Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Still Vulcan After All These Years

You just can't keep a good Vulcan down...

Our first glimpse of Leonard Nimoy, playing elder Spock again for the first time since the 5th season of TNG and "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" in 1991. From the newly updated Star Trek trailer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Former Knoxville TV Anchor's Son Fights Brain Cancer

Former WBIR-TV 10 anchor Ted Hall's youngest son has brain cancer, but continues to fight it every day.

So far the prognosis looks very hopeful that he will continue to live a normal life.

Ted is now at a TV station in Atlanta, and the recently did a story about the little boy's battle against the odds.

Watch this, and be inspired by the young man.

Social Symphony

Frank Murphy informs us it's time again for Blogger Night at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra!

Be the first 50 49 48 local bloggers to email Stephanie Burdette at the KSO and, assuming you promise really nicely to blog about the concert the next day, she will give you a pair of tickets to the January 15, 2009 performance free!

The KSO will perform selections from Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn that night, and the featured soloist will be pianist Navah Perlman (daughter of violinist great Itzhak Perlman - or as my kids know him, "that guy with the violin that introduces the whale segment of "Fantasia 2000")

Friday, November 21, 2008

Peter Pan opens tonight at the Oak Ridge Playhouse

Think lovely thoughts and join the mischievous Peter Pan and the Darling children on a magical tuneful trip to back Never-Never Land, an exotic place of pirates, crocodiles, and the dreaded Captain Hook.

Based on the play by J.M. Barrie
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne

November 21-December 7
Oak Ridge Community Playhouse
227 Broadway in
Historic Jackson Square
Oak Ridge, TN

Purchase Tickets

In case anyone's wondering, I'm Musical Directng this production, which means I teach all the vocal music to the cast, play piano for the show and lead the orchestra.

Come see us!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You're Welcome!

TVA power rates going down 6% as 2009 starts
Utility rates will go down about six percent as 2009 begins, Tennessee Valley Authority officials announced Thursday.

The amounts people save on their monthly bills will vary, depending on how much energy they use. However, residential consumers can expect a decrease of about $4.000 to $8.00.
Well, your plaudits and congratulations to me and my family for this rate decrease can start coming in any moment now. It's because of us that TVA has decided to cut back its rates!

That's because our house has been sans heat and heating system for, oh, going on about 3-4 weeks now. The gas heat system's been broken and between getting two different companies to take a look and give us estimates for repair and replacement, we've finally decided to get a whole new system to replace the 18-yr-old dual unit that's been on the house since it was built. And it finally does get replaced tomorrow.

That means no more shivery nights, thank goodness, and no more freezing hands and feet under the covers. I hope.

But anyway, because of our incredibly lower demand for energy this past month - we like it warm - TVA obviously noticed and adjusted its rates.

We'll take tributes in $50's and $100's if you please...

Real Evidence of Shoddy Journalism and Blogging

A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence
It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. “Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.


[The comic creators of Eisenstadt] say the blame lies not with them but with shoddiness in the traditional news media and especially the blogosphere.

“With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find,” said Mr. Mirvish, 40.

Mr. Gorlin, 39, argued that Eisenstadt was no more of a joke than half the bloggers or political commentators on the Internet or television.
This is part of what I meant by how bloggers take any tidbit of dirt they find that shows their opponent in a bad light and run with it.
But most of Eisenstadt’s victims have been bloggers, a reflection of the sloppy speed at which any tidbit, no matter how specious, can bounce around the Internet. And they fell for the fake material despite ample warnings online about Eisenstadt, including the work of one blogger who spent months chasing the illusion around cyberspace, trying to debunk it.
This past election, bloggers and the media took small pieces of stories and ran with them, gleefully, without worrying about whether they were true or even really plausible. If there was a nugget of truth, or even a hint of plausibility, as long as it made the other guy (or gal) look silly, stupid, uninformed or evil, it was repeated and expounded on.

This is why it was almost impossible to separate fact from fiction in the blogs this year. First the opinions are biased - they're backed up by facts from biased sources that were themselves researched with biased intent. Then the comments to these articles, where supposedly the great internet strength of fact-checking is supposed to come into play, revealed refutations and defense by people who had equally biased "sources" on the other side. There was no way to tell, short of personally talking to the candidates face to face, what was right and what was exaggeration, distortion, and outright lies.

I do want to take a moment to comment about my friend Rich, of the blog "Shots Across the Bow. He took exception to me in this post and on this site for painting him and his site with the same broad brush I did with a lot of other political blogs. I actually counted on his site a great deal for some well-researched commentary and it was one of the exceptions I noted in my post. I apologize for not spelling it out more completely to him before-hand, but I just didn't want to get into naming specific sites either way out of fairness.

After the post and commentary were reprinted in the Knoxville Sentinel this past Sunday, I thought some more about it and wanted to respond to his concerns publicly.

One thing I do wish Rich had done - I would have liked to have seen more posts - any posts, in some cases - dealing not with they Obama should not be president, but why McCain should be president. Or any reasons he could find that signaled positives he could see in an Obama presidency. I know I saw pluses and minuses all over the place for both candidates throughout the election, and the positive aspects of either candidates (and their VP's) deserve to be highlighted - even more than the negatives, in most cases. But that's just me, and maybe reflects more on the lack of such posts elsewhere. It's not fair to expect one person to cover the whole spectrum of political discussion - that's everyone's responsibility.

I've seen several interviews with Sarah Palin this past week where she refuted and explained - over and over, it seemed - some of the "charges" made against her. I can't imagine they're all true, but it seemed to some they were, or must have been, because of who she was and what she represented. To start with the conclusion and work backward...that's just kind of sad.

But that's politics.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

1) Congratulations to Obama and his supporters. I won't say it was an honorable, well-fought race (because national races haven't been like that in decades, if ever) but the man with the most votes won. Cleanly. And decisively. At least this time there's no controversy.

2) However, for anyone to think he (or McCain, had he been elected) is going to now "unite the country behind a wave of bipartisanship and unity" is sadly mistaken. The United States is still almost equally divided between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Looking back at the venom thrown back and forth between supporters of both candidates convinces me that it's going to take a lot more than this election to bring Americans into a unifying consensus.

3) The more rabid Obama supporters remind me of the giddy newlywed couple - all in each others' faces, in love, giggling, holding hands, continually kissing and generally making those around them a little nauseous. Guys, just FYI - the euphoria's going to fade, and fade soon. Be prepared for it, and be prepared when all your newlywed buddies don't continue to share your enthusiasm a few months down the road.

4) I was impressed with Obama's acceptance speech last night. That's the first time I've heard one of his speeches where he seemed to be speaking from the heart, and not just saying what people wanted to hear. If he'd done more like that over the campaign, he might have just swayed me.

5) I was also impressed with McCain's concession speech. I was horribly unimpressed with the people in the supporter crowd there in Arizona booing when he mentioned Obama and congratulated him. Grow up, people.

6) The popular vote wasn't as close as I thought it would be. The Electoral vote was about what I thought.

7) The biggest losers of the election cycle? The blogosphere. For an information and communication medium that purports to be a haven for free thinking, friendly, informative and factually-based expression of views and opinions, I never saw for one moment the portion of the 'sphere I inhabit give me any information I could trust. That goes for the rest of the internet as well, really, but the partisanship was so rampant, and the innuendo- and rumor-based blogging never produced any good, truthful, reliable, factual and defensible information that I could trust. On either candidate.

With very few exceptions, there were hardly any blog posts I read from either side that said to me, "This is information I can trust, or opinion based on facts that were either verifiable or recorded and accessible." One post would have a fact, and 15 people in the comments would refute it - often pointing to another post or "source" that proved otherwise. I would go to the other posts hoping for perspective and the comments on those posts would do the exact opposite. They'd prove equal and conflicting "facts" to support their own premise. Often, researching topics back to an original source revealed not much more than a rumor or obviously partisan site. I went back and forth on particular issues so many times, looking for information I could actually trust, it made my head spin.

Nothing was proved. Nothing was verified. Stories about Obama's past and McCain's connections were put out as fact, disproved, discounted, ridiculed, re-proven with new facts, those facts disproven, the facts disproving the facts reinterpreted to mean the opposite...

What it boiled down to was two groups of people who'd already made up their minds who were each bound and determined to use any means necessary - true or otherwise - to show their opponent in a bad light. It didn't matter if the story was true, only that they believed it. But the irony was each side had no hope of changing the others' position - it was just a battleground to show how smart and righteous each of them were. The ones caught in the middle, the truly undecideds and truth-seekers out there, were the ones that suffered under excessive pride, misinformation and deception.

Nothing was learned. No great truths were uncovered. Nobody came out of the process truly educated in the actual strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. We all lost, really. Obama may have been elected, and he may turn out to be a good or even a great president (I hope so!). But he was not elected by an informed populace and he was not elected by a populace that truly cared about making a decision that was for the good of the country.

And for me, it started and ended with the blogosphere. The people I trusted to help me make a good decision. I'm sad, disappointed and disillusioned.

8) When Bill Clinton was elected, he was given 8 years of hell from Republicans over health care, Bosnia, Monica Lewinsky, and just generally being a Democrat. Rush Limbaugh built a career out of bashing the President of the United States. In return for that treatment, as well as how he won the 2000 Election, the war in Iraq, the economy, and generally just being a Republican, the Democrats have given George W. Bush 8 years of hell. Will Republicans immediately begin their next salvo or retaliation for 4 or 8 more years against Obama for little more than him being a Democrat? Or will they man (and woman) up and break the cycle, try to work with him and keep the criticism to the levels a civilized, democratic society needs to be?

Doubt it. But we can hope.

9) LOCAL ELECTIONS - I'm surprised Charter Amendment 3 passed and 4 didn't, because I considered #4 the bigger no-brainer than #3. I've pontificated for years to all who would listen that several current county elected positions had no business being electable. Every year citizens of Knox County elected people to offices they have no idea what they do, nor is there any discernable difference in the people they elect. They were, and are, skill positions that require skill people to be hired (or appointed) for. Ah well, at least now we've trimmed the county commission down to a manageable level. The fewer members, the less chance for corruption and less chance that corruption will rise to a critical mass level. Those thinking one commissioner is not enough to represent his or her district, and still hold a full-time job, doesn't hold water. So good for that at least.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Irony: A Tale of Two Coaches

Fulmer to resign as UT's coach

Not that, in this part of the country, you haven't heard yet but there's the link.

What's amazingly ironic - and I called it, incidentally, last week:

Previous UT football coach Johnny Majors had a disastrous year in 1992, personally and professionally. He had heart problems and surgery, which led him to step down for a few games early in the season. Offensive Coordinator and Asst. Head Coach Phil Fulmer stepped in and led the team to a miracle victory at Georgia which debuted the ascendancy of QB Heath Shuler. A couple victories later and UT's the toast of the country. Seeing the writing on the wall, Majors struggles back from his deathbed and returns to the sidelines in a bid to save his job. A loss to newly minted SEC team Arkansas in mid-October dashed UT's title hopes, and finally at the end of the month they lost calamitously to South Carolina - another newly added SEC team, at South Carolina. Days after the lost, Majors resigned effective immediately and Fulmer was hired as UT's full-time head coach soon after.

Sixteen years later Fulmer will resign after his own South Carolina debacle, although he will coach out to the end of the season (as he should). Who will take over for him? No interim this time around, so we're saved from a John Chavis-coached team...

Senator Ascendant

Tomorrow, we will elect the third person to move directly from the United States Senate to the Presidency. Both McCain and Obama are sitting US Senators (as is Biden. Palin is a governor.). The last time a sitting US Senator or Congressman was elected president was John F. Kennedy in 1960. At the time he was second term Senator from Massachusetts in his 8th year of office.

As of today Barack Obama is in the third year of his first term as Senator from Illinois, and John McCain is in the fourth year of his fourth term as Senator from Arizona. Joe Biden is in the sixth year of his sixth term as Senator from Delaware and is currently running simultaneously for a seventh term while running with Obama as VP. Sarah Palin is in the third year of her first term as governor of Alaska.

All the other presidents between JFK and today were governors or VP's immediately prior to election (Johnson: Kennedy's VP; Nixon: Eisenhower's VP; Ford: Nixon's VP; Carter: GA Governor; Reagan: CA Governor; Bush I: Reagan's VP; Clinton: AK Governor; Bush II: TX Governor).

Before Kennedy, you have to go back to Warren G. Harding to get the next most recent member of Congress who became president. (Eisenhower was General in the US Army. Truman was FDR's VP. FDR was Governor of New York. Hoover was Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce. Coolidge was Harding's VP.) He was in the sixth year of his first term as Senator from Ohio when elected president in 1921. According to Wikipedia, he was the first sitting US Senator elected president.

James Garfield was a sitting US Representative from Ohio, having served from 1863 - 1881 before being elected to the presidency in 1880. Andrew Johnson was Lincoln's VP for one month before the assassination; prior to that he was Military Governor, US Senator from and elected Governor of Tennessee. Lincoln served one term as US Representative from Illinois before spending many years as a lawyer.

And so it goes, back into the murky history of the US presidency.

What does this mean? Well, in the 220-odd years of the US presidency, only 2 sitting US Senators have been elected president. A few more sitting US representatives have been elected. The vastly greater majority have been sitting governors or most recent Vice-Presidency (with a few military generals thrown in here and there).

Tomorrow there will be a third sitting US Senator elected to be President of the US.

Not that we have any choice about it now, but I think it's telling that by and large the people of the United States trust their governors and VP's - those who have had national administrative experience, rather than legislative experience - to lead our country. Or experience leading a military unit. Or experience in a cabinet position, even.

We'll see how Obama or McCain do, translate their legislative experiences into administrative. When dealing with military decisions, the last post-Senatoral president, JFK, had the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harding's presidency was rocked with scandal in the cabinet with several members and assistants sent to jail for taking bribes.

Interestingly, both Kennedy and Harding died within a couple of years of taking office, Kennedy from assassination and Harding from a heart attack. So no sitting US Senator elected president has ever served out his full first term.

(By the way: Grover Cleveland, a man the US citizens voted in to office as president twice, in non-consecutive terms, was at the time of his election in his third year as first term governor of New York. Prior to that he was Mayor of Buffalo for one year. Just thought that was interesting, in light of all the flak thrown at Palin - not that it's warranted or unwarranted, just that it's not unprecedented.)

The Impossible Wish

A East Tennessee man was fishing on the shore of Tellico Lake, when he saw bobbing in the water a bottle. Wading out a bit, he snagged the bottle and brought it back to shore.

The bottle was ornate and decorated, and as such bottles do, when the man opened it a big puff of smoke poured out and a genie appeared.

The genie stretched and yawned as the fisherman gaped. Finally the genie said, "Thank you sir for freeing me from a thousand years imprisonment in that bottle. To show my gratitude, I will grant you One Wish."

The man thought for a moment, scratched his head. Finally he said, "You know, I've always wanted to go to Hawaii. But I've always gotten seasick in big boats, and I'm afraid to fly. I wish that you could build me a bridge from right here in this spot to Hawaii - that way I could come and go as I pleased."

The genie frowned and rubbed his beard, pondering. "Well," he mused, "I suppose I could do something like that - but you know the Pacific ocean is a mile deep in spots... I don't think the supports would handle that kind of weight. Not to mention all the hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. Shipping would have to be altered around it, and I can't even guess the effect on marine life all along the bridge. No, I don't think that's at all practical. You'll need to pick something else."

The man sighed and thought again - suddenly a smile lit up his face. "Ok, genie, I've got it. I wish that the University of Tennessee Volunteers would win another national championship!"

The genie stared at the man for a moment, then gazed west. "Let me ask you this. Do you want that bridge one lane or two?"

(Due credit goes to the guest minister at our church for that joke yesterday morning)