Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is God Angry With Britain?

It was inevitable I suppose, with battles and bombs raging in the Middle East, that God Himself would seek out the international press to sound off on His views. And He did just that recently in this article:

The archangel reported that the Almighty has become increasingly irritated with the vogue for politicians to claim that He is behind their policies - especially if these involve killing large numbers of humans"

Even here in the U.S., the President had to deal with questions and or fears concerning the Apocalypse.

Subscriber Service Back In Action - Get Yours!!

For subscribers to this blog, you'll get better service now that I've dropped Bloglet and am using FEEDblitz instead. Bloglet just up and quit working, emails to them came back as undeliverable, so I punted them. A search revealed more bloggers were happy with FEEDblitz, so I'm trying them out. Please let me know if you have any problems with this new service and I thank you for signing up - if you haven't it's easy!!! Just sign up on the form in the links section here!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Camera Obscura - Weapon of Choice

Every now and then a performer in today's nano-fast, modern now-a-go-go world makes hits decade after decade in almost every realm of entertainment - movies, TV, stage, music and books. You know today's subject and I bet you'll even know some lines he's made or that certain movies which were made better just because he was there. That's called Star Power. And his Legend says he's a performer who never turns down a part. Any part.

He'll turn 63 next week, on March 31st, but I don't expect him to stop anytime soon.

I remember some other actor once referred to him as a "reed thin, hyper-intensive guy" and that sort of sums him up pretty well. He can make a villian be funny in the creepiest ways. Sometimes, his haircut is frightening.

He earned an Oscar for "The Deer Hunter" in 1978 and his lanky funky dancing got him an MTV music award in 2001 and "Saturday Night Live" has an open invite for him to host whenever he wishes. One of my personal favorite moments is the "watch speech" he gives in "Pulp Fiction" where he mentions the watch was bought in Knoxville - without a doubt, Christopher Walken can do it all.

I guess it was it his dancing though, that made him stand out to me. I was one of the few hundred in 1981 who bothered to watch, much less enjoy the Steve Martin-starring movie "Pennies From Heaven." His tap-dancing scene in the pool hall was inspired madness.

Also in '81, he starred in the underrated "Dogs of War", where he and three other guys take over an entire country. Reading his movie credits and his bio, you'll find about 90 movies under his belt, comedies, animation, horror and mystery and action and drama. He started at 10 in a skit with Jerry Lewis and was in last year's huge hit "The Wedding Crashers." His career just keeps growing.

Worth mentioning here is the Web hoax that has Walken as a presidential candidate for 2008, and his growing fame as a music producer in a "Saturday Night Live" skit where he keeps yelling "More cowbell!!!" as the band Blue Oyster Cult records the song "Don't Fear The Reaper."

But for sheer joy and wild fun, it's hard to beat his dancing in the Spike Jonze directed video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice," which he choreographed and nabbed that MTV award. I'm including the video today via YouTube for you to watch, but you'll get a crisper and cleaner copy of the video by going here.

Fred Astaire may have danced on the walls, but Chris flies.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How Much for Gas? or The Summer Blend Mystery

Back in the end of February I was paying $1.99 a gallon for gas and yesterday the price was $2.45. And of course, the price hike arrives as the "Spring Break" season begins, and this morning I see a report from AAA talking about the oil company's mandated changeover to "summer blend" gas.

Yes, the headlines and AAA say it - Summer Blend drives Price Hike.

What the heck is a summer blend and a winter blend?

Being an internet fiend, I Google the phrase. And the "summer blend" was mandated by the EPA back in 2001 by the President's Energy Policy, even found this nifty press release from the EPA which says this new "boutique" of clean fuel programs will "benefit consumers." Then head of the agency, Christie Whitman said:

I am concerned that when supplies fall short, due to increased demand or pipeline disruptions, the gasoline prices increase dramatically, as we saw this past summer. EPA requires the use of summer blend fuels to minimize air pollution during the hot summer months. While many factors contributed to the gasoline price spikes this year, we want to ensure that using summer blend fuel is not a contributor to price hikes.

Hmmm. Turns out each state has their own laws and requirements about what fuel should be used in different times of the year - the aforementioned "boutique" - means about 100 different types of summer blends are made. And much of the info is several years old, back when a barrel of crude was less than $30.

So the more I find out, the more confused the information becomes. It all seems to contradict, which also seems to be a trend regarding information and bureaucracy. Gas station owners hate the price hike they say, drivers hate it more, and as Yoda might say "Helpless we all are."

Last week while driving, I decided to tune in to the mindless ravings of Rush Limbaugh. It's good to know what the crazies are thinking. And he's complaining about people who complain about the record multi-billion dollar profits that all the oil companies have been reporting. The fat idiot says if people really want to find something to complain about, it's the rise of property taxes over the last 10 or 15 years, and that if the "average American" understood how that problem has grown then they would take to the streets in masses.


Then I recall how R.L. is a master of the ol' bait-and-switch. Never answer the issue at hand, bring up another one and claim the Evil is there.

The bottom line is oil companies always have an excuse - seasonal changes, clean air laws, Venezuela, Iraq, OPEC, hurricanes, China, natural gas, state gas taxes, yadda yadda yadda. You darned Americans just want everything - adequate supplies, reinvestment of profits, efficient combustion, war, peace, cable TV and better grades fer the kids in school. The reply to your endless need is: Someone has to pay for it. And for the attorneys.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

TN Hospitals Join 'Typo' Lawsuit

I mentioned last week that people were beginning to question whether or not a law signed by President Bush was actually a law or a collection of Constitutional violations. As of last Friday, 15 Tennessee hospitals joined with those who want the $39 billion deficit-reduction Act reviewed or repealed, calling it "unconstitutional", according to this report in The Hill.

The hospitals, which have been battling with the Health and Human Services agency for 10 years over billing issues, won $100 million lawsuit against HHS in September of last year - but the day after the President signed this "new law", HHS filed a motion to alter the court's judgement against them.

The confusion is growing faster than kudzu in summertime - and the HHS motion made Sen. Frist angry, according to the story:

n addition to prompting a legal response that could obliterate a $39 billion spending-reduction bill, the HHS motion to overturn that decision attracted the ire of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and the entire Tennessee delegation.

Frist and his colleagues wrote to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on March 10 to complain about the government’s motion.

“We request further explanation of what we believe to be a serious miscommunication by [Medicare representatives],” the lawmakers wrote."

Patents on Thought - UPDATE

According to some the questions from Supreme Court members yesterday, much doubt is being cast on the notion that patents can be applied to thought. It's really obvious the answer should be "No."

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that a Yes vote on this issue would create "monopolies in this country beyond belief," and Justice Scalia repeatedly asked "What was made by man here?" during the arguments in the case. More on the arguments made are here.

While there are a world of definitions regarding copyright, trademarks and patents, I have been seeing some dangerous trends in all these areas and my beliefs about copyrights themselves have changed greatly over the last few years.

As someone who has scraped by earning tiny amounts of money for writing, I used to be hold a firm belief that creators and inventors needed copyright protections in order to earn an income and protect the integrity of their creations. Yet as corporations have swallowed up the ideas of others, the ramifications of ownership and earnings changed, so my perspectives have changed.

Unfathomable changes have occured in the modern age - as I noted in the previous post, concerning owning the patents on thought, and of course the issues file sharing and downloading music and video have brought on heated debates and court cases taking action against individuals by the ever-growing rights extended to corporations.

Another recent madness emerged as Marvel Comics and DC Comcis continue to prevent the commercial use of their trademark to the term Super-Hero. It's a word, and yes, a concept, but this legal claim by Marvel and DC is madness.

Wrestling with these ideas, I went back to the still-revolutionary writings of our U.S. Constitution, where in Article One, Section 8 it states:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries ..."

Previous history to this document reveals hundreds of years of Western Civilization aiming to control the use and spread of information. So, it is little wonder the writers of the Constitution were specific in their phrasing -- that law should promote science and arts for limited times. After that time has passed, writings and discoveries were meant to become part of the public's domain.

The writers wisely held the belief that information and ideas need to ultimately be free and easily accesible to all citizens. It's an idea I also have embraced. God knows the more free and open access to all types of information will "promote progress."

A brilliant and well researched article "The Erosion of Public Protection: Attacks On The Concept of Free Use" traces the history of the copyright issue.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Supreme Court Considers Patents on Thought

On Tuesday of this week the Supreme Court takes up an odd case involving patent rights, and one of the key issues concerns how factual information might make a person "think", and how such reflection and thought could violate the patent. Kinda makes my head hurt to ponder this case,

In short, a company called Metabolite owns the license for a patent on a medical test for homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, and further, the patent includes the basic biological relationship between this amino acid and vitamin deficiency. Another company, LabCorp, uses a different medical test, but has published information mentioning the the "patented fact" about the biology involved. So far, courts have backed Metabolite on the patent infringement of "thinking" about this fact.

Yeah, OK....

In an essay by Michael Chrichton in the NYTimes, he notes some things I plain did not know and I hope I'm not breaking the law by thinking about this or writing about it:

For example, the human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, "Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?"

"The question of whether basic truths of nature can be owned ought not to be confused with concerns about how we pay for biotech development, whether we will have drugs in the future, and so on. If you invent a new test, you may patent it and sell it for as much as you can, if that's your goal. Companies can certainly own a test they have invented. But they should not own the disease itself, or the gene that causes the disease, or essential underlying facts about the disease."

One example which Chrichton notes is that Einstein did not own the patent on his mathematical theory of the speed of light being constant. But what if he had? What if Newton owned a patent on the idea of gravity? If so, then researchers would have to pay royalties for thinking about them and experimentation based on those ideas.

And that, dear readers, is my concern - is it truly feasible to demand royalties on what you might think about the facts and theories of the natural world and how they relate to each other?

Oh, and there is the already disturbing (to me) law that allows for someone to "own" segments of the Human Genome.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Patriot Act - The Board Game

What happens when you blend the game of Monopoly with the so-called "Patriot" Act?

You get a board game where the object is to be the last player to retain any Civil Liberties.

Instead of landing on say, Oriental Avenue, you land on color-coded terror alert sites, and get Homeland Security cards instead of Chance cards. And you don't Go To Jail - you go to Gitmo.

Read more here. (Note the story refers to the "inventor" of the game as an "artists" and "activist". (and hat-tip to the Rodeo Monkey for the story)

Next oddity of the day arrived via Cherokee Sage Woman. Police raid a near-full blown factory manufacturing snack foods made of marijuana - complete with names like "Pot Tarts" and "Buddhafingers."

And one more - the Las Vegas artist who found his BBQ chicken made him the "Rodney King of Chicken."