Friday, October 26, 2007

Mountain Makins Festival Begins

If you are in the East Tennessee area this weekend, you should visit one of the best fall festivals in the nation - the 32nd Annual Mountain Makins Festival is jam-packed with fun and is held every year in Morristown, the creation of our community's cultural arts hub, The Rose Center.

From their website (which has all the details about the event):
Mountain Makins a folk life/crafts festival celebrating the traditions of Appalachia through traditional music and dance, storytelling, regional authors, fine art, juried crafts, skilled demonstrations, a variety of delicious food, children's activities and more. The festival takes place inside and outside the Rose Center, an 1892 school building which is now an historical museum and cultural arts center.

Of course another reason to attend is that I will be there on Saturday and Sunday as emcee for one of the music stages. I have been most fortunate to have been invited to participate again as emcee, and am truly honored to be a part of this annual event.

The Rose Center is one of - if not the most - vital parts of our community. Not only do they provide a wide array of arts events, music, and other cultural programs, their facility is used for everything from weddings to tai chi classes, business seminars to cooking classes.

Admission for the weekend is a mere 4 dollars per day for adults.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Italy's Anti-Internet Plan

The landscape of the internet and those who, like myself, write and maintain blogs, continue to challenge and confuse and apparently frighten many people. It is not simple to explain all that the Web and the bloggers are doing and want to do. I expect we will see more of the efforts like those being considered now in Italy to require all who post info on the Web to have a license.

Ginger at MCB wrote of this today and has several links to read on the Italian plan:

Recently, Italian lawmakers once again took aim at modern life, introducing an incredibly broad law that would effectively require all bloggers, and even users of social networks, to register with the state. Even a harmless blog about a favourite football squad or a teenager grousing about life’s unfairness would be subject to government oversight, and even taxation – even if it’s not a commercial website“.

Keeping government out of self-publishing will continue to be problematic for several reasons - current publishing and other media businesses don't like losing control of content; government as well as service providers are fearful of losing tax dollars and other income; and most importantly, the wide-open freedom of speech and sharing of information has been and always will be a source of worry for many in authority. The mostly open quality of the internet today almost daily fends off attempts to tame it.

Requiring certificates or licenses of internet users may well be a long-term struggle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Open Government Committee Fails to Deliver

The legislative committee organized to strengthen the Open Meetings laws have instead gone in the opposite direction. They approved a plan to increase the number of elected officials who can meet, debate and create public policy away from any public view or oversight.

The committee members who voted to increase how many officials can meet secretly to conduct business include state legislators, the new school board chief for the state, some attorneys, a Knox Co. Commissioner and a newspaper publisher. A full list of those who voted for and against this terrible failure of open government is here.

So representatives of city, county, and state government and public schools and even some in the news business have made a clear declaration of how they think - that there is no need for public meetings at all.

The state committee will meet again in mid-November. I urge you to contact your state representatives and tell them this committee has failed and their decisions are bad for Tennessee.

Link to State Representatives and State Senators emails.

The chairman of the Open Government committee, Democrat Ulysses Jones, has issued a statement defending the action suggested by his committee (via Volunteer Voters):

I believe this recommendation is a necessary change in order to allow elected officials to adequately do their jobs,” said Jones. “Elected leaders cannot be effective legislators if they are afraid of talking policy and issue with each other for fear of lawsuit.”

Current Tennessee Law (T.C.A. 8-44-102) states that when two or more “members, with the authority to make decisions for recommendations to a public body” are together and discussing policy, that the public has the right to be present. Under the approved recommendation, two or more members would be replaced with a “quorum of members.”

“Thirty-seven other states currently use the quorum process to define meetings as public and open,” said Jones. “What we have now is far more confusing, but with this change the process of having open meetings can be much more black and white.”

My response to his argument is this: when two or more members of the same governing body are discussing policy, they are making decisions and talking about issues which directly affect the public. Such discussions need to be held in a public forum, and part of the public record. And what is it in the current law quoted above that is 'confusing' to elected officials?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Phoenix Newspaper at Center of Free Press Debate

Maricopa County in Arizona is in the news again, this time for a Grand Jury subpoena issued by County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who had convened a Grand Jury to investigate the Phoenix New Times newspaper because they had published the address of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpairo. The attorney also demanded the internet addresses of every person who had accessed the paper's website dating back to 2004 and information detailing what websites those visitors had accessed prior to visiting the one for the newspaper.

Late last week, two New Times founders were arrested and jailed for publishing the info on the sheriff, even though his home address appears on numerous government websites, all open to public view. Someone has a lot of explaining to do on this abuse of the court powers:

Phoenix New Times.... was threatened with felony prosecution for publishing Sheriff Arpaio's address on its website in 2004. After an adjoining jurisdiction declined to press charges, Arpaio's political ally, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, convened a grand jury to "investigate" charges the paper broke the law when it published Sheriff Arpaio's address.

Last week, Phoenix New Times' founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested and jailed after the paper published a story about the grand jury and subpoenas they had received that demanded detailed Internet records of any person who had visited the newspaper's website since 2004, as well as all notes and records from any reporter who had written about the sheriff in the preceding three years.

After Larkin and Lacey were arrested an outpouring of shock and anger accompanied widespread media coverage of the case. The response created a groundswell of support for New Times. The charges were dropped less than 24 hours later after Thomas admitted that his office had made "serious missteps" in the case.

"The actions of Mr. Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio in this case are beyond outrageous," said AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel. "They abused their offices by engaging in Gestapo-like tactics designed to silence a newspaper that has been highly critical of them in the past."

Rightfully, this mess started a firestorm of complaints and now the entire Grand Jury case is being investigated as news organizations are suing for access to those Grand Jury documents:

homas has "no objection" to unsealing the grand jury material and will support the media outlets' motion, spokesman Mike Scerbo said. He declined to elaborate, citing the legal restrictions on discussing grand jury matters.

Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Anna M. Baca scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the media outlets' request.

"That record will provide a full accounting of what has happened to date, and will enable the public to judge for itself whether the officials have acted appropriately, and whether the grand jury process has been abused," attorney David Bodney wrote in the media outlets' motion.
Though the subpoena covered multiple articles on Arpaio, Thomas has said the investigation was triggered by New Times' publication of Arpaio's home address.

State law prohibits online publication of personal identification of law enforcement officers. New Times reported Arpaio's address in a 2004 story, published both online and in print, on Arpaio's real estate holdings.

Thomas announced he wasn't aware of how a special prosecutor he'd appointed was conducting the investigation, that key aspects of the investigation were mishandled and that he was dropping the case and dismissing the special prosecutor.

The former special prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik, did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment Monday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Camera Obscura - A Monday Vampire Roundup

Halloween approaches and since vampires ruled the movie box office this weekend, why not start your Monday with vampires?

The vampire movie "30 Days of Night" opened this weekend and claimed the top spot in box office dollars. Based on a comic book, the story is about an Alaskan town which is about to endure a month without daylight. Something which happens in Alaska, so why, I wonder, did vampires never settle there long ago? Maybe it's the cold.

Josh Hartnett is your hero in the movie, but the real star is the leader of the vampire pack, Danny Huston. As for the Washington Post writes:

And while Hartnett and Melissa George (as his estranged wife) make functionally appealing characters, the real star of "30 Days" is Danny Huston. As the animalistic leader of the pack, he's as disturbing as he is compelling, a feral creature with all senses at full capacity. If there's an action figure, I'm ordering one."

Newscoma also watched the movie and has a review too:

f you dig horror movies, go see it for Huston’s performance and the way the movie is shot when the monsters are on the screen."

I like vampire movies, meaning they do not scare me. I enjoy them. A movie which scares me is something like "Steel Magnolias". The thought of having to watch that movie makes me shiver with revulsion.

And this leads to a question for all of you -- what is your favorite vampire movie? Who has done the best job onscreen of being a vamp? A quick search for 'vampire' at IMDB reveals thousands of movies to pick from.

Here are some of my choices.
Dracula (1931) -- Tod Browning's movie remains the vampire icon of movies. Bela Lugosi's face, voice and costume are still known around the world. He even inspired a character for Sesame Street and a box of cereal. The movie, stilted somewhat by today's standard, still has fantastic scenes.

Horror of Dracula (1958) -- British mega-star Christopher Lee made a fantastic Count Dracula, though he surely tired of the role and the work offered by Hammer Films. But this first one is still a great movie, and Lee knows how to scare you.

Blade and Blade 2 (1998, 2002) -- Wesley Snipes is both vamp and vamp hunter, and these first two movies are mighty fine. The opening "blood rave" party in the first movie is a jaw-dropping nightmare of vampires in a club scene. The third Blade movie is a joke. The first two, however, are fine fun.

Fearless Vampire Killers; or Pardon Me But Your Teeth Are In My Neck (1967) -- Director Roman Polanski's horror-comedy is a must-see. Gorgeous location shooting, packed with excellent characters both funny and scary, the movie is moody and dark and funny all at once. Polanski also plays part of a bumbling vampire hunter team, and Ferdy Mayne is like the sleaziest Goth of all time.

Now just for laughs in recent years, it is hard to top the very awful Wes Craven movie "Dracula 3000". It's on a spaceship and you get to see such performers as Coolio and Tiny Lister as vampires. That makes for some cringe-inducing comedy.

And since I am a massive fan of the TV show "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", I must mention just how much fun it is to watch Spike and Dru as vampire villains. They really shine in Season Two.

What are your choices?