Saturday, January 10, 2009

TVA Has More Spills, Sen. Boxer Demands Review

Another TVA spill from their coal-fired Widow's Creek plant in Alabama -- that makes for three "accidents" in less than a month. TVA officials called the Alabama incident a "leak" which poured out 10,000 gallons from a gypsum waste pond - some going into the Tennessee River. This is the same plant that TVA's Inspector General cited in a report from last year for failure to address the constant problem of leakage -

The report says little consideration was given by TVA officials of reporting the "continuous nature and extent of the leaks" to Alabama environmental authorities."

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California told the press that the agency needs a full review and needs it now:

"The Tennessee Valley Authority has a lot to answer for - the first step is to prevent further spills and damage to communities around its plants. I have asked the TVA for a complete assessment of the safety of its waste disposal sites and their plans for upgrading those sites. This second pollution spill must be a wake up message to the TVA and to the U.S. EPA that the current situation is unacceptable."

In a KNS story on this incident, TVA officials say they did conduct a review of all of their waste ponds and found they were "all in good shape."

Also the state has cited TVA for failing to comply with regulations when they allowed for the release of sludge into the Ocoee River this week, a story which KnoxViews has been tracking.

Sen. Boxer's committee heard testimony this week on TVA's handling of their first accident back on Dec. 22nd (links to the hearing and testimony here). But as noted at Facing South, TVA's CEO just did not have much info on what the status of their waste ponds might be, or even how many there are:

Asked how many ash ponds TVA had in use, for example, Kilgore said he didn't know. He also didn't know why the company opted for dry storage at some facilities and wet at others, or that TVA had previously fought federal environmental enforcement efforts. And he said he was unaware that a 2007 federal assessment documented three TVA sites with proven damage from coal ash pollution.

Kilgore also demonstrated what appeared to be a basic misunderstanding of critical coal waste handling issues. Asked whether he would be willing to utilize the same strict waste-management practices for his ash impoundments that govern landfills for ordinary household trash, he responded that his company was investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new air scrubbers for the Kingston plant.

"That's wonderful, and we all applaud that, but that gives us even more ash," said an exasperated Boxer. "I'm asking about safe disposal of ash."

Kilgore replied noncommittally that TVA would "look at several options."

While Governor Bredesen has called for far more state regulatory controls over TVA, it seems their current system is in dire need of immediate attention right now. When will the rest of Tennessee's state and federal representatives call for action? How many "accidents" will it take? Why hasn't TVA's own board called for intense reviews of their federally-owned utility?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Camera Obscura: Best of '08 Awards Roll Out; Ray Dennis Steckler, R.I.P.; The Empire Wants You

The Golden Globes will air Sunday, the People's Choice Awards loved "Dark Knight" and two Hollywood guilds provide a peek at what movies are likely Oscar contenders for Best Picture nominee.

The Writer's Guild announced nominations for Best Original script:
Burn After Reading (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen), Milk (Dustin Lance Black), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen), The Visitor (Tom McCarthy), and The Wrestler (Robert Siegel). The Coens won WGA awards for Fargo and No Country for Old Men, and Allen has won four times, most recently for 1990's Crimes & Misdemeanors. For Best Adapatation, the nominees are: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Eric Roth), The Dark Knight (Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan), Doubt (John Patrick Shanley), Frost/Nixon (Peter Morgan), and Slumdog Millionaire (Simon Beaufoy). Roth previously won this award for Forrest Gump, and Shanley won for Moonstruck. If you're wondering, The Dark Knight counts as "adapted" because it uses pre-existing characters.

The Director's Guild meanwhile usually tags most of the nominees and their selections are:Danny Boyle,
Slumdog Millionaire. This is his first DGA nomination. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight. Nolan was previously nominated for Memento. Gus Van Sant, Milk. Van Sant got a nod for Good Will Hunting, too. David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon. Howard won DGA Awards for A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13.

For info on the Golden Globes, their website has all the details. All the award shows are thankful there is no writer's strike this year. Will viewers care at all?


One of my picks for the best of 2008 is also my pick for the best horror film of 2008 - "Let The Right One In". It's the very subtle and powerful story of vampires and children from Sweden and a most original take on the vampire genre. A young boy named Oskar, lonely and isolated in a Stockholm apartment building, makes friends one evening with a new tenant, a strange and barefoot girl named Eli. She connects with him one evening as he is stomping about the courtyard as he pretends he is fighting and threatening the bullies who terrorize him by day at school. Is it his violence that attracts her attention?

There's very few special effects here, no coffins, no checklist of vampire cliches. Just a steady and understated march towards a confrontation with the adult world and the world of vampires. The acting too is subtle and powerful and both children act far wiser than their years. The movie is haunting both for the way it shows how children are unimportant and isolated and for the quiet threat of a vampire trolling the locals. It also has a real sweetness as these two lost souls create a friendship.

It's an amazing movie, already earning many awards and rave reviews, and is simply top notch work in any language. Any Hollywood remake would never, repeat, never, provide the intelligence and the sly approach of horror to be found here.


The AMC Channel is prepping a mini-series remake of the British sci-fi classic "The Prisoner", which will air later this year.

In the meantime, AMC is offering all 17 episodes of the original show online - uncut, no commercials, and loads of great fun. Check them out.


Legendary low-budget director/actor/writer Ray Dennis Steckler passed away this week. Acting under the name of Cash Flagg, he made history with his 1964 movie "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies". He was fearlessly independent, shooting on location, often without any sound equipment and looping the dialog later, playing both the crazed and haunted killer or the comic sidekick in his movies. He was a shameless promoter and his movies show influences from Fellini, John Ford, Hitchcock and even Ed Wood. The dream sequence from "Incredibly Strange Creatures" shows off his daring and his ultra-low-end production designs. And that's Ray having the dream and scooting about in his hoodie.

I doubt there was any job in a movie or tv show the man did not do on his own. Not that he did them well.


From the web site io9 a post about designer/artist Feng Zhu, who has created a line of "recruitment posters" for the Empire, as in "Star Wars". More samples are at their websites.

Darth Vader and General Grievous never looked anything like this.

And I won't mention that the Empire's army was made of clones, so why the heck would they need to recruit anyone?

As with most things SW-related there's a disconnect of logic or reason. The Lucas Rule is "if it looks good, it's in the official canon".

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spider-Man Meets Obama

For the first time ever, a U.S. President has admitted he likes comic books and his fave is Spider-Man. So Marvel Comics is printing up a special edition to mark the historic moment. The issue hits stands on Jan. 14th and of course real collectors can seek out the variant cover.

I wonder - was Obama ever a member of F.O.O.M.?

Senate Takes On TVA Ash Spill

Ash spill really is not the phrase needed to describe the massive enviromental and economic disaster that struck Roane County on Dec. 22, but for now it will do. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, held a hearing today on the disaster and took testimony from TVA CEO Tom Kilgore, the county EMA Director Howie Rose and Dr. Stephen Smith with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The committee website has video of the entire hearing at this link. (RealPlayer needed)

Sen. Boxer said in an opening statement:

"Over 130 million tons of coal combustion waste is produced in the U.S. every year. This is the equivalent of a train of boxcars stretching from Washington, D.C. to Melbourne, Australia.

A 2007 US EPA report found 67 ash impoundments or landfills in 23 states that had caused or were suspected of causing contamination, including to ground or surface waters. EPA knew of dozens of other sites but lacked sufficient information to single out the cause.

For nearly three decades, EPA has been looking at the issue of how to regulate combustion waste. The federal government has the power to regulate these wastes, and inaction has allowed this enormous volume of toxic material to go largely unregulated. State efforts are very inconsistent, and as more and more toxic material is removed from coal combustion, it is critically important that protective standards for coal ash waste be established."

The testimony of Dr. Smith offers some of the best advice on what happened and how to prevent such disasters in the future -- I hope both the federal and the state government decide to enact strict regulations for these highly toxic collection sites. He noted:

"News reports and my organization’s preliminary investigation indicate that this could and should have been avoided. Shortcuts have been taken, rules were waved or broken and accountability has been absent; this was not a natural disaster this was a manmade disaster.

It is clear that, in its early response, TVA prioritized public relations over public health and has largely been overwhelmed by the size of this spill, which appears to be the largest industrial spill in our nation’s history.

The force of this accident not only ripped homes off their foundations—it also ripped the lid off of a national problem and the failure of EPA to develop minimum standards for this waste. It is outrageous that the landfills holding our household garbage are more regulated than the pits holding this toxic coal sludge.

Today I call on your committee to at a minimum:
1: Require an orderly phase out all wet storage of toxic coal ash;
2: Require EPA to immediately inspect and monitor all toxic coal ash storage and disposal units; and
3: Develop the long-promised Federal regulation of all toxic coal ash storage and disposal by year’s end.

TVA was born out of crippling economic times. As we find ourselves again in similar difficult times, this is an opportunity to remake TVA for the 21st Century.

Online folks also reported on the hearing -- Southern Beale - Part1 and Part 2, Aunt B. and Nashville Is Talking has a roundup. Local news station WATE takes on the story as well. The Knoxville News Sentinel's coverage is collected here.

Also, as Sen. Boxer has said, just covering the toxic ash spilled onto the riverbanks and yards for several hundred acres with grass seed is not a cleanup solution for the long-term. Much work is ahead and TVA has every reason to develop better methods when it comes to burning coal - demand better regulation for their protection and the safety of Tennessee residents, and to show they have a viable role in the energy business for this century.

Sen. Boxer also says more hearings on this issue are being planned.

(Background posts on this event are all tagged TVA spill if you want more information.)

UPDATE: R. Neal at KnoxViews has been reporting on another release of sludge, this time on the Ocoee River - here and here. And more lawsuits ahead on the disaster in Roane County.

Joe the Plumber aka Joe the War Reporter

It sounds like a punch line to a bad political joke -- "Joe The Plumber" has been hired to be a war reporter. In Israel.

Yet that's what a web-site called PajamasTV, headed by Knoxville's UT law professor Glenn Reynolds, just did. Hired him. Gonna pay him to be a war correspondent.

If need for reporters exists, why not hire any of the thousands of experienced writers and reporters who've lost their jobs in the last year? I guess PJTV and Reynolds think the entire barrel is rotten - or maybe JtP was the only person who would take the job. Is it because the job is only for 10 days?

Who knew the jokes of the 2008 election would just keep on giving in 2009 too?

The commenters at MetaFilter score points on the topic:

Don't get me wrong-- I think that pajamas media is pretty much only proving how shallow the right-wing online journalism talent pool is, but I actually can't blame JtP for making the most out of his 15 minutes of fame. Opportunities are tough to come by, especially for a guy like Joe, and ridiculous as his various schemes appear (ads for the DTV switchover, his newsletter, his album, etc.), I can totally understand wanting to make as best a living as he can by grabbing the opportunities that come by in front of him. I really don't view the term "opportunist" as an epithet. The guy sees opportunities and he takes them. Granted, if he'd been a bit better about that in the past, he'd be a master plumber, rather than an apprentice, and PJMedia should think more about who will produce good-quality content for them, but you go with the right-wing journalists you have, not the ones you wish you had."


"I look forward to hearing their ideas for sending other pundits into combat zones."

Meanwhile, the commenters at Michelle Malkin's ultra-conservative site cheer their man on:

"I would believe him before 97% of the rest of the media."


"He will probably be safer in Israel than here - at least after the Big O day, the 20th…"

It's only 10 days of work we're talking here, people. It's really just a way to drum up publicity for ... D'oh!!!!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

5 and 6 Year Olds Try to Elope to Africa

It is a dream that has been shared by lovers across the centuries – the chance to elope to exotic lands. But few would have been as bold and spontaneous as six-year-old Mika and his five-year-old sweetheart Anna-Bell who, after mulling over their options in secret, packed their suitcases on New Year's Eve and set off from the German city of Hanover to tie the knot under the heat of the African sun.

The children left their homes at dawn while their unwitting parents were apparently sleeping, and took along Mika's seven-year-old sister, Anna-Lena, as a witness to the wedding.

Awww ... you can read their adventures here.

What Is The Value of News?

"It's like some French Foreign Legion outpost up there," says Colin McEnroe, a former capitol correspondent who who was recently fired from his job hosting a daily radio talk show and writes a weekly column for the Courant. "Everyone around you is dead and you've got six bullets left and 20 people running at you."

That's from an article at detailing the decline of reporting and news coverage of state legislatures, the continuing poor health of the newspaper business and the search for a new business model for news.

What role will the news biz take in the next decade? What does the public need and use from reporting?

Reporters have been poorly paid historically, and bloggers do much with zero pay, so is all profitability from reporting and publishing about to disappear? Will we see a rise in regional newspapers or perhaps more locally published weekly papers?

The argumentative he said/she said blather unrolling across cable news networks plays like verbal wrestling matches and may draw ratings, but does it actually supply information or simply entertainment?

Maybe newspapers should adopt the old stringer method and start paying, even small amounts, to those who attend, blog and report events at the local and state level.

Michael Hirschorhn writes on the potential demise of the NYTimes and the possible future of news reporting for the Atlantic and says:

As David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, pointed out at a recent media breakfast, the blogging and local reporting from Mumbai in the early hours of the November terrorist attacks were nothing short of remarkable. Ditto in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I recall avidly following the 2006 crisis in Lebanon through a variety of sources, none less interesting or credible because it was, say, Haaretz instead of The Times. Like neighboring hospitals coordinating their purchases of expensive MRI equipment, journalistic outlets will discover that the Web allows (okay, forces) them to concentrate on developing expertise in a narrower set of issues and interests, while helping journalists from other places and publications find new audiences.

In this scenario, would begin to resemble a bigger, better, and less partisan version of the Huffington Post, which, until someone smarter or more deep-pocketed comes along, is the prototype for the future of journalism: a healthy dose of aggregation, a wide range of contributors, and a growing offering of original reporting. This combination has allowed the HuffPo to digest the news that matters most to its readers at minimal cost, while it focuses resources in the highest-impact areas."

Jack Lail has been writing about the challenges both economic and cultural facing the media today and continues to be optimistic:

Instead of viewing the blogger-MSM relationship as only symbiotic, which it certainly can be, I like to think about the media gatekeeper as having an open gate, drawing in more views and voices from both small and large, from competitor and contributor and from the uncomfortable as well as the comfortable.

Instead of heavy filtering to fit a physical newshole or time slot, mainstream media has an expanded ability to cultivate community dialogue."

I do think it most hopeful that the print media is looking for a solution and not just cashing out and going home.

I'm also eyeing this project from Newscoma and Sadcox, called NewsTechZilla. They work to provide information and report on how to make the online world work best for news coverage. Given the excellent skills of it's creators and contributors, I think they've got a great site rolling. I'm adding them to the blogroll on the right side of this page.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Yet another reason I'm forced to admit it is better to be old than young. Also, another reason parents have to be just as tech-savvy as their children.


The term refers to sending flirtatious and sexual content via mobile devices and/or computers. It's a long way from that hand-written note with the words "Do you like me? Circle Yes or No" which might have shuffled through a few hands to find the intended recipient. Today's kids just create 'sxy txts".

The Tennessean reported Sunday on the trend among teens (aged 13-19) and young adults (aged 20-26), with most saying they do send such messages and about 1 in 5 teens saying they had sent nude or topless photos of themselves to someone, and one-third of young adults. The full survey is here, with these results:

How do teens and young adults feel about sending/posting sexually suggestive content?
-- 75% of teens and 71% of young adults say sending sexually suggestive content “can have serious negative consequences.”

-- Yet, 39% of teens and 59% of young adults have sent or posted sexually suggestive emails or text messages— and 20% of teens and 33% of young adults have sent/posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves.

Text messages, instant messages and emails with sexual content gets sent quite frequently, according to the survey:

How many teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages?
-- 39% of all teens
-- 37% of teen girls
-- 40% of teen boys
-- 48% of teens say they have received such messages

How many young adults are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages?
-- 59% of all young adults
-- 56% of young adult women
-- 62% of young adult men
-- 64% of young adults say they have received such messages

Yeah, I would hate to have to provide photographic proof of my hotness or devotion, whether I was a teen, or a twenty-something or whatever. Odd, too that the majority of those who do send hot flashes to their peers also think the risk of something bad following on the heels of such "sexting" is quite likely. They do it anyway.

And my parents were worried I might drink or go dancing.

Since tech devices are pretty much permanently attached to the hands of someone under the aged of 25, I suppose such heavy usage as a form of flirting and sexual contact was inevitable.

I thought just finding the right words to say to a woman was tough. I knew some guys who would scale a building or something to spray-paint their initials and vows of love and devotion. Today, you'd have to digitize it, write it in text slang, upload the right image files and hurl it into cyberspace.

Talking is under-rated.