Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

Moral uprightness versus fun: The tuxedo dilemma

In Biz on February 26, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Newspaper folks don’t get a whole lot of credit for it, but they tend to be pretty morally upright. Journalism courses in America focus a lot on ethics (supposedly, training in Britain is more practical, less theoretical; I have no idea about the rest of the world, but it’d be interesting in an “Inside Baseball” way to dig into that, but I digress), journalists love to hash out the ethics of this or that editorial decision, and trash the living hell out of their colleagues should they cross the line.We at SmartNews may have crossed said line. Not in a Jayson Blair way, or even a Judith Miller way (props to the Gray Lady for botching it so horribly), but in our own, inimitable fashion. We accepted a favor from a local business. And we mentioned that business in a news story.Here’s how it went down: A tuxedo shop offered SmartNews free tux rentals for all its black-tie engagements. As of this writing, I don’t know whether this was done in part as a trade for ads. Well, this is blue collar, Army-town Fayetteville, N.C., and we’re SmartNews, the smart-alecky upstart. How many opportunities for black-tie are we even going to have?Our correspondent, James Johnson, got wind of the offer first, and jumped at the opportunity to do a goofy piece on unlikely stuff one could do in a tux. I guess he knew that reporters are seldom invited to formal events. So he wrote a silly item on wierd stuff to do in a tux, including bowling. We ran a photo of James bowling in a tux. The story mentioned the rent-free tux.Then SmartNews sponsored an Oscar-night charity fundraiser. Formal attire preferred.Next thing you know, I’m getting fitted for a rent-free tux. As she hems up my sleeves and pants, the proprietor (a really sweet, Southern lady) regaled us with bits of her life story. She makes it clear she’d like to have that story told in print. And it is, in fact, a good story. I make no promises. As we leave, the proprietor (a really sweet Southern lady) insists we take some of her business cards to distribute at the event.

… more to come, but I gotta run …


Hey, Miss Grundy: Lay off the skateboard tree

In Biz, Fayetteville, N.C., Politics, Unfettered stupidity on February 20, 2008 at 5:10 am

Screw the legal arguments. The skateboard tree (see below if you’re not familiar) deserves an exemption for being cool.

David Beasley and Dorian Motowylak put their hearts into this weird work of art that, in its homespun way, transends the commercial purpose of the current resident of 500 Blount St., a skateboard shop. Fayetteville’s Board of Adjustments should have shown a little respect for these guys Monday evening. Unless the trees are destroyed, what these guys have created will be in evidence long after that building no longer sells skateboards.

It’s hard to see who’s harmed by a tree with a bunch of skateboards nailed to it. Let’s face it: Blount Street is a dump. It’s not like the trees are in King’s Grant, whose well-to-do residents minutes earlier at the same meeting won a reprieve from a development they felt would tower over their backyards and spoil their views.

Frankly, arguing about whether the trees constitute a “snipe sign” feels petty. The question: What if all businesses felt free to do similar projects? Fayetteville should only be so funky and cool. The secret to a great city is not enforcing the same, boring design standards that can be found in every city code book in America. The secret is citizens creating something unique and wonderful, something that can’t be found anywhere else. You can’t legislate or even much hope to control that impulse, but you can nurture it when it crops up, or you can beat it down.

Beating down the skate shop folks isn’t going to improve Fayetteville one iota. It’s not going to rescue Fayetteville — or even Blount Street — from ugliness. It will alienate a small group of citizens who’re emotionally invested in a work that might not meet a bland, Thomas Kincaid/Norman Rockwell criteria for beauty, but which surely is no uglier than the Tallywood Shopping Center sign on Raeford Road, and is definitely less cheesy than the Bordeaux mini-Eiffel Tower. What’s the value in that?

Amanda Briggs, assistant city attorney who argued for upholding the order to take down the “sign,” says she and the city don’t hate skaters. The city council has the opportunity to put its money where Amanda’s mouth is. Save the trees, make a few folks happy, harm none.

And maybe someone else will do something unexpected and cool to make this town a tiny bit cooler.

– Jim McBee, managing editor

[The text of our story, which ran 02.15.08 in print, in case you’re not familiar with the Board Tree.]

Shrine or sign: A downtown shop (and its loyal fans) can’t believe the city expects it to de-skateboard its trees.

For centuries, man has argued: Who can truly define what can be considered art?

Fayetteville city planners, that’s who.

500 Blount St. Skate Shop (located, appropriately, at 500 Blount St.) has attracted unwanted attention from the city with its monument to skaterdom, the Board Trees.
The tree project began a month after the opening of 500 Blount St. (then called Duh! Skate Shop) last year, when skater David Beasley was struck with inspiration.

Beasley would take the broken skateboards of kids who used the park, and nail them to the four trees just outside the shop. Soon, other skaters, and skateshop employee Dorian Motowylak took over much of the trees’ reconstruction. Naturally, the trees have been embraced by local skaters, and according to Motowylak, passersby who often stop just to take pictures.

The trees have also been dedicated to fallen skaters, including John Buchanan, a skater who died after being hit by a car. His broken board, with a stencil of his likeness, is attached to one of the trees.

“There are so many different things about it that have made it special to people,” Beasley said. “It depicts all the dedication of the skateboarders in the community.”

Drive-by critique

One man’s art is another’s eyesore. A passing motorist was apparently so offended by the sight that he felt it was time to call the city planners to the rescue.
City planners seem to agree with the motorist’s assessment.

“It sure don’t look like art to me,” said Jim Alexander, assistant inspections director.
But wait a minute, art isn’t illegal, is it? There’s no way the city can ask someone to destroy six months worth of work based purely on a subjective opinion, right?
Ah, but that’s why God made loopholes. The city planners have come out calling the tree a “snipe sign.”

Traditionally, snipe signs are what they call those wooden light posts, or trees, with all sorts of flyers and signs nailed into them.

“Anything attached to a tree is a snipe sign,” said Alexander.

That’s right. Hammock lovers beware, you may just be napping on a sign.


In order to comply, the skate shop will have to remove each board from the trees, thereby removing the nails, which Beasley said would kill the trees.
Alexander is less than sympathetic.

“They should have thought of that before they did it,” he said. “They can remove the nails and then maybe try pushing them back in. I don’t know, I ain’t a tree expert.”

Support from high branches

The trees’ supporters aren’t willing to let their trees go without a fight, and have taken to filling out various petitions. So far, Beasley says that they’ve collected more than 300 names.

“The city has better things to do than pick on these folks about a tree that’s not hurting anyone,” said Councilman Charles Evans, who has come out in support of the trees. “You caught me on a good day. I’m really not feeling the city right now.”

500 Blount St. owner Ross Roggio will be showing his support for the shop’s loyal customers by going before the Board of Adjustment in City Hall on Monday, Feb. 18, hoping to appeal the findings.

“We want as many people to show up as they can,” Motowylak said. “That’ll be a huge help.”

For more information or to find out how you can get your name on the tree petition, call 868-3233.

James Johnson can be reached at jamesjohnson@smartnewsnc.com.


Gitmo’s top interrogator says the CIA is giving his profession a black eye

In Politics, Unfettered stupidity on February 16, 2008 at 7:12 pm

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Wearing a blue-striped business shirt without a tie and looking more like a harried executive than a top interrogator, [Paul] Rester groused that his line of work is “a business that is fundamentally thankless.”

Huh. He should try being a copy editor.
I think maybe that arm of the CIA — or maybe just Dick Cheney — watched one too many Steven Seagal movies and decided that was how they were supposed to act. At some point, some otherwise very smart people forgot that we were supposed to be the good guys.

Grammys love them some Herb

In Culture, Smartness on February 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I normally could give less than a damn about award shows. To me, they’re the ultimate in “image management” — 100 percent style; zero substance. However, I am not so secretly pleased that jazz pianist Herbie Hancock walked away with the Grammys’ biggest trophy, the album of the year, last night.

Normally, that level of Grammy success follows on the heels of selling a bajillion albums. The winner was expected to be Kanye West or Amy “Crackhead” Winehouse. But there’s no way in hell that a collection of jazz covers of Joni Mitchell tunes is going to sell more than, say, a jillion or so units. People just aren’t THAT excited about musical skill, and, as Vince Gill noted backstage, “I think Herbie Hancock, hands down, is a better musician than all of us here put together.”

Anyway, catch up on some rare, front-page (well, front of the feature section, maybe) jazz news here: Hancock Steals Grammy Album of Year

Now I’m gonna have to find this and give it a listen. 😮