Saturday, December 06, 2003

Movie Night On Madison Avenue!

Midtown Books, at 2027 Madison Avenue in Overton Square, will be showing a classic, rarely-screened film on Wednesday, December 10th: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. The showing is a benefit for the Wolf River Conservancy, Hope House and the Memphis Film Forum. It's only a five dollar donation! You get Fat Albert cartoons, too. There's also a great coffee bar, Sip*, in the store, to keep you javanated all night. Best of all, this won't be a projection video or DVD, but actual film shown through a projector! Real movie! A local collector has agreed to share his reels for us.

Fritz Lang was a German director during the Weimar Republic days. In 1922, he made Dr. Mabuse, der Speiler, or Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, based on the book by Jacques Norbert. It was about the arch- master-criminal Dr. Mabuse, the man who seemed to know everyone and everything. He had a hand in every level of society, from top to bottom, and in every scheme and plot around. The whole world was his game. The film was an allegory of the heady, materialistic, greedy days of the Weimar and caused a sensation, even though it was four hours long! Lang was pressed to make a sequel, but declined.

He later made such landmark films as Die Frau im Mond, M and Metropolis, all still very popular today. In 1933, the director returned to Mabuse and made Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. This was a much shorter and more thrilling movie, Lang's masterpiece. The movie is about a detective who tracks the source of a crime wave to a man who is locked in an insane asylum! Or is that what's going on? Unfortunately, the Nazi government thought it was a bit too close to home and so Lang left Germany for Hollywood.

There were more Mabuse films by others, but Lang stayed away. Until 1960, anyway. He then made Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, or The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. It was a film about seeing and not seeing, with lots of mirrors, secret cameras and people who aren't as they seem, especially the wily Dr. Mabuse. It was Lang's last film.

I'll be at Midtown Books for this screening, you bet. I hope others can make it. Not only for the good you'll be doing for three Memphis groups, but for a really good, if not quite great, film. The fun starts at 7PM. You can call 726-0039 for more information, or email mtart -at-

Kudos to Hugh of Midtown Books for hosting this. Make sure you take some time to wander the stacks. His prices on the used books are pretty great ($4 to $9) and he has built up a good selection on a wide variety of subjects. Also take a look at the Midtown Artist Market in the same space: real Memphis art by real Memphis artists!

And if the big, fat, bald, gap-toothed guy quietly watching everyone else a bit nervously from the corner seems familiar, come over and say "Hi" to me.
Some Thoughts On Star Trek

A couple of things I ran across today about Star Trek reminded me that I ought to share my own thoughts on what needs to happen to revive the franchise.

First, is this story from the New York Post that is critical of the latest incarnation of Trek, Enterprise. It's important to remember that Paramount, the studio that makes ST, has a billion dollar cash cow on its hands. It simply can't turn that off. The shareholders would rebel. So, even in the face of the law of diminishing returns, they must soldier on.

One side note that struck me as I looked at the picture that accompanied the article. One of the many criticisms of previous Trek incarnations was that the jumpsuits they wore had no pockets. It always struck most folks as silly. Were do you put your hands? [The actors actually have to learn to stand with their hands out, believe it or not] Where do you put the little things you pick up in odd moments? Well, with Enterprise they consciously added pockets and zips to the uniforms, but you still don't see them use 'em!

Where does that come from? Read this probing and knowledgeable interview with former Trek writer and producer, Ron Moore. He gives a revealing look into the writing and production of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine (my favorite incarnation) and Voyager. It's long, but well worth your time. There will be a part two on Monday.

This quote from Moore explains a lot of why Trek sucks so much these days:
To an extent. I think it was more like the notes tended to become more conservative. "Don't take as many chances." "Be safer." "Don't go out on a limb with this." "Be careful we still like the character." "Don't let the character make too many mistakes." "Don't get too crazy with the ideas." They were just always conservative. You were always pulling back from something. You were never given a note saying, "Go farther. Go wilder. This needs to be more shocking." It was always "Pull it back. Be safer." Even in humor, "It's too funny." "It's too much of a joke." It was always make it smaller, make it more subtle… just play it safe.
If I suddenly replaced Rick Berman as head of Trek? I would radically rethink the format. No more series for the time being. Instead, I would completely overhaul the whole production department. To begin, I'd plan on a quarterly schedule of two-hour television movies, one a season. After the system had been running a while, I'd then make it a monthly movie.

Star Trek has the richest mythology of any modern tale. Only J.R.R. Tolkien comes close. ST has a history that extends from the Atomic Wars of the alternate-late-Sixties to the time travellers of the 29th century. We have, literally, a whole galaxy to work in and only a small fraction of that has been explored. Some of that exploration consists of a mere line of dialogue in one episode! There are hundreds of worlds and cultures that have already been mentioned; thousands of characters have been written. Fans have clamored for decades for a revisiting of some of those places and people.

The possibilities are unbounded. Young Sarek? Young Kirk? Starfleet Academy? The Bajoran-Cardassian War? A Klingon opera in the original Klingon? The story of the Romulans? A comedy? A war story? A love story? It's all out there, waiting.

Open the franchise to outsiders. Any number of science-fiction writers have licked their lips at the idea of writing for Trek. Some of the best episodes ever were written by outsiders: Ellison's "City On The Edge Of Forever," Gerrold's "The Trouble With Tribbles." Let fresh viewpoints in, fresh ideas, new spins on old ideas. There are any number of social issues to explore in the guise of Trek, scientific puzzles to solve.

Each movie has its own team overseeing it. You already have the make-up and wardrobe and design departments in place. You can farm out the opticals and special effects to companies around town. Let in new writers, but pair them with in-house production to keep the "Trek" factor in place. Each production is independent but overseen by a meta-production office.

Then you can crank out a dazzling array of Trek. A young-adult Starfleet Academy comedy one month. A Romulan spy thriller the next. Then a starship crew on a mission the next. Then a biographic tale of one important character. Constantly fresh, constantly changing. A real sense of wonder returns. If something catches the public's fancy, you can either make another movie to test the waters, or consider it for a new series. But most importantly, you let grown-ups in. Let writers tell the tale as it needs to be told, not within some guidelines that bleed the vitality from the story.

It would be an audacious concept, one that I think might work. Trek has forty years of audience attachment built in, so you have a huge pool of viewers waiting to be tapped. They would be the ones to support something like this. I think this is the direction to go.
It's Here, We Fear; Get Used To It

The Commercial Appeal has an editorial in Saturday's paper taking the Shelby County Commission to task for wanting their own oversight on the FedEx Forum project.
The officials who insist on duplicating the work of the arena's chief consultant - at taxpayer expense - say they are performing the watchdog function their constituents expect of them. But it's hard to escape the suspicion that they are maintaining this obstacle mostly because they can, and perhaps to fight the last war over arena issues that already have been resolved.
Wah, wah, wah. Given how this project was ramrodded down the people's throat, with the CA's enthusiastic support, wanting to have their own watchdog is not an unreasonable thing. And the strength of the CA's and officials' opposition might be something to look at.
The disputed sum, consisting of the $50,000 cost of the proposed county consultant and of arena-related legal expenses, might seem negligible within the project's $250 million budget, which includes $12 million in county money. But arena authority officials say the controversy jeopardizes their ability to keep their pledge to deliver the project on time, within budget and at the promised level of quality.

That's a potentially high price to pay because some commissioners feel the authority has been insufficiently attentive to their micro-managing demands for information. City officials and executives of the Memphis Grizzlies, the arena's primary tenant, have expressed growing exasperation with the commission's stance.
All this for $50,000? That's barely a good party in a skybox at the Forum. Out of $250 million? That's really a sign of this being a power play. Heisley has already forgotten who is the tenant and who is the landlord. Let it go and give the Commission its head. What are you afraid they'll find?

And notice the snarky tone of that second paragraph's first sentence. A sure sign of the lack of good facts to make your argument is when you devolve to name-calling.
For better or worse, city and county officials chose to subsidize the arena project with public money. For better or worse, they chose not to submit that subsidy to a popular referendum. For better or worse, they gave the Grizzlies effective control over the project. Many city and county taxpayers continue to disagree with those judgments, but they have been made and will not be reversed.
What a crock! "For better or worse?" Please. The City Mayor, the tiger team, the developers, the businessmen who stood to vampire a dollar from the franchise and the CA all ganged up to speed this project down the pike. Opposition was treated with the utmost contempt and derision. Reasonable questions were brushed aside as though they were unruly children. And the CA was at the heart of all this.

Normally, a project like this is in danger of bogging down in a mire of turf-wars and "where's my dollar." We're famous for it here. Any project will take a lot of time and a lot of commissions and a lot of lawsuits before it happens. But no the Forum. Even the CA was amazed at how fast this came together. They wondered by local schools couldn't get this kind of action and priority. We still wonder.

This "Hey, it happened. Let's all get over it and move on." attitude is insulting. Just a decade old, sold to us by a huckster the CA failed to uncover, with $60 million in debts still to be paid, and already slated for abandonment, the Pyramid should be a stark and humliating reminder of just how much oversight our "leaders" and the CA really require. For them to tut-tut those of us who think we're being sold yet another bill of goods in a long line of them just won't stand.
The more relevant consideration is that arena construction has proceeded to this point without major problems or cost overruns, despite the delays forced by last July's windstorm. That record appears to speak to the competence and credibility of the arena authority and the professionals whose work it oversees on the largest public construction project in this community's history.
Given that it should have put the arena behind, and there are some reports that it has, we have a right to wonder how they've done it, and what is being done. Do I trust these jokers? Not at all. Give me facts.
It also gives no cause to expect the authority will drop the ball, so to speak, before the arena opens next year, despite the lurid warnings offered by the project's critics. Commissioners' demand for their very own consultant seems less an opportunity for a meaningful independent review of the project, and more a product of the culture of self-important entitlement that has afflicted county government in recent years.
In service of its own needs, now the CA rails against the "culture of self-important entitlement" in our government. Maybe they shouldn't wait until they need it as a defense, and should take the offensive in rooting it out. Remember the scandals that rocked the County government right after the elections? The Ed Jones spending scandal? It wasn't the CA that broke the story, it was the State Comptroller's office investigation. And the CA itself reported that the results of that investigation were being discussed around County Hall for almost five months before the story broke. Great work, guys.
FedExForum will not be torn down. So it is in the interest of all Memphians, both advocates and opponents of the project, to ensure the arena becomes the community asset that will justify the public investment made in it. That is less likely to happen as long as some elected officials equate good government with personal privilege.
That's a persuasive argument: "It's already gonna happen. Let's all just get used to it." The creed of servants, to borrow a phrase. I don't think this is as much about "personal privilege" as it is about lingering anger over a very bad deal that we're all forced to live with.

What's $50,000 to help calm that anger and heal the wounds. If there's nothing to be found, then there's no need for worry. But if it worries you so much as this, I have to ask: What is there to worry about?

Friday, December 05, 2003

Mr. Mike's Ratiometric Political Party Predictions

It's too late to watch the movie I'd intended to enjoy tonight (The Snapper, an Irish comedy with Colm Meaney), since the posts below took much longer than I thought to write and get frickin' Blogger to post. So, I'll throw this in and then hit the bed.

Even though we are a year out from the 2004 elections, it's not too early to start making predictions. Such things will be flexible, of course, as personalities and events will change the relationships. Most Americans still aren't paying attention, even though primary season is nearly on us, and most political junkies have already been feeding on this since last Spring. So, in order to lock in a track record on the subject, to create an arc by which I can later judge and be judged, I'd like to introduce Mr. Mike's Ratiometric Political Party Predictions.

I'll be predicting the vote percentages the political parties will be receiving this coming Fall. Each update will have the parties involved, their percentage of the votes cast, and whatever reasoning and explanation is necessary. To begin:

Republicans (Bush): 53%
Democrats (open): 37%
Greens (open): 7%
Libertarians (open): 3%

That Democratic number is shocking, I know, but I really sense a few currents to support it. First, is the leftward drift of the party away from Bill Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council centrism. That centrism is what made recent Democratic successes possible. Look at the numbers: 44, 46, then 49%. Clinton, Clinton II, then Gore. The dot-com bust exploded that, as did the reshaping of American thinking after 9/11.

Now, look at Howard Dean's rhetoric, and that of the other candidates. Only Lieberman is sounding even vaguely like the old DLC and he's not getting much press coverage at all. Nancy Pelosi's installation as House Minority Leader is another sign; listen to her today. She has moderated some, but the old firebrand still shows through. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, before he got submerged by the crush of War in Iraq news, was also moving leftward. But he's now being targeted within his own party for replacement, by not being activist enough. It will be telling to see the names floated as possible new leaders.

Then there's the free-floating anger of their loss in 2000 which got subsumed into anti-War on Terror feelings. I really do sense they are getting out of touch with a lot of the folks who used to be called Reagan Democrats, who are now moving toward Bush based on his handling of post-9/11 American international relations. The increasingly good economic news (Read Bill Hobbs' blog for excellent coverage on that score.) will only exacerbate the Leftist ideological pull, as this is the only place they know to go to, to take an anti-Bush stance.

Still, there are a lot of disaffected Dems who believe the party isn't Left enough, isn't actively anti-Bush administration enough on a wide range of non-War issues. I think we'll see a furtherance of the gains mady by the Greens as they become the new home for those retro-Marxian, activist Dems. Remember, Nader pulled in 5% last time, a phenomenal number. He's now making noises about trying again. While Dems and the clueless will make the usual noises about Nader "stealing" votes from them and "costing" them their "rightful" victory, I think the Greens will go from 5% last time to 7% this. Depending on whether the Democratic candidate makes much of a move back to the center after they have the nomination, it might be a tad higher.

On the other flank, there are a lot of Republicans who are rapidly and vocally becoming upset with the Republican Party's apparent disavowal of its traditional "small government - less spending" philosophy. Bush seems to want to co-opt every issue he can, usually by buying whatever solution will steal it. And Republican Congress-pigs are slopping the trough like we haven't seen since the heyday of Liberal Democrats back in the Seventies. Plenty of conservative, post-94 Gingrichian Republicans would very much like to make a point to the President. If the Dems sink as badly as I think they will, that leaves room for strategising by those Republicans. They may see enough room in the lead to make their displeasure known, while not jeopardising the President's re-election chances. I think this is a real possibility, if Bush's lead remains strong.

So, they end up in the Libertarian column to make their point. It won't be a lot of votes, hence the small slice I give them. The Libs polled one percent this past election, an embarrassment after once polling at three percent two elections back! Their philosophical purism, the "all or nothing at all, right now or never" attitude, has been holding them back all along. Dems don't stand up demanding the complete Socialist state all at once. They know that by gradualism, by taking each victory and never giving it back, they win the race. The Libs should learn from that strategy and try it.

By starting with small rollbacks; by cutting out some small, meaningless programs here and there; by not demanding complete ends to laws on drugs, prostitution, etc., but starting with baby steps in, say, sentencing and scope; by scaling back the scope of some privacy and surveillance laws while not being seen as foolish in the face of the War on Terror, the Libs could make sensible progress. It took a century to get where we are today with Progressive/Socialist/Democrat policies. You can't expect folks to welcome drastic and catastrophic change overnight. The philosophical underpinnings are only now coming into the consciousness of most Americans. Build slowly on that, don't overwhelm with a tidal wave.

The thing to watch for is Republican over-confidence. Yeah, the famous "red-blue" map makes it look like the Republicans have it made, but don't forget the narrowness of the victories in many of those precincts. It was often only a 2 or three point one! I do believe the country continues to trend Republican, but they stand to lose some of that momentum with their current behavior.

My main feeling now is that the Democratic Party is in for one rude, shocking awakening. Before Bill Clinton re-invented himself in New Hampshire as the "Comeback Kid," in 1992, the Democratic Party was polling at 23%, while Reform was polling, I think, fifteen or so. Clinton is the force that drove them back from the brink. Had things gone differently, the Dems might have stayed at that low level and been reduced by the Federal Election Commission's rules into minor party status. It would have been crippling, possibly sending them into a death spiral that reconfigured American politics. Alas, it didn't happen then, and there's no Reform on the horizon for 2004. But the same anti-politics as usual feeling remains; the current Republican behavior is only making it worse right now. Democratic floundering is killing their credibility. And there's no Bill Clinton this time.

So, there you have it. Discuss; refute. And watch this space between now and November 2004 for further adjustments and refinements.
Hello And Goodnight

I've had a long ugly day at work. Basically, there are supposed to be three of us opening the store, but only I showed up (early no less!) until opening time, by when the manager came in ninety minutes late. Which she increasingly does lately. She's trying passively-aggressively to get me to do all her set up, so she can breeze in and just run things. The other one called in sick, but she wasn't. She's getting back at me for giving her a hard time for not doing her job. Such is her logic. We were very behind from the start and I had to do the work of three people until we got caught up, which was late today.

Note: I only get paid one salary. A low one, too. It makes for tremendous frustration and latent hostility.

I really, really hate being the dependable one, the guy who cares, the guy who'll do what it takes. I'm always being exploited by those who don't. Coworkers are more than happy to let me shoulder their work so they can fuck off. None of them get disciplined, so they just keep on doing it. And I keep on picking up their slack.

As you can guess, I'm pissed. So we'll see you tomorrow when, after some sleep, I've cooled off. There's one more post below this from today, similarly personal. Tomorrow, I hope to knock off a few things that require some time for thought and writing. See ya then.
Discrimination Most Of You Won't Care About

According to the Tennessee State Constitution, I cannot hold civil office in this fine State. Why? Because I am an atheist. And it turns out there are six more states where that's true. May I tell you a bit about me?

Very briefly, I grew up in the Catholic Church. (Catholicism and Judaism seem to be the two main breeding grounds for atheists. Why, I do not know.) I went to Catholic school in the first through third grades. My third grade teacher was Sister Mary Andrew, whom I still remember fondly more than three decades later. She wept on the last day of class because she was going to miss us all so much. I was an altar boy in our church, and even knew the Latin Mass by heart. Some church elders praised me for being a good altar boy.

What they never knew was that I was mostly enjoying the view of the girls from up next to the priest! I was more in love with the formality of the proceedings than the liturgy itself. As I got older, I naturally had questions about why evil existed if God created everything, why a loving God allowed suffering, and that sort of thing. The answers I got made no sense to my teen-aged mind, and frankly seemed more like equivocation and rationalisation to me. It made no sense. I slowly came to reject what I had been taught, which technically makes me an apostate.

I went out and searched on my own. As I learned more and more, I saw that plain old science, as a way of looking at the world and as a framework of evidence and theory, satisfied nearly all of my questions. Also, I discovered that nihilism described my worldview, though not as the empty amoral place most think of. To me, the universe had whatever meaning anyone cared to fill it with. Even seeing God as the meaning and purpose of life was a choice the believer made. Our purpose in life wasn't meaningless, but was up to us to create and fulfill. I quickly found out that this was an awesome and enormous responsibility. To me, though, the universe needed no God or gods to make any sense. I came to understand that I was an atheist. All this happened before my 21st birthday.

I've since been pretty comfortable with it. I've been the target of folks who see "converting the atheist" as a way to earn bonus points with God, or as a badge of merit for themselves. I've had countless arguments with people who demand that I justify, explain or "prove" my beliefs. (Please don't do that in comments or emails, OK? I don't bother you; please return the favor.) I'm pretty much live and let live. I don't usually bring up the topic, and will discuss it gently if it's broached. But it rarely comes up anyway, which is fine with me.

Once, I completely baffled a super-Christian co-worker. She had a terrible fear of blood. When she accidentally cut herself one day, she began to freak out. I went to her and said, "Why don't you go pray about it." She did, in a whispering huddle off in the corner. When she calmed down, she came back to me. "Thanks. But, I thought you didn't believe in God? Why did you tell me to pray?" I replied that while I didn't believe in God, she did and I knew that would help her. She couldn't wrap her mind around that concept and always suspected I was hiding my "true" beliefs. It was just that I understood and respected hers.

I did, in my thirties, seek out some non-theistic kind of religion. I was (still am) in a Twelve-Step program, which emphasises belief in a Higher Power. I had always used the Fellowship as mine, and it worked fine. Some people thought I was filtering my HP through the Fellowship to protect my pride in my atheism. It wasn't true, but I felt honesty and openminded-ness required me to consider it. The closest I could come was Confucianism, which is an ethical system with no requirement for God or gods. It was pretty attractive, I must admit. But it was mired in a lot of sexist and archaic stuff I don't find acceptable. I haven't found a modernist, neo-Confucianism yet, but I don't think I need it. Atheism works just fine for me.

So where does my morality "come" from? Mostly my Catholic upbringing. I was instilled with "treat others as you would be treated, if not better" from an early age. Also, "leave things better than you found them." Both, it turns out, have their biological basis in what's called the "prisoner's dilemma." (You can find a very technical discussion which explains why The Golden Rule is inevitable here. The first paragraph will explain the minimum you need to understand.) Basically, it shows that there are strong biological and logically determined reasons for cooperation in social animals like humans. It doesn't have to be God-given.

Same for "where did the universe come from?" I can't answer that, but I ask my Christian friends the same question and the answer is God. So, I reply, you don't believe in an eternal universe, but do believe in an eternal being who created it somehow. Why not just cut out the middle man? That's sort of how I look at it.

What all this leads to is that I really try to be a moral, ethical person these days. I didn't use to, but Alcoholics Anonymous fixed that. Nowadays I try to follow the law, do well by others, be a credit to my friends and community, and so forth. Heck, I even gave up eight of my most income-productive years to work for less than minimum wage in an alcohol and drug treatment center, something which is still affecting me today. It's not a decision I regret at all. I'm proud to have spent some part of my life repaying the selfishness and destruction I once wrought. Admittedly, it's also fun to tweak those who reflexively assume I'm a greedy, selfish, pig Republican who gloats in the misery of others. When I share this part of myself, it always shuts them up, heeheehee. Part of the reason for this blog is that I'd like to make my world a slightly better place with my talent for words and my persuasive abilities (if such I have).

Plenty of "Christians" hold office who are dangerous, thieving, lying, adulterous scum. But, because I don't acknowledge God as the Supreme Being, I can never hold elected or civil office in Tennessee. I'm not whining that it's unfair; it's what a democratic society created, one in which I'm in a distinct and frequently unwelcome minority. I'm a small-l libertarian, meaning I believe in the right of people to fashion whatever kind of society they want, for good or ill, free of government coersion. This law is the ironic and awful payment for that belief. I support the system of laws which allowed such a thing to pass, and loathe the mindset that sees this as good. It becomes up to me to work to change that.

While I will never challenge that law in court, I wonder when someone will. I have too many things in my past, from the drinking days and from the early sobriety days when I was still making mistakes, that prohibit me from stepping into the merciless glare of public scrutiny that political life requires these days. I would be decimated by political opponents. Heck, even as a political pundit, social commentator and "media critic" via this blog, I'm open to maliciousness such as the Commercial Appeal has occasionally employed. But I'm no longer worrying on that account. I have a big enough ego to want to share my thoughts and opinions with you, and believe it has some effect, but I also know I'm small fry. The whale eats a lot of krill, but a lot of krill also escape.

Well, I've certainly been more forthcoming than I usually am about myself. I hope this hasn't put me beyond the pale for those of you for whom your Christianity is a defining thing. I'm not satanic or communist or amoral, as I've found many people think. I'm a regular working joe just like everyone else. A proud, patriotic American. I live a quiet, dull life, I go to work and I relax, and am generally thought a good person by most folks who know me. In fact, most folks who know me don't know I'm an atheist. It just doesn't come up. When someone says they'll pray for me when we discuss a problem, I know just what they mean. They think enough of me to devote a part of their prayer time to my problem. I take it as the compliment it is, and as the sign of genuine caring it is. I'm humbly thankful, as I should be. What I don't do is what some militant atheistic types do by loudly denouncing the other person for offending their atheistic sensibilities. That would be wrong.

See what I mean? Why should this one thing bar me from participation in Tennessee government? Why am I so awful that a law must segregate me from others? Kindly explain that for me.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

It Just Goes To Show

Blake Fontenay has a pretty good article on the vote to increase the City Mayor's salary Tuesday night. It mostly goes to show what a weasel Ricky Peete is. It's a good thing he has brown skin, so we don't see all the shit on his nose from having it up Herenton's ass. After weeks of discussion and votes that pretty much made it clear the issue was dead, he had this to say Tuesday:
"I think this is a fair and equitable salary,'' Peete said of the increase. "We've discussed this thoroughly over the last six or seven weeks. Now we can get on with the business of the city."
No, dipshit. We had the matter settled. You played dirty pool.

Just goes to show what a combination of behind-the-scenes lobbying and some good old insults from King Herenton can do.
Fun With Numbers: Homelessness

A story in today's Commercial Appeal about the homeless in Memphis shows how figures for the number of homeless are juggled.
This year's count yielded fewer folks overall, from 268 last year to 199 this year - a 26 percent drop.
But, mere paragraphs later, we get this:
It's much easier to count the numbers flowing through the shelters, which are among some 150 local agencies that offer services to the homeless, mentally ill or addicted.

At any point in time in Shelby County last year, about 2,000 people were homeless - on the streets, in emergency shelters, jail, short-term mental health facilities or other in-between housing.
Oops! The count managed to miss 90% of the homeless.

That is, until you notice the weasel words in that second paragraph. What professional homeless advocates count includes folks who are living with relatives. For example, someone loses their apartment for whatever reason and moves in with a family member for the duration. That adds enough elasticity to the numbers to give them reason to stress how the "problem" isn't getting any better.

I can speak to the story's main point, though, that the real homeless are moving East. I talk with some of the homeless in my neighborhood, and know a good many more by sight. They talk about the police making an effort to move them out of the downtown because of all the revival going on. You can't have the homeless frightening off the tourists! All those people at the FedEx Forum, Beale Street, Main Street, etc. don't want to be hassled, and the City doesn't want them to have a bad opinion of our city because of them. So, push them along.

I've been seeing it for a while. More homeless moving in. Also, the downtown homeless, as I have seen and been told, are more aggressive and dangerous. They don't play. The "regulars" will work with the rest of us, not throwing trash from dumpsters into the parking lot, not being panhandlers, etc. The new guys from downtown don't care. You mess with them at your own peril.

It's an old story. You "solve" a problem for one area by moving it into a new area. It's just that my part of Midtown is catching it so that the "Manhattan on the Mississippi" types downtown don't have to have their pristine fantasy ruined by, well...reality. Downtown has a lot of very serious money behind it, and the City serves that money. The rest of us just bow down.
While You Were Sleeping

At an hour when decent folks are fast asleep, the Memphis City Council was hard at work, still in session at nearly 11PM, revisiting issues most petitioners had thought closed.
The council's discussions about reconsidering all three issues took place near the end of a seven-hour meeting, when most of the 200 or so citizens in the audience had already left.

Some council members, including John Vergos, aren't crazy about rules that allow items to be reconsidered so routinely.

"To handle controversial items that way, by waiting until late at night before an empty council chamber, is cowardly,'' Vergos said.

On the pay issue, the council had previously voted to keep Herenton's salary at the same level when his new term begins Jan. 1.
This is standard practice for the Council. They constantly bring up old business opponents had considered settled, only to reverse themselves. It's led to the conventional wisdom around here that "We have to win every battle; they only have to win once." You can never assume something is over until the actual third vote has taken place and the minutes of that meeting have been approved. Otherwise, as folks discovered last Tuesday, you get screwed.

I haven't heard anyone make the connection yet, but hasn't it occured to anyone that this whole "metrosexuality" thing is just a rehash of the "New Male" from the Seventies?

Remember when guys like Alan Alda and Phil Donahue were touted as the next big step in male evolution? How they were strong, forceful men who never had to use violence to make their point since their words and personality were strong enough to do the job, but never so strong as to deny a woman, sorry "womyn," her space to express herself? How those guys could just cuddle because it wasn't all about sex? How they were "in touch with" their feelings and not afraid to express them? They didn't have to be all macho and stuff to be men?

Metrosexuality is just that stereotype wedded to the fashion/cosmetics industry's desperate effort to get men to be unhappy with their appearance just like women are. Men have long resisted fashion's yearly-cycle lure. Notice how the "casual Friday" idea has already faded. Same with make-up. Men resist that, too. The cosmetic companies have been fighting against that for years. Nearly half the population remains as new territory, and profit, for them. They are yearning to get you, too.

Metrosexuality is just a new angle of attack. Notice that it gets most of its play in lifestyle magazines. Political types only picked it up when Dean opened his yap.

Resist and it will all blow over soon.
You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

There's a pretty good rock version of the classic song from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the animated version not the crap live-action abomination, at Trish Murphy's website. Trish is an Austin singer/songwriter of very melodic and catchy songs that also ROCK OUT. She has a new album out, but it's likely you'll never hear it on your local radio. But call them and ask for her anyway; she deserves it. Besides, she's a babe.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Allow me to do some product pimping here. Almost all of you probably use Microsoft's Internet Explorer as your Web browser. More than a few of you might use Netscape's browser. Let me tell you about another option, one that I think is superior to either one.

It's the Mozilla Browser Suite, an all-in-one package that includes everything you need: browser, email, chat, web composer, etc., just like MS and NS. But it comes with features you've probably never seen, or had to download some other program to get.
Tabbed browsing gives you a better way to surf the net. You no longer have to open one page at a time. With tabbed browsing, open several pages at once with one click. And now your homepage can be multiple tabbed pages.

Popup blocker lets you surf the web without intrusion. Advanced popup blocker notifies you when popups are blocked. You can also block pop-ups on a site per site basis.

Image Manager lets you block images to block offensive images or to speed up the rendering of web sites.

Junk mail controls helps you take back control of your e-mail from spammers. Mozilla's adaptive junk mail control gets smarter with use and is personalized to the e-mail that you receive.

Manage your mail with customizable Labels and Mail Views. Color code your e-mail to help you prioritize. Sort your mail with views to help you through your e-mail much faster.

Mozilla supports Multiple Accounts to help you manage all your mail through one interface.
The pop-up blocker is invisible, but has a small icon to let you know if something's been blocked, in case you want to check. The Bayesian filter in the Mail client learns as you go, getting better and better at filtering spam, until you rarely ever see it.

But the best feature, and one that once tried will spoil you forever, is tabbed browsing. With tabbed browsing, if you see a link you want to check, you right-click on it and select "Open in New Tab." While you continue to read, a new window opens up in the same browser window, but behind the current view. A small manila-folder like tab remains above the open window, labelled with the names of the open tabs. The new tab loads in the background, while you finish what you're reading! You can open as many tabs as you like.

There's also the Sidebar, a vertical pane that opens next to the browser window. I don't use it much, as it steals screen real estate, but those with big monitors will love it. Everything you need for browsing -- bookmarks, history, favorites, etc. -- are all right there, listed neatly. No hunting through menus or drop-downs. Just click and bam.

But more important, is that Mozilla is standards compliant. This means that your web pages display correctly, the way the author intended. If you've never seen it in action, you might be surprised how different -- and better -- some websites will look. It means your computer works faster, the pages look proper, and you see fewer weird things.

I've saved the best for last. Mozilla, and its related products, including themes and extensions, are all FREE. Are and always will be. And they come with a free community to help you with any problems you have. And they are always being improved on and made better. FREE You can't beat that.

You can install Mozilla on any computer, even with IE or NS already on it. Installation's easy and quick; so is set up. With free downloadable extensions, like Multizilla, TabPref, MozNotes, etc., you can customise Mozilla to an incredibly fine degree, to make the browser do exactly what you want, they way you want it. No behind-the-scenes funny stuff with Mozilla, either. It doesn't know what's best for you and keep trying to make you change; you are the boss and Mozilla knows it.

I've been using Mozilla's browser-only product, Firebird. This is just a browser -- no mail, newsgroups, etc. It's a very small program, incredibly fast loading and running. Pages load with the text first, so you can start reading, then the column structures, then images, then backgrounds, etc. It's fun to watch the page move around and assemble itself, but it does that more quickly than you might think. It has all the features of the full Mozilla browser, but is a Web-only, streamlined wonder. Having used it for the past year, I will never go back. It's too valuable.

Sorry for the evangelism. But I strongly urge you to give it a look. You will be impressed and I guarantee you will be sold.
Blogs, Trent Lott And The Future

In an email conversation the other day, I was asked about the influence of blogs on political matters in this country. I used the Trent Lott scandal, where comments Lott made about Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats caused an uproar that led to his resignation as Senate Majority Leader, as an example of the power of blogs. Had it not been for blogging, Lott would never have received the pressure he did to resign, and the story would never have made the national news.

Now comes a scholarly paper, "Parking Lott," examining the issue in great detail.
In December 2002, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott said that if Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 on a segregationist platform, “we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years.” For four days, the press all but ignored his comments – the New York Times, for instance, failed to mention them. The story looked ready to disappear into the ether. Then, all at once, the remarks were front-page news. Even President Bush scolded Lott, saying his words “do not reflect the spirit of our country.” Why did Lott’s comments become a major story despite initially not registering with the mainstream press? This paper argues that online media, particularly running commentaries known as “Web logs,” were critical in keeping the story alive. What does this portend for journalism’s future? Was it merely an isolated incident? Or will cyberjournalists’ clout continue to increase -- at the expense of the establishment press?
Thanks to Instapundit for the link.
Sliding Down The Slippery Slope

Senator Rick Santorum (R, PA) once said:"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."

"Oh come on. It's completely different, that would never happen," replied his critics.

Yes, it will, thanks to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
I Warned You, Didn't I?

Didn't I warn you all last week about George Soros and his plot to overthrow President George Bush? Well, some of his seeds are beginning to bear fruit:
Hollywood's New Generation power and money brokers gathered Tuesday night in Beverly Hills to organize and streamline fundraising efforts to unseat President Bush.

"We're going to take our country back!" declared a voice in the crowd, which was greeted by cheers at the Hilton. "Bush is the great unifier! We are unified against him and his policies!"

Organizers claimed attendance -- and financial pledges resulting from the event -- surpassed their "wildest expectations."

Activist Laurie David came out swinging during a press conference before the proceedings, citing a report in this space which revealed the existence of an invitation headed "'Hate Bush 12/2 - Event."

While drawing distance from the electronic invite [she claims the subject line of her email was altered], David, nevertheless, explained how "Hate Bush" served as a surprising rallying call to gather on the boulevards.

"Tonight's meeting was organized on behalf of Americans Coming Together and the Media Fund," David told the cameras.
Americans Coming Together (ACT) is a Soros-sponsored front group specifically created for this purpose.
Tax cuts to benefit the wealthy … More arsenic and mercury in the water; fewer parks, wildernesses and forests for our future … Turning back the clock on civil rights, on women’s rights, on workers’ rights.

It’s time to fight back against the extremist Bush agenda.
Look on the group's website and you don't find Soros' name, but what you do find is a lot of the usual suspects:
Ellen R. Malcolm, President of ACT, who began EMILY’s List to elect pro-choice Democratic women candidates and built it into the largest political action committee in the country. Malcolm will lead the effort to build ACT’s membership and raise $75 million to support ACT’s voter contact program.

Steve Rosenthal, Chief Executive Officer of ACT, was Political Director of the AFL-CIO from 1996-2002, where he developed a groundbreaking voter contact program that increased voter turnout of union members by 4.8 million during a time when nonunion turnout decreased by 15 million. He will design and execute ACT’s voter contact program.

Gina Glantz, Treasurer, has a distinguished 30-year career in campaigns and grassroots organizing. She was National Campaign Manager for the Bill Bradley for President campaign.

Minyon Moore heads Dewey Square’s state and local practice. She was formerly Chief Operations Officer of the Democratic National Committee and before that Assistant to the President of the United States and Director of White House Political Affairs.

Carl Pope is Executive Director of the Sierra Club, an organization of 700,000 environmental activists. Pope has spent 30 years in the environmental trenches, and worked to enact such statutes as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Superfund and California Desert Protection Act.

Cecile Richards is President of America Votes, a coalition of 17 national organizations working together to educate and mobilize voters in the 2004 elections on a broad range of issues including the environment, civil and human rights, women’s rights, choice, education and labor.

Andy Stern is President of the Service Employees International Union, the largest and fastest growing union in the country.
That's not all. Go to this story and you learn more names:
Internet gossip Matt Drudge gleefully seized upon the "Hate Bush" story yesterday, noting that the meeting will be chaired by Harold Ickes, Bill Clinton's former White House deputy chief-of-staff and Clinton/Al Gore campaign manager, and Ellen Malcom, founder of Emily's List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice, Democratic women. Former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal will also chair, according to an invite obtained by PAGE SIX.

But Ariel "Ari" Emanuel, a founding partner of the powerful Endeavor talent agency, brother of Clinton White House staffer Rahm Emanuel and agent to Larry David and "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, bristled at the "Hate Bush" hullabaloo....

Others expected at today's 7 p.m. session include "Seinfeld" co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus; Julie Bergman, producer of "G.I. Jane" and "The Fabulous Baker Boys;" Naomi Foner, screenwriter for the Halle Berry flick "Losing Isiah;" Scott Burns, creator of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign; former "T.J. Hooker" actress Heather Thomas; Jamie Mandelbaum, an entertainment lawyer who represents Hilary Duff; and United Talent Agency agent Jay Sures, who recently hosted a fund-raiser for Democratic presidential wannabe Gen. Wesley Clark at his Brentwood, Calif., home.
Recognise any connections? The Clinton name seems to come up quite a bit, doesn't it?

But not Soros. You have to go here to find that out:
Soros’s biggest contribution to date — at least the biggest that is publicly known — is a $10 million gift to America Coming Together, the new Democratic group that will coordinate voter turnout in competitive states across the country.

Soros’s gift is the largest single political donation from an individual in history, surpassing the $7 million check given to the Democratic Party by Hollywood producer Haim Saban in 2002.
Why is this so important? Why should you care? Because, after working for years, with the support of the major print and news media, to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, the Democrats have seen that they are on the losing end, not the Republicans, so now they want to evade campaign finance reform!
Of course, those old-style soft-money contributions to the parties were outlawed by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. Because of that, groups like America Coming Together — known as 527s because of the section of the tax code that provides for them — are now taking over much of the work that the Democratic Party used to do.

It’s legal, but certainly not in the reform spirit. “I think this is a new form of soft money,” says Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity. “I have a hard time seeing what the difference is between a soft-money donor to a party and a big 527 donor, especially when both give million-dollar checks.”

One might assume that advocates of reform would not want to take part in the world of 527 soft money. But look at Soros.

The website of his foundation, the Open Society Institute, lists lots of grants to reform groups in the last few years. There is $625,000 to Common Cause, $2.5 million to the Brennan Center for Justice, $1.2 million to Public Campaign, $125,000 to Democracy 21, $1.7 million to the Center for Public Integrity, $75,000 to the Center for Responsive Politics and $650,000 to the Alliance for Better Campaigns.

Their common goal, in the words of Public Campaign’s mission statement, is “to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics.”
He's now playing both sides. I wonder if the groups he's funding will come out against what ACT is doing? Or will they mysteriously remain silent?

One more angle on this story is the spokesperson/organiser that Drudge mentions for "Hate Bush," Laurie David. She's already active on the environmentalist front. And she's the wife of former "Seinfeld," and current "Curb Your Enthusiasm," producer Larry David, who had this to say about his wife:
Once I came home from playing golf. "What are you doing?!" she screamed. "Don't you dare come in here. You've got pesticides on your shoes. Those golf shoes cause cancer. I don't want them in my house!" But the worst of it was the night I got a call at work. It was 10 o'clock at night. I was doing a rewrite.

"Your wife is on the phone!"


"Mitsubishi's building a salt mine in San Ignacio."

"Honey, I've got a show tomorrow."

"Didn't you hear a word I said? They're endangering the gray whale!"

For the next two years I couldn't have one conversation without hearing the word Mitsubishi. "Mitsubishi, Mitsubishi!" She was obsessed with Mitsubishi. She'd go up to strangers on the street. "Don't buy anything from Mitsubishi. They're killing the whales!" Then she dragged me down to San Ignacio to see the whales. For three days I slept in a tent, drank from a canteen and conducted my business in an outhouse. She actually got to touch a whale, and had her first orgasm in six years.
As you can see, Soros' movement is picking up steam and recruits. Don't forget, he's done this before in Eastern European countries successfully. He's got practice, and he's got trained and experienced folks working for him. Worst of all, he's got an enormous pile of money to work with and the motivation to use it all, if need be. He's a dangerous man and bears close scrutiny. Many folks on the Left think George Bush is the most dangerous man in America, but I really think it is George Soros instead. Dislike Bush all you want, but everything he's done has been above-board, reported in the press, discussed everywhere and right out there under the glare of scrutiny. Soros is working quietly, hoping no one notices until its too late.

To end this on a lighter note, I wonder if the sponsors of the "Hate Bush" event will try to spread their message across the country, perhaps by using "Two Minute Hates?" Would they even get the irony?
She Really Can Rock The Vote

Joan Jett, she of "I Love Rock And Roll," is hoping to be a delegate for Howard Dean at the Democratic convention next year.
Dean's New York campaign director, Ethan Geto, said Jett was an early and active supporter of Dean's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, including performing at fund-raising events.

"I am very impressed with Howard Dean," Jett said. "I care about our country and our troops and I want things to go well."

Jett, 43, said she agrees with Dean's stance against the war in Iraq, though she is a champion of members of the U.S. military. She performed twice for troops in the Afghanistan military theater in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, and has also performed for American troops in Bosnia.
OK, I wouldn't go near Dean with your ten foot pole, but I still think this is kinda neat. Rock on!

Here's a recent pic for you.
The Effects of a Global Thermonuclear War

Just what the title says. From the Introduction:
The following is an approximate description of the effects of a global nuclear war. For the purposes of illustration it is assumed that a war resulted in mid-1988 from military conflict between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. This is in some ways a worst-case scenario (total numbers of strategic warheads deployed by the superpowers peaked about this time; the scenario implies a greater level of military readiness; and impact on global climate and crop yields are greatest for a war in August). Some details, such as the time of attack, the events leading to war, and the winds affecting fallout patterns, are only meant to be illustrative. This applies also to the global geopolitical aftermath, which represents the author's efforts at intelligent speculation.
The final death tally passes two billion. Chilling.
Is There A Doctor In The House?

Why, yes, yes there is. Go and congratulate Chris Lawrence on successfully defending his dissertation and thereby getting his Doctorate. Way to go, Chris!
I Have RSS!

Well, sort of. Some very kind person (Hi, Jemima!) has set this blog up at MyRSS. So, those of you who have asked in the past can now go forth and subscribe. If you want to tell me how to put the RSS button on this page, please feel free.

And if anyone is good at setting up Movable Type at Hosting Matters, please contact me. I'd like to move this page to my website. Which is still a broken-link nightmare. Sorry.

But I have RSS!
TennCare: Change Is Coming

I can't believe this story has drifted off the front burners of Tennessee's bloggers, but I guess it's not sexy anymore, what with the defeat of the income tax. Still, the new Medicare changes coming in 2006 will have a big effect on TennCare. You can read more about it here.

And naturally, Gordon Bonnyman, gadfly of TennCare, isn't too happy. Read the whole thing.
Urban Verbs

For no reason other than that I'm listening to their second album as I'm typing this stuff up, I'm gonna tell you about the Urban Verbs. They were a New Wave-ish band from Washington, D.C., in the late Seventies through the mid-Eighties. They were at best a regional hit and have mostly descended into obscurity now. That's a shame, as they were unique and very good.

Click the link above for history, etc. As I said, the Urban Verbs were different. For starters, they were fronted by a poet, Roddy Frantz, not a singer. As a result, he tended to declaim his lyrics, and not sing them, not unlike Patti Smith. It took some getting used to. I've found most folks either like it or never can stand it. But they were great lyrics!
Every morning I go under the city,
Handful of change takes me away from it all.
I leave my problems up on the street
And ride the subway where it's always warm.
Subways, we're all going the same direction.
Subways, we're all going the same speed.
Subways, it all gets obscured,
Then it begins to make sense.
They also stood out for a synthesizer player, Robin Rose, who pushed the range of his instrument. He could play regular keyboard stuff, but he more frequently used the synth for bird noises, hums and buzzes, echoing screeches, anything he could wrest from it. If you've heard Pere Ubu, you have an idea, as he clearly follows Allen Ravenstine's trailblazing path.

All the music was written by guitar player Richard Goldstein. He's now working in the music department at NPR. His guitar sound was smooth sometimes, slashing others. It was a large sound, not unlike The Edge of U2, though in a more integrated way. The band's instruments managed to come together perfectly, interlocking into a driving force.

Because their frontman was the brother of Chris Frantz of Talking Heads, they got some comparison to that band, and it's not quite right. The Verbs were a straight-ahead rock band with special touches and a sound that hid its angles underneath a shimmering surface. It would be fair to say, in a broad sense, they were New Wave. But they were also pretty non-commercial.

Their first album, Early Damage wasn't particularly noteworthy. A dark, muddy production that tried to shoe-horn the band into a stereotypical English "New Wave" sound only smothered the songs. Two songs did still stand out: "Terminal Bar" and the fantastic "Acceleration." Built on a walking, rising bass line, with the drums snapping along like shoe heels, only to be brought up short by a stuttering chorus, then snapped back to that bass line, it's far and away the showcase of the album. Too bad they didn't use it on their second album.

Next time, they had the wisdom to hook up with producer Mike Thorne of Wire fame, who was far, far more sympathetic to them. He cleaned up the sound, placed each instrument in a secure place that still meshed with everyone else, and let Rose's synths really shine while keeping Goldstein's guitar front and center. From the smooth, rumbling "Subways," through frenetic rockers like "The Angry Young Men," and "Frenzy," to the taunting "Ring, Ring," to the love song "The Only One of You," to story-songs like "Tina Grey" and "The Good Life," there's not a duff track on the album. It's playing right now on the CD. Even after twenty years, I still regularly listen to the whole thing.

If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what else is. Unfortunately, the albums aren't on CD. You can search around for the songs on Kazaa, etc., or you can try the Web for folks who will dub it to CD for you. It's worth your time. Trust me.

"Ring, ring, my telephone's talking...."
Can You Be Any More Vague?

If this story was any more lacking in information, its reason for existence would disappear. Poof!
Memphis officials hope to wrap up an internal investigation of possible rule violations by employees in the city's general services division by the middle of next month.
What violations of what rules?
Rodney 'Butch' Eder, the division's director, said the investigation began in September in response to complaints about employees violating city rules and procedures.
Who complained? Which employees? What rules and procedures? What made the complaints rise to the level of investigation?
Eder declined to discuss details, but he confirmed that investigators are primarily looking at possible misuse of surplus materials from city building projects.
"Misuse?" What projects?
The general services division is responsible for maintaining city-owned buildings and property.

While numerous allegations have been made, Eder said only a few employees are considered targets of the investigation.
Again, which employees? And again, what "numerous allegations," by whom, when and why?
Ford & Harrison, a private law firm, is helping the city interview employees, Eder said.
Why a private firm? Is this normal policy? Or is it because they want outsiders? Why?
While checking into the original complaints, investigators learned about other allegations, which are also being thoroughly examined.
Other allegations? What?
Although some employees have complained about the way the questioning has been handled, Eder said the investigators have done nothing improper. "They (employees) are not being interrogated. It's being handled the right way.''
What employees complained? Why? Who claimed they were being "interrogated?" What's the "right way?"

As you can see, we are more baffled than informed. I hope the follow up later this month can manage to answer all the question we now have.
Commercial Appeal Quickies

Just a few items from the Commercial Appeal from that past week.

First, we have this editorial from Monday which manages to make good news -- a county revenue surplus of $6.5 million -- into bad by reminding us that all that money is spent by past County government debts now coming due. The fun part is this:
There are simply too many new schools, streets and sewers to pay for - all financed with bond issues guaranteed by the credit-worthy Shelby County government and the taxpaying public.
Let's not also forget all those salaries and FedExForums to take care of too. And those retreats for County Commissioners. And who knows how many unindicted employees like Tom Jones who were, and may still be, living it up on the taxpayer dime. How about a nice, in-depth look at the County's budget, how it breaks down, where the money goes, who gets paid how much, etc? That sounds like the perfect project for the "21st century newspaper."

Then, on the next page, we findWoody Brosnan hanging a bunch of items on the just-ended spending-bill session of Congress. He shockingly notes:
Wicker didn't expect to get hit from the right by the Eagle Forum and Gun Owners of America, groups so extreme they make the Heritage Foundation and the National Rifle Association sound like garden clubs.

"Federal funding equals mandates," argues Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt on the group's Web site. "We have already seen how such 'strings' have moved education in this country towards a pro-UN and anti-gun direction in the subsidized textbooks which are currently being used in the public schools."
Yep, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA are extreme, though to "so extreme" as others. And being anti-UN, pro-gun rights and skeptical of the educational establishment are extreme too. Y'all nuts better watch out. Woodman has his eye on you!

He notes of another bill:
[Maine Senator Olympia] Snowe and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., want to allow some 6.5 million low-income families that don't owe taxes to qualify for a $400 child care credit, as did 25 million wealthier taxpaying families that received a $400 check last summer. House Republican leaders refused to include this help for low-income Americans in the President's tax plan.
Reread that closely. Folks who don't pay taxes should get a tax credit! Woody wants you to be shocked at the cold-hearted Republicans who would deny some folks a freebie. Jeez....

And lastly, from Tuesday, comes another editorial on a proposed FedEx/City government partnership to...well, do something. I'm not sure what.

Oh, wait, here it is, printed on Thanksgiving Day! No wonder I, and most of Memphis, didn't see it. Seems like the story might have waited for a more-read day, so that Memphians could know more about something this important. Of course, the City already has the Citizen's Service Center, and MLGW has its recently improved call center, but apparently the Mayor wants it all under his thumb. It's not quite clear, though, as no real details are spelled out, even the limits of FedEx's participation.

Par for the course for our Mayor.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Best-Laid Schemes Of Mice And Men

Sigh.... I worked a late day today, and have an early day tomorrow. With luck I can return to blogging tomorrow evening. I've got a ton of stuff bookmarked, or marked up in the papers, for ya. Bear with me.

At least I didn't just disappear for weeks at a time, this time. Teehee.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Public Service Announcement

I'm working long hours right now, so blogging time is tight. I wrote up a whole bunch of crap stuff over the weekend which ought to keep you busy. Heck, my review of Battle Royale alone is almost five pages long! So, I'm taking tonight off to recharge and will be back Tuesday evening, unless something compelling comes up.

Y'all be good. OK?
Movie Review: Wings of Desire

MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING! This review and discussion contains numerous spoilers. If you don't want to have the movie ruined before you see it, or you just want to skip this post, click here to go to the next post.

Strictly speaking, this won't be a review, but more like an appreciation. I did a 4000 word review/analysis of Battle Royale Friday and still haven't recovered.

Wings of Desire is Wim Wenders' 1987 film about Berlin, angels, love, memory and friendship. It's a meditation, almost a reverie, and a hymn. Berlin itself is a character, her buildings, streets and landmarks taking a prominent, almost living, role. So is the Berlin Wall which slashes across its heart, dividing the city into free and Communist sectors. This symbolic division is a constant theme in the movie, turning up in various ways. Angels apart from men; a storyteller with no audience; a woman separated from the love she desires.

It's the story of Damiel and his friend Cassiel, a pair of angels who roam Berlin always on the lookout for people in despair, hurt and pain. They listen mostly, sometimes comfort them with a word, a touch, a friendly arm. They are invisible to everyone except children, but their effect is real.

One day, Damiel spots a small, fleabag circus and goes in. He sees Marion, a trapeze artist who is wearing chicken-wing feathers as she flies over the ring. Damiel is smitten. Over the course of the movie, as he realises he is in love and she is looking for love, he begins to understand that he must make a choice.

This is without question an "art" movie. Most of the film is in black-and-white, the angels' perspective. They don't hear all the traffic and other noises that distract; their world is filled with the quiet sussuration of voices, the countless voices of the souls around them. It's only when we switch to a living human's perspective that color and noise return. It gives the film an appropriate otherworldly feel. But the film is also very slow and deliberate, giving scenes a very long time to play out and encouraging the actors to take their time. This can be trying if you don't get into the spirit, but it conveys a sense of the angels' considered lives and transports viewers to them.

A lot of the movie is set in the main Berlin library. Apparently, Wenders was in love with the building and its spaces, and it shows. He makes the spaces vast and almost cathedral-like. It also serves to make a connection between the books, which tell the stories of our lives and witness to the past, and the angels, who live to experience our lives and to testify to them.

The same goes for the Potsdamer Platz, a former busy marketplace that was pulverised by WWII bombing. It was, at the time the movie was made, still a vast dirt lot crossed by empty roads and scattered with the shells of buildings. It is the stage on which an old man wanders, trying to find the places of his past and to reclaim their memories in order to tell them to the next generation so that they aren't lost.

All the angels -- men and women -- dress alike in long fabric overcoats, buttoned over slacks, t-shirts and dress shoes. Their hair is long and pulled back into a tight ponytail. It's an unusual portrayal, but quickly becomes "right." Their expression are always muted, but run the full range of emotions.

Bruno Ganz is Damiel, and he's a perfect choice. His slightly soft face, with large warm eyes and slightly bemused smile, is frequently seen in close-up to great effect. He's sympathetic and rumpled, welcoming our attachment to his desire. Solveig Dommartin is Marion and is the right face, too. Strong and sensual but not "earthy." Not sexual so much as beautiful. She lives within her body, as an artist and as a dancer, which contrasts with the non-corporeal angels.

I hadn't seen the movie in many years, but had always held it as profound and moving. On watching it last weekend, it was slower than I remembered and a whole lot more pretentious. Dialogue was almost always "literary" and not realistic. On the one hand, it suits the mood of the movie, but on the other it makes everyone sound afflicted by high-mindedness. Again, you have to catch the mood of the movie for this to work.

The DVD I saw is a "special edition" which comes with "lost scenes." In these, and a retrospective featurette, director Wenders gives a lot of insight into how the movie came about. It turns out they started without a script! Most of the movie was made by bits and pieces, following a lot of discussions about what they wanted to do. It was originally a story about two angels, then later came the Berlin setting. The idea of Marion came a bit later. When Wenders realised his movie was becoming too serious, he wrote in some gently comical bits for actor Peter Falk, who plays himself. That was the theme of how this movie came to be what it now is: slowly adding and filling out, allowing others to bring their ideas into the film, being open to whatever they came across. It works, as the film has a great feeling of depth and layers, and of vast inter-connectedness.

Plus, we also learn that the film's original ending was a pie fight! Really! Wisely, Wenders chose to edit that out, but the footage was saved and so we see Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin and Otto Sanders (Cassiel) do a slow-motion Three Stooges routine.

As I said, it's an "art" movie. It's not to everyone's taste, but if you like being transported to places through movies, like immersion in other worlds, and have a high tolerance to pretention, you will find this movie magical and life-affirming. It will skew the way you look at the world, and that's a great thing for any movie to do.
Who Is The Intended Audience?

Just an addendum to this post below, where I talked about the Commercial Appeal's "blueprint for a 21st century newspaper." [Scroll down to "At Least They Didn't Say 'World Class'" if the link is bloggered.]

Who is the most important person to a newspaper? Most of you will have quickly answered with "readers." You would be wrong. Newspapers don't like you to remember this, but they are profit-making enterprises, obligated to generating bottom-line income to their owners or shareholders. Their first duty is to them.

They make money by selling advertising. The advertisers are their second most important people. Without advertisers, there's not much money coming in. Subscriptions and newstand sales don't generate enough income by themselves.

To attract advertisers, they have to have the eyeballs of the people advertisers want to speak to. That's when you come in. If you aren't part of a demographic that appeals to advertisers, then what you want plays a lesser role in deciding what goes into a paper. This is not to say advertisers dictate content, but drawing in the readers they want does influence what goes on.

That's why the CA is eager for East Shelby County readers (affluent whites and blacks who buy big-money items), Gen-Y (young people who are just acquiring big-money stuff, have disposable income, and are just making brand choices), and black women (they determine how household income is spent).

That's also why the CA (the Memphis Flyer as well) have sections on wine, travel, fine dining, books and health/fitness. These things speak to the folks the CA wants to attract. It also explains the disconnect between the Flyer's faux-hipster attitude of their writers and editorialists, and the relentlessly upscale stuff they peddle in some of their columns. (A wine column in the Flyer?C'mon.)

Anyway, commercial considerations are always a part of the mix at newspapers. Don't ever forget that.
Death Glare ON!

I really, really hate going to the grocery store, trying to work my way through the over-packed ice cream cooler to find an un-squished package of ice cream bars only to get it home and discover it's been dropped, cracking the bars, then worst of all thawed and refrozen so that it's a sludgy white mess on a chocolate-covered stick. There's no way of knowing until you get home and you can't take it back. And I paid almost four dollars for the privilege. (Haagen-Dazs and Dove, dontcha know.)

Here I am waiting to watch Alias with the appropriate junk food and now I'm outta luck. Grrrrrr!
Its Hour Come 'Round At Last

Quick, who said this:
"They lashed out at Dr. King, they lashed out at Nelson Mandela, they lashed out at Jesus, so all of those who fight for change become the object of frustration."
What a megalomaniac! It can only be Jesse Jackson.

He was vigorously protested at a Rainbow PUSH event by folks tired of his race pimping.
However some of the speakers were quickly drowned out by boos, bullhorns, and verbal jabs from a group called VOTE, ex-offenders, community activists, church leaders, and Muslims, tired of what they call the rhetoric in the African-American community.

"We are tired of coming here to voice our opinion when we got African-American people sitting at the table and saying they represent our interests and playing this puppet game," said one protester.
Yeah, at long last, something is finally slouching toward birth. It's long overdue and very welcome.
By Their Deeds Shall You Know Them

I've refrained from commenting on this, even though it concerns a Rocky Top member. I discovered the story myself while look for my blog in the Ecosystem (#1431! Woo!), but kept my tongue. Well, Say Uncle has posted pretty much what I'd want to say, so I'll direct you there. Bozeman, the person involved, has a long history with the RTB of disputatious behavior. He worried me when it seemed like all he did was track down every reply to every post or comment he ever made, just to keep making more comments. That takes a tremendous amount of time and focus; for something like 'Net commenting, it's usually not a good sign in a person. Anyway....