Saturday, May 06, 2006

Will Higher Tax Collections Keep Local Increases Down?

An interesting post at etricities notes that numerous east and southeast TN counties have been raking in taxes far ahead of last year. Apparent ever-rising needs in government operations will certainly get a boost, but will it be enough to halt plans to increase local property tax rates?

The statewide breakdown is here. Collections are measured in almost every level of taxation and overall, increases are fairly constant.

Django and Grappelli Red Hot

A reader requested a sample of the music of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and this clip of his famous quintet dates from about 1945, when all the voice-overs for newsreels spoke a staccato delivery as if it were the most important breaking news story of the day.

Django and violinist Stephane Grappelli created something new which remains utterly entertaining today. Django helped to create the formation of a lead guitarist backed by rhythm guitarists and bass, and Stephane's violin just dance around all the tunes. The music was often kinda bebop-ish, and a little melancholy too.

One web bio reports that he could neither read nor write, but in 1928 he was greatly injured in a fire, his right side from knee to waist were badly burned and doctors wanted to amputate his leg. Django said no, and struggled to recover. Also, his left hand was nearly useless, but during an 18-month recover, he mastered the use of the mobility of his two non-damaged fingers and created a unique style that is often imitated. Not being able to read music, he relied on improvisation, vital to modern jazz. In 1934 his Quintet of Jazz at the Hot Club in France made him world famous.

Grappelli went on after Django's death in the late 1950s, playing with the likes of Paul Simon, Jean Luc Ponty, and a he also provided some session work on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," which is nearly impossible to hear on that tune and he wasn't given album credit.

Finding CDs today is simple, look for ones that include "Limehouse Blues," "Moonglow", "I've Had My Moments," and "Nocturne".

A curious movie loaded with his music "B. Monkey" also features Asia Argento, but Django's music provides the best part of the film. The clip below is via YouTube.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Camera Obscura - A Cruise Bomb, Hostel and an Iguana's Night

Yet another dose of some classic movies worth viewing, some DVD treasures and some classic Hollywood nonsense for this Friday.

As testament to the Marketing Machine that is Tom Cruise, he was able to keep news of a new baby, a new movie and the arrival of JJ Abrams version of "Mission:Impossible 3" all front and center in the news. Much less press was given to the "M:I3" promotional stunt that brought out L.A. bomb squads to defuse what appeared to be bombs attatched to newspaper racks. Sleek black boxes were meant to play the theme music of the movie and "transform the everyday experience into an extraordinary mission". However, reports say the boxes were poorly made and attached, alarming many in the city to call emergency officials after seeing black boxes with wires hanging out throughout the city. Does this predict a "bomb" is about to hit the box office? The focus of the new movie is torture and love (something Cruise fans can't seem to get enough of), but it's bound to bring in huge sales this weekend.

Hollywood also turns it's attention to Tennessee yet again with a new movie based on the chilling accounts of the Bell Witch in the movie "An American Haunting", a story that's been knocking around like a true poltergeist for over 100 years. I remember when, around 5th grade, our teacher read us excerpts over several days from one of the more historical accounts of the hauntings from the so-called "Red Book" edition first printed in 1961 with that lurid colored cover. The book scared the bejesus out of all of us in the class, due to some historical facts and a rather remarkable reading skill of our teacher at the time.

You can read the entire "Red Book" edition online here. It has it's dry spots, but the endless accounts from all involved have made the tale memorable for generations.

Reviews of the movie are pretty bad at this point, and underscoring that is that the KNS movie writer (note I don't say critic) Betsy Pickle really thought it was good. An indication of the mediocrity likely in the movie is that director Courtney Solomon has so far given us two truly awful movies based on the "Dungeons and Dragons" role-playing game.

And since we're here at the Horror Movie Moment of today's post, I've been contacted by the folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment about an upcoming DVD release of a horror story co-written by Christian Matheson called "It Waits." I told them "I'd Wait" until I got a screener before offering a review.

Also this week I watched the uncut DVD edition of "Hostel", a story of a couple of Ugly Americans on a hedonistic tour of Europe, searching for limitless sex and drugs and finding that Europe is not feeling too kindly toward such decadent Americans. Back in the old days when some friends and I would gather to share movies we had found that would be a bit surprising or unknown to most, this movie falls into the category of a "Clear-The-Room-Movie." It is relentlessly gruesome and sadistic, and I kept wondering if writer/director Eli Roth ("Cabin Fever") was offering comments on the concepts of "rendition" and "secret prisons". It is as blunt as a chunk of rebar upside your head, and the "hero" of the movie decides to repay brutality with brutality. And to be honest, I had wished for a little more than a high-dollar "Dr. Butcher, M.D."

For some far better film journeys, it's worth noting that the 20th Anniversary season of PBS' "American Masters" series returns this Wednesday with an in-depth look at director John Ford and actor John Wayne and the 14 films they made together. Simply put - their films are among the best America made. Period. And their work did much to define the self-assessment of America's role in the modern world.

Finally, it is with much anticipation I await the upcoming re-mastered DVD release of the 1964 John Huston film of Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana".

The movie has a blistering hilarious scene tinged with despair as The Rev.Dr. T. Laurence Shannon (played by Richard Burton at the top of his game) utterly breaks down mid-sermon and chases his congregation from the church. His ministerial career thus ended, he flees to the tropics acting as tour guide for a group from a Christian College, a collection of dim-witted spinsters and one very over-sexed girl (one of a handful of eye-popping sensual performances from actress Sue Lyon. A scene where Shannon attempts to resist her temptations by walking barefoot on glass is most memorable).

The bus, like Shannon, breaks down near Puerto Vallarta, where Shannon finds yet another woman, this one from his past, and again offering a terrific performance by Ava Gardner. Rumors at the time maintain that Burton's new wife, Elizabeth Taylor, stayed on set to keep Burton from romancing all the other women there.

However, the man in control of this movie is John Huston, who, as filming began, actually gave the actors loaded derringers, each containing bullets with the names of other castmembers engraved upon them. I can almost hear the raspy but powerfully booming voice of Huston telling the cast: "You may all decide to shoot and kill each other if your passions rise to unbearable heights. But rest assured, I will kill each of you with my bare hands should you be unable or unwilling to give me what I want when the cameras roll, you dear dumb children."

Huston never made films to meet Hollywood's expectations or pace them like a breathless summer blockbuster. He made movies with a steady, sure and appropriate pace, a master storyteller who takes the audience through smartly-written scripts, carefully composed scenes and explored the psychological dramas that offers characters of realism, depth and pure poetry.

(NOTE: for Wintermute - I'll get that Django Reinhardt clip posted over the weekend.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006


One of many reaction shots as Steve Colbert spoke at the recent press dinner. Many more here.

Marvel Comics as WMDs and The Real Star Wars

Geekish fanboy here, with some interesting news about Marvel and some great news that the original "Star Wars" trilogy is headed to DVD this fall.

In the world of comics, politics has often a major player, as superhumans battled Nazis in the 40s and the occassional commie in the 50s and 60s, and DC Comics announced recently that Batman was going after Osama Bin Laden. But today Marvel is releasing a series called "Civil War" in which crusaders such as Captain America are informed by President Bush they must be registered as Weapons of Mass Destruction or face charges of being federal fugitives. Iron Man is ok with it, but Cap'n America isn't. Sounds like Marvel has gone all Hardball. Will Stephen Colbert don tights and cape and make snarky comments?

Marvel Editor in Chief, Joe Quesada says:

We need to present both sides' arguments, both sides of the coin, as fairly and as accurately as possible, and really let the readers make their own decision Marvel readers come in all shapes and sizes, and we speak to so many different people, different demographics. It's unfair for us to make this our bully pulpit and sit there and say, 'This bad. That good."

Revisting and revising iconic American entertainment is pretty standard, and as a recent editorial noted, the benefits of reading offer readers the chance to explore and examine the world around them, to encourage the individual to think for themselves.

And never underestimate the might and strength of stereotypical "those durned heathen funny-book readers" and rabid fans of iconic works in all forms of media. Which leads to some great news.

Reports today indicate yet another DVD set of the original "Star Wars" trilogy is slated for release in September which will include the original theatrical versions of each of the movies. The fans demanded it. Looks like the Force is with them. I admit to not buying any of the DVDs now available in hopes that the movies I fell in love with in the theatre might one day make it into my own hot little hands.

Geekish fanboy, signing off.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


It's May. The sun is still up and warm breezes drift through the house. I took a drive in the truck to Knox-vegas the other day with this 75 pound pit bull named Sophie who is as mild mannered as a butterfly. We had the windows rolled down, Sophie steered and I worked the clutch. I was listening to some bebop. We both like May. The other dog here, Groovy, is getting too old to take rides, but will always be The Groovy Dog.


Here is Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and others in some studio promo bits. In the second scene, that's Buddy Rich on the drums. I got to see him and his band once and his joy was infectious. Charlie, well ... what can you say about a man who smokes cigarettes between riffs on the sax?

And man can I waste some time at YouTube. I can watch Charlie, or Beck or every blessed episode of "Cowboy Bebop", which, you know, has a spaceship named for Charlie's style. The word is Bebop.

World Press Freedom Day

Many contrasts exist in reporting today, as many journalists have been facing death and kidnapping in the Mideast, riots ensued after some calculated propaganda regarding the publication of cartoons, and the ever-expanding and seemingly endless arrival of new web logs every hour. Some may write of recipes or lifestyles, some provide commentary on what they read elsewhere, and some sites offer wide ranges of information from hundreds of blogroll members.

A recent study notes some of the newer trends regarding "trust" in the media, including the following:

News sources:
    • Almost three-quarters of people (72%) said they followed the news closely every day, with national TV (82%) and national or regional newspapers (75%) the most trusted news outlets, according to the poll.
    • Online news sources were the first choice among 19% of 18-24 year-olds, compared to just 3% of those aged 55-64.
    • Some 77% prefer to check several news sources rather than simply rely on one, a habit particularly evident online.
  • Blogs:
    • Blogs are among the online sources that people are consulting, although few place ultimate trust in their content: 25% said they trusted blogs, with almost the same number (23%) distrusting them.
    • Just 3% of all respondents said blogs were their main news source. The only exception to this trend was in South Korea (17%), where online news is highly popular.
  • Younger web brands were also shown to have won significant public trust: Google (30%), Yahoo! (28%) and Microsoft/MSN (27%).

Here's to ever-growing freedoms worlwide and more and more individuals expressing their views via the internet.

Time Out For Our Weirder Web

After the irritation of immigration reforms and protests, a day of election primaries (still waiting in some places, and still waiting for percentages of registered voters who did vote, likely to be a small number) it's time for news that will offer up the wackier side of the old U.S. of A.

First, this East TN headline is too funny. And yes, I know I'm juvenile to chuckle at it, but did anyone really want to see that picture??

Next, one of the more unusual candidates in politics today is a wanna-be independent candidate for governor in Alabama. She offers to flash her bodacious ta-tas if you make a donation. At least she is a distinctively different type of candidate from ousted Judge Roy "10 Commandments" Moore. She also keeps a blog, which reads like one of the funniest Southern novels of the last decade, especially her attempt to see her brother in jail, which she couldn't, 'cause she and her mom were't wearing panties.

A recent study shows students don't really understand where they are or how to locate any other place on the map. Even Iraq. The good news of the study is that if the student uses the internet, they be smarterer.

For some good news, it appears as if the National Park Service won't totally open up the wilderness to widespread advertising signs.

And if nothing else cheeers you, take comfort in the fact that Free Comic Book Day is ahead on May 6! At current prices, each comic is valued at about a gallon of gas, so go find some freebies!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reforms Could Affect Everyone Seeking Jobs

It simply feeds my natural sense of paranoia when the stats on visitors to this page record that in the last 24 hours I've been visited by someone in the Air Force, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Halliburton Corp. Fortunately, the Air Force reader read the post about Rumsfeld's poetry, the HHS reader came here searching for info on Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner, and Mr. Halliburton was searching for "immigration reform craig estes". My page popped up there because the words "immigration" and a reference to Craig's List appeared in a post. (And I have no idea who "Craig Estes" may be.)

My mom warned me months ago I was nuts to use my real name on this blog, she says I have a knack for stepping on toes. Which I do - but she and my dad raised me to place a value on speaking the truth, which, doubtless has made me unwelcome in politics and business.

While I do attempt to find encouraging information as well as share information that should raise concerns among most Americans, some folks say I cast a gloomy shadow on the world. Yet, to me, recognizing a problem or issue is the first step to resolving it. I do hope and expect people to read this page, for whatever reasons, and I do try and temper my thoughts and writings with some pragmatism and hopes that information shared will result in opportunities for improvement. And yes, sometimes I'm just a smartass, though far less now than years ago. Honest.

And yes, at the risk of raising more corporate and government eyebrows, there is another point to this post, which is a crucial element and as I see it a powerful flaw in all the current federal legislation regarding immigration.

A fine piece of work at Reason magazine puts it plainly:

Anyone convinced that America is suffering from excessive diversity should troll through the seven immigration bills now floating around the Capitol. Traversing the conceptual distance, roughly, between the minds of Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly, Congressmen on both side of the aisle are debating how high the walls should be, how onerous the fines, how long the wait to legality. Amid all this robust debate, one steadfast conviction unites the almost-distinguishable ravings of center-left and center-right: The need to keep closer watch on those radical patrons of social unrest, American business owners.

Pick your acronym—EEVS (Electronic Employer Verification System) in the Senate bill, the BEVP (Basic Employer Verification Program) in the widely condemned House version, NEECS (New Employment Eligibility Confirmation System) in the alternate McCain/Kennedy rendition. Each represents a federal database system that will bestow a yea or nay upon every would-be worker in the Land of the Free, whether she is surnamed Rogers or Rodriguez, born in Manassas or Mexico City. The system the ACLU calls "permission slip to work" requires verification from not one but two federal agencies; the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If any of the prominent immigration measures pass as they are now written, every hiring decision will become a matter of public concern, subject to dual bureaucracies, two databases, and an untold number of deciders."
"How does the government that brought you the prescription drug benefit debacle plan to manage an electronic system involving every employed person in these United States? The GAO needs a color-coded map to explain, but here is the basic summary: Employers send data for every new hire to DHS, which then sends information to SSA, which then sends information back to DHS, which sends info back to the employer, who can either contest any rejected applicants and begin the process anew, risk fines for not complying, or accept the findings. The burden of contesting mistakes and keeping records lies with employers. The cost, says the GAO, will be about $11.7 billion '—annually' with employers bearing much of the cost."

Lessons From A Day Of Protests - UPDATED with Corrections

While some Hispanic-owned businesses stayed open in Morristown, Koch Foods closed on May 1, according to WATE's report. The report noted as well that "the plant manager spoke by phone with 6 News and confirmed they closed because of the immigrant day off, but he hung up when asked how many immigrants they employ." Oddly, that information was not reported at the local paper's website.

The company's employees voted in favor of forming a union to protect worker's rights last September, a story which was reported in the NYTimes and on this site. The employees are standing together for their rights - whether others agree with their efforts or not.

Given that the city has a "local" chapter of the Southwest's citizen-led border patrol organization who call themselves "Minutemen", it's not surprising to see few Hispanics taking to the streets to express opinions. However, around the nation, walk-outs and marches are attempting to give voice to the concerns of many.

I have a few thoughts about the immigration issue and on the power of protests and boycotts.

It's utterly counterproductive to begin training the state's Highway Patrol to be immigration and border patrol agents. Not only would it detract from their current responsibilities regarding public safety, it also requires even less effort from the federal INS agency (CORRECTION: Thanks to a commenter to this post, the agency was re-organized in March of 2003 as ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which you can link to here. My apologies for the error.) located in Memphis (NOTE: the new ICE office held a formal opening in June of 2005, with info on the operations available at this link). Likewise, adding tens of thousands of border patrol agents in the Southwest seems a mistake, given that so many immigrants, legal and illegal are already scattered throughout the nation. Why not allow for more ICE agents and offices within each state to search for illegals and punish businesses that use illegal labor? (UPDATE: As newly re-organized under the Dept of Homeland Security, which has a regional office at Walters State Community College, it would appear to me that greater enforcement levels would be available to this section of the state, and I'll see what I can find out regarding such programs. Thanks again to the commenter below who set me straight on the current immigration enforcement information.)

One lesson from the events of May 1st is that people who take to the streets with common goals get tremendous attention. And there are pertinent issues that should motivate millions of Americans.

Here's an example. Yesterday, the President spoke before the American Hospital Association, touting his "success" in modernizing the Medicare system, while his Treasury Secretary held a press conference announcing the program will be "belly up" in 2018, two years earlier than previously forecast. He also noted that Social Security will likewise be insolvent in 2040, also earlier than forecast. Proposals for a "commission" of congressmen to study the problem still has no commission members and with no members, of course there has been no meeting or "study". More on that story here.

Now imagine what might happen if all those who receive or pay into Medicare and Social Security were to take a day nationwide to register publicly a call for action and reform. A blog, an editorial, a special news hour on TV won't achieve what citizens can achieve - if they only make use of their rights and their voices.

Monday, May 01, 2006

See The 'Hokey-Pokey' At China's 1st Hooters

Sometimes it is impossible to fabricate or fictionalize the world around us when the actual daily events reach the depths featured in Reuters video odd news round-up titled "And Finally."

Where else could you learn that the first Hooter's eatery opened in China (and check out that amazing rendition of the wait staff singing "The Hokey Pokey"). Or that a life-sized replica of the robot from the old "Lost In Space" TV show can take residence in your home. Or visit the newly created Museum of the Heartbroken. Yeah, I want to pay to view someone else's pathetic memories of Love Gone Wrong.

You can access the video link here. (And yes, there is a commercial first. They're running a business, ya know.)

At least here in America, you can't be jailed for being married because of some angry in-laws. A Pakistani couple was finally released today after five years in jail for the crime of love and marriage. Can an Asian Jerry Springer be in the future?

The Angry Start Of May

Judging by the temper of this first day in May, it's going to be a rather hot, unruly season for Summer 2006. Boycotts, walkouts, war in Darfur or Iraq or fear of Iran, high gasoline prices, and labor disputes in America and Asia .... the political battles between the two party system - you name it and some group is furious.

One editorial via the Tennessean cites a lack of historical knowledge and the presence of immigrant hysteria on this day when Hispanics are protesting.:

The anger rising from many Tennesseans and Americans over illegal immigration would be comical if not that their response represents a gross ignorance of history.

And that elevates passion and anecdote over perspective and reality, dooming any fair immigration reform legislation from Congress this year. It only ensures polarization over an issue that has plenty of room for compromise."

Another writer via the Knox News Sentinel asks, "Why isn't English the most common language on blogs?"

In Asia, today marks a day for protests about making it tougher for workers to strike.

Perhaps it's no surprise that when even a comedian can rattle the White House and the national media, no one has a sense of humor about much of anything.

Perhaps this is just the kind of world birthed by the endless blaming and hating from drug addled radio talk show land.

Or perhaps, as I have mentioned previously, the Howard Beale Party of the Outraged is gathering strength. But to what end, I could not say. If you Google the news with the word "angry", you'll get plenty of hits. If you substitute "happy", there you'll find some good news, but many of those hits include "not happy with ...."

The name of a recent new hit TV show seems to express the either/or philosophy of all the world of angry folks - "Deal or No Deal".

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Contempt for Law and The Constitution

This was rather obvious to many Americans:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution."
"Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

''There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. ''This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."

For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act."

More on the story here. (And who else in the TN Blogworld but Newscoma would have already tagged this collection of horrors?)

Why Not Katie Couric For Press Secretary?

Talk about missing opportunities - with media darlings like that li'l Katie Couric up for grabs, why didn't President Bush jump in the bidding wars and offer her the job of White House Press Secretary? The endlessly self-referential national media loves talking about her and if The Pres had hired her, can you imagine the gushing love-fest from the White House Press Corp??

We'd get info like what the Commander In Chief thinks about Cruise, Pitt, Paris, hip new diet prgrams, and American Idol!! You know, the stuff Americans are really concerned about. And they could have held press conferences with windows open to fans of the Katie Show, holding signs that read We Luv U! and Bush Rocks Topeka, KA.

Maybe the offer was made and li'l Katie chafed at the term "secretary."

Or maybe he could have gone with the graphic-and -sound-effects laden "Insider" with Pat O'Brien to wow the press corp!

Or how about one-upping the loss of Meridith Viera from "The View" by naming Star "I-Love-Plastic-Surgery" Jones! Imagine the ratings boost for press conferences then.

In all, only 12 presidents have ever used a "press secretary," starting with FDR back in 1937. The second press secretary, J. Leonard Reinsch, used his accumen to later become CEO of Cox Broadcasting Association (now known as Cox Communications.)

Former President Clinton holds the record for highest number of Press Secretaries at four, but President Bush is closing in with Tony Snow marking number 3. I'd bet cash money numbers 4 and 5 are likely.

One person I know who won't be appointed is pretend news anchor Stephen Colbert, who at a recent roast of the President doled out far too much Truthiness in his comedy ("reality has a well-known liberal bias") and many on the dias were heard to mutter "We are not amused."