Friday, May 28, 2004

Welcome Instapundit Readers

It seems that Glenn picked up my Al Gore's Dean Moment page and an instalanche is underway there. Wonderful! Whether you came from there or from the related Kerry Mockery & Other Political Shenanigans page, welcome to Half-Bakered. Look around, click the links, enjoy yourself.

If you haven't been to the Kerry Mockery page, please go take a look. Lots of funny graphics there, including two new ones just posted this evening. I hope you 'em funny. Please feel free to use them elsewhere, just give me a credit and let me know where they are. I'll give your blog or website a reciprocal shout-out here.

And if you want to help support Half-Bakered (All that Instalanched bandwidth and graphics web hosting ain't cheap!), please hit the PayPal button up on the left and donate whatever you feel like. It's appreciated!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Thought for the Day

Sugarmama's Rule of Thumb: Don’t cheapen your boobs. Boobs are power. Cheapen them, and you’ve lost your power.
I Am Someone

I'm a contributing reviewer over at Blogcritics, a site that reviews movies, books, music, television, comics, politics, etc. I posted my Angel season finale review over there last week. It got no comments until today, when it got two. That made me curious, so I googled "angel season finale" and my entry at Blogcritics came in at #3! Wow.
Sorry, Len

Well, I'm afraid it's bad news for Air America fans here in the Mid-South. It seems that WMQM will not be carrying their programming after all.

If you go to Air, you can see that they still list WMQM as "Coming Soon!" But I made a call to station manager David Brown and got the real story. He noted that the Commercial Appeal had also covered this story about three Saturdays ago, but let's be many of you read the Saturday CA?

Brown said that he had been contacted about 2 months ago by someone from AirAmerica. They had all of a five minute conversation and Brown never agreed to anything. Next thing he knows, it's been announced at Air America. He's tried to get them to pull the station's call letters from the list, but so far AA hasn't done anything.

Mr. Brown wasn't opposed to carrying the programming, but he didn't have the daytime space to run the minimum 6 hours required. If anything, he would have run it after midnight, but that was unacceptable to AA. Brown mentioned he's received about 50 calls from various folks wanting to know when AA is coming.

He did mention two rumors he's heard. One is that another station here in Memphis may pick it up. He felt that there was enough of a potential market for the network to succeed. Brown also said he'd heard that Al Franken's contract only runs through December. Depending on the national elections, and his own success or (so-far) failure, I don't think it's impossible that Franken may decide to just cut and run.

So, sorry all you Memphis libs and Dems. Better luck next time.
Al Gore's Dean Moment

Not sure how many of you have seen that photo from Al Gore's speech earlier this week, where Al is ANGRY: scowling, red-faced, shouting. Too bad that moment came three years too late for him, huh?

Anyway, it struck me that this was Al Gore's Howard Dean moment. Remember Dean's scream ("Yeeaarrgghhhh!) on primary night? It's been immortalised on talk radio and morning-zoo shows now.

It's like peanut butter and chocolate. Two great moments that go great together! So, I made a web page for Al Gore's Dean Moment.

If you load the page and don't hear the scream, let me know. If you have other problems with it (not political, of course), let me know. And of course, please feel free to spread the love.

Volunteeer Tailgate Party Time

The XXIX running of the Volunteer Tailgate Party is up over at Rebel Yell. "Just Cause I Talk Slow Don't Mean I'm Stupid." It's the usual biweekly selection of blogging goodness from the Usual Gang of Idiots. Great reading all around and a chance to sample some very good writing and blogging.

For example, Gunner over at No Quarters has a link to an incredibly bizarre Japanese program where a man was locked naked in a bare apartment for a year, with only mail-in postcards to thousands of contests as his source for clothes, food, entertainment, etc. There were video cameras! It makes Survivor look easy.

That link led to this, an overview of some of the strangeness that is Japanese television. If you think American television is crass and stupid, you ain't seen nothing yet.

So, go to the VTP and browse around. You won't be disappointed.
Memphis Redblogs

UPDATE Memphis Redblogs is now live. Woohoo! Nice, clean design, too. Good job, Mick!

"Red state bloggers from the Home of the Blues," as creator Mick Wright puts it. Memphis Redblogs isn't live yet, but it's coming along. It's a group blog for conservative-, Republican- and libertarian-minded bloggers in the Memphis area, a sort-of one-stop-shop of the local Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. If you are interested, make sure to contact Mick right away. He's designed a logo, which you can see here.

Also make sure to check out his excellent blog fishkite.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Fun With Numbers: School Spending and Rankings

SouthKnox Bubba had a post Wednesday looking at Knox County schools that linked to State of Tennessee School System Report Cards, from the Department of Education. I cruised over and looked up Memphis and Shelby County schools. Ouch! Let's compare:

Students: 126,923
Students with Disabilities 15,822 12.5%
Economically Disadvantaged 81,991 64.6%
Shelby Co.
Students: 48,540
Students with Disabilities 9,101 18.7%
Economically Disadvantaged 7,449 15.3%

Student/Teacher ratios
Memphis: 126,923/7045 18 to 1
Shelby Co.: 48540/2587 19 to 1
Teacher/Administrator ratios
Memphis: 7045/433 16 to 1
Shelby Co.: 2587/182 14 to 1

Per Student Expenditures
Memphis: $7,865.00
Shelby Co.: 6,322.00
State: $6,648.16
National: $8,383.00

Go look at the Federal Benchmark and Student Performance scores, where the differences are incredibly stark. When will this community's leaders put the same effort behind improving our schools that we put into sports arenas and downtown redevelopment?
Nope, No Bias Here Either

Via Australian pundit, auto enthusiast and all-'round fine gentleman Tim Blair came a pointer to a furor arising from a rock magazine interview with Iced Earth singer/songwriter Jon Schaffer. It seems the published article and Schaffer's denunciation of it caused such an uproar that the magazine decided to post the whole interview to let readers decide for themselves.

The interviewer (labelled BW&BN) is Canadian; Schaffer is American. But that's the least of it!
BW&BK: "Do you think 9/11 will be viewed as the first event in the US empire's decline and fall?"

JS: "No. This is not an empire, first of all. If the United States was an empire, your country would be our 51st state."

BW&BK: "I understand."


BW&BK: "So you don't see the Bush regime as being cultural imperialists? You don't see them as trying to force the American way of life on to a nation that maybe doesn't want it?"

JS: "No. If you think that's true, then why are 70 or 80 percent of the people are thrilled to have us there. Have you not seen that? And it's not a regime, by the way. You keep up that kind of language I'm going to end the interview right now."

BW&BK: "Ok. I understand."

JS: "I'm serious."


BW&BK: "Well, sometimes Americans believe they're very free, when they're sometimes not. There are a lot of authors, especially a guy like Noam Chomsky, who believes a lot of consent in the US is manufactured by politicians and corporations --"

JS: "Talk about one of the fuckin' ultra leftist spin doctors of the world, Noam Chomsky. You buy into that crap?"

BW&BK: "Well, I read a lot of his stuff."

JS: "But do you believe it all?"

BW&BK: "I have a degree in political science, so I believe some of it."

JS: "Hmm. Yeah. Well. And how old are you?"

BW&BK: "I'm 22."

JS: "22 years old? That's a lot of wisdom there! Come on, man. You know where I live? In the real world. When I was 16 years old I was living in abandoned houses and making my way into a career. Building things up from nothing without any kind of... well... socialist system to help me. That made me a very strong, independent person. I'm an independent thinker. Just because I get certain things shoved down my throat, I don't follow. I lead. Y'know what I'm saying? I look at the facts, and I base my opinions on the facts. Not the political rantings of someone like Noam Chomsky. I've got some of his books in my library. I think they're unbelievably over-the-top, like dangerously so. But that's you've got out there."
There's a lot of talk about America and empire, as well as going out on your own at 16 to make your way in the world. Schaffer talks about making mistakes, falling down and getting back up. It's a great interview actually, though not so much about music.

You can read the concommitant flame-wars on the magazine's message boards here.
The Media's Class Bias

An interesting post and comment from Nashville's Rev. Donald Sensing about the media's bias toward more affluent readers and viewers. It's part of the never-ending chase for advertising dollars.
The whole article is nothing but lazy journalism, a puff piece for the middle class to read and moan about how bad it has it. Poor Troy Farmer can't rent as many DVDs as he used to - aren't you about to cry? Can't you feel his pain? Aren't high gas prices the awfulest thing you've ever heard about?

What about the people of the lower economic classes, who are hit much higher for higher prices of any consumer commodity than everyone else? Troy Farmer can cut down on Blockbuster to pay for his gas, but what about the cabbie who has nothing much to cut down on to pay for his higher fuel costs?
It's short, so you're advised to Read The Whole Thing.
Just Some Guy With a Website

I've been reading a new blogger who goes by the nom de Net CableNewser. It's a comment and news blog on the cable news industry. The New York Times has just published an article on CableNewser and surprise, surprise!

It turns out that CN, who just scored his first "scoop" this week on CNN's soon-come broadband Internet news "channel" and who counts a whole lot of big media names among his readers, is an 18-year-old college student!
Better to be anonymous than to identify himself as a teenager, he reckoned, if he wanted to be taken seriously. And that, it seems, he has been: Mr. Stelter has heard from cable executives, media critics, on-air personalities like the Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren, and network public-relations people who check his site.

"I get more scoop from about the industry and even MSNBC and than I get from the water cooler at the office," said Dominic Bellone, a producer for the MSNBC political show "Hardball." "I've been reading his blog close enough that it's pretty credible without me knowing who it is, because he's quoting legit sources."
While I'm no CableNewser -- he gets around 3500 daily hits to my 100 or so; he sticks to a single topic in depth, while I blog on a variety of things -- it just goes to show: the landscape is changing, and changing fast.
Case Closed: Final Update

John Gorenfeld runs a Moon-watch website that has been tracking the Rep. Harold Ford story among many other things. See the other Ford posts below for his links. Gorenfeld was kind enough to ask California Represenatative Danny Davis, who really did attend that March function and admits it, if our Harold was there. Gorenfeld reports that Davis confirms Ford was not there, which surprised Davis! Apparently, Davis was expecting to see Ford. Hmmm....

Anyway, that's a denial and a confirmation, so I guess the story is finally over. I feel a bit let down, as I was half-hoping for a "gotcha" that would put Half-Bakered on the map.

Maybe next time.
Case Closed

There has been a resolution of part of the story about Representative Harold Ford, Jr. and his purported attendance at a Reverend Sun Myung Moon event in Washington, DC, back in March.

I got email from the Memphis Flyer's Jackson Baker explaining that he had first contacted Ford right after seeing the original Washington Times article. That was the source of the "categorical denial" information. But the quote never saw print for one reason or another.

Baker says that when he saw the Alternet article, he resurrected the quote and story, since the Alternet article made them relevant again. This time it was published.

And that appears to be that, unless a reporter or photographer at the event can prove otherwise, which is looking doubtful at this point. I've been to the Moon site that had a whole lot of pics from the event and I saw no sign of Ford anywhere.

So, case closed. And thanks to Jackson Baker for responding.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Colonial House

I haven't been a fan of those PBS "reality" shows that take modern day people and put them into historically correct situations: Frontier House, Edwardian House, etc. But somehow I got caught up in the latesst installment, Colonial House, which ended tonight.

The folks of CH were taken to some empty acreage in Maine where a quartet of cabins were built for them. They then had to live the life of American colonists working for a European venture company in 1628. The program ended up showing just how much we have changed culturally and sociologically as people

Not only were the "colonists" expected to live in historically correct clothes and homes, use tools of the time and perform the tasks that colonists of the era had to do, but the producers and designers of the simulation expected them to behave like the Europeans of the time. It led to some fascinating tensions and contradictions.

The biggest sticking point was that the 21st century women basically refused to accept the restrictions and submissions of 17th century morality. The wife of the second governor of the colony sat on the edges of Council meetings (which were men-only affairs). Even though she had no real business there, she refused to be left out. Another woman refused to attend church, even though in that era it would have meant severe physical and psychological punishment, up to death! At one point, the women tried to force through a "schedule change" to get the men to do some kitchen work (which is an all day affair.) so that they could have a day off. That failed.

What it showed was the profound differences in Americans pre- and post-American Revolution. The American Experiment has fundamentally altered the fabrics and bonds by which we used to keep society together, and Americans, at least, are loathe to go back, even for pretend. The role of 21st women, the opportunities they have available, is so different from the severely restricted life of the 17th century. It was abhorrent to the women of CH to even play the game.

I'll also admit that some of the people amused me. The orignal governor of the colony was a family man from a conservative Southern Baptist community, your basic modern Christian. He was a good man and a pretty good administrator, but he took seriously the role of religion in his 17th century community. That clashed pretty strongly with the laid-back and casual colonists. He tried to enforce rules on profanity, obscenity, blasphemy and church attendance, only to find stiff resistance and gentle mocking. He ended up giving up and not forcing the issue.

It was instructive to watch how modern Americans simply refused to accept even the mildest of church and state fusions. Seventeenth century American colonial life was a theocratic affair of the sternest order. They largely worked for companies that got their charters from a King who enforced the laws about religion harshly and without mercy. No escaping them.

But the television colonists chafed and struggled against that, even in pretend. It was an amazing revelation.

The first governor had a family crisis and his whole family had to leave the colony. The pastor was given the governorship. This guy is a university professor of religion, married to a university professor. They were both socially and politically liberal. Both of them were more than a little self-satisfied and morally superior. In the wrap-up, they admitted to sabotaging the first governor to some degree and being resistant to him, in large part because of their political differences! When the pastor's wife became the Governess, she also became more privileged in her attitudes to the rest, more "I'm your superior and my husband's equal." More than a few colonists joked about her. When the pastor became governor, for a time the colony was in chaos because he was such a weak leader.

Eventually, the company sent in an "auditor," the era's equivalent to the new company CEO or turnaround manager. The pastor and his wife were so passive-aggressive, so condescending and insulting, that the man basically left them alone as much as possible. But he did manage to make the colonists work much harder and smarter, and got them to thinking about paying off their company debts.

Then there was the man who felt the need to "come out." I'm still not sure what that was about, but he stood up at one Sunday meeting and announced himself. Of course, had he done that in colonial America, he'd have been stoned to death immediately! It was beyond unthinkable for the era. He never was able to explain why he did it, but he was a much happier man afterward, and it carried over to his "real" life beyond the colony project, where he's now much stronger in his sexuality and a happier man to boot.

The starkness of living life literally day by day, with only your own hands and backs to keep you alive, affected all the colonists. Some commented that it changed their perception of modern American life, with all its many options, choices and temptations. Also, the fact that they only had such a small group of people to live with, and whom they utterly depended on (and all were aware of how much others depended on them!) made some of them realise the triviality of their modern lives in the city.

It was a fun program, and illuminating. The most fun was watching modern Americans have so much difficulty trying (or refusing!) to live in such a different culture. It really made clear to me just what effect the great American Experiment has had down through history.

It made me proud.
Hella Cool!

Just doing some web wandering and ran across this image on Ain't It Cool News. Fans of Japanese SF will drool....
And That Seems to be That

In doing the Harold Ford / Reverend Moon story below, I sent out emails to the Washington Times, Alternet and the reporter who did their story, and Jackson Baker who did the Flyer story.

So far, I haven't heard back from a one of them. I'm not especially surprised nor upset. After all, I'm just some guy with a blog. There are thousands of us. Nor has John Gorenfeld come across anything new or confirmative. Without more information, the story dies right here.

If I ever hear more about this, I will post it.
Memphis and Mid-South Bloggers Bash

I have a post way down below on a possible bloggers bash for the second week of June. Please scroll down to read it and add your comments. Thanks!

I will be sending an email to the Rocky Top Brigade mailing list about it. If you know of someone who is a Memphis or Mid-South blogger who might be interested, please spread the word either by phone, email or blog post! Beat those bushes! Last time we had ten attendees; this time we could easily have two dozen.
Right Idea, Wrong Target

Found this CBS story today about a "third party threat" to President Bush from the Libertarian Party. It's good to see the LP get some attention -- the article talks with LP presidential candidates Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan -- but the fundamental idea in the article is silly and misplaced.

The article is at pains to note that Bush's re-election team is not at all worried about a third-party threat, and the quotes from some political experts are split as well.

I think the bigger threat is to Democrat John Kerry from independent Ralph Nader. Nader's positions aren't that fundamentally different from Kerry's, just more to the Left. There were plenty of Democrats during the primary who were embracing fire-brand radical Howard Dean and espousing an approach that is closer to Nader than Kerry. They can still be heard grumbling out there, wishing Kerry were less "I'm not Bush."

If you look at polling numbers, since January Nader has run a consistent 5% in polls where he's listed as a choice. Some polls have him at a slightly lower 3%, but the 5% number is more frequent.

Compare to the Libertarians and their relationship to the Republicans. Libertarianism is incompatible with Republicanism. The party has a deserved reputation as "pro-drug, pro-libertinism" and is on the record as offically against the War on Terror and in favor of complete and immediate withdrawal. Very few Republicans dissatisfied with Bush's big-spending, big-government ways will find that appealing. You just can't find that many anti-war Republicans, either. (Not that they don't exist, but the Democrats have a loud and sizable anti-war contingent.)

No polls are tracking Libertarian numbers, either, and for a good reason. The party peaked several election cycles back at 5% and has been drifting downward ever since. Reform took a good bit of their thunder during the Clinton years and now they poll somewhere south of 2%. Libertarianism has been gaining in appeal in the past few years (something I rejoice in and am glad to welcome), but the offical party's hard-core philosophical purists and political absolutists continue to scare away likely sympathetic voters. The Party just hasn't learned gradualism as a strategy yet. I don't think it ever will. Whatever growth the Party experiences will be in spite of its efforts.

So, no, I don't think those dissatisfied with Bush will abandon him. I have heard talk of protest votes, but these folks are pretty careful to make sure it only happens in those states that are comfortably Republican, to prevent "giving" the election to Kerry. There are wide grumblings and noticeable anger at Bush, but I think their fear of Kerry is strong. The Republican leadership doesn't seem so concerned. But the Democratic leadership is very concerned about Nader's threat. And the folks who might vote for him seem to me to be far less worried about handing the election to Bush than their antipathy to Kerry's pretend centrism and "like Bush but different, sorta" image.

I'll be following the Libertarians' progress, but I don't think Bush has a whole lot to be worried about. Now, post-election I think it becomes a different story. And I will note that since this past weekend, there are stories coming from Washington that Bush is going to be making major changes both in Iraq and on the home front. So he appears to be at least aware of the problem.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Google Can Be Your Friend

Down below, in talking about Carol Chumney and Carol Coletta running for City Mayor, I mentioned a Commercial Appeal guest editorial that Coletta did wherein she was identified merely as a downtown resident. No mention was made of her professional and personal stake in downtown activism. It's a shabby tactic for the paper to pull.

Well, they did it again last week. J. Ritchie Smith wrote this editorial last Tuesday wherein he was only identified as "the founder of a Memphis landscape architecture and urban design practice." He was writing to undercut assertions by folks like Friend For Our Riverfront that making the Promenade space mostly open was a good idea.

Well, I've learned never to take these kinds of Commercial Appeal guest writers at face value, especially when the writer is taking a position that acts to reinforce the previously expressed editorial opinion of the paper; in this case, cutting down the other plans to leave the RDC plan standing. There's always something else going on, and sure enough, when I Googled J. Ritchie Smith's name I came a cropper.

The average reader would simply assume he's one of many landscape architects working in the city, someone who has an informed opinion and was offered a forum for it. Nothing suspicious.

Ah, but better informed readers, and those who did their research, will find that he was the chief landscape architect at Martyr's Park and for the enormously contentious Riverwalk! He's deeply invested in Downtown redevelopment! Smith even mentions the Riverwalk and other development without mentioning his own involvement and previous work with the RDC.

I don't mind that Mr. Smith wrote something for the paper. It's good to have someone who is knowledgeable and able to provide experienced insight share their thoughts. But I an angry that someone who stands to profit handsomely from, and is intimately involved in, downtown redevelopment is not clearly identified as such! It is at least dishonest and creates an appearance of hidden partisanship that is unappealing in a daily newspaper.

It also doesn't help with credibility that once again, we get another pro-RDC plan column. If memory serves, there have only been two editorials in explication of plans other than the RDC one: James Williams' column about the 1987 plan (which is no longer to be found in the online CA; scroll to page three on the link) and a "pro/con" two-fer package run a month or so ago. There have been several times that many articles and columns in favor of the RDC approach.

The Commercial Appeal opines the "appearance" of this RDC plan being "shoved down the people's throat," but they sure do seem to be doing their all to stoke that image. There was no reason for Mr. Smith's intimate relationship not to be fully disclosed. There was ample white space surrounding his words to fit it into. That the paper chose to keep this information from their readers can only cause suspicion and concern.

By the way, in researching this, I learned that the original budget for the Riverwalk was $1.1 million. By the time it was completed, cost had more than doubled to $2.42 million! Something to think about as the City and the RDC insist that their plan for the Promenade won't cost us a dime....
Shaolin Soccer

I just saw this today. I'm gonna rewatch it tomorrow and then post a full-on DVD Review, but I just wanted to rave about this movie tonight! You can find it at DVD Freaks at Madison and McLean. I saw the unedited, Chinese language, 2 hour original cut. Miramax is supposed to be releasing a 90 minute, probably dubbed, faster paced version some time this summer. Go see it!

Shaolin Soccer is the story of a young man who wants to get the word out about Shaolin kung fu. He runs into a lame soccer coach who was once known as "Golden Leg" for his soccer prowess. Together, they get the idea for "Shaolin soccer." The young man recruits all his brothers -- the most unlikely crew you ever saw: Iron Head, Hook Leg, Lazy Pig, etc. -- and they're off.

This movie has goofiness and charm to burn. The opening is pretty slow, though it has a lot of comic moments, but about 30 or 45 minutes in the plot (such as it is) kicks in. Once the soccer playing starts, though, you'll be falling over laughing.

Even as Chinese movies go, SS has the most basic of narratives and characters. It's more of an outline for a script than a fully realised movie. But the acting of Stephen Chow, who also directed, and the rest of the cast helps to sell the outlandish soccer playing.

The special effects are awesome, truly spectacular. Soccer balls kicked so hard they catch fire, or leave craters in concrete walls. Characters have their clothes knocked off from the force and leap across the field, or above it, with acrobatic glee. Sure, it is totally unbelievable, but so well done you can only love it. The folks who did the special effects were excellent; ultrasonic soccer balls leave craters, trenches, bruises, knock down walls, etc. People don't just hit the ground, but burrow into it. Superior attention to detail really adds to the film's flavor.

The heart of the movie is pure gold, as are the heroes, and it makes the movie shine despite the enormous plot holes and thin characterisations.

Last thing is that the DVD Freaks version is from an overseas distributor. There are no extras, and the subtitles were done by someone with only a passing knowledge of English. I'll have to copy some of the howlers and head-scratchers as they are priceless. But in a fast, dialogue-heavy movie, it can slow things down. But not much. This is not a difficult movie to figure out or keep up with, believe me. I've read that some folks just turn off the subtitles and watch the Mandarin-language version itself.

There are too many big problems for this to be a great film, but it is genius. It is great goofy fun. The climactic final match against the Evil Team (that's their name!) is mindblowing. Highly recommended to the willing; less so for those not already familiar with Asian cinema.
Thirty Helens Agree

Love hurts.
Honesty is the best policy.
You can't pay too much for good shoes.
Memphis and Mid-South Bloggers Bash

I posted about this a couple of weeks ago, and only got a few responses. But it seems it's time again for another Bloggers Bash. Any interest?

Is a weekday or a weekend better? How about in the second week of June, which is more than two weeks away. Is that far enough for folks to make preparations and plans, line up the baby-sitters?

Speak up, y'all! Any interest? Any suggestions or requests? Any locations? Let's get this ball rollin'.
The Blue People

Utterly fascinating "story of an Appalachian malady, an inquisitive doctor, and a paradoxical cure."
Dark blue lips and fingernails are the only traces of Martin Fugate's legacy left in the boy; that, and the recessive gene that has shaded many of the Fugates and their kin blue for the past 162 years.

They're known simply as the "blue people" in the hills and hollows around Troublesome and Ball Creeks. Most lived to their 80s and 90s without serious illness associated with the skin discoloration. For some, though, there was a pain not seen in lab tests. That was the pain of being blue in a world that is mostly shades of white to black.

There was always speculation in the hollows about what made the blue people blue: heart disease, a lung disorder, the possibility proposed by one old-timer that "their blood is just a little closer to their skin." But no one knew for sure, and doctors rarely paid visits to the remote creekside settlements where most of the "blue Fugates" lived until well into the 1950s. By the time a young hematologist from the University of Kentucky came down to Troublesome Creek in the 1960s to cure the blue people, Martin Fugate's descendants had multiplied their recessive genes all over the Cumberland Plateau.
Like I said, utterly fascinating.
Get on the Gunther Train Now

He is Gunther, incipient international pop star. The four main things in Gunther's life are: champagne, glamour, sex and respect. He has wallpapers. You have been warned.

Courtesy of Fark.
They've Still Got It

It's good to know that the Commercial Appeal still has the ability -- in the mushy, feel-good, people-centric Chris Peck era -- to be infuriatingly dishonest with their readers. It's almost reassuring.

Friday's editorial has the Chris Lords at the Death Star patting everyone on the head for doing the wise thing in pillaging a public good for private profit. Shall we take a look?
MANY MORE hurdles remain to be crossed, but the Memphis City Council has established the most viable course for eventual transformation of the promenade on Front Street into an attractive downtown amenity.

The council's approval of a redevelopment concept for the four-block blufftop tract from Union to Adams - using private funds for public improvements - came after four hours of debate.
No, not so much. From the Commercial Appeal's own reporter Blake Fontenay comes this earlier story:
After Brown allowed 20 minutes for the RDC to introduce the plan he gave 20 minutes to opponents, then another 20 minutes to supporters.
My math says that adds up to one hour, not four. The other three hours was the time spent by the audience waiting to get to that short travesty of "discussion." But, the "four hours" meme is out there now and will become the story, just like "rock throwing horn honkers" did in the Income Tax Wars. Repetition will trump honesty once again.

That first paragraph irks me. It's the kind of talk you hear from people eager to pretend that their foot in the door is a welcomed opportunity, not a false pretense. Who says "most viable?" Note, too, the "attractive community amenity" propaganda that falsely portrays what is proposed. Also note that they skew the reality of giving public lands to private developers to convert to personal profits along with various tax abatements as "using private funds for public improvements." It still hasn't been clearly explained how that's going to work. We just have to trust our wise and fair leaders, I guess.
The vote was a recognition of the reality that private investment is probably the only practical way to revitalize that stretch of the waterfront.
Says who? Did I miss that Commission? There are several very good plans, with very low costs involved and no private investment needed, that are languishing because the choice has already been made. The RDC seems to have always had the private developer plan as the default. Others have proposed a variety of low-impact alternatives that get some media notice, but somehow never seem to get discussed by the RDC or the City Council. Only the RDC plan is getting play.
Now cluttered with buildings that block access to river views, the 12-acre promenade, if the Riverfront Development Corp. plan continues to advance, could be cleared for the most part to make way for broad sidewalks, walkways to the river and new buildings with the kinds of ground-floor businesses that would draw people to the riverfront for shopping, dining and socializing.
A complex deception going on here. That "clutter" is the result of decades of malfeasance by previous Mayors and City Councils who have abrogated their duty to protect this plot in the names of necessity and expediency. And the RDC plan will turn over forty percent of the ground to building, leaving a single small park plot and some north-south corridors. You can see it here, at the Friends For Our Riverfront site, a must-read for folks who wish to be truly informed in this discussion.

A few wide walks will connect Front Street to the Riverwalk in the RDC plan, but the rest will be in shopping mall pass-throughs inside the buildings to be hunkered down on the site. Private property, privately controlled. Do not be deceived. The only good thing in this plan is the amount of commercial space and its placement in regards to the River. Move this idea a few blocks North or South, off the Promenade, and I'd be there. But the Promenade itself should be sacred space and inviolate.
The council's decision is hardly the last word on the fate of the promenade. City government has an easement to use the property for the public's benefit, but the situation is complicated: It is owned by heirs of the city's founders, a large and diverse group with widely varied opinions on the matter.
Once again, the paper finesses ugly realities with elisions and omissions. They completely fail to mention the very clear wishes of Memphis' Founders:
The undersigned properties of the land on which the town of Memphis has been laid off, having been informed that doubts have arisen in relation to their original intention concerning the same, for the purpose of removing such doubts, do hereby make known and declare the following as their original and unequivocal designs and intentions in relation thereto:


Second. In relation to the ground laid off in said town as public squares, viz: Court, Exchange, Market and Auction Squares, it was the intention of the proprietors that they should forever remain as public grounds, not subject to private appropriation, but public uses only, according to the import of the above expressions, Court, Exchange, Market and Auction Squares.

Third. In relation to the piece of ground laid off and caled 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 caled the "Promenade," for the purpose above mentioned. But nothing herein contained as to the Promenade shall bar the town from authorising one or more ferries to be kept by the proprietors, their heirs or assigns, opposite said Promenade and the mouth of any of the cross-streets on Mississippi Row.
Seems pretty clear to me: The Founders recognised that some folks wanted to develop the Promenade, to put it to private use. Even then, there was pressure to abuse the land. They clearly said, "No." and set the land aside permanently for public use only. They passed the land to multiple heirs specifically to make it difficult for future generations to reach agreement and sell out their original vision. What's unclear about this?

What the RDC proposes and the Commercial Appeal dishonestly promotes is a plan to turn over large parts of the land to private developers, who will build skyscrapers. Both the RDC and the CA would like you to believe that some language in a contract or some "regulation" will keep the encroachments minimal. But given the past history of the Promanade land, and the present history of the City Council and Mayor, and the present history of the various Zoning Boards and Commissions who have already shown that they will bend and break the very protections they are charged with enforcing, given that the language of the original Covenant, which could not be clearer is already being ignored and turned inside out, why should we believe these lying clowns? The brazenness of their audacity really is stunning. Their opinion of your stupidity couldn't be clearer.
Beyond the legal challenge lies the selling job. Investors must be persuaded to put millions of dollars into building projects that will have to conform to the objectives of the RDC plan, with restrictions on such factors as building heights, appearance and usage.
Again, who are they trying to kid? You know that developers are already waiting in line for their chance to profit handsomely. There's no "persuasion" needed here: this land will be highly profitable from the get-go. As for "conforming" to "objectives" and "restrictions," see above. Once the plan is set into motion, any developers will be given maximum leeway to vary as they wish. The paper will warn us not to jinx the deal with petty quibbling about minor issues. They will cave and all this talk of protection will be shown to be just another lie told to get the cows through the barn door.
As soon as City Council minutes are approved, the RDC will attempt to start talks with the heirs of the Memphis founders who set aside the area for public use, hopefully persuading skeptical members of the group that commercial investment is the most viable option for restoring the promenade to its intended use.
Again, breath-taking dishonesty and abuse of language, nearly Orwellian in its ability to house completely contradictory views. Commercial investment is the exact opposite of what the Founders intended. "Restoration" would involve scraping off all the crap previous governments have allowed.
As difficult as those tasks may be, at least the area now has a chance to recover from decades of neglect. The promenade could become the cornerstone of a world-class riverfront in which future generations of Memphians can take pride.
Not "neglect," but active and conscious abuse. And whenever you hear some civic leader types saying "world class" you should run screaming. It means public funds given to private developers for a pig in a poke the City and County will pick up the tab for later, while the developers profit handsomely and laugh all the way to the bank. Remember Sid Schlenker and the Pyramid?
Unfortunately, City Council's decision to launch the promenade redevelopment plan was marred by Chairman Joe Brown's unnecessary delay of a public hearing on the issue.

More than 200 people showed up for a 3:30 p.m. public hearing, only to be forced to wait for more than three hours while the council ambled through its agenda. And then opponents of the redevelopment plan were given only 20 minutes to make their case.
Free advice from the paper to Joe Brown on how to make this thing sail through with minimal fuss, with no unnecessary spur to the opponents. How nice! Notice, too, how this contradicts what they said above about "four hours" of debate?
The plan had sparked a lively and healthy debate over the proper method of restoring a vision for the promenade that had been established by the city's founders in 1828 when the land was dedicated for public use.
That whole "lively and healthy debate" means the discussion is now over. And again, notice how the "dedicated for public use" directly contradicts what they said just a couple of paragraphs previous "that commercial investment is the most viable option?" Simply breath-taking.
Forcing people to wait for hours to state their positions on controversial issues is an unfortunate tactic used occasionally by City Council chairmen in what the public perceives as an effort to wear down opponents of proposals favored by council majorities.
Note the "what the public perceives" bit. As though it's not a reality, but merely a "perception." The gall of these condescending people. It's used because it works. So does changing meeting dates and agendas at the last minute, which are other tactics the City Council has used. You'll observe that these tactics only seem to be used in situations that benefit a few at the expense of the community or its declared wishes. You never see private developers treated this way, do you? Has this ever been done to stop something that the majority of the community wants stopped?
Instead of discouraging people from participating in the process, the council should use every opportunity to show that the public's views are being taken seriously.
Part of the problem is that the part of the process where the public can have the most influence tends to be at obscure meetings by the various Corporations and Commissions the City has inflicted on Memphis. You have to look for these meetings, show up properly in the correct format to present your ideas which must already be developed enough to get the attention of those who will already have a plan in mind. By the time these things get to the City Council, it's all over but the trigger pull. Everything's already been agreed to and lined up. I guarantee you that the folks who will develop this land and profit from it are already known and have already had preliminary talks with banks to get the money in line. By this point, the public's only option becomes court intervention.
This matter was handled in a way that reinforced the notion that the promenade plan was being shoved down the throats of an unwilling and skeptical public. Not a very good way to win people over to your point of view.
Yeah, we opponents have a "notion." Not a serious and well-considered objection based on several clearly-defined and backed-up arguments. With alternative plans well worthy of serious consideration. Just a "notion."

Once again, the paper is lining up before the money guys, acting as house propaganda organ and protest deflector. The Commercial Appeal really is shoving this down our throats. It's all over but the signatures and we should just listen to our betters, sit down, shut up and let them do their jobs. We'll just muck it up and cost them more money.

Go to the Friends For Our Riverfront site, or read about the previous 1987 Center City Development Plan (PDF Document; page three), which was a low impact design with much to recommend it. Get educated and be ready.

It's looking like we may have another Overton Park / I-40 situation on our hands. Gather your arms and gird yourself.
You See? I Told You

This week's Memphis Flyer has a bit from Jackson Baker informing us that Memphis' newest City Councillor, Carol Chumney, has been in Nashville feeling out her former colleagues (She served thirteen years in the State House of Representatives. Did you know that?) for support in a run for Memphis City Mayor! See? I told you.

Her place in the District Five slot hasn't been about securing the needs of Midtown, but about positioning Carol for her coming run. We're serving her needs. Good job, all you dipsticks who voted for her. In order to polish her city-wide image and create an image that will suit her for a mayoral run, she's antagonised her peers on the Council, resulting in her having a harder row to hoe in getting money and projects for her District.

Baker also notes in the bit that Carol Coletta is considering a run. I dread that one. She's a downtown-centric person, not a Memphian. She's also part of that Richard Florida "creative class" fad, which is just gentrification and urban renewal with new buzzwords and a gay-friendly patina. I can just see her in office with County Mayor AC "Smart Growth" Wharton. That spells doom for nearly everyone outside the Parkways. In fact, her firm does a whole lot of business with the City and County in just this kind of stuff. Fear her.

Which reminds me: Last Fall, the Commercial Appeal ran a column that extolled life downtown in the South Main area. It was full of excitement at all the usual tourist traps and the same old places, walking the golden streets, breathing the invigorating air, etc. It was, basically, pro-downtown propaganda of the basest sort. It was written by Carol Coletta, whom the paper only identified as a "downtown resident." No mention made of her business ties to the business of downtown promotion; no mention of her personal activism to make the downtown the hub of the City. No, none of that.

Can't confuse the readers....

I am very pro-historic preservation. But, I don't get opposition to this request (third bullet item) to the Land Use Control Board, and I live right by it!

Seems that the alley right behind my apartments is slated to be covered over by new, replacement, construction on Union Avenue, between Barksdale and Avalon. The Land Use Control Board has approved it, but some attorney and "several neighbors" are opposing on the grounds that:
Several area residents objected to changing the alley. "This alley has been there for 112 years," said attorney Skip Parnell. "They are destroying the residential aspect of this neighborhood."
Have they actually been there? Lived next to it? NOt even drivers looking for a short-cut to Union use it. There is no "residential aspect" to the alley. None at all.

Turn in from Avalon to the parking lot behind Midtown Video. Look straight ahead. That's "Monroe Alley." There is no sign to mark it in any way. All along the north side are fences that block access to Monroe itself with only one exception. That's a currently vacant lot that was filled in by Loeb Properties with a lot of dirt trucked in from somewhere else (isn't that illegal?) when they built a spec house on a lot in the middle of the block. You can't cross the lot to get to the alley now.

The south side of the alley is all businesses. Only the tanning studio next to Midtown Video and the Antique Mall make use of their back entrances. Everything else is closed off. All you see back there is bums and winos looking for a place to crash and drug. One winter morning on my way to work, I smelled a fire. Checking it out, I saw a few street people under part of the back roof near the Antique Mall with a large fire going to keep themselves warm. I left them alone, then called the police later. That's what goes on back there.

Most of the stores along that strip are pretty old and decrepit. Only a few are modern, or even well-maintained. Loeb proposes to raze the whole eastern end and rebuild farther back on the lot. In this case, I say OK! We aren't going to lose anything of value or use here. My only concern is the pedestrian sidewalk space along Union which, like almost all the rest of this part of the street, will not be clear. I can't count the number of times I've had dipshits almost run me over on Union while I was walking along.

Anyway, simply saving something solely because it's old, regardless of utility or value or historical meaning is mindless. "Monroe Alley" isn't used, is a danger, and its historical value has never been exploited or promoted. Let's move on.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Idle Speculation

There are two tweaks I've always thought would be good moves for the Federal governement.

First would be revoking the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of Senators. It was a bad idea promulgated by those who felt that the "people" should have more control in their government. That's not the purpose of the Senate, though. It was always intended to be the deliberative body of the Congress, slowing down and sometimes checking the hot impulses of the people-controlled House.

It was also intended to be the voice of the States in the Federal government, from a time when the idea of the Federal government being a collection of State governments still held sway. The House was apportioned by population, which gave great power to large and populous States, something smaller States feared. The Senate's construction was a compromise, intended to address those fears by giving equal weight to all States.

Revoking the 17th Amendment would stop the silliness of Senators being another "voice of the people" and restore weight to the long-neglected voice of the States. With issues like water and electricity, multi-State pollution, and cross-State population centers (ie. Memphis), we need to see the needs of States as bodies themselves returned to the public discussion. There's been a strong trend since the Civil War to deprecate the States to the Federal government and this would redress that imbalance to an important degree.

What we've seen in the Senate since 1913 was the rise of a permanent class of Senators. Quite a few have managed to survive in their careers despite their State's changing political affiliations, or even their own! We've seen incumbencies of almost ridiculour lengths, with "incumbent advantage" of almost insurmountable height. Since State legislatures, which would be the primary selector for most Senators if the 17th Amendment were removed, change their make-ups often enough to ensure some change in Senators, this is an outcome to be desired. Also, since the Constitution doesn't specify how States choose their Senators (only that they provide two), those States that desire direct election to continue can do that.

Of course, having said this I have to note that Tennessee would not have the two Republican Senators we now have if we went with State Legislative selection. The Naifeh/Wilder power stranglehold and the slim Democratic majorities in our Assembly would have assure two Democratics would be representing Tennessee right now. But on the other hand, I would think that with such a powerful tool in play, the Assembly's Republicans might have shown some backbone and asserted themselves more than they have.

The other change I would like to see is the expansion of the House of Representatives. It is presently "locked" at 435 total members, who represent roughly 625,000 people each. When the Constitution was first put into use, Representatives' population per district was about 50,000. I would like to see modern Representative districts comprised of about 250,00 to 300,000 people. That would balloon the House to about 1000 members!

Some of you are either rolling your eyes at this or are horrified that anyone of a libertarian streak would suggest more government. I say that this would serve to improve representation, diversify the House' demographics, and make corruption from lobbyists more difficult to achieve.

Let's look at Memphis, or more precisely Shelby County, which is divided and spread out among the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Districts. We have Representatives Marsha Blackburn in the Seventh District, Bart Tanner in the Eighth District, and Harold Ford in the Ninth. Two Democrats and a Republican. But look at a map of the districts! See how tiny and cramped the 9th is, compared to the sprawling and huge other two. The 7th and 8th are multi-county monstrosities. The fact that Blackburn represents Tennesseans from East Shelby County to Lower Nashville was a bone of contention in more than a few political circles.

Let's reimagine things. If we use 300,000 as our base, then for Shelby County alone, we would get three Representatives! That could create a western, Memphis-centered Democratic district, a Republican southeastern one, and a likely Democratic-moving-to-Republican northern district. Doesn't that sound a lot more like Shelby County than just Harold Ford alone?

Look at the rest of the State. West Tennessee gets a Dyersburg-centered distict and a Milan-McKenzie district. The city of Jackson, Madison County and surrounding counties become a district. Nashville gets two districts, and its southern suburbs become one as well. I'm not so familiar with the Eastern Grand Division, but I'm sure that some Knoxvegas Rocky Top bloggers can pick up the slack there.

Overall, Tennessee goes from nine districts to nineteen! How can this be bad?

Nationally, The House goes from 435 to 1000. Yes, that's a monstrously large body, but don't forget that we now have a massive communications and information infrastructure to support that, one not available to previous generations. Representatives are not only closer to a more intimate District, but in a newly built House (now there's an architectural design contest!) would be more in touch with each other.

Lobbyists lose some clout, as they now have many, many more people to talk to and persuade. That's all to the good.

Representatives presently serve on a large number of committees that deal with a lot of different issues. Many committees do valuable work, but must force Representatives to serve on them as there is a shortage of bodies and interest to go around. It's most often a case of putting bodies into seats, rather than a case of having opportunity to choose. Representatives could focus on whatever is their own personal specialty, or whatever main interest will most affect their Districts. More, narrowly focused committees will spring up, and you'll likely see Representatives doing more of their own work as their personal workload decreases instead of farming it out to staffers as is now the case.

One last potential advantage is that smaller districts open up the possibility for third parties to get into the picture. It's much easier to coordinate and canvass a small district, to get the message out and to persuade voters. The electoral threshold is a lot smaller.

The biggest gain is for representation. Representatives would be much closer to the Districts they serve. The likelihood of personally meeting them, even of getting a one-on-one meeting with your Congressman, goes up. Issues of importance to these smaller districts don't get swallowed up in the broader rhetorical issues of sprawling Districts. The House becomes a more responsive, more representative body.

I truly believe that these two actions, small in the doing and vast in the effects they would have, would go a long way to helping to improve our government.