Friday, April 03, 2009

Camera Obscura: All Hail Clint Howard; Turner Classic Turns 15; New Warren Oates Bio

Trolling through the murky and uncharted oceans of obscure cinema, I came across an animated movie from director Rob Zombie awaiting release which he describes as "like if SpongeBob and Scooby-Doo were filthy". The movie is "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto". Based on Zombie's comic book work, it captured my attention when I noticed actor Clint Howard provided the voice in this R-rated romp for a character called Joe Cthulhu. (Also adding voices to the movie are Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, and frequent Zombie- actors Bill Mosley, Sid Haig, and Sherrie Moon-Zombie.)

Clint Howard deserves some kind of award (apart from Lifetime Achievement Award given him by MTV) for a relentless longevity in TV and movies, and not just in movies by his bro, Ron Howard. The first time I saw this odd little fellow was when he played an odd little fellow in the original Star Trek series in an episode titled "The Corbomite Maneuver".

And he still kinda looks like he did way back then in 1966.
Clint had already entered TV history by that point, if only for playing the sandwich-eating Leon on The Andy Griffith Show. And he has some 200 credits now, playing in many cult and mainstream movies - from "Rock and Roll High School" and "Get Crazy" to providing the voice of Roo in the Oscar-winning "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" to working with Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara in "The Red Pony".
The L.A. Record published this fine interview with the legendary performer late last year -

"With the remakes and film versions of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Star Trek, and Arrested Development currently in the works, have you been contacted to reprise any of your roles?
No, and I’m certainly willing. In all seriousness, I am a working actor. It’s what I do for a living. I’m not a professional celebrity—I’m a professional actor. If any of those directors call and are interested in finding a place for me, I certainly would be interested because I like to work."

Here's to a very long and happy career, Clint.

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Three cheers for Turner Classic Movies which marks their 15th year of broadcasting classic cinema. To help celebrate, the cable network has selected 15 movie fans from across the country to serve as guest programmers, an enviable task as they get to plow through the vast library of movies at TCM and pick their favorites to share with the world.

I am one of the lucky Americans whose first encounter with movies took place in a giant palace, not some boxed up multi-plex of uniformly drab black rooms. Going to a movie meant leaving all trappings of normal life behind, entering an architectural marvel, perhaps based on ancient Egyptian temples or an art-deco opera house, a place where the lobby was bathed in the aromas of real popcorn and real butter, where an usher guided us to our plush seats and we sat in front of a massive stage faced with a deep vermilion curtain which slide back as the lights dimmed and all of us in the audience were drawn into a world beyond imagining.

Happy birthday, TCM.

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Warren Oates was indeed a chameleon - known for so many roles and never one to seek the spotlight in the press. He does finally get some long-deserved attention in the new biography, Warren Oates: A Wild Life by Susan Campo.

This website is devoted to his life and work and is most comprehensive, with essays, interviews and a huge list of his work in TV and film. Nailing down why he is such a memorable actor is nearly impossible, so much of what he did was simply in how he moved, how he did not talk. This essay says it well:


"Oates could glower, furrow his brow and pull in his lip as skillfully as Fred Astaire could dance or Cary Grant could grin. A good ol' boy from the coal-mining town of Depoy, Ky., Oates reached Hollywood by way of the Marines, the University of Louisville and odd jobs in New York. Even in an age of easy riders and easy pieces, Oates' confusion had special resonance. His scowl, which could suggest anything from bereavement to amusement, most often signaled a mixture of anger, befuddlement and defeat in the midst of a modern world that was passing beyond any individual's powers of understanding. Oates said he didn't feel at home in cities and had a strong sense of cultural dislocation, which he used to fuel his work. Rawboned and sturdy, yet fuzzy around the edges, with a malleable face that seemed to have a built-in squint, Oates rarely tried to shake his rustic look. He appeared to slouch even when he was walking tall."

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Public Trust Sold To AT&T?

The state of Tennessee has been handing lucrative contracts and taxpayer dollars to AT&T and now the company wants to eliminate state oversight from the Tennessee Regulatory Commission. They've been successful at lobbying the state for a stream of changes in state law, they already operate the eHealth program for the state and their efforts continue to grow.

Last week Public Knowledge published a critical look at Connected Nation, a federal program modeled from Kentucky and Tennessee, and their findings should cause our legislature to exercise great caution before handing off all broadband mapping and tax dollars to this organization.

"
As a result of the passage and signing of the new stimulus legislation, there is now up to $350 million available to map the deployment of broadband services across the country. The data collected as a result of this effort will be one of the important factors in the national broadband strategy plan the law directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct.

Across the country, states have already begun their own efforts to determine where broadband service is being offered and have already allocated millions of dollars to the effort. As a general matter, trying to figure out the lay of the land is a productive exercise. However, there is a great danger that the process of data collection and, as a result, the national broadband map and plan, will be harmed by an organization known as Connected Nation.

In order to be effective, a national broadband data-collection and mapping exercise should be conducted by a government agency, on behalf of the public, with as granular a degree of information as possible and be totally transparent so that underlying information can be evaluated.


Connected Nation is none of those and represents none of those characteristics."

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"Let’s take a look at the Connect Board of Directors. There are 12 outside directors, eight of which are directly in the orbit of network operators. They are not small players.

James W. Cicconi – AT&T senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs


Steve Largent – CTIA – The Wireless Association president and CEO


Joseph W. Waz – Comcast senior vice president, external affairs and public policy counsel


Larry Cohen – Communications Workers of America president. CWA is in frequent agreement with telecom companies on policy issues.


Thomas J. Tauke – Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communication


Walter B. McCormick – United States Telecom Association president


Kyle E. McSlarrow – National Cable and Telecommunications Association president


Grant Seiffert – Telecommunications Industry Association president. (The members are the equipment makers who sell their gear to the telecom industry.)"

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"The maps compiled by Connect are inadequate and inaccurate. It is some times hard to discern which definition fits at any given moment. There is a distinct lack of useful information on the maps, such as what data speeds are being offered at what price at any given location.

Indeed, the basic information on the maps, that service of whatever type is available, is open to question because CN, rather than collect granular information by door-to-door canvass, assumes that every spot within a range of a cell tower or telephone company wire center is being served. That is not the case. And it can take dozens of steps and clicks through the cumbersome map interface to reach the inadequate or inaccurate information.


In sum, as a group of municipal utilities told FCC Commissioner Copps in July, 2008, “Broadband data must be collected and delivered in a transparent, verifiable manner. The CK/CN model doesn’t do that: Data is collected, interpreted and reported by a private non-profit entity and shielded from government and public input, oversight and verification.”


The full report is available here.

I'm also gathering more information about upcoming legislative hearings in Tennessee on broadband development and mapping and will post it ASAP.

What's at stake is critical to our economy and to transparency in government.

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The whole point of a legitimate broadband mapping exercise is for the public and policymakers to see where the service is being offered, at what speeds and price and, as importantly, where it isn't. The "why" it isn't being offered is a separate question the map can't answer. The whole strategy of the telecom industry is to keep any mapping from revealing embarrassing information, like low speeds, high prices and spotty coverage and to keep anyone else from verifying the information it does put forward." (Huffington Post)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

State Republicans: Sex Is Evil and We Do Not Talk About It and Women Scare Us

Mary Mancini reports the obvious as state Republicans rush to remove choice and privacy for women:

"
Did you know that although Tennessee is ranked 20th in providing family planning public funding (publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies), we’re ranked 42nd in family planning laws and policies (whether laws and policies are likely to facilitate access to contraceptive services and information), 30th in family planning service availability (how well states meet existing need for subsidized contraceptive services and supplies), and 40th in births to teen mothers ages 15-19.

If the members of the Tennessee legislature wanted real solutions, they would do two things. First, they’d be honest and admit that there are already a number of Tennessee laws which regulate abortion - including parental consent, a ban on late-term abortions and patient informed consent. Then, they would focus on researching and providing the most effective education and resources that would actually, you know, reduce - or completely eliminate - unintended pregnancies."

Education? That's fer fancy folk. Republicans see no need to improve it in Tennessee.

Senator Corker Hates Nose, Loves Face

It's true I have a deeply ingrained skepticism about governmental plans -- a nice healthy American habit. The recent announcement by the Obama administration calling for sweeping changes to the auto industry has some proclaiming how this is some perversion of economics.

No it isn't.

For instance, governmental actions - from free land to free cash and tax breaks for industries - are common tools to encourage private businesses to locate in Tennessee (or most other states). That massive industrial project in Chattanooga would not exist without taxpayers ponying up cash for "development". Can you say "Volkswagen" Sen. Corker?

And a brief review of government taking charge of businesses "too big to fail" turns up several success stories:

"
[T]here is a bright shining example from not so long ago of government bureaucrats engineering the revival of an industry easily as troubled as today’s automakers and, if anything, more central to the economy. And it all turned out better than anyone dared hope, with a dazzling return to profitability. It is the story of the railroad industry, and while the parallels with today’s auto industry are not exact, they are close enough to provide many useful lessons. Its example suggests that, as the automakers return to Washington for a second round of assistance, the greatest danger may well be not that government will intervene too much, but that it won’t intervene enough."

Phillip Longman's full article is here.

Sen. Corker, like his party leadership has demanded, is so focused on demonizing the Obama White House he's willing to ignore the need for economic repairs. He's chopping away at his own nose to spite his face. As The Nashville Scene notes, "
But whenever the auto industry is raised, he suddenly begins talking from orifices not commonly associated with speech"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bush Officials Face Torture Claims In Spain Court

The same judge who pursued Gen. Augusto Pinochet is now investigating criminal charges regarding torture at Guantanamo and has named high-level Bush administration officials as targets.

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The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon's general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, "it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guant√°namo]".

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"The lawsuit claimed the six former aides "participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention centre at Guant√°namo".

"All the accused are members of what they themselves called the 'war council'," court documents allege. "This group met almost weekly either in Gonzales's or Haynes's offices."


Meanwhile, in Britain, police are investigating torture charges as well against British intelligence officers. Torture during the reign of the Khmer Rouge is making headlines in Europe as a new trial against one suspect has begun.