Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tennessee Makes High-Tech Leap

Some fascinating and welcome news arrived via the Atomic Tumor page where it's revealed that Tennessee is front and center in developing the technologies and programs for an American mission to the Moon.

As the post reveals, the project is termed "Constellation" and reports note:

The eventual goal is to land on Mars. But for the near term, the Tennessee Valley complex that developed the Saturn V rocket two generations ago is again shooting for the moon.

Marshall Director David King said getting back to the moon will be even tougher than reaching it the first time since plans now call for an extended stay rather than just a brief visit.

"We're going to have to plan this in a much more precise way," said King. "It is larger in scope than what we did the first time by a long shot."

For those skeptics who feel such extensive technological programs are a waste of money, you should know the average computer in home use today is hundreds of times more powerful than the ones used during the Apollo days. It is inherent in the nature of man to learn by exploration, and the rewards are likely to affect many generations to come.

By pushing forward science and technology, the state stands to take greater strides in innovation and employment, which will serve the state far, far better than as a piece-maker of car parts.

In other words, there is no such thing as a missed opportunity - it's just that someone else will take that opportunity while negativity leaves so many others grounded.

Best of luck to all involved in the project!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Camera Obscura - The Smith Marriage, More Chainsaws and A Concert At The Ryman

If someone had told me I would actually spend time reviewing a movie starring the two most overexposed actors working today, I would have denied any such effort. Then I watched the movie and it simply impressed me on so many levels that I find myself doing the impossible -- devoting blogspace to "Mr & Mrs Smith" starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

But bear with me - this movie is far more than meets the tabloid eye. There is sub-text for days here, and it also holds some other credentials worth noting. The script is by Simon Kinberg, who penned the script as part of his Masters Thesis and his most recent effort is the new "X-Men" movie. The director, Doug Liman, is a talent just beginning to emerge, with the breathless "Bourne Identity" and as producer of "Bourne Supremacy," plus the very-underrated "Go" set in the world of ravers, and the hilarious "Swingers."

At one point, director John Woo was set to direct, and his style is surely evident here in several action sequences.

Now, I'm not here to sing praises of the publicity overdose of Pitt and Jolie. In fact, more than once you catch a gleam in their eyes that all the automatic weapons fire on-screen fulfills their deepest desires toward a relentless press bent on chronicling the couple's every footstep.

Instead, why not examine the movie for what it truly is - a metaphor for marriage and relationships.

Given the insane reality that domestic violence is far too common today, that the 'sanctity' of marriage is as likely to lead to divorce as to an anniversary, the movie here holds a rich exploration on the state of romance and marriage American style.

The movie opens on the Smiths in couples therapy. They are unable to communicate not only their problems, but their successes. Through a series of following scenes, we discover the why - each partner holds secrets they feel too personal or too dangerous to actually share with each other. The conceit is that they are both spies - Spies in the House of Love.

With much humor, the audience sees that Mr Smith keeps his deadly arsenal of weapons in a secret passage in his workshed while Mrs Smith keeps her arsenal in a secret compartment of the stove. One-liners of empty conversations reinforce the blank emptiness of marriage and secrets too great to reveal. Each line has double meanings. Fear and doubt rule their marriage.

The script doesn't dwell on who each agent is working for - that's not the point. It's that the couple feel compelled to fill their lives and dreams in fantasies that would terrify Walter Mitty. The driving demands of work leave little for the home life, though business success makes for an astonishingly well-appointed home. But they can barely have a conversation about the drapes or even if a conversation about such accessories even occurred.

Once each competing spy agency realizes the couple is, well, a couple, they plot to have them kill each other. (That could be a writing weakness, but I see it as more that the demands of business outweigh any needs of a stable home.)

However, by bringing them face-to-face in combat to kill each other, the couple sees that the only allies for their lives and their hopes reside in each other. After some intense attacks on each other, there is a near-wordless realization that resolution lies within themselves and all the unspoken moments past can't overwhelm their depth of feeling for each other.

No, this isn't the height of meta-philosophy, but it does paint a picture of an American couple constantly warring to balance work and love. The secrets that might undo them unite them instead.

Writer and director make marvelous set-pieces of danger built on the world of the typical American couple - such as a car chase scene where the SUV with its double doors spells doom for assassins. Sometimes it's best to let the wife do the driving.

Real-life tabloidism is certainly here in the movie too with Vince Vaughn in a barely defined role. And as cute and likeable an actress Jennifer Anniston may be, the kind of knock-down-the-house love-making Mr and Mrs Smith enjoy makes other romance movies miss the passion and the danger of an intense relationship by miles.

The violence is there in the film, but it emerges far ahead of other "doomed romance" Hollywood efforts like the brutal end of "Bonnie and Clyde" or "War of the Roses." The Smiths revel in the irony and humor and will fight far more aggressively to find a solution to their marriage woes. (No Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan tearjerker approaches the artistic artistry of the Smiths.)

At one point, Mrs Smith says "Happy endings are stories that just aren't finished yet," which to me indicates they feel more than capable of crafting their own story and their own ending. Near the end, they square off against a literal army of attackers and they join in a ballet of cooperation which I found to be a forceful refusal to accept the roles society has heaped upon the Smiths.

As a side note, please fire the next witless reporter whose best prose is to make a single catchy name of two people.

Scoff at these comments about Mr and Mrs Smith as you wish, but until you watch it with your tabloid mentality shut down, I think you'll find some provocative entertainment.


A fine concert movie filmed at the famed Ryman Auditorium hits DVD this week, and judging by the clips I've seen, it looks to be one of the best concert films since "The Last Waltz". The movie, "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" also features Emmylou Harris. Young plays new and older songs, expertly filmed by Jonathon Demme, who made the equally entertaining Talking Heads concert movie "Stop Making Sense."

At several points, the aging rocker talks about his music and his musings to the crowd, noting that the guitar he played was once owned by Hank Williams. But the music is the focus here, presented in a stripped down acoustic form that highlights both the lyrics and the tunes.
From the Did We Need This Dept.?

A prequel to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"??? One good point is the script by award-winning horror writer David Schow. And the trailer at the official site says it's so scary, you can only watch it after 10 p.m. (Or it may be the whole idea is so bad, only late-nite Web Walkers will watch it.)


Rumors are flying that New Line Cinema hopes to make an American version of one of the great classics in recent Japanese cinema, "Battle Royale." Banned here and abroad, please, please do NOT watch the movie unless you see the original. And if you prefer, the novel the movie is based on is even more astonishing.

Also, for those who might be interested, the "new" "The Omen" movie is a pure shot-for-shot remake of the original. And the original is better.

Congress Calls For End to Indecent PBS/NPR

I often wonder how it is the heads don't implode from the hypocrisy. Just after approving a massive increase in fines for broadcasting that is termed "indecent," a subcommittee in the House wants to slash funds for Public Broadcasting and then eliminate funding for it all together.

Programs like the literacy program, "Ready To Learn," the online teachers resource program "Ready To Teach," would be eliminated. Subsidies for educational programs and government-mandated tech changes for DTV also gutted. Cuts are likewise ahead for news, science, and community programming for over 1000 stations nationwide.

This same educational removal program was put forth last year - and defeated only because citizens and voters spoke out. After all, stations at best receive about 15% or less funding from tax dollars, roughly one dollar per person. A good overview of the CPB is here.

If you want public broadcasting to survive, you'll have to speak out again. This is one of many online petitions opposing this move - and why not go ahead and contact your Tennessee congressman, since this idiocy is being promoted by a House subcommittee. The list of contact information is here.

If you do not act, they will work to end public broadcasting. (Thanks to juliepatchouli for bringing this to my attention)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Congress Avoids Decency - Blames Media

Currently my rage is tethered by titanium chains in order to offer some coherent arguments about the sheer idiocy and hypocrisy of a Congress and Administration that sneers at lawful behavior and ethics and instead increases ten-fold the fines and threats against the public airwaves.

I have honestly lost track of the number of scandals that permeate our national leadership. For some 16 months, Congressional leaders did nothing to correct the constant influence-for-sale worldview, often because those charged with drafting any rules are themselves part and parcel of the problem.

A short examination reveals:

Public Citizen says that if lawmakers are sincere about cutting off the corporate money trail, they should close travel loopholes, which currently enable industry and other interest groups to lavish lawmakers with luxury travel junkets financed through "nonprofit" shell organizations.

The group has also called on lawmakers to enact broader anti-corruption measures, like an independent oversight mechanism to monitor ethical transgressions, and strict caps on federal campaign contributions from lobbyists to political action committees.

The problem, reformers say, is that the people writing the rules are the ones charged with enforcing them, and as a result, are often the ones violating them.

In its ongoing investigation of Abramoff, the "super-lobbyist" recently convicted on corruption-related charges, CREW revealed that some of Abramoff’s closest cronies on Capitol Hill are also champions of the House lobbying reform legislation.

Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff’s extensive lobbying network, tied to the Native-American casino industry, doled out tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions to two co-sponsors of the bill, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and Representative Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). The two worked with other House Republicans in 2003 to pressure the Interior Department to block the casino-development plans of a tribe in competition with one of Abramoff’s clients.

Reflecting on what she sees as a long pattern of impunity in Congress, Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) remarked, "The fact of the matter is, a lot of the stuff that happened was already against the rules…. So new rules have no more use than old rules, if you don’t enforce the rules."

Some of the dust on those old rules has been kicked up by a report on lobbying disclosure by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a public-interest research organization.

The 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act requires lobbyists to report their activities and expenditures every six months, and violations carry a fine of up to $50,000, which would rise to $100,000 under the current reform bills. But in its survey of over 180,000 lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Records since 1998, the CPI found that 14,000 documents were missing, and nearly 20 percent of forms were filed late.

Researchers also found that among the 250 top lobbying firms, 210 had not fulfilled all reporting requirements. Alex Knott, the project manager for CPI’s LobbyWatch program, said that typically the disclosure forms are of little public value, "sloppily" filled out and not linked to specific legislation.

Records of penalties for non-compliance are similarly obscure: in CPI’s investigation last year, the House, Senate and the US Attorney’s office in DC, which is tasked with handling disclosure-related indictments, all provided no data on how the rules were being enforced.

"Basically, lobbyists know they can break the rules and get away with it," said Knott, noting that fewer than a dozen staffers in the Senate Office of Public Records oversee the backdoor deals of thousands of lobbyists."

Now, instead, the Senate has decided that "indecency" is a problem created by television and radio programming and has voted to increase fines against stations ten times the current levels.

I suggest the same ten-fold increase in fines and jail time for Indecent behavior for elected officials.

"But Joe," cry the Parents Television Council and Donald Wildmon, "a chi-yuld could see something on the TeeVee that could rot their minds, turn 'em into liberals, and make them attend a non-protestant church service! We must protect the chi-yulds from the satanic teachings of public school and Pokemon reruns!"

High heaping piles of horseshit, say I. If you chi-yuld is so endangered, get that TV behind them, Satan! Don't own one. Or better yet, use your pea-brained half-witted dried-up brains and learn how to use the myriad of channel blocking options via most any cable or satellite box or (as forced by Congressional rule) learn to use that V-chip. If you have not the wisdom to or the depth of concern to educate yourself on how to use such technology, then get rid of it.

Don't make the entire nation pick up your slack, in whining disguised as legislation.

The fact is, the thousands of complaints of "indecency" on television were constant petitions provided by the Parents Television Council and Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (remember when Wildmon used to videotape sit-coms claiming he saw some woman's breast for an 1/18th of a second?)

Americans already have all the control they need over content on TV and radio. It's called the On and Off switch. Worried your chi-yuld might see something horriffic on the TeeVee at some sinner's house? Then why not take the opportunity to TALK to your chi-yuld about the world we all live in and that not all people hold the same beliefs as you?

As for the Senator who put forth this legislation, one Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who wants the science of Intelligent Design mandatory in schools is himself a part of the Jack Abramoff gravy train.

He accepted $40,000 from Abramoff to stop the construction of an Indian casino in Kansas.

His other main concern of late was to submit no less than 17 bills to suspend temporarily the duties on footwear:

"Among the offerings: S. 2847, to “reduce temporarily the duty on certain footwear with open toes or heels,” and the more catchall S. 2845, affecting “certain women’s footwear.” S. 2837, for the leather lover, would reduce the duty on “certain leather and textile footwear,” while S. 2838, affecting “certain rubber or plastic footwear,” keeps the pleather lover pleased.

Stay-at-home moms aren’t left out either: S. 2850 would “reduce temporarily the duty on certain house slippers.”

And on it goes, to cover certain footwear for men, certain other work footwear, certain athletic shoes and certain athletic footwear for men and boys.

We only got confused when it came to S. 2835, which would suspend the duty on “certain leather footwear for persons other than men or women.” Which leaves what, exactly? Humanoids? Extraterrestrials?"

Looks like I've gnawed through my chain. Best to shut up now before I say anything else .... today.

I leave you with this thought - If ya don't like what you watch on TV, why are you watching it??

Ann Coulter Gets Wish: She's A Victim!

The unabashed enthusiasm that the possibility of huge book sales and money, money, money which envelopes ersatz writer Ann Coulter is palpable and real - like stepping in steaming dog vomit.

She embodies the heart and soul Christian values - Jesus says (in her parlance) to battle the liberal, yea, verily. (as spoken on Tucker Carlson's show.) She added this thought - "Do I have to kill my mother so I can be a victim too?"

No, Ann, you have found out a quicker way to being a victim - Just speaking stupid, half-thought, nonsensical gibberish, you have become a Victim of Stupidity. Job done.

Then there's her assertion that Jews are Christians too, but not Episcopalians. (Um, isn't President Bush a member of the Episcopalian church, or does he just attend to keep a watchful eye on liberals?) I guess the same goes for other members of that religion, James Madison and George Washington. Perhaps you to follow that twisted bastion of Satan.

However, don't doubt her marketing savvy - I'm sure Jesus would have appreciated her evangelistic fervor to spread the Gospel. By not actually discussing the info in her book, she has instead focused the spotlight on her.

And, she becomes a victim again! A victim of the It's All About Me Generation.

I also appreciated her thoughts that the President can use the tragic events of death and destruction of the terrorist attack on NYC and the Pentagon, 'cause he's the president. He has "Executive power". Yeah, if Jesus had only had some kind of Constitutional authority, then maybe he could have placed 135,000 troops into battle against the liberals.

Yet, as Michelle Malkin notes, the Crime, the Evil cited by Coulter is that a group of widows took political action, called for a federal commission into the events of 9-11, appeared on television and are active in supporting candidates and policies they feel represent their views.

Coulter and Malkin agree - that kind of political expression is the work of Satan. Being critical of them is not enough. Perhaps tarring and feathering them for having a political view out of touch with the heights of moral Republican beliefs is treason.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bredesen Campaign Kick-Off

There's a hefty group of photos and reporting on the election kick-off campaign for Gov. Bredesen in Knoxville on Tuesday via R. Neal at Knox Views. Worth a look and there's also quite a bit of comment regarding what Bredesen said.

Worth noting is the 500-plus business leaders who back his re-election, along with the state's teachers, and veterans. (Oh, and the Republican leaders who also support him.)

As always, opinions vary on the efficacy of his tenure, but there are several efforts Gov. Bredesen has brought to life. One program which I think will do far more than any test or school program is the free books offered monthly to parents with kids up to age five. Providing books, at a minimal state cost, to encourage reading and more time spent by parents to read to kids will doubtless provide a much more education/information hungry population. The program was begun by Dolly Parton in Sevier County, but the effects are spreading statewide.

Also of note is the first ever statewide TennCare Fraud unit - created after years of failure of oversight by the General Assembly. Over 257 people have been charged since 2005 and it remains the first-of-its-kind in the nation.

Real challenges remain in state government, and another massive change in the ethics (or lack of them) needs to take root among state legislators and lobbyists.

Kudos to R. Neal for his coverage of the event.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ann Coulter Hates Widows of 9-11

Who knew the "Today Show" would actually grow some teeth and tackle news now that Clueless Hairstyle Katie was gone?

Did Matt Lauer secretly yell "Finally!"

Judging by the comments he made today in an interview with the vile, money-grubbing, hate-filled myopic Ann Coulter, the answer is "YES!"

The following video shows how Matt poses a simple question of Ann Hater - er Coulter's - newest Hate-Filled Manifesto of No-GOP-No-Right-To-An-Opinon.

Coulter writes that the widows of those who died in 9-11 are a bunch of "broads" who whine and moan for the Evil Leftists by daring to speak dissent against the Bush and Clinton administrations. "Shut up," she tells them. "it was the nation that was attacked, who cares if yer spouse died! How dare you support a non-Republican!"

Two points for Matt for calling out her hate-filled hypocrisy.

Fact Finding UPDATE

As noted yesterday, billions of dollars were handed out to Senate and Congress members/staff/family all in the name of "fact-finding". Here's my favorite, as noted in today's Tennessean newspaper:

No Tennessee representative was among the 11 legislators to accept more than $350,000 in trips. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist came the closest with about $257,800 in travel, personally taking 19 of the 147 trips his office listed in congressional disclosure forms.

Frist's trips included 15 speaking engagements and a 2004 trip to Africa paid for by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization.

The European Institute, a Washington-based public policy institution focused on trans-Atlantic affairs, paid for a Frist staffer, as well as an aide to Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, to travel on a fact-finding mission to Paris totaling more than $22,000, according to the report.

Matt Lehigh, Frist's press secretary, said he had not seen the report but said that Frist's fact-finding trips are educationally based and meant to help the Senate majority leader better represent his constituents.

Sen. Frist has "constituents" in FRANCE??

Well, TN does export some $221 million in products to France,

Also worth noting, perhaps explaining all those "fact-finding" or dollar-centered trips is to be found in the following documentation:

Foreigners already own half of the U.S. government's publicly traded debt. As of January, some $2.19 trillion in Treasury securities were in the hands of central banks, including China and Japan, and private investors abroad.

At the end of 2004, the total foreign direct investment in this country — actual factories, office buildings and other tangible assets as opposed to stocks and bonds — came to $1.53 trillion, 8.2 percent more than in 2003.

That investment shows up in all of the 50 states."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fact-Finding Trips More Fun At Luxury Sites

Congress and their families and staffers know that "fact-finding trips" are more fun if they stay at resorts, playing golf, swimming and boating and side-stepping the laws regarding gifts from lobbyists. In a five year period, elected officials of both parties traveled to Paris, Hawaii, Italy or Colorado ski resorts.

A new study via the Center for Public Integrity notes officials and their families just seem to find more info regarding legislation as long as they stay far, far away from any actual constituents. Over 23,000 trips valued at over $50 million shows Congress has learned to sidestep the DeLay scandals just by claiming the trips were just for some seminar - as long as their families and aides get a long vacation retreat:

I think [legislators and staffers] are gaming the system," said James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in Washington. "Education through travel is important, but it's just totally being abused. They give a one-hour speech and spend three days playing golf or tennis with their families."

Abandoning too much paperwork and required disclosure, the gravy train is full of hungry, greedy legislators at the trough. On example:

At least 150 forms list no sponsor. In one such instance in 2003, Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., was a guest at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla., site of the Restoration Weekend event Nov. 14-16. Harris's form shows that her hotel room cost $1,032 and her meals $259.56. But it fails to reveal the trip's sponsor, itinerary or purpose, instead referring the reader to an attached three-page agenda.

The agenda designates 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 and 15 as "Free time for swimming, golf, tennis, shopping, etc." It also notes that DeLay was a scheduled keynote speaker on the 15th, and was to be introduced by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. But it doesn't list the trip sponsor."

The article further states:

"It's clearly beneficial for these interest groups to make these expenditures," said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. "They're not just doing this without a purpose."

Stern said he is all for outside-the-Beltway education, and sees nothing nefarious in trips sponsored by universities and most nonprofits. "But if the trip is truly educational," he asked, "why do they have to go to exotic places?"

He thinks he knows why.

"The problem is human nature," Stern said. "We don't like to be educated in non-interesting surroundings."

Hey, I'd do great at a fact finding mission if I could only stay at Disneyworld and Hilton Head to determine the appropriate size of greens, clubs and caddies.

GOP Leaders Too Litle Too Late

The silliness and somewhat pointless push by Bush and Frist reveals how badly their priorities have become. Forget the on-again-off-again quandry of exodous about FEMA or the hacking away of DHS funds for major cities, forget the corruption and cronynism, they have focused on non-vital issues meant to pander to their Fear-filled base of ... um, who are the base players anyway?

The new two-pronged faux agenda is is them durned gay folk and them durned flag burners. Since Constitutional ammendments rarely succeed - then that is their focus. Witness the national and state campaigns showing candidates rebuking the already-passed legislation of fences and (Which follows on them danged illegals live TV speech, which had all the earmarks of desperation of looking like they're doing something.)

As Reason magazine said:

"Neither of these really evokes the ploy President Bush Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are trying out today and tomorrow. For the first time since 2004, Frist and the Republican majority will bring the Federal Marriage Amendment to a vote. In a few weeks, Frist will bring another constitutional amendment to the floor: the much-delayed, much-debated, much-distracting permanent ban on burning the American flag. The GOP is struggling, but not like a prizefighter or a football player. It's struggling like a man who cheats on his wife and buys her $1,000 worth of flowers to cushion the blow. Too little, too late, and actually kind of an insult.

"Sure, much of the GOP's social conservative base is rooting for the party to pass a gay marriage amendment. (There's less enthusiasm for the flag desecration ban.) The mighty Family Research Council has been lobbying senators and marshalling conservative support at a fever pitch, scheduling events over the weekend, melting Senate phones with grassroots phone calls. According to Tom McClusky, the FRC's vice president of government affairs and the point man on the marriage amendment effort, the marriage debate has as much pull among social conservatives as the abortion debate. "It's an extremely important issue, if not the most important issue

After all, Frist doesn't want to talk about the fines he must pay for failing to document the millions-plus loans he forgot to report to the Federal Elections Commission, and Bush doesn't want to talk about how many officials are warning of the endless failure in Iraq -- apparently that Blame The Media ploy failed with the constant deaths and wounding of and kidpapping of those durned liberal media types.

Just look at the Center Ring, America, can ya believe the death-fefying feats of non-important hijinks?

Ignore the skyrocketing deficits, the failure of fiscal conservatives, the endless indictments of lobbyists and congress.

The Show must go on!