Saturday, November 17, 2007

Come See "It's A Wonderful Life"

Shameless plug number two here for the stage production of Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", which I am directing for the Morristown Theatre Guild, which is in it's 73rd Season and prepping for Season 74.

To tackle a show which based on one of the most popular American movies of all time is a somewhat daunting task, yes. But this task is also a chance to work within the world of the superb craftsmenship of filmmaker Frank Capra. Also, it has offered me a chance to develop a stage show with a black-and-white stage design. Why do this classic in full modern color?

Of course, there will be some nifty Christmas colors onstage by the time the show ends, but on that I'll say no more. You'll need to buy a ticket to see what I mean! Info on how to get tickets and for showtimes are in the image on the right, which you can click to enlarge.

We have several more rehearsals to go, with a very talented cast (click here for a cast list and info on the Guild and obtaining tickets) and there will be many hours in coming days working to complete construction on the set for the show, none of which could be done without the aid of some most skillful volunteers. I would be at a huge loss without their hard work.

In the making of the original film, director Capra
created a set for the town of Bedford Falls in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of the RKO's Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, main street, factory district and a large residential and slum area. The Main Street was 300 yards long, three whole city blocks.

The set for this stage production will be just a wee bit smaller.

Look for some updates on this production in coming days.

And be sure to come see the show!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Send the Open Government Committee Home!

The state's legislative committee reviewing/re-writing open government meeting laws needs to stop and close up shop, revoke all recommendations and go back home. After first deciding to allow for more elected officials to meet and make decisions on public policy in secret, they now offer exemptions of open meeting laws which only enhance perceptions of corruption.

Tom Humphrey's report in todays KNS on the recommendations provides a glimpse into how much business government wants to conduct away from public view:

- Meetings where purchase of property is being discussed.

- Meetings of school boards where the performance of a school superintendent is being discussed.

- Meetings of the board of government-owned hospitals when they are discussing "strategic planning" or "marketing strategies."

- Meetings dealing with the renting or leasing of property by government.

These officials just don't get it - the goal of open government is to serve the public, not hide the policy-makers from oversight.

Why the fearful concern over allowing the public to see how elected officials debate policy or make decisions? Are some afraid the public will see shoddy logic, poor planning, self-serving attitudes, histrionic grandstanding or other behavior which might influence voters?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Privacy Lost Redux

A follow-up to yesterday's post on the ideas of privacy --

Jack Lail had some sound opinions on the topic in the comments of that post and after talking with some other friends I simply felt I had not been as clear as I had wanted to be and also some fire was lacking in my writing style too. That's a problem I often find in the blog-writing, that sometimes I try and lay out ideas and issues in a straightforward manner, and often lose some of the punch of what I wish to say as I see the post is running long. So read that post linked above and come back to read the rest of this one.

The ideas of privacy are still rather new to society - it was something that appeared after architecture changed and we started having hallways and doors in our homes rather than large open doorless spaces. And around the time of the American Revolution, our Founders were keen to establish a home, a residence, as our own private place, where government should not enter without permission.

James Madison wrote:

A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

As noted in the previous post and in Lail's comments, blaming a loss of privacy on the rise of technology and it's many advances is a grave mistake. To assume we have lost a right to privacy due to the vast recordings of financial institutions and communications equipment is a terrible assumption to make.

Adding to this error is the concept that business and government have greater rights of privacy and secrecy than individuals. Also, ideas of 'privileged communications' within government seems to have been the leading edge of this faulty concept. Secrecy is often vital to national security, but a nation governed by secrets is not vital to democracy. It signals a decline instead.

The secrecy corrupts the process of government at local levels too -- residents in Jefferson County, for instance, are left wondering for the reasons the Board of Education fired director of schools Doug Moody. Even comments from the public were not allowed at the open public meeting of their business.

Blogger Linda Noe writes last week an account of a Morristown City Council meeting and hearing on a local business and related sewer problems which was conducted once the council adjourned a meeting, and then returned to session to inform the public of their decisions on the issue.

Making decisions away from public view isn't the way it should be, but the public is just told to accept it. And we tend to do just that.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Telecoms Lobby Again to Alter Laws

AT&T has a policy now in place to block online services if one says anything negative about them, and this just before they launched their new lobbying efforts to rewrite the state's laws regarding cable franchises.

They are hard at work to promote their proposed legislation again. It's a battle which I have mentioned previously here and here. More coverage here.

Remember the recent concerns too over internet taxation, with fears that cities and counties could lose tax revenues? What would by-passing the local franchise agreements eventually cost?

Privacy for Government, Not Individuals

A frustratingly brief news report caught my eye this weekend, with headlines claiming a government official said Americans need to redefine privacy, so that it excludes ideas of anonymity in favor of safety and security. Late yesterday and early today, more information behind this story - more context - arrived and a version of the news report was in the Knox News Sentinel today

Still, the reports lacked the context of the comments from intelligence officer, Donald Kerr, deputy director of the national intelligence office. And after some searching, I did find the full text of Kerr's comments, which were made Oct 23rd at the 2007 GEOINT Symposium, sponsored by the Geospacial Intelligence Foundation.

You can read the full text of his comments here, and they are worth the time to read.

He makes several factual points about how technology has eliminated much anonymity for people today, citing trendy villains like MySpace and Facebook, or the shock of Googling your own name. Bank, cell phone, credit card records too, he says, provide vast amounts of personal info.

And truly, most folks also use 'discount cards' at the grocery store, membership cards at other retail outlets as part of a dedicated effort by business for many years to create databases to define you through your spending habits. And we have all received those tri-folded pamphlets from our banks and other agencies labeled Privacy Policy printed in letters so small an ant couldn't read it without a magnifying glass, and which usually provide the details of policies which seem intent on sharing personal info, not protecting it.

Kerr also cites continuing problems within government agencies which do not share info with each other, despite clear signs such changes are beneficial.

But what garnered press reports were comments made in his opening statement, such as:

"We really need to realize what a loaded word security really is.

When I’m at work, and throughout my day, security is safety, as a barrier against physical or emotional harm. When I go home at night,

security is privacy, as an expectation of freedom from unnecessary burdens. In the intelligence community, we have an obligation to protect both safety and privacy, and over the course of GEOINT 2007, as we talk about the hows of new technologies and tradecraft, I’d like to take a step back right now and talk about the whys.

Safety and privacy – it’s common thinking that, in order to have more safety, you get less privacy. I don’t agree with that. I work from the assumption that you need to have both. When we try to make it an either/or proposition, we’re bound to fail. You can be perfectly safe in a prison; but you certainly aren’t free. And you can be perfectly free in an anarchist society; but you certainly aren’t safe."


"Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety. This is work that the Office of the DNI has started to do, and must continue and make a high priority. This careful balance we need to strike, however, is nothing new. With the advent of telephones, we entered a new frontier that required careful balancing between safety and privacy. We faced this challenge again at the end of the ’70s in the aftermath of the Church-Pike Hearings. And now, in the era of new technologies, we have to work to continue to keep that balance, to earn that trust, and re-earn it every day through our actions. But we also have to be willing to reopen the laws and regulations that were based on technologies that existed 1978 and adjust them to the realities of 2007 and 2008."

It is certainly a complex issue here, and Kerr makes good points. But Kerr's failing, and that of many others, is to assume we no longer have privacy rights. Abdicating them is in fact vital to insuring acceptance that we have less and less privacy. Abdicating them in hopes of obtaining some magical national personal safety and security is likewise foolish.

A clear problem, however, is visible today as citizens casually accept the idea that government and corporations require more rights of privacy than individuals. It's become rather accepted that officials in government, locally and nationally, have the right to withhold information of all types in order to have "open discussion and debate of policy".

I noticed a report today on TennViews about a military contractor in Tennessee who is part of an investigation of trading sex for government contracts in Iraq. Most telling in the press reports of this story is how the military and government claimed the right to privacy:

The Air Force, through Capt. Ashley Norris of Hill AFB in Utah, said that because of privacy rules, it couldn't say when a service member had received a nonjudicial punishment, which can include a reprimand, house arrest, confinement to a military base, or a dock in pay.

The Justice Department said it would not discuss why it did not prosecute Remington."

It seems the more we abandon the ideas of individual privacy, the more we provide those rights to large bureaucracy.