Saturday, September 01, 2007

Davis Talks Nuclear and Alternative Energy with Alexander, Wamp and Shuler

The headlines this summer about Erwin, TN's Nuclear Fuel Services plant were focused on how the company had used national security concerns to halt even information the public should have known - such as a small radioactive spill. This week, Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. David Davis toured to plant and said all was well. No mention from them in press reports that the plant may be sold in the near future.

Earlier this summer, stories followed the facts that security concerns allowed company officials to designate all documents as secret, an action going back for years:

"[NRC] Agency commissioners, apparently struck by the significance of the event, took a special vote to skirt the "Official Use Only" rule so that Nuclear Fuel Services would be identified in the report as the site of the uranium leak.

Some 35 liters, or just over 9 gallons, of highly enriched uranium solution leaked from a transfer line into a protected glovebox and spilled onto the floor. The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid "running into a hallway" from under a door, according to one document.

The commission said there were two areas, the glovebox and an old elevator shaft, where the solution potentially could have collected in such a way to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.

"It is likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death," the agency wrote.

"We don't want any security information out there that's going to help a terrorist," agency Commissioner Edward McGaffigan Jr. said in a newly released transcript from a closed commission meeting May 30. But "that's entirely separate" from dealing with an event that could have killed a worker at the plant.

"Nuclear Fuel Services Executive Vice President Timothy Lindstrom, a Navy veteran who joined the company in September, said the company had already made "significant progress."
"I think it is important that the public recognize that we do have a very robust safety program at NFS. We live in this community and take our stewardship very seriously," he said.

"I think if we were to have an event like this again, we would push to make it public," he added. "Clearly it would have been better to have this discussion 18 months ago than it is to have it now."

Meanwhile, NFS told its 700 employees this past week it will be "exploring the possibility of a sale" over the next 12 months - not because of the commission's disclosure, but because of the company's increasing value to a booming nuclear power industry."

I have to wonder if safety records and public notification must be on the public record BEFORE a sale could occur. Meanwhile ....

Late this past week Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. David Davis toured the facility, which is Unicoi County's largest employer. They said they think the public needs to be better informed on accidents at the plant and Davis praised security measures at the facility as being as good as those in Iraq:

"Both lawmakers said they believe rules can be relaxed that prohibited letting the public know about a spill of radioactive liquid at NFS last year that did not endanger public safety, and that they will support such a change to loosen the information restrictions. "

"Rep. Davis, who grew up in Unicoi County near where the NFS facility is located, told the media that his mother-in-law has lived for years within a half -mile of the facility, and still does.

He said, “I don’t think my mother-in-law would live within half a mile if she was worried” about the plant’s safety.

Davis said he also believes the plant, which employs 715 people and has its own large plant security force, is safe from terrorists.

The congressman noted that he recently returned from Iraq, where he saw several military bases. He said he believes NFS’s perimeter and internal security is as good as, or better than, the security at U.S. military facilities in Iraq."

Rep. Davis was making several public appearances this week to talk about (or more accurately listen to others) on the topic of energy needs and costs for businesses in East TN. One stop was made with N.C. Congressman Health Shuler.

Democrat Shuler said he was happy that Republican Davis was willing to "cross party lines to talk about what was right for America."

Another visit was a conference in Morristown , where he was joined by Rep. Zach Wamp and others from the University of Tennessee to hear ideas on alternative fuels, like 'grassohol', which though perhaps full of potentials, is likewise problematic for a wide range of reasons:

"Currently, the market for fuel made from switchgrass is limited, because so few vehicles can burn it. Not enough switchgrass is being grown currently, and transportation of the harvested grass to a refinery is also an issue that will have to be addressed, though plans are in place, [agricultural economist and is director of external operations for bioenergy programs at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Dr. Kelly] Tiller said.

Plans call for $8 million in incentives for farmers to grow switchgrass for the pilot refinery, over a five-year period. As a practical matter, most of those farms will need to be within a 50-mile radius of the refinery, [chairman of biofuels farmer education programs with UT Extension, Dr. Clark] Garland said.

About 92 acres of switchgrass have been grown with Department of Energy funding on five farms in Benton and Henry counties, both of which are in West Tennessee. One acre, on average, can produce enough switchgrass to convert to 500 gallons of “Grassohol,” Garland said."

Friday, August 31, 2007

Camera Obscura - Elephant Fu; Halloween; Most Desired Movie Props

Something you don't say everyday: This movie features Elephant Kung Fu.

The movie is "The Protector" ("Tom Yum Goong") from 2005, and sadly the American version 'presented by Quentin Tarantino' is about half an hour shorter than the original Thai version.

Actor/stuntman Tony Jaa stars in the movie as a young man who is a protector of an elephant, a historical fact in which the royal families did assign people to be the caretakers and protectors of elephants. And of course, evil poachers attack Tony's dad and steal not just one but two elephants and whisk them away to Australia for .... well, I think it was for a crime boss who wanted some mystical elephant power, and because there is a notable Thai population in Australia.

Look, the reason to make and watch such a movie is simple - jaw-dropping action scenes. "The Protector" delivers those in large amounts. And yes, stuntman/actor Jaa is the real deal - no wire tricks of CG shots. He created his own variation of Muay Koshasan, which literally means Smashing Elephant Boxing. It is impressive to see the moves, which rely on grabbing, breaking and stomping on the bad guys with true elephantine glee.

A scene in a parking garage has Jaa facing off against a gang of extreme sportsters on roller blades, bikes and motorcycles and is a reminder of Jackie Chan's movies. Later, a single-shot steadicam tracks Jaa as he goes up the spiral staircase of the bad guys' lair and grabs and stomps them all. It is a real workout for Jaa and for the stuntcrew. Also stuntman/fighter Nathan Jones, who was in Jet Li's "Fearless" appears in two fight scenes which are notable as Jones is about three feet taller than Jaa.

One thing I liked about the movie is that it's focus on the traditional Thai world and the unusual Aussie cities makes the whole thing look futuristic or even science fictionesque. (Sorry, I could not think of a better word.) Also for added strangeness is the fact that the Aussie/Thai crime family stealing the elephants is headed up by one Madame Rose, who is actually a transsexual and is played by one too.

A fine write-up on the movie and the DVD sets which have both American and Thai versions are here. As to why the Thai title is also the name of a shrimp soup ... well, food is a plot point. 'Nuff said.


It is no surprise the reviews for Rob Zombie's new version of the movie "Halloween" are not full of praise. The movie, opening today, was not screened for critics, usually a sign the movie is not that good. Still, I think many will see the movie this weekend and then it will find it's own cult on DVD.

One thing often missed in the tales of why John Carpenter's original movie was so good: Dean Cundey. Cundey's work as cinematographer is just pure excellence. While he started in low-budget drive-in fare like "Satan's Cheerleaders", he also worked with Carpenter for many great results, not only in "Halloween" but "The Fog" and "The Thing". Later he was cinematographer on the "Back to the Future" movies, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Jurassic Park", and "Apollo 13."

In "Halloween" especially, he uses a very fluid and seamless style, far above the B-movie origins, and his framing and scope make the original a true standout. Really. Watch it again and marvel at how the look and style of the movie is hardly ordinary.


A fine murder-mystery from the 1970s, "Sleuth", is getting the remake treatment too. Kenneth Brannagh takes the director's chair as Michael Caine (also in the original) takes on Laurence Olivier's part and Jude Law plays Caine's old part. Some changes in the set-up are made by writer Harold Pinter, who adapted his script from the original.

Set for a mid-October release, the new version is some 85 minutes, compared to the original's running time of 138 minutes. Will a shorter tale be a better one?

Some tasty takes on this remake and other set for release are here.


Best Movie Trivia Topic o' The Day: what do you think would be the most awesome movie props which you would like to own? USA Today writer Whitney Matheson poses the question and offers her choices, which include Indiana Jones' hat, Darth's lightsaber and Dude's carpet from The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, at Cinematical, writer Scott Weinberg notes the best choices from readers, which include Rosebud from "Citizen Kane", the Holy Hand Grenade from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail', a can of Dapper Dan and the glowing suitcase from "Pulp Fiction."

Me? I'd love a Hattori Hanzo sword, the Maltese Falcon, some of that lab equipment from James Whale's "Frankenstein." Oh, and I would love to own Mr. Pointy, Buffy's favorite vampire stake.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The History Mash-Up, or Bush's Vietnam Redux

Five days ago I attempted to corral and correlate my thoughts and those of a few others in response to a brain-twisting speech on warfare and history from President Bush, and ultimately I found my efforts, though accurate, fell short of the mark I was hoping to make.

The overwhelming collision of factual errors, misconstructions and misrepresentations of history itself were not simple to catalog and comment upon.

Thank goodness for the insightful overview and spot-on analysis from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. I'll include some quotes from the post below, but I do hope you find the time to read the entire post:

Before getting to the details, let's consider the overarching premise: that the choice we now face is whether to keep fighting and ultimately prevail, or to withdraw and abandon the Iraqis to their fate. As I see it, this premise is completely false. If we keep fighting, there is no reason whatsoever to think that we will "prevail", and every reason to think that we will simply sacrifice a lot of American and Iraqi lives for nothing. If we withdraw, we will abandon the Iraqis to their fate, and that is a horrible thing. But a lot turns on whether you think that there is anything we can do to avoid the bloodshed that will follow our withdrawal. I do not think that there is. If I'm right, then unless we are prepared to remain in Iraq until the end of time, we will, at some point, have to leave, and that bloodshed will probably follow.

If staying in Iraq will not lead us to "victory", but will only postpone the consequences of our withdrawing at a terrible cost both to us and to the Iraqis, then the decision before us looks very, very different. But Bush does not stop to consider this possibility. He frames the question in a way that ensures that the only possible answer is the one that he wants, and then, surprise, he gets it.

But Bush's fundamental assumption about the nature of our choice is not just false; it's a profound evasion of his own responsibility. I think it would have been very difficult to create a functioning, legitimate government in Iraq, difficult enough to make invading a bad idea even without all the other reasons to oppose it. However, I also think that success was not impossible. That it is impossible now is largely this administration's doing. They never, ever appreciated the magnitude of the task they had taken upon themselves, the care and concentration and resources that it would require, or the consequences of getting it wrong. They dismissed the plans of others, and forbade their own people to plan. They allowed an insurgency to develop and to arm itself from stores of weapons that they never bothered to secure. They did not send in enough troops to ensure basic security to the people of Iraq, and ridiculed those who suggested that this might cause problems down the line. They made catastrophic decisions -- disbanding the Iraqi army that our soldiers are now risking their lives trying to reconstitute, imposing a de-Baathification regime that the Iraqi parliament is now trying and failing to undo -- and they made them in a careless, thoughtless way that still takes my breath away.

And now, when all this carelessness and stupidity is having its inevitable effect, Bush pretends it doesn't exist. The only way we can fail, he says, is if the American people and their representatives withdraw their support -- ignoring completely his own role in making failure inevitable. And he adds that if we withdraw our support, that will constitute a failure of will and an abandonment of the Iraqi people -- ignoring completely both the extent to which his administration abandoned them from the outset, and the extent to which Americans' support of withdrawal reflects a loss of confidence in his administration and its basic competence."


If he had any shame, he'd be hiding under a table right now, wishing the earth would swallow him."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If You Can't Cope With The Game of Tag ...

A northern Colorado elementary school system has decided to ban the playing of Tag during recess.

Causes violence, say administrators, who have created a "Trouble-Free Playground" program.

At the risk of being callous and cruel, I can only offer this advice: if an elementary school game of tag is too tough and hard for a kid, then adolescence and adulthood will be shockingly unbearable to you.

Stay at home, pack yourself in cotton-wadding and bubble-wrap and disconnect the TV and the phone.

While I did not like the advice at the time, when a football coach told me to "walk it off", the advice was fairly good. Get over it or do not play. (I opted not to play, became an 'athletic assistant' and got to ride on the bus with the cheerleaders and the band, which was waaaaaay more fun.)

Visit The Psychozilla Tribune

Yes, I said Psychozilla Tribune.


Because the world needs to know there is much in existence which is "far beyond the ken of mortal men."

Plus I am a contributor, and with the other writers, we'll try our best to keep you informed of things Which Defy Explanation and are Slightly Off Center.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tracking Failure In The Gulf Coast After Katrina

The information and facts reveal little but staggering failure in the promises made to the cities, states and vast populations in the Gulf Coast region following the landfall of a natural disaster called Katrina two years ago.

Thank goodness that writers with Facing South have been covering the details of chaotic response and scant rebuilding with great skill. An assessment on the 2nd anniversary has a truly distressing conclusion - our government has deep structural flaws and has failed far more than it has succeeded.

As noted in this article, pollster James Zogsby says:

Our polling shows Americans, faced with a major disaster, don’t want the federal government to solve all their problems by dominating state and local governments with bureaucratic dictates from Washington. Instead, they want a nimble federal government that acts as a clearinghouse, an organizer, a traffic cop for all levels of government and other organizations, including faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations."

Americans on the Gulf Coast received the worst after the disaster. And I can't help but notice the wounds in the South are like those in downtown Manhattan at 'ground zero', that no rebuilding has occurred and as late as last week, decaying buildings nearby are still deadly.

What has (or has not) happened in the coastal U.S.? What about the $116 billion meant to aid in the repair and recovery? Some answers in other reports from Facing South:

Although it's tricky to unravel the maze of federal reports, our best estimate of agency data is that only $35 billion has been appropriated for long-term rebuilding.

Even worse, less than 42 percent of the money set aside has even been spent, much less gotten to those most in need. For example:

* Washington set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two biggest sources of rebuilding funds, especially for housing. But as of March 2007, only $1 billion -- just 6 percent -- had been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity, HUD spent another $3.8 billion on the program between March and July, leaving 70 percent of the funds still unused.

* The other major source of rebuilding help was supposed to be FEMA's Public Assistance Program. But of the $8.2 billion earmarked, only $3.4 billion was meant for nonemergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals.

* Louisiana officials recently testified that FEMA has also "low-balled" project costs, underestimating the true expenses by a factor of four or five. For example, for 11 Louisiana rebuilding projects, the lowest bids came to $5.5 million -- but FEMA approved only $1.9 million.

* After the failure of federal levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses. But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won't be completed until as late as 2011.

The fact that, two years later, most federal Katrina funds remain bottled up in bureaucracy is especially shocking considering that the amounts Washington allocated come nowhere near the anticipated costs of Gulf rebuilding.

For example, the $3.4 billion FEMA has available to recover local public infrastructure would only cover about one-eighth of the damage suffered in Louisiana alone. But this money is spread across five states -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- and covers damage from three 2005 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma."
"Included in the $116 billion figure is $3.5 billion in tax breaks to jump-start business in Gulf Opportunity Zones -- "GO Zones" -- across 91 parishes and counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. But many of the breaks have been of questionable benefit to Katrina survivors, like a $1 million deal to build 10 luxury condos next to the University of Alabama football stadium -- four hours from the Gulf Coast."

The critical failures may seem far removed from you or your town or your state. At least today. Who knows what lies ahead and who can you count on? Stacking up loyalists to leaders in Washington only serves that leader and those loyalists. Serving America, protecting American lives, all that seems of little concern.

(hat-tip to R. Neal at KnoxViews for sharing the info at Facing South)

SEE ALSO: video accounts and a Flickr photo petition


Is it case of nerves so frazzled by fear and fearful warnings? Or perhaps a case of over-stimulated, over-funded police departments? The bottom line is that two members of a running club face felony charges for outlining a running trail with flour:

Police fielded a call just before 5 p.m. that someone was sprinkling powder on the ground. The store was evacuated and remained closed the rest of the night. The incident prompted a massive response from police in New Haven and surrounding towns."
"You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know," [Mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga] said. "It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We're thankful it wasn't, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out."

hat-tip to Russ McBee

Monday, August 27, 2007

House Ethics Group Not Done With Davis Aide

It turns out that despite efforts from the 1st District Congressman David Davis, the House Ethics Committee is still reviewing what actions might be taken for Davis' PR Chief Timothy Hill who was caught removing factual details about contributors to Davis from the WikiPedia website.

Hill took the 'ethics training' classes earlier this year, and Rep. Davis said last week it was 'up to him' to decide what disciplinary actions Hill should get, which Davis said would be more ethics classes.

But the committee itself hasn't ruled on the case yet and likely won't until Congress re-convenes next month:

[Chief of Staff Brenda Otterson said Friday] the committee asked her to clarify her Thursday announcement noting that Davis decided Timothy Hill should be required to take ethics training classes in September for editing Davis’ and Matthew Hill’s Wikipedia entries by using a congressional office computer.

“My communications with the committee regarding the issue at hand have been proactive, but informal and with committee staff, not formally with the committee itself. The committee has not taken any formal, official position on this matter,” Otterson said in an e-mail. “I just want to make it clear that this was an informal inquiry by phone with staff on the committee to see how we should handle this matter, and I sought advice and counsel from them — no formal investigation by them — just our seriously looking into what the precedents were, and to see how we should or could address the issue.”

Davis, during a stop Friday to tour Kingsport’s Holston Business Development Center (HBDC), said he didn’t think the House committee will take further action.

“It’s not worth going through the process. I don’t think there will be another statement coming out of that committee. They left it up to me to decide,” Davis, R-1st District, said before addressing business and government leaders at the center.

The U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is chaired by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, who represents a Cleveland area district. Congress is currently in recess and will not convene until September."

Rep. Davis continues to hold the position that the deletion of facts from WikiPedia is no big deal, since WikiPedia is not a reliable source of information:

This is not uncommon. (Wikipedia) has an edit button. I’m sorry Timothy actually took the word edit literally,” Davis said.

Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia project run by the Wikimedia Foundation (WF), encourages “appropriate participation” from politicians, WF Chairman Emeritus Jimmy Wales said in an e-mail.

“We hope that in the future, this participation will take the form of posting comments and requests to the discussion pages, rather than directly editing articles where people have a conflict of interest,” Wales stressed.

"Nobody pays any attention to Wikipedia,” Davis said. “My daughter is a college student and was told in her college classes ‘If you use Wikipedia, you will lose a letter grade.’”

The facts remain that Hill's work is likely a violation of ethics rules, despite protests to the contrary.

The full report is in the Kingsport Times-News.

Ripping Into The War Profiteers

One hell of an intense indictment on the private contracting in the 'war on terror':

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted."

The full report from Rolling Stone is here.

National Guard Cheers For Iraq Withdrawal

A meeting this past weekend for the National Guard Association in Puerto Rico heard an earnest plea from the Governor of the island state which resonated loudly with the Guard's leadership:

The war in Iraq has fractured the political will of the United States and the world,” he said at the opening of the 129th National Guard Association general conference. “Clearly, a new war strategy is required and urgently.”

Acevedo said sending more troops to Iraq would be a costly blunder.

“By increasing the number of National Guard and reserve troops, we put our soldiers in danger for the umpteenth time since the beginning of the global war on terrorism,” said the governor, adding that U.S. territories and states need Guard reserves in the event of natural disasters and domestic disturbances.

Acevedo, a Democrat, has called on Washington to withdraw troops from Iraq in the past, but has not been a vocal critic of the war.

Col. David Carrion Baralt, the Guard’s top official in Puerto Rico, said Acevedo received a standing ovation.

“Maybe the [officers] were not expecting those kinds of comments, but having a dialogue is the point of conferences like these,” Carrion said by phone."

Report from the Army Times.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Return of Ted Haggard & Other News

Poor troubled quasi-evangelist Ted Haggard says he is so poor that he need you to give him money each month for the next two years, and then he'll be financially fine.

Despite receiving a settlement salary this year of $138,000 and owning a house worth $715,000, he says he needs your checks and cash for the next two years - which he says will bring you rewards in Heaven - as he goes to school to learn to be a counselor for a facility which has a dubious reputation.

[The families With A Mission in] Colorado Springs mailing address is the same one to which Haggard is asking people to send donations. However, Secretary of State records show that Families With a Mission was administratively dissolved earlier this year, on Feb. 23. And the man who is listed as the president of Families With a Mission, Paul Gerard Huberty, appears to be the same Paul Huberty who was convicted in 1996 of having sex with a 17-year old girl while he was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force stationed in Germany, and who later registered as a sex offender in Hawaii. The organization Family Watchdog, which tracks sex offenders, currently lists Huberty at the same Monument address that was the principal address of Families With a Mission."

The report from Colorado Confidential is here.


Even though some strippers at Nashville's Deja Vu club were faking their erotic interests (with some possibly fake body enhancements) for a customer, it turns out he was faking them out too - with home-made $100 bills.

Smyrna resident Damon Armagost found out the Secret Service will investigate fake bills. Erotic fakery is no crime, however. It may be an art form.


Forget changing with the times -- Time itself is being changed in Venezuela, which is also no longer the actual name of the nation, it's now the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. And now they are moving their clocks forward by half an hour by command of Hugo Chavez.

He has also announced a plan to build a group of artificial island-cities to claim sections of the Caribbean as his own.


Tired of waiting for new episodes of the intermittent TV show appropriately called "Lost"??

Thanks to Todd McFarlane and his company of creators, a new series of "action figures" (NOT dolls, dammit) is on the way to a store near you. You can force them to act out your vision of the TV show.

Also available - The Hatch Play-Set. You get to decide what they do now! Make them build a raft and just go home!!