How To Be Black (the book)

A number of people see me, a middle-aged white guy, and wonder how and why it is that I’m involved with the street team for Baratunde Thurston’s upcoming book “How To Be Black” (Harper Collins - pub. date January 31 2012. Preorder it at ). It’s certainly a valid question, and the answer is simultaneously simple and quick and long and complex.

For those of you with MTV-generation and later, media-impaired attention spans, I’ll put the quick answer first. It’s hilarious, thought-provoking, and timely. As much a personal memoir as a piece of social commentary, it takes a head-on look at what is still, 150 years after the Civil War/War Between The States/War of Northern Aggression (or whatever you want to call the battle over the continued existence of chattel slavery in the United States) and almost 50 years after the Civil Rights act of 1964, a subject that most people tend to avoid dealing with. As such, just go get it. Read it. Share the experience with your friends. Play the board game. It’ll be a huge amount of fun and you’ll probably learn something in a fairly painless manner.

Okay, now that you’ve pre-ordered the book (What? You haven’t pre-ordered the book yet? Just go do it. I’ll wait here. mmmpty… mmmm… do-do-do… All done? Good), here’s the serpentine version:

We need to go back a number of years for this, to the general vicinity of the early 1960s, when I was growing up on a poultry farm in upstate New York. My parents, coming from multiple generations of liberal Quakerism, did their best to make sure that we were raised with a minimum of social and racial preconceptions, and at somewhat of a remove from the cacophony of materialist mainstream society.

Add to this 'apartness' from the world, the fact that my brother, sister, and I were all bright enough that we fairly quickly fell into that outsider world many smart kids do, in school systems where the 'gifted' students are segregated from others, and the intimation that they are somehow 'better' is communicated to the normal run of kids. Combining these two factors of upbringing and educational segregation led me to the realities of life as 'the other' relatively early in life. Add in a certain level of shyness in social situations, and I was never easily able to break into any of the hipper social cliques I encountered. With one major exception - I always was accepted for who and what I was by the black kids I knew and their families. Maybe it was a recognition of the aura of more or less permanent outsider I carried. Maybe it was that, since I had no idea that black folks were supposed to be different from us pinky-beige types, that I was just unguarded and myself. Never gotten a good answer to that one, and at this point, it's probably not important or necessary that I do. At any rate, these simple human connections, combined with the blessing of the almost other-worldly gift of my parents' complete lack of racial or social preconceptions, made it all too easy to be aware of that unique combination of social, economic, and class injustices that have afflicted race relations in the U.S.A. for so long, once I became old enough to be cognizant that some of my friends got treated differently than others of my friends (and not in a good way) by quite a number of people.

And then there was the music thing. From the first time I heard serious Blues, Soul, R&B, and Jazz, it had resonance for me in a pretty profound way, unlike the pop stuff that was prevalent on the Top 40 radio of the time. Unlike many of my generation for whom the attachment to the music that emerged from the deep well of Black experience in America came from the rumor that it was supposed to be evil, primitive music designed to summon the devil and corrupt our youth, I didn't know that (once again thanks to the blessing of my upbringing, or perhaps my own natural obliviousness about some things) – it simply felt like home. When I started playing guitar, this was the music that called to me most strongly and that I still feel most connected with, as both listener and player. Despite flirtations over the years with almost all varieties of music, it's the music I keep coming back to. Playing this music led me, a number of times over the years, to be 'the white guy in the band,' and, as such, more often involved in the day-to-day life of Black America.

Then I went and married a black woman from Hollis, Queens. True, she's more of a goth-y, metal/punk intellectual history buff with literary overtones than most would necessarily expect from that brief description, especially considering the reputation that Hollis developed after Run-DMC started doing PR for the neighborhood, but, as Baratunde discusses in HTBB (you were wondering when we were going to get back to the book, weren't you), defying expectations and being who you are is a big part of How To Be Black in modern America. Marrying her made me part of her exceptional family, and her part of mine. And, just for the record, nobody in either family has or had any problems with any of it. Our parents, as a matter of fact, hit it off splendidly from day one, comparing reminiscences of life growing up on farms during the Great Depression. No star-crossed anything here, just almost 23 years of life together with hopes for at least that much more. However, being part of this extended family made me even more aware than ever of the realities of what regular life is for Black Folks (to borrow from W.E.B. Dubois).

So, there's the line of how I ended up here, writing this and encouraging you all to go pre-order "How To Be Black" (and remember, that pre-order link is ) and to mount the soapbox once again to preach for the commonality of all humanity. So, have some laughs, think some thoughts, and remember that, in the words of Baratunde Thurston, "We can't all be black, but we can all be blacker."

The Groove Keeps Moving

Music is, at essence, an ephemeral thing. All of it, from plainsong to classical symphonies to contemporary pop. It's only recorded music that has created the illusion that music is a fixed thing. Music is communication and, like all communication, is of the moment when it occurs. No two performances are ever the same, even for the most rigidly scored piece, since it's the individual musicians who inform its evanescent presence with their knowledge, understanding, and perception of a piece.

That's especially true of jazz — intentionally improvisational, it lives precisely in the moment, with an immediacy no other form can match. Live performance is where jazz meets its public, struts its stuff, and flirts with chaos and madness. Sam Rivers was one of those rare beings who could face up to the uncertainty of a night on the bandstand, grab it by the tail and turn it into something magical. Sax, flute, piano — whatever instrument he picked up or sat down with, he could spin a tale from the top of his head that could leave you gasping, crying, and hoping for one more chorus.

Sam's gone now, playing and rehearsing his band right up to the end. Those of you who got a chance to see him play live, count yourselves lucky. For everybody else, there are the recordings, and they'll give you a hint, just a hint, of what it was like. So the next time one of those jazz giants comes around your town, go see them and listen carefully. You never know which chance is going to be the last one.

Saddling up once again

I will be, once more, riding in the Tour de Cure Ship to Shore charity ride to benefit the American Diabetes Association. For the second year, I'll be doing the metric century ride (62 miles, give or take, not quite a true metric century, but that's what they bill it as), as I'm not quite ready to dive into, what I guess should be called the Imperial Century, or a full hundred miles. Working towards this, and because I've been slacking the past few weeks, I got up and did 42 miles instead of my regular 28 this morning. It's been chilly these mornings here in Los Angeles, with actual frost on the windshield in the early morning before the sun pops out and was still in the low 40s when I started out. Sure glad I bought those fleece bib tights and a couple pairs of arm warmers a little while back. Here's the route I took:

Riding along the beach path is always interesting, as you see the full range of Angelenos at play (or working at fitness), as well as the variety of tourists who pop up in our fair city. This time of year, it's frequently folks from colder climes determined to make the most of their time in the Southern California Sun (TM). Sometimes it's a pretty grim determination, like the girl I saw this morning on a rental bike, pants and shirt sleeves rolled up as far as possible, turning that lobster-red color that indicates either an incipient coronary event or lack of knowledge about sunscreen. She had that "I'm having a good time, damn it!" look on her face as she pedaled furiously down the Marvin A. Braude Bike Path just north of Manhattan Beach. By the time she gets home, the worst of the burn will have faded to something approximating a tan, and I'm sure she'll make up stories about her encounters with the exotic natives, like that guy on the funny looking 'sit-down' bike she saw on the bike path. Who knows, maybe she'll find some excitement here and prove my cynical views wrong. If so, good for her.

Had a chance to play Good Samaritan on the way home, when I stopped for a quick fueling and hydration break at the bridge over the Ballona Creek at Playa del Rey. A guy on a poorly maintained, rust bucket of a cheap ass mountain bike had snapped his front derailleur cable and was trying to figure out how to make something – anything – work well enough to not have to walk home. The big stumbling block was that he had no tools of any sort, nor did any of the two other people he was riding with. I dug out my Topeak multi-tool and helped them get the derailleur adjusted so he could ride in the middle chain ring, which would at least get him home. Hope they made it okay. I also hope somebody teaches him about cleaning and lubing the bike chain and some basic maintenance tips. A rusty chain and shifter cables on a cheap mountain bike makes for a pretty crappy ride. At least if they're clean, the ride's a lot smoother.

So here's the commercial – please support my TdC ride. Anything you can give helps, $1, $5, however much you can afford would be appreciated. You can donate directly at and help work towards improved treatment and maybe even a cure for diabetes. And thanks for bearing with me.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

Merry Christmas

Long Absence

Haven't been around here much lately, at least not posting-wise. Just the pace of life and the fact that my laptop needs a new keyboard, so writing of any sort has been difficult, at best. Seems I've missed a lot of DDOS drama on LJ, though none of that surprises me, considering current ownership and LJ's penetration into the Russian wilds.

Having a new writing appliance, I'm hoping to get back to posting regularly, not that there's any particular demand for it, but to get the words flowing again, in the hopes that getting stuff out here will help word flow elsewhere. Because, you know, when the cork comes out, there's a lot of rust that needs to be cleared before the water runs clear again.

Nice to be back. Hope to see y'all again soon. Provided, of course, that anybody's still here.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.


Low Carb Cooking

I've been working on developing new recipes for lower carb meals, especially trying to come up with some things that are special occasion items. I recently discovered coconut flour, which is made from defatted dried coconut and is quite low carb, very high-fiber and high protein. Not having gluten, it doesn't bind very well, and so generally calls for eggs or other binder to be used. I found a recipe for German pancakes that I thought I'd adapt, but the batter made with coconut flour wouldn't work for that purpose, it did, however, make dandy crepes. I don't have a crepe pan, but managed to muddle by anyway. On further reflection, you can substantially reduce the fat in this by using egg substitute rather than whole eggs, and I may try that version at some point in the future.

Note: If you don't care for the taste of coconut, you won't like coconut flour. It's not a strong coconut taste, but it's there.

Low Carb Coconut Flour Crepes

3 eggs
3 Tablespoons Splenda
4 tablespoons coconut flour
1 cup Milk, 2%
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place all ingredients in blender and process until thoroughly mixed (or use a bowl and stick blender)

2. Place a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and coat with cooking spray (I forgo the aerosol and use a pump up spray can loaded with canola oil. It's cheaper and more environmentally sensitive).

3. When pan is hot, pour in a quarter cup of the batter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan evenly. Cook until the top is set.

4. Tilt up the pan and using a silicon spatula, loosen the top edge of the crepe and encourage it to roll up towards the bottom of the pan. Either serve it immediately or keep on a platter in a warm oven until you've cooked the whole batch.

5. Serve plain or with your choice of topping. Yogurt, whipped low-fat ricotta cheese, warmed spiced applesauce, warmed sugar-free preserves, or fresh berries all work nicely.

Makes 8 crepes for four servings. Or make it as a main course for breakfast and it serves 2.

Number of Servings: 4

Dear Peabrains

Unless a woman walks up to you and asks you for 'it' directly in plain, simple language, she is not 'asking for it' no matter how she's dressed, what tattoos she has, or any other behavioral or physical clue your tiny little brain might latch on to justify unwanted and unwelcome behavior on your part.

It's obvious to me that all y'all have read way to much Penthouse Forum without realizing that all that shit is made up (I know that first hand because a friend of mine used to write those letters for Penthouse before she went on to become managing editor of a major woman's magazine). So get over yourselves and become actual adult human beings, 'kay?

Fox NFL Analyst Brian Baldinger: Ines Sainz Was 'Asking For It'
(via shareaholic)

For some it's a mountain, for others a moleskine

Much to some people's dismay, I tend to live my internet life fairly openly. I don't think I have any anonymous or pseudonymous accounts anywhere. I'm always either GVDub or GeorgeVW and my full name is usually floating around the account somewhere as well. So I don't much care who cross posts what to where, since I try not to ever say anything on the web that I wouldn't say directly to someone's face.

But I do understand that some people like to keep worlds separate and might reserve FB for family and work friends, Twitter for social circle, and keep a rather more intimate journal on LJ, plus do political ranting anonymously on a blog somewhere. And I respect that some folks have a genuine need to organize their lives in a different way than I organize mine. Now that APIs are being developed that allows a cross-pollination of pretty much all social networks, it's much harder to keep partitions in place without the full cooperation of the other people involved in your online life, and cooperation, in this case, has to imply a full understanding of just how all these connections work.

Back in the days when I thought I might try being an actual programmer (instead of someone who just farts around with computers and does a little coding here and there for amusement), one of my favorite exercises was doing a physical walk through of data structures and routines. It made the flow of data and connections between program segments crystal clear. Try and do a diagram of how you have your online life organized and walk through it. I bet you'll find connections you didn't expect, and maybe a few broken loops or unterminated routines. Until you understand what can happen with innocent comments made on Twitter that end up being read by a family member on FB because a friend cross posted and a friend of a friend who happens to have gone to high school with your cousin 'liked' it, figuring out how to post what where when you need it to keep things walled off from each other is going to be difficult.

I'm not saying that everyone should be as naively open as I tend to be (because I'm well aware there's an element of naivete in my proclivity to just come right out and say stuff), but with the type of cross network linking that's becoming more common, there may be no such thing as 'a little caution' any more.

Just food for thought.