Saturday, February 10, 2007

Follow Me to Middle Tennessee

Once again I have the honor of guest-blogging at Nashville Is Talking. Please come by and join in the conversation.

And yeah, that means posting here this weekend is gonna be very light. I get paid over there!

And it's worth the trip, if just to see "24's" Jack Bauer facing off against Meatwad.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cartoon Network Prez Out After Aqua Teens Hit Boston

Looks like Turner found at least one - and there may be more - to sacrifice after the Aqua Teen ads in Boston prompted a security freakout. The President of the Cartoon Network is out.

'I feel compelled to step down, effectively immediately, in recognition of the gravity of the situation that occurred under my watch,' Jim Samples said in an e-mail to Cartoon Network employees, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported."

Smart money says more fallout will follow. It's a shame, people, since it was Boston and Boston alone who got wigged out by the ads.

Where Am I??


This switching around from Old Blogger to New Blogger is a chore. It's two chores. Maybe even three.

If I disappear, it's not my fault.

Camera Obscura - Indy's Whip and Comedy Research

Score two points for Harrison Ford and 30 lashes for George Lucas over The Whip Debate.

Ford was told he could not have a real whip in the endlessly planned and re-written 4th installment of the Indiana Jones movies. Lucas said, safety regulations demanded only a CGI whip would be used. And Ford said, "No whip? Then I'll abandon the project." No word yet on the outcome. But here's a simple question ... how many CGI shots were in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?

Next: The Eddie Murphy movie where he plays a woman in a fat suit is opening. I am past being just annoyed at the commercials. And Eddie -- Why are so many of your movies just about you in a fat suit?


"Saul of the Mole Men" debuts Sunday night on the Boston Hoax Network - I mean, Adult Swim. This live-action comedy-adventure is patterned in a 1970s style, Sid and Marty Krofft show, which means cheesy sets and costumes. In fact the whole show is a Green Screen affair as the witless Saul is separated from his pals on Team Strata (making it sort of a show within a show within a parody) and must make his way through the Earth's crusty underworld, encountering bizarre creatures, time travel and of course, some vampires (?). Looks promising. As another 15 minute entry in the Adult Swim line-up it may take a few shows for this one to find it's legs.


Do comedies about being unfunny really work? It's been the schtick of Albert Brooks for a long time, and his 2005 movie "Looking For Comedy in a Muslim World" is loaded with deeply droll and painfully absent humor. ("There are no comedy clubs in India?" he asks repeatedly)

Brooks, as himself, is recruited by former senator Fred Thompson to go on a fact-finding mission for the U.S. government to find out what Muslims think is humorous -- though they can only send him to largely Hindu India and Pakistan. It will improve US understanding of the non-American world. The idea is so off-kilter, it may well have been part of the real U.S. "strategery".

A good example of the humor here is the scene where Thompson lays out the plan to Brooks, and Thompson says, "We all know about the great sense of humor our President has", and the executives all laugh and Brooks sort of raises his eyebrow to say "Whaaaa?" It's a very low-key approach to comedy - but if it were much more low-key it would need CPR.

I certainly related to one aspect of the movie - the scenes where Brooks travels the crowded streets to ask people "What makes you laugh?" A most dangerous scenario, I can assure you.

You see, some years ago I was working with an Improv Comedy troupe and hit on the idea of taking a video camera and some troupe members thru the streets of Morristown asking the same. The idea was, I'd get some hilarious responses and make a short film to show during one of the weekend improv shows. You know, real life and street theatre all in one. I got that in spades, but not in a good way.

We had done four or five of these "interviews" at the local mall, and gotten zip for our efforts. Realizing that vast numbers of young people congregate along the main drag thru town in the evenings in various parking lots, I said, "Let's go out at night and ask these people what is funny!!"

Yeah, and no one bothered to question the wisdom of that plan. Thanks, guys.

Cut to a gas station parking lot about 11 p.m. Myself and three others, riding in a friend's new Porsche, taking along a then state-of-the-art videocamera (it was 1992 so the camera was a big bulky deal). The parking lot was loaded with pick-ups with gun racks and still, I thought this was a great idea.

Looking back, what must they have made of this goofy group of long-haired theatre boys with a camera? Blindly oblivious, I immediately chirp "Hey guys! Can we ask you a few questions?"

Stony silence and stares. "What you want, boy?"

"We're going all over town asking people what they think is funny, what makes them laugh!!" Yes, I was grinning like an idiot.

"My ass is funny." The parking-lot gang all laugh and begin to slowly encircle our group. And that's when I realize how humor can be very specific - as in, beating the hell out of us would be hilarious to these guys.

"Well, ha-ha, I bet it is! Good one!" I say, darting a look to the others in my group and whispering "In. The. Car. Now."

In seconds, we were all running like hell for the car and the shouts behind us had no humor in them at all. We're able to drive away while they're trying to crowd the car and yelling, again, most unfunny things at us. We drive away fast, get a few blocks away and for some reason, the driver hauls into another parking lot asking, "How about here?"

"Here??? Get us the hell out of here!" I say.

But it's too late - they've followed us in their trucks and some guy gets out and tries to open my car door. I had the window rolled down, and though I was able to lock the door, this guy reaches inside and tries to grab the camera. I then have visions of this camera flying through the air and shattering on the pavement. So I bellowed a line from Steve McQueen in "The Getaway" to our driver:

"Punch it!"

Fortunately, he does and we spin out, dragging this guy with us attached to the car door. He finally lets go before we have too much speed and I look back to see him rolling down the street and more trucks coming after us.

Long story short, in a few minutes we were hiding in an off road alleyway, lights off, watching the trucks circle around the area searching for us. After some long (it seemed) minutes passed, they were gone and we sped away into the night, lights off for a mile or two. Thank god my friend had a Porsche - we got away without further combat.

Yeah, most instructive night of Comedy Research. That's when I quit asking other people what was funny. I either know or I don't. Comedy is a dangerous business.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can Ethics and Government Co-Exist?

The debate about the actions in Knox County's commission to fill offices as demanded by court rulings on the county's charter has raised a most important question.

No Silence Here featured my post on the call for new elections in Knox County, and a commenter there left the following statement:

I don't believe the word "Ethics" and "Government" can co-exist.

Shameful stunts have been going on around here for more than a decade, and until now, went completely unnoticed.

Term limits was the one thing done right by this county. I doubt there is another county in this state where incumbents wield the kinda of power they do here. It's always been a club"

I'll bet cash money that we could find residents of any county in the nation expressing that very thought - that their county is rife with abuse of power. But that does not mean problems should be accepted as "the norm."

Part of the reason is that too much power in too few hands. And it appears to be far too common to me, as opposed to being just a problem in one county or another. Conflicts, bribery charges, ethics violations, and charges against officials from Tennessee to Washington DC have been prominent in the news.

Rules and regulations and even oversight of those rules and regulations certainly can and do exist. But who enforces these tenets?

Voters and non-voters alike must apply diligence and oversight themselves to both indentify problems and demand solutions. Likewise, a responsible press must be vigilant as well and rely far more on their own skills and duties rather than on the press releases and announcements for information.

The phrase "investigative journalism" implies there is a form of journalism that does not "investigate" the topics being reported. That, my friends, is called PR and isn't journalism at all.

Thanks to a vigorous and vital debate now available via blogs and web-writers, the local and national press must work harder than ever. That's a good thing. An active community demanding more ethical government behavior is the best way to accomplish that we have a presence of Ethics in the governmental process.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

War Debate Strengthens U.S.

Right-wing pundits were provided with the facts from the Secretary of Defense and the chair of the Joint Chiefs -- debate in congress about the war being waged in Iraq does not demoralize troops and provides clear examples of how our nation is meant to conduct itself.

Pace and Gates said they did not think debate in Congress would hurt the morale of troops in combat, undercutting an assertion by many congressional Republicans that members opposing the war were undermining the fighting forces there.

As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops will feel supported," Pace said."

It's plain if someone does not underestand this fundamental action of open debate, they do not understand or appreciate our basis of government. Period.

More coverage of their testimony is here

In related news - something which does harm U.S. efforts in Iraq: War Profiteering.

Five people, both civilian and military, have been indicted on bribery charges related to the funneling of millions meant for reconstruction projects in Iraq.

The 25-count indictment charged U.S. Army Col. Curtis Whiteford, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Debra Harrison and Lt. Col. Michael Wheeler, and civilians Michael Morris and William Driver. Whiteford once was the second most senior official at the Coalition Provisional Authority for the South Central Region in Iraq, while Harrison was its acting comptroller. Wheeler was an advisor for Iraqi reconstruction projects."

Also, more oversight from the House Democrats provides contract records that had been reported "missing". Details are in this post from "Facing South."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

No Snickers for Snickers Ad

Reactions seem out of joint.

Spotting a LiteBrite constructed ad for Aqua Teen Hunger Force? Call out the bomb squad and shut down the city of Boston and rally Homeland Security!!

Two guys nearly kiss while gobbling on the same Snickers candy bar? Well, it may sound lascivious, but the company has (heh heh) pulled the ad off the air and the internet after complaints from groups like GLAAD that the ad promotes anti-gay thought and anti-gay violence.

Admittedly, "gobbling on the same Snickers candy bar" sounds like a euphemism for naughty behavior.

Humor seems to evaporate pretty fast these days.

Shameful Stunts In Knox Co. Commission

Even watching at a distance, the deeply unethical and rather silly actions of the Knox County Commission last week to fill seats of those who were elected even though they were not allowed to run due to term limits were most obvious.

I was immediately reminded of the character Fielding Mellish in Woody Allen's political comedy "Bananas," as he argues in a trial:

This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham."

That's what it was all right.

While state law might allow sitting county commissioners to fill a vacant seat, the problems in Knox were far beyond simple vacancies. Plainly, the election ballot from last fall was so error-filled the election results should be nullified. To add insult to injury, the commissoners violated the laws of open debate, despite the meeting being broadcast to the public.

Kudos to the KNS for filing a lawsuit noting the violations.

And it is quite clear a new election is needed, and Mayor Ragsdale has rightly called for a new one, and he has much support for it from the public and from certain more sensible commissioners. Be certain other elected officials are eyeing this mess to see what it means to them and the message needs to be clear -- the events last week were bad government and will not be tolerated.

Too often, elected officials violate the rule of law and meet in private to discuss how to vote and what to vote on. Deals were made in this case to continue providing taxpayer dollars as income to some elected officials in return for votes. And the time to correct this mess is now, not in another year.

Counties, cities and the state of Tennessee in general need to realize Ethics isn't a catchphrase - it's one of the ways to prevent and punish corruption and deceit. Ethics has real meaning to the public and the public has little confidence in government after such shameful stunts.

A moment-by-moment roundup of the meeting was live-blogged via KnoxViews, which you can read here.

More on the mayor's call for a special election is here and the KNS lawsuit here.

UPDATE: Blogger Linda Noe, a former Hamblen County Commissioner, has also been steadily tracking this story. Detailed posts are here, and in the post dated Jan. 12th. There she wrote:

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Term limits help restrict the growth of power in the hands of public officials, and so help reduce the corruption that all too frequently accompanies the accumulation of political power.

The Tennessee Waltz is a perfect example of what happens to far too many longtime elected officials when they become too powerful and choose to sell their power and influence to the highest bidder."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Most Amazing Sentence of the Month

This may even be the Most Amazing Sentence of the Year. Certainly a contender. Heck of an opening line which likely made the reporter's week.

An astronaut drove from Houston to Florida, donned a disguise and confronted a woman she believed was romantically involved with a space shuttle pilot she was in love with, police said"

The details include diapers, romance, and a robotic arm from the shuttle. Entire story here.

Trouble Looms for V.P. Cheney

Now that the first month of the year blues are fading, it's time to tackle the Big Story for 2007: the political mess in the Office of the Vice President.

Since V.P. Dick Cheney started his job with secret meetings with oil and energy executives to draft the U.S. Energy Policy in 2001, he's had his eye and his hand all over long-term domestic and foreign policies. It's getting tougher to under-estimate his power-grab and tougher for journalists to ignore the Cheney Connections. Most recently, he has refused to even say who works in his office, or even how many work in the office.

TPM's recent post sums up the current mess very well:

I will confess to having been extremely skeptical in the early years of the Bush Presidency that Cheney was really running the show. It seemed too facile an explanation for what I was convinced was a far more complicated situation. Until the 9/11 Commission report came out.

Even the watered-down version of events in the Commission's report made it absolutely clear that Cheney, ensconced in the White House bunker on the morning of the attacks, had issued shootdown orders outside of the chain of command and then conspired with the President to conceal this fact from the Commission.

Since then, I've gone from being open to the idea of an Imperial Vice Presidency to being convinced that historians will debate whether something approaching a Cheney-led coup d'etat has occurred, in which some of the powers of the Executive were extra-constitutionally usurped by the Office of the Vice President.

Last week, in trying to break the lock on who actually works in the OVP--which the Vice President refuses to reveal--the guys at Muckraker stumbled across this entry from a government directory known as the "Plum Book":

'The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).'

"It appears that Cheney's office submitted this entry in lieu of a list of its employees, as federal agencies must do. It sounds like something Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, might have written. Cheney and Addington have been the among the most powerful proponents of the theory of a "unitary executive," but there are indications that they have also advanced, though less publicly, a theory of a constitutionally distinct and independent vice presidency."

The whole article is a must read - and the questions raised truly need answering.

Add to this, the ongoing trial of Scooter Libby, in which more and more testimony points to the OVP, both Congress and the press are starting to look at what may be the biggest problem in US politics.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

On Whedon and Wonder Woman

That wiley Newscoma had the story late Friday, which kinda surprised me: news that writer Joss Whedon was booted off/walked off the Wonder Woman movie project from Warner Bros. I had just read on Friday morning that WB bought a spec script of WW from two first-time writers "just to get it off the market." Yet by Friday night, Joss says he's off the project completely.

I honestly had small hopes for a Wonder Woman movie. A character walking around in big blue star-covered panties seems out-of-date at best, unless she is a stripper with tats and piercings and performs as part of The Suicide Girls or something.

Why is Hollywood spending so much time and money for comics? That's for another post - my thought today was that Whedon, a third-generation writer for TV and movies, with many successful projects under his belt, stacks of awards and legions of fan, can still get ill treatment from movie producers and the major studios. He is hardly the first and will not be the last writer and creator to get screwed over by those who eye profits ahead of quality products.

I can more than relate. Being a consistently good writer is hardly a guarantee of employment.

Often it means facing compromises, wildly fluctuating lifestyles, and quizzical looks from family and friends. They are puzzled why you just don't have a "real job". The oft-used phrase "have something to fall back on" is loaded with the idea that success is not to be yours, and always reminded me of the phrase "fall on your own sword." Final outcomes are grisly.

Writing has it's own measures of success, and it's own reasons to hard-wire itself into your bones and blood. I often think that's the reason writers and artists are held at arm's length - how can they ever be trusted if there is something murky and unknown in the writing process?

The needs of business and those of the creative arts make uncomfortable bedfellows.

In the meantime, Whedon will get to play on an upcoming episode of "The Office," has Season 8 of Buffy headed to comic stores via Dark Horse Comics, is working with Universal on a project called "Goners" and has fans, like me, happy to wait for more, no matter how long it might take.

I wait years to read new books by Thomas Pynchon too. I'm wading through "Against The Day," but I've learned not to devour his books, but to take my time, enjoying each page. The epigraph in "Against The Day" is a reminder for writers and readers alike:

"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light."