Saturday, August 14, 2004

Firefox Evangelism

Many thanks to Jemima Pereira for pointing me to Switch 2 Firefox, a website about why you should switch from Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to the Firefox free browser.

IE is just a gigantic target painted on your computer. It leaves all kinds of doors and windows open to whatever criminal happens to wander past. Some of its "features" are actually dangerous to you. It doesn't even do a good job of showing you the websites you're looking at.

Firefox is a better way. Trust me, once you try tabbed browsing, automatic pop-up ad blocking, built-in cookie control (all initially set high to protect you; you can lower those settings later if you want) and the 100 other neat features of Firefox, you'll never, ever want to go back. Very few security problems happen with Firefox, unlike IE, and those problems get fixed very, very quickly. No denials of problems while your computer gets hammered, either. And there is a large and friendly community of people who will help you with your problems.

Plus, Firefox is endlessly customisable. You can hide or eliminate all kinds of features you don't want or use. You can even peruse an enormous list of add-on tools that you select and download to your browser easy as pie. All this flexibility means your browser fits you like a glove and works only the way you want it to.

Not everyone agrees, but the vast majority of folks I know who have made the switch have been happily surprised. It helps if you like to tinker, because the possibilities for play are endless. But if you just want to download and go, then Firefox does that right out of the box.

Download the program, run the set-up, zoom. You're going. Give it a try. You can have it on a computer alongside IE, but after just a while you'll find you don't need IE anymore, nor much want it. You'll be happier and your computer will be safer. It's a win-win.
A Successful Blog

Via Rodent Regatta, No Silence Here and Jemima, comes this post from D. Keith Robinson with some thoughts on what makes a successful blog.

It's all good, common sense advice, though there is some room for discussion, as the comment thread shows. The only ones of his list of suggestions I fall down on are with consistency and frequency of posting. Regular readers have learned that sometimes I just go away for a while. Might be a few days or, like last time, a whole month. It's just depression and failing self-confidence (Why would anyone care what I have to say, much less take it seriously?), but that doesn't matter to you. Folks get used to coming here, but they can also get used to not coming here. It's very hard work to build a readership, but astonishingly easy to lose it, then even more difficult to rebuild it once the author-reader bond is broken.

Still, I think I give good value for money.
Three Thoughts

I had the following three things on my QuickNote pad. They're old now, but let's at least get them out there. Discuss amongst yourselves.

1. With the release of The Passion of the Christ on DVD it's a good time to ask: Where was all the predicted anti-Semitism? The Anti-Defamation League was making all sorts of threats based on their dire predictions of outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence after the movie's release. Doesn't seem to have happened. Where is the ADL to apologise for the hysteria?

2. Some enterprising bureaucrat or lawyer should look into extending consumer safety regulations to encompass the sale of newspapers and magazines. Almost every other product on the market falls under the Consumer Product Safety Commission, why not newspapers? Editors and publishers will claim First Amendment protections, but those were never intended for commercial speech, just individual speech. I'd like to see someone try to make a case that newspapers and magazines, because they are products sold on the market for the purpose of producing a profit, fall into a commercial product definition.

Remember, the primary purpose of modern newspapers is to sell eyeballs to advertisers. Paper stories are partly tailored to attract a certain segment of the community. Newspapers set their ad rates based on how many and what quality of eyeballs are looking at their pages. Higher circulation figures and high-spending readers mean big profits. That's the newspaper game.

So, why not hold newspapers accountable for the damages they cause to businesses and individuals? Allow lawsuits and recovery for faulty reporting that causes harm, to enforce accountability? Sort of like libel laws, but with wider scope and reach.

After all, what business is allowed to police itself? Why should newspapers (not individual or non-profit speech) be insulated from the courts?

It's just a thought.

3. Speaking of newspapers, what other business can get away with saying that numerous and sustained complaints about their product are a sign of the product being good? If Ford got an unending series of complaints on the Focus could they plausibly argue it's a sign of a good car? If Focus sales declined year after year, while other classes of cars, trucks and SUVs saw climbing sales, would they be allowed to say that drivers simply had more driving options available to them, as an explanation?

If people complained that, say, the cars sold to them as green were really another color, or that the automatic transmissions they were sold were more like manuals, or that the CD players never played music quite right, could the manufacturer simply dismiss those claims by stating that their production lines were just fine and the problem was with drivers' perceptions?

Could they defend the widespread disrepute of their product as a reason to merely do their job better? Would that company be allowed to police itself and take ownership of the process of correcting the problems?

So why do we accept this kind of talk from newspapers?

Again, just an idea, some lateral thinking to up-end the usual assumptions and ways of looking at things.

Have fun!
Another View of the County Pension Mess

Very behind-the-scenes column from Jackson Baker in the current Memphis Flyer about the Jones / Thorp / Lanier mess. unfortunately, Baker repeatedly makes "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" remarks like these:
Mayor A C Wharton gave a convincing representation on Wednesday of a man shocked, shocked at the perfidy of two trusted aides who, he indicated, had connived to shuffle papers and trim corners....

Well, A C certainly looked convincing in his profession of shock Wednesday and seemed for all the world to be close to tears.
In all honesty, I hate these kinds of teasing hints. If he knows something, say it! If he suspects something, say that. But to play these "There's stuff I know, but I can't tell you, sorry." games is just insulting to average Memphians. Time and again, I encounter folks downtown, in television or print news, or in radio who say that this or that breaking story has been circulating for months, or that there are stories they've been hearing but "can't" report. We need to change that.

Not to pick on Jackson specifically, but as good a summation and inside-view as his short column is, it also reeks of the cozy collegiality that exists between many of the news reporters and editors in this town and the officials they are tasked with covering. I despise that. It may be commonplace; it may be the way it's always been. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight it. It's why this blog got started -- to share with you what the well-connected already know. It's what the blogger at Memphis Media does and I welcome his posts. Peggy Phillip does something similar, if more circumspectly, at her blog.

I've often said here that the Flyer's John Branston seems to know a whole lot more than he ever reports. The same goes for Jackson Baker. They should do their duty to Memphians and Shelby Countians and share it with us.

How can voters make informed decisions when information that is vital to understanding our government and the people who run it is held back from us, or worse, shielded deliberately?

It's time to begin afflicting the comfortable, guys. Long past time.
Damn Those Kids

Man, you work so hard to make downtown a swell place. Real world class, ya know? Lots of stuff to do, plenty of places to spend money. And then all those damn kids come in and just spoil it for the rest of us! What are ya gonna do?

After laboring hard, shilling for the greedheads of the downtown cabal, the Commercial Appeal is still beating the drum of "no cruising downtown." The sheer wrong-headedness in this editorial can only be explained by the willingness of the daily paper to propagandise for the developers and property owners who stand to get wealthy from turning the downtown into a clean, shiny, tourist-based shopping district, an island of carefully policed wealth amidst the general decay that is the rest of inside-the-loop Memphis.

The City has been working hard to pack every kind of tourist and sports destination into the downtown, Beale Street and South Main area. It doesn't matter that there's insufficient parking. It doesn't matter that the streets can't handle the traffic load. It doesn't matter that events downtown are scheduled willy-nilly, unnecessarily piling one event's traffic on top of another's. A parking situation that is deliberately kept in artificial shortage is also to blame.

What matters is that young people -- overwhelmingly black and lower income -- are flocking downtown to hang out and be seen. They don't have much money to spend beyond clothes and cars, but they want to be where the action is. Where the party is, where the people are. They gum up the works for the businessmen into extracting cash from adult partiers and tourists. They are bad cholesterol in the downtown's narrow arteries.

They chase away the paying customers.

Then you also have the hoity-toities who want to live in their lofts and towers, just like the really cool people in Manhattan do, but without all the noise and the smells and the bums and the other unpleasant things. You know: the reminders of everyday life for most of Memphis.

Manhattan on the Mississippi isn't like the Park Slope and Upper West Side of some elites' dreams. It's still a bit too much Hell's Kitchen for their sensitive tastes. Something's gotta be done about all the riff-raff screwing it up for them. I imagine there's more than a few who would be delighted if they could turn downtown into a gated community where only the well-to-do and the aesthetically pleasing are allowed to enter.

If the downtown were all private property, I wouldn't mind. But it's not, it's lot of private property being subsidised and defended by my tax money through a series of well-connected "public-private partnerships" designed to repulse assaults on The Dream.

It's not right that much of mid-City and Midtown Memphis must suffer from various kinds of neglect -- some benign and some intentional. Why does the paper of a city of nearly 700,000 people most worry about the well-being and comfort of a mere 10,000? It's shameful that the paper that claims it wants to "tell the stories" of the people of Memphis instead uses its privilege and platform to craft a fictional tale that serves the interests of a wealthy and elite few.

It is a shame, but then it's also business as usual around here. Emphasis on business. Remember, despite all the high-minded talk that comes out of the Commercial Appeal's editorial offices, it too is in the business of making money. Low-income black kids hanging out with their friends don't profit the paper or their allies and customers in the business community. Don't forget that.
Michael Moore Disapproves

Michael Moore disapproves of the next Director of the CIA. Why is this news? Do I care what Bono thinks of Porter Goss' appointment? Or Bruce Springsteen? Barbara Streisand? So why is CNN reporting it?

I don't begrudge any of these folks their opinions. Nor would I want them suppressed. But why is it news? Why does an internationally respected news organisation headline the opinion of an entertainer about American intelligence issues? Does he have some special insight or information that dozens of credentialed and experienced professional intelligence-policy analysts don't? Why not give us a collection of their opinions, instead of highlighting Moore's? Wouldn't that be a more substantive contribution to the national discussion?

Do we now need to consult Steven Spielberg on international trade equalisation? Can Alec Baldwin help us with improving education in American schools? Will illegal immigration problems disappear with Janeane Garofalo's guidance?

Exactly. Either CNN is growing more and more shallow, or they are growing desperate to sway American politics. Either way, it's bad news.
Weather, Cats and Grammar

The weather in Memphis this summer has been spectacular. We've only had a relative handful of days with temps in the 90s, when the norm recently is to have most of the summer there or in the 100s. Temps have been running consistently 10 to 20 degrees below normal. This week an Arctic front blew through and highs haven't gotten out of the 70s! Overnight lows are comfortably in the 50s. I haven't had the air conditioning on in three days.

The only problems is mosquitos. If I leave the windows open into dark, they find their way in and start to feast. Worst is overnight. I'll wake up with bits all over my hands and shoulder and feet. But it's a small price to pay for the gloriousness that is Summer 2004.

There's also a beautiful scent in the air. It's like a pine-spiced version of dry, cut grass, the old late summer staple. Whatever the source, it's relaxing and welcome.

My cat Bennie is loving it, too. She'll normally sleep the afternoon away in her hidey hole under the kitchen cabinet. Around dinner time, she'll appear and check things out, then nap some more until sunset. With the bedroom window fan running, she's been napping on the bedspread, under the breeze and with the afternoon sun warming her up. She's in heaven.

The first night after the front blew through, she was as energised as I've seen her. She was exploring everything like it was new. Tail up, zipping this way and that around the apartment. Running inside and outside and back again. She'd slow down a moment to recharge her battery, then ZING! she was off again. She was like a kitten again. That's my girl.

Now to grammar. Let's discuss the proper spelling of "y'all." That's the proper spelling, OK? It is not ya'll. Why, you ask? Because y'all is a contraction of "you all." Listen to a Southerner speak and you'll hear the elided "oo" sound, almost.

Why the confusion? Maybe it's from Northerners picking up the phrase. Up North, and especially around New York City, the word "you" is often pronounced "ya." As in "Whaddaya lookin' at?" or "Ged oudda here, ya mug." So it would be natural to assume it's the "all" being elided since they shorten and change the end of "you."

At least that's my theory and I'm stickin' with it. Y'all just keep it straight, OK?

But my biggest grammar peeve is the usage of "to try and." There is no "to try and!" As Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no try." You cannot try and mail a letter. If you try and succeed, you have mailed the letter!

The correct expression is "to try to." I'm going to try to mail the letter. I might fail; I might succeed. I won't know until I try.

Don't ever let me catch y'all sayin' "I'll try and do that." again, OK?

Lastly, just a little word to folks from outside the South who wonder what "fixin'" means. It's not a home repair term. "I'm fixin' to go to the store." means you are about to go to the store, not right away but real soon. Could be a few minutes from now, but might be a bit later if something important comes up. It's as much about intent and plans as it is about motion.

And you don't pronounce it "fixing." OK? It's "fixin'" or fick-sin. Or if you're rural and black, it's closer to fissin. In fact, the word "to" is often folded in with "fixin'" to get something like fick-sin-na. I'm fick-sin-na godatha stoar.

And in some parts of the Deep South, "store" is a two-syllable word: "stow-urr."

Alright, class dismissed.
Prescient Sitcom

Last night, I happened to catch an episode of a syndicated Nineties sitcom, Dharma and Greg. (See ABC website here.) I know, I know, shame on me, but it was 2:30 in the morning and what else is there to watch without cable? Even MTV2 was re-running some crappy Jackass knock-off, instead of videos.

Anyway, this episode (number 8) was so spookily relevant to this campaign season, it was impressive enough to merit this post.

The show is built around the opposites-attract romance between Greg and Dharma. Greg is the conservative, straight-arrow, fraternity-row son of wealthy, doting parents always worried about money and appearances. Dharma is the free-spirit, New Age-y, shame-free daughter of Sixties hippies who are still keepin' the faith in the Nineties, fighting The Man and living in harmony. On a chance date they fall in love and impulsively get married. The comedy derives mostly from the friction between the uptight Greg (and his upper-crust parents) and anything-goes Dharma (and her flower-power parents). The show is set in California, which serves to facilitate set-ups and collisions.

True to television sitcom form, it is mostly stuffy, embarrassed, stick-in-the-mud Greg who is the one who must change, loosen up, for Dharma. But to be fair, everyone and their beliefs are the butt of jokes at some point or another. Greg turns out to have a goofy side; Dharma later reveals a darker side.

(Digression: This show has one of the most brilliant opening credits ever. Over a soundtrack of a harp-like guitar filigree that sounds vaguely carnival-esque, on a set that is only colored backdrop, we see preppy Greg standing reading his newspaper with a serious expression on his face. Cut to happy Dharma, seated in a lotus position, blowing soap bubbles that float past Greg. They catch his attention. Next we see Dharma and Greg embracing tightly and spinning around happily before the camera. End.

It's only fifteen seconds or so long, and yet it perfectly captures the essence of the show. Admittedly, it's a pretty simple premise to begin with, but still. It's a model of brevity and distillation, a jewel of its type.)

In this episode, Greg (a Federal District Attorney and prosecutor) is approached by a friend of his father's to run for the local Congressional district seat. He accepts, but has to "clean up" Dharma to pass muster with voters.

At his political coming-out he and a Chanel-suited Dharma impulsively slip away for quickie sex. When Greg appears before the cameras, he doesn't realise his fly is still down and his shirt-tail is sticking out. Naturally, his speech is full of accidental double entendres and the cameras are snapping away. Greg believes his campaign has been killed before it could even start.

Of course, word of his slip-up fills the papers and news. But! The public is surprisingly pleased with a man who -- refreshingly -- has sex with his own wife!

Shades of Jack Ryan, former Illinois candidate for the Senate, and his embarrassment over allegations that he tried to convince his own wife to have public sex! That's right, a married man who wanted to have sex with his own wife was found so shameful that he had to drop out of a Senate campaign.

So, Greg resumes his campaign with Dharma at his side. He goes on talk radio, where a caller wonders how Dharma keeps her husband interested.

A few nights later, Greg's opponent Washburn appears at a news conference. This sixty-something man, the typical fat and white-haired pol, with his traditional wife at his side along with a handsome young aide, announces that after thirty years he's decided to come out. He's gay!

Shades of Jack McGreevey, the corruption scandal-plagued Democratic governor of New Jersey, who had to resign steps ahead of a sexual harrassment lawsuit by his younger male lover. McGreevey, wife also at his side, turned the press conference into a defiant stand. "I am a gay American," he proclaimed. The news was filled with a story of his brave coming out, not his corrupt administration's unravelling.

Back to the show. Greg doesn't know what to make of Washburn's announcement. Dharma sweetly notes that Greg's campaign is over. Newly bisexual Washburn trumps monogamous Greg. After all, it's San Francisco!

This episode was made nearly eight years ago. (There's even a Clinton joke.) But it seems to have predicted two of the major sideshows of this campaign season. Amazing.

And now, at last to bed.
Journalism, Patriotism, Containers

Jay Rosen over at PressThink has a very probing and open-ended question he's seeking answers to. He wonders why 9/11 hasn't been the worldview-altering event to journalism that it has been on the personal level to so many Americans. He notes that pre- and post-9/11 journalism are the same. He has examples to suggest that the sameness is willful even. It worries him and he's seeking understanding:
When you actually make the effort, and start the story over, you never end up in exactly the same place. Everyone knows we're in a new situation as a nation, and in some ways radically new across the world. Though everyone knows, we can't forget it, which is another way of saying we have to try daily to imagine it, though normal life resumes, and practices its newsy deceptions.

What do you recall? I recall how much that was adequate in my own understanding on September 10th, I found useless by the morning of the 12th; and people who say things like, "everything changed on nine eleven" are not so much September 11th people as they are struck by a strangeness recalled from the morning of the 12th. I am one of them. We think there was a rupture.

Like the larger claim from which it derives,
everything changed for American journalists on September 11th is not really open to proof or refutation. I believe it's true, and I think the failure to reckon with it is preventing what might be historic progress in professional self-definition for the people who bring Americans their news, and who try to capture in their accounts our life and times.
It's a deceptively open-ended question and I look forward to the discussion.

Already there is a comment posted by Tim that expansively relates the famous round-table discussion from the Eighties where Mike Wallace said he would let American soldiers die because his duty as a journalist required him to remain objective. The furiously acidic response from an American colonel isn't usually told with Wallace's comment, but it's a must read.

Jay's elaboration of his question helped to shake loose and concretise some nebulosities that have been floating around in my head for quite a while. I don't claim to originality or profundity, nor is the analogy perfect. That's the point of analogy. It's not a point-for-point correlation but a way of conceptualising relationships. I knocked this out in about half an hour: write quickly, edit lightly, post. I'm posting it here (slightly edited and expanded) as well so it doesn't get lost in the sea of comments over at PressThink.

Thanks Jay.

=== === === === ===

I'm not sure this is an answer to your question, Jay, but when you speak of journalists' view of America and how they view their connection to America, the thing that popped into my mind was containers.

I suspect "America" for many journalists is a giant container with a lot of smaller, sometimes overlapping, occasionally quarelling, containers inside. In order to cover events and discussions, they must place themselves outside that "America" container, in order to view things impartially and dispassionately. Being inside the container limits the distance needed. Being outside the container allows freedom of distance and view.

Most folks assumed that 9/11 dissolved (obliterated?) the many small containers into fewer, larger ones. Or that many formerly unaligned or opposed containers would find a contiguous surface in a response to the attacks and their perpetrators. Most Americans assumed that smaller differences would be subordinated to the larger interest of defending America and punishing its enemies.

But the press would have to resist that, in order to maintain their freedom of distance and movement and point of view. To move inside the container would be to constrain themselves in their duty. That duty isn't connected to the "America" container but to their freedom of distance and point of view. The pressure to unite had the equal and opposite reaction in journalists of resistance and separation.

Then there is the parallel matter of Election 2000, which created an enormous rift in American society. A new, large and very distinct container came into being thanks to the Florida recount and the Florida and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In a manner of speaking, two parallel Americas came into being -- one where Bush won and one where Bush stole Gore's victory. One America views Bush as the rightful President and another views Bush as illegitimate.

In the second America, the illegitimate President dishonestly brought America into an illegal war for immoral purposes. All actions flowing from the initial wrong are themselves tainted and wrong. For this group, the election this year is an effort to bring these two Americas back together at the point of rupture and erase the events of the past four years.

Reporters, meanwhile, remain outside these containers, but still report on the whole as though there is no rupture. As though the two are one.

This model would explain to some degree the way journalism presents foreign news and stories. Since journalists are outside the "America" container, outside all containers save their own, they do not view these events with the view of Americans. Instead, they see things as a comparison of containers. Therefore, America is co-equal, equivalent, to anything it is compared to. Or in another sense, since America is part of the world and journalists are outside of the "world" container, it may also explain to some degree the way they view the "America" container, in addition to the internationalist politics of modern Democratic liberalism.

I guess this is where my model breaks down, as you can legitimately say that journalists likely view themselves as another container. The unanimity of politics and point of view among the national, and much of the local, press is a direct refutation of the "outside the container" model, since it would imply a lot of diversity in every sense.

I could argue that a container inside the "America" container -- the liberalised educational system, journalism schools, and media watchdogs -- somehow gained a monopoly on control of access to "outsider" status. They were a container working inside "America" with the intent of radically redefining it. One would expect a free and open press to be a diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting.

Of course, this is an ideal. Reporters are human and even the best training and discipline will slip over time. Especially when the trainers and monitors alone can police themselves, resistant to outside intervention. Solipsism and self-referentiality set in; ossification, too.

Somewhere between the Forties and the Seventies, a conservative press sympathetic to those in power and willing to accept censorship for the sake of the national good (inside the "America" container) became an oppositional, liberal press divorced from an "America" container that many viewed with disdain. That arm's-length distance, that freedom of movement and distance, worked because the wars and enemies were "out there" somewhere.

Even as modern terrorism moved closer and closer, the distance remained. I think many to most Americans expected that the press might collapse back to a Forties-style, pro-America, compliant model. It hasn't and the problems with that outsider viewpoint are becoming clearer every day. It's a component of the success of Fox News, in my opinion. I also think it's part of what drove the earlier success of talk radio -- a desire to hear from a press that considers itself American.

The blogosphere managed to break the control of the j-schools and media monitors, opening the flow of information. We are beginning to see that diverse, contradictory and vigorous universe of reporting thanks to it. Truly, America's new newsroom (the blogosphere) is displaying the diversity we've been promised. We are also seeing a lot more reporting from inside the "America" container. Many bloggers reject the tenet of modern journalism that reporting must be "objective and neutral," ie. outside the "America" container. Many are more than happy to place their identification with America above their identification with modern journalism and its tenets. The change is, I think, what you are looking for, yes? I suspect the remaking of American journalism in the post-9/11, Internet age won't be a process of assimilation and adaptation -- at least not for a while -- but rather a process of replacement.

Thanks, Jay. I've had this formless idea in my head for a while and the discussion helped to precipitate and crystallise it. Sorry for the length of the post.

=== === === === ===

I am not a journalist, just a voracious reader, an omnivorous consumer of modern media, an observer and a middle-weight thinker. (I've often joked that where most people go to big sporting events to watch the game, I go to watch the spectators.) I think I've hit on one way of looking at Jay's question, though likely not a revelatory one. Posting this essay to Jay's blog is exposing it to some very smart, informed and incisive people. I fully expect to be critiqued, savaged and derided. We'll see how well my analogy survives.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Half-Bakered: 1 Darrell Phillips: Late

Tonight's WMC5 news carried a story by Darrell Phillips on questions about former County Mayor Jim Rout and his contracts and connections with SCB Computer Technology Inc.
Action News Five has learned a company that did millions of dollars in Shelby County contracts during Mayor Jim Rout's administration nominated him to their board of directors weeks before he left office. And we've also discovered an effort to push through a controversial last minute contract for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

During Former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout's administration, a company called SCB Computer Technology, Inc. earned nearly eight million dollars in county contracts, like this $1.5 million contract to help bring County computers to compliance before Y2K.

In fact, there's a long list of deals, sending County dollars to SCB.

Action News 5 has learned that three weeks before he left office, Mayor Rout was nominated to SCB's Board of Directors.
There's just one problem. The Commercial Appeal ran this story two years ago! Of course, it was in an uncritical Business Section news story. Not even the Memphis Flyer asked questions.

What you usually hear when Rout's current life is referred to is his association with Jack Morris Auto Glass, where he's the president of marketing, or some such. His board positions with SCB (now CIBER) and Cumberland Bancorp (now CIVITAS BankGroup) aren't usually mentioned.

Anyway, I was the first person to raise these questions two years ago, on August 15, 2002!
Today's Commercial Appeal has a Business section story about the post-political plans of Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout. It seems he's up for election to the Board of Directors of SCB Computer Technology.

It's a bland story that mentions Rout's salary would be $20,000, plus a bit more. But nowhere in the story do you find anything about SCB's Shelby County connections. And there's the real story.

SCB is a giant firm, with wide and deep roots here in Shelby County. They are players and getting Rout would be a lucrative coup.

Then there's the whole issue of a leading politician going to a huge corporation which has intimate dealings with the local government, which seems like Post-Politics 101 to you and me but is apparently High Latin 650 to politicians and businessmen. Regular goobs like us don't understand how politics works, and how subtle and sopshisticated is the mind of these folks that they can pull off this kind of jump without breaking ethics, rules or laws.

Certainly the highly sophisticated types at the CA aren't bothered by any of this. They didn't even bother to report it!
Also here, on September 15, 2002:
In Friday, September 13th's Commercial Appeal, the paper tries to get us to believe that County Mayor Jim Rout will soon be the main marketer for Jack Morris Auto Glass, nominally called the president. But the story's most important point is brushed past:
Rout is also on the board of directors of SCB
Computer Technology Inc. of Memphis - he was elected this week
- and Cumberland Bancorp Inc., the Nashville-based parent of
BankTennessee, based in Collierville.That is where Rout's real job is going to be. As I covered earlierRout's position at SCB is pretty clearly an ethical bad idea. SCB is deeply involved in County and County Schools business; he'll be selling to his old employees and buddies. Great profits for SCB, though. Same applies for Cumberland Bancorp.

The Jack Morris job is just cover. Watch how the CA refers to him from now on.

Can anyone tell me if Jack Morris is any relation to former County Mayor Bill Morris, of "temporary wheel tax" fame?
Ha! Advantage: Half-Bakered.

I'm glad to see the story finally get some coverage, just sorry it took so long. And hopefully, now that they've found it, they'll stay on it and get some real answers. That's the television news problem: dropping stories when interest wanes or they drag on too long.

Stay with it, Darrell. And call me if you need some help.
Say That Again?

WPTY24 just had a story on their 5PM broadcast (not online) about tinnitus treatment. There's a new treatment where patients are trained to use music to distract them from the ringing and buzzing of tinnitus, thus alleviating the symptoms.

I'm writing about this because I suffer from tinnitus. Ever since I can remember, I've had distinct high-pitched tones in my ears. If you've ever turned on an older television set and heard that high whine from the back of the set, it's a lot like that. It's not loud enough to be painful, nor to block my hearing. In fact, 95% of the time I never even notice it. I've learned to tune it out, so to speak.

But whenever things are very quiet, they become noticeable and bothersome. That's part of the reason I like living in the city. There's always some kind of background noise -- traffic, neighbors, sirens and the other ambient noises of urban living. They serve to mask the sounds in my ears. It's also why I'll often leave the television or radio on in the background, for the soft noise. Whenever I go to the country or sleep in a well-insulated, quiet home (like my mom's old condo), then it will drive me crazy. Too damn quiet!

My tinnitus has never been debilitating. I didn't even realise I had it until well into my teen years. Most folks who know me don't know I suffer, because I'm long past accepting it and learning to live with it.

No real reason for this post, except that the WPTY story reminded me I haven't shared about it here.

Next time: my back pain.
Some Freshwater Thoughts

One link I've forgotten in recent days is this post from Joefish's Freshwater Blog, where he offers some thoughts on City Council Chairman Joe Brown, and links to a story I missed that shows what kind of guy Brown is.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Cool Pic of the Day

Ever wonder what Mars really looks like? Now you know.

(Friday Update: Ummm...this post is notably lacking in context, isn't it? Most color pictures you see from NASA/JPL from Mars have been color-corrected because one of the three cameras used to create color images is shifted farther to the infrared than the human eye. It makes uncorrected images look funny (kinda dark and bluey). However, when NASA types color-correct they operate from the assumption that Mars has a butterscotch sky. Other colors are mixed to match. Clearly, Mars has a blue sky, as numerous Hubble Space Telescope and amateur photos have shown. Only NASA clings to their strange view. That's why rocks and soil in their pictures always look so odd.

The pic I linked to is what Mars would look like if you or I were standing on Mars on a bright, sunny day. True colors. I've seen other pics where you can see clouds in the sky. Thin and high, but clouds! Mars has water. Now, today.

Yes, I'm a science geek.)

Quick. Go read Tom Walter's Commercial Appeal article about Marilyn Loeffel's new radio show on "Family Values Radio," AM990. See if you notice what's wrong. Read the whole thing. I'll wait....

(We built this city... We built this city on roooock and roooooolllllll --) Oh, back already?

What did you see? No, it wasn't all the anti-Christian snarkiness. Inserting those kinds of political opinions into unrelated stories is par for the course at the Commercial Appeal. Heck, you should read Frederic Koeppel's "Book Notes" column on Sundays. Whew!

In a story about a new radio program coming to the air, did you anywhere see where he told you what time it was scheduled? Nor did I. I guess he doesn't want you to know.

Or maybe it's just more snarkiness.
Time For a Trip to the Minors?

I try not to write about Wendi Thomas too much. When I learned the Commercial Appeal's newest columnist was black, I was pretty happy. It marked an effort to include half the City's population in their columnist crew. Sadly, she hasn't lived up to her promise, proving to be predictable, shallow and light-weight.

I try to avoid her now, as she's a fish in a barrel target. But today's column about the Memphis Council for International Visitors (MCIV) is a subject I've been writing about this week and have some investment in and knowledge of. Let's take a look.

First of all, the headline promises something she fails to deliver:
Ball was dropped by all city 'players'
OK, why the quotes around players? Is she invoking black slang? But notice she does say "all."
Politics means never having to say you're sorry.

This week's example is provided by City Council chairman Joe Brown, who issued a half-hearted "my bad" Monday to the Iraqi delegation he barred from City Hall last week.

Brown says he's sorry if his actions were misconstrued. Not sorry for what he did, just sorry for those alarmed by what looked like a nasty case of ethnic profiling.

Brown made us look bad, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all the blame.
Actually, he said, "misconstrueded." He deserves all the shame and opprobium we can dump on him. His actions were foolish and hysterical. And if he shouldn't have to carry all the blame, then he definitely holds the lion's share.

Thomas gets him out of the way pretty quickly. She has other fish to fry.
Rule #1: When handling a situation that could explode into an internationally embarrassing mess, cover your behind and your bases.
That was my advice to the Shelby County Republican Party! They didn't like it though. It's important to remember that no one had any suspicion beforehand that the Iraqi visit would explode the way it would.

The MCIV handles dozens of these visits every year. (Read farther down for my talk with David Simmons of the MCIV.) They handled this visit exactly as they handle all their other delegations. Maybe they should have taken the poltical dimension into greater account, but they had no reason to suspect anything. They were following their own long-established process. This was routine for them.
The Memphis Council for International Visitors, which hosted the seven-member group, didn't even put a full team on the field.

No one met the delegation at the airport, so they took a cab. Strike one.
Oh dear. This is factually inaccurate! The Iraqis arrived Sunday night and were conveyed to their hotel just fine. On Monday morning, their transport picked them up as expected, but had the wrong itinerary and took them to City Hall instead of the Convention and Visitor's Bureau building on Union.

Sorry Wendi. Strike one on you!
The MCIV didn't tell the City Council about the visit, but instead chose to rely on council member Carol Chumney, an MCIV volunteer, to pass along the word.

Given Chumney's contentious dealings with most of the council, that's strike two.
Again, it's not normal practice for MCIV to involve city leader types in delegation visits. The MCIV changed their usual practice since the Iraqis were a special case, due to the war.

Approaching Chumney isn't the problem. But her difficulties with her peers was a contributing factor to the fumbled communications and turf-protection that developed.

Call it a ball.
(In a display of her inability to be even the least bit conciliatory, Chumney refused to add her name to the letter of apology signed by all the other council members; since she met with the delegation, she felt she had no reason to apologize.)
Honestly, this one is a wash for me. But it plays no role in our reputation, since she's one of the few Councillors to actually have met and talked with the Iraqis. And y'all already know my thoughts on Chumney otherwise.

Strike one, ball two.
The MCIV could have but didn't make a heads-up courtesy call to local police.
Again, they don't appear to have seen a need to. It's never been a part of their normal operations. Besides, what would calling the police achieve?

Strike two, ball two.
The MCIV could have but didn't make sure the National Civil Rights Museum would be open to visitors the day the delegation was to stop by. A movie was being shot at the museum that day, so the group was forced to postpone its visit.
As Simmons explained it to me, the MCIV doesn't create tour itineraries, but prefers to let the delegates decide their own destinations and work with the transportation to make the visits.

Strike Three. Yer out, Wendi!

But wait, she's not done.
The MCIV could have but didn't supply the group with a local guide who might have questioned the wisdom of, for example, walking downtown in a strange city at 10:45 p.m. to a drugstore that closed at 8. An Iraqi woman and a translator who left their hotel late last Tuesday headed to a (closed) Walgreens were robbed.
MCIV isn't responsible for downtown. That's Mayor Herenton's bailiwick. Try to blame him. Besides, doesn't all the tourist literature rave about our twenty-four hour downtown? Hmmmm...seems like it's not so safe after all? Why doesn't Wendi try to tell Belz and Turley that? I'd love to see that conversation.
Why didn't the MCIV do any of the things they could have done to help ensure a smooth visit?

It's not part of its protocol, MCIV board member David Simmons told me. "We're not responsible for being with them 24 hours a day or their security," Simmons said.
And there you go. Classic journalism setup. Line up your critical points -- boom, boom, boom, boom, boom -- then switch to the dummy whom you whack over the head. It makes them look hapless and stupid.

Simmons' point is correct. The State Department is fine with it, as that's how MCIV has been conducting themselves for thirty years. But Our Wendi knows better, with hindsight.
Besides, he said, the City Council approves the Police Department's budget, and if there weren't enough police downtown to keep the visitors from being robbed, well, blame the City Council.
She switches from a direct quote to a lengthy paraphrase, substituting her words for his. Cheap shot and a tactic to get the quote you need when the subject didn't say it. I'd love to know what he really said.
Simmons won't admit that MCIV dropped the ball, but he did say the MCIV's protocol will be revised to improve communication among local authorities.
Notice she's blamed him and he "won't admit" to her accusation. Again, standard journalism construct.
Too little, too late.

In the week since the flap began, the national media have had their fun with Memphis, and our reputation as a city of good abode has taken a beating.

And neither an improved protocol nor a deluge of mea culpas - sincere or not - can make up for that.
Now let's take stock. She's blamed Carol Chumney, the MCIV and Joe Brown. Is that "all the 'players'?" Hardly. There's Big Willie H., for one, who never did meet with the Iraqis, even though this is his city. There's all the City Councillors who couldn't be bothered to come out.

And I still don't understand the scare quotes around players. Can anyone enlighten me?

It's funny. I was talking to Simmons when Thomas called him. He was actually polite enough to finish our call, which went on for some time, before calling her back! In a subsequent email, he joked about Thomas' attitude in their interview. I can see what he noticed now. Did she even listen to what he said?

Why is Thomas so intent on blaming them? I don't know. If we grant her honest intentions, it comes down to not doing her job, I guess. Otherwise....

I started off my whole investigation believing the MCIV to be amateurs, as I noted early on. I've since revised that opinion. They have been successfully doing these visits several times a month for thirty years. I tend to want to hold our City Councillors and their poor working relationships largely to blame, but with an extra heaping portion for the ludicrously over-reacting Joe Brown, a man with delusions of imperial power.

Sorry Wendi. It sounds like you had an agenda first, not an open mind. You need to be benched for the rest of the season.
Yet Another Blog

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has joined the revolution with a new blog by reporter Michael Silence, called No Silence Here. He's off to a good start. Half-Bakered even gets a mention for the "The Last of Hart" post, which he calls "hard-nose." Yeah!
I Need Me Some'a That!

Great news today for procrastinators like me. They expect to soon have a gene treatment to turn slackers into workaholics. The bad news is that this seems to show that the "work ethic" is biologically based. Expect disability and discrimination lawyers to start suing shortly.
Susan Adler Thorp: Media Spinner

After County Mayor AC Wharton accepted the resignations of Susan Adler Thorp and Bobby Lanier, in the wake of an investigation into Tom Jones doubled pension payments, Thorp almost immediately started talking to the television news.

She's peddling the same story: Jones approached her about his pension. She directed him to Lanier. She assumed the Mayor knew and didn't say anything. Let's assume that's true. Why would Wharton ask for her resignation over that? Obviously, more is going on. The Fowlkes report has been delayed until Friday, so we'll have to wait to see what we learn.

Adler has added a new twist to her story today, one that Jones is also using. She claims that it was perfectly legal for Jones to request to come back long enough to raise his pension benefits. The problem, of course, is why he chose to come through her and Lanier, rather than go straight to the Pension Board. Jones was with County government how many years? Wouldn't he know proper procedures?

Listening to Jones and Thorp on television it seems to me that they are soft-peddling a whole lot of stuff. Except when Jones is claiming endemic "internecine" corruption.

There's also what Mayor Wharton ruefully called the "loyalty of friendship." You can rephrase that as "rule by man instead of rule by law." It's the understandable, though still unethical for government workers, desire to help someone you know well. It is all over Memphis and Shelby County government.

Will the Commercial Appeal take up all these tantalising clues and delve into Pension Board records to see who else might have had adjustments? I'm not holding my breath.

(Note: this post was edited to correctly attribute the correct Wharton quote above.)
A Camo Theme

One thing you don't really see in the local media is stories from the soldier in Iraq. What little you do see is all about the emotion of parted or reuniting families.

So, I've decided to open up this blog to active or returning soldiers who are serving overseas (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) to share whatever stories about their experiences there they would like to. I'd like to get stories about the fighting, of course, but also about day-to-day life for a soldier from the Mid-South. Stories about interactions with the locals. Impressions of the places and peoples. Funny or sad events. Whatever. Just give readers of Half-Bakered the unfiltered, direct, no-bs experience. Tell them what's really going on.

Try to keep your stuff to between 500 and 1500 words, please. Keep the language clean. I won't edit or alter anything, but if you'd like me to check your story for punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. I'd be glad to. Just say so.

Pass along the word to family or friends in the military from the Mid-South. Happy, sad, joyous, troubling, hopeful or worried. Whatever. Just tell us like it is.

You can send it to the addy up on the top left. Start writing, soldier!
More About the Memphis CIV

The story of the Memphis snub of the Iraqi delegation last week had some holes in it. I waited for the local media, but my questions remained unaddressed, especially as concerns the Memphis Council for International Visitors (MCIV). So, for only the third time in my three years as Half-Bakered, I got on the phone and made a call.

My initial call was to Elisabeth Silverman, the Executive Director. She directed "medial calls" (I had introduced myself as the publisher of a small Memphis website.) to David Simmons. He proved to be a friendly and helpful person. What most impressed me was that he still maintained a sense of humor even under the tremendous bad press the MCIV and Memphis had been deluged with. He genuinely seemed only concerned with getting the delegation visits back on track.

My questions fell into two broad categories: What is the MCIV? What went wrong on that Monday?

As to the first question, I noted how little press I could find on the MCIV. He said that was on purpose, that it was a mandated part of their mission to maintain a low profile. The State Department, which is the ultimate source for the International Visitors Program, precludes it. MCIV strives to show visitors the "real" Memphis. With press or television hoopla, visitors will only get to see the "pretty" side of things: politicians, official dinners, speeches, everyone on their best behavior. By keeping out of the public eye, visitors can see things as they are and be treated on a much more friendly, real basis. It is, basically, an effort to assure an honest view.

According to Simmons, MCIV has been around about thirty years. They currently host 30 to 40 groups a year, with each group consisting of between one and 15 visitors. He said that lately they host up to four groups a month! Local groups "bid" (not in a monetary sense, but in the sense of constructing a program) for announced delegations according to their community's strengths. Memphis gets a lot of "civil rights" and "multiculturalism" groups, not unsurprisingly. We also get a lot of agricultural delegations, thanks to surrounding Mississippi and Arkansas. What did surprise me was that "intellectual property rights" is another of our strengths, due to the thriving music community!

It turns out that Memphis was, until last Monday, pretty highly rated by the National CIV and the State Department. One of our good features is the number of home-hosted dinners we arrange.

So, what went wrong? In investigating and reporting this, I want to be clear it was never my desire to place blame, or to hold someone out as a scapegoat, but rather to find that pivot point where, had things gone as they should have, no one would ever have known that the Iraqi delegation even came to Memphis.

What Simmons told me is that the State Department requires their local CIVs to use professional transportation for all visitors, instead of relying on volunteers. This is what the MCIV did, hiring a Memphis firm. The delegation arrived in town on Sunday and were successfully taken to their hotel on Court Square. This was one part of the story I was glad to have cleared up, something that Councillor Carol Chumney alluded to in her interview. (See next post.) The media impression is that the delegation was ferried directly from the airport to City Hall. I'm glad to have the correct story for readers.

Now, we back up in time. On the previous Friday, July 30th, Joe Brown (according to numerous sources) had expressed great concern over the impending visit. He was worried about the way things had been set up, and who was consulted. He also wanted to know if the Fire and Police Departments had been involved in security set-up. He threatened to call in the bomb squads. Brown eventually talked with Elisabeth Silverman and directed her to move the meeting.

She changed the itinerary over the weekend so that meetings were to be held in the Convention and Visitors Bureau building at 47 Union Avenue and distributed the new itinerary to all parties. However, in the report prepared by Lisa Geater for Carol Chumney, Geater says that Silverman never forwarded the State Department info to anyone in local government and that the Office for Multicultural Affairs had advised that they usually needed two weeks to set up this kind of visit, not a few days. You can read the Geater document here. Chumney's timeline is here.

On Monday morning, it turns out that the transport company driver still had the old one! They picked up the delegation and took them to City Hall, as originally planned. They were stopped at the security desk, which is where Chairman Joe Brown showed his ass. (I have more details of this part of the story in the Chumney interview following.)

And there you have it. It was, as I suspected, a minor screw-up by their transportation that got the ball rolling. I'm sure this kind of thing has happened before, but not with a worked-up City Council Chairman standing in the City Hall door, threatening to bring in the FBI and police! I've been a driver while I was working for a treatment center and know how these kinds of mix-ups in communication happen.

As for the fallout, David Simmons said he hopes to meet with Chairman Brown next week to talk over the whole thing. The MCIV's request for apologies directly to the Iraqis "without all this mumbo-jumbo" (as Simmons called Brown's repetition of his security fears) isn't quite met by Brown's press release (Which you can download later today and read here. Link isn't working right now.). They are hoping Brown will further ameliorate the situation.

Our national reputation took a huge hit with the State Department. It was only a local letter-writing campaign from the MCIV that turned them around. Hundreds of letters were written! We were able to convince the State Department that Memphis wasn't accurately reflected in Brown's behavior. By the way, the hundreds of letters will be hand-carried by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Iraqis on Friday, before they leave our country. That's how important this is.

And so, there you go. A delegation's visit is a bit rushed, leading to fouled communications. A City Councilman freaks out and goes ballistic over one of dozens of visiting delegations to Memphis, because the National Threat Assessment Level had been raised and he has an over-blown sense of who he is. A minor snafu, that under other circumstances wouldn't have meant anything but minor aggravation and some extra time, brought the two parties together in the wrong place. Brown behaved as he promised and Memphis ends up looking like fools, hicks and racists.

One good thing has come of this mess. According to Simmons, in following up with the Iraqis he was told "If you want to show your good faith," the nation of Iraq was in desperate need of English language books, which had been destroyed by the Hussein regime. So, a book drive is being undertaken right now in hopes of raising 10,000 books for Iraq, to rebuild libraries! Details have yet to be nailed down, but if you want to take part or make donations contact David Simmons at david -at- longriver -dot- net.

I've asked David to keep me informed on this and I'll be posting more as I learn it. Scour your libraries for good, quality books (not old sci-fi paperbacks, OK?) to donate and be ready.

Many thanks to David Simmons for his time. I've had some difficulty explaining blogs to folks I've talked to, but he was well aware of them, which made our conversation go pretty well. He was even reading my blog while we were talking!

He has certainly cleared some things up for me. I would also like to take back my characterisation of the MCIV as "amateurish" in a previous post. Since undertaking to learn the facts, I've discovered that MCIV is a local treasure. My sincere apology and best wishes are offered. If you think you'd like to get involved, now that you know about them, I strongly urge you to contact them.
Half-Bakered Talks With Carol Chumney!

And lives to tell the tale.

As I noted in the post above, the media stories left a lot of unanswered questions for me about the Memphis visit of the Iraqi delegation on August 2nd. As the days went by, there weren't any follow-ups by the papers or the television news stations to clear up the questions. So, I once again crossed from commentator to reporter by picking up the phone and contacting City Councillor Carol Chumney directly.

I introduced myself as the writer/publisher of Half-Bakered. She said, "Oh, yeah!" as though she had heard of it. I'm not sure if this was the case or if she was just being polite, but I was a little bit nervous now, as I'm a pretty harsh critic of hers.

I needn't have worried. Chumney talked with me for an hour. She was open and voluble. Really voluble. Once she got started, she had no problems keeping going! I actually had to interject myself at a few points. I don't say this to be critical, but in surprise. If she really did know who I was, she was awfully, awfully polite.

We started talking about the Iraqi snub at City Hall. She said that she has worked with the Memphis Council for International Visitors (MCIV) once before. The Iraqis were her second effort and that had started with an email from MCIV Executive Director Elisabeth Silverman. (I was told by another person that she had also been approached casually before this, which set the stage.) Chumney says that invites were hand-delivered to Mayor Herenton's office.

I pointed out that the time frame for the visit -- about two weeks from first email to visit -- seemed pretty rushed, but Chumney disagreed. She thought it wasn't too short a time frame. Reading her timeline does show, however, that substantive discussions didn't happen until the Friday before their arrival! Staff researcher Lisa Geater's document supports this. And those discussions almost immediately produced discord and a change of plans.

It had seemed likely that her relationships with her peers and the Mayor's office might have played a role in her working to help set up the visit. I tried to query Chumney about this but she demurred. She basically said what she's said in public all along: that she tries to be professional and she "wasn't going to get into any of that." Despite that, it does seem to me that the friction she seems to attract might have predisposed Brown to be less than co-operative.

While Silverman was doing the coordinating, Chumney tried to involve the Mayors and her Council peers. As her timeline notes, on Friday there was a snafu when Council Chairman Brown fretted over security concerns and then wanted to make sure that Police, Fire and other agencies were involved. Of course, they weren't and bringing them in this late, when other bona fides had already been presented, threatened the whole visit. Chumney left the matter of location in Brown's hands. He contacted Silverman and they moved the meeting to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau building at 47 Union Avenue. Brown alerted everyone else via email, not by press release as he once claimed. Somewhere in all this monkey-motion, there was another kerfuffle over who said what by whose authority. Frankly, it was more infighting than I could follow.

Chumney arrived at the CVB to find Silverman and the media, but no Iraqis. She then got a call alerting her to the misdirection of the Iraqi delegation and went over to see what she could do. By then, Joe Brown was showing his ass. Chumney got the Iraqis redirected and left.

All this led me to ask her some tougher and more general questions. Reading Chumney's timeline, listening to her remarks on television and talking with her on the phone, I kept getting this odd sense of things. In every discussion, I always get the feeling that ol' Carol Chumney is just there doing her job and everyone else seems to have the problem. There's no sense that she might be wrong, might not have handled things well, might not have ruffled some feathers unnecessarily. Carol's always in the right, just doing her job, and completely baffled by why others seem to have such a hard time.

I tried, after much apology and hem-hawing, asking her about this. She didn't seem to understand me. I tried to put it a couple of different ways, but she always returned to the same basic idea: she's only interested in issues and getting the job done. The problems that follow in her wake aren't hers, but her opponents. As she said, "I'm the one leading opposition."

I tried to refer her to her memo to WREG Newschannel 3, where she said:
It is not my intent to be controversial, however, in this particular closed society, any attempt to say anything other than what you are told to say or that is outside of the expected "groupthink", is apparently controversial. I call you to have more regard for the people of the city of Memphis and please tell the truth....

In the time when the media should show the advances that women have made in education, business, politics, the legal profession and medicine, when the media should be tearing down the walls of sexism and stereotypical perception, name-calling, and plain old-fashioned disrespect, you are perpetuating it with stories like this and give negative contentions to the same behaviors for which you would praise a man. I call you to the highest standard of your media and to your responsibility to all people to present the truth.
This language is very close to what she wrote in her Memphis Flyer guest editorial back in the Spring, about her first run-ins with other City Councillors in the wake of Mayor Herenton's Inauguration Day speech.

I tried talking with her about her charges of sexism, but she said that her letter to WREG3 was addressing what she saw "in that instance" as "unfair presentation." She talked about her feeling that WREG3 had set out to make her a scapegoat, and that a story by Tom Powell, felt like a set-up to divert attention from others (or issues, seemingly one of her favorite words) to her.

Mentioning other strong women on the City Council (Barbara Swearingen Holt, Janet Hooks and Tajuan Stout Mitchell) who are assertive and strong but still manage harmonious relations, Chumney lumped them in with the general opposition to her. She said, she don't point fingers back at them, that she's been called names. It's the "methodology they use to divert attention from issues."

None of which addressed my original question, but did illuminate even more clearly my impression of her as blameless in her own lights. It was spooky to hear, quite honestly. It seemed almost inconceivable that she might be wrong, or act wrong. She views herself as a buster of old ways of doing things, which makes her virtuous.

I dropped all that, as I wasn't getting anywhere, and mentioned that I'd heard more than few people on talk radio shows extol her as a possible Mayor. She said she was "flattered" but, again, she's focused on "issues" for her District.

So, my conversation with Chumney cleared up some of the events of the Iraqi snub and pretty clearly left Chairman Joe Brown holding the bag. There was a communications snafu the weekend before; I do believe that Chumney's personality and previous encounters helped to predispose Brown to negative assumptions about her motives and positions, in that he might have suspected her of "stepping out of her place" and trying to speak for the whole Council. Part of his reaction may have been driven by his need to re-assert prerogatives.

The hour also strengthened my belief that Chumney just can't accept that her poor relations with her Council peers have anything to do with her. I don't think she can even conceive it. In her world-view, she's just doing good; her opponents are protecting privilege, so any problems that result are theirs, not hers. She's a crusader; they are the bad guys. Her motives are never less than pure. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's delusion, but it is a rock solid unshakeable belief. Strange....

That said, she was a lot of fun to talk with. There were no lulls and no tense moments. She was a fountain of information, although I always had to consider the source. She's definitely good-humored and laughed quite easily. She likes Martina McBride.

If she really does sit down and read this blog, I hope it doesn't destroy any chances for further talks. I'd like another run at her perception of the bad will she generates in her wake. I also didn't get to talk much with her about policy and programs. She does worry at the heavy focus on the downtown; I'd like to explore that as it relates to her position on the Council.

Anyway, it was interesting, though it didn't change much about my views of her as a Councillor. My thanks to Councillor Chumney for her generosity and time.

[Note: I'm up way too late. My eyes hurt. My brane hertz. I'm not proof-reading this until tomorrow morning, so don't get upset.]

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

A strange thing to see in the daily paper. A front-page story that says one thing and an editorial the same day that says something else. Only at the Commercial Appeal.

It began with Tuesday's cover story on City Council Chairman Joe Brown's press release and abrupt press conference, in which he addressed the Iraqi delegation snub he launched. The paper's headline?
Brown apologises to Iraqis
The subhead?
'Sorry' if actions to keep out delegation were 'misconstrued'
The story, by Jacinthia Jones, Blake Fontenay's replacement at City Hall, uses a lot of chop'n'slice of the Chairman's actual speech, rather than quoting the whole thing, or even significant parts. So far as I know, his press release isn't available anywhere on the CA website.

As I said, chopping out bits of the speech and the reporter using her own words in place of what Brown said, devoting a large part of the story to a recap of prior events, then using responses from a couple of interested parties as "reaction," is the whole of the story. It's too short, too scattered and not informative enough.

And the fact is, a close reading of the press release shows that it does not do what the headline claims. It is not an apology, but a defensive explanation. The other fact is that the Iraqis were not present, nor was the press release directed to them. If no one forwards a copy to them, and Brown hasn't indicated if someone has, then they'll never know!

WPTY24 presented a tape of his speech to a local educator, who has seen her share of student apologies, and she pronounced it insincere.

Then there's the editorial, author as usual unknown. It's only here where we get long segments of the speech and press release unedited. It's also where the paper asks a lot of questions that need answering, questions and answers that should have come from the reporter! That editorial's headline?
"Apology" to Iraqis admits no mistakes
They note, in their typical sidewise manner, he should be replaced:
City Council chairpersons are elected, but as a matter of courtesy the title is rotated on the basis of seniority. Perhaps the council should rethink the policy and choose its leadership more carefully in the future.
They also note a few things in the editorial that CA readers may not be aware of, because the paper hasn't reported on them.

And, of course, Carol Chumney is brought in for a sideswipe that is, if I'm not mistaken, based on wrong reporting! From the folks who support the downtown cabal as dutiful soldiers, I expect to see them go after a "trouble-maker" like Chumney, but this one seems forced, gratuitous.

But then, what else do you expect from the daily paper?

One final note: at least two people I've spoken to in the last days have wondered if Brown even wrote the speech himself. He stumbled over one word ("miscontrueded") and some of the language in the explanation just doesn't sound like him. Anyone know for sure?
County Shocks Abound

Well, the ghost of Tom Jones haunts and bedevils County Hall still. On the eve of his year-and-a-day imprisonment, he's decided to take others down with him. He's been talking with every media outlet that will listen. His story now is that he wasn't alone in his misuse of County credit cards, that even former Mayor Rout was involved. It'll be interesting to see if this produces anything.

As for how Jones got his pension doubled, the story is slowly dribbling out. John Fowlkes is supposed to issue a report on Thursday. The big hammer dropped late this afternoon. Executive Assistant Bobby Lanier, a long time power broker at County Hall through three different administrations and two parties, and Communications Director Susan Adler Thorp, whose CA columns leading up to the election and her sudden joining of the Wharton administration afterward raised questions, have both tendered their resignations.

Apparently, County Mayor AC Wharton learned of Jones' pension bonanza through a stray remark someone made to him. He was surprised and has maintained absolutely no involvement in or knowledge of Jones' pension status change. Reports late last week had Wharton furious, uncharacteristically so for a man famed for his calm demeanor and soft voice. Jones avoided a pension review board and had his pension change simply signed off by persons unknown -- a violation of procedure.

Behind that, Jones was never actually dismissed, contrary to public perception. He was simply "not reappointed." That allowed him to re-apply for his old status and to keep it long enough to cross the age barrier, which allowed his pension to increase. He then resigned. Why he was allowed to do all this, and who did it and signed off on it, are the questions the Fowlkes report is expected to answer.

I've heard at least one mention on the news that it was a matter of cronies taking care of each other. No attribution of that, but it sure does sound right, doesn't it? We keep hearing stories (like this one, which is disappearing in the glare of the Jones scandals) of this kind of cronyism. I keep hearing from folks in the local media or folks who deal with government of all kinds of back-scratching and self-enrichment, and yet the local paper can't seem to break any stories of their own! How odd....

Local television news is breaking the story all over since 5PM, but their websites are still behind what's been on the air, with sketchy "breaking news" style posts. The CA's website, of course, has nothing at all.

I feel no sorrow for Bobby Lanier. He's precisely the kind of king-maker and apolitical type I despise. He served nominal Republican Jim Rout while raising money to elect AC Wharton (according to County Commissioner John Willingham). Susan Adler Thorp is a different matter. Frankly, I feel some small amount of glee at her plight. She was a long-time supporter of the status quo in local government, a shill for Democrats while stridently denying it, and a welcome beneficiary of go-along-to-get-along. She used her political column to blast Wharton's opponent in the County election, and then mere weeks after his election, she joins his administration! Part of me really is glad to see her get shot down for her sins. I'm curious to see where she lands now.

Watch the news tomorrow to see what is in that Fowlkes report. Also, watch for more of Tom Jones as he flogs his scandal like Dick Morris pimps his Clinton history. I'll report and comment on things tomorrow.

INSTANT UPDATE: WREC3 just had an interview with Susan Adler Thorp on their 10PM broadcast. Her story is that Jones approached her about his pension, but she only directed him to Lanier. She says she took no other action and always "assumed" Wharton was aware. Thorp said she would take a "few weeks or months" off before deciding what to do.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Gmail Invites

Just to let folks know: I still have two Gmail invites to share. If you would like to take me out to lunch (Let's meet!) or do me some kind of a nice (web service, introduce me to some important folks, give me a tour of your news operation, etc.), then email me and we'll talk. First come, first served.
Why Exactly Should We Trust Them?

Fascinating news out of Nashville. It seems that on election day last week, while Republicans in West Tennessee are struggling to counter the Hart problem, and the TN GOP is trying to increase their presence in the General Assembly, and consolidate previous gains, that three Republican Senators attended a fund-raiser for Democrat Lt. Governor John Wilder! Thanks to them, he raised $150,000 dollars that day. Why that's more than his Republican challenger, Ron Stallings, has in the bank. How nice of them.

Curtis Person of Memphis, Mike Williams of Maynardville and Tim Burchett of Knoxville are the offenders. Yep, our Curtis Person. Perhaps you'd like to give him a piece of your mind. Or call 615-741-2419.

Wilder, as Speaker of the Senate, has created a situation that benefits him and stymies his opponents. By agreeing to help him out, certain Republicans are giving committee chairmanships. Even Governor Bredesen is bothered by it. This only serves to conflict, and hence defang, the Republicans. This shouldn't be allowed to happen, but I'm sure they'll be the first to tell you there's nothing much they can do about it.

As if.

The more you learn, the less you like 'em.
Through the Glass, Murkily

There's a reason that the building at 495 Union Ave. has a wall of mirrored glass across the front. The folks at the Commercial Appeal like to look out over the city, but are strangely resistant to folks looking in. As I've noted before, the CA would never accept the kind of closed view from the folks they cover (except FedEx) that they expect Memphis to accept from them.

There have been more changes at the paper lately. The concise and amusing Blake Fontenay is no longer covering City government; he's been promoted to editorial writing. I'm sorry for this, as he has a knack for compactly reporting events and stories. And genuine nice guy Jon Sparks no longer does C.A. Eye. He's being promoted laterally to one of the new suburban sub-sections. At least he can now write more than three or four short paragraphs at a time! Good bye and good luck to both.

Of course, that's just the stuff I've caught. I'm sure there are more and I welcome alert readers passing the word in comments.

And if you work for the Death Star, and would like to slip some intel to the Rebel Alliance here at Half-Bakered, please hit the "Rumor Control" addy up on the right. Anonymity guaranteed.
Keeping the Press in Perspective

I'm reading Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris' second volume in his study of America's youngest president, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. This volume covers the years of his two presidential terms, beginning in 1901. One of Roosevelt's first acts as President was to invite America's most prestiguous and well-known Negro (as they were known back then), Booker T. Washington, to dine at the White House. It was the first time that a black had dined there officially and it caused quite a stir across America. Southern newspaper were vitriolic.

For his example, Morris found an editorial quote from the old Memphis Scimitar! This was one of the ancestors to the modern Commercial Appeal. Here's what they had to say:
The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United Staes was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a nigger to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.

It is only very recently that President Roosevelt boasted that his mother was a Southern woman, and that he is half Southern by reason of that fact. By inviting a nigger to his table he pays his mother small duty.... No Southern woman with a proper self-respect would now accept an invitation to the White House, nor would President Roosevelt be welcomed today in Southern homes. He has not inflamed the anger of the Southern people; he has excited their disgust.
Posted just as a reminder that simply because the solons at the local paper say something, doesn't mean it's always right, or even decent.

Historical note: it was the last time, for many years more, that a black dined in the White House.

It's a first for local television: blogging! It seems that Joey Sulipeck, newly minted Chief Meteorologist for FOX13, has started a weatherblog. It's a mix of behind-the-scenes views, breaking weather chat, interesting pictures and friendly posts from Joey and Henry the Intern. Joey answers every post and will even email you his thanks for reading. Neat!

Now, if they can only get Holly Hancock to post....
New Blog

I just wanted to pass along -- and give some bloggers I respect a shoutout -- a new pro-Bush blog: It's a collaborative work between Bill Hobbs of Hobbs Online, Nathan Moore of Moore Thoughts and Matt White from South End Grounds.

Their mission:
TN4W is dedicated to keeping Tennessee Bush Country and making sure our 11 electoral votes go for the President. We will achieve this by:

-Keeping W supporters informed of news and issues surrounding the campaign. We will assemble daily clips from local media dealing with the campaign and national stories affecting Tennessee.

-Informing W supporters about campaign events and activities in their communities and encouraging them to get involved.

-Giving W supporters a forum to sound off on why they are voting for the President and what they are doing to keep Tennessee Bush Country.

-Recognizing W supporters for their outstanding work on behalf of the President.

-Posting guest columns that will reinforce the importance of Keeping Tennessee Bush Country.
As I told Matt, they start off on my daily reading list. Best of luck, guys.
Exploiting 9/11

Earlier this year, President Bush caught some flak when his campaign used an image of firefighters from 9/11 on some fund-raising literature. So far as I know, outside of art, politics and satire, that's been it. It's good to know that some things can be sacred after all.

Well, except in Australia. It seems that radio station Triple J used an image of the Twin Towers with a large banner with the Triple J logo photoshopped in as part of a promotional contest. Here's the story with the offending image.

The doofs at Triple J are unrepentant, of course. It's sad, because I used to listen quite a bit to Triple J on the Internet. Radio and most television in Australia, just like England, is government-funded, therefore there are no commercials. Triple J's mandate is to reach Australia's young people. The music mix is mostly Australian, with some American rock thrown in. No pop, only a little rap, just rock'n'roll, Oz-style. Plus, they are fifteen hours ahead of us, so in the afternoons, I can catch the morning shows (which are often pretty funny. One morning I heard the weather described as "pissing down rain right now in Sydney.") and in the morning you catch the more experimental overnight programming. They beat anything you can hear in Memphis, that's for sure.

I had expected someone, eventually, to abuse the memories of 9/11. I'm just surprised where and how it finally came to pass. And now that the embargo is broken, will we see more?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Fay Wray Dead at 96

National Monster Alert raised:

Brown Apologises, Finally...Sort of

City Council Chairman Joe Brown has finally apologised. The linked story has the full text of his statement. No copy is yet posted on the City's website. Most of the speech was concerned with elaborating (and sticking to) his earlier story about security concerns.

He singles out Councilwoman Carol Chumney in particular. That reflects the question of why she was personally involved and why the visit wasn't co-ordinated through the City's Office of Multicultural and Religious Affairs.

The bad news is that the Memphis Council for International Visitors is pressuring him with a list of demands now. Yeah, they're on the State Department's shit list right now, but it's not good form for them to act this way. Brown is at fault here, but they set the ball in motion with their mishandling of the delegation's arrival in the city.

It seems obvious from his speech and behavior that Brown was pressured to do this and isn't the least happy about it. I doubt Chumney will be getting any favors from him any time soon!

Speaking of Lady Liberty, WREG3 has a related story on Chumney's attitude and relations with her peers. Interesting reading!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Last on Hart

The story of Jim Hart winning the Republican nomination in the Eighth District has spread pretty widely by now and the usual presentation is by Democrats using it as a brush to paint all Republicans as racists finally coming out of the closet. Or it's the AP version of the story, with extra embarrassments added, like this USATODAY story.

Over the weekend, more pieces of the story have come out. One caller to the Andrew Clark radio show (Saturday and Sunday, noon to three, AM 600 WREC), who sounded knowledgeable and authoritative on the local GOP, but didn't identify himself as an offical, mentioned that ballot applications must first go to the State Republican headquarters, where the party has 10 days to reject the application. I'm not sure why that is. But the caller said that Hart's application was missed somehow until it was too late.

He also said that the TN GOP was focusing their energies on consolidating power in the General Assembly. It was the first of several attempts I've since heard to shift blame up to the Republican National Campaign Committee. Apparently, three secure Congressional seats in one county (John Tanner, Harold Ford and Marsha Blackburn) is just too much for the local GOP to watch.

Dennis Bertrand, the write-in Hail Mary pass, also called in. He said he came back from his service in Iraq to find out that Hart was running unopposed, so he leapt to the defense. What that implies is that the GOP somehow was unable to recruit a challenger from the nineteen county area that is the 8th District! Oh yeah, I believe that! Overworked as the Shelby County GOP was from the...uh...General Sessions Court Clerk race, they somehow didn't find the time or resources to tackle this? Well, as they'll be the first to tell you, the 8th District is only a tiny slice of north Shelby County. Not their ball!

One of the first rules of combat is to protect your flanks. It's basic strategy. Failure to plan for the foreseeable, to nail down the possibilities, is to leave an opening. Hart knows this; that's why he won. And it wasn't the first time he's done this either, so it's not as if the GOP should have been surprised.

Simply abandoning races because you don't have a chance of winning is stupid. You have to cover your bases anyway. The best example of a blown chance in Tennessee is Jimmy Naifeh. He's widely been viewed as unchallengeable and intimidating, so the Tipton County and Tennessee GOP has never even tried. Then, in 2002, when the Income Tax Wars left him battered and bruised, as vulnerable as he's ever, ever been, there was no one there to knock him over. Antonio Lopez, to his lasting credit, stepped forward and mounted a write-in challenge that came within a few points of beating him! A write-in! Naifeh!! Imagine if a party-backed, on-the-ballot challenger had been there, doing the ground work since day one. It was a lost opportunity.

(Dr. Jesse Cannon seems to understand. He's been campaigning in Naifeh's district since before the last election, patiently building up his base, readying the assault. Good for him. Support him. It's just too bad he, or someone like him, wasn't in place before. Naifeh was surprised and defeatable. Now he knows what's coming; he's preparing. It will be harder.)

Another example, this time from Alabama, my home state. Emory Folmar was the long-time Republican mayor of Montgomery, the State's capital and a sleepy backwater. The Republican Party in Alabama was a sad, fading shadow of a shriveled, useless organism, but somehow Folmar kept his office. He also served as the party's regular sacrificial victim in the Governor's race. Democrats were assured victory, so it was a duty he ritually performed.

Well, in 1987 Folmar decided he was tired of the ritual whacking and declined to accept the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Instead, it went to a really obscure man, Guy Hunt: mayor of Cullman and a Primitive Baptist preacher. Then came a bruising, ugly brawl between a pair of Democrats for their party's nomination. It became as vicious as anything we're seeing today, with a touch of entitlement thrown in. The whole thing became so nasty that Alabamians threw up their hands and, for the first time since 1874, elected a Republican as governor.

It was a stunner, and no one was as depressed as Emory Folmar. After years of defeat and humliation, he had just missed the brass ring. Because he assumed. In politics, anything can happen. It will. You have to be prepared.

I've been told by several folks that it's hard to recruit folks for those kinds of losing races, in part because no one likes losing and in part because no one wants a losing race on their resume. Horseshit. If the party becomes serious about acting like a group of smart folks, they'll let their campaign prospects know that sometimes they will just have to bite the bullet for the good of the party and run a hopeless race, just in case.

You don't have to expect them to win, but you can give them a reasonable goal. "Beat 10% of the vote." If they can do that, it shows promise and campaign skills. Just going out on the trail, raising money, knocking on doors, talking to folks, making speeches, directing strategy, coordinating media, etc., teaches valuable skills. Being willing to fall on your sword, to take one for the team, shows loyalty.

And it protects your flank from surprise assaults.

Some say, "But it costs money!" Just how much did this Hart PR disaster cost? How many voters who were undecided, or loosely pro-Bush, have seen the mangled story about racist Republicans and will draw their hand back from the "R" lever in disgust? How much money will have to be spent countering all the bad PR, reconvincing people?

Speaking of PR, where was Anne Truett's spine? I saw her on television news and she simply did not present an image -- nor speak the words -- of someone who is genuinely angry and upset. She sounded mealy-mouthed, not-quite-apologetic. Where she should have thundered loudly enough to convince the dead, she instead whined. I'm sympathetic to the Republicans, and even I doubted her sincerity! She needs a visit to the woodshed. The same caller to the Clark show I mentioned above said, "But we sent out press releases! They're right on our website!" What did that accomplish you? A few hundred write-in votes? The Shelby County GOP doesn't know what it's doing and heads must roll. Start with Truett.

Matt over at South End Grounds, a professional Republican, has a great write-up of the State election results. When I challenged him over the Hart controversy, he posted this excellent entry in response. I wondered about the fitness of Republicans to take over the reins of government in Tennessee, based on the Hart debacle. He points out that there's been a new generation of Republicans arising who aren't used to laboring under the heels of Democrats, currying favor and tidbits from them. Every year, more come into office.

But this process has been going on, in a steady tide, since 1994 and the Gingrich Revolution! How long will it take?

I dunno. If I was a powerful Republican, I'd wait until November 3rd, the day after the election, then begin to demand a purge of the ranks -- win or lose. Too much is at stake. Too many simple mistakes were made that should never have happened. Basic strategies and precautions should have been in place. A "farm league" of young people needs to be recruited to be place holders in hopeless races, just in case. It's good for them to have the first-hand experience; it covers your ass in a worst case scenario. The Hart incident should not have happened. Period. But I suspect it will be business as usual.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, call me a Republican.