April 15th and The Emotional Audit

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I dreamed of a distant future last night.  It wasn’t a post-apocalyptic wasteland with acidified oceans and vomit colored sunsets, and the surviving population wasn’t dodging a race of zombified undead, or ripping each other limb from limb for whatever meager scraps remained.software-update

In this dream, things were better than they are now. The human race had progressed in a thoroughly unexpected direction.  It was as if a massive system update had been collectively downloaded into everyone’s brains, and our neurons were firing in synchronicity from a far more sympathetic operating system.

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Our instincts had finally evolved beyond a primal selfishness fueled by fear, greed and insecurity.  Somewhere along the way, natural selection had discarded those selfish modes in favor of what could only be labelled as radical, harmonious caring.

wheelchairIn this brave new world, the highest values are generosity, cooperation, and unconditional conscientiousness for all…  Extreme, hard core thrash-metal is also greatly revered.  Music is universally earsplitting and mercilessly atonal, but it serves as an archetypical group release for every primitive instinct that remains buried in the ancient strands of our DNA.

hugThe drive to kill, rape, pillage, and charge interest are thwarted during seasonal thrash-metal festivals, where loving, caring citizens exorcise their demons through spastic dancing under the influence mind-altering substances ingested in Dionysian size proportions.  Festivities always conclude with silent, mass meditation under starlit skies, until sunrise, at which point everyone has a really, really, really long hug.   mosh_pit

A powerful economy has bloomed around these newfound values and it is both productive and profitable.  And at the end of each year, everyone is audited on how much they cared and loved and gave the year before.  An Emotional Auditor calls you into a nondescript, corporate office and grills you to the last detail on how much you gave onto others, and how often you violently danced your face off.

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Being an Emotional Auditor is a highly respected vocation. And being audited is one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have. The majority of citizens hear things like, “You loved, and gave, and supported how much? You’re amazing, and you’re getting a very nice chunk back this year as a result. Now, here’s some government synthesized LSD to share with loved ones while hurling yourselves about like rabid simians.”

Granted, a small number of people will hear alternate speeches, such as, ”Sorry to inform you, but as of April 15th, 2115, you have not loved enough. Here’s how much more you owe. Please remit it at your earliest convenience, or further penalties will be levied.”

MoshThen everyone slam dances. And meditates. And hugs unselfconsciously. And the purple sun rise majestically into a burnt sienna sky…

It’s a novel era, where all inhabitants understand without resistance how utterly interconnected our planet is, and how the future survival of the race depends on not further decimating every last natural resource remaining, and lending a hand to the neediest, instead of giving them a stiff kick in the pelvis, which is appropriately saved for the thrash metal festivals, and what a joy it is to give then.

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Your Molecules Or Your Life

biohazardSecurity through biology: like everything else that’s ostensibly science-fiction, it was real before it was make-believe.

yappyFor the last five years, enforcement agencies across this slowly decaying, still great nation, have been amassing biometric data on anyone arrested or detained– or in some cases, neither– and processing it through databases like MORIS, the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System.  Yes, there’s an app for that, and it’ll scan your iris or fingerprint right there on the sidewalk. It’s only slightly ironic that such an ominous system has been anthropomorphized through such a banal human moniker.  Not since Arthur C. Clarke’s HAL have the perils of technology appeared so innocuous.

FBI-facial-recognition-600x320Add facial recognition and voice scans to the mix and you have the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System which will make the NSA’s current dissection of personal privacy seem like overhearing an ambient conversation from a neighboring phonebooth (remember those?)

51vdddllLzIHaLOrwell, Huxley, Asimov, Lemme, Herbert, Clarke and Phillip K. Dick may have imagined the large scale effects technology gone wrong– like being reprogrammed by the State into a docile “Delta” whose primary directive is to be an “eager consumer,” or dispatching Pre-Crime Units to arrest you for misdeeds you have yet to commit– but none of them quite imagined the depth of the minutia we’re now confronting (combatting), en masse.  The most uncanny depiction of our collective futures might be the future noir film Gattacawhere we’re biogenetically surveilled– categorized by our DNA– and then segregated into superior and lesser classes.

yuppyLondon, New York, Chicago, and countless other cities already enjoy the dubious distinction of being intensely surveilled, moreso than most citizens walking the streets imagine, even though it’s perfectly public information.  New York can thank Rudy Giuliani, 9/11 and Bill Gates’ obsequious team at Microsoft for the Domain Awareness System, a reticulum of three thousand plus networked micro-cameras perpetually capturing visual data, regardless of criminal activity, and accessible by the Authorities, whomever they are, at will.  The newest hi-res cameras can scoop up iris scans from fifteen feet away.  No permission required.

images.duckduckgoAnd once your eyeballs, vocal cord structure or DNA helix goes digital, good luck protecting it. Exact replications are achievable with a keystroke, literally, and if Big Government isn’t already mining these bio-identifiers (they are), surely Big Business is (bank on it).  And with the next wave of federal storage farms now being constructed, the ones measuring over two million square feet, every byte of your biometric lowdown is being stored in perpetuity for future genetic-probing. Add the unfortunate reality that alterations in our legal system lag behind technology by at least a generation, and you see a perfect digital storm forming right before your camera eye.

snoopscaI’ve already begun collecting eyeballs, (storable in that liquid-ice-tube thingy seen in Chu’s lab from the movie Blade Runner) vocal simulations (easily created in ProTools) and multiple sets of faux DNA samples (a cotton swab from a passed-out drunk friend or a “roofied” one-night stand’s inner cheek and a sterile storage fridge is all you need).  I want to able to be able to swap out my identity, or choose complete anonymity, as easily as I’m forced to give it up. With today’s booming counter-tech industry, it’ll be as easy as changing a password.  All I’ll have to do then is remember who I am.

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History of the Friars Club

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PonziIt began for the reason most collectives begin: people were getting swindled.  In this case, it was a group of wily Press Agents in turn of the century Manhattan; 1904, to be precise.  The agents dished out free tickets to reviewers for their clients’ Broadway shows in exchange for plugs in the papers.  It was standard industry reciprocity, until the agents learned they were getting bamboozled by “reporters” unaffiliated with any publication.  Times Square wasn’t the birthplace of the American scammer, but people like Ponzi had recently come to town and inspired all kinds of fellow con-men.

So eleven agents began meeting weekly at Browne’s Chophouse in midtown to sort out who was legit and who was full of shit.  Swapping war stories bonded them around a common cause and the group became more and more tightly knit.  A blacklist was quickly disseminated and the imposters were vanquished soon there after. Yet in solving their problem, the group had also eradicated the reason for their gatherings.

It didn’t take Dominican_Friarlong to find another reason to meet regularly. The group had become the kind of friends that looked out for one another, and they liked celebrating that bond over good food and drink… The resulting organization was the Press Agents Association, and it wasn’t long before their clients were joining their jovial get-togethers, adding the kind of color and depth only playwrights, directors, actors, comedians, magicians, singers and dancers can.

The group needed a name that encompassed their diversified band of artistic brothers.  The term friar stems from the Latin “frater”, meaning brother, and thanks to dramatists like Shakespeare (and Trappist monks who had been perfecting beer recipes since 1098), these brothers adopted the long maintained tradition for intelligent, if not always benevolent mischievousness.

IMG_8320There were older, more prestigious social institutions in the city, but none were quite as engaging as the newly formed Friars. Mingling with Manhattan’s entertainment illuminati was a plus, but the club’s real value was found in the camaraderie of common interests. Prae Omnia Fraternitas, Brotherhood Forever, became their motto.

160446The troupe began honoring its own with Bacchanalian dinners featuring talent drawn from their deep pool of entertainers. A New York Tribune headline from 1910 read, “FRIARS KID MR. HARRIS: Veteran Theatrical Manager Butt of Jokes at Dinner.”  The dinners bloomed into an exclusive event, and first formal “Roast” went down in 1949 with none other than Maurice Chevalier as the guest of honor. It was obscene, unedited, outrageous and side-splitting. The Friars soon coined another motto: “We only roast the ones we love.”

bogiebacallLike all fraternities, the club was exclusively male, but it didn’t stop members from wining and dining their better within its hallowed halls. During the club’s early history, several women were invited to, and even honored at, the club’s Testimonial Dinners.  The Roasts, however, remained stag, a fact that didn’t thrill Lauren Bacall when they Roasted her husband, Humphrey Bogart, in 1955. Bacall sent in an audiotape which was unapologetically played during the meal. “This is Lauren Bacall, the uninvited guest, you rat bastards…”

lucyWhen the Friars roasted Lucille Ball in 1962, Roastmaster Johnny Carson began the evening with by admonishing the crowd. “We have a lady present and we need to treat her like one.” He then introduced her as “Lucille Testicle.”

hqdefaultIn 1983, Phyllis Diller couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer. She dressed as a man and snuck into the cloistered Sid Caesar Roast, noting that, “It was the funniest and dirtiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

liza_minnelli_2012_05_15In 1988, Liza Minnelli, smashed through the club’s Tiffany ceiling, by becoming the first official card-carrying female Friar.

The club itself called several locations in midtown town, before settling in their current edifice on 55th street, built in 1909 by Martin Erdmann, an investment banker. He engaged the architectural firm of Taylor & Levi to build his urban estate. When completed a year later, the five-story English Renaissance tudor was considered a daring and clever work by critics.  (And is currently being proposed for Landmark Status.)15streets-1-articleLarge

joe-e-lewis-306668The vaulted ceiling of its marble entrance hall immediately establishes a regal tone.  As does the detail of carving in the cherrywood walls and the stalwart railings along the multiple spiraling staircases.  The Erdmann Residence formally opened as the Friars Club Monastery in November 1957.  A building fit for a king, now in the hands of its lunatic court jesters. In a grand gesture, Abbot Joe E. Lewis flung the keys to the front door into the street to symbolize that the doors would always be open.

The building’s deed forbade the establishing of such “nuisances” as livery stables, breweries, tanneries, blacksmith shops, glue factories, vitriol manufactories or others of equally noisome character. The irony is that since acquiring the building, almost all of the above has gone down, in one form or another, within the clubs sometimes joyfully desecrated halls.

si1It’s cadre of members, which has expanded far beyond the boundaries of entertainment professionals, continues to grow.  Some famous ones, past and present, are listed below:

 

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COMEDIANS: Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, George Burns, Lucille Ball, Sid Caesar, Phyllis Diller, Redd Foxx, Red Buttons, Buddy Hacket, Don Rickles, Carol Burnet, Carl Reiner, Rich Little, Bob Newhart, Freddy Roman, Joan Rivers, Richard Prior, Lily Tomlin, Cheech Marin, Billy Crystal, Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, Lewis Black, Janine Garafalo, Jerry Seinfeld, Lisa Lampanelli, Sara Silverman, Jack Black.

Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra 1983,  NYCACTORS: Douglas Fairbanks, Will Rogers, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine, Candice Bergen, Elliot Gould, Elaine Stritch, Abe Vigoda, Richard Dryfuss, Robert Deniro, Morgan Freeman, John Travolta, Danny Devito, Roger Moore, Bill Murray, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Cruise, Sam Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Angelica Houston, Bebe Neuwirth, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson.

Tony BennettMUSICIANS: Oscar Hammerstein, Irving Berlin (composer), Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Barbra Streisand, Perry Como, Liza Minnelli, Tom Jones, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Nat King Cole, Frankie Valli, Natalie Cole, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Debbie Reynolds, Aretha Franklin, Dave Boyd (Dave Matthews Band), Clive Davis (music producer).

"America's Got Talent" Press ConferenceTALK SHOW HOSTS: Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Dick Cavett, Joe Franklin, Howard Stern, Sally Jessy Raphael, Regis Philbin, Matt Lauer, Kathy Lee Gifford, Al Roker, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon.

CHEFS: Drew Nieporent, Padma Lakshmi.

NEWS: Walter Cronkite, Davd Brinkley, Barbara Walters, Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace, Bob Woodruff, Diane Sawyer, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Larry King, Brian Williams, Ernie Anastos.n simon

WRITERS: Neil Simon, Elie Wiesel, Jules Feiffer, Tom Fontana, Evan Hunter, Marc Eliot, Nelson DeMille, Sam Denoff, Alan Zweibel (SNL).

DIRECTORS: Joel and Ethan Coen, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Reiner, Eli Roth, Brett Ratner.

GTY 462485852 E ACE ENT USA AZSPORTS FIGURES: Rocky Marciano, Rusty Staub,Joe Dimaggio, David Cone, Howard Cosell, Goose Gossage, George Foreman, Tiki Barber, Boomer Esiason, George Steinbrenner, Adam Graves, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Keith Hernandez, Magic Johnson, Don King, Bob Arrum (promoters)

The Friars Club Roast of Don KingENTREPRENEURS: Carl Icahn, Steve Tisch, Michael Waldorf, Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump, Carlos Slim, John Catsimatidis.

POLITICIANS: Henry Kissinger, David Dinkins, Michael Bloomberg, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan.

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The Friars Foundation Lincoln Awards

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Photo by David Kogut

 

Few social organizations can boast a membership as ass-kickingly entertaining as the legendary IMG_8320Friars Club.  I’ve been involved with the Friars since 2007, that’s a 103 years after it first opened its doors in New York City, and though drawn to the impeccable pedigree of members involved in the entertainment industry, it didn’t take long to discover that the organization offered more than networking opportunities with A-list actors, agents and producers, or the soda-through-the-nose laughter incited during its notorious Celebrity Roasts, which it founded decades before Comedy Central was even an idea.

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Photo by David Kogut

The club has been around for a very, very long time, (see Full History) and some of its members are indeed getting up there in age.  At a recent honorary dinner, comedian Jeffery Ross looked across the dais at Friars Jerry Lewis, Richard Belzer, Freddy Roman, and Stewie Stone and commented without apology he had “seen younger faces on cash.”

But under the spirited leadership of Executive Director Michael Gyure, the club is fast enlisting new ranks of diversified talent, and their goals for the club have expanded beyond making people piss their pants laughing, and into the realm of legitimate philanthropic endeavors.

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Photo by David Kogut

On a recent trip to Washington DC, The Friars Foundation– the perennially active charitable arm of club established in 1977– elevated its already impressive game in creating The Lincoln Awards, which honors the extraordinary individuals and companies committed to serving and supporting U.S. veterans and military families. The award was named after our 16th President, who issued a call for the care of the nation’s veterans and their families during his second inaugural address 150 years ago. You might recognize the verbiage: “With malice toward none, with charity for all… let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

imagesThe tone of award show was established early when Lieutenant Colonel Justin Constantine of the US Marine Corps captivated the audience with his epic saga of volunteering to return to Iraq in 2006, after being honorably discharged in 2004, and taking a bullet in the head by an enemy sniper. The shot obliterated his jaws and face, leaving him for dead in enemy territory, 7000 miles from home. But in a turn worthy of Hollywood’s best war dramas, a young Navy Corpsman performed his first tracheotomy in a speeding armored personnel carrier, delivering Constantine to the operating table. Although the initial prognosis was “killed in action,” Constantine miraculously survived. The bullet had somehow missed his brain.

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A torturously long road to recovery began at Walter Reed, involving every possible facet of facial reconstruction imaginable, and teams of surgeons and therapists, physical, psychological speech, to bring Justin back from “poly-trauma” to full functionality. (Pictures available via google for those with an iron stomach.)

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Photo by David Kogut

After making his against-all-odds recovery, Constantine began dedicating his life to raising funds for other veterans in distress.  It’s a story of resilience unlike any I have ever witnessed, with the bone-chilling moral that we are all stronger than we think we are. His will to survive, and the help that he received at every challenging phase of his treatment, is a bellowing testament to the power of the human spirit.  The Lincoln Awards had barely begun, and I was already choking back tears.

2013-02_01-05The were some other honorees you may have heard of, like Bruce Springsteen, who’s been jamming gratis for veterans for decades and has a powerfully generous charity to boot. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, who has made major advances in bionic prosthetics for veteran amputees. Ken Fisher, who founded the Fisher House Foundation, which houses the families of hospitalized military personnel and veterans while they recover, and Wal-Mart, yes, that Wal-Mart, who has publicly committed to hiring 100,000 veterans by 2018. There were ten award categories in all and each recipient was as inspiring as the next.

IMG_0786The Friars Foundation produced the show at the Kennedy Center on January 7th, 2015 in front of 2000 plus veterans and friends, (it will be broadcast in May on PBS) with a stellar line-up of comedians and musicians.  NBC anchor Brian Williams hosted the night and talent included Gavin DeGraw, Nick Jonas, The Lone Bellow, and Aloe Blacc, comedians Rob Riggle and Whitney Cummings, appearances by veterans Harvey Keitel and Jerry Lewis, with honoree goose-bump inducing videos narrated by Alec Baldwin.

Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise

Photo by David Kogut

Friars proudly serving on the Lincoln Awards Advisory Board include Harry Belafonte, Jack Black, Tom Cruise, Allen Grubman, Larry King, Leslie Moonves, Don Rickles, Barbara Walters, Betty White, Elie Wiesel, Brian Williams and Bob Woodruff.  It’s a lot of name dropping, but the cause makes it all the more pleasurable.  This was not your typical industry wank awards show. It was a group of respected entrepreneurs, newsmen and entertainers deciding to shining as bright a light as possible on a much needed, highly deserving group of caregivers.

urlFrank Sinatra, Abbot of the Friars Club from 1975 to 1996, (the Abbot is the head Friar), said of the club, “Their continuous good work for charity, rather than their many great triumphs on the stages of the world, is the true glory of this band of earthly angels known as the Friars.”  It’s a good feeling to know there are organizations out there who do more than just provide their members with a place to party. Events like The Lincoln Awards are going to leave much deeper memories.

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Friars Icons

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photo by David Kogut

Betty White, flanked by two well-lubed bodybuilders, taking stage on a snow white pony?

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photo by David Kogut

Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman slurping champagne from a pair of her six inch Louboutins?

Louis C.K. and John Mayer in a bidding war over an antique piano played by Ray Charles.

Sean Penn confronting Robert Deniro in front of thousands by asking, “Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me? Yes, Bob, I am talking to you.”

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Richard Belzer ripping his tuxedo shirt open to reveal a tattoo of Jerry Lewis’ head.

Are these images ripped from a Hollywood-obsessed mushroom jag? Or are they recent highlights from actual Friars Club events? (Full disclosure: these options aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.)

The Friars Club. How has it thrived for over a century? And who the hell would want to join a club that would have someone like you for a member?

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The club was founded at the turn of the century by entertainment professionals to establish a network that would help its members in ways they couldn’t help themselves. (see Full History) And it’s endured for so long (as countless others have closed their doors) for the same reason it was worthy of joining way back when: for over one hundred years, the club has been more a members-only venue to dine and drink and roast celebrities in.  The Friars have always taken pride in giving back.

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The Friars Foundation is the club’s far reaching charitable arm, and the conduit through which the Friars accomplish one of their primary goals: the betterment of society through the performing arts.  Seventy five percent of the foundation’s grants are dedicated to Student Performing Arts Scholarships, of which 360 have been granted to date.

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photo by David Kogut

The remaining twenty five percent are allocated for organizations that help the less fortunate, including The Gift of Laughter Wounded Warriors Program, which provides soul nourishing entertainment to veterans in military hospitals throughout the U.S. and overseas, a program General Petraeus recently bestowed a Medal of Excellence upon. Nothing heals quite like laughter and to paraphrase Friar Jeffrey Ross, that might be the only medicine you’re getting get under ObamaCare…

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photo by David Kogut

The Foundation also endeavors to honor entertainers and entrepreneurs who dedicate themselves to philanthropy. Jerry Lewis, the current Abbot of the Friars, has raised over $2.6 billion for muscular dystrophy.  At nearly ninety years old, he continues to work tirelessly for the Friars’ charities.

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photo by David Kogut

The Icon Award, the club’s highest honor, has been bestowed only six times in the club’s history. The black-tie affair, which exalts more than lambastes, pays tribute to individuals whose accomplishments transcend their given industry by positively influencing the culture we live in: Douglas Fairbanks, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Tom Cruise, Robert Deniro, and most recently, Mexican telecommunications giant, Carlos Slim. The collective endowments of Slim’s charities, estimated at over $8 billion, have supported more than 165,000 students in attending schools, paid for numerous surgeries, provided equipment for rural educational institutions, and covered surety bonds for 50,000 people who were entitled to their freedom but unable to afford it.

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photo by David Kogut

The most recent Icon Awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria honored Robert Deniro and Carlos Slim together. A-list talent turned out in spades: Sting, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Frankie Valley, and Stevie Wonder. Larry King and Warren Buffett.  Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel.  Martin Scorsese, Penny Marshall, and David O’Russel.  Magician Chris Angel and Governor Andrew Cuomo all contributed to evenings honors.

Friars-Club-RoastThere are other members-only venues in town where you can pay yearly dues and potentially rub elbows with the fabulous and famous. But none of them have an iota of the impact the Friars have on their surrounding community, decade after decade after decade. At the Friars Club, Celebrity Roasts,  Testimonials, Honorary Dinners,  and Icon Awards are merely the icing on the gravy.

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Missive From Morocco #5 – critical crew

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Making television is a high pressure gig.  If you’re in a crucial position, one mistake will have you packing your bags– fired and replaced– before the footage gets downloaded from the camera.

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The Director stands in the eye of the storm, helming the multitudinous cast and crew through non-stop Scylla and Charybdis.  All of the pressure that comes with spending hundreds of thousands of dollars daily rests on his shoulders.  A sharp director surrounds himself with men and women he can rely in the crunch, or sacrifice to the executive gods when push comes to shove.  His most crucial ally is the cinematographer, (aka director of photography.)

Chris DPThe cinematographer and the director collaborate on composing every single image you see in the final product.  A great D.P. is a master visual artist, painting with shadows and light.  He can tell you the time of day with frightening accuracy just by glancing up at the sun as he juggles a dizzying array of elements to breathe life into the words on the page: lenses, filters, aspect ratios, depth of field, framing, focus pulling, and camera movement are all carefully considered. The D.P.  relies on another team of experts to manifest his vision when action! is yelled.

adThe 1st Assistant Director (A.D.) manages a mind blowing array of logistics– from arranging a three month production schedule, to pulling that schedule off once the shoot begins, hour by hour, minute by minute.  Fall behind schedule and things start falling apart.  He’s constantly catering to the cast and crew, all of whom have specific needs and demands, some of which can test the most composed professional’s patience.  He must also maintain order on set, an especially onerous task when half of your people are speaking a rapid-fire mishmash of Arabic-French-Berbere, fueled by an explosive cocktail of caffeine, carbs and cigarettes, and the cultural inclination to argue at full volume as a sign of affection.  The AD is the guy on set with the walkie-talkie attached to his face, keeping it all together and on track, RIGHT NOW.   sound-cables-lawatt

The Gaffer, as you know from watching the movie credits roll, deals with all of the set’s high-voltage electricity needs.  It’s a dangerous gig, especially when your studio has a comically leaky roof in a hard seasonal downpour.  That’s when he reminds to Best Boy, his 1st assistant, to dry his hands before plugging anything in. Daylight Savings Time just robbed us of an hour of light a day, so artificial illumination has become more important than ever.

arri_533201_t24_fresnel_light_stand_1022546High powered fixtures can turn night into day with relative ease, and the massive cables that snake from those lights to the truck-sized generators are only ever handled by the Gaffer’s team of Electricians.  grip box

Grips, as you assumed, grip things. Specifically, things that are not electrically charged: c-stands for holding those massive lights, sandbags for keeping those c-stands from tipping over, rubber walkways to cover the cables so the actors don’t trip and knock their teeth out, flags for blocking light, reflectors for bouncing light, gobos for casting shadow patterns– there are more tools than you can possibly imagine shape the scene being painted for the camera.

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They are all essential positions, but one of the true unsung heroes behind-the-scenes is the Script Supervisor.  The importance of a good one can’t be overstated.

The position is comprised of innumerable responsibilities, but maintaining continuity is the most imperative.  Actors must deliver their lines and reenact their behavior consistently, from take to take– wide, medium, close up– so it all cuts together in the editing room.  In essence, the script supervisor is a real-time, on-set editor.

 Pending errors lurk like booby traps in every scene.  Actors mix up word order, their hair falls on different sides of their faces, props get moved from take to take to take.  The Script Supervisor interacts with every department– writing, sound, camera, props, lighting, hair and make-up, costume– catching the never ending bevy of minute inconsistencies.

script supers bookThere are also issues with how scenes are shot.  If the director ends one scene on a close up, he probably doesn’t want to start the next scene in the story (which may be shot weeks later) with another close up.  A Script Supervisor has logged all this information– what lense was used, the angle it started and ended on, and what the director felt was the best take at the time– and will now suggest establishing the next scene with a wide angle before moving in tighter.

These are issues you might never catch on a first viewing, but you’d have an unconscious sense that something was off, and it would take you out of the scene.  Watch a film five or six times, and you start to notices the mistakes.

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IMDB.com dedicates sections of their website to pointing out continuity errors. There’s a list of the top 250 most famous mistakes.  Where a small continuity error might be cause for embarrassment, a big one can force the production to throw away an entire scene, forcing you to deal with the dreaded “R” word: Reshoot– a logistical, and pricey nightmare.

And while physical continuity is important, it’s not nearly is vital as emotional continuity.  Film and tv shows are never shot in story order.  Two scenes that are back to back when you’re watching in your living room were likely shot days, weeks, even months apart.

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Location is king when you’re organizing a shoot.  For efficiency, you need to schedule and shoot everything in that location before leaving for a new one, regardless of when it happens in the story. Moving all those trucks and lights and actors and catering tables is expensive and time consuming, so it’s not uncommon for an actor to do a scene, change costume, and do another scene from a different part of the timeline in the story in the same day, in an effort to “shoot out” that specific location and move on.

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Keeping it all consistent falls to the Script Supervisor– taking meticulous notes in a giant binder for every shot, reminding the director that in the last scene, King Tut was wounded and limping with his left leg, or that the Queen is having a torrid affair and is slightly paranoid her servant won’t keep the secret.  The director needs to be reminded of these emotional arcs because those preceding scenes in the story were shot five weeks ago, and he’s had three thousand other things to deal with since.

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For the record, if you ever find yourself in a relationship with a Script Supervisor, don’t even think about trying to bullshit them.  You’ll say, “I told you I was going to be late ‘cause I had a meeting!” And she’ll say, “No, what you said was, You might have a meeting and would let me know when you found out.  You coughed twice, nervously, opened the door with your right hand, and  left the house with the top two buttons of your shirt open and your belt buckle notched to the third hole.  Now your shirt has three buttons open, and your belt is notched to the fifth.  Who are you having an affair with, you bastard?!”

clap boardIn the movie version of this scenario, she grabs an iron skillet and hurls it at the philandering boyfriend, hitting him square in the left foot.  He drops to floor, reaching for the injured limb in agony. She’s still keeping track of it all, as she has trained herself to do through years of scrupulous observation, and reminds the son of a bitch to limp with the proper foot in the following scene.

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Missive From Morocco #4 – movie magic

IMG_5488Movie magic… it’s what keeps us seated in front of luminous screens, large and small, for countless hours on end.  When you’re behind the scenes of a large scale production like SpikeTV’s Tut, you can’t help but marvel at the Herculean group effort expended to transform whimsy and enchantment into visual reality.

IMG_5229When you’re in the thick of it, though, it can feel like the magic you’re trying to conjure might just as easily end in disaster.  There’s never enough time, and resources are always limited, but the train has left the station, and it’s picking up steam. The hundreds of artists and craftspeople and specialists on board have no other option but to steer this behemoth onward.

Recreating ancient Egypt in three months, as opposed to three thousand years, is a daunting challenge.  The Egyptians were prolific builders, and the scale of their creativity remains unrivaled. But watching our craftsmen and women at work, making larger than life monuments from pencils drawings, for example, is an impressive, albeit smaller scale feat.  It all begins with a sketch,

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which is then manifested into a mini-model– with interchangeable heads.

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Horace head

After which, individual sections are cast into molds in an overpopulated, air-conditionless, hard labor workshop.

The pieces are then re-assembled into larger figures,

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carefully painted in multiple colors

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or simply in black.  A proper base is added, and the great mythological creatures finally find their place on set.

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It’s a similar process for the temple walls, which go from plain white plaster–

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to saturated, if not sacred, temple columns.

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These three deities, fresh from the workshop, wait hopefully behind a (non-velvet) rope for entry into the pharaoh’s  palace.

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Our FX department originates all kinds of narley creations.  Here a Mitanni soldier is literally bifurcated by an Egyptian Khopesh sword.  The dummy corpse weighs over 2o kilos and feels as real as it looks.  Someone pass the ketchup.

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The Props department stages every scene with multiple layers.  Everything is made from scratch in the studios in Ouzazarte.  It may look old and weathered but it was brand new a few days ago, and then painstakingly aged by hand.  From the village vendor stalls

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to kiln blown clay cups

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to real papyrus military maps

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and the ancient instruments appearing in our beer hall scenes. The Egyptian culture boasts many innovations and inventions, but beer may be the greatest of all.

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Hair, Make-up, and Wardrobe departments adorn every extra with the care of a featured actor.  Their deep design philosophy insists on an attention to detail no matter how far one is from the camera.

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The ladies above sport various wig styles, sketched here–

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and brought to life soon after.

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Their inventory alone  takes up one wall of the studio.

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A caravan of equipment trucks transports it all, along with lights, c-stands, reflectors and cables, over the mountains and through woods– I mean, desert.

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It all gets set up on location in an effort to make the magic happen.  The most gripping sequences in any film or Tv show puts the viewer right into the middle of the action.  A moving camera will insight all kinds of emotions, like the tension derived from an intentionally shaky handheld shot.

Camera rig

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Or the moment-of-awareness felt from a fast push-in on dolly tracks.

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For adrenaline filled intensity, we call in the Scorpion, a state-of-the-art, ten cylinder, budget-stretching camera car responsible for the more heart-racing sequences in Tut.  It crisscrosses in front of our horse-pulled chariots, sails above our angry crowd scenes, and fearlessly extends into the hairiest of battle choreography.

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Scorpion car

His big brother pick-up truck is no slouch either.

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The spectacular stunts these camera cars capture are laboriously rehearsed long beforehand, often to the point of exhaustion.  Safety and accuracy are priorities, but so is realism.  If it looks too rehearsed, or too safe, it ends up on the cutting room floor.  The build up to the actual stunt, sans sound and visual effects, can be somewhat anti-climactic.

Or flat out chaos.

The dramatic rule of thumb is to save the best for last, which in this case, is an explosion. Explosions are a special pleasure for the inner pyro in all of us.  They’re expensive and difficult  to pull-off effectively as there are a limited number of chances to capture the effect with everything timed properly.  Pressure builds exponentially during the preparation, preparation, preparation… and then–

It’s the perfect metaphor for all of the efforts these behind-the-scenes magicians put in each day.  We’re in the proverbial Moroccan soup over here, unsure of what the final result will be, but the fuse has been lit and we’re expecting the bang to be a big one.

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Missive From Morocco #3 – tug of war

HorusEye2One of the most evocative symbols in hieroglyphics is the Eye of Horace, god of the pharaohs, often depicted as a human with a falcon head, which is a nice head to have if you’re an ancient deity.  Far more preferable than dog-headed Anubis, or crocodile-faced Sobek.horus540

Horace was the fortunate son of Osiris and Isis until his bastard uncle, Set, god of the desert, storms and chaos, murdered his brother, Osiris, leaving divine sovereignty up for grabs. Horus had no choice but to engage his uncle in an all out brawl for power.  Let the game of thrones begin.

Cruz-UribeLecture011Set, whose head is an unfortunate cross between a jackass and an aardvark, loses a testicle in the fight, which is why the desert is infertile.  Horus loses his left eye, but he ends up winning the day and the throne, making him King of all the living.  His eye is magically regenerated, and the image takes its place in the Egyptian pantheon as a symbol of protection, sacrifice, healing and regeneration.

All timely virtues, especially in lieu of recent terrorist events in Algeria.

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Algeria is Morocco’s more turbulent, less tractable neighbor, and the country is still reeling after the beheading of French tourist Herve Gourdel. “Heinous, cowardly, criminal, despicable,” are the words being bandied about after the latest ISIS offensive.  Our production’s stalwart security detail has assured us that our scenario 600 miles away in Ourzazate is far safer.  But beneath the calm reassurances, one senses an escalation from DEFCON 5 to 4.

decap headsThe unfortunate, and thoroughly un-ironic coincidence, is that our props department has used the very same words– cowardly, criminal, despicable– to describe Moroccan customs, who have refused to release the silicon decapitated heads we spent thousands of pounds creating in London for the show.  We’ve already shot a scene without them that we’ll have to CGI in post. This is how productions go over budget.

It seems utterly irrelevant considering the reality of events in Algeria, and perfectly understandable given the graveness of the act, and yet, the show must go on.  One of the better ways to battle such extremist irrationality is through art.

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Our fake heads aren’t the only things being withheld by customs either.  Nor are we the only production here being extorted to get our property back.  It’s a common maneuver in these parts– almost as common as the long tradition of beheading– and a reliable revenue stream for the officials in charge. This is a land where competition for resources has always been cutthroat.  Get whatever you can, whenever you can. Intimidate the enemy. Show ‘em you mean business. Take their heads off if you have to.

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For thousands of years, Northern Africa was a region of warring tribes.  The Berbers and Bedouin dominated, often battling each other for access to natural resources.  When one tribe damned a river upstream, the other attacked to smash it down.  The tribes were fiercely independent and proudly self-reliant… until the infidels arrived. That’s when everything started changing.  That’s when the real threat to lifestyle and culture happened.

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The soil in Morocco has always been mineral rich, and it wasn’t long before French, Spanish, Italian and German colonials were competing to cultivate it, always with an eye towards enhancing markets back home.  These visitors were not here to share.  They wanted to take it all for themselves, as foreigners will. Forgetting, all too easily, that the context from which these things are ripped is precicely what gives them their value.

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The French achieved a commanding foothold prior to the first World War, exploiting the land for fruit, vegetables and vineyards.  Thousands emigrated, pressuring Paris to tighten its grip in order to protect their newly planted interests.  As the capital complied, the Berbers fled into the mountains, refusing the occupation.  But other tribes embraced the French new wave, happy to fill the power vacuum.  In return for their cooperation, the French modernized the agricultural and transportation sectors– upgrades Morocco still benefits from today.

1101570422_400The tipping point came when the French unwisely exiled Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar in 1953 and replaced him with their puppet, Mohammed Ben Aarafa.  The maneuver had the opposite of the intended effect, uniting the warring tribes who suddenly saw their religion threatened.  Protests occurred.  Violence rose.  Expats panicked their investments were exposed.  The Sultan’s return was demanded and the French had no choice but to reinstate Mohammed V.  But the tides had already turned, and shortly thereafter in 1956, Morocco won its independence.  They’ve been autonomous ever since, and have miraculously ingratiated the French influence with little resentment.

workersNo film production could succeed in Ourzazate without the predominantly French speaking workforce that calls this city of 200k home.  For Spike TV’s maiden series Tut, some five hundred craftsmen and women arrive daily at the gates of Atlas Studios to hammer nails, plaster statues, weave palms, sew fabric, paint sets and smith metal, all without the use of power tools.  There isn’t a nail gun in the entire city.  The work day is roughly twelve hours long.  Compensation is 150 Dirham, about $18.

IMG_5464Compensation notwithstanding, the plaster and paint departments work some serious movie magic creating these ancient Egyptian sets.  You’d never in three thousand years know that the majority of these locations are merely a mix of lime, sand and water, because when our hi-def Alexa cameras pan across them, they look more real thing than the real thing.  This is post-post-modern antiquity at its very best. Baudrillard would be proud.

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And that’s not to take away from our killer locations.  We shoot this week in the iconic, pre-Saharan habitat of Ait-Ben-Haddou.  The earthen abodes crowded together along the southern slope of the Atlas mountains were a trading post on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakech by the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass.  Say that six times quickly.

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This particular village, known as a Ksar, was built in the 17th Century, but the architectural technique is hundreds of years older.  It differs from the fortress-like Kasbah, which is always comprised of four towers and an open center.  A Ksar is more a collection of family dwellings, with a mosque, a public square, and grain threshing areas, for the threshing of grains, of course.

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But the inhabitants of Ait-Ben-Haddou weren’t without their concerns for protection.  The entire settlement exists behind large defensive walls, which are reinforced by angle towers and zigzagging gates. Their daily prayers for safety and healing were to Allah by this time, but you can be sure Horace wasn’t far off, hovering above, shedding grace from his aerie, his protective eye preserving the sacred Maghreb, just as he does now… for us.  In return, we’ll further immortalize his extraordinary story, and for a global television viewership, no less.

We’re going to need your help when this thing airs next July.  If ratings aren’t high, we could easily incur the deity’s wrath…

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Missive From Morocco #2 – allies & enemies

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5:30 am and I’m ferreting in the dark for a snooze button. My alarm is weaker than usual.  Maybe I forgot to kick the volume up before I hit the sack.  What’s more perplexing is when I changed my wake-up song?  The I realize that the tune isn’t coming from my phone… It’s coming from the towering minaret a mile away in the center of town.

This is the days first Call to Prayer, otherwise known as Adhan, and it blankets the city like the morning fog I’m still in.  Five times a day, every day, a muezzin sings from the holy Koran, reminding the faithful that there is no other god but Allah.  The melodic drone echoes through the streets just before dawn, again around noon, in the late afternoon, right after sunset, and lastly at nightfall. Allahoakbar If it seems foreign at first, it doesn’t take long to find comfort in the ritual.  There’s an austerity to the spiritual history here, a modesty that no individual is too busy or too important to kneel, wherever he may find himself, and touch his head to the floor.

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The Tut production could use a prayer today.  It’s the first of two massive battle sequences, and coordinating a 1000 some-odd bodies with precision will be mandatory for pulling it off.  800 extras dressed in Egyptian and Mitanni garb are preparing to clash on the plains of our location at Fint Oasis in Morocco’s panoramic Atlas mountains.

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The logistics of managing this many extras, in addition to 80 stuntmen and our central cast and crew of 50, are dizzying.  There are 100 fixers on set just to look after these people, making sure they’re transported, hydrated, fed, have access to bathrooms, and eventually get their pay envelopes.  Roughly $20 for a thirteen plus hour day in ninety degree heat.  A quick survey reveals around around 200 Mohammeds, 100 Youssefs, 73 Amins and at least 50 Husseins.  By the time they’re all wrangled, the 2nd Unit will only have a few hours to rehearse and shoot.  It’s barely organize chaos.

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Costume, hair and make-up have been on set since 3 am, preparing the masses for the day’s bloody cut-and-thrust. Long haired wigs for the Mitanni, headdresses and eye make-up for the Egyptians, full leather armor for both.  Throngs of soldiers on both sides wander about already wounded, waiting for the fun to begin.  One Mitanni footman enjoys a breakfast of eggs and beans with an arrow protruding from his chest.

Yuya in costumeMy own costume, hair and make up only takes about 30 minutes.  I have two layers of robes, a heavy leather vest, thick leather shin and arm pads, and boots that our costume department built around a running shoe for comfort.  But for others applying wigs, fake beards, and detailed special effects wounds, make-up can easily exceed three hours.

In reality, all the armor we’re donning is a bit of creative license. Historians have discovered papyrus rolls revealing agreements between the Egyptians and their enemies not to go to war in the summer. 

NubianWhen they eventually did fight, almost no armor was worn– it’s just too hot and too cumbersome to be effective in the desert.  This slain Nubian warrior, an ally of Egyptian forces against the Mitanni, is dressed much more realistically for fighting in 100 degree heat.

It’s now 6 am, thirty kilometers outside Ouzazarte, and the sun is backlighting the jagged mountain range.  It’s a postcard location, and only when you’re right smack in the middle of it can you marvel at what a miracle an oasis actually is.  You’re almost entirely surrounded by rock and sand, when a strip of plush vegetation explodes to life, seemingly out of nowhere.

Ffint oasisor some reason, geography has allowed an aquifer to survive here for thousands of years, most likely because there’s a substrata of impermeable rock that keeps the water from sinking deeper into the ground.  It accumulates and percolates to the surface, where a world of vegetation, animals, and humans gratefully build a civilization around it… And eventually make movies films about that very human history.

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The sun has cleared the mountain.  We’re getting close to to the start of shooting.  But before “action” can be yelled, the production’s wily Snake Wrangler scours the terrain for the sundry reptiles, arachnids and other predatory arthropods that can cause serious harm and death.  Today he hits a triple, first discovering a three-foot black hooded Cobra behind one of the tents.  He grabs it with his bare hands, shows it off to gaggle of dumbfounded crew, and then proceeds to kiss the highly venomous serpent on its head.  We later learn it will be sold to a snake charming act in Marrakech for 600 Dirham, or about $70.

photo 1An hour later, the same wrangler proudly exhibits a new acquisition: a scorpion the size of langoustine.  Another gaggle of slack-jawed onlookers snap pictures, only to be upstaged when the wrangler literally shoves the creature into his mouth.  He spits it back out with a toothless smile and jams it into a large water bottle, telling us without the slightest tinge of irony that he’s been bitten so many times he’s basically immune.

camel spiderLater in the day, he snags his final treasure, a camel spider the size of an infant’s hand.  The biggest ones can grow up to eight inches in length, including the legs.  I try not to look at any of these creepy crawlers, knowing if I do they’ll soon be flittering through the coils of my unconscious, but curiosity gets the best of me, just as it does the camel who warns us of the spider’s presence.  Camels have a reputation for being ornery, but this particular even-toed ungulate is anything but happy about his six legged visitor, and he’s unafraid to announce it.

Alex and DVAAnd then it finally happens, our fearless director, David Von Ancken, finally shouts the days first ACTION and the epic battle commences.  Egyptians and Mitanni hack away at one another, firing arrows, throwing knives, swinging swords and shields.  Fake deaths are dramatically enacted, and real injuries are unfolding left and right.

The Atlas mountains are a mix of volcanic basalt, shale, and limestone.  It comes apart easily under your feet, so twisted ankles, battered knees and elbows, and lacerations abound.  Our Moroccan set doctor diligently attends to the wounded in his medical tent… while chain smoking, bless his heart.

Mitanni I killMe and the four Mitanni I bravely dispose of somehow make it through our combat choreography unscathed.  We’re covered in fake blood, a mix of corn syrup and food coloring– spurted generously by the F/X department from what looks like a fire extinguisher– and the fruit flies are starting to invite their friends and relatives to the party.  Fruit flies and Morocco, an inseparable team, the best of freinds, they should be on the countries flag.

It’s close to wrapping time.  It’s been a long day, especially in the 30 knot winds that kick up consistently between 2 and 6 pm.  They whip the sand into your skin at stinging speeds.  There’s no escaping it.  The bigger issue is in the sound department. It’s nearly impossible to record clean dialogue in these relentless gales.  Looks like we’re coming back here tomorrow morning to finish out the scene sans the wind.  Joy…

As the cast pulls back into the Berbere Palace hotel, covered in sweat, dust, crusty make-up, sugar blood and happily headed for a life altering dip in the pool, another call to prayer sings out across the scantily clouded sky.  Day 14 of 73 is over, thank Allah.  Tomorrow is another 5:30 call…

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Missive From Morocco #1 – the adventure begins

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 12.36.13 AMWeek one of working on Tut, Spike TV’s maiden drama series, directed by David Von Ancken and starring Sir Ben Kingsley.  I’m playing a general in King Tut’s army and I’ve been knee deep in rehearsals since touching down in Morocco at the end of August.

Dany-Dragon-Wallpaper-game-of-thrones-dragons-34476263-1920-1080The show is shooting in the picturesque town of Ourzazate.  It may sound like exotic North Africa, but you probably know it better than you think.  If you’ve ever seen Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Patton, Last Temptation of Christ, Alexander, Babel or Game of Thrones, among myriad other films, than you’ve gotten a taste of magical Ourzazate.

LegionaireThe French Foreign Legion marked the area as a strategic base along the route between the mountains and the desert, and built their first garrison here in 1928. It was a tranquil outpost: “Ourzazate” translates to “No Noise” in Berber, an ethnicity indigenous to the Northern Nile Valley.

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But by the 1960’s, a steady of influx of film production from Europe and the US were rockin’ the proverbial Kasbahs, and Sharif does like it, ‘cause it’s been a steadily expanding income stream ever since.  In addition to Tut, five other big-budget features are presently taking advantage of the breathtaking Atlas mountains, lake El Mansour, and the wide variety of sun burnt, sand swept medinas, including Ridley Scott’s Exodus, Aladin, A.D., Killing Jesus, and Mission Impossible 5.  I have yet to see Tom Cruise, but I’ll be sure to recommend swapping Scientology for Allah when I do…

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 9.09.37 AMA great deal of King Tut’s history was erased by the envious Pharaohs who succeeded him. Respect for political predecessors hasn’t changed much in 3000 years, and as a result, his true story has been literally buried in the sands of time.  But his nearly fully intact tomb, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and George Herbert, has revealed enough to piece together an inherently dramatic narrative.  A boy king thrust into power at 8 years old.  An arranged marriage to his sister, Ankhe.  An advisor, Aye, with Iago-like ulterior motives, and a greedy priest class consolidating power in an attempt to out maneuver the boy king.

ancient egyptian militaryThe Egyptians had multifarious enemies during their three dynasties: Nubians, Hittites, Assyrians, Hyskos, and during Tut’s reign at the height of the 18th dynasty (1332–1323 BC), the Mitanni.  The Mitanni bested the Egyptians in early battles, attacking with powerful chariots the likes of which Egypt had never seen before.  But the rulers of the Nile Delta were quick learners, and before long they had built chariots of their own that were smaller, lighter and faster.  They eventually defeated the Mitanni and dominated the next millennia until facing another boy/God conqueror, Alexander the Great.

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There’s no better way to learn this history than preparing for a role. We’re not just reading about it all, we’re actually reenacting it.  Week one of fight training included work with Kopesh swords, archery with recurve bows, and chariot riding– the most challenging element to date.  No shocks on these equine-powered bi-wheelers, so your knees and lower back feel every rocky blow.

ChariotSome of the horses– studs flown in from southern Spain for the shoot– aren’t keen on pulling the heavy carts, and they buck and kick.  Maybe if production had popped for business class they’d be in better moods?  Either way, trying to thread a bow while bouncing around in one of these shaky ancient machines is borderline comical.  Firing an arrow off at full gallop with any accuracy whatsoever is nearly impossible.  I’ve formed an entirely new respect for just how skilled these historical warriors were in defending their civilization.

Our fight training is orchestrated by an impressive array  former special forces badasses and stuntmen from France, England, Spain, and Romania.  Many have settled in Morocco because of the near continuous film production, mastering everything from complex horse stunts to thousand-man battle choreography.  Others were born and raised here and have become seasoned film talent purely by being in the right place at the right time.

They’re modern day warriors, showing little fatigue during the ten hour days in hundred plus degree heat. While the cast is downing liters of Emergen-C spiked water, most of the stunt crew are burning through Marlboro Reds, frequently one off the other.

Mitani soldiersThe steady flow of dedicated Moroccan stuntmen is equally inspiring.  They slaughter and are slaughtered day after day, week after week, in film after film after film.  No CGI filling in here. These are real dudes crashing into each other, flying off of chariots, falling from roof tops, taking swords to chest, arrows to the back, and spears to the throat.  They show up two hours before the cast does, just after the day’s first Call to Prayer, to begin rehearsals.

Column close upOverall, the project boasts a collective of artisans from eighteen different countries, all congregating to make this artistic Giza a reality.  Producers from Montreal, London, New York and Los Angeles. Thesbians from Australia, London, Vancouver, LA, NYC, Marrakesh, Fez, and Tangier.  A costume department almost exclusively from Rome.  Hair and Make-Up from the UK.  Camera team from Capetown.  And a security team headed by former New Zealand and England SAS military, some fresh from Donetsk, Ukraine.  There are five hundred plus carpenters, plasterers, painters, sewers, metallurgists, leatherworkers, camel wranglers and cooks laboring from sunrise to sunset.

Tagine rowLocal Moroccan fair almost never disappoints.  Lamb, chicken and fish tagines, lentils in every way imaginable, smoky or sweet eggplant and zucchini spreads, couscous, saffron rice, green olives, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, red mullets, calamari and the bevy of spices we’ve come to crave the world wide like ginger, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, anise and sesame seeds.  If the French left any legacy, it’s the coveted skill wine making.  The local vintages taste like their straight from Cote du Rhone.

Lou Reed put it best when he sang, “It’s the beginning of a great adventure.” There’s so much more to explore… I’m looking forward to being out of the western news loop for the next few months.  Don’t think I’ll miss it much.  I did, however, whack my back out a bit during a three-Mitanni-kill-combo this morning.  Anyone out here know a good Cairo-practor?

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The Dope on Dope

yes-we-cannabisThe New York Times editorial board recently and wholeheartedly endorsed the legalization of marijuana.  Stop the presses.  Break out the herb grinder.  Prepare to add a little more vapor to NYC’s summer humidity.  Our nation’s bastion of “liberal” opinions has finally whiffed the sweetleaf wafting from every corner in “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the The Battery to the Top of Manhattan,” since the mid 1960’s.

mLwVckOTFObqmqz-556x313-noPad“We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion”  –um, four decades worth?– “among the members of The Times’ Editorial Board,” –most of whom were high as kites in journalism school– “inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states” –well, three, at least– “to reform marijuana laws.” –subtext: to start profiting heavily from them.

Serious profits are already being made from this miraculous vegetation.  But astoundingly, only 6% of government funded studies published ever bothered to explore the bud’s medical benefits.HappyMed-j  Whereas alcohol invariably leads to a disease of the liver, the list of ailments cured by the leafy natural resource chock full of  Cannabinoids, continues to grow.  Who would have ever surmised that an organism fueled only by sunlight and water, would have the power to slow cancer, decrease anxiety, settle indigestion, delay Alzheimer’s, inhibit seizures, ease the pain of Multiple Sclerosis, lessen the side effects of hepatitis C, relieve arthritis, reduce nausea from chemotherapy, help metabolism, alleviate PTSD, eliminate Crohns disease, improve the symptoms of Lupus, and most importantly, increase the propensity for laughter in repetitively unfunny Will Ferrell movies.

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And yet, it’s still illegal in the majority of our states because, frankly, we haven’t destroyed enough lives with outrageously unjust jail sentences, or in some cases, life without parole. For smoking pot?  Really?  You’d be treated more leniently if you sold banned Chinese weapons to the Afghani Army for millions in profit while publically snorting coke in a strip club. With a decent lawyer, you’re be looking at seven months house arrest. But if you’re caught with an ounce of pot in Oklahoma, for example, you’re going down, possibly for the rest of your life.

mjmjlegalizationNot long ago, a friend and I were in a bar, collaborating on a screenplay. Ideas were fast firing from multiple neurons, and though we were each sipping a beer, it was the puff we took before we entered that had us manifesting on a higher plane. If alcohol is a social lubricant, then pot is most definitely a mental one. Perhaps not for everyone, but for some, the drug is the Ex-Lax of creativity. It oils an entirely different set of cerebral hinges than liquor does, and helps me think outside of thinking outside of the box, or the bottle, as it were.

Not surprisingly, a group of hard cocktailing Wall Streeters were somewhat threatened by the creative synergy emanating from our corner booth, and after shots of something resembling castor oil, one of them stumbled over and asked, “Yo, how do you bring a laptop into a bar on a Friday night?” My friend, a wordsmith extraordinaire, simply said, “The front door?”

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That led to epithets appropriate for someone doing Jaeger shots at 7pm. Not sure why these suits feel like it’s okay to drink their faces off, while condemning dope smokers as amoral, other than the arbitrariness of one being sanctioned and not the other. So the legal one must be okay, and the illegal one a breech of universal ethics. Damn the inhaler of cannabis.

But of the two mind-altering substances, only one makes most people progressively duller, and yet significantly quicker to act on asinine impulses: booze. How often have you read about sexual misconduct at a fraternity starting with a group of football players sharing a joint? It’s almost exclusively liquor that fuels that kind of aggression. That’s the nature of the poison. Mix it with youthful testosterone and you have some seriously pernicious chemistry.3011

Fortunately, I had an actual police badge from an indie film I had just worked on. I locked in a laser glare while subtly dropping the badge and said, “You need to walk away now,” which he promptly did. Had he not been eight beers and three shots into his night, he might’ve noticed it was a 1980’s Transit Police badge found at a flea market by our prop department. Now, had I flashed that to a stoner, they’d probably have looked at it longer, or maybe asked permission for the tactile pleasure of running their fingers over its golden spires. Because pot, more than anything else, makes you curious

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So it’s strange that some people in certain places (congress?) continue to portray marijuana as degenerate, while sipping a glass of something that’s turning their liver into death sponge. In all of my variegated experiences, I’ve never seen a single person start a fight in a bar because they were high. Or resist arrest cause they were totally baked. Or crash a car. Or vomit on themselves. Or piss in a public place. Or sexually harass the opposite sex… because they were stoned to the bejesus-bells.  No need for a smoke responsibly campaign, since stoners don’t fuck up over and over again like those who are perennially shitfaced do.  Locking people up for this drug is arbitrary at best, racist and totalitarian at worst. It’s punishment for a crime that more often than not, has no victim, or consequences.

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The sad irony is that later that week, my creative friend was arrested for smoking a joint on a bench in a park. With alcohol, he would have been fined for an “open container,” or more likely, just admonished, and ordered to throw it away. Instead, he was cuffed and hauled to a holding cell under City Hall, where he was forced to stay the night since the courts were closed.  Had it been a Friday, he’d have been stranded till Monday morning.  Three nights and three days, funded by taxpayer money, for choosing to relax by smoking instead of imbibing.

Wall-Street-bonusesMeanwhile, in the glass towers hundreds of feet above him, scotch pounding white collars continued looting millions upon millions upon millions in plain sight without so much as a single indictment.

So welcome to the par-tay New York Times editorial board.  Maybe you’ll put your money where your endlessly chattering mouths are and stop testing your writers for pot.  What they do away from work to stay balanced and objective in their egregiously underpaid lives is none of your damn business.

Maybe a decade from now, this ludicrous, costly, harmful, wasteful, antiquated prohibition will be formally repealed and we can redirect our focus to limit the abuse of other easily attainable, far more deleterious drugs instead. You can bet we’ll be toasting each other when that happens…

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Small Swigs From The World Cup

brazil-world-cup-2014-wallpaper_1402864883The World Cup intensifies, bringing the planet earth together to witness what our host nation so elegantly calls fu-chee-bol. It’s been a rewarding tournament, but in a perfect world, a few things would be different this year in Brazil.

bribeBUYING FIFA: FIFA has many proud traditions but none is more time honored than their propensity for accepting bribes. The organization shows prejudice to no currency, accepting hundreds of millions of (insert currency here) over the years. All kinds of figures are flying on how much Qatar greased FIFA for the 2022 Cup. Rumor has it that these sheiks have rooms of cash, literally. Enough to buy a global phenomenon and host it in a dessert.  It’ll be like beach soccer, but without the ocean.

fifa-movieNOW PLAYING, SEPP BLATHER? Show FIFA president Sepp Blather’s face on a screen in any stadium and you’ll feel the rain of universal boos. Squandering $30 million from FIFA’s coffers to produce a bio-pic about himself hurt more than helped. The movie billed itself as the story of “a group of passionate European mavericks that join forces on an ambitious project: the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.” Critics at Cannes panned it for lacking drama. Might we suggest a better use of funds? Hire a few more refs to cover that massive field.

World_Cup_RefereesREFEREE!  A two hundred foot hockey rink is patrolled by two refs and two linesmen. Additional officials in Toronto evaluate every goal and penalty in real time. An American Football field is one hundred yards long and at times it looks like there are more refs on the field than players. The results in both leagues are mostly excellent officiating.

Switzerland FIFA Goal Line TechnologyBut an international soccer field– one hundred and twenty yards long and eighty wide– has only one ref and two linesmen. No wonder they’ve blown so many high stakes calls. Too many to count over the years it’s. Last World Cup, Frank Lampard of England took a shot that hit the crossbar, pinged down across the goal line, and was punched out by the German goalie.

fansThousands of screaming fans saw it live and celebrated. But the ref, thirty yards away, waved on the play– no goal. When England protested, he postured like only a soccer ref can, refusing to brook objection. Fifty million viewers world-wide watched multiple replays of the obvious goal. The game ended. England was knocked out. Luddite FIFA looked incompetent.

There’s a long history of ill credited calls or lack there of, but the Lampard goal was so egregious that after years of the French equivalent to hemming and hawing, FIFA had no choice but to install the technology professional tennis has been using since 2006.

Side note: It’s rumored that Sepp Blather’s next laptop computer will have something called “interweb access,” allowing him to stream his movie via the world wide interweb.

image6-578x395DIVING: No other sport deals with such a humiliating blemish as soccer’s faux injuries. It devalues the game, and the FIFA brand, beyond repair and it’s all the ammunition any anti-soccer fan ever needs.

“Don’t they know we’re all watching in hi-def, slo-mo, multi-angle close-ups?” I heard a green fan exclaim. “Aren’t they ashamed?”

cl_dani_alves_pi_rf_050311_20110503131052939_660_320A legitimate question. When you’re clipped on the left shin, don’t roll around on the ground holding your right. The infamous Robben, of the Netherlands, consistently falls before contact. Mexico was knocked out after his third flop. An Argentinian player was pushed in the upper part of his back and proceeded to drop and roll as if struck by an appendicitis. Miraculously, he recovered in time to take the free kick.

gallery_d3Then there’s the player who fakes it and stays down at the expense of a counter attack. Your opponent’s sprinting up-field with a man advantage. You didn’t get the call. GET BACK INTO THE PLAY!

THE RULES: Article 57 of FIFA’s disciplinary code state that a player “who violates the principles of fair play or whose behavior is unsporting in any other way may be subject to sanctions.” But sanctions are rarely exercised. It’s time the rule be re-written with a bit more bite. “Any player who throws himself onto the pitch with amatuer theatricality and howls like a wounded seal when not really injured, will be publicly beaten in a way that will make him wish he actually was.”ts,482x482,silver,mens,ffffff

VIRAL FLOPPING: When diving showed signs of going viral during the Stanley Cup Finals this year, the NHL crushed it like a cucaracha by calling “embellishment” penalties. The flopper went to the box and felt shame. The manliest of sports handled cowardice with impunity. What would happen if NFL players start faking it for calls? What would happen if all of us started flopping. You’re in a restaurant, a waiter brushes past you. Fall and grab your ankle. Cringe up your face and grind your teeth. When the owner offers you a free drink, rise, shake his hand, and say, “How about a round for the table?”

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As far as FIFA is concerned? Come on fellas! The cameras are already rolling. Why not use ‘em for replays on all questionable calls? Why allow the fate of a team, and a nation, to be decided any other way? Determining the legitimacy of a call would be worth the break in action, and players would stop diving if refs awarded a penalty kick the other way. The game is already stopping for fakers. Now stop it for a review. Especially when we can pan the guilty party.

Side note: Killer write up on All-Star flopper from Slate.

130313151202-referee-abuse-tease-2-horizontal-galleryFBL-WC-2014-MATCH13-GER-PORCROWDING: It’s not uncommon to see a ref besieged by players after a controversial call. Five, six, seven players impinging, whining, gesturing, even shoving. He has to back peddle himself to safety. You worry for the man with the whistle. Either punish that behavior, harshly, or give the ref a hip holster of pepper spray so the man can defend himself.

gty_giorgio_chiellini_bite_FIFA_2014_soccer_jc_140624_4x3_992BITING: Let’s make it an official part of the game. You can’t use your hands, so why not your teeth, tongues and lips? It would add an entirely new subtext to the game, provide tantalizing close-ups for fans, and spice up post-game analysis. Suarez is already teaching youth how to do it properly during his summer camp. He has a four months off to perfect his method.

IT AIN’T OVER TIL IT’S OVER: Diving is as un-American as giving up before the Fat Lady sings. When the USA is down (or tied, in the case of Ghana), you see a concentrated offensive push in the final minutes of the match. Some European teams who do it, like Portugal did to the US, but it doesn’t seem to have the same level of desperation, and it definitely doesn’t stop them from diving and splaying about instead of sprinting back into play.

Dejected RooneyEngland looked utterly resigned with 30 minutes left against Italy. They were only down a goal but they milled around, passed backwards more than forwards, and jogged casually to throw-ins. Same with the Greeks versus Costa Rica when they only had 10 men. They just didn’t pump up the volume and ended up losing in a shoot-out. Thousands of plates weren’t broken triumphantly as a result.

RVP1Play hard till the final whistle! And harder still if you’re losing! Blow your brains out trying to make something happen! Throw every last strand of DNA into it! It makes for the kind of undeniable drama you don’t have to fake. You’re getting paid ludicrous amounts of money for a 90 minute work day with big ass bonuses for winning the whole shabang. Yes, World Cup athletes are not just playing for their homelands. There’s a sizable paycheck. So make the extra effort. Especially at the end!

fifa-substitute-940-100703-8colEXTRA TIME: Here’s another soccer oddity we should incorporate into our daily lives. Say you’re waiting for a table at a busy restaurant. The four top in the corner already paid the bill but they’re lingering. Clearly, they’re in extra time. An official should stand by their table with a digital board reading “3” in bright red lights. When time’s up, a whistle blows three times and fervent gestures are made toward the door.

140609_soccer_shoes_lgFLUORESCENT BOOTS: So many respected athletes said “yes” to endorsements having no idea they’d be mailed lightning yellow or hot pink cleats, upholding the truism that you never get what you don’t pay for. Let’s hope the trend of wearing two different colored boots goes the way of the vuvuzela. Both are annoyingly loud and totally unnecessary.

wcup-tattoo-10_2941117kTATTOOS: Lets go all the way for World Cup 2018: you’re forbidden to play if you have any natural skin color showing whatsoever.

BRAZILIAN FANS: Bless their incessant jubilation regardless of which teams are playing. They dance and chant and undulate while scantily clad, along side the Belgians or Morrocans or Australians. They just love their fu-chee-bol that much.

But their commitment to euphoria might be greater. As we saw in the last World Cup, even when they lose, the party still goes off. It’s a quality we should all emulate. Our children would grow up better people knowing that win or lose, after the game, they’re going to fry plantains, pound capirinias and have three ways sans pubic hair to pulsating samba music.

17r36y0g4vc56jpgJACK WHITE: The guy can write a lick, but did he have any idea that millions of people populating multiple countries would be shouting the first seven notes of “Seven Nation Army” to rev themselves up in the stands? And how many of them have ever been to Wichita?

full-face-usa-world-cup-flag-tattoo-painting-for-fans-f559444U.S.A.: If possible, we should score in the first 30 seconds of all games. Also, we should prevent goals against in the final seconds of extra time by not thinking the ref’s going to blow the whistle even though the world’s greatest player has the ball on the far wing…

captain-phillips-barkhad-abdiSide note: It’s nice to see Demarcus Beasley back on the team after filming Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks, isn’t it?

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THE TROPHY: For a game that involves so many different countries, and boasts the most fans of any sport, the World Cup Trophy feels a little puny. Then again, every trophy seems puny compared to the NHL’s Stanley Cup. The only trophy in sports that will continue to get bigger as they add more rings to include the names of the victors. The World Cup trophy could use a steroid or two. No one should be able to hold it up with one hand.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerSAY WHAT? A Bosnia-Hertzegovenian and an Iranian are battling on the soccer pitch (this is not the beginning of a joke). The whistle blows but the skirmish escalates after the play. A shouting match ensues in each others faces. A South African ref steps in and issues warnings. Fellow teammates rapidly descend to argue their cases. The question is: what the hell language are they all speaking? Does anyone understand anything being said?

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The answer, of course, is yes. The language is universal when it’s futbol. The beautiful game. The most popular sport in the world… save a future few improvements.

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Streaming Burnout

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For those out there yet to hop on the Burnout Bandwagon, just a quick “alert” to let you know there’s almost no room left. Everyone’s knee deep in it, whether it’s socially or at work. Burnout is the new orange.

urlVolumes are being written about digital age overload and how it’s only getting more intense. Like hitting pop-ups on every single webpage you visit. You can longer read a column or check a score without being pitched, solicited or hit up for a “follow” or a “like”.  Some sites launch full on videos you can’t skip. One recently demanded a urine sample and a DNA strand.  It’s officially out of control.

url-1Present Shock is a book that came out last year. You know, the kind printed on paper with ink. It weighs less than half a pound and it never crashes. You’ll need an outside light source to read it at night, which I’ve been doing with a building sense of anxiety. The author, Douglas Rushkoff, does a bang up job of breaking down some of the crazy shit that’s unfolding thanks to our ever-escalating tech revolution. You may think you know about the problems inherent in the digital age, but you probably haven’t thought about them as deeply as you should have.

thewheelhighRushkoff couples incisive critique with some scary analysis on the psychological effects of trying to keep on top of something as vast as the internet. There have been similar zeitgeist shifts throughout history. So how is this one different? You can bet there was a vocal minority of ancient Mesopotamians bitching about how the wheel was going change everything for the worse. And once Industrial Age machines started running 24/7, grinding through employees, sometimes literally, that minority quickly evolved into a majority.

schopenhauer-indexYou can read Schopenahauer essays from the mid-1800’s and hear his concern that people are becoming more and more dehumanized, more and more distracted. Virtually no one has enough time anymore. The gripe is far from novel. But it’s starting to become clear that the phenomenon of digital omnipresence is having a more pernicious effect than we’ve seen in past ages. We’re obsessed with the present tense like never before.

2004031200120901Rushkoff breaks it down into five chapters you’ll rip through if your feeling even one of them. But he also manages to provide a few actionable suggestions rather than just doom saying about how everything not happening RIGHT NOW should be pushed aside in favor of the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.

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He kicks it off by describing the death of the narrative. If you watch Mad Men, you’ll see how things worked before everything became instantaneous. Historically, our species learned through the intuitive structure of beginning, middle and end. Even TV ads worked this way. A protagonist is introduced. She faces a problem. Then finds a solution via the product for sale.

15823480But that narrative structure has been gutted today in everything from advertisement to movies to pornography. In Tolstoy, you had to wade through a thousand pages before getting to the sex. By then, the most subtle of erotic moves had you twitching with arousal. Now we start at full penetration. Skip the set up and get to it already– we’re very busy.

url-2The trend was thrilling when it was new. TV shows like “24” overloaded episodes with jaw-dropping plot turns every ten minutes. Steroids are fun for a while. But episode after episode, season after season, and the viewer becomes inured. And unfortunately for the writers, there’s no where left to go creatively when you start by jumping the shark. Even best of these shows goes flying off the rails because the model isn’t sustainable.

imagesThe instinct to fill “dead space” with something attention grabbing, be it explosions or banner ads or Fox News anchors jerking each other off because there’s no real news to report, comes with its share of dark side-effects– one of which Rushkoff labels “Didgifrenia”.

It begins to drive you crazy, literally, or worse, knocks you out of sync with your own biorhythms– more and more people report anxiety over things like in-boxes stuffed with unanswered emails. Others have trouble falling asleep after staring at an illuminated screen all day. We collectively suffer from Rushkoffian “Filter Failure”: a paralytic inability to voluntarily turn away.

main-boredomIn the past we seemed to have more time for the future. For planning. There was even room for something Schopenahauer insists is essential for humankind: boredom. My nephew tells me he’s bored, but he feels that while simultaneously updating his Facebook page, eating M&M’s and watching Nickelodeon.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.19.06 PMRushkoff appropriately labels this “Fractalnoia”, a syndrome we’re all suffering from, while we try to remember that whatever’s streaming into our devices isn’t half as precious as what we’re already engaged in.

The book is careful not to retread cliches about the evils of technology. Technology, for the most part, is neutral. It has no ulterior motivations of its own… yet.  But humankind does, and therein lies the trouble.

“I am much less concerned with whatever it is technology may be doing to people than what people are choosing to do to one another through technology,” Rushkoff proclaims. “Facebook’s reduction of people to predictively modeled profiles and investment banking’s convolution of the marketplace into an algorithmic battleground were not the choices of machines.”

We chose that. But we can still choose otherwise. That is, if we’re not totally burned out.

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Shark Fins and Royal Perseverance

9523021_448x252Los Angeles is a notoriously fickle town. Perhaps it comes with territory to over hype the shit out of something and then bail on it the moment it under performs.

cbs-2013-super-bowl-show-promo-most-watched-network-large-2That’s the tragic nature of modern day entertainment. When the going gets tough, we change the channel, whether it’s a tv series that’s America’s Favorite New Show until it’s cancelled, or a sporting franchise with a legacy of victory uncharacteristically struggling for wins. There’s just too much to choose from to waste a minute with a loser.

But what kind of character can you build without the joy of a little deep suffering?

images-1Such was the case last week at the Staples Center, when the Los Angeles Kings were getting trounced by the San Jose Sharks three games to none. Empty seats littered the arena. Especially in the luxury boxes. The fans and the papers had all but written off the Kings, albeit painfully. It just wasn’t our year.

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But this is the same team that went to the mountain top in 2012, hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time in LA history. They were losing, at times being blown off the ice, but something about it all just didn’t seem right. The Kings were better than this and they knew it, even if the chatter was blaring out the opposite.

0Then the Kings won game four, decisively, and game five, and by game six back at Staples, the bandwagon was standing room only. If the Come Back Kids doubted themselves, it never made it out of the locker room. But it must have been pin-droppingly brutal in there down three games to none. Where does the confidence come from?

In the history of the NHL only four teams have overcome such a deficit. The discipline to stay focused on the present in the face of such daunting odds takes nothing short of Zen mastery.

imagesIgnore the papers, ignore the humiliation of letting in fifteen goals in the first three games, ignore the apathy and empty seats, ignore the baseball coverage on the cover of the sports section while playoff hockey is relegated to page eight. Lace ‘em up and hit the ice, boys. The series isn’t over. The fat lady has yet to sing.

5544_1a9e_500The biggest cliché we hear athletes sputter ends up being a fundamental truth. “We’re taking it one game at a time.” Easy to say. Incredibly hard to actually pull off. And the more you shrink the deficit towards evening up a series, the easier it is to get inside your own head. We’re close. We’re closer. We can tie this series. We can actually win this thing.

And the fans start getting hopeful. And the columnists start getting hopeful. And there’s nothing more toxic when striving to fulfill a goal. As the iron willed Nietzsche advised, when faced with “a hard factuality,” what we need is not hope, but “courage in the face of reality.”Shark-Sushi-Plate

The Kings let their actions speak louder than their words. And here in Tinsel Town, the city of perpetual bullshit, that’s a truly praiseworthy achievement. They entered the shark tank without fear and carved the man-eaters into sashimi in royal fashion.kitty-duck

Now it’s onto the next odds against challenge in Anaheim and hopefully, a well cooked Duck a l’Orange.

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The Internet of Things and the Technopocalypse

beecham_research_internet_of_thingsPrepare yourself for a zeitgeist shift. Your things are becoming smarter than you.

Internet-of-ThingsAll kinds of objects, from highway entrances to clothing mannequins, pace makers to industrial shelving, are already armed with micro-sensors which are communicating with the web to prevent traffic jams or inventory depletion, report arrhythmia or even when to run your dryer to avoid peak pricing. And it’s all happening without making a peep.

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Soon your things will take preventative actions: cars communicating before colliding, laptops ordering replacement parts prior to a warranty expiring, a smart wine bottle letting you know the optimal time to open it.

songdoprojectfinalcopyqi8It’s all well underway in Songdo, Korea, the first smart-city, where every essential “thing” will shortly be linked up and self-referencing via a perpetual stream of communication, bandwidth providing.

do-you-know-whos-watching-you-570x318While technophiles are thrilled about a system that will free us from routine nuisances prior to disruption, technophobes are sounding alarms that the infrastructure for a total surveillance state is now in place: one where your blender is subpoenaed to find out how many margaritas you swilled before you went out. And it won’t be afraid to talk. Smart objects will size us up at every turn, scanning our retinas, cross-referencing our profiles with however many gigs of data they’ve already amassed, like your purchase history, and that direct deposit your employer made into your account. The object will set its price accordingly so that you just can’t say no– and it’ll all happen before you blink twice.

how-much-does-car-insurance-cost-todayOr darker, your car is tracked as you drive into a low-rent neighborhood where you teach at an underprivileged school, but instead of being rewarded for your altruism, your insurance company bumps up your rate because the area’s high risk.

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It’s not a stretch to imagine a cyber attack causing a technopocalypse in your home, where that turbo Dyson vacuum goes Cujo, colluding with your alarm system and microwave to hold your family hostage. A security patch will restore it all just as easily as it came apart for the low price of whatever they feel like gouging you for, as you’re trapped in a broom closet fighting of a battalion of pissed off appliances.

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And what happens when smart technology evolves into smart-ass technology. How soon till your dishwasher is degrading you in front of your loved ones? “Is that really how you stack dishes? Are you blind or stupid or both?” Or your car jacks your twitter handle, hitting your followers with, “Guess who’s gonna be late again. Told him to avoid the 101 but dipshit knew better!” It’s only a matter of time before all of your objects are fighting for social media space. Your toaster oven will be more concerned with adding friends than heating up your crumpets.

yelling-hard-drive-latencyHaving blow out arguments with objects won’t be unusual. Nor will being humiliated by a crosswalk sign as you jaywalk. A ticket will arrive in the mail, the envelope will know it’s been opened, and a direct withdrawal will be made from your debit account.

HALquotes.004-e1363830156673And as you check your smart-wallet for whatever tangible currency you have left, it’ll recommend you consider a second job to cover your expenses. If you don’t get one, you’ll find yourself locked in by a smart door which doesn’t want you going further into debt. It’ll all be for your own good, it will say in calm voice. After all, it’ll know better than you.

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Look Out Multiverse, Here We Come

multiverse_by_hellstormde-d47da8qSince the Industrial Age kicked off three hundred years ago, our glorious species has been gleefully pillaging and polluting the planet with the impunity most often reserved for maladapted viruses– the kind that unknowingly kill their host, and themselves as a result of their fanatical zest for life. But before that happens, the smart virus will jump to another host with the intention of evolving a more sustainable relationship, one that doesn’t end in suicide.

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So are viruses smarter  than humans? Cause the test results are in, and it seems our host, this blue green planet we live on, isn’t feeling so hot at the moment. You might even say she’s pretty pissed  at this point, and showing signs of flat out fury.

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We stand at a precarious crossroads. The effects of industrialization have reached scientific certainty, and yet, an utterly irrational desire for growth in perpetuity has lead us headlong toward the equivalent of environmental DEFCON 1.

Destruction is imminent at this rate, albeit at a much slower and painful pace than all out nuclear war. To clarify, this is the destruction of us as a species, not Mother Earth herself .  She’ll be around for millions of years after we’re all dead and buried and recycled.imagesizer

And yet, all of the hubristic, mostly white males in power still lack the imagination to even consider an alternative to the current system. It’s going to be unbridled, unregulated, bottom-line thinking till the oceans boil and clouds are black with soot– great grandchildren be damned.

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You’ll find two books in the anthropology isle of your local digital bookstore that breakdown the similarities of all empires in decline. “A Short History of Progress,” by Ronald Wright, sheds a bright light on the logistics of how all Golden Ages end in ash.  And Joseph Tainter’s, “The Collapse of Complex Societies” is a similar page turner which will leave you dumbstruck that we know as much as we do about it all and still can’t modify our behavior.global-warming-pollution-concept-26921250

You know the premise by now: we’ve created a system based on the impossibility of an eternal supply of natural resources. Unfortunately, there are no new land masses left to loot, or oceans to flush poison into. Everything just accumulates from here on out. UnknownBut instead of even a minor adjustment to the economic game plan, we chose to dig deeper and push harder, with the singular ambition of keeping that balance sheet in the darkest black. It’s get-as-much-as-you-can-get-right-now, regardless of screeching alarm bells and super-sized hurricanes and historically harsh winters and mountains of terrifying evidence from nobel laureates. The central question currently being debated today  is still, “How and when can we get more?”31KochClimate

Treat a friend like that, or your car, and see how far it gets you. Can’t everything around us continue to work with just a little less?  What would an investment in awareness yield down the line? What are the profit margins of conservation?

Is it bleeding heart liberal to suggest not pathologically red-lining every single resource on earth that we can make a product out of? Yes it is, you commie,  socialist, loser. Now shut up and pass the pick ax, drill bit, exhaust pipe. Time to take another hit.moon_movie_image__3_

 

As we look to space exploration, the last frontier, our viral-minded mentality remains perplexedly unevolved. “What planets out there will give us the most? What can we bring back and mark up to keep this poison-spewing juggernaut on earth churning?” The 2009 film, “Moon”, with Sam Rockwell, is a story about a lunar mining operation for a deep crater mineral that will help the earth solve its power problems. We’ve stripped mined and fracked the earth to death. Thank goodness the moon’s so close!

A VISUALISATION OF MARS CREATED FROM SPACECRAFT IMAGERY.

Initial analysis concerning the colonization of Mars has unironic parallels: the likely abundance of rare metals like platinum, gold, silver, as well as deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, which is five times more abundant than on earth, could be used to replace coal. Hey, awesome! There’s a whole universe out there to exploit!

images copyEven better is the latest cosmological hypothesis which claims that there aren’t just innumerable exo-planets, and galaxies to eventually travel to and plunder, but whole other universes! A few cutting-edge physicists have postulated that our universe, all 13.8 billion observable light-years of it, is just one of many. And all of these multiverses are sitting in individual super-duper- major-massive black holes (my term) which protect them from whatever’s on the other side.These individual black holes are so big that they leave room for infinite expansion, which our universe has been doing since the Big Bang.

pia16695-43-1024x768It’s Big Capitalism’s wet dream come true. If these renegade physicist turn out to be right, then there are innumerable super-duper-major-massive black holes holding innumerable other universes all contained in super-duper-whopper-Mothership universe.

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A good visual is to imagine an infinitely large wheel of Swiss cheese. The Mothership universe is the entire wheel, and the holes within it are where all of these individual multiverses like ours sit. And more so, it’s possible that all of these black holes interlink like one-way portals to each other. It’s all connected.

Multiverse_-_level_IThe Swiss Cheese theory is nothing short of revolutionary, and it’s probably tasty with honey baked ham and spicy mustard on pumpernickel.

 

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And though it can’t be proved just yet, it should be enough for every near-sighted capitalist to breath a sign of relief that there are more than enough resources out there to infect with the virus of economic expansions in perpetuity.

Keep the blinders on fellas. And full speed ahead!

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Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here!

midnight-cowboyAs a decade long New York transplant, there’s nothing more galvanizing than witnessing downtown Los Angeles come to life– explode, might be a better adjective– with nationally recognized restaurants, brand new museums, indy boutiques and art galleries.

odeon_imageIt feels a little like Tribeca did in the 1980’s, when daring entrepreneurs ventured south from the Village and Soho in an effort to expand the city’s options for dining and imbibing and discovery. Remember when the Odeon was the only place down there to eat? Within a few years , there were fifty other spots to hit. All you needed was the will to adventure and a good pair of walking shoes and your options were unlimited.

jaywalking-ticketSo when the New York Times writes a piece on the spike in jaywalking tickets being slapped on pedestrians in downtown L.A., one can’t help but cringe at all the remaining dissimilarities between the two great cities. In short, how can you take a place seriously when it doesn’t trust its residents to cross the street on their own?

“We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths,” proclaims Lt. Lydia Leos.

Midnight Cowboy Still

I can just hear Ratso Rizzo complaining to Joe Buck: “Yeah, yeah, I’m s-s-sure, uh,  traffic accidents will clear r-r-right up with more jaywalkin’ tickets!”

I can report first hand and without exaggeration that the traffic downtown is rarely impeded by anything. The streets are w-i-d-e and relatively abandoned most of the time. Maybe after a Lakers game, or an event at the Disney Concert Hall, you get a back-up at the entrance to the 110 freeway, but there aren ‘t any pedestrians crossing there.

downtown-la-downtown-v37680-720As for accidents, what can be said? Drivers are as careless as pedestrians. The LAPD claims that 172 pedestrian were hit by cars last year, but they fail to mention how many drivers were fingering google maps on their phones when they ran over something that felt like a human body, which was probably also texting as the car plowed over it. 172 is an unfortunate number, but not terrible  for a county of 13 million plus people.

52d9bcefb451c.preview-300The truth about jaywalking tickets is far more pathetic. The city can taste a new source of revenue now that downtown’s starting to hop. Too bad the folks in charge are so short sighted. Why  punish the people responsible for the boom? They’re the ones populating the concert halls, helping new restaurants thrive after a show, bringing more and more of their friends downtown, and raising property values across the board. Not to mention the cultural capital of having people gather in what was a former dead-zone to exchange ideas over drinks or a game or a concert.

imagesThe most embarrassing aspect of all is the Draconian enthusiasm the police have in writing you up. You think they’d just nailed Scarface.  For real now, if you’re on a curb when the countdown starts and you take a step into the crosswalk, you’ve broken the law and can face up to a $250 fine. One friend got a ticket for $197, not sure who decides. But it’s outrageous either way.

52d9bd77d28c0.preview-300The bigger question this begs is that if it’s illegal to step into the walkway why has they city has installed timers at every light, telling us there’s 30 or 19 or 9 seconds left to cross? It makes no sense.  A smart lawyer should argue entrapment. Because that’s what it is.

Maybe we can suggest that the LAPD google LOS ANGELES GANG VIOLENCE and read up on some issues to clamp down on other than fining people for crossing across an empty street, like the shooting that left two people dead at the end of August, or the stabbings on Hollywood boulevard.

valley-girl-gunny-saxSo many people still tease LA for cliches that are no longer relevant, and we let it slide cause we know the truth. No one is, like, totally talking like a Valley Girl, like, anymore. Our food scene can compete with any city in the country. And for as much as the movie industry still dominates, myriad other businesses are thriving , from clothing, to photography, to architecture.

Missing_Persons_-_Spring_Session_MThe most dated criticism of all is that “Nobody walks in LA.” Apologies to Missing Persons, but your song is as dated as violation itself. People are walkin’ in LA. It’s the new orange.

los-angeles-mapWe have an extensive subway, in case you missed it. You walk to it. The red line at Hollywood and Vine gets you downtown in 22 minutes. Enough time to read a section of something called a newspaper. You get off and walk a few blocks to a bar like Caña, sip a handcrafted cocktail at around 6:30, then hoof it a few more blocks to the Staples center to see the LA King’s dominate another opponent.

636px-Don't_jay_walk_1937-615After the game, mosey to one of the multiple eateries proudly still serving at 10:30 pm, (Baco Mercat, Teroni, Factory Kitchen, Alma, Cork Bar, Mo Chica, Bestia). Then catch the train back to Hollywood all without worrying about parking or gridlock on the 101 or a DUI checkpoint.

imagesBut now it’s WALKER BEWARE. And this at a time when Manhattan is giving its residents 6000 Citi-Bikes to ride at will. But we can’t cross the street on our own.  Can LA ever be a  great city treating its residents like children, or worse fining them like criminals? It’s highly unlikely… Even Ratso Rizzo knows that.

 

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Google Brain, On Sale in 2014

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumbFlip on any screen that plays a moving image and you’ll see a fast spreading cultural meme in films, TV series and TED talks alike: human beings are integrating technology so deeply into their lives that it’s getting hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 11.25.46 PMJ.J. Abrams has paired a cop with a robot in Almost Human. Intelligence is a show about another cop with a chip in his brain. And Spike Jonze’ Her deals with a heart broken guy (who’s not a cop– can that work?) who falls head-over-hard-drive in love with his operating system. It’s all pretty fanciful fiction… or is it?

ray_kurzweil1Ray Kuzweil says the human race will be inextricably linked with technology by the year 2045. He calls it The Singularity: a time when humans are literally augmented by technology via genetics, nanobots, and artificial intelligence. The phenomenon will continue to accelerate until artificial intelligence is unrecognizably advanced: meaning, if you have access to the resources, a simulated version of YOU can continue living, thinking, and evolving inside the nodes of a computer, long after you’re dead. There will be no going back.

Google_Glass-800x533It’s  frightening and fascinating to live in an era when the birth of this reality is so tangible. Google Glass isn’t out of beta test phase yet and we’re already imagining losing those bulky frames and inserting the tech directly into our eye balls. Memory chips in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is closer than you think.

Memorial Day TravelCars driving themselves? The technology’s been successfully tested for years already.  And talk about colonizing space has moved from sci-fi to think tanks. There is currently a plan on the table for an incremental colonization of Mars, one bio-pod at a time, just like we did for the international space station.  The only thing holding us back from our Martian future is the 7 month commute time, but astronauts are training on the highways of Los Angeles to prepare.

The Singularity is gonna be a rough transition, for shiz.  Tests are already showing the deleterious effects of all this tech on our analogue minds. Remembering, for example, isn’t just something we do by ourselves. It’s a lot more social than that.

UnknownEach of us gravitates to certain modalitites of knowledge. Some of us are better with historical events, others have a knack for dates and numbers, others still can recall the exact ingredients of a family recipe, or the precise order of notes in a symphony. Over time, we instinctively build a network of shared knowledge with those who are experts in the fields we are not. Not only does it keep us personally informed and more deeply connected, it also exercises different parts of the brain than merely looking something up on an iPad.

Unknown-1But more and more, people are turning to the web to satisfy their curiosity and the human web of memory is fast atrophying. How many phone numbers can you spit out from memory besides your own? Or addresses? What about that actor from that film? You know, he was in that other film, with that other actor? How long will you wrack your brain before the urge to pull out a smart phone overwhelms you? Why waste two seconds trying to figure it out? Or worse, call someone up who’s great with actors and films to ask them personally. Who wants to deal with that?

elementaryThe tendency to forgo remembering ’cause you have a super computer in your hand is called information off-loading. It’s an incredibly powerful convenience, but just like The Force, it has a dark side. What these tests are showing is that how we get our knowledge might be more important than we realize. Any grade school teacher will tell you that most kids learn better when the information comes from a human source.  Intangibles such as a tone of voice, cadence of a delivery, a concise hand gesture or moment of eye-contact, can be more essential to retaining information than we comprehend.

3ran2lIt wouldn’t so worrisome if we acknowledged all this, but one pathetic revelation of all this testing is the sorry extent to which people incorporate the Internet into a subjective sense of self. We actually think we’re getting smarter. But yank away that computer, and more than half of us couldn’t call our best friend in an emergency, much less figure out the percentage on a tip.

Sorry for the reminder, but Google is not a part of your cognitive toolbox. It’s an add on, and when you’re off-line, you may find yourself reaching for what under past circumstances would already be in your hands.

hard-drive-contentsThe Singularity will be fascinating when it’s finally achieved. Until then, we’ll have to put up with a whole new set of bullshit excuses from people and their newly integrated technology. Like, I couldn’t come into work cause my internal hard drive crashed. Or, your message got scrambled when my audio chip accidentally converted it.

India-call-centerSeeing people yelling at themselves in public certainly won’t be a rare sight. It already isn’t. But you can bet it’s gonna suck arguing with the Bangladeshi customer service rep that now resides inside your temporal lobe. Don’t worry if you can’t understand his accent. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to download a clarification app directly into your brain.

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Waiter, There’s a Soup In My Fly

Screen Shotkeith-richards

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: the only two creatures on the planet who will survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches… and Keith Richards.  The good news about the apocalypse is, there will  be plenty to eat, and the menu will be free of rolling stones.

insect_plate_lIf you’re stumped, you clearly haven’t heard about the latest protein diet sweeping the terroir: insect du jour. Baked Beetles via Bangkok. Fried grasshoppers from Guadalajara. Sautéed Capetown caterpillars and Butterfly Eggs in Bangladesh. Andrew Zimmern’s mouth is watering.

Turns out there are literally thousands of edible insects waiting to crawl across your palette with multiple legs, and food scientists are unwavering about their nutritional value.

fao_logoThe latest round of lab tests by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization prove that in the protein category, certain toe-biters  stack up evenly with chicken, pork and beef, and most have far more iron. It shouldn’t surprise you that a basket of fried Jerusalem crickets are hands down healthier than deep fried buffalo wings, and about 1/10th the cholesterol. Dipped into  ranch dressing, you’re beer-swilling football buddies won’t even know the difference.

MudbugMadness07Chowing bugs, AKA entomophagy, is well established in the far east. It’s been an voluntary alternate food source for decades, with the insecticide flavor pallete ranging from earthy to shroomy to nutty to crawfish-like, (which makes sense, cause ya’ll in N’awlins’ calls’em mudbugs). The right kind of larvae are nothing short of a delicacy, with the added bonus of being off the charts in omega 3’s.

bizarre-foodsThe fad has hardly caught on stateside, save Zimmern’s Travel Channel show and reality debacles like Fear Factor. It’s surprising they haven’t tackled the issue in The Walking Dead where you’d imagine food shortages being more dire than they’ve been portrayed.

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I want a scene where two desperate, dirty survivors are brawling over the last dragon-fly patty, only to lose it to a zombie sensing a tiny drop of blood inside the little bugger. The survivors would skulk back to their camp and settle for yet another night around the campfire, dining on boring black ant enchiladas.

http-inlinethumb47.webshots.com-41966-2133660080103582665S425x425Q85I can’t wait for the moment Costco’s stocking mass packages of chemically flavored arachnids. “’Scuse me, where are the Kirkland BBQ’d Tarantula chips?”  You’d ask, basket overflowing. “Aisle 37.” Would be the reply, “Between the Kirkland Salt’n’Pepper scorpions and Kirkland Waterbug filets. 5000 are only $24.95.”

ladybuglogoThe odds of them being out of stock are nil. Insects reproduce ten times faster than mammals, so the supply chain will forever flow. And as the trend turns from hokey to wildly profitable, farmers will migrate en masse from  pricey cattle and certified organic produce, to far more affordable insects, (pesticide free!)

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I can taste the revolution in fusion cuisine. And I look forward to  obsessive/compulsive food-bloggers snapping pictures of their nuevo small-plate insect dishes before diving in. But if it all sounds thoroughly inedible, just consider that most insects won’t have the slightest hesitation dining on you.

Shakespeare-Smiles-Wink-HeadshotAs Hotspur says in his death scene in Act V of Henry IV… “No, Percy thou are dust and food for…”   “Worms,” replies Hal, eyeing a juicy one beneath his fallen foe with a salivating smile.

 

 

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Jelly Roll Blues and Antigravity

800px-Jelly_cc11 copySo the facts are out, and the news is devastating. If you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard, brace yourself: Jellyfish born in space have “massive vertigo” when they return to our blue green planet here in the Milky Way galaxy, otherwise known as Earth.

HT_gravity_bullock_fixing_tk_131007_4x3_992In the early 1990’s, NASA sent nearly 3000 jellyfish into orbit on the space shuttle Columbia to gage how gravitylessness affected their development. This was back when NASA was flush with cash to piss away on experiments involving non-polyp forms of the phylum Cnidaria, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney be damned.

card-28363372-frontWhen they returned to the third stone from the sun, they exhibited an “abnormal pulsing” as so many of us do after late night binging at say, Taco Bell.  Apparently, under the influence of our gravitation pull, the jellies experienced a malfunctioning in the mechanism which employs calcium sulfate crystals to help them detect direction.

image3What has this to do with us, you wonder? Isn’t it obvious? Consider our long-term future. The one where we melt the ice caps, tip the atmosphere’s oxygen ratio from breathable to toxic, and then flee to the moon and Mars to rape and pillage what’s left of their natural resources.

jean-baudrillard1I, for one, am sad I won’t be there to see it personally. As Baudrilliard said between healthy drags of a self-rolled french tobacco cigarette, “Imagine the amazing good fortune of the generation that gets to see the end of the world.  This is as marvelous as being there in the beginning.”

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Because you just know that amidst our desperate race for extra-terrestrial survival there will be someone who sees an angle to make a buck, or garner a little more power than the other survivors, by say, shutting down the off-planetarty government or filibustering the intergalactic council, and he will start us down the very same path that got us to the point where we needed to get off the planet to stay alive in the first place (i.e. ignoring fifty years of scientifically proven global warming data.) Bank on it.

MotherEarth.jpg

But it’s not all dystopian melodrama here. Mother Earth will finally rid herself of the worst parasite to ever attached itself to a host for a free ride without giving diddley back in return: Humankind. And being free of our bad habits and wicked ways and relentless take and throw away without one iota of reciprocity, she’ll have a moment of respite to begin setting all the damage we’ve done right.

treesDM_468x461Golf courses all over the earth will become thick with growth, providing new sources of oxygen. Mineral mines will crumbled in on themselves, hiding the scars of centuries of gouging. Fish will slowly repopulate the seas without sushi being hocked on every corner including Rite Aide and CVS and Duane Reade, GMO seeds will slowly lose the evolutionary battle to organic seeds which are better equipped to adapt to rapidly changing environments.

And in a thousand years or so, reports will filter in that the Earth is ready for us to return. We’ll pack up all our shit, leave all of our garbage behind, and jet back home singing God Bless America, even though there’s an international population.  Much rejoicing will be heard on that journey, you can bet.

blobsBut then we’ll touch down and step out of the sleek ships, and fall flat on our faces, freaking out ’cause we were born in space and our bodies no longer have a clue how to handle Gravity. We’ll wobble around collectively, suffering from “massive vertigo” because– and this is my truncated blog-science, ’cause who’s got time to do real research anymore?– we all basically have jellyfish in our ears that help us keep balanced. Ultra-sensitive hair cells that reach out like tentacles and allow us to determine which way’s up.

Evolution will have done away with these reliable otoliths over the generation born in orbit and upon disembarking on good old planet Earth, intense dizziness will be the new normal, just like our fellow gelatinous Coelenterata blundering helplessly in the deep void of the ocean after being birthed in zero gravity.

still_blob4Then again, it might just improve our entire way of life. We’ll all be  way too nauseous to do any real damage anymore. Certainly operating heavy machinery will be out of the question. No one will be able to sink a putt, much less drive a golf ball 300 yards. And war will be reduced to slithering up to your enemy and trying to jiggle on him more rigorously.

We’ll lose a lot of great traditions too, unfortunately. Forget about ice hockey. Walking on solid ground’ll be challenging enough. On skates, unbalanced blobs are pretty much totally fucked.

UnknownI would, however, suggest buying stock in Segway as they will be the standard form of ground transportation until future generations re-acquire the gravity gene and set us on back on the circular course of imminent planetary destruction.

jellyfish-9

The sweetest irony of all is that in between the time it takes us to regenerate the vestibular labyrinth in our inner ears and get  our balance back, the jellyfish who survived the apocalypse and repopulated the seas will rule.

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