Monday, December 19, 2016

On the field at Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University



When I was a student at Florida State, one of my biggest aspirations was to go on the football field at Doak Campbell Stadium. I knew the right people, but I never took advantage of the opportunity. I even worked in the administrative offices surrounding the stadium and used to nap between classes in the bleachers. But I never made my way down to field level.

That changed in 2016.

In April, as part of the Tampa Bay Seminole Club, I was allowed to tour the new Stadium Club wing of Doak Campbell Stadium. The area was under construction, so hardhats were required, but we were allowed on the field to look up at the new level to get "the big picture". Although we were there to look at the construction, I couldn't help but to get a few pictures of myself with the other side of the stadium - the completed side - in the background.

Finally.

A few months later, in the end of November, I was given an even greater opportunity: to be on the field with the Tampa Bay Seminole Club before kickoff of Florida State versus Florida - the biggest rivalry game of the year. I couldn't turn that down.

The reason we were invited to be on the field before kick off was to present our very generous contribution to the FSU Care Program - an FSU scholarship and life mentor program that assists underprivileged high school students, many from broken homes, with the opportunity to go to college. It is a big deal and has helped a lot of kids do great things at Florida State.

Needless to say, our presence on the field was small potatoes compared to the impact our donation to the CARE Program will have. But it was cool for us to be on the field in front of thousands of FSU fans, alumni, and students applauding us for our actions.

And, on top of being on the field, we were also shown on the jumbotron. Definitely one of the most memorable FSU-related experiences I have ever had. It's going to be tough to top that.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rest in Peace to a classmate we called Devil Man

devilmanI hate writing these posts. I really do. But writing is my way of processing.

Yesterday I learned that a high school classmate of mine, Tom Patton, passed away. Although I last saw him in 1995 at our graduation, Tom and I reconnected on Facebook in February 2011. Facebook is also how I learned the news of his death.

Reconnecting and being friends on Facebook is a weird thing. It is a little more revealing than exchanging Christmas cards, but only as revealing as people volunteer. I can't say I reconnected with Tom on a deep personal level, but I can say we shared many laughs over many memes and videos. Tom posted a lot of twisted humor pictures that I "liked" and he "liked" a lot of my humorous posts as well.

Unfortunately, Facebook only keeps private messages for a few years before they are deleted. Good for Facebook, but bad for memories. I know I caught up with Tom right after we connected, but unfortunately the conversation is gone. The only direct message I have with him was one from November 2016.

tompatton2

Sadly, he never gave me a call and we never caught up.

Our last interaction on Facebook was on December 10th, 2016. I wrote a post to announce I graduated grad school. Tom "loved" the post. Although it was only a click and only a button away from "like", that was an awesome gesture by Tom - a virtual "Great work!", better than a virtual "Good job.". Tom was one of only two people who I didn't talk to often who loved the post.

Tom's support, and that he "loved" something I worked hard to accomplish, will be a lasting memory.

As I mentioned, I met Tom in high school. We had several Electronics classes together through our junior and senior years. Electronics was a vocational elective that taught students the basics of electrical circuits and other elements of the field. Taught by Mr. Dibben, the class featured an array of characters - personally, I was kicked out of class by Mr. Dibben several times and forced to sit in a chair outside the classroom (I don't remember why).

Among the most colorful (since black is a color) characters in the class was Tom. Because of his penchant for wearing black heavy metal band shirts (Danzig, Misfits, etc), Mr. Dibben gave Tom the nickname "Devil Man". The name stuck in the classroom - I don't ever remember calling him "Tom". From what I remember, Tom got along with everyone well enough, even though he wasn't the most talkative person in the class.

To be honest, I'm not sure if Tom liked the "Devil Man" nickname. He didn't seem to mind and went with it well. Of course, nicknames in high school might be awkward as adults, so I rarely used it in our Facebook conversations - the last example excluded.

Ironically, I remember telling him that I had become a "devil man" as well. I became a metal fan when I moved to Tampa, saw some of the heaviest and loudest bands around, and had my own collection of band t-shirts that caused interesting looks. Quite the change from the hip-hop-only playlists I had in high school.

I was disappointed to not see Tom at the Eau Gallie High School Class of 1995 20th Reunion. It would have been great to see him.

Rest in peace, Tom. I appreciate the love. One day we will catch up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Key & Peele - East West College Bowl and the Hall of Presidents

I am a big fan of Comedy Central's Key & Peele Show. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele created on the best comedy sketch shows since the Chappelle Show.

One of Key & Peele's best and most famous sketches is their East/West College Bowl. As of November 2016, it had over 36 million views on YouTube.

I recently noticed something about the sketch: the order in which the players are announced is exactly opposite of the order of the US presidents. In the sketch, there are dozens of black guys followed by one white guy. From 1776 to 2016, there were dozens of white US presidents followed by one black guy.

So being the creative sort, I found a video of Disney's Hall of Presidents and inserted the audio from the Key & Peele sketch. I like how it turned out.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The insanity of political memes

Like bumper stickers to generations, political memes have become the preferred way of choice for people to communicate their political views. They allow people to make big points with little effort. Simply take an image, put some text on the top and bottom, and you have a meme. You get bonus points if it is funny or as some sort of twist to the punchline.

For example, I created this one from a site called memegenerator.com.

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Not overly funny, but the character's face combined with the condescending question does send a message.

While the above meme attacks meme culture, most political memes are for the in-group and condescending towards the "others".

But what if two memes on the same subject with different perspectives were put together?

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The premise is the same: comparing the words of Donald Trump to the use of different gendered bathrooms by transexual individuals. But each meme takes a completely different perspective and attempts to insult the intelligence of the "others".

The meme on the left assumes transsexuals are not a threat, but Donald Trump is. The meme on the right assumes Donald Trump is not a threat, but transsexuals are.

It is easy to spread propaganda on Facebook. It has become a sandbox for tribalism and group identity. But when we pull media out of Facebook and look at it critically, we see how unoriginal it really is. But like a homemade bomb, it is simple, but effective.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Self-awareness and the 2016 US Presidential Election

I've been thinking long and hard over the last week on how to write about Election 2016. Not in generations has the US seen such a tumultuous and turbulent election. Perhaps not since the 1860s, a decade that brought us to Civil War. Election 2016 was ugly, personal, and divisive. It brought out raw emotions and feelings about the direction of society, not the typical adjustments of policy that typified previous elections.

Books will be written about Election 2016, its causes, and its aftermath. We are living history and it is very difficult to see where you are in the paragraph when the pages of history are being written.

I recently finished a book in business management entitled "Managing the Unexpected" by Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe. This book was written to help managers identify their place in corporate turmoil and not only survive, but often turn the situation into a learning experience and prosper.

According to Weick and Sutcliffe, sensemaking is a huge part of situational survival. A big part of sensemaking is self-awareness. Over the last few days, I have tried to deconstruct not only my thinking but also the thinking of those around me to see why America is currently in the shape it is in.

From the beginning of the campaign season until August, I lived in Tampa near the University of South Florida. Not only did the Tampa metro area vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, but universities are predominantly liberal environments. I'm not looking at why right now, just that they are.

If you had asked me before August, I would have said Donald Trump didn't stand an ice cube's chance in hell of winning.

After my lease expired July 30th, I moved in with a friend in Inverness, Florida, an hour and 20 minutes north of Tampa. Not only were there Trump signs everywhere, but there were Confederate flag rallies on Sunday afternoon on Main Street. This was not the multi-cultural, urban environment I was used to. I'm sure if I asked, they would have given Hillary Clinton the same ice cube's chance in hell.

But given the Confederate flags and Inverness's intolerant history, I wrote off the region as fringe - uneducated, rural Florida, in no way indicative of the general voting public.

While I was in Afghanistan, the US Military deployed giant blimps around the capital city of Kabul. These blimps were used to track terrorists and keep an eye in the sky. I'm not sure how true this is, but I was told when the blimps first went up, uneducated Afghans who never saw a blimp thought they were dragons.

In Afghanistan and everywhere else, uneducated people will buy into dragons and boogeymen and conspiracy theories of Illuminati and Muslim takeovers and anything else that helps them make sense of a complex world they are unfamiliar with. It is basic human nature to attempt to process the unknown through ideas you already hold.

It was easy to dismiss the Trump movement the same way: uneducated and willing to believe the boastful generalities of a real estate mogul / media savvy reality TV star. He was rich and arrogant and willing to say whatever he had to to rile up the people. There was no doubt Trump's threats of invading immigrants and Chinese global growth had the ears of rural America, where the economy hasn't recovered and suicide rates and drug use is increasing.

A few weeks later, I continued my gypsy wandering and began staying with family in middle class, suburban Melbourne, Florida. While some members of my family have always been conservative, I quickly sensed they weren't the only ones on the Trump train. There wasn't a Hillary lawn sign to be seen in Melbourne and Facebook friends from the area constantly posted anti-Hillary and pro-Trump messages and memes.

This was Melbourne, Central Florida, about as Middle America as Florida gets. Mostly white. Mostly suburban. Not as rich as South Florida and not as rural as North Florida. And it seemed predominately, if not overwhelmingly, pro-Trump.

After a few weeks in Melbourne, I started to think Hillary Clinton was more the ice cube than Donald Trump.

It didn't make sense. People in Melbourne were educated, they had jobs, and they were basically tolerant of others. The basic preconceptions I could use in rural Florida didn't apply.

But the people in Melbourne seemed to support Trump not for who he was, but for who he wasn't. He wasn't Hillary Clinton and he wasn't a Washington insider. Hillary was untrustable and unforgivable. Even with all his faults, Trump was going to put money back in the pockets of middle class Americans. He was going to lower insurance premiums and taxes. And if he got rid of "political correctness" along the way, even better.

The American middle class walks a fine line and they know it. They don't want to lose their ground and they thought Hillary was going to move them the wrong way. Their beliefs might not be social conservativism as much as they are financial and status conservativism.

Pundits called Trump's election a "repudiation" of Obama's administration. According to Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico, Obama's vision of America was "educated and pragmatist, multicultural, cosmopolitan and globalist". I am highly educated, to include a master's degree in International Affairs, have worked and studied with people of foreign cultures, lived most of the last 10 years in a city, eat in ethnic restaurants more than domestic, and listen to more historically black music than historically white music.

Obama's vision was my America.

To me, America has never been greater than it is now. I believe in progress, innovation, and moving forward. Trump's claims that America is a disaster did not resonate with me at all. Not one bit. From the moment he declared his intention of running, there was nothing I agreed with him on.

His America was not my America. But his America is the America of more Americans than my America is.

That's a tough pill to swallow.

Does that mean the ideas of progress are gone? As bad as emboldened bigots are under Trump, the odds are very low that America will digress into ISIS-controlled Syria in four years. We will probably not be executing women in public squares for adultery or chopping off hands for robbery. Even public hangings will probably not come back, despite Trump's advocacy for law and order.

Change, especially social change, is slow. While progress is inevitable, humans were programmed with an innate fear of the unknown. They are not comfortable with change. For some, this fear and discomfort is more pronounced than in others, especially when resistance to change is tied to social or religious fabric.

But change does come. For example, there was a time when Americans didn't know what recycling was. Now it is second nature. Kids today don't know a world without it. Yet according to RedOrbit.com, the first Earth Day in 1970 was called "a Communist trick" and others said it was a "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them".

Now, barring a major Supreme Court reversal, men can marry men and women can marry women legally. This decision and its support was the result of decades of social campaigning and the acceptance of LGBT people by a majority of Americans. Even those who might not fully accept it know someone who is gay, even in small town America.

What we saw in Election 2016 was bubbles on both sides pushing against each other.

In one bubble, there is a fear of losing traditional American values, individual independence, communism, and stifling by Big Government.

In the other bubble, there is a fear of a repressive society driven by one dominant group and culture.

Like the Big Bang, the resulting matter of two highly energized bubbles crashing into each other could be something totally unfamiliar. This is the ground some political prognosticators are now observing, like scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. But instead of magnets, the speed and direction of America's social bubbles are accelerated by media, propaganda, confirmation bias, and echo chambers.

So where am I? I am still called a communist by my conservative friends and still told I am not liberal enough by my conservative friends. That's ok. One friend told me years ago that he was "Right in the Middle and Left Out". I think that is a good place to be.

Despite the popular rejection of my urban educated version of America, the nation will continue to progress. It always does. Education is slow, urbanization is slow, and progress is slow. America is a wide nation, with many different viewpoints. Cosmopolitan America isn't for everyone. Liberal educated America isn't for everyone. Globalism isn't for everyone.

But of the vision of the Obama platform, multicultural progress and civil rights should not be given up on. Those should be advocated and protected. Our world is too connected and our inalienable rights too guaranteed to limit the rights of anyone due to race, creed, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. This should be a moral calling not only in America, but across the world.

There may be Afghans who reject an international government and the presence of foreign influence in their country, but I'm sure one day all Afghans will know a blimp isn't a dragon.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The day Amy Schumer blocked me on twitter



Over the last few years, I've grown to admire the comedy of Amy Schumer. I admittedly hadn't heard of her when she was coming up on Last Comic Standing and some of the other comedy avenues she rose in. But in the last few years, I've watched a few of her comedy specials, her sketch show on Comedy Central, and her movie, "Trainwreck".

Even though some of her comedy is a little too sexual for me, I think she is funny and respect her grind.

Earlier this year, Amy Schumer released her first book, "The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo". In the book, Schumer writes a few things about Tampa, a city I have done a bit of comedy in. After I heard that Schumer joked that only seven people in Tampa can read, I built on the joke on Twitter, tagging Schumer in my tweets.



I thought these were innocent enough. I wasn't insulting Schumer. In fact, I was playing along with her joke.

I made one more mention of Schumer a few days later. This wasn't a joke, but was a bit defensive.




For one of these three comments, Amy Schumer blocked me on Twitter.

This is a woman who has made a living making inappropriate humor. I kinda feel honored, actually.

I can understand if I insulted her. I might even understand if I said she wasn't funny. But I did none of that. During the week local media made a big deal over her mention of Tampa in a book she wrote, I made three mentions of her on Twitter, two of which were jokes. For that, a nationally-renown comic with over 1 million twitter followers prevented me from seeing any of her tweets or interacting with her on Twitter.

That seems a bit sensitive, honestly.

I'll still check out Amy Schumer's comedy. Even though her style is not exactly my type of humor, I'll still admire her grind. She is living every comic's dream and getting to levels only the best comics get to.

But now the fact that she blocked me on Twitter is one of the highlights of my barely comedy career. Right up there with performing in front of 300 people at the Tampa Improv and getting no one to laugh in Afghanistan.

Maybe that will be my intro when I get back into comedy. Instead of "He is a very funny guy from Tampa, Florida ...", I will ask MCs to say, "He was blocked by Amy Schumer and bombed in Afghanistan, from Tampa, Florida, Michael Lortz!".

I have the intro, now all I need is a new set.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Confederate Flag rally in Inverness, FL, August 2016



In my travels, I spent a few weeks in Inverness, Florida, a small town approximately an hour and 30 minutes north of Tampa. I have friends and family who live in Inverness, so I'm there a few times a year.

It wasn't until recently, however, that I realized how overwhelmingly white Inverness is. Being in Tampa, especially by the University of South Florida, diversity is the norm. Every restaurant has tables of white, black, Asian, Latino, and many other ethnicities. But establishments in Inverness were very, very white. In three weeks there, I saw only one black family in a local restaurant.

While out for a stroll down Inverness's main road, I perhaps saw a reason why Inverness is so white.

A Confederate Flag rally sprung up out of nowhere on a Sunday afternoon. Granted, it is not a mass movement, but it was enough folks to be seen. They flew Confederate flags, Don't Tread on Me Flags, and Molon Labe flags. They received several honks of approval from passing drivers.

This doesn't happen in Tampa. While there is a giant, obnoxious Confederate flag that flies alongside I-75 in Tampa, personal flags are rarely seen and rallies don't just happen.

I've mentioned several times on this website that I am not a fan of the Confederate flag. I believe it was an enemy battle flag that opposed the national flag I signed up to defend. Fighters carrying that flag killed more Americans than the Nazis, Iraqis, or Al Qaeda ever did. It belongs in a museum or at a historical marker.

No, I did not engage the Confederate flag rally with my views. I was highly outnumbered and wasn't there to argue. I was there to mosey down Main Street on my Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Donald Trump and the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion




The Star Wars Universe is full of parallels to our own. We can find war, politics, religion, and even law reflected in George Lucas’s expansive empire. We know, for example, that the Rebel Alliance was a social movement determined to win back power from a government they deemed illegitimate. Instead of addressing their grievance, the Empire decided to go to war with the Rebels and through several military mishaps and a bit of Jedi luck, the Empire lost their grip on the galaxy and the Rebels eventually regained power.

Similarly, one of the aspects of Episode 8 that I am most curious about is “who is in charge?”. What is the position of the First Order and the Resistance in greater galactic politics? Is there a Galactic President residing at Coruscant? Could it be Lando Calrissian? Please?

But before I postulate about what could happen in future episodes, I’d like to connect a political post I recently read with an era in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (aka Star Wars Legends).

On Monday, October 18th, Benjamin Wittes of Lawfareblog.com wrote a post entitled “A Coalition of All Democratic Forces, Part I: A Political Focus on What's Truly Important”. Wittes, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, details the looming possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, the threat it poses, and the long list of people opposing Trump’s way of thinking. Wittes writes that Trump has caused Democrats and Republicans to come together as no other threat to democracy ever has. He concludes by putting forth the idea that Hillary Clinton should govern as a nationalist, putting aside party division for the sake of the ideas and values American Government is based on.

(His Part II article is equally interesting, in which he describes how Clinton should govern keeping in mind the support she has gotten from anti-Trump conservatives.)

While many have linked the rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right movement to the rise of Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels ("So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause"), Wittes’ post reminded me not of the rise of the Galactic Empire, but of the Yuuzhan Vong War.

In Star Wars Expanded Universe lore, the Yuuzhan Vong were a species from outside the galaxy intent on wreaking havoc and destroying all in their path. According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Wookiepedia, the Yuuzhan Vong waited decades, poking and prodding the periphery before striking the Star Wars galaxy. When they finally attacked, the New Republic was ill-prepared. Entire systems of planets were destroyed and the entire foundation of the government was lost.

This is what Trump and his supporters talk about when they say they want to “shake up” Washington. They want to completely uproot the current government power structure. As anthropologist Grant McCracken wrote in 2015, Trump is a fire boat sent to port to destroy everything as it current exists.

Defeating the Yuuzhan Vong required the remnants of the New Republic to partner with their old enemy, the Empire. After Emperor Palpatine was killed by Darth Vader, the Imperial Remnant was a collection of warlords and Imperial personnel who held to the philosophies of the Emperor. They kept the battleships and military ideals and personnel of what was once a mighty Imperial military force.

In order to defeat the Yuuzhan Vong, the New Republic needed the Imperial Remnant. Likewise, in order to defeat Donald Trump, the Democrats need the remnants of the GOP. They need conservative voices such as the Bushes, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, those who have spoken out and refuse to support Donald Trump. They need conservatives who are not afraid to break from party lines for the sake of our constitutional republic.

According to Wittes,
“Clinton’s democratic foes also need to understand that however flawed she may be, she is not wrong when she says that, at least right now, she is the only thing standing between America and a political apocalypse of sorts.”
Trump and his cronies represent a Yuuzhan Vong-type threat to Washington. He is the Tea Party on steroids. His belief system is so far out of line with the Washington way of business, he will cause irreparable damage to our way of governance. He will burn down Coruscant and make it uninhabitable.

It is very possible that somewhere in the Star Wars Galaxy, there was a planet untouched by the Yuuzhan Vong War. A planet on which lived a species that hated both the Empire and the Republic. One that thought both systems of governance were useless. One that hoped the Yuuzhan Vong would make the galaxy great again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thoughts on the USF Football Fan Experience

On September 24, I went to the Florida State University versus University of South Florida football game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It was my first time seeing a Seminoles road game and my first time seeing a USF Bulls home game.

Although the Noles eventually won 55-35 and I walked away a happy alumnus, I was not impressed by the USF Football experience.

Not because of the grueling 90+ degree midday Tampa heat or because I spent $20 on water bottles throughout the game. I wasn't impressed because it didn't feel like college football.

Perhaps because the Bulls play in an NFL stadium, their game experience felt more like a minor league event than a college. The in-stadium entertainment was not centered around the band and school spirit but an in-game host and pumped in DJ music. There was a t-shirt cannon that drove around, fan contests, and Dance Cam segments on the scoreboard.

College football is marching bands, cheerleaders, and school spirit. It is chants and school songs and group involvement.

Being my first USF game, I can't say if this was the norm, but it seems like a strange way to win a fanbase.

USF does have cheerleaders and a marching band and cheers and chants, but they are a minimal part of the experience. Sitting by other FSU fans across the stadium, I never once heard the USF Band play. I'm sure they did, but perhaps there weren't enough of them to be heard throughout the stadium.

What I did hear was top 40 dance club songs. Over and over and over. These songs not only artificially tried to hype the USF fans, they even played over the FSU band when the Marching Chiefs tried to hype up the FSU fans. Drowning out the opposing band should be the job of the home team band, not an anonymous DJ. School songs should drown out school songs. School songs shouldn't be drown out by Flo Rida or whatever else they were playing.

Imagine stadium music playing over the Florida A&M Marching 100 or the Bethune Cookman band at the Florida Classic. That would never happen.



The above video is how you create school pride.

Unfortunately, recently philosophies in sports marketing have been focusing on the wrong ideas. Sports business minds believe a stadium visit should be all about experience. They think a great stadium experience will bring fans, that top-40 club hits and Dance Cams and free t-shirts will entice people to want to come back.

Give them a good time and they will forget about the score. They will be buyers of the experience forever.

That's a not a good idea, especially for college football. Attracting fans through bells, whistles, and shiny objects is great until another event comes around with bigger bells, louder whistles, and brighter shiny objects. It is an arms race to the bottom of short attention span hell. It creates loyalty to the experience, not to the brand.

College football fans are defined by their passion to the brand.

In the weeks since the game versus FSU, USF has struggled to get fans to Raymond James Stadium for home games. According to reports, they drew less than 17,000 fans to their homecoming game against ECU. As expected, this lead to blog posts calling out the fanbase for not showing up.

The problem with these hot take articles is that fan shaming never works. Ever. Ever. Ever. No fan has ever felt so embarrassed by an editorial that they immediately bought tickets to the next available game. It doesn't happen.

What does help is looking at the product and the message being sent about the product. That is what I do regularly in regards to Tampa Bay baseball on my blog TampaBayBaseballMarket.com. And that is also what one USF sports writer finally did. He asked if there was enough media coverage, enough communication between university groups and athletics, and enough marketing to the student body to make USF football appealing.

Winning over the student body should be low hanging fruit. Winning over the general public is much more difficult. When local non-alumni residents walk through Tampa wearing USF gear, then the Bulls will have made it. When people move to Tampa and buy USF gear to fit in, that's when the Bulls will have won the market.

That's the case in Tallahassee and Gainesville with FSU and UF. Admittedly, those are small towns with far less to do and where Saturday game day becomes THE event in town. Winning the market is a lot harder in Tampa, where the Bulls compete not only with the Bucs, the Storm, the Lightning, the Rays, and the Rowdies, but also the alumni presence of FSU, UF, and UCF. Alumni of those schools are too busy watching their own teams to follow USF football. At best they will casual supporters.

USF football sells something unique in Tampa. It sells college football. College football is something special. It is a small town feel for big time games. It is College Gameday signs, tailgates, and pep rallies. It is grandparents wearing the same school colors as parents and students. It fills a unique niche between hyper-local high school sports and national professional sports.

Even though they play in an NFL stadium awash with advertising opportunities, Bulls football should not try to sell the NFL game or Arena League game experience. Tampa already has the Bucs and the Storm for that. USF should sell a sense of community. It should sell school pride.

Selling school pride in a relatively new university known more as a commuter school is difficult. Despite it's size, USF is not a place where a majority of students live around campus. There is also a large amount of international students who are not used to the American football experience. Engaging the student body is the number one task.

Unfortunately, tradition takes time. USF opened in 1956 and didn't begin playing football until 1997. There are UF and FSU alumni who graduated before USF was opened. There are former FSU and UF players in the College and NFL Halls of Fame. There are players such as Derrick Brooks, who played for Florida State then made the NFL Hall of Fame as a member of the Tampa Bay Bucs and current Bucs QB Jameis Winston, another former Seminole. Former Seminoles and Gators play a big role in Bucs, Storm, and even Rays history. The same cannot be said yet for the USF Bulls.

There is also old money flowing into the accounts of FSU and UF that USF does not have. USF needs a few generations to pass before their legendary players, booster donations, and alumni count is equal to the other big colleges in the state.

The USF athletic department has a lot of work to do win local hearts and minds and pack the seats for USF football. Some local writers have good ideas the administration and sports marketing department should explore. USF has to turn USF football into a college football event, a thing-to-do in Tampa on Saturdays in the Fall. An event that pulls the same emotional strings of other college football events across the country.

An event without DJs, t-shirt guns, club music, and in-game hosts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reflections on 10 years writing online ....



Two weeks ago, an anniversary passed that I totally forgot about. On September 14th, 2016, I passed my 10th year of writing online. I'm absolutely flabbergasted I've gone on this long. But I can't imagine life any other way.

Writing online has become a big part of my life over the last 10 years. It started as a fun hobby, now it is an addiction. It is my creative outlet. I would rather write online than read someone else's article or watch someone else's show. This is my diary, my journal, and the story of my life.

When I started writing online in 2006, I had no idea what I was doing. That was evident in my first post.
Day One: Growin’ All Up in the Ghetto - September 14, 2006

Ok, let’s see how far I can go with this blog thing before “The Man” shuts me down. Just kidding. Well I guess this is going to be a place for me to post my thoughts, musings, and random ideas. So sit back, enjoy, and comment as you see fit.

A bit about lil’ ol’ me: I graduated from Florida State; had my own random column for that fine literary publication, the FSView and Florida Flambeau; and I am currently living outside of Tampa, FL. These experiences, as well as a childhood spent locked in a basement, will mold a lot of what I talk about. And of course, random references to current events, music, books, television, movies, or sports (especially the NY Mets, Knicks, and FSU Seminoles). But you get the point. Enjoy.

Fortunately, The Man has yet to shut me down. And I still don't know what I am doing. And this website is still where I post my thoughts, musings, and random ideas.

Those who have been with me for a while know this isn't my first site. My first blog, TheSeriousTip.com , slowly developed from a random musings site into somewhat of a sports blog. Sometimes my perspective on sports was rather unique and a few visitors found my site. Getting linked to bigger sites and increased readership was nice and gave me great sports writing connections that turned into friends. Folks such as Jay Busbee and Michael Tillery and others whom I am still in touch with today.

Eventually I wanted somewhere to write about my life experiences. I wanted to be more creative. I wanted to write about social issues. I wanted to dabble in comedy. I also wanted to create a website with my own URL. Hence, in late 2009, I ditched the sports blog concept and MichaelLortz.com was born.

In 2012, this blog became where I chronicled my Afghanistan adventure. I made sure to post at various milestones in my 14 months overseas to let readers know what I was experiencing. It was also a way for me to get my thoughts down. A lot happened in my time there and looking back, I am glad I have blog posts that detail what I did. In a way, they are similar to the old "letters from the front" that soldiers sent to their loved ones in previous conflicts.

In the years since my return, this website has developed from a blog to a professional home for who I am. I am much more comfortable with my online presence. This website now features a portfolio page, a resume page, a page for my comedy ventures, and pages for my other projects. It is a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to know about me. People ask if I am ever worried what employers think about my online presence. My answer is that the genie is so far out of the bottle, what I have created is who I am.

Although the website has developed, I still write on the blog page of MichaelLortz.com. It is still very important to me to write a few times a month. I try for at least 3-5 posts a month. Sometimes the posts are filler, sometimes they are insight into my life.

Unfortunately in the last two years this blog has dropped in priority. I started my second Master's degree which has taken up many hours and I also created my own baseball business website. Whereas I would write about baseball here on occasion, now TampaBayBaseballMarket.com receives all the focus of my sports writing.

Currently, this site is a mix of personal introspection, analysis on current issues, and the standard random musings. I write about war and conflict, music and comedy, and my long struggle with unemployment.

Looking back, I like to think have become a better writer because of my blogging. I definitely have more confidence in my writing. I still haven't done all I want to do in writing, however. I still want to publish a novel. I'd like to have a few more articles on prominent websites. I'd like to write the biography of Tampa's first hip-hop DJ.

I am still a writer. I've been doing this for over 10 years. It's no longer a hobby. It's now in my blood.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Guest posting on Ben's Biz




I've been an e-migo and reader of Ben Hill of Minor League Baseball.com for several years. Ben has been writing for Minor League Baseball covering promotions for a long time. It's been his niche for at least five years. He is a regular on the Minor League circuit, traveling from ballpark to ballpark, meeting and writing about the kooky craziness that is the Minor Leagues.

Seems like forever ago my colleagues at Bus Leagues Baseball.com interviewed Ben. Although Bus Leagues Baseball closed years ago and most of the writers moved on, I stayed in touch with folks with our subjects. One of the reasons I like to stay in touch is to pitch writing ideas if the urge catches me. This way, even though I don't cover the subject regularly, I can still write a piece on something I am concerned about.

Sadly, the most recent subject I was concerned about was the end of the Brevard County Manatees. I've written about the Manatees a lot on this and other blogs. They were the local Minor League team in the town in which I spent most of my teen years.

Starting in 2017, however, they are moving to Kissimmee, Florida to become the Central Florida Somethings. It doesn't matter to me what they become, I won't be going. To me they will always be the team I saw for 23 seasons. The team I saw with my dad, with friends (to include a highly impromptu bachelor party), with my brother, and with my nephew.

They are the team Ben Hill let me write about one last time in a post entitled "Farewell to the Sea Cows".

If you are a fan of Minor League Baseball, I recommend you check it out.

Long live the Fighting Sea Cows.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to Survive as an Unemployed Veteran




(This is in response to an article entitled "How to Survive as an Unpaid Intern" posted on IvankaTrump.com. I'm not passing judgement on the article nor making a political statement, but I just thought it would be a good idea to share knowledge I've accrued over the last few years.)

#MakeItWork

Welcome to my advice column, led by me, a super-talented unemployed veteran! Here I’ll be addressing a topic that is top of mind for veterans trying to get in any industry.

It’s the conundrum every unemployed veteran knows well: You don’t have a paycheck, but you still have living expenses. It can be tough for already-stressed veterans who know non-military experience is incredibly valuable in building a foundation for a new career, but aren’t sure if they can afford to work for free or at an entry level position. What’s to be done? With this being my third year of unemployment, I’ve learned a few tricks.

Save up during deployments

If you know you’ll be unemployed for a while when you get back, you can anticipate your expenses by putting money made during deployments aside in a separate account. I did this after I returned from Bosnia in 1999, then left active duty three months later, and more recently after I returned from contract work in Afghanistan in 2013. Additionally, if you put your money a fund or two with decent returns, you might be able to pay some bills or afford college tuition on the interest.

Take on short contracts

What about when your savings aren’t enough and bills still need to be paid? If you can find a short-term contract that capitalizes on your military experience, do it. Even if you are trying to move into a different field. Even if you have college or other commitments. Short-term contracts typically pay very well. Before you have opened doors in a new field, tap the well in your previous field to see if there is any water left to be drawn.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

THIS IS HUGE. I can't emphasize this enough. There are so many groups and people out there willing to help veterans find work. If you are in college, as I am, college veterans groups are a great place to start. Most metropolitan areas have career assistance groups who can help re-write resumes and facilitate networking with folks in the civilian workforce. There are also veteran job fairs, where employers seek out people with military backgrounds.

Note: don't rely on corporate veteran recruiters. They are typically of little help. They work for their company. If your resume isn't exactly what they want, they won't guide you in the right direction. Most of the companies who advertise how many veterans they hire are only promoting it to pat themselves on the back. Avoid asking corporate veterans recruiters for help.

Rent on the cheap

If you have no idea how long your unemployment is going to last after you separate from the military/defense world, live cheap. Rent a small apartment and live well below your means. That might mean getting a roommate or two. Find a place that includes cable and utilities. I took a huge step backwards and put most of my belongings in storage while I went back to school. Getting my stuff out of storage is a huge motivator to getting my career on track.

Set a budget for yourself

It’s always important to allocate money wisely, but even more so when you aren’t bringing in an income to supplement your spending. Set aside maybe one night a week for a few drinks or socializing, but after that, keep it tight. Keep a spreadsheet of your receipts. After a while, you should be able to see trends in how much you spend where and when. Don't keep all of your money in one account. Tell yourself that one of your accounts is Red Zone money - not like the football red zone, but the "times are really tough" money. That money should be what you spend last.

Conclusion

It is tough being an unemployed veteran. It is very tough knowing you have marketable skills but not being able to fit them into a position in the corporate world. It's tough when people ask if you have edited your resume and you have created over 100 versions of your resume. It's tough when people tell you to apply for anything, even if it means taking parts of your military/defense experience off your resume.

Hopefully this guide can help veterans who are struggling to make ends meet during a job hunt. If my re-write of Ivanka Trump's unpaid intern survival tips can help one veteran survive unemployment, then my mission here is accomplished.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Case of the Mistaken Lortz



Today I received an interesting email from someone with an Asian name.
Hello Mike, good morning. I am planning to remodel three bathrooms of my house. Mr. (another Asian name) refers you to me. Could you please give me a call to discuss the further details ASAP? I can be reached at (402) xxx-xxxx (home) or (402) xxx-xxxx (cell). Thanks a lot.
At first, I thought the email was spam. I've gotten enough notices from Nigerian princes who need help moving money from one account to another to be suspicious of emails from people I don't know.

But the text of this one sounded a bit too earnest. It sounded authentic. So I decided to google.

I started by searching the sender's email address. It was legit and belonged to a professor at a university in Omaha, Nebraska. Then I googled the person who "recommended" me. Sure enough, he too was a professor from a midwest university.

Then I googled the phone number the requester asked me to call. 402 is an Omaha area code.

I had enough evidence to think this was legit. All the information led to an Omaha business deal. But why were they contacting me?

My final web search was for "Lortz Omaha". The first result:

Lortz Home Solutions

According to their website, "LHS, Inc. specializes in basement finishing, kitchen and bath remodels, decks, home maintenance and some additions."

That had to be who the email sender was looking for. There was no way this was spam.

I sent a reply email informing the sender that he had the wrong Lortz and I provided the number and website of Lortz Home Solutions.

A few hours later, I received a reply.
Hello Michael, thank you very much for alerting my mistake. Yes, I tried to contact Lortz Home Solutions in Omaha. I have got in contact with him now and hope my remodeling will be smooth and look great later. Thanks a lot again and best regards.
As you can see, not the most conversationalist English. But I was right. They were looking for Lortz Home Solutions. There was just a small cultural or communications gap that led this person to my email address when they meant to contact Lortz Home Solutions.

Answering emails from people we don't know - especially when they are proposing a business transaction - is usually a big time Internet no-no. But sometimes people make honest mistakes. I could have deleted the email or I could have been a complete asshole and led the person in the wrong direction (I thought about both options). But in the end, the good person in me won out and my five minutes of googling provided the sender with the correct contact information.

They were lost on the information superhighway and instead of running them over or cursing them out, I pointed them in the right direction.

I like to think I did a good deed.

In retrospect, I should have asked for pictures of their finished bathroom.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The greatest presidential documentary ever

Last year, I wrote about my favorite presidential debate - the lesser-known candidate debate of 2000. This debate had a cast of characters that could not be made up. It featured:

  • A gruff former governor as moderator who doesn’t seem interested at all in the proceedings

  • A candidate who doesn’t even show up

  • A candidate running for Vice-President

  • An absent-minded scientist who makes his speech in sneakers and advocates for space travel and world government

  • A white guy who ran the United Negro College Fund and wants to hold a new Constitutional Convention and rewrite the Constitution

  • A candidate who reads his speech from his paper

  • Jim Taylor


Taylor is the star of the debate. He was also the only candidate making a documentary of his attempt to be president. A creative genius by trade, Taylor wanted to create a step-by-step documentary about a normal guy who runs for president.

For 16 years, I wanted to see this video. Fortunately, some benevolent soul posted it on YouTube several years ago. At the time I am writing this, it has less than 100 views. I have made random videos of toys singing Christmas carols that have more views than this important piece of political cinematic history.



There is so much here relevant to the 2016 presidential election.

Getting on the debates - third party candidates are still struggling with this. We even had candidates skipping debates because they thought they were unfair.

Making your own debate - this sounds like a very Trump thing to do. As a matter of fact, a lot of Taylor's steps are Trump's steps but with the backing of a billion dollars.

Doesn't the guy at 1:40 sound a lot like something Trump would say? "I am the only one with the physical, mental, and moral toughness to start this entire government up from scratch."

Then there is Taylor's slogan, "Because Everything is Crappy.". That should be Trump's campaign slogan. Forget "Make America Great", "Because Everything is Crappy" is real. People don't know what a "great America" is. That's debatable. But people know what crappy is. They can agree on that. That's a campaign slogan to get excited about.

Taylor also admits he is an idiot (2:20). He is the complete opposite of Trump, who would never admit being wrong or anything less than a genius. Comparing Trump to Taylor is a bizarro world where everything is opposite with a strain of similarity - that they are both outsiders trying to be president.

Go Where the Cameras Are (4:20) - This is another Trump technique. Always let the cameras see you.

Bother the Other Candidates (5:18) - Another Trump technique. Trump made the Republican primary a mud wrestling fight of insults and innuendos. Candidates couldn't get down to the real issues and solutions because they were constantly having to fend off the latest barrage of Trump statements. Trump was in their head and in the media. Unfortunately of Taylor, the other candidates didn't bite.

Get Votes (7:30) - Again, this is bizarro Trump. Taylor finds one person, a young voter whose car Taylor helps fix. Although I am pretty sure candidates can't walk voters to the voting booth. I think that is illegal. Btw, Jim Taylor's voter, Katie Cailler, still lives in New Hampshire.

The whole part from 8:30 to 9:00 is pure Trump. "Never take victory for granted. The most important thing about running for president is you gotta keep running. Because if you keep running, and you keep running, and you keep running, well, you never know."

Unfortunately, Jim Taylor only received 87 votes in the New Hampshire primary. I guess not enough people believed everything was crappy.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A dinosaur in corpse paint



I'd like to see a dinosaur in corpse paint.
I searched Google images for one and I couldn't find it.
What a wonderful world we live in.
Whatever I imagine, I can type it in and have it appear.
If it already exists.
But a dinosaur in corpse paint doesn't exist.
According to google.
It should.

If I was a dinosaur, I would be all about black metal.
A giant meteor is coming and we are all going to die.
Shut up, dude. No, it's not.
Hundreds of millions of years later, you are correct.
Boom.
Imagine you were born right after the meteor hit.
You don't even get to live in the time when being a dinosaur was cool.
The peak of dinosaur death metal.

Darkness envelops the Earth.
Life as we know it is gone.
Death. Death. Death.
Everything around you is dying.
The sky is dark. Plant life is dying.
Even the pterodactyls no longer fly.
There is plenty to eat among the dying.
Soon they will be gone.
And you as well.
Death. Death. Death.

Are there any dinosaur themed metal bands?
Metal bands love the apocalypse.
Dinosaurs lived through an apocalypse.
One day they might find this blog post buried in amber.
Resurrect it with shards of its HTML DNA.
Rebuild it like the 6 Million Dollar Man.
We have the technology.
We need the page views.

And with that, it's time to retire for the eve.
2 scoops of mental musings and a tablespoon of insomnia.
But still no dinosaurs in corpse paint.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tired of instability



I'm tired.

I'm tired of instability. Tired of not knowing what the future holds. Tired of trying to figure out what's next.

In 2013, upon returning from Afghanistan, I decided to start a second master's degree in Business Administration. I was tired of working for the Department of Defense, tired of hopping from contract to contract, and tired of working in a world where your employment hinges on a budget, not on how effective you are. The Department of Defense doesn't have profitable years or not-profitable years. They don't "sell" anything. If you are on a contract, working harder rarely means job security. If the government ends the contract with your employer, you are out of luck, no matter how well you did.

I was tired of contracts ending.

So after an 8-year break, I went back to school. It was difficult. I had never taken Accounting or Finance and I was trying to understand them at the graduate level. Management and Marketing came easier to me, but anything with math or numbers was a struggle. After 12 years in the Intelligence Community, I was not used to thinking mathematically.

But I pushed through. For over a year, I spent money I made in Afghanistan on my new degree. It was an investment in myself. It might have been tough, but there was hope at the end of the tunnel. I was off in a new career.

I wasn't sure where the MBA was going to land me. I didn't know anything about the corporate world. All of it was new. I didn't know about balance sheets or financial statements, marketing plans or margins. I didn't understand the speed of business nor it's dog-eat-dog environment. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew I was learning new and interesting things.

All along I hoped I could take my past experiences - experiences in analysis, research, and geopolitical understanding - and apply them to business. After I finished my first year of school work, I started looking for employment. I was open to any idea than combined what I knew with what I was learning.

I was open to finance and intelligence, marketing and intelligence, process analysis, cyber and intelligence, business strategy, corporate intelligence, and any analytics job. As I progressed and learned about these and other fields, however, I realized some career paths might be mountains too high. Some wanted experience I didn't have, while others required courses that would have caused me to slow my degree plan drastically as I would need to focus on one difficult course at a time.

In all, from February 2014 to July 2015, I applied to over 150 jobs. Some local, some national, some lower-level, some management. I had maybe 5 interviews. No second interviews and no job offers.

I was tired of applying and getting nowhere.

But I had time and I had money. So I wasn't panicking.

With that many applications and little to show for it, I realized I needed a change in job-seeking strategy. I was going to network. I was going to meet as many people as possible and be seen and tell people who I am and what I can do. At the same time, I was going to finish the last year of my MBA.

The strategy paid off in May 2015 when I met a military professor who saw my background and was interested. He offered me a great position, great hours, great pay, and a great opportunity to learn academia from the teaching side. I was interested and jumped on it. I was also able to work on the six classes I had remaining.

Before he could hire me, however, I had to wait for a budget opening. As I mentioned before, just because you provide value, if the government budget says no, you are out of luck. I don't think any other organization works like that.

Meanwhile, after my lease expired in my cheap apartment in August 2015, I was homeless for a few weeks. Luckily, I had friends who offered me a place to stay. But it was one of the most frustrating weeks of my life as I waited for government money to be free so I could sign a new lease in the cheapest apartment complex in Tampa. I felt like I was getting nowhere.

I'm tired of getting nowhere.

Finally, the government freed the funds to hire me. And for six months, everything was great. I was getting a paycheck. I was going to school at night. I had a place to live. I was even putting some money away in my retirement account. I also started my own LLC and wrote for a market analysis blog where my research was mentioned by elected officials.

Life was good.

Then, in February 2016, the contract ended.

I'm tired of contracts ending again.

While working, I was able to put away enough money to fund my final four classes. I even registered for the final project needed to graduate. The countdown began for graduation in December 2016.

If I could only make ends meet until then. Then I would be free to move and leave Tampa if needed. Not that I would want to leave since every job report says Tampa is one of the most growing cities in Florida. It is a great place to live and I have met many amazing people here. But if my skill set can't help any employer here, it might be time to look elsewhere.

What is my skill set? That was something I had to determine. What was I pitching to employers that I could do? What did I bring to the table and why should they hire me?

I came to the conclusion my skill sets depends on the industry. If applying for a military/defense job, I bring years of experience, analysis, research, and organizational understanding. I also bring all the government clearances I had in the past.

If applying for security/investigations/compliance jobs, I bring research, geopolitical understanding, and analysis.

If applying for marketing strategy or market research positions, I bring years of analysis, research, storytelling, and creativity to the table. I am flexible, agile, a good communicator, globally-minded, and a solid team player. All the things business articles say businesses want.

I'm tired of what I read not reflecting reality.

Now I am finishing my second-to-last class before graduating. The pursuit of an MBA has been an amazing journey that has taught me so much about the business world. But right now, I'm not sure it has been worth it. I don't yet see a payoff at the end of the road. The doors they said it would open remain shrouded in a fog of career ambiguity. They are not only not open, I'm not sure where they are. It's tough to knock when you can't find the door. Then you hope you are knocking on the right door and that someone opens.

I'm tired of doors not opening. I'm tired of not knowing where the doors are.

During the last few months, I've felt like a rat trying to find cheese in a maze. Or like Alice trying to make her way though Wonderland. Or Dorothy journeying through Oz. I have been networking and networking, bouncing around like a hot potato trying to meet the right person who can provide me a key to a position. I've met many people with great ideas and great advice, but they always seem to lead to another locked door.

I'm tired of locked doors.

Especially in the government sector. At least until a new budget is released in October.

The problem is, I can't wait until October. Similar to 2015, I have a lease expiring and no income to find a new place. I could again lean on the kindness of friends to provide me shelter so I can continue my education. Again, the search for a place to live supersedes the job hunt. I think that's Maslow's Hierarchy in proof.

I'm tired of not knowing where I am going to live. I'm tired of surviving on the kindness of friends for a roof over my head. I'm tired of being the only person I know with 15 years experience and 1.5 master's degrees without a job or a place to live.

I'm tired of being unemployed.

This isn't a problem of keeping up with peers, some of whom have great jobs and great homes and great families. This is a problem of making a decision to go back to school that seemed good, but has yet to payoff. This is a problem of working hard and finding nothing in return. This is a problem of not being able to progress without always trying to figure out the basics.

This is a problem of instability.

I'm tired of instability.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Playing Spades in the Army



The other day I found an article entitled "A Caucasian's Guide to Spades" on Deadspin.com - or a subsite of Deadspin, whatever constitutes Deadspin these days.

It's been a long time since I played Spades. A really long time. At least 10 years. I think the last time I played was at a college party in my apartment complex in Tallahassee. If I remember right, in one of my neighboring apartments was a group of African-American students. I was cool with them and they had a party and invited me over. In the apartment were a few people playing Spades. When I said I played, I was invited into the game when one person left. After a few games, and a few wins, I made a few new friends and was given the nickname "White Mike" - as to differentiate me from the African-American guy also named Mike in the apartment. I guess he had first dibs on the name.

But that was acceptance. I wasn't "Neighbor Guy" or "Dude from over there". My Spades ability had given me a name.

Not bad considering I hadn't played for years before that.

I learned how to play Spades in the Army. I remember the first time I saw people play was at the National Training Center in California in Fall 1996. I had only been in my unit for a few months and was still trying to find my place.

My section sergeant at the time was a combat veteran named Sergeant Wallace. He was in the 82nd Airborne during Operation Desert Shield before coming to the 1st Cavalry Division. These were days before everyone was deployed and everyone had a combat patch. In my unit, combat experience was rare. SFC Wallace, an African-American, was also a good Spades player.

(Side memory: two words of advice I will always remember from that sergeant were: "Mean what you say and say what you mean." and "Be who you is, because if you is who ain't, you ain't who you is.". I think those are words to live by.)

While the article mentions a lot of the social nuances of Spades, it does not mention how to survive as a beginner. And that's tough. Because if you screw up, you will never sit at the table again. Especially if you are white. You are done. Don't come back.

If I remember those days 20 years ago, I made a few mistakes, but figured out the hang of it. But this line from the article is dead right:
The greatest Spades player in the world is nothing without a good partner, and an experienced partner can make a beginner look like a pro.
The article is also correct in that Spades teaches you confidence. Never underbid, because you look like an idiot if you bid low, but score big. But also, if you say you got your books, you better get your books. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

There were plenty of games where SFC Wallace carried me. There were times when other people carried me. There were times when my team lost. There were times my rookie skills won a few games. And there were times when we lost because of me. I don't remember them, but there had to be. Maybe.

The article is also absolutely correct about trash-talking. Absolutely. Although I don't remember specific name calling, there was a lot of "what you got?", "you ain't got nothing", and psychological intimidation such as your opponent putting the card they are going to play on the table face down before you played your card. In other words, the card you are about to play doesn't matter to them. In another trash-talking moment, I remember SFC Wallace jumping from the table, smacking someone in the forehead with the winning card, slamming it on the table, and ending the game.

That's how I learned how to play Spades.

Looking back, I don't remember playing Spades in either international deployment - either in Bosnia on active duty or in Afghanistan as a contractor. Military people have to still be playing Spades somewhere. It's part of their heritage. I think troops were playing while waiting to board Washington's boat across the Delaware and they were most definitely playing before the battle of Gettysburg.

Michael Harriot's article on Spades was a fun walk down memory lane. Maybe sometime soon I can find some folks playing Spades, wait for one of them to go to the bathroom, slide into the game, and be called "White Mike" again.

Be who you is, because if you is who you ain't, you ain't who you is.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Check out Hardboiled - a stopmotion film about crime-fighting food

The other day I received an email from my cousin Jan. She is an Executive Producer for Hornet Films, a New York-based studio that produces animation shorts and stop-motion films.

Jan's email asked for support for a new project a Hornet director is working on: Hardboiled, a stop-motion film about crime-fighting food. According to the Hardboiled IndieGoGo page,

"The 20 minute film is shot entirely in stop motion and each character, set piece, and prop has been built by hand right here in DUMBO, Brooklyn."

Here is the trailer:




This looks so cool and I know someone involved in it. Which is even cooler. But look at all the detail and all the work being done there.

So if you can, click the IndieGoGo link above and support the project. Or maybe just watch the trailer and spread the word.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Innovation of Notorious BIG and Jimi Hendrix

While perusing Facebook the other day, a saw a few musical videos my friends posted. While they weren't meant to be similar, I saw a trend. Both had to do with the evolution of musical genres.

The first video shows us an early Jimi Hendrix playing guitar for a group called Buddy and Stacey and the Upsetters. Recorded in 1965, two years before he started The Jimi Hendrix Experience, we can see Jimi playing the role of background piece. He is not the focus of the band, or the sound.



Through influences such as Buddy Guy and Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix was able to revolutionize rock music. He took the blues ideal of putting the guitar player in front, added new technology, mixed in the lyrical stylings of Bob Dylan and other folk performers, and set the world and his guitar on fire.

The evolution of Jimi Hendrix and rock music in general is similar to the evolution of hip-hop lyrics in another recent video. In a video for Vox Media, music journalist Estelle Caswell breaks down the progression of lyrics from the simplest bars and rhymes of Kurtis Blow to the complex composition of MF Doom.

But one of the MCs Caswell focuses on extensively is Notorious BIG and his 1997 song "Hypnotize". She calls it "one of the smoothest rap songs ever".



What is most interesting about Biggie is how he completely eclipsed his labelmate Craig Mack. While Craig Mack was a decent rapper and could hold his own bar for bar - see Flava In Your Ear - when Sean Combs signed Biggie, Biggie's style was so beyond Craig Mack that Mack became not only irrelevant on the label, but also in the genre.

I would love to see a side-by-side decomposition of Biggie to Craig Mack. I think therein lies why one is regarded as one of the best rappers of all time and the other is a footnote.

In the dog-eat-dog world of hip-hop, rappers have to battle for supremecy. Biggie did that when he toppled Craig Mack on Mack's "Flava in your Ear" remix. Guitarist rarely go toe-to-toe in the same song. There are few headcutting battles like we saw in the blues movie Crossroads.

Maybe that's why rock isn't as innovative anymore and why there isn't much complex ground being broken. Innovation is only on the fringes.

Rock needs a new Jimi Hendrix. But with music going digital, the world of musical innovation is either on a keyboard or in the pen of a lyricist. And that's why Biggie will always be regarded highly, perhaps as the Jimi Hendrix of Hip-Hop.

Monday, May 30, 2016

We Are The Fans: Best of the Blogs Book Proposal

Several years ago, back when sports blogging was "the thing to do", I had a grand idea. I wanted to collect the best in sports blog writing and publish it. I had a title ("We Are The Fans: The Best of Sports Blogs"), a 17-page proposal, and dozens of selected examples.

Unfortunately, not one literary agent or publisher was interested. Although everyone said it was a great idea, there was the dilemma of copyright and compensation. How would I pay each of these bloggers who originally published their work for free? What about bloggers who were more established than others? What about blogs on sites such as ESPN or Deadspin? What would be the qualifications for a blogger to be featured: published, never-been-published, laid-off but still writing?

(Speaking of Deadspin, if I had somehow gotten a deal, I really wanted former Deadspin editor Will Leitch to write the foreword. He would have been perfect as most sports blogs acknowledged him as sort of the "godfather" of sports blogs.)

Now, nearly six years later, sports blogging as a "thing" is pretty much dead. Most bloggers have let their websites die and moved their voices to twitter and other social media platforms. Or they have joined bigger platforms that allow anyone to post and pay a pittance. A small percentage of the bloggers I wanted to feature have actually turned their writing into a career.

Also dead is my hope for this project. Therefore, I've decided to post parts of the proposal here. I'll eventually post links to the stories that are still online, so you will have what I thought were the Best of the Blogs here, instead of in a nice hardcover book on you coffee table.

I guess you can print them out and staple them together, if printers and staplers are still a "thing".


We Are The Fans: The Best of Sports Blogs


Proposal by: Michael Lortz

10/14/2008

Overview

During the past five years, the sports media landscape has drastically changed. Fans who used to be at the mercy of the ESPN monopoly of national sports reporting now express themselves through sports blogs and other interactive media. These online venues have given average fans ways to broadcast their own opinions and engage in conversation with other fans with similar views.

The creative freedom of blogging has opened doors for fans to showcase their skills in a number of different ways. Some have used their blogs as daily diaries, writing about their favorite team and chronicling their views on each game, score, or transaction. Others have used their corner of the internet for general sports musings, usually providing commentary on news from throughout the sports world. Yet another group has used their forum to fill gaps in mainstream reporting, filling statistical niches and focusing on deeper analysis.  Lastly, a fourth group of fans have published insightful, well-written posts that could compare to any mainstream editorial or feature piece.

Unfortunately, due to the cacophony of the blogosphere, the best independent blogging voices are often only heard by a select few. Although members of the sports blogosphere generally promote each other and share admired work, the best blogged sports writing is barely read by a fraction of the audience held by the mainstream sports media outlets. To illustrate, the most read sports blog, Deadspin.com, receives an average of approximately 8 million readers per month. By comparison, ESPN.com receives a much greater average of 20 million readers per month.

By showcasing the best and most creative entries of the sports blogosphere, We Are The Fans introduces readers to a new group of voices. Voices that speak much like their own, think as they think, laugh as they laugh, and cheer (or boo) as they cheer. We Are The Fans is not only a collection of essays, musings, and commentary, it is the voice of real sports fans.

Chapter Outline

  1. Nostalgic – Past Events: Among the freedoms of bloggers is the ability to chronicle those moments that meant so much to them. This chapter will highlight blog entries in which authors recall their special sports moments.

  2. Satire: Quite a few sports bloggers use satire as a way to highlight and poke fun at hot sports topics. This chapter will be comprised of posts from those bloggers who skewer their intended targets with over-the-top hyperbole and often create humorous caricatures of athletes.

  3. New Media versus Old Media: This chapter will highlight some of the best posts on the subject of the evolution of communication in sports writing and the effect the advent of sports blogging has had on sports media.

  4. Race and Gender in Sports: Race and Gender are as much an issue in sports as in any other aspect of society. This chapter will highlight some of the best writing by bloggers of both sexes and various ethnicities on the subject of race, gender, and equality in sports.

  5. Live Blog: One of the biggest advantages of the blogging medium is the ability to update work and react immediately to an event. This chapter will feature some of the best live blogs in the sports blogosphere during the biggest events.

  6. Reflective – Current event: Similar to the chapter on past events, this chapter will sample the best blog writing on current events that affected the writer. Among the possible examples are a long-awaited championship, death of a favorite athlete, or anything thing else that moved the blogger to write.

  7. Analytical/ Statistical: Bloggers often fill the gaps in mainstream reporting with extensive analytical research. Without the pressure of deadlines, bloggers are able to look deeper into the statistics of sports and shed light on the nuances of the games. This chapter will gather the best of these analyses.

  8. International: Many sports bloggers come from different ethnicities and bring these international perspectives to their blogs. These fans look at sports from a non-American viewpoint. This chapter will highlight the best international sports perspectives.

  9. Top 10 Lists: Many sports bloggers have taken their queue from late night talk show hosts and gotten laughs through top ten lists. This chapter will list the best of the sports blogosphere’s top 10 lists.

  10. Pop culture comparisons: Proving that the analogy part of the SAT test never dies, many sports bloggers use the familiar if X is to Y, then A is to B formula to compare sports entities to popular culture figures. This chapter will feature the best of these posts.

  11. Comedy/Humor: As fans, many bloggers are able to take an outside look at sports and approach their posts from a humorous, light-hearted perspective. This chapter will highlight the best and funniest of these posts.

  12. Insightful: This chapter will feature those posts that discuss sports, athletes, or events in an insightful, non-conventional way. Many of these posts are longer, well-written pieces that give insight to a perspective that most fans might not think about.

  13. Miscellaneous: The final chapter will collate all posts that do not fit in the above categories. This chapter may discuss elements such as sporting equipment, memorabilia, or sports businesses.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The problem with student loans and poor guidance



There were two very interesting, very different stories about college graduates written last week.

The first, written in the FSView & Florida Flambeau (which I used to write for), tells the story of recent FSU grad Giovanni Rocco. According to the FSView, Rocco is the poster child for the horrible plague of student loans and increasing college costs. The FSView writes that Rocco now owes $42,000 for a dual degree in Political Science and Communications.

The same day, NBCNews.com posted an article on Michael Vaudreuil, a 54-year old father of three who graduated after working as a janitor at Worchester Polytechnic University for eight years. According to NBCNews, Vaudreuil graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in mechanical engineering with a minor in psychology. He took advantage of the university's policy of free tuition for employees and completed one to two classes per semester.

In the big picture, this is what is wrong with our university systems. They push the idea that students have to complete undergrad programs in 4 to 5 years and that they have to do these programs immediately after high school.

College administrations need to do better.

Yes, college costs have risen. Yes, student loan rates have risen. But students make their schedule. Vaudreuil took an adult approach to his education. He saw his resources and applied them to his situation, figuring as long as he maintained the course, he would reach his goals.

I don't mean to pick on a younger Seminole, but Rocco did everything college students shouldn't do.
  • He knew he didn't have the funds, but took loans anyway.

  • He majored in a program that leads to low paying entry level jobs.

  • He participated in student clubs instead of working.
“I decided that it was more important for me to get a quality education and not focus so much on how to pay for it,” Rocco says. “If you’re only thinking about how to pay for it and not what you’re going to get from it, that might cheat you out of a good opportunity.”
This is what college students need to be talked out of. Opportunities are great, but maturity means balancing opportunities with cost.  The typical student is already facing enough learning experiences in college. They are learning their capacities in social relationships, academics, group involvement, and time management. They should not be left to flounder in financial management.

By the simple fact they barely out of their teen years, most college students do not think about long-term risks. Most also don't think about long-term financials. They need to be given better information on how their debt will grow. They should also be given realistic plans that incorporate not only their academic needs, but also their financial budget. College student loan counselors need to work better with academic advisors in crafted plans for each individual student.

And if the case calls, counselors need to tell kids to stop taking on debt. Even if that means delaying their education.

Of course, Vaudreuil faces his own challenges now. According to US News, people over 50 face increase challenges finding new employment. The workforce is getting younger, faster, and more fluid and Vaudreuil needs to compete with his new skills against many young workers half his age. As a mechanical engineer, he might never make senior management. Time might have passed him by for a lengthy career in the field.

But he is still debt free. And in the big picture of taking care of his family, an entry level job in mechanical engineering should pay more than his current job as a janitor. In the long run, he and his family can look forward to improving their status in life.

Meanwhile, Rocco will be saddled with debt for most of his working life. He will struggle to pay off the balance as the interest on his loans begins to accumulate. When he buys a house or a new car, his personal debt will continue to grow.

From an employers' perspective, the fact that these two stories are public, we can make some judgement on the personal traits of each. Hiring managers will look up Rocco's name and read about a student that while intelligent, made poor financial decisions and didn't think long-term. He might also be more likely to jump to higher paying opportunities sooner, turning off hiring managers at organizations that might not pay as much.

For Vaudreuil, hiring managers will see someone with determination. The right company will see someone they can plug right into their corporation and get maturity and someone who plots a goal, understands the risks, and is dedicated.

As someone who enlisted in the military so I could get the GI Bill to pay for college, re-enlisted in the National Guard to pay for my first graduate degree, then put aside money made in Afghanistan to pay for my second master's degree, trust me, there is nothing wrong with taking your time to get through college.

If college takes 10 years to graduate, then it takes 10 years. A career path is not a race.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review of Hip-Hop & Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason



A few months ago, I picked up the book "Hip-Hop & Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason". Published in 2005, the book explores the ideas in hip-hop culture and music and compares them to ideas and concepts in classical and modern philosophy. It attempts to bring academia to pop culture as it discusses the social and impact and messages in hip-hop culture and music.

Overall, I thought the book was pretty good. Especially when it covered what is now "conscious hip-hop" - songs with social lyrics. Also interesting were chapters on the use of the words "nigga" and "bitch" and their impact on listeners. Also covered is an exploration in the messages of inner city struggle and how hip-hop is a vessel for communication, a motivating message, and vent for frustration.

Hip-hop has always been a culture with two sides: a playful, party minded side, where MC and DJ entertain and try to captivate the crowd with wicked wordplay and a blend of beats that keeps folks dancing, and a serious side, where urban story tellers broadcast stories of the streets. What these two sides celebrate or denounce is widely covered in Hip-Hop & Philosophy. For example, the book attempts to answer why lawlessness is often celebrated in hip-hop crime songs. Are these stories fantasy or a reflection of a broken social contract between the artist's environment and his/her society?

The cited works in Hip-Hop & Philosophy is a who's who of lyrical talents. The works of Public Enemy, Nas, Common, Ice Cube, and Dead Prez are often quoted as examples of hip-hop taking a social stand. Meanwhile, quotes by 50 Cent, Nelly, and several others show hip-hop's non-socially conscious and often not socially acceptable side.

My biggest critique with Hip-Hop & Philosophy is in the opening essays. Too often the authors in the beginning of the book try to hard to inject hip-hop slang into the text. For example, Derrick Darby in an attempt to question the power of God, writes how God would be challenged to roll a blunt too big for Him to smoke or how God couldn't create a glock too big for Him to wield. Surely, Darby could have found better examples. Darby also injects far too much slang in his essay, making it almost unreadable.

Co-editor Tommie Shelbie is almost as bad as Darby in his essay on love. With quotes such as "Socrates rocks the mic with heavy doses of logic, irony, and aggression", Shelbie also panders to hip-hop ignorance. Older readers know Socrates never rocked a mic in Ancient Greece and younger readers should be taught honestly Socrates method of communication. It is perfectly acceptable to say he preached or spoke his word to the masses in the manner he did. The point is to make the comparison between modern hip-hop and the ancient philosophers, not to lose readers by making Socrates "hip".

Ten years after its publication, the messages discussed in Hip-Hop & Philosophy are still relevant, perhaps even moreso. There is no doubt this book can help those who don't understand the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the messages of the movement are spoken in hip-hop and discussed in the book. Of course, also still relevant are the negative elements in hip-hop - the idea that women are "bitches and hoes" and the goal is to make money or acquire power by any means necessary. I wonder what Hip-Hop & Philosophy would say about "trap rap", southern rap, and other sub-genres that have created several culture clashes within hip-hop.

Overall, Hip-Hop & Philosophy wasn't a bad read. It is not a bad book to keep between my philosophy classics and books on African-American culture such as Soul on Ice, Soledad Brother, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Would I read it again? Maybe not cover to cover, but I might reference it at some point when writing about modern social movements.

Overall Grade: B