Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rubber Duck, Come Back

A top-notch movie debate about the best movie car chases is running full tilt at No Silence Here courtesy of Les Jones and MetaFilter. Clips of nominees are featured, along with a great History of Chases website at, which starts in the silent era and continues up through "The Matrix" movies.

I've left my views already in the comments and won't repeat them here, other than to underscore one of the best ever car chase scenes ever which you can still see in theatres - Zoe Bell riding the hood of a car in the Tarantino portion of "Grindhouse", which is absent special effects and is a sweat-inducing thrill ride that ranks as one of the best in decades. (And of course, Kurt Russell, as Stuntman Mike, drives a car with the legendary Rubber Duck Hood Ornament.)

So head on over to the KNS site and cast your vote. For my two cents, I can hardly decide between Bullitt, Ronin and Road Warrior, so I went with Road Warrior 'cause it last for 12 minutes of metal-bashing carnage.

The one time I participated in a road race with friends, we took insanely unprepared drivers and vehicles (a Gremlin, a Pinto and a Rabbit) out at night on a dangerous mountain road and I (or perhaps I should say We) were a.) young and stupid and lucky; b.) no one was hurt, hence the lucky part; and c.) about 180 seconds of adrenaline madness embedded in my memory with more fondness than I should admit.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Camera Obscura - The CIA and Jack Kirby; Hot Fuzz and More Movie News

There's a connection between the CIA, Spock's ears, comic book legend Jack Kirby and the Iranian Hostage Crisis from the Carter era. The story could and likely will be made into a movie soon, especially since Wired magazine this month has a story on how the CIA used all those elements in a daring rescue of hostages.

On Turner Classic Movies from time to time, they've shown a little behind-the-scenes movie about makeup master John Chambers, who did design and make Spock's ears, as well as creating the unique (at the time) latex mask method for the "Planet of the Apes" movies.

As the Wired article reports, agent Tony Mendez put together a fake movie production company they called Studio Six Productions with Chamber's help and made a plan to use latex masks to disguise a handful of the hostages and help them escape:

All they needed now was a film — and Chambers had the perfect script. Months before, he had received a call from a would-be producer named Barry Geller. Geller had purchased the rights to Roger Zelazny's science fiction novel, Lord of Light, written his own treatment, raised a few million dollars in starting capital from wealthy investors, and hired Jack Kirby, the famous comic book artist who cocreated X-Men, to do concept drawings. Along the way, Geller imagined a Colorado theme park based on Kirby's set designs that would be called Science Fiction Land; it would include a 300-foot-tall Ferris wheel, voice-operated mag-lev cars, a "planetary control room" staffed by robots, and a heated dome almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Geller had announced his grand plan in November at a press conference attended by Jack Kirby, former football star and prospective cast member Rosey Grier, and several people dressed like visitors from the future."

Few thought the idea would work, and the story of how it all came together is fantastic. The magazine even includes some of the storyboard drawings used to fake the Iranians - and many in Hollywood.

Another behind-the-scenes movie master is the center of a new documentary, film and sound editor Walter Murch. Cinematical's James Rocchi got a viewing of the film and reports on it here. Murch is probably more responsible for the look and sound of movies today than any other person. He went from editing movies by hand on the Movieola system to computers, then on to Avid and the non-linear Mac based Final Cut Pro. His sound designs and creations also led to the 5.1 sound systems used today.

Still, his interests and intelligence go far beyond film. He was recently interviewed for the architectural blog, BLDBLOG, where he discusses cosmology and architecture and offers a theory that the Heliocentric Pantheon in Rome was a key used by Copernicus to create an accurate description of our solar system.

" ...
I then superimposed Copernicus’s drawing over an image of the Pantheon’s dome – and found that the ratios of the circles in his drawing and the ratios of the circles of the Pantheon line up almost exactly. Seeing that alignment was one of those wonderful moments where you suddenly feel a strong current of connection with the past.."

Walter Murch just rocks, people.

---- In some other notable news this week, a scene was shot for the production of the Will Smith version of the "I Am Legend" movie which is being touted as the most expensive single scene yet made. The cost is a minimum of $5 million, but may in fact be much higher. It's no simple task to take over the Brooklyn Bridge for a few hours.

---- One of the funniest movies in recent years was the British zombie-comedy "Shaun of the Dead." And I admit it, they had me as soon as the Goblins' music from Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" started playing. And the movie just got better and better. This weekend, the same crew of filmmakers and actors turn to another genre to have fun with - the buddy-cop movie. Some behind the scenes talk for this weekend's new movie, "Hot Fuzz", with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg can be heard here, at DVD Talk Radio. Other interviews on the site include Oliver Stone, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith and Eli Roth.

---- Rasslin fans get to see their faves blow up real good in a movie opening this weekend called "Condemned". I doubt if the script here will be any better than the scripts rasslers use on any given title match. However, the idea for this movie was much better when it was called "Battle Royale." Take my advice and seek that one out, unless yer rasslin love has you pinned.

---- Thank the good Freedonian for pointing out the very best ever moment in the history of the show "American Idol." Jack Black takes the show to it's peak.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cities of Lonesome Fear

Ignoring reality at your own peril - an old story, I know. I grew up in the world of Baptist churches, and that was a constant theme. Religion was a kind of salve, an elixir to soothe the troubled brows furrowed in fear and angst about the evils of this old world. More and more, I sense that fervent bloggers/pundits/politicians opine that the "right kind of government" can stave off all ills, chills, fevers, and maladies of the world itself, offering up an old time religion spirit -- yet another advertisement for snake oil.

The belief that a political system can chart a course of Moral Value is negated by the obvious reports of Time and History itself. For most all of my life, I've known the folks who founded this country knew full well that neither the political nor the religious systems could provide what a person needed most. They knew two things were more important - Freedom from oppression and reliance on self-determination.

But somehow the concepts of Morality and Politics have become married, as if some 1950s sitcom Mom and Dad Know Best has staggered out of the corrupt cultural mists to lead us all to glory. Mom and Dad would always make sure the kids were alright.

What's been the effect of this union? It's a kind of lunacy, not only in this country but in other emerging world powers and wannabe powers: "If you are not part of our politics or morality, you are an immoral animal."

The current trend of bloggers/pundits/politicians have been playing a deceptive game of We'll Make A New Law and All Will Be Well. The Mom and Dad answer to all problems begins with "From now on ....." and all is well by the end of the 30-minute episode. Until next week's episode, when Mom and Dad must straighten it all out again.

A result of such a capitulation to the Mom and Dad political worldview has now provided us with a myriad of problems which the founders of this country knew too well and had experienced for generations within Europe: corruption and incompetence can thrive in that kind of environment. The Moral/Political blend has but one purpose - to continue it's own existence at all costs, despite the peril to the populace.

I'm not witty nor wise enough to craft the words needed to explain all this. Some of you know it already, and some so embrace the Moral/Political Mom and Dad that words or wisdom may never re-engage their minds. Some are incredibly bored by the requirements of maintaining Freedom and Self-Reliance, much less reducing incompetence and corruption, so again no words or wisdom contain enough Spectacle to capture their attention.

I did read something today by the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois which does lay out a well-written assessment of how incompetence and corruption have done damage which will take years to correct. Most recently, Rep. Emanuel was "in the news" for advising colleagues not to appear on "The Colbert Report," so it's not that I have lofty opinions of the man. I am not one to elevate a politician to a pedestal anyway. But I do think his article is worth reading. Some excerpts:

As Jim Hightower has noted, [the Bush] Administration eliminated the middleman. The corporations don't have to lobby the government, because they are the government. This cronyism transcends the regulatory agencies.

There were early signs, not heeded, that this Administration would be driven by partisan politics, not public policy. In Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty , former-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill complained that he couldn't interest anyone in policy discussions at the White House, because it was populated with political operatives rather than policy experts.

Even the President's highly touted faith-based initiative turned out to be a purely political play. The top two leaders of that new office both quit in frustration. John J. DiIulio Jr. left after being forced to work in a White House that he likened to “the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” Former Deputy Director David Kuo later alleged that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use that government office to mobilize religious voters in 20, targeted congressional races—of which the Republicans won 19.

The Bush Administration has redefined the famous challenge of President Kennedy's inaugural address. Instead of “Ask not what your country can do for you,” it has become “Ask what your government can do for our party.”

That's one of the most obvious scenes being played out on blogs and campaigns and talk radio and television and on and on - that one party not only has the all the right answers, but to even consider other views is the same as being a Godless, treasonous, anti-American and anti-Mom and Dad monster.

I know it's embarrassing to admit you've been duped by your political party or poorly chosen heroes. (See yesterday's post for more on that.) However the continued adoration of the incompetent and corrupt is the most 'defeatist' move we could make.

Like it or not, it's like that old songwriter sings - we live in a political world. And to politicize all things will only serve politicians best, first and last.

We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear
Little by little
You turn in the middle
But you're never sure why you're here.
We live in a political world
Under the microscope
You can travel anywhere
And hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thought For The Day

As a confrontation over government authority and warfare is gearing up, a Thought for All Those In Washington --

Self-deception proves itself to be more powerful than deception.

We all make similarly irrational arguments about decisions in our lives: we hang on to losing stocks, unprofitable investments, failing businesses and unsuccessful relationships. If we were rational, we would just compute the odds of succeeding from this point forward and then decide if the investment warrants the potential payoff. But we are not rational--not in love or war or business--and this particular irrationality is what economists call the "sunk-cost fallacy."


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Internet

There are too many topics rattling around in my own head today, some are fine and good things, some are ugly and idiotic. What follows is, obviously, the result of what I just said.

1. Big ole' Happy Happy Birthday wishes to one of my favorite places to read and discuss just about everything. Brittney runs the Nashville is Talking blog and it's her consistent effort to provide a wide range of topics to discover, pictures to marvel at, people and things to laugh at, provide a forum for all kinds of viewpoints and she's mighty expert at calling BS when something is just that - BS. Happy B-Day!

2. I've recently found another fascinating place to read about all things Appalachian. Hillbilly Savants has a staggering amount of information, links to bajillions of newspaper, television and radio sites, bloggers from across the South, colleges, research and policy groups, a hefty list of contributors and much, much more. Exhaustive work is evident here. The topics cover culture and politics and tall tales of the region, history, science - you name it. I was more than honored to find they linked to this humble but lovable blog, too. How they describe themselves: "This blog is about
our Appalachia - the real one, not the Hollywood-stereotype nor the third-world nation-esque stereotype being sold by do-gooders, or even the neo-Romantic sylvan stereotype that Rousseau would probably buy into. It should be interesting."

3. I noticed too at Hillbilly Savants they have an image made by Tennessee Jed:

In explaining a little bit about himself in the above-linked post, Jed offers the following:

I don't like being over charged, over taxed, tricked with schemes and lawyers, underpaid, under served, under appreciated, neglected, ignored, belittled, deceived or anything that takes from me without asking in a very real and obvious manner. If a subject takes too much haggle after the fact then it most likely is purely designed to fool the lesser gifted sorts like Jed. I will call them out in my normal "whiney-assed-wish-things-were different" way that is my own. I think that capitalism has reached a plateau in America where some aspects need to be changed to protect workers/consumers from legalistic loophole side stepping. If this sort of thinking makes me a socialist-pinko-commie, then so be it. It doesn't need be another law or ethics committee (we got too many that ain't workin'), it needs to be a matter of known fact, obvious really: take no more than you need from your dealings, examine your needs daily. Do it because you care and want to make a fair place for your babies (or any beloved ones) to live and grow. Turn the soil fine for your land, don't show up for the harvest and leave. Make someplace your real home and it will pay off. It appears to this observer that past superpowers have fallen due to the same mistakes we are seeing/making now. Misplaced goals, it is as simple as that. Invest in people, invest in people because without them there is no market at all. Invest in exploration, because there are things to be found. Our table of elements has some open spaces, one of them might be the solution to unlock the Utopia we all seek.

OK - That's the Good that's been in my head of late. Now for The Bad,

1. Bone-dumb ignorance and intentional hatred are promoted by the King of The Daily Hate, aka R. Limbaugh regarding the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. He and his chorus of doom crusaders naturally know exactly the cause of Cho's insane rampage -- Liberal college professors, and specifically the school's English Dept. (You know, the one that had been persistently warning administrators about Cho, the one encouraging him to seek counseling.)

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has the details in his post "Lower Than Dirt" --

For some reason -- don't ask -- I was looking at Rush Limbaugh's web site, and I saw this headline: "Can Any Good Come from V Tech Horror?" followed by this blurb: "Maybe, just maybe, we'll face the hatred for American traditions and capitalism infesting our campuses." No, I thought. No, no, no. So I clicked the link. The transcript I found quoted at length from an article called "Was Cho Taught To Hate", by one James Lewis ....

"Lewis' article would be beyond despicable even if it accurately represented the Virginia Tech English department. That it's just another hit piece against an academic department that makes precisely no attempt to characterize that department accurately, that Lewis chooses instead to treat the members of that department as mere instantiations of some "trend" that exists only in his head, and that he does this at a time when the people he uses as political props must be suffering enormously, makes it lower than dirt."

Sadly, others too have jumped on the Blamewagon, like the American Family Association, who says the killings were all the fault of "lack of school prayer and video games" - they even have a video to explain it to you. Warning - watching this will induce adverse reactions.

I think you'd have to be deeply and truly uneducated to blame the violence in the world today on something that happened since 1950, like comic books, television, video games, or not voting Republican. It's been pretty damn constant in human history that a handful of reasons are at the heart of brutal violence - tribal/ethnic warfare, religion and religious intolerance, treating other humans as possessions, and there are some folk who, as Kurt Vonnegut once said, have some bad wiring in their heads.

OK, Now on the topic of the Internet.

Yes, yes, I know this post is kind of all over the place. But my brain takes the oddest paths at times.

For example. just this morning I woke up from a dream where (no lie) I was making a crowd of French people angry at me because they did not like the way I was imitating the way Maurice Chevalier sang a song called "Louise." In my dream, heck, I sounded pretty good, in my opinion.

I have no idea what that was all about. It's not like I spend much time pondering the French. Much less songs by Maurice Chevalier. And how the heck did the lyrics to that song get lodged in my memory? I will admit I watched an old French film by Jean Luc Godard, "Alphaville" the other night, but that had no reference to Maurice Chevalier.

Anyway, after I had some time to ponder that dream, I wondered if Maurice or that song had their own piece of the internet to call their own. Naturally, of course they do. Here's a video someone made in appreciation of an actress named Louise Brooks, a silent film star, set to Chevalier's singing. Funny thing too, this video was uploaded just within the last week.

PS - I cannot think of Chevalier without thinking of this scene by the Marx Brothers, where they steal Chevalier's passport and all try to pretend to be him.

SMARTech, Gonzales, and the 2004 Election

The media offers a collective yawn to the reports that the White House has been by-passing laws regarding email communications related to government operations. It's as if they can't wrap their brains around a possiible effort to act outside the law. And a Chattanooga company may soon find itself on center stage in a bizarre maze of manipulating information.

This story isn't going away, and it is also related to the rampant oddities in the Ohio election results in 2004. Just what role has the Chattanooga-based company, SMARTech been playing in elections and secret emails?

Did the most powerful Republicans in America have the computer capacity, software skills and electronic infrastructure in place on Election Night 2004 to tamper with the Ohio results to ensure George W. Bush's re-election?

The answer appears to be yes. There is more than ample documentation to show that on Election Night 2004, Ohio's "official" Secretary of State website -- which gave the world the presidential election results -- was redirected from an Ohio government server to a group of servers that contain scores of Republican web sites, including the secret White House e-mail accounts that have emerged in the scandal surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Recent revelations have documented that the Republican National Committee (RNC) ran a secret White House e-mail system for Karl Rove and dozens of White House staffers. This high-tech system used to count and report the 2004 presidential vote- from server-hosting contracts, to software-writing services, to remote-access capability, to the actual server usage logs themselves -- must be added to the growing congressional investigations."

Full story here, and it will take some time to read. it's time well spent.

These strange election results were routed by county election officials through Ohio's Secretary of State's office, through partisan IT providers and software, and the final results were hosted out of a computer based in Tennessee announcing the winner."

Monday, April 23, 2007

Corporate Freebies - A Southern Folly

"In 2006 the Korean car maker Kia decided to build a $1.2 billion plant in West Point, Georgia. To land the project, the state offered a $420 million incentive package that included free land (bought from the previous owners at about 2.5 times the market value), tax-funded employee training, and a new $30 million Interstate interchange. Altogether, the subsidies amounted to roughly $168,000 for each of the 2,500 jobs at the plant.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, says it was the incentives that brought those Kia jobs to town. Harvey Newman, an economist at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Public Policy, isn’t convinced. “It was clear they would pick a Southern state because of labor costs,” he notes. “Alabama had a trained force of autoworkers, so Kia located on the Georgia-Alabama border.” In other words, Georgia taxpayers are paying Kia hundreds of millions of dollars to hire Alabama workers."

That's just one comment from an eye-opening assessment in Reason Magazine that tax breaks and other types of corporate welfare seldom provide many promised results.

While it may make some sense to offer assistance to use tax money to accelerate development of roads, water or energy lines, and other similar projects, the unspoken freebies to woo wealthy companies usually include free land and years of no taxation. That's usually called "abatement", which is easier on the ears of taxpayers than the word's real meaning - free ride on taxes.

As the story notes, the real decisive factor for the majority of businesses has little to do with these massive payouts - they are concerned with other issues, like work force training, access to suppliers, and prevailing wages.

The South is leading the way for tax-funded subsidies, and companies are paying attention to the trend. It allows them to go to other states (perhaps the ones they prefer from the beginning) and see what kind of bidding war can ensue.

Newman has more on the topic, too -

There’s almost never any evidence that [taxpayer-funded incentives] work” at producing benefits for the general public, says Newman, the Georgia State economist. “We know that incentives aren’t usually the deciding factor. So the jobs would be created in any event. And incentives are basically unfair, favoring some companies over others."

I've mentioned this topic before, Tax Increment Financing (TIF), noting the true cost to communities which tend to offer any and every tax deal imaginable. The real costs are soon dropped on residents in the form of higher taxation:

But what is missing here is that the cost of developing private business has some public costs. Road and sewers and schools are public costs that come from growth.” Unless spending is cut —and if a TIF really does generate economic growth, spending is likely to rise, as the local population grows —the burden of paying for these services will be shifted to other taxpayers. Adding insult to injury, those taxpayers may include small businesses facing competition from well-connected chains that enjoy TIF-related tax breaks. In effect, a TIF subsidizes big businesses at the expense of less politically influential competitors and ordinary citizens."

What are the real costs of Southern 'hospitality'?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Legislative Debate on Mooning

I thought this was a joke at first. I thought maybe some legislators decided to put on a skit or something. They can barely stop laughing to talk about it, until Rep. Mumpower details the serious and system-wide problem.

So, no, this isn't a scene from a comedy show (cough-cough). Indeed, the Tennessee Legislature has indeed a bill filed now which makes it a misdemeanor for prison inmates to ... uhm ... Well, whatever jokes or comments I might make here will never be as good as the actual debate on this bill as captured and posted on YouTube. I love the question "Did someone bring you this bill???"

The complete bill as filed is HB1753/SB1324.

UPDATE -- I see now that ACK had this video up yesterday, but (snicker) i found it today while wading through the digital waters of YouTube. And a video this funny can stand to be posted more than once.