Saturday, February 12, 2005

Blackburn Bows Out

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Congresswoman Blackburn. According to Nashville's WKRN/2, our Marsha is staying put in the House instead of joining the crowded field trying for Bill Frist's Senate slot. I can understand the attraction of a run, since Senate seats open up so infrequently, but she's going to be far more effective in the House. She is already getting notice for her fiscal conservativism.

Wags will also note that this leaves her in position to take a run at the Governor's office, a position she would be perfect for. Smart, telegenic, a true fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a willingness to take legislative stands, a track record of citizen focus and advocacy. Remember the field day the state's newspapers had when she called Steve Gill's radio show to let him know (and therefore his listeners) that the Assembly was about to attempt an income tax vote? They tried to pillory her, but the folks who would have to pay that tax haven't forgotten who was looking out for them.

Either way, Blackburn will represent Tennessee just fine.
Nashville Blogger Bash

Nashville bloggers had their first bash this morning. Check these facts out: A local television station hosted it at their facility (picture here), and catered it. Well... donuts and coffee, but still. Attendance was around twenty. It was their first bash. (More info from Bill Hobbs and Blake.)

Bloody freakin' hell.

The television station has their own blogs, including an anchor who is respected by other local bloggers. They also have a prominent icon on the front page to a blogroll of Nashville bloggers. An impressive list it is, too, with several of the state's largest blogs and quite a few involved in Nashville and State politics. They are identified by blog name and author; many include a short blurb. Clearly, this is a station that gets it.

Compare to Memphis. The Commercial Appeal has a barebones blogroll. But I can name quite a few great Memphis blogs not listed. Can't say that for the Nashville blogroll. On the other hand, the CA has started driving traffic to my site, anywhere from 6 to 12 visitors a day. Clearly, someone's reading it, though again out of thousands of hits a day at their site, that's a piddling amount of collateral referral hits.

The Commercial Appeal also has their own stable of bloggers, but it's a very mixed bag. Look them over here. Some of them are pretty savvy in terms of blogs, like Mark, Eric or Leslie; some of the blogs are moribund. Some have active commenter communities, but I don't get a sense that any of the CA bloggers participates as much as one might hope. None of the blogs is oriented to complementing the paper's reporting or with bringing the Memphis community into their news gathering process.

None of the television stations in Memphis has a blogroll, nor makes any effort to reach out to the blog community. At all. WHBQ/13 has a weatherblog, written by a chatty and funny Joey Sulipeck. WREG/3's chief weatherman, Tim Simpson, has a blog too, and also discusses a variety of family, work and weather issues. As personal blogs go, it's great, very well done; as a weatherman's blog, it's less satisfying in that he doesn't speak much to the mechanics of his job. Last is his coworker, anchor Pam McKelvy. Her blog started out great, but has petered out. It's shout-outs, recipes, and lots of pictures. Nothing behinds the scenes.

Radio blogs? Right.

And that's it. For folks who want to know more about the local news biz, there's no one blogging it. The Flyer has a Grizzlies blog, but me not being a sports fan I've never cared. They also supposedly have an "online columnist," but it's news to me. I've never heard her mentioned anywhere else. It's sad, too, in that the Flyer has mentioned blogs a time or two before, and in his latest columns Jackson Baker has been touting them like mad.

I can't leave this subject without mentioning WMC/5. No, they don't have any blogs, but their newsrooms is chockablock with bloggers! At least a half-dozen staffers have personal blogs. If any newsroom "gets" blogging, it's them. And yet they've never done a story on blogging, to my knowledge.

I've been plugging a story on the Memphis blog community for two years now. No luck, no bites. I find that strikingly odd, given how hot "blogs" are nationally and in media discussions. Memphis' news community is so parochial and cut-throat, so slow to give credit to others and quick to criticise. The daily paper likes to pretend there is no television news community.

Meanwhile, Memphians are yet again upstaged by that hick town up the highway. We have the largest blogging community in the area. I'm not talking Mid-South, but state and regional. I haven't counted it, but it's something like forty or more blogs. That's not counting Memphis-themed website communities or LiveJournals either.

Twenty bloggers got together at a television studio! To me, this is deeply dispiriting. It will likely make the evening news, too. So why can't we all get along?
The Herenton Wreck, and More

Again, I really don't care about Herenton's private life, as long as City money and jobs aren't involved. But....

Peg Phillip has a post at her blog on a NewsChannel3 story, interviewing the mother of Herenton's child. What's noteworthy are the comments, wherein we see how trained, professional newspeople behave. Unbelievable, and all, of course, anonymous.

I caught a couple of seconds of the interview, wherein the woman actually took Herenton to task for not "being there" for his son. Hello? Single woman has unprotected sex with a man not her husband, a man with a playboy reputation, and she's complaining about his morals? Sheesh....

Listening to radio today, the Andrew Clark show, someone called in to remind listeners that this was Herenton's second or third illegitimate child. Is that correct? I don't have my scorecard anymore. The only thing I remember was the scandal during his tenure as School Superintendent involving an Arabic woman who was hired as a teacher in the schools. It turned out she didn't have proper teaching credentials and did have a personal relationship with the Superintendent. She claimed to have had multiple abortions because of him. She ended up moving to Nashville, I think?

Another caller said something about former mayor Wyeth Chandler being embroiled in an illegitimate child scandal! Whoa. Can anyone shed some light on that one?

Moving along to another public official, via former Memphian Yvette Mena's blog, someone in comments says:
Harold Ford is a little more discreet when it comes to his personal life. However, from time to time he slips up. Case in point, his tryst with a college sex columnist which he later tries to dismiss as a single meal.
Anyone know what she's referring to?

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I just watched this movie classic earlier this evening. It was like stepping into a time capsule. Not in terms of direction or scriptwriting, but in the view of a pre-hippie San Francisco. The movie was made in 1967 and '68, just before the Summer of Love explosion that brought real and psuedo hippies from all across the country to the city. Hippiedom was there, of course; Bullitt's apartment has a wall covered in posters for various concerts and shows of the time, though it's hard to imagine any Steve McQueen character liking that kind of music.

Almost all the men wear some version of the classic black suit, white shirt, skinny black tie outfit. Most of the cops' hair is cut high'n'tight; almost no one has hair touching or below the top of the ears. It's like a convention of NASA engineers. There are only a couple of men with long hair, sideburns or "mod" styled clothes.

The street, business and airport scenes teem with normal looking people. Dowdy matrons are everywhere and few Swingin' Sixties "chicks." In the final airport scenes, the place is crawling with military men, but they are just passengers. Few airport security are visible. In fact, from a post-9/11 viewpoint that whole section of the movie is quaint and slightly disturbing.

Bullitt is also notable for McQueen's wardrobe. He spends a good part of the movie in a burgundy cardigan! To the end, he sports grey-black, plain front, narrow trousers; a purplish, thick turtleneck; brown sports coat and bright brown brothel-creepers. Stylin', bro.

The cops and detectives are a strange lot, by modern (and modern cinema) lights. Lightly armed, slow to pull their weapons. Respectful of others, even superiors! Bullitt himself is very careful in how he deals with the poltics of his situation. After seeing so many of today's dysfunctional, renegade, insolent, hyperviolent cops, it's almost refreshing, even charming.

It's been easily twenty years since I've seen Bullitt. Watching the classic car chase through the streets of San Francisco was still nail-biting. The simplicity and directness of the whole sequence was pretty stark compared to similar scenes in today's movies. The cars, as revealed in a contemporary making-of featurette, were actually travelling up to and beyond 110 mph on the real city streets! The only soundtrack was the throaty roar of the Mustang's and the Charger's engines and the squeal of tires. I didn't even realise how much I'd missed the unmistakeable sound of classic street muscle cars. Today's vehicles are such wimps. Makes me miss my old Cutlass and Dart, it does.

Another great part of the movie is the minimal soundtrack. By that I mean that most of the movie has no music behind it, just the normal ambient sounds of street, lobby, hotel, hospital, airport, etc. It helps to flatten the movie's affect, which is part of the theme that Bullitt holds it all in, but it forces the plot to carry things along (which it does quite well) and to create its own tensions (which it usually does).

Another part of the time capsule experience is the roster of actors. Familiar faces, even if we don't know the names, are Simon Oakland and Don Gordon, later to become television staples. Even Normal Fell gets a substantive part in his hard-ass mode. I didn't really pay attention to the credits, so when I learned that Bullitt's architect girlfriend was a honey-brunette Jacqueline Bisset, I was floored! She's so young, and so beautiful. There's a bed scene in the early going where Bisset is lit from behind; she has a golden glow that makes her achingly gorgeous. Wow.

It was also fun to watch the mano-a-mano between tight-lipped, manly cool McQueen and oily, slick, threatening Robert Vaughn. No raised voices, except at the climax, no theatrics, no arm-waving, no unbelievable stunts. Just two determined men at cross purposes, one struggling to retain control and the other trying to figure out what's really going on. Almost every entrance by Vaughn is preceded by the click-click-click of his heels, like a military tattoo or a warning.

Anyway, even for a 36 year old film, it still kicks a lot of ass. Highly recommended as a film, but doubly recommended as a time capsule from a more innocent time.
Harper v. Herenton: The Final Round

Just before the 5PM newscast Wednesday, I caught something from WREC/AM600 to the effect that Mayor Herenton (speaking at his conference on his school consolidation plan) had offered to resign if consolidation went through. Stunned, I flipped on the television to WPTY/24. Nothing there. Nothing on the other stations that I saw. But then at the end of the newscast, Cameron Harper and Dee Griffin returned to reporter Terrance Bates at City Hall where it was confirmed that Herenton had jokingly said it!

Thus was Harper's much-discussed and frequently-vilified question to the Mayor, after a Rotary Club speech, vindicated. Or so I see it. Clearly, it made a mark on the Mayor. He was forced to concede, albeit indirectly, that his style was a problem in the consolidation push. The mess that the conference collapsed into afterwards (see next post) only confirmed it. Yet again.

I fired off an email to Cameron as soon as the broadcast ended. I really wasn't expecting a reply until today. After all, he and Dee to a 5PM, 6PM, 9PM and 10PM newscast! My email had three questions for him:
If it's correct, can I ask you three questions? I'd also like to publish your responses.
1. What was your reaction on hearing this news?
2. What is your response?
3. Do you feel vindicated in any way?
But late last night, I got a reply! He wrote:
Hi Mike.

Well, there's never a dull day in Memphis. I wish I could tell you I
had some kind of over the top reaction when I heard what The Mayor said,
but instead, I just shook my head. I think Lewis Carroll came to mind.

Specific to your last two questions: I don't really have a response
other than, you can't make this stuff up. Vindication? What's to
vindicate? Maybe he finally understood the point of my question.

"All in all, it's just another brick in the wall."


My thanks to Cameron for the reply. You can read WPTY/24's account here. Notice too that both Cameron and Dee were very quick to spot and analyse the Mayor's use of the "if, then" construction. Make consolidation happen, then he'll step aside.

As I have said before, it's time for aggressive questioning of the Memphis Mayor from the local media, print and broadcast. Cameron has shown it will work, threats from the subject included. I haven't been shy about admiring his quick thinking, pointed questioning and solid determination to follow through in this. Mike Matthews and Richard Ransom, Darrell Phillips and Bill Lunn, Jay Hermacinski, Jacinthia Jones, Jackson Baker, I'm looking at y'all now. The fight is over and the presumed "Golden Gloves" winner has been rocked back on his heels. Time for the next challenger to step in. Then, the next and the next. It's long past time for transparency and accountability and honesty from our Mayor.

Go get 'im.

Mayor Herenton? Lead Balloon. Lead Balloon? Mayor Herenton.

It was meant to address the repeated charge that Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton often talks consolidation, but rarely provides the numbers or plans to make it happen. But the Mayor's big conference meeting -- City Council, County Commission, County Mayor, City and County Schools Superintendents -- devolved into yet another feud as soon as he stopped speaking.

The Commercial Appeal offers a slim summary of the plan, which appears to address consolidation through re-organisation and new layers of administration. County School Board member David Pickler, ever the skeptic, correctly pointed out that with merger will come "levelling up," or raising a lot of salaries to create parity, not averaging them downward a bit. No money saver there!

Most savings for a school merger come in three places. First, there is the chance to renogotiate contracts for the combined system. There's a chance to save some money, but I suspect not much given that the same number of facilities will be involved.

Second will be attrition. Unfortunately, this is far, far smaller than most folks realise. We'll still need the same number of principals, teachers, assistants, counselors, and maintenance people at the same number of schools. The only possible large cuts will be in administration. But Herenton's plan proposes a whole lot more of that. I wonder if he's presenting this five-subsystems idea as a way to sell it to the front offices? I can't imagine many administrators would actively support cutting their old jobs, unless attractive new ones were part of the package. Net result in money terms? Likely a wash at best, and very likely to end up costing more.

Last, of course, is the school funding formula, which requires the County to send $3 to City schools for every dollar they spend themselves in new construction. All new construction will be in the County for the foreseeable future. Will the formula disappear when the systems merge? Has this been explored with the lawyers? I've not seen much discussion on this as of yet, so my suspicion is that the answer isn't good.

Leave it to ol' Carol Chumney to start the Sisyphean ball back down the hill. "Count on" Carol, indeed! For whatever reason, she felt the need to pontificate on herself.
When it was time for comments and questions near the end of the meeting, Council member Carol Chumney tried to explain how she too pushed for consolidation in her unsuccessful run for county mayor.

But Herenton angrily cut her off saying, "I don't want to hear about her political campaign that she lost.

"And if you run again, you're gonna lose the next time too," he said as council member Brent Taylor walked out in anger.

After the meeting Chumney said she simply wanted the mayor to consider broadening the scope of what the task force would examine, such as consolidating police and fire departments. She said those were two areas county Mayor A C Wharton agreed to on the campaign trail two years ago.
Was it to offer advice to a Mayor never open to receiving it, especially at high-profile, high-impact media events? Or was she shooting some obscure broadside at Herenton, warning him of her own future run for Mayor? Or was she, as I've long maintained, showboating for the cameras yet again?

Whatever her record of constituent service, Chumney's "leadership" on the Council has never served to unify, only to stir up rancor. I do dearly, dearly wish she'd just shut up for a change. I know she's biologically and psychologically incapable, but still. A voter in District Five can dream, can't he?

Herenton's plan was quickly drawn, quartered and nailed to the mast as a warning to others. Even County Mayor AC Wharton stood discretely off to the side. Kudos to Herenton for at least presenting a plan, but you have to wonder who his advisors are. It seems what first needs to happen are a few private "airing out" sessions, to blow off steam and begin the work of repairing relationships. Some kind of discussion framework that will accomodate the egos involved needs to be agreed to. Then and only then can the work of governance begin.

Some kind of planning work needs to begin soon, or we will all find ourselves caught in enfillade fire between angry Councillors and an angry Mayor when it comes time to discuss funding. We'll find ourselves facing a slapped-together solution which fixes nothing and raises property taxes recklessly.

More reporting on this from WPTY/24, WMC/5, and WREG/3, although the NewsChannel Three story reads like a massaged transcription of notes. This is a report?
The mayor arrived at the meeting at 3:12 p.m. The mayor thanks everyone for coming to this historic meeting. The mayor says he doesn't have all of the answers, but he does have some major concerns.

The mayor says there is a fiscal crisis in Shelby County. Herenton says some of the leaders are in a state of denial in regard to this fiscal crisis and solutions. He says some believe these problems are simply going to vanish without any changes, but he is one elected official who does not share that sentiment. He says this crisis will require all of us collectively to make some changes.
Here's your armor and helmet. Watch your step as you enter the APC. Welcome to Memphis.
Beware the Glass House, Girlfriend

In her otherwise pointless column in today's Commercial Appeal, Wendi Thomas makes glancing references to State Senator John Ford's charge of "white media." She opens a door to some questions I'd like to see answered.

For starters, what's the racial and gender make-up of the editorial staff and the reporter pool at the paper? The city of Memphis is 70-30, black-white; Shelby County is roughly 50-50, not counting our Hispanic population; "Greater Memphis" is probably 60-40, white-black. Does the make-up of the editorial or reporting staff reflect any of these numbers?

It's pretty hard to tell, relying only on the Commercial Appeal. Most reporters and editors never get their pictures in the paper regularly. I can recall a group photo from last year, where the paper was praising its award-winning employees, that was overwhelmingly white and mostly male.

According to their report to ASNE, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the paper's minority representation is fourteen percent. The newspaper business as a whole is overwhelmingly white; minority participation is still less than thirteen percent, which lags minority numbers in the population as a whole.

That's not even counting the corporation, Scripps, which owns the Commercial Appeal. City papers are not stand-alone, independent entities. They are part of a chain at the big-city level. And those corporate managers are overwhelmingly white, as are the majority shareholders. Do not think that there's no influence, even subconsciously, going on.

I haven't yet touched on the influence of new Chief Editor Chris Peck. One source of friction within the Commercial Appeal's staff since his arrival has been the number of former employees he's brought down from the Pacific Northwest, his old domain and a part of the country not noted for its brownness. For that matter, with the Memphis Hispanic population somewhere around 5% these days and growing rapidly, where are the Hispanic reporters and editors the paper so desperately needs?

So, while Ford's comment was entirely self-serving, it was not without merit. Until the Commercial Appeal addresses this concern by publishing its own minority report for readers to see and judge for themselves, they will always operate under a cloud of suspicion.

Wendi can swat it like an annoying gnat, but the ball truly is in her court. Women standing inside glass Death Stars shouldn't be throwing stones at outsiders.

Nor should we overlook the Memphis Flyer, a paper happy to use the city's name, but also deeply skewed in the white direction. I can't ever recall seeing them -- the city's liberal voice!-- address their own glass cabana. Neither can I recall seeing a brown or black face in the photos that often run alongside in-house articles. It is incumbent on them to also address the disparity of their staff's minority hue with the make-up of the city and county.

I'll be waiting, but you'll forgive me if I find other things to do in the meantime. I don't have that much spare time.

2/10/05 10:30PM UPDATEThe Pesky Fly has a strong rebuttal, focusing on Ford over Thomas. Be sure to read the comments, too.

Jamey also has some informed observations.

Another blogger has some great comments, but you have to get "permission" first in order to link. We'll see.

TEN MINUTES LATER Well, it seems that blogger doesn't have any contact information! I guess you have to sneakernet the request in person. Sigh....

So, here's the relevant part of the post:
Ford simply wants a free pass because he's black. I've had this mixed feeling about black elected officials. On one hamd, I'm proud to say I live in a city where black folks are running things. On the other hand, though, I'm ashamed and dismayed at how we are running things.

Clearly, black folks thought things would be different with us in charge. Although it should be, it isn't. That's not to say I'm against black public officials. I'm not. It's just that with anything else black elected officials must hold themselves to a higher standard of accountability. Is it fair? No. But that's the way it is. That's the reality we grew up knowing: as a black person, it's not good enough to be good. That's mediocrity.

I think that the traditional "black" media -- The Tri-State Defender, etc. -- should be up in arms against Ford. He thinks those media outlets, which have had a strong history of exposing injustice, would simply let him (and even Herenton and Wharton) slide because they are brothers. Whatever. Shed light on injustice. And that's what happened to Ford; the light is on him and he's worried about getting too much of a tan.

If Ford wants the media to write about the good things, he needs to invite them when those things happen. Who knows when that might happen.

Lastly, Ford is not being persecuted. He's being held accountable. There is a difference. Don't be fooled.
Please don't name the blogger in comments, OK?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Abuse of Science

In debates between scientists and creationists, it's frequent to hear the scientists piously state that science is immune from the human fallibilities and vagaries that part and parcel of religion. Of course that's not true. Scientists labor under the same kinds of human institutions that religious scholars and clergy do, and they face the same problems of preening ego, group conformity, submission to the hierarchy and repression. The good news is that the errors and mistakes that go uncorrected -- or suppressed by the orthodoxy of the day -- in the short run for scientists get ironed out over the course of decades and centuries. Truth really does eventually out. Excellent example: The Burgess Shale.

[A side joke: Galileo's ideas were universally accepted within a few decades of his publishing them. It only took the Catholic Church four centuries to apologise for suppressing them. The New York Times ridiculed Dr. Robert Goddard's widely published paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" for its fanciful discussion of manned flights into space and to the moon. They have yet to publish a correction, nearly a century later.]

Which all leads to this article I stumbled across today. It's a personal view of how ideas, even in science, can be smothered by willful blindness.
The millions of man-hours that went into all that worldwide research have proved worthless in the pursuit of human progress. The main reason for this failure was the formulation of an establishment orthodoxy that prevented the publication of alternatives. In fact, when the intrinsic strength theory collapsed, it was immediately replaced by an equal and opposite, and equally banal, theory that all the phenomena were caused by sub-microscopic solid particle impurities. It again became difficult to publish results that disagreed with the new orthodoxy. The theorists felt secure in the knowledge that no one could make the measurements necessary to undermine their claims. It took me years of work to dispose of that one, and involved an elaborate computer aided experiment that measured the actual charges carried by randomly moving particles (femto-coulombs) and showed that they were many orders of magnitude too small to accommodate the theory. I spent a few more years knocking down theories, which in my Popperian view was the very stuff of science, but gradually moved over to the development of sensors that measured what needed to be measured, rather than relying of indirect deductions. Nevertheless, the general unease about the state of measurement science never left me and, in fact, grew. Most ominous was that fact that a new form of politics was emerging. Radicals of both the New Left and the New Right saw science not as an entity with its own integrity, but rather as a tool that they could bend to their own purposes.
The whole thing is quite short and the technical parts can be elided safely. It's the point of the article that bears keeping in mind.
The Unanswered Question

There are tricks journalists use to avoid uncomfortable, unanswerable or unpalatable points. One is to simply leave out an important piece of the story, but write the rest of the story oblivious to that lack. Fast-reading, skimming or uncritical readers will skip right over the pothole, unawares. You either have to know the whole story when you start reading, or read critically every time to catch the maneuver.

For example? Take this story from Editor & Publisher. It looks at an apology that lefty journalist Bill Moyers is making to Reagan-era Interior Secretary James Watt. In a speech Moyers gave at Harvard recently, he falsely attributed to Watt a quote and a circumstance that never happened, defaming Watt then using that to defame Christians in general.

The story was picked up by newspapers around the country. It was also caught by bloggers, who commented on the anti-Christianism, and how it was used to attack skeptics of the environmental movement. Moyers claimed that Christians who believed in an imminent Rapture simply didn't care about the environment because they believed it was all going to be over soon, and that they were driving the anti-environment Bush administration agenda. It was a pretty scurrilous and was roundly condemned.

Editor & Publisher tells you about the speech, the falsehood, that Moyers will be apologising, that Watt is being allowed to respond in some of the papers that printed Moyers' speech as a guest editorial. They talk with several newspapers about how they will handle the correction.

But nowhere is the fulcrum of the story visible. The closest they come is with the two following statements:
The text of the speech has since appeared in several newspapers and on numerous Web sites....

Moyers said he chose to apologize after learning of Watt's dismay yesterday. "I called Watt and spoke with him and said I had seen this on the Web," Moyers said.
Moyers' anti-Christianity and the outrage it sparked amongst many in the Christian community have been disappeared, as though it's not the point.

Also unmentioned is how Moyers learned of Watt's feelings and the error. It's slightly alluded to in the second quote, but otherwise skipped over.

The missing link is here: Powerline blog. John Hinderaker, aka HindRocket, posted the following:
I read Moyers' piece after several readers pointed out to us how over-the-top it was. I knew that Moyers' claims about Watt couldn't possibly be true, for two reasons. First, the concept of stewardship is so fundamental to Christian theology that the claim is laughable on its face. Second, I remember the Reagan administration. James Watt was a controversial figure; but one thing he was not controversial for was advocating environmental pillaging, on the theory that Jesus would be back any day now. That would have been quite a news story in the early 1980s, had it been true.

I did some quick Google searches without finding anything noteworthy; in particular, I couldn't find Mr. Watt's Congressional testimony online. I put the matter aside, not having time to pursue it further.

Friday morning, I was sitting in my office when my telephone rang. On the phone was a soft-spoken man who said, "I'm calling for Mr. John Hinderaker."

"Speaking," I responded, in the brusque tone I use when fielding cold calls.

The man said, "My name is James Watt."
Watt himself sent a letter to Moyers demanding an apology and taking him to task for his defamation.

It was this story that was linked across the Internet, and which likely is what caught Moyers' attention. Unless Moyers read the Watt letter and "misremembered."

Read the whole Powerline post, and its follow-up. They provide the context and explanation that E&P couldn't be bothered with. Many in the news business are still hostile to blogs, but to excise them from a story is inexplicable.
In Jokes

During tonight's episode of Lost, Englishman Charlie has a flashback to a young woman he was dating as part of a scam. When Charlie asked her where her father was, she said he was buying "a paper company up in Slough." I almost fell over laughing! Get it?

Not only that, but Charlie fronts (in the show) a successful band names Driveshaft. He's the bassist / songwriter / sometime vocalist. His brother sings. His brother's name is Liam. Yet another in-joke.

Man, do I love the writers of that show.

Just a reminder that you really need to watch this show. Yes, it's harder to get into now that the season is underway, but it's well worth the effort. The episode earlier this season, where we learn survivalist Locke's background, was the single best, most amazing, powerfully emotional hour of television I've seen in years. Terry O'Quinn, who plays Locke, deserves an Emmy, as do the writers.
I'm Confused

For as long as I've been alive, Democrats have pushed for more and more government "support" for the "social safety net." (Scare quotes intentional.) Republican questions about the "cost" in terms of newer or higher taxes were brushed aside with sneers about "heartless" Republicans wanting to starve or kill the poor. Deficits and debt were rarely an issue.

So, now we have Democrats wanting to revisit the just-passed prescription drug entitlement because it will cost too much. They are worried about deficits. As recently as six years ago, they were worried about Social Security solvency. Now, they claim it's completely solvent and tinkering with it will cost too much. They also deny that they said anything different just six years ago! Doesn't anyone else remember President Clinton wanting to take the hundreds of millions in budget surpluses and dedicating them to "Save Social Security first."?

We had a Democratic President and a Congress with slim Democratic majorities, at least until 1994 and then it was a slim Republican majority in the House, that somehow managed to rein in spending enough to allow record tax revenues to pile up.

Then we get a Republican President and Republican Congress that passes a tax cut. Just what you'd expect. Anyone remember Bush's first term before 911? It was lackluster, tax cut excepted, and mostly adrift. Even today, his domestic agenda doesn't seem to be coherent nor Republican. We now have big deficits and a Congress that doesn't seem to be too concerned about spending less, whatever the "big picture" ideas floating around may cost.

Condoleeza Rice becomes the first African-American to succeed another African-American in a major policy-making post within a Presidential administration. A Republican administration. The party that celebrates her achievements first and then her femininity/color is the Republican party. The party that blocks her, attacks her, and calls her vicious names and uses ugly descriptions is the Democrats.

One party wants to spread liberty and democratic government to Third World nations. The other is isolationist and is willing to turn a blind eye to despots and tyrants. It's not who you think, either.

When did the world invert? Was it the 2000 election, when the traditional Dems=red/'Pubs=blue color scheme got reversed? How did that happen, anyway?

When did the names Democrat and Republican just become brand names and not the symbols of principles? It makes a principlist like me despair.
False Advertising, Bad Product

I'm skimming the headlines on the Commercial Appeal website and spot the following headline and slug: "Fresh Friday's":
New look, menu changes target lunch customers

T.G.I. Friday's, the decades-long gathering place at Overton Square, closed in 2003, promising to regroup and return.
So I'm thinking that TGI Friday's in Overton Square is about to re-open. Don't you?

But no, the article is all about the future expansion plans for TGIF in eastern Shelby County. The only talk about Overton Square comes from the owner of Paulette's:
For a long time the Overton Square store, which opened in 1970, just in time to take advantage of new liquor-by-the-glass laws here, was the oldest Friday's in the chain.

It closed in 2003 because "the facility was not holding up," Barton said.

But Falls, who own's Paulette's across the street from the former Friday's, suspected the old store in an old location couldn't reach corporate "volume levels. I sure miss them. They brought a lot of activity to the area."
I know that every time I went by there, it was always busy, day and night. Too bad the reporter didn't dig a little deeper to see if the rumored racism of the closing wasn't in play. Certainly the rest of article says nothing that counters the public perception.

But that's not all, as the pitchmen say. The article also committed a couple of sins. First was the pervasive and annoying use of cheat quotes. When a reporter doesn't just print a person's words, but chops them up and summarises the rest, it's almost always a sign of something not being passed along. Or, sometimes, of a sloppy reporter fitting a person's words into their template of what needs to be said.

Read this:
The goal is to "deepen Nashville and Memphis" with corporate-owned stores, adding three to six locations in "two-plus" years, he said.

"The brand is now 40 years old," he said. "We're just starting to crank it and grow."

The chain, owned by Dallas-based Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc., pioneered the "fun, casual dining" fern bar genre in 1965, seating diners around a prominent bar lit with Tiffany-style lamps....

Thriving in a "sea of sameness" means differentiating from "the chicken finger, hamburger and rib" everyone else has, Barton said. "We're changing our exteriors and interiors and working on food quality."

It means not only new menu items but competing with the quick-service restaurants for lunch customers.

"Our challenge is to be fast and have great food for lunch," Barton said, adding that Friday's is working on getting people "in and out faster than in the past."

It's admirable, Paul says, but "occasion still dictates" where people go to eat.

"Dinner (the evening meal) is still Friday's busiest meal. People choose it because they want to sit down" and be served, he said.
Visually painful and tough on comprehension. I also suspect that at least a couple of those "quotes" may not be actual quotes but the reporter setting off cliches or descriptors. But with this gumbo, who can tell?

Then there is this:
Now, like any 40-year-old, the chain is relying on cosmetics to get noticed.
Since I don't know any 40 year old men using cosmetics (but then I don't hang with the metrosexual crowd), she can only be talking about women. And what she says is the most awful, condescending kind of sexism I've seen in a while, much less seen in newspaper reporting. Shame, shame, shame.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Rejected Television Concepts

BattleStargate Enterprise
Law & Order: Traffic Division (Thanks, Mark.)
Law & Order: CSI
Mayberry CSI ("Goo-ooooo-lee Sherrif Grissom. He's daid.")
Joan of Wisteria Lane
Kevin One Tree Hill
Extreme Apprentice

Did I miss any?
Extraordinary Coolness

Via FARK, high resolution photographs of snowflakes. Beautiful beyond description, with links to thousands (that's right, thousands) more.
An Unreported Plague?

Saw this post on Instapundit, repeated in full:
THE PLAGUE YEARS: Local schools have been closed because of flu since Thursday. The Insta-Wife has flu. The Insta-Daughter is just over it. (I'm okay, but taking Tamiflu as a preventive measure, since I have a trip planned later this week.) My classes are notably empty, and many of the students who are there are hacking, coughing and looking miserable.

It's February.
This is astonishing. What are workplaces like? Can anyone who lives in KnoxVegas send in reports? How bad is it altogether? I'm surprised this isn't being reported on the news.

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Tradition Passes

For more years than I can remember, I've had the same Sunday ritual: buy a Sunday paper then go to a restaurant for lunch to read it. It's equal parts comfort and relaxation for me. A full happy belly and a fully informed mind. Then I go home and take a nap. Oh yeah.

Since moving to my current apartment, about eight years ago, I've gone to the same Chinese restaurant for buffet and to read the Commercial Appeal. But a few months ago, the ritual broke. I don't read the Sunday Commercial Appeal any more. It's just not worth it. And I hate eating by itself. Not eating alone, which isn't a problem, but eating without reading.

Yeah, it's only two dollars, so it's hard to argue waste of money. But I find I don't really read it; I just skim, and selectively at that. Comics and the editorial pages are my must reads on Sunday, then I would read the old Fanfare section, with its book reviews, literature and language columns, and other arts coverage. That's gone now, replaced by the amorphous and anemic "M." Most of the old Fanfare content was lost in the translation.

The new "Midtown Appeal?" Not so appealing for me. Lots of stuff written (often without crediting) by the subjects of the article. Lots of pics and "feel good." Bleh. It's the answer to all the folks who have demanded their paper write positive news, but it's not what I buy a paper for. I buy a paper for access to information I can't otherwise get access to.

The only good thing in Editorial now is that they have opened the paged to guest editorialists on subjects of their interest or expertise. The downside is that often it's the same old experts trotting out the same old lines (Dr. Carol Johnson touting Memphis schools), or partisan experts on subjects they might have a partisan interest in (an anti-spanking children's violence worker on spanking in the City schools), or city officials plugging their proposals (Barry Lendermon on backing the plan to privatise the Promenade). It's not as usual to see strong counter-voices to projects with announced City, County, State or newspaper backing. Then there are the endless variations on "life is Memphis is great, if you look at it right."

Their columnists? There are only two now, instead of the stable the paper used to publish. True, the old crew were infuriating and partisan and dishonest. Thorp, Locker, Wade, Brosnan, Sullivan, Branson, et al., would at least tackle subjects of import and merit, even if they frequently abused the privilege with private agendas and personal biases or other animosities. They were compelling to read.

David Waters and Wendi Thomas aren't. Thomas is young, shallow and predictable. She writes about the same, usual stuff everyone else is talking about in ways you've already heard. She brings nothing new to the table, a cardinal sin to me for any columnist. Waters is... well, a self-righteous, smug moralist with a Big Waving Finger of Shame. He's thoroughly out of step with his community. The big one, Memphis, not his little coterie of liberal agendists. Missing the old crew's columns meant missing something. These two I feel safe in ignoring.

After that, what's left in the paper? Not much, at least for me. The front page is taken over with feel good fluff, sensationalism (a common crime in news, not just the Commercial Appeal) or news I already read on the 'Net. The "Greater Memphis" pages are smaller than the old Metro section they replace and less valuable. State news reporting is greatly diminished; Arkansas and Mississippi reporting is almost nil, especially compared to the old days.

Business reporting has gone up -- that's good -- but it's too often fluff again and not the kind of valuable reporting business news could be. Kowtowing to business advertisers isn't the same as business investigatory reporting. I hear story after story about abuses out at FedEx from friends and acquaintances, but never see a peep in the Commercial Appeal. Story after story in the "Greater Memphis" pages about reversed or unusual rulings by Land Use boards, City and County government, etc., editorials about the influence of developers, but never an investigation of the big names. So-called "predatory lenders" get reamed for weeks, but the banks that refuse to cater to the markets these lenders serve seem to get a pass. It makes you wonder. It makes me skip the section.

The Sports and Real Estate stuff mean nothing at all to me. Could not care less.

So, yeah, two dollars is cheap, but it's not value for money, at least for me. The Friday paper is the only issue I even attempt to make an effort to get any more. It's a real value at fifty cents. If I'm otherwise curious to see what the Commercial Appeal has to say, I go online. And that web-paper is the subject of another post. Let's just say: very slow page loads and an arrangement that doesn't match the dead-tree version, making finding anything frustrating. Because I'm not going to learn two Commercial Appeal layouts just to satisfy lazy or obstinate programmers.

Now I'm stuck with what to do on Sundays. I guess I could save the Friday paper, but that seems odd. I could read books, goodness knows I'm behind on my reading, but that means one-handed eating. I could buy a Friday USA TODAY and save that, but I quit reading them when I went whole-hog reading the net. I can get the same snapshot effect that I used to get from them on the Web. The New York Times is too much. Any suggestions?

It's a shame, really. I feel as though something has passed away. Maybe it has.
Bickering and Boinking

I used to write fiction. It's a longer story than I want to tell here, but from 1997 (when I got a computer) to around 2001, I used to write Star Trek fanfiction -- stories about the characters and settings of the Star Trek television series. Specifically Voyager and Deep Space Nine. I even won a few awards from the audience I was writing for. You can go here, enter my last name in the Search box and read most of what I wrote.

It was tremendous fun, and very fulfilling. Some of those stories I'm very proud of and wouldn't be embarrassed to show to anyone. I had a flair for comedies and parodies, but could turn a serious, thought-provoking tale as well.

Then, I experienced writer's block. Well, more like a drought. I lost the desire and have never gotten it back. Most of my writing energies go into the blog now, which satisfies an even older urge to be a commentator. (My late-teenage wish was to be George Will. Don't laugh.) But I don't think it's a case of water from one glass being poured into another. My mind still works on the old Star Trek stuff, including an original series I had begun that I still think has great potential: Star Trek: USS Goddard. I have reams of stuff still in "work in progress" folders on the computer. But it's almost a physical pain to try to write it now, and the language is flat, awful and lifeless.

(Digression: Last year, I noted I'd written over 400,000 words on Half-Bakered. That's five medium sized novels! A respectable writing career, if traditionally published for pay. By now, it may be six novels worth. End digression.)

I mention all this as prelude to a revelation I had last week. Even though I've written quite a lot, both fanfic and blog, I still find my writing to be too schematic and not compelling enough in the character department. The feedback I used to get on the fanfic said that too, if not directly; as did who didn't read my stuff. I tend to enjoy the mechanics of plot and character resolution more than the dynamics of character interaction.

While watching ads for some crap television show, I started to wonder. How can all these shows, crummy hour dramas about vacuous people and so-called "reality shows," have such dedicated audiences? Then it hit me:

It's all about bickering and boinking! Make your characters moderately distintive; you can even make them stereotypes and cardboard if they can be distinguished individually by sex, race, dress, voice or hair color. Hey, it even applies in anime. Then set them after each other. Have their aims, no matter how dull, predictable or pedestrian, cross. Throw brainless roadblocks in their way. Arbitrarily create relationships and then set other characters after one half of those relationships! Make some lust after others, or simply indiscriminately lustful. It's all about turmoil and coupling.

As long as they are all fighting and f*cking (I still haven't made up my mind on using profanity in this blog. Sorry!), it's compelling. It's the basic formula for soap operas and for nearly every drama on The WB. It's why dramas that have long exhausted their characters can still keep going: they find new ways to pair off or new partners or new "challenges" to themselves. Drop in new characters every so often to shake things up, like in ER.

I know, I know. This "secret" has been known to millions for hundreds, thousands of years. I'm sure I've read it over and over again in the many writing books I've read. But it hit me with the force of realisation, which trumps reading any day.

It's now my number two fiction writing rule, after "Things get worse!" That rule means that just when things are going badly, toss in a further complication to up the ante. If things are going smooth, toss up a dodgeball. Keep your characters constantly on their toes, and the reader is up with them.

Now I just have to get back to fiction writing, right?
Spreading the Fear

Just saw a short news story on WMC/5, so I'll pick on them for this sin.

It's one of those "high media profile crimes raise neighborhood fears" stories. A woman's body is found in Overton Park. Nothing else is known. A police/perp tussle turns violent when a gun goes off, wounding the officer. Two specific events.

So Channel Five reports that students at the Memphis College of Arts are worried. You know, scared it's gonna happen to them. Why? Who knows. Maybe the reporter could have done some homework, to find out how many crimes of violence, crimes involving assault and guns, crimes against women, crimes of opportunity, happened around and in Overton Park in the very recent past, maybe the past month or so. Then compare that number with similar numbers from a year ago, to see if there are trends. You know, a basis for worry.

Or, interview residents. WMC did that over the weekend, and the people they spoke with weren't particularly worried because they practiced preventive measures. Those folks had a healthier, if less compelling, sense of reality. WMC could interview businesses around the park to see what kinds of trends those folks are seeing.

Or, and this is a tougher one, talk with the sex cruisers, druggies, and homeless who live in the Park. Find out what they know, because I guarantee you they know a whole lot more than self-absorbed youngsters passing through the Park.

But that's more work than just sticking microphones in random kids' faces and asking "Are you scared?" then trotting out the same old FUD as a story. Yeah, it fills the program, but it's the information equivalent of brightly colored sugar.

INSTANT UPDATE I just read this post from Jamey's blog, which felt to me to vaguely tie in with the above. Jamey is a former newsman himself and writes an excellent personal blog. Highly recommended.

Also, this post from Abby who lives right across the street from "Murder Park," as she calls it, seems a complementary but opposing point that should be heard, too. She's been blogging events from the literal beginning, so make sure to read her whole blog.
I Am a Very Bad Man

Right after I posted "Catblogging", things took a turn for the worse between my cats Bennie and Rocky. Bennie's health, both physical and mental, dipped. She was angry, withdrawn and always fearful. She'd hide or sleep all day long, and wasn't eating much. She'd glare at me every time and wasn't at all affectionate. Her climbing into the bed at night was territorial, not companionship. It was clear she was desperately unhappy and beginning to fail.

Something had to change and sadly that change was putting Rocky back outside for good. I know. I am a very bad man who will be punished for this. I know. But it had to happen fast, and it did, Saturday afternoon. When I left for the bloggers bash, Rocky was already outside. I left her there. She was still gone when I came in. The next morning she was sleeping outside the door, in my porch chair. She saw me and jumped up to come in. I refused her, then had to listen to her begging to come in. It's heart-ripping.

Same things Sunday night, this morning and this evening. Rocky's confused, as she has every right to be. She found a good thing, a warm and friendly home, and lots of loving and scratches from me. Then suddenly it was taken away and she was rebuffed. Who wouldn't cry?

I have no idea how long it will take to break her. (Man. I just reread that sentence and hate myself.) I'd love to see someone adopt her, but I'm not sure anyone will. She's got an upper respiratory infection (URI, a cat cold). They aren't easily treatable and usually stay for life, with minor outbreaks every so often. She gave it to Bennie, who's getting better now. But it means Rocky may not be taken in by shelters or places like House of Mews, because she's a danger to the other cats.

Rocky also has something wrong with her belly. When she first started hanging around, I noticed she had a mildly distended belly. It was either a pregnancy or worms, I figured. It's been over four months now, and no children, so it's not that. I treated her for worms and nothing happened, nor does she show eggs or larvae in her poop, so it's not that, either. That leaves something really wrong, which I have no money to have a vet look at, nor to treat. Her energy and alertness are still high and she eats like a horse, so I have to wonder what's wrong. It's still growing, too. And she'll have to be fixed, which I would have done eventually anyway, when I did take her to a vet when I made the decision to keep her.

But none of that's happening now. Since Rocky was banished (God, I'm doomed.), Bennie has rebounded greatly. She bounces around the place all day now, instead of staying immobile or moving cautiously. No more resentful glares or angry bites and rebuffs. She's mildly affectionate again, including climbing onto my chest and shoulder when I sat in the easy chair tonight. She hasn't done that in a very long time. At first, she kept expecting Rocky to pop out at her, but since she's seen her outside, Bennie is happier, even back to sitting on the front window sill, which she had ceded to Rocky.

Poor Rocky is still out there on the porch, waiting. I have no idea how long this will take, nor if I have the stomach for it. Nor if Half-Bakered readers care, nor if they will forgive me my monstrosity and selfishness. Something had to change and innocent, friendly Rocky was it.

If anyone reading this wants her, please act fast. She's a lovable, sweet, friendly, litter-trained, non-destructive girl. She'll cost a lot at first, but I know she'll repay that. It's just that Bennie was first, and has right of place. They weren't going to live together amicably at all.

Man, I will burn in Hell for this.
The Death of a Hobby

I used to love to build plastic models when I was a kid, mostly WWII aircraft and science fiction kits. I still yearn a bit to build them, but my eyes aren't quite so sharp and my hands shake a bit too much now. I still like to read modelling magazines and sometimes go to modelling shows. I'm even considering taking up yet another hobby, table-top wargaming -- that has elements of model building in it.

But the hobby as a whole is going away. It seems that the companies who make the real aircraft, tanks, cars, naval ships, etc. are demanding enormous licensing fees now. You can read more here.
For over half a century, kits have been sold that enable military history buffs to assemble scale models of military ships, aircraft and vehicles. But that era is coming to an end, as the manufacturers of the original equipment, especially aircraft, are demanding high royalties (up to $40 per kit) from the kit makers. Since most of these kits sell in small quantities (10-20,000) and are priced at $15-30 (for plastic kits, wooden ones are about twice as much), tacking on the royalty just prices the kit out of the market. Popular land vehicles, which would sell a lot of kits, are missing as well. The new U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles are not available because of royalty requirements. Even World War II aircraft kits are being hit with royalty demands.

These royalty demands grew out of the idea that corporations should maximize “intellectual property” income. Models of a companys products are considered the intellectual property of the owner of a vehicle design. Some intellectual property lawyers have pointed out that many of these demands are on weak legal ground, but the kit manufacturers are often small companies that cannot afford years of litigation to settle this contention. In the past, the model kits were considered free advertising, and good public relations, by the defense firms. The kit manufacturers comprise a small industry, and the aircraft manufacturers will probably not even notice if they put many of the model vendors out of business. Some model companies will survive by only selling models of older (like World War I), or otherwise “no royalty” items (Nazi German aircraft) and ships. But the aircraft were always the bulk of sales, and their loss will cripple many of the kit makers. Some of the vehicle manufacturers have noted the problem, and have lowered their demands to a more reasonable level (a few percent of the wholesale price of the kits).
It's a problem of creeping copyright protection. The concept is being so twisted and stretched these days it's ludicrous. Major corporations that produce the real thing used to view the plastic hobby industry as a free form of advertising, a way to interest people in their products and companies. Now, it's just another source of revenue, to be maximised and protected whatever the cost to society. What was intended to protect authors and songwriters and performers has been hijacked by money-starved entities seeking to secure revenue streams.

The entertainment industry is the worst. No longer is your purchase of a CD or DVD the means of support between performers/creators and their audiences. When you buy a CD, you are only renting the performance of that song in that format on certain hardware for personal, private use. Period. Change the format, you need a new license. Play in public, you need another license. Copy the song, you pay a license fee in the purchase of blank tape and, soon, in blank CDs.

So, an album I bought in the Seventies I've had to repurhcase for my 8-track player in my old car. Two license fees right there. When I switched to cassettes, another fee. CDs? Another one; that's four already. Dowload a copy of an MP3 file for a song I've payed for four times? Another fee! When does the greed end?

This kind of thinking is spreading, and in odd ways. Watch MTV and you'll see some products in music videos digitally fuzzed. It's to block product placements, except if the advertisers are paying MTV, then it's OK to show.

Remember singing "Happy Birthday" or seeing it in movies and television? It's gone now because the holders of the copyright insist on high fees for its use! Free use spread it far and wide, but that popularity fanned the flames of greed and have killed it off.

Mickey Mouse and Star Trek should be in the public domain by now, free for anyone to use any way they want. It's how ideas spread in cultures and take root. But changes in copyright law that lock up rights for the companies that own them and can pay to enforce them have extended those private right to 75 years. The public sphere is shrunk and the private, paying, sphere encroaches just a bit more.

Fanfiction is another, related, realm. Lots of fans of popular culture (television shows mostly, some movies and books) like to create their own adventures of their favorite characters. Or take two characters they love and put them into the romantic relationship the producers don't -- or won't! -- show. Harry Potter stories can be found all over the net. Same for Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order, ER, you name it. But doing this is illegal, since the producers still hold copyright.

At present, it's a grey area. Fans are careful to insert legal disclaimers and not resell their stories for profit. Companies, so far, are looking the other way. Some authors have banned it; Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover) and Anne McCaffrey (Pern), for two. Star Wars producer, Lucasfilms, does the same. How much long this will continue is the question worrying everyone in fandom.

But with the advent of fan-produced videos and movies, it's becoming a thornier issue. There are currently four groups producing Star Trek series. Star Wars has a whole industry of fan-made efforts. Batman is a frequent subject, too; and Robin / Nightwing. Look hee for some astonishing works.

Companies are beginning to take legal notice. At the nation's largest comics convention, which is also a showcase for upcoming Hollywood films that appeal to the comics audience (their largest demographic and revenue source), producers have demanded that fan efforts not be shown under threat of removing the many panels and film debuts they sponsor.

With prices for cameras and production software still falling, and with cable modems becoming more and more popular, the fanfilm cottage industry is only going to grow. So will MP3 trading.

Companies are fighting a rear-guard action, the most vicious kind. Huge profits are in danger of disappearing.

And so tiny hobbies like plastic modelling are falling to collateral damage. It's a shame.
Some Thing Don't Change

In the latest History Carnival, there's a great post from Early Modern Notes about a book published in 1682. It's mostly a British tourist's eye view of Wales, with a lot of snobbish humor. But this passage caught me eye:
They do not always observe the Rules of Justice in their Punishments; oftentimes chastising one Body for another, and so misplace their rigour on the undeserving; as will be very evident from this following Instance: A certain Taylor ferrying over a River in their Country with a diminutive Nag; the Steed never using to travel by Water, and wondering that he stood still and mov’d, was possess’d with Fear, and made some Disturbance on the Boat, to the great endangering of the Passengers; The Welshman, being in Jeopardy, was fir’d with Anger, and without any Wings he flew on the Taylor, and revenged the Injury of the Palfry on poor Prick-Louse. The Stitcher swaddled the Scrupling Horse, and Taphy beat the Stitcher, to the great Diversion and Grief of the Spectators. …

Most of their Indictments are generally the tragical Effects of some dismal Counterscuffle, where a bloody Nose and a broken Shin is ample Matter for the Commencement of a Suit; for, they being of a fiery Temper, sometimes Choler is kindled by an Antiperistasis with a Pot of Ale; and then they fall to biting and scratching as hard as they can drive, and the Wounds of this Caterwauling and Bickering afford Stuff for an Action the next Day; which, being once got into the Pounces of a Welsh Attorney, is dandled into a Business of no small Aggravation. Oh! how these Pettifoggers will hug a Buffeting, and improve a Squobble! They are the very Bellows of Contention, and will soon blow a Spark into a great Combustion. They are a Kind of Tinkers in the Law, who usually make Holes on Purpose that they may mend them; nay, sometimes they will play at Loggerhead themselves to set others together by the Ears, and so (as if Fighting was contagious) will infect the Taphies into Quarrels and Blows.
Sorry for the Aulde Englische, but it just goes to show that resorting to lawyering and law abuse -- and Jerry Springerism -- are ever with us.
Whatever Happened To...?

* Joe Larkins? Is he still in town? Has he gotten a job elsewhere? The now-defunct said that relations between him and Markova Reed were so frosty and dysfunctional that they weren't even speaking. But I wonder if the hiring of Richard Ransom affected his career path, closing off Jerry Tate's chair to him. There's no anchor vacancy in the city right now, so where's he going?

* Gurnal Scott? He used to be an on-air reporter at WPTY/24, now he's doing hourly afternoon news updates at WREC/AM600 radio. What happened?

* Joyce Peterson? The million dollar question. I assume she's still living in Memphis, but it's puzzling that she hasn't been snapped up yet. WPTY would be well-advised to build their promised morning show around her. Peterson has high popularity around Memphis; on-camera person she's relaxed, attractive, funny, professional; she's a solid reporter. She's been released from her "no compete" clause. What's going on here?

As to her firing, it's apparently still a tightly held secret. I haven't seen a clue anywhere. No one's speaking. The only thing I've heard is that shortly after WMC hired Susan Adler Thorp as a news "consultant," Peterson was heard at a reporter scrum (lots of reporters standing around waiting for a politician to appear) speaking in very negative and critical terms about the hiring. I don't have exact quotes, so I have to leave it at that. Was it this, or something personal? (BTW, if in fact it was something personal, then I won't pass it along.)

* The old WPTY news crew? I know Ken Houston is an anchor in Baltimore now. Good for him! What about Michelle Robinson? She was ill-treated by WREG and I thought her phoenix-like resurrection in the anchor chairs at WPTY/24 and WLMT/30 was wonderful just revenge. Is she still working in the biz? Retired? What about Ellen Galles, a solid reporter, and Norma McDowell, a real cutie? (I once unnerved her by staring just a bit too long at a Chinese buffet. My bad. But dang she's cute.) Any idea where they are?

* Has anyone heard who might be the local radio talk host on the new WMQM/AM680, the new Air America affiliate? We desperately need a replacement for Mike Fleming, and something more coherent than WDIA/AM1070's free-for-all talk shows. I just hope it's someone both radio-ready and politically informed. That's all I ask. I would at least tune in regularly. Plus, it might force some kind of change on the sclerotic and silly Fleming.

* Lastly, has anyone else noticed the changes at WHBQ/13? Am I mistaken or is there a definite push for a more "urban" image happening there? The new station promo featuring Soul Music, Inc. is pretty spiffy -- "No disrespect to 5, 3 or 24!" Yo, you've been 0wn3d!

There's the addition of reruns of "Sanford and Son" and "Girlfiends" as well. "Sanford?" Where did that come from? "Girlfriends" has prize of place in the late afternoon lineup and at 10PM. I admit that I miss my Saturday afternoon "Angel" repeats, though.

Then we come to the weekend news. They are nearly there with an all-black anchor desk. Ernie Freedman, Maria Black, Ed Echols.... All solid, especially Ernie. We haven't had an all-black news team since the glory days of WLMT/30, so it's a good thing to see.

If anyone has any answers to these questions, I'd love to hear them. Anonymity will be given, but information passed along only if I think it's worthwhile. Or you can drop your information in comments. With the demise of, there's a void in behind-the-scenes television and newspaper news gossip. I'd really like for Half-Bakered to fill that void for Memphis. Partly because I'm curious; partly because I think Memphians have a right to know, up to a point. No spite or revenge gossip; no "guess who cruises gay clubs" stuff; no personal problems intrusions. I see it more as qui custodiet custodiens? "Who watches the watchmen?" The public has an interest not being served.

Anonymity is fine, but gains you no respect. Information gained that way is deprecated unless it's multiply sourced.
We Should All Fear And Despise This

I'll start with direct quotes from the story, with light edits:
They've caught him and handcuffed him. He is brought into the house and placed in a chair, his hands cuffed behind his back.

He is already moaning.

Webber is heard first, telling [the detainee] his "dope dealing's over." Franklin chimes in, telling [the detainee] the lawmen are shutting down hi[m down]. Monday speaks next.

"It's (expletive) over, son," Monday says.

The beating begins then.

There is no way to tell from the transcript how long the first assault lasts. At some point, Franklin instructs Carroll to hold off.

"Wait a minute, Will, before you start," Franklin says.

"10-4," Carroll responds.

Franklin then speaks to [the detainee], saying, "I tell you what we're gonna do. Let me tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna put them handcuffs in front of ya. Cut you a little slack. But if don't start operating (sic), we're gonna put the (expletive) behind your back, and I'm gonna take this slapjack, and I'm gonna start working that head over, you understand?"

..."You're not (expletive) listening," Webber says. "You hear what I told you? I told you not to be talking. ? This (expletive) right here, he loves seeing blood. He loves it. He loves seeing blood. You're talking too much. ? He loves (expletive) seeing blood. He'll beat your ass and lick it off of you."

Franklin orders another officer to remove [the detainee]'s handcuffs so he can sign. [The detainee], who cannot read or write, asks one of them to read it to him.

Monday refuses.

"Just sign it," Monday orders Siler.

[The detainee] refuses.

"Git (sic) up," Monday responds. "Git (sic) up. I said get the (expletive) up."

Beating sounds follow.

"Now git (sic) up, (expletive) it," Monday says.

[The detainee] responds, "Oh, alright."

"No, git (sic) the (expletive) up," Monday says again.

"Let me ask David (Webber) something first," [the detainee] pleads.

"Look, you sign this (expletive) or I'm gonna hit you again," Monday says. "One. Two."

Slaps and blows are again documented on the transcript, with Monday continuing to order [the detainee] to sign.

By now, [the detainee] is crying.

Threats come next. The lawmen tell [the detainee] they will jail his wife and have his children taken away from him. The transcript details more beating sounds, more moaning from [the detainee], who repeatedly asks to talk to Webber.

"You ain't talking to nobody," Green responds. "You're gonna sign this (expletive) paper."

[The detainee] screams. More blows are heard. The lawmen continue to order [the detainee] to sign. He responds with moans and more screams. But there would be no reprieve.

"...It's just beginning, buddy," Webber says.

[The detainee] is going to die, the officers tell him.

"I want to help you," [the detainee] says.

Webber responds, "No, I don't want your help. I want you to sign that form 'cause you're the one we want and we got 'cha (sic), and if you don't sign it, you probably won't walk out of here."
Think you're reading something from Abu Ghraib? Another Iraqi dentention center? Rogue soldiers near Fallujah? Maybe Guantanamo Bay?

Nope. Try Campbell County, Tennessee.

These are local law enforcement officers -- cops -- beating and torturing a drug suspect in his own home. Now the suspect, Eugene Siler, is no good guy. He's got a long clear record of drug dealing. If the cops treat someone at his level like this, how do you think they treat the big-time, important cases? Anyone who will gladly fudge the small stuff, the stuff that "doesn't matter," will unquestionably do whatever it takes when the stakes are high, when his ass is on the line. That goes for cops, judges, politicians and news reporters. Anyone.

Part of the problem is that cops were given seizure rights and forfeiture control. When they bust you with money, or anything they can identify as being vaguely connected to the "crime" in question, it's seized and becomes, without due process, theirs. Trying to get it back is when due process kicks in and you'll often spend as much in time and aggravation as what they've seized, just trying to prove your innocence or lack of connection. It'll certainly take a long, long time to get it back, if you ever do. The cops keep the money they seize, and will sell off the rest and keep the profits; but not always. Sometimes, valuable items will just disappear into the private hands of police and their friends.

I used to work in a drug treatment center. I'd hear stories about police treatment and seizure. I'd also hear stories about the top-level command under former Sherrif AC Gilless, and their little retirement community around a certain lake in Arkansas.

The money equation needs to be altered. Take out the huge, undocumented profits and the most of the problem of police abuse melts away. "Illegal" drugs need to be legalised and medicalised. Make it a doctor / pharmacy relationship; or like methadone treatment. The "drug problem" needs to stop being a crime problem; it's a public health problem.

At one time, Memphis Mayor Herenton talked about converting a local, closed, medical facility into an overnight holding center. Public drunks and those arrested for simple possession or use (ie, no crimes of property or assault attached) would be diverted from the jail to this facility. They'd be held overnight and then screened. Some would be given an option: immediate referral to a treatment facility or being sent to court. The upside is that it treats drugs as a social and medical problem. A lot of folks who don't need to clog up the jails get diverted to the help they need. Not all of the referrals will straighten up, but more than a few will. Attach some form of community service to this as punishment instead of jail time. Everyone benefits.

Of course, as with so many Herenton ideas it just disappeared, abandoned like a lot of his proposals. There was no money to be made by certain banks, developers and businessmen; nor public money to fund it. That's a shame as I think he was onto something. It needs reviving.