Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 22, 2018

23andMe for Graham B

profile Shaker shot -myspace -shotcirca 2006-ish

Mark and Graham in Shaker Meeting House, Hancock, MA – 2006

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  • Below is a summary of the 23 and Me DNA/ancestry info that my son Graham was able to share with me, plus my note to him, trying to break it down.
    Since I don’t think I’ve got anything to hide, I’m putting it up on my blog for posterity and/or safe-keeping. It may also be of slight interest to the general public, as far as figuring out how the 23andMe company determines their categories.
    We’re almost all mutts here in the USA, and we already knew Graham was even more varied. But perhaps it’s got a surprise or two below, as you’ll see…
    From the Heartland of America, For Better or For Worse,
    Mark
    — — — —

    9-22-18

    Graham B. Nielsen

    European

    98.3%

    French & German

    23.9%

    British & Irish

    22.0%

    Italian

    12.5%

    Eastern European

    2.6%

    Scandinavian

    1.7%

    Balkan

    0.3%

    Broadly Northwestern European

    19.8%

    Broadly Southern European

    10.3%

    Broadly European

    5.2%

    Western Asian & North African

    1.0%

    Unassigned

    0.8%

    My message to Graham re above:

    Hey! I’m here, but maybe they don’t let me see as much as I’m hoping they let you see. I’d like to know if they give you any health DNA info or other (though they’ll probably want you to pay for all that).

    • …… I can see your 98.3% Euro, plus its breakdown by region. And I also see the (unexpected but hoped-for) 1% Western Asian and North African!  … whatever that means. At least it’s vaguely exotic. Like we said, Sicily was a little bit African or Arab, so that’s the most likely scenario, but you never know……
    • The weird one is the Italian, which we expected to be around 25% but is only half that?! It’s weird. But I suppose the “Broadly Southern Euro” must account for the rest of the Italian….
    • These “Broadly…” things are quite annoying if you ask me…..
    • I think my and your Danish ancestry is more skewed toward German than Scandinavian here, genetically….
    • The French, Eastern Euro (Czech) and/or Balkan, that’s all going to be mostly from Grandma Tressler Nickerson… plus the German and Broad NW Euro is mostly from her (tho some Broad NW Euro may be from Grandpa Nick… and/or there’s Denmark and some unknowns, as I’ve said, on my father’s side).
    • As for Grandpa Nickerson’s mother… I don’t know much history or parentage on that side.
    • Also on my dad’s side, especially his grandparents, I hardly ever heard any details….
    • So, in summation: no huge surprises, but that little 1% bit of African or Middle Eastern element was what I was always curious about. It most likely dates back at least six (?) generations, though– and possibly 10+ generations. I’m bad at math. (ha!)
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Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 8, 2018

Colbert Confesses: He Likes Being White

colbert-trump-780x439

Stephen Colbert interviewed then candidate Trump in 2015. It was like a near nuclear explosion, prevented only by the basic politeness and humor we have come to expect from Colbert. But trust me on this: they hate each other

The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a lengthy interview with Stephen Colbert.

In reflecting on his time doing The Colbert Report, Stephen explains that all it took to play the character of the conservative pundit was to confess or give in to the temptation to be the worst version of himself, and then portray that ironically. The most power-hungry version. The most self-absorbed. The most scared. The most quintessentially “make America great again”.

Except that The Don –and the people who put him there– are not confessing. They’re instead stoking the fires of fear, and celebrating those same values that Colbert was cautioning himself and all of us to be wary of. With those for whom their vote was a single-issue vote –be it abortion (the biggest wedge), or America First, or “drain the swamp” (whoever gave him that one was a brilliant tactician, honestly) —these well-intentioned citizens are quite understandably denying there’s anything wrong here, because if they admit it, then they must also confess:

  1. they were duped,
  2. they’re similarly selfish,
  3. they’re not even living up to the standard that Jesus stated clearly for us: to lay down one’s life (or priorities) for one’s friends.

Or, to state #3 another way: lose yourself. Lose your ego. Give away or burn everything you’re too attached to, anything which comes between you and God, or a loved one. Break the addiction to “Me”. In the form of denial most prevalent now, the way to hold onto what we are addicted to is to more narrowly redefine whom Jesus meant by our “friends”. (Or, in two parallel evasions, to ignore that whole “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” thing, and the “You cannot serve both God and Money” thing, acting as if Jesus never gave those radical and difficult commands.)

Here are the key lines (for me, another oldish white Christian American straight male) from the Colbert RS interview which seem like the most honest –and even brave– confession:

I’m passionately attached to some of the things that he [Bush] talked about. It was really important that you not know what those were. Because it just robbed the performance of the question mark. But really, the confession is a confession of the appetite to eat that meal. Meaning there’s an itch to scratch. I’m like, “Yeah, fuck yeah, me, me. Me, white male Christian, American, straight. Number one!” That is a dark feeling, because it is indulging in an appetite for yourself, it’s very possessive, it’s very consumptive, it’s pornographic, and so the confession is: Yes, I have these feelings as well. But the question is: Why are those feelings indulged in America?

To me, the bolded text above is a thinly veiled way that Stephen is getting into the theology behind all this political hubbub. One of the central messages of Jesus was “Lose Yourself” (though not exactly the way Eminem meant it, …more like how the Buddhists mean it– although Eminem is looking plenty smart and politically interesting lately, especially with his viral freestyle diss rap slamming Trump awhile back).

.    .    .

The temptation to focus on “me Me ME” is the essence of sin (and childishness, and perhaps our most animalistic, least “human” instincts). Stephen also uses words above like “appetite” (Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins), and “possessive” (see Greed), even “pornographic” (see Lust). It’s textbook contemplative Catholicism: look within, and root out the Enemy there first. That’s what makes Stephen’s approach to social justice so incisive, even ancient… and quietly radical.

Stephen’s probably got his hands tied a little bit now when it comes to getting this message on the air more consistently. Middle America (not to mention network television) is not known for being a confessing congregation, lest our shame catch up with us and we have to actually repent and change course.

Even old King David, the “liberal Jew” who “controlled the media” of his day (ha!), understood the power of confession and repentance to avoid the pitfalls of having our worst qualities overtake our lives

23Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.           (Psalm 139, NIV)

Nor do we put religion itself out on front street nowadays, especially in entertainment, but also in politics (and where is the line separating those two fields, by the way?). “Old time religion” is too boring. Or tacky. Keep religion (and God) compartmentalized and safe, off to the side. Steer clear of controversy. Keep it light! It’s the American Way. Therefore, never more shall we be treated to a late-night TV interview with the likes of Catholic intellectual Father James Martin, SJ, who appeared on The Colbert Report a number of times to re-connect the dots between public policy and private faith.

.   .   .

But on the plus side, Stephen is on a bigger stage now, has a bigger budget, probably more overall social influence… and yet he still has those confessional and ethical instincts. Plus plenty of the writers and creative team from the old show, who share his instinctive courage in blending humor and serious discussion about what an individual person ought to value, and what appetites we need to keep in check, and how our government should reflect that.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 27, 2018

On Nicknames (Butch and Chickie Are Cub Fans)

Cubtweet nickname lineup capture

What’s in a Nickname?

I went to a Chicago Cubs baseball game yesterday, and it happened to be the last day of Players’ Weekend, in which the players got to have their nicknames printed on the back of their jersey (and other fun little perks).

It got me thinking about nicknames, and a longstanding tradition that seems to be out of fashion these days: assigning nicknames that regular people actually want to go by. Even in the era of “personal branding”, we don’t tend to go by nicknames.

For example, my parents both had nicknames: Butch and Chickie. These were used not just within their families, but were known throughout their communities and “the neighborhood”. My father’s given name was Brice– which he may not have been too crazy about– thus the Butch nickname got used quite a lot (though for the moment, I forget who started it). Chickie (real name Carole, and she’s still around using both names interchangeably) got her name by being compared to a baby chick, or skinny like a scrawny chicken, or something similarly cutesy like that. Their nicknames were used probably more than their real names in most cases, and I thought that was kind of cool.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I also heard tales of dozens of other people from my parents’ era with similar nicknames. Not just slight changes– the common variations or abbreviations of a given first name, like turning Elizabeth into everything from Liz to Beth to Peg (and what’s with “Peg”, anyway?! makes no sense…)– but true nicknames:

  • Charlie DiGiacomo became Jockomo,
  • a beloved cousin was Fatso (and didn’t mind being called that),
  • and Edward somehow became Corky.

It wasn’t done for everyone, and it was done more with boys than girls, but it seemed quite common.

On sports teams, and in other social contexts, it happened for me growing up once in awhile. At various times, I was Sebastian (my actual middle name), Salad Man, Huey, Moe, Monroe (because of my resemblance to Jim J. Bullock’s character Monroe on the tv show “Too Close for Comfort”… see the pic below), Smirk, Markus O’Realliest, and probably a couple others I’m forgetting. But no nickname ever stuck, except with a few people at a time. And I admit I’m a bit disappointed about that.

Jim J Bullock pic

My doppelganger, actor Jim J. Bullock, who played Monroe on “Too Close for Comfort” (1980-87… oh God, that long? Really? How embarrassing for America, though Ted Knight was one of the funniest guys ever…)

So… true confession time: What are some of your nicknames, dear reader, and why? Do you like them, and did they actually stick? Comment below…

Tony Is Not a Nickname!

This is all being written in honor/dishonor of Chicago Cub All-Star Anthony Rizzo, who on Players Weekend in the MLB, chose “TONY” as the nickname to put on his shirt. How utterly boring! Just Tony? Really?

Anthony’s lame nickname was made worse by the fact that catcher Willson Contreras, just for example, shared with the rest of us the awesome nickname “WILLY THE BEAST”.

Willson the Beast tweet -re nicknames pic8-26-18

Henceforth, if you wish to refer to me as Mark the Beast (not The Mark OF the Beast, mind you… careful there…), I shall assign you a place of honor at my King Arthur style roundtable.

Let the story circle begin… tell us the legend of your favorite nicknames!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 20, 2018

Blues Brothers, Queens of Soul, and Kings of Rock and Roll

You better think…

Aretha Franklin, chewing out her “husband”, Mike “Guitar” Murphy, in the Soul Food Diner scene from writer/director John Landis’ The Blues Brothers (1980).

…     

First of all, I’m here today to talk movie trivia …moreso than music or comedy or improv or all the other amazing things contained in The Blues Brothers, one of the finest action comedy musicals of all time (if not the ONLY true action comedy musical).

But I’m also here as part of a private grief ritual (mainly for the recently departed Aretha, but also for other great artists in this movie, and people I’ve lost in my personal life), and as a celebration of Life,

…and, since it’s my birthday, I’m gonna just do how I do… so just strap in and enjoy the ride.

The list of stars in this movie is shocking… Besides the music greats, we get cameos by other greats in the movie biz such as Steven Spielberg and Frank Oz, stellar character actors like Henry Gibson (of Laugh In, and Robert Altman’s Nashville) as the head Nazi, and goofy “extras” like Twiggy, Kathleen Freeman as the hilariously strict nun,  a pre-fame Mr. T (uncredited “Guy on Street”), The Eagles’ Joe Walsh as a convict (?!?!), singer Stephen Bishop (a pal of Landis), James Avery (Fresh Prince’s Uncle Phil), old school crooner Steve Lawrence, JOHN FREAKIN’ CANDY, and a pre-fame Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman!) as the waiter in the fancy hotel restaurant.

(“How much for the women?” says Jake Blues, in that restaurant, which is perhaps the best/worst line in a script FULL of memorable lines….comment below with your favorites.)

Pinetop_Perkins_pic 1

Pinetop Perkins  (July 7, 1913 – March 21, 2011), legendary blues pianist, who has a cameo in The Blues Brothers, and lived to age 97. Photo by Carl Lender – originally posted to Flickr as Pinetop Perkins, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6306703

— — —

Many of the blues/R&B greats in this movie are gone now: John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins (who argues with Hook in the movie over who wrote John Lee’s hit “Boom Boom”), harmonica great Big Walter Horton, ex-Muddy Waters drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, jazz legend Cab Calloway (a personal fave), and of course James Brown.

But let me name-check these other musical names (some of whom still play here in 2018)…

First and most importantly, the all-star Blues Brothers Band: Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass, deceased), Steve “The Colonel” Cropper (lead guitar), Willie “Too Big” Hall (drums), Tom “Bones” Malone (trombone), Mike “Guitar” Murphy (who also just passed away, in June of 2018), Alan Rubin (trumpet), Blue Lou Marini (sax)… each musician had already played on dozens of Rock Hall of Fame tracks as studio and/or touring musicians. I picked up a Blues Brothers greatest hits collection on CD –years after the movie was old news to most people– simply because all those great old Sam and Dave songs and other blues and R&B classics, as performed by that band, were genuinely amazing versions.

The one true actor in the movie’s band was Murphy Dunne, a stand-up guy who is still working in tv and films to this day. Murph was a decent pianist — and actually toured with Belushi and Aykroyd when they did a live concert tour –but he was mainly called upon to do the heavy lifting acting-wise because Saturday Night Live musical director at the time (and many people’s favorite Canadian) Paul Shaffer had other commitments and had to back out on being in the movie.

Add in the wonderful cameos by R&B great Chaka Khan (lead soloist in James Brown’s church choir on “The Old Landmark”), Ray Charles (of course), and the inimitable Carrie Fisher –who began  a short but sweet love affair with Aykroyd while filming the movie– and you get all the wild energy and charm of a circus, with the rhythm of a bullet train’s whooshing wheels, all about to go off the rails at any minute. 

So, while I’m still on track– just barely! … lemme wrap this sucker up…

Play the blues. Get rhythm. Get happy. Get down. Get funky. But whatever you do, as our girl Aretha says, THINK ABOUT IT.

The original Cash Me Outside girl’s short video clip from the Dr. Phil Show:

Aaaaand… Danielle/Bhad Babie’s August 2017 first rap music video ( “These Heaux”  ) :

And finally, my response song, in classic battle rapping tradition, mostly composed 8-8-18, but amended later in August 2018 in honor of  the late Aretha Franklin
— a weird dreamlike freestyle, onstage up in my head,
when my damn dog woke me at 3am and I couldn’t get back to sleep…

                                                                                …

Cash Me Outside, Too (Famous Amos’ Son)

 

Cash me outside y’all, howbow dah?

I’ll take you all on.

Yeah, I’m crazy fast.

I’m fast ‘n’ furious,

And if you’re curious,

When we do battle

I’ll be victorious.

‘Cause I’m famous,

for more than just being famous,

for more than being dumb,

I’m Famous Amos, son.

Sucking on a Jameson

popsicle, and I’m dropsical,

now don’t be skeptical,

because I’m topical.

I’m smarter than you,

because I’m tropical.

 

Somebody said her name was Danielle.

Dissin’ the audience on Dr. Phil.

Then Bhad Bhabie went off the rails,

and most decent people be laughin’ still.

Then that ‘h’ in her rap name, a source of ridicule,

and then, oh God, she got a RECORD deal?!

Danielle got the last laugh.

I feel a fool, fer real.

If you’re still here next year,

I’ll drink Drano, I swear, girl.

 

(Sung chorus?)

You are a lame-ass poser,

(coffee’s only for closers.)

So grow up, girl.

Don’t play me like a loser

with your record hype, or some talk show shit.

You should make it on your talent

or else you shouldn’t make it.

Me: I cannot fake it.

If there’s money to be made in rhymin’,

I guarantee Imma make it.

 

You hear me preachin?

Catch what I’m teachin’?

You talk bad music, chica,

And I ain’t even reachin’:

Teens on TV,

Acting all seedy,

needy, and greedy,

shakin’ yo big ol’ booty too freely.

Get off my lawn bitch,

‘Cause I’m the OG.

Original gangster,

the old Italian kind, see?

Or Irish, or Jewish:

Luigi Finkelstein,

or Paddy Manischewitz.

Y’all best give me credit,

I make my cash on crime,

Plus I’ve done the time,

But I won’t have street cred

Until you wake up dead,

With a horse’s head

in your bed.

 

What’s a gangster gotta do

To keep his family fed?!

On caviar, while watching “Avatar”,…

Hell, I even put a swimming pool

inside my car!

We goin’ to war.

I’m a real gang star

cuz I don’t play no weak beats like Bruno Mars.

Homie can play guitar,

and maybe sing some bars,

but don’t touch that drum machine, man-child.

You gone too far.

You sing okay but you can’t rap,

and you can’t cash me, how ‘bout dat?

 

Chorus (repeat)

 

Bridge:

Just come to me, Danielle

I’ll be your hip-hop guide.

I’ll give you rhymes so phat

dat you’ll be terrified.

You’ll say “Where my mama at,

So she can hold my hand

So she can hold my gat,

Protect me from them mans

Tellin’ me I can’t rap.

 

Bhabie, lemme tell you

’bout the real singers,

Melody-bringers,

silky-toned talents,

not puffy gunslingers.

Talk to Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah,

Aretha, Aretha, always Aretha!

Or Dr. Dre, Lecrae, but not Bieber.

Explore The Roots.

Learn to play an instrument,

and music theory, ‘cause it’s a sacrament.

Me, I like women giving chase to the greats,

like Neko Case,

alt-country-girl, hail and full of grace,

And Mary J. Blige,

Black Madonna Full of Bass,

No virgin, Mary, but she’s still great,

Famous with good reason:

Got a voice that’s pleasin’,

more talent in her pinkie

than a whole damned season

of American Idol

or your talk show bullshit.

You call your stuff music? Hell no!

Where’s my bull whip?

It ain’t my circus,

But I’ll train you young lions to be hip.

 

And you’ll hunt, child

but you won’t catch me outside.

I’m an indoor lion. I got my pride.

I’m a silly monkey too,

And I like “Whip It!”

Or “Satisfaction”,

hell woman, you pick it:

Sing me an old song

by Mr. Wilson Pickett,

or Mr. Otis Redding,

or Eddie Van Halen–

love to hear him shredding

on “Eruption”,

he got his Hall of Fame induction.

Any one of those cats

Ought to be your teacher.

Sure you’re fly, bhabie

Nice to meetcha,

but can you even smile?!

What’s your your best feature?

You wanna marry me, Bhabie?

Get the preacher.

But you won’t cash me outside, heaux.

How ‘bout dah? Did I reach ya?

Chorus repeat 2x

— —

Possible beats or song excerpts to bite:

  • ** “Family Affair”, MJ Blige and Dr. Dre (biting Sister Sledge?), circa 2001, and/or “no more drama” (LP or single?)
  • “Land of a Thousand Dances”
  • “Respect” by Wilson Pickett or Aretha,
  • “Dock of the Bay” (Redding)
Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 29, 2018

Candy Wars Part 1

These mortal enemies, one from Nestle, one from Hershey’s (those are Whopper malted milk balls, in case you can’t tell), were fraternizing in the same candy basket at the veterinarian’s office this morning.

It got me thinking about purists, and brand loyalty, and whether anyone really cares anymore, especially in the food industry.

Here, for example, is the shortened Wikipedia version of the lifespan of the Whopper brand:

In 1939, the Overland Candy Company introduced the predecessor to Whoppers, a malted milk candy called Giants. Overland merged with Chicago Biscuit Company, Leaf Gum, and Leaf Machinery, in 1947. Two years later, Leaf Brands reintroduced malted milk balls under the name of Whoppers... Hershey Foods Corporation acquired the Leaf North America confectionery operations from Huhtamaki Oy of Helsinki, Finland, in 1996.

I should have known that the “classic” Whopper candy (one of my personal favorites, BTW) was not developed by Hershey but was acquired by them. Just as Hershey did with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (which we’ll get to in a minute).

However, I’m old enough to remember the original Leaf candy company, which may even have still been headquartered in Chicago –where I lived for most of my life –until Leaf was bought and sold a bunch, from the Seventies onward. They also did baseball cards and a few other candy products, and most recently a new Leaf company bought the abandoned Hydrox cookie brand and is trying rmto revive it. Remember Hydrox?

See? Everything old comes back around eventually. Maybe there’s hope for late-middle-aged guys like me, after all.

Ironically, when I moved to Bloomington, IL, I found that I had unknowingly moved to another minor “candy capital”, since Nestle has a large factory here. I believe the above Butterfinger cups are actually produced for international distribution here. I even worked there for a short time, as a subcontractor in corporate security. If I were here today to blow a whistle, I’d have a couple good stories to tell… But I don’t want to be David to their Goliath. Not today, anyway.

What I am here to say is that the above-pictured Butterfinger Cup is clearly a direct rip-off of the much better Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, one of the all-time champs in the candy industry. I believe it was Mark Twain who said “genius borrows liberally”. But Nestle aren’t geniuses– just crass capitalists putting one over on the rest of us. If I were willing to sell my soul, I’d be envious. They know how to work “the long con” very well at Nestle, … though they’re probably no worse than ADM or a half dozen other multinational food processors, producers and/or distributors.

Enough said about Butterfinger and Nestle, though. By contrast, the Reese family, like the Hersheys, were Lancaster County, PA candy-makers. They were direct competitors, both of them heavy-hitters– like McDonald’s and Burger King, but with their actual headquarters practically across the street from each other. Hershey won, of course, by buying out the Reeses in 1956 (merging, really, but we all know what actually happened).

Yes, I said Lancaster County: home to the largest concentration of Amish and Mennonites in the U.S., if not the world. That means the milk in your milk chocolate is most likely from Amish cows. Even in Chicago, as a practicing Mennonite, I have close Mennonite friends (the Belsers) who knew the Reeses on a first-name basis. They grew up with the second-generation Reese brothers, who inherited their father’s lucrative business.

I find myself wondering if there’s a good movie script buried in there somewhere: upstart dairy farmer H.B. Reese stops working for Hershey in the 1920s, makes his candy that kicks Hershey’s ass at their own game, then later sells the Reese brand back to them for billions of dollars… And it remains their #1 product in the U.S., right up to today in 2018.

It’s a romantic idea, anyway. Maybe I’ll develop a “history of candy” podcast series, to look into the cool history of companies like Leaf, Reese’s, M&M-Mars (where I also have contacts) and another Chicago favorite, Ferrara-Pan (makers of Lemonheads and the immortal Atomic Fireballs brand).

What do you know about your favorite candies? Let’s talk about this!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 25, 2018

To Topple Trump’s Power, Topple Trump Tower

The Trumps… Cut off their revenue. Maybe then they’ll stop using the Presidency like some sort of global ATM.

A welcome news item at msn.com and/or Business Insider today:

America’s closest allies are furious about Trump’s tariffs, and now an unorthodox idea to go after him

Here’s an edit of some of the highlights:

In the past three months, Trump has hit countries around the world with a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum exports to the US. The decision prompted a swift response from US allies, including retaliatory tariffs and a radical departure in treatment from other formerly friendly foreign leaders — from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to French President Emmanuel Macron.

    Op-eds in The Houston Chronicle and the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s suggested the only way to quell the rising trade tensions is to strike at Trump’s businesses. While some countries, such as China, have appeared to try and sway the president through treating his family’s businesses more favorably, countries have not made moves to curtail the businesses’ activity within their borders.

     how you could use trade actions to hit his businesses unless you really tailored some sort of measure targeting key industries like real estate,” Shon told Business Insider.

That would force any country trying to go after Trump to get creative with their response. Scott Gilmore, a social entrepreneur and former Canadian diplomat, suggested in Maclean’s that Canada should use anti-corruption laws to pressure Trump on trade.

Trump-branded skyscrapers in Toronto and Vancouver represent the president’s most prominent business ventures in the country.

    “I propose that instead of taxing the import of American serviettes, we tax Trump,” Gilmore said. “In the spirit of the Magnitsky Act, Canada and the western allies come together to collectively pressure the only pain point that matters to this President: his family and their assets.”

Based on my research into Trump’s former deal-making in New York, with the Genovese Mafia crime family and other proven criminals, it shouldn’t be too hard for other countries to find a smoking gun over there. Get on that, Canada! Find a whistle-blower looking to make a deal, with airtight evidence of Trump’s criminal past, and we’ll be on our way…

Travolta plays Gotti

William DeMeo, Stacy Keach, John Travolta and Chris Mulkey in a scene from “Gotti” (2018).

John Travolta’s long awaited John Gotti biopic (though I’m sure it interprets that word biography quite loosely) is proving to be a flop with critics and at the box office.

I for one am not surprised that the movie is being condemned (whether it’s good or not), and I could see it coming from a mile away.

The media kerfuffle this week, more specifically, involves the Rotten Tomatoes metacritic movie rating site giving “Gotti” a big fat ZERO percent on its critical score rating scale. The film’s publicists and producers then fired back, calling the killer tomatoes’ model and managers all “trolls hiding behind keyboards”, with an agenda of their own.

Bogie Maltese promo still

Once upon a time –and for decades starting in the 1930s– Warner Brothers movie studio was the king of the gangster film. They practically built their entire company on the backs of Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart’s portrayals of either tough-talking mobsters or the cops and private eyes who fought them. Take Robinson’s “Little Caesar”, Cagney’s scenery-chewing in “The Public Enemy” or “White Heat”, or Bogart’s genre-defining hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe in “The Maltese Falcon” — plus hundreds of other gritty, inexpensively-made, tightly-scripted crime dramas and film noir classics from the studio that specialized in that genre.

But by the early 1960s the big studios (that’s Warners, MGM, Paramount, Universal and Fox, …with a steep drop-off after that– but perhaps including Disney and UA as a sign of changes to come) had lost a lot of their actual power over actors and the production process, which was increasingly independent. Nowadays the big studios exist primarily as promotion and distribution entities. They mostly acquire material developed or produced by independent companies, with whom they may or may not have prior relationships, nor the promise of future deals.

By now, also, the new sheriffs in town –the “tastemaking” social media gatekeepers and various Hollywood hypocrites, be they liberal or conservative (if they say it’s about anything other than money, they’re lying) –have most likely been gunning for John Travolta and this particular movie since the wheeling, dealing and pre-production all began, way back around 2007.

Travolta the Battler

For one thing, “Gotti” has the stink of a Travolta “vanity project” all over it. The surviving Gotti family hand-picked him to play Gotti, which I’m sure feeds Travolta’s substantial ego. However, with the prior stinker “Battlefield Earth” (2000) already on Travolta’s resume, and given the suspicious manner in which most people already treat Scientology and its celebrity proponents, he probably doesn’t get another genuine shot to make a second vanity project, even if it is most likely a better movie than “Battlefield” (and how could it NOT be).

Furthermore, the main producers and fans of “Gotti” are most likely on the wrong side of the political aisle, in the eyes of Hollywood tastemakers and the “media elites”. From Trump on down (who himself probably made plenty of shady deals with Gotti “front” companies in Manhattan construction over the years, all behind closed doors), it’s old news by now that many old-world Mob figures lean conservative, just on the basis of race, and preserving the old-boy-network and favor-trading status quo.

In my own research about the mid-period Mafia in the 50s and 60s, I’m finding that even in L.A., various New York and Chicago criminal elements had a huge influence, behind the scenes, through such legendary “affiliated” movie, music and tv executives as agent/Universal studio head Lew Wasserman (a close ally of Reagan’s), and Teamsters and Hollywood elite but clandestine lawyer Sidney Korshak.

Whether the Gotti movie is actually good or not is not the point. I’m betting it’s a messy, too-many-cooks, multiple-rewrite script, co-written by longtime character actor Leo Rossi (who also has a biggish role in it), and a younger but clearly talented British screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey, The Score). It is further hampered by the choice to have it directed by actor/director Kevin Connolly (yes, him… the actor from Entourage), who has just a couple of indie films under his belt prior to this big-budget, high-stakes project. Even so, I’m betting the acting, production design and various technical aspects are all good to excellent. Pros are still pros, committed to the work, whether or not the vision of a lead actor, director, or various competing producers and stakeholders win out, in the quality of the final product.

As I said, I have not seen “Gotti” yet, but I may, just for the sake of further research for my work-in-progress novel. My piece is also about New York’s Five Families, but more precisely their stranglehold on the music recording and nightclub business –and thus with inroads into Hollywood– for about forty years. Gotti was around as an up-and-coming soldier in 1959 and 1960, when the plot of my own based-in-fact novel begins. I’ll almost certainly “write him in”, but he’s not at all the focus of my Murder at Birdland story.

Finally, it’s clear to me (not just with “Gotti”, but almost everywhere) that in the slapdash, roll-the-dice world of modern movie promotion via the internet and social media, the old guard of studio executives and traditional advertising agencies are more apt to screw it up than get it right. Unless it’s a comic book movie or multi-film franchise movie based on young adult novels, they’re making the rest of this s&!# up as they go along.

For evidence, look no further than this week’s anti-“Tomato” statement by Warner head Toby Emmerich, himself a producer of many hits, and flops, in a 20+ year career:

“The good movies work better,” he said. “Somebody once said the best business strategy in motion pictures is quality. And I think in a world of Rotten Tomatoes and social media, what’s been proven: the better the movie — particularly in the superhero genre — the better it performs. You can’t hide the bacon anymore.”

What in Gotti’s name are you TALKING ABOUT, Toby? Can’t hide the bacon?!?

“Gotti”, at IMDB… click here.

 

 

 

 

Pooh vs. the Anti-Pooh - Lio comic strip, approx. Dec. 07Presenting again…

in honor of the forthcoming “Christopher Robin” film (2018):

The Milne – Nielsen Type Indicator

(a conceptual framework to discuss personality characteristics)

Those of us who have had some psychological therapy (yes, I have had some — no shame in admitting it), or have taken the test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), will likely have a head-start today on those who have not. Therefore, let me explain the Myers-Briggs briefly, as it will be instructive in understanding the use and usefulness of the Milne-Nielsen indicator (which, by my own admission, is much less scientific… but then, I’m an ENFP, so that explains everything, right?).

The MBTI lays out eight broad, oppositional personality traits that interact within a person along four spectrums. Those four pairings are Extrovert-Introvert, iNtuitive -Sensate, Feeling-Thinking, and Percepting-Judging. Your overall type (like my ENFP above) is determined by your score in each of these areas. It’s not all-inclusive, just a shorthand way of understanding oneself. For example, if you’re 72% leaning toward intuitive, that tells us that you don’t require much sensate, quantifiable or physical evidence as you try to understand the world. This score is not so much talking about an absolute weakness in the Sensate area, as it is talking about an inherent dominance of intuitive methods as your normal way of operating.

So if you ever get a chance, take the multiple choice MBTI test, have it scored, and get a little window into your personality that you may not have had up until now. But we’re not here to talk about MBTI today. We’re here to see if you’re a Pooh, or a Roo, or a Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga or Piglet. Or maybe you’re an Eeyore with moderate Kanga tendencies. Or, God forbid, an Owl with strong Rabbit tendencies.

If you’re familiar with the A.A. Milne characters, especially as presented in the two novels (for a book has more depth than a movie can usually muster), then you probably already sense what I’m driving at. Note also that I’m not including Christopher Robin in the MNTI, for reasons which I will explain later. The basic premise is this, that it is somewhat possible to lay out the Milne characters along several spectrums of personality types, and to loosely place oneself within a certain range upon those spectrums.

The challenge in developing this model was in determining the oppositional pairings, for even though it is easy to discuss the ways in which Pooh and Rabbit are different, it is more difficult to find the polar opposite of Piglet, from among the characters that Milne created. In other words, it takes a lot of bending and twisting, and some compromising, to fit some of these round pegs into my square holes.

Nevertheless, and Without Further Ado, here is my best attempt:

Pooh-Rabbit: primarily about ease, wisdom and groundedness vs. control, organization, and activity — but also involves measuring characteristics like loyalty, courage, acceptance of the natural order, creativity, and graciousness (or “grace” vs. “works”, in the Christian sense of these terms)

Piglet-Kanga: primarily about personal sense of security and peace, but also involves a measurement of maturity, nurturing, and need for control

Roo-Owl: primarily about maturity and sense of wonder, but also involves physical energy, speaking style, and intelligence measurements

Eeyore-Tigger : primarily about ego-strength, but also an introvert/extrovert measurement

It works out nicely that there are eight characters, each with certain personality strengths (and weaknesses) that match up fairly well with one other character. And while the goal is to choose what one character is your most dominant tendency, make no mistake: there are probably two others that are strong seconds. So do not be so quick to stake your claim that you are one type and not another. For there are ways in which Pooh and Tigger are also oppositional types, not to mention the fact that the temptation to deny one’s bossy, Rabbit-like tendencies can be very strong. You see my point, yes?

As a strongly intuitive, Poohish sort of personality, I have not determined a specific set of questions or other method for measuring where one falls on the MNTI scale. (Tests? Who needs tests when we can just guess?!) So that’s one reason why I’m calling this a working draft. There’s still more Work To Do. And as a Pooh with Tigger and Owl tendencies — who would rather sing or eat or bounce around like a hyperactive child or talk about work than to actually work — I may never finish what I have started here.

Nevertheless, it’s workable like this, just as a model to spur one’s thinking about how you think, how you prefer things get done, what your favorite leisure activities might be (for example, a Pooh type likes to eat, with a friend, whereas a Rabbit type likes to plan and plant and harvest a food garden, in the most efficient method possible).

So I will ask again? What type are you, and what other types are strongly present? Are there two oppositional types that are “at war” for dominance within you? (I know, I sound like Obiwan Kenobi here. Sorry.)

I look forward to your thoughts and comments, or even your challenges, in the comment area below.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 12, 2018

Moanin’ w/ Blakey, Lee Morgan and the Old New Kids

I intended to let y’all listen to some classic hard bop jazz from October 1958, and as a bonus ALSO see some silly footage of Cary Grant and a chimp from “Monkey Business” (1952)…

Monkey Business (1952) – IMDb

https://http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044916

Nov 07, 1952 ·  Directed by Howard Hawks. With Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn…. A chemist finds his personal and professional life turned upside down when one of his chimpanzees finds the fountain of youth.

 

But the youtube won’t play… maybe a copyright thing…

So instead, here’s another version of the song, performed live…

As for the music, the song  Moanin’  was originally written for the album pictured below, and penned by the pianist here, Bobby Timmons. But it’s been covered many times since 1958, and had vocalese lyrics added by the great Jon Hendricks, and it’s become a terrific standard in jazz ever since.

The album overall was identified by jazz critic Scott Yanow as one of the 17 Essential Hard Bop Recordings. The Messengers performing on this track and throughout the album are as follows:

Other than Merritt, every other player here is a giant in jazz. The role of Blakey as a mentor should never be forgotten, either.

 

Blakey LP cover

Any serious jazz aficionado is likely aware that Blakey’s bands over the years, even into the 1980s, gave many a young player a great headstart in the big leagues of international jazz performers. He often auditioned or discovered them in their late teens or early twenties, and helped them “level up” in a big way for a few years. The people I’m most familiar with are trumpeters, like Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis, even Chuck Mangione (who I don’t see listed below in the list taken from Blakey’s Wikipedia page… a controversial player, but I’ve always liked Chuck’s melodicism and tone). But besides the trumpeters, I really dig Chick Corea and Horace Silver on piano, and Wayne Shorter on sax… heck, one really can’t go wrong with the solo work of most people in the list below. That so many went on to lead their own band is a testament to the teaching of Art Blakey, and the atmosphere he created.

While we are on the subject of Lee Morgan, I highly recommend the fairly recent documentary about him that’s up on Netflix: I Called Him Morgan.

lee morgan doc capture

It’s sort of dark in tone– as it should be with such a tortured genius and his weird story. Similar to the equally good Nina Simone documentary (also still up on Netflix, I believe). But the Morgan one also gives a better flavor for the jazz scene in the late Fifties and early Sixties in general. So if you’re into that kind of thing…

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