Saturday, May 20, 2006

Your Personal Invitation

I'm approaching my 300th post here - a minor achievement for some, but large for me - and to celebrate I'm guest-blogging at Nashville Is Talking for the weekend. Having grown up in Middle TN, it's nice to be back, virtually speaking.

Come join me - suggest topics or links, lurk, and generally add your 2 cents.

For NIT readers arriving here for the first time, please take your time, scan through the posts here and you'll understand why folks like their Cup of Joe.

Man, I love the shameless self-promotion opportunities like this.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Camera Obscura - A New Western and A Classic Turkey

Got a peek at some new movies, some not so new, and what??? The French don't like little Ronnie Howard's version of "DaVinci Code"? Yeah, like that will affect the ticket sales the first weekend. Also, Mr. Spielberg wants you to show off your filmmaking skills for a new "reality" show. Oh, and I'll be guest blogging at Nashville Is Talking this weekend, so be sure to come visit!

Wonder why it is that most of us film critics love the Western? Without Clint Eastwood though, can't say many filmmakers try the genre anymore - I said filmmakers not Kevin Costner.

Punk rock legend and now screenwriter Nick Cave has a new Australian western opening today called "Proposition" that is a grim and violent tale of moral wastelands and stars Guy Pearce and Danny Huston (yes, that Huston family) and follows the Sam Peckinpah style for Westerns. The story is set in the 19th century Australian outback as three deadly brothers run from the law and challenge each. Though likely to find a more welcome home on the Cult Movie Trail, you can read more about this feature here, which also has a preview of the movie.

You've got a directing call on "The Lot", which has the unlikely team of Steve Spielberg and Mark Burnett offering a $1 million development deal at DreamWorks. Contestants will have to make short films which please judges and viewers to win. Apply online at The

I had a most enjoyable time with the comedy-action-adventure "The Brothers Grimm" by Terry Gilliam starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. If you don't know, long before it was all Disneyfied, folk tales collected by these brothers shaped the creations of childhood stories from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White and far beyond. Monica Bellucci has the juicy part of the evil witch, evoking decades of Disney animation.

This movie is a great blending of fact, fantasy and history more in line with Gilliam's earlier work, like "Time Bandits", so if you liked that one - this will be most welcome. It's a phantasmagoria ride thru the con game of storytelling, myth, politics and innocence lost. And true to Gilliam's style, the movie was haunted with problems and delays but the end result was most fine. I particularly liked how Heath and Matt both kept skidding through the mud and rain - what's a Gilliam film without mud and rain??

I watched a real gem of a movie this week, haven't seen it in years. It was too hip for the room when it came out in 1971, and still has yet to find a DVD or VHS release, so look for it on cable - definitely worth the search.

"Cold Turkey" is a brilliant satire on America by writer/director Norman Lear and includes a great Randy Newman tune, "He Gives Us All His Love", which frames the movie perfectly. The story is about a giant tobacco corporation which decides to offer any town that can quit smoking for 30 days $25 million - thinking it's an impossible task. The lure of money is too great for Eagle Rock, Iowa and that premise is just a springboard for a stabbing satire on small towns, industry, television and personal politics.

Made in the days just after cigarette ads were banned on TV, it has a low-key comedy all-star lineup. Bob Newhart gets the role of the evil tobacco PR man who concocts the scheme, Dick Van Dyke as the self-righteous preacher who craves a better life and the best use ever on camera of comedy legends Bob and Ray, who blast the media impersonating Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Paul Harvey and many more.

I fell in love with the movie when I saw it decades ago and it remains all it's teeth and bite decades later.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Duh! Senate Realizes English Be Spoke Here

In a bold stroke of stating the obvious, the Senate has approved legislation making English the official language of this country. Um ... it already was. Did we need a federal law to make it so?

I agree with the following comment from Sen. Harry Reid on this one:

"Although the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist. I believe it is directed at people who speak Spanish"

All of the mangled mess of immigration legislation will require those who'll be elected in the fall to be on clean-up duty, meaning I doubt these current "reforms" will stand for very long. Seems there's so much unreasoning, isolationist fear that regular voters will have to do some cleaning out too.

Or we can continue the trend to pass meaningless law -

Like making the Sky and Clouds the official Overhead Part of the Country.

Silly, yes? Then the motives behind this legislation are clear - to exclude, isolate, imtimidate. Maybe we should pass a Dialect Law in Tennessee. Outlaw the Georgia Drawl!!

As Homer Simpson said, "Why should I learn English? I don't live in England!"

Since I have a degree in English - am I a Federal Employee now?

A Very Unscientific Survey

The following is meant to be a probe of reader's opinions, and as David Letterman might say, "please, no wagering". It's also a chance for readers here to share their views and ease my curiosity about the world around me and around you. So take a few moments, and leave a response. Much thanks!

1 - Is illegal immigration in the U.S. at a critical phase or is this issue being used to distract Americans from other problems?

2 - On illegal immigrants, the Senate has okayed a plan to build a 370-mile section of fence and the deployment of troops on the southwest border. Do you think this will help resolve the issue?

3 - Much press is given to the plummeting approval ratings for President Bush. His wife said such polls are meaningless. Has your view of the President, whether you voted for him or not, changed in a positive or negative direction since he took office?

4 - The state is considering a statewide increase to the minimum wage to $6.15, Good idea or not??

5 - Of all the movies hyped for release for summer, have you said, "Oh I got to see that one!" and which one is it (if any)?

Thanks. Tried to keep this one very short and simple. Have at it!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Computer Cookies

I was running one of those spyware programs on the computer today and I get this incredible warning about a dangerous amount of cookies lodged deep within the basic structure of my operating systems.

I cautiously explored the dangerous areas noted and much to my surprise, indeed I did find a huge collection of cookies.

Be very afraid.

Pimp Out Your Teeth On MTV

MTV is dead and empty as a place for music. I've noticed it and now so have much younger folk than I. Just read some of the thoughts of a high school sophomore.

MTV is everything it wasn't born to be. It was born to be a music channel. It is now a reality-TV safe haven. It's a pathetic excuse for a music channel.

Let's change the name to the more appropriate "BTV"--Bad Reality Television."

It became pretty obvious during the late 80s and 90s that the M stood for Marketing, and at that, it's been most successful. That idea hit the other day when, coming back from Georgia, I made a stop in Cleveland, TN at a fast food place. (Not my choice, but my mom's.) Anyway, I talked to this black kid who worked there and he tried to respond, but he had a tough time talking around his silver teeth grill.

We even have a teeth grill shop in Morristown. How modern. Sorry, make that "grillz". No shizzle, dizzle.

I don't even see/hear decent videos or music on M2 or any of their variants. In the homemade world of YouTube, there are better videos, more of them and lots of classics too. Like this astonishing trio of Derek and the Dominoes, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

TN Suit Over Phones Database

One Tennessee resident has filed a suit against phone giant Bell South over their actions of providing phone information to the NSA. However, despite published reports, phone companies claim they have not provided any such info the the NSA. And to make this trail more twisty, the White House, which had claimed no such massive database in the NSA from phone records, has now decided now to inform congressional committees about the NSA domestic spying programs after congress invoked the always-spooky and murky maze of the 1947 National Security Act.

Oooooooh, I'm getting dizzy from all the spin. "Press one if you want to file suit, press two if you need a non-denial denial, press three if you're a reporter whose sources were outed, press three if you need a White House plumber, press four if you want to change the topic to illegal immigration and if you'd prefer to talk to a real person then hang up and go outside and one of our agents will meet you in the park by the old cannon. Your code phrase is "The chair is against the wall."

Both Bell South and Verizon claim they are not working with the NSA, though AT and T said they did work with law enforcement they avoided mention of the NSA. Since companies will track cell phone transactions and sell them to anyone, why all this secret investigation? Seems that all you need is a.) some cash and with the economy all good, no prob, or b.) a phone company employee who will provide the info on the sly so the company can claim no "official" action was taken.

Quick, which 1970s movie told the story of the phone company conspiracy behind a plot to take over the world and the assassination of a president??? Anyone?? Bueller? .... No? It's here.Time to put my aluminum hat back on!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

TN Death Penalty Debate

Inmate Sedley Alley, convicted of the 1985 murder of 19-year-old Suzanne Collins, is awaiting word from the state about whether or not his execution will take place Wednesday. The debate over his case in general and specific, as well as arguments from the tcask blog, are flying fast - you can view some of the state's blogosphere discussion via Nashville Is Talking.

The state Board of Probation and Parole has urged the governor to allow for a reprieve until some new DNA evidence is reviewed, a break for Ally and his decades-long appeals. The crime is plainly horrifying - the young girl was abducted, beaten, raped and impaled on a stick that had also been used to rape her. I can't imagine the grief and pain of her family and friends.

Also disgusting to me is use of the issue in the political world - but since this is a government-sanctioned process, politics rolls into the mix. Shame on those who use this tragedy to paint a political picture.

I've had friends whose parent died violently and the criminal convicted was not executed. I often saw and heard the rage and sorrow the event left behind. I know that nothing could have changed the emotional turmoil of that family. They were hurt in a way that couldn't be repaired. It was awful to see the damage done.

The endless appeals are in place for a reason - protection of a possibly innocent person. If guilt is clear and obvious 9 times out of 10, does that mean we, as a state and a people, sanction the death of that one innocent person?

I've yet to be shown in any way that the death penalty deters murder. And I know that just as a murderer can steal a life, a government - any government - can also make errors and take innocent lives too. Which means I'm opposed to the death penalty.

But we all should consider this issue since we, as a state, condone the death penalty. And the comments mentioned above merit much debate and reflection.

UPDATE: via The Tennessean ---
Just eight hours before his appointed execution time, Sedley Alley was granted a reprieve by Gov. Phil Bredesen. The 15-day postponement would allow time for Alley to press his case in state court to get DNA testing done that could clear him.

Bredesen said in a statement issued shortly after 5 p.m. today that he believes Alley is guilty and issued the reprieve "reluctantly."

Alley’s attorneys said they are disappointed in the turn of events. They had hoped the governor would follow the parole board’s recommendation to order DNA testing be done.

The extra days, however, will permit Alley to pursue his petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court, said Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender representing Alley.

Voting Machines and Monkey-Eating Bears

A report finds it a bit too easy to hack into Diebold's electronic voting equipment, which the company says is no cause for alarm - that's the way the system was meant to function. The report reveals that a "malicious" person could add programming code which could lie dormant until needed - years, possibly. No - really? Voter fraud in the good ole U.S. of A.?

"One of them, however, seems to enable a malicious person to compromise the equipment even years before actually using the exploit, possibly leaving the voting terminal incurably compromised. These architectural defects are not in the election-processing system itself. However, they compromise the underlying platform and therefore cast a serious question over the integrity of the vote. These exploits can be used to affect the trustworthiness of the system or to selectively disenfranchise groups of voters through denial of service."

Darn those "malicious" people!!

You can access the full report from Black Box Voting via this link to PC World, where a Diebold spokesman says this issue is all in how you look at it:

What they're proposing as a vulnerability is actually a functionality of the system," said spokesman David Bear. "Instead of recognizing the advantages of the technology, we keep ringing up 'what if' scenarios that serve no purpose other than to confuse and in some instances frighten voters."

Nevertheless, Diebold plans to address the issue in an upcoming version of the product, which will use cryptographic keys to ensure that only authorized software is installed on the machine, Bear said. He could not say when this feature would be added, but said that it could be available in time for the November 7 general election in the U.S."

Nothing to see here - just move along.

Now here's where all that time I spent reading science-fiction and fact becomes useful - computerized systems can be hacked by outsiders or insiders. It's sort of the nature of the beast - codewriters can change code to fit so a desired outcome is achieved.

It makes me think of a story I saw today, where visitors went to see "wild animals" at a Dutch Zoo - and my God, the animals were wild! Bears ate a monkey! And people saw it! Just too real a wildlife experience for ticket-buyers, I suppose

And problems with voting machines and memory cards were quite evident in the 2000 presidential election, as Black Box voting reported years ago and other news organizations reported in 2000. If you're like me, reading this account of Diebold's own memos about voter fraud might give you a headache.

You've been warned.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Just Record Everyone and Everything Maybe That'll Help

Since ABC news and their reporters have been told their phones are being tapped, recorded and stored in a database, it's Deja Vu time. The taps are not in search of terrorists, but in search for "leaks" of White House activities and policies. Welcome to another seige-mentality and the ever-reliable "plumbers" -- perhaps it's the inevitable mindset of group of wartime leaders whose military strategies can't seem to find the boat that actually takes them to the Port of Mission Accomplished.

Perhaps the Us vs.Them philosophy only allows for the inevitable paranoia even here within our own country, where an act of protest is ruled an act of "mental instability". Don't think that could happen? Ask Carol Fisher, who was forced into a psych unit by a judge just for daring to express a non-White House opinion. (Hey, we all have enemies lists ... don't we??)

Or maybe ABC shouldn't be reporting this, or this or this.

Even those in charge of warrentless domestic spying knew two years ago an investigation was inevitable, why else hire someone to train NSA workers about answering questions during a Congressional investigation into what the agency had been doing.

So they brought back the one person who had first-hand experience in just such matters:

"[Joseph] Tomba
has a unique perspective on the subject. On Feb. 25, 1976, the West Virginia-born engineer became the first, and so far the only, NSA employee subpoenaed by Congress for his role in a domestic surveillance program. And because he was a less-than-cooperative witness before a House Government Operations subcommittee, he also became the only NSA employee to be recommended for a citation for contempt of Congress. The lack of cooperation wasn’t entirely his idea. As part of a sweeping assertion of executive privilege by President Gerald Ford, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Tomba not to answer legislators’ questions, particularly those about Project Shamrock, under which NSA had spent the previous three decades intercepting almost all outgoing U.S. telegram traffic.

So we've all been here before. But that doesn't mean we should assume this is normal governmental attitudes or policies. It isn't. And thinking that it is makes it worse.

Plop - I Mean Pop Culture Roundup

So many, many joke present themselves when you mention that Paris Hilton is a video game. But the best one so far is that she dosen't know the name of it, despite making sure to hit the E3 show to promote it. The again, those who consume all things Hilton don't care what it's called do they?

The info is here, at a web site for snarky people. The even have a real life meeting of the famously failed Letterman-at-the-Oscars joke of "Oprah ... Uma ... Uma ... Oprah."

A very funny interview with actor Tom Hanks and the upcoming "DaVinci Code" hype was tackled with much style on the NPR game show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" which you can listen to here. I liked it when Roy Blount Jr asked Hanks "Did you deal directly to Satan or did His People talk to Your People?"

Also worth noting was a fine round of jokes about Drinking Monkeys and Marlon Brando's pants.

Students Ask Candidates About Patriot Act

The kids in the local schools know something about our nation and it's Constitution, and they have other smarts too, of course. But I was most happy the first question they brought before GOP candidates running for congress was about the Bill of Rights and concerns that the Patriot Act violates those standards.

We studied the Bill of Rights, and it says we have the right of protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Do you think that parts of the Patriot Act violate that right? Why or why not, and what do you think should be done differently?

The 4th Ammendment also says such searches require a court-issed warrant, too. According to the report in the Greeneville Sun, here's how the candidates asked that question responded and I'm not very surprised by their answers:

Richard Roberts, a Greeneville attorney and businessman, said he does not think this right is violated by the Patriot Act, and noted that the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to ensure its passage, and its protections are very important.

The Patriot Act was a response to an attack,” Roberts said, mentioning the attacks on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, “and was a logical response to that threat.”

Of national concern today, Roberts said, is Americans’ disclosing information about the secrecy of telecommunications and wire fund transfers. “If we have questions about the appropriateness of a wiretap,” the law calls for having a judge look into the matter, he said.

Dr. Phil Roe, vice mayor of Johnson City and an obstetrician/gynecologist, said privacy is “a huge issue” in medicine, but the Constitution asks the president to see to the country’s security.

Roe said bioterrorism threats from “scary viruses” are something the Patriot Act can and should address, and he said he agreed with Roberts “completely. When people break the law, they should be punished.”

Retired federal prosecutor Dan Smith, of Johnson City, noted that the 4th Amendment does give the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, “but the emphasis is on ‘unreasonable,’” Smith said.

He said talk of “illegal wiretaps — that’s the liberal media saying it’s illegal.” Smith said he sees nothing improper about listening in to telephone calls from other countries to known or suspected terrorists."

No surprise to me the GOP sees Fear as motivation and reason enough to violate the Amendmment, and that the President's power to override courts and be the ultimate "decider".

It's a key element to the Bush presidency - he (and many of his supporters) - simply prefer a single "decider" to determine which laws are viable and which need only Presidential interpretation. Oh, and it's all the "liberal media's" fault that anyone has doubts about the need to create and store a massive databse of phone conversations.

Some argue that Congress gave him that authority after 9-11 and I'm happy the kids at least know to raise the question.

The entire article shows how much the candidates are following the president's key talking points on Iraq and the loss of jobs to overseas development and other issues.