Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Wings of Honneamise


One of my favorite Japanese animated films -- OK, favorite films, period -- is The Wings of Honneamise. It's a beautifully drawn and imaginatively conceived film about a ragtag group of would-be astronauts on an alternate Earth. As two great kingdoms prepare to go to war, the aging engineers and hot-shot pilots of a peripheral space program race to complete their first space rocket. One pilot meets a religious woman who teaches him some important lessons. The detail with which this familiar-yet-different world is brought to life is one of its best selling points, but the real joy is the characters and their stories.

I can't say anything better than this review can, so you should just go and read it.
The character interaction also brings another another level of meaning to the story; in the course of his journey from drop-out to the emotional leader of a grand adventure Shiro is asked some difficult questions about human nature and the state of modern society. There are no easy answers to these questions, and this movie doesn't attempt to provide any--it isn't preachy and there are characters on both ends of the spectrum who have reasonable opinions. But Shiro's attempts to come to grips with love, sin, and the place of grand adventures in a world filled with war and poverty do provide a quiet illustration of the value of dreams and ambition. If nothing else, this is a story that is realistic enough to provoke a lot of thought, and a movie that doesn't shy away from bringing the hard issues to the fore.
Then rent the movie. You won't be disappointed.

Remind me sometime to tell y'all about Bubblegum Crisis -- an anime series (actually three series: BG Crisis, BG Crash, and BGC 2040) about hot babes in battle suits in near-future Tokyo knocking heads with over-sized and bad-tempered out-of-control genetically engineered androids! Woo-hoo!! A leader who may not be human; a team-member who is a lesbian rock and roll singer and biker chick; a too-cool-for-you cop; the ruthless corporate executive; head-thumping action. Very stylish and sort of a cross between Batman and Blade Runner. Also highly recommended. Don't let the title fool you.
You See? I Told You


Over the weekend, remember how I noted that I thought the Commercial Appeal Appeal sections were the look of the future for the daily paper? Well, looking at Monday's edition, in which the Metro, Business and Editorial sections were condensed into one section (and five pages) along with the classifieds, I seem to have been justified.

The front, A, section isn't much different, except in story mix and focus, and the fact that page three will contain stories now more often than ads. By the way, what happened with the old full-page Goldsmith and Dillard's ads on page three? Who decided to not do that any more, except once in a while? Today's paper even had a mix of ads and stories more like the rest of the usual A section.

Like they say, be careful what you wish for as you may get it. I wanted change from the Commercial Appeal and am getting it. So why am I still unsatisfied?
Now We Find Out


The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court spoke to the 1999 annual convention of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association. In itself, that's no worse than any other bar association speech, except that now -- in the wake of the Court ruling there suddenly legalising gay marriage -- there are questions about whether the function was a fund-raiser, which is a problem for the justice as the Canons of her profession prohibit her doing that. In the hyper-charged hostile environment following that ruling, it's become cannon fire.

What she said then bears on her majority-creating vote, and her written decision for that majority:
Marshall was an associate justice at the time of the 1999 speech, which she used to praise her native South Africa's embrace of sexual orientation protections and the "growing body of gay-friendly international jurisprudence...."
The MLGBA claims it wasn't a fund-raiser at $60 a head, and critics haven't produced proof it was. And the battle goes on.

It still gets me, while we're on this subject, how you can't even do work on your house without a city engineer inspecting the work, you can't undertake any large public project without years of studies and commissions and regulatory investigation, and yet four justices can completely upend a whole society with a single ruling. Why is that?
Fun-type Stuff For You!


The photoshoppers at Fark were given a challenge: two sci-fi shows that shouldn't, meet. Here are the results. Don't drink while viewing this!

Note: this is a long page with a lot of graphics. It will take a very long time to load for dial-up folks. Find something else to do for a while.


Signifying Nothing's Chris Lawrence posts on the latest row between hard conservatives and soft, MOR conservatives. Chris attributes it to a strain of "big tent" thinking, which might be valid, but I'm not so sure.

Look at President Bush's unusual choices in Senators for his stated brand of conservatism. And yet, at every juncture where he can throw support one way or the other, he always opts for the "big marquee name," whatever their conservative credentials, over the "real" conservative also running. It was Lamar! over Bryant here in Tennessee. Liddy Dole in South Carolina. Riordan over Simon in California. (Have I got that one right? Not sure as I do this.) And now Spectre over Toomey. Heck, he seems to have been OK with getting the hard-edged (and incompetent) Lott dumped for the softer Frist.

No one has really explained it. The prevailing theory I know of is that he prefers electable names over unknowns, wanting to just get the public used to conservatism of the mildest kind before he starts to move farther right. But that's a kind of long-range thinking nearly no politician makes, only behind-the-scenes activist-types. Rove isn't a grand theorist, just an election-winner for his guy. Which may be it: those marquee names win elections. Hence, Bush supports 'em.

They'll deal with the consequences later.
The Right Place for That Group


Thanks to blogger and news producer Peggy Phillip for pointing me to this story, from the National Association of Broadcasters' convention just concluded in Las Vegas. The author asks a series of questions, none of which have appetising answers:
By equating the “public interest” to “broadcasting,” Fritts appeared to saying that the continued generosity of the American people, in times of disaster and otherwise, somehow hinges on keeping competing information-delivery systems out of the broadcasters’ henhouses. The NAB chairman did not offer his opinion on the role played by highly restrictive radio playlists, insipid reporting and the hiring of helmet-hair nitwits to read the news, in driving consumers to cable, satellite and Internet services. Or, why consumers willingly pay a monthly subscription fee for something they’ve been getting for free for decades.

In the name of “public interest,” Fritts asked the FCC to keep the XM and Sirius satellite-radio services out of the business of delivering local weather and traffic reports to subscribers; force cable providers to carry all of the digital streams offered by local TV stations, even if those streams are sold to telemarketers and data-stream services, and not used for HDTV or community-interest content, as intended; and maintain a local broadcaster’s lock on local coverage, even if it is garbage (“leading-edge localism is how broadcasting will keep our advantage over the flashy and the fleeting …”).
Go. It's a short read.
A Tale of Two Viewpoints


Morgan Spurlock ate only at McDonald's for 30 days -- hamburgers, fries, shakes, and always choosing to supersize when asked -- and gained enough weight to make himself dangerously sick. He made a film of the experience and won a Sundance Film Festival award. He got on the national news for a few days, because his experience reinforced or followed the main narratives of news reporting: Americans are fat; fast food is bad; we eat too much fast food; advertising makes us do it; advertising is bad. Some of that is true, some of that is just repeated media story.

So, Al Lewis, reporting in the Denver Post, tells of a woman, also making a film, who ate only at McDonald's for 30 days. So far, half-way through, she's lost 7 pounds! She's careful with portions and she chooses salads and diet drinks.

Do you think she'll make as much of a media splash when she's done?
Staring Right at the Point...and Missing It


This column, from former American Society of Newspaper Editors President John Hughes, is about the intense discussion taking place among America's newspaper editors about the scandals that have rocked the USA Today and New York Times recently. Hughes offers some of the usual prescriptions for preventing future problems, but they don't really address the core problem:
New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told the student-produced convention newspaper last week that the public has already displayed a lack of trust in newspapers. "The most disturbing element of what happened with the Jayson Blair incident," he said, "was the fact that the people he talked about in his stories didn't call" to report discrepancies. When the subjects of Mr. Blair's articles were contacted and questioned, most replied that they thought all newspapers "did that," Mr. Sulzberger said. That was his biggest concern.
Folks have been complaining about papers for years, and their concerns have been shrugged or laughed off. Why are we to believe anything is different?

He makes an enormously important point, almost in passing:
Though some people misbehave and are guilty of malfeasance, most people don't, and aren't. Unless we are to lose faith in all mankind, I have to believe that, for most people, honesty comes as naturally as breathing.
I respectfully disagree. Honesty must be cultivated. The young must be trained in it and the adult must have it reinforced. To assume it just happens is to ask for trouble.
The Presidential Press Conference: 1864


Victor Davis Hanson has a list of questions the modern press might have asked Lincoln during the fourth years of the Civil War.

Sample:
Mr. Lincoln, do you not think it was na├»ve to assume that Northerners could impose by force Yankee-style democracy and culture on the traditional society of the South? Isn’t this arrogance on our part to think we can force others to be like us?

Mr. Lincoln, are you aware of a small cabal of abolitionists in your War Department who in secret planned this disaster to further their own hidden support for the Negro and hoodwinked you into starting this war of northern aggression?

Given the illustrious war record of General McClellan and your own murky past as a soldier, isn’t it wiser for the American people to turn over their armies to someone with some real experience with war?
You have to know your history to get this last. McClellan was famous for letting his armies sit in camp, and refusing to carry out the orders of Lincoln to prosecute battle.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Once More Unto the Template


Been messing around all afternoon with RSS and templates and such. May do something tonight, may watch a movie. Dunno. Saw "Kill Bill, v.1" last night and enjoyed that. I caught a whole lot of the references and movie steals. The pacing of the "House of Blue Leaves" scenes was masterful -- set-up, big fight, breather, set-up, big fight, breather, set-up.... The final fight in the snow-covered courtyard was entrancing. The movie wasn't as bloody as I was expecting. The "fountains of blood" were obviously loving references to Hong Kong and samurai films, not so much Tarantino-esque "uber gore." Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are still his best, but this is definitely #3. His fabled dialogue was clunkier to my ear this time, but had its moments. Learning about the influence of Lady Snowblood makes me want to find that movie. Hear that DVD Freaks and Black Lodge??

Anyway! Went to some RSS places and signed up, including Blogrolling for those of you who use it. I activated the Atom feed from Blogger. (Sorry to have been so long about it. I thought I had already. Stupid Blogspot.) I've never used ADD, excuse me RSS, before, preferring to visit the sites themselves. Enjoy the added functionality.

I'm a Flappy Fish in the Blogosphere Ecosystem! Number 1672. Closest blog I recognised was fellow RTBer HATamaran at #1648. I looked at the numbers and saw that I'm on a slow (rrreeeaaalll slow) but constant upward climb. Good.

Tacked on some more cute buttons. If you have a cute button, let me know. (Note: Because this is a Blogspot blog, you have to host the image and bandwidth. Sorry. One day I'm going to MT.) All that black space on the sides, once you get past the link-dense top of the blog, means pretty-colored buttons stand out. Be noticed! And a request for those with banners...make buttons! They have to fit into the space I have. Don't fit, don't get used.

Speaking of which, obligatory tipjar rattling. [cue sound: rattle, rattle] If you can afford to help keep Half-Bakered insulting all the good folks who work in Memphis' medialand, please consider donating something. Thanks!

I'm seriously considering some kind of advertising. Either self-done through PayPal, or signing up with BlogAds. Have you tried it? Is it worth it? Is it insulting for a little blog like me? Is it unseemly? Does it make me look cheap and grubby? Your thoughts requested. Down left there is an experimental idea.

The new banner above is an actual quote from a reader! Can't say who, but I was pleasantly surprised to know they read Half-Bakered. They had nice things to say, too, but I just love that part.

Is this blog beginning to get cluttered looking?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Questions of Timing?


Three high-profile books critical of President Bush have come out recently and all have been media and chattering-class sensations: O'Neill's, Clarke's and Woodward's books. All three have had the same publisher: Simon & Schuster. They also published Hillary Clinton's memoir last year.

Even the publishing industry has commented on the trend.
Charlotte Abbott, news editor of Publishers Weekly. “No one in the industry of publishing can remember a time since Watergate when so many political books have come out and the public has been interested – and a lot of those Watergate titles came out after.”

In short: the books have had great influence on Washington politicians and reporters yet it remains to be seen if they will have a lasting influence on the public perception of President Bush.

"The impact of the books is not produced by people who read it, it is by people who watch television," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on presidential politics.

"I don't think you've ever had three books coming out in sequence and moving onto the bestseller list, all of which had a focus on the current administration and had insider information in them."
Makes you think....
Foto Funnie


Today's paper has an AP Photo from the Washington abortion rights march on Sunday. The paper's version is black and white, the link is color and more...colorful. But if you look in the upper right of the photo, you'll see a lone sign: "Get Bush out of my uterus and Iraq." Down in the lower right corner is a John Kerry campaign sign.

What I really noticed is how everyone in the photo, even those way back, are mainly looking at the camera! It makes the photo look not quite staged, but not taken unawares, either.

I also noticed something else while looking for that AP photo: the marchers were overwhelmingly white. The few blacks I spotted were very few indeed and mostly on the pro-life side.
Hugs as Speech Suppression


Reading Dean Esmay's adventures in Kerryland, where he attends a John Kerry rally themed to the weekend's pro-choice marches, I noted a technique Esmay reports on how attendees silenced and shunted aside counter-protesters:
From my vantage point I could only see that members of the crowd were forming a wall with their placards to block the voices and line-of-site of the party-crashers. Drawn by the conflict, I immediately ferreted over to their position.

This is a confusing image, but focus on the red circle placard in the center; behind it is the face of one of the protestors. The woman in the pink shirt to the left is the other one. What were most likely NARAL representatives linked arms and formed a human chain around the two people, dragging them towards the exit.

You can make out the guy's face with the placard over his mouth.
This is a new one to me, but then I don't attend rallies and demos. Has anyone else encountered this strategy? Is it a Left thing or bi-partisan?

Me, I'd come armed with Mace and let fly if someone tried that. Or trip and fall on one of them, thereby crushing them to death....
Out Beyond Dover


Over the weekend, I blogged about the Dover photos. (See below.) While surfing around, I found another "casket photo" from a small town in America. It speaks as loudly, and maybe more so, than the Dover pics, and punches you in the gut. It reminds you that communities everywhere feel the pain, and that some things just don't change. Go here..
Coddled Students


Thanks to webraw for connecting me to the Frumpy Professor. He has a post about a sad encounter with a student of his:
The young lady told me the scores on her first five of six exams were: 42%, 47%, 55%, 41% and 54%. With only one 100pt test left and one 200pt final examination, I helped her compute her current score...... roughly 48% which is an "F". In our university, a "C" is the minimum acceptable grade for a major class, and that is set to be 73%. She did not need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.... it is all clearly labeled in the syllabus. Then I had her mathematically determine what would happen to her grade if she received 100% on the sixth exam and if she received all 200 points on the final examination. Her scores would then be: 42%, 47%, 55%, 41%, 54%, 100% and 200pts for the final (100%). When she mathematically determined her score with that very unlikely scenario would be 67%...... a "D". She was devastated.... she cried, big, dramatic tears.... and sobbed about how she never got "nothing but "A"'s before." In my mind I kept thinking ...... HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY NOT KNOW HOW POORLY YOU WERE DOING? AND HOW COME YOU START TO SEEK HELP THIS DAMN LATE IN THE SEMESTER?
How could any student think "extra credit" would make up for those kinds of scores? How could a student have those kinds of scores and even entertain any notion of passing?

The Professor laments some of the students he gets and both what they expect and what they aren't prepared for. You can only hope students like these don't end up being your doctors, nurses, etc.
Journalistic Bias


(UPDATE: I've moved this post and its followup to the top of the blog for those folks coming here from Peggy Phillip's blog. Welcome and enjoy.)

Rachel of Rachel and the City has a link to a short piece looking at newsroom media bias. It's a short, informative read, but I take exception to some things.

The author basically argues that bias doesn't exist, or if it does it's so complex that everything averages out.
I would first like to point out that the two charges -- news coverage is driven by political bias and news coverage is driven by the profit motive -- are fundamentally incompatible.
This doesn't mean they can't co-exist. It also means there's a constant struggle between the two, the status of which I believe does drive some stories, or lack of coverage of others.

For example, the Commercial Appeal ran a great story the other day about City Councillors taking gifts from local businessmen. It was largely in the context of sports and the lack of a strong law against the practice. Fine, as far as it went. But how about looking into the businessmen who regularly seem to come up when this kind of access and familiarity is discussed? Developers have never been studied in any great detail by the Commercial Appeal, and yet they drive a lot of what happens in our government. Look at County Mayor AC Wharton's sputtering initiatives to "control sprawl."

Why hasn't this happened? I suspect that the fact that developers, and the realtors and builders they work with, are a force not to disturb in a meaningful way. Look at all the advertising they and their related industries buy in the Commercial Appeal. Look at the demonstrated pull they have with our City and County governments, where access and availability is important for the paper to function. Is there a link? I'd like to think not, but how can we know? We should trust a business that is famously resistant to outside scrutiny?
Amazing as it may seem, people get into journalism because they think journalism matters (and that it will be fun). Professional pride plus fear of nasty phone calls keeps them ex-tremely scrupulous about balance and fairness.
Two points here. First, he's saying that journalists self-select for being idealists driven by social concerns. That automatically means bias. Second, how many restaurants have you been in where you've complained to staff and management about the service or food? Has it made the staff or management perform any better? Exactly. They endure, grumble and keep on doing what they've done.

Which leads to another point not covered in the article, but implied in Rachel's post: television newsrooms run at full tilt all the time. There's little enough time to get the job done, much less discuss how to slant it. It takes someone at the top or with a strong will (remember Applegate at WMC?) to grab the rudder and change the direction.

Which to me means that newbies get swept up into the rushing stream with little ability to direct the flow. They have to absorb the culture already existing in that newsroom and make it their own, or they get fired. They have to rely on previous instincts, or instincts taught by the newsroom, to get the job done.

Those instincts will be idealist, social-change-driven ones, and the news will be pressed into the narrative templates, pre-existing formulae, for presenting news that have evolved in the past couple of decades. Take a moment to read Dr. Cline's analysis and discussion about media bias. He presents good questions to ask and good tools to use.

Do I think bias exists? Of course. It's why this blog came into being. I had been reading Jackson Baker's "On Politics" column in the Memphis Flyer and was constantly astounded and angered that he could get away with all the propagandising, slant, rewriting and Democratic agenda-push he did. Someone needed to present a corrective and when I discovered blogging, I did. This blog's name derives from Mr. Baker and his column. The Commercial Appeal had the same effect on me, especially Susan Adler Thorpe and Paula Wade.

I saw an imbalance and a social wrong. I saw self-serving hypocrisy by those who claimed to be for the little guy, and to be fair and impartial. Addressing a wrong was all I wanted to do.

Wait? Doesn't that sound familiar?

Let me close by pointing you to a group of bloggers who have really struck gold. In South Dakota, David Kranz has long been the senior political sage. His paper sets the agenda and his writings are taken by other paper's editors and writers as authoritative. Critics have long accused him of Democratic bias, but since he controls the State's largest paper, where could they go? How could they get through or around the people who were the problem?

With an important election at stake (Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is in a close re-election race.), they went to the Internet and started blogging. Through careful documentation and link-the-dots writing, all openly presented along with their sources, they have proven their point, to devastating effect. They by-passed the newspapers, the public gatekeepers, and went straight to the people. It's starting to cause an uproar, but more importantly it is demonstrating some fundamental shifts.

Newspapers are losing their gate-keeper status; so are national television networks. The bias of some of the people who work in them (I'll be charitable here.) is being exposed and discussed substantively. This is leading to meaningful calls. Folks who resist are losing credibility; folks who adapt will survive in some new form.

Blogging and Internet discussion are driving this change. People can put sources -- photos, documents, video, on-the-scene reports -- right into the hands of readers, free of editing or other manipulation. Computer space is theoretically unlimited, so now there's no reason not to present full transcripts and whole documents, rather than "documents...that" have been "edited" so that we "don't know" what was actually "said." Removing the opportunity for actual or possible bias through selection or presentation alone would be something to hail.

Readers can get news right now, not when the paper comes out tomorrow, or in television news' mediated/edited version which will also lack substance. You the reader can learn about and chase down related information right now, participate in figuring out what it all means, contribute to the process of winnowing bad information from good. In this way, news doesn't go through a relative few hands that can profoundly alter it, but through numerous hands that can simultaneously multiply the kinds of bias introduced (helping to cancel it out by the end of the process) and spot those alterations (leading to immediate corrections).

In the old world, it was vital to ask "Who watches the watchmen?" They were supposedly self-policing and we the reader were told to trust their assurances of openness, honesty, impartiality and balance. It's the brave new world now. No longer do you passively consume news created by others. You put your critical thinking skills to work and decide what's news to you. We are all the watchmen, with a million eyes watch what we do and a million outlets to speak out. That's the best kind of policing.

Followup: Journalistic Bias


Thanks to Jemima Periera for the link to this post about journalist bias in the media.
In thirty years of in the writing trades, I’ve covered a lot of things, but three in particular: The military, the sciences, and the police. For years I had a military column syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate and later carried by the Army Times papers until I was fired for political incorrectness. For half a dozen years I rode with the cops all around the country for my police column in the Washington Times. And I’ve written tech columns and pieces for technical mags like Signal forever.

This isn’t my first rodeo.

In each case the reporters I met were, with very few exceptions, pig ignorant. The military reporters didn’t know the history, the weaponry, the technology, strategy, tactics, or how soldiers work. Almost none had served. The police reporters chased scanners instead of riding regularly and just didn’t know what was out there or who cops are or why they act as they do. The tech writers were mostly history majors.

Over the years I’ve noticed several things. First, in print publications, most reporters aren’t very smart. A few are very bright, but probably through a mistake in hiring. (The prestigious papers are exceptions, hiring Ivy League snots of the sort who viscerally dislike soldiers, cops, rural people, guns, etc.) Reporting requires assertiveness and willingness to deal with tedious material under pressure of deadlines. These qualities seldom come bundled with inquiring intelligence. Consequently reporters (again with the occasional exception) lack curiosity, and don’t read in their fields.
Ouch! Make sure to read Jemima's thoughts as well.
This is Obscene


While watching Alias last night, I caught a promo for an upcoming edition of ABC's newsprogram 20/20. In it, they show some pimply-faced teen with a baby and five couples. Barbara Walters says that the young woman will choose live on the show which couple will adopt her baby!

Going to the webpage, the text is much less breathless. It says:
An extraordinary look at adoption in America. Barbara Walters takes us through a young mother's journey as she chooses who, among five anxious couples, will become parents to her child.
But that's not how it's being promoted on the network! The ads on television make it look very much like a reality show competition for the child.

This is just obscene. Hyping adoption like it was a challenge and a game show? Bad enough the show where women are given free all-over makeovers and then put into a "beauty pageant." At least to this point, everyone's been an adult who freely chooses to appear on the show. Fear Factor for all its danger-hype is still safe; it has to be or lawyers would be all over them. But I really think (and feel) that ABC is crossing a moral and ethical line with this show -- either in the actuality or in the promotion of it.
Welcome to Monday


Hope you had a good weekend. I had a productive one for the blog. Lots below to enjoy.

I probably won't post much, if at all, today. As is becoming my Monday usual, lots of errands and chores and things to do. Plus, perfect weather predicted. Puzzling my way through papers and staring at monitors doesn't seem quite so appealing under those conditions....

Don't forget the Kerry Mockery page, which has new graphics, and the Carol Chumney Wallop Page, which I'm told has been seen by Those In A Position To Appreciate It. Links up to the left. And if you're in a position to, please consider donating to Half-Bakered to help keep it going. Tipjar's up to the left. Thanks.

Y'all be good and come back. Without you, I'm just some cranky, raving curmudgeon.
Has Anyone Else Noticed?


Doing all the blog work today caused me to notice something. All of the Memphis blogs I know of and watch, with two exceptions, are done by white men. The two exceptions are by white women. I have yet to catch wind of a single black Memphis blogger! Now surely someone black from Memphis must be out there. Any pointers? Any lurkers want to step forward?

No real point to this. It just seems so odd.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Site Work & New Blogs


I did some more maintenance work on the template, updating and moving things. I've added something called "The Daily Rounds" on the left column. It's the list of sites and blogs I visit every day, or nearly so. If it's there, it's highly recommended! Right below that is "Linky-Linky," which will be for sites and blogs that have linked to Half-Bakered's stuff. It's recognition, thanks and reciprocity all in one. No guarantees on sites there, just making nice for folks.

Also, we have three new fools, er...people in the Rocky Top Brigade. Since he said it better than I would (and it's late), I'll just crib the post from Fearless Leader's own blog:

Spring is finally here and Tennessee blogs are sprouting like weeds. It's time for another Rocky Top Brigade membership update!

First up is Blake at the Nashville Files Blog. This is a companion blog to Blake's Nashville Files, a one-stop site for Nashville and state news.

Next is Candi, The Baseball Widow. Candi says she is "a woman who will always be second in her husband's heart... He follows the game, and I follow him." Len Cleavelin nominated The Baseball Widow, and confirms that she blogs out of Knoxville.

Finally, there's an oustanding new Knoxville political gossip site, Cas Walker's Coonhunter's Journal. Yes, you read that right. Cas is back from the beyond and dishing dirt better than ever on this slick new Moveable Type blog. You can submit anonymous libel and also sign up for The Watchdog newsletter. Although we welcome a link to the RTB, we will consider suspending the rule of requiring it for this blog because we don't want to get the whole Rocky Top Brigade subpoenaed.

So without further ado, please join me in welcoming these outstanding Tennessee blogs to the Rocky Top Brigade, as they join us in the fight for truth, justice, and a good single malt Scotch whiskey for around $20.

OK, then.
Welcome one and all to the fray!
Two Great Ideas, Free, for the Commercial Appeal


Just doin' my civical-type duty.

These didn't occur to me until I had already started the group of posts below on the Riverfront Development Corporation's Promenade plan. The Commercial Appeal ought to send a team of reporters up the Mississippi to see how other cities from Minneapolis to New Orleans make use of their riverfronts. Include itty-bitty towns, too. Ride ships down the river to see them from a river's-eye view! Report on the good and the bad, the well-done and the fiascos. Tell us how financing was achieved and what effect it had on city budgets.

My other idea is buried deep in a long post, so I fear most won't see it. Instead of the usual civic-private-public garbage being proposed for the Promenade, why doesn't the Commercial Appeal get way out in front with a radical and attention-grabbing proposal?

Host a national competition to design the next Central Park, a public park for the twenty-first century, on the Promenade property!

The prize money would be a fraction of the proposed costs of the RDC plan, the prestige would be inestimable. We would draw world-wide attention to this city in a way it has never been. The paper can spear-head the thing, help raise the prize money and pull together a team of judges. Imagine urban planners and designers from all over the world coming here to see the possibilities. We could then make a legitimate claim for a true "world class" something. Cost to City? Negligible. Civic pride? Unmeasurable. Respect for history? Perfect. Result? A public space that draws visitors from the world over.

Hell's bells, the international attention alone will have people looking at us who might never have given us a second thought. We'll see opportunities presented that no one expected. Developers and financiers will become curious. Even the Pyramid might attract someone with a plan to save it! There is literally no downside to this idea except that some local money-boys won't make out like the bandits they are.

Great ideas, free. Run with 'em.
New Word for Today


Suspecious

Composed from "suspicious" and "specious." Something so empty and ridiculous on its face that suspicion is the only possible reaction. Directly links the reaction to the cause.

"The wino asked for a dollar for the bus. I was immediately suspecious."

For example: In the next few posts, I discuss the Promenade plan being put forth by the City and the Riverfront Development Corporation. I was reminded of an excellent Commercial Appealguest column by Larry Williamson some months ago about a 1987 plan that was superior to the present one.

When I went to the bookmarked link, though, I found a page with all the gewjaws and doodads you normally see on a CA page but where the text would be is nothing but white space! It's as though it was scrubbed clean. A use of the search tool for Mr. Williamson's name produced the same result.

In the context of today's discussion in the CA, I'm suspecious.
Pre-packaged Thinking to Save You Time and Trouble


Sunday's Commercial Appeal Viewpoint section focuses on the Riverfront Development Corporation's plan for the riverfront Promenade. Let's take an overview before we dive deeper in the next post.

At the top of the page, lovely detailed drawings of the RDC plan with plenty of captions to guide you. Two guest columnists below to present the "two sides" to the issue: the RDC plan and everyone else who opposes it. I read the short summary of the package in the center of the page and was surprised to find almost the exact same wording used in the first paragraph of the guest column by the pro-RDC writer!
As the City Council prepares to take up a plan to revitalize part of Memphis's riverfront, the debate continues: Will the project serve the 'public purpose' intended for the property?
and
Memphians and the Riverfront Development Corporation are debating the future of the riverfront "promenade block." At the heart of their discussions is the issue of how the promenade property will serve the public purpose its original owners intended.
Puzzling. Some might say coincidental, some might say suspicious.

Next page, the CA's pro-RDC editorial. See the next post for some dissection of that.

Last page comes with another guest editorial from someone involved in evaluating the RDC plan, who also supports it. He's affiliated with a think-tank that represents the developers and builders and contractors in public planning, though this isn't made plain. Below his column is a large panoramic photo of the section of downtown being talked about. Good photo and a good thing to include, even if it does tend to make the blocks look as grimy and rundown as they are. Mud Island behind it looks even worse!

Below all this is a lot of text completing the two guest columns from the first page. There are also a small map of the downtown area under discussion and a graphic -- approximately one-quarter the size of the RDC plan graphic -- of the Friends for Our Riverfront proposal. A short bare-bones caption accompanies it.

Hmmm. Let's sum it up. Three columns: two aye, one nay. One editorial: aye. Two graphics: one four times the size of the other; the big pro-RDC graphic right up front, the other, smaller, one back in the back.

Do you get the feeling your thinking is being directed here?
Fair and Impartial, That's Us


Sunday's Commercial Appeal editorial is the paper's stance on the RDC Promenade plan. Naturally, they like it. Let's see how they fairly and impartially approach the subject.
Development of the Memphis riverfront in a way that enhances its accessibility and esthetics is a long-time dream of generations of Memphians.

While we've dreamed, waterfront areas in other old river towns have sprung to life, in many cases through the efforts of public-private partnerships that leverage scarce public funds with private dollars.
This is true, but we have to take the CA's word for it. They haven't written about any yet, that I know of.

Also, note how the very first word is "development." Think maybe that's a sign of their own bias? How about some other word not loaded with presuppositions?
The approach attracts critics because it uses a valuable public asset - the public's property - to generate profits for private developers. That is a legitimate concern.
And that's the last time they mention it!
But at the same time it accomplishes important public goals such as making the riverfront more attractive, accessible and exciting, creating jobs, luring tourists and helping to revitalize an area that needs a shot in the arm. In some cases, greenspace is increased.
Boy does that last phrase feel tacked on! Note, too, that the RDC plan is not the only way to do this, nor the best, they just can't imagine some other one. That "revitalize an area that needs a shot in the arm" bit is also a nastily offhand slap to countless neighborhoods in this City that aren't downtown. And after such unarguable analysis, they propose --
It's a compromise that Memphis should make in an important phase of the overall plan for redevelopment of the Memphis riverfront - the promenade between Front Street and the river.
It's all about the compromise, but I can't recall too many high-profile compromises made by developers and profiteers, while I can list for you a whole lot of Memphians who have been made to compromise for them. Don't often see the CA arguing for the little guys do you? Labelling the daily apologists wouldn't be too far from the mark.
As Viewpoint guest columnist Randy Morton, a partner in the urban design consulting firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, points out in today's editions, the Riverfront Development Corp. plan "balances the need for a lasting, accessible and vibrant riverfront destination with the immediate reality of funding constraints. It seeks private development as a tool to realize the city's goal, and the site's historic intent, of creating a first-rate promenade for Memphians."
Or, "Recogising their own financial exposure is a danger and that the City is already overexposed itself after a spree of spending the past decade, developers seek to leverage downtown assets into private profit, to create new opportunities without the slow cumbersome process of condemnation and demolition of existing properties, are using government power to force action against recalcitrant obstructionists?"
The historic intent for the site, a strip of land from Union to Adams overlooking the Wolf River harbor and Mud Island, was established by city founders John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson in 1819 when they set aside choice parcels from their newly purchased Fourth Chickasaw Bluff to be reserved in perpetuity as a public promenade.
Yeah, "historic intent." Things change, gotta compromise....

As others have pointed out, our Founders were developers themselves and so knew exactly what would happen without their setting up a barrier to it! The space was always meant to be as park-like and open as possible, and to be kept from private development. Read their own words (which you'll notice the CA carefully edits) for yourself. If the CA can be bothered to print the whole.
That intent has not been carried out. Instead, the area has become covered primarily with buildings and parking garages that form a wall blocking access to the river, and severely limiting waterfront views, from Front Street.
That development happened because of spineless and cronyistic City governments that couldn't do their jobs. So, since the covenant has been disgracefully dishonored we should feel free to ignore it too? Let me apply that thinking to laws against theft and burglary and see how far it takes me. The paper should be arguing for stricter and more diligent observance of our heritage. And yet, they don't!
The RDC's plan to devote some of that space to new, strictly regulated commercial development that guarantees public access would, finally, fulfill the wishes of the city's founders, create new reasons to visit the river and enhance pride in the community.
Having just shown how past covenants, clear and unmistakeable, with the most restrictive bonds against violation legally possible have been trampled, they now want us to believe that mere "regulation" is going to protect us? Truly laughable, that one. Will such regulation be written into the City Charter, or merely left in the hands of the Riverfront Development Corporation? You'll forgive me if I don't trust the same looters who have saddled us with the Pyramid, the FedExForum, etc., to look after my future.

This would be the same City government -- Literally! Many Councillors and the Mayor have been here for more than a decade -- that has had custody and responsiblility for Mud Island. Look at the quality and "guarantee" they've made there.
The founders' heirs are split over the idea, and opponents of the plan, including some heirs, will make their views known to the Memphis City Council this week as it begins deliberations, as the council's public works committee, on a resolution approving the promenade plan.

City Council approval, which could occur as early as May 18, would set in motion the RDC's efforts to secure clear title to the property - a process that would involve talks with the so-called "Overton heirs."
A Sunday letter writer makes the depressing prediction that the City will simply abandon the easement and return the Promenade to the heirs, whereupon the City will buy out those who want their money now. The rest will be picked off with a combination of arm-twisting, reduction of asset value, eminent domain, fear and "fair market value." It sounds a lot like how the FedEx Forum came to be, so it sounds all too plausible.
Ownership would permit the nonprofit quasi-governmental organization to begin seeking proposals for private development - most likely on a block-by-block basis - to create spacious sidewalks, staircases, underground parking and what the Urban Land Institute's Wayne Ratkovich describes in another Viewpoint guest column as "a great gathering place, a civic 'family room' filled with specialty shops, cafes, coffee houses, bars and restaurants."
Notice what's going on in this paragraph. The RDC is described as a "nonprofit quasi-governmental organization," rather than by name, so as to reassure folks that there is protection against The Bad Things that will inevitably come. The glowing descriptions paint a rosy picture. And they use one of their "guest columnists" to buttress their argument! Wanna bet why he was asked to contribute in the first place?
After partnerships are formed with private entities, the RDC expects to spend some $50 million on demolition and public improvements that would be recovered through private development of part of the property and long-term leases. The U.S. Customs House and possibly a section of the Cossitt Library would be preserved. Confederate Park would be improved. Concrete would be laid for broad sidewalks on two separate levels.
Again with the bland reassuring language: "partnerships are formed with private entities." Those entities are the usual suspects in downtown profiteering -- the Belz, Turley, Hynemann, etc. civic-development complex and the financial institutions that love them. And again with the rosy pictures.
Opponents of the RDC proposal also have developed an attractive alternative for the promenade. The organization Friends for Our Riverfront proposes converting much of the tract into strictly public parkland connected by a pedestrian walk along the bluff.
Here we have the only mention and discussion of the alternatives, the only one that honors the Founders' specific covenant. Nothing to see, keep moving. Notice that the alternatives are pejoratively and oppositionally disparaged as "opponents" Them vs. us.
The RDC proposal offers practical advantages for Memphis taxpayers that seem to give it an overall edge. But a full City Council discussion of both alternatives should prove useful.
The comparison suffers since the "opposition" doesn't get an equal hearing! Let's see. Publicly owned property will be turned over in large part to private developers to profit from. Various tax incentives will be offered to "lure" new development. Tax monies from those properties will in turn be redirected to the various downtown Commissions and Corporations to be spent on the downtown. I haven't seen any breakdowns of the expected tax revenues generated and returned to the City, just airy assurances of "jobs" and "tourists" and big office buildings. You'll forgive my skepticism.
By whatever means possible, ultimately the longtime dream of concerned Memphians - to correct past mistakes that have hidden the wondrous and powerful Mississippi River behind a curtain of concrete - must be turned into reality.
Unless, of course, you're in one of the buildings or street views that's blocked by the new towers to be built in front of you! Too bad for you. Someone ought to go to the buildings on Front Street behind these towers, take some pictures from inside, then superimpose the proposed towers on the views from those offices. Might be illuminating, or maybe shadowy.

Also, note that the towers to be built are shown in some proposal paintings as straight-sided blocks, but in the Sunday graphic they are stepped-back. Is this a guarantee or a hope? Is this locked down or a guideline?

I love the "by whatever means possible" phrase. I'm betting it turns out to be prophetic!

Yes, let's "correct" the mistakes of the past. Host a national contest to find the next Frederick Law Olmsted. Scrape off the buildings and other encrustations on the Promenade. Sculpt the land and fill it with pavillions and benches, maybe a small band shell. Light it.

But don't turn yet another piece of Memphis over to profiteers who will rape it and laugh all the way to the bank.
Deceptive Practice


One part of the "Promenade package" in today's Commercial Appeal is a guest column from Wayne Ratkovich. He is president of a development company and affiliated with the Urban Land Institute. It's easy to simply take his credentials without thought, "Hmmm...some people-oriented think tank." But do take a look.

While reading his column, I kept being struck by the developer language in his writing.
We imagined many possibilities for the properties along the promenade. Its gateway would be at Front and Union, where a Memphis Fire Department station is now located. We saw this spot as the location for a great gathering place, a civic "family room" filled with specialty shops, cafes, coffee houses, bars and restaurants.

The real estate industry term for such a combination of uses is "festival retail." Faneuil Hall in Boston, Harborplace in Baltimore and Farmer's Market in Los Angeles are among the country's more successful models....

We gave a very high rating to the promenade as a location for dense (high-rise) development of residential, office, hotel and retail uses. Four factors - location, demand, supply and timing - were considered in determining the rating.

The promenade scored well as a location for all the land-use categories we considered. Near-perfect overall scores were recorded for residential uses and for certain retail uses - suggesting that development for those uses can proceed now, while other uses, such as offices, should wait until demand increases. In looking long-term, it is reasonable to imagine a time when market conditions will produce high ratings for all uses.

Development of the promenade may require the City of Memphis to use its condemnation powers. Nearly 50 years ago, Congress gave cities the right to condemn privately owned property and sell it to another private party so long as a community benefit was realized.
So, go and take a look at the ULI website. It's a well-regarded organisation for developers, builders and contractors. Take a look at the books they sell. Would he support a plan to turn over 40% of previously unavailable land to developers, builders and contractors? Do wolves like raw meat?

Asking this guy to comment on the RDC plan, even though he was a part of the group that evaluated it, is a bit like asking the wolf to comment on the menu at the pigs' house. These folks view empty land as wasted land, as opportunities lost.

It would have been better to balance this column with someone from a group oriented to non-developmental ways of using the land. As it stands, he's just another "yes man" to the Commercial Appeal's drive to disestablish the Promenade as a public property.

Having said that, Ratkovich offers some ideas that really need to be looked at:
We even stepped a bit outside of our assigned territory to comment on ways in which the revitalization of downtown could be connected to Memphis's riverfront. We suggested reinstating automobile traffic on Main Street, a return to two-way traffic on downtown streets and a new look at the downtown parking plan. The manner in which parking is provided dramatically affects the quality of the human environment in urban areas.
As anyone who has gone downtown knows, parking is a joke, woefully underprovided. The RDC plan for the Promenade promises to replace the current parking spaces with 1000 spots; they do not tell you how many will be lost, but I suspect it's quite a few. On top of this, the RDC Promenade plan will add a lot of office and retail space that will require additional parking, not to mention the additional tourists and visitors the plan will draw in.

Where, pray tell, will these people park? City leaders and civic planners obviously expect folks to park out on the periphery of the downtown, in the many lots and garages out there, and take our spectacular trolley system into the downtown and then walk, walk, walk around. Would you do that, here or in another city? Exactly.
Conservative Talk Radio as a Market Solution


Down a couple of post below, I talk about a Jay Rosen essay. One of his commenters says something I wanted to clip out and highlight for those who won't Read the Whole Thing.
Those who reject the "liberal media bias" accusation should ask themselves why there is such a large audience for conservative talk radio, and such quick success for Fox News, while liberal talk radio fails except in a couple of "blue area" cities, and most other TV news outlets and newspapers are losing viewers and subscribers.

The answer is not that the population outside of the blue counties are fools, dupes and uninformed. Instead, it is market saturation for leftward-slanted information by mainstream news and entertainment outlets.

Rush Limbaugh's success started because he was supplying information that resolved the cognitive dissonance of many. Ordinary citizens could not reconcile their own knowledge and experience with the inexplicably contradictory information in the mainstream media - especially TV news.

That Limbaugh is a master of his medium is of course important to his success, but it was the untapped market for alternative information that created the demand. The numerous other popular conservative talk show hosts of lesser talent buttresses this explanation.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools)
Truth at Last?


Robert J. Oppenheimer, inventor of the atomic bomb and a central figure in America's early nuclear programs, was a Communist after all.
Favorite Songs


The weather today was clouded and dreary, but still warm enough to throw open the doors and windows. Sadly, the neighbors were outside too, and their whooping and hollering led me to throw on some CDs.

By accident, I put on a classical comp that had John Philip Sousa's march The Star & Stripes Forever on it. Man did that pick me up! I love this song.

I was in band in junior high (Yes, I'm a band geek.), playing clarinet and bass clarinet. While I never developed a real love of classical I've always been grateful for the musical education. And nothing beats being inside an orchestra playing the music. Playing Star and Stripes back then is when I fell in love with the song. I've since heard a lot of variations on it, some good and many bombastic.

In my head, I always heard the song as a battle song-- two armies clashing on a field, Liberty wins, the victors march off. The famous back and forth between the cornets and the trombones sounds like the volley of shots and artillery. When the orchestra is seated properly, it plays that way.

The piccolo, to me, stands for Liberty. She (always a she) leaps and dances across the song in wild abandon, the very embodiment of freedom unleashed. But the orchestra shouldn't mute itself under the piccolo. That's a mistake. It should quiet just enough, and no more, to let the piccolo be heard.

It's the final coda where, to me, so many bands and orchestras screw it up. I like it played big and only slightly slower. Way too many play it much slowed down, huge and bombastic. Way overdone. Lots of cymbal crashes and fireworks, everyone playing full tilt. No, no, no. Ideally, it should be only slightly slower, to acknowledge the change, but just as before. Let the slight changes in the music speak for themselves.

Even bad versions will get me, but a properly played Star and Stripes will touch some deep patriotic chord in me that resonates throughout my whole body. It's a guarantee that I cry during this one. I kid you not.

For current and former band geeks, follow the link at the bottom of the above page. Much discussion of performance changes and styles.

I had forgotten the song had lyrics! Try these:
Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
You Lefties go and cringe. I don't care!
Saddam's Interrogation Logs


Many thanks to sugarmama for turning up this page, with the logs of the interrogation of Saddam Hussein by American specialists. Don't drink while reading this!
Interrogation commenced: 2000 hours

I told SH that we would be paid a visit by Baghdad's longest-running improvisational comedy troupe, and that they often ask for audience suggestions. I had one of the players ask SH for the name of something you'd return to a department store. He said "pliers." They did a quick scene about returning pliers, and then another "player" asked for a geographic location where one might hide WMDs. SH was quiet for a long time, and so I suggested Wal-Mart.

Interrogation terminated: 0122 hours
The Shape of Things to Come


Why do I have the impression that the new "Appeal" sections of the Commercial Appeal are clear avatars of the look of the paper to come? And why do I despair?

The motto at the top? It's all about you. I'm sure very few businessmen have gone broke by catering to endless self-interested narcissism, but I don't think newspapers ought to be built on it.

The Central City Appeal is seven pages of pictures and puff pieces (including self-written puff pieces), then three pages of classifieds. Oy! The closest thing to "news" is a story on computers at the Lewis Senior Center.

Look upon these works ye peasantry and despair....
The Bush Thesis


Great post today at Instapundit about Jay Rosen's essay on what Rosen calls "The Bush Thesis." Instapundit quotes from a couple of readers (one at length) on their experiences and perceptions of bias. Glenn makes some cogent observations, too. It's short, but...well, cogent. Like I said.

Especially read the Rosen essay. It's a fantastic synthesis of his observations into a theory of how President George W. Bush, and many Americans, view the press. This paragraph and quote sum it up spectacularly:
Auletta, for example, can describe Bush at a barbeque for the press in August, where a reporter says to the president: is it really true you don't read us, don't even watch the news? Bush confirms it.

"And the reporter then said: Well, how do you then know, Mr. President, what the public is thinking? And Bush, without missing a beat said: You're making a powerful assumption, young man. You're assuming that you represent the public. I don't accept that. "

Which is a powerful statement. And if Bush believes it (a possibility not to be dismissed) then we must credit the president with an original idea, or the germ of one. Bush's people have developed it into a thesis, which they explained to Auletta, who told it to co-host Brooke Gladstone:

"That's his attitude. And when you ask the Bush people to explain that attitude, what they say is: We don't accept that you have a check and balance function. We think that you are in the game of "Gotcha." Oh, you're interested in headlines, and you're interested in conflict. You're not interested in having a serious discussion and, and exploring things."
Put even more simply, the "press" is a special interest today, unmoored from the broad American public and only representative of itself.

Rosen goes on to explain himself in exhausting, but illuminating, detail. He makes a great case for the belief by many Americans that the "press" is no longer representative of us but of something else. His main example to dissect is the recent Presidential news conference. He writes:
The president has his talking points, the reporters theirs-- and neither will be moved off the script. The kind of question that cannot be predicted, of course, is one born live, a spontaneous response to something that happens at the press conference. Ted Koppel when he does Nightline prepares one question for each guest, the first one he will ask. Beyond that he wants everything to flow from what's said on air.

In the East Room ritual, with so much at stake (international embarrassment, for one) both parties cooperate to make sure the Koppel moment never happens. Data point: On April 13, they both read from their scripts. For the press, this meant: Were you at fault? Do you accept responsibility? Were there any mistakes? Going to apologize? "They repeated the question, because if the president was pre-programmed, so too, many reporters are pre-programmed," Aultetta said.
One place Rosen fails, I think, is that he casts doubt on the Bush administration's belief in the Bush Thesis because the administration engages with it. Rosen doesn't seem to see that the "press" is unavoidable and must be engaged at least some times. That engagement isn't a "failure," but a reality.

If the Bush administration is serious about wanting to detour around the "big media" and go straight to the people unmediated, he needs to get serious about the Internet. Creating a resource of pictures, speeches, quotes, documents, and videos that webusers can come to would empower tens of thousands of folks to spread whatever message he wants out there, free of press mediation. Will some use the information in partisan and biased ways? Yes. And thousands of others will call them on it, in a giant self-correcting editing process.

The Rosen essay is long, but I cannot tell folks who are into journalism and politics how penetrating and ground-breaking it is. There is a lot here to expand on or jump off from. It will reward the time taken to read it and the comments that follow.
Blogging: The New Fourth Estate?


In the Jay Rosen essay I reference above, he quotes from Thomas Carlyle, British historian and the man credited with inventing the term "Fourth Estate." Rosen quotes from the Carlyle speech, but let me extract another quote,for those who won't read the whole thing and will miss it Carlyle was speaking of printers and their presses, and their relationship to democracy, one relevant to bloggers today:
Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.
Carlyle wasn't speaking of some sector of society, but of the individual citizen. "...[T]hat he have a tongue which others will listen to...." That is the essential description of blogging. Newspapers and network television news today are corporations, far removed from the store-front presses of yore. Commercial concerns will color their points of view; capitalistic profit needs will too.

The "Fourth Estate" is you and me. It's our First Amendment guarantee: the right to stand up, shake our fists and make a clamor without fear. The "news media" is just an institutionalisation and commodification of that. What the Internet has done is just what folks predicted: it has allowed the average Joe and Jane to stand up and speak and be heard. She has no gate-keepers to pass through. Opinion and statement stands or falls on its own merits.

Blogging is the new, true Fourth Estate. We are the future.
Operational Definitions


I've been doing a lot of writing this weekend about "journalism." Lots above, more below. But it occurs to me that I should present to my readers the distinction I make in my mind between "reporting" and "journalism."

Reporting is when someone is sent out to a person or location to gather information. Interviews and investigations, and eye-witness observation, are the primary tools used. The reporter returns to the office to create something like this:
Last night, Joe Blow was stabbed to death by his girlfriend, Jane Stabby. Blow, who lived at 123 Main Street, died at the scene police said. Stabby was taken into custody and will be charged this morning with Blow's murder.
It's the old "who, what, when, where, why" formula. The writer's hand is unseen. I'm told it's numbing stuff to write after a while, because the language is so repetitive.

Journalism is somewhat different. The writer may or may not go to the scene; calls are made, other media sources referenced. Facts are assembled, but other factors may take precedence. It results in something like this:
The stale smell of cigar smoke is still thick here, though it's now cut through with a sharp tang of bloody death, much as Joe Blow was cut through with a kitchen knife. Police say he was arguing with his girlfriend when she grabbed a knife and allegedly stabbed him. Police arrived, alerted by neighbors weary of the couple's frequent fighting, too late. Blow was pronouced dead at the hospital a short time later. Friends described the accused, Jane Stabby, as an argumentative sort, but not one prone to violence.
Fun to write and read, this stuff. Some facts, but a lot of scene-setting too, which allows for interpretive language and the possible entry of bias. It usually takes a few paragraphs for all the basic facts of the story to be laid out.

Reporting: dry, dull, concrete. Journalism: interpretive, author-driven. That's my distinction.

I've always assumed that's why so many reporters from the Seventies and before had the "great American novel" stuffed in the desk drawer. Editors beat all the non-factual stuff out of reporters' stories, so they needed some outlet for the more artistic language they had stored up without release. With "New Journalism" it was now alright for the reporter's voice to intrude, for artistic language to be employed; it was celebrated even.

Maybe that's why we see the flood of "insider tell-all" books from reporters these days. It's not a release of pent-up stuff, but an extension of what's already going on?
More Like This: Suburban Department


In all the hubbub about the City Council / Mayor Herenton fracases (fracia?), with the attendant administrational job changes, I let a story get by. It seems Jerry Crawford, who was nominated to be Memphis Fire Department Chief was turned down ostensibly because he wasn't a City resident. He shortly took the position of Collierville's Fire Chief.

Thanks to the Collierville Independent (When will you folks get yourselves on line? Thank you!), I learned the rest of the story. Andy Meeks writes:
Crawford said Memphis City Council members rejected
> his nomination for the Memphis post because of the
> widely-publicized rift between the council and Memphis
> Mayor Willie Herenton, who supported Crawford.
> Crawford said the council’s criticism of his residency
> in Fayette County was “unfounded.”
>
> “Anyone who was hired [by the city] prior to 1980 did
> not have to live inside the confines of Shelby
> County,” Crawford explained, because of a charter
> amendment passed in 1984. Crawford was hired by the
> Memphis Fire Department in 1977....

In 1977, Richard Arwood, Collierville’s Assistant Fire
> Chief, was a Memphis firefighter assigned to fire
> station no. 20 in south Memphis. Jerry Crawford,
> Collierville’s recently-appointed Fire Chief, was
> assigned to the nearby fire station no. 10.
>
> Two years later, Arwood, 53, was promoted to driver
> and also assigned to fire station 10 in Memphis,
> driving the same fire pumper Crawford rode on. At the
> time, Crawford was the “hook-up” man, responsible for
> connecting the fire pump to the hydrant. Arwood said
> the two men fought more than a few blazes together
> then.
>
> “Jerry and I go all the way back to the start of his
> fire career in Memphis,” said Arwood, who will leave
> his Collierville post later this month to become the
> new Memphis Director of Fire Services. “We’ve always
> kept in touch over the years, and Jerry even helped me
> out when I moved to Frayser in 1979. We’ve always had
> that kind of relationship.”
>
> In the 1970s, as now, both men found themselves
> working together by chance. And for the past month,
> Arwood and Crawford have again been working together,
> though this time in fire administration: Arwood has
> been Collierville’s Assistant Fire Chief since March
> 2001, and Crawford was appointed by Collierville’s
> Board of Mayor and Aldermen to replace retiring fire
> chief Dennis Rutledge in March of this year.
>
> But, as fate would have it, Arwood has been approved
> by the Memphis City Council for the same top Memphis
> fire job Crawford was nominated for in January. Arwood
> was recommended for the post by Memphis Mayor Willie
> Herenton.
>
> Crawford’s rejection for the post by the Memphis City
> Council, whose members seemed most at odds with
> Crawford’s residency in Fayette County, led to his
> acceptance of the Collierville fire chief position.
> Before Tuesday’s vote, Arwood said he didn’t
> anticipate the same problems that plagued Crawford’s
> nomination.
Yup, they switched jobs! I hadn't realised that.

I'm sorry I can't put more of Meek's writing here, as I'd like to. He writes pretty cleanly and to the facts. He sometimes uses "chop quotes" to compress things into one sentence (ie. 'Kerley called it a “privilege” to nominate Crawford.') but it's nice, invisible writing. Reporting, not journalism; letting facts and people speak for themselves and the story to grow from that. Nice work!