Monday, December 31, 2007

Weekly Best of TN Blogs

Here's to one of the best online ideas of 2007 - the best weekly blog roundup in Tennessee, courtesty of R. Neal at TennViews -- and to it's continuation in 2008:

"An abbreviated 'on-the-road live from Memphis' edition of our weekly sampling from some of Tennessee's best and brightest bloggers:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dr. Helen, Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg in Fantasy Land

I listened to a conversation the other day between a trio of folks who have garnered internet fame and the words and concepts expressed left me with some unsettling thoughts. And since the trio is taken somewhat seriously in the world o' internet punditry I decided to share my thoughts in this forum.

Glenn Reynolds, Dr. Helen and Jonah Goldberg shared (in my opinion) some utterly dubious reasoning and extremist ideas in an interview via Dr. Helen's page with Goldberg regarding his new book, "Liberal Fascism." (Thanks to Katie for linking to the interview at Knoxville Talks. Normally I do not seek out that trio's output, as scattered readings revealed to me there was little of value, for me anyway, to discover in their offerings. Others find great value to such, an idea which stoked my notions of writing about what I encountered.)

The book is on the verge of publication and numerous online writers have already ripped into it. I have not read the book, only a few excerpts, however the above-linked interview pretty much revealed the "thinking" of the author and no, I would not want to read it. It falls into the vast pantheon of revisionist historical wingnuttery which continues to flourish in our current age. And I do not mean this post to be a virulent screed against the trio - more that it is a good example of bad practices in punditry.

In essence, Goldberg takes his particular worldview-goggles and peers backward, cherry-picking the events and language of the past in order to bolster his views that Democrats and Liberal politics virtually destroyed America and only the Rise of the Neo-Conservative has saved us from oblivion.

He also embraces an already well-known bit of fakery on the internet - making use of Godwin's Law, which states that the longer an online discussion continues, there will inevitably occur the invocation of Hitler and Nazis to the topic discussed. Judging from the trio's discussion and several excerpts from his book, he takes that Law as primary to his thesis. He also says title came from writer/social activist H.G. Wells and that Wells was a founding father of the modern American Liberal Democrat.

Wells was certainly a Utopian, though his novels tended more to show the failings of Utopias and the destructive elements of human nature. He was certainly well-regarded in the early days of the 20th century, but Goldberg's elevation of his status is problematic at best.

Goldberg's propositions involve creation of an argument, which may be provocative but are more "academic," meaning
having no practical or useful significance. Specious reasoning taken to its furthest extensions. Speaking in syllogisms, one could say: Hitler Had A Mustache, Many People Have Mustaches and so, Many People Are Hitler.

At one point in the trio's conversation, Reynolds compares former president Jimmy Carter's appearance on TV in a sweater urging Americans to turn down their thermostats to an act of Fascism and "at least it wasn't a brown sweater". Oddly tortured turns of metaphor often arise in the trio's discussion. Another is the concept from Goldberg noting that Hitler was a vegetarian and hence all current interest in healthy foods and vegetarianism is somehow related to following ideals of Hitler's National Socialism.

You can listen to the interview (linked above in the 2nd paragraph) for yourself and hear the trio's faux logic. It's a common trait among many popular Neo-Con pundits - Ann Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity and others: be outlandish, be histrionic, constantly repeat your points so that others must use your language to debate your topic, and claim that elitist Leftist madmen are trying to silence your viewpoint.

For myself, when I notice a particular political argument must always have An Enemy Which Must Be Defeated as it's basis, I find the argument based more on fantasy than reality. It's as if the first action of such a view is to destroy all things not in agreement, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. And such agents of argument have sadly risen to prominence, praising the self-determined individual while demanding obedience to a particular dogma

Your views may vary.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Things We Could Do Without in 2008

A short list. Yours may vary:

Glenn Beck

Daily reports on Britney Spears

Being tasered

The sports trifecta of steroids, OJ Simpson and Barry Bonds

Carlos Mencia

The View

Two commercials: Fitness Made Simple; Head-On

Redlight cameras

Your trip to rehab

Celebrities judging talent shows

Tainted things - vegetables, toys, dog food, no-bid government contracts, toothpaste, the US Justice Department, the FCC, open government, all sports, etc, etc

FEMA trailers and fake FEMA news conferences

Scandalous Folk/Behavior: student loans; mortgages; Blackwater; Senators Ted Stevens, Larry Craig, and David Vitter; illegal wiretaps; legislative bills filed by The Rep (aka Stacey Campfield); Scooter Libby


Rationalizing the use of torture

Losing/misplacing government computer database records

Sending me a text message - if you cannot make a phone call or email me, then it really isn't important is it?

People who make insulting/cutesy plays on the words Republican or Democrat.

Those news-crawls or tickers or whatever they are. Pick a news story to report, then report it and go on to the next one. It's not like that 'breaking news' feeling is supposed to be a permanent state of being.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Music For The Very Special

Travel along as we go from a sharecropper's Christmas to the mega-funky Bootsy Collins and finally land in Hawaii. The following musical montage was carefully hand-selected and compiled to be your very own musical collection, from me to you. Merry Christmas!

SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Carol

Animated by Richard Williams and Chuck Jones, with voices by Michael Redgrave and Alistair Sim.

Best of Tennessee Blogs - Jingle Bells Edition

The latest roundup of news, views and many things Christmas, all courtesy of TennViews:

A "Jingle Bells" edition of our weekly sampling from some of Tennessee's best and brightest bloggers:

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: Democrats fail to show up on SCHIP, bonus: Wordless Wednesday

• Andy Axel: Brr!

• BlountViews: Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, also BlountViews in the news, bonus: Best Christmas music video ever

• The Crone Speaks: Bad Santa

• Cup of Joe Powell: Without restraint, totally beyond the pale, bonus: Sophie spins some Christmas soul music

• Enclave: NOLA housing crisis roundup, plus The David Bowie/Bing Crosby Christmas duet classic

• Fletch: New coal plant on fast track, plus Wordless Wednesday, bonus: 'Tis the Season

• KnoxViews: Energy bill gets 50MPG on way to White House. plus UT launches tobacco research center - anything for a buck

• Lean Left: Obama and Alter's faulty memory, plus: Huckabee's video Christmas card

• Left Wing Cracker: Larry King impersonation ramble, plus: Nat King Cole for Christmas

• Loose TN Canon: Conservative climate science ignorance on parade, bonus: Fried Cheesecake

• NewsComa: The rural factor in presidential politics, bonus: Christopher Walken's Night Before Christmas (warning: children should leave the room)

• Pesky Fly: Separated at birth, plus: McCain beneficiary of Chucklebee fallout but Romney by a nose?

• Progress Nashville: Starving the poor, plus Corker wading into 2010 minefield, and Top 10 Progressive New Year's Wishes, Day 1

• Resonance: Pelosi surprised by Republican resolve

• RoaneViews: State Sen.Tommy Kilby on Tennessee's sunshine law, plus Alvin C. York and the origin of turkey shoots

• Russ McBee: State Sen. Randy McNally having second thoughts on changing Tennessee's sunshine law plus, A Christmas story

• Sean Braisted: (back at home) A law firm divided

• Sharon Cobb: Gov. Bredesen should follow Gov. Corzine's lead on death penalty, plus Expect to see Republican politicians, country artists and Ted Nugent on late-nite TV

• Silence Isn't Golden: Reporting in from the Obama Nashville HQ opening, bonus: possibly the stupidest letter to the editor ever, plus (sorry, missed from last week): Happy Hanukkah

• Southern Beale: Ron Paul's true Republican credentials, plus Gift idea for the person who has everything except health insurance, plus 12 Days of Christmas

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Coverage denied, girl dies and a follow up, plus You're so lame - let the party begin!

• TennViews: Bush to California: Drop dead, plus State Rep. Beth Harwell's toxic toys, and Tennessee election study recommends paper audit trail and other reforms, and 1968

• Whites Creek Journal: Tilt and the gift of the mysterious, plus This technology must be stopped!

• Women's Health News: Spermicide in your hair dye?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Soul and Sophie

The Editor was kind enough to send me another picture of Sophie, the most popular dog on the internets, this time a candid shot of Sophie celebrating Christmas. Looks to be having a fine time.

I hope you have the time and the good fortune to have a most Merry Christmas. I'm sure that Sophie wishes the same for you ... well, maybe she simply hopes for a daily abundance of tasty foods and a comfortable spot to sleep.

So the best Christmas wishes to one and all, and a special bonus to go with the photo - a short but very soulful collection of Christmas tunes. There is a certain quality to many holiday songs which the selection below tries to preserve and I hope you enjoy it.

SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

Camera Obscura - Dark Knight and Hellboy Trailers; Letter to Hollywood;

Christmas 2007 is almost here, but movie fans have some nifty extras this weekend which point to high expectations for Summer 2008. First, the newest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight" finally has a preview clip that looks pretty awesome, which you can watch by clicking here. Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker has had the internet buzzing all year long and the preview shows he may steal the show next summer.

Another comic book movie for 2008 is also a sequel - "Hellboy 2". Director Guillermo del Toro has again captured the look and feel of Mike Mignola's comic. The preview is below:

del Toro and actor Ron Perlman are also working on a big screen version of H.P. Lovecraft's "At The Mountains of Madness" to be released in 2010.

An open letter to television producers:


American network television will die and roll into a grave made of stupid game shows if the current writer's strike continues for much longer. Some of you welcome such an event, as such shows have been gaining control of the airwaves in recent years.

To halt this slide into mediocre and bland programming, I urge you to do the following:

Hire me to write for your shows.

I'm willing to write for a mere $10,000 for each half-hour sitcom and $20,000 for an hour-long drama. No health care benefits, no residuals, no extra fees. This is a straight-up cash for scripts deal here.

It isn't that I am anti-union. But at this point in my life, I doubt I will ever be a member of the WGA and I could really use the money. I have watched TV for much of my life and am confident I can create material for any genre you wish. I know I cannot write for every show currently on the air, but I can likely find at least half a dozen other writers who will work for the same deal and we'll all make television history together.

Heck, we've all had ideas that Hollywood ended up taking.

For a mere $50,000 I will write a pilot movie for a series. Here's a sample of a show which would attract huge audiences: "The Country Doctor Detective" -- a brilliant young surgeon from Manhattan is forced to move to the Appalachian Mountain region to escape the crime family he testified against in court, and soon learns that he has a knack for using forensic science to solve crimes. Soon, with the help of humorous country characters and sidekicks, he starts a detective agency staffed with tough but lovable female bounty hunters while bringing quality healthcare to impoverished rural America. (Two spinoffs are already here - the clueless crime family trying to blend into the Southern culture and the tough but lovable female bounty hunters show.)

Something for younger viewers? How about "Game Over" -- a rag-tag group of young teens decide to leave their dysfunctional families behind and travel the world competing in videogame contests, earning big bucks and exploring the wacky gaming and sci-fi/fantasy/comic book convention world and when they aren't gaming, they play a battle of wits and challenges with each other as they learn about life, romance, rock music and keepin' it real.

I have more. (And yeah, if ANYTHING like the two shows mentioned above appear on TV or movies, I will sue you to death.)

Like I said, this is a strictly cash for scripts deal, and I am sure you will find that my friends and I can fill hours of programming with the same quality currently available.

I await your calls and emails.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Without Restraint

"He's out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct." (via)

That's the quote that popped into my head after reading about yet another case of military contractors in Iraq accused of criminal acts.

This time it's allegations of a gang rape so brutal the victim's breast implants ruptured and a coverup of the allegations. (Not only the contractor, KBR, is involved, but also the State Dept and the Justice Dept.) How disgusting, how illegal must events become before decisive action is taken?

More and more evidence and reports arrive in a steady supply of contractors who have somehow been given the ability to act with no rules, no oversight, no accountability, no boundaries -- all in the name of bringing Democracy to the Middle East. There are currently 70 open and active investigations regarding fraud and abuse in contracts for the war in Iraq.

Newly invented security firms, like Blackwater, and longtime US corporations, like Halliburton and KBR, are among the players in a game where billions in tax dollars flow to them with little attention given to what, if any, objective is sought.

Documentary films like "Iraq For Sale" made the point long ago.

Legislative efforts, like the War Profiteering Prevention Act, are in limbo and await approval.

On Wednesday, Congress approved another round of spending for the war - though it was less than half of what the president had asked for.

Congressman David Obey commented that long-lasting change and correction will occur when Americans: "elect more progressive voices to the United States Senate" and "elect a president with a different set of priorities."

Conservatives who ferociously bellow about fiscal and moral values should be leading the charge to eradicate wanton lawless behavior by US companies bilking the taxpayers of billions, and smothering the US foreign policy in slimy behavior. But they are not. Voters who ignore that failing will once again endorse behavior without restraint.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Taco Johns and Toxic Typists

Perhaps worse than the incident reported by WBIR-TV of a Morristown man working at Taco Johns who is alleged to have place pubic hair into a policeman's taco is the tsunami of typing monkeys commenting on the story.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Limbaugh' s Lessons In Nonsense Rhetoric

I happened to read one of the 'daily updates' which talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh provided recently, and realized it was a fine example of how one could use nonsense, wild conjecture and pop culture mythology as a substitute for facts and information to score emotional points.

He's a pro at this gambit, has been for years, and nothing I could ever write on this humble but lovable blog will ever alter his status or influence. Still, the blatant nonsense and witless argument is so obviously deluded, it's as if he decided to plop down a goofy premise and defy anyone to challenge it.

Here is the passage:

2007-12-18 05:56:25 Now, this theory of mine based on this Drudge picture of Mrs. Clinton, with the headline: "The Toll of a Campaign." Now, it could well be that that's a sympathy photo, too, to make people feel sorry for how tough the campaign trail is. Now, I want to preface this by saying I know it's going to get out there. Media Matters is going to get hold of this and they're going to take it all out of context. We can expect that. It's a badge of honor when this happens, but for the rest of you, I want you to understand that I am talking about the evolution of American culture here, and not so much Mrs. Clinton. It could be anybody, and it is really not very complicated. Americans are addicted to physical perfection, thanks to Hollywood and thanks to television. We know it because we see it. We see everybody and their uncle in gyms. We see people starving themselves. We see people taking every miracle fad drug there is to lose weight. We see guys trying to get six-pack abs. We have women starving themselves trying to get into size zero and size one clothes; makeovers, facials, plastic surgery, everybody in the world does Botox, and this affects men, too. As you know, the haughty John Kerry Botoxed his wrinkles out during the campaign.

There is this thing in this country that, as you age -- and this is particularly, you know, women are hardest hit on this, and particularly in Hollywood -- America loses interest in you, and we know this is true because we constantly hear from aging actresses, who lament that they can't get decent roles anymore, other than in supporting roles that will not lead to any direct impact, yay or nay, in the box office. While Hollywood box-office receipts may be stagnant, none of that changes the fact that this is a country obsessed with appearance. It's a country obsessed with looks. The number of people in public life who appear on television or on the big screen, who are content to be who they are, you can probably count on one hand. Everybody's trying to make themselves look different -- and in that situation, in that case, they think they're making themselves look better. It's just the way our culture has evolved. It's the way the country is. It's like almost an addiction that some people have to what I call the perfection that Hollywood presents of successful, beautiful, fun-loving people. So the question is this: Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?

First, the sentence
"Americans are addicted to physical perfection, thanks to Hollywood and thanks to television. We know it because we see it." is an astonishingly ignorant viewpoint which avoids contact with all of human history.

Another absurd leap of logic - aimed at women in general, whom Limbaugh apparently loathes or fears - arrives with this comment: "... women are hardest hit on this, and particularly in Hollywood -- America loses interest in you." While there may be a point to be made that "youth" has an advantage over "age" in pop culture, that is not the point he is making - which seems to be instead something along the lines of "I hate women and Hollywood."

He goes on to say that his fractured nonsensical premise is not just a factual concept, but forms a basic construct of society which he deems Evil in and of itself: "It's just the way our culture has evolved. It's the way the country is."

And all of the comments are truly just a preface of sorts to say one thing: "I hate Hillary Clinton, because she is female, she is empowered and she does not fit my model for what women are good for."

What's the old saying? If you can't blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit?

The commentary is also a sterling example of The Chewbacca Defense.
"That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense!

Secrecy, Gifts Ok'd For Sullivan Commission

A staggering endorsement of secrecy and influence peddling got the green light this week in upper East Tennessee government. Existing Open Meetings law was snubbed and a dubious Ethics Policy was embraced by the Sullivan County Commission in their last meeting.

The governing body first approved an odd change to their Ethics Policy, wherein a subjective test by the elected or appointed government official will determine if a gift creates any conflict. Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said the policy is based entirely on a gift receiver's opinion:

One commissioner offered the following description of the new policy’s approach to gifts, and no one said he was wrong: “An individual still makes the decision based on their own standards.”

Street said the policy would be hard to enforce with such a subjective measure.

“You could have someone receive a $10,000 car and stand right in front of you and say it didn’t influence them,” Street said."

As if an elected official would report receiving a gift which made them alter their votes or actions. This terrible idea gets adopted as legal policy??

The commission also approved a resolution supporting less oversight of officials and more chances for larger numbers of office holders to meet secretly to debate and decide on policy.

"[The Commission voted to]
say Sullivan County supports changing the law so that members of any elected body could meet and talk about public policy in private as long as there is no quorum present. A quorum of the 24-member Sullivan County Commission, for example, is a simple a majority, or 13 members. The commission’s committees — which now meet in public, monthly — have only eight members each."

UPDATE: Here's an idea from Taxing Tennessee -- Using Sullivan County Commission's logic "it is quite appropriate to allow taxpayers to decide if their taxes are too high or too low."

Monday, December 17, 2007

New Blog on the Block

There's a new metablog on the block, via WBIR-TV and Katie Allison Granju, titled

I like them already ... especially since this humble yet lovable blog is featured in their blogroll.

Thanks, Katie. I'll add a link on my blogroll too. We internets folk is friendly that way.

State Needs Paper Trail for Voting Machines

I had a post, albeit brief, on a study calling for the state's election commissions to adopt the use of voter-verified paper audit trails for voting machines, and posted it about one minute later on TennViews than a post on the same topic from R. Neal.

His post was far better, and I suggest you read his, right here.

The only points I wanted to raise on the topic are:

Having qualified poll workers is regarded as a challenge in over half the counties in Tennessee?

Is there a remedy for the lack of participation and interest in voting?

Has the majority simply plugged into electronic solutions to measure and count votes for elected offices and discarded the value of educating each generation of the workings of the election process itself?

Weekly Roundup of Tennessee Bloggers

Your weekly roundup of "the best and brightest" of Tennessee bloggers from TennViews:

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: The Myth of "Curing" Homosexuality, bonus: excellent Friday creature

• Andy Axel: The view is exhausting

• BlountViews: Mayor attacks local paper, again, also doesn't like Russian student/cultural exchange program

• Cup of Joe Powell: More on the AT&T statewide cable franchise bill

• Enclave: Tennessee should ban pre-payment penalties, plus Asterisks

• Fletch: Friday bird blogging, plus CNBC's Mr. Drysdale

• KnoxViews: Homeschooling for religious reasons. plus Anatomy of a toxic radioactive plume (at Facing South by way of KnoxViews)

• Lean Left: Financial incentives that discourage pharmaceutical research, plus: Good argument against FISA immunity

• Left Wing Cracker: Dems in Congress: Dance with who brung'ya

• Loose TN Canon: Why pop music sucks

• NewsComa: Savage political season

• Pesky Fly: Harry on hold, plus: Remembering Ike

• Progress Nashville: If the Tennessee Lottery ran elections, plus The failure of privatization

• Resonance: Shared sacrifice, plus House protects Christmas

• RoaneViews: Tax exemptions, good and bad

• Russ McBee: ORNL data theft and me plus, Theme of the day: contempt

• Sean Braisted: (at TennViews) Sumner Dem v. Diane Black

• Sharon Cobb: The only thing the Democrat Iowa caucus will predict is who won't be president, plus Obama's Nashville HQ opening

• Silence Isn't Golden: Bye bye Freddie

• Southern Beale: Dr. Frist's new spots, plus Talking Jesus Action Figure

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: New Jersey abolishes death penalty, plus Huckabee on the Canadian National Igloo

• TennViews: What reporters should be asking candidates (Pam Strickland), plus UT McNair Scholars program in jeopardy (an update)

• Whites Creek Journal: What rule of law?

• Women's Health News: Fetal mortality rates by race/ethnicity, plus Good grooming

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Morning Torture

When phrases like "torture apologists" become widely used, I have to cringe.

Sadly, our current social/political discourse contains much to explain the necessity of torture in a utlitarian worldview.

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly offered some thoughts on the concepts and uses of torture in this post and then posted a comment wherein torture is deemed acceptable.

Drum cites Paul Waldman who says:

Torture is the intentional infliction of physical or mental suffering in order to obtain information or confessions."

For myself, I would define torture a bit differently:

Torture is the intentional infliction of physical or mental suffering."

As for a 'defense' of the uses of torture, Drum points to the following:

I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don't want our side to lose....As with any other form of violence, motivation is everything. A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying.

You'd be amazed at how many people find these things nearly equivalent. A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid's forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child's bedroom. In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that both resulted in a dead child. Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of "evil," a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

That was the motivation.

The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don't do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone.

At some point you have to decide if a known terrorist having a very bad day (after which he goes back to a hot meal and a cot) is more of a moral problem than allowing a terrorist to blow up a building full of people.

Yes, it's good if we do it, when it's for the right reasons. So far, it's been for the right reasons. And no, it isn't good when it's done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives."

I suppose my question on torture is this - which does the most harm, accepting the use of torture as expedient and helpful; or maintaining the position that torture, for any reason, is morally bankrupt?

See also previous posts on this topic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Best of the Top Ten of 2007 Lists

My vote for the most fascinating Top Ten List of 2007 goes to this blog post.

No celebrity mishaps, heartwarming movies or significant failures. As the post says:

Science doesn’t take away from the beauty of nature. It enhances it, multiplies it."

Camera Obscura - Legends of Good, Bad and The Dark

I was floored last week when a videotape mysteriously appeared here at the house, as it was in fact a bootleg copy of The Strangest, Weirdest Movie Ever Made. It took some time to puzzle out the tape's origins, and my thanks to it's provider are most heartfelt and sincere. Still, it troubles me some that the arrival of the tape came so quickly after I had written about it. Weird.

The movie? It's called "The Phynx" and it matched the hype for horrible. Make no mistake, I have indeed sought out and viewed some heinous, awful crap over the course of my days and "Phynx" is likely the worst. It not only met, it exceeded my expectations for bad. Questions as to why it is not available, why it disappeared are easy to answer - every star, living or dead, most likely has people devoted to crushing any appearance or copy of this film. (Read this for more info.)

It is a monument to awfulness, an endless cascade of weirdness. One scene I particularly liked was the arrival of a Phil Spector character to help record the first album for the band called The Phynx - a fake CIA-created rock band which has a secret spy mission to go to Albania and rescue famous celebrities being held hostage. Then there was the non-nude, government sanctioned Orgy Scene. And likely the most shocking thing was the truly awful music made for the movie by the legendary songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.

The videotape now rests in a place of honor here at the house. And remember, If You Seek It, You May Find It, But Don't Blame Me If It Haunts You Forever.


I've become addicted to reading the blog Cinematical and have added it to my link list. This week they gave us the Worst Christmas Movies list. One in particular which tanks with spectacular badness is the 1988 movie "Scrooged." On the plus side, it is the only version of "The Christmas Carol" which features Miles Davis. On the negative side ... well, it is all bad really, and only having a few seconds of Miles playing trumpet doesn't save it. Tops for Worst Christmas Movie is "A Christmas Story." The entire list is here.


Cinematical, in honor of the new adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" helpfully offers a list of Stupid Things The Last Man On Earth does. Some examples:

2. They Don't Check to Make Sure They Are, In Fact, The Last Man on Earth

7. They Walk Around With Clothes On:

"OK, maybe none of you want to admit it, but a lot of us like walking around naked once a while in the privacy of our own homes (as long as no one else can see us). Usually, it's not a pretty sight, but it's comfortable and the human body is a beautiful thing. In the trailer, Will exercises without a shirt, but otherwise keeps his clothes on. This makes no sense. If I'm the last man on earth, I'm stripping down and dancing for the first three days, at least. Freedom!"

A mostly positive review for Will Smith and I Am Legend is here.


I finally got to see a movie which came highly recommended, the 2006 film "Notes On A Scandal". I was not eager to see it originally, expecting a wallop from Histrionic British Women Overacting. Boy, was I wrong.

Judi Dench plays an icy, hateful teacher who is drawn to the new art teacher, Cate Blanchett. The movie begins with Dench's character narrating from her diaries about the world around her, and quite quickly becomes a furiously told tale of mangled emotional lives. Screenwriter Patrick Marber knows this playing field quite well (see "Closer", the break-up movie to end all break-up movies).

Savage, realistic and full of acidic commentary on class, the movie also delves into the headlinges with a plot line of a teacher and student affair. But mostly it celebrates the fantastic acting of the two lead actresses. Dench, especially, is quite remarkable.

Two negatives from the movie - the Phillip Glass score is annoying and I found the ending a bit too abrupt and pat. But don't let that stop you from watching.

Horror Movie Find of the Week: "The Dark" (2005).

The director of the sly and fun werewolf movie "Ginger Snaps", John Fawcett, turns to a more serious ghost story with "The Dark." Based on ghostly aspects of Welsh mythology, the movie stars Maria Bello and Sean Bean, an estranged couple whose daughter's life gets caught up in the old myths.

The movie is an old-fashioned scare fest, perhaps with too many zinging orchestral stings at every turn and creepy shadow. Still, the movie is rich in atmosphere and the subtext of a mother and daughter relationship turned sour adds a nice touch.

One odd point - when your husband rents a house on a dangerous cliff where there is a monument to the poor folks who committed mass suicide at that spot, it is definitely time to move.

Oh and by the way -- have you got my Christmas present yet???

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Official Confesses Crime

In a surprisingly candid moment, an elected county commissoner in Dyer County spoke about how the county government has been operating:

So you mean to tell me we've been breaking the law all these years?" asked Walker.

"Yes, we've broken the law in the past as it stands now," said Hill.

"I don't know how any legislation got passed with that," said Walker. "It's happened because of a whole lot of discussion on the telephone and between people."

The commission then voted to support "diluting" the state law, to allow for officials to meet and decide public policy in secret and without public notice.

Why the sudden concern?

After all, these commissioners (and those who elect them) think that an admission of being guilty of a crime is acceptable if an elected official makes the admission in a public meeting.

Burning Issues

Who knew? I had no idea the key political issue in the race for the Republican nomination for president was the following: "Do Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?"

Um ... and this has what to do with leading American government? Oh sure, it gives copyeditors a chance to write headlines like "Huckabee Sparks Religious Flap." (And just what makes a 'religious flap' different from a regular flap?)

A religious scholar quoted in a Reuters report said: "
Spiritually, all God's children are brothers and sisters, so Huckabee would also be the brother of Satan," said Francis Beckwith, who teaches a course on politics and religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Whoa! Talk about a negative attack!

Will the next burning issue a reporter brings forward be "Could God make a rock so big even he couldn't lift it?"

Political campaigns for national office (and the press covering them) today seem to hold fast to the 5 basic rules of playing dodgeball, as cited by Patches O'Houlihan: duck, dodge, dip, dive and ... dodge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More on AT&T's Plan To Avoid Local Fees

All the noise and furor (and millions spent lobbying state legislators) from AT&T demanding Tennessee law be changed so that AT&T does not have to negotiate with cities for franchise contracts (depriving them of revenue from fees and handing over control of rights-of-way) is apparently not important in Mississippi. In that state, they seem to have no problems working community by community, just as all cable providers currently operate.

R. Neal has the details in this post and notes as well that Georgia gave AT&T what they wanted and as many as 200 families in Atlanta will benefit.

Also, Stacey Briggs, executive director for the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, has challenged claims from AT&T that it takes too long to devise local franchise contracts:

Briggs also challenged statements made by Morton that city-by-city franchising takes 13 months. AT&T has been invited by some Tennessee communities to deploy competitive cable services and those municipalities have promised expedited franchise negotiations, Briggs said, but AT&T has not filed for local franchises in the state, investing its capital instead in a statewide solution.

An AT&T media representative did not respond to a request for comments on Briggs's letter by deadline Thursday."

Some background on the issue and the stance taken by State Senator Steve Southerland, chair of the committee reviewing the proposal from AT&T, are here.

UPDATE: North Carolina went the way of state-regulated franchises, with some poor results:

Beware of legislation promising "competition." A bill passed by the General Assembly last year that was intended to jump-start competition in the cable TV industry has had the unforeseen consequence of costing the state and local governments across North Carolina millions of dollars in lost revenue. And six months after the law went into effect, that promised competition is nowhere in sight.

The Video Service Competition Act was passed with the promise that telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon would leap to provide video services across the state. (Video is the new term for cable TV, to catch up with the technologies that deliver it. More and more, Internet, video and voice—formerly phone—are delivered through the same pipes.) The companies would offer competitive pricing and give consumers used to relying on one, or no, service provider, choices in service—if only the state would make it easy for them to get in the game. Under the old system, a cable TV provider would negotiate with the city, town or county where it wanted to provide service. But the phone companies didn't want to negotiate town by town, so they pushed for a statewide franchise system with little, if any, oversight. There's no approval process, and as long as the paperwork is filled out correctly, the state is required to accept the company's plan.

The bill's main opponent, the League of Municipalities, backed down after lawmakers reassured the group that the revenue local governments collect from cable TV taxes—money that goes into the general fund to pay for basic services, such as fire and police—would stay the same.

But according to figures from the N.C. Department of Revenue, local governments have received 27.8 percent less across the board under the new system."

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Creating "It's A Wonderful Life" For the Stage

I was recently interviewed by Bob Bell at WRJZ radio about the stage show of Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", which I directed for the Morristown Theatre Guild. My thanks to WRJZ for the publicity and you can hear the interview by clicking here.

You have three more chances to see this most heartwarming Christmas story - Dec 14, 15 and 16 - at First Presbyterian Church, and you can make reservations just by calling 423-586-9260.

Several creative decisions were in my brain as we began to create this live stage version: it had to be done in black and white (just like the movie); using a children's caroling chorus to start the show off would set a perfect tone for the story; and the end of the show would change to vivid color since poor George Bailey decides his life is most wonderful after all.

I also wanted a very central image in the set to be of the town of Bedford Falls, the setting of the play. Most fortunately, a local artist (and Guild board member) named Pamela Andrew took an image I'd found from the movie and made an enormous 12' by 8' backdrop from it. Her work is truly impressive, as you can see below, although just looking at this backdrop without the proper stage context really does not do enough justice to her many hours of work:

I like the way it looks like an old Christmas card from the era of the movie, and it does add a real sense of place to the show.

I also have to add many thanks to the cast, crew and the Theatre Guild board for allowing me to work on this show. In the past, I have directed shows that were mystery thrillers and some comedies too. So the real challenge for me here was to help shape a production which is pure family wholesome goodness, and not let it be cheesy schmaltz. I must say too that the work of the cast, who tirelessly put themselves into this world of Bedford Falls, have made the characters very real and personable, all of which, in my opinion, keeps the show realistic and humorous.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Secrets Were In The CIA Video?

Questions about a CIA videotape of interrogation of some suspected terrorists - like what happened to the tape and who saw it and who ordered it destroyed - are sure to occupy many people.

Thankfully, Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has some insight into what we already know about one of the prisoners interrogated, Abu Zubaydah:

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress. This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

Roundup of Tennessee Bloggers

A new regular weekly fixture at TennViews is worth sharing with all of you.

A weekly sampling from some of Tennessee's best and brightest bloggers:

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: Huckabee stumbles, Clinton needs better friends

• Andy Axel: Fall Heron, plus Good little lapblogs

• BlountViews: Hometown poll not kind to Lamar Alexander

• Cup of Joe Powell: Christmas TV season preview, plus Joe has the incredible Sidewalk Politics video that's been making the rounds

• Enclave: Tennessee in another Top 20

• Fletch: Two men and a truck

• KnoxViews: KnoxViews 2007 Year in Review, plus W settles an old score, and Holiday shopping humor

• Lean Left: Weak-minded Huckabee

• Left of the Dial: Geek-o-rama, plus Bad boss

• Left Wing Cracker: TN Supremes should decide open meetings law

• NewsComa: No solar eclipse in government

• Pesky Fly: Impeach Hillary

• Progress Nashville: The blog business model and TV Guide, plus Missing Bill (no, not that one)

• Resonance: Expert advice on not getting shot in random mall shootings, plus "Serious" Primaries

• RoaneViews: 20,000 tons of nuclear waste

• Russ McBee: Carbon dioxide reduction not as expensive as we're being told, plus Candidates: Speak to the working people

• Sean Braisted: (at TennViews) The obstructionist Senate

• Sharon Cobb: Is Pelosi hurting Clinton?, plus I know what you did in nursery school

• Silence Isn't Golden: Mitch McConnell's unfortunate remarks, plus Regent Law School needs a better recruiter (this is hilarious, keeping in mind that Regent is the law school supplying the Neocon cabal with legal foot soldiers who come up with crap like it's ok to lie to Congress)

• Southern Beale: TN GOP bunker mentality

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Harriet Miers knew

• TennViews, by Persimmon: Corridor K

• Whites Creek Journal: CIA: American heroes

• Women's Health News: Make your holiday donations count for women

Friday, December 07, 2007

New "Speed Racer" Trailer

The makers of "The Matrix" trilogy, the Wachowski Brothers, are offering a sneak peek at their newest movie, "Speed Racer", based on the old animated TV series from the 1960s.

It looks all neon and shiny and a little creepy. I am no fan of the old show, but this looks odd enough that I may watch it. I said "may".

Here's the trailer, courtesy of Cinematical, for the movie which opens in May of 2008:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas and Television, 2007

A friend mentioned something in an email to me the other day about television and Christmas which prompted some thinking on my part -- he wrote:

It's now Dec 5th & Charlie Brown, Rudolph, & the Grinch have all been on already. What are they gonna run Christmas Week, Deal or No Deal?

This is a Brave New World in entertainment, ya know. I tend to expect that along with the Special Christmas Edition of "Deal or No Deal" we will have:

- The Hannah Montana Christmas Spectacular, featuring The Bratz Nativity Chorale

- The David Beckham/Spice Girls Holiday Hour, with guest stars Fifty Cent as Frosty the Snowman and Kanye West as Tiny Tim

- "Ann Coulter's Wonderful Life", wherein Ann wishes she were never born and learns that without her, Godless Liberals roam the endless plains celebrating "Xmas" and saying "Season's Greetings" to each other. Bill O'Reilly co-stars as Clarence, her guardian angel.

(oh it's been worse - check out the 2003 TV-movie of Tori Spelling as a female Scrooge in "A Carol Christmas", featuring William Shatner as the Ghost of Christmas Past.)

Speaking of Christmas Past, TV Party always has loads of info on Christmas and television, like their entry of Christmas Specials from the 1960s and 1970s. Lots and lots of music and entertainment were offered, along with original animated shows and celebrity events. Your valuation will depend on your age.

This is a whole new kinda Christmas world we live in - these days you can order your own "Charlie Brown Pathetic Christmas Tree" from Urban Outfitters. Even pathetic trees are mass produced for your consumption.

Sidewalk Politics

A man who identifies himself as a pastor shot some video as he was protesting against illegal immigrants in Rhea County. His video page at YouTube says he was simply carrying a sign that read "Round Up Day For All Wetbacks." His other videos are rather intense as well.

The Rhea County Mayor Billy Ray Patton calmly tells the man he is a hatemonger, and asks him to leave. (Thanks to DeMarCaTionVille for posting this video.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Congressman Davis Plans Long Stay in Office

The straight-up fact is that when a person nabs the 1st District Congressional seat, it's pretty much theirs for as long as they wish to have it. Since 1963, only three Republicans have held the seat - Jimmy Quillen (1963-1997), Bill Jenkins (1997-2007) and current Congressman David Davis.

So it is no surprise to read in the Rogersville Review that he plans to run again, and that the seat is already locked up in his view:

I haven’t made any official announcement yet, but I do plan to run for re-election,” Davis said.

The congressman said he is not aware of anyone “seriously” looking at mounting a challenge in the Republican primary, and he noted a Democrat has not been elected to serve the district since 1878.

“There is a possibility somebody might come out in the primary, but I have run in primaries before and I think I would be able to win again,” Davis said. “When you look at the history of the district, once you win the primary and are elected the voters tend to send you back if you do a good job of representing the values of East Tennessee."

However, I continue to hear rumblings from the upper East TN GOP that they wish to make Davis a one-term man. I'd expect a small battle in the primaries - though as Davis said, history is his ally.

Still, I wonder if no changes over a 100-year period indicate contentment or indifference.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Economist Takes On Dollywood

England explores Dollywood in the latest issue of The Economist, which offers their own drawing (see image at right) to go with their report.

The story (link here) notes:

People do not fly to Dollywood; they drive there in big cars full of squabbling children. East-coast accents, let alone foreign ones, are rare. The park is thus an excellent window on what people in this part of the American heartland like."

The Pigeon Forge Experience is certainly more vast than it was when I first went there way back in the 1960s. It really has not changed much in what it offered then - there is just a lot more of it.

Is it a true template of the American heartland?

(hat-tip to Hilbilly Savants)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Guest Dog Blog

Sophie, the official canine representative of yer Cup of Joe Powell returns in a recent photo, courtesy of The Editor. A black and white photo of a black and white dog on a black and white floor is a good thing.

The Public's Right to Know

Despite intentions of some in the state's government, proposed changes in the laws on doing business in public remain snarled and confusing to the public at large, and threaten to push more business and policy decisions into back rooms. School boards are also seeking exemptions to the public meeting laws.

It's one of those important situations wherein the ramifications of the changes may not be immediately apparent, but one day down the line the public will discover their input and oversight into governmental operations has been shut down.

Make no mistake -- citizens need to pay heed to this proposal now before it is too late.

Bloggers and newspapers in the state are keeping a close watch on this issue:

- A KNS editorial warns against weaker laws

- Other bloggers offer comment

- A discussion between online writers

Some fine news which I had missed is that Hamblen County government has now placed minutes of their county commission meetings online. Blogger Linda Noe has all the details on how to access the information and navigate through it. Kudos to the county for this effort to provide information!

Another good resource for tracking how well or how poorly Tennessee governmental bodies provide public records and access to information is available at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On Being Named A 'Must Read' Blog

A rather unexpected surprise arrived for this humble-but-lovable blog, from Michael Silence at the Knoxville News Sentinel this past week - he listed this blog among his favorites in his post of "If I Could Only Read Five Blogs."

Many thanks Michael, to include me among your choices.

And for new and regular readers here, I say hold on to your wits as I am gearing up for some very important posts in coming weeks and days dealing with some most important issues affecting every person in our state.

Also in the past week I have been contacted by several national groups who are organizers of something called "Influencer Marketing", a trendy buzz concept from traditional media marketing groups. One definition of the idea is mentioned here and says "
In the context of Influencer Marketing, influence is less about argument and coercion to a particular point of view, and more about loose interactions between various parties in a community."

One of many aspects of the blogging and internet world I have discovered is that more than 'blog influencers' impact is the impact that readers have on local and national opinions.

Making info available is certainly valuable. How we use and share that information among our friends and peers is the true power, so people who read news and opinion remain the key to shaping debate on issues.

So my thanks to those who see value in this blog, and thanks for the work all of you do every day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Woeful Absent Blogger; or, Where Is Joe Anyway?

Greetings from your humble narrator/blogger. And yes, I am keenly aware that I have been rather absent over the last few weeks, as I work to direct the stage play of Frank Capra's classic American Christmas story "It's A Wonderful Life" for the Morristown Theatre Guild which opens this Friday at the new Family Life Center at First Presbyterian Church.

The time and energy the blogging world requires has all been taken over by the needs of the show, and this will likely be my last post until our opening weekend is done. I hope readers and visitors here will forgive my absence and if possible, attend one of the performances of the show which runs from Nov. 30th thru Dec. 16th.

Why not indulge your Christmas passions now and make your reservations by calling 423-586-9260!! See George Bailey attempt suicide on Christmas Eve! See an angel (without wings) named Clarence work to rescue him! See Bedford Falls! And don't forget little Zuzu Bailey, who has a flower which needs a drink!

In a few short days I will return to the more usual topics/outrages/wit/debates-political-and-cultural/and overall guide to the Web World here.

Before I close this post, there is an ad for the program for "It's A Wonderful Life" from a local music store which I thought you might enjoy as much as I did. Thanks for your consideration and readership.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Web Walking

The creators of Conservapedia said their web site was launched to balance the 'liberal bias' of the web site WikiPedia. So what do conservatives read the most on their site?

Most viewed pages
  1. Main Page‎ [1,943,727]
  2. Homosexuality‎ [1,681,179]
  3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [518,319]
  4. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [452,896]
  5. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [422,475]
  6. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [403,745]
  7. Homosexual Couples and Domestic Violence‎ [374,341]
  8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [332,220]
  9. Homosexuality and Anal Cancer‎ [294,700]
  10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [294,120]


Want to know all the top buzz-words for 2007 in Japan? Of course you do.


When Jellyfish attack! (how can they be dangerous when they are named after jelly??)


Tennessee Jed, aka Santa's Little Helper, has some pictures of the hanging the holiday decorations over downtown Knoxville.


You don't have to be crazy to smoke, but it helps ....

Friday, November 23, 2007

Camera Obscura: The Strangest, Weirdest Movie Ever Made?

I was reading some reference books the other day and read about a movie released in 1970 which I had never heard about, a movie that boasts a cast which includes Richard Pryor, Guy Lombardo, Colonel Sanders and Ultra Violet (just to name a few). From what I have been able to learn about it, it may well be one of the strangest and weirdest movies to ever tumble out of America, if only for the huge cast of celebrities who agreed to be in it.

The so-called plot of the movie, called "The Phynx", is centered on how the country of Albania is kidnapping the most famous American celebrities of the day (um, yeah, we'll get to that list in a minute), so a sort-of CIA operation is launched with their plan to create a rock and roll band and send them into Albania as a touring act to rescue the celebs. The band is called The Phynx - a sort of psychedelic spelling of the Finks (I guess).

The movie is a bit hard to describe since no video or DVD copies exist. Bootleg copies are out there, but I am fearful of what dark nether regions of the world one must go to to find one.

Anyway, a crazy communist Albanian general (Michael Ansara) kidnaps celebs to entertain the imprisoned King and his wife happy (played by George Tobias and Joan Blondell). A host of cameo appearances by other 'stars' train the Phynx members for their tactical action on Albania.

Here is a partial list of the 'stars' in this train wreck of a movie: Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan, Colonel Sanders (yes, the one from KFC), James Brown, Richard Pryor, Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan (Tarzan and Jane!), Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcy (from the old Bowery Boys movies), Harold "Oddjob" Sakata, Guy Lombardo, Xavier Cugat, Joe Louis, Rich Little, Busby Berkley, Ruby Keeler, Rudy Vallee, Edgar Bergen, Martha Raye, Butterfly McQueen (from Gone With The Wind!!), Ultra Violet, Rona Barrett, Andy Devine, Dorothy Lamour, Jay Silverheels and John Hart (Tonto and the Lone Ranger!!!), George Jessell, Clint Walker and even more odd choices.

There's even a shot in the movie (according to sources) of stock footage of Richard Nixon signing into law a day celebrating "Phynxgiving Day."


Unlike, say, an Ed Wood movie, which is bad and awful and made on a shoestring, this one was a big budget major studio release from Warner Bros.

Maybe the reasons it is not available on tape or DVD are good ones. Maybe the nation of Albania has all the copies and has them hidden in some vault.

Still, this sounds so bad it might just be good. Maybe.