Saturday, April 10, 2004

County Opposes Recycling

Americans like to talk about how we're a classless society but the truth is, we're not. We do have very porous barriers between classes and we encourage mobility between classes (usually upward), but it's obvious to anyone that we have distinct groups and layers in America. Memphis too.

Friday's editorial on roadside rubbish betrays the class insularity of the Commercial Appeal editors. They slide into the wash from County Mayor AC Wharton's crusade quite nicely, and in doing so show that they really don't know how a large part of this community lives.

I live on a street here in Midtown that sees tenants get evicted from their apartments on a regular basis, maybe one a month. Every time it's the same thing. As soon as the landlord starts putting things out you'll see folks up and down the street start eyeing them. If word gets out that the stuff is up for grabs, that's just what happens. People begin to pick over and claim property.

If you're lucky, you can snag some good furniture in good shape. But there's always stuff you can use. Just look around your home right now and imagine it all on the sidewalk. I've managed to get a good bookcase, a nice chair that only needs reupholstering (The one with the blue towel on it for those who've been here.), some picture frames, those heavy plastic clothes hangers, tables, lamps, books galore, aquariums, pens, all kinds of stuff.

I won't touch clothes or kitchen things. But I've seen plenty who are willing to invest the time and elbow grease to clean and sanitise those things and reuse them. Which is the point. What's going on is recycling, plain and simple. To deny the poor and thrifty of Memphis an opportunity to do so is almost criminal and plainly elitist. What the Mayor and the CA sniff at as rubbish is home gold to a lot of others.

We had just this situation happen this week. Someone down the block had all their stuff put on the curb. By the end of the day, the furniture and pots'n'pans were gone. By the second day, most everything else was too. The problem is that things get spread around by scavengers or blown around by the weather. That's the problem. But the amount of true garbage by the end of the pickover was small compared to how it started.

The CA needs to look through the eyes of others. Having landlords cart all this stuff away ASAP will hurt a lot of poor who can make good use of the castoffs. It may offend the sensibilities of our City's well to do, but for the "on the edge" types like me, it can help tremendously.

Wharton knows that this happens on the first few days of the month. Work with the recycling program or the Department of Sanitation to send out sweeps in likely areas. Or have a hotline set up to report it, like we already are supposed to do with limbs and other debris.

But don't further oppress the poor.
Commercial Appeal Blogs

News today that the Commercial Appeal has added two new blogs to their roster: East Memphis Appeal and The Memphis Scene. I haven't checked them out yet, so I can't say anything.

Speaking of CA blogs, both Blake and Jon have been AWOL of late. C'mon, guys, back to work! I would encourage those of you into Memphis politics especially to support Blake's Blog. It's a seed of what could be a good thing. Give him a visit and leave a comment. And Jon too. After all, what other part of the Commercial Appeal are you gonna find pics of Playboy bunnies in?

If you haven't registered your Memphis or Mid-South blog at the Commercial Appeal's blogroll, please do so. We should be encouraging this kind of thing. I'm only seeing one or two hits a day from there, but it's all about connectivity and cross-fertilisation in the blogosphere. Plus, you'll find a whole lot of good readin' there.

Still no blogs at the Memphis Flyer. God, imagine Jackson Baker with a blog. The mind reels.
Sliding Down Into The Muck

Down below, in my huge music and tourism rant, I mentioned how the Fairgrounds is been slowly being allowed to decay. Remember the fire back Christmas week at the Shelby County Building? Even with Christmas right around the corner, the City still managed to get crews out there almost immediately to tear the remains down, even though some of it appeared to be salvageable. It seemed suspicious.

Word today (second item) is that the cause of the fire is "undetermined." A single paragraph is used to summarise the results of the Fire Department report. No direct quotes from the report.

So now we're left wondering. Suspicious (OK, paranoid and jaded) folks like me think it's all too convenient how quickly and conclusively the whole situation was dealt with in a City famed for dicking around. Part by part, the whole Fairgrounds complex is falling apart and rotting into nuisance.

I'm not the only one, apparently, who thinks that. On Wednesday a letter writer to the Commercial Appeal pointed out:
Within the past 10 years the swimming pool at the Fairgrounds has been bulldozed, without fanfare. Now there is talk of destroying the Mid-South Coliseum. Is the Fairgrounds doomed to become a parking lot, despite its important place in the city's history?

Laugh if you like, but I sense a pattern. And the final result of the pattern fits perfectly with previous City history and actions. Look at how big that area is. Imagine a Federal grant for "urban renewal." Don't you think Harold Ford, Jr. would get in on that? Lots of land for new development. Lots of opportunity....

Keep your eye on this. I'm sure.
The Branston Reports

Hey, I'd watch that show! In fact, WREG should just dump that dinosaur of civic go-along Norm Brewer and replace him with John Branston. John's love of the city coupled with his slightly-askance take on City Hall would be a welcome relief from the solemn bilge that Trent Lott lookalike predictably cranks out.

Anyway, Branston has a great article in the current Memphis Flyer about the trolley. He compares and contrasts the trolley with a "greenline" project near Rhodes College. Great stuff. He's skeptical, and shows you good reasons why. It's a welcome corrective to the hosannas of the Commercial Appeal.

Not only that, but he looks at the numbers and the companies and entities involved. It's a great start, but we need more. Who's who, and who they know, and how they connect would go a long ways toward informing Memphis about why so much of what happens in Memphis goes the way it does.

Still, this is precisely the kind of journalism I'd like to see lots more of.
Music, Memphis, Tourism: A Huge Rant

(This post just got out of control. It's huge. Longest thing I've written in a while. Settle in before you start reading, OK?)

USAToday has a big cover story in their Friday Travel section on Memphis. I guess we should be happy, but reading the article betrays a lot of what's wrong with Memphis, or at least how we present ourselves.

The story is keyed to the 50th anniversary of rock and roll. The big picture that accompanies the article is of the Memphis Music and BB King's club neon signs on Beale. How cliche, even for a travel article. Look at the things they tip for tourists to see: Beale Street, Rock'n'Soul Museum, Stax, Graceland, Sun.... Yeah, this article is historically focused, but in running from that past through to today, you get no sense of a vibrant now leading to an exciting tomorrow. You get the sense of a city that squandered its heritage and now survives by pimping the corpse to tourists.

That is what we do. Memphis has incredible music happening right now -- rock, rap, alt-country, funk, blues. Ever since I came here fifteen years ago, I've been blown away by the vigor with which this city produces bands and music. Heck, Memphis has had more obscure great bands than many cities have had big-buck scenes! Great bands grow like weeds in our fertile soil. Then die from neglect.

Our City Leaders have decided tourism is a vital industry, and so many of our musical touchstones have been tapped by the Midas finger and turned into relics. Beale Street was killed and then revivified as a Disney-ised "blues experience." Bits of black culture and history were slapped over a white-safe plastic mannequin for our amusement. Stax was allowed to die for lack of $50,000, by a City government that will spend that much for skyboxes.

The problem for the music scene is getting the word out to the rest of America and the world. There we fall down. Both the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer do a spectacular job in their pages of covering local music. You have to give them props here. There's always room for improvement, maybe in more features about bands that are in that hopeful zone where they are a full-time proposition but not yet making the bucks. There are quite a few bands out there touring and trying to hit the spotlight who could benefit by the reminder to the public. But by and large, the papers do their bit.

Other than the papers, though, that's it! Radio is, locally speaking, a total wasteland. Nowhere on the dial can you regularly hear the bands we produce. (Excepting WEVL, which is hit and miss, and surprisingly little-known in Memphis.) Nearly every station is formatted by some national consultant instead of being locally programmed and DJ'd. No wonder there's so little recognition for Memphis music -- who hears it? If we won't even listen to it, why should anyone else? Until that changes, we're stuck.

Memphis does have a lot of clubs, but if I don't know what the bands sound like that are playing that night, I'm not likely to put up with the noise, smell and drunken stupidity. Plus, Memphis is reknown for audiences that want to hear cover music. I suspect that's tied in to the radio situation. But outside of Beale Street and possibly Cooper-Young, we don't have a "club district" to match something like Birmingham's Five Points South, where folks can go from club-to-club and sample what's playing. Memphis has a whole slew of venues of every size, from tiny clubs to the Overton Park Shell to the Mud Island Amphitheater to the Coliseum, but they don't seem to get much in the way of creative use by, say, packages of local acts giving value for money to attract new listeners. Nor do moves in that direction get enough community notice and support.

Memphis does have a Music Commission, but it's larded with a lot of the usual suspects and seems to think more like a quasi-governmental agency than musicians and singers. Their "solutions" seem institutional and more geared to the tourism thing than to counteracting the problems local music faces. Same but even worse for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Music stores aren't a problem either, as we have national and local chains as well as places like Shangri-La and others. All do their part in pitching in, I think, especially Cat's and Pop-Tunes. Access to music isn't a problem. We could do better in tying in the stores to the live scene and the tourists, though.

It still comes back to hearing about it and hearing it in the first place. That's where we need to work. When more locals hear what we produce, we'll get more local interest. Then folks passing through will hear it and take that back home with them. Folks in the area will spread the word into and around the Mid-South. It goes from there.

Back to the USAToday story. Let's look at some excerpts from it.
Events throughout the year, including the month-long Memphis in May celebration, will honor the milestone, reaching a crescendo July 5 when radio stations nationwide are to play Elvis' single simultaneously, led by a broadcast from Sun Studio.
Backward looking, and worse, at something that's static and dead. All we can do is flog new variations of old material. It seems unproductive in the long run to build your tourism around that, but then Williamsburg seems to do fine, so what do I know?
But on a broader front, this Mississippi River outpost of 1.1 million with a small-town feel is healing the psychic trauma by getting in tune with the times, finally embracing its entire musical legacy and moving beyond a careless, destructive past.
An aside. It always bothers me to see numbers like that bandied about. That 1.1 million is for a seven county area. The city proper is something like a third- or half-million. I'm sorry, but Atoka, Germantown, Hickory Wythe, Olive Branch and West Memphis are not Memphis. Shelby County damned sure isn't Memphis. No disrespect.

I would also argue that "small town feel" is something to embrace and celebrate. Some feel stifled here, but I love that sense of Memphis being America's biggest town. City leaders may have decided that "Downtown is Memphis," and maybe a few other similar spots, but the vast constellation of neighborhoods that make up the city are its real strength. For a community that struggles with racism by crying for celebrations of diversity, we sure drop the ball in equally recognising and promoting our neighborhood diversity. Individual neighborhoods themselves do a lot, but outside of selected, special, blessed areas, most other parts of the city struggle alone.

And that bit about a "careless, destructive past" hits the nail right on the head. We do turn our backs on our heritage far too easily, only to watch developers prey on that neglect by razing our history to build something, anything else on it. Even rebuilding the past with shallow imitations, ie. Beale Street and Main Street. Look at the careful, deliberate neglect going on right now, in front of our eyes, at the Fairgrounds. It's dying a slow-motion death and I'll guarantee that the Mayor, City Council and their cronies know it, because they want it to happen. So we can raze it and build anew over the grave.
"Memphians have never gotten it together ? I've heard it a million times. That's why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland," says John Doyle, executive director of the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. "But now we have it together. People realize the music is more than a hobby. It is the thing that makes Memphis different. It's as viable as anything else as a brand."
That comment right there encapsulates so much that is very wrong, that is the heart of the disconnect between Memphians and those who purport to "lead."

The vast majority of Memphians, I believe, are quite happy with strong, vibrant neighborhoods collected into a loose, large, free-wheeling city. The town grown too big. Not a lot of Memphians want us to be the next Atlanta. It's only the power and money guys and their lackeys in the print and television media who buy in to the whole "world class" hallucination. They live separately from most Memphians, and care less about their wants than those of builders and developers. And I'm not talking about the soulless hordes spawning all over Shelby County, the expatriates. What they live in is a featureless, non-descript, bland simulacrum of a city. I'm talking about the folks who stay and do the hard work of making a city hang together.

We don't rally behind marketers and promoters like Doyle and his ilk because we don't especially care. Talking about unity in a city like Memphis is like herding cats. You'll find that Memphians rally around the things that matter. We will get involved in trying to hold on to our shared history and community touchstones. Just because some snake-oil salesman parades into town doesn't mean we'll fall all over ourselves.

Take a look at the Pyramid. Most Memphians were so-so about it. Schlenker was some big-talker no one had heard of around here. But the money-men and the Mayor's people and the "world class" crowd fell all over themselves to buy some of his patent medication. He suckered a lot of folks. It wasn't until after the whole thing fell apart that the Commercial Appeal began to ask questions, only to find that there were numerous warning signs that regular folks suspected, but the "leaders" had blithely brushed aside, the Commercial Appeal included.

History in Memphis always repeats. The reactions of Memphians to the Houston Oilers were well learned-from by our leaders. The collective response to the Oilers' overtures was "Eh." We knew what a scam the NFL is and were indifferent to playing their game. So, we didn't look like we wanted it and lost out to an organised, aggressive and promiscuous Nashville. Those lessons, when the NBA came sniffing around, resulted in a Tiger Team that blitzed the City with propaganda and reacted swiftly to counter any problems. The media played along shamelessly. They were all shameless and organised and aggressive this time. The public balked, but the Tiger Team held firm and won the day.
The arena already is linked by a shuttle system to other recent or updated attractions that tell the fuller story of Memphis music: Sun Studio, which again holds recording sessions; the year-old Soulsville USA: Stax Museum of American Soul Music; Beale Street's ever-evolving music clubs; the Gibson Guitar Factory, which opened here two years ago and offers tours; and, of course, Graceland and the nearby Heartbreak Hotel.
See? Even outsiders can instantly spot what a gimmick the trolley is. Plus, they give it more credit than its worth. In the memphis.general newsgroup this week there have been some out-of-town posters asking about the upcoming music festivals, hotel accomodations and getting around. The overwhelming consensus from Memphians responding is that the trolley just doesn't cut it. For folks who want to avoid using cars to get from hotels to the events, the trolley falls short in several ways. Not close enough, bad neighborhoods, no parking, short hours.

Here's the litany of neglect I mentioned above:
Though it seems like a no-brainer for a city to capitalize on its century-old status as a center of popular music, most of these projects have come about only in recent years, after stretches of destruction and foot-dragging:

? Beale Street, a hub of black musical culture dating to the turn of the 20th century, was razed in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal before being rebuilt in the '80s in a tourist-friendly version.

? Sun Studio essentially shut down for 25 years after its hillbilly-cat heyday before reopening for low-key tours in 1987.

? Stax Records, once a beacon of black economic empowerment in a tough neighborhood, was shut down eight years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain nearby in 1968, and was torn down in 1989.

"Memphis is the last place that understands that Memphis means something," says Bob Merlis, a Los Angeles resident who is co-owner of 3-year-old Memphis International Records here. "They didn't understand that what they had was so unique. They took it for granted."
I would disagree. Memphians know, but we're saddled with City Councils, Mayors and civic leaders who don't understand. They have a vision, tied to developers and Federal government money, that has little room for saving the past. Not when you can spend and build new. They don't want Memphis to be unique, they want what all the other "world class" cities have, and they neglect and then flatten whatever has to be moved to make room for it.
Memphis music also played out against a background of poverty, insularity and race relations that were alternately painful and progressive. "I think we were ashamed of (our past)," says Deanie Parker, CEO of the Stax museum, built on the site of the demolished studio where Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Albert King and Otis Redding recorded hits. But in recent years, "people from the outside have come in and said, 'Why don't you like this place?' Once we gave ourselves permission to see what is great and wonderful about Memphis, we felt differently."
Race relations are the poison that eats this community. Waaay too many racists on both sides of the color line willing to exploit that poison for their own benefit. Truthfully, I'm not sure what to do there. It's more than I have space for in this already too-long post. I know a good education would be a basic start, though. And we're totally lost there.
Indeed, part of Memphis' true charm lies in the fact that it hasn't progressed too much.
Bingo! Nail, meet hammer.
Beyond touchstones and tombstones, "there is something really grand about the culture, the mellowness of the river," says resident Sam "the Sham" Samudio, 66, whose Memphis-produced hits with The Pharaohs ?Wooly Bully and Little Red Riding Hood ? brought him a burst of fame in the 1960s. "You can leave downtown and in 15 minutes be in a soybean field or a cotton field."
It has always amazed me how this river town has so thoroughly turned its back on the Great Brown God that is its reason for being. The whole riverfront should be covered in walks, promenades, parks, shops and restaurants, bars and concert halls, historical points. It should flow seamlessly into the downtown proper. Instead, it more resembles a back alley or neglected opportunity. Something like the Mississippi River doesn't call for "big development," but human-scale space that allows for contemplating the River and our ties with it.
"Memphis is the best place to be from if you're playing music but the worst place to be in to play music because of the lack of local support," adds Lee Smith, 21, who works at the Stax museum and plays in a band that covers Phish songs. "If you're going to make any money, you've got to play Mustang Sally. It stifles...."

"Memphis is definitely set in its ways, no doubt, but it's looking to change," says Raheem Baraka, manager of Free Sol, a hip-hop/soul band with a rock edge that recently won a regional Grammy-showcase competition.
Getting back to the rant above, where have you heard Free Sol on the radio lately? There's an opportunity for change right there.

Let me close this off by noting the "If you go..." sidebar in the USAToday article. They recommend you stay in the Peabody or the Madison. Hey, only $190 a night! Shyeah, right. And if you want Memphis BBQ, they recommend A&R, Interstate and Cozy Corner. Cozy Corner?! You can tell this person just blew through town in writing this.

Well, let's stop right here.
You Do Not Want To Mess With These Guys

Scary photos of the day. I'm not sure what these guys do, street-level money traders or beggars of some kind, but those are some nasty guard animals. I can't wait for some idiot ghetto American to try this.

Doing some random link surfing on Friday, I found a site full of "miraculous pictures" of Jesus, Mary and angels, weeping statues, etc. Some people are so gullible.

Take a look at this photo, supposedly of Jesus and his disciples. Notice anything, oh, I don't know, European about them? Sheesh. Try harder people!
Military Access To School Kids?

I ran across this story the other day, about a notification sent to parents of teenagers. Has any reader with kids had this happen?
It is the one required under the "Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students" section of the "No Child" law. It says that school officials are required to turn over to U.S. military recruiters the names, addresses and phone numbers of every child - male and female - enrolled in the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12 grades of your school system.

The school notice will inform you of this, and offer you a Do Not Call option whereby your child's name can be withheld from the list. If you do nothing, the recruiters may call day or night, and say what they will about the opportunities awaiting your child in the armed forces.

If that is not your idea of child guidance, you have to sign a form. The form will say something like, "I am requesting that my child's name, address and telephone number NOT be released to U.S. military recruiters..."
More weirdness in a possible run-up to a military draft? I still think that's a real possibility after the 2004 elections, if Bush wins.

There was a story yesterday about scientists finding evidence that humans and cats were interacting nearly twice as early as first thought. The evidence is slim, though, mostly interpretation of the placement of cat bones next to a prominent person's grave.

Previous thinking was Egyptians domesticated North African wildcats around 4000BCE, but this grave in Cyprus dates back to almost 8000BCE.

I have to say that I love cats. Dogs are fine, but they're dumb. Kick a dog (Not that you ever should; this is only a metaphor. ) and it will come running back wanting to play. Kick a cat and you'll lose some flesh. Not only that but it will pee on your bed and poop in your clothes hamper. I actually had a cat do just that because I wouldn't share my pizza. He loved to eat mushrooms, even though he immediately threw them right back up. Go figure....

I share my home with a cat. A four year old orange tabby named Bennie. Read the linked page to find out why she has a boy's name. Bennie picked me out to take care of her and I'm glad she did. She's a real sweetie. Not the brightest bulb on the marquee, but very affectionate.
They Take Care Of Their Own

So, the Sony Corporation bought the rights to Richard Clarke's book. Does anyone actually think they'll make a movie from it? Of course not. The movie will die in development hell, but Clarke will get to keep the big payout, which might be around a million dollars. Although terms weren't disclosed it's not unusual for hyped books to get this kind of payment.

What's really going on, of course, is Hollywood's elites taking care of their useful idiots. Remember Clarke's appearance on Meet The Press, where he complained that his career was over and that he had to keep all the money he was making from the book, instead of donating it to the 9-11 victim's fund? The movie deal is just another way of funneling money to Clarke to "help him out." That's all.

I would just about guarantee that no movie ever gets made.
Kudos To Give Out

I need a new word to replace "kudos." It's getting old.

Anyway, I want to praise WKNO Channel 10 for rebroadcasting Dr. Rice's 9-11 Commission testimony late Thursday night. I missed the morning stuff and was able to catch her exchange with Bob Kerrey, thanks to them. Good job!

Same for WREC AM 600. They carried the testimony live, then broadcast an ABC News special that evening. And tonight (Saturday) they will rebroadcast it again! 4PM Central.

Good work all.
Someone Get Me A Lawyer

Well, the Carol Wallop Page is live. It's got six graphics to start, but that's probably good for now. If you have ideas or suggestions for another one, please email me (addy at top left). I will keep you confidential, unless you want to claim credit for the suggestion.

Start spreading the word. And just in case -- anyone know a lawyer willing to work pro-bono on a First Amendment case? I think the disclaimer will cover me, but a good scout is always prepared.


Friday, April 09, 2004


I just checked and found out that my Kerry Mockery page is the number two result in Google when you enter "kerry mockery." Yeah! Now if all you good readers would just get the word out and start some linkery happening, we can get it to Number One! Go team go!!

By the way, have any of you noticed that after you visit you have a little Mike-head in your URL bar and bookmarks? I finally figured out how to do the favicon thing. That's right, my fat mug can stare at you all day long. I know you welcome this exciting new feature.

I'm hoping to use tonight to assemble Carol's Wallop. Oooh...nasty, nasty. If any of you have ideas or suggestions for graphics, please email me with 'em. I will keep confidentiality if you ask, and give credit otherwise.

I also need to do some site maintenance and updating. And I need to restart my efforts at moving Half-Bakered to a Moveable Type blog set-up on the site.

So much work, so little me.
New Tune, Same Melody

At $250 million in public money, the FedExForum is the City's largest ever public project. We were assured repeatedly that $250 million was all that was needed, and it might even be more than was needed.

Piffle. This recent Commercial Appeal editorial comes out in favor of an additional $14 million in neighborhood amenities, to improve the experience for FedExForum visitors.
First impressions are critical, and Memphis has much to gain by creating a welcoming environment around the FedExForum, scheduled to open downtown next fall.

Improving the streets, sidewalks and lighting around the building would represent an exercise in common sense. The new home of the Memphis Grizzlies, and perhaps the University of Memphis men's basketball team, is a key element in a downtown revitalization effort important to the overall economic health of the city.
It's always about the downtown. If first impressions mean so much, why aren't we also doing something about some of the streets and areas that travellers must first go through to get downtown? Driving in from the south on I-55, Memphis look like an industrial dump. How about spending money there? Oh,'s all about the downtown. That's Memphis. I forgot.

The rest of the editorial is the usual head-nodding solemnising about sense, investments and success. It's worse than being in a corporate staff meeting.

How much longer will Memphians continue to tolerate the distortion in our civic and governmental lives that a focus on downtown is causing? Many more areas of this city are equally, if not more, in need of attention. Between that downtown island of prosperity and the outer ring of new development is an older band of neglected people. We deserve some infrastructure improvements, too.

The Commercial Appeal needs to cure its myopia and favor the rest of us with its benevolent favors.
Cherry Cola

I'm old enough to remember real cherry Coke, from a soda fountain. You'd get fountain Coke, which was less fizzy and more syrupy than bottled Coke. They would then take a dipper of real cherry syrup, from the cherries they put on Sundaes, and mix it in. It was heaven. The bottled crap that Coca-Cola sells today is but a pale imitation.

Last weekend, I was out with my shopping buddy Amanda (Hi!) at Super Target. She spotted an aisle labelled "New Age Beverages." I ridiculed it, of course, but we went to check it out. There on the shelf I found something called Briar's Supreme Black Cherry Soda. It had a good color, no caffeine, and low carbonation. I gave it a shot.

It was pretty good! Not quite as rich as real fountain cherry cola and a bit too sweet. But the low carbonation was nice and the flavor wasn't as artificial as other cherry sodas. It's a bit too expensive for everyday, but I'd definitely buy it again for a treat.

Now if only they made it in liter bottles....
Tennessee Sales Tax Revenue News

I haven't covered the sales tax issue -- which encompasses the State budget, the sales tax, revenue surpluses and the Tennessee Taxpayer's Bill of Rights -- like I should. Heaven knows the local papers barely cover it at all!

First is the great news that Tennessee, for the eighth month in a row, is running a surplus in sales tax revenue collection. Lately, that surplus is running more than 7% over last year! If current projections hold, we might have as much as $200 million in surplus by the end of the fiscal year. This from the supposedly inelastic sales tax. You can read some detailed discussion from Bill Hobbs, a Nashville blogger who stays on top of this issue.

Now, comes news that the Bredesen administration is quietly proposing its first tax increase. It's a business tax that Bredesen spokespeople and legislators are denying is a tax increase. This is the first major deviation from Bredesen on his "no new taxes" pledges, and for something he doesn't need. Again, Hobbs breaks it all down quite nicely. In fact, if you're new to the subject and want to get up to speed, I highly recommend reading Hobb's ouevre on Tennessee, taxes and revenue.

Hobbs is also a champion of something I'm leery of: the Tennessee Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. You can visit the TNTABOR site here. Hobbs' thoughts are here. TABOR has been highly successful in Colorado, where Tennessee is drawing its inspiration from. Basically, TABOR constitutionally limits the growth of spending to the rate of inflation plus the rate of population growth. Tennessee has a constitutional cap on spending growth, but it can be overridden by a simple majority of the Legislature, and has been for nearly all of the last twenty years. That's why Tennessee is in the fiscal situation it's in. (Well, that and TennCare.)

Under TABOR, any time the State takes in more tax money than they have budgeted for, it must be returned to the people either by a tax rebate or by a reduction in the tax rate. The only way this can be overridden is by a vote of the people. If the Legislature wants to spend some of that money on public works or budget increases or special projects, then a vote of the people must be taken first. In Colorado, this has meant mostly tax refunds, but the people have regularly voted to spend money on education there. TABOR has been a rein on the outlandish spending that legislators want to indulge.

The main reason I haven't advocated before for TABOR is that Tennessee doesn't have an income tax as Colorado does. I'd like to keep things that way. Giving legislators access to my wallet is like giving a greedy child the keys to Toys-R-Us. No-income-tax states have done better in bad times than income tax states, and do better overall in attracting business. As previously constituted during the Income Tax Wars, an income tax in Tennessee would have shifted the entire burden of funding State government to just 40% of the population, and it would have eliminated the Hall tax on investment income, a long-time goal of the very wealthy in Tennessee. As it is, a sales tax spreads the tax burden to everyone, even to folks who travel through our State. That, to me, is more fair than having a minority pay for it.

TABOR always sounded to me like a side-wise entrance for an income tax. Turns out that's not so. It can also be implemented within Tennessee's current tax structure. A couple of Middle Tennessee towns have successfully adopted TABOR, and there's legislation to get a watered-down version passed in the State Legislature. It wouldn't change the current structure and would provide the inflation/population rate cap. That got my attention. I could support that.

But. There's always a "but." The State bill would also make it much easier to adjust the State's tax structure, taking approval of an income tax from the voters and placing it in the Legislature. No. A thousand times no. I will not see that happen, if I can help it. The income tax was a big part of the reason I got into blogging. I don't make enough money to have the State take more from me.

Actually, that's not quite true. I studied the previous proposal and I was low enough income to be free of the income tax (IT), while also having my sales tax lowered. That would have made the IT a net bonus for me. And yet I still opposed the IT because it wouldn't have been fair to that other 40% of Tennesseans who would assume my burden. I discovered I had principles.

Go to HobbsOnline and TN TABOR to read up. Make up your own mind. Go to the opposition, Tennesseans for Fair Taxation and check them out, though I warn you they are backed by the State employees' unions and the teacher's union, and are given to distortion and hyperbole, so watch yourself. Also read this editorial in the Tennessean. You can see another example of TFT thinking in this Commercial Appeal story. (Scroll down to the bottom.) The Commercial Appeal has mostly by-passed this story since the Peckera -- excuse me, Peck Era, started. Politics at the State level has been deprecated sharply.

I'm still not fully behind the TABOR, but I will advocate that we continue to explore it and refine how it gets implemented in Tennessee. Explore for yourselves, as this will become a bell-wether issue in the future.

I think the Legislature should consider reducing the sales tax. Just a quarter-cent reduction would still leave us with a balanced budget next year as the economy continues to grow. It sounds like a symbolic thing, and mostly it would be. But what a symbol! It would build enormous goodwill and prove that the Legislature is aware of what the people are saying. I'll post more on this later, along with some graphics to use.
Finally Found One

Many thanks to SouthKnox Bubba and one of his readers for finding an Arkansas political blog: Arkansas Tonight. It's run by the anchor and news director for a West Arkansas television station. It's not a blog in the sense of folks like me, or even in the sense of some local media folks who run their own personal blogs, but seems a coordinated part of a media group, though personal opinion oriented.

That said, he really does get into it. Read the post "CANDIDACY PROBLEMATIC AT BEST, WANTING ANSWERS." It's an excoriating look at Tim Hutchinson, of the Hutchinson political dynasty.

Welcome to the fray, Don.

If anyone knows of other Arkansas news or political blogs, please let me know. There are stories sliding under the media radar over there. For instance, there was a school consolidationrally in Little Rock earlier this year to rival the Income Tax Wars rallies in Nashville. Hundreds of folks standing around the Capitol, protesting their legislators has to be historic. But it never made the news outside of Arkansas, aside from one small bit in the Commercial Appeal. So, once again, Arkiebloggers speak up.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

It's A Feature, Not A Bug

Hi, I'm back. I'm not gonna bother explaining these absences any more except to say that depression, mild agoraphobia and a big dollop of self-doubt are as much a part of me as the analytical intellect, the offbeat humor and the way with words. The breaks are gonna happen. Just expect them. I won't leave for good, but I will be gone now and again. This is what I want to do, except for the parts of me that disagree.

The upside is I have a full bladder of bile for ya. I'm itching to wield the Scalpel of Cool Regard. Lots below and hopefully more to come on Friday. I have added some more graphics to the Kerry Mockery page, and am planning a Carol Chumney "Wallop" page. I already have some graphics for it, and if you've seen the nastiness of the Kerry Mockery page, you know it won't be nice. No, not at all.

So, read, enjoy. Talk with ya later.
Carol Chumney: Deep In It And Still Digging

Carol Chumney, District Five City Councillor, just doesn't know when to stop. Nor, apparently, does she live in the same world you and I do. How else to explain her latest behavior?

Some history, for those of you from out of town. Carol was a local lawyer who got elected to the State House. She served there, as she is wont to remind everyone, for thirteen years. Not with any great distinction, but a solid yeoman's work. Look at her campaign website and you'll see that she stays incredibly busy. She works so hard she doesn't seem to have a personal life. Scanning Google, I can find all kinds of things about her professional life -- programs, legislation, awards, offices, you name it -- but nothing about her private life. That kind of workoholism can't be healthy, I don't think.

But a couple of years ago, she set her sights on the Memphis Mayor's office and is angling towards it. That's why she skipped the last mayoral election, since Herenton was invincible, and went for a City Council seat. That way, she's visible, near to all the major events in City politics, and can build her campaign from the inside. It's all about the Carol.

When she took office on the Council, one of her first moves was to make overtures to Mayor Herenton. Unfortunately, for someone long in public life, she did it with a lack of finesse many found surprising. Not only did she meet with the Mayor, but she trumpeted that fact in a public scold that was printed in the Memphis Flyer.

Her tone was condescending and lecturing; she was telling others how to behave while upholding herself. She struck me then, and still does, as the kid in school we used to call an "apple polisher." The one who couldn't care less about others, did all her homework and study, had perfect handwriting, had every answer, was always vaguely sniffy to others, and focused all her efforts to the teacher. Another label was "grind" -- joyless, relentless, task-oriented. That student didn't have a lot of friends and wasn't known for being real social. But, by God, she was going to get the grades, the honors, the awards to get into a good school and.... Well, and.

While this was happening, the Council was embroiled in a nasty spat with the Mayor over comments he made in the first few weeks of his latest term and his usual high-handed, dismissive behavior. Their relations were deteriorating; Council unity seemed called for. She was seen as playing both sides while furthering her own agenda.

Chumney got a come-uppance. At a Council sub-committee meeting, a fellow Councillor tore into her for her behavior towards the Council staff (who are shared by members) and for her general demeanor. She blamed them. Then, later that day at the regular Council meeting, she was again upbraided by a different Councillor for over-reaching and not being deferent enough for a new Council member. You can read all that here and here.

She was stung, but like the true grind just plowed on ahead and tried to paint the others as the problem. She was just doing her job and not concerned about others' feelings. They needed to focus on the job at hand and recognise her efforts. That demeanor didn't go over at all.

The Commercial Appeal stayed out of this, since it involved the weekly alternative paper, the Memphis Flyer. The usual Commercial Appeal attitude is to pretend that the Flyer doesn't exist. Rather than name them, they once famously referred to the Flyer as a "local media outlet." But the Flyer responded to Chumney with this editorial, taking Chumney to task and giving her some mild advice.
First-term City Council member Carol Chumney, who either knows something the rest of the political world has forgotten or is showboating to the point of reckless self-caricature, was a surprise add-on to the aftermath of the County Commission's Monday-morning committee vote approving the University of Memphis basketball Tigers' move to FedExForum.

After Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, University of Memphis president Shirley Raines, and university athletic director R.C. Johnson had each faced the mass of cameras, mikes, and reporters in a packed hallway, Chumney took her turn -- saying, in essence, that the council would give the matter, including some controversial financial proposals, proper consideration.

That Chumney chose to speak, in essence, on behalf of the council was, to say the least, an irony and probably a presumption. The former state legislator has angered several of her council mates by the combination of her general assertiveness, unusual for a newcomer, and specific criticisms of what she considered her colleagues' "petty" behavior in their ongoing, now largely dormant, conflict with Mayor Willie Herenton.
They were pretty strong by newspaper standards, but not rough, nor did they stray into the personal. It was yet another up-braiding for Chumney.

Her response was astonishing. The next week, she wrote this letter accusing the paper of sexism in its editorial:
It is mind-boggling and disappointing in 2004 that there are still those who think that it is in vogue to give a woman a public tongue-lashing. How is it that an individual with a bachelor's degree, a law degree, who is a 13-year veteran legislator and has been a public servant for almost two decades rates public ridicule and verbal abuse from anyone for simply doing what she was elected to do? What Neanderthal and childish mind-set thinks that a man has a right to give a woman a public verbal walloping in 2004?

Perhaps there are still those who would prefer a giggling, silly, barefoot girl whom they can simply control by making demands. It's this mind-set that creates problems for women in business today. Be on notice that I won't take verbal abuse and a public walloping from anyone without walloping right back. And thank goodness everybody down there at the Flyer had the good sense not to put their names to that editorial.
That's right. She threatened them. Go back and reread the editorial; there isn't a whiff of anything to support her wild accusations. The week after that, even Flyer readers agreed, and they tend to the liberal and sympathetic. Had she responded to the facts, or to their assertions, she might've made a case. As it is, she comes across as holding herself to be untouchable because of her presumed intent:
If we agree on the message, why can't we agree on the messenger? Perhaps you would prefer that a man had made these statements?
Lunacy. And coming from a public official, it seemed petty and demeaning to her office, a grownup acting like a child.

But oddly enough I think I have some understanding. I really think Chumney's politics come from the Seventies, from the orthodox liberal, feminist, progressive social reform Democratic politics of the time. Her reaction stems from that feminism, though I haven't a clue what made that connection in her. But Chumney's career also attests to her apparent belief that government is a force for good in the world, if the right people wield that power with the right intentions. If you question her, you might be questioning her goodness.

It became yet more grist for the mill, though the Commercial Appeal still held aloof. In fact, if you only read the daily, you'd never know this was happening! No need to report a City Councillor's public self-destruction, I guess. Or maybe earning a favor for later? Or possibly shaping future history, since if they didn't report it, it might not have happened, or will be relegated to the shadows of rumor. It's interesting that their Letters column has reader reaction to something they didn't report. We'll see what happens.

Then came her recent town hall meeting. (More here. Also, see the next post.) Chumney took it on herself to invite all the nominees for MLG&W President to speak. She over-reached again and was slapped for it, again.

So here we are. Chumney is burning bridges as fast as she can cross them. She is poisoning relations with her fellow City Councillors, something that will undoubtedly affect her effectiveness in producing for her District. She's developing a public image as a wild cannon, aiming and firing without regard for troop placement, angry at everyone else for not being where they're supposed to be. That's not leadership.

Someone, somewhere, needs to reach her. Quickly. I am fairly sure she sees herself as a crusading reformer, shaking up the status quo. There's a grain of truth to that. But the larger picture is that she's acting without regard to the power that everyone around her wields, power much larger and more pervasive than hers. She may soon find herself frozen out in ways both subtle and obvious, and we in her District will suffer. She's going from Robin Hood to Don Quixote.

We often joke in Memphis about needing to be saved from our leaders. In this case, it's terribly true. Carol Chumney isn't what she thinks she is, and who she really is will hurt Memphians. Stop, Carol. Stop now. Loosen the armor, dismount from the horse and put down the lance. Go and relax; rethink your tactics, if not your strategy.

Please. Soon.
Her Aggrandizement, Your Dime

Still speaking of Chumney, in this Commercial Appeal article, by Blake Fontenay about Chumney's recent "town hall" meeting, it says:
About 50 people attended the meeting, although roughly half of them were city employees on hand to answer questions from the public.
But if you go read Blake's Blog, you'll also learn:
About 50 people gamely took seats at the East High School library's wooden desks for the two-hour session, but roughly half of them were city staff members paid to be on hand to answer questions.
Yeah, paid. Our taxes went to Carol Chumney's little "look at me" exercise in raising her Mayoral profile for the next election. How much did it cost you and me? Does this kind of thing happen with other City Councillors and public forums?

I wanna know.
Something The 911 Commission Seems To Be Forgetting

Richard Clarke, Condoleeza Rice and the 911 Commission are all over the news lately. Lots of poltical posturing going on. It's all about blame, maneuvering, politics, "gotcha," elections and a whole host of meaningless crap.

This is what 911 was all about. (Scroll down; the page is badly laid out.) Don't ever forget that. Never. The major networks have scrubbed this reality from the airwaves for your protection. To prevent folks from getting upset all over again.

Well, get upset and stay there. Then go read this story about a photographer at Ground Zero, thinking it was the end of America and her life. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Never let the media soothingly massage away your anger and willingness to act.
Thursday Link Fest

Doin' it Insta-style:

* The Village Voice looks at the corrections policy of the national papers and offers some cogent suggestions.

* Crime & Federalism is a great new blog that "studies the intersection between federalism and federal criminal laws." He begins from the idea that there are far too many Federal crimes, crimes better suited for State prosecution, and goes from there.

* Randy E. Barnett, of the Boston University School of Law, is also a blogger at The Volokh Conspiracy. He has an excellent study available for download at titled, "Was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Conditioned on Service in an Organized Militia?" The short answer is "No."

* Over at Choas Manor, Jerry Pournelle has a great reader letter and his own rant on President Bush, Saudi Arabia and oil, and vote rigging. Hopefully it leads you to do some of your own reading!

* In the UK Guardian, author Mario Vargas Llosa has an excellent essay on the meaning and the dangers of the Madrid bombing. He misses it a little, because he is European and Socialist, but it's still good.

* Would you like to know how to make a Land O Lakes boobie trick? I'm sure you would. BTW, I really love their unsalted butter sticks. I switched a few years ago, when I cut salt in my diet. Very tasty! (WARNING! Not work safe.)

* Did you know that there was a Communist Star Trek? It's true! Read the sad, strange story of the starship Red Adventurer.

* This Commercial Appeal story says "Four gay couples denied licenses." Umm...isn't gay marriage illegal in Tennessee? Wouldn't that headline be like saying, about a vagrant who tries to steal groceries, "Homeless man denied food"? No, no bias here....

* The Alternative Press Review, which is a lot farther to the Left than the majority of Democrats, reviews the new liberal Air America radio lineup and finds it very wanting. And just plain bad.

* I am proud to say that when I ran across a "caption this photo" contest about the college girl who faked a kidnapping, I had no idea who she was! That's right, watching very little television makes Mr. Mike a good boy.

* Most of you likely missed it, but the new Director of the CIA, Maxwell Smart, testified before Congress just recently. No Cones of Silence were used, though.

* The new Batman movie continues filming and it still is looking good. You can pics of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne here. He's proving to be a great casting choice.

* Longmire of The (Almost) Daily Comment has a photo-illustrated set of instructions for installing a DVD player. It's a can't miss!
Our Daily Porn

Go to the Trojan Pleasure: Sexual Organ webpage to make your own porn soundtrack. WARNING: Link not work safe! I kinda like Track 4, but the male voice sounds offensively dopey compared to the female voice. Still, porn movie fun!
I'd Like To Know More

This Commercial Appeal article mentions something that caught my eye:
[The Center City Commission v]oted to hire Cushman & Wakefield for a $55,000, nine-week downtown market study to look at the residential, office and employment, retail and tourism aspects to determine what the community needs.
I know that the City routinely spends money on these kinds of surveys and studies, but I'd like to know how many have been done for the other communities of Memphis, the ones that don't have their own "Commission" to, er...commission them.

Midtown? North Memphis? Orange Mound? Winchester & Kirby? Parkway Village and the Mall of Memphis area? Have any of these received the same kind of in-depth, long-range studies we seem to lavish on downtown? Don't distract with pointing out that the CCC "paid" for it. They get their funds from tax diversions from City tax money and from special assessments. Your money, in other words.

So, have the rest of us benefitted? Or is it only Manhattan on the Mississippi?
The Mississippi River Promenade

There's a battle underway about some downtown property, and it appears that we, the citizens, will be the losers so that a few folks can make big bucks. When the city of Memphis was first founded, the men who laid it out set aside a large plot of land right on the bluffs in the middle of the city, for future generations. They called it The Promenade. It was always intended to be public space, a place where Memphians could come to meet, mingle and enjoy the river view unencumbered and free.

Over the years, bits and plots of the Promenade have been taken by the City for various "needed" and "important" projects, like a parking garage, a public library and various public buildings, along with the road infrastructure to service it all. Every encroachment only took a slice, but they set and repeated a precedent we must now reverse.

It's the same kind of precedent you still see, almost two hundred years later. Bits of Overton Park are shaved off and handed over. The most recent was for a senior center. Shelby Farms is another, where the "need" for a road of convenience is leading to plans to shrink this national gem and encircle it with strings of concrete and macadam. Always, it's the vision of developers, for whom empty land is wasted land, and the short-sightedness of politicians seeking public favor that rules the day.

So it is with The Promenade. Instead of scraping off the encrustations of previous generations, the Riverfront Development Corporation (is that a telling name?) has unveiled a plan to turn 40% of the land into office space, commercial space and housing. The remaining Promenade space will not stand on its own, as intended, but will be made to serve the development. Future generations will be less inclined to fight against more take-overs, since they will see the park space as subservient to the "important" office space now there. You can read RDC President Barry's Lendermon's explanations here.

There was an eloquent editorial in the Commercial Appeal about another plan, put forward in 1987, that respects the founders' desires and gift. The author made a persuasive case for that plan. Sadly, for reasons unknown, the link now leads to an empty page. Why this has disappeared is a question of some import, since it was the sole voice in the Commercial Appeal that spoke from a dissenting point of view.

In the big local print media, John Branston, in the Memphis Flyer, went to the Public Library and looked up just what the founders had to say:
"In relation to the piece of ground laid off and called the 'Promenade,' said proprietors say that it was their original intention, is now, and forever will be, that the same should be public ground for such use only as the word imports, to which heretofore, by their acts, for that purpose, it was conceived all right was relinquished for themselves, their heirs, etc., and it is hereby expressly declared, in conformity with such intention, that we for ourselves, heirs and assigns, forever relinquish all claims to the same piece of ground called the 'Promenade,' for the purpose above mentioned."
John's column is a clear-eyed and somewhat skeptical look, one that tracks my own a pretty good bit, at the forces at work here. Kudos to John for it.

Over at the Commercial Appeal, it's a different story. Gung-ho boosterism and civic development rule the day. Take a look at this headline from a recent story: Riverfront Development opponents to lead walk. That capital D refers to the RDC, but the sentiment is clear. They are "opponents" of something, not supporters of an alternative. (By the way, read the article for the names of folks and an organisation to hook up with if you'd like to stop the RDC plan.)

The CA has a guest editorial that's also suggestively titled: "Plan returns riverfront to the public." As though this -- the preferred plan -- was the only way! It implies, rightly, that something was taken, but implies the blame lies elsewhere than the true source.

It doesn't end there. In several Commercial Appeal articles, including some mentioned above, you see the same or similar boilerplate language used over and over, language intended to tilt opinion:
a four-block area of parking garages and largely neglected and inaccessible facilities
the area of parking garages and largely inaccessible and neglected structures
and another short news article I saw that's not online to quote from.

It seems a done deal. The plan is far along. The money is waiting, as are the developers. The daily paper is all for it. It'll make Memphis a "world class" city, I'm sure. But it's yet another example of how the City of Memphis is being run by the monied for the monied and their friends. History is an inconvenience to be sold and paved over. It is the future, the City and the regular folks who will suffer. As always.
A Post-Apocalyptic Terrain For Real

Most all of us have seen movies about the world after nuclear war. Some, like The Day After can be chillingly realistic; many others are just cheesy. But there is a post-nuclear landscape right here, right now. It's around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Elena is a motor-bike enthusiast who travels the closed roads in the "dead zone" around Chernobyl. She takes a lot of pictures and gives some commentary.
As I pass through the check point, I feel that I have entered an unreal world. In the dead zone, the silence of the villages, roads, and woods seem to tell something at me....something that I strain to hear....something that attracts and repels me both at the same time. It is divinely eerie - like stepping into that Salvador Dali painting with the dripping clocks.

These are radioactive technics as far as the eye can see. They are a type of army truck. Most of these vehicles were full of troops on that day.
She travels into the city proper, her radiation dosimeter always out, and tours the abandoned homes and buildings. The city was literally emptied overnight and the rusting, degrading, collapsing ruins speak volumes. These real pictures become more evocative and haunting than any film.
This town might be an attractive place for tourists. Some tourists companies have been trying to arrange tours in this town, but the first group of tourists found the silence unnerving and downright SPOOKY. And it is. They charged 1200 hryvnas for a 2 hour excursion and after some 15 minutes, they wanted to flee to the outside world. The silence here is deafening.
Go, view, read.
She Hates My Futon

Several years ago, I found an online short story, recommended by some writers on the Star Trek fanfiction newsgroup. She Hates My Futon wasn't finished yet, so I was hesitant to start it, not wanting to be left hanging. But I went ahead because the first chapter hooked me.

By the end of the twenty-third chapter, it was almost 5AM! I had kept telling myself, "Just one more." hoping to get to bed. But the story pulled me in with thoroughly believable and sympathetic characters, a realistic setting, and a narrative that just kept moving along in a what-happens-now way. Everything about this story felt real.

Sadly, the story was abandoned. I only mention it now because the author has announced he will be posting a new chapter "real soon now." I'm excited because I so want to find out how our hero will resolve his love triangle turned quadrangle. Will it be the hot, sexy college girl? Or the soul-mate single mom? Or the suddenly available coworker? Will his best friend save his marriage? And what's the deal with the mysterious and magical Girlfriend Express?

Here's a taste from the first chapter:
The issue was just brimming with ads for cheap futons and I couldn't resist turning its newsprint-scummy pages. Futon Paradise Ltd… Futons your girlfriend will hate… Really, really cheaply made Futons… Modern Futons…. Futons that sit so close to the floor that you feel like you're sleeping on the floor. As per tradition I was about to chuck it in the corner when I noticed a completely different kind of ad nestled between the ones for speed reading classes and the "Abs-master."

"Girlfriend-Express,' it read. "We'll find you Ms. Right."

They were offering to find me a girlfriend for $19.95. I wondered how they could even make such promises. Why does the Better Business Bureau let someone operate such a scam? Why would the Gutterfrump Times even accept their ad? I thoroughly scanned for the catch. I had no doubt that one was lurking somewhere.

The phone number was a local call. Not a 1-800 number. Not a 1-900 number. Nothing that said $5.95 per minute - just one price. I noted that it even had the same first three digits as my own number.

I made the call.

"Girlfriend Express, can I help you?"

"Yeah, I saw your ad and wanted to find out more."
I hate to hook you on an incomplete story, but it's just that good. I'm not sure if the author can recapture the old mood that made his writing work, if he'll see it through, or even if he's got an ending in mind, but I'm pretty sure you will also find yourself reading "just one more chapter."
Judicial Arrogance

This story about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia forcing reporters to turn over tape recordings of a speech he gave really steams me. What other branch of government enjoys such blanket protection from press scrutiny? Judges can have their court rooms completely sealed from press coverage and their own selves protected as well. They can order gags that will jail those who break them!

It is long past time we stopped this. As Eugene Volokh notes on his blog, the reporters should have (politely) refused to co-operate with the marshals who took their tapes. They would almost certainly have been right to do so.

Every profession that has protected itself from outside scrutiny has been found to be a snakepit of corruption and despotism and incompetence. Lawyers, doctors, press. Now it's time for the final frontier -- judges. At first, it will take some folks willing to brave jail, but if enough people do it, we can finally expose these folks to the light of public attention.

After all, it was Supreme Court Justice Brandeis who said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."