George Clooney is the next American president…

Columbia Pictures has released the poster for George Clooney’s next film, a political drama which he also co-wrote and directed.  The Ides of March pulls a heavy cast including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, and is based on the play Farragut North by former political staffer Beau Willimon, who wrote the film with Clooney.

The film tells the story of an idealistic campaign press secretary, played by Gosling, who gets caught up in a political scandal during the Ohio primary, possibly threatening Clooney’s presidential candidate’s chances of reaching the White House.

Clooney originally planed to make the film in 2008, but held off sensing the optimistic mood of the country radiating off of Obama’s campaign.  Of course now that a cynical fog of debt ceiling debates, sex scandals and political taunting between parties (Obama is mad because he’s feeling “left out” by Boehner? Are you kidding me?) has settled like pea soup over America, well, the mood is more suitable to the content.

The poster for the film is intriguing, and reflects the reality of politics and political discourse: The media—print, 24 hour, internet—and those who manipulate it, like Gosling’s press secretary, are at least half (if not more) of what and who, affects and creates policy in America.

Clooney himself is by no means a stranger to politics, or political films for that matter; he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Role in 2005s Syriana.  In the February issue of Newsweek naming Clooney the 21st Century Statesman, the cover story touches on Ides of March, saying the actor wrote the film, “giving his character lines he’d like to hear from a presidential candidate.”  The article went on to state that we shouldn’t expect to see the former ER doc running for higher office anywhere but on the big screen:

I didn’t live my life in the right way for politics, you know,” he said, “I f–ked too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that’s the truth.” A smart campaigner, he believes, “would start from the beginning by saying, ‘I did it all. I drank the bong water. Now let’s talk about issues.’ That’s gonna be my campaign slogan: ‘I drank the bong water.’?”

Given the state of American politics right now, I can honestly say, I would vote for that.


Really Donald? Have you learned nothing…

Did Donald Trump learn nothing from his short stint as a possible GOP candidate?

This morning The Donald went on Fox and Friends to explain why he thought congressional Republicans should reject any plan brought to the table by Obama and the Dems: “Frankly the Republicans would be crazy unless they get 100% of the deal that they want right now to make any deal…If this happens, for instance if this stuff is going on prior to an election, he can’t get reelected”

Brian Kilmead pointed out that contrary to Trumps views, recent polls indicate that in the event that the US government should default on August 2, the majority of Americans would blame the Republicans.  Trump countered, saying, “… I don’t care about polls. When it comes time to default, they’re not going to remember any of the Republicans’ names. They are going to remember in history books one name, and that’s Obama.”

I find it shocking that The Donald doesn’t care about polls, considering how quickly they dashed his hopes for a presidential bid in 2012.  His April lead disappeared a mere ten days after Obama and SNL’s Seth Myers skewered the real estate mogul at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on April 30.  Shortly after dropping to fifth place in a survey taken by Public Policy Polling in May, Trump announced that he would not be running for president in 2012.

Read more at Think Progress.

 


Otis Redding, Kanye West and Jay-Z together at last…

I could start off this post by launching into the very debatable topic of originality — in art, writing, music, film, et. al. — and whether or not anything is ever really a bona fide “first,” but I won’t.  That’s more like a dissertation topic than it is a blog post.  I will only say that, personally, I find some of the most innovative ideas are those that overtly take other concepts and build upon them to create something new. I will also say that some of the best examples of this are found in music, and that I’ve always enjoyed Kanye West and Jay-Z mainly for this reason.

Jay-Z and West are fantastic collaborators, both with each other and with others.  West’s recent “All of the Lights” which featured Rihanna, Elton John, and Kid Cudi comes to mind here, as does his collaboration with Bon Iver on “Lost in the World.”  West is of course following in the footsteps of his mentor Jay-Z, who has collaborated with artists spanning across several genres; some of my favorites include “Lost!” with Coldplay, “Numb/Encore” with Linkin Park, and the summer anthem of 2010, “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys.

Now the masters of collaboration are once again, well, collaborating, and the first single is enough to get me excited for their upcoming LP Watch the Throne.  While I enjoyed their last joint effort, “H*A*M,” their new track “Otis” is more laid back with a nice sampling of Otis Redding on loop in the background.

How can you listen Otis Redding and not want to be at the beach?

I won’t try and pull in anything political here, despite there being some allusions to immigration in “Otis,” I don’t want to ruin a good thing here and read more into the song than is necessary.  To read the lyrics and more about Jay, Ye and Otis you can visit Stereogum.


The Amazing Race: Rick Perry and God

In America we love our competition reality TV, and with the big showdown coming in 2012, the lead-up to the presidential elections has yet to disappoint. Of course, it’s the GOP we’re all watching; it seems like the field of players grows every week, and every week one of them says or does something that makes you wonder if this whole thing is scripted and the GOP is making a Oscar-worthy documentary, Joaquin Phoenix-style.

One character that’s starting see more screen time is Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Touting his state’s booming economy and job growth, Perry believes that it is his fiscal leadership that has led Texas to recover faster than many other states. In a June appearance on Fox News, Perry claimed that Texas jobs accounted for 48% of the total number of jobs created in the US since April 2009. Politifact found the claim to be neither completely true nor completely false; stats on job creation in Texas are heavily disputed, ranging anywhere from 18% to 54%, depending on the time frame and who you’re talking to.

There’s no denying that Texas’ economy is doing well, but the growth comes at a price; Texas reportedly added over 211,000 jobs in 2010, 76,000 (37%) of which paid at or below minimum wage. In a New York Times Room for Debate discussion, “The Texas Jobs Juggernaut,” editor of The Texas Observer Dave Mann writes,

Texas now leads the nation in minimum-wage workers (550,000 in all). That hasn’t improved our income inequality. Despite the good economy, Texas remains a state of extreme wealth and desperate poverty. The low-tax structure means the state is chronically short of money and, this year, saddled with a huge budget shortfall. Social services and public schools are woefully underfunded. Our graduation rate is low, our dropout rate high. One in four Texans lacks health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the nation.

Mann explains that many of the driving factors of the state’s economic boom—”inexpensive cost of living and low-tax, anti-regulatory policies “—preceded Perry’s arrival to the statehouse and will remain after he’s gone.

What is most fascinating (and disturbing) about Perry singing the praises of his own economic prowess lays in his ultimate plan for fixing the US economy: God.

When speaking to an evangelical group in May, Perry repeated the beloved GOP/Tea Party line that the nation’s current policies are a threat to the founder’s vision of America, saying “Our founding fathers understood that [private property] was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy. It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.

Last time I looked, God was not a financial planner, so it doesn’t matter much that Perry thinks he has a direct line to the Almighty ever since He “called” upon the Gov. to help fix America after us damn liberals came in with our crazy socialist ideas, wanting to close the wealth gap and insure all citizens equally. Besides, not even God would be merciful enough to take a cabinet position to fix this mess, as one commenter posted on New York Magazine‘s website in response to Perry’s pronouncement, “God is like, ‘no thanks man, I’m cool.'”


The Dark Knight Rises

The teaser for Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film is here.

Over the weekend, as the last installment of Harry Potter hit theaters, breaking every box office record for an opening weekend known to man as the world turned out to say goodbye to the boy wizard, the first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises appeared during the previews.

The teaser is dark, looking and sounding very Chris Nolan-y, dominated by monochromatic color schemes and varying degrees of gray, with music that is heavy on horns and aggressive in its beats, similar to Nolan’s previous Dark Knight films and last years Inception (best trailer music ever).  Hans Zimmer’s scores may be overbearing at times but they’re almost always right for the film, and play especially well with the tones in Nolan’s movies.

Speaking of Nolan’s Inception, the poster for Dark Knight Rises could easily be a left-over still from the enigmatic thriller.  The film also reunites Nolan with Inception actors Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.  Truthfully though, I don’t mind the similarities; I loved Inception and Nolan’s previous Batman films, and therefore I assume that I will love this one as well.

What I’ve always found interesting about Batman is how well the character plays in good times and bad—his inherently dark nature, along with Tim Burton’s quirky rendering of the franchise was the reigning superhero of the booming 90’s, while Nolan’s Dark Knight was also well received in 2005 and 2008 as the US slowly trudged through the Bush years, fighting two wars and a recession.

There are a lot of films to look forward to in 2012 (seriously, is it 2012 yet?), but as of right now, The Dark Knight Rises is at the top of my list.


DARPA: Sci-Fi Satire or Legitimately Scary?

Whatever happened to the insect cyborgs?  Or the Iron Man suit?

For years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or D.A.R.P.A., of the U.S. Department of Defense, has been developing projects that seem more at home in sci-fi action film than in reality, but recently that seems to be changing.

Earlier this year DARPA hosted a workshop entitled “Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies,” as part of a research initiative to answer the question, “What makes a story?”  Researchers hoped that by gaining a better understanding of story-telling, they could chart these models and apply them in situations “salient to security concerns.”

Now DARPA is turning its presumably robotic eye toward social media.  Wired‘s Adam Rawnsley reported Friday on the agency’s newest venture, the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) project.

Rawnsley writes that SMISC goals are two-fold: “First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.”

Further, Rawnsley states that:

SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group. Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

DARPA’s latest projects aren’t nearly as easy to joke about as the development of killer robots, and call further into question the pros and cons of the Internet as a device of social change, of private versus public domain, and of the instantly gratifying means of media dissemination.

I think I want the killer robots back.


Constellations of Social Media

See something or say something: New York

“We are all made of stars.” Yes, I did just quote Moby; it’s a catchy song. And the phrase rings true when you look at the images from Eric Fischer’s new project “See Something, Say Somthing.” where he has created a world atlas depicting the number of Twitter and Flickr users. Fischer maps Twitter users in blue lights, Flickr in red, and users who employ both social networking sites in white. The images are stunning, making Manhattan seem akin to billion-year-old constellations.

With each one of us representing an individual star in the Internet universe, the images help put into perspective just how massive this universe has become. Check out the full slideshow on Eric Fischer’s Photostream.


Lady Gaga lives in Lagos

The video for Goldie Harvey’s new single “Don’t Touch,” opens in black and white, on a pair of bejeweled lips.  A rapid sequence of images reveal a female dancing in a glow-in-the-dark corset and frilled mask; star-shaped glasses à la Elton John; barely-discernible spiderwebs twitching around the whites of crystal-rimmed eyes.  Next we are looking into a padded room with illegible words scrawled on the glass in lipstick—the ravings of an insane woman—Goldie is shoved in, straightjacketed and dirty, with her hair teased into disarray.  It’s not hard to see why some refer to the Nigerian pop star as the “African Lady Gaga.”

In the video, which was shot in Lagos and directed by Clarence Peters, Goldie chants “don’t touch my body” to a swift electric beat while moving through a collection of unpredictable scenes, each one stranger than the last. Goldie is an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, an angel, and a circus ringleader; she sports a red feather-and-sequined headdress and then plays assistant to a knife thrower.  Several times in the video Goldie is shown wearing a leather corset and lace stockings, posing in front of what could easily have been a left-over set dressing from the last Tron film.

“Don’t Touch” is erratic and obscure but for a reason; the stream-of-consciousness style composition highlights an overarching element of insanity.  Like Rihanna’s high-speed convulsing in “Disturbia,” or Lady Gaga’s rigid fingers and white-tiled walls in “Bad Romance,” Goldie’s allusions to madness typify a common theme present in the music of many of today’s successful female artists.

In the age of the viral video, where everyone is competing for hits and shameless poise is the ultimate goal, female empowerment still comes with the caveat that the woman must be at least a little bit crazy.  Not necessarily bad nor incontrovertibly good, artists like Gaga and Rihanna have helped popularize the hot, edgy, slightly unstable female persona (“gaga” is literally a synonym of “insane”).  Goldie embodies the role with relish, enticing unseen males under the guise of seduction, she breathes “come on boy,” just before pumping the breaks.

Like “Disturbia” and “Bad Romance,” Goldie’s track is lyrically simple but visually complex, and equally fun to listen to.  Just remember, no touching.

Originally posted on Africa is a County.


Way to go George—I mean, South Sudan!

Today, South Sudan celebrates its independence.  After decades of bloody internal strife, the Republic of South Sudan officially splits from the north to become Africa’s 54th country.  There are great videos on Youtube showing the celebrations and parades taking place, of the South Sudanese trying to put into words the joy and emotion they’re feeling today, but the mainstream media can’t help themselves and are dedicating a lot of column space to talking about who gets a gold star for having saved another country in Africa.

George Clooney, God love him, is the real hero today.  Oh and the Christian groups, they get an honorable mention as well.  But it’s no secret that the Academy award-winning actor and former ER doc has spent perhaps the most time and money in his efforts to call attention to the struggles of the Sudanese—he even caught malaria during a January trip to the region!

The New York Times and the BBC ran stories discussing Clooney’s role in South Sudan’s independence; the NYT piece even quotes R. Barrie Walkley, the American consul general in Juba, as saying “Once you got someone like George Clooney, for example….George packs power.”  Mr. Walkley later questions whether the South Sudanese would have been able to achieve independence on their own without the aid of Clooney and others, saying, “I think the celebrities had a lot to do with it.”

It’s the crux of the Celebrity Advocate; how much is too much?  There are ups and downs to a celebrity—especially a high profile A-lister like Clooney—becoming heavily involved in a cause; Washington Post reporter Rebecca Hamilton writes on her blog today, “Clooneyization of the South Sudan story,” that there are two ways a story like this can go, one positive and one negative.  She writes:

I tried reporting from Abyei before anyone mainstream was doing it and my pitches kept being rejected by editors who thought, of everything going on in Sudan, Abyei was not “newsworthy” enough (At the time it was a prevention story – no one had died yet). Then George Clooney turned up late last year. And suddenly, Abyei was on the mainstream map. Now you can bitch all you like about the state of American culture that we need a movie star to direct our attention to worthwhile issues all you like, but that’s the reality we are living in. So unless you are working on a project to change that, then you should probably just be grateful that rather than chosing to spend his time on a yacht in the Caribbean, he was investing his time in Sudan knowing full well the press would follow. Good George Clooney story. The counter-story comes from the January referendum for which the worldwide media descended on Juba. And then so did Clooney. Far from Abyei a year ago, there was no way the January vote was going to go unnoticed. All adding Clooney into the mix did was to ensure that half the press pool spent their time chasing Clooney, rather than focusing on Sudanese voices.

Hamilton hits the mark with her comment on the state of American culture; diplomatic hardliners may turn up their noses at the sight of Hollywood’s elite ringing the doorbell at the White House but there’s no denying that it get’s peoples attention.  But when major international news organizations chatter on about how the West came in and saved yet another third-world country from itself, it always seems a little bit like fluff piece aimed at making us living in the so-called developed nations feel good about ourselves.  What could be better than hearing that George Clooney AND the Christians helped South Sudan become it’s own country?

So congrats Mr. Clooney, on your success today.  I mean no disrespect and still promise to pay $13 to see your next film, but maybe, just occasionally, try and keep your good deeds on the DL, make sure no one is hacking your voicemail, and avoid anyone from the BBC or the NYT (I know you and Kristof are BF’s) and then maybe they’ll get back to reporting the news in those regions.


T-Paw hearts Gaga

GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty loves Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith… this is not surprising.  But when the former Minnesota governor turns the tables on his interviewers, the ladies of the D.C.-based pop culture blog Glittarazzi, by asking them to name their favorite Lady Gaga song… well, now I’m surprised—for a minute any way.  Once I recover from the original shock, reality sets in.

Is this Pawlenty’s best effort at becoming relevant?  It kind of seems like someone on his staff thought they could make the incredibly dull Republican seem “edgy,” by going against the stereotype and having him divulge his secret love for the bisexual, outspokenly-liberal pop star.

Oh, T-Paw, try harder.  Or better yet, don’t try, just stay boring, it’s much less awkward that way.