Lancaster, home of the pompadour. Plus, August 2, the NFL and Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine.

Posted in History and Politics, Opinion on July 28th, 2011 by byronkho

From the LA Times:

“The Mexican distributors in Pennsylvania were trying to cut costs by hiring immigrant truckers to haul drugs from Southern California. And U.S. agents were keeping a close watch on traffickers in the historic towns of Lancaster County, Pa., a distribution hub.”

And apparently, drugs fly in thru local airports in York and Carlisle. Awesome! Knew they had to get distributed from somewhere, and always assumed the closest hub was NY. But guess there’s one closer. I wonder if any of those Amish driving around electric buggies got a piece of the pie… also, Latinos rollin round Intercourse, PA sporting pompadours and shiny pants must really stand out. In Philly, I haven’t seen anybody do the Sinaloan style yet, though some people get halfway there with the cowboy and neon gear.

Yep, he had one too.

While still at the LA Times, saw this about too much airbrushing. That Julia Roberts really needs airbrushing, eh? Deceptive advertising, I guess. If you can’t find anybody with clear skin, or your product can’t make anybody have clear skin, you have no business selling clear-your-skin type products.

Slate mentions how Thomas the Tank Engine is imperialist propaganda. I watched that show!

After August 2 will be payments prioritization, which means soldiers and postal workers will probably be first to not get paid. By necessity, the bondholders get paid first. The only practical thing to do is to raise the debt ceiling and then figure out the rest later. Yes, costs should be slimmed and revenues should be increased (so halfies on the Dems or Repubs) and I don’t think raising the debt ceiling is really a great thing to do… but we all know what happens when your credit rating slides. With US banks being so nosy into international finance, I can’t imagine anyone is in a rush to bring their money stateside; with all these additional scarification factors, investors and account holders are really going to be looking hard to stash and grow their money elsewhere. We’re just lucky Greece happened, or those London bankers would really be seeing some coin moving up the Thames. There’s also the stupid worst case scenario, in which the Republicans totally block any sort of compromise and force the US to pass the Aug 2 date without a raise in the debt ceiling, and then try and impeach the Prez when he pulls a “validity of the national debt” action, re the 14th Amendment, to forcibly raise it. I guess the US is too used to the idea of just filing bankruptcy and wiping the slate clean. However, this doesn’t work in the rest of the world. You took the debt on, you owe it, regardless of your ability to pay. And if you can’t pay, the lender can take your assets, or break your arms. Obviously, the US can say “go screw yourself” and use the Armed Forces to prevent any action on that front… but who will want to lend to the US after that? You can’t argue that everyone will have to because it’s the only practical choice; if you back people to the wall, they’d rather go without the interest earnings then lend it to someone who can refuse to pay at any moment.

CIA responsible for fake vaccination sting that fooled Osama bin Laden? Congratulations, you fooled someone who thought he was smart, proving you were smarter. But by doing so, you proved to the world that the US is full of assholes who take advantage of kids with polio to make the CIA feel better about itself – as it ALREADY knew OBL was in the compound and just wanted a double-check. Those kids didn’t get any treatment, got no vaccine (and even if they did get a real shot instead of water or saline or whatever, they would require 3 rounds and just got one meaning it was completely pointless) and may believe that they did, and any future health workers attempting vaccines or help to sick civilians or combatants are not going to be given the benefit of the doubt and possibly attacked first, questioned later. There goes another “convention of war” that will be completely ignored by both sides. Terrorists are considered terrorists because they stoop to the lowest of the low and do not adhere to items like the Geneva Convention, which are designed to make war civilized. If the US ignores these rules, why should the terrorists do so? And by breaking those rules, aren’t we dropping to their level? War is dirty, and you can’t win unless you play dirty… but you have to have some level of human decency or you are no better than the worst of the worst. You can reel the comparison out one step further, say, to the Nazis. You can say, whatever, the US didn’t kill anybody on that sort of scale, and without any of their genocidal intentions. But I say that everything that gets you one step closer to accepting scorched earth as a method of war (as in, anything and everything will be used in the war effort, and nothing is sacrosanct) is being in that same mindset. I disapprove. At the very least, keep your dirty acts secret. If the public gets to hear about it, HOW IS YOUR SECRET AGENCY KEEPING ANYTHING SECRET?

The CIA goes quack!

And finally, lawsuit against the NFL for covering up dangers of concussions. Like smoking, everyone knows football is shit on the human body. You play long enough, you’re gonna get head injuries and you’re going to get Alzheimer’s and dementia SO much sooner than everyone else. You even get kids dying from football-related injuries. Should the NFL pay? Gregg Easterbrook, it is noted, pointed out that the NFL did not want to tell players to improve their helmets as requiring better helmets may open them up to liability. Which is probably true, unfortunately. Yes, the NFL should pay, as they are like Big Tobacco. Are they big and bad? Yes, but only as big and bad as the American public and the media. Like with tobacco, media helped propel football into the national pastime of choice (over baseball) by emphasizing its importance and televising the subject as much as possible – including idol worship of such sporting events as the Rose Bowl and Super Bowl, which are now a national tradition beyond watching the World Series or Stanley Cup games. In response, the American public accept football as so cool that they need to buy expensive tickets to games and football jerseys, plus line up for hours to get hastily scrawled signatures, thus wasting a lot of their salaries on the industry. Consequently, the amount of money in the industry has pushed salaries for star athletes up (and made the team owners rich), made football into the only life goal of many a ghetto resident (which is quite a failure in imagination, as the % of people making it is, for good reason, abysmally low) and encouraged players to take deadly risks because of the potential payout. I’m quite fine with leaving current players to it, as they know the risks and it’s their choice (and I do enjoy a good football game once in a while) – but for all those parents who force their kids into it or encourage them in their ambitions WITHOUT informing them of the risks beforehand, that’s pretty unacceptable. The NFL itself – which, seen as the spokesperson for all the pro teams and thus the organization with the largest influence on young fans – should be pretty clear about the risks and how it’s trying to protect their players and growing ingénues who may join up one day, and the only way to get the NFL to do that is to bring the kind of lawsuit against them that made Big Tobacco inform the public (in explicit manner) what abuse of the product could do to them.

Can’t help it. One more quote:

Members of Congress aren’t answerable to all their constituents. They are answerable to hard-liners in their party primaries, and these hardliners see any attempt to compromise as “caving in.” Stanford University political scientist David Brady, who runs a fellowship program I’ve attended, once found that the more members of Congress vote with their parties, the less likely they are to be re-elected. – Shankar Vedantam

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Ye gods! English monarchs, bad language and cheesesteaks wrapped in pizza.

Posted in Personal on July 25th, 2011 by byronkho

Tickets are now being sold for Wars and Whores: The Henry IV Musical. This show is playing the weekend of Sept 9-11 at the Rotunda as part of the Philly Fringe Festival. I’m playing keyboards as part of the foot stomping, baccy spitting, hee haw hollerin bluegrass band accompanying our Shakespearean actors.

Going along with the Middle Ages thing, I got annoyed by someone else’s use of “worst comes to worst”. And not because they were using it, specifically, but because everyone uses it. I prefer “worse comes to worst,” as it more logically refers to a progression from bad to way more bad (aka worst). But “worst comes to worst” is the dominant form, as it came first: “worst in theory comes to worst in practicality.”

“If the worst come to the worst, a good swimmer may do much.” – Thomas Nashe, in “Have With You to Saffron-Walden” from 1596.

Jeffrey Barg, who wrote the music for Wars and Whores, apparently wrote about the Lorenzo-Jim’s Challenge in the Philly Inquirer back in 2003. I have yet to eat this death-dealing meal… one day. It is now known as the Philly Taco.

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Carmina Burana, catchup with V+L, Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Posted in Personal on July 23rd, 2011 by byronkho

Last month, I went to see the Philadelphia Orchestra play Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Orff’s Carmina Burana, joined by full chorale and solo tenor, countertenor and soprano. The whole thing was pretty fantastic… the Mann Center was nice as usual, the beers were nice and cold, and the weather was extremely cooperative. I even got a hot dog and didn’t get ill afterwards. Win.

Andre Rieu, not with the Philadelphia Orchestra. One commenter: “I listen to this when I take a dump.” There’s an idea.

I went to New York last weekend. Traffic was horrendous, exacerbated by having to wait around the airport for a while. Picked up my great-uncle and his grandson. What do you call your grandmother’s brother’s grandson, who is on the same level as a cousin but can’t be called a cousin? Its not second cousin. The grandson was looking at colleges so I took him to see NYU and Columbia.

When it was too dark to visit schools, we went to hang out with Viva and Loke. I haven’t seen them in years, and it was nice to catch up. Viva is working at some advertising firm, doing background fills and character work. Since she’s working on Bud Lite ads, she complained that the Bud Lite people were constantly asking her department (and thus her) to sexy up the ads, which translates to “put bigger boobs on the babes.” Very fulfilling work, I’m sure… but pays the rent, which is a rarity these days for artists. Loke was about to take the last test for Gaia Online, in which she had made it to the semifinals and had to compete with 6 other people for 6 spots. Musical chairs; one person would be odd man out and not hired. Basically, she would be designing new characters and costumes, which is almost what she does already anyway. Since she’s pretty good, I assume she’ll get the job. Which is awesome! Two artists, with well-paying jobs? Holler. And Desi has good news too, apparently. She’s marrying some older dude in some village in France. Well-off and has a quaint cottage, so I take it she’ll move out there once they get hitched. Which is soooo weird, but good for her.

V+L live pretty far out, in Astoria. Gotta see their place one day. One of these days. Zuke’s bro and sis are with them, and Zuke should have a visit soon too. Only issue is getting Zuke over there. He’s too fat and heavy for his old carrier, and I haven’t bought a new one since he hasn’t needed one.

Lucky enough to see Alison Krauss and Union Station today at the Academy. They are friggin fantastic. The dobro player can play like a fiend, the piano player rocks hard (when given a spot), and the vocal harmonies are tight. Alison has a great voice and can really play that fiddle… though she spends most of her time either singing or plucking, and not pushing those dulcet sounds out of the strings as often. The audience was mostly old people, and I counted one other Asian in the crowd. And he was there presumably because of his white wife. I like bluegrass more and more, and especially so when the musicians have a lot of talent. They can clearly do the country fried like they do it in West Virginia. A lot of slow songs, which is fine since they were played with such honesty (though some of the endings of songs were mangled), but the crowd (and I) lived for the fast slackjawed yokel numbers. They needed a bucket and string bass and a washboard to make it real, but they were close enough. Interestingly enough, their last, last encore was a clearly Christian number. Singing about Jesus and giving themselves to the Lord and whatnot. Performed ridiculously well, with solo spots for everybody, but weird nonetheless. I guess “big” musicians have to hide the religion a bit. Not really a big deal, I guess, since a) most of the audience is white and likey Christian, and b) the musical tradition of bluegrass has some roots in religious music.

Jeremy Lister, who was on NBC’s The Sing-Off last year, opened for Union Station. Great singing, and interesting songs… though they were almost all really sad. Like suicidal.

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Point Blank, 2:37.

Posted in Opinion on July 17th, 2011 by byronkho

I missed most of this year’s Danger After Dark film festival. Despite there being a bunch of movies I wanted to see, I missed both Bangkok Knockout and In A Glass Cage – mostly because I just forgot about them, and regretted it later. I probably didn’t need to see Bangkok Knockout in theaters anyways. The reviews for that movie essentially said plot garbage, action SUPER. One reviewer even mentioned that you could shuffle scenes and watch them out of order and it would make exactly as much sense plotwise; that is to say, not at all. However, the director is famed for his ridiculous stunts, for which his most famous examples are the Ong Bak series, featuring Thai action star Tony Jaa and his Muay Thai moves. The action is ridiculous, which is great… but still a candidate for watch at home. In A Glass Cage is a perfect choice for a horror movie film festival: made in the 80s, it involves the torture of an ex-Nazi doctor who performed sexually deviant experiments in torture murders on young boys. Feeling guilty for his deeds, the doctor attempts suicide and his assigned minder then has him entombed inside an iron lung, and is forced to watch while the minder repeats his sadistic experiments in front of him. The film ends after a bloody pursuit of the minder, started after he kills the doctor and his wife. With such subject matter, it’s pretty easy to see why it was banned by the UK and plenty of theater chains in other countries, and took quite a while to get showings at international film festivals. Blame the Spanish… they know how to make disturbing horror flicks. The Orphanage and Rec, anyone? The French have a close runner-up with Martyrs, which is a horribly gory and sadistic revenge flick about abuse victims pushed way too far, and the bonds (for better or worse) they create with other victims.

That said, I was able to catch Point Blank (A Bout Portant) at the festival, a French action flick by filmmaker Fred Cavaye. Not usual DAD fare, but small potatoes. I like to see foreign flicks that may otherwise not get released here. While the setup is your typical revenge flick (pregnant wife or child gets kidnapped, regular joe has to find his inner soldier and get his wife back by killing all the bad guys… done to lesser effect by Liam Neeson in Taken), Cavaye manages to make the movie much more in-your-throat with a lesser budget. The best part is it never feels that way. There is very little action, and essentially only one “big” scene (the entire end of the movie, which takes place in a police station), but the acting strength is such that you don’t notice the fact that very little is happening. The setup and dialog and all the movie devices work in close concert to keep the thrills coming, and I felt completely satisfied with the climax and ending of the movie. The bad guys are corrupt policemen and the good guys are hoodlums and assassins, so the hero gets thrown into a universe that is a polar opposite of what he’s used to – making for just the kind of claustrophobic scenario you want in this kind of movie. Apparently, the editors worked really hard to make the movie lean and mean; there’s no extraneous plot and emotional development outside the primary character motivation. And Elena Anaya is smokin.

I heard about 2:37 a long time ago and put it into my Amazon queue at the time. Years later, aka last week, I finally got it up to either buy or junk old items on the list. One of the movies I chose to buy (for a low price of $5 from some seller who fulfilled orders through Amazon, meaning with Prime, shipping was free) was 2:37, a movie by Murali Thalluri, a one-time filmmaker who wrote, directed and financed the movie essentially on his own. For some reason, he was enveloped in a whole lot of controversy regarding the inspiration for the movie – a close friend named Kelly who may or may not have attempted or committed suicide around the time when he was also feeling a bit suicidal himself – and perhaps that helped shutter his career. He hasn’t made a movie since, so I imagine there is a tale in there of what went wrong to end a career that generated $3 million (on a $1 million investment), and prizes from the Australian Film Institute and the Cannes Festival, off of one movie made when he was 19. Yes, 19. He apparently conned his way into an acting class, and helped find his actors that way. Which, I believe, is hardly a crime: movie producers do much worse to get their movies made, and I’m sure Australia is pretty cutthroat in their movie industry such that any other 19-year old would be hard pressed to fund and cast a movie on his own, legitimately.

The movie itself, freed from any ties to who made it and whence it came, is a pretty satisfying one. Everyone derided it back in 2006 for copying Gus Van Sant’s movie Elephant – in regards to the viewing of scenes many times from different viewpoints – but nowadays, there are tons of culprits that have done the same, and none were called out for it. Plus, there are so many movies out that cover some of the same emotional grounds, including movies about high school and college shootings, My So-Called Life-type movies about angst, Lifetime movies about teenage pregnancy, sexual frustrations and coping mechanisms, etc. (Also, it features Teresa Palmer, who doesn’t normally, but in this role and makeup, looks like Kristen Stewart. In fact, an extra remarked on how she looked like she had hepatitis throughout filming, she was so sickly looking.) I don’t think of it as copying. I think of it as using methods, and if you use a method, you should attempt to do it in a unique way. Which is what was achieved. I could only deride somebody for copying if they did an obvious and poor imitation, as that’s what is called a bad movie. Every movie copies something from another, so the mere fact of copying doesn’t make a movie bad. But enough about these scandals, which matter to no one 5 years later in 2011.

During and after viewing the movie, I did not feel any annoyance at any of the devices used to make the movie; instead, I was entranced by the subtexts of the movie throughout. What it came down to was a day in the life of 6 teenagers. The movie followed them throughout the day, focusing on their relations with other students, and living up to some “stereotypes” normally present in these kinds of movies. The narrative action is in color, but the movie cuts away to black and white interviews with all the teens, by themselves, where they are strangely and completely honest about what and who they are. Their expressions are more enhanced by the black and white, and the truth of what they are saying to the interviewer – who from the positioning, could be us – colors the scenes we see afterwards. They are all isolated: the jock who poses as a jock, but harbors something he can’t ever say out loud to himself, or to anyone else; the stoner who is a complete outcast, from his family initially, but to everyone by choice; the overachiever who feels enormous parental pressure to succeed; the overachiever’s ignored and recently pregnant sister who feels indelibly pushed to mediocrity by a complete lack of positive attention from her parents; and the disabled one, whose excretory system causes him to suffer daily uncontrollable mishaps that leave him embarrassed but unable to complain or explain.

I almost posted the official trailer, but the trailer is pretty horrible.

SPOILER ALERT. The movie’s pretty good, if you didn’t realize from my glowing review. So if you wanna watch it, it’s best you don’t read on.

Surprisingly, despite the movie’s running time concentrating on these 5 individuals and the many levels of pain they suffer (including one giant atrocity on one character that persuades the viewers that she is the one to whom the final blow will happen), none of these are the ultimate victim. They will all recover. Their pain is visible, and they act it out for everyone to see. They are stereotypes precisely because we know them too well. They are everywhere, and we know their struggles and pains. What we don’t see are the ones that don’t seem so obviously isolated. The movie begins with a statement: somebody has committed suicide, and who is it? I made bets with myself as to which of the angsty teens it would be. By the end, in an extremely painful 5-minute long suicide scene, we see who it is. She’s been ignored by the viewers because the movie has chosen to ignore her, thus we ignore her. But she’s always been there in the periphery: out of all of the students and teachers and population of this movie’s universe, she is the only one attempting to help any of them cope, and she’s always present as the stable emotion in the room… though, to her disappointment (and to my own), she is completely forgotten by all, her good deeds and thoughtful actions gone entirely unnoticed and unrewarded. So, in her last, desperate moment, she slits her wrists. The realization that this happens to people who can seem happy and well-adjusted, and are so normal as to be forgotten, is quite a shock. Apparently, it’s all too possible: suicide counselors see many cases of seemingly well-adjusted people who go into sudden depressive episodes and attempt suicide. They save the last interview for her: she’s happy, and laughing about a cute niece and her “animal noises,” and we’re charmed. Then, the movie cuts back to her coughing and shallow breaths and blood pooling on the ground, and we realize what we do when we focus on those that trumpet loudest. We miss the quiet ones.

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Rockefeller, gasoline and Prohibition.

Posted in History and Politics on July 14th, 2011 by byronkho

Prior to Prohibition, passed as the 18th Amendment in 1919, most American cars used alcohol as fuel. Henry Ford’s Model T actually came in two versions, one being a version that allowed drivers to switch their carburetor so people could use farm-made alcohols as an alternate fuel. This was because 90% of America were farms at that point, so alcohol was a much more plentiful fuel source. Petroleum had not yet become an ubiquitous standard across America; there were not gas stations dotting every single community in the land. With alcohol engines, drivers could stop at any farm and fuel up, essentially anywhere.

At the turn of the 20th century, Standard Oil, owned by magnate John Rockefeller Jr., had consolidated a monopoly within the oil industry by effectively shutting down or buying out all other competitors. Unsurprisingly, Standard Oil was unhappy about the availability of alcohol as a fuel as it limited consumer demand for their oil products. A lifelong teetotaler, Rockefeller had been an avid fan of temperance for a long time and found the support of temperance by statute to be a solution that fulfilled both his moral and economical goals.

In order to crush alcohol-makers out of existence, Rockefeller donated $350,323.67 to the Anti-Saloon League (worth $5 million in 2010 dollars) in the two decades before the passing of Prohibition. The ASL, along with Rockefeller’s public moral support and private backroom dealing with legislators, was enormously effective in influencing the public and Congress to pass the deal.

During these same years, a journalist/crusader named Ida Tarbell was waging a war against Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust, revealing it to be a monopoly in the worst way, with bribery, price-fixing and corrupt tactics as the tricks of the trade that Standard Oil used to crush or buy out all their competitors. The documents that Tarbell was able to publish were successful in destroying the monopoly by 1911, meanwhile revealing Rockefeller to be hardly a political progressive – the wanton abuse of employee rights and consumer fairness plus multiple instances of illegal coercion were testaments to a personal character miles from that of a Boy Scout.

Ironically, the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust had the curious effect of making him the richest man in the world. Stock prices doubled for all the companies that were spun off from the Trust, and made Rockefeller that much richer than before. The reduction in price-fixing meant prices became more affordable for consumers and thus there was incentive for consumers and car producers to adopt gasoline-powered automobiles over alcohol-powered ones. But this wasn’t enough, as the constant availability of alcohol meant it wouldn’t be enough to effect any sea change in consumer habits. Thus, Prohibition.

By making the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol illegal, this meant that farmers could no longer generate ethanol and other similar alcohols for vehicle use, and even if they had a pre-existent supply, could not legally sell it. This destroyed any possibility that alcohol could continue as a fuel of choice, neither for the fuel-sellers, automobile purchasers or automobile producers. Rather quickly, the alcohol-powered models were phased out and gasoline-powered vehicles became the standard.

Even more beneficial was the fact that 1918-1933 were the boom years for the expansion of the automobile to all regions of the country. With one fuel standard and the mass explosion in automobile sales, Rockefeller’s companies had little to no competition in fuel sales and was making money hand over fist. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, there was no turning back to alcohol fuels.

As alcohol fuels were generally cheaper than oil fuels, the American public ended up paying dearly for the change. All the money they ‘lost’ was funneled into Rockefeller’s hands, maintaining his status as richest man in the world – which persists even to this day. Barring Marcus Licinius Crassus, whose properties covered the entire Roman Empire during his time and is unestimable as to current worth, Rockefeller is considered the richest man ever. In 1916, he was the first man to reach a personal fortune of $1 billion, and his personal worth at his death, adjusted to 2010 dollars, is estimated to have been somewhere in the range of $500 to $600 billion.

Adding insult to injury, Prohibition increased the amount of crime in the United States to hitherto unknown levels, created new miseries for the average citizen and actually helped reverse industrialization during the period by shutting down hundreds of large-scale plants around the United States, increasing unemployment and encouraging home-made primitive methods of alcohol production. Rockefeller may have felt guilty at these outcomes by 1932, when he finally admitted to Prohibition’s failure and openly approved of Repeal.

Rockefeller’s actions have played a large part in setting the tone for the 20th century. Most of the latter half of the 20th century, and for the foreseeable rest of the 21st century, has been made up of military and diplomatic machinations regarding the safe-guarding of oil and petroleum supplies. For decades, the oil industry has encouraged mass pollution and displayed a remarkable blindness to alternative fuels and more efficient engines. Additionally, oil dependence has resulted in letting other countries race ahead of the United States to take the lead in alternative fuel research, leading China to be an expert on wind energy, France on nuclear energy and Brazil, curiously enough, in bio-alcohol energy. Obviously, there have been many developments on all these fronts in the last couple years… but it is still astonishing to know where the roots of our modern-day issues come from.

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Wednesday evening.

Posted in Personal on July 13th, 2011 by byronkho

Traveling down the pavement, beating out rhythms on the hard ground… so I got into Newtown Square and walked down to Burlap & Bean because there wasn’t a better place to meet. So yeah, thin shoulders and no sidewalks and clearly a bad idea to be walking back from there at night, but that’s okay – it’s later, so don’t have to worry about it first. Nice coffee shop, by the way. If it wasn’t so super far away, I’d probably hang out there pretty often, do work there, and take advantage of the gigantic white hot chocolates they make. Delicious, and reasonably priced. Way comfier than The Last Drop or Bean Exchange, though those places are nice enough.

Katie Costello was fascinatingly nice. Lives in Prospect Park, apparently, and tours and records like your usual singer songwriter, but unlike fellow setmates, she hasn’t been touring like 11 months out of the year. A lot to talk about, but 10 minutes before the next set started was all we got. I wish I hadn’t had to run out straight after, she was pretty fun company. I can never tell what kind of living these people make: they have some great songs, they get played in stores (Victoria’s Secret) and TV shows (Switched at Birth), yet they do some gigs in out of the way places that are, well, not too well-attended. According to some lady I was talking to (by the way, Newtown Square residents, SUPER friendly), some of the other gigs at B&B have been packed. “80 people,” she said. Later, I saw the maximum occupancy sign by the cash register, which said “50 people.” Clearly, they broke fire code. She seemed to have a lot of fun, though she was just a little bit awkward with her stage personality. Perhaps because of it, she cut her set a little shorter than she might have? Don’t know. She did the type of pop that, say, Sara Bareilles or Marit Larsen or Elizabeth and the Catapult would do. I never know what to call it, because it’s not just “pop” and it’s not “indie pop” or “folk pop” or “pop rock”. It’s pleasant and clean (as in simple, but not simple) and portable, and you have to be in just that mood for it, and it can have any type of subject matter you want – but, like most songs, it’s usually love, love, love (though I wanna hear one of these songs covering “stack that cheese” and “big pimpin”).

Since I couldn’t use flash (and I had a whole flask of lychee soju beforehand), the pics didn’t come out very focused. I like Rachel Platten and Nick Howard together (as Shrinking Violet), though I gotta say that I don’t enjoy them as much separately. They’re both really good and have a really strong stage presence, but having heard so many singer-songwriters in the past, I have an unfortunate tendency to start blending them together. Rachel has a strong voice, though I would have liked a little more vibrato in it. She can beatbox and does an entertaining vocal trumpet, so maybe that makes up for it. Also, a little practice on that one semi-classical piano run before that one number. Might have been 1000 Ships? If done perfectly, it would have been SO fetch. And that’s “fetch” as in when “fetch” was super cool. Nick has a more comfortable stage voice and performance routine, as I didn’t hear any messups. Some really energetic songs! Would have liked to have him rewrite some of the verses where the music didn’t move much interval-wise, but that’s just small beer. As Shrinking Violet, though, their voices blend well and the harmonies are great. The guitar and piano mesh so the instrumentation covers the whole range, and the original songs are better (IMHO). Plus, they clearly work well together. You could see them feeding off each other’s energy the whole way through the duo numbers. Unfortunately, Shrinking Violet’s original songs aren’t up on YT anywhere that I can find, so here’s their cover of The Script.

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More pictures from Norm’s wedding.

Posted in Personal on July 13th, 2011 by byronkho

Profiled at

Posted in Affiliate Marketing on July 13th, 2011 by byronkho

Good news everybody! Ricky Ahuja over at Affiliate Venture Group decided to do a profile on me for his Asians in Advertising series. Now to get him to change the font color on his blog….

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Posted in Affiliate Marketing on July 12th, 2011 by byronkho

CNN reports today that California companies are fleeing the Golden State. Which isn’t exactly news, since it’s been happening for the last 2 years, and every couple months, gets profiled by a blogger, or newspaper, or online news source, all usually quoting Joe Vranich. Vranich, a “business relocation expert” explains:

“From Jan. 1 of this year through this morning, June 16, we have had 129 disinvestment events occur, an average of 5.4 per week. For all of last year, we saw an average of 3.9 events per week. Comparing this year thus far with 2009, when the total was 51 events, essentially averaging 1 per week, our rate today is more than 5 times what it was then.”

Thus, more businesses are leaving California this year than in the past. All the major news sources blame the exits on high taxes, strict regulations, low government assistance or incentives, and an ever-increasing amount of legislation to comply with, passed by an unstable and confused legislature. Over the last couple years, the headlining companies moving away have been ones with large physical workforces, moving to states like Texas, Florida and Arizona for the higher quality workforce, lower operating costs, tax breaks, and reasonable cost of living for employees (combining metrics like real estate taxes, utility expenses, personal income taxes, etc.). Additionally, benefits in California are outrageously high compared to some of these states; Arizona, in particular, advertises its low unemployment insurance and workers compensation rates.

“Leaving” is a catch-all term that covers many important business decisions that these companies are making. Some are pulling out completely from the state, while others are leaving only satellite offices to retain California clients and moving the majority of their operations and revenues outside of the state. New and potential businesses are choosing not to start in California, also pulling down future tax revenues for a desperate state. Still others are choosing to hire new employees and open up all future locations outside of California.

While the headline exits have been large companies – read Northrop Grumman, eBay + Paypal, Hilton Hotels, KB Home and others – many smaller businesses are heading out too, as the burden is sometimes much heavier, proportionately. Small Business California, a San Francisco advocacy group, conducted a study and concluded that more than 1/5 of small business in California do not expect to be in business within the state in the next three years. One respondent expanded on his “no” answer: “[It is] way too difficult to do business here… everyone has their hand in your pocket. CA needs to get a grip on the fact that small business is the driver and without it, we are doomed.”

All this means California is losing grip on a ton of possible tax revenues that are instead going to neighboring states. For the past few decades, California has been rash with giving people their “rights,” including allowing Proposition 13 to pass (and preventing any real tax dialogues on existent taxes that should be reformed, because nobody will ever vote for higher taxes, no matter how necessary), and giving unions too much headway in public employee pensions, plus the undoubtedly crushing costs of the large prison population in the state, unemployment and illegal immigration. A Milken Institute study concluded that:

“By around 2012 or 2013, the three major state pensions’ total obligations will be more than five times as large as total state tax revenue. Not only will California’s growing senior population depend on Medi-Cal and other state services, but public school enrollment is likely to rise in the coming years. The state can ill afford to fund pensions by cutting back on these services. In 2009, the unfunded pension liabiliteis came out to $3,000 per working-age adult in the state. By 2014, they will triple to over $10,000 per working-age Californian. Raising employee contributions alone will be less effective over time as the ratio of actively contributing members to benefit recipients continues to decrease. Currently, the average state employee contributes to the system for 25 years, but will receive benefits for 26 years — and the number of benefit-receiving years is increasing as longevity improves.”

Proposition 13 is probably worst in that they cannot reform any existent taxes, so must go about devising all sorts of new ones on business, as there no new types of personal taxes to be created. No wonder, then, that they pass callous legislation like their online sales tax, which bypasses every other state in determination of where business is taking place, aka “nexus.” California claimed that all merchants with affiliates in the state would be required to collect sales taxes for purchases through those affiliates, without regard to where the customers are located. It is easy to see where other states might be bypassed and ignored, since where the customer is DOES matter if they are shopping at physical locations.

The net result is that many online merchants, including Amazon, are cutting affiliates from California completely, as has been done in New York and Illinois already in the past. While it may not seem like a big deal, one must remember that online advertising spend is $10 billion nationally and growing, and with a lot of online companies based out of California, the state should have a big chunk of that pie. When those companies leave – and they’ve begun to – that money disappears. From among our own clients, we already see a mass exodus of people either moving themselves or moving their business location outside of California.

Physical stores argue that it gives undue advantage to online merchants, who essentially provide 10% discounts on their products. This is hardly a good case, though it’s a reasonable argument. In practice, many consumers shop over the border in other states precisely because of the taxes they accrue in California. Technically, the consumer is responsible for filing any sales taxes from these purchases, online or out of state, but no one ever does it. It might hurt physical stores that they have to collect taxes, but nothing will actually change for California – people will still go out of state and duck out of paying California taxes. For example, compare buying HDMI cables at Best Buy in West Hollywood to buying those same cables on Amazon. One can get the latter pair for $3, and free shipping with Amazon Prime, or pay the store price of $29.99 at Best Buy, with an internal buy price of $2-3. The physical store marks it up 10 times and imagines it’s getting slighted when people buy online? One must also take into account that online marketing drives a lot of business to California shippers, providing tons of jobs within the state due to the volume of deliveries required. When these purchases drop, so will the employees driving these packages to their destinations.

It can be particularly devastating to the small merchant who relies completely on sales generated by online affiliates. They are not big enough to have a physical store, and the Internet makes it quite possible to have a sales business without extremely high overhead. Meanwhile, the paperwork required of him in collecting sales taxes – which CANNOT be that easy – will divert his attention, cost money, and require audits by California tax authorities, which I’m sure are as welcome as one’s annual physical.

The ripple effects of such policies are actually kind of harsh. Many are in the position of having relied on online marketing as a career for years, only to find their revenues cut to zero by ignorant state policies. They may have a family, and a house with a mortgage worth more than the house, plus staggering property taxes and all sorts of daily surcharges garnered by living in an expensive state. If they can’t sell their house or pull up enough savings to get out of the state, many will have to quit online marketing completely and find new jobs. Many will be too old to find new jobs right away, having to swell the unemployment lists, and many will take years to retrain for another appearance in the job market.

Due to their many misguided policies, California is losing business and people left and right. To be fair, they are trying out an economic incentive program to entice business back to the state, but it’s hard to see how that can sell. In fact, the whole state needs a marketing campaign to improve a somewhat tarnished image. It’s beautiful and sunny, but thousands of communities are underwater, their education system is a joke, the cost of living is stupendously high, and drugs and crime are an expected evil. Racial bitterness will be inevitable as Caucasians get outnumbered by Latinos; already, the complaints about illegal immigration and liberal welfare states have prompted cries for a secession from California of the inner counties. Even their most famous export, the movies from tinsel-clad Hollywood, are requiring some desperate measures from the California legislature. In 2009, movie production was only about half the rate it was in 1996, with most of the productions going to Canada or other states that are willing to provide huge tax breaks. I can’t imagine it’s improved since then.

A Tale, Part 1.

Posted in Personal on July 11th, 2011 by byronkho

Just a rough write. No edits, no corrections. Also, unfinished.

Ruth stumbled on the front step for the second time that night. She could feel the twinge in the back of her leg sending her some oblique warning about the possibilities of falling – now, when it seemed so crucial not to – but she shrugged it off, more intent on reaching the odd shapes flitting about in the dusk at the edge of the fields in front of her.

Arthur, sitting unevenly on a broken apple crate by the old farmhouse door, watched her progress from the shadows. He wondered, rather obscurely, why she was now running to them when she had been so desperate to get away from them a few hours earlier. The scab on her knee gave some proof to her earlier flight, and the dried blood was still there on the far left of the step, pulled by gravity but blanched by wind into brown streaks that stopped right at the lip of the overhang and went no further.

It was too bad if anything were to happen to her. Everyone knew what their place was in the world but Ruth did not, and Arthur understood, without Miss Ackerberry having to politely lecture him like she did to all the other kids once a week, that to be like Ruth was to ask for trouble with a capital T. It was a simple fact that anyone could learn if they too would huddle behind the Japanese panel in the sunroom, and wait for the cruel silence when Miss Ackerberry was done talking, followed by the round of inevitable tears from her red-faced charge, and then a procession of sorts: the triumphant exit of the accuser, and mopish trudge to Gehenna of the accused.

Arthur was a good child, and in his bones, he knew he would Go Far, as the fedora-topped man in the beige suit emphasized to the assembly of children earlier that day before he left the school to go back to the Head Office in the City. Where Everything was Capitalized, whether it wanted to be or not. “Work hard, my good children!”, he announced with a wave of his sleek hand, “and you can Go Far!” The man’s hand was still pointed into the direction of the sun, so Arthur had squinted to see where he was pointing. It was the direction of the road, naturally, and as the man drove away in his car with tinted windows, Arthur still had to squint to see where the man was going.

Ruth was still running, almost out of sight now, her tiny shape blending into the darkness. He did settle for a moment on the thought that she was also Going Far, but in the wrong way.

He was about to say something about it – to himself, as the mangy yard dog that usually had listener duties had loitered long enough and was bored by the inaction – when something in his teeth protested and Arthur began to be much more concerned with the inevitable trip to the dentist. Miss Ackerberry always sent everyone to the dentist straightaway when they presented with any sort of teeth-related symptoms whatsoever, and made it a point to sit in the waiting room with the unfortunate student and stretch her head sideways like some sort of ostrich to get a better look through the door into the inner sanctum. Sometimes she’d say a loud hello, in an unnaturally cheery voice that she never used at lessons. Sometimes, a loud hello would come back, but in not so hearty a voice.

The other 4th graders knew the score. “Miss Ackerberry wants Dr. Timothy in the woodshed,” they’d say with a snicker. Everyone knew that the woodshed was where anything that was anything happened. Arthur knew better. Nobody actually would want to do anything in the woodshed; it was too quiet and too dirty. Being in there was like being locked up in the cellar. Nasty smells, always a little too damp, and one could be just a little scared by the silence: Arthur knew about those after having been locked in the woodshed often enough with nobody to rescue him until lights out, when the groundskeeper would always find him curled up in a ball by the hanging lantern. The insects liked that spot too, but he couldn’t live without the light either. No, he imagined that the dentist’s chair to be a much more likely place. Arthur just didn’t want to be the excuse when it did.

When Ruth appeared again out of the blackness, Arthur was picking at his teeth with a blade of grass.

“Does that work?,” she asked. Ruth was a little out of breath, so “work” came out as a sort of “Huh.” She huffed when Arthur didn’t respond.

“I’ve caught something, and I could show you, but you have to promise to not tell anybody, not even Ronnie. He’s such a horrible friend, I don’t even know why you still talk to him. He tells everybody everything about you, and even the bad stuff that I’m sure you don’t want anybody to know. But I won’t tell anybody about those things, even though everybody already knows all about it. I can keep my mouth shut, yes sir, but the question is, can you?”

Arthur stared at her for a few seconds, mouth agape. He had never known Ruth to speak to anyone as much as she just had. Usually, it was a one word response, or a painfully shortened monologue whenever Miss Ackerberry forced her to reveal her unworthy assignments in front of the class.

Ruth was glaring, but her expression softened when she noticed his confusion.

“I think you should say something. Nobody just says NOTHING when somebody comes up to them with a giant secret. This secret is way better than any other secret you’ve ever seen or heard about. I think it’s more amazing than the swamp beast in last month’s Weird Tales. I didn’t buy it, because I never have enough money for it, but Louella had a copy from Peter and she threw it away because it was disgusting and he got mad because he wanted it back but I had already picked it up and I can’t just give it back to Peter. I have it if you want to read it. Anyways, they say in the back of the comics in that little news section that the Swamp Thing will be coming to town soon, with the circus. But of course, Miss Ackerberry isn’t going to let us go. She thinks they are bad for us, because she once saw a bearded lady in one of the shows and she couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. She didn’t mean to say anything about it, but I heard her complaining to the groundskeeper while they were drinking some tea together in the yard by the tractor hut. I think they’re doing it.”

Arthur threw down the grass and wiped his hands on his pants. Ruth scowled.

“That can’t be true,” he said. “Miss Ackerberry likes Dr. Timothy. And anyways, I don’t see why you can’t give it back to Peter. He’s not that mean.”

She patted him on his forearm gently, and he grimaced a little, but didn’t move away.

“He always tells everyone to lock you in the woodshed, Arthur. I don’t like him.”

He shoved her hand away and rushed into the farmhouse. A few tears pulled themselves out from under his lids and streaked down the left side of his face. He wiped them away with one hand and used the other to grab onto the ladder for the loft.

“That’s not true!”

Ruth hadn’t moved from her spot next to the apple crate, and just smiled a little as he screamed in the night. The crickets swelled a little bit, but after realizing a false alarm, their orchestra faded away again.