Go out to the parking and get in your car and drive real far … it all makes sense

In my research of commercial spots for the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX — which of this weekend will be Seattle Seahawks facing the New England Patriots — did I find no mention of the hilarious Acura RDX commercial. I won’t give much away except it features an attractive woman who goes on speaker phone in her car without knowing, or apparently caring, that her bosses are listening. The woman is rocking out and singing along to, especially the rap portion, of the 1980 Blondie hit “Rapture.”

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The sing-a-long may not be one of the $4.5 million spots seen on the Super football game but surely it will make it at least once in the hours-long hype leading up to the 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time game on Sunday, Feb. 1.

Of course, we all know the Super Bowl is all about the TV commercials. Well, mostly. I am not a big fan of the Seahawks although a local boy, Earl Thomas, the ‘Hawks Pro Bowl defensive back, from nearby Orange, Texas, is about the biggest thing in Southeast Texas right now since the Valero Refinery. Fellow Seattle DB and Pro Bowler Richard Sherman and Thomas were both injured in their come-from-behind win against Green Bay yesterday for the NFC Championship. Sherman sprained an elbow yesterday though continued playing despite that even I could see him wincing on TV and not using that left hand. Thomas had a dislocated shoulder. Both are expected to play in the world championship in two weeks.

Thomas is, understandably a hometown hero, he apparently spends a lot of time back home in Orange during the off season, doing good works for the community. So, if even half of what I hear about Thomas is true, it certainly speaks well of the young man. Sherman, obviously loves his mother and Campbell Soup. That, and being one of the best cornerbacks in the game, doesn’t prevent his generally being regarded as one who regularly engages in dirty play.

I didn’t intend to spend so much time writing about the upcoming Super Bowl. I just found the Acura ad amusing and liked that it used what is probably the only “rap” song I like even though it isn’t totally rap. I just have not liked rap or hip hop all that much. I suppose the major difference between “Rapture” and the rest of rap is Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry’s sexy voice — now 30-something years later —  as well as the rock and funk that underlies the tune. A couple of hip-hop pioneers, Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, are also name-dropped in the song.

All I’m saying is that it’s a cool song though saddled as both rap and disco tunes. “Rapture” is pretty fly, my man. I gotta figure, that’s a good thing.

 

The sound and smell of Facebook and free speech

Many reasons exist as to why one should avoid Facebook at all costs. Probably just as many reasons are out there why Facebook is a valuable communications platform.

“I don’t use Facebook,” said someone, I don’t know who, during a holiday gathering recently. I remarked that I use it to keep up with my family. I usually check it a couple of times a day.

I disagree with much that I see on Facebook. I see just as much with which I do agree. I take the good, with the bad, relatively speaking.

A friend in Alaska is discovering or perhaps rediscovering her eye for art in the digital photos she takes. Most are of outdoors with her dog. Her dog photographs well. Many of her nature shots are otherworldly. Those I mention are true art.

One of my brothers moderates a group devoted to our hometown. These are thoughts shared about all of our past days in the small East Texas town or within the school district in which many, if not most, shared.

A former student, brother of a classmate of mine and whose mother worked with my mother, hit a Facebook homer over the last couple of days sharing and asking the group to share little giblets of memory. These involved remembrances of sounds and smells. It is so incredibly mind-blowing to me as a journalist to take in all these moments in time. And that is what they are — moments. Add them up in actual time and you might get a couple of hours.

Shared are sounds of screen doors noisily but reassuringly closing. The sound of horse hooves and tack are recalled as the young boys and girls rode in their Texas tradition. Then there is the call of the bird I always thought was the whipoorwill. Turns out, it was a different bird.

The smells included fresh hay in the hot summer sun that teenaged boys sweated while loading up bales on trucks and trailers for the local farmers and ranchers, and rewarding the kids with a little spare change. The honeysuckle that any East Texan must surely smells in the brilliant green of spring.

That particular sense, that of smell, became expanded for me. Certain times that sense will take me to my younger days though not necessarily in my hometown. Instead I remember my young adult days.

The smell of diesel in the morning hits me with a memory of Central Fire Station where I mainly worked at the beginning of my five intense and memorable years as a firefighter. With each snootfull of diesel comes a vision of the wall where helmets and bunker gear were lined up for all the shifts. It is simple enough why it is such a stunning memory. It was where we were gassed with diesel fumes from Engine 310. Here I was a 22-year-old man, making my own way in the world, and where I feared only that which was knowable. That’d mostly be another daunting smell, one of the homes we would encounter fully engulfed in fire, “burners” as we called them.

It was said that the scent of flesh and bones from the “toast” — what we privately called with a macabre sense of humor those unfortunates who were burned up. Perhaps it was an insensitive description but it was one of those mechanisms to prevent our dwelling upon that misfortune.

The sea had its own distinctive smell, or should I say smells. The scent of the Gulf of Mexico beaches and those of Southern California were different. Places such as “the OC’s” Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach in LA County or San Diego’s Pacific Beach sometimes was as much sun screen than marine. But after spending a year on a ship in the Western and Southern Pacific you would sometime forget you were floating out there. Oh, and how could I forget the 2 1/2 years I was only a mile from the man-made beaches of the Mississippi Sound?’

Finally, there is the scent of reefer, so pervasive in the 70s and 80s that it was difficult not to inhale, as a president said he didn’t.

One has to use Facebook wisely. Don’t show those pictures of you passed out in the yard with “dead soldiers” littered all around. Trophies which were exhibited from those days of “partying till you puke.” Some thought should be given how such a powerful platform as Facebook should be used.

Those words written by Ol’ Justice Oliver W. Holmes’ from Schneck v. United States in 1919 are probably a good enough reason to watch one’s P’s and Q’s regardless whether one believes in self-censorship.

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic … “

Oh well, I don’t go to theaters much these days anyway.

 

Twice with “The Interview” and still no funnier

And in the end, after all the hubbub and a threats and serious talk of cyber-terrorism —  not to mention dipshit’s such as CNN’s Jake Tapper who postulated the United States lost the first cyber war — there was a movie. That movie had little going for it albeit some R-rated humor that made for some big laughs with an ending that might (no promises) have sufficed had I not already known the ending. Oh well, the movie was billed as comedy. The world went topsy-turvey for awhile aided by an electronic news media that seemed to evoke for some the second coming of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Along that backdrop did I watch “The Interview” twice. I watched on my laptop after its simultaneous release online and in “fearless” movie theaters across the US of A.

I couldn’t really complain about the price. The movie had several online outlets. The one I used, seetheinterview.com, streamed the movie at the low, low, price of $5.99  and could be watched for 48 hours. Thus, I came back and watched it again a short time ago. Not much really changed during the second viewing.

Only if someone occasionally finds low brow humor really funny can enough parts of the film remain salvageable. (Rob Lowe ‘removes’ his hair, exposing several strands extending from front to back. This leads a control room lady to exclaim: “It looks like someone’s taint!” The James Franco character finds a double entendre which only he sees the hilarity until discovered by the North Korean leader. “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us” This comes out of course as “They hate us ’cause they anus.”)

One also wonders whether the movie’s production folks were channeling Ed Wood, what with several noticeable inconsistencies — Franco and Seth Rogan whispering because of possible bugs in the Kim palace guest rooms then inexplicably talking out loud. As LA Times critic Betsy Sharkey writes: “This is, to put it bluntly, not a good film.”

As discussing with my friend across the Pacific, Paul, yesterday, it almost seemed as if watching this film somehow became an act of patriotism. Other friends sees the run up to the movie with the warnings of 9/11 style attacks as well as the puzzling water cooler gossip — the Sony email which calls Angelina Jolie “a minimally talented spoiled brat” — some kind of bizarre way to pack theaters.

The supposed hacking of Sony is one of those events which comes along leaving more head scratching than answers. To paraphrase an earlier phrase about Angelina Jolie, “The Interview” was a minimally funny comedy.

But it certainly got talked about.

Who need the perp? Not me.

Perp walks. I just saw one on local TV. The “perp” looked as if his head was going to snap as he walked with his head away from the cameras. This young suspect of a home invasion robbery in nearby Port Arthur, Texas, was able to pull his sweater over his head. The few local reporters there all asked the man if he pulled off the crime. Apparently, the man didn’t answer, on camera at least. He probably said that he didn’t do it. Do what, Man? It is likely he’s done a crime or two before.

The perp walk typically happens when the cops call or email the press about an upcoming prisoner transfer to jail or arraignment. Usually, the reporters don’t just come up on a perp walk on their own.

I went to a few perp walks in my career in the news business. I found those occasions only slightly more useful to a news story than the “man on the street” interviews, what we called the “geek on the street.”

Maybe other countries are above such showmanship. Say nations like North Korea. Yes, it seems totalitarian nations would love a similar exhibition. But maybe not, if on the other shoe. The other stinky shoe of Kim Jong-Un.

I wouldn’t like to be on the other shoe. Pew.

Perhaps an all-star cast, starring Kim, maybe even Dick Cheney. And too bad Hitler’s dead. We can’t do Adolf. And I doubt we would get even get the live ones, like Cheney.

So TV news stars to be, here is a thought. Unless your manager, makes you go to a perp walk, I suggest you do something else. Maybe there will be a birthday celebration for someone who is turning 105 years in age. Or maybe the local firefighters are rescuing a cat from a well, perhaps even there is a real story out there. Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then.

 

 

Gore and darkness awaits one on the movie screen

Lately I have become a devotee of the Redbox. It is not any red box, but rather the Redbox standing so prominently outside local grocery stores and pharmacies and the like. I don’t know why, but I never watched movies on my laptop computer much before. Since I bought a new laptop I have begun to play the discs on my computer screen.

I haven’t watched movies, relatively new ones at least, very much in the past several years. I am not big in going to the theater unless someone goes with me. And I have kind of been a loner in the majority of the last decade with a couple of exceptions when I was dating. So most of the movies I have watched were on TV, either cable or otherwise.

There are a couple of down sides of watching these movie-in-a-box rentals. First, the DVDs aren’t always in the best condition. I got a couple of discs a week ago that I couldn’t watch because it wouldn’t play, or it would play and stop for long periods of time. Redbox did, to their credit, give me a couple of promotional codes for free movies in the future.

And, I don’t know if it is just me, but some movies have become way too gory for me to enjoy or are either too dark. I will give a couple of examples.

I should have expected a pic with Arnold Schwarzenegger to be filled with a lot of action and a certain amount of blood. But I wanted to see one of “Ahnold’s” films since he left the California statehouse for another run at Hollywood. The movie “Sabotage” is one of his recent flicks.

The story is about an elite DEA team that finds itself being depopulated one-by-one after stealing millions of dollars in a cartel cache. Now I will spare you some of the ways the rogue agents are taken out. That is not only to spare one from scenes being spoiled. Also, some of the manners in which the agents are killed are just simply full of more gore than most folks need.

A movie I also watched with some cringe factor at work was a South By Southwest premiere last year by the title of “Cheap Thrills.” The E.L. Katz directed work is listed as a ‘black comedy”but its darkness far exceeds its comedic factor.

The show’s plot is about a working-class Joe and would-be writer who finds himself, his wife and kid in financial straits and about to be thrown out of their rental into the street. The character, Craig, finds out he is laid off just after pulling an eviction notice from his front door. Like every good man in the deep doo of financial ruin, Craig goes to a bar. While there Craig runs into a buddy he hadn’t seen in five years.

At his core, Craig is an upright — and a bit uptight — guy who loves his wife. But his foundation gets shakier and shakier as the film goes on. The two old buds runs into a seemingly rich and definitely twisted couple in the bar who are supposedly out celebrating the wife’s birthday. That celebration gets higher on the Perverse o’ Meter in each frame.  I will just give a tame for instance. The rich guy says he will give one of the old friends $200 to say something to a good-looking lady that will get one of them slapped. And believe me that is as tame and injury free as it gets from there.

I have never been much enchanted with gory slasher-style movies. For some reason though, lots of graphic shit bothers me. Even one of my favorite TV shows, NCIS, has scenes that I will have to turn my head away from especially when a body is on the coroner’s table burned to a crisp. No doubt, my head turning in that case isn’t surprising because such instances in real life as a firefighter and as a reporter revealed similar scenes of what we would call in our own dark humor “crispy critters.”

I don’t have nightmares about some of the repulsive stuff I saw in real life, at least that I know of, who knows what all there is lurking in the deep recesses of our beans.

One thing is for certain though, if I am to continue my movie watching, I think I will have to watch the ratings more carefully. When they say bloody, or scenes too graphic, maybe I will just leave the disc be. After all, what’s $1.20 for a movie disc when it comes to your sanity?

Shocking new drinking game: Prepare to get Blitzered!

Here is a way to get totally blitzed and somewhat informed, for awhile at least, at the same time.

Watch Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN. Take a drink every time the bearded newsman says “shocking!

“Shocking!” “Shocking … ” ” … shocking … ” “Shocking … Well, better drink beer. Better drink light beer or 3.2 beer. If you take a shot of tequila or whiskey you will definitely be Blitzered.

Forest Service proposal could endanger First Amendment

Over the years I have generally supported the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service. That has not been without difficulty considering certain policies which have surfaced over many vastly-different presidential administrations. I won’t go into details about which ones because that would require depth beyond my intentions for this post.

I have camped at several national forests in recent years with the most recent in the Angelina National Forest in East Texas. A particular spot I like is Boykin Springs Recreation Area, located off State Highway 63, between Zavalla and Jasper. Most of the pertinent information on the park is contained on the linked site above. Mainly, I would stress to anyone interested that it is a place that should best be visited in off seasons — fall and winter if camping is your bag — due to the limited spaces. Of course, spring and even summer in East Texas hold some majestic scenery, if you can keep cool during the hot summers.

This isn’t a travelogue though. I wanted to link to this article in Firehouse.com, the Website for what is considered one if not the most thorough firefighting publications in existence. I began reading it when I first became a firefighter more than 35 years ago. It was founded and edited then by retired New York City firefighter, Dennis Smith (not related to anyone I know), who also wrote several compelling books including his most famous, “Report From Engine Co. 82.” The article I link is reprinted from the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford, Ore. I thought it important enough that I mention both publications.

The gist of the story is that the Forest Service has a proposed rule that would assign permits and charge fees of up to $1,500 to journalists who cover “non-breaking” news stories at national forests. This is as opposed to “breaking news” such as a big wildfire. An example from the article is forest management policies. A forest service official said the rule was meant to preserve the “untamed character of wilderness areas.”

I think the rule is the proverbial “slippery slope.”

This serves as a shining example of how government agencies can trample upon the First Amendment rights by restricting a free press. I don’t know specifically about the Forest Service but I know of other agencies that restrict the American people from knowledge about their government by charging excessive fees for public information or even copies.

The linked story says it as good or better as I how misguided a proposal the rule could be if enacted. It is already difficult enough for some journalists, such as myself sometimes, who freelance. We may or may not have credentials from a newspaper or other publication and thus encounter difficulty in access to news and areas where a story may happen.

Today was the first I heard of the proposed rule and it concerns me just how sheltered my fellow citizens are from rules that endanger our Constitutional freedoms. I found other news stories today after searching that told of fears citizens had that the rule would prohibit innocent picture taking. The Forest Service clarified the information about the rule to say it “only” applied to commercial media.

One always seems to ask what else are they, the government, hiding. The Forest Service is probably well-intentioned. I also support keeping our wilderness areas wild. But it should not be done at the cost of our freedom.

Coppers and copper theives; Travolta, make the local news news

Our local daily had a couple of interesting stories online today. The interest is personal, like me, to use other words. One story is about something I saw. The other is about something I didn’t see.

Heading back home from the office I saw Beaumont police cars and SUVs parked downtown on Main while others parked on Liberty Street. They seemed to be looking for something. It turns out they were. The coppers were looking for copper, or rather, a copper thief. The Beaumont Enterprise story said the men were found in a vacant building there. A “K-9 Officer,” a dog in other words, and his “partner,” I won’t touch that one, discovered one man in an upstairs bathroom stall. The suspect reportedly possessed cutting tools and strands of copper in a large plastic bag. Police caught the other alleged copper thief as he was leaving the building.

Copper appears to be the modern-day gold, except it is copper, and gold is gold. Got that?

At 2:34 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time today, gold was moving at $1,216,96 USD per ounce, down 0.37 percent, according to Goldprice.org. When you look again it will be different, marginally up or down. But some experts think gold prices are bottoming out. Who knows? Gold is more mysterious than gasoline when it comes to prices. It’s been that way a lot longer than I have been around.

This chart from MetalPrices.org shows that copper prices have hit a three-month low.

Still, with local recyclers paying between $2.40-2.60 per pound — USD about 3 p.m . CDST — for copper, it wouldn’t take a whole lot to pay for a couple of 40-ouncers and pack of Kools.

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Yes, copper is a much sought-after metal. It has been for awhile now. The last Texas legislative session enhanced penalties on copper theft. But, just remember, prices for everything are like gravitation laws. What goes up, must come down. It is a cliche, but it is the easiest way to say it.

The local Enterprise, then later The Baytown Sun, reported Beaumont police nabbed two more alleged “modern copper miners” yesterday who may be involved in more than 70 thefts of the metal. Man, you could buy a s***-load of 40-ouncers with that. Of course, if you are going to steal copper you might as well steal beer and cigs, not that I am advocating that. It’s just an observation.

Also, the Beaumont daily reported that some folks trying to exorcize a few pounds at the World Gym last night were taken aback when John Travolta showed up. The actor, who was a fancy dancer more than 30 years ago in “Saturday Night Fever,” was sporting a full beard (no touch of gray) and told the management he was looking for a place to workout while shooting a move about 20 miles away in Sour Lake. The drama “Life on the Line” is a film set for next year about electrical linemen who do all kinds of stuff (my characterization.)

Now I like some of John’s movie. “Fever” and, OMG, “Urban Cowboy” are shows a dude would only see for a date. And that’s the only way I have seen them at the moving picture show. I think I have admitted this before, but I stopped wearing Western-style shirts when the “Cowboy” sparked a Western-fashion craze.

I have been highly critical in private lately about our local daily. It has been kind of crappy for awhile if you want to know my opinion. These stories are good and are of the kind a “community paper” would have. Maybe you don’t care for Travolta. I am interested in movies being shot in the area. I have once thought of doing location scouting for films. I became a newspaper reporter instead. Now that I am not doing that so much, who knows, maybe I will scout a location for some picture. You never know.

But you take stories such as these, something that grabs your interest because you saw something happening or have some dog you would like to have a hunt in, then you got yourself some journalism. Thanks, BE, but don’t bask too long in the glory. There are always deadlines to meet.

 

Will NCIS pull off the hat trick?

One never knows how a “TV franchise” will pan out. It isn’t that a group of similar shows with similar sounding-names and often sharing actors or producers is an invention of the Dick Wolf-produced Law and Order franchise, and his newest franchise Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. Not all of the Law and Order bunch were as successful as the original and Special Victim’s Unit. Criminal Intent only lasted 10 or so seasons.

I wondered if, as a fan of the Mark Harmon-starred NCIS, the program would die from over-exposure once its NCIS: Los Angeles previewed more than five seasons ago. Apparently not, as a third franchise vessel NCIS: New Orleans debuts tonight.

To put an exclamation point on the NCIS franchise, the original itself is the third most popular show on U.S. televisioin and the most-watched TV drama in the world.

For a show to have the popularity of NCIS it must have aspects that viewers share. I would say the show’s quirky humor is probably what I like the best about both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. I saw the pilot episodes of New Orleans and it will hopefully keep that funny groove that has made the other two shows very likable. I have long been a sucker for a successful ensemble cast, shows that made many of the 1960-80s-era memorable as a “second TV Golden Age,” such as Taxi, Barney Miller, Hill Street Blues, and yes, even Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies. Of course, clever writing helps.

The fact that NCIS has become such a hit is a bit of a wonder, even though it did spin off from the Navy lawyer drama JAG. Even though I am an ex-sailor I had no idea that NCIS, for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was even called “NCIS” when the show premiered. I remember the 70s agency as “NIS” for Naval Investigative Service.

Sometimes when one experiences something in real life, there may often reign confusion when its portrayal is in fiction. So it was with NCIS. I had met a couple of idiots during my naval service who were NIS agents, so when I saw Mark Harmon and the others acting as Navy civilian agents, I wondered how was this action about to work? Likewise, I wondered about the title of the succeeding show based in Los Angeles. Even though there was still a Navy station in Long Beach long ago when I stayed there with my ship in drydock, LA didn’t seem like a big Navy (or even Marine) town. Why wasn’t the show NCIS: San Diego? Well, I guess the two largest cities in California aren’t all that far apart. And,  San Diego and Los Angeles really aren’t separated by much more that a jumble of city limit signs, for that matter.

Like the DC-based original NCIS, New Orleans actually is home to a NCIS field office. Back in my Navy days in the 1970s, when I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans, the city had two Navy stations: Naval Support Activity New Orleans and NAS Belle Chasse. New Orleans makes a great backdrop for a drama or many other types of fictional work. Let’s face it, New Orleans is an odd place as it is fun. Hopefully, the third program will be a charm for the NCIS franchise, not to mention charming.

Fall brings the good, bad and indifferent of television

With fall comes new TV shows for however long. The seasons seem shorter with the advent of cable programming. That beats seasons-long reruns all to hell although it leaves viewers wanting more of a particular product should it be worthwhile.

A friend mentioned on Facebook her joy at the return of “Sons of Anarchy.” It will be the final season although I am sure to watch many of the early episodes down the line as reruns, or hopefully, that is. I think SOA was on for several years before I came an avid viewer.

Since the new season aired only last night, I won’t give away much to prevent spoilage. I will say the show seems much darker and bloodier than in the past. I mentioned to my friend that the blood and guts are cause for my stomach to considerably weaken. The “autopsy shots” and those of “crispy critters” featured on “Duckie Mallard’s” table in NCIS episode absolutely make me turn away. As I told my friend, Tere, I don’t know if all the horrors I saw as a younger man –as a firefighter/EMT and later as a reporter — have finally caught up with me. The last real “Doctor” psychiatrist I spoke with about 10 years seemed to think it inevitable that I had PTSD, though it was never a real diagnosis. WTFK, right? (Who the f*** knows, if you wondered about the acronym. )

I am glad to see Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” returning on CNN. Bourdain is known as a chef, though since his books including “Kitchen Confidential,” unearthed the dirty business side of restaurateurs and chefs, Tony has become much more well-known as a TV travel guide. Bourdain combines eating and drinking along with traveling, done in almost equal parts humorous and poignant, he is definitely a favorite multimedia-type of mine.

I  suppose that I live somewhat vicariously through Tony Bourdain since I doubt I could find anyone who might finance me on a junket to explore sights, sounds, eats and drinks in exotic places. Most of the exotic travel I did was as a 21-year-old in the Navy. I could write about my exploits and have to some degree. Some of said exploits might be a bit too harsh for certain loved ones. Strolling down Magsaysay Drive in Olangapo, Philippines, at night while toasted, a cold San Miguel in one hand and a piece of barbecued monkey on a stick, could pass for a young salt in the 70s. But other entertainment, while certainly amazing in some respects, might also seem to others as somewhat perverse.

Television standards prevent, supposedly, an on-air person getting baked on ganja or s***faced on some foreign assortment of liquors. Nonetheless, Anthony Bourdain can be seen at the end of some evenings in his exotic travels, looking much worse for wear though no doubt happy for it.

Some TV shows disappearing or reappearing do not matter at all to me which way they go. The “reality” programs are high up on that particular scale. “Big Brother,” I never watched it. “Naked and Afraid,” sad to say, yes. But it is ridiculous to a high degree. If the embarrassment would fall to another’s face, I might watch it if I was without reading material. However, since I just took control of a new HP laptop today. I don’t foresee that happening.

Now, if I can just get used to Windows 8 and things going “bounce” in the day, I will find myself okay. Catch you here or there this fall.