Saturday, September 27, 2003

Developers: Why They Are Scum

Via Possumblog, comes this story of a developer in Mountain Brook, Alabama, and the lengths he went to in getting his way. Almost.
The Morality Of Slavery And Eugene Genovese

Thomas, over at Newsrack Blog has a great post on Eugene Genovese's review of Mark Noll's book, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Honestly, it's just a bit over my head, as I haven't yet read the review or book, but this sure makes me want to! Go check it out.
The Living Wage Comes To Memphis

There's been a person posting messages about various causes of the far Left to the Memphis and Tennessee newgroups. More on that person later. One of those posts is about the living wage:
This grassroots movement has been started by If you have an hour to spare please come by and show your support.

Living Wage Press Conference Tuesday Sept 23rd 2:00 1st Congo
Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Sunday Sept 28th 3:00 NCRM

Living Wage Press Conference
Tuesday the 23rd at 2:00 p.m. on the front steps of First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper (near the intersection of Cooper and Young.) Please come and bring others with you as well! We're doing it to give information but also to show our strength by having 50 to 75 people standing for a living wage.

The conference will release which city council officials support a living wage for city workers ( and people who work for firms that do city work). The language is still being crafted, but the ordinance will require all city workers, subcontractors and companies that receive tax abatements or freezes to pay at least $10.00 with benefits or $12.00 an hour without benefits.

Come out and show your support for livable wages for all.
Well, not all, of course, just those connected to City and County government. Mandating living wage in exchange for tax freezes means no business comes to Memphis. South Knox Bubba has documented this campaign's action in Knoxville over at his blog here, as has Say Uncle here, here and here. They aren't a "grass-roots" organisation in the sense they want you to believe, but are an import of a national and international movement. They appear to be making their start in Memphis.

Note too, We're doing it to give information but also to show our strength by having 50 to 75 people standing for a living wage. That's not entirely honest. They want a crowd for the cameras, to make their cause seem more popular than it may really be.

I've blogged on the Midsouth Peace and Justice Center before. They are anti-war, anti-American, anti-capitalist Leftists of the "no blood for ooooooiiiiiiillllll" stripe. During the run-up to the Iraqi War, they managed to wangle television and newspaper time with bogus anti-war demonstrations, mostly recruited from the ranks of the First Congo (as it's known here in Midtown) Church. I've Googled their members and Board of Directors to interesting result. They are small and fringe, but moderately adept at working the media to inflate their image.

I oppose the living wage, obviously. When you mandate a minimum wage that is pretty far above the community's basic level, you encourage jobs to go elsewhere. In the global 21st century, that has meant Mexican maquiladoras, China, and now even outsourcing of computer-related jobs to India. Business always seeks to lower costs; wages are the single biggest cost of doing business. Well-meaning socialism like this only hurts those it purports to help. It comes from a romantic and elitist view of people heavily weighted by emotionalism and notably lacking in rational thinking.

The person who posted the Usenet message is Kilroy238. I Googled and Yahoo'd this person. He is, apparently, William (Bill) Benson of the Overton Square area in Midtown Memphis, only a quarter mile or so from where I live. Here is a photo of him. He seems to enjoy playing Red Faction (har har har) and is apparently into the blinking lights-pink noise Mind-Machine technology thing. I've found reviews he's written on a local Memphis site and even at Amazon! Here's his review of the Robert Redford film Brubaker:
A based on a true story.One man tries to make a difference to restore the humanity to the lifes of 1500 hundred men. Only to be fought every step of the way. If you ever forget why to hate republicans and their love of money and distain for their fellow man watch this movie.
Decorum prevents me from mentioning the other review. Oh! And he's a Dennis Kucinich supporter.

Yeah, a great bunch here.

**UPDATE** Whoa! That was quick. Since I wrote the above earlier today, I've gone to the Commercial Appeal website and discovered three stories about action on the living wage by City Councillors.

On Friday, there was an article about the Industrial Development Board's approval of a range of requests. Included in the article was a mention that two City Council members, Jack Sammons and Rickey Peete, who serve on the IDB, are setting up a committee to propose just such a living wage ordinance for Memphis. They have 60 days to report back. Hilarious quote, from Sammons,"
"It's real tough for me to vote for something that will put someone to work for $8 an hour."
As opposed to the someone not working at all? Jeez....

Today, there's a follow-up story that both adds confusion and detail to the previous article. The same author as the above, David Flaum, writes:
The suggestion to create a wage floor was floated Thursday by Memphis City Councilmen Rickey Peete and Jack Sammons, who were present when the IDB evaluation committee met to review applications.

The wage floor idea was prompted by a tax freeze request from Ferco Color, which plans to create 61 jobs at an average annual pay of $16,120. That's an average of about $8.20 an hour plus benefits.....

Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Department officials will offer a wage floor proposal for the committee to act on within 60 days.
Apparently, the details of the living wage law were farmed out to a government agency, but will still appear within the sixty day window. Don't you just love the vast inter-locking network of agencies that watch over us and our well-being?

While doing all the above research, I stumbled across a Commercial Appeal article from September 1st that shows how free trade has cost Memphis roughly 10,000 jobs. It then goes on to a very dense, numbers-rich study trying to support the living wage, even including a University of Memphis professor's study of what's required for a "living wage" in the city. Naturally, the advocates of the living wage admit that their number is more than what's minimally required because "we need to achieve a dignified self-sufficiency." Again, not numbers, but feel-goodness prevails.

Howler quote comes from Rev. Rebekah Jordan:
"If you're working full time, it's your employer's responsibility to see that you can meet your basic needs."
That's right, Mr. and Ms. Business Owner, it's your responsibility to provide for housing, transportation, food, medical, child care, education, and whatever else these folks can think up that is a "basic" necessity of life. If that means we pay $50,000 for a Ford Focus, $12.00 for a Big Mac or $50 for new Hanes underwear, well you're a mean, evil, greedy, hater for nay-saying them.

Some good critiques of the article came in the form of letters to the editor in a later edition.

You can learn more about the Living Wage movement's history, with an emphasis on the minority aspects, here, including the involvement of a prominent Memphian, Bill Lucy.

Then, there's this Faith & Values editorial from David Waters, in his usual moralising lecture mode. He quotes from a couple of folks (see the article) from "action committes" with the usual-sounding do-good names, linked in an incestuous network that inflates their numbers and reach, to hector us into feeling guilty for our successes and therefore remiss in not seeing that we have government assuage that guilt for us.

Googling around, we learn that the Living Wage Coalition is affliliated with the MidSouth Peace and Justice Center! How about that?

As is the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice, and its director, Rev. Rebekah Jordan, mentioned above. Googling those two provided more links than I can follow up here. Click on just the first page to see the way that these groups all interlink, making them seem larger, more supported and more influential than they truly are. For example, the MSINEJ is routinely labelled "a group of area congregations." But we find out that this group numbers only twelve -- which could mean only a few hundred congregants, and even then we don't know how many of them support the MSINEJ. Amazing stuff.

I will quickly note, though, that they are affiliated with the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which hopes to tour the South and Southwest to bring attention to the plight of illegal workers. Already, they are running into trouble by having illegals on the bus with them.

Yeah, folks enter the country illegally because the crappy jobs we don't want to do, at wages no one would accept, are there for them. Now, well-intended idiots want to raise the wages, meaning even more illegals will be motivated to join them! And it's very, very bigoted and hateful to want to exclude them, to keep them in their own countries, because we're so rich and all, with lots to share. Not that you're going to share it; the government will take it from you to share. Nor can we go to their countries to tell them how to run things better -- and heaven forbid we invade -- because we are evil and hateful capitalists. Capitalists may create lots of money and wealth, but it's bad and we must give it away. It's a good thing.
Too Many Questions Remain

My brother, the blogger of Aldridge Creek Greenway fame, sent me this bizzare story of Wanda Hudson:
Wanda Hudson missed Thanksgiving and Christmas 2001 because she was locked in a Dauphin Island Parkway storage unit, Hudson's attorney said Thursday.

In fact, Hudson was padlocked in the unit for 63 days, attorney Mallory Mantiply told a Mobile County Circuit Court civil jury....

She rented unit number 611, a 30 feet by 10 feet enclosure, paid a month's rent, then moved her furniture and other belongings inside.

A month later, on Nov. 7, 2001, Mantiply told jurors, Hudson paid another month's rent. And on that very night, while on a routine security check, the facility's manager found Hudson's storage unit unlocked and partially open.

He closed and locked it.

And that was apparently the last anyone saw of Hudson for more than two months.
It just gets weirder from there. There are all kinds of questions arising from the supposed circumstances. One customer, who had a nearby unit and visited it every other day, never heard her, nor noticed the smell? No one did security walks? She didn't hear them? I think there was something wrong with her in the first place, and she fell into a bad situation which she wasn't equipped to handle.

Thanks for the pointer, Mark.
Orson Welles' Batman

Yep, you read that headline correctly. Back in 1944 Orson Welles, genius director and auteur, was preparing a version of the Batman story for the big screen. He had gone as far as having a screen treatment written up, had started production design, and had even gotten some stars lined up! You can read the whole story at Mark Millar's column at Comic Book Resources.

Apparently, the movie would have begun with the origin story, the death of his parents by street criminals leaving him orphaned. It would have ended with a battle to the death with the Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face and the Catwoman facing a demasked Batman. Imagine what Welles could have done with that! It would have brought the comics and superheroes into a realm of adult content and consideration. It would have changed the landscape of films forever.

The cast? Try Basil Rathbone as the Joker; James Cagney as the Riddler; George Raft as Two-Face; Marlene Deitrich (!!) as Catwoman. What scuttled the project was that Welles wanted to take the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman; the studio wanted someone like Gregory Peck (!!). Remember, this was when Welles was still a tall, relatively svelte man. Imagine that sonorous voice, like a rumble from the Depths of Darkness, issuing warnings to the bad guys.

It would have been awesome. Read the whole column, which has more stuff.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A Nice Pair

Couple of posts from the wilds of the Rocky Top Brigade:

Bill Hobbs has this post about the Multistate Tax Commission's efforts to get taxation of Internet sales. Clear writing with informative links. But I do believe it's a losing battle. Governments can't allow sources of revenue to go untaxed; it's the law.

And AlphaPatriot has this post on alternatives to primaries. He's right that the two major parties have deformed the process and the government to their needs, I'm just not yet sold on the kinds of alternatives he discusses.

So, go, read. I'll still be here when you get back.
The West Wing

Ran across this post on today, about the show "The West Wing." I haven't watched the show, other than passing by for a few minutes on the way to something else, but the article seems a good summation of the history and problems of the show. Mostly. This passage from the post caught my eye:
To conservatives, "West Wing" has always had a left-wing taint, and they're not about to start watching again just because the show added a temporary Republican president. James Lileks has said that Phil Donahue's MSNBC talk show failed because liberal viewers would rather hear the same words come out of Martin Sheen's mouth on "West Wing"; by the same token, a GOP president on "West Wing" will fail because Republican viewers would rather hear the same words from Bill O'Reilly's mouth.
Note he says "to conservatives...." Well, I think most anyone who watches the show, regardless of political persuasion or lack thereof, will agree that the show is strongly biased to liberalism, if not quite to Leftism. What few conservatives I've heard of appearing on the show are almost always portrayed as wrong or villainous. Reread the whole article and you'll notice the author says things that refute that statement:
Yes it came from a blatantly liberal perspective, but it was always fair and never turned into propaganda.
...the third and fourth seasons consisted largely of the president's re-election campaign, weakly imagined by Sorkin as a fantasy in which the Clinton/Gore surrogate (Martin Sheen's President Bartlet) easily vanquished the dem-witted Bush stand-in (Josh Brolin's Bob Ritchie).
But let's go back to the Lileks quote. He's right when he talks about Dems. They do have a romantic, dreamy streak that the show panders to. Bartlett is the Clinton they wished he had been. It's the essence of liberalism to see the idealistic world that ought to be and to get passionate about making it happen.

I don't think the construction is reversible. I think Republicans would love a President who actually stood up and said the things many Republicans would like to hear, rather than temper his words and turn the other cheek as Bush does. Besides, I can't see some Republican mouthing Sorkin's words. The show is so stacked against Republicans it can't work anyway. Nor could any network mount a "West Wing"-style show with a Republican cast. There simply aren't enough folks willing to act, write and direct it. It would fail. Republicans tend to be more concrete. They are more concerned with the here-and-now, the real.

And Libertarians would want you to turn off the television, pick up a good history book and read it! Americans are woefully ignorant of real history and the true origins of this country. It's how our government can have strayed so far from its roots and purposes.

It's an interesting article in that you get a view into a liberal mind. It's confused and contradictory, longing for the unreal, as you'd expect.
My Brother

My middle brother (I am the oldest.) is an insane bike rider. He's also a pretty nifty writer, with a good hand for phrasing and a good eye for detail. He's managed to combine the two into the Aldridge Creek Greenway blog. He was on an unexplained break (unexplained is normal for this taciturn guy) for a while, but has returned. Go and read, I command it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Movie Review: (La Femme) Nikita

The following review and discussion contains *MASSIVE SPOILERS*! You have been warned.

French director Luc Besson was already gaining good notices for his movies, like Subway and Le Grande blue, when he released Nikita. (The La Femme is not part of the title but was added by marketers for clarity, for some reason.) This was the movie that pushed him to international stardom. His later movies include Leon, aka The Professional, and The Fifth Element.

A sleek, stylish thriller, Nikita is the story of a street vagabond junkie (played by Anne Parillaud) who drifts along with her boyfriend and his gang to a pharmacy robbery. She sits oblivious during the whole heist and resulting shoot-out, only to cold-bloodedly murder a police officer who tells her that there will be no drugs for her.

The movie immediately establishes her as a wild woman, with no morals or concern for others. She is a French stereotype of the "wild child," the part-child/part-woman free spirit who also straddles the line between madness and profundity. You don't really see this in American cinema because the child part seems too jarring to audiences here. The closest we get is the immature woman who, through her conflicts in the film, finally grows up, sadder and wiser.

Nikita is sentenced to life in prison, but we see her taken to another room, where she is strapped in and about to be injected with drugs, like an American death sentence. She cries and pleads in confusion, but is ignored by the men around her. She dies....

Or maybe not. Nikita comes to in a hospital-like cell. It's a shabby, rundown room, but clean and spacious in a spartan way. A handsome, well-dressed man, Bob (Tcheky Karyo), with the requisite three-day stubble, comes in to show her a photo of the plot she is "buried" in: Row 8, Plot 37. He informs her that she is officially listed as dead but will be given a second life is she agrees to become a government assassin. Otherwise...Row 8, Plot 37.

So begins her training and her second life as a deep cover government murderer. After years of training, she's sent with a new identity to another city. At first, she revels in her new freedom and even finds a boyfriend, but then she begins to unravel under the demands of her assassin's job. It all ends badly for everyone else, but for Nikita there's a new freedom, once again, on her own terms.

This movie had the potential to collapse into silliness. It's the skill of director Besson and stars Parillaud, Karyo and Jean-Hugues Anglade (Marco, the new boyfriend), that keeps it afloat.

Parillaud was an inspired choice. In her real life, as she explains in the DVD extras, she is very sensitive and not at all violent. She had to do a lot of gun training and was horrified at one point to discover that she was beginning to identify with her guns a bit too much. This nature comes through in her performance, where we constantly see her battle between doing what she must and hating it.

She must also pull off a very difficult act: acting wild, amoral and crazy at one instant and then deep, tortured and disciplined the next. Parillaud does it perfectly. She can stand there bored and distracted, like a little girl, then leap to either animal frenzy or cool action without losing the viewer. Repeatedly, she must maintain her composure while executing some part of a plan she is never given to understand the whole of, and under great stress; Parillaud can do this while allowing deeper emotions to show through her eyes and face.

Tcheky Karyo, as Bob her handler, is smooth and charming, while also always being at least a step or two ahead of Nikita. He always knows what's coming up, but rarely lets her know. Unlike many American actors who would play the part cold, remote and authoritarian, Karyo is stern but caring. You can seem him appreciate and then fall in love with Nikita while never losing sight of his job. Karyo almost plays him as a stern father figure, which is telling as we'll later see.

Besson begins the movie with cool blue lighting during the extended pharmacy robbery and shoot-out, then moves to black/white dynamics during her years of training, then on to more colorful schemes as she lives her new life. This helps to delineate her changes, or rather the changes forced on her.

This is pretty clearly, to me anyway, one of the themes of the movie: Nikita is under the control of men throughout her life, until she finally breaks free. Men take her to the robbery; men arrest, imprison and execute her; a man, Bob, has her under his control during her training and later. Even Marco is somewhat controlling in his unpressured desire to know more about her mysterious past; he asks a couple of times, but seems willing to let the matter lie between them. But even he is controlled, in a roundabout way, by Bob. Nikita is passive in her early life, content to float along, then rebellious when she is confined and can't do anything about it; when she moves out, she reverts to a more playful, carefree state, until the next assignment is given to her and she finds Bob's control to be less direct but still there. It can be seen as moving through the stages of growth: infant, adolescent and young woman.

Jeanne Moreau has a cameo role in this film, as the trainer who teaches the unkempt and artless Nikita how to be a woman. Moreau does get to really shine with an enigmatic, slow smile when Nikita asks if she also was a "recruit" to the program. It's a small part, really only three scenes, but they economically encapsulate part of Nikita's growth. Moreau shows Nikita make-up, dress, poise -- femininity; she also teaches her how to use it. In those short scenes we see the rough and careless Nikita morph into a polished and beautiful woman. Again, the theme of the movie: a woman must know how to manipulate and use men in order to be free of them.

There are some astounding set-pieces in this movie. The famous restaurant kitchen scene still grabs after more than a decade. Nikita has finally "graduated" and, as a bonus, Bob takes her to a fantastic restaurant to celebrate. She is dressed in a small, black evening gown and looks ravishing; really stunning. He gives her a gift in a gorgeous wood box: a big honkin' handgun, with extra clips. Nikita is baffled, as she had thought there was something romantic to the evening, and even Bob is behaving that way, somewhat.

But no, Bob tells her where her first target is, and her escape plan: through a bathroom window. He leaves her. Stunned, she sucks it up, wipes away some tears, then emotionlessly blows away a group of people. Fleeing bodyguards, she runs through a kitchen, and empties her gun there. She leaps down a laundry shaft just ahead of an RPG. Stumbling to her escape, crying now, she finds the window bricked up! Betrayed!

Nikita makes her way out, into raining streets in her tiny black gown, holding her shoes. She storms into the control center, crying and angry and hurt, to find Bob waiting in her room. Bob's obviously glad to see her, and he tells her she passed the final test. Nikita attacks him and they fight until Bob, angry and impatient, leaves. At her door, Nikita leans in to plant one very sexy kiss on him. Then she says, "I will never kiss you again." Bob is shocked and surprised; he understands what he's just lost -- and that his controlling nature is what lost it.

Man, I love that! It's the first time that Nikita is able to assert herself meaningfully, and a turning point for her. She has taken some measure of control and will not give it back. It really is a graduation.

There's another cameo in this movie, by the inimitable Jean Reno as "the cleaner." Think Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. Reno is all deadan flair in the early part, but he's on screen too long and grows tiresome. But for a while there, he's Cool Danger.

Another notable part of the movie is the soundtrack. By Eric Serra, a long-time collaborator, it is used sparingly and meaningfully. The opening track, during the approach to the pharmacy, is a throbbing rocker, swagger and menace. During the kiss I just talked about, the music is sad, almost classical, underscoring Bob's point of view, his loss. It has many moods and is one of the very few film soundtracks I'd listen to by itself. (Donnie Darko, Ringu and Alien are three more. All share a restraint and spareness I find commendable. Interesting without being loud or distracting, or being cover for a scene montage.)

One part that is confusing is the time jumps in the movie. Months and even years are covered in either jump cuts or fades without explanation. You have to keep sharp to catch them; otherwise you wonder at some sudden changes. I can understand the compression needed to keep the moving humming along; to do otherwise would have dragged the narrative needlessly. Besson makes leaps of cinematic faith that are both refreshing and mildly confusing. Pay attention, especially in the training scenes right before her "graduation."

Nikita's polish over a European nature, the gloss and art over centuries of wear that polish a shabbiness and sense of long history; the contrast between Nikita's roiling emotions and the cold murders she must perform; her disconnection emotionally, relationally and professionally; the increasingly more elaborate and choatic assignments that skirt nearer and nearer to disaster; all are used to create and then drive a tension that builds throughout the movie. That tension is punctuated time and again by something -- Nikita's wild child antics, unexpected appearances, surprising emotion, turns of event -- that keep us wondering where things are going next.

It's no wonder that such a successful picture, which happened to come from France, was seized by Hollywood and remade. It became the inferior Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne and others. In some spots, recognising they couldn't improve on the original, they copied Nikita literally shot for shot! Only the shabby-chic of Europe becomes the completely controlled and directed uber-hyped spectacle. Everything is more tense, bigger, louder, more dramatic, more, more, more. It doesn't work. And they changed the ending!

In Nikita, she simply disappears and we don't know what will become of her, except that we know she is now free, happier, wiser and sadder all at once. In Point, her handler explicitly frees her, so we know she's OK, but also telling us that she's still controlled by men. It undercuts the whole premise of what's come before; it shows someone didn't understand or care about the theme.

Fonda is a tad too young and too American. She comes off as spoiled and willful, not wild child. She doesn't rebel, she fights back. It's an American interpretation that doesn't come from the material. Parillaud is a more mature woman who acts the wild child with abandon. Her maturation during the film is more dramatic, her adult is more mature and poised, and a different kind of sexual. Fonda is too young as an adult and it works against her portait. She a young woman, a work still in progress if you will, and not a grown, mature adult like Parillaud.

Avoid Point like the plague, but definitely check out La Femme Nikita some night. She isn't the feminine James Bond, but a nuance, troubled woman who is also a killer. It's great entertainment. Those of you who hate subtitles don't need to worry, as the movie is very quiet most of the time; it's only in a few faced-paced action scenes that the titles fly by. But you can still follow by just watching Parillaud's and Karyo's faces.

One last note: translation. The DVD I watched had a good translation that conveyed clearly what was going on, but I know enough French (very little, but enough) to recognise that some things were being changed. In the DVD extras, the scenes they show, during featurettes and interviews, from the movie have a different translation, apparently an earlier one. It has more of the flavor of the actual script, but suffers from a stiffness of translation. What is clearly "Yeah" is still translated literally as "Yes," if you get my drift here, but some word usage and imagery is retained. I wouldn't mind having the earlier translation also available, as it does better with some detail and color in the language, for comparison.

Rent it this weekend!
Vengeance Is Sweet

So, the Ditsy, Dixie Chicks weathered the storm of controversy resulting from their lead singer's comments about President Bush earlier this year. Although country radio dropped them like a hot potato -- it's interesting to note that radio programmers really wanted to keep them, as they have a large feminine audience which is what drives country radio today, but listeners, male and female, wouldn't hear of it -- and open media sources were filled with scorn and rejection, the major media kept on plugging them. There were stories when their American concert tour got underway laughing about the lack of protesters and the full concert venues.

But vengeance came nonetheless. A story today, out of Nashville, concerns the DC's announcement that they are "leaving" country music to become "rock and rollers." No word in the story if this involves them changing their music, which is clearly country, for a rock feel, but they say that they feel rejected by their peers and only found support from rock artists.

Clearly, they got the message at long last. And, if it was ever in doubt, they've been exposed as the careerists they are. Now it will be fun to watch them be remade and relaunched. Given their age, weight, they have an uphill battle against the teen divas of the day. Their music, even if it is changed some, has no market unless they go soft and ballady. Very little adult-oriented rock exists on radio today from established artists with long careers, except certain superstars.

Yeah, fun days ahead.
Why A National Anthem?

America has had many, many patriotic songs throughout out history. In fact, it was a lack of an "official" song that in part contributed to this wealth of music. The "Star Spangled Banner" didn't become the national anthem until the 1950s. In fact, that's when a lot of things that are controversial today (adding "under God" to The Pledge of Allegiance, for example) were done, all in the name of proving how religiously free America was in contrast to the godless Commies.

But let's face it. The SSB is a tough one to sing. And there are times when a softer song might better fit an occasion, like "America The Beautiful." Even Socialist propaganda like "This Land Is Your Land" have their times and places. "The Battle Hymn of The Republic?" More than a few people would love to belt that one out in these post 9-11 days. Newer songs don't easily enter the popular patriotic lexicon anymore, like Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be An American," which enjoys a wide following, and in another time would have become a national patriotic song.

Yeah, it is very popular and widely played, but with "SSB" as the officially designated anthem, it's just another patriotic song. The music industry don't help either, with their "profit before patriotism" mentality that makes sure songs are money-makers first and foremost. Who knows how many songs since the rock-and-roll era launched might have entered the popular imagination and become the new emotional glue binding generations to the American spirit? We can't know, since the SSB automatically makes all such efforts moot.

I say, let's drop "the" National Anthem and return to the days when we had lots and lots of them, free for the choosing depending on the crowd, the event and the mood of the day. After all, freedom of choice is the American way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Really, I Swear

One day this week, I really plan to get the RTB and Axis of Weevil blog lists up to date, as well as add a few other bloggers out there.

I also have a review of La Femme Nikita to post, comment of the City School Board's wimping out on firing teachers and administrators at failing schools, and those long-promised essays on why I don't watch much television anymore and "the process of unbecoming."

Really, I swear!
The Joys And Delights Of The Internet

The Memphis Commercial Appeal has a blog, of sorts, by reporter Blake Fontenay. As you or I understand these things, it's not a blog at all. In reality, it's an overflow catchment for bits that Blake writes up that can't be fit into the daily newspaper somewhere. Rather than lose them, they are tossed into the "blog."

The blog has a comments function, though Blake doesn't appear to ever respond to, much less acknowledge, anything posted. That's where the fun began for me one night. I had written a comment to a story about possibly renaming the Pyramid. Another commenter thought I had dissed the King -- Elvis Presley -- and was rather snide in his own remarks.

Well, I had the guy's name from the comments and email, so I made a "com" of it and discovered that the guy once had a blog named.... Are you ready?

Suspicious Minds! Sadly, the blog is apparently dead now.

Whee! I love the Internet. Rather than do the time- and Internet-honored thing of just firing blindly back at the guy with my .45 caliber Snarkmaster Whupass 2500, I did some research instead and found that I'd hit some poor slob's personal hissy-button. So, I let it go.

But I enjoyed the whole thing nonetheless. Such are the pleasures of my life these days.

An ending note: the CA has a readership of somewhere between 175,000 and 225,000. Yet lil' ol' Blake's blog gets no more than three comments on any post. That is so very, very sad.
Education And Value For Money

Last week, Rich of Shots Across The Bow had an excellent post on the costs of education. He pointed out that the United States spends the most of the top twenty-five industrial nations on Earth, per capita, but only produces middling results. There were a couple of links in the story, to data and more analysis, that are worth following.

So why do we have such a crappy education for our dollars? Lots of reasons; enough so that most everyone can dodge responsibility. That's not really the point of this post. I went out and looked up the cost of education at various private schools in the Memphis and Shelby County area. The results were eye-opening.

The US spends, on average, $10,240 per pupil. The average of the top twenty-five industrial nations was $6,361. I checked around and found the following prices from local, private schools:

I should note, too, that I tried some Jewish schools in the area, but none listed tuition on their websites. That list is by no means exhaustive. But what it does show is that, for what we spend on public education, you can buy a pretty good private education with quite a lot of money left over in most cases. You can almost buy a nice liberal arts university education!

Yeah, to some extent we're comparing apples and oranges here. But look at it this way: Economically speaking, the public school system enjoys vast economies of scale. They have centralised and standardised a lot of what they can, which ought to translate into reductions in per-student cost. They can afford, with their pool of public monies, to do a lot of things smaller schools only dream of.

So we have, once again, another argument for tearing apart the present system to see where the problems are inside, analysing them and devising solutions, and then restructuring the new system to meet those needs. Will it happen? Of course not! Too many vested interests with territory to protect, too many parents who aren't that concerned, too many folks who look at the enormity of what's wrong and quail at the thought of tackling it.

If you'd like to do some of your own investigating, try the Memphis Association of Independent Schools website.
Yet More Bloggers

During the first incarnation of this blog, before the first hiatus, I had a regular commenter I called Astute Reader Tim. I could always count on him to find the needed source of information on some post or other. Well, turns out he joined the fray! He's now the proud owner/operator of Goobage. And talk about information! His specialities of late are public education and Paul Krugman/economics. An astonishing wealth of stuff there. Hey, he gives our own South Knox Bubba a run for his money in the long, detailed post category.

I would like to point out that both Goobage and Conservative Zone are Tennesseans.... Hint, hint.... Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more....
Blog Tour

Several blog posts of note. First, Chris of Signifying Nothing has a really interesting post on the difference between hard and fuzzy in political science. Chris and his blogpartner Brock have been on a tear of late. Lots of good reading.

Also, at Idle Words, you can find a story of a run-in between a blogger and the Quebec language police. Really! Also, scroll up for another post with reader comments.

Finally, the Reverend Don Sensing, who is Locked and Loaded For The Lord if I may jest, has a thoughtful post on boyhood as a disorder. He comes down on the side of folks who think, as I agree, that schools today have turned normal boy behavior into a disorder requiring medication and treatment. But while he does also agree that ADHD is a valid diagnosis, arguing from his own experiences, he doesn't provide any numbers. I have to believe that valid diagnoses run maybe around ten percent? The rest are as Rev. Sensing describes. Good stuff, as always at One Hand Clapping.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Sharks In Parking Lots

Possumblog is an architect in Birmingham, Alabama who had to sit through a meeting last week about working with the Americans With Disabilities Act, legally and architecturally. Here's the hilarious and edifying result.
Sounds Good To Me

Another relic of the Sundquist administration bites the dust. Tennessee's slogan, "Tennessee Sounds Good To Me" will be ditched.

This part worries me, though:
Whitaker's tiny department — 22 people at headquarters and 119 at the state's welcome centers — is trying to come up with new ways of promoting an industry that brings 38 million visitors to the state.

Tennessee's tourism business generated $10.4 billion last year, second only to health care services in revenue.

Replacing the "Sounds Good To Me" catchphrase adopted several years ago by the Sundquist administration will be the first order of business under a creative services contract now out for bids, Whitaker said. The department is separately seeking bids for a media buyer.

In addition, the department plans to create a news bureau, also under contract, to generate publicity for the tourism industry through general and niche media rather than TV commercials.
Sounds like new government expansion and more money on dubious projects. I can't wait to see what silliness comes out of this "news bureau's" offices.
The Howard Dean Fun Machine Rolls On

Howard Dean is a tax cheat! A Vermont newspaper is reporting that Dean owes an astounding $76.01 in unpaid taxes. It's a scandal!

No doubt, Republicans will make much of this, and the whackos of the Right will try to spin this in the way so many spun Clinton's various travails and Bush's problems. Or not. Who knows? You can never predict what will catch on the media flypaper and who will decide to stake a claim on it.

What caught my eye, though, was this passage:
Dean contends he wrote a check for the full amount on July 16, and noticed on Aug. 20 that the check never cleared his bank account. He explained the situation in a letter on Aug. 20 and gave the city another check that day and requested he not be penalized because of the city's mistake.

He said in the note, which he wrote by hand, he was paying the full amount he owes at once "because my campaign has me so busy I do not want to miss a payment."
Dean does his own taxes? By hand? You've got to be kidding. That's what I would make an issue of, right there. Is he going to micromanage every single American problem, ala Clinton? I hope not, as he's not in that league.

I shouldn't worry though. Howard Dean is the John McCain of this election cycle. You know the description: the maverick, the outsider speaking truth to power, the grass-roots organiser who energises the base like the main candidate doesn't, the longshot Great White Hope of the party. It's all part of the narrative, story-telling bias fo the press. Read that essay and this discussion of the Mayer predictive model for party nominations. Very intersting stuff, and according to that Dean isn't a winner yet. He may yet be, but the war in Iraq is sucking up a lot of the media's attention that the primary process would normally have this time of year. It makes Dean's job harder.
Rocky Top Brigade Whisky Alert

Even though I am a teetotaler, I uphold the RTB search for good whisky. One for all and all for one and all that. Comes news today, from George Dickel that the company is back in business! Read the article closely and you'll see that the George Dickel still out on the market is stuff that was made nearly twelve years ago! Smoooth.... The company has new owners who have resumed production. This can only be good news for Tenneessee.

Historical sidenote: Athens, Tennessee is the site famous for the "Battle of Athens," where armed citizens (World War II veterans) took up arms against a corrupt local government and overthrew it. Great story and important State history.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

That's All, Folks!

No more until Monday, sometime. I had a long, crappy day at work. It's been raining here in the Bluff City all day, increasing by slow degrees from a light sprinkle to a full-fledged soaker right now. Looks like it's going to continue that way all night, too. Sleeping weather!

Be good or be careful, y'all.
New Blog

A buddy of mine has opened a new blog, Conservative Zone. It's brutally honest stuff when he writes about the problems in his life, but there's fun too. He's conservative and a Second Amendment supporter. Already, he's got some meaty writing on Albright, conservatism and John Ashcroft.

I have to say, he's way more direct in talking about his problems with depression than I've been, though we suffer alike. I admire that. We're both debilitated by depression, but in different ways. Mine is a constant low-level thing; there are no peaks and valleys. I was doing pretty great for a decade or so, until about four years ago when I slipped down the well. I haven't been suicidal in nearly fifteen years. [Does it ever sound weird to talk about yourself like that.]

Life for me is an eternal grey plain; days are things to get through. I'll often talk myself out of going out and doing something just so I don't need to leave home. I allow a lot of things daily, and avoid a lot of things, by default. I can't be motivated to deal with them. That's a part of that "process of unbecoming" I've talked about before. It's been an eye-opening, life-changing (in a good way) experience for me to learn just how unimportant most things are that we take for granted as necessary to daily life.

Anyway, enough of the sad violins! I can't believe that blog name hadn't already been taken, but there you are. Welcome to the world o' blogging, Mark. Check it out, y'all.