Friday, August 25, 2006

UPDATE on Today's Question- Camera Obscura (Late Edition)

I am more than a little ticked off with the Blogger problems today, but hopefully it appears it has been resolved .... better be anyway!!!

So on the question from the previous post today -- Who are the 10 most memorable TV characters?

And please check out the comments in the previous post today - some fine answers are there and some are on my list ... sort of.

This is a very tough selection of answers, and I'll probably forget something, but here goes. One thing I did keep in mind were shows which I often find myself watching both new and in reruns, in other words, the characters as well as the stories, always made me come back for more, My answers are in no particular order:

1 - Homer Simpson -- A fan of Bart and many others, including Mr. Burns, I have to give it to the main man, Homer. If the ancients had the storyteller of the same name to catalog their myths, then the Homer of Springfield is the modern equivalent. He is the Everyman of America. At times selfish, oafish, inattentive to family, fearful, searching for that one gimmick which will bring endless wealth and fame, content to sit in his underwear and watch whatever appears on the television. He argues fiercely with God, is often promoted at his work for no particular reason and just as often fired for the same reasoning (or lack of it). His memory of history is dictated by the needs of the moment. He has been to outer space, has been a victim of crime and punishment, and yet, no matter what, he usually finds that being connected to his family is something he values completely. Unless food, beer, or ease of comfort are offered as alternatives.

2. - Agent Dale Cooper -- It is rather hard to name just one favorite from the enigmatic "Twin Peaks," it was Coop we all could relate too. He loves good coffee and good pie, and has an investigative mind which pieces together bits and pieces of a mystery that still defies complete description. Brilliantly played with both childish innocence and an understanding of the darkest criminal hearts, he was a pinnacle in American detective fiction. Without Coop, we would never have been ready to accept Scully and Mulder.

3. - Buffy Summers - Yes I am a huge fan of the show. And I have a great admiration for Spike and Drusilla, two of the best vampire characters I've ever seen on television (a thin field, admittedly). What kept me watching constantly and made me a lifelong fan however, was Buff. She endured mindless authorities, brutal enemies, was accepting of the ever-changing nature of her closest friends, was sometimes gullible and forgiving to a fault, and deep down had immense self-confidence. But more importantly she was courageous as a constant, she learned from errors, and she refused to accept being categorized as one type of person. Juggling with ethical and moral dilemmas, the character waded through the both the mundane and the serious challenges from high school and college beyond. In my mind, a bona fide hero who realized 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

4. - Rod Serling -- Like Whedon said, he wasn't exactly a character, but he was a defining center to all the real and surreal stories of "The Twilight Zone". He spoke directly to the viewers, casually had a cigarette in his hand and his use of language was often poetic, he presented challenges to morality and to reality, urging viewers each week to remember there is much more to the world than the things we can see and can touch. And again, I'll often find myself watching marathon reruns and have more memories of a vast collection of some of the best actors and actresses as well as writers who worked throughout the 20th century. Sadly, Hollywood made him a spokesperson for the rather uninspiring tales of "The Night Gallery", but the hundreds of shows he shepherded on "Twilight Zone" remain benchmarks of television.

5 - Mr. Haney -- There has never, ever, ever been a TV show as surreal or as funny as the short-lived "Green Acres." And it was tough for me to pick just one from that unusual show - Hank Kimball, Arnold Ziffle, and even Mr and Mrs Douglas were also memorable, but Haney's quivering constant sales pitches and devotion to mindless capitalism were so very entertaining. All he sold (or perhaps I should say misrepresented) was "original, genuine, one-of-a-kind" and always worthless and pointless. Still, he never wavered despite the lunacy of his products. A failed product was merely an opportunity to sell someone something else to replace it. Whatever you needed, he always had it "on the back of my truck". He was Advertising Incarnate.

6. - Caine -- From the time I watched the pilot movie to the last episode (and not that crappy remake from the early 1990s), the stories and the viewpoint of the Shaolin priest on-the-run in the Old West was more influential on me than I can say. Everything about that show was far and above the typical TV fare. Tackling topics of racism, greed, vendettas, poverty, and so much more, this one character somehow found joy in the smallest of things, was always a creature of wonder and of wandering, and his waking world leapt between memory and the moment. Watching then and now in reruns, I am amazed that these Zen riddles ever found success in the television world. It isn't a perfect show, but that character made an indelible impression.

7. - Ted Baxter -- The witless news anchor of "Mary Tyler Moore" was the one character on the show I liked best. I seldom seek out reruns of that show, but in each of the episodes he was in, he boldy paraded his ignorance with such bravado and commitment, it was easy to see him as real. Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy owed much to Ted - a barely educated, tough-talking, opinionated doofus he truly believed that by altering the tone of his voice he could make facts out of anything. I think his character is so similar to the current crop of talking-heads so prevalent in TV news today. Vain, cowardly, and ill-informed, he presented the reality that a news-reader is hardly a person to be admired by the viewing public.

8 - Captain Jean Luc Picard -- No, he isn't the icon of the mythic characters of Kirk and Spock of the original "Star Trek," and I do enjoy the heights of over-acting those characters reached. There is one simple reason Picard is on my list -- just imagine the re-invention of the Trek franchise without him. The character, played to perfection by Patrick Stewart, provided a vital ingredient: Credibility. I'm sure few will agree with me, but that's my argument and I'm sticking to it. And the franchise would have never been extended without him.

9. and 10 -- A Tie -- I'm going to cheat a little here, since I think two different casts of players made two shows the stuff of legend. The original casts of "Saturday Night Live" and the cast of "Monty Python's Flying Circus". To this day, both of those shows are icons in television because of the combined and individual efforts of the original casts. I seldom get excited to see a repeat of SNL unless it is from the first two or three seasons (Bill Murray did bring much to the show when he arrived and Chevy Chase left). And as for Monty Python -- I never, repeat NEVER, fail to laugh even though I've seen those episodes hundreds of times. Both casts made television history and I can think of no ensemble who had such astounding talent.

POSTSCRIPT: I am positive over the next few days, I'll think of another character or performance that will jump into my mind, but that's part of the fun of this kind of exercise. Please add your own favorites, demonize my choices, and thanks to all who have played along so far. (It does really bug me that I can't think of a private detective, cop or doctor as I have put this list together.)

UPDATE 2: A few other bloggers have also picked up this thread (and thanks very much for the links!!!!). You can check them out at Salem's Lots, Sharon Cobb and Tennessee Ticket.

UPDATE 3: I've decided that since I had a tie for Number 9, that leaves me the wiggle room necessary to name a Number 10. That has to be Stephen Colbert -- in a very short time, the character he has created for his show has unmasked the Clueless Hardcore Conservative as a tenacious chucklehead. That character brought all of the Washington elite and the Press Corps face to face with their failings in a way that was evocative of Mark Twain or Will Rogers, and if either of those brilliant folk had a TV show, it would be just like Colbert's. As many others have said before me - I Heart Stephen Colbert.
And really, I may just have to make the next list of TV faves a Top 25. Thanks again to all for playing along with this!!

A Brief Delay and A Question

Some early non-computer tasks this morning mean that the usual Friday movie and entertainment news will not appear until sometime later this afternoon. Fear not, all will be normal soon.

In the meantime a question for your consideration, and you may leave your answers in the comments.

Who are the Ten Most Memorable Television characters?

The idea was tackled by writer/director Joss Whedon here, and he says the idea came his way from writer James Gunn. Whedon did mention one I would put on my list, Agent Dale Cooper. And Gunn says no cartoon characters allowed, but there is no way I could make a list without mentioning Homer Simpson, so forget that rule. My list will appear later in an Update.

Have at it!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Disaster Without A Recovery

Contracting scandals, incompetence and a pace on par with geological time are just part of the reasons that the rebuilding on the Gulf Coast one year after Katrina has made few advances.

A fine review of the past year can be found at Facing South - thanks to Knox Views for indicating the report. From the summary:

Despite promises from national leaders to '‘do what it takes'’ to rebuild the Gulf, the region'’s recovery has been left to move at a snail'’s pace,– with tragic results,'” says Chris Kromm, co-author of the report and director of the Institute. '“Without a revived national commitment, the Gulf and its people won'’t come back'."

This fisaco on the Gulf is the most prominent example of how much the U.S. lacks leadership in critical areas. Just imagine that the towns torn to tatters and left to wallow in bureaucratic nonsense was your home town, or in your state. What reactions other than shock and disgust would you have? The families left to fend for themselves and the towns left to stumble through debris perhaps might be expected in a third world nation, but in the Superpower Bastion of Freedom and Democracy?

Shame aplenty can be served all around. Even more staggering are the numerous acheivements of private groups and individuals who have provided aid throughout the Gulf. And all this while those in charge clucked their tounges at what a tragedy the storm and its aftermath were.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hoaxes and Cynicism

Are you prayers earnestly delivered, but answers to them a bit ... Unknown?

Maybe you need to amp up your delivery and reception technology by using the Prayer Antenna.

To encounter this unique device, I had the chance to visit two fine web sites I'm sure to visit again. One is all about Hoaxes. The other, all about Cynicism.

$126 Billion For Immigration Reform

Hysteria over immigrants legal and illegal abound and the furious fires being stoked got fanned even higher when a congressional report revealed the price tag for the Senate bill to "address the problem" -- 126 billion dollars over the next ten years.

That's a whopping $12.6 billion a year according to the CBO report, which brought out the righteous indignation of Rep. Tancredo who leads the opposition to the bill and supports a House version which offers a felony status for illegals and no changes to the guest worker programs. Both bills call for a 870 mile Fence Project.

Outrageous increases in payments via tax breaks, medical and SSI benefits are part of the cost too along with 31,000 more officers in law enforcement. Though it is noted by some supporters these costs will be offset by the tax revenues gained from the earnings of the immigrant sector.

The Washington Post story says:

Most people recognize there is going to be a price tag for fixing a broken immigration system, no question about that," said Ben Johnson, director of the Immigration Policy Center, which favors the Senate bill. "It still comes down to the moral question of 'How do we create a new, workable immigration policy?'"

Oh you got that part right -- the fact is no viable, practical solution has yet to emerge. Instead we have a political buzz factor - "protect our borders!!" and "it's time for a change!" but those who have been in charge for the last 8 years, led by Republicans, have failed to enforce existing laws and now want to throw one hundred and twenty-six billion dollars at the problem.

It's easy to frighten the White People with Brown Fear. And Fear continues to be the Weapon of Choice in political policy.

In one Pennsylvannia town, the mayor has taken to wearing a bulletproof vest in public, his Fear is so Great, and the town has decided to chase them dang outsiders away Wild West style, vowing to:

... get rid of the illegal people. It's this simple: They must leave ."

Other provision in Hazelton call for $1,000 a day fines for landlords who rent to illegals, revoking for five years the business license of any who employ an illegal.

Numerous cities and states are enacting their own laws to cope with the New Fear since the Republicans and Democrats in Washington can't get their programs organized.

Haphazard anger, ignorance and frustration are the polictical coin of the day. Taxpayers get an idiotic policy program and a massive ripoff. From Washingon DC to Your Home Town, the zero precent solution is gonna cost you.

Venable Seeks Recount in 1st District Race

GOP congressional candidate Richard Venable is seeking a recount of the August primary if the party agrees with his view that it is appropriate. Venable finished the race in second place to David Davis of Johnson City.

Press reports today from Kingsport indicate concern due to the long lines and delays and malfunctions of voting machines, issues which have cropped up statewide in the August primaries.

Will the GOP approve a recount of votes in 12 counties? Venable says it's the right thing to do:

The 1st Congressional District Republican Primary was a tough race, decided by about seven-tenths of one percent, and conducted in a professional manner by the top candidates," Venable said in the statement. "However, I do feel it appropriate that I make this recount request to honor the hard work and dedication of my supporters and family. I would like to add that I fully expect to support our Republican nominee for the 1st Congressional District as determined by this recount."

In a side note, Democrat candidate Rick Trent, Morristown City Councilman, has a massive uphill battle for the seat the GOP has held for over 100 yeaars, but the question for him now is financing. Judging from the district's history, can Trent expect the state's Democrat Party to provide one penny to his campaign? Will they even support him with endorsements? Or is the 1st District abandoned as a lost cause?

It seems to me the voters are the ones who view Congress and Congressional elections as a lost cause since 75% of voters did not cast a ballot in August.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gossip Rules The Media

So much broadcast news time is devoted to a likely bogus suspect in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, while critical events slide past as if they held no importance.

Like it or not, a Federal Judge says the President has been violating the Constitution and the Administration says it will continue to violate the document's laws. You know, that document which details the freedoms all Americans have - not freedoms which are negotiable depending on circumstance.

The second case of the worst war crimes possible, genocide, is beginning against Saddam Hussein and his staff, accused of using mustard gas and coventional weapons in 1988 to kill 180,000 Iraqis. You remember Iraq, right? The place where our National Guard is putting their lives on the line? It isn't a hot-button election brochure word - it's a country where death and destruction occurs on the hour.

You recall the National Guard don't you? The emergency back up support systems for states in times of emergency? The one the nation's governors are warning is about to disappear forever and fall under control of the Federal Government???

If Ramsey or Busta Rhymes stories or Mel Gibson's alcohol consumption are the leads in the news you're hearing, then you're not hearing news. It's gossip.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

World's Fair Pez Dispenser Worth A Fortune?

I never attended the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, so maybe it's impossible for me to have a worthwhile take on the topic. I do recall vividly the fair was supposed to present a variety of "new energy" displays which all mostly failed to work and the whole thing ended up being a drain on the electric systems (and a boon for TVA I suppose).

Up til now, the one memorable icon of the fair has been the so-called Sunsphere - forever linked to a rather hilarious episode of "The Simpsons", in which we learn the tower is a home to wigs and Bart and his friends knocked it over.

But now a piece of fair memorabilia is the desire of serious Pez collectors. The most sought after Pez dispenser in the world is the 1982 World's Fair version. Sources claim it could be worth $100,000.

It's up for auction now on eBay.

Sadly, the World's Fair pencil sharpener someone gave me has yet to be valued above, say, a nickle.

Infinite Energy Source or Hoax?

Is it really a new and cheap process for creating energy or is it some kind of hoax?

A tech company in Ireland says they have invented something that seems to stagger the current laws of physics and even posted a full page ad in The Economist challenging some 12 top scientists to verify their discovery. The Steorn company says too that others have verified their claims, but those experts won't go "on the record." Infinite and clean energy?

So confusion and claims of fraud or a publicity stunt swirl over the claim. Endgadget has one report, another take on the claims are here at MetaFilter. Could this just be a viral marketing campaign for a TV show? Will Steorn end up being a company featured in the TV show "Lost"?

The company's website boasts claims that boggle the business world:

Following the validation process, Steorn intends to license its technology to organisations within the energy sector. It will allow use of its technology royalty-free for certain purposes including water and rural electrification projects in third world countries, details to be announced later."