Saturday, October 22, 2005

Weeping for the Lost Cause

The advent of the Internet Age, and its attendant explosion of online media sources and blogs, has shaken the journalism priesthood to its core. Having enjoyed a monopoly on the "public discourse" of the nation for several decades, only to see it crack and crumble since the late Nineties, many are pining for the days when they could shape the national debate and tell people what to think about the topics they chose to present. You see a lot of older media types lash out at the internet in the same way Frank Sinatra once lashed out at Elvis Presley and rock'n'roll.

It is now what it was then: People used to power not being able to handle the shifting sands beneath them and getting angry about it.

It was particularly saddening to me to see John Branston of the Memphis Flyer fall into this category. John has tremendous potential, especially in the new media environment, to "talk truth to power." He clearly works hard and know a lot more than he writes. The old media format, with its self-imposed rules and need to protect itself, pretty clearly constrains him. I had high hopes that one day Branston would throw off the shackles of his oppressor and cut loose, but upon reading this lament for a lost age, I understand some things about his writing a bit better.

Let's go through this whole thing, shall we?
Newspapers are in trouble. From New York to Memphis to Los Angeles, they're losing advertisers and readers and cutting their budgets and their staffs.
What's your point here? This is what happens any time an industry undergoes transformation. It happened in the steel industry, it's happening in the auto and airline industries, it happened after the tech boom bubble burst, and now it's happening to you. Rather than whine, look at their resposnes and learn from them.
The problem, we have decided, is the Internet. Young people spend way more time on computers than they do holding newspapers. So newspapers are putting their content on line and trying to figure out how to get advertisers and even readers to pay for it.
You skipped a step here:television. Newspapers move at the speed of the printing press. Once upon a time, they would print multiple editions throughout the day to keep up with unfolding events.

Then came television, which could bring events to you live, as they happened, or shortly thereafter. The speed of response is what changed, but newspapers still had an edge in that they could devote a lot more time to details and analysis than television ever could. Television adapted by bringing in the talking head, to do analysis on the spot.

The internet simply ups the speed of response cycle by another order of magnitude. It also allows any number of experts and analysts to enter the argument. You no longer have to depend on impressing a reporter or television producer in order to get into the debate. You can insert yourself.

Readers need only find and choose whatever aggregator sites they like (as Flyer editor Bruce Van Wyngarden recently pointed out) in order to get access to those opinions. Places like FreeRepublic, Daily Kos, Instapundit, Democratic Underground, Slashdot are but a few; you can likely add quite a few more places to this list of top-tier sites that pull news bubbling up from lower down in the Internet.

That's how it works now. We no longer have to depend on newspapers or television news to notice these things and present them to us. Dozens of sites scour the daily scene constantly. If something interesting shows up, it gets picked up by more and more sites until the story reaches critical mass. If you tap into just a few of the right sources, then you too get your own access. You can decide what to look for and read, rather than depending on someone else to decide for you.

Or decide against you. Talk radio became a phenomenon for two simple reasons: a large group of people felt they had no voice in the nation, or local, debate. They felt their opinions were shut out, derided and denigrated, and that the people charged with giving them the news of the day were also inserting their opinions of those events into the news, but not allowing differing opinions to do the same.

Talk radio also let people talk for themselves, ask their own questions, and set their own agendas. It bypassed the filters of the major news and media sources -- the mainstream media -- to allow through what wasn't heard before. Sure, a lot of it was just people talking about other people, gossip and rumor, but that's the very fabric that a community is woven from.

Where before only a relative handful of people controlled the choice of fabric and had their hands on the controls of the spinning looms, now anyone who could get to the Internet was a weaver. New marketplaces sprang up so like-minded people could find each other. New channels of information flow were carved. The landscape changed.
The funny thing is, if the printed newspaper had been invented as an improvement to the online newspaper, people would recognize its advantages.
Sorry, John, no wishful thinking allowed. The online newspaper, or the public forum, or the blog, came afterward. And people did recognise its advantages immediately. Hence the revolution.
Such as:

Newspapers respect your privacy. When you read a newspaper online you get pop-up ads and cookies that tell strangers where you go and what your interests are. What you read in the paper is your own damn business.
Except that its the newspaper themselves who insert the pop-ups and cookies! Blame yourself.

John neglects, although he just may not know, that there is a simple solution to this problem anyway. Just use the Firefox browser. It has all sorts of tools in it that effectively block pop-ups and other advertising, control what cookies are set, and otherwise give you just the kind of power you'd want. Very easy; very effective. People who go online should use Firefox the same way we use the remote on our televisions, the locks on our cars and bikes, the headphones on our iPods.
The printed newspaper is a perfect information delivery system. It is ideally suited to taking to bed, the kitchen, the coffee shop, or the bathroom. You can pick and choose what to read and when to read it. You can tear out articles and ads you want to save or give to someone or leave on your dresser or in your pants pocket.
Once upon a time, you could only read the printed paper if you had daylight, or enough candles.

OK, as a lifelong lover of reading, I have to give John a bit of the benefit here. There is something definitely appealling on a basic tactile level about a book or paper. But I suspect that's largely a matter of cultural training and a lifetime of regular use. The laptop and the e-book aren't there yet, but I doubt it will take hundreds of years for technology to catch up and adapt as it did with printed papers and lightbulbs.

As for "picking and choosing," what does John think the hyperlink and the navbar are? That they don't perform as we'd like is a lot less to do with the design and a whole lot more to do with the implementation. Go to most newspaper sites (especially the Flyer and the Commercial Appeal and you'll find advertising crowding out most of the navigational aids, which tend to be crammed into odd spaces.

Clear organisation helps. After all these years, the CA website's organisation still doesn't align with the printed version. A story I find in the "Great Memphis" section of the printed version may be God knows where online. I know, because I've tried to find stories dozens of times only to give up in frustration.

Of course, there's implementation too. There are lots of tools web developers can use, but you have to actually use them, day in and day out for them to work. The hover-text which appears when you place your cursor over a particular phrase or link is one example. It seems to be too annoying and extra work for most website operators to use regularly. Most news sites just don't seem to take full advantage of what's possible.
Anyone who tells you they're reading a newspaper on a cell phone is lying. At most, they're glancing at headlines. It's hard enough to read a newspaper on a laptop computer screen much less a desktop. You can take a laptop to the bathroom, but that's uncouth. Bathrooms and newspapers, on the other hand, were made for each other.
Please. Early cars were a real hassle to drive, I'm sure; and horses made much greater sense and ease for most. But technology caught up, the landscape was changed, and the culture changed by with and by it. I think today very few people would trade their cars for a horse and buggy.

John is looking backwards, rather than looking forwards. Always a deadly sign.

As for "glancing at headlines," I suspect that's what most people are doing with his paper. Why else could USA Today be so popular? It's why we take papers to the bathroom. We don't have to make a big committment of time and attention to what we're reading. We can skim and jump all we want as we take care of our real business.

As for laptops vs newspapers? It's only a question of design, which will come soon enough. Although... the other most common bathroom reading (at least for men) is the skin mag. I really don't want to have to think about those design issues.
If you don't have broadband, it takes a long time to load stories, and there is always the possibility that your computer will crash or lock up, especially if the story has a lot of pictures. Newspapers get wet but they don't crash. I can only remember two times in the last 24 years when my daily newspaper was not delivered to my driveway or front door.
Again, John is trying to create a false problem here. The only reason online newspapers take so long to download and cause crashes is because of the people who design and implement them! Sites that have lots of flashy graphics, moving graphics, lots of images, lots of calls to other sites that serve up ads, and bad table design are the problem. It can be easily fixed, too, with good design and an awareness of what kind of computers their customers might be using.

Laying out a page on a powerful, muscular computer -- lots of processing power, graphics cards -- hooked up to fat T-1 lines is easy. Being mindful of the many in your customer base who are using older computers on dialup is harder. I can't tell you how many times I had to give up on waiting for the CA site to finish loading before I started using tools like Flashblock and Adblock in my Firefox browser. Now, it's manageable.

Same for television news sites that demand their readers have a particular and recently updated version of some video software, rather than offering platform-independent software in more than one flavor. For example, I had to give up on WMC/5 because they always only use Microsoft Windows Media Player for their video. It had to be a particular version. They had no choice for Real Media or Quicktime users. So, I didn't bother with them.

Bad design. Their problem, and not mine.
The newspapers you carry around or leave on your coffee table or desk make a statement about the kind of person you are. A computer or BlackBerry makes a statement about what you can buy.
Newspaper as status object? This is John's compelling reason to have a print newspaper? His argument is specious anyway, since anything you buy, or choose to buy, is a statement of who you are.
You can read a newspaper and talk about it with the people you live with as a morning ritual. It's a communal experience. Gazing at a computer is a personal experience.
So is watching television, which he again neglects to mention. Bias? John? Nah, I'm sure.

Besides, everyone has to first have their "personal" experience with the paper before they can then share in the "communal" experience, no? Television morning show watching is an automatic group experience, which everyone in the family can share -- or not -- as they wish.

Did John just argue that newspapers help build families? How very family-values of him. Watch out for the People's Committee on Proper Thought coming your way.

This next paragraph is such a howler, I have to take it line by line.
The printed newspaper is morally superior to the computer.
John is really going to argue the morality of technology? His cause is surely lost.
General circulation newspapers don't have porno in them.
But your paper does, John. Lots of it. Used to have lots of swearing in it, too.

Do you really want to get into the censorship that daily newspapers practice? Because that's exactly what it is. Practicing censorship to pander to advertisers afraid of complaints from customers who see their ads next to porn in their papers. Selecting who can buy ad space, and where those ads can be placed -- and denying ads or articles based on perceived content -- is censorship.

Go ahead John. Submit a story some time with detailed, graphic descriptions of violence or sexuality. See if it gets published. Insist the descriptions are vital to the story, and the story is vital to the public's right to know. See how far you get. Or submit a story that names names and details the political shenanigans you know about. Will it see print? That's censorship. And your paper practices it, buddy.
You have a better chance of influencing your children to read, stay informed, and think about current events with a newspaper than a computer.
What research is that based on? A child has to see someone in their household using a paper before they'll be interesting in using it themselves. And in Memphis, only around a third of the community read the CA and the Flyer combined.

Newspapers are highly selective and enormously self-referential in terms of the media environment. The CA still is haphazard about giving URLs in stories, and amazingly enough neither of the two major papers routinely include URLs that work as hyperlinks in their online stories! Fall into the CA or Flyer websites and you don't get referred out again; fall into most other online news sites, or blogs, and there are a plethora of links to other places.

One of the hallmarks of the blogosphere is linking to original sources. Most bloggers will include a link to the story they are talking about, and will generally link to documents they are referring to. Not so with the CA. I have complained endlessly that they don't have copies of indictments linked to stories they do on criminals and politicians. (They sporadically do it now.) When Mayor Herenton gave his famous Inauguaration / New Year's speech two years ago, NOT ONE LOCAL MEDIA OUTLET with a website bothered to have a transcript of the speech. And the CA, which had an audio copy of the speech, only hosted it and linked it after much abuse from Half-Bakered.

These are easy things, if time consuming, to do. And yet, television news and newspapers routinely don't do it. They filter the events they report, rather than both give reports and provide raw information for viewers and readers to check for themselves. It's a major part of why the internet is becoming a popular source.
The fact that the news is not about them is exactly the point -- there's a big world out there, kid, and it ain't all about you and your friends.
Except that the main daily is going in precisely that direction -- stories and pictures about their readers, flattering and pandering to them so they'll buy copies.
Newspapers have good manners. If you want to pester the crap out of your friends by telling them what you're reading or what some pretentious columnist is thinking even though they don't care, you have to buy several copies or print them on a copier and hand them out. By the time you do that you're out a few bucks and several minutes and your friends are probably off the hook. With a computer and e-mail, they don't have a chance.
What? This borders on the incoherent while also being somewhat delusional. Haven't you heard of the "delete" key, John? Or the email filter that sends certain email from certain folks unseen into the Trash folder?

While you're at it, call the television news stations and tell them to quit copying stories from the daily paper and then flogging them in my face. And tell your colleagues at the Flyer to quit mining the daily for fodder, too. Do your own damn work. Practice what you preach.
Newspapers are a bargain. That's especially true of this one, which is free, but it's also true of The Commercial Appeal, which is getting better, and The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which have more information in them each day than most books. Those two newspapers charge for online content, as well they should. Value for value. Full access to The New York Times costs about $50 a year. A year of AOL and its idiotic promotions and features costs about $300.
The CA is getting better? Are we reading the same thing? Local news coverage is shrinking. State coverage is now almost non-existent. National stories are passed along from the New York Times and the Washington Post unexamined, but riddled with bias and error (witness Katrina coverage).

Besides, this is apples and oranges stuff. If I buy a CA subscription, I only get the narrow view of the world they choose to present. If I buy a subscription to AOL, or an even cheaper connection elsewhere, I can read every paper in every city in this country and most others around the world; plus I have unlimited access to whole libraries and institutions of knowledge from the beginning of time and every corner of the universe. You tell me which is cheaper and better value for money.

This last paragraph is another howler, so again we'll go line by line.
Finally, printed newspapers support working journalists.
Does John lament all the now-unemployed auto workers? Or would he rather pay a few thousand more for a car to bring them back? For that, I don't hear him crying for the buggy and buggy whip manufacturers, the stable builders, the horse breeders who all went under with the invention and popularisation of the car.

John is not arguing for something, but against change.
So what?, you say. Well, somebody has to gather information by going to meetings and interesting places and events and talking to people with different points of view.
The day is very soon to come when people will set up a camera at events like public meetings and just turn them on. The video will be stored online, accessible to anyone at any time. Others will then sift those videos for the important parts and bring them to attention. Other sites will bring attention to the sifters, and word will spread. Storage is dirt cheap and getting cheaper. Only cheap and widespread broadband is holding this back. But you look to nations like South Korea, where broadband is the norm, and this is what's happening.

Look at groups like Friends for our Riverfront. They used to have to beg for attention from the television news and newspapers. If they were lucky, they got a mention. If they didn't conflict with the news agenda, they might get favorable mention. Now, they have their own website, where they can get out their message in detail, unfiltered or unmediated. They can attend the important meetings with cameras and recorders, then present them online. They will, in essence, do more as interested amateurs than any professional media organisation ever will.
Somebody has to pay for that, and so far online advertising doesn't come close.
Early days, my friend. I doubt that anyone in the early days of cars foresaw the huge tire industry, or the interstate system. Instead, they likely complained about crappy roads and rough rides. It took visionaries to find and seize the opportunities, not carpers.

Part of the problem is technological, in that, once digitised, information is endlessly replicable, able to be copied, shared and spread for little or nothing. Newspapers take expensive printing presses to create. Websites only require a $200 dollar computer, or even a borrowed one. Once created, or digitised, information flows wherever it is sent.

But wherever there are eyeballs, there will be advertising, so I'm sure someone will figure this out soon enough. OhMyNews in Korea "employs" an army (nearly one thousand) of volunteer reporters to fill their site daily with news from everywhere -- from the hyperlocal to the international. It is a huge success. WKRN/2 in Nashville has just upturned the standard news paradigm to join the digital revolution by giving all their staff high-quality vidcams and laptops with editing software. More folks will be on the streets every day, looking for news.
Opinions and blogs and summaries of other people's work may be interesting, but they're not news. So go buy a paper.
Except that a huge percentage of the Flyer is nothing but someone's opinion! Reviews of books, music, movies, travel, restaurants, plays. All opinion. The new upfront section is stuff from columnists that are as much opinion as reporting. Mow your own lawn first, John, before telling others to.

The CA also runs a lot of opinion stuff, or things like sports, advertising and advice columns that's not news. There are also more feature writing articles that read like Oprah or Dateline NBC than real "reporting." More and more "articles" are just rewritten press releases or even articles written by promotional agencies and PR reps themselves and printed unaltered or unexamined! Is that what you're touting, John?

I should again point out that bloggers and most news comment sites link back to the original stories at their papers' websites. Half-Bakered routinely does this for Commercial Appeal and Flyer stories. Given that I'm read by people all over the state and nation, and that many of my readers take as truth that I "read the Memphis papers so you don't have to," I am actually adding to their readership! Blogs boost circulation, at least online.

On the other hand, the newspapers have rarely helped me. Whenever Half-Bakered gets mentioned, it's far more common that no URL is included. I can then see a lot of referrals in my logs from search engines. But even then, in my biggest newsprint story, where Jackson Baker called Half-Bakered the "best temporarily discontinued blog in Memphis" I only got a couple of dozen hits. Compare that to a mention from Bill Hobbs, where I can get up to a hundred, or even Instapundit, where I have gotten thousands! The flow is overwhelmingly one way -- from online to paper, and not the reverse. What does that tell you about the news appetites of our respective audiences?

John, you are just lamenting a fading industry that you aspired and trained to join in its heyday. You are a lot like the sons of steelworkers, expecting to have a lifelong job that paid all the bills and took care of your kids, only to have your world turned upside down when change happened.

Change is inevitable. Instead of crying for a past that isn't returning, figure out how to navigate the path opening up before you. Cancel the caterer for your pity party.

Get off your horse and go talk with the guy driving the Model T. It's in your best interest.

INSTANT UPDATE: Yes, I do realise that there are a few items in there that should be hyperlinked. The irony and hypocrisy is not lost on me. It took a lot longer to write this than I expected. I may go back later and fix it.
The Commercial Appeal: Wrong, Late and Misleading Again

Saturday's Commercial Appeal has an editorial slapping Governor Phil Bredesen on the backfor "grabbing the initiative" in leading on ethics reform.

Except that the governor hasn't done anything of the sort. What he actually said was: "I will ask them please not to do that." A far cry indeed from decisive action with concrete results.

They write:
Delivering more than lip service to the idea of government ethics reform, Gov. Phil Bredesen grabbed the initiative this week and made it a lot harder to parlay a high-level state government job into a lucrative lobbying career.

Senior administration officials will sign away their rights to lobby state government for one year after leaving their state jobs, the governor announced. That means no more seamless transitions from government service to jobs cashing in on favors and wielding influence for clients with deep pockets.
But as the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports, Bredesen's executive order doesn't do that:
As it turns out, Gov. Phil Bredesen cannot use an executive order to stop high-ranking members of his administration from becoming lobbyists.

Instead, he can only ask politely and hope the Legislature eventually enacts a law to implement a ban on government officials becoming lobbyists for a year after they leave office, Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said Thursday....

However, Bob Cooper, legal counsel to the governor, has decided the governor cannot legally impose an anti-revolving door restriction on state officials through an executive order, Lenker said.

Once an administration official leaves state government, he or she would no longer be subject to an executive order, which applies only to those who are part of government.
You'd like to think the kids at the CA would get these things right. Used to be any editorial usually followed the news story it derived from by a couple of days, as they thought things over and then composed the editorial, and then waited for the next publication day. Now, though, they seem to fire off these editorials that day, hot on the heels of whatever the story of the day was. It's making for slipshod work.

And remember, this is the same governor who, last spring, waved off any need for precisely the kind of action the CA calls for. He punted the ball to the Legislature who eventually passed some very watered down "reforms."

Then, the Tennessee Waltz indictments and the ongoing investigations happened. Suddenly, Bredesen found himself having to explain his previous stance. Nowadays, the paper doesn't even bother to mention it. Instead they only care to mention Bredesen's catch-up efforts in his "blue ribbon" (what a tired cliche) reform panel.

Nor do they mention the 800 pound gorilla of ethics reform: Betty Anderson Naifeh, the wife of the Speaker of the House, Jimmy Naifeh and, by all accounts, the most powerful and influential lobbyist in Nashville.

Nor do they mention what Bob Krumm has noted. The paper glosses over the calls for a November special session in favor of a January one. Krumm observes that by waiting until January, any action they pass will likely not take effect until mid-2007, thereby leaving the all-important 2006 election cycle free and clear for just the kind of abuse we've endured for years in Tennessee.

A paper supposedly serious about ethics reform, it seems to me, would be demanding swifter action, instead of allowing the pigs to fill the trough one last time.
Lumpy Bulbs

An accidental discovery may mean the end of the standard light bulb and a revolution in lighting and energy conservation.
The new device gives off a warm, yellowish-white light that shines twice as bright and lasts 50 times longer than the standard 60 watt light bulb....

LEDs produce twice as much light as a regular 60 watt bulb and burn for over 50,000 hours. The Department of Energy estimates LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025. LEDs don't emit heat, so they're also more energy efficient. And they're much harder to break.

Other scientists have said they expect LEDs to eventually replace standard incandescent bulbs as well as fluorescent and sodium vapor lights.

If the new process can be developed into commercial production, light won't come just from newfangled bulbs. Quantum dot mixtures could be painted on just about anything and electrically excited to produce a rainbow of colors, including white.
Toilet seats that glow softly in the dark, lighting the way to the bathroom. Oven and microwave interiors that light up so you can watch your food cook. The possibilities are endless.
Depends on What You Know

Via One Hand Clapping comes this comparison of the January constitutional election and the just-passed October constitutional election:
Voters and polling comparisons

Registered voters – January: 14.3 million; October 15.6 million.

Numbers of polling centers – January: 5,677; October 5,852 with most of the new centers going to Sunni regions.

===Al Anbar polling centers increased from 33 in Jan. to 171 in Oct. (indications are that more than 200,000 additional people voted in Anbar)

Nineveh polling centers increased from 88 in Jan. to 230 in Oct. (nearly 400,000 more voted this time)===

Poll worker applications – January: 110,000; October 450,000.

Total poll workers – January: 108,000; October 171,000. Early projections are that more than 60 percent of those registered voted.

Voting Rights Changes Since January

Iraqi Security Forces guarding polling stations outside their provinces were allowed to vote.

U.S.-held detainees that had not been convicted of a crime were allowed to vote.

Election Security

Total attacks in Iraq – Jan. 30: 299 attacks; Oct. 15: 89 attacks

Total attacks against polling places – Jan. 30: 108 attacks; Oct. 15: 19 attacks

Number of civilians killed – Jan. 30: 30 deaths; Oct. 15: three deaths. Overall there were 34 deaths on Jan. 30 and 10 deaths on Oct. 15.

Total number of suicide bombers – Jan. 30: seven; Oct. 15: zero.

Security Forces

Ministry of Interior Forces – January: 79,116l October: 106, 112

Ministry of Defense Forces – January: 56, 949; October 93, 959


MNF-I moved most of the materials in Jan; Iraqi contractors conducted most of the movement and logistics in October.

Voting supplies were moved into warehouses three days earlier than in January with no shortages of supplies reported.

From information released by US Central Command
Sounds both like success and progress, wouldn't you say?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Calvin Williams Whines

It's often said it's only in extremity that we learn the true nature of a person. What do we learn of Calvin Williams (see post just below) after his arraignment on Thursday? He's a whiner.

According to this story, Williams said:
Williams, 43, also implored the news media to "retreat to the nearest corner of decency," and leave him and his family alone.
Remember, this is the guy who got his mug all over the local news last summer, many times, happily plugging his sordid, sex-drugs-perks book on Shelby County's political leaders. He had no problem airing others' dirty laundry, but now wants to be left alone. He was once a wheeler-dealer for Shelby County politics who got busted and still kept a County job, meaning he's accumulating pension points.

Whiner is the polite word. Some of my neighbors have a better word, but I shouldn't use it here. Let's just say it rhymes with something.

As usual, the story has some odd, fun bits:
Federal public defender Steve Shankman, who represents Williams with attorney Doris Randle-Holt, said his client will plead not guilty next week and that he intends to take the case to trial.

He wouldn't say why he was appointed as Williams's attorney in August, two months before the indictment. Typically, defendants who want an attorney at taxpayers' expense must have an indigency hearing at their first court appearance.
Maybe it had something to do with this:
Williams and Wilbun were to face trial in that case in May, but prosecutors stopped short, just before the trial was to begin.

Those charges are expected to be dismissed next month.
I'm guessing the CA wants you to think that.

And don't forget that he's claiming he's indigent while holding down a job paying more than 90% of Memphis makes. Oooh, poor poor pitiful Calvin.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

They Take Care of Their Own

Having been found guilty of criminally mishandling classified documents relating to Middle Eastern terrorism and the Clinton administration's handling of it, Sandy Berger ought to have a tough time finding a new job, yes?

No, not so much:
Bill Clinton's former national security adviser Sandy Berger and longtime Al Gore senior aide Ron Klain have joined other Clintonistas as advisers on "Commander in Chief," in which Geena Davis is President. Hillary operatives are watching the show's ratings as a barometer for how she might fare in '08. "So far, it's doing really well," a source tells The News' Ken Bazinet.
Yes, they really do take care of their own, don't they?

And don't you love how television now has two shows with Democratic presidents? Yes, Geena Davis' character is nominally an independent, but do you really think she'll embrace anything Republican?

If they can't have the real thing, they'll just concoct an imaginary Presidency and sell it to you for a profit.
The Miami Connection

Ever since the Tennessee Waltz sting story broke there has been a part of the story that is scarcely mentioned yet maddeningly intriguing for me: the Miami connection. The FBI, operating as E-Cycle, routinely took Tennessee officials to Miami for luxury relaxation.

Then there was Michael Hooks Jr's trips to Miami during the same time. He has said that he was trying to promote his budding film acting career by attending film festivals. No film he's in plays in those festivals, so far as anyone knows. Now, Hooks Jr has resigned from his school board seat, ahead of allegations of his being named in the continuing Tennessee Waltz indictments.

And now there's this , from a Commercial Appeal story:
Jones said during the dinner he attended, Love tried to get him to attend an E-Cycle event in Miami. Love said the company was going to have a conference, according to Jones, and would take lawmakers on a yacht and provide lodging in condos before an NBA game.
No one has yet explained this Miami link, even though I have speculated on possible Ford family connections, given Harold Ford Sr's residency nearby and Harold Jr's continued trips to visit Daddy there. I am driven by the nagging sense that there's still more buried in here that's not come to light.

Or maybe it will never come to light, given the power of some involved?
It Could Be Worse Here, But Not Much More

For all the corruption and cronyism we have in Memphis, at least we aren't East St. Louis:
Although, Kelvin Ellis was convicted of voter fraud, tax evasion, and pled guilty to obstruction of justice and plotting to kill a government witness, his "running a prostitution ring out of City Hall" charge did not make it to court!

Former Democratic Party Leader and Director of Regulatory Affairs, Kelvin Ellis told the judge that he understood the charges against him and pled guilty on Wednesday, October 12, 2005 to obstruction of justice and plotting to kill a government witness. His trial had been set for today, October 17....

And he said the federal investigation that led to arrests of eight people with links to City Hall is not done yet.

"I'm certain there are other targets," Ellis said with a trademark, gap-toothed grin. He declined to name one, but insisted, "I can't be the be-all, end-all. There has to be something else."

Ellis had been a top aide to Mayor Carl Officer in the 1990s, and previously served 18 months in prison for using his position in city government to get kickbacks. He eventually found his way back to power in City Hall.

When Officer returned to the mayor's office in 2003, their relationship was "strained," Ellis said. Officer has recently supported some Republican candidates. For that, Ellis said, he wants Officer out of power.

A former choirboy, Ellis now has accumulated four felony convictions. He is the son of two East St. Louis teachers and the father of 15 children. He complained of not receiving regular doctor visits for his diabetes during 10 months at the Tri-County Detention Center, deep in Southern Illinois. It often is used as a stop-off for federal inmates facing immigration charges.
No wonder Shelby County Democrats are so upset with Richard Fields. Imagine what he might find.
You See? I Told You: Calvin Williams Department

I blogged about this just a couple of weeks ago. (And here.) Calvin Williams, facing trial and jail for abuse of office and other malfeasance while working with the County Commission and the Juvenile Court Clerk's office, began last summer to tout (or pimp, take your pick) his "tell all" book about Shelby County politics. He promised to name names, dig dirt and just generally expose everything and everyone. More on this via John Branston here.

The book was shown on television news shows, who couldn't get enough and were positively breathless with anticipation and salaciousness. Promised for late September, it has yet to be released. As I told you then, I didn't think it would ever see the light of day. Calvin was just trying to get some juice for himself, to save himself from jail time.

It didn't work, apparently. Williams faces two additional counts of bribery/extortion, on top of his earlier indictments from the State of Tennessee. You'll remember that Williams was saved at the last minute -- literally the morning of the trial -- when the State hinted at deals made; the sentencing was delayed. Branston's story claims that prosecutors asked for the delay because they thought no jury would convict for criminality.

The thinking then was that Williams and the others had agreed to help the State in other investigations. They would give up everything they were asked and would get much reduced sentences or changed indictments.

Is this Federal indictment part of that behind-doors deal? Or is it something else? I can't help but suspect William's too-eager touting of his tell-all book got him squashed by folks who had the power to suppress him, folks worried about what he might say if his book went forward. Again, though, I don't think he ever intended to really release that book, and now it's backfired on him. I don't think we'll ever see the book.

Some interesting stuff in the Commercial-Appeal story, too. Let's look at it:
Williams, 43, already under state indictment, didn't return a reporter's calls Wednesday afternoon.
That means that the subject was at work or out when the frantic "call me back" call came in after lunch. The reporter had a 5PM deadline to make and the subject wasn't able to return the call in time. Sheesh....
Williams joins a spate of current or former local public officials charged this year with corruption.

Four Shelby County defendants, including former state senator John Ford, were charged in May in the FBI's Tennessee Waltz undercover bribery sting. In August, County Commissioner Michael Hooks was accused of taking $24,000 in bribes in that sting.

While the charges against Williams closely mirror those in the Waltz cases, officials won't say if they're connected, and nothing in the indictment links the cases.
I have two theories on this passage. One: the paper wants to create the connection for readers, but can't for some reason explicitly make it. Maybe they have heard things not public yet, or have non-certified evidence of some kind. So, the circumlocution. Or two: there is no connection, but the paper wants to make one anyway in the readers' minds. Why? Who can say. Maybe there is someone else's agenda being served here?
For nearly five years Williams was the 13-member commission's chief of staff, yet his deal-brokering and behind-the-scenes maneuvering led some to call him "the 14th commissioner...."

But he became much more -- vote counter, lobbyist and confidant.

He was the go-to man for behind-the-scenes commission deals, and outside work, he helped commissioners get last-minute tickets to sporting events, concerts or help with travel.
Nice to learn all this now, years later. Who is performing that function for the Commission today? There are still a lot of the folks who were serving then serving now. Are we to believe their behavior has changed? Or that new members aren't falling under their sway? The paper knows -- of that I'm sure -- but you rarely ever see it in their pages. Blake Fontenay's old CA blog used to sometimes lift the curtain, though always in a "go along" friendly way. The Memphis Flyer's John Branston also surely knows, but he's mum.

I had once hoped this blog might serve as the bridge between those "in the know" and the rest of us. You would (and still do) see news stories that said something like, "Rumors had circulated in downtown circles for months." or "Political insiders had long known...." In conversations with newspeople, I would often hear outrageous stories that never made print or pixel. "Everyone knew" was the refrain. I had hoped to help the average Memphian get linked into that network, but it hasn't happened. Even in the Internet age, you are still excluded from information that "everyone knows."
In 2003, a state grand jury indicted Williams, former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun and a third man in a scheme to funnel hush money to a woman harassed by Williams's friend, former county employee Darrell Catron.
Hmmm.... Who is that masked man, you ask? It was Jim Sellers. Would that be this new member of the Memphis Racquet Club, who is also the Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of LEDIC Management Group, the Memphis apartment renter? (See number 42.) Still more here. If it's him, no wonder his name was left off! The CA is loathe to go after the developer community.
Williams and Wilbun were to face trial last May, but prosecutors halted at the last minute. Those charges are expected to be dismissed next month.
Did I miss this story? Or was it not reported?

Speaking of not reported, notice there is no mention whatsoever in the article of William's book nor his PR efforts in its behalf. Even though the CA itself reported that story, too.

And the big capper:
Williams took a $73,000 pay cut and returned as a staff member in the county's Equal Opportunity Compliance office, where he still works.
That's right! In spite of all his troubles with the law and abuse of office and all that, he's still an employee of the Shelby County government!

Isn't government great?
Nearly There

Well, it turns out that the new power supply was fine after all. So, this AM I got it installed, hit the button and [cue Microsoft chimes] TA-DAA! We have computer.

I want to take the opportunity to do some more work inside (re-install a CD-RW drive) while I have it open and am working there already, so I'm not completely back yet. Nearly there. I'm at least back on the Net, reading mail and surfing.

To everyone who donated to Mr. Mike's New Power Supply Fund, I'm very humbled by y'all's generosity. It's more than enough now. I'm going to use the excess to pay for my domain registration for a couple of years. That's where I host the pics I sometimes post here. I will be emailing personal thanks to everyone, but I wanted to post something here as well.

I'm also going to clean up and rearrange all the computer components on the rack shelf I use (the monitor is under the printer where the nice, toasty warmth attracts bugs). So, you'll likely see some posts leak out over the next couple of days, but I'll be really back come Sunday, Monday or so.

Thank you all for your patience and help. Ask Mark, as he was there; I got a bit verklempt when I logged into PayPal and saw what y'all donated.

Man is it hard to be skeptical when so many nice people are around.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Readers, We Have a Problem

Early Wednesday morning last week, I was woken up by a noise like something rattling through Venetian blinds. I first thought it was Bennie, the cat, but she was standing in the middle of the living room alert and looking around. I couldn't find anything wrong, so I went back to bed.

Wednesday being Big Busy Day, I didn't get to log onto the computer until late that night. No luck. No power, no response, no nothing. It was acting like a large, steel brick. Great. It took a couple of days to work out, with Mark's help, that the power supply was dead. The noise that woke me up was the sizzle of a bug being incinerated as it shorted out the power supply. Damned bugs. We know this is true because Mark got a surprise when he hooked up the (we thought) fixed supply to power and he got a brilliant blue spark in his face.

That's the second time that power supply trouble has happened this year, and only the third time or so in eight years of computing I've had a serious problem.

I've been offline during that time. Today, I finally made it to the Public Library (Great place. Get your library card today!) and their public computers to check mail and post this announcement. The downside is abandoning you blog readers and not keeping up with events like I usually do. The upside is the enormous amount of free time I've suddenly discovered!

I spend waaay too much time online.

So, I need a new power supply. Money is very tight for me right now and as it stands it will be mid November or later before I can afford a new one. That's too long. I'm going to turn to you good readers to ask for help.

If you can afford to donate anything to Mr. Mike's New Power Supply Fund, please do. If you have already given via the PayPal link above, then DON'T DONATE AGAIN! Once is enough for a blog like this, really. That's plenty enough generosity. But if you haven't donated before, and can afford it after everything else is taken care of in your life, please help. I think I need roughly thirty to fifty dollars for a replacement.

Sorry to do this blegging (blog-begging), but I hope you understand. I have this feeling that's a weird cross between wanting to fulfill obligations and responsibilities, and being an addict.

I will try to get to the library every couple of days to check email, etc., but otherwise I'm offline to all intents and purposes. Don't expect timely replies. Thank you all for your forebearance and help. If you see any interesting stories you think I'd like, or might blog about if I was keeping up, send them on to the blog email addy above. I'll save them for later.

Thank you all, again.
Damn, Just Missed It

Son of a... well, insert dirty word there. I was really looking forward to rolling over the ol' hit counter to 100,000, but the computer meltdown assured I'd miss it. I can't honor whoever it was either, as I was hoping to do. Dang.

Thanks to all the good folks who have come by here over the past three years. I'm flattered and honored you all think enough of this vanity project to deem it worth your time. As soon as the mess gets straightened up, I'll try to get back to work.

And this in the week that the local alt-weekly's editor says he reads this blog regularly! Sorry Bruce. Any time your paper mention Half-Bakered I always get about a dozen hits (your readership and my politics don't intersect too well), and I'd love to address some of them while they're here. Ah well....