Saturday, February 24, 2007

Conservapedia or The Wingnut Encyclopedia

Recently a website was offered up a non-liberal-biased and Christian-oriented online encyclopedia called "Conservapedia" - a wholesome and more factual version (they claim) of WikiPedia, which they term "anti-American." Maybe the fact Wiki is available in a host of languages is a clear sign it is of nefarious origins.

Conservapedia is often like reading the worst research paper ever to emerge from the home-schooled, or perhaps a book report from Bart Simpson. But they do include a whopping amount of exclamation points on nearly every sentence (a clear sign of their deep convictions that all info available are excitable versions of fact.)

If you're looking for either a good laugh or perhaps just some mild shocks, then a few random searches and even some in-depth reading of this online document offers much to amuse as well as much to distort.

The readers and writers of MetaFilter have been noting the bizarre entries found at the site. One I noticed was this write-up on horror fiction writer H.P Lovecraft and his fictional creation of monsters like Cthulu.

Conservapedia says:

However in 1926, during a period of massive unrestricted immigration to the United States, investigative journalist Howard P. Lovecraft published an expose about the reappearance of American versions of the cult in Massachusetts and Louisiana. The article, titled "The Call of Cthulhu," is a first person retelling of his findings."

WikiPedia says:

" ...
a fictional being created by horror author H.P. Lovecraft. ... According to Lovecraft, however, this is merely the closest that the human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language.[5] Cthulhu debuted in Lovecraft's short story "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) "

Maybe they should call this dubious encyclopedia CluelessPedia, as they are unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

And after some thought, I have decided to create what I call JoePedia. It's very easy to use and every search for information you might input provides a single response, suitable to all queries::

"Of course I know all about that. But why should I tell you?"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Camera Obscura -ThwackComedy; Black Snake Moan

Forget the Oscars this weekend - today I proudly offer the work of some incredibly talented filmmakers and performers from right here in East Tennesse who have made their first entry into YouTube's vast arena.

It has been my honor and pleasure for many years to work with a dozen or so talented writers/directors/performers who created a hilarious series of short films, parodies and much more, which we broadcast for several years via the public access channel in Knox County, under two titles, either "Full Frontal Comedy" or "Thwack!". The show earned a national cable access award for Best Original Programming, but more important it gave all of us much joy to create and share our combined efforts, as each of us took turns as directors/writers and performers for the many segments of each episode. Everything made for the series was shot here in East Tennessee.

Yesterday, one of these efforts got uploaded to YouTube. I am not in this one, did not help with the shoot, but as I said, many people worked to provide probably 40 hours worth of half-hour episodes, and I am happy to present this one. More are on the way. (Of the many videos created, I was most proud of two I shot and wrote called "Green Eggs and Hamlet," and also "A Clockwork Big Orange" and not to brag, but my performance as ExLax Luthor in an episode of "Pooperman" was just damned Oscar-worthy, and hopefully one of them may make a YouTube debut in the near future.)

I am deeply proud of all the work made for the entire catalog.

And since these were made some years ago, let me just set this up for you -- think of the movie "Free Willy" --

Be sure to sign up as a subscriber to these videos from ThwackComedy as more are on their way!
News was made this week as plans were announced for a remake of "The Day The Earth Stood Still." I admit there are many possibilities for a remake to touch on the current paranoia and xenophobias of America 2008 (the release date) ... but it will take much genius and talent to improve one minute of the original.
Back to the topic of movies made here in Tennessee, I finally got to see the shot-in-Memphis award winning movie "Hustle & Flow." I was rather skeptical going in to this movie, but it is a fantastic tale of urban life and the dream of rising away from it into something more. Terence Howard delivers a riveting and powerful performance as a low-rent pimp who sees a chance to turn his despair-filled life into a life with meaning. Also, filmmaker Craig Brewer has a subtle but powerful eye for capturing the look and feel of Memphis streets.

I found it much better than a rap-to-riches movie like "8 Mile", since the audience is frequently reminded that this pimp's dreams seem more fueled by ignorance than reality. The ending too, underscores the idea that fame and success is often obtained by life and death struggles. A viewer might think the movie will take them to some fantasy happy ending, but the ending is steeped in irony and the entire film is simply far more than the sum of it's parts.

Brewer has a new film set to open in a few weeks, "Black Snake Moan," starring Samuel Jackson and Christina Ricci. Set in Tennessee, the story centers on some real hard luck characters in a dismal world and again music, in this case, blues music, is a path to personal redemption. Early reviews say Brewer has made yet another diamond in the rough.
If you are one of those folks who have sooooo many DVDs that keeping track of them all in an easy-to-find location is a daunting task, then check out the latest from Atomic Tumor. AT has been experimenting with the best ways to make the discs easy to store and to find -- with warnings aplenty for achieving success.
As for the Oscars - is it time we rename them the Annual Eastwood vs Scorsese Contest? No matter how much or how little the Oscars matter to some, I will watch them, as I do every year.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ferguson's Words to Inspire Media

The ridicule and wild speculation which occurs when a famous (or even non-famous) person has some kind of meltdown is too often offered up by the media, which scurrys up to some grim event and gnaws and tears away at it in hopes of bringing away some morsel of scandal, which is falsely labeled news. Many websites too relentlessly tear away at the flesh like carrion creatures, all in the name of entertainment.

Very much in opposition to that is the following monolouge from CBS talk show host Craig Ferguson this week about the odd events in the life of a young singer and mother, Brittany Spears. Rather than join in the endless ridicule, he offered a deeply personal and well articulated account of how troubles can land on everyone, how despair and the challenge to rise above it get sidelined by many who are in search of the snarky insult.

Even a casual viewer of television has been inundated with cruel sneers and one-line headline jokes - both for Spears and Anna Nicole Smith. - from the news media in an endless feeding frenzy.

Not so with Craig Ferguson.

I've always thought Ferguson's work is head and shoulders above the average talk show mindlessness. (And, yes, I too did a post about Spears' public oddity, but plainly stated that the event was a clear indicator that her friends and family truly need to bring compassion and assistance to a life in turmoil).

His comments on the topic - often at times very funny - points out the ramifications of self-destruction. He has taken time to critically review the impact of his words on others and found the need to do better than fire away cheap shots.

Full video is here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday Web Walking

Gathered from the vast landscape of Our Internet Tubes --

A fine editorial on the mythmaking of Fundamentalists as they strive to distort Science and theories of Evolution and instead promote Religion. Key to their efforts? Lies and distortion. Here's a sample:

There really are two theories of evolution. There is the genuine scientific theory, and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage. .... But then there is the real theory of evolution, the one that was on display in that Harrisburg courtroom, for which there is overwhelming evidence in labs, fossils, computer simulations and DNA studies. Most Americans have not heard of it. Teachers give it short shrift in schools because the subject upsets too many parents who only know the talk-radio version. But real evolution isn't random; it doesn't say man came from monkeys. Those claims are made up by critics to get people riled up"
The amount of surveillance prominent today in the world is achieved not just by government desires, but with the immense effort of business too. Both groups are employing each other's tactics in order to establish a massive database on information on every move you make - and more, to predict your behavior. Pre-Crime Investigations ahead! Full story here via Democracy Now! and a sample:

Guilt by Google, that’s not copyrighted. You know, these data-mining programs, what you have to understand is that they’re not sifting through masses of information to find known terrorists or people who are suspected of terrorism on reasonable grounds. What they're doing is they’re sifting through all this information they’re collecting about us all to predict who might be a terrorist. This is predictive technology. And it’s interesting. It comes from the private sector."
Here is one of several posts via No Silence Here on the furor created by the Knox County Commission concerning their recent appointment process and how it violated the Sunshine Law and ignored the public demands for new elections. The defense by Commissioner Lambert that they conducted their deals of vote trading that "we did it in public view" is rather lame. If someone accused of theft says "Hey, I did it in daylight when the homeowner was in the home!", would they be declared innocent of theft?
A new look and design for Nashville is Talking. Check it out. As a Pynchon fan, I love big V's.
Will the tears of a defense lawyer Ted Wells prevent a guilty conviction for "Scooter" Libby? Part of his defense is that "he did not lie on purpose" in the criminal investigation in the outing a CIA agent's identity to bolster the reputation of his boss, Vice President Cheney. Since the media has been providing moment-by-moment coverage of events in the case of who can bury Anna Nicole Smith and not on the Libby perjury case - I predict Libby is NOT the father of Anna Nicole's child.
Sources say the movie "Capricorn One", about a secret plot to fake a Mars landing, is being remade. And are they really going to call it "Capricorn Two"?
Thanks to the lovely Tits McGee, who mentioned this bizarre website which features cats (yes, cats again) and captions. This was one of my favorites.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TN Teachers Get Global Climate Change Details

According to a press release from the state's Department of Education, a statewide webcast will offer teachers across the state with information and facts regarding global climate changes this week. Despite the chatter from non-scientific pundits and talk-radio mythmakers, the goal here is to provide educators with the most current scientific research and analysis.

The press release says in part:

" ... Atmospheric chemist Dr. Bill Chameides, chief scientist with Environmental Defense, the webcasts will allow teachers to email questions to be addressed during the interactive session.

These webcasts are an opportunity for teachers to learn the latest global climate change research to pass on to Tennessee’s future scientists, the students,” said Tami Coleman, coordinator of Project CENTS for the Department of Education. “Only students equipped with such knowledge will be on the forefront of developing new answers for keeping our communities healthy and viable.

The webcasts will take place Thursday, February 22 and Thursday, March 1 at 3:15 p.m. CST. The first webcast will focus on climate science. The second session will address solutions such as renewable energy sources, energy conservation and new energy-efficient building design."

Dr. Chameides
makes no bones about the science involved regarding climate change. His most recent statement on this year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is here, where he says "
Those hesitating on quick, bold action must now explain why the world's leading scientists are wrong about the science, and many of America’s leading companies are wrong about the economics.

And more about the Project CENTS program can be discovered here, as they continue their efforts to provide informed enviromental education to Tennessee students.

Students in Nevada, on the other hand, are being treated to a character known as Yucca Mountain Johnny, a cartoon icon of a miner, who tells kids that the embattled Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Facility is good for everyone. By clicking on his image at this web site, he says thinks like "Any idea is worth having" and "The best sense for safety is common sense."

Using a cartoon character and some goofy online games is a rather silly way to promote a boondoggle which is likely a dying project.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Hotel Aftermath - Coming Home from Iraq

The wounded and brain-bruised American veterans are often trotted out for symbolic hoistings, though the daily struggles of those who braved battle and combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are often now engaging a paperwork battle and administrative policy minefield. It's the Surreal World for both vets and their families.

Both yesterday and today, the Washington Post has an in-depth series on the challenges faced by vets at Walter Reed. Reporters didn't go through the PR offices for information. They researched privately, without the knowledge of those in charge of the facilities.

What emerges, first in this report and also in this one, are details of the struggle to survive the return to America. Some information defies logic - how can a solider be deemed unworthy of disability pay due to "pre-existing conditions" if those conditions did not prevent them from serving?

For all the talk about supporting the military, the experiences of veterans are historically often sideline issues, seldom considered by warhawks and poorly funded by government leaders.

A sample from today's article:

Bomb blasts are the most common cause of injury in Iraq, and nearly 60 percent of the blast victims also suffer from traumatic brain injury, according to Walter Reed's studies, which explains why some at Mologne House wander the hallways trying to remember their room numbers.

Some soldiers and Marines have been here for 18 months or longer. Doctor's appointments and evaluations are routinely dragged out and difficult to get. A board of physicians must review hundreds of pages of medical records to determine whether a soldier is fit to return to duty. If not, the Physical Evaluation Board must decide whether to assign a rating for disability compensation. For many, this is the start of a new and bitter battle."


Perks and stardom do not come to every amputee. Sgt. David Thomas, a gunner with the Tennessee National Guard, spent his first three months at Walter Reed with no decent clothes; medics in Samarra had cut off his uniform. Heavily drugged, missing one leg and suffering from traumatic brain injury, David, 42, was finally told by a physical therapist to go to the Red Cross office, where he was given a T-shirt and sweat pants. He was awarded a Purple Heart but had no underwear.

David tangled with Walter Reed's image machine when he wanted to attend a ceremony for a fellow amputee, a Mexican national who was being granted U.S. citizenship by President Bush. A case worker quizzed him about what he would wear. It was summer, so David said shorts. The case manager said the media would be there and shorts were not advisable because the amputees would be seated in the front row."

Both articles (here and here, with a response from Walter Reed here) deserve your attention and consideration in the current debate about how we proceed with an open-ended war.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bush Making Opportunities For Fraud

A rule was abandoned by the Bush administration which did ban companies involved in fraud charges for contracted services from doing continued business with the government and created both a lack of oversight and a lack of punishment, and has allowed for a minimum of $10 billion in waste and fraud in reconstruction in Iraq.

These reports - which mean devastation to timetables for improving U.S. efforts in Iraq - barely make a blip in the national media, busy reporting on snowfall, celebrity makeovers, and American Idol contestants. It's a story that isn't easy to understand and the media does nothing to increase that understanding.

Since nearly a third of that ten billion is in overcharges and waste from Halliburton - using that rule created by the Clinton administration would have meant that the company, once headed by Vice President Cheney, would have been dropped from use.

Even the conservative Washington Times has reported this near-outlaw raid on tax dollars and that the risk of more waste and fraud remains to this day:

That problem could worsen, the Government Accountability Office said, given limited improvement so far by the Department of Defense even as the Bush administration prepares to boost the U.S. presence in Iraq.

David M. Walker, comptroller general of the GAO, Congress' auditing arm, said his agency has been pointing out problems for years, only to be largely ignored or given lip service with little result.

"There is no accountability," Mr. Walker said. "Organizations charged with overseeing contracts are not held accountable. Contractors are not held accountable. The individuals responsible are not held accountable.

"People should be rewarded when they do a good job. But when things don't go right, there have to be consequences," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Army, which handles most of the Iraq contracting, did not have immediate comment.

Senate Democrats, calling recently cited cases of waste "outrageous rip-offs of the American taxpayer," quickly moved to introduce legislation yesterday to stiffen punishment for war profiteers and cut down on cronyism in contracting.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and 22 other senators, would impose penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million for war profiteering and restore a rule that prohibits awarding federal contracts to companies exhibiting a pattern of breaking the law in performance of government contracts.

That rule, put in place by President Clinton, was dropped by the Bush administration upon taking office, Mr. Dorgan said.

The auditors' joint appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee comes as Congress is preparing for a showdown with President Bush next month over his budget request of nearly $100 billion to pay for more U.S. troops in Iraq. "

Will any officials in the Tennessee delegation demand immediate improvements? Cetainly, as House Democrats get ready to review spending on the war in Iraq, these huge amounts of waste will provide them a strong argument for limits on spending.

Next week President Bush will visit Tennessee, as will newly-elected Senator Bob Corker -- though their appearances are tied to drumming up support for more of the same failed policies, not for improving accountability.