Saturday, November 04, 2006

Haggard's 'Prick and Anguish'

As I told some friends recently, the only Haggard I have ever liked was named Merle.

So this Ted Haggard - a political evangelical who met with the President on Mondays to make sure the Conservatives had the votes from the megachurch madness crowd - is yet another gay-basher who is apparently gay. Or wrestling with the question of being gay or not, while campaigning the government for ways to stop gays from being married.

Yes, the jokes were all over the Web yesterday and will be for some time. In some of the back and forth laughter at a Fallen Neo-Con Angel, I made the comment that I think many church folk secretly wish for a flawed, hypocritical pastor. It humanizes the pastor and makes the membership rest a little easier with their own Sin.

Just recall the sexcapades of Bakker, Swaggart, etc etc.

And then I was presented this fine excerpt from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:

". . . the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it, indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His . . . power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life."

See, even the earliest Americans knew about the dangers of a political "moral majority" (which isn't either one).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Camera Obscura - Simspons Horror; Feast; Slither

Come this way, down thru the lowest section of the basement where the lights sputter and grow dim, the steps leading down turn slightly slimy and slippery, where the hand-rail disappears. It's all old down here and it's all new, too.

Shhhh .... don't be afraid. It is possible for just about anything to survive.

This is one of the oldest parts of the house, and I can often be found here, relaxing and watching movies. See, it's more dry here. There are some very comfortable chairs. What? Oh, no, don't worry about finding your way back. Sit, please, sit down. I have some leftover Halloween candy if you.... no?

We'll find our way back out soon enough.

Now let's see... ah yes, first at little comedy, a little laugh to put you more at ease, yes?

Sunday marks the 17th time that "The Simpsons" provides their annual Halloween "Treehouse of Horror" episode. Of course, due to football and baseball, this Halloween event usually takes place in November. Sort of spooky time-traveling, I suppose. This year offers you a chance to make a Simpsons video clip.

And you can win some prizes too - decide which clips to use, which sound effects and music to add at this site, where you can make your own Treehouse of Horror clip. Try it, you'll find out just how easy it is to make a little horror tale. Kang and Kodos will help you!


A new movie is on DVD which was actually the third in the "Project Greenlight" series, a lame event meant to give new directors a chance to work their movie magic. Not one of them has done well, and this last one is easily the best of the bunch. It's a plain and simple horror genre movie called "Feast."

It almost plays out like a comedy/video game. The movie starts and you are introduced to the characters when the camera freezes on them, gives you some snarky titles cards with info on who they are and what their chances are of surviving this movie -- most fare quite badly in that category.

They are all in a run-down and seedy bar one night when two people rush inside, freaking out. They speak weird warnings of strange things attacking them. And then the 'things' attack. There are no real reasons offered as to what these things are, why the couple is being chased, what is happening at all -- characters are lined up and taken out in, as I said, a video game-style shootout. The filmmaking is very much on the cheap, so there are lots of Sam Raimi styled shaky camera shots and buckets of gore and blood.

The movie stars Balthazar Getty, Henry Rollins, Jason Mewes and Krista Allen.

Don't expect much, and you may just enjoy this one.

Another new one for DVD has arrived as one of the best-reviewed films of the year and yes, of course, it is a grim and grisly gallows-humored entry called "Slither". How do I say this next part? How about this -- this is one of those movies where "people blow up real good."

A meteorite falls to other with a gooey thing inside of it. Director/writer James Gunn, who made the very fine remake of "Dawn of the Dead" has made an explosive (really) salute to B-movies and horror films from several decades. Actor Michael Rooker gets some kind of infected alien dart-dealie in his neck and turns murderous and ... horrifically obese.

Simple-minded folk face off against slugs by the thousands which turn everyone into zombiefied, tentacled and pregnant time-bombs. A little bit of "The Blob" and "Alien" and some of Cronenberg's cult-classic "They Came From Within" and again, buckets of gore and blood are here. Actor Nathan Fillion ("Firefly") takes the lead and has a great time as does the rest of the cast.

"Don't let 'em in yer mouth!!"

What? You want to leave?

Okay by me. You can find your own way out, can't you? I've got a few more movies to watch here. I hope you don't mind making your own way back.

Here, take this before you leave -- it's a little preview of a movie called "The Invisible." It's by David Goyer ("Blade", "Batman Begins") and the producers of "The Sixth Sense." Just a little ghost story. I do like the main character's name.

You be careful and I'll see you again.


UPDATE: Told you I'd be back!

I was just reading a story that Newscoma had on her blog about asshat Bill O'Reilly trying to use the popularity of a horror movie like the "Saw" series to boost his over-inflated ego.

Check out her post here and you can also read the thoughts I had about the story on her comments. I'm not giving the asshat the satisfaction of saying what I think twice. Plus, Newscoma has a great photo from the horror movie "The Head That Would Not Die" which you should see.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Six Words Make Science Fiction Story

Wired magazine puts together an impressive collection of short stories -- very short stories. All six words long. All science fiction. I sent this to some friends via email, but thought, why not share it here too?

Some samples and their authors:

Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
- William Shatner

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
- Joss Whedon

Kirby had never eaten toes before.
- Kevin Smith

Bush told the truth. Hell froze.
- William Gibson

Tick tock tick tock tick tick.
- Neal Stephenson

Read the whole collection here. (And be sure to read the six-word Hemingway story mentioned in the article.)

Nielsens Say GOP Dominates Internet

The ratings company used to gauge television is now examining the internet and their report from yesterday says Republicans dominate the online community - declaring that of all those online, 36.6 percent are Republican, 30.8 percent are Democrats and 17.3 percent Independents.

More on the issue of Nielsen ratings for online users in a moment - first, though, whatever the report may declare I see something much different. Their own numbers show 48.1 percent of those online are not Republicans. And yet add all the politicized numbers of adults online and you get a total of 84.7 percent. That leaves 15.3 percent.

More number fun -- add 15.3 percent to the 48.1 percent not Republican and you have 63.4 percent. So the Nielsen headline is "Republicans Outnumber Democrats Online." True, but non-Republicans outnumber the GOP 63.4 percent to 36.6 percent.

I loved this paragraph in the report:

Perhaps contrary to assumptions about who's a Democrat and who's a Republican, neither party seemed to favor a particular gender or age group. Among racial groups, African Americans skewed Democratic; with a composition index of 231, they were over twice as likely to be Democratic as the average Web user. Asians were 36 percent more likely than the average Web user to be Democratic, and Hispanics were 28 percent more likely. White people were slightly more likely to be Republican."

If asked, I would respond that I am an Independent - I don't belong to a Party. I do know the Party that has controlled the House and Senate for the last 12 years and all 3 branches of government for the last 6 years have failed at the job of representation. I've not seen the country this forced into divisive camps since about 1968 when American cities were on fire and assassinations were all over the news.

As for politicizing the Internet, I told a friend recently what I enjoyed most on the Web were all the varied political opinions and expressions being presented. For the first time in my lifetime, I can see/read/hear opinion that is not filtered through television or radio programming distortions or newspaper control of information.

And I think that scares the bejesus out of media conglomerates and government. Free expression is a wild and untamed thing, but without it this is not truly a free country. It's a controlled and caged beast looking for ways to run free again.

My friend reminded me of the early days of our nation, when "pamphleteers" shared information about the world and the events around us. Men like Thomas Paine, and yes, there is a website named for him which I often read and urge others to do as well.

And just this week, the Pentagon announced they are working 24-7 to observe and create information for the internet:

The Pentagon press secretary, Eric Ruff, says part of the new effort will focus on getting the Defense Department'’s viewpoint into new media, such as Internet blogs and podcasts, and also to provide department officials for more radio and television programs. At a briefing, he denied a reporter'’s suggestion that the department is trying to go around reporters for major news organizations who cover the Pentagon on a regular basis."

So there is much emphasis for the Nielsen Media Reasearch Company to corral the World Wild Web -- control is the goal, not observation. Make no mistake, the web is a media that is manipulated -- but almost anyone can do it, you don't have to be a publisher or a broadcaster. You just need a computer and an internet connection and you're off to pretty much define your own worldview.

Tens of thousands of Bloggers are daily and hourly providing information, opinion and debate. I think an America with literate and computer literate writers have already helped improve our country and that should be allowed to flourish and grow and not be subjected to the needs of any one or half-dozen media manipulators.

Having started web surfing in 1992 and working on this wee page for some 15 months, I have barely scratched the surface of all that is possible, seen only an infinitely small portion of the immense world of wired residents. I'm very much a clumsy infant in this world, but for the most part, I still am allowed the freedom to explore as I wish.

Write like ya mean it. It is a rare time and who knows how long it will run free?

Praying For A Senate Seat

Laura Bush campaigned for Bob Corker in Kingsport this week and spoke in glowing generalized terms of what a fine Senator he would be. Given the event was held on very GOP-friendly ground, nothing need be said to convince anyone to vote for Corker -- it was more of a photo op and fundraising event. Ford has had his events as well.

But this comment from Corker in the Kingsport-Times News report did get my attention:

"The FEC (Federal Election Commission) makes you say that thing ‘I'm Bob Corker, and I approved this message.'" Corker told Republicans. "In fact what I'm hearing all across the state of Tennessee is that parents and grandparents tell me they will ask Johnny or Sally or whoever the young person is to say the blessing. They will say ‘Please bless this food. Please bless our family. Please keep us safe and secure. (Then they will say) I'm Bob Corker, and I approved this message.'"

Perhaps the kids have a better handle on government and religion than given credit for.

And as Tom Humphrey noted, Corker says he's been praying a lot.

Corker also stopped in Wilson County, just east of Nashville, to support an elementary school that faces a lawsuit for allowing a group called Praying Parents to meet there.

"I think any school would be so pleased to have parents who gather once a month - not in the presence of students - praying to give the faculty and students strength and guidance," Corker said.

"We all know the strength that comes from prayer; I pray 10-12 times a day on the campaign trail," Corker said.

At the time Corker met with that group, Ford was holding a meeting with "Faith Night At The Polls."

I suppose it's time to tweak to the old adage - "There are no atheists in voting booths".

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Military Standards for Service Lower Than Ever

So just how miniscule and short is the attention of the national press? The hysteria over what Senator Kerry said about being "stuck in Iraq" is getting more press than the war itself. I expect the knee-jerk reactions of ReBlogLicans to squeal out in angry agony.

However --

Last week, the press and even the military itself, was expressing grave concerns over the lowering of standards used to reach military recruitment goals. Here's an article from The Marine Corps Times:

"They’re meeting their numbers in the short term, but doing it in a way that doesn’t bode well for the future,” said Peter Singer, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, an independent research and policy institute.

“They’re lowering their requirements and taking in a greater number of people who would not have made the cut previously,” such as CAT IVs, Singer said.

CAT IVs are potential enlistees who have earned the lowest scores on the aptitude test.

“Studies show that CAT IVs don’t make as good a soldier,” said Singer. They have a harder time shooting straight and succeeding at complicated tasks, he said.

“These are the folks who tend to get into more trouble, as well,” he said. “Pvt. Steven Green is the best example.”

Green, along with four other soldiers, is in federal prison for allegedly raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing three of her family members. He was a high school dropout with behavioral problems and run-ins with law enforcement before he enlisted in the Army.

“This is a kid who would’ve washed out in the past under the old standards. That raises some concerns.”

Singer said “the wash out” rate for basic training in 2005 was 18.1 percent. In 2006, it dropped to 7.6 percent. That means roughly 10 percent of people who would have washed out before are now in the military, he said.

“The Army also doubled the numbers of non-high school graduates it took this year,” he said.

And the military isn’t just lowering standards, he said.

“They’re dumping an enormous amount of resources and manpower into recruiting. They’re making a greater effort, lowering standards and they’re still just eking it out.”

Marshall, the local Marine Corps recruiting station commander, said his branch is as exclusive as it’s always been.

“We haven’t lowered our ASVAB standards or increased our age limit to foster numbers like the Army has,” he said, as eager teens ran through obstacle course stations around him. “We don’t sell technical skills or college funds — we sell the opportunity to be a Marine.”

However, he did admit concern about the overall quality of the military.

“The lowering of standards is going to lead to a long-term problem in terms of leadership and understanding the mission,” he said. “If you got someone who scored a 21 on the ASVAB, how can he understand our technical manuals or the mission from the commander? We don’t write it in fifth-grade English.”

Eugene White, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served for 24 years, including two tours as a platoon leader in Vietnam, said he was concerned with the number of medical and criminal waivers being issued for enlistees.

“When you talk about people who are obese or have criminal records from my perspective as a platoon leader, they require a higher degree of care and maintenance,” said White, who now works as a military analyst for a private corporation.

He’s less concerned about soldiers who don’t have a high school diploma.

“I’ve met a lot of soldiers with GEDs who are better trained than high school grads,” he said.

Candidate Charges Bush With Treason

Charges of Treason have been brought against President Bush and others by third party candidate for congress Robert Smith here in the 1st District. He promised to do this back at the beginning of the campaign and says on his blog he filed the paperwork in October.

At noon today I stood inside the federal courthouse here in Greeneville, TN. I made sure the Marshals knew I was charging Treason by the President and his enabelers. I demanded that the specifics be forwarded to where they could be acted upon."

The formal charge (and a press conference, if he can get the press interested) is planned for Nov. 7th in Greeneville, according to this post by Newscoma.

Hispanics Transforming Tennessee

"Blending cultures is an uncomfortable idea for many people here. It's just too new, for one thing. But the number of Hispanic children in the Hamblen County school system is growing dramatically with every passing year, and school is where the blending usually starts.

``We're going to be the group that changes the mentality in our town,'' school district Director Dale Lynch vowed.

In the early 1990s, Hamblen County schools enrolled maybe 35 students a year whose primary language was Spanish. The numbers exploded in the past five years.

This year, 11 percent of the children enrolled districtwide are Hispanic, and about three-quarters of them need help learning English.

Sitting on a table in Lynch's office is the book Help! They Don't Speak English Starter Kit. But he could also use a manual on dealing with parents angry about the extra cost of educating non-English-speaking students.

``We didn't see rebellion from parents until it became an issue with the county commissioners,'' Lynch said.

$6,800 per child

The school district budget is funded by the county, and former Commissioner Tom Lowe stirred up a tempest last year when he began lobbying for the federal government to pay the county's share of educating non-English-speaking students.

Officials said it costs about $6,800 a year to educate a child in the district and that they do not separate into a separate budget category the additional cost of teaching non-English-speaking students. Clearly they're reluctant to display an amount of money that would trigger more hard feelings in the community.

Beginning in December, the district plans to provide half-day intensive language training at an ``International Center'' for about 120 students a day, those with the least-developed English skills."

The above is an excerpt from one of a series of stories on the rise in Hispanic residents in Hamblen County from Houston Chronicle reporter Kim Cobb.

More of that article here, with additional stories here on immigrants and farming In Hamblen County, and other reports here, here and here.

I spoke and emailed with Kim numerous times over the last few months as she worked on putting the series together. It is by far some of the most in-depth examination of legal and illegal immigrants in East Tennessee. She noted the one irony in this cultural change which I have seen as well -- jobs disappeared in the 1990s into Latin America and then in the late 1990s, Latin America began to relocate here - for better pay, better health care, better lives.

There are sadly many misperceptions about immigrant communities, but the fact remains the same - the change has already happened. Some residents are simply angry that change has occurred. Most are adapting to a larger Hispanic community, finding ways to assist them in almost every level of business and culture.

I just wonder why it took a reporter from Texas to find the will to develop and report the issues.

One part of the series discussses the major federal case which East Tennessee media has barely bothered to report - the Garcia Labor indictment.

But the federal government nabbed a big fish in July, obtaining indictments of the owner of a Morristown-based agency supplying temporary workers to factories and farms throughout the region on charges that he operated a "large-scale illegal-alien-employment and money-laundering scheme."

Prosecutors charged that Garcia Labor Co. Inc. knowingly hired about 1,000 illegal immigrants for an air cargo company in nearby Ohio and brought some of them from Mexico to take the jobs.

Max Garcia and two other company executives pleaded guilty this month, agreed to forfeit $12 million in company earnings and face up to 10 years in prison.

Now there is an obvious question: Did Garcia have a personnel pipeline running between Mexico and Morristown, too?"

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I cannot imagine a Halloween without a peek at the handiwork of Tennessee Jed, who carves a sort of Memorial Pumpkin each year. This year's choice is a standout. Check it out.

Next stop is Rex L. Camino, who has details on "How to Build Your Own Bona Fide Real Undead Zombie." As Rex says,

I should also point out that I’m in no way advocating that you turn another human being into a zombie. Don’t get me wrong, that would totally kick ass, but I’m officially telling you that, although there is no specific law against zombie making, there is probably something illegal within the process."

And until Viacom makes them take away all their products from YouTube, then enjoy:

Monday, October 30, 2006


For a day or two now I've been trying to find the language to express just how distorted and lost my home has become. My home was once a revolutionary country - one with problems aplenty as history shows. But it was revolutionary because it was a defender of Liberty and Freedom and bound by laws. In the scope of human history, I told myself in search of some comfort, America did much in a very short time.

In civics and history classes, the ideas and ideals which were the bedrock of America were constant. Flaws were found, for they exist in even the best of intentions, but I saw a country moving into such better reckoning, realizing that not just landowners and not just white males had Liberty, Freedom and lawful protection. For a while, it was as if the vast majority of this country both understood that and worked ceaselessly to achieve it.

Now the thoughts in our national capitol and in the minds of too many well-educated citizens are tuned to a single note - Fear.

Leaders locally and nationally have shown contempt for our bedrock ideals. The most unnerving and shocking example of this is tucked away in a bill quietly signed into law by President Bush - a worthy bill containing pay increases for the military, accountability for (some) government contractors, better housing a military bases.

But then there's this section which leaps backwards hundreds of years - a little paragraph which eliminates the rights of states and grants to the President and the President alone authority to send in military troops into any town, city or state, regardless of whether a town city or state requests or requires such might.

Public Law 109-364, in Section 333 states:

The President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to--
      `(A) restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that--
        `(i) domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order; and
        `(ii) such violence results in a condition described in paragraph (2); or
      `(B) suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such insurrection, violation, combination, or conspiracy results in a condition described in paragraph (2).
    `(2) A condition described in this paragraph is a condition that--
      `(A) so hinders the execution of the laws of a State or possession, as applicable, and of the United States within that State or possession, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State or possession are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
      `(B) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
    `(3) In any situation covered by paragraph (1)(B), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.
The Senate passed this unanimously. 23 members of Congress voted against it. Since the bill contains regulations on hundreds of changes, I'm sure some would say that "overall, this is a good bill." That is a sheer lie:

On September 19th, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007's Defense Authorization Act contained a "widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order WITHOUT the consent of the nation's governors."

Senator Leahy went on to stress that, "we certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders."

A few weeks later, on the 29th of September, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."

More here.

I know some may argue that the failure of the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina makes such changes necessary. But let's remember that this president staffed FEMA's leadership with idiots who had zero working knowledge of responding to natural disaster. Hundreds of long-time FEMA staffers quit their jobs in disgust and, no surprise, the argument was then made that FEMA should just be a part of Homeland Security -- which is now responsible for flu vaccines and responses to tornadoes and ... what was that other thing?? Oh, yeah, Terrorism.

My home, my country, was once known as the "home of the brave."

Today, it is home of the terrified.

So terrified, that both leaders and citizens are willing to abandon any belief or any law if they feel, for the moment, it might provide an illusion of safety. They have abandoned reason.

I do understand know why so many voices on Right-Wing Radio and Newspapers and Cable networks and Blogs all sound as if they are shrieks of fear. They are fearful. And they appear to fear everything.

They have no confidence in themselves, their country, in Liberty or Freedom or Law. In their hearts, they feel only loss and terror.

Such people are like those who are drowning, and when a rescuer appears to help them, they will likely attempt to drown that person as well due to their relentless panic.