Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lunar Mission Underway

I've seen nothing in the major media of Japan's successful launch Friday of it's lunar orbiter so some information on what's happening. The mission, steeped in scientific experiments is just the first of several planned from Asian nations, including China and India, which has set a lunar launches by the end of 2008. The U.S. also has unmanned orbiters set to launch by then as well.

The Japanese SELENE mission has many ambitions and details are offered at Spaceflight Now:

Two daughter satellites stowed aboard SELENE for the trip to the moon will be deployed at different points during the orbital maneuvers. One of the small satellites will be released in an orbit with an apolune of about 1,500 miles, while the other will separate at a lower orbital altitude of approximately 500 miles.

Called RSAT and VRAD, the eight-sided 110-pound satellites will work in tandem with the SELENE orbiter to probe the weak gravity field on the moon's far side for the first time. The small craft will also help study the lunar ionosphere by observing radio interference.

Officials expect SELENE to arrive in its operational orbit about 40 days after launch. A comprehensive two-month checkout of the mission's 15 science payloads is planned before the orbiter begins its observation campaign."

Meanwhile, it was announced Friday that Google is adding millions to a contest for lunar exploration, the Google Lunar X Prize:

The prize for reaching the moon and completing the basic tasks of roving and sending video and data will bring the winner $20 million, according to the contest rules. An additional $5 million would be awarded for other tasks that include roving more than 5,500 yards or sending back images of artifacts like lunar landers from the Apollo program."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Camera Obscura - Death Proof Arrives; Return of MSTK3

The DVD market is always offering variations on movies and television unlike ever before. Expanded, revised, re-cut and usually without ratings, movies have a freedom not seen since the MPAA ratings board was created in the late 1960s.

Next Tuesday will bring Quentin Tarantino's portion of this year's "Grindhouse" double-bill of B-movie fun, titled "Death Proof." What you won't see on the DVD are any of the fake previews which were part of the theatrical release between "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof."

What you will get though, is the full-length version of the movie, which some viewers did not like, and some did. I did, no doubts there. Especially when Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), who has been killing off innocent victims with his car, gets the car chase game played on him by a group of Stunt-Women who are filming in Lebanon, TN when Mike arrives to frighten them.

Another extra treat on the DVD is a featurette of Tarantino's longtime collaborator, film editor Sally Menke. As his movies jump through time so often, her work is worthy of much consideration, as she keeps the narrative focused in all of his movies.

Scenes never shown in the theatrical release get their day on this release, and I am most eager to see it for some other reasons too: so much of the film was dialog, and I want to slow the pace down and explore it. While many of his movies have very strong female leads, there was much discussion among the characters about relationships and sexuality, and I'm curious to review that script.

Another featurette on the disc will provide more details on stunt woman Zoe Bell, whose terrifying ride on a car hood in "Death Proof" was just stunning.

While I think folks who did not see the original double-bill release missed a great old-fashioned drive-in event, I have no problems with the two movies being split up for DVD release. I liked them both very much and will be happy to own them both.


If you miss the once-regular TV presence of Mystery Science Theater 3000, new hope has arrived on DVD.

Now calling themselves The Film Crew, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett are back skewering bad movies from the sidelines as you watch with the release of their direct-to-DVD release called "The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo."

And I'm not alone in my appreciation of the guys as they rip into a very, very awful movie "Wild Women of Wongo."

"Since "Wild Women Of Wongo" is filled with the worst line deliveries ever uttered, blue haired people, and a yappy parrot who is everywhere at once, the Film Crew has no problem ripping into this trashy semi-S&M-ish movie. One of the benefits of these DVDs is that Mike, Bill, and Kevin can be a bit more R-rated. No, they don't simply spout profanities. They do, however, make clever sexual innuendos that are often times the most memorable bits. In addition, the crew does a great job of pointing out how the characters in the film resemble the likes of Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons," Bam-Bam from the Flintstones," and Cher."

Certainly worth a rental if you can find one, and as I understand it, more releases from The Film Crew are ahead.


Writer Cormac McCarthy is getting several big screen adaptations of his work, with the upcoming "No Country For Old Men" by the Coen brothers, and Ridley Scott has "Blood Meridian" set for 2009. Word comes this week that McCarthy's "The Road" is in the pipeline and actor ViggoMortensen may be getting the lead. More details here.

'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' Contest

This week the unusual sit-com "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" started it's third season on FX and the PR group for the show has a freebie for readers here -- a bright green t-shirt which advertises the fictional pub the show's stars own and work for.

If you'd like to get the shirt - one large-sized T-shirt is available- just leave your name and email in the comments and I'll pick the winner next Thursday.

Unaware of this show? Hold on, because this ain't yer daddy's TV show.

It takes a distinct approach to the sit-com: very edgy comedy which is shot with a single camera, and the characters, played by the show's creator and writers, Rob McElhaney, Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, are brothers who run Paddy's Irish Pub. Other cast regulars include Danny DeVito and Katlin Olsen.

The first episode this season indicates what viewers can expect from these whacked-out brothers and their friends - the episode title says it all: "The Gang Find A Dumpster Baby." And no, they don't strive to find the infant a home or give it aid. Nope. Their first thought is how to make money with it.

In previous seasons, the gang went to an abortion rally to pick up dates. So there's no cutesy 20-somethings living in million-dollar apartments and struggling with love and romance. This show plays out more like "South Park" or "Family Guy" done live action.

Audiences are given some unlikable heroes here, and part of the fun is in their shocking lack of normalcy and in how they react to the consequences they create. You won't see this kind of show on network TV, it's too much of a gamble, too risky for prime time. However, despite what you might think of the premise, the show can sure drawn down some huge laughs.

Strikingly original, daring, sometimes bone-dumb and dangerous, "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" will have many fans. Seasons One and Two are now available on DVD and the show's new episodes air on Thursdays on FX at 10 PM.

You can also check out the show's MySpace page for more on this twisted sit-com.

And for the free shirt, just add your name and email in the comments on this post.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Disaster Capitalism and the Security-Industrial Complex

In the last few days I've discovered a new set of concepts and wordings designed to describe the modern world, and none of them are very comforting. Even considering them with the appropriate doubts of the intents of their creators and promoters, it still appears rather distressing and depressing. The populist banner cries of Freedom, Democracy and Liberty stand like antiquated oddities before them.

So let me share some of the things I've read with you and you tell me if they are valid or vapid or portents of a 21st century in which an individual is the Most Endangered Species.

First I read an excerpt from a new book, by author Naomi Klein, called "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." Klein is a most vocal journalist and activist who has been in the forefront of opposition to the tenets of globalization. The Guardian presented this excerpt, which you can read for yourself. Here are some quotes:

"For weeks after the attacks, the president went on a grand tour of the public sector - state schools, firehouses and memorials, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention - embracing and thanking civil servants for their contributions and humble patriotism. He praised not only emergency services personnel but teachers, postal employees and healthcare workers. At these events, he treated work done in the public interest with a level of respect and dignity that had not been seen in the US in four decades. Cost-cutting was suddenly off the agenda, and in every speech the president gave, he announced some ambitious new public programme.

But far from shaking their determination to weaken the public sphere, the security failures of 9/11 reaffirmed in Bush and his inner circle their deepest ideological (and self-interested) beliefs - that only private firms possessed the intelligence and innovation to meet the new security challenge. Although it was true that the White House was on the verge of spending huge amounts of taxpayer money to launch a new deal, it would be exclusively with corporate America, a straight-up transfer of hundreds of billions of public dollars a year into private hands. The deal would take the form of contracts, many offered secretively, with no competition and scarcely any oversight, to a sprawling network of industries: technology, media, communications, incarceration, engineering, education, healthcare.

What happened in the period of mass disorientation after the attacks was, in retrospect, a domestic form of economic shock therapy."


Through all its various name changes - the war on terror, the war on radical Islam, the war against Islamofascism, the third world war, the long war, the generational war - the basic shape of the conflict has remained unchanged. It is limited by neither time nor space nor target. From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the war on terror an unwinnable proposition. But from an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one: not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and permanent fixture in the global economic architecture."

I know, as do most cognizant citizens, how much value and 'new meanings' which key words and phrases now in place to frame many, if not all debate, on the topic of security and patriotism seem to be shielded from scrutiny.

But a 'disaster capitalism' mindset? Who could believe or endorse such an idea? How about the Wall Street Journal, which is now offering opinions to support the "Security-Industrial Complex"? Writer Heather McDonald, of the Manhattan Institute, presents an enormous amount of "ifs" and "maybes" to justify radical changes in American life.

How do we shore up the country's equally limitless vulnerabilities? There is reason to think, however, that we may have overestimated Muslim terrorists' reach. To find out whether this is true, the next stage of the homeland security enterprise should be oriented around one overriding goal: determining the actual capacity of jihadists to strike the U.S. That means ramping up our intelligence efforts and facing down privacy zealots and civil libertarian extremists, who continue to impede those efforts at every turn."

Klein and filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") have also presented a jarring and disturbing short video to advance their discussions, which you can see at Klein's website.

As for me, these concepts are some of the most dehumanizing ideas I've encountered in some time. If it all sounds too weird, too conspiratorial to hold any truths, then simply consider that despite what you or I might think, policy-makers and 'experts' are using this language and have been for some time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bush Failure Continues

Years have passed and thousands are wounded and dead and the best ideas from the Bush White House regarding Iraq is to keep on the same course? It all seems more than a bit mad.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was made based on flat out lies, and there were little if any plans on what to do in that country past 30 or 60 days. Billions pour into the effort, billions are wasted.

After hearing just what was expected from Gen. Petraeus, even staunch GOP supporters like Senator Elizabeth Dole said:

The difficulty of the current American and Iraqi situation is rooted in large part in the Bush administration's substantial failure to understand the full implications of our military invasion and the litany of mistakes made at the outset of the war."

Time is ripe for a reality check and for fresher, more honest minds to step forward. This war was botched from the get-go, so why trust these same folk to frame the debate?

What if all that Bush has left us to choose from is different degrees of dishonor?

We can't leave, because the civil war will escalate, terrorists will be emboldened, and Iraq will break into hostile fiefdoms. We can't stay, because the U.S. occupation is inciting violence, discouraging political accommodation, draining our treasury, straining our armed forces, and costing the lives of American soldiers. Yet those are the only two options, and there is little reason to think they will look any better in one year or five or 10."

Also worth considering in the current debate:

What progress have we made that will be sustained after we leave? If all we've done is tamp down the violence in some places by putting a lot of troops there, then once we leave, all that progress will be reversed. Only if there's some reason to think that the progress we've made will outlast our presence have we achieved anything. Lasting progress depends on political reconciliation, and Ambassador Crocker had precious little to offer."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Which I Am Training Elephants

Yesterday afternoon was spent with a herd of elephants. Or at least elephants in training. Nothing political in the event (thank goodness). No this is something sort of new for me - helping to direct a musical for kids, called "Jungle Book Kids", being produced by the Morristown Theatre Guild, with performances set to begin October 7th at Rose Center.

I haven't really been a part of a musical production since I was in a musical version of "Hansel and Gretel" when I was in elementary school. The scars from that, which included wearing lederhosen, have never healed. (Oh, sure, there was a brief musical number which we created some years back for the Improv Comedy group I worked with, a country music horror tale called "Drac'ler", but that is another story.)

But I am reaching for new things and hoping to learn much, which I can always do when I work with the vastly talented Mr. Horton who is THE director for the show. With two full casts, this show is a massive project, and I most happy to have been invited to help. Singing and dancing jungle creatures (even monkeys!!) moving to some great music is going to be great fun. Professor Horton has skills beyond reckoning and his shows always entertain crowds and educate performers.

So for me, yesterday was day one, working with two groups of youngsters, who will perform as the elephant herd in this musical based on the famous Disney script and music. It must be noted that this show also requires the participation of many parents, schedules, costumers, plus music rehearsals, choreography and giant heaps of coordination. In other words, it involves many people whose talents and responsibilities far exceed mine.

In coming days, I'll share more from this venture and can, I hope, remember all the names of the key players. Most in my elephant herds were forced to correct my pronunciation of names like Mowgli and Hathi.

A constant element of productions is taking the immense journey ahead, starting with a script and a score and a host of backstage and onstage talent, and reaching the moment of live performance. I never tire of such work. although I am sure some exhaustion will occur as the rehearsals gather momentum.

In coming days, I'll try and offer some pics from this event and hope many of you will come out in October to see the show.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Forget Spears, Gimme Carla Thomas

All the ink spilled and binary digits devoted to the dismal performance of a mediocre performer, which I detailed in my previous post, brought to mind a real singer, a stellar performer, a Tennessee girl who has become a national treasure. So some selections from the iconic Carla Thomas to close out this Monday.

She cut her first record at age 17 in Memphis, and in 1961 she recorded the hit "Gee Whiz", a simple love song with tremendous power. And she still can belt it out with astonishing style and talent - as evidence, this performance from 1989 on Dave Sanborn's "Night Music" TV show.

You can also listen to an early classic penned by Isaac Hayes, "B-A-B-Y" at this link.

After 40 plus years, a remarkable singer and award-winning career. In 40 more years, her work will still stand far above and away from all memory of this current pop star.

In Praise of Britney Spears

The public lynching of a minor singer/dancer whose flesh has been mythified since adolescence by managers, producers, record companies and a leering public is underway following a performance by Britney Spears on MTV last night.

I give her credit for all but standing on stage and pronouncing how fake and non-musical Music Television has become. What I saw was a person clearly announcing she is sick of it all. Even her ex-boyfriend Timberlake begged the network last night to actually show some music videos. You can only find them on MTV spinoff networks, while the parent network airs vapid accounts of vapid people engaged in vapid behavior.

Is she biting the hand that feeds her? I'd say she was chewing off the hand, arm and shoulder with intense glee. Who could blame her?

MTV's celebs of the moment - Kanye West, 50 Cent, Fergie, all of them - blow chunks as performers, musicians, writers, and producers. Few of those garnering awards could make a note without the help of hijacked samples of other, better songs.

When karaoke singing, a la American Idol, rules the day, who needs MTV's lip-synching or the endless parade of faux-angry rappers who plaster gold and diamonds on cups and fake teeth?

So yes, yer fave MTV act sucks. No news there.

'Twas video killed the video star.

Music will be found most any place other than MTV.

NOTE: Please take in the video and another song from a real singer instead.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bad Burger Brings Arrest; Slave Labor and Other Oddities

Let's say you order a burger at your local franchise and after a bite or two, you think "Dag! That's nasty!" Why keep eating? A policeman in an Atlanta suburb eats a bad burger, gets sick, then goes back and arrests an employee.

The strange story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Union City Police public information officer George Louth said Saturday that police talked to Bull and other store employees who told them Bull knew the burger "wasn't properly prepared." He said she was charged with the misdemeanor reckless conduct because she served it anyway "without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it."

The department is still investigating the case. Since the officer didn't eat the entire Big N' Tasty, there were samples to send to the state crime lab to find out what was in or on the burger that made Adams sick.

Bull, meanwhile, said she was hiring an attorney as she awaits her day in court.

After that, she said, "I think I'm going back to Texas."

Next up in Weird News, huffing a can of computer cleaner:

A passenger in Robar's vehicle during the first collision, in which he allegedly crossed the median on I-89 going about 100 miles per hour and collided with a car driven by Varin Ang in oncoming traffic, told police Robar was spraying keyboard cleaner in his mouth while he was driving and as the collision occurred."

Next stop, slave labor to build the US Embassy in Iraq and other seldom-reported stories:

The Pentagon has been investigating the slavelike conditions but has not released the names of any violating contractors or announced penalties. In the meantime, billions of dollars in contracts continue to be awarded to First Kuwaiti and other companies at which little accountability exists. As Phinney reported, "No journalist has ever been allowed access to the sprawling 104-acre site."

One more stop - is that an alien overlord in the window as President Bush offers a speech on the economy??