Saturday, July 09, 2005

Gloom, Despair and Agony on Memphis

What the hell is wrong with WREG/3? I've been watching the news more than usual lately, keeping an eye on Hurricane Dennis. WMC/5 and WPTY/24 & 30 are keeping calm about the potential for Dennis to roll right over our little corner of Heaven, but over at WREG it's all HORRORSHOW! ARMAGEDDON! WILD WINDS! all the time. Austin Onek today seems to be determined to paint the worst possible picture of what's to come.

I know that stations want to get viewers and frequently hype stuff to scare viewers into watching, but this is dancing along the edge, if not actually crossing a line. You don't hype hurricane worries. WREG has always had problems with the way it handles forecasts, hyping the bad and playing "happy weather" with the good, rarely just playing it straight, but this is a new achievement and one not to be proud of.

I haven't yet seen any of the stations try to make comparisons between what may come with Dennis and Hurricane Elvis two years ago, but I'm willing to bet it's only a matter of time. If you spot it, send an email.

WELCOME Peggy Philip readers! Thanks for stopping by and please check out the rest of the blog. If you want to read more thoughts about local news from a former insider's point of view, please also go to Jamey's blog.

Friday, July 08, 2005

New Zealand's Oopsie

Remember last week I posted that, thanks to New Zealand's signing the Kyoto Protocols, that every family there would incur a $900 bill for greenhouse gas pollution, even though New Zealand produces only .2% (two-tenths of one percent) of greenhouse gasses?

Well, I was wrong.

Seems that government accountants mixed up their plus and minus signs and what was a $500 million credit is actually a $500 deficit! Not only that, but an international accounting firm says that those same government accountants have seriously underestimated the liability.

Each New Zealand family wouldn't owe merely $900, but possibly as much as $2700!

Yeah, Kyoto is such a good deal for the US.
Nashville Beats Memphis Ag-- Oh, You Know the Drill

Intel has released its annual report of the most wired cities and, no surprise, Memphis does poorly. We're America's 17th largest metropolis but we rank 68 in wireless access. Nashville shows up at 27 and Knoxville is 52. St. Louis is 35. Hell's bells, Little Rock is ahead of us at 59!

This does not surprise me. Too much of Memphis is too poor to take advantage of portable computing technology, unable to afford the laptops, and too out-of-step with the digital revolution to know or care much anyway.

But it saddens me nonetheless. Being digitally up-to-date isn't incompatible with the small-town feel Memphis wants to hold on to. It actually reinforces it by keeping people in this spread-out burg more in touch than would otherwise be possible.

But as long as we have the nation's second-highest unemployment rate, crappy warehouse jobs on offer, a city government that won't get behind the infrastructure needed, and a school system that turns out people too ignorant to operate a wireless computer, I guess we'll just have to suffer.
Kelo is Nothing Compared to This

Unless they reverse themselves and give approval to a huge new residential development, the entire Carroll County, Maryland, Zoning Commission is going to jail. The developers involved went to court and a judge agreed, ordering the Commissioners to act or face jail.
Benjamin Rosenberg, attorney for the developer, the Carrolltowne Development Partnership, said he would demand that planning commission members -- including Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners -- be jailed if they refuse to comply with the order.

Area schools are surrounded by portable classrooms. The roads are congested and the water supply is so stretched that the commissioners have curtailed development until new supplies can be tapped.

Rosenberg contends the inadequacies should have no bearing on the Carrolltowne development.

"They will find water for this project," Rosenberg said. "The county should have reserved water for this project in 1995. If need be, it will have to take water allocated to another project."

The South Carroll area, which includes Eldersburg and Sykesville, has endured seasonal water shortages for several years.
As one of the Commissioners belatedly notes:
What is the point of having commissioners if the county is going to be run by lawyers and judges?
Thaddeus Reports, You Decide

An amazing story on Thaddeus Matthews' blog about corruption and fraud by area State Representatives and businessmen. All the names and details are there for any intrepid reporter to follow up on and document. Question is: will anyone dare to do it?

I'm guessing, like so much else that goes on in Shelby County, this will be all that's said about it.
Why "Ethics Reform" is Doomed to Fail

The Registry of Election Finance is the State body charged with assessing fines for violations of campaign finance law. All they can do is assess the fines; enforcement of payment is up to the Attorney General. Guess what that means? Yup. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in already-assessed fines uncollected by scofflaw legislators. Sworn to uphold the State Constitution and its laws, but getting off scott-free when fined for breaking those laws. And the AG just turns his head. Is it any wonder the Tennessee Waltz sting was so successful in this kind of environment?

Ethics reform means nothing unless there are people who will enforce those laws. Do you really believe they'll create meaningful laws with regulatory enforcement and servants of the State willing to prosecute those laws? Don't hold your breath.
Iraqi War Casualty Map

A Flash-based presentation of all the military casualties of the Iraqi war, presented day by day from the invasion in 2003. Powerful in itself, but look at the patterns, too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

So Long and Thanks For All The... Uhhhh

After helming the massive changes that have wracked the Commercial Appeal, helping new Editor in Chief Chris Peck to remake the daily into... well, whatever it is today, Publisher John Wilcox is resigning... become publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, the free-distribution newspaper he says is "a new model" for newspapers everywhere struggling with declining circulation and advertising revenue.
Just like the one he's leaving, which has smaller circulation than when he took over. Watch out, San Francisco! Here's the Wikipedia history of the paper.
"I expect operations at The Commercial Appeal will go along as they have," Wilcox told upper-level managers in a morning meeting. "You've gone through a tough transition. But you've made significant progress and the future is bright."
Corporate meetings I've been in where I heard talk like that, it was bland-speak for "You're still in trouble, but I am outta here."
During Wilcox's tenure in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal began publishing separate weekly and twice-weekly Appeal editions in eight communities as a way to increase the amount of local news coverage.
Of course, there are some of us who would like all the news, not just some of it. Those Appeal sections were light on "news," though, and filled with stuff like "Local bookstore likes readers." Not really news, just a reason for folks to buy a paper with them in it (and extra copies for friends and relatives).
Within four months of the rollout, the editions were profitable, Wilcox said, paving the way for the paper to add more community editions, including one for Millington readers.
Lower ad rates, most likely, and only a handful of pages to fill. Of course, it helps when it only takes two people to produce those Appeals and a lot of the writing is done for you for free -- by the people you're covering or their PR firms. Those Appeals aren't newspaper-lets, but shopper's guides. Big difference.
The biggest challenge, Wilcox said, has been changing the culture in the newspaper itself to reflect "a leaner, more community-oriented feel."
Well, yeah! "We're cutting back reporters. You've gotta cover more, and write more." I'd resist that, too. The Memphis Flyer has been covering that aspect lately.

I've heard that former editor Angus McEachran has been none too happy with what's happened to "his" paper under Wilcox and Peck, which might explain his non-appearance in its pages even though he still calls Shelby County home. Wilcox came from within the Scripps-Howard corporation, the owners of our daily, but is now leaving it. Did he jump or was he gently pushed? He's moving downmarket; the Examiner has two-thirds the circulation of the Commercial Appeal and functions on the alt-weekly business model of selling lots of ads to subsidise its "free" cost.

Of course, Wilcox is a California liberal. He tells the San Francisco Examiner "I am excited to be joining one of the nation's most progressive newspapers in my home state of California." And his cohort Peck is another liberal of the Pacific Northwest variety. Peck has been importing a lot of folks from his old haunts to the Bluff City. The Commercial Appeal's changes have been a corporate experiment to fight the industry-wide decline in circulation, relevance and profits of newspapers. So, I wouldn't look for any major changes from whoever takes over for Wilcox.

One question for my readers. I know that in the old days being the publisher of the paper meant you owned the name and the presses; you hired the writers, photographers, pressmen and reporters; the paper reflected your interests and passions. It meant you could go to your editor in chief with a few pages of your thoughts and say "Print this in tomorrow's edition" and he'd do it. He had to or you'd fire him.

So what does being "president and publisher" mean in the age of corporate, chain newspapers? How important is the position? How much influence do you wield? How at the mercy of the corporate parent are you? I'm curious.

Can anyone provide any background on what motivated Wilcox? Again, walk or push? Who's dissatisfied and why?
How Did I Miss This?

Many thanks to Darrell Phillips who provides pointers to two new blogs, by WPTY/24 anchors Dee Griffin and Cameron Harper. Dee's only has two entries, but Cameron's been hard at it.

I'm waiting to see how long it is before Cameron's instinct to speak his mind crosses with his corporate-sponsored blog's limits. I'm guessing not long. Oughta be fun when it does.

Only thing missing is a comments feature on individual posts.

Are there any other blogs out there I should be aware of?
Fun With Google: Harold Ford and Miami

Blogging for Bryant carries the story of US Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr.'s top-dollar tastes when it comes to his campaign dollars. The original story is here. Definitely an eye-opening read. Something caught my eye, though, and I went digging.

After all, if Google-trolling is good enough for the Commercial Appeal it should elevate the quality of this blog!

I was intrigued by a mention of Miami, Florida. From the very earliest days of the Tennessee Waltz sting, a connection has repeatedly surfaced between Memphis and Miami. To my knowledge, no one has yet investigated it to either bury or prove allegations of links between Tennessee Waltz and Harold Ford, Sr., who lives on the ultra-exclusive Fisher Island. Nor have links between TW and Michael Hooks (who made some oddly-explained trips there) been investigated, either, to any satisfactory degree.

So, among the many campaign expenses of the Ford campaigns, there was mention of nearly $4000 spent in 2004 at the Delano Hotel. Check this map link and you'll see it's a very short drive up the 1A from Fisher Island and Junior's daddy. (The Delano is the red marker. Fisher Island is the Virginia-shaped island just below Highway 41.) How very convenient, eh? The article mentions that Ford has had campaign fund-raisers there, just a stone's throw from Daddy's house.

There are several Miami restaurants mentioned, as well. And sure enough, all of them -- Nemo, Prime 112 and Ago -- are right in the same area.

Of course, the obvious explanation is the innocent one. It's all above board, and it's all convenient to Harold Ford Sr.'s home and exclusive community because daddy is helping his son.

But for those of us who are still waiting for someone to investigate the Memphis - Miami connection, it's all just too tantalising. What will it take to produce answers? Maybe if John Ford was involved, we could interest the Commercial Appeal. But since swanky South Beach, exclusive homes and restaurants, and big money are involved, all of which make for compelling television visuals, I can't for the life of me figure out why any local television news station hasn't done some digging yet.

Or maybe it is all for nothing. If so, then report that.

If you want to pore though Harold Ford Jr.'s expenses for yourself to see how high-living, second-tier Washington lives, then you can go to the Open Secrets website and look here and here. Happy hunting.
Ford Eats More Foot

I missed this Harold Ford, Jr., quote from last month, but found it again today, searching for something else. From the LA Times, talking about Dean and the Democratic Party:
We really don't have a message right now.
That same "whatever you need us to be" will be on display between now and Fall '06.
Here I Am

I was away from the computer all day yesterday, hanging out with Mark and his son. We spent the better part of the day at the Battle Bunker playing our usual Epic game. I'm getting better at wargaming, as this time Mark was only able to defeat me on points after four turns, rather than on Victory Conditions after three.

It was a bloody battle for both of us. I made a surprise move with some Terminator Marines at the outset, sending them directly into his backfield, but lost the initiative roll (to see who moves first). He moved his troops out of harm's way before I could activate mine and I just floundered, instead of hammering his flank. I returned the favor later in the game by shooting his Thunderhawk gunship full of troops out of the air. He was depending on them to clear out my troops late in the game, which sorely vexed him.

He also fields a unit called a Warlord Titan, which is an enormous mechanised war engine filled with powerful long-range weapons. I had the great joy of watching this monster stay hemmed in with a small unit of my Scout Marines, the cheapest unit Space Marines have! We once ran a bunch of scenarios to see if it was possible for my Space Marines to kill his Titan, and it wasn't. It was taking me over 1100 - 1300 points of my army just to hammer into submission his 850 point Titan. That didn't kill it, just cripple it for one turn. The point imbalance isn't worth the results, as it leaves me weak on other fronts. So, seeing such a tiny and weak unit stop the biggest unit in the whole Space Marine armory was kinda satisfying. And I made him waste all that firepower on the last turn by making him chase a broken unit of Assault Marines. Hah!

I'm beginning to get the hang of Epic now and really enjoy the sense of commanding an army across the field, making plans and responding to the enemy's moves, having to deal with setbacks and reaping unexpected wins. I'm getting to where I'm internalising the game mechanics (though Mark is kind to put up with my constant questions) and becoming immersed in the experience. Mark is enjoying getting an opponent who can test his skills. We're having fun.

And for the reflexive amongst you who will now chirp "Chickenhawk," I must remind you that checkers and chess are ritualised and abstracted forms of combat as well. Chess was often used to teach strategic thinking to kings, generals and rulers. So save yourself the embarrasment, OK? Sigh....
Newton Finally Hoists His Colors

After years of being weak-willed when it comes to sucking up to the Democratic majority in State government, earning him a well-deserved reputation as a RINO, now indicted Representative Chris Newton decides to show some backbone and not resign his seat in the State House.

Of course, this means he will be deeply conflicted as he considers and votes on ethics legislation and regulations later this year. At least now East Tennesseans can see Newton's colors clearly.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Production of Innocence

Speaking as I was (or will, if you haven't read that far yet) of Jay Rosen and PressThink, he has a great look at the media's fascination with the developing media war over the next Supreme Court appointment. It's not about the story, so much, as what he terms, the production of innocence, a purely journalistic conceit.
By the production of innocence I mean ways of reporting the news that try to advertise or "prove" to us that the press is neutral in its descriptions, a non-partisan presenter of facts, a non-factor and non-actor in events. Innocence means reporters are recorders, without stake or interest in the matter at hand.

This basic message--innocent because uninvolved--isn't something said once, in a professional code of conduct. It has to be said many many times a day in the very course of writing and reporting the news. The genre known as He said, she said is perhaps the most familiar example. The production of innocence is one reason you make that phone call and "get the other side" before you run with a damaging story.

The truth and its damages may in certain settings have two sides; and you may, if you're very lucky, "get" the other one by making that obligatory call, but most of the time what results from appying this newsroom rule is not a truth with all necessary sides, but a particular claim of innocence that means a lot to journalists: good, we got the other side. We are being just. And this of course is way better than not making the call.

In the alchemy of these things (they are very akin to magical thinking) "We called you for your reaction" is supposed to prove:
We're not on anyone's side, see? And my point is that along with the production of a truthful, honest and compelling report, the reporters I have quoted here are continuously engaged in another ritual: advertising their own innocence, which is necessary if people are going to accept the final product as news cured of views.
Gubernatorial Straw Poll Results

Blogging for Bryant's Jay has sent along the results of his Republican straw poll of potential candidates for governor in 2006.

The unsurprising news: Beth Harwell wins clearly.

The breakdown:

Beth Harwell -- 35.6%

Ron Ramsey -- 24.1%

Van Hilleary -- 23%

Bob Corker -- 11%

Jim Henry -- 6.3%

I really hope Ramsey stays put. He'll be the Senate Speaker next Assembly, providing Republican nincompoops can be kept in line, and will be a needed breath of fresh air there. Hillary needs to stay in the Senate race and let Bryant end his political career. It will be costly for Bryant financially, but good for him in terms of image building prior to facing "is he or isnt he?" Harold Ford. Bryant also has an impressive lineup of Tennessee bloggers willing to help him make ground pork of Corker.

Beth, are you paying attention yet?
Deceptive Reporting

Today's Commercial Appeal carries an AP story (why not one written by the Nashville bureauman Richard Locker?) that is slightly misleading in its thrust.

Matt Gouras breathlessly notes that Governor Phil Bredesen personally approved some changes to a consent decree that he's now trying to have voided. It's... well, it's almost like he's a hypocrite!

Not so much. Bredesen tried to have a simple, immediate cost-saving measure implemented, one that would pass muster with both the court and the Tennessee Justice Center. It was a stop-gap measure before bigger changes to come. Smaller actions taken in the process of getting the larger goal don't negate the goal. So, it's a bit disingenuous to me.

On the other hand, the article does point up that Bredesen, for all his vaunted management skills and the centerpiece status of TennCare reform, is still floundering. Being a good business manager doesn't always translate into being an effective politician. The manager is used to expecting his will to be carried out, and to having subordinates fall in line. Politics, obviously, is nothing like that, as Bredesen is showing us. You can't order, you have to persuade; and even then you're going to fight a lot of other folks with their own agendas in the process.

Bredesen really is making a botch of his TennCare reforms. He's alienated a large number of his party-mates and has provided a spectacular opening for any Republican challenger next Fall. He no longer has Tennesseans lined up with him to accomplish the goal of TennCare reform; he's got a lot of special interests (many in his own party) lined up opposing him.

He could, of course, just sign an Executive Order ending TennCare, returning Tennesseans to the loving embrace of Medicaid, but that's sort of the nuclear option. Besides, he would find himself in Federal courts anyway, as the Tennessee Justice Center would move like lightning to oppose that. He's on more secure ground with abolishment, legally, but his chances of success are still in question and his chances of re-election would be zero.

Not to absolve the TJC of their share of the blame! They have been skillful in manuveuring themselves into the victim's seat under Bredesen, and they've been abetted by friends in government and the press. Remember the injuction filed by Judge William Haynes back in January? Nowhere did those stories mention how the injunction came to be. Judges don't just wake up one morning and decide to take action; they must first be presented with a motion to act upon. In the case of the January injunction, we were never told who initiated the appeal. I know because I was looking. It finally came out months later that it was the TJC after all. By keeping their name out of it, they were able to avoid the usual obstructionist press they get whenever they act.

Make no mistake. The TJC wants socialised healthcare for Tennessee. Having gotten it under McWhirter, they are doing everything possible to retain it. They will fight every attempt to slow its growth or modify it substantially. If they had their way, taxes would be raised to pay for TennCare as it exists now and you would just have to accept that.

There is a plan out there that would go a long way to rein in costs while only cutting a few thousand from TennCare rolls. They seem basic and sensible. I'm not informed enough on the issues and policies here to know how many of these ideas are being tried by Bredesen, nor whether they will have the cost-saving effects claimed. But they should be looked at first, and tried where advisable first. I don't think Bredesen is even doing that.

It's an opening for an enterprising Republican to use. Make real reform using the ideas of the reformers. Then, then, if TennCare is still ballooning and careering out of control, she the Republican candidate for governor can go ahead with the nuclear option in security.

But I doubt any Republican would. Party inertia, self-interest and the sclerotic hand of the Old Money boys at the top determines what happens, not bright thinking by the party's members. I suspect more than a few of the moneyed Republicans want a second Bredesen term, so they can make yet another run at enacting an income tax. A failing TennCare would only be an opportunity to revive that excuse from 2002. Letting Bredesen fail, rather than acting positively to rescue TennCare, serves their purposes better. Any candidate for governor will be stuck between wrestling the beast of TennCare reform and serving the Old Money Masters, which may explain why no one seems to be stepping up to run.

Watch between now and the Fall. If Beth Harwell passes, that's a sign. She has a good chance against Bredesen. If the Republicans runs an undistinguished or second-tier person, or worse yet a no-hoper, you'll have your answer. Bredesen is wide open to defeat right now, and as the "anti-gay marriage" contingent heats up coming into 2006 it will only get worse for him. But the Republican leadership is behaving as though he's a prohibitive force to reckon with. Maybe, if your name is Van Hilleary. But not for a fresh and energised candidate. The grassroots is ready to fight and only needs a leader to get behind.

As Bredesen continues to flounder and get outflanked by the TJC, this will only become more obvious.
125 Unanswered Science Questions

As part of the celebrations of 125 years of publishing, Science magazine queried hundreds of scientists in myriad fields to ask them what some of the remaining questions of science are. The list is fascinating reading.

Some samples:

What Is the Universe Made Of?
How Much Can Human Life Span Be Extended?
What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human?
How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved?
How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?
Will Malthus Continue to Be Wrong?
More than a hundred others still waiting answers....
Still Day Late, Dollar Short

The New York Times had an article over the weekend looking at the Greensboro, NC, newspaper experiment and the broader changes sweeping newspapers. Trouble is, the story's written as though it's current, when in fact this story has been rolling along since last year. Jay Rosen of PressThink has been covering it extensively, as he thinks it's pointing the way for the future of newspapers. The Memphis Commercial Appeal even gets a mention.

Read that article first then come back here.

OK. What The News & Record is doing is ceding a lot of control of their paper to non-paper people. They are blending the newspaper's traditional mission -- to gather and print the events of a community, as well as pertinent opinions -- with the blog revolution, where anyone is a reporter and editorialist. Papers benefit from having more reporters and more diverse voices, the community benefits by gettign a broader and deeper picture of itself. But it requires the paper to explicitly align itself with the people of the community, and not the business and civic interests they typically support.

That's why the Commercial Appeal is having problems. They make moves in the direction of the blog revolution and going online, but are still deeply wedded to tradition and the old way of operating a newspaper, the "voice of God" model, as the NYT article puts it.

Remember failed initiatives like "Readers Respond?" That was a brief experiment where reader questions about particular articles written by CA staff were printed in the paper, along with the writer's response. It failed because it was just a version of the typical "Letters to the Editor" model, but particularised. Actually having writers defend and explain what they wrote was also a bit difficult for people used to operating protected behind the institutional wall of a daily newspaper.

For heaven's sake, look at the whole "Letters to the Editor" model. As someone who's written his share of letters (before the blogosphere liberated me), it's still baffling. Readers send in their thoughts. Does the paper just print them? No. Not only are spelling and punctuation cleaned up, but letters are modified in all sorts of ways. Cut for space; re-ordered for "clarity"; the tense of verbs is altered to suit the newspaper's voice, even if it's the readers voice speaking; if the letter refers to a previous LttE the name is changed to "a previous letter writer" and sometimes names are just changed to "protect" something.

It's instructive: The paper can't let people speak with their own voice, but must filter that voice through the bureacracy -- through the control -- of the newspaper. That's not an institution that sounds willing to cede some control.

The Commercial Appeal has starting bringing in more guest editorialists, which is good, but far too often these voices support the position of the paper, rather than represent the many voices of the community on any given issue debated.

Well, I don't have time right now to run down everything wrong. Let's just say that when each story comes with, not a link to a forum on another part of the website, but comments directly below the story posted, when the writers address the concerns of readers directly and do have to defend what they write, when a paper that wants to "tell the story of Greater Memphis" actually gives those stories their own voice rather than editing it to fit the paper's style, then we'll be making progress.

As it is, they are just aping what they see, missing the deeper points by a mile. Circulation is falling still; credibility is falling still; importance and relevance are plummetting. What used to be a flinty rock is now a mushy bowl of tapioca.
Inside the Democratic Mind

In an interview given in Washinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demonstrates an appalling ignorance of basic Constitutional issues. Try this:
Q: Two questions: What was your reaction to the Supreme Court decision on this topic, and what do you think about legislation to, in the minds of opponents at least, remedy or changing it?

Ms. Pelosi: As a Member of Congress, and actually all of us and anyone who holds a public office in our country, we take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Very central to that in that Constitution is the separation of powers. I believe that whatever you think about a particular decision of the Supreme Court, and I certainly have been in disagreement with them on many occasions, it is not appropriate for the Congress to say we're going to withhold funds for the Court because we don't like a decision.

Q: Not on the Court, withhold funds from the eminent domain purchases that wouldn't involve public use. I apologize if I framed the question poorly. It wouldn't be withholding federal funds from the Court, but withhold Federal funds from eminent domain type purchases that are not just involved in public good.

Ms. Pelosi: Again, without focusing on the actual decision, just to say that when you withhold funds from enforcing a decision of the Supreme Court you are, in fact, nullifying a decision of the Supreme Court. This is in violation of the respect for separation of church -- powers in our Constitution, church and state as well. Sometimes the Republicans have a problem with that as well. But forgive my digression.

So the answer to your question is, I would oppose any legislation that says we would withhold funds for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court no matter how opposed I am to that decision. And I'm not saying that I'm opposed to this decision, I'm just saying in general.

Q: Could you talk about this decision? What you think of it?

Ms. Pelosi: It is a decision of the Supreme Court. If Congress wants to change it, it will require legislation of a level of a constitutional amendment. So this is almost as if God has spoken. It's an elementary discussion now. They have made the decision.

Q: Do you think it is appropriate for municipalities to be able to use eminent domain to take land for economic development?

Ms. Pelosi: The Supreme Court has decided, knowing the particulars of this case, that that was appropriate, and so I would support that.
Horrifying. And she wants to be the Majority Leader?

...this is almost as if god has spoken. Does anyone wonder now why they fight DC Court of Appeals and Supreme Court nominations like berserkers? Look how her mind was conflating church/state and Supreme Court when she was thinking about the Court. It's "almost" religious to them. Does she really think that countering Supreme Court decisions through law requires a constitutional amendment? Can she truly be that stupid?

As someone else notes, did they ask her if she holds Bush v. Gore in the same reverence?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Gubernatorial Straw Poll

Yes, it's pretty early, and yes, that isn't stopping anyone anyway.

Jay, over at Blogging for Bryant, a website you should be reading regularly, has a straw poll up. Who is your choice, of the presumed and possible Republican choices, for nominee to run against Phil Bredesen?

Bredesen's very, very beatable. The Republican candidate, if they really run and give their heart and soul to it, can win. The big problem is the money guys who run the upper reaches of the Republican Party. Many of them want an income tax because it will include language that removes the Hall tax on unearned income, and so they want Bredesen to have a second term. In his second term, you watch, Bredesen will suddenly find we have a fiscal problem that can only be solved by "exploring" the income tax. So, the money guys will encourage the Republicans to run a mere trophy candidate, as the Democrats did against Sundquist in his second term run. (Remember John Jay Hooker's lone wolf candidacy? His own party wouldn't support him, so he drove himself around the State, begging his way onto talk radio shows.)

As Bill Hobbs has noted many times, if Bredesen never gets a second term, we never get an income tax.

I meant to have the poll box on Half-Bakered, but the Javascript does impolite things to this blog when I add it to the template. When, and if, Jay gets it fixed, I'll be adding it. In the meantime, head over to Blogging for Bryant.

Go! Vote!

Fireworks, Homestar Runner-style. Enjoy.
What Some Memphians Might Like

If you read and follow people like this, you'll see they have a vision of the city that is compacted and dense; lots of condos and apartments in space saving towers, surrounded by trees, parks and "urban spaces." There's some merit to this, but you always see the positive, PR versions of this kind of living.

The other side is Hong Kong. Not to say that Memphis could turn into this kind of megalopolis, or hyperopolis, but that kind of thinking always points in this direction.

No wonder folks like to live out in the County.
Apples and Oranges

Via Jemima comes this rant against an author who views fanfiction sneeringly and demeaningly. Fanfiction, for those who don't know, is when fans of a television show (and occasionally of professional authors like Jane Austen or JK Rowling) take the characters and setting but write their own adventures. Frequently, relationships in these shows are explored further, into erotica and sex, or relationships not in the show are created because the fan just sees them. The most famous example is the whole genre of stories (fanfiction) about the romantic and sexual love between Star Trek's Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.

Yours truly used to write Star Trek fanfiction. I was fair enough, winning some awards and acclaim. You can find it here. Enter my last name (Hollihan) into the author field and there you are. My forte was comedy, but I wrote some pretty decent serious short stories as well.

Anyway, that's what attracted me to the post linked above. A professional author attacks fanfiction while seeming to completely misunderstand it. Tom Simon takes her to task and dissects her argument into tiny, tiny bits. She argues that learning to be a writer by writing fanfiction is like learning to be a singer by singing karaoke. Simon points out that this is pretty much how singers do learn to sing, by singing the standards and learning a repertoire.

On the other hand, I can say from experience that writing fanfic does stretch some muscles but often leaves others unused. Since you begin with familiar characters and settings, it's often enough to say, "Captain Janeway sat in her Ready Room." We already know what Janeway looks and sounds like, and what the ready room looks like as well, thanks to the original television show. The writer doesn't have to waste any time -- and therefore not learn how to do it -- describing character and setting. It can deform writing style if not watched for.

You also often take for granted the relationship-building done by the show's writers. You don't have to spend paragraphs and chapters in incident after incident showing how two people fell in love and bonded. The show's done the work for you. Much fanfic takes that for granted as well and goes from there, assuming the entire backstory is already known by the reader.

On the gripping hand, fanfiction can go places the television shows won't or can't. Star Trek, as one example, doesn't deal in sex, so much fanfiction goes into the erotica the show won't touch. Sometimes there is a chemistry between two actors that's not utilised, or is badly mishandled, by the writers. Fanfic addresses that; for example with Janeway/Chakotay relationship stories. Another example is with Janeway/Seven of Nine fanfic, where two strong women meet as equals and fall in love.

Fanfic writers may go back and "fix" events that were mishandled. I thought the writers of Voyager had it all wrong. Still under the spell of Deep Space Nine I though very strongly that the ship should have stayed where it was. They could trade their technology for a place to stay (like the planet of kidnapped humans they found in the episode "The '37s.") and started to build a new Delta Federation. It's where my story "The End and The Beginning," my first fanfic, came from.

Another example was my story "Queen of the Lilac Time," in which I explored how a relationship between the two characters of Janeway and Chakotay could happen, and where would it go. Or "When the Sun Rises, I Will Not See," where the tensions of having a Maquis and a Federation crew forced to work side by side took over, and everything went very, very wrong. It's a kind of "Mirror, Mirror" story, one where every good decision they made was made differently, and badly. The story aimed straight for the heart of darkness, a place Voyager couldn't go, and hit dead center.

I once wondered how having a pet might "humanise" Seven of Nine and help her with her relationship with Harry Kim. The result was "The Reactions of Mammals to Dermal Stimulation." One episode of Voyager dealt with Seven of Nine's first date. I though "I could do better than that hapless twit." and so rewrote the episode with myself (as a Star Trek character) in it, "My Dinner With Seven." As you might can guess, I'm pretty proud of all of these.

But read around the archive of those stories and you'll see numerous examples of pastiche and parody. Stories done in the style of Shakespeare, Monty Python, Harlan Ellison; stories written as though for hobby magazines about fishing, chess, etc.; stories written like other television shows. The goal was to learn how to write by imitating others. Learn their technique and incorporate what you like into your own style.

But for many fanfic writers, it's not about becoming a "pro" writer. It's about a hobby. In the same way that people play piano or guitar, or paint, just for themselves, so some people write mostly for themselves. Something inside demands expression, and this is their chosen route. It may be derivative and poorly done, but it's sufficient to the expression.

In large part, I think comparing pro writing and fanfic is like comparing apples and oranges. Fundamentally, they are fruits, but beyond that they are different in feel and taste, and in how they're used. People who want to learn to bake pies should stick with apples, but if a tasty treat is all you want, an orange might just do the job.
The Real Results of Kyoto

Tiny New Zealand gladly and happily signed on to the Kyoto agreement early on. They figured they were insignificant polluters, so they had little to lose and much to gain. Wrong. Each NZ family may get hit with a Kyoto cost of as much as $900. And that's New Zealand, where raising sheep is the main industry.
Hillary Can Only Wish

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is the kind of left-liberal leader Hillary Clinton only wishes she could be. Clark, two years ago, disbanded the NZ Air Force because she didn't see any need for it. By NZ standards, she to the left, but by American standards she'd be waaaaay to the left.

One problem Clark has, like Hillary, is that she must be a woman while being a tough leader. In apparent anticipation of coming elections, Clark had a makeover to soften her hard image. Seriously. Go check the results.
Godzilla Awakens

Don't say you weren't warned.
Where is My Jetpack?

(This post will likely make more sense after you read the next one.)

I am a child of the New Frontier. That was America's outlook in the late Fifties and Sixties, before hippie hedonism won the day. America finally had, with the advent of World War Two, stepped onto the world stage and, like a young man trying on his first business suit, found it empowering. We won the war and the whole world was ours. Nineteenth century Manifest Destiny had gone global in the 20th and we believed it would so go interplanetary before the century was out.

Gleaming cities of millions living in alabaster spires reaching the skies, surrounded by green parklands and connected with ribbons of magnetic trains. Skies criss-crossed by jetpacks, aircars, jet liners and rocket ships. In our night skies, the familiar moving lights of Venus, Mars and Jupiter would be overshadowed by dozens more built by the hand of man -- space stations. Almost everyone could travel there, too, and to the spotless cities of the rest of the bustling, prosperous world.

The New Frontier was vast. The only boundary was a lack of ambition; the only horizon a failure of imagination. We had a wonderful future awaiting and only needed to move forward into it.

When I was a kid, we believed that there would be many orbital space stations, moon bases from several countries, a Mars base, and manned trips to Jupiter and Venus by now, by 2005. I can remember reading countless stories about the "future," about the first years of the 21st century. The part of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 set in the space station and on the Moon always struck me like a travelogue and not science fiction. It was going to happen.

And now here we are. The New Frontier has gone, collapsed into something right at our feet, or something virtual on the Internet. We no longer dream big or admire boundless ambition. Star Trek evolved from big dreamers adventuring among the stars in wonder to a corporate staff meeting in a portable officeship solving the Galaxy's problems to a ship thrown far away and only wanting to get back home.

We no longer look ahead with wonder. We stand around and worry. Our big dreams don't push boundaries and dare the unknown. We dream of self-satisfaction and seek thrills in safety. We don't raise children to be better, but have children and let them deal with it. Our futures aren't filled with the amazing, but are days much like today.

I want my dreams back. I want my jetpack.
Interstates Are a Modernist Plot

As a kid, I used to love International style architecture, best exemplified in the enormous glass-and-steel tower blocks designed by architectural firm Owings, Skidmore and Merrill. Clean, simple, monumental, designed for purity of principle, not for people. I didn't realise then that they were also yet another child of Modernism, the less-imposing predecessor form.

America used to have roads and highways connecting all her cities. Travel was an adventure; novelty was around every turn. But in the Fifties, under President Eisenhower and the anti-Communist imperative, we had to connect our cities with Pure Transport Ability. And so the interstate sytem was born, the ultimate reduction of road to concrete ribbon. Soon, all cities were reduced to the same concrete ribbons and cloverleaf interchanges dotted with the same hotel chains, restaurant chains, gas chains, etc. The vast diversity of America languished, hidden away.

I was reminded of all this in today's Bleat by James Lileks. Like him, I've since come to value the individuality, the history and the inherited or borrowed styles that used to define the regions of this country.

Memphis front door used to the the Mississippi riverfront. Literally. Boats and later steamships used to roll right up to the cobblestones lining the banks to disgorge passengers and cargo. Up a ways from the banks were the Bluffs, on which sat the many businesses that did trade with those ships and their cargos.

Nowadays, our front door is somewhere out around Wolf Chase Galleria, which looks pretty much like a thousand other regional malls surrounded by dozens of big box stores and acres of parking. The city doesn't suddenly appear as it once did to travellers on the few roads leading into Memphis, but creeps up endlessly with signs and offramps and hints of something down below the interstate.

As more and more Americans began to drive further and further in their cars, as more and more trucks appeared to bridge the gap between local and railroad, highways sprang up. And anyone could pour some macadam to hook up their little business to the newly invigorating highway. But the Interstate is about control; minimalism is the ultimate level of control. "Form follows function" is still an architectural maxim, but in Modernism and later Internationalism it was distilled into "Purity of form is perfection of function," which became authoritarianism writ above the human scale. Highways were everywhere, but interstates offered only a handful of opportunities to connect. The same commercial and social imperatives that drove the shape and style of American's highways yearn to reach the interstate but are constrained. In that constraint the old market values of supply (limited by design) and demand (reaching travellers) conspire to drive up prices, and so limit what gets to the intersections.

The profoundly American diversity of small towns and cities, where the generic needs of food, restaurants and stores were met locally in every conceivable way, yielded to the corporate cost-saving solution as access improved. Now, Americans can easily travel distances that few of their ancestors would ever have attempted (the trip from Collierville to Memphis was once a two-day affair). But it's at the cost of finding that every destination is the same as every other, and the same as the place they left.

No point to this, except that Lileks started me down this road of thought and its late. Happy Fourth of July.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Fun With Numbers: Google and the Commercial Appeal

Found this column in Sunday's online CA. It only credits a "Mark Watson" as the author, with no other identifying information or contact info. Does the paper version also skimp?

Anyway, it's a brief and superficial look at modern day "invective" that ends with something called "extreme googling." Watson apparently went to Google and did some quick and dirty searches. His results?

Democrat + Communist = 693,000 hits
Republican Party + fascist = 503,000
Democrat + traitor or treason = 396,000
Republican Party + Nazi = 224,000

Something didn't feel right (why was "Party" used in connection with the Republicans?) so I did my own "extreme googling" and here's what I found:

Democrat + Communist = 805,000 hits
Republican Party + fascist = 586,000
Democrat + traitor = 149,000
Democrat + treason = 225,000
Republican Party + Nazi = 1,340,000

Now, I know Google is changing all the time, but look at some of those differences, especially the last one, more than a million hits off. Did anyone at the Commercial Appeal even fact check this before it went to print? How difficult could it be to fact check this? I did it in ten minutes.

I then did some more word pairs. First was to drop the "Party" from the two Republican searches:
Republican + fascist = 581,000 hits
Republican + Nazi = 826,000

Note that the last one is still four times what Watson claims in his column. But wait, there's more!

Clinton + impeach = 352,000 hits
Clinton + communist = 1,190,000
Clinton + socialist = 809,000
Clinton + traitor = 200,000
Clinton + blowjob = 333,000
Clinton + bj = 369,000

Bush + Hitler = 2,320,000
Bush + fascist = 774,000
Bush + impeach = 739,000
Bush + chimp = 660,000
Bush + idiot = 1,780,000

Interesting, if ultimately meaningless. Still, the king of invective is "Bush and Hitler" and the worst slingers of invective are the Democrats. Like you didn't already know that....
Earth Day Founder Dies

The man who started Earth Day died recently.

Per his wishes to live as naturally and organically as possible, his body was left to decompose in his back yard.
25 Signs You Have Grown Up

1. Your houseplants are alive, but you can't smoke any of them.

2. Having sex in a bunk bed is out of the question.

3. You keep more food than beer in the fridge.

4. 6:00am is when you get up, not when you go to bed.

5. You hear your favourite song in a shopping center.

6. You catch yourself reciting ABC instead of watching it.

7. Your friends marry & divorce instead of "hook up" and "breakup."

8. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 20.

9. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as "dressed up."

10. You're the one calling the police because those %&@# kids next door won't turn down the stereo.

11. Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.

12. When you find out your friend is pregnant you congratulate them instead of asking "Oh sh*t! What happened?"

13. Your car insurance goes down and your car payments go up.

14. You feed your dog Science Diet instead of McDonald's leftovers.

15. Sleeping on the couch makes your back hurt.

16. You take weekend naps at noon.

17. Dinner and a movie is the whole date instead of the beginning of one.

18. Eating Krystal's at 3AM would severely upset, rather than settle, your stomach.

19. You go to the drugstore for ibuprofen and antacid, not condoms and pregnancy tests.

20. A $4.00 bottle of wine is no longer "pretty good stuff."

21. You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.

22. "I just can't drink the way I used to." replaces "I'm never going to drink that much again!"

23. 90% of the time you spend in front of a computer is for real work.

24. You drink at home to save money before going to a bar.

25. You read this entire list looking desperately for one sign that doesn't apply to you and can't find one to save your sorry old butt.
Lessons of History

Paul at Power Line blog has a great post that neatly sums up with a single pungent example and some clear writing how thoroughly self-serving and dishonest the Democrats have become about Supreme Court nominees. Pow!

Personally, I'd really love to see Bush nominate Janice Rogers Brown as America's first black female justice. Any recognition he'd get for the historic move would be utterly ignored by Democrats shrilly screaming all the same crap they spewed for years about her. Except, they just approved her to the DC Court! Oops. Americans would see the absolute worst of the Democrats on display. Good.

But I doubt it will happen. Would be fun, though....
Dedication to the Great Task Remaining

As we approach July Fourth, it's important to remember, in this time of war, that this was also the weekend of one of the greatest and pivotal battles ever fought on American soil -- Gettysburg. Had the Union lost, as seemed likely to many then, the spirit of the Union to continue what had been a protracted and demoralising war would have been broken. At this point in the War, the American people were sick and tired of it and the endless, bloody battles. There was a serious desire by some to sue for peace and let the Confedereacy go its own way.

Had the North lost at Gettysburg, Lincoln would have been forced to negotiate an armistice or even an end to the War Between the States, permanently dividing America into two lesser nations, and would also likely have been defeated in his re-election bid. His former top General, McClellan, was running against him and in the wake of armistice might have won. McClellan was a ditherer, given to ignoring Lincoln's orders or so protracting carrying them out as to void their purpose. He was a general who didn't like to fight. Imagine that kind of man as President.

I'd recommend renting Ron Maxwell's magnificent Gettysburg (based on Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels, a good read) to learn more about those three days. It's a bit dry, also hagiographic, but it was filmed at Gettysburg itself and immerses you in the sense of the flow, chaos and terror of battle as few movies do. How many men and women do you know today who would race across hundreds of yards of open ground into gunfire coming from the hill they must take? The men who did this in Pickett's Charge knew they faced certain death, and went anyway.

The movie also has a sterling performance by Jeff Daniels as Lt. Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a professor from a small college in Maine who volunteered and led his company that day. His first assignment was to hold Little Round Top, the southernmost flank of the Union line, at all costs. If he folded or broke, the Confederates would come streaming up the Union line and destroy them. There was no option but to stay.

He did. Despite few men and low ammunition, they stuck it out against a much larger force in a heroic stand that saved the Union. As the last of their ammunition was fired, he got his men to fix bayonets and charged the Confederates coming up his mountain. It mightily confused the rebels and broke their spirit.

Chamberlain rose through the army to become a Major General. After the war, he returned home, he became president of his college , and later was elected to four terms as Governor of Maine. A remarkable man, and Daniels portrays him as unrelentingly humble but unswervingly driven by his faith and his principles. He gives a speech as Chamberlain deep in the movie that is as moving and compelling a summation of the moral cause of the War as any I've ever heard. And Kevin Conroy, as his Sergeant, Kilrain, gives an equally powerful reply.

The guys at Power Line blog have a great post, filled with links, about this battle. Please don't lose yourself in the pleasures of a three day weekend without remembering the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have lost their lives in the causes that make it possible. To do less is to dishonor their sacrifice.
Flyin' With the Fishkite

Last Sunday an open forum titled "Who Wants to be a Candidate" was held by MPACT at the Public Library on Poplar. I'd planned to attend but a last minute invite somewhere else changed that plan. Fortunately, Mick of Fishkite was there and filed a detailed report on the proceedings.

There were four speakers -- Jackson Baker, Leon Gray, Jerry Hall and John Ryder -- talking local politics. Lots of insights, so head over and see what we missed. If I'm reading it correctly, the portents for change in '06 aren't good.
Sneak Preview

Leon Gray, who will soon have his own radio show on Air America's local outlet WWTQ AM680 weekdays from 5 to 7PM (up against the waiting-to-die Mike Fleming, has already started posting to a blog. I haven't had the chance to read it yet, just bookmarking and sharing.

Hat tip to Fishkite for the link.