25 August 2008

Let the Convention Begin

Sasha Obama at the podium, Democratic National Convention, Denver CO, 25 August 2008.
"All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do - that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be." -- Michelle Obama

20 August 2008

Lost in a Cloud: Wordle

I don't remember when I first came across the idea of a 'word cloud' but my own first one was created by LibraryThing, the online catalog for those of us who have too many books at home. After 'tagging' them, you can see a visual representation of the subjects and authors on your bookshelves (or, for some of us "in this house somewhere....")

Wordle takes that idea and applies it to any text. And also makes it quite visually interesting and beautiful. Since I have next to no visual art talent (even drawing a straight line is a challenge for me), this may be the closest I can get to the amazing visual poetry of, say, the Calligrammes of Apollinaire, or the amazing work (scroll down to the Pushcart Prize Nominated "Swimchant of Nigger Mer-folk {An Aquaboogie Set in Lapis}" to see what I mean) of my friend Doug Kearney, and others.

Above is a poem that appeared (in slightly different form, as they say) in Issue 51 of DC's fantasmagoric annual journal Gargoyle (you can also hear how it sounds 'From the Fishouse')

Approaching Baltimore

(Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll
Got that Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll)

How the road leans
To where I’m from
—Approaching New York
by Michael Beyer

…the imploded high-rise, empty
houses rows of busted teeth in
a crooked smile. Trash-filled corner
lots. Ghetto Chinese, Yat Gaw Mein
with ketchup, with or without egg.
Six wings and fries. Black-clad homeboys
swimming down the block, calling
loose ones, loose ones (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll) as they
pull up sagging baggies, bop away: No

easy way into this ugly beauty, once
elegant lady in a tattered dress (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll). No
sweeping vistas from any approach – The highway
curves and there: a tangle of overpasses,
bombed out streets behind a scrim of
abandoned steel mills and auto plants,
unused loading docks. (Magic!)

Learn to live with, love, imperfection,
the close enough to right, whatever
will make do (Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll). Handsome men with
knife scars across the face, exhausted
women dragging three tattered children
down the street. What happens to a dream

transferred, out sourced, shuttered, boarded
up? Which ways take you in, and which way out? And what grows there?

Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll Got that Magic City, Magic City, ya’ll

And here's what Wordle did with it
Pretty cool, no? Particularly for those of us who are 'graphically challenged', this is way neat...

And just what I needed, another website I can spend hours playing on when I should be working! Maybe if I tell myself I'm improving my design skills.....

18 August 2008

Guest Post: "Sometimes the best stories have no easy endings."

I have a guest post over at the Maryland Humanities Council website, blogging about Cedric Jennings, main character of this year's 'One Maryland One Book' choice, A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen covers Jennings’ transition from Washington DC’s Ballou Senior High School to Brown University, a riveting, hope-filled account of his journey from the ghetto to the Ivy League. If the book were a novel or a film or made-for-cable movie, Jennings’ next move would have been to Wall Street, financial success, and a large happy family living in a house in the suburbs.

As the (Washington) Post reveals, the real story did not turn out that way. Cedric Jennings returned to the Washington area, and now works as a case manager for DC Child and Family Services. He is a success, he has “gotten out” — he just doesn’t fit the expected model of success.

Read the rest here.

World's Fastest Island

Usain Bolt -- and the rest of the field -- at the Men's 100 Meters in the Birds Nest in Bejing

Shelly-Ann Fraser points the way to victory for the rest of the 100 meters women.

Congratulations Jamaica, Home of the Worlds Fastest Humans: Usain Bolt, winner of the 100 Meters with an unbelievable 9.69 seconds, and Shelly-Ann Fraser, Golden Girl of the women's 100. Jamaican women swept the event with Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart in a photo-finish tie for the Silver. Brava ladies!

Bolt's performance was even more impressive, particularly since he basically *STOPPED RUNNING* a few meters from the finish line! (See for yourself here, Microsoft Silverlight download -- and commercial, unfortunately -- required). He could have easily set the World Record at 9.5-something, but as he said afterward, "I don't care about the World Record, I just wanted to win." (Spoken like a true 20-year old track diva!).

"Normally the premiere race of every Games, the men's 100 final received scant domestic publicity despite it's historic, thrilling result" -- I'm glad Someone Else picked up on this as well.

Brace yourself for an amazing 200 meter race later this week!

All it takes to win: "Lightning" Bolt, Jamaican flag, gold track shoes.

15 August 2008

Olympic Views

Swimmer Cullen Jones, 1/4th of that amazing Gold Medal winning US 4 x100 relay team

As a tip of the hat to my ailing friend John (get well soon, boo!) a few shots of the World Class men of color from this week in Beijing:

Tennis: James Blake (after defeating Roger Federer)

Rafael Nadal of Spain (who my partner has had a crush on since Wimbledon)

The Judokas -- Uzbekistan's Abdullo Tangriev (Silver), Japan's Satoshi Ishii (Gold), Cuba's Oscar Brayson and France's Teddy Riner (both Bronze)

Speaking of crushes (mine this time) : Reiner again, with Satoshi Ishii

Boxing: Arturo Santos Reyes (Mexico)

Khedafi Djelkhir of France after defeating....

....featherweight Raynell Williams of the U.S.

White water rafter Benjamin Boukpeti, breaking his paddle after winning the first Olympic Medal for the country of Togo

And coming next week: Track & Field!

Canada's Tyler Christopher

Bryan Clay (Heptathlon

To be settled on Saturday August 16th: Who is the world's fastest man? Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, or Tyson Gay?

09 August 2008

Losses Weekend

In spite of the spectacular display China put on for the opening of the Olympics, it was a very sad weekend indeed. Not only did Russia invade Georgia, we lost three original voices.

Mahmoud Darwish
One of the world's finest poets, and a name always on my Nobel short-list. I still remember a number of years ago sending samzdat copies of Darwish's poems through the mail to friends, when his books were hard to come by here in the US. Many thanks to the folks at Archipelago Books (Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?), Copper Canyon (The Butterfly's Burden) and The University of California Press (Unfortunately, It was Paradise), among others for correcting that error.

South African poet Breyten Breytenbach on Darwish

Bernie Mack

What a hilarious man. I vividly remember his routines on HBO's Def Comedy Jam (the off-colour nature of which he ill-advisedly reprised at an Obama event earlier this year). And by showing the tender side of the "Big, Angry Black Man" on his TV show, I'd like to think he expanded our notion of who African American men were. Also if you haven't done so, check out his very entertaining baseball film "Mr 3000"

Isaac Hayes

That voice! Those "Black Moses" posters and album covers we used to put up in our room 'Back in the Day'! For younger people, he was South Park's 'Chef'; for the rest of us, his "Theme from 'Shaft'" (or his long looong version of "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" or "Walk on By" or......) will be forever etched in our memories

Mark Anthony Neal on Hayes

What Baltimore's own Ta-Nehisi Coates says of Hayes and others applies to all these men: I feel like I'm watching the End of an Era. Will we see their like again?

I Come From There

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass. Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother,
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood,
So that I could break the rule. I learnt all the words and broke them up,
To make a single word: Homeland....

Mahmoud Darwish

06 August 2008

Meanwhile, back at your local library....

I know I know....I have to finish my ALA report, plus talk about those suburbs in search of a city called Los Angeles (thanks for the line Doug!) but this news from a library in Western Maryland recently caught my eye:

Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County Public Libraries, said two FBI employees came to the downtown Frederick library either Wednesday or Thursday. The agents removed two public computers from the library's second floor. They told him they were taking the units back to their office in Washington, D.C......This was the third time in his 10 years with FCPL that the FBI has come to the library seeking records, Batson said. It was the first time they came without a court order. The library's procedure for such requests usually requires a court order, however after the agent described the case and the situation, he was persuaded to give them access, Batson said.

We've gotten some requests over the years for information regarding our computers and computer users, but have (so far) stood firm on the need for police reports and court orders before we give out any information. The fact that the director was "persuaded" by the FBI to give them what they wanted troubles me deeply (it also appears that not everyone in Library Land can be so easily swayed).
Do we all now just lean over backwards and give law enforcement officials any and everything they want? Once upon a time (before the current Bush administration) there used to be something called 'respect for the rule of law.' Has that gone completly by the boards in the name of 'security'?