Saturday, December 16, 2006

Of Toes and Snows

A fine day in December here in East Tennessee, as I can walk outside barefoot still. I know, I know - shades of the barefoot hillbilly.

It's more a matter of deliriously nice weather outside and the fact that last night while taking garbage out to the house-assigned and massive county-sanctioned receptacle here at the homestead, I fumbled my steps in the dark, and stabbed my toe on something far too large for said toe. The result is something not quite broken, but not quite right, a gaping (though wee) wound on the third toe of my right foot.

Socks and shoes make it hurt even more. Yes, I've slathered it with unguents and ointments and various antiseptics, but fortunately it's warm enough to step outside in bare-naked feet to walk the dog around the yard and fetch the mail. Said nakedness won't last, though, as a busy day encroaches and naked feet aren't allowed

The balmy day mocks the agenda ahead - shopping for Christmas items. Sure, the music now playing on the computer is all snow and cold and baby, Santa is coming. Yet sunshine and a high near 70 degrees evokes a tropical Christmas. I love it. Being a lifetime inmate - er, resident - of Tennessee I think of snow and cold as appropriate on two occasions: on Christmas day itself, and only if it dissipates within 48 hours; and on those days in January or February when some wan child has not completed an arduous homework assignment and needs a snow delay for school in order to avoid the wrath of some taciturn teacher.

I subscribe to a myth of my own making regarding snow in Tennessee and the South in general. When the signing of surrender documents at Appamattox in the Civil War occurred, one section of the document included a section stating that from that day forward, if it snows south of the Mason-Dixon line, then that day is clearly designated a holiday. And as long as snow was on the ground, no work or school is mandatory.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Now I am off for some additional salves for the wounded toe and a leisurely search for gifts to give folks for the holidays. A search which will include me finding the perfect gift for me. It relieves pressure from others who might wonder what I'd like and insures a smile on my face when the morning (perhaps snowy) of December 25th dawns.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Six Faces of Bob Dylan

I read some months ago about the "experimental" movie being made by Todd Haynes about iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan and that multiple actors were cast to play the man.

A new article talks about the project with one such star-turned-singer, Cate Blanchett.

Each Bob is filmed in a different style too, as Blanchett described hers. "Mine's in black and white and I think some of them are hypercolored. Todd is a genre defying film director to begin with. If you look back to his film school thing about Karen Carpenter, if you've seen it, with the Barbie dolls, it's amazing. He thinks so laterally, in such a Todd Haynes way. I don't think anyone else could have conceived of the idea. And it's great because the fact that I'm a woman, automatically you have that Brechtian distance between the persona of Dylan and the form of the film liberates it from being a biopic."

Others cast to play Mr. Zimmerman include Christian Bale, Richard Gere (??!!!??!), and Heath Ledger. And Cate. The photo here is from a set that appeared on a French web site.

The movie is set to premiere next year at the Cannes Film Festival.

I'll have more movie and entertainment news in a later post today - but this story deserved it's very own space.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Botched Grand Jury In PS3 Shooting

The strange events surrounding the shooting death of Peyton Strickland by police who stormed his apartment got even stranger this week. A judge has declared that a deputy who was indicted on Monday of a charge of second degree murder is not indicted after all. Reports say the jury foreman accidentally checked the wrong box on the jury form.

Cpl. Christopher Long was indicted Monday on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 1 death of Peyton Strickland. But a judge dismissed the charge Tuesday after the foreman of the grand jury said he checked the wrong box on the indictment form and that members of the grand jury didn't find enough evidence to charge Long with murder.

[County D.A.Ben] David met Wednesday with officials from the Special Prosecution Section of the Attorney General's Office to discuss the grand jury's reversal to determine what to do next. He declined to answer specific questions about the investigation Thursday but said the case would move forward."This case is still open. The investigation is ongoing, and future court action is anticipated," David said.

Outrage has brought death threat's against the deputy, which is sheer nonsense. The family of the 18 year old has been through unimaginable and difficult times. But there are elements in the evidence presented so far that stands out in my mind.

One is the deputy's claim in the grand jury hearing that he mistook the sounds of a battering ram for gunshots from inside the house, which prompted him to fire. Forget that he is outside of the apartment, knowing the door is about to be rammed. He's admitted he fired without reason.

That, plus the fact the coroner says the bullets which killed Strickland came through a closed door, indicate some critical breakdown in the normal course of events in serving a warrant and an eagerness to shoot first and ask questions later.

After all the confusion so far, it looks like incompetence wins the day, at the cost of one young man's life. The authorities involved have done massive damage to their own reputations too.

As for the family, they issued to following statement:

This is bizarre.

How can an indictment one day not be an indictment the next? How could this happen? Yesterday, our son’s murderer was going to have to answer for what he did. Today, we just don’t know what is going on in Wilmington. We are upset, confused and searching for answers.

We call on the judge presiding over the grand jury to hold an inquiry into what happened here and make the results public. And, if it shows that anyone even attempted to influence the grand jury, we trust charges of obstructing justice will be filed.

Grainger Today Now Online

It's taken some time to construct and it was time well spent. The online version of the weekly Grainger Today newspaper is up and looks great. You can also link to it in the link list to your left.

Kudos to publisher Steve Cason and his staff for maintaining a solid example of good reporting and good writing. More projects from Grainger Today may also be ahead, and the East Tennessee region continues to to be well-served by their work.

Making A Christmas Classic

No one ever thought it would be memorable, but they were wrong.

What the roomful of executives saw upon the first screening was a shock—a slow and quiet semireligious, jazz-filled 25 minutes, voiced by a cast of inexperienced children, and, perhaps most unforgivably, without a laugh track. “They said, ‘We’ll play it once and that will be all. Good try,’ “ remembers Mendelson. “Bill and I thought we had ruined Charlie Brown forever when it was done. We kind of agreed with the network. One of the animators stood up in the back of the room—he had had a couple of drinks—and he said, ‘It’s going to run for a hundred years,’ and then fell down. We all thought he was crazy, but he was more right than we were.”

Read more about how "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was made, including how the kids were coached into phonetically sounding out their dialog.

Making jabs at commercialism, panic during the holidays, and much more, it also has the best soundtrack I've ever heard for a TV Christmas show. This following is just a wee snippet of the show, but it has The Dance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Are Men Funnier Than Women?

Are women, as a rule, lacking in humor?

The idea has long been debated among friends, once the old adage was mentioned during one fateful evening, that only men think the Three Stooges are funny. I admit I only know a handful of women who do while men are always fans of the hitting and slapping and sheer violent comedy of the Stooges.

A story in Vanity Fair puts forth the notion that women just don't make with the funny as well as men do, though the article is about as lame a presentation as I've ever read. No surprise that Christopher Hitchens is the author of yet another pitiful proposal, this one titled "Why Women Aren't Funny".

There are nearly 200 comments so far in a post about this story at MetaFilter.

There is agreement that the article in question and it's author are painfully off target. But the question remains - are women, as a rule, just not as funny as men?

It is noted that claiming a man is funny is the equal of the compliment that a woman is pretty. Seems to me that the argument is 'pretty funny' indeed. While I admit that I do know many women who don't seem to be able to tell a joke correctly, that is far different from being funny. Measuring the number of male versus female stand-up comics is no good guide either, as very few really funny stand-up comedians even exist.

I've had the great fun of working with many improv comedy groups and found that the women were just as funny as the men, and in general only a few people excel at improv.

The article in Vanity Fair says humor is just another form of aggression. That is another topic of debate too.

Humorist Robert Benchly once said - "Defining and analyzing humor is a pastime of humorless people."

A friend in high school often made the following claim - "The only things people laugh at are pain and other people."

Far more instructive, however, is the following comment made by an improv comedy troupe member during one evening's rehearsal - "The thing about comedy is, it has to be funny."

That's the best summation of comedy and humor I know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Have A Very Buffy Christmas

This past weekend my nephew asked me how I was coping with the ever-dwindling televised opportunities to watch "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" reruns. He has no idea how obsessed a fan can be, or how resourceful, but he's young, so it's no biggie.

There are ways, oh yes, many ways.

Take for example the following video, compiled mostly from the 1998 episode "Amends", wherein young Buff has to battle The Harbingers, some blind and very bad priests, who are holding nefarious rituals underneath a christmas tree lot and channeling much bad mojo into the mind of the vampire-nearly-ex-boyfriend Angel. And it all ends with snow, blocking out the sun so Buff and Angel can spend the holiday together. Awwww ....

Just remember what Buff said in that episode as she imagines the required ingredients for a fine Christmas - "Tree. Nog. Roast Beast."

Oh and just for the record - Season 8 of the series will appear in March of 2007 as creator Joss Whendon tells the continuing story of the li'l vampire slayer in a 20-issue comic book run for Dark Horse Comics.

The video originally on this post has disappeared. But you can watch it all online at this Fancast link. ... or, guess you'll just have to fire up yer DVD machines.

Monday, December 11, 2006

PS3 Shooting Now A Murder Case

Today a grand jury indicted a North Carolina deputy with murder in the shooting death of an 18-year-old, Peyton Strickland, said by authorities to be a suspect in a case involving the theft of the PayStation 3 game console. The first reports are here.

I mentioned the bizarre and deadly incident earlier today. The deputy was charged with 2nd degree murder today for shooting and killing Strickland. However, details of the investigation remain shrouded at this time. When I discover more info, I'll gladly share it.

UPDATE: No indictment ocurred. Yes, that's right. full details here.

Strange Case of Police Shooting Over PS3

A press conference is scheduled for today in North Carolina regarding the shooting death by police of an 18-year-old suspected in the robbery of two PlayStation 3's. The details of the event have been very slow in coming forth, but authorities are hard-pressed to explain both what happened and who was involved and several of the deputies who apparently shot through the door of the suspect's apartment have been involved in other shooting deaths as well. One deputy involved has already been fired, even though the investigation is still in the early stages.

When the warrant for Peyton Strickland's arrest was being served, deputies also brought along a special S.W.A.T. team - reports now say that's because someone found pictures of the suspect and some friends posing with guns on a web site. Friends say the picture was done as a joke.

Reports also recently released say that Strickland was apparently shot several times through a closed door, meaning he was shot while deputies were still outside of his home. Strickland's dog was also killed in the assault and witnesses at the scene say Strickland was not armed, but was holding a game console controller.

Blogs in North Carolina have been tracking the story and shifting of blame.

Strickland's father is a well known wrongful death attorney in North Carolina.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iraq Study Group No Real Help

I have little support or enthusiasm for the much overestimated report from the Iraq Study Group.

You don't have to be a foreign relations expert, or former Bush the First appointee to know that the situation on the ground in Iraq has been grim and yes, deteriorating for some time.

Counting on diplomatic pressure from the likes of Iran and Syria -- no, wouldn't recommend that. Those countries actively, aggressively oppose democratic goals. And prior to the US war in Iraq, even I could have advised White House officials that a weak Iraq and a weak Afghanistan would create the basis for a very powerful Iran.

Let's be honest - Iran has been the poster child for anti-U.S. philosophy since hostages were taken during the U.S. Embassy seizure in 1979. And Syria is a haven for Hussein loyalists.

Despite hopeful admiration for the report, little attention is being paid to two key problems with the U.S. strategy -- contracting out the training of Iraqis to private companies has been rife with fraud and failure; and likewise failure has been achieved at insuring a stable infrastructure of basics like electricity, hospitals, and even oil production.

Facing the house-to-house battles, soldiers are constantly in harm's way. The policies in place and those being weighed now seem only to pull in directions with little advantage for the U.S., our allies and the Iraqis.

In short, the U.S. is in one hell of a mess and clear decisive policies to resolving the war are still elusive. At the very best, the report may perhaps open the eyes wide shut at the White House -- but I doubt seriously if anyone can achieve that.