Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Citi Bike Surveillance "Hoax"

I'm not a reporter.

The guy who called from the New York Post was a reporter. His name was Matt Nestel. He questioned me for 20 minutes about my CitiBike Surveillance article and then he and his boss went outside to take a bike apart. He called back to beg for an exclusive, insisting that I agree to let him break the story. When I said not to write the story, he asked if I was trying to protect my identity like Edward Snowden from the NSA. Metro NY also reached out to me and Gothamist got in on the action with an article that did not prove my story true or false. In one day, more than 125,000 people saw this article. Thousands hit the retweet button before realizing the site they were looking at was not a legitimate news source.

I can't help but question modern reporting. Less than 50 years ago there was one nightly report that covered all of that day's stories. Today the 24-hour news cycle has people glued to their technology looking for the latest. Everything is breaking news. Go ahead, check. Flip on any news channel right now and there will be a bright red flashing ticker on the bottom of the screen with some crap that doesn't have any impact on your life.

This article was satire, along the same lines as the Onion and the Chive. Nobody minds when they put out an article like this because they are known to be fake news. If anyone bothered to look at any of my other posts they would've seen I'm a comedian. I didn't attempt to hide that.

...but I'm not just a comedian. I'm a New Yorker and I share many of the privacy concerns people expressed after reading this article. It's scary to think how easy it would be for the City of New York to unroll this type of surveillance program. Although Citi Bike is annoying to pedestrians and taxis, it is not the real problem. The real problem is we have a mayor who wants to control everything and a mayoral candidate who can't stop texting pictures of his genitals.

People said my article was not funny. I agree. It wasn't meant to be funny. It's scary. The NSA is monitoring my every move and Google is showing me ads for dildos because I recently bought a vibrating massage chair. The people in charge don't give a damn about the 99% and the peasants are not shocked that there might be a secret spy program.

Are there two secret, hidden, mini spy cameras on all the bikes? Maybe. There are definitely tracking devices of some kind. Some guy commented that he assembled the bikes and didn't see anything that looked like a camera. Maybe they put the cameras in on his day off. Or maybe instead of looking at the bikes you should all look inside yourselves. Stop looking at the internet and start look at your families. Look for a deeper meaning that you won't find on any news channel.

... go for a nice, long bike ride.

- John Powers

© 2013 - All rights reserved

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Empire State of Meh (Empire State of Mind parody)

Empire State of Mind is one of the greatest songs ever written about New York City and arguably an anthem for our generation. Since New York is the greatest city in the world it's only fitting that the greatest artists of our time would pay homage to the Big Apple. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are both at the top of their game and this song is an epic tribute that glorifies all the best aspects of NYC.

... but they didn't touch on the downsides. When you are as wealthy as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, New York City is a great place to be. If you are a struggling artist, a small-time stock broker, or a hipster hanging out in Zuccotti Park for Occupy... the City can be a tough place to get by. There are rats and homeless people on every corner, Mayor Bloomberg wants to control your soda portions and your breast milk, and the rent is too damn high.

This was an ambitious project to take on. A good friend of mine told me, "Don't touch it... but if you're going to do it, do it right." After he saw the finished product he admitted that I did it right.

Each of the five boroughs are mentioned in this parody (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx) as well as a few of our major sports teams (the Mets, Yankees and Giants). This parody talks about what life is like in New York City for the majority of us trying to make it... and no song about the Tri-State area would be complete without a Snooki reference.

I tried to make the music video as close as possible to the original. Jay-Z does a lot of strange hand movements and both he and Alicia switch outfits several times. Watch his first... then watch mine.

Take a look. Let me know what you think.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Nothing as Good as it Was

batman-1989-the-joker-heath-ledger-dark-knight-remake-christian-baleThe reason why everyone is currently making remakes (Superman, Ninja Turtles, Spider Man, Willy Wonka, Transformers, Batman...) is that people have run out of original ideas. We live in the digital age and we can access some of the greatest stories ever told. Batman chasing the Joker never gets old. It just gets a facelift. It gets new actors, better wardrobe, and fancier special effects. There is something to be said for exposing a new generation to these characters. It will never be the same as when we were young... but at least it's still similar. We are not the target market. It's for our kids. We are supposed to recognize the characters and expose our kids to it... even though it's not as good as the original. It's new. It's popular. It's good enough.

spiderman-world-trade-center-wtc-reflection-amazing-goggles-2-remakeI'm watching Norm MacDonald's new podcast show on youtube and it's freakin' terrible. He's sitting with Kevin Nealon and I'm expecting it to be as funny as Saturday Night Live was in 1992... but it's just garbage. These are two of my all-time favorite comedians. The entire reason I'm watching is because I used to think those guys were hilarious on Weekend Update. Now they are two old guys talking about golf scores and reminiscing about the good old days. It's sad but it makes me think... there must be a reason they were fantastic 20 years ago but not anymore. It might be because they are older now. Maybe they have lost their edge. Maybe they are out of touch.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-april-80s-90s-new-remake-splinter... but it's also because I'm older now. Every new experience is compared to over 30 years of other experiences. I'm no longer the target market. Nothing will ever impress me again. The industry knows that and they are not trying to pitch new ideas to me. I'm set in my ways. They need the blood of the young, so they're targeting kids presently in high school and college.

Between the ages of 15-25 humans are learning and growing. We are taking in new information and there's nothing to compare it to so it blows our mind.The first time I heard Nirvana I was like, "holy shit, this is incredible." Twenty years later I'm a better guitarist than Kurt Cobain ever was. He was an incredible entertainer and his angst was real... but he wasn't a great musician. There is potential for much better music to be made.

willy-wonka-charlie-chocolate-gene-wilder-johnny-depp-burton-remake... yet none of today's bands sound as good to me in comparison. The latest Foo Fighters is not half as good as their first two albums. It's not because Dave Grohl has become a bad musician. It's because I am no longer open to new things. It's the reason my generation's parents are still into the Beatles and the Rolling Stones... whatever you are into during your pivotal development years ends up being the soundtrack of your life. Once every 6 months or so I'll hear a song that is decent, not great, but decent. I'll download the latest Alice in Chains or Red Hot Chili Peppers record... but they're really just not the same. I shouldn't expect it to be. Layne Staley is dead and John Frusciante is pursuing a solo career. It's just not what it used to be. There will never be another album as good as "Dirt" or "Blood Sugar Sex Magik."

Even Saturday Night Live isn't as funny as it used to be. I can't even watch it. I interned there back in 2001 and wondered why Fred Armison was even allowed in the building. He's funny looking but even that isn't enough to make me laugh. The kids on the show now are just terrible. Part of me thinks, "Ah, Lorne lost his touch," but it's more than just that. I grew up with Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, and Phil Hartman. They were masters of their craft and nothing can compare. The cast on the show now can't even improv. The writers seem completely out of touch with reality. They are not even funny people.

transformers-80s-cartoon-animated-remake-movie-2-3-cgThen I stop and think. It's a matter of changing perspective. People 10 or 15 years older than me probably said the same thing 10 or 15 years ago. They probably thought Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell were crap. They said, "ah, they're no Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray or Chevy Chase that's for sure!"

They probably thought the Stone Temple Pilots were terrible and yearned for the days of Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead... or Metallica and Guns and Roses depending on what year you graduated from high school. Either way it's about what you were exposed to when you were open to new things and looking for something in the world to relate to. There will be 50-somethings in 20 years singing Baby Got Back and Black Hole Sun.

At least we can all agree the new Transformer movies sucked.

- John Powers

© 2013 - All rights reserved

Monday, July 22, 2013

Willy Wonka Poetry References

Gene Wilder was one of the greatest comedic actors of all time. At the age of 80, he made a rare public appearance in NYC to say that the remake of Wonka was "an insult." Kudos. What many people don't realize is that many of Wonka lines are lifted from famous literary sources. 
I'd like to explore the originals.


"Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men."
(...the strange knife-pedler)
Take from William Allingham's,
"The Fairies"

Up the airy mountain,

Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping altogether;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owls' feather!
Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

"99...44... 100 percent pure"
(...the factory door combination)
Taken from the title of Ogden Nash's,
"Home, 99 44/100% Sweet Home"

Home is heaven and orgies are vile,
But I like an orgy, once in a while.

"You should never, never doubt 
what nobody is sure about"
( the shrinking hallway)
...from Hilaire Belloc's
"The Microbe"

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all,
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen--
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so...

Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

"Is it my soul that calls me by my name?"
(spoken in the "Fun-house" room)
...was originally used in the epic play,
Shakespeare's, "Romeo and Juliet"

Romeo: It is my soul that calls upon my name:
How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night,
Like softest music to attending ears!

"The suspense is terrible, I hope it will last"
(...whilst Augustus is stuck in the tube)
...from Oscar Wilde's,
"The importance of Being Earnest"

Cecily: Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.
Chasuble: Your guardian has a very emotional nature.
Lady Bracknell: This noise is extremely unpleasant. 
It sounds as if he was having an argument. 
I dislike arguments of any kind. 
They are always vulgar, 
and often convincing.
Chasuble: [Looking up.] It has stopped now. 
[The noise is redoubled.]
Lady Bracknell: I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.
Gwendolen: This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. 

"All I ask is a tall ship 
and a star to sail her by"
(uttered just before the wild boat ride)
...was from John Masefield's 
poem, "Sea Fever." 

I must go down to the seas again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky, 
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, 
and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, 
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, 
and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, 
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, 
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over. 

"Round the world and home again,
that's the sailor's way!"
(...on the creepy boat)
...was from William Allingham's,
"Homeward Bound"

Head the ship for England! 
Shake out every sail!
Blithe leap the billows,
Merry sings the gale.
Captain, work the reckoning;
How many knots a day? -
Round the world and home again,
That's the sailor's way!

We've traded with the Yankees, 
Brazilians and Chinese;
We've laughed with dusky beauties
In the shade of tall palm trees;
Across the line and Gulf-Stream
Round by Table Bay -
Everywhere and home again,
That's the sailor's way!
Nightly stands the North Star 
Higher on our bow;
Straight we run for England;
Our thoughts are in it now.
Jolly time with friends on shore
When we've drawn our pay; -
All about and home again,
That's the sailor's way!
Tom will to his parents; 
Jack will to his dear;
Joe to wife and children;
Bob to pipes and beer;
Dicky to the dancing-room,
to hear the fiddles play; -
Round the world and home again,
That's the sailor's way! 

"A small step for mankind, 
but a giant step for us"
(...getting off the boat)
Quoting Neil Armstrong's
moon landing statement.

One small step for man,
one giant leap for mankind.

"In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
birds sing hey ding... a ding, a ding,
sweet lovers love the springtime"
( Inventing Room)
...from Shakespeare's,
"As You Like It"

With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, Hey ding a ding, ding.
Sweet lovers love the spring.
This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey hey-nonny-no,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, Hey ding a ding, ding.
Sweet lovers love the spring.
And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey hey-nonny-no,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, Hey ding a ding, ding.
Sweet lovers love the spring.

"Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker"
(...when ingredients "butterscotch"
and "buttergin" are in question)
...from Ogden Nash's,
"Reflections on Ice Breaking"

Candy is dandy,
but liquor is quicker.

Candy is dandy,
but pot is not. 

* the "pot is not" was added in 1968

"Button, button, who's got the button?"
(Attempting to start the gum-meal machine)
...from Verna Meads Surer's children's song.

 But-ton, but-ton, who has the but-ton? 
Oh, where can it be?
I have to find it, I have to find it, If I could on-ly
John-ny holds his hands so tight, Ma-ry will not tell,
Jim-my looks as though he might, 
They're hid-ing it so well
But-ton, but-ton, who has the but-ton? 
Oh, where can it be?

"Where is fancy bred,
in the heart or in the head?
(...after Violet rolls away)
...from Shakespeare's,
"Merchant of Venice"

Verse 1
Tell me where is fancy bred, {he}
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd? [nour-ish-ed]
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes, {she}
With gazing fed;
and fancy dies, and fancy dies {together}
In the cradle where it lies.

Let us all ring fancy’s knell; {he}
I’ll begin it, --ding, dong, bell.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it, --ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell. {together}

(Harp /Strings Interlude)

Verse 2
Tell me where is fancy bred, {she}
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes, {he}
With gazing fed; (fancy dies) {she}
and fancy dies, and fancy dies {together}
In the cradle where it lies.

Chorus 2
Let us all ring (let us all ring) {he & she alternating}
fancy’s knell; (ring fancy’s knell) 
I’ll begin it, --ding, dong, bell.
Let us all ring (let us all ring) fancy’s knell; 
(ring fancy’s knell)
I’ll begin it, --ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell.

Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding, dong, bell.

"We are the music-makers,
and the dreamers of dreams"
(Wonka's response Veruca's Snozzberry)
...from Arthur O'Shaughnessy's, "Ode"

We are the music makers, 
And we are the dreamer of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties,
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

A breath of our inspiration,
Is the life of each generation.
A wondrous thing of our dreaming,
Unearthly, impossible seeming-
The soldier, the king, and the peasant
Are working together in one,
Till our dream shall become their present,
And their work in the world be done.
They had no vision amazing
Of the goodly house they are raising.
They had no divine foreshowing
Of the land to which they are going:
But on one man's soul it hath broke,
A light that doth not depart
And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
Wrought flame in another man's heart.
And therefore today is thrilling,
With a past day's late fulfilling.
And the multitudes are enlisted
In the faith that their fathers resisted,
And, scorning the dream of tomorrow,
Are bringing to pass, as they may,
In the world, for it's joy or it's sorrow,
The dream that was scorned yesterday.
But we, with our dreaming and singing,
Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
The glory about us clinging
Of the glorious futures we see,
Our souls with high music ringing;
O men! It must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.
For we are afar with the dawning
And the suns that are not yet high,
And out of the infinite morning
Intrepid you hear us cry-
How, spite of your human scorning,
Once more God's future draws nigh,
And already goes forth the warning
That ye of the past must die.
Great hail! we cry to the corners
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers,
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamt not before;
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

"Bubbles, bubbles everywhere,
but not a drop to drink...
(Introducing "Fizzy-lifting drinks")
...from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's,
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink. 
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever"
(referring to the Wonkamobile)
...was from John Keates' poem,
"Endymion: A Poetic Romance"

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o'ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.

Therefore, 'tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city's din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I'll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end!
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow"
( Mrs. Teevee is carried away)
...also from Shakespeare's,
"Romeo and Juliet"

Good Night, Good night! P
arting is such sweet sorrow,
that I shall say good night till it be morrow. 

"So shines a good deed
in a weary world"
(...after Charlie leaves the
Gobstopper on his desk)
...also from Shakespeare's,
"Merchant of Venice"

That light we see is burning in my hall.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

When the moon shone, we did not see the candle.

So doth the greater glory dim the less:
A substitute shines brightly as a king
Unto the king be by, and then his state
Empties itself, as doth an inland brook
Into the main of waters. Music! hark!

It is your music, madam, of the house.

Nothing is good, I see, without respect:
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.

Silence bestows that virtue on it, madam.

The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark,
When neither is attended, and I think
The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
When every goose is cackling, would be thought
No better a musician than the wren.
How many things by season season'd are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion
And would not be awaked.

...that does it.
A complete guide to
Willy Wonka quotes and
their original contexts.


Please let me know if I forgot any!

© 2013 - All rights reserved

Friday, July 12, 2013

Citi Bike - The Latest NYC Surveillance

By John Powers

Citi Bike Mini Spy Cameras Secret Hidden Surveillance
The latest in NYC surveillance is revealed

It comes as no surprise that Citi Bike is watching you and everything around your bike via hidden spy cameras.

After narrowly avoiding being hit by a taxi cab the bike I was riding fell and the "Citi Bike" facade on the front shattered. Underneath were two tiny video cameras. One camera appears to point up at the rider while the second faces outward and grabs continuous video of everything the bike passes. The cameras are very small and appear to be made by Sony (see image). They are similar in appearance to those used on hidden camera TV shows, but this is the first time that live streaming motion video surveillance has been used in a major metropolitan city. This extensive program is another way that New York City is keeping track of its residents and events.

This mini hidden surveillance camera has a point of view angle of every corner of Manhattan at nearly any time of day. When reached for comment, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted as saying, "You wait, in five years the technology is getting better. There will be cameras everyplace whether you like it or not." Mayor Bloomberg has come under fire in recent years for being the driving force behind the ban of cigarettes in public spaces, the attempted soda ban, and the controversial drone program currently being implemented in New York City by the NYPD. 

Citi Bike Hidden Mini Spy Cameras
A look at Citi Bike features, including "Spy Cameras"
Citizens are told not to worry about these cameras. Their purpose is not to spy on people or to make petty arrests for marijuana usage. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly released this statement on the Citi Bike surveillance cameras:
"They (the cameras) will not hurt you or get you in any trouble of any kind. The only people who should worry are the ones on the corner dealing drugs and committing crimes. The vigilance of New York City is unmatched and the technology that it takes to bring criminals to justice has just caught up."

Regardless of intent, people have a right to know that these cameras exist and are being used to capture everything the bike passes and record images of every person who sits on a Citi Bike. With this in mind, I have decided to go back to my old Trek bike. It might get stolen, but at least I'm the only one who rides it.

- John Powers

© 2013 - All rights reserved