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":