Friday, January 25, 2008

Camera Obscura - The Oscars; New X-Files; Weirdness on TV

What are two of the most brain-bending-how-did-that-happen nominations in this year's Oscar list?

"Norbit" and "Transformers".

Still "Norbit" has the very successful pedigree of Rick Baker, who has 11 nominations over his career and six wins, including being the first person to win an Oscar for Best Makeup, for "An American Werewolf in London" way back in 1981.

Speaking of werewolves, the much anticipated and long awaited second movie from the "X-Files" appears to be centered on just that - werewolves. Well, possibly. Some just released spy pics from the set do show someone in a kinda cheesy looking werewolf mask. Maybe it's just a secondary plot point.

The X-Files creators have a solid history of making their show super-creepy and scary, and the filmmakers have said they plan for the sequel to be heavy in the scares and light in the aliens this time.


I've watched the first few episodes of "The Sarah Connors Chronicles", a spin-off of "The Terminator" movies and I confess I have no idea what the hey is going on, due mostly to a steady stream of time travel plots. If you wish to track the many timelines offered in the 3 movies and in this new series, plus the planned future trilogy of "Terminator" movies, then you'll need some quantum nerd math power.
Of course, as I’ve noted before, this all quickly gets absurd if the time travelers of 2032 have potentially unlimited power to keep going back and changing things — Terminator quickly becomes Groundhog Day, or at least becomes that bit from Family Guy where Peter keeps going back in time and screwing up his first date with Lois."

A most uncomfortable battle for affections does seem to exist between Sarah and the robot/cyborg sent to protect Sarah's son. Who will he like best? He's already showing signs of needing some serious therapy already.

Given the wildly improbable time traveling nature of the show, I kept waiting for Al Gore and his Vice Presidential Action Rangers to show up.


If someone is deeply desperate to get images and details of the next "Star Trek" movie, you have options now available. The first is a web site which is supposed to be in the Federation shipyards where the Enterprise is being built. If you monkey with the controls on the 'camera feeds' you can see .... well, it looks like some dude is welding something. Yeah, wow, how compelling.

Or go here to see the teaser trailer for the movie, which again is really just shots of some dude welding.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Vast Database of Deception

A searchable database of information on the constant, repeated and intentional distortion of facts by the Bush administration as they argued for military action in Iraq was presented by the Center for Public Integrity this week.

Their report cites over 930 instances of false information being provided the national and international worlds. And sadly, the general response to the report is a rather exhausted yawn. "It doesn't even matter anymore," said a friend of mine.

I disagree for reasons best summed up by Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post:

And yet there are plenty of reasons why the deceitful run-up to war is not old news. For one, the war goes on. For another, government credibility remains severely damaged. And then there's the fact that the president has never really been held to account for his repeated falsehoods."

Why do we tolerate the selling out of our credibility and our history, and the dismissive attitude for the lives of American soldiers?

Within a matter of months, the current administration will leave the enormous disasters it has created for others to clean up. The administration followed it's falsehoods by boldly denouncing negative criticisms as unpatriotic or treasonous. If no accountability exists now, should America ever expect it -- at any level of society -- at all?

Your Communication Is Not Yours Anyway

Congress is poised to act again on a bad idea - giving out something called "retroactive immunity" to telecom agencies for the purposes of spying. The bill passed in Congress last August to re-write the laws on spying/eavesdropping/data-mining, though it came with a time limit, which ends on Feb. 1st of this year. So with a quiet determination, the White House is pushing for a permanent bill, as Vice-President Cheney preaches for the law's passage to a chorus of believers at the Heritage Foundation.

And now, as in August of last year, Congress really does not know what it is even voting for (or against), as Coleen Rowley notes:

Without the facts about the scope of monitoring, what actual prior limitations or technological challenges existed and exactly what kinds of surveillance services or customer records the telecoms were providing the NSA, it's hard to know what, if any, legislative remedy is needed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is quite obvious, however, from various congresspersons' public statements after the midnight vote in August 2007 (before their summer recess) that few understood what they had voted for. So there's strong reason to believe that Congress itself has still not been told the truth. What Congress and the public have been told is that dramatic changes to FISA are necessary to expand warrantless monitoring of all international calls including of Americans' calls abroad.

Immunizing the telecoms' prior illegal actions in a blanket way not only sets a terrible precedent that the Constitution and the courts don't matter on the mere say-so of the executive branch, but the continued murkiness potentially covers up all kinds of other problems. Remember the FBI's rush to collect banking, credit, telephone, travel and all manner of other information about you with their hundreds of thousands of "national security letters" after 9-11? More is not necessarily better if mistakes and non-relevance are pervasive in such collection, as the Department of Justice's own Inspector General later found."

The argument that only the guilty need be concerned about this type of constant surveillance is an argument which has neither merit nor logic. And demanding, as the White House does, that "retroactive immunity" must be provided surely tells us that officials are and were keenly aware that something illegal has been done.

Monitoring and controlling communication is a priority for telecoms, as AT&T has recently announced it is planning to "filter" all the info they handle -- that means anything you search for or send out is going to be scrutinized:

But it’s a sign of things to come: “Net Neutrality” is a hard issue to explain to most folks. But the notion of AT&T “reading your IM” is a lot easier to convey, and sure to rile folks up. This would be a tough sell even if it wasn’t an election year."

And again, an often mentioned argument that "we have no privacy now anyway" is a self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy.

I think what the White House is after could be better described by a term fans of comic books often use -- retcon. Retcon stands for "retroactive continuity", deliberately changing established facts and history to accommodate current trends. It's a reality shift so that reality always changes to fit the needs of the moment.

SEE ALSO: Whites Creek reports that only one presidential candidate, John Edwards, is aggressively battling the passage of the telecom immunity plan, and wonders why front-runners Clinton and Obama are quiet on the issue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

TV News Covers 'Baloney' In Campaign For President

The commentary on how television news departments are covering the race for the Presidency is certainly scathing -- but it sure isn't news to viewers. Writing for the Indianapolis Star, professor Jeffrey McCall cites several studies which reveal how little is being reported and the trend instead to air puff pieces of no consequence:

At this time last year, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Michael Copps told a media reform conference that the broadcast media should do more to strengthen our democracy. He criticized the television news industry for giving the public “too much baloney passed off as news.”

Sadly, the evidence since that speech indicates that Copps’ critique remains quite valid. From superficial coverage of elections to hyped-up coverage of celebrity scandals, the broadcast news industry continues to give the citizenry a news agenda that degrades the conversation of democracy.

Recent studies clearly indicate the public’s disappointment with coverage of the presidential campaign. A report released late last fall from the Harvard Center for Public Leadership said that about two-thirds of the public does not trust the media’s campaign coverage. Sixty percent said the reporting is biased, and 88 percent said the campaign coverage focused on trivial issues.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs analyzed 481 election stories aired October through December on the evening news shows of the big three networks and Fox News Channel. The CMPA study showed that more stories were aired about the candidates’ campaign strategies than about their policy positions. More than a third of all stories focused on polling and the horse-race angle of the campaign.

The public wants a different kind of TV election coverage. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 80 percent of Americans want more coverage of where candidates stand on issues and more coverage of lesser-known candidates. This is not likely to happen any time soon. It is easier and cheaper to cover elections with a template that tells us where a particular prominent candidate is, which celebrity appeared with the candidate, the latest poll numbers, and who feels momentum. It is more sensational to show and analyze Hillary’s teary eyes than detail her policy initiatives."

Read the entire commentary here.

Also worth considering is this question - Does the news matter to anyone anymore?

That's being asked by David Simon, a former journalist and now executive producer for HBO's "Wired" TV show. Simon writes:

Isn’t the news itself still valuable to anyone? In any format, through any medium — isn’t an understanding of the events of the day still a salable commodity? Or were we kidding ourselves? Was a newspaper a viable entity only so long as it had classifieds, comics and the latest sports scores?"

Dog Laws Hound Legislature

It took about one day for Senator Tommy Kilby to back off and offer some new spin for a bill he proposed to make it illegal to own any bull terrier type dog. Still, Sen. Kilby and others are spending time working on legislation to deal not only with violent dog attacks but cruelty to animals.

One legislator, who initially started out wanting an outright ban on pit bulls in Tennessee, said he'd settle for strengthening penalties against owners of vicious dogs that harm others.

Another lawmaker wants victims to be able to sue in court, even if the dog attack occurs on the dog owner's property. "That's where most bites occur," said Sen. Doug Jackson, a Dickson Democrat.

Lawmakers also will consider whether to create an online registry for animal abusers, much like the sex offender registry maintained by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and whether the state should be able to confiscate property where animal fights are held."


"So last year, lawmakers finally toughened Tennessee's weak animal control law, which before then was essentially nothing more than a $50 fine on owners who allowed their dogs to run at large.

The new law, named the Dianna Acklen Act of 2007, abolished Tennessee's long-observed "first bite" rule, which allowed owners to escape civil liability if that was the first time their dog harmed someone.

Now, victims no longer have to prove that they weren't the first person bitten by a dog before they can sue an owner in civil court.

"It was a good first step," said Acklen's daughter, Darbie Sizemore.

"I'm encouraged they put more responsibility on the dog owner.

"My right to walk down a county road should not be infringed upon by your ability to own a dog."

She added, "Owning a dog is not a right; it is a responsibility.

"You have a responsibility to keep your dog contained on your property."

But that's where things get thorny.

The new law applies only if the dog is not on its own property.

Jackson said he's already filed a bill to correct what he says is a "crazy" loophole."

(via the Tennessean, which also has links to all the legislation currently filed and how to contact the sponsors of the bills.)

Meanwhile, The Editor has copious information on the upcoming consideration by the Knox County Commission on a 'dangerous dog' ordinance, which they will review on Jan. 28. She also has lots and lots more information about incidents involving dog attacks here.

Some critical changes certainly need to be considered to make sure the existing laws demand accountability for people who abuse animals and allow them to roam unchecked. Stronger laws and penalties, yes -- banning ownership of one breed or another based on anecdotes and personal bias, no.

Monday, January 21, 2008

One Day

Many key hallmarks in the struggle and the history of the Civil Rights Movement are based here in Tennessee. And while the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr took place in Tennessee, the state is also home today of the National Civil Rights Museum. And few realize the ideas that shaped the forces which fought against racism and injustice were nurtured in Tennessee at the Highlander Center, which continues to work today to educate and empower. A simple but profound idea rests in the heart of their founding principle -

... the answers to the problems facing society lie in the experiences of ordinary people."

Once, a teacher I had told me that the speech given by Dr. King in 1963 in Washington was an excellent example of effective oratory. But to me it is far more than powerful words.

It is a reminder that while we have achieved much in removing the traditions of oppression, each of us must consistently act to improve our world and our country, that each of us benefits most when we seek to insure there is Freedom for all.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekly Best of TN Blogs

The wide assortment of what Tennessee bloggers had to say, compiled via TennViews:

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: LV Democratic Debate: The winners tonight were all the Democrats out here who want to unite to beat the Republicans.

• Andy Axel (at TennViews): "...When First We Practice To Deceive": Note the use of the word "legal." No word regarding whether or not this conduct is "ethical."

• BlountViews: Meeting of the media: A reporter's request for anonymous bloggers to reveal their identity for a story leads to some interesting discussion. More discussion here.

• The Crone Speaks: Increasing the Pool of Slave Labor: The very ugly fact is that if one doesn't work at the big-box stores at half the wages one used to make, with little to no chance of union protection, I might add, one is relegated to slave labor, with little chance of regaining the way of life one used to have.

• Cup of Joe Powell: Why Make It Illegal to Own A Dog??: Whatever made Tennessee Senator Tommy Kilby (D) think that a state law banning ownership of one particular breed of dog, a pit bull, a good idea, I do not know.

• The Donkey's Mouth: GOP leader stands against Ramsey, Mumpower: The GOP leader’s attack is the latest move that highlights demarcated lines between Republicans that voted for and against the FY 2007-2008 budget.

• Enclave: Why a President Mattered to the Civil Rights Movement: The whole debate on race and civil rights during this 2008 campaign was unnecessary and ugly and it was spurred on by the mainstream media.

• Fletch: Everywhere a Sign: Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?. Also: Exposure

• KnoxViews: GM: We need to talk (R. Neal): GM is (for now) the world's largest auto manufacturer with 246 models and $207 billion in revenues last year. They should be able to do better than this. Plus, One good thing Fred Thompson did (Elrod): I salute Fred Thompson for one thing and one thing only. He managed to waste millions of dollars from Tennessee Republican donors on an idiotic campaign.

• Lean Left: That "liberal media" at work again: Now, this is not just an obvious example of putting the worst possible spin on things - it isn't even reasonably representative of what happened in political terms.

• Left of the Dial: Fred: exit stage right: C’mon, Fred. Hurry up. Just quit the race already.

• Left Wing Cracker: This is yet another reason to support our Congressman: Today, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded grants of more than $36,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and $73,000 to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Also: If you're not a Country Music fan, then skip this post.

• Loose TN Canon: Huckabee the Theo-con... one of the most dangerous men in America: Mike Huckabee is the embodiment of the American version of the Taliban.

• NewsComa: I Write Letters: But I would rather vote for an iguana on crack than vote for you after all the stuff you've said this week. Also, We Give What We Can

• Pesky Fly: Feed the chickens: Sure, they know how much a gallon of milk costs. But only because an intern did the research and sent a memo.

• Progressive Nashville: Ay!: Lamar is introducing another bill to "protect English," this time in the workplace, where apparently we're all at risk of sudden spontaneous Spanish-speaking that will leave us unable to otherwise perform our jobs. Also: Michigan: Speed Bump or Brick Wall?

• Resonance: How Will The Right-Wing Noise Machine Spin South Carolina?: Today the GOP destroyers finished 1-2 in South Carolina. What gives? Also: Vote For the Chameleon: One of Romney's talents seems to be his ability cast his image differently depending on which audience he's playing to.

• RoaneViews: GOP control of the State Legislature: The TN GOP campaigns on the hot button issues to energize particular constituencies. That's why they oppose a woman's right to control her own medical care, wave rifles in the air, have their picture taken beside a fence in New Mexico.

• Russ McBee: White House email: my dog ate it: Destruction of federal records is a criminal offense... Also, Huckabee shows his theocratic urge: No person so breathtakingly ignorant of this country's founding should ever be considered a serious candidate to run the show.

• Sean Braisted: "Beer, Soda, Chips and Fred Thompson": His message was text-book "conservatism" and most of his speeches seemed to be an amalgamation of conservative bumperstickers. Also, Prospective Voters

• Sharon Cobb: Congressman Steve Cohen Remembers Dr. Martin Luther King On The Floor: Tuesday evening, Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, Congressman Steve Cohen went to the floor to deliver an eloquent speech about Dr. Martin Luther King. Also, One Year From Today

• Silence Isn't Golden: Obama Wins Nevada: You may be confused by that title. After all, Hillary won Nevada, 50-45, didn't she? Also, Forward This To The Obama Haters: Now understand, you normally can't even get Jews from the different branches to agree on what kind of bagels to serve at the Hillel brunch, let alone agree on major political policy. So this is truly a coup, and proof of just how bad it's gotten.

• Southern Beale: Bye, Bye Fred?: Indeed, this was the huge flaw in the Fred Thompson candidacy that gave liberals so much comedy gold from the beginning. Folks, when picking future GOP stars, make sure the candidate likes politics.

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Chris Matthews' Lame Apology for Being a Sexist Creep (Video): Oh, and Matthews made the point that he has a really great show and he is a really really great guy. Also, Nevada Debate: Democrats Win. Moderators Lose.: Democrats looked good last night. The 'we're family' debate was sorely needed after the recent squabbles.

• TennViews State GOP seeks to limit medical malpractice victim's rights | TennViews: Where's the bill to protect patients from incompetent doctors and negligent hospitals? Where are the bills to improve patient safety and outcomes? Where's the bill to make all malpractice and regulatory actions public and easily accessible so consumers can make informed choices about their health care and providers? Also, Civics 101: Take your kids with you when you vote!

• Vibinc: Vibinc: Something to Consider...: We have an opportunity to vote for REAL change in the coming days. Real change doesn't come in a race or a gender, it comes in a conviction to make America all it can be.

• Whites Creek Journal: INC...Mark of the Beast: You and I have to obey the law...Not the President... Not Corporations...Just You and I.

• Women's Health News: Health Disparities A-Go-Go: Rural residents were also less likely to be added to waiting lists for organs in the first place.