Friday, October 21, 2005

Camera Obscura - Name Your Favorite Horror Film

NOTE: The Editor graciously created the masthead for this post and for Halloween, and I cannot express enough gratitude for her time and her work. Hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. Now: you got some readin' to do!! UPDATE: Fear not if you missed the special Halloween Masthead -- it will return later this week!!

What terrifies you? Is it something flickering past your vision at about 24 frames-per-second? A tale of horror made into a movie? Then you are in the right place and you have a job here. Since the Halloween holiday is approaching, I want you to tell me the movie you rate as The Scariest.

I understand that in these times, horror may appear in the form of a liberal-media, or the skull-faced grin of Tom DeLay's booking photo, or what your children really think of you. However, this place is for movies and I dare you to think of it - what story, what movie has permanently inked itself into your brain.

I am a bona-fide, deep-dyed fan of horror movies. When I was a wee lad, perhaps 4 years old or so, a neighbor near our home kept a pet crow which was almost as tall as I was, jet black feathers and empty, shining black eyes, and clawed feet that seemed like the fingers of death. Said crow and said clawed feet often decided my wee 4-year-old head had something it wanted. It got so every time I went out to play, this violent, flapping shadow fell from the sky and began pecking and digging at my skull. Why? I really don't know. My mother tells me she "had a talk" with the neighbor about it, but my only memories are of the nightmare thing on my head and deafening flapping of its wings.

About two years later, I watched my first Hitchcock movie - yes, "The Birds". It was on television for the first time and I had no notion of how Hitchcock could make a movie crawl into your mind and your fears and scare the bejesus out of you. I remember watching that movie between the quivering wee fingers of my hand -- but once I started, I could not stop. Lucky I didn't soil my garments. But that heart-pounding fear I realized after a day or so was somehow "contained" by the movie frame. I could be there at the very edge of pure horror - but I was really safe. The 'bird apocalypse" was real in the movie - and nowhere else. But I had been transformed into a creature who loved scary movies.

I grew up near Nashville, where a scary movie show would play hosted by a fellow named "The Phantom of the Opry" called Sir Cecil Creape and Sir Cecil and I became pals of that horror movie experience. Many of the movies I could easily laugh away, but not all. One of my early favorites which just got to me was the black and white thriller "Fiend Without A Face," where aliens have some hapless humans trapped in a house and the aliens are invisible. Yet when they do finally appear, they are brains with twisted spinal cords attached that could leap huge distances and strangle you to death. They break through the boarded-up windows and go after said hapless humans. More than once, the Hero takes a small hand-axe to these puppies and black goo spurted out -- years later these images re-appeared in movies like the original "Night of the Living Dead" and even "Eraserhead."

Weaned on 50s horror and sci-fi, the 1960s my were macabre childhood - enriched by the classic Roger Corman stories of Edgar Allan Poe, by the Hammer studios brilliant casting of Peter Cushing and Christopher in almost every movie they made, then there were the Italians, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" introduced me to a whole new concept - the Dead rising in endless numbers to feed on the Living. Zombies. Ahhh, zombies. Romero brilliantly exploited the undercurrent of the world as it was - one culture or society rising up to consume and eliminate another society.

The 1970s were a heaven. No remake can ever have the insanely, heart-stopping, inescapable terror of his "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Unlike the pitiful remake, director Tobe Hooper made the normal humans utterly unlikeable and the audience was manipulated into feeling kinship with Leatherface and his family. Family terror was all the rage in the 70s. This low-budget hit, and a few others, got their attention in Hollywood and "The Exorcist" had folks lined up for blocks and blocks around theatres (back before they were tucked snugly into shopping malls). And for the record, DO NOT watch the re-edited version issued a few years ago -- it is the original, tightly-edited movie that will scare you. The re-edits destroyed that one.

Romero today is still the best at the zombie game, and all his sequels, including this year's "Land of the Dead", are top-notch fear-fests. Through the 70s and 80s and even now, some of the best horror filmmakers remain - Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter.

In recent years, audiences have been jolted by all the horror sub-genres: vampires, werewolves, slashers, gore-fests, ghosts-who-don't-know-their-dead, more zombies (go Sam Raimi!!), and endless serial killer movies -- though they always seem lately to star Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.

So the gauntlet of death is thrown, dear reader -- I want to know your favorites, no matter what year they are made -- but you must confess your fears and add them in the comments here. I'll tell you which ones got the most attention or which choices seemed most interesting.

Just one more thought for you to consider - TRUE or FALSE: the best horror movies are made when a Republican is president.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tim Chavez Reads His Cup Of Joe

Tim Chavez, a columnist for "The Tennessean" featured my blog in his column for today, regarding the idea that more discussion is needed for TennCare and my recent post about the Hamblen Democrat Party chairman Joe Moore daring to hold that very debate on the Hamblen Democrat blog.

Like more and more readers are discovering, having a Cup of Joe is always eye-opening.

Chavez has been a frequent critic of Governor Bredesen, though after the governor appeared on my radio talk show several times and our numerous follow-up discussions, I found him to be an extremely intelligent and responsive elected representative. He simply inherited a gigantic mess after eight years of irresponsible actions by the 1990s-era state legislature and former governor, Don Sundquist -- though the Bushies made him a chairman of a federal committee probing for changes to Medicare. That appointment makes zero sense.

In another column by Chavez from September 23, he notes the most vile comments regarding TennCare have come from conservatives: "
Critical e-mails about my columns seeking relief for the suffering and now even deaths of disenrolled or cut back TennCare recipients have mostly come from conservatives. One reader wrote: Don't interfere with the cycle of life; people have to die."

Health care is not only a major problem in Tennessee, it is consuming the contents of everyone's wallets nationwide. And it is not an issue about which political party to blame. Too many lobbyists and lawyers are making a fortune by clouding the issues and obscuring public thought.

As I have said many, many times - the public discussion on issues in government has been cut off at the ankles here in the 21st century. The radio show I hosted on WMTN-AM was a wide-open forum for all kinds of discussion and debatewith bothe lected and appointed officials in Morristown and surrounding communities, and the listeners in East Tennessee made it an enormous success. That was until May of this year, when a new owner bought the station and yanked me off the air in mid-sentence, though this owner never once bothered to talk with me about my show or it's future goals -- all I know of this owner is he is named Fink. Really. Fink.

As of October of this year, Fink successfully dismantled the station and moved his sales staff back to his Sevierville offices -- voices silenced in Morristown and job done.

Statewide and nationwide, residents must have open and free discussion about issues or we will all suffer by its absence. I never thought I would live to see so much repressed speech and abridged rights to voice opinion in America. And the more you are intimidated into silence, the worse it will become.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Drinks Heard 'Round the World

I was happy to note a new book available which shows the liquids we consume throughout the world and in nearly every home are truly benchmarks of civilization itself. Obviously, I have a love for the dark brown brew of coffee and how the marvelous elixir is the most healthful drink imaginable.

It's too easy to forget that the discoveries of past generations fill our lives today. Reading history is rarely an empty experience. While this book is light-hearted, it does highlight that what we drink and eat can provide an enormous entry-point for historical discovery.

The new book "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage is highlighted in this National Geographic article. This story stretches from the ancient Sumerian world to America's cola drinks. As for coffee itself, here is just a sample sentence:

Coffee also fuelled commerce and had strong links to the rituals of business that remain to the present day. Lloyds of London and the London Stock Exchange were both originally coffeehouses."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ethics Must Be Priority In Tennessee

Serious efforts to create laws governing Ethics in the state legislature have finally gotten into some critical specifics, although there are some obvious political party disputes at work and their fears about how to conduct fundraising activities. Some of the proposals the current committee working in Nashville are long, long overdue and all lawmakers need to keep in mind that the public good is the most important aspect and political party worries are the least important.

Not only has the federal probe, dubbed the "Tennessee Waltz", brought accusations against state lawmakers, but also county officials have accused as well. When you link to this the statewide "Tarnished Shield" probe into corruption in law enforcement, citing crimes ranging from illegal drug distribution to money laundering, then our state's safety is clearly at stake.

Here are some of my suggestions for real change.

1.) One committee recommendation that should be made law is plain: elected officials (state and I would also add local officeholders, too) should not be receiving or accepting gifts, travel, free meals and entertainment. If a paid lobbyist or party official cannot use the power of logical or sound business ideas to urge support for an issue before the state, then tough. This would not prevent an elected official from speaking to a Kiwanis Club or other group, as long as no pay and yes, no meal, is a part of their appearance.

2.) All votes in the state legislative meetings and committees must be recorded and votes posted for public view. How can any resident of the state expect honesty and accountability when committees can meet in secret sessions where no vote is officially recorded? As Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville said, "I was disappointed that they [the ethics committee] did not address secret meetings or the legislative work schedule. And we need online access for all votes. The panel did some good work, but I believe Tennessee deserves better."

Republican Hamblen County Commissioner Linda Noe, and a few other commissioners, has kept up a steady drumbeat on the issue of Openness and Accountability in her commission votes and on her web log, and the public response has been quite positive.

State Representative Frank Buck echoes those very sentiments, noting in his essay printed in "The Tennessean" :
AccountabilityA record of legislative votes should be readily available to all voters. On voice votes in committees, legislators have the choice of voting contrary to the call of the chair.

3.) End the special privileges and secrecy surrounding lobbyists. There are a few simple rules that would bring major changes. While the current Ethic Committee suggestions call for a one-year ban on moving from elected office to a lobbyist job, I say say make it longer. Make it a four-year ban, which would prevent them from having access to the legislature and their business until at least the end of one gubernatorial term. The committee also had two other suggestions that would aid in making the lobbyist influence transparent to voters and the press alike.
Require lobbyists to disclose any family members in state government.
And Second, Require lobbyists and their employers to disclose payments for lobbying and money spent on lobbying.

The residents of this state, whether in a business organization, a political party organization, or just a private citizen would then know how many untold thousands and thousands of dollars are being heaped upon lawmakers to influence legislation.

4.) The Ethics Committee still has much work to do, but I think they are missing a golden opportunity to enact changes that include the participation of the public in general -- a committee to review any questions of ethics violations seems appropriate, HOWEVER, this panel needs to also include two or more average residents -- not a CEO, not a state employee, not another private business club member and not someone who has already served in some elected office. A private citizen is a must, someone who would bring eyes to this process not already tinted by the view of "that's just how we have been doing business."

I'll have more later this week on the issue of the endless political party fundraising in Tennessee and how that money needs to be tracked.

Your comments and suggestions on this are most welcome here. This is YOUR state and without your voice, true change will never take place.