Saturday, January 03, 2009

Camera Obscura: R.I.P. Beverly Garland; Goodbye 2008

Beverly Garland died December 5th at age 82, and though her name may not be listed among Hollywood's greatest, for me she was and is. Her work spanned more than 50 years and she was a constant player on television from it's early days of popularity and into the 21st century.

Her career was a part of just about every series on television in the 1960s and 1970s. And she made some iconic characters - a fierce gun-blazing sheriff in "Gunslinger", the new wife and mom on the last few seasons of "My Three Sons", and her image is forever a part of sci-fi history in this poster for 1957 movie "Not of This Earth."

The framing of her in that poster - caught mid-scream - all wild eyes and terrified hands, makes an incredible impression. The poster is probably better than the movie, though it must be said her acting in this and other Roger Corman low-budget movies was always top-notch. And she had to go onscreen against some truly cheesy monsters, but always brought some class to such movies.

Her image is also a part of the poster for "It Conquered The World", but the poster above it the real masterpiece here.

I do not want to be all morbid and focus on the deaths of the famous in 2008, but truly some very influential performers moved on - George Carlin, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, Bettie Page, Eartha Kitt, Sidney Pollack, Issac Hayes to name just a few.

Still those like Garland deserve a moment too -- such as Majel Barrett, the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. She had just completed the voice-over work as the main computer in the new Trek movie, and of course, she was the original computer voice in the original show. In fact, she was the only actress to be in every single incarnation of the TV series, even the short-lived cartoon version.

Also there was the passing of Sam Bottoms. His character Lance Johnson, famous surfer, in "Apocalypse Now" gave rise to the line "Charlie don't surf!!"

One of the creators for some of the most memorable monsters ever made for the movies, Stan Winston, also left us back in the summer of 2008. A make-up and special effects genius, his designs and work reach from "Friday the 13th" to "Alien" and "Predator", "Terminator" (all of them!) to "Batman", "Jurassic Park", "Iron Man" and on and on the list goes. And if he did not make the effects you see, then it is very likely one of his students made it.

Here's a huge video compilation of just some of his work. A brief history is here. And this link has a wide sample of his work as well. and a list of just 7 his most notable achievements.

Winston was a real wizard of Hollywood movie magic, and a pioneer of design. Many of his most recent creations will be revealed in 2009 in his work for movies like "G.I. Joe", Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," the new "Terminator" movie and many other titles. His work will be around for a long, long time.

Friday, January 02, 2009

More Bad News of Effects From TVA Toxic Spill

I hated reading the following entry this morning from the blogger at Life on Swan Pond after TVA ... who lives in the midst of the massive coal sludge disaster in Roane County. The following was posted on Thursday:

My Grandson became sick yesterday... Cough.... stuffy nose.... sneezing..... flushed..... didn't want to eat..... not wanting to nap either....

It was windy yesterday just like the day before... and the ash had to be flying.

I took him to the ER as recommended by his physician. I took the information that TVA had given me, as well as a MSDS sheet about fly ash.

He had to endure a nasal wash & suction, x-rays, monitoring of his oxygen levels. The conclusion? Irritation from the fly ash, specifically airborne.

TVA is aware, and we are currently at a local hotel. The Doctor recommended that he not go home... we not go home....avoid the area altogether.

I didn't realize how I would feel once someone told me I couldn't go home. I didn't sink in until this morning. Due to the stress and the lack of sleep... I began to meltdown. "don't go home".... keeps rolling through my head.

No, we didn't lose our home to visible damage.... but we can't go home."

I also fear more such problems will be apparent in coming days and weeks and months as TVA tries to clean up after a billion-plus gallons of toxic coal sludge washed over the surrounding land and water covering hundreds of acres.

(NOTE: To readers searching for posts here on this event - I have tagged all the related posts with "TVA spill" and if you'll click on that tag, all posts will be collected for you to read.)

I see too today that my post yesterday cheering the bloggers and others outside the mainstream press for really providing a constant supply of information on this event and the aftermath is sparking some reaction. Michael Silence takes issue with my assertion, and I'll be the first to note that his blog at the Knoxville News Sentinel has been very active on this story. However, I stand by my post and would point you to this response by R. Neal at KnoxViews, who has cataloged the online activity and how the media followed on those reports on many issues of the disaster.

And more important -- every voice is needed to tell this story.

This disaster has devastating consequences for East Tennessee. And I don't write about it for any other reason than I fear the nasty business may just get pushed away as part of a revolving news cycle. This is a life-changing event for those who live nearby and those who use the rivers in East Tennessee. Plus it has vital connections to every decision made from here on in on the fundamental operations of the coal-burning industry in America. Critical improvements must be made -- or it will happen again. The time to take action is today, not next time.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Everything That Happened In 2008

The United States marked the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Over four million Iraqis had fled the country or been internally displaced, and the total cost of the war, currently about $650 billion, was expected to rise to $2 trillion over the next five years. Oil rose above $147 a barrel, and Abu Dhabi bought New York City’s Chrysler Building for $800 million. Somali pirates stole a Saudi supertanker. President George W. Bush announced that North Korea was no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. The CIA expanded its covert operations in Iran. Bozo the Clown died, as did Jesse Helms, William F. Buckley Jr., Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, Indonesian dictator Suharto, comedian George Carlin, didgeridoo master Alan Dargin, and, at age 110, Louis de Cazenave of the Fifth Senegalese Rifles, one of the last two living French veterans of World War I. “War,” he once explained, “is something absurd, useless, that nothing can justify.” Ariel Sharon was still alive, and Israel bombed Gaza in retaliation for ongoing rocket attacks. Tom Jones insured his chest hair for $7 million.

Australian police tasered a ram. France banned TV shows for babies. Pope Benedict XVI toured the United States, and the Vatican released a list of seven “social” sins–including littering, genetic tampering, and creating poverty–to complement the seven cardinal vices. The World Health Organization announced that virtually untreatable drug-resistant tuberculosis could now be found in 45 countries. Japanese men began to wear bras. The cost of rice increased by 30 percent, and food riots broke out in 30 countries. The United Nations expected the number of starving people in the world to rise to 950 million. North Korean hunger scientists announced a new noodle. In an expanding thousand-square-mile low-oxygen zone growing along the coast of Oregon and Washington, every fish, crab, and sea worm was dead. A 7.9-magnitude earthquake centered in China’s Sichuan Province left tens of thousands of people dead and millions homeless. The Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, heralded on television by fake, computer-generated fireworks. Structures built for the 2004 Athens Olympics were falling into ruin. A man in Swansea, Wales, died from eating too much fairycake, and an elderly German woman filed a lawsuit against a hospital in Bavaria after she went in for a leg operation and was instead given a new anus. Paddington Bear turned 50; both the cubicle and the assassination of Martin Luther King turned 40; Viagra turned 10. One in 100 American adults was behind bars.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that detainees held as “enemy combatants” by the United States at Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention through habeas corpus petitions in federal courts. Scientists located the part of the brain responsible for understanding sarcasm. Global stock markets lost $3.1 trillion in four days, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell below 10,000 for the first time in five years. The real estate boom in Dubai slowed. Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul declared that there are “no more great writers,” and Bob Dylan won a Pulitzer Prize. Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Gunmen terrorized Mumbai, and inflation in Zimbabwe reached 23 million percent. Iceland went bankrupt. Zookeepers across the United States put their animals on diets, feeding gorillas according to a Weight Watchers point system and offering polar bears sugar-free Jell-O. The thoughts of a monkey in North Carolina controlled the actions of a robot in Japan. New York researchers used carbon nanotubes to create the darkest material known to man. Two teams of physicists, one in Calgary and the other in Tokyo, successfully stored nothing within a gas in the form of a squeezed vacuum composed of uncertainty.

From Harper's Yearly Review

Governor Calls For More TVA Oversight; Senate To Hold Hearings

Without the commitment of many bloggers, environmental activists, and the efforts of residents directly affected by the enormous disaster from TVA's coal ash spill on December 22nd, then I doubt there would have been the type of response to the event seen on Dec. 31st. While it is true the national and local media did finally jump into the game several days after the event, it was the reporting done by online writers at the local and regional level which kept this giant disaster from slipping into the deep background.

The response from Tennessee's governor Phil Bredesen, 9 days after the huge wave of toxic coal sludge poured into the Tennessee Valley, is encouraging. He's calling for greater participation and independent oversight on how TVA works and how they handle toxic waste:

You get a sense of how big, how terrifying, it must have been."

While the TVA handles the cleanup and workers from state environmental and health agencies monitor for signs of short-term or long-term danger, Bredesen called for a much more aggressive role for the state in future environmental monitoring.

The governor called for inspections of all of TVA's retention ponds and a thorough review of state environmental regulations, with an eye toward taking back some of the responsibilities it may have ceded to federal authorities. Right now, for example, TVA inspects its own facilities. That could change, he said.

"TVA is a federal agency, and over the years there may have been an exaggerated deference paid to federal agencies," he said, noting that many of the state's environmental regulations were written in the 1970s."

And he was smart enough by Dec. 31st to make sure his presence and complaints were aired on CNN, via the local Knoxville TV station WVLT. (Several videos of the press conference are on the site.) UPDATE: Christian at NashvilleIsTalking has the video and full transcript of the press conference.

U.S. Senate hearings on the matter will also be held - and I think the committee will hear some astonishing and very intelligent discussion of the issues involved as they've asked Dr. Stephen Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, to testify. He's one of the most informed people in the region on public safety in environmental issues, saying things which need to be said, regardless of the implications to a company's profit margin.

It is most fortunate that the area is not heavily populated, or I am sure there would have been fatalities at the scene. Still, the damage done has altered the area forever, no matter what clean-up takes place.

Thank god for the bloggers across the state and the region who would not give up their constant efforts to inform Tennesseans and the nation about this massive toxic disaster. They made sure the press got involved, and the press helped put pressure on state and national leaders. Much remains to be done, but if the promises are kept, millions of Americans could be safer than they are today.

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.