Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bush's Use of History 'Perverse'

The speech this week from our President on the war in Iraq and previous warfare in US history left me, as usual, utterly confused as to the point and the methods used in his deductions. Historian John Dower of MIT heard the President reference a book by Dower on the reconstruction of Japan following World War 2 and was pretty angry at said usage:

They’re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.

"In the case of Iraq,” Dower said, “the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, understanding of the country they were going into that did exist when we went into Japan. Even if the so-called experts said we couldn’t do it, there were years of mid-level planning and discussions before they went in. They were prepared. They laid out a very clear agenda at an early date."

Notable as well is the recent history - a 2002 editorial by Dower - in which he outlined 10 reasons why the success in Japan could not be applied to Iraq in any way. The interview with Dower is here.

A spokesperson for the White House responded to Dower's outrage:

While professor Dower may disagree with the applicability of the quote, the president in no way endorses his view of Iraq."


This careful picking and choosing of words and historical meaning is a disservice to our current deployment of troops and our hopes for success in Iraq. Instead, what I am constantly seeing, is a policy in search of a strategy, actions which go in search of meanings after the action has occurred.

Distorting the past, the present and fumbling for the future - is this the best the White House can do?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Camera Obscura - The Lookout; Sunshine; Lynch's Empire: and Finally Some Real Kubrick on DVD

It's time for some movie recommendations, meaning good movies, and only partly obscure. Also some fantastic news for fans (like me) of the late, great Stanley Kubrick.

I was eager to see "The Lookout" from writer/director Scott Frank, a highly praised screenwriter responsible for the stories in "Get Shorty", "Out of Sight" and "Minority Report." Those scripts were just first-rate work and showed a film noir style with modern settings, somehow both easy-going and taut at the same time. Characters are vividly captured in such works.

"The Lookout"
does not disappoint, though it easily could have. The story follows Chris Pratt, played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Chris was a hot-shot high school athlete from a very wealthy family until a senseless, random car crash scrambled his brains. Now he can just barely make it on his own, working as a night janitor, sharing an apartment with a blind friend (Jeff Daniels in an excellent supporting performance) and forced by his mental incapacities to keep a notepad with him at all times to remind him of what to do and when to do it.

Chris can remember his glorious past and yearns for it desperately - which plays perfectly into the plans of a group of violent thugs who want to rob a bank where Chris works. The story is carefully told from Chris' viewpoint and the details of his past and present are revealed in layers and through great writing and acting. It reminded me of the work of John Huston and other great crime-caper directors and writers.

As the movie reached it's final scenes I was almost cringing, fearing where and how the conflicts would be resolved. It is so carefully constructed and based in realism, it needed an ending true to the characters and not the needs of a Hollywood ending. Frank does end the story well, much to my surprise, and stays as real as the characters and the tale being told. It's one of the best films of 2007.

I also watched one of the highly praised films of 2006 this week, "Little Miss Sunshine". The reason, despite it's acclaim, that I was reluctant to watch is some shoddy marketing. I could not tell what the movie was really about and what I could tell did not interest me. The story of how the movie had to travel far and wide to reach production and distribution must be linked to the fact that it is so hard to easily summarize into a type. So let me first say - just watch it!

The movie follows a dysfunctional and comical family -- Dad (Greg Kinnear) is a bumbling and somewhat offensive wannabe Self-Help Expert, Grandad (Alan Arkin) has been kicked out of a home for the elderly because he's often snorting heroin ("I'm old! I can do what I want!!), Mom (Toni Collette) is patient and caring for all the loose ends of her family, and has just brought home her suicidal brother (Steve Carell), and her teenage son (Paul Dano) reads Nietzsche and has decided not to speak until he can get accepted as a fighter pilot, and young daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) is suddenly given a chance, amidst all the family chaos, to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. (See, very hard to make all that into an advertising headline!)

Very sharp and simple writing brings all the characters into hilarious life, matched by excellent acting by all the cast. The trio of Arkin, Kinnear and Carell is just brilliant. These three are at the top of their game, though Toni Collette manages to keep them all in line and remind them they are a family.

Not long after the family has decided to drive from New Mexico to California so Olive can compete in the pageant, the cheery yellow VW van they drive blows out the transmission. The only way they can drive it is to push it so Kinnear can get it into 3rd gear and the family then has to run from behind the van and jump in while it's moving. It's a funny scene, but clearly shows that despite all their anger and frustrations with each other, this family is a solid, unified unit. And it tells you that as the journey progresses, they'll find themselves firmly united. For all the weird elements here, this is a nice little family film, though it is for adults and not the kiddies to watch.

Now on to the more obscure recommendation of the day -- David Lynch's newest movie, "Inland Empire". I traveled through two counties to find a copy to rent, and found just one, which of course no one else bothered to rent or even notice. My good fortune!

"Inland Empire" is a three hour dream/nightmare and the companion disc is even longer, chock full of behind the scenes info. What's the movie about? Well it's kind of like stretching Lynch's subconscious musings over your own brain, raiding someone else's dreams and never being sure if you'll ever find your way out. Mysterious or meaningless, it all depends on you.

Actress Laura Dern plays an actress, who is cast in soap-opera style movie, which, it turns out is based on a script which has been cursed by Polish gypsies. And yeah, that makes me laugh to just write that down. As with most all of Lynch's work, there is mystery and character doubling and even a symbolic family of rabbits added for ... well, I'd have to watch it a few more times to figure that out.

I suppose you could say the movie is about the abuse of women (with the subtitle "A Woman In Trouble"), but it's also about how Lynch uses the screen as a canvas for abstract expression. On the extras disc, there is a fascinating behind the scenes collection of Lynch overseeing the large and the tiny elements to this movie, one of the best examples ever of how he works. He absolutely has this movie as a finished product in his mind, even though it may seem to be nothing more than a collection of his abstractions. Still, he certainly knows how to make his imaginings find life on the screen.

It was all shot on digital video, so at times the movie has the intimacy and immediacy of a news report or a home movie, sometimes so close it becomes claustrophobic, all blended together. Yes, I like the movie, though non-Lynch fans will think it dull and pointless. It isn't. It's a major mark from a truly cinematic composer.

Which brings me to the best DVD news I've heard in a long time. Warner Brothers is releasing both boxed-sets and individual DVDs for Stanley Kubrick's movies: "2001: A Space Odyssey", "A Clockwork Orange", "The Shining," "Full Metal Jacket", and "Eyes Wide Shut." These double discs are loaded with extras, like commentary from Malcolm McDowell for "Clockwork", and the movies are finally remastered in widescreen. And also, "Eyes Wide Shut" will be offered in the unrated and rated versions, so those digital additions made to the orgy scene for the US release will be gone!!

I've been waiting for decent and original presentations of these classics, which hit the stores in late October.

UPDATE: Dennis Lim at Slate pegs the intentional look and feel of "Inland Empire", created by digital video:

Watch Inland Empire on the DVD that came out last week and you sense that this lurid, grubby fantasy springs from deep within the bowels of YouTube as much as from inside its heroine's muddy unconscious. The DV that Lynch has come to cherish is the medium of home movies, viral video, and pornography—the everyday media detritus we associate more with television and computer monitors than movie theaters, more with intimate or private viewing experiences than communal ones. And not only does Inland Empire often look like it belongs on the Internet, it also progresses with the darting, associative logic of hyperlinks."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What the Heck is a 'Booze Belt'?

Some church folk and some business folk appealed to City Council members about where beer can be sold in the wee city of Morristown. The council approved a smaller boundary limit, from 500 to 150 feet. But the headline on the WBIR-TV report had me scratching my head:

"Booze Belt Loosened In Morristown"

It sounds kinda lewd. Sure hope Morristown has it's Booze Boxers (or Briefs) on. Please, oh please, no Booze Speedos.

The decision got the local comment boards rolling, and I thought this recent entry was most interesting:

Two weeks ago when the ordinance was first read and passed, Mayor Barile stated that no matter the outcome of this ordinance, we must remember that as a community, we live together, we work together, we play together, and we WORSHIP together. Behind me, one of the ministers grumbled, "No, I won't worship with her."

"And that my friends, is the scariest problem of all, scarier than if one person has a beer or two with their meal...That's the problem of HATRED which made me, a citizen of Morristown and Hamblen County extremely ashamed and saddened of how our religious "leaders" reacted to this and ashamed that they are unable to see things differently. No one has to agree, but that's the beauty of being an American. You can be Baptist, Catholic, or even Jewish and still have the same rights and freedoms as each other."

Now where did I leave my Booze-Mobile?

It's Working, Eventually, Maybe

First, we were successful.

Yesterday, it was like Vietnam.

Now, Tennesse's senators say the "strategy is working" although the U.S. needs to adopt the bill from Alexander to change the strategy. He also added that the US should not interfere with who is leading the Iraq government.


The Defense From Rep. Davis - Everyone Does It

Fudging the facts about campaign contributions, or just eliminating them from WikiPedia, as Congressman David Davis' PR Chief did, gets a fairly lame defense - everyone does it:

Moreover, we have learned that editing of Wikipedia files is a relatively common occurrence among many government and private sector offices."

Tom Humphrey's full report in the KNS is here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Boy Suspended For Sketch That Kinda Looks Like Gun

Imaginary doodle or sign of insane violence? Maybe it's a teacher and principal who are already far too stressed out to remain in the public school system.

An East Valley eighth-grader was suspended this week after he turned in homework with a sketch that school officials said resembled a gun and posed a threat to his classmates.

"Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke said the school is not allowed to discuss students’ discipline records. However, he said the sketch was “absolutely considered a threat,” and threatening words or pictures are punished.

"The school did not contact police about the threat and did not provide counseling or an evaluation to the boy to determine if he intended the drawing as a threat.

"The sketch was one of several drawings scratched in the margins of a science assignment that was turned in on Friday. The boy said he never meant for the picture to be seen as a threat. He said he was just drawing because he finished an assignment early."

Full story here.

Baking South

If you have a pulse and live in the South, this isn't news. But the weather is definitely making headlines and leaving many dead. A current round-up of the truly dire conditions in the Southeast was made by R. Neal at Facing South:

Ninety-one percent of Tennessee has been parched by extreme drought, suffering major crop and pasture losses and widespread water shortages or restrictions. A growing area of the state, particularly the southern agricultural counties, is now in an exceptional drought emergency, facing devastating crop losses and widespread water emergencies as reservoirs, streams and wells dry up.

"It's so hot, TVA had to shut down a nuclear power reactor at Browns Ferry due to unacceptably high water temperatures in the Tennessee River caused by intake water used to cool the reactor core being discharged back into the river."

House Ethics Committee Probes Rep. Davis Aide

The U.S. House Ethics Committee will investigate the actions of Congressman David Davis' PR man, Timothy Hill over his malicious edits to WikiPedia, according to MensNewsDaily:

Timothy Hill is the congressional press secretary working for U.S. Representative David Davis (R, TN-1) in Washington, D.C.

This news story originally broke as an article appearing within the August 11, 2007 edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee) in which Hill first denied any personal involvement in the "blanking" vandalism of the Wikipedia articles David Davis (Tennessee politician) and Matthew Hill (Matthew Hill is a Representative within the Tennessee General Assembly and older brother of the press secretary) during a first interview with a KNS reporter. Hill later called back the KNS reporter for a second interview in which he reportedly admitted to using a government computer within the Washington, D.C. congressional office of U.S. Rep. David Davis to "edit" both the David Davis and Matthew Hill Wikipedia articles .

Hill repeatedly blanked six to eight paragraphs of reference text at each article pertaining to both U.S. Davis' and Tennessee Rep. Matthew Hill's political lobbying and/or campaign finance connections to Altace, Hoechst AGand former King Pharmaceuticals, Inc. CEO John M. Gregory. Hill's Wikipedia article edits were then linked through the article histories back to Rep. Davis's congressional office via an IP (internet protocol) number to the U.S. House of Representatives Information System."


"There is also an IP number indication that U.S. Rep. David Davis' congressional office has also been anonymously "shadowing" online blogs with at least one blog (The Tennessee Waltz) originating in East Tennessee with content that was critical toward Rep. Davis for his voting against the federal 2007 Animal Fighting Prohibition Act."

If his office is tracking ALL the blogs/bloggers who have been critical of his actions in office, how busy will Davis and his staff be? And what is the point of such activity other than intimidation?

Kudos to The Editor for calling out Rep. Davis office for some questionable behavior.

(hat tip to ACK at Volunteer Voters for this report)

UPDATE: The KNS reports that Tim Hill will have to take some "Ethics Classes" for his stunt, though further disciplinary action is unlikely.

You Said It, You Own It

A bizarre rant/opinion from State Rep. Stacey Campfield (of which there are many to pick from) has brought national attention. And ridicule.

His response -- "the Left" are crazy "loons" who have no civil discourse.

Look, you said it all, Mr The Rep, word for word, and posted it proudly on your blog. It made no sense. It brought ridicule. No one made up your words for you. (No one spell-checked it either.)

You said it, you own it.

UPDATE: Snikta takes Mr The Rep to the mat with facts, not insults.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Elections

I'm starting to wonder what the function of a county election commission might be -- counting the votes, yes (or these days running a computer program to tally votes), but insuring proper ballots seems low on their list of duties.

In Hawkins County last year the election commission failed to make a proper ballot (they blame the city for not telling them there was a need for an election of school board members.) Bill Grubb's headline is simply "Oops!"

Are residents to assume the election commission knew nothing of vacancies? Did the outgoing members just stay quiet? Did potential candidates just stand back all helpless, never bothering to mention an election was needed?? How do you just forget an election is ahead?

Since it was forgotten, now the city mayor and alderman will just appoint two people. Was that the intention all along, carried out with the help of some willful ignorance? And if voters don't bother to seek information or require adherence to rules, then are they to blame as well?

And over in Knox County, it has taken half a year, thanks to a KNS lawsuit, for the highly dubious back-room dealmaking which led to the appointments of 8 commissioners and 4 countywide offices to get some type of correction. But now what? A "do-over" by those who made the original decisions makes less than no sense. A special election should be mandatory, given the fact voters had been cut out of the election process for so long.

The public was quite vocal about the shoddy and dubious 'appointments' in Knox County in Jan. of 2007, but when will it (if ever) be corrected?

A change in Knox County's charter for term limits went unnoticed by the election commission there for 18 years, which led to the last-minute, post election appointments.

Instead of election commissions waiting to be told what offices should be on the ballots, they need to be the authority for notifying one and all which offices are up for consideration.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On Blogging and Media

Traditional media seems to be at a loss as to this whole blogging/online world - what does it all mean and is it journalism or news or online gossip or what?

The best way I know to describe it is -- an online, real-time (though sometimes not) on-going discussion of news and events and personal accounts of the day-to-day world and public presentation of ideas and thoughts, all shared and broadcast outside the traditional media. No radio signals or publishing or televising traditions are followed.

Some who participate intensely follow the news, some share recipes for cupcakes, share pictures of kitties, detail their personal agonies and ecstasies, rant and rave or cheer and praise any and every thing imaginable. There simply is no nailing down of this mercurial online blob of activity. What I do know is the online world is really starting to bother the typical media outlets. As noted here on this post from MCB.

What I have found is that many (like me) read both online news sources and other blogs and we write and discuss those things, often linking readers directly to what we have read. Some folks do report on activities they have seen or participated in themselves. Some simply satirize or just insult and deride the various topics of the moment or the day or rail against pet peeves. There are many, many opinions offered. Finding validity or importance to any of it is a rather personal thing. In other words, the traditional yardsticks used to determine worth just do not apply.

The online world is a new and constantly evolving world, often the subject of stinging criticism from the same media sources it both by-passes and utilizes. I often wonder if the news and magazine or radio/tv sources will decide to stop providing free links to info and start charging high fees or mandatory and closed memberships. Some news media outlets, such as CNN, now offer a daily or minute by minute update from online users who capture images and information via cell phones or video cams. The recent YouTube presidential debate is a good example of finding free sources for news outlets and businesses.

Writing here on this blog is often a perplexing act -- I am one of literally billions of online voices, a small wave in a thousand-mile whirl of a hurricane racing across the planet. I may have some impact on a wave right next to me, but none on the waves miles and miles away.

Still, I peck away on this keyboard and inject it into the blogosphere, like everyone else, not knowing for certain where it will land or if it will land at all.

And your perception of whether the online talk is a billion jabbering ones and zeros signifying nothing or a vital new world of human interaction all depends on what point you perceive from. Reading online is a participation, not an outside peeking-in, because the reading requires a technology which you must engage and disengage in order to read it at all. It's a new thing.

But the value of it all -- that remains mostly a decision you must make. And as this activity continues to grow and expand, I think that critical viewpoint of determining value or worth is also now being turned toward the traditional media, and what many have found is how lacking said media has been.

Your thoughts and mileage may vary.

UPDATE: Press releases today are heralding a first-of-its-kind World Bloggers Convention this fall in Las Vegas... except bloggers not attached to a media company can NOT attend.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I have been wondering what it is that eludes some people about the crime of dogfighting. It isn't an act of Fine Southern Culture or a Basic Right of Southern Life.

The problem and confusion over the crime stems (possibly) from some deep-seated confusion over what dogfighting is and what it isn't. State Rep. Stacey Campfield provides a glimpse into the confusion with this statement:

Dog fighting is cruel and inhumane. But if Vick could have figured out a way to pit two unborn babies against each other in a fight to the death, maybe we'd outlaw killing children as quickly as we rushed to enhance penalties for crimes involving our pets."

Honestly, what the hell does the above even mean? It's pure crap.

Try sticking to the issue at hand rather than playing a miserable game of bait-and-switch politics. Shameful, really shameful Mr. The Rep.

(hat tip to Aunt B. for pointing out Campfield's nonsense)

SEE ALSO: The dogfighting in Morristown takes place in the middle of town, less than half a mile away from the Sheriff's Dept.