Birney Imes: Stars of a different sort

February 18, 2010 9:29:00 AM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


On Wednesday in Parkinson Hall on the Mississippi University for Women campus, Jim Hill presented a program called "The Secret Life of Stars". The next evening in the same building the hip-hop artist Chuck D. offered a rambling discourse on music, politics and popular culture. 


Both events were free and open to the public and both were interesting in very different ways. And, both used language and terminology that an unhip 50-something history major could only faintly understand. Undeterred, I attended, dutifully took notes and hope to share here something of what these two men had to say. 


"In order to make an apple pie from scratch you must first create the universe." 


-- Carl Sagan 


Hill, director of The Rainwater Observatory in French Camp, spoke for 50 minutes to a gathering of science students on astronomy. Like humans, stars have a life-cycle, prenatal, birth, youth, middle age and death, and they are constantly being born, evolving and dying. 


The universe has been around about 13.75 billion years, Hill says. We live in the Milky Way Galaxy and there are at least 50 million more out there. That''s galaxies, not planets. 


"How do we know what we know about the stars?" he asked. All we have from the stars is the light and we can tease enormous amounts of information from different types of light." 


The astronomer proceeded to explain how, using data gleaned from telescopes, the mass, age, size and distance from Earth of stars could be ascertained. His presentation, using artist renditions of celestial activity, was beautiful but seemed more suited to a series of courses rather than a less-than-one-hour presentation. 


The Rainwater Observatory -- in one of only six dark regions in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, according to Hill -- is about 70 miles from here. Check out their Web site for more information. 


At first blush a rapper who performed in a group called Public Enemy and has had stage names like Crunk Bitchicana or Chuck Dangerous is not someone you would expect to be lecturing in a honors forum at a small college in Mississippi. But then maybe so. 


Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, better known as Chuck D, is a rapper, composer, author and producer. Ridenhour has been writing politically charged and socially conscious rap music since the late 1980s, and, as of late, has been speaking in prisons and schools, railing against the image and message put forth by the culture and music that made him famous. 


Thursday evening Ridenhour delivered a rambling monologue in the manner of a rapper turned stand-up comic. Redundant at times, he went on for more than two hours about politics, pop culture and music history. Chuck D''s overriding message to college students: You''re in a great place, with great people and a great opportunity; don''t blow it. 


In our consumer society, we obsessed with appearances while little notice is given to character and learning, he said. 


"America is transfixed on keeping people robotic; once you''re into consumption, it''s about designing your outside and forgetting your inside. You''re in a university; work on designing your inside. ... hold on to your own mind; don''t let anybody make up your mind for you." 


Get your money''s worth, Ridenhour admonished W students. He compared loafing and the resulting low GPA to paying $70,000 (a hypothetical price for a college education) for a Lambo (A Lamborghini) and getting instead a ''79 Buick Regal. 


"How many people are spending $70,000 and getting a hoopty GPA? You''re not getting your money''s worth, dog. You getting pimped out, out hustled." 


Ridenhour decried the cult of celebrity created by television. True and meaningful role models have been replaced by people famous simply for being on TV, he said.  


"Unfortunately we are in a time when television has created the drug of the millennium and the drug of the millennium is celebrity. It created celebrity for people to follow like the Pied Piper." 


The musician acknowledged the perceptions black people face in the work place and defended the record of President Barack Obama. 


"As a black man when you get a job in the middle of white society you have to do that job three times as good. People saying, ''What''s he (Obama) done so far''? He said he was going to president; he didn''t say he was going to be Jesus. 


"Black folks better take advantage of a black president: Be the best you can be. The job you gotta do is be the best human being you can be." 


Finally, after his lecture and a lengthy Q&A, the gregarious musician posed for pictures with children, parents and students, signed autographs and chatted with anyone who wanted to talk. 


During his presentation Chuck D said he planned afterward to stop by Captain D''s (no relation, presumably) for a fish sandwich and a medium tea before heading back to Atlanta, doing a couple of interviews on his iPhone with radio stations on the way. 


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.