Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



Last week, every one's favorite Pop Star, LADY GAGA, made pop music history. Her most recent single, 'BORN THIS WAY,' hit #1 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100 CHART. While this is the third time she has accomplished this feat, (Just Dance and Poker Face also went to #1) this time it was extra special. 'BORN THIS WAY' just so happens to be the ONE THOUSANDTH song to top the Billboard Charts, thus enshrining LADY GAGA in the sacred halls in the Pop Music Hall of Fame for all eternity! All Hail Lady Gaga!

Confused as to how someone as insignificant as LADY GAGA is now a music legend? Perhaps a little background on the Billboard Charts is needed. (You knew this was coming!) It all started way back in 1894 when some innovative Cincinnati businessmen had an idea. They collected information posted on walls around town for upcoming events. Then they consolidated it and published it an over-sized magazine. It was aptly named BILLBOARD. In the 1890's entertainment listings included circus venues, county fair dates and the most popular events of the time: Vaudeville Shows! The magazine proved popular with the entertainment-starved public as well as the promoters themselves. It soon expanded beyond Ohio to its location for the last century: Manhattan!

As the entertainment industry changed, so did the magazine. In 1909, BILLBOARD debuted its MOTION PICTURE section. In 1920, it devoted a section to RADIO. But the most important addition to the magazine came in 1931 with the Almighty JUKEBOX. It's hard for people living in 2011 to understand just how revolutionary the jukebox was to people in the 1930's. Prior to its arrival, one had to attend a concert to hear music, and no one in the depression had money for that. But...with a jukebox...an entire orchestra, jazz band or country singer could instantly appear at your local establishment. People went crazy and demand for jukeboxes skyrocketed. BILLBOARD magazine followed suit and on January 4, 1936, it debuted the MUSIC HIT PARADE which listed the most popular records being purchased around the country. Now everyone could find out what everyone else was listening to. (In a way, BILLBOARD magazine was a lot like an early version of the Internet!)

Over time, sales of jukebox singles began to decline. Recent advancements in technology meant that both radios and phonographs were now available to the general public. Recent advancements in people's salaries meant they had money for these new luxuries. BILLBOARD responded to these changes and by 1950, it had three separate charts: One chronicled jukebox sales, another charted what tunes radio DJs were actually playing on air and the last listed what records people were buying in stores. But it wasn't until 1958 that BILLBOARD came up with the idea to combine the three charts into one. The magazine debuted the HOT 100 on August 4th. Dominating jukeboxes, shredding the airwaves and conquering music stores on this precise date was none other than the legendary RICKY NELSON. And the song everyone loved? POOR LITTLE FOOL!

No one remembers 'POOR LITTLE FOOL,' just like no one sixty years from now will remember 'BORN THIS WAY.' But the two songs will be forever linked as pop music milestones. And while this weekend's Academy Awards are important, I still believe the most notable achievement in the entertainment world is to hit #1 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100 CHART. Don't believe me? Well, let's ask her royal highness herself, LADY GAGA on what she thinks of this event. A statistical anomaly? Hardly! Quoth the Lady: "It's a tremendous honor. To be the the 1,000th #1 on Billboard...It would be silly not to say this is the greatest honor of my career." You Go, Gaga!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



It was only last month when President Obama warned in THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS that the USA was having a "Sputnik Moment." This confused many Americans who have no idea what a Sputnik is. This precise minute Barack is referencing happened on October 4, 1957. This is the date when the USSR shocked the world by being the first nation to launch a satellite into orbit, thus creating a major Cold-War-chill in American pride. Americans were disgusted. "How could we let those stupid commies beat us into space?" they clamored. You know the rest of the story: The US made damn sure the Reds weren't gonna beat us the moon. And boy did we show them! All the dumb Soviets could put in space was a tin can and a dog. We put a man on the moon, YOU LENIN LOVING LOSERS! Since then, NASA has kicked cosmic ass over the whole known universe. (Or at least our solar system) GO USA!!

Well...I hate to break it to all y'all but the USA's status as 'lords of local space' is about to expire! The Russians have played second fiddle long enough! To help knock the Americans off the top, those crazy cosmonauts did something Americans hate: they collaborated with other countries. There are some new players in the space-race these days and they are well funded. The European Space Agency (ESA) boasts 18 member states has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion dollars. The Chinese Space Program is also huge and receives a large military stipend. Anyhow, these three lesser programs have combined forces to create a new, mega-agency on a mission to topple the USA. This week, they issued a challenge: Who wants to be the first to put a MAN ON MARS?

Prior to Monday, NASA owned 'bragging rights' over all other space programs when it came to Mars. In 1976, the US became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the planet. VIKING 1 and VIKING 2 first accomplished this feat when they orbited and then landed on the red planet a good two years before the Russians. Next, in 1997, the Americans landed the MARS PATHFINDER on the surface. With six really cool wheels, it was able to move about to study the odd rocks and gravel. (Previous Russian models had failed to accomplish this feat.) And in 2003, NASA landed an even better probe. With solar powered panels on top, it's been driving all over Mars, sending back high-tech Martian images for seven years straight.

Yet all these high tech gadgets would be no match for having a human walk on the surface of Mars and planting a flag, a la Neil Armstrong. And that's just what this new organization is set to do. On Monday, the doors of the Mission Control Moscow were thrown up to international journalists to show off their latest success: A large wing of the institute has been converted into the simulated surface of Mars. The conditions are just like the surface of Mars: frigid and frightening. Two cosmonauts, a Russian and an Italian, walked across the forbidden land and planted three flags (Russian, Chinese and the EU) to symbolize their future plans.

While officials at NASA and the British space agency no doubt laughed at some goofy scientists jumping up and down in a red-colored sandpit in a Moscow suburb, other aspects of the operation are impressive. It's named MARS500, after the five-hundred day mission it hopes to accomplish: 220 days to fly to Mars, 30 days on the surface, and 250 days to go back. Right now, the focus is on how humans could remain cooped up in a capsule for so long. To see if people would really go crazy, they locked eight astronauts in a tiny metal room for the last nine months. To the relief of all, they did not kill each other!

It's hard to say when, if ever, a person will walk on Mars. NASA predicts it will occur in 2037, the MARS500 project is shooting for 2040. But one thing is perfectly clear: The World needs to combine forces to reach the goal. This means all national space agencies (even the dreaded Iranian Space Agency) need to work together to accomplish anything. Think of all the research that is being needlessly duplicated. Think of all the multiple space crafts being built around the globe. But most of all, think of what we would have to tell the Man From Mars when we finally meet him: "I'm from the joint-Euro-Sino-Russian federation." Or simply: "I'm from there!" (Point to earth.)

Friday, February 11, 2011



FAT TUESDAY is a less than month away! It's March 8th this year and people around the world are busy making preparations. In New Orleans, they're polishing up their plastic beads to toss on hotties on Bourbon Street. In Venice, they're auditioning actresses for the costume ball at St. Mark's Square. In Trinidad, the bands are busily rehearsing for the annual Rara Festival. In Dusseldorf, the streets are cleared for Fasching when half a million people march in Europe's largest parade. But no where on earth are the celebrtations any bigger than in RIO DE JANIERO. Here, Carnaval is more than just another holy day. It is a national holiday when Brazilians celebrate like only they can! (See above photo!)

It's often said that the only thing that Brazilans love more than soccer is Carnaval. The entire nation shuts down for a crazy week with insane celebrations all across the vast nation. At the heart of Carnaval is Rio's Samba Competition. It's kinda like Dancing With the Stars in the USA: Professional dancers perform before judges with a complicated scoring system surrounded by lots of gossip. Like their beloved soccer, Brazilians take their Samba competitions very seriously. There are twelve schools where the dancers train year-round. Records of winners date back to 1920. The winning-ist school of all-time is Mangueria. But, with titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 Beija-Flor is now a force to be reckoned with! Also, just like in soccer, the venues hosting such competitions became too small. Welcome to the SAMBADROME seating over 90,000 people. The parade route leading up to the entrance of the arena is lined with half-a-million more folks. Anyhow...you get the picture...in Brazil, the Mardi Gras Samba competition is like the SUPER BOWL, the ROSE PARADE and a TYLER PERRY MOVIE all rolled into one!

But at 5am on Monday, everyone in Brazil awoke to the most horrible news any Saba-loving-Carioca could possibly imagine: A massive fire had erupted at warehouse in Rio's SambaCity. By the time it was contained, it had destroyed 8,400 costumes and damaged the elaborate stages used by the performers. Also up in flames were the hopes and dreams of hundreds of workers who work year-round to prepare for the Mardi Gras celebrations. Worst hit was Portela, one of Rio's oldest schools. Since its founding in 1923, it boasts 21 titles. "We'd been here 24 hours a day. We were in it to win this year," said Moacir da Silva Pinto, one of the school's managers. Also badly hit was Academicos do Grande Rio, an up-and-coming newer school. Local bookies were considering it a 'sleeper-pick' for the 2011 title.

While this may seem a bit over-stated and dramatized (it is a dance competition, after all) we should take a look at the figures. Samba is Brazil is big business. The loss of costumes alone is in the $25 million range. Carnaval is Brazil's biggest tourist draw, with 70% of all revenue coming from this one FANTASTIC week. But the saddest part is that the schools have only spotty insurance, no workers compensation or sick leave. People are out of jobs as well as hope. But Brazil is a nation united in cause and the other Samba schools have pledged to help out and everyone is now working together to save Mardi Gras.

The Mayor of Rio, EDUARDO PAES, was one of the first people on the scene. The fire, which was ruled an accident, and NOT arson, took hours to extinguish. He too, believes the spirit of Cariocas (residents of Rio) will overcome any tragedy. "There are a lot of people who spend the year dreaming and working for this, for their moment to go out there and shine," he said. "You can't take that away from them. The material things are gone, but we still have a samba to sing."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



It really sucks to be Hosni Mubarak these days. The head-spinning pace of recent events in Egypt has stunned the world. The once tranquil 'Jewel of the Nile' has been turned upside-down. We've witnessed a sudden eruption of horrific battles between riot police and angry protesters with no end in sight. Normally when a nation undergoes regime change it takes a little longer. In Thailand, it took years to oust President Thaksin. First the Yellow T-shirts took over the Royal Plaza. Months later, they occupied the international airport. Finally, after a boycotted election, the army stepped in, and Thaksin fled into exile. My point is: While no one is surprised that a tyrannical dictator like Mubarak is being overthrown, everyone is amazed how quickly he's being run out.

It's not just the columnists, writers and bloggers that were caught off-guard. In the last ten days, presidents, prime ministers and fellow dictators from around the globe are also struggling to make sense of the fast-paced events in Egypt. World leaders like Obama, Putin and Hu Jintao have suddenly found themselves scrambling to distance their nations from the current Egyptian regime. It's not easy to do. Within the last three years, President Mubarak has received lavish state receptions at the the White House, the Kremlin and Peking's Great Hall of the People. He was photographed hugging Barack, shaking hands with Putin and kissing Hu Jintao. (Okay, I made that last one up!) So the question is: If he is loved around the world why do the people in Egypt hate him so much?

Let's review how he came to power. The 1981 assassination of Anwar el-Sadat was a sudden, savage event that sent shock waves throughout the Middle East. Mr. Mubarak was the vice president at the time. Still recovering from a bullet wound on his hand, he was hastily inaugurated as the new president. He inherited sole leadership of a nation on the brink of Civil War. Confusion reigned as dozens of armed Islamic splinter groups roamed the streets. One city, Asyut, actually seceded. But Hosni was a smart leader and turned to his two best friends: The army and the media. Looking handsome, stately and definitely in charge, Mubarak was broadcast nationally on every TV channel and radio station in Egypt. He declared a state of emergency and told all Egyptians to remain calm and to stay indoors. Then, he had the world's tenth largest army patrol the streets of Cairo and Alexandria with tanks and heavily armed soldiers. Problem solved!

While the events of 1981 in Egypt are by no means rare in World Politics, what happened in the thirty years following certainly is: Hosni Mubarak never lifted the State of Emergency. It's been THIRTY YEARS! Imagine how stressful it must be to live in a continual state of panic for three decades! Well, that's what life is like for the 50 million people who have been born in Egypt under Mubarak's reign. The streets have always been controlled by armed tanks and garrisons of Uzi-totting soldiers. Citing Federal Law #162, Egyptian police can imprison any one for any reason and then jail them for any amount of time. Also legal under this law, the government can censor and control all press, radio, TV and films. For three decades, this classic system of lies and oppression has been in effect. It worked as long as the government was able to monitor what folks saw, read and heard. The constant army presence reminded people to stay in line.

And, everything would have gone fine for Mr. Mubarak and his fiendish plans if it weren't for those darn, meddling technological advances. Recently, the all mighty INTERNET, stealthy CELL PHONES and sneaky SATELLITE TV have been slowly appearing on Saharan sands, to the disdain of many an Arab dictator. Just like in Tunisia, people are now able to talk with each other, learn about the rest of the world, and begin to demand better lives. The only problem with FREEDOM OF SPEECH (as former president George W. Bush knew) is that many in the Arab World loathe the US and the West. If we actually give them the power to vote, we're likely to have new leaders from parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Fatah...and worse of all...Al-Qaida. It looks like the $2 billion dollars we gave to Egypt every year to behave like a good nation wasn't money well spent.