Kony 2012 And The Explosion In Social Media

March 9, 2012

Imagine you come upon a child under 10 years old who, along with his friends, is in obvious distress. Now imagine, when you ask that child what you can do to help him, he turns to you and says, with all seriousness, “It is better if you can kill us…”

What in the name of all that is holy could cause a child that young so much stress and fear in his life, that given a choice, he would have you kill him as an act of kindness?

Meet Jacob, the unsuspecting star of Youtube’s most viral video to date (It’s closing in on 50 million views).

Side one:

Through the new social medias (blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc.) intercommunication between people representing all nationalities, races, religions etc. has opened up possibilities limited only by our imaginations. The imagination of a young man named Jason Russell has initiated what may be the most ambitious yet potentially controversial experiment involving this emerging application of technology. The goal? To bring down the man who, according to the International Criminal Court in The Hague tops their list of the world’s worst criminals. His name: Joseph Kony. His crime? Abducting thousands of children and forcing them to become soldiers in his rebel army.

For over 20 years, children in central Africa like Jacob have lived in fear of being captured by the Kony’s rebel army. The second goal is to reunite thousands of young children with their parents. The deadline? THIS YEAR. And, although it might sound crazy, they might just pull it off.

The organization behind the video you ware about to see (and who is organizing the project) is called Invisible Children. On the video, in addition to telling Jacob’s dramatic story, they demonstrate how the use of social technologies (like Facebook) can be used to bring an end to  the LRA (“Lord’s Resistance Army”) and Kony’s reign as one of the most sinister human beings to ever disgrace humanity.

Again, I really urge you to make time to watch this video (link is below). And then, although this goes against my usual stand on e-mails, PLEASE forward this to as many of YOUR friends and colleagues you feel comfortable with.

Side 2:

Any undertaking of this type is bound to bring out detractors and naysayers, And Invisible Children is not without their critics. And while it’s good to “vet” any organization, those involving the welfare of the world’s children should be especially monitored.

There have been allegations ranging from dubious finances to questionable marketing tactics.

But as someone who has worked in a non-profit organization in the area of Child Advocacy, I can tell you that kind of smear effort is standard operating procedure, usually initiated by other organizations’ jealousy of your accomplishments and often championed by a young staff writer looking to advance his or her career. at a newspaper or magazine. My advice is to do your own due diligence and decide for yourself.

That said, regardless of how “Kony: 2012” winds up, it has clearly established yet another example of how powerful the new world of social media networking truly is. Incidentally, the video was recommended to me by our good friend singer Dave Carroll who, himself, demonstrated the power of social media networking several years ago when his United Breaks Guitars (UBG) trilogy of songs helped to define a new era in tools for both consumers and corporations in the area of customer service.

Incidentally, the resulting effect of UBG has directly led to Dave’s involvement in a new web site to help address customer’s gripes and complaints over consumer issues, called GripeVine.

But what of the public’s involvement with the Kony 2012 movement? Some of you know of my time spent working with John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) when his son Adam was abducted and murdered. I spent several years working with him both in Florida and in Boston, helping him to use technology to track, compare and develop Child Protection Legislation on a national basis.

We’ve come light years since then, but my guess is that if you watch this video and then choose to get involved in ANY level, simple or complex, I’m confident you will enjoy a feeling of having been an integral part of something very important and, quite possibly, HISTORICAL in accomplishment. You will understand the feeling of accomplishment that I felt, but in this case, it will be magnified many times over, especially if the goal of capturing Joseph Kony is realized.

Michael Jackson was right, folks. “We ARE the world.” We have the technology. The question is, “Do we have the humanity?”

I’m betting we do.

Gerry Ashley

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Do You Have The Courage To Watch This Movie?

October 27, 2011

I’m going to guess that 90% will claim you do, but then do nothing. Sorry, folks, but that’s who we are, and I hope by challenging you, you will prove me wrong. Let me explain:

Take a look around you. Are you happy with where our society has gone?  Does it bother you to see the amount of violence our society seems to accept as “normal?” Are you uncomfortable seeing children grow up with virtually no concept of right and wrong?  Does it trouble you that young adults seem to make up their own rules as they go along, eschewing the accepted values of society?

It should worry you.

But what should worry you even more is the realization that we are now reaping what we have sown for several generations spawned from those wonderful days of “the sexual revolution” of the 60s. Since then, we have (as a society) sub-contracted the job of raising our children (and, therefore, instilling values) to day care centers, school systems, and the government who now feels it’s their right to establish goals for sex education for our young.

Be mad. But be mad at ourselves.  As a society, all too often we have abandoned our posts as parents. We’ve passed on the one opportunity we get as parents to teach our children. And we are guilty of letting our children be subjugated by a society that has few or no values to offer. The problem we have created is threatening our society, dragging it into a cesspool of neglect and, in many cases, indifference. We have reached a point where young, single mothers with few morals see their babies as a hindrance to their dating and partying.  And all too often, it’s the children who pay a tragic price. But the problem really stems from those who father the children, then simply move on. Therein lies the focus of a movie that may be the most important film you may never have heard of.

Read the rest of this entry »


Prescription For Middle East: Take Two Dennis Millers and Call Me In The Morning

September 26, 2011

One of the reasons I’ve been absent from Grand Rants lately is that I’ve been recovering at home from a recent double by-pass operation. During this time, I’ve been following the news, trying to stay current.  The focus of my attention has been the economy (which, under the watchful eye of Ben Bernanke and the Obama administration, continues  to spiral further and further towards “the debt of no return“) as well as the building crisis in the Middle East (where the “Arab Spring” is rapidly turning into “the Winter of Israel’s discontent“).

It appears to me that no-one on the left has the courage to face the gravity of either of these two major issues (and I’m hard-pressed to find many Republicans who are capable of handling them, either). The main culprit? Political Correctness.

We at Grand Rants have been hammering at the idiocy of Political Correctness (which seems to be one of the major platforms of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration) for some time now. The mantra of the lunatic left seems to be:

“God help those who actually speak common sense and logic. It’s a far better thing we do to make sure nobody’s feelings are hurt.”

Well, it didn’t take an operation where my heart was stopped for 4+ hours to make me realize that life is too precious and time is too short to waste it on being politically correct while civilization collapses around us.

However, other than a few Republicans (far fewer than are currently running for the nomination), there just doesn’t seem to be a voice of sanity speaking loud enough to make sense of it all. Most of the current candidates for the GOP Presidential Nomination merely want to replace the far left ideology with the far right equivalent, which is not what the vast majority of Americans seek. We want solutions, not party line conformity.

Rep Allen West (R) FL

Personally, I am a huge fan of retired Army Colonel and current US Rep. Allen West (R-FL)  who eschews political correctness as much as I, but has far more  experience on the global, political, and military stages and has a masterful grasp of relevant history. Sadly, he has no interest in running for President (for which we are all made poorer). Two of the best videos defining this man’s broad depth of comprehension of Islam and refusal to put up with politically correct crap can be viewed here and here. I promise you, they are well worth your viewing!

But who else in this sea of sludge can cut through the bull-crap and tell it like it is, and do so in a manner that forsakes political correctness for the benefit of reality? Perhaps, more to the point: since the only way to reach the masses these days is if you package such information in an entertaining way,  would it be possible to find a person capable of doing so in a way that both informs and entertains?

I think I’ve got just the fellow who can put perspective on this in a way that both educates and entertains:

Recorded shortly after the mid-term elections last year, comedian Dennis Miller sums up many of my feelings succinctly.

(Warning to other recent bypass patients: Watching the following video may cause serious laughter that could threaten the integrity of your incisions and possibly re-separate your sternum. But hey… it’s worth the risk.)

You know… maybe the right GOP ticket in 2012 would be Allen West for President with Dennis Miller as his Veep. Just think about the logic: We’d be replacing a complete and utter failure of a President (who is African American) with a brilliant, no-nonsense, experienced, world savvy straight-talking American (who happens to be black) who has the ability to not only command the respect of all Americans, but world leaders as well. As a bonus, you’d have a vice-president who is intentionally funny replacing a the incumbent who is little more than a sad joke.

Lurking around the big screen at home for awhile,

Gerry Ashley

Breaking news: A respected Pakistan-born Islamic scholar who gained recognition outside the Muslim world last year by publishing a detailed fatwa (religious ruling) against terrorism and suicide bombings, led a rally in London on Saturday to fight Islamic extremism and promote a moderate, inclusive version of Islam. The event, led by scholar, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, was held at Wembley Arena and was attended by thousands, including families with young children and students.

Tahir-ul-Qadri’s message to the crowd: “I want to address those who are lost, who have a total misconception of jihad — I want to send them a message — come back to normal life. Whatever you’re doing is totally against Islam.”

Well, like they say about discovering 1,000 dead terrorists, “It’s a start…”

Read the full story here:

Everyday Heroes: Paying Homage To 1st Responders

October 4, 2010

This past week,  Congress passed (and President Obama signed) H.R. 3978 which is also known as the “First Responder Anti-Terrorism Training Resources Act.” It is essentially, “… An act to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to accept and use gifts for otherwise authorized activities of the Center for Domestic Preparedness that are related to preparedness for a response to terrorism, and for other purposes.” Source: govtrack.us

The new law expands the ability for first responders to train under more realistic conditions so that in the event of such an attack, they are better prepared to successfully provide critical care at a time when desperately needed.

However, mention the term “First Responder” to many people and you might just be surprised at the look of confusion in their eyes. It’s not a term we use every day. And, sadly, it seems that the only time we pay much attention to first responders is when a tragedy befalls one (or more) of them. Our friend, Canadian Singer/Songwriter Dave Carroll (of United Breaks Guitars fame) has set out to change all that in a big way. More on that in a moment. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page:

Who are “First Responders?”

They are the men and women of our local communities who put their lives on the line for each of us on a daily basis by responding to emergency (911) calls. They are Firemen, Police, EMTs and others who have promised each of us that no matter what the emergency, they will be there for us. And it’s a promise they keep every day of their (and our) lives.

Dave Carroll knows a lot about this from first-hand experience. He’s been a volunteer fireman in his home town of Waverly, Nova Scotia while building his musical career. His brother Don (who shares singing roles with Dave in the band, “Sons of Maxwell“) is a full-time fireman in that same town.

Over the past two years, I’ve written several articles about tragedies that have taken the lives of a number of these hometown heroes. Fortunately, these are not every day occurrences. However, the emergencies in our communities that expose first responders to the danger of accidents, fires, violence, disease (and now, sadly, terrorism) happen on a daily basis. While writing this article, there have been several separate occurrences of sirens screaming past my home. The first was a police car and, later another police car followed by a firetruck and ambulance. None of these first responders know what awaits them, yet they respond without hesitation when needed.

It’s important that we never allow ourselves to forget how fortunate we are that whenever someone is in peril, there are men and women who are our friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters professionally trained in emergency procedures  keeping that promise to “be there” when needed.

Even though the heroes are the first responders, YOU and I play an important role as well: Whenever you’re driving, if you see an ambulance, fire truck or police car with emergency lights flashing in the rear-view mirror, pull over as soon as possible to let them pass. Someone’s life is in the balance and, most likely, seconds count.

Dave Carroll has written and recorded a new song in tribute to First Responders. Appropriately entitled, “Everyday Heroes,” it’s sponsored by Intrado Inc., in Longmart Colorado. For over 30 years, Intrado has been a pioneer in the development of enhanced 911 services used throughout the United States and, now, Canada.  While the song speaks for itself with Dave’s usual musical excellence, the story of how Intrado got involved with him is a fascinating one, best told by Dave himself.

So in another Grand Rants First, here’s Dave Carroll to introduce his tribute, “Everyday Heroes”:

And here’s the video:

Dave’s project to help spread awareness and to pay homage to First Responders is just beginning. Stay tuned for more on this as it develops throughout the US and Canada.

Gerry Ashley


Doobie Brothers: Listening To The Music Gets Even Better With Time

September 26, 2010

Note: If you are reading this on or before Monday, September 27th, 2010,  Cisco TelePresence will be presenting The Doobie Brothers live as part of the release of their new CD on Monday at 3:30PM (Pacific Time).   Cisco will be using their TelePresence technology enabling you to interact over the web with The Doobie Brothers as they perform selections from their new release, “World Gone Crazy.” To watch the live event via the web, go to: http://www.ustream.tv/ciscotv.

On Tuesday (9/28), The Doobie Brothers will release “World Gone Crazy” which is their first studio album in 10 years. On the surface, one might think,  “Ho-Hum, another aging band milking it… next!”  But a lot of people in the entertainment world are standing up and taking notice:

  • Industry  publications are covering this as a major event.
  • Billboard magazine is featuring them on the cover of their September 25th issue.
  • Last week, they were featured in a live broadcast on Rockline.com.
  • The “buzz” in the industry is that this CD is one of the major releases of the year.

L to R: John McFee, Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, Mike Hossack (Source:Doobiebros.com)

One might ask,“Why the big deal?”  I mean, the Doobies were a successful rock group “back in the day” (the ‘70s and early 80s) that had a few big hits and that’s about it, right? Guess again.

That’s what those who didn’t take the time to dig into their albums might have thought. If they did a bit of research, however, they’d have found the genesis of the group consisted of fine musicians and writers whose talent surpassed many of their contemporaries. On the other hand, like so many other groups in that era, you didn’t have to look far to see talent that was also squandered from the excesses that were the trappings of the rock and roll lifestyle.  As drummer Keith Knudsen himself told me when I interviewed him in 2003,  it really WAS about Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll… in that order.  It’s not surprising that they broke up in 1982. What’s amazing is that they didn’t break up sooner.

That could very well have been the end of the Doobie’s story. But then, post rock fame, a funny thing happened: They got their heads on straight, raised families and simply matured as people.  In 1986, they reunited for what was to be a fundraiser for a fledgling organization called The Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation (now expanded and known as the National Veterans Foundation.

It was Knudsen (who, sadly, died in 2005) that contacted nearly every musician who had been a member of the Doobies during their run from 1970-1982 to see who would be interested in getting together for this 1-time reunion. To his surprise (and joy), every member who had spent time as a member of the band wanted to be part of the concert.

They booked the Hollywood Bowl and the tickets to the reunion show sold out faster than any other concert before, including the Beatles final performance there. There were about 15 musicians on stage during the show, all former members of the band at one time or another.

The concert was so well received that  core members Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, and Mike Hossack decided to get back together and, along with John McFee have been together ever since. Knudsen was committed to another band at the time, but would rejoin the group several years later. He was credited for the reunion, and with unanimous support from the band, continued to support the National Veteran’s Foundation over the years, donating well over a million dollars to the non-profit organization.

Upon Knudsen’s death in 2005, the group’s manager, Bruce Cohn (who owns a winery in Northern California) announced that all profits for the first five years sales of his line of award winning wine called “Doobie Red” would go to the foundation in memory of Keith.

Over the years, the Doobies have sold well over 30 million CDs and continue to sell their catalog to new, young fans who have only recently discovered the band. For the new release, the Doobies have returned to their original producer Ted Templeman who produced their earliest work and hits.  In fact, the first single from “World Gone Crazy”called “Nobody” (which is already in rotation on many stations) is an updated version of a song from their first album.

With their dedication towards top instrumental and vocal performance, they truly do sound better than they did 30 years ago. The following video is the first single from the CD to be released Tuesday showing the Doobie Brothers in the studio, intermingled with film clips of their 40 year career.

If you miss the live release on the Internet, but would like evidence of their talent live, there are numerous concert videos on youtube, but one of the finest samples you’ll see is of this rendition of the classic hit, “Taking It To The Street” with an intro that takes the audience by surprise. The below video is from the DVD “Live At Wolftrap” and features Bass Player Skylark who is currently recovering from a stroke. All of us at Grand Rants wish him a quick and complete recovery. The video also features the late Keith Knudsen on drums. His spirit, talent and activism is sorely missed. The DVD is available through Amazon.com.

In the end, most rock groups make their money, do their drugs, and eventually crash and burn out.  Once in a while, however, a group comes along that somehow “gets it” and transforms themselves from “merely a rock band” to full-fledged entertainers who respect their audience and themselves enough to dedicate themselves to their craft. After 40 years, and within their own realm, the Doobie Brothers have, in my opinion, established themselves firmly in the latter category.

To learn how to participate in the live launch of the CD and to read more on their 40 year career (as well as check on tour dates), follow this link to their web site, and join the millions who still love to Listen To The Music of The Doobie Brothers as they head into their 5th decade.

Gerry Ashley


James Taylor And Carole King – A Troubadour Reunion, 40 Years In The Making

June 26, 2010

The dictionary defines a troubadour as  “one who composes or sings verses or ballads.”

History has been littered with them. Some better than others.  But to dismiss  James Taylor or Carole King as merely troubadours would be like saying a Ferrari is merely a car… a Lear Jet is merely an airplane.

Few recording artists have sold more records. Even fewer songwriters have had a greater impact on the lives of the boomer generation.

Carole King had already been established for a decade  before James Taylor hit the scene. Together with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, King was responsible for many of the Top 20 hits of the Pre-Beatles era, including songs for  Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), and her first hit composition (at the tender age of 18), “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) by The Shirelles.

As the 60s progressed, so did  her songs, which were recorded by such groups as The Beatles, The Monkees, Blood Sweat & Tears, Dusty Springfield, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and others.  In fact, from 1955 through 1999, King penned or co-wrote 118 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 100, making her the most successful female songwriter of that era.

By the late 60s, however, musical styles were changing.  King divorced Goffin and went out on her own.  By 1971, she had updated her songwriting to reflect the changing times and recorded the landmark albumn, “Tapestry” which remained number 1 on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks. It also remained on the charts for 6 full years making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

The album spawned a number of hits for her (“It’s Too Late,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “So Far Away”). But the song that was supposed to be her first single was delayed by King so a young singer she had met could release his own rendition first. The singer: James Taylor. The song became one of his trademark tunes: “You’ve Got A Friend.”

This began a bond of friendship that has lasted over 40 years. Taylor, of course, has been a prolific songwriter on his own, writing from (by his own admission) a self-centered position. But it’s his introspective angst that has yielded his most lasting songs. From the tormented “Fire and Rain” to the biorhythmic high of “Whenever I See Your Smiling Face,” it turns out that many of us shared the same angst and the same highs. His music chronicled our lives as did King’s.

Over the years, the paths of Taylor and King have crossed musically and socially.  Two and a half years ago, the two agreed to do a concert together to mark the 50th anniversary of Hollywood’s Troubadour night club where (as Taylor puts it)  they “had played repeatedly, evidently.”

The two were accompanied by Taylor’s original backup musicians, Lee Sklar (Bass Guitar), Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (Guitar) and Russ Kunkle (Drums):


When all was said and done, Taylor and King enjoyed themselves so much, they decided it was time to tour together. And it’s turning out to be one of the most successful tours of the year.  Several charities are benefitting tremendously from the tour as well. According to Ally Schweitzer of The Washington Post, Taylor and King have announced they have raised $1.5 Million  for The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies as well as other groups.

James Taylor and Carole King are currently touring the United States. It’s an evening to remember.  Literally. You will remember where you were and who you were with through all the sounds and music these two icons have provided for over 4 decades.  This is an opportunity that may not come again.  A great concert by two great music icons, with a portion of the ticket prices going to charities we can all feel good about. That makes it a win-win-win, in my book.  You can check the tourdates and cities at www.jamestaylor.com or www.caroleking.com (remember she spells her name with an “e” at the end).

For those of you who can’t wait to see them or can’t get to a city where they are performing, you can purchase a CD and/or a DVD of the acclaimed “Troubadour Reunion Concert” through either web site. Also, PBS is airing the concert throughout the month of June. Check your local listings for dates and times of the broadcast.

Gerry Ashley

Photos: Screen shots from the concert DVD “Live At The Troubadour” (see above for ordering information)


Jimmy Dean: Far More Than Just A Country Gentleman

June 15, 2010


I’m at that awkward age where I’m able to remember what a great country America has been and how the freedom we have here enables anyone to rise from abject poverty to a millionaire if he/she has the right work ethic and the right values. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so to see what political correctness and the attempts by the Obama administration to “fundamentally change America as we know it” have done to us as a culture as well as a country.

And nothing better illustrates those simple, old-fashioned values than the life of a gentleman who passed away this past week-end: country music star and successful businessman Jimmy Dean. Many people remember him for his Jimmy Dean Sausages (and the folksy advertisements he did for the company). Most people my age and older also remember him for his success in the field of country music. 

I’ll always remember him for both, but principally as a country gentleman who stood by his word and expected others to do the same. He personified all of the promise that America offers to those who are willing to work for their goals.

Dean grew up during the Great Depression in Plainview, TX. He attributed his work ethic to his mother (Dean’s father abandoned his family when Dean was a child).  His mother made clothes for all her children out of old sugar sacks rather than take FDR’s “New Deal” government duds. That made a lasting impression on Dean who would pay tribute to his mother many years later in a narrative song called “I.O.U.”    

His folksy, gentlemanly demeanor was no put-on, but he wasn’t a country bumpkin either. Like Dolly Parton, Dean knew how to best market himself and his products. When he merged Jimmy Dean Sausages with Sara Lee Products, he became more wealthy than he could have ever imagined, but kept the low-key persona which continued to grow the brand… until new management took over and, in 2003,  phased him out as company spokesman for his own product, breaking an agreement that he would continue to be spokesman of Jimmy Dean products as long as he was alive.  

That experience left a bitter taste in his mouth. The company soon found out, however, that their country boy expected others to live up to their words too. Dean released a statement announcing “Somebody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.”  He then sued the company, primarily on principal.

What bothered him most about his dismissal as spokesman wasn’t so much losing the job – he had all the money he would need for the rest of his life. He would later say in an interview in 2004:

“If people would just keep their word. I had a saying when I was running my own company. I said, ‘Do what you say you’re gonna do when you say you’re gonna do it, and try to do it a little better than you said you would’. Boy, that will work so well in business. I was told ‘You are the spokesman for as long as you live and you are the chairman of the board and we like the way the company is running’. They were crazy about it when they bought it. Then they got this whole new management team that came in and it was like ‘We’re going to show you country boy, and all your people, how to run a company’.”

Dean’s philosophy wasn’t just for business, however. It’s how he lived his life. And these days of fake transparency, political correctness, and the “Do unto others before they do unto you” approach so many take, surely we could all use a little more character like Mr. Dean. He’d be the first person to tell you he had a lot of ham in him. But there was no bull about him. 

Most tributes to Jimmy Dean feature his biggest hit, “Big Bad John.” But I found a real treat so share with you — something that personifies Dean’s character.  Good-bye Jimmy Dean… to paraphrase your biggest hit, you were “a big, big man…”  Perhaps more important: Your character represented a lot of what made this country great. 

Gerry Ashley