Friday, August 05, 2005

Oh Poo!

Wednesday seems to have knocked me off my pins more than I thought. Sorry not to have returned to steady blogging by now.

I will be away from the keyboard almost all day tomorrow, so I hope I can get back into the saddle on Sunday.

Did I not warn that saying anything about plans on the blog usually will mess me up? You think I'd learn.... Again, sorry for the lapse.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Hmmm.... According to Pirate Monkeys, I am:

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz
Harry Potter Personality Quiz
by Pirate Monkeys Inc.

"Animated when provoked." Well, that's true.

I'm not a Harry Potter reader. (So why did I take the quiz? I blame Len.) I've seen the movies, but that's it. Is Snape the guy played by Alan Rickman? If so, that's cool. I wouldn't mind being Alan Rickman.

Today's "Election"

A commenter asked the other day if I had anything to say on today's "election." Well, first of all, it's not an election; it's a primary. An election is when voters select someone to represent them in a government office. A primary, on the other hand, is when a party winnows down the field of candidates to one nominee of that party to run in an election.

Elections are, in Tennessee, the province of the Counties. But thanks to the power and monopoly of the Democratic and Republican Parties, we also handle their primaries for them. Why should they pay, when they can foist the cost onto voters?

Since they are intra-party, I tend not to pay a lot of attention to local primaries.

On the Republican side, they wasted no time in Senate District 29, former home of John Ford. He was barely indicted before the Shelby County Republican Party had already put forth Terry Roland to replace him. No viable or sensible reason was given, they just wanted to get a marker on the seat to forestall competition and to get word out they considered it "in play." I don't know Roland, but he's been campaigning as the kind of guy who puts principles over party. Given that he's the number four guy locally in the Republican party, you'll forgive my skepticism of his claims.

On the Democratic side, we have three current State Representatives vying for the seat, and a couple of Democratic activists and workers; something like eight candidates in all. I've said in the past that when you have a lot of folks running for opportunities in a party, it's either a sign of disarray and struggle for control or of healthy competition by a large, vigorous party. It can also be a sign of greed.

I think it's no accident that three long-time Representatives want to "trade up" to the Senate. It's a lucrative position, as the Tennessee Waltz and TennCare investigations are showing. There's more power, too. Who wouldn't want their hands on that?

The only thing I'll watch is to see how the Democratic vote splits amongst the candidates. Which Representative gets the nod? I'm also curious to see how Ophelia Ford does. According to this week's Memphis Flyer, she got a last-minute campaign put together that is fairly impressive (and expensive). How she places against the others will be a small barometer of the Fords' fortunes. I say small because she is a political neophyte despite her lineage.

INSTANT UPDATE: Henri Brooks, a Representative, and Ophelia Ford, a Ford, go into a runoff. How about that Shelby County. You get to pay for that, too. No one did better in the Democratic primary than a third of the vote; most did half that or less. Apparently being a Ford does still count for something.

Of course, if Henri Brooks does win a promotion, then we'll pay for the special election to replace her. Don't you love it?
Bad Education

Memphis City Schools released their No Child Left Behind results. What's in the Commercial Appeal is pretty much taken directly from the State of Tennessee website and press releases.

It struck me that something was missing and it didn't take long to figure it out: specific numbers and last year's data. We don't get total numbers of schools, nor the total numbers in categories. Nor do we get last year's numbers by which to compare progress or decline this year. Almost always, when you see this kind of evasion it's to cover bad news. My question: how bad?

Look at some of the columns and what you'll see is lots of schools marked "improving" but none marked "declining." It's the lack of historicity and comparison that makes me suspicious. I did some Googling to find last years' numbers, even tried to check the City's and State's sites, but no luck. Anyone have a source of last year's numbers?

I remember last year and the year before, when discussion of the numbers and the changes dominated the news. This year was different, with coverage much more vague and prominent mentions of the "Celebration" list, since it was at the top. Clever move, educators and administrators.

Kay Brooks, Tennessee education blogger, also noticed some troubling Memphis numbers. I emailed her and if she can answer some of the above, I'll pass it on.
Don't Get Overly Excited

Don't make much of this, as it happens all the time but most folks don't have blogs to advertise their opinions, but at least one Memphian has planted his flag forRosalind Kurita over Harold Ford Jr in the '06 Senate race.

Autoegocrat lays out his reasons with links to Kurita's website. I know quite a few Memphis liberal bloggers who are also dissatisfied with Ford, but whether this leads to a movement or is just the usual scattered counterpoint remains to be seen.

The Pesky Fly warns Autoegocrat to slow down, while hinting that he, too, might be persuaded.
Thin Skins

Darrell Phillips summarises local media relations of this year rather nicely, and then presents the latest demonstration of how thin-skinned and petty its making some people.

The media are operating on an "I need it before 4PM" schedule and expecting cooperation. It would be nice to see the local media slow it down a bit, though I doubt that will happen. Too many I know in the local television news business make a near-fetish of "being first," of getting a story out there before its been digested or even finished its course. I think the whole local news culture is broken, to be honest, but identifying where and why is a huge undertaking no one wants to lose profits exploring.

Local governments are abusing legitimate powers to harrass the media. Herenton's imperial sense of self is leading him down wrong roads. And the pervasive sense of personal entitlement in local government leads too many politicians to demand a control of the message or its delivery they aren't entitled to. Government could also help by always remembering that an announcement or breaking story will need supporting paperwork for the media. It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised.

It's a dysfunctional relationship. Government has a job to do, a part of which is keeping citizens informed of what it's doing. The local media is not necessarily an automatic part of doing that job, though it frequently is. They are operating a literal "just in time" operation that requires several hours a day be filled with fresh product. Many news organisation these days are operating with shoe-string budgets and under-staffed operations for the job they've undertaken. Add to this the natural reticence of public-sector people to other folks questioning their actions and demanding answers of them. Add to that a desire to protect political careers and perks, and keep the inconvenient secret. It gets ugly.

I thought watchdogs had teeth? The media has the upper hand, eventually, but don't appear to have the time or the willingness to change the relationship. Too bad.

Hi kids. I had a bad start to yesterday. I went out just a bit later than I usually do and was trying to cross Union (right where the police cruiser flipped over the day before) when I see a bus coming down the street. That time of the morning there is only one, and it's mine. He was 10 minutes early (which is unheard-of) and rolling fast.

I had to step out into the middle of the street to make sure I flagged him down, then had to squeeze between cars to get in front of him to make sure he stopped. I've had busses roll right past me while I'm waving like crazy before.

Anyway, I climb on and it's not my regular driver, but another one I recognise from the same route. But I look down the bus and see a whole lot more folks than usual inside. My spidey-sense was tingling. I should've checked then, but was more intent on getting going. So was the driver.

It wasn't until he rolled past my usual turn-off I realised something was wrong. By the time I hit the bell and talked with the driver, we were waaaaay past the intersection I needed to get to the place I was going to have to walk to. I turned out this was an earlier bus that was running at least fifteen minutes late himself. I should've waited back on Union.

By the time I walked back to the intersection, nearly half-a-mile, I saw the bus I usually ride turning out. Sigh.... So, I had to walk another mile to get where I was going. I was soaked through with sweat by the time I got there, hot and tired. It carried through the whole day.

Then, a package I've been waiting for showed up while I was out. I have to be here today for it. Sometime this afternoon.

The only good news was in my weekly Epic game. This time I fought Mark to a deadlock that dragged on two more turns before he offered me a draw! I didn't have many forces left by then; he'd have won if we continued. But it was good to know I stopped him from a clear, easy win. I even surprised him a time or two, forcing him into perturbedness.

On the other hand, he's getting bolder and more confident with his Warlord Titan weapon (an enormous, overpowered war machine; a mobile artillery platform) and that causes me no end of trouble. I have nothing to go up against it. It just wanders where it will, killing what it wants unopposed. The only strategy I've got is to keep it from moving forward by throwing pickets in front of it. He has to waste time or firepower blowing them away to clear his path first.

Anyway, got home very, very tired. I'm getting up to speed today, so it will be later today before anything gets posted. But it will get posted. Mayor Herenton's action yesterday in regards to the parks controversy is typical of Herenton and we'll look at what it says about him, and what it means for Memphis. I'll have the Ford Unity breakfast post, finally, and if you're lucky and very, very good, I might write up the "Q&A With Mr. Mike" post that's been flaoting in my head for a while.

Or I might just rent a movie and switch off my mind. Who knows?

Anyway, more coming later. Thanks for stopping in. Half-Bakered's traffic has taken another bump up lately and I'm grateful for the new readers -- and the continuing regular readers. Thanks, y'all.

INSTANT UPDATE: I didn't check Mark's site first, but sure enough he has a good recap of our game. He also has interesting news about Americans Coming Together, and a picture that will break the hearts of beer drinkers everywhere. Start at the top of The Conservative Zone and keep scrolling.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It's Just One Day

Just a reminder, Wednesday I will be away from the keyboard all day. With luck, I'll be able to squeeze something in late in the evening.

I have several things I want to blog about, but I'm afraid to list them here. When I've done that in the past, I end up not doing it.

The WestRogers thing got me thinking: anything y'all would like to see me blog about? Topic, issue, person, what? No guarantees, I'm just curious.

Later, taters!
Dang it! I Missed It

Earlier this morning, I was playing with Miss Kitty in the back room when I heard a police siren coming west on Union. No big deal; it happens all the time, day and night, in this stretch. But then I heard squealing brakes, a solid metallic crunch and then the siren cut off. Uh oh. I started to go outside to investigate, but decided not to.

Now I wish I had. As the story above reports, a police cruiser hit another vehicle on Union head on, flipped and landed upside down in the Kinko's parking lot! That's barely more than a block from here! Wow. Fortunately, no one was killed.

Accidents on Union are nothing new. The stretch where this accident happened is just down from Avalon and Union, where there are similar fender-benders all the time. The problem isn't emergency vehicles so much as folks turning off or onto Union. Drivers are always trying to beat traffic, which can be tough to do. Always in a hurry; rush, rush, rush.

The stretch of Union right in front of the Schnuck's market is another bad spot. There are three entrances to turn into, lots of traffic from the corner of Union and McLean, drivers leaving Schnuck's leaping across traffic to go west, more drivers stacked up on Union trying to turn in. Accidents are a regular occurence there.

Union Avenue, for those who just moved here, was a variable-traffic flow street for many years. The two center lanes would change throughout the day: westbound during morning rush and eastbound during evening rush. It was a nightmare to drive, and doubly so with thoughtless, speedy, selfish Memphis drivers. The City finally went to the present three lanes each way a few years ago. I was opposed to the change (Learn to drive and pay attention, you wantwits!), but the accident rate on Union dropped by something like 25%, so it was the right thing to do.

I think the City may now have to explore the idea of dedicated turn lanes for at least some part of Union. Maybe from Cleveland to Cooper? But will the squeeze in a turn lane, making Union a very crowded five lane road, or will they narrow the lanes and make it seven?

Either way, it's still going to be scary for pedestrians like me trying to cross Union. Even when I cross at the intersection of Avalon and Union, or at Idlewild to get to Schnuck's, I'm taking my life into my hands. Even when the traffic is all going one way, I still look the other way, just in case. I've seen drivers go backwards on short stretches of Union, just for convenience.

Maybe we need more stop lights?
Doing the Media's Job

One of the things I've complained about is the local media (print and television) doing a piss-poor job of explaining the history of the Nathan Forrest statue and the naming of the parks that are the center of controversy of late. Leave it to a blogger to do the job: Erasing the Confederacy. Thanks, AlphaPatriot!

We today find it easy to look back and apply our expectations to people who lived in different times and different social attitudes. Humans also have a terrible tendency to reduce complex people to simplistic hero/villain stereotypes. Forrest was without doubt a man of his time. He began with one mindset and changed to embrace another. He was a harsh man shaped by harsh times and a wilderness frontier (which Tennessee was then) life. We can no more judge him by our standards today than we can judge the slaves of his day by the standards of their white masters.

That said, I'm not opposed to renaming or repurposing parks. It depends on why it is being done. In the case of the three Confederate parks, it's political grandstanding by a politician who is facing terms limits. He wants to generate a political image as a crusader and a "fighter for the people" so he can set himself up for his next government job. God forbid he should work honestly for a living.

But I like the idea of Confederate Park becoming Civil War Park, with new monuments to balance the "sides." The cannons should stay, as they emphasise our riverfront history and the importance of the Mississippi. I'm fine with moving Forrest and his wife back to Elmwood Cemetary, where they were originally buried. (Or was it National? I might be mixed up here.) The statue would go with them; a place of honor can be dedicated there. The land that is currently Forrest Park reverts to his descendants. I'm guessing they sell it to UT Memphis, who keep the park space for now. Maybe Memphis finally gets Cancer Survivor Park?

Jefferson Davis Park is a thornier issue. Do we erect an Abraham Lincoln statue facing him and rename it Civil War Presidents Park? I don't think so. Can anyone tell me why we built a park (or renamed an earlier park space) to him? I'm not sure sending the Davis statue to another community and renaming it Ida B. Wells Park is the answer. Not that Wells shouldn't be honored; she should. But how many Memphians even know why she deserves it? Why that space?

Why not a Mark Twain Park? He chronicled America of that time, both the good and the bad. Or Frederick Douglass Park? Does he even have a park in this country dedicated to him? Honoring him would speak to the era and to the side of freedom and abolition of slavery. It would tie in nicely to the Civil Rights Museum. Though, again, I worry how many Memphians even know who he is.

I don't know what to do about Davis Park, really. Any other ideas? Any good defenses of keeping it the same?
AlphaPatriot, Part Two

He's on a roll lately, so he gets another link.

Memphians are very concerned with the murder rate of late. But you think we have it bad? Not like this. They get little press in Middle America, but the narco-terroristas dominate the Mexican border on the Mexico side, and are routinely making forays into America, with impugnity.

We in Memphis have a growing Hispanic community, and I'm proud to say that they seem to be welcomed. It's large enough to support its own AM radio station (AM1040 Radio Ambiente) which is fun to listen to. The Hispanics moving here are largely congregating along Jackson and Summer Avenues, between the Grahamwood and National Cemetary areas, though Hispanic stores can also be found along parts of Lamar and southeast Memphis.

You'd think, with Memphis being at the nexus of transit from the west and to the north (We are the intersection of I-40 and I-55.), and with an established Hispanic community to work from, that we'd be seeing some of that narco-crime. But that's apparently not happening. Or if it is, its being obscured by the way the crimes are reported and recorded.

That's not to say Memphis isn't a dangerous place. It can be and sometimes is. But I wouldn't live anywhere else.
More on Memphis

Another look at Memphis, albeit short, from a pulp faction.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Myers Changes Mind

The news is late-breaking, but I found a link. Barry Myers, always the bagman now and never the rising star anymore, has changed plea in the Tennessee Waltz investigation. He will plead guilty to two charges having to do with extortion and in exchange all the other charges (six nine, in all) will be dropped. I'll update with the specifics when I find them.

[Digression: I tried the Commercial Appeal website. They have a link, but it's wrong and forces you through registration before taking you to a 404 error page. I tried some obvious variations, but they didn't work either. If it gets fixed, I'll probably post it. Maybe.

It's working now. Nothing more to add to the story.]

I think the main thing is that you don't get these kinds of plea deals unless you give up a lot in return. Roscoe Dixon and Kathryn Bowers are probably sweating bullets tonight. Before the press slapped him with the "bagman" label, Myers was a protege of Dixon and Bowers. He was even in line to get run for Bowers' old House seat. If there was malfeasance, Myers would be the guy to know.

If they offered the deal now, prosecutors must be satisfied that his information is worthwhile. Whether this speeds up the handing down (up?) of indictments to more people -- rumored since the day Tennessee Waltz broke -- is an open question. I wouldn't want to be a Democratic leader tonight.

UPDATE MONDAY 11PM: All the television news stations have reports now, but there's no new information. The only extra that I've learned is what I posted in comments. Myers will cop to the conspiracy charges, which will strengthen the State's cases against Dixon and Bowers.

LeftWing Cracker sounds some fearful notes. He's worried about the Republican attack ads to come. That's true, but I'm quite sure the Democrats will find every impropriety Republicans commit, like in the post down below this, and blare those too. By the time the election rolls around, I think most Tenneesseans will sick of their State government and be ready to chuck all of them, lock, stock and barrel.

After all, saturated bombing only leaves scorched earth.

UPDATE MIDNIGHT MONDAY: Oops! Missed one. Darrell Phillips has some behind the scenes information, as well as the familiar "more indictments are coming" refrain.

UPDATE TUESDAY MORNING: Thaddeus Matthews offers some personal observations and a warning. Keep an eye on his blog today, as he's promising something about Harold Ford Jr later.
Half-Bakered Really Has Arrived

I must be someone now, because I just got my very first issues spam! Half-Bakered gets letters and comments all the time with folks disagreeing with me, or wanting to bring something to my attention, or threatening me, but this is the first time I can recall where some PR firm has tried to co-opt me into a media campaign!

Originally, I was going to talk about this without bringing the company's name into it, but when I went to their site and saw this, I quickly changed my mind:
Over budget and behind schedule, the Memphis Area Transit Authority's downtown trolley line was besieged by negative publicity. Business owners were upset by the construction disruption; the public was cynical. WestRogers stepped in and developed a campaign to introduce the trolley and the revitalized mall. The extensive publicity helped draw 450,000 riders in the first six months.
Regular readers know my thoughts on the trolley and the developer bonanza / government boondoggle it is.

The company's website is long on talking about hitting "bull's eyes" for their customers, but I'd say they were aiming at the wrong target here. Don't they even read this blog? Sheesh....

Here's the email, with individual names and identifying information removed:
Mike, I encourage you to start taking a look at the battle over a special use permit for RACE (my client). It's an example of bureaucrats specifically developing a new interpretation of existing law to destroy a business.

This can't be good for economic development in the Memphis area.

Call if you have any questions.
Have I ever blogged on this issue, ever? Do I blog on economic development? Not as such, no. Did the emailer include any places to look for information? Any links, the true mark of someone wanting you to learn more via the Internet? Nope, it's "call me." That doesn't inspire confidence, no sir.

Now, this company/person will likely say, "I was just bringing this to your attention. I was completely above board." Plausible, but given that PR campaigns are your profession, and you larded your email with all kinds of non-Internet contact information (Even mentioning "Senior Counsel!" Lawyers. Yeah that'll get my attention and sympathy.), color me unimpressed. There are sneakier ways of running a viral campaign. Learn them, if you're going to try this.

The professional journalists who read this blog are likely wondering what my fuss is about. They must see a ton of this stuff every day. And if they work at the Commercial Appeal, probably publish it too. I'd imagine you're inured to it by now, like mosquitos on a summer evening.

Well, like I said, this is my first. So, like a kitten with a new toy, I'm going to play with it.

Next time, WestRogers, know what you're doing before you do it. If you want to co-opt my blog, either read it and know what I'm likely to talk about, and my likely point of view, or offer me something worthwhile for a piece of my soul. Deal straight, not sideways.
Where's the Beef?

What if they gave a protest and no one came? Does that mean the maximum majority is fine with the issue? Or will the media cover the protest anyway, never mentioning the empty hall?

WMC had a story about the Nashville "bell ringing" protest against TennCare cuts. To judge by the camera, fewer than a dozen folks showed up, though some effort was taken to use tight shots to minimise the embarrassment. The story did make sure to mention the protesters in the Governor's office. I'm guessing they needed something to fill out the otherwise non-story story.

Even the protesters inside the Governor's office seem to have fizzled. They get locked in every night, when the working people leave. No one seems to care. Their story was off the news for nearly two weeks until this "bell ringing" story.

I'm pretty surprised that the socialist / compassionate Left has fumbled so badly. The press loves these kinds of stories: average people with troubles being crushed by the evil, wealthy government. Threats, conflict, pictures of emotional people.

And yet, this has been something that hasn't caught fire across the state the way the income tax protests did. You didn't have to have organisations bussing in folks (except those supporting the income tas: unions); people drove themselves. It was truly a grassroots, populist expression of the people of Tennessee.

The TennCare protests have largely been led by leftist and religious/political organisations. There's almost no spontaneous popular expression going on here. No momentum, no energy, no passion.

Could it be this isn't as popular with Tennesseans as TennCare supporters think? I'd say numbers don't lie.
Dump 'Em All

I saw a Nashville news story carried by a local station over the weekend. It took a while to find it, but here it is, from WSMV.

The reporter uses Lois DeBerry's $200 gambling trip as a jumping off point to look at other legislators on the General Assembly's sham "ethic reform" committee. It's not so much the money sloshing around -- that's nothing new at all -- but the attitude of those in Nashville to accepting it. There's no sense of wrongness, no inkling that it might be improper to accept gifts from entities that have no vote but lots of money. For all that the Democrats got hit hard by the Tennessee Waltz investigation, Republicans don't come up smelling too sweet either.

My attitude is: Dump 'em all. Flush the place, scrub it out and bring in a new crop. Take the broom and beat the rug until all the bugs fall out. There is no sense (that I see, in general) of humility or public service there in Nashville. Tear it down and start over.

For heaven's sake, State Representative Ulysses Jones was approached to take a bribe for the E-Cycle legislation, but declined. He did take a "campaign contribution" and still co-sponsored their legislation! He doesn't seem to have ever reported the attempted bribe, and in news reports he seemed blase about the whole incident. That's the atmosphere those folks in Nashville live and breath in.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." I think it's time.
A Ford Overview

An email correspondent pointed me to this Tennessean story about the Ford family. It's a broad look at their history and relationaships, both within the family and with the Memphis community. It's a fair enough primer, if you don't know the story.

The writer, Bonna de la Cruz, is someone I don't particularly trust. She distinguished herself, in the bad way, with her writing and coverage of the Income Tax Wars on 2002.

There are some problems. For one, she talks about Ophelia Ford's candidacy for the State Senate as though it's a fully fledged campaign, and mention her previous run as though she's just another Ford politician. No mention of her being dissed by her brothers when she ran last time, being told "it's not her time."

De la Cruz mentions twice the dollar value of John Ford's homes, for some reason, but only notes that Harold Ford own homes in the Hamptons and in Miami. Nor does she note Harold Jr's private education up East. Nor does she talk very much about the younger generations of Fords. Nor does she mention Melvin Ford's recent run-in with the cops.

There is a little snipe. In the impressive sidebar to the main story -- filled with links to other Tennessean stories, bits of trivia and other family facts; the Commercial Appeal could learn from this -- the paper notes that a dorm was named after Harold Sr and John when they promised in 2001 to donate $500,000 towards its construction. In four years, they've only managed to give $50,000. Oops!

Anyway, part one was yesterday, and the series concludes today. Well worth a lookover.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Pause There Morocco

No point to this post. I just wanted to use that phrase, a favorite from The Merchant of Venice, which is loaded with memorable stuff. I always liked the sound of it. It's quintessentially Elizabethan, just rolls right off the tongue.

"Pause there Morocco."

Portia's deceased father, extremely wealthy, wants to assure his daughter marries well after his death, so he sets up a puzzle. Three caskets (small but ornately decorated chests) on a table; one gold, one silver, one lead. Each has a small riddle above it intended to tempt or warn off a choice. Inside one is a picture of Portia. Whoever can divine the meaning of the riddles, then chooses correctly, wins her hand.

The Prince of Morocco is one suitor. Acceptable to Portia because he is wealthy, handsome and charming, though she loves Basanio. He reads the riddles and mulls them over. He's about to choose one, but reconsiders.

"Pause there Morocco."

Like I said, no point, just some fun.
Life on Monroe

Early this afternoon, there were a couple of guys outside my apartment, downstairs on the corner. I've seen them both before; they appeared about a month ago. I don't think they live on Monroe, but hang out here. Judging by their associates, they're part of the drug trade going on in the complex.

So, one walks up the street and onto the property as if he lives here and he's talking to someone. I look down and see the other guy sitting right below my kitchen door, massaging his bare feet. Remember, neither one lives here. They just act like it.

About this time my neighbor from the other end of the building pulls up in her car and stops right next to them. I'm working on dinner (beef stew, mmmmmm....), so I'm not really paying attention, but when I step back out and look down, she's got her window open, a plastic bag on her lap. One of the guys has a bunch of singles fanned out in his hand resting on the car door. They're talking business. She rattles the bag, pulls something out and they trade. I didn't see the rest of it as I went back inside quietly, to not draw notice.

A moment later, they were all gone. Drove off or in the back, I don't know. Just poof and gone.

The neighbor's boyfriend is in jail, from an arrest several weeks ago. His third this year. He bonded out the first two; reportedly, $7500 and $16,000. This latest bond is supposed to be $175,000; he didn't make that. His girlfriend is still running the business, going around strapped, and has recruited an 8 or 10 year old cousin to help out.

The other drug dealer, the one who lives directly behind me, is still there. I can hear the music and see movement through the blinds. Haven't seen him lately. One night, morning really, I watched someone in the kitchen fire up a crack pipe. Otherwise, it's fairly quiet back there, except for the trickle of traffic.

And the downstairs lightbulbs that are either unscrewed or stolen regularly, to keep it dark down there. The rest of us -- the ones who actually pay rent and live here -- don't like coming up to the building in the dark, especially with all the transients hanging around.

Yeah, tell me Hustle & Flow doesn't portray the real Memphis.
Thought for the Day

I watched The Merchant of Venice last night, the new Al Pacino version, which was extraordinarily good (and more on that in another post) but one speech by Shylock jumped out at me.

At the time that they play is set, the Catholic Church forbids lending money for interest (called usury). The only people who are able to do so are the Jews of Europe. But they are despised and hated. The Jews of Venice, where the play is set, are required to wear a red hat during the day and at night must return to the walled enclave, called the Geto, where the doors are locked until dawn.

Still commerce requires lending, and nascent capitalism requires interest, so the Jews perform an invaluable service. Shylock enters into a debt with Antonio, but he has a twist. Suspecting a chance to revenge himself, or amuse himself, he agrees to lend an enormous sum for no interest. The only catch: if Antonio fails to pay the debt (called a bond), Shylock may take a pound of flesh. (Yeah, this play is the source of that phrase. Same for a favorite, but hard to use, word I love: wantwit) Antonio, having five ships at sea and expecting an enormous windfall, readily agrees.

And then misfortune strikes all around. Shylock's daughter runs off to marry a Christian member of Antonio's circle of hangers-on. Antonio's ships don't come in. Shylock decides to have his revenge by carrying out the letter of the bond against Antonio.

Shylock is approached by everyone to not go through with it, but his anger, his thirst for revenge, is unstoppable:
SALERIO. Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh. What's that good for?

SHYLOCK. To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.

He hath disgrac'd me and hind'red me half a million; laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies.

And what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
A powerful lesson in bigotry for us all, even today, four hundred years later.

The anti-Jewish vileness at the heart of the play is difficult for us today, but the lessons on making bonds (giving your word) and carrying that through regardless of cost are still vital. So is the play's entreaty for mercy. It is the source of another famous phrase: The quality of mercy is not strained.
PORTIA. Then must the Jew be merciful.
SHYLOCK. On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.
PORTIA. The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this-
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Again, words of wisdom for us today.
Another Sunday, Another Chris Column

I suppose we should be happy that the Commercial Appeal's Editor in Chief Chris Peck regularly writes a column. Not because he says anything particularly noteworthy or necessary but more for the look into the mind that shapes the paper that wants to shape the debates in Memphis.

Excuse me... Greater Memphis. As opposed to the old, regular-sized Memphis, I suppose.

Today's installment is a look at the First Amendment, through the lens of debate on Hustle & Flow and renaming several Memphis parks. Well, through the lens of Peck, seen through the lens of the Commercial Appeal, seeing the city. Or something.
Freedom of expression can be so hot and bothersome.

In Greater Memphis, we're getting red-faced and sweaty this summer over two fascinating exercises in free expression.

One involves a movie about a pimp and his whores.

The other involves a long-dead general from the Civil War and whether a park should be named after him.

You know what I'm talking about.
Not really, no. Renaming the parks isn't that big of an issue with most folks I know. It only comes up if we start talking politics. Otherwise, we talk about the nice weather this summer, our families and friends, work, etc. The people I talk to from and in Memphis who have seen Hustle & Flow -- which, by the way, is far from a majority of the population; many couldn't care less -- uniformly like it. They're confused that a pretty accurate and sympathetic (which is the real source of the debate, by the way) view of a huge slice of Memphis life is causing upset.

But this is what the crew of the Commercial Appeal and the folks they hang out with perceive is what "Memphis is talking about." What they believe is what you should believe. The sniffy set disdains H&F, so you should too, while still being a booster of the Memphis film industry, which just needs to attract better, family, films. And reflect positively on the city.
At the opening of the movie in Memphis this month, Mayor Willie Herenton and other African-American leaders were trying to say nice things about growing the movie industry in the Mid-South, even as they gritted their teeth over the portrayal of Memphis as a seedy haven of down-and-out, dope-smoking guys who run girls out of rusty cars.
But we are! At least for a big part of the city. You know, the "not the downtown" parts. I've got hoes working my street right now. Just saw one this forming and she'll be back tonight. The number of people on my street who "smoke dope" approaches a majority; the number of crack smokers is a problem. That's the reality; my reality; Memphis' reality. Doing glowy stories about tourists being awed by an over-large ranch house that a pop star once lived in doesn't change that, though it disempowers and suppresses a lot of Memphians.

Note where the Commercial Appeal went in this comparison, a Mayor and "leaders." Because we should follow our leaders, who are smarter, better informed, and more virtuous than the masses. That's how Peck sees the proper flow of things.
That's free expression for you. Craig Brewer doesn't have to look at Memphis in the same way as a politician.
"...but he ought to." Can't you just hear that coming next? Brewer made his film because he wanted to show the Memphis he doesn't see anywhere else. What should that be saying to Peck?
Then there is the snarl of competing ideas around the proper resting place for Nathan Bedford Forrest.

He's the Confederate general from Memphis whom historians recall as a brilliant cavalry figure in the Civil War, as well as someone who made a fortune as a slave trader and became an early supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.
As I've said before, the Commercial Appeal could go a very long way in informing the community -- isn't that their mission? -- by simply giving us a history of Forrest's life, a history of the early Klan and its successor that had the same name but a more insidious purpose, a history of Forrest's graves and burial places, even digging into their own archives for the reporting from the time, bigoted and biased though it will be. They could do that, report dry facts undisputed by nearly everyone, but choose not to. Instead the paper chooses to set everything talked about throught he lens of conflict and comparison. Guest columnists must come in pairs, or sometimes threes with two supporting the Commercial Appeal's viewpoint. Reporting must be about the conflict between opposing forces. Rarely, exceedingly rarely, does the paper simply report facts on long-running issues and let the readers reach their own conclusions through them.
The Memphis City Council has been asked to decide whether Forrest's remains should stay buried beneath his statue in a Downtown Memphis park called -- you guessed it -- Forrest Park. Or, alternatively, whether the park's name should be changed and Forrest's remains moved to a less visible location.

Some say he's a historic figure who should be remembered as a war hero. Others say he's a symbol of what was wrong with the Old South and therefore should be packed away to a less prominent locale.
See what I mean. "Some" vs. "others."

And the Council wasn't "asked to decide." Walter Bailey's subcommittee of the Parks Commission sent up that request, but the Commission itself watered that down to a less confrontational "request to consider and discuss." The Commercial Appeal has been sort of glossing this over.
At an elementary level, we all endorse the idea of free speech.

Most of us played the "free speech" card early, beginning around the seventh grade.

The declaration, ''I'll say what I want and you can't stop me," sings loudly in the memories of adults who recall a first encounter with a truculent teen speaking up for the artistic value of a bad band, a ridiculous fashion statement or a loud hair color.

Hahahahahaha! "Elementary," get it? "Truculent teens" who just spout off anything they want, without responsibility. Like bloggers and talk radio! They need parents in control don't they? They need a Commercial Appeal to tell them how to behave, don't they?
The complexities of free expression, however, soon overwhelm the simplistic notions of just being able to say what you want.

Free expression, finally, isn't about the right to say what you want.
What complexities? "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. Profoundly simple. Remember this, as we'll be coming back to it.

What journalists want the people to believe is that "free speech" is something complex that requires training, mental rigors, and editors to achieve. It requries some things to be deprecated and others brought forward. That requires experience and judgment. That requires journalists.

Feh! That's guild thinking. Guilds controlled a great many professions once upon a time, deciding who got in and protecting members from outsiders, exacting high prices for membership, demanding great sacrifice for its benefits. They still exist today. Look at doctors and lawyers. Journalists want the same thing, to protect their industry and livelihoods from the rabble outside the barred doors. Feh.

That's part of what Peck's peddling here. "Free speech requires careful, considered, skilled practitioners. Like us. And the people we vet."

Put another way: Free speech for me, but not for thee.
It's about the other person's right to say what he or she wants, even if it doesn't agree with your own faith or politics.
Which is the right to say what you want. The First Amendment entails no obligation to listen or to respect another viewpoint, much less agree with it. I can say anything I want. You can listen, disagree, debate, scream in my face, walk away, find others to agree with you and come back, whatever. It's not rocket science.
Freedom of expression, free speech, freedom of religion, all are core ideas wrapped up and guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They are notions on which we have built a nation of free churches, opposing political parties and the most vibrant culture of books, music and motion pictures anywhere in the world.

And those freedoms in the First Amendment, while there for us, are more important as a shield to protect those who don't agree with us.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. The first Amendment exists to prevent the Federal government from interfering in dissenting political speech, which was often religious, too.

More importantly, Peck displays a common and pernicious misundersanding of the First Amendment (1A), one common with those on the Left. The 1A isn't a guarantee coming from the government to the people. It was put in place precisely because folks like Peck and his ilk misunderstand what the Constitution is.

The Constitution is not a source of power and rights which then flow from it, managed by the Federal government and its bureaucracies. As the Declaration of Independence says, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." All political power resides in and flows from the people. Governments are created when the people cede some of those powers in order to achieve greater and necessary goals. Governments only have those powers specifically given to them. No more.

But James Madison and others clearly saw, as was evident in the debate of the time, that many people saw in the Constitution -- despite limiting language in Article 2, Section 9, and then in the Tenth Amendment which was intended to reinforce it -- if the document didn't prohibit it explicitly prohibit it, then it was allowed.

Which is precisely how understanding of the Constitution evolved. Many began to think the Federal Government could do whatever it wanted to if the Constitution didn't clearly say no. It went from being a specific and limiting document, to an open-ended and limitless one. The sprawling mess that is our Federal government, and the massive books of arcane law, are the result.

Expressed another away: the Constitution isn't a shield protecting the American people, as Peck sees it, but is a narrowly constructed framework giving the Federal government very specific duties to perform. To perform those duties, the people hand over some of their freedoms (like negotiating with other nations or taking up arms against France) in order for the Federal government to get those jobs done. Nothing more. Everything else you can think of is a freedom I retain.

Power flows from the people to the government. Not the other way around. Way too many on the Left, and now in the mainstream media thanks to blogging, see it the other way around. It's a fear of the masses and a desire for control.
As Memphis fumes over the portrayal of the city and its residents in "Hustle & Flow," as we argue over Nathan Bedford Forrest's right place, let's honor the rights of free expression in the First Amendment.
"Memphis" isn't fuming. But it serves the needs of the paper to sell copies to promote the idea of conflict.

Notice Peck's language. "Rights" are things granted by government. What has been given can be taken away, or the threat of taking away can be used to coerce the people into agreeing to something they wouldn't otherwise agree to. "Freedom" is inherent in all people at all times in all ways. The only person who can give them away is you.
Both sides in the debate over Forrest are protected by this same constitutional shield. That makes our national model so different from places where the constitution spells out one true religion, one way of looking at history or one way that citizens must all try to think.
Ooooh, like "tax reform?" Remember how, in 2001 and 2002 and 2003, every single newspaper in the state of Tennessee agreed that an income tax was a necessity for Tennessee to meet its budget requirements? There was no dissenting voice whatsoever, except in that truculent rabble on the Internet. How's that for newspapers being a defender of the "people's rights?"

Notice too the invariable rule that all issues can be reduced to two sides. It's been pervasive in this editorial, in the Commercial Appeal and is found without exception all across the mainstream media. Real life is infinitely more complex, but the papers never see more than two sides in anything. "Us" vs. "Them." "Some" vs. "Others." Conflict. Selling papers.
We say ''it's a free country." This means that we have to put up with the other guy's blather and recognize that differences of opinion make us the nation that we strive to be.
Finally, some wise words. Peck should practice what he preaches.

Show your readers "pimp Memphis." When the "real" Memphis wants to gather downtown to meet and hang out and find someone of the opposite sex, don't automatically and completely come down on the side of downtown residents, businessmen, business owners and the "leaders" in City and County Hall. Think about those people and how the "anti-cruising" law will restrict their freedom of assembly. Don't turn up your nose and sniff at the rabble. Think of them and give them a voice, too.

After all, they are part of "Greater Memphis" too.