Friday, September 21, 2007

Camera Obscura: Luckless Chuck; History of Bava; Japanese Guitar Gods

Want to know about the romantic comedy "Good Luck Chuck" with Dane Cook and Jessica Alba? You have my sympathy if it is on your list of movies you have to see. Here's just one sample of what movie critics have to say:

[It] is so ham-fisted and blunt that you feel like you're being beaten about the head with clubs made out of artificial breasts, sexism, gross-out humor and Dane Cook's naked body. Another friend, after I dismissed Good Luck Chuck as unfunny trash, said "It'll probably be the top of the box office, then" and offered that I was "an elitist." Well, to paraphrase David Rees, if 'elitist' means 'not the dumbest person in the room,' then hell, yes, I'm an elitist. And Good Luck Chuck may make money; so does cocaine, but I don't feel like that alone is a reason to endorse either product."



Weighing in a 12 (count 'em) 12 pounds, the new book "Mario Bava, All the Colors of the Dark" by Tim Lucas is beyond exhaustive and comprehensive. Bava's work, many times uncredited, was vastly influential on every genre of film made in Italy (and America) during the 20th Century.

from Planet of the Vampires

Bava made some true gems in the fantasy/sci-fi/horror genres which have always been among my personal favorites - like Planet of the Vampires, and Black Sunday, featuring the incomparable Barbara Steele, and "Danger: Diabolik!", which is so super groovy it makes Bond and Flint look like total squares, baby, yeah.!

Lucas is also the creator of Video WatchBlog, and he currently has several deeply detailed posts about some of Bava's last few movies and tons of photos. There's also a post on this week's 90th birthday of schlock cinema scribe Ib Melchior, who worked with Bava and many others. His movie "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" is merely one of the minor classics he created.

Bava used simple techniques and vivid scenes which were the inspiration for dozens of American filmmakers, from Scorsese to Tarantino to Dante and many of the slasher movies still around today. Though often given cheesy dubbing, his movies were eye-popping and always very entertaining.


I've been waiting a long, long time for the movie "From Beyond" to land on DVD and it has arrived in a great un-rated version which makes it a Must Have (for me, at least.) Director Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft-inspired tale brings back Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton from "Re-Animator" for a grisly and funny romp. When the movie includes scenes of folks biting off someone's extruding pineal gland, well ... 'nuff said.

Extras include a full-length commentary by Gordon, Combs and Crampton that's as much fun as the movie itself. Who knew 20 some years ago that Scream Queen Crampton would be a soap-opera star?


And a bit of music for this fine Friday. When the American band The Ventures toured Japan in the summer of 1965, they set off a massive cult following in the country and a movement called the Eleki Scene. Many guitarists took to the fuzzy, grungy sound, such as Takeshi Terauchi, and the folks at WFMU's Beware of the Blog has a collection MP3s of his recordings which you can (and should) listen to.

Recently, a cover band called The M-Ventures re-recreated that Tokyo concert by The Ventures, and a collection of their MP3s is here. All of which leads to today's obligatory YouTube presentation. They wail on a version of "Surf Rider":

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When The State Breaks The Law

It is beyond depressing to see how Americans are steadily agreeing to abandon our Liberty and our Law to accommodate the wishes and policies of our own government. I was reading a post from No Silence Here this morning about how the TN Dept. of Environment and Conservation was breaking the law by recording conversations without telling those being taped.

It is illegal in Tennessee to tape someone without telling them you are doing so. Period, The End. (Please refer to the NOTE at the end of this post for the pertinent laws. Seems to me permission is required, but perhaps other arguments could also be made, depending on how a court might define 'reasonable expectation.')

And once this story was presented by a WSMV reporter, the TDEC issued 'new guidelines' to stop their illegal act. 'New guidelines', yeesh. So does that mean if you are arrested for stealing or for assault, all you need tell the investigating officers that you have adopted a 'new guideline' and will no longer do such a thing? They would simply say OK and you have a nice day?

Check out the following from the WSMV report:

Is it good government to record the public without their knowledge?” [reporter Demetria] Kalodimos said.

“Well, our department is a regulatory agency and part of our charge is to enforce the law. So, I would say that, you know, in the exercise of carrying out our duties, that it is good government to do that. I see it as much ado about nothing,” said TDEC attorney Joe Sanders.

After Channel 4 started asking questions TDEC made a change.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Sloan issued a statement on Wednesday that said: “Because the issue has been raised, our department is committed to ensuring that as a matter of policy, we will disclose routine recording of conversations between members of our department and the public.”

Notice how the official says "since the issue has been raised". If the reports of their illegal taping had not been made public, then the illegal taping would continue. After all, it was routine, it was convenient, it made the agency's job easier to break the law. Their attorney views breaking the law as 'much ado about nothing.'

Again, what happens when you offer that defense if accused of breaking the law?

A comment on Mike Silence's post about the illegal taping is even more disturbing to me:

Who cares if they records or listen to our conversations. . . I don't do anything illegal.

There is a bigger picture here. . . Finding illegal immigrants, illegal activities, illegal abuses (to woman and children), TERROR PLOTS, etc. . . If you look at the big picture and you are not conducting yourself in an inappropriate manner then you should not care of your conversation. The important issue is how it affects others and our country."

This mantra of 'only the guilty have anything to hide' has been often repeated in recent years, which is deeply deceptive and astonishingly cowardly, in my opinion. Abandoning your rights and liberties is necessary to achieve ... what? Obedience? Blind allegiance? A lack of concern for anyone except yourself?

Perhaps this view that the state is always innocent is one that has grown from Washington as states and their agencies mimic the philosophy that government is above the law. The ongoing debate to make permanent a law to provide warrantless wiretaps and surveillance seems to lack any sense of how the law is meant to function. The reason Congress is being pushed to adopt the law is that existing law has been violated:

But we don't actually live in a country where private actors are permitted to commit crimes and violate laws provided that the President tells them that they should. The President has no greater power to authorize others to break the law than he does to break the law himself. Quite the contrary, Article II of the Constitution imposes the opposite obligation: "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Lawbreaking is still illegal even if George Bush says it should be done. Does that principle really need to be explained?"


A Congressional grant of immunity for past lawbreaking would amount to a bipartisan endorsement of Bush's illegal eavesdropping program. To remove consequences for illegal behavior is, by definition, to approve of that behavior. Laws with no consequences for violations are meaningless. And those who seek to shield lawbreakers from accountability are endorsing the lawbreaking."

Are we, as a nation, so eager to gain even the most illusionary moment of perfect safety from the unknown potential of possible attack, that we willingly surrender our basic fundamental structure of Law and Liberty?

For some time now, we have been casually accepting a fatal premise - that the state and the corporation have rights which trump those of the individual. "You're already being watched and tracked pretty much everywhere you go and whatever you do," I am told by usually very smart and informed people. To believe that is to believe you have no rights and no hope for rights, or privacy or self-determination. It is one of the most cynical ideas ever to be embraced by America.

NOTE: Here are the most applicable laws regarding audio and videotaping without consent which I could locate:

Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-601: A person who is a party to a wire, oral or electronic communication, or who has obtained the consent of at least one party, can lawfully record a communication and divulge the contents of the recorded communication unless he has a criminal or tortious purpose for doing so. Violations are punishable as felonies with jail sentences of between two and 12 years and fines not exceeding $5,000. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-602, 40-35-111.

Under the statute, consent is not required for the taping of a non-electronic communication uttered by a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. See definition of "oral communication," Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-6-303.

Anyone whose communications have been unlawfully intercepted can sue to recover the greater of actual damages, $100 per day of violation or $10,000, along with punitive damages, attorney fees and litigation costs. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-603.

Recording or disseminating a communication carried out through a cellular or cordless telephone, or disseminating the contents with knowledge of their illegal origin, without the consent of at least one party, can be punished as a felony with a potential prison sentence of between one and six years and a fine not to exceed $3,000. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-604, 40-35-111.

It is a misdemeanor to photograph, film or observe a person without consent where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, when the photographing, filming or viewing "would offend or embarrass an ordinary person" and is done for sexual purposes. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-605, 39-13-607. Dissemination of a photograph or videotape taken in violation of these provisions is a felony. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-605(2).

And the 'Always Sunny in Philly' Winner Is ....

A panel of distinguished judges at Cup of Joe Powell (which is really just me) has selected a winner of a brand-spankin' new T-Shirt from the TV show "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia."

The winner's name is Anonymous, who supplied an email address out of Alabama, and they/he/she have been notified via email. And be sure to read about the third season of the show on FX here.

Thanks to all who sent entries in to win, and keep reading to find out what nifty Hollywood prizes will be offered next.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The 'Don't Tase Me Bro' Roundup

Until today I had no idea the word Taser is an acronym for a book title from around 1911 in the children's book series about one Tom Swift. "Tom Swift and the Electric Rifle, or Daring Adventures on Elephant Island" is the origin of the stun gun's name.

There are plenty of chances to see campus police use a Taser on an unruly student during a Sen. John Kerry rally, but I am not putting the video here. It's being shown plenty on TV news (it's the story not about O.J. Simpson). NOTE: A very thorough look at the events, plus how Sen. Kerry responded to the event is here at Facing South.

So how about a mini-round-up of Taser-related stories and blogs?

Say Uncle shares his view
of the student-hit-by-taser story.

No Silence Here has more on the event and links to "Don't Tase Me, Bro!" t-shirts.

There are reports today as well of a wheelchair-bound woman who died after she was shot 10 times with a Taser during a confrontation with police.

And a story of an autistic boy who was Tasered by police.

You can also get your own Pink Taser to carry with you.

This year's Taser International Convention featured some new products, including the wireless eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP), a strategic alliance with iRobot, and the new Shockwave™ T-RAD (TASER Area Denial System).
Pictures and product descriptions are here.

The company has also announced the United States Forest Service will soon be packing Tasers.

Photo above from Taser International:

The TASER XREP (eXtended Range Elecronic Projectile) is a wireless projectile that fires from a 12-gauge shotgun. It delivers the same neuro-muscular incapacitation (NMI) as our handheld TASER X26, but can be delivered to a distance of up to 100 feet. The XREP combines blunt impact with the field proven TASER Neuro Muscular Incapacitation that renders a violent offender virtually incapable of moving or harming others

This Just In: Goat Eludes Attempted Tasering.

Tasers, by the way, are not the same as Lasers. But a comparison is entertaining:

Sharks and lasers.

Laser Cats.

And there are Phasers and then there are some other Phasers too.

Talk Like A Pirate Day Returns!

Mindless seas, ho!!

'Tis time me mateys to hoist yer banners and flags fer true, and make yer mark fer Talk Like A Pirate Day.

What does a pirate call a lass with much beauty? Aye Candy!!

Read Treasure Island fer free!

Become a Pirate and play a treasure hunt game! More games are at that link, too, aye and booty and sword crossed danger and cannons belching fire and iron, too matey. While away yer workin' days with all the games.

Grab hold of yer inner pirate and explore the site about Pirate Re-Enactors made by Pirate Re-Enactors!

And here's every blessed and cursed detail of the pirate life, from making knots and all jobs aboard a ship to healthcare fer pirates, all true history, as true as truth might be.

Get yerself an Arrrrrrrr-C Cola and mix it with rum and celebrate the day. Check out Newscoma's Piratey Post o' The Day too!

My pirate name is:

Iron Jack Kidd

A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you a tough person. Even though you're not always the traditional swaggering gallant, your steadiness and planning make you a fine, reliable pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
part of the network

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Touched An iPod

For the first time in my life, I touched, held and sort of semi-operated an iPod yesterday. And yes, I know that to confess I do not own a personal music and video storage and playback device makes me non-relevant in today's modern-now-a-go-go world. I am fully aware to confess my techno-failings may well conjure the image of me as a caveman hurling mono-syllabic grunts and rocks at the hand-held monolith which offers wisdom to humanity.

How did my clumsy, over-knuckled hands even attempt to operate the device?

Here's how it happened: as I have already mentioned, I am assisting with the production of a children's theater production of "Jungle Book Kids". And so, as part of yesterday's rehearsal it was my job to cue up the appropriate tunes and play them, sometimes pausing them or re-setting the device to play the tune again. Luckily, despite my lack of pod-knowledge, no adults or children were harmed.

I admit the device is a marvel of hand-held tech. I cannot swear to it's actual model, but after some web research, I think it was an iPod Classic (not a NanoPod or some off-brand MP3 dealie). Sleek and black and sliver-backed with the Apple trademark, I was given a quick lesson on how to use it, and that only a touch is needed to guide the device. I like that - no antiquated knobs or buttons to twirl and mash.

I thought what I might do with such a device should I own one. I could load every CD I own into the device and barely use a teeny section of memory, though just how I would actually transfer the music is still a mystery to me other than using some cable to connect the pertinent devices. I gather the iPod is smart enough to know what to do with the songs I might place in them.

Buying or adding music a song a time is still an oddity to me. For instance, I was just reading last night about an album which came out in 1967 called Forever Changes by a band called Love which I had never really heard of before. I found some samples of the tunes to listen to online, noted I could buy them one at a time. But the original album has some nice trippy artwork and I tend to prefer musicians who compose and create an album which is meant to be listened to in the order it was made. So I realize I'm still catching up on 1967 and that was 40 years ago so I'm really behind.

Being hip to the moment has never actually been a goal for me. I stumble across music and tech and news and trends which may be ancient or brand-spankin' new all the time. I follow my curiosity to places and music and things, regardless of whether it's in fashion or obscure or even just a relic of the past.

And I do know I have no interest in peering into a teeny screen the size of a Cheez-it to watch some video or a movie. I like the big screens, I miss 70mm Cinerama images, which again marks me as some ancient artifact.

Touching the li'l pod-thing made me reflect on those days when I first left home and went into college, carting with me a delicately packed box containing a carefully calibrated turntable, and the necessary tuner to power the turntable, likewise packed into it's own box. And then there were the huge speakers and coils of wire needed to provide sound. And then boxes and crates of albums to play on my musical apparatus. I had more sound equipment than clothes to cart around. Still, no matter when or where I moved, those boxes all came first and foremost.

Now I am down to maybe three boxes of albums, which collect dust in the basement, the turntable has not worked in years, nor the tuner, and still I move them from place to place. The years of collecting and buying all that would now be fast-tracked to online downloads and take up the room of a sandwich in my hand. That's most cool, I admit.

Still, I am an ancient thing in the world, which measures time in nanoseconds. I would rather spend the money for an iPod on something else - computer software, maybe a nifty hi-def TV, or maybe some new tires for my truck. The truck has a cassette player which has not worked in a few years, but there are still a few radio stations worth tuning in which have more than the Talk Show Hate of the Day to offer.

So I use the tech I have, portable CD players or radios. I prowl on the computerized info-net-superhighway-cyberized nation, learning of things new and old, taking what I want and leaving the rest for some later day or for someone else to master.

At least I am not yelling for kids to "Stay Offa My Lawn!!" Not yet anyway.

Constitution Week 2007

This week has been designated Constitution Week, meant to encourage the reading of the document and to enhance understanding of this simple yet complex statement of the foundations of our government. Intense debate marked it's creation and many opposed various elements as it moved toward it's final ratification, as our government formally adopted it in 1789.

Historically, we mark the date of Sept. 17, 1787 as the day the document was completed.

The National Archives has a fascinating section of questions regarding the document and it's creation, which I have been perusing some this week. I noted for the first time that some 19 citizens selected to attend the Constitutional Convention never bothered to show up at all. Most of those at the Convention were lawyers, but not all. I have read and re-read the document for years and years, and still I learn from it, and I think each of us can if we bother to exert our brains and consider the words and the declarations within it. (Read the document here.)

Of all the questions posed at the NA site, I liked this one best:

Q. Does not the Constitution give us our rights and liberties?

A. No, it does not, it only guarantees them. The people had all their rights and liberties before they made the Constitution. The Constitution was formed, among other purposes, to make the people's liberties secure-- secure not only as against foreign attack but against oppression by their own government. They set specific limits upon their national government and upon the States, and reserved to themselves all powers that they did not grant. The Ninth Amendment declares: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

It's most important to know that each of us already have rights, liberties, freedoms which exist not because of a document or a government, but simply because we exist. The government and it's foundation are simply tools to secure and protect what we already have.

Part of the promotion of awareness of The Constitution this year is a project called "I Signed The Constitution", as copies of the document travel the country. In Greeneville at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Visitors Center, visitors can view and sign the document. While I appreciate the intent of encouraging citizens to affirm the tenets of the document, I rather wish we were instead promoting "Read The Constitution and Know What You Are Signing."

I also think it would be a fascinating experiment to ask those who go view it to come up with one amendment of their own to add. What additions would we make? Something insightful, something selfish, something which could never have been imagined in 1787?

For example, I have long thought it would be appropriate to require that members of Congress should live in a dormitory-style setting. Two to a room, very sparse accommodations, like bunk beds, common rooms, a TV room, a laundry room, and a cafeteria with a limited budget, no chefs and no maid services. No visitors in the rooms, no lobbyists or media allowed in the dorms, curfews, and no outside residence would be allowed. They work, they come back to the dorm, and when the congressional session is ended, they go home. Payment for the dorm's operations would come from the pay of each member, a percentage of what they earn. Likewise, congressional staff would have their own dorms as well.

And maybe when the return to Washington, time would be provided for dorm residents to present an oral report on What I Did During Recess To Learn About My Home District.

What might you add to the Constitution?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy ...

Blackwater, one of the private security firms in Iraq funded by hundreds of millions of tax dollars which provides armed military-style support for US forces and businesses, has had it's license revoked according to Iraqi officials. Confusion surrounds what this may mean, confusion surrounds what happened as they were escorting a convoy of US State Department vehicles, and secrecy surrounds the contract they (and hundreds of others) have with the US government. The Guardian has more on the dispute.

This follows a report from the Washington Post that the US military is in urgent need of help to provide support services to soldiers as more and more soldiers are being placed into combat patrols.

With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties," according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq."

Oh boy ...Each time the current White House leaders announce their strategy in Iraq is working, we learn that much of that strategy is in the hands of secret government contracts or that we regular folks just don't understand the strategy. An accurate account of how many contracted soldiers are operating in Iraq remains unknown, and the same lack of accounting is in place for their activities, their casualties, their wounded. While they are there in the name of the US, residents of the US know little of what they do.

Many Americans are under the impression that the US currently has about 145,000 active duty troops on the ground in Iraq. What is seldom mentioned is the fact that there are at least 126,000 private personnel deployed alongside the official armed forces. These private forces effectively double the size of the occupation force, largely without the knowledge of the US taxpayers that foot the bill."

More on this information, supplied to Congress in May, is here.

Last week's publicity push for the "success" in Iraq continues to be a muddle of information, or as Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate:

President Bush's TV address tonight was the worst speech he's ever given on the war in Iraq, and that's saying a lot. Every premise, every proposal, nearly every substantive point was sheer fiction. The only question is whether he was being deceptive or delusional."

Oh boy .... If I just stop reading the news, maybe it wont' matter.

Opinions are hardly a measure of reality, still it's worth noting, as Steve Chapman does:

By March 2006, 60 percent of Americans said the war was going poorly. Yet all Petraeus claims to have done is lower the carnage to the level it was then—a level most people found unacceptable. If this is progress, then treading water should be an Olympic event.

Likewise, his plan to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer would merely mean reverting to the number we had before the surge. Assuming he's right, we'll have spent a year and a half making an arduous journey from Point A to Point A."

Oh boy ... If I just stop reading news, opinions, accounts of debauched/depressed elected officials and celebrities, national and international banking woes, details of items sold in the US which might kill me or deform children, who's being abducted, who's been found, if I just turn off all the radios and TVs and this internet, and just sit quietly with all the doors locked and the shades drawn down tightly ... then maybe I can pretend all is well and just getting better all the time. I'll be a model citizen!