Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympic Opening A Stunning Event

The jaw-dropping, high-tech opening to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing - held as the event continues to be wrapped in political controversy and debate - was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen on television.

Tens of thousands of performers and costumes played out the 5,000 year history of China aided by gigantic state-of-the-art screens which were rolled out on the floor of the stadium and circled the entire interior as well. Every detail was under intense control (it is China) as every movement and every image celebrated the nation's past and their hopes for the future - though not much was revealed about the present and more recent tumultuous history of Communist control.

As troubled and unruly as the months of warm-up for this Olympics has been, once inside the stadium, China showed off it's might with astonishing displays.

Creative consultant Steven Spielberg left the project back in April, but his imprint was certainly visible. But under the direction of filmmaker Zhang Yimou the show was the very definition of Spectacle, blending the pageantry of the past with the most modern theatrical technology available today.

Any attempt to top this opening show by 2012 for the next Olympics has an incredibly high mark to reach. In fact, for many years to come the creation of any stadium show will have the massive shadow of this one looming overhead and few will be able to accomplish one-tenth as much.

The image of the globe inside the stadium is from the Daily Mail, whose review notes:

Hollywood will study the DVD for years to come and plunder Beijing's visual tricks. Another sign, this, that China believes it can match any country in any department. This was a feast for the eyes cooked not from the books of ancient culture so much as the latest Microsoft manuals.

"The most arresting image was of a giant rice-paper globe around which dangling figures contrived to run, some of them upsidedown, while our own Sarah Brightman sang the 2008 Olympic anthem from the North Pole position.

"A sporting message, yes, but a political one as well. Nothing is beyond the Chinese, it said, even running upside-down. They want the future's flaming torch. They want the power."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Davis Not Conceding To Roe

Defiant David Davis tells Kingsport reporter Hank Hayes that "if" he lost his bid to return to Congress in yesterday's election it was someone else's fault.

I think we won the Republican Primary with Republican Primary voters yesterday. I think he ultimately won the election with Democrat switchover vote.”

Davis also is refusing to concede the election and is pondering a recount.

One thing about Davis - he has consistently blamed Democrats for all the national and regional ills, and now he blames them for not being re-elected. Perhaps there were some cross-over votes, but he simply need look in the mirror to discover the reason for his loss. His inability to accept the outcome of the vote, to accept responsibility for himself, says volumes about his failings

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Republican David Davis Loses Congressional Seat

Republican voters say "No" to a second term for Congressman David Davis, as challenger Phil Roe takes the party's nomination for the 1st District.

The unofficial totals being reported at 11:54 pm show 25,916 for Roe and 25,416 for the incumbent Davis. Roe won in Sullivan and Washington counties, as expected, and carried the nomination in close battles in Carter and Cocke counties. Roe's win happened as I predicted it would: a win in the two large counties and in just two of the less-populated counties.

Did Democrats vote in the GOP primary to unseat Davis? Perhaps.

In the Democrat primary, Rob Russell won the nomination, also as expected. However he has a large, but not impossible task against Roe. With less than 6,000 votes cast in that primary, versus the 50,000 or so votes in the Republican primary.

Over in West Tennessee, I was happy to see that incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen was getting huge margins of victory over Nikki Tinker. Good to see the majority of folks rejecting Tinker's grim approach to politics. Sen. Obama blasted Tinker this afternoon, but with voting already underway, the real victory belongs to the voters in the 9th District.

Oh, and as best I can tell, the last time an incumbent in the 1st District lost a renomination bid was 1932, when Republican Oscar Lovette was defeated by Carroll Reece, who decided he wanted the congressional office again. Reece held the office from 1921 to 1961 for the most part, seemingly able to take the nomination whenever he wanted.

Tinkering With Racial Fears

The last few weeks sure have been ugly in the political landscape of Tennessee. It was bad enough watching the residents of Polk County and Copperhill on CNN showing off their prejudices. And the Ugly is out full bore in the Democrat battle in West TN between incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen and challenger Nikki Tinker.

Tinker has been called out for running a 'reprehensible' campaign, which Kleinheider and Michael Silence have been following. News reports by the hundreds are eyeing the battle too.

Sadly, I'm sure the folks at FOX (and others, too) will continue to fan the flames of racial fears on a national level, as they did last night referring to a "race war" in American politics.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sending Your DNA Into Orbit

It's being called "Operation Immortality", an attempt to launch a saving throw for humanity into outer space.

The truth is much simpler. Richard Gariott, the video game tycoon, is the next "tourist" taking a flight to the International Space Station and he's running a contest to promote his new video game, "Tabula Rasa" in which U.S. residents can get a digital DNA sample and/or game character placed on a memory stick (aka The Immortality Drive) which he will ferry to the ISS.

The ISS really just needs to start selling advertising space on the exterior of the orbiting platform.

The recent commercial efforts for space earned one failure this past weekend when the latest SpaceX launch apparently exploded and thus lost the ashen remains of poor James "Scotty" Doohan and astronaut Gordon Cooper aboard the craft.

Richard Branson meanwhile is working on a mere $200,000-per-ticket fare for short orbital flights.

Until the price decreases, I'll have to settle for sending a digital-code version of this blog out into the universe via this site.

Paris Hilton Ad Scorches McCain

Dude -- I mean, Senator McCain -- got totally burned, owned and then idly dismissed by the one celebrity he thought was too dumb to boil water.

Her video was in response to his, true, but hers may just be the best of the entire 2008 campaign. I mean, forget Willie Horton ads or swift-boating, 'cause when Paris Hilton can zap you with effortless sarcasm, it's time to just wrap up your presidential hopes.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Can Rep. Davis Survive on Thursday?

One thing few folks are talking about here in this corner of the 1st Congressional District - that's the primary on Thursday. But of course, it is only Tuesday, so they have tomorrow to talk about it out loud amongst themselves.

The Big Question for Thursday is in the Republican Primary - can incumbent David Davis survive? I am thinking the answer is "No."

He won by a slim 22% in the last primary race, and there were many GOP candidates out for votes. This time, the battle is a two-man deal, with Johnson City's Phil Roe raising more campaign dollars (by a very small amount) than Davis. Here in Hamblen County, the one thing I've noticed is that signs for Phil Roe are everywhere, and few for Davis are evident. If Roe can win in Washington and Sullivan counties, and maybe in one or two of the smaller ones, he's the likely winner. If he can't carry Washington and Sullivan both - the race goes to Davis.

One blogger says of the race:
"Two members of Tennessee's wingnut patrol face primary challenges from other wingnuts hoping to capitalize on discontent within the wingnut base. In TN-01, freshman Rep. David Davis (who won the last primary with 22% of the vote) faces a rematch with 2006 contender Johnson City mayor Phil Roe. And in TN-07, Marsha Blackburn is up against Shelby County Register of Deeds Tom Leatherwood, who released an internal poll showing him within striking distance. These races don't seem to be about much other than "my turn," and Dems aren't in a place to capitalize in these deep-red districts (R+14 and R+12), but they're worth keeping an eye on."

Another blogger, the ultra-conservative David Oatney says:
"The only person running with a chance to win is Johnson City Mayor Dr. Phil Roe. Roe's actual platform is not substantially different from Davis ... The only thing David Davis is truly guilty of is that he almost seems as though he is taking his likely victory for granted. Phil Roe's people really appear to be working the district a lot harder than Davis' crew. If Roe upsets Davis, it will likely be because David Davis rested on his laurels."

If Oatney has doubts about Davis, then I'd say other ultra-conservatives are considering a switch too.

In the Democrat primary, the race belongs top to bottom to Rob Russell. And he continues to make more efforts to get out and be seen - he's appearing tonight at the Greene County Fair, but unless he's giving away free funnel cakes, I don't know how many folks will stop to talk with him at his booth. Actually, given the current heatwave here in ET, maybe he should be handing out free water and lemonade.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thoughts on Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Sometime in 1974, I was lugging around this gigantic book with the weird name of "The Gulag Archipelago".

Fortunately, living in a small town on the Cumberland Plateau, the title was just a bit too strange and the author's name, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, too foreign, to cause any curious person to dare ask me what that book was about. Carrying that book around for the months it took me to read it, I could see so many folks just filing away information about me - that is a one strange boy, their eyes said.

I was strange. Still am, really.

But that book got etched into my mind. Ostensibly a chronicle of life in a prison camp in the former Soviet Union, it is so much more. It is a marvel of writing, sometimes deeply personal, sometimes darkly comic, wrapped in politics and madness, attempting to grasp the utter dehumanization of the individual and the society which was ingrained into the lives of not just a nation, but the world in general.

I learned that tyranny and terror were incredibly powerful tools which could warp the thoughts and actions, sometimes with colossal bluntness, sometimes with precise skill. Could anyone survive the systematic insanity the police state created?

Around the time of the book's publication, Solzhenitsyn's face was often in the news. His long beard made him look like a relic of the both the recent and the ancient past. His views, so often expressed through the prism of his political ponderings, were difficult to decipher. He wasn't willing to play the part the media had made for him, The Dissident. Eventually, he faded into the background.

I was sad to read of his death - he had lived in the U.S. in his own style of personal exile. He continued to write, but his books were hardly best-sellers anymore. The comments and the posting on Gawker, for example, are as obtuse and odd. While he might have been able to capture the effects of a world gone mad, the world never knew what to make of him.

His account of life and politics in the Gulag trilogy are among the great works of the last century. Reading the books will still challenge and startle and inspire. Perhaps that was the best he could have hoped for.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tennesseans Prefer The Lies

A CNN story about residents of Polk County, TN shows a small but vocal group of seemingly intelligent folks who prefer fictions about Sen. Obama over facts. Dan Lehr writes about the story and the willful refutation of what's accurate for his blog for WTVC- TV. Others on the internet (here and here for example) have been on this report too and Tennessee comes off quite badly, all in all.

CNN reporter Gary Tuchman noted it was the mayor of the town which captured their attention:

We called business leaders. We called mayors. And this particular town, Copperhill, has a very gregarious mayor who said he would be happy to go on camera.

And he guaranteed, everyone in town will want to talk to you.

And, indeed, they did. So, that’s why we went to Copperhill. But we could go to all 50 states and do the exact same story, Wolf.

Recently I was talking with a long-time friend, a very smart, thoughtful fellow who likewise spouted a stream of meaningless hooey about Obama he'd read and heard which have been talking points for the Tennessee Republican Party for months now. It was sad to hear him say these things, and worse, to realize he is far more ready to believe them. After a long talk, I hit a sizable obstacle in his logic which no amount of talking could alter, it seems - his unspoken fear of a non-white person being President of the U.S.

That's what it really is - a deep-rooted fear of another race. Period.

As for the folks in Copperhill and Ducktown - they are folks who a willing to commit to something no matter what the consequences. For decades, the operations of copper mines in the basin were conducted at a very high cost: for fuel, they "cut down every tree and burned it", and the resulting sulphuric acid by-product of the mining returned as rain which left a dead landscape where nothing could grow in the ground for a 50-mile radius. (See more on this from a children's history of Tennessee. If memory serves, at one time the bright orange scar in the Ducktown Basin was once visible from space. I understand they have been aggressively trying to replant trees and clean up the water since the early 1990s.)

Some folks seem to be willing to dig in their heels hold fast to an idea, no matter how destructive.

Image of Ducktown Basin circa 1912