Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Is America's Longest War Really Over?

A ceremony in a secret location (secret due to fears of attack) has been held to declare an end to America's longest war, in Afghanistan. Well, really it was a declaration from NATO. Over 10,000 American troops remain until the end of 2016.

Despite the cartoon above in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, this opera is sadly far from over. The "fat lady" isn't onstage yet, much less singing a finale.

"If only it were possible to end a war unilaterally. But it's not. As the military likes to say, the enemy gets a vote. And there is no sign that the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups have any intention of ending their armed struggle to seize power in Kabul. Indeed, 2014 was the deadliest year of the war so far, with nearly 10,000 civilian casualties and some 5,000 deaths among the Afghan security forces — far more than the 2,224 Americans killed in Afghanistan in more than 13 years of combat since October 2001." (via)

Still, I'm all for NATO and the US getting out sooner rather than later. The future depends of so much on Afghanistan and what they want ... determining what they want and need is impossible to determine after their 3 decades of constant warfare. Perhaps reducing combat is truly the first step. But no fat ladies are singing a finale. 

Sadly, short-sighted and angry folks waging a political battle in Washington and in Kabul don't want this show to ever end.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sony, Korea and Millions of Shoes

Movies can be dangerous things. Comedy and satire too mingle with danger, tyrants and dictators aren't powerful due to their great sense of wit.

Yesterday, fearful of a promise of violent attack on movie theaters showing "The Interview", Sony Pictures pulled the movie from release. The movie's comic misadventures in a silly CIA plot to assassinate an actual, living human dictator in North Korea catapulted it from obscurity to infamy and history in record time.

Immediately too, cries that removal of the movie from distribution was giving terrorists control followed Sony's decision.

Sadly, caving in to demands of supposed terrorists seems more a rule than an exception.

Millions upon millions of shoes being removed at airports seems proof of that. Nation after nation has embraced a grim surveillance society since 2001. Haven't we already caved?

As for the movie -- did North Korean hackers acting on behalf of the state attack Sony? Some say no way:

"It's not possible. It would have taken months, maybe even years, to exfiltrate something like 100 terabytes of data without anyone noticing. ... Look at the bandwidth going into North Korea. I mean, the pipelines, the pipes going in, handling data, they only have one major ISP across their entire nation. That kind of information flowing at one time would have shut down North Korean Internet completely."

"Monsegur thinks it's also possible this was an inside job, that an employee or consultant downloaded all the information from Sony's servers and then sold it to someone else."

The potential of lawsuits against distributors and theater owners seems large, given they had been "warned" ahead of time of an attack on theaters.

The screenwriter of "The Interview" is beyond amazed by all this.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Annual Christmas Monkey Caption Contest

We are just days away - so it is time.

Here are some captions to get you started ....

"Hang on, I'm taking a 'selfie'."

"Yeah, there's a reason me and Santa only visit you once a year."

"It's my special eggnog recipe, made with scotch and ice."

Tennessee's 1st Communist Town? Plz Don't Tweet or Repost!

Bad ideas - and perhaps a few good ones - thrive on the Internet.

Officials in the local government of South Pittsburg, TN are learning the hard way.

Earlier this month, for reasons as yet unknown, the town's elected folks voted to "ban" negative comments on social media about the town, applicable to  "all city elected representatives, appointed board members, employees, volunteers, vendors, contractors and anyone associated with the town in an official capacity who uses social networks."

Cue the avalanche of negative (if hilarious) comments.

"Guess we need to change the welcome sign..to say the first Communist town in the south," wrote one resident."

Fake social media accounts for Mayor Jane Dawkins (@NotJaneDawkins) have been created by one Reddit user, and another for Commissioner Jeff Powers. Hilarity and parody flow.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cranky Defenders of Torture Rise Again

Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work." (Source)

Really? We're back to the topic of a systematic torture of prisoners?

Dick Cheney, former VP and longtime cheerleader for tactics from "the dark side", as he called it, makes no room for doubt - "I'd do it again in a minute!" -- "It" being torture.

Going back to Nov. 2007, a previous post shows Americans decry torture but reserve the right to use it, and such a contradiction carries a heavy price for Democracy ....

"I am pretty sure if the technique, often lumped into the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a grisly tortured used of language), if such an act were used on you, you would consider it torture. It has been a part of military training for some time, as reported by Malcolm Nance, former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school in San Diego. He writes extensively about the tactic in this essay, which makes compelling arguments on what it is - torture - and that torture is a useless way to get information, and that even watching such interrogations is beyond the ability of most people: 
"Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred.
"It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American. We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become?"
The original post is here. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oedipus Rex's Exes?

Early this Summer, I began a new job, as Artistic Director for the Morristown Theatre Guild. This is the 80th Season for the Guild, Tennessee's oldest community theatre, and I'm one of a very select few who have held the AD position.

The work has been quite constant and demanding of both my time and my creative efforts, thus the writing and posting here has been sporadic rather than daily. It is not my wish to allow this page to dwindle away to occasional mutterings - though in truth, my ponderings on aspects of live theatre and staging and plans and collaborations do often make me a distracted muttering fellow.

Currently, the Guild is presenting the second weekend of a comedy called "Rex;s Exes" in Morristown at Prater Hall in Rose Center, Nov. 21, 22 and 23.

And while this show may not be considered a classical work of theatre art (though if it was called "Oedipus Rex's Exes" maybe? ....)

The sheer farce and fun of the show is the reason it captivates actors and audiences - meaning, everyone laughs and laughs hard at the show. And that is a primary and vital value to the show - laughter is a powerful and healing force in the world.

"Rex's Exes" is the second in a series of comedies by Jones, Hope and Wooten, a trio who creates a massive collision of the slightly odd family named Verdeen with their own plans and desires - and still in this mix of mad comedy the writers gently poke fun a gender roles, marriage, life and death, politics, fame and the tedious challenge of getting older.

But mainly, fun is the goal here.

As the Guild makes plans for their 81st Season, I'm focusing our efforts on education programs, on celebrating the many people whose prodigious careers in theatre began on the Guild stage, and on the effort to renovate the Guild's playhouse on Hill Street, a building dating back to the late 1880s.

Theatre isn't simply a jazz-handing, song-and-dance spectacle of flying Spidermen or French peasants in revolt, it isn't simply the verbal pyrotechnics of Shakespeare, or the bare bones of tragedy splayed out for all to wallow in and despair. It is a true collaboration of word and sight and sound whose final sum is far more than any of it's parts. A good show is the result of hard work by many the audience may not even see - costumers and designers and volunteers. And the collaboration is not complete until the actors and audience meet in the ancient rite of communal experience.

So perhaps you'll tolerate my occasional absences here as I work on the tasks now before the Guild. And expect more posts about the work I'm undertaking, about the nature of art and theatre and more. I promise, it won't be dull.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Frightmare Manor Makes Top List of Scariest Haunted Houses in America

There's only a few days of scares left at Frightmare Manor - but you may want to double your efforts to attend as the ScreamPark has been ranked #6 in the nation for the must-see scariest haunted house attractions.

"This is an incredibly elite honor,” said Chris Wooden, of Frightmare Manor. “We work year-round to provide Fall entertainment that East Tennessee can be proud of. It’s very exciting to have people from around the United States now making Frightmare Manor, right here in
East Tennessee, a destination for their Haunted Experience!"

Boasting 5 terrifying attractions, Frightmare Manor is nationally recognized as THE Money Back Haunt, and has been repeatedly chosen as one of “America’s Best Haunted Attractions” by Hauntworld.com, and voted Tennessee’s “Must-See” Haunted House by HauntedHouseRatings.com.

Frightmare Manor is located at 7588 W. Andrew Johnson Hwy (Hwy 11-E) in Talbott, between Jefferson City and Morristown and has ONLY THREE NIGHTS remaining in the 2014 season! They are open Thursday the 30th, Friday the 31st and Saturday, November 1st beginning at 7 pm each night.

For more information, visit their website

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The False Political Rants of East TN

Talking politics, this is what I hear it constantly here in East Tennessee - "throw all the bums out!" and "replace everyone in Congress!"

That's such a load, especially here in District 1 where only one party has held the seat in Congress since 1881 ... 133 years of single party rule. So those rants against Congress are deeply false, meaningless chatter instead of actual debate and thought. In fact, current Rep. Phil Roe, on his way to his fourth term, says he only wants to control the District for 12 years (6 terms). Looks like he will surely get his wish.

Fakery is key to politics, it seems. One of Rep. Roe's biggest PAC contributors is the "Healthcare Freedom Fund", which says it isn't authorized by any candidate, even though Rep. Roe's signature on the fund's website indicates heaps of approval and authorization.

As noted by R. Neal at Knoxviews, the current election is a strange creature indeed:

"Obama must be the most powerful president ever and is apparently a formidable opponent. Every Republican candidate in the U.S. is running against him and he isn't even on the ballot.

"Because of Obama's superpowers, this is the most expensive mid-term election in U.S. history. Spending is approaching $4 billion so far, including nearly $900 million in outside (PAC, 527) spending."

All this points not only to the hollow rhetoric of residents but also that the rock-solid gridlock in Congress is gaining strength.

.... next time, though, yeah, we're gonna throw them bums out!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Knox News Sentinel Kills Best Knoxville Newspaper

The news business seems more business than news.

Cable, network and local news devote most of their time to being entertaining. Showbiz ain't news.

Newspapers are dwarfed by online media, despite their efforts to evolve into online media. Somehow the concepts of paid writers and editors have lost all appeal to publishers. Case in point: the Knoxville News Sentinel just killed their own publication, Metro Pulse due to .... well, publisher Patrick Birmingham, aka President of Knoxville's Chamber of Commerce. Metro Pulse folks were gagged as soon as the closure was announced under penalty of loss of severance packages. Classy.

One constant writer with MP, Mike Gibson shared his take on the demise via comments at KnoxViews:

"And I want to say this: Patrick Birmingham is a spineless, half-bright corporate weasel. He never knew what the hell Metro Pulse was, or what to do with it. He and Scripps' team of pencil-necked corporate bean counters were always harassing the editors for not meeting some imaginary profit projections, goals conceived in an airless vacuum chamber on the planet Venus by drug-addled baboons. He was also prone to making veiled innuendoes these last three-four years or so that he wanted to somehow merge Knoxville.com and MP, or else combine parts of the staffs, or some other damned idiot thing. Last year, after MP had just finished turning a fairly reasonable profit, he rewarded the staff by threatening to break the paper's lease at 602 S. Gay Street and move the entire operation into the Sentinel building, thus destroying any hope for maintaining editorial independence.

"My observation is that Birmingham is the idiot who is most responsible for this atrocity. Metro Pulse was indeed turning a profit (although its projections for the coming year were only break-even, that still means it was a very viable concern in the context of print media. At the very least, it was a property that one should have reasonably been able to shop to another interested party.) The lion's share of blame should be cast at Birmingham's weasel feet."

"I struggle to find a comparison between a publication that has been with Knoxville for over 20 years and an absolutely horrid excuse for journalism that has nothing to do with its namesake. Perhaps it would be in the interest of those operating the Knoxville.com Facebook to consider posts about Knoxville and those who make up its populace before posts wishing Usher a happy birthday. In a land of steak, Scripps took away all knives and forks but assures us that the spoons provided should be able to handle our eating needs.

This is more than “just an arts and culture paper”. Be it out of lack of knowledge or lack of concern, Scripps (and the KNS by proxy) are responsible for a magnitude of damage to Knoxville. Small niche businesses are impacted because their demographic is not the KNS. Local non-commercial stations like WUTK are impacted as one of the station’s tags, “Winner of the Metro Pulse ‘Best of Knoxville’ award (x) years in a row” is no longer a relevant statement — not to mention the mountain of cross-promotion that both medias provided one another. I fail to have even the slightest trust in the culinary opinions of a media outlet that has covered everything /but/ Metro Pulse today. Your parent publication created this issue — have a sense of ownership. Open a dialog. That’s what social media is for versus “McDonalds invites icky questions about its food”.

The real sad thing is that the Scripps Co., owners of the KNS, are clueless as to what to do with a newspaper so they are abandoning the ones they own and are trying to get into tv or radio or ... something:

"The E.W. Scripps Co. will say goodbye to newspapers, including the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and hello to radio in a merger and spinoff transaction with the parent company of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper."

Farewell news of Knoxville. Those of us who live in East TN and write about it all on our on will soldier on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hancock County Turns Sinister

Sinister Darkness, Hancock County's 2nd Annual Halloween attraction, is a non-profit event hosted by the Sneedville/Hancock Chamber and Community Partners, Inc. The attraction is designed, created, and staffed by community volunteers.

Dates of performances October 17,18, 24, 25, 30, 31 and November 1.

Times: 7PM till 10PM

Prices: Adults $10.00 Children 12 and under $5.00

Location: The Hancock County Farmers Market at the heart of Down Town Sneedville, TN.

Website: https://www.hauntedhancock.com

Located at the Hancock County Farmer's Market site, Sinister Darkness encompasses approximately 6,000 square feet of dark and winding corridors that integrate both 3-D and traditional haunt styling to provide you with a truly disorienting and terrifying experience. All proceeds from this event are donated to participating local fire departments and other non-profit community organizations.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Big Science

Today's text comes to us from the album Big Science as written by Laurie Anderson, titled "From The Air."

Good evening. This is your Captain. 
We are about to attempt a crash landing. 
Please extinuish all cigarettes. 
Place your tray tables in their 
upright, locked position. 
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees. 
Your Captain says: Put your head on your hands. 
Captain says: Put your hands on your head. 
Put your hands on your hips. Heh heh.
This is your Captain-and we are going down. 
We are all going down, together. 
And I said: Uh oh. This is gonna be some day. 
Standby. This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 

Uh-this is your Captain again. 
You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before. 
Why? 'Cause I'm a caveman. 
Why? 'Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head. 
Why? It's the heat. Standby. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 
This is the time.  And this is the record of the time. 

Put your hands over your eyes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

'Gone Girl' - David Fincher's Social Critique

"As a director, film is about how you dole out the information so that the audience stays with you when they're supposed to stay with you, behind you when they're supposed to stay behind you, and ahead of you when they're supposed to stay ahead of you." -- David Fincher

It's so good to see a storyteller like David Fincher achieve popular success without chucking away the thought and artistry that make movies more than just memorable - his films almost haunt you and refuse to dissipate. His newest movie, "Gone Girl", is imminently a marketing dream (best-selling novel, hot topic actors), but troubling, provocative under-currents stream all through the show.

His other films, "The Social Network", "Se7en", "Zodiac", "Fight Club", "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and his TV series "House of Cards" - are careful, meticulous compositions that blend the images, words and sounds into something far more than the sum of their parts. It's a hell of a critique on modern times.

There's a panic-filled America on display. Institutions (business, marriage, class structure, school, judicial systems, finance, journalism, politics) are craggy, crumbling and crippled and still must be negotiated, traveled and endured. The only thing more dislocative than being inside these edifices is to be without them. Fincher nails this eroding world expertly:

"Gone Girl explodes marriage,” says Rebecca Traister. “And it explodes precisely the one kind of marriage that is still idealized, between white, urban sophisticated people that meet in mid-life. There are many marriage models out there but this is the one that is still viewed aspirationally:   between white, beautiful, privilege educated New Yorkers. That is the picture of marriage that is sold to us, the one we all must desire. And that is the one the book vandalises. So there is a subversive argument being advanced about marriage in the film, that it's not an institution that can tame women any longer."

From Gillian Flynn's novel, "Gone Girl": 

"It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. . . . You know the awful singsong of the blase: Seeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: the secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script."

And there's still enormous amounts of wit and satire, a sense of the playful amid the horror show of the current age. "Gone Girl" likewise challenges perceptions - and makes box office bucks too. 

His approach to "Gone Girl". Another recent interview here.

"Anybody looking outside themselves to make themselves whole is delusional and probably sick." - David Fincher

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banning Tablets And Phones in the Classroom

NYU professor Clay Shirky teaches theory and practice of social media and has now decided he must ban the use of laptops, tablets and phones in his class - they are beyond distracting, they are barriers to learning.

He writes of his reluctant decision to ban the devices in an essay at Medium, and has some fascinating science to back his decision.

"A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.
"Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on. (Does that sound like the upper-right corner of a screen near you?)

The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is—really, actually, biologically—impossible to resist.

"I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal."

The idea of being unavoidably distracted gets a thorough investigation in the new book "A Deadly Wandering" by Matt Richtel. The book, based on a fatal texting and driving incident, is reviewed here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Only Real Political Debate?

While the media and the current political party debate seems to indicate a battle between "Conservative" and  "Liberal" factions, that is not the reality.

The real conflict is much more deeply embedded in the way most everyone lives and dies, and simple solutions or moral authority just don't exist. The working world, from farming and food to high technology, is critically flawed - so goes the argument laid out in Naomi Klein's new book. "This Changes Everything". We are doomed to extinction at a planetary level unless momentous revisions to how we live take place.

The ideas are nicely captured in this review via The Film Doctor, who mingles writing about politics and the art of cinema in a most unusual fashion. While her book seems to center on the debate about Climate Change, there is much more underneath.

"One thing is certain: Klein's book has a clear villain--the oil companies. As she writes, "From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice--it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders . . . yet fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility guarantees that the planet will cook" (148). Her observation had me wondering about how much do we individually and habitually consume petroleum-based products, and how easy would it be for anyone to switch over to only using renewable energy? When I get up in the morning, I drink coffee from Colombia, brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush, drive to work in a car, work in air conditioning, eat food that has travelled great distances, buy a book, etc. The thought of how I might begin to cut back on this enhanced life style proves daunting given how just about every aspect of it ties in with the premise of having cheap abundant fossil fuel. ... our way of life is so energy-intensive in the United States that it seems nearly impossible to fundamentally change that addiction within 30 years before nature finds another way to take care of the problem. The challenge seems so insurmountably great, Klein's solutions can take on a Pollyanna quality of dreamy wish-fulfillment. Klein anticipates that critique by reasserting that the climate allows us no choice but to think and act in radically different ways. 

"I especially liked Klein's history of the small island of Nauru, a cautionary tale that reads like Jared Diamond's description of Easter Island in his 2011 bookCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  ... And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all of the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more 'inputs' (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

"At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing--a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us" (165-6). As Klein concludes, "In other words, Nauru isn't the only one digging itself to death; we all are" (168). "

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frightmare Manor 2014 Opens Tonight

Tonight in East Tennessee brings the opening of Frightmare Manor, one of the highest-rated haunted attractions in the country. Plenty of new and terrifying elements will be launched for another unforgettable season of fear and fun.

Night Harvest is their new adventure through the woods around Frightmare Manor - the description from their website gives a sneak peek of what to expect:

"Night Harvest – This authentic wooded environment casts you deep into the dark shadows of the once-forgotten, abandoned Lexer body farm. Lexer had a disturbing name for the process of removing the cold, lifeless corpses and disposing of them in such a way to remain undetected. He would violently drag them under the cloak of darkness to the back of the property to specific areas for disposal– he labeled this act in his manifesto as the “Night Harvest”. This thick-brushed, wooded area at the back of the plantation wreaks of decomposed flesh and marks where the majority of Lexer’s 31 dismembered victims were unearthed in July of 1902. ...

"New for 2014, victims will enter through the original cabin, where skins of animals and humans alike were hung by Lexer for drainage. Still standing today and guarding the entrance of Night Harvest, this original cabin is listed (along with the Manor) on the Hamblen County Historical Preservation List and even today smells of gut-wrenching death. No amount of nervous laughter can help you for you are walking on top of and amongst death at every turn. Enter this cabin and you will begin to see, feel, touch, smell and experience for yourself the Jeremiah Lexer Night Harvest."

And that's just one of five attractions this year!

This "Screampark" spans 20 acres, offers 3 independent, walk thru, Haunted Attractions on site, boasts a heart-pounding Free-Fall Attraction unlike anything you've ever seen in the "Lexer Jump", and features the Nationally Recognized Nightmare at Frightmare Challenge. If all 5 Attractions are successfully completed, you WILL get your money back

Tickets available online via their website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Many Web Sites Are There?

It's a guess, really, but trends and data available say that there is roughly one web site for every three people who use the web, according to this Washington Post report, which features the graphic shown above (via Internet Live Stats).

Meanwhile, the site WorldWideWebSize says there are 2.39 billion web pages as of today, estimated by the numbers of pages indexed by Google, Bing and Yahoo search. The Internet Live Stats estimates there were 1.5 million blog posts today - plus one, this one you are reading right now.

While these stats don't tell us just what is on all the pages (cats? porn? advertising?). 

Every day the visualizations of so many people on the planet are manifest on the Internet. I find it interesting that (according to the above) there are 1.5 billion searches on Google so far today - interesting because that makes it seem that half of the folks in the digital world are seeking something, some information, some photo (some cats, probably).

Email appears to be the most widely used aspect - I sent about 6 today, and likely will send out a dozen more before the day is done.

Capturing the attention of billions is no simple task, especially here on this humble blog, where I noodle about with words and images and ideas. I can usually grab a few hundred views here a day - sometimes more, sometimes less. Big numbers land here mostly when I link to an oddity or a bit of someone else's hostility or such. 

But I do perceive a few things in all these numbers - people have joyfully abandoned publishers and broadcasters to share every kind of thing imaginable. It has been and continues to be liberating - for the cost of obtaining Internet access and some device to access the Internet, anyone can reach global distribution. 

And still, after only 20 some years of such new technology, we are only at the edge of what is going to happen due to this massive shift in human interaction.

I often wonder what might happen if, as in some cheesy story, all that access was suddenly gone, never to return. 

I often wonder if over the next fifty years people will somehow master this wild and wooly digital world, or if such mastery is even possible (mastery meaning that the majority of users add something to this digital conversation that is beyond rude-boy antics and advertising).

I often wonder if the future will steadily erase ideas of borders and countries and race and state and tribe ... what then will follow?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Films Saved From Mindless Extinction

Real movies made on real 35mm film will live on thanks to a handful of modern filmmakers – and I hope their efforts last many years.

Kodak alone remains today as a producer of 35mm film stock thanks to the investment from directors like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams and Judd Apatow, and Tarantino is providing actual films from his own collection of prints to screen at the New Beverly Cinema.

Kodak says:

“After extensive discussions with filmmakers, leading studios and others who recognize the unique artistic and archival qualities of film, we intend to continue production," Kodak Chief Executive Jeff Clarke said in a statement Wednesday. "Kodak thanks these industry leaders for their support and ingenuity in finding a way to extend the life of film."

The rush to digital tech has blindly discarded film – which in fact is far superior for long term archiving. It’s stunning that it’s been the studios themselves which have driven the effort to make filmmaking extinct.

The disposal attitude might confuse some folks so think about it this way – would it make any sense for the production of paint and canvases to be eliminated merely because many artists today use digital technology to create artworks?

Would it make any sense to no longer make, say, a French coffee press because drip coffee makers are more popular?

Would it make any sense to eliminate the use of raw materials like stone or metal because of the emergence of 3D printing technology?

Such ideas make no sense.

Kudos to these wise artists.

Artistic methods and tools and technology are always changing – but allowing such tyranny because something is New is ridiculous.

Long live film!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Real Freefall Leap Rises High at Frightmare Manor/Adventure Ranch

For the past few months, an unusual structure has been rising up on the grounds of the hit attraction of Frightmare Manor in Talbott. All summer long, we could all see it getting higher and higher and higher - an impressive wooden tower with multiple levels … but what is it?

A giant new bungee jump attraction? How about the starting point for a new zip-line across Frightmare? Perhaps it would be some kind of elevator drop or … something else? 

It definitely has had people talking and wondering what’s new for Frightmare Manor 2014. At 40 feet in height, it's easily the most visible structure for miles and miles and commands your attention as you drive past on Highway 11-E. And it's really multiple attractions all in one -- The top of the 40-foot tower is an 360-degree Observation Deck with an impressive view. But there's much more to it, just read on.

The Frightmare Manor folks are always imaginative and this new element is linked to the mysterious legend and rumors of Jeremiah Lexer, the allegedly maniacal killer whose dark deeds of terror have haunted this landscape and inspired the makers of Frightmare Manor.

Legend says that Lexer, back in the early days of the 1900s, murdered his entire family in a grisly fashion and then he climbed up to the top of his house and from there leapt to his death. Only later did local authorities discover that scores of deaths could be attributed to Lexer. (Events which apparently have been carefully covered up, again, according to numerous local residents.)

Whether Fact or Fiction, the idea has turned into a terrifyingly real, thrilling and daring new free fall leap as part of the 2014 Frightmare Manor experience. It's said that blueprints of the original Lexer Plantation House, found in the early 1900s, revealed how unusually high the top of the home became, and those designs were the inspiration for this new leap.

During the evening hours, The Lexer Jump will give guests a chance to try out a free fall leap of their own, from one of two different heights, one at 11 feet and another at 27 feet, and all with complete safety, and then onto state of the art inflatable bags.

Also, when the brand new Adventure Ranch opens, staring Sept. 20, the lower and more friendly jump will be available for visitors to experience – The Adventure Leap is offered to thrill folks of all ages during the day.

I really have to try this. Frightmare Manor opens Sept. 26 and Adventure Ranch opens Sept. 20.

Be sure and check out the websites for Frightmare Manor and for Adventure Ranch for tickets, directions, deals and more. And follow them on Facebook too for special promotions and deals all through the Fall season. Below, some folks try out the jump for themselves.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Unboxing Videos Super Happy Wealthy Egg Surprise More More More

I noted some years back that folks were flocking to watch YouTube videos of the "unboxing" of numerous tech gadgets, phones and such. And from that, we can now view tens of thousands of video hours of folks opening packages and boxes of whatever you might wish to see.

Today, there's this woman named DisneyCollector on YouTube who has gotten over 93 million views of a video of opening some toy packages to reveal stickers and candy and maybe a toy here and there. With her own YouTube channel, it's estimated she is earning between 2 and 12 million dollars a year via ads on her page. A NYTime article ponders the trend here.

"YouTube in particular seems to have the ability to turn formerly unnamed, truly private little pleasures — the most insignificant of dopamine triggers — into rich, multichanneled cultures. Search “clean corn shuck,” and you will be surprisingly rewarded."

The writer of the article has a young child who loves watching DisneyCollector.

"Wouldn’t you rather watch a real Cookie Monster video?” I asked, after first watching it.

“No, no, Mommy,” my daughter said. “I like the toy. I like the hands on the toy.”


“Because I like it. A lot.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The World Has Lost the Original Star Wars Movie

I feel your pain.

Director/producer/movie mogul George Lucas doesn't want anyone to see the movie which launched the legend of Star Wars.

"In 1978, Star Wars won seven Academy Awards. But if you want to watch that original version, the first of George Lucas’s soon to be seven-part saga, you’ll find it difficult. In fact, it’s actually impossible to buy an official copy of Star Wars as it was first released. Lucas doesn’t want you to see that version. Instead, he wants you to watch the continuously updated special editions—movies with added CGI, changed sound effects, and whole new scenes.

But fans aren’t the only ones who want Lucas to release the original. Curators at the National Film Registry picked the 1977 version of Star Wars to preserve for history’s sake, but they still don’t have a copy in the registry. When they asked for a copy, Lucas refused, saying that he would no longer authorize the release of the original version. The Library of Congress does have a 35mm print of Star Wars, one that was filed in 1978 as part of the movie’s copyright deposit, but the registry, where films are meant to be preserved for history, is still without one."

But you can't see that copy, it's archived for preservation.

Rumors flew last week an non-updated, original version of the first trilogy was headed for Blu-ray ... but I don't think so. Disney now owns all the movies - except for the original Star Wars, which is owned by Fox. They aren't talking about a new Blu-ray

I feel your pain.

I was there when it hit theaters the first time. I was there hundreds of times. .It was, indeed, glorious. 

That moment, that experience has vanished now, despite, as mentioned in the link above, the fierce efforts of fans to return to that original. Perhaps this can be a learning moment for you. Treasure your experiences. They seldom remain something you can own.

However, the world today does have the world that the movie helped create - the history, the intense fandom, the continuing saga - and for that we can be thankful.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure Ranch Brings Fall Family Fun to Frightmare Manor 2014

Chris Wooden is serious about entertaining East Tennessee.

His sprawling multi-attraction Frightmare Manor is a must-see attraction drawing in visitors from all over the country. Now, he and his staff have created another enormous entertainment destination located right next door - it's called Adventure Ranch and the goal here is pure fun for the whole family.

"You know, we've had a great time scaring folks who come to Frightmare Manor over the years, and we think Adventure Ranch will be even more fun - it will be full of laughter and families enjoying the season and so much more," he said.

More than a year in the planning, they'll open up to visitors Sept. 20 and run weekends through November. Wooden and his creative team have made a place where our beautiful Fall season will make a great backdrop for all the fun and adventure. With all the things to do and experience, I'd say Adventure Ranch is the Must-Do Fall tradition for all kids ages 2 to 92. 

Attractions include:

- Huge “Chick-fil-A Sponsored” Corn Maze for guests to get lost in

- An Authentic Gem Stone and Fossil Dig

- Pumpkin Patch featuring Traditional Orange and “Pearl Pumpkins” unique to Great Smoky Farm

- Huge 70′ Long Cow Train sponsored by Chick-fil-A Morristown

- 2 Huge Jumping Pillows (one for the big and another for the small jumpers!)

- Petting Zoo filled with Adorable Farm Animals

- Adventure Tower and Adventure Leap (a Must-Do Attraction only offered at Adventure Ranch)

- 250′ feet of Super Slide!

- Genuine Fire Truck Display (This fully-functional Ladder Truck is owned by Adventure Ranch and its use is donated throughout the year to Lakeway Volunteers Fire Department as they respond to Fire Emergencies in any area in Jefferson, Hamblen, and Sevier Counties.)

- Real Pony Rides

- Human-Hamster Wheels

- A Fun Nature Trail with an Adventure Ranch Twist

- The Pony-Hops Rodeo (Hop-On and Race your Friends on your Inflatable Horse!)

- Tennessee’s Largest Rocking Chair

- Picnic Area, Concessions, “General Store” Gift Shop and so much more!

Music and fun will fill the park, but Chris as always is keeping his eye on making sure this huge family attraction is beneficial to the community at large. He purchased a working fire ladder truck for kids to explore and learn about, but the truck is being used by the Lakeway Volunteer Fire Department as they respond to emergency situations in three counties too.

Educational aspects are built into Adventure Ranch, focusing on farm life and offers Field Trip Ag-In-The-Classroom Field Trips for students studying rocks, fossils and botanicals too.

And there's more! The Corn Maze includes a mystery game to be solved, called "FSI - Farm Scene Investigation". And there will be cornhole games, Adventure Ranch mascots, and much more.

Chris is building a massive tourism destination in Morristown/Talbott and Hamblen/Jefferson counties which continues to grow and expand every year. Join in the fun starting September 20. The full Adventure Ranch website is here.

And here's an aerial view of the giant corn maze, though many new onsite attractions were not in place when image was taken -

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Happy Blog Birthday Number 9 plus Bonus Historical Event

This is post number 2, 281 of yer Cup of Joe, which first published August 3rd 2005. Stats show 6 people saw that initial posting. Since then, readers on every continent have visited here, either by accident or design. Millions have visited since 2005 and I thank all of you for that.

Constant readers here are used to the constantly shifting focus of my posts (I think they are used to it). I have always had an eye on political and cultural topics, however as both the Internet and myself have made our digital way, I've become slower to post and less eager to add my thoughts to the chaotic rantings and such one finds easily available. I've taken time off to ignore the digital world so that I could pay more attention to the actual physical plane, but the gravitational pull of all that is online is too strong to resist.

Perhaps, over the years I have angered some readers, amused some, challenged or depressed some, brought some measure of joys or sorrows. All of what one finds on this blog were at least items I considered worthwhile to share. Or at least odd notations on the events and experiences available on our wee planet.

I don't expect that to change. It might, but here on these pages I know I can present and provide my views and ponderings without meeting anyone else's measure of merit.

I am fond of the fact that I am alive and aging, but I know the Future belongs mostly to the young, who have no allegiances to Time or Age.

So. Here is a 13-year-old girl named Mo'Ne Davis, who can hurl a baseball at 70 mph (check out her blazing skills here) and her team, the Taney Dragons are heading to the Little League World Series this Friday as they face the Nashville team, the South Nashville LL at 3 pm eastern time, to be aired on ESPN. Her achievements will make a far greater impact on history than just about anything I do. Not many folks keep records, stats or stage playoff challenges for blog writers. I'm ok with that. If you are reading this, you too have just learned about Mo'ne and that was the point of my mention.

Oh, and keep reading, faithful followers. I'll keep writing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hell Is Other Selfies

The photo is from backstage during the production of "A Wrinkle In Time" I directed this summer. There's me and the weird evil alien brain known as IT.

IT was made of imagination and papier-mâché and the skills of the cast and crew. Seeing what had been imagined now made real is somewhat strange. And given the topic of this post, an appropriate selfie.

Writer Nicholas Carr ponders online writing and living via his page Rough Type has for the last few years offered various thesis statements written in "tweetform", and the title of this post "Hell is other selfies" sits at the number 23 position of Carr's list. Here are some others he offers:

15. Abundance of information breeds delusions of knowledge among the unwary.

19. Instagram shows us what a world without art looks like.

39. When we turn on a GPS system, we become cargo.

40. Google searches us.

Much of what one encounters on the Internet began as first a thought and emerges and remains as digital info in a variety of forms. What do these manifestations mean? I don't know. Will the world evolve as they tweet and type, becoming perhaps "selfie-actualized"?

Here's what I do know - this blog started 9 years ago this month. Thanks for reading!