Thursday, April 01, 2004

Homestar Runner

Well, I've tried to get y'all to read Homestar Runner (where you can also find Strong Bad's emails), but it looks like you're too late. Homestar has lost his domain hosting!
Volunteer Tailgate Party Time!

The latest VTP is up over at The Inn of the Last Home. It's selections from some of the best and brightest that Tennessee blogging has to offer. Just watch out for the gully dwarf when you go in.

Great job, Barry!

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Kerry Mockery: My Evilousness Knows No Bounds

I've added some more abuse to the Kerry Mockery page, including the first Kerry/Clinton 2004 graphic! I also have one on the Air America liberal radio network. Check 'em out; use 'em if you like 'em.

Don't forget the Kerry campaign poster page. I may have to make one with a daisy flower motif. if the current meme starts to gain traction.

And last, I have put up a silly graphics page, filled with a whole lot of goofy stuff I've done over the years. I may add more later, and again, use 'em if ya like 'em. Just please give me credit.
Someone Take Carol To The Woodshed, Please

Not having been chastened by her dressing down by a City Council committee and the full Council, nor by reprimands in both the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer, District Five Councillor Carol Chumney plows ahead. The story, as reported by Action News 5:
A new brawl may be brewing at city hall, this time between council members over the issue of MLG&W candidates. Memphis City Councilwoman Carol Chumney invited all of the utility's presidential candidates to come to a town hall meeting she's hosting Saturday. But Councilman Tom Marshall asked her to withdraw those invitations. In a letter Marshall tells Chumney he fears she would "compromise the selection procedure," saying a hearing like this is "outside the council's due process of consideration.
What can we do about this woman? Her ham-handed efforts to preen and look like a leader are just digging her hole deeper and deeper. Is she tone deaf to the upset? Is she that blindly self-centered and ambitious? Is she such a slave to her "grind" (in the scholastic sense) that all she can do is follow an obviously failing game plan?

I can only hope she wakes up before it's too late.
That Was Quick

Yesterday, I posted about a bill pending in the State House that would allow concealed permit carriers to begin to carry in establishments that serve alcohol. Well, the bill died on Tuesday, on a straight party-line vote. However, it will be reintroduced soon. It may still be voted on by the full House and Senate this session.
That Could Be Me...OK, Maybe Not

An online writer acquaintance of mine has opened his official website, James R. Winter. He writes in the crime/thriller genre and has a novel coming out later this year. Give him a look, and mark your calendars.
SF News

* More news on the Star Trek: Enterprise front from Trek Today. They are reporting rumors from the Paramount lot that Enterprise will only be given a 12 episode order for next season, and then the series future will be evaluated. Several Trek stars from previous series are speaking out, too.

* The next Batman movie, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale has an official website. The only thing posted are a couple of shots of the new Batmobile. Everything I'm hearing about this movie so far has me really excited.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Best Political Ad Of The Year, So Far

I rag mercilessly on John Kerry because he is the kind of Democrat I fear getting into power. It doesn't mean I'm a big George Bush fan, though. I support how he's conducted our foreign policy since 9/11 and the changed response to terrorists, but domestically he's a mess. Neither conservative nor Republican, and not a leader of his party. When the time comes, I'll vote for the Libertarian candidate, who'll be chosen this summer at the convention, like it's supposed to happen. Not this year-long free publicity machine the Dems and Reps have.

Having said all that, this has to be the funniest political ad so far. If Republicans were smart, they'd spread it around. But they aren't and so we'll get the usual crap from them. Nothing this good hearted and direct. With little but some well-chosen pictures and plain facts, and a great classic-rock song, you get an ad that gives you a smile and makes you proud. Which is completely unlike nearly every other ad out there.
Now They Get Religion

There's been a subtle shift of tone I've seen in the past few months on the part of the Commercial Appeal's attitude toward taxes and local spending, which is a faint hint of skepticism. Nothing huge, but I've spotted it here and there.

However, Monday's lead editorial, "Don't spend much on Liberty Bowl fixes," seems to come from another newspaper altogether. They argue that the City and County shouldn't spend but the minimum on the Liberty Bowl to keep the worst safety and engineering problems fixed. But I think there's something else going on. Let's take a look:
A brand new football arena to replace the aging Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium would be an exciting new addition to the growing array of Memphis sports venues, but the timing is not right.
And yet, the paper argued just a few days ago to let the Pyramid sit empty so that the Memphis Tigers could move to the FedExForum, a move that will be more costly to the City. Besides, I don't think "growing" is the word when we'll have one new Forum and deprecate two venues subsequently, the Pyramid and the Liberty Bowl.
Unless the Liberty Bowl is too unstable structurally to ensure public safety, taxpayers shouldn't be expected to pay for another sports facility at a time of tight dollars and pressing public needs.

The stadium could benefit from a substantial fix-up, but the money and political support may not be present for anything beyond basic repairs.
And why not? The paper could do as they did before and get behind a big, big push to at least fix it up properly. They've done this before, after all....

Well, I guess it's nice to see the CA get fiscal religion, but coming after the big Forum push, when a substantial part of the city's population was asking just these questions and told to be quiet, it sounds odd. Especially as they don't seem perturbed by additional spending needs at the Forum that have just popped up. One hopes they'll remember this when flush times come back.
The stadium is home to the University of Memphis Tigers, the Liberty Bowl and the Southern Heritage Classic football games. But the facility that opened in 1965 has lost its glow.

Fans sit on seats without backs, locker rooms are small and, without a press room, post-game interviews sometimes are held in a tent. Sky boxes, concession stands and the field need work.

Limited renovations in recent years produced new bench seats, a better scoreboard and new paint. But more comfortable seating would mean a costly restructuring of the seating area.
The Liberty Bowl is old, but not unsalvageable. And the Pyramid was poorly designed from the start, with bad acoustics, cramped seating and too-high stairs. Should we scrap it, too? Oh...wait....
A $50,000 consulting engineers' study on stadium options should be released in the next few days, but officials are guarded.

Pete Aviotti, special assistant to Mayor Willie Herenton, said last week that it may make better financial sense to demolish and rebuild than to renovate. A major overhaul could cost $50 million, while a new arena could push the cost to $125 million or more.
It's interesting that the paper is getting out in front of the study's release rather than waiting. Maybe they have an advance copy?

On the subject of cost, Chris over at Signifying Nothing, has an excellent post taking a look at that.

Remember for later this call for demolition. We'll come back to it in some more detail.
Aviotti didn't endorse either option. Neither did City Council members, though some warned that inaction would lead to more decay.

Councilman Rickey Peete suggested spending $4 million to $5 million for minimal repairs if the work would buy a few more years of use. Others await the engineering report.
I can't believe I'm siding with Rickey Peete, but there you go. He's right. Depending on the details in the report, at least a holding action is required, though I argue we should save and upgrade the whole damn thing. I'm tired of seeing huge public capital outlays being tossed aside for the next flashy thing, regardless of need or purpose and without much care for the old. It's nearly criminal.
It should be noted that the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, one of the largest stadiums in the country, has seen 16 renovations since 1921, according to the school's web site. Renovations apparently have served UT well, since there are enough seats for 104,079 fans.

By comparison, the 62,380-seat Liberty Bowl has been twice renovated since it was built, according to the university.

Major costs for a renovated or new stadium seem to be out of step with public sympathies. Public funds built The Pyramid, now only 13 years old and begging for new tenants.
Chris does a better job of looking at the Neyland comparison than I could, so be sure you've read his post. But the reason the Pyramid is now going empty is because it was abandoned for the new Forum! And that happened because your paper bought wholesale into the promotion of the thing, to the point of demonising and dismissing those who opposed the Forum! The Commercial Appeal was so wildly and blatantly partisan it was disgusting. It was an abdication of their responsibility to the public for the sake of money and access. Plain and simple. The Forum was also unpopular, many questioned the need, many questioned the spending with a fine Pyramid next door, but the Commercial Appeal steamrollered right over that.
Public money is paying most of the $250 million cost of the FedEx Forum, and public money, through sales-tax rebates, has helped finance AutoZone Park, the Memphis Redbirds' home.
Slightly diffeent animals here. Sales-tax rebates can be voided; I can choose how much I spend at AutoZone Park And I don't recall many wanting to save Tim McCarver stadium, though you could make that argument. It's wasn't in as good condition as the Liberty Bowl is now. An upgrade would have been more comprehensive than the Liberty Bowl, to the point where all realised that starting over was a better deal.

Bond money, though, comes right out of my pocket. The City will be reaching into my income for years to pay for that, for a small group of profiteers (remember, Heisley doesn't even live here) to make a huge killing with my tax money. And notice that the editorial carefully sidesteps the issue of all the other tax breaks and revenue diversions going on in the Forum deal.

They're different animals, not similar ones.
The city has a general obligation bond debt of more than $900 million, and city property taxes are likely to be increased this year to meet government costs.
And we were facing tax increases when the Forum was proposed, but that didn't stop the paper. The Commercial Appeal could be doing investigative work into the expenses of government, how our money is being used and on what, but I don't often see that happen. What they usually do is wait for the District Attorney, State Comptroller, police, Sheriffs Office or some other agency to announce a problem. It would be nice to see them initiate some fact-finding into our government some time.

Another idea I've long propounded is for the Commercial Appeal to take a page a week, on Sunday, to print the budget and expenses of a different City agency or branch. Give a short explanation of the job they do, list the salaries of the people involved and look at how much it costs. That alone would begin to shed tremendous light on the inner workings and fiscal responsibility of our government and might cause agencies to tighten up and get better with what monies they already have. Just a thought. After all, "Give light and the people will find their own way." Yes?
More money is needed to improve schools, fight crime and fix roads and streets. The city announced late last week that almost $14 million will be required for necessary lighting and landscaping improvements around the FedExForum.
The headline on that story only mentions $10.x million. You had to go deeper into the story for the other $3.x million. Clever bit of redirecting there.

Again, though, so what? We're talking small investment now for a larger return in the future. Spending money to save more money later, as they say. Government will always need more money, and as long as we allow government to expand and to intrude it will continue to do so. Fight to stop the growth first. Stabilise the situation, then look at meaningful and effective cuts. I suspect you'll find government has a whole lot more than we all suspect.
Taxpayer pockets in Memphis seem to be about empty. The third option for the Liberty Bowl looks like the most reasonable at this time: Fix the most glaring health and safety needs and press on.
"Press on" to where? This is what I was hinting at earlier.

I hate to give rein to my conspiratorial side, but so many little things are happening. First, Tim McCarver Stadium goes, then the Old Fairgrounds Building. Note how quickly the City was able to act -- over the Thanksgiving holiday, no less! -- to get that torn down. Now, the Liberty Bowl will be allowed to slow decay until the CA will piously inform us that it's too dangerous to be allowed to stand. Sound familiar?

Notice how that whole complex is slowly falling to decay and collapse, piece at a time? Why do I suspect that some developers have set their sights on the whole area as a giant urban renewal project? Let it reach a nadir, bring in the Federal Housing and Urban Renewal crowd, get Federal grants, tear it all down and build swanky new condos and homes with tastefully integrated shopping. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? Suspiciously so, to me. Look at the map.

I am suspicious and here's the Commercial Appeal suddenly being penny-wise and not their usual pound-foolish.

And because this is Memphis, let's also throw in the race card. By far, the biggest event held at the Liberty Bowl is the Southern Heritage Classic, which is a week-end long party that draws tens of thousands of blacks into Memphis from around the Mid-South. It's one of the City's biggest events. How do you think the Commercial Appeal's call is going to play in that community? They'll be rightly outraged at what sure looks like second-class treatment.

If there's something coming up for the whole Fairgrounds area, then let's put it on the table for all to see. If not, then let's be smart and find the money to make a renovation of the Liberty Bowl happen. Sure, it's not downtown, but it's still a good venue. One that may play an important role in the future. Let's make sure it's there when that time comes.
Follow That Penguin

Tom's Hardware has a great article with some basic step-by-step instructions for migrating from Windows to Linux. They even have checklists! This is only Part One; the next part is Soon Come.
Just A Suggestion

I make a lot of use of the Commercial Appeal's search tool on their website. It's a strange bit of software, very spotty and picky, but that's not the purpose of this post.

When you get your search results, why is there no new search box on the results page? Instead of just going on from that page, you have to hit "back," wait for the previous page and all its ads and doodads to reload, then start again. A search box on the results page would save that extra step and speed the process.

Just a suggestion.
Legislative News

* A perennial bill is being re-introduced with a new sponsor, House Minority Leader Tre Hargett, that would serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, it lets those with concealed carry permits take their firearms into establishments that serve alcohol, provided the establishment doesn't prohit them. That's what this story, from Nashville, plays up. But the more important purpose is to close a defect in the law that potentially punishes those caught leaving their firearms outside in their vehicles, which is a technical violation.

Democrats are crying foul, claiming it's a ploy to get their votes on the record for elections coming up. Given that this bill comes up every year, that's not really true, is it? Besides, as the article surprisingly points out:
While West says permit carriers haven’t committed felonies, according to the Department of Safety 133 permits were revoked last year for various requirement violations, said Beth Denton, DOS spokesperson. More than 155,000 Tennesseans possess permits, she said.
No felonies? So what's the problem? And only 133 revocations? That's not even one-tenth of one percent! Again, what's the problem?

Thanks to Say Uncle for posting this.

* On the local front, State Senator Roscoe Dixon (D, Black Orthodoxy) has introduced a bill to require a push-button deactivated voice warning on all day-care vans. I'm generally skeptical of mechanical solutions as lazy people will always find a way around them. Note that this was proposed after the Department of Human Services created a ten-page document of procedures that day-cares were supposed to follow. Apparently, new laws didn't work either.

Pretty much all solutions will require more money, making day-care cost prohibitive to some. The best solution -- paying a really decent wage to day-care workers than will make the onerous requirements worthwhile -- still hasn't occured to anyone yet.

The fun part of this story, though, occurs at the very end:
Sen. David Fowler, R-Signal Mountain, wants to limit the legislation's impact to the Memphis area and have the Department of Human Services issue a report after two years saying how effective it is "before we extend this cost to everyone across the state."

Several day care operators have complained in recent years that costly state mandates are driving them out of business.

Fowler said no child had died on a day care van in his area of Southeast Tennessee.
Ouch! The facts hurt, don't they?
She Said It!

Hillary Clinton is quoted by the New York Post's Cindy Adams as saying "It will be outside forces - something unforeseen that suddenly happens - that tilts the election one way or another."

On the surface, that's not much of a prediction. It happened in 1996 and 2000. Drunk driving charges, the Cole bombing, etc. Both sides have tons of opposition research lined up as well. That kind of sniping is a cheap shot, but it works.

But she words this vaguely enough that it can cover anything, letting her claim credit if anything from freak rainy weather or a terrorist attack is responsible.

I'd say that if a terrorist attack happens somewhere in America right before the election -- which I think is nearly a certainty this year and Heaven forfend it should -- I would immediately turn a cold, gimlet eye on that woman. But this is Hillary, so the media will rediscover this remark and call her a prophet.

I got two emails out of the blue this morning from LiveJournallers who didn't wish to be listed on Half-Bakered, so I'm taking that as a sign and removing all the LJs from the roll of "Folks." The LJ experiment is over. If you read this blog, have a LJ, and wish to be listed, either contact me by email (see upper left) or leave a message in comments. I'll re-add you.

One of the emailers seemed puzzled and a bit scared that I had discovered their LJ. I find that odd, since IT'S ON THE INTERNET! I'm doubly puzzled since LiveJournal offers a "friends only" function that takes you private. It's always surprising to me how people forget that the Internet is wide open to anyone who can access it.

Ah well....

Monday, March 29, 2004


Bill Laurie, heir of the Wal-Mart empire, made a massive donation to the University of Missouri and bought the rights to name their new sport arena. He decided to name it "Paige Sports Arena," after his daughter (it's her middle name). Since she has never been a student there, the decision is not going down well. It's caused a huge outcry and protest.

Laurie and the UM folks made one serious error. They forgot to buy the URL for the Paige Sports Arena.

Note that this $75 million dollar complex is being 2/3 paid for by public money -- State bonds and private donations in smaller amounts. Laurie's money accounts for 1/3, yet he extorted a huge number of conditions, including "ongoing influence over its design and construction." Pig.
A Fascinating Experiment

I learned this evening that the Commercial Appeal is considering running a group blog -- open to a large pool of people -- for the Beale Street Music Festival. People can just log into a Commercial Appeal site and upload their posts on their experiences at the Festival. Can you imagine the possibilities?

It's only a proposal at this point, and there are a wealth of technical and content issues to be worked out, but it's out there. I would love to see this, to see how it works, especially if it's realtime or nearly so. And doubly so if they can work uploading digital images.

If you have ideas, or think you'd want to participate, you can contact Jon Sparks at the Commercial Appeal (here) or just leave a message in the comments below.

Is anyone aware of this being tried at other music events? Hat tip to Lesley for mentioning it.
DVD Review: Hero & Journeys With George

A two-fer! These are short, not detailed, so I combined them.

First, is Hero, the new film from Chinese director Zhang Yimou. I found this at DVD Freaks on Cooper, in a Chinese version, but they said it's already being pulled from distribution as an American company will be releasing it to theaters later this year! And I'll go see it again.

I rented this solely on the DVD box and the recommendation of the guy at DVD Freaks. I knew nothing about it. Turns out that it stars folks like Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Tony Lueng, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi! Zhang Yimou is the director of such movies as Farewell, My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern, well known arthouse films.

This movie is simply stunning. The costumes, set design, color design, staging, shot composition and cinematography are beautiful to behold. Shot after shot in this movie has the power of painting to it. I kept reaching for the remote to freeze the frame, time and time again. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you'll know what I mean, but this movie is light and bright where much of CT,HD was dark. Breath-taking is an overused word, but it so applies in this case.

For example, in one shot we see two women fighting in a large wood. Huge deciduous trees with lots of space around them; every leaf is autumn gold and there's a constant rain of golden leaves across the frame as though it's a rainstorm. During a pivotal moment in their fight, every single leaf slowly begins to transform into a bright magenta. Every one! It's spectacular and jaw-dropping.

I could go on forever with listing beautiful shots. The director also uses the elements of wind, water and fire -- and the colors magenta, lime, azure and white in his costumes. You may never in your life see a movie so rich and wondrous.

Sadly, the plot is a bit thin, involving assassinating an emperor, and the style of the director calls for the actors to hold still for long stretches. This movie does drag. But Maggie Cheung is radiant; in early scenes her hair is down and across her face, with her makeup it gives her an evil appearance that belies her true nature. I didn't recognise Tony Lueng until I got to a featurette that had some English titles! And the actor who plays the Emperor does so very much with so little, making him thoroughly believable.

I can't recommend Hero as a film. It's nearly two hours long and feels like more. But as an art study it will stay with you for days. I will see it in theaters just to have some of those images blown up wall-sized. And I'm gonna rerent it one day to get a dozen or more screencaps. Stunning, stunning, stunning.

Our second feature is a documentary, Journeys With George, about an NBC staffer on the 2000 campaign trail with George W. Bush. If I were the Republican Party, I'd be buying screen time on every channel I could to run this 80 minute film! Bush comes across so well -- relaxed, charming, charismatic, people-focused, friendly -- that you cannot help but like him.

The film was made by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Minority Speaker and staunch Demorat. Alexandra is also a Democrat (a Bill Bradley Dem as we later learn) and skeptical of Bush when they start. She clearly falls for him. Watching their interactions is humorous and insighful of Bush the man. Throughout a lot of the movie we watch Bush come back to the press plane to joke and joust with the reporters. He's clearly in his element and yet he seems to keep them at a distance while rarely being less than nice.

There are some jarring moments, as when we see Bush celebrating with a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. I've never trusted non-drinkers who still will drink that O'Doul's crap. It's like they don't want to completely sever the ties and still want to flirt with alcohol a bit. Also, we see NBC correspondent David Bloom reporting a couple of times. It's unreally ironic to see him cover the candidate who will win, then take us to the war that will claim Bloom's life. But there are some other moments, like Bush trying to find out what it would take to get Pelosi's vote or Karl Rove spitting out the candidate finish to an obscure primary race from the previous election, that entertain.

All in all, this is recommended to anyone. If you're a Democrat, you'll gain some understanding into who Bush is, why he isn't dim and why he inspires loyalty, and why he's so likeable. If you're Republican, you'll be reminded of the charming and laughing side that sometimes gets lost in Washington in the post-9/11 era. And like I said, the Republicans should be showing this movie as often as they can.

Are You Between 16 And Oh...Say 24?

If you are, you need to be paying attention, as it's becoming more and more likely that a military draft is coming back. The buzz began last year with stories about recruiting for Selective Service Boards across the country. These are the folks charged with hearing cases requesting conscientious objector status, or other reason for not serving. The spin at the time was that many of these Boards were losing members whose terms just happened to be expiring and they needed to have new members "just in case."

Now comes word that the Pentagon has begun the earliest steps to create a "special skills targeted draft" in the event of emergency.
Nonetheless, the agency has begun the process of creating the procedures and policies to conduct such a targeted draft in case military officials ask Congress to authorize it and the lawmakers agree to such a request.

"Talking to the manpower folks at the Department of Defense and others, what came up was that nobody foresees a need for a large conventional draft such as we had in Vietnam," said Richard Flahavan, a spokesman for the Selective Service System. "But they thought that if we have any kind of a draft, it will probably be a special skills draft."

Flahavan said Selective Service planning for a possible draft of linguists and computer experts began last fall after Pentagon personnel officials said the military needed more people with skills in those areas.

A targeted registration and draft "is strictly in the planning stage," he said, adding that "the whole thing is driven by what appears to be the more pressing and relevant need today" -- the deficit in language and computer experts.

The spokesman said it could take about two years to "to have all the kinks worked out."

The agency already has a special system to register and draft health care personnel ages 20 to 44 in more than 60 specialties if necessary in a crisis. According to Flahavan, the agency will expand this system to be able to rapidly register and draft computer specialists and linguists, should the need ever arise. But he stressed that the agency has received no request from the Pentagon to do so.
I wasn't aware of any health care draft. Has anyone had experience of this they can relate?

The article goes on to claim that Congress has shown no interest in a draft, but that's not true. Several Representatives (I can't find the story link.) last year, as a jab at Bush mostly, introduced legislation to restart the draft. The bill in somewhere in Congress right now.

So, the idea is out there, slowly moving along. It's been introduced, and is now gaining slow momentum. It all depends on who the next President is, and what they plan to do internationally, but if Bush wins I wouldn't be surprised to find more forward action on the draft. He's already explicitly told the nation that we are in a war that will take many years to resolve. While the Pentagon has said that they have the forces they need to do the job, it would still take a couple of years to build up the US military if new troops were introduced. Would a call for more volunteers do the job?

If I were between 16 and 22 or so, I'd be watching this one very closely.
An Excellent Example Of How The Blogosphere Works

Last week, I posted this bit on the synchronicity of two articles on "passion parties" appearing in two disparate alt-weeklies at the same time. Since I don't trust Blogger permalinks, and the post was short, here you are:
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.
Thanks to getting into the Commercial Appeal's Friday CA Eye column, I got a comment visit from the Flyer's own Editor, Bruce VanWyngarden:

Well, actually, yes. Our stories came out the same week but they were totally different in focus, tone, length, etc. I've never even seen the Spokane paper, nor am I aware of a website where alties "share" story ideas. Not to say, it doesn't happen that one paper borrows an idea from another. But it didn't happen in this case. Promise.
Let me first of all apologise for seeming to imply that there was a direct connection between the two. Sloppy writing on my part. I wear all the hats on this site, do it in my spare time, and crank it out, so I sometimes know what I mean but don't write what I mean.

The thought was that alt-weeklies, and also dailies, aren't like islands in the sea. They aren't cut off from what other papers like them do, going it alone and having to reinvent the wheel on a weekly basis. Sometimes they are part of a chain, and so the corporate structure makes it very easy for one paper to learn what others are doing, and to borrow story ideas; or to have the corporate folks "suggest" things to them. I believe the Nashville Scene is part of a small chain.

Almost all alt-weeklies belong to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, a trade organisation. One quick tour around the website will show that they do indeed provide a lot of examples of what other alt-weeklies are doing. You can also go here and here to see all the other professional, trade, advocacy, regional and industry websites out there. The media industry is a rich environment full of information and networking. Some transfer is inevitable.

Now I most certainly take Mr. VanWyngarden at his word that they don't visit sites to discuss things like kids in a chat room, trading story ideas like Magic the Gathering cards. But neither are they disconnected from what their peers do. Is his own paper the only one you'll find if you stop by their offices? I suspect not. Do the Flyer's staff seek to stay informed and up-to-date? I'd bet so.

For example, I Googled "passion parties" to see what I'd find. Of course, I got hundreds of hits for people who put them on. Ick! But wading through page after page of results, I found almost a dozen stories in the past month or so at various alt-weeklies on passion parties! Some had their genesis in a Texas court case, but most were simply talking about the phenomenon.

In fact, neighboring alt-weekly, the Nashville Scene, had two stories (here from January and here from two weeks ago) on passion parties!

So, if I implied that Mr. VanWyngarden pulled the cigar from his mouth, stabbed a finger at some other alt-weekly he subscribed to and growled to a shivering intern, "Get me one of those stories. With pictures. Of dildoes." then I'm sorry. As he states, that wasn't true. But I was saying that papers are a business like any other and they do indeed pay attention to what works and what doesn't within the business and among competitors and peers. Sometimes it's explicit; sometimes it's a convergence of incident and similar philosophies and similar story needs.

But more importantly from my point of view, this is a shining example of how the blogosphere works successfully to correct mistakes. Mr. VanWyngarden caught my error and was provided the forum to explain it, right next to the post. I was forced to either correct the mistake, ignore him and lose credibility, or explain myself better. It was right there, right in public, easily readable by anyone reading the post. That's very different from newspapers, where such a process is conducted invisibly and the paper controls who knows what. Blogging is, as Bill Hobbs calls it, "collaborative, peer-reviewed journalism." It's the shining beauty of blogging and what makes it so powerful.

Take as an example, the Richard Clarke story of the past week. If all you read and watch are the big-media outlets, then you are behind the curve. In the part of the blogosphere concerned with reviewing and fact-checking those outlets, Clarke's story has already been examined, picked apart, studied and deconstructed very thoroughly. Clarked has already been exposed there as almost completely lacking in credibility and consistency. The big newspapers and the major networks haven't yet gotten to the kind of analysis that the bloggers did within days. They're still lumbering around the story and only now catching up to the kind of in-depth analysis already provided by blogging. Bloggers are simply farther ahead and further into the story.

Bloggers do the same thing to each other. If someone at one blog posts, others who read it will examine that post and respond on their own blogs. Others take up the posts and spread them, adding their own insight and analysis as it goes. Previous bloggers read the new stuff and recomment. Soon, dozens or hundreds of bloggers have chewed over the original story, working out the errors of fact and analysis and bias. It is revolutionising how people get their news and how they process it.

So, to go back to the origin. I'm sorry to Mr. VanWyngarden for creating a false picture because I got in a hurry and got sloppy. I hope my further comments have cleared the picture. And I'm glad he responded and gave me the chance. Once again, you the reader also have the chance to offer your own thoughts, insights, analysis, facts and arguments to my post via the comments.

Advantage: blogosphere!
Storm Clouds On The Horizon?

Courtesy of the The Nashville Files comes this legislative report, via the Nashville Tennessean, about the failure of a "commuter rail" line to get funding commitments from the State. Mostly it's due to a question of need and doubts on the part of Governor Bredesen, as well as extended pushbacks on starting the project.

This might be bad news for the Madison Avenue Trolley. The project is encountering some resistance in the community, both citizens and businesses. And the whole thing relies increasingly on City/County and State funding as it goes along. The present line was built with 80% Federal funding, but that drops to 60% and less in later, more expensive, extensions.

Will local legislators make a press for this? Or has it already gotten commitments? Or can we hope the whole silly thing stops right here? After a few years, we can hope, the truncated line will fall off in ridership to the point where it will be scaled back; then the scale-back will turn to abandonment as regular bus needs become more pressing. Then we'll just have some odd tracks and street construction to show off to visitors.

Or will the big-money guys who are steering spending into the downtown get their public-money transportation solution to moving folks from their "Manhattan on the Mississippi" to the inconveniently placed airport?
Dueling, Newspaper Publishers And Editors

Brock over at Signifying Nothing has a post on dueling which points to this book excerpt from the Smithsonian magazine.

The book is Gentlemen's Blood by Barbara Holland is just that -- a book about the history and purpose of dueling, with a whole lot of amazing stories. The chapter excerpted at the Smithsonian talks about the link between newspaper publishers and editors and dueling. Turns out that being an editor or publisher could get you killed pretty easily!
Back in the previous world, print had sources. You knew where the newspaper office was and stalked into it with a challenge, or perhaps a cane or a horsewhip; those who considered newspaper editors too inferior socially for a proper duel simply beat them. William Coleman, editor of the New-York Evening Post, was paralyzed from the waist down from a caning. Joseph Charless of the Missouri Gazette was assaulted, spat at, and shot at, and had his office burned down; then the editor of the rival Inquirer waylaid him on the street and beat him severely with a cudgel....

The two brothers who edited the Richmond
Examiner in the early nineteenth century both died in duels. Edgar Allan Poe challenged one of the paper's later editors, John Daniel, but showed up too drunk to shoot. Later Daniel disagreed with the editor of the Whig over the aesthetic merits of a particular public statue; they fired and missed.

'Rancorous' was the word for Daniel. A contemporary wrote, 'His pen combines the qualities of the scimitar of Saladin and the battle-axe of Coeur de Leon.' He believed that any sheet of paper not covered with abuse of high officials was a piece of paper wasted, and he enjoyed the repercussions. Wounded in the right arm, he had to fire with his left in subsequent duels.

He abused Northerners and Southerners impartially and called the Confederate treasurer a reckless gambler unfit for his office. The treasurer called him out and Daniel took a ball in his thigh. While he was recovering, the paper was in other hands and everyone missed his fiery touch.

Editors wielded their powers with a fine, free hand, restrained only by the possibility of getting shot at, if that was indeed a restraint; some seemed quite anxious to be targets at dawn. Perhaps duels boosted circulation. James Callender of the Richmond
Recorder, rejected for a postmaster's job by President Jefferson, printed a story claiming that Jefferson had had an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. He offered absolutely no evidence of any kind and seems to have invented it himself, but all the other Federalist papers whooped and leaped on the story. (Later Callender got so drunk he fell into the James River and drowned in three feet of water.) When asked, Jefferson, not the dueling type, said it was too silly to answer. Probably he hadn't read it. He only read Richmond's Enquirer.
Of course, Memphis is the town that ran Ida B. Wells out on a rail, under threat of death, for what she wrote in her newspaper. Still, it does make one nostaglic for the days of "battling newspapers," when they came with points of view and strong stands, instead of the faux neutrality and impartiality of today's bland breed.

I should be glad dueling is gone or I suspect Half-Bakered would have been called out by now. One or two folks have not been happy with my characterisations.

Anyway, the book looks fascinating and I'm going to buy it ASAP.
She Said It!

"My only regret in life is that none of my children are gay." Sharon Osbourne at the GLAAD awards dinner.
Con Report

Mark over at Conservative Zone was quiet all weekend and I was starting to worry. Well, turns out he's OK. He was at the Mid-South Con the whole weekend! He has a con report.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs

Discovered a few more blogs over the weekend, and I'll be updating the list to the left later on Monday. I'm also thinking of breaking out the LiveJournals from the "regular" blog and website folks. It's late now and time for bed.

Planned for later today is a post responding to Bruce's trenchant observations on a post I made down below, "Great Minds Think Alike?." You'll have to look for it, as I'm tired of Blogger's "sometimes they work, mostly they don't" permalinks. Also, something on the return of the draft and a closer look at the Nashville Scene article that has some Memphians spitting nails.

By the way, if you are or know of an Arkansas blogger, especially one who covers the political scene, please let me know. I've been searching for over a year with no success. Surely there must be someone!

Finally, I hope to post a DVD review of the new Zhang Yimou film, Hero. One of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. Stunning.

Good morning and see ya later.
Tour Bus Boards Here

I've meant to do some blog-post linking, bringing attention to some fellow local bloggers and Rocky Top Brigade members. So, here we go:

* Firstly, I have been remiss in not asking Jon and Rachel if they have any interest in becoming members of the Rocky Top Brigade. I can't believe I've gone so long without asking! Please consider this a formal invitation. Emails to follow.

* Speaking of that illustrious pair, both have redesigned their sites. Spiffy!

* By the way, Rachel has a gratuitous cleavage shot posted. Heh heh, that oughta drive some traffic. And, by the way, nice cleavage!

* Speaking of redesigns, Mick over at fishkite has redone his front page. It has a dense, link-filled look now. More spiff! Not only that, but he's brushed up against big-league blogging fame! Seems that Don Luskin used some information that Mick has been researching for a Richard Clarke fisking Mick's going to post. Congrats and can't wait to see it.

* Our politics couldn't be farther apart. They scare me sometimes with their iron-willed, take no prisoners approach to Lefty-liberalism. Reading their blog, for me, is often like having wandered into a parallel universe, where things look like my world, but are very, very different. Nonetheless, LeanLeft has a great post on getting involved politically that anyone would do well to consider.

* New to the Rocky Top Brigade blogger No Quarters offers a post on putting cams on police guns that is something to consider.

* Mason of The Southern Reporter at one time considered being a district attorney. He offers some reasons why he changed his mind. I only wish he'd provided some numbers for us to look at.

* Terry of Possumblog had a link to three simple questions you should know that could save a life.

* And last, Rev. Donald Sensing looks at the story of a National Guardsman who found his job taken from him when he returned from Iraq. That alone is an outrage, but the company has also flouted the Federal government's orders to reinstate him! The Reverend is seeking names and stories of anyone else caught in similar evil treatment.
Power Derives From The People

I was pretty shocked when the Massachusetts Supreme Court derived whole cloth from nothing in their State's previous history, a "right" of gay people to be married. You can read in places like the Volokh Conspiracy about the very dubious reasoning the Court used to create their ruling, basically buttressing desired outcomes with weak arguments, rather than factually nailing down assertions. Nowhere in Massachusetts' past has there been a history of gay marriage, in fact nowhere in the nation nor in British common law from which American law derived. It only sprang up in the past couple of decades and is even controversial within the gay community. It's almost totally outside of the State's cultural and social experience. But it was slapped down on the people with a declarative "Deal with it."

Of course, outrage immediately blew up. And the people of Massachusetts are fighting back:
Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance - a group of several hundred activists named for the Massachusetts Constitution provision that holds ``the people have a right . . . to cause their public officer to return to private life'' - says a legislative recall makes more sense than constitutional amendments that have been tying the State House in knots.
``It's the intended remedy when justices do not properly interpret the law,'' said Camenker. ``We cannot credibly call ourselves a democracy when our most basic laws can be undone by four unelected, appointed officials.''
Bravo! I hope they succeed, not to punish gays but to punish judges and justices who disconnect from the society in which they serve.

Sometimes, the folks who serve us need that kind of shake-up to be reminded of who is in charge. Judges cloak themselves in an insularity that approaches the way doctors used to demand to be treated. The medical profession was pried open to public scrutiny and a lot of doctors got knocked off a lot of pedestals. Judges are long overdue for precisely this kind of public interaction. Too many judges seem to use the Canons of their profession as a shield to keep the public from challenging their actions. Need I mention Tennessee's famous Judge "No execution on my watch" Nixon? Every single death penalty case that has come before him has been sent back down on technicalities or vague issues that effectively prevent the State from carrying out sentences. He refuses to discuss it and so goes on about his merry way, protected.

Well, no more. At least in Massachusetts.
Look Out!

From Houston, comes this story about a wheel-chair using man who was struck by a "light rail" vehicle. The fault appears to be the man's, but there are other, "light rail"-related circumstances. This story comes after a much longer USA Today examination of the bad start the "light rail" system has had there.

I've been concerned about how our Madison Avenue trolleys would do in a crazy-driver city like Memphis. People here are rude, aggressive, thoughtless and inconsiderate behind the wheel. Throw in a large, slow, stop-filled trolley and it's a recipe for a Houston-style problem.

But so far, there have only been, as reported on television news, the expected difficulties with fitting in a new player on the streets of Memphis. I haven't noticed anything in the Commercial Appeal.

Which leads to a thought. Would the Commercial Appeal report problems with the trolley? Would they report accidents between trolleys and vehicles or pedestrians as trolley related, or simply as traffic accidents, eliding the trolley connection?

I ask because the Commercial Appeal was a big booster of the trolley. On opening day, they devoted a large number of splashy pages to it. Having invested in such civic boosterism does that leave them prone to not wanting to subsequently question it? Or would they, ala Amber's Army, just leave all that behind and adopt, Big Brother style, the new line?

Too bad there's nowhere to have that discussion.
Reading For Truth

The Sunday Commercial Appeal carries this story about an Army deserter running to Canada. (Link goes to another site. The story isn't on the CA site.) First and briefly, the headline choice is interesting. In other papers across the country (the story is a Cox wire feed), it's called: "US soldier seeks refuge in Canada," "Anti-war soldier defends choice to flee to Canada," "Deserter defends run into Canada," and "Deserter defends fleeing to Canada."

The CA chose "U.S. deserter finds niche in Canada." Niche? There was no place for him here and he found it in Canada? That's not really supported by the story. I have to wonder what the headline writer was thinking, to be so different from colleagues.

Which is really what I wanted to look at. The story tries hard to support sympathy for a man who admits to being a deserter in a time of war. Read the whole story before we go any further.

Hinzman says:
"I feel so strongly about the Iraqi war and not wanting to be a part of it that whatever the consequences, so be it," Hinzman said.
Those consequences?
Hinzman knows if he returns to the United States he will be arrested and sent to jail. If convicted at a military court-martial of deserting in a time of war, he could face lethal injection.
No soldier has been executed since WWII for deserting, but you can see the seriousness.

Unfortunately, rather than stay and face those consequences, he's high-tailed it to Canada. His actions belie his words. Even his words belie his words. In a part of the story you can read at the link, but didn't get into the CA version (due to space consideration, most likely; gotta run those ads), he says:
His decision to join the Army, he said, was an effort to provide some structure to his life and to get money to attend college. He admits now he was naive about what he would be doing. "I don't want to come off as having no idea as what the Army was about," he said. "I was just totally ignorant about what it takes to make a person a killer."

Although he had dabbled in meditation and Buddhism, Hinzman said his views about nonviolence did not crystallize until after he arrived at Fort Bragg in August 2001 and began attending meetings at the Quaker House in Fayetteville with his wife, Nga Nguyen, who was born in Laos to Vietnamese parents.

In August 2002, Hinzman applied for conscientious objector status. He was not interested in getting out of the Army, but in performing some noncombat role. In fact, he said, he enjoyed Army life.

"I've never felt as close to a group of people as I did when I was in the Army," he said.

When his unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, received orders for Afghanistan several months later, Hinzman said he had no problem going.

"I just didn't want to go in a combat role," he said.

He was required to carry an M-4 rifle wherever he went, and admitted to his superiors that he would use it if his unit or the camp came under attack. In his mind there was a significant difference between offensive actions and defending his home and friends.

"It's premeditated murder as opposed to having your house broken into," he said.
I'm sure that every soldier who served in the European theater during World War Two will be happy to hear he was a "premeditated murderer."
But that admission, he believes, led to the denial of his conscientious objector application. When his unit returned to Fort Bragg after eight months in Afghanistan, he knew it was only a matter of time before it would be sent to Iraq.

Those orders came on Dec. 20, 2003, and by Jan. 1 he had made up his mind to go to Canada.

He said he has no doubts now, and no regrets. He is not encouraging others to join him, but said of his decision: "I'm confident what I've done is the right thing for me."
I'm sure he does.

This guy was a mess. I'm happy he's found some convictions, but sorry he doesn't have the courage of them, to face his consequences rather than run from them, to spend his life knowing he ran and that some other soldier may die in his place now.

The article also goes on to look at numbers from the Vietnam era on desertion and draft-dodging, which was considerable. An estimated 90,000 went to Canada alone; total AWOL/desertion is estimated by the Pentagon at 1/5 million!

That was then, though, and this is now. What's the desertion rate to Canada today? If you don't skim the article too quickly you'll learn that it's...two. Including Hinzman. In a two-million strong armed force.

Read farther along and you'll see:
Hinzman and the others are a very small group ? one that isn't expected to grow significantly. In fact, Pentagon figures show that the desertion rates have dropped over the past three years.

"Most of our soldiers want to serve. They volunteered for this," Army spokeswoman Andrea Takash said.
Which is the whole point I want to make. Aside from issues of false sympathy, the article is comparing apples and oranges. The Vietnam era Army was a draft force. Today's Army is all-volunteeer, which changes things pretty dramatically. I don't have any sympathy for someone who signs up for the Army, goes through months of training, and is then surprised to find out they may have to kill someone! Or someone like Hinzman who claims his only duty is to the Constitution, forgetting he also has a duty to his superior and commanding officers, and the civilian politicians who set the policy and orders they must follow.

The article is a slight bit of deception and a lot of muddle that blurs fairly clear issues. He signed on to do a job, one that a lot of other folks depended on him to do, and then bailed. If Hinzman won't face the consequences of his actions, preferring to run from them, but proclaims otherwise, I have no room for him. If Canada wants that kind of man, they can have him.
Building Good For You

I am truthfully not sure how to feel about this:
Sprint built the car parks a 10-minute walk from the office buildings.

Inside, Sprint asked the architects to make the staircases airy and inviting.

The company wants people to use them, so by contrast it has made the lifts slow and small....

Sprint says this experiment shows that if you give employees a nudge, they will take more exercise and so lose weight.

It is good for company profits and for the health of the staff, of course.
Just listen to this company executive on the sound science they used as their basis:
"If you're overweight, you probably have a higher level of absenteeism or you get more fatigued during the day, perhaps you have a lower concentration span," says Ms Davis.

"We all know when we do exercise we have a higher energy level, we're more focused and we're not sick as often," she adds.
Catch the "you/we" usages there? They know what's best for you!
"Walking over from the parking garage sucks," said one disgruntled employee.

"It's not bad," says another, "unless it's 110 degrees outside or below freezing and raining and cold."
Architects design what clients want. Architects have philosophies behind their design processes. It's what distinguishes them from each other. But I fear about this kind of "social engineering" being so explicitly catered to. Especially when other human factors will be subordinated to technology needs, the geography of the site, cost management, etc. Some concerns are over-emphasised and others are blithely ignored.

(Good local example: the Pyramid. It was built with too-steep rises and too-narrow seating in an effort to increase total number of seats. The site and pyramidal design, and the profit concerns of the owners, were given undue emphasis over the comfort needs of the people who would fill it.)

It makes me nervous whenever someone does something "good for me."
Back in Kansas, Sprint's campus is surrounded by six-lane highways.

In a culture where the car is king architecture can only do so much.

The challenge nationwide is to get Americans back on their feet.
Yeah, that makes me feel better....
New Resource

Alright, probably everyone else has already found this web resource, but it's new to me and just what I was looking for. is, to use their own words, "Every political leader on every issue." It's huge and detailed. I haven't even scratched the surface yet. Check it out.
Another One Biting The Dust

News today that Jacques Chirac lost big in regional elections in France. But the story isn't good from the American viewpoint:
...[T]he opposition left took between 49 and 50 per cent of the vote and control of 21 of 23 regions.

Mr Chirac's right polled between 37 and 38 per cent, the interior ministry announced. It was the first test of the government’s public support since the 2002 election.

Turnout was high, with about two-thirds of the country's nearly 42 million voters casting ballots, the ministry said....

The leader of the triumphant Socialists, Francois Hollande, said a mere ministerial shuffle would not be enough, "no matter how big it is". Instead, he said the government must keep its hands off the public sector.

Aside from the left, Chirac's government faced pressure from the far-right National Front. It polled between 13 and 14 per cent of votes.
Yup, another slim Socialist victory in Europe. And an explicit call to spend more on the public sector. You can count on France to speak loudly and to assiduously avoid meaningful action on the terrorism front.

I still say America should let Federal Europe become the independent nation it so badly wants to become. We should rethink our participation in NATO and shift bases out of Europe as much as we can. (Actually that second part is already happening.) America should let Europe shoulder the burden of its own protection, as any nation should. Yugoslavia? A European problem we should let them handle.

Of course, in the real world this won't happen. Most European nations in the Community spend just a fraction of the money we do on defense. America picks up a lot of the load for them. It's how they can afford their welfare state. If they had to pay for defense on a par with us, it would cripple their economies and destroy their social net.

Europe can't have that! They're civilised people. It's up to us barbaric Americans to do the ugly work of making sure their asses don't get into trouble. That's our proper role: the help. We should know our place. Fools and internationalists like the Clintons think being allowed to sit at their fancy tables makes the second-class status worthwhile. They think Europeans are better people than we are and are happy to lick their boots and bask in their pats on the head.

Bush wasn't. He is playing real-politik with them. It's why they are so outraged. We've forgotten our place. We're threatening the civilised place they live in. We're bad.

Well, screw 'em. When they all speak Arabic in public and retreat from the Muslim masses swamping them to their enclaves of European civility to grouse in private, we'll see how "civilised" they still are.