The peculiarity of Beau of the Fifth Column

If you want to persuade someone, generally you have to look a lot like someone you are trying to persuade.

You’d like to think that we’d be all Vulcan and clinically analyze the facts, but in general you need to be a scientist for this to work. Even a lot of scientists have their own biases. Which is why watching vlogger Beau of the Fifth Column at work is pretty interesting.

If you are trying to slip through someone’s radar, a bald white guy with a wild red beard and a baseball cap seemingly glued to his scalp is likely to do it. One look at Beau (real name Justin King) and you would be forgiven for typecasting him as a redneck.

And in a way, it’s true. Beau lives way out in the wilds of Northern Florida somewhere. He exhibits many of the attributes you would expect of rednecks. He owned guns until a few years ago. He’s a big believer in self-sufficiency. He’s not a fan of big government and believes that local community networks are the way to really change society, doing it from the ground up. He’s hardly pretentious. He never appears in a suit. He won’t trim his beard. He usually won’t change his Curious George patch Velcro-ed to his hat, other than to turn it upside down from time to time if he’s saying something in jest.

He almost always films his YouTube videos from what looks like a large shed adjacent to his house. The camera seems to be bolted into place. Behind him is a set of unadorned shelves. If you watch him enough (as he tends to put out a few videos a day) you almost get excited when a new item appears on the shelves, which almost never happens.

Beau slips around your defenses in other ways too. The going way to get attention online these days is to be self-righteous and yell a lot. Beau is just the opposite. He’s so low key and inoffensive that he sometimes comes across as a slovenly Mister Rogers. He often won’t tell you exactly what he wants to say. He alludes to current events but won’t explain them.

He doesn’t quite smile, but he doesn’t quite frown either. He never raises his voice, at least on camera. He doesn’t tell you what to think but does allow you to ponder his points, which comes from many years in military and security related businesses. I assume somewhere along the way he made a comfortable fortune because aside from any YouTube revenues he doesn’t seem to do anything for money and apparently he has a wife and five kids. Vlogging seems to be his full time occupation.

The general impression that Beau makes is that he’s deeply intellectual and grounded, but not anxious to advertise it. Unlike Mister Rogers, he treats his viewers as thinking adults, not like children. This tends to make him relatable. By avoiding pushing people’s buttons, it’s not hard to find him engaging and interesting. You might say he’s the anti-Alex Jones.

So Beau never appears pompous, at least on camera, and always seems inoffensive: factual but pleasant. His particular bent though appears to be foreign policy, a topic that puts most people to sleep. But Beau is likely to engage you on it, and he’s been particularly engaging since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war as he takes you through a lot of grounded research on intelligence, foreign policy, how militaries work and the power games played among larger and minor powers.

If you watch Beau for a while you might figure he’s actually a closet liberal. Really, it’s hard to tell. By some accounts, he’s an anarchist. If so he’s a very peculiar anarchist because for all his beliefs in local change and building power from the ground up, he also grasps the larger meta issues.

It’s pretty clear, for example, that he doesn’t think a free market is going to bring us affordable health care and that capitalism is going to save us. He seems to be a peculiar hybrid of liberal and libertarian. It’s just that one look at that face and you can’t help but think “redneck”. But after watching Beau for a while you realize you’ve opened a really interesting box, just not a Pandora’s kind of box. Beau is who he is and believes in being respectful, honest and grounded. He’s very clearly not a racist and is deeply troubled by the racism, sexism, classism and other-isms rife in our country today.

With 700,000 followers and growing he’s built perhaps the most unique niche on YouTube. While there are some things he says I don’t agree with, he’s pretty much impossible to dislike.

I don’t think he’s on the radar of the Alex Joneses of the world. Perhaps he should be because he’s a direct threat to their viewers, if they stumble upon him. In his own way, Beau is persuading a lot of people, and his followers are donating a lot of money to his charitable causes. If anyone can change the toxicity rife in our nation, it may be Beau, one video at a time, posted from the back of his shed.

Virtual plane spotting

Are you a plane spotter? I’ll never be enough of one to park myself just outside the fence of a local airport to watch them takeoff and land. But watching these metal behemoths landing and taking off with such regularity virtually is a bit mesmerizing, and enough to keep me watching various plane spotting channels on YouTube once or twice a day if time allows. I do it in my comfy chair in front of the TV, using the YouTube app, and often with a cat on my lap.

Joshua and Peter plane spotting at LAX (Google Street view)
Joshua and Peter plane spotting at LAX (Google Street view)

These live channels popped into my feed a month or so ago, part of a theme on YouTube to help insomniacs. I’m not an insomniac, but I am sixty plus. So at my age if time allows (and it usually does, since I’m retired), it’s not hard to take short naps. Live plane spotting channels, along with YouTube videos of hours of crackling fireplaces or stormy nights with rain falling, seem to be part of plan by YouTube to lull insomniacs to sleep.

I used to travel regularly for business. It got old pretty quickly. Navigating airports and dealing with plentiful flight delays and cancellations made business travel more of an annoyance than a pleasure. But I still find something briefly magical about flying, usually on takeoff as you are pressed into your seat and rapidly move into the stratosphere. I prefer window seats if I can get them, and usually find the view out the window more interesting than watching a movie or listening to a podcast. I find geography interesting. Landing can also be fun, although it’s usually not a big deal. Landing is definitely the riskiest part of the aviation experience which overall is incredibly safe.

So part of the appeal of virtual plane spotting may be that I can enjoy aviation’s upsides without its downsides. Mostly I watch LAX (Los Angeles International) and the LA Flights channel. With four runways there is rarely a dull moment at LAX, but it really cranks up around late afternoon. The channel focuses on runways 24-R and 24-L, the north (and shorter) runways. Maybe it should concentrate on the south runways because they tend to get the behemoth jets like the A380s and the 747s that need extra-long runways.

It appears though that the two brothers Peter (narrator) and Joshua (cameraman) who plane spot live at LAX four to 5 days a week get much better views of the runways when they are on the north side. Generally they are either on the top level of an economy parking garage at the end of the runway or next to an expressway with a great view of the tarmac. There they typically spend ten to 12 hours recording as much as they can and never stop, or even change positions. I figure they have bladders of steel because no one ever seems to take a potty break. The parking garage may have one, but there’s clearly only some bushes nearby when they spot on the north side. Maybe they can do their business discreetly there. In any event, Los Angeles is most often sunny and hot. I don’t know how they do it and I often wonder if they should be doing it. I hope they stay well hydrated and use plenty of sunscreen.

But it’s also a business of sorts. There are typically a couple of thousand viewers watching at any time and people make regular contributions to their channel, which get highlighted live when they occur. Peter and Joshua also have competition. Mainly they compete with the Airline Videos channel, which is usually at LAX, but sometimes goes to Phoenix or San Francisco.

There are plenty of other channels covering other airports out there. I generally find that LA Flights more than satisfies my plane spotting itch because LAX gets so many flights and such a variety of aircraft from both far flung international airports and domestic airports. Also the weather is almost always sunny and Peter and Joshua are more in it for the fun than the money. Their video feed is also high definition and has no lag, problems with other channels I’ve tried. The Airline Videos channel spends a lot of time on promotion which may be working as they seem the more successful channel. When I watch these channels, I don’t want advertising. I just want to see the planes.

These channels can be both mesmerizing and routine at the same time. You quickly discover that the Boeing 737 rules. It’s a modest aircraft but it’s the world’s work horse aircraft, mostly for paying passengers. You get an occasional turboprop, but mostly you get 737s and larger aircraft. At LAX the coming and going is just constant. It’s an amazing orchestration of aviation technology and process. Perhaps it’s just watching this all work somehow which I find to be the most interesting part of it all.

Still, I think you have to be a bit nuts to do this for a living. With so much competition and the grueling hours, it looks like a tough business to prosper in. But I’m grateful these channels exist as they fill a curiosity itch I didn’t know I had. And sometimes, if I see just one too many 737 taking off and landing, me and the cat will snooze instead. It’s ironic that the sounds of coming and going aircraft can often lull me to sleep.

Is Google trying to kill YouTube?

If you watch YouTube (as I do regularly) you’ve likely noticed a few changes. Specifically, you should be noticing a lot more ads. To me, the limited ads were one of its attractions, aside from the breadth of information you can find on the site.

Like many YouTubers I think, I have a short attention span. YouTube has catered to me, giving me lots of videos of ten minutes or less in length about really unique topics that interests me, often by very creative content creators. The site has to make money so it was acceptable to have to deal with an introductory ad, which I could usually skip after five seconds or so.

As you probably have noticed, the ads now tend to be longer (usually fifteen seconds) and it’s getting harder to skip the ads. Also, ads are now getting stacked. Sometimes you have to sit through two ads, fifteen seconds each, to watch a video that is usually ten minutes or less. Already I was getting an itchy finger. At least YouTube warned me how many lead ads I was going to get and if I found the video of marginal interest, I hit the back button and watched something else instead.

Now of course many videos somewhere around the ten-minute mark interrupt the video, usually in the middle of the sentence, to serve you more ads, generally one or two more fifteen-second ads. It’s just grating and spoils the whole experience. If the video is long enough, you’ll get another set of ads. In short, YouTube is becoming a lot like commercial TV, just inserting ads in a less elegant and more jarring manner. This is making me (and I’m sure lots of others) rethink just how much I want to watch YouTube anyhow. So I’m starting to look at alternatives or going cold turkey.

Content creators will usually hit the checkbox to show these ads, because they want more revenue from their content. Particularly with the pandemic and the shrinking economy, ad rates are down, so to make up the difference content creators are generally happy to tell YouTube to insert more ads. This is particularly true of the more popular content creators I follow. If you are getting hundreds of thousands of views for every video you create, and your subscriber list just keeps growing, why not milk them for all they’re worth? This has been true of people like Graham Stephan that I’ve been following. I notice I’m watching fewer of his videos now that he is filling them with ads.

It’s obvious to me that YouTube wants you to subscribe to YouTube Premium instead. Like other subscription services like Netflix, you can do away with these ads, in Google’s case for $11.99 a month. They share some of this money with content creators, but the skinny seems to be this revenue is less generous than what you can get from ads, or at least what you could get from ads before YouTube started bloating them with before video and mid video ads. If true, content creators should be leery about relying on this revenue because YouTube will get the lion’s share.

One of the reasons I am not also a content creator on YouTube is because they have a monopoly. They set the rules and can change it whenever they want to. Some strike it rich, but the revenue stream probably always feels problematic. Like Google’s search engine, you really never know when YouTube will change its algorithm, so suddenly you may be losing subscribers and views and there’s no clear way to regain them. As a profit making company, of course Google’s going to try to squeeze as much profit as possible, from viewers and content creators. And if you don’t like it, well, maybe get a site on Vimeo, pay its hosting bill and hope for the best. Good luck in getting people to follow you there.

It’s a game I don’t want to get into, so I won’t. But because of all these monetary changes, YouTube is also becoming a less interesting platform. For me, the hassle level just isn’t worth it. It’s easier to search the web for the content I need, even with the web ads and crap there too, than get it in a more leisurely and personal way from YouTube.

Or there could be a darker motive. Maybe Google has run the numbers and it has the long-range goal of killing YouTube. It must be bleeding viewers like me with limited patience for all the ads it is serving, who also are either too cheap or simply don’t find the service compelling enough to spend $11.99 a month for. It must cost a fortune for Google to host all that content in real time. Hosting centers don’t come cheap with all that technology to serve it all instantly and deal with the huge volume of content it gets. Whether that’s their plan or not, I suspect it’s where YouTube is going to end up. I’m increasingly doubtful it will be around five years from now. We will have simply moved on to some service that costs less and is less hassle. Clearly, Google is not interested in fulfilling either of these missions anymore.

As for content creators, by throwing ads into their videos I suspect that they are generating short-term profit but long-term loss of subscribers and income. I understand their greed and I understand Google’s greed. But this platform just doesn’t work anymore and I think greediness on both sides is going to be its undoing. It’s feeling like a house of cards that’s about to collapse.

I may be one of the first to leave and help bring it down.

So bad, it’s good … and mesmerizing

YouTube: a treasure trove of the good, the bad, the indifferent, the mediocre and the ugly. Actually, I rarely visit the place. The few videos I do watch on YouTube come as recommendations. This one appeared in my wife’s LiveJournal, posted by a friend of hers. I happened to peer over her shoulder and asked her, “What the heck is that?

If like me you don’t understand Russian, you end up going to Google Translate to figure out the title of the video, which is “I am very glad, because I’m finally back home”. If I had to guess the title it would be, “I ingested ten times more Prozac than the doctor allowed.”

I mean, wow! For me, not even The Wedding Dance video can come close to this 2:41 little gem from what appears to be the glorious era of the Soviet Union. I am guessing it was made sometime in the 1970s when the Cold War was still grinding on and Comrade Brezhnev was in charge. It just reeks of plasticity and phoniness, yet it is somehow kind of compelling. I dare you to stop watching it in the middle.

The “singer” here is apparently a Russian named Eduard Hill. Hill is apparently obscure enough in America not even to merit a Wikipedia page, but he does have a Facebook fan page. It was weird enough that even Huffington Post picked it up. A check of Google did not reveal much about the guy. Eduard Hill, whose real name is apparently Eduard Anatolyevich, is still around, apparently living in Saint Petersburg. You can see an updated picture of him here. From what little I can find of the guy on the web, he apparently does not sing. Rather he mimes. This is obvious from watching the video. He could have used more rehearsal because his lip syncing is poor, to say the least.

Still, Hill is mesmerizing. Is he alive? Are there little puppet strings coming down from the rafters directing him when to smile? He looks all botoxed around the eyes. His smile looks like a doll maker stitched it onto his face. Then there is that goofy gate as he saunters onto the stage, not to mention the very cheesy visual effects. Apparently, he is glad to be home, which for most Russians back in the 1970s probably meant a gray cinderblock apartment complex. I guess the proper way to return home after a long trip is to dress in suit and tie.

As for the music, I have no idea who actually sings it, but it too is hypnotic and catchy like a TV commercial jingle. You may find yourself humming it in the car. Lyrics? You don’t need to know Russian, such much of it is “La la la, la la la, la la la la la.” Then there is the staging, such as it is. Where did they get that weird iron latticework? Moreover, why are there only three colors: brown, beige and yellow? Who is he waving to? His neighbors? If my neighbor were greeting me like this, I would be running to get a gun.

In short, this is exactly the sort of weird officially sponsored “entertainment” you would expect from the world’s biggest communist state back in the 1970s. While Hill looks plastic, some tiny part of him looks like he is having a root canal or a high colonic. It’s like someone has a pitch fork to his ass and that’s the only reason he’s smiling.

Whatever this is, it’s a gem. YouTube had best never delete it. It deserves its own weird immortality.

Update 3/12/2010

Since this video was YouTubed, it has generated a lot of interest (as well as a lot of hits on my blog). I have also learned a few things about Mr. Hill. In fact, he does sing the song. In this case though he is lip syncing his own music and does a very poor job of it. I also found this “peppier” version on YouTube done in front of a live orchestra that you can enjoy. This one suggests the original video was made around 1984, still definitely in the Cold War period. This one is almost good, perhaps because it lacks the slower pace and the very odd staging. Moreover, Hill looks like he is having a little fun with it. Enjoy.