Communion Of Dreams

Well, I feel like an Alien has been chewing on my gut, trying to get out, so . . .
July 31, 2009, 8:26 am
Filed under: Health, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Space, YouTube

The nasty bit of lower GI gak I mentioned earlier this week has been an ongoing joy since. Yes, I saw a doctor yesterday. No, it is nothing to worry about. Just a bug, probably viral, which has kept me more grumpy and less productive than usual.

But this news made me smile:

‘Alien’ prequel takes off

Ridley Scott attached to return as director

Twentieth Century Fox is resuscitating its “Alien” franchise. The studio has hired Jon Spaihts to write a prequel that has Ridley Scott attached to return as director.Spaihts got the job after pitching the studio and Scott Free, which will produce the film.

The film is set up to be a prequel to the groundbreaking 1979 film that Scott directed. It will precede that film, in which the crew of a commercial towing ship returning to Earth is awakened and sent to respond to a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. The crew discovers too late that the signal generated by an empty ship was meant to warn them.

Well, that last paragraph is a rather pathetic summation of the original film. Here’s the original trailer:

Which doesn’t explain much, granted, but sure captures the feeling a whole lot better.

Anyway, having Scott involved should be good for the project. We’ll see.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

Watch it.
July 29, 2009, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Health, Music, YouTube

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here previously, but I’m a big fan of the Talking Heads. Have been since college. Yeah, I know, I’m getting old.

And while I can’t embed it here, you should go watch this video of Road to Nowhere.

But it isn’t by the Talking Heads.

It’s by a bunch of old folks. People even older than me. Who had a movie made about them that you should also watch. This one. Seriously. Put it on your NetFlix queue.

And have a box of tissues handy when you watch it.

Jim Downey

July 28, 2009, 10:56 am
Filed under: Health, Humor, Music, Politics, Star Trek

I’m sick with a nasty lower GI thing, which might explain why I think this is hilarious:

**GAH! F***ing YouTube pulled it, and I can’t get the Hulu version to patch. Go HERE to see it.**

Anyone who remembers Bill’s other spoken-word stuff will recognize this for the genius that it is.

Jim Downey

(Via Balloon Juice. Cross posted to UTI.)

Forgotten Bookmarks.
July 26, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings, MetaFilter

Via MeFi, a link to the site of a used/rare book seller who posts “forgotten bookmarks” s/he has found. Surprisingly compelling stuff. From the site description:

I work at a used and rare bookstore, and I buy books from people everyday. These are the personal, funny, heartbreaking and weird things I find in those books.

Indeed. I have run into a lot of the same sorts of things over the years, though in my case I always transfer the items to an envelope and return them to the client when they come to pick up their book. Oftentimes it is stuff which the client has never seen before, because they have been unwilling to risk damaging a fragile book prior to my work on it. When they do see the items, it invariably brings about deep emotional response for the ones they recognize, oftentimes accompanied with short stories or explanations.

Just thought I would pass that along.

Jim Downey

De facto dictatorship, part II.

Following up to the March revelation that the Bush Administration had concluded that it had the legal authority to effectively suspend civil liberties, comes a piece in the New York Times about how they almost used that authority in 2002:

Bush Weighed Using Military in Arrests

WASHINGTON — Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.

Some of the advisers to President George W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.

OK, so in March we found out that the Bush Administration had constructed a legal theory that would allow it to suspend at least some of the Bill of Rights. From the initial Harper’s article:

Yesterday the Obama Administration released a series of nine previously secret legal opinions crafted by the Office of Legal Counsel to enhance the presidential powers of George W. Bush. Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the President was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as a counterterrorism operations inside the United States.

And, curiously, the author of that article did wonder about how it may have been considered being used by the Administration:

We need to know how the memo was used. Bradbury suggests it was not much relied upon; I don’t believe that for a second. Moreover Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it.

It’s pretty clear that it served several purposes. Clearly it was designed to authorize sweeping warrantless surveillance by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Using special new surveillance programs that required the collaboration of telecommunications and Internet service providers, these agencies were sweeping through the emails, IMs, faxes, and phone calls of tens of millions of Americans. Clearly such unlawful surveillance occurred. But the language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.

As Glenn Greenwald says:

Today’s NYT report is the first which reveals that high-level Bush officials actively considered and even advocated that the power to use the military to arrest American citizens on U.S. soil be used.  In this instance, Cheney and Addington argued that the U.S. Army should be deployed to Buffalo to arrest six American citizens — dubbed the “Lackawanna Six” — suspected of being Al Qaeda members (though not suspected of being anywhere near executing an actual Terrorist attack).  The Cheney/Addington plan was opposed by DOJ officials who wanted domestic law enforcement jurisdiction for themselves, and the plan was ultimately rejected by Bush, who instead dispatched the FBI to arrest them [all six were ultimately charged in federal court with crimes (“material support for terrorism”); all pled guilty and were sentenced to long prison terms, and they then cooperated in other cases, once again illustrating how effective our normal criminal justice and federal prison systems are in incapacitating Terrorists].

Greenwald goes on to argue that it is critical for the Obama Administration to renounce the legal decisions behind the Bush Administration policies:

Those are the stakes when it comes to debates over Obama’s detention, surveillance and secrecy policies.  To endorse the idea that Terrorism justifies extreme presidential powers in these areas is to ensure that we permanently embrace a radical departure from our core principles of justice.  It should come as no surprise that once John Yoo did what he was meant to do — give his legal approval to a truly limitless presidency, one literally unconstrained even by the Bill of Rights, even as applied to American citizens on U.S. soil — then Dick Cheney and David Addington sought to use those powers (in the Buffalo case) and Bush did use them (in the case of Jose Padilla).  That’s how extreme powers work:  once implemented, they will be used, and used far beyond their original intent — whether by the well-intentioned implementing President or a subsequent one with less benign motives.  That’s why it’s so vital that such policies be opposed before they take root.

Just consider for a moment how the Obama Administration (or some subsequent administration) might construe this same authority to “suspend” other components of the Bill of Rights. To shut down some particularly troublesome “fringe” religious group. To impose “limited” censorship on internet traffic. To “stop the terrorism of handgun violence”.

This is the legacy of the Bush Administration, and why so many of us were so very nervous about the precedents being set by it. Because history is long, and freedom is easily lost.

Jim Downey

(Via BalloonJuice. Cross posted to UTI.)

. . . and I don’t think I’ll see this movie.
July 23, 2009, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Failure, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling, movies, Steampunk

Went to see the new Harry Potter movie last night (which I enjoyed), and of course had to sit through about six days worth of “Previews of Coming Attractions” (which I didn’t). In amongst the usual eminently forgettable fare they were threatening us with was one particular movie that sent a chill up my spine.

No, it wasn’t a horror flick, though it certainly looks to be pretty horrible. It was Sherlock Holmes.

Good lord, they’ve tried to turn him into an “action hero”.

Now, granted, Holmes was able to take care of himself in a fight. Sir Arthur specified this in the books & stories. He was capable with sword, walking stick, and his fists. And most of those play their part in his lore.

But this preview wanted to portray him as some steampunk version of Batman. All that was lacking was a mask and cape.

Methinks the writers (there are four of them – never an encouraging sign for a movie) heard that Robert Downey Jr was to be in the role and thought that they had to somehow connect the story to Iron Man. And no, according to the ImDB, the screenplay is not based on any of the actual works of Conan Doyle. This is what can happen when fictional characters pass into the realm of the “public domain”.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Jim Downey

I think I’ve seen this movie . . .
July 23, 2009, 10:28 am
Filed under: Brave New World, DARPA, Government, Humor, MetaFilter, Predictions, Science, tech, Violence


Cyclone Power Technologies Responds to Rumors about “Flesh Eating” Military Robot

POMPANO BEACH, FL, July 16, 2009. In response to rumors circulating the internet on sites such as, and CNET News about a “flesh eating” robot project, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets: CYPW) and Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) would like to set the record straight: This robot is strictly vegetarian.

On July 7, Cyclone announced that it had completed the first stage of development for a beta biomass engine system used to power RTI’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), a Phase II SBIR project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office. RTI’s EATR is an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling.

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.

Welcome to the future, boys & girls.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

July 21, 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Apollo program, Failure, Government, NASA, Science Fiction, Society, Space

I mentioned the other day that I would provide some further recollections about the Apollo 11 landing and Moon walk, but yesterday after all other coverage of the event that I read and heard, I wasn’t really sure what to add. You can find a brief description of how I experienced that historic “small step” at UTI, if you’re interested.

But last night, after thinking about the whole thing a considerable amount, I decided to pop open the new NetFlix disc that arrived in the mail yesterday. Another in The Invaders! series I wrote about in June. And on it was an episode titled “Moonshot“.

Well, of course I had to watch it.

And I was . . . rather amazed.

Oh, it was the typical formula for the show: something happens that seems to indicate alien involvement, and the star of the show hears about it and comes to the site to investigate. There he meets up with someone else who has suspicions about the aliens, and together they try and thwart whatever evil plot is being cooked up (sometimes successfully, more often not – this is a series in which the good guys win at best marginal victories).

But this was different. Not because of the formula, or acting or anything. But because of *when* it first aired: April 18, 1967.

What is significant about that date? Well, because it was just three months following the Apollo 1 disaster. And the episode is all about how the aliens are killing off the astronauts selected for the first manned Moon mission.

I’d bet the episode was already “in the can” by the time of the Apollo 1 tragedy. Maybe not. But either way, it is rather astonishing that they decided to run the episode so soon after that event. Most people now don’t remember, or don’t appreciate, the impact that Apollo 1 had – it has been subsumed into the greater glory of the subsequent successful launches. But at the time, it was quite traumatic.

I’m just old enough to remember the series, as I mentioned in my June post. So I don’t remember any controversy around the airing of this particular episode. If anyone does and can shed some light on it, I would appreciate it.

Jim Downey

We won!
July 21, 2009, 8:01 am
Filed under: Art, Government, Politics, Press

Sent a note this morning to a friend who wondered what the decision was on the P&Z Commission appointment:

According to one news source this morning, looks like we won: someone else (competent) was chosen. Far as I am concerned, this is about the best outcome – my wife and I both stepped up to the plate when asked, and were willing to do the job to the best of our ability. But now we don’t have to, and can get on with the other stuff in our lives that we want to do.

Link to the news source here.

So, time for me to contact the president of arts organization and see if they still want me to serve on their board.

More later.

Jim Downey

Wow! I’m Famous!!!
July 19, 2009, 9:43 am
Filed under: Government, Humor, Politics, Press

I just don’t know what to do – my name appears on the FRONT PAGE of the newspaper! Squeeee!

OK, I’m being snarky. This is hardly my first brush with press attention. I just thought that I would post a link as something of a follow-up to this post last week. And I still stand by this statement from that post:

This job is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the city – lots of work, lots of meetings, lots of responsibilities, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to piss off about 49% of the people in any given case. But it has to be done, and having conscientious citizens who are willing to take on the grief is absolutely necessary.

As davisw said in a comment to that post: “we definitely need more people with the volunteer spirit”.

Yeah, we do.

Jim Downey