Saturday, April 01, 2006


There is no point in attempting to make an April Fool's Day joke on a blog, not when the real world offers such voluminous amounts of goofy truths. Take the newly emerging and growing line of NSACAR-themed items headed your way.

Hungry? Get ready to race to the store and get ya some NASCAR meat. (Which reminds me, once, many years ago, an Improv Comedy group I worked with tried in vain for months to complete a skit about French speed-eating contest called Nascargot. Just never worked, even with names of the potential hosts like Guy Wallace and Yves Harvick.)

Feeling romantic? Get ya some NASCAR romance novels.

And maybe the next horror movie to hit the big time will be called "The NASCAR Chainsaw Massacre."

Read all about these items here. (via Boing Boing)

And if you still prefer some fine April Fool's Day fun, my fave arrives with the headline "Breaking News: President Bush Resigns" and details how VP Cheney is sworn in at the Fox News studio.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Camera Obscura - Tarantino to Cronenberg

Today's topic tackles two of my favorite filmmakers - both accused of visceral excesses and both capable of crafting stories that will not leave your thoughts, long after the movie is over. And not the way, say the Larry the Cable Guy movie might haunt you - trailing you like an oafish, unwashed, relative who won't leave and forever turns your couch into an anti-life Aroma Zone. No, this post is about filmmakers with Talent.

Unless I missed some small mention, the Knoxville community seemed to ignore the birthday this week of one of their native sons - one who has been a prolific writer, director and likely one of the most notable and some might say controversial filmmakers of the last decade. While living only a short time in East TN, he captures much of the voices of other ET writers, like Agee or Cormac McCarthy. The dialog is raw, plain and realistic and crimes and passions are often motivated by quests, however illusory, for a better life. Good and Bad are relative terms.

On Monday, Quentin Tranantino turned 43, and the only mention I caught was on the "Writer's Almanac." I'd heard various biographical details before about him - his work as a videostore clerk, his manic personality - but some items I had not heard before, as the Almanac noted:

" ...
he hated school so much that he dropped out after ninth grade. He got a job as an usher at a pornographic movie theater and started taking acting classes. He taught himself screenwriting by writing from memory screenplays of movies he'd already seen. Whatever he couldn't remember he just made up. These screenplays eventually turned into his own original work, and he realized that he'd rather be a filmmaker than an actor."
"Tarantino said, "I steal from every movie ever made."

After much-too-long a wait, I finally got to see a movie this week by another prolific and challenging filmmaker, David Cronenberg, the Academy Award nominated "History of Violence." This Canadian writer and director earned his chops with a host of horror movies that remain as chilling and disturbing as they day they were released. From "Shivers" to "Rabid", "Scanners," "The Brood," "Videodrome," "The Fly, "The Dead Zone," and others, he consistently followed themes of nightmarish quality about intimacy, relationships, celebrity, and technology.

However, more of his recent efforts have been focused on characters and not nasty nightmares. In "Crash" and "Spider" his stories were made for maximum effect by exploring humanity or the lack of it, of the Outsiders who search for some kind of tentative cooperation with normalcy.

"A History of Violence" may be his masterwork. And as a true bonus, the commentary and behind-the-scene features on the DVD are worthy of great educational value to would-be filmmakers and those just curious as to how a movie is made and how artistic vision is brought to life. It's by far the most intelligent director commentary I've ever experienced via DVDs.

The story comes straight from the old John Wayne/Glenn Ford school of Heroics - the right to defend the Home and the Family. Expertly cast with Viggo Mortensen as a small-town owner of a diner and Maria Bello as his loving wife, their world is shattered when brutal criminals attempt to rob his diner and endanger his customers. In pure street brawl fashion, Viggo, as Tom Stall, kills the criminals. The town and the media hail him as a hero. Even his somewhat bullied son, Jack, gains admiration and inspiration from Tom's defense. And then a trio of ugly thugs arrive at Stall's Diner led by actor Ed Harris and casually accuse him of being just another mobster on the lam, that "Tom" is an impostor.

Cronenberg deftly restrains his style to create characters that seem both believable and doubtful at once. The violence escalates, and it always seems to be justified ... unless, perhaps, Tom isn't really Tom at all. And that doubt begins to rattle the All-American home of Tom and his wife to their foundations.

I won't reveal more, but in addition to the Academy Award nomination for supporting actor William Hurt, Viggo should have gotten a nomination as well. It also earned a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and many critics place the movie as one of the best of the 2005.

Worth mentioning too is the utterly wordless finale as Tom and his family sit down to dinner. It's one of the most powerful and emotional scenes I've seen in years.

Cronenberg's comments from the movie's web site (as well as the many unspoken themes in the movie itself) offer some insight into how carefully he crafted this work, how deeply involved the actors and tech crews were in collaborating to make this unique and impressive work. You'll want to watch it twice, perhaps more, especially after you hear Cronenberg's comments.

Violence can be justified - but can it be endured?

Oh and one more quickie here before I end - along with the fine folks at Atomic Tumor, the movie I most want to see in coming months is what appears to be a brilliant adaption of Phillip Dick's classic "A Scanner Darkly," filmed with a new style of real film and animation - check out the latest preview here.

Guns and Peanut Butter

The Tennessee Dept of Corrections issued a press release this week to announce they will ban jars of peanut butter for jail inmates. The story got some minor press coverage, though not one single reporter thought to ask to most important questions about this case.

The trouble, according to TDOC, is that inmates were using the 18 ounce containers to hide guns, drugs, cell phones, clothes, etc. In fact, last year's bloody jail escape and murderous shoot out enacted by George Hyatte in August occured after he used one-such smuggled cell phone to coordinate his deadly escape on his way to court in Knoxville with the aid of his girlfriend.

All press reports note that inmates purchased these large jars of peanut butter through a jail commissary. So, then, since inmates don't usually store guns, cell phones and drugs in their cells, SOMEONE had to put those items in the jars before they were purchased by inmates. SOMEONE in, say, a jail commissary -- but no word on corrective actions taken against the operations of
a commissary. Just no more giant jars for the inmates. Currently TDOC says some 4,600 jars are in stock, but will be replaced .... soon.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Most Idiotic Song Ever" - NOT

Not to knock down a fellow-blogger, but Glen Dean's rant about a song he calls the most idiotic ever, the John Lennon tune, "Imagine", has me puzzled. Even in his comments section, which is properly filled with debate, Dean admits his fave band is the Grateful Dead, and as far as goofy lyrics go ... well, let's just call some of them goofy and leave it at that.

But I can of think of many other tunes to qualify as idiotic - "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies or that "Mmm-bop" song by them little Hanson boys. And I personally find great irony that Dolly Parton's song about breaking off her ties with Porter Waggoner, "I WIll Always Love You", is now most often heard during a wedding.

But I digress.

Here's what Glen says:

There has never been, nor will there ever be a song this idiotic. Every verse is stupid, but the final verse takes the cake.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

Sounds like a typical fantasy for an egalitarian commie like Lennon, nothing to work for, nothing to stand up and fight for, nobody having any more than anybody else. After all, nobody deserves more. No wonder they played this song at the UN.

I don't understand why society made Lennon out to be some kind of peace activist. Peace has never been achieved by sitting around and imagining that there is no religion, no heaven or hell, and no bad people in the world. We are free today because of soldiers, sailors, and marines, men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we could live in peace. Freedom was fought for, not dreamed about."

Society did not make Lennon a peace activist - he did it himself, along with help from Yoko Ono - by expressing to the press in multiple interviews that he thought the Vietnam War was wrong and should end. He called in the international press on his honeymoon so they would report that he and his new bride were holding a "bed-in" to protest the war. The event was worldwide news. And then there was the song, "Give Peace A Chance" which he wrote intentionally as an anti-war anthem.

The US at the time labled him an "activist" and tried for years to keep him out of the country, especially since many millions of people were joining him in protesting the war. It was a case which the US goverment ultimately lost.

Sounds kinda like an "activist" to me.

And then there is that artistic metaphor of the tune itself - first, you have to be able to conceive, to imagine a world which you then work to make a reality through your actions. And history shows that from the sit-down strikes of Ghandi to the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr. that "sitting" and "stopping" can in fact cause revolutionary change.

And again, speaking personally, the song never expressed a rejection of religion or money, but rather an endorsement in the power of the individual to create a better world - a brotherhood created out of a realization that we can all change our lives for the better if we wish it and act to be inclusive and not divisive. It expresses to me that each person can do much to determine the reality of the world around us - but that action is preceded by vision, imagination, and viewing the world outside of the status quo.

Freedoms often must be fought for, sung about, talked about and I dare say the writers of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution began by "imagining" a world where religion and government were not the authority of humans - that instead we are all Free to be self-determining.

As for "imagining" there were "no heaven or no hell" - to me that meant that we are accountable in this world first for the way we live. So perhaps the here and now is the place to begin making a better world, not out of fear of some future Judgement, but from a desire to make the world we live in more humane and compassionate.

And this post isn't meant to defame Dean - thank God he is Free to write as he wishes. And so am I.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Missing Android and The Cellborg

Somewhere out in the world today is the head of a robot and no one is quite sure where it might be, and even stranger, the robot itself was based on the likeness of a man who often feared that he might one day be replaced by a robot which would be convinced that it was real and that the real man was a fake. In fact, much of the writings of the late Phillip K. Dick focused on the nature of reality and the rise of technology. The android created was "touring" the country and the head ... just ... went missing.

This tale was odd enough to begin with - the android's memory was loaded with the writings of PKD himself, so you could ask "it" questions and "it" would respond with PKD's own words. Biometric ID software allowed the fake PKD to recognize faces, interpret body language and expression which then led to the responses it gave to those who spoke to "it."

And now it's just ... out there, somewhere. Was it a planned escape? Is It pondering what to do next? It It writing It's first novel or short story? Is It plotting an organized android revolution? Makes me feel trapped in one of the original PKD's books.

Biological humans seem, as PKD predicted, to be searching for more and more ways to computerize their bodies. A new trend among 20-somethings is to buy a home kit and do self-implants so they can use their hands to interact with the world without touching anything. They call themselves "taggers" and use the implants to gain access to VIP clubs, use it open locked doors, as password protection for computer systems or add it to clothing so it emits light and link with GPS systems to keep them from getting lost, I suppose. Too bad no one put one such tracker in the missing robot head. And what happens if your implant also has your debit/credit card info - could you walk through a store, leave, and later find yourself charged for thousands of dollars in purchases simply by walking down an aisle filled with chip-filled goods??

At a recent conference on the ever-growing use of nanotechnology - structures made on the scale of atoms and molecules, for example a human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide - the Future looks paved with tiny nano-bots. These micro-machines are already at use in cosmetics, paint, fabrics, building materials, medicine and more. The U.S. government is expected to spend $6 billion on such research this year and the private sector likewise will spend about $6 billion on these products this year as well.

This week, researchers have announced success in fusing brain cells with computer chips that are about 1 millimeter square. Applications for medicine and business are immense - creating chips that utilize proteins and neurons to achieve their tiny nano-programs.

Also, it was announced this week that researchers have created what they call a "cellborg." It is the first success in blending micro-organisms with electronics. The new "cellborg" is acting a sensor to detect changes in humidity, but the applications include being able to detect gases or chemicals, which promises usage within medicine and security technology.

And earlier this month, the first ever NanoTech Consumer Products Inventory was made available to the public. Some 212 products are currently listed, and more are being added on a nearly daily basis, though not all items currently being used are offered to the public - yet. One nano researcher says:

"We are at the vanguard of discovering the endless benefits of nanotechnology for applications like targeted cancer treatments and more efficient solar cells. With this inventory, we also are learning that this technology is already being incorporated into our daily lives. It's on store shelves and being sold in every part of the world," said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, which is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts."

I used to make a joke that I was waiting for what I called "The Media Patch" - a device I imagined would be about the size of a postage stamp, and would connect my brain to telephone service, computer and online access, television and radio. Guess I need to revise that to a simple tiny implant, which also includes all my financial and medical information -- though right now that would be "broke" and "feeling pretty good, but with a little paranoia about computer chips."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

All Workers To Need Federal OK

Fundamental to all the debate about immigration reforms is one underlying theme - which political party can collect the most votes during the 2006 election. A candidate wants to appeal to those opposed to making illegal immigrants felons, unless they want to appeal to voters who want more criminalization for illegals. And new immigrants and first and second generation immigrants are eyeing which party supports them and which does not. To paraphrase, it's about the voters, stupid. Not about reform.

And for all the hoopla around loving or hating the proposed bill from last year in the House, I see little discussion about a fundamental change affecting every worker and would-be worker in the nation. The bill would demand a federal database of all potential workers and demand employers use that database or risk federal anger. Everyone would have to obtain, in essence, a federal "permission slip" to obtain a job, immigrant or not.

Or to put it another way:

The legislation would create a sea-change in federal employment rules by requiring all workers in the country to obtain a federal agencyƂ’s permission to work. All employers would be required to participate in a national employment eligibility verification program in an expansion of the faulty but voluntary "Basic Pilot" program in current law. Like Basic Pilot, the new program would use an Internet-based system to check the names and social security numbers of all employees -- citizens and non-citizen alike -- against a Department of Homeland Security database.

The ACLU said that such a move would place a huge burden on both employers and workers. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported that conservative estimates of implementing such a system would cost at least $11.7 billion annually, a large share of which would be shouldered by businesses. Also, even assuming a near-perfect accuracy rate in the program, millions of legal, eligible American workers could still have their right to work seriously delayed or denied --fighting bureaucratic red tape to keep a job and pay bills. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations have expressed strong reservations with the employment verification provisions."

Read the bill here. And remember, it's addressing Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration. ( and the unspoken federal approval to be a worker in the U.S.)

Another Manufacturing Job Loss In Morristown

The much-troubled furniture manufacturing industry in Morristown continues to decline as the former Shelby Williams Industries, now called Commercial Furniture Inc., has dropped another 100 jobs. This follows the loss of 200 jobs announced last fall, according to an article today in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Some 30 or more years ago, furniture makers were an anchor industry here, but in the last decade or more, the jobs have left for overseas operations and falling production.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Will Your Job Last?

Economic concerns are driving the debate behind immigration reform on most serious levels, with the notion arising, finally, that illegals lower overall wages - which benefit employers. And it isn't just the arrival of immigrants that threaten American workers, but the exodous of jobs.

How many millions of US jobs will fly overseas in the next five to ten years? 56 million?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

From What I've Read

I've realized that in addition to the links I offer on this page, I should also from time to time provide some links to other blogs and posts which I read. I enjoy roaming the blog world and reading all types of opinions and info and news, and hope you enjoy this Sunday roundup. Click away!

- On all the anger from the Right.

- Does Barbara Bush profit from donations to Katrina Aid?

- Some local views on the Immigration debate.

- Do not change eminent domain laws. Or maybe we should.

- Some cool gadgets. And the Cool Hunters home.

- Goodbye and RIP to the creator of the Bakersfield Sound, Buck Owens.

- The Big Cheese.