• College Football, Unions and Race



    Here at ChipsterLife we enthusiastically support collective bargaining and have been reading with excitement over the decision by the NLRB to allow Northwestern Football players to vote for Unionization. Don Beto was a member of United Rubber Workers ( I have the parting lighter to prove it) and I have been a leader and continue to be a member of UAW Local 2865.

    For those curious about the ruling and trying to make sense of the court case here is a particularly comprehensive and funny run down from Grantland. In general while the major points of discussion surrounds the big business of college athletics the racial component is overlooked over and over again. To be clear, most of these sports are played by men of color directed by mostly white men. They are asked to continuously surrender their bodies and have every aspect of their lives scrutinized for the purpose of sport and profit for little to no money, while in the collegiate ranks. Forming a union would allow these mostly African American men to have say over their working conditions, their bodies and the terms of their relationship to their largely white overseers.

    On his March 28th Edge of Sports Podcast David Zirin notes the structure of college football, "saps black wealth, it saps wealth out of the black community, it saps wealth out of the people who are creating that wealth, it puts wealth in the hands of others." For the case of Alabama football their profit over the last year was 22 million. That is not say that every program generates that level of revenue. What that figure does indicate is that those profits are not going to the players that are creating it, and by extension into their communities. They are essentially being robbed of the wealth their bodies are generating.

    For those that have ever seen the NFL Combine the image is uncomfortable. The Combine is the greatest showcase of the control exerted over black male college football athletes. With a large number emblazoned prominently over their chest they perform athletic feats; jumping, running, weightlifting, many interviews and finally taking a completely arbitrary Wonderlic test.

    In her elegantly written piece, Megan Livingston in discussing the Combine notes that:

    "Given the fact that 65 percent of NFL players are black, and team scouts and doctors are overwhelmingly white, the images produced at the Combine call forth the slavery comparison at its grizzliest: the sight of scantily-clad, muscle-bound black men being measured under the gaze of white men with dollar signs for eyes brings the auction block to mind whether or not you want to acknowledge it. And beyond the physical examination, there’s the sight of the black male body at work: running, jumping, exerting its energy to its limits for the ultimate satisfaction of the collective gaze of NFL stakeholders and fans."

    The results of the Combine have an unwavering impact on draft position and future earnings. Furthemore, any outward signs of confidence and bravado are often interpreted as "red flags" by NFL executives who cherish control and discipline.

    Granted these young men could make millions in their playing lives but for those that don't its become increasingly apparent that due to the violence of football they are more susceptible to suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury. Reports abound of pro athletes such as Junior Seau taking his own life due to the effects of brain injuries. However what is less often discussed is the likelihood for death for younger players as illustrated by several tragic cases including that of 22 year old Derek Sheely:

    "Sheely had no prior hospitalizations with head trauma, but doctors wondered if he had suffered something called second impact syndrome, in which multiple hits over time culminating in a relatively minor one can suddenly result in massive brain swelling. The syndrome usually affects younger people whose brain tissue is still developing"

    The NFL Players Union has led the way in protecting their players by developing more stringent controls and tests if it appears that a concussion has occurred. This is one of the main focuses for the Union movement. Below is an interview with National College Player Association's (NCPA) Romgi Huma discussing their main points including Traumatic Brain Injury



     The NCPA makes clear that their efforts are not about more money. Like in many other contract negotiations the important component is to have authority over working conditions and make them as safe and just as is possible. The only way to do that for these players is through collective bargaining made available by unionization. It is really the only way for these majority black men to take on the largely white authority and find justice in their workplace, college athletics and the football field

  • Getting to know Chicano Batman, a podcast experience in Los Angeles

    Chipsterlife is currently stationed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000 wintry chills. Every so often we head back to the homeland of Southern California for food, family and in this case a Podcast with our favorite musicians Chicano Batman. I had the good fortune of catching a Chicano Batman show in a seemingly unlikely music venue in downtown Fullerton where they are doing a Sunday residency. The next day they graciously made themselves available for a Chipsterlife podcast session in Chinatown, Los Angeles.

    Before we get to the Podcast, allow me to describe their live performance

    Adorned in their signature baby blue vintage tuxedo shirts their presence is immediately felt with the sounds of clean drums, classic guitar playing and a effervescent pipe organ pumping. Almost as if coming out of a 70s Mexican porn, aside from the lead guitarist, each band member had a coif of long hair accessorized by righteous face fur. The distortion of the lead singer, Bardo Martinez brought me back to the warm up singing of the church choir of my Catholic youth. Chicano Batman uses familiar sounds evoking a strong sense of respect and adoration for the music of their fathers and their own youth. In their own words, “They use the “old school” as a launching pad to express their living spirits while endlessly seeking to capture the essence of many different musical sub-genres and aesthetics, and the references are always clear.” Of course their Spanish dominant lyrics and the peppering of Nahuatl and Portuguese give their music of warmth. One thing I have learned to really respect over the years is how much Spanish for me is the language of home and affection whereas English has emerged as my academic technical language, therefore I was grateful to hear so much spanish, it brought me at ease. I thoroughly enjoyed the backbeat rhythm and a clear drive that invites you to move and groove juxtaposed against a pace that invites you to remember beautiful things. The lyrics have the unique ability of my favorite mariachi tracks to tap into the melancholy but still feel clearly beautiful and hopeful, that bliss is right around the corner. The crowd clearly enjoyed the sounds, responding to the sensual undertones of the music . Music you could love to or just relax too. There set felt well crafted, changing pace when necessary and keeping the audience on different levels

    As for the podcast!

    We recorded the interview in the backyard of Eduardo Arenas' apartment complex on a hillside in Chinatown overlooking Broadway and staring into Twin Towers. Our chairs slowly sank into the soft ground as we let the conversation disarm us. The conversation was rather wide ranging and included Brado slowly rotating his chair, Eduardo conveniently grabbing a sweater from the clothesline behind him and Carlos subtly taking over the interview and interpreting my questions for a better understanding. There is something really beautiful about digging past the surface. As an interviewer there is a magical moment when you can feel your interview subject loosening up and really be present. I hope that after having listened to the interview you can feel the greater intimacy with the lyrics and sound that I have, having gotten to know the band a little better. 

    During the conversation the fellas mentioned a couple of bands. Here they are for reference, Los Angeles Negros, La Santa Cecilia and The Soft White Sixties

    For those just getting to know the band they mentioned as a possible starting point, Itotiani, maybe Frio II and Magma. For more background information about the band take a look here and here. Of course the band has their own site

    Finally, their music videos and streamed music are below.

    Note: Drummer Gabriel Villa was unavailable for the interview due to a prior engagement


    Chicano Batman Joven Navegante Video Directed by Mochilla from Qvolé Collective on Vimeo.



  • Deaths along the US Mexican Border

    Growing up Don Beto would always talk about his journey crossing the US Mexico border. In his day it was not as militarized as it is now. He literally jumped the fence several times having suffered a gun shot wound from border patrol agents apparently engaging in target practice as they shot at my father. In the lead up to the Oscars Don Beto wants to remind you of an incredible film that chronicles the border crossing and disappearance of Dayani Cristal. It is surprising that it virtually flew under the radar since it was produced and stars Gael García Bernal. The trailer is below.

    Their is a lot written about border deaths however these two pieces of info seemed particularly current and illustrative of the issue. Al Jazeera focuses on a portion of the border called, "The Corridor of Death". The Arizona Non-profit Humane Borders have put together a searchable map of deceased migrants.



  • What is Going on in Venezuela?


    A pretty serious amount of my political formation has to do with the 4 months I spent in Venezuela back in Fall 2002 while doing a study abroad during my undergraduate days at Pitzer College. I learned about the power of the media in fomenting lies and violence and the resolve of the masses. That said, it was clear that the personage of President Chavez was quite complicated and due for criticism. What was undeniable was his support among the poor masses.

    Venezuela had just come out of a 2002 military coup, an incredible moment when Chavez was actually brought back to power by the strength of popular protests. The events are chronicled in documentary form by two Irish filmmakers with unimaginable access.

    While I was there Venezuela was going through what has been described as the "economic" coup. The oligarchs of the country attempted to organize a general strike that was clearly only supported by the wealthy and large industries. Small shopkeepers kept their doors open. Our group was one of the last to leave Venezuela as we were ordered to evacuate. What was striking was the way the media openly demanded for the resignation and assassination of Chavez and simultaneously beaming 24 hour appeals to hit the streets against Chavez. The media also constantly repeated allegations that Chavez was in Cuba having sex with Fidel Castro. Recent events in Venezuela and most importantly their coverage seem eerily similar.

    I will try to draw your attention to what I believe are reputable sources of information and also draw attention to sources that are painfully biased. I probably missed some, please add any to the comment field.

    A good run down by Latino Rebels.

    Another nice rundown, many of which are in Spanish.

    One of the crazier pieces I have read so far comes from Venezuela Analysis. Apparently a retired general's tweets have led to beheadings and his own arrest. "Angel Vivas...promoted the use of wire at blockades in order to “neutralise” people on motorbikes. One government supporter on a motorbike died by such a method last night."

    Policy Mic notes the use of fake photos put out by mostly the opposition to foment sympathy with anti-government protestors.

    For Spanish speakers one of the most respected news outlets in Mexico, La Jornada, offers their take.

    The Washington Office on Latin America, based in DC, has always been a trusted middle of the road source in offering a dispassionate analysis. They have a whole blog page devoted to Venezuela.

    Jacobin, The Nation and Democracy Now offer their own progressive analysis of the situation not found in any other publication, while Mother Jones takes a surprisingly conservative tone.

    Boing Boing offers a classically conservative view from the elite in Venezuela.

  • Cancer and Those We Love


    It was hard to see the pain in my fathers eyes after my mom, his second wife, died, compounded by the memories of the loss of his first wife from breast cancer. I did enjoy being with him and giving him my love and attention but it was like his heart was tired. Don Beto's experience is no different then many others who have had to accompany a loved one through the agony of a long term illness. In as much as he suffered it is undeniable that there was beauty in how we shared our grief together, comforted eachother, felt sad together and looked at the promise of a new day with a tall glass of orange juice that he would make for us every morning with oranges from our tree. 

    Below are some links that try to capture the beauty that emerges out of grief.

    Angelo Merendino lost his wife in his early 40s, she was 40. He created a stunning photo project that brings a tremendous amount of grace and beauty to an otherwise horrible experience. Another photo project captures a father, Ben Nunery and daughter as they move out of the home they shared with his wife. Ben's sister recreated the wedding photos with his daughter standing in place of his wife.

    Regarding the representation of breast cancer, public images are generally pink ribbon clad women looking to fight this disease. speaks to the complications of breast cancer awareness and the corporations that profit off of casting their products in pink. 

    Finally, my mother passed away at 65 in my early 20s. As a way of grieving the loss of my mother I created a video below that represented how I felt about what was happening to my mother and speak to the failings of public healthcare at the time. My mother did not have health insurance and was a proud spanish dominant Mexican women.

    What tethers together these various stories is a desire to connect with an audience to help them understand. For myself it was always difficult to explain in words what I had been through. Film gave me an outlet to complicate my own thoughts and express my layered feelings. 



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