Saturday, June 04, 2005

Blair Grabs the Stake

I don't usually comment much on foreign affairs here, as I'm not too well informed and there are others who have much better knowledge and insight than I ever could. But this story from the UK's Telegraph is a wowser.

British PM Tony Blair, who has been ardently and continually pushing for greater integration between Britain and the European Union, is now doing an about face. He will abandon the euro (the push to integrate the pound with the pan-Europe currency) and focus instead on African poverty! That's pretty stunning.

The article goes on to show the growing disarray in Europe following last week's votes on the European constitution. France voted strongly against it (55-45), though mostly for reasons of keeping their strongly protectionist, socialist state in the face of Euro-competitiveness. But then Holland also voted it down. In their case, an important government official said the government wouldn't even consider the vote meaningful unless there was turnout above 30% and the vote against was clear. Well, the Dutch voted two to one against, and 60% of voters showed up at the polls. Zing!

Now, no one knows what's happening next. The value of the euro, which was very strong against the dollar, is now free-falling rapidly. Governments that previously approved the constitution are wondering if they were snookered as the main engines of the continental European economy -- France and Germany -- are beginning to make plans for themselves.

Bad news for Europe what with them facing unsupportable social welfare states and a surging influx of Arab Muslims who have no interest in assimilation. After decades of being the muscle to European world plans, President Bush shook them off strongly and, it appears, for good. Provided we survive for another generation or two, the dead hand of European ambition and paternalism may finally fall from us.

I can't recall if I've ever posted photos of my cat Bennie, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the other half of Casa Dos Amigos.

Yes, Bennie is a boy's name and she's a girl cat. I named her after my neighbor and friend Ben, who died the week I got her. Well, she got me, but that's for another time. (I think I did blog this.) Besides, this is the South where you meet women named Rayline, Earline, Geraldine, Bobbie, Ronnie, Jimmy Lou, etc. So, Bennie's just fine.

Here's a pic of her as a kitten, caught looking for kitty porn.

She's five now.

She's my friend and companion and a sweety to boot. A good mouser, too.
Godwin's Law

A succinct explanation and example of Godwin's Law can be found here for those of you not already familiar with it. It is a common affliction of the Left.
Please Forgive Me

I know it's unseemly to discuss these things on your own blog, but please forgive me. I've occasionally seen in my referrer logs a Google search for half bakered or some variant of that word. Not often, just once in a while. I've always assumed it was just someone else who had the bright idea "Half baked? Half bakered! Cool." and goggled it just to check.

But lately, as in the past few weeks, I've regularly seen searches for half bakered memphis or half-bakered blog, or something like that! I'm being discovered. Whee!

Of course, now the paranoid conspiracy theorist side of me is worrying who those people are and why they're looking for me.

And traffic is more than double from the levels before my last hiatus, for which I'm quite grateful. It's mostly Tennessee Waltz related, but then that's been the Big Show here at Half-Bakered of late.

A gentle reminder: if you like what you read here, you can help support it by clicking the PayPal link on the top left. All donations are appreciated.

I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk when he finds his name in the phone book and begins to holler, "I am someone!"
Say Whut?

Remember the NAACP's boycott of North South Carolina in the wake of Confederate battle flag disputes? Yeah, me neither. And it turns out most of America doesn't recall it either, as business seems pretty much normal across the State.
"I'll be honest with you, we no longer see any significant or measurable impact from that — haven't since the flag came down," said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

If there has been an effect, it is not reflected in tourism-related tax collections, Edmonds said. According to his agency, accommodations tax receipts increased $3.5 million during the boycott period, and admissions tax collections grew $2.5 million — slow but steady.
Oops! Remember this when the next threat comes along.

SUNDAY UPDATE Fixed a reader-caught typo! I'm a one-man operation and try my best, but I'm glad for sharp-eyed readers. I would be nothing without you. Thanks.
Remember Lt. Cmdr. McClusky Today

Today, the fourth of June, is an historic day for America. From the LA Times:
The two fleets faced off north of Midway, too far apart to reach each other with gunfire. The battle was fought by aircraft. There were three American carriers (virtually all that remained of the U.S. Pacific fleet) versus four large Japanese carriers.

The first waves of U.S. warplanes attacked, disastrously. Navy Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron led a squadron of 15 torpedo bombers; all were shot down, and the Japanese ships remained untouched. Two more squadrons followed, one under Lt. Cmdr. Eugene E. Lindsey, one led by Lt. Cmdr. Lance E. Massey. They too suffered heavy losses and failed to scratch the Japanese.

Silence. It looked like America had shot its wad and lost everything. "For about one hundred seconds" at the heart of the battle, Morison writes, "the Japanese were certain they had won the Battle of Midway, and the war."

Then, one more group of U.S. warplanes suddenly appeared — dive bombers led by Lt. Cmdr. Clarence W. McClusky. In countering the previous attacks, Japanese fighter planes had been drawn downward — leaving American bombers unmolested at 14,000 feet, free to dive on the Japanese ships. Two carriers were sunk. Soon afterward a third was destroyed, later a fourth. The U.S. went on to win the battle — and the war.
Read the rest of the article to see what that meant.

EVENING UPDATE Mark at the Conservative Zone has some wonderful tactical history.
What a Dartmouth Education Gets You

Test your knowledge of dead, white, European male accomplishment with this quiz, which showed that Dartmouth students left that school with a deep deficiency in Western civilisation! Have a piece of paper handy, as they print the answers right below the questions. Fools....

I did pretty well, but did miss a few. Nothing I considered critical.

Hat tip to Powerline for the link.
The Case of the Curious Quiet

About a week ago, I noted the strange silence coming from Tennessee's Democratic quarters about the Tennessee Waltz indictments and the legislators who got them. What anger there was seemed to be muted and specific, or tightly generalised to only those indicted. Little to no anger at the leadership of the party, or the atmosphere within the party that made such widespread corruption possible did I find.

I asked my readers to point me to anyone who was expressing what I wasn't seeing. I got no real response.

The guys at LeanLeft, one of the blogs I criticised then, have since had three posts on legislative and government corruption. All, however, reference Republican wrongdoing in other states and do not address the Tennessee situation. It was, as I noted then, a lot of hand-waving to distract attention and shift responsibility. The conflation of "Quick, look over there!" and "Well, they do it, too." While it is important to highlight and draw attention to corruption -- a core purpose of the First Amendment and absolutely essential speech to free and honest government -- those aren't valid responses to my question. It still remains to be answered.

But, in this post, Kevin argues:
Campaign financing has now become almost indistinguishable from open bribery. In public the fiction is maintained, but, as the Westar case reveals, in private companies know they are buying Congresspeople and Congresspeople are quite happy – indeed, they need the money to get re-elected – to be bought.

The only solution to this is public campaign financing....
He must be kidding. Having just seen how access to legislation -- a core function of government -- can be controlled by extortion and bribery he wants to take all that money used to finance campaigns, put it into one pot, and then give control of that pot to the same legislators and public officials he documents, and we now know, are bribeable! What possible logic is there in this?

The solutions are simple and threefold: transparency, openness and reporting.

Money should be transparent. Donations to candidates should only be allowed from living humans who are citizens of this country. No donations from parties, corporations, foundations, unions or PACs allowed. If organisations want to make a group donation, it should be composed of bundled and identified individual donations. (I would also argue against limits on contributions, but we'll leave that for another day.) Groups that campaign on behalf of a particular candidate should be subject to the same restrictions.

Donations should be recorded and posted to the candidate's offical website within 72 hours. Give the FEC regulatory power to audit those lists with a warrant. All campaign expenditures must be accounted for, although they don't have to be publicly posted. Just accessible to the FEC.

Yes, there is a loss of privacy. But I would argue that the public good done by transparency outweighs that significantly.

Next is openness. Meetings by public, elected and appointed officials must always be open to the public and the press. Period. Failure to follow this law results in fines by the State Attorney General to the people involved. Automatically upon discovery. This will slow down some government action, but since when is that bad?

In this digital age, I might even push for recording of all public meetings. It's as cheap as its ever been, easily done and permanently storable. This would allow for public review at a later date.

Public records? Same thing. Not databases of private, required information like dates of birth, Social Security numbers, phone numbers driver's license numbers, and other identifying information, but the reports, transcripts, files and other output of public officials and their offices. This should be automatically available and there should be no delay or excuse in granting access.

The work of government is the work of the people. There is no valid argument for hiding it from that public. If work proceeds more cautiously because of the awareness of public scrutiny, again, how is that a bad thing?

Lastly is reporting. This is the secondary essential function of the First Amendment, to make the doings of government and its officials known to the people they are supposed to serve, but frequently exploit or rule over. (The primary function was to encourage and protect free dissent.) We the people must take active interest and participation in our government. Reading about and being familiar with the players and their actions is necessary. Newspapers used to do this job pretty well, until the post-WWII period, when they adopted the "fair, neutral and objective" stance. Nowadays, blogs and websites are moving quickly and decisively to fill that void.

I would add keeping power as close to the people as possible, making it possible for the people to feel they have a real hand in it. But that, too, is a discussion for another time.
A Primer on Ford's Pension

Fishkite has an excellent primer on disgraced former State Senator John Ford's pension and why we're stuck paying for it even if he's convicted.
A Peek Behind the Curtain

LeftWingCracker is a Democratic activist and sometime blogger. He's been mostly dormant for quite a while, but the Tennessee Waltz fallout seems to have energised him back into action. That's all to the good, as he's thoughful and descriptive. I met him at a bloggers bash earlier this year and enjoyed the discussion. Nice, non-doctrinaire guy.

Start with this post about the coming Shelby County Democratic Party convention. LWC tries his best to describe the convolute process. Then read here and here for his prescription for new leadership. He lays out the Democratic situation for 2006 quite well, except for thinking the Republicans will offer up a placeholder candidate against Governor Phil Bredesen. Phil's very vulnerable and can most definitely be beaten off. Remember: every effort to implement an income tax has come in the second term of recent governors (Democrat and Republican). No second term, no income tax proposal! Phil's also the guy who will cut several hundred thousand from TennCare rolls by 2006. Democrats will be steamed by that and so will several hundred thousand former TennCare patients.

LWC links to Jackson Baker's Memphis Flyer Politics column which goes into great detail about the upcoming fight for the chairmanship. LWC thinks David Cocke, a former chairman, is being courted and groomed to reclaim his old post, as does Baker. It would explain why Cocke suddenly reappeared on local television news late this week.

Baker lists quite a few possible contenders. Generally speaking, when you have so many candidates seeking the leadership position it's a sign of lack of leadership, or dissatisfaction. Either the group is dynamic and growing, seeking a new direction and someone to take them there, or they are fearful and retrenching, wanting someone to shield them from the storms.

In the wake of the Tennessee Waltz indictments of four Shelby County Democrats, with several more rumored to be on the way, I'll leave it to you to decide which one it is.

Welcome back, Steve. Don't stop blogging any time soon, OK?
Two Bad Practices of Print Journalism

Not to pick on a particular reporter, but this article commits two sins of journalism I find especially annoying.

First and foremost, there is no context! The reporter repeatedly tells us the Mayor talked about and said this or that, but never tells us where and to whom. Was he speaking publicly, at some civic group luncheon? Or privately, to the reporter in his office? We don't have the least idea.

Did the reporter call the Mayor to pre-interview him before he went before the City Council? Or did the Mayor call her to City Hall to lay the groundwork in the media for his budget proposals? To readers who notice the lack of context, there comes a suspicion of complicity on the part of the Commercial Appeal with the Mayor's plans. Are they being partisan or neutral? The problem for the community is if they pretend the latter while being the former.

The second thing that bugs me is more of an apparent lack of basic economics and political education on the part of the reporter. The article says:
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton will lay out a five-year financial management strategy for the city Tuesday that he says will highlight new revenue sources beyond the dreaded property tax.
There is but a single source for all tax money: you. The citizens, the people, Mr and Ms Shelby County. You can intercept it at many places in the economy, but it all traces back to a single headwater.

Real estate transfer tax? You the buyer pay that. "Payroll" tax on your place of employment? You the employee pay that in reduced pay increases and smaller benefits. Higher fees for government service? You the consumer of government services pay that. Property tax? You the home owner pay that, and yes even you the renter pay that, too. Hotel and rental taxes? You and your family pay that when company comes to town.

Only business taxes minimise the impact locally. Much of Memphis economy is based on transportation and warehousing businesses that operate nationaly and even internationally. Business and property taxes and franchise taxes will affect locals to some extent, but these businesses have enormous customer bases to spread that cost around to.

But the Memphis Industrial Board is very generous with their PILOT programs (payment in lieu of taxes) and with tax freezes and breaks. They have to be to get businesses to locate here in the first place. But in shifting the share of the tax burden from business to private citizens, we also take on more than our fair share, don't we? Same for the hot, hot, hot downtown. Lots of breaks there, too, that mean lost tax revenue that has to be "made up" somewhere else. Guess who that "somewhere" is?

It's always important to remember that the vast majority of reporters and journalists get degrees in journalism that mean nothing more than they've been taught to write a certain way. Most journalists will even joke that they went into journalism so they could avoid math and science classes.

And yet they are the ones who must cover and report on important issues of politics, economics, business and science with no particular training, or even knowledge! Like someone once said, we'll read a story in the paper that shows they have no understanding of a certain subject, turn the page, and then expect that they have competence in another subject.

Look at the abuse of statistics in political reporting. Look at the credulous reporting from "health" and "science" reporters, who breathlessly and uncritically pass along whatever health or science story comes down the wire with no ability to assess what they're reading. Look at the "business" reporters who have never run a business, studied business in school, been a manager, met a payroll, plowed through regulatory paperwork, etc. And yet folks will read these reporters as though they know what they're talking about, with no reassurance other than they are employed by a local newspaper.

The same applies to television news reporting. But there you add a whole extra burden -- which takes time from learning such things as physics, economics, business, statistics, etc. -- the burden of how to look good in front of a camera, which has little or nothing to do with actual content.

Remember that every time you read the paper and watch the news. Or read blogs. Next time you call a reporter to ask after a story, try to find out what kind of education beyond journalism they got.
Welcome Movie News

I discovered in my bookmarks a news bit I'd forgotten from Roger Ebert that's welcome news to fans of the book A Confederacy of Dunces. It's a quirky and decidely non-PC novel written by John Kennedy Toole in the early Sixties about New Orleans and the lumbering behemoth of delusion Ignatius J. Reilly.

To me, an actor like the younger Oliver Platt would have been nearly perfect as Ignatius. But, well... let Ebert, quoting from the film's would-have-been director David Gordon Green, tell you:
Q: I recently found out that David Gordon Green's film "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore, has been canceled. Green is one of my favorite directors and I have high hopes for his career. What is the story behind the cancellation and what will this do to his career?

Jonathan Warner, Evanston

A: At 30, David Gordon Green is one of the brightest talents of his generation, and the maker of three wonderful films ("George Washington," "All the Real Girls, "Undertow"). "A Confederacy of Dunces" would have been based on the cult novel by John Kennedy Toole about a quixotic New Orleans character. He responds:

"To the disappointment of many of us, 'Dunces' was put on hold last year. We had assembled the cast of my dreams (Will Ferrell, Lily Tomlin, Mos Def, Drew Barrymore, Olympia Dukakis, etc.) and I adopted New Orleans as my new home, but politics over the property rights -- torn between Miramax, Paramount, and various camps of producers -- put a weight on the project that wasn't creatively healthy to work within.

"The draft of the script by Scott Kramer and Steven Soderbergh did the novel justice, and also provided a healthy cinematic spotlight for these eccentric characters, but it didn't cater to a lot of the cliches or conditioning of contemporary American studio sensibilities. So I suppose the difficulty was even beyond the political baggage and paperwork, and stemmed in many ways from the manner in which I wanted the film to be executed.
Look at that cast. Ferrell as Ignatius? Abomination beyond words. Lily Tomlin as his mother? Gack! Mos Def as Jones? He's too modern-cool to get it right. Freakin' Drew Barrymore as Myrna Minkoff? Complete and total miscast. Myrna is the classic black beret, black turtleneck, black skirt and hose, black hornrimmed glasses, thin as a rail New England bohemian. Drew is nothing like that.

So, I'm glad the stake was put through this one. I can't really think of any young actors today who might get him right, though in devilish moments I think of Ralphie from Last Comic Standing. Plus, the whole tone of the novel is so pre-PC, so offensive to so many politically active identity groups I can't see how it gets through the script process intact. It will have to be watered down to the point of tepidness, to the point that much of what drives the comedy action makes no sense.

Ebert also mentions, again quoting Green, one version that might have been:
The history of the book and various efforts for a filmed version make an epic of their own. (I would have loved to see the Harold Ramis-directed early '80s take with John Belushi, Ruth Gordon and Richard Pryor). My hope is that we get our paws on the flick, and Kramer writes his memoirs of the whole deal.
That one might have worked, though Belushi would have had some difficulty with the fierce intellectualism of Ignatius. Still, it would have been made in the anything-goes atmosphere of Hollywood in the early Seventies and that might've allowed the novel's flavor to survive. I can absolutely see that cast relishing the opportunity to be outrageous.
The Speaker Has No Clothes!

Lt. Governor John Wilder is repositioning his statements from the floor of the State Senate last Thursday. He now says he's just angry that entrapment was used against his fellows.

Wilder's upset is particular and hypocritical. The TBI and County Sheriff's departments have been using entrapment in drug stings for decades. Combined with RICO prosecutions and seizure-and-forfeiture laws, stings are a lucrative business for Tennessee law enforcement. Wilder has shown exactly zero interest in that aspect of entrapment, but let it get near his "family" and whoa! Suddenly he's angry.

Let me digress a moment to deal with the trend in modern America to make our workmates into "family." The people we work with are not family, as our places of work are not our homes. Your boss is not your parent. Work is work and family is family. We have perfectly serviceable words like "coworker" and "colleagues" for the people we work with. To pretend that the accidents of place and employment approximate the unbreakable bonds of blood and commitment that are the marks of family is ludicrous and dangerous.

Anyway, This doddering old fool would not have been Speaker but for two foolish Republicans who backed him over their party and the tides of change coming to Tennessee. Get rid of them and then we can get rid of him. Wilder had to use sleazy lowball tactics in his last election to defeat his opponent, so he knows he's weak. Let's knock him off.

The Commercial Appeal has a weak-as-tea editorial that spends a lot of space to eventually bleat that Wilder should "apologise." For saying what he obviously believes? For saying what a lot of Americans agree with, that entrapment is fundamentally unfair and should only be used sparingly? For placing a higher value on his colleagues than on the rule of law? None of what he expressed is new, it's just been spelled out in words on the record and seen by a lot of Tennesseans -- so that it cannot be swept under the rug of media blindness -- rather than being manifest in his actions over the decades.

And, once again, the Miami connection rears its ugly head:
Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson said he was offered a trip to meet with company officials in Miami. Memphis City Schools board member Michael Hooks Jr. said he was offered a chance to go on a cruise with company officials while he was in Miami on business.
Talk about hide in plain sight! When, oh when! will someone take a look at this Miami clue just lying right there in front of us? If it's a red herring, let's fillet it and be done. But if it's a marker of further connections, then let's investigate and see where they lead. Does it lead, as I and others believe, to Harold Ford, Sr.? To repeatedly mention it, but not look into it, is to lead readers to believe that the Commercial Appeal knows something they don't want to talk about.

This editorial also gives Thompson and Hooks a pat on the head for being "ethical." Given that Hooks is widely rumored to be in the next set of indictments generally assumed to be coming, that he put out a statement of innocence with no provocation other than those rumors (only he and his father have done so), and that his name comes up repeatedly in strange ways in the Tennessee Waltz investigation (including the murky Miami connection), what is the Commercial Appeal signalling?

The Commercial Appeal has a long history of being part of the establishment and not part of the wider community when it comes to politics. Their shameful partisanship during the NBA Now! drive to finance the FedUp Forum and their blind support of Mayor Herenton are but two recent examples. The paper seems content these days to follow the work of others and not blaze investigative trails of their own. They have a top-drawer bulldog in Marc Perrusquia but he seems to be deployed mostly against the Fords of late. Make his brief the wider Tennessee Waltz story and he'd likely do wonders. The TW investigation has left a lot of pointers, now it's their job -- no, their journalistic and civic duty -- to shine their light into those corners and let their readers see what's lurking in them.

Don't tag along. Get out front for a change.

Friday, June 03, 2005

From the Nashville Alt-Weekly

I rather like Nashville's Roger Abramson, who writes for the Nashville Scene. You can sorta think of him as their Jackson Baker, but without the pronounced leftward tilt. In his latest Political Notes column, he offers his "Waltzies," for the Tennessee Waltz scandal. Since the above link will change in a few days, I'll cut'n'paste the relevant bits here.
The Delicious Political Irony Award goes not to a person, but to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Evans v. United States, which allows authorities to apply the federal "Hobbs Act" to incidents of bribery by public officials, even though the original intent of the legislation was to crack down on big-time federal racketeering and extortion (labor unions, mobs, etc.). We're going out on a limb here, suspecting that Democrats John Ford, Kathryn Bowers, Roscoe Dixon and Ward Crutchfield aren't big fans of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his preference for the strict construction of statutory law. But, ironically, it was Thomas, joined by fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who dissented in Evans based upon that jurisprudential philosophy, arguing that the majority of the court was stretching the meaning of the Hobbs Act well beyond its original intent. If just two more justices had joined with them, the federal government couldn't have prosecuted this case. (State officials could have, but the question is, would they have?)
Had we had a conservative Supreme Court, John Ford would even now be facing a mere Tennessee State Senate Ethics Committee hearing. Would they vote to expel him? Not likely. But Ford would likely have retired over the summer anyway.
The Most Insightful Observation to Come Out of Memphis Award goes to the anonymous individual who posted the following on a Memphis television station's website: "Although I've been in Memphis only three years, I've watched and listened to all the commentary about local politics. Most of it has both disgusted and saddened me. Almost every comment, editorial and interview I've seen vilifies the Fords for their corruption, yet they and others like them are still elected. Memphians truly deserve what they've gotten. Let's face it folks: until we stand up, shut up and do something about it, its not going to change." Amen to that—a refreshing departure from the ludicrous they-were-busted-because-they-were-black excuses coming from other quarters, including one of the defendants themselves.
I am also baffled by our ability to be our own worst enemy.

I'll present here an idea I've held for many years. Black America was brutalised and violated for centuries in America through slavery, Jim Crow and racism. But since the Sixties, black Americans have had unprecedented freedom and access; not perfect, admittedly, but far, far better than at any other time in our nation's history. So, if a person came out of a household where they had been beaten, deprived and brutalised for most of their life, would we just send them out into the world with "It's all over now. Be free!" Of course not. There would be years of counseling and therapy to help them. So, where's the counseling and therapy for black America, coming out from under slavery and Jim Crow? Don't say welfare and affirmative action, as that's just money and open doors. It doesn't address the underlying psychological damage. Again, where's the counseling and therapy for black America's consciousness?

There's something, and I have no idea what it is, that's not happening for blacks that needs to happen. Until that social pathology is treated, black America will always underperform taken as a group. Not individuals, but the whole. The next question is, what to do and how to do it?
The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time Award goes to the following six poor saps who joined as sponsors of the legislation that became the McGuffin for the entire operation: Sen. Jeff Miller (R-Cleveland), and Reps. Ulysses Jones (D-Memphis), Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), Larry Miller (D-Memphis), Paul Stanley (R-Memphis) and Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville). It appears that none of these people did anything wrong and that their names were on the bill for the usual innocent reasons. (They supported the general concept, they did it as a favor for the main sponsor, they wanted to have their name on something that would pass, etc.) In fact, the inclusion of these folks actually helped the investigation, given that they added to the verisimilitude of the sham bill. Regardless, the principle of guilt by association ensures they will be forever linked with legislation that brought down four of their colleagues, making it easy for campaign opponents to put them on the defensive whenever they please. Our recommendation to these guys: request an official statement from the feds affirming that you were neither suspects nor "persons of interest" in the investigation.
What Abramson misses is that at least Jones and Miller (both from Memphis, sigh....) have said that they were approached by E-Cycle and offered bribes. They declined the bribes but still sponsored the bill! What?! It speaks to the culture of Legislative Plaza in Nashville that bribes are seen so casually. Are they really that prevalent that it's not an immediate deal-breaker when some lobbyist tries to bribe you?

I'm not sad that Tennessee Waltz happened. It didn't come soon enough and doesn't yet appear to have affected enough people. More investigations, please. Lots more. Clean house and let us start over. If we can. (See previous award above....)
The Thanks Ever So Much for Your Half-Baked Holier Than Thou Conventional Wisdom Award goes to every political pundit, newspaper editorial writer (not this newspaper, it should be noted) and every other self-appointed deep thinker out there who told us all at the start of session just how wonderful Lt. Gov. John Wilder was and just how perfectly awful those nasty Senate Republicans were for wanting to replace that not-so-grand old man with GOP Sen. Ron Ramsey. Never mind that Ramsey was a perfectly logical choice given that he was the leader of the senate's majority party and given that he was not a meandering octogenarian with a penchant for saying head-poundingly ridiculous things. Thanks to you folks, we all had the privilege of watching Tennessee's most embarrassing state senator (now that you-know-who has resigned) make a perfect fool of himself by implying that the arrestees were victims of a federal entrapment scheme and offering the following observation: "public sentiment is not constructive, it's destructive." That's right, according to John Wilder, public sentiment is destructive to our representative democracy.
You can thank Republican Senators Mike Williams (Maynardsville) and Tim Burchett (Knoxville) for that sorry state of affairs. I hope that their local GOP will find someone, anyone, a plank of wood even, to run against them in the primary. Remind voters what they did and what it brought on. Get them the hell out of office.

Wilder made his career through an intricate series of personal debts. He gave Republicans the illusion of participation in leadership so he could have their votes on the important stuff. Idiot Republicans fell for it, as any whipped dog will curry the least pat on the head. Ron Ramsey seems to be the new breed of Republican leadership Tennessee needs. Give him the people to support him. (And thank heaven Curtis Person of Memphis saw the light before he, too, fell for this game.)
20 Things

Regular commenter Jamey posts twenty things he's learned. Funny stuff and smart, too.
Hamlet's Father's Shade Gives Warning

Long-time followers of Tennessee politics are familair with Democrat John Jay Hooker. He could be favorably called a maverick and a lone voice, or he could be unfavorably fitted with the British label, "loon." His most recent foray was to run as the no-hoper Democratic gubernatorial candidate against Don Sunquist. His party gave up and no one wanted to have a losing campaign to their name, so Hooker stepped up with a self-finanaced run. The media indulged him; no one criticised the Democrats for their bizarre abandonment.

These days, he's a blogger. He only discovered blogging a month or so ago, but has embraced it whole-heartedly. At an age when most men look back, Hooker continues to forge ahead. For that, he must be respected. As a life-long, veteran Democratic activist and candidate, his views must also be paid heed.

Hooker has sent a editorial letter to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Whether they print it or not, it's important to read. My suspicion is the CA won't print it, at least not as a stand-alone guest column, since he's telling the paper's favorite political son to step aside.
And what I'm afraid of is that many of the democrats who may be unwilling to vote for Senator Ford will make it impossible for him to win. I think the 2006 election is going to be difficult at best, as Governor Bredesen is now burdened with the TennCare problems. And therefore, I think the Democrats are going to have their hands full in re-electing Governor Bredesen, and consequently, that a losing Democratic effort in the senatorial race could be very detrimental to Governor Bredesen's re-election.

On the other hand, if young Harold, who is thirty-six years old, will keep his safe seat in Congress while he weathers the storm regarding his uncle, then I suspect the day will come when he has an opportunity to either run for the United States Senate, or run for governor, or maybe, just maybe, God being willing - PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
I believe this is the first serious Democratic voice to call on Ford to stand down.
Memphis Blog Coverage

Thanks to Rachel for posting this Memphis Flyer short article on Memphis bloggers. [Oops! Seems Dr. Abby's also had it up.] There was a bloggers bash (no apostrophe, y'all) a couple of weeks ago and Chris was there to hang out. It's actually the most coverage the Memphis blog scene has ever gotten in local media!

I missed it mostly by choice, as I've been frustrated by the low attendance (But high quality! Don't get me wrong, OK?) of previous bashes. I chose to sit this one out. I also play Epic: Armageddon at the Battle Bunker on Wednesdays now with real-life buddy Mark. But we got through early, so we stopped by to see if anyone was still there. We caught Dr. Abby and Trisha as they were leaving.

Anyway, I'm still waiting for any local media outlet to do a serious story on the Memphis blog scene. I'll help with research and introductions. You don't even have to mention Half-Bakered if it will get the story on air or into print. I've had my share of media coverage.

The daily newspaper runs blogs now. One of the alt-weekly writers has a blog. Workers at both are regular readers of Memphis blogs. One television station runs it own blogs and another has a group of employees who blog on their own time! Including the news director! Quite a few television employees read blogs, too. Just praise Channel Five or dis Channel Three and watch what happens. So it's not like blogging is some great mystery to these people.

And yet there is not any real coverage. Nashville beats us up yet again. They had their first bloggers bash just a couple of months ago at a television news station. That led to stories and synergy with local bloggers. It also resulted in one Nashville blogger becoming the official staff blogger for that news station! The Nashville alt-weekly started an official blog that has great synergy with the rest of that city's blog scene. They are all figuring out new ways of working together.

Unlike Memphis where there's a strange jealousy from the mainstream media monopoly towards the local blog scene. Notice the Flyer article again. See any URLs in it?

Memphis has an amazing blogosphere. It's varied in almost every way you can imagine, except there are almost no black bloggers for some reason. It's vibrant, funny, enlightening, encompassing and does a spectacular job of showing what life in the City of Good Commodes is like. It's maybe a bit too honest for the rah-rah mainstream media here, but so what?

Anyway, here's the blogroll from the bash:
Dark Bilious Vapors; Len, Karen and Brock
Pulp Faction; ie. The Other Rachel
Mark, from the Commercial Appeal's Scene blog
Eric, from the Commercial Appeal's Plug-In blog
Chris Davis
Dr. Abby

And, as I was finishing this post up, I checked the Flyer site and see that the story is now up, minus the funny Eric photo. And even on the website, they still don't include URLs. Sheesh, guys!
We Are an Aberration

Excellent short post at Assymetrical Information (ie. Jane Galt):
The appalling poverty of Sri Lanka or Mozambique is not some bizarre aberration that can be tracked to a cause we can cure. We are the aberration; Sri Lanka and Mozambique are the normal state of human history.
Then in comments is a long and fascinating discussion on colonialism, its history and effects, and capitalism. Very engrossing stuff.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bump, Bump, Bump... Another One Bites the Dust

The news broke this evening. At the regular meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Party tonight, disgraced State Senator Kathryn Bowers resigned as party Chair. What I didn't know was that her term was set to expire in just six weeks anyway! More here and here, though all three stories are essentially identical.

That she went ahead and resigned anyway, leaving a mark on her tenure, shows she was either subject to a lot of pressure or didn't feel she could win a fight. To me, for a renowned scrapper to cave, that's indicative of her awareness of the strength of the case against her. I've heard that the video evidence is damning.

What's amusing in this is to compare two versions of what Bowers said to the party in resigning. From WPTY/24, it's:
"I don't want the problems that are besetting me or before me right now to interfere in anyway with the progress of this party because that is the most important thing to me,"
And from WMC/5, it's:
"I am insisting that I do not want in any way whatever it is the problem's that's besetting me, that's befalling me right now, to interfere with the progress of this party,"
Presumably both reporters were sitting in the same room with her, taking notes and with video cameras. Remember this when the mainstream media wants to criticise bloggers for accuracy.

Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer was there and filed a fuller report. He says:
The diminutive legislator was politely received and was interrupted several times during her remarks by applause that ranged from perfunctory to enthusiastic. Some did not applaud at all. The mixed reaction probably owed more to pre-existing factionalism on the committee than to specific feeling about her legal situation.
That's our Jackson, always willing to cut some slack to the Democrats. Baker looks into that division, its factions and the likely coming warfare over control of the local party. It boils down to Ford vs. Herenton. Given the Fords' fortunes of the past weeks, it's either going to be lopsided or bloody.

Thaddeus Matthews was also there. He writes:
When she entered the room some clapped, some stood,some remained seated, and some even booed.
Both Baker and Matthews note that Bowers claimed starting a regular SCDP newspaper as one of her accomplishments. In line with the indictments, allow me to tell new readers that the editor of that paper, Professor of Literature Dr. Roger Easson of Christian Brothers University, was caught by Half-Bakered plagiarising an article from the Internet! There are links to comparisons of the texts involved, so you can decide for yourself. More on that episode here. Bowers herself used that misleading plagiarised article for a story under her own name in the North Shelby Times. Bower's work isn't plagiarised, but derivative of Easson's work, which is.

We're now 1-3-1 in the standings. One indictee is still in her elected office: State Senator Kathryn Bowers. There are three resignations: Ford from the Senate; Dixon from the Wharton administration; and Bowers from the SCDP chairmanship. Lastly we have Barry Myers, who has no elected office but was tipped to run for Kathryn Bowers' old House seat. Given that Dixon and Bowers were expected to boost him, we can safely assume Myers' plans have been scotched.

And the next inning is due to start any day now....

AFTER MIDNIGHT, WHEN THE Commercial Appeal FINALLY POSTS UPDATE Had to wait for the CA to update their site at midnight. They have an even longer and more detailed report than Baker's, though it has some problems.
As the meeting began and she arrived, half of those in the room applauded and stood. The other half sat in silence.
That's the third description of the reaction of the crowd and it differs from the other two! Just think, in the old days, this would have been the definitive version, too.

Not only that, but we get the third version of what Bowers is supposed to have said:
"Regardless of what my personal situation is, I am not going to let that stand in the way of the progress of this party."
Not one of these versions closely tracks the others. This is the vaunted superior fact-checking and accuracy of the mainstream media? This one reads like the "what she meant to say" version.

The article ends with three paragraphs about Cherry Jones, who is only identified as "one of" several candidates to replace Bowers, but not by her faction nor her relation to Gale Jones Carson, who was mentioned earlier in the article. Both are Herenton partisans. Joe Young gets no mention at all.

And here I thought there was a neutral, fair, objective and balanced version of events that could be reported! That's what newspapers have been telling us for decades now. And here we have three moderately different versions, two by veteran reporters supposedly trained and certified in the guild arts.

More Predictions of Doom

It's not on the WREG/3 website right now, but add Mike Matthews to the list of folks predicting more indictments soon to come. He said so during the evening newscast.

For those of you keeping score at home, that makes:

Mike Matthews, WREG reporter extraordinaire
Half-Bakered, of course!
Darrell Phillips, WMC reporter and blogger
Thaddeus Matthews, talk radio host and blogger
Calvin Williams, alleged author and former inside man
Spy vs. Spy

It's television journalism at its most self-referentialand narcissistic. One television news operation starts an "undercover sting" operation against a nationally known consumer reporter at another station. Only he learns about it and turns the tables.

Only in television news....
The Auteur Theory

Does the necessity of keeping all those lies straight increase the fertility and creativity of some minds?

I ask because we learn (more here) that Tim Willis (who slightly resembles Alex Desert or LeVar Burton) was working on a television show pilot! He's also a film production assistant.

And Calvin Williams, who was part of the trio almost tried for the Juvenile Court Clerk's investigation, has written a book he promises will be published by late summer. He's been promoting the book repeatedly on local television -- mostly the news and not the morning shows, oddly enough -- with promises of scandal and corruption to bring down the government. He hasn't actually released any hints of what those charges might be, nor has any reporter he's talked with, so who really knows what's coming. Or even if it's really coming.

I've managed to publish more than a half-million words here on Half-Bakered, six novels' worth of writing. Haven't gotten paid for any of it, either. I'm definitely in the wrong field.
The Missing Man

As Bill Hobbs notes, on last Thursday Federal prosecutors had said they had an eighth person they were looking for, to serve another indictment. That person was never found, apparently, and the matter seems to have dropped from notice.

But I have to ask, was that person Memphis City School Board member Michael Hooks, Jr.? As best I can learn, he has been out of town until just the other day. It might explain a few things, including his unsolicited press statement proclaiming his innocence.
No Good Deed Going Unpunished

Convicted of credit card fraud, served four months in prison, threatened with new charges unless he cooperates with the FBI, now he's the front man in the Tennessee Waltz investigation and the man at the center of the web of corrupt political connections spun in Shelby County. Tim Willis is a most hated man right now in certain circles of Democratic Memphis and Shelby County.

Adding insult to injury, now comes word that he may be facing further charges for violating State lobbying regulations.
Rawlins says Love and Willis may have broken state laws in several ways. The director plans to present information on possible violations to the Registry of Election Finance board at its next meeting June eighth and let the board decide whether to pursue charges.
Given that he was put up to this by the FBI and Federal prosecutors, you'd think they'd go to bat for him, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
No Luck

Twice in his indictment, it says that disgraced former State Senator John Ford travelled to Miami, Florida. In court testimony at his second bond hearing, Federal prosecutors said they flew Ford to Miami for "fun weekends." Tim Willis and Michael Hooks, Jr. are also said to have been in Miami. Both are satellites of the sprawling Ford family political machine.

The obvious question is, "Were they in Miami to vist, stay with, or conduct business with elder Ford brother, Harold, Sr.?" Harold Ford, Sr. has a lucrative "consulting" business there and lives in a very exclusive location: Fisher Island. With all of America to visit, and the fact that E-Cycle has offices in Atlanta, Nashville and Knoxville only (so far as I know), why would all these principals choose Miami and Fisher Island? The coincidence is beyond striking.

I called the Tennessee Western Division office of the Federal prosecutors today and got nowhere. The spokesman, LeAnn Jordan didn't know but also said she couldn't comment anyway if she did. She was very polite and friendly, but I didn't expect her to be able to answer, frankly. Still, I think the circumstantial evidence is strong enough to call this one answered.

I should also point out that I had wondered that John Ford only had two guns to turn in when he was arrested. Sure enough, he had two more. Can't wait the anti-gun lobby and their sympathisers in the press make hay of Ford's owning four guns. What possible use could anyone have for four guns, right?

According to that same article, Ford's attorney, Mike Scholl, let slip the name of Tim Willis twice in such a way as to make clear that he is the informant the FBI and Federal prosecutors were using. That squares with print reports like this and this, and television news reports like this. So why is Willis denying it all? Is it just reflexive "I didn't do it?"

I also have confirmation, of a sort, about a theory I had regarding how Willis got dragged in. As this story confirms, Willis was still in trouble with the FBI, even after his Mississippi credit card fraud conviction:
Willis was a close friend of the Fords who had worked on their political campaigns.

He'd also been convicted of a federal crime in Mississippi, FBI Agent Mark Jackson conceded.

Willis was convicted of credit card fraud in 2002 and served four months in the federal facility in Millington.

Scholl also elicited testimony from Jackson that Willis was the subject of another FBI investigation and was trying to keep from being indicted.
What that investigation is, and where it's headed, aren't revealed.

You have to wonder if it connects to the Shep Wilbun case. Wilbun and two other co-defendants were involved with illegal payments to cover up a sexual harrassment charge in the Juvenile Court Clerk's office a couple of years ago. Willis had connections to them, mostly through Calvin Williams I think. Remember how that whole case mysteriously was stopped on the first day of trial, after months of delay? Did any of those parties perhaps cut a deal with the Feds on the Tennessee Waltz investigation? Time may tell.

Williams, by the way, is another voice with reason to know who says more indictments are coming.

Whatever, as the young people say today.

Then there's the Hooks, Michael Sr. and Michael Jr., Shelby County Commission Chairman and City School Board member respectively. Hooks Jr. had his name brought up in relation to the Miami visits, and was forced to issue a statement of innocence. So did his father. You can read both in this Memphis Flyer story. This is a marked contrast to Willis' behavior. The Hooks name has only come up in relation to the Ford visits to Miami, other than this oblique reference and this story about Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton calling for a review of any County business done with or proposed for E-Cycle. (You almost have to pity poor Wharton, who seems to regularly have to put down allegations of misbehavior in County government.) As I noted below, this smacks quite loudly of ass-covering in advance of trouble.

It's a knotty and convulute problem, isn't it? There are at least four FBI investigations and/or Federal grand juries working right now. One is Tennessee Waltz; one is the Juvenile Court Clerk case; there's the MLG&W bond deal with Memphis Mayor Herenton; the last is the unspecified Willis case. Are these subsets of a larger case? Are they cooperating with each other?

As bad as the present situation is, it seems it can get a lot worse.
The Cowardly Lion

The Commercial Appeal finally gets around to asking State Senator Kathryn Bowers to resign. It's the only editorial comment they've had since their comments about the Tennessee Waltz investigation last Friday! The editorial also continues the odd trend I remarked on the other day.

The editorial almost entirely focuses on Bowers as a State Senator, and there's a certain logic to this. But she's also the Chairman of the Shelby County Demcratic Party, a very important and powerful position. Here's how the CA handles that:
Those charges also hurt her credibility as chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party. If she's unwilling to resign from that position, her fellow Democrats should take the necessary steps to oust her.
That's the 18th paragraph of the editorial and the only mention it gets. Sheesh.

Then the editors stick their other foot in it:
Former state senator Roscoe Dixon also resigned last week from his job as Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton's assistant chief administrative officer.

Wharton requested Dixon's resignation in large part because the mayor didn't want to undermine public trust in government.

"In government, perception often has the same effect as reality,'' Wharton said. "The perception that Roscoe might have done something wrong or illegal is in the public's mind and therefore, being so strongly held, it might erode his effectiveness and, in turn, the effectiveness of government."
This is curiously worded, to say the least. Wharton didn't "request," he demanded. Wharton released his press statement to local media right around 5PM, assuring a high-profile, "breaking live" splash that every station utilised. The story was still unfolding at that time, but Wharton made it clear that Dixon had until the end of the day to quit. Wharton is famous for being polite and circumspect in public; his displays of anger are rare enough to draw notice. So, when he acts as he did last Thursday, it's pretty clearly a courtesy curtain meant to warn Dixon in the most public and unavoidable way.

The second part is just politeness on the part of the Commercial Appeal towards Wharton who, by the way, was disgraced former State Senator John Ford's college roommate and has maintained his friendship with Ford ever since. Wharton, by all accounts I've seen or heard, is well-regarded and considered of high integrity. But ever since he walked into the Shelby County Mayor's office, he's been dogged by the corruption of his underlings.

There were rumors about and investigations into the administrative staff of outgoing Mayor Jim Rout. Longtime County administrative assistant Tom Jones, also considered a "go to" guy for county government co-incidentally, was eventually found guilty of abuse of County credit cards. Everything was reduced to Jones, he was asked to resign, did, and life went on. Then, Wharton's top aides Susan Adler Thorp and Bobby Lanier were found to have circumvented policies and procedures in order to get Jones an increased pension. Wharton asked them to resign. Lanier did, quickly and quietly; Thorp made protest on the way out.

All this reflected on Wharton. Either he'd inherited a corrupt staff, an invitation to futher investigations I'm sure he wasn't keen to encourage; or he was a bad judge of character, something no top politican and Mayor can afford people to think; or he was surrounded by corrupt opportunists eager for their chance at the trough. I suspect it's a little of all three, plus being hemmed in by a narrow pool of available choices circumscribed by the very opportunists he doesn't need, protecting their privilege.

Where the Commercial Appeal ought to be swinging the Blade of Righteous Investigation and turning on the Spotlight of Truth, they are instead poking with a finger and muttering to themselves. The Commercial Appeal could be ushering in the era of cleaner and more open government. They could be, but aren't. Looking at the breadth and interconnectedness of the corruption in Shelby County, you have to ask why not.
The Nazi Nuke?

Fascinating story on the BBC website about the discovery of a document that might show the Nazis were closer to a nuclear bomb than anyone suspected.

It's been one of the great "what ifs?" of history: What if the Nazis developed a nuclear weapon? They would certainly have used it, but where? Russia? Moscow, riding a V-2? London? Maybe even New York? The Nazis were developing an intercontinental ballistic missile from the V-2, called the V-10, that would have gotten high enough to skip across the high atmosphere like a stone skipping across water. The missile would then arrow into the atmosphere and detonate over its target.

Although most of the best physics professors made it out of Germany before the war, and then to America where they worked on our Manhattan Project that eventually built the bombs we dropped on Japan, some very good ones stayed behind. They were hampered by some bad research and a lack of materiel (the war was going badly by this point), but they were pointed in roughly the right direction.

Remember, too, that the Nazis had the first jet aircraft and bombers. They scared the bejeezus out of the first Allied pilots to encounter them. Picture Me-262s screaming across the Channel with nuclear bombs.
The Volcano is Building Pressure

Sorry I don't have time for more, but I just wanted to note, before anything happens tomorrow, that there are more rumors building that more arrests are coming in the Tennessee Waltz investigation, soon, and involving Memphis-area pols.

Earlier on WMC/5, they had a report about Michael Hooks, Sr. and Hooks, Jr. both admitting to some legal contacts with the TW investigators and Tim Willis. The supposition is that both are trying to get out in front of impending indictments with their own versions of events. Hooks is also admitting to having been in Miami, Florida, when E-Cycle Management types were meeting with other Memphians.

I was also told by someone (who didn't know who he was talking to, hence no name) that the Miami, Florida connection is indeed Harold Ford, Sr. and his ultra-exclusive home. John Ford's indictment lists two meetings that took place in Miami, but doesn't specify location. I'm still trying to confirm this, so take it with a grain of salt.

The video released of John Ford is only the tip of the iceberg on him and all the other defendants, I was told. Supposedly, the State's case is voluminous and damning. Also, again supposedly, everyone is squealing and giving up everyone else, trying to save their own butts.

Tim Willis was supposedly rolled and recruited after his credit card fraud case in Mississippi. He's still staying out of town and denying everything being said about him, but the number of people who have named his as the contact with E-Cycle and their introducer is huge. What is Willis up to? I'm sure he's already a marked man.

I don't have the link now, but Matt White of the South End Grounds wonders why, if Representatives Larry Miller and Ulysses Jones were offered bribes and turned them down, did they then go on to co-sponsor the briber's bill anyway? Did they not contact the police? Or did they let it slide, attempted bribery being so common as to be unremarkable and unobjectionable? Very good points deserving of a follow up.

Lastly, some people are claiming that the FBI has been saving the worst for last, in an effort to wring information from the folks already indicted before they move forward with the next round. Thursday and Friday look to be tenterhook days.
Everything Old is New Again


Remember last summer when the Memphis City Council wanted to talk with Mayor Herenton, but he'd seemingly vanished? Rumors swirled that he was in drug rehab for cocaine.

That rumor has resurfaced. Supposedly, our Mayor is back in rehab.


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

No Mr. Mike, Not Again

I will be away from the keyboard again on Wednesday, so no blogging unless it's late and really, really important.

I'd like to thank everyone who has been coming by since last Thursday. That goes double for all the links from Bill Hobbs, Michelle Malkin, Nashville is Talking, Adam Groves, The Flypaper Theory, Heartless Libertarian, Blogging for Bryant, and many, many more. It's been the highest traffic week ever here at Half-Bakered. It's been an experience.

If you feel like you'd like to help keep Half-Bakered afloat, please think about dropping five or ten dollars in the PayPal tipjar up on the left. I'd really appreciate it. Those live-blogging days take it out of a guy.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I'm guest blogging over at Knoxville's Say Uncle. So far, it's been a mix of Tennessee Waltz posts, some DVD reviews and some classic H-B posts I thought Uncle's audience might enjoy. Head on over and check out the other guest bloggers, Gunner and Andrew, and Uncle's co-bloggers, Thibodeaux and Fox. It's a great group of people and bloggers, a very different vibe.

Y'all be good and if you can't be good be careful. Remember: Drive safely. Drink responsibly. Legislate legally.
Song Lyrics of the Day

My punctuality is well known.
When the revolution takes place
I'll be late and
I'll be shot
As a traitor.

[The sun rises....]

When the sun rises
I will not see.
I regret nothing.
It was worth it.
Going through life
Without a timepiece
Did pay off.

[The sun rises....]

My reward?
To be free and alone.
Even now, at the pillar,
Blindfold at sunrise.
The beating drums of Catalan....
Beating my time away....

[The sun rises....
I will not see....]

My heartbeat keeps time
With the drums.
But soon
My only pulse
Will fade away.

[The sun rises....]

I smile
Just knowing.
When the sun rises
I will not see.

From the song "Traitor," by the Sugarcubes. No particular reason, just that it came up on WinAmp and I really like the song. Einar's delivery of the lyrics is wry; Bjork's unearthly wail floats over the music.

The music? Ahh... there's the beauty. The song is really one chord pounded over and over, martial drums lending an appropriate air, with short breaks before we launch back into the miasma, the vortex of sound pulling us down, down, down. A clattering racket of quicksand.

Not unlike Husker Du's "New Day Rising." Not really songs, but evocations.
Another Space Milestone

Burt Rutan's Space Ship One was the first privately launched rocket to carry a human to the edge of space. They won the Ansari X-Prize for it. The achievement is comparable to Alan Shephard's famous first flight to the edge of space and then back down. No earth orbit, just getting up there.

Now comes word that another rocket, the Falcon-1 from Space Exploration Technologies, had a successful engine test firing today.

There are several more groups around the world that are nearing readiness for launch. It means an era of commercial space flight, cheaper access to space, and maybe space tourism. Not too much futher down the road, we can hope, will be space stations.

POV-Ray is a rendering program for CGI images. You can see a gallery of images created with this program here. Some are very mundane, where it's hard to tell it's not a photograph; some are beyond description. This page has a lot of graphics, so it will take a while to download at dial-up speeds. But trust me, it's worth it.

Hat-tip to Zgeek.
The Kathryn Bowers Silence

One thing I have noticed in the Tennessee Waltz scandal reporting is the apparent unwillingness of the media to mention that State Senator Kathryn Bowers, indicted with six counts of extortion, is also the head of the Shelby County Democratic Party. Most reporting emphasises her being a Senator. Heck, the Commercial Appeal didn't even mention it in their front page Bowers resume; you had to follow the jump to page six to read it buried in another article.

Think about it: the head of the Democratic Party in the state's largest Democratic stronghold, the largest Democratic delegation in the state, and the engine driving nearly all Democratic success in Tennessee has been indicted for accepting bribes! She's already made clear she's not stepping down, and no one within the party has publicly called for her to do so. It's a curious silence.

If it was Bill Giannini, the Shelby County Republican Party Chairman, would there be any reticence? Wouldn't every Republican in the county be buttonholed by media and reporters, asked to defend their Chairman or their support of him?

So why the apparent hesitation? I can see the quiet all across Democratic Tennessee. Despite the occasional show of bravado, there's a collective holding of breath it seems, a waiting for something or someone to do something. Nobody wants to step up and defend these folks because of the likelihood that they're all guilty, and it seems no one wants to start the process of change because of two things.

Number one, a lot of very powerful people will have to be moved. Bowers is, despite her appearance, one nuclear-powered battle-axe. She's going to fight, so anyone who suggests she step aside has to face her fury and intransigence. Shelby County Democratic politics (Republican, too) is an incestuous group. Allegiances and debts bind this group closer than any hillbilly family you can imagine. Whatever force for change that steps up will not be removing individuals, but whole branches.

Number two, admitting wrong is to open the door to Republican advantage. Of course, black Memphis isn't going to suddenly vote Republican, but many will be disillusioned and might reconsider their own allegiance. Remember, the gay marriage amendment is coming up in 2006, and that will do odd things to the black Democratic base. Most blacks are social conservatives, deeply so. Give them a reason to be repelled by Democratic options in other races and they might just stay home. In Tennessee, that translates to big losses for the Democrats, especially Harold Ford, Jr., if he's still in the Senate race at that time. (I think there's reason he may still drop out.)

Think too about Harold Ford's US House seat. The conventional wisdom says he was going to have a placeholder run for the seat while he runs for Senate. If he loses, then the placeholder steps down to let Harold reclaim it. But with the Ford mess, who can they safely run that doesn't have the Tennessee Waltz taint? If the local Democratic Party implodes, who would voters trust?

There's a lot at stake here, which is why I think there's such silence. Internecine warfare will have untold and devastating consequences. Even small conflicts could escalate. What if the Herenton faction decides to make a move? Gale Jones Carson and Kathryn Bowers have jostled for control of ShelbyCo Democrats for years.

But for now, it seems everyone is being supercareful not to toss the spark that ignites the conflagration. That may become moot if the rumored further indictments are handed down later this week. We'll see.
The Final Shove

WMC/5's George Brown reports that State Senator John Ford had made the decision to resign his Senate seat weeks before he actually resigned on Saturday.
Ford said Tuesday that his Senate resignation on the last day of the session had nothing to do with the corruption charges. He said he began planning his resignation after the Legislature passed measures making it illegal for lawmakers to work as paid consultants. "I made up my mind then it was time to go," Ford said. "I didn't need to resign from the Senate because of these charges."
In other words, Ford had learned what Senator Ron Ramsey, Chairman of the Ethics Committee, flat out stated on Friday: that there were more than enough votes in the Senate to force him to resign, if not expel him. The indictments were just the final shove to a man headed out the door.

Ford's bond appeal hearing, where prosecutors wanted to increase the restrictions on him if they couldn't get him back in jail, left Ford's status largely unchanged. He gets an extra hour in the evening time (6PM instead of 5PM), but he's still confined to West Tennessee and cannot meet with any of the other indicted or potential witnesses.

If Ford and Bower are both convicted, can Shelby County sue them for the cost of the special elections their actions cause? After all, they would both be expected to know that conviction for illegal acts would remove them from office and trigger replacement elections, yes?

Just a thought.
More Waltzing?

Darrell Phillips is reporting that more arrests may be coming from the Tennessee Waltz investigation:
But today, I learned a great deal more that may, in fact, yield more federal action. And my sources are now saying to expect more indictments - of LOCAL officials - before the end of the week.

Specifically, one County Commissioner is said to be expecting trouble. And on the school board there are jitters too. Some school board members apparently took an e-cycle-funded trip last year to Miami where they met company "representatives" aboard a yacht.
Explosive, if it pans out.

This is also the second mention of Miami in connection with the Tennessee Waltz scandal. People paying close attention to the John Ford indictment will recall he also met with some E-Cycle officials in Miami. Initial speculation centered on whether Harold Ford, Sr., was involved, as he now lives in the Miami area.

I can't wait to see if this is all true.

INSTANT UPDATE Thaddeus Matthews says his sources are saying the same thing:
...there are more indictments coming, that may include members of the County Commission, City Council, and City of Memphis School Board.
Matthews also has a post and interview with indictee Barry Myers that is sympathetic to him.
The McCain Option

Micky Kaus floats the idea of a McCain third-party run in 2008. I don't think that's likely to happen. McCain likes the spotlight he gets as the "maverick" Republican. As a candidate, that spotlight changes and suddenly he's not the spoiler or the dealmaker or the maverick, but a party leader who bears a lot of weight on his shoulders for positive action.

Still, it's fun to imagine. I'm sure the MoveOn, anti-Bush/War, Kennedy/Kerry/Dean part of the Democrats would love to push the "centrists" like Harold Ford Jr. -- the DLC / blue-dog Demcrats -- and the born-again moderates like Hillary Clinton over the side to purify their party's vision and message. That lops a good 10 to 15% of the electorate off their vote margin, but it makes them more able to push whatever message it is they want.

The danger is for the Republicans. Who goes with McCain? There's a broad swath of the party that is dissatisfied with Bush's performance as President as a conservative, and with Republicans in Congress who seem to be the Gang of Pigs Who Can't Shoot Straight. I doubt the libertarian wing goes with McCain; he seems to welcome government interference. Witness the horror that is McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. The leaderships stays put, as that's where the pork and the money are. Do social conservatives go, hoping to bribe or bully McCain with promises of electoral support? I can't see that either.

Or do a lot of folks publicly support the Republicans, then quietly vote McCain on Election Day to punish the Republicans for forgetting who brought them to the dance?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Caught on Tape!

It seems Roscoe Dixon has also been caught on film! Prepare yourself....
That Was Fast

Thaddeus Matthews is reporting that indicted former State Senator (My how good that sounds.) John Ford already has a new job. Seriously!

In his next post, he notes some suspiciously fast results for a local pastor who went to indicted former State Senator (Yup, still sounds good.) Roscoe Dixon for help. Matthews wonders if money was involved here, too.

You'll be seeing alot of this over the coming weeks and months, people taking a second look at suspiciously handled or concluded deals involving Ford, Dixon, Bowers, Newton, Crutchfield, et al. You have to ask: If they were willing to take bribes for an unknown company with unknown people for a minor, rinky-dink business deal involving nothing more than proferring legislation, then why wouldn't they be willing to take bribes for important local people, folks they depend on to get their jobs done, or enterprises involving large sums of money and influence? I've always said, folks who are willing to fudge the inconsequential, meaningless stuff will more than likely be willing to do terrible stuff when it matters.

Let's hope the local media do their job in following all these threads to their conclusions.
A Tale of Two Cities

Jamey is travelling in Birmingham, Alabama -- my old city -- and writes of the marked differences between their paper and ours.

He asks after circulation figures, so here you go. Memphis' Sunday paper rates #55 and Birmingham's combined Sunday edition is #70. The Commercial Appeal claims 229,000 Sunday readers (which is down a bit from the 240,000 - 250,000 of a few years ago), while the combined Birmingham News / Post-Herald reports 185,000. You can also read more detailed circulation reports, though they aren't very current, on Memphis and Birmingham.

I lived in Birmingham in the early '80s and I remember the Post-Herald of that time as being a real third-rate paper. Then I moved to Memphis and saw how much worse it could get!

It's tough to tell, but I don't think the Commercial Appeal's efforts to re-invent itself are paying off. Like I said, circulation on Sundays used to be much higher than it is now. It's hard to get firm numbers, as papers use all kinds of fudge factors like "occupied household readers" and "pass-along readers" and bulk subscriptions to hotels, etc., to pad their numbers. I think that paid circulation is probably a good baseline, as it indicates the folks willing to pay money to get it, a sure marker of value, yes? Editor-in-Chief Chris Peck walks you through some of it. You can see he's employing some of this mind-fu and doing a little pep-talking and whistling past the graveyard as well.

I don't have the links in my bookmarks folder any more, but the Scripps annual corporate reports seem to back up the decline since the late 90s.
It's All Connected

As more reports look at who is involved in the Tennessee Waltz scandal, what strikes me is just how interconnected all these folks are. Roscoe Dixon, Kathryn Bowers and Barry Myers all have ties and mutual deals stretching back years. In a city as large as Memphis (including Shelby County) and a state as broad as Tennessee, the same names keep coming up over and over. It just reinforces the perception that a small group of people actually run the state.

Try these two stories from the Commercial Appeal, one looking at former State Senator Roscoe Dixon and the other at now-identified FBI informant and front man Tim Willis. See how many names all these folks have in common. Notice that there is a connection between Willis and the Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk scandal of several years ago, involving Shep Wilbun, Darrell Catron (whose father is involved with Beale Street's management whose cousin Randle Catron is the President of Beale Street Development. Corrected at 9:45PM; thanks Thaddeus.) and Calvin Williams. (Williams has written a tell-all book he's been peddling around the local media for a few weeks. Will that book see the light of day now, after the indictments, or will it quietly disappear? A lot of reporters got a look at it and it was relentlessly hyped by television media for its explosive charges, but somehow those charges were never identified nor the alleged people involved named. Hmmmm....)

There's also the story on the Memphis Flyer website from the weekend about Tim Willis. Jackson Baker places Willis in context and inadvertantly shows how his past conviction may have been used by the FBI to pressure him to go along. They also print a long, unedited transcription of one talk between State Senator John Ford and Willis.

What caught my attention in the transcript was that Ford was clearly tipped off that something involving the FBI and E-Cycle was afoot. He suspected several months in advance. He says three different people warned him and that one was Roscoe Dixon himself. Given that East Tennessee Representative Chris Newton had, on Wednesday, quietly withdrawn the bill in question, Newton also knew. I had a report on a blog (I'm sorry I've since lost the link.) where someone described being in a grocery store line earlier this year and having a total stranger mention that John Ford was about to go down. The stranger said the FBI was about to move on him. This widening puddle of leakage may be why the indictments were unsealed when they were, on the last day of the legislative session.

Ford also talks about a mysterious "L.C." who was apparently involved, if I read this correctly, as someone with E-Cycle Management.

Ford also alludes to his Senate ethics investigation in a couple of ways. He states rather clearly that he's not at all worried about that investigation. (Remember, this was in February.) He seems to say that he's been told it will be quietly concluded.

Then Ford speaks about the difference between doing business in government and in the private sector. He flat says that he can make any agreement he wants and it's all above board. One is reminded of his contracts with OmniCare and Doral Dental, with their highly lucrative "consulting" work. Then he notes that with government, he has to be more circumspect and more quid pro quo. It's a fascinating view of how government works for some people.

I can see why the Feds released these tapes and transcripts. It completely pre-empts any efforts by Ford to spin or bluster his way out. Ford obviously sees himself so trapped that he's been forced to resign his Senate seat.

Strange days indeed.
Blogging the Waltz

Roger Abramson of the Nashville Scene has some good aftermath observations about the blogging of the Tennessee Waltz scandal. He notes the speed and availability of blogs versus the television news. Several bloggers, including Half-Bakered, went to live-blogging mode to cover events as they broke. He also praises the synergy of the ad hoc network that sprang up in the blogosphere to cover the story.

His criticisms are also good, but point the way to better blogging. Roger points out that reporters for Old Media often had the detail and "on the spot" news that bloggers didn't, and even began to feed from as the day progressed and reporting caught up with blogging.

There's an important point lost in this: Reporters are paid to go to the scene to interview people. It's their job. They have the ability and the resources to do that. They have the cachet of their employer's name and reputation to open doors for them. They have months and years of carefully cultivated relationships to draw from.

Most bloggers are amateurs. For example, Bill Hobbs couldn't just leave his day job to go to Legislative Plaza. I couldn't just head downtown to start tracking people down. Blogging isn't a paid gig for us, but an avocation. Most folks still don't know about blogging, so if Hobbs were to go to the Plaza, most legislators and staff wouldn't have the faintest clue who he is and would respond accordingly. We don't have relationships and reputations. Yet.

That day is slowly coming, but it's not yet here.

Roger also stresses how the MSM was able to filter the data they received to winnow the rumor from the fact, where bloggers tend to report everything they learn (as I did that day) and let their readers do the sorting. Roger sees that as a problem, but I see it as a paradigm shift, or maybe we're talking to slightly different audiences. Newspapers and television have to be accessible to anyone who might tune in; bloggers tend to assume a high level of informedness, and the ability to find another website if you don't like theirs.

Newspapers and telelvision news tend to report based on narratives. That is, to speed the process of reporting and getting on air, they tend to re-use the same story templates over and over. (Heroic person triumphs over adversity. Citizens struggle against government bureaucracy. Old codger is actually interesting and commendable.) As facts are gathered, the template is applied. Facts that don't fit the template tend to get lost. It's why so many stories have oddities from the first minutes or hours of an important event that tend to disappear as time goes on. The story's throughline gets streamlined and polished.

Take Barry Myers in the Tennessee Waltz scandal. Before Thursday, he was a long-time protege of former State Senator Roscoe Dixon. He has long been in training to follow in Dixon's wake. He was, in fact, being groomed to run for and win Dixon's old seat! He's been described as an activist in local Democratic politics and as Dixon's right hand. A promising, rising star. He was a young man with a long and lucrative future ahead of him in Democratic circles.

Until Thursday evening and then in Friday's papers. Suddenly, he was repeatedly identified as a "bagman." His whole, well known past was reduced to the FBI's description in the indictment. Bagman. And you watch, that's where he'll be from now on. There may be a profile or two to flesh him out, but in the more numerous regular news stories he's just a footnote, a bagman.

That kind of reductionism and streamlining is a hallmark of print and television news journalism. Bloggers are also prone to that, but you'll also see a lot more bloggers will to take one facet and dig deep. To notice one odd detail and follow it down. The MSM can't really do that -- deadlines, pressure, the need to catch the "juicy" news.

Most of Abramson's criticisms spring from the disparity of resources and schedule. Television and newspapers have deep resources to draw from. Bloggers don't. If sued or threatened, the MSM have lawyers on the payroll to run defense. Bloggers don't. The MSM has the communications network and resources to go places and transfer (or research) information. Bloggers don't.

As a commenter there noted, when wi-fi is common and more people have portable laptops and cam-phones with built-in wi-fi, then the landscape will flatten some more. When more bloggers develop a higher profile and develop reputations of their own, it will flatten further. Those days are coming, but aren't here yet.

But as the Tennessee Waltz demonstrated, they are coming.
Red & Blue Deja Vu

France held a vote yesterday on whether or not to approve and accept the new, 450 page Eurpean Constitution. The main architects of the European Union were French, so there was a certain necessity to approval. The vote failed decisively: 55% non to 45% oui. The whole Euro-project is now in disarray, with the possibility that Britain will also reject it later this year.

What's fascinating is to look at the "county by county" vote. Does this remind anyone of another map?
Why I Don't Play Video Games

Via Slashdot comes A Gamers' Manifesto by David Wong and Haimoimoi. It's a long list of what's wrong with game design and marketing. Most of it is easily fixable, but not profitable for one reason or another, or it's some tradition carried forward mindlessly.

I've rarely played any video games. Just don't care. Learning which finger-twitch combo I need to use and then repeating it thirty or forty times to open a door doesn't appeal to me. What few games I play tend to be PC strategy games like Civilization, Alpha Centauri, Sim City and Age of Empires. But even there the PC's AI (artificial intelligence) is so dumb it gets boring quickly.

The article is interesting, too, for what it doesn't mention. Deep immersion games like The Sims. The many small-company games designed for young girls that stress information, talk and social relationships. (I can't recall the names as I type this, but they are out there.) The review is just as male-centric and myopic as the companies and games they decry.

WARNING! The article isn't work safe. Much bad language and a couple of questionable graphics.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Come Out, Come Out Mr. Mike

Where was I? I've tended of late not to blog too personally as some of my family read this blog and like to use the personal stuff against me. Family....

But yesterday, I took a road trip with Mark to Nashville for Nashcon 2005. That was a historical figures and wargaming convention. I participated in an Epic: Armageddon tournament. Epic is a tabletop wargame with 6mm figures simulating small-army combat. My army is the Space Marines, the Emperor of Mankind's finest and most elite fighting force. I call my force The Black Sun Legion.

Unfortunately, I still have much to learn. (I've only been playing since January.) I went 0 for 3 in my tournament games. I fought the Eldar (ancient dying race armed with fast skimmers that are hard to catch), another Space Marine force (It was almost identical to mine. He had a pair of Warhound Titans I covet for my own force. Think of a cross between the ED droid from Robocop and the AT-AT walkers from Star Wars.) and Chaos Space Marines (Marines gone over to the Dark Side). The Eldar completely wiped me from the field; the other Marines pounded me flat. It was only in my fight with the Chaos SMs that I acquited myself moderately well. I still lost, but went down swinging.

I was completely holding my own for a while, even breaking some of my opponent's forces, until late in the game when he got reinforcements. I handled that poorly and he chewed me up for a final win. It was the only game where I felt like I was fighting a battle as opposed to watching the carnage.

You can read Mark's most excellent recap for a better idea of what the game's like. Unlike yours truly, he did significantly better, coming in third in the tournament! He also fights Space Marines, losing his first game (also against the Eldar), then winning his next two. Way to go, Mark!

It wasn't pleasant to lose every time, but the whole experience was tremendous fun. I love playing Epic, win or lose. It was fun to meet more enthusiasts. All three opponents were great people, friendly and helpful to a newbie player, much more interested in having fun than in kicking my ass. No attitudes or "play to the death" grimness at all. A couple of times they even offered me strategy tips to help me out.

I also got to watch a lot of other wargames of various kinds: paper and carboard counter battles, card games and painted figurines on tabletops. Some of those figurine games were elaborate in the extreme, with detailed landscapes and buildings to add to the atmosphere, and exquisitely painted miniatures. A couple of games intrigued me, but I'll have to wait before I try them. I went into the dealer's room, but didn't have any money to spend. No fun, I must say.

We left Memphis for Nashville at 4AM, to arrive in time for setup. We left the convention around 9PM, getting back in town before 1AM. Bennie, the cat, seemed glad to have me back; she even slept most of the night in the bed with me! But I was completely exhausted -- I had to ask Mark to stop once so I could get out and walk around to get revived. I fell asleep immediately after getting home and finally woke up to get out of bed around lunch time. Yow!

I spent the day reading around and catching up on news and email. I was so out of the loop I didn't even know that John Ford had resigned! I did make one necessary post here and several at Say Uncle, where I'm guest blogging for the next few days. It's late now, and I'm back off to bed.

More tomorrow.