Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katrina 5 Years Later

Thanksgiving weekend 2004 - my family was in New Orleans for a day to watch the Battle of the Bands. We walked along Bourbon Street and watched a step show along with the Battle between Southern and Grambling's bands inside the Superdome - the pinnacle of Southern Black culture. With "Nolia Clap" and "Go DJ" played non-stop in the arena and surrounded by Black Greeks, it was a wonderful time.

That night we watched Black folks celebrate in downtown New Orleans. While I was dreaming of regretting that decision not to apply to Morehouse, I felt like I was getting a taste of the South that so many of us in Cali don't see.

9 months later, that memory was replaced by something else. I remember moving in my senior year of college and hearing that a hurricane was coming to the Gulf Coast. It didn't hit me just how huge this was gonna be. I remember as an 8 year old kid seeing how bad Hurricane Andrew was in Florida so I figured it would be close to that but nowhere the devastation.

Next thing I knew, we saw the Gulf Coast submerged under water. People floating in boats and standing on roofs. Houses nearly covered in water. I'll never forget seeing the chilling photo of a dead woman face down in a pool of water splashed on the front of the NY Times.

My uncle and cousin had to move to Atlanta. The Superdome became a home for the displaced. My dad's hometown was a living waterpark - with poor folks who looked like me struggling a terrible evil.

Looking back on it, I remember these feelings and the lackluster government response. It was a reality to a lot of folks that like John Edwards said, we lived in Two Americas. George Bush watching that response from Air Force One said it all - an America detached from the painful reality of the poor, working class.

(I always wondered what he was thinking. Like his reaction on 9/11)

I was so confused about my feelings of despair and anger that I wrote this blog on MySpace. I didn't want to blame the government at first but that later faded.

Katrina was indeed a hurricane of class and racial issues that this country forgot about. Those issues came up when White with supplies were called surviving and Black faces were called looters. They came up recently when we discovered that officers had the green light to shoot looters at will. It comes up when Bourbon Street and the Superdome have been rebuilt and refurnished while most of the lower wards are still in recovery mode.

And by the way, what about Mississippi and the rest of the Coast? You may hate Kanye West for what he said on the telethon but I admire him for having the balls to say what many of us were saying privately and still needs to be said. David Banner forever earned my respect for not just organizing a concert for Katrina relief, but performing this great poem on Def Poetry Jam reminding us it's not just about New Orleans.

5 Years Later, Katrina reminds me of the outpouring of love we have, the feeling of detachment when it doesn't affect you personally, and a reminder that the federal and local government show who they really care about. I think about what would my Dad have done if he were alive to it and how much he would have given.

This spring, I watched David Simon's new show "Treme" on HBO, which captures a slice of post-Katrina New Orleans for musicians. To me, it not only captures the wide range of emotions after Katrina but it's a reminder that there's resiliency in the area and there's hope. When I talked to a former coworker last year after she returned to NO, she told me the same thing. People are struggling but they aren't giving up -when others forgot about them, they show the same spirit they had beforehand.

Katrina opened my eyes a bit more and it's a bigger reason why I'm passionate about injustice.
In the worst of times, we often see the best of humanity but we leave that memory behind as we move on. Never forget the lessons we've learned and are still learning. That would be a tragedy as well.

One day I'll return and make a pilgrimage to my Dad's birthplace. Reflect and learn again from the city that showed me a great time and exposed me to a new side of my culture.

Here's a great link from the BBC on how post-Katrina New Orleans looks like.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What happened to good Cartoons? (Rant of an 80's Baby)

I've been watching intros of 90's cartoons for the past hour and I got reminded why I had it so good during my childhood. I got into a Facebook conversation about great 90's kids shows and it made me feel nostalgic about a golden era.

We literally had our pick of shows on every major channel on weekday afternoons and summer mornings. Of course, Saturday mornings was the best - literally pick a channel between CBS, NBC, ABC, WB, Fox Kids or UPN and ride with our favorite shows.

Me? I started out loving NBC with Super Mario Bros. and Captain N. Then I graduated to Fox Kids with Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Bobby's World, Eek! The Cat, and many more (of course still watching CBS for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Finally I enjoyed the end of my childhood with ABC's One Saturday Morning and Kids WB by the time I was in junior high.

Weekdays would be The Disney Afternoon. Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, Aladdin, Goof Troop. And that doesn't even factor in Nickelodeon's cartoon dominance with Doug, Rugrats and the acid trip of Ren + Stimpy or Disney Channel or discovering Cartoon Network when we had more cable

Funny things about looking back on the era now. First, I was surprised how many classic cartoons lasted for like one or two seasons. It felt like they were on much longer but long enough to make an impact.

Second, they mixed in education with funny stories. Animaniacs taught me the 50 states and the countries (United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru). ABC still showed "School House Rock", Hysteria! made history fun on WB. Captain Planet taught us about taking care of the environment. It wasn't all mindless entertainment and if it was, so be it. We had plenty of balance.

You could watch a typical 90's block of some show with heroes saving the universe or the city or some zany adventure with some animal. That was the basis of nearly EVERY cartoon growing up and they worked.

But now you look at the cartoon landscape and you say what are these poor kids watching? Digimon was a weaker knockoff of Pokemon, the new Ninja Turtles are too corny even if they look better, and there's no longer a wide variety of shows. They ripped off anime with terrible American knockoffs (an old trend since the 80's) and suddenly original cartoons became a thing of the past.

Can you blame animators for making shows that appeal to adults? We know how good we had it and they still cater to us now. Sad to me that Pokemon will probably be the last great cartoon of that era - unless you count Sponge Bob Square Pants and after I slept through that awful movie, I don't even know if I can.

Back then, cartoons had a full media blitz - you had the cartoon plus the video games, action figures and straight to VHS movie. I still have the Animaniacs game

Thank goodness for sites like and Youtube which help keep our childhood alive for the future and remind us of shows we may have missed. If you want to know more about why Saturday Morning Cartoons are dead, here's are some good reads. Til then just reflect on the good old days

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rock The Bells 2010 - Back to the Future!

After a year off - I went to Rock The Bells in San Bernardino. Things were different. 1) I had 6 months of allergy meds in me to avoid an asthma attack. 2) It was at a different location - the National Orange Show Center where it originated. 3) Everyone was doing a classic album in their catalogue.

Took me forever to get off the freeway (30 mins waiting to get off the highway, 20 mins in line?) I missed seeing Yelawolf and Slick Rick but here's my recap of a great day for hip hop.

Rakim got the day off started on a great note - coming out to "I Aint no Joke" as he marched through his classic debut album. As great as Ra is (and I saw this in 08), he's not great live because he doesn't have charisma. Plus most of the crowd seemed like they didn't know the great cuts like "My Melody" and "Paid in Full" - whenever Ra held out the mic, he barely got feedback.

The highlight was the sly disses to Eric B. Ra's DJ quickly went through the DJ tracks on the album dismissively. At one point, Ra whispered "Eric B. ain't on the cut" during one song. But he played it cool all set and to fully appreciate his greatness, you gotta listen to the songs.

One of my favorite sets of the day was KRS-One. This was my first time and as he did Criminal Minded, the stage was set for living history. Two posters of the album were on stage, he brought his old rhymebooks on stage and had a picture of the late Scott La Rock on his T-shirt. Let's take it back to 87.

"South Bronx" had me hyped like I was from there. And I got schooled on where Black Star got their mojo on "Remix for P Is Free." He even showed why the hatchet with the Juice Crew has long been buried when he did "The Bridge is Over" but made sure to shout out Marley Marl, Roxanne Shante and the late Mr. Magic as pioneers and equals.

Even better was him and event co-host Supernatural freestyling back and forth. SuperNat even served as KRS' hypeman and it showed why both are the epitome of hip-hop. Celebrating history and just being original and creative. The Blastmaster is by far one of the best live acts in hip hop and I became a bigger fan of BDP and him that night.

He even shared the story of how he and Scott La Rock met. Scott was his social worker while he was homeless and when he mentioned he wanted to be an MC, Scott said he was a DJ and the rest is history. KRS told it with the same passion he probably did years ago.

(Sidenote - whoever thought it was a good idea to bring the hose out and spray the crowd was brilliant! It added extra oomph to the set and during the night when it came out)

Next up, DJ Premier. Wearing the Gang Starr shirt. Showing love to the legacy he and Guru created. I was waaaay too amped to see this and so was he. He told the crowd to get hyped. Get Loud!! And every time, he got more and more amped as if Keith Elam's spirit was right there. Soon as he dropped "Full Clip", it was bananas!

Doing a combo of Gang Starr tracks, shouting out lyrics and peerless scratching, Primo had only 20 minutes to honor his bro but he did more than that. He briefly played Group Home's "Livin Proof" to shout the Gang Starr Foundation and showed why he too was an MC even though he talked with his hands. The set ended with fittingly "Above the Clouds" and if Guru was watching, he felt the love all around.

I almost had a brief tear when he walked off the set playing "Moment of Truth" - letting Guru get the final word. Rest in peace.

And then we waited........waited......waited. For nearly an hour. We saw the band warmup but no sight of the main draw. We saw shirts thrown out and water sprayed on us. Could Lauryn Hill really have another concert meltdown and were we gonna get played? I admit I was scared each passing minute but after Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg came out for the introduction, we got this right here.

The return of the Queen! She came out with Lost Ones in a double-time flow and just seemed like every bar had a purpose and energy that was years in the making. She turned it into a 10-minute jam session and then the hype faded into "where was she gonna take it?" - then she left the stage again and I said "uh oh"

It was only temporary. Ms. Hill got back into her groove, singing every song with the power, joy and relief of being back. When she sang "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do", it could've been a message to anyone who spoke ill of her the last decade.

I was geeked to see her do "Turn Your Lights Down Low" and "To Zion" but not as hyped as I was to see her do "Fu-Gee-La" and ALL 3 Verses to "Ready or Not" - including Wyclef and Pras. Was she as good as seeing Tribe reunited at the San Diego Street Scene in 2004 or Pharcyde at Rock The Bells 2008? No, but it was almost like a sign of things to come. Her set was like riding a bicycle after a while - wobbly in spots but good to see again.

Now it was time to go back to 1993. As Q-Tip pointed out, Tribe and Wu dropped Midnight Maruaders and Enter the 36 Chambers on the same day and Snoop dropped Doggystyle 2 weeks later. If yall don't know, Midnight Marauders is a candidate for my favorite album of all time so I was geeked to see this performed all the way through. Soon as I heard the horns for "Stir It Up", I was in a zone!

Ironic how for a group that disbanded when I was just starting high school and I didn't buy an album until 203, I've been blessed to see Tribe 3 times. Each time, they defined synergy by playing off each other well. As big a presence as Q-Tip is, Phife plays his role and gets his chance to shine. They made Midnight Marauders come alive from the image of the tour guide.

Like everyone else, they didn't stick to just MM as Tip beatboxed a freestyle that led into "Bonita Applebaum". The crowd jammed to "Find A Way" from 98's Love Movement and the booming bass of "Excursions" - the classic opener to Low End Theory - just hit you in ya chest like a shotgun. And then just when things were getting nuts, we finally got a surprise guest.

BUSTA RHYMES!!!!! He came out just before he and Tribe did "Scenario" but everyone went nuts when they saw him. The best part about Busta and Spliff Star is that they stayed out for the end of the show - including "Check the Rhyme" and "Award Tour." The crowd was hanging on every word. This. Is. The Power. OF. HIP. HOP!!!!

This set us up for a trip back into the "36 Chambers" as all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan came on stage to "Bring Da Ruckus" - one of the coldest intros ever. With RZA rockin the 36 jersey and Meth holding a baseball bat, we were back in Staten Island where the Wu held it down.

Like Tribe, I've been blessed to see the Wu three times over the last four years (going back to 06 Street Scene, 07 Rock The Bells). Everytime feels special because although half of them have made outstanding careers on their own, the bond they have on stage is magnetic.

"Da Mystery of Chessboxing", "Protect Ya Neck", "Tearz" were a reminder of how ridiculous that album is and how Method Man was destined to be a star after his solo joint. He was the only one who did a solo cut at the end - "Da RockWilder", which had me wishing Redman came out.

(From left to right, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon)

But this was a night for the Wu, who love Rock The Bells because it was the last time all original members were together. Ol Dirty Bastard has been gone for 6 years but his spirit was alive in his oldest son, who channeled the ODB vibe by running through the crowd, throwing drinks off stage and even having the famous crazy braids of his dad (Wish I had a better pic of it).

Of course, they ended with "Triumph" and I have to say this. This might be one of the best songs ever done live in hip-hop as far as crowd reaction and on-stage energy. Raekwon performed his final verse almost acapella and folks were saying it word for word like it was Inspectah Deck's classic intro.

After one more hose-down and a set change, this is what we got ready for.

Sway and King Tech came out to introduce the Doggfather and it jumped off with the classic intro to Doggystyle (which i just heard Friday morning). Lady of Rage came out to perform her opening verse on the album's 2nd track and then we heard that classic pouring sound leading into "Gin N Juice". Then out came Snoop in the classic Jaromir Jagr jersey from the video

It was epic from the start. Snoop took over the show with that laidback cool over the menacing Dr. Dre beats. It was a Death Row reunion with Rage, Kurupt + Daz, RBX and I felt proud to be from the West Coast. During "Murda Was THe Case", Snoop took off the jersey and rocked a khaki suit as he sat down for the 1st verse. As the song progressed, he got up and rapped each verse with the same passion he did at the 94 VMA's when he was facing the murder charge. Just powerful.

Snoop performed with a live band but they were behind the stage so you could focus on him and the crew going full force. We even had a video cameo from Dr. Dre to play that old school Snoop which led to a medley of "Nuthin but a G' Thang", "Next Episode" and "Deep Cover"

Sadly with Dre on video, that meant my dreams of one cameo was dashed. The other cameo I hoped for was Nate Dogg, who's been hospitalized since his 2007 stroke. But in the spirit of Nate, everybody rapped along to his hook on "Aint No Fun" as well as "Regulate" with Warren G on stage. It was all love in the air.

Daz, Kurupt and R-A-G-E with Snoop

I got my wish later on when they performed "Stranded on Death Row" from The Chronic album. This is one of my favorite joints from the album as Kurupt, RBX, Rage and Snoop murdered that song with the viciousness - I was jumping up and down even though folks looked at me crazy. If y'all don't know that track, that posse cut might be the illest West Coast collab in history.

Snoop ended the show in style with "Drop it like it's Hot" and "I wanna Rock", reminding everyone that its 17 years later and he's still making hits. Just like how 17-20 years after nearly all the artists on the bill impacted hip-hop, they can still do shows and attract 25,000 people to the venue.

All of them thanked the crowd for supporting the album they performed because except for Tribe and Ms. Hill, those were the albums that started off their career. It's a reminder every year that hip hop lives and artists who stood for integrity and original music will never be forgotten.

I didn't get to check the side stage but with artists like Yelawolf, Street Sweeper Social Club and more - hip hop continues to thrive. And it's festivals like these that show its essence from the DJ to the b-boy and of course, the MC.

Yeah, I'd wish it'd come closer to LA and that there were seats available to sit down. We also had event cards that were the only way you could buy food/drinks - something I discovered was only exclusive to our show. And yep, it was 98 degrees at it's peak and I saw folks passing out. Hence why I drank nearly a quart of water before I even got there and was lucky to get a wet towel when I walked around.

At the end of Snoop's set I had to laugh because all that was left was ice in a cup and we had to pay a dollar for it. Genius investment but it's exactly why I only bring money for drinks and possibly merchandise. You don't go to concerts to eat cause those lines are ridiculous,

But every year I make my way out and every time I don't regret it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's Define Freedom of Speech, Shall We

I'm tired of hearing people invoke the 1st Amendment inappropriately. Whenever people say something offensive and people get upset, they bring this up to apparently excuse their behavior. It's a basic misinterpretation of one of the oldest laws in the country.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger's only the latest person to bring this up as a reason. She said she's dealing with the backlash of her rant by quitting because her rights are violated. (And right on cue, Sarah Palin** defends her on Twitter --- apparently saying Nigger several times and being arrogant isn't worse than Rahm Emanuel calling someone a retard)

Instead of tackling what was wrong with Dr. Laura's rant, I'm gonna tackle the bigger problem. The 1st Amendment does guarantee you the right to say whatever BUT it does NOT protect you from the backlash of what you say.

In layman's terms - You can say whatever you want but just be prepared to deal with the consequences. We can't restrict what you do but we can definitely respond to it. Why? Because that's our right too according to that same amendment.

The law would technically allow you to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. It'd also allow you to call me out of my name and insult my family. But it won't protect you from the reaction or being at fault.

In layman's terms - It won't protect you from personal accountability. Don't hide behind the Constitution when you say something. A real adult stands behind their words/actions and doesn't use the law as an excuse.

It's so easy yet so many people forget that part of it. They just want the right to say what they want without fear but don't want to accept the responsibility of it. Hide behind the Constitution without realizing it's not gonna save you

Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity/Dr. Laura have the right to speak their mind as much as Keith Olbermann/Rachel Maddow. The Constitution protects that but it doesn't mean you can abuse it for hate speech or stirring up unhealthy rebellion without trouble.

Who knew I'd make a good interpreter of the law. Maybe I should've gone into law school after all. But I'll settle for being a history buff who wants to know the original intent of things and can read for myself.

** (For the record, Sarah [since you aren't a private citizen, you lost your title] Dr. Laura's 1st Amend. rights weren't violated or threatened. She quit BEFORE she was ousted for what she said. Her rights didnt "cease to exist", she chose to forfeit the right to use them in that format. Ignorance is your new best friend after John McCain said "Kick Rocks")

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Electric Relaxation: Wale "Beautiful Bliss"

"Babe, you know it gets no better than this,
It's like...sunshine on a rainy day
It's like a 'How could you take me away'
Take me Away
It's a beautiful Bliss"

To be honest - Attention:Deficit was an okay debut album. I've been a fan of Wale since 2008 when I heard buzz about his classic Mixtape About Nothing. Then I heard it and was blown away - even got hyped after seeing him at Rock the Bells that summer.

The 2nd half is way better than the 1st (blame awful singles and weird production choices - cough cough, Pharell and em). Wale's skill is writing songs that have a theme or an uplifting message, not when he's bragging or sounding cocky.

"Beautiful Bliss" was a standout track and made my list of the best songs of 2009. I started vibing on it when I made my San Diego trip in January and it became my theme song for the week as well as anytime I'm in a good mood.

This is one of those jams that anybody can just vibe with - you can ride out and the chorus lifts your spirits. I've jammed to this with the windows down many times this summer and it's a perfect summer song that I wish was a single.

The beautiful, talented Melanie Fiona shines on the hook but this song is all about the 2nd verse. J. Cole absolutely bodies this track and for the first time I heard him spit, I was blown away. Dude brings a street sense to this heavenly track and drops the verse of the album with incredible flow, rhyme scheme, shoutouts and a presence that makes you hate it when his verse ends.

I almost don't remember what Wale says outside of the "When Bret Hart means Brett Favre line" - that's called "Renegading" a track, a reference to Eminem stealing the shine from Jay-Z on the Blueprint.

But upon further listen, I think Wale is just having fun and sometimes, you gotta let the music take you away like the hook says.

Sample-wise, it uses the same sample as Lupe Fiasco's brilliant "Theme Music to a Drive-By" but gives it a more uplifting feel. It's celebration music and as summer's about to wind down, hopefully y'all can smile to some dope music.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hall Passes For Mailman, Scottie, The Dream Team and DJ

Things are happening way too fast in so much time. August is literally the month where everything is crammed in to fill the last month of summer. Case in point, the NBA Hall of Fame induction coming exactly a week after the NFL's.

Sports overload? Sure, but anything can distract me from the Dodgers' Thursday implosion.

Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone are no brainer Hall of Famers to me. Growing up in the 90's, you knew that the Mailman would average 25 and 10, show up to work every day and make any opponent work extra hard to beat him. You also knew that Scottie would show up every game as one of the hardest matchups in the league and the best sidekick to His Airness (just saying that reminds me of the NBA on NBC theme song)

I hated Scottie because I hated those 90's Bulls. I hated Malone and John Stockton because they stood in the way of the Lakers in the late 90's and pick-and-rolled us to death. But they embodied greatness.

Scottie was a point-forward who killed you on defense and could do anything offensively on the court. He had one of the greatest dunks of all time when he absolutely destroyed Patrick Ewing in the 1994 playoffs. Best part? Standing over him like MJ would and then jawing at Spike Lee after the play. (I miss fierce rivalries like that now)

Mailman redefined the power forward position with his combo of brute strength, hustle, efficiency and consistency. Dude was as country as it gets with his down-home Louisiana drawl and his love of guns while being in lillywhite Salt Lake City. But he brought his hard hat every day to work and did it as well as anybody who played the 4 position.

He defined Utah with Stockton and then he tried to come to L.A. to get a ring by taking less money. Unfortunately, he came to a Lakers team in turmoil thanks to Kobe's Colorado troubles and egos run amuck between him and Shaq. The best chance to have a ring and we blew it for him along with his knees finally giving out.

But I'm even happier Dennis Johnson made the Hall of Fame. One word - underrated. Underrated in L.A.'s history of great basketball players, underrated as a scoring superstar early in his career, underrated for shifting his game to a defensive-minded point guard for the Celtics and underrated for his role in one of the greatest postseason plays ever (darting to the basket and scoring after Larry Bird's steal of an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass in 1987).

He was a product of Compton Dominguez HS and just like Paul Pierce, he made his mark for the city's hated rival. Bird called him the greatest teammate ever and the only regret is that DJ died three years ago and watched from above as his family celebrated him finally getting his due.

And then there's the Dream Team. Every kid of my era couldn't believe that this team could exist. Looking back on it, it's just jaw-dropping sickness. Charles Barkley before his MVP season, MJ and Pippen rounding into domination, Chris Mullin at his peak. David Robinson/Karl Malone budding into stars, Patrick Ewing as a force. Clyde Drexler fresh off an MVP-caliber season. And that's not even mentioning Magic and Larry.

Oh yeah, some guy named Christian Laettner - the greatest COLLEGE player of the last 20 years. He was so deserving of that slot ahead of some LSU guy named Shaquille O'Neal and since Laettner's in the HOF, his NBA career was oooooooh so much better than Shaq or the #2 pick of the 1992 draft, Alonzo Mourning. *drip...drip....drip***

All they did was 1) Destroy anybody in their path to a gold medal, 2) Pave the way for international players to work on becoming NBA-ready, 3) Increase interest in European Basketball as well as Asia and Latin America, 4) Remind future generations how much more fundamentally sound/team-oriented older players were compared to the mid 1990's-mid 2000's.

Greatest basketball team ever? Without a doubt. Props to the 1960 team as well with the equally great backcourt of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, two of the greatest guards EVER.

A special note to one of the greatest owners in basketball history - Jerry Buss. He deserves all of the accolades for his 31 years of watching the Lakers enter the Showtime Era into the Lake Show, Shaq/Kobe era and now the 2-time defending champions. He played favorites without question but Magic Johnson would be not the great entrepreneur that he is without Dr. Buss' advice.

So in a sense, the redevelopment of the inner cities of L.A. owes a small debt to Dr. Buss for spurring Magic to consider his life beyond basketball and have his business game on point. Compare that to the Clippers' Donald Sterling, whose relationship with minorities in the city has been far less than even cordial.

Cynthia Cooper deserves a shoutout too - from being an underrated cog in the Cheryl Miller era of USC's women's bball dominance behind 3 stars of their day (Pam and Paula McGee too) to a WNBA legend who became one of the first stars of the league.

Congrats to all in the Hall. Now when do we get Dennis Rodman in there? My bro Muggsy Mutombo at MojoHoops primes the pump for a solid argument.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Present...The Death....of the 2010 Dodgers

(A Ball of Confusion Finally Comes Undone)

*Dodgers fan file into Chavez Ravine, dressed in Blue. The fine organist Nancy Bea Headley plays a funeral dirge as yours truly steps to the microphone in a somber mood*

We've come today to bury the 2010 Dodgers season - a season expected to be a struggle experts said. But nobody could've foreseen this ending coming.

We thought they were dead last week after San Diego laid a thrashing on them. They tried to fight their way back with some hope, but like a wagon with its wheels barely hanging on, you knew it was gonna end badly at some point.

Let the record show time of death was around 8 p.m. PST - after closer Jonathan Broxton faced his 4th batter with 0 outs and promptly allowed a long hit to left-center field to end the Phillies 2-inning, 8-run rally (my fingers cringe typing that). Detectives will also find fingerprints of Ronald Belisario (gave up 4 runs in the 8th) and Casey Blake (a costly error) from last night's slaughter.

(I read tweets and said no. I read the box score and said NOOOOOOOOOOOO. I watched Sportscenter and was speechless. How in the world do you blow a 7-run lead with 6 outs to go? How do you not get anybody out in the 9th inning before you throw gasoline on a lit fuse??)

Broxton might also have evidence of rattled nerves and shell shock after being back in Philadelphia - site of his blown save in last year's NLCS and the team he also blew a save against in 2008. Stats against Philly: 9.82 ERA and 3 blown saves. No secret he gets scared when he sees that P on a jersey.

(This is playing on Jonathan Broxton's I-pod as the team lands in Atlanta)

But an autopsy will show why the Dodgers were on life support since the All-Star Break - not enough spirit at the plate where they couldn't score often and watched better teams put up runs on an overworked, tired bullpen.

Perhaps the murderer all along was Joe Torre - the touted team builder in charge of overworking his bullpen. If his fingerprints are all over Broxton and Sherrill getting no rest, then it's his fault for that overlooked flaw of going to the pen far too often and not let his starters finish the course.

(Quiet as kept: The Dodgers starters have started to come around - esp. Vicente Padilla. The last signs of life came when Padilla pitched a brilliant 2-hitter last week against San Diego. Like a wounded animal getting one last good shot before being killed).

Detectives might bring in Matt Kemp for questioning - he of the Silver Slugger/Gold Glove last year whose numbers have dropped sharply after a great April. His fielding now looks middle of the road and struggling to grow has been a huge problem for fans and coaches.

(Ushers should pass this around Dodgers Stadium)

By the way, Blame the coaches for making him a public example by benching him. This reeks of what happened to Orlando Hudson last year. You go down fighting with your best - benchings should help in slumps but this feels personal like the staff gave up on him. Kemp's gotta get better and put it together but airing him out publicly and singling him out is not the answer (Ned Colletti already saw this backfire earlier this year)

Whatever the case, this team can't score enough runs to save its life. Mannywood was quietly whitewashed away, ending a great two-year run that will see Manny part ways not a beloved hero but thanks for the memories, adios guy. Russell Martin added weight and became more injury prone this year - another sharp slide from his great 2007 season.

James Loney and Andre Ethier have arguably been our most consistent hitters but they've struggled in the 2nd half and it reminds us that our best power hitters aren't even threats to hit 30 home runs.

It's been frustrating to watch this team not build on the youthful promise they have. They have great pitching but Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw are not the solid aces yet. And like I said, when Vicente Padilla is your best pitcher (doing the same thing Randy Wolf and Derek Lowe the last two years), you're in trouble.

Ted Lilly has tried to stop the bleeding with 2 great outings after his trade, but he's walked into a team that's been bleeding nonstop for 3 weeks. Thanks for the Band-Aid, though.

Maybe this year had a bad omen stemming from the impending divorce of the owners during the NLCS. Frank and Jamie McCourt's messy breakup has put this team in financial limbo as well as making us wonder if they'll still keep the team.

Either way, the season's over. We're playing for pride from here on out. Last night was a game that drives a man to drink, kick his dog and curl into a ball after watching the highlights. See you next spring, get better and find some more live bats.

Epilogue from Yahoo Sports MLB Blog: The Dodgers should just donate the rest of their games to charity

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Inspires Me? (People)

Apologies for the hiatus, I'm always jumping around from idea to idea and I didn't want to run this theme into the ground at the expense of other great topics. But I'm not done yet. These are people who inspire me.

I don't call them heroes because as I explained last year, they only exist in comic books. Growing up I was told that heroes will fail you. Instead these are inspirations, people I learn from besides my wonderful family. People who lived with a purpose and a cause they believed in, its an extension of my authors/writers post.

Malcolm X - Showed me how being a leader means relating to all people. He cared for his people no matter what and it's a crime he was cut down so soon after Mecca. Bold, daring, unafraid yet committed - the blueprint for any leader that so few lack.

Martin Luther King Jr. - Non violence be darned, what I love about King is his gift for words, his passion for standing up for what's right and how's he so much more than the civil rights movement. Speak with conviction and speak the truth. He inspires me because he showed how a man of peace could make a difference in so many areas.

Billy Graham - Arguably the greatest missionary to ever live, I had the privilege to see one of his last crusades in San Diego. Despite his age and frailty, he spoke the simple Gospel plainly and powerfully. He defines what it means to not just live being a Christian but to do it around the world. Unlike most preachers, he wasn't on the Far Right and the Moral Majority but he believes in reaching as many people as he can. Impacting lives - thats what every Christian should aspire to.

W.E.B. DuBois - The most influential Black thinker/writer/historian after slavery, it was he who helped shape how history viewed Blacks during Reconstruction and the early 20th century. He was ahead of his time and every great Black leader of the 20th century owes him a debt of gratitude and so do I (Souls of Black Folk sits proudly in my library)

Archbishop Oscar Romero - A martyr for justice, Romero was chosen as Archbishop because he was non-threatening. When his friend was murdered, he took up his mantle as a champion against poverty, political assassinations, social injustice and the El Salvadoran government being supported by foreign countries. Rare is the priest who takes a noble stand and he moved me when I read about him in college.

Stephen Biko - I've said plenty on Biko before. A 20 year old who was supposed to be a doctor turned into a 30 year old martyr against apartheid in South Africa. Accomplished more in 10 years than most do in their whole lives. "I Write What I Like" is a brilliant collection of his works and the theme is an inspiration for this blog. A reminder that age is nothing but a number.

Jesus Christ - Before you say anything, there was indeed a man who lived named Jesus of Nazareth. You can debate all you want about his real name (like Ras Kass did on his brilliant, if not factually inaccurate "Nature of the Threat") but his message is real. Following God goes beyond legalism and into genuine relationships with all people regardless of societal barriers. Love your neighbor as yourself. There's a reason 2,000 years later people still are inspired by His words.

(For obvious reasons, I didn't include a picture. His features are not as important as his message. The only picture we need of Christ is the good works and lives inspired in his name.)

Next up: Media Figures and Finally Athletes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Loving #22, Hating #80 - Respecting Greatness

(Jerry Rice: Can you believe we ended our career in THESE uniforms? Emmitt Smith: Just smile and pretend that by 2010, nobody will remember.)

Growing up as a Cowboys fan in the 1990's, two things were clear. 1) You hated the 49ers and couldn't wait til the Cowboys gave them the business in the regular season or postseason. 2) You knew Emmitt Smith would rush for over 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns and you always believed he was better than Barry Sanders.

I hated Jerry Rice because he was unstoppable and I loved when Deion Sanders or somebody shut him down. Reading Jeff Pearlman's book on the 90's Cowboys (Boys Will Be Boys), I was happy when I read Kevin Smith mouth off to him as a rookie. Showing up the game's best WR even though he still had a good day - priceless moment of the rivalry.

Smith was my favorite player on those Cowboys. The first year I started watching football closely in 1995, he rushed for an NFL record 25 TD's. I just liked watching him for no particular reason, he had the ball most of the time and he was going to do something with it. My favorite Emmitt moments:

1) Jan 2, 1994 - the one armed game against the Giants to clinch the NFC East. 229 total yards despite a separated shoulder and they needed everyone.
2) Opening Night 1995, Monday Night Football - 1st play of the game, 60 yard-run for a touchdown. I remember going nuts over that!
3) Christmas Day 1995, Monday Night Football - Set the TD record against the Cardinals and watching it with my cousins.
4) 2002 - the 11-yard run to break Walter Payton's all-time record. I watched online and remember the graphic "Emmitt Smith now all-time rushing leader". It was the last time he'd rush for 100 yards in Cowboys gear and he fittingly scored on that drive.

While I hated Jerry Rice as a rival, I respected his intense work ethic. I remember as a kid watching his workout routine of running on hiking trails and carrying bricks in his backpack. He was motivated to be the best and he showed it every Sunday.

Without a doubt, he's not only the greatest wide receiver ever, he's one of the greatest players ever period. To dominate a game from that position is rare but he also played a role in two QB's becoming legends and without question, he was the definition of a tough guy. That's what happens when you attend a D1-AA school and have to work to earn respect.

Best quote about Jerry? "He may run a 4.7 (in the 40 yard dash) but he runs a 4.3 on Sundays" - a tribute to how much blinding speed is overrated if you can't catch a ball and excel at doing the little things to score and win.

It's fitting both of them went in the Hall of Fame at the same time. And congrats to former Vikings lineman John Randle, one of the great trash talkers in the 90's who backed it up with getting sacks.

Now can we get Shannon Sharpe, Cris Carter and Charles Haley in there?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Job Update (Snappin Back to Reality)

Funny how things work out. I planned on doing this inspiration series til I finished but then I decided to take a break because other things came up worth talking about. Then I planned on doing a blog on the Lakers' summer and the Dodgers' slumber - good thing I waited since the Dodgers decided to wake up and go back to sleep and the Lakers added the final puzzle piece in Shannon Brown's return.

But the big thing going on is I promised an update on my job situation. Haven't said much because while I have been looking, it's hard to find anything in the media, let alone another field I have little experience in. Thank God for breakthroughs because this month, things have changed.

Starting at the end of the month, I'll be freelancing at the Torrance/South Bay Daily Breeze doing high school football. It's a great situation because 1) it's a bigger challenge working at a bigger paper in a different area, 2) I'll be working on tighter nightly deadlines, 3) it allows me to focus solely on writing, not doubling as an editor.

I'll be working closer to home and although I'll have to get used to new teams and coaches, I can build new relationships and expand my network while looking for new stories. Friday Night Lights is still special wherever you go and I look forward to the challenge.

And just to show you how great God is, last Saturday I got an offer from a former colleague to help him do football previews around Southern California. Cal-Hi Sports is the state's leading authority on high school sports and being able to write their preseason football previews is a great honor.

It's huge because it keeps me informed on what's going around the state even though I'll be focusing on a particular region at the Daily Breeze. And it's building on more relationships.

But the main thing - I'm back in journalism and this free agent is back in the saddle!

August is already shaping up to the best month. Throw this in with Rock The Bells later on, a fun day planned with a friend tomorrow and great news surrounding my sis and Mom pursuing higher education, it's another reason why I love this month. Thanks y'all for your prayers and I'll keep you informed on the job hunt.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Montana Fishburne - Black Girl Lost (Thanks to Society)

(Give credit where it's due, I got inspired after reading this brilliant take by my Twitter acquaintance @Merc80)

If you haven't heard by now, Montana Fishburne, the 19 y.o. daughter of Oscar-nominated acting legend Laurence Fishburne, announced that she's going to pursue a career in porn. Yes, you read that right.

Two things come to mind. 1) Chris Rock's riff about fathers' only job in life is keeping their daughters off the stripper pole. 2) Nas' classic song "Black Girl Lost" which I thought about two weeks ago when Lindsay Lohan went to jail.

This isn't a chance for me to blame Laurence Fishburne for not doing his job - although the irony of him being the ultimate Black movie dad Furious Styles in "Boyz N The Hood" isn't lost here. This is just sad for both of them, especially Montana who cited Kim Kardashian as her "inspiration" for doing this.

Montana's decision is not only an indictment on her poor logic but also society in saying that nobody is safe from your hypodermic needle filled with lies, not even the daughter of a successful, classy father.

I've wondered for years what's gonna happen to our youth when they are being overfed hyper-sexualized images in music/television/movies/pop culture. We said that we could always tell when a pop star was becoming a woman by the amount of clothing she slowly started taking off. Now girls can't tell the difference between art and reality.

Look at hip-hop, who was the last female MC to get famous for her style not her sex? Missy Elliott and Eve probably. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown started the whole trend and now look around and see girls want to be like Nicki Minaj, who's following Kim's handbook.

But it's bigger than hip-hop. Girls have been told to sell sex to be popular for years. Way before Lupe Fiasco did it, girls were told to dumb it down so that they'll be more attractive to guys. Groupie chicks started in the days of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley way before the 60's and free love.

The worst trend of the last 5 years is the TMZ-ification of this being broadcasted everywhere. If Hollywood starlets aren't partying hard, doing drugs, having sex, being caught in compromising positions, they aren't famous.

Everything sells more if women are involved but what exactly are we buying into? An ideal that girls are buying into younger and younger, something I watch and pray against with the girls I tutor and watch at church.

Montana Fishburne is a sad reminder of this. Somewhere along the line, she failed to see herself as a strong woman with a good name and instead saw her body as a meal ticket. That's not power. She forgot who she was and instead chose a get-rich quick way that's going to only screw up her mind and confuse her fragile mind even worse.

And worse, she drags her father's name with her. Like Rock said, when a woman sells her body, it's the father who feels the pain the worst. His reputation takes a huge hit and his family name becomes tainted the same way the Hilton name is.

Wouldn't be surprised if she ended up on drugs, hating men, being some rapper's jump-off or writing a book exposing her relationship with her Dad as less than perfect.

It's a sad reminder that the only road this path will take for girls is destruction and pain. I wish we could do more to show this side of "paradise" to deter others thinking this is any more than a fantasy gone wrong, instead of women like Kat Stacks being a sad example of the route to fame.

We need more of Serena/Venus Williams, Scarlett Johansson, Danica McKellar (aka "Winnie" from Wonder Years). We need more songs showing women in a positive light. And we need to do it soon before this slippery slope claims more blind victims. Little Girls Lost.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy Birthday James Baldwin

"A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled."

Novelist, playwright, essayist, prophet, cultural critic, advocate - all of these words describe one of my favorite writers. A genius who still speaks to me despite being dead nearly two decades.

Today in 1924, James Baldwin was born in Harlem. Little did his neighborhood or his country know that the son of a preacher man would set them on fire with words that would challenge and enlighten them.

Baldwin combined his experiences as a child preacher, his insecurities about his appearance, his love of literature from a teacher and his life to write some of the most passionate essays regarding race, the American dream, education and identity. His best work was challenging America to look at themselves instead of always looking at the problem.

"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."

But Baldwin never wanted to be classified as a Black writer or a gay writer. He wanted to be described as a witness. It was something he got from the church where people would testify to the truth. All he did was write how he felt and do his best to speak truth through his eyes. (And there's where I get my label of witness from)

I read a book of Baldwin's essays in college and we analyzed his writing style. The first piece I ever read stuck to me because he used the occasion of his father's funeral to write about a riot in Harlem and also connect it to his own battle with eliminating hate after being denied service by a White waitress and blowing up at her.

Here was a man who channeled his rage into his words, not his actions. The Fire Next Time is one of the most influential books I own and it was a warning for 1960's America to deal with their slowly growing problem before things erupted (which they eventually did).

"To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger."

Even though he was fiery, he was accessible. His words may have set people off but there was something about him that drew people in. He was a social butterfly (as I once saw in a one-man play based on him) and that allowed him to know how to talk to people.

The sad thing is the glimmer of optimism in his earlier writing faded after the 1960's and his brilliant piece "No Name in the Street" shows him lost as he mourns the deaths of the Kennedys, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. His work in the 70's still has bite but there's a different element.

I took Baldwin's biography with me when I covered the Jena 6 rally live in Louisiana. I figured if I was going to be a witness to history, who better to inspire me than the ultimate witness. It inspired me to try to be a writer who lives up to that ideal and realizing that I had been like that all the time in my poetry.

On what would've been his 86th birthday, I wonder what he would say about society today, especially the rise of gay rights. I wonder how he would challenge this technological society to wake up from their complacency. I see a lot of him in Tim Wise and others who challenge society.

Here's to you Mr. Baldwin. Thank you for teaching me to be shaken up, write with conviction and hope for the good in people without being afraid to tell it like it is.

"The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated."

What Inspires Me? (Places)

Of all the writers I grew up admiring, they had something in common: They were inspired by the times and the cities around them. Hawthorne had New England, Baldwin had Harlem and France, Dickens had London and Raymond Chandler had my city.

I used to hate traveling. Then in like 2003, I started going to Seattle almost every summer for a weekend. Then I took more trips around the country visiting family and now I wish I could afford to do it more. I made a mental list of four or five cities I want to visit by next year, it's just too bad my bank account didn't go along with my plan. The downside of working part-time now (although I might have some news to tell y'all about some recent developments).

These are the places that inspire me. Something about them makes me want to be there just to feel revitalized or they encourage me. The first and 3rd shots are from my last extended trip to San Diego.

San Diego

My 2nd home. My college town. I've already written about how much I love this city before. Something hits me when I see the city limits on the freeway. When I went down there in January, I was reminded why.

The city revolves around the beach so everything is laid-back. It's a perfect place to get away, relax and just reflect - a calmer pace from Los Angeles and I've written some great poetry there. When I feel like life is getting too insane, I drive down there and just let Saint Daygo do his work.

New York

I went here five years ago for a conference on race and ethnicity as part of a group of student leaders from my school. The trip had its share of highs and lows but I'll remember walking around the city and just soaking in the vibes.

Nothing beats walking through Central Park and taking a nap. Or taking in the different vibes of Spanish Harlem/Harlem/SoHo/Manhattan. Eating Italian food in Little Italy or embracing jaywalking along with the subways.

It was a fast-paced city but it had plenty of culture that was distinct yet shared. Like San Diego, it inspired me to find something similar in L.A. - you can feel the sense of what being a New Yorker is about. That sense of identity spurs me on today.

The Beach

I love sitting by the water and just listen or watch. See what comes next. Hear the waves play with the sand. Standing at the edge of the world and seeing life as it was meant to be. I've written quite a few poems and journal entries here.

This is my place of peace. My sanctuary. My escape from reality where I can just admire God's beauty and reflect.

Los Angeles

Gotta admit, I have a love/hate relationship with my city. It's something I've been meaning to explain on here but for the last 4 years I realized I had no idea what it meant to be an Angeleno. I tried to come back inspired from San Diego and yet carving my life out here has been harder than it looked.

I love my city because there's pride in being from here. I hate it because it's hard to find its soul and a common identity. Hollywood gets all the love and the Valley gets attention too what about the Westside (Santa Monica, Culver City), South Central or South Bay. Maybe that's why I love Quentin Tarantino's movies so much since they usually have L.A. tied in to them but I digress.

Despite all that, I'm still inspired to find a life here. I'm inspired to fully understand what makes my city tick and find the soul of it. Raymond Chandler might be my city's official scribe with his detective noir tales but I still believe in finding my own stories about here. Love/hate, she's mine.

Next Up, People