Saturday, September 13, 2003

Superhero Update

This is my last post today and I don't feel like hunting up the links, so go to Ain't It Cool News and look for yourself. It's good and bad news.

The good news is that Christian Bale will be the new Batman in the upcoming Chris Nolan "Batman 5." I think Christian is an inspired choice and will do quite well. His turn in "American Psycho" shows he can handle the dark, vengeful dichotomy of Batman's psychology and his work in "Equilibrium" shows he can do action hero. It's all good.

The bad is a real painful one for me. I was a comics fan as a kid, but I was a DC Comics guy, not Marvel. I loved the iconic hereos of DC. My favorite was the Fastest Man Alive, the Flash. I so wanted to be him! There was a brief television series in the Eighties, starring a badly miscast John Wesley Shipp. He was amiable, but simply too "beefed up" for the Flash. The Flash should be lean, with a runner's body, right? But the effects were pretty good and they kept the origin story intact, and the pilot had some funny moments.

Well, the WB network is working up a "Smallville"-styled Flash pilot for consideration for next season. Trouble is, he won't wear the red-and-gold, winged suit and he'll be using his superspeed to travel in time every week. solving problems. Ack! College-angst with pretty faces. Historical figure of the week! Ack! The only good news is that he'll be aware that he's the latest in a line of Flashes, but this is presumably only so that they can stunt-cast former Flashes.

I'm not looking forward to that one at all.
The Falling Man

Barry of Inn of the Last Home was struck by a post on Instapundit discussing Glenns decision to post and later remove the dramatic and disturbing picture by Richard Drew called The Falling Man. Instapundit later updated that post with reader comments.

Barry wrote:
I don't care what side you're on, if you're far left, far right, Democrat, Republican, northerner, southerner, LA or NYC, pro-war or anti-war, there's not a single American - at home or abroad - who has "forgotten the horror of that day".
In his comments, I wrote:
Barry, I don't think he meant forgot the event so much as he meant the visceral horror of watching it. I missed the actual events, as I was at work until dinnertime and we couldn't stop for the tv, but I remember in the first days that they showed *everything* but the bodies from the Towers hitting the ground. It was all live, unedited, and gruesome.

Since, the mass media have definitely glossed over the gruesome part, as they are wont to do. At first, it was to not stir up the normal human desire for retribution, then it was for the more highminded "sensitive sensibilities" hogwash. But it's true that they don't show most of the terrible parts any more.

That's part of the usual mass media effort to take the real and make it symbolic, to make it malleable to manipulation and distortion. To take the visceral anger that wants to strike and make it a foggy "we oughta do something."
I stand by that, obviously, and now there's an Esquire story that backs me up, using that very picture as its point.

Look at how little coverage there was on major media television this past Thursday. Not within the standard news shows, but in specials during the day. Primetime was largely untouched, except for the usual "Dateline" special that shoe-horned 9-11 into its standard template for all sad stories. I sympathise with those who think we are just poking and scratching at a healing wound and would like to leave it alone for a while.

But this is war. Men and women are, every day, out there around the world fighting, in our name, against the forces that set 9-11 on us. They are dying too. We must remember why they are there, and with the ferocity of that day fresh in our minds. The terrorists are even now planning more and worse attacks against us and our friends. We cannot slacken our vigilance; it is the price for our freedom, as we have relearned at great cost.

Offer me your hand and I'll reach out with mine. Punch me with that hand and I'll make sure you can never punch me again. If we don't keep that in mind all the time, we will grow complacent; we will entertain thoughts of backing off; we will place present friends and future generations at risk.

This is not like an assault, where we can turn things over to the cops and retreat to the security of our home and family. There are no cops; we must protect ourselves. The assailant is still out there, watching and planning for the next attack. Our home isn't safe as we allow the assailant and all his associates free entrance and movement. Even some of our supposed friends are encouraging us to back off and think of others before our own injuries!

Well, no. I say keep it fresh and keep the horror always there. The alternative leads to ruin.
A Rare Occurence

It is so very, very rarely that you see a diplomat actually speak his mind plainly and clearly as British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw did recently:
"A great many of the difficulties that have faced the relationship [between England and France] go back to the profoundly different experiences that we had in the war, with, quotes, Britain standing alone, and quotes, France capitulating and surrendering to the Germans."

"There isn't any question but that a significant part of the way in which the French political diplomatic class defines itself is against America, and this has been a continuing neurosis amongst the French political class for many decades."
Bang! Zoom! To the moon! Heeheehee.
Davy Crockett And Your Taxes

I heard this story long ago and meant to bookmark it for the future, but failed. I just rediscovered it Friday night, to my great joy. This version is slightly different from the one I remember, but it lists the same source, so I'll assume my memory has drifted over time.

In it, we hear the story of Congressman Davy Crockett voting tax money to a deserving group and then getting an enlightening lesson from his constituents. It's a great story, and sadly we don't have enough folks like Horatio Bunce around any more. We have lost the moral, constitutionalist view of government that held in the beginning.

[NOTE: If you go to the main site, be careful! It is a fringy, conspiracy site. While they have a lot of good stories there, you'll also find a lot of objectionable and even inflammatory stuff there. You've been warned, OK?]
A Beautiful Mass Of Fetal Tissue Picture

Anyone who can look at this picture and not be moved should have their pulse checked or their brain studied. This is the latest improvement in ultrasound fetal scanning. It can show babies as young as eight weeks moving and reacting in the womb. You can read more details here.

What does this mean? Well, for starters, it's hard to call this baby a "mass of fetal tissue." It is recognisably human and it reacts to stimulae both internal and external. The US mass media will probably handle this with kid gloves, to avoid helping the pro-life movement, if it even gets much coverage at all. The pro-lifers, in turn, will trumpet this from the rooftops. Most of the rest of us will just stare in awe and wonder.

Oliver Kamm had a great post on the way that abortion was radicalised by the way it was handled thirty years ago. He notes that:
In 1973, in Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that there was a constitutional right to an abortion, and thereby ensured that a workable political settlement could not be reached.

I am a supporter of permissive abortion legislation, with the emphasis on legislation. By circumventing the political argument altogether, the Court ensured that the passionately-held views on the other side had no legislative outlet. This has proved disastrous. If the Supreme Court had kept out of it, then the abortion issue could have been settled state-by-state in exactly the way that it has, for all practical purposes, been resolved in Europe.

There is a strongly-held minority view here that abortion is morally wrong and should be severely restricted. That view has ample opportunity to gain support in the political parties and the national legislatures. It always remains a minority view, however, because of the great swathe of public opinion that considers availability of abortion as a necessary recourse in ensuring the stability and happiness of family life, and regards the moral implications as a matter for private decision – and indeed that sometimes moral considerations dictate that abortion is the right course.
I think he's nailed it on the head here. Just look at the aftermath of the 2002 Presidential Supreme Court ruling. Same thing, on a different scale; the battle goes on.

There is also the problem that the polar opposites control the debate. Either you are for abortion in all circumstances, or against it in all circumstances. There is no middle ground. That's wrong. Poll after poll shows that Americans want abortion to be available, but restricted; that there are dreadful times when the decision must be made to end a pregnancy. But in the current social climate abortion has become the means to handling a problem resulting from earlier problems not addressed. Roughly 90+% of all abortions are made for convenience, to end the "accidental" pregnancy that happened to a sexually active person. Thanks to the ruinous Sexual Revolution we have gone from fearing the consequences of sexual behavior to viewing them -- all of them, disease, injury, children, family disruption, career disruption, emotional damge -- as nuisances to be "handled." Abortion is untouchable, but everything surrounding it must be changed to accomodate its ease of use, its quick fix to a welter of causes still extant.

There is a different ground I think is better. We view pregnancy as a special case of individuality, since there are two (or more) individuals linked here. The State presumes for the life of the weakest party to act in its behalf, while simultaneously recognising a limited right of autonomy to the mother, in this condition. Therefore, a woman does have the right to control herself and have an abortion, but the State has the right to make sure it is not frivolous, if that's the right word.

Presently, many of the feminist Left view any intrusion by government as the thin wedge of ending abortion, period. They will understandably fight this, as they already do. The prolifers (which I do not consider myself to be, so much as anti-abortion) will work to use the momentum of change to end all abortion. This must be fought, too.

It goes back to the licentiousness of the Sexual Revolution. Sex was divorced from procreation. Instead of men picking up some of the healthy fear of pregnancy that women used to have, women developed the libidinous non-consequentiality of men while remaining stuck with the consequences anyway. We live in that world today, with more than a million abortions a year; with families travelling to China, Korea and Eastern Europe to find babies to adopt; with sexuality injected almost everywhere; with children being sexualised.

Fear is not a bad thing. It keeps you from eating strange, poisonous foods. It keeps you from sticking your finger into the electrical socket, just to see. It used to keep you from going too far with that strange woman or man. Fear, like it or not, brought some measure of responsibility. Having removed the fear, we never found alternate means of teaching meaningful responsility.

Note that my opinions expressed here are still works in progress. I don't think I've quite nailed the political landscape I envision. So I reserve the right to modify it in the future.

Sadly, this may all be moot anyway in very short order. It won't be many more decades before we develop artificial wombs so that no women need carry her pregnancy to term if she chooses not to. In our capitalistic, libidinous, self-driven, worry-free culture, we'll see strange permutations. We can currently contract out our child-raising, and look at the effects it has both on the attitudes of parents who look to others to raise children and to the children who are forced to view attachment to one set of adults as counterproductive to emotional health in a flexible environment. Sever the last meaningful link in those lives and we are adrift on bizarre, unchartable seas of individualism with no boundaries in sight

Sepember 11th wasn't the day to post this, so I chose to wait. It was the most horrific event in my lifetime and I deeply hope it remains that way. Even though 3000 people died, we were very lucky that more than 100,000 didn't. The terrorists were more concerned with how things played back home than with making the most effective and devastating strike they could. While planning their activities well, they lost the big picture and we are fortunate for that.

I am also glad that George Bush was our President and not Al Gore. Bush rose over and above the challenge; I suspect Gore would have been in over his head and handled things as he saw them handled for the previous two terms. While I have trouble with the details and some of the collateral issues (like the Patriot Acts), I support out efforts to root out and eradicate, as much as possible, those responsible. We have bitten off a mighty big chew, one that we'll be a long time processing. I have questions, but they arise from the natural problems someone far from the planning has with the apparent actions of those in command. I can live with it.

But there are still questions that demand more immediate answers. Not the harpie political mongering of Senator Clinton: "What did he know and when did he know it?" Nor the conspiracist whispers: "Why did Bush allow this attack?" Rather, they grow from the actions, reporting and accounts of the event itself.

The Philadelphia Daily News asks twenty of those questions and I urge you to read them. It is thought-provoking stuff. Some of the questions are fluff to pad the article, but some cut right to the heart of the day.

They do leave out two more questions, though. First, there's the story from New York of a Palestinian boy who, caught day-dreaming one day in class, staring at the two towers, who said something bad was going to happen to them. It was a week before 9-11. The story is well documented, but hasn't been investigated. Then there's the also documented story of the Israeli cell phone (or was it pager?) company that sent out a terrorist warning to their subscribers two hours before the first attack. This wasn't the Palestinian assertion that Jews knew, but I think is the source of that libel. That story, too, has disappeared. (Sorry for no links here; they are difficult to track down now. But if necessary for readers, I will look if asked to back myself up.)

Also, there is this reconstructed timeline of President Bush's movements and actions that day. This site has meticulously linked and documented writing that brings up a lot of questions themselves. Go to their home page for more. They are not as "conspiracist" as most sites, though they do slip in the occasional unwarranted speculation or assertion, so be careful in reading.

Lastly, why after two years has not one single government official been reprimanded, demoted, punished, fired, charged, arrested, taken to jail or court or otherwise disciplined? That, more than anything else, is what galls me. There is strong and clear evidence that some folks didn't take the action they should have.

I don't think there is a conspiracy. I do think there is a lot of turf-protecting, ass-covering and career saving going on. This is normal behavior for large bureaucracies. I'm not saying we should find a few people to point the terrible finger of blame at for 9-11. But there is no real evidence that meaningful change has come as a result. And that's what scares me.

Because I do think one day before I die, I will live to see a small nuclear attack on a city of America or Europe. Or, as has been alleged recently, a massive biological attack by the remnants of Al-Qaeda. Either way, that's too terrible to confront. It demands that renewed, focused and efficient agencies are on the job. How do we know that we have the folks up for the task?

Who watches the watchmen?

Thanks to Australian site ZGeek for pointing me to this. Now you can see what relativistic effects (ie. travelling close to the speed of light) look like! This site, part of the Australia National University:
relativistic visualization project has used supercomputers to simulate what we might see in a world where the effects of Einstein's theory of special relativity are everyday experiences.
There are stills of a desert road and a street trolley and movies of the same! Very, very cool.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Its Time Passed?

It's an annual rite of passage now, the announcement of the Project: Censored list of "censored" stories, stories the major media has largely ignored or minimised.

But what a difference a year has made. Looking down the list, I can only find maybe five of the stories that are truly obscure. All the rest have been getting a thorough airing in the blogosphere! That's right, the explosion of Internet blogs has led to the increased exposure and coverage of stories the "major" media used to let slide.

Those who still are dead-tree-centric, of course, might still find this list valid. They are behind the times, though. The blogosphere has truly come into its own this year. It even served a valuable role in bringing down a Senate Majority Leader. Stories don't get "lost" anymore, but find new homes, put down roots, and take on a subterranean life of their own. If they're important enough, the stories get taken up by other blogs until a critical mass is reached. But no story truly disappears any more. A daily reading of folks like Instapundit proves that.

For the first time, looking at the Project: Censored list, I have a feeling of quaintness. Of a less-enlightened time passed and gone for good.
Bow Down, Shut Up, Don't Look Directly At Him

When I wrote, the other day, about the surprise plan by members of the City School Board to fire every teacher and administrator at the 22 failing City schools, I forgot one powerful voice in my musings.

Well, that voice has now spoken. Memphis City Mayor His Imperial Majesty Dr. Willie "The King" Herenton, wasted little time and even less respect in coming out blasting.

Predictably, he made his announcement in front of the Memphis teacher's union building, surrounded by union officials and workers, teachers and local politicians. Those who didn't see this on television missed the spectacle of the puffed-up little City Councilman Rickey Peete standing next to the Mayor like a fight coach just before the big match. (Those of you from outta town: Peete was formerly a councilman who was caught on tape taking a bribe at the Shoney's that used to be down the street from here. He was tried and convicted and served his time. Then, he ran again and was re-elected! Yeah, we can really pick 'em here in Memphis).

Herenton has had it in for the City School Board for a while. In some respects, he's right. It is a too-political board that's more about things other than the education of city youth. But his real animus is a desire for direct control. He wants to appoint the Board, to make them more "professional," in his words. Given the make-up of other boards around town, and we have a lot, like kudzu on the landscape, that's code for "my political elite buddies." Boards tend to be dominated by the usual suspects, earning their hefty paychecks and slapping each others' backs, with a sprinkling of hard-working, knowledgeable heavy lifters from the bowels of government bureaucracy.

Don't forget, too, the Gerry House phenomenon. While she served as the former City Schools Superintendent, House instituted a city-wide collection of curriculum experiments. She collected a lot of awards for that; enough that she got a job at a New York think-tank and left town. Her award-winning program, unfortunately, proved completely inappropriate for a city where students move from school to school on a regular basis, as their low-income parents move around. It proved a disaster of spectacular proportions and was, in high degree, part of why we have so many failing schools. But education experts love her and still hold her in high regard. What did she think? We don't know. She never spoke to the press. Ever.

Herenton didn't do anything about her while she was here and that leads me to worry about him having direct control of the School Board. His whole Mayoral style is very imperial and high-handed. He tends to speak of himself in the royal "we." He is abruptly dismissive of critics, charging them with being interfering and lacking knowledge. Everything tends to happen behind closed doors until they are sprung on a city he expects to fall over with praise and acceptance. It wins him few friends.

His stunt with the teacher's union won him something far more tangible. He's furthered the chasm between those who want real change and those who want their well-paid and -perked status quo. He's deepened the trenches and poured the poison gas.

He's standing in the way for his own political gain. He's scum.
About Face!

Politicians are notorious for supporting anything the people support and opposing anything the people oppose. They think themselves good politicians for that, but flags blow with the winds, too, and no one is electing flags, yet.

Anyway, now that the No Child Left Behind reports are out and so many schools are in trouble, it seems the people who voted it in so overwhelmingly (Senate: 87-10; House: 381-41) are suddenly having second thoughts.

As I said a few days ago, watch as the standards are now lowered. It's the way the wind is blowing today.
Jockeying for Position

Here's a surprising editorial from the solons at the Commercial Appeal about the Hooks/Jobe plan, as they now call it, to fire all the teachers and administrators at the 22 failing schools and make them take qualifying tests to be rehired. It's surprising because the Commercial Appeal supports it!

Now, their other reporting has mostly been skeptical of school reform and openly supportive of teachers to the point of pandering. But in the editorial, they come out clearly in favor. That's good to see.

But it puts them at odds with the City Mayor, who is pandering himself with the schools and teacher's union. How the Commercial Appeal will handle that -- as they are unapologetic cheerleaders for Herenton -- remains to be seen.
Good And Bad

Channel 30, WLMT, will begin broadcasting WB programming at 10PM, starting today. WB had been carried on the ABC affiliate, Channel 24, which has a co-programming deal with the other station. They had been broadcasting WB shows starting at 11:06, so this is a great improvement.

Or maybe not. Channel 30 is the home of University of Memphis sports. During basketball season they routinely push back UPN prime-time programming to 10PM already. Does this mean that now we can expect pre-emptions of WB to midnight or later?

Ah well...the good Lord giveth and he taketh away.
Pssst...Blake. Here's A Clue

The Commercial Appeal announced with great flourish Blake's Blog, by CA political/local reporter Blake Fontenay. Note that URL; how easy to remember and share. Well, Blake, it's not a blog if you don't post! Trust me, I know this. Announcement was September 7 and nothing yet.

This is in line with the other blog the CA announced some weeks ago. It's just plain hopeless. Not only does it completely miss the philosophy of blogging, but it only posts the most recent stuff. There's no archive! The folks at the CA do not understand this new sea-change in the world of reporting and information-sharing. To no one's surprise, they are in real danger of being left behind.

Which would be good thing, as the paper has been the Pravda of Memphis government and money-men for many years. Loosening their grip on the flow of information around the city would only benefit those of us being abused by the powerful elite.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

So I'll Do It Tomorrow/That Seems Like A Pretty Good Idea Today

Had an unexpectedly long day today and got home later than usual. So, no bloggity goodness for ya. I'm hoping tomorrow is shorter (I built up some goodwill today and will try to cash it in.) and I can catch up. Be good or be careful!

**Bonus Cool Points if you can identify the header's source. Wagering is the individual's responsibility.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Grammar Nazis

I used to post pretty regularly on the alt.startrek.creative Usenet newsgroup. It's a forum for fan-written stories about the characters in Star Trek. There was a time when there were a lot of folks taking apart the new stories posted for failures of spelling, punctuation and grammar. It didn't matter what the feelings of the newbie were, what was important was following the grammar rules. After all, we're writers, dammit! Not some Trek-besotted fans. These folks were, well a lot like these folks over at

It really makes me angry to see stuff like this. There are less snide, less condescending ways to make your point. And there's also the principle of accepting things as they are, or the intentions of the author if you bother to find out first! If someone's writing isn't as good as it could be, it may be they don't care. Or maybe they don't know. But pouncing on them and pounding them with a Strunk & White isn't the way to go about it. It only chases off the very people whose energy you might want around.

That said, I also hate the "poetic," art-damaged stuff that folks like Dew write. (Scroll about halfway down.) This kind of writing is just painful to read; rather than being fluid and invisible, allowing the words to do the work and paint the image, the writing calls attention to itself and is the visual equivalent of road bumps. Someone needs to bitch-slap some reality back into her self-absorbed head. Jeez. How arrogant....
Whose Water Is This?

Sometimes the Commercial Appeal can be so opaque you are left to wonder at what's really going on. Take, for example, this story today about FedEx pilot Vernice Kuglin. The first CA story on her acquittal on Federal charges of tax evasion barely made a short, short article, light on details, deep in the Metro section even though it was a stunning, unexpected success.

Now, weeks later we get another, longer story with more detail. What sparked the renewed interest? Maybe it was:
She was deluged with congratulatory E-mails from fellow tax protesters and requests from reporters for interviews. Her story appeared in The New York Times and she appeared on national television.
They had a story and didn't even know it! Or they thought they were doing the right thing by playing it down and got caught when others took it up. Who knows?

Not only that, but look at how they treat the two parties here. My, my, my. Can you detect a little "law and order" bias here? A bit of "slag the nutty victim?" The paper repeatedly slams home the message that the IRS will get you one way or another.

I'll admit to my own bias here. Have you ever read the history of the income tax in this country? It's explicitly banned in the Constitution, as the Founding Fathers thought it the most evil and onerous of taxes. They preferred taxes on import/export and trade, as they are voluntary to some extent. Income taxes were thought to be a gross over-reach of the powers of the Federal government. They always intended a small Federal branch and tariffs could fund that.

It took decades of failed efforts by Congresses and Presidents to get an income tax because one Supreme Court after another ruled against it. Presidents stacking the Supreme Court eventually led to a more pliable Court, but even then it took a decade more for the legislation to go through. There's even obscure controversy over whether an actual majority of States ratified it!

The first income tax was for funding our World War One involvement, and was only intended to affect the top one-tenth of one percent of Americans. It's snowballed ever since and the government has ballooned along with it. More than three-fourths of taxes taken in today fund social and entitlement programs, not defense or trade regulation.

Kuglin won because the IRS lost their case. As one juror noted, "They didn't prove their case." Kuglin had written several letters to the IRS asking them to show her the law requiring her to pay taxes, which they ignored. This was brought out in her case. All the IRS had to do was say, "She violated Title X, Section X, Paragraph X of the Federal Code." and she would have lost. But they didn't do that. Why?

Well, it turns out there is no law requiring you to pay the income tax. There are, however, a bunch of laws making crimes of everything to do with not paying, or not filing forms, or filing non-payment forms honestly. It's strange.

And that's where I'll drop this. I'm not going to make a hobby horse of this, so don't you try, either. I always pay my income taxes, because I can't survive the Federal government making an example of me. That's where I'll stop.
School Reform Takes A Leap?

At last night's Memphis City School Board meeting, as the last agenda item, a proposal was put forward by Lora Jobe and Michael Hooks, Jr. to fire all the teachers and administrators in the 22 lowest-performing schools in the city. All the fired employees would be eligible for rehire, but only after taking qualifying exams. Being the last item at the meeting, some Board members were already gone and nothing much came of it. But, an electrifying gauntlet was thrown down.

Whether it will bear fruit, to mangle a metaphor, is not at all sure. Jobe has a reputation as a knowledgeable devotee of education, someone who takes her job quite seriously. Hooks, on the other hand, is a political operative. His job on the School Board is merely a holding position until some other office/campaign comes along. He has ambitions. How they paired up and under what auspices is a mystery not yet answered.

Will they follow through? Or is this just a jolt to the system, something to shake things up a bit but not carry out? They face serious opposition from the teachers union and the bureaucracy in the MCS main office, and from their allies on the Board. There will also be the usual demagoguery to endure, the hue and cry from the expected quarters that drowns out meaningful discussion.

New MCS Superintendent Carol Johnson was blindsided. She hasn't commented yet. One has to wonder what she thinks of this move, coming before she's even settled into her chair. I don't think she's coming in with rose-colored glasses, but still this is some hello.

There is also the daily paper. Already, in it's reporting there is a feeling of sympathy for teachers. Take this opening, from a news story no less:
Cindy Whitmore is more than a seventh-grade math teacher at Sherwood Middle School.

She is a social worker. She is a psychologist. And she is a surrogate mother and sister to students at Sherwood.

Now - thanks to a new Memphis City school board proposal to rebuild 22 of the lowest-performing schools from scratch - Whitmore also is among hundreds of teachers who could lose their jobs.
Oh yeah, fair, neutral and objective my ass. But wait, there's more:
Healing the schools will mean....
Healing? What kind of word choice is that? You can see where the CA's sympathies lie already.

This one will be fun to watch, if the Jobe/Hooks team follow through.
That's When I Reach For My Revolver

One of the notable things that happened during the blog hiatus was that I fired a gun for the first time. A couple I know invited me to Rangemaster here in Memphis to fire some pistols with them. It was a blast!

I am a Second Amendment absolutist. I believe that folks should be allowed to own whatever they want, possibly within certain very large limits, and use them as they see fit. Idiots who can't follow common sense should face the wrath of neighbors and a strict review by a judge. Government should be involved only to the extent of making sure gun-makers sell a quality product and to set whatever appropriate limits on storage and use as the local community sees fit. Folks should be able to wear guns wherever they want, as a deterrent to crime. Everyone should be encouraging gun owners and users to take training and safety courses. Guns should be a privilege of adults, with all the responsibility that comes with such a dangerous weapon.

But I've never fired a gun! None of my family or friends were hunters growing up. Few folks I was friends with own them, except for small handguns for self-defense. I've known a couple of guys with serious gun collections and have held some of their guns, but that's been it.

I have considered the personal safety issue, but I can't take the gun to work, so it won't help me when I go back and forth. Also, my apartment has thin walls and I worry that any bullet fired at an intruder will also visit my neighbors, with unknown consequences. And my size and hard expression tend to insulate me some.

Before we went, my friends made sure I read the Rangemaster safety booklet and knew to:
*pull, don't squeeze, the trigger*
*always point the gun down*
*treat every gun as though it's loaded, with a round in the chamber*
*know what's behind your target*.

You better believe that I was holding that Kahr 9mm pretty gingerly when it first came into my hand. It weighed a lot less than expected, but was still a solid presence in my grip. It felt a bit small, undersized. We set out the first target, about 12-15 feet down range, and I aimed carefully. BLAM

The kick of the gun was much less than I was ready for. The gun still jerked, and my shot went up and to the left, as did all my shots that night, but I came pretty close to where I was aiming. Damn it felt good, too. I fired off a few more rounds; all came close to each other, but high-and-wide. Still, not bad for a first time!

They next let me fire their sexy black Beretta. I don't know the model or type, except that it fired .40 caliber rounds. Unlike the angular, sleek Kahr, this one was slightly rounded in every dimension like a Roman column. It had a slightly larger kick, as I would expect. But it felt much heavier and a bit bulkier in my grip.

I also got to fire a .45 caliber pistol. I don't remember what it was not, and yeah, it had a real kick to it. Very large in my hand, too. I went back to the car for some more shooting. I did pretty well after a while, keeping my shots grouped moderately tightly, but still off. I guess that takes practice.

The thing that most impressed me, other than holding a death machine in my hands, was the noise. Guns are much much louder than I anticipated. Much. I couldn't believe the volume, even with headgear. Hollywood completely misses the mark on their depiction of the noise, no doubt. It's the loudest thing I've heard in a while.

I had a terrific time. When I left I had a mild buzz of excitement still. And I will definitely go back for more. I've even looked at a small gun (like the Sig P229), but at $500 it will have to wait a while.
Quality Assurance Memo

It seems that in a "blog pimpin'" post that was made yesterday, there was a serious lapse in our product quality assurance process. Not only was one-half of a blog team not identified, but the identification information for both was conflated.

The party responsible has been sacked.

Seriously, yesterday I was extolling Signifying Nothing and made some egregious errors. Unlike the Commercial Appeal, I can't pretend they didn't happen and keep on going. Amends must be made as publicly as the error.

So, the blog was started by Chris Lawrence, who attends Ole Miss in Oxford. He later added Brock Sides, a Memphian, to the team. If only I had actually read the box in the upper left hand corner that told us all that.... D'oh!
The Howard Dean Fun Machine

The ol' Howard Dean Fun Machine has opened a new front here in Memphis. This morning an anti-Bush protestor, looking sharp in her yellow sundress, was spotted at the corner of Pauline and Union, in the Medical District, with her "Fire Bush" sign high in the air. In type far too small to read in a passing vehicle she announced her Dean-osity and listed all Bush's crimes.

You would think someone making a public fuss would like media attention, but when a radio reporter attempted to interview her, he was kicked in the nuts. Apparently, she didn't get the Dean email about how to handle the press.

Ah well...the Howard Dean Fun Machine rolls on.

INSTANT UPDATE While logging in to Blogger, I noticed in the "Most Recently Updated Blogs" a listing for Libertarians For Dean! Will wonders never cease? No time to check it out tonight, so I'll get back to you on this one.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Quit Watching My Hands! I'm Doing My Trick Now

Never let the inconvenient facts stop a story. That's the motto for a whole lot of reporters, journalists and newspaper writers. Friday's USAToday story on Alabama governor Bob Riley's campaign for a huge bump in the state income tax is one such example. The whole story is built around the conflict and drama and bad feelings stirred up by the issue. It's a pretty long, and moderately detailed story. Only one problem: it's all a lot of "so what?"

Why? Because, tossed off in the third paragraph is this: "...polls show his plan losing by a 2-to-1 ratio...." Oops! End of story, right? Nothing to report, right? Nah, the writer just acts like he didn't say that and keeps on with the charade.

The Commercial Appeal has a trio of editorials on Sunday all praising Riley and the "progressive" tax reform in language suspiciously like that used in the Tennessee Income Tax Wars just passed. Utterly bypassed in those articles is the simple truth: one billion dollars in new taxes will be extracted not from everyone, but a diminished slice of the population of the state.

The pro-income taxers in Tennessee were proudly progressive in pointing out that only 40% of Tennesseans would pay the income tax. The other 60% would drop off the tax rolls. So, clearly, a much larger tax burden would fall on a smaller percentage of people. That means a massive tax hike for those folks. No way around the math.

But that doesn't stop reporters and the press. Witness this story, mentioning the poll results. Look carefully at the pro-Riley support in the language, even from the supposedly neutral pollster!

You can gild shit all you want, but it's still shit and still stinks. No amount of wand-waving and "abra-ca-dabra" by the press will change that fact.
OK, I'm A Dork

The Monkee's "Daydream Believer" just came on the radio and yeah, I love that song. I'm old enough to remember it from the day and I liked it then, too, but would never, ever admit it, of course. Hey, I had street cred to protect. A gorgeous, easy-to-sing melody; perfectly written and arranged. Davy Jones holds the singer-theatrics down to nothing in service of the song, like the English stage-trained great pop singer he is, in contrast to the "pop divas" we have today who value themselves more. That horn bridge from the verse to the chorus just carries you along so easily. Neil Diamond may be a schmaltz king, but even schmaltz can hit the mark sometimes.

Yeah, I'm a dork. Go listen to your nu-metal for a brain rinse.
Ummmm...Yeah, Then

Sorry, but I won't be writing up the No Child Left Behind report. At first, I thought this was the annual State report which has put 68 Memphis schools on the endangered list, so I'm obviously an idiot. But everyone in the education establishment is vilifying this. Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bobby Pickler summed it up pretty well when he just dismissed the report because it wasn't something they could prepare for. "Hey, we didn't cover that material in class! That's not fair! Do over!! Do over!!"

It seems clear to me that the NCLB is a baseline to begin from, not a pass/fail graduation-killer. Folks who would never in a million years listen to conspiracy theories will immediately call the NCLB a secret maneuver to get vouchers, etc. into the mix. May be, but that's not a conspiracy; it's open warfare against a decrepit and grasping establishment that values its own survival and perks more than it does its mission. Government schools need the competition, in the worst possible way. Let's get on with it.

You can learn more for yourself about the NCLB act at this link from the Department of Education.

(BTW, doesn't that "No Child Left Behind" remind you of the Tim LaHaye series? The day after Graduation, suddenly millions of kids have disappeared, taken by the Rapture of Employment and Higher Education into some Heaven.... Ok, enough of that.)
Here We Go Again

News was announced today that Georgia's Rebecca Paul is coming to Tennessee to run our lottery corporation. As South Knox Bubba has already noted, this was long in the making. Our legislators have been wooing her in the worst, most blatant way for quite a while now. It was pretty obvious from the very first stories about her in the State press.

It may be that she read the tea leaves back home and is getting out before her future detractors introduce her to the town's railroad tracks. It seems that the Georgia lottery is a huge success, maybe too huge:
Lawmakers in Georgia have worried for years that lottery sales one day won't cover the scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs the lottery is supposed to fund. But this summer, state officials got a grim prediction of how soon the two programs could outstrip lottery receipts.

Based on current projections, lottery revenues will fall short by $39 million in 2006 and by $221 million in 2007.

And that's assuming lottery revenues don't drop between now and then. Tennessee residents, considered prime border-crossing customers, recently voted to start their own lottery (and HOPE-like scholarship program) that should be up and running by next year.
She'd better watch herself here, or she'll get the John Shumaker welcome: big up front and pointy in the back. SKB has detailed this one quite well: huge welcome as a conquering hero, getting a pass on the high-life and perks she'll share with the other political bigs, then she steps on the wrong toes somewhere somehow, she finds herself vilified in the press and under various investigations, plain-sight problems in her past will suddenly be looked at, she's shown the door. Don't be surprised. It's how we do business in Tennessee.

There's another eye-opener. Look at what it took to get her here:
Paul's base salary will be $350,000, but she can earn incentives that could raise her annual salary to $752,500....

The total package would keep her the highest-paid lottery executive in the United States.

"Tennessee students will be getting the best lottery CEO in the world," said Denny Bottorff, the chairman of the board of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp.
Shumaker would be envious! Doesn't that last quote just make your bullshit detectors quiver? The story doesn't make clear who actually hired her, though one presumes it was the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. However, it was politicians who hogged the spotlight in introducing her, especially Senator Steve Cohen, the man whom no sane-thining, safety-minded individual would get between when spotlights beckon him. Deals like this don't happen fast; meetings were held in the back room and I'd like to hear about them.

But since both these stories came from the Associated Press, and not the Commercial Appeal's own writers, I'm not holding my breath. New editor Chris Peck has really shown a lack of enthusiasm for state-wide issues. Most of these stories wind up back in the depths of the Metro section now, taken from the AP. It's a shame.

The article goes on:
She receives the entire bonus if she meets three conditions: Tennessee's lottery must be up and running by Feb. 17, it must be online 60 days after that and it must reach $122 million in net revenues in her first year....

In its first year, the lottery is expected to bring in at least $200 million after prizes and expenses, with scholarships costing an estimated $175 million.
Don't you just love that "scholarships costing" bit? Yeah, all that lottery money belongs to the State, so spending it on its designated purpose is a cost. Notice, too, the huge disconnect between her benchmark and the expected first-year earnings. Someone's hedging her bets? No, more likely she knows just what the first year will bring and it's not even close to the pie-in-the-sky estimates we've been hearing from Cohen. Cohen himself, during the campaign for the lottery, only went as high as $180 million, the maximum amount in the estimated range of earnings from a now-three-year old study. My money's on Paul's number as being closer to the mark.

The whole thing stinks to me of typical back-room Nashville. There's a lot of money sloshing around here and it seems that a lot of hands are fighting hard to grab a bit. Don't be surprised when we start to hear, in a few years, about the number of students who "being denied" their share of the lottery scholarships, the wastefulness of the Lottery Corporation and the high-living ways of Rebecca Paul, who will be running another lottery in another state by then. I'm just sayin'.
Blog Pimping

Just wanted to mention a couple of blogs. First, Chris Lawrence of Signifying Nothing is posting quite a lot of late, and it's all worthy reading. He's a wide-ranging and fairly deep intellect. Topics include political science, trips, roads, SEC football, politics, etc. He says he lives in Memphis, but he also talks alot about Oxford, Mississippi and if I'm not mistaken he's supposed to be running for elective office right now in Mississippi. Either way, seems like he'd be a good fit into the Rocky Top Brigade, if he's of a mind. Stop in and see what y'all think.

Second is WatchBlog, a website of bloggers from across the political spectrum, though the site is cleaved into Democrat, Republican and Other columns. They are encouraging cross-party reading and blogging. I haven't had time to go in-depth in reading it yet, but it looks good so far. Hat tip to CJ at Up For Anything for pointing it out.