Who’s Cheating America? The Highly Profitable Nonprofit!

Ah yes, here we are, in the week of one of our great secular holidays. Maybe the great secular holiday in America. Except that the NFL is, perhaps, closer to a religion than we care to admit. Don’t we worship our teams? Aren’t these gods we scream for? Isn’t this sweaty, feverish feeling something akin to devotion? The agony and ecstasy?

Let’s set that aside and look at some cheaters. In particular, a nonprofit organization that is doing rather well for itself:

[The organization’s] most recent Form 990 filed with the IRS ended on March 31, 2012. They claimed revenue of $255 million, up from $240 million in 2011. So, if you were concerned, things are good. [The organization] has assets of over $822 million.

Does it pay taxes on that money? Well, of course not. As a charitable, nonprofit organization, there’s no need.

Which nonprofit would we like to see bring in all that revenue? UNICEF? American Cancer Society? The Red Cross?

How about… the NFL!!!

The NFL, if you didn’t realize it, exists as a 501 c 6 organization. It’s not for profit!

Aha, you say. This is a trick. The NFL is fairly run as a nonprofit organization. They’re basically a shell, a collection of thirty or so for-profit entities (the teams). All the NFL does is look out for their interests, conduct their joint marketing efforts, hire referees, put in place some rules… this is probably how all the professional sports leagues, do it. Right?

And if you’re wondering, neither Major League Baseball nor the National Basketball Association is registered as a charity, foundation or trade organization. They each gave up their tax-free status years ago.

Okay, okay. So they have a lot of money. They probably need to spend it on things – like healthcare and pensions for former players. Right?

[I]n 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $29.5 million to run the organization.

Wait, what? How can Gooddell earn that much? Is that comparable to the heads of other nonprofit organizations? Well… not really.

So this guy, this fatcat, earns $29.5 million per year? And the organization who pays it to him doesn’t have to pay any taxes on its earnings? What can possibly justify this?

In order to have that status, the NFL must be run as a charitable foundation.

Maybe I spoke too soon! They’re probably giving it all away. Back to the kids, the kids in hospitals, the ones with leukemia, the many, many kids who idolize them. The selflessness of the NFL brings a tear to the eye…

Charitable Organization Head Roger Goodell (Image Credit: si.com)

In 2012, they gave away a meager $2.3 million.

That’s it? That would barely cover Gooddell’s parking space. What did they spend the two point three million on? (Please say the kids, please say the kids…)

Almost all of it–$2.1 million– went to the NFL Hall of Fame.

For running their own damn hall of fame? That’s it? No taxes because of one of their marketing tools… I do have a tear in my eye. I weep for America. The Greatest Cheated Country in the History of the World.

Previously in Who’s Cheating America:

Small Press Shoutout: Other Press!

Back again with another small press shoutout! This week we look at Other Press, which focuses on authors with a “passion to discover the limits of knowledge and the imagination.” Oh boy! The editors of Other Press come with some gilded resumes indeed. Here’s an excerpt from Publisher Judith Gurewitch’s bio:

Born in Canada and raised in Belgium, she holds a law degree from Brussels University as well as a master’s of law from Columbia University and a PhD in sociology from Brandeis University. She now resides in Cambridge, MA. Judith is also a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, practicing part time. She loves to edit, pitch, cook, walk, and swim.

Pitch? As in pitch books? Baseballs? With a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, one never knows.

Associate publisher Paul Kozlowski is a bit more unassuming:

Bookman, birdman, living under blue skies on borrowed time.

Madame Knowledge, meet Mr. Imagination. Now let’s go find some limits.

Okay, okay, this is all heady stuff – but do they deliver? Indeed they do! Putting out about 25 titles a year, Other Press has a growing list of incredible authors, including Olga Grjasnawa, Jan-Phillip Sendker, and Minae Mizumura. This is the real deal, folks. And one need only read Helen Richard’s blogged tour of independent bookstores to get a sense of their love for books. Bravo, Other Press!

Previous Small Press Shoutouts:

Welcome, Nook Readers!

Fans of Barnes & Noble, your days of waiting are OVER. The Race: A Novella is ready and available for sampling and purchases on your favorite Nook product.

Race_12_28_final (1)

My thanks again to Mark Coker and the folks at Smashwords for the distribution platform. It’s great to be able to reach all my readers, on whatever their preferred device. (And printed copies are on the way, readers!)

Onward and upward!

Thoughts on France’s Menage a Trois

PHOTOGRAPHS: FROM LEFT, BY MARC AUSSET- LACROIX/WIREIMAGE, ANTOINE ANTONIOL/GETTY IMAGES, FRANÇOIS DURAND/GETTY IMAGES. (courtesy vanityfair.com

I’ve done some thinking about love triangles and politics. In fact, I’ve set a book in that world.

The Race takes place in Wisconsin. One of its recurring themes is the loneliness and solitude of strivers trapped in out-of-the-way places. Although they live – and thrive – in a flyover state, both the Governor and his wife have national aspirations. The Governor has a transatlantic affair. His wife goes to the national media to get her side of the story out. The center does not hold.

It’s a story that appeals to me, for the sex and intrigue but also the struggle to overcome  provincial origins. I was told once that living in the Midwest means learning to live within limits. These people did not learn.

What happened in France – recounted by Evgenia Peretz in a fascinating Vanity Fair article from December 2012 – is different. These were sophisticated people, living in a sophisticated city, living sophisticated lives.

And yet… things are recognizably the same.

Politics, like parenting and death, is a great leveler of differences. You could travel across time, continents, political systems and find the same basic elements: power, ambition, and human frailty. It seems that no matter what the particular landscape is, the political roads are all alike.

And they all lead to disaster.

Terrible Poem Breakdown: “Ode to a 20-Year-Old ‘Poet'”

A pre-emptive strike from our poet! A poem that has its criticism built in! Let’s take a look.

The usual reminder: the Terrible Poem Breakdown series looks upon failed poems and describe their impact on me. The only two rules are that 1) the writer is completely on board with being criticized, and 2) the poem cannot be willfully bad.

On we go.

Ode to a 20-Year-Old “Poet”

I can say this much: the thing is memorable
As is the story behind it
A dalliance I had 20 years ago with an Italian woman 10 years my senior
A fruit seller. We won each other with smiles
Our love was far more flirtation than fling
We met one night by the broken towers
And then, after a kiss, the dialogue
I spoke in English, trying to convey something meaningful
And she looked frightened, which frightened me
The shock of it all–love, lust, adventure, surprise, fear–
Was too much for the poet in my soul
I, who was drunk with Keats, and who felt like I had just smashed a nightingale
Here we go.

                Can it be the words I speak too many thoughts contain?

Yikes. Look at that line, just look at it and marvel.
It gets worse:

                Exists the possibility mine tongue exceeds thy brain?

Now we’re into seriously deranged territory.
There’s a rhyme. There’s a cadence. Small victories.
Mine? Thy brain? Huge defeats. But we’re only halfway there. Still on the ascent!

                O silence me! With dagger’s point! O silence me! For fain

–and we’ve crested. Fain! A dagger! Not one but two Os!
Did I mention I was reading Keats at the time? (Did I need to mention it?)

                Would I know mortal sleep–cold death would be withstood

Mmm yes. Looking back, probably a bit exaggerated.

                Than speak to thee–thy steely eyes!–and be misunderstood.

Steely eyes! Daggers are made of steel! GET IT, FUTURE CRITIC? WELL, DO YOU?
Ah yes. Mercifully all known copies are destroyed.
Rest in peace, twenty-year-old poet
I miss you.

Oh my. Well, let me say first of all that I’ve never liked those artists who talk about how they predicted what critics would say, and they knew exactly how their work would be received, etc. etc. It’s particularly bad when you put it right into the work itself. “I know what you’re going to say. This is a long boring stretch of dialogue that doesn’t advance the plot. But reader, perhaps our characters are not in the mood to advance the plot? Maybe their dialogue goes nowhere because they’re going nowhere and so they’re talking about it…”

You’ve seen passages like this, right? Do they stand out to you as much as they do to me? Just get on with it, artist! If it’s boring, don’t tell us it’s boring and try to inoculate yourself against criticism. Kill your darlings. Don’t make the reader suffer – then make things worse by trying to be smarter than your work. You’re not. Or rather, you are, but nobody cares.

This poem feels a little different. Not much. But a little.

This poet is looking for something to write about. He’s no doubt failed, in poetry and in life. (He’s certainly evidencing some failure here!) All that is to the good: we like failure on this blog. So the question is: does he redeem his failure by writing about it? Or merely compound it?

Let’s take a look at the poem-within-a-poem:

Can it be the words I speak too many thoughts contain?
Exists the possibility mine tongue exceeds thy brain?
O silence me! With dagger’s point! O silence me! For fain
Would I know mortal sleep–cold death would be withstood
Than speak to thee–thy steely eyes!–and be misunderstood.

That’s serious, full-scale, unmitigated failure! The analysis basically says “Sorry, folks. I’ve moved on. But I miss the days of failing with that much sincerity.” I can kind of get behind that, I guess. So again, the question is:

Does he redeem his failure or compound it?

And the answer is:

Yes.

As always, my thanks etc. for being a good sport. Glad to have a poem about Italy. Still looking for poems about Wisconsin, Scotland, Taiwan, Chicago, etc. Also garbage trucks, wordsmithing, sprezzatura, the Beatles, the nature of genius, Picasso, Aubrey/Maturin, and all my other obsessions.

Other Poems in the Terrible Poem Breakdown Series:

The Celebrated Yarn Spinner of Whatagenius County

Image Credit: thisismarktwain.com

Ben Tarnoff takes an insightful look at Mark Twain’s push to employ his humor for something deeper than mere entertainment.

Mark Twain loved frontier humor, the impish wit and yeasty vernacular, its fondness for the gargantuan and the grotesque. He also understood its deeper value: not merely as entertainment but as a survival tactic. Twain once defined humor as the “kindly veil” that makes life endurable. “The hard and sordid things of life are too hard and too sordid and too cruel for us to know and touch them year after year without some mitigating influence,” he said, and he spoke from experience. In his early thirties, he put a gun to his head and almost pulled the trigger; in his seventies, he was still wondering whether he’d made the right choice.

Twain found it easy to tap into the rich vein of frontier humor, which offered both a content and a style perfect for him:

The dark comedy of the frontier fit his temperament and his talent. Tall talk showed him how to make language more expressive, by embracing a vernacular that reflected the regional varieties of American speech and gave words a more imaginative relationship to the things they described. One famous frontier humorist put it this way: you could ladle out “words at randum, like a calf kickin’ at yaller-jackids,” or you could roll “em out tu the pint, like a feller a-layin bricks—every one fits.” The point was to avoid being a mere bricklayer of language, to break free from the patterns prescribed by tradition and congealed by cliché and to find more original ways to build sentences. What distinguished Twain was his willingness to do so, and by so doing to turn frontier humor into literature.

Literature? Anyone who’s read Huckleberry Finn knows where Twain wound up. Tarnoff’s essay shines light on how he got there. And

It wasn’t easy. The notion that literature could emerge from the frontier’s barbaric yawp encountered violent resistance from America’s literary establishment. It didn’t help that tall tales abounded in vulgarity, drunkenness, and depravity, not to mention perversions of proper English that would make a schoolteacher gasp. Proving the literary power of the frontier would be a central part of Twain’s legacy, and a pie in the face of the New England dons who had dominated the country’s high culture for much of the nineteenth century. He wasn’t immune to wanting their approval, but he came from a very different tradition. His ear hadn’t been trained at Harvard or Yale; it was tuned to the myriad voices of slaves and scoundrels, boatmen and gamblers.

While this is interesting, it seems fairly intuitive to me. I would enjoy the essay because I like reading about Mark Twain, but it’s not something I’d necessarily highlight for you, my loyal blog readers.

It’s this part that made me sit up in my chair:

His anxiety about humor’s lowness worked to his advantage, pushing him to improve on the more buffoonish antics of predecessors like Ward and find a more literary key for his work. Since he couldn’t renounce humor, he enriched it.

How did he pull that off? I’ll send you to Tarnoff’s essay to read the full story. But let me just say: there’s something instructive in turning expectations upside down. Humor may rely on surprise and inversion – but so does good literature. When you combine the two, you can achieve a special kind of greatness. Popular in your own time, admired forever after.

Terrible Poem Breakdown: Another Apologia (of Sorts)

Some thoughts on the Terrible Poem Breakdown series, which continues to be one of our more popular sets of posts here on the blog.

Even though I try to make it clear that the poets have expressly consented, it seems I risk being viewed as too negative. Readers, I get it: poets deserve our empathy, not our scorn. I’m not here trying to tear anyone down! I believe the impulse to write poems – even terrible ones – is a praiseworthy endeavour.

In our last installment, which was a poem about fatherhood, I had some special empathy. I’m a father myself and know whereof the poet speaks. I spoke of sentiment. I may have used the word “goopiness.” I stand by my critique.

And for anyone who objects that either a) I was too harsh on poets for writing about Death, and b) I was not sufficiently sensitive to the idea of a father’s epiphany about parenting, let me just point out that this was essentially a poem in which a father celebrates as a sign of growth his child’s realization that we will all die.

The critic rests his case.