Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vietnam TV

Last week I was out in Ubon Ratchatani, close to the Lao border. It's a pretty cosmopolitan place, with substantial communities of Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese people. On the cable there were two Vietnamese channels (that could be every one of them, I couldn't tell you).

Vietnam One is the government channel, and Vietnam Three is entertainment. Over on the government side, it's all very serious. Lots of documentaries about the war, heavy on the tanks entering Saigon. Serious news about new dams and successful factories. VN3 is very colorful and lighthearted, with travelogues and variety shows.

Then I flipped past VN1 and they were showing the American movie, "Mississippi's Burning," with Willem Defoe and Gene Hackman, in its entirety. You could hear the soundtrack, and there was a voice over that was not a dub, it seemed like someone was describing the proceedings. Why would they be showing this movie, in this way?

Sure it's a movie about an American problem, racism, but it's also a powerful expression of America's moral dilemma in wrestling with the problem, rendering it a generally sympathetic picture of America.

I take it as one more indication that the Vietnamese communists, and the people too, want to move on from the old animosities and form a new relationship with America. It's all pragmatic, based in pure economics. Certainly, Americans who travel in Vietnam are not subjected to any animosity at all. At the personal level, it's all: may I practice my English? Thanks for coming! Thanks for shopping! For the government, it's all: bygones can be bygones, let's do business!

These are good things, and Washington should listen more closely.

Little Favors

Lots of good luck at that wedding the other day. Out of all of those English cars, I didn't see one broken down. Bloody fucking miracle, that.

Cool Vehicle Alert: Nice Old Suzi

One of the specialties of Thai mechanics is keeping gems like this on the road. I, for one, appreciate their efforts.

Love the pinstriping, very minimalist, and the scarf tied around the steering head, for good luck no doubt. The white-walls are pretty cool too.

Time For My Annual American Idol Penultimate Review

Time for my annual American Idol penultimate review, when the group has been whittled down to a reasonable number and it’s worth considering just what the hell is actually going on. It’s been an interesting Idol year.

The interesting thing for me about Idol is watching the contestants begin as ungelernte amateurs and develop over time into accomplished singers. Some of them anyway. They are tutored in the arts of singing. They learn how to sing with a band, how to sing in a big room, how to sell a song and work a crowd, and how to be versatile in song choices. There are always a couple of surprises, contestants who blossom and grow. So, which of these gunsels has shown real growth this year?

Jacob led off this week, singing “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” (It’s Carol King week.) Earlier on he had trouble finding the notes, but he’s doing much better with that. He was not always comfortable on stage, but he’s doing better with that too. He started out with an overly personalized style that was wildly overdone, recalling for me Billy Stewart singing “Summertime” in the old days. He’s toned down considerably, and there was a good voice in there with the hurricane of ornamentation. So I guess he’s matured somewhat as a singer. Never my cup of tea, though, and he’ll be gone soon.

Lauren is an example of a failure to grow. She’s got a good voice, but she’s still afraid to use it. She sang “I Will Follow,” in a key that was too low for her. She’s afraid to attempt high notes. Her voice lost power where she really dipped into the low registers, and she was often drowned out by the backup singers, who were better singers than she is and outshined her in this song. (That’s a must to avoid.) The poor thing, she never seems to really understand the content of the song. Not my favorite.

Casey and Haley made a duet out of “I Feel the Earth Move.” She hit it sometimes; he struck out, as usual.

Scotty sang “You’ve Got a Friend.” This kid is a great little vote getter, and it’s easy to see why. He’s big, buff and obviously the girls think he’s cute. For my taste, he looks a little too much like Alfred E. Newman, who was drawn with the features of a boy suffering from cretinism. He sings every song in the same, low-voiced Country drawl, and some songs, most songs, don’t call for it or tolerate it well, as was the case here. He might win this thing, even though he should have gone home during Hollywood Week.

James is my big surprise this year, and my guilty pleasure, and my favorite. He has worked hard, and has learned to scale back the rock and roll when necessary, as tonight. He seems to completely ignore his Tourette’s, which is as it should be. He has also acquired real versatility, tonight’s song was way outside his original comfort zone. I was dubious when I heard what he was going to sing tonight, but he really nailed it. In fact, he totally crushed it. I hope he wins it all.

Lauren and Scotty sang “Up on the Roof” together. Can I have that three minutes back, please?

Casey reached deep into the Carol King catalog for “Hi-De-Ho,” which I’d never heard before. Late Blood, Sweat and Tears evidently. The crowd and the judges unaccountably love this guy. I find him totally annoying and virtually untalented. Randy, especially, fawns over him with ridiculous comments like, “the best musician we’ve ever had on the show!” It’s because Casey is a faux Jazz Guy, affecting an interest in jazz and masquerading as a person with talent. No matter, tonight turned out to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic for Casey.

Haley has grown more than any of them, and she’s become a good, professional singer. Tonight she sang “Beautiful,” and she did a good job. She was comfortable, and she seemed to enjoy herself, but the song was only okay. There are parts that aren’t screwed on.

(Steven Tyler commented that he “heard God in her voice,” breaking new ground in the hyperbole that has characterized the judging this year. Let’s face it, although Steve is actually a professional singer, after a fashion, if his understanding of real singing were coffee, he couldn’t put enough in a cup to wake up a rabbit.)

Jacob and James sang “I’m Into Something Good,” and it reminded me of Sam and Dave. Two talented guys, each convinced that it's his act and what is that other guy doing here.

Then it was off to the result show, which was kicked off by a particularly awful Carol King medley.

It was Casey’s turn to go, thank God. This is not a show for a weirdly self-conscious hipster-wannabe, constantly mugging for the camera and pretentiously speaking for jazz, of which he has an incomplete understanding.

Those still standing: Haley will make a nice wife for someone someday; Scotty will make a fine propane salesman; Lauren will make a bitchy wife for two or three unfortunate guys; what Jacob will do after his breakdown is anybody’s guess; and James could get into a Metal tribute band and rock the cruise ships, but whatever he does, if he crushes one more song like he did yesterday, they should send the rest of these bozos home and call it an Idol.

Sick and Tired - Chris Kenner

Chris Kenner is my official nominee for Rock and Roll God of All Time, and this song features the heaven-at-once-beat-of-all-time. Also my favorite song of all time. A regular on my radio show, "English By Songs," a few years ago, up in the mountains. The 'Tube is very cool now, having come up to speed on such important matters as Chris Kenner.

If I ever have a bar, and I might (Rabbit), it will definitely be called "I Like It Like That," and the band will definitely be named "The Twist-a-Lettes." (References to other Chris Kenner songs, go do your homework!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freedom Of Religion

Here's a quote that I think is foolish:

"The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam. Quite the contrary," Fischer wrote on his Renew America blog. Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy." - Bryan Fischer, American Family Association.

I'm afraid that Mr. Fischer is expressing a mistaken impression of early American Christianity here.

One of the things that I explain to my students is that local control was so important to the new American states partly because the Christians in one state didn't really trust, or even particularly like, the Christians in certain other states. My students, like Mr. Fischer, tend to think that "Christians" are "Christians," but I put a list on the board to clear up that over-simplification. Of course, most of the early Americans were Christians, but there were Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Baptists, Puritans and even, God forbid! Quakers among them.

Remember antidisestablishmentarianism? (My spell check, unfortunately, does not.) The tension between the establishment Christianities and the outsider Christianities was a big political issue at the time in both England and the colonies.

The First Amendment was intended to prevent "the establishment of Religion," which was a real problem in the colonies. In some states, a Catholic could not hold public office; in Maryland, only a Catholic could do so. Catholics were discriminated against in many colonies, and the very foundation of Maryland as a Catholic colony was intended as a refuge for Catholics. Let's face it, no one liked the Quakers very much. They were usually forced to live outside the mainstream somewhere, on their own. The "Flushing Remonstrance" was an early effort to remedy that situation. Rhode Island was founded by people who wanted to get away from the Puritans in Massachusetts, people who preferred more singing and dancing than went on in Massachusetts (more piracy too, but that's another story).

I'm pretty sure that the First Amendment was always intended to protect the Jews too, although in New York, long the only colony that would accept them, they already enjoyed considerable freedom. No "strict constructionist" I, so I'll also mention that the Supreme Court over the years has interpreted the First Amendment as protecting the free expression of any religion. That's their job, the "what do the words mean?" thing. I get a big kick out of people who think that they are qualified to tell us what the so-called founders were really, really thinking. And who cares anyway? Haven't we learned something over the course of the last two-hundred plus years? Don't we know better now? Certain things, anyway.

Who knows if there were more than two or three Muslims in the colonies before the revolution, but that only puts them on a long list of people whose religion only later came to our shores. They're all here now, that's for sure, every single religion of them. Religious freedom, and equal protection, are their constitutional rights, whether Mr. Fischer thinks so or not.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

um, um, um, um, um, um, - MAJOR LANCE

Also not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, unless I am mistaken, and I hope that I am, but I don't think so. The Major had a real tear in his voice, that's a crying tear, not a ripping tear, English is so imprecise, spelling wise. In this cut it's appropriate, but even in his light-hearted cuts there's a melancholy undertone.

I'll stop now, and you can look up your own music for a while.

LAURA NYRO (and LABELLE) nowhere to run

One of the greatest albums of all time, and a great cut for true. Only 656 views in almost a year on the 'Tube, hard to believe.

These Laura Nyro albums were great in general, great material, the best New York studio musicians. And Laura, somebody check for me, is she still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Gives the lie to the whole thing, doesn't it?

I put it up on the 'Book too, because I'm such a loving, caring, sharing man.

Not much to say recently otherwise, but I'll get the wind back in my sails one of these days. And then, watch out!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens - Mbaqanga (1991)

The great Mahlathini, the most unique voice in the history of pop music! Go ahead and debate that at your peril. This guy makes Tom Waits sound like Julie Andrews.

Sad story in the comments to the video though, check it out. That exploitation shit can be harsh.

I Draw The Line

Sure, this blog is all me, all the time, but at least I spare you blow-by-blow descriptions of my quite boring days. No, not for me that "mama! look at my dooty!" routine.

Or is it all dooty? Maybe I only flatter myself to think that at least I'm not just chattering on about my trip to the doctor, or the fascinating conversation that I had with a taxi driver today, or the great fried rice that I got for a dollar today. Do I not wait for something generally interesting to happen? something with a general lesson in it? something that my two-cents may illuminate? something, preferably accompanied by a photograph? Maybe it is all dooty after all. Who am I to judge?

But I do at least try to draw the line and eliminate the just dead boring. That's a good thing, isn't it?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Laura Nyro - Eli's comin'

I'm not one of those geezers who think that everything was better in the old days . . . oh, wait, yes I am! Lady Ga Ga my ass.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Software Problem

After my own fashion, here's another huge idea, briefly and flippantly described.

In terms of computers, our modern machines are vastly powerful. Most of us own computers that are easily capable of truly amazing things. The software, however, has lagged behind woefully. Consider the operating systems, built layer on layer on foundations laid long ago, when computers were very, very different.

In terms of our human potential, it's a very similar situation. Productivity and the store of human knowledge have increased exponentially in the last fifty years, mirroring the advances made in computing. That's the hardware component, the power waiting to be harnessed by appropriate strategies.

But what strategies are offered up by our so-called leaders? As in the computer example, they lag far beyond the potential and are based on what is now outmoded thinking.

Worse than that, in the human example the leaders, both political and corporate, content themselves with keeping the pot small and insuring that they collect the lion's share of it. This is true from the lowest of the low, corrupt entities to the foremost nations and corporations of the earth.

The potential for human accomplishment is now a vast, virtually untapped resource. In the near-term, we'll be stuck with more war, pollution and greed, but what of the mid-term and the long-term?

Hope, anyone?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Movie Review: Godzilla 2000

I just picked up a DVD copy of this movie for two dollars, in English and nicely letterboxed. It's a remarkable movie, unique in the Godzilla canon for the blasé manner in which the great beast is greeted in Japan. Oh sure, if the 'Zill man is stomping a neighborhood the locals are impressed alright, but if he's just wandering around the countryside the entire nation seems strangely unconcerned. Newspapers and government offices keep their attention elsewhere while Godzilla casually destroys the odd noodle shop or simply walks around. Even the trains are running as usual. It's bizarre.

There are two organizations concerning themselves with Godzilla: the Godzilla Prediction Network (the GPN) and the Crisis Control Intelligence Agency (CCI). The GPN seems to consist mostly of an SUV manned by a father and his ten year old daughter, assisted occasionally by a cute female reporter who is regularly hit up for gas money by the little girl. CCI at first ignores Godzilla altogether, focusing on the underwater discovery of a meteorite. The GPN wants to study and “contain” Godzilla; CCI just wants to kill him.

It's all soft-Godzilla-violence in this installment. People are put in jeopardy, but usually not killed. Pretty good suit, with a very cat-like snout and big fat legs, and huge, jagged back plates. This is in great conflict with the best movie in the series, “Godzilla, Mothra, King Gidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack,” in which the violence is personal and horrific and the glassy eyed suit is genuinely frightening. Nobody in that other movie was blasé about the monsters, that's for sure.

The meteorite is cool. Raised by CCI to the level that sunlight can penetrate, it sails the rest of the way to the surface on its own. After a while, it actually takes off and flies around the bay. Turns out, it's a UFO that crashed on earth long enough ago to have been encased in sedimentary rock, four million years is mentioned as a time frame. The first thing that the UFO does is genetically scan the humans. Finding nothing interesting it moves on to Godzilla, who is conveniently nearby. G's genetics are much more exciting, and the UFO and Godzilla spend the remainder of the movie in close combat.

Another interesting aspect of this movie is the wild, misplaced optimism of CCI and the Japanese military. A general proclaims, “we have new armor piercing technology that will go through Godzilla like crap through a goose.” The Z is subsequently hit by over thirty of these things with no apparent effect. After the “meteorite” floats to the surface, it is tied down with “electromagnetic cables” by CCI. The boss allows that there's “no way it's going anywhere.” The cables, of course, snap like dry spaghetti as soon as the UFO feels like taking off.

It turns out that the UFO wants to colonize the earth, changing the climate and killing all of the humans in the process. Godzilla thwarts them, but from my perspective the reason for this thwarting was that the UFO and the monster that it creates made their first order of business doing away with Godzilla. This is nevertheless interpreted as Godzilla protecting the earth, and the ending is sappy beyond endurance. “Why does he keep on protecting us?” says a guy from CCI. “Maybe because Godzilla is inside everyone of us,” answers the SUV dad from the GPN.

It's all colorful though, and the human characters are nice enough, so I enjoyed seeing it for about the fifth time and I'll be watching the DVD again within six or eight months.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alert The Media: New Mexico Is Part Of America

When I was a boy, most Americans were aware that New Mexico was one of the United States. For whatever reason, this information is no longer widely known.

I recall that during the last Winter Olympics held in the U.S.A. some people buying tickets by mail, upon giving their address as "New Mexico," were told that they would have to call "their national office," i.e., some office in Mexico.

All prior New Mexico license plates, I believe, were labeled simply "New Mexico." Now they find it necessary to remind all viewers that New Mexico is part of the United States.

I make no judgment regarding this necessity, but I do find it to be an interesting comment on our times.

Son; Me; Father; Son

I made the annual pilgrimage to see my father with some nice company this year. We were there for dad's ninetieth birthday. He seems very happy, as are the rest of us in the picture. A few weeks before this picture was taken he wrote to me, telling me that he would probably make it to his birthday but after that he couldn't make any guarantees, because "nobody lives forever." He's right, of course, but it is a blessing that he's doing so good, and for so long.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Soon, More

I, like President Obama, will soon be making announcements. I'll be back in BKK next week, and I have pix and movies from my trip, and I will be making some of my usual innocuous observations about unimportant things, you know, keeping it real, but only barely, and deleting the negativity wherever possible.

Be there AND be square!