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?