Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Update on Tim Blair's Visit

Hi guys. I just got an email from Tim saying that he's running behind but still looking forward to meeting us tonight. I gave him my home phone; he said he'd use it if there's a problem.

So, the plan is to meet for dinner at the BBQ Shop (1700 block of Madison, just west of Cooper) after 6. (6:30-ish or 7? I'm going to shoot for 6:15-6:30.) We'll eat, hang out, wait for Tim. Then, drinks at their bar and much hilarity. If he's not too tired or we're in the mood for moving, we go elsewhere. Mark "Scene" R. suggests Blue Monkey or one of the Zinnie's, so if you arrive later and no one's at the BBQ Shop, try those two.

Tim thanked us all for putting this together. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Tim Blair in Memphis

I haven't heard from Tim yet today, so all plans for his visit are still provisional. But as it stands, we'd meet tomorrow (Wednesday) at the BBQ Shop on Madison (1700 block, two blocks west of Cooper) around 6 or 7PM for dinner. Then we'd repair to the bar for a while. Then, decide on which bar or wherever to move on to for the bulk of the evening. Or maybe stay put.

I hope folks can come out. Tim's a very funny guy in print and reports are he's the same in person.

I'm halfway hoping I can talk him into going down to County Hall tomorrow for a gag picture of him being denied entry into the building. Two international incidents in one month!

Please leave a comment if you can come, or with suggestions for which bar would be good on a Wednesday night. Not loud or expensive, nor too young, preferably in the Midtown / Downtown area, as I think that's where he's staying.

More as I learn it.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Failed Pilot Theater

I saw a television show earlier this evening that consisted of failed television pilots. Pilots are the debut shows for potential news series. If networks like the pilots, they order more episodes and run the series. If not, no one, until now, saw them. There are a lot more pilots made in any year than what you see on the air.

Anyway, the failed pilots were fascinating. There was one where Scott Bakula (Captain Archer from Enterprise) is a scientist who does teleportation experiments in a lab room next to a woman scientist doing satellite weapon research. Yup! He accidentally beams into her lab and gets fused with her satellite prototype to become half-man / half-machine. But the fun part was, right before he presses the fateful button, he says, "Beam me up, Scotty." I don't think he's ever said that elsewhere, and I hope some Star Trek fan recorded that.

I once ran across a photo from the pilot for an American adaptation of the British sci-fi show Red Dwarf. Craig Bierko was Lister, Terry Farrell(!) was Cat, Janes Leeves was Holly and some actor I recognise but can't place was Rimmer. I've always wondered how bad it was and they showed a bit of it tonight. It was bad. Cheap effects, bad video. Holly looked like the actress was just standing underneath a box meant to resemble a monitor. Amazingly unfunny dialogue. What was weird, though, was that we didn't see even a mention of Cat or Rimmer. Problem getting clearances (rights to play) from some of the actors? I noticed that in some of the other clips, there were faces that were pixelated out. Oh well.... But now I know just how bad the American Red Dwarf was.

Gene Roddenberry got checked twice. Once with The Questor Tapes (Robert Foxworthy as an android sent to save Earth, with Mike Farrell). But the other was the episode of the original Star Trek, "Operation: Annihilate," that was meant to serve as the sidewise pilot for a show with Robert Lansing and Terri Garr. Gary Seven, anyone? It's a widely repeated rerun, so I don't know how it got on this show.

Speaking of William Shatner, he was in a pilot for a series based on Zenna Henderson's The People stories. Set in the modern day, but concerning a group of "people" who are actually aliens from another planet attempting to blend in on Earth, but in a low-tech, Western-Amish kind of way. Except they have all kinds of psychic powers.

There were a couple of Monty Python related shows. One was Nick Derringer P.I., which starred Kenny Baker (Time Bandits) as a dwarf private investigator. He's like a short James Bond. "Have you ever had a man stand behind you and kiss you in the back of your...knee?"

And Graham Chapman costarred in some show about a 20th century kid sent back to medieval England. Chapman looked pretty funny, but the show was bad.

And they had a few Marvel Comics pilots! One was something I'd heard of but never seen: Generation X, an X-Men spinoff from the Nineties. (Most of these pilots were from the Eighties.) I recognised Emma Frost, Havoc and Jubilee (I think. Dazzler, maybe?). It looked a bit cheaper than Mutant X but at least the characters used their powers! Didn't seem half-bad.

Another was a bizarre take on Daredevil. He was still Matt Murdock, blind attorney, but his uniform was solid black, slightly baggy, and made from some kind of foamy-looking artifical material. The actor was awful and he "played" the character as a blind man. It's hard to explain, but he exaggerated a lot of actions and threw in a lot of strange hesitations. They had one shot where DD is supposedly swinging on a whip across the skyline of Manhattan that was stupendously fake looking.

There were all kinds of terribly unfunny sitcoms and other failed shows. A Marilu Henner sitcom that was astonishingly cheap and shoddy and unfunny. A John Denver show where he's an FBI agent and guitar picker. Some show about a man's child who dies, then is reincarnated as a toy monster robot that sometimes morphs into a thirty foot high monster-truck robot dinosaur that breathes fire and moves in veeeeeeerrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyy ssssssslllllllooooooowwwwwww motion. And some show about a boy and his troll called Fuzzbucket, which is just as howlingly bad as you think.

There was something from the late Eighties / early Nineties (judging by the video, lighting and cinematography) about a female terminator thing. I recognise the actress and she was really, really hot here. Apparently all she does is kick ass and try to have sex. I would've watched that show!

I hope they make another special like this. Isn't there some program on cable somewhere that's similar?
The Petition is Up

The Concerned Citizens of Memphis website is finally working. You can download a PDF copy of the petition file (14K) there. I'm also hosting it on the site. You can get it here. and I'll be leaving a small notification banner across the top of the blog as well.

If you want to see some forward motion on bringing the City's pension scheme down to more manageable levels, get a copy of the petition, take it around your neighborhood and collect signatures, then mail it in. If the City Council won't fix things, then we will.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down for the post "The Pension Charter Commission." Citizen democracy in action!
Neologism of the Day

Via a typo at Thursday Night Fever (Don't change it, Roboto. You're a trendsetter now.) comes this word:


The trendy fusion of Asian "sensibility" with American "lifestyle."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

What a Photo Op That Would Be

John Kerry, call Teresa and tell her to get out the checkbook. The last PT boat made is up for sale:
Businessman Bill Bohmfalk, 47, purchased the PT-728 in 1994. In July 2002, he started taking Florida Keys visitors on island harbor tours that included a simulated torpedo run. He said he hopes to get at least $750,000 for his boat. The starting price was $500,000, and no bids had been placed as of Saturday afternoon.
Ummmmmm...simulated torpedo run.... [/close Homer donut voice]
Tim Blair is coming! Tim Blair is Coming!

Tim Blair is an Australian reporter, media watchdog, political commentator, blogger, raconteur, and auto enthusiast. He's been in America recently covering the Democratic and Republican conventions. While he's waiting for the 'Pubs to gather, he's on a driving tour of the Southwest and South.

According to his website, he'll be in Memphis this Wednesday! No idea where he's staying, but I sent him an email inviting him to dinner at the BBQ Shop on Madison where, it is important to note, they have a bar. Libations are important to Tim. (Yours truly is a teetotaller, so I can be designated driver if anyone has too much fun.) He may have other plans, he may want to go somewhere noisy and gaudy. Who knows yet?

Anyway, I'm hoping to hear back from him, and that he'll hang with the Memphis blog community. Clear your schedules and let me know if you want to meet up with him, if we get the OK. I'll post developments as I learn them.
Give Him Some Love

The author of Memphis Media blog is feeling a bit down today. Head on over there and say hi. Leave some nice words in his comments.

If we're lucky, he'll post more pictures of Carrie McClure! Or maybe Holly Hancock or Bora Kim or....
The Pension Charter Commission

John Lunt, of Concerned Citizens of Memphis (I'm getting time-out errors when I try the link), was a caller today on the Andrew Clarke radio show (WREC AM600; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3PM). He spoke of the petition signature drive his group is undertaking to get an up or down vote on convening a charter commission on the a ballot November 2nd.

The charter commission would be created to force a change in the City's generous pension scheme, where now anyone with 12 years of service gets a lifetime pension. Conceivably, a person could start work with the City at age 25, work their 12 years, retire at 37 and draw a pension for the rest of their life. That could be up to fifty years! At $1500 a month, that's $18,000 a year and over fifty years would total $900,000! And consider some of the many upper-level City employees whose pensions will be considerably larger than this example. Don't forget, too, that Mayor Herenton has created almost 200 appointed positions in his administration since the pension change in 2001 that qualify for this bounty.

Lunt's group wants to return the pension plan to its old structure. You had to work 15 years to get a pension, and then could only start getting it either at the regular retirement age (55 or 60) or when your age and years of service exceed, if I recall correctly, 70. That's the proper way to do it. The current scheme is nothing more than a second income at City taxpayer's expense.

In our interview earlier this week, City Councillor Carol Chumney talked about her experience bringing a bill that would change the pension plan up for a vote. When she offered up the bill for a second, there was dead silence from the Council chamber. It literally died for lack of a second. She thinks that the threat of a charter commission alone might be enough to get the Council to take action.

I was initially skeptical of the idea of a charter commission. The way it works is this: Citizens must collect and turn in by September 2nd, 10,000 valid signatures. Lunt wants to collect at least 15,000 for safety's sake. If the petition succeeds with the Election Commission, and survives the likely challenges in court, it goes on the ballot.

Voters (in this case, only registered voters who are citizens of the City of Memphis) will either say "yea or nay" on November 2 to the creation of the commission. If approved, then all citizens are free to run for one of the seven positions on the commission.

John Lunt has said that his group will offer up a full slate of non-politicians carefully vetted. But anyone can run and be elected. There will be a second election (I don't know the timeframe on that.) where we vote on the commission members.

Once commissioners are selected, the commission convenes. It is here that I get nervous. The commission has total and unencumbered freedom. They can propose and approve anything they want. Anything. That's a whole lot of power to put into a commission's hands. It's intoxicating, tempting and dangerous. They could do anything.

That's been my worry point. But on the Andrew Clark show today, a gentleman named Larry -- who said he was on the first and only charter commission ever created, in the Seventies -- called in to clear up the matter. (By the way, I was the other caller on the line with him and Andrew. Mike in Midtown.)

All the commission can do is convene themselves and then develop a list of proposed changes. They have no actual power of change themselves. All they do is meet until they vote on a resolution for voters to approve. The commission's final recommendation is put on the next ballot and sent before the voters. Voters would then vote "yea or nay" on the resolution.

In the case of Larry's commission, called to return the new Mayor/Council government to the previous form of City government, the commission met one time and adjourned. They never proposed anything. The commission was stacked 4/3 with people sent there to block them. So, it evaporated without action.

In the case of Lunt's proposed commission, action on anything other than the pension plan is likely to put off enough voters that the motion would fail to pass. Any perception that commission members were being unduly influenced one way or another (assuming the news even reports it) would have the same off-putting effect. If the commission went berserk and started proposing changes willy-nilly, again, the voters would likely be disgusted and fail to pass it. Even if the commission fell into rancor and dischord, it would fail to pass a resolution for the voters.

And then there are the voters. No matter what the result of the charter commission, it must pass muster with the voters.

In other words, there are simply too many checks and stops in the process to warrant undue worry about a rampaging commission playing havoc with the City. It's more likely they'll stop or fall apart or fail to impress voters than it is that they'll remake Memphis.

A professional commissioner campaign with professional, carefully vetted candidates, sworn to only consider the pension issue, could be the outcome. I only worry that the loudest yammerers or the ones with the most money behind them to boost name recognition, or the ones who promise free lunches, will get on the commission, diverting its purpose.

But that kind of commission is most likely to fail, so there you go.

I called Mr. Lunt and offered to host copies of the petition file online for him, and to advertise them on Half-Bakered. He said that John Malmo was working on a professional site (see link above) but it doesn't appear to be working. I told him I could have the petitions online within hours of him emailing a file to me. The idea is to get the petition file where anyone can download and print a copy off, then walk around their neighborhood collecting signatures.

Even if the Malmo site gets running, I'd still be happy to offer my services just to help. Why? I'm a firm believer that every once in a while, elected officials need a strong, shocking reminder of who is in charge. They need to be shaken up and made to fear the public. If we don't keep them a little worried, then you get the "culture of entitlement" (Tom Jones) and the "loyalty of friendship" (AC Wharton) that creates the mess we're now seeing in the Jones / Thorp / Lanier scandal at County Hall.

So, go and download a petition, once I get them from Lunt and get them online. (You can contact Lunt directly at 683-1011.) Get your signatures and turn your petition in. Do it now. Do it for democracy.
More Grammar

Down a few posts below I had some fun with language. I have more questions on a pair of phrases I see used a lot.

Toe the line or Tow the line? Which is correct? Is it the idea that a line was drawn on the ground and all the men must place their toes along it, to create an orderly rank, as in soldiers or in a challenge? To toe the line as in submitting? Or is it that all the men must grab a handful of a towline and pull? To tow the line in the sense of contributing, the expectation of fair share? Or even in the sense of a group action to create movement, or more broadly, change?

I've always understood it to be something like, "You will toe the line or there will be hell to pay!" In other words: do it right, discipline yourselves, I'm the boss.

I've always assumed the other version is just sloppy writing, or misspelling, because even then the sense of usage is almost always still submission.

Free rein or Free reign? I've always assumed it was free rein, like giving the horse his head by letting up on the reins. Free rein is something I do for the horse's benefit. I am the actor. "This is your project, Sally. You have free rein." In other words, I'm still in charge, but I'm giving you wide latitude to act.

Free reign implies that the king or queen is free to do what she wants. But that's always the case with a sovereign. They have absolute rule, even if custom has removed the exercise of many powers and the lesser aristocracy threatens not to support the imperial action. Free reign is swimming. It's not quite a non sequitor, but it's a bafflement. "This is your project, Sally. You have free reign." That's almost contradictory, isn't it?

At least to me. Your thoughts?

While I'm at it, let me also mention that I have a real problem with excess emphasis in my writing. I do it all the time! It's awful!! Make me STOP!! All those bolds, italics and exclamation marks. They litter my writing like Burma Shave signs litter the highway. It's a reflection of my punchy speaking style but in print it just looks amateurish. I try to stomp it out, but constantly find myself wanting to hit certain words and phrases. I go back, reread those posts, and wince. I look like some worked-up high-schooler or an angsty, art-damaged collegian.

I've said it before: I need an editor.
Media Bias Frames

Thanks to Tim in the comment to "Journalism, Patriotism and Containers" down below. He pointed me to a couple other Jay Rosen columns, one of which I'd already read. (His "Joe Moderate" column.) The other column looks at how charges from the left and the right end up creating a middle-ground dynamic where the press takes up residence:
In the media id of the Left, temptation lives. Dumping everything to the right of The Nation magazine into the "conservative" bin is an intellectual temptation. When it happens, journalists at ABC can plausibly become "right wing" in the observer's eyes. And they actually are to the right... of The Nation. Progressives, people on the Left, call it the corporate media, which dispenses captured news, news that is essentially propaganda for the system and its rich friends, or a distraction from unjust things happening all around the world, which do not get reported.

In the media id of the Right, temptation also lives. It wants to call everything to the left of the Washington Times the "liberal" media. When that happens, journalists at ABC can become "left wing" in the observer's eyes And why not? They are in fact to the left... of the Washington Times. Conservatives, people on the Right, call it the liberal media. The liberals who run it are hostile to traditional values, intoxicated with their own social agenda, eager to expand the power of government, reflexively anti-Amercan, and we see it all over the news.

To Jennings, this is all quite odd. ABC News, he firmly belives, isn't left or right, pro or anti-war. It isn't "political" at all in that way-- it's a professional news operation, "designed to question the behavior of government officials on behalf of the public," but equally designed not to take sides. He and his colleagues do not let political temptation color the news; they work hard at curing their reports of any undue bias-- failing often but only because they're human. That kind of caution is basic to how we operate, he says, second nature to any journalist. The public's failure to grasp this struggle in the journalist's soul makes possible a common charge like, "you're the anti-war network."

In the ritual of this exchange, it's forgotten that all three parties can be for truth, if you understand what each is saying.

* Mainstream American journalism actually is to the right of The Nation and it pushes against the left's view of the world to engineer its own balance. This creates hostility, as shown in my cartoonish dialogue above.

* Mainstream American journalism actually is to the left of the Washington Times, and pushes against that worldview too-- for balance. This creates hostility from the "opposite" direction.

* Mainstream American journalism actually is neither left nor right for the people who make it. But it pushes against both sides, and against others who can help in the performance of news balance. This tends to create hostility, which will baffle the balancers. Pretty soon it's the critics who are unbalanced people.

But even in objectivity there is id. Temptation for Jennings and his colleagues does not involve taking sides. It does not mean "coming out" as anti-war or pro-Rumsfeld or skeptical about American power in the Middle East. Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for "vocal critic," and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism. It can't be that simple, that beautiful, that symmetrical... can it? Temptation says yes.
He also helped me to "get" the idea of corporate media. If you look at the national news shows, you'll see only a smattering of news about the products and people that the media owners want to sell you. But, if you go down to the next level to the Today and Good Morning America shows, you see a big jump in the number and length of stories about media celebrities, products and services, and concepts they want you to adopt. (Travel, lifestyle purchasing, impulse buying, media consumption, health and mental health issues as treatable illnesses, etc. But go down another level, to the Entertainment Tonight and Celebrity Justice shows, and its all media self-referentiality. Everything is reduced to emotionalism and consumability.

Newspapers are a self-contained version of this multi-tiered world. Every Wednesday and Sunday (and now Friday) come the flood of ads. Fridays and Saturdays have the media blitz. Sunday is lifestyles.

It's that news collection and reporting is expensive to do right. The marriage of news to business is understandable. But business is an amoral thing. It's only concern is the creation of profit. It pushes and pushes at every available opening to find more. Every opportunity is probed for fresh profit. That's not a bad thing in the same way that a garden gone riot is not a bad thing. It's just growth, competition and opportunity.

Newspaper love to tell you that the business side has no influence on the reporting side. That, obviously, is not true. The bulk of the pressure goes to the publisher and top editors, and production designers, but its there. Simply step back and look at the design and layout of the paper itself.

So, yes, there is corporate media influence. But when it comes to what to write about, how to cover it, where to place it, what words to choose, which opinions to feature and which to deprecate, which narrative to use, that is almost completely in the judgment of the writers, reporters and editors. And there, time after time, studies show that the newsrooms of America are significantly to the left of the masses of America. Corporate pressures may lead to favorable business and civic planning coverage, but beyond that there is free rein for reporters.