Friday, March 03, 2006

Camera Obscura - Knotts, McGavin, Weaver and A Quiz

It's a big week for movie fans as the mutual admiration society known as the Oscars arrive on Sunday and yeah, I'll include some predictions. I also found a small movie quiz to test if you are a bona-fide movie fanatic or just a casual observer, which I'll include today. And some of my observations too on the careers of some entertainment greats who shuffled off the mortal coil this week.

The death and remembrance of actor Don Knotts received much press/blogging this week, a comedian whose quaking nervousness became a trademark and whose lines often became part of the national lexicon - I think too, we here in the South have fond memories of Knotts as Barney Fife, and we all know what it means to "Nip it in the bud! Nip it, nip it, nip it!" And I think many of us know the quality of character that is indicated if you need to carry the bullet in your pocket rather than carry a loaded weapon. Knotts made a name for himself on the "Tonight Show" with Steve Allen in 1956 doing "Man on the Street" segments that were hilarious, but when he landed the role of Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, America loved him - he won the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award five times between 1961-1967. I lost count of how often he appeared in Pigeon Forge over the years, making people laugh and laugh.

I also have great fondness for his movies too - notably as Luther Heggs in the 1966 movie "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." It has a terrific supporting cast, but it's really Don's movie through and through, twitching in fear in an alleged ghost house or just attempting to make a speech ("Atta boy, Luther!!") Another movie I always liked, purely for it's bizarre premise is "The Love God?", wherein the goofy man is cast as a Hugh Hefner-like publisher of what they used to call "nudie magazines." Yeah, he's a sex symbol. Well, it was 1969 and it is a comedy. The old advertising tag line for the movie was "So many women. Not enough man."

By the time he hit the TV show "Three's Company" as Mr. Furley, that toupee he wore just frightened me more than made me laugh. One other movie I'll mention is "The Private Eyes" with Tim Conway, as it was shot in the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina - look carefully and you can see many of the hidden doorways to secret passages that really exist in the mansion - kinda handy next time you take a tour of Biltmore. His most recent work was a voiceover in the animated 2005 feature "Chicken Little". But it's Barney Fife that's the cultural icon and a role he made vivid and real for generations of TV fans.

Actor Darren McGavin also died this week, and my twisted little horror-movie loving heart remembers him best for the single television season of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." He was a rumpled, wrinkle-clothed smartass reporter in a straw hat with a knack for encountering crimes committed by vampires, devil-worshipping politicians, zombies, sword-wielding motorcyclists, and all manner of supernatural beings which local politicians always wanted to be kept out of the news. Sort of typical of audience attitudes in the 1970s when the show aired.

More recently, his performance as the father of the Parker family in "A Christmas Story" is perfect example of acting without overwhelming the movie. His swearing at the furnace in the home is a mish-mash of rage and syllables - his son describes it this way in the movie: "He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oil or clay." And his joy at winning a table lamp shaped liked a woman's leg wearing fishnet hose is hilarious.

Another actor famous for work on television, Dennis Weaver, also went the way of all flesh this week, but I'd like to focus on two movies and one TV appearance that are stuck in my memory.

The first is a TV movie, the first solo feature as director for Steven Spielberg, the 1971 TV movie "Duel". It's a gripping, relentless battle between Weaver, driving a 1970 red Plymouth Valiant, and a never-seen driver of a nasty, smoke-belching, diesel-stained truck that seems to want him dead. It's a common fear on the road - encountering some unknown driver whose mindless rage could flatten you like a pancake. The movie is a seamless suspense thriller, and Weaver's performance makes it all very real, very believable as he tries to puzzle out just what has this madman on his bumper, and we watch Weaver's mental state crumble.

Spielberg selected Weaver because he was a fan of Weaver's small but memorable role in a nearly-forgotten classic film noir thriller by Orson Welles, "Touch Of Evil." If you've never seen the movie, search for it - it ranks as one of Welles' best. (And look for the restored version made available in 1998) Rumor has it his character as night manager of a sleazy motel served as inspiration to Hitchcock for the creation of Norman Bates.

And one more favorite from Dennis Weaver - as the voice of Buck McCoy, the washed-up one-time famous movie cowboy in an episode of "The Simpsons" called "Lastest Gun In The West." Bart thought he was great. And Buck said one of his old movies was called "The Wild Lunch" and he lassoed a bag of potato chips to prove it.

Now on to the Sunday awards show - I'm not going to hash thru the typical newspaper movie critic crap of what will win or what should win and what It All Means.

I will say I have much sentiment attached to the movie of the early days in the life of Johnny Cash and June Carter in "I Walk The Line." Yes, it's more Hollywood than History, but I truly enjoyed how Joaquin Phoenix captured the style of Cash, aiming that guitar like a rifle and leaning into that microphone like he was telling secrets or having an argument. Reese Witherspoon as June - well, let's just say June was never, ever that pretty. Another excellent quality to the movie was the music score of classic early rock hits and T. Bone Burnett's original score.

And finally, as promised, a movie quiz - just click on the link, and it will take you to the page where you can see a photo from a movie and your job is to ID the movie. Some are pretty easy. Some are a little tough. Many are from pretty popular movies, and it's a fine way to waste a bit of time at work or home. If you get really, really stuck for answers, just ask for help here at yer Cup of Joe and I'll try and give you some hints. The movie quiz is here.

Just Odd and Odd Justice

Like you, I'm sure you've encountered in the news and your communities some of the real horrors related to the rising human toll of meth addiction - folks make this toxic crap in cars, homes, wherever they can. Now, the war on meth is part of the Patriot Act.

A member of the Tennessee task force combating meth informed me a few years ago that the life span of someone who gets addicted to this home-made poison is five years. So the state legislature took action, and made a law requiring over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine be sold only after the buyer shows ID and signs for it. Other states have done the same.

But now that same language (inserted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of CA) is part of the newly passed federal Patriot Act, you know, that collection of laws created to combat "terrorism." If states were already addressing the issue, why add it to this most questionable "Act"? Was it just to help push the bill through? Don't want a potential candidate to point a finger and say "He/She voted against laws to protect your towns from meth addicts"?

Another oddity is emerging in Alabama's legal system (and God bless you if you live in Bama, and hope you can find another home soon). Alabama's newest Supreme Court Justice, Tom Parker, has declared his own profession a hotbed of radical activists (via , that is, everyone but him. He's opposed to a guideline that the death penalty should be withheld for those whose crimes were committed while under the age of 18. Heinous crimes could obviously be committed by someone aged 17 or 16 or even 10. Why not just make the death penalty apply to every person of every age, from the moment of birth on?

Justice Parker penned an op-ed piece, writing:

State supreme court judges should not follow obviously wrong decisions simply because they are precedents," he wrote. "After all, a judge takes an oath to support the Constitution -- not to automatically follow activist judges who believe their own devolving standards of decency trump the text of the Constitution."

Justice Parker seems to be decrying "judicial activists" and calling for that same activisim if it suits his temperament. He earned his law degree at Vanderbilt (a school he says he disliked), and claims professors never presented the Constitution in classes at Vandy, though he did continue his legal studies in Brazil.

He's a fascinating and outspoken member of the bench - much more of his career can be read here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Worse and Worser

Kudos to the Associated Press for finding the video conference of federal officials talking about how bad Hurricane Katrina was going to be for the Gulf Coast made before the storm bashed the coastline. You can access it here via Crooks and Liars. It is a scathing, blistering bit of reporting.

And ol' "heck of a job Brownie" comes off sounding kinda smart!

What's worse, this video is the same one the White House denied existed when a congressional committee was holding investigations into the failed response (claiming someone forgot to push the record button on the videotape machine), though the White House somehow "leaked" to Newsweek Wednesday morning that they somehow found it. More on this part of the story here, via Firedoglake.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

TVA, Enron and The Spin Game

I haven't seen much state press coverage of the testimony in the trial of Enron executives where cash reserves set aside for payments to TVA got raided to help falsely inflate earnings for Enron. Did TVA get the monies they were owed? TVA has certainly been in the news (and on the editorial pages) in recent days.

With TVA increasing rates nearly 18% in six months, plus getting the approval to alter rates on a new sliding monthly scale then the Public Relations efforts to spin these increases are underway. Voicing concerns about the massive energy company, sadly, is as effective as looking up at the sky and saying "More blue!" or "Fewer clouds!!"

R. Neal at Knox Views has two fine posts that highlight the spin TVA chairman Bill Baxter has sent out to papers in Knoxville and Chattanooga (among others). The first post indicates the wagons are being circled to deflect criticisms of the increases and criticism that the plans for expanding their board include many paybacks for Bush supporters but zero citizen input.

The second post notes that the plans for nominees to a newly expanded board are ... well, dubious at best yet still supported by some for reasons like ... well, as R. Neal says, I'm sure they are good reasons, whatever they are.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Rabbit Season - Duck Season!" for Rep. Jenkins

It's been rumbling around the GOP in the state for a few weeks that they need a candidate to run for governor against Phil Bredesen, but so far the running is away from such a chore - in other words, Gov. Bredesen is the likely winner. However some in the GOP are pushing for 1st District Congressman Bill Jenkins take the challenge.

In the Feb. 25 issue of The Greeneville Sun, both GOPers and a Sun reporter tried to nail down Jenkins on the idea at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Jenkins, who had already announced he would not seek re-election to Congress, dealt with the fawning and sort of kind of maybe gave a non answer. State Senator Steve Southerland of Morristown started off the "please run!" approach.

From the Sun story:

State Sen. Steve Southerland, R-1st, who introduced Jenkins, mentioned to the congressman that “rabbit season is over at the end of this month, and that would be a good time to start campaigning for governor.” Jenkins began his remarks by saying that “This talk of governor is pretty heavy.” He said he had spent “most of the morning” on the phone with people who wanted to talk about that.

“I want to remind you all, I did that once,” Jenkins said, with a big grin on his face. If the state had voted the way Greene County did that year, Jenkins said, he would have won.

At that time he was 33 years old, he said, and “people said I looked 20,” not nearly old enough to be governor.

“I guess I’ve gotten old enough,” Jenkins said, adding that he will be 70 on his next birthday.

He stopped short of making a flat statement one way or the other about running for governor. He also said that his last year in Congress will be one of the most difficult that the country has faced in a long time, with much that needs to be done.

After the event, he told The Greeneville Sun for the record that he is pondering the idea, and will have to make an announcement soon.

But he also told the Sun that running for governor “would undo all the reasons” he is leaving Congress.

When Jenkins announced he will not seek re-election, he said he wants to spend more time with his four children and 11 grandchildren, and actively operate his large farm on the Holston River near Rogersville. The tone of Jenkins’ remarks Friday night was very much that of a longtime public servant leaving public life."

You can read of the rumors at Newscoma.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Can Public Trust Be Restored?

I had a conversation over the weekend with a teacher who works in Kingsport, and after a few minutes he began to say in hushed tones that he had grave concerns about the turn in recent years of the Conservative political movement. Daring to disagree with friends, he said, had harmed those friendships. "Something has gone wrong," he said.

You may or may not see it - the enormous divide that continues to grow between the incomes and lifestyles of a small (but growing) elite class and the rest of the working men and women in America. When I interviewed Tennessee's 1st District Congressman Bill Jenkins during his last re-election campaign, I asked him to address the concerns about "outsourcing jobs" and the difficulty in finding American made goods, like clothes and shoes for example. He replied that he too, had to spend some time and effort to buy his most recent pair of American-made cowboy boots - and that he paid just less than $200 for them. He smiled and said it was worth it to him. I kept thinking that $200 was more than a week's pay (after taxes) for someone on minimum wage.

Median incomes nationwide range between $45,000 to $48,000 annually. (Which means I suppose, they can afford those boots a little easier.) In 1960 the gap between the top 20% and the bottom 20% of income earners in the U.S. was thirty fold. Now it is seventy-five fold. Thirty years ago, the average annual pay for the Top 100 CEOs was 30 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is 1000 times the pay of the average worker.

The above information was mentioned in a speech by Bill Moyers, and he has some other mind-numbing information to share -

+ 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress

+ The total spent, per month, by special interests to wine, dine, etc federal officials is $200 million. Per month, oh faithful readers, per month!

+ Less than one-half of one percent of all Americans made a political contribution of $200 or more to a federal candidate in 2004.

Moyers speech, titled "Restoring The Public Trust" points out again and again a vast gulf between how many officials experience life and power in ways that have sown much distrust and disgust for those who labeled themselves Conservatives and I urge you to read the entire essay.

Here are some excerpts:

I will leave to Jon Stewart the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas. All of us are relieved that the Vice President's friend has survived. I can accept Dick Cheney's word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life. What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today.

The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well.)

The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less. The annual loss of 1.5 millions of acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come "at the expense of 'The Deer Hunter' crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west." Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits."

"Two years ago, in a report entitled Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality, the American Political Science Association concluded that progress toward realizing American deals of democracy "may have stalled, and even, in some areas, reversed." Privileged Americans "roar with a clarity and consistency that public officials readily hear and routinely follow" while citizens "with lower or moderate incomes are speaking with a whisper.

The following year, on the eve of President George W. Bush's second inauguration, the editors of The Economist, reporting on inequality in America, concluded that the United States "risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society."


The [former] Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, famously told the lobbyists: "If you are going to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules." Tom DeLay became his enforcer.

The rules were simple and blunt. Contribute to Republicans only. Hire Republicans only. When the electronics industry ignored the warning and chose a Democratic Member of Congress to run its trade association, DeLay played so rough - pulling from the calendar a bill that the industry had worked on two years, aimed at bringing most of the world in alignment with US copyright law - that even the House Ethics Committee, the watchdog that seldom barks and rarely bites, stirred itself to rebuke him - privately, of course.

DeLay wasn't fazed. Not only did he continue to make sure the lobbying jobs went to Republicans, he also saw to it that his own people got a lion's share of the best jobs. At least 29 of his former employees landed major lobbying positions - the most of any Congressional office. The journalist John Judis found that together ex-DeLay people represent around 350 firms, including thirteen of the biggest trade associations, most of the energy companies, the giants in finance and technology, the airlines, auto makers, tobacco companies, and the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies. When tobacco companies wanted to block the FDA from regulating cigarettes, they hired DeLay's man. When the pharmaceutical companies - Big Pharma - wanted to make sure companies wouldn't be forced to negotiate cheaper prices for drugs, they hired six of Tom DeLay's team, including his former chief of staff. The machine became a blitzkrieg, oiled by campaign contributions that poured in like a gusher."

UPDATE: Tam over at View From the Porch doesn't seem to care much for Moyers' opinions or what I said about them. Check it out.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Racial Paranoia

Within the small confines of the Tennessee blogging world and within this country and many many others, a debate is being held on the topics of race, racial profiling, bigotry, bias, prejudice and terrorism.

I noticed a post by Bob Krumm about an incident where he reported to the Secret Service he had seen some dudes of "middle-eastern" appearance in the Belle Meade community in middle Tennessee because they were lost and wanted to know how to find former v.p. Al Gore's home. It seem suspicious he says.

Another blogger, Chris, at My Quiet Life, responded with his own take on Bob's post, and said Bob was showing bigotry, pure and simple, in his reaction to the encounter in Belle Meade. Not unexpectedly, Bill Hobbs chimed in with some insults about Chris in the comments section on this debate at Nashville Is Talking, and R. Neal had some wit and humor to add in the comments on Chris' page.

Some mention is made in these discussions of the concerns about the sale of operations at numerous American ports to a company in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai has been a major port for our Navy, certainly, and now Congress is examining the sale to determine if it should be approved or not. Much of the national and media debate about the sale has been of the "we don't want THEM owning operations in the U.S." (Them apparently meaning "Arabs" or perhaps "questionable allies".)

Let me be plain: there is a palpable paranoia in the U.S. and other countries about non-whites. While some see a value in being skeptical and suspicious about the presence and actions of non-whites, it blinds us to the more pertinent issue, which is that certain political agendas and those who share those political views have been and continue to threaten national security here and in many other countries as well.

So my question is - how can you tell by just looking at someone what their political beliefs might be? In this country, can you tell if someone belongs to the Republican or Democratic party? Or if they are members of neither?

I'm somewhat concerned that the notion of placing a usefulness on the concept of "racial profiling" may soon be exchanged for developing an approach to "political profiling." Arguments could perhaps be made that if our nation could protect it's citizens and security if we had the ability to define an individual's political views, and to be troubled if an individual has no specified political party affinities, then we should then create such a system of "political profiles."

The continuing emotion of Fear is making some very murky perceptions, and that we as both a nation and as an individual then base policy and personal decisions arising from those Fears is only going to make our perceptions murkier and encourage the value of Fear among us all.