Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category

Growing up in the 80s with Michael Jackson

Jun 26, 2009 in Pop Culture, Music, Current Events

I was never a big Michael Jackson fan, but having grown up in the 80s, it’s hard to deny how big of a phenomenon he was. For those of you who are too young to remember his heyday, it’s hard to imagine how big a single celebrity could be.

Michael Jackson was everywhere in the 80s. Almost everyone had heard his music, seen his videos, or owned a copy of Thriller. Kids did the moonwalk and dressed like him. Remember the jacket from ‘Beat It’? That was a coveted fashion statement in the early 80s!

Just an anecdote to relate how big MJ was — I remember walking into a department store in 1983. Right inside the front door was a display stocked with the Thriller album. There was a small TV playing the Thriller video. What’s more — there was a crowd, watching the Thriller video on this small TV screen, in the front of a discount department store.

In today’s fragmented pop culture, it’s no longer possible for a musician to attain the level of fame that Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson once did. (And to a lesser extent, Nirvana). Of course, that level of fame has a sinister dark side.

Elvis died on the toilet an overweight drug addict. John Lennon was shot by a crazed fan. Kurt Cobain took heroin and killed himself. And Michael Jackson steadily grew weirder and whiter until he died of as-of-yet unknown causes. Maybe it’s better that we not deify our celebrities so much.

Bart Durham’s “Nashville Soap Opera”

Sep 27, 2006 in Pop Culture

Those of you who live in Nashville are probably well aware of Bart Durham, a personal injury lawyer/ambulance chaser whose commercials are frequently seen on local TV. Durham’s commercials have previously focused on feel-good themes and personal injury stories of “real clients” who have received big settlements from tractor-trailer accidents (a specialty of Durham’s).

But recently, Bart Durham’s commercials have become increasingly bizarre and cheesy, relying on the use of bikini-clad models and now a 20-part Nashville Soap Opera (aka “Coach Foster Fights Back”) to catch viewers’ attention.

The plot revolves around a little league baseball coach who becomes paralyzed from the waist-down after a tractor-trailer accident (sound familiar?), and a risky surgical procedure that might allow him to walk again. There’s also a side plot that takes place in Malibu, CA involving a handsome, egotistical movie mogul, a beautiful Russian neurosurgeon, and a lot of bikini clad babes. Oh, and boats.

If the idea of a 20-part mini-soap opera/quasi-softcore porn sounds like a strange way to promote a law firm, then you’d probably be right. The reaction from local viewers has been overwhelmingly negative. Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

“All I can say it I would never use your law office due to the use of sex to sell yourselves. It seems as if Bart Durham has no moral dignity due to his consistent use of scantily clad females in all of his commercials.”

“By the way, does Mr. Durham own that boat in the opening seconds of these commercials? If so, he really needs to tone it down. Such a blatant display of material wealth (albeit earned rightfully through the successful practice of the law) seems to be somewhat of a slap in the face to all of his clients.”

“I’m sure you’re a fine man that works hard for your clients. Having said that…FIRE YOUR ADVERTISING TEAM! I’m stuck at home recovering from brain surgery… but because of this, I’m forced to see your terrible commercials over and over again.”

“This is horrible. Even for an ambulance chaser, MAKING UP a story is terrible.”

And yes, you can see the commercials online.

EDIT: Several weeks after I published this, I received an email from Bart Durham himself, commenting on this post:

Andrew,

Even though your article was critical it was extremely well written.
You nailed it. Congratulations on very professional work.

Best wishes,
Bart

See, he’s not such a bad guy. I’ll keep him in mind if I ever get hit by an 18-wheeler.

Neateye Gouranga!

Jul 28, 2006 in Pop Culture

What do the Hare Krishnas, Grand Theft Auto, UK bridge graffiti and an unusual viral spam campaign have in common? Gouranga!

I recently received an email with the following text:

From: “Neateye” NitaiGouranga@aol.com
Subject: Gouranga

Call out Gouranga be happy!!!
Gouranga Gouranga Gouranga ….
That which brings the highest happiness!!

This I found curious because I once practiced Vaishnavism, and am familiar with who/what Gouranga is. At first I thought it was some old acquaintance playing a prank. Then I did a Google search and found out that this same message has landed in thousands of mailboxes over the last three years.

Multi-colored ‘Gouranga’ graffiti appears on bridges across the UK. Posters and stickers bearing the name have also been the subject of a long-running guerilla art campaign across Scotland. The culprits are likely Hare Krishna devotees from the Scotland temple, according to this discussion in the Guardian.

The ‘Gouranga bonus’ is an easter egg in the first Grand Theft Auto game, awarded when the player swiftly runs over a group of Hare Krishnas. An article in the latest issue of Edge magazine documents the making of GTA:

“One of the programmers came up with a routine that had pedestrians following each other. This led to the idea of a line of Krishnas following each other down the street and then, once we had all experimented with ploughing through them all in one go, the Gouranga bonus became an obvious addition.”

Gouranga, by the way, is another name for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the principal avatar figure of the Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, popularized in the West by the Hare Krishnas.

A Wikipedia entry summarizes the Gouranga meme.

How to prepare and drink Kava tea

Apr 08, 2006 in Pop Culture

I’ve previously written about my experience with kava in Hawaii. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to order some kava from an online vendor. I’ve recently ordered my second batch, and am ready to show you, dear reader, how to obtain and prepare the most potent kava tea this side of Fiji.

Kava (piper methysticum) is made from the roots of a tropical shrub native to the South Pacific. It has been used for centuries by Polynesian islanders for medicinal, ceremonial and recreational purposes. The root is ground and mixed with water to produce a brown, bitter tea. This website has more background on kava, if you’re curious.

The source I use for kava is Nakamal at Home, an online kava distributor in Florida. They sell fresh Borogu kava root from Vanuatu — the most potent in the world. If you’re making kava for the first time, get a kava making kit, which comes with a cloth strainer bag, two coconut shells for drinking, and a pound or two of kava. Might as well go full-on and get the Chief’s Jungle kava, if you’re brave. Pick up 15g of lecithin granules too — it makes a smoother and more potent drink.

The recipe I use is derived from the one on Nakamal’s website [PDF]. The following recipe makes about a quart of potent kava tea, enough for 2-3 people.

2 cups kava root
4 cups warm water
2 tsp lecithin

1. Dissolve the lecithin in a small amount of hot water. Mix the kava root, lecithin and warm water together in a large bowl. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

2. Scoop the wet kava root into the cloth straining bag. Wring and squeeze the kava root over the bowl until it is wrung completely dry. To obtain maximum extraction, rinse the dry kava root once more with warm water and squeeze dry again. You can also use a juicer for this step.

3. Use a mesh strainer or your clean straining cloth bag to strain any pulp from the liquid when pouring it into your serving container

If you bought the kava making kit, you’ll drink your kava from the coconut shells that came with it (about 6 oz.) Gently stir or shake the liquid before pouring. Have a glass of fruit juice handy. Orange juice works well, as well as banana, mango or pineapple. Get the real non-concentrated stuff from the refrigerator section.

Now, hold your breath and slam it down as quickly as possible! Chase it with fruit juice. If you find the taste so repugnant that you can’t finish it, try mixing the kava with fruit juice. It does a pretty good job of masking the taste. It’s generally advised to wait 10-15 minutes before drinking another serving. You should feel kava’s effects after 2-3 shells.

The first thing you’ll notice is that your mouth goes numb. This is temporary, it’ll pass in a few minutes. Upon further consumption, you’ll notice a very relaxing effect. Kava is a natural muscle relaxant, anti-depressant and anxiety reducer. You may also feel sleepy. Kava is said to promote vivid and colorful dreams, in case you decide to go to sleep after consuming it.

A couple words of caution: Don’t consume alcohol or other depressants with kava. Don’t drive after you’ve drank kava. Avoid kava if you have liver problems or an allergy to black pepper. Kava has few side effects, although I’ve noticed mild nausea after excessive consumption.

Domino, muthafucka!

Apr 02, 2006 in Pop Culture

After Luck With Poker, ESPN Bets on New York Dominoes - New York Times

After Texas Hold’em made smoky casino poker rooms and their steely-faced occupants famous, ESPN is angling to find the next big sport of chance. They’re betting on dominoes.

The game is popular with latinos and blacks in urban neighborhoods, where ESPN is scouring to find domino clubs and players for TV coverage. Could “el Natural” be the next Chris “Jesus” Ferguson? (Think “Jesus” with a spanish accent when you read that.)

The network is currently broadcasting domino games on their Spanish languade subsidiary and are planning domino-related programming on ESPN 2 this summer. If this takes off, I predict it’s only a matter of time before real money online dominoes becomes available.

Scotch whisky, and the new Belle and Sebastian album

Mar 17, 2006 in Pop Culture

For St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to buy a $45 bottle of scotch whisky. (I had no plans, and besides, I’m 1/4 Scottish, and not at all Irish). Having only very recently gotten into Scotch, I decided to dive in and buy a bottle of peaty, smoky Laphroaig (pronounced La-froyg, easier to pronounce than to spell.)

About a half-bottle later, I can definitely say that I’d like to take a trip to Scotland, if only to check out the square foot of land I just acquired. On the Laphroaig website, you can register to claim a square foot of land at their distillery. (The UPC from the bottle is required.) This aerial photograph shows the approximate location of my “plot.”

Quite precise, eh? Supposedly, if you visit the distillery, they provide you with size 12 boots to pace out the exact location of your plot. Oh, and they give you a dram of whisky as “rent.” (A dram is an informal term for a small amount of whisky, not necessarily related to the imperial unit of measurement.)

As an interesting aside, the Bruichladdich distillery (a neighbor of Laphroaig on the isle of Islay) has produced a limited quantity of 184 proof whisky (92% ABV), based on a centuries old recipe.

‘In his travel notes of the Hebrides, explorer Martin Martin (so good, they named him twice!) described a quadruple-distilled drink he called “usquebaugh-baul,” or perilous whisky…

“The first taste affects all the members of the body. Two spoonfuls of this liquor is a sufficient dose and if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath and endanger his life,” read Martin’s description.’

Apparently, the distillation of this powerful spirit led the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency to monitor the distillery a few years back, under suspicion that the distillery could possibly be producing chemical weapons.


Since we’re discussing things Scottish, I must declare my love of the latest Belle and Sebastian album, The Life Pursuit. I’ve been listening to B&S since the days of If You’re Feeling Sinister, and in my opinion, The Life Pursuit is their best album since The Boy with the Arab Strap.

Of course, with every B&S album, there are fans (or shall we say detractors) who feel that the band’s latest album isn’t quite as good as Sinister (considered by many to be the band’s definitive album.) To this I say, of course not. The Life Pursuit is better than Sinister! Seriously, if I hear one more person compare the latest album to Sinister, I’m going to punch them in the face. That album came out eight years ago. Grow the fuck up already.

Belle and Sebastian played the Ryman in Nashville last week, which was the highlight of an otherwise uneventful Spring Break. If they come to your town, I urge you to see them. They’ve become quite the consummate performers in recent years. And oh yeah, buy the new album. Listen to it a bunch, it’ll grow on you.

Sunday Night Thoughts

Feb 20, 2006 in Pop Culture

I’ve always wanted to play Katamari Damacy, but I don’t have a PS2. Turns out the creators just released an old-school Flash version. The objective, as far as I can tell, is to collect all the objects into a giant ball, starting from the small ones (birds, eggs, cats) to the large ones (people, vehicles). If the ball gets too big, it’ll suck up your king’s head/cursor. (Clicking the mouse will reset the ball.) If anyone knows how to beat this game, let me know.


Why does Adult Swim insist on running the “Boo Boo Goes Wild” special every Sunday night? For a month straight? Seriously, they could stick an episode of Mission Hill or something in there.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot

Jul 27, 2005 in Pop Culture

A streaming video version of the 1986 cult classic documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot is available online! 1998’s HMPL: The Lost Footage is also available for viewing.

HMPL has inspired spinoffs such as Neil Diamond Parking Lot, Harry Potter Parking Lot and a TV series currently showing on the Trio cable network. All of these videos plus many more can be viewed at filmmaker Jeff Krulik’s website.

Things on TV I hate

Jul 26, 2005 in Pop Culture

TV commercial characters I’d like to punch in the face:

  • The “Good to go” guy from the Taco Bell commercials
  • The Siberian dweller with the fake Russian accent in the Smirnoff Ice commercials. (Apparently named “Uri,” he has a “blog” here.)

Worst TV musical trend:

  • Fake heavy metal music, especially the sort that’s obviously composed on synthesizers. American Chopper is the main offender here, as well as the Smirnoff Ice commercials mentioned above.

Can’t talk right now, I’m busy playing World of Warcraft.

Apr 27, 2005 in Pop Culture

It appears that I have neglected to update this blog for the last two weeks. You see, I was busy. Well, not really. Just distracted.

I decided to take the plunge and try out World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s new MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). I was a big fan of Blizzard’s Diablo series, but D2 was starting to show it’s age.

I never thought it was worth paying $15 a month to play a game like Everquest. But the reviews for WoW were good, and considering Blizzard’s track record, I decided to give it a go.

When it comes to video and computer games, among other things, I’ll take an intense interest in it for a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks at best. Then I get bored and it goes back on the shelf. But with an online RPG like WoW, you never run out of things to do. There’s always something new to explore, another quest to be run. Goodbye free time!

The addictiveness of MMORPG’s like Everquest is legendary. Hardcore players have dubbed the game “Evercrack,” and it has been blamed for broken marriages and even a suicide.

Everquest in general required massive amounts of time to progress in the game. Many hours were required just to level your character, and a brisk and profitable off-line market existed for high-level characters and rare weapons. Oddly enough, for those who were most addicted to it, the game stopped being fun and started becoming an obsession, with social climbing, loot gathering and a Pavlovian system of rewards. Not to mention the constant grumling about Sony’s stewardship of the game.

World of Warcraft isn’t necessarily immune to all these problems (especially with players grumbling at Blizzard for supposedly ‘ruining’ the game), though it has made many improvements. For one, it doesn’t take hours of playing to level. You can have fun playing for just an hour or two (though it’s just as fun to play longer). The game actually rewards you for logging out, by giving you double experience commensurate to the amount of time you were logged out. And I’ve noticed that some players are genuinely concerned about other players who act rude, or those who take it a tad too seriously.

But still, WoW is just immersive enough that it could be dubbed “World of Warcrack.” (If no one else has already thought of this clever joke, then I take credit for it.)

My interest in WoW prompted me to do something I haven’t done in years: programming. I spent the last few days programming a script for use with in-game macros.

I’ve got two finals coming up next week, so I’ll need to focus on other things for a while. After all, it’s not like I’m addicted or anything :-P