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  xSaturday, October 18, 2003

horror wallpaper of the day

phenomena wallpaper

Today's wallpaper is dedicated to the Dario Argento film Phenomena, released in heavily edited form in the US as Creepers, which stars a very young Jennifer Connelly in one of her first film roles, as well as horror film stalwart Donald Pleasance and a razor-wielding chimp. I rented Creepers last week, and it was satisfying if even more incoherent than usual for an Italian horror film. There's a review of the full version at Teleport City.

(Courtesy Dreadful Mirrorz)

Speaking of rentals, I discovered to my disappointment that the tape of Phantasm -- which, for some reason, I'd never managed to see -- that I rented earlier this week was damaged and unplayable. I plan to return it to the video store today, and I hope they can either repair it or point me to another location that carries it. I might even go to Blockbuster to rent it.

On the bright side, my lovely wife and I did sit down to watch the (apparently made-for-TV) 1974 zombie flick The Dead Don't Die. Although some sections were so dark as to be nigh-incomprehensible, it was a suitably creepy film that presented an interesting spin on the zombie legend. George Hamilton plays a Navy officer on leave to attend his brother's execution for murder in 1930s Chicago. Hamilton's brother swears his innocence and charges him to track down the real killer. He eventually discoveres that the culprit is a zombie master using voodoo rituals to secretly amass an army of the dead. The film's high point is a literate and well-informed script by Robert Bloch (Psycho). The made-for-TV production values prevent it from rising to the level of a true classic, but The Dead Don't Die was an original and entertaining zombie yarn. Here's a second opinion at Cold Fusion Video Reviews.

  xFriday, October 17, 2003

zombie link of the day

the beyond

The Vault at The House of Horrors contains a bounty of reviews largely devoted to zombie movies, including such classic fare as Dawn of the Dead, The Evil Dead, The Beyond, and the insanely great Dead Alive. Each review includes tons of info and trivia, links to trailers and video clips, and often other multimedia files as well.


b-movie pinup gallery of the day

A gallery devoted to B-horror-movie queen Gloria Talbott (Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, I Married a Monster From Outer Space, The Leech Woman).

(Courtesy Brian's Drive-In Theater)


horror movie portal of the day

Sinister Element contains hundreds of links to commercial horror movie sites. If you've been looking for a particular flick, this site can likely help you find it.


friday link clearance: iraq edition

First off, props to the Administration for the undeniable diplomatic coup of securing unanimous UN Security Council approval of a new resolution on the Iraqi occupations. The true test, however, remains whether the Administration can parlay the symbolic victory into desperately needed aid in the form of troops and money, as the New York Times points out. France, Russia, Germany and Pakistan have already ruled out such aid.

Perhaps mindful of the staggering bill they're piling up, reconstruction contractors are eschewing Iraqi labor (during a time of widespread unemployment) and importing cheap workers from overseas. That's a move sure to delight the Iraqi people.

Today also marks the 100th combat fatality since Bush declared "Mission Accomplished," and a total of 336 dead since the invasion -- not counting casualties that are maimed or wounded, of course.

Meanwhile, back home, the Republican Party shows its commitment to supporting the troops:
The House also narrowly defeated an amendment by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) that would have shifted $3.6 billion from the Iraq reconstruction fund to the U.S. military to pay for the medical and dental screening of military reservists, for family assistance centers, for pre-paid phone cards for the troops in Iraq, for the transportation of troops on rest-and-relaxation leave, for the construction of more water treatment and power plants for the deployed troops, and for the repair and replacement of damaged equipment.

The amendment died, 216 to 209.

Republicans: 214 Nos; 11 Ayes; 4 Not Voting
Democrats: 2 Nos; 197 Ayes; 6 Not Voting

...So it looks like the troops are going to have to go on drinking chemically treated Tigris River water and paying for their own phone calls home. What do they think Iraq is, anyway, a Club Med?

I'm sure the Republican vote will do wonders for the troops' morale.

Meanwhile, for a prime exampe of Bush crony capitalism at work, check out this audio clip of a slimy, well-connected suit offering to hook up Iraqi businessmen for a monthly "subscription fee." The incredulous reactions of the Iraqis as they're being told to payu to do business in their own country is remarkable. (via Joshua Marshall) Not surprisingly, Iraqis are beginning to question the way the American occupiers and their no-bid contractors are handling the reconstruction of their country.

Of course, the line being pushed by the Administration is that things are just ducky in Iraq, but that darn liberal media just won't report things that way. On the one hand, you have at least 500 Astroturf form letters supposedly sent by soldiers (in a relatively calm part of the country) talking about how swell everything is.

(For a reality check, the Beltway Bandit has a catalog of the Administrations rather reality-challenged rhetoric on Iraq.)

On the other had, yesterday's Washington Post ran an interesting article on a survey of soldiers conducted by Stars and Stripes, which found that
half of those questioned described their unit's morale as low and their training as insufficient, and said they do not plan to reenlist.

The survey, conducted by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, also recorded about a third of the respondents complaining that their mission lacks clear definition and characterizing the war in Iraq as of little or no value. Fully 40 percent said the jobs they were doing had little or nothing to do with their training.

The findings, drawn from 1,935 questionnaires presented to U.S. service members throughout Iraq, conflict with statements by military commanders and Bush administration officials that portray the deployed troops as high-spirited and generally well-prepared. Though not obtained through scientific methods, the survey results suggest that a combination of difficult conditions, complex missions and prolonged tours in Iraq is wearing down a significant portion of the U.S. force and threatening to provoke a sizable exodus from military service.

In the first of a week-long series of articles, Stars and Stripes said yesterday that it undertook the survey in August after receiving scores of letters from troops who were upset with one aspect or another of the Iraq operation. The newspaper, which receives some funding from the Defense Department but functions without editorial control by the Pentagon, prepared 17 questions and sent three teams of reporters to Iraq to conduct the survey and related interviews at nearly 50 camps.

"We conducted a 'convenience survey,' meaning we gave it to those who happened to be available at the time rather than to a randomly selected cross section, so the results cannot necessarily be projected as representing the whole population," said David Mazzarella, the paper's editorial director here. "But we still think the findings are significant and make clear that the troops have a different idea of things than what their leaders have been saying."

MisLeader has a good summary of the situation. The Post article also contained this gem:
In recent days, the Bush administration has launched a campaign to blame the news media for portraying the situation in Iraq in a negative light. Last week, Bush described the military spirit as high and said that life in Iraq is "a lot better than you probably think. Just ask people who have been there."

But Stars and Stripes raised questions about what those visiting dignitaries saw in Iraq. "Many soldiers -- including several officers -- allege that VIP visits from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill are only given hand-picked troops to meet with during their tours of Iraq," the newspaper said in its interview with Sanchez. "The phrase 'Dog and Pony Show' is usually used. Some troops even go so far as to say they've been ordered not to talk to VIPs because leaders are afraid of what they might say."

Principled conservative James Pinkerton, whom I've cited before, picks up the ball and runs with it in this Newsday column:
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) had just returned home from a government-sponsored tour of Iraq when she appeared on Fox News to comment on Sunday's car bombing in Baghdad. Proving she's a good listener, she insisted that the suicide attack was actually good news. How's that? Speaking of the American nation-building effort, she explained, "As it's working, there are more incidents like this, from people who don't want it to work." By that inverted logic, of course, it would be bad news if there were fewer bombings.

But then, undercutting Granger's case, the interviewer noted that Granger and her fellow visitors had not actually stayed overnight in Iraq while they were visiting the country; each night, they were flown back to Kuwait, some 400 miles south of Baghdad. One might think for a moment about the implications of such a long-distance commute. If all the American security in Iraq can't make Iraq secure for VIPs, then maybe Iraq isn't so secure.

Read the whole thing; Pinkerton also tees off on the Bush Administration's habit ofg implying a connection between Iraq and 9/11, among a laundry list of other dishonesties.

Of course, it would seem that touring Iraq at all is only for Republicans willing to parrot GOP happy-talk spin:
Meanwhile, several Senate Democrats complained that they were denied access to a plane for a inspection tour of their own.

“For whatever reason, Sens. [Chris] Dodd [D-Conn.] and others who requested the opportunity to travel were prohibited from doing so, and I think that requires a better explanation that the one I’ve been given so far,” Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.

“We have no understanding. We were told that an [Air Force] airplane was not available,” adding that Britain offered them the use of an airplane. “If Britain can offer United States senators an airplane, you would think the United States government could do so as well.”

Daschle added: “We have to assume that what [Republican senators] saw is accurate.”

I hope Daschle was being sarcastic there, because there's no reason at all -- especially in light of an announced Republican PR offensive -- to give them the benefit of the doubt. (via Atrios)

CBS News reported on a thorough takedown of Secretary of State Colin Powell's supposedly definitve February speech to the UN by career foreign service officer Greg Thielmann.
“I think my conclusion now is that it's probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation.”

Thielmann's last job at the State Department was director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, which was responsible for analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat for Secretary Powell. He and his staff had the highest security clearances, and everything – whether it came into the CIA or the Defense Department – came through his office.

...On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary Powell presented evidence against Saddam to the U.N., and the speech represented a change in Powell’s thinking. Before 9/11, he said Saddam had “not developed any significant capability in weapons of mass destruction.” But two years later, he warned that Saddam had stockpiled those very weapons.

...At the time of Powell's speech, Thielmann says that Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat to anyone: “I think it didn't even constitute an imminent threat to its neighbors at the time we went to war.”

But Thielmann also says that he believes the decision to go to war was made first, and then the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion. For example, he points to the evidence behind Powell’s charge that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in a program to build nuclear weapons.

Powell said: “Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed.”

“This is one of the most disturbing parts of Secretary Powell's speech for us,” says Thielmann.

Intelligence agents intercepted the tubes in 2001, and the CIA said they were parts for a centrifuge to enrich uranium - fuel for an atom bomb. But Thielmann wasn’t so sure. Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program. At about the same time, Thielmann’s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes' dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.

“The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,” recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.

...Then, about a year later, when the administration was building a case for war, the tubes were resurrected on the front page of The New York Times.

“I thought when I read that there must be some other tubes that people were talking about. I just was flabbergasted that people were still pushing that those might be centrifuges,” says Wood, who reached his conclusion back in 2001. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

...Thielmann says the nuclear case was filled with half-truths. So why would the Secretary take the information that Thielmann’s intelligence bureau had developed and turn it on its head?

“I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the President of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force,” says Thielmann.

....Allinson watched Powell’s speech in Iraq with a dozen U.N. inspectors. There was great anticipation in the room. Like waiting for the Super Bowl, they always suspected the U.S. was holding back its most damning evidence for this moment.

What was the reaction among the inspectors as they watched the speech?

“Various people would laugh at various times because the information he was presenting was just, you know, didn't mean anything, had no meaning,” says Allinson.

And what did he and the other inspectors say when Secretary Powell finished the speech?

“They have nothing,” says Allinson.

There's much, much, more; read the whole thing. "Smoking gun," indeed.

From the "Hearts and Minds" desk, we have this:
US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: "They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn't capture anything. They didn't find any weapons."

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

"They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees," said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as "a punishment of local people because 'you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us'." What the Israelis had done by way of collective punishment of Palestinians was now happening in Iraq, Sheikh Hussein added.

The destruction of the fruit trees took place in the second half of last month but, like much which happens in rural Iraq, word of what occurred has only slowly filtered out. The destruction of crops took place along a kilometre-long stretch of road just after it passes over a bridge.

Farmers say that 50 families lost their livelihoods, but a petition addressed to the coalition forces in Dhuluaya pleading in erratic English for compensation, lists only 32 people. The petition says: "Tens of poor families depend completely on earning their life on these orchards and now they became very poor and have nothing and waiting for hunger and death."

The children of one woman who owned some fruit trees lay down in front of a bulldozer but were dragged away, according to eyewitnesses who did not want to give their names. They said that one American soldier broke down and cried during the operation. When a reporter from the newspaper Iraq Today attempted to take a photograph of the bulldozers at work a soldier grabbed his camera and tried to smash it.

Collective punishment is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, but of course the US military has the convenient dodge of claiming -- truthfully or not -- a tactical purpose for leveling the fields. Of course no one wants US soldiers jeopardized by guerillas under cover. But the anger inspired by such action could well have undesirable consequences down the road. And such tactics hardly appear to be the actions of a military force confident that it is, in fact, winning the peace.

Many are also looking askance at some recent comments made by the general Bush put in charge of the war on terrorism.
The controversy followed reports Wednesday on “NBC Nightly News” and yesterday in the Los Angeles Times citing Boykin, who is an evangelical Christian, speaking in uniform to church audiences over the past two years. He spoke of Islamic extremists hating the United States because “we’re a Christian nation” and added that our “spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” He said that President Bush “is in the White House because God put him there,” and that “we in the army of God . . . have been raised for such a time as this.”

I'm sure comments like that qill do wonders to spur badly needed coppoeration from the Pakistani authorities. You also gotta love his claim that it was God Himself who fixed the 2000 election...although come to think of it, Antonin Scalia might agree.

It really doesn't matter how many schools or hospitals we open if the US can't provide basic security -- its duty as an occupying power. Unfortunately, the relentless attacks on US troops and Iraqi civilians have shown that the situation is, at present, totally out of our control. Of even greater concern is the seemingly evident fact that the guerillas who attack US troops get away with it. Their success allows them to fight again and creates an unfortunate impression of US weakness on the Iraqi people. Too often, overreaction (as in the orchard incident) goes even further to damage US prestige.

As NPR's Ann Garrels -- who, unlike many of the conservative things-are-great chorus, does her reporting from Iraq -- put it on CNN:
The situation is extremely difficult in Iraq. If it were not so difficult, the American civilian administration would not be hiding behind coils of barbed wire and walls of sandbags. Once again, the security situation is dire. As long as these attacks can continue and happen anywhere, it's going to be impossible for the international community to work effectively.

Most international organizations have pulled out. New troops are loathe to come in. And Iraqis who work with the Americans are being targeted as collaborators. You only have to kill one in a town for the rest of those people, the rest of the Iraqis to be too frightened to work.

It doesn't really matter how many schools are opening if the US can't provide basic security, as is its duty as an occupying power. As such, the Administration's positive spin becomes less a reminder of progress than a pathetic attempt to distract the public from its obvious failure.

But hey, anything's justified when it comes to bolstering US security, right? If you think so, retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, and retired Air Force Col. Richard Klass have some bad news for you.
The argument that America is safer rests on two premises: first, that Iraq posed a threat to this country that has now been eliminated; second, that the war did not increase or create other threats. We believe both are incorrect.

The administration's primary justifications for the war were the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and its links to al Qaeda. Neither claim has been borne out. Saddam, it is increasingly clear, was safely in a box and was being kept there. But the case that America is less safe today does not rest solely on the argument that Iraq posed no near-term threat. The Iraq war itself has made this country less safe. There are six reasons why.

• The U.S. military, especially the Army, has been stretched to the breaking point and has very limited capability to respond to a crisis on the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere. This situation is likely to last several years and be compounded by declining enlistment, which is already affecting the National Guard and Reserve forces.

• The Iraq war has diverted resources from the effort to combat terrorism, the primary threat to our security. With our intelligence, military and economic resources concentrated in Iraq, the Taliban has reconstituted itself in Afghanistan and is challenging the Kabul government. The diversion of resources has also given Osama bin Laden's organization the opportunity to regroup.

• The drain on the national budget is pulling money away from critical homeland security needs. The $87 billion requested for Iraq and Afghanistan next year is almost the exact amount recommended in vain by an outside panel to fund port security, first-responder training and equipment and other needs for the next five years.

• If Saddam did have some WMD, they are now loose in a dangerous part of the world where many groups and nations do not wish us well.

• We have created a failed state in Iraq. There is currently no effective control of its borders. Radical Arabs from outside Iraq have answered Bush's call to "bring 'em on" and entered the shooting gallery. They do not speak English. They do not have passports or flight training. They were unlikely, before the war, to be able to attack us here. But they can take their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades and attack our troops next door in Iraq. This may also have opened up a fertile recruiting and training ground for al Qaeda.

• Finally, our unilateralism has weakened and embittered our allies and undercut the United Nations. The United States cannot defeat terrorism or successfully conclude the Iraqi campaign without them.

The threat to the United States posed by Saddam was greatly overstated. The reasons for that are not yet clear. What is clear is that the dangers created by the president's decision to go to war must be addressed. We cannot cut and run.

Add it all up, and you have the same grim picture that won't go away no matter how much Bush wishes it would: A messy, dangerous occupation -- the costs in lives and treasure the American people are bearing pretty much single-handedly, thanks to Bush's diplomatic foul-ups -- that has created a very real threat to national security where none existed before. That's the bottom line. One can only hope the situation won't get worse before the American people have the opportunity to vote someone more competent than Bush and Company into office.


good omens fan art

A fan art tribute to the insanely great Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett comic novel of the Apocalypse Good Omens. Awesome!

To add to the already over-the-top coolness factor, it was inked by Matt Howarth, of Savage Henry fame.

If you haven't read Good Omens, by all means do so immediately. Try to imagine the Book of Revelations by way of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy filtered through one of the '70s crop of satanic horror films. Sheer delight!


true-life horror tale of the day

A polar bear has apparently killed the last resident of an obscure Russian village. The screenplay practically writes itself...

(via FARK)

And of course I couldn't fail to mention Wednesday's terrible ferry crash in this context as well.


some cool horror linkage

My firend Sparky has been working on a book about horror movies. He just in formed me that an excerpt has been posted online.

He also writes a regular column of horror DVD reviews at Horror-wood. His reviews are archived here. It's always good stuff.


friday link clearance

It's been a pretty busy week, and I haven't been able to mention a number of links that have caught my eye.

Here's a great story in (day pass required) that sums up the Bush Administration's efforts to shield the President -- and news viewers -- from the sight of protestors. Setting aside the obvious Constitutional questions, supporters of the President should be embarrassed and ashamed at obvious cowardice and insularity. I remember a time when we in the free United States mocked world leaders who used such shabby tactics; who'd have thought that the Bush crew was taking notes the whole time?

De Spectaculis has some great ruminations of what George H. W. Bush must be thinking of his son ("How can he stand to read the newspapers?").

Don't miss Neal Gabler's L.A. Times column describing George W. Bush's "Medieval Presidency."
Incuriosity seems characteristic of the entire Bush administration. More, it seems central to its very operation. The administration seems indifferent to data, impervious to competing viewpoints and ideas. Policy is not adjusted to facts; facts are adjusted to policy. The result is what may be the nation's first medieval presidency — one in which reality is ignored for the administration's own prevailing vision. And just as in medieval days, this willful ignorance can lead to terrible consequences.

Talking Points Memo has been charting the progress of the Bush Administration's so-called "Operation Push-Back."

Of course, I'd be remiss in mentioning that President Bush apparently told his staff to stop leaking information. The directive was promptly leaked to the press by an anonymous Administration source.

And speaking of leaks coolant leak has been discovered in a New Hampshire nuclear power plant. The leak is similar to one that caused a lengthy shutdown of an Ohio plant, which inspired me to write this rant. Although its existence is certainly not good news, the early detection of this leak is a hopeful sign. It may indicate that inspectors are keeping an eye out for this sort of problem. If the near-disaster in Ohio results in better safety through lessons learned, so much the better.

And this fascinating WaPo story indicates that a cost-benefit analysis by the White House finds that the benefits of environmental regulations exceed the costs.
The report, issued this month by the Office of Management and Budget, concludes that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002.

By comparison, industry, states and municipalities spent an estimated $23 billion to $26 billion to retrofit plants and facilities and make other changes to comply with new clean-air standards, which are designed to sharply reduce sulfur dioxide, fine-particle emissions and other health-threatening pollutants.

The report provides the most comprehensive federal study ever of the cost and benefits of regulatory decision-making. It has pleasantly surprised some environmentalists who doubted the Bush administration would champion the benefits of government regulations, and fueled arguments that the White House should continue pushing clean-air standards rather than trying to weaken some.

Hmm...with studies like this by his own administration, it's no wonder Bush takes a medieval view of science.

A woman was sentenced to jail, probation, and anger-management classes for a most horrific assault: When a four-year-old boy accidentally smeared her sleeve with ice cream, she chased him through the restaurant, screaming, cornered him, beat him and smeared hot French fries in his face. The 18-year-old was nine months pregnant at the time. As the parent of a four-year old, I can attest that messes happen, and I hope for the sake of her child that this woman learns to get a handle on the fact.

Remember that bear who invaded late-night host David Letterman's home? Well, he's baaaaaaack...

Speaking of bears, great googly moogly! A wildlife documenatrian and his companion were apparently mauled to death by a brown bear in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve, the first such recorded fatalities. Evidently the filmmaker had been warned of the dange of his close encounters with bears. Perhaps levity is inappropriate at the news of this tragedy, but I couldn't help thinking about this guy...

Here's a great photo of the late Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly from Singin' in the Rain.

They never had classes like this when I was in college...
One female volunteer performed a kiss so erotic that an audience member jumped up with a freshly written sign that said "10." was all extracirricular. (via FARK)

Guess what? Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour -- now running for governor of Mississippi -- has been hanging out with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

I haven't discussed the unfolding scandal of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, but this Washington Post editorial pretty much sums things up.
The investigation found that the Air Force's top leadership failed for years to take adequate steps to rectify the problem; that an internal Air Force review sought to shield headquarters from criticism; and that changes designed to improve reporting of sexual assaults could actually deter women from coming forward.

The internal report found "no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy" and no "institutional avoidance of responsibility." The Fowler panel, however, found that "the highest levels of leadership had information about serious problems at the academy, yet failed to take effective action." It just wasn't at the top of the Air Force agenda. Neither, it seems, is accepting responsibility now.

And speaking of sexual assault, the superb Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent article on why no means no. Here's a fan blog devoted to Ms. Lithwick's writings.

On a different note, here's a lengthy article on modern flirting from the Washington Post, via FARK.

Byzantium's Shores has several good posts today (as always), including this lengthy rumination on the Arthurian legend in films. I may not call it definitive, but personally I dig Excalibur.

Finally, here's a cool site that lets you make a roll-your-own mock tabloid front page (hat tip: BoingBoing).


wallpaper of the day

the ring wallpaper

Today's wallpaper is of the extraordinarily popular Japanese horror movie The Ring, which spawned several sequels and an American remake, courtesy of Snowblood Apple. Here are reviews at Teleport City and Stomp Tokyo. I got this film on an import VCD before its Stateside DVD release, and it's overdue for another look. Ringworld is an excellent fan site devoted to the series.

Snowblood Apple also has an excellent collection of horror linkage for your enjoyment.

  xThursday, October 16, 2003

horror movie review link of the day

Here's Blogcritics' horror movie review section.


html guide of the week

While browsing the Internet Movie Database, I discovered this handy guide to special HTML characters.


i'm jealous

My friend Dodd went to see R.E.M. on the closing gig of their current tour, and reports an excellent show.


new horror review at dam

My new review of the Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Tomie) horror anthology manga Flesh Colored Horror is up at Destroy All Monsters. Once again, Musashi was kind enough to let me post it while he's offline.


horror site of the day

X-Entertainment has a bunch of cool material for this Halloween season, including an identify-the-scary-movie-quote contest, a review of the non-scary flick My Demon lover, a look at the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari 2600 game, a Halloween link-of-the-day countdown, and a primer on making "shrunken heads" from apples.


gallery of the day

asia argento

asia argento

A gallery (some images possibly not safe for work) devoted to Asia Argento (yes, Dario Argento's daughter), who starred in Michele Soavi's creepy horror flick The Church.


ad it up

The DNC has created a decent TV spot calling for an independent investigation into the Valerie Plame scandal. It includes video of Bush Senior calling those who blow the cover of covert agents "the most insidious of traitors."

Why does Bush continue to tolerate the presence of two such persons among his staff?

Speaking of Plame, today's Washington Post mentioned her in this story about her husband receiving the first Ron Ridenhour Award for Truth-Telling, named after the American soldier who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre.

Meanwhile, Blah3 has some thoughts on why we haven't heard the last of the Plame scandal by a long shot. And Mark Kleiman demolishes the foolish hope of those who need desperately to believe that the Adminsitration's hands aren't dirty over the scandal (indeed, he echoes John Dean's observation that further discussion of Plame by the Administration was likely a crime as well under the Espionage Act).

And speaking of ads, here's one for the excellent that makes Bush's deception about Iraq's so-called threat crystal clear.


zombie links of the day

Just in case the living dead ever walk the earth, you might want to order The Zombie Survival Guide, or at least check out the book's official site (warning: Flash-enabled with sound).

Via the Zombie Survival Guide site, I learn that Kevan Davis' superb Zombie Infection Simulator (which I first mentioned back in August) has been updated by Matt Cordes to include the possibility of the humans fighting back. c00L!

(via #!/usr/bin/girl)


cheney abandons deception...

...and traipses merrily into the Land of the Completely Absurd:
Lies beget more lies; a policy built on deception will always require further deception to sustain itself.

Case in point: The campaign by leading members of the Bush administration to rebuild faltering support for their invasion of Iraq. To hear them tell it, everything that has happened since last March has just proved how right they've been all along.

To cite just one example, consider a recent speech by Vice President Dick Cheney to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Cheney is credited by many for having led President Bush, and by extension this country, into invading Iraq. So it's no surprise that he has been unflinching in defending that policy.

As he explained the rationale:

"We could not accept the grave danger of Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies turning weapons of mass destruction against us or our friends and allies."

Of course, no such grave danger existed. Having failed to find any WMD, we know that now. More importantly, we knew it in the fall of 2002, when this push for war began. Even back then, the CIA was using terms such as "unlikely" and "low probability" to describe the odds of Saddam handing WMD to terrorists.

Somehow, "low probability" and "unlikely" were transformed into "grave danger." Claims about Saddam's nuclear program have followed a similar trajectory.

In January 2002, the CIA reported that Iraq's nuclear weapons program consisted of no more than low-level theoretical work, an assessment that time has proved quite accurate. Yet eight months later, Cheney was somehow claiming that Iraq was close to completing The Bomb.

In his Heritage speech, Cheney also described the prewar efforts to contain Saddam -- "12 years of diplomacy, more than a dozen Security Council resolutions, hundreds of U.N. weapons inspectors, thousands of flights to enforce the no-fly zones and even strikes against military targets in Iraq" -- and dismissed them as failures.

That too denies reality. In fact, multilateral efforts to contain and disarm Saddam had succeeded to a degree that few had imagined possible.

In 1991, Saddam had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, production facilities to produce still more, and a maturing nuclear weapons program. By 1998, and certainly by 2003, he had none of those things.

Sanctions worked. Inspections worked.

Then Cheney got to the core of his argument:

"Another criticism we hear is that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent. Under this view, even in the face of a specific agreed-upon danger, the mere objection of even one foreign government would be sufficient to prevent us from acting."

With that statement, Cheney abandons deception and traipses merrily into the Land of the Completely Absurd. Nobody -- not the Democrats, not the United Nations, not even the French -- makes the argument that he describes. It would be insane to do so.

Cheney invents that argument to support his larger point: After Sept. 11, the Bush administration at least did something, while its less-than-manly critics would have done nothing.

And that is the ultimate falsehood.
[Emphasis added]

The true policy choice is between actions that make things better for the United States and actions that make things worse. If we were to assess the invasion of Iraq on those grounds, the outcome would be something like this:

Saddam had no WMD, no nuclear program and no ties to al-Qaida. So invading Iraq did little or nothing to improve our security. It did, however, come at a cost that may take decades to fully tally.

The invasion has strained our alliances and international standing, making it difficult to draw support against real threats in North Korea and Iran. Our military is overextended. The financial toll is $150 billion and counting; the toll in U.S. lives continues to mount as well.

If the administration truly did expect all that, they are bigger fools than even their harshest critics have claimed.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution deputy editorial page editor Jay Bookman's column is simply superb and his observations spot-on. It's just too good to excerpt.

The question simply can't be asked often enough: if the Administration's case is so darn good, why does it need so much deception and invective to support it?

But beyond that is the larger point: A policy of preemptive war such as Bush advocated demands absolutely sterling intelligence and the utmost trustworthiness on the part of the executive. No one would argue that a nation doesn't have the right to defend itself from a real threat, but many would agree that a nation does not have the right to invade another on a hunch (indeed, it's staggering that anyone would support such a notion). By his and his Administration's continued mendacity and decieption, Bush has not only mired America in a bad strategic situation, but also discredited the very doctrine that he used to oust Saddam.

But let's face it...much of the jutification used by the hawks, including especially the so-called humanitarian argument, seem to extend to getting Saddam and no further. Which once again raises the question: If Bush simply wanted to get Saddam, why couldn't he have been honest about it? Simple: Because few would have agreed then, and most would likely balk now given how expensive in lives and treasure Bush's unilateral invasion has turned out to be.

(via Eschaton via Byzantium's Shores)


horror list of the day

Speaking of RetroCrush, I've been meaning to link its homage to the 100 greatest movie monsters of all time, so here goes. I'm especially pleased with its number-one pick (warning: embedded sound).


(guest) comix post of the day

The other day, my friend Sparky emailed me a list of his picks for the 25 greatest comic book heroes and villains. He explained the ground rules:
Characters from comic strips (Flash Gordon, etc.), pulps (The Shadow), novels (Tarzan), etc., were excluded. And great means great in terms of cultural impact, not necessarily/exclusively great in terms of quality.

He generously gave permission for me to cite his list here, so here goes:

  1. Superman - The original, archetypal super-hero. The Golden Age --
    and everything else -- begins here

  2. Batman - The second great archetype: The self-made super-man.

  3. The Spectre - The final archetype: The supernatural super-hero.
    Although not recognized to the same extent as Superman or Batman,
    The Spectre (an earthbound ghost) blazed the trail for a wide
    variety of future characters: Dr. Fate, Dr. Strange, Werewolf by
    Night, even Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Ad infinitum.

  4. The Joker - Greatest and best-known of the great super-villains.

  5. The Silver Age Flash - The character that rescued super-heroes
    from oblivion and kick-started the Silver Age.

  6. The Fantastic Four - The characters that put Marvel Comics on the
    map, and the first super-hero team conceived of as a team (not a
    collection of independent characters).

  7. Spider-Man - Greatest of all the Marvel super-heroes. More than
    any other character, summed up the Marvel appeal. 40-plus years on,
    still the company's flagship title.

  8. The Justice Society of America - The first super-team, although
    they rarely actually functioned as a team.

  9. Robin - First and still best of the once-pervasive "kid sidekick"
    characters. Has developed a mythos all his own.

  10. Wonder Woman - The only female super-hero to truly enter the
    mainstream consciousness.

  11. Captain America - A true American idol, and the character that
    kept Timely afloat so it could one day turn into Marvel.

  12. The Modern X-Men - For better or worse, Giant Size X-Men #1
    (which introduced the team's new lineup, including Wolverine)
    changed the face of comic books forever.

  13. The Punisher - Another character that changed the comics
    landscape, introducing the word "gritty" (ie, ultraviolent) to the
    vocabulary of comicdom.

  14. The Hulk - Another character whose popularity transcends comics,
    the lackluster recent film notwithstanding.

  15. The Spirit - Will Eisner's postwar Spirit comics influenced a
    generation of comic book artists and remain unsurpassed in terms of

  16. Spawn - Not a great comic book, but an influential one. Its
    success helped create (spawn?) the current creator-owned
    marketplace, now a serious rival to Marvel and DC.

  17. Lex Luthor - Another of the truly great comic book villains.

  18. Green Lantern - A great character that always seems on the cusp
    of crossing over into the popular consciousness like Superman,
    Batman, Wonder Woman, without ever fully breaking through.

  19. Dr. Doom - Greatest of the great Marvel villains.

  20. Captain Marvel - Shazam! The Big Red Cheese coulda been a
    contender, if DC's lawyers hadn't shut him down in mid-flight. At
    the character's Golden Age zenith, Fawcett's hero outsold Superman
    and every other comic on the market.

  21. Plastic Man - Jack Cole's Golden Age comics are absolute
    classics and remain unique, zany delights. The pliable paladin also
    paved the path for future characters such as The Elongated Man and
    Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards.

  22. Lois Lane - Maybe not exactly a hero, but she did have a comic
    book and a TV series with her name in the title. Of all the
    supporting characters in comics history, she's probably the best
    known. (Rivaled only by Batman's butler, Alfred.)

  23. Swamp Thing - Birthplace of DC's "Vertigo" universe and a very
    influential book in the early 1970s. Introduced Berni Wrightson and,
    later, Allan Moore to the comics world.

  24. The Justice League of America ? Just doesn't seem right for the
    JLA not to be on this list.

  25. Cerebus - If not for pioneering, creator-owned books like this
    one, Spawn could never have happened. (Take that as a good thing or
    a bad thing.)

  26. The Sub-Mariner - The original undersea super-hero (sorry,
    Aquaman) and, along with Captain American, one of only two Marvel
    characters to have survived from the Golden Age to the present.

  27. Nick Fury - In his Agent of SHIELD role, popped up in every
    Marvel comic in sight during the Silver Age. More than any other
    character, illustrated Stan Lee's vision of a fully integrated
    comics universe. He was also the first Marvel character to star in

  28. Iron Man/Daredevil (tie) - Two progressive Marvel characters who
    exemplified the idea of the imperfect super-hero: Daredevil was
    blind, and in the beginning Tony Stark couldn't live without the
    chest plate of his suit. Later, Stark developed alcoholism, in a
    landmark storyline. Daredevil introduced Frank Miller to the comics
    world, and Miller gave Daredevil some of the most memorable stories
    in comics history with his Elektra and Gang War epics.

  29. The Crypt Keeper - Personification of the EC Comics horror
    titles, which nearly destroyed the industry, but are now venerated
    by generations of horror fans, authors and film makers. The Keeper
    himself remains a popular figure: Also featured on the TV series and
    movies inspired by the comics. (I even have a Crypt Keeper Christmas

Honorable mentions: Sgt. Rock, Dr. Strange, The Avengers, The Red
Skull, The Penguin, Catwoman, J. Jonah Jameson, Dr. Octopus, The
Green Goblin, The Lizard, The Watchmen.

I'm currently reading some reprints of the old EC horror comics. Here's a page at RetroCrush devoted to the Crypt Keeper in his classic and modern forms (warning: embedded sound).

Update: And speaking of comix, Thursday's edition of 8-Bit Theatre goofs on the proclivity of fanboys to imagine endless hypothetical scenarios...


planet swank mailbag

I don't often get email regarding my blog, but apparently this relatively high-traffic month has drawn some new visitors, one of whom took it upon himself to raise objections to my criticism of the Bush Administration. Here goes, verbatim:
found your site, thought it was interesting, left when I started reading ignorant,biased jibberish against our President's efforts to defend our nation from cowardly terrorists. Four children at the grade school where my wife works, lost parents to these cowardly bastards when the Twin towers were destroyed, one of my colleagues at work lost a friend, my cousin's wife lost a relative. So when you get all warrn and fuzzy when you think you are latching on to some chic trendy way to mock the defenders of our Constitution and our Nation who are there to defend us from these low life shitbags, remember innocent Americans were sucker punched by cowards and these cowards don't give a rat's ass if you are one of their victims.
Name Withheld
Vote Freedom
Vote Republican

My response:
Thank you for your comments. It's a pity that they so resembled ignorant and biased gibberish.

It's clear that criticism of the President's policies makes you uncomfortable. I'm sorry about that. If you can point to a specific criticism that you think is incorrect, I'd be happy to entertain your argument, and more than happy to point out why I think you're wrong. But you'll have to forgive me if your contention that the mere act of
criticizing the President is somehow wrong fails to impress me.

Perhaps you could enlighten me as to how blowing the cover of a covert CIA agent working in weapons proliferation strengthens our national defense.

Perhaps you can explain how our situation in Iraq improves, not diminishes, our ability to combat terrorism.

Perhaps you can explain how the Patriot Act is the work of an Administration committed to defending the Constitution.

Frankly, sir, I doubt you can. But in the meantime, consider this: You say that you know people personally affected by 9/11. Can you name one thing the President did to defend our nation from terrorists prior to then? Something, perhaps, he did after Condoleeza Rice warned him in August of 2001 that al Qaeda planned to hijack American aircraft? I fear you're in for quite a shock when you realize how greatly Bush failed to act; failed to defend this nation.

You're within your rights not to care for my antiwar comments, and certainly to let me know about them. I understand and share your anger toward terrorists. It may surprise you to learn that I, and many who opposed the war on Iraq, did so precisely because we wanted to see al Qaeda broken and bin Laden caught, as opposed to running off on a completely irrelevant tangent by invading a country that posed little actual threat, as Colin Powell himself claimed in 2001. Tell me, has Bush managed to catch bin Laden yet?

Vote Republican? Not until they start demonstrating some competence, and
not just big talk, thank you very much.

I see comments like this individual's a lot on blog comment threads and Internet discussion boards. Comments full of invective and a truly staggering confusion of issues.

It's sad, in a way. After the trauma of 9/11 -- a tragedy that's directly attributable to Bush's incompetence and an undeniable failure in his duty to protect this nation -- many Americans desperately needed to believe that the President was strong and in charge, and would wisely follow the best policies to protect this nation. And to his credit, Bush took some positive steps. He gave some good, healing speeches. He confronted the Taliban -- a move I fully supported, and indeed I wish Bush would have the political courage to finish the job. And he quite rightly repudiated wrongheaded attempts to stigmatize loyal American muslims.

But needing to believe in Bush, sadly, does not make him capable. This blog has lodged many objections to his policies, not the least of which was an obvious attempt to sell the war on Iraq based on a hysterical drumbeat of fear. (Really, the notion that Iraq posed any threat at all to the US -- let alone an imminent one -- is simply laughable.) Many other blogs have done a much better job of cataloguing Bush's mendacity and rank incompetence.

Most other Western-style democracies wisely employ a dual executive -- a head of state, and a political leader. Thus, while in England, Tony Blair's political career may well be over as a result of his own distortions regarding Iraq, the people still love the Queen. Unfortunately, in America we have no such luxury, and so a frightened nation must instead turn to a weak, venal man who's proven all too willing to turn popularity in polls to his political advantage.

There are those who arrive by their positions in good faith and can defend them intelligently. But the sheer emptiness of the rhetoric -- replete with name-calling and unsupportable assertions -- that parrots the lying liars of the Right is truly staggering in its worthlessness. The misguided faith in a President who seems to regard his rank-and-file supporters as suckers undeserving of an honest presentation is genuinely sad. And the .

I can't help but wonder why, if individuals like this one are so confident in their positions, why they feel so threatened by those who disagree with them. There's something almost Freudian about it.

Of course, I welcome feedback of any time. I reserve the write to post blog-related email. And if you've got something critical to say, I suggest you reach beyond dittohead talking points if you want to be taken seriously.

Update: As I was composing this post, my correspondent weighed in with an enlightening response:
Your commentary is cliche and mocking, nothing of substance. Blowing the cover of a CIA operative? That clown who's wife is a secret agent , oh yeah the publicly known analyst, has changed his partisan motivated story so many times that the ink hadn't time to dry on the convenient book deal he just signed. Wake up clown shoes, we are at war and the weak extreme leftist loonies such as yourself are going to get out of the way whilst us adults take care of business and secure out nation's freedom ,safety and prosperity. This way it will be safe for you tantrum throwing immature pseudo-intellects to get out there and cry about whatever nonsense you are in crisis about today.
I've yet to see any constructive alternatives from the nine or ten dwarves jockeying for the leftist democrats presidential nomination, other than bush is wrong I'm better vote for me , because bush he's not good . he's bad, oh yeah I did vote in favor of going to war, but no I'm better,bush he bad....blah blah blah ...oh you leftists are so funny and sad
thanks lefty
Name "American and not guilty about it" Withheld

I replied:
Great to hear from you again! It's always refreshing to hear the ad hominems, non sequitirs, and misplaced blind faith that mask the emptiness of the Bush apologists. Where to start...

Nothing of substance? To the contrary. I presented you with three substantial arguments, only one of which you took a stab at refuting. Unfortunately, your statements regarding the Plame scandal are completely wrong. She was, in fact, covert, as you'd know if you actually read any of the several posts I've made on the subject. I'll make it very clear:

Plame was indeed covert as the CIA has confirmed in asking Justice to investigate the crime. Two individuals in the Bush Administration blew her cover, which action constitutes not only a felony but egregious damage to our intelligence on real weapons of mass destruction. Wilson -- who is not partisan in the first place and was correct about the Administration's mendacious claim about African uranium in the second place -- is irrelevant to the commission of this crime. He could be -- is not, but could be -- the most partisan individual ever, but there's nothing in the statute that makes an exception in such a case. Indeed, the fact that you're reduced to repeating the slime-and-defend talking points suggests the emptiness of your argument. Since blowing the cover of a covert agent working in weapons proliferation damages our national security, it's clear that your only recourse is to refuse to believe it happened. I'm sorry to inform you that such a fantasy is simply not supportable in light of the facts.

Of course, you completely fail to address the other two questions. (For the record: Perhaps you can explain how our situation in Iraq improves, not diminishes, our ability to combat terrorism, and Perhaps you can explain how the Patriot Act is the work of an Administration committed to defending the Constitution.) Are you admitting you have no answer, and therefore the criticism is justified? Come on, sport, dazzle me.

As for the canard about the "adults" running the show, in what way does the recent behavior of Rice and Rumsfeld regarding the administration of Iraq support that argument? What evidence do you have that Bush is even in control of his own Iraq policy other than his lame assertion that he is?

Once again, it may come as a suprise to you, but I'm as proud to be an American as you are, your slimy implication to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, because I, for one, believe that America is worth improving, and am unwilling to condone its ruin by the misguided policies of this Administration, I'd assert that I'm prouder of this country than you are.

I've made a series of strong, well-informed assertions about the danger to this country posed by the Bush Administration's unique combination of incompetence and dishonesty. You seem to believe that any criticism of the President's policies is inherently wrong. But the overwhelming evidence is that Bush's specific policies are weakening this nation and placing us at a disadvantage in the war on terrorism. As such, it's quite enough to simply oppose the damage he is doing to this great nation; no alternative plan is necessary. Now, do you have an argument of substance to back up your faith in him? If you don't, your rantings and name-calling are just so much hot air and unworthy of consideration. I suggest you're wasting your time and mine.

Have a nice day.

And in an immediate follow-up:
One more thing, Name Withheld:

In my original response, I challenged you to justify your faith in this Administration's ability to cvombat terrorism to name one thing they did in that regard prior to 9/11. I'm still waiting.

I'll make it easy on you. In August 2001, Condoleeza Rice briefed the President that there were warning that al Qaeda planned to hijack US airliners. (You'll recall, of course, that she later claimed the 9/11 attacks occurred *without* warning.) Surely you'd agree that the President should take action against such a threat. Can you name anything at all the President did to make America safe in the month before 9/11?

This exchange gives me a good opportunity to subject the lame "I haven't seen an alternative to Bush's disastrous policies" argument to the scorn it deserves. For starters, the intellectual dishonesty behind this line of argument is evident in Buh's repeated -- and dishonest -- assertions that opposing his coveted war on Iraq was tantamount to "doing nothing." In addition, any high school debatoer could tell you that it's a rhetorical trick -- the argument then becomes over the counterproposal, and the original thesis is assumed valid.

Well, I'm not buying. Simply opposing a policy, and providing solid reasons for doing so, is enough. The burden of proof is, and always has been, on the Bush Administration to justify its proposals. Given its complete failure to do so honestly, critics are more than justified in criticizing the policy and noting that its real costs and benefits are likely not all that is claimed. (It's at this point, of cours,e that you hear the "Well, what else do you suggest" argument.)

Moreover, when it's apparent that proposed policy has very foreseeable ill consequences -- massive structural deficits and a long, expensive, and bloody occupation, to name only two -- opposing said policy on those grounds is sufficient. As some have said, when a care you're riding in is speeding toward a tree, it's enough to tell the driver not to do that.

And, I would assert, opposing deceiving the American people to justify a coveted was should be a no-brainer. It's a true pity that some on the Right appear inclined to give Bush a pass on that one.

No, no, my friends -- the burden of proof is all Bush's. When his policy is criticized, it's up to him and his supporters to defend it, and the tactic of asking for a counterproposal is a tacit admission of the weakness of the case.


horror movie purchases of the week

My lovely wife and I celebrated payday by indulging ourselves in a little DVD buying. My wife picked up copies of The Matrix Reloaded and the classic Disney fick Mary Poppins (you gotta love Dick Van Dyke playing a Cockney).

Our four-year-old watched the entertaining Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island on Cartoon Network over the weekend, and I'd promised to buy it for her. (It's pretty cool -- spooky, but not too scary for tots, and the kicker in this flick is that, for once, the monsters the Scooby Gang encounters are real.) So later yesterday evening we trotted out and picked up a copy of that flick, plus a DVD of the first five original Scooby-Doo episodes for a mere ten bucks. Along the way, I noticed that Best Buy had DVDs of the fine Alex Proyas science fiction film Dark City and the fanboy horror classic from Stephen King and George Romero Creepshow for a mere six bucks each, so I grabbed them as well.


halloween wallpaper of the day

psycho wallpaper

Today's wallpaper celebrates the classic 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, one of the few true horror films the acknowledged master of suspense produced. It's the inspiration for films such as Halloween and its inferior imitators. Ironically, while Halloween set the slasher film standard for having a "Final Girl," one of Psycho's truly scary innovations was the death of its ostensible heroine (Janet Leigh) about a third of the way into the film. Her murder -- in the justly famous shower sequence, in which the knife is never shown in contact with her body -- transfers the audience's sympathies to Anthony Perkins' character. If you've seen the film -- and if you haven't, you simply must -- you know what a shock that sympathy will produce.

Here's Roger Ebert's review of the film, and a review at that has some great screen captures.

This wallpaper is in a collection of horror-related stuff I burned on CD-ROM; unfortunately, I can no longer locate the source of this and the related classic horror wallpapers I have. If anyone knows the source, I'll be glad to credit it. However, here's another Psycho wallpaper courtesy The Movie Forum's horror section.

And I have to annoy Jaquandor by mentioning that Janet Leigh kindly sent me an autographed photo.

  xWednesday, October 15, 2003

halloween portal of the day

Here's The Internet Book's collection of family-friendly Halloween-related links. Example: Ben & Jerry's Halloween Fun Page.


texas gop update

Kevin Drum takes another look at the Texas GOP platform, and finds that their aversion to Federal spending doesn't extend to NASA, which, of course, has major facilities in -- yes! -- Texas. Fascinating.


horror movie review link of the day

I'd be truly remiss if I didn't link Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension's definitive list of Halloween movie picks. Reviewer Ken Begg breaks from tradition by commenting on several good -- even great -- movies, but there's also a hefty dose of enjoyable dreck (Theater of Blood, anyone?).


indiana link of the day

Here's a Web site devoted to historic Indiana architecture, with several galleries devoted to Indianapolis landmarks.

(via MetaFilter)


absolutely hysterical

A Latin translation of "Baby Got Back."
magnae clunes mihi placent, nec possum de hac re mentiri.
(Large buttocks are pleasing to me, nor am I able to lie concerning this matter.)
quis enim, consortes mei, non fateatur,
(For who, colleagues, would not admit)


(via MetaFilter)


milestone of the day

Thanks, Jaquandor! According to the hit counter, you were Planet Swank's 46,000th visitor!

The increased search engine hits for horror-related topics continues, making this month one of the more high-traiffic periods this blog has seen. Thanks for visiting, and don't forget that there's lots of left-of-center commentary, Halloween celebration and general swankiness around, so enjoy!


robotics post of the day

sumo robot
The robot HOAP-2 assumes a sumo stance

Robotics scientists displayed creations that can perfrom acrobatics and martial arts moves at the recent CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) 2003 robotics conference in Tokyo.

Visitors ... met Morph3, a human-like robot about 30-centimetres tall developed by researchers at the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan. It can perform back flips and karate moves thanks to 138 pressure sensors, 30 different onboard motors and 14 computer processors.

Another miniature humanoid robot on display was Fujitsu's HOAP-2. This droid has been programmed to perform moves from the Chinese martial art taijiquan, as well as Japanese Sumo wrestling stances.

HOAP-2 is designed as an aid to robotics research and therefore runs on open source, Linux-based software. Fujitsu believes it will sell between 20 and 30 of the robots to universities and companies in 2004.

But cool your jets, mecha fans: An expert quoted in the story pointed out that increasing robots' physical capabilites, impressive as it is, isn't so much of a challenge as research into artificial intelligence.

Of course, with recent advances in linking mind and machines, maybe it's only a matter of time before we really can metally link with giant robots as in every other anime ever made.

(via Wirehed News; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


taking the pledge

It's the fall pledge drive at our local public radio station, and I just pledged on behalf of our lovely wife and myself, as we do every year at this time.

As such, I hereby reserve the right to be annoyed at the future pledge interruptions of regular NPR programming. That is all.


fond farewell

Fellow Indianapolis blogger Jeff Cooper has decided to turn his attention from his blog to other important matters. Planet Swank thanks Professor Cooper for his insight and fellowship, and wishes him and his family the very best.


comix link of the day

The New York Times has an interesting interview with Art Speigelman (Maus).


horror movie rentals of the week

Last night I headed out to a different branch of the local non-Blockbuster video store, and was pleased to discover that they had a much more robust horror selection (including, to my great surprise, a copy of the fabled Italian gore flick Make Them Die Slowly, AKA Cannibal Ferox; reviews at Teleport City, ZombieKeeper, and The Cold Spot. I aim to pick that puppy up next week. Unfortunately, their copy of Evil Dead 2 was out...). I was able to grab a couple of movies I've had a hankering to watch this Halloween season. As usualy, I tried to strike a balance between favorite films and new experiences. Here are this week's picks:

  • The Invisible Man

  • The Roger Corman-produced Carnosaur (Which I've only caught snippets of on cable)

  • The Dead Don't Die (Inspired by a review at Cold Fusion's first Month of the Living Dead)

  • Phantasm (Which, strangely enough, I've never seen.)

I'll note my impressions of these films as I watch them.


horror wallpaper of the day

the exorcist wallpaper
Today's horror movie desktop is from the classic 1973 horror flick The Exorcist (review by Roger Ebert, who doesn't see the need for a "director's cut"--and neither do I, and a DVD review at Attack of the 50 Foot DVD).

(courtesy Carfax Abbey; originally posted 10/2/2002)

  xTuesday, October 14, 2003

celebrity nuptials of the day

Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has married Angel's Alexis Denisof.

Planet Swank congratulates the happy couple.

(via FARK)


zombie link of the day

month of the living dead

It's October, and that means it's Month of the Living Dead over at Cold Fusion Video Reviews. This year, your host Nathan Shumate tackles flicks including Lucio Fulci's classic Zombie. Here's the archives from Years One and Two of the zombie movie review binges.


retro horror gallery of the day

mars attacks!

A c00L gallery of the old Topps Mars Attacks! cards, courtesy RetroCrush. Here's another gallery that includes the text from the backs of the cards.

Here's a site that offers wallpaper and other desktop enhancements based on the cards.

Of course I'd pick a card that showed a giant robot...


halloween font links of the week

I needed some horror-related fonts for a project I was working on, and found a couple of cool sites that had the goods: Halloween Howl and


gallery of the day

riona hazuki

riona hazuki

A gallery (and another) devoted to the lovely Japanese actress and model Riona Hazuki, who stars in Parasite Eve.


review at dam

parasite eve

parasite eve

My review of the Japanese film Parasite Eve is up at Destroy all Monsters. Significantly, this review is the first one I've posted myself; editor-in-chief Musashi is offline for a little while, and after reading the text, generously offered to let me post it.

Parasite Eve is based on the same Hideaki Sena novel that inspired the Squaresoft video game (fan sites here and here). In fact, the plot of the movie appears to hew more closely to the source material than the game, which is set in New York City.

Screen grabs courtesy Project Anime.


iraq astroturf

Coinciding with the PR campaign Joshua Marshall calls "The Great Push-back" comes the disturbing development of "astroturf" letters to the editor, ostensibly from soldiers in Iraq, that turn out to be identical. Hesiod has been all over the story, and Marshall provides a good explanation of the "astroturf" concept, and offers another example. Mark Kleiman sums it up pretty aptly: "This is disgusting on so many levels at once that I can't even get my outrage organized." Which, if you think about it, seems to provide a pretty fair summary of the Bush Administration's general strategy.


plame scandal update

Sunday's Washington Post ran a story that recaps the progress of the Justice Department investigation and shines a lot more light on the scandal itself.
In their interviews, FBI agents are asking questions about events going back to at least early June, the sources said. That indicates investigators are examining not just who passed the information to Novak and other reporters but also how Plame's name may have first become linked with Wilson and his mission, who did it and how the information made its way around the government.

Administration sources said they believe that the officials who discussed Plame were not trying to expose her, but were using the information as a tool to try to persuade reporters to ignore Wilson. The officials wanted to convince the reporters that he had benefited from nepotism in being chosen for the mission.

What started as political gossip and damage control has become a major criminal investigation that has already harmed the administration and could be a problem for President Bush for months to come.

One reason investigators are looking back is that even before Novak's column appeared, government officials had been trying for more than a month to convince journalists that Wilson's mission was not as important as it was being portrayed. Wilson concluded during the 2002 mission that there was no solid evidence for the administration's assertion that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium in Niger to develop nuclear weapons, and he angered the White House when he became an outspoken critic of the war.

The FBI is trying to determine when White House officials and members of the vice president's staff first focused on Wilson and learned about his wife's employment at the agency. One group that may have known of the connection before that time is the handful of CIA officers detailed to the White House, where they work primarily on the National Security Council staff. A former NSC staff member said one or more of those officers may have been aware of the Plame-Wilson relationship.

...Investigators are trying to establish the chain of events leading to the leak because, for a successful prosecution under the law prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of a covert U.S. officer's name, the disclosure must have been intentional, the accused must have known the person was a covert officer and the identity must not have been disclosed earlier.

...On July 7, the White House admitted it had been a mistake to include the 16 words about uranium in Bush's State of the Union speech. Four days later, with the controversy dominating the airwaves and drowning out the messages Bush intended to send during his trip in Africa, CIA Director George J. Tenet took public blame for failing to have the sentence removed.

That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

"It was unsolicited," the source said. "They were pushing back. They used everything they had."

Joshua Marshall expounds upon the article.

The New York Times, which has been behind the curve on the Plame story, nonetheless added fuel to the fire with this Nicholas Kristol article that, among other things, explored the possibility that Plame's identity may already have been compromised by the infamous Aldrich Ames. (Note: If true, it still doesn't excuse the Administration's actions or make disclosing her covert status any less of a crime.) As a "counterweight," Joshua Marshall pointed to this Knight-Ridder story: Leak of CIA officers leaves trail of damage
the leak by Bush administration officials of that CIA officer's identity may have damaged U.S. national security to a much greater extent than generally realized, current and former agency officials say.

Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush critic Joseph Wilson, was a member of a small elite-within-an-elite, a CIA employee operating under "nonofficial cover," in her case as an energy analyst, with little or no protection from the U.S. government if she got caught.

Training agents such as Plame, 40, costs millions of dollars and requires the time-consuming establishment of elaborate fictions, called "legends," including in this case the creation of a CIA front company that helped lend plausibility to her trips overseas.

Compounding the damage, the front company, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, whose name has been reported previously, apparently also was used by other CIA officers whose work now could be at risk, according to Vince Cannistraro, formerly the agency's chief of counterterrorism operations and analysis.

Now, Plame's career as a covert operations officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations is over. Those she dealt with - whether on business or not - may be in danger. The DO is conducting an extensive damage assessment.

And Plame's exposure may make it harder for American spies to convince foreigners to share important secrets with them, U.S. intelligence officials said.

Bush partisans tend to downplay the leak's damage, saying Plame's true job was widely known in Washington, if unspoken. And, they say, she had moved from the DO, the CIA's covert arm, to an analysis job.

But intelligence professionals, infuriated over the breach and what they see as the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence on Iraq, vehemently disagree.

Larry Johnson - a former CIA and State Department official who was a 1985 classmate of Plame's in the CIA's case officer-training program at Camp Peary, Va., known as "the Farm" - predicted that when the CIA's internal damage assessment is finished, "at the end of the day, (the harm) will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives."

"This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent's identity," said former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who's now a prosecutor in Royal Oak, Mich., and who also did CIA training with Plame.

There's an important point to remember here. The extent of damage the blowing of Plame's cover will likely not become a matter of public knowledge. Not knowing how much damage it caused does not excuse the leak, nor should it encourage oprimistic speculation that perhaps no damage occurred at all. The facts that the extent of damage can't be disclosed publicly -- or even known right away -- doesn't excuse downplaying the scandal; rather, it's precisely the reason why you just don't do something like that. The Bush Administration committed an odious crime against national security in the name of politics, and that's simply unforgivable.

Daniel Drezner has more on the recent Times and Post stories. Tom Maguire also remains an excellent source of commentary from the principled conservative wing.

Mark Kleiman has some bad news for those hoping the Bush Administration will get off on a technicality, thoughts here and here on a special prosecutor, notes that the White House appears to be conducting this investigation in a manner departing from its own established procedures, and an excellent analysis of the White House cover story.

CalPundit points to this excellent annotated timeline of events in the plame scandal, and wonders if there can possibly an innocent explanation for the mess. Kevin Drum agrees with Josh Marshall's assessment that the Post has been the go-to source for the Plame scandal, but notes that it isn't just the Times that seems to have dropped the ball.

John Dean offers this FindLaw column pointing out that simply because Plame's cover had already been blown doesn't excuse Karl Rove from following up wit has round of calls pushing the story to reporters.
Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan has chosen his words carefully in denying that anyone at the White House was involved with the leak. To remain credible, a press secretary cannot be caught in either a lie, or a serious misstatement based on ignorance.

McClellan's response reminded me of the Nixon Administration. Nixon's press secretary, Ron Zeigler, took the line that no one presently employed in his administration was involved in the Watergate break-in. That was technically correct, but only technically.

It is entirely possible that no one at the Bush "White House" or on the President's personal staff, was involved in the initial leak to Novak. It could have been someone at the National Security Council, which is related to the Bush White House but not part of it.

In fact, Novak wrote in one of his later columns, that the leak came from a person who was "no partisan gunslinger." That sounds like an NSC staffer to me. And as Newsweek also reported (you can count on Michael Isikoff to dig this stuff out), Valerie Plame's CIA identity was likely known to senior intelligence people on the NSC staff, for apparently one of them had worked with Ms. Plame at the CIA.

But even if the White House was not initially involved with the leak, it has exploited it. As a result, it may have opened itself to additional criminal charges under the federal conspiracy statute.

...If Newsweek is correct that Karl Rove declared Valerie Plame Wilson "fair game," then he should make sure he's got a good criminal lawyer, for he made need one. I've only suggested the most obvious criminal statute that might come into play for those who exploit the leak of a CIA asset's identity. There are others.

Seriously, folks...the White House's behavior with regard to the Plame scandal makes it really hard to credit any innocent scenario, and the President's apologists should stop bending over backward to make something up. Clearly, the White House made a strong effort to publicize Plame's CIA role in order to discredit her husband's broadside against the bogus Niger uranium story, and has shown no interest at all in discovering who blew her cover in the first place. That sorry fact is as much a scandal as the original leak, and it's truly mystifying how any principled American can tolerate it, much less condone it.

Unfortunately, there are some who do condone it and stand ready to defend it with obfuscation and distortion, as David Corn reports (along with some justified crowing at being among the first to break the story back in July) on his encounter with the GOP spin machine.
The issue is not who’s screaming about the leak but who did it. Yet if Portman and the Republicans can succeed in presenting the controversy as another one of those same-old bitter face-offs between D’s and R’s — creating a moral equivalency between the leakers and the complainants — they win. Their aim is to exploit the public’s (justifiable) cynicism toward Washington and to battle to an it’s-all-politics draw. This is a good strategy — as long as no indictments materialize.

How did I respond to these sly comments? I didn’t. Time was up. The congressman had been granted the first word and the last. And I am sure to many viewers it appeared as if the Wilson-leak scandal was just the latest fodder for the never-ending food fight in Washington. With his disingenuous rhetoric, Portman had gained the advantage.

For shame, Representative Rob Portman (R-OH). And shame on the so-called "journalist" who allowed herself to be lied to and provided the liar with an uncritical public forum.


happy birthday e.e. cummings, who would have been 99 today.

Slacktivist has a good appreciation. Here's a biography and online collection of poems, and here's the online Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society.


horror movie update

the church

Last night I succeeded in watching the fourth and last horror movie I rented last week, Michele Soavi's 1989 frightener The Church (La Chiesa). My lovely wife even joined me for what was, I believe, her first-ever Italian horror movie. She found it fairly engrossing and only occasionally repulsive, which is actually not a bad track record at all. Soavi's film is also reasonably coherent for an Italian horror flick, and it features some great performances, and an appearance by a very young Asia Argento, the daughter of Italian horror master (and co-scriptwriter) Dario Argento.

The film begins with the massacre of a Satanist cult by the Knights Templar, who have a Gothic cathedral built over the mass grave to seal the evil within. Flash-forward to modern times, when the church's new librarian opens the seal and lets loose the vengeful spirits of the dead. The church seals itself when the evil is unleashed, trapping priests, tourists, schoolchildren, Asia Argento, and a host of miscellaneous Europeans inside. One of the things I dug about the film is that, while the deaths of several of the aforementioned are explicitly shown, many others are not -- instead, the camera will pan down a row of pews that earlier was filled with the trapped victims, and each time there will be fewer of them...

Here's a full review at Teleport City, a review at Slant magazine, and here's a Web page devoted to Soavi's films.


wallpaper of the day

evil dead 2 wallpaper

Today's wallpaper is dedicated to Sam Raimi's insane 1987 follow-up to his acclaimed 1981 independent horror film The Evil Dead.

I'm a big fan of the Evil Dead series. I think I like the second one best for its perfect blend of comedy and horror. As I discussed in my recent review of the influential Hong Kong flick Mr. Vampire, comedy and horror are hard to mix, but when a director is successful, each enhances the other. I recently bought the director's cut of the final film, Army of Darkness, and I agree that it's more consistent with the previous two films, especially where Ash's ultimare fate is concerned. That said, I really do like the framing device the producers insisted be substituted, and you just gotta love the film's closing line (courtesy this fine Evil Dead sound archive).

I recently finished Bruce Campbell's autobiography (I got a secondhand, hardcover copy -- it was autographed -- yay! -- but not to me, of course -- awww!), and I particularly enjoyed his retelling of the making of those three films, especially the first one. He and Raimi accomplished quite a feat in making a successful independent film. Campbell's book is entertaining and full of insights and self-deprecating humor. He even thoughtfully includes the recipe for the stage blood Raimi used in Evil Dead!

Dr. Freex at The Bad Movie Report has a set of reviews of the three films that chart the decline of the American horror film. Interesting reading. Here's Roger Ebert's 1987 take on Evil Dead 2, a look by the Mutant Reviewers from Hell, a take at The Vault, and a multimedia-filled review at

(Originally posted 10/29/2002)

  xMonday, October 13, 2003

wierd science monkey-fu

Holy cats! Researchers have successfully proved that monkeys can move robotic arms by thought impulses alone. The research, which used tiny brain implants, is seen as a landmark advance with potential applications in the field of prosthetics.

A series of electrodes containing tiny wires were implanted about a millimeter deep into the brains of two monkeys. A computer then recorded signals produced by the monkeys' brains as they manipulated a joystick controlling the robotic arm in exchange for a reward - sips of juice.

The joystick was later unplugged and the arm, which was in a separate room, was controlled directly by the brain signals coming from the implants. The monkeys eventually stopped using the joystick, as if they knew their brains were controlling the robot arm, Duke University researcher Miguel Nicolelis said.

"Three of us were in the room watching the monkey late at night, and all of sudden the monkey just dropped the joystick and started playing the game ... the monkey just got it that she didn't need to move the joystick," Nicolelis said.

"We couldn't believe it, it was almost like the monkey was telling us, `Believe me, I can do it.' ... She was very happy; she was very enthused about the fact she could do it." The second monkey also stopped using the joystick.

The work was reported Monday in the first edition of the journal PLoS Biology, a free, peer-reviewed scientific journal published online by the Public Library of Science.

The Duke researchers had previously wired the brains of monkeys to allow a robotic arm to mimic motions made by the monkeys when using a joystick or reaching for food.

Humans have already been implanted with a similar device that allows them to control the movement of a cursor on a computer screen through their thoughts. The implant used in the monkey work, however, is smaller and the task accomplished was more complex.

The Duke researchers have now moved onto researching similar implants in humans, and Nicolelis said he is more optimistic about the prospects for use in humans.

"It could do a lot of things, wheelchairs, computers, prosthetic arms, perhaps their own arms," Nicolelis said.

Appliances, remote objects in other locations in the house and robots all could be controlled, he said.

"It really opens the possibilities, and it reduces the amount of time. Previously, I had thought it might be five to 10 years before we could apply this to humans. I'm getting more optimistic now, I think in a couple of years we may be doing the real clinical trials."

The implants remained in the Duke monkeys for 2 1/2 years showing they can be used for extended period. Over time, the monkeys' brains adapted to treat the robotic arm as if it was their own limb, Nicolelis said.

The anime scripts practically write themselves...

Here's more from Reuters.

(cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


review at dam

I'm writing a batch of reviews of Asian horror films for Destroy All Monsters this month, and the first of them, the influential 1985 Hong Kong horror/comedy/action flick Mr. Vampire, is now up.

A big shout-out, too, to Jaquandor, whose guest review of Akira Kurosawa's Ran was posted this weekend.


horror movie update

It was a pleasant weekend by any standard. I got to sepnd a lot of time with The Girls -- we went to the zoo Saturday afternoon -- and I got to indulge in several horror movies, not to mention a session or two of Resident Evil: Code Veronica X.

Friday evening my lovely wife and I watched the pleasing made-for-cable adaptation of Stephen King's The Night Flier (review at The Unknown Movies). We also took in the opening chapter of A Frightful School Horror, a three-story Japanese horror anthology flick.

Saturday I stayed up late to watch a very young Jennifer Connelly in one of her first roles, Creepers (the American edit of Dario Argento's Phenomena; review at Teleport City).

Sunday night, Crystal and I took in the classic 1956 sci-fi/horror flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I've seen it several times, of course, but it never fails to impress me with its marvelous atmosphere of paranoia generated without special effects, but rather with camera angles, lighting, and superb acting -- in short, with just plain good filmmaking. Hollywood could learn a lesson from director Don Siegel and his cast and crew.


kawaii halloween wallpaper of the day

hello kitty halloween

Today's wallpaper is a little different...a kawaii image of Hello Kitty dressed up for Halloween, courtesy this German site. It's lo-res but still works on a 1024x768 desktop.

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