Monday, December 29, 2014

The Unpalatable Molly Knight

Before its first issue in 1998, ESPN Magazine was introduced in a commercial starring NBA players Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. In this commercial, the then-Timberwolves claimed the magazine wouldn't have "swimsuits, thongs, or bikinis", but instead would be "all nude", albeit "tastefully done". Because that's important.

In its history, ESPN Magazine has not only gone "all nude", but also maintained a high level of professionalism and taste in its pages. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a recent tweet from one of its writers.

Yesterday, writer Molly Knight caused a social media splash when she tweeted the following:
For what it's worth, I am an occasional reader of ESPN Magazine. Although I do not have a subscription, I get handed issues from family members, see the magazine in doctors' offices, or might even pick one up at random at a newsstand. So there is a chance I have read Molly Knight's work. There is a chance I haven't, but a chance I have.

That said, I will definitely look at her work with a different eye in the future. Am I supposed to believe she is unbiased in anything she writes from here on out?

I will admit, I am a bit old school when it comes to sports writing. I don't believe sports writers should have favorite teams. They can have favorite subjects, but they should leave their biases at the door when it comes to their published work. And contrary to what most people think, tweets are published materials, just as articles, stories, or blog posts. They are, by definition, micro-blogs.

Unfortunately, in recent years ESPN has thrown the "writers shouldn't have favorite teams" idea out the window. They want their personalities to be opinionated. They want to generate argument and debate. For better or for worse, it's their business model.

With that background, let's return to Ms. Knight's tweet. When asked in a reply why she would be rooting for Oregon over Florida State, she replied:

So this is not a case of a writer rooting for a team as much as it is a writer rooting against a team. FSU could be playing the Alaskan State College of Auto Repair and Ms. Knight would have written the same thing.

What is particularly galling about Ms. Knight's tweet is not that she is rooting against the FSU football team because of any on-the-field bias, but strictly because of her thoughts on the off-the-field situations involving the Florida State University football team, the FSU administration, and local authorities. Ms. Knight has taken a moral stand and expanded it to her sports opinions. I don't think that is professional at all, especially for a nationally published sports writer.

If Ms. Knight was against the decisions of the Tallahassee police department, the FSU police force, and other powers that be, those are who she should be commenting about. Or if she is against the coaching staff, than she should express her displeasure with them. She would still be biased, but at least it would be against the right target. The score of the football game is irrelevant to the existence of those entities. Win or lose, none of those organizations will change. Unless she wants to dig in, double down, and hope FSU goes winless until such time Jimbo Fisher is fired. Which has about zero chance of happening anytime soon.

But an FSU loss in the Rose Bowl will make Ms. Knight feel better. Not sure how, but it will.

What Ms. Knight should be doing, instead of writing how she wants the football team to lose, is to use her platform as a national writer to make the changes she wants to see in the world. It is easy to be emotional and reactionary. It is much harder to take action, put your ideas on the line, and push for change.

I would respect Ms. Knight much more if she wrote an editorial either in ESPN Magazine or on her own website calling for the resignation of FSU officials and Tallahassee police officials who she feels are at fault. She could also create a 10-point plan that in theory might solve what she feels is a problem. She could even write how she wants the university to do away with football and for the state to create a "North Florida Football Academy" where athletes get trained under a more competent staff. Whether or not she is right and whether or not I agree or anyone agrees is irrelevant. What is important is that she use her leverage for more than "I hope they lose".

(If she has written this, please point me to a link. Thanks.)

A few days ago, Will Leitch, one of the most level-headed sports writers in the business, wrote an editorial about modern media. In this editorial, Leitch wrote that the goal isn't to be smart, it is to be "loud".
The entire strategy for succeeding at anything, whether it's winning elections, selling a product or attracting visitors for your Website, revolves around pitching yourself as loudly as you can to those people on your side and turning those who disagree with you into the worst version of themselves, demonizing them into something subhuman and venal.
Molly Knight's tweet about how she hopes FSU will lose received over 700 re-tweets and 800 favorites. Her words reached a lot of people. Many of whom probably agree with her, for one reason or another. Would a more nuanced tweet promoting a 10-point plan of action be shared as much? Highly doubtful. But as Leitch said, "Nuance is tossed out, even if you know a situation is desperately nuanced, in favor of quick points and splash".

Quick points and splash. To hell with tasteful.

Two final points:

1) This post is not to excuse any lowlife scumbag who belittles a writer because of her gender. Everyone has the right to work in a harassment-free environment. And if tweets are publications, then twitter is where Ms. Knight "works", and she should be treated with respect by other "publishers", i.e. everyone else on twitter.

2) Before I get accused of being an FSU homer, I've had my own objections with the way FSU does business.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Iggy Azalea, Rod Stewart, and the railroad track of credibility

I consider myself a blues fan. I've visited the Crossroads, stayed in historic blues hotels, been to classic juke joints, and have a pretty decent collection of blues albums. But I think white people ruined the blues.

Maybe it was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Maybe it was Eric Clapton. Maybe it was the Yardbirds or the Rolling Stones. Somewhere along the way, the blues was appropriated by white musicians. They played the licks. Some played them very well. Some even had feeling. But through no fault of their own, these musicians inspired scores of imitators, some who made it big and some who only play for fun.

None who can really play the blues, despite their mechanical prowess.

Although buried in the archives now, fifty years ago there was a debate on who can sing the blues. In 1964, a young Rod Stewart was criticized for his cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's 1937 blues song "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". Not coincidentally, this song also features future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

Although the critiques aren't easily found, Stewart's response to his critics is. According to a 2005 biography on Stewart, he claimed:
"A white person can sing the blues with just as much conviction as a Negro. All these coloured singers singing about 'Walking Down The Railroad Track'...they've never walked down a railroad track in their lives. Nor have I. You've got more to sing the blues about in the Archway Road, near my home, than on any railroad track I know."
(Click here for a great article on the role and importance of the railroad in the Mississippi Blues. In short, the rail was the lifeline between the cotton fields of the Delta and Memphis, its closest city.)

Despite his attempts at establishing his credibility, Stewart still had the fear of rejection. In a 2012 NPR interview, Stewart says:
Because I was a white boy from North London trying to sing rhythm & blues and soul music, I was paranoid that the curtain would go back and it would be all full of black people, and they'd yell, 'Fraud! Fraud!'
While Stewart's early blues career wouldn't amount to much, he continued in music and became one of the most respected singers in American history, selling over 100 million records.

But recent issues in a more contemporary genre forced me to look up Stewart, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and white men who ventured into traditionally African-American music.

Over the last week, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has attempted to defend herself from a barrage of critics who claim she does not have the credibility to be a respected hip-hop performer. The critics charge that she doesn't understand the roots of the culture she is making a very good living on.

To recycle the Stewart criticism, they claim Azalea has never "walked down the railroad track".

According to her bio, Azalea came to the US when she was 16 in 2006 with the intention of getting into music. After several years in the underground scene, she finally released her first major album in 2014 and has since been nominated for several Grammy awards. Her videos have over 400 million views on YouTube and some have even claimed she "runs hip-hop".

That is much further than Stewart got in his blues career. But Stewart never changed his voice to sound like a black farmer from Mississippi as Azalea as changed her accent to sound more "hip-hop" on her songs.

In response to a back and forth between Azalea and New York-born rapper Azealia Banks, one of Azalea's most recent critics, long-time New York rapper and producer Q-Tip released a long diatribe on twitter about hip-hop, its roots, and why there is defensiveness when outsiders attempt to work their way into the scene. The whole speech is worth the read.
"HipHop is a artistic and socio-political movement/culture that sprang from the disparate ghettos of NY in the early 70's Coming off the heels of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT and approaching the end of the Vietnam war it was a crossroads 4 America specially for blacks in the US our neighborhoods were PROLIFERATED w/a rush of HEROINE."

"Our school systems here in NY dungeon traps with light for learning… blk men some of whom didn't return from tours of duty n the ones who did came w/war baggage (agent orange, addiction, ect..)… these men had families but due to these events and throw into the mix the public emasculation… they proved to be handicapped parents. The surrogate parents? The STREETS… the streets of gangs, crimes, and the hustlers coddled us and swept us up."

"But! Being a spirited, rhythmic & expressive people music art dance outlined our existence… it proved a way for us to exhault to scream to dance to laugh and find OUR VOICE… we weren't at the time skilled musicians as kids. We had records, turntables, ideas and INGENUITY being natural chemist we took from whatever was availed to us and we created something mighty and special."

"We cut breakbeats back n forth we took a hybrid of Jamaican toasting along w/ radio jock rap( hank Spann, Gary Byrd, ect.) and we put our rap down.. it was a neighborhood thing really. Black and Latino Kids were carving out their space and it became infectious… eventually Keith Cowboy coined the phrase hiphop . Yrs later the first rap record was recorded and now we r moving."

"But during these strides this country still had the monster of racism and racial insensitivity breathing and ruling… believe it or not young black n Latino lives specifically weren't acknowledged in mainstream American culture unless Of course.. the convo was abt gangs , being criminals or uneducated. And hey! Like I stated early our families were rushed our schools sucked and we were left to put devices to survive… but HIPHOP showed that we had DEPTH, fire, and BRILLANCE… the music was undeniable! It moved from NY N became national and even GLOBAL."

Hiphop now was FOR EVERYBODY!! All of those who cld relate to the roots, the spirit, the history, the energy.. It reached YOU… it touched your spirit n took u up. We magnetized you! That's what BRILLANCE does… now u are fulfilling your dreams … BUT! you have to take into account the HISTORY as you move underneath the banner of hiphop. As I said before… hiphop is fun it's vile it's dance it's traditional it's light hearted but 1 thing it can never detach itself from is being a SOCIO-Political movement."

"U may ask why … Well once you are born black your existence I believe is joined with socio-political epitaph and philos based on the tangled and treacherous history SLAVERY alone this is the case it never leaves our conversation… Ever. WeAther in our universities our dinner tables our studios or jail cells… the effects still resononates with us. It hurts… We get emotional and angry and melancholy… did u know president Clinton was the ONLY PRESIDENT to apologize for it? did u know that remnants of slavery exist today thru white privilege? When certain "niceties" r extended your way because of how u look? Isn't that crazy?"

"I say this 2 say u are a hiphop artist who has the right 2 express herself however she wishes… this is not a chastisement this is not admonishment at ALL this is just one artist reaching to another hoping to spark insight into the field you r in. I say this in the spirit of a hopeful healthy dialogue that maybe one day we can continue… I've been on twitter a long time and this will probably be my last series of tweets pretty much but I'm Kool with it as long as I got to share this w u. Zzzzzzz's up! Peace!"
The biggest take-away in the long speech is how Q-Tip labels hip-hop as a sociopolitical movement. In a 1998 essay, writer Bari Lehrman describes the Blues in similar terms.
During slavery, secular music was considered blasphemy and forced underground. What emerged from this was the blues, as a"form of art, modern mythology, and a secular religion"(Spencer 55).

According to author Larry Neal, the blues represents"the essential vector of Afro- American sensibility and identity", and represents the"ex slaves' confrontation with a more secular evaluation of the world"( Spencer 36). It was shaped by social and political oppression and it reflects a defiant attitude toward life. The blues represents survival during hard times and it tells the basic facts of life. As can be seen in the music, there is an emphasis on the"immediacy of life, the nature of man, and human survival..."formed from a history of mental and physical hardships (Spencer 39). It is a direct expression of the post-slavery world view, linked to freeing the individual spirit.

The 'old blues' redefined America's traditional values, and led to the"vision of a new establishment"(Spencer 56). It directly spoke out against white America and the Puritan ethos that was forced upon the slaves for centuries. The lyrics helped release America from the"moral prison"of this Puritanism, and questioned the morality of Christianity and white society. In the music, there is an emphasis on unity, with the joining of man and woman together, and their ultimate triumph over the machine (Spencer 57).

Despite the obvious separation between the blues and the church, the blues is often seen as a"secular religion", as well as a form of art and modern mythology (Spencer 55). In comparing the blues singer to a preacher, Charles Keil states,"Blues singers and preachers both provide models and orientations, both give public expression to deeply felt private emotions, both promote catharsis- the blues singer through dance, the preacher through trance; both increase feelings of solidarity, boost morale, and strengthen the consensus"(Spencer 64).
Despite his claim otherwise, there is no way Rod Stewart could have had the same feeling in his blues as an African-American from the Mississippi Delta. Likewise for Iggy Azalea in hip-hop. Both could understand the mechanics of their genre and perform them perfectly, but the heart of the music - that indescribable credibility that underlies every song - will be missing.

Because neither could ever "walk down the railroad track".

Which brings me back to my problem with many contemporary white blues players. While their life might have problems, and they might have the blues, the depth and historical context is not there.

This is not to say people of European descent can't have sociopolitical music. There are generations of Irish protest songs, hundreds of anti-government punk rock songs, and even country music was born from the bluegrass tunes of the Appalachian coal workers.

There would also be no problem if Iggy Azalea went back to Australia and used hip-hop as a medium to communicate local sociopolitical ideas. Socially conscious hip-hop is heard all over the globe, from Soosan Firooz in Afghanistan to Thufail al Ghifari in Indonesia to Turkish rappers in Germany.

But someone who comes to America and celebrates their mastery of an art form without tipping their cap to the heart of the music should be criticized.

Now if Iggy Azalea covered Florence Reece, we might be having a totally different conversation.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Coastal Hyundai, Bad Customer Service, doing social media wrong

I am the proud owner of a 2013 Hyundai Elantra. I bought it new, and love it. It's great on gas, comfortable, and everything I need for where I am in life.

But while Hyundai has a great warranty, the one thing I don't like is how they constantly send me emails about their newest models and deals. I have tried to unsubscribe, but that never seems to work. They are automated and will probably never go away.

However, I do expect to be removed from a specific Hyundai dealership's mailing list. Especially if I ask them to remove me. Especially if that request is reiterated every month.

Somehow, Coastal Hyundai of Melbourne, Florida received my contact information and will not leave me alone. I have never dealt with Coastal Hyundai and I doubt I have will. I bought my vehicle at an Ocala, Florida, Hyundai location. The Ocala dealership called me once and I told the gentleman on the line I was not interested. He was very nice, understood, and then asked how I liked the car I did buy. I would do business with them again.

Unfortunately, despite my pleas, Coastal Hyundai will not stop. This despite the fact that I did not buy my vehicle there.

Yet they badger me. I have spoken with their general managers. I have spoken with other managers. I have talked to whoever answers their phone. All claim to remove me from their mailing and email lists. I still get emails and unwanted literature.

This has gone on for over 6 months.

So with personal contact not working, I decided to look up Coastal Hyundai on social media. Perhaps a well-placed complaint could get done what monthly calls could not.

For a well-established car dealership, Coastal Hyundai's social media presence is pathetic. It is obvious they created twitter and Facebook accounts because they either had to or felt it would be "the cool thing to do". They don't interact with customers on either. Even worse, their twitter account is only forwarded Facebook posts.

That's not how you "do" twitter.

Can I expect a response if I reach out on twitter? Why have an account customers can use if you don't interact on it? That's bad social media 101. Customers will have to find an avenue in which to get a response. How long should customers wait to get a response? Just terrible.

If you are not going interact on a social media platform, don't create an account. Keep announcements and pushed media on your website.

With a twitter response unlikely, I went to Coastal Hyundai's Facebook page. This isn't much better than their twitter account. They do have 661 followers and a post every few days, but interactions are nearly nil. Their most recent posts are only "liked" by the dealership general manager and earlier posts are only "liked" by another employees. That's not good.

It is obvious Coastal Hyundai is not connecting to their customers via Facebook or twitter. And with their constant disregard of my requests to be removed from their mail and email list, it is obvious they don't listen to customers over the phone either. Worse, I was never a customer.

I don't know what else I have to do to in order to have Coastal Hyundai remove me from their marketing lists. I want nothing to do with them. Maybe I should contact Hyundai's corporate offices? Maybe I should file a complaint with the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce? Maybe the Better Business Bureau?

Maybe this post will work.

Dear Coastal Hyundai, leave me alone.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The value of an Uncle

A few years ago, my nephew gave me a funny birthday card.

So apparently my value as an uncle is worth more than the aforementioned $1,000,000. That's good to know, especially if I ever decide to put my uncle skills on the open market.

But what if I valued myself for over a million dollars? What if I was a professional baseball player and made $20 million dollars a year? My uncle value, if exactly $1 million, would only be 5% of my professional value. I'm not sure that would be something to brag about.

Being that I am not a professional baseball player, and my salary is not yet anywhere near $1 million, could I use the perceived value of my uncle skills to answer the dreaded "salary requirements" question employers often ask?

Q: "What are your salary requirements?"

A: Well, being that my uncle skills are valued at over $1 million, and then adding my education and experience, I don't think I could settle for anything less than $1.23 million.

I'm sure recruiters would be cool with that.

What this card does not make clear, unfortunately, is the amount of time the value is spread over. Is it annually? Or is it over the lifetime of the uncle relationship? Since I am 30 years older than my nephew, there is a good chance I will be his uncle for 50 years. If my uncle purchase price is $1,000,0001.00 - a value $1 over $1 million - then my annual uncle value is only $20,000 per year. That's not bad, but not something to brag about.

"I'm a $20,000 a year uncle."

Sure, some uncles are worth less than that. Some uncles don't even know their nephews. But they don't get birthday cards with their value. So they must live in ignorance, if they care.

But I consider myself a kick-ass uncle. I have value. And that value is over a million dollars.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thoughts on the FSU Library shooting

I've been to some shitty places in the world.

I've also been to some absolutely great places.

I count Florida State University as one of the better places I have ever been. At FSU, I grew academically and personally. My time at FSU greatly influenced the person I am today. I can think of no other university I would rather be an alumnus of.

So it was with great shock that I read tweets and reports of a shooting on the FSU campus just past midnight on November 20th. My first reaction was to immediately compare the rapid fire tweets of Adam Weinstein and others to the tweets of Mustafa Kazemi, an Afghan journalist I followed closely during my time in his country. One night in particular, Kazemi tweeted about a hotel siege against the Taliban where he narrowly ducked incoming fire. I remember hanging on to each update, eager to know the outcome.

Never in my wildest dreams would I think tweets from FSU would bring the same feelings. I didn't see that coming. At all.

Of course, no one can ever see a shooting coming. That is the nature of its evil. Shootings are random, usually senseless, and always tragic. After the storm of tweets and reports, I thought about another location near and dear to me recently marred by violence. In 2009, US Army Major Nadik Hassan opened fire in the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Center, killing 13 and wounding 30. The Readiness Center was located across the street from my former unit headquarters. When I was stationed at Fort Hood, before my time at FSU, the Readiness Center was a sports bar and I spent many evenings there watching games and enjoying the company of friends.

Just like I spent many evenings and mornings, afternoons, and late nights in Strozier Library.

One of concepts I grew to appreciate in Afghanistan was the meaning of "inshallah", an Arabic term for "God willing". It is a humbling term, used for when you have little control of a situation and place the outcome in God's hands. If it is in God's will for something to happen, it will happen. If it is in God's will for you to have control, then it is. If not, than it is not.

When living in a society marred by tragedy and terrorist attacks, inshallah becomes a way of life. If it is in God's will, you will see another day. God willing, your family, friends, country, and the world will be at peace. But if not, that is God's will as well.

God willing, students across the world can study and envelop themselves in academia without fear. God willing, noone with a lunatic agenda, a counter-culture bend, or even a broken heart disrupts the peaceful quest for knowledge. We hope this not only for students in America but also for students such as Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl shot in the face by an extremist because he disagreed with her desire to be educated.

Malala persevered and so will Florida State University, as have Northern Illinois University (2008), Virginia Tech (2007), University of Iowa (1991), University of Texas (1966), and the many other universities scarred by senseless gun violence.

Among my concerns now is that the Florida State University family treat this incident with care. Of course, there will be security precautions and awareness of copycat attacks. Although initial reports are that this was an isolated incident, security will be high during upcoming football games and other significant gatherings. That is to be expected, although I hope when the storm passes they return to their normal levels of concern and not maintain a hyper-security state based on one random incident.

Another concern I have is with how the university handles the grieving process. Florida State University is very big on its affiliation with and support of the Seminole Indian Tribe. The university has embraced the "Unconquered" theme as a way to acknowledge the Seminole Tribe's ability to fight off US Government oppression during the Seminole Wars. Those wars, which occurred between 1816 and 1858, reduced the Seminole population in Florida from the thousands to a few hundred. Most Seminole Tribe members were massacred or forced to migrate to Oklahoma. Only a handful scattered throughout the swampland of South Florida were able to withstand the constant US military invasion. Those few were the "unconquered".

To compare a school shooting to the suffering the Seminole Tribe had to endure for over a generation is not a good idea at all. While what happened to the student body on November 20th is tragic, and we do need to be there for each other, it pales in comparison to the struggle of the Seminole Tribe. Florida State University should avoid using Seminole imagery and terms to unify its student body after the violence at Strozier Library. Doing so would only belittle the meaning of these symbols.

Despite these concerns, my heart goes out to those affected by the Strozier Library shooting. I hope those hurt recover and those seeking knowledge are again able to enjoy their quest as peacefully as I did during my great time at Florida State University.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Gargoyle and the AfroSquad Wrestling Promo

While perusing the vast illustrious digital video depot known as YouTube, I found an old wrestling promo video I was a part of. This video was filmed in early 2011 when I was frequently attending All-Star Wrestling in Tampa. On this particular Friday evening, the regular crowd was joined by pro wrestling superfan "The Gargoyle", who had traveled from the Florida Panhandle to check out the Tampa wrestling scene.

Being a bit of a character myself, with my 3-foot afro, The Gargoyle and I clicked immediately. We clicked so well, we knew we had to shoot a wrestling style promo outside of the venue. Joining us was wrestler Colby Godwin, aka BTY.

I don't go to as many wrestling shows as I used to, but these were fun times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poem about a painful job search

A brief word on my struggle to find employment.

Empty Hands

They say don't get attached.
But how can you not when it has been so long?
And you have dreams deferred for years.

They say don't let emotions get in the way of your hustle.
But every rejection letter hurts.
Every soulless notice sent from a faceless email address.

They say don't hate the human behind the resources.
But the pie is shared inside.
And you are on the outside looking in.

They say don't take it out on anyone.
It's the process, the machine, the system.
But you want to throw baseballs at lockers like Ricky Vaughn.

I want you to tell me all this grind is worth the effort.
That my dream will overcome the American Reality.
And if you can't, then proving you wrong is what keeps me hungry.

Meantime, I tinker, building my Deloran with the future in mind.
Even if you have me looped back to the past.
Withholding plutonium until I make it work on banana peels and trash.

There is no notice from 1985 to save me from the shots.
Consider this my shot fired for the shots taken.
To the chest, to the wallet, and to the confidence.

I'll take another shot and strike up another conversation.
Maybe she's the one I can build a home with.
I'd rather be a last dance than a last resort.

In a weird way, there is comfort in the pain.
Not sure how I would react if I got it all tomorrow.
The whole pie, the whole enchilada, the whole world.

You don't have to give everything to me yet.
I just want something to help me seize the dreams.
I just don't want my hands to be empty anymore.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Homeless Dilemma

A few years ago, long-time friend Clark Brooks wrote an interesting post on his thoughts on homeless people. Clark looked at recent incidents of panhandlers faking the funk and not being who they appear to be and pondered on whether or not to ever give a dollar or two to local panhandlers he sees in the Tampa area.

In the dilemma of whether to keep giving or not, Clark didn't come to a conclusion either way.

Contrary to popular belief, as Clark points out, not all panhandlers are homeless. While some are complete frauds, I've been told by a few that they live in nearby cheap hotels. Which is a small step up from living under a bridge. If they can beg for $30 a day, they can pay for their next night in a hotel. So when they plea the "hotel locked me out" story, it's not 100% made up. Maybe only 50%.

But in other cases, there are certain panhandlers I will absolutely never give anything to.

The biggest group I deny is homeless Vietnam vets.

Before anyone chastises me for being unpatriotic, let me explain.

Yes, I am a veteran. Yes, I have compassion for fellow veterans who might have fallen on hard times. Sometimes adjusting to life in America is difficult after a year or more in a high pressure combat zone. I totally understand that and I sympathize.

But my sympathy is nil with those who use Vietnam as an excuse for being homeless or jobless.

It's been 40 years since American involvement in Vietnam ended. Vietnam veterans have had 40 years to find assistance. While that assistance might not have been easily accessible upon their return, it is easily accessible now. There are veterans' hospitals, veterans' counselors, and veterans' assistance centers everywhere. And there are plenty of public libraries where those without personal computers can look up their local veterans' assistance facilities.

Homeless Vietnam veterans have no excuse. By now, they should have found the help they need. Therefore, they get no money from me.

Which brings me to a recent interaction I had with a panhandler. I have never been so insulted or wanted to physically confront a panhandler so much in my life.

On the way to visit my parents a few weeks ago, I exited I-95 in Melbourne, Florida. At the intersection of Eau Gallie Road and John Rhodes Boulevard, I stopped at a red light. In the median was a disheveled man with a scruffy beard and old clothes. He was carrying a small sign that read "Love / God Bless".

I was the third car in line waiting for the light in the left turning lane. As the disheveled man began walking the line, his eyes locked into mine. I knew he was headed my way. Perhaps he thought the fact that I was looking at him meant I was interested in providing assistance.

As he walked up to my car, I turned down the stereo (Slayer, of course). He was near my car when I broke the ice.

"How are you?" I asked.

"Vietnam vet," he replied.

Not an expected answer, so I asked him to repeat himself.

"Vietnam vet," he said again.

"That's cool," I replied, immediately shifting into my stubborn stance of not assisting veterans from that conflict. Had he said that he need money for beer or that he was a recovering crack addict, I would have helped. But not a dime to panhandling 'Nam veterans.

Of course, I could have questioned his credibility and asked him what unit he was with. That's not a bad option. If he stated a unit and mission, that might have improved his chances of receiving a handout. Then I might be able to confirm he is the real deal. Or we could have exchanged war stories. I could have made a friend.

He then skipped the formalities and went straight for the deal.

"Can I get some money?" he asked.

Ballsy. And not a good approach.

"Sorry, I don't have any cash," I said.

After I politely rebuked his plea, the conversation turned weird. And borderline offensive.

"Yeah," he said, looking at me in disgust. "But we have millions for those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. If you ask me, they are just a bunch of punks."

"Woah, Nellie," I thought to myself.

Did he have any idea he was talking to a Bosnia veteran who spent 14 months in Afghanistan working with the people he just called "punks"? I doubt it. If there was any chance he was getting a handout, it was obliterated, decimated, and cremated then and there.

"If you say so," I said. It was the least I could say without getting out of the car and confronting him. Which would have made for a very awkward scene.

Imagine if someone got out of a car to fight a homeless person. People in cars are supposed to be more civil. What would the other drivers think if a driver exited their car to pummel a panhandler? Drivers have the power to put up the window and drive away, if possible. They are expected to exercise that power if needed. They are not supposed to engage panhandlers in pugilism.

"You disagree?" he continued. I don't think he understood that I was offended by his line of panhandling.

"Yes, I do," I said. "But you keep on thinking that."

Before he could reply, the light turned green, the cars in front moved forward, and I pressed the gas pedal to drive away from the disheveled malcontent.

I can't imagine this particular panhandler being very successful in his game. Insulting veterans is not a good play. I hope no one gave him a dime.

Normally, I am helpful to the unfortunate. I know I would want people to give me a hand if I was ever completely down on my luck. But while Clark Brooks didn't have any hard rules on who to give or not give to, I have one solid one:

I won't give a dime to people who insult me or people I think highly of.

If they stick to that rule, everything else is cream cheese.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interviewing a 5-year old on creativity and imagination

I've made some creative videos in the past, but this is one of my favorite ones ever.

As part of an MBA class I took last year, I had to create a project that described my thoughts on creativity, especially as it pertains to the workplace. The premise was to inspire thought and out-of-the box thinking - things I have never been short on. While there was really no way to fail, the more creative the project, the better.

I knew from the start I wanted to create a video. This is only a sample of the whole video, which had samples my stand-up, clips from home movies, and bits from other endeavors. The video was a "journey" through a life of creativity. What follows is the "new" part of the journey, an interview with a pure-of-mind and imaginative young person.

I like to think I did his imagination justice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jamaica to decriminalize Weed, growers to stop shooting sheriffs

Here is something I was shocked to find out:

Weed is illegal in Jamaica. Seriously.

I never would have thought that. Marijuana is as synonymous with Jamaica as Reggae Music. As a matter of fact, so much reggae is about about weed, I would have thought it was the national flower.

Peter Tosh sang about it.

Entire albums are dedicated to it.

I was convinced it was legal in Jamaica. There was no way you could have convinced me otherwise. When I think of Jamaica, I think of the following:
  • jerk chicken
  • dreadlocks
  • Red Stripe
  • reggae
  • marijuana
But I guess this whole time Jamaica never thought to "legalize it". Until now.

Throughout this year, the Jamaican government has been meeting, debating, and considering legalizing marijuana. According to a USA Today article in June,
The motivation behind the legal pot drive is largely economic. Jamaica's economy has suffered from slow growth, high unemployment (now 13.4%) and high debt for the past two decades, according to the World Bank.

Jamaica, where about 37,066 acres grow marijuana, is the largest Caribbean supplier of pot to the USA and other Caribbean islands, according to the State Department's 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

By the end of September, the Jamaican government had drafted legislation to decriminalize the drug, according to the BBC. The Denver Post reported recently that the government of Jamaica had even contacted a Denver-based firm to help with the legality of the issue.

Interestingly, the trend to legalize weed in other countries has "sparked" the change in legal attitudes in Jamaica.

Via CBSNews:
Previous efforts to decriminalize marijuana, or "ganja" as it is largely known in Jamaica, failed to advance because Jamaican officials feared they would violate international treaties and bring sanctions from Washington. But those concerns have eased now that a number of nations and some U.S. states have relaxed marijuana laws.

But my biggest concern is how the Jamaican legal system will compensate those who might have been unjustly prosecuted for defending their herb fields in the days when marijuana was illegal.

I am thinking particularly of a certain grower who was constantly harassed by Sheriff John Brown. After the grower was threatened with violence for an unknown reason, he did what anyone in his position would do: he shot first. While he contritely admitted to killing the sheriff, he claimed to have no part in the death of the deputy.

With weed soon to be legal, will the Jamaican government apologize for its terrorizing behavior towards growers? Will growers be forgiven for shooting sheriffs?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mooch Brown, real hip hop, and how not to treat prospective fans

Performers, read this if you like. Ignore it if you want. I'm just a fan who enjoys music, has written about it a bit, and has been to more shows, both national and local, than I can count.

Two things at live music events annoy me to no end:
  • Fans holding up phones to record entire performances
  • Rappers performing songs with pre-recorded lyrics
I can't stop fans from holding up their phones, as much as I would love to. But my aversion to pre-recorded lyrics led me to an unfortunate exchange with a local Tampa DJ/performer.

Last Saturday, I went to Mooch Brown's Hip Hop Saturdays at Pegasus Lounge in Tampa. This is a small venue showcasing local acts. It's not Madison Square Garden and Jay-Z. This is the grassroots of hip-hop. I've been to plenty of these type of shows and know many hip-hop artists who perform at this level.

Mooch Brown's show failed to meet even these grassroots expectations.

While at the show, I tweeted some disappointment.


Finally, I looked at Mooch Brown, the DJ and host, to raise the level of the acts.

Fair? I think so. I spent $7 and I wasn't happy. Too many artists getting on stage rapping to songs with their own lyrics. Artists even let the recording rap the verses while they only shouted the last few words of their lines and hyped their songs. They turned their back on the audience, mumbled, and leaned on one-dimensional tropes such as "hustlin'", "grindin'", and "bitches and hoes". Not to mention way too much "nigga".

I understand beginning artists may use basic subject matter while they work on their stage presence. They may resort to basic rhymes in their first-ever songs. Ok. But there still needs to be evidence of hard work.

The only redeeming act in the show was a soul/R&B group who performed with live instruments. While the sounds was a bit off - acoustics or equipment, perhaps - they were cohesive and talented. They looked like they took pride in their craft. And most important, they were entertaining.

Following the live act, Mooch Brown played a mix of songs. The band cleared the stage, and they and their fans left, leaving Pegasus Lounge nearly empty.

20 minutes later, Mooch Brown still played his own DJ mix. Meanwhile, there were still at least two remaining local artists hoping to get on stage. Then Mooch did something I have never seen a DJ do: he played his own songs, ran to the stage, and rhymed over his lyrics. He did this for at least three songs. At nearly 2AM. For the 10 people left at Pegasus Lounge.

A little after 2AM, one of the remaining artists left, convinced they weren't going on stage. I left shortly thereafter. When I made it home, I dropped a final tweet.
The show was not $7 well-spent.

The next morning, I awoke to a response from Mooch Brown.
A personal attack to a paying customer after I critiqued his show. Classy.

Mooch Brown also decided to criticize me, hiding behind the "real hip hop" cliche, saying I had no idea what I was talking about.

What I tweeted wasn't a review, again as a paying customer, it was observations. But instead of fighting, I asked for Mooch Brown's insight, because if I didn't know what I was talking about, maybe he could help me understand.

Then I followed Mooch Brown on twitter. Perhaps if he would not directly engage a prospective fan, maybe somewhere along the way, he would provide me insight as to what his thoughts are on "real hip hop". Maybe I missed something.

Today, Mooch Brown blocked me. Instead of engaging, he refused dialogue.

That's not how you win fans.

I would not recommend supporting Mooch Brown's music and shows if that is how he treats people. I know I won't be at any more of his performances. Nor will I be at any show he is booked on.

I am not a fan.

Friday, September 5, 2014

National Lampoon, Leaked Photos, and Voyeur Culture

In 1985, Clark Griswold and his family traveled to Europe. While in London, Clark mischievously recorded his wife getting out of the shower. Ellen then did a seductive dance for her husband and the two commenced in intimate moments while the camera recorded. A few days later, while the family was in Paris, their camera was stolen.

Several days after the theft, Ellen saw a picture of herself during the recorded moments in an advertisement on the side of a bus. The advertisement was for an adult movie. As to be expected, she was embarrassed and angry at her husband for not erasing the material.

In the wake of the latest theft of celebrity intimate photos, is the above scenario still funny?

Also, who do you think is to blame - if anyone - in the above scenario?
  • Ellen Griswold

  • Clark Griswold

  • The Paris thief

  • The distributor

  • The bus company for promoting

  • The market for such a video
Personally, I hate "blame". People get too busy blaming and pointing fingers, and not fixing problems. What's done is done. After the incident occurs, the next step is to make sure it doesn't happen again. In the Griswold case, that might mean Clark is never able to operate the camera again. Or they don't make intimate videos again. Or they never hand their camera to strangers again. Or they ensure the thief is prosecuted to the utmost extent of the law, intimidating potential thieves. Or they could start a campaign trying to change the voyeur culture. Either way, effective countermeasures may be taken.

Or not.

Monday, September 1, 2014

My favorite Tampa Bay music venues

A few weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times (who I have written for) published an "Ultimate Bar Guide" for the Tampa Bay area. One of the sections they divided bars into was the best places in Tampa Bay to see live music. Their list:
  • The Ale and the Witch (St. Pete)

  • The Brass Mug (Tampa)

  • The Orpheum (Tampa)

  • Pelican Pub (St. Pete)

  • Hideaway Cafe (St. Pete)

  • Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill (Plant City)
I've never been to three of their six venues and probably should go, as the TBT crew are well-versed in their area music and their recommendations are probably pretty good.

Here is my list of best music venues in Tampa Bay. It is slightly different.
  1. The Brass Mug (Tampa) - raw, loud, and isolated, despite being 5 minutes from University of South Florida. Best metal bar in the area seems to still be a work in progress after move to new location. Bands I've seen there: Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Secrets She Kept

  2. Crowbar (Tampa) - wide array of genres helps. Perfect venue for Ol' Dirty Sundays weekly hip-hop night. Bands I've seen there: Obituary, Talib Kweli, DJ Scratch, RJD2, Weekend Nachos, several local shows.

  3. Hideaway Cafe (St Pete) - I need to go here more often, especially on a blues night. Only been once. Beautiful set-up. Very "unplugged"-esque. As the TBT folks mentioned, the Hideaway Cafe is billed as a "listening room", which is much different than the loud energetic concert vibes I am used to. A place for music listeners.

  4. Skipper's Smokehouse (Tampa) - Eclectic blues, jam, reggae bar. Great vibe. Awesome decor. Would be much higher if not for terrible parking lot. Impossible to find a place to park when they have live music. I've turned around and gone home in frustration a few times. Bands seen here: JJ Grey & Mofro

  5. Jannus Live (St Pete) - Outdoor courtyard venue that was redone a few years ago. Wide array of bookings helps. Being on a block with other bars, clubs, and pizza places is also a plus. Bands I've seen there: George Clinton, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep.
Places I need to go to that could make the list:
  • Ybor City Jazz House (Tampa) - New live jazz place in Ybor. Place for "grown folks". Dress code required. DJ Sandman, who I have interviewed, DJs upstairs on Saturday night.

  • Ringside Cafe (St. Pete) - Haven't visited since they moved to their new location near Jannus Live. Live blues and rock puts this place high on my "must-see" list.

  • Hard Rock Cafe (Tampa) - Been for food, not for concerts. Great environment. My favorite place to people watch. Growing reputation as a place for good rock.

Other places in the Tampa Bay area I've seen music (bands I've seen in parentheses):
  • The amphitheater (Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph, Alice in Chains, Velvet Revolver, Incubus)

  • Ruth Eckerd Hall (BB King)

  • Tampa Bay Times Forum (Pearl Jam, Kid Rock)

  • State Theater (Sevendust, Clutch, Aesop Rock, House of Pain)

  • Ritz Ybor (Sevendust, Southern Darkness Fest, Rodrigo & Gabriela, Black Label Society)

  • The Orpheum (Southern Darkness Fest)

  • Local 662 (local bands)

  • Fubar (Secrets She Kept, local bands)

  • Pegasus Lounge (local bands)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Southern Darkness Fest in Tampa 8/23/2014

On August 23rd, I checked out the first Southern Darkness Fest held in Tampa. The multi-venue hard rock, metal, hardcore, and punk show was the first festival of it's kind to be held in Tampa. According to the founder,
Southern Darkness is unique for a couple of reasons: the festival actually presents a coherent narrative and it’s exceedingly cheap show for so many bands.
Between 28 bands and 3 bars, there was a lot going on and of course, I was unable to catch it all. But I wanted to give a quick review of what I did see. Instead of going into a longform narrative, I'm breaking the review into chunks and give each part a grade.

1) Music - A : This is a no-brainer. I wouldn't be going to the show if I didn't want to hear the music. That said, however, I wasn't familiar with hardly any of the bands. As a matter of fact, I had only heard of three (Black Tusk, ASG, and Weekend Nachos), and that was because they had songs on a Relapse Records sampler I picked up. So I had heard three songs from the catalog of 28 possible bands. Maybe less than 1% of the total music?

(Compare that to the Soundgarden show I saw recently where I had most of the songs in my collection for 20 years.)

Every band was new to me and none disappointed.

Here is where I have to admit I missed half the festival. I only saw 5 bands total, only one song from one of them. I saw Scrog (half their set), Weekend Nachos, Black Tusk, Bongripper (one song), and Pelican. I didn't realize the festival began at 3pm. I thought it began at 8pm. But what I did see was badass.

Of these, Black Tusk was the most imposing, Weekend Nachos had the most energy, and Pelican was the most groove heavy. Each band brought something different to the table. I felt a little old for Weekend Nachos (I wasn't the only one), but their show was really good. Stage diving, mosh-pit slamming, and high energy.

Black Tusk is described on Wikipedia as "swamp" and "sludge" metal. They were more "grown-man" metal than the somewhat punk vibe of Weekend Nachos. With their tattoos, long beards, and Black Sabbath-esque riffs, Black Tusk looked like they could be part of the WWE's Wyatt Family. I was impressed and even picked up a CD.

Pelican also impressed me a lot. They were the headliner, so of course they drew the most attention from the crowd. And they did not disappoint. All instrumental groove-metal songs. I've often critiqued some bands by their lead singer. I've dug the music, just not the tone of the singer. With Pelican, I didn't have to worry about that as there were no vocals at all. Just over an hour of instrumental heavy metal. Good stuff.

2) Venues - A- : The Southern Darkness Fest was held in Ybor City's Orpheum, Crowbar, and Ritz Ybor. I had seen shows at each of these venues and knew each were good places for live music. Of the three, Crowbar was the most crowded and with Weekend Nachos, it was the most energetic venue. Orpheum was a bigger venue and its dark vibe suited the doom metal bands that played there very well. Of the three, Ritz Ybor was the least impressive. Instead of their main stage, Black Tusk was in a side room. The room held a decent size crowd, and Ritz probably realized Black Tusk wasn't going to pack their 500 head main room, but being stashed in a side room was a little disappointing. Thankfully Black Tusk did not disappoint.

Another spot for improvement would be give each concert-goer a venue set list, perhaps with a genre listing next to each band. When I walked from one bar to the next, not only did I not know who was playing, I didn't know what type of metal it was. Each bar was a crapshoot.

3) Ticket Prices - A : The total festival cost on the day of the show was $45. No processing fee, no handling fee, just $45 for 28 bands and 10 hours of music. And had I bought the ticket a day earlier, the cost would have been $35. And had I been there on time, I would have seen more music for the price I did pay.

But I paid $15 each for 3 bands and 4 hours of music. That's still not bad.

4) Concessions - C : Most bands had a merch table, which was awesome, but what was missing was a festival t-shirt. I was hoping to buy one. The only merch the overall festival had was a small poster they were selling for $10, which I thought was overpriced. If it was a larger poster I could hang on a wall, then perhaps, but I was not going to buy a small poster.

Maybe next year, if they do a second Southern Darkness Fest, they will have festival t-shirts or large posters. Some room for improvement there.

5) Overall - A : I had a good time, drank some beer, and rocked out to some metal without spending an arm and a leg. That's a good night. I hope there is a second festival next year and they book similar bands. Next year, I promise I will get their earlier.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Social Media and the Military - The Russian Problem

In December 1992, US Marines and Navy Seals landed on a beach in Somalia to begin their mission in the war-torn country. According to the New York Times,
The Marines mounted a textbook operation, which began with well-armed Seals and reconnaissance teams coming ashore to check the beach for mines and hostile defenders, followed by an assault force.

But there was one little problem. When the Marines hit the shore, they encountered a force they didn't expect. Not armed with guns, tanks, or artillery, this force was equipped with cameras, notepads, and spotlights.

Aware of the mission, the media had beat the Marines to location.
As Navy Seals and Marine reconnaissance teams came shore under the glare of television lights, the spotlights and flash attachments gave away their positions, interfered with their sophisticated night-vision equipment and gave night blindness to commandos who wanted to have their eyes fully adjusted to darkness in case they were attacked from the dunes and scrub.


According the article, there was miscommunication between the Pentagon and the media. The Pentagon let the media know when and where the forces would be, but the notice of what effect the media presence would have on the landing forces was not mentioned.
the Pentagon issued a press advisory asking correspondents to stay off the beaches and began the time-consuming process of faxing them to news organizations in the United States. In some cases the advisory was not faxed to news organizations until 6 P.M., after the Seals landed. It was unclear whether any effort was made to contact foreign news organizations.

That's not good.

In the 22 years since, the relationship between "media" and military operations is still contentious. "Media" is no longer only the major networks or newspapers. It's everyone with a smart phone and access to social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. That we have the ability to broadcast everything (and are encouraged to!) has not only caught many information security services off-guard, but has them scrambling to put band-aids on gaping wounds.

Once information is public, it is incredibly hard, if not impossible, to put the genie back in the bottle.

The reason I highlight this 22 year issue because I recently found out this isn't just a US problem, it's an everywhere problem. A recent post by discussed how Russian troops were taking pictures of themselves on military operations in Ukraine and posting them on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites.
The Russian website has produced an excellent roundup of the mounting photographic evidence of Russia's military presence at the border with Ukraine—all culled from Vkontakte accounts belonging to Grigoryev and his comrades. TJournal reporters found other posts mentioning Ukraine, and discovered that one of Grigoryev's VK friends even published a map of their route, which began in the town of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia (a region of the Russian North Caucasus) and ended in the village of Pokrovske, in the Rostov region, on the border with Ukraine.


Of course, the soldier in question says he was "hacked" and the Russian military is responding as only they know how.
On July 29, the Russian media reported that Vadim Solovyov, a Communist Party Duma deputy, is working on amendments to the Federal law on military service that would essentially ban army servicemen from posting to social networks any photos depicting military equipment or arms. Highly sensitive information conveyed in such images, the deputy believes, undermines state security and “could be used by the Western media for provocations.” Solovyov does say that soldiers will still be allowed to use the Internet for personal correspondence.

Good luck with that.

As Princess Leia said in Star Wars, "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Polysyllabic Poem Power

I saw Dead Poets Society tonight for the first time. How I never saw that movie before was beyond me. I should have. It was really good, but I think Good Will Hunting was slightly better. But that's for another post someday.

Anywhoozle, Dead Poets Society reminded me I haven't played poet in a while. I enjoy poetry, but I've been writing heavier research-type stuff. So let me dip my mind in the creative sauce, slather it across the grill, fry it on 400 until a golden hue, and see what we can cook up.

Polysyllabic Poem Power

Poems bemuse
Poems bedazzle
Poems bring out words in styles rarely said
Extravagant mouthpieces of legendary verbal apostles
We cling as if they have invented gospel for the mind
Souls sometimes for the go for ride if the price is right
Double down on tone and meter. Triple down for rhyme
Four beats to a measure, or is it nine?

But poems aren't only for the high class, the aristocracy, or academics
They belong to the streets, the warrior class, and the starving artists
Those with an eye for words and words for the eyes
Whether the poem is said with a beat or sold to make ends meet
Or get off the street, avoid the heat, and make life complete

Will they look at Nas the way they look at Whitman?
Or will they keep poetry in a box, defined by academic rule
What would Whitman think of Nas? What about Frost's thoughts on Ice Cube?
Common admirers of Theodor Geisel.
Soon all the living poets will be dead. Just like the dead poets.
Reincarnationists don't believe in the circle of life. It's more like a helix. Wrapped around the rhythm of the galaxy.

Now we look to wind this poem down
Turning off the literary faucet
Flushing the stragglers
Wipe it off, shine it up, put a bow on it.
Here is my latest poem.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Hybreed eM-16: "I Get It"

I've mentioned before that I have several friends in the Tampa hip-hop scene. On occasion, I'll check out their shows. Always good to show support, right?

One artist named eM-16 is always an interesting act for me to check out. Before going to Afghanistan, eM-16 and I were neighbors in the same apartment building. During one neighborly conversation, eM-16 mentioned he wrote and rhymed. After that, we chatted about hip-hop on occasion. A few months later, I introduced eM-16 to promoter and friend Nick Major. Nick took eM-16 under his wing, helped him hone his craft, and introduced him to some beat makers and other people in the hip-hop scene. eM-16 took advantage of the opportunity, jumped in with both feet, and started accompanying Nick and everyone to concerts and radio appearance. Meanwhile, his music matured and acquired more of a hip-hop sound, albeit with his own personal Tampa flair.

In late July, I saw eM-16 perform at the Pegasus Lounge in Tampa. Pegasus Lounge isn't a huge venue, but the crowd was receptive. And eM-16 did a good job on the mic. I brought my video camera, recorded his performance, and put it on YouTube.

Here is eM-16's song "I Get It":

Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson and the Militarization of Police in America

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to dominate social media. What started as a sad situation when a police officer killed a teenager has turned into much more with protests, demonstrations, looting, and an increased police presence that borders on an occupation.

I am far from Ferguson. I have no first-hand experience nor first-hand knowledge of the situation. But I did want to organize my thoughts in regards to the many discussions going on. Twitter and other social media platforms might be great for news and rapid responses, but social phenomenon and analysis are not done well in 140 characters.

Why I have this blog.

I am going to skip the incident that caused the situation and the racial makeup of Ferguson versus the racial makeup of the powers that be in area. That has been discussed in length in many other places. There are many angles to that situation that I don't know.

What I want to discuss is the concept of power.

International Affairs professor Steve Saideman wrote a really good piece today for where he compared the situations in Iraq, Israel/Gaza, and Ferguson. Saideman writes that in each instance, the trust in government and use of power was not correct. He writes that each situation boiled down to deterance and assurance - the ability of a government to deter a bad thing from happening and its ability to assure the populace that only the right amount of power will be used.

According to Saideman,
deterrence is a threat with a promise —that if you do nothing bad, nothing bad will happen to you
When America was first created, long ago in the days of our "Founding Fathers", the nation was built on the premise that power should be controlled. That the central government should not have the amount of power used by the British crown. This is the philosophy behind many of the amendments. The Constitution by nature is a restrictive document.

But Saideman states that perhaps even here in America, democracy has lost its power to control power.
Democracy is seen as the solution to this problem of combining effective governance and restrained governance.  Indeed, some of the chapters in our book make that quite clear.  Yet, even in democracies, the balancing act continues with swings towards too much coercion and too little assurance leading to tensions and conflict.  The situation in Ferguson in the U.S., where protests and even perhaps a riot have followed the shooting of a young, African-American man, illustrates this.  We need police to have the capability to use force, but we need that use of force to be limited and targeted or else the police lose legitimacy.
Which brings me to my second point, that the most extreme insurance against the imbalance of power has been eroded to the point of ineffectiveness.

"Open Carry is White Privilege"

Earlier Wednesday, I saw several tweets comparing the situation in Ferguson - where an unarmed teenager was shot - to situations in Texas, where 2nd Amendment supporters are carrying their rifles on their shoulders as they go to Wal-Mart, gas stations, church, etc. The tweets said this was a clear example of "white privilege", that the rifle-carrying persons were not seen as a threat because of the color of their skin, while the unarmed teenager, who was black, was seen as a threat solely because of the color of his skin.

I disagree completely. Open carry is not only a "white" thing. Never has been.

Prior to 1967, the Black Panther Party frequent patrolled the streets of Oakland armed with rifles. According to,
The Police Patrols had become an integral part of BPP community policy. Members of the BPP would listen to police calls on a short wave radio, rush to the scene of the arrest with law books in hand and inform the person being arrested of their constitutional rights. BPP members also happened to carry loaded weapons, which were publicly displayed, but were careful to stand no closer than ten feet from the arrest so as not to interfere with the arrest.
The rifles were not necessarily to shoot cops, but to portray legitimacy, that the Panthers could deter and assure. According to a University of Virginia website,
The gun was a rhetorical tool, deployed to impress black urban audiences and to warn law enforcement officers and other outsiders. Newton described the emphasis on the gun as “a necessary phase in [the Panthers’] evolution, based on Frantz Fanon’s contention that the people have to be shown that the colonizers and their agents—the police—are not bulletproof

Unfortunately for the Black Panthers, their power was neutered with the passing of the Mulford Act, which restricted open carry ability in California. This bill, like many other gun control bills in America, was designed specifically to restrict the power of African-Americans.

(Of course, notice the racial undertones of the image to the right. "Invaded" by a "Armed Negro Band".)

Community Leaders

Armed or not, the Black Panthers had something the people in the streets of Ferguson do not have: leadership - specifically organized local leadership to either continue protest or negotiate on the streets. While organizations such as the NAACP and national spokespeople such as Al Sharpton make their faces shown, there should be church leaders and neighborhood spokespeople who can control, speak for, and when needed, police communities. Of course, neither the right-wing mainstream media or the left-wing mainstream media dare mention the ability of a community to police itself using guns. They believe either a) guns and should only be used by those in power or b) only be used to protect homes and individual persons.

That's what most people believe and what most people have voted for.

And that's why the power pendulum has swung so far to the system and out of the hands of the people.

To quote Boots Riley of the controversial rap group The Coup: "I got faith in the people and they power to fight / We gon' make this struggle blossom like a flower to light"

Examples of Power

Slowly but surely, I am starting to see more people comment on the "militarization of police forces" in America. This has been the case for a while, but if the situation in Ferguson promotes change, then I'm glad people are finally on board. Even non-news media are talking about it.

(Bill Maher had an interesting take here. A few too many bad punchlines, but good points.)

During the 2012 Republican Convention, I was shocked to see pictures of the security forces. The police and security forces were not the usual run-of-the-mill beat cops, they were heavily armed, SWAT troops. As well, blocks around downtown Tampa were blocked off and people had to show identification cards in order to enter the area. There was even debate whether drones were used. All this for a convention.

Less than a year later, after the Boston Marathon bombings, hundreds of police swarmed the streets armed to the teeth, looking for one man. There was no way the bomber could have had enough firepower to topple the Boston police force. Impossible.

Trust of the populace

One of our biggest problems in the US is trust.

Not only do we not trust each other, the powers that be do not trust the populace. There is the assumption that the populace is "up to no good". This is a really bad assumption. It is what got the US military in trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn't until the Petraeus doctrine was enacted and counterinsurgency modified to integration not occupation, did US forces start developing bonds of trust with local populaces.

We have police forces in the United States that don't understand that. Forces can be all-white, all-black, all-Asian, all-Hispanic, or all from Mars, if they don't understand the concerns of the populace, then any effort to be seen as positive contributors will be lost. Police need to be seen as a positive presence, not occupiers. In Ferguson in the last few days, with their tear gas, armored personnel carriers, bullet proof vests, shields, batons, and attempts to silence the media, the police are definitely playing the role of occupiers.

Which brings me to another interesting point. We have in a sense, dehumanized the police. They are the authority, the power, The MAN. But I wonder what goes through their heads when they stand their with their armor and their shields. Are they scared? Are they nervous? How much has their training become instinct? When they make a mistake, it is because they were trained wrong, or because they panicked and did what they thought was right?

We have to understand both sides are human. It is easy to humanize protestors. But we also have to remember in many cases the people in uniform also have families and children and the same concern for human life. Unless they are cold-hearted, jack-booted thugs, which may be possible. Then again, some protestors may be anarchists or wannabe martyrs. But the odds are small of radicals on either side.


Again, I am not there. I have no idea the political situation or the personalities involved. But I don't like analyzing something if I am not going to give a "now what?".

Hopefully based on the bad public relations the Ferguson police force received, police forces across the country will review their doctrines and processes. Maybe increase their level of work with community leaders to establish boundaries, processes, and equipment use.

Maybe governors across the United States will put limits on police force equipment acquisitions. The US has limits on personal weapon capabilities. Why not limit the power of the authorities to match or be slightly above the degree of average weaponry owned by the people of the community? Weapon restriction is a state issue or something that can be handled at the local level. I wonder if that is a platform that would garner support in an election. Would people back a candidate who says they are going to reign in police? Better yet, could they?

In the meantime, a short term solution could be a legal person accompanying the police in every action. This legal representative would ensure laws are followed and rights are respected. If this is too consuming, perhaps ridealongs should be mandatory only while forces build relationships within communities.

As for Ferguson, Missouri, they need to take their relationship with the community back to square one. It is broken. There is no way the police will be trusted there again. Their credibility is shot. So too is their ability to deter and assure.

Just some thoughts.

The Hybreed eM-16 : Poke It Out

I've mentioned I have several friends in the Tampa hip-hop scene. On occasion, I'll check out their shows. Always good to show support, right?

eM-16 is always an interesting act for me to check out. eM-16 and I were neighbors in the same apartment building. During one neighborly conversation, eM-16 mentioned he wrote and rhymed. After that, we chatted about hip-hop on occasion. A few months later, I introduced eM-16 to promoter and friend Nick Major. Nick took eM-16 under his wing, helped him hone his craft, and introduced him to some beat makers and other people in the hip-hop scene. eM-16 took advantage of the opportunity, jumped in with both feet, and started accompanying Nick and everyone to concerts and radio appearance. Meanwhile, his music matured and acquired more of a hip-hop sound, albeit with his own personal Tampa flair.

In late July, I saw eM-16 perform at the Pegasus Lounge in Tampa. Pegasus Lounge isn't a huge venue, but the crowd was receptive. And eM-16 did a good job on the mic. I brought my video camera, recorded his performance, and put it on YouTube.

Here is his song "Poke It Out":

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Portrait of Young LOOGY

I've often written about my early days on the ballfield. Days where I was the Jamie Moyer of the Eau Gallie Little League - a junk-balling control specialist with a a good change-up and an uncanny ability to locate my league-average fastball. Up and down, in and out, I kept the other 12-year olds off-balance.

Facebook is funny sometimes. Amidst the pics of high school classmates' kids and vacation selfies of still-single friends, sometimes a nugget of memories emerges. Two weeks ago, one of my old little league teammates posted a "Throwback Thursday" pic that took me by surprise.

I played in the Eau Gallie Little League from ages 10 to 14. So this was my second to last year. If I remember right, this team won a few games. I pretty sure I pitched a game or two. I know I played a lot of right field in those days.

These days, my 6-year old nephew plays on the same fields I played on. He's also left-handed. If he stays with the game, I hope he does better than I did.

He already hits a lot better.

(By the way, if you couldn't tell, I'm the kid with the glasses in the left end of the front row.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My interview in The Daily Bugle

I wasn't going to tell anyone, but I guess the secret is out.

A few years ago, I moonlighted as a taxi driver for a little while. I needed some cash and college was getting expensive. But I wanted it to be a secret and I wanted to stay anonymous. I wanted to be just an average guy doing average things being anonymous. So made a plan to fly to New York and drive a taxi through New York City. New Yorkers paid ok, and I made my money for the spring semester.

You weren't supposed to know. As a matter of fact, there wasn't supposed to be any record that Mike Lortz ever drove a cab anywhere. My taxi license said "Jordi Scrubbings". I wore the small afro wig and told everyone I went to the University of the United States - a small school that doesn't even have a basketball team.

Then Daily Bugle writer Joy Mercado let the cat out of the bag.

One of the biggest problems facing New York City when I was cab driving - besides a dopey superhero in a spider suit - was the construction of an experimental hydroelectric power plant. Supposedly, the plant would "reshape New York's entire power landscape". At least that's what Oscorp, the company building the facility, told everyone. It was right there on the sign in front of the building.

Big words. No one bought it. They all thought the facility was an overpriced monstrosity and there would be a city-destroying catastrophe because of the power plant. There were even people protesting the facility on a daily basis.

During one weekend in New York, I drove a protestor to their segregated "protest spots". After letting her out, another woman stepped into the cab. She noticed the prior passenger's hippie-esque look and protest sign and asked if I knew what the prior passenger was doing. I told her she was going to protest the power plant.

My new rider then identified herself as Joy Mercado of The Daily Bugle. I had heard of The Daily Bugle. I knew they were a tabloid-type newspaper with a very anti-Spider-Man slant. I apologized to her and said that I was new to the area and hadn't had a chance to read her work.

Ms. Mercado then asked me what I thought of the power plant. I told her I had no opinion and New Yorker's problems are New Yorker's problems. I told her I was just an average out-of-towner trying to make an average living in the big city. Just an average guy, doing average things, trying to be average.

But she insisted I give her a quote and said her article deadline was within the hour. Unfortunately, I have a soft spot for writers, especially attractive blonde ones.

Every super-hero has a weakness, right? That's mine.

So I gave Ms. Mercado her quote.
“What do you want me to say? That this is a bad idea? Oh, you do? Fine. This is a bad idea,” said average New York taxi driver, Mike Lortz when asked his thoughts about the power plant.

I have no idea how she matched "Jordi Scrubbings" with "Mike Lortz", but she did. Notice she called me "average" too. She is a witty one.

Unfortunately, my taxi gig didn't last long after the interview. My boss informed me taxi drivers aren't supposed to give interviews because if one taxi driver became a good source, no one would ride in the other taxis. And everyone would be asking taxi drivers for their opinions. The job of a taxi driver is to get people from point A to point B, he said. No one cares if taxi drivers want to see a rain wash all the scum off the streets. It's not their job to philosophize.

He told me 40 years ago some nutjob developed a conscious, stalked a presidential candidate, and then shot a pimp in order to save a runaway. Since then cab drivers don't give interviews.

So I was fired.

I returned to Tampa and haven't made any money since. But I guess I should be happy. I was quoted by The Daily Bugle.