Thursday, January 20, 2005

Thank You All Very Much


Back before I stopped blogging last September, my daily traffic was between 150 and 200 hits a day, which I was quite proud of. It took almost two years to get to that plateau. My goal then was to get and stay over 200.

While I was away, traffic drifted down to and stayed at 25 hits a day. Mostly it was stray search engine hits or links to a movie review post I did. (From a great British site that reviews Japanese and Korean horror films: Snowblood Apples. The review was for Battle Royale). Of course, a few of you die-hards hoping I'd return get dropping in.

Well, after just a couple of weeks of being back at it, my daily traffic is already hovering around the 100 mark again! I'm seeing what appears to be mostly folks coming directly here, or RSS feeds and bots coming by. After that, search engines still dominate, but I'm noticing that it's mostly folks looking for stories I've covered. I'm also seeing more and more folks using "Half-Bakered" as the sole search term. That's wonderful.

To judge by emails, commenters, other sites and things I'm hearing, I'm beginning to really reach one of the two main audiences I wanted to speak to: the local media. (The other audience, of course, is the average Memphian. That seems to be happening, too, though at a far, far slower pace.) I won't name drop, but I've been very surprised at who's heard of Half-Bakered and who reads it.

So, to everyone who stops by I repeat: Thank you all very much. While I do this to please myself, I wouldn't do it long if I wasn't making connections with you.
The Cameron Harper Interivew...Almost


I emailed Cameron Harper at WPTY and asked if he'd do an interview with me. Unfortunately, he declined. I'm not surprised, nor are my feelings hurt. Active, high profile story; small, obscure blog. It's OK.

But he did offer a bit of background on the Herenton incident and allowed me to share the following, which does answer a couple of questions I wanted to ask:
Just so you know, I didn't go to the meeting with any plan to confront the Mayor. I was attending as a member of Rotary interested in what he was going to say. In fact, I was walking out when I saw our photographer was doing the one man band thing. you know, camera in one hand, microphone in the other. So, I simply walked over to help him out by holding the mic. The question occurred to me while I was standing there. Herenton had just asked the city school board to resign and said he thought the city council ought to do the same thing, if it would further consolidation. So, it seemed to me to be a logical extension to ask if the Mayor was willing to resign too, if he thought his personality was standing in the way of consolidation. Of course, we've all see what happened next.

When the Mayor tried to dismiss my question, I didn't back down. Come on, insulting the questioner is the oldest trick in the book. I've been around way too long for that to work.

As the Mayor turned away, he was well out of arm's reach. So, let me be very clear on this point. At no time did I grasp or grab him. That never happened. If it had, his bodyguard most certainly would have intervened in a more forceful way. In fact, the only person who got physical was the Mayor. If you look at the tape, he repeatedly jabs at my chest with his finger. The only threat of violence came from the Mayor, who said, referring to me, "I'm going to drop him."
My thanks to Cameron for considering the request. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

F the Mayor


I've been hearing about this for a few days, but didn't know the source. I happened to catch the start of FOX13 news at 9PM where it seems the Rock103 Wake-Up Crew started this, based on the "W" stickers you see around for George W. Bush. The Rock103 page is here and the Cafe Press store can be accessed directly here.




If some nice, nice person out there would like to buy me one of those ash grey tees (size XXXL, please), I promise to love you long time. Certainly, your website will be mentioned here alongside effusive praise. A couple of hundred folks will see that over a few days.

While I'm at it, I might as well mention that all the graphics on the blog this month are hosted at my domain, Hollihan.net. It's not cheap. If you'd like to hit the PayPal button on the upper left and donate $5 or $10 ($20?) to my hosting bill, I'd deeply appreciate it. Remember, I do it all for you!

F the Mayor!
Fill in the Blanks


The Memphis City Schools is sending out a questionnaire to parents and citizens asking them to help decide which programs get cut to help balance the budget.

This is a golden opportunity for some local media outlet, particularly the papers. Instead of having your "education beat" reporters file the usual "side with the schools" stories where they fight a rear-guard action to save funding and all programs by increasing funds, try instead this:

Take each of the programs listed. How much does it cost? What will be actually saved by ending it? How many students will be affected? Which schools and in what parts of town? How many employees will be affected? Will the program affect NCLB and TCAP test scores? Will it make a difference on preparedness for college, not in a nebulous sense, but in a real, on-the-application sense?

In other words, give the people of Memphis real information. Put meat on the bones of the survey. Give the parents valuable facts that enable smart choices.

Y'all can do it. Will you?
Looking Here, Missing There


A story in Wednesday's Commercial Appeal about Tuesday's City Council meetings raises a question and fails to answer another.

Reporter Jacinthia Jones writes:
...Public Financial Management told council members that the city's bonds were competitive and attractive to buyers.

All of which, they said, came despite a recent downgrade by Fitch Ratings, one of three major bond rating agencies.

Fitch downgraded the city's general obligation debt rating a notch last fall from AA to AA-minus. Two other agencies retained their ratings, but placed negative outlooks on the city.

Council members didn't learn about the slippage until earlier this month....

[City Councillor Carol] Chumney wasn't convinced everything was as rosy as was being presented.

"I'm still not convinced on the Fitch issue," she said. "I have a national report that tells me something different. I can't just take what you (financial advisers) say. We need to stop spinning stuff."
Doesn't anyone on the City Council or their staff read the Memphis Business Journal? On October 12, 2004, they wrote:
Fitch Ratings has downgraded its rating on Memphis' $868.6 million in outstanding general obligation bonds to 'AA-' from 'AA,' with a rating of "stable."

Because of the connection between the city's rating and those of the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority, Fitch also has downgraded the Authority's $202.3 million in revenue bonds, series 2002, to 'A+,' with a rating of "stable."
I don't see how it was "hidden," but I do wonder at communications around City Hall.

Read along in the MBJ story and you see this:
The downgrade is based on a recent weakening in financial operations, resulting in part from over-estimates of revenues during the current economic slowdown and Fitch's belief that regaining balance in the near term will be difficult.

Unaudited results for fiscal 2004 show revenues well below budget and the fourth consecutive year in which sales tax revenues were below budget.

Expenses were well above budget, partly due to a severe windstorm in the early part of the fiscal year. Officials therefore expect a significant drawdown, cutting the undesignated general fund balance in half, Fitch analyst Amy R. Laskey writes.

A revenue forecast done shortly after the fiscal 2005 budget was adopted shows revenues may again come in well below budgeted levels, requiring significant expense adjustments.

City management's goal of regaining prior fund balance levels by the end of fiscal 2006 presents a considerable challenge, according to Fitch.
That puts a different spin on Mayor Herenton's various budget moves now, doesn't it? Not only does he need to bring revenue and spending closer together, but he also needs to meet additional costs for more expensive bonds and to generate enough extra income to regrow the reserves. That's an awful lot of money.

I also have to wonder if the Council is pressing the Mayor's revenue forecasters to bring in reasonable numbers for a change? Or will we yet again have patent over-estimates used to paper over real budgetary problems? The CA story shows skepticism on the part of the Council, which is good. We can only hope the Mayor's people hear it and respond appropriately.
Old Media Blogs


Several items to bring together here. The umbrella is television stations and newspapers stepping into blogging.

Nashville's alt-weekly, the Nashville Scene has, after a couple of false starts, opened its own blog, the misfortunately named Pith in the Wind. It's a group blog open to all the staff there, which is a good idea. Political reporter and columnist Roger Abramson might make it worthwhile. But that header graphic just screams "We don't get this blogging thing!" The Memphis Flyer might want to watch how this goes.

Memphis television news station WREG/3 has two blogs. One by weekday evening anchor Pam McKelvy and the other by lead meteorologist Tim Simpson. McKelvy's blog right now has a ton of pictures from the past decade or so. Who knew she was Miss Kansas? Lovely, photogenic woman; we'll see how the content turns out. Tim Simpson's is a much more personal blog, where he talks about family quite a bit. I'm not sure what the purpose of these blogs is, other than trying to "personalise" these people to viewers It will be interesting to see how their posting meshes with the constrictions of a company-owned and controlled blog. I somehow doubt we'll see anything as in-depth, behind-the-scenes, more-on-the-story, opinion and commentary spiced, as Darrell Phillips' blog.

One note to the webmaster: Why are you using Java to launch feature-disabled browser windows, instead of providing direct HTML links? After all, the blogs are on Blogspot for heaven's sake. It's not like you've got something to protect here, is it? Sheesh...corporate thinking.

The Commercial Appeal still maintains their stable of blogs, up to 8 now. Some are defunct (and a couple more no longer listed), many anemic, some just adjuncts to print projects. Only Leslie's "Whining and Dining" seems to be a success in blogging terms. Even here, I'm not sure it's a pure success, as she mainly seems to use it to troll for ideas and strip-mine for stuff to put in the paper. I cannot fail to mention Eric's blog. He is someone who truly "gets" blogging; I know because we've talked about it. But his CA blog seems a bit of an orphan right now. And a guy whose gift of story-telling, eye for people and fount of stories would make him a great blogger, Jon Sparks, no longer blogs. Come back Jon!
Memphis Free Wifi


Thanks to the returned-to-blogging Blake for linking to this list of free wifi spots in Tennessee.

Notice how far behind Memphis is. Knoxville has twice as many locations as Memphis, and Nashville almost four times as many. Even Cordova and Germantown check in with a couple of spots. I can't believe no one around one of the local colleges or universities isn't up to speed. It's sad when Memphis Starbucks aren't wified and Knoxville Krystals are.
Harper vs. Herenton: Round Five


It's the story that keeps on giving. Nothing in the way of forward motion or actual shifts to report, but there are a couple of items of interest.

Reportedly, WREG/3 aired a short segment last night, with a snippet of tape from the incident. Nothing important was seen.

WPTY/24 led off their 5PM newscast with an "Eyewitness News Uncovers" segment that looked back over Mayor Herenton's relations with the media, going back to 1998! That segment isn't on their website yet. Kudos to WPTY for keeping up the pressure on this front.

If you want the videographer's-eye view, try this discussion thread at B-Roll. Some of the posters work at your local television stations. Hurry, though, as Memphis discussion threads there tend to get yanked. (I have saved a copy of the page. Notify me if it disappears.)

01/20/05 4:30PM UPDATESure enough, the B-Roll thread is gone now. I've changed the link to take readers to my cached copy. Please note that all the graphics, etc. haven't been saved, just the stripped down page. This is to save bandwidth.

Legal disclaimer: No infringement of any copyright intended. This is purely for evidentiary, historical and informational purposes only.
Oh Dear, Someone Stop Me


One of the joys of blogging is that I can ignore big, serious stuff like the Memphis City Schools funding issue or the TennCare funding/enrollment issue to focus on whatever strikes my fancy. Like this:



It's more than a bit rough, as I knocked this one out pretty quickly. Once again, apologies to Cameron Harper!
Harper vs. Herenton: Round Four


It just keeps getting better and better. Having been embarrassed by a rogue reporter, Mayor Herenton now wants a summit with the City Council to formulate new guidelines for media relations. Translation: new ways to put distance between Herenton and a press he cannot control. (Note: WMC/5 also did a story on this, but it wasn't online when I posted this.) He wants to spend your tax money to bring in a consultant.

Great. Ask him about media relations and he'll just defer to the consultants until they finish. Then, he'll point to their report mutely.

When a control freak feels like he's losing control, the first instinct is to try to exert more control. When a man with something to hide gets confronted, his instinct is to put something between himself and the confronter.

So, c'mon Memphis media types. Are you going to put up with this?

(You can read my other posts on this here and here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Just Remember


Once again, the Memphis City Schools are out asking for more money. I give a lot of credit to Dr. Carol Johnson for finally turning around some ugly grade trends. It's still early days, but I think she's effecting real change. If you read the back pages of the Commercial Appeal, there have been stories of re-assignments and job changes in the MCS offices, too. But just remember:

* When the news is filled with stories about "slashing" the schools budget $30 million dollars (Last week, it was $27 million. What happened?), you think that's an awful lot of money. But going to the MCS website, you learn that $30 million is 3.8% of the total budget. Now, does 3.8% sound like doom and gloom?

* The Commercial Appeal's education reporter says that MCS faces "shrinking public funding." But again, the MCS website says budgets have remained static for three years. Read the paper's education reporter regularly, and you'll see she strongly sides with the school system and administrators/teachers.

* Last, again from the MCS website, we learn the following:
In 2003-04, the system-wide graduation rate was 61 percent, with 5,532 Memphis City Schools students earning a terminal document (regular or honors diploma, GED, high school certificate or special education diploma). Of those students, 81 percent earned a regular or honors diploma on time (four years plus one summer).
Read it again. That includes GEDs and certificates.

Just some things to remember.

UPDATE Bruce over at Return of the Mountain Tortoise has a poignant observation.

RoMT is one of the new (to me) blogs I've recently turned up. You should be reading him regularly. More on new blogs later today. (I hope.)
Interpol


In the radio rant below I mentioned the band Interpol. Just by luck, I happened to catch their performance on the Dave Letterman show. Man, do they kick ass! Imagine Joy Division's Ian Curtis fronting a Television-influenced "Rescue"-era Echo and the Bunnymen. Musical roots I can really love.

So why can't I hear this band locally, hmm? You know, ON THE RADIO?
I Woke Up With Two Females in My Bed


Unfortunately, they were cats, so this isn't as racy as all that. It's good news, though that they were a mere 18 inches apart and not glaring, spitting, hissing at each other. It's progress.

Regular readers have already met Bennie, my five year old orange tabby. She's my bud, and yeah, I dote on her. Got a problem with that? The last couple of years, I've thought Bennie might benefit from not being alone so much, that she might like a companion.

Back in early Fall, another orange tabby kitten (who is distantly related to Bennie from a neighborhood alpha tom) started coming around whenever she saw me. This kitten looks about 9 to 13 months old. She has nearly identical coloring to Benny, lighter and more like straw to Bennie's caramel; her tail rings are more defined and her face is thinner. She has naturally sad eyes. This kitten loved to come in a hang out, when she could. She's no dummy -- warmth, food, a friendly human, carpet. She knew a good thing when she saw it.

The new cat is named Rocky. Her tail looks raccoon-ish, so that's how she got the name. She's affectionate as all hell, way more than stand-offish and skittish Bennie. They've been getting along like gasoline and fire. Bennie is not at all happy about sharing. She keeps staring at Rocky as though she's saying, "Who let this offense to the natural order in here?" Bennie will even turn her back on me once in a while and not respond. I get the message.

Rocky's only flaw is her gassiness. Man, is she an eye-burning stink machine.

But things are getting better with time. My biggest fear was litter box disruption. Bennie has never broken litter box training, her most sterling quality. I worried a new cat might screw that up, or force Rocky to poop elsewhere if Bennie wouldn't share. Hasn't happened, which gives me hope for their larger relationship. Like I said, last night I found them both on the bed with me. It makes my narrow bed pretty crowded, but it's sweet.

I live for the day, hopefully this Spring, when I'll walk in and find them lying side by side somewhere. Wish us luck.
Back in Kinder, Gentler Days





Remember back to those halcyon days of January 1st when the local media attended the City Mayor's State of the City speech? They all expected fireworks and so had to be there to report it. In their view, there were no bombshells and no bad vibes. They all pronounced it a new era, one where Herenton was a nicer guy. Ahhhh...sweet memories.

Now, just seventeen days later, Herenton is deeper into it than he was after last year's flame-thrower. If you listen to the speech, he really wasn't as nice as the media tried to make it appear. He definitely takes some pointed shots. His remarks since then -- at luncheons, at City Council meetings, at State legislative meetings, in interviews -- dug deeper and news holes and have cast him in the starkest, most confrontative, light of his career.

The question now is, will all the fireworks and potshots fade out as the year moves along? Will we, by Spring, be told that fences have been mended, bouquets sent, hands shaken, backs slapped, and that all is well again? Will all this die down, again? Will private differences and animosities be papered over with false bonhommie in public? Will a local media that knows otherwise play along?

Now that Cameron Harper has kicked down the door, will the media step through? Can we finally see a new era in Memphis reporting, one that doesn't "go along to get along?" Whether Harper behaved appropriately for a journalist isn't relevant now. The deed has been done. Will local media keep up the pressure, or knuckle under to the Mayor's threats? Will they act horrified and return to the same old song and dance? (Current scorecard: WPTY/24 and WMC/5 covered the Harper/Herenton flap; WREG/3 and WHBQ/13 -- MIA. The Commercial Appeal? Small, inside-the-section article and some letters to the editor.)

You can now take a journey back to sweeter days thanks to the Mayor's website. His State of the City speech is now available online. (Once again, though, it must be noted that these are Windows Media versions only. Nothing in QT or Real or MP3 or other platform-independent formats. Shame!) It's in an audio-only version and low- and high-bandwidth video versions. Relive the golden past!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Bloggers Bash 2005 v.1


Is it too early to look at another bloggers bash?

The last one (BB#3, but the fourth one held: #1, #2, #2.5, #3) was just a month ago, but as with all the rest a great time was had. I'd like to hang out with y'all again. And with some of the other bloggers we've been discovering. With dozens of Memphis bloggers, we can surely get a turnout into double digits, yes?

Cafe Francisco, though, would not be my choice of venue. While they had the advantage of wifi (Eric and Len live-blogged) and a nice, comfortable space to hang out in, the "music" was too damned loud. I had trouble hearing conversation, which kinda defeats our purpose. The prices were outrageous: $10 for a BLT (and a surcharge for the T!), a bag of chips and tea; self-service? I think not. And though they were nice enough to let us stay past close, they also abandoned us. We had to scare up someone to find out what was happening. But mine is a single vote; if everyone else thinks they're jake, then so it is.

So, the floor is open. Date? Location? Any businesses reading this blog think they'd like the free blog-exposure? Good service will get you a lot of good notices. Wifi is doubleplusgood.

This time, we also need to get out the word. Blog posts, email friends, fliers, etc. Maybe notices in the dead tree media? I'll try to assemble an addybook and let everyone I've found know. Don't let me forget. Of course, all you Nashvegans who might happen to be in The City of God's Commode (I just made that up. Pretty spiffy; gotta remember it.) that night are invited.

New year, new bash. Let's roll!
That Was Weird


Around 10PM I heard a loud thud followed by a crash. Moments later, one of those voice alarms started up. "Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!" I got up from the computer to look out the front door just in time to see a dark car, a small compact like a Datsun B-210 or something, swing wide on the street and head down the block. Right turn and off to Union Avenue.

I got curious and walked outside. Not a good thing, really, in this neighborhood; it can result in getting sucked into someone else's bad business. But it turns out that the antique store on the corner had the front glass knocked out! A knot of young folks -- twenty-something, all in black, tatted and pierced, well-fed and middle class -- came around the corner. Some of them live there, upstairs in the loft. They had felt the building shake, then heard all the noise.

Turns out a car (maybe the one I saw, maybe a white car others saw) going south on Avalon had swerved into the intersection, crossed lanes and streets, plowed through a stop sign, shearing it off at ground level to propel it into the glass and into the store! You could see the car's track across the intersection, through some dirt, into the building and then down the sidewalk on Monroe. We later found a piece of headlight and then a large piece of side panel.

Apparently, the car's driver figured the cost of repairing the car was a whole lot less trouble than explaining whatever happened to the cops. And paying for the damage to the building, which is considerable, including some damaged antiques inside.

Wow. Never a dull moment on my block. At least the kids in the loft look like nice folks. Welcome to the neighborhood.
He's Baa-aack


Chris Davis is a writer for the Memphis Flyer; he also does the Fly on the Wall column. We've emailed a time or two and though he's as far left as they come, he's not a bad egg. This fall he took the plunge and started his own blog, The Flypaper Theory. Mostly he was venting the usual anti-Bush spleen. As the Christmas holidays approached, he claimed pressures of work and real life (oh yeah, suuuuure....) and suspended the blog.

Well, he's back and with a bang.
It's no secret that Chris Peck, the CA'stop dog editor has a vision for the paper. He runs press releases createdby the PR departments of various organizations, and he runs them as bylined "special to the Commercial Appeal" stories. On at least one occasion--if memory serves--a colleague pointed out a business-related story written by the subject's mother. Pet pictures have popped up in the new M section. Boondocks has been moved to the Editorial page to appease all the small-minded racists who write letters and complain that the satirical strip is racist.

In previous conversations and e-mail exchanges I've had with the editor he's made it quite clear that he wants to give Memphis a newspaper that looks like Memphis, reflecting the city's values, and chock full of things that the average Memphian is dying to read. And that doesn't sound so bad, now does it? But there's a big problem with the theory.

Making the
CAlook more like Memphis really means making Memphians look like they wantto be seen. It’s a funhouse mirror that makes you look 10-pounds lighter and 10-years younger. And that sort of approach is fine for society tabs like RSVP, or the dearly departed Elite Memphis (RIP), but not for the paper of record. In positioning itself as a flatterer and a suck up to institutions by treating unvetted press releases as news, the CA takes on a grating, untrustworthy, and decidedly Eddie Haskell-like smarm.
Much more where this came from. And you know when a loony lefty like Chris (he's so far out he's in the shadow of the "Here There Be Monsters" signs) and a libertarian righty like me agree on something, there must be a nugget of truth. When I first read that the New CA was no longer reporting but now in the business of "telling stories" and "telling the story" of "Greater Memphis," well I didn't need to smell the smoke to know the house was on fire.

Welcome back, Chris.
Radio Rant


So, while I'm blogging late, I have MTV2's Subterranean on the television. Hot damn but I'm hearing some great music -- The Concretes, Secret Machines, Interpol, Mesh, Kings of Leon, The Mieces, Dandelion, The Delays, The Thermals and a ton of bands whose names I can even remember! I think Rachel's Scenestars covers similar ground. Incredible music I really like and would listen to all day long....

IF IT WAS ON THE RADIO!!

Dozens of local stations and no one is playing this music. How much more moribund does this industry have to become before change happens? The supremacy of audience delivery for advertisers has drained the life from music radio. No wonder that the last radio station I listened to regularly was effin' Triple J from AUSTRALIA!

You hear me, Clear Channel? AUSTRALIA!!

I swear, when I finally upgrade to DSL or cable, I am so turning my back on local radio. You guys SUCK! You can all go cash your paychecks at the First National Bank of HELL!!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Vern Estes


Say "Estes Model Rockets" to men of a certain age and the effect is instant and infectious. Boys of the 60s and 70's built their paper and balsa rockets by the millions, launching them into the skies all across America. Uncountable careers in science and engineering were started thanks to model rocketry and at least one astronaut has come from the ranks of model rocketeers!

G. Harry Stine was a White Sands engineer with an interest in the budding amateur rocket movement of the 1950s. He was concerned because young boys were being blinded and maimed trying to build their own pipe rockets. (Think October Sky.) When shoe salesman and amateur chemist Orville Carlisle contacted him, after reading some of Stine's articles on rockets in Popular Mechanics, he told him of some black powder, throw-away rocket motors he'd been designing. Carlisle sent Stine a box of the motors and a couple of the Rock-a-chute rocket kits he'd been experimenting with. The beauty of Carlisle's innovation was that the motors were safe to store, premade and were tossed away after use. You just recovered your rocket, threw out the used motor, put in a fresh one, and launched again! Simple and safe.

Stine contacted some area boys and had them give it a shot. They blew through the whole box of motors in one afternoon, then clamored for more. Stine understood that he'd found his answer and got to work. He and Carlisle started Model Missiles, Inc. to sell Carlisle's kits and motors. Stine promoted them in Popular Mechanics and started to create and promulgate a set of safety rules. (Remember, he was an engineer.) Within a few years, they were selling hundreds of rockets and motors.

Carlisle couldn't keep up with the demand for his black powder engines, so Stine looked around for someone with fireworks experience who could start a factory. He found Vern Estes of Colorado. The rest, of course, is history.

Estes Industries became, and remains to this day, the number one model rocket company in the world. Tens of millions of kids (and now adults, too) have flown their kits. Rockets that Vern designed in the early Sixties are still being sold today: Alpha, Big Bertha, Mosquito. Vern has become a kind of father figure to the hobby, always modest and self-effacing, welcome at launches all around the world. And until age slowed him down (he's around 70 now), he attended a lot of launches, too.

Now comes word that he's seriously begun work on his autobiography and history of the hobby, "Dear Mr. Estes". He started the book about a decade ago, but seems now to really gotten serious about completing and publishing it. I know I'll get a copy.

A few fun rocket links:
Estes Industries: The backbone of the hobby. In comics terms, the DC to Centuri Engineering's Marvel.
National Association of Rocketry: Another of Harry Stine's legacies to the hobby. There has never been a serious injury or death due to model rocketry and the NAR can be thanked for that.
Tripoli Rocketry Asociation: Boys grow up.
Jim Z's: Estes and Centuri may not make them any more, but that doesn't mean you can't build 'em! A real nostalgia trip....
Rocketry Online: Links galore!
Mid-South Rocket Society: The local model rocketry club. Root around in the photos and you might find yours truly in there!
Quiz Time


A fun quiz for your morning (afternoon, evening) surf. Just how much attention do you pay to the ordinary, everyday things in your life. Find out here, with the "Just How Observant Are You?" quiz. Sadly, I only got 20 of 27. Post your score in comments.
The Classic Are Classics For a Reason


One of the tenets of revision of the modern literary canon is that blacks, women, minority-this and minority-that can't "relate" to the thoughts, no matter how penetrating or profound, of dead white European men. After all, what does Shakespeare have to say to the modern condition? Hamlet's alienation and despair mean nothing to today's urban youth. Romeo and Juliet's desperate attempts at love in the midst of family fueding doesn't speak to instant messaging kids. European anti-Semitism? Please....

City Journal, a magazine I'm going to have to pay more attention to, has an excellent article called The Classic in the Slums. Jonathan Rose looks at how well versed in the classics the very poor of 19th and early 20th century England were and what it meant for them. He also clears up some myths and misconceptions that have arisen in recent decades.
Clearly, something more radical needs to be done. Literary studies, I suggest, could be revitalized, and could once again engage the general public, by turning its attention to the ordinary reader in history.

Some groundbreaking scholars have done precisely that. In The Cheese and the Worms (1980), Carlo Ginzburg recovered the story of Menocchio, a miller in sixteenth-century Italy who acquired and read (with a highly independent mind) a vernacular Bible, Boccaccio's Decameron, travel books, perhaps even the Qur'an. In Reading Becomes a Necessity of Life: Material and Cultural Life in Rural New England, 1780-1835 (1989), William Gilmore found Vermont farmers stocking their home libraries with Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Dr. Johnson, Walter Scott, Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Sterne, and John Locke. In Readers and Society in Nineteenth-Century France: Workers, Women, Peasants (2001), Martyn Lyons discovered workingmen who haunted second-hand bookstalls along the Seine, devouring Ch√Ęteaubriand, Alexandre Dumas, Goethe, Shakespeare, and the philosophes of the Enlightenment. Elizabeth McHenry's prizewinning Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African-American Literary Societies (2002) unearthed a tradition we scarcely knew existed: black Americans discussing Milton, Spenser, Homer, Aeschylus, Longfellow, Dryden, Pope, Browning, Pindar, and Sappho, as well as Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Impressive networks of workers' libraries were set up not just by Welsh colliers, but also by Colorado miners, the Social Democratic Party in imperial Germany, trade unions in interwar Poland, study circles in Sweden, the Histadrut labor federation in mandatory Palestine, and anarchists in pre-Franco Spain. And in Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Anna in the Tropics, cigar makers listen to the classics read aloud while they work—a Cuban tradition, but also practiced in many other parts of the world. Everywhere we look, in a diversity of cultures and historical periods, we find "common" readers tackling remarkably challenging literature.
A fascinating, eye-opening work.
Blast! Damn You All!


Ahhh, thank you Seth McFarlane and Family Guy. I've been having troubles for months now with not finding much enjoyment out of life. Dysphoria, or whatever it's called. I've tried renting funny movies with disastrous results. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy? Excruciatingly not funny. Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle? It had some moments, but was a disappointment. Napoleon Dynamite? Ick. Funniest movie I've seen recently was a little-known Scottish comedy, Janice Beard 45WPM.

(Although I'll give props to The Incredibles. I was trying to figure out if I could see it again that day, after only twenty minutes. Great movie, but I consider it more an adventure movie than a comedy. I love its decidedly un-PC message. Too bad the sequel is about two years off.)

And then I find out that FOX has brought back Family Guy in anticipation of its return with new episodes starting in May! Two back to back episodes every Sunday this month. Whee! My dysphoria lifted briefly and I was laughing again.

"Remember: Guns don't kill people. Dangerous minorities do." Stewie doing William Shatner doing "Rocketman." The Real Live Griffins. Heck, just a half-hour of Stewie and Brian would keep me in stitches, and word is there's another Stewie/Brian road episode coming up in the new ones!

Yeah, I'm happy again.
Carnival of the Historians


Via Instapundit comes a link to the History Carnival #1. This is a roundup of interesting posts from a variety of history bloggers. With all of civilisation and time to peruse, it's a broad and varied anthology.
The 2020 Report: Duh


So the National Intelligence Council releases it latest look into the world's future and divines the following:

1. China and India will increase in importance. Maybe Indonesia and Brazil, too. Unless something surprising happens.
2. Globalisation will continue and raise all boats. Unless there's an unexpected economic event.
3. No big wars are likely to break out. Unless the unexpected happens.
4. Terrorism will continue.
5. The United States will slip a bit, but remain the world's dominant power. Unless something unexpected happens.

The report, which is supposed to look fifteen years ahead, merely describes the world we know right now. It could have been written by any competent person who follows world events. It's no wonder our intelligence establishment is such crap, if these are the kinds of minds we have at work.

Still, if you feel weak on international issues, this isn't a bad primer.