Jennifer Lopez, actually, really can act. Lila & Eve (2015)

I was watching Netflix with my wife, she turned to a film that seemed like an interesting contemporary Urban Film Noir type about revenge and grief. It co-starred Jennifer Lopez. Here is my take. Lila & Eve (2015).  A+E Studios, ChickFlicks ProductionsI’m not trying to be snarky here, Jennifer Lopez typically hasn’t been known for her acting skills, although by now she is certainly a Hollywood veteran. She has come a very, very, long way from her days as an In Living Color ‘fly-girl’ go-go dancing in a Fox channel comedy variety show. In addition to a music career, Jennifer Lopez has appeared in an extremely wide variety of movies and TV shows over the last two decades.

The question is, however, ‘Can she really act?’ Why ask the question? Well, we know Viola Davis can act, but society usually doesn’t take Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actor, she’s more of a celebrity in the public mind than a thespian. So I’m asking the question here, and I think the answer gets interesting.

Here is something that women are aware of far more than men; beauty and physical attractiveness can sometimes be a curse, or at least a hindrance. Because when everyone judges you by your looks and looks alone they won’t bother to look underneath the surface.Women are ruthlessly judged first and foremost for their physical appearances in our culture. This is a fact, and it has its consequences.

This is particularly true for celebrities, and most particularly celebrities in the movie industry. Their entire lives and work, and indeed worth, are usually  judged by the makeup-mask they put on in the morning, or the $7000 dress they squeeze themselves into, before going out on the town, more to be seen than to actually have an enjoyable time.

Ms. Lopez is no exception. Many of the roles she has been cast in, over more than two decades, have been more of a factor of her pretty face. Now, it is true that the older actresses get the more serious roles that can sometimes get, if those actresses were “movie stars” or if they had the function more of being human images. It is at those times in which is celebrities acting skills are most tested. Because early in their career sometimes there are simply not given, or do not take, material that would seriously test their acting skills.

In Charles Stone III’s film, Lila & Eve (2015), we face this dilemma. Jennifer Lopez plays an extremely dark character. A murderous, and a wrath filled , vengeful one at that. And, with a rather surprising twist, one who ends up actually being more of a phantasm or phantom. Does it work?

Here’s the thing, she pulls off her role extremely well. Convincingly well.

Playing alongside the talented Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez effectively plays as Davis’s counter-part, friend, revenge buddy, and in a certain sense a bit of an alter ego.

Now, Viola Davis’s character obviously has real depth. But I expected that. What is refreshing is that Jennifer Lopez also bring some depth to her role. She is not acting as a pretty face, go-go dancing, mannequin posing for her looks. Which is what some of her career has required. She’s actually digging into herself and displaying human emotion in a way that I found convincing. Basically I think the actresses like Jennifer Lopez, given more serious roles, can bring out increasingly impressive performances.

Something that happens as we age (and why is it insulting to bring up the very real biological fact of someone’s aging), is that we ourselves acquire more depths and nuances to our characters. Sometimes the older we get, something happens to us. We become really interesting people, sometimes anyway. If we already were interesting people we sometimes become even more interesting.

The problem is that in a culture obsessed with youth, almost criminally obsessed with youth to the point of absolute stupidity, the gifts of aging are sometimes ignored or scored. In particular when these gifts are bestowed upon women. Because in a youth culture obsessively and hyper- focused not just on physical beauty but physically youthful beauty, aging itself is like a sin. And that is just a shame. It means that younger actresses who may be extremely talented at certain roles might be channeled into other less challenging roles simply because of their looks.

To be sure, attractive male actors do face a similar problem, of being typecast due to their looks, but not to the same degree. Brad Pitt, for example, apart from Interview with the Vampire and Seven, and I have to admit Fight Club, was largely typecast in certain roles all through his 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is only now, practically as a geezer his 50s, the he can increasingly break out of the roles these been typecast in.

Actually that was unfair of me. There are actually several examples of Brad Pitt trying to break out of his normal typecasting, but most of them were unconvincing. I always had the feeling that he was just being hired as a pretty boy slapped on an otherwise serious movie. Twelve Monkeys was a serious exception to that rule, I have to admit. And maybe I’ll just have to re-examine that whole example to begin with.

Okay, if Brad Pitt is a crappy example of the principle I’m trying to illustrate I trust that you at least get the bloody point.

The point is that physical attractiveness and beauty can be hindrances to deep acting in some kinds of performances. An old friend of mine once argued that Dustin Hoffman was one of Hollywood’s best actors mainly because he was ugly.

Hoffman is also rather short. So am I, a point that is utterly irrelevant here. In any case, the point’s that Dustin Hoffman is not exactly a sex symbol. Leaving the movie The Graduate out of the equation.

Dustin Hoffman is an exceptionally good actor. So is Forrest Whitaker. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman. None are known as sex symbols. Since people get in a tizzy whenever you call a woman ugly, I will refrain from mentioning any female illustrations of this principle. We males can fall on that sword, it’s chivalry you know. Suffice to say, the three men I mentioned are exceptional actors. Their acting skills are, and in Seymour Hoffman’s case were, at the summit of American acting talent (the British have their own use-cases). It’s likely that such men, and Gene Hackman, early-on had to show amazing ranges as actors because they didn’t have pretty-boy looks to fall back on.

There are examples, of course, of male actors who are both very handsome and exceptionally talented. I don’t think they exhibit a trend. I think they are exceptions.

The gift that aging conveys on female performers is a certain freedom, and ability to step outside of their societally defined roles as simple beauty sex figures, and transcend being a mere sex symbol, and tap into something more universal, a universal humanity.

I argue that society, in some inchoate and diffuse way, typically only really values women if they give us men boners. Everyone knows this, arguing against it only makes one sound guiltier.

I make no value judgment, though. I only observe what seems evident. Society, defined in a sloppy general way, will only let few women fit a category in which they can play roles entirely divorced from their physical attractiveness, either to other women, or to men. In other words, roles divorced from the tendency to evoke viewer boners. Tilda Swinton is an example. She is an outlier. For reasons that should seem obvious. Jodie Foster too, and sits as a bit of an outsider because she never allowed herself, and strenuously resisted throughout her entire career, to be typecast in roles based on her physical beauty. She more or less fought the system the entire way. There are other examples, but they are few and far between, and in each case rather quirky in their own way.

Back to this film, though. In it, both Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez pulled off good performances. Viola Davis’ performance seemed far more compelling, but she was the primary protagonist. Jennifer Lopez, however, was a secondary protagonist, and didn’t do too bad at all, standing by Viola Davis’ side. In fact, she impressed me enough that I would go out of my way to see a similar film with her in it, in the future.


Can Spaces and Serendipity Help Innovation? Something from David Radcliffe of Google

“You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation.” — David Radcliffe, Google VP of Real Estate & Workplace Services in a CBS This Morning Interview (Source:

The point Radcliffe was making involved Google’s innovative approach to designing collaboration and meeting spaces, on their corporate campuses. It’s a data driven approach but might strike some corporate traditionalists as fuzzy-headed, hippy-dippy, ‘woo-woo’ perhaps.

It most assuredly is not.

Being a massively data-driven company all of Google’s Real Estate design decisions, how its facilities are laid out, how space is apportioned, and so on is based on number crunching and active experimentation trying to get an answer to the question “How do we get our employees to be more productive?” In other words, innovation and idea generation have an unpredictable element to them, almost serendipity you could say. They require massive preparation of course, but they can’t be scheduled.

From the video I link to above, Google seems to be in the business of creating human working environments that allow its employees to produce the most amount of innovative ideas possible. A vast human idea laboratory, perhaps/

Designing workspaces that help facilitate creative innovation needs to take this into account. The video piece I link to above is interesting, and there are some take-home ideas any of us can apply to our own work, whatever it happens to be.

What can you do where you are to better foster your own idea generation and innovation, whether it’s your car, a subway seat, a desk at home, a spacious office, or a broom closet? We have to work with what we have, where we have, but what we do with it can go a long way.

Dispatches from San Francisco, from Baruti M. Kamau at Barutiwa Media

Nigeria, Cincinnati, Atlanta, San Francisco – citizen journalist and entrepreneur Baruti M. Kamau has brought a unique perspective in covering his travels. Writing at these are some of his latest dispatches from San Francisco, exploring its politics, and socioeconomic layout. I hope to share some of his photographs soon on the epidemic of homelessness in San Francisco.

Baruti’s on-going series is titled San Francisco, California: An Island Unto Itself and will explore the truly unique and amazing position this city has. These are three pieces from his on-going project, in which he aims to illustrate from the ground, on the street, the seeming contradictions that define this city of massive wealth, massive poverty, and massive intellectual and technical creativity.

An Interview with Irma Bajar of GABRIELA USA
“..Irma Bajar is the Chairperson of GABRIELA USA, the overseas chapter of the Philippine-based GABRIELA Philippines. She was born in Hawaii to Filipino parents who migrated to the United States in search of employment. Irma is college educated, and after 10 years of community organizing, she was elected Chairperson of GABRIELA USA in March 2016. In a face-to-face interview with Irma, last month, I asked her what happened in her life that impelled her to become politically active. She said that she was inspired by a film about the 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre in which 14 people were killed and more than 120 injured when the Philippine’s military and police units attempted to disperse protesters. The Hacienda Luisita plantation workers were agitating for increased wages, better benefits and land reform…”


Exhibit 1: Interview with Violet Vasquez (Video)
“…This video interview with Violet Vasquez is an exhibit to my report “San Francisco: An Island Unto Itself”. Ms. Vasquez is a young activist attending City College in San Francisco, California. Her major is sociology and political science. In this 22 minute video, Vasquez discuss her opinions on poverty, homelessness and destitution in the San Francisco Bay area….”


Minimum Wage Boss Face Vociferous Opposition (Video)
“..This video news release documents the Friday morning protest in front of City Hall calling for the resignation of San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee. Members from staged a counter protest which resulted in more than 300 Chinese Americans participating to show their support for Mayor Ed Lee. On the other side, viewers will see the vociferous opposition to Mayor Ed Lee with the highlight of Oscar Salinas discussing the criminalization of homelessness. The video was written and narrated by Baruti M. Kamau (aka BMK). Furthermore, “Minimum Wage Boss Faces Vociferous Opposition” is an exhibit to the report “San Francisco: An Island Unto Itself” written by Baruti M. Kamau. Visit to see additional photos and video clips concerning the protest and counter protest…”


A review of Charles Upton’s The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

The book-cover of The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

Charles Upton’s The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.

This is a review of a book I think is insightful, and valuable, but that doesn’t yet seem to have caught on with many readers. Charles Upton’s ‘The Science of the Greater Jihad: Essays in Principial Psychology.’  I titled my Amazon review ‘Beyond transpersonal psychology, towards principial psychology. Exploring a science of the self and psyche, based on metaphysics,’  because in a real sense that’s exactly what this book is about.

Charles Upton’s ‘Science of the Greater Jihad,’ seems to be an overlooked or neglected gem in today’s metaphysical and spiritual scene. But it deserves to be read more widely.

I found the book a rare pleasure on two fronts; aesthetically, and intellectually. Aesthetically it’s simply a lovely book. The book cover design, with its theme of spiritual combat, is marked by an elegant simplicity. The physical finish Sophia Perennis chose was lovely in a tactile sense. The book cover has a matte, satin like finish that simply feels better than standard glossy book finishes. All of this, however, is trite of me.
Where Upton’s work really shines is in his treatment of ideas.

This is, foremost, a book about the notion of a operative Sacred Psychology; a science of knowing the self, and of the path that leads from self-transcendence to self-knowledge. In a sense it covers the idea of an inner and spiritual warfare, but it goes much further. It’s informed by Upton’s perspective, as long-time seeker on the Sufi path, as well as a past (but increasingly critical) engagement with the Traditionalist branch of the Perennial Philosophers, and is also coloured by his lifelong work as a poet and practitioner – in a sense – of mythopoeia, and an active yet critical engagement with various contemporary schools of metaphysics.

The book covers grounds from Psychotherapy and Exorcism, to a deeply informed and compassionate critique of Carl Jung, to the place of acesis and struggle, love, and knowledge, in the spiritual path. He covers the psychological aspects of traditional alchemy, examines the notion of evil itself and moral privation from the perspective of gnosis, and relates all of these themes and more to a lucid discussion of a true Spiritual Psychology, a Science of the psyche, a science of the Self, and of the many traps it faces in seeking out a spiritual path.

I think this book it should be necessary reading for anyone whether from a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or non-Abrahamic Faith background, who is interested in personal struggle to find meaning on the spiritual path. The readers who may feel the most challenged by Upton’s discussions may be adherents of transpersonal or Jungian psychology, or readers coming from the perspective of contemporary new spiritual and metaphysical movements, broadly speaking the New Age. It is these readers whom I would encourage to give the book a fair reading, to at least consider Upton’s words.

Words have emotional and intellectual resonances, shades of meaning, power. The word “Jihad” simply has immensely negative connotation in contemporary Western Societies. I think the choice of the word for this book was apt, not in spite of, but because of its semantic But the doctrine of the “Greater Jihad” in traditional Islamic Esotericism and Spirituality, and even in conventional and normative Shia and Sunni Traditional Islam (outside of the ‘extremist’ non-Salafist/non-Wahhabi streams financed by Gulf Petro-Dollars) concerns inward combat of the self against the inner forces that drag it into the mud of bestial and gross negative tendencies. It has a lot in common with Orthodox Christian (and Catholic to a degree) understandings of Spiritual Warfare.

But where Upton goes from that is territory little examined. But where Upton goes from that is territory little examined. The notion of ‘Spiritual Warfare’ has been covered excessively by many authors of many faith and religious varieties. What Upton tries to do is go beyond the notion of a transpersonal psychology, towards a truly principial psychology, of which Spiritual Warfare, the “Greater Jihad” in Islamic terms, is understood in its place in a wider context.

The artwork on the book cover reflects this, because on the surface it calls to mind distinctly Christian notions of wrestling with the passions, married to the title itself, calling to mind a “Science” and the Islamic notion of the “Greater Jihad.”

I think the book should be read by anyone with an interest in psychology, spirituality, metaphysics, or religion.

More on Charles Upton, his work and writings, can be found at , and the publisher,

To speak truth, of pleasure and pain, and all the pretty little horses.

A lullaby goes;
Go to sleep, little baby.
And when you wake,
You shall have a cake,
And all the pretty little ponies.

All the pretty little ponies. All the pretty little horses. just go to sleep..

An old friend was chatting with me, while we sat in an old coffee shop. We’re talking about propaganda, we’re talking about people’s desire for simple things to listen to and believe in and hold onto. And he was pointing out to me a fatal flaw of mine, that of overcomplicating the truth.

Why is it that a simple lie may find more currency than a truth expressed in complicated terms?

Pain and pleasure. We avoid what causes pain. And oh, our lives are full of such dull sorrows and pains. And we yearn for those simple pleasures, we work and toil and then go home to our toys. Our drugs. Our booze. Our porn. Our sex. Our food.

Our TV. And it tells us such simple little things.

And then we go to sleep, and this we yearn for intensely.


Simple words soothe the mind and soul. Whether they are true or false. Complicated things ache the mind and soul.

Here is a power of persuasion, he or she who can master their words is not necessarily someone who uses pretty words, and high concepts expressed in high terms.

George Orwell and Winston Churchill both pointed out, about effective communication, that simple words penetrate the most.

So, if you want to speak or write truth, do yourself and others a favor and “keep it simple stupid,” as the saying goes.

Don’t get too artsy about it, is it about your ‘self expression‘ or is it about communicating a message?

Of course, a prerequisite is to actually know the truth. Much of the time we think we know the truth, a truth that we are aching and burning to tell the world, but we don’t really know the whole truth, or even an adequate part of it.


Sometimes what we think is true or think we know isn’t so. And sometimes, those truths that we think are in our deepest selves, are actually things whispered in our ears while we’re going to sleep..

While dreaming of pretty little horses.