What country are we in again?

While I realize we’re past the mid-point of May now, this is an issue that is unlikely to go away anytime soon. I view my timing as 355 days early for next year. I try my best to keep the entries as timely as I can. Sometimes I do better than others.

A recent post to the Gateway Pundit blog at firstthings.com details the story of a San Francisco area high-school student, Daniel Galli, and four of his friends, who were kicked out of school for the day for wearing US flag shirts and bandanas on May 5th, observed by many expatriates as Cinco de Mayo, the day the Mexican army beat the French army at the Battle of Puebla. It’s not even strictly a Mexican holiday in Puebla, more along the lines of St. Patrick’s Day.

From the article:

Galli says he and his friends were sitting at a table during brunch break when the vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out. When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.

If there had been credible, overt threats of violence towards Daniel’s group, I can see an offer to allow that group to take an excused absence for the remainder of the day in the interest of minimizing disruption. While I can understand the disapproval from the population at large, this would at least be a nominally defensible move from the school administration.

But it appears the vice principal stepped in where no such threats existed. All because these boys (and girls?) chose to express their patriotism for the USA on this particular day. (The story does not mention gender of Daniel’s friends; I did not want to assume they were all boys.)

This likely was handled in a fashion typical for high-school dress code infractions (an unexcused absence, with a grade of zero for all work missed). This is inexcusable in the United States of America for an expression of American freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Those who find the American flag that offensive, on a day which is not even a national holiday in a neighboring country, should carefully rethink their reason for staying in the US, taking into account such things as whether or not they are here legally.

As for me, I’m proud to be an American, no matter whether the calendar reads September 11th, February 2nd, July 4th… or May 5th, or any other day. Really, it’s just another day. The American flag should be no more offensive or “incendiary” on one day than any other day, to someone who really loves this country. Not only is the school administration out of bounds, but they completely missed the opportunity to teach a lesson in tolerance and community.

Followup to “Out of hand”: Trae the Truth sues Radio One!

It’s time for me to follow up on my previous post about the Trae the Truth vs KBXX/Radio One feud since there’s been a huge new development. According to this press release posted on AustinSurreal, Trae has filed a lawsuit regarding this matter. From the press release:

The civil case alleges a consistent pattern of business
disparagement, conspiracy and tortious interference. Defendants include Radio One, the radio station’s general manager Doug Abernathy, program manager Terri Thomas and morning show radio personality Nnete Inyangumia.

And as for the damages sought in the suit:

Trae is suing for general damages to his reputation, character,
standing in the community, mental suffering, loss of professional opportunities, performance revenue, record royalties and other damages.

Having been the target of some similar actions myself, I know a bit about people like those at Radio One, specifically including people like Mr. Abernathy and Ms. Thomas. People with egos, that assert they can never do any wrong, even when the evidence points to the contrary. People who love to attack, who love pushovers and those who do not know how to stand up for their rights, and who despise those who dare defend their interests when attacked.

What the people like Mr. Abernathy and Ms. Thomas hate, are those who fight back. Those who aren’t willing to just “let it go” when being unjustly spit upon in an attempt to constructively evict them from the local community. Those who can adopt the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as their own battle anthem.

People like Trae. And dare I say it, people like me.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story. Hopefully, Trae wins, which would mean a victory we can all celebrate.

Out of hand: a radio station’s attack on a community leader

Okay, a bit of an intro here. I am not a fan of hip-hop (rap), I don’t follow the scene. During normal radio listening, I only have my radio tuned to 97.9 briefly while I’m switching stations from, say, 106.9 or 107.5 to something on the other side of the dial. Nevertheless, my pet peeves include community exclusion, censorship, and stupidity (particularly on the part of large corporations). This story appears to contain all three of these elements.

I apologize for any apparent misspellings, but they aren’t; this is really how those in rap/hip-hop spell their respective names.

My introduction to this squabble began when I read a posting to the Houston Press Rocks Off blog about an open letter from Matt Sonzala to radio station KBXX (97.9). This controversy centers around Trae the Truth, some derogatory comments made against him after a shooting following Trae’s community event on 2009 July 22, as covered on mtv.com. The following is a statement sent by Trae’s publicist as published in the story:

“Tragically, a community-driven event that took the collaboration of so many people, and personally cost Trae thousands of dollars to put together, was spoiled by one rotten apple,” said a statement sent to MTV News. “We are truly saddened by the fact that despite thousands of children receiving free immunizations and school supplies, and everyone from government officials to senior citizens thoroughly enjoying the day, which drew an estimated 10,000 people, what will be remembered is this one violent act. … Despite everything, we hope that Trae’s efforts to reach out to and give back to those in the community whose needs are often not addressed will continue to be recognized and supported.”

Matt’s open letter makes reference to the KBXX interview the morning after:

The next morning, KBXX conducted an interview with Trae. On air personality Nnete made some off color comments that from all accounts I have received, implied that a situation like this would of course happen at an event produced by Trae Tha Truth. Basically she said that these are the kinds of people that he and his music attract.

Bun B phoned in to the station immediately after hearing that and told them that they were wrong for what they said.

Then of course, it gets a little more out of hand (still quoting Matt’s open letter):

Trae of course took offense to the statements made against him and on his next mix CD, mentioned Nnete on two songs. The rhymes were insulting, but not threatening.

Finally, the return salvo from KBXX was to ban any mention, let alone actual airplay, of Trae from the station and its online properties (and if Trae’s Myspace blog entry is correct, this actually includes all Radio One stations, among which one-time rival Majic 102 is also included):

URGENT: – Effective Immediately: DO NOT AIR: “Trae tha Truth” on our station. No interviews, no calls, no comments, no posts on our website, no station twitter, no station facebook, no songs in mix show no verses on remixes, or songs in regular rotation. No exceptions. The current online postings will be removed shortly. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Thank u. Have a great weekend!

My take on this, so far, is that it’s damned hollow and quite to “wish him all the best in his future endeavors” and yet issue this kind of an edict. Especially since it appears the bad blood between Trae and the station came from Nnete’s unwarranted comments. (I’m still looking for a recording of the interview; if anyone has a copy or knows who to ask, please do let me know.)

Fast forward a bit, and we have a few incidents where KBXX suspends
or fires station personnel for associating with Trae, to wit:

  • DJ GT suspended for responding to a Twitter post questioning his involvement in the ban;
  • DJ Baby Jae of the Kracker Nuttz suspended for making a mixtape with Trae, completely outside the work environment (something that frankly is not KBXX’s concern); and
  • Three tenured DJs at KBXX (collectively known as The Kracker Nuttz) fired for playing a Chamillionaire song with a guest verse by Trae.

And that brings us to today: Tuesday, 2010 April 27, and this post to the Houston Press Rocks Off blog, which I quote in part:

Not surprisingly, [KBXX program director Terri] Thomas said that company policy prohibited her from making any comment on the situation, which flared up again late last week when former local hip-hop promoter Matt Sonzala published an open letter to the station on his Austin Surreal blog

“Company policy prohibits that,” Thomas told Rocks Off. Traditionally one of the top-rated stations in the Houston-Galveston radio market, The Box is owned by Radio One, the Lanham, Md.-based company that also owns and operates Houston radio stations Majic 102 and Praise 92.1.

(I’m not igoring the bit about Radio One owning both major urban-format stations; I’ll likely cover this in a future entry, as this is a bit disturbing in and of itself.)

And again:

Rocks Off: Are you familiar with the letter that Matt…

Terri Thomas: Like I said, I’m not at liberty to comment.

This already doesn’t look too good for KBXX. You’d think as much attention as this is going to get, that someone in the position of program director at a radio station would keep up to date on what is being said. The “not at liberty to comment” is an ostrich move; stick one’s head in the sand, and hope it all blows over.

The management of KBXX has done a lot to divide and destroy community here. Maybe they think they can get away with it because one of their on-air personalities said something questionable and Trae decided not to just sit there and take it. But the ramifications go far beyond just one hip-hop personality not being played or even mentioned on the flagship station of the format in his hometown. Consider the following (quoting from Matt Sonsala’s open letter/blog post):

… In the days following the tragic earthquake in Haiti, Bun B put together a benefit concert with a lot of Houston hip-hop artists to raise money for the impoverished nation. Trae, being a popular artist and a man of the community was of course invited to be a part of it.

The event organizers were informed that KBXX would not support it at all, if Trae was a part of it. Trae decided to back out of the show so that it could be advertised and promoted on Houston’s main urban radio outlet – but still showed up in support of the cause.

This, in my opinion, is way out of bounds. Are there people out there in the Houston community (particularly the arts, tech, and marketing/PR crowds) that make me uncomfortable? Of course there are. I’ve been told there are people I make uncomfortable, so I guess it all works out in the end. However, I’m willing to work alongside anyone at charity fundraisers. Sometimes, that’s what building community is about: setting aside personal differences and discomfort to make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

If there’s a personal rift between Trae and Nnete, that’s one thing. My understanding is that things like this happen in the hip-hop/urban scene from time to time. Heck, they happen everwhere. The reaction of KBXX management to what was (and arguably should have remained) a personal dispute between one of its employees and a local artist is pathetic, unkind, unfair, thoughtless, anti-social, cold, egregiously divisive, and patently devoid of good taste.

In summary, my two points are:

  1. We all can learn from this unfortunate chain of events, regardless of what community(ies) we are/will be part of.
  2. It’s never good to cut someone out of a community for reasons that amount to “because we can.” And I feel that’s what has happened here.

I may follow up on this depending on what happens.

A lesson in community and tolerance

This is one of the hardest entries for me to write. But it needs to be said, and I have a tie-in for the Houston locals out there reading this.

This story has been mentioned/written about in so many places that I’m going to just make a list for the links rather than stringing it together in prose:

  1. HRC Back Story blog
  2. Baby Rabies
  3. lezgetreal.com
  4. Candace Gingrich (huffingtonpost.com blog)
  5. rightpundits.com (older article)
  6. Libby Post (timesunion.com) (older article)

The summary: Constance McMillan challenges a school policy that prom dates must be of the opposite gender. Constance takes school to court. Court finds school district is wrong to deny Constance attendance, but does not actually order school district to run the prom. School district cancels prom. Parents and private citizens offer to run prom for the school instead, details of which are kept mysterious and Constance isn’t invited. School reinstates prom at country club, where it’s attended by a total of seven students, two of whom have learning difficulties, plus some teachers and the principal as chaperones.

Obviously, the rest of the students wouldn’t stay home from “the prom.” So “the good kids” had their prom elsewhere, and the school district just happened to be in on the setting up of a decoy prom for Constance, her date, and the outcasts.

The actions of those involved in this shell game are despicable and inexcusable. We’re talking about a school district here, an entity whose very reason for existence is teaching. And teach they did, whether they realize itor not. What has the school district taught the entire senior class, and possibly the entire population of the school, by their actions regarding the 2010 prom?

The lesson taught to these kids is that discrimination, ostracism, and cutting out a few from a community for arbitrary reasons is acceptable. Now, the kids will do this on their own without any help from the school district. In fact these kind of silly checkers games are exactly what students do on their own without any help.

The school district and the parents in the community are supposed to be better than that. The right thing for the principal to do is to address at least the senior class, if not the student population about tolerance, and turn this entire ordeal into a lesson about building community that will last for a lifetime. The lesson that setting personal discomfort aside is sometimes what it takes to build a community. A lesson that appears to be lost on a fair number of people.

I dread what these young adults will be doing some years from now, when it’s not the high school prom anymore, but the adult social scene.

In a few years time, it won’t be about the prom. It’ll be about the block parties, cocktail parties, bachelor/bachelorette auctions, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties. The kind of events that make a community amazing.

I feel for Constance and the other students that were deceived by their own school board. The same school board they and their parents trusted to look out for their best interests. And they did the exact opposite.

It’s simple enough, isn’t it? So I’m sure some of you may be wondering why it was so hard for me to write this.

Something very similar to what happened to Constance has been happening to me for the past year. This “community” we have in Houston… I mean, the people came from all over. Some are lifelong locals, others came from cities like Denver, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, others from smaller towns like Beaumont or Conroe. But many of them appear to have been taught the exact same lessons that the Itawamba County School District taught Constance and her classmates. And the sad thing is, some of these people I’m talking about went to private schools where the faculty should know better.

People in the arts have a reputation for being stuck-up and exclusive. I refused to believe that; I wanted to believe those people were just average people like me. Similiar things could be said for the tech and marketing/PR crowds, to a lesser extent, but my experience is the stereotype of those surrounding ballet, opera, dance, orchestra, and similar events is one of noses twenty feet in the air, and thus is probably the best example.

The good news is, a community is not like a piece of glass. It may be broken, but it can be fixed. And it should be fixed. Because cutting people out isn’t how you build a community. It’s how you destroy one.

No, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I’ve made my mistakes. But I think we all would do well to learn from what happened to Constance McMillan. And since most of us are long since out of high school, I’d like to think we’re above the way high school kids act.

On community, respect, and trademarks: the story of Nexuiz

About a month ago or so, I started playing a community-maintained GPL first-person shooter (FPS) called Nexuiz. I checked it out after tiring of OpenArena; I played tons of Quake 3 Arena back during my second round of getting into proprietary PC games back in the day, so OpenArena fit me style like a glove at first. But Nexuiz had a bit more of an allure to it, and after a while I realized the more I played Nexuiz, the more I liked it.

And it took me a while to really put my finger on why. I remember a certain player saying something like “I’m surprised you haven’t given up already” during a particularly bad game. And the players came to know me as the guy that has really weird taste in maps, but I’m welcomed and appreciated. That’s what it was: the community around the game, as much as the game itself.

So it was a bit of a shocker to pop on the IRC channel and read a whole bunch of flaming and controversy about a console (PlayStation 3) version of Nexuiz being made by a company called Illfonic. What upset everyone was not the console version itself, but that the domain name nexuiz.com had been repurposed to promote almost exclusively the console version, at the expense of the community-developed GPL version for the PC. (I’m not linking to them here for reasons that should become obvious.)

Now, there’s all manner of bad blood against Lee Vermeulen, the nominal owner of the nexuiz.com domain (he did not actually transfer the domain to Illfonic) and Alientrap (Vermeulen’s company). It’s widely believed that Mr. Vermeulen just saw the dollar signs and acted on his own best interests, caring little about the community around the game. Many consider Vermeulen’s actions paramount to theft and fraud against the community that made Nexuiz what it is while Vermeulen sat mostly idle. Contributing to the ill will is that Vermeulen’s idea of who was actually in Alientrap for the purposes of splitting the income from the licensing deal leaves out several people who thought they were “in” but are being left out in the cold.

In the coming days it would become more obvious that the name and goodwill behind it meant as much to the community as the game itself. I never really saw this happen with any other FPS game, whether it be any version of Doom, Heretic, Quake, Half-Life, etc. As it stands now, the next move is a fork of the Nexuiz codebase and probably a name change. I view this as very sad, very unfortunate, and something that should have been unnecessary, but it highlights the advantage of free software: if one doesn’t like the direction a project is taking, one can always take the source code, fork and begin one’s own.

I learned a lot about public relations, trademarks, goodwill, and community from this incident. I’ll summarize a few of the key points:

  • Communication is key when it comes to communities and community projects. If you’re part of a community project and the registration for the domain name or the Web hosting account is in your name, that does not make it yours outright. If there is any doubt at all in your mind as to whether others might object, consult with them before making any moves. This is especially true in the case of games being adapted to proprietary game consoles, something many who respect their freedoms will object to on philosphical grounds.
  • Goodwill and trust take a long time to build and can be lost very quickly. Few people in the community now trust Mr. Vermeulen. I sure don’t. I don’t really trust or like Illfonic a lot either. I cannot honestly say I wish the console port of Nexuiz much success. Now to be fair, it’s not really Illfonic’s fault that they are less liked than they otherwise might have been had Vermeulen been more transparent with the community in his dealings. But that’s the way things are. There are still people who will call it “FeeNex” or “Noxuiz” (the latter being pronounced a lot like “noxious”) thanks to the dubious circumstances under which the console port came to be.
  • Trademark law as it stands appears not to adequately recognizes a community-based or community-held trademark for a non-profit project such as Nexuiz. In general, copyright, patent, and trademark law needs to be brought up to current times now that free software and community-based projects are often the rule rather than the exception. This goes beyond software, it also extends to things like BarCamp and other community-based events.
  • The community is often just as important as the thing that brings that community together. I still talk to someone from the Dance Dance Revolution/Bemani games scene of the mid 2000’s even though that scene has mostly died off and I probably could not play DDR worth a damn today were I to try again.

As further developments arise, I may follow up on this post. This is still ongoing as I write this.