Saturday, August 04, 2007

China Regulating Reincarnation

China's government says their approval and proper forms will be required for reincarnation. As goofy as the idea may sound, the story about their new 14-point program has a very specific goal:

Because tulkus have a large influence in the Himalayan region, the Chinese government has frequently sought to control the process of identifying the boys.

The new regulations, which go into effect September 1, 2007, will make it illegal to identify the child reincarnation of the Dalai Lama without the approval of Chinese authorities."

In other words, China will try to make the currrent Dalai Lama the last Dalai Lama. And you thought your religious beliefs were being marginalized and removed from existence.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Camera Obscura - Shooter, Watchmen, Bergman, Blow-Up

Conspiracies and secrets fill the movies on today's menu, along with generous amounts of tough guy-isms. Plus a few news items on movies coming out in The Future.

Speaking of The Future - the award for dumbest idea I've heard in a while is the project to make "Magic 8-Ball: The Movie". Yeah, the toy from the 1960s. At least it isn't a musical with John Travolta in drag (yet). Mattel and Hasbro are also pitching movies based on the board games Candy Land, Monopoly, and others. Hopefully all these ideas (like a lot of toys these days) will get recalled before they ever get rolling. Then again, if I could finish up my script for "Slinky vs Silly Putty" fast enough, I could be a major player in no time. No, you don't like that idea? Wait -- how about "Easy Bake Oven From Hell"??

A movie yet to be finished (or even started) held much of the attention at the San Diego Comic-Con which just wrapped up. The talk about the long-planned and now in pre-production movie version of Alan Moore's brilliant graphic novel "The Watchmen" was most intriguing. Director Zack Snyder, whose work has been just darn near flawless, has spoken of some terrible casting ideas in recent weeks, but the things he said in San Diego give me hope:

One of the things I think is important about Watchmen is that it have resonance within cinematic pop culture as well as superhero culture. Because I believe there's a relationship between Rorschach and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver."

On running time for the film: "I don't have a time frame right now. I think it's running pretty long right now - it's about 130-140 page script, not counting "The Black Freighter". "The Black Freighter" (an essential subplot from the comic) is about 16 or 17 pages as a script."


I have to give a big thank you to Les Jones, who wrote about a movie called "Shooter" out earlier this year and now on DVD. Based on action/adventure writer Stephen Hunter's book "Point of Impact," it didn't get much of a push from studios and disappeared quickly from theatres. But what Les wrote made me remember it and want to see it. Good call, Les.

Now you can watch it at home and prepare to be surprised. The story opens with a sweeping shot of burning villages in Ethiopia and the camera then tracks an oil pipeline, and by the end has covered several years and reaches deep into dark conspiracies about oil and government secrets. However the center of the story is Bob Lee Swagger, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is channeling Lee Marvin or Charles Bronson here. Swagger is a deadly sniper/marksman for the Army who is reluctantly drawn back into action when they appeal to his patriotic duty. There's enough action movie cliches here to make you pause, but don't -- this one plays out like an intense game which just gets better as it goes along.

Some key points -- never, ever mess with a guy who can shoot you from a mile away; lots of modern weapons tech and strategy play big roles; Ned Beatty does a nearly hilarious impersonation of Dick Cheney; and as Les noted, there's the scene in Athens, Tennessee - 'patron state of shootin' stuff' as Swagger calls us, where Swagger meets actor Levon Helm as a master of the history of weapons in a juicy part which Helm delivers with true style.

Wahlberg - and here's something I thought I'd never say -- is really impressive on the big screen. Contrast the steely-eyed Swagger with the nebbish and nervous hitman character he plays in the action/comedy "The Big Hit" or the soldier he plays in "Three Kings." Not to mention the small but fierce part he played in the Oscar-winning "The Departed."


The Modern Tough Guy in movies was pretty much created by the pairing of director John Woo and actor Chow Yun Fat. Almost every video game shoot-em-up and most action movies that followed are all part of the Woo-Fat Pattern.

Their creation now comes full circle as a new video game for the PS3, "Stranglehold", is set for release. The game is a sequel to Woo's "Hard Boiled", where an animated Chow Yun Fat, playing a tough cop named Tequila (heh heh) will be the character you take through the continuing adventures in Hong Kong.

The action and characters and explosive action sequences have colored most U.S. and international movies made since it's release in 1992. And it still holds up very well. A new 2-disc DVD set of "Hard Boiled" is now out so I can finally retire my battered letterbox VHS copy.

From Woo to Wahlberg, the urban landscape has replaced the Monument Valley backdrop of John Ford westerns, but the themes about the nature of revenge and justice are just as vibrant today as ever.


Two legends of cinema history died recently, Ingmar Bergman and Micheangelo Antonioni. They were masters of cinematic imagery.

Their influence permeated movies and directors and actors for decades and still does today. Both men discarded conventional filmmaking and searched, some would say desperately, for ways that cinema turns into expressions of our most complex emotions. No - they certainly do not make movies like that anymore.

While Bergman's works are worthy of viewing and study, it was Antonioni who had the most influence on me. "The Adventure", about a woman who vanishes during an afternoon of sailing, is almost purely metaphysical. It's as if her indifference literally makes her disappear from sight. And the response of her friends is to casually discard her disappearance as well, sealing her fate.

But for me, his movie "Blow-Up" is one of the best I've ever seen. Critics and writers have all pointed to the movie as a benchmark for the Lost Souls of 20th Century Life. And it surely does provide characters who dwell in a portable and throwaway lifestyle. But for me the story is about perception itself and how we make our own meanings about reality and life. Did the photographer played by David Hemmings witness a murder or did he imagine it? It's a plot that has been very popular ever since. Antonioni does not provide the answer - you either participate in the movie or it may just bore you to tears. I remain fascinated by the movie, though I am certain to perceive layers where others perceive little at all or nothing. I kind of think that was Antonioni's point.

See, I do watch something besides mindless action movies and zombie stories. Oddly, I have often wondered what the death-dwelling mind of Bergman would have done had he made a zombie movie.

We do know that Bergman lost the chess game. (He should have, like Bill and Ted, asked to play Clue or Battleship instead.)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

These Robotic Bears Can Rock

Wow. I am impressed and perhaps a little frightened by these videos.

This enterprising fellow got some of the old musical robotic bears (and a gorilla too) from an old Showbiz Pizza place, and now reprograms them to do modern rock songs, like this one from Evanescence. More videos of other songs are also provided.

He's even got a stage and curtains and some major programming skills. (via MetaFilter)

Finally, Some Good News

When I read this today, it made me smile really big.

I was just talking the other night to my friend Chef Bill, who is often kind enough to call me when he is attending a game, about the slow and steady rise this season and how that fits their style so well. I say they are due and man oh man I would love to see them winners in October.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wombats Fly Spaceships

Once or twice (maybe even three times) I have tuned in to a bizarre talk radio show hosted by one Michael Savage. He seemed to always be really angry, not just cranky "you kids get offa my lawn" angst, but somehow deeply and emotionally devoted to some goofy ideas.

But on Monday, according to this transcript, he said that the Democrat party gave Supreme Court Justice Roberts the seizure Roberts suffered this week.

Am I to believe that there's no connection between [Senator] Charles Schumer on Friday saying that he would never appoint, or never, excuse me, approve another Bush appointment to the court, to any court? And then the chief justice suffers a so-called seizure two days later? You're telling me there's no possibility of a conspiracy by the Democrats to have caused this seizure in some manner? Tell me that it's not possible. Tell me that the stakes are not so high that the liberals -- who've finally lost the court after 50 years -- that they would stop short of anything like this. Tell me it's not possible, and I'll tell you you're a liar."

Savage's ratings are pretty high - tallied at 8 million listeners per week. So Savage's rant was heard (and likely believed) by millions of people.

I know hyperbole and media go together like peanut butter and jelly. So I am going to predict the next Big Scandal from Savage -- he will claim that Wombats Fly Spaceships. And not just yer ordinary everyday Wombat, either. These will be Liberal Democrat Wombats who seek to become the Dark Overlords of Time and Space.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Phoning It In

Is this a relatively new trend and how many other city or county governments allow for members to attend official public meetings via the telephone??

A report in the Kingsport Times News says their mayor and alderman are squabbling over whether or not it should continue to be allowed. It's been allowed since the mid-1990s.

Alderman Ken Marsh has called in at least once, but he thinks the issue is of little concern:

I think the policy is very effective because the aldermen who are interested will call in, and an alderman who isn't interested, won't," Marsh said. "Physically being there doesn't necessarily add anything. You've got people there who've never asked a question in the history of the world.

"Physically being there may or may not add anything to the degree of discussion or quality of the decisions."

Rep. Davis Takes Heat for Dogfighting Vote

I received a fascinating bit of email yesterday about the press spin Congressman David Davis is tyring to put on his vote against a new federal law which lowers the boom on dogfighting, which has become an enormous interstate and international criminal organization.

My views, echoed by many bloggers across the state, supported by the entire Tennessee Washington delegation, a unanimous Senate vote and President Bush, are already posted.

However, the writer of the email I received from a 1st District resident said they were unhappy with the way Davis presented his defense in a front-page story in the July 30th issue of Morristown Citizen-Tribune (links there are seldom available more than a few days without paying subscription fees so my thanks to the email writer for including a copy of the text itself).

Davis says the rising voices of dissatisfaction over his vote are the acts of "activists" in Washington. (I wonder what the difference is between a lobbyist and an activist?)

The "activist" group is the Humane Society. Other "activists" who encouraged passage of this legislation include The American Veterinary Medical Association, The National Sheriff's Association, and over 400 law enforcement agencies covering all 50 states. Rep. Davis is quoted as saying "Basically, this is nothing more than inside-Washington politics."

The email also noted there was no mention in the article of the dogfighting ring in Hamblen County which was broken up around Memorial Day of this year.

What law enforcement asked for was a change that each count of dogfighting be made a separate charge, not just a single charge, with each violation bringing as much as a 3-year sentence and a $250,000 fine. A criminal who had as few as four or five dogs used in the bloodsport would then face very long prison terms if convicted. Weak state misdemeanor or felony laws which vary state to state can make prosecution less likely. And yes, perhaps the state of Tennessee should establish some even tougher new laws as well. I know I'll be writing my state reps asking for just that.

Rep. Davis says he deplores the bloodsport and is a dog-owner as well. And he said he viewed the issue as related to "states rights". And I certainly agree that an ever-expanding federal government can bring new sets of problems -- but this law did not increase federal intervention, it created much tougher penalties for laws already on the books. And it aids states who are trying to stop these crimes from spreading into their own communities. Since these criminals have spread to establish a national and international highly organized criminal ring, it appears to me that as with many other crimes which have spread to become a national and international menaces, the federal authorities asked for and received the penalties needed to stop this ever-growing problem.

Here are some excerpts from a letter sent by the National Sheriff's Association supporting the new legislation:

"There are an estimated 40,000 professional dogfighters who sell their fighting dogs nationwide and cockfighting is multi-million dollar business. The massive, criminal network of animal fighters impacts not only the thousands of animals who are subjected to the cruelties of animal fighting, but communities nationwide and law enforcement which must address, at great cost, the crimes associated with it including illegal gambling, drug dealing and even murder.

For example, last month, two gunmen broke into the house of a known dog fighter in Cleveland, Texas and shot him, letting him bleed to death. The attackers were reportedly seeking $100,000 they thought was in the house, and the amount wagered on a single high-stakes dogfight two weeks earlier in Houston. Earlier in the year, a man was shot and killed at a cockfight in Sacramento, California.

On average, there has been a murder related to animal fighting every month this year. Moreover, the crime of animal fighting is not isolated in each of our states. For example, this year law enforcement officials arrested 30 people in connection with a cockfighting operation in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Law enforcement officials there seized guns, $3,000 in cash and marijuana. Most of those arrested were from North Carolina and they brought their fighting birds and criminal activities across state lines—illustrating perfectly why the federal law is needed.

There are arrests of animal fighters every week, and this increase in enforcement action reflects a growing recognition on the part of law enforcement and others that animal fighting should not be tolerated, and is a hub for other criminal activity. The National Sheriffs’ Association sincerely believes that felony penalties are necessary to address the interstate criminal industry of animal fighting and to end this criminal and violent activity."

UPDATE: Another East TN blogger DeMarCaTionVille did her own survey of 1st District residents about Rep. Davis' vote on this issue. The results? Folks hereabouts sure can be fickle and how they respond to issues depends much on what they know (and don't know).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Five-Question Inverview

Leave me a comment saying “Interview me.” I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions. If you don't have a valid email address on your blog, please provide one. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

I first saw this mini-meme at Tit's List, and being more than a little egotistical I asked to be interviewed. And if you wish me to create five questions for you -- just say so in the comments on this post.

1) How hard was it to maintain eye contact with Dolly Parton when you
interviewed her? Well she is a wee little thing, standing five feet tall. So much of my eyesight was directed in a downward direction, except for those times when we were sitting and talking. But I'm dancing about the question, huh? It was next to impossible not to glance away from her pretty eyes to take in that massive chest. And I mean massive. Real or enhanced, it draws the eyes of any and all who gain some proximity. Plus. I'm male. And dang, they're massive. So ... yeah, I looked away from her eyes often.

2) If we were fighting off zombies, what form would you, 'Coma, and I take to defeat them? An excellent and useful question! As we (Tits, 'Coma and I) are Wonder Triplets, I considered a few options: fire-based weapons, machine guns, 3 giant robotic nail guns, etc etc, But based on all the movies I've seen and books I've read on the zombie menace, I think we should break it down into 3 things -- a shotgun, an expert marksman, and a never-empty giant-assed box of shotgun shells.

3) What is unforgivable? Due to recent events here at our home, breaking in to steal our pit bull easily falls into that category!! Cruel and brutal acts to children by parents/guardians/adults are pretty much unforgivable, meaning they should both be criminally punished and never allowed to have a moment's contact with said children. The remakes of certain movies are unforgivable acts of stupidity, no doubt. The optimist in me says almost anyone can attain some redemption for the wrongs they have done -- but the realist says sometimes behavior crosses a line and trust is forever gone. Oh, and a steadfastly closed mind. And one more thing - relentless greed which deprives the humanity of others is something I cannot bear. It's one of the worst evils.

4) If you could only watch one movie ever again, which would it be? For a few days this question has had me locked up like a trick question from Cap'n Kirk to some out of control computer. I can give you a list of 5 or 10 movies I must have if deserted on some island ... but the question asks for just one. Hell, the list I did make had 20 movies as potential answers. But I must go with a movie which has always inspired my imagination and wonder, has fascinated my brain with the ideas of just how the movie was made and it's story creation on film, it's ideas always make me ponder on the depth and breadth of who we are as humans and what we can accomplish and it's a movie that stretches from the Dawn of Man to Jupiter and Beyond. So my choice is "2001: A Space Odyssey". It was the first VHS tape I owned, even when I did not have a VCR. (The only downside to this movie, it doesn't really have much imagery of the female form, and I would hate to think of a live lived without that. As a side note, the one movie the hero watched endlessly in the apocalyptic movie "The Omega Man," was the concert movie "Woodstock", which is a mini-documentary of some amazing everyday people and some fantastic music.) Very tough question.

5) Would you like to come over for dinner sometime? Abso-friggin'-lutely. I mean, have you seen Tit's Food Blog? Not just recipes, but pictures aplenty!! She recently sent me some baklava she made and I swooned with delight at each morsel. And my money says the conversations at that dinner would be just as delicious!!

Suit Filed Over Morristown Rally

A civil lawsuit has been filed against the city of Morristown, Hamblen County, numerous police and deputies and other officials in U.S. District Court in Greeneville by Teddy Ray Mitchell, a disabled vet who is claiming various violations of his civil rights and for injuries he claims he received when he attempted to carry an American flag and a lawn chair into the location of an anti-immigration rally held last June in Morristown.

noe4accountability has the contents of the suit at her website.

I wrote previously about the event here and here, and about the massive presence of at least 100 law enforcement officers who surrounded the very small group of protesters who had a permit for the rally to take place.

Mitchell claims he was tasered, taken down to the ground and arrested. His complaint also states:

Citizens were encouraged to attend and to bring American flags. Mr. Mitchell brought along with him a lawn chair and an American flag to attend the rally. He also wore around his neck a picture of himself in his Navy uniform from the 1960's. Mr. Mitchell was not a member of any group or organization. He simply wanted to attend a pro-America rally.


"The officers forcefully demanded that he would not be able to take his flag into the rally. Mr. Mitchell objected to this. He asked if a Mexican flag would be allowed and was told by one of the defendant officers that, yes, a Mexican flag could go in. The officers then did forcefully try to take the flag from him and grabbed Mr. Mitchell and forced him to the ground. At the same time, they stunned and/or tasered him.

Intense emotions, including some fearfulness on behalf of law enforcement, were on obvious display at this rally. Much confusion has likewise colored the event and it's aftermath. Mitchell is also seeking $100,000 in damages as well. I can't help but be a bit surprised it has taken this long for the suit to be filed, but I've been informed that quite a few behind the scenes meetings took place to resolve the conflicts and prevent any court action.

GOP To Boycott YouTube Debate?

Why is it the GOP candidates for President are unwilling to participate in the YouTube/CNN debate?

Despite some claims that it was a failed experiment, the facts show that viewership was quite large among the 18-34 age group -- the highest ever since audience measurements began in 1992.

Details about YouTube also show that a larger percentage of users who express a preference are Republicans -- some 3.5 million self-identified Republicans, 3.1 million self-identified Democrats, and about 5 million who call themselves Independent. This via techPresident, who goes on to write:

Seriously, I really haven't noticed a hugely disproportionate difference between the number of liberals and the number of conservatives on YouTube... I really haven't seen evidence that one is far and away more present than the other.

As a side note, who wants to join me in predicting that the Republican debate will get more video question submissions than the Democratic debate did? The Dem one attracted 2989 submissions. The GOP one already has 149 entries and they only opened it up on Tuesday. And they have until September. Now that people saw how neat the Dem one is, there are sure to be plenty more people uploading videos for the Republican one, although I'm not sure about whether or not this would be an indication of there necessarily being more people on YouTube who are Republican than Democrat-- probably more an indication of the greater exposure this format has attracted.

Also as an aside, I'm willing to bet that a significant chunk of the questions submitted are submitted by people who aren't YouTube users. That is, people who signed up for an account just so they could participate but haven't been active on YouTube before, for instance the Reverend who asked the gay marriage question in the Democratic debate only signed up for an account after a member of his congregation heard about the debate and thought it'd be a good opportunity. The majority of question-askers are undoubtedly regular YouTube users, but there's probably also a substantial chunk of submitters that are using the site for the first time.

There's no doubt that CNN was using YouTube to show off how CNN is kinda hip and tech savvy. But both the users and viewers of YouTube gained much in the process too. Hard core negativists, like Rush Limbaugh offered his view (via Beltway Blogroll):

Above all else, this is a show. CNN is in this for ratings. They’re not going to turn over the all-important questions to these candidates to a bunch of dingbats who don’t know what they’re doing. ... The YouTube business is nothing more than the latest attempt by the Democrats and the media to extend the youth vote to the Democrat Party.

Yeah, how evil to expand awareness and engage younger voters.It must be a Satanic Liberal Conspiracy.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says President Bush isn't "big on YouTube debates." What does that matter since he isn't a candidate? Does he just want to issue some marching orders to GOP candidates?

Talks are underway to perhaps reschedule the GOP event. But the Florida state Republicans are adamant to have the event take place:

It is also evidence of Florida's growing and prominent role in the 2008 presidential election cycle, and we are excited to partner with the campaigns, CNN, and YouTube to bring the Republican presidential candidates to viewers across America."

I think if only two candidates, Sen. John McCain and Ron Paul, both who say they'd participate, are the only ones who show up, then I say go ahead and air the debate. Those who avoid it will speak volumes by their silence.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rep. Davis Says U.S. Media Airs Bogus Iraq News

I've been trying to get a handle on the views and ideas promoted by our ET congressman, David Davis, and I will confess I just can't follow his logic. (Note: no, this post isn't about his vote protecting the criminals who promote dogfighting). And more than once on these pages, I have expressed grave concern that Rep. Davis tends to echo the talking points from the White House, even though he's had to tour the country in an armored vehicle. wearing personal armor, and touring via helicopter.

The big picture here is about Iraq and how the U.S. is either making achievements or failing to make them. I was prompted to post this today after reading Rep. Davis comments on the war as published in the Sevier County Mountain Press newspaper:

Additionally, Davis blames "the national media and the Congress" for convincing a large majority of Americans the war is not going as well as it appears to be on the ground. He says television networks are using old footage that distorts the truth of the situation, while some in Congress are twisting the conflict to look worse than it does for political gain."

Truly odd to me that a scattered and highly disorganized Iraq Parliament, the daily attacks from insurgents, the spreading civil war among a wide group of Iraqi militias, and rising confusion in the diplomatic realm -- none of these are the keys to the problems. Nope, it's the media and their bogus news.

This despite some documented evidence that safety is at dubious levels.

-- Rare availability of electrical power: "
Before the war, Baghdad residents received 16-24 average hours of electricity each day. But on July 19, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said that residents of Baghdad are now receiving just one or two hours of electricity each day — the lowest level of the war." "the State Department, which prepares a weekly ’status report’ for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.” Instead, the State Department is just reporting electricity levels nationwide, which “does not indicate how much power Iraqis in Baghdad or elsewhere actually receive.” Crocker’s excuse that it’s “the middle of the summer” is not an explanation for the abysmally low electricity levels. Last year in July — before Bush’s surge — Baghdad received seven hours/day

-- Iraq's PM considering asking for the removal of Gen. Petraeus from leadership in Iraq: "
A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.

The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship “difficult.”

-- Reconstruction projects in Iraq refused, abandoned by Iraqis: "
A report, released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, details how only 435 projects out of a total of 2,797, at a cost of $5.8 billion, were accepted by the Iraqi government, resulting in many projects being effectively abandoned or inoperative despite the United States declaring them "successfully completed".

-- President Bush's recent assessment of the situation in Iraq, where attacks have been intensifying makes no mention of the impact of U.S. news reports on the battles raging across Iraq: "
Effective steps toward national reconciliation will require national leadership from all communities and expression of a common national political will, or 'vision,' that has so far been lacking. The consensus nature of Iraqi politics, and the checks and balances built into the Iraqi governance structure, inhibit Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ability to govern effectively -- and would pose obstacles to any prime minister

-- At least, some good news for Iraq -- they won the soccer Asian Cup, despite outbreaks of some violence (well, it is soccer after all) --
Iraqis welcomed the victory as a chance to show the world they can come together and expressed frustration that their politicians couldn't do the same.

It is worth noting, in my opinion that the situation in Iraq -- both good and miserable -- can be connected to many, many factors. But the reporting by the media has nothing to do with the situation in Iraq.