Saturday, July 16, 2005

Dr. Abby Wants to Say Goodbye

Dr. Abby wants to have another bloggers bash before she leaves for the Big City (aka Boston). So she's proposing one for the weekend of July 29 - 31st. If you are interested, please head over and leave word; you can also vote for the best day of the weekend for you.

It's open to anyone with a blog. You don't have to be a huge blogger to attend, nor do you have to fear political discussions. It's a purely social occasion where fun & food is the order of the evening.

So come on out and wish Dr. Abby and Aaron the best of luck in the next phase of their lives. We're sorry to lose them, but happy to have had them while we did.

SUNDAY UPDATE The date has been set, Friday the 29th. Location is still up for grabs, so head over and vote in the poll.
In Passion Does Our Heart Speak True

In this post the LeftWing Cracker speaks his heart about what Memphis "progressives" are trying to do in changing politics as usual in the Shelby County Democratic Party.

But down deep inside the post, he speaks his heart and what it says is deeply chilling to a libertarian like myself:
Our problem right now is that we have a base that seeks a strong definition for our Party in EVERY area of life....
Now, he's only speaking of the Democratic Party, but it frightens me more than a little that someone thinks it good politics, or civics, to have a political position on "every area of life." I don't want politicians who think politicically about everything.

Nor do I want polticians who feel they need to dive into every problem that a community has. Sometimes, politicians need to stay out. Way the hell out. Some of our worst, most intrusive and freedom-infringing laws come from the politician's desire to be seen "doing something for the people."

I really long for a political candidate who can sometimes say, "That's not a problem for me to tackle. Leave it to [whomever]."

By the by, talking about the upheaval in the Shelby County Democrats, you can learn more by reading Jackson Baker's last two "Politics" columns in the Memphis Flyer. Start here and then read here. He seems to be the only news person who is even trying to follow this situation in some detail. Of course, he also soft-pedals and glosses a lot of this wracking change, being the good Democrat-defender he is, but still, it's something. Which is a damn sight better than the nothing we other are hearing.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Read Closely

You can tell where the Commercial Appeal stands on the Promenade "makeover" in this editorial and their weasel words, worthy of a Milquetoast, are painfully transparent.
THERE'S STILL TIME to refine plans for developing the Downtown riverfront in ways that could significantly reduce public opposition.
Right away, it's not about what's best but what will "reduce public opposition."
Yet near the end of Sunday's forum at the Central Library, both sides said they were willing to talk about potential areas of compromise. It would be in everyone's best interests for those discussions to take place.
Compromise means the City's plan goes forward with some cosmetic changes that might get disappeared after everyone signs off on it. Compromise means the City and it's cabal of developers get their windfall and Memphians who find the plan revolting get pushed aside.
The most likely source of common ground might be on the so-called Promenade project, a four-block area of Front Street between Union and Adams.
Oddly enough, the source of the division! How about that fortunate bit of luck.
The RDC, a nonprofit organization created by city government to manage riverfront property, envisions a high-rise development of some sort -- condominiums, offices or whatever -- that would provide limited public access along outdoor promenade decks facing the river.
"Of some sort," as though it's all in the air right now, and not down on cold, hard paper just waiting for money and OKs. Like the way the Commercial Appeal describes the RDC? Pretty clever bit of compression, as though it's impartial and "feel good" like other non-profits and not a front for developers and City Hall to ruthlessly pursue the almighty dollar. I wonder how they'll describe the opposition?
Friends for Our Riverfront would prefer to see the area converted into parkland.
Oh. That was quick. No mention of the City Charter, the preferences of the descendants of James Overton. And City parks would be "converted" to parks?

Land that previous City Councils and Mayors had taken for non-Promenade use, although always with the "public good" in mind, I'm sure, will be returned to its original purpose and function.

But you don't hear anything about that. Notice as well that the RDC "envisions" while the Friends "prefer." More clever word choice. The RDC is the doer, the dreamer, the visionary, while the Friends are kibbitzers, people who express a preference for something over something else, choosers, and not doers.
For example, a high-rise development, no matter whether it's residential or commercial, would require a lot of parking. The RDC's plans call for two existing parking garages within the four-block area to be rebuilt as underground structures.

That might take care of the current needs for parking spaces. But a high-rise development would logically seem to require much more parking than the area currently has. And given the property's proximity to the river, there are limits on how far underground it's practical to put a garage.
Parking problems are endemic downtown. Relentless boosterism is packing that tiny space with people and events. Certainly the Commercial Appeal hasn't been worried up to this point with the FedUp Forum and other attractions. They actively encourage alternatives like trolleys, shuttle busses and walking. Now, suddenly, parking is a consideration? In a space they admit doesn't have room for it?

Maybe they'd like to help? Try proposing some alternatives for parking garages and more parking downtown. Go ahead, try it. It's better than falsely raising an issue you haven't otherwise cared about to look like you're fairly criticising the RDC plan.
RDC officials didn't make a clear and compelling case for the demand for new residential or office space, either. They say market conditions will determine what's best for the site. But if RDC officials are focused strictly on some type of high-rise, they're likely to overlook other possibilities that could be more practical and acceptable to the public.
Like mid-rise! Only twenty stories in several buildings instead of forty in two or three.

Note the way the Commercial Appeal is offering advice (the whole editorial is, really) on how to better market this fiasco to a skeptical public. It's not about what's right or best, but what sells. What kind of paper, and editorial staff, is it that finds this something to proudly put your name to?

"Market conditions" downtown are a bunch of empty old buildings; empty because developers say the cost of rehabbing them is too high with all the extra regulatory requirements (ADA, fire code, retaining "character," etc.). I guess giving them several brand spanking new buildings to market gets around that!
On the other hand, RDC officials raised some very valid concerns about the idea of converting those four blocks into parkland. Rick Masson, an RDC board member, noted that Confederate Park and the Mud Island River Park are seldom used by citizens. That being the case, simply adding more unimproved park space doesn't seem like a good solution.
Up to now, the Commercial Appeal just offered advice to the RDC, noting improvements to their plans that would make them palatable. Now, when they turn to the Friends, it's suddenly the RDC raising "valid concerns" and the Friends' plan isn't "a good solution."

It was the Commercial Appeal criticising, very mildy and with offers of help, the RDC, but they switch the voice against the Friends to the RDC and side with them, adding the weight of numbers, isolating the Friends. Clever again, if you didn't spot it.

Plus, do you really believe the idea of "wasted" park space downtown? Claiming underutilisation sounds an awful lot like developer-speak to me.
Virginia McLean, president of Friends, countered that parks don't have to be just empty patches of grass. She cited Overton Park as an example with multiple civic uses.

McLean said Friends wouldn't be opposed to some development on the Promenade, such as restaurants, sidewalk cafes and the like. It seems like there's still an opportunity to redesign the Promenade, perhaps using the same basic design with less-intensive retail uses.
Notice that the RDC didn't have a spokesman, but now the Friends do in Ms McLean. And notice how she "counters" and "opposes.

And once more I say, the Commercial Appeal's idea of compromise is still to side with the RDC, and with retail and office towers, but tweak it a bit.
That might prevent a court fight over use of the land. And it could produce one of those "win-win" situations that would make everybody feel better about the finished product.
Ahhhh.... Is that the nub, a court fight?

I swear, hearing "win-win" from this crew is to hear, "We screwed you, but you let us, so don't complain anymore."

Missing from the Commercial Appeal's analysis, no surprise, is one of those "bulls in the china shop" -- money. The RDC plan would require tens of millions in new City money just to start. Money we plain don't have; even the paper admitted this in a previous editorial (if obliquely). The Friends' plan is extremely low cost, and people friendly. Small wonder money never got a mention here. It's a project-stopper.

I will put forward once again my proposal, which is a variant of the Friends' view. We should offer the space of the Promenade as an open, juried design competition. Imagine urban planners, landscape architects and building architects being given a multi-block area in the downtown of a major American metropolis to create a next-generation Central Park. It would attract world-wide acclaim to this city. We would bring in top-tier ("world class" in Memphis-speak) members of the urban design world, which would spotlight Memphis in the best of all possible ways. It also honors the vision of the City's founders and what they intended to Promenade to be. It honors our riverfront, and innovative designs will find ways of connecting the downtown off Front to Main and the hurly-burly of the rest of the downtown.

Why no one else has put this idea forward -- it's so simple and obvious and brilliant -- is beyond me. There is no downside, except to the developers.

Which is no downside at all.
Mr. Mike Succumbs to Reality Television

Yes, sad but true. I've ignored reality television shows pretty well, but finally gave in for Spy, a British reality import (called Spy School over there) now showing on PBS.

A group of recruits were brought in and are being trained by three intelligence experts from British and American intelligence. Initially it was just learning to observe people, follow people and pass along information without being caught. But then, the show jumped up a level and the recruits were asked to use "legends," or an undercover identity to gain jobs, to try to get people to break laws (mildly), and to break into real houses.

Then they turned upon each other, being told each other were holding secrets. Tonight, they were individually told they'd failed and were being dropped to get them angry and depressed, then were given an opportunity to sell out one of their instructors for $100,000! Of the four recruits remaining, one actually sold her out. And was unapologetic for it, calling her cold and a bitch.

Next week's final episode finds the three remaining recruits being dropped into a foreign country to complete a mission. They will have a brush will real police, too.

Several times now, the instructors have had to tell the recruits that their mistakes have cost others their lives or resulted in imprisonment or interrogation. Not really, but had these missions been real, in some cases the recruits would never have succeeded or made it out alive. The instructors are harsh and unsparing in making that point. And their disappointment in the failures in real.

Something about this show caught me. I guess it's the view into the shadowy world of spying, and asking these people to really break the law and to violate other people's lives. There's none of the vicious bitchery and back-stabbing American programs so love (except the hardships the instructors give the recruits in their missions). No listening to people whine, or watching them mug for the camera.

It's pretty decent. Like I said, next week's episode is the final installment, but it's the best. You don't need to know the previous stuff to appreciate it, I don't think. Thursday, 9PM, WKNO/10.

Don't hate me for liking Spy, OK? At least I didn't tell you I also kinda like Hell's Kitchen.

Shelby County: Death by Lawyering

As expected, Shelby County's tax rate went up anyway. But at least the County Commission did it quasi-legally. The County Mayor, AC Wharton, and at least one County Commissioner had advocated a sneaky, lawyerly, "interpretation" of State law that requires the County to lower property tax rates after a reappraisal to prevent windfall tax revenues for the County.

Well, they get the windfall anyway. After voting to adjust the property tax to $3.90 per $1000, they then voted to raise the property tax in a separate motion to $4.04, effectively giving themselves the windfall.

The Commercial Appeal appeal reports that the windfall will generate at least $40 million. They report:
The vote means the county can give about $20 million in new money to city and county schools and also allocate $20 million to pay on the county's $1.7 billion debt.
That leaves out how much more money will be generated.

But it's the self-serving crap the Mayor and Commissioners spewed afterwards that really galls:
Wharton said he didn't view the vote as a true tax increase.

"It's not an increase in the sense that when you change your rate, everybody goes up, not merely those whose property values increased as a result of the reappraisal," he said.
Someone bitch-slap AC for me, OK? That kind of hair-splitting is just insulting. Will Memphians and Shelby Countians pay more tax money to the State? Then it's an increase. Dolt.

Interestingly, WPTY/24 reports:
The Shelby County property tax rate was supposed to go down to $3.72 because of reappraisals ... but the county commission decided to keep it at $4.04. If they’d gone with the lower rate, you would have saved $.32 cents.
Which was it? $3.72 or $3.90? Did the Commission skip a step in lowering rates? Is the $3.90 figure just to make a 14 cent tax increase more palatable than a 31 cent increase?

Sigh.... You'd think fact-based reporting would be easy and clear.

I wish there was more, but the "new" Commercial Appeal devotes less space to politics than before, so their reporters have to wedge a lot into less space, leaving out some of the important bits.

When some of these folks get voted out next election, just tell them they didn't lose votes, but had a rate reduction.
All the News, or Some of It?

ThisCommercial Appeal story, about a possible name change for three Memphis parks, struck me as oddly lacking, as I remembered seeing a television news story that had a different flavor to it. Sure enough, it was a WMC/5 story. Let's compare.

The Commercial Appeal's headlines start us out:
Parks name change urged

Committee advocates renaming 3 Confederate parks
Makes it sound unanimous and all good, doesn't it? Continuing:
The Center City Commission committee that's been considering changes at three Memphis parks is recommending name changes for Confederate, Jefferson Davis and Forrest Parks.

The committee recommendation goes to the full Center City Commission July 21 for approval. If the CCC board agrees, the recommendation would then go to the City Council for consideration.

The three-member CCC committee, headed by County Commissioner Walter Bailey, also recommended that the City Council "review and explore the appropriateness" of statues honoring the Confederate cause in those parks, Bailey said.
A news scanner like me, who tends to skim, would be confused into thinking this reflected the CCC's views.

The article doesn't get into the internals of the committee's work, nor does it mention Bailey's reputation for political grandstanding and for trying for cheap political points on this issue. Again, we're sort of left with an impression of a majority's clear voice and a direct call for specific action.

Read the WMC/5 story, however, and it's a different tale:
But a recommendation to strip Memphis of its confederate history was made rather quietly in downtown Memphis Tuesday. Only the center city commission's subcommittee on parks was present when chairman and county commissioner Walter Bailey began drafting the language of parks proposal.

Bailey wants to, quote, "Urge the (full) center city commission to recommend to the city council that full and serious consideration be given to renaming the parks and removing the monuments in a manner that would be lawful and sensitive."

Committee member Jennifer Hagerman thought it best to leave monument removal in the hands of city council members.

"We as committee didn't investigate the feasibility of removing the monuments the legality of removing the monuments," said Jennifer Hagerman of the Center City Commission.

Bailey agreed to make the change. The full center city commission will vote on the proposal on July 21st. At least three of the 17 who will vote agree that they're doing what's right for Memphis.

"The city council has full authority and all we're doing is merely advising them what we have learned and hopefully they'll consider the issue look at the info we've looked at and make their own judgement," said Hagerman.

That vote will take place July 21st at noon. There are twenty seats on the commission and its board, only 17 of them are filled at the moment. A majority vote is all that's needed.
Hmmmm.... I'm not trying to make a big deal of this, but just point out how context can make the story.
So That's What It Was

Last Saturday night I went to the Pig on Madison for a late-night snack run (Saturday is movie night at Casa Dos Amigos, the dos being me and the cat.) and saw an enormous crowd of black-clad/mascara'd, pale youth in front of Pho Hoa Binh restaurant. Loud music from within, too. I wondered what was up and now Mark Richens provides the answer. Yet another Midtown music venue, and right around the corner from me, too.

Secret Blogs

I've missed another one! Yeah, new blogs spring up all day long, often laboring in obscurity for their short lives before being abandoned, but it appears that WMC/5 has ventured into the corporate-sponsored employee blog with Bill's Blog, written by anchor Bill Lunn.

So far, it's only been dedicated to bird watching. Lots of long posts on bird watching. I guess if that's Bill interest, then it's his blog to expound on. But for a venture into the "our employees blog on the corporate dime" it's an odd way to go. WMC/5's newsroom is chock full of excellent bloggers (She links to all the others.) who "get" how to report on their jobs, express their views, while not riling too many executive feathers.

Compare to the WREG/3 blogs by Tim Simpson and Pam McKelvy (no link for you!) or the WPTY/24 blog by anchor Cameron Harper, which is actually blog-like and newsy.

While I'm on this, I wish the television news stations could be bothered to plug these blogs with text links on the front page. I know that television is visual and so their websites tend to be infected with lots and lots of graphics. But such stuff slows down page loads really badly, enough so that I use things like AdBlock and FlashBlock in my browser to stop it. So, I sometimes miss announcements because they appear in some graphic that I've turned off.

Again, the folks behind these sites need to visit other webportals, or read up on Internet design philosophy, to make their sites more user (and not advertiser) friendly. Please your readers first; the advertisers will flock to you to get to them. Cater to advertisers and you drive off readers.
A Peek Behind the Curtain

The Commercial Appeal reports on itself in this short column about a $13 million discrimination lawsuit filed against it by two employees.
Downing, 56, a reporter with 35 years of experience at The Commercial Appeal, and Wolfe, 51, design manager of special publications, specifically allege they were demoted or transferred as part of a pattern of discrimination against employees over 40 years of age, many of them women.

"The defendant for years has sought to discourage female, minority and older employees and replace them with younger staff," Downing's lawsuit says.

Each alleges that as they were transferred or demoted, less qualified and younger employees filled positions they had or wanted.
If you want to reduce production costs at an expensive company, one of the first things you do is reduce payroll. Getting cheaper employees, usually by bringing in new ones to replace well-paid older employees, is one way to go.

This would be one explanation for why so many familiar names have disappeared from the Commercial Appeal's pages since Chris Peck took over, but not for why so many new names hail from his old Pacific Northwest stomping grounds.

It's interesting that the story, or at least the online version, has no byline.
Surprising Referral

The State Senate's Ethics Committee has finished it's report on disgraced former Senator John Ford and, surprisingly, is going to forward it to the Shelby County Attorney General's office. Since Ford is no longer a Senator, the Ethics Committee can do nothing about Ford's actions, but their sending this report for possible criminal action is a sign of some real and disastrous findings.

It's also a sign of change in the General Assembly. It's hard to imagine Ford being investigated by previous Ethics Committee chairs, even if much of his wrong-doing predates the present chair, Ron Ramsey. Maybe it's that Ramsey is a Republican? Maybe we're finally seeing the corrupt Democratic Party's hold slipping, and the rocks are at last being overturned for all to see the bugs squirming underneath?

It's a refreshing change, at any rate, and hopefully a harbinger of more investigations to come, and maybe for change to come to the House, under the thuggish and corrupt Jimmy Naifeh. We can only hope.
Harold Ford: America's Soldiers Are "Oil Cops"

An article in the Carroll County News-Leader details a campaign visit by Harold Ford, Jr to a plant there. He had some interesting things to say:
As far as priorities, he says the U.S. must find a way to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and especially Middle East oil.

"It will reduce the likelihood of U.S. soldiers having to serve as oil cops in the Middle East....
"Oil Cops." I hope the many families of Tennessee servicemen and women hear about this one.

He also said:
Another lead item of importance that needs attention is education, says Ford.

"We’re falling behind the rest of the world in producing smart workers and entrepreneurs," he pointed out. "China and India are surpassing us because their workforce is smarter than ours."
So where has the Congressman been as far as Memphis City Schools, which fall in his district? He may be issuing statements and press releases but where's the action down in the trenches?

Keep on digging, Harold. Fall '06 is a long way off and you're climbing a long, long road.
Well... That Didn't Work

I tried not to post snarky yesterday, but a mere thirty minutes after putting up the Complaint-Free Wednesday post I ran across a local blogger saying something so hideous I had to respond.

But I couldn't, and keep my promise. So, I logged off. Also, I was away from the keyboard most all of yesterday, getting my ass handed to me big-time in a game of Epic: Armageddon. I was so tired, dispirited, upset and angry that I didn't even bother to log on and check email. Just got some Haagen-Dasz (Arrgh! Schnuck's was out of Chocolate-Chocolate Chip, so I had to settle for Vanilla Swiss Almond. Arrgh!) and the movie Appleseed to take my mind off things for a while. Even then, I didn't watch the movie, but just went to bed early.

Wednesdays will, for a while at least, be no-posting days, unless I can squeeze in some computer time before leaving to game. Whether I blog when I get home will depend on my generalship skills and how badly I'm beaten. Or if I win. If.

A few commenters on that post mentioned that I'm not "in training" but a fully-developed curmudgeon. Thanks guys! I like to think I'm in the grand tradition that extends back to at least Mark Twain and includes Benchley, Parker, Mencken, Thompson, etc.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Complaint-Free Wednesday

A commenter down below asked,
Oh, do you ever NOT complain?
Obviously someone who doesn't regularly read this blog (where humor and science geekery are frequent) or reads it through the filters of their own preconceptions.

Still, I am a curmudgeon-in-training and it is how some people view ol' H-B, so we'll try this out: Today is Complaint-Free Wednesday. No posts with negative attitude, or complaints or bitchery or mockery or poking fun at someone.

Let's see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Smoking Guns Left Lying Around

Bill Hobbs highlights an investigation by (Nashville's) NewsChannel 5 and Phil Williams (who is the kind of reporter Memphis could use some more of) that shows some astonishing lapses by the FBI when they made arrests of legislators on Tennessee Waltz Day.
Yet, despite images of agents roaming the halls of the state Capitol, the Senate's clerk confirms that agents never executed any search warrants on the very offices that the lawmakers are accused of abusing.

"It's hard to believe that they didn't search here in the chambers where all the action goes on," says activist Ben Cunningham of the Tennessee Tax Revolt group.

Williams asks retired FBI supervisor Ray Eganey, "Is it possible that they missed something?"

"It's possible," Eganey replies.

In fact, while agents did search Ford's personal office in Memphis on the day of the round-up, the Senate's clerk says Ford's employees were allowed to clean out his legislative office for him.
Williams shares what they missed thanks to PDF, including a memo from uber-lobbyist Better Anderson (Mrs Jimmy Naifeh to most folks.) that seems a pretty clear-cut invitation to disgraced former State Senator John Ford to sidestep the State's open meeting laws.

(Strictly speaking, I think that memo would have been for the State Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Ford, and not for the Federal prosecution on bribery, to use. But with Ford gone, it's a moot point now. I hope it will become prima facie evidence of what needs changing when the Assembly reconvenes to reconsider its now-embarrassing, half-assed "ethics reform" of earlier this year.)

There's also a request from an OmniCare representative that's sad reading.

Go check this out. I hope that the FBI and the Federal District Attorney are better at prosecuting this case than they were in executing arrests, or Ford may get his walk.
Fun With Numbers: The FedUp Forum

Seems yet another lawsuit is coming from yet another contractor having problems being paid for work done on the FedEx Forum. It puts the total sued for close to $6.5 million, not including lawyer's fees.

But buried down deep in the story is the eye-opener:
Troshinsky said only "a handful" of subcontractors still have claims. Before they're settled, Mortenson is awaiting a $1.3 million payment for its own change order. That payment would come from the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority, which has indicated that Mortenson could be paid from $1.4 million that remains from funds set aside to pay 2003 windstorm costs. The city and county must approve the use of that money.
the City is going to divert money from windstorm damage repair to pay for the Forum, which supposedly came in on time and under budget at $250 million. I'm really getting sick of being misled all the time by Forum boosters on that $250 million tag.

We already have close to $8 million in work change order payments yet to be made. There's the $35 million in unpayable debt on the now-closed Pyramid, plus the $500,000 to $1 million it takes to keep the building closed but functional. There's more money being spent on consultants to figure out what to do with it. There's somewhere between $12 and $16 million being spent by the City to fix up streets and sidewalks around the Forum. There's the revenue shortfalls from taxes and fees not meeting expectations in the new Forum (taxes on ticket sales, food and beverage, merchandise vendors, etc.). There's the unguessable loss of revenue and tax revenue from shows lost by the Forum's "first refusal" clause on local concert and event promotions. Memphis biggest promoter of events using the Pyramid, Colosseum, etc., (Beaver Productions) has moved his bookings to DeSoto County.

This is just the stuff we know about, and already it's nearing or topping $300 million. Remember that next time someone wants to peddle the "$250 million" price tag. We've already busted it by 20%. How would you feel if the computer or car or home you bought had 20% in surprise, excess costs?

Here's the City filching money from residents who paid for storm repair to fund the FoistedOnUs Forum.

Don't even get me started on how the City is also using construction permit and inspection fees, which all new construction must pay, to demolish the old Baptist Hospital site for the BioMedical Research Initiative. It's not a legal use, but that's not stopping the City.

Three Card Monte Herenton just keeps shuffling the cards fast enough around the table, hoping you'll never keep up. But remember this when he asks for more money. Ask him where the current supply is going.
Who's In Charge?

Remember all the hand-wringing, the wailing, the cries of "What about the children?" when the City Schools were looking at cutting the budget earlier this year? We were told over and over that all the fat had been cut, it was a bare bones budget and there was no waste at all.

Well, not so much. Seems the Memphis City Schools has spent something around $4 million since 2001 without knowing it. Told that nearly $1 million a year for a special school program has been buried down inside a budget request for "professional service expenses" School Board President Wanda Halbert said, ""I don't remember any of that. I don't know what's going on."

It's good to know that the folks charged with watching our money and seeing it goes to good use "don't know what's going on." This follows the mystery shipment of, and threatened lawsuit over, nearly $1 million of cleaning supplies. Halbert again said she didn't know what was going on.

How are we supposed to believe and trust these folks who say the budget is as tight as it can be, when all kinds of misspending and apparent malfeasance is going on? I guess we should be glad Halbert is at least honest in her ignorance, unlike a certain City Mayor, who keeps it all hidden away period. I feel sorry for the person who takes office after him, because they will be forced to deal with daily revelations of what's been going on down at City Hall.

Anyway, can't some news organisation sit down with a copy of the City Schools budget and do some searching to see what else is buried away?
Mr. President, What Do We Do?

Normally, I don't do the "meme" thing. To me they are nothing more than the Internet equivalent of chain letters. But Tim Blair has a great idea. He's invited his leftist-liberal readers to send in their ideas for what they would have done if they were President on 9/11. The comments are interesting and hilarious.

So, I'm going to try it here:

You are the President of the United States on September 11, 2001. How do you respond to the attacks of that day, and to the wider issues of Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq?

The rules are simple: You must say what you would do, not what you wouldn't do, or what Bush shouldn't have done. You must lay out steps, a plan, an approach, whatever. Show us, in your left-liberal view, what should have happened. Bonus points if you extrapolate what would have resulted.

If you send your reply by email, I will print it here as an Update, unedited and without mockery or comment. However, I don't control the comments function (it's Haloscan), so you'll have to accept whatever others say. If you want to be anonymous, I'll honor that, but please come up with a nickname so you aren't Anonymous-1, Anonymous-2, etc.

Ball's in your court, lefty-liberal types. Protect America and please the world. How would you do it?
"Any government that don’t give a man these rights ain’t worth a damn"

One reason so many folks are historically ignorant is the language barrier. No one speaks like the 18th century any more. Take the Declaration of Independence:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Say what? Too many big words and too much Capitalisation. BORING!

American essayist and humorist H.L. Mencken understood that, and in 1921 rewrote the Declaration in the language of Regular Joes:
When things get so balled up that the people of a country have to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are on the level, and not trying to put nothing over on nobody.

All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody else. That any government that don’t give a man these rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of goverment they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any goverment don’t do this, then the people have got a right to can it and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don’t mean having a revolution every day like them South American [guys] and yellow-bellies and Bolsheviki, or every time some job-holder does something he ain’t got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them [guys] and Bolsheviki, and any man that wasn’t a anarchist or one of them I. W. W.’s would say the same. But when things get so bad that a man ain’t hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won’t carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won’t stand it no more.
Now that's more like it! Anyone can understand that. Except for the references to Bolsheviks and Wobblies (IWW), what we'd call Communists and Democrats today. I did have to edit out one word, which was acceptable in Mencken's day but seriously out of bounds today.

Maybe we need to rewrite it again, for the digital, PC generation? After all, it's a living document, right?

Thanks to Jemima for the link.

Monday, July 11, 2005

My Lost Future

Last week I blogged on the Great Lost Future and the corruption of the
ideals it was intended to convey. For those of you who want to see what that future was supposed to look like, try this website: Tales of Future Past.

Atomic-powered cities of skyscrapers that reach the clouds. Buildings so massive that the World Trade Centers fit inside. All connected with walkways and roads laced through the air. Airships everywhere, and flying cars. Robot servants. Glass domes. Jetpacks. Food as pills. Helmets worn like hats.

I get all misty-eyed just paging through it.
Guns, Germs & Steel: Live!

Just happened to catch a PBS presentation, Guns Germs, & Steel, based on the book by Jared Diamond, who also appears in the program. As with the book, the show begins from a question asked of Diamond thirty years ago by a New Guinean friend: "Why do Europeans have so much while New Guineans have so little?" It sparked Diamond and led him to some remarkable conclusions.

The book is not technical and is a completely absorbing read, so I'll over simplify for you here. High-protein grains made it possible for peoples of the Fertile Crescent (modern day Iraq and Iran) to grow excess food, which allowed some members of the community to specialise in non-food production things. Settled communities then led to high-protein domesticated animals, which increased the amount of work one person could do, and thus the number of "excess" people a community could support. It was the unique combination of grains and animals in the Fertile Cresent, not found elsewhere in the world, that gave those people the head start.

When the area became too dry and fragile to support them, those people moved to the East (India) and West (the Eastern Mediterrainean & Europe), taking their knowledge, grains and animals with them. Other parts of the world had good grains (China and rice) or fair enough grains (America with beans, squash and corn) but no domesticatable animals to increase the work load, and so never got the "oomph" to advance until too late. Many parts of the world had poor or no grains and still no animals.

Anyway, to carry forward, Europeans also had a large amount of metal to work with, and the "excess" people to work it. They were also a filthy people, which made them hardier (in some senses) and more dangerous to less dirty people (native American tribes). They also devoted a lot of technological energy to developing weapons to defeat their enemies.

Read the book, as Diamond makes these points convincingly and much more interestingly than I. He makes clear that had any other part of the Earth had nearly the same base foodstuffs, metals and development it, too, would have become as successful as Europe. He scrupulously avoids questions of cultural relativism in favor of more neutrally deterministic forces.

The PBS series is fair enough at following Diamond's theses and ideas, with pretty graphics and recreations. It fails, for me, in that a whole lot of PC is injected that wasn't in Diamond's book. He was pretty agnostic on comparing the "superiority" of cultures or race, the program isn't. We get an actor playing the New Guinean who first prodded Diamond on his way, and his scowling, accusatory face is repeated in the program.

Eurpoean arrival in the Americas and the terrible result of two materially unequal but culturally vibrant civilisations meeting becomes the "conquest." Man's ability to control some of his environment, through domesticating crops, becomes the introduction of Evil in the world. I'm sure there will be much more, and much worse, as the program continues.

But. For anyone interested in learning more about how such mundane things as crops, animals, germs and metal could have such powerful and fateful influence on history, I highly recommend this show. Mondays at 9PM.
We're #1! Look Real Hard, Right There! Look!

A liberal gets all excited because Air America some unknown liberal radio talk show host beat Rush Limbaugh. Well....

In one narrow demographic, in one city of one state, for one rating period.

Air America, with nowhere to go but up, well... went up. A smidge.

After two short paragraphs reporting this, then the liberal goes on for ten more paragraphs on a lot of weird tangents, including gays. He even outs Matt Drudge! Whoa, who knew? Ah well... give 'em a mike and they'll always start in on their pet rants soon enough.

What this person doesn't note is that Bill Bennett launched his radio show at the same time as Air America, but with no PR at all. He's on more stations and has a larger audience than AA, in a market already saturated with conservative talkers. But don't let that stop you!

Be proud, little liberal. Hang in there and some day you'll be big, too.
Strike Three, Morgan

Morgan Spurlock made a "documentary" called "Super Size Me," wherein he ate nothing but the fatty stuff at McDonald's for thirty days. His thesis? This isn't good for you. He proved it, too.

But it was propaganda masquerading as a documentary. He was out to prove common sense, and also to promote himself. He's now got a television show. He reinforces and uses all the usual media assumptions: Big corporations bad; PR is lies; your passivity is being used against you. Media people loved it and he won their favor.

Two other people set out to prove a harder thesis: Can you eat at McDonald's, stay healthy and maybe even lose weight? Turns out you can! But they somehow never got the same media favor and fell into obscurity.

Now comes a third person, Merab Morgan of Henderson, North Carolina, who has so far lost 33 pounds in two months. I doubt you'll see her in the Big Media Shows either, as her message is the same as the first two people. She shows that by taking responsibility for yourself and acting on what you know, you can control your weight. All without weight loss plans, diet books or special foods.

You know, the stuff Big Media wants to sell to you.
Carol, Just Look Back

On her blog, Carol Coletta of Smart City radio and local downtown activism fame writes:
Walking up and down Union, Monroe and Madison between Front and Third, I saw very few people on the street, new (and old) vacancies, and a disregard for the public realm that is beyond belief. MATA's trolley extension has left Main Street an abomination, and the new sidewalks are, in at least one case, too narrow to walk on.
Gee, Carol, it was civic idealists and urban "planners" such as yourself who also got the ear -- and the money and power -- of City Hall who inflicted those very things on us!

Main Street was a thriving shopping district. Urban planners, awash in social idealism and Great Society dreams, wanted to rip out streets (and parking) to create "festival marketplaces." It killed the business district and Main Street has never recovered.

Beale Street was a thriving black business district going through the same down time affecting Main Street. The very clubs and atmosphere that whites like you groove on today as "authentic" were razed by "urban renewal" experts who knew better. What's left of Beale today is a big drunk zone with a patina of authenticity and a lot of cash registers. The Mecca of Tan Memphis has been replaced by the Disney-fied Beale of today.

We didn't need any trolleys, downtown or down Madison. But again, "studies proved" it was a win-win for Memphis. Developers and builders were ecstatic. They don't care what they build or whether it makes sense; they just want to get paid. Federal grant would be "lost" if we didn't build it. So, we did. Business all along Main and Madison paid the real cost; businesses at Overton Square and Cooper-Young fear having that social idealism inflicted on them.

You, Carol, are just the newest generation of the very same social utopians who have been tearing up our cities and wasting billions of citizen's money in an effort to out-think regular people and make them behave. Or to subsidise your own rose-colored lifestyle. Nice work when you have the ear of City Hall to pay for it all.

Too bad I don't benefit. I live in Midtown.
Soup's On

Because the LeftWingCracker is back to blogging again. He's got a few posts up looking at the aftermath, and that's a good description, of the recent Shelby County Democratic Party Ward & Precinct Caucus. Seems a hornet's nest has been thumped by the influx of activist Democrats eager for change in the local party's behavior and focus.

This kind of stuff has been mostly subterranean in local news coverage, and that applies to the Republicans as well. Thanks to the Internet, more folks have a platform to speak to the public about their experiences or agendas, and we all benefit as a result.
A Follower and Not a Leader

This Commercial Appeal editorial is an apt depiction of much that is wrong with the "new" paper.

Nothing that was uncovered in City automobile allowances wasn't already available. But the CA never did the digging and uncovering to find it. They simply accepted the landscape until others laid out the problem and then they reacted.

Average Memphians can see, and we hear about, the various ways people in government take care of each other and hand each other sweetheart deals, but the force that could lead the way in cleaning up government -- making Memphis a better and politicaly "healthier" place to live -- sits back and lets others do its job. Even worse, I'm sure there's lots more they know down at the Union Avenue Death Star that never sees the ink of print.

They are cowards or conspirators at the Commercial Appeal, unwitting dupes at the very best. They are followers, not leaders. They claim a great public trust and responsibility, and seemingly sell it cheaply.

And they wonder why they are so derided and dismissed....
Another Ford Swerve

After praising the Supreme Court's Kelo decision last week, even voting against a House measure to limit the reach of Kelo, Harold Ford, Jr. is now back-pedaling from his comments and actions. Read Hobbs' detailed takedown of Ford and his evolving position. Even Ford's colleagues were "stunned" by his initial reaction.

And that's the key. His initial, off the cuff, reaction was classic big-government liberal: more government reach for the public good as defined by government bureaucrats is a good thing. It was only after he got slammed that he changed his mind and retreated.

That's something for Memphians who live near downtown to remember. Or those of you who now live way the hell out in Hickory Hills (where bus service is scarce) because downtown public housing (near the major bus routes) was converted into smaller, private developments. Or those of you who live near the Fairgrounds now. Your day is coming soon.

If you own a business near the downtown, you owe it to yourself to get educated on City plans for that area, because now you are even more vulnerable to taking. And you can't count on your Congressman to defend you.

Suppose Ford makes it to the Senate, a prospect that is looking less and less likely as the year progresses. His instincts are to expand the reach and power of your government. Is that what you support?
Dang It! I Was Wrong

In the comments and discussion to this post, about WREG's weather hysteria over Hurricane (now Super Soaker) Dennis, I incorrectly said that Hurricane Ivan hit the Carolinas from the ocean and hugged the coast.

I was wrong! As you can , Ivan landed on the Third Coast near Mobile and then tracked up Alabama and into East Tennessee before riding along the crest of the Appalachians across the Carolinas and Virginia, and thence back to sea.

But as the analysis from the site (the National Weather Service) says:
As the depression moved across northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia Friday afternoon, the Piedmont of North Carolina remained in the warm sector of the storm. As late morning and afternoon temperatures reached the 80s, several rain bands became enhanced and produced damaging winds and several tornadoes. Tornadoes, varying in intensity from F0 to F2, touched down producing damage to homes, businesses, and trees in Guilford, Rockingham, Moore, and Chatham Counties.
So my point, while off, was close to correct. The "warm sector" is where energy from the ocean is pulled into the extreme low pressure system that is a hurricane. Dennis didn't have that. Its warm sector got cut off from the ocean fairly soon after hitting land and moving northwest. Ivan's rain bands got more energy; Dennis' didn't.

Also, scroll down the page to look at the rainfall totals. The worst, heaviest Ivan rains fell on the Appalachians; drainage was to the rain-hit eastern coast. Rain in the Mississippi Delta won't flow massively in one direction like that, but will mostly drain into the soil or into creeks and rivers around the area before hitting the Mississippi River (or the Tennessee to the east). Different conditions.

Read the discussion in the Half-Bakered post I linked to above. Commenter "Anonymous" the first, seems to think that WREG wasn't being over-active or over the top. Several of us disagreed. I mean, when Dennis hasn't even hit Cuba yet and WREG is talking up a "Strong Winds Advisory" that the National Weather Service is planning to issue in several days, warning about 40 and 50 mph winds, I think they're jumping the gun at the least. At worst, they are panicking viewers into watching their newscasts, a reprehensible thing to do.

I'm sorry Anonymous1 didn't identify themselves, as they sound like someone in the news business (maybe even from WREG, as some of the comments' wording suggests), and might have some authority to add to their comments that anonymity removes.

Also, yet another example of blog accountability in action! Something felt wrong about the discussion so I went to sources to see what actually happened. Turned out I was wrong. Too bad I didn't do that before going to hit the "Publish" button, but at least I did check myself. And the correction is part of the regular stream of posts, same level of emphasis as the usual flow of hoo-ha you get here. With links to the original booboo. No cryptic comments buried on inner pages or plain-spoken no-graphics flyby here.

Oops. No back-patting. Humility. I was wrong.
Oh, Yeah, That'll Do It

The UN has sent a representative to Japan who looked into the (very real) problem of racism by Japanese against, well, everyone else. The solution?
He said Japan should introduce new legislation to combat discrimination.
Well, there ya go. That'll certainly fix it. Look at how well that approach has worked for America!

But he also let slip this:
He was also concerned that politicians used racist or nationalist themes, as he put it, to whip up popular emotions.
Nationalism! How dare they. And for demagoguery at that! Humph. It's just not done. No sir....
We Stand For... Uh, Give Me a Minute

Someone wandered off message, it seems. Speaking at a weekend fundraiser, Illinois Senator Barak Obama and Florida Senator Bill Nelson let the following slip:
"I see a Democratic Party afraid to say they're Democrats, who voted for the war in Iraq and voted for tax cuts for the wealthy," said Glenn Anderson of Orlando. "Why should I remain a Democrat?"

It was a tough question. But Nelson and Obama tried to answer it.

"The Democrats at times have lost their way," conceded Obama. "We are trying to decide what our core values are."

The criterion for judging the party isn't whether it's to the left or right, "but are we true to our core values," he said. Nobody defined core values.
Exactly. There are two major wings of the Democratic Party fighting for control right now. One can sorta define itself, the other is pure, childish "No!" Until the struggle resolves itself and the victor lays out a plan, the Democrats will flounder.

Republicans have a different problem. They can clearly articulate their principles, they just have set them aside for now as they pig out first in the trough they promised to drain. Bush has also turned a blind eye to one core principle (borders) and no one else will step up to call him on it.

There was also these quotes from the story:
About 500 people rose to their feet in a standing ovation worthy of a rock star as U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., hit the stage... The charismatic black politician from Chicago, who at 43 has achieved almost icon status since his wildly popular speech... Dozens of cell-phone cameras in the audience framed the lanky Obama... [Nelson called him] 'a rock star who carries himself with dignity and humility and is so smart.'"
Harold Ford, Jr. must be so envious right now at being upstaged.
Quick! Hide The Bong!

Amusing email on DRUDGE from the host of a Supreme Court nominee party held over the weekend. Concerned because his party had been selected by the Washington Post for possible coverage by the paper, the host sent out an email to attendees:
The momentum is finally shifting away from extremism. We will not accept a [sic] extremist nominee.
Notice the language control: Call your enemies "extremists" so that, by definition, you are the normal ones.
This is not about conservatism vs liberalism or Republicans vs Democrats, this is all about extremism vs moderation and we're on the side of moderation.
Again, paint the enemy clearly, first. Remove all other labels so only the one you want remains.

Remember that last part, about moderation.
We don't want to come across as leftist, liberal activists. We want to come across as we are- regular folks who are finally saying enough is enough to the extremists....
Translation: they don't want to come across as they are.
...that we're not falling for their extremist rhetoric anymore and we're finally going to expend the effort necessary to get our country back.
If it's so "extremist" then how did more than half the electorate fall for it? Who is this new "they" that "fell" for their rhetoric?

They are "finally going to expend the effort?" What was 2004? A test? A warm-up? An "almost"? A mulligan?
Oh, because a photographer will be here, might I suggest we put away our ‘Bush is a Liar’ t-shirts. Let's look like they do.
So, the "extremists" regularly dress like they could appear in the paper, while "we" dress in witty t-shirts with pungent messages that apparently aren't newspaper ready. "We" need to control ourselves.

At least until after the paper leaves, then the Bush pinatas can come out.