Thursday, December 29, 2011

Number One Blog Post of 2011

While there were many popular posts here during 2011, there was one which drew more readers and visitors than any other by an enormous margin. I was a bit surprised to note the constant rise in the number of readers/visitors over the months to the post. But given the reality that our Congress in 2011 has failed to lead or decide or act in any way which would benefit the nation's crumbling economy, then it should be no surprise at all the top post here for 2011 was a political fact-check which shreds the Republican claims about why our economy tanked and why it struggles to recover.

This post first appeared on May 10, 2011. And since the information provided has resonated with so many folks, I reprint it below. Thanks to all who made it so popular!

Dr. Evil Running Congress?

The talk flowing from Washington about the national debt sounds too much like the goofy comedy scenes of Dr. Evil demanding "one billion gajillion fifillion shapaduluullmeleleshaprenodlash mamillion dollars" from the nations of the world to halt a nefarious destruction of the planet.

House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP brethren (like my congressman, Rep. Phil Roe) are whipping up a scarefest about the status of the national debt - while avoiding the very obvious solution right before them. "Cut 2 trillion dollars!" cries Boehner.

Cutting spending by trillions of dollars is possible, nearly 9 trillion came from Bush era policies which were never paid for and should be eliminated -- As Peter Orszag, director the Office of Management and Budget said quite plainly:

You mentioned that $9 trillion projected deficit over the next decade. That basically reflects three things.

The first is the failure to pay for two policies in particular, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Those were deficit financed. Over the next decade they account for $5 trillion.

Second, the economic downturn, because it triggers the so-called automatic stabilizers, which raise unemployment benefits, they raise food stamps, they cause -- revenue tends to decline during an economic downturn, all of which is beneficial because it helps to mitigate that GDP deficit that I was talking about. But it also over the next decade adds $3.5 trillion to the deficit.

And then finally, the Recovery Act accounts for less than 10 percent of that total. So basically, the $9 trillion projected deficit can be entirely accounted for by the failure to pay for policies in the past, the economic downturn, and the steps we’ve had to take to combat that downturn, which is not to say action isn’t necessary, it absolutely is. But it’s also important to realize we didn’t get here by accident."

It's clear the House Republicans don't want to cut spending or reduce the debt - they want to scare voters today in hopes of winning elections tomorrow, no matter what the cost might be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Words/Phrases of 2011

In no particular order, a short selection of words of phrases which became prominent this year and will likely become more commonly used in 2012.

biopiracy - I'm betting this word (along with bioprospecting) gets more widely used in coming years. It became prominent in news reports and press releases regarding a massive lawsuit brought against the agricultural mega-corporation Monsanto by the nation of India, which claims Monsanto is "stealing" plants indigenous to India and slightly modifying the plant genetics in hopes of getting a patent on them and then cornering the market on supply. More info here.

underdemolished - I encountered this one several times in 2011, used in reference to the existing buildings of say, a bankrupt restaurant chain, which continue to operate despite barely covering costs - it isn't that there is an over-supply of buildings, it's just that the ones that are in use are "underdemolished". Also used to describe the glut of over-valued homes no one wants to buy.

tebowing - From the world of football, this is a verb describing the act of dropping to one knee to pray in a public event or location. (See Tim Tebow for more info.)

smartphone - I'm pretty sure I never heard this word prior to 2011. It annoys me. And I hope it soon goes the way of the "velocipede".

web curation - Instead of telling someone I write a blog or maintain a web site or write for web sites, I now can claim to be a 'web curator', which sounds mighty fancy and pays just the same as I make now.

ambush marketing - While it seems a redundant phrase, it refers to the way a company can piggy-back their logo onto events and services they do not sponsor but can simply invade. It's being rather common in describing the advertising orgy surrounding the 2012 London Olympics.

planking - Probably the most fun word of the year, the most ironic fad and something anyone can do anywhere, also known as the "lying down game". You can even mix together planking with tebowing and get this:

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: The Year Movies Died

It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.

As 2011 is set to end and 2012 to begin, I'd like to take a moment here to mourn the passing and the imminent extinction of an art form and a technology which has been an enormous part of my life and most of yours. (If you are say, age 20 or younger, the following will be a senseless old person rambling.)

2011 truly marks the end of movies. The use of 35 millimeter film moving past a light at 24-frames-per-second and projected onto a screen is fading fast in favor of digital technology. Even if I claim that digital is better, it is impossible to know if the claim is correct since we are in the midst of it's use and ascendance.

The quote at the start of this post from writer William Gibson, who coined the term "cyberspace" for his novel "Neuromancer" in 1984, a term already dusty and quaint. He made his remark in this interview with the Paris Review this year, and he had more to say on the topic, comments which seem appropriate in this eulogy for movies, for film, for cinema:

"It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. … My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. 

"I can remember seeing the emergence of broadcast television, but I can’t tell what it did to us because I became that which watched broadcast television ... 

" ... we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing t­echnoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while."

Thanks to the constant digitization of everything for storage and delivery via the internet, I do indeed have access to much more of the history of movies, as will all the world. But what goads me is the abandonment of the film projectors themselves, the end of film, the actual stuff you can hold in your hands composed of thousands and tens of thousands of frozen images, which can be made to race past a light and create the illusion of life, persistence of vision, a concept which has filled my life and my imagination and which I am still exploring, though now it will more as archeologist rather than anthropologist. I am now an antiquarian far removed from the cutting edge, a removal which took place pretty quickly.

What was once the product of gears, light bulbs and sprocket holes (ancient steampunk artifacts) is now the domain of the Digital Cinema Initiatives, pixels, gigabytes and hard drives.

There is no longer a need to change reels, mark the timing of that change with a "cigarette burn", or have stacks of film cans.

Is it a better image?

In this column, it is noted that:

"Vittorio Storaro has estimated that there are a minimum of 6000 x 3000 bits of information in one 35mm celluloid frame – in other words, eighteen million bits of pictorial information. In our HD transfer, there are roughly 2000 x 1000 bits of information per frame (or there would be, if we were working in Storaro’s ideal but theoretical 1X2 ratio) – i.e. about two million bits of information."

So that's where we are now, but that standard of image information is surely to change very quickly. Standards range from 24 FPS (frames per second) to 72 or more, and director Peter Jackson is using an army of more than 40 digital Red Epic cameras to film "The Hobbit" and is aiming for 48 FPS. I'm still yearning to own my own 35mm Arriflex camera. Some might say that's rather like asking for some papyrus and a few reeds to write some cuneiform.

Don't get me wrong - I don't want 8-track tapes or cassettes back, though I did like my old reel-to-reel sound system. I'm not wailing about the loss of hand-tooled buggy whips, or I hope I am not.

But if the only place you watch movies is on a screen you can hold in your hand, you are missing a major part how movies have served us best - they helped us form communities where we shared experiences all together, as one, at the same time, in vast darkened palatial rooms where overhead a beam of light raced above us and landed on a massive screen and life jumped out at us all.

But who knows what unimaginable discoveries and technologies might lie just ahead? That might be for those who dream more of the future, not the past.

Read more on the end of the 35mm movie world here from Roger Ebert or A.O. Scott.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Gift of Purity from Knoxville's Li'l Christmas Elf

"Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he plans to push three bills calling for drug testing in the 2012 legislative session - one dealing with persons on welfare, one for those drawing unemployment compensation and one for those receiving workers' compensation benefits.

"I find it very strange that Republicans don’t believe government can do anything right … except decide who can marry, who can raise children, what you can watch on TV, what books you can read, which religion is the right one, when life begins, how much compensation is enough if you are injured by corporate negligence, and if your pee is pure enough to collect your unemployment which, by the way, is a benefit you paid for. Government is great at all of that stuff.


"So who stands to gain in Tennessee? Look no further than Tennessee Republican Congress Critter Diane Black, whose husband is CEO of Aegis Sciences, a company which does drug testing. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is on Aegis’ board of directors — presumably advising the company on how to screen for drugs via videotape. /snark"

Too bad Elf Campy and Santa Ramsey, I mean, Senator Ramsey, did not check the pee of government employee and judge Richard Baumgartner, who was gacked out of his brain on drugs while running Knoxville's drug court that even the guilty verdicts in the Christian-Newsom murder case he handled were overturned. That would have saved the state tons of money, prevented all the re-trials headed Knoxville way, and spared the pain and suffering of many, many people. And remember, Baumgartner will still get his full pension and have his record of drug offenses wiped clean in just 2 years time.

Merry Christmas from Elf Campy!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Could Have Been A Potash Tycoon

It really is annoying how I learn more and more as I get older that I don't know diddly-squat about what I thought I knew, and that there are indeed a mere handful of people who control even the basic elements found on the periodic chart and are bajillionaires who live in ways I cannot imagine. On the plus side, at least I can still learn new things about this world. On the downside, at my age, I am unlikely to corner the market of a necessary global commodity and thus will never, ever, ever live for one moment like a bajillionaire.

And these thoughts were instigated by one thing - potash.

I recall learning about potash when I was a young schoolboy - it was an ancient creation, made by burning plants and trees and mixing the resulting ashes into a field where one wanted to grow food. The ashes were loaded with potassium, but we have since found that there are massive sources of potassium already in existence underground, so it is mined and sold worldwide for everything from fertilizer to plastics to textiles and much, much more.

(A side note here - my high school chemistry teacher really did not open up much of an exploration of chemistry as such. She was in the midst of a divorce and was realizing she was a lesbian and was concerned with the daily issues of running a small donut shop with her husband when she taught my class. On the plus side: we had hot fresh donuts every day, usually kept warm in a rather expensive incubator in the chemistry classroom. But I digress.)

As I said, the word potash came up when I read a report yesterday about a 22-year-old Russian lady who just paid the most ever recorded for an apartment - $88 million for a ten-room flat in Manhattan, about $13,000-plus per square foot. She is Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the heir of Potash Tycoon Dmitry Rybolovleva, who last year sold his share of the Russian potash company Uralkali for $6.5 billion. (His Wikipedia page is an oddly translated tale of fabulous wealth and personal strife, including a murder charge for which he was ultimately acquitted. ) Ekatrina is apparently only going to use the apartment when she 'visits' Manhattan.

There are really only a few companies controlling the potassium market - the Potash Corp. of Canada, Uralkali and Belaruskali, and another North American company called Mosaic. But we're not done yet - "The global trade in potash is even more concentrated, with just two syndicates dominant: Canpotex managing sales of the three North American majors, Potash Corp, Mosaic and Agrium; and BPC, a joint venture combining Uralkali and Belaruskali."

According to the report cited above, the price is expected to surge in the next decade, from around $400 a ton to $1500 a ton. Of course, like most items traded on the global markets, the economic collapse in 2008 dropped the price, but it is on the rise again - potash is vital for bio-fuels and for growing more and more food for folks who live in India and China and Brazil and everywhere else. And it's a vital manufacturing component for just about everything.

Potash is Big Business.

And never once did anyone tell me, "Son, invest in potash". And what I thought I knew about potash and potassium turned out to be damned little. And I learned just a wee bit more about the faceless and nameless few who control patents on chemical elements and the global economy.

And like Billy Pilgrim, I sit here all old and stuff, my feet turning blue in the cold, pecking away at a keyboard and being a curmudgeon. "Potash," I mutter to no one. "Potash."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Annual Christmas Monkey Caption Contest with Musical Bonus

We all hold to certain traditions, likely because as necessary as it may be to learn to roll with the constant changes of life itself, there are comforts unexplainable in keeping and holding traditions. And so here we are again at Christmas, and since the first official Cup of Joe Powell blog post for Christmas, I have offered the Annual Christmas Monkey Caption Contest.

No prizes, save those of personal satisfaction, which may well be the reason we keep and hold to our traditions - a moment of personal meaning which we need not explain to anyone. And yes, the ideas expressed so far in this post seem far too serious for Santa Monkey. Still, the fact he (or she) appears but once a year imparts solemnity despite the appearance of hilarity ... which may be the best definition one could make for the word 'tradition'.

So please leave your caption in the comments.

In preparation for this year's posting, I did review those of years past and sadly learned that several of the hand-picked Christmas music I've added over the years have vanished, mostly due to using web sites which ceased to be. Most fortunately this year, I found a pretty darn fine collection via Paste magazine - they offer 40 tracks which you can download for free or just listen to. But I decided to tempt fate again and offer just a few of my favorites from this collection, starting with "The Christmas Waltz" by She and Him, which is actress Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Zooey has a voice that could melt snow. And while these tunes are all from one collection, each one below has been hand-picked just for you and just for this year. I think it's likely one of the best collections of music I've ever offered here.

Merry Christmas, dear reader, and may it be the best you have had so far.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Miracle Berries, or The Food That Sugar Companies Hate

A stray comment on a Knoxville message board I frequent brought up something called "food tripping" which led me to be educated about "miracle berries", food trends, history, corporate and government conspiracy, and other oddities of one of life's necessities - eating.

I rather like to eat. I have to do it fairly often. So I was intrigued by the mention of "food tripping" parties which became popular in larger U.S. cities a few years back. Participants gather to eat/sample a range of food and drinks after they chew on some "miracle berries", which magically block sour and bitter receptors on the tongue and boost sweet receptors. Folks say it makes sour things like pickles and limes taste rich and fruity, beer tastes like a milkshake and the effects of the berry on taste buds last for about an hour.

These events of idle folks who seek rare, hipster-ish fads of the moment were featured in a story and video from the NYTimes. And the ingredient in these West African berries which causes (for reasons no one has, at this point, scientifically explicated) the tastebud change is called "miraculin", a name seemingly suited to snake-oil promotionalists. Let the YouTube videos parade past your eyes.

So I plundered into the Google machine for more information. And the ragged historical mystery of the berry soon became linked to corporate warfare dating back to the early 20th century. While African locals had eaten the berry for who knows how long to improve the taste of foods in their diet, it was a French explorer, Chevalier des Marchais, who found them in 1752 and brought them to Western tongues.

But it was an American named Robert Harvey who synthesized the protein in the berry to provide a new sweetener to the U.S. and fell prey to foul deeds:

"In the ’60s and the ’70s, an entrepreneur named Robert Harvey managed to raise tens of millions of dollars to create an all-natural alternative to sugar using the miracle fruit, and he managed to synthesize the active ingredient in this berry, which is a protein called “miraculin.”

"And companies, other corporations started getting interested. And Harvey was turning down offers in the billions for control — billions of dollars were being offered to him for this, because it looked like it was poised to become an all-natural alternative to sugar. And even the artificial sweetening industry was very concerned about this threat of this small red berry.

"But what happened was, that just as it was about to launch, Harvey’s company, his office was raided by industrial spies. His files were stolen. He got into high-speed car chases in the middle of the night. People were following him."

"And then it got banned just as it was about to launch. And he got a letter in 1974 from the FDA saying the miracle berry — miracle berry products are not allowed into the market in any form whatsoever. And so, he had to shut down the entire operation.

"I called the FDA several dozen times and had a very hard time getting anybody to be able to speak about it. But what I did learn was that it is considered a food additive, and it is not allowed to be used as a food additive. Now, the fresh berry itself is different. So they said the berry can be used, and that’s the USDA’s department. But the USDA doesn’t even know it exists. So it is in a kind of regulatory limbo."

But one could, if one desired, order up some of these pills via sites like ThinkGeek and Amazon.
Or you can order the berries themselves from the only supplier in the country, in Florida, at The are running a Christmas special.

Aside from benefits in replacing sugar, the berries have been found to be most helpful to diabetics and to folks undergoing chemotherapy, as it returns the tastebuds to working order.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Welcome to the Christmas Toilet

Someone seems to have some creepy and conflicting attachments to Christmas and Santa. (via Chattanooga radio station WUSY's Facebook page)

There are 3,000-plus search engine results for items like this. So make that a whole lot of "someones". Also weird, folks who drape "gift wrapping" themes on a toilet. Guess you could call that some kind of friendly optimism.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Rep. Casada Wants Local Government to Meet in Secret Sessions

Rep. Glen Casada
I can't quite believe I have to write this post, reminding our elected officials that secret government meetings are illegal for a reason. Yet, here we are.

State Rep. Glen Casada and the Tennessee County Commissioners Association want elected officials to hold secret meetings. Rep. Casada is planning to offer new legislation which would make secret government meetings legal - a move he has to make since currently it is against the law.

There exists no reason for the change to secret meetings - other than denying public awareness, public participation and to demolish the way our democracy works.

"The actions of local government have a direct affect on the people who live in those jurisdictions. Local bodies set tax rates, create and enforce local laws, fund public education and other public services such as libraries, set policies for public school systems, appoint local boards and commissions, recommend and hire local public officials and set local government budgets. 

At no other level of government is public official accountability more important. While great attention is paid to state and federal government meetings, local public body meetings often are poorly attended by the public, and sometimes even by local media watchdogs. Keeping such meetings open and requiring public bodies to post public notices of meetings is the last defense the public has to ensuring its business is done in the open."

It's shameful enough already the state legislature does not have to follow the laws requiring open meetings. Rep. Casada and the TCCA must have something they want to hide - to allow them to do so will not end well.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tennessee Man Decides To Wear A Kilt For A Year

"I admit I've never been much of a daredevil kind of guy. Skydiving and bungee jumping don't appeal to me. I don't have the finances to run out and buy a Lamborghini and I don't have the energy to get tanked and marry a 22 year old reality TV star in Vegas (hey, don't think they aren't lining up for the chance...). I prefer to celebrate in a more laid-back fashion. Still incorporate the danger of skydiving, the style of the Lamborghini and the romance and sexuality of the Vegas marriage. What else could capture all of these things better than wearing a kilt for an entire year? You knew I was going to say that, right? Well it's the title of the blog for haggis' sake!

Oh. One other confession. I've never owned or worn a kilt before. For many years I've wanted to own one but they always seemed so expensive and I never go to enough Celtic festivals or Renaissance Faires to make it worth it. The majority of my heritage is Scotch/Irish so I've always had the kilt on my list of things to purchase one day but always put it off. Recently I was making a mental list of things I would like to do after I turn 50 and I thought about wanting to buy a kilt. One thing led to another and I suddenly thought, "What if I commit to wearing a kilt every day of my 50th year?" Next thing I know, I did just that. I committed. In front of someone else even. I guess that means I gotta do it."

Rick is an artist in Chattanooga, has been doing editorial cartoons for years, and I recall back in college days, when we first met, he was making gobs of cash working in Gatlinburg doing airbrush t-shirts and such. He has a sense of humor which I often note as being ... well, he's never ordinary.

After reading about his plans for his 50th, I realized I had made no such grand plans to mark my 50th year. In truth, I do recall pondering that I was just happy to have made it so far. But did I miss some Golden Opportunity?

Probably. My dad used to tell me that when my boat finally came in I would probably be at the airport.

Is marking one's 50th year with some divergent behavior important? I have no answer for that. I do know that for me, I try and do things rather often which I have not done before. Such newness educates me, terrifies me, tasks me and generally pushes me to explore what it is possible (or perhaps impossible). (For instance, this week I'm finishing up a new play I've been writing, it's a Western, and it sure has me confused but I've always wanted to write one, so I am.)

So to honor that approach to life and to make sure Rick is going to keep his vow to wear a kilt, I thought I would bring his vow to your attention. Who knows, maybe his actions will encourage you, dear reader, to embrace some new thing in your life too.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Judicial System Shattered in Knox County

The Knox County judicial system was pretty much demolished yesterday by the details of the lengthy drug addiction of Judge Richard Baumgartner, details which led to the inevitable decision that new trials are necessary for four previously convicted killers in the grisly Christian-Newsom murder case. That case already is marked as one of the more heinous criminal acts in recent Knox history, but Judge Baumgartner's intense level of intoxication - which he experienced for years on the bench according to the TBI investigation - should rattle everyone in the county to their core.

The information revealed yesterday indicates so many levels in law enforcement and in the judicial system knew about this travesty and yet years passed before the judge was removed from the bench with the most minor of consequences.

WATE-TV has a blistering report on how bad Judge Baumgartner's behavior truly was:

"... Judge Baumgartner was taking up to 30 hydrocodone pills a day.

"Baumgartner's physician, Dr. Dean Conley, with Knoxville Gastroenterology, tried to wean Baumgartner off his addiction, referred him to another doctor and urged him to retire in 2008. Baumgartner admitted his addiction, but said he needed another three years on the bench.

Dr. Conley described Baumgartner's appearance at that time as "ghastly."

The TBI found Baumgartner was doctor shopping. Eight doctors were eventually prescribing hydrocodone, oxycodone and other pills to him. This was going on from 2006 through 2010.
"There is no other conclusion but that Baumgartner was operating on the bench as incapable since 2008, Judge Blackwood said.
Baumgartner "shouldn't have been on the bench in 2008," Judge Blackwood said. "Everything he's done since then, we're going to have to fight that battle."

 And we've just barely touched the edges of how extensive this judicial disaster will reach.

Glenn Reynolds and Aunt B. note that decisions were apparently made in the Knox Co. Sheriff's Department to ignore Baumgartner's connection to other crimes. Some more questions which need to be answered via Katie Granju.

As for Baumgartner - he was removed from the bench, but the court at that time also ruled that his record would be wiped clean after 2 years and he'll still get his pension.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

America's Economic Self-Destruction

I'm leaning more and more towards at least understanding why massive protests nationwide are being maintained, that indeed 99% of America is being made fools of and abused by the 1%. I see little effort or will by those in power in government or business to change the current stream of greed and madness.

The twisted gyrations in corporate business today defy descriptions and explanations - record profits and continued layoffs are going hand in hand, stalling economic growth in favor of short term benefits at a disgusting and disturbing pace. Yet explaining or understanding this maze of deception is masked by acronyms unknown or seldom defined and is all handled by nebulous executive decisions. It's as if quantum physics has become an economic theory which few can comprehend.

"When Pfizer cut its research budget this year and laid off 1,100 employees, it was not because the company needed to save money.

"In fact, the drug maker had so much cash left over, it decided to buy back an additional $5 billion worth of stock on top of the $4 billion already earmarked for repurchases in 2011 and beyond.

"The moves, announced on the same day, might seem at odds with each other, but they represent an increasingly common pattern among American corporations, which are sitting on record amounts of cash but insist that growth opportunities are hard to find.

"The result is that at a time when the nation is looking for ways to battle unemployment, big companies are creating fewer jobs, and critics say they are neglecting to lay the foundation for future growth by expanding into new businesses or building new plants.

"But spending on capital investments like new plants and infrastructure has stagnated more broadly in corporate America, confounding efforts by the Obama administration to spur economic growth. Capital expenditures by companies on the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index are expected to total $546 billion in 2011, down from $560 billion in 2008, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters Eikon.

"Earlier this month, Pfizer increased its estimate for stock repurchases this year to between $7 billion and $9 billion — essentially spending in one year nearly all of the money it set aside in February for multiyear buybacks. There has been a steady drumbeat of other companies laying off workers even as they have disclosed plans to buy back more stock. On June 23, Campbell Soup said it would buy back $1 billion in stock; five days later it announced plans to eliminate 770 jobs. Hewlett-Packard announced a $10 billion stock repurchase in July, and jettisoned 500 jobs in September after it discontinued its TouchPad and smartphone product lines.

"Powered by huge stock buybacks — [Zimmer]  bought $500 million worth of its own shares last year, more than twice what it spent on research and development — Zimmer posted earnings growth of 10 percent a share, even though operating income and revenue grew by less than 5 percent in 2010."

"A federal judge in New York refused on Monday to endorse a $285 million consent agreement with the SEC that would have allowed Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., to avoid any admission of wrongdoing in a deceptive securities transaction that earned Citigroup$160 million in profits while investors lost $700 million."

"At issue in the case was a 2007 effort by Citigroup to create and market a billion-dollar fund of problematic mortgage-backed securities just as the nation’s housing bubble was about to burst. The arrangement allowed Citigroup to dump assets of questionable quality on misinformed investors.

"Citigroup told prospective investors that the fund’s assets had been hand-picked by an independent investment adviser, when, in fact, Citigroup used the fund to jettison $500 million in risky assets.

"In addition, unknown to the investors, Citigroup had also taken a short position on those same assets, counting on the securities losing their value. When they did, Citigroup realized net profits of $160 million in addition to $34 million in fees it charged to set up the investment. In contrast, the investors lost everything – more than $700 million.

"The judge added: “The court, and the public, need some knowledge of what the underlying facts are: for otherwise, the court becomes a mere handmaiden to a settlement privately negotiated on the basis of unknown facts, while the public is deprived of ever knowing the truth in a matter of obvious public importance.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scooby Doo Battles Liars, Not Monsters

Stories for children have a raw power which can cripple hypocrisies and hatreds and which often celebrates the best qualities of humans - even a seemingly innocuous cartoon like that which gave the world Scooby Doo and Mystery Incorporated.

Doubtful gibberish, you say? Then consider the following insights from Chris Sims' recent article about why the cartoon has endured:

" ... that's the thing about Scooby-Doo: The bad guys in every episode aren't monsters, they're liars.

 "The very first rule of Scooby-Doo, the single premise that sits at the heart of their adventures, is that the world is full of grown-ups who lie to kids, and that it's up to those kids to figure out what those lies are and call them on it, even if there are other adults who believe those lies with every fiber of their being. And the way that you win isn't through supernatural powers, or even through fighting. The way that you win is by doing the most dangerous thing that any person being lied to by someone in power can do: You think.

Read the whole article, 'Scooby Doo and Secular Humanism'.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Waffles of Doom

For many years, I've been at Waffle House customer, though I have never ordered or eaten a waffle while frequenting the restaurant. I prefer steak and eggs or maybe a Patty Melt and plenty of coffee. And for many years, I've found the restaurant an inviting location to sit and write. But that is not true for every location, just a few really.

But now it seems waffles are harbingers of disaster and crime, or at least, despair.

The NYTimes on Sunday featured a report pondering the apparent rise in crimes and robberies at Waffle House - a recent spate of robberies, the so-called Waffle House Terrorists, and more are cited in the report, which says:

"Sgt. Dana Pierce said the police were paying extra attention to all 24-hour diners, but especially Waffle Houses. It is easy to see why they can become targets for criminals, he said. “They are cash-driven,” he said. “They are near Interstate exits. And they are open 24 hours, when people aren’t necessarily in a sober state of mind.”

And this morning I noted a viral video showing Black Friday shoppers going mad for a sale on $2 waffle irons at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas:

So I'm left wondering if the waffle itself is a portent of doom.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Canned Jellied Cranberry Nightmare

It tends to ooze and slide out of the can and land on the plate making a horrible Splorp! sound. It tends to be marked with indelible ringed impressions which uncomfortably resemble the contents of a can of Old Roy dog food. And if it is called "sauce" it should never stand vertically like that on a plate.

The cranberry deserves far better treatment.

Besides, recent studies show that toxic chemicals accompany this alleged food item. So don't serve it or buy it, unless you only present it to the table as a form of inedible sculpture.

Merry Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Watery Definitions and Butt Enhancements

A brief look at stories stirring discussion across the web-world:

-- In Europe, a panel of experts has decided one cannot advertise that water can prevent dehydration - if, of course, you define dehydration as a "disease", then, "A meeting of 21 scientists in Parma, Italy, concluded that reduced water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control."

-- It's worth noting the different tactics employed against protesters - hands off policies in place when folks tote guns to protest rallies versus aggressive "non-lethal" assaults on peaceful, non-gun-toting protesters. Also notable - we have very steadily adopted the notion that government permits are needed in order to exercise our rights to voice opinions via a protest.

-- One wonders why aggressive enforcement of banking and financial regulations were not immediately applied to halt bogus and conflated schemes for making money as quickly as authorities were called in to remove tents, sleeping bags, and peaceful protesters from public spaces. Which of the above actions constitute the greatest threat to public safety?

-- Despite the spread of national and international protests and concerns over financial management (or mismanagement) in government, Republicans in Congress remain locked up solid against improvements to the economy, even the improvements they vowed to provide. "Republicans, in effect, said in August, “If we fail, we’ll accept these cuts we don’t want.” The same Republicans, in effect, are now saying, “It turns out, we don’t like our idea anymore. ... In the bigger picture, Republicans were never working in good faith. Even putting aside the inherently disgusting debt-ceiling crisis they created over the summer, GOP officials were willing to offer the defense-cut trigger precisely because they knew they’d try to kill it after the super-committee inevitably failed."

-- If this is the non-doctor person you decided to visit to get "butt enhancement" injections -

Then don't be surprised the shot contains cement, super glue and tire sealant.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Share of the Class-Action Against Wal-Mart and Netflix

A cash windfall is headed my way as a result of class action lawsuit against Netflix and Wal-Mart. I was not a part of the class action, so naturally, those who were will get a heap of money and I will not. They are set to receive about $5,000 each.

If I file a claim, which I can, according to the email I received today, then I could expect about $1.50. Probably a gift card.

Guess retirement is still years away. Woo-hoo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Politicians Who Hate Themselves

Once again, the oddest of political animals - politicians who campaign by calling the government a monstrous creation - returns, as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey hosts what he calls a "red tape tour". Claims are made that government regulations are so huge and vile, the regulations are what hurts our economy most.

Wrong. Even the National Federation of Independent Business, which sponsor's Ramsey's campaign tour, does not believe regulations are harming economic growth.

"... surveys from the National Federation of Independent Business, and Brookings Institution scholarship ... all said the same thing: government regulations are not responsible for holding back the economy.

The New York Times, the AP, the Economic Policy Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy newspapers all did their own research and reporting on this in recent weeks, and all came to the exact same conclusion. At this point, it’s safe to say anyone insisting that regulations are the driving factor behind the weak economy is a fool or a hack."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best 5 Science Fiction Love Songs

Someone needed to make this list. Bonus section includes two videos.




Saturday, November 05, 2011

Theatre Guild Opens Agatha Christie's Greatest Mystery on Friday

Here you go - your chance to both see and hear me as I promote my current theatrical project, all real life (sort of, the beard I'm sporting is for a character I'm playing in this production of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" by the Morristown Theatre Guild, a show I am also directing. Which is to say I do not normally have a beard.)

This is the first time I have been on YouTube (and I think, the first time the Guild has a YouTube vid.) This was shot while I was doing some emcee work for the annual Mountain Makins festival in Morristown, and was shot for Morristown TV Today.

What I noticed in this promo for the show is that when I start talking about the plot for Christie's play - 10 people are stranded on an island estate and are being killed off one by one - is that I suddenly develop a case of Crazy Eyes. I must confess that it is quite likely that whenever I start talking about mysteries and murder plays and stories, my eyes will get all crazy. And my smile turns kinda creepy too. The video is below, but first, props to the cast. (Oh and I have tinkered a bit with the script, so that the show will have a different ending depending on which night you see it.)

This show has been fantastic fun to work on, a true ensemble cast of talented players who, like me, enjoy the screams and the chills that go with this show. So let me tell you some about them and their characters, who are all liars and have all been accused of murder as the story unfolds -- Eric McDowell and Tana McClain play Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, servants who have been hired to take care of the arriving guests. He is rather milk toasty and she is rather rude and their fate is not pleasant. John Carpenter plays the cavalier mercenary Phillip Lombard, and John and I have been friends for decades. We make jokes and references to pop culture so old, that Autumn Leming, who plays the young secretary Vera Claythorne, said at rehearsal recently, "Oh, you old people and your words!"

Newcomer to the Guild is Larry Glover, who plays the mostly dim-witted and devious Mr. Davis/William Blore, and he cracks jokes backstage constantly. Kylian Andrew has the choice role of the spoiled, preppy Anthony Marston (he's also the youngest member of the cast and I also directed him in a production of "Alice In Wonderland", where he performed a perfect Mad Hatter. In fact, Tana played the Red Queen and Autumn was Alice - they are a very talented young trio.)

Hobart Smith plays the addled and nearly ancient General MacKenzie, and he is always such fun to work with. He reminded me recently our first show together was when he played a sloppy drunk "children's story hour reader" for a fake live radio show titled "Laughing Buddha Holistic Radio Show" and his slurred reading of "Winnie The Pooh" was hilarious. Mitzi Price-Akins plays the ultra-conservativc Emily Brent, who is rather like a furious modern American conservative denouncing all things. She's a bona fide force of nature onstage.

Dale Stanton plays the high-strung and nervous Dr. Armstrong. Dale and I last worked together on "On Golden Pond" when he played Norman Thayer. He is sly and funny and works relentlessly as an actor. Doug Knight plays the boat captain, Narracott, and though it is a small part, he makes it most memorable and funny. And he agreed to do the show even though he is a newlywed of less than a month. I play the role of Sir Lawrence Wargrave (what a great name!), a judge who enjoys ordering everyone about. (typecasting?) Olivia Fee is the stage manager for this show.

And mention too must be made for my longtime friend David Horton, who is the technical director for the show, and is the most talented and creative man I know. He played the role of Lombard when the Guild last performed this play, back in 1983, and he has been a brilliant adviser on this show. He and I have worked together co-writing spooky plays and murder mysteries for many years. David travels the world and the U.S. as a professional entertainment consultant and he does astonishing things on a regular basis. Thanks, DH.

Performances for this show are Nov 11-20 at Rose Center, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 pm, Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Also, a special opening night reception will be held just prior to the show at 7 pm on Friday Nov. 11 as the Guild presents their line-up of shows for the 2012 season (their 78th year) and to say thanks to everyone who attends and supports the Guild. Tickets are available online at

And now, here I am, unmasked and with a case of Crazy Eyes, talking about the show. I hope you, dear reader, can attend at least one performance.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Last Chance To Enter Frightmare Manor 2011

There's still one more weekend to visit the 4 Attraction Screampark, Frightmare Manor, in Talbott.

The hauntings and scares will be just as good this weekend as they were during October, so don't miss this weekend. I'll bet you still have some Halloween candy and pumpkins on the porch, so Frightmare will fit right into your lifestyle.

Discount tickets available online!

And kudos to Chris and Mike, who not only make sure this annual event is tremendous fun, they help the local economy too!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Approval of Congress at 6% - Or Less

"Some lawmakers wonder if members of Congress have even single-digit approval from the public. 'I’d like to meet the 6 percent who approve of Congress,' said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who has often voted in ways that help hold up legislation, because he is seeking deep cuts in spending. 'I just don’t know who they are'.” (via)

Hold Up legislation, that's probably the best description of the witless behavior in Congress.

Goodbye To A Genius of Comedy and Sound - Tom Keith

Tom Keith was an astounding talent, most well known for the sound effects he would create live on radio on The Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor remarks on Tom's unique skills:

"Tom was one of radio's great clowns," he said. "He was serious about silliness and worked hard to get a moo exactly right and the cluck too and the woof. His whinny was amazing -- noble, vulnerable, articulate. He did bagpipes, helicopters, mortars, common drunks, caribou (and elands and elk and wapiti), garbage trucks backing up, handsaws and hammers, and a beautiful vocalization of a man falling from a great height into piranha-infested waters.

"Whenever Keith came onstage for a sketch, Keillor said, the audience watched intently. 

'They could hear me but they wanted to see Tom, same as you'd watch any magician," he said. "Boys watched him closely to see how he did the shotgun volleys, the singing walrus, the siren, the helicopter, the water drips."

Tom was 64.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Will Gov. Haslam Be Haunted by Halloween Arrests?

A Tennessee judge says there was no cause to arrest protesters at the Occupy Nashville protests, releasing all those that Gov. Bill Haslam ordered arrested. This Halloween weekend's pointless repression of free speech should haunt the governor.

Are we just supposed to be grateful that - so far - no one has been injured in Nashville? Are we supposed to be grateful the right to free speech is only being discarded for just a few people? 

A roundup of the events from Mike Silence at the KNS.


R. Neal: After declaring a curfew at Legislative Plaza last night, Gov. Haslam has sent THP state troopers with a SWAT team to clear the area. An Occupy Nashville livestream report from the scene says approx. 100 officers began arresting a small group of peaceful demonstrators at around 4AM (3AM Nashville time). 

Betsy Phillips: Setting time limits and monetary requirements on when people are allowed to gather on taxpayer-funded state property to exercise their first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances is unconstitutional.

Also from Betsy:
But please, notice that the Governor is afraid of fifty people. Other Occupies have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. And our governor has to sneak up on fifty people in the dead of night.
But what’s worse than sneaking up on fifty people in the middle of the night is stripping everyone in the state of their constitutional right to peaceably assemble.
That hurts everyone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Join Me At The Mountain Makins Festival

This weekend marks the 36th Annual Mountain Makins Festival at Rose Center in Morristown, a celebration of Appalachian folk life, history, art, handmade crafts and displays of skill, music, dancing, food and much more. And I will again be the emcee for one of the stages of live music.

I'll be the host for the Gazebo Stage, sponsored by ORNL Federal Credit Union. Here's a lineup of the music - and this year will mark a first: Russian Bluegrass music.

A full write-up on this most entertaining festival is here.

The music line-up includes

10AM:          Tracy Wilson- Scottish Highland Bagpipes
10-11:          The Red Wellies- Celtic 
11-12:          The Grassabillies- Rockabilly
12-1:            Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge – Bluegrass
1-2:              Rough Edges- Bluegrass
2-3:              Hot Mountain Caravan
3-4:              Roan Mountain Hilltoppers – Old Time
4-5:              The Grass Pistols- Russian Bluegrass
10:15:            Tracy Wilson- Scottish Highland Bagpipes
10:30-11:30:   Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge- Bluegrass
11:30-12:30:   The Red Wellies – Celtic
12:30- 1:30     The Grassabillies – Rockabilly
1:30-2:30:       Roan Mountain Hilltoppers- Old Time
2:30- 3:30:      Grass Pistols – Russian Bluegrass
3:30-4:30:       Rough Edges- Bluegrass
4:30-5:00:       Hot Mountain Caravan- Americana/Folk/Roots
11-12:           The Dulcimer Guys- Hammer and Mountain Dulcimers
12-1:             Earl and Pearl- Old-Time
1-2:               Harmony Strings- Traditional Country and Gospel
2-3:               Hall Family and Friends- Traditional ‘Shape-note’ Singing
3-4:               The Dulcimer Guys- Hammer and Mountain Dulcimers
4-5:               Clinch Valley Bluegrass- Bluegrass
11:30-12:30    The Katts - Americana
12:30-1:30      The Dulcimer Guys- Hammer and Mountain Dulcimers
1:30-2:30        Earl and Pearl- Old Time
2:30-3:30        Clinch Valley Bluegrass- Bluegrass
3:30-4:30        Harmony Strings- Country and Gospel
4:30-5:00        The Dulcimer Guys- Hammer and Mountain Dulcimers

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paranormal Team Investigates Frightmare Manor

Prior to opening of Frightmare Manor in Talbott this year, a team of paranormal researchers took their team through the old house on the property. This team is from the area, and I spoke with them about what happened when they got into the house - they asked not to be identified, as they prefer to do their work without much fanfare or attention.

"There's a lot of activity in that old house," one team member told me. "The K-2 meter was off the scale all through the building." A K-2 is an electromagnetic field detector most ghost-hunters use.

"In almost no time, we made contact with 2 young girls," he said. And again, for privacy reasons, they asked me not to give too many details, as the team is still planning more investigations and they are trying not to gain notoriety as much as they are interested in learning all they can first. The team did learn the names of the girls, and their presence was quite powerful, they said.

Whether or not these girls are connected to the stories of Jeremiah Lexer, the mysterious owner of the property who committed some heinous crimes before taking his own life, is being investigated too. Lexer's tale was mentioned in this previous post. What is for certain is how intense that night investigating the house became for the team. Their faces and voices were greatly strained and it was obvious the experience left it's mark on them.

It's no surprise that for the second year in a row, Frightmare Manor has been voted the best haunted attraction in East Tennessee in a poll from WBIR-TV.

The Frightmare 'Screampark' is about to start their Halloween weekend run and you can get discount tickets by ordering online from their website.

Monday, October 24, 2011

And The Knox Horror Grindhouse Winner Is ... In My Home!!!

Already a banner year here at the house when it comes to all things Horror for Halloween 2011, I've more great news to share - this weekend my friend Clint Keller picked up the award for the best grindhouse-style trailer at the Knoxville Horror Fest Grindhouse Grind-Out for his epic tale of a maniac mechanic, called, naturally "Mechaniac". And the Best Actor award went to my roommate and semi-adopted brother (or did he adopt me?) Timothy Mooney.

Tim effortlessly portrays a crazed killer mechanic who does not like it when folks don't take care of their cars. He's not about being Green, but he will make a deep red bloody mess out of you. Heh heh.

Ah, but enough talk - here's the grainy, film-scarred trailer of what has to be the best grindhouse movie you never saw!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Soul Cakes and Meat Heads

As best I can tell by employing research via the GoogleMachine, the tradition of tramping out into the chilly evenings around Halloween while masking one's identity and seeking candy delights or other treats is relatively new - the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Expectations today assert that some $2 billion will be spent for candy alone on Halloween. And that:

"... an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar."

Halloween historians of television's History Channel say folks began begging for and receiving "soul cakes" for a promise to pray for dead relatives during England's All Souls Day parades and that donning costumes was based in the idea that one should wear a disguise so that roaming ghosts could not find you. "Soul cakes" sound far more interesting than they actually are.

Today, Halloween treats and foods can be deeply weird - I for one am still oddly fascinated with the Halloween Meat Hand. Meat and ghoulish imagination have also brought us the Halloween Meat Head. Make it cream cheese or jello for "glue" and slather meat around a skull. (none for me, thanks)

Also, Candy Blood, you know, for kids:

Around my home, I have noticed in the last few years that the neighborhood kids seem a little ... different ... and they want bacon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Secrets of Frightmare Manor

I sat down with Chris Wooden, the creator behind Frightmare Manor, now open for their third year in Talbott, smack on the border of Jefferson and Hamblen counties, to see if we could get some more details about what audiences can expect if they dare take the journey through all four stages of frights and chills offered at this "screampark".

I can tell you that the pure enthusiasm from Chris and his crew of Frightmare Fiends is enormous. As they have said before, for them, running Frightmare Manor is like Christmas for them.Their delight is indeed much like a wide-eyed child on Christmas morning - except of course, the child here is rather demented and deeply devoted to making you shriek out loud many times, no matter what your age.

So Chris, tell us a little about the planning that goes into this huge event. Do you have a regular team of creators involved?

"Planning for Frightmare Manor is truly a year round event. Our managers and actors keep in touch throughout the year and brainstorm new and creative ways to torment our victims. This event is in our blood and is something we enjoy working on year round. Once our plans are set, the redesign and renovation work usually begins late April."

Tell us what a visitor can expect from the four different attractions at Frightmare?

"Each attraction for 2011 is designed to be a completely different experience for our victims. We offer 3 unique haunted attractions at 1 location, plus the Frightmare Challenge - each mesmerizing in their own way. Whether it be through high-tech animatronics and Hollywood DMX Lighting, or old fashioned blood and chainsaws, we attack ALL 5 senses when someone steps foot onto this old plantation. We invest more and more money every year to give our victims a terrifying experience, that they want to experience year after year. We guarantee new and innovative haunts every year!

"New for 2011, we have a 1 of a kind, custom, entry piece that, by now, everyone has noticed when they drive past our property. Victims must enter into Frightmare Carnivore through this enormous Beast Facade Piece. There is not another example of this creation in the world. It was the Entry Piece to one of the largest haunted attractions in the U.S. for many years, until it's relocation to Frightmare Manor. This is only 1 example of how we will go the extra mile, traveling the U.S., to provide our customers with the Ultimate Haunted Experience. When customers come to Frightmare Manor, they will be seeing the fruits of not only our hard work, but the evidence of the vast industry connections we have, which allows us to bring the BEST props and scare-tactics to the Knoxville, TN area seen ANYWHERE in the U.S.!"

What can you tell us about the tales of a serial killer on this property?

"Jeremiah Lexer was the original property owner of this entire plantation around the turn of the 18th century. The past 2 years we have focused on more recent, controversial events surrounding the 2001 closing of the
successful restaurant on this property. Over the past year, we have dug into the record books and unearthed a lot of forgotten (or hidden) information about Jeremiah Lexer and his original homestead. We believe
Haunted House customers want to experience TRUE TERROR. Because of this, Frightmare Manor will remain at the old Jeremiah Lexer Plantation. We will continue to learn and share with our customers the evidence over the next few years."

This must take a lot of work from performers and tech crews - about how many people are involved?

"Many Haunted Attractions choose to use volunteers to staff their event. Frightmare Manor is proud to employ close to 80 staff seasonally. Most of our actors tell us it's an experience they would do for free, but we believe our actors truly appreciate the payment and we feel they absolutely deserve it! Working at Frightmare Manor is a unique experience and we have hundreds of applications per year. Providing seasonal employment to our community is truly a joy for us. It's a true Win-Win!"

I can verify for you, dear reader, since I worked at Frightmare last year, that everyone involved works very, very hard to make your experience unforgettable and uncanny.

Don't miss it!