When Water Attacks! Press goes ga-ga for tsunamis...

While watching ABC's news broadcast with Charles Gibson last night, I couldn't help but groan at the title of chosen for the special edition of "Primetime." Ripping off the name of a BBC documentary from 2000, the show was called "Tsunami: Wave of Destruction," complete with a cool font and a whooshing sound effect, as if the latest super-catastrophe were a cheesy movie-of-the-week. The devastating death toll of the Christmas-week tsunami is inspiring the sort of ecstatic reporting not seen since 9/11/01 got renamed "Attack on America!" by the major TV news organizations. It's a chance for manly newsmen to tear up and wrinkle their brows while they simultaneously seem to grin behind their eyes at the prospect of finally having some international-worthy news to report that doesn't involve our president making more enemies or the U.S. Army accidentally blowing up civilians.

Still, at least Americans are once again paying attention to the pain and suffering of others, instead of only worrying about the normal American dilemma: "McDonalds or Taco Bell?" Regrettably, reality wasn't good enough for most news broadcasts, so the ubiquitous solution involved cutting to a highlight real of the dreadful weather-is-kinda-like-a- giant-monster-or-alien-invasion flick "The Day After Tomorrow." (Also, we can't help but worry about celebrities hurt by the Southeast Asian catastrophe.)

You know it's a great public-relations event and truly heart-warming story all at once when even corporations are pitching in, with the likes of Pfizer offering $35 million in relief funds (an amount equal-to or higher than the donations promised by most major nations) and Amazon.com setting up a system for customers to give funds to the American Red Cross disaster relief program.

Try to look on the bright side of all this death and devastation: Wonderful organizations such as Oxfam International and UNICEF (the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) are getting tons of good press. As UNICEF goes about its usual business of helping endangered children, the Tsunami news-bonanza keeps landing on their relief efforts again and again. Previously, we saw the worldwide Christian right-wingers hacking away at UNICEF's image and calling for boycotts because UNICEF supports birth-control, while the Bush Administration continually threatened cuts to UNICEF funding. Seeing the kindly UNICEF workers patching up tsunami-crushed kids on national TV, however, should keep donations flowing toward this good cause for a few more years.

I can't help but recommend an Australian comedy at a serious moment like this: "Frontline" combines the subtle, dark, work-a-day, no-laugh-track humor of the BBC's "The Office" with the behind-the-scenes newsroom wit and slapstick of the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" as it deftly skewers the smug, manipulative, self-congratulatory, and oddly earnest ecosystem of network news. Although produced in the mid-'90s, the show is still shockingly relevant and funny today, and it's a shame that it's nearly impossible to find in America. "Frontline" (a.k.a. "Behind the Frontline" and "Breaking News" when it briefly aired in the U.S.), however, is the kind of TV that's worth buying a region-free, PAL-compatible DVD player for. Then use that strong U.S. dollar to order your Aussie satire online from Down Under so you can force this sublime sitcom on all your friends.

And this just in: I've received an email from a girl who survived the "wave of destruction." It looks like the letter has been forwarded on a dozen times and may well be turning into a chain mail (it's only a matter of time before someone adds a note at the end saying "Forward this email on to at least 10 more people or you too will be drowned by giant water quakes!"). However, it's an engaging read, and I haven't seen it posted anywhere else on the net, so I'm including it here. I'll withhold the name and email-address of the girl writing this letter to protect her identity, unless she contacts me asking otherwise:

Subject: Alive in Thailand

I'm sure you've seen all about the Asian tsunamis on the news the past couple of days, but I'm sure most of you didn't know that Ryan and I were on vacation over Christmas in Thailand when it happened. We were on the beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi, next to Phuket, having the time of our lives. The most amazing beaches, water, and mountains I have ever seen.

I never wanted to leave, until the tsunami hit at about 11 am on Sunday.

This was literally something out of a movie. We stood at the beach watching this wall of water come at us from far away not thinking it was a Tsunami because the tidal changes near Ko Phi Phi can be very dramatic. It wasn't until the surge started popping up anchored speed boats like popcorn that we realized we were dead or close to it. Think of Ko Phi Phi as a dumbbell-shaped island. The middle section being a sand bar no bigger than a soccer field, the end portions being jagged mountains. When the surge came, there was nowhere to run. All of the hotels (which were mostly beach bungalows), restaurants, and shops were on this sand bar, and the wave swept over the whole thing--flattening the island.

When the wave started coming towards us, Ryan and I ran down this little street, then I ducked into this open-air t-shirt shop. I thought everything was okay because the water was not even to my knees, but then quickly was up to my > neck. I tried to hold on to something, but the water swept me out the other entrance, and I was swirling around underwater with trash, sand, sewage, and big hard metal things (like refrigerators) that crushed me and help me under for a long time. After realizing that I was drowning, something loosened up above me and I could get my head above water. It was a miracle that Ryan and I ended up on the same pile of debris and hobbled to higher ground before the second surge hit.

The gore and devastation was beyond description. Because the water level was so high during the surge, after it receded there were lots of dead bodies hanging from trees, rooftops, etc. I saw many hands reaching out from under the water, but people who tried to pull them out couldn't because they were trapped under stuff. When the water was all gone, dead bodies were laying everywhere, people moaning from under 10 feet of debris. I couldn't walk so was stuck in some room 3 stories high for about 6 hours until Ryan found some other guys to carry me on a fence to this grassy area where the helicopters were landing taking the very seriously injured.

Ko Phi Phi is a remote, beach and jungle island (with no cars, motorcycles, or hospitals), so getting back to civilization was a nightmare. We made it out before night came thankfully, then spent the night at a chaotic hospital in Phuket. We talked to people there later the next day who had spent the night on Ko Phi Phi and said it was the longest night of their lives, lying amongst the dead and dying, and dealing with the hysterics of those still searching for loved ones. I still can't talk about this to anyone, but email is much easier. You don't want to hear some of the stories, they defy belief.

The stories of other survivors are sometimes 10x more phenomenal One woman staying in my hotel (individual beach bungalows) was sleeping in her room when the wave hit - a very likely place for Ryan and I to have been. The water burst through the front door and window, then exploded the back wall of concrete, sweeping her along with the debris.

One man on the boat from Phi Phi to Phuket had two broken legs and watched his wife and three children get swept out to sea and die. It just makes me feel so lucky to be alive.

We're now in Bangkok, recovering in some hospital for foreigners, on the U.S. embassy's bill I think. Treatment here has been great. I broke my pelvis in two places, but am learning to walk today with some crutches.

Ryan almost lost two toes and has some deep gashes in his legs, but we are doing fine.

Please don't worry about us. While we are badly injured and barely escaped with our lives, we saw an incredible amount of death in the last couple of days and we feel fortunate to be alive, together and having a second chance in life.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, I know this is one I'll never forget.

Let's just hope the people of the world -- and the media at large -- are capable of focusing on this problem until everyone is safe and sound. God knows that in the past disasters have been quickly forgotten after the initial media hype. An example: The millions of lives being lost and threatened in various regions of Africa -- thanks to ethnic cleansing, guerrilla warfare, disease, and starvation-- are too often ignored simply because their problems have been around for so long that it's hard to conjure up fresh sympathy (or, for the media, to find "a new angle" to the story).

Time will tell whether the death-dealing Indian Ocean tidal waves are merely the unique tale-of-the-moment, or if the world will honestly overcome it's attention deficit disorder for long enough to save the survivors from Cholera, war, homelessness, and hunger. Then, perhaps we can use our resources to help other needy nations suffering tremendous losses -- even if they haven’t been hit by an exciting news event like a gigantic wave.

[Note: "Phuket" is reportedly pronounced Poo-ket or pOO' kit, not "Fuckette"]

Movie Reviews and News (December 2004)

Despite dozens of respectful, worshipful reviews, I've been hearing very mixed reactions on the street for the new Eastwood film, "Million Dollar Baby," and some friends of mine who went to the premiere say the first two acts are pretty standard boxing-movie/sport-movie stuff... but with the third act, the plot makes an unexpected turn and the film takes things in a new direction, with Eastwood's character stealing the show, turning in a bravura performance.

If the buzz is true, it's surprising Eastwood's camp isn't pushing harder for a supporting actor Oscar nom for the old Clint. Or, to put it in more exact terms: Despite a movie flawed by clichés, Eastwood's acting is surprisingly transcendent, and yet it's his directing and the solid performances by Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman that are getting all the acclaim. Perhaps he's just being modest about his histrionic skills, and biding his time for a knock-out punch in a thespian category... Surely he won't land too many directing awards for this one.

[Update: After writing this, Eastwood nabbed Academy Award nods for both Best Picture and Best Actor, so perhaps the Oscar campaign for his acting work was stronger than the "Million Dollar Baby" industry trade ads led me to believe. Also, he won a Golden Globe for best director, so despite my prediction, the man's getting trophies even for directing work that's arguably less impressive than such previous efforts as "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River." But then again, Renée Zellweger was nominated this year for a best actress Golden Globe for "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" -- quite possibly one of the most vigorously soulless films ever committed to celluloid -- so we can't take the Globes too seriously.]

Spacey sing, sing, sings! about how straight he is.

I can’t help but suspect that Kevin Spacey made his new Bobby Darin biopic ("Beyond the Sea") because he's one of these triple-threat actors that has a lot of pent up anger about the fact that they can do everything (sing! dance! act!), and yet they're just seen as being the same as all the other actors (e.g., Brad Pitt or Al Pacino can't sing and dance like Spacey, and Spacey wants the world to know it). In every interview, I can just see Spacey thinking “I can outperform 98% of modern actors, dammit, and all those embarrassing years of dance lessons shouldn't go to waste!”

In addition to the flick, by doing a 12-city tour as Bobby Darin, Spacey solidifies this talent and makes it real -- he has to be a really awesome song-and-dance man to pull this off live in front of big audiences, which is something that today's musical-movie stars can't do (just think of Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger trying to do their "Chicago" stuff live -- they wouldn't hack it, because the only reason they were able to make Zellweger look like a great singer-dancer in the film was through rapid cutting and massive re-recording).

So, it's totally an ego thing -- which becomes even more evident with every "Beyond the Sea" article I read, because Spacey seems to have his entire cast and crew trained to repeat the party line of "Kevin Spacey is the greatest actor-filmmaker of all time. He was directing the film, producing the film, writing the film, editing the film, shooting the film, dancing better than Gene Kelly, singing better than Sinatra, and acting better than De Niro ALL AT THE SAME FRIGGIN' TIME. Please worship this man." And then the reporter will interview Spacey, who'll say something like, "I'm a very humble man, so I would never imply that I'm an genius and egomaniac, but have I mentioned that I'm better than the real Bobby Darin? I'm a god. Watch my incredible performance as the feisty science-soldier in 'Outbreak' for proof. Lick the ground I walk on. Now."

Of course, with all the former models and semi-talented pretty faces making beaucoup bucks as "actors", the multi-talented Spacey has every right to flaunt what he's got. The fact that he's 20 years too old to play Bobby Darin, coupled with his weakness for melodrama, being the only real negative against him.

{NOTE: "Beaucoup," a synonym for "many" and "much," is often incorrectly spelled in the phrase "beaucoup bucks." One of the most common misspellings, "boku," actually means "a kind of drum shaped like a truncated cone and meant to be played with bare hands. The Boku drum is played throughout eastern Cuba during carnivals and street parades called Comparsas. In sub-Sarahan Africa it is known as ashiko," according to the Wikipedia. In reality, beaucoup is an English slang word with French roots, with beau = fine and coup = stroke, according to The American Heritage Dictionary. The combined word meaning: "A fine stroke," which could be used in a sentence such as "A fine stroke of luck" -- "beaucoup luck, baby!" -- which might then be extended to "A nice chunk of cash," thus the popular "beaucoup bucks." In the Southern U.S., "boocoo" and "bookoo" are also accepted spellings, because any good southern would never be caught dead saying something vaguely French. Also, has anyone else noticed that biopic is now being pronounced in two ways in the popular parlance? Bio-pic and bi-opic … The first is correct, but I like the scientific sound of the second. Oh, and yes, over 100,000 websites can be wrong: the name is Bobby Darin, not Bobby Darrin.}

I’ve been flying around the country a lot lately, which has lead to my watching some films I might not have normally seen: I was not impressed by “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” although it had a couple of okay jokes (I liked the pirate and the pizza-down-the-pants, but after this mostly mediocre effort, the atrocious Duplex, and the other laughless clunkers Ben Stiller has churned out lately, he's now highly ranked on my shit list). I'm embarrassed to admit that I laughed all the way through “The Hot Chick,” although I prefer 1999’s “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” when it comes to Rob Schneider films (a dirty, secret, guilty pleasure). "I, Robot" was disappointing considering director Alex Proyas’ previous sci-fi effort, "Dark City," a perfect film; the FX in the lower-budget "Dark City" somehow looked better than the videogame-like FX found the expensive “I, Robot,” with its cheesy-action-movie machine-gun ending... bler....

However, the antidote to the bad plane-movies came with two new art-house flicks recently screened in NY:

“The Woodsman” is slow and often depressing, but the performances are extraordinary, and the direction is poetic. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is flawless, as is the work by all of the supporting actors (check out the little girl in the park -- her scene with Bacon at the end of the film will burn itself into your psyche). After the screening I attended, Kevin Bacon and his wife/co-star, Kyra Sedgwick, had a lovely, laid-back conversation with the audience. It’s always nice when actors turn out to be intelligent even off-script. And it’s even nicer when you’ve actually enjoyed their film, so you don’t have to bite your tongue the entire time, desperately trying not to blurt out what sordid hacks they are. Bacon and Sedgwick are a grounded, class act -- onscreen and off.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is incredible. Truly mesmerizing. You can’t watch this film without feeling the growing urge to learn Spanish, travel across South America, befriend lepers, pick up hot Latin chicks, get a funny best friend with a motorcycle, and join the Communist Party. Now I can’t wait for the Steven Soderbergh/Benicio Del Toro/ Terrence Malick “Che” feature, since “The Motorcycle Diaries” (“Diarios de motocicleta”) is the perfect prequel for the story of Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara de la Serna becoming the heroic, militant Che Guevara and setting off on a whirlwind tour of revolution.

Then, at a hotel, I saw “The House of Sand and Fog,” which was pretty gut wrenching, especially the third act, when everything goes horribly wrong just when you think everything is about to get nice and cutesy. You know, usually with a film like this at some point the ethnic family and the white people all realize how much they have in common and they reach an agreement that makes everyone happy. So as you watch the film, after 90 minutes of seeing these characters suffer, you’re waiting for the breath of fresh air at the end -- you're thinking, you're hoping, you're wrong. The ending is more devastating than everything that comes before. It’s not a perfect film, however, as it can be a bit melodramatic and manipulative at times (making up for this is some brief nudity from the eternally hot Jennifer Connelly).

Final notes:

Director Beeban Kidron's “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” sucked the big one, making the first “Bridget Jones” look like a masterwork classic comedy bonanza compared to this crap fest.

Spielberg and Hanks really dropped the ball with “The Terminal -- Bosom Buddies had less contrived situations.

Indie phenom “Napoleon Dynamite” was a stylistic knockoff of Wes Anderson’s work, but it was devilishly funny nonetheless; and it’s one of those rare films that grow funnier with repeated viewings.

The Aussie rock comedy “Garage Days,” from director Alex Proyas (the auteur behind the flawless, mind-bending “Dark City”) has a slick visual pallet, but the character high jinks quickly grow grating and the plot fails to captivate for more than minutes at a time; however, points have to be given for the ballsy choice of giving the band their comeuppance at the film’s conclusion.

Another Australian film, “Dirty Deeds,” stumbles upon moments of brilliance while lampooning the American Mafia genre; star Bryan Brown is engaging, as always, and the movie has real originality and cinemagraphic panache, despite a smattering of clichés and plot potholes.

And Brit hit “Shaun of the Dead” is drop-dead hilarious, but it's best watched after seeing a couple of your favorite zombie movies and Danny Boyle’s London-based masterstroke, “28 Days Later”; that way you’ll get more of the jokes, although the film is bloody amusing regardless.



The following article explains why Che Guevara was nicknamed "Fuser:"

"The Unfinished Journey of el Ché"

By Juan José Chacón Quirós de Quetzalcóatl

The life of Ernesto Guevara Serna is a journey into the conscience of humanity, a journey unfinished.

Guevara began as el Pelao, a 14-year–old boy known for his natural analytical skills. El Pelao began dreaming about a trip around South America with his older friend Alberto Granado.

It is the dream of every Latin American adolescent, el viaje, a journey to bring one to terms with the past, visit ancestors in original cities . . . Cuzco, Tenochtitlan, Chichen-Itza. It is also to visit the modern cities . . . Mexico, Rio, Santiago, meet fellow Latin Americans, and indeed discover whether we really believe in the idea of a Latin America.

El Pelao was destined for this voyage of discovery, although he first prepared himself by exploring Gardel's Buenos Aires Querido and the expanse of his Argentinean patria. In 1945, on a bicycle with a small engine, el Pelao made this thousands of miles journey around the Argentinean countryside, through the deserts, valleys and flat pampas in order to regain contact with Mial [Guevara's nickname for Alberto, short for "Mi Alberto," which is what Alberto's grandmother called him]. El Pelao had become el Fuser, from Furibundo, an invocation of his tenacity and fearless style of playing rugby and futbol.

El Pelao" was Che's childhood nickname of "Baldy." Later, as a teenager or young man, he also picked up the name "Fuser," a derivative of "Furibundo," which is Spanish for enraged or furious. A shortened version of furibundo might have resulted in "fuser," or, according to some sources, Fuser was a contraction for "Furibundo Serna" -- The Fast and Furious Ernesto Serna. Either way, Fuser was definitely Ernesto Guevara de la Serna's rugby nickname, and he had quite a reputation as an amateur soccer/football player as well. According to Alberto Granado in "Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary," he and Che lost interest in soccer when they took up rugby, and lost interest in rugby when they took up shooting. Shooting, of course, would turn out to be more than just a hobby for Ché in the future.]

It took seven more years of discussion and planning before Mial and el Fuser would ride through South America on La Poderosa II, a 500 cc Norton motorcycle. Despite the universality of the dream, most Latin Americans never get to this stage, opressesed by the tyranny of day-to-day life. El Fuser was about to graduate as a medical doctor when he decided the time was ripe for el viaje.

Their trip took Mial and el Fuser through the leper colonies of Latin America. The heightened sensibility needed to treat and respect lepers would later be a foundation for the politics of Guevara. By the end of the journey in Caracas, el Fuser was filled with questions. He had seen the pre-colombian ruins of Machu Picchu, the Amazonian forests, the militarized city of Bogota and, not least of all, Yanqui Imperialism at its crudest in the Chilean copper mines of Chuquicamata.

El Fuser finished his medical degree but quickly he found that as medical doctor he could do nothing but treat the afflicted individual. He became more interested in attacking the source of the disease, both individual and social. For this purpose he landed in Guatemala City shortly before Christmas, 1953. The elected government of Jacobo Arbenz was undertaking a gradualist approach to social change, including land reform. When Arbenz was deposed by a CIA sponsored coup in 1954, Guevara determined to devote himself to the Revolution.

His journey continued from Guatemala to Mexico City, where his fate became intertwined with Fidel Castro and other Cubans plotting to overthrow the dictator Batista. In the process, he became the legendary Ché Guevara — a pioneer of guerrilla warfare, ready to die for the idea of Latin America which by definition is a free Latin America. The rest is history.

Ché overcame asthma attacks, harrowing months of jungle warfare, and Batista's [Cuban] army, culminating in his great triumph in the city of Santa Clara, where he was reburied last week [in October, 1997].

In the new revolutionary government, Ché became the head of the tribunals at La Cabaña, and later President of the Central Bank and Minister of Industry. He left these glorious achievements for Africa. It was not without pain, but he wanted to fight, shoulder to shoulder, in the anti-colonial struggles.

Ché spent his last days in the Bolivian altiplano trying to gain support for the Revolution. Even Félix Rodriguez, the CIA operative in charge of Ché's murder, says his last days were filled with "grace and courage."

You could say he was an accomplished man, a true revolutionary, but more than that, he was a viajero, a traveler into the soul of humanity. He left everything behind but his love for justice, equality and freedom, his love for mankind.

And, for that, Ernesto Guevara Serna, el Pelao, el Fuser, el Ché remains the idol of Latin American youth. He exemplifies, in victory and defeat, the pride that has been lost in Nuestra America since 1492.

[Note: There are a number of theories regarding Guevara's nickname of "Che." Some say it's a sound commonly used in the Argentinean idiom, and Guevara was given the nickname during his travels because he used the sound so often. In fact, in film version of "The Motorcycle Diaries," it's implied that other Spanish speakers often nickname all Argentineans "Che." However, other sources insist that Che is Argentinean slang for "Hey you!" or "buddy" or "pal." Whether Guevara received his nickname as a child or later in life is also up for debate, with reliable sources taking all sides of the issue.]

© 1997 The Massachusetts Daily Collegian & Juan José Chacón Quirós de Quetzalcóatl. This article ("The Unfinished Journey of el Ché") was annotated and updated by Lucas Brachish in 2005. It's being preserved on Celebrity Cola because The Massachusetts Daily Collegian has seemingly dropped it from their site and the original author could not be reached. All other material on this page and the Celebrity Cola website is © Lucas Brachish, unless noted otherwise.

Jack White vs. Jack White

This isn't the White Stripes (obviously), It's "JACKY" Jack White:

Although it shouldn't stop anyone from checking out the album 'Southern Songboook' by Jack White it should be noted that the singer-songwriter behind this record is NOT the same Jack White as the White Stripes' guitar hero. Since typing "Jack White" into Amazon will give you dozens of Jack "White Stripes" White references with a few scattered mentions of the traditional-country "Jacky Jack" White, it can be confusing, especially since (a) Jacky Jack isn't as well known as Jack White (Stripes) and (b) Jack White (Stripes) is known to play some Southern-influenced and even Carter-Sister-influenced country songs (for instance, he produced, played, and sang on the incredible new Loretta Lynn album, "Van Lear Rose", and appears on the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack).

Finding a full-blown bio on "Jacky Jack" White can be near impossible, with a Google search resulting in hundreds of Jack White (Stripes) pages for every "Jacky Jack" site. Making it even more impossible: "Jacky Jack" is often referenced simply as "Jack White", without the "Jacky" part of his nickname being mentioned, so his name is indistinguishable from that of the White Stripes' front man. It would be nice if websites like Amazon and Google could find a way of noting which man is which, and who did which album, as a lot of confusion seems to have erupted now and again due to the name situation (and Jack-Stripes' fervent and tremendous output in just a few short years, combined with gaggles of coverage).

Personally, right now (2004), I prefer the music and producing of Jack "White Stripes" White... but "Jacky Jack" White is an award-winning singer-songwriter in his own right, and even if you haven't heard him sing, you've probably heard a cover or two of one of his songs, since he's been a popular songwriter on-and-off for a couple of decades. And the Carter Sisters, of course, are dynamite -- traditional folk/country from back when Country Music was cool and rebellious, and not just the corporate-radio all-sounds-the-same Red-State Light-Republican-Rock of today.

"Jacky Jack" is getting back to the roots of country here, and working with the last recordings of the Carter Sisters, so this album is much more in line with the alternative/indie country-roots-rock movement than the "I own a new gas-guzzling off-road pick-up truck even though I work in an office and live in the suburbs" Contemporary Country. And although it's not going to rock you like the White Stripes, devastate you like Johnny Cash, move you like Wilco, or amuse you like Will (Bonnie Prince/Palace Bros.) Oldham or Ryan "I'm not Brian" Adams, it's still worth checking out (if for no other reason than to know firsthand the difference between the two Jack Whites). It's a solid album.

But after you're done exploring the two Jacks, and admiring Van Lear Rose and old-school Parton and Loretta, check out some earth-shattering Emmylou Harris, mind-blowing Graham Parsons, and criminally-hip old-school Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson for a real taste of honky-tonk country as it was meant to be (one last hint: search for "Mermaid Avenue" as an appetizer, and you'll begin to see just how much country has influenced even the best modern rock. Interestingly, "Jacky Jack" is supposedly a huge Brian Jones fan, so rock is influencing country right back, of course).

Search Amazon for both Jack Whites