I’m Starting to Like Duterte

It’s just over 5 weeks until Duterte takes over as President of the Philippines. “Takes over” – what will that mean? I don’t know enough about the workings of the Philippines government to know how much of what he says he wants to do can be done via proclamation vs. having to go through Congress. I don’t agree with everything he says he will do, but I do like the majority of it.

In recent weeks he has announced potential bans on smoking in public, sale of alcohol after 2 AM, curfews for minors, restoration of the death penalty, a 3 child policy and a ban on loud karaoke after 9 PM (that one I’m particularly in favor of!).

Sorry, this will be just a list, no links or commentary, and the fact that I’ve included something here doesn’t mean agreement or disagreement, just that it’s of interest:

Continue reading “I’m Starting to Like Duterte”

Hong Kong Strong

This video on Vimeo is a staff pick there and has been shared a lot on social media in the past couple of weeks. It’s called “Hong Kong Strong” and was directed by Brandon Li.

Li has also done a “director’s commentary” video, posted on Youtube.

Have you watched both?

My thoughts after watching these. First thought as I was watching this was “I wish I had a drone” though I probably couldn’t do anything anywhere near as artistic with it.

But after watching all the way through and thinking about it … I’m not a huge fan but I like it.

Yes, it’s stunningly shot. The editing is too frenetic for my taste (perhaps as a result of the director once working as a producer for MTV). As it builds towards its climax, there doesn’t seem to be any message. As a huge admirer of films like Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka, I want more than just great images in a film, I want it to add up to something.

For me the giveaway is what Li says in the commentary – “I am a nomad. I don’t have a fixed address. I travel all over the world and I make short films about places that I’ve been. [Getting staff pick on Vimeo] it’s helped me getting other film making work, doing commercials or other gigs that let me travel and shoot for tourism boards.”

So even though he mentions his “Cantonese heritage,” he is an outsider. The target audience for this may be tourists or perhaps locals and expats who will get to see a favorite spot included in the film. Our cable channels are filled with television shows that are guides to exotic destinations that are hosted by people who do not live in those places and may never have been there before. This is no better and no worse than most of the other stuff out there.

The disappointment for me starts with the title. I was expecting a film titled “Hong Kong Strong” to make a political statement and this one doesn’t. Hong Kong is in a state of ever-increasing turmoil.  Recent protests and calls for independence; the disappearing booksellers; the Chinese government stepping up their domination and forgetting all about what “one country, two systems” is supposed to mean.

I thought “Hong Kong Strong” might be a statement about all of that; a declaration of identity in the face of what will almost certainly be insurmountable odds. It’s not.

All of that aside, it is really brilliantly shot and Li’s contacts and connections have gotten him access to a wide variety of scenes and locations that do give some idea of the stunning choices available in such a relatively small territory. There’s a nice emphasis on culture here – much more locally oriented and steering clear from the ex-pat view and I think he deserves high marks for that. As I said, give me the same equipment and I wouldn’t be able to come up with something even 10% as good as this. It’s great for what it is, I just wish it was more.



Anthony Bourdain and President Obama in Hanoi

President Barack Obama is in Vietnam this week, in part to announce lifting restrictions on U.S. arms sales to Vietnam, something that is probably meant as a clear shot at China.

Obama is also stepping out quite a bit more in his final year in office. He did an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. He even went to Marc Maron’s garage to tape an episode of What The Fuck. (By way of contrast, Maron had to travel to Lorne Michaels’ New York City office for an extended interview that resolved years’ worth of issues.)

So here’s another unusual Obama move – having dinner in Hanoi with Anthony Bourdain, filmed for an episode of Parts Unknown that will air in September on CNN.



They ate at a restaurant called Bún chả Hương Liên. As has been widely reported, the cost of the dinner for two was US$6 and Bourdain picked up the check.

I’ve only been to Hanoi once (in 2005). I did have Bun cha on that trip and thought it was one of the best things I ever ate.


(Not my photo.)

I’ve subsequently ordered it in another places in Vietnam and in Vietnamese restaurants around the world and it has never been as good as that as that first time sitting on a street corner on one of those low plastic stools.

We’ll get to see and hear the edited highlights of their conversation in a few months, but I’ll remain jealous of what they ate and hopeful that I’ll have a chance to get to Hanoi a second time (and file away the details on this restaurant for that trip).


New Geo-Blocking on Youtube?

This is disturbing. A quick Google search isn’t revealing anything but I think Youtube has come up with a new method of geo-blocking (blocking access to content based upon the viewer’s geographic location). Has anyone come across any news related to this recently?

I clicked on a link this morning for the “bunny in a bear-trap” scene from Preacher.  I got the usual “the uploader has not made this content available in your country” message.

No problem, I thought. I turned on Hola, set my location to the U.S., reloaded the link, same error message. So I turned off Hola, turned on Private Internet Access, set my location to California, same error message. That’s never happened to me before. One of these two methods has always worked.

I didn’t want to clear my cache so I fired up a different browser and tried again. Still same result.

I looked at the screen more closely and saw this:


See the little “PH” there? But the URL was still just plain old youtube.com, no youtube.com.ph or anything like that. I scrolled to the bottom of the screen to change country, and got this menu:


I know it’s pretty tiny but take my word for it, the good ole U.S. of A. doesn’t even appear on that list.

So I selected “worldwide.” Hola still didn’t work. But this time Private Internet Access did.

There’s a battle going on globally between content owners who license their content to different countries under different terms and conditions and consumers who just want to see what they want to see and couldn’t give a fuck about these nonsense rules. As history has shown, over the span of time it’s usually the consumers who will win.

I really don’t watch too many new series. I just don’t have the time for it and I’m behind on some of the older shows I’m ostensibly following. This series is on AMC, which has brought us some truly great series in the past few years, shows you might have heard of like, oh, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead.

Preacher is adapted from the revered comic book series by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and even though their last genre effort was the terrible remake of The Green Hornet, I thought this might be worth a look and the first episode was very promising.

Anyway, here’s that clip from Preacher, hope you can see it!



Two Jews Blues

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Barry Goldberg in these pages before, but just in case I haven’t, here are just a few highlights from his 50+ year musical career.

  • Original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (left prior to the recording of their first album)
  • Backed up Bob Dylan when he went electric at Newport
  • Formed the Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles and Nick Gravenites
  • Discovered Steve Miller (Miller’s first recording was as a member of the Goldberg Miller Blues Band).
  • Recorded numerous solo albums including the only non-Bob Dylan album ever produced by Bob Dylan and Two Jews Blues, which featured Duane Allman as well as Mike Bloomfield.
  • Session man extraordinaire, playing on records by everyone from Mitch Ryder to Ike & Tina Turner to Leonard Cohen and even the Ramones
  • Co-writer with Gerry Goffin of hits like I’ve Got to Use My Imagination (Gladys Knight) and It Ain’t the Spotlight (Rod Stewart).
  • Today he is the keyboard player for The Rides – the band featuring him alongside Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, their second album just released.

I just came across this video on Youtube of Barry and his wife Gail talking about their relationship with Mike Bloomfield and the new book Two Jews Blues, written by Barry with Stephen Roeser. Here’s that clip:

Watching that clip brought back a lot of memories for me.

It was around 1971 I guess. I saw an ad in the back of the Village Voice from Barry for piano lessons.  I recognized his name immediately. I’d been playing piano for I guess 8 or 9 years but was really frustrated by a succession of awful teachers who taught me to play what was on the sheet music in front of me but little else. I convinced my parents to give me some money for weekly lessons and I convinced Barry to take a little bit less per hour than he was asking for and our friendship began.


(Barry and Gail in their living room, probably 1972, I don’t think I shot this photo but can’t really recall.)

I say “our friendship” because I was at best a crappy player.  And at some point during that first year that I knew him, I totaled my parents’ car, smashed my head on the steering wheel, had a severe concussion, and I was convinced that I could no longer play different things on the keyboard with my right and left hands. Was that true? I don’t know. I convinced myself that it was.

So my “piano lessons” morphed into Barry educating me on the history of the blues, playing me the records that were important to him as well as sitting at the piano week after week effortlessly playing things that left me continually astonished (and probably also a bit discouraged). I think more than anything else, Barry taught me about life. By 1971 he’d seen huge success and also completely bottomed out. He and his wife Gail were so nice to me, so patient with me, it was the kind of kindness that I still remember 45 years later.

One time I showed up at his apartment on the upper west side and sat alone in his living room for what seemed like a couple of hours. Finally he came out of the bedroom, saw me and said, “Oh maaaannnnnnn, I didn’t know you were here! I was on the phone with Bob. I would have put you on to say hello!” Thank goodness he didn’t know I was there. What the fuck would I have said to Dylan on the phone?

But another time I walked in and Mike Bloomfield was sitting in his living room. Barry introduced me to Mike, lying by telling him I was a promising musician. Bloomfield sat down next to me at the piano and we did some four-handed blues stuff. What I remember about Bloomfield all these years later was how genuinely sweet and normal he seemed. No ego. Completely relaxed, open and friendly. I wish I might have had the chance to get to know him better, but I would only get to meet him one more time (backstage at the Bottom Line after an Electric Flag reunion show). I think Michael had this quality that drew people to him. When he died in in 1981 (at the age of 37), I was devastated.

Another time I walked in to Barry’s apartment and Gerry Goffin was sitting there. He and Carole King had co-written The Loco-motion, Up On the Roof, One Fine Day, Pleasant Valley Sunday, A Natural Woman. He and Barry were neighbors and they were collaborating on songs that would end up on Barry’s Dylan-produced album and Goffin’s own It Ain’t Exactly Entertainment. I don’t have any real recollections of Goffin other than the fact that we met, but he and Barry did some great work together.

I wrote a long bio/interview piece on Barry for the NYU magazine “Cold Duck” (I have it in a box somewhere) and did a documentary film on him as a student project. (A really crappy one. I didn’t have access to sync sound equipment and there was no Youtube for grabbing clips so I really made an audio documentary based on his records and the interview we had done, and used photos of his albums and singles and some silent footage of him playing the piano at home. I still have it sitting in a box somewhere though.)

Barry and I gradually lost touch after I moved to Boston for a couple of years. I saw him at the Electric Flag reunion in ’74 and about ten years later (he had moved to L.A. and I was out there for a few days doing the tourist thing). Years later we’re in touch again via Facebook. He wrote to me, “You were one of my most soulful students.” Barry was always a very generous person.

Anyway, check out Barry’s latest album with The Rides, Pierced Arrow. It’s really good.


Aside from Stills, Shepherd and Barry, the drummer is Chris Layton, formerly of Double Trouble (as in Stevie Ray Vaughan and …). Here’s a mini-documentary promo made for the album:

And while you’re at it, if you don’t know Mike Bloomfield’s music (and he was only one of the most important blues and rock guitarists of all time), the place to start is here:


From His Head to His Heart to His Hands is a wonderful boxed set – three CDs spanning most of his career and a DVD with the documentary “Sweet Blues – A Film About Mike Bloomfield.”

Anyway, sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, been extremely busy on a project at work and dealing with my mother at home, haven’t really had a chance to come for air until now, hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane …





Democracy, Schmemocracy

Now that the Philippines election is over and I can no longer be accused of being a foreigner trying to influence the vote, I suppose I’m free to write what I want to write. You knew I would, right?

Tuesday, as I sat there refreshing the GMA site with unofficial voting results, my first thought was that I really don’t understand the Philippines at all. By that I mean, how could people vote for the people they voted for? It makes no logical sense. Or does it?

Continue reading “Democracy, Schmemocracy”

This Is Not A Reality Show

These words come from President Obama answering reporters’ questions about Donald Trump, now that he is virtually guaranteed the Republican nomination. But most of this could be seen as good advice as the Philippines heads to the polls to elect a new President on Monday.

I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. I think it’s important for us to take seriously the statements [Trump has] made in the past. [Trump has a] long record that needs to be examined.

But most importantly, and I speak to all of you in this room as reporters as well as the American public, this is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. What that means is that every candidate, every nominee, needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny.

It means that you got to make sure that their budgets add up.  It means that if they say they’ve got an answer to a problem, that it is actually plausible and that they have details for how it would work. And if it is completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on. The American people need to know that.

If they take a position on international issues that could threaten war, or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries, or would potentially break the finicial system, that needs to be reported on.

What I’m concerned about is the degree to which reporting and information starts emphasizing the spectacle and the circus. Because that’s not something we can afford. The one thing that I’m going to really be looking for over the next six months is the American people are effectively informed about where candidates stand on the issues.  If that happens, then I’m confident our democracy will work.




Philippines Elections on Monday

The Philippines elections are coming up on Monday. My impression is that being a politician – either a candidate or elected – is possibly the most dangerous job in the Philippines. (Being a journalist is the second most dangerous.) I just saw that it’s illegal to sell liquor on May 8th and 9th here – not sure if that’s just stores or restaurants and bars as well.

I really didn’t want to leave the house at all this week. My plan was to stay in my room and stay away from all of the madness. But my mother had some doctor appointments (just check-ups) on Thursday, so I dropped her off at the hospital and went in to the office.

That meant getting stuck in huge traffic jams as the main roads were paralyzed with motorcade after motorcade supporting this candidate and that candidate and the other candidate. Major sections of the city will be shut down on Friday for political rallies, which will no doubt lead to what they like to call carpocalypse here.

On a conference call, someone reminded everyone that next Monday is a holiday here. I responded that Tuesday will be a holiday as well, recovering from all the violence on Monday. That got a big laugh. (No, really it did, not being sarcastic here.)

[Side bar – the government waited until last week to announce that election day would be a holiday. This is one of those minor yet prevalent examples of incompetence here. No one could look at a calendar last year while deciding what the official holidays were? They couldn’t figure out ten years ago that Election Day should be a holiday? It’s not a minor point at all – it fucks royally with all sorts of scheduling.]

I try to avoid talking politics with my staff, but got drawn into a conversation on that topic yesterday. I told them I was not happy with my wife’s choice of favored candidate, but I was not going to tell them which one she favors because I didn’t want to offend any of them. They asked me which candidate I would choose and I said “None Of The Above.”

It’s not just that it’s illegal for foreigners to try to influence elections, it’s potentially dangerous as well.

And what’s happening in the Philippines’ elections isn’t happening in isolation. It’s part of a global trend. There’s a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo that people like Trump and Duterte seem to have successfully tapped into.

In the Philippines, under Aquino, the economy has grown significantly. But the benefits of that growth have eluded most of the population, as Richard Javad Heydarian notes:

Up to 70% of Filipino legislators hail from political dynasties, and the economic picture reveals a similar tendency. In 2011, for instance, the 40 richest families swallowed up to 76% of newly-created growth in recent years — the highest rate of growth-concentration in the Asia-Pacific region.
No wonder then that in the Philippines, as in other troubled democracies, there is a growing yearn for change — for better or worse.

And, as Heydarian notes elsewhere some of this desire for change translates to a desire to return to “good old days” that weren’t really good at all. There’s some great background in this article:

A significant section of the voters across all troubled democracies have come to believe that the solution to their national problems is electing strongman rulers who could shake up the system. Showered in (fact-proof) nostalgia, a growing number of voters have come to fondly remember the autocratic past when Fujimori, Suharto and Marcos were in power — overlooking the dictators’ manifold failures.

Marcos, in particular, was no Park Chung-Hee, who turned poverty-stricken South Korea into an industrial giant — nor was he a Lee Kuan Yew, who turned a middling city-state into a global logistics hub. As leading Filipino economists, such as Ronald Mendoza, have shown, the Marcos years were largely an indubitable economic disaster with few parallels.

In the 1960s, the Philippines was a leading Southeast Asian economy but that was, as correctly put by Lee Kuan Yew, mainly because “America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war.” By the time Ferdinand Marcos — who promised to make the nation “great again” — captured the presidency and later declared “martial law,” the Philippines’ import-substitution-based economy was on the downhill.

Two decades later, far from becoming “great again,” the Philippines was mired in widespread poverty and insurmountable debt. The country is still paying the price of the disastrous economic legacy of the dictatorship era, eloquently captured by the works of leading Filipino sociologist Walden Bello. No less than Lee Kuan Yew, the philosopher king of Singapore, was among Marcos’ harshest critics, openly criticizing the scandalous decadence and chronic corruption that afflicted the Marcos regime.

In the 1960s, the Philippines and South Korea were almost on the same level of economic development. The visionary Park Chung-hee, albeit ruthless and undemocratic, used his autocrat grip on the Korean bureaucracy to discipline the oligarchs, institute comprehensive land reform, regulate financial markets and establish the foundations of a modern economy by astutely combining strategic protectionism with export-oriented industrialization.

In Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang Party also followed key elements of Japanese and Korean economic strategy, ranging from land reform to development of infant industries and an export-oriented manufacturing sector. In the case of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew built on the British-era bureaucracy, augmenting its elements of meritocracy and toughening measures against corruption. Within a few decades, he turned a city-state into a financial and logistics hub, attracting large-scale capital and great minds from across the world.

In contrast, Marcos, who oversaw a hollowed American-style bureaucracy, ended up relying on greedy cronies, who only cared about their own interests, as well as misguided economists, who uncritically followed neo-classical economics without any appreciation of the special needs of late-developing countries.

A lawyer with minimal understanding of development economics, and drenched in decadence and corruption, Marcos was no Park or Lee when it came to economic development. Under Marcos, the Philippines, in terms of per capita income, went from almost twice as rich as South Korea to 11 times poorer.

Well, there’s a lot more to it, click over to the entire article for the rest.

So people are angry and want change and will vote for change for the sake of change. Big promises are being made with few details of how those promises might be kept. If there is any in-depth discussion among candidates (not just presidential, at all levels) about how issues like poverty, income inequality, crime or even the traffic in Manila will actually be dealt with, it has eluded me.

So will the next President be Duterte, Roxas, Binay, Poe or Santiago? Will Marcos’s son become the next Vice President (which would clear the way for him to run for President in 2022)?

Regardless of how you feel about this, regardless of which candidate you may support, it’s fascinating to watch this all play out.