Saturday, May 24, 2008

Playing Bongos With Alice Cooper

(NOTE: I do not know why, but all the videos cited here are gone. That's too bad. I hope he did not get some kind of copyright threat. Fun while it was all there and I'll shoot Gary and email and see what happened ... 1/07/09)

His screen name is bongorilao, and he occupies a small but rhythmic corner of the Internet.

The video above is one of my favorites from this 47-year-old musician who has some 238 such videos for you to view at his YouTube page. His skill really shines when he is surrounded with drums as he plays and improvs with George Benson's "On Broadway". But his musical selections include The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Bob Marley, Uriah Heep, Black Uhuru, Sly and The Family Stone, The Allman Brothers, James Brown, Elton John, Earth, Wind and Fire, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Gypsy Kings, The Guess Who, Sting and much more.

His profile says:

hate negativity and all manifestations thereof, but hating is negative, too, so let's not talk about it. Just want to play bongos under a palm tree somewhere but the rat race has me.

Tell it, my brother. Like you, I'm here to do my verbal bongo thing.

I own a pair of bongos my parents bought for me when I was about 8 years old. I never learned to play them well, but I have always kept them and would not let them go for any price.

And here on this page of the Internet, I get to riff as I wish too, on my own little corner where I set the priorities, selecting what I wish to post about, write about, laugh at, celebrate and share with a few dozen or a few thousand people. I love writing about movies, for instance, and do so every Friday here, and those posts are always the most least read thing I place here. People don't care diddley squat about what I write about movies. But I do it 'cause I love it, not because someone seeks me out to read my movie musings.

Millions of people write online constantly, or make music, or share information and videos and only a handful become hits o' the internets. We do it because we can and because we love it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Camera Obscura: 'Diary of the Dead'; Get A Life-Size Indiana Jones; And Laser Cats!

"When there is no more room in hell, the dead will create a MySpace page."

Let's talk about zombies.

Shambling undead humans who rise up from the grave to feast on human flesh were once the fevered imaginings of odd readers and bizarre writers and film-fans such as myself. Today, zombies are cultural icons. All across the globe, everyday folks will slap on some gory make-up and gather for Zombie Walks, and the movies about them and with them are everywhere, some very funny, some very scary and some very poorly made. The literary world reeks of rotting flesh and survival guides flourish to the point one may well wonder if some people know they are still creatures of the imagination.

The guru of zombies is George Romero and his most recent movie hit DVD this week, "Diary of the Dead". His dark fantasies have fired up imaginations for decades, movies that have skewered society with visceral glee. Students and teachers and film critics and cultural anthropologists pontificate on the Romero Zombie with frequent essays and doctoral thesis papers. In Romero's movies, the story is more than just a scary tale told in the dark - they are also stories about us all, about how we react and respond to disaster and destruction.

"Diary" continues such themes with a digital skewer. It's the YouTube Internet Zombie Age in his film, and more than any of his previous movies, this one pushes the undead into a vague fearful background and the foreground is full of cameras and people obsessed with them. The story begins with a narrator who says the following images were all captured via a variety of media sources, which the narrator is compelled to send out via the Internet. We then see a group of would-be low-budget horror movie filmmakers whose shoot is cut short when the radios begin crackling with reports of the rising undead. Quickly, the group gathers up and begins to flee, all of their actions being "documented" by an obsessed director named Jason.

Just as quickly, the viewer gets inundated with images within images, frames within frames. Our hardy survivors meet other survivors, but no matter what they do or where they go, they begin to die and transform into the undead. It is the camera and the cameraman (or woman) who remain the focus of the film. Though horrified and terrorized, the characters can't stop observing themselves as they are being destroyed. In one scene a character shoots a zombie and then passes the gun to someone else, saying "It's too easy to use". Moments later, after another attack, someone passes a camera off to someone else saying the same line "It's too easy to use."

Romero conceived of his idea to be an online movie only at first, and his MySpace page remains quite active. He hits all the aspects of the constant barrage of information, from cell phones to blogs to videogames , citizen journalism and surveillance cameras. And he notes too that even if the zombies devour every human, all those digitized details will remain long after all life is gone.

Does all of that information have any value? Towards the end of the movie, a comment is offered that all the billions of voices captured and sent around the world have no provided more truth or more illumination - instead it has deafened us, made us less sure of everything.

For the DVD release, 5 short amateur films submitted via MySpace are included in the extras and they're pretty good too - imaginative and spooky and funny takes on the zombie apocalypse. And I do have some complaints about the movie - mostly that Romero found some really bad actors, some of the worst in any of his movies. But "Diary" is more about the hardware, not the software, and the hardware wins out in the end.

One other aspect of all of Romero's zombie tales I truly like is that there is never a really clear explanation of a cause or a solution. How one might survive is considered, but if it's even worth surviving has always been his biggest question.



Also rising up from the long ago this weekend is Indiana Jones in "Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." If you just can't get enough Indy and crave more, then perhaps you can bid on a life-sized Indiana Jones to place in your own home. It's being offered on eBay, with bids starting at $50,000.

Another attempt at resurrection arrives from the director of not-very-good "Sahara", Breck Eisner. He's working on a new version of "Flash Gordon" and "Creature From The Black Lagoon." Keeping his career alive at this point is a notable feat.

A blogger worked some liveblogging for Quentin Tarantino's two-hour talk about his movies, which you can read here.

The movie "16 Candles" has just been re-enacted in 30 seconds by bunnies. The result is here.

See the latest on the new animated movie "Space Chimps and Patrick ", featuring the voices of Andy SambergWarburton. What I want to know is when will someone greenlight a feature movie of Samberg's SNL creation - "Laser Cats"??? I'll pay cash money in a heartbeat to see that!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Trust Drug

Researchers in Europe report success with clinical trials of a new "Trust drug", aka the "cuddle chemical", which soothes those who take it into trusting people even though that "trust" has been abused.

The subjects who received oxytocin demonstrated no change in their trust behaviour, even though they were informed that their trust was not honoured in roughly 50% of cases."

No word yet if anyone is working on a Don't Abuse Trust drug.

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That hath such people in't!

Starvation On The Campaign Trail

Are you exhausted by the media coverage of the current presidential election? Most likely. But have you actually learned much beyond how a candidate campaigns, feels about campaigning, or the now often-overused phrase "creating a narrative" for a candidate?

Given the history that so many political appointees and campaign staffers have become television icons who provide running commentary on elections, it's no wonder the results of a national survey show the TV coverage of the current presidential race is long on 'campaign strategy' and very short on analysis of issues and policies of the candidates.

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) offers this insight:

From December 26, 2007, until February 5, 2008, the three nightly newscasts aired a total of 385 news stories about the election. This averages out to more than nine news stories on the election per night on network TV. With that kind of saturation, you’d think that the coverage would not only touch on the horse race and polling, but would shed light on policy platforms, economic plans, foreign policy goals and other substantive differences among what was then a wide-open field of candidates. You’d think that, after viewing or reading 385 news stories, you’d come away well-informed and ready to participate in a democracy.

But, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Campaign Analysis/Strategy dominated the coverage FAIR examined, appearing in 333 of the 385 stories overall (86 percent). It was the dominant frame in 252 stories (65 percent), and it was the only frame in 79 stories (20 percent). In other words, one in five stories in this sample touched only on the “how” of getting elected.

It’s not that campaign coverage should be devoid of analysis and strategic concerns; who’s ahead and why is of legitimate concern to voters, and this type of story can be informative and illuminating. But the emphasis on this type of reportage mostly provides news consumers with a lot of insignificant “insights,” like the January 2 CBS story “Hillary Clinton Needs Supporters to Show Up to Caucus.” So which candidates didn’t need their supporters to caucus?"

FAIR goes on to mention critical failures in coverage of just exactly how a candidate might propose to address the faltering economy and the war in Iraq. Short, zippy riffs from campaigners get air time - specific plans are seldom given coverage:

Remarkably, in the 55 stories that raised the Iraq War as an issue, the networks made no mention of any of the Democrats’ plans for troop withdrawal or their stances on the troop “surge.” Both of those topics, however, provided much fodder for the coverage of the leading Republican candidates.

John McCain is “surging in part because the ‘surge’ in Iraq, which he has long supported, has shown signs of success,” ABC reported on January 2. The “progress in Iraq . . . put new life into the John McCain campaign,” CBS reported (1/29/08).

The supposed success of the troop “surge” became a lens through which to view the McCain turnaround, but his plans for what happens next weren’t covered. Rather, his “ownership” of the war issue in the media left viewers with very little specific information."

The news media too often is addressing the cult of personality, and from their cheerleading heading into the war with Iraq to today, viewers are fed junk food and not food for thought.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Down The Memory Hole

George W. Bush, in 2000 says:

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas said today that if he was president, he would bring down gasoline prices through sheer force of personality, by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude.

''I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply,'' Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, told reporters here today. ''Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.

Thanks to Hilzoy for that, and he adds:

Honestly, it's not always hard to spot a bad President coming. If we had paid less attention to who we wanted to have a beer with, Al Gore's earth tones, and so on, and more to George W. Bush's total lack of any grasp of policy, we could have avoided the last eight years."

As for that 'force of personality', "
the Saudis said they would pump an additional 300,000 barrels of crude next month. They also made a point that the decision had been made a week ago, and not in response to Bush's visit." But the President did promise to send the Saudis more nuclear technology. Is it even close to a good idea to help make Saudi Arabia a nuclear power? Sure they may agree to add in the technology safeguards we want them to have, and sure maybe it is simply the best we can hope for - that they will be a nuclear power allied with the U.S.

The local prize for Bad Ideas on Energy Policy once again goes to Congressman David Davis of East Tennessee. He thinks a.) OPEC sets the price of oil and b.) the government should provide tax-free bonds for oil companies so the poor, poor oil companies can build more refineries. He also urges more tax breaks for them and continues to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for high gasoline prices (article here).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Pee Cup For A Mascot?

The concept of 'branding", which meant one thing to a cowboy means something else today. Today we have the latest 'branding' from HealthPartners HMO in Minnesota. They decided they needed a better identity in their state so they created a mascot to help them. A large, walking, dancing urine specimen cup.

Petey P. Cup is his name.

Nope, I am not making this up. Check out a promotional video below, which includes Petey hanging out at some waterfalls (heh heh) and at the Mall of America while "Funkytown" plays in the background. Perhaps you'll notice there are really no people in this video, so I am not sure who is actually interfacing with Petey. Maybe people flee when they see him. And why is he leaning against a gigantic photo of George Bernard Shaw???

Another blogger notes that the medical group also has another mascot too -- Pokey The Syringe. At least they didn't call him Stabby The Needle.

Oregon Has Already Voted

The presidential primary in Oregon today is quite unique - no one in the state will be going to the polls to vote. Back in 2005, they became the first and only state to have a 100% mail-in ballot. It's a funny story really, and their Secretary of State, Bill Bradley, says the change to mail-in voting was prompted by the actions of a 'cult':

Oregon may be the only state to change its election laws because of a cult. We used to have election day voter registration here. Then the Baghwan Shree Rashneesh brought in thousands of cult followers, registered them to vote on the day of election, and took over the town of Antelope. The Baghwan then poisoned the salad bar. Only in Oregon. In most places you'd have to poison the beer, but in Oregon you go for the salad bar."

Bradbury also notes Oregon was the first state to hold a presidential primary and first to directly elect it's U.S. senators. And says the program drew a participation rate of over 85% in the last presidential election.

The Washington Post reports today too that some problems are trailing this primary:

Tens of thousands of Oregonians switched their registration from Republican or unaffiliated so they could vote in the Democratic primary. But many switched so close to the April 29 deadline that election officials had already prepared ballots to send to them under their previous registrations. Pulling out those ballots would have been too arduous for most counties, so 33,500 voters received ballots for both parties."

As for Kentucky, one NPR report says their voting trends are still dominated by the Civil War and race issues. Also, while they generally vote for national Republican candidates, Democrats hold the lead in local and state offices. And despite a massive margin of victory predicted for Senator Clinton in Kentucky, CQ calls it - 'decisive but hollow'. Poor CQ. In Kentucky, they pronounce it 'holler'.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More GOP Tactics Backfire

Some facts and choice words arrive via DeMarCaTionVille for blogger David Oatney and the Tennessee Republicans in general in the 4th Senate District race between Senator Mike Williams and challenger Mike Faulk:

It is one thing to point out issues with your elected official. Perhaps you don’t like his viewpoints or policies. He voted for something you oppose. You think his manner of dress is inappropriate and your guy is better for the job.

However, it’s quite another thing to launch a full-scale bullshit rock-throwing attack while your candidate is sitting in his own stinkin’ glass house.

You know, when the GOP first started grasping at straws here and twisting truth: feeling some loyalty to the party of my father, I didn’t say much. I had faith that the Tennessee Republican Party would figure out these tactics weren’t working locally.

Surely, Faulk would realize this and reign in his unpleasant supporters.

Nope. Not so much - because apparently whatever Republicans lack in common sense, they make up for in sheer collective hatefulness - and this bothers me.


The TN GOP may also want to note the constant attacks and general viciousness aren’t going over well in this area. Many of us, who live here, are beginning to see why Williams got pissed off enough to leave the party.

Sen. Obama Rips Tennesse's GOP Leaders

Kleinheider did a fine job tracking the once-again pointless and feeble attempts of the Tennessee Republican party to garner publicity and attention with their slaps at Michelle Obama, and this morning he links to Senator Obama calling out the state's GOP for their lame effort to stir the emotions.

As for the massive negative reactions for their stunt, the GOP shrills out more name calling - "yer just a bunch of whiners."

Yeah, class act there guys. It speaks volumes about how Republicans in the state can't get any traction or mention providing discussion on issues and policies. They apparently despise their own party's nominee, Senator McCain, even with a strong likelihood he'll nab a majority of votes in the fall. What they cannot refute is that most Americans know the Bush administration and its supporters have not only failed at leadership, they will be leaving behind enormous problems in almost every area which will likely take years to correct.

Stuck with not being able to support their current president, not being able to muster support for their current nominee, they have nothing left but snide and empty jabs. All the state Republicans have is a cranky cry of "You kids get offa my lawn!" They need to just go back inside their house, clean it up, and join the rest of us when they decide to be good neighbors.

(See Senator Corker's comments via this Knoxville News Sentinel report: "Our country is, to me, at a point where all of us, on both sides of the aisle, need to begin acting more like adults and making those tough decisions that will cause our country to be stronger for the long haul," said Corker, the only Tennessean in Congress who isn't up for re-election this year.")

The Graduation Weekend

Over the weekend I traveled to north Georgia to help congratulate and celebrate my nephew's high school graduation. And being absent from the world o' blogs for three days is akin to missing 6 months of work. But it was time well spent away from the virtual world and immersed into the real one.

Sitting on the lawn of my nephew's prep school Saturday morning as the sharp blue skies and warm sun was overhead was a fine thing. I became even more convinced he is far better prepared for life post-high school than I was. He's already earned numerous accolades and awards for his many achievements and he's been one of the smartest and most talented folks I know for many years anyway. Though he might be a bit perplexed at all the hoopla and excitement and by what a proper reaction to such might be, events again made me realize that while I made good use of the many freedoms that high school liberation provided, mostly I simply raced out into the world with a reckless abandon. But as I told him, I don't think there is such a thing as the Right Way to handle all the coming changes.

(I was kind of proud of myself too, as I never caved in to making an obscure movie reference with the joke of saying "My boy, I just have one word to say to you - plastics.")

It occurred to me as well while listening to the commencement speech that perhaps the adult world needs a regular schedule of commencement exercises as adulthood marches past. First, the value of ritual events heralding notches in time could add much needed sign-posts that we humans sort of require. Commencements give a shape and form to the ideas of "You started here, you went through this, and now you're headed here."

Second, adults could get that sense of being part of a community effort, much like being a part of a particular class of seniors, which makes achievements at many levels, and that your community will continue to progress further, with some changes to that community taking place as well.

Now I have no solid concept of how to create a criteria for organizing such Adult Commencements . Some might say that events such as annual meetings for Rotarians or Elk Lodge members, or the occasional retreats of your corporate business might be the contemporary version of Adult Commencements.

It's just that as we provide these events more and more for our young people, with commencement events being held for the transition from kindergarten to first grade, from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, from high school to work or college, and the many levels of college, those events are more likely absent for the rest of our lives.

We do have the Marriage Commencement events, and the Birth of Children Commencements (and even the Divorce Commencements), but most of the other milestones we have are of a more nebulous social construction which is far harder to perceive. The social conventions seem to change from year to year. And high school/college reunion events seem more an opportunity for renewals of previous commitments to alcohol consumption, or realizations that we've mystically morphed into new shapes and forms.

I've even begun to ponder attending some high school or college commencements at random from now on as each Spring converts to Summer, simply to participate in well-ordered rituals marking change. Each Spring I could be regaled with messages that not only had I endured, but that the Future was utterly open and ripe with Hope, that I have Time to manifest my own personal Destiny. Those notions often get nudged aside as we age.

So here's a toast to the graduates - to full lives, to the known and the unknown, to the world you will all be creating. And if you wish to take some time to wander just now, enjoy that too. If I've learned anything as I make the daily steps from Youth to Old Age, it's that everything we experience is useful even if we think at the time it is not. Cheers!