About Brandon

My notion of the world has been expanded by time spent in Los Angeles, Delaware, Australia, Bolivia, and New York. I look to add this perspective to every single client's piece I encounter.

Just Poetry and Prose, I Suppose

Poetry from Bolivia

I found another delightful bit of writing last night. This is a poem I wrote in 2007. I remember writing it and reading it to friends late one night in Oruro. It was cold that night. I must have used a flashlight to be able to see the page. It’s also possible the moon was so bright, I could use it for light. 

My hair fros out when the snare goes out
and the kick drum kicks like a flare shot out
Sandals flipping’ and floppin’, bodies always droppin’
A veces me pareces in my movies at night just might help the bodies be
re-animated. 
Come back to life and chase me someday I’ll be painted
while I sit or while I sat. Displayed in
a gallery for Mallory for only twice than less than half of her salary
plus one calorie
burned from her hypodermic intake
insulin pancake.

Mix that shit up put it in a cup then throw in a one-way sender
all into the blender. 
Lose the love of your life thrice, think twice and go on a bender.
Mind closed off, men working here.
Peers peer well into the well and smell
shiny, twinkly, sparkly, glistening darts of refracted light during lite diets
and flying sideways.
Get a grip.
Not manual – E – Manuel from the Bible.
A grip of friends?
It all depends
if those feet can dig deep when they’re bare
and your ribs rise and fall without a care.
Swell.

I want to die running away from someone, anyone, preferable a law-
enforcement agent of some brand. I’ll be running slow motion-like
when their pistols open fire and catch me mid-stride.
My path to glory and supposed destiny will only be a few visible feet in
front of my divide.
I’ll reach out for it with my dying breath,
but will be unable to grasp what is left,
what I wanted to achieve for no more than a few escaping minutes. The love of life will of course
bear witness to this entire tragic affair. Tears will be streaming
down her cheeks – her ragged cheeks that are simply exhausted
from loving a man that loves her only second to the worthy cause
for which he has been fighting for decades. She’s been there since
the beginning though
and she knows
she is integral
to the fight that he selflessly continues despite his small family’s best
interest. The tears flow while she tries wholeheartedly, yet
it is indescribably futile and she knows mere moments remain
before everything,
everything they’ve both dedicated their lives to ends in a cacophony of gunshots
and a symphony of deep-seated tragedy and what nots.
She’ll press her hand to the gaping, spurting wound. 
Her face to his to hear his final struggled breaths. She’ll swoon. Her hand 
finds his and interlocks with ease. He is strong, but not as strong 
as once before.

Once before
on a bright, sun drenched day he won her back on a 
stroll around an algae-encrusted pond in an obscure park tucked away 
in a functional – at least it seemed to them at the time – suburban 
neighborhood. They’d been through the wash and had each taken a 
turn in the dryer – mangling and testing each other’s feelings.
Sending one another reeling
through space and rhymes
for various expanses of time.
But they always came back. Sitting together on cylindrical pylons 
of cement watching parents watching their kids play they would feel deep within that that would be them on some distant day.

So they fought each other tooth and nail. Resorted to tactics un-
becoming of one another until one day in 2015 everything 
settled into place. It seemed that the race was finally over.
The crowd that for so long had played a part in off-track betting 
and wagering and proselytizing and hedging and interfering had up and left.
They were each deaf
from the silence that surrounded them without a sound.
Finally they were alone.
Just one not-so-bright light shone
down illuminating their faces that were already known 
and written – more likely grooved into their bones
and DNA strands. The scents and smells or the other was like a sixth sense –
their very own clone.

Tragically they would not and could not touch.
They tried at first thinking it a cruel joke to be so close.
Finally physically, visibly within reach
with no contracts to breach.
All the saints dead and alive tried through prayer
to clear the air
that stood defiantly by and between
unseen.

Let them know peace a voice said.
And it was mine.
I narrowed my eyes
and focused my concentration.
I beamed thought rays from my forehead to hers.
I lost every single one of my nerves.
I blathered and sputtered.
I couldn’t accept the end lying there in the unconscious 
eyes, ears, and arms of my long lost best friend.

But just then
I heard the sound of a cricket chirp
which assured me that the Earth
was still passing by while the universe 
expanded. I’m nothing I thought and exhaled seeing my love above 
me smile back and recede into sounds of rustling branches and shaking leaves.

Since then
I’ve just been
leaving the sink on to let the water run. 
Brush my teeth and get ready for bed.
Try to silence the thought marathon currently running through my head.
Other people fuck and make love sounds in the rooms down the way.
Can’t stop ‘em though.
Feelings on the sidelines are never allowed to play.

Walking a line
drying clothes all at the same time.
Wandering outside, taking it in.
Mars has tracks on it from landing craft,
but I can’t keep track of expanding paths
and synapse math.
There’s something surrounded by bone up there
that wants to go home down there, 
but where?
I can’t stay here anymore?
I can’t stay here anymore.
Can’t you just stop?
But where does it end?
I have to keep going.
My homing signal has been assumed missing
and while you keep guessing
I’m out here in the clear totally tamped down and flattened.
Sometimes I’m re-animated you see by free wit, will and stimulation.
But it doesn’t come without proper accreditation.
Change the laws please and just.
Let.
Me.
Be.
B.
Brandon.
I’ve written my name a lot.
So.
Have.
You.

Music That Makes Me Say “Yep!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I started writing this blog on 7/25/14. Believe it or not some of my favorites have changed between then and now (8/9/14). I’m going to leave the two songs I’ve written about already (Pantera and Jamiroquai) because I did a lot of research to fully articulate my opinion with images and video. A couple of songs have since been swapped though. System of a Down’s song “Sugar” has been swapped with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.”  311’s song “Hive” has been replaced with Neko Case’s “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” On to the critiques!

I think these songs and musicians are incredible. They move me in a way that I can’t quite describe – but I will do my best. Everyone has a band or a song that makes them uncontrollably tap their toe. Entire playlists have been made dedicated to this very phenomenon. I write this in case there is ever a point in my life where my friends choose to make a podcast containing songs they know I love. That’s already happened once and it was a tribute executed to perfection. Without further ado, here are the songs that make me say, “Yep!”

1. Pantera “This Love”

I include this version for two reasons. 1. It has lyrics, and 2. It’s the full song. I guess making the video for the six and a half minute version from the album was unacceptable. Ok, whatever. Cutting out the two minutes to shorten the length is a foolish decision in my opinion. It cuts out the best part of the song! At 3:01 when Phil screams, “No more head trips!” I fully enjoy what comes next. The guitar solo is incredible and the drums! Man, I love how they fill the rests with ultra-snappy snare hits. Throughout this song the guitar has a beautiful tone. I like how it goes from clean and dark to ultra-distorted and manic. I remember playing this song on a cruise I went on. I was a teenager at the time and we were allowed to play songs from CDs (those were the days!) we brought with us. No one dug this song, but me. It was so cool to hear it thumping through the fully legit dance floor speakers. Can you guess who was the only one on the dance floor flinging themselves about for the entire length of the song? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count. My one criticism of this song is the way it ends. It’s nice if you listen to it only once or as part of the album, but if you want to listen to it a lot and put it on a playlist, the slow fade out at the end gets boring.

2. Jack White “Black Bat Licorice”

Believe it or not, I used to not like Jack White or his band, The White Stripes. But, boy oh boy did I change my tune when I heard Ball and a Biscuit. I didn’t like The White Stripes because they didn’t have a bass player. Meg’s drumming isn’t the best, but I’ve come to accept that she is uniquely qualified to play with such a disarmingly talented man as Jack. The song above – from his new solo album, Lazaretto – stands out to me. It has a really good beat, and as usual, Jack’s lyrics are incredible.

I like lyrics that help me learn something. This song is full of that. Here are a couple of examples.

1. “…she’s built for speed like a black castrum doloris”

Do you know what a black castrum doloris is? I didn’t until I looked it up. Apparently it’s latin for “castle of grief.” Wikipedia says, “These are structures and decorations sheltering or accompanying the catafalque or bier that signify the prestige or high estate of the deceased.” Below is a picture of an example.

castrum doloris

2. “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust”

Roman hypocaust? What the heck is that? A hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air.

3. “She writes letters like a Jack Chick comic”

I know my comics pretty well, but I’ve never heard of Jack Chick. Wikipedia says:

“Jack Thomas Chick (born April 13, 1924) is an American publisher, writer, and comic book artist of evangelical fundamentalist Christian tracts and comic books.[2] His comics have been described by Los Angeles magazine as “equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.”

4. “I mean, she’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

  • of or relating to an uncle
  • suggestive of an uncle especially in kindness or geniality

5. Finally, what the heck is Black Bat Licorice? I could only find this image.

Black Bat Licorice

I guess it’s some kind of candy? I don’t know. The Google search is dominated by the song at this point. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

3. Jamiroquai “Cosmic Girl”

This song is just downright funky! If you’re not tapping your toe or feeling a small groove in your tummy, then I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong. This video is a little cheesy. I would have liked to see some dancing of a metaphorical “cosmic girl.” Why are there no girls in the video? I don’t get it. The cars are ok. I will forgive the lack of creativity in the video because the song is so cool. I hope you will understand.

4. Neko Case “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”

Neko has a truly beautiful voice. When I listen to this song in headphones, it sounds like she has a digital echo/delay on some of her vocals. She does not. That is an actual person accompanying her who has the perfect pitch ability to harmonize with her. I’ve seen her perform live and was blown away by how much their voices harmonize. They harmonize even when they talk! It’s like their voices are a glove and a hand and they fit each other perfectly.

Neko explains the story behind the song on NPR. It’s a haunting story. But it’s real. And it’s poignant. And I love her for that. She explains, “I wrote the song, I sang it into my phone recorder. I tried it with music, but it just felt better a capella.” I agree, Neko Case. That’s why you’re on my list.

5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

This video is really cool. It’s very minimalist and artistic. I love the colors. They’re muted and bold at the same time. It was her performance on SNL that really made her stick out in my mind though. Her choreography (if it can be called that) is super minimalist too. When she and her female Moog player both glance to the left in unison between “People turn the TV on / it looks just like a window…” and “…Yeah!” I’m completely moved. So moved in fact that I can’t help but do the same thing when I’m listening to this song in my head phones. I’m going to see her play a free concert at Prospect Park. I’m really looking forward to it.

6. Madonna – Hung Up

Say what you want about Madonna. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like her. I don’t understand why. I’ve never asked them why, but I get the sense that because of her omni-presence, people just want her to go away. Or because she’s old. Really? Are you going to be as fit as she is when you’re 50? Please don’t diss her for being a star. Sure she’s been out of the spotlight recently (she did release an album in 2012, but I think it fell flat). For the last 30 years she’s given the world a piece of herself. Oh and she’s also given us all a reason to let loose and dance. The opening rooftop shot in this video looks like an homage to the photo shoot she did with Richard Corman in 1983 before she became the person we know today. I had the privilege of making a video about Richard’s encounter with Madonna last year. Richard is a very humble man and is incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph a woman before she became an icon.

This song has some particular memories attached to it for me. This song is on her album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, which came out in 2005. I was living in Delaware at the time. I took an adventure up to New York City with a friend. Her picture was everywhere! I remember going to Times Square and seeing the image below.

Confessions_On_A_Dancefloor

 

My time in New York City was spent weaving in out of trains, hotels and people. It culminated in a party that was behind a door that did not bespeak what I was to behold behind it. Oh the fantastical things I saw! A burlesque dancing duo on a small stage no bigger than a box, a bathroom with urinals plastered to the wall in funny positions, and young people of all backgrounds. While outside on the roof I saw a man scale a building and draw graffiti art on a neighboring building. I danced the night away to some very interesting tunes. I lost track of time. Suddenly, the curtains were drawn and there was light pouring in! I checked my watch. 6:30am. Whoa! I made my way down to the street and hopped in a cab with some fellow party goers. When we got to my stop, I tried to pay, but realized I didn’t have cash. All that was in my pocket were a couple of broken cigarettes (not being a smoker, I have no clue as to how those got in there) which I offered in earnest to my compatriots. They said, “don’t worry about it man. Just get in there and get some water and sleep.” I’m thankful for their generosity and for taking it easy on my small Midwestern lamb of a self. To summarize, this song encapsulates that weekend.

7. Skrillex – Stranger

This video features some really talented dancers interpreting the beats in a very unique way. Skrillex’s first full-length album, “Recess,” is a solid musical work. Rolling Stone magazine says he’s finally worth paying attention to. I couldn’t agree more. His sound is truly unique. I used to believe that true musicians are defined by being able to play an instrument, not being able to twist knobs and press buttons. My opinion has changed. Skrillex composes beautiful songs – often on piano – before layering all kinds of bass and other sounds into the arrangement. Below is an example of a woman covering one of his most famous songs.

If he doesn’t compose his songs this way, they certainly are worth seeing covered by a pianist. Wow! Just think of this the next time you here the actual song. The big change here is the massive bass drop. I think it sounds like, “Lance OH MY GOD!” I told my friend Lance about this. He agrees, but still doesn’t care for the song.

 8. Lily Allen – Fuck You

I recently put a few more songs on my phone and Miss Lily Allen was one of the artists who made the cut. I’m a big fan of her first album so I was delighted to hear her second album too. This song really resonates with me. It’s clever and there’s no way it will be played on the radio. The fact that an artist made a song knowing that indicates to me that she made the song for herself and her live audiences, not for radio play. That’s a special move these days and one that deserves recognition. It has a great message about people who are stuck on the wrong side of history. This video is very clever too. I was laughing for a lot of it.

9. Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats

I love this song. I bought this album when it first came out in 1997. I remember rocking out to it in my ’91 Camaro. I was into Prodigy as well. I think being into this type of electronic music prepped for my interest in Skrillex. This song is perfect for being on the playlist that I listen to when I run or work out at the gym.

10. Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo

I’ll end on a light note. I’ve been listening to lots of music like this lately. It’s peaceful and easy on the ears.

Thanks for reading!

 

MOVIE REVIEW: The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris’ 1988 film, The Thin Blue Line, takes no time to establish its cinematic language through very deliberate shot selection and editing choices. In the opening shots, which last only about four and a half to five minutes, there is an immense amount of information provided to the audience that captures the imagination and quickly gets them invested in the story line of what transpired.

The very first shots offer various structural features of downtown Dallas, and an immediate sense of mood and time is provided. The shots are taken at night and the gentle pulsing of the red lights atop the buildings give us a sense of relaxation and calm. However, taken with Philip Glass’ mysterious underlying score, the pulsing lights create a feeling of unease that often exists in the unwieldy hours just before the break of dawn. Additionally, these lights are placed on the buildings as indicators to aircraft, something that we all know is meant to serve as a warning.

The opening shots mentioned above are quite eloquently composed and establish the film’s location beautifully. The first three shots are taken from a distance, but can be considered close ups. The camera moves slightly, but my guess is this is because the zoom is maxed out and no matter what tripod you have, you will register an ever-so-slight amount of movement if you’re zoomed all the way in.

Just before the fourth shot takes the frame, a voice over begins explaining a part of a journey that ended in Dallas. This is a great example of how to establish location without having to rely on title cards or any text at all. As a viewer, you immediately identify the skyline as being that of Dallas because the voiceover says, “We got into Dallas on Thursday night…”

So the audience is aware of location and what the situation is from this particular character’s viewpoint. The approach of not using titles is carried on throughout the film and I’ll touch on its meaning later.

By using a flashback sequence shot in a narrative Hollywood movie style, Mr. Morris quickly gives the audience a picture of the facts of the case and he does so in a compelling and captivating way.  (Incidentally, by employing this method he managed to get himself excluded from Academy Award consideration for Best Documentary in 1989.  However, he has been fully vindicated by the fact that this film is consistently rated in the top ten of best documentaries and the Academy did finally bestow him the top honor in 2003 for Fog of War.)

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After the character who appears first (the audience doesn’t know exactly who this character is yet, but by allowing him to appear first, there is some underlying meaning applied) finishes his brief exposition by saying that, “it was as if I was meant to be here” there is a cut to a flashing police siren. Slowly layers are being peeled away that we’re dealing with some sort of crime or criminal activity.

Next, another character is introduced, wearing a traditional orange prison jumpsuit. His attire is unmistakably that of a convicted felon. This is an interesting juxtaposition from the first character. He also seems to be wearing some sort of uniform, but since it is white and collared, it is somewhat ambiguous about exactly what type of uniform it is. The color white is always a significant, unconscious visual cue. The new character in the orange jumpsuit explains his arrival to Dallas too, and it is for wholly different reasons. His reasons consist of criminal activities involving robbery, grand theft auto, and the stealing of a couple of firearms. When the firearms are mentioned, the audience is given a quick, slightly rotating rendering of a gun so as to remind us that this character is the one that has possession of a deadly weapon. He finishes his first little bit by saying, “…ended up coming to Dallas” which now establishes his location as being the same as the first character.

After a quick beat to allow for the man to look off towards the ceiling and for the audience to reflect on the fact that both of these men are now in Dallas, the editing leads back into another abstract look at modern edifices during the predawn hours. The music continues with a very minimalist ostinato in a minor key that really drives home the mystery and intrigue. On the third shot of the buildings, the first character’s voice enters by way of a J-cut and as expected we land back on an MCU in order for him to finish his thought about his random, fateful encounter with a stranger.

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The next cut is on the last word of the phrase, “he stopped and asked me if I needed any help.” The cut is to an aerial view of the Dallas metropolitan area that holds for just a quick beat before slowly tilting down. As character two’s voice enters, the aerial shot dissolves into a map of what is assumed to be the same area. The accompanying line of dialogue is, “I’m driving down some street, somewhere in Dallas.” I think this image is placed here to emphasize the point that this is a large city and the likelihood of an event coming to pass such as this one is truly serendipitous. There may very well have been a cut used here to establish the second character’s introduction of the first as Randall Adams, but if so it’s hidden well. Regardless, the audience now understands how the two characters met, which is what sets the ball in motion.

After another brief spot of dialogue from Mr. Adams that touches on the complexity of fate and why we are put into some people’s lives a cut is made to a new scene. The new scene is a shot of a police car that has pulled over a small sedan of some sort on a nondescript, two-lane highway. The music rises to the top here, no dialogue is included and the shots become quite artistic. This pacing of the editing hastens here as we’re reaching the climax of this sequence of events.

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The next shot is an abstraction of reflection and light which enhances the natural confusion that any audience will have within the first five minutes of a film. A hand reaches into the frame from the bottom and adjusts the rearview mirror which indicates that the shot is inside the car that has been pulled over. Next it cuts back to a medium shot of the police car that is framed to allow enough space for the driver side door to open, the police officer to emerge, and for him to begin walking towards the car that has been pulled over. The sound of his footsteps continue as the camera cuts back into the car onto a CU of someone’s hand on a steering wheel. Again, there is a deliberate effort made to reveal a very small amount of information.

We cut back to a head-on medium shot of the police car, but this time focusing on the passenger side door, which again is framed to allow the officer to open the door and exit, flashlight in hand. She shuts the door, turns on her flashlight and approaches the car. The footsteps have stopped (or have been blended into the music), which can technically be viewed as a continuity error- the officer would have certainly arrived to the side of the car in real time, but the time is being drawn out to be made more dramatic and it works.

The next cut is a high angle shot of a long shadow that is being thrown on the dark, blacktop highway by the police car’s headlights and we see the officer’s legs enter the frame with the sound of his footsteps resuming. Next, there is an extreme low angle shot of a tire and the officer’s neatly pressed pants and shiny shoes. His motion is slowed down just slightly as he arrives to the car and then BANG! A quick cut on sound to a close up of the barrel of a gun followed almost instantaneously by a police diagram showing where that bullet entered the body. Then, a few more gunshots with corresponding close ups of the barrel followed by further police diagrams showing where the bullets entered and left the body. Then the gun is retracted from the CU and back into the car. The next shot is a CUof a foot stepping on the accelerator of the car and pressing it all the way to the floorboard. As expected there is a screeching sound made by the tires as it peels out, which cuts to a shot of the mortally wounded officer lying on the ground as the car speeds away.

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The other officer then springs into action. Again, there is a slight continuity problem here. If the officer’s partner had continued her path that was set into motion a few seconds ago she would have been right on top of the action and would have been able to react to the events faster. But, this also lends itself well to the following scenes because I suspect the audience picks up on this subtle error in protocol and is asking themselves why wasn’t she in a better position to defend her partner.

After springing into action, she unleashes a few rounds at the fleeing vehicle to no avail. It disappears into the night and we cut back to a close up of the barrel of her gun just as she realizes her attempts at retribution are futile. More diagrams of the fatal wounds are shown as well as coroner photos of the actual officer and his uniform replete with bullet holes. There is a lovely, candid image of the officer and then the music resolves as a newspaper headline sweeps into full frame CU of the photo of the officer with the tagline, “Officer killed Sunday.” Then cut to an extreme CU of the time that hit happened (12:30am), an obvious reaction (“Oh my gosh”),  a beautiful abstraction due to of the pixilated dots that are used in newspaper printing presses, another piece of information (“no description, could not be”), and finally the date of the occurrence (November 29th, 1976) that dissolves into the next noteworthy date of December 22nd of the same year, the date when Randall Adams was arrested on suspicion of murder.

All of this information is given in the first four and a half to five minutes of the film. The audience is given concrete information about the events that are going to be explored. The sneaking suspicion that something’s not quite right should be readily evident to anyone and our brains are open to the discovery process that we’re about to begin. It’s a masterful approach to opening a story.

Given this same circumstance, I can’t possibly begin to imagine a better way to cut this. I would consider using title cards. I really respect the decision to not include them. I think it makes for a much more artful presentation, but at the same time, it also makes it a little bit more of a heavy lift for first time viewers. The point of the film is to make sure that the entire world knows the facts and if any information is lost on your viewing audience, you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot.

Fortunately this film was made by one of the great masters of our time and no information is unclear. Using scripted sequences with actors to recreate the scenes was ahead of its time. It was a bold choice and it paid off. This is one of my favorite documentaries for sure. Not only is it well made with meticulous attention to detail, but the end result is that it got an innocent man freed from prison! Social change and bringing awareness to a social issue is the burning desire of the vast majority of filmmakers and if you can achieve it, you’ve really earned your stripes.

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American Indians Deserve Our Respect

After seeing the film The Internet’s Own Boy, a documentary about the late Aaron Swartz, I felt obliged to tweet a message of condolence to Quinn Norton, Swartz’s once girlfriend. I began following her on Twitter immediately after I responded to her as she has many erudite thoughts on Internet culture. She tweeted the following on July 4th.

Quinn Norton Twitter

I read the article and disagreed with Norton’s assertion that naming American helicopters after Native American tribes is disrespectful. I thought, If anything it’s a way of bestowing honor on a people who were fierce fighters. But Norton pressed me to go further and research the issue before making up my mind. I’m glad I did because I can see her point now.

She pointed out that terms like Navajo (which there is even an argument about how to correctly spell this word. Some folks are worried that spelling the word with a “J” will lead folks to mis-pronounce the word “nav-a-joe.” Because of this, some folks have rejected this European way of spelling and have sought to adjust the spelling to “Navaho.”) are bestowed upon a group of people who already have a name for themselves. In this case the people commonly referred to as “Navaho” call themselves “Diné.” When conversing with them, they will tell you that this word simply means “The People.”

That’s certainly a perspective shifting thought. During my twitter conversation with Norton, I pointed out that I do believe the ongoing kerfuffle over the name of the football team from Washington is justified. The video that started it all is powerful and makes a strong case for the name change.

 

The video is very well put together and elicits an emotional response from me. I worry those who are recalcitrant about changing the name will wind up on the wrong side of history. I’m from Kansas City so I thought the football team I root for, the Chiefs, were safe. But apparently that’s not the case. An article published on Slate.com points out that teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and Florida State Seminoles among others all play on land seized from American Indians.

KC-Chiefs

That’s a downright discomfiting thought. I can now empathize with fans of the Washington Redskins who are true fans. I speculate that many of them are like me and aren’t sure what the best course of action is. I am conflicted. I don’t want to support an organization that disrespects people, but I also don’t want to lose hold of a team that I’ve come to love. After much thinking on this subject I’ve decided that I will be okay with a name change. I think taking one’s cue from William Shakespeare is prudent. After all, “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”

Features Writing

mashable logo

I worked at Mashable where I wrote features articles. Often I would supplement these articles with photography. Every so often I would do video work as well. Here are links to my best work.

1. Rethinking Architecture for a More Connected Future

2. McDonald’s Reveal Photoshop Magic Behind Burger Ads {VIDEO]

3. Want Your Startup Name in the Dictionary? Choose Wisely

4. Rainn Wilson Talks Altruism on the Webt — And Then Smashes a Guitar at SXSW

5. Every Awesome Moment You Missed at SXSW [PICS] 

6. On the Street: Do You Understand SOPA? [VIDEO]

On Copyright Law

ColbertSteven Colbert’s interview w/ Lawrence Lessig has been sited as definitive proof of someone intelligently trashing Lessig’s beliefs.

“A hybrid economy is an economy where we go off gasoline?”

The above question from Mr. Colbert during the interview with Lessig should immediately let the viewer know that he is simply parodying the right wing pundit buffoon that he normally does on his show. When Colbert says “copy written” his opinion should be thrown out immediately. He’s smart enough to know that the term is actually “copyrighted.” The act of writing on Lessig’s book cover with a marker and drawing Snoopy on the inner pages is clearly proving his point of benefiting from a remix. He goes on to ironically dissuade people from remixing this very interview to be used in dance clubs.

Here is just one remix I found on YouTube that Mr. Colbert specifically asked his viewers to not do. Notice that it has over 100,000 views. I’m confident in my belief that he specifically asks viewers not to do something so he can distance himself from any legal ramifications that might crop up. In this sense, asking viewers to not do something is actually asking viewers to do what he’s asking them not to do.

Colbert does make the point that Congress hasn’t passed legislation and not a lot of people are being prosecuted, but the goes on to posit we should all just forget about it. Therein lies the point that Lessig – and Colbert by way of irony – are actually making. Should we just forget about things that are not on Congress’ list of things to do because people aren’t being prosecuted? It’s the system that has this possibility of punishment that we should seek to reform. The fact that 70% of Americans are technically guilty of copyright infringement should send alarm bells ringing for everyone. Even though companies aren’t prosecuting these people we should still work to change the law, because the fact remains that some people are being prosecuted. The fact that Lessig is on the front lines of this battle is good. Mr. Lessig should be commended, not derided.

Lessig elucidates his point in his book Free Culture. 

Free_culture_cover

“Overregulation stifles creativity. It smothers innovation. It gives dinosaurs a veto over the future. It wastes the extraordinary opportunity for a democratic creativity that digital technology enables.”

Lessig continues.

“The content industry’s tactics exploit the failings of the American legal system. When the RIAA brought suit against Jesse Jordan, it knew that in Jordan it had found a scapegoat, not a defendant. The threat of having to pay either all the money in the world in damages ($15,000,000) or almost all the money in the world to defend against paying all the money in the world in damages ($250,000 in legal fees) led Jordan to choose to pay all the money he had in the world ($12,000) to make the suit go away. The same strategy animates the RIAA’s suits against individual users. In September 2003, the RIAA sued 261 individuals—including a twelve-year-old girl living in public housing and a seventy-year-old man who had no idea what file sharing was. As these scapegoats discovered, it will always cost more to defend against these suits than it would cost to simply settle. (The twelve year old, for example, like Jesse Jordan, paid her life savings of $2,000 to settle the case.) Our law is an awful system for defending rights. It is an embarrassment to our tradition. And the consequences of our law as it is, is that those with the power can use the law to quash any rights they oppose.”

Let’s just take a minute and think about what Lessig has said here. A twelve-year-old girl who lived in public housing paid her life savings of $2,000 to make a lawsuit go away. From the article:

“The seventh-grade honor student was…the first to settle with the record labels, which agreed…to drop their case against her in exchange for $2,000 and an apology.

‘I am sorry for what I have done,’ [she] said in a statement issued by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the labels. ‘I love music and don’t want to hurt the artists I love.’

[Her] predicament landed on the front pages of New York’s two leading tabloids… and lured an encampment of reporters to the Manhattan apartment where she lives with her mother and 9-year-old brother.

When she learned she was being sued for downloading songs such as ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and the theme to the television show ‘Family Matters,’ she told the New York Daily News that her ’stomach is all in knots.’”

How does that make you feel about this law? Does it sit right with you? Do you think it is justifiable that the RIAA sued a youngster for simply downloading songs that she liked? Do you see any possibility of her making money from this “illegal” downloading? I, for one, do not. I believe it is deplorable for a massive organization like the RIAA to sue a young girl and demand an apology. If ever there were an example of bullying, this is it.

Lessig explains in his book that the practice of “stealing” a copyrighted work via peer-to-peer sharing is starkly different as well.

“…when you take a book from Barnes & Noble, it has one less book to sell. By contrast, when you take an MP3 from a computer network, there is not one less CD that can be sold…The physics of the piracy of the intangible are different from the physics of the piracy of the tangible.”

Lessig still believes this kind of piracy is wrong and that an example like this “should push us to find a way to protect artists while enabling…sharing to survive.”

Jaron Lanier offers his own idea of how we can make this work with a system of micro payments.

“Everybody would have access to everything, but there would be little micro payments flowing around. So if somebody derived something from your work, they would be able to figure out it was really you so nothing would be anonymous. Little pennies would flow to you and more and more people would find a way to make a living from creativity. What we have instead is a world where creativity flows around for free because we’re all supposed to be a part of this ‘Creative Commons’ and so forth. Meanwhile we’re told to become more physical in our way of making a living… to make t-shirts or something.”

He continues.

“Ted Nelson’s idea for micropayment with attribution is, I think, a beautiful notion. And so then everything would be accessible. It wouldn’t be free, but it would be affordable. I think it’s a way to have sort of a society with liberties of capitalism with the equity of socialism.”

I think Lanier’s advancement of Tim Nelson’s idea of micro payments is a brilliant idea. I hope the Mr. Lessig would feel the same way. Based on Lessig’s book, I don’t see any evidence that would make him the least bit opposed to Lanier’s idea.

Some people like David Karpf think of Lanier as a “curmudgeon” after reading a biographic article in the New Yorker. Furthermore, Karpf thinks Lanier is being a “myopic technologist.” I’d also like to point out that Karpf — or someone he knows — has picked out the exact same WordPress blog theme as I have. Well done.

Back to Karpf’s theory on Lanier being a “myopic technologist. I don’t agree. I think Karpf is reading too much into Lanier’s writing style, especially when he calls it “muddy” and derides Lanier’s penchant to quickly jump from one subject to the next. As a technology layman, I enjoy Lanier’s writing style. He discusses such heady, complex issues that I’m fine with him only using a couple of pages to explain one argument. It allows me truly digest it and read it again if I don’t quite grasp it on the first time through.

Lanier’s books You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto and Who Owns the Future are lovely books. The same goes for Lawrence Lessig. I’ve read Free Culture, but not his other works. In my opinion, both men are brilliant men with erudite evaluations of copyright law.


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The Act of Killing is the Best Documentary of 2013 by Far

act of killing

I saw the Director’s Cut of this film at Union Docs in Brooklyn on Sunday night, March 9th. I wish you all could have been there w/ me.

The film ended around 10:15pm and Joshua Oppenheimer stayed for about an hour and a half afterward to answer questions. After reading the article written by Jill Godmillow (which criticized the intent of the film) I was readily prepared to ask him some pointed questions. Specifically, I wanted to ask if he had considered the part at the end of the film where Anwar Congo begins retching because of his memories could, in fact, be more acting. Someone else asked this and I’m glad I didn’t. Josh said that he’s “100% sure Anwar wasn’t acting. If you think that then you’re unable to empathize with him as a person. I spent 5 years with him so I know that moment was real. It was the last moment we shot together because I felt they would not be able to go any deeper into the story after that moment.”

He explained the scene where Herman and others go into small shops run by Chinese merchants and extort money from them. He told us that after Herman would take money from someone, he would ask Herman to walk about 50 meters ahead of them so he could take long shots. While this was happening, he would give the shopkeepers the money that they just coughed up back. He would explain to them what he was doing and asked them to not tell because it could put him in danger. Wow.

I asked a few questions too. Here they are with answers in bold.

1. Did the film they (the perpetrators) were working on ever get completed, and if so what was the reaction to it from the Indonesian people?

No. This was simply a story telling device. The film never got made. It was just a method for the perpetrators to fully explain in detail what they did. It had the added benefit of getting them to reenact their atrocities.

2. Why was Herman dressed as a woman so many times?

He was an actor in theater group akin to kabuki theater or Shakespeare’s globe where all the actors are men and are thus forced to play female roles.

3. How did they come to understand the translation of gangster to be “free man.”

This is similar to the semantic difference between terrorist and freedom fighter. The Indonesian word “gangster” comes from a Dutch phrase, “vrij man.” This word is used for gangster, but it literally translates as “free man.”

He had many more insights about what he learned and talked at length about his story. I learned a lot. His descriptions of why he shot this film and what it means were articulate and vivid. It has been reviewed well in Indonesia. He explained that the most popular news magazine in Jakarta, that for decades had supported the extermination campaign, flipped its stance after the film came out. They interviewed hundreds of perpetrators and published a volume of all their stories. The film is making a big impact on the country and how folks see their future. This fact stands in direct conflict of Jill Godmillow’s assertion that the film is “preaching to the choir” and is thus pornographic.

Finally, after all was over I went up and shook Joshua’s hand. I gave him my Hotel/Motel business card. He autographed my DVD. This experience and seeing the film for the third time confirmed in my mind that this film was far more groundbreaking and socially relevant than “20 Feet from Stardom.” That was the safe pick for the Academy and they should be ashamed.

I hiked in Bolivia

I made this brief video on a trip I took to Isla del Sol, La Paz and Mt. Sajama while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia. The views were breathtaking and truly made me feel alive. I think I shared it awhile back, but came across it again today and thought it deserved going on my blog. Enjoy!

You’re in command.

This is prose I wrote while serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia.

Sounds like, but it’s not raining on the roof
I get what I got by remaining aloof
Sharp or flat, give me a tune
dark and black, she simply assumes
what must fix us and make us well again
literally swelling, but still faking you’re celibate.
Quit making demands into diamonds. It’s like sifting sand.
You won’t find or entwine – just pay it no mind
the rocks in your socks nor the trot of the fox.

Pillage the defenses. Mend nothing less than zero fences
you can’t change what you are even if you’re thrown from a car,
raising the bar or bathing in tar. War will mar far from recognition what you
dar al mar. Your secrets and stories are simply subpar.
Science will someday pry us out of these lazy senses and consciences
don’t even mention mental retention or belief suspension
it’s not worth it, the berths that Perth works you usurp it.
The curse of the person whose sermon can worsen and poison the toys in the boys room

I think she might be arriving
Instead I wish she was diving into a pool filled with air
not water, but bare though still deep and quite quiet from peeps
of fair warning. Like the morning eleventh of month nine.
Blood caked, mentally raked, fingers full of grime and exploded stones of lime.
I struggle to find a humbling climb or a thought that doesn’t rot
but persists through time
I’ve stumbled on dimes and tripped on the Earth
gifts given they were, but now seem to be curses
like bare legs, shaved, open not pursed
can’t resist missions or quizzes, I’m totally promiscuous with
trimmed nails, fists and my wits don’t miss.
Miss, I’m in complete agreement with myself when I’m sacrificing my health
or operating in stealth in order to minimize wealth
Let me in! I’m knocking on the door. I’m rapping and rapping
and struggling to win, but failing to lose. I’ve lost my muse
and missed my cues. Now whose kissed who’s due to lose?
Where once I fought and swam with kangaroos?
Calculated dates and raisins makes mates trite and paraded
what I wear is indicative of my mood
my unintentional expletive fits well into my restiveness
“pestilence” is a word I don’t really know, but I guess it works
to tweak the crooks and rewrite the books
that claim authority and anchor me down deep inside the minority.

Wishful blinking conserves feelings and potato peelings
hey Q-Bert instead of reeling in your next big catch
drag the nets and use the rice to expell your head lice
you’ll be dead if you’re right, cut in here by a murderous kite
run through the crowd. Drop the leash. Crash the china.
The bull conquers the lamb.

Aplomb bomb zombies run decidedly dreadfully
beddy bye time why climb the vine when
the weather’s just fine, I say
the grey skies are quite fetching in this mind of mine.
Feeling it out can whisk away words or pistols with bristles and
grizzle. Fuck your missiles. You’ll have to drown in the moat to storm my
castle. Put your lightening in your pocket snot rocket man
if that’s your plan who knows when you’ll land
giggle pig and play your fiddle
Your career is on the griddle because you can’t win in the middle.
Just can’t do it. Starting down that path always leads to black math
I don’t know who made giraffes. Get off my back you fascist fat prat!
Oh I’m sorry… I’ll just be outback skinning your cat.

Did you see that hammerhead swim by?
It didn’t even see me and I was right there watching him on TV.
Do they make females anymore? Where can you go to get the dough?
They say I’m broken and undateable.
Indecisive, unguided and an emotionally unstable bull

Fuck you, you’re right. I am. I’ll take the stand
It’s fine, totally fine. Say what you want, but you better have a plan
You couldn’t have felt what that felt like
That rush of fear-laced blood. That overwhelming calm that didn’t
allow me to think about the possibilities. The death and injuries
that were peeking around the corner, winking and grinning seductively.
My entire structure was altered like a puzzle completed that fell off a table.
I had to pick it up and put it back together again, but I’m still looking for a couple of pieces.
I think maybe they fell under the rug and got lost and mixed up with the
rest of the stuff that I put under there.

Dog hair and thought snares. Don’t even know how they got there
I bought rakes. After buttering up my pancakes I used the filling
to sop my bran flakes. I mean flakes of Brandon sent softly landin’
on the ottoman foot rest I bought for you. Actually, I bartered for it. Handed all my toy cars over but thought I would
get more for it. Profit has never been on my mind. That
would be nice.

I get this feeling of oneness sometimes. Honed and cocked
in sound peace of mind. As soon as it hits it starts to slip
away like a misfit from a crowd. My mind’s mental hands
reach out like sticky hands that you can buy for a quarter
(you used to be able to get them for a dime at one time)
from those red-bottomed, glass-topped vendor-less vendors
that have a star-shaped, metal-knobbed handle. The sound was
a metallic click – a procession of them that led to the little cheap plastic bubble coming down the shoot. Slip open the
metal flap carefully and get your prize. That rubber, sticky, gooey
slappy hand. Noe you’re in command.

Worst dream ever.

This is prose I wrote while serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia.

Does fire have weight? If it does this match should topple over any second now and drip fire all over my table.

I still have plastic covering on my mattress that is sometimes revealed when I roll and turn, toss and readjust in my sleeping bag.

So I was in a Peace Corps like office setting. I had gone upstairs from buying tickets. I saw bags, nifty and well-sorted for traveling. They were lined up like I’d line ’em up in a wooden cubby. Somebody’s parents were visiting. There were momma bags and poppa bags and sister bags and brother bags. It couldn’t have been my family. I don’t have the latter two and my parents aren’t coming til next year.

I was in a line in a big cafeteria with metal counters made of bars so you can slide your tray along with your hip while you search for your money. The cashier’s always in a good mood. Usually wearing an apron – navy blue. Or black if they’re trendy.

Went upstairs and it was dark. Hard to see my watch because the damn Indiglo is busted. Finally a street light or something glinted across and I could see it was time to go. We were going to miss our bus.

“Tiff! We gotta go,” I kind of yelled, emphasizing her name and trailing off at the end.

“I know. Give me one second,” she said from somewhere distant in my brain.

Then time skipped forward like it does and I was talking to Mark. I didn’t recognize his voice at first. I haven’t heard it or played it in so long. I was on my Nokia phone and suddenly Chris Scott was there rough-housing with me making a conversation definitively impossible. But I didn’t care because Mark wasn’t there when I previously thought my life was more important than his.

I mercifully let Mark go. Chris continued to wrestle me into submission. He’s a lot bigger than me and he’s always been able to handle me physically if he wanted to.

My right hand won’t stop shaking in certain positions.

He’s got me in a vice grip laying on the part you normally sit on on a couch. His legs are propped in the air against the part you usually put your back on. He starts to grow an erection and it’s obscenely touching my thigh, but there is nothing I can do about it. Oh yeah, I made one last desperate move. I wasn’t going down without a fight and after I hung up on Mark I had both hands free so I tackled Chris into the position we were in now. Tiffany was standing on the other side of the coffee table which completed the couch’s tandem.

I was thoroughly disgusted and told him so, but was helpless to move and he just did that Chris Scott chuckle. That makes (made) me want to bite his nose off and spit it back in his face. Can’t even do that now I’m so pinned.

The scene changes like someone turned a page in a book and I’m packing my stuff hurriedly because now I’m making us late.

Something happens here. Spooks me. Can’t remember now. Maye it’s outweighed by what happens later. Maybe Chris Scott’s boner thing was enough to trim me with warm fuzzies.

All of a sudden I gotta go pee. So bad that I can’t quite hold it and little spurts and dribble are seeping through despite my best efforts to hold them off.

One candle just went out!

I reach down and grab myself and run sort of crab-like to the bathroom where I proceed to tap dance while I unfurl my urine-clogged member. Out it comes like a broken and destroyed dam. I’m relishing the release of pain when a pebble or some sort of airborne object that came from an impossible angle due to the geometrical shape of the bathroom. I was sure that it was supernatural and quite vindictive. Being exposed didn’t make things easier. Thus I screamed, “Who the fuck is there, goddamn it?!?” Which woke me up into a room full of unfamiliar, thoroughly foreign darkness. I had just enough time to realize I was laying on my right side in a long rectangular room with the head of the bed nuzzled into one corner. I thought to myself that it was odd to have screamed in my sleep. “Never done that before,” I thought. Just as I began to go over what had happened in my dream that would elicit such an unprecedented behavior a door in the other corner of the long shoebox room opened and a backlit figure came in and walked straight toward me. I thought it was Tiff – maybe I had fallen asleep waiting for her and now it was time to go, but she was letting me rest. After hearing me scream she came in to check on me.

Nope. Not that.

As the ambiguous figure approached, the light from outside started to fill in the room and my eyes began to adjust. Whoever the fuck it was was wearing a black robe and had their face painted like a clown.

It was impossible to tell if it was Tiffany. It was impossible to tell if it was male or female. I didn’t say anything, waiting for some trigger of recognition to fire. My surroundings, this person, something. Nothing. Clown face leans over me, my breathing quickens and puts both hands on my shoulders and gently, firmly holds me down.

“Tiffany?” I ask hopefully.

Just a shake of the head slowly.

I reach up with my hands to its arms. Definitely man. Definitely strong and inescapable. My vision has finally adjusted and that white paint fully occupies my vision. I am overcome with horror and fear.

I open my eyes and I am in Huari. But it doesn’t really click. They close and I’m back. It’s face is even more demented and terrifying. I open my eyes again and my conscious memory spins into action and quickly reminds my mind and body that the first opened eyes did, in fact, see home. My eyes opened for good this time and I breathed, but did not feel safe for about ten minutes. Almost called Tiff to ask if I could come over. It’s after 1am though and I’m a big boy.

A dog barked more eerily than I probably would have normally thought. I finished Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle before going to sleep. Don’t see how that would figure in.

Then rolled on my back to see a black shadow in the corner of the ceiling like a huge bat turn into liquid and slide down the wall reviving my sense of uncalm.

My eyes are my enemy tonight.

Light some candles. Write it out of your system, I commanded myself. Peace can envelop me now anytime. Just gotta fix my bed so the plastic isn’t showing anymore more and blow my nose first.