Friday, July 13, 2007

Camera Obscura - 'Cloverfield' Clues; New 'Barbarella'; Steve Martin Goes Spy Thriller; Peckinpah

The real buzz getting ramped up from the 'Transformers' movie is the teaser trailer shown with it for a movie which is so far being called "Cloverfield", from producer J.J. Abrams. Much secrecy has surrounded the making of this relatively low-budget ($3 million) feature, so much that movie fans are wondering just what the heck it is about -- some claim it's a new take on 'Godzilla', but some tricky and puzzle-oriented web sites have been cropping up on the Web which seems to discount all that.
(NOTE: For the full and complete rundown on every aspect of "Cloverfield", go to this post and scroll down to the last item. Every "Cloverfield" detail is there.)

And Abrams loves to pose mysterious and convoluted plots ("Lost"). Some clues to the movie were offered via a website called Ethan Haas Was Right. (NOTE: Despite the report from Scott Weinberg, thie Haas webiste is about a videofame -- his error which I mentioned here, so not my error. For more info, go here.) You'll have to solve the little puzzle box on the site (really a sphere, not a box) and then you see a grainy, garbled transmission of some sorts. It seems to point to a movie more based in apocalyptic sci-fi and perhaps some kinda alien deal. Kudos to Abrams for providing yet another mystery for fans to ponder on and about.


Robert Rodriguez sure seems to be working hard at a host of new movies (he has announced he will make a feature version of the movie "Machete", which was one of the fake trailers in 'Grindhouse") and is now set to direct a new version of the old sci-fi movie "Barbarella". Rumors are swirling about who will have the the title role -- and now comes mention of Halle Berry in the part. The script is being made by the writers of the recent James Bond hit, "Casino Royale." As for me, I'm wondering who'll play the part of Duran Duran?


Comedian. writer and wild 'n crazy guy Steve Martin is turning his attention to a spy thriller, called "Traitor," based on a story he pitched a few years ago. Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce are set to star in the movie as undercover CIA and FBI agents chasing the same group of villains. DIrector Jeff Nachmanoff wrote the goofy-but-enjoyable "Day After Tomorrow" and is now working on a film adaptation of the video game Prince of Persia.


I watched a movie the other night which sent me time-traveling through movie experiences of the past and am compelled to write about it.

During summer vacations when I was a kid, my dad and I (sometimes my sister) always made time to check out a few movies. Since no theaters were close to our town, it was a huge treat to see a new movie on the big screen. I often wonder how my dad found some of the movies he took us to watch, but I think his guiding muse was The Western.

Back one hot summer day in Nashville, in the days when theaters were gigantic art-deco cathedrals of entertainment (and Nashville seemed to me to be a city crammed with such cathedrals), he picked a movie with Steve McQueen as a rodeo rider called "Junior Bonner." It was the first time I had ever seen a Sam Peckinpah movie, and it would be some years before I saw any other of his movies. Dad seldom talked much about the movies we saw but I do recall him saying after we left the movie "That was a great movie."

"Junior Bonner" is hardly typical of Peckinpah's violent Westerns, but it does focus on elements to be found in the best of his work: characters who seem to be lost in time and keenly aware the modern world has little, if any place, for them. The past and the future collide, but in this movie the story is told through the lives of a diverse family, some who live in the past and some who embrace the future, and all looking for a way to stay true to their dreams and each other. It's certainly a kinder-gentler Peckinpah, and one which expresses much love among the characters though not through words and speeches, but through their actions and the quiet power of Peckinpah's imagery.

The movie is a quiet and simple elegy to family and to the once rustic town of Prescott, Arizona. Several scenes were filmed in the Palace Bar - a rowdy saloon built in 1877 - which had been a regular home-away-from-home for such cowboy legends as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. By 1927, the town was termed The Cowboy Capital of the World, and boasts the oldest rodeo in America. Other bits of movie trivia in the film is that the dog Spike, owned by the senior Bonner (Robert Preston), was the 'grandson' of the dog from "Old Yeller".

Peckinpah knew all of these facts, but he folds them into a modern story as McQueen and his family likewise struggle to reconcile the past, the present and the future. Preston's character was once a major player in the rodeo world and he's looking for new frontiers, and McQueen is trying to regain his own confidence as a major player. His brother, played by Joe Don Baker, has been selling off the family farm by the acre to build trailer parks and even operates an Old West Gift Shop in his efforts to make the past into something more profitable. But no one in the story is portrayed as a bad guy - the empathy for the characters and the Bonner family gives the story a certain sweetness one seldom associates with Peckinpah.

Throughout the movie, Peckinpah shoots an almost documentary-style portrait of the town and it's people. He captures the world of the rodeo circuit to the point you can almost smell and touch it.

Movie critics at the time were not kind to the movie, complaining it lacked Peckinpah's violence (which the critics always demeaned anyway) and they seemed honestly perplexed at the character-based story and the humor of the film. There is a bar fight (at the Palace Saloon), which is very funny, especially when the bar band realizes they can calm the crowd down by playing the Star-Spangled Banner.

Knowing my dad's fondness for Westerns and cowboys, the tendency to wear cowboy hats and boots and western string ties, I am not surprised he liked the movie. What puzzles me to this day is just how he decided that Junior Bonner was a movie we wanted to see. Maybe it was the poster for the movie, with McQueen walking along carrying his saddle, with the tag line "The Last of His Kind."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Best Captions Ever

A post from Hillbilly Savants recently introduced me to the work of Jerry Tracy, a Knoxville native, who has a great sense of humor which he applies to all types of clip art and older drawings. For more info, please see this post at Hillbilly Savants or visit Jerry's blog, The Saturday Bulletin. It's a treasure-trove of all things funny.

The War of Words on Iraq

Intense debate today in Congress about the status of the war in Iraq and what the next steps should be or could be, all airing on CSPAN for the next few hours.

Lots of clips and snippets and rhetoric will filter through the news services from this debate, some will moan and wail that the Democrats are evil whiny quitters, and some will find members of the GOP as the only true patriots in America.

Boiling down the vast complex issues regarding Iraq to li'l quotes is a fool's errand.

James Joyner of Outside the Beltway has some thoughts worth pondering on the interim report regarding the status of the "18 benchmarks" necessary for progress in Iraq (didn't we already claim an accomplished mission?):

Essentially, despite AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) comprising something like five percent of the insurgency, we have diverted most of our resources to combating it. And we’re failing. Not only is AQI stronger but, as another report being released today suggests, al Qaeda in general is enjoying a resurgence.

Meanwhile, the ISF (Iraq Security Force) continues to be an undependable, lackluster fighting force four years into the game. That, despite their training having been headed up by the counterinsurgency guru who’s now in charge of the whole shebang.

To be fair, the full complement of troops that made up the Surge are just now coming into place. When this was announced, President Bush warned that we would not see immediate results ...

"At the same time, the Iraqi government is, by the White House’s own admission, making essentially no progress on any of the meaningful milestones. It has long been an article of faith among both supporters and critics of the war that it would not be won militarily but politically. There’s not much sign that either are happening."

One item of note -- it is astonishing to me to hear numerous congressmen dismiss as 'irrelevant' that the U.S. was given false information to justify the invasion, or that the strategies of the last 4 years have yielded little success. We are where we are, they say. And yet somehow, for Congress to urge and support a whole new strategy is the most dangerous act imaginable.

I have often wondered what the status of unrest and warfare might be in the mideast today has our strategy been to establish a thriving, successful non-terrorist-ridden nation in Afghanistan first before diverting attention to the nation of Iraq.

I likewise wonder if a society such as ours, who stand irritated in front of a microwave oven fuming mad over how long it takes to cook food, is taking time to think rationally about this war. I also remain befuddled that the nefarious goals of a few hundred or few thousand of radical terrorists are enough to confound politicians and elicit emotional squeals of fear from so many.

In a few months when new elections for office in Washington are held, I'd wager American voters will have the final say and the plans of the current administration will be abandoned.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

No Indictments in Death of Peyton Strickland

"Peyton Strickland's parents, Don and Kathy said: "Our unarmed 18-year-old son Peyton was killed when Chris Long, a deputy sheriff, fired three bullets from a submachine gun through the front door of Peyton’s house while he was answering the unlocked door. The failure of the grand jury to indict Long on any charge compounds our family’s tragedy."

Long, who was fired after the shooting, has said he fired his fully automatic submachine gun because he mistakenly thought he heard gun blasts. Instead, he was hearing the officers' battering ram hammering Strickland's door. Long admitted in an affidavit filed Monday that his hearing was impaired by an earpiece, a hood and helmet." (link)

This case, which grew stranger with each new report, was first mentioned in this post as well as here and here.

Is Financial Aid For College An 'Entitlement' Program?

Following hot on the heels of the revelation that banking and finance firms have been offering kickbacks and other schemes to colleges if the schools make pacts with the firms offering such kickbacks, the Congress is voting today on a proposal to increase dollars for college education. Or, as the opponents from the GOP call it -- another dang Liberal new entitlement program.

Congressman George Miller outlines his proposals on his web page. Some details include:

The legislation pays for itself by reducing excessive federal subsidies paid to lenders in the college loan industry. It also includes $750 million in federal budget deficit reduction."


scholarship increases passed or proposed by Congress this year, the maximum "Under the legislation, the maximum value of the Pell Grant scholarship would increase by $500 over the next five years. When combined with other PellPell Grant would reach $5,200 by 2013, up from $4,050 in 2006, thus restoring the Pell’s purchasing power. Roughly 5.5 million low- and moderate-income students would benefit from this increase.

The legislation would also cut interest rates in half on need-based student loans, reducing the cost of those loans for millions of student borrowers. Like legislation passed by the House earlier this year, the College Cost Reduction Act would cut interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent in equal steps over the next five years. Once fully phased-in, this would save the typical student borrower – with $13,800 in need-based student loan debt – $4,400 over the life of the loan. About 6.8 million students take out need-based loans each year."

The President vows to veto this bill, which would slash subsidies paid to Bank of America and Citigroup, SunTrust Inc. and many others. This bill was already passed in a slightly different form by the Senate.

I don't think I've ever heard programs which provide financial aid for college study referred to as 'entitlements', but that's a nifty buzzword of demonization. I thought money spent (even those dollars which arrive from the federal budget) or borrowed for college education were dollars of 'investment'?

Without financial aid and low-interest loans (an $85 billion dollar industry), I wonder how low college enrollments in the U.S. would become?

Tuition costs in Tennessee and nationwide have been steadily rising and rising and rising (much higher than the rate of inflation) over the last few decades.

NOTE: from a June article in the Tennessean newspaper:

It's 94 percent to 100 percent more expensive to attend a state university today than it was in 2000, but the cost of living has risen only about 22 percent."


"On the other hand, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators reports that a majority of full-time undergraduate students — about 63 percent — don't shell out the full price for college expenses. They receive grants — money that does not have to be repaid — from federal and state governments.

For students who qualify for the state's lottery scholarship, the good news is that the state legislature's recent decision to bump annual awards from $3,800 to $4,000 will cushion most of the tuition increase's blow."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Health Care Maze of Mystery

Some provocative debate has been prompted by the movie from Michael Moore, "Sicko", though just about any person in the country could reel off stories of high comedy and tragedy so one need not be a filmmaker to have some intense opinions about the state of healthcare.

A fascinating exchange between Moore and CNN was highlighted here by R. Neal (Moore really lays into CNN and Wolf Blitzer, with much reason) and Neal also has some thoughts on how or if health care might be improved here. Some of the ideas there require you to think and consider how we can effect change for the better. It gave me much to ponder.

I have no solid answers to the dilemmas of outlandish behavior via insurance companies, giant hospital corporations, pharmaceutical companies or the curious twists and turns created by state and federal government regarding health care.

I do know that urging realistic debate is far more important than jingoistic blather about reform. Specifics are needed, not platitudes of "we are working on improving" blah blah blah.

Also, the link in Neal's first post above contains a link to Moore's rebuttal of some of the wild distortions and claims made against "Sicko". One fact is clear -- medical bills are a key cause of bankruptcy, and many in this most prosperous nation can be financially decimated by medical costs alone.

If You Email Me, I Will Write

The creator of a video which I mentioned a few weeks back, titled "100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers" sent me an email with a simple request. It should be noted that the video is one of my favorite little short bursts of internet goodness and was expertly created. So, since the creator of the video, Alonzo has asked so nicely, I am happy to comply.

(NOTE: I did an 8 Random Facts meme a few weeks ago, but as the keyword here is 'random. I am happy to offer up 8 more such facts. Plus, my previous post of 8 Random Facts has shown up quite often in internet searches under the heading 'naked fishing' because of a random fact I mentioned. I guess it is good to be noticed, web-tastically speaking.)

(NOTE 2: Alonzo has a few more videos on YouTube for you to view, and of course, I would be remiss to not mention Alonzo's blog, Acrentropy, which has been running for some 3 years.)

Also, the rules about this meme are available at Alonzo's page, and I am not tagging anyone else with this peculiar assignment since I did that already. My blog, my dictatorial rule prevails.

8 Random Facts

1 -- On this morning, there is not enough coffee in the house to open my eyes wide nor to disengage my sleep-deprived brain from the murkiness of a humid, heat-blurred night of insomnia. And yes, insomnia has been my companion since I was a wee toddler.

2 -- Speaking of coffee, if I had known of the Curious and Powerful Magic of the Brew when I was a freshman in college, I could have made those darn 8 a.m. classes.

3 -- I remember watching Nixon resign on TV one summer night while at the house of the grandmother of a friend of mine. She had no electricity, but ran a series of incredibly long and tangled extension cords from the nearby house of her son to power her 13 inch black and white TV. (True story: her son's nickname was Mousey and she had another son nicknamed Meatskin, but that's all another post.) The grandmother also had no indoor plumbing and the Standing Rule of visiting at her house was to never go to the right side of the house, because her outhouse was about 25 feet from her kitchen door and had been there for decades. In summer, the Danger Perimeter of the outhouse expanded to such size that I always associate a certain aroma with Nixon.

4 -- Once in high school, I went out one night and drank such copious amounts of alcohol that when I arrived home, I began a Technicolor Yawn over the porcelain that seemed to last a week, After howling and hurling for some 45 minutes, I left the bathroom to find both my parents standing in the hall with deep scowls on their faces. My dad proclaimed, "You smell like a brewery!" I weaved about dangerously and calmly replied that I had been to McDonald's that night and met a girl, whom I kissed, and that "I think she had a beer." The next day my dad told me if I was out late at night again and kissed a girl who had a beer, I should just call home and say I would not be driving home and to find a safe place to spend the night.

5 -- When I mentioned the above story to my mother recently, she still saw no humor in it.

6 -- I used to raise and sell rabbits when I was a young boy. While waiting for customers, I would read books of collected Pogo comics by Walt Kelly. I read recently that J. Edgar Hoover had an FBI cryptology team scour through Pogo books as he was convinced that coded messages of subversion were hidden in the nonsense poetry and Southern accents of the characters. Perhaps Hoover's dresses were jes' a little tight in those days and cut off circulation to his brain.

7 -- Speaking of youthful days, the small Tennessee town I grew up in was so small, they had to widen to road to put white lines down the middle and was so small it said "Welcome To" and "Come Back Again" on the same sign.

8 -- I almost cut my right hand off once when I was a kid, while I was playing Spiderman. And once, some years later, I fell in a hole and cut myself on a walnut. These are both stories too long and detailed to provide here. Maybe later.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Man Dressed As Tree Robs Bank

Law enforcement officials in New Hampshire said the bandit -- with some limbs and leaves stuck all over his body - never claimed to have a weapon ... so why did he get money from the tellers???

Astonishing pictures and a video of the ... Tree Bandit (at a bank branch, no less) are here.

Maybe it's the heat.

And Now, President Nancy Pelosi

I see little real chance that Congress would instigate impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, despite a public willing to see such a thing happen. And nothing in the behavior of either man has shown a desire to resign the powers they control.

But just for argument's sake, let us say that on some sweltering hot August night in 2007 both men decide to tender resignations and go back to the private sector. The law says in such a case, the Speaker of the House would then take the office of President. That person today is Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

What might happen next?

She does not strike me as a politician of uncanny wisdom and strength, and I hardly think she would (or could) bring the nation to some political nightmare landscape. For the most part, the functions of the federal government are carried out daily by non-elected workers and even a radical shift of power would likely be accommodated and all would precede as it does now.

I do think you'd see a definite and steady drawdown of troops in Iraq, which is going to be happening by early next year anyway. Concerns about a civil war in Iraq would be answered with the fact that it is a nation mired in civil war today.

In other words, the fate of Iraq is on a course now which must play itself out before additional steps can take place. It certainly seems little will be done from a US perspective anyway until after the 2008 elections are done.

However, with a major shakeup in the Oval Office and the burdens of decisions placed on other shoulders, some one (and I have no idea who at this point) or some group in Washington could emerge with some workable, practical and effective ideas for how to resolve the problems in the Middle East. And I know full well, whatever decisions the US makes, it is ultimately the people in that region who must decide what happens next.

And truly, short of some new, heinous catastrophe I see no changes in the Oval Office until after the elections. But Americans are a hardy and tough bunch, who have been through huge changes in the Oval Office for many decades, so fears it might crumble under Pelosi are unmerited. We've been here before and will likely he here again.

In pondering this idea, I was reading about Oklahoma Congressman Carl Albert, "the little man from Little Dixie", who was House Speaker from 1971 through 1976. With the roiling turmoil of the Nixon presidency, he could have easily become President, though he remarked then and in his autobiography he thought it would be hazardous for a Democrat to replace a Republican.

This page has a brief history of Albert, who, more than anyone else, shaped the modern office of Speaker of the House and helped solidify and concentrate Democrat power in Congress.

Albert could have moved to take the office of President, but seemed reluctant, as mentioned. Still, it could have been.

And while I see no Oval Office shake-up ahead, I wonder how many in Washington are currently weighing options now about the costs of massive change and the costs of sitting back and doing nothing. As it stands now, Congress seems poised (finally) to challenge Bush and Cheney at every step from here on out -- which is precisely the intention of our system of checks and balances. Many arguments could be made that when this system is out of balance the nation is poorly served.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunday Web Walking - Extended Edition!

Buckle up for a brief yet intense whirlwind tour of the internet and the bloggers and more.

The WKRN-TV blog Nashville Is Talking may soon be Not Talking So Much, though comments from their GM Gwen Kinsey are not easy to decipher. Suffice to say the future of NIT is where it has been for the last month: Unknown. But the Web is an always-evolving place, so it is no surprise that many mid-state and beyond blog-makers decided their best option was to create their own collective and hold their own conversations, which they call Music City Bloggers. I wish them much luck and thank them for linking to this humble (but lovable) page.

Another page I've been meaning to link to is heretofore presented with some fanfare: Russ McBee. And yes, he is right that this post on the "Amazonian Bigfoot" got my attention. I will confess a curious interest in cryptozoology. Why, just the other day, I discovered that scientists have known about the Vampire Squid for over 100 years. Anytime you write Vampire _________ as the name of a creature, I take note. Please take note of Russ McBee who writes about much more than the odd things which might perplex me.

Perplexed describes my reaction to this report from Grainger Today newspaper -- for some reason, a SWAT team raided a news publisher's home for some kind of suspect wanted for something. Details are scarce, and yet sooooo tantalizing.

First District Congressman David Davis was lauded by local officials for opening an office in Morristown on Friday, at Walters State Community College, in a branch of offices related to Homeland Security and much more. Rep. Davis had promised to open such an office -- staffed by some familiar GOP names from past office-holders. Also this week, a Tri-Cities TV station which had endorsed Davis gives him a failing grade some six months into his first year in office. They say his actions show him more interested in serving the GOP than serving his district. I would be greatly surprised if more than 20% of voters in the First District could even name their own congressman.

A regular feature via Jack Lail and the KNS on Sunday is an overview of what East Tennessee bloggers are talking about -- always a good way to peek into what people are writing and saying on a wide range of issues and topics.

It's kinda funny to write something like "East Tennessee bloggers" as the phrase really did not exist a few years back. I am happy it does exist. For the first time in my lifetime, I have scores and scores of local resources for news and information, all freely provided and independently created. What is provided on this humble (but lovable) page barely scratches the surface of info on the area and the state which is available.

If you have a suggestion for another place to seek info, to learn and to read, please add it in the comments!

IN OTHER NEWS: I haven't had the chance yet to write of the recent passing of composer Will Schaefer, so I will make time to do so now. His music is well-known by many, whether they are aware of it or not. His musical themes and songs are well known to you if you ever watched "The Flintstones," "Scooby-Doo", "Hogan's Heroes", "I Dream of Jeanie", "The Super Friends" or Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, countless commercials throughout the 1960s and 1970s and he is the man who re-crafted a popular song into a theme for one of the most well-known of Disney's theme park rides: "It's A Small World."


I'm ready to train the dog to do this.


The European Union provided a commercial about how the government spends money and the result was Sex, Sex, Sex!!!