Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stooopid Still On Sale At Bargain Rates

Some truly witless people out there are apparently discovering the internets for the first time based on what these chuckleheads are using as Search entries for blogs. They must either be horny adolescents or just newbies, but most likely the former. It's what I get for having the word Sex in the headline for yesterday's post. However, since at least a few dozen originated from corporate and government online access - then there are some mighty stooopid adults on the internets.

Sometimes stooopid is on sale at bargain basement prices and the whole world buys it, I suppose.

Here's a funny but stooopid political rant.

Here's a Stooopid Story of the Week - In Science!! Someone's gonna get a government study program fund for investigating prehistoric ... well the headline sums it up nicely.

A Stooopid Idea - fake the births of sextuplets. Yeah, who'd ever see thru that hoax?

Um ... the government made a secret of secretly classifying non-secret archives as secret. ????

One question in a math study guide causes a community college to tremble, just for posing a mathematical query about Condoleeza.

And in a related story, Belmont U. gives Hobbs the heave-ho in another chapter of The Great Cartoon Controversy of 2006. More on that story later.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Camera Obscura - TN's Sex Siren, Bettie Page

This is a jammed-packed movie post this Friday, with lots to talk about including the ever-growing fame of pin-up star Bettie Page, the little gal from Tennessee who gets her own Hollywood major release this week - only fitting as the talk on the blogs this week has been about politics and Bettie's fame was insured by a Tennessee Senator who wanted to be president and held hearings about the outrages of Miss Page and them dirty nasty comic books which the non-family-value juvenile delinquents were reading all over America.

What captured my attention was that the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture devotes a page to Bettie, who turns 83 on April 22nd. And according to the Official Site of Bettie Page, her fame is worldwide phenom, citing over 626 million hits since August of 2000. That sure got Hollywood's attention. (Though not, apparently, in her home state, where I could find no mention of this movie opening today or playing anywhere soon in a theatre near you).

She was born in Nashville and attended George Peabody College for Teachers where she earned her degree in teaching .... odd, isn't it that all these years after the 1950s conservative rage against her there were thousands and thousands of searches on the Internets yesterday about the recent arrest of a teacher-turned-child-molester Pamela T. Rogers.

Not that Bettie ever went for kids, no, just kinda sorta happened into a career in the All American publishing trade in the 50s for pin-up models. A Victoria's Secrets commercial on TV reveals far more female flesh than Bettie did in the majority of her work. But she did some (for the times) mind-bending photos of bondage and S & M -- just bringing that sexual concept into print, saying those words was enough to outrage the good, God-fearin' folk of the 50s. Today - she is hailed as a kind of sexual template, innocent yet kinda kinky, and untold dozens of wanna-be stars in Hollywood today in movies and music use that Bettie Page template. Yeah, you know who I mean.

She gained true infamy for some pics published of her by Irving Klaws, who was called before a U.S. Senate sub-committee headed by Democrat Senator Estes Kefauver, who had gained fame in 1952 in his campaign for president because he went around wearing ... well, check out that Time magazine cover in the link above. No one campaigns in a coonskin cap these days, huh? (and I must give a personal aside here, that the first time I encountered the Kefauver name was in National Lampoon's High School Yearbook Parody, where the kids attended C. Estes Kefauver High School ... but I digress).

The movie opening this weekend, "The Notorious Bettie Page", is not endorsed by Bettie, who abandoned the modeling world and worked for many years as a Christian evangelist. She won't be doing red carpet walks for this release, which follows the early days of her career and her encounter with Sen Kefauver. Actress Gretchen Mol shed her blonde locks for Bettie's dark black hair, and Knoxvillian John Cullum plays the role of a minister in the movie. You can link here for an interview with filmmaker Mary Harron heard on NPR this week.

Another Bettie-related movie was based on Dave Stevens comic "The Rocketeer", and Stevens based his lead female, Jenny Blake, played by Jennifer Connelly, very much on Bettie.

It is a shame, though, that her home state keeps her at a distance. Not that I'm saying their should be a statue of her or Graceland-like fans lining the streets ... but I'm betting most everyone in the nation over the age of 15 knows of her image and her influence on pop culture continues to grow around the world. Who knows, maybe in another 50 years, we'll be able to talk about sex in America a little more freely.


A movie which doesn't open until August has already become a massive cult hit just because filmmakers threatened to change the name of the movie last fall when filmming wrapped. A giant yell from the Blog World made producers re-think it, and they kept the title and even made them go back and shoot more footage for "Snakes On A Plane", starring Samuel Jackson. Jackson was quoted as saying he made the movie simply because of the title and apparently, a large number of folks love the title too. Get ready for it to be a massive hit when it opens in August. Check out the trailer here.

Lucky filmgoers in Japan will get to smell "The New World" when it's released there. Yeah, I wanna smell a movie. "A floral scent accompanies a love scene, while a mix of peppermint and rosemary is emitted during a tear-jerking scene. Joy is a citrus mix of orange and grapefruit, while anger is enhanced by a herb-like concoction with a hint of eucalyptus and tea tree

Oh and dear li'l Buffy the Vamp Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, has her 29th birthday today. And while some critics applaud other TV shows with strong young female stars, "Veronica Mars" ain't no Buffy.

For a DVD suggestion, let me recommend the 1999 comedy cult wonder, "Office Space", written and directed by Mike Judge. Sick of your job? Who isn't. From it's opening dance-routine of traffic jams (which, by the way, is a perfect example of what it's like to drive into Pigeon Forge) to the pitch-perfect acting of a range of excellent character actors like Stephen Root ("I want my stapler") and boss-from-hell Gary Cole ("Yeah ... What's Happening?") and many more, the movie is about those ugly rhythms of work and life people often get stuck in. One of the best and most underrated comedies from the 1990s.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Not Dullsville Anymore

When I was growing up in middle TN, it was the dullest place in the world. Of course, any small town or mid-sized or any size has that creepy underbelly, weird scenes and characters from a David Lynch nightmare. But in the way-long-ago times of the 1970s, the string of towns along I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville were at best a home to a McDonald's ... maybe a Pizza Hut that served beer.

Today, stop in Crossville for instance, and you'll have many choices of espresso bars to choose from, some sushi or micro-brew pubs. Franchise eateries, massive shopping complexes, cyber-cafes dot the midnight landscapes of 24 hour and 21st century life.

Still, it was shocking to hear the case last year of the junior high teacher caught having sex with students - Pamela Rogers Turner made national news and she's making it again complete with a MySpace web page where she claims to be from France. Hat tip to Nashville Is Talking for this link. If the page truly is her creation - WOW - what an idiot. Not just for writing like a 7th grader ticked off at her parents on a bored Tuesday night, but also for advertising herself and her love on the Interwebs. And I said "If the page is her creation."

The wildest thing I ever knew a 9th grade, mid-20s female teacher to do was to sneak me a copy of "Catcher in the Rye", which was banned at our wee schoolhouse.

Still, life can be dull to anyone - which is why I liked The Dullest Blog In The World.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why The Majority Is Wrong

There are many times in these days when I'm confident that the cheese has fallen right off the National cracker, that the legends and the myths of the current majority have overwhelmed all but a few. Then I read something like this, and I see glimmers of hope:

So: according to our Attorney General, the nation's top law enforcement officer, it might be legal for the President to authorize the government to listen to your purely domestic conversations without getting a warrant, without consulting a judge, without obeying any of the safeguards that our system puts in place. A few short years ago, when conservatives were claiming that returning Elian Gonzales to his father was a harbinger of tyranny, one might have expected some real outcry at anything remotely resembling this revelation. Now, it's just normal.

And that really breaks my heart. What's at issue is our Constitutional system of government, in which the President has to obey the laws just like anyone else, and the enormous power of the federal government is restrained by the requirement that it be exercised within boundaries set up by Congress and subject to judicial review. Now the President just asserts that he has the "inherent authority" to disregard the laws, and Congress just rolls over and plays dead.

It is wrong of the President to disregard the Constitution, the laws, and the separation of powers. It is also wrong for members of Congress, including those in my party, to enable him to get away with this. I don't say this because I want President Bush, in particular, to pay a price for this. I think he should, but that's not my main concern. What worries me is the precedent this sets for the country. No one, of any party, should take it lightly; and I cannot imagine why our elected representatives can't see this."

Monday, April 10, 2006

County Audit Shows Fiscal Nightmare

It's astonishing how no details of the Hamblen County's fiscal situation emerge in the local press. Instead, the public is fed non-information, such as a recent article noting the achievements of the county's finance director. And the one county commissioner who bothered to point out the problems has essentially been chased out of office and isn't seeking re-election.

I'd bet the majority of local residents have no idea an election begins here April 12 with early voting and few of those who know could identify the candidates. Oh sure, the names may be familiar as the same crop of old hands arrives to make sure no more mention is made of the critical errors discovered by the state auditors.

County Commissioner Linda Noe, a Republican, has kept a faithful blog of the issues, Noe4Accountability, however, she was forced to end open comments after vague and not so vague threats were constantly made against her.

What did the recent audits - conducted at a lower cost to taxpayers - actually find? The county ranked Number One for the most findings in any county of the state. The fiscal problems affect nearly every branch of local government, including the sheriff's office and the director of schools.

Massive deficits are just the beginning. Take just a look at her most recent post on the county's fiscal status, though I urge you to go the her page and read all the information there - and then ask why are no current candidates talking about these issues and why does the local press ignore them?

"It's really funny to look at the dramatic change in audit findings that occurred when the county started using the state auditors in 2003. The 2002 audit (1 solitary finding by the local private auditors) and then the 2003 audit (29 findings by the state auditors with numerous sub-findings) and then the 2004 audit (15 findings and again numerous sub-findings by the state auditors). Click here for 2004 audit findings.

Looking at the audit history, I find it very hard to believe that the county was operating just fine in 2002 with a glowing audit (1 finding) from the local private auditors and then suddenly in 2003 the county was violating state law, not budgeting money as required by law, spending more money than was approved, not controlling purchases, not maintaining a general ledger, totally unaware that the county had to go by the state comptroller's "chart of accounts," and boom there are 29 findings by the state auditors. It just seems more likely that all these violations and irregularities were occurring in 2002 but "somehow" went unreported.

Moving on to the 2004 audit, there were 15 findings. One finding reported problems in making debt payments--or actually making a debt payment for a debt that the county didn't even owe. The audit reported that the county made an interest payment of $45,326 in December 2003 for a debt that was actually owed by the City of Morristown, not Hamblen County. The city finally reimbursed the county for all but $408 in June 2004. The 2004 audit reports that the $408 was still owed to the county as of the audit report date.

There were major purchasing deficiencies. The Mayor's Finance Department apparently selected an employee to serve as a purchasing agent, but the agent didn't keep control over purchase orders. Blank purchase orders were just handed out to departments, so nobody knew what was being purchased (or how much had been spent) until after the bill arrived.

There were no employment work records for certain "exempt" county employees. County departments over the years had increasingly allowed more and more employees to be considered "exempt" employees. The "exempt" employees were salaried and didn't have to keep any time sheets. The state auditors said that all employees should be required to keep a record of time worked. They also pointed out that since vacation time was not tracked in some instances, "(exempt) employees [] obtain[ed] a higher benefit rate than the non-exempt (hourly) employees."

There were deficiencies in controls over travel. Apparently, nobody required an itemized receipt for meals paid with credit cards, so the county didn't know what it was paying for. It appears that the receipt total was submitted and paid without an itemized detail.

There were severe deficiencies in budgeting. The budgeting deficiencies were very important and included five different items (A-E)---four of which are discussed here.

(A) Despite state law, the audit states that the County Mayor didn't even present a budget to commission (and so didn't get approval to spend money) for certain funds (such as the sheriff's special revenue fund). Some budgets were brought to commission, but others weren't.

(C) The Finance Department overspent the legally approved spending amounts in several funds: the General Fund, the Highway Fund, the Special Debt Fund, the General Debt Fund, and the Hospital Debt Fund. If spending limits for county funds are going to be ignored, what's the purpose in going through a long, drawn-out budget process? And this occurred in 2003 as well--for example, the 2003 audit says that spending exceeded appropriations in the General Fund in amounts ranging from $737 all the way up to $296,964.

(E) There were huge budgeting problems. The beginning fund balance estimates provided to commissioners during the budget process were way off. Estimates of fund balance are estimates, but the auditors apparently think (and so do I) that county financial officials should be able to get at least reasonably close to the real figure.

When the county was preparing its '04 budget in July 2003, county financial officers estimated and told commissioners that the beginning fund balance for the general fund was $697,526 when it was really only $208,870. The Commission was told that the fund balance for the solid waste (garbage) fund was $56,265 when the fund really had a deficit balance of ($205,578). In an understatement, the auditors added: "County officials should better estimate the beginning fund balance when adopting the budget."

I've mentioned this problem several times at meetings because this is critical financially. If county officials can't come up with at least a close estimate of what's in the bank (fund balance), then it's no wonder that there is overspending and no one really knows what the county has or exactly where it's going.

(D) Finally, the audit also reported a finding where the County Mayor instructed the Finance Department to transfer money ($89,986) from the General Fund to the General Capital Projects Fund and to transfer money ($274,730) from the General Debt Fund to the General Capital Projects Fund without the required approval of county commission.

County commission not only never approved the transfers, but county commission apparently wasn't even told that the transfers were being made or that payments totalling $360,000 had been made in error for years.

In response to this finding, the Mayor told the auditors that he talked with the trustee and finance director (but not county commission) and then instructed his Finance Department to make the transfers to "restore" the accounts to what county commission had actually approved "over the years." It turns out that these wrong payments totalling over $360,000 included spending errors going all the way back to June 15, 1999 and continuing up to June 9, 2004.

It looks like the Capital Projects Fund was being used for over five years to pay for things that should have been paid out of the County's General Fund or the County's Debt Fund. In 2004, the Mayor talks with two county officials (but not to county commissioners) and instructs them to switch everything back around.

Why such secrecy--to the point that county commissioners didn't even know that $360,000 had been moved around until they read about it in the audit? Why did no one explain to county commission what had happened and then ask for the required approval to make the transfers?

That's just from one posting. Part One of her report is here. The uninformed voters of the county and the misinformed can expect to see the old reliable behind-closed-doors method of government return. I doubt 15% of registered voters will bother to participate in this upcoming election - that would be just about double the amount of city voters in Morristown who turned out for the last city election.

If the community has abandoned all hope of having their voices heard, then that is exactly what will happen - a community which sees no choice, no help and no representation.