Friday, February 29, 2008

Camera Obscura: 30 Days of Night and Other Vampire Classics

It's seldom that I have high expectations for a movie which actually meet or surpass the final product. Especially a horror movie these days. Expectations are pretty low, really, for that genre after the gushing spurt of recent movie franchises like "Saw", "Hostel", etc.

But having read the original source material of the graphic novel for "30 Days of Night" and seeing that actor Danny Huston was playing the leader of a group of some brutal, nosferatu-style vampires who invade an Alaska town just about to endure 30 days without any sunshine -- well, I was hopeful. I finally saw the film this week and hope was fulfilled.

There are no joking characters, no re-invention of the vampire myths, just a relentless and bloody apocalypse where horrible nightmares have taken the form of flesh. This is no movie for the timid or squeamish, it is a visceral attack on the senses. Once the basic location and characters are provided, the town is devoured and survival is doubtful.

The vamps don't speak English, but there are subtitles for their toothy talk. The absence of recognizable language makes the non-human nature stand out even more. There's a scene where Huston dips his dagger-like fingers into a pool of blood and primps his hair with it which was understated but blood-curdling. If such ancient, powerful and deadly creatures existed and they decided to plot against us ... then yes, human survival is unlikely. One plot-line from the comic book which was dropped was a debate among the vamps about the wisdom of taking out an entire town, but towards the end of the film that idea emerges as an important aspect of what has been happening and how it will all end.

The music here is terrific - ambient tones which seem like the sounds of something freezing, slowly. And mention too should be made of actor Ben Foster's role as The Stranger who enters the town just ahead of the monsters. He's got a knack for creating deeply disturbing characters onscreen, as he did in "3:10 to Yuma" and "Alpha Dog." Not a guy I want to get to know.

For some time now, I have wondered if vampire tales would survive the bad movie, all-emo creations of Anne Rice, or the black leather emo version of "Underworld, or the god-awful and nearly musical comedy version of them in "Van Helsing". Thankfully, they have not died out - yet.

In the past, even the classic Count Dracula had to survive feasting on hippies and surrounded by blaxpoitation funk music, as in "Dracula A.D. 1972". The movie is like a time-capsule of silly post-60s trends, has it's own Wikipedia page, and even features a character called Johnny Alucard ... aka Johnny Dracula. Now there's a film title for you.

Sam Raimi's company Ghost House produced "30 Days" but they also made another vamp film which they decided not to release to theaters last year. Look for it on DVD - it's called "Rise: Blood Hunter" and does at least provide both Lucy Liu and Carla Gugino as battling/loving vampire chicks. Sounds like all they missed was having Johnny Dracula around. And maybe a scene in a go-go club.

Made in 2005 and still getting an unusual snub from Raimi's company and distributors, it may be one of the new so-bad-it-might-be-good movies. Background on the making and the snubbing are offered here.

Famous children of famous folks are at work on what appears to be another comedy vampire story called "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead". Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin) plays an out-of-work actor who is cast in a version of Hamlet being directed by a vampire. Sean Lennon (son of John) is working on the music and the movie also features Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio, Lindsay Lohan, Asia Argento and Marilyn Manson. (No word on who is playing Johnny Dracula.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

TN GOP Spokesman Bill Hobbs Implodes

Bill Hobbs, spokesman for the TN GOP, showed how he uses smear tactics on Monday, but smear tactics are the easy spots, the Free Spots on the Bingo Card of politics. The 'writing' isn't so much of a 'hit piece' as it is a job of a hack, and a lazy one at that. Rather than campaign for his party, he campaigns against something ... anything, really, which might be perceived by some potential voter, as a negative.

He wrote a compilation of semi-factual hooey about Senator Obama, included a picture of him next to the words "muslim garb" (with funny little asterik mark which noted at the bottom of the web page reads "Clarification: The garb Sen. Obama is wearing is not 'muslim' but Somali-tribal garb." (NOTE: Before I could finish posting this this evening, the Press Release in question took the photo out and added the following to their clarification: " ..
we have deleted the photo. Also, in order to diffuse attempts by Democrats and the Left to divert attention from the main point of this release - that Sen. Obama has surrounded himself with advisers and recieved endorsements from people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel - we have deleted the use of Barack Obama’s middle name."

The Hobbs piece for the state GOP is headlined "Anti-Semites For Obama." I'll link to it here, but who knows how long it will actually stand as is before being revised. (NOTE 2: Apparently TN Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told the state GOP to take down the photo and the press release. The internets is a fast thing, huh?) Wonder how fast Hobbs will be booted/demoted/transfered/ or tries to save his bacon and apologizes??

(And gosh, if I had only known I could tell just by someone's name they were EEEEVIL, why I'd never have to fear for my safety! Thanks, Bill! Thanks TN Republicans!!)

Round-ups aplenty of Bill Hobbs Foot-In-Mouth disease are offered here at No Silence Here, Volunteer Voters (even the McCain campaign disses Hobb's tactics.)

I Am Legume

Heh, the post title today is a pun ... see, my brother sent me this link to a news story on the ribbon-cutting yesterday of the giant seed vault up in Norway (some call it a Noah's Ark, some call it a Doomsday Vault, so ... see the title is an ... oh never mind.)

Maybe I should have gone with the joke made by the Canadian plant gene curator, who said "You can't start a new world without beer."

This massive project to store and protect food plant seeds is on Svalbard Island in Norway is so remote that:

with as many polar bears as human beings estimated to live there. The local tourist guide advises visitors not just to always carry a gun when outside the village, but to know how to use it as well."

See, that I Am Legume joke really works here ... oh, never mind.

Weekly Best of TN Blogs (Late Edition!)

Here's the (late) edition of the weekly best of Tennessee blogs via TennViews. I was especially honored to have my weekly movie feature Camera Obscura honored with some linkage. And a big woot! for Cormac McCarthy and the Coens.

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: McCain: the Aftermath: The straight talk express hits a speed bump. Plus, the buzz on the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries.

• 55-40 Memphis: Clinton supporters are "the Rottweilers of politics." Plus: MO-bama!

• Ablogination: Hang it up, Hillary: Why Clinton should exit gracefully.

• Andy Axel (at KnoxViews): Home-Grown Terrorists Face Federal Charges: Charges pending in mosque firebombing, and how you donate to help rebuild it. Plus: McCain feels for the family.

• Aunt B.: Is helping take care of her dad and reminiscing.

• BlountViews: Liveblogging the TDOT Pellissippi Parkway Extension hearing, and commentary. Also, The Blount County Children's Home is at risk because of politics and development, and new immigration laws are working to create an invisible fence.

• Carole Borges (a new addition to the blogroll and roundup): According to the League of Conservation Voters John McCain has earned himself a big fat zero. Also, the "poverty draft."

• The Crone Speaks: Slave Labor: Moving Down the Economic Ladder: Growing poverty is creating a "slave labor" class. Plus: Some compelling reasons to vote for Hillary, and Bush's support of Musharraf.

• Cup of Joe Powell: Are Connected Tennessee backers a front for AT&T? Plus, the immigration situation in Hamblen County prompts Rep. David Davis (R, TN-1) to call for Homeland Security intervention. Also, check out this week's Oscar edition of Joe Powell's weekly Camera Obscura series on films and film making.

• Don Williams: An open letter to Hillary’s most ardent Obama bashers: Obama supporters have the high moral ground.

• The Donkey's Mouth: Conservation Voters give high marks to Tennessee Congressional Dems, plus TNGOP's Bill Hobbs says one thing on blogs and another in official press releases. Plus: The nominee must answer to TNGOP Chairwoman Robin Smith.

• Enclave: Questioning Bill O'Reilly's lynching remarks, the Darwinian tone of reporting on Nashville's homeless, and an unnoticed story about the Texas debate.

• Fletch: Gullscapes, Storms on the Horizon, A Dream and the Wind.

• KnoxViews: Campfield reports House wasting valuable time!, lively Texas debate discussion, and a convenience voting project in East Tennessee.

• Lean Left: Kevin: Mixing the Races is a Communist Plot!, KTK: Feeling Michele Obama's frustration, and Tgirsch: Chris Matthew's job is not journalism, it's to stir up...

• Left of the Dial: "I’m glad Bruce Pearl isn’t a cult leader because otherwise I might be selling all my worldly possessions right now."

• Left Wing Cracker: LWC goes to 11 in naming his ten favorite blogs and why.

• Liberadio: Bold general election predictions, Obama robbed in New York, and the year of the underdog in which Democrats growl.

• Loose TN Canon: Wisconsin primary says GAME OVER for Republicans.

• NewsComa: It's not about the sex, it's about the political favors. Plus, blogs are changing the rules.

• Pesky Fly: Nikki Tinker surrogate attacks against Cohen are the moral equivalent of receiving stolen goods, and more on the "are bloggers journalists" question. Plus: How to protest.

• Progressive Nashville: Life after Castro won't begin just yet, psychology of the candidates, and NYT dropped the ball.

• Resonance: Revealing campaign website traffic. Plus, an Obama/Bloomberg insurgency?

• RoaneViews: Thoughts on The Game. Plus: Eclipse of Sanity?

• Russ McBee: Serbian punk nationalists on the rampage, plus some interesting numbers.

• Sean Braisted: It doesn't look like Clinton intends to salvage her dignity. Plus: [R.] Neal over at Knox Views seems perplexed as to why Hillary couldn't "bring on the wonk to expose Obama's lack of depth on policy." This is a fascinating quote to me, because I think it sums up the arrogance of the Clinton camp really well. [..] Hillary is banking on the uneducated white vote to boost her campaign.

• Sharon Cobb: Karl Rove trolling in Alabama, Obama wins the debate, and Clinton and McCain are trying to "boil the hope" out of you.

• Silence Isn't Golden: Some working people are more important to Clinton than others, memo to Hobbs: Better Uses For $8 Million , on O'Reilly's racist remarks silence is complicity, plus Act Now To Save RIF!. Oh, I almost forgot. GoldnI exclusive: Tuke in!

• Southern Beale: It seems John McCain’s "straight talk" is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Plus, a bright future for solar energy.

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Clinton: Shame on you Barack Obama, Hillary's accomplishments, and Women Have Seen this Movie, We Know the Drill

• TennViews: Pam Strickland is looking for leads for a project on how "health care and legal issues contribute to the cumulative problems of poor children, particularly children of color." Plus: Student voter registration: Yes you can, and, Clinton at the State of the Black Union, and Brian's Memphis showdown preview, with a rundown of what Tennessee had to do, which they did.

• Vibinc: Crunches the delegate numbers and comes to some interesting conclusions.

• Whites Creek Journal: Whites Creek Steve's impressive Great Backyard Bird Count list, plus more commentary on the bill to require DNA testing of fathers listed on Tennessee birth certificates.

• Women's Health News: Rachel critiques CNN's Tips for Savvy Medical Web Surfing with some valuable tips of her own, plus more on DNA testing for birth certificates.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Connected TN Backers A Front for AT&T? (Part 2)

I have a couple of updates to add on my post from last week regarding the creation of state and national programs focusing on expanding internet access which also seems to work not only as a PR machine for AT&T but as a lobbying agency as well. A flurry of activity has been taking place and rapid changes are ahead.

Here is my original post, and I did share some of these concerns via email with Michael Ramage, a former BellSouth employee, who now heads Connected Tennessee. I truly appreciate his willingness to correspond with me about these issues.

My email to Mr. Ramage:

Michael -

Thanks very much for your email. My previous email apparently had the wrong address! So a few questions:

First, in Kentucky, your company backed House Bill 337 allowed the Bell companies to get into the pay television marketplace in Kentucky without having to obtain franchises from municipalities across the state.

Similar legislation is being promoted in TN as well. It seems curious to me the legislation is preceded by the creation of the Connected organization.

The usual build-out requirements which cities/counties require of current cable and cable internet providers is excluded from such legislation. I think the term usually used is “cherry-picking” customers, which means more poor and rural areas will receive service last, if at all.

By receiving government funds to operate, it’s as if some of those funds are being used to lobby for changes favoring AT&T expansion into the internet/cable markets.

Also, Connect Kentucky CEO Brian Mefford, before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 24, 2007, reported that Kentucky is on track “to be the first state with 100 percent broadband coverage,” with Leichtman Research Group data showing that, at the beginning of 2007, Kentucky was 46th of the 51 states and Washington, D.C., in residential broadband penetration.

The mapping project being public is important, certainly, and making it available to the public is also vital. But how often is such mapping used to encourage legislation which would provide tax breaks?

Mostly my concerns are that former BellSouth employees are leading the Connect efforts - in Kentucky, in Tennessee and at the national level too - and that encouraging support for legislation creating a national program are simply part of the lobbying efforts to change laws regarding existing franchise agreements.

If the TN legislature seeks info today regarding broadband availability and reach, a report from a government-funded organization such as yours would support AT&T's efforts would they not?

Are any current cable-internet representatives on the boards of the Connect organizations? Or representatives from municipal-owned franchises?

Thanks for your time and I appreciate very much your responses.
Joe Powell

Mr. Ramage's response:


I appreciate the email. I am glad to have the opportunity to help clarify Connected Tennessee's purpose and role.

Connected Tennessee received a grant to implement Governor Bredesen's Trail to Innovation based on the recommendations of the State Broadband Taskforce. The Taskforce had representation from state government, telephone, wireless, cable, municipals, cellular, CLEC and more. The pending bills were not issues that weighed on the taskforce during their recommendations that led to the creation of Tennessee. Later, the taskforce determined they would not get involved with the video franchise issue.

Connected Tennessee has not and will not take a side on the issues you mentioned in Tennessee. It is important for us to work with all providers. Our goal is to expand the presence of broadband. That service may come from a telephone company, a cable company, a wireless ISP, a CLEC or a
municipal provider. We are technology and vendor agnostic. Our only goals are for the expansion of broadband services into unserved areas and the increased adoption of those services everywhere. In order for us to be successful, we will need the help of all providers.

Connected Tennessee has worked with all types of providers and will continue to do so. The purpose of our mapping efforts is to show where coverage is, but more importantly to show where gaps are. While the mapping is on-going, we are also leading grassroots demand creating and aggregating efforts in every county. We are already at work in more than a third of Tennessee counties. Based on our local findings, we can promote measures to encourage build out into rural areas. Our legislative recommendations would naturally be focused on helping extend broadband into unserved areas. We are not promoting any bills during this year's session. We will examine all available data and determine if anything should be promoted in next year's session.

Connected Nation and Connected Tennessee have partnered with a number of organizations. Among them are Comcast, National Cable Telecommunications Association, Communications Workers of America, AT&T, and the CTIA. Our partners, both at the state level and national level, cross various platforms and technologies. For us to be successful, it is important for us to remain neutral to any provider or platform.

I hope that this helps to address some of your concern. I do appreciate your interest and would encourage you to let me know if you have any questions regarding our efforts.

Michael Ramage, Executive Director
Connected Tennessee

I can't say he answers eliminated my concerns and doubts. For instance, I asked about representatives on the existing Connected boards from other internet providers, and Mr. Ramage replies that Connected has "partnered" with other communications companies, but the response is really "No - they are not our boards".

Info on board members for national program here, the TN program here, and KY is here. Other than BellSouth and officials from the policy and government offices in KY, no other communications corporation appears to be placed in any position on the company's boards.

I admit I am hardly an expert in the fields of IT or ISP - I simply noticed some curious correlations. And yes, I was not happy to appear to be hostile to the spread of access to the internet, because I am not. And I am not the only one who sees problems with Connected.

Broadband Reports wrote last week:

Connected Nation is a for-profit incumbent lobbying and sales vehicle dressed up as a national broadband policy, it would be one of the most ingenious business ploys in the history of telecom. It would kill multiple birds with with stone by preventing more progressive and substantive policy changes from taking root, funneling state funds away from local providers and into the hands of incumbents, and allowing the nation's largest carriers to game penetration statistics to mask half-hearted rural broadband deployment.

All on the taxpayer's dime."

And a press release yesterday regarding the state of TN and AT&T about medical records got some attention - but as the Nashville Post noted, what was truly being reported was an ever-closer relationship between AT&T and Tennessee government. And recall what Ramage wrote in my email regarding legislation? "Not this year ..." which leaves plenty of room for the years after.

R. Neal wrote at KnoxViews yesterday on the announcement:

So it is good to see Tennessee taking the initiative. But this deal looks more like a way to funnel federal grant money to AT&T than any kind of breakthrough statewide electronic medical records system. It also takes more money out of our health care system in the form of profits for AT&T. But, the state can't operate it's own internet, so it makes sense to outsource that and to negotiate the best deal. Were other backbone providers invited to bid?"

I too applaud and encourage efforts to expand access. It is vital for economic and cultural development, for tech and industry, for education, for medical care -- billions of dollars are at stake and so are millions of jobs. With so much at at stake, then even greater care must be taken as the state and the nation write laws and create programs. The decisions and consideration being made today will affect the state and the nation for decades to come.

The rapid rise of internet usage has been made thanks to many innovators from all types of creators and owners - corporate, government and also from those outside such ranks too. The internet is a challenge to traditional forms of media power. Including voices in these decisions from all of these levels of development - from ordinary and talented American minds - isn't just a nice gesture.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

3 Reasons

Briefly, here are three reasons the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan matter and why the support for such efforts overseas and the Bush presidency continues to disappear.

-- Inside the world of war profiteers:
Inside the stout federal courthouse of this Mississippi River town, the dirty secrets of Iraq war profiteering keep pouring out.

Hundreds of pages of recently unsealed court records detail how kickbacks shaped the war's largest troop support contract months before the first wave of U.S. soldiers plunged their boots into Iraqi sand.

The graft continued well beyond the 2004 congressional hearings that first called attention to it. And the massive fraud endangered the health of American soldiers even as it lined contractors' pockets, records show."

Taxi To The Dark Side:

No End In Sight: