Friday, October 17, 2008


I just saw Bill Mahr's movie, Religulous. I thought it was great, but probably not worth running out to the theater to see. I went just to show support for him, but there's nothing "big screen" worthy.

It's exactly what you would expect from Mahr. A few clips from his comedy routine, a few more biographical clips about HIM, and mostly him going around the country and into Europe (including Israel) to challenge religious people. Mostly, he just asks the obvious questions... do you really believe in a litteral Adam and Eve, do you believe in the "End Times", do you believe in the virgin birth, do you believe God hates gay people, is the Rock in Mecca a meteorite, is Islam a religion of peace, etc. Some people get mad at him, some kick him and his crew off their property, some try to answer his questions. Some do a better job at answering his questions than others.

There was nothing really revelational about this. No new questions, no new answers, no surprises.

Interestingly enough, two of the most rational people were Catholic priests. Both had a very modern and liberal interpretation of the scripture. One was head of The Vatican Observatory. (Yes, the Vatican has an observatory) He stated clearly that the Catholic Church agrees with the scientific evidence that the world is round, that it is billions of years old, and that life evolved from common ancestors. He says that the mission of the observatory is to find verifiable truth... not to find the Aliens and baptise them before the Methodists get their hands on them.

The other priest was a representative of The Vatican who agreed wholeheartedly that The Vatican itself (the building) is pompous, and obviously antithetical to the teachings of Christ. He agreed that Adam and Eve stories, Heaven and Hell stories, and worship of saints are stupid ideas. He even said that there was a pole in Italy where they asked people who they pray to when they need help or guidance, and of all the saints and angels and the like, Jesus Christ was SIXTH on the list.

Also, the guy who plays Jesus in the Florida Theme Park was actually very well schooled in bible theology and was able to come up with somewhat reasonable answers to all of Bill's questions. Bill sort of admitted that to the camear while driving away in the car... but still said that his answers were bullshit. I think that was a cheap shot on Bill's part, getting in the last word without Jesus dude there to answer the challenge.

Soooo... see it if you like Bill Mahr and find his humor entertaining. But you probably want to wait for cable. Or don't see it, you won't be any more or less enlightened.

And finally SPOILER ALERT !!! Don't read any further if you don't want to know the funniest part of the movie....

So Bill goes to Amsterdam to speak to a guy who's religion is Canibas worship. The guy actually says he does not worship Canibas, but uses it to have a religious expirience. The whole interview takes place in a groovy looking den with low lights, comfy pillows, and lots of candles. During the interview they light up and get toasty high (not a surprise, Mahr is open about his pot smoking). You can totally tell that they are both toasty. So Bill does challenge the guy about the religious conotations to getting high. Then all of the sudden Bill screams "Look out, you're head's on fire". For a split second you think he's messing with the guy, but really, this stoned dude leaned back to far and his hair had caught on fire from the candles.

Life on Mars

No, not a news flash... I'm talking about the TV show.

For some reason, I'm completely fascinated by this show, even though it's a pile of crap sitting on another pile of crap. The plot is simple enough, although it makes absolutely no sense. A modern day NYC police officer, Sam, gets hit by a car while tracking a serial killer. He instantly wakes up in 1973, still a cop in the same precinct... but with groovy clothes. He's still the same age, he's just transplanted 35 years into the past.

He may be lying in the hospital in 2008, and this is all a psychological apparition... but that's not entirely clear. Certain phrases and memories of his modern life keep manifesting themselves in his 1973 life. Also he has glimpses of modern things, like a remote control model of a Mars Rover which he catches out of the corner of his eye, but then disappears.

So, assuming this makes any kind of sense, it should now be a hard boiled "Quinn Martin" type cop show set in 1973. Sort of Dirty Harry meets The Streets of San Francisco in New York. Or, is it a comedy where we get to goof on how silly the fashions and trends were back in the 70s? Or is it a Sci-Fi time travel story? Well they seem to be trying to do all these things at once... and it doesn't work. The cops are stereotypes of the hard boiled 70's mentality, using brutality, planting evidence, making their own rules. There are two famous actors playing cops... the Lieutenant is played by Harvey Keitel, and one of the cops is played by Michael Imperioli of Sopranos fame ("Christafuh").

My biggest problem is w/ Keitel's character, who is such a stereotype... always drinking from a flask, always punching people in the stomach (first thing he does when he meets Sam is punches him in the gut to show who's in charge). But in this episode they have a silly fight where they sort of "bond" by beating each other up. It was just silly... even set to hokey music... so it takes away any semblance of a serious hard hitting show. The only thing that possibly makes this acceptable is that these characters AREN'T REAL... they're just some aspect of Sam's psyche... what he projects onto the 1970's. In which case, I guess un-realistic and inconsistent characterization is actually OK. Or is it? I don't know, I'm just sooo confused.

Of course Sam is dumbfounded, and is still getting used to life without cell phones, or computers, or DNA testing, or any of the modern CSI techniques available. (e.g. "We should have the finger print reports back in four or five weeks, and we'll go from there.")

So why am I bothering with this show? Well it's only the second episode so far, but from a technical point of view, they did some AMAZING work at recreating NYC in 1973. The black and white cop cars w/ the single flashing light on top, the uniforms (including the Police Woman uniform), the cars, the buses, the street lights, the store fronts, the clothes, the old radios... every single detail is spot on. I have no idea how they did it... maybe a sound stage in Canada... but they actually re-built 1973. It may be the ONLY thing this show got right... but boy they got THAT right.

And finally, the show is called "Life On Mars" which was a sweet dreamy David Bowie song, and that tune is a recurring theme in the show. And they keep featuring other songs from that bygone era which peek my attention. No, not Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones which you might still hear on the radio today, but The Sweet's "Little Willy Won't Go Home" and Mott the Hoople's "All The Way to Memphis". Stuff that was huge for like six weeks back in 1973 and was never to be heard again.

I'll provide some links to the tunes... also on their official web site they have a "Life on Mars Radio" which streams some tunes from the show. I haven't checked it out yet, but I'll let you know.

So I can't recomend this show, but I will probably keep watching until it gets canceled, which might be in a few weeks. Enjoy these videos anyway...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The SciFi Boys

I just watched a a documentary called "The SciFi Boys" and I highly recommend it.
Click for IMDB

It covers the field of special effects in the movies through interviews with some of the most accomplished creators of this generation. It is held together through some common themes. Most importantly is the fact that all of the effects wizards, as young boys, were fans of a magazine called "Famous Monsters of Filmland" which was produced by a man named Forrest Ackerman, or known to his readers as Uncle Forry. This gave a voice to the SciFi special effects world with articles about directors, producers, and even makeup artists from the Monster Movie genera. It had a letters page and a section in the back which published photos from the fans who were making their own movies with their mom's 8mm cameras. To a large extent, the film is a tribute to Uncle Forry.

The interviews are great, but even better are the examples of some of the works these geniuses were making as kids. Eventually the primitive works of these children would blossom into Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Terminator, and all the rest.

Being that these people were kids in the late 50s and 60s, they were inspired by the likes of King Kong and all the Ray Harihousen films. As such, much of the content is from that era.

My only issue with the film is that it was hyped as staring George Lucas and Steven Speilberg, while these guys only have about 45 seconds of screen time each. Peter Jackson does have a large part, though. But mostly it's about the hands on technicians who really did the innovative work. It's not a technical "how to" movie, but it does take you into the minds and passions of the special effects artists.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Man Who Saved the World

This is a great story I found last week.

The Man Who Saved the World

by Joel Durham Jr.
Oct. 2, 2008

Somehow it took more than twenty years to honor a man who saved us all.

If you were alive on September 26, 1983, when I was 12 years old, you almost didn't make it through the day. If you are too young to have lived that day, you were almost never born.

Accounts vary, as the facts of historical events often become jumbled over the years. What we believe we know for fact, if there is such a thing in history, is that there was a man in a bunker whose inaction saved the world from a full scale nuclear war. His name is Stanislav Petrov, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces.

The Soviets, whose scientists were considered extremely honorable and elite human beings, had recently put into place a new system to detect missile launches—first strike type missile launches. The system was largely untested, but with the arms race constantly escalating during the paranoid time of the Cold War, there wasn't always time for second guessing. The Soviet Union and the United States were both desperately keen on keeping the upper hand—as well as maintaining the sickening notion of "mutually assured destruction." MAD. The most appropriate acronym ever in all of history.

Lieutenant Petrov was in a bunker monitoring for what every Soviet feared: a US first strike. To his surprise, it happened. A missile. Another. More. A total, according to some accounts, of five nuclear warheads were dashing toward the Soviet Union.

There were protocols to follow. There were buttons to push. There were launch officers to alert—the only appropriate response to a US first strike was full scale retaliation. As hundreds of Soviet missiles filled the air, the US would have countered with everything it had.

The survivors would be the unlucky ones.

Against Protocol

But Petrov realized something with that new detection system was faulty. His training had taught him that if the United States launched on the Soviet Union, it would launch a massive, devastating barrage. Five missiles did not make sense. The tech, in Petrov's quick and ultimately accurate judgment, was failing.

Petrov didn't push any buttons. He didn't follow protocol. What he did, to save my life and yours and the rest of the world population, was nothing.

He did file a report. According to some accounts, he was to be honored by the Soviet government, but the lobby of scientists realized that such an honor for Petrov would, by proxy, cause a dishonor of the scientists who created the faulty detection system.

So whoever had the power to do so made it all go away. Petrov was reassigned. The launch detection system was repaired. Everything that happened was classified. The man who saved the world left the military on early retirement and quietly settled down with no fanfare.

In 1998, another man who'd been in the bunker with Petrov, Yuriy Vsyevolodich Votintsev, published his memoirs. Word of Petrov's cool headed, nearly action-free heroism finally became known to the world. He's received honors and awards from groups like the Association of World Citizens and even the UN, and there's evidently an independent film about his (in)action that saved us all.

Of course, accounts differ. Some military experts of the former Soviet Union claim that a single man could not start or stop a nuclear war. The militaries of both the US and the USSR had too many checks and balances. Still, it's hard not to shudder if you imagine that Petrov had done what he was supposed to do and reported the launch to his superiors as the faulty detection system evidenced, and the non-event escalated into, well, let's not think about it anymore.

Twenty five years ago last week, a Soviet lieutenant took no action and quite possibly saved us all. When you think of your heroes, remember Stanislav Petrov.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ah sweet justice

Richard Fuld punched in face in Lehman Brothers gym

Richard Fuld, the disgraced head of Lehman Brothers, was punched in the face in the office gym amid the bank's collapse.

By Jon Swaine
Last Updated: 9:14AM BST 07 Oct 2008

Mr Fuld, who has been testifying on the financial crisis before the US House Oversight Committee, was attacked on a Sunday shortly after it was announced that the banking giant was bankrupt.

Following rumours that the incident had occurred, Vicki Ward, a US journalist, said "two very senior sources - one incredibly senior source" had confirmed it to her. "He went to the gym after ... Lehman was announced as going under," she told CNBC. "He was on a treadmill with a heart monitor on. Someone was in the corner, pumping iron and he walked over and he knocked him out cold.

"And frankly after having watched [Mr Fuld's testimony to the committee], I'd have done the same too."

"I thought he was shameless ... I thought it was appalling. He blamed everyone ... He blamed everybody but himself."

Lehman Brothers, which was particularly badly hit by "toxic" mortgage debt, filed for bankruptcy last month. Its assets were later bought up by Barclays.

In a robust performance in front of the committee, Mr Fuld said that he would wonder "until they put me in the ground" why the US government had not rescued the 158-year-old firm. He said that regulators were fully aware of its plight well before its collapse.

Mr Fuld said: "I want to be very clear. I take full responsibility for the decisions that I made and for the actions that I took based on the information that we had at the time."

However he faced angry questioning from the committee's members. Henry Waxman, a Democrat, asked: "Your company is now bankrupt, our economy is in crisis, but you get to keep $480 million (£276 million). I have a very basic question for you, is this fair?"

Mr Fuld said that he had in fact taken about $300 million (£173 million) in pay and bonuses over the past eight years.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Biggest Bailout in US History is Passed

It's official... signed, sealed, and delivered. Did it save the US economy, or did it ruin us with additional debt? History will be the judge.

Congress OKs historic bailout bill; Bush signs it

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and DAVID ESPO, Associated Press Writers 5 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - With the economy on the brink and elections looming, Congress approved an unprecedented $700 billion government bailout of the battered financial industry on Friday and sent it to President Bush who quickly signed it.

"We have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country," Bush said shortly after the vote, although he conceded, "our economy continues to face serious challenges."

Underscoring that somber warning, the Dow Jones industrials, up more than 200 points at the time of the House vote, had fallen into negative territory an hour later. They fluctuated as the afternoon wore on.

The final vote, 263-171 in the House, capped two weeks of tumult in Congress and on Wall Street, punctuated by daily warnings that the country confronted the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression if lawmakers failed to act. There were 58 more votes for the measure than an earlier version that failed on Monday.

"We all know that we are in the midst of a financial crisis," House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said shortly before casting his vote for a massive government intervention in private capital markets that was unthinkable only a month ago.

"And we know that if we do nothing, this crisis is likely to worsen and to put us into an economic slump like most of us have never seen," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill was needed to "begin to shape the financial stability of our country and the economic security of our people."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pledged to begin using his new authority quickly, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank would work closely with the administration.

Wall Street welcomed the action, but investors also were buffeted by a bad report on the job market. The Labor Department said employers slashed 159,000 jobs in September, the largest cut in five years and further evidence of a sinking economy.

At its core, the bill gives the Treasury Department $700 billion to purchase bad mortage-related securities that are weighing down the balance sheets of institutions that hold them. The flow of credit in the U.S. economy has slowed, in some cases drying up, threatening the ability of businesses to conduct routine operations or expand, and adversely affecting consumers seeking financing for mortgages, cars and student loans. Some state governments have also experienced difficulty borrowing money.

The House vote marked a sharp change from Monday, when an earlier measure was sent down to defeat, largely at the hands of angry conservative Republicans. A total of 33 Democrats and 25 Republicans switched from opposition to support. Several of the Democrats were members of the Congressional Black Caucus who said presidential candidate Barack Obama had pledged to support legislation easing the burden on consumers if he wins the White House.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain also lobbied for the measure, according to aides who declined to release a list of lawmakers he called.

Following Monday's vote, Senate leaders quickly took custody of the measure, adding on $110 billion in tax and spending provisions designed to attract additional support, then grafting on legislation mandating broader mental health coverage in the insurance industry. The revised measure won Senate approval Wednesday night, 74-25, setting up a furious round of lobbying in the House as the administration, congressional leaders, the major party presidential candidates and outside groups joined forces behind the measure.

In addition, the measure was changed to broaden the federal government's deposit insurance program, and the Securities and Exchange Commission loosened a regulation to ease the impact of the distressed assets on the balance sheet of financial institutions.

Despite occasionally strong criticism of the added spending and tax measures, the maneuvers worked — augmented by a sudden switch in public opinion that occurred after the stock market took its largest-ever one-day dive on Monday.

"No matter what we do or what we pass, there are still tough times out there. People are mad — I'm mad," said Republican Rep. J. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina, who opposed the measure the first time it came to a vote. Now, he said, "We have to act. We have to act now."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., another convert, said, "I have decided that the cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of doing something."

Critics were unrelenting.

"How can we have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a leader among conservative Republicans who oppose the central thrust of the legislation — an unprecedented federal intervention into the private capital markets.

It was little more than two weeks ago that Paulson and Bernanke concluded that the economy was in such danger that a massive government intervention in the private markets was essential.

White the main thrust of their initial proposal was unchanged, lawmakers insisting on greater congressional supervision over the $700 billion, measures to protect taxpayers and steps to crack down on so-called "golden parachutes" that go to corporate executives whose companies fail.

Earlier in the week, the legislation was altered to expand the federal insurance program for individual bank deposits, and the Securities and Exchange Commission took steps to ease the impact of the questionable mortgage-backed securities on financial institutions.

In the moments before the vote, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, pledged "serious surgery" next year to address the underlying causes of the crisis.

If anything, the economic news added to the sense of urgency.

The Labor Department said initial claims for jobless benefits had increased last week to the highest level since the gloomy days after the 2001 terror attacks. The news of the payroll cuts came on top of Thursday's Commerce Department report that factory orders in August plunged by 4 percent.

Typifying arguments the problem no longer is just a Wall Street issue but also one for Main Street, lawmakers from California and Florida said their state governments were beginning to experience trouble borrowing funds for their own operations.

Pelosi said, "We must win it for Mr. and Mrs. Jones on Main Street."

One month before Election Day, the drama unfolded in an intensely political atmosphere.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus credited Obama with changing their minds.

Reps. Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards, both Maryland Democrats, were among them. They said Obama had pledged if he wins the White House that he would help homeowners facing foreclosure on their mortgages. He also pledged to support changes in the bankruptcy law to make it less burdensome on consumers.

Obama's rival, Republican Sen. McCain, announced a brief suspension in his campaign more than a week ago to try and help solve the financial crisis.

Republican Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, who switched her vote to favor the measure, said, "I may lose this race over this vote, but that's OK with me. This is the right vote for the country."

The vote on Monday had staggered the congressional leadership and contributed to the largest one-day stock market drop in history, 778 points as measured by the Dow Jones Industrials.