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.