Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The recent failed Michigan gubernatorial campaign of the politically ambitious Dick Devos brought to light a number of different things- for one, Devos is the heir to the multi-billion-dollar Alticor corporation. In TV commercials, Devos infers that he single-handedly led renovation efforts in Grand Rapids, MI—near the company’s home HQ in small-town Ada, Mich.—but even Devos’ father said he was exaggerating facts. The roots of Alticor are in the Amway corporation—Alticor being the chosen name of the company since the late 1990’s. Several scandals and lawsuits involving the organization and affiliated people date back to the early 1980’s, which—unofficially—led to the eventual change of the company name, as well as a well-funded public relations campaign. It should be pointed out that there is yet another subdivision of Amway called Quixtar (pronounced quick-star), that sells some different products from Amway proper, but is managed in much the same fashion.
Amway started off in the early 60’s as a door-to-door soap-sales operation—which is innocuous enough. But eventually the company became much, much more—in particular, from the 70’s forward, it became a prominent—if not the premier—“multi-level marketing company”—a company which, despite its much-vaunted profitability, people seemed to be less than open to talking about publicly. As a corporation (as well as individual top executives like the Devos family), Amway/Alticor have lobbied Congress, as well as having donated millions to charitable efforts over the years. In the realm of politics, their bent is clearly G.O.P. friendly, donating to various local Republican political candidates as well as to conservative ‘think tanks’ and the national G.O.P. fund.
Several feel-good TV commercials aired spotlighting Amway employees who work in company-owned factories, warehouses and offices. Of course, these blue-and-white-collar workers earn a regular check from the Amway Corporation, plus whatever their benefits package offers. On the other hand, for those people who don’t actually work at an Amway/Quixtar factory or office and instead are individual Amway-product distributors, “income” works a different way, indeed. This essay will provide some insight as to how the company, and its promotional culture really work—or not, as in many cases.
First, you have to understand the lingo that is frequently used by people in the Amway marketing culture. The initials ‘A.M.O.’ stands for Amway Motivational Organization- these are the official groupings of distributors that are all connected to the Amway business, the vast majority of whom do not have an actual position with the company. Each AMO has a different name, chosen by the founder(s)—usually something dramatic, like ‘Dream Catchers’, ‘The Gold Mind’, or something. People who are recruited into Amway are always introduced to some representative of a particular A.M.O. If a person likes what they see—or they’re hounded to the point that they capitulate—then a contract is signed. A person is signed to a distributor’s contract ‘under’ another person, who in turn reports to somebody else, etc., etc., leading up to an official ‘leader’ of the AMO. It is only the ‘top’ couple of people in an A.M.O. that make any “real” money, and the vast majority are nowhere near millionaires (unless they have some type of outside investments besides selling Amway products).
High ranking people in the AMO’s are given titles based on gems- ‘pearl’, ‘ruby’, ‘emerald’, and the highest rank, ‘diamond’. Despite promotional dialogue and videos promising a millionaire’s lifestyle, the average top-earning salary among Amway “Diamond” AMO leaders is in the mid-$50,000 range, and that’s only a rare handful of people. The pitch given to recruits is that by selling Amway products—i.e., soap, food items, and other sundries, that vast quantities of sales will equal profit-participation down the road. However, the reality is that on a monthly basis, distributors are expected to buy an unending series of “motivational” cassette tapes—and to a lesser extent, videotapes and books. These items cost over $100 per set (the information is not provided on CDs, which can technically hold more information—thus making it easier to push more tapes on people). Unofficially, most of the residual-check income that Diamonds get are royalties from the collective sales of these materials and organizing rallies & conventions. It could very easily be argued that the AMO’s unstated real emphasis is on recruiting distributors rather than selling consumer products; and to ask your ‘up-line’, they’ll likely say that this is okay, within the context of “doing anything to help build the business is okay”. The harm in this is that it is illegal according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations against illegal pyramids. Any illegal business activity will cause a cave-in somewhere along the line for those involved, especially the naive and unsuspecting.
Realistically, someone who has achieved “modest” success at this business can only expect to make less than $1,000 ‘profit’ from the so-called “lucrative” royalty checks by having several active distributors signed under you. A person can work for years—over a decade, in fact—under these conditions, and still not be any closer to the “Diamond Lifestyle” that is made so attractive. From a statistical standpoint the chances are only 1 in 20,000 that a person will make it to Diamond rank (outside of any malfeasance and juggling numbers, which several former Diamonds have been exposed as doing). There are approximately one million (1,000,000) active Amway/Quixtar distributors active in a given year. The much-vaunted talk at the national conventions that “everybody” can make Diamond is ethically dubious at best and scurrilous exploitation at worst.
New distributors are also told to show the Amway Sales and Marketing Plan at least 10 times a month (preferably in a private setting, such as one’s home—so if you have kids, the idea is to get their playmates’ parents to look in on presentations). Distributors are told to attend all functions, large and small. Various regional and national associations of the AMO’s have conventions throughout the calendar year, in various parts of the country. The AMO doesn’t pick up the tab for your travel, so expect to run up big bills in airplane tickets and car rental. Those who can’t afford to fly regularly (which should be another red flag) will likely be spending money on bus tickets and filling up your own car several times as you trek hundreds of miles just to be able to buy more tapes, books and videos at the event.
New distributors are expected to buy personal items through their own distributorship. And yes, like the brochures say, Amway sells about everything from peanut butter to coffee and water-filters—but the distributor discount is only vague—only about 10%—and so you’d be just as good if you catch a good sale at K-Mart or Target. The Amway distributor must be what’s called “Core” to be considered "serious" by the people above them (their “upline”), especially the upline Diamond who heads the AMO they belong to. Distributors who are not completely "core" are generally not assisted by their upline or, as they say in AMO language, "helped". The costs of "being core" can run into several thousand dollars a year and those distributors who can't get it together to pay for it are often casualties of the AMO Squeeze and to rub salt into the wound these distributors' resulting "negativity" becomes a bother to their upline and are often eventually "left on their own" (read: not helped).
The idea that the "help" offered by upline to downline is based on altruism is ridiculous yet this is the notion championed at AMO rallies, on tapes and on Amvox phone messages. Also, Legally, the AMO’s are considered ‘independent contractors’ who are in a sales position; for any “wrongdoing” a salesperson may be accused of, the parent company (Amway/Alticor/Quixtar) can claim it had no knowledge of their practices. Of course, there is plenty of fine-print dialogue in the distributor contracts that disclaims any actual promises of short turnarounds to success, riches, etc. The people recruiting others will not point this out to their prospects, however.
Having a traditional career—even some other type of business ownership—is discouraged, and is said to simply be an “enabling function” to buy more promotional tapes, videos, and books. The real-time toll on the hours spent dedicated to “building your Amway business” is never stressed, and many people find themselves suffering in work, school, even their marriage, because of the relentless pacing and monopolization of time that being involved with an Amway AMO incurs. Quiet as it is kept, there are at least dozens of people who have either gone broke or near-broke, lost lucrative jobs, divorced, and/or become clinically depressed (among other mental illnesses) as a direct or indirect result of their relationship with an Amway AMO. Yet there are also dozens—if not thousands—more, still grinding at this “opportunity”, hoping that they’ll be living rich in a relatively short amount of time.
Another tool of recruitment (and retainment—or detainment, if you will) within the network of A.M.O.’s in the United States is a culture of religious fundamentalism, most often manifesting as ‘born-again Christianity’, but also called “Dominionists” by some religious scholars. Core among beliefs of Dominionists is the assertion that the U.S.A.—and the U.S.A. alone—is God-ordained to have ‘dominion’ over the rest of the populace of the planet. By extension of this philosophy, Americans have the God-given-duty—duty—to amass wealth, evangelize and convert as many people as possible, by whatever means. Targets for conversion don’t simply include atheists—they also include Muslims, Buddhists, Jews (including those in Israel), Episcopals, Greek Orthodox, Methodists, Roman Catholics—in short, anyone who is ‘not them’. From a purely demographic standpoint, most adherents to these beliefs tend to be Caucasian and at least moderately affluent. Among president George W. Bush’s unofficial group of advisors includes the Rev. Tim Laheigh, a prominent proponent of Domioninist theory and millionaire co-creator of a series of ‘Last Days’-themed books and other media. New distributors (typically in a one-on-one conversation) are given the pitch that they “must get right with Christ” to succeed as a top Amway distributor.
To be clear, we are not trying to say that being religious or believing in God is wrong. By no means. However, as it applies to Amway, people may be approached with vague aggression in their workplaces, malls, grocery stores, parking lots and other public places. In a brief conversation, something that is marketed as a “Christian, family-friendly business” sounds good to the average listener. However, Christians and non-Christians alike need to be warned that the so-called “religious” people who run most of the Amway AMO’s are not bringing forth the genuine Christian faith as taught and practiced throughout history, but a false, corrupted version.
(adapted from "An Anonymous Christian"'s webpage critical of Amway):
Unfortunately, if “false Christianity” doesn’t have any place among more discerning minds, it definitely has found a place with Amway Motivational Organizations. There are Internet sites where the curious can find information that indicates serious questions and doubts about the type of "Christianity" taught and practiced in Amway Motivational Organizations (AMOs). People are strongly encouraged to do their own independent research and find out for themselves.
The phenomenon of Amway and other multi-level marketing schemes (also referred to as ‘pyramid schemes’) has reached the church. Regardless of your denomination, you may be approached by a "brother" or a "sister" who will befriend you, offer you a “love bomb”, and tell you such attention-grabbing things as "you are a winner", "have you ever thought of supplementing your income", "are you unhappy at your job", "would you like to see a Christian’ business opportunity", etc. You may be told that someone is in the area increasing their business and is "looking for a few sharp individuals" to join them, however the "time to join is limited". This is a subtle pressure to stampede a panic decision by prospects.
Scare tactics and statistics will be thrown out by the "brother" or "sister" to show that a large number of those 65 and over retire and are soon "dead" or "broke". Other approaches include getting the potential recruit to talk about their financial situations, family, dreams, goals and hopes, as well as personal interests and hobbies. If the individual approached asks any questions regarding the type of business or what it is about, some vague generalities about a large number of companies using this business to distribute their products, the offer of a large number of goods and services provided, and "helping people to save money" may be stated.
You will likely not be told any clear, straightforward and up-front answers about anything. It will be kept vague while pressure is applied for the potential recruit to come to a "business meeting" where they can find out more. If the pitch is being made over the phone, the person will not tell you what it is, but will hem and haw to avoid answering any questions.
NOTE: Once the recruit signs up for this "business opportunity" these techniques will be taught to them by their sponsors and supervisors (called ‘up-lines’) in face-to-face meetings, larger meetings, rallies and functions, as well as in the tapes provided by the organization.
If the potential recruit shows any interest, they will be wooed and courted by the "brother" or "sister". They will be treated as though they are fellow Christians, shown great amounts of love, friendship, concern and support. It will appear to the potential recruit that they have found a genuine "brother" or "sister" that is "in the Lord". Should the potential recruit, or the newly signed up recruit attend any meetings or functions, they will be effusively greeted by "loving" and "caring" people who will tell them they are "winners". Yet the person has never met any of these people. As a part of this stage, the prospect or new recruit will be told that there is so much "love" that is felt and shown at these meetings and functions; the implied suggestion being that such love is not found or displayed anywhere else.
Once signed up, the recruit will be strongly encouraged to sign up for standing order tapes, and to read the books on a reading list. The books are diverse and certain popular lecturers and Christian evangelists will be mentioned: Charles Capps, Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert Schuller. Titles of certain books include "Psycho-Cybernetics", "The Magic of Thinking Big", and "How to Win Friends and Influence People" will also be on the recommended reading list. Other authors who are not specifically on the reading list, but which may be encouraged for the recruit to read include E.W. Kenyon (an author who seemingly combined ‘new age’ teachings with the Pentecostal form of Christianity).
These books contain different techniques for bringing about "success". Terms such as "speaking it into existence" and "you get what you speak" are used. Visualization techniques such as thinking of a particular goal or item (such as a car or new house), or a specific amount of money, are encouraged. The recruit is strongly exhorted to paste pictures of such things on their refrigerator, bathroom mirrors, etc. They are also instructed to paste quotes from the different authors on the reading list in different places, and repeat these "success" and "positive thinking" quotes over in the mornings and evenings. The recruit is told to speak "positively", think "positively" and to associate only with "positive" and "right thinking" people (meaning people who are in the Amway culture).
They are told that a person becomes what they read and with whom they associate. No television, no reading of "negative" books (that is, anything that questions any of these techniques and practices), and naturally, to buy only "positive" products (all non-Amway products are considered "negative" and "heathen"). All of these different things are reinforced over and over in the audio tapes from the tape list. Further reinforcement comes from speakers at the various meetings and functions. The outwardly stated goal is to help the new recruit "become a better person", change them to "positive thinking" from "stinking thinking", and to help them become "successful", "build a big business", bring them "freedom", and be a "success".
"Success" is defined as being a "diamond", having an extremely lavish lifestyle with large houses, vacation houses, expensive cars and watches, jewelry, furs, and so on. To make this palatable, bits and pieces of Scripture will be quoted to show that "God wants you to be rich and successful" (successful, of course as defined by the sponsors and higher-up leaders of the particular Themes endlessly repeated by all is that "we don't become successful until you become successful", "you only reach your dreams when you help others build their dreams".
But are these techniques, teachings and practices compatible with Scripture? To put it another way, does God indeed want everyone to be fabulously wealthy and successful as the Amway/AMOs define success? Are people to visualize things over and over in their minds, loudly repeating quotes and goals over and over, "speak things into existence", and even get in touch with "ascended masters" to learn further "success" techniques and thinking? Are such things even in the Bible? In the history of the Church, did the great theologians and scholars of Christendom, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant, ever teach that such techniques and practices were for “Christians”?
The various techniques and procedures endorsed by the Amway AMO’s (i.e., manipulate and control people for one's own goals and ends, constantly repeating different sayings or passages of Scripture over and over while ‘visualizing success’ are not in any way compatible with the historic teachings of the whole Church (whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, or Protestant), with the exception of what are considered to be cultish or heretical groups. People who have subscribed and submitted wholeheartedly to these philosophies may find themselves becoming more and more ‘zealous’, and exhibiting bizarre behavior. For family and friends this is particularly vexing: any kind of critique of their behavior may be, at best, dismissed out of hand, or at worst, be received as an “attack” on their “faith”, and thus “proof” that Amway is a “tool of God” that the “outside world” has chosen to oppress and criticize for no reason.
Research and study has shown that such things are deceptive those who teach such things, and utilize bits and pieces of Scripture to justify them, are spoken of in Scripture as false prophets and teachers of a false and different gospel. The “Gospel of Amway” is different from the one spoken of in the Bible, and taught over the centuries by the great scholars and theologians.
(Adapted from Seven Symptoms of Cult Behavior/Amway Culture Analysis Webpage):
Among scientists who study behavior control, there are ‘seven symptoms’ of cult syndrome that are pointed out below: A striking number of parallels to the way that the Amway AMO’s conduct themselves are pointed out.
1. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals According to the numbers on a particular pro-Amway website , a person should expect to spend an average of 11.38 hours a week on activities that build the business. These activities include: contacting/ prospecting new people; showing the plan (and travel time to/ from the location); listening to audio tapes; reading books; attending weekly and monthly meetings; helping the downline build their business; and listening/ passing along of telephone messages (via the Amvox network). Keep in mind that this is a very low-end average, and more hours will probably be required if a person wants to "build big". Also, keep in mind that this estimate does not include the 4 major functions per year; each taking up one entire weekend (about 72 hours or more, not including travel time). Also, a pro-Amway website-owner believes that this time-estimate is actually on the low side. He claims the time commitment is around 20 hours (or more) per week... a far cry from the "estimate" of 8 to 10 hours a week shown in the Sales & Marketing Plan.
A "disclaimer": the Amway Corporation has never given any kind of time frame for building an Amway business. Their official statement claims that people build their own business as fast or as slow as they want. It is the AMO's who have created the "8-10 hours a week" claim.
2. Need to ask permission for major decisions For a distributor to "really build the business," he should not think for himself. In fact, just the opposite is true- when he does what the upline tells him to do, "things will fall into place" (actual quotes from audio tapes) for the distributor. Numerous stories have been told by Diamonds about how they tried and tried to build the business, but nothing seemed to work. When they started "doing as they were told," their businesses started to grow.
In other speeches, distributors have told how they wanted to buy a house or car and went to their upline for advice. The upline would usually tell them to wait until they reached the next level of achievement before making a purchase. In theory, this is good advice: a person should wait until he is financially able to purchase an item before buying it. But, what happens when the person needs air conditioning for their van in the middle of a Florida summer? How long should he wait? Until he can afford it with Amway bonus checks or until someone gets sick from the heat? When the reverse situation arises, the advice is different: if a person needs to make more money, upline distributors will usually make sure that person is in attendance at the next function. Does this advice seem contradictory?
A person is struggling with their finances and they are told to spend money to go to a function? There is a possibility, that, in a few years, the person might make thousands of dollars, but what about affording this month's mortgage payment? As for right now, the upline is the only one who is making money: they profit from the sale of the function tickets. I would suppose the upline gives this advice because the they want their "tool money" before the distributor decides to quit the business due to poor results.
A submitter personally witnessed the devastating results of this faulty advice. When one of his uplines was struggling with a heavy debt load, he went to his upline Emerald for advice. Due to a second mortgage, he was forced to move his family out of their home and into an apartment. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with an apartment, but when your family (including two teenage children) have to move from a modest house to a cramped three-bedroom apartment, adjustment can be difficult. And the situation was made even worse when they had to give their daughter's dachshund to a relative since the apartment complex would not permit pets. And while he struggled with this situation, his upline Direct still tells him and his wife to attend the functions! For two people, the costs of a function can be over $500.00 (for tickets, travel, hotel, etc.). Wouldn't this money be better spent paying off some debt? Not according to the Emerald. That upline still believes he will be "going direct anytime now." He can pay off the debts then. All he has to do is "have faith in his upline's advice."
If a distributor's decision-making capacity is replaced by that of his upline's, where does that leave his children? Chances are good that the upline will tell him (and his wife) to leave the kids with a baby-sitter and go show a plan. Repeat this 6 or 7 times a week to really "build the business big." What about the kids who see their parents leaving them every night for just a promise that "one day soon" the parents will actually raise them, instead of the sitter. Will this continue for the next 3-12 months or 3-5 years or longer until the parent's Amway business is built? What do you tell the children then? On the other hand, Diamonds commonly argue, "Well, parents leave their kids all the time when they work their 9-to-5 J-O-B." And now the parents are "leaving" their children again in the evening to build an Amway business. With the pressure to be successful, and on the advice of their upline, have these parents lost their ability to choose what is in the best interest of the children?
3. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors Distributors that are "plugged in" or "on the grow" are expected to counsel with their "upline" at least once a month. There is a strange method used in which wives are routinely used to report on their husbands' activities "for their own good". Husbands are warned not to take financial counsel re: the business from their wives because they are at the same income level....the women are advised that their husbands may have too much male ego take advice from them anyway..... the solution is for the women to call their upline and report on their husbands' activities (or lack thereof) prior to "counseling". This results in "planned spontaneity", in which the husband may feel his upline has been divinely guided because he "instinctively" seems to know his "problem". As a high level distributor, I utilized this technique frequently, thinking it was in the best interest of each couple. In retrospect, this is an incredible violation of the trust that a husband and wife share.
4. Rewards and punishments(behavior modification techniques- positive and negative) One person who submitted stated: "During the time I was a distributor, I never witnessed any forms of "punishment." I'm sure there are some groups that use punishment, but I haven't heard about it. On the other hand, rewards (and goal-setting) are used extensively. At each the monthly meetings and major functions, people are recognized for achieving the various levels in the business (1000 points, 2500 points, etc.). Distributors become motivated to "cross stage" at the next function. As a person moves higher up the "chain," the Amway Corporation begins its own form of rewards- with money. If a person reaches the "Direct" level, he is given a bonus of X dollars. If he reaches the "Emerald" level, he gets Y dollars. Note: the exact amounts vary depending on a number of factors, including how many people are in the person's group."
However, another former distributor had this to say:
"This is not readily evident to new distributors. At the leadership levels of "Direct" and "Emerald", it is used frequently. In a specific instance, my upline Diamond (who was a hero that at one point I would have taken a bullet for) became aware of the fact that I had gained some knowledge off the internet of a huge lawsuit (Diamond Direct Brig Hart's $50,000,000 lawsuit against Diamond level and above members of his upline and downline). In an Emerald meeting, my Diamond quite literally appeared to blow a gasket and described anyone that would be on the internet researching negative things about Amway as "Satan Possessed ". I was still "in" and very much loyal. At a leadership level, you cannot afford even the appearance of doubt/psychological infidelity."
5. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails Right from the start you're advised that there is no money in creativity, as the perfect "system" of success has been created. (See "No new ideas", below.) Although personal business ownership is touted, it is a farce. In the new "Quixtar" company, distributors are referred to as "IBO's (Independent Business Owners). You may work for nearly a decade developing an international business, but not have the freedom to even put a newsletter into your group or call a meeting with your leaders that is not "pre-approved".
6. Rigid rules and regulations Despite the claim of "personal choice" and "freedom," Amway distributors are bound by the rules and regulations of the Amway Corporation, by the regulations set by the AMO's, by the rules set by their upline, and by the statements in the "Business Support Materials Arbitration Agreement" (BSMAA). The "rigidity" of the rules may vary between groups.
There are four "Cardinal Rules" that you must never, never violate; they are listed below. One submitter says they have a tape in which the Diamond states that these are rules that you must follow "or you will pay". This same individual has said he would "take out" anyone that messed with his upline Diamond. He apparently is very serious and the submitter believes he would do it to prove his loyalty.
a. No new ideasCreativity is not only frowned upon, it is banished.
b. No crossliningYou cannot establish relationships or share any information with anyone not in your upline or downline. This effectively isolates any "bad" information to one group but it is further limited below.
c. Never, ever pass negativeYou do not repeat any negative information to anyone "not even your best friend in private". This is the equivalent of giving someone poison or dumping garbage in their home. The submitter who told us about this stated that "In the Moonies, I believe this informational control principle is referred to as 'the multiplication of the evils'."
d. Never, ever de-edifyYou must never say anything disrespectful or discourteous about any member of your upline regardless of their behavior . To do so would show that, perhaps, you are the problem and have an ego out of control etc.....
7. Need for obedience and dependency obedience is not explicitly stated, but subtly encouraged (a distributor to their upline; a wife to their husband, etc.); and there is also plenty of co-dependency on the uplines and others who are higher-ranked in the business for ‘guidance’.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Ghost Rider #2 (script- Daniel Way; art- Javier Saltares/Mark Texiera): The Ghost Rider has finally escaped his prison in Hell, but he has accidentally allowed the Devil and a hoary host of demons to follow him to the Earthly plane. The story opens up with Johnny Blaze on a desolate stretch of desert highway. His bike has long run out of gas. He gets picked up by a buxom lady truck driver named Dixie (if only they all looked like that), and while at a truck stop 90 miles away, guess who shows up... it’s Lucifer- who apparently has the power to inhabit the bodies of the dead-- he’s possessed a recently deceased grandfather, and has his mourning family trapped in a van at the truck stop, with gasoline overflowing from the tank.. The presence of evil lights Johnny’s fire, and he starts battling the horned one-- but he is now faced with a dilemma-- Lucifer now stands with a lit match in front of the van with his kidnapped victims inside, gasoline all over.. Double-daring GR to fight him, and risk his own flame-- or the match-- of igniting a deadly fire..
This time around, Johnny’s personality stays intact when he becomes the Ghost Rider-- apparently like the earliest comics.. The issue ends with a cameo by the Sorceror Supreme, Dr. Strange..
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
"Bring that Beat Back" is a really good remix project, overseen by Chuck D and compiled by Impossebulls’ founding member Dave ‘C-Doc’ Snyder. Except for a "Public Enemy #1", all of the original songs remixed here are cherrypicked from 1999 to the present, covering the period since Public Enemy left Def Jam and went independent for all future LP releases. C-Doc is behind the boards on several of the remixes here, including the title track, "Gotta Give the Peeps", "Put it Up", and "Watch the Door". Longtime PE associate DJ Johnny Juice Rosado remixes the Moby collaboration "MKLVFKWR"; Bone Thugs-N-Harmony producer Mauly T gives a west-coast funk feel to "Superman’s Black in the Building", with wailing synthesizers and Roger Troutman-style voice-box backup vocals. Other remixes make diversions over jazz-like sonic terrain, as well as the band’s traditional noisy-uptempo rhythm tracks. This is only one of a planned series of archival-based Public Enemy releases (Greatest Hits is in stores now), with even more to come, like "Beats & Places" and "World Tour Sessions".
Monday, August 14, 2006
A ‘one-shot’ issue from Marvel Comics; $4.99 U.S.
Many of today’s cartoon watchers will know this show from Toon Disney/Jetix, but I’m old enough to remember when Spider-Man & his Amazing Friends debuted on NBC in 1981. This was a blissfully pre-Internet, pre-mega-convention era, so there was no stir-up buzz a year before the show came out. About the only thing I noticed beforehand was a comic-book ad that showed all the planned NBC fall cartoon shows, a few months before (back then, I didn’t have access to comics on a regular basis, so even that was a treat). The show produced a total of 24 original episodes (running on NBC until ’86). No, most of the animation wasn’t groundbreaking (hey, what was in the early 80’s?), but the writing was top notch, as it captured the sometimes flirty, sometimes contentious relationship between three college-aged superheroes. At that time, I had never heard of Iceman, and my knowledge of the X-Men was fairly dim (Nightcrawler and Beast were the only X-heroes I was familiar with, for solo appearances in Spidey team-up books). Obviously, Firestar was brand-new, though, probably like a lot of kids, I assumed she was in the comic books as well. Well, she wasn’t—in fact, she didn’t make her debut in the Marvel Universe proper (616) until Uncanny X-Men #193, circa ‘84—as a pawn of then-villainess White Queen, no less. She was much younger (around Sprite’s age), and clearly not a contemporary of Iceman and most of the then-current team (What with the recent Deadly Genesis revelation, I suppose she could have been retconned into being a secret recruit that quit off-screen.. But I digress.. and sheathe your daggers, please..)
Current comics stands have Teen Titans Go!, Justice League Unlimited, and several other animation-based titles. Currently, in an era when just about any animated show is guaranteed to at least have a comic-book mini-series or an ongoing, it seems odd that Marvel would only publish a flimsy one-shot based on SMAF, and never look twice at the possible sales gold they could have had with a companion title to the show. I guess they figured there wouldn’t be any money in it (wasn’t this during Shooter’s tenure? Never mind, we won’t go there…). Over the years, there have been an assortment of team-ups of Spidey with Iceman, and Spidey with Firestar, but never with the (alternate-dimension only) legendary Spider-Friends together in one adventure. In the words of Bobby Brown, that ain’t justice!
At last, Spider-Man Family: Amazing Friends features an all-new (lost) story involving Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar. Written by Sean McKeever (with art by Pat Olliffe and others) the story doesn’t violate 616 continuity, and takes place when Spidey was already married to Mary Jane, and Iceman had just rejoined the X-Men fold after his run with X-Factor. One of the cartoon series’ made-for-TV villains, Videoman, makes his retroactive debut here. Apparently Iceman has just broken up with a girlfriend (Opal Tanaka?) and so Spidey decides to set him up with Firestar (who runs into the guys while on a break from the New Warriors). The rest of the story explores what happens after their date, and the obvious dichotomies of fire and ice. The story’s pretty lighthearted, and doesn’t make any waves continuity-wise, for time-skeptics. The backup features include a ‘mini-Marvels’ humor tale, and reprints from Spider-Man 2099 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Superman Returns movie review
Superman Returns. Okay, this is the movie that DC comics fans have been waiting for since.. Well, at least since Batman Begins in 2005. Of course, anticipation for this long-delayed project has been in effect since the mid-90’s initiative to bring the man of steel back to the big-screen. It’s taken just under 10 years at this point—so is it worth the wait?
Thursday, June 29, 2006
For anyone who may think that photo-heavy glossy fashion magazines are just about "stuff", "The Devil Wears Prada" will dispel that notion. Also, for anyone who may think that the world of haute couture is fairly cutthroat—this film will likely confirm their contention, in the extreme. Adapted for the screen from a novel by Lauren Weisberger, it’s a comedy about the road to self-discovery—and the potholes encountered along the way.
Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) plays the film’s heroine, Andrea ‘Andy’ Sachs. A recent Northwestern graduate now living in New York City, Andy dreams of a career as a hard-news journalist for a big newspaper. She also shares a modest apartment with her boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier), a chef at a local restaurant.
Unassuming and idealistic, Andy’s job search brings her to Runway Magazine, part of an international publishing conglomerate. When Andy arrives for her interview, she finds herself being openly derided by everyone around her, and is curiously concerned as Runway staffers nearly run over each other as the CEO, Miranda Priestly, makes her way to the office.
Oscar-winner Meryl Streep is sufficiently chilly as the ice queen Miranda. Brusque and demanding, she is always perfectly coifed and exquisitely dressed, and expects that everyone in Runway must be the same. Naturally, she sees Andy as a dowdy dimwit, but hires her as a personal assistant anyway—out of pity. Andy is schooled on Miranda protocols by staffers Nigel (Stanley Tucci) and Emily (Emily Blunt), but both have little faith that she will last long.
Complements are quite beneath Miranda—the most her employees can hope for is to simply not be viewed as an annoyance. So when coffee runs, picking up Miranda’s dry cleaning and walking her dog seem to have no effect on her boss’s demeanor, Andy cajoles Nigel into giving her a makeover. With a new hairdo and the latest high-end threads, Andy finally starts to fit in, mingling in high-society soirees and bringing home lavish gifts that are Miranda’s castaways. Miranda even stops addressing Andy by someone else’s name.
Andy’s self-confidence is boosted, but as she becomes more intimate with Miranda’s world—and worldview—her relationship with Nate and her neighborhood friends begins to suffer. Complicating matters is Andy’s new friendship with handsome freelance journalist Christian (Simon Baker). He’s well-traveled and well-connected, everything that Nate is not.
So, does Andy hang on to her newfound position as #1 assistant to Miranda? Does she pursue romance with the charming Christian? Will she ever get a ‘you go, girl!’ from Emily and Nigel? Viewers will have to see the film to find out. Hathaway is believable as the plucky Andy, and Streep only fleetingly lets viewers glimpse at the humanity beneath Miranda’s draconian veneer. Director David Frankel has helmed episodes of Sex in the City, and facilitates this slightly different tale of working-girl angst quite well.
Film: The Devil Wears Prada
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: David Frankel
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Public Enemy #0
words- Chuck D, Adam Wallenta
Art- Adam Wallenta
Great news people- the Enemy has arrived! in the planning stages for a few years now, Chuck D linked up with East Coast- indie creator/rap artist Adam Wallenta aka 'Illus', and his American Mule Entertainment, to develop a Public Enemy comic book series. Issue #0 is a 'preview' issue, and the plot finds a top-level exec of the National Security Agency poring over a Public Enemy dossier-- he is confused on how this 'rap group' manages to stay active while reputedly being involved in 'subversive' activities, with a network called 'the Underground Railroad'..
an NSA field agent reports his findings to his boss-- turns out, Public Enemy was present in New Orleans to deliver unsanctioned aid during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.. told in flashback, we see a shopkeeper confront a 'looter', and PE intervenes before things get ugly-- the current P.E. crew is here: Chuck D, Flavor Flav (with viking helmet & clock necklace), Professor Griff, the S1Ws (James Bomb, Pop Diesel), and DJ Lord (alas, Terminator X 'mysteriously disappeared' in 1999, but in this writer's estimation is presumably on reserve status, off the radar, raising ostriches in NC.. but don't sleep on Norm-- who knows when he might pop up to speak with his hands)..
Even as the storefront beef is squashed, a rogue vigilante group calls itself Bogarting supplies but PE lays the smackdown (we see Chuck's utility belt & gun holster.. Griff and the S1W's have knives, ninja swords and uzi's; DJ Lord has razor-edged 12" discs, Flav has a katana and an assortment of clock-shaped bombs).. The NSA boss is unamused...Meanwhile, "elsewhere", a teenage boy is apparently the subject of a bizarre experiment.. those in the room calmly observe him, remarking that they will soon have "the ultimate weapon".. "and the world will be ours"... Needless to say- TO BE CONTINUED, in Public Enemy #1, due out in July--
..a backup feature has GI JOE-styled bios of all the current bandmembers, and includes a glimpse at one of many presumably future bad guys, 'New World Order Agent'for pre-order info, go to www.americanmule.com
if you dig it, spread the word..
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Overview- Includes Spoilers for entire film:
X-Men the Last Stand looks to be the final chapter in the X-Men trilogy.
Mutants have become semi-mainstream, at least in the United States—Hank McCoy— a former X-Man code-named Beast—is Secretary for Mutant Affairs, and apparently the shape-shifting villainess Mystique has just been captured—or so it seems. Jimmy, aka ‘Leech’, is a mutant whose very presence cancels out the powers of nearby mutants, through pheromones. He has been somehow captured, his mutant-power harnessed and synthesized into a chemical ‘cure’ for mutants in society. The spearhead of this is business mogul Warren Worthington Jr., whose son, Warren III, has bird-like wings that allow him to fly. A press conference is announced regarding the cure, bringing both alarm and relief to the mutant community.
McCoy is apprised of the developments of Worthington Industries, and is sent by the President to investigate. In the meanwhile, the X-Men’s arch-foe Magneto recruits disgruntled mutants from society’s fringe and begins organizing his Brotherhood into a virtual army. Convinced this
is simply a formality in a planned extermination of mutantkind, Magneto intends to destroy Worthington Laboratories: The corporation apparently bought out Alcatraz Island to use as their headquarters, and Jimmy/Leech is housed there
But another wrinkle has developed. The X-Men’s field leader Cyclops keeps having nightmares of his deceased lover Jean Grey, who seemingly died at Alkali Lake, the abandoned military facility where Wolverine apparently received his adamantium skeleton. Acting on impulse, Cyclops heads to Alkali Lake, where the seemingly impossible happens—Jean rises from the lake, resurrected right in front of his eyes. More powerful than ever before, Jean suppresses Cyclops’ optic laser-power, normally only kept in check by his special glasses. The couple embraces and kisses each other passionately, but only at the last moment does Cyclops realize that Jean is not ‘all right’…
A psychic ‘explosion’ alerts the telepathic Professor X to the calamity, and the X-Men’s founder and moral leader sends Storm and Wolverine to investigate. At Alkali Lake, the pair finds Jean’s body amidst a maze of floating debris, but Cyclops’ eyeglasses are the only remaining proof that he was there.
Back at the mansion, tensions rise among the younger mutants and X-Men trainees. Marie, a.k.a. Rogue, still cannot touch anyone without absorbing their life-energy (and mutant powers if they have any); her boyfriend Bobby, the Iceman, finds himself getting closer to Kitty Pryde, whose ghostlike ‘phasing’ power allows her to pass through walls and other obstacles.
Magneto crashes an urban mutant rally, recruiting tattooed mutant Callisto and her ragtag band of mutants to the Brotherhood cause. Among Callisto’s talents are locating other mutants and instinctually gauging their power level. Her abilities are put to the test in finding Mystique, currently imprisoned on a military convoy. Magneto orchestrates a violent jailbreak, but it is a pyrrhic victory as Mystique ends up shot with the mutant ‘cure’ in dart-form. Reverting back to her human form—permanently—she is abandoned by Magneto, but not before he frees and recruits two other mutants also on the convoy: The self-duplicating Multiple Man, and the rampaging strongman Juggernaut.
Back at the X-Mansion, Jean is in the medical lab, attended to by Professor X. It is revealed that he placed psychic barriers on Jean’s mind while she was still a young girl, to prevent her potentially catastrophic-level telekinetic powers from overwhelming her—and others. Left alone, Wolverine visits her, and Jean’s emotional side erupts, releasing the dark ‘Phoenix’ within her, and she forcibly breaks out of the mansion. She is tracked back to her childhood home, where Magneto is already there—two new recruits in tow and looking for a third.
The two senior mutant leaders try to talk with Jean, but her powers quickly grow further out of control—in the meanwhile, Storm and Wolverine scrap with Callisto and Juggernaut. Jean’s emotions reach a fever pitch, and she ultimately atomizes Professor X while a helpless Magneto can only watch. With Wolverine and Storm subdued, Jean—now the Phoenix—leaves with Magneto by default.
Shortly thereafter, Magneto orchestrates a series of violent demonstrations at the various mutant-cure clinics that have proliferated in the wake of Worthington’s announcement. The Xavier school is reeling after Professor X’s death, facing possible closure. Storm decides against it, and vows to maintain the Professor’s ideals. Beast has resigned his post after discovering that the military already has a hand in the just-publicized cure serum. Returning to the X-Mansion, he stands with Storm and Wolverine as they confront the possibility of Magneto’s war coming to pass.
The third act begins when Magneto leads his Brotherhood army to the Worthington Laboratory on Alcatraz—he uses his powers to uproot the entire Golden Gate Bridge, displacing it to link the island to the mainland. Knowing that Magneto must be stopped, the remaining adult X-Men—including Beast—bring along junior X-Men Iceman, Colossus, and Shadowcat—Rogue has left the mansion, heading for one of the mutant-cure clinics. When the team arrives at Alcatraz, Magneto has already begun his assault on the facility, unswayed by the fact that military security are all armed with mutant-cure darts and grenades. Both sides are decimated heavily, and ultimately the X-Men oppose Magneto’s forces, fighting them to a virtual standstill. Leech is rescued by Shadowcat, but only the combined efforts of the other team members finally defeat Magneto, Beast sticking him with mutant-cure darts.
Yet, the remaining ‘x-factor’ is the Phoenix. Angrily igniting her powers again, she threatens to obliterate everything around her. The X-Men evacuate their own, but many others are caught in the Phoenix’s cataclysmic waves of destruction. The only mutant who can resist is the fast-healing Wolverine, who begs Jean to resist her vengeful alter-ego. But she’s too far gone. Ultimately, Wolverine has to engage in mercy-killing to end the telekinetic maelstrom.
Picking up some weeks later, the Xavier School for the Gifted is apparently still active—though two more gravesites have been added next to Professor X—those of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Jean Grey. Beast has returned to the diplomatic world as the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The Angel still has his wings, and longtime loner Wolverine has stayed on as a teacher at the school. Rogue apparently went through with the cure, and is able to hold hands with Bobby—skin-to-skin—for the first time. Finally, somewhere in San Francisco, an old man sits in a public park playing chess by himself. Holding his hand in front of a metal chess piece, it wobbles, just slightly…
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Ah. Looking at Tom Cruise's MI3- it’s a good-looking film, with lots of action and gadgets. I think the plot is mishandled, however. Keri Russell has a bit part as a protégé of Ethan Hunt, who ends up captured on her first field mission. Hunt and crew go to rescue her, but she ends up dying from a micro-bomb implanted up her nose. Hunt’s fiancee knows nothing about his life as a spy. Unfortunately, when the team ends up capturing arms dealer Davian, he ends up finding out information on Hunt. As it turns out, there’s a mole in the IMF organization. Evidence discovered by Keri points to boss Laurence Fishburne. Fiancee June is kidnapped by Davian’s followers, and Davian himself is freed in a daring highway escape. Ethan’s framed as the rogue agent, and breaks out of the IMF headquarters to go find the ‘rabbit’s foot’ and rescue June. His teammates are with him. They help Ethan break into the facility that has the Rabbit’s Foot, but Ethan ends up being captured. He eventually escapes custody, then runs the streets of Shanghai to find June- there, Davian is waiting for him, and Ethan now faces a handicap—a mini-bomb like the one that killed Keri has been planted in his own head. The fight with Davian is fierce, but Hunt wins. Then, he must convince his wife to give him a jerry-rigged shock treatment to disable the bomb inside him. Reluctantly, she does, then grabs his gun and shoots the last of Davian’s henchmen. June is able to revive Hunt, and then the whole team is reunited in the states.
It didn’t have the same kineticism as the previous M:I-2 movie did, which was directed by John Woo. I felt that the climax should have had more bad guys, and something should have gotten blown up at the end. Come on! I wouldn’t have minded seeing Thandie Newton return in this movie, as well. Maybe she could have been a part of the team, and they could touch on the fact that her romance with Hunt didn’t last. I wonder if June’s character will work for the IMF in the next film. And yeah, she does look like Katie Holmes a little. Coincidence?
DJ Jazzy Jeff is supposed to come out with a new studio album this year. According to the administrator of a Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince fan website, I may be ‘surprised’ when the album comes out this year. I was inquiring about Jazzy Jeff and KRS-One, and the fact that they’ve seemingly never collaborated over the years. Both artists spent several years on Jive Records, with not even a remix surfacing in public. I’d like to see them do an entire album together. "The Magnificent" is a tight album.. I'll have to check out the other records he's done for indie label BBE/Rapster.
I’m really looking forward to X-Men: The Last Stand, which comes out on May 26. Hopefully, it will open that Wednesday the 24th, so it will have an even bigger Memorial Day opening than it normally would. The basic plot is this: A ‘cure’ for the mutant condition has apparently been developed by a pharmaceutical company. The Angel’s father, Warren Worthington Sr., is a top executive there. He is spearheading the cure research to eventually take his son’s wings away. Meanwhile, there are psychic rumblings from Alkali Lake, where Jean Grey apparently died while saving the team at the end of X-Men II. It turns out, Jean has been resurrected—as (Dark) Phoenix. Magneto is appraised of the ‘solution’, and mounts what he feels is retaliation for a war being declared on mutants.
From what I see, there will be conflict between Iceman and Pyro. Multiple Man will join the Brotherhood, also Callisto will have a role. Juggernaut is on Magneto’s team as well. The X-Men squad have finally brought Shadowcat and Colossus into the mix, and then Angel seems like the next likely recruit. Also, Kelsey Grammer plays Beast! Here, he’s a former X-Men student/teacher who went on to be the Secretary of Mutant Affairs for the White House. I’m kind of ticked that Nightcrawler won’t be in this—maybe the next one (oh, he is in the new video game they’re coming out with).
So is Fox really eager to be done with X-Men as a franchise? Well, if they are, after this movie is done and put on dvd (I’m sure there will be a trilogy set as well), then Marvel may benefit from Fox washing their hands of the franchise. If Fox ends the relationship regarding X-Men characters, then Marvel is free to develop any further X-Men/mutant based projects. They would include, but not be limited to, sequels, ‘prequels’, and solo spinoffs. So far, what has been discussed is this: The next X-Men movie may focus on the younger, student mutants. In the X3 film they include Iceman, Rogue, Colossus and Shadowcat. In the next film, the mature X-Men would presumably play a limited role, if any. If that’s the case, I’d also like to see several New Mutants brought into the team: Sunspot, Cannonball, Mirage, Magma, Magik, Cypher, Wolfsbane. I’d also like to see some mutants from other eras of the X-Men: Dazzler, Thunderbird I, Psylocke, Sunfire, Bishop. Mostly I’d like to see Firestar, though she has not been a canonical X-Men member.
John Bruno is the special effects supervisor for the X-Men 3 movie. He says that many of the special effects are ‘practical’, or real effects. Still, there was CGI used for various stunts and sequences. The biggest major effects sequence involves Magneto apparently destroying a major bridge in San Francisco, as well as a sequence involving Alcatraz island. So, would I side with Magneto or Xavier? I can see merits to Magneto’s contentions. Still, I draw the line at blatant murder, so I could not tolerate following his ultra-hard-line stance.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I got an Ipod Shuffle for a Christmas present last year, but I never bothered to activate it until now. This is pretty neat. About the size of a pack of chewing gum, it’s one of the smaller Ipods, so it doesn’t hold as many songs as the standard-sized ones. Still, better not to look a gift horse in the mouth—or a gift Ipod in the headphones port or whatever applies here.
So far, what I’ve got uploaded:
Lowdown- Ground Zero. Great, funky indie hip-hop from my peeps C-Doc and Tirade.
Booker T & the MG’s- Stax Profiles. Beyond their standards, a set of sides personally chosen by Elvis Costello.
Four Brothers soundtrack- 1970’s Motown tunes selected for the John Singleton action film.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
More stupidity in the Shadow of Motown:
As many people know by now, rapper Proof, of D-12, was shot and killed at Club Triple-C on Detroit’s Northeast side. It happened Tuesday, April 11, 2006, around 4:00 a.m. Club Triple-C was an unsanctioned ‘after-hours’ nightclub- you know, the type where you have to have the ‘password’ to get through, plenty of baller/hustler types and there’s little professional security and little or no police presence—at least, no on-duty police presence. During the past couple of years, some other local rappers have been killed: Wipeout, and Blade-Icewood (of the Chedda Boyz). As recently as a few months ago, Obie Trice got tagged in the head during a highway shooting (!); there’s still a bullet lodged in his skull. At the moment, details are still sketchy as to exactly what happened that led to the shooting—early on, police were reporting that another man was killed along with proof—however, the hospital where the 2nd victim is at reports that he is in critical condition—if he ever comes to, hopefully he’ll shine some light on things—but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.
Between the ‘no-snitching’ culture and the relative ineptitude of Detroit’s Flimsiest—I mean, Detroit’s Finest—I personally doubt that the killer(s) will be brought to justice any time soon, if ever. During Super Bowl weekend, there was a fatal shooting outside a bar less than a mile away from Ford Field. Currently no real leads, unsolved. In 2004, during Detroit’s Fourth of July fireworks display, a gunman unloaded at random in the crowd— a man was arrested days later—but was set free when apparently the sole witness who saw him up close (and was shot and ended up in a coma for a week for their trouble) didn’t recognize the suspect once they woke up. Currently? No new leads, no new arrests. Just this past Friday, a six-year-old boy called 911 when his mother passed out in the home—the dispatcher felt it was a prank and was dismissive, and hung up—the mother ended up dying. A lawsuit is pending.
God bless the dead and no disrespect to Proof—but rap folk in general need to rethink their priorities and lifestyles, especially the whole thing of ‘being true to the streets’. Being true to the streets doesn’t mean you have to be on the corner playing dice with the same clowns you used to get locked up in juvie with. Being true to the streets doesn’t mean you look at a rap sheet as the ghetto equivalent of college, with the most convicted dudes/lifers having the equivalent of PHD’s (Penitentiary-Hell-Destruction) program. Granted, violent attacks can happen to ‘anybody’, but especially with rap personalities, it’s even more of a danger with any number of rap cliques seeing themselves as semi-gangbangers who ‘run the streets’ instead of colleagues. It’s even more disheartening since Detroit was one of the last major urban enclaves to finally get the national hip-hop spotlight. Regardless of how much respect you carry in general, there’s always going to be at least one lunatic, who doesn’t give a damn; liquored up, weeded out, with a strap tucked away. Ironically, Obie has a new single out, "No Snitches" featuring Akon—in fact, the pair perform the song on CSI: Miami this week. So I wonder—Obie wasn’t there at the club when this happened—but if he was—would he ‘snitch’ to bring his friend’s killer to justice? Or would he just file it under ‘street life’ and forget about it? Meanwhile, the ‘no/stop snitching’ T-shirts proliferate in the suburban shopping malls and urban storefronts.
There will no doubt be plenty of Proof "In Memory of" T-shirts printed with a swiftness and sold throughout the area-- more 'Proof' that death is quite profitable... and to ask the average mourner, they'd probably say he "kept it real".. but if asked, should the people who saw Proof's killer identify them, you'd probably get mixed reactions at best.. It’s barely been two months since Jay Dee/J-Dilla of Slum Village passed away from a rare blood disease. The Thug Wars mentality is a social disease; it’s way past time that urban culture starts to deal with it constructively as more young lives are snuffed out. So for the folks out there who will be climbing fences to see Eminem at the funeral, just something to think about..
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I think that things could have been handled better here, but I'm down with the 'Teacha' regardless.. f*** whoever crosses him..
AUDIO: KRS-One Threatening Adisa Banjoko at Stanford University