Friday, June 23, 2006

The NO HOLDS BARRED Music Column: Gretchen Wilson, India.Arie, and Musical Multi-Cultural Socio-Political Notes 

It is the sexiest Gretchen Wilson you have ever seen in her new video, "California Girls", just released today, Friday, June 23, on AOL. This song, written by Gretchen and John Rich, is a send-up of the bronzed plasticity worshipped in a song co-written by another Wilson, Brian, four decades ago, the Beach Boys’ surf rock anthem of the same name.

I didn’t know redneck women had such abs!

Despite her satire on the women of the West Coast, Gretchen showed that she has tons of fans both men and women in the East Coast by almost selling out New York’s Radio City Music Hall last Thursday, June 15. Remember, there is still no country music AM or FM radio station in New York. CMT and GAC are available only on digital cable, so commercials on these and other TV networks, as well as Internet and print publicity did the job. Who needs FM, anyway?

The usually-observant and perceptive, for a mainstream critic, anyway, Kelefa Sanneh reviewed this concert in The New York Times.

He wrote, “the room wasn't quite full, and the crowd was more appreciative than rabid.” True, but this was also a crowd of all ages, with many of us older folks who don’t go to concerts to wiggle our asses in the faces of the people in the row behind us.

It was New York, but her awesome rendition of "Good Morning Heartache", best known for being in Billie Holiday’s repertoire, just didn’t go over as well as you might have expected. But Gretchen was more than impressed that when she sang “When I Think About Cheatin’”, she held out the mic for the crowd to sing along while she watched and listened. She was delighted that so many knew the words well enough to sing them right back, with no prompting from her. Again, who needs FM today?

But Sanneh can’t help himself by sneering that her act is “redneck role-playing.” He does, after all, have to serve the cultural prejudices of his editors and corporate masters.

So just what about her is mere role-playing and not the real deal? Sure, she comes from Illinois and not the South, but in the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates her region of that state used to be known as “Egypt” because of its proclivity to slavery (the historical issue of the existence or non-existence of a slave system in ancient Egypt aside).

What is culturally significant is that her music reflects the pride many white working class people have for their hard-working ways, their families, and themselves. This is why he misses a key point in his commentary on her song “Politically Uncorrect”.

He wrote, “She sang a rousing version of ‘Politically Uncorrect,’ which is, perhaps fittingly, an un-protest song. (‘I'm for the Bible/ And I'm for the flag,’ she sang, as if she were expecting a fight.)” Did he not notice the smiling protester with a peace sign in the video of this song? He also left out the key lines which followed: “I’m for the working man, me and old Hag/ I’m just one of many/ Who can’t get no respect/ Politically Uncorrect.” And no respect for the working man from The New York Times, either, she might have added.

Sanneh did have a point, if obvious, about the purposefully ambiguous lyrics and Confederate flag symbolism in the stage performance of “Rebel Child”. The lyrics can be read either or both ways as referring merely to rebellious youth, Southern youth, or those caught up in pro-Confederate culture, or some combination of the above. Of course, the song’s main job is to sell albums and concert tickets, rather than educate, but it does reflect cultural and intellectual trends.

Herein lies the multi-millennia dilemma of the white working class: are your loyalty and identity primarily white, or working class? I wouldn’t particularly blame Gretchen Wilson for being vague on this, since her music is both among the most thoughtful in popular music today as well as pregnant with counter-cultural if incomplete implications.

On the one hand, she was recently quoted in an AP article as saying, “But if you're 20 pounds overweight and you're black and you wanna sing country music, then by God — beat the door down. Don't let them tell you you can't.”

She also is part of the MusikMafia, whose slogan is “Muzik Without Prejudice”, and includes Cowboy Troy, the first Black country music superstar since Charley Pride came on the scene when the Beach Boys still had number one hits.

At the same time, it was widely reported that she performed at a major Republican Party fundraiser Monday in Washington, D.C. I can’t think of a place where, as she so beautifully sings about in “Politically Uncorrect”, the working people “can’t get no respect” – “NONE,” as Hag interjects on the studio version – less than among these guys.

The report did quote her as asking, “I have a question I've been dying to ask all night--Are there any rednecks in the Republican party?” She should know the answer to that, since this was a $2500-a-plate dinner, and a sea of white-collared whitenecks in red ties must have been facing her. It’s not clear from this piece if she was simply demonstrating her distance from these rich folks, or joking. Still, the anomalies abound.

New Blog: Liberal Country Fan

I actually had a few hours free between finishing this week’s combat sports media work and jumping right into next week’s, so I came across a blog called Liberal Country Fan which discusses many of these issues.

There are numerous insightful pieces there posted by blogger Brent Hecht, a huge country music fan and, presumably, a liberal.

On the issue of what we so unscientifically call “race” and country music, he mentions an article called “The color of country?” on DenverPost.com by Ed Will. The article profiles Black country singer Rhonda Towns and discusses the obstacles she and other Black country artists have had in gaining a foothold in Nashville.

It also quotes Pamela E. Foster of Tennessee State University and the author of two books on the history of African-Americans in country music as saying, “People of African descent have been involved in country music since the inception of the music.” Now there’s a professor whose classes I would have loved to have taken.

Liberal Country Fan is a blog worth reading regularly, even if you agree only in part with its stance.

India.Arie Teaches

Ironically or not, the same day Gretchen Wilson was performing at Radio City, r&b singer India.Arie was in town, albeit further downtown. Her new album, “Testimony: Vol.1, Life & Relationship”, debuts next week, and can be heard for free on the VH1.com page here.

While it is likely most attention will be paid to the album’s first video, the essential “I Am Not My Hair”, another song on it is called “Summer” and features a collaboration with Gary LeVox of country music’s Rascal Flatts.

On her MySpace page, she is quoted as saying, “I love country music, she says. If someone else were to sing some of my songs, they would be country songs, with their story lines and clever wordplay. Plus, I just love great singers, and Gary is a great singer.”

So again the secret gets out: it is all really the same. “Race” is a scam, one of the worst in history. Rednecks and homeboys of the world should unite. That is American history’s most dangerous and greatest secret.

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Fresno State Wrestling Supporters Take It To The Streets! 

I was sent a series of links to my MySpace account by the folks running the MySpace account for the wrestling publication InterMat. They are of several articles about the struggle of the Fresno State wrestling community to stop the planned closing of their Div. I program.

The struggle is being spearheaded by an ad hoc group called Save Fresno State Wrestling. They led a protest march of almost 500 people Wednesday night on the home of Fresno State president John Welty.

Photos from the protest are here.

TheMat.com, the world's best wrestling web page, ran an article on the demonstration here.

And the Fresno Bee ran an article called "Wrestling supporters target Welty".

It's good to see the college kids in the streets where they belong. I did it back in the day, and continue to participate in various struggles for social justice.

All supporters of the combat sports should do what they can to help save Fresno State wrestling.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

NO HOLDS BARRED: Phyllis Lee, the First Lady of NHB 

On this week’s edition of NO HOLDS BARRED, host Eddie Goldman speaks with one of the true pioneers in the sport once known as no-holds-barred fighting (NHB) and now known as mixed martial arts, Phyllis Lee.

For years, Phyllis has been called the First Lady of NHB. She was involved in the earliest days of two of the major original mixed martial arts companies, Japan’s Pancrase and UFC, and still actively manages fighters all over the world in the seasoned promotions such as Pancrase as well as the newest groups, like the World Fighting Alliance (WFA), on whose July 22 show in Los Angeles her fighter Ron Waterman takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez.

In a wide-ranging discussion, we talk about the past and the present of this sport, about what shows and happenings in Japan, California, Montreal, Indiana, Texas, Colorado, and Hawaii, and even about both pro and amateur wrestling. And she also explains why she, a grandmother from the Toledo, Ohio, area, has such a passion for the combat sports.

To listen to NO HOLDS BARRED, just click here or here.

Also, NO HOLDS BARRED is available through iTunes.

The show is in MP3 format, so may take some time to download.

NO HOLDS BARRED is free to listen to and is sponsored by:

Underhook, with Next Level Apparel, the tops in grappling shorts, rashguards, and more.

BJJMart.com, your premier source for all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gear, videos, books, and much more.

King of the Cage, the number one cage fighting promotion on the planet.

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“Peace and A Poll” on TheSweetScience.com 

My latest column, again a little different this time, is up on TheSweetScience.com.

It is called “Peace and A Poll” and discusses the demise of the Boxing Writers’ Rankings Poll, the failure of peace in the Middle East, solutions to both, and why they are not working.

Who said I didn’t aim high?

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

UNESCO To Debate Doping Crisis in Sports 

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has just released a media advisory called “The doping crisis in sport: conference debate at UNESCO”. This is a prelude to its conference debate on the doping crisis in sport which will take place at UNESCO June 26.

Below is the full text:

The doping crisis in sport: conference debate at UNESCO

20-06-2006 4:20 pm A conference debate on the doping crisis in sport will take place at UNESCO on 26 June. The conference will bring together leading experts in this field and will be opened by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura (Room IV, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Participants include: Pat McQuaid, President of the International Cycling Union, Jenö Kamuti, President of the International Fair-Play Committee; Mark Fainaru-Wada, journalist specializing in the issue of doping1; Rune Andersen, Director, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA); and Claude Droussent, Editor-in-Chief of L’Equipe, France’s leading sports media group.

The conference, which takes place ahead of the Tour de France cycling race2, is organized within the framework of UNESCO’s International Convention Against Doping Sport, the only legal instrument that is both universal and binding. The Convention, adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in October 2005, will enter into force one month after its 30th ratification. So far, it has been ratified by 13 Member States3.

Doping in sport is a serious threat for the health of athletes. It also runs counter to the ethics of sport. According to WADA statistics, 2.13% of tests by accredited laboratories in 2005, showed adverse analytical findings4, i.e. 3,909 of 183,337 tests. Similarly, the States Parties to the Council of Europe Anti-Doping Convention in 2004 reported a total of 802 confirmed violations of anti-doping rules (717 in-competition and 85 out of competition)6 and the last Olympic Games (Athens, 2004) were marked by an unprecedented number of cases of doping.

The problem also concerns amateurs. According to a 2003 National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, 6.1% of young people in grades 9-12 throughout the United States took steroids without a doctor’s prescription one or more times during their lifetime.

The Conference will debate the issue of doping both in terms of the present scandals and of the struggle against this problem. Participants will discuss some of the major recently publicized cases and examine the ethical and medicals aspects of doping, as well as UNESCO’s International Convention Against Doping in Sport and WADA’s anti-doping programme.


1 Mark Fainaru-Wada co-authored Game of Shadows, about the BALCO scandal, with Lance Williams, (published by Gothan by Gotham Books, March 2006).

2 According to WADA, cycling in 2005 registered the highest number of doping cases, with 482 positive samples out of a total of 12,751, i.e. 3.78%. It was followed by baseball (3.69% of 10,580 samples) and boxing (3.41% of 2,433 samples).

3 Sweden, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Monaco, Iceland, Cook Islands, Nigeria, Latvia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Nauru

4 “Adverse Analytical Finding” is defined in the World Anti-Doping code as a report from a laboratory that identifies in a specimen the presence of a prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers (including elevated quantities of endogenous substances) or evidence of the use of a prohibited method. These figures may not be identical to sanctioned cases, as the figures given in this report may contain findings that underwent the therapeutic use exemption (TUE) approval process.

5.Council of Europe Anti-Doping convention: Annual Report 2004 on National Anti-Doping Policies, available on request.

6.This survey was conducted by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.A.) www.cdc.gov/yrbb

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Anthony Robles to appear on CBS Early Show Wed. 6/21 

Anthony Robles to appear on CBS Early Show - John Fuller

High school national champion wrestler Anthony Robles will appear on The CBS Early Show at approximately 8:42 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, June 21.

Born with just one leg, 17 year-old Anthony Robles of Mesa, Ariz. capped off an amazing career on March 26 by winning the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) national title at 112 lbs. with a 9-1 victory in the finals. The NHSCA invites only seniors in high school who won state titles to its national meet. Robles became the first disabled wrestler to win a title at the NHSCA national championships.

As a junior, Robles placed second in the NHSCA national championships for juniors.

The win also finished off a perfect 53-0 senior season for him. For his four-year career, he posted a record of 131-15 and won two Arizona state titles. He was also undefeated as a junior. Amazingly, Anthony never wrestled until his family moved from just outside of Los Angeles to Mesa before his freshman year. He aspires to someday compete in mixed martial arts after he completes his collegiate wrestling career at Arizona State Univ., where he will study Business.

Recently, Anthony has been featured on ESPN's Cold Pizza, CNN, as the ABC World News Tonight Person of the Week. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Ultimate Fighting Championships also honored him at their pay-per-view events and he has thrown out the first pitch before a Diamondbacks-Giants game.

"I think God gave me a gift by only giving me one leg," Robles said after winning his national title. "Other people may not see it that way, but I do."

His coach, Bob Williams, calls him "the most inspirational athlete I've ever seen."

This past weekend, Anthony signed a National Letter of Intent to wrestle at Arizona State Univ., a college wrestling powerhouse, where he plans to study Business. In high school, he posted a 3.5 GPA. He also hopes to one day compete in mixed martial arts competition.

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SecondsOut.com Redesigned 

One of the two major boxing web sites for which I am a contributor, SecondsOut.com, has just been redesigned. Now it is much easier to navigate than previously, and also to find SecondsOut Radio, of which I am the host. Check it out, mates.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

SecondsOut Radio: Calvin Brock and Timur Ibragimov 

On this week’s edition of SecondsOut Radio, host Eddie Goldman speaks with undefeated heavyweight contenders Calvin Brock (28-0, 22 KOs) and Timur Ibragimov (21-0-1, 13 KOs), who fight this coming Saturday, June 24, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both are former Olympians, with Brock representing the U.S. in 2000 and Ibragimov representing Uzbekistan in 1996. Brock and Ibragimov are also both 31 years old. The winner of this fight hopes to advance to getting a shot at one or more of the heavyweight titles.

We also comment on this past Saturday’s draw between middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and Winky Wright.

It is free to listen to SecondsOut Radio, but you must register to gain access to it. Just click here, and listen, learn, and enjoy.

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I’m Back at the ADCC News! 

Although I’ve been mentioning this for about a week, and actually contributing some articles already, I am now officially back at the ADCC News (Abu Dhabi Combat Club News) in the capacity of Senior Contributing Editor.

The announcement is now up on that site, which included my statement:

I'm glad to be returning to the ADCC News. This web site was one of the first to understand the importance of using the Internet in popularizing the combat sports, and especially the various forms of grappling and the mixed martial arts. As usual, my contributions will both be no holds barred while also supporting what is best in these sports. I am also continuing my many other media activities at the same time, which are listed on my No Holds Barred blog at http://nhbnews.blogspot.com/.

Also up is a new piece called "A Brief But NO HOLDS BARRED Look at 'The Ultimate Fighter'".

You didn’t think I was going to start out with some mush, now, did you?

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Seeing “Land of the Blind” 

I saw it Sunday night, at the last showing at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square. I had planned on the way back to pass by that celebrated Upper West Side dive bar Yogi's. But after watching this dark and poignant critique of totalitarianism and, by implication, its elements which exist even in today’s liberal democracy, I decided to go home, and to write.

I will leave the plot descriptions of “Land of the Blind” to the regular movie reviewers. (I also posted some basic info about it below). Although they got the basic plot right - a satire about a supposed revolution against autocracy which went wrong in an unnamed Western country and unidentified but recent time - most of them didn’t seem to understand the film. The New York Times, for example, complained that “the big picture is a mess,” and sneered, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely; fascism and Communism are two sides of the same coin; yada yada yada.”

Such reviews actually serve to reaffirm a central proposition of the film: Don’t look for heroes today, or panaceas, or stock political and ideological solutions to the world’s problems. Just look at what’s happening for yourself and what role you are playing in today’s society.

Few institutions are spared in this thick, rich send-up of so many ideologies, which are all blended together, both artfully and rightfully so. It purposefully merges America, Britain, and France, and communism, fascism, Islam, and, by implication, Judeo-Christianity into one indistinguishable totalitarian entity. It is a brooding film which offers little to celebrate, and is a warning about what the future may hold.

I can see why the major reviewers and Hollywood money guys are hesitant to fund this. It takes aim at everything and lands squarely on all its targets. You do not leave the theater cheering for anyone or anything. You leave alone, almost stunned, and certainly frightened. And that, especially these days, is a very good thing.

The storyline actually reflects the progress civilization has achieved today in the battle against autocracies of all kinds: it has stalled. Ideologies are worn out and exposed. No shining new savior for civilization appears on the horizon. Progress has become more incremental, while revolution is at an impasse, when it is not, as is usually the case, actually a colossal disaster, a dream devolved into a nightmare.

Liberal democracy is by implication roasted as a weak barrier to totalitarianism. It is never an option in this film’s battle to the end between its rightish and leftish brands of totalitarianism. The former’s brief and limited liberalization only opens up the door for the latter faction’s leaders to stage a bloody coup d’etat.

More tellingly, the popular movement supporting the eventually victorious leftish faction uses terrorist tactics to gain a foothold, not caring if innocent lives are lost in the process. That is an historically fairly accurate portrayal of many such movements today, and not only of the past.

But ultimately the film draws the ire of the most of the mainstream media precisely because it provides few answers or heroes. On the contrary, it challenges you to think for yourself. And that, at the present time, is one of the most revolutionary steps which can be taken.

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