Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Top Poems of Donald Rumsfeld

My creative writing prof waaaaaay back in college once said that the best poetry provides a "gesture of information and emotional intent." And via this article in Slate, the Poet Laureate of America today is a title befitting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. As statements made via press conferences, the language is nearly incoherent, but as poetry, old Rummy is Singing the Body Electric. Now that's some truly powerful stuff. Some samples:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Glass Box
You know, it's the old glass box at the—
At the gas station,
Where you're using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize,
And you can't find it.

And it's all these arms are going down in there,
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it,

Some of you are probably too young to remember those—
Those glass boxes,

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

—Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession
Once in a while,
I'm standing here, doing something.
And I think,
"What in the world am I doing here?"
It's a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

You're going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don't happen.

It doesn't seem to bother people, they don't—
It's printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone's so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story's there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven't happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn't happened.
It's going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution
Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!

A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

—June 9, 2001, following European trip

The Situation
Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won't see.
And life goes on.

—Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

Now that's some truly powerful stuff. Maybe the whole administration should consider the elements of Poetics to communicate.. Who knows, it might even get favorable features on The Writer's Almanac. (hat-tip to Tits McGee for bringing this poetry to my attention.)

Friday, April 28, 2006

FEMA Tells TN To End Housing Aid For Evacuees

A press release from the state's Dept. of Finance and Administration blasts a FEMA directiive to effectively end housing assistance for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

The statement says:

As directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Tennessee is contacting Hurricane Katrina evacuees whose housing is supported by FEMA to tell them that the Federal program is changing – and by May 31, many of them will have to once again make other arrangements for housing.

Over 3,000 evacuee families in Tennessee now depend on FEMA for the leasing or rental of apartment dwellings through the Federal 403 Public Assistance Program. Despite protests from state officials – and an alternative plan for staggered lease terminations with individual case management – FEMA is shifting some eligible evacuees to the Individual Assistance 408 Program. Those who are eligible for the program will receive less federal housing assistance, and FEMA is dropping all support for utility hook-ups or bill payment.

“A large concentration of the evacuee population is in the urban areas of Nashville and Memphis and we, along with local government representatives, are concerned about the very real risk of homelessness for this population of adults and children,” said Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) director Jim Bassham in an April 21 letter to FEMA. “As this program ends, and evacuee families lose their rental assistance, we will no doubt be forced to open shelters, particularly in the urban areas, to provide services to those evacuees with no other options.

“We expect FEMA to fund these shelters as well as the necessary case management services required to integrate affected evacuees into existing Tennessee services. These evacuees will become and have become Tennessee citizens, but this should not occur without adequate acknowledgement and support from the federal government.”

As the Federal program transitions, state officials are planning to move quickly to open shelters if evacuees become homeless in late May or early June. The state is also developing a plan to provide case managers to work with any shelter population to transition them to permanent housing. The state is also notifying Tennessee’s Congressional delegation of the expectation that FEMA fund any shelter operations and transition cost.

The state has conducted a risk assessment on each evacuee family, and found that as many as 60 percent are unemployed with 80 percent being at high risk of being homeless without rent and utility payments.

Tennessee was second only to Texas in the number of people who came to the state for shelter after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in September 2005. Tennessee is the only state that coordinated the response on a statewide basis, as opposed to shouldering local government with the burden."

Camera Obscura - James Bond and Some Hustle Fu

Let's just get some of the obvious movie stuff out of the way first, then it's on to the real (reel) stuff, including a crime drama that offers an excellent performance by the soon-to-be James Bond, Daniel Craig and this week's must-see comedy-action movie.

On a weekend when most of America is pig-biting mad about the relentless rise in gasoline prices, it's not the best time for a good-natured family film about the fun to be had in an RV, with the gas mileage of 4 miles per gallon. Yet that's the plan for the Robin William's comedy "R.V.", a clone of "National Lampoon's Vacation". If your feeling more pain than comedy at the pump, wait til you plop down 50 bucks for the family to see "R.V." (that's what, the price of an SUV fill-up?) Williams may be able to save some of the lightweight comedy here, and maybe the hackneyed jokes will give viewers another form of gas.

As mentioned last week, a new JJ Abrams version of the old "Star Trek" story is in the works, but Abrams is pretty ticked that details about his involvement and the script details:

He explains to Empire online, "The whole thing was reported entirely without our cooperation. People learned that I was producing a Star Trek film, that I had an option to direct it, they hear rumors of what the thing was going to be and ran with a story that is not entirely accurate." Abrams won't reveal the true storyline, but hints that it won't feature characters Captain James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock at all..."

Empire also says Jon Favreau is working on an adaption of the comic "Iron Man," and "Shaun of the Dead" director is working on "Ant Man." Also getting a new script is "Nick Fury" (oh please do this right) by Andrew Marlow, writer of "Air Force One" and "Hollow Man." And Will Smith is set to star in a new version of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend."

(Obligatory "Poseidon" joke: is it more than coincidence that just as Rosie O'Donnell did a gay cruise documentary we get a new ship disaster movie??)

Set for release much sooner is "Talladega: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby", from the same makers of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Check out the details and trailer here.

Now, onto the sneak peek of the new James Bond, Daniel Craig. In a seldom-seen award winning crime drama from 2005, Layer Cake. Akin to early Scorcese pics, and in the brutal and oddball crime world of "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," this movie is likely the one that got Craig the job as the new Bond. Lean, tough and above all, a very good actor. His character is a super-smug drug dealer who is attempting to retire, but his companions and his boss have other plans. His best efforts splinter into the worst of all possible situations and while the storyline may seem familiar, Craig reveals some first rate acting chops, along with a host of British character actors (hey, was that Colm Meaney from "Deep Space 9''??)

Twists and turns keep the viewer guessing (if you can follow the VERY british slang) and Craig shows he'll make a compelling and both brutal and witty Bond. The movie also has an excellent soundtrack.

One more recommendation for this week, which asks the question: What do you get if you blend the humor and style of an MGM musical, a Looney Tunes cartoon and a Kung Fu movie? (Yeah, like you've ever asked that.) The answer is a startling, hilarious and highly entertaining romp called "Kung Fu Hustle," from writer, director, actor Stephen Chow.

Set in the 1940s in a cul-de-sac, rundown tenement, which looks like an old set on the lot of MGM, this truly funny spoof of kung-fu and movies in general is loaded with enough jokes to almost land it in the filmmaking school of "Airplane." The story follows what happens in this community of ultra-poor luckless folk when they are accidentally forced into a confrontation with the notorious Axe Gang. Chow plays the lead, a witless con-man who pretends to be a member of the Axe Gang and inadvertently draws that gang into the run down tenements.

What helps keep the visual and scripted surprises flying is the cast of characters - a landlord (played by old Bruce Lee stunt double Yuen Wah) and his pushy wife, a gay tailor and Chow's overweight companion. First time I've seen a kung fu master played as a mouthy woman with her hair in rollers and a perpetual cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. In fact, all the ragged residents of the tenement don't look or act like anything fierce, but that's part of the charm and the comedy.

As the story brings about fight scene after fight scene, the jokes pile on top of each other, just as the fighters pile on top of each other. Using very funny CG effects and sharp camera work, even non-fu fans will really enjoy this romp. Chow stands out too, almost like a Buster Keaton character who does far more damage to himself while trying to act tough. Attempting to throw knives, the knives all land on Chow himself.

Imagine Mel Brooks and Chuck Jones making "Enter The Dragon". I found the movie much funnier than Chow's last American release "Shaolin Soccer" and I think you'll be astonished at how funny this parody can be.

One last note for this Friday - some years back, some friends and I used to try and find outlandish or unusual movies to challenge each other. The other night, I watched the unrated horror flick "Hostel." Whew! Grim barely describes it. A couple of dim-witted American tourists head to Europe in search of the most hedonistic adventures they can find - then they find themselves the main course in a hedonistic European Let's-Hate-American buffet. It's what I used to call a Clear The Room movie, as few people could withstand how vile the movie becomes. Watch at your own risk,

Me, I'm watching "King-Fu Hustle" again.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Surreal Nature Of FEMA

Some U.S. Senators are calling for the total dismantling of FEMA in favor of yet another, newer, better emergency response agency as the next hurricane season looms for the U.S.

The first obligation of government is to protect our people," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigation. "In Katrina, we failed at all levels of government to meet that fundamental obligation."

She added: "We must learn from the lessons of Katrina so that next time disaster strikes, whether it's a storm that was imminent and predicted for a long time, or a terror attack that takes us by surprise, government responds far more effectively."

The inquiry's final report, given to lawmakers Thursday, faulted New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco for failing to protect sick and elderly people and others who could not evacuate the city on their own. It also concluded that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown, who then headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, either did not understand federal response plans or refused to follow them."

The proposal is laid out in a 28-page document, to be called the National Preparedness and Response Authority, and would fall under the Dept. of Homeland Security, though it would also have the status of a "distinct entity" such as that of the Coast Guard or Secret Service. Among the document's comments:

"The new organization should bring together the full range of responsibilities that are core to preparing for and responding to disasters. These include the four central functions of comprehensive emergency management – preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation – which need to be integrated. Actions in recent years that removed preparedness grants from FEMA and separated preparedness from response weakened FEMA’s relationship with state officials and undermined its ability to utilize “the power of the purse,” in the form of grant funding, to encourage states to improve their preparedness and response functions. A more comprehensive approach should be restored. If NPRA is going to effectively respond to major events, for example, it needs to have been involved in the preparations for such events. The Director, moreover, must be responsible for the administration and distribution of preparedness grants to state and local governments and for national preparedness training, as these are key tools for ensuring a consistent and coordinated national response system."

Gee, ya think??

Confusions abound. A recent attempt to talk to residents in Lousiana in a FEMA trailer park offers a glimpse into the absurd:

"SECURITY GUARD: Yeah, he -- he can't. That’s not his privilege.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s not allowed to talk?

RENAISSANCE VILLAGE RESIDENT: What's wrong? What's wrong?

SECURITY GUARD: You can go -- get that -- you’ve known the deal since --

RENAISSANCE VILLAGE RESIDENT: No, I don't know the deal. Tell me. What is the deal?

SECURITY GUARD: You can go get interviewed as long as it’s off post. Otherwise, you, like I said, I can call the 800 FEMA number and have them come in --

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, he has to come off of the property?

RENAISSANCE VILLAGE RESIDENT: What is -- there’s a problem being interviewed?

SECURITY GUARD: Turn it off.

Another good location for info on the bizzare aftermath on the Gulf Coast and efforts to restrict just who may or may be eligible to rebuild homes in Louisiana have been tracked by Facing South, one of many posts available here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Torture In Tennessee

Slowly but surely, several bloggers in the state have been discovering the incident in Campbell County where law enforcement officers went way beyond the norm while on a "drug raid" at the home of Eugene Siler, who was beaten for over two hours - and Siler has an audio tape that should burn your ears off.

Links to the event and the tape and transcripts are here at Volunteer Voters:

You’re not f***ing listening. You hear what I told you? I told you not to be talking. Didn’t I tell you not to be talking? That’s just the f***ing beginning. This motherf***er right here, he loves seeing blood. He loves it. He loves seeing blood. You’re talking too much. Listen to what I’m telling you. He loves f***ing seeing blood. He’ll beat your ass and lick it off of you."

NIT has a link, as well as Blake Wylie.

The officers involved were sentenced, according to Wylie's post, to sentences ranging from 3 to 5 years.

How often does this happen? Having worked as a reporter since 1985, I could not name all the times allegations of illegal behaviour and scandalous tactics landed in my lap. Ultimately, those invovled decided to stay silent out of fear of reprisals.

One interesting element of this story arrives in a report from Feb. 2005:

This incident is just another example of the increasingly rampant abuses of power by Byrne grant-funded drug task forces. The Byrne grant program was created in 1988 to provide federal funds to help states fight violent crime and drugs. The largest proportion of Byrne grant funding is used for regional narcotics task forces in which federal, state, and local drug law enforcement agencies and prosecutors coordinate their drug-fighting efforts. There is little federal oversight of Byrne Program grants, and lack of federal supervision has been blamed for recent scandals involving regional narcotics task forces.

Siler's case exemplifies a pattern of controversial and corrupt practices by drug task forces across the country in the name of drug law enforcement. The lack of oversight of these drug task forces not only enables abuse but also creates a lack of financial accountability. Campbell County's Chief Deputy, Charlie Scott, recently admitted that former Deputy, David Webber, the county’s primary narcotics officer and one of the officers involved in the Siler incident, failed to account for $4,000 of the department's drug fund money in 2004, which he received for "undercover drug investigations."

During that same month, Webber helped to organize the biggest drug bust in Campbell County’s history, during which 144 suspects were arrested. Since being hired in 1997, Webber has helped the Campbell County Sheriff's Department become nationally recognized for its zealous "war on drugs" and almost-daily arrests of drug offenders, despite criticism of the Byrne grant criteria, which bases their funding on the number of arrests made.

The Computer Tounge Port

After years of study and experiments, a Florida-based company has (they say) devised a machine which allows for massive sensory and nueral input to be received and processed by the human tongue.

Reports claims the device provides additional visual info, may make night vision goggles obsolete and the military is taking a close look (or should that be "lick"?) at the new technology.

... the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition's 30-year neural interface project is yielding fruit -- the kind you can taste. Their Brain Port machine / sensory interface uses 144 microelectrodes to transmit information through sensitive nerve fibers in your lingua, enabling devices to supplement your own sensory perception."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sad News and Some Good News

A few items worth noting in the lives and events of Tennessee bloggers.

Sad news via Nashville Is talking regarding the sudden death of Terry Heaton's wife. Much sympathy and condolences.

Also, Michael Silence has some hospital woes as well.

And some good news, marking the first anniversary of NIT.

Workshops, panels and more as Progressives plan a state gathering.

And a Hilbilly blogs from the Himalyan Mountains expedition to Everest.

Update On Open Records

A proposal on creating a fine for officials who knowingly obstruct access to public records has been delayed until Wednesday, though another proposal to defer all action to a committee and have it report back next February is likely to trump the bill itself.

The "Sunshine In Government Improvement Act of 2006" has minimal support, sadly. Fears that it will hamper business as usual and deter potential candidates for office are often cited.

The proposed committee to "study" the issue would include members of the TN Press Association, TN Association of Broadcasters, League of Women Voters, The TN Muncipal League, TN Coalition for Open Government as well as elected officials. Interesting too, that this proposal includes these comments acknowledging the lack of ability in providing access to records:

"WHEREAS, Tennesseans get no assistance in navigating and enforcing complex open government laws and rules; and
WHEREAS, a statewide survey of public records compliance in 95 counties showed that many public employees lack training and knowledge about the rights of citizens under Tennessee’s open government laws and transparency mandates of the General Assembly;and
WHEREAS a recent survey of newspaper reports by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government showed complaints of alleged open meeting law violations increased 45% between 2003 and 2005; and
WHEREAS, a series of appellate court decisions since 1976 have upheld and further defined these citizen rights under the Tennessee Constitution, they are nowhere reflected in statutes to better serve the citizens of the state ...."

If such a committee is approved by legislators - will their meetings and discussions be open to the public? Will the TPA and TAB report on the discussions? Or is this an effort to assign a committee to drain away the current attention placed on the rights of citizens?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Controlling Internet Content

A cynic might say that attempts to control internet content and erase the "neutrality" of search engines was inevitable. A bona fide cynic might say content is already under the control of faceless corporate weasels and government regulations.

Matt has a host of info on the players involved, and the what's at stake, as well as how you can get involved, starting at It certainly appears that all users and the many voices of opinon on the internet are bringing tremendous attention.

On their site, details emerge like this:

Internet Freedom is under attack. Congress is pushing a law that would abandon Network Neutrality, the Internet's First Amendment. Network neutrality prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you -- based on what site pays them the most. Your local library shouldn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web site open quickly on your computer.

Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn't speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online."

Will TN Have Open Govenment ?

Will the state's legislature enact a bill aimed at making the refusal to comply with requests for public records an offense with a $50 fine? Is that even close to the correct action? Also in the bill up for consideration, "Sunshine in Government Improvement Act of 2006", it states that officials may not meet privately to debate/discuss business, and recently the Attorney General has issued several opinions that the law applies to a wide range of government and advisory boards.

Sadly, an ammendment filed by Sen. Cohen would defer all action on the bill to a committee whose final report would not see the light of day until Feb. 2007. Seems that if this is approved, those seeking re-election could avoid the entire issue.

A $50 fine seems too little, in my opinion. Give this bill some teeth by making the punishment removal from office for those who refuse access and resolve this lack of accountability in government. And the same punishment should apply to elected officials who meet outside of public view to discuss the people's business.

Or will we wait until another federal investigation finds more bribes and influence peddling at the state capitol?

More here.

UPDATE: Sadly, numerous county commissions across the state, as well as some city and school officials, have gone on record as opposing this legislation. This despite actions by elected officials taken almost daily to observe and correct behavior of it's residents - whether in traffic, seeking medical assistance, or buying cold medication. While residents comply the state hides from scrutiny.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Chattanooga Mayor Shames City

Chattanooga's Mayor Littlefield has been stinking up the concept of open government in Tennessee by banning a reporter the mayor claimed was asking too many questions and Alice has been all over the story. The editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press has taken the battle for open government to the front page.

Sadly, refusing the public access to information is the norm in Tennessee, as the TN Coalition for Open Government has been reporting. Simply put - the majority of government agencies, from school boards to elected officials and law enforcement constantly provide barriers to compliance with the law.

The mayor's "ban" occured just as the newspaper was researching a story on an unregistered lobbyist, paid $15,000 a month by Chattanooga. The lobbyist is also a former Littlefield campaign manager and as for registering with the state, as demanded by law - well, the application is in the mail.

It isn't some random event - it happens daily in every county and city. Too often, elected officials hold themselves above the law.

Attempts to strenghten the current laws concerning "open government" include a weak $50 fine and that's hardly enough, as noted in the Kingsport Times News editorial:

If it can be proven that a public official has knowingly denied an appropriate request for a public record, why not relieve that official of his or her job? If public officials violate public meetings law, the court should be empowered to remove them from office.

Some elected officials and even some members of the public may wonder why the workings of government have to be conducted in public view. The simple answer is that a government that can avoid public examination on difficult issues, that never faces the risk of an embarrassing question, or is never called upon to justify its decisions, will soon cease to care or consider views other than its own."

UPDATE: The state legislature is slated to take up the issue of additions to the current laws on Monday - thanks to Christian Grantham for keeping me up to speed on this in the comments below. As he says: "Sunshine In Government Improvement Act of 2006" (SB2471) will come to the floor, that is if Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey allows it. Several Republicans have signed on as sponsors despite his opposition. What is going on in Chattanooga right now is a clarion call for passage of this important piece of legislation.