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Monday, November 25, 2013

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Comes Down To Earth

 On Wednesday November 20, 2013 world famous Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson came to Mohawk Valley Community College to give his latest lecture aptly entitled: "Latest Discoveries in The Universe".

If you don't know who Neil DeGrasse Tyson is you either have no interest in science and no television or you never read the names of the special correspondent on the news during International celestial events. He is the contemporary 'Carl Sagan', original host of the popular television series The Cosmos and author of many books on Space. In fact. Tyson does not have a problem admitting his fondness for Sagan and he even credits him for his success. But there is no doubt Tyson is carving his own terrestrial path in the world of astrophysics.

 Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the 'go-to-guy' when it comes to simple, digestible explanations for complicated phenomena in Space. When the Chelyabinsk Meteor exploded over Russia last year, The Today show called Tyson. If there was a sci-fi laureate for The United States he would be It. Taking the grand dimensions of that explosion into a package fitting 30 Hiroshima's...whoa.

       Degrasse's relative popularity can also be measured by the many media projects he is involved with. He is currently the host of NOVA on PBS and is scheduled to appear in a re-make of Carl Sagan's popular science series The Cosmos (14 episodes). In addition he is The Director of The Hayden Planetarium.

What more can he do? Perhaps write a few books. Which he has managed to do as well. All this, while keeping a tight lecture schedule. The event at MVCC treated at least 1,500 people to a wide ranging powerpoint lecture that focused on Discovery. New Discoveries, knowledge and the 'state of the art'.

On stage, swishing in comfortable loafers, dressed in Blue jeans and a blazer, the charismatic 'uber nerd' chomped/smacked on, local product, Mercers Ice Cream, shattering the uptight image of proper, quiet preparation. The mostly twenty something crowd chuckled at his numerous, witty asides throughout the lecture and paid attention for the entire two hours without interruption.

Sitting still wasn't easy for everyone. MVCC President R VANWAG donated 25 seats to local non-profit For The Good Inc for the struggling Study Buddy Program. As a result, twenty three kids got to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson break down black holes and magnetic pole shifts. His broad appeal was obvious from the ripples of laughter pulled out of the younger kids.
The Black screen with nothing on it....Black Hole..."A perfect picture".

That joke really cracked up the seven and eight year olds, they had to be quieted down. It was refreshing to see some kids challenged and others intrigued. At the end of the day, science was 'cool'. The dire predictions about our future promoted by some climatologists and politicians were skillfully avoided. the overall tone of his lecture focused on discovery, curiosity (Mars Rovers, pun intended) and possibility.

As an adult I was excited to go but it was equally exciting to see this experience through a child's eyes. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is important for multiple reasons. His knowledge has propelled him to the front of the class and the camera. He didn't catch a ball, he can't rap, none of that. He is good at math. You can see the rest.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Black Men of Substance(what are we full of)

What if you could be on the cover of a magazine? A well respected publication read by millions? Flipped through by bespectacled professionals in Dr. offices all over the country. Read cover to cover by people who have college degrees, houses, businesses, children in College.

People that hire, fire, vote and educate could read about you; able to get a peek inside your easy or difficult life. They could fill in mental gaps of curiosity about people they think are similar to you.

You could explain , in detail how you make it day to day, how you got to where you are. Why you do what it is you do. Obviously you would probably take great care to leave out any unsavory or illegal activity. Why would you or the very mainstream publication that chose you for the cover want to celebrate that?

Enter Jay-Z , in Vanity Fair, explaining why he will be a good sports agent for the November 2013 Issue :

Jay’s checkered past taught him a few things that he says will come in handy in his new role as a sports agent: “I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer,” he tells Robinson. “To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash—those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you’re going to get locked up or you’re going to die.”

Lets dissect this. Look at this closely. He is on the cover as a successful businessman. Chosen for that cover by other successful businessmen. The same type of men that chose Kendrick Lamar as a coverboy for The GQ Man of The Year issue( ironic choice considering the unflattering 'new minstrel' article they wrote).

The difference is Lamar, an emerging voice in contemporary hip-hop, shunned the short shrift he was given in the article which depicted him and his crew as a malt liquor drinking, ho pimpin' mob without knowing them. He was so angry he refused to enter the annual, star studded bash in Los Angeles a week ago. The writer of that article tried to portray the same low brow path to riches that all black boys gone good achieve after they master the game of crack dealing and hustling. A path too many are ready to sign on the dotted line to pave. A path that is also avoided by thousands of hard working kids today.

So Jay-Z A man who has built an empire based on wise, well timed decisions. About whether to kill someone or not? No, he runs a  label and has clothing deals. He owns publishing rights and is involved in multiple business ventures. I'm sure he is done with decisions relating to transport and safe houses. I'm inclined to think he never really sold drugs for a living, he would literally be jeopardizing all his childhood friends by even admitting it, which they would probably resent. The fact is, real hustlers don't go on magazine covers and talk about it. But it sounds good in an interview and on a make-believe album bio doesn't it? Even Vanilla Ice lied to get 'street cred' (who made that up?)

Equally shocking is Jay's quote relating to a re-up. Backing up the subtly, sinister notion that every car wash and barber shop in a Black Neighborhood is involved in drugs. With that quote, he is even validating , in a way, profiling by law enforcement. Thanks Jay.

The dude can buy city blocks and he is using 'couch 'mack' terminology. Belittling the powerful platform that he barged onto.It would be different if he was a white dude talking about a moonshine empire, but he's not. He is a black man. Much maligned and rarely trusted. He is part of a group of men that go to jail at an exponentially higher rate than anyone else. Often for doing the same thing as everyone else, drugs.

Because of shit like this we are getting close to minstrel status and no one wants to say a word. I'm sure his knowledge of the pros and cons of buying a car wash or barber shop with kilo profits will help a lot with all the clauses that can be in a multi million dollar sport contract.

It is time rid ourselves of The old 'crack dealer gone good' narrative, it is not doing us Black Folks any good. Like dealing somehow 'prepares' you. His success, and the celebration of it, in this context, is an insult to all the Black MBA's that still sell crack (see where I'm going here?) and aspire to Rap.

We also have to consider the readers of the publication. Crack dealers are exciting to them. They don't know any better, Jay-Z does know better and more importantly, Jay-Z needs to remember what he knows, bstarting with who we really are, who he 'really' is. Inventors, builders, survivors, Warriors and Leaders.

The Question lingers: Why do they, GQ, Vanity Fair, choose Jay-Z, Kendrick and write what they write?
Each and every African American that has people around them that 'really' achieve need to ask that question as well.

Ok enough of that, we will revisit Jay-Z later. Harvard is up next. Did anyone know there is a fellowship of of Nas at Harvard University? Its rhetorical, I'm here to tell you there is. They are attempting to canonize, what I consider to be the most desperate form of art in existence.

Unlike singing and dancing which makes the person doing it feel good. Hip-Hop often describes (it didn't at first) and even glorifies the struggles in life. The tight fitting, suffocating existence in poverty that stifles dreams and can offer escape through clever use of words. The goal? To be rich. Pretty simple right?

I consider myself a hip-hop historian. A product of Generation X that helped cement the artform into popular culture. But I don't need to defend it or attack it, I'm just wondering why Harvard wants to discuss Nas and ignore the phenomenon of Mass Incarceration.

Apparently an anonymous donor put up the money. A quote from Nas in The Guardian about The Nasir Jones Hip-Hop fellowship at The WEB Dubois center for multicultural studies alleviated some of my apprehensions :  

"Hip-hop is important like computer science," he said. "The world is changing. If you want to understand the youth, listen to the music. This is what's happening right underneath your nose."
The fellowship was first announced in July, when Nas declared himself "over-the-top excited" about the scheme. "My hopes are that greed for knowledge, art, self-determination and expression go a long way. It is a true honour to have my name attached to so much hard work, alongside great names like Henry Louis Gates, Jr and WEB Du Bois and to such a prestigious and historical institution, and all in the name of the music I grew to be a part of."

Lets Dissect this. Look at this closely. Nasir was approached by Professor Henry Luis Gates (A Black Man). He mentions computer science, a greed for knowledge, art, self-determination. What is more important is what he left out. The obvious asides about 'the hood' and dead homies. That narrative is tired, out of style like The Doo rag. One that we all, including Nas, know has not served us well.
Here Here for Hawvud!!!!!