Saturday, May 27, 2006

Yeah, Right, I Made *Smirk* Mistakes

Take a look at the smirk on our President's face as he and British P.M. Blair tell reporters that their efforts to combat terrorism have had a few mistakes.

As noted in other blogs, it appears the confession really wasn't an admission of mistakes, more a regret for the choice of wording.

As before, the lyrics to "My Way" must be running through the mind of the Commander In Chief.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way."

Congress Squeals For Protection- UPDATE

UPDATE: A Katrina-style storm is about to breach the levees in Washington as the Congress, the President, the FBI, Justice Dept. and the courts wrangle and battle over the corruption investigations in Congress.

The Post today says the top three officials at Justice, including Attorney General Gonzales, threatened to resign if records and documents seized in the court-approved raid on Congressman Jefferson's office had to be returned. That prompted President Bush to step into a real hornets nest to order the info be sealed.

From Friday:

Congressional leaders continue to allow liberty and individual rights to drift further and further away from average citizens, but when it comes to keeping themselves free from scrutiny and investigaton, they are united.

I doubt may voters have any sympathy for them, since they have abandoned us. Scandals, corruption, and the inability to encourage ethical behavior has meant their approval ratings are even below the Bushh free fall into negativity.

An editorial in today's USA Today (the less filling, more taste newspaper) they call the political leaders out:

Now we know what it takes to make Congress mad enough to stand up for constitutional rights.

When the government snoops on your phone calls and records without warrants, lawmakers barely kick up a fuss. But when the target is a fellow congressman — one under investigation for taking a bribe, no less — they're ready to rumble.

Witness the bipartisan frenzy set off after the FBI searched the Capitol Hill offices of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., on Saturday. The FBI had a court order. According to an FBI affidavit, he was videotaped taking $100,000 in cash from an investor working undercover for the FBI. Agents found $90,000 of it stuffed in his freezer at home, the affidavit said.

Never mind all that. Leaders of the House of Representatives are appalled. They say the search violated the Constitution's separation of powers, "designed to protect the Congress and the American people from abuse of power."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who rarely agree on anything, demanded that the Justice Department return the "unconstitutionally seized" documents. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the episode raised "profoundly disturbing" questions. He set a hearing for Tuesday to ask: "Did the Saturday night raid of Congress trample the Constitution?"

If only those leaders were as profoundly disturbed about executive branch incursions on the rights of average citizens. You certainly have to wonder where they've been for the past several years while the Bush administration ran roughshod over the legislative branch and launched anti-terror programs of questionable legality.

Last December, The New York Times revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was wiretapping international phone calls without court warrants. Hastert didn't make a peep. Pelosi and other Democrats loudly protested, but nothing came of it. As it turns out, Pelosi was part of a tiny leadership group that had been briefed on the program since October 2001.

The scenario repeated itself this month when USA TODAY revealed that the NSA has collected millions of phone records.

So now the leadership swings into action because the FBI searched a Capitol Hill office for evidence of criminal activity?"

Friday, May 26, 2006

Camera Obscura: Cemetery Man, X-Men, Comics Galore

The critic is: IN. The movies: Obscure and Mainstream. The News: Sneak peeks at movies out this summer. Ah, yes, faithful followers, it's time to talk movies and we have a bona fide horror gem from the early 90s fresh to DVD; a Canadian treasure; a look at what oddities are ahead this summer and the bad news about X-Men 3.

This week new previews of Marvel Comics "Ghost Rider" were released (the movie stars Nicolas Cage, who turned down a proposed "Superman" role and went for the flamin' skeleton on a motorcycle. Who wouldn't? The preview is here.

Director Jon Favreau has "Iron Man" details here, in a deal that takes all the Marvel titles away from Hollywood control. In fact, Marvel has a whole stack of heroes in the pipeline, including Nick Fury!! (Please never watch that lousy David Hasselhoff TV movie from a few years ago.)

The big comics-to-movies news is the third X-Men movie - and the critics so far say it's all hat and no cattle. Meaning it's effects-heavy and story-light. I admit, the idea of Kelsey Grammer as The Beast is almost enough to keep me away from the movie. It opens everywhere today. (and remember, film critics seldom get the comic book lovers appreciation for the stories told in panels and word balloons.)

And wouldn't you know it - the one movie featured at the Cannes Festival I'd like to see, "Southland Tales" by the director/writer of "Donnie Darko" can't seem to find a distributor. J. Hoberman has a review of "Southland Tales", a Phillip Dick inspired sci-fi end-of-the world musical and satiric jab at national security issues, along with a wrap-up of all things Cannes here. He calls "Southland" one of the first great, visionary flicks of 2006. (Also the movie is linked to a series of soon to be released graphic novels.)
"Southland Tales"

Constant readers here know how much I looooove horror films and I have a real gem from the 1990s today, thanks to the folks at Anchor Bay and M-80 Teams for the screener copy of "Cemetery Man."

Released in the mid-90s and made in 1994 "Cemetery Man" is a jaw-dropping mix of zombies and doomed love starrring Rupert Everett. I caught this movie on it's original run and the Italian-French production (dubbed in English) presents a very stylish and gruesome movie -- imagine if Fellini and Bergman made a zombie movie with Sam Raimi and you'll get an idea of what the movie is like. I think it's the only art-house zombie flick I've ever seen.
"Cemetery Man"

Rupert plays the watchman at a cemetery, along with a nearly mute helper, who has a problem - the dead keep coming back. He does his best to keep the zombies at bay, but when he sees a widow, an ephemeral beauty in black, one day, he falls in love - of course, she's bitten by her dead husband and becomes a member of the walking dead club.

This is the surface of the story, but the real surprise is how smart the script is and how gorgeous the visuals look. There are many layers here and many surprises. It's very funny, grim and artfully made. It was way past time for a decent DVD version of this movie and I think it's a forgotten classic of the genre. Pick up a copy when it's released in June. (And remember, NEVER bury a motorcyle with a corpse.)

This week a reader asked if I had seen a very odd release from director Guy Maddin, called "The Saddest Music In The World", and what my thoughts on it were. This is not a typical movie in any way. Maddin, a Canadian, seldom uses any technology not available to filmmakers in the early silent cinema of the 1900s. Using eight and sixteen millimeter for the most part, filming mostly black and white, smearing lenses with vaseline and using iris-outs, his movies seldom appeal to the masses.

"Saddest Music" is about a competition to find the saddest music, hosted by beer baroness Isabella Rossellini, who has lost her legs and replaced them with glass legs. It only gets stranger as you watch it. There is much satire here and much, much strangeness as only Maddin could make.

I first encountered Maddin in 1991 when I saw his movie "Archangel" in a dinky screening room in Greenwich Village. Maddin somehow always makes amputees and amnesia central to his movies, which I suppose is his preferred metaphor for the theme in all his movies - loss. He's an acquired taste, no doubt. Though I have enjoyed his movies, I was not able to sit through his version of Dracula, titled "Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary", as it was really a filmed ballet. Yes, I said ballet.

Some things are too weird, even for me.

UPDATE: The announced release of the original theatrical "Star Wars" movies got worse - no letterbox version, just a pan and scan format for TV screens.

And weep for Britney/Federline 'cause it's over.

"Kung Fu" creators are taking Caine's story to the big screen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is Hell Freezing Over?

A tax on long distance service dating back to the late 1800s and used to help finance the Spanish American war is being repealed and more amazing, the government says you can reclaim some of the money on next year's tax return. Details here.

Efforts are still underway to eliminate an excise tax on local phone service.

So taxpayers won't have to spend time digging through old telephone bills, we're designing a straightforward process that taxpayers may use when they file their tax returns next year, said IRS Commissioner Mark Everson. "Claiming a refund will be simple and fair."

[Treasury Secretary] Snow said he could not specify how much of the refund might be made to businesses and how much to individuals, or estimate the size of refund an average individual could expect to get.

He also urged Congress to repeal the excise tax on local telephone service. The Justice Department had appealed in U.S. courts to keep the long-distance tax but was turned back several times."

Did it just get frosty in Hell? How unreadable and obscure are other sections of a typical phone bill?

In an unrelated yet pertinent event, I noticed in a movie from 1989 that a character was speaking to someone thru a device that was a heavy-looking rectangle of black with a curly cord attached to one end ... and I thought, how many people have never used a phone with one of those unmanageable loops of cord connecting a handset to a base? (Handset?? Base???)

It's Officially Towel Day!

It's time to grab a towel and flag down an interstellar ride!

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough."

Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Principal Told To Drop Case Against Student

Some updates on stories from yesterday.

As mentioned yesterday, the case involving a Gallatin senior who spoke out at the school's graduation won't be charged with a crime after all. National and international bloggers and news reports seems to have made the necessary impact. Criminal charges against the student were just wrong. And maybe the school will start allowing for academic achievers to have a voice in graduation ceremonies. Maybe.

Also, the Justice Dept. says that House Speaker Hastert is not under investigation and requested ABC issue a retraction to the story - however ABC maintains that the story was meant to indicate he is "in the mix" of persons involved in congressional probes of bribery and corruption. This story will tumble about for months before it ends - how many will be charged? Hard to say at this point, but I expect after a few perfunctory fall guys get pinned, the whole mess will get swept aside until after this fall's elections.

Newscoma has a great clip of newsman Jack Cafferty calling out the hypocrisy in Congress.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

DeLay Uses Colbert as Defense and Other Ironies

As rumors of investigations and scandal continue to swirl over congress it is obvious that Weird and Ironic will be the twin dangers like Scylla and Charybdis, waiting to swallow those who are too close.

First is the truly amazing story that Tom DeLay's Legal Defense Fund has decided that comedian Steven Colbert's satire is DeLay's best defense. Astonishing on so many levels and just darned funny too.

And I must wonder, since the news was released today that the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is under investigation by the FBI as part of a massive corruption scandal -- was that why he was so upset that the FBI actually raided a congressional office?

Hastert's web page even goes so far as to express grave concern about warrants or the lack of them, and the the importance of Constitutional rights and consolidating power in one branch of government.

Now, he's concerned. When it was just the average American whose rights were being trampled, well that's national security.

High School Grad Faces Criminal Charge For Speaking

I had thought of providing an address to the graduates of 2006, a commencement speech which might offer something useful to grads leaving school behind and entering the working world. However, I read a story today about a valedictorian from Gallatin who experienced a volatile blend of just how silly both school and non-school worlds truly are.

The school oddly does not allow for top academic performers to speak at graduation. Applause from the audience is also banned and spectators are threatened with criminal charges.

Criminal charges have been filed against valedictorian Chris Linzy for defying the ban on speaking at the ceremony and now school officials say his diploma is on hold and school officials have confiscated his records.

Welcome to America 2006, Chris.

He did write and submit an apology to the school board for "disrupting" the ceremony. Apparently, the board wants to pursue the issue into criminal court.

TGW has a post about this, including contact info to tell school officials what you think.

And here are Chris' comments which brought out the rabid, senseless anger of the principal of the school, titled:

People who need to be heard are silenced

By Christopher David Linzy

Guest commentary

Christopher David Linzy, member of a generation not without heroes but worse with counterfeit heroes.

This is not because those persons that deserve to be role models do not exist but instead because these people that need to be heard most in our society are silenced by the roar of counterfeit personalities.

The great industrialists and philosophers of our society are drowned out by nihilistic and altruistic celebrity voices that preach a message the end result of which is in fact the destruction of our industrial world.

These people have become our generation'’s only guides and this is why we live in a moral vacuum. With no one to inspire us to pursue our desires and personal goals we turn instead to the mindless goal of the so called collective mind. Individuals are lost in a sea of disillusion and decay.

This however can be stopped. Our generation can turn back the tide of decay and build a new America upon the values of reason and individuality. We can lead not only ourselves but all who follow us out of the swamp of the mind and onto ground paved with individual morality and reason driven ambitions.

UPDATE: The principal at the school was ordered to provide the diploma Linzy earned. No word yet if the idiotic criminal charge is going to be dismissed. However the one enormous positiver from this chuckle-headed, fearful action by the principal -- it has insured that bloggers and news sites around the state and the nation are providing copies of Linzy's words to a massive audience. Can't silence that, can they? (thanks to NiT for the news update)

Not To Be Missed

There's still time for you to get involved and add your questions to the ever-growing list of inquiries into what you, dear readers, want to have me answer. Perhaps it's personal or perhaps it's something more .... well, something more. Some samples from the list now include:

It is winter of 1874. You are leading the Brady Bunch (including Alice and Tiger) from Provo, Utah to Breckinridge, Colorado in search of gold, when something goes horribly awry. Which Brady do you cannibalize first, and why?

-- You have fallen out the window into a vat of toxic waste, and have transformed into the Toxic Joe-venger, super hero extraordinaire. What is your super power?

-- Who does your hair?

-- When did you decide journalism was for you?

And, who knew, some of the questions submitted got some answers already:

Zombies are overrunning Morristown! Which weapon do you grab first? Moonshine and a Moon Pie

I asked myself a question just last night - If I were a congressman would I rather be videotaped by the FBI for hauling giant packs of $100 bills in bribe money into my car or sneaking around Britney Spears waiting for a chance to trip her as she ran away from photographers while loosely holding an infant?

You can add yours to the comments on this post or on this one -- I am quite sure the final result will be a post not to be missed and thanks for asking.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Locals Foot Bill For Cheney Fundraiser

A couple of thoughts about how taxpayer dollars are being spent or should be spent.

Enclave has the details about how the $13,000 plus expenses for security were charged to taxpayers for a GOP fundraising event led by V.P. Cheney. I'd like one reason why fundraising dollars should NOT pay for this rather than taxpayers.

Also, some debate about extra revenue for the state is just silly. First, these are "projected increases" and haven't even been counted much less captured by the state yet. And second, for all the whining about funding education, why buck the notion that any extra earnings should go into education? What hypocrisy.

The spend, spend, spend philosphy needs to keep focused on improving fundings for programs that will increase jobs - like the proposal to encourage filmmaking in the state - and keeping the state's reserve fund strong. That also provides a better rating statewide for fiscal responsibility.

Science Helps Find Worst Song Ever

We all have our reasons for liking a certain song, and now we have science backing our gut reactions. Sometimes the tunes we encounter each day affect us in such a harsh and negative way it's almost inexplicable.

Not anymore. Now the scientific method has been applied to the issue and the result is categorized elements which lead to hating a song. The basic goal of the research was to find an answer to the question "What is the worst song ever?" The result is a paper titled "The Pain, The Pain: Modelling Music Information Behavior and The Songs We Hate." Glad to see college students are getting science and research into the burning questions of our time. Oh, and creating nifty terms like Music Information Retrieval

Read the full report here (via MetaFilter).

The report does identify the Worst Song Ever and I totally agree it is painfully awful. My question is what do we do to stop the millions of people who paid money to hear the tune voted most awful? Why did it irritate so much? The report says

" ... respondents objected to its earworm qualities, lyrics, overly-simple melody, its taste culture, and yes, even cited personal associations (“My ex used to try to dance to it when we went out, and I have hated it and him since”)."

One respondent to the inquiry claimed the Gershwin tune "Summertime" was the worst, leaving an emotional stain on the listener. I don't understand that at all - who hates a tune that can be covered by the likes of Janis Joplin, The Zombies, The Beatles, James Brown - in fact one site claims it has been recorded more than 2600 times!

And while I agree that the tune cited in the report as Worst is bad - the most recent winner of the Worst Song Award is the "My Humps" tune by The Black-Eyed Peas. Did I say tune? I meant "tuneless".

Monday, May 22, 2006

Smells Like A Raid On Teen Savings

Part of the much-praised tax cuts signed into law includes a provision to triple the taxes on teenagers who have savings acounts for college, and even higher on the interest generated, according to a report in the NYTimes.

Claims are made that nearly $2 billion in revenue over a 10 year period will be achieved. Taxes are to be applied retroactive to Jan 1, 2006.

Americans For Tax Reform and their president Grover Norquist, who got 256 members of Congress to sign a pledge not to increase taxes, says:

Mr. Norquist, in an interview Thursday, said he was unaware that the bill raised taxes and tax rates on teenagers with college savings funds because "no one here noticed" the provisions. But Mr. Norquist called the bill raising taxes on teenagers with investment income "a technical violation of the pledge" and noted that his group opposes all retroactive tax increases. He pledged to immediately begin a campaign to have the tax increases rescinded"

I understand some children save change in piggy banks and some mythical Tooth Fairy leaves currency for teeth, too. Is it time for a Tooth Tax?

300th Post and A Request

A minor milestone today, but large enough for me to take note of it. This marks the 300th post on this blog. I have discovered that my feeble mind encounters not a learning curve about web publishing but an line that goes straight up - and I know I have barely begun to scale this wall of knowledge and have miles to go.

For instance, some of you who use an Internet Explorer browser to view this page are getting some garbled layout. Myself, I use Mozilla/Firefox and on that it appears much as I planned for it to look.

That simply means reading lines of code looking for oddities and making sure some images are properly sized, yatta yatta boring stuff here.

On Day One of this Cup of digital Joe, I posted 4 times. but usually I keep it two or three a day. And my mom says I get long-winded and need to alter my style for this medium. Well, I am what I am.

Also on Day One I noted a report from Pew Research which claimed a new blog was created every 5.8 seconds or about 15,000 new ones each day. Getting any readers in such a crowded field has been a little easier than I thought, to be honest, and as I look at readership for this page, I find a line that goes straight up - just like that not-a-curved-line aspect to my education about web publishing.

Large thanks are due to many readers, fellow bloggers and blog groups which have helped me learn to share what I write here - especially the Rocky Top Brigade and more recently Nashville Is Talking (thanks too for allowing me to host the site this past weekend!!)

I still read far more than I write and often take a few days to consider what I've read in order to offer an informed opinion. Hopefully, anway.

Following the idea I stole - er, got - from a fellow blogger, in honor of this post, I'd like you, dear readers, to submit questions about me, your humble narrator, which you'd like to know. If I can get, oh, say 50 to 100, I'll answer them. If I don't get that many, I'm likely to remain obscure and quiet on biographical topics.

Place your question in the comments section or send them to my email address, which you can find in my profile.

Thanks for reading - and as always, there will be more later today!