Tag Archives: slider

Graduation Day 2013: remember when graduating meant something?

Back when I was growing up “graduation” meant one thing: high school. Well, it could mean college, in theory, but in my old neighborhood college was generally something that happened to other people. Mainly, though, it meant that a kid had somehow stuck it out, avoiding pregnancy and resisting the intoxicating allure of a lucrative career bagging groceries or helping Dad repair HVAC systems, and completed all 12 grades.

This was a big deal for many families. And, while I hate to sound like a geezer yelling at you to get the hell out of my yard, the simple fact is that when I was a kid, graduation meant something.

CATEGORY: EducationThese days, not so much. As I was walking the dog yesterday morning they were setting up the grad ceremonies for the academy in the neighborhood. From the looks of things, this must have been an event for third graders. And why not. These days they have graduation ceremonies for middle school. And kindergarten. And sixth grade. Awesome. You know who else graduated from sixth grade? Jethro Bodine. And nearly everybody else in America.

I’m all for rewarding success, but I’m also painfully aware of what happens when everybody gets a gold star for showing up. Over-reward devalues real accomplishment, and it breeds cynicism. It makes it hard to tell the difference between actual praise and self-esteem boosting. You think the Millennial generation doesn’t know that it was patronized throughout its childhood years?

So here we are. Kids graduate from something every five minutes. Hey – you made it through SEPTEMBER! WOW! We should have a ceremony.

Or maybe we shouldn’t. Unless we’re talking about a child with a legitimate developmental disability, making it through third grade alive isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t be treated like one. We’ll have a ceremony when you actually accomplish something. I’m not going to tell you that completing all the requirements at Ledford High School in the ’70s was on a par with getting your doctorate from Oxford, but it was a valid rite of passage, a moment where one phase of life gave way to the next. It was more than a celebration for the student, it was a reaffirmation for the community, and was therefore a fitting and proper event to mark.

Sixth grade? Shut the fuck up, Jethro. We’ll see you in the fall.

So, for the graduating class senior class of 2013, we at S&R say congratulations and we wish you all the best in the next stage of your life.

Racism in football: FIFA adopts the Dr. Sammy Plan

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsA couple of weeks ago I went off on FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, over the issue of racism in world football. The impetus for that post was the racist abuse of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in a Serie A match. If you recall, Blatter was appalled!

I noted that racism in European football was certainly nothing new and that the sports governing bodies had done pretty much nothing about it. Specifically, I wrote:

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

So imagine my surprise earlier today when fellow Chelsea FC supporter (and occasional S&R commenter) Bret Higgins forwards this item along.

FIFA racism measures could see teams expelled or relegated

Teams could be relegated or expelled from competitions for serious incidents of racism after tough new powers were voted in by Fifa.

First or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors.

Serious or repeat offences can now be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation.

Jeffrey Webb, head of Fifa’s anti-racism task force, said the decision was “a defining moment”.

He added: “Our football family is fully aware that what is reported in the media is actually less than 1% of the incidents that happen around the world.

“We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, passed the anti-racism resolution with a 99% majority at its congress in Mauritius.

Wow. It’s as though FIFA leaders read my post and said “hey, that about covers it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.” While I’m just about certain that isn’t what happened, it’s still nice to see your wisdom validated every once in awhile. Suffice it to say that FIFA has gotten the policy right and they deserve major props for finally getting serious about the dark underbelly of the beautiful game.

All that remains now is to carry through with it. That, of course, could be sticky. I don’t doubt that they’d bring the hammer down in one of football’s notorious backwaters. Booting a lower division scuffer like Hansa Rostock or Hallesche FC down the food chain another notch to make a point? You betcha. I can even see them getting medieval on a big fish/little pond outfit like, say, Steaua Bucuresti.

But what about the racist ultras in some of the world’s bigger, more profitable leagues? Would FIFA and UEFA really relegate an AS Roma, one of Italy’s more prominent sides? What about Lazio, Roma’s far more virulent (and historically fascist) neighbors? As Bret said in a Facebook exchange, if FIFA is serious about this, Italy’s second division is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we should expect many rounds of fines and wrist-slapping before a big club is actually punished.

We’ll find out eventually. We can certainly expect a smaller club or two to be made examples early on. We won’t know for sure how serious FIFA really is until they’re faced with repeated offenses by a major side, and the smart money says that case will emerge from Italy.

For now, though, congratulations to FIFA for laying the groundwork. This policy does all the right things, and all that’s left is to enforce it.

Cost over quality: Chicago Sun-Times fires its photo staff, and journalism’s death spiral continues

That crashing sound you just heard from the Upper Midwest was the Chicago Sun-Times throwing its photography staff out the window. All 28 of them. Pulitzers and everything. The paper explained thusly:

The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.

This seems a clear and official acquiescence to the idea that the Sun-Times presence has now crossed the tipping point, that it is more about online than it is the traditional daily paper channel. And the logic about the value of video content in the online medium is solid enough if you’re a Marketing manager, I suppose. I personally don’t usually watch videos when they’re included with news stories online because the print tells me a lot more a lot faster, but I suspect I’m the exception to the rule there.

But I suspect that the official statement is more about misdirection than it is telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Apparently the S-T is going to rely on freelancers for stills, and also they’ll make their reporters more responsible for shots to accompany the stories they’re covering. Okay.

Nobody is actually saying it, but I’m also willing to bet that they’ll be “crowdsourcing” more “content” from “citizen journalists” with camera phones.

I bought my first camera and took up photography a year ago today, and since then have cultivated a tremendous respect for what pro shooters do. Unfortunately, now that everybody in the world has a decent quality little camera in their phone, our society seems to have concluded, as a culture, that everybody is a photographer. That’s just how we think here in the Postmodern age. Everybody can be a poet. Every scribble is art. And suggesting that people with experience and training are somehow better than everybody else, well, that’s elitism that borders on the fascist, isn’t it?

But the truth is that just anybody isn’t as good as a pro, especially one who’s good enough to have earned the profession’s highest honor. Pointing and clicking isn’t the same as framing a shot and understanding how light and shadow and composition can tell a compelling story.

CATEGORY: JournalismI suspect that the real story at the Sun-Times isn’t about “bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements” or “digitally savvy customers.” It’s about cash. Because these days, that’s what all large media organizations are about. Full-time professionals are expensive and freelancers aren’t. You pay them a few bucks for a shot and you’re not on the hook for salary or benefits. When you tell the reporter to bring back some shots, one employee is doing the work of two. And when you rely on that legion of citizen journalists, well, you can pimp them for free.

As Mickey Osterreicher at the National Press Photographers Association observes, “you may end up getting what you pay for.” No doubt. Some freelancers are pretty good, but since they’re, you know, freelancers, you’re not getting their full attention. Reporters grabbing a shot while they’re there? They’re not pro photojournalists, either, and when you’re trying to do two things instead of one, the likelihood is that both will suffer. And while I guess that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of iPhones would eventually reproduce the catalogue of Margaret Bourke-White, I’m not sure that’s a winning business model.

My S&R colleague Dr. Denny has been tracking the decline of journalism since we launched over six years ago, and if you’ve followed his reports and analysis there shouldn’t be anything here that surprises you. We can also expect other agencies around the country to follow suit, so if you’re a staff photographer at the New York Times or the Denver Post or the Winston-Salem Journal or the East Bumfuck Picayune, you need to get that résumé updated (although I don’t really know where you’re going to send it). The union is going to file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, but I think we know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?

Denny has been telling us for years that eroding the integrity of the product you’re putting on the streets has a direct long-term effect on the success of that product (to say nothing of how it impacts the public’s knowledge of the important issues that shape our shared social lives). Once again, a major news agency is significantly compromising the quality of its journalism. It may produce more “content” and it may do so more cheaply, but when news organizations are driven by their Marketing and Finance departments, the result are predictable.

In the end, understand that a major US daily just fired a Pulitzer winner. It remains to be seem how many Pulitzers the new structure will win, but the over/under is zero.

Hey, football fans: I may have been wrong about Romelu Lukaku

I first saw new Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku play last summer on the team’s US tour stop in Seattle. My initial take was mixed. On the plus side, he’s obviously gifted physically and is going to make a nice living for himself playing somewhere.

I wondered, however, if that place was Chelsea. The Blues were moving in the direction of a tika-taka, Barcelona-inspired style of play (because in sports, everybody copies whatever is winning at the time), populating the squad at every opportunity with twinkle-toes Brazilians and Spaniards and Eden Hazard, a Belgian who plays like he thinks he’s a Brazilian or Spaniard. Read more

IRS/Tea Party controversy: progressive groups “targeted,” too, and corporate media once again refuses to tell Americans the whole truth

CATEGORY: TaxationLate Saturday we posted a Scrogues Converse Roundtable looking at the IRS/Tea Party controversy. The debate got started when our colleague Dr. Sid Bonesparkle suggested that perhaps the IRS wasn’t out of line in taking a good hard look at organizations dedicated to undermining the tax system trying to organize using 501 status, which is reserved for social welfare oriented nonprofits.

Perhaps Sid was, if anything, too generous regarding the alleged facts of the case. Surprise, surprise: The version of the story that, thanks to the slothfulness of our corporate media establishment, has now been accepted as gospel turns out to be inaccurate.

In short, the IRS did not “target conservative groups.”

The corporate media is blasting out the story that the IRS “targeted conservative groups.” Some in the media say there was “IRS harassment of conservative groups.” Some of the media are going so far as claiming that conservative groups were “audited.”

This story that is being repeated and treated as “true” is just not what happened at all. It is one more right-wing victimization fable, repeated endlessly until the public has no choice except to believe it.

Conservative Groups Were Not “Targeted,” “Singled Out” Or Anything Else

You are hearing that conservative groups were “targeted.” What you are not hearing is that progressive groups were also “targeted.” So were groups that are not progressive or conservative.

All that happened here is that groups applying to the IRS for special tax status were checked to see if they were engaged in political activity. They were checked, not targeted. Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Once again: Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Conservative groups were not “singled out,” were not “targeted” and in the end none were denied special tax status – even though many obviously should have been.

Bloomberg details three progressive groups that were probed, noting that one of them had its application rejected.

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries. [emphasis added]

All told, the IRS’s poking about seems to have been extensive and non-partisan.

…agency officials told lawmakers in a briefing yesterday that 471 groups received additional scrutiny, a total that indicates a crackdown on politically active nonprofit groups that extends beyond the Tea Party outfits.

A look at the questions presented to Progress Texas suggests that if the Tea Party was being “harassed,” so were they.

“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government,” the group’s executive director, Ed Espinoza, said in a statement. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”

The questions resembled the list of 35 questions (PDF) sent to the Liberty Township Tea Party, which has complained of IRS harassment.

The real culprit here is the infamous Citizens United decision.

The year 2010 began a busy period for the IRS office in Cincinnati, the home of the tax-exempt determinations unit. That January, the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, which loosened the rules governing contributions to political causes and candidates. Applications flooded in to the office from groups seeking tax-exempt status, many with a political agenda.

The IRS has admitted it flagged applications from groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. But applications from other groups were closely scrutinized as well.

An Austin, Texas-based progressive group, Progress Texas, was one of them. Its executive director, Ed Espinoza, says it took almost a year and a half for the IRS to review the application from his organization.

In 2010, some 1,700 applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status came into the Cincinnati office. That number nearly doubled by 2012. Yet according to the IRS Inspector General’s Report, just one person was originally given the task of sifting through the applications deemed politically sensitive.

Another application that seemingly got caught up in the backlog came from a group of journalists in Chicago. The Chicago News Cooperative provided news for the Midwest edition of The New York Times. The co-op also sought tax-exempt status. Veteran journalist James O’Shea, a former managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, was in charge.

“There were political organizations trying to get these exemptions, and I think the IRS was concerned — and probably appropriately so — that some of these news organizations were really political organizations,” he says, “and so they were examining that, and we just got caught up in that.”

For more than two years, the Chicago News Cooperative waited for an IRS ruling. But without tax-exempt status, foundation support dried up, and the cooperative went out of business. [emphasis added]

The final score, then: Conservative groups “targeted” accounted for about a third of the total. None were denied nonprofit status. Meanwhile, at least one liberal group was turned down and at least one innocent bystander was forced out of business.

All thanks to a pro-corporate, pro-conservative Supreme Court ruling.

It’s probably not fair to assume that big money media organizations are always wrong, but you have to be positively daft to assume that you’re getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from them.

Forewarned, forearmed.

Profiling the Tea Party: In defense of the IRS. Sorta. Or not.

You’ve probably noted the controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s apparent “profiling” of groups aligned with the Tea Party. A discussion on the issue broke out here at S&R this week, with our colleague Sid Bonesparkle suggesting on our internal e-mail forum that perhaps such action, even if it only involved a couple of “rogue” agents, might not be entirely unwarranted.

As is often the case, not everyone agreed with Dr. Sid. In the interest of fostering some debate on the larger issues surrounding the case, we have decided to share out internal discussion with our readers as part of our ongoing Scrogues Converse series.

Dr. Sid Bonesparkle

First, a caveat or two. I’m not a huge fan of the IRS. In general large bureaucracies with minimal oversight make me nervous. This isn’t an anti-taxation thing, it isn’t an anti-government thing, and I can’t say that I’ve ever had any personal issues with them. Call it philosophical.

I’m also not a huge fan of government employees usurping extralegal powers for themselves, although I recognize that expansionism is as natural to a bureaucracy as sucking eggs is to a weasel.

All of which is to say that I am not endorsing or advocating roguery by individuals working within the IRS or any other government agency.

That said, I’m a lot less bothered by these charges than everybody else seems to be.

I know there’s no way that Obama can use this messaging, but I do think there’s a fair question here: Aren’t law enforcement officials well advised to keep a close eye on those who advocate positions that aren’t in line with the law?

For instance:

  • If you insist on your right to stockpile military grade weapons and you advocate overthrowing the government, aren’t the FBI and ATF justified in surveilling you?
  • I’m guessing all kinds of agencies, from local police up through the Justice Dept., pay attention to those who want to legalize drugs.
  • If you’re the cops and you find out that the newly elected president of NAMBLA lives in your town, you might be interested in that.
  • What about eco-terrorists? You don’t think the law in the vicinity of pipeline development is interested in them?

And so on. The Tea Party’s stated raison d’etre is all about taxation. Now, their propaganda hacks might shape the rhetoric in a way that suggests the civic side of the word “reform,” but if you’ve been paying attention for the past few years (and by “few” I mean 35) you know that in their view ALL taxes are evil. We see corps making billions and paying no taxes. We see the hyper-wealthy hiding their money offshore. We see Tea Party politicians willing to shut down the government – especially the parts that administer those nasty social programs – in order to further trim taxes on their rich donors.

All of which is to say that the IRS might be justified in keeping a close eye on certain groups, especially when those groups are organizing under 501(c)(4) statutes. Tell me, does this sound like the Tea Party groups with which you’re familiar?

Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

Despite pretending to be a grassroots movement of concerned citizens, we now know that the Tea Party is nothing of the sort. It was from the start an astroturf put-up job funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that emerged from decades of deep planning by the tobacco industry, and if you’re going to allow it to organize and operate under the 501(c)(4) umbrella you might as well let the Democratic Party and Exxon organize as charitable non-profits.

In other words, the groups “targeted” by the IRS were and are and always will be, in their DNA, dedicated to undermining our revenue system. This doesn’t make them criminals automatically – certainly one can work to change laws that one disagrees with – but when your methods are overtly built around gaming the system, it’s not my fault if I’m wary of you. If you don’t want to be treated like a sneaky egg-sucking weasel, then don’t sneak around the henhouse when you think I’m not looking.

Just saying.

Cat White


This is the reason I have been skeptical of this particular outcry. The Parties (intentionally capitalized) questioned are political in nature, back candidates, and are anti-tax. Where’s the “social welfare” aspect? It’s in our collective best interests to do away with all taxes? I don’t think so.

Talk about being able to identify a duck from its characteristics.

Oh, but in this case it’s not a duck because it wants to be a cow.

Ok, sure.


I’m nervous about this one. We have enough problems controlling the FBI, et al. Not sure we want to encourage political activism by other groups as well. Understand what is really happening. The IRS is in part doing its job, but it’s also doing a Ruby Ridge/Waco, squashing opposition to government per se. The desire to protect the institution is nonpartisan.

I personally think this is really bad for Obama. It’s the Manny Ramirez thing. If he fakes an injury, he’s just Manny being Manny. If anyone else does it, they’re assholes. Obama has the narrative going. Yeah, Karl Rove is a liar, but it’s just Karl being Karl. Yes, Tom DeLay rigged elections, but it’s just Tom being Tom. Yes, Mark Sanford is an idiot, but he’s better than a woman librul. Wait, I lost the thread on that last one.

Anyway, this doesn’t fit with Obama’s narrative, which is exactly opposite: “I’m above partisanship, trying to do the right thing. Those guys are the one politicizing everything.” Of course, as Alex said in her post the other day, Boehner’s outrage is feigned because he’s party to worse. But being no worse than Boehner is not what Obama promised us. (It’s what Bill Clinton promised us, but not Obama.)

Sam Smith

Well, this is an interesting question. Were these IRS agents targeting suspicious anti-IRS groups because they were suspicious or because they were anti-IRS? No way to know that, and I’m not sure it matters. The issue for me is whether the groups were acting legally or not. If their actions are structured so as to subvert not only the law as written, but the clear intent of the statute, then the IRS is probably not out of line in having a look, right?

Cat White

Whoa – this isn’t Waco or Ruby Ridge. Yes, Nixon did use the IRS as a blunt instrument. And yes, it can be heavy handed on its own. But if the IRS were going after people who espouse anti-government rhetoric, they’d have to target a large sector of the GOP and THAT ISN’T HAPPENING or their reaction would be nukular compared to this.


Not sure on that. Partial discrimination is still discrimination. If there’s a documented history of teabaggers faking not-for-profit, then it should be a national policy. If not, it was discrimination. My argument is it might not be polical but rather the natural antipathy of those inside the institution for those who criticize of it.

Sam Smith

I don’t personally care about the Obama PR angle at all. He’s working hard to cement his legacy as “not quite as bad as Bush was, except for all those civil rights issues.” Really, my only concern is whether the agency is operating more or less efficaciously. Whether you like the point Bonesparkle is raising or not, Cat is dead on the money. She even understates the case a bit, I think.


Didn’t the GAO say that there’s no evidence that there was targeting? Caveat for protecting your own and whatnot.

In any case, while people spin over the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, we’re not paying close enough attention to far more worrying actions by the administration, like tapping the AP’s phones for two months because it was mad at journalists for doing their jobs. And now we have the President and AG saying they didn’t know it was happening. Right, that was Reagan’s favorite trick and it’s almost certainly true only in the sense that there’s no paper trail.

Nonetheless, it’s comical that when shit like this happens to the Right it’s a national travesty. Seems to me that the Feds have been harassing the Left for a good many decades. To the best of my knowledge the only thing the CIA’s ever infiltrated was the American Left.


Actually I think they’ve done a good job getting the patriots. Again, they don’t mind anti-people (Klan, abortion clinic bombers) but they hate anti-government.

Sam Smith

I’d love it if we could develop some context around how various factions use the government as a hatchet against those they don’t like. Let’s see here. ACORN. Shirley Sherrod. Oh, and this. Hmmm. What else?

Meanwhile, Obama trips all over himself apologizing for this horrific breach of IRS trust. How dare they profile groups that are working the letter of the law and ignoring the hell out of its intent.


I giggle every time I see that word “profiling,” by the way. If a convicted pedophile applied for a license to open a day care center, would it be wrong to “profile” him?

Goddamned wasteful gummit spending: Who’s the highest (over)paid “public servant” in your state? (WTF?)

A Special Guest Commentary From Randy Wayne Boudreau, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Tea Party

All right thinking citizen patriots hate gummit. Wasteful bureaucrats living off hard workers like you and me. Might as well be welfare queens.

And now, thanks to the good folks at Deadspin – private, non-union workers, I should note – we know who the highest paid gummit bloodsuckers around the country are.

Read more

Squirrel!: Welcome to the Ricky Bobby School of Management

BusinessPart two of a series.

Ricky Bobby is not a thinker…He is a doer. – Talladega Nights

In part one of this series, we talked about a new analysis that explains how important stupidity is to the modern corporation. Today we’re going to have a look at what this means for you.

In short, despite what you’ve been told your whole life, being smart may not be good for your career. Read more

Tuesday Morning RAW: last night’s Izod Center crowd could spell trouble for WWE’s creative team

CATEGORY: TuesdayMorningRAWFirst off, if you were among the crazies at the Izod Center for Monday Night Raw last evening, we salute you. Sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick, what were you people on?

For those who missed the goings on in East Rutherford, this was the Raw on the night after WrestleMania, and what showed up may or may not have been the best crowd in WWE history, but it was damned sure the most creative. They booed the good guys and cheered the bad guys. The showed off their deep historical knowledge of the industry. They refused to tolerate the boring and lost their minds at the mayhem.

And they chanted. Oh, they chanted. They sang soccer songs (“Olé Olé Olé”). They chanted for the superstars (Mark Henry). They chanted for the announcers (JBL and Jerry Lawler – and my gods, even Michael Cole). They chanted ironically (“U-S-A U-S-A”). They chanted for wrestling organizations that are out of business (ECW). They encouraged Big Show to throw one more chair. They serenaded Miz and Wade Barrett with a round of “you fucked up” after a blown spot. They chanted for cotton candy. They chanted about how awesome they were. They chanted for guys who aren’t on the WWE roster anymore (RVD). They chanted for a dead guy (Randy Savage).

Big Show – a heel – got a monster pop when he laid out Randy Orton and Seamus, two huge crowd favorites. They went berserk when Ryback shellshocked ostensible babyface John Cena, to the point where we’re not actually sure if we were seeing a heel turn or not. When arrogant heel Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank suitcase and beat crippled babyface World Champion Albertoooooooooooooo del Rio for the belt, the crowd nearly blew the lid off the place. Let me repeat that – bad guy shortcuts his way to title win over injured popular good guy – and the crowd goes nuts. Granted, Ziggler has been one of the company’s best and most charismatic workers for some time, but del Rio is everything you could ask for in a pro, too.

And the absolute moment of the night, bar none…well, note the 6:54 mark of this video, when the crowd starts humming Fandango’s entrance music. Absolutely. Fucking. Twilight Zone.

They were doing it again after the show went off the air, too. I guess it’s a mercy that CM Punk wasn’t there. If he had been, they might have torn the building down.

In other words, a crowd unlike any other in pro wrestling history showed up unannounced and hijacked the biggest show on cable. It was like the fraternity party on the Saturday night before classes start. It was like somebody got the Timbers Army huffed up on ecstasy and nitrous and turned them loose in the Seattle Opera while it was performing Bugs Bunny’s version of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Or something. “Live” doesn’t come anywhere close to describing the scene. Even “electric” falls way short of the mark. Maybe “insane”?

Goddamn, it was more fun than a paddy wagon full of Juggalos trying to figure out how magnets work. The wrestlers clearly had no fucking idea what was going on, but they rolled with it. The announcers were having the time of their lives. And I’m still laughing.

But maybe not the WWE creative team. If I’m VP of Creative Stephanie McMahon, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.

Here’s the problem. WWE fans are notorious bandwagoners and imitators. What if the crowd next week in Greenville, SC feels like it needs to match the intensity and weirdness of last night’s New Jersey crowd? And all of a sudden it has become a thing, like yelling “what?” every time a heel cutting a promo pauses to take a breath.

You’re the creative team and now, all of a sudden, you have to develop storylines in an upside down world. You have to get over characters when the fans are aggressively booing the faces, cheering the heels and mocking every single cliché and halfwitted idea you come up with. (Except Fandango, apparently – creative has saddled new call-up Johnny Curtis with the cheesiest gimmick since Repo Man, a Prancing With the Stars ballroom dancing wank that would have been embarrassing back during the promotion’s 1980s cartoon heyday, but the fans responded by … well, watch the video.)

How the hell do you book in an environment where the audience is actively clowning you at every turn?

I’m probably overplaying the perversity angle a slight bit here. In truth, the crowd rewarded the likes of Chris Jericho, who in addition to being a big, way over star, is also … and this is key … a very good worker. He’s been a talented in-ring guy for years and is one of the best at making his opponents look good, which is why, one suspects, he was paired with Fandango for the rookie’s first feud. If anybody can teach Curtis, make him look credible in the ring and help get him over with the crowd, it’s Jericho.

Big Show has been a remarkably effective worker through the years, too, especially given his size. Most behemoths are poison in the ring because they lack the physical dynamism to do much beside lumber around (see Khali, Great). Show, who played hoops at Wichita State once upon a time, is a good athlete and has proven his ability to get other performers over.

All of which makes the WWE creative nightmare that much scarier. What if, in addition to being perverse about who they cheer for, crowds start popping for workrate guys? Oh, that isn’t good. The folks in Stamford have undervalued actual wrestling skills for decades, opting instead for high charisma star power. Hulk Hogan might have been a legend, but there are mannequins who are more credible in the ring. Hypersupermegastar The Rock? Meh. Better than Hogan, but generally pedestrian. Current face of the company John Cena? The only person who seems to be able to get a good match out of him is the aforementioned CM Punk, who calls himself the best in the world and he’s probably right.

If the fans start cheering the guys who can work and mocking the stiffs, it’s going to pose a massive challenge for Stephanie McMahon and her team.

Last night may have been a one-off. We have never seen its like before nor shall we again. But the WWE exists in an exceptionally viral universe, and with that in mind, if I’m running WWE creative we’ve been locked up in a brainstorming session all day. The question before us: what the hell do we do if the world just completely changed forever?

TunesDay: Phoenix and Aline are making 2013 a big year for French Indie Pop

We haven’t historically regarded the French for their rock & roll. Wine and cuisine, sure. Beautiful women, absolutely. But Europe’s greatest pop music has always tended to emerge across the channel. Then, in 2009, a little band from Versailles called Phoenix blowed up with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and one of the year’s hottest Indie singles, “Lisztomania.” Phoenix had been around for a few years, and music insiders were also familiar with bands like Rouen’s Tahiti 80, but never before had a French act been so much en vogue in the lands of the Anglos.

Now they’re back, with a new CD entitled Bankrupt set to drop this summer. The first cut is “Entertainment,” and if the rest of the disc is this wonderful they’re going to have another smash on their hands.

As is so often the case, when an artist from a previously unmined cultural outback (think Athens, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, if you will) breaks through, it opens the doors for others from the neighborhood. I find myself really, really hoping that another outstanding French act – Aline, from Marseilles – benefits from the rub. Their new release, Regarde le Ciel, is simply freakin’ marvelous.

Spread the love, spread the music. Happy TunesDay.

Lone Star Funds president Ellis Short hires avowed fascist Paolo di Canio to manage his football team

UPDATE: It’s official.


English Premiership side Sunderland AFC is considering hiring Paolo Di Canio to be its new manager. Di Canio would replace Martin O’Neill, who was turfed after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.

Providing negotiations proceed smoothly, club officials hope to announce his appointment on Monday morning. It remains unclear whether he will be hired on a short-term, seven-game deal or a longer contract.

The 44-year-old Italian represents an intriguing choice on the part of Sunderland’s wealthy American owner. Although Di Canio lacks Premier League managerial experience, he enjoyed an impressive 22-month stint in charge of Swindon after being appointed in May 2011.

Here’s a picture of Di Canio from his playing days.

dicanioWait – what?

The hell. No way.

What the goose-stepping motherfuck?

It’s true. Not only is Di Canio a fascist, he’s rather out and loud and proud about it. He’s gotten into hot water for his pro-ultra antics in the past (“ultra” is the term for European football’s rabid right-wing supporters, and those at Di Canio’s home club, Lazio, are among the continent’s more virulent), having drawn fines and a suspension and, in the case of his last employer, Swindon Town, causing a key sponsor to sever ties with his club.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea about di Canio, understand one key fact. According to him:

I am a fascist, not a racist.

Oh, well that’s diff…wait, back up.

“I give the straight arm salute because it is a salute from a ‘camerata’ to ‘camerati’,” he said, carefully using the Italian words for members of Mussolini’s fascist movement.

“The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don’t want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred,” he said.

Ummm. So, di Canio is one of those Rainbow Coalition/diversity advocate fascists we’ve been hearing about? Is it possible to be fascist without being racist? Well, if you read what there is to be found on the subject of di Canio and racism, you come away with a picture that’s … conflicted? Is that the right word? He says he’s hanging onto his own ideas, but thinks that maybe all the violence was wrong. Or something.

Anyhow, di Canio is up for the Sunderland job. And Sunderland is in somewhat desperate straits. With seven matches to play, the Black Cats are a scant one point clear of the relegation zone, and being dumped down to the second tier would have grave financial consequences for the club. The stress is apparently leading their front office to consider … extreme measures?

And about that front office. Turns out the team’s owner is one Ellis Short. Short is, of all things, an American (albeit an American who has lived in the UK for more than a decade). He seems to be an almost pathologically private sort; just for fun, go Googling – it’s remarkable how little is out there on the guy, considering he’s a multi-billionaire. One thing we do know, though: he’s the (retired?) president of Dallas-based Lone Star Funds, “a worldwide private equity firm that specializes in purchasing distressed companies and assets, and also purchases under-performing and non-performing loans from banks (the company has been active in Germany in purchasing such loans).”

So, to summarize: a hyper-secretive Red State billionaire is set to hire an avowed fascist (but not a racist one) to save his football club from a financially damaging relegation.

Look, you know me. I hate to politicize things. But … we’re talking about a goddamned fascist. You know, World War II, concentration camps, the whole nine yards. Imagine for a second that the Dallas Cowboys were in danger of finishing last and were paying a financial price for it. Imagine that Jerry Jones were to fire his coach (okay, that’s the easy part) and was set to announce, tomorrow morning, that he had hired as a replacement a guy with a swastika tattoo, who in his autobiography had written that Hitler was “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood,” and who had, on multiple occasions, stood up in front of the crowd and led them in a rousing Sieg Heil or two.

Look, I hate Jerry Jones and am capable of thinking a lot of bad things about him. But I can’t even begin to imagine this sequence of events.

There it is, though. If The Guardian is right and all goes to plan, this time tomorrow an American owner in one of the largest professional sports leagues on the planet will have retained the services of the guy in those pictures above. Boggle the fucking mind, don’t it? Newspapers have been wrong before and let’s hope this is one of those occasions, huh?

Happy Easter.

ArtSunday: a poet says goodbye to poetry

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSundayI wrote my first poem when I was a senior at Ledford High School in Wallburg, NC. It was called “Octoberfaust,” and while it wasn’t a terribly good poem, it wasn’t bad for a 17 year-old having his first crack at something brand new. My English teacher, a guy named Jim Booth, whom S&R readers may have heard of, was very encouraging, and a poet was born.

That was in the fall of 1978, which means I have been a poet for nearly 35 years – my entire adult life and then some. During that time I have written four books (none of which are published) containing roughly 119 poems, depending on how you count certain multi-parters. Some have been very short, some have been quite long. A few are fairly conventional, while some are radical in how they challenge our assumptions about form, purpose and content. They cover some predictable subject matter – love and loss, family, life and death, politics, art, literature, poetry – and some less expected topics, like the suite in my most recent book that plays with the hypothetical intersection between trickster tales, Zen spiritualism and quantum physics. They lionize those I revere and savage those I feel have done me wrong. (You know who you are.) Some look hard at the world around me, while many cast a frank eye on the fucked up emotional terrain inside my head.

I think I’m pretty good (although, as you’ll see shortly, this opinion is not unanimously held). The Butterfly Machine, completed last summer, is my masterpiece, such as it is, and the other three books all have something to commend them. A number of the poems have been published: some have appeared in traditional places that are highly regarded (like Cream City Review) or were before they closed their doors (New Virginia ReviewAmaranth Review, High Plains Literary ReviewPoet & Critic). Others have been pubbed (or are forthcoming) in the small, innovative new journals and anthologies (print and online) that I believe represent the future of poetry (like Dead MuleAmethyst ArsenicPemmicanPoetry PacificManifest West, and Uncanny Valley).

I have also been rejected. Boy howdy, have I been rejected. I’ve been blown off by the biggest journals in all of literature, and I’ve also been sent on my way by small, obscure outlets (and everything in between). I couldn’t really tell you what the ratio of rejections to acceptances has been, but a whole lot to not many. In sum, while I think I’m a great writer and have found a few editors who agree, we are a minority. And not an especially large one.

I’m incredibly proud of my publication credits and am grateful to the editors who saw the value in my writing. To each of them, and to all the friends and colleagues who have supported me along the way, I’d like to say a huge thanks. You have no idea what you have meant to me.

With that said, I’m here today to announce my retirement from poetry. I know, I know – about as many people care that I’m quitting as cared that I was writing to start with, which is to say not many. These are fantastic folks, but if you got them all together they wouldn’t fill up the banquet room at the Sizzler (although, granted, it might be a little crowded if you seated them in the corner booth at Denny’s).

Wait…I’m quitting poetry because I expected to be doing arena tours? No, no. You don’t get into poetry if you’re after a large readership. It’s a quality-over-quantity decision, and if you’re going to be good you have to answer to the call of a muse, not the demands of the audience. Poetry is art, not product, and while we all want as many people to read what we write and to grasp whatever wisdom and beauty is contained therein, as you start worrying about anything but the purest essence of the the whispered insight you will lose the edge that makes you worth reading. Put another way, you have to do what you do and hope people like it. You can’t do what you think people will like.

So no, this isn’t about mass fame, and it certainly isn’t about money. Nobody makes money as a poet. There aren’t any galleries where people walk in, sample your craft and buy a poem to hang on the wall over the fireplace. There aren’t any touring poetry companies that pack the house everywhere they go. Cirque du Poetry won’t be setting up a tent in your town, nor can you go see their tribute to Mary Oliver at the Venetian in Vegas. And while there are recordings of poets reading their work, I don’t think I’ve heard of one going platinum. If you hope to make a living at poetry, the best you can hope for is that you’re good enough to land a professorship in Creative Writing. If it’s tenure track at a major research university, publications will figure into your promotion. But your job is professor, not poet.

I became a poet fully understanding the rules, fully understanding that there would never come a day when I had a large audience or got rich. But I did do so with the hope, and perhaps even the expectation, that I could and would attain a measure of renown within the world of poetry itself. I might not become America’s most famous poet, I thought, but when those who knew and loved the genre talked about who they thought was really good, my name might come up. I would be accepted, if not routinely, then at least occasionally, by our most prestigious literary journals. I would be invited to read at literary festivals. My work would be taught in English surveys and seminars, and if you went to an academic conference – perhaps one like MLA – you might hear professors or doctoral candidates giving papers on my writing. And hopefully, the critical consensus would be that I changed the landscape a little, that I innovated, that I busted up the corrosive banality that has plagued poetry for the last 50 years or so.

This was my dream. This was the plan.

Of course, it never happened. I have bitched plenty about the entrenched poetry establishment (trust me, there is one) and about the prevailing stylistic tendencies that make reading the average elite journal about as compelling as watching mold creep across a slab of white bread. There are external targets galore if I want to blame others. But even if it’s all true, the inescapable fact is that most of the fault is mine. On a couple of occasions – including the moment when I was completing my MA in English/CW and should have been launching out after my first university teaching position – I let my frustration with the aforementioned establishment get the better of me. When I see stupidity – especially broad institutional stupidity – I sometimes have this tendency to say fuck it and walk away. There are other things I can do with my life.

Which is true, but said institutions don’t lament your leaving, even if they notice it, and they damned sure don’t wait for you to come crawling home like some dearly missed prodigal genius. When you decide later that you’re ready to give it another run, you realize that you’ve fallen behind another generation of people. Some are talented, and some are possessed of a near-pathological stick-to-it-iveness, which means that your chances of landing a job are even less than they were before.

Had I gotten past my frustrations, I would certainly have faced rejections and competition and an ongoing battle with the dominant aesthetics of the day, to say nothing of the routine pissant politics that come with working in academia. But these fights…I might well have won a few. Even at my current rejection rate I’d have several more pages of publications, and if it were something other than a hobby, I might have ten books instead of four, 1000 poems instead of 119, a prize or three, and even tenure. I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be solvent and I’d have good benefits. Would I be happy? I don’t know. Hopefully. I might have met and fallen in love with someone who shared my passion for art and literature. I’d exist in an atmosphere of professional validation. I’d go to work every day in an environment where my art was appreciated, at least theoretically.

All of which is to say that I’m blaming no one but myself. My life and career have been the result of my decisions for the most part, and the hand I’m playing today is one I dealt.

I have been thinking for the last few months, ever since I finished The Butterfly Machine, that I may be done. Not only have I been having this conscious, rational debate with myself, but the book itself ended in a way that seemed to be trying to tell me something. It closed in a watershed, sort of, in a sense that a chapter was over and it was time for something new. Maybe that meant a new phase in my life was beginning, and that it would bring something new to write about. But over time, I have had less and less interest in writing poetry. And less and less conviction that I was ever going to feel differently.

Last summer I bought my first camera. I have long enjoyed the photography of others, and have also wished that I had some faculty for the visual arts. Sadly, I can’t draw a decent stick man. But you don’t have to be able to draw to shoot.

As it turns out, I have some great friends who are also photographers – very, very good ones – and they all encouraged me. They shared tips, answered questions, told me what I was doing right and wrong, and the result is that in less than ten months I have gotten to the point where … well, I’m not great by any stretch, but I’m better than most people who have been at it less than a year.

So far I’ve had one shot featured by Visit Colorado and several more by Visit Denver. The Visit Colorado shot (“Ed,” the horse pic that was also my first sale) got over 2,500 likes and almost 450 shares. I’m not sure that all of the poems I ever wrote have been read by 2,500 people combined, and I’d bet the farm that those who have read them haven’t shared them with their friends 450 times.

Earlier this month I actually sold three of my photos at First Friday. Three people paid money for my photography. That’s a mind-shattering thing to happen to a poet. Somebody walks in off the street and likes your art enough to fork over actual cash so they can take it home and hang it on their wall. I’ll be back in that same gallery for First Friday in May, and the other day a couple of my shots went up in a restaurant here in Denver (with several more going up in a different venue shortly).

The more I have learned about photography, the more I have shot, the more I have honed my technical skills, the less I have cared about poetry. The artist is still alive and kicking in me, but he’s moved on and taken up new tools of expression. He likes being recognized, being validated for his vision. He sees, maybe, an opportunity to have a measure of the personal and artistic reward in this new genre that he dreamed of, but never attained, in the other one.

And he’s keenly aware that every second he spends trying to make words behave in a way that moves a hypothetical reader is a second he can’t spend taking and processing an image that moves an actual viewer.

So this is it: goodbye, poetry. I have loved you deeply and faithfully for most of my life. At some point, though, I have to accept that you simply don’t love me back. Perhaps that’s mostly my fault, but in the end, we have grown apart and I see no path to reconciliation.

I wish you well. I hope you thrive and find others to take my place, people who will love you more even than I do. You deserve it.

I leave you with a poem, the one my last book ends with…

To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)

I expected more from the end of the world. But the
sun came up the following morning. A herd of
pronghorn loiters near Gunnison.
Castle Rock weathers timelessly.
Cars accelerate. Ghost towns
wither in the rearview.

Coyote says: the world ends
more than you realize.
Last Wednesday makes twice
I know of.

The apes we once were
shivered at the howling moon, wove
gods of war from their dread.
The apes we still are
spin plots from mud and iron,
vapor and deadwood,
swatches of tattooed skin.

Raven says: harbingers are shiny things,
strung with hair,
flecked with blood.

Fox says: narratives are either
rationalization or conspiracy.
Something happened. Then
something else happened.

The world ends
not with a bang,
not even a whimper, but
with ellipses…

… and a picture. I call it “The Persistence of Time.”


“To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)” originally appeared in Pemmican in June, 2011 and this past fall was anthologized in Manifest West: Eccentricities of Geography.

Ten years ago this week the Dixie Chicks controversy erupted: I’m still not ready to back down

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. ― Theodore Roosevelt

On March 10, 2003, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre in London, Natalie Maines stepped to the microphone and said this:

Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.

As our old friend Greg Mitchell notes, “It was a little more than a week before their fellow Texan launched a war based on lies.”

When word of Maines’s comment made it back to the US, what ensued was…well, what ensued was an infuriating look at the festering soul of Bush-era America and an illustration of the good, bad and ugly of how free speech works. Predictably, the hillbilly right closed ranks around the president and his WMDs-are-real cronies. Country & Western stations purged their playlists of Dixie Chicks music, records were burned, fatwas were issued, and the Chicks’ career Mark 1 was effectively destroyed. The message – for the Dixie Chicks and anybody else out there with a brain and a conscience – was more than clear: if you value your career, shut up and sing.

In some respects, the controversy was really useful. For instance, the president responded by saying:

The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.… they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.… Freedom is a two-way street ….

The remarkable thing about this is that Bush, a man renowned for being wrong on just about everything, was actually right for once. Free speech does not imply a freedom from backlash, and if you’re an entertainer people who disagree with you are perfectly within their rights to boycott. What’s good for Hank Williams, Jr. and Mel Gibson is good for The Dixie Chicks.

Granted, you also have the right to be hateful and ignorant, and it’s certainly true that the Dixie Chicks backlash had more to do with the gleeful exercise of these rights than it did any informed understanding of how free speech was intended to work by the Framers. But that’s another argument for another day.

Now, how you feel about President Obama?

In April, 2009, S&R honored The Dixie Chicks as the 25th addition to our masthead hall of fame. I wrote, at the time (and while I was extremely angry):

History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.

For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.

But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.

You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.

What side are you on?

Natalie and her bandmates lost tons of money over the past decade, but they’ll get by. In the end, it seems like they got a pretty good deal. In exchange for all those millions, they earned the right to a special place in the American soul. Justice matters. Facts matter. Humanity and compassion and freedom matter. Integrity matters more than money.

Looking back, I think the lesson to take away is a simple one. Our freedoms are important, but they’re empty and sterile and prone to corruption in the absence of an enlightened, intelligent embrace of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

In the words of another of our musical heroes, George Clinton, “Think. It ain’t illegal yet.”

« Older Entries