Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wringing The Last Bits of Weirdness from 2008

I mean seriously, this has been a year of just weird wrongness. With just over a day and a half left, I'm actually getting nervous about what shoes are left to drop before 2008 toddles off into the past.

Hopefully not this.

And we all know, don't we, that 2009 is gonna be as hard as nails to get through, so I'm pretty sure the change of the date isn't going to help a whole lot.

Does no one recall all those science fiction stories? Because this is how the bad ones start: "Scientists Plan To Ignite Tiny Man-Made Star".

Perhaps I should not have watched this last night either.

And I am not linking to this.

Please let 2009 be better. Thank you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Few Answers About Toxic Spill In East Tennessee

Nearly a week after a massive toxic coal ash spill coated hundreds of acres and waterways with over a billion gallons of sludge, officials from TVA met with community members and activists and press reps to try and answer questions. TVA's CEO and President Tom Kilgore was there to answer questions.

One resident who has been blogging about the catastrophe here at Life on Swan Pond has details of the Q and A,

Water testing; testing started quickly, and continues every 2 hours. Other testing independently being done by EPA and others.

Air quality testing; only done at the TVA Plant. Will begin placing testing equipment in other areas soon... (no clear date/time set, and as I posted before they have not done any Air Quality Testing in locations where there is Ash debris.

Were there emergency plans in place: not for something of this magnitude of ash.

What is in the ash? Mr. Kilgore will have to research and post the results on TVA's website. (yet they sell this ash.. but don't know what's in it?)

What is the dangers of ash? Mr. Kilgore stated they have employees that work in it everyday.. but didn't say that those individuals wore protective gear.

A family that was directly impacted by loss of pasture lands spoke about the loss other their lively-hood and that they had not heard anything from TVA. Mr. Kilgore said they would help, buy hay, etc., and to contact TVA.

What are the dangers of the water for my dogs one resident asked.... after alot of avoiding the direct questions, the resident finally asked bluntly if he should keep his dogs away from the water... the answer was yes.

A family with an expectant mom who is 7 months pregnant asked if it was safe for her to be there... as they have the spill literally in their backyard... again.... no definitive answer. Come by the office if you have questions was often the answer given."

For most all of those in the area, real concerns remain. And if you are like me, you would want to leave the area immediately. When I'm told to "try not to breathe in" the airborne toxins in the environment, it means it is time to leave that area immediately. But how can people keep their jobs and protect their homes and property? And what sense does it make to stay and try and work around a toxic disaster in the hopes it will all work out for the best?

We've had lots of sunshine and fairly warm temps for the last week, which means that the ash will be drying quickly and getting into the air just as quick. So millions of cubic yards of cancer-causing particles will be on any surface that collects dust and dirt and in the air thousands of Tennesseans could be breathing.

If I lived there and had children, I would make them relocate - but what happens when schools in the area re-start in a few days? Livestock and wildlife and the ground and the water will be in harm's way for some time to come. With no clear answers yet on the levels of toxins - what to do? Stay and wait and find out later it is too toxic an area to stay in?

I read too that the EPA reports that many agencies are working on this disaster - "
Unified Command consists of EPA, the Roane County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Tennessee EMA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority."

But who is in charge at "Unified Command"? Someone from TVA? And where are the elected officials in Tennessee who are talking about this, pushing for answers and demanding actions be taken to insure safety? Kudos to the Kingston City Council for putting the meeting last night together. When Senator Bob Corker appeared on ABC Sunday morning, the disaster got a "sorry we are out of time" response.

And a hotline apparently became available today for residents -- a week after the event.

When something of this magnitude hits the response should be obvious - evacuate the residents and get everyone, even those in the outlying areas, to safety.

And since TVA has admitted they never had any plan for such a possible event as this, then elected officials and residents need to demand plans be created. If this were a commercial company, fines and firings and other changes would apply, would they not?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Time Machine - An Interactive Adventure with Chad, Matt and Rob

Chad, Matt and Rob have an important meeting at the office in five minutes. Rob is nowhere to be found until he runs up covered, he says, in dinosaur snot. And he has a Time Machine. Strangers arrive at the office and chase the plucky trio so Rob leads them to ----

What happens next is up to you in this very funny interactive video adventure. Others have tried their hand at these short movies where you pick the next action of the characters, and they are pretty terrible. However Chad, Matt and Rob have hit the bullseye here. It's excellent and the trio of actors are very funny, the movies are very well made and are never too afraid to just be as silly as they wish.

So let the adventure of The Time Machine Begin!

Also, check out their website and their other short films - like this one, Roommate Alien Prank Goes Bad.

Friday, December 26, 2008

TVA's Toxic Coal Ash Disaster Impact May Last Years

The nearly 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash which surged across hundreds of acres in Roane County and into local waterways this week will have an unknowable impact on lives for an unknown time.

There are no regulations in place to document what deadly materials go into these lagoons - despite pleas for years for unified national standards. Much of the reason TVA has not been able to define the dangers of this spill is because they didn't know themselves what was in the lagoon nor were they even sure of the total amount of materials which was stored in the site.

Sue Sturgis reports at Facing South about the testimony presented to a congressional hearing in June from attorney Lisa Evans which was a clear warning about the inevitable effects of not regulating the hazardous waste created from burning coal:

he warned that the federal government's broken pledge to regulate disposal of the potentially dangerous material threatened the health and safety of communities across the country.

Speaking before a June 10 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources titled "How Should the Federal Government Address the Health and Environmental Risks of Coal Combustion Waste?," Evans pointed out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in its Regulatory Determination on Wastes from the Combustion of Fossil Fuels published in 2000 that federal standards for disposal of coal combustion waste were needed to protect public health and the environment.

The federal failure to regulate the waste has put 23 states -- including Tennessee -- in a special bind, since their statutes have "no more stringent" provisions prohibiting them from enacting standards stricter than those found in federal law. Without federal action, those states can't regulate coal combustion waste disposal beyond the few obviously inadequate safeguards that now exist."

Sturgis goes on to report that highly radioactive materials created in the burning process can be deadly:

" ...
waste containing potentially dangerous levels of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead, as well as radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium -- impurities typically found in coal.

While the company (TVA) is downplaying the hazardous nature of the material, telling the New York Times that it's "inert" and "not toxic or anything," an assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the risk of getting cancer from coal ash lagoons is 10,000 times greater than safety standards allow."

Months of cleanup are ahead, and once the currently wet spill begins to dry, then the toxic materials turn into dust which is then transmitted by airflow.

Dr. Stephen Smith, Executive Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, writes in a press release:

SACE believes that TVA, TDEC and the EPA should be erring on the side of caution and encouraging residents and others at the site to avoid bodily contact with the ash, which when dried can become airborne. Along with the lead and thallium officially found in the ash, there is a strong probability that levels of arsenic, cadmium and potentially mercury will be found.”

Dr. Smith continued by stressing that safety precautions should be taken by residents in the affected area.

“This is clearly one of the most severe environmental disasters of East Tennessee,” Smith said. “There are multiple pathways in which people can become potentially affected by these heavy metals, including bodily contact, drinking water, air pathways and aquatic wildlife and fish, and we feel that appropriate warnings should be expressed to ensure the safety of Tennessee residents.”

State bloggers, such as Enclave, have noted a massive absence of government response to this disaster:

The silence of Tennessee's elected officials indicates to me that TVA is actually in the cat bird's seat, and they are in little danger of being held accountable for these events. I fully expect Senators Corker and Alexander (as well as Governor Phil Bredesen) to get behind a new initiative under the pretense of clean-up to convert and to expand TVA's plant and political power in Roane County."

From Christian Grantham at Nashville Is Talking:

Actually, if you read some of the reports about the smaller coal waste spill in 2000, you'll see the damage spread over weeks through at least a hundred miles of tributaries and streams. TVA says it's taking precautions to prevent this from entering the Tennessee River, but anyone with a brain can see that short of building a dam, that will be impossible.

What it appears TVA is focusing more on (and you can see this in their own online accounts, news reports and releases) is clearing the way for more coal to reach the plant. The troubling fact that TVA is making a calculated decision to use their assets to clear the way for more coal rather than using 100% of their assets to prevent further ecological damage is noted."

From a recent Roane County newspaper report, the Kingston Plant has been slowly converting to a new process to 'scrub' waste emissions which will result in the creation of gypsum ponds, however:

We want to make it clear we’re spending $500 million to clean up the environment. It is not a bad thing, but it is clearly a visible thing,” TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said.
Officials had hoped to find a market, such as drywall, for the gypsum byproduct of the new scrubber. The slowing economy has ground those possibilities to a halt. “They (the marketplace) have more gypsum than they know what to do with,” said Martocci."

In another recent report from the Roane County News, business designed to create cleaner-burning fuel are just a losing proposition as oil prices - for the moment - have fallen:

The shuttering of Wright’s company, Blue Sky Biodiesel, won’t wreck the local economy. He had just three employees including himself, but the demise of the business has left him financially and emotionally scarred.
“I’m just kind of down in the dumps right now,” Wright said. “I tapped into my savings in order to make this work.
Wright said his business wasn’t just about profit.Wright said he felt like he was on the front lines of the much-touted fight to energy independence, whipping up batches of biodiesel for use in diesel engines.
“None of us are rich,” he said. “We were all just people with ideas trying to get things done.”

Seems the powers that be are slow to seek changes, and seek instead to continue to rely on the fictions of "clean coal technology" and unreal hopes that fossil fuel - regardless of economic costs and environmental destruction - is a magical creation which serves only to fulfill wishes and dreams.

NBC news did finally lead their nightly report from the scene in the Harriman community on Friday:

Toxic Spill Threatens East Tennessee

Writers in the blogging world have been hard at work gathering and reporting information from the enormous environmental disaster which saw millions and millions of cubic yards of toxic coal sludge from TVA's Kingston power plant bring destruction across the Roane County countryside and into East Tennessee waterways. (NOTE: Please see my latest update here.)

The first estimate from TVA claimed just over a million cubic yards had roared across the area following the collapse of a dike wall holding back the coal ash waste. Today, they tripled that amount, again "estimating" the total was more like 5.4 million cubic yards.

Some of the best coverage can be found at Enclave - who has been hard at work gathering details, including how the major networks and cable news television totally missed the story and then decided it was newsworthy after all. He also notes United Mountain Defense Report which reports accidents at the site have been common in recent months:

It maintains that Kingston residents told their correspondents that TVA dealt with leaks in the ash pond wall in 2004, 2006, and a month and a half ago. TVA officials originally speculated that recent excess rain and abnormally low temperatures were possible causes of the breach."

The NYTimes reports:

Federal studies have long shown coal ash to contain significant quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems. But with no official word on the dangers of the sludge in Tennessee, displaced residents spent Christmas Eve worried about their health and their property, and wondering what to do.

Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority: “It does have some heavy metals within it, but it’s not toxic or anything.”

Mr. Francis said contaminants in water samples taken near the spill site and at the intake for the town of Kingston, six miles downstream, were within acceptable levels.

But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.

Similarly, a 2006 study by the federally chartered National Research Council found that these coal-burning byproducts “often contain a mixture of metals and other constituents in sufficient quantities that they may pose public health and environmental concerns if improperly managed.” The study said “risks to human health and ecosystems” might occur when these contaminants entered drinking water supplies or surface water bodies.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash, but backed away in the face of fierce opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton administration officials. At the time, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its decision not to classify the waste as hazardous.

Another 2007 E.P.A. report said that over about a decade, 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps.

For instance, in Anne Arundel County, Md., between Baltimore and Annapolis, residential wells were polluted by heavy metals, including thallium, cadmium and arsenic, leaching from a sand-and-gravel pit where ash from a local power plant had been dumped since the mid-1990s by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company."

At the Knoxville News Sentinel, blogger Michael Silence has more, as does the KNS' Jack Lail.

RoaneViews writers are also on the story.

There are many questions about current safety, officials ever-changing stories and what -if any - health issues are being aggressively pursued. Since TVA's CEO just earned a record multi-million dollar salary, let's see if he is worth it. As Senator Lamar Alexander told the press in October when news of the massive pay raise was made:

The TVA board should be sensitive to keeping its costs down, especially at a time when Tennesseans are hurting,” he said. “But TVA is the largest utility in the country and it’s got to recruit competent people to run the agency, including its nuclear plants, and it need pay them a competitive wage in order to keep them."

Many people are truly in peril today due to this massive disaster, Mr. Senator. And let's hope like hell competence is the least of their virtues.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Annual Christmas Music Collection, Part Three

Here is the third and final installment for Christmas music 2008 (Check out parts One and Two).

I hope you've enjoyed the tunes - and I did try and not pick out too many over-played holiday tunes. This third installment starts Elvis and moves on to Lisa Loeb and the Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan, and there is one from the unstoppable Bootsy Collins and concludes one of my favorites from James Brown.

Merry Christmas to one and all and please oh please have yourself a Merry Christmas and a Fine 2009.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Financial Bailout vs. The Auto Industry

Hilzoy makes some points which seem to elude not only Congress, but many average Americans:

The financial executives helped cause the present meltdown. Auto workers did not.

* The financial executives run their firms, and are responsible for their troubles. Auto workers and their union, by contrast, just got themselves a good deal by bargaining with management. That's their prerogative. I don't see that they're any more to blame for the problems of the Big Three than people who accept unduly large cash back bonuses on their new cars would be, had the Big Three miscalculated and given away more in cash-back bonuses than they could afford.

* Financial executives have just destroyed a tremendous amount of value and ruined the global economy. Auto workers have been busy creating useful things.

* In exchange for destroying value, financial executives get paid a whole lot more than auto workers. Orders of magnitude more. They even get multi-million dollar performance bonuses when their firms lose money! And their benefits are a lot more cushy: not just good health care but private jets and chauffeurs!

* Punishing financial executives helps reduce moral hazard. Punishing auto workers does not.

Honestly: what sense does it make to stick it to a bunch of auto workers while letting the financial executives off scot-free? How can Richard Shelby get all upset about the fact that some blue-collar workers have, gasp, health care, and not about the fact that financial executives, on whom we have spent a lot more money than the Big Three ever asked for, get financial planners and chauffeurs? Just imagine the furious oratory we might have heard had the UAW succeeded in negotiating benefits like the ones people get at Goldman Sachs. (I'll bet chauffeurs would help auto workers concentrate more on their jobs...)

For the reasons given above, I think that we should stick it to the bankers and hedge fund managers, and not to the UAW. However, I'd be happy with a single standard uniformly applied. rok for dean at dKos has a good idea:

"In 1950, the average pay of an S&P 500 CEO was less than 30 times that of an average U.S. worker; by 1980, prior to the "Reagan Revolution, the average pay of the S&P 500 CEO was approximately 50 times higher than that of an average U.S worker. But by 2007, the average pay of an S&P 500 CEO had soared to more than 350 times as much as that of an average U.S. worker.

This is both immoral and unsustainable in a democracy. By way of comparison, in Europe, an average CEO only makes 22 times as much as an average worker, and in Japan, only 17 times as much.

If America wants to be competitive again, we need to reduce CEO pay to a level comparable to CEO pay in Europe and Japan. I know exactly how to accomplish this feat. The UAW should agree to immediately lower U.S. union worker pay to a level equal to the level paid by their non-union, non-American competitors. In return, auto CEO’s must agree to permanently lower their compensation to only 20 times that of an average union worker.

Once this has been accomplished, Congress must move to apply the same pay standards to AIG and all of the financial institutions that took one penny of taxpayer money from the TARP fund."

And what of foreign automakers, like Toyota?

"On Monday, Toyota said it expected a loss during the fiscal year of 150 billion yen, or $1.7 billion, in its group operating revenue, the amount it earns from its auto operations. Toyota said that would be its first annual operating loss since 1938, a year after the company was founded.

The loss would also be a huge reversal from the 2.3 trillion yen, or $28 billion, in operating profit Toyota earned last fiscal year. The company, which has been neck and neck with General Motors to be the world’s largest vehicle-maker, said it still expected to eke out a narrow net profit in the current fiscal year, which ends March 31.

The company, which just a few months ago seemed unstoppable after eight consecutive years of record profits, said it suffered from plunging vehicle sales not only in North America but even in once-promising markets like India and China, which many had hoped would prove immune to the United States malaise.

“The change in the world economy is of a magnitude that comes once every hundred years,” Toyota’s president, Katsuaki Watanabe, told a news conference in Nagoya, Japan, near the company’s Toyota City headquarters. “We are facing an unprecedented emergency.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Be A Movie Maker With MTV and Flip

MTV and a video camera company called Flip have been hard at work to create a totally user-created broadcast on MTV, made by all kinds of young people around the nation.

The Flip is a simple hand-held camera with razor sharp pictures, built in software interface, and microphone and a customizable design, and is incredibly easy to use. By partnering with MTV, all content created ends up on a special MTV program and is posted MTV online as well.

To get started, 100 people were given free Flips. Users created the content and sent it in and a totally user-created media is now up and running. And media outlets across the nation are giving rave reviews to the whole idea, from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Entertainment Tonight, USA Today, The Washington Post, Business Week, Times, Forbes, PC World and more.

The MTV site has tons of videos out now for you to watch by clicking here. And you can learn more about The Flip and all it can do here.

The MTV site also has details on how you can watch the videos and grab your own free Flip too.

It's all up to the video makers to decide what to create and share, and as MTV says "
Different themes guided them, some were open-ended, others were scavenger hunts and others were questions only they could answer. "

Some of the categories folks are using to make their short videos include:

  1. Worst Date
  2. Awake, Alive, Surprises
  3. News Near Me
  4. Last Dream I Remember
  5. 1:02 Thursday - This Just Happened
  6. Bridges, Rhinos, Chandeliers
  7. Share a Secret
  8. If I Could Change 1 Thing About The World
And every day another free Flip is being offered -- the details are all here.

Here's just one sample vid, about what was making the news for one video maker:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Annual Christmas Music Collection, Part Two

Here is the second part of the annual Christmas music collection for 2008, this one has an all jazz theme. (Part One is here.) Look for a third part in the next few days.

Also, if you have a favorite song and artist, please mention it in the comments. Merry Ho-Ho! (image via Square America)

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Should Santa Monkey Say?

One day I'll seek the backstory for this holiday image.


For me (and many readers here) Santa Monkey has been a holiday tradition here dating back to the first Christmas with a Cup of Joe Powell.

So here be Santa Monkey again.

And this year - won't you please offer a comment as to what Santa Monkey should say for Christmas 2008?

My suggestions for the caption would be:

"Once a year I throw candy at people. The rest of the year, it ain't really candy."


"I'd like to thank Governor Blagojevitch for selling me - I mean appointing - the chance to be Santa Claus."


First we'll make snow angels for a two hours, then we'll go ice skating, then we'll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookiedough as fast as we can, and then we'll snuggle."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Neo Bush and The Shoe Matrix

The president does battle against the Shoe People in Baghdad. (many more variations on the Flying Shoe of Protest via Boing Boing.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Mega List of Lists of 2008

It is the List of All Lists of the Best of 2008 from Fimoculous. Yes, the annual collection of the best in '08 compiles selections in categories like in advertising, architecture, art, automobiles, books, business, comedy, dance, design, dvds, fashion, film, food and drink, gadgets, games, ideas, media, music, online, paranormal, people, photos, politics, religion, sports, science, technology, theater, toys, travel, tv, videos, words/searches, plus archives for lists going back to 2001.

It may take until 2010 to read thru them all.

Sen. Corker's Wild Ride

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is learning that jumping up to shout "I can fix the automakers bailout program!!" was not his best idea. Especially that part of his plan calling for altering the pay scales for workers -- as has been noted, that idea for controlling wages was never a part of the banking bailout.

Enclave points to this article by Paul Krugman:

No, I’m not talking about Bob Corker, the Senator from Nissan — I mean Tennessee — and his fellow Republicans, who torpedoed last week’s attempt to buy some time for the U.S. auto industry. (Why was the plan blocked? An e-mail message circulated among Senate Republicans declared that denying the auto industry a loan was an opportunity for Republicans to “take their first shot against organized labor.”)"


R. Neal at KnoxViews also has a Corker Rebuke:

We should never have entered into discussions with Sen. Corker, but we did because of the importance of what was going on here," Gettelfinger said. "And it failed. And it's not because we didn't have a tentative agreement. It's because" Corker "could not deliver at the end of the day."

Next up - I'm waiting for the ads to start running which show a picture of Sen. Corker with the caption "Would you buy a used car from this man?"

From the Washington Post
, some folks in Spring Hill say:

Our pay is nothing like what people say it is on the news," said Barbara Walker, who works at the plant, as does her husband. "I think Bob Corker stinks, I really do. I even sent an e-mail to him. He never responded to me at all."

"What Bob Corker is is a union buster, plain and simple," said Brian Kerr, 46, who has worked 28 years for GM. "We set the wage rates for the other plants in the state. Without us, they will be making $10 an hour."

He uttered a vulgarity and said "that's the nicest word I can use about him."

"Anyone who calls himself an American and wants to get rid of American jobs isn't worth much in my book," said Tim Kinjorski, 50, a plant worker. "He's been blinded by his own hatred of the unions."

Odd too that while southern states dole out billions to "help" car makers decide to locate in the South, southern reps in congress say no to aiding U.S. auto makers in financial turmoil, no matter the long-term economic costs. This list via Facing South shows these lures have been worth nearly $4 billion.


I need to add here I have no sympathy for the car industry since for the last 30 years they have steered far, far away from alternative fuel vehicles despite the demand from consumers and the inevitable costs of dependency on foreign providers for oil.

Whatever fate may or may not be deserved by such refusals, another massive industrial and economic collapse is rapidly approaching an already deeply wounded nation. It seems we are poised to provide not only billions to foreign nations for fuel, but billions more for the very machines which use that fuel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Annual Christmas Music Collection, Part One

Here's another in the annual offerings of Christmas music. I know there are personal faves for this time of year -- but I always like to give other musicians their shot at earning a place in Tradition.

So I started this collection out with a longtime favorite (which is offered again at the end in a new version), and after some thought, I decided that Christmas 2008 has some bleak qualities. Too much talk of money or the lack of it and shopping or the lack of it. At the risk of providing a collection that might be called An Emo Christmas, here are some tunes you may or may not know and which may or may not add some sadness to your egg nog. (And besides, if T Rex can sing something bouncy for the holidays, it can't all be bad.)

Consider this part one of this year's musical montage -- yes, that means at least one or maybe two more collections will be posted on coming days.

Enjoy the music and the holidays -- and Merry Christmas everybody, no matter what.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Camera Obscura: Goodbye Bettie Page; Best Film of '08; Nazi Zombies; New Terminator Trailer

Iconic sex symbol and famous Nashville native Bettie Page died yesterday at the age of 85. In the 1950s she was an underground sensation and by the 1980s she had become an American icon. She was hounded by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver in congressional hearings but something about the fame and infamy of her photos refused to go away.

An interview with her from 10 years ago has many details of her life and experiences and the odd days after her modeling career when bad things kept her constantly in trouble with authorities.

Why has her smile and her cheeky image been so popular?

Perhaps it was her seemingly joyous dismissal of the idea that nudity was immoral. Perhaps it is the enigmatic way she gazed at the camera, somewhat bold and somewhat carefree, nearly a parody of Hollywood glamour yet still a girl-next-door.

Her influence will last for many decades to come - she's even been the inspiration for George Lucas, who created a "Bettybot" for his epic movie series. Her official website has logged more than 600 million hits in the last five years, and items with her image are too numerous to mention.

Adios, Bettie. And thanks for that smile.


Some months back I wrote about a friend of mine, Mike Abbott, whose work in the movie "Shotgun Stories" got rave reviews. Add one more - film critic Roger Ebert placed to movie on his list of the year's best and urged movie fans to seek "Shotgun Stories" out:

You'll have to search for it, but worth it. In a "dead-ass town," three brothers find themselves in a feud with their four half-brothers. It's told like a revenge tragedy, but the hero doesn't believe the future is written by the past. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, it avoids the obvious and shows a deep understanding of the lives and minds of ordinary young people in a skirmish of the class war. The dialogue rings true, the camera is deeply observant. The film was the audience favorite at Ebertfest 2008."

Congrats, Mike!

The official movie website is here.

Oh and why not show off this pic he sent me of himself and another good friend who is currently working to create the entertainment you'll find at Disney's new theme park in Hong Kong:


What would this movie column be without a mention of zombies??

The brand new Norwegian movie, "Dead Snow", looks like a popcorn bucket o' fun! Nazis and Beethoven arrive about 1:45 into the trailer ....


Christian Bale moves from Batman to John Connor in the newest installment of The Terminator movie series. I've been watching the TV show "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on FOX and like the show pretty well. Bale has signed on for two more Terminator movies -- we got us a big ol' franchise monster here.

Here's the preview trailer:


Be sure and check out two fine ... or make that creaky old horror flicks from Britain tonight on Turner Classic Movies Underground. The show starts promptly at 2:15 a.m. with a double bill of "Beyond The Fog" (originally released as "Tower of Evil") followed by "House of Horror".

Be there or be square, Daddy-O.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Which I Am Invaded

A rattling racket on the back porch jolted me away from the computer keyboard in the early hours of the morning.

"Dang cat," I thought. And yet when I turned and walked to the doorway to the back deck - nothing, no cat, no disrupted furniture, no sign of the wee feline.

Suddenly a wiry creature is flying at me and lands splayed across the screen door, claws clutch at the meshed pattern and I nearly faint from terror and adrenaline. Thankfully, I did not voice 'the girly scream'.

A squirrel hangs in mid-air clinging to the screen door, eyeing me with some amusement.

"Hey! What the heck -- HEY!"

Squirrel twitches it's bushy tail, and would surely have laughed had it the ability.

Instead it is all Fearlessness and Bravado. I pondered on opening the door to scare it away, then imagined the house invaded with a scampering hell-beast and wisely decided to do nothing. So we stared at each other for a few minutes. Finally he hurls himself into a roiling back-flip and begins a route outlining the dimensions of the deck by hopping from corner to corner via the posts on the deck railing.

A backyard rich in walnuts and other goodies is of no interest to this creature. I get the feeling he wants something specific. No idea what that might be --- some coffee maybe? A grilled cheese sandwich?

Muttering to myself, I go back to the computer and attempt to recollect my thoughts. About two minutes later, another house-jarring crash makes me jump out of my skin. Now he is hanging on the screen of the kitchen window, turning circles in a frenzy.

"WHAT?? What do you want from me?" I say, realizing instantly these are usually the last words of an imminent horror movie fatality.

He back and side flips over to the deck again.

For a moment, I ponder on offering him one of those pouches of catnip which sit in the cupboard. Could be interesting. Could make it far worse.

I start to ease the screen door open - maybe Timmy fell into the well and Lassie-squirrel here is trying hard to communicate the danger to me. (Timmy is at school and we do not have a well ... maybe a forest fire is approaching? Is Lassie-squirrel blinking a Morse code at me?)

Before I can do anything, the creature tornadoes across the deck and it's carpet of dead leaves, whirls up and back and sideways into the yard, does a bounce and is halfway up the walnut tree.

What the heck was that about?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Making The News Makes News

Layoffs and downgrades at newspapers around the country may well leave large and small communities without their daily papers. While I've earned my living for decades in the news biz, I am also part of the reason they are in dire times. I seldom touch a paper or a magazine, since 90% of what I am seeking is already available online.

I don't have to pay to read their product - though I do pay for the access to the Web. Most papers have dropped any fees to receive their info online, but one wonders if they may start charging out of sheer fiscal necessity.

The Chicago Tribune media giant has declared bankruptcy, but is it really due to falling readership and advertising? Is it the mismanaged programs of owner Sam Zell?

Marty Kaplan says yes:

Zell only put up $315 million of his own money to buy the Times' owner, Tribune Co. The rest -- $8.2 billion -- was highly leveraged debt; the deal, which nearly tripled Tribune's debt load, turned on a fancy maneuver creating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan executed behind the backs of Tribune's actual employees. The sorry result: a debt service of $1 billion a year.

Even if advertising were not dropping, even if subscriptions were not falling, Zell would have had no chance to cover his monthly nut without the waves of cutbacks he ordered, which have devastated Times morale and decimated its content. And even with those cutbacks, the bankruptcy is now proof of how misbegotten his strategy was in the first place.

The economic meltdown the nation is now living through offers plenty of evidence of how the American people are at the mercy of casino gamblers posing as capitalism's finest. The billionaires who got us into this mess turn out to be not heroic entrepreneurs contributing to the country's prosperity, but unaccountable buccaneers who could care less about jobs and communities. Sam Zell's megalomania isn't unique; it's just our misfortune that Los Angeles' civic life has to bear the consequences of his financial swagger."

Kaplan adds that what is being lost is not being replaced online, no matter how it is organized:

"Blogs and Web sites are swell, but they're silos, not connective tissue. Local television news believes that thoughtful coverage of local politics and public affairs is ratings poison. Community and special-interest and alternative papers perform a crucial service, but size matters; a million people sharing the same information every day makes a deeper impact than 10 readerships of a 100,000 once a week, no matter how ecumenical the content. Budgets matter, too: investigative journalism takes time and dough that smaller outlets, and local public television, don't have. The Times may be an imperfect mirror of what Los Angeles is, but without it, it's hard to know where the region goes to see itself whole, or even why people will think that's an effort worth making.

"Sam Zell didn't cause the crisis in modern journalism, but he did turn a superb and profitable institution into a basket case. The people who work there, and the people who read it, deserve way better."

Kaplan takes on a related issue too in another column - should reporters be allowed to provide opinion on the news stories they cover?

Straight news puts the defensive blather from top executives of Moody's and Standard & Poor's on the same footing as testimony about conflict-of-interest by former officials of those firms at the hearings. Each piece of damning evidence is juxtaposed with a flack's denial. Each incriminating e-mail demonstrating the corruption of the ratings process is laid against the executives' contrary assurances of integrity and high standards. Straight news is stenography: these guys say "day"; these other guys say "night." It's up to you, dear reader, to decide whom to believe.

"The trouble with this conception of journalism is that it inherently tilts the playing field in favor of liars, who are expert at gaming this system. It muzzles reporters, forbidding them from crying foul, and requiring them to treat deception with the same respect they give to truth. It equates fairness with evenhandedness, as though journalism were incompatible with judgment. "Straight news" isn't neutral. It's neutered - devoid of assessment, divorced from accountability, floating in a netherworld of pseudo-scientific objectivity that serves no one except the rascals it legitimizes."

I agree that just providing opposing views is NOT the way news should be written or presented. Views of the players in a news story demand to be tempered with the facts of how the actions of the players affect the public.

In other words, as Kaplan says, the reporter's job is to out the rascals and not legitimize them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Pooped For Christmas

Those wacky Catalonians!

Since the 17th century, they have added a wee statue to their Nativity scenes during Christmas of folks taking a poop. Yeah. You stay classy, Catalonia.

In more recent years, the "caganer" has changed from depicting peasants to celebrities. And when city officials in Barcelona tried to ban the wee poopers from the city's official Nativity scene in 2006, a huge protest followed, so they added one in.

Of course, this year, the most popular figure caught "in medias res" is President-elect Obama. Perhaps it is a sign of admiration. (Or yet another sign that his presidency will be ... challenged ... at every turn. It is no easy job. See my previous post.)

And I thought the best joke about the Catalonian region came from Chevy Chase.

Saying Goodbye to President Bush

"I would hope that when it's all said and done, people say, 'This is a guy who showed up to solve problems,' " Bush said at the forum. "And when you have somebody say there's a pandemic that you can help, and you do nothing about it, then you have frankly disgraced the office."

--- President George W. Bush, Dec. 2008 (via the WP)

Taking the long view of the "legacy promotion tour" underway by the current administration, the historical view, so to speak, President Bush says or rather wistfully considers and then discards the long view:

I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it."

Now you too can add your last words, and write a Goodbye Letter to President Bush at this website.

I considered several things to say, but here is the best comment I can offer: "Don't speak. Just go."

Sam Venable's column in the Knoxville News Sentinel - "
Lax government oversight on virtually all fronts is Bush's laughingstock legacy.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Lobbying Against Auto Bailout?

Sen. Bob Corker, along with outgoing Congressman David Davis and incoming Congressman Phil Roe, are not happy with a proposal to "bailout" the nation's automakers.

Maybe they have good reason -- the question on my mind is how many companies in the state of non-U.S. auto and auto parts manufacturers are lobbying these good folks from Tennessee to reject such a program?

Both Rep. Davis and Rep. Roe offer views based more on anecdotes than economic policy:

Rep. Davis: "
I do think we need to do something to help the automobile industry, but I think they need to help themselves first. One of the things they could do is move those jobs to the South where it is more labor- friendly and a good work ethic here in Tennessee and across the South. They could build a car cheaper, and it would put them in a better footing in the world market."

Rep. Roe: "I’m about stimulated out,” said Roe, Johnson City’s mayor. “Sooner or later you’ve got to swallow the poison pill and get off this credit card ride we’re on and start paying our bills. I look at my grandchildren, and I’m thinking ‘What we’re doing is mortgaging their future so we can maintain the standard of living we have right now.’ “I understand we have car manufacturing and car dealers here. I’m not insensitive to that, but sooner or later you’ve got to build a car that somebody wants to sell at a price they’ll buy it for."

Meanwhile, Senator Corker says any loans must be intensely detailed and moderated:

These are the same types of conditions a bankruptcy judge might require to ensure that these companies become viable and sustainable into the future, and if they will agree to these terms then we have something to talk about. The process I have suggested would allow them to avoid the problems and stigma that accompany a formal bankruptcy, while forcing them to do the things they need to do to be successful companies."

All these comments seem aimed at protecting foreign car-makers in Tennessee than they are concern for the national economy as a whole. What might be best for them is not likely to be the same as what is best for the Big Three car-makers.

Adding to the current confusion over what to do -- the constantly repeated myth of how much workers are paid in the U.S. to make cars. It is not $70 an hour, it's more like $24 per hour.

There is an enormous balancing act for economic growth in the U.S. and on the global scale. I can't see a robust response which eyes the future and the present coming from Washington. It's more like watching those old stage acts where a dozen plates are spinning away on the tops of little poles in defiance of the laws of gravity. Sooner or later, the act has to end. Does it end with a crash or a flourish of accomplishment?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

R.I.P. Uncle Forry - Thanks For Everything

It is no exaggeration to say that Forrest J Ackerman made my life better. He also made it possible for so many science fiction, horror and fantasy stories and movies and television to be created, and for today's online world of fans of all those genres exist thanks to him.

Ackerman passed away Thursday at the age of 92 and there will be many remembrances and salutes and some sadness for weeks to come. He was the First Fan, the man who created the very worlds of Fandom. The Uber Fan Boy. His life's work, his home, his influence stretches across decades. There was simply no one like him - he was more than just a fan, he knew everyone from Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi to Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, from Ed Wood and Ray Harryhausen to Rick Baker and George Lucas.

He made a welcome and hearty home for the odd folks like me who are fascinated with tales of the fantastic and the mysteries of monsters. He wasn't just a name - he was Uncle Forry to me (and many others around the world.)

Says Stephen King:

When you think of the size of the business, the dollar amount, that has sprung up out of fantasy, the people who made everything from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Jaws,’ ” Mr. King said, “well, Forry was a part of their growing up. The first time I met Steven Spielberg, we didn’t talk about movies. We talked about monsters and Forry Ackerman."

I was about 9 or 10 years old the first time I saw a copy of Ackerman's magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland", and I bought every issue thereafter I could find. The magazine didn't print Fan Mail, it printed Fang Mail. Living in Los Angeles, he called it Horrorwood, Karloffornia. His humor and his deep admiration for all things fantastic made him an astonishing collector and curator and turned his home, the Ackermansion, into the biggest and most celebrated museum of the fantasy and horror genres ever.

He housed items from the silent film "Metropolis" to Spock's pointy ears, and tens of thousands of books and magazines long since out of print.

He earned the prestigious Hugo Award for Number One Fan in 1953, long before he began to publish Famous Monsters of Filmland in 1958. The magazine celebrated the movies of Dracula and Frankenstein, and anything science fiction (he is credited with coining the abbreviation "sci-fi"). Not only was his magazine the only guide to fantastic films, it showed me how to create the make-up and effects used.

As I was growing up in a small town in middle Tennessee, there was no one who liked this stuff as much as I did - except for Uncle Forry. He let me know my curiosity and fascination was part of a huge world. My room soon became a place for Aurora models of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, life-sized posters of Karloff's Frankenstein, models of rocketships and creatures from the stars, and even today I proudly own movie posters and action figures of all kinds.

He also was literary agent for hundreds of now-famous writers, selling the first Ray Bradbury story in 1938, and was, as he called it, "illiterary agent" for director Ed Wood. He was a prolific writer of the fantastic as well and has appeared in over 200 movies.

And his home, which sadly he was forced to sell, along with over many hundreds of thousands of items he had collected from the movies in order to pay escalating medical bills earlier in this decade, that home was always open to visitors. For years and years, he would open his doors on Saturdays and give any and all comers a personal tour. Here is Forry being interviewed in his home:

And here is one fellow fan's video of a trip to the Ackermansion:

Another interview with Uncle Forry includes another comment from Stephen King which I love:
"Forry was the first; he was best and he is the best. He stood up for a generation of kids who realised that if it was junk, it was magic junk."

Thanks Unc, for all you did and for your endless enthusiasm. You will always be the best that ever was.

Remembrances from fans and celebrities at
Ain't It Cool News.
A Flickr photo set.
His movie credits.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Camera Obscura: Jazz Movies and Other Ultra-Cool Picks

I continue to emphasize a wee corner of cable TV called TCM Underground and tonight (well, it starts at 2 a.m.) they provide another great selection, starting with the seldom seen "All Night Long", an early 1960s ultra-cool jazz version of Shakespeare's Othello.

Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck and other jazz legends are captured in performance in this film, which stars a pre-"Prisoner" Patrick McGoohan as a drummer who schemes to break up one of the couples attending an all night swinging and groovy party of hep-cats and dope heads. And all thru the night, incredible performances get laid down, like this one from Brubeck:

God bless Turner Classic Movies for airing films like this.

The second half of their Underground double feature is "The Knack and How To Get It," a Richard Lester film from the mid-1960s which was rather scandalous in it's day with all the talk of how to have sex with as many women as possible. Today, it seems rather tame, but has many of the stylistic touches Lester was soon famous for - jump cuts and camera tricks and more. But there is more nostalgia than scandal here. All in all, it makes the swinging 60s sort of boring and boorish.

But do not miss "All Night Long" - it's a fascinating peek at a time when folks at a 'wild party' wore suits and tuxedos and drank martinis without fru-fru additions of apple or chocolate flavor. They would smack you just for asking for such a thing.


I also continue to be impressed with all things found at Cinebeats. This week she offers a Vampire Film Alphabet. Here's just a sample:

M. Martin (George Romero; 1977)
N. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Werner Herzog; 1979)
O. Omega Man, The (Boris Sagal; 1971)
P. Planet of the Vampires (Mario Bava; 1965)

And her collection of movie posters on Flickr is a true thing of beauty and it makes me burn with envy. There is no better blog of 60s and 70s cinema.



News this week that efforts are underway for more remakes, from the old Errol Flynn action movie "Captain Blood", a prequel to "Planet of the Apes" called "Caesar", but will not include any talking apes .... whaaa?

And the creator of the Babylon 5 TV series says producers are ready to bankroll his "re-imagining" of "Forbidden Planet":

To that end, he's researching astrophysics, A.I., and planetary geology to create a scientifically accurate Krell backstory -- none of which will be stylishly retro. "At the time it was made it was cutting edge ...People that went to see that film saw things they had never seen before. What we have to do now is have this one be as innovative now as the original was then."

Newscoma pointed me to another remake on the way, this one of John Carpenter's sci-fi satire of alien invasion called "They Live". The original is a perfect little movie -- made during the waning days of the Reagan era, Roddy Piper plays an out-of-work fellow who finds himself struggling for survival among a group of homeless folks and stumbles onto efforts to unmask a vast conspiracy of aliens who have taken over the planet.

This group, he learns, is devising ways to short-circuit the mind-numbing technology the aliens are employing and Piper soon sees the world as it really is, as this clip shows:

And it has one of my favorite movie lines, when Piper confronts the aliens with a shotgun and says "I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I'm all out of bubblegum."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Conflicting Claims In Cherries Internet Cafe Collapse

There are many conflicting claims in a mini-flurry of press reports yesterday regarding the collapse of the Cherries Internet Cafe, and sadly the press reports aren't digging into those conflicts or into the simple fact that employees have not been paid for work done months ago. Meanwhile, CIC's owner/operator has darted away to start another business leaving those workers and other contractors empty handed.

It may just be me, but if my company collapsed, I think I would like to think I'd have the decency to be accountable for it, and not blame those who gave financial support to the business. Now it looks like a long round of court battles are ahead, which does not help out those who are owed for work long since completed and will instead cost them earnings. (A DISCLAIMER: I know several folks who worked with CIC in a wide range of capacities, but we have seldom talked about the problems. I am really perplexed by these press clippings and the conflicts they include.)

Also, while those folks and others are locked into legal battles and are advised by attorneys not to speak publicly about the issues involved, the owner of Cherries decides to head to the press and lay out some blame and dodge the problems of not paying employees or vendors.

The Metro Pulse had a report in which it is claimed Cherries For Life's Ingrid Gee has started a new business called Blue Dress TV, but in reports in the Knoxville News Sentinel she says she was hired by them to run the business. Which is it?

And the thought of starting up another biz while former employees go empty-handed ... well, that's just lousy treatment, in my opinion.

Also, the KNS report
originally stated that Ingrid started BlueDress and was updated to reflect that an "undisclosed management group" has hired her to run the company. But no such change has been noted with Metro Pulse.

More conflicts in that KNS report:

" ...
Gee said she agreed to walk away from the company with about $155,000 worth of debt."
"She said at least $70,000 is owed to creditors and that part of the agreement she signed required the management group to pay all creditors."

KNS reporter Carly Harrington, in a third report yesterday, presents more oddities from Gee. Emails Harrington received from Gee were offered to prove how other investors in the business failed to do their jobs, but they just make no sense. These aren't documents which detail the specifics of the business operation.

This email (which noted concerns on how accounts are or are not being handled) has the last few lines blocked out by a note from Gee. That line includes the telling question "Who is setting up the books?"

In this email (again, offered as proof of the 'business structure') Gee asks "Do we have any investors" and that funds are already depleted for the business (dated September 6th).

This email is a copy of a Code of Ethics for the best way to do business ... but again, no documents which detail the actual responsibilities of investors or Gee. Odd. What are these meant to actually prove? Why did the reports not dig into these issues?

Seems to me if I had investors or co-owners who failed to deliver on their responsibilities, then I would provide the press with more that some emails of me asking some folks for more money. Why not provide the documents which detail the structure or documents of refusals/failures to do said jobs? If I were offered what I considered a forced buyout, then I again would provide some documents to back up the claims.

So now the public is watching a "he said-she said" battle. And contractors and employees are forced into court to obtain earnings for work already supplied.

I hope the press digs deeper, and offer some hard facts on what has really been happening.

One reason I'm posting this today is to get your feedback -- what do you make of these reports? Do the claims make sense? Doesn't the press need to double-check claims made prior to printing/publishing stories?

One more item of note - a November 12th post from Harrington on the closing of Cherries from Gee:

Ingrid Gee, who founded the cafe that opened in September, said she decided to sell in order to "put it into the hands of somebody who could develop its full potential."

"I like to be in the development of new ideas and concepts. It was a pleasure to start and found the cafe. Now, I'm off to bigger and better things. It was nice to work with all the people who helped make it happen," Gee said."

Nice? Is being "nice" a substitute for paying employees? So many conflicting comments - which ones are true?

SEE ALSO: KnoxViews

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pop Culture Victim Number 3,042

Let's move the Topic-Meter waaay over here for a moment, into the twilight land where worldwide fame intersects with the ordinary. There is a person here, somewhat dazed looking - or worse - someone wounded to a point where longevity is a real question.

The someone in this weird land is Britney Spears - who turned 27 today. I'm no fan of her music. It's catchy pop stuff, over-produced manufacturing via the Music Industry, which needs such acts as hers for basic bread-and-butter earnings. Still, I can observe - and you can too - how her 'career' and her private life have taken on that quality of a ticking time bomb which usually plays out on the E! network in specials about how some celebrity went from fame and fortune to despair and death on a rocket ride of thrills and chills.

I tried to watch the 'documentary' which aired on MTV Sunday, "Britney: For The Record", but it became very clear in just a few minutes that the poor woman is the Mayor of that twilight land, that she hates it, that the 1000-yard stare on her face bodes ill omens.

Is she zonked out on something which used to get her high and now keeps her unhappy? Other than her own life and career, that is. No one in the media or the MTV special is asking that question, even though the media hovers about her every move and has since she was a child. Few if any can survive living in such glaring darkness.

TV writer for the L.A. Times Mary McNamara cites some of the sad qualities of her distorted days and nights:

Far more revealing than her "for the record" words is the glimpse the film provides into the strange, insular world of the pop star. The hours spent in makeup, in wardrobe, in meetings, in weird places that aren't really places -- hotel rooms, greenrooms, sound stages. There are several scenes shot from the interior of a black SUV (Memo to celebrities: The paparazzi are on to the whole black SUV thing), including a harrowing incident in which she literally cannot safely get out of the car. But that space, in which about six people can fit comfortably, is an unnervingly accurate symbol for how confined she is, or at least how confined she believes she is.

"I wish I wasn't famous," she says at one point with a wistfulness that seems sincere, "so I could feel part of people."

"The trap Spears finds herself in may have more to do with a lack of imagination than the paparazzi -- at one point, she laments that the cameras have taken away her cool-girl cred, that she can't be a party girl anymore, which makes her kind of boring. "There's no excitement, there's no passion, there's no nothing. It's just like 'Groundhog Day' every day, you know? So I'm really bored," she says. During another moment of high emotion, she drives herself practically to tears arguing with her entourage that not only doesn't she always get to do what she wants, she never gets to do what she wants.

Here is Britney Spears, apparently on the road to a tremendous comeback, young and pretty, talented and rich, who can not only get a documentary made just so she can make herself seem less crazy to her audience but can also provide the commercial sponsorship herself ("Britney: For the Record" is brought to you by Spears' fragrances Curiosity and Fantasy, which means even the commercials are vehicles for her career).

And yet she has to make an effort to "stay positive every day" because life can "be so cruel."

But for me, there is a clear picture in that documentary of a person who is so close to the edge, you can see the abyss reflected in her eyes. She stares at the camera and tells the crew there are too many cameras in her life. Is it all part of the act, or is it that despair never recognizes itself?

I hope I'm very wrong, that she endures for many, many years.

But given the Music Industry's constant need for acts to feed on and then discard like plastic wrap around a Twinkie, their long history of pouring gasoline on performers who are in full burn out mode in hopes of earning a few more dollars, the best future for Spears is to take her earnings and flee from those who want to live in her wake.

Maybe she should read those reports issued annually about how some performer who has died is still earning millions and billions for others who have turned tragedy into profit.

If you happen to see the MTV documentary, I think you'll have to agree I'm right - that they have not just filmed a train wreck, but are keeping the camera focused on someone the wreck has just about killed and is watching them gasp for air.

Conservatives Target Imaginary Foes

I've heard claims for many weeks now on Conservative media outlets that they are facing extinction from Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration. But that's just not true. It has been voters who have turned them out and told them "thanks but no thanks" for their bridges to nowhere.

Following their defeats in congressional races in 2006 and the presidency in 2008, they have decided to dodge the facts of their failures and now are pointing to imaginary foes as they whip up a sound and fury over nothing at all.

Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and other friends have spent the past year screaming about the horrors of Barack Obama. And, while it's true that they talked ad nauseam about socialism and the Weathermen and Jeremiah Wright, careful listeners would have noticed a recurring theme of anxiety: that Obama was going to use the newly acquired levers of government to destroy them. Specifically, conservative paranoia over the possible reinstatement of the "fairness doctrine," a defunct policy requiring that broadcasters allow opposing points of view to be heard over the airwaves, has reached a fevered pitch. In September, George Will was warning his readers that, "[u]nless McCain is president, the government will reinstate the ... 'fairness doctrine.'" In October, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page chimed in, predicting that under the spooky-sounding "liberal supermajority," the fairness doctrine was "likely to be reimposed," with the goal being "to shut down talk radio and other voices of political opposition." And, two weeks before the election, the New York Post blasted: "Dems Get Set to Muzzle the Right."

"Responses from the offices of most of the Democrats who have been pegged as fairness-doctrine proponents--Schumer, Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, and others--have ranged from a firm denial that the issue is a priority at all to disbelief at finding themselves at the center of a manufactured controversy. "Somebody plucked this out of the clear blue sky," says the press secretary for New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat who was questioned about the issue by a conservative radio-show host a few weeks ago. "This is a completely made- up issue." Senator Durbin's press secretary says that Durbin has "no plans, no language, no nothing. He was asked in a hallway last year, he gave his personal view"--that the American people were served well under the doctrine--"and it's all been blown out of proportion." In fact, as recently as last year, the House voted by an overwhelming three-to-one margin to temporarily prohibit the FCC from imposing the dead policy; 113 Democrats voted to support the move.

Meanwhile, the president-elect himself has said in no uncertain terms that he does "not support reimposing the fairness doctrine on broadcasters." Republican paranoia is nothing more than that.

"Democrats may scratch their heads over why this has lately become a right-wing obsession, but the paranoia is not without precedent. The prospect of being in the opposition often brings out the worst in conservatives--paranoia and self-pity. Plus, when the conservative coalition seems threatened, there's no better way to unify the party than scaring up liberal bogeymen."

In a constant and predictable way, the politics of Conservatives depend on identifying Evil Conspiracies, and they ignore the daily realities of actual problems the nation faces.

And they wonder why voters have rejected them??