Thursday, April 17, 2014

The CIA, Howard Hughes, and the Secret Soviet Sub Salvage

Recent releases of once secret files reveal the details of a 6-year CIA effort to salvage a Soviet submarine dubbed Project Azorian. 

It's a heck of a story, and notable too for the formal non-answer reply to questions about policies and programs - "We can neither confirm or deny ..."

"Ultimately, the engineers opted for a plan that sounded like it was lifted from the plot of a James Bond film (actually, it did become the plot of a James Bond film). The plan involved three vessels: 1) An enormous recovery ship with an internal chamber and fitted with a bottom that could open and close. This ship would use a docking leg system that would, in effect, turn it into a stable platform for using a lifting pipe to raise and lower a 2)"capture vehicle" fitted with a grabbing mechanism that would be designed to align with the hull of the sub. The capture vehicle would be secretly assembled on a 3) massive barge with a retractable roof. The barge would be submersible, so that it could slip beneath the ocean, under the recovery ship, open its roof and deliver the capture vehicle — all the while remaining hidden from any potential reconnaissance."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Heartbleed: The Hack Catastrophe

The news that most websites were hit with a security hack made headlines this week, and there's a couple of layers of bad to report. Not only has the hack been running for years, repairs to patch the hole likely won't help.

I'll let the folks at MIT lay it out:

"A security bug uncovered this week affects an estimated two-thirds of websites and has Internet users scrambling to understand the problem and update their online passwords. But many systems vulnerable to the flaw are out of public view and are unlikely to get fixed.

"OpenSSL, in which the bug, known as Heartbleed, was found, is widely used in software that connects devices in homes, offices, and industrial settings to the Internet. The Heartbleed flaw could live on for years in devices like networking hardware, home automation systems, and even critical industrial-control systems, because they are infrequently updated.

"Cable boxes and home Internet routers are just two of the major classes of devices likely to be affected, says Lieberman. “ISPs now have millions of these devices with this bug in them,” he says."

And, like others, I have to wonder if this security hack originated in operations via national spying agencies. It surely appears the spies were using the bug.

Knox blogger Glenn Reynolds recently suggested 5 changes to privacy laws the nation should adopt. But it seems too little too late. 

If the MIT gang is right, protecting your info may be forever elusive. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Memphis is Happy - Will The Rest of Tennessee Join In?

Outbreaks of Happiness have been reported all over the world, from Tokyo to London to Tahiti ..,

And recently it's hit Memphis - what about the rest of Tennessee?

Happy reported previously.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Tennessee Goes Goodfellas?

It surely does sound like a $300 million Goodfellas kind of move:

"Nice auto plant you got here, Volkswagen. Shame if anyone were to unionize it."
"But we also obtained emails that show that Senator Corker’s chief of staff was in direct contact with anti-union organizers who were brought in to fight the UAW. He then shared those emails with people in the Haslam administration who were in charge of the incentives."

Is Gov. Haslam the new Gov. Christie? Or are Haslam and Corker just a couple of Goodfellas?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Movie You Are Too Scared To See

Ridley Scott and Cameron Diaz

More than once filmmaker Ridley Scott has defied Hollywood and audience expectations by bringing an unusual writer's work to the screen - Joseph Conrad ("The Duellists"), Phillip K. Dick ("Blade Runner") - and his film of writer Cormac McCarthy's first screenplay, "The Counselor", confounded critics and some audiences. But the film distills the grim and rare voice of McCarthy's take on crime, which isn't about car chases and wisecracking  buddy cops. It's a world with no heroes, no redemption.

Set in the brutal world of drug trafficking, cartels and the barren borderlands. The cartels alone make the gangsters of American legend look like Boy Scouts. In this tale, a would be drug deal goes bad and the cost is beyond horrifying. It's a predatory world, relentless and without morality.

It's daring, this descent into the darkness. It offers a femme fatale (Cameron Diaz) who devours everyone with pure ferocity. And perhaps it is much too honest - the viewer is without a safe haven, and most movies today just don't go there or close to there.

Scott had been trying to develop McCarthy's very dark Western novel, "Blood Meridian", into a film but Hollywood couldn't handle it - he says "It would have been rated double-X. It’s Hieronymus Bosch, the way McCarthy describes the first time you see several hundred horses with bones and feathers on them, and you can’t see a rider until you’re staring at the Comanche. It’s horrific. He writes in visual images which are spectacular, so it suits me down to the ground."

The truth, the reality if what's happening in the Southwest and Mexico as drug cartels slaughter their way to impossible wealth is hard to believe. And this film reveals what happens to a handful of people who venture into that wasteland. No romantic criminals here, no good guys rush in to save the day. 

"The Counselor" isn't a film for mainstream consumers - it's a complex and unflinching view of dark hearts in a sun-baked desert. It is one of the most haunting movies you'll ever see.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Double Secret Sex Probation

The first rule about sex education in state universities is - you can't talk about sex education in state universities.

Tennessee: Home of Lowest Wages

Sure seems debate about whether or not to increase the bottomed-out minimum wage takes place in a wacky fantasy world from a kooky Depression-era musical.

Tennessee now ranks in first place for the number of folks who earn the lowest wage possible - and some say raising that wage will bring on an Apocalypse. Truth is, more adults are on of this poverty train than teens, the wage buys less and less every day, and the state's economy won't grow because these workers have tiny buying power.

The fantasy makers won't tell you that historically, increases in the minimum wage grow an economy, rather than kill it. The denial song and dance routine we are given simply achieves one goal - workers are kept in poverty, income gaps grow, and economic growth only takes place at the very top.

Worried it might raise prices? Duh - have you bought anything in the last few months or years? Costs are always rising but wages are not. That's a doomed economy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Squeak Within The Roar

I toil with words and language, it's what I do. I write, I read, I arrange and rearrange the words looking for the combination which says "It" -- and "It" is always changing.

I'm often working to direct a play too, blending another writer's words with actors and other designers and artists in hopes of crafting a language of verbal and visual which an audience will enjoy on (hopefully) more than one level.

It's madness, really. The world around me provides fairly perplexed responses to such work. And it's work that's never really finished, I rewrite and refine always.

I've learned that being consumed with those constant word shufflings is fortunate in some ways - for instance, I've known since childhood the work I want to do. What drives me is not the approval of others, it's to connect clearly with those who read or listen, to share an experience.

But it is a kind of madness.

Currently, I'm working to direct 4 one-act plays for the Morristown Theatre Guild, and I am also acting in one of them, a play called "Universal Language" by David Ives. The plot of the tale is that I am attempting to con people into paying for learning a language which is total gibberish. My lines include such oddities as "gavotte kennedy doopferyu?" ... which roughly translates as "what can I do for you?"

The sounds and the intents of the words carry the meaning. And it's one of the toughest scripts I've ever tackled, and I often wonder if my brain is too rigid and old to accommodate such nonsense.

Like most folks, my brain is adjusting to text-speak and online language, which takes shortcuts and constantly creates new rules. The small notebook I always carry with me to jot down ideas and thoughts with pencil and paper seems deeply outdated. I carry a teeny computer device with me to also jot down ideas and search the worldwide web.


Language and signs and symbols rise and converge and change and these threads of letters and words and ideas (hopefully) make some sensible cloth.

This blog and this post will likely make only a very small sound in the world of today and tomorrow. A squeak amid a cacophony. No matter. I'm stuck with who I am.

"Gavotte kennedy doopferyu?"

Friday, March 07, 2014

Four One-Act Plays In One Show

Once again I've been working with the Morristown Theatre Guild, directing this One-Act Showcase which opens next Friday.

The Guild is celebrating their 80th year with the start of this season - that makes them one of oldest businesses in East Tennessee plus the oldest community theatre in the state too.

The award winning shows in the Showcase include 3 one-acts from the collection "All In The Timing" by David Ives and a fourth one act, "Black Comedy" by Peter Shaffer.

Ives' plays include "Sure Thing", offering a young couple trying to make sure their first meeting gets off to a great start - no matter how many times they have to repeat and repeat what they say to each other; "Words, Words, Words" enacts the old saying that monkeys trapped in a room with typewriters will write a Shakespeare play - or can they?; and "Universal Language" takes audiences on a roller coaster ride when a woman tries to learn a new language that sounds like pure nonsense.

A final one act for the night is the award-winning comedy "Black Comedy" by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Sleuth). It's the story of what happens at a dinner party held during a power outage - the audience can clearly see the chaos, confused identities, and constant calamities taking place as the characters behave like they are in a darkened apartment in this wild physical comedy show. The story is set in NYC in 1965.

The four one-acts also focus on the very language of theatre itself and how time and place shape a story. An ensemble cast from age 17 to 60 tackle multiple roles and have made a very funny show.

Performances are March 14 -23 at First Presbyterian Church in Morristown and you can order tickets at 423-586-9260 and tickets will also be available at the door - show times are 8 pm on Friday and Saturdays, 2 pm on Sundays.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Kinds of Happy

There's a line in the movie "Tender Mercies" when Robert Duvall's character says "I don't trust happiness." It's a line which resonates often too well.

I don't know what to make of Happy. It throws me off. I surely like and aim for Happy, but it slips away. One must hold it lightly I suppose, and one must share it in order to make more of it.

It's tricky.

A few mega-tons of bad news, bad ideas and the actions of bad people can overwhelm Happy. Such badness might seem to beat Happy out of every soul. While pondering a response to all the negativity, I've decided to just whip up a bit of Happy to share today. Two kinds, in fact.

Both kinds are songs, new and not so new. First up, Happy as offered by Pharreli Williams and then a shot of Happy from the Rolling Stones. Happy is a challenge for me, but I keep trying. Here's to some Happy for you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Counterfeit Meds in America

While outrage over antibiotics in chicken or beef grab headlines, critical questions about antibiotics and other meds taken by us human folk here in America point to an even more grim reality.

2004 saw the closure of the last American plant making such vital medicine. Fearing FDA oversight, companies fled overseas, so that today most antibiotics and key ingredients in other medicines are made in India and China - not a bad thing in itself, but now we find the meds you take may be fake at best, deadly at worst.

In truth many big pharma makers in India do a fine job. We know little about China since they won't let FDA folks examine their facilities.

Recent reports ( here and here) highlight deeply troubling trends:

-- The World Health Organization estimated that one in five drugs made in India are fakes. A 2010 survey of New Delhi pharmacies found that 12 percent of sampled drugs were spurious.

-- One widely used antibiotic was found to contain no active ingredient after being randomly tested in a government lab. The test was kept secret for nearly a year while 100,000 useless pills continued to be dispensed.
More tests of hospital medicines found dozens more that were substandard, including a crucial intravenous antibiotic used in sick infants.

-- India’s pharmaceutical industry supplies 40 percent of over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs consumed in the United States.

-- One federal database lists nearly 3,000 overseas drug plants that export to the United States; the other lists 6,800 plants. Nobody knows which is right.
Drug labels often claim that the pills are manufactured in the United States, but the listed plants are often the sites where foreign-made drug powders are pounded into pills and packaged.

-- Imports rule in America as we receive  80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States, 50 percent of the fresh fruit, 20 percent of the vegetables and the vast majority of drugs, all originate overseas.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Are You What You Like?

PBS Frontline aired a program titled "Generation Like", exploring the rapid spread and rise of online activity on social media websites, which left me with several thoughts.

-- Social media users disgorge details of their lives to the world while that info is collected and sorted and stored for numerous business activities, especially marketing. But who is using who?

-- Is the world (well those parts with constant online access) joined in a brave new conversation? Are users just seeking validation via shared enthusiasms?

-- The multi-faceted chain of events which follow when a user clicks a Like button or retweets or reblogs something is vast. The reductive nature of the Like concept also is vastly multi-layered, but it strikes me as a sort of yearning for less loneliness, and a plea we share to seek some change to thought or action. "Like" encapsulates so very much.

-- Optimistically, I'm thinking the rudimentary hunt for Likes and Shares are akin to the early stages of communication, and the creation of a self identity. Optimistic, I say, but only time will reveal if people are growing, devolving, or headed into an unknown social construct.