Saturday, December 02, 2006

American Life, Circa 1970

Warning: Connecting to the blogsite being mentioned in this post is likely to cause you to spend a good chunk of time searching past posts and experiencing amazement, maybe a little nausea, laughter and some nostalgia too.

I found this yesterday on MetaFilter, and got lost for waaaaay to long. The site features pics from catalogs of the 1970s, especially toys and clothes and other odd bits of the past as the writer has been faithfully scanning images onto his page since starting the blog in April 2006.

The blog is Plaid Stallions: Ramblings and Reflections on 70s Pop Culture.

Take the pics, add in some hilarious commentary and you get a good idea of why, during the 1970s I clung desperately onto wearing just blue jeans and shirts with few embellishments (other than all the weird-ass t-shirts I have). Case in point - the arrival of what one catalog called Man Mates. Nope, would not be caught dead wearing that kind stuff even back then, though I do remember seeing a lot of people falling for it.

And I too recalled how, for a while, dressing alike for couples was a big thing. And click on the images to "embiggen".

Go visit Plaid Stallions for much, much more.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Camera Obscura: Inconvenient Truth; More Masters of Horror; Kung Fu Mysteries

Documentaries have been elevated into mainstream popularity over the last decade by numerous stellar films, and I would imagine the leading contender for an Oscar this year has to be "An Inconvenient Truth" from Al Gore.

It is out on DVD now and more and more households are checking in for an abundance of science and shock on the theories and ideas behind global warming. In terms of the old days of schlock cinema, it's a Mondo Cane of eco-catastrophic fears. Whatever your views on the notion of global crisis, the movie is hard to dismiss.

And Al is on a roll because of it. Since judicial decisions denied him the White House, he has been one of the more relaxed and fascinating figures in politics and entertainment. He pokes great fun at himself on many "Futurama" episodes and TV cameos, and this month's GQ has a terrific and candid interview with the man on the movie, the Bush administration - all no holds barred and often very funny - that is this week's must read.


The Masters of Horror 2nd season on Showtime, which airs new episodes each Friday night at 10 p.m. is not only getting better and better, it's found great stories and new ways for horror directors to shine. Tonite's episode is a new entry from Dario Argento based on an F.Paul Wilson tale and stars Meat Loaf (or as a friend of mine says, "it's old man Loaf's boy, Meat!") who is now identified in movies and TV as Meatloaf Aday.

Last week's episode - John Carpenter's Pro-Life - was jaw dropping audacity incarnate, daring to mingle demons, anti-abortionists, and gore. Of course, it wasn't the mind-bending weird of last season's too-much-for-cable-TV- broadcast of Takashi Miike's "Imprint," (which I showed to friends during the Thanksgiving holidays, and now qualifies as a "clear-the-room" movie.)


The Independent Film Channel has picked up the first of the 1973 epic crime films known as "The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor or Humanity", and it airs tonight at midnight and during the month of December. The very influential style of the movie still resonates today, whether as music in Tarantino's "Kill Bill" or the ruthless, non-romantic gangster movie this year, "The Departed." Director Kinji Fukasaku used the story of the crimelords as social critique, but the movie picks you up and never lets you go.

The movie very accurately depicts the rise of the Yakuza crime families following the end of World War 2. Four sequels followed, but this first one stand very well on it's own. The entire collection is now available on DVD - just in time for someone to give it to me for Christmas!!

And speaking of Asian legends, I read a fascinating account of an American in China who is blogging about his life there. He happened upon a super-cheap and non-pirated copy of the DVD collection of "Kung Fu". Like many my age and some younger, that show was the first introduction we had to the stories and myths and entertainment which broke open the cinema and the world to Asian movies. Check out his blog here -- and yes, learning to say "When you can take the pebble from my hand it will be time for you to leave" in Chinese is a truly cool thing. And follow the mystery of Caine's name here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thursday Web-Walk

All the variety of information here deserves a separate post, but instead I'm placing them all on one. Not an act of being the lazy blogger - just a sample of other blogs I'm reading, and some stories that bear repeating.

Over the last month, two bloggers I read often both suffered the sudden loss of beloved family. I have (and many others have too) already written about the death of AT's wife, BJ. He has been continuing to write most passionate and vivid posts about what's happening. It's a continuing account of real life which is truly compelling.

And grief has sadly affected Alice at 10,000 Monkeys and A Camera after the sudden death of her mom in a car accident. That, plus a move into a new home has made her take a break for a bit, but she's writing again. And even in the midst of her trials, she too takes time to mention other blog-writers who have been coping with death. Just a classy lady all the way. Condolences to her family. Her mom sounds like an amazing person.

In Tennessee politics, Mike Silence notes there wasn't much blog discussion about Bill Frist's decision to step away and not run for president. And make no mistake, he was running and has raised millions so far. I'm with Kleinheider at Volunteer Voters - Frist has no political pull anymore. He was unable to get much done as Senate Leader, is facing likely charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Talk says he may run for governor. I'd suggest not. As for his medical career - wasn't he recently cited for faking some of the work required to keep his medical license active too?

Some members of the state's Transportation Committee are mulling over the idea of charging every driver in Tennessee a gas tax based on your mileage. A sort of test run of the idea in Portland, Oregon has volunteers driving with transmitters in their vehicles and paying 1.2 cents a mile. So many commuters drive from a half-hour to an hour for work commutes here in east Tennessee, not to mention what it would cost to operate city or county or school system vehicles, and those costs would seem outrageous to me.

Don't know about you, but I don't really have good cell phone skills - my fat fingers fumble over the buttons, I don't create individual ringtones, I don't watch movies or listen to music on one either. But in Japan, we are talking about people who have some serious skills. Winners were just announced for the First Annual Mobile Phone Novel Awards. Yep, writing novels on a phone. Even more amazing that someone could do it - there were over 2,000 people who entered their phone-novels for the top prizes.

One other wired-world bit of news sounds most interesting too - live webcasts of rehearsals for "Saturday Night Live." I am always curious about the backstage of performances and production. I'd watch.

Finally, the government is putting together a test-run for a brand new citizenship test, with new questions which focus on how government works rather than on American history.

And there's your Thursday Web-Walk.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq Pays Reparations to Toys 'R Us, KFC????

Who was it that said The business of war is business?

A jaw-dropping post from TGW has got to be the most mind-numbing, irrational and most unbelievable thing I've read in a long time in the fiasco that is the war in Iraq -- the post is about the war reparations which have been awarded to corporations like Toys 'R Us and KFC:

Here is a small sample of who has been getting "reparation" awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), Nestlé ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449). In the vast majority of cases, these corporations did not claim that Saddam's forces damaged their property in Kuwait - only that they "lost profits" or, in the case of American Express, experienced a "decline in business" because of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. One of the biggest winners has been Texaco, which was awarded $505m in 1999. According to a UNCC spokesperson, only 12% of that reparation award has been paid, which means hundreds of millions more will have to come out of the coffers of post-Saddam Iraq."

Beyond bizarre.

Property Rights Debate Continues

Since much debate has taken place this week on these pages regarding the concept and use eminent domain and development, I thought I'd share a few stories with you I read today relating to commercial development and specifically about the current attitudes among Americans on the topic.

First, some good news for the city of Morristown as Alcoa Inc.'s Howmet subsidiary announced a $6 million expansion of the current facilities, which should be completed by next year. Over the last five years or so, the state in general has seen more growth in the expansion of exisisting industries. The announcement did not have details about the number of new jobs which may be created but it's more than likely given this will add 16,000 sq. ft. to their plant.

Not so good news arrived in an annual survey from the Saint Consulting Group. The survey shows growing dislike for land development, regardless of what that development might be. Some highlights from the report:

- Opposition to development still remains strong: 73 % of Americans oppose new development in their communities.
- 70% of Americans would use taxes to keep land un-developed.
- Even greater opposition surfaces about landfills, power plants, and quarries.

-Not such bad news this year for casinos, though still not welcome in most American communities.
- Opposition to Wal-Mart is more prevalent, though less intense.
- 75 % of US residents give their local elected officials a C or worse, when it comes to deciding what does and does not get built in their communities.

-Development has become a decisive political issue in local and regional elections.

- Significant support turns up for new hospitals, even as opposition grows.

- There is a unquestionable Kelo backlash: 71 % support laws stopping eminent domain for private development."

Yes, there's that phrase again - eminent domain. Just a casual check across the internet reveals intense debate about the long-held legal sanction of taking land from private owners. Type the words into the Technorati search engine and nearly 50,000 web pages appear, covering the dispute from coast to coast, citing abuses and policy debates in most every state of the nation.

Similar results arrive using Topix, or Google and others too. Highly organized grassroots groups are keeping a major presence on the internet to demand more protections for property owners from legislators at the state and and national levels, such as Castle Coalition.

Reason magazine has an extensive examination of both changes in eminent domain laws and how businesses and elected officials are battling to keep the changes away. Their writer Adrian Moore has a fascinating peice about this battle and what's at stake for property owners:

t turns out that city and county governments and redevelopment authorities are pretty effective lobbyists. They managed to retain significant authority to use eminent domain and define limits in very subjective terms. As Barron wrote:
Americans have long been of two minds when it comes to property rights. On the one hand, there is the old notion that ownership is inviolable, a home is a castle, and the government has no business messing with private property. On the other hand, there is the equally old notion that no one is an island and that the value in any individual's property is deeply interconnected with the health of the community as a whole.

In a world where legislators and much of the public have gone squishy on what constitutes a right, passing a law that just plain says, '“look, you can'’t take someone'’s land except on rare occasion for public infrastructure projects like roads and dams'” appears just too extreme.

There is a conflict of visions. As one city manager told me, '“What about the community'’s right to improve itself and create new jobs?'” There is a reason the Constitution doesn'’t mention '“community rights' --—they don'’t exist. Only individuals have rights. Communities have desires."

On The Death of Dave Cockrum

Comic book artist Dave Cockrum passed away Sunday at his home in South Carolina, and while I mourn his exit, I really appreciate the way the 63-year-old sauntered away. He was suffering from complications from diabetes, but news reports have made note of his demeanor too:

Wearing Superman pajamas and covered with his Batman blanket, comic book illustrator Dave Cockrum died Sunday. ...... in his favorite chair at his home in Belton, South Carolina ...

At Cockrum's request, there will be no public services and his body will be cremated, according to Cox Funeral Home. His ashes will be spread on his property. A family friend said he will be cremated in a Green Lantern shirt."

Sounds like a pretty fine way to go to me.

I guess there's some eternal youth quality to comic books, and it has been a business with highs and lows and now CGI effects can bring the fierce and furious action to the screen which has existed in simple pen and ink illustrations for generations. Certainly in many X-Men stories, heroics isn't just a aspect of fantasy - it's about personal struggles within and with friends and foes alike. The illustrations of artists like Cockrum and many others are uniquely American images, provoking drama and humor and acts both human and superhuman.

Dave was typical of many artists who worked for both big publishers, DC and Marvel, and it was his work with Len Wein to re-invent the X-Men franchise in the 1970s which brought him real fame, creating the characters of Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Phoenix, Mystique and others. That's his cover for the relaunch of the X-Men. Much of his design work became the model for all those characters now on the silver screen and in the current run of X-books.

And, like many other artists, he found that his work did not bring any royalties and was in something of a financial crunch in his later years. Marvel and DC both came around eventually.

A history of his work is here, some info on his struggles to receive pay is here, and there are tributes here, and a great gallery of his sketches and drawings here.

Comic writer and friend Clifford Meth writes about Dave's passion for his work and deep appreciation for his fans. He'd go to fan conventions without being paid, would sign autographs for free too. Dave even offered a comic fan from Tennessee to come and visit him in South Carolina even as his health was failing. Meth says:

If it hadn't been for the burden of his illness, he would never have even mentioned his missing royalties to anyone. For companies that take advantage of that sort of guy, that's a ready-made sucker, a patsy. But for Dave Cockrum, it was about getting on with life. He was happy to have created what he created, to have found a career drawing comics. He never verbalized any regret about his chosen field. At least not to me, and I was his pal. Dave never considered the road not taken. "What else could I have done?�" he�d say. "I love comics!�"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Got Elvis In My Reese's!

Here's yet another example of a blogging idea so simple and likely quite lucrative, which will make you smack your forehead and say - "Oh, man! I shoulda done that!"

It's Junk Food Blog.

And looky at what they say is now on sale here in the US of A. And it's got peanut butter, chocolate and bananas. Woot! (Thanks to Tits for the link) And the package says "limited edition" so if you spy these on sale somewhere near this corner of East TN, tell me!

The Buzz of War

Honeybee bomb detectors have been created by scientists and researchers at Los Alamos National Lab. The wee critters have been trained to essentially stick out their noses when a variety of explosive material is nearby, according to the reports today:

Researchers in the program, dubbed the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project, published their findings on Monday.

By exposing the insects to the odor of explosives followed by a sugar water reward, researchers said they trained bees to recognize substances ranging from dynamite and C-4 plastic explosives to the Howitzer propellant grains used in improvised explosive devices in Iraq."

Insects may be emerging as the new warrior, and of course saving human lives through innovation is truly laudable. Earlier this month, the nation of Israel announced their ongoing research and development of a sort of "bionic hornet," a miniature spy drone the size of an insect which might be capable of not only negotiating its way through nefarious hideouts, but perhaps even have a weapons capability - one would expect it to be more severe than a simple sting.

Whether using live or manufactured mini-bugs of warfare, the key is nanotechnology. Many advances have been achieved in just the last few years, and the U.S. has already established a National Nanotechnology Initiative, whose budget has jumped from the millions to an expected $1 billion in research and development. The concerns of developers and theorists alike project startling advances and grim new realities of war as well:

Virtually every aspect of human life would be affected: for example, tiny robots could be sent into the human body to locate and destroy cancerous cells or viruses, or even correct failing organs at the cellular level, leading to indefinite extension of the human lifespan.

The dangers posed by MNT (molecular nanotechnology) are also nearly limitless: cheap, fast mass production would enable spasmodic arms races; improved smart materials could make current weapons systems much more capable, or permit creation of entirely new classes of weapons.

Perhaps the most publicized danger from MNT is the so-called "gray goo" problem, where self-replicating nanomachines essentially out-compete the naturally occurring life forms on earth."

Human history has already had molecular encounters of many kinds which shifted civilization itself. A microbe can challenge more than just one person, it can challenge a society. A recently published account of how the city of London battled the outbreak of cholera in 1854, "The Ghost Map" details one such encounter, long before science had even connected the "bug with the disease."

It just isn't a science-fiction concept anymore -- yet one of the best examples of that, however, Neal Stephenson's award-winning "The Diamond Age" explores an astonishing world where nanotech is not only the norm, it can affect the ways in which all levels of society develop. A molecular-based have-and-have-not social structure.

Mini-spy drones are presented in the book in ways which current research and development indicate may be active in the very near future.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Debunking the Fertility Gap

A new talking point of nonsense (and yes that is a huge and growing category in today's world o' politics) tumbled out on this page recently in a comment left by a reader, in which he cited something called "the fertility gap".

The comment arrived from Ned, and while I appreciate readers and visitors of all types, that phrase "fertility gap" has been rattling around the media and pundits for some few weeks or months now and so here I am, offering you my take on this new statistical wisdom.

An explanation of this phrase is humbly provided via the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal:

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%"

There are some most significant words in the WSJ article cited, most prominent of course is the word "If."

If you can identify 100 unrelated people who call themselves "liberal" (or perhaps the pollsters just assumed a person they contacted declared they were Democrat, Progressive, Libertarian or Independent really meant the heinous "liberal") and ask them if they have children you have indeed discovered a "random group sample". Emphasis on "random."

"If" I asked 100 parking meters if they were created by aliens and they all refused to communicate any response to my question, then is their non-denial an admission they are alien creations or were they forced into silence by their Alien Overlords?

Once the idea of the proposed gap was presented, others took up the notion and called it "news." Here's something from USA Today, seeking to define election outcomes present and future based on who has kids and who does not and where they are and etc etc:

Democrats represent 59 districts in which less than half of adults are married. Republicans represent only two.

Democrats represent 30 districts in which less than half of children live with married parents. Republicans represent none.

"The biggest gaps in American politics are religion, race and marital status," says Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg."

Jeepers, Anna! There's just gaps everywhere we look! Aaiiiieeee!!!

The above percentages take on even a more curious meaning when The Latest Statistic shows that the number of married Americans is on the decline and now a minority, something Wintermute mentioned in a post recently.

Given the USA Today stats, it would seem the majority of Americans who identify themselves as part of some political party are far more likely to be Democrats. Has this shift caused the Republicans to, as the old saying has it, "do it for Old Glory?"

Ellen Goodman weighed in on the Fertility Gap hoo-ha thusly:

I never knew there was a conservative gene. If so, can it be tweaked? Is that another reason to support stem cell research?

(writer Phillip) Longman went on to say, '“When secular-minded Americans decide to have few, if any, children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide.'” Imagine giving an evolutionary advantage to folks who don't believe in evolution.

Should neo-con parents expect that lining the cribs with wee plush elephant toys, or wee plush donkeys if they are Democrats, will somehow instill ideologicalical infants?

What might occur "if" during foreplay prior to procreation, one or the other person involved were to think "liberal" and not "conservative" thoughts? Would the caress create some pre-natal political stance?

Should exit polls be focused in the delivery room of America's hospitals? And who should host the TV News special??

Also we now have, for lack of a better phrase and to follow the nonsensical naming of randomly obtained statistics, what could be called The Abstinence Gap.

Our government is now funding millions and millions into programs to encourage adults between the ages of 19 to 29 to simply abstain from having sex. No talk of contraception or anything which might reduce pregnancy, just tell 'em to be celibate. I would imagine at age 30 there might be a preponderance of passion.

So is there some kinda reverse psy-ops taking place? If we tell them not to have sex, they will and hopefully they'll all have conservative babies, or once over the age of 30 the parents will more likely be a conservative whose conservative gene is more enhanced .... but what if ..... if .... if ....

All this reminds me of a question once posed by writer Tom Robbins:

"If a chicken and a half lays an egg and a half in a day and a half, then how long will it take a monkey with a wooden leg to kick all the seeds out of a pickle?"

City Bungles Colgate Site Development

The on and then off and now on again battle for land rights to assist with the major multi-million dollar industrial development of a new Colgate plant in Morristown is evidence of, at best, lousy planning by city officials.

Seems the new facility lacks access to a sewer system. Construction at the Colgate plant has been humming right along until - Surprise!! - the city failed to obtain the necessary easements for sewer access.

The city has a long tradition of reliance of using condemnation of private property and taking it via eminent domain claims, so that's what they did in October for the 11.5 acres owned by Bill Howell who operates an active dairy farm on the site. The city paid for an assessment of the value of the property and came up with a payment offer of $150,000.

In mid-November the local press proclaimed the deal was done, that Howell had signed an agreement to sell -- and added as well that the property in question would also be needed for a 5-lane roadway connecting Highway 160 with a road called Merchants Greene, which is the site of a still developing large retail complex. The bad news was, the report of the deal was bogus.

In the local paper's Nov. 18th edition, they write that no agreement to sell to the city has taken place. All that did occur was that Howell agreed to a future signing of an order of possession, which would grant the right to the city to have access to his property for road and other improvements, like sewer access. But no such signing has occurred in any reports I can find.

(NOTE: I cannot provide links to the local newspaper's articles on this debacle. The Citizen-Tribune will allow you to search their archives if you pay $5.95 for a one day access or $49.95 for a 30-day access and I for one am not willing to pay that much. Their "access to archives" page is here. Since I have a friend who is a subscriber to the paper, at a cost of just over $9 per month, the info on this eminent domain case is from the hard copy.)

Howell has stated he is seeking his own assessment of the property and until that happens, no agreements will be made. However, since the city has already filed their court documents seeking to use eminent domain in October, they are proceeding with that suit.

The poor folks at the Colgate plant, also are awaiting the outcome of the dispute, and are continuing with much hope as they construct their facility, which relocated here from Indiana. The city attracted them here after giving them the property for the facility at no charge and also giving a 7-year tax-free status on property taxes.

Though I
can't imagine them presenting their sales package to Colgate with the admission that the city didn't have sewer access for the facility.

This isn't the first time - and won't be the last - that city officials use the forced seizure of land for industrial development. Time and again industrial proponents have claimed that tax benefits (even if delayed for many years) offset the problems private property owners have in selling active family-owned farmland. The city is currently considering using eminent domain to seize the property of the former Morristown College campus for an unnamed developer, since they say the asking price for the property by the current owner is too expensive.

In these times when most communities and states are re-working and improving the old-fashioned heavy-handed tactics of eminent domain to seize property.
On Nov. 7, 2006 more than 80 percent of voters in Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire and South Carolina approved constitutional amendments that forbid use of eminent domain for economic development. Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Nevada and North Dakota also passed eminent-domain limits. In all, 35 states have now curbed eminent domain abuse since the Kelo ruling.

The sad reality locally is that forced seizure is the card the city usually plays first. And historically, they usually win, despite any private or public opposition.