Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog Review

The nerd which owns much of my heart and what little remains of my pop culture-infested brain has been constantly promoting the most unusual 3-act sci-fi musical comedy called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Along Blog" and today (well, really tomorrow, the 20th) will mark the end of seeing it online for free. After tomorrow, purchasing it via iTunes or on the upcoming DVD will be your only choice.

Writer-director Joss Whedon (and some of his family) made this very surreal, very funny and ultimately very entertaining mini web-series. Building on the skills he learned from the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ("Once More With Feeling"), he and his crew and the performers have indeed made something most unique.

Action and comedy, hubris and tragedy, goofiness and pathos all combine in this mini-musical and it is no wonder producers are seriously considering making this into a full-blown Broadway extravaganza.

Act I reels you in with some wry humor, Act II extends it into something more compelling and the 3rd Act payoff is more than worth the 40 or so minutes of the time you and your computer will invest to watch it. While Marvel or DC superheroes rake in mega-bucks at yer local multi-plex, Whedon delivers something much more interesting with Dr. Horrible. It's a sharply observed look at how incompetence can incubate something .... horrible.

In the YouTube age of self-produced silliness, Whedon has made a bit of Internet history. So stop reading this review and just go watch it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Camera Obscura: Batmania; New Watchmen Trailer; Dueling Sherlocks; Max Payne Trailer

The buzz for "The Dark Knight" is overwhelming (a gross understatement) and product tie-ins range from pizza to Reese's Cups. The movie is more than a franchise, the comic far more than an icon.

Unlike all the super-heroes of the past and present, I think there's one simple aspect of the character of Batman which appeals - a dark and conflicted millionaire whose desires are prompted by revenge and muddied by distorted identities.

Spiderman does well as that kinda nerdy guy who revels in the normalcy always outside his reach, but Bats is The Man In Black who appears to relate with the bad guys more than the social climbers and everyday folks of his own world.

For many decades DC Comics called him The World's Greatest Detective - but he's more a post-modern gunslinger: he's immersed in taking down social misfits while forever remaining one himself. Society doesn't really have a place for a "hero" who abandons all social rules in order to preserve them.

For a more more witty and even more fantastical approach to the icons of comic books, some audiences will find far less troubling philosophies in "Hellboy 2". A phantasmagoria of evildoers threatens humanity and Hellboy is more James Garner's "Maverick" than Clint Eastwood's ghostly killer. The textures of terror Hellboy endures don't seem to leave scars of psychodrama.

It's part of the reason heroes like Superman provide such little drama - he can't be hurt and his motives are Ordinary Goodness. Dramatically, that's pretty boring.

In the mid-to-late 1980s and beyond, comic books began to more seriously consider the reality that their stars were hooded vigilantes motivated by much more than notions of Good for Good's Sake.

All that sturm and drang about identity and heroism reached a pinnacle with the brilliant graphic novel from Alan Moore, "The Watchmen", which has forever changed the genre. Director Zack Snyder has been at work tackling the massive work as a movie while fans have wondered how it might be possible to capture the layered brilliance of Moore's tale. The final proof is not to be seen until 2009, but a most impressive trailer was just released which you can watch right here.

But please do yourself favor and read this classic before you see the movie - it is an unforgettable experience.



Oddest news o' the month - Sacha Baron Cohen is set to play Sherlock Holmes with Will Ferrell as Dr. Watson ... and filming at the same time, another Sherlock flick with Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock. Who will be Dr. Watson? Jack Black? Woody Harrelson??


Director David Fincher wants to turn "Fight Club" into a Broadway musical ....


Some years back I had most entertaining and often very scary few weeks plowing through (make that shooting endless rounds of ammo) with a videogame called Max Payne. It wasn't just a hard-boiled neo-noir nightmare. Now Mark Wahlberg is bringing the character to the big screen, complete with scratchy-voiced angst:



A short-lived British TV series called "Spaced", from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the makers and stars of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz". Goofy twenty-somethings in a joke-filled sitcom which leaves other sitcoms far behind:

"In the span of just 14 episodes, Pegg, Stevenson and company managed to create a cast of characters and a world that are better developed than those that populate the vast majority of the sitcom landscape, while Wright raised the bar for half-hour artistry. Add in the fact that it's genuinely funny and laser-focused on the lives of the geek population, and you end up with an utterly brilliant show. This set, which delivers the show in solid quality and packed with a ton of deep, informative and entertaining bonus features, is everything "Spaced" you need (for now) and is a perfect little package for fans of quirky, creative sitcoms, the fanboy lifestyle or especially Shaun of the Dead fans."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Coffee War, Part 2

The war is escalating between a coffee-drinking-blogger and an Arlington coffee shop, Murky Coffee (mentioned here on this page on Tuesday) and now the Washington Post is tackling the tale of The Meaning and Service of Coffee vs What A Customer Wants.

I was fairly certain that once this clash hit the internet, Chaos would reign. And I'm not sure if anyone can be declared winner, except for the marketing campaign for Murky Coffee.

The battle began to brew when a customer asked for his espresso to be poured into a cup of ice. Horror and revulsion from the barista followed - and of course Murky's Owner Nicholas Cho launched his own online salvo and the WaPo story dropped some lethal hyperbole ordinance into the fray with their article:

"Since coffee shops are little more than way stations and IV drips for many bloggers, it's not surprising that Simmermon's post quickly made the rounds in cyberspace. Murky's owner, Nicholas Cho, was alerted to the dispute and responded with an open letter on the cafe's Web site ( He defended his berated barista, David Flynn, and ticked off a litany of store policies that would have made Seinfeld's Soup Nazi duck for cover:

"'No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice. These are our policies. We have our reasons, and we're happy to share them.'

" 'While I certainly won't bemoan you your right to free-speech," he wrote, "I have to respond to you in your own dialect: [naughty word deleted] you, Jeff Simmermon. Considering your public threat of arson, you'll understand when I say that if you ever show your face at my shop, I'll punch you in your [another naughty word deleted]' "

The online debate rages on:

Coffee Geek
Arlington Yelp

One thing new I've learned from all this - The rise of the term "ghetto latte".

Ah, modern American Consumerism.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Volkswagen Deal or No Deal?

Politicians and media outlets were in a heady romance yesterday as they cheered the announcement that the European auto manufacturer Volkswagen had selected Chattanooga for an estimated one billion dollar facility.

Jobs! Prestige!

Well, I am not convinced.

As Michael Silence pointed out today on his blog, questions about just what kind of deal was struck with the company remain unknown.

Were tax incentives offered? How much and for how long? Typically, companies can get years or even decades of property and other taxes waived for new facilities. And for a 1 billion dollar plant and an estimated 2,000 employees, vast amounts of cash will have to flow to create the infrastructure of roads and water and sewer and other utility needs. Who will pay for that?

Other major needs will arise - housing development, school expansions and more. All of that will certainly add some action to the economy, but much of the funds will come from taxpayers already living in the area. Given our state's sales-tax-based system, all those who are lucky enough to get a job at this plant will be paying their taxes out of their earnings.

And let's be honest here - Volkswagen does not make magic. They are certainly a major company, yes. But they make cars - and we live in a time when the car brings a certain economic burden. Perhaps the firm plans for this plant to build hybrid or alternative-fueled cars only. And that too is a major source of economic concern as well.

In the press reports yesterday from Chattanooga, the company said the "surging Euro" has hit record highs against the dollar, making it too expensive to import their cars from Germany to the U.S. That's not exactly good economic news for the U.S.

And millions upon millions have been spent already on the site - $15 million in federal funds to clean up the site and in 2000, the city and county spent $25 million for 940 acres of the site. Calculating the costs of clean-up, purchases, preparation and future infrastructure needs plus any tax incentives created for the project is no easy task.

One of the more popular forms of government financing is freezing property taxes, known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) - and studies show such programs bring their own problems and may just shift the tax burden to others:

invested $1.6 billion in TIFs, even though $1.3 billion in economic development would have occurred anyway. So the bottom line is that the city invested $1.6 billion for $300 million in revenue growth."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dr. Horrible Crashes, But You Can Watch It Here!


Taking more than 200,000 hits an hour yesterday crashed the site for the online-only release of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long-Blog", a three-episode sci-fi musical comedy from Joss Whedon. Oh, yes I knew that was likely - and it also crashed the sites for Whedonesque, and some other fan-related sites too. But today things have settled down and now Dr. Horrible is up and running.

I had placed a video on this post via a mirror web-site, for fellow geeks addicted to Whedon's work such as myself. But since the original site is back up, I've removed the clip.

What the heck am I talking about? Dr. Horrible is a short comedy web-series, following one would-be comic book villian known as Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) as he tries to gain Bad Guy Status but is constantly thwarted by the heroic Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). And it's a musical, too. Wacky, yes and nerdy to boot, but the first episode was hilarious and two more are on the way over the next four days.

So just go to the Dr Horrible main page and all the details are there.

Coffee - Elitist Cups of Arrogance or Culinary Art Form?

Let's talk coffee. I love the stuff, and in the last few decades have learned much about the types of roasts available and techniques for making it. A few years back a friend foisted a glass of iced coffee on me and at first I sneered at it, but after tasting it, I caved in and admitted It Was Good. But only God could protect you in some coffee shops if you don't order correctly.

Yesterday a tiny but powerful storm was whirling across the Internet due to an annoyed customer who posted on his blog about how a barista would not serve him iced espresso the way he wanted.

The customer is also a member of MetaFilter and once that group got into the fray, hundreds of comments flowed out. Who has authority - the customer or the person making the coffee?

First of all, I have to say that the entire idea of calling someone a "barista" annoys me for reasons I cannot explain. I guess it is just this notion that in order to get some coffee served I need to know a whole new language - barista, latte, crema, cortado, microfoam - and at the uber-popular Starbucks website they provide a host of pages under the title Coffee Education. It sort of implies I may be too uneducated to even enter the store.

If you Google "coffee schools" you'll get millions of responses. Millions.

Don't misunderstand - I like all the varieties and tastes which one can find today. But it all starts sounding kinda snobby after a while. And then on the other end of the spectrum there are these machines I've seen in some mini-marts which claim to provide cappuccino and what comes out is kinda like drinking hot chocolate with a couple of shots of vanilla flavoring. That's just not coffee.

So I'm pondering on the Rise of the Barista. And no, I was not aware there were World Barista Championships. There are. You can even order DVDs of past competitions. Countries hold their own Barista competitions, or Latte Artist contests and folks line up to watch the creations. The following video of one competition is so jittery and frenetic that I think the maker had way too much coffee in their diet.

I can make my own espresso just fine, thanks. I suck at steaming the milk though. Never have been able to do it like a Trained Barista. And that alone means I will never be allowed into the hallowed ranks of Coffeedom. It is my shame, but I'm learning to cope.

Editorial Board To Congressman Davis: Fail!

A blistering editorial on 1st District Congressman David Davis by the Editorial Board of the Bristol Herald Courier is out today and makes some excellent points:

Davis has ducked debates, declined to fill out a questionnaire and avoided editorial boards. Even contacting him requires jumping an elaborate series of hurdles and dealing with less-than-helpful surrogates.

Which leads to an inescapable conclusion: Davis wants only controlled, scripted messages to reach the voters. He’s made a political calculation that he can win re-election based on the shallowest form of support – namely, that generated by slick advertisements, name recognition and identity politics.

Davis doesn’t want his constituents to probe the depths of his ideas and intellect. He doesn’t want them to know where he stands. He wants to wrap himself in the flag and in religion, and avoid the hard conversations."


"Instead of politely declining to answer the questionnaire or meet with the editorial board, Davis’ surrogates complained that we made the request through the wrong channel. So we tried again.

The Davis camp outlined two additional contact procedures – one involving a phone call to a campaign worker who didn’t identify himself until pressed and wouldn’t say where the campaign office was located. Helpfully, he told us he wasn’t responsible for scheduling and declined to identify the responsible party. He added that he would “answer no questions, do no scheduling and provide no information.” Later, we were told to fill out a contact form on Davis’ campaign Web site. We did that, too, but we still haven’t heard from Davis."

Take a look at the legislation sponsored by the Republican - a bill supporting the goals and ideals of American Eagle Day, another declaring National Carriage Driving Month, and a host of bills seeking to suspend the duty on numerous chemicals, such as Titanium Mononitride and Glycerol Ester of Dimerized Gum.

As I have said before, anyone but Davis deserves a chance to hold the office of 1st District Congressman. At best, his failures may at long last pave the way for the end of 130 years of Republican rule in East Tennessee.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Davis Depends on PACs and Tax-Funded Brochures

1st District Congressman David Davis, a Republican, earns a place in the Top Ten members of congress for spending tax dollars on campaign-boosting mailers to potential voters in his district. Of course his glossy mailers are labeled "official business", but the mail was being sent out as his re-election efforts got under full swing.

An investigative report in the Bristol Herald-Courier says:

The freshman congressman racked up $69,000 in postage costs during the first quarter of 2008 by blanketing Northeast Tennessee with 180,000 mailers ranging from his stance on illegal immigration, support for the military and driving tips to save gas.

His use of a little-known congressional privilege that allows spending money from taxpayer-funded Capitol Hill office budgets to cover massive postage bills ranked him as the ninth-highest spender for mass mailers in the 435-member House.


"House law bans mass-mailings within 90 days of a primary or an election, and Davis sent his brochures before the May 9 cutoff mark for the Aug. 7 primary.

In contrast to Davis’ 2008 congressional postage tab, his re-election campaign – the David Davis Victory Fund – has spent a total of $22,355 in donations on postage and fundraising mailers since last year, federal campaign finance records show."

Of course, this use of tax dollars to fund brochures falls under a process called "Franking".

Using money from others is a hallmark for Rep. Davis. His recent financial disclosure reports some 49% of all his donations raised so far comes from PACs, with the London-based military contractor BAE leading the donations.

Money was funneled to Rep. Davis from BAE just as he and Senator Alexander began pushing for earmarks for BAE - contracts worth $4 million, which BAE ultimately did receive. More on that series of events is here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekly Best Of Tennessee Blogs

Selections from the best this week from Tennessee blogs via TennViews:

The "saluting a mentally deficient nation of whiners without a FISA warrant" edition of the Tennessee progressive blog roundup with a look at what the best Tennessee bloggers are talking about this week.

10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: Phil Gramm, the author of John McCain's economic policies, the man who brought us the Enron loophole, which in turn has led to $4.00+/gallon gasoline, the man who probably doesn't have a friend with a net worth under a million dollars, thinks that Americans who have lost their jobs, who can't decide whether to buy a prescription, a tank of gas, or a week's worth of food with their last $60 for the month, who have been forced out of their homes by a mortgage crisis that Gramm created -- that these people are just a bunch of whiners who can't get past a mental disorder that makes them only think that they are suffering economic hardships. Seriously. Take a moment to really absorb that.

Andy Axel: The Fish Hawk

Tiny Cat Pants: 287(g) Means Stealing Babies from Mothers

BlountViews: Willie Nelson cancels PLUS (IMPORTANT): Allman Bros., Please!: Please vote for the Allman Bros. here.

Carole Borges: It's 3 A.M.. What if McCain can't even remember where the phone is?

The Crone Speaks: So, it’’s important to note that when the people that have been harmed by the current economy, that was spurred by Phil Gramm’s legislative blunders, they get little help. When Bear Stearns cries, the Fed bails them out.

Cup Of Joe Powell: A peek at Kingsport Times-News reporter Hank Hayes' email on why he does not cover Democrat candidates for Congress..., plus: Kingsport Newspaper Still Refuses Coverage of Candidate Rob Russell, bonus: Mega-Micro-Blog-Feed-Mobile-Alert-Pod Nation

Don Williams: But he was much more than that -- author, artist, hunter, trapper, fisherman, farmer, developer, columnist, merchant, musician, yodeler, storyteller, botanist, broadcaster, poet, husband, father, seeker, dreamer and prophet -- and still more yet. For once you tramp around in the body of lore that falls under the name Wiley Oakley, you encounter variations on a theme that boil down to this: Wiley was a part of these mountains.

TNDP: Sen. Diane Black needs a coat

Enclave: According to Forbes, Nashville cannot compete with peer cities like Charlotte, N.C. in providing unemployment benefits to jobless workers who qualify for federal aid.

Fletch: Summer on the Salt Run

KnoxViews: Harold Ford Jr. responds to Gramm's "nation of whiners" remark

Lean Left: That makes my cost basis on that account $1,075. As of today, the balance in that account is $1,203.13, a profit of $128.13, and an ROI of 11.9%. Considering the age of the account (ten years), that makes my annual yield a whopping 1.1%!

Left of the Dial: I’m trying to determine which group has me shaking my head more this week: iPhone fanatics, villagers and tourists running with the bulls in Pamplona or my Baltimore Orioles.

LeftWingCracker: So, on that basis, whom would I rather see in that seat? Well, since A) I believe Blackburn should have gone to jail for inciting the near-riots surrounding the income-tax vote in the State Senate, and B) she is a Bush-Cheney parrot, and C) she lives in that most right-wing county, Williamson, I would go for Leatherwood.

Newscoma: Sen. Gramm, let me ask you sir, could you come over here to northwest Tennessee? I can show you about seven empty plants, downtowns with more closed businesses than open ones and -- awww, forget about it. You don’t get it. I understand that. Plus: I Want Immunity Too

The Pesky Fly: Headlines to Remember: Bush Readies Pen; Relishes Signing Wiretap Bill

Progressive Nashville: I suppose that now that I've mentioned Hobb's name here, he officially is a Progressive. Time to resign Bill, Progressives have no place on the GOP payroll. Plus: Alexander vs. McCain on Pork

Brian Arner's Resonance: Bush Administration: You Are Worth $1 Million Less Than You Were Five Years Ago - Accelerated depreciation? Plus: Fortune ponders the doomsday scenario of Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac folding. I smell a massive, taxpayer-funded rescue in the air.

RoaneViews: Whites Creek is Closed for Maintenance: There are several rare, threatened, and endangered species of various sorts living in and around Whites Creek. We'll have underwater cameras and other cameras and will try to document everything and report back on what these folks find.

Russ McBee: However, there may be one silver lining in all this: now that the telecommunications companies no longer face lawsuits for their (previously) illegal actions, they can be subpoenaed to testify before Congress in depth about their spying activities against Americans. Since they have immunity, they can no longer plead the Fifth when asked pointed, specific questions about their collusion.

Sean Braisted: get that people are upset with this, but c'mon, the death of the 4th amendment? Setting aside telecom immunity, what is so damned bad about this bill? Plus: Diane Black Getting Nervous

Sharon Cobb: I could deal with his move to the middle to get elected. I could deal with him not having the best health plan. But voting FOR FISA? No. I can't deal with that. ... You can go ahead and tell me "I told you so," but out of compassion, please wait a day or two to do so. Plus: It was only a matter of time before the election to see which side was going to put the fear of war into American voters so they might elect a warmonger instead of a peacemaker. This is going to be big news later on today, because it's just breaking now, and I had to go to Aljazeera English website for the information, as CNN is running something about Madonna.

Silence Isn't Golden: And wouldn't you know it, Troy King also happens to be the Alabama chairman of the John McCain campaign. This whole scandal is just way too perfect! Plus: Joe Lieberman Admits He's A Lying Schmuck

Southern Beale: By the way: is this elitist? Because I can’t tell anymore. I think these kind of statements are only elitist if a Democrat says them. It certainly shows how out of touch Phil Gramm is from the lives of ordinary Americans. Plus: McCain’s Free Pass: That teflon suit that George W. Bush has worn for the past seven years has been handed down to John McCain 100% intact.

Tennessee Guerilla Women: If you can believe it, Obama adulator Andrew Sullivan recently suggested that the Barack Obama campaign is "far too cocky for its own good." Like many conservatives, Sullivan, expert on the subject of self-absorption, is occasionally worth listening to.

TennViews: TN Senate Dem fundraising update Plus: Sen. Finney to launch "family friendly" lobbying effort: It doesn't say whether same-sex couples will be welcome, or whether the group will lobby for adoptions by same-sex couples , or promote marriage or at least equal rights for same-sex couples, etc.

WhitesCreek Journal: Rich people, corporations, and foreign governments, are the folks who would lose Trillions of dollars is Fannie and Freddie go into bankruptcy. Having already doubled the National debt by borrowing more money than all 42 presidents that came before him, George W. Bush and his Republican buddies look like they will double it again, in one form or another, trying to keep Rich people, Corporations, and FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS from losing a lot of money. Plus: Whites Creek Journal is really about the largest unpolluted watershed in the State of Tennessee, outside the Smokies...And the struggle to keep it that way.

Women’s Health News: I don’t care about legal status - I think it’s better for all women, legal immigrants or not, to receive prenatal care than not to - at least to have the option. This event sends a message to the community of immigrant women that there will be no discretion, no compassion, that they risk being jailed, giving birth in custody, and having their baby taken away if they take the simple step of seeking medical care while pregnant.