Friday, September 05, 2008

Camera Obscura: "Honey West' Returns; JCVD is a Hit; Del Toro Does Frankenstein; plus a Zombie Puppet Musical!

I heard rumblings about the movie "J.C.V.D." a few months back - b-movie action guy Jean Claude Van Damme stars in a wildly satiric comedy as himself, caught in battles over child custody, his problematic career, media swarms and a bank robbery.

The movie is out now the Toronto Film Festival and got raves at the Cannes Festival this summer.

One review
, like others, is stunned by his performance:

That JCVD is able to show you a new face to its star and subject at all makes it a major accomplishment. That it does so with such an incredible sense of style, insight, and pure entertainment value makes it a revelation. Ladies and gentlemen, after spending decades turning out lowest-common-denominator action pictures Jean Claude Van Damme has just made a truly great film. No matter what criteria you may use to judge it - scripting, cinematography, humour, action, even dramatic performance - JCVD is one remarkable piece of work. Yes, I flat out love this film. "

And a trailer --


And since I'm posting wee movies today, this is for all the folks who are beyond being zombified by the ongoing political debacle in America and for zombie fans too. And musical fans. And puppet fans. Oh, just watch it.

I love the one zombie back up guy there just mumbling the lyrics and sort of off the beat. And if your jaw falls off while singing, it's gonna affect the performance. Yep.


"Hellboy" director Guillermo del Toro is gonna be busy, busy, busy. He's already at work on a pair of movies adapted from "The Hobbit", and this week he announced a monster deal with Universal. Remakes of "Frankenstein", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", plus a version of Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" ... and a new TV series based on "Hellboy." Whew!


HBO rolls out their new vampire TV show, "TrueBlood", from "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball, on Sunday night after months of obligatory online viral ad campaigns. The story is set in an America where vampires have 'come out of the coffin' and now seek some respect and rights, the ones due them as 'undead Americans'. OK. The show stars Anna Paquin. One blogger tackles the viral marketing and offers a pilot episode review here.


The internet sci-fi musical comedy known as "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" released the soundtrack this week, according to the first of the Horrible Newsletters in my mailbox:

"The Official "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" Motion Picture Soundtrack is now available on iTunes. Internationally too. Thanks to all of you, we're already one of the top sellers in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and the list goes on! It is great for listening in your car, at work, while working out, it makes a great gift, do I sound like a whore? I'm whoring now, aren't I? Anyway, spread the word, tell a friend, say it was Horrible..."

Go here for more info.


A fantastic arrival at long last on DVD, the complete series of the 1965 TV show, "Honey West." If you haven't seen or if you are one of those folks like me who recall it fondly, this is a must have. Honey made American TV history:

"Certainly the character of Honey West wasn't TV's first independent woman, or even its first female private detective. But she was the first TV action heroine (in the U.S. TV market, at least) to be modeled specifically after her male counterparts: namely in this case; James Bond. And even more importantly, she was the star of the show. In no way did Honey "answer" to her bigger, stronger, hotheaded partner Sam. It was her name on the agency, and she ran it her way, despite Sam's constant hectoring for her to play it safe and let him protect her. Not that she needed his protection. Equally skilled in the martial arts, Honey could keep up with Sam in hand-to-hand combat, small weapons proficiency, and in utilizing all those tricky little gadgets Sam thought up for audio and video surveillance. And she did it all while being a most...aggressively erotic woman - something that TV audiences regularly tuning into the housewives on Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show didn't see as a lead character in a weekly series. That kind of thoroughly independent, sexualized (while not being punished for her looks and appetites) woman was a first for American TV audiences. Mrs. Emma Peel would have a bigger, longer-lasting impact, but Honey West was there on American TVs first."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Building Brains

Scientists are hard at work creating brains which can power computers, projects using rat and cat brains as the bio-electronic basis. The Pentagon has one of the projects underway now:

The first nine-month phase of the program will focus on designing, fabricating, and characterizing synaptic and neural elements and combining them into a high-density, interconnecting microelectronic "fabric," which will be incorporated into a more complex system-level fabric design...

In the following 15-month phase, HRL [a joint venture between Boeing and General Motors] will combine the synaptic and neural elements to fabricate and demonstrate "cortical microcircuits" that can model various lower-level brain functions and actually "learn" by interacting with the environment."

Meanwhile, British researchers showed off their robots which are controlled by cortical tissue grown from rat brains and then bonded with electronics:

To create the "brain", the neural cortex from a rat fetus is surgically removed and disassociating enzymes applied to it to disconnect the neurons from each other. The researchers then deposit a slim layer of these isolated neurons into a nutrient-rich medium on a bank of electrodes, where they start reconnecting. They do this by growing projections that reach out to touch the neighbouring neurons. "It's just fascinating that they do this," says Steve Potter of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who pioneered the field of neurally controlled animats."


"Because it is living material, it needs to be kept at body temperature, so the control system is placed in a temperature-controlled cabinet the size of a microwave oven and communicates with the robot over a Bluetooth radio link."

Political Mother

One might be tempted to fact check the Republicans at their convention this week, but they haven't offered any.

Like whole-cloth fabric of lies from Gov. Palin claiming 'I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere' -- Congress scuttled that huge earmark in Nov. 2005, a year before she took the office of the governor.

I did learn some reasons why Sen. McCain picked Gov. Plain to be his running mate. She's George W. Bush in heels, all hat and no cattle, and she did what McCain could not do - unify their party behind his campaign. And as a former TV sports reporter, she knows how to appear and talk in front of a camera ... although she has yet to actually provide other TV reporters the chance to interview her. But it's still just been a few days since she vaulted onto the political podium.

Her speech was a like a web page from any of several hardcore right-mommy bloggers whose love for party outweighs everything else, especially facts:

As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation."

I get it, she's like Coulter but a brunette.

And it isn't just Gov. Palin who likes to spin til reality disappears:

FORMER ARKANSAS GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."

THE FACTS: A whopper. Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: "We need change, all right - change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington - throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."

THE FACTS: A Back-to-the-Future moment. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats have been in charge of the House and Senate."

At this point, I'm ready for Sen. McCain and those who support his ticket to deny the earth is round, that Democrats are actually demons with forked tongues and tails, and that it's really 1980 and the air is filled with flying pigs which poop gold and platinum bars, rainbows, and unicorns.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Act Now To Halt New Fees For Public Record Access

The state is creating a whole new fee system for anyone who seeks access to public records, and even though the public can offer comments on this new proposal, you only have until noon Thursday to do so. Many thanks to R. Neal for pointing this out on his blog:

Dorothy Bowles, U.T. Professor and member of the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists, alerts us to a proposal that would make it more difficult and expensive for citizens and journalists to access public records.

The deadline for public comment, which was only announced this week, is noon tomorrow (Thursday) and the hearing is on Friday. You can submit your comments here:

She explains more ...

From Dorothy Bowles:

As you know, the recently enacted TN Open Records Act established a legal counsel's office to set fees for record requests in an attempt to have some consistency across the state.

Unfortunately, the statute allows for BOTH copying costs and labor costs.

The statute also established an Advisory Committee on Open Government, and I was appointed one of the members of that committee.

FRIDAY (yes, day after tomorrow) a public hearing will take place on a proposal that was only this week distributed by the legal counsel's office. Written comments will be accepted through NOON tomorrow.

Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to

I will attend the hearing and do everything I can to have open records without huge fees. But I expect that records custodians and their bosses across the state will storm the hearing. After all, it's part of their regular workday, whereas citizens would have to take a day off work to attend.

We need folks who believe that the taxpayers own public records and should be able to examine them to send comments to Nashville, but time is short."

I'm going to summarize what my email will say - and I really encourage you to sound off on this too. It is truly a now or never situation.

On The Topic of New Fees For Public Records:

First let me say this opportunity needs to be set at a time AFTER the public has had adequate notice. I do my best to stay informed on this topic and still have only a few hours to respond. This is reprehensible and certainly appears that the goal is to eliminate and not encourage public participation.

However, since any postponement is highly unlikely, I write to encourage you to set any fees at a very lowest level.

Public agencies and officials are already earning salaries drawn from taxation for their labor. While a fee for making copies of records might be defensible (again a nominal fee) to add even more costs is ultimately a method of repelling the public from gaining information about their own government. This is nothing short of a new Tax On Information. Agencies will not be creating new records, simply providing copies of existing information. To consider it otherwise is simply wrong and at worst is an attempt to quell any search for public information.

The state already has a very poor history responding to the previous laws covering access to public records. The state already ranks near the very bottom for access to public records. Many of the case by case examples as well as audits of agencies which supply this information are available via the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government website and I encourage this panel to review that information. In a nutshell, compliance with existing laws hovers around 65%.

Adding new costs for information requests will again be a deterrent not an enhancement.

Already, the individual must bear the costs of challenging violations of the public records and meeting laws. A state official might face a fine of $50 for violating this law, but only if a member of the public pursues the matter. Adding fees for copying records and for the "labor" could easily cost a resident much more than than $50.

I'm afraid I see no reason to create new costs for a system that currently barely works. And even if state agencies responded to requests for information at least 90% of the time, it is work already covered by their existing duties, not some unheralded new task forced upon them.

In short, I strongly oppose new fees for access to public records and hope this panel will discover ways to enhance compliance with the law by state agencies and not burden the residents with higher costs, and will encourage more education for state officials in offices requiring these records be provided, and will help foster a more transparent and accountable public service sector.

US Media FAIL says Brit Media

I only know of a couple of British bloggers, and one of them is the Vol Abroad, so I'd have to defer to her on the state of British bloggers. And British media vs. US media.

Meanwhile, England's Guardian newspaper says the best thing about American bloggers is they resemble Brit media in general.

The comments arrive in a column that's just jam-packed with derisive nuggets, like the 'unreported joke to vile to reprint' which John McCain made about Chelsea Clinton, and the writer of the Guardian story, Ed Pilkington, scores the bulls eye for nailing multiple insults in a few short, sharp sentences:

The puzzle is explained partly by the US press, which barely reported the story. The Washington Post broke it in June 1998 but declined to relate the joke on the grounds it was "too vile to repeat". Such coyness has long been ingrained in the US media, which has an annoying tendency to regard its readers as wayward children in need of moral protection. That's one important reason, incidentally, that blogs are doing so well in the US - they have no such scruples and behave in ways more akin to the British than the mainstream American media."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A 1976 Jukebox

Ah, 1976.

The first Cray supercomputer was presented, Steve Jobs formed the Apple Computer corporation, President Ford was a failing (and often falling) president (dodging assassins) but some unknown guy named Carter hot on his heels, terrorists were people like Patty Hearst, and by the middle of that summer, everything which was being sold in the U.S. was stamped Official Bicentennial Collector's Edition. I recall having a bicentennial high school yearbook (yes I am old) which had lots of red, white and blue over all the pages, one of the ugliest things I had ever seen, but what I recall most of that book which has now turned to moldy paper was that all the cheerleaders in my school had signed it and that seemed Very Important At The Time. I'm sure that was only possible due to the fact the school had less than 300 students and I was persistent nerd.

(Digression: do students get yearbooks anymore, or do they get some kind of disc or memory stik or something? Surely they don't still make them do those weird poses leaning against some imaginary fence row or leaning on a plastic tree. Do they? Surely they just upload a pic from their web page ...)

I say all this to paint an image of a time over 30 years past, the ancient past to some. For the last few days I was listening to some fine old music from that year. Some local diners had these big neon-light-covered machines with small vinyl discs inside which held recordings of music, all huddled around an enormous spindle, and you could drop a coin in a slot and listen to 3 or 4 songs. Some machines held over 50 songs. Imagine, 50 songs in one machine ...

So listening to some of the songs I liked, I thought that today, they sounded kind of ... well, disco-centric. True, there were some tunes that year with "disco" in the title. And yes, I did have a t-shirt with the words "Afternoon Delight" written across it, not because I liked the song. I liked the euphemism. And I remember that back in that year, I was pretty sure this is the car I would own:

I can't even afford one now. And all those cheerleaders are grandmas with dusty trophies somewhere. Thank god I am still young and vital.

Anyway, thanks to computers, I can make my own ersatz jukebox, with some songs of the time, some which were pure disco, some not, and thankfully by year's end I had that Ramones album to tide me over the oddness of disco. I do recall owning the album by Kiss, Destroyer, but I never really liked it although I did like the album cover a lot for some reason. So here you are, an eclectic 1976 musical compilation. (Note: I omitted the country music songs which were always on jukeboxes back then as a requirement of being in Tennessee. None are below. You'll have to wait until I do a post about country music.)

SeeqPod - Playable Search

McCain-Palin Get Stars on the Walk of Fame

The Sen. McCain presidential campaign has become a wild and massive success - finally, they get major media coverage and enormous Internet activity. That's due to his choice of a vice presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Sure she left her small town government in debt to the tune of $20 million, has only days of experience in the job of governor, sure, sure, sure. Her name and his campaign are The Talk. And as he has learned, the only thing worse than being Talked About is Not Being Talked About.

Can't diss a woman just for being a woman, ya know. That's sexist. If you question her abilities, her qualifications, her actual history in government, yer a sexist, given to repression.

Some reports say that McCain did not get his way and so went for a wildcard choice. Golly, he's a maverick. Spin, baby, spin!!

I have to give him props, he's done the almost impossible - gained attention despite the weary Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina haunting the Republican National Convention and made the concerns of an unwed pregnant teenager a national issue. Hooray!!

My first thoughts on hearing stories about her daughter's pregnancy were mostly along the lines of "Why would a mother agree to submitting her daughter to the media circus?"

Over at Katie's blog on the KNS pages, she writes:

"Governor Palin's announcement about her daughter acknowledges the unique challenges of young motherhood, and explicitly refers to the extra support that her daughter will require. However, Sarah Palin now leads a party whose policies in no way acknowledge the same for the many other girls across the country who are in the same position as Governor Palin's daughter - young women who are in urgent need of access to prenatal care, affordable housing, childcare, and the financial option to continue their educations beyond high school.

I am also disturbed to see that Bristol Palin is now becoming something of a poster child for the anti-choice movement. They are holding her up as a symbol for their cause. Honestly, as much as right wing pundits are criticizing the left for their approach to this matter, I believe it's the right which should be ashamed. Making any individual teenage girl into a brand-name martyr for your highly contentious political cause is about as low as you can go

Good points there.

We'll just have to wait until the presidential debates to actually start hearing about policies, plans and programs of the two candidates.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Roundup of TN Blogs and Roundup of Americans By Republicans

The weekly roundup of the best in Tennessee blogs from Tenn Views is - as much of the nation last week - taking on the most-watched televised political convention ever. Rather than reprint all of it, you can click here.

However, for this Sunday, how about the news of SWAT Teams are out in force in pre-emptive strikes against groups the Republicans perceive as real threats.

Writer Glenn Greenwald has been on the scene:

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined."

Wonder how they did this? The RNC working with the FBI decided these folks are terrorists - because, you know, it's the Axis of Evil Vegetarians that threaten us.

Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force -- an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI -- was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate "vegan groups" and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.


"Yet how is our own Government's behavior in Minnesota any different than what the Chinese did to its protesters during the Olympics (other than the fact that we actually have a Constitution that prohibits such behavior)? And where are all the self-righteous Freedom Crusaders in our nation's establishment organs who were so flamboyantly criticizing the actions of a Government on the other side of the globe as our own Government engages in the same tyrannical, protest-squelching conduct with exactly the same motives?"

I was thinking of offering a speech to the Republican Convention just as I did for the Democrats. Perhaps a virtual speech is best - of course it may mean being threatened with raids and jail time.

Just the legacy of the Republicans in the White House, folks, nothing to see here, move along.