Month of December, 2006
This story reports on the results of a survey done by newspaper employees who were "dispatched to every city and county in the state [Virginia] in September to see how the 134 local governments responded to requests for public information that is supposed to be available under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act."
Access to public data hard to come by, by Harry Minium / The Virginian-Pilot Daily Press Hampton Roads, Virginia (December 31, 2006)
The results were hardly encouraging for citizens who want to see how their government works, advocates for open government said.
A little less than half the media representatives saw the requested records that, under state law, cities and counties have to provide.
About one in every four times, the person seeking the information was denied access to what's supposed to be public information.
"Unfortunately, some localities just have a predisposition to keep things secret," said Forrest "Frosty" Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.
We've posted two new govdocs videos to our audio/video promotion page. The videos are:
- Marines Get Around! (approximately 1 min, posted 12/24/2006) - Roundup of documents showing how active Marines have been in our nation's history. Posted to CHBN, YouTube, and MySpace.
- Shield of Freedom (2 min, posted 12/30/2006) - USCG documents set to the tune Coast Guard's Chief Petty Officers March.
These videos close out the set of military services videos I produced.
If you or someone you know have produced any kind of video or audio spot promoting depository libraries or government information in general, please send us the link to the spot.
New book reveals censorship's perils By Dave Zweifel, Capital Times (Madison WI) Dec. 27, 2006.
The book is First Into Nagasaki by George Weller and Anthony Weller
George Weller was a Pulitzer Prizeâ€“winning reporter who covered World War II across Europe, Africa, and Asia. At the warâ€™s end in September 1945, under General MacArthurâ€™s media blackout, correspondents were forbidden to enter both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But instead of obediently staying with the press corps in northern Japan, Weller broke away. The intrepid newspaperman reached Nagasaki just weeks after the atomic bomb hit the city. Boldly presenting himself as a U.S. colonel to the Japanese military, Weller set out to explore the devastation.
George Weller, Reporting from Nagasaki NPR Weekend Edition Saturday, June 25, 2005
Long-Suppressed Nagasaki Article Discovered Democracy Now! August 5th, 2005
The Resource Shelf had an entry about â€œMerriam-Websterâ€™s Word of the Year for 2006â€, truthiness. This word is not new as it was voted the 2005 word of the year by the American Dialect Society.
My favorite new word for 2006 came from my work (I work for an aerospace company on a big defense program). A year-end communication from Program Management cautioned us to be wary of mosiacing our presentation content (read: Power Points) prior releasing them to the public. That is, we canâ€™t just re-use content that had already been approved for public release; rather, anything and everything must be submitted to a public release process.
Mosiacing? Was April Fools day coming in December? At my first reading, and after I stopped laughing, I tried to make sense of what mosiacing was and what the authors of the memo had against using plain speech in their communication --instead of introducing this strange, unfamiliar word for a simple concept. I also wasnâ€™t sure if they spelled mosiacing correctly. Could they mean mosaicing, with the â€œiâ€ and the â€œaâ€ reversed? And were they borrowing, re-purposing, a word used in a different context (in this case, art and design â€“as far as I can tell). And does the use of such a word help clarify the meaning of what theyâ€™re trying to say? Who knows. I doubt even the authors of the memo even know. The expressionationing of my truthiness over my confusionation to my management was high over their use of mosaicing. The use of the word mosaicing applied to public release of information also cannot be clarified by simple googling (another top word in 2006 according to M-W this year).
It seems making things â€˜clearâ€™ or to â€˜clarifyâ€™ something is a recurring goal for governments, corporations, and big defense programs (my program spends over 3 billion a year). I come across statements about clarifying or making clear something very often in my work. In fact, my work is all about making things clear: I am a policy analyst and deal primarily with Department of Defense IT and information management policies. I read the policy documents (memorandum, DOD Instructions, Directives, etc.) and try to make clear to my managers what is important of those policies in relation to our program.
We strive for clarity: work statements have the word â€˜clarityâ€™ appearing often enough to be elevated to the status of a 'power word' --its concept has importance but no 'clear' way to attain it. It seems that just by saying weâ€™re going to be clear, or say we intend to strive for clarity (suggesting that things are currently unclear and not moving toward clarity), weâ€™ll somehow arrive at it, becoming, perhaps, a CMMI Level 5 of Clarity Maturity Organization (that's a joke; there is no CMMI for Clarity that I know of).
Stating a goal of clarity but then getting the opposite result seems typical in all bureaucracies (government, corporate, and that weird hybrid, defense programs). I confess i have made statements like 'we need to clarify the refinement of requirements' or â€˜our architectures are made to clarify user needsâ€™ in my email and presentations. The 2006 report on government responses and preparation for Katrina, â€œFailure of Initiativeâ€ has a lot to say about clarity in language and intentions between government to government, and government to citizen.
Are we hopeless? I don't think so. PlainLanguage.gov , started around 1994-95, defines â€˜Plain Languageâ€™ as
Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. Written material is in plain language if your audience can:
â€¢ Find what they need;
â€¢ Understand what they find; and
â€¢ Use what they find to meet their needs.
In the world of digital government information, the kind I use and enjoy, I seem to get at all three of these bullet points: when I find what I need, it's usually understandable and it usually meets my needs. In the corporate experiences Iâ€™ve had, the opposite is true. As corporations do more work in place of government (literally, doing the work of government for a fee), can initiatives like PlainLanguage.gov help? Perhaps. Certainly, a resource like it take us a long way.
One big case that can affect Net Neutrality is the AT&T proposed buyout of BellSouth. There is news that AT&T has made big concessions to network neutrality, but early reports from those who've looked at their memo carefully show that AT&T is not making any concessions at all. According to TechDirt, "AT&T promises not to violate network neutrality on a network they never intended to use that way, and carves out permission to use it on their new network, where they had planned all along to set up additional tollbooths."
- And By The Time Anyone Reads The Sneaky Fine Print On AT&T's Concessions, The Merger Will Be Done TechDirt (December 29th, 2006)
And David S. Isenberg has more details and links.
- Loophole watch in AT&T-BellSouth merger by isen, December 29, 2006
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, "Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees."
- How Old Is The Grand Canyon? Park Service Won't Say Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, December 28, 2006
In August 2003, Park Superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale at park bookstores of Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail, a book claiming the Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. NPS Headquarters, however, intervened and overruled Alston. To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue.
According to a recent NPS response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PEER, no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed.
Park officials have defended the decision to approve the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, claiming that park bookstores are like libraries, where the broadest range of views are displayed. In fact, however, both law and park policies make it clear that the park bookstores are more like schoolrooms rather than libraries. As such, materials are only to reflect the highest quality science and are supposed to closely support approved interpretive themes. Moreover, unlike a library the approval process is very selective. Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item -- the creationist book.
Here is a follow up to one of the stories in last week's post (Government Openness and Government Secrecy).
Jon Wiener, who teaches history at University of California Irvine and who placed a FOIA request for FBI files on John Lennon in 1981 writes in the current issue of The Nation about what we learned from the release of the last few pages of these files.
- The Last Lennon File by Jon Wiener, The Nation December 20, 2006 (January 8, 2007 issue).
Why did four administrations fight in court to prevent the release of information that was already public? ... The answer, I think, has nothing to do with John Lennon. It has everything to do with the FBI and the Justice Department, and what they see as the principle they are defending: that they alone should define what constitutes a national security secret. They argued repeatedly in this case that the courts should defer to the FBI, which supposedly has expertise on national security that judges lack. The FBI and the Justice Department don't want the courts telling them they are wrong about what constitutes a national security secret--and they certainly don't want the ACLU telling them.
For the ACLU too, it's not just about John Lennon, it's also about a principle--but a different one: the principle of freedom of information. In a democracy, the government's information belongs to the people; the people have a right to know the information in government files--and the FBI and the Justice Department do not get the last word in deciding what to release and what to withhold. That's what the Freedom of Information Act says: It gives the people the right to appeal decisions to withhold documents; it gives federal judges the power to examine documents the FBI is withholding; and most important, it gives judges the power to order federal agencies to release documents they conclude have been improperly withheld. That's the principle at the heart of the FOIA, and it's at the heart of the Lennon FBI files case.
I'm not exactly sure what to say about this new training video on the VA website, but i feel compelled to pass it along. Thanks to Boing Boing (Department of Defense remakes Gilgamesh online Thursday, December 28, 2006) for pointing to it:
- The Epic of Gilgamesh. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Post-Deployment Health Evaluation and Management, a Flash animation
There are lots of good translations of Gilgamesh. Try this one to refresh your memory: The Project Gutenberg eBook, An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic, by Anonymous, Edited by Morris Jastrow, Translated by Albert T. Clay
Happy holidays all! I thought you'd get a kick out of the following:
Wise Bread noted that the FBI considered "It's a wonderful Life" -- one of the most tear-inducing films ever IMHO!! -- to be communist propoganda.
Unfortunately, Wise Bread only linked to two pages of the more than 2,000 pages in the FBI's Communist Infiltration- Motion Picture Industry (COMPIC) FOIA file, but I left a comment to point readers there as well as to let them know about the FBI's FOIA Reading Room.
File 10a has a list of films from 12/31/55 (this was a running memo from 1942 - 1958!) which include such subversive titles like A Song to Remember (bio of Chopin), Buck Privates Come Home (abbott & Costello), Keeper of the Flame (Tracy & Hepburn) and Salt of the Earth, the only film ever actually banned in the US, but later deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
BoingBoing has more background on HUAC and the blacklisting of many directors, actors, and writers.