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San Francisco

To Our Mothers

proud mama

My mom lets loose at my Harvard graduation.

I just got off the phone with a college friend who also lost her mother to cancer, and we agree, whoever came up with the concept of Mother's Day was kind of an asshole. :) Since my mom passed in October 2005, this day and her birthday have been the most intense, jogging old memories, evoking what-if scenarios but mostly generating extreme levels of gratitude.   Yesterday, at a cafe in San Francisco, someone asked me to what do I attribute my success and my free-spirited, positive, happy outlook on life. Apparently, I don't fit the stereotype of the maladjusted, depressed, bitter comedian. We'd gone a couple of rounds on this subject, and finally I just said, "I had an awesome mother." That's what it all comes down to. My mother encouraged my curiosity, my creativity and my confidence. She believed, far more than I did, that I've got reserves of strength and purpose yet untapped. And contrary to many people I know, she never ever made me feel guilty for forging my own path. She expected it. For everything I've done and have yet to do. For the love of incredible friends. For a better life than I could ever possibly have imagined for myself, I thank you Ma. Happy Mother's Day

Baratunde's Yay Area Office Hours Sunday at Revolution Cafe

As I used to do in college and have started doing again in my travels, I'm holding office hours as a way to connect with my Bay Area people and have them connect with each other. I'll be sitting (ok squatting) at Revolution Cafe in the Mission all Sunday afternoon from about 3:30 to 7:30.

Revolution cafe SF

Revolution Cafe 3428 22nd Street, between Mission and Bartlett

My flight out is at 10pm, so I'll head out straight from there. The last time I was there in February, I unlocked an iPhone I picked up for $50 after it was run over by a car. In my recent Boston office hours, we got into discussions of feminism, immersive gaming and manipulating the electorate. What craziness will ensue on this trip? The Yay is a magical place, so come by and let's hold palaver and more. If you use Facebook, you can find the event listed there, RSVP etc.

I Inherited An iPhone That Was Run Over By A Car (Updated)

Update (Saturday 18:00 PT): I HAVE SUCCESSFULLY UNLOCKED MY JOINT! Oh this ups my geek ego a notch. Photos to come later  I successfully avoided iPhone hype for many months. I have several beefs with the device, including its exclusive attachment to NSA Telecom (aka Deathstar Telecom (aka AT&T)). After using the iPod touch, I've softened on my hate and like the interface and smooth Mac syncing. I've often said I'd get an iPhone if it was free. Lo and behold, on my visit (appropriately enough) to San Francisco, a co-worker dropper her iPhone out of her car, and it was subsequently run over by another car! And despite looking like it survived Fallujah, the damn thing works perfectly. I paid her a modest fee for the device and am now going about the business of liberating it from AT&T. Will let you know how it goes later. Meanwhile, check out this video I made at the office featuring the phone, a temp and the original owner, Kim Bach Le.

Me and pillowmina


Me and pillowmina, originally uploaded by baratunde.

I rescued her from the great pillow battle of saint valentine in san Francisco. What a great city

The end of the oldest Black-owned store on Harlem's 125th Street?

photo by Orhan* via Flickr From metafilter this morning:
Harlem's commercial and cultural backbone, 125th Street, has been gentrifying fast; many of its Black-owned businesses have been forced out by high rents and replaced by branches of white-owned national chain stores. The street's best-known cultural centers remain (notably the Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum in Harlem), but now, its oldest surviving Black-owned store, The Record Shack, is facing eviction. Owner Shikulu Shange, along with other Harlem residents, will lead a town meeting next week to discuss strategies for keeping Black economic development alive in Harlem and in NYC (as of the 2000 U.S. Census, NYC's five boroughs were home to more than 98,000 of about 129,000 Black-owned businesses in all of New York State).
In almost every city I visit, the story is the same, "development" brings in better roads and schools but doesn't benefit the original inhabitants because they can no longer afford to live (or operate businesses) there. It's true in DC (U street??), Chicago (Humboldt Park), San Francisco (Mission) and even Des Moines, IA? The most famous act of gentrification, of course, was the move of America's "first black president" into Harlem in 2001. His homecoming seems to have gone a bit rough, according to an article in the UK Independent a year ago (why do the Brits cover us so well?)
Bill Clinton's decision to site his office in the largely black Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem, as a gesture of solidarity with African-Americans, appears to have backfired. Dozens of angry blacks demonstrated last week outside the building that houses the former president's staff, claiming that his move had led to the gentrification of the area and increased the price of homes beyond their reach.
If you're in NYC, check out the meeting and report back. For the rest of you across the nation, how have your hoods dealt with gentrification? Is a balance possible? (cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics)

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User Error, Gentrification and How I Got Jacked in Chicago

sign from the universe

photo by me via Flickr (click on pic to view more)

I've been in Chicago for one week now and, for the most part, it's been really positive. The day I arrived, George W. Bush left town. That's always a good sign. Maybe I should move back to D.C.? My studies at the Improv Olympic are going great. I figured out the El and have made a bunch of new friends.

Of course, I've got my share of small complaints. It's hot as heyall; the six-way intersections have got to go; and, while it's true that Boston has really bad drivers, Chicago has really deadly drivers. People here treat red lights like ideas they just don't happen to believe in.

The low point, though, was last Friday at 1:30am when I found my car broken into. As is my custom, I can't just tell you the details of the incident. I need to touch on urban development, gentrification, class transcendence and common sense. Prepare yourself.

I have been to a shit-ton of American cities over the course of my life, but especially over the past seven years. Boston (obviously), New York, San Francisco, Portland, LA, Tacoma, DC, Lansing, Austin, Chicago. Even the cities I haven't seen recently, I've experienced through college friends who landed there post-graduation. Almost all of these cities share a major storyline: urban (re)development. The slums are getting a makeover, becoming home to high-priced condominiums.

After the riots of the 60s and 70s, white people left cities. After the crack wave of the 80s, the few remaining bounced too. They fled to the suburbs which became the ex-urbs. Commuting time grew from 30 minutes to and hour to sometimes two hours in each direction. Meanwhile the innercities were largely underinvested and left to decay. I'm not sure what turned the tide -- maybe the excessive commute and distance from a city center became too much or land got more expensive outside the city -- but in the late 1990s, people started talking about the return to the city.

My own neighborhood in D.C. bears this out. My mom packed me and the dog up in the summer of 1991 after the beating, shooting and dealing became too stressful for a single mother with a teenaged black boy. For a few years later, things in the old hood didn't improve, but I've gone back in 2000, 2005 and just a few months ago, and there are now two nice white people from Iowa renting a renovated version of our old basement for the price of the mortgage payments my mom was making.

When money comes back to the city, however, it's not a simple binary transfer from hood to neighborhood. See the recent Americablog post about how the tension between old school and new school can lead to disastrous and deadly consequences.

gentrification of west bucktown - 4

The Chicago Version

I forgot all these things when I came to Chicago. I'm staying with a friend who lives in West Bucktown (2600 W, 1700 N for those who know the lingo), on the edge of Humboldt Park. His landlord was telling me that 10 years ago, the neighborhood was maybe 20 percent black, 70 percent Latino and 10 percent white. Now it's 10 percent black, 50 percent Latino and 40 percent white. Walking around, it doesn't feel dangerous at all, but it just feels a little hood-ish. Anytime your major retail options are no-name groceries that end in "-Mart", check cashing places, auto body shops and laundromats, you're in something more on the hood side of the neighborhood-hood spectrum.

gentrification of west bucktown - 9

There are plenty of boarded up homes and abandoned lots around too.

At the same time, people are selling condos for $200K and even $300K+, and you can't pass a block without seeing some sign promising a new condo unit "Coming Soon" right across the street from the check-cashing spot. The trend isn't limited to pseudo-hoods like west Bucktown either. I got to see some of the South Side, and it's starting to happen there too.

gentrification of west bucktown - 7

So what does this have to do with my car stereo getting jacked? Well, I let my guard down. I haven't lived in a hood in a really long time. I left DC in 1995 and left the place with the shootin in 1989. My friend Glenn said I got soft. I had a removable faceplace on my stereo, but did I remove it? Noooooo. I was no longer living in a world where I assumed people were assholes. I assume politicians are assholes, but not my neighbors.

Why didn't other cars get broken into? Because I was the new car, I had out of state plates, and I had a cheap but nice looking head unit.

at least they broke the cheap window

What Did They Steal?

Oh, and I had let the car sit in the same spot, un-accessed from Sunday through Thursday. So here's how it went down. They broke the rear passenger side fixed window (thanks for breaking the cheapest one guys!) and unlocked the door. Then a thorough search of the car revealed the following must-have list:

  • must break window to enter car ($40)
  • sony head unit ($130)
  • portable TomTom GPS 300 ($600). I know, if it's portable, why did I leave it in the car? to my credit, I hid it in a seat pocket, but I acknowledge the dumbness of that,
  • car chargers for iPod and cell phone ($45)
  • roll of quarters ($10). for laundry? tolls?
  • $10 bill ($10)
  • Tupac CD I hadn't ripped to iTunes yet ($10)
  • the cover for my spare tire with a Deval Patrick for Governor sticker on it ($10). They were trying to take the spare but gave up

All told, that's $865 worth of stuff I lost, but the only real things of value are the stereo and the GPS. The stereo I consider acceptable. The GPS I had disabled by the company that made it.

They left my EZ-Pass/Fast Lane toll booth billing thingy, laundry detergent and most importantly, THE CAR.

They also broke the cheapest window and did a clean job of removing the stereo.

bye bye stereo

Basically, I forgot where I was. I can't just be stupid happy guy with his cool, political, pink t-shirt and iPod blocking out the world and car not moving and valuable shit exposed to the world. It was an expensive reminder but also one that I needed.

So thank you burglars. Oh, and if you mess with my car again, I'll firebomb the whole goddamned neighborhood. :)

[np] baratunde is campaigning for governor

ipanema in clouds and sun (i miss brasil) No no, I'm not RUNNING for governor. That's Steve Calechman's job. No, I'm campaigning for Deval Patrick to become the first brotha/governa of Massachoosnets. Details to follow. If you're in Boston tonight, catch me do a long-ish 20-30 minute set Tue Apr 18 06 8:30pm Bragging to Children at An Tua Nua 835 Beacon St. Boston, MA cover: $7 Now some news including: - HAPPY STANDUP ANNIVERSARY TO ME!!! - T-SHIRTS FOR SALE - NEW VIDEOS ONLINE - WEBSITE & BLOG UPDATES - AUDITIONING FOR COMEDY CENTRAL - CAMPAIGNING FOR GOVERNOR - GIMME MONEY - MORE MOJOS - HAPPY STANDUP ANNIVERSARY TO ME!!! It's been FOUR YEARS since I first took to the stage at a little Chinese restaurant in a run-down Howard Johnson's in Boston called Chops. Since then, I've performed at Chinese restaurants all across the country! So happy standup birthday to me. - T-SHIRTS FOR SALE VIVA LA EVOLUTION !

buy my t-shirt
Many of you were shocked when I decided to give away my most recent book,"Keep Jerry Falwell Away From My Oreo Cookies." But, it's been downloaded 1,975 times and physically handed out hundreds more, all in 9 weeks! However, this does not mean that I dislike money. To the contrary, money is the only thing that really makes me happy. I bathe in it, even though that doesn't kill the bodily funk, it makes me feel better than others. So, to the point: I'm SELLING COOL T-SHIRTS!! Yall know those overhyped Che Guevara "Viva La Revolucion" t-shirts?? Well, I'm trying to overhype my own joint: "Viva La Evolution" with my boy Charles Darwin on it. I was talking with a man down in Austin, TX at the SXSW conference, and he thought it would be funny. He wasn't going to make them though, so I did, with the help of the good people at goodstorm.com You can find the shirts on my website which links to Baratunde's Corner Store - NEW VIDEOS ONLINE I've uploaded two new videos. 1. A Final Solution for the Religious Right, but not in a Holocaust-y Way and 2. I'll be a Black Conservative for $140,000 You can find both (and more) at baratunde.com. These are hosted by YouTube, which is sucking pig knees right now, so don't hate me if the stream is slow. and the Black Conservative joint is also on my MySpace page. - WEBSITE & BLOG UPDATES Be sure to visit baratunde.com and baratunde.com/blog for some cool design updates including * a new "Books" page on the main site * a wider blog design for goodCRIMETHINK (more room for my booty since most blog templates are not designed for the full-figured black man) * more videos * more podcasts! * more MORE!!!! - AUDITIONING FOR COMEDY CENTRAL About two weeks ago, I was invited to perform with several other great Boston comedians in a showcase audition for Comedy Central. I'm sorry I didn't tell yall about it before hand, but if you'd been reading my website religiously as we agreed, you woulda known :) Seriously, though. It was a great experience. All the comics were great, and the only choice Comedy Central has is to give us all our own shows. It's going to be a crowded Fall lineup I guess. - CAMPAIGNING FOR GOVERNOR About a year ago, a friend of mine asked me to help get a man named Deval Patrick elected to the governor's office in Massachusetts, and I did what I could. All cecause of my efforts, Deval is now ahead in delegate votes and public polls of Democrats for the nomination! That's the power of comedy, people! Deval sued Bill Clinton when he was still governor of Arkansas, before it became the popular thing to do. The suit was about voting rights discrimination, and Clinton was so impressed, he hired Deval to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights when he became president. There's a lot more good news about this Chicago-born, Massachusetts-raised kid from the South Side. If you're in Boston, come see him headline with me as the opening act. Young Professional Fundraiser for Deval Patrick Tuesday April 25th 7:30-9pm Anthem in downtown Boston - GIMME MONEY (wherein Baratunde becomes NPR-ish) About me loving money. Consider the past four years of comedy I've given you people. Two books, hundreds of MoJos that kick the ass of Leno/Letterman/and SNL combined, hours of live comedy, silly photos, AM radio and podcasts and countless live shows for which I was usually paid nothing. Four years of Baratunde comedy. That's like a college degree, people! I've given you a college degree's worth of comedy practically for free. You didn't even have to pay taxes!! So here's my pitch. Four years at Harvard College (that's the quality you're getting people!) would have cost you $43,655 x 4 = $174,620 Because of inflation, free market turbulence and the War in Iran (oh yes, I SAID it), let's just round it up to $200,000. Now, all I'm asking for is one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent of that, or $20 from those who can. That's like a 99.99% discount homies y homeysitas! Si, se puede! Many of you just paid Uncle Sam for arguably much less valuable services. Some of you even managed to get Uncle Sam to pay you (ahem, Halliburton). So help a brotha out. Head on over to my donation page, because free comedy costs money. (or you could just buy some of those hot t-shirts) - MORE MOJOS (speaking of free comedy. i just wrote most of these RIGHT NOW) A former executive at Ben & Jerry's was sentenced to more than two years in prison for embezzling $300,000 from the company to pay for vacations, car repairs and clothing. Apparently going to jail was the only way he could stop eating the ice cream. The immigration debate has gotten very ugly. On the conservative side, you have people who want to "outlaw illegal immigration." On the liberal side, everyone is worried about what will happen to the children. I'm more worried about the nation's lawns. Until you can find me a self-mowing lawn, I say, keep illegal immigration legal. Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar admitted to driving through a crowd at UNC Chapel Hill and declined a public defender saying "the truth will be my lawyer." As it turns out the truth will also be his prison rapist. Today, San Francisco commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Great Quake which leveled the city and killed 3,000 people. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are pleading with God for a 2006 repeat. Three US military contractors have confessed to smuggling marijuana into Iraq using the military postal system. The news isn't surprising to those familiar with the military mail's new motto: "neither lack of body armor nor sexed up intelligence nor local law stays these couriers from delivering those fatties." With a recent spike in oil prices, Mr. George W. Bush says he will keep an eye out for gas price-gouging, because, he explained, "I need me a piece of that!" The UN committee against torture has demanded that the US provide more information about its treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The US responded by moving the UN headquarters from New York to Guantanamo Bay. Catholic group Opus Dei has told Sony Pictures that putting a disclaimer on the movie "The Da Vinci Code" stressing it is a work of fiction would be a welcome show of respect toward the Church. Sony responded that not molesting children would be a welcome show of respect toward Jesus. Veteran rocker Neil Young has recorded a protest album featuring an anti-Iraq war track and a song titled "Let's Impeach the President." The album coincides with a White House memo titled "Let's Wiretap Neil Young." oops. pow. SURPRISE!! - www.baratunde.com

I never learn my lesson about venues!

Out in San Francisco right now, the night after a Laughing Liberally show / Drinking Liberally party part of the Young Dems Convention out here. We did the "show" at a bar with no lights, no stage and a weak mic. When will I learn??? The gathering was mostly a party. A beefed up Drinking Liberally that brought together people from around the country who were in town for the Young Democrats of America's annual convention. The plan was to have me and comic Katie Halper do some time in the middle of the party. It was a good plan. And the venue was beautiful... for drinking. Not necessarily for doing comedy. Yet, as one of my role models oft repeats: "You don't go to a gig with the venue you want; you go with the venue you have." But sometimes, you really just need the body armor. I'd estimate somewhere between 50 and 80 folks there, which is a good sized crowd, but we had three big problems. 1) bad sound. At least we had sound, actually. But it was a tiny, tiny amp which couldn't compete with the background music and noise of other conversations at the bar from down on the first floor (sound travels up!) 2) no lights. This is especially a problem for us darker-hued types. I was basically unintentionally camoflauged 3) no stage. Being at the same level as your audience is a no no. As a comic, I deserve to feel superior to them. Physically looking down on them allows me to morally look down on them as well. This was impossible last night All these elements, when in place, say "hey, look at me. listen to me. I'm important." Without them, you're just another person talking at a bar with a slightly louder voice. Props to Katie Halper who took the bullet like a trooper and drop-in comic Chris Brannon from Tacoma, Wash. For the folks in the crowd who could hear and enjoy the show, thanks. And be sure to tell your friends in the back the funny bits on the way home. peace