Friday, March 26, 2004

Wouldn't Ya Know?

Today turned into the Day of Many Chores and my lower body is really worn out. (If you've seen the sack of cement I carry in my belly, you'll understand.) Two Allieve and shortly off to bed for me. The good news is I'll probably sleep great: in clean sheets, with a nice overnight temp. Mmmmm....

Today was also the Day of Surpising Good News. I picked up my last paycheck from the old job and it turned out to be somewhat more than I was expecting! Turns out the vacation pay I'd assumed I'd lost was paid out anyway. Yay!

So, I'll have some content over the weekend, for those of you first getting here on Friday. I usually post on Saturdays and Sundays, unlike many bloggers. Besides, there's tons of crap -- uhhhh...lots of stuff already posted.

Shower, clean bed, deep sleep. I am so boring.
Bourbon Is A Harsh Mistress

Say Uncle came this close and learns a sad lesson.
Slouching Toward 495 Union Avenue

Well, it seems my time has come 'round at last. Today's CA Eye feature in the Commercial Appeal mentions yours truly! Jon Sparks wrote:
Dedicated blogger Mike Hollihan understands what Web journaling is all about and practices it vigorously. He is, among other things, a self-appointed critic of local media and boy, does that make for some interesting reading. Be prepared to spend some time at his Halfbakered blog.
He's too nice by half. Thanks for the pointer.

And to you good Commercial Appeal readers stopping by, welcome! It's a different universe here at Half-Bakered. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions and brickbats in the comments feature attached to each post. Or you can email me directly at the addy in the top left corner.

Have fun! Come back and see us again sometime.

BTW, if Jon's CA Eye runs thrice weekly and has its own name, with Jon's handsome mug splattered right there for God and Memphis to see, why then is he not listed with the others on the CA columnist page, with his columns below his name? Seems an unnecessary omission, as you can't tell in the daily list of stories which is Jon's feature. It would help those who are looking for specific CA Eye bits to have them both labelled and gathered, don't you think? Just a thought....

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Reminder Of My Evilness

Just a reminder, for those of you who haven't yet succumbed to the temptation, that I have a couple of pages of Kerry mockery up at the site. You can see them here and here. I had great fun making these, as I tapped my evil side in doing so. More undoubtedly to come.

I also found a whole lot more graphics lurking in odd corners of the hard drive today and mean to get them up Real Soon Now. These are all kinds of miscellaneous weirdness I wanted to share. Watch these pages.
Good Morning, Memphis

Whew! I just completed a massive overhaul of the links to the left. I finally added the Government section, though I still need to add some State-level sites and a few more locals. I also tweaked the template a bit and changed the color over there, and of the inline links, to a paler color than the former gold. It seems a bit easier on the eyes.

I've also decided to add a whole lot of LiveJournal Memphians to the "Folks" listing. It's something I've been going back and forth over, but all the ones listed are staying current and doing more than a minimum of discussion with some Memphis content. LiveJournalling tends to be much more confessional and diaristic than blogging, which tends to the rhetorical and educational. We'll see how this goes.

If you don't see your name or site over there in "Folks" and would like it added, either email me or leave a note in the comments. I'll review you and maybe add you. Memphis or Mid-South orientation is a must, obviously, and there are some other aesthetic concerns that are purely subjective. Sorry, but "my blog, my rules." Alternatively, if you want off the list, for whatever reason, let me know, too.

Frankly, I'm worried at how long those link-lists are getting, as the eye tends to glaze over after a certain length. Folks tend not to go browsing very long lists. If anyone has suggestions on how to fight that, let me know.

I hope the new look works. Let me know.
The Way You Do The Thing You Do

I thought I might share my process for blogging. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

During the day, when I'm away from my computer, if something comes to me I'll write it down on a piece of paper and shove it into my pocket. Or I'll grab a highlighter (pen if necessary) and mark up the paper's articles or passages I want to comment on. I might make notes in the margins. The whole time, stuff is percolating in the back of my mind, setting up thoughts and structures to be used later. My brain is like that, always working and never shutting off. It's a curse and part of the reason I used to drink too much.

When I get home, all that gets tossed on the desk. I'll fire up the computer and do my daily reading, bookmarking as I go. After a few hours, which is frequently what my daily reading takes, I'll go to Blogger and get to work.

I usually start with short "look at this" posts to warm up the will, muscles and brains. Longer posts will almost always get composed in Blogger, sometimes in Notepad and then copy/pasted in. I'll write straight from the mind, organising as I go, snatching and pasting in links the same way. I'll go back and scan over things to make sure links are all filled in and not fubar'ed, so as not to trigger "safe mode," which has given me headaches before.

Once the whole thing is written, I'll do a "Select All/Copy" function. This is crucial with Blogger, as I have lost many posts to the gods of the ethersphere not following this step. Then I post. Once the new post is in the published window, I'll wave the cursor over the links, to check them. Then I start reading. If I spot something, I'll hit "edit" to recall the post.

This pass I'll double-check for spelling, punctuation and grammar. My spelling is really good, but my typing less so. I rarely type government correctly on the first shot, usually getting "governemnt" instead. I also have a tendency to over-use commas, so I check for that. Another problem in my writing is starting too many sentences with "coughs," conjunctions like "and, now, but, though" or short phrases that don't serve as more than literary self-effacements before I express something strong. I went looking for some just now to illustrate and couldn't find any! Hah, good. It's a real problem for me, but I must be getting better at rooting them out.

Then comes checking for words reused too often or too close together. I make sure I make my points clearly enough. Sometimes, I assume a bit too much on the part of the reader and find I need to add a bit to clarify. I'm also bad about getting sentences into the wrong order, having the idea and then thinking up the setup, so that I have to cut'n'paste them into a better flow of thought.

I may also miss some point I meant to make, so I have to shoe-horn in the additional stuff. Then I go back and reread the reposted whole, to make sure I like it. Usually that's the end of things, though I may also see mistakes I hadn't caught yet.

Then, I call up Half-Bakered in the browser to see how it looks. Sometimes, there will be formatting errors that require fixing. By this point, my eyes are tired, too, so seeing the posts in a new way helps to catch whatever I haven't caught up to this point.

Once in a while, I'll have second thoughts about something and will go back to edit those things I may have overstated. Because I sometimes express myself a bit strongly.

I'm always surprised how long some of these posts turn out to be. I've also noticed that my vocabulary has shrunk noticeably, most likely due to a lot of Internet and news media reading. I read fewer books, novels and short fiction than I used to, which I regret. Long, convoluted sentences filled with conjunctions and subjunctive clauses and asides are another concern. I've also noted that posts like this have a lot of sentences starting with "I."

That's my process. What's yours?
You See, I Told You

This week's Memphis Flyer editorial (not online yet, for some reason) echoes pretty much all I had to say about District Five City Councillor Carol Chumney, except in politer newspaper-speak. Me? Not so polite and days sooner. Either way, she needs to alter her behavior before she's marginalised into ineffectiveness.

Advantage: blogosphere!
Today's Time-wasters

A couple of fun links for you!

The Safety Sign Generator will construct an OSHA-approved warning sign of your design, with proper graphics and your choice of colors and text! Let your inner Bart Simpson have some fun. I made a bunch of these a while back but can't find them. When I rediscover 'em, I'll post 'em.

And, via Wil Wheaton Dot Net, comes the button maker from Kalsey Consulting Group. Make your own little "stickers" for your blog or website. Go to WWDN for examples.

Have fun!
Wave Of The Future

Mark over at Conservative Zone has a post on RFID tags and what that means for the future. RFID (radio frequency idenitification) tags are "smart" product tags that can be read by any scanner within distance. Mark illustrates some of the possibilities for mischief.
It's Not Fair

Some folks just get all the luck. Take Jon Sparks, for example. He got to go to the Playboy event and got his picture taken with Miram Gonzalez! Miriam freakin' Gonzalez!! (That's worth two exclamation marks.) He was within drool distance of a goddess.

I gotta get out more often. No question....
A Prank Gone Horribly Wrong

Some radio station did one of those prank calls, calling a woman to tell her that her husband had just been fired from his job. It didn't go as planned. Listen to her very last comment.

(The link goes to the MP3 file; 640Kb. Just right-click and save. Hat tip to ZGeek for this.)
Thought For Today

I just caught a caller to Rush Limbaugh who made a good point. If Richard Clarke really means his apology to the families of 9/11 for his failures and those of the administrations he's served, will he then be donating the profits from his book to a 9/11 fund? Or will he keep them? Why?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Why are you in front of your computer on such a spectacularly beautiful day? Log off and go outside. Right now. Go! Git.
I Am Sooooooo Evil

I worked up a really, really nasty graphic tonight, a really cheap shot at John Kerry. The two campaign posters I did were pretty sophisticated and subversive. I think the jokes may be a bit too obscure because they are pretty subtle. One hints at environmental terrorism as it implies Kerry is more worried about the world's opinion than he is about America; the other was my homage to 19th century campaign slogans. Though they are pretty funny.

This new one is very plain, very clear and very stark. A real cheap shot. Agit-prop of the worst variety. I'm quite proud of it!

I'll have it up, with some other graphics I've done recently, later on Thursday.

INSTANT UPDATE Already up! Go to this page.
Thought For Today

I read this in Ann Landers when I was in my early teens, more than three decades ago. It has stuck with me ever since and I've tried to live by it.

Intelligent people discuss ideas and concepts.
Average people discuss current events.
Ignorant people discuss each other.
The Second Amendment, Rights and Liberty

Say Uncle has a co-blogger now, a guy named Thibodeaux. He wrote to his (Democratic) Senator, asking him to vote against the Assault Weapons Ban in Congress. The Senator wrote back and Thibodeaux does a pretty good fisking of the letter.

There was one point I think he missed, though. The Senator writes:
I believe that the Second Amendment gives law-abiding citizens the right to own a gun.
It does no such thing. People today have a bass-ackwards view of what the Constitution is and how it works. Rights are things granted by governments. They are the province of kings, despots and dictators. America was conceived in liberty, in the idea that all power is in the People and is given by them in limited doses to their government. People who talk about rights are slaves; a free people talks of liberty.

The Second Amendment doesn't give anything. The Framers presupposed that all rights remain with the People unless otherwise delegated. The Constitution was intended to delegate some powers from the People and some from the States. The Second Amendment specifically intends to warn future generations of legislators that gun ownership -- for whatever reason-- is a right retained by the People. It doesn't give, it takes: from government the power to take our guns.

It seems a simple point, and it always surprises me how many folks get it backwards, forget that the Constitution isn't a license for the Federal government to do what it pleases unless the People stop it. It was always intended to spell out the only powers the Federal government could have. It was a limiting document.

Remember: When you are born in America, you are an individual with full and complete liberty. You can do as you wish. You agree to give up some of that liberty to the Federal government in exchange for it doing some jobs you could never do by yourself. Same for the State constitution and your City or County charters. You only give up certain, specific liberties in exchange for certain specific protections. Everything else stays with you.

Somewhere in the early 19th century that got turned around, just as the Founding Fathers feared it would. Government developed the arrogance of believing it could do anything it wanted to, if the Constitutions at various levels didn't prohibit it from doing them. It's a natural process, as the Founders knew, which the Constitution and all their writings spelled out. It finally happened to us, and has progressed ever since.

A great American once said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." He wasn't kidding. This is why you need to know your history. So as to prevent the abuses of those who would take your birthright from you for their own enrichment and security.
Naifeh Hasn't Changed

There's a story in the Tennessean about House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's latest bullying tactic. Seems that votes in the House are almost always done by voice vote. The problem has been that, as even the Tennessean admits, many votes are called one way when it was obvious to all that it had gone the other. Efforts to get recorded votes have usually been ignored or derided. That has allowed all kinds of shenanigans, as folks who followed the Income Tax Wars can attest.

Now, Naifeh is requiring a recorded vote on every bit of business. It has brought the speed of business to a snail's crawl. He's doing it to punish those who want a record of who voted what for campaign purposes and to keep his own crooked control over the House. It's all punitive and petty; just another way to remind folks of who's the thug boss.

I'm just glad that he'll be turned out next election. It was close last time. Even though he had his district gerrymandered to bring in the strongly Democratic voters in the county next door to overcome the increasing Republican tilt of his own Tipton County, he still had to put up a fight against a last minute, write-in Republican candidate. That guy came much closer than anyone expected. Now, another candidate -- who actually started his campaign for the next election during the previous one -- is doing all the ground work to build up the voter base he'll need to beat Naifeh. It's looking good, too.

That candidate is Dr. Jesse Cannon. You can read more about him and the battle against Naifeh at Frank Cagle's site; choose the article titled "Naifeh losing his grip back home in the district."

The delicious irony of an upstart black Republican running against the old-school white Democrat isn't lost on anyone. We came real close last time. This time will be the one.

One of the many blogs I read is Rhetorica, by Dr. Andy Cline, a professor at Park University in Missouri. As he puts it: "The Rhetorica Network offers analysis and commentary about the rhetoric, propaganda, and spin of journalism and politics, including analysis of presidential speeches and election campaigns." He always has good reading there.

He had a post recently talking about audience, and how journalists need to ask themselves who their audience is when they write (or broadcast). It reminded me of something from the Commercial Appeal.

Not long after Chris Peck took over, the CA began a series of efforts to discover who their audience was and what that audience wanted. But I'm still amused at one particular tactic. The paper announced, in its pages, that it would be holding meetings around various communities in Memphis, open to the public. They were soliciting their opinions on what they wanted from the CA.

It struck me as odd then, and Rhetorica's post reminded of it, that if you face a shrinking audience, then you go to the ones who don't read you, either now or ever, and find out why, to find out what they want so you can get them back. They are the ones you want. The folks still reading your paper are either stuck or like what you're doing. No need to worry about them. Asking them is pointless, in terms of increasing circulation. Or so it seems to me.

But the CA didn't do that, so far as I know. They didn't advertise on television or radio, put up billboards, go to churches and community groups, etc. They didn't go outside their own pool, but stayed within. It's like preaching to the choir.

I've always found that funny.
Fear The Penguin

No, this isn't about some Internet Flash game, but news that Hewlett-Packard will begin putting Novell's SuSE Linux distribution on their home PC models. The move is being pushed as a way for corporate employees who work with HP servers (which run Linux) to work at home seamlessly.

Either way, this is good news. I haven't made the jump to Linux yet, but when I buy a new computer, I will. It's just all-around better than Windows.
Mucho Blogo Advico

A trio of helpful posts today on blogging.

1. Following on from her post of yeterday, about mid-list authors and blogging, Jemima Pereira now offers a follow-up on mid-list reading and price points. It makes me wish we had a Books-A-Million or Buck-A-Book store here in Memphis. OK, this one isn't really about blogging, but still....

2. From the Politburo Diktat comes really good advice for bloggers wanting to get lots of hits, become famous and rise high in the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem.

3. Over at Say Uncle, we then get some follow-up that offers more good tips. I learned that Unc is getting more hits than me by an order of magnitude! (ie. a factor of ten) Follow both of them and you can't go wrong.
Star Trek Stuff

There's a website, called Bring Back Kirk that offers a fan-made short (9 minutes) film bringing together the casts of all the Star Trek series in one slam-bang adventure, using fan-created CGI. Their premise is one that quite a few ST fans agree with: Captain Kirk should never have died the death he suffered in Generations. The trailer is available in a variety of formats and download options, but as the smallest is still 10Mb I haven't had a chance to look at them yet. But the graphics on the website are very impressive.

On a different front, the Ain't It Cool News website is reporting a bizarre Star Trek rumor. They claim that Berman and Braga are out as producers and someone from Disney (responsible for Snow Dogs and some other crap) will be coming in. Their intent is to produce a trilogy of "prequels" (to what?). It all sounds very, very wrong on nearly every level, which is why I'm not linking, but merely reporting. If this turns real, then I'll post again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Where's Mah Money?

Whew! Another busy day at Half-Bakered. I post, you decide.

I know I won't keep up this pace because a lot of this is old bookmarks being burned off. Hey, if you haven't read it, it's still news to you, right? Right. Besides, no one pays me for this (Yet. I need to do the Bill Hobbs shameless capitalist thing and start profiteering.), so you can't complain.

Not that anyone does. Heck, I got more comments announcing I was on hiatus than I have blogging up a storm. (Is that a message? I choose not to think so.) Say something. Even if it's just "this sux, d00d."

Anyway, lots of bloggity goodness below. Read, enjoy.

And yet another reminder, because I'm still not seeing my work around the blogosphere. I made up a couple of faux Kerry campaign posters and posted them here. I really like the Kerry/UN one. It almost looks real. Feel free to hype 'em or use 'em. Please. Just give me credit. And make me famous.

So I can start charging for this.
Exposing The Lies: Priceless

The Indepundit was a soldier who saw active duty in Iraq and blogged his experiences while he was there as Lt. Smash. He's been deactivated now and has settled back into his old life. During the weekend's anti-Iraq War protests, he went out to watch one up close. His observations are drily funny but pointed. Here's his report.

You should read this (it's not long) because he made sure to tape and then transcribe one woman speaker at the protest. She's hilariously clueless, except when she actually advocates that American soldiers be killed in order to drive them out. That's traitorous.

You'd expect Indepundit to grow furious and do something. He did. He sought the woman out and interviewed her.

Take a few minutes, go, and Read The Whole Thing.
Fun With Environmentalists

Next time your low impact, vegan, think globally act locally, anti-globalisation, protesting, Gaian, be nice to your mother environmentalist irritates you, find out if they use a computer. If they do, hit 'em with this:
According to the study, the manufacturing of one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor requires at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water. In terms of weight, the total amount of materials used is about equal to that of a mid-size car....

Users should think carefully about whether they really need a new computer, if upgrading their existing computer could serve the same purpose, he said. Actions such as delaying replacement and upgrading the memory or storage space or, if the machine is replaced, donating the old computer so that it may continue to be used offer potential energy savings of between five and 20 times those gained by recycling.

This is because so much of the energy required to manufacture a personal computer is used to make high-tech components like semiconductors and those components are destroyed in the recycling process to collect a small amount of raw materials. In an earlier study published in late 2002, Williams concluded that 1.7 kilograms of fossil fuels and chemicals and 32 kilograms of water are used to produce a single 2-gram 32M-byte DRAM (dynamic RAM) memory chip.
Make sure they writhe in guilt.
Great Minds Thinking Alike?

This week's Memphis Flyer cover story, about sex in the South, plays up "passion parties," the Tupperware and Mary Kay of the 21st century. While doing reading on another story below, I noticed that another alt-weekly, this one in Spokane, Washington, had a "passion parties" cover story as well! What a coincidence, huh? This is much more common than you think. If one newspaper gets an idea that plays out really well, it will always get picked up by other papers equally eager to retain or build circulation. I'm not gonna search for links, but there are national organisations for different kinds of newspapers and they all have sections which highlight just these kinds of successful story ideas.

It's also the basis for the blogosphere. When someone makes a great post, or uncovers something really interesting, then other bloggers instantly pick it up. Soon, it's all over the place. It becomes a "meme" in blogosphere terminology.

Just ask Instapundit's many readers.
Mid-List Blogging

A great post today from Jemima Pereira, of Speak Stiltedly and Wear a Yellow Shirt blog. (That's a Star Trek joke, BTW.) She looks at publishing's shrinking mid-list and makes some comparisons to blogging. It's a short read, but thought-provoking.

As for Half-Bakered, I've never labored under the illusion of being "mid-list." In publishing terms, I'm a quirky boutique small press: not well known but treasured by the few that read it.
Chumney Redux

I didn't know how to wedge this bit into the Carol Chumney post below, so you get it here.

In all the fuffle about the day-care situation in Memphis the past few weeks, Chumney put forward her solution to the problem: another government agency! Yep, just what we need. She argued that State oversight and State and local Departments of Children's Services weren't enough. We needed a Memphis-only agency, independent of the others but working together, to watch our own backyard.

Shyeah! Part of the problem was failed communications between at least three government agencies. She wants to add another to the mix? Provide yet more opportunity for responsibility-ducking and buck-passing? Another great Chumney idea.

And now the City Council has obligated the City to a program to train and help certify day-care workers, at City cost. No one has any idea what this program will look like, its scope, how it will work, nor even the faintest idea of cost. But we will have something, and you and I will pay for it.

Every year, more children are killed, injured or maimed in automobile accidents in this city than have died in child-care in the past few years. Do we have a driver education program? Does the City actively work to make Memphis drivers safer? We do not. But it would have more and wider impact than some nebulous effort at improving the quality of day-care workers.

Ask youself this: would you turn over your kids to a stranger who only made $7 or $8 an hour, expecting them to care about your kids as much as you do? How many service-oriented places do you go into (restaurants, shops, etc.) where the staff makes that level of income and get crappy service from people who don't care about you or your problems? It's just that simple. One of the best ways to improve child day-care (though not the only, by any means) would be to increase pay, to attract not the bottom of the worker pool, but interest those with somewhat more skills.

Of course, that means that a whole lot of folks suddenly can't afford day-care any more.

Just a thought.
New Year, Same Old Story

Every Spring, the media starts to fill up with horror stories about the rising price of gas. Dark hints and accusations of oil company profiteering soon follow. "It's price gouging," someone will always accuse.


There are perfectly normal explanations that are rooted in government interference in the marketplace. It really is your government's fault! But that doesn't make for good news stories, as the "greedy oil companies" template has been well-established by now.

From the Knowledge Problem website comes this perfectly rational explanation:
The existing EPA fuel oxygenate requirements that arise from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 require that all refiners deplete their inventories of winter fuel before restocking the tanks with the summer fuel (something to do with reducing the probabiilty of mixing). This requirement exacerbates the seasonality that is inherent in gasoline prices because of (1) changes in the demand for gasoline and (2) the price inelastic nature of the demand for gasoline. So now in addition to inelastic seasonal demand for gasoline, we have inelastic seasonal supply of gasoline. And politicians and "uninformed newscasters" wonder why we have seasonal price spikes ...

In theory these price spikes should provide an arbitrage opportunity for some clever entrepreneurs. But the opportunity cost of inventory storage is very large; petroleum refining is a very aggressive oligopoly, so the profit margins are just not there to support carrying such a capital cost. Furthermore, constructing more tank farms is almost as much of a no-no from the aesthetic/NIMBY perspective as building more refineries (the last refinery built in the US was constructed in 1976, in Louisiana). So expanding storage is expensive and difficult to achieve.
Make sure to read the comments as well.

Do I think people will pay attention to such simple market economics? Of course not. The conspiracy theory is so much sexier. Ah well....
A Tale From Another City

A Half-Bakered reader sent me a link to a story about Commercial Appeal Editor in Chief Chris Peck, his former newspaper the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review, and conflicts of interest. It was published in the Spokane alt-weekly, the Local Planet back in March 2001.

The story is a two-parter, but it's best for reasons of comprehension to start with part two and then go back to read part one. It's a very complex tale with a lot of players and difficult to summarise.

A very wealthy Spokane family, developers, also own the main daily paper. (In local terms, think if Jack Belz owned the Commercial Appeal.) That family was pushing hard for a redevelopment project that involved public funds. Where the previous generation of family had kept the walls between the newspaper and the property development pretty firm, the current young generation was less strict. That led to a blurring of lines and roles that led to a lot of questions, upset feelings and appearances of bias at the paper.

That's just the slimmest possible outline. As you'd expect, this story encompasses government officials, City Councillors, PR firms, developers, lawyers, editors, reporters and many more.

Peck is only one player in this sprawling story, but an important one. As I said, this is a long and hard-to-read article, but well worth the time for what it illuminates in Peck's behavior and thinking. I sincerely hope that whatever lessons that mess taught, they were learned. Similar public-private partnerships happen all the time in downtown Memphis and the potential for similar meltdowns exists.

Let me also be very clear here. Someone sent this to me and I'm passing it on to you. There's no "gotcha" going on. It's an absorbing story you won't hear anywhere else in Memphis.

Really and truly: Read The Whole Thing.
You Want It? You Pay For It

The Cooper-Young neighborhood is a great place. Fun shops, tons of great restaurants and aura to spare. The annual C-Y Festival is an all-day outdoor party -- a must for all Memphians. One of the neighborhood's landmarks is a "recovered and repurposed" railroad trestle bridge at the south edge of the hub of C-Y.

The Commercial Appeal ran a story in one of its neighborhood sections about Cooper-Young that featured the trestle art and its costs to maintain. The article seemed awfully boosterish even for the paper and, sure enough, turns out it was written by the Executive Director of the Cooper-Young Community Association! Hmmm.... A search turned up no other CA stories about the art installation.

The Memphis Flyer, it turns out, has the real skinny.
Marc Long, president of the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA), went before the City Council's Personnel, Intergovernmental, and Annexation committee last week, proposing that the city take over ownership of the art trestle and all the costs associated with it. Meanwhile, the group would retain ownership of the art.

"For the initial project," Long said later, "we had money from grants from the city and the Community Foundation [of Greater Memphis] along with matching funds from private donors and corporate donors. At that point, we took full responsibility [for the trestle] because we had the money in the grants to do it. After 9/11, the insurance went up and we started choking a little bit."

In fact, after 9/11, the insurance skyrocketed from under $1,000 to about $4,000 a year. Last year, the CYCA held its first annual Art for Art's Sake auction to cover the maintenance costs of the trestle and came close to raising the necessary amount. This year's costs will be offset by the CYCA's second annual art auction, scheduled for April 3rd.
Ahhh.... They can no longer afford it, but still want to keep it. So they'll get the rest of the City to pay for it!

The Cooper-Young area isn't rich, by any means, but certainly doesn't lack for funds. The C-Y Festival is an annual smash that could be harnessed to their needs. As the author of the CA story points out, 45,000 attend the Cooper-Young Festival. If only 10% of those folks could spare a dollar, you'd have nearly all the costs taken care of!

I oppose on principle the City being given funding responsibility for these kinds of loss-leaders. Yes, it's really neat (I do like it.) but if you want to have it, you should make arrangements to pay for it. Don't look at me, unless you'll also accept my opinions on what to do with it.

Oh? That's a different matter, you say?

This will eventually turn into a tug of war between the City Council, needing to make some kind of decision on development or something, and the "arts community," which will argue it should be left alone and that the City has no "right" to mess with it. Sorry, but who pays the piper calls the tune.

If you like the trestle art so much, prove it.
Memphis Anti-War Protest

I forgot to post this over the weekend, but Memphis also had an anti-war protest on the anniversary of the start of the Iraqi War. As reported by the Commercial Appeal, about one hundred people showed up. Take a look at the accompanying photo. about pampered and well-fed.

The protest was sponsored by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the usual gang of idiots and whiners. MSP&J (sounds like a sandwich) are also the local force behind the "living wage" movement. They have "offices" at First Congo Church in Cooper-Young. First Congo has an umbrella cooperative community of activist organisations, so a turnout of one hundred protesters isn't particularly impressive..
Lesson For Today

Hat tip to Possumblog for Fun Facts About Classic Architecture, a quick, picture-filled look at Greek and Roman columns, capitals, bases and balustrades. It's a fun, quick read. (Note: Adobe Acrobat required.)

Monday, March 22, 2004

He Starts Here And Ends Up...Over There Somewhere

John Branston had the Memphis Flyer cover story last week, with "Policy & PR: How taxpayer-funded public relations are shaping the news." It purports to be a look at the use of PR firms by government, but mid-way through the article it veers in a whole different direction. Neither one nor the other, it ends up leaving me dissatisfied.

Branston starts with an overview of the use of PR firms across the spectrum of local government and quasi-governmental bodies. Not bad, but he neglects details like how much all these bodies are spending. He then lurches into a look at the Madison Avenue "light rail" boondoggle that dovetails with what I have to say further below.

Then, almost half-way through, things get weird. He starts talking about Federal District Attorneys and some cases that might shed light into their offices. He's talked about them before, hinting darkly of shadowy things, and does so again. I guess it's a hobby horse of his, one that he doesn't have enough evidence on yet to speak out about. But you get the sense he really wants to. Really wants to, if you get my drift and I'm sure you do.

Next comes a long passage on the arrival of the Grizzlies, with the attendant controversial media/government hustle. This part is worth quoting:
The big announcement and press conference was three years ago at the Plaza Club with the mayors, NBA Now leaders, and officials of FedEx and AutoZone. Several downtown PR firms and the Center City Commission made sure the room was packed with a friendly audience.

Anyone who remembered the controversy over building The Pyramid knew that a new publicly funded arena would face a tough fight. The true cost would be every bit of $250 million plus the debt on The Pyramid. The well-orchestrated show of solidarity represented only a slice of the business community, much less the taxpayers. The challenge was getting someone influential to say so. PR firms for the Grizzlies and the Public Building Authority tried to keep the focus off of politics and cost concerns by taking reporters to see a new arena in Indianapolis. But sizzle wasn't the issue.

Mike Rose was an obvious call -- a big UM booster, basketball fan, longtime Memphian, and a former Promus and Holiday Inns CEO familiar with nine-digit numbers. But there were complications. Rose was long gone from Promus and Holiday Inns. He lived in Nashville, and his ex-wife, Gail Rose, was a leader of NBA Now. That left the hard questions to a few "naysayer" reporters and "mavericks" like Shelby County commissioner Walter Bailey, lawyer Duncan Ragsdale, and housewife Heidi Shafer.
I'll admit to density here and say I'm not quite sure what he's trying to get at. Rose was "an obvious call" to whom? The "nay-sayers?" The NBA Now tiger team? Branston goes on to relate and praise a Rose guest editorial in the CA that criticises the FedEx deal, showing how reporters dropped the ball, but do we know that Rose would have done as John suggests? Why couldn't the Flyer have done it? Why didn't they? Hmmm....

He's right, though, about the critics being pushed out on the fringe. The local media completely walked away from their duty, in favor of self-interest. Newpapers and television had a financial stake in getting the team here, as well as the prestige and freebies and access. That was an abandonment of duty and the clearest indictment of the local media you could ask for. But I wish that Branston had gone deeper and explained, for example, who hired which PR firms. Were they hired with City money? That would seem to be a conflict of interest -- using PR firms to influence public opinion about a matter of City spending? I'd love to see Branston fill in the story; I really would. Name names, John.

But then comes the strangest part of the article. Branston wanders into a vague, skimmy look at the Commercial Appeal (which serves to stand in for all local print and television media, I guess) and how it approaches PR before just generally criticizing the Commercial Appeal. He spends some time talking about the paper's "new direction" and its new choices in terms of coverage. Things end with a vague glare at the paper's new direction and a seeming paean to days gone by. Odd.

I agree with his points, for the most part, and he asks some good questions about how newspapers can survive and stay relevant in the media-rich age.

This passage sticks in my craw:
Peck is correct that nobody cuts out a story about the inside stuff over at the finance committee and puts it up on their refrigerator door.
Is that the purpose of a newspaper? To end up on the refrigerator? Fish, cats and birds everywhere would be saddened to know that.

Seriously, the duty of a newspaper is to get into places most citizens can't. Especially in government, where a few people in a finance committee room can make decisions that will affect hundreds of thousands of people. I couldn't care less about some arts social, but I care deeply about the agency that takes my tax money to fund that arts social. I want to know! Recipes, wine tastings, movie reviews, humor, comics, cute pictures, agony aunt columns, and a million other things like that I can get anywhere. But if the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer don't report the doings of boards, committees, commisions, Councils, etc., who will? How will I know? Yes, television will give me video, but they are time-limited and unable to do in-depth reporting. Newspapers alone can give me the whole story, in a format I can save and study whenever I want. (Though the Internet is fast catching up there. Imagine if someone had put the City Council's bashing of Carol Chumney, full and unedited, on line? No mediation, no massaging for structure, no missed context, no editing.)

Branston even manages to elide an important point about the mix of government, PR and the press. He says, near the end of the article:
In some cases, CA political reporters have gotten out of their ruts by getting out of the business. In less than two years, the paper has lost three state capitol reporters and a local political columnist. Peck said he has fired only one reporter, whom he did not name.
Tie this in with something from the beginning:
Tom Jones, who started as the spokesman and wordsmith of Shelby County government, vastly expanded the role under mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout. Jones helped make county policies as well as sell them and served on the board of several agencies. His successor, Susan Adler Thorp, has a more traditional role under Mayor A C Wharton.
You have to tie that together because Branston doesn't bother to point out that Thorp was the former CA chief political columnist! Doesn't anyone find it interesting that she would jump ship right after the election to take this job?

I've written before about her behavior in the four week period just before and right after the County Mayoral elections. She wrote ten columns in that time -- five of which were directly critical, to the point of viscious attack, of losing candidate George Flinn. She even wrote an "exit interview" with him after his defeat! She wrote two columns about obscure, hopeless candidates -- the kind she had dismissively blasted in the past -- facing strong certain-win Republicans. Not once did she write a column discussing or praising AC Wharton! Her only mentions of him were in conjunction with Flinn. Thorp was unquestionably partisan, which wouldn't be so bad if she was honest about it. But being followed by her stepping into the Communications Director role for AC Wharton, it fairly screams of ethical breach and misuse of her position.

And yet...not a word. Same for Paula Wade, whom Branston doesn't mention. She was a vociferous supporter of TennCare during her CA tenure. Where is she now? With the State of Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which has oversight on guess which program? Yup, TennCare.

Anyway, Branston gave us a good start before he wandered into something he seems to want to say real bad, but won't quite get out. I suspect, with nothing but my own reading of his work to suggest it, that Branston's journalistic training and sense of ethics is what's holding him back from a real paint-blistering screed against government and the local press. You can see him nudging the edges of it here. I wish he'd let go. He's been around Memphis long enough, and seems more than smart and informed enough, to "connect the dots" as he calls it, in the incestuous greed-party that is Memphis government in a way I'd dearly love to read. Real "flip the rock and watch the creepy crawlies run away" stuff, I'm sure.

Remember, John, it's an opinion column. You can say what you think.

By the way, come back to this topic again, but focus on the firms, the government agencies, the money and the relationships. Most definitely the money. There's gold yet to be mined there, too.
What He Said: Gay Marriage Department

I've considered wading into the gay marriage debate, but have hesitated because I really don't have anything to add that's unique. Ultimately, my position comes from my libertarian philosophy: "Why is government even in the business of licensing marriage?" It should be a private, religious or civil matter. Questions of paternity are no longer a problem with modern medicine. Questions of inheritance can be handled in courts. Records can be kept and documents filed. The government shouldn't be in the business of promoting married life. Government is for individuals, not social units.

Personally, I find gay sex revolting. Sorry, but I do. Ick. Doesn't mean I find gay people revolting. I have many gay friends and acquaintances. Can't help it, living in Midtown; wouldn't want to. They are regular folks just like anyone else. They want homes, jobs, security, love and happiness, too. Homosexuality is a difference with only minimal distinctions, if you look at it.

Pretty much everything I'd want to add to the debate has been better said by Rev. Donald Sensing, a Nashville Methodist minister who has a blog titled One Hand Clapping. Except, of course, that I'm an atheist. But his comments about the changes our science has wrought and society has undergone in the last forty years, bringing us to where we are today inexorably, are what I'd say. Except better.
Today's History Lesson

Following on from the post further below about the election of 1884 (dirty!), we step back a couple of decades to the election of 1864 -- right in the middle of the Civil War.

A Republican President is in the middle of prosecuting an unpopular war, one with a large number of Americans calling for appeasement and bringing the boys home. His opposition is a former military man, seeing "death, debt, and destruction with no end in sight." There was an important social/moral issue creating controversy.

Strange parallels to today, yes? History is like that. Go and read it.
Today's Quiz

From the Microsoft Network's Encarta site, comes this test, taken from the Illinois State Board of Education. It's the math test required for eighth-graders in their public school system. Go ahead and see how well you do. I only had difficulty with one question!
Not A Law Blog, I Promise

That Rocky Top Brigade roll at the left is mighty long and sometimes it's easy to lose folks, or overlook them, in there. I've meant to highlight one blog, Southern Reporter, for a while now.

Mason lives here in Mempho and is a law student. But his blog is about all sorts of things, especially Memphis Tigers basketball and sports in general. Give him a gander and say hey.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Whining Child Alert

So, over the weekend I made a couple of Kerry campaign posters. You can see them here. I think they turned out pretty well. Feel free to post word on your own blog! Spread 'em around. Tell your friends and enemies. I don't care. Just make sure I get credit. And page hits.
Good Morning, Memphis

Well, busy weekend here at Half-Bakered. Managed to knock out a few things and tweak a few noses. Good. It's about time.

I have to admit to becoming reticent in being the media watchdog I set out to be. As I've gone along, I've heard from, met and had email discussions with members of the local media establishment. With only one exception (Hi Jackson!), they've proven to be nice and thoughtful people. I hate that. It made me less likely to hold feet to the fire.

Well, no more. I need to do my job, self-appointed though it may be. We've been discovering new Memphis blogs at a rapid rate lately, but none take the local media to task on a regular basis. Someone needs to and I say it's me.

So, I'm back on the job.

If you find yourself on the pointed end of the stick, don't take it personally. I don't. With very, very few exceptions, I go after words and actions, not the person. I try not to make it personal, but I also try not to spare the rod either. Take your licks, shake hands, get back to work. OK?

The usual caveats apply. Right now, I'm between jobs and have some spare time to expend. Early in Half-Bakered's history I took my job way too seriously and blogged about every single mistake I could find in the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer. That would sometimes mean five hours a day of work. Not surprisingly, I burned out. Hiatus. I watch myself more nowadays so that doesn't happen. Unless someone wants to pay me to do this full time! Believe me, I work cheap. I have the W-2s to prove that.

Stopping blogging is also a mistake. It's very hard for me to restart when I do. It's like pulling loose from quicksand or flypaper. I'll have to be careful not to let that happen again.

And, of course, there's the depression. I have no control over this. I went for almost a decade with few problems, until about five years ago when the bottom fell out. I've been waiting and hoping to come back up, but it hasn't happened. It's like quicksand and flypaper, as I just said. Just keeping moving requires a lot of energy. Any time I stop, I return to inertia. I can't guarantee I won't do that again.


Right now I'm feeling better. Maybe it's the arrival of Spring. Who knows?

Enjoy the ride.
Oh, So Now They See The Light

Commercial Appeal editorials are almost always fertile territory for amazement and humor. Since Dave Kushma went back home, they've turned into missives from a territory so mild and seemingly afraid of stating things plainly you have to wonder.

There was the editorial from January (if I recall it correctly) about the free-for-all amongst firefighters to determine who would next lead them. I read it several times to be sure, but I haven't a clue what the point was. I think it might have been "Fighting amongst yourselves is bad." Ooooooh. Cutting edge stuff. Damning indictment. Jolting call to the task.

Today's was no different. "New ammunition for political cynics" is a howler from start to finish. I don't have time for every point, but let's hit the high spots:
What happened to trust in those who hold the public trust? What is it that has given politics such a bad connotation in many quarters?
I think it's fair to say that in Memphis we should hold politicians in distrust until they prove their integrity. It might save a lot of time and trouble for the taxpayers.

As to the second question, it's obvious to all that our government has become a feeding trough for anyone who can afford the entrance fee. Grease the right palms and you get to slurp from the gravy train. Government has entered so many spheres that it is ripe for abuse in many ways. It's so large that finding accountability is difficult to do; so well-entrenched that enforcing accountability is impossible.

It's elementary. Let the City and County create a task force, empowered to go anywhere and investigate whatever they need to. Think of them as uber-auditors. Make them independent of anything. Set 'em loose. See what they find. Turn those findings over to the DA and then watch 'em disappear!

Alternatively, the Commercial Appeal could do its job and investigate them. I thought that's what newspapers did -- root out bad-doings and expose them to the light of day. Don't wait for the news conference, press release, or police report. Dig it out yourselves!
It's elementary. Either through ethical blind spots or a perverted sense of entitlement, public officials too often in Shelby County have failed to provide the proper separation between personal finances and public duties.
And yet, time and time again, the Commercial Appeal backs these same lunkheads for re-election or lauds those long in government service. Call a pig trough a pig trough and call a pig a pig! Instead of lauding them as statesmen, prick them with the needle of conscience once in a while.
Rout's case is problematic on its face. As reported by The Commercial Appeal's Michael Erskine last week, most of the investors in a fledgling medical group, one of the startup companies in Delta's portfolio, lost their money when the company filed for bankruptcy in December 2000.

Rout, the chairman of the county retirement board, which controls pension fund investments, got his $25,000 personal investment back.

Rout describes the transaction as a buyout that in no way affected his 2002 vote to invest $12 million in county pension funds in Delta Capital Management, a venture capital firm co-founded by former city councilman John Bobango.
OK, guys? This is the editorial page. You can express incredulity here and it's alright. You can scoff and even ridicule if you think it's needed.

You might also mention that Rout sits on the Board of SBC, the County's contractor for information service technology, a sweet deal for both parties, I'm sure.
Government officials simply should not be making multimillion-dollar commitments of public funds under circumstances with even an undercurrent of personal benefit.

These are the kinds of deals that produce an odor in local government that takes years to eradicate.
Oops, sorry. I fell out of my chair there. Isn't this the same paper that went out of its way to make sure that the FedEx Forum became a done deal? Who went after critics without mercy? There was never a whiff of concern about "personal benefit" on that deal, no sir. Still no odor today, in fact.

I'm still astonished they would actually print that paragraph. Really. Without the least hint of shame or abashment.
The situation reinforces an impression of the Rout administration already colored by the indictment and sentencing of former Rout aide Tom Jones on charges of misappropriating funds through county credit cards.

Jones used two county-issued credit cards for personal use to the tune of $76,000, and in a parting shot at his former boss after his sentencing told The Commercial Appeal that he believes about $10,000 of the charges he still has to pay back actually benefited Rout and others in the administration.

He described the administration as a "dysfunctional family" with numerous members who took advantage of their access to public funds to enhance the personal lifestyles of themselves and their family members.
You would think that stink would have wafted into the nostrils of the Commercial Appeal's watchdogs and set them to baying for blood. Red meat! But no, they were content to let the DA do the work. There's some evidence, I suspect, that they were well aware of the problem long before it came to light. The State Comptroller's report on Jones and other problems was circulating for months before the County elections that year, but we never heard of it until after. You would think with one of the top administrators being tainted that they might suspect some of the underlings followed his example. But no, they didn't follow that up.
The depth of the problem is a matter of dispute, and the comments of a public official who has been caught with his hand in the public cookie jar have to be considered in context.
Oh well. That explains that!
There was no quid pro quo involving Rout, insists Donald Mundie, Delta's managing partner of Delta.

Still, Shelby County taxpayers can't be blamed if they think the deal really stinks.
Or that maybe its public watchdog newspaper stinks. That would be my take.

But mind you that's only my opinion, which is based solely on the evidence presented to me. If I knew more, I might think differently.

This Army Is AWOL

Last year Memphis was wracked by the aftermath of a series of day care tragedies. A lot of kids died needlessly and folks searched for solutions. The Commercial Appeal stepped into unprecedented territory by injecting itself into the day-care situation in Memphis with the formation of Amber's Army.

With the CA leading the way, Amber's Army was going to sweep across the Memphis day-care scene and make a difference! Things would change and little children wouldn't die any more. It was a brave new world for this newspaper, full of optimistic assurances and earnest promises. They weren't going to just report the news, they were going to make it as well!

Naturally, the hoopla died down and things went along as they do. The biggest result of the day-care scandals was a lot of new legislation in Nashville. New, more expensive vans would be mandated; more employees would be required. A new, ten-page procedure for counting children getting in and out of the transport vans was concocted. They were, largely, onerous regulations that were later watered down. That was about it.

Come March, 2004, and another child is found unattended in another day-care van. In this case, she did not die. But the investigation turned up a heinous criminal history on one of the day-care's employees, and unveiled an astonishing lapse in communications between local and State government agencies, one that allowed this rapist to work near children. Procedures meant as guarantees proved flimsy as tissue because people simply faked the paperwork. All that sound and fury, so many high-flying speeches and solemn pronouncements, and we're still where we were.

Memphis again went into an orgy of "what to do." We were back to square one. Once more the Commercial Appeal editorialised about it. They pointed a lot of fingers. But there is one question they haven't asked. One finger still unpointed. I wonder if they have the courage at the paper to ask:

Where was Amber's Army?

Having injected itself into the story last year, they must now accept a part of the responsibility. What has Amber's Army done lately?

Go to the site and you'll see that it hasn't been updated since August of 2003. Last year. Eight months ago. Why did they stop? Why did they abandon the children? Did they think their job done? Why? Did they lose interest? I'm sure Karlissia probably would wish they hadn't. Will the paper investigate itself? Will they ask the tough questions of themselves? Will they even renew themselves to their own cause?

Amber's Army was AWOL. Now, who will bring the charge? Who will watch the watchmen?
Count On Carol, My Ass

I warned you Midtowners about electing Carol Chumney to the City Council, and now we're seeing the fruits of your votes. Sour fruits likely to yield little of value.

It reportedly started with her attitude on taking her seat. She isn't shy about reminding folks about her thirteen years in State government to the point her Council-mates felt she wasn't acting with proper "freshman humility." She breezed in with an attitude that caused friction.

Carol Chumney tried to suck up to Mayor Herenton. No surprise there, as she's made her mayoral aspirations known for years now. It's why she's on the City Council, to improve her media and governing profile. I warned you about that.

The real trouble began with her "open letter", printed in the Memphis Flyer. It reads like the sniffy, apple-polishing teacher's pet telling off the unruly students, blindly believing that being the best student makes her unassailable and right. She seems to be oblivious to the nest of relationships she entered in City politics and seems intent on remaining that way. Anyone can see that is a recipe for a whupping after class.

It happened in full view of the media. Chumney was publicly dressed down, in front of cameras by her fellow Councillors. Not once, but twice; once in a committee meeting and then again in the full Council. Her Council-mates excoriated her in no uncertain terms. Chumney, of course, missed the point and defended herself lamely.

One note on reporting here. The Commercial Appeal story is the usual newspaper style, taking words and phrases out of whole sentences, couching them in the reporter's words, ripping up the flow. The WMC story does a better job of giving the reader whole-sentence quotes. But both fail in providing a larger context. No television station, to my knowledge, ran the exchange unedited. We have no idea even of what started the fireworks off! What was said that triggered the exchange? I believe that reporters are so focused on micro-managing the story for us that they lose sight of the fact that modern technology gives *us* the opportunity to view the situation without their mediation. Oh, bad. We wouldn't need them if they just put this stuff up and let us make up our own minds now, would we. Sorry, I forgot.

Anyway. The upshot is that she's now in the shithouse. She tried to hold herself up as the model of a legislator, hoping to show by example how the others should behave. But she's done it in the most insulting and inelegant way. She's been shown for the prissy stuck-up she is, right there before God and Memphis. Her value to her constituents is now deeply discounted. She's going to have a hard time pushing through her projects, in the face of hostility and maybe a desire to punish her and remind her of her place. John Vergos knew how to navigate the shoals of the Council while still pushing for his projects and watching out for his constituents. Carol doesn't, amazingly enough, and will have a hard time getting anything for some time to come.

We in District Five will pay for her mistakes, for her ego and ambition. Thanks Carol. Knew we could count on you.
Public Service Message

Lots of folks use peer-to-peer programs to share music files. The most popular one today is Kazaa. But are you aware what Kazaa sneaks onto your computer when you download and install it? You should be. It's scary. If you use Kazaa, you should read this right away.
Reflective, Not Predictive

Some months ago, a great new website opened called Election Projection. It collected polling information from all across the nation down to the state and local level even, tracking the changes in voter preference in the upcoming Presidential election. They then created a "red/blue" map of the country, showing the current status. As the operators of the site said then, it was a reflection of the current status, and not a prediction of the election to come.

That didn't stop some Republicans from willfully not paying attention and start crowing about the huge landslide Bush was sure to have.

Here we are in mid-March, and things are different now! Kerry leads Bush by five percent and 34 electoral votes. The map is much more complex.

I think this is the point where I say things about chickens and eggs.
Water, Water Everywhere

Remember last year's terrible wildfires and drought out West? Remember all the usual reminders about global warming, etc., etc.? Well, times change:
The water content of California's mountain snowpack was measured at 123 percent of normal for March, 150 percent of normal north of Redding in the Shasta-Siskiyous and Trinity Alps ranges. Even with this month's unusually high temperatures, the year is shaping up as mind-blowing for farmers, cities, hydroelectric power generation and those who camp, fish and boat at the state's lakes and streams....

Even then, the water content in some areas is far enough above average that an extended drought would not be a concern. The water bank's high point in California was measured in the Trinity Alps northwest of Redding, with 163 percent of average water content for March 1. If it does not rain or snow one drop or flake for all of March, the snowpack in the Trinities would still contain 146 percent of average water content for April 1, according to the Division of Flood Management.

Lake Oroville is often a testimonial to water conditions in Northern California. In May 2001, Oroville was only 60 percent full, the highest level it reached that year. This year, it is already 84 percent full, with two months of inflows still ahead....

In the Sacramento Valley, the flood-relief bypasses, such as the Yolo Bypass, Butte Sink and others, filled during the storms fed by tropical moisture in February. From the air, it looks like an inland sea....

Water managers have been dumping water ever since, creating cheap hydroelectric power from Shasta Dam, raising water levels on the Sacramento River as much as 10 times higher than normal, and lowering the lake down to 78 percent full on Tuesday. For early March, that's still 104 percent of normal.
Remember this when you see "global warming" attached to annual weather stories again.
Supreme Court Cases You Should Know

I meant to link to this a while ago, so better late than never. Signifying Nothing had a great post on the ten Supreme Court decisions everyone should know. These are the fundamental and important cases; ones that shaped our nation's destiny. I knew only six of the ten, unfortunately. Chris lists a lot of supplemental cases that I had better luck with. Check it out and then get started on the ones you miss.
Puff Or Curl?

Possumblog answers an important question: Do you prefer your toated-corn cheese snack puffed or curled? The only correct answer, of course, is curled. All you puffs are, well...poufs.
Start Deleting Those Files Now

Those of you who are TimeWarner Cable customers might want to read this:
Time Warner Cable is the first cable company to begin trying to adhere to the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, the source said. Cable companies are not yet required to comply with the 1994 wiretap law, but they see the writing on the wall.

Vernon Irvin, executive vice president at security vendor VeriSign, said during a recent interview that his company had signed a deal with a "major cable operator" in the United States to help it follow CALEA. He did not identify the provider, but the source tagged Time Warner as the company. A Time Warner representative did not have an immediate comment.

Irvin, however, did assert that other cable companies are sure to follow. That's because the FBI has made public a far-reaching proposal to require all broadband Internet providers--including cable modem and digital subscriber line (DSL) companies--to restructure their networks to support easy wiretapping by police.

"The cable guys aren’t waiting," Irvin said.
Consider yourself warned.
Wi-Fi Woohoo

Found this webpage which lists nine wi-fi hotspots in Memphis. Two are coffee houses, of course. The surprise was that the Malco Paradiso is one, and the TJ Mulligan's out on Quince is another! All free, too.

Just nine, though? That's all? Well, make good use of 'em anyway.
Today's Lesson

Today's lesson comes from Doctor Seuss. It's from the 1930's and it's about "guts". Enjoy.
The Amazing Invisible Candidate

Remember a few weeks ago when Ralph Nader quit his Hamletian dithering and announced his independent candidacy for President? A one-day wonder in the press that launched a firestorm of anger on the Left and in Democratic circles. Dems especially saw him as a Kerry spoiler who would cost them again.

They quickly moved from speaking ill to just pretending he didn't exist. Trouble is, he does exist and he's making impressive inroads even with his new-found press invisibility.

There have been about four polls now, taken over a multi-week period, and all produce the same result: Nader is drawing a steady six percent of the vote against Bush and Kerry! The anti-spin began in articles like this one from the Columbia Journalism Review that tried to spin away his numbers in that poll. But Quinnipiac University ran their own poll and found the exact same number. Then, came an MSNBC/Newsweek poll, just released, that confirms it.

Heck, ABC even found correlation with kids!

Nader is hoping to use this as leverage against the nets to get him into this year's Presidential debates. Good luck. Perot was a fluke, not a precedent. He'll be battling them every step of the way to get in. Kerry's people don't want him in, as it'll make the debates look like nothing more than Bush-bashing, damaging Kerry's already wobbly image.

As it is, Nader will have enough problems just getting media attention. I'd watch for Dean and his new action group to get more attention than he does. It reinforces the Dems' chances and Dean works better in the "maverick outsider" template for them. Even though Nader has more supporters, Dean's are "internet organised," which, again, is the preferred template. Plus, let's be honest, Nader hurts Kerry's chances; media bias will tell.

Still, I remind readers that I was predicting Nader at this level several months ago. I bet you thought I was goofy then, but I had a real sense of both Democratic dissatisfaction with the front-runners in the primaries and a very real far-Left voter rebellion simmering out here in the heartland. You may all bow before my amazing prognosticating abilities!

I haven't gotten around to this yet, but changes have happened in the Fanfare section of the Sunday Commercial Appeal that I really am glad to see. The stultifying, oppressive hand of Frederic Koeppel has been lifted and new things are happening. Koeppel has long dominated the "arts" side of the paper with his elitist literary tastes. He prefers to review books that might sell a dozen or so copies here in Memphis than cater to the unwashed masses and their mass-market tastes. That's changing.

The first sign was the appearance of Jon W. Sparks' reviews of audio tapes of books. I'm guessing he fills his driving time with 'em and thought "why not review 'em too?" Just seeing this was good news. I imagine Koeppel groaned.

There are fewer books being featured likely to be read by no one, seemingly put in there to either uplift the dreary, non-art-inspired masses or to cater to a narrow slice of the Commercial Appeal's readership. That's good, but we still see too many books reviewed because the author is in town or because Corey Messler read them. It also seems that two pages were taken out, reducing Fanfare from eight pages to six. Put them back!

If it were me, I'd love to see the paper try reviewing some non-fiction books on the popular science front. There are plenty of books that explain the world around us in an entertaining but informative way, and it would be nice to see them highlighted once in a while for education-deprived folks in Memphis to check out. More genre fiction, too.

Now we also have a "Page Turners" feature. The folks in the CA research department are writing short reviews of a number of mysteries and crime thrillers. It's not my taste, but obviously lots of Memphians read them. So far, I've found Shirley Sykes to be their best reviewer. I hope she does more.

Some of the syndicated columns have disappeared, but that's no problem except for the magazine roundup.

Hmmm. A pretty rambling ramble here. Let's sum up: Koeppel back-seated? Hooray! Fewer pages? Boo. New reviewers? More yay!
In Case You Were Wondering

Remember when ABC/WPTY 24 dumped their entire anchor crew and replaced them with the Happy Fun Couple last year? Bill Lund and Renee Malone got snapped up by NBC/WMC 5. Good for them. I just discovered today that Ken Houston is going to Baltimore, to be an evening anchor. (Scroll down the right-hand side, under "Latest industry moves.") Good for him.

It was a shabby thing to do. And while WPTY can still do hard news better than the rest -- witness their spectacular job with the Dyersburg hostage situation -- they also have a distressing tendency to surround it with silliness like Jeni DiPrizio chasing car drivers. Then there's the whole issue of the Happy Fun Couple presiding over the news show.

I'd still like to know what became of Michelle Robinson. You'll recall that she started at CBS/WREG 3 as the morning on-location reporter. She and another on-air personality -- along with some other NewsChannel 3 employees -- were hired as extras for a Hollywood movie filming locally. Turned into an ugly mess for them, as the management had issues. She was let go, though Todd Demers kept his job, ending up as an anchor at WPTY! Good for her. I thought she really blossomed there, so it was doubly distressing to see her fall into the trap door as she did. Anyone know what became of her? I hope it's good.
Madison Avenue Folly

The new Madison Avenue trolley began operations this week, and to see the media hoopla you'd think it was a Great Thing. Bah. A taxpayer boondoggle, a wet dream for social planners and a windfall for road builders. The editors over at the Memphis Flyer say it best:
The new trolley link between downtown and what may some day actually be a revived "medical center" is a questionable expense of public funds. It is justified by the generosity of the federal government, which used to pay 80 percent of the cost of mass-transit projects. Or in the case of Memphis, federal funds diverted from the aborted Interstate 40 project through Overton Park were used to help build the first stage of the downtown trolley system....

But the proposed new light-rail line from downtown to the airport is another matter. Supposedly, it would cost $400 million, but any estimate about a public construction project targeted for completion in 2010 is a guess, at best. What we do know is that under new rules the federal government would pay at most $200 million, or half of the cost. State and local governments would pay the rest, plus operating subsidies.

We cannot imagine a state government that often looks askance at Memphis anyway rallying behind a $100 million appropriation. And we cannot imagine city and county governments that recently declined to spend $5 million over several years on the hometown University of Memphis rallying behind a $100 million investment in light rail.

The Commercial Appeal headlined it as "A trolley for residents," but considering that it stops long before it reaches many clusters of apartment complexes further east, it seems false. I live one block off Madison, but as it stands I have to catch the 2 bus to the closest trolley terminal at Cleveland and then transfer. Yeah, right. I'll just stay on my bus, thank you. Though the trolley runs "every ten mintues" I still have to wait a while for the number 2. Why can't regular busses run "every ten minutes?" Wouldn't that be even better than a trolley?

Obviously, this was a case of "use it or lose it." And the losers are the Midtowners. Though the Commercial Appeal glosses it, several businesses went under during construction. Many more suffered financial setbacks that will hurt them for years to come. Not only that, but there's an ugly showdown already happening over the proposed extension. The city would love to continue the trolley down Madison to Overton Square, then shoot south along Cooper to the Cooper-Young hub. Nearly everyone involved along that route opposes it, especially the folks in C-Y who will lose a lot of their charm to make room for the tracks, widened roads, lost parking and sidewalks, and overhead spaghetti the trolley entails. Business leaders haven't been in the least mollified by assurances from the builders that they learned their lesson with the original line.

The proposed Lamar extension has actual advocates, who would like to have traffic brought to their business corridor, but the city would prefer that tourists see the "funky" parts of Midtown, not the rundown parts, and so that route is deprecated.

Make no mistake, it will be mostly tourists who use this contraption. No matter what the Commercial Appeal tries to make you believe in their multi-page worship of the trolley, it is simply too slow for most commuters. City busses travel faster; nearly traffic flow speed most of the time. Trolleys creep along.

It was all a big pot of money dressed up in city pride by folks who want to sell you the Emperor's New Clothes. Social engineers will lament its non-use and dream of new ways to spend taxpayer money to make you use it, so they can be proven right. Imagine if all that money could somehow have been diverted into MATA's coffers? We'd have more frequent busses, more routes and later times, longer routes. We might afford smaller busses for those routes and times that don't require the standard long bus, saving money, fuel, wear and pollution! It would visibly and effective improve the quality of public transportation, which currently sucks.

One MATA example. I used to travel out to the Hickory Ridge Mall area, back in the Nineties before the whole area fell into disrepair and abandon. I could catch a bus along Union and make only one transfer. Not so bad. Total trip time, though? Close to an hour. And God forbid I'm a minute or so late being at the stop, as I'd have to wait 45 minutes for the next one, which might not hook up with the bus I needed to transfer to in order to get home!

For some reason, no doubt influenced by the same "Manhattan on the Mississippi" crowd that is sucking up tax dollars at a furious pace for dubious worth, the central bus terminal is all the way over to the west of the city, near the Pyramid, rather than near the middle. So, rather than a lot of short spokes leading from a centrally-located hub, hatched with cross-connectors near the edges to save some longer trips, we have huge rambling worms tracing all over the place. It often means having to travel from one end of town to the downtown just to connect to a bus taking you back out to the edge again, so you can move geographically north or south! Heck, they could even place a small number of "sub-hubs" in the places with the highest concentration of bus travellers and connect them, like the airlines do. But no, we have the same plodders at the helm stuck to the same old ideas, serving the same old masters.

The whole purpose of the trolley is being sold to us as a "light rail" alternative to car travel. Now, when you think of "light rail" most folks picture the commuters of the Northeast corridor going to work every morning from the bedroom communities, reading their papers and working on their computers, travelling into the Big City. Ours is nothing like that; it's a trolley, no matter what proponents say. Loud, bumpy, jangly. Think San Francisco, not Connecticut or Chicago. Supposedly, these things will be faster and better than bus routes from the airport area to the downtown. Not likely, as trolleys are slower than busses. And the routes being chosen are both the two sides of a triangle rather than the one, shorter side. As others have noted, we'd be better off with a $3 or $4 charter bus arrangement from an airport-neighborhood bus hub to the downtown terminal. Faster and more direct.

[BTW, did you know a cab ride from the airport to the Midtown area can cost nearly thirty dollars? If I were an enterprising guy, I'd start one of those gypsy bus lines, like they have in Boston and New York, ferrying people in vans from the airport to the Bus Terminal downtown. You'd make a mint.]

But don't look for things like that. Too smart, too obvious. And not connected to those big, big pots of money waiting for someone to spend.
He Said It! Part One

The current Jackson Baker column is a look at Representative Harold Ford, Jr. Wipe away the usual Dem-worship slobber from the page and there are a few interesting things. One is this Ford quote on the War in Iraq:
Bill Clinton said the same thing. I'm not here to defend George Bush. I want to win. But Bill Clinton had the same policy -- to disarm Iraq and change the regime. George Bush just took it to another level.
"Another level." Gotta love that one.

Baker also reports this Great Ford Idea:
Notable was his concept of "stakeholder" accounts, whereby newborn American citizens would receive a $1,000 "stake" at birth and receive various add-ons later -- upon reaching the sixth-grade level and upon graduation, for example.
Real smart, as they say. Government bribes to do right. The first "early withdrawal" exemption will be for medical emergencies and you'll see families all across the poor spectrum raiding these accounts like cookie jars.

Allowing "stakeholder" accounts for Social Security is wrong. It takes money from the government. But taking more money from taxpayers for personal "stakeholder" accounts? That's fine.

New paint job, same old Democratic thinking.
He Said It! Part Two

During the hiatus I was listening to the Mike Phlegming radio show when he had County Mayor AC Wharton on. As is his style, Mr. Wharton was speaking somewhat slowly and deliberately, trying to choose and phrase answers carefully. Of course, Mr. Fleming hasn't got the time. He is forever hustling folks along, cutting them off or finishing their comments for them, to get to the commercial break.

In one particular segment discussing term limits locally, Fleming was starting to speak for and over Mayor Wharton while Wharton was trying to complete one thought and respond to Fleming. During the short hurly-burly, Fleming burst out with "I don't trust the voters!" It was clear, in context, that his mouth was moving faster than his concious control and he was expressing a core belief.

Yep. Mike Fleming -- elitist. Remember that next time you call in.
This Didn't Appear From Nowhere

I'm always bothered when a story seems to just "discover" some item of interest. Take, for example, this story, an AP report printed on the front page of the Commercial Appeal about a newly "married" gay couple in Chattanooga. If you skim the article, it seems like this couple were just living their lives, not drawing any attention. Somehow, the difficulties they faced got discovered by the reporter and became a story. There seems some effort to make them poster children for the gay marriage movement in Tennessee.

How did Bill Poovey find these guys? Did he know them? Did they come to him? Did they do something, not reported in the story, that brought notice? I suspect the latter, as a close reading of the article leads to this passage:
The gay couple said they have encountered no ugly reactions to their Feb. 23 marriage or the publicity that followed, including interviews with Chattanooga news outlets."
Ahhhh...publicity. What kind and of what nature? Why did some news outlets interview them?

See, more going on than we are led to believe. Something else is afoot. Always read closely and ask the questions.