Saturday, October 06, 2007

Camera Obscura - Jungle Book On Stage; Sweeny Todd

A comment on the previous post from James says it all: "I want my Camera Obscura!"

So here it be, one day later than normal. And here I digress to offer the reason for lateness. I have been most busy this week working with an army of volunteers to help stage the Morristown Theatre Guild's production of the Disney musical "Jungle Book", performed entirely local children. And they have done a fantastic job, no doubt.

Two full casts of the show, with a total of some 70-plus kids, each get to perform on different days. Last night was the opening show for the 'red' cast, and tonite the 'green' cast will open their version. There is a matinee tomorrow, and the show will run for the next two weekends.

So, yes, two casts of 70-plus kids, dressed out in an impressive array of costumes created uniquely for this show means I have been immersed in constant activity with little time left for watching any TV or movies this week. But my recommendations do follow in this post. Still, a little more info about "Jungle Book." (Did I mention all who can should come see this show? Because it is fine entertainment and the kids worked relentlessly to bring the show to life. Ticket and showtime info is here, or come to the Rose Center in Morristown on performcance dates and get tickets at the door.)

So what is it like for me, your humble narrator, to help direct and stage a musical chock-full of kids? Well, of course they all love me. But I am the one who has been most impressed by all of them. They are tireless, they worked very hard this final production week to add in all the cool costumes, makeup, and staging to their singing and dancing and acting. There are a few things some of these kids, who range from age 6 to age 15, have said which made me laugh so much. Like when I asked one child a week or so ago why she was so being so hyperactive, and she joyously shouted "I'VE HAD SUGAR!!!!!!"

Last night, about 50 minutes before we started the show, a boy backstage asked "What are doing? Let's start the show!" I told him he had almost an hour to go before we started and the audience was just now arriving. "WHAT? Man, this is the most messed up thing I've ever seen. I could do the entire show RIGHT NOW!" He stomped off utterly disgusted with Grown-Ups. "Stupid, stupid," he muttered.

The real jewel in this production is that all these kids will conclude the show and have theatre and music and the arts firmly planted in their hearts and minds as Great Fun. They (and their parents) will all continue to seek out more chances to act and sing again and again. To be a part of this massive production, to help plant those seeds of devotion to performing, all has been most enjoyable. I've been working with productions at The Guild off and on for some 20 years now, and the experiences have been some of the best times of my life.

And the community's support for The Guild and the hard work by volunteers, all should make Morristown and Hamblen County very, very proud.

So come see the show! See the monkeys! The giant snake! The elephants! The vultures! The singing jungle! Shere Kahn! Mowgli! Baloo the Bear! Bagheera the panther! See the show!

Oh, and one more thing - I will be directing The Guild's next show, a stage version of Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", with performances November 30 thru December 16. Auditions will be Oct. 8, 9, 15 and 16 from 5 to 7 pm, held at First Presbyterian Church. All ages are welcome to fill out the large cast.

Now then, on to some movie and DVD talk which is likely not for children ... hey, adults need fun too.

This week I saw the first previews for the Tim Burton version of the hit Broadway musical "Sweeny Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street" starring Johnny Depp. It will be released this Christmas and you can watch the preview here.


A brand new "Firefly"/"Serenity" movie? Sources say Yes to that. The reports stay that sales of the two DVD versions of the movie and the TV show have been so large, that more is wanted.

And speaking of creations by Joss Whedon, I am very jealous that Nashville is hosting a public performance of the Buffy musical episode "Once More With Feeling". C'mon Knoxville! What are you waiting for?? Join in the fun.


(Have I just referenced my appreciation for three musicals?? Holy cow. That is a first and will likely never happen again.)


Must-Have-Cult-DVD of the Week: Robinson Crusoe on Mars. No singing here, but a very cool little sci-fi adventure from the early 1960s. It even has a wee monkey astronaut.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sen. Alexander Backs Internet Tax

The moratorium on taxation for internet access is set to end on Nov. 1st, unless Congress acts to extend it. Adding taxes to internet access is a terrible idea and will slow down one of the most productive and useful technologies of our time.

The American Cable Association, any many others, remain deeply opposed to the tax, with good reason:

Testifying before the House Committee on Small Business, the ACA, which represents small cable businesses, said allowing the Nov. 1 moratorium to expire would make it harder for cable operators to deploy broadband service to rural customers. Expanding rural broadband access is a priority for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.

The moratorium prohibits state and local taxes on Internet access, as well as multiple taxes on electronic commerce."


"At a time when the costs of running their businesses are increasing, small cable operators are deploying broadband services," ACA vice president of government affairs Ross J. Lieberman said, "despite the financial hurdles of offering such services in rural America. Congress can safeguard these investments and ensure that high-speed-Internet access remains affordable for consumers by passing legislation that prevents state and local governments from imposing taxes on this service."

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander supports the tax. Bad move, Senator. Why would you even consider this worthwhile?

UPDATE: I am in contact with Senator Alexander's office via his Deputy Press Secretary Jill Bader, who sent this information to my email:

Senator Alexander is the lead Republican on this legislation and believes that a “permanent” internet tax ban makes no sense because technology is changing so rapidly. For example, if the original internet tax ban of 1998 had been permanent, it would only have covered dial-up access and anyone using broadband could be subject to taxation today. His legislation is a common sense compromise that would extend the moratorium for another four years, without blowing a hole in the budgets of state and local governments.

You can read more about Alexander’s legislation on his website here."

From that website is the following:

The Carper-Alexander bill alters the definition of tax-free, “Internet access” to ensure that a consumer’s connection to the Internet, including email and instant messaging, remains tax-free. At the same time, the bill closes a loophole in the original 1998 moratorium that could allow an Internet Service Provider to bundle Internet access with other services and make them all tax-free.

This loophole is important because it could harm the traditional tax base of state and local governments. In 2004, the last time Congress extended the ban, Congress exempted voice-over-Internet-protocol services from the moratorium because of fears that states and localities could lose billions of dollars in revenue as telephone services migrated to the Internet.

As the Internet continues to grow and more services migrate to the Internet, Sens. Carper and Alexander said it makes sense to close that loophole and define “Internet access” exclusively as the connection between a consumer and the Internet Service provider. Such clarity will continue to ensure that Internet access is tax free, while also ensuring state and local governments do not have to come up with new – and potentially more burdensome – sources of revenue to pay for teachers, firefighters and health care services.

“Our bill would ensure that consumers continue to enjoy tax-free access to the Internet, including email and instant-messaging,” said Sen. Carper. “In the meantime, we fix many problems with the current law so that as future services, such as cable television, migrate to the Internet, we don’t completely erode the tax base of state and local governments.”

We should not undermine the ability of governors and mayors to pay for goods and services that everyone depends on. A temporary extension, as we have in our bill, will allow us to keep Internet access tax free, while giving Congress more time to understand the Internet’s evolution and what it means for state and local governments.”

I'll be adding more to this story in coming days and urge readers to carefully explore the Senator's bill as well.

Free Speech Crimes

When Congress passed a recent resolution to condemn an advertisement by, they did something truly anti-American - legislating official intimidation of free speech, codifying dissent and opinion as actions worthy of censorship.

While the wording of the resolution was most careful to not really name names, the intent was crystal clear: it embraced the censorship of opinion.

Sadly, Democrats decided to play this most dangerous game, rather than shame the game itself. They picked up on the literal daily disgust of many for radio personality Rush Limbaugh and his recent divisive comments regarding soldiers whose opinions aren't of perfect support for the war in Iraq, and considered a resolution to condemn his opinion. And of course, the GOP then offered legislative action to praise Limbaugh.

Now we have Surrealism: Debate about debate. And again, the intent is clear - to label certain opinions as near-crimes.

So the NYTimes decided to run an ad critical of the Iraq war from a Left-Wing group, and sold the ad at a discount. What does it matter? Was a crime committed?

So Rush Limbaugh distorts facts and info to fill out his Right-Wing views. Again, no crime.

Do readers and listeners lack all skill and ability to discern meaning? And even if they do, even if the readers and listeners in every corner of America are too dumb to think objectively, does this mean Congress now will be in charge of fact-checking through legislation? Or are we inching closer to having political speech viewed as potentially criminal?

Every member in Congress who gave a nod to the anti-MoveOn resolution should be ashamed for endangering the concept of free speech.

Any and all who oppose the NYTimes or Limbaugh have a very effective, very powerful tool to sway public opinion and stimulate activism - boycott the product. No elected official need smash the Bill of Rights. Citizens need to exercise their rights.

And while I am here, I'll share more of my opinion - it amazes me that people can stand to listen each day to the hour-stacked-on-hour blamefest of talk radio. Boortz, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc etc, will speak each and every bit of their philosophy within a few days and after that it is all dead-horse-beating. The daily, hourly baptism of sanctimony through blaming The Other Side For Everything is an act I am glad I don't understand. More than a decade now of Radio Blame has built steep and wicked-hot fires of Resentment and Anger, have sucked out positive perspectives and have divided the nation along lines now critically fractured. Will the money and fame the Radio Blamethrowers have received be worth the destruction left behind?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Government Guilty - Now What?

Attorney Richard Hollow got it right in his statement about a Knox County jury finding County government was guilty of violating the law on open meetings:

This is the first time in the history of Tennessee that a jury has been asked to sit in judgment of its government,” said [KNS Editor Jack] McElroy’s attorney, Richard Hollow. “(The trial itself) is a tremendous victory for the people of Tennessee."

Judge Fansler now considers what to do - current law does not really provide a punishment or a clear course to corrective action when government is found guilty of these charges.

In a perfect world, I would like to see the Judge be able to rule that a special election for the county commission seats be held very soon, and that seems to me to be the one option which would serve best the residents who still consider representative government vital. I doubt he will rule in such a way, and even if he did, he would be stepping into waters any attorney could challenge.

There is an option of existing county officials deciding to do what's best for residents and not what's best for themselves or their careers. I have little belief that's going to happen, based on the reality that just about all elected legislative bodies consistently fudge the law on public deliberations in every county in Tennessee (and likely, in the whole dang world).

For punishment? The law should be altered by state legislators so that any elected official who is found guilty of violating open meeting standards must resign and be barred from seeking elected office again. That might be enough of a deterrent to stop distorting representative government. The problem remains of how residents can report violations and get oversight and judicial review of any offenses. If the KNS had not moved forward with this lawsuit, no headline of "Government Guilty" would exist today.

I should mention too that blogger Russ McBee has been tracking how local media covered this trial on many posts. Excellent overviews and commentary can be found at his site.

And Shots Across the Bow also raises an excellent point in this whole mess:

I say probably because there is one more reason why the people of Knox County have no cause to celebrate just yet.

This whole mess is their fault.

The folks in Knox County elected commissioners they knew were term limited. Sure, now they want to sit back and jeer at the commissioners, but during the election, they either pulled the lever for them, or stayed at home on election day. What we can't be allowed to forget is that the twelve people who vacated their offices were openly elected by a populace who knew they were likely to be found term limited.

And given that only 8% of eligible voters voted in the City Primary a week ago, I don't see anything getting any better.

So if you're looking for huzzahs and hoorays, look elsewhere. The problem is still here and it's just as bad."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Knox Co. Commission Guilty In Sunshine Law Case

It only took a few hours today for the jurors to return with a guilty verdict for the Knox County Commission, who were accused of violating the state's laws regarding open meetings. The verdict was read out at about 1:30 this afternoon. More details will follow, and updates are frequent at the Knoxville News Sentinel, which brought this lawsuit forward:

The jury ruled that Knox County commissioners violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act in setting in secret a specially called Jan. 31 meeting to replace 12 term-limited officeholders.

The jury also opined the commission did nothing to rectify that violation.

Jurors determined that commissioners decided in secret who would win all 12 of the term-limited seats left vacant after a Jan. 12 state Supreme Court ruling.

In the run-up to the meeting at which those appointments were officially made the jury concluded that two appointees, Charles Bolus and Lee Tramel, won their seats not at the public portion of the Jan. 31 meeting but instead in the hallway during recesses.

Finally, the jury officially branded Bolus a liar. Bolus had testified that there was no plan for him to be sworn in early but instead he opted to do so on his own.

Jurors disagreed.

The Knox County Law Department had sought to convince jurors that even if violations of the law were made the Jan. 31 meeting fixed the problem.

Jurors rejected that argument.

It is now up to Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler to decide what penalties to level. The law imposes no criminal sanctions or financial penalties. Instead, Fansler could issue an injunction against commission and order the panel to make the appointments again."

Even watching these events unfold at a distance, that meeting was clearly rife with illegal acts and the appointment process was government at it's worst. I am not one bit surprised the jurors went for the guilty verdict.

Will Knox County appeal?

My advice is to follow the jury's decision, fix the mess ASAP and learn from their blatant errors.

NOTE: Updates and bloggers' reactions are compiled by Michael Silence.

The New Taboo; or Nanny Government Expands

Smoking tobacco is the New Taboo, the habit whose name is not to be spoken. It's as if a tobacco user were hoisting a child over a spit, slopping it in BBQ sauce and savory herbs, using the flag for kindling the cooking fire, and singing songs of the Wehrmacht.

Bolstering criminal investigators, our state has enacted scores of officers to eye those who buy smokes in another state and attempt to come back into Tennessee. Such folk are smugglers now in the eyes of the law. One state official, Rep. Jason Mumpower says this enforcement was prompted by the reality that much-sought tax revenues are falling short of expectations:

(The Department of Revenue) contends they are going to clamp down on this because we’ve had two consecutive months of cigarette tax revenues being in the tank,” said Mumpower."

Odd too, the Dept. of Health will define smoking lawbreakers and fine them for smoking, while another part of the same agency is pushing residents to quit and receive state aid to do so:

Tobacco users who live in Tennessee can call the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine to be paired with a personal quit coach and receive additional materials to help put down the tobacco for good. When a tobacco user calls the QuitLine, he or she is assigned a dedicated quit coach who works with the individual over the telephone to help develop personalized plans for tobacco use cessation that meet the caller’s particular needs. To ensure consistency, individuals participating in the program work with the same quit coach over a 12-month period."

Costs of this program to the state? I do not know, but to use the hyperbole of the moment - "This is about saving lives!!"

Are these bans anti-freedom? Yes, according to presidential hopeful Fred Thomspon, who says, smoking bans pushed Iraqis to abandon Al Qaeda!!

Curiouser and curiouser, I say.

On this well-intentioned roadway, it is worth noting how so many in our nation today see bans, preventions, and prohibitions of all manner of lifestyles as vital. A slow but sure and steady pace of behavior modification is now linked to governmental responsibility. The Rise of the Nanny Government. It is the Day of the Twinkie Fascist, says Denver Post writer David Harsanyi in his new book:

In his new book Nanny State, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi documents in appalling and encyclopedic detail exactly "how food fascists, teetotaling do-gooders, priggish moralists, and other boneheaded bureaucrats are turning America into a nation of children." If there's a smoking ban, a mandatory exercise program, or censorious city government out there, it's pilloried in Nanny State.

In wide-ranging and engagingly written chapters, the 37-year-old Harsanyi argues that preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means giving individuals more choices in how to live, not fewer. "We've built the freest and most dynamic society the world has ever seen," writes Harsanyi. "To let these lightweight babysitters take over would be absurd, self-destructive, and categorically un-American."

No more tag games in the schoolyards - it leads to smoking and the eating of too many carbs. And since you, Average American Human, cannot be trusted to make decisions, The Nanny will make them from now on. And don't think this is a Washington, DC edict - it isn't. It is on the most local level, in cities and counties and in statehouses and school boards these restrictions are created and promoted. (PLEASE NOTE: The current controversy on 'Extreme Hugging' in Chicago schools.)

I suppose it was all a downhill slide once we allowed for the creation a 'suggested daily allowance' of food and vitamins. (A brief timeline of official food and drug laws here.)

So if you'll just dress right, drive right, talk right, eat right, sleep right, don't talk with your mouth full, never say a discouraging word, put down the scissors and walk slowly to your designated and safety-secured play areas, work to raise productivity, use the proper cleaners and brush your teeth three times a day, and just follow your leaders, you too may be a Winner.

UPDATE: See this post featured at Volunteer Voters.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Music for A Monday

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have cut their own album, Raising Sand, and it is a most interesting collection of duets, out later this month.Take a listen here at NPR's All Songs Considered. The website for the album has more details on this CD, produced by T Bone Burnett. Some video on the project here.

Other music featured on the Sept. 28th episode of All Songs Considered include DJ Mark Ronson's re-mix CD of Bob Dylan, Martin Simpson, Small Sins and more. I do like what I have heard so far on the Dylan re-mix.

Radiohead fans get to pick the amount they wish to pay for their new album. No, really.

Traffic to the site has made access difficult for fans at times, but the band's spokesman said it was being worked on.

This will be Radiohead's seventh album, but it is their first without a record label, having fulfilled their contract with EMI following 2003's Hail to the Thief."

Also nominees were announced for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (does codifying these musicians run contrary to your idea of rock and roll?), and the nominees are: Madonna, the Beastie Boys, the Dave Clark Five, Leonard Cohen, Afrika Bambaataa, John Mellencamp, the Ventures, Donna Summer and Chic have been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year.

Speaking of musicians past and present, Springsteen gets his own satellite channel and Eric Clapton's autobiography is out on Oct.9. Details here.

A friend of mine went to see the first Van Halen show with David Lee Roth since 1984 in North Carolina this past weekend. I'll let you know what he thought.

Finally, a very fine live performance by Weather Report at Montreux Jazz in 1976: