Saturday, September 29, 2007


Doug showed me the story today about wee tiny amoeba which eat your brains.

I imagine there would be places where such critters would starve to death.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Camera Obscura - Zombies A-Go-Go!; New TV Shows; Making 'Robot Chicken'

Can a world where zombie movies are tops in America's box office be all bad?

And as far as last week's third Resident Evil movie go, I loved this review, which includes this sentence (a gem among many):

I eagerly await a sequel in which Milla Jovovich's clone army encounters a battalion of genetically modified Asia Argentos, and life as we know it ends in a maelstrom of bee-stung lips, crazy eyes, and runway hair-pulling. Until then, this'll do."

RE3's director Russell Mulcahy is tackling vampires next, "Zen and the Art of Slaying Vampires". Seems that focusing on your Zen meditation will help a vamp stave off the cravings of blood lust. Yeah. Meditation, that's the ticket.

And a few words here about Mulcahy, an Australian who deserves at least one historical distinction: he was the director of the very first video aired by MTV, "Video Killed the Radio Star." And after he conquered MTV with his award-winning vids for Duran Duran, AC-DC, Billy Joel and others, he went to the movies. His feature film "Highlander" birthed a franchise of movies and a TV show, all of which still endure. And I was always rather fond of his very first movie, an 80s cult classic called "Razorback."

"Razorback" is the story of a rampaging wild pig who turns the dusty Outback into a "Jaws" movie. it even had an animatronic pig costing a quarter of a million bucks which was so lame it made it onto the screen for about one second. Still, what is impressive is the 'razor'-thin plot and budget which Mulcahy deftly handled with fierce editing to make a very decent B-movie.

Some of Mulcahy's other movies of note include an almost-good adaptation of "The Shadow", and a very odd TV adaptation of Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" with Patrick Stewart as the legendary Captain Nemo. Except of course this Nemo seems to be suffering from PMS or something.

Meanwhile, back to the Zombies.

A direct-to-DVD release is out called "Flight of the Living Dead," a shameless mixture of "Snakes On A Plane" and famished, angry walking dead. Again, this review has all the details (like a review of the movie might actually have any value), and this sentence too:

'Flight of the Living Dead' is a dumb movie -- it makes 'Shaun of the Dead' look like 'The Godfather' in comparison, and you should expect your eyes to get a workout from frequent rolling. However, with the right group of people at the right time, it can be fun -- at least invite a bunch of friends over if you rent the DVD."


I selflessly waded deep into some of the new Fall TV schedule and viewed some new offerings, and many of them will likely not last a full season. Although since shows run on such oddly truncated formats these days, a six-week run might be considered wildly successful.

Anyway, some thoughts on what I did watch:

"Chuck" on NBC, Mondays: Wow, how long did it take to settle on the characters name? At least it wasn't Bob. The set-up in this action-comedy is that nerdy Chuck gets an email from an-old-pal-now-CIA-agent named Bryce which somehow downloads the entire NSA and CIA database of info into his brain, which he can recall, though Chuck is not sure how he recalls the info. A sexy blonde female agent comes to his aid, and a mean male agent seeks to kill him since he knows so much, and in the end, they all decide to work together. There was some snappy dialog and some funny scenes, and they did pass on some other names for the show, like "The Man With A Spy Database For A Brain" and "Mission: Accomplished!" I'll watch the show again, but I doubt they can stretch this one into a hit.

"Reaper" on CW, Tuesdays: Oh, if I could have a dollar for every show now which is first pitched as "It's like 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' with ....". This is a wry and dry comedy about another nerdy slacker whose parents sold his soul to the Devil, but only by accident. The scene when Dad recounted the event to his son was nicely droll and funny. And casting actor Ray Wise as Satan was a fine choice. Satan wants to use young Sam as a bounty hunter to return souls who have escaped Hell, and if he chooses not to go along, then Satan will take his Mom to Hell instead. I laughed often watching this one and the set-up has many possibilities, of course. Ray Wise makes it all work as the charming and deadly Dark Father, and there was plenty of creepy familial sub-text here. Will it last? Well, it's on the CW network, where shows exist and fade with only a rare handful of viewers even aware there is a network called CW.

"The Bionic Woman" on NBC Wednesdays, repeats on SCI-FI on Friday: Ratings for the Pilot Episode were large, so it may be in place through the Spring of 2008. And nothing, really, I could say here would sway you to watch this if you were not so inclined to begin with. I confess I am embarrassed to admit I watched it, and even kinda liked it. The word 'bionic' just doesn't make much sense these days.

"Life" on NBC Wednesdays: The best show I saw all week, which likely means it won't last. It has a quality and a style more akin to a series you might find on HBO or some other cable network, and maybe one of them will pick it up if it dies out on network. The story centers on a cop, Charlie Crews, framed and wrongly imprisoned for 12 years. His release settlement included the provision he be allowed to work as a cop again. A highly distracted and most perceptive detective, he invokes a Zen attitude, has a vast amount of wealth from his wrongful incarceration and was quite funny and eerie all at once. The story will drift into corruption within the police department which led him go to jail, and since this one is so hard to briefly summarize in a tag line, has lots of brains and terrific writing and acting. So I expect it to disappear fast.


Wired magazine has a photo-essay on the making of the hit show "Robot Chicken" on Adult Swim. If you aren't watching this show, I'll bet cash money you'll own the DVDs soon. Eclectic, loaded with pop culture satire and rapid fire pacing, the show a pleasure to watch again and again. Playing with toys and adding the crazy dialog and action which all kids naturally add on their own, this show is more fun than humans usually get on television. Check out the Wired story here.


A brand new trailer for the movie "The Mist", based on a fantastic Steven King short story and adapted for the big screen by Frank Daranbont is the MUST-SEE trailer of the week. It has an excellent cast and looks darn-near perfect, in my opinion.


An underground classic, tagged as The Maddest Story Ever Told, airs at 2 a.m. tonite - or early Saturday morning, that is - on Turner Classic Movies. "Spider Baby" sat on the shelf for years before getting a release in 1968. A comedy-horror story of an awfully strange family and their efforts to stay together, the movie is legendary for many reasons. Lon Chaney, Jr is here and so is a very, very young Sid Haig who plays the youngest family member who suffers the most from the family's genetic curse.

One review notes: it is "a television sit-com directed by Luis Bunel".

Chaney sings the movie's theme song, which includes such lines as:

Sit around the fire with the cup of brew
A fiend and a werewolf on each side of you

This cannibal orgy is strange to behold

And the maddest story ever told

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who Is The Most Influential Opinion-Maker?

It isn't any of the jabbering chuckleheads heard non-stop on radio and television as they demonize Your Group or The Other Group in a 24/7 saliva-hurling contest.

A report from Forbes magazine says the Most Influential Pundit is film critic Roger Ebert. I agree.

He is not only one of the best in his field, he's also one of the most likable folks around who provide opinion. Given the chance to read a review of any movie by Ebert or anyone else, I will always read Ebert first. He still has that rare ability to be just an ordinary viewer, though his knowledge of the medium is encyclopedic. And kudos go as well to his annual film festival.

The Editor and Publisher reports:

Candidates were scored on "awareness and likeability" among respondents most prized by advertisers -- relatively high income college graduates aged between 25 and 54, Forbes said.

"While the results show that plenty of cable talking heads like Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera score highly, the most powerful pundit in America is veteran film critic Roger Ebert, who appeals to 70% of the demographic and whose long career makes him well known to well over half the population," Forbes media writer Tom Van Riper wrote.

"Ebert, despite being limited to print reviewing over the past year as he battles cancer, is viewed by the public as intelligent, experienced and articulate, the three most common traits associated with the top 10 list," Forbes wrote. "And his widespread appeal makes sense. Unlike political pundits who bring a liberal or conservative voice to the table, his strong opinions are generally confined to individual movies. Hence, he's not drawing cheers from half the population and jeers from the other half."

Comedian Bill Maher, who has a weekly talk show on HBO, was ranked second, followed by cable talker Bill O'Reilly; liberal radio host and comedian Al Franken; TV journalist Geraldo Rivera; comedian Rosie O'Donnell; film critic Leonard Maltin; legal commentator Greta Van Susteren; economics news commentator Lou Dobbs; and basketball analyst Bill Walton."

And a big thanks to Newscoma for pointing out this story, even though the findings surprised her to no end.

SEE ALSO: This debate about pundits at MCB.

Most OK Effort to Fund Kids Health Insurance

State funding for health insurance for children of low income families is set to expire by month's end, though a temporary measure to keep it active has been approved by Congress and the President. Blending together health care costs, higher cigarette taxes and the 2008 elections, this issue is one of rewards and perils for politicians. Full funding for the SCHIP program, which may be renamed CHIP, is a priority for Americans and GOP supporters too, not just Democrats, according to several recent polls and studies.

Republican pollsters Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates found that by a 2-1 margin, (62 percent to 31 percent) GOP voters favor reauthorizing and strengthening SCHIP. The poll was a national sample of 1,000 Republican voters taken on behalf of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy group for children and families.

The poll also found that GOP voters, by a 4-to-3 margin, are less likely to re-elect members of Congress who oppose the legislation.

In another First Focus poll of 800 "very likely" voters, GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that by nearly a 4-1 margin (66 percent to 17 percent) respondents were less likely to re-elect senators or congressional representatives who oppose legislation to cut the number of uninsured children."

Paying for the increase in enrollment would come from a 61-cent increase in tobacco taxes. No increases in funding for the program, as well as allowing it to expire will also cost Americans big bucks:

"The Institute of Medicine estimates that a lack of health insurance accounts for 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year and that taxpayers foot 65 percent of health care costs for the uninsured through subsidies to hospitals and clinics. Uninsured children are also four times more likely than insured youngsters to appear in emergency rooms with avoidable illness, said Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association."

Comments from those who see the program as another Evil Step Into Socialized Medicine claims the bill's passage will give benefits to families who earn over $80,000 a year - but that is not true. That amount is only applicable in New York state and only if their request on the increase is approved:

"The bill essentially sets an income ceiling of three times the poverty rate [defined by the Census Bureau as $20,650 for a family of four] for a family of four - $61,950. Beyond that, the federal government would not pay a state its full SCHIP match, which averages about 70 percent. New York state is seeking a waiver that would. allow its residents to qualify if their income is not above four times the poverty rate - $82,600 for a family of four. The current administration or future administrations would have to approve that request. New Jersey would still be allowed to cover families with incomes three and one-half times the poverty rate - $72,275 for a family of four."

Tennessee Rep. Zach Wamp (R) is promoting his plan to extend the program for 18 months and try and resolve some kind of compromise in the interim, and which would provide the chance to push this entire debate out and away from next year's elections:

"That is why I co-sponsored the SCHIP Extension Act to extend and fully fund SCHIP for an additional 18 months and increase the federal funding for the program by 33 percent."

A Rasmussen poll worth considering shows that Americans want changes aplenty in healthcare costs:

"Forty-four percent (44%) of American adults say that health care services should be made available for free to all Americans. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 39% disagree and 17% are not sure.

Fifty-two percent (52%) say that reducing health care costs is a higher priority than making sure everyone is insured. Thirty-nine percent (39%) take the opposite view.

The survey also found that 47% favor requiring everyone to buy health insurance. Thirty-three percent (33%) are opposed. Democrats favor this approach by a three-to-one margin. A plurality of Republicans are opposed while a plurality of unaffiliateds are supportive.

Fifty-one percent (51%) say that if someone can’t afford health insurance the government should match payments to help pay their premiums.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) of voters rate health care as a Very Important Issue for Election 2008. Fifty-one percent (51%) trust Democrats more on this issue while 35% trust Republicans."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

America Grills Iranian President

Reason's Managing Editor Jesse Walker:

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University yesterday, he did not emerge with the "propaganda victory" that the neocon pundit Bill Kristol assured us he would receive. He didn't seem to be having fun either. Instead, he had to listen while Columbia President Lee Bollinger lambasted him for the terrible state of civil liberties in Iran: the executions, the political prisoners, the persecution of homosexuals. Bollinger also questioned Iran's foreign policy—sometimes skating past the province of the proven, but never beyond the realm of legitimate inquiries—and he challenged the Iranian for suggesting the Holocaust is a "myth." Agence France-Presse called the introduction "a humiliating and public dressing down."

And then, after presenting his point of view, Ahmadinejad faced frequently hostile questions from the audience. Immediately before the Columbia speech, he had spoken via satellite to the
National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he also had to answer audience questions. Before that he appeared on 60 Minutes, where he had faced still more questions. For a few days in September, the president of a repressive religious regime actually had to engage his critics.

No wonder the hawks were up in arms. For months Kristol and company have been telling us that
engaging Iran is a dreadful, futile mistake. When they complained about Columbia's decision to let that country's president speak on campus, they were simply continuing this crippling inability to distinguish conversation from surrender. Maybe they were genuinely afraid that this would be a PR triumph for Ahmadinejad, and maybe they just didn't like the idea of a pause for reflection as they steamroll us to war. Either way, they were wrong."


But free speech is at issue, because this tempest gets to the heart of a key argument for the open marketplace of ideas: the idea that hearing what other people have to say and confronting their ideas is good, and that doing so makes us not weaker but stronger. "This event has nothing whatsoever to do with any rights of the speaker," Bollinger said as he introduced his guest, "but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves."

That is why the petty tyrant who spoke at Columbia emerged bruised instead of beaming. Because the people who posed questions were free to ask those questions, and because they were free to hear his answers. They had an enormous opportunity, and they made the most of it. Only a coward would see such an opening and fear catastrophe."

Read the entire column here

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Living On Venezeula Time; or Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

Time itself is being altered in the South American country of Venezeula, or as it's president, Hugo Chavez has renamed the nation, Bolivarian Republic of Venezeula. Or it will be altered, probably in January, since a plan to re-set the clocks there by half an hour this past Monday was a bust.

Even Chavez had seemed unprepared. When he first made the announcement, he told Venezuelans to move their clocks forward, when really the measure requires them to be turned back.

In delaying the shift, Chavez said on Sunday that Venezuela still had to complete the necessary bureaucratic steps with international organizations.

Chavez has dismissed criticism that moving the time only a half hour was quirky, questioning why the world had to follow a scheme of hourly divisions that he said was dictated by the imperial United States."

Other nations have also decided on their own to alter time settings, which I suppose is simply a minor deal in most minds. Although I thought the hourly division of time was a world-wide norm, and learned it is not, as Tibet is on a 15-minute time difference from GMT.

But GMT - Greenwich Mean Time - is really not the standard time-keeper it used to be. Since 1961, the standard is really based on UTC, which stands for Coordinated Universal Time, and which some debate occured as to whether we should call it UTC, CUT, or TUC, which is French for Temps Universel Coordone. At least, that is the history of our changing time according to WikiPedia, which may have a Liberal bias according to ConservaPedia.

And even the creation of GMT was a formalization of time made in 1884 since the vast majority of navigation maps used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian in 1884. UTC is based on atomic time standards and the apparent rotation of the planet.

Which means that time, really, is whatever we decide it is, depending on the beliefs and/or needs of earthly inhabitants at any particular moment. Which means I am never ever going to accept blame again about not being on time, as I can claim atomic alterations in leap seconds. At least, I think I can claim that. Or perhaps I can claim an adherence to GMT is not as accurate as UTC, or as they write on that nefarious WikiPedia:

Noon Greenwich Mean Time is not necessarily the moment when the Sun crosses the Greenwich meridian (and reaches its highest point in the sky in Greenwich) because of Earth's uneven speed in its elliptic orbit and its axial tilt. This event may be up to 16 minutes away from noon GMT (this discrepancy is known as the equation of time). The fictitious mean sun is the annual average of this nonuniform motion of the true Sun, necessitating the inclusion of mean in Greenwich Mean Time.

Historically the term GMT has been used with two different conventions for numbering hours. The old astronomical convention (before 1925) was to refer to noon as zero hours, whereas the civil convention during the same period was to refer to midnight as zero hours. The latter is modern astronomical and civil convention. The more specific terms UT and UTC do not share this ambiguity, always referring to midnight as zero hours."

The headache which I induced by trying to puzzle out just what time it might be at any particular point has lasted, though I am reluctant to say it, for some time.

Some say time is a dimension all unto itself outside the observable three dimensions (thanks, Einstein), and some say time is simply an imaginary construct.. And isn't The Fifth Dimension a band from the Sixties???

And all of the above brought another thought to my admittedly confused mind: If humans scattered across the earth cannot agree to what time is might be, will we ever agree on anything at all?

And if somehow a planet-wide single acceptance of what time truly is takes place, will all other debatable topics be rendered into uniform acceptance too? Judging by human history, I say no. We seem prone to debate on any topic imaginable. More likely, all my ponderings are mere indicators that I scored poorly in math and geometry classes and scored better in philosophy classes.

And now my headache is worse and I should just go be quiet for a time.

Or should I say if you have read this far, I am sorry I took up your time??

Monday, September 24, 2007

GOP Leaders Build Private Paradise?

A host of Tennessee lawmakers are being very quiet about the revelation that $900,000 from a specialty license plate has gone to buy land and build a two-story hunting lodge in Cumberland County, all owned by a 'foundation" owned by the plate's creator, Republican H.E. Bittle. Those involved in creating the legislation include current Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, 1st District Congressman David Davis and current Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel says the Attorney General is investigating the case. Questions began to arise once some basic facts were reported:

In letters to Comptroller John Morgan and Attorney General Robert Cooper, Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, cited a story in Sunday’s News Sentinel about the Sportsmen’s Wildlife Foundation, which is led by former Rep. H.E. Bittle, a Republican from Knox County.

In 1999, Bittle was the prime House sponsor of a bill that created the Sportsman specialty license plate and directed revenue from that plate to the Sportsmen’s Wildlife Foundation.

In state records, Bittle is listed as the founder of that organization, and he has used money from the license plate to pay for property in Cumberland County and build a hunting lodge.


"Bittle said the idea is to provide a place where children who take an online hunter-safety course can fulfill the program’s field-day obligation. He also said the property could be used as a camp for disabled children and that he would like to invite hunter-safety instructors to bring children from their classes to the lodge for longer visits.

Odom was a co-sponsor of the bill in 1999, but he said this week that he wasn’t aware Bittle was running the foundation or that the money would be used to buy property and build a lodge."

Notice how Bittle says the property "could" be used. Do policies exist stating what the property and lodge WILL be used for? If you bought one of these specialty plates, can you use the property or lodge?

An editorial from calls the actions 'shameless' and 'self-serving':

"While Bittle was chief House sponsor of this shamelessly self-serving piece of legislation, he had help from other lawmakers. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, carried the bill in the Senate. Other notable local co-sponsors of the House bill included state Rep. Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol; former state representative and current Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, R-Bristol; and former state representative and now U.S. Rep. David Davis, R-Johnson City. They, too, must answer for their role in this sham.

Bittle has spent the past few days rationalizing his behavior. He believes he did nothing wrong.

A Ramsey spokesman offered somewhat conditional support for Bittle – saying the use of the money is proper if the lodge "is within the confines of the legislation." Davis, Mumpower and Godsey have been strangely silent.

The Bittle affair points to a flaw in the system. Neither the state Department of Finance nor the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has oversight of the money generated by the sportsman license plate program. But someone should be watching to make sure the money goes for the purpose outlined in the law. This is a significant omission."

Vague legal definitions in the law, and in legislation, at best serve only to raise the prospect of unethical behavior.

UPDATE: Volunteer Voters has a post and several comments on this topic today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dangerous Clothes

Play-Doh, wires, and a peg board - that was enough to send security staff at Logan Airport into a paranoid state of hyper fear, fingers twitching on their triggers. A female M.I.T. student, who had been wearing the wires and peg board zip-tied to her sweatshirt, is labeled a bomb hoax threat terrorist. Maybe it was just a bad week to have the last name of Simpson.

She's extremely lucky she followed the instructions or deadly force would have been used. And she's lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue."

I would have imagined security staff at Logan, of all places, would be trained to observe and recognize what a bomb would look like. Especially as Logan is on a high threat level status. Wonder what would happen if someone was seen wearing those sneakers that have teeny lights in the heels of their shoes? I think an indication of how much this case was overblown can be found in the judge's decision to put Simpson's bail at $750. I would expect the entire case to be dropped.

It's true that funky fashions are often seen as a threat, just ask someone who wears their pants hanging half off their ass. Some say these pants threaten society and laws are being passed to ban low-slung baggy apparel. Will you feel safe if that happens?

And let's spend a lot of taxpayer money to enact the laws and enforce them. That'll show these teenagers who wears the pants."

Will you be able to wear your "Don't Tase Me, Bro!" t-shirt without being seen as a threat? Could you freely wear a shirt that had lettering reading "This Shirt Is Illegal"?

Did it all go downhill straight to the hottest part of hell when the days of Statutes of Apparel disappeared?

The English Sumptuary Laws were well known by all of the English people. And they were strictly obeyed! The penalties for violating Sumptuary Laws could be harsh - fines, the loss of property, title and even life."

See also the laws for men's clothes.