorts of fellow musicians (like Bootsy Collins, who described his work with George Clinton in terms of the latter's "laboratory"--tell it, Bootzilla!) And their influence--on subsequent R&B musicians, new wave, rock, hiphop of the 1980s and early 1990s, first generation gangsta rap... One nation under a groove, baby! If you're interested, check out the Website to learn more about the film and when it'll rebroadcast.

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PNPReading Andrew Jacobs's "Battling H.I.V. Where Sex Meets Crystal Meth" in today's New York Times, I felt a sense of déja vu, sadness and anger. He discusses what has been broached insistently in community forums and online, but not much in the mainstream media, even though the effects of crystal meth in the White gay community have gotten quite a bit of attention. To quote:

Like AIDS itself, which was once largely confined to the world of white gay men, the abuse of crystal meth is beginning to find favor among those who live far from Chelsea.

In a recent New York University study of 312 crystal meth users, 32 percent were white, 23 percent were Latino and 22 percent were black. At a methamphetamine support group run by Gay Men's Health Crisis, blacks now make up more than 10 percent of the participants, up from fewer than two percent in 2001.

Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, an applied psychologist at New York University who led the study, said that "the problem has been brewing for the past year, but now it's beginning to boil."


Back in late 2004, just before I started blogging, GayCityNews's Tyler Pray wrote an article on a joint effort by on Harlem United, Gay Men of African Descent, the LGBT Community Center, and NY Panthers Leather Club, all groups I'm affiliated with, to create outreach materials, which included flyers and public posters, to raise awareness and provoke discussion at the dangers of meth use in the Black gay/sgl community, and then in January 2005, GCN's Duncan Osborne wrote an article about a town hall meeting on the topic in Harlem that drew 75 attendees.

Also, last August, the inimitable Rod 2.0 also featured a long, thorough piece on another anti-meth campaign, by Crystal Breaks, in Chicago.

According to Jacobs' article, the preventive efforts are underway, but low-cost, easily available drug, which users have described as powerfully enhancing sexual experiences, unfortunately continues to make inroads, which people like the young man profiled in the article, Terry Evans, and organizations like Harlem United and Crystal Breaks are trying their hardest to slow down and halt.

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summersToday the Lawrence Summers, the 27th president of Harvard, resigned after five contentious years at the helm of the nation's oldest and richest university. He'd faced a Faculty of Arts and Science vote of no-confidence last March, and after an international fraud investigation and payout involving his friend, economist Andrei Shleifer, and after having forced the resignation of FAS dean and historian of China William Kirby, it appeared that another one was coming up on February 28. As a result, the governing Harvard Corporation seems to have pushed him out. (Its previous lone Black member, financier Conrad K. Harper, had resigned in protest last year because of Summers's behavior and called for his resignation).

Summers, the second-briefest serving president in Harvard's history, began his tenure with controversy when, as is well known, he confronted one of the university's star faculty members, acclaimed theorist and activist Cornel West, over West's outside activities, which led the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor to resign and head to Princeton, where he'd taught some years before. In fact, Summers' short tenure saw a temporary decline in Harvard's African-American Studies Department, as other leading figures, including philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, sociologist Lawrence Bobo, hiphop archivist Marcielyna Morgan and others departed. Though African-American Studies had once been the neglected stepchild of the institution, under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and then-president Neil Rudenstine, it became the preeminent department of its kind in the nation, eventually expanding to become the department of African and African-American Studies.

Yet Summers's problems didn't end with West and African-American Studies. There were repeated stories of his boorish and bullying behavior and his privileging of the sciences over the humanities. The university's record on hiring and promoting faculty of color also was faltering. Then, he appeared to be stumbling in dealing with the university's development of its large plot of land in Allston, one of Boston's neighborhoods right across the Charles from Cambridge. An eminent economist who'd gotten his SB from MIT and PhD from Harvard, and the former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, Summers seemed to lack the temperament, diplomacy, charisma and persuasiveness to lead a fractious organization like FAS, let alone a vast and multifarious corporation of Harvard's size. His most notorious moment came when he offered provocative comments about "differences in intrinsic aptitude" between men and women, which sparked outrage and led one of the nation's leading biologists, MIT professor Nancy Franklin, to walk out. Both his comments and response to the controversy were the sparks that lit the dynamite that had continued to explode up to today.

Although some internal and external commentators have described the internal conflicts surrounding Summers as a battle between conservatives and liberals, or between the objective, science crowd and the subjective, humanities camp, the fact is that it appears to have been much more complex. Summers is a Democrat who, though not an especially fervent supporter of some progressive policies, did institute a truly liberal (and long overdue) financial policy with regard to low-income students. In addition, some of his harshest critics have been scientists, while some of his diehard supporters, like controversial historian Stephan Thernstrom, are humanists. According to the Harvard Gazette, he supposedly will resign at the end of the academic year, in June, after which he'll go on a year's leave, then return to hold a distinguished chair in economics and public policy. I cannot see how he could bear to stay at Harvard, particularly knowing that so many of his colleagues were so opposed to his leadership, but his wife, poetry scholar Elisa New, is on the faculty. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up moving to MIT or Yale. Derek Bok, the president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991, will serve as acting president until a new person is chosen.

I will add that Derek Bok was the president of Harvard when I was an undergraduate there. I don't think I ever saw Bok except in passing, but like most of the students, I knew about his national leadership in higher education, particularly on the topic of racial and ethnic diversity (though divestment from then apartheid South Africa was a terrible blind spot). I remember wishing that Bok would do more to improve Af-Am when I was a student, though it was functioning enough that through its graces that I got the opportunity to study with Ishmael Reed, one of the best educational experiences of my life. (I always want to give them credit for the late South African writer Richard Rive's presence that very same spring 1987 term, though it was the English and American Literature department that had brought him.) Bok was a firm champion of affirmative action and of academic excellence, and with Princeton's former president, William Bowen, went on to publish a well-regarded study bearing out the idea that affirmative action was and is a public socioeconomic good. Though he's quite old, he should keep Harvard in good stead until they find someone who combines Summers's forcefulness of mind with Neil Rudenstine's graciousness and Derek Bok's vision. Had Brown not already done the do, I'd have said that Harvard should have chosen another of its outstanding graduates, Ruth Simmons. Ah well, Cantabs, live and learn.

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Chicago native Shani Davis (at left, on left) won his second Olympic medal tonight, a silver in the 1,500 meter speedskating race. He was on pace for the gold before he entered the final turn, when he tired and lost to Italian Enrico Fabris (at left, in center). Teammate Chad Hedrick (at left, on right), who'd been pitching a fit over Davis's refusal to participate in the team pursuit, finished third with the bronze. After the race, the two maintained their ongoing spat, when Davis commented on Hedrick's failure to shake his hand or hug him after Davis made history by winning the 1000 meter race, thus becoming the first Black person to win a gold medal in an individual sport in the Winter Olympics.

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