Friday, January 28, 2005

Star Trek: Enterprise -- Oh Yeah!


Oh hell yeah. Tonight's episode, "Babel One," is just the kind of Star Trek I've been hoping for. Gruff, bluff, in your face Tellarites. Paranoid, scheming Andorians. Even Romulans! This is the kind of action-packed stuff Star Trek can do well. If this is Manny Coto finally settling into his production/show style, I'm happy.

The same moving camera and snappy editing I mentioned in the Enterprise post down below was evident here. I didn't check the credits, so I don't know if this was the same director or the new Trek style. There were fish-eye lenses in the alien ship and even long-focus lenses used up close in a chase scene in the Enterprise's corridors. Sometimes the always-moving camera gets a little old, but it's a good style.

The episode opens with a great Hoshi/Archer scene that Linda Park shines in. Fans have been saying for years that Linda's every bit as hot as Jolene Blalock, so it's good to see her being used a bit more. The happy smile she flashes at Archer at the end of their scene is completely winning.

The Tellarites were introduced in TOS (The Original Series) episode "Journey to Babel," and seen only in that episode until a season two ENT where the episode was built around two Tellarites. Those two were a letdown, as they didn't behave like the "argumentative" species in TOS. No problem with "Babel One." These guys are just what you'd hope for. It was hugely fun to see them again.

The Andorian captain, Shran, Archer's sometime friend and sometime enemy, was back with another Andorian we'd seen before, his HOTT officer Tovar (sp?). Best of all, we get to see Tovar in a swimsuit -- lots of shapely blue skin kicking the crap out of some Starfleet Marines. Bring on the (green skinned) Orion slave girls!

All the scenes with the Andorians, Tellarites and humans arguing rang so true, just like a fan would want. There was the expected talk about trying to for alliances for cooperation, setting up the meetings next season (we hope) that lead to the United Federation of Planets.

One thing I was pleased to see was that the main story -- ferrying Tellarites and Andorians across space -- was the focus, but they didn't forget to work in small bits of character business around that. The interplay -- Archer serving tea and the way T'Pol drinks it -- around the dialogue in an Archer/T'Pol dinner scene tells us nearly as much as their words, especially T'Pol's expressions. When Trip and Reed go over to an alien ship, they find time to talk about Trip's now-ended relationship with T'Pol. They even reference a season one remark by Reed about T'Pol's "bum." Nice bit for the fans there.

And then there's the Romulans! Oh yeah. All through the episode we see them in a ship's bridge (two of them), doing something with another being trapped in a chair with its fingers attached to controls and its head fully encased in a metal helmet. As Tucker and Reed work through the ship we keep wondering if they'll catch the Romulans; but we also know that no human has seen a Romulan in their time and won't ever until the time of TOS.

They solve this problem so neatly, so unexpectedly and so smartly, I'm seriously impressed by the writers and the director. When Tucker and Reed burst into the alien bridge, it's empty! They cut to the identical bridge where we still see the two Romulans and their captive. The camera pulls back through what we first think is a porthole, showing what turns into a wall, to slowly continue to pull back and reveal a building in the heart of a Romulan city! The alien ship was remote controlled. It's so carefully set up that the reveal is a surprise.

Some people will likely moan that this episode is yet another recycled plot. They aren't completely wrong, but the most important thing is that they stamp it with Enterprise's particular style.

I'd like to think that some of the flat episodes from earlier this season were just down to Manny Coto getting his hands around his show. I'm really hoping that the most recent episodes are what we can expect from the show from here on out. Star Trek is exciting again.

Next week: challenge death fight with slashing blades!
Mike Fleming: Tool or Moron?

I make myself listen to the first half-hour of the Mike Phlegming show, just in case he has big local news. Usually, I turn him off right after that. The longest I've listened to his show on purpose has been an hour. Trust me, it was painful.

Anyway, right off the bat today, Phlegming announces the name of Herenton's baby-mamma, and where she works. Her phone number is now unlisted. He even talks about paternity tests, which I won't repeat. He then crows that he knows her street address, but he won't give that out! No sir, he has scruples. The public has a right to know, but apparently not that much.

I haven't listened to WDIA today, but I'm sure she's been outed over there, too. If the hosts won't say, plenty of callers will, just to out her. Scanning the 5PM news shows, I didn't see any stories naming her, but I might have missed something while changing channels. None of the news websites are naming her yet. Haven't read the Commercial Appeal yet, either.

So why does Phlegming feel the need to identify the woman? He claims the "public's right to know." Nah, I don't buy that for a second. It's about him getting back at the Mayor and looking good to his audience. Pure and simple. The man is such a waste of airtime and opportunity.

He almost always takes the easiest and cheapest position on whatever the topic of the day is. Criminals? Kill 'em. Politicians? Corrupt! Black Memphis pols? Idiots! Taxes? Too high! You name it. He's a glib button-pusher and about as deep. Partly, it's the nature of his show, where things have to hustle along pretty steadily. But I also think it's just Phlegming, that he's not an especially deep thinker.

He talks tough but, for example, during the Income Tax Wars he went after House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh daily for his efforts to pass the tax. When Naifeh appeared on his show, suddenly it was all niceness and "thank you" and obsequiousness. Having slammed radio talk show hosts the day before, Naifeh made a special point of exempting his friend Mike. It's like that time after time when he can get people to appear on his show. Not that many do.

Sometimes Phlegming will ask questions that don't seem connected to anything except making some obscure point. When he had County Mayor AC Wharton on, around the time of a previous John Ford blowup, he threw out a question, out of the blue, asking if AC had helped to write Ford's letter of apology. What? Sometimes it's pretty clear he's carrying water for some Republican interest, like with Mayor Rout's son and the Young Republicans.

There is his problem with vocabulary. Everything is idiotic, stupid, garbage, moronic, etc. He speaks in superlatives: it's always the "most" idiotic. "I can't believe it!" Oh, the list goes on and on. I can't count the number of times he gets lost in a sentence he's contructing, only to flounder around before making a lurch into a finish. You can tell he's a writer at heart and not especially good at thinking on his feet.

There are problems with his program format and time. Since its so packed full of ads and promo or news breaks, he's constantly against a break. It forces him to cut off callers or finish their thoughts for them to hustle them along. He has to repeat things for new listeners dropping in during their drive home, which eats up time.

Phlegming's bad about abruptly changing topics. After a break he'll come back and, even though he's promised to take calls, he'll start up on something new. When he takes a call, if the caller wants to talk about something previous Phlegming will cut them off and say something inane like "You've got to keep up on this show!" There's no rhyme or reason for it.

A recent example: When he broke the news yesterday about Herenton's child, he said something like, "The baby doesn't have a name yet." Even though it's four months old, just because the Mayor didn't disclose his name Phlegming jumps on that to encourage callers to offer their own suggestions. So childish.

If anyone out there can forward Arbitron numbers, I'd like to see them. I'd like to know just how many listeners he has. Especially as compared to shows on WDIA, and to morning shows. The station brags he's the most listened to, but that's against a pretty small pool: him and the James brothers on WDIA, I think. That's not saying much.

Well, 680AM inaugurated the Air America schedule today. They are also talking about having a liberal local call-in radio show. I'd listen to that, at least to start. It mostly, as always, depends on the host. Pretty much anyone will be a step up from Phlegming, even across the political aisle. And maybe if they give him some competition, he'll either improve or lose his slot.

We can hope.

INSTANT UPDATE A quick scan of the 6PM news shows that the woman is not being named. Good for them! It's not germane to whatever points about Herenton that need to be made.

INSTANT CORRECTION My bad! WREC/3 is identifying the woman. Tools.

I just had a brush with my worst fear as an apartment renter: a fire in a neighboring apartment. Luckily, it was confined to that one unit and no one was injured.

I was just goofing off online when I smelled acrid smoke. My first thought was that the neighbor behind me was grilling something. But when I stuck my head outside, black smoke was pouring out from under the breezeway. (I live upstairs.) Leaning farther out, I saw it was from the apartment diagonally down from mine, in the middle of the building. A woman driving by was parked in the street trying to call 911. I saw my neighborlady standing near the stairs with her infant child.

No one had yet gotten 911, so I dialed. I was put on hold! It was only a few seconds, but still. But after the call got in, it took only a few minutes for almost half-a-dozen pumpers and ladder trucks to arrive.

By this point, the smoke was really dense and roiling out of the unit. The neighbor said she'd been asleep when her child starting crying loud enough to wake her. That young man saved her life. She grabbed him and headed out. It was only a moment later when I saw them outside. I went to the occupied apartments to bang on the doors to wake them up, if they were home. No one was; it was just the three of us. Another neighbor in back came around to let her son wait in his warm car, away from the scary stuff.

The Fire Dept. cut our power all around (for safety) and went in. It didn't take long to put out, as it was mostly contained to the front living room. Apparently, a bad mixture of electric heat and drapery. When they knocked out the back window, another column of choking smoke poured out. Everything they had is ruined by either smoke or water damage.

Things were squared away in pretty short order. The firemen kept us advised on what was going on. Very professional and courteous responses on their part. All the windows in the apartment were broken out, and the inside is destroyed. It will take major renovations before it's livable. The neighbors got moved to another unit in the building. All of them are safe, thank goodness. The boy saw some smoke leftovers and started to whimper a bit, so I imagine he'll have a tough time sleeping tonight. He's a hero, just too young to comprehend.

The big fear on my and my upstairs neighbor's part is that a wall fire is still lurking inside. We made sure to have the firemen check for that and they say we're fine. Damage was mostly confined to the front wall, not any side/conjoining walls. Still, I doubt I'll be sleeping tonight.

Both the cats, once the smoke got thick, bolted for their hidey holes. Rocky is out now, scoping out the situation; Bennie is still hiding, which is normal for her. She's slow to recover from these kinds of scares. My apartment was undamaged, but is pungent with acrid smoke. Even though it's freezing, I have the windows open and a fan on to mitigate things. My fingers are numb and shaking as I type this.

Only bad thing I learned is that the other upstairs neighbor, a young woman, had left her apartment just minutes before the fire really took off. She had noted the smoke and smell but didn't worry about it! She had gone off with not much second thought. Thanks lady.

Things are beginning to settle down. The folks downstairs are in a new unit, sorting through the wreckage. They know they need to act before it gets dark, because the unit will be looted overnight. The landlord showed up. She parked in the lot next door and surreptitiously came around to see how bad it was. MLGW got out pretty quickly and turned our power back on.

It could have been much, much worse, of course, and I'm grateful it wasn't. No one was seriously injured (or killed!). The fire didn't spread (yet!). It's over now and the block will be sharing and retelling the story for months to come.
Remember Kids, They Have To Give Them To Someone

I'll be honest here. I put just about no stock in television news awards. There may be some merit to them, but the entertainment (television, film, video) industry is awash in awards. They are the most self-congratulatory group I've ever seen. Similar thinking applies to the news industry, print and broadcast. Especially television news, which often combines the worst of both. For news, there are local Emmies, state Emmies, regional Emmies, national Emmies, etc., etc. Stay in the business long enough and don't suck and you'll eventually have one fall into your lap.

So, finding out that WPTY/24's Jeni DiPrizio won an Emmy for her "Road Rebels" feature was not a surprise; it was also confirmation of my worst suspicions.

Jeni darts into traffic to confront surprised drivers with their bad driving. What could possibly go wrong here? I want to know why she hasn't gotten tickets for traffic violations. If she's getting a pass from the cops, I want to know if I can have one too, if I blog about something traffic-related. Like the speeders on my block.

This is Memphis. It will happen soon that she picks the wrong driver to confront. She's one cracked-out, drunk, pissed-off Memphis driver away from catastrophe. She'll be lucky to get a face full of pepper spray. Worst case, she gets shot by a driver who doesn't see her clearly. A fender in the bones is another possibility.

Why this kind of thing gets awarded is beyond my simple thinking skills. I guess I have to be credentialed and trained in broadcast journalism to understand it.
Implications of the Global Baby Bust

Excellent essay over at Foreign Affairs on the coming problems of world underpopulation, the so-called "baby bust." Phillip Longman looks at falling birth rates around the developed and developing world, meeting the promises of retirement security, and how it all may shake out. You should read the whole thing, and it's a bit long, so I will address a few points here.
Although many factors are at work, the changing economics of family life is the prime factor in discouraging childbearing. In nations rich and poor, under all forms of government, as more and more of the world's population moves to urban areas in which children offer little or no economic reward to their parents, and as women acquire economic opportunities and reproductive control, the social and financial costs of childbearing continue to rise.
This is what the social scientists and science fiction writers of the Sixties and Seventies failed to recognise. I can remember all the doom'n'gloom over a world swimming in people. Soylent Green anyone?

That didn't happen. What experts quickly discovered was that, freed of the shackle of pregnancy by the Pill and by on-demand abortion, free of religious pressures to produce children, free to pursue their own education and careers, women did so in droves. Of course, these same women stopped having kids. Everywhere that Western educational and cultural norms have taken hold, the same has happened or is happening. China's population control, the only exception, has come at the point of a gun.

This fact alone would seem to argue for the Bush Doctrine of spreading liberty and freedom. We haven't been picky if newly-democratic nations tend to fall into the European model of social democratism, which accomplishes the same thing population-wise. What has always mattered is women: giving them reproductive control and occupational options.
A nation's GDP is literally the sum of its labor force times average output per worker. Thus a decline in the number of workers implies a decline in an economy's growth potential. When the size of the work force falls, economic growth can occur only if productivity increases enough to compensate. And these increases would have to be substantial to offset the impact of aging.
One thing not mentioned by Longman is robotics. This can go a considerable distance in improving productivity, though there are natural limits. We in America have come nowhere near those limits, so watch for robotics to become a buzzword in the coming decades.
Theoretically, raising the retirement age could help to ease the burden of unfunded old-age benefits. But declining fitness among the general population is making this tactic less feasible. In the United States, for example, the dramatic increases in obesity and sedentary lifestyles are already causing disability rates to rise among the population 59 and younger. Researchers estimate that this trend will cause a 10-20 percent increase in the demand for nursing homes over what would otherwise occur from mere population aging, and a 10-15 percent increase in Medicare expenditures on top of the program's already exploding costs. Meanwhile, despite the much ballyhooed "longevity revolution," life expectancy among the elderly in the United States is hardly improving. Indeed, due to changing lifestyle factors, life expectancy among American women aged 65 was actually lower in 2002 than it was in 1990, according to the Social Security Administration.
This essay also makes the point elsewhere that we do face a Social Security crisis, but for reasons like those above. And it was written nearly a year ago, before the most recent political debate.

This is going to become crucial in the next couple of decades, so will we be seeing more and more intrusion by the government, or by cost-conscious insurance companies? Will there be a return to a sort of "means testing" based on weight and overall physical fitness? Don't be surprised.
Current population trends are likely to have another major impact: they will make military actions increasingly difficult for most nations. One reason for this change will be psychological. In countries where parents generally have only one or two children, every soldier becomes a "Private Ryan" -- a soldier whose loss would mean overwhelming devastation to his or her family.
In America, we've been seeing more and more of this since Vietnam. It's an effective anti-war strategy, which is why the media is drenched with it since the Second War in Iraq. Even with an all-volunteer Army (an important change too many don't consider), we'll still find it harder and harder to justify sending soldiers to die.

The other side of this is China, which already has an excess male population (ie. men who will never marry) in the tens of millions and will see that grow in the coming decades. Military planners don't need a lot of fancy equipment when they can send in a million-man force in any given assault. This, I think, will have consequences for Taiwan and North Korea, possibly even resource-rich Siberian Russian. Turning an army of men loose on an occupied nation, where they can have a slightly better chance of gaining a wife, has to have some appeal to Chinese leaders.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the imbalance between what the U.S. federal government will collect in future taxes under current law and what it has promised to pay in future benefits now exceeds 500 percent of GDP. To close that gap, the IMF warns, "would require an immediate and permanent 60 percent hike in the federal income tax yield, or a 50 percent cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits." Neither is likely. Accordingly, in another 20 years, the United States will be no more able to afford the role of world policeman than Europe or Japan can today.
What Social Security crisis? American political leaders of the Right have already proposed shifting some of the burden of NATO back to Europe, but that's not going to happen. They just can't afford it. Their welfare states are overburdened already and facing relying on foreign, unassimilated workers to keep it going. You think those immigrants will join in?

European Union expansion east, to the newly democratic nations of the old Soviet sphere, can make a hollow military practicable by creating an enormous buffer zone between Russia and Europe. But Russia is already nervous by the encroachment and is making noises. They won't be able to afford to do anything about it for years, unless they can find a way to end the oligarchs and move to open markets, letting their economy grow. That will mean Russia has to import its own foreign workers, most likely from the Asian Islamic nations of their south and south-east. Which puts them into this problem, too; especially given their current negative population numbers.
Population aging is also likely to create huge legacy costs for employers. This is particularly true in the United States, where health and pension benefits are largely provided by the private sector. General Motors (GM) now has 2.5 retirees on its pension rolls for every active worker and an unfunded pension debt of $19.2 billion. Honoring its legacy costs to retirees now adds $1,800 to the cost of every vehicle GM makes, according to a 2003 estimate by Morgan Stanley. Just between 2001 and 2002, the U.S. government's projected short-term liability for bailing out failing private pension plans increased from $11 billion to $35 billion, with huge defaults expected from the steel and airline industries.
There's a whole section of the essay looking at these kinds of costs, along the costs of a larger, more sustaining retirement state. Did you read that: $1800 per vehicle for pension costs?
Indeed, according to a study by the UN Population Division, if the United States hopes to maintain the current ratio of workers to retirees over time, it will have to absorb an average of 10.8 million immigrants annually through 2050. At that point, however, the U.S. population would total 1.1 billion, 73 percent of whom would be immigrants who had arrived in this country since 1995 or their descendants....

Another is the prospect of a cultural backlash against immigrants, the chances of which increase as native birthrates decline. In the 1920s, when widespread apprehension about declining native fertility found voice in books such as Lothrop Stoddard's "The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy," the U.S. political system responded by shutting off immigration. Germany, Sweden, and France did the same in the 1970s as the reality of population decline among their native born started to set in.
I can't find it now, but I remember reading last year that most to all of the population increase in the USA in the last census came from immigration. If you factor that back out, the US had flat population numbers!

The cultural backlash is already well underway. If we follow past history and shut down immigration for a generation, to absorb the most recent groups, then we too face shrinking worker numbers, exacerbating the problem immigration is masking. But seen another way, some things begin to make sense.

The Bush (and previous Republican administrations) have shown almost no interest in stopping the flood of illegals from Mexico. Could it be that they've done the math and seen that Mexican immigration is necessary? Will Mexico's coming hyper-aging population problem (read the whole essay, OK?) mean a reverse flood back, to take care of aging parents, or an ever more growing flood of young workers taking American wages and sending larger and larger percentages back home? What kind of economic effect will such a large outflow of potential capital and consumer spending have on our economy?
So where will the children of the future come from? The answer may be from people who are at odds with the modern environment -- either those who don't understand the new rules of the game, which make large families an economic and social liability, or those who, out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether.
This is where the so-called "clash of civilisations" comes into play. Arab and Asian (a forgotten, but large group) Muslims will continue to grow in numbers, versus Christians, for quite a while. It's not likely that Muslim resistance to the West is motivated by a meta-awareness of this issue. But the functional result is still to see growing imbalance between Christian (European, American, and shrinking) populations and Muslim (Asian, Arab, and growing). Given the already large numbers of Muslims in the world, this will affect the problem.

But there's also, as the essay discusses, the growing movement in America for Christian cultures to disconnect from the larger culture. While this has the net effect of increasing white, European numbers, it's hard to see how this is sustainable when the attractions of delaying or avoiding children for material prosperity and career success are so strong. Some of the proposed solutions, unfortunately, involve government intervention.

There's another mode, which Longman only barely touches on: following the African-American model of having children. the dominant paradigm is from the upper-class ideals of modern American feminism, which is still largely class-driven and white-, European-oriented. Overwhelmingly, we see feminism approach motherhood as something to do after career success. More and more, medicine and culture are deformed to allow older women to have children at a time of life when their bodies are less well-suited.

In the African-American community, it's far more common for young women to have children, then enter the workforce and later still work on educational success. Many black women begin having children in their late teens, when women's bodies are better suited to pregnancy. Also, grandmothers are often still in their thirties and forties and better capable of providing post-natal support.

Institutional feminism stigmatises this model, but it seems to offer some attractive advantages. First, education is much simpler to fit around a child-raising schedule than a job. By the time a woman completes higher education or job training (or begins to seriously pursue a formal career) her children are of school age. The woman's career is then not disrupted by a need for extended leave, nor are businesses stressed by the demand to keep options open for leave-takers.

In this light, educational financial support serves two complementary purposes: first, we get a better-educated woman and second, it indirectly encourages child-rearing by smoothing out the complexities. It surprises me that this isn't explored more.
How can secular societies avoid population loss and decline? The problem is not that most people in these societies have lost interest in children. Among childless Americans aged 41 years and older in 2003, for example, 76 percent say they wish they had had children, up from 70 percent in 1990. In 2000, 40-year-old women in the United States and in every European nation told surveys that they had produced fewer children than they intended. Indeed, if European women now in their 40s had been able to produce their ideal number of children, the continent would face no prospect of population loss.

The problem, then, is not one of desire. The problem is that even as modern societies demand more and more investment in human capital, this demand threatens its own supply. The clear tendency of economic development is toward a more knowledge-based, networked economy in which decision-making and responsibility are increasingly necessary at lower levels. In such economies, however, children often remain economically dependent on their parents well into their own childbearing years because it takes that long to acquire the panoply of technical skills, credentials, social understanding, and personal maturity that more and more jobs now require. For the same reason, many couples discover that by the time they feel they can afford children, they can no longer produce them, or must settle for just one or two.
This is the nub of it for America. Government cannot encourage religion, but it clearly must not impede it. Government can encourage children by subsidy, possibly, if the focus is changed. The African-American model I talked about is an attractive possibility that demands further research.

I've only scratched the surface of this informative essay with these few excerpts. It's got wheels in my head turning like crazy. Current political trends don't seem to take into account the demographic trends underlying our society. Yes, war or disease could change the equations radically. But you can't plan for that, only alter plans afterward. You are encouraged to Read The Whole Thing.
Some Advice

An informative Slashdot thread on the usage and relative merits of various video formats. It's aimed at sites that host a lot of video files. For example....


It's bad enough that y'all choke your sites with all the blinky stuff, polls and ads, and remote-served crap that makes waiting for the actual news information to load such a bleeding pain. Remember, this is Memphis and a whole lot of your potential customers are still on dial-up. Have some mercy and maybe more of them will visit you.

More importantly, offer video segments in something other than Microsoft Windows Media Player format! Especially when it has to be the latest version. Most folks, like me, will just not bother with following links to download and install some bit of software for a 30 second video segment. Many of your visitors will be using Mac or Linux, too. Have some consideration. Use a platform independent format like Quicktime or RealPlayer. Or at least offer different options.

Nothing says "Screw you" like forcing customers to fit the demands of the vendor. Hasn't Microsoft abuse taught y'all anything? You're in the business of delivering information. Get serious about it.
I Am a Fountain of Knowledge

I forget which blog pointed me to this quiz. Please claim your credit in the comments. It's "20 Questions to a Better Personality." I learned that I am an SRDF. A Sober Rational Destructive Follower. A Fountain of Knowledge! Whee!!
You are cool, analytical, intelligent and completely unfunny. Sometimes you slice through conversation with a cutting observation that causes silence and sidelong glances. You make a strong and lasting impression on everyone you meet, the quality of which depends more on their personality than yours.

You may feel persecuted, as you can become a target for fun. Still, you are focused enough on your work and secure enough in your abilities not to worry overly.

You are productive and invaluable to those you work for. You are loyal, steadfast, and conscientious. Your grooming is impeccable. You are in good shape.

You are kind of a tool, but you get things done. You are probably a week away from snapping.

Addendum, 2004/07/19: this fits me 99%, there is a slight inaccuracy however. We are not necessarily completely unfunny. If we have a sense of humor (I do) it surfaces on the occasion with well-timed, completely dry, very sarcastic, wit. - Chase

Of the 82846 people who have taken this quiz since tracking began (8/17/2004), 7.5 % are this type.
I have to agree with Chase's addendum. I'm a very funny guy. Sometimes I'm a bit too gullible, and miss the joke, but I do have "teh funney." Everything else is spot on.

OK, except the grooming part. I'm a comfort slob.
Memphis Week in Review

Via Len, of the gang (With the addition of Karen, that makes y'all a gang now, right?) at Dark Bilious Vapors, comes Memphis News: The Week in Review. Your round-up of the important stuff you need to know.
Memphis' Newest Baby Daddies

You might think I'm going to go to town on Mayor Herenton for today's revelation that, in his sixties, he's a new father. You'd be wrong. I only have two concerns here: was the mother employed by the City, such that a relationship like this was improper, and was she ever the beneficiary of financial gain from City monies, or political money?

Two television stations are already telling viewers that the woman wasn't a City employee. I hope they follow up with her name to see if there's any money trail to worry about.

Absent that, I don't really care. He mentioned that he "had" a relationship with the woman, indicating something that's over. He's been mentioned recently in connection with Tonia Jackson, the woman who bought a house from him under oddly favorable circumstances. So, I doubt he'll marry the baby's mother. It's unfortunate that a playboy (which he is, though the local media tend to look the other way) made such a mistake, but that's the probability when you're sowing a lot of seeds. Judging by how Herenton's other children have done, I don't think the usual "fatherless African-American child" stereotype will apply.

And that's about the end of my interest.

Same for State Senator John Ford. The Commercial Appeal's reason for running a page one, above the fold, story by Marc Perrusquia is their long-standing animus (vendetta?) against him and all Fords not Harold, Jr. Sensationalist exploitation is the primary motivator for the television news coverage as well.

But there is one thing that came up worth taking a look at. In court testimony, on the record, Ford says he divides his time between the houses of his ex-wife and primary mistress and his residence in Nashville. That means, as some have noted, that he doesn't live in his district.

State law is clear:
§ 10. Qualifications of senators

No person shall be a Senator unless he shall be a citizen of the United States, of the age of thirty years, and shall have resided three years in this State, and one year in the county or district, immediately preceding the election. No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be eligible to any office or place of trust, the appointment to which is vested in the Executive or the General Assembly, except to the office of trustee of a literary institution.
His only real out is to say that, in the year before his last re-election, he lived at the Ford Family funderal home, his official residence. How that affects his child-support case should be fun to watch.

Asked for his legal opinion, State Attorney General Paul Summer basically punted, leaving the Senate to decide this matter. Now, the GOP caucus is going to file a complaint there to have the matter investigated.

That I'm fine with. The rest of the gawking into his sordid personal life I can live without. He's never pretended to be a social role model. It'll be interesting to see how Ford finagles this. Or will a couple of fucktard Republicans in the Senate vote with the Democrat again and give him yet another pass?

INSTANT UPDATE! Grrrrr. Before logging off for the night, I checked a couple of places and lo and behold, at Darrell Phillips' blog I found this:
I believe there is at least one member of every news organization in town who has known about this since last summer. We know her name and Social Security number too. But not one of us would have reported it had the Mayor not called a press conference today.
So why is every station in town calling this a "bombshell?" If they knew, as Darrell alleges, then it's "confirmation."

But it's the fact, once again, that there's one group of people who know things like this and then there's the rest of us. It's conflicting for me, because I'm not sure in what context you can report a story like this without something to precipitate it. Just announcing one day, "The Mayor has a secret he doesn't want you to know. We'll tell you tonight at five." (Ironically, that sounds exactly how it might be teased, doesn't it?) isn't good. Local news isn't in the habit of announcing things like this, a propos of nothing. Thankfully.

It's just that "some know, some don't" differential. It's part of why I started this blog, to even that out some. I don't want to just report rumor for spite's sake ("So and so's a drunk." "Guess which supposedly straight anchor cruises J. Wag's on weekends?") nor for tittilation's sake, as with this story. I'm not sure, if I'd known, that I would have said anything, at least until the Tonia Jackson story came along.

It's late and I'm not thinking clearly enough here to sort this out. It's mostly the closed network of the clued-in that bothers me. Television and print news draw a line; that's right and proper. But I think it would be better for Memphis and Shelby County if that line were redrawn in a more inclusive place.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I Wanna Write Like This One Day

I really admire James Lileks effortless writing style. Like Dennis Miller, he can pull so many random pop-culture references together in clever ways. From today's Bleat, there's this on the Iraqi elections:
I haven’t been writing about this here because I’m just taking the long, long view, and haven’t the time or inclination to argue with people who think “No WMD!” is the argument equivalent of a spreading a full house on the green felt table. It may seem so, but unfortunately we’re playing chess.
On Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, this:
I bought some, because it seemed unlikely that so many flavors could be jammed into one receptacle without creating some new uberflavor that opened new dimensions and let through the howling minions of hell.
Talking about his child's self-treated nosebleed, this:
It looked like she’d taped her mouth shut and sneezed six times. We’re talking cherry-bomb-in-a-lasagna-dish here.
A really wonderful writer.
The Herenton Recall: Thaddeus Matthews, Email This Blog

This story, from the Commercial Appeal, identifies local radio host Thaddeus Matthews as the source of the Herenton recall drive. Some other stories on local television news seem to back that up.

If anyone knows Mr. Matthews, please have him email this blog at the addy up on the left. Thanks! I'd like to get a copy of the petition signature page up on the Internet for anyone to download and start filling up.

FRIDAY 1PM UPDATE Thanks to James in comments for pointing me to this story in the Memphis Business Journal about the recall. It has some basic data on the legal requirements. Relevant quotes:
Thaddeus Matthews, a former local radio talk show host, has contacted Lunt about mounting a recall drive, saying he is frustrated by the lack of fiscal management and Herenton's proposal to yank $86 million in funding to city schools to balance the city's budget....

According to section 7 of the home rule amendment of the Memphis City Charter, if a "number of qualified voters equal to ten per centum of the total number of votes cast in the last municipal election for the office of Mayor and filed with the Election Commission (provided that no such petition shall be filed during the first two years of his term), the Election Commission shall call an election at the time of the next General Election after the filing of such petition at which said election the question will be: 'Shall the mayor be recalled?'

"If a number of voters equal to a majority of those voting on the question shall vote to recall the Mayor, the office shall be vacated when the Election Commission shall declare the results."

On Oct. 9, 2003, Herenton became the first mayor in the history of the city of Memphis to be elected to a fourth consecutive term. His fourth term began Jan. 1, 2004.

According to the Memphis Shelby County Election Commission, 69,571 voters cast ballots for mayor in the 2003 election. That means anyone wanting to place the recall question on the ballot would need just under 7,000 signatures on a petition that could be delivered to the Election Commission as early as Jan. 2, 2006....

Because the wording in the charter says the recall question could be placed on the ballot in the next general election, instead of specifying a municipal election, the recall question could appear on the Nov. 7, 2006 ballot.

If a majority of the voters say the mayor should be recalled, the "office shall be vacated when the Election Commission shall declare the results, and shall immediately be occupied by the person so designated to succeed the Mayor in case of his death, inability for any reason to serve, or resignation."

In the case of death, inability to serve or resignation, the chairman of the City Council would ascend to the top executive position in city government on an interim basis. That person would then serve until a special election could be held, according to council administrator Lisa Geater.
Uh, oh. That would be this guy, at the moment. Mayor Ed Ford? Erk!
Jerry Pournelle on Education

I'm a great fan of Jerry's blog, especially his views on how America is sliding from being a republic to an empire, and the lively exchanges and interesting links in his Current Mail. But he also hits some big nails squarely on the head in a recent mini-essay ("The Education Problem: Preliminary Analysis") on what's wrong in America's education system. Here's the beginning:
Letters in another conference stimulated me to write a mini-essay on education. It doesn't deserve to be called a real essay because this was essentially first draft, poured out in one sitting (as some of my old InfoWorld columns did back in the days of weekly deadlines).

Clearly what must happen is a recognition that brains matter, but so do other things; and that different people have different needs. That sounds as trivial as Aristotle's observation that injustice consists of treating equal things differently and different things equally, but it does not seem to have penetrated to the decision makers. Probably because carried to its conclusion it looks racist.

It is not only well known, but intuitively obvious that 'training of skills' and 'education' form a spectrum, and the higher the IQ the more boring skill training becomes, while the lower the IQ the more useless education becomes. I define 'education' as being taught how to learn; skill training as being taught a specific skill. Education benefits from some skill sets, like knowing the addition and multiplication tables which are best taught by rote; education then takes over in understanding what these rote memorized identities like 6 times 7 is 42 actually imply.

But the more abstract the reasoning, the more difficult it becomes for the lower IQ people. This may be deplorable, but it seems to be the way the Universe works, whether by Design, or random evolution, or the whim of Ghu, and this seems to be a confirmable hypothesis. The lower the IQ the more need for skill training.

Now this is all obvious at the ends of the spectrum. No one would send an IQ 85 teenager to an actual college for real education. Political correctness might insist that the manual trades or home economics school to which we send this lad or lassie be named a "college", but no one in his right mind would dream of making it a place for abstract education in the principles of physics, or even teaching algebra there. What IQ 85 needs is intensive drill in certain employable skills. Given that a useful citizen can emerge. Teaching such a person Latin and Greek wouldn't be much use nor would any other kind of education in abstract principles.

At the other end, you don't take an IQ 180 and send him (or her, but at that extreme it's more likely to be him, an unpalatable truth but a quite confirmable hypothesis) to a labor camp -- at least we don't generally approve of regimes that do that. One may recall that one part of The Triumph Of The Will was seeing a brigade of workers doing a manual of arms with a shovel, while the voiceover promised that one day both Classes and Masses would enjoy the benefits of such manual training. Pol Pot also comes to mind.

IQ 180 types don't skill training they need education. Given decent education they can in fact learn most of the things that the lower IQ people learn through skill training. The story of the absent minded professor is ubiquitous, but my observation has been that most smart people can learn to be plumbers and carpenters at need, and rather quickly at that. It was harder to learn to be a lumberjack before chain saws, but even that profession is no longer closed to the physically able smart types, and some even engage in such things as a hobby. Smart people decently educated can, at need, learn to do almost anything; another example of the fundamental unfairness of the universe.
Make sure to read the rest.

Presented Without Comment

I really can't think on anything to add to this, from the Houston Chronicle:
The owner of a convenience store in one of Dallas' poor neighborhoods thought it was odd when children from the elementary school across the street came in with $100 bills to pay for candy and chips.

Now Charlene Williams believes it was tied to a report that a student found as much as $100,000 and handed it out to other children, prompting threats to the children and their families to get the money back.

Lt. Jan Easterling, a Dallas police spokeswoman, said a felony warrant has been issued for 23-year-old Sylvespa Adams, of Dallas, in relation to the case.

"He's definitely tied to this whole thing and the money somehow," she said.

Easterling said the money, which has not been reported stolen, is likely drug money.

She said that it's been hard to determine the exact amount found. She said that detectives say it was at least in the thousands, and may range from $30,000 up to $100,000.

"They were just spending more than they normally do," said Williams, who owns a convenience store and grill across from Joseph J. Rhoads Learning Center.

"One boy came in here with a $100 bill and asked for change," said Williams. When she told him Saturday that he needed to be careful with his "mama's money," he told her "this ain't my mama's money, this is my money."

On Thursday, there was a strong police presence at the school for first-graders through sixth-graders after a lockdown went into place for a time the day before as rumors swirled about the money and threats of a drive-by shooting, said Dallas school district spokeswoman Sandra Guerrero.

Guerrero said Thursday security will be increased as long as necessary. "We want parents to have a sense that their kids will be safe coming to school," she said.

"We do have a lot of extra security around this school and where the kids live," Easterling said.

About 200 of the school's 600 children did not show up Thursday.

Easterling said that up to eight kids, ranging in age from 9 to 13, were involved.

She said that the money was found Saturday by one child. Easterling would not say where the money was found, but said it was not at the school.

Easterling said that the boy who found the money was passing it out at school Monday, which raised the suspicions of teachers.

She said that they were still interviewing children and parents, but weren't getting clear stories from the children on the money.

Easterling said that police have gotten several calls from parents who said that people had come to their door demanding their money back.

"Definitely people are saying they're afraid," Easterling said. "They're afraid for their kids."

Erie Roy told The Dallas Morning News that she was watching television with her 12-year-old son Tuesday afternoon when two men stormed through her open front door with two of the boy's friends. She said one of the men kept his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun and one of the boys was crying.

Roy said one of the men threatened her son, saying, "`I don't have no problem with killing you. I want my money right now.'"

She ordered her son into the kitchen and called 911, describing the men as they drove away.

"These are drug dealers. If they come back -- I'm afraid," she said, sobbing. "I know they're going to hurt me. What am I supposed to do?"

Roy said that although her youngest son was offered money by neighborhood kids Sunday. he never took it.

When a reporter for The Associated Press knocked on Roy's door Thursday, someone shouted through the door that Roy no longer wanted to talk to the press.

Williams, whose store features video games and a pool table, said she also noticed kids with new shoes and coats. "They bought what they needed," she said.

"All you have to do is see the ones with the new stuff on them and you know," Williams said.
Link found on Fark. Side note: this story was substantively changed since first posted, but no mention is made on the webpage. Bad form, y'all.
Drinking Where No One Has Drunk Before

Via Jemima, comes a hilarious look, by Modern Drunkard magazine ("Say it loud! Say it plowed!"), at the drinking habits of Kirk and company versus those of Picard and the crew of Next Generation.
After Kirk finished ripping up (and repopulating) the universe, a bunch of Earl Grey sipping sissies followed in his wake. Star Trek: The Next Generation absorbed the political correctness of its era and came up with sinister synthehol. Instead of chugging their hooch from bottles liberated from burning Romulan Birds of Prey, on-board replicators create the libations swilled on the latter-day Federation starships.
Kirk, as you'd expect, kicks Picard's ass. Strangely, there is no mention of the First Federation's tran'ya.
Star Trek: Enterprise Facing Cancellation?

Lots of news on the Star Trek front, so I'm combining them here.

First, via Trek Today, comes news that Enterprise may be cancelled at the end of this (short) season. Although the producers remain publicly optimistic, many of the actors and Les Moonves of CBS/Viacom are less so. Ratings for the show aren't moving up. The most recent episode had ratings so low that the Sci-Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica is beating it! (Digression: I really, really like the new imagining of BSG. Ron Moore, a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alumnus, proves he knows what he's doing. Trek's loss is SciFi's gain.) Slahsdot discussion thread here.

The promised stunt casting of William Shatner seems to have fallen apart, but now comes word that William Riker and Deanna Troi (of Star Trek: The Next Generation) will appear later this season. Stunt casting is a Trek staple, but also a bad sign. Open recycling is a mark of a dearth of creativity.

I'm kinda sad to see this looming end. I think new producer Manny Coto has done wonders with the franchise this season. Shows have more interesting settings and characters. The main cast seem more fired up. We've been revisiting some Trek bits of history and fan love, to mostly good results. The episdoes with the return to Vulcan, that "fixed" the problem of Enterprise's over-emotional Vulcans, were stellar.

The last new episode, "Observer Effect," I thought was among the best. Yes, we've seen the plot many times before. Can't help that, with well more than five hundred Trek episodes produced. And it did smack a lot of Kirk and TOS (The Original Series) in the speeches about humanity and compassion.

But darn it! The writing was sharp. They gave Hoshi and Mayweather and Phlox lots to do (and the actors did it very well). The direction was simply non-pareil. Think about it. This was a classic talking-head episode: lots and lots of dialogue. But the camera was constantly on the move, as were the actors during their dialogue exchanges. The editing of scenes was busy -- jumping around in points-of-view and angles to keep an illusion of action. Even the score suited things. The use of musical cues to herald the change of bodies by the aliens was fairly subtle. I really liked this episode a lot.

Upcoming episodes promise more. Tonight's episode has Tellarites, Vulcans and Andorians. Oh my! It promises conflict and fun. Yeah, it sounds like "Journey to Babel" but give it a chance. We get Jeffrey Coombs as Shran, always a delight.

Later this season, we visit the "Mirror, Mirror" universe yet again. But with a twist. The whole episode is reportedly done in the "evil Federation" style, including the opening credits, as though it was produced in that universe. We revisit the First Contact between Earth and Vulcan, only this time, when the Vulcans come down from their ship and pull back their hoods, the humans attack them. They've even built sets for a TOS-era ship's bridge that figures in the story.

Orion slave girls make their return, too. How can you not want to see that?

My only complaint is how Coto and the writing staff focus so much, it seems, on Trek's past and on bringing back so many fan favorites. Yes, at this point in space exploration, it should be all about our earliest contacts. But remember how often TOS encountered overwhelmingly powerful aliens and new species? Enterprise seems to avoid that. It should all seem new, but it just seems nostalgic somehow.

I also believe part of what made TOS so very successful, when it should have been cheesy, was that the producers actively brought in outside writers, both from the science fiction community (Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, Robert Bloch) and from other shows. As long as you have a core staff who have a clear idea of the characters, it allows for possibilities your own myopia doesn't see. Today's science fiction community are far more media savvy (William Gibson and The X-Files, anyone?) and should give some spectacular results. Try it! (I will give credit to the hiring of Trek-novel writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, though. They can write a sharp plot.)

That's been part of Enterprise's problem. They haven't had a clear idea of their characters, nor of how to use them. For example, Mayweather's life in space, as a "boomer," should have given them a lot to work with but has gone unexplored. Hoshi, in "Observer Effect," gave a bit of her backstory that made her character come alive, made her complex because it didn't fit preconceptions of her but did, on second thought, fit the nature of her character. With everything her character was put through last season, she should be a tremendous source of emotional turmoil to explore.

I've said it before, and will repeat it: Trek needs to lie fallow for a few years. Maybe a decade. Then, instead of a series (Braga and Berman are proposing yet another prequel, set in an early "Starfleet Academy." Oy! Gah!), they should come back with a tele-film or miniseries approach. They've got the production depth already, but having a regular flow of two hour movies, or multi-night special events, frees them to go anywhere in Trek history, with minimal expense. Fans and George Takei have long wanted a "Star Trek: Excelsior" series. A two-hour movie lets everyone be happy, with little downside. Fans of the Klingons want to see an all-out, balls to the walls, battle movie. That could be done! The origin of the Borg? A Surak story? Life on volatile Vulcan, pre-Surak? A Romulan movie? Alternate-Trek universes? The sky's the limit here. Not only that, but you can routinely bring in new production designers (something Trek's desperately needed) and new writers, especially ones with "wide-screen space opera" ideas. Casting is wide open to any star who is available, and a lot are Trek-fans.

But it won't happen. Too bad.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Recall Herenton Petition

I learned over the weekend that there's a petition drive going on to invoke a City Charter clause that calls for a mayoral recall vote. I'll have to find the relevant language in the Charter and post it here. But if anyone knows someone in the petition drive, please have them contact Half-Bakered. I'd like to post a PDF version of the recall signature list document and maybe host a webpage about the recall if they don't have one yet.

The petition can't actually be filed until January 2nd, 2006.

Yet another public service of Half-Bakered, working to bring down corrupt government since 2002.
The Missing Piece

Mayor Willie Herenton's real estate deal was the latest questionable Herenton action to come to light. Seems that one of the Mayor's office staff, Tonia Jackson, got a hefty ($20,000) raise last summer and bought a house from the Mayor the day after Christmas. The obvious question was: Did the raise make the transaction possible? Did the Mayor profit handsomely or did Jackson get a sweet-heart deal?

Another question was: Why did he do it? That answer may have come to light over the weekend. On the Andrew Clark radio show Saturday afternoon, Thaddeus Matthews (another talk show host, currently without a show) called in to say that there was a romantic relationship between the Mayor and Ms. Jackson. The Mayor has been seen squiring Ms. Jackson around town.

Now it all makes sense, doesn't it? It's a shame that the central unifying facet of the story was left to the rumor mill. You and I don't usually have access to that sort of thing. Kudos to Clark and Matthews for getting it out into the public.
Bloggers Bash Update

After much discussion below, we have some tentative plans for the next Memphis Bloggers Bash. Garibaldi's near the University of Memphis campus (Walker) has been proposed as the location. And a weekend day has also been suggested for this time. I'd like to leave some time so the folks who have to plan for going out can have room to make arrangements. Would Saturday the 5th of February be fine, or is the Sunday Super Bowl a problem? Any other important events or games on the 5th?

How about making this one an afternoon Bash? Is that OK? Or is night time the right time? Would 2PM be OK, so folks can still go out that night or not have to get evening babysitters? Or would 7PM be better, so the young people can leave the Bash to party later? Of course, a lot of Bashers like to drink, so is that a factor?

What say you? Is Saturday the 5th OK? And would afternoon or evening be preferable? How late is Garibaldi's open on Saturday, anyway? Do they get swamped with families or college kids?

For those of you who haven't been before, please come. Bashes are first and foremost social occasions. We are respectful of each other and there to have fun. Lots of lively discussion of anything and everything, but we haven't had anyone get ugly or embarrassing yet. You can be a wall-flower or exubertastic! It's about putting faces to blogs, meeting each other, and cross-pollinating; those are the reasons for the Bashes.

OK, that, drinking, and hitting on Rachel. But still, tons of fun!
Volunteer Tailgate Party

I was remiss in my duties as a member of the Rocky Top Brigade in not posting a link to the most recent Volunteer Tailgate Party.

The RTB is a loose (really loose!) collection of bloggers from, in, or near Tennessee. Folks who are ex-pat Tennesseans, or wanna-bes. Folks who just like the Tennessee vibe. Whatever. The VTP is a bi-weekly assemblage of posts from members. It's a way to sample the writings and get exposed to some really great blogs.

We haven't been doing VTPs for a while, so kudos to BigOrangeMichael for restarting the practice with the new year. I'll be doing the next one, February 3rd.

And by the way, if you are a Memphis or Mid-South blogger who would like to hook up with the RTB (God only knows why, but there are some....), first read the rules, then either let me know or email Bubba directly. I mean, if they'll take me, they'll take just about anyone.
The Boy Is Confused Alright

I don't normally take the opportunity to go after someone who innocently and openly exposes their own stupidity by saying to them, "Yeah, you're stupid." But this lump of liberal guilt by John K. Nelson, an art director at the Commercial Appeal, just begs closer examination.

The short version is that Nelson got car-jacked downtown after a Grizzlies game. He behaved like a fool. But in telling the tale, we see some ugly things. Not in Memphis, mind you, but in Nelson.
We had witnessed a feel-good Grizzlies victory on the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Special programs saluted King....
Ummm, yeah. Some sports team wins a victory in the town that assassinated King. I'm following this. Would any of the black-on-black crime that day counterbalance the karma, or is that harshing on the feel-good-itude?
I find myself mostly alone on Beale as I approach Lauderdale Street, where I'd parked my 1993 Toyota Camry. Two young African-American men walk toward me. I move to one side of the sidewalk to let them pass, but they stay on either side, forcing me to walk between them.

"Hey, can I ask you something?" one says. I hesitate, wondering whether this is a good idea, but then decide: Sure -- why not?
And here we go. Rule One of walking the streets of Memphis, from a sixteen year veteran, is that you DO NOT STOP when random strangers try to talk to you. Keep walking, don't look, don't react. If they call again, keep moving but over your shoulder make some lame excuse to keep moving. DO NOT STOP, because once you do you've been hooked. That's all street-types want: that hook that bonds you momentarily so they can start to exploit you. Never let yourself get hooked.

Keep moving, preferably looking purposeful as you do. If you stop, you'll get triangulated, as John was. Remember, he was alone, at night, downtown in an unfamiliar city. Stopping was just dumb.

Don't give in to pleas or insults. Sure, you're likely to begin to feel guilt, which is exactly what street predators are hoping. Is this harsh? Yes. Because the alternative is what you're about to read.
"We're not from here. We got dropped off and need to get back to the place we're staying at Cleveland and Poplar. You know where that is?"

I say that I do.

"We'll pay you anything -- we just want to get back. It's cold."

I think about it for a second, then say, "Yeah, OK. I'll give you a ride."

"How much you gonna charge?" the talkative one says as he settles into the seat next to me.

"It's OK. I'm going right by there," I respond, fresh from the MLK lovefest.
Residents of Memphis know there is no "place to stay" near Poplar and Cleveland. But letting total strangers into your car? That's just fatally stupid. But I begin to catch the familiar whiff here. He was "fresh from the MLK lovefest" he writes. Why do I suddenly suspect this guy is a liberal? And his motivation was not his own safety, common sense or charity but redressing decades of white exploitation of the black man?

But mostly this guy was terminally stupid. He let two complete strangers into his car.
I never get an answer. Just as we pass the statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, Smiley's friend sticks a gun barrel to the back of my neck and tells me to turn into a well-worn residential area south of Union.
Again, an interesting thing to notice in this moment that I suspect tells us a bit about Nelson. And he makes sure to fully identify Forrest, even though the statue was commissioned after the Confederacy fell, for a lifetime of service of which his stint in the Confederate Army was a part. And there are other landmarks right next to that intersection....
During the next couple of minutes, I'm instructed to take a left, then a right, then told to stop midblock in a neighborhood of rundown houses. Smiley, his friend and I get out on the empty street and for the first time I see the gun, shining in the dim light from a nearby streetlamp.

Suddenly, it occurs to me that I could die. All through the experience, I had been oddly calm. Fear now grips me.
Up to this point, he could have just been a white guy misinterpreting some part of black culture he wasn't aware of. But the gun is what tips him off. Liberal much?
Irrationally, I'm happy that they both think well of me.
Oh yeah.
In the back of the cruiser the police are businesslike, but I can tell they wonder who in his right mind would give a stranger a ride home after meeting on a dark street at 10 p.m.

"Just tell us the truth," one officer finally says. "Were you buying drugs? Be straight with us. We don't care."
Be glad they didn't think you were trolling for sex! Pay attention, John, as the police just passed along an important lesson.
"I'm telling you the truth," I say, then for some reason add: "I work at The Commercial Appeal."
Some reason? Let me offer some: You thought it conferred special immmunity. You thought it conferred special status. You thought it might earn some special treatment from the cops. It sure earned some special treatment from your employer! They now have a large $1000 reward notice on page B4 of your paper. I wonder how many other carjacking victims got the same treatment from the paper?
"Where are you from?" one officer asks. "Are you from Memphis?" I sense he knows the answer from my Northern accent.

I tell him I've lived here a year, then try to explain again why I gave two strangers a ride home on a cold night.

I talk about the Grizzlies game and offer: "I was just trying to do a good deed for my fellow man. You know -- M.L. King?"

Almost as soon as the words are out, I realize how stupid I sound.
A YEAR!?!?!? And he hasn't heard the stories and the warnings yet? Doesn't he watch the news or read his own paper?

You are stupid, John. Martin Luther King wasn't about "doing a good deed." He was about applying the law of the land equally to all. Only in the mind of some liberal types does giving a couple of strangers a lift on a cold night equate to racial justice. White guilt almost got you killed.
And that's what I'm left with during a mostly sleepless night: The feeling that I'm hopelessly naive, that I was the one who was wrong.
Wrong? No. The criminals were wrong. You were stupid. Thinking you were in the wrong is just another version of white guilt you need to expunge.

What kind of self-defense do you know? What kind of security do you carry on you? What's your plan for situations like this? Does your car have low-jack? You need to take a long, hard look at yourself and make some changes.
A bigger concern is what long-term scars might remain from my brush with crime. I moved to Memphis partly because I wanted to live in a city of ethnic diversity. Will I now become jaded, unwilling to offer help to someone, black or white, who needs a favor? No disrespect to Memphians intended, but is that what it means to be a longtime resident of this city?
I wish you'd identified where you're from. Up North, but somewhere that's not got a lot of "ethnic diversity?" Small town. Indiana or south Illinois? Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan? Vermont/New Hampshire?

It's not a race issue; it's a crime issue. All this crap about "jaded, unwilling?" One question: did you lock your SUV before you left it? Why? Did it not occur to you that these two men might be the very criminals you locked the car against? Have you not heard the endless discussion in this city about crime? Or did you believe yourself immune from it for some reason? Wanna take a look at that reason? You're the one noting the skin color of the criminals, and not just seeing them as lawless opportunists.

You came to Memphis expecting some kind of racial education, some kind of funkification of your ignorant white ass. You need to get out of your white comfort zone and meet some of the real, black Memphis. You're in for a whole lot of embarrassment and surprise, let me tell you. You're gonna get your head ripped off and your throat shat down, but the good news is that you can put your head back on straighter.

Your problem that night was your racial problem. Deal with it. Crime isn't a race issue. Then you can start to address your lack of common sense. Self-protection isn't an admission of a failure of social dreams; it's a declaration of responsiblility. Become a man.
I know a random carjacking doesn't negate all that is good about Memphis. But something was taken from me on that inner-city street that is worth far more than $100 in cash and a '93 Camry.
It's called a false sense of security and immunity. It's good that it's gone now, as you're more likely to survive your next year.

All this race talk is you making an issue of skin color. You. Blow all the warm woolies out of your brain and learn to live in the city your ass is in. It's not black and white; it's not rose colored. It's Memphis.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE Abby, the Lady Cutie Troublemaker herself, offers some observations based on her own experience.
When Modest Ideas Go Wrong

One of the new features in the Peck-era Commercial Appeal is a weekly column in the Sunday paper called "Java Jive." (Not sure if there's a link. Not gonna look either. Don't worry.) It's not a bad idea: coffee shops are hot again; interesting conversation happens; let's capture the pulse of the coffee house set. Every week, different baristas at local coffee houses write of the hot topics of the week. The problem seems to be in the execution.

The paper depends on in-store folks to write the columns. Some are transparent, writing about what's going on, transmitting their customers' zeitgeist fairly well.

Others fall to temptation and turn their moment in the paper into a soapbox for their own political or social causes. Julie Ray of Cafe Francisco seems to be a repeat offender. For example, this week she promotes the cause of animal adoption. Now maybe this is a big deal with CF customers, but her part of the column (half again more than her counterpart's bit) is a name-check of people and institutions supporting the cause.

Nothing wrong with promoting the things you care about, but there is when you subvert expectations. Maybe the section editor, Emily Adams Keplinger, should wield a heavier hand.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE An astute reader (the finest kind) points out, via email:
Your criticism is spot-on, but you failed to notice that Java Jive is in the "Appeal" section, which in the "new" CA means all rules of journalism are
suspended. [...]Appeal section articles are mostly written by PR flacks, business owners, and those who wish to have their events publicized. The problem, of course, is that most readers don't know that the rules change when you finish the Metro section and move to Appeal. In the Metro section, journalistic standards (of a sort) are upheld. In the Appeal, it's "All About YOU!" The confusion even extends to the website. If you do a search on "coffee," for instance, you'll retrieve the shameless plugs from Appeal as well as whatever "real" articles have been written on the subject.
Very good point about blurred lines and making distinctions visible. (BTW, I tested comments and they seem to be working fine. I edited the email very slightly in case the emailer still wants anonymity.)

I also meant to link to this Flypaper Theory post along similar lines. Thank you both!
Len And Brock Break It Down For You

The guys over at Dark Bilious Vapors have entered the "reading the Memphis paper so you don't have to" brigades with excellent results.

Len takes a look at State Senator John Ford's wacky family life. For those of you not familiar with this local legend, it's a story both amusing and astounding. Not only has he done everything Len talks about, but he's also waved guns at police officers and utility workers, sat in on private State meetings where the business he's connected to is being investigated, and is still famous for driving at well over 90mph on the interstates unmolested.

Then Brock gives you a recap of the week's noteworthy events, via the Comical Repeal.

Thanks guys. Ugly work, but you did good.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

David Plays a Game

I really rarely read David Waters' Commercial Appeal column on "Faith Matters." He seems far more interested in politics than religion, on chastising than praising, on what he sees as the bad rather than what the rest of us see as the good. He's the guy at church who will gladly tell you everything you're doing wrong as a Christian because you're not living up to God's word like he is. Shame on you.

But this Sunday's column had numbers in it, which is what caught my eye. It seems the money we're spending on Iraq ($5 billion a month, as he breathlessly repeats, because, you know, pounding a fact home just makes it more true.) and then tediously works through all the other things we could spend that money on.

It's a tiresome game of lazy writers. Look! That $600 Army toilet would have bought groceries for a family of poor people. Look! We have enough missiles to blanket the world but we can't blanket a kid in Kansas. It's a game of priorities usually done by people with brains full of fuzzy warm feelings and considerably lacking in military or foreign policy thinking.

Let's take a random passage:
That's enough money to provide health care coverage for nearly 2 million people for a year.

Or Head Start places for half a million children for a year.

Or scholarships for a full year's tuition and fees for a million state university students.

Or a year's worth of salaries and benefits for 100,000 art and music teachers, or 100,000 police officers.
Yeah man! Art and music.

So let's play his game. You'll notice that nowhere does he mention not taking that money from taxpayers in the first place. Nope, it's the government's money now and a giant slush fund for well-meaning social engineers. It doesn't seem to occur to Waters that the money used to belong to all kinds of American families that could probably use the money for their own children. No, no. It's our... er, the government's money now. Let's do good with it!

Even better, let's just take all wages and send them directly to the government. That way, everyone only gets just what they need, decided by smart, efficient bureaucrats with the goodwill of the nation in mind. That way, we can have all the "excess" right there in Goodwill Central to give to those who need it.

How about this variation of the game: Why have we sent hundreds of millions to people in foreign lands when we have people starving and without health care and art right here at home? Kids right here in Tennessee are doing without good schools, warm homes, clean clothes and free healthy, nutritious snacks that are low in calories and don't cause tooth decay. What business is it of our government to take this birthright of all Americans to give to strangers around the world, some of whom are racist, sexist and homophobic.

Let's play another version of the game. David Waters get a pretty good salary from the Commercial Appeal. Enough so that, if remember correctly, he can take a vacation every year. A vacation! Why doesn't Waters take that money, spent on selfish, sybaritic luxury, and give it to the poor instead? While he's lounging about some lake, some poor family in Memphis wasn't eating. Heck, for that matter, I wonder just how nice a house he lives in. Couldn't he do with less? Do he and his family eat out? How dare they, when some children don't eat? Why aren't he and his family making do with the minimum to send the excess pay to the government -- county, state or wherever it will do the best good?

You see? It can go on forever.

Let's try this game: Assume that the CA prints 200,000 copies per day. A week's worth of print might come to what? Five pounds per customer per week maybe? That's a million pounds of newsprint a week. According to this source, only 30% of that is recycled newsprint. That's 700,000 pounds a week of dead trees. How many forests got stripped so that Mr. Waters could earn a paycheck? He participates in the production of an ephemeral product that daily chokes our landfills and threatens the world's ability to survive. If Mr. Waters' industry could only find another way of disseminating information instead of killing whole forests, then the world would benefit incredibly. But no, we need our daily fix of comics, recipes, relationship advice and meaningless reports on macho physical contests. And Mr. Waters profits quite well from it.

You see? We can play this game all day, in a hundred ways. It almost writes itself. But of course Mr. Waters' version allows him to engage in auto-stroking conscience massaging. It reminds me of this passage from C.S. Lewis, which was repeated the other day in another, though related, context at Signifying Nothing:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
No doubt, Mr. Waters feels quite good about himself for giving Memphis that stern talking to.