Thursday, October 27, 2005

Don't Shoot Me

I'm gonna blow a lot of street cred here, but....

I had Smallville on the tube while doing other things. I know, but this season they are beginning to seriously try to tie the series into the comic mythology. It's fun to watch sometimes.

This was a Hallowe'en themed episode as Lana becomes a vampire and tries to turn Clark/Superman. But the real kick was during the big climax at the end when they played nearly the entirety of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" as the soundtrack! Ahh, sublime. Cliche Hallowe'en song, I know, but still a great song. Brittle and crystalline, but also dramatic, compelling and a haunting tune.

If you already like that song, it's well worth your time to find the live cover version by a mid-80's San Francisco band called Until December. Seemingly recorded in a dank basement, it's a very reverent version but with some slightly more creepy atmospherics.
Obey Condi

In response to this, I immediately thought of this:

You been hyp-mo-tize....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Be Right Back

Wednesday is Busy Day, so I'll be away until late.

Also, my apologies for violating my usual anonymous commenter rule. Some made easily refutable charges, which drew me in. My bad.
Words of the Day

From the "word a day" mailing list I subscribe to come two fun, if hard to use, words:

accismus (ak-SIZ-muhs) noun

Feigning disinterest in something while actually desiring it.

godwottery (god-WOT-uhr-ee) noun

1. Gardening marked by an affected and elaborate style.

2. Affected use of archaic language.

Some might accuse this blog of godwottery, but I say fie on you.
Press Innovation

It would seem that a Newark, New Jersey, newspaper is going to do for $100,000 what the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has been doing for free:
The city council here has awarded the Newark Weekly News a $100,000 no-bid contract to publish positive news about the city, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported in Monday's editions.

Howard Scott, who owns Newark Weekly News, told the Star-Ledger he is merely providing the city with a service.

"Do we have critical reporters on staff? No. Do we have investigative reporters? No," Scott told the newspaper. "Our niche is the good stuff. People have come to know it, and they love it."

It was Scott who proposed the good news only idea to the city council, who unanimously approved the idea earlier this month.
Of course, the city already has one of these (Dig around the website and Google; you'll love who's involved.), but I'm sure the CA wouldn't mind the extra income.

Or the CA could call it an "ongoing consultant study" and get the City to pay up to $400,000 to fund it.
The Death of Monroe Avenue

I've blogged about life on my block of Monroe Avenue in Midtown, here and here for example. It was what they call a "transitional" street when I first moved here a decade ago, realtor jargon for "moving out and running down." But we had mostly decent people and even kids running around the street; lots of green, including an empty lot in the middle of the block under an enormous oak that acted like a small park; a sense of a decent, if poor, place to live.

In the past year, that's been unravelling. We've always had drugs on this street -- I've made my peace with that -- but it was peripheral, hidden away. No longer. Beginning with the guy who moved in behind me about this time last year, it's been a slow steady decline.

"D," as he's known, was low-key. But his traffic was unmistakable, and constant. Beginning about midmorning and running until well past midnight. They knocked out, loosened or stole the first-floor light bulbs to make it harder to spot them and their activities. They began to congregate on the drive into the building, under my kitchen door, and use the alley between out buildings for sex, drugs, eating, arguing, etc.

Then it quickly spread to the building across the street, which became a command post with video cameras, surveillance, monitors, etc. More lieutenants moved into a couple more buildings in the middle of the block, making for a network of spotters. You could call the cops to sweep the street, but the loiterers were always gone by the time they arrived.

The Metro Narcotics and Gang Unit busted the command post, but couldn't rout my neighbor. Things died a bit. But another neighbor, living at the opposite end of my building, was also a dealer. He and his wife were much lower key then, with only a little traffic. Mostly, they dealt out of their bedroom window in the back, facing the alley, where no one could see it. But he was a known quantity and managed to get busted three times in succession. He made bail the first two times, but the third one -- with five-figure bail -- finally stuck. He was convicted but will be out before the year is over. We can all hardly wait.

His wife stepped up. Her lease was due to run out back in September, but she somehow conned the secretary at the landlord's office into letting her put a deposit on the nice building across the street, where the resident manager had previously been doing a good job keeping trouble out of the building. She took up residence, after a fashion, though she also had one of the druggies staying there 24/7 to deal with drop-ins.

For the past couple of months now, it's been a steady flow between her apartment across the street, a druggie pair who stopped paying rent a while ago and are waiting for a court eviction, "D" behind me, and a new neighbor downstairs who is a friend and cohort of "D."

And a corner has been turned. The folks who used to rather evasively hang out in front of our building are bold now. They know they have the run of things and don't worry about the other residents. Across the street, where once no one hung around outside thanks to the resident manager, there is now a constant spotter and a small group always hanging about. The traffic is all day long and 90% of the people you see outside don't live on the street.

How bad is it now? Some of the homeless that Rickey Peete and the downtown crowd are chasing out haved moved onto our block. We have about four hookers doing business here; one was busted last Sunday for having sex with a customer in the back parking lot. There are always hard young men talking on cell phones standing around. Or the crack mother, who had her newborn taken from her just a couple of months ago, is always sitting outside, keeping an eye on things.

One example? That Sunday hooker incident I happened to watch. It was about 11PM and I was sitting outside enjoying the quiet and the very mild temperatures. Bennie, my cat, was running up and down the breezeway, keeping sentry duty on the street's feral cats. Four police cars, three with all lights off, come gliding up the street; three park so as to block the drive on my side and the other slides into the back from the other side.

They get out and start walking around. One asks if I've seen anyone suspicious. I answer, "All the time." After a while the hooker and her john are brought around. She's pretty smart-mouthed, wondering if the cops have ever had sex in a car, or at all. The john is very, very quiet. After talking with them, the police let them go and then leave.

They weren't gone two seconds and three men come boiling out of the apartment downstairs. One is talking a mile a minute on his cell wanting to know what happened; he mentions hearing about the police call on a scanner. The other two question the hooker about what happened. No one has noticed me yet, just sitting there upstairs. They all gather to talk strategy, how they need to keep someone posted on the corner steps to watch for cops, right outside my new college-aged neighbor-girl's apartment. For the next hour or so, there is a steady flow of traffic from the apartment across the street, downstairs and out back.

At one point, I hear a bird-whistle. Then a voice from the shadows in middle of the block asks someone on the street if "5-0" is gone, has "the bird flown?"

Today, the woman dealer just doesn't worry. She's now taken to hollering at people in the middle block about her business, or to make threats about neighbors who "snitch" on her to the landlord or the cops. She's taken to renting Hummers, Vipers and what-not to drive, just to show off. She likes to park them off the street in our drive. The word on the street is she's not much longer, as her behavior is causing too much problem, too much attention. We think she'll be attacked before the end of the year. She's had gun battles on the street, too, but now she lives across from us, meaning we'll get her overshots and missed shots. Great.

So you're asking where's the landlord in all this? Good question! He doesn't take resident calls any more. His selling/leasing agent is a nice guy who is appalled by all this, since it makes his job a lot harder, but claims he can't do anything, only Andrew can. And Andrew doesn't do anything at all.

When college-girl moved in downstairs, we joked about how long it would take for her to freak out and move. It was only a week before she complained, a lot, but she's still here. She keeps everything locked tight and rarely ventures out.

Across the street, we had a couple of women who were Hurricane Katrina refugees move in. After just two days, they were demanding to be let out of their lease, threatening to go to court if need be. They had heard about Memphis, but were appalled and afraid at the traffic outside their apartment. And they were from New Orleans!

And so we sit. Nothing from the landlord at all. The dealers are locking down and spreading, getting more bold and comfortable every day. It's only the cold snap this week that's keeping somewhat of a lid on things. One more neighbor family has moved out, and another is threatening to because of her young son.

The cops know all about it. They make the occasional drive through and will respond if you call. But since it's all private property and rental apartments, there's little they can do but roust people.

The cancer has metastasised. The patient is dying. And everyone just seems to stand around watching the slow death.

I've debated buying a gun for several years now. But no one has bothered me yet (the Big, Buzzcut Scowling Silent White Guy Effect, I've learned), nor has the opportunistic crime associated with drugs -- mugging and break-ins -- materialised. But I hate coming in at night, to be accusingly stared at by strangers trespassing on my property, in ill-lit walks and stairs, being surprised by strangers loitering in deep shadows. The only reason I haven't bought a gun yet is that I suffer from depression; mild these days, but who knows? The balance of risk is changing lately; I may have to change my mind.

Meanwhile, my block slowly withers and dies.
Bedtime Rituals

New Strong Bad Email! Gingivitis shockumentary! The Cheat and Moses Malone! Suudsu! Bug Bombs! "We have a pulse!"
Not-So-Smart City

The normally intelligent, if sometimes wrong-headed, Smart City Memphis blog derails with a bizarre post titled, "Tennessee Waltz, Like Katrina, Shows Racial Fault Lines."

Let's begin with a string of quotes and see if you can spot the problem unaided:
Here, white Commercial Appeal editorial writers flippantly dismiss African-American questions...

It was a sting operation in which FBI agents and prosecutors set out to entrap African-American elected officials....

They deserve a better explanation of how and why this investigation was launched in the first place, and why it fixated on African-Americans....

At a time when racial profiling has come under increasing criticism, without more information, African-American fears only deepen the feeling that the Tennessee Waltz is profiling taken to a whole new level....

This is why glib assurances about fairness from federal officials leading the Tennessee Waltz are not enough. For the sake of the city, they owe it to explain how they came to concentrate on African-American politicians in all branches of city, county and state governments.
The post is full of assertions of motive but no evidence whatsoever, except in looking at the number and racial makeup of the people indicted so far in the Tennessee Waltz investigation and drawing a solipsistic conclusion.

From every news report I've read, the E-Cycle agents approached every legislator and then sought introductions from those State-level folks to local-level government officials. A great many black officials are on record as having been approached and turning the company down. If you want to argue anything, then look at the separatism of black politicians that led black State officials to hand off E-Cycle only to local black officials. Or is black solidarity a bad thing to mention? (I do not support this, but merely offer it as an exercise for the reader to consider.)

Read this passage:
Many feel that the highly publicized crackdowns by the Shelby County attorney general are at the expense of black people. They point out that in a city where more than 60 percent of the people are black, they can’t even change the names of parks named for Confederate heroes. They mention that the average salary of a white citizen of the Memphis region is twice the average salary of a black citizen. They tell about tax freezes that are granted for companies that pay below average salaries for workers who are largely African-American. They tell of the government subsidy of sprawl that enriched white developers.
That pervasive "they" is a sure marker of "liberal white guilt." There is a persistent whiff of paternalism in this piece that is repugnant.

The folks angry about all the black indictees in Tennessee Waltz also seem to be conveniently overlooking all the whites implicated in various scandals, or proto-scandals, emanating from the former Rout administration in Shelby County. Rout, Lanier, Jones and other lower-level officials are all white. Are they victims of a kind of double-reverse discrimination?

The post also packs in a whole lot of unrelated and debatable "facts" to paint their particular picture. I just don't have the time to challenge them all.

Is there racism in Shelby County? You betcha. Lots of it, every day. Whites still control a lot of the power and money levers here, so they can effect the worst results. But I routinely see and hear black racism too, on a smaller and more intimate scale, every day. As more and more blacks get their hands on the real power, you'll see anger and resentment for past wrongs (rightfully earned, I point out) flipped back on the former oppressors. It's unavoidable; it's human nature.

So does a cronyistic and corrupt local government culture inherited from whites then corrupt the new, black generation coming after them? I hear "They got theirs and now we're getting ours" all the time. So my answer is yes.

That doesn't make it right. It just is what it is.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Augh! The Crone!

If I hadn't seen this one with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. You couldn't have convinced me. But there it was -- Susan Adler Thorp sitting before the camera on a WMC/5 newscast Sunday night criticising the Memphis Police Department for having "low expectations" that resulted in police officers engaging in criminal behavior! She chastised a few bad apples for "making it hard for the rest" by "disgracing" the "public trust."

As I live and breath, I cannot believe I saw that. Regular readers of Half-Bakered are very aware of Thorp's career of abuse and unethical behavior. I have covered it here, here and here, in excruciating and outraged detail.

I went to the WMC website and discovered she's already been at it for a while. Here are some of her words of wisdom on Ophelia Ford:
Thirteen votes are well short of a mandate. Now she must earn the confidence and respect of the voters. The people of this community expect her to be informed, to represent them well, and to distance herself from her brother's ethical challenges.
As Thorp should well know, having a history of ethical challenges of her own. Listen to her Ophelia; she's been there and done that!

On Jeremy Hunt:
The whole issue surrounding Jeremy Hunt raises serious questions about the priorities of those in charge at the University. Their decision to let Hunt return to the basketball court just days after he was charged with assault, remains a sore point in this community. It leaves us with the impression that the University believes it's more important to score points than it is to abide by the law. That is wrong.

College is MORE than teaching a young person how to play basketball. And there's more to it than academics. It's about learning life's skills. How to get along in the world. How to act responsibly. How to be a good citizen. While these are skills that can't be learned in the classroom, they can be learned from those who serve as role models - professors, administrators and, yes, even coaches.
Or public servants, though Thorp is too modest to mention that. Judging by how Thorp keeps doing questionable things but always landing on her feet, I think maybe she could teach young Mr. Hunt some life lessons as well.

On the new building permit moratorium in Shelby County:
The map is a good idea. But don't expect miracles. The map is only a guideline, not a law with teeth in it. Too often developers seeking permission to build also are donors to political campaigns. And it's tough to say no to someone who has given your campaign a lot of money.
She should know! It's also tough to say no to a friend, even a disgraced felon asking for something he's not due, through means neither public nor ethical, from the public purse. But laws are made for others, not Thorp, I guess.

Susan Adler Thorp has to be a post-op transexual, because she has a pair of the biggest brassiest balls I've ever seen.

Whatever respect I may have had for WMC and for News Director Peggy Philip is now gone, and I have to wonder at the journalists and reporters who work in a newsroom that would countenance this. My respect vanished in a show of hypocrisy, willful blindness and cronyism that has my outrage-meter pegged.

The old saying still applies: Qui custodiet custodiens -- Who watches the watchmen? If a news organisation will blur the lines so badly, so casually accept such wrong, how can we trust them to bring any strict standard to their coverage of others?

If you want to express your own outrage, email them at Until I learn she's been fired, or asked to resign, or has "reached a mutual agreement to part ways" or whatever, I will not watch any WMC/5 newcast.

This must not stand.

MONDAY 10PM UPDATE: Well, well. Some very testy Susie-supporters in comments leaping to her defense. They all chose to be anonymous, so I have to treat them as one. (Remember, people, if you want to be anonymous, at least choose a nickname so I can distinguish you.)

Quoting:'d find out that Thorp did nothing but hand a note to Bobby Lanier telling him to call Tom Jones. That's it.

And back to the facts, rather than innuendo, all that she did was to walk a phone call to Lanier.

Yep, and if you call Fowlkes, he'll tell you that the part on Thorp was mistaken.
Another commenter was kind enough to forward the link to County CAO Fowlkes' report on his investigation. Certainly you should read it all for yourself (it's short), but I'll excerpt the relevant portions for you:
At various times after September 2, 2003, Jones initiated contact with Susan Thorp, Director of Public Affairs and Robert Lanier, Executive Assistant to the Mayor. Thereafter, Thorp and Lanier met with County employees and discussed Jones’ circumstances. The discussions centered on reinstatement or fallback rights....

Although I have not been able to identify specific dates, sometime between April 1, 2004 and Jones’ formal request to exercise his fallback right on April 28, 2004, employees met and discussed if he could be eligible for an age 55 pension, which would be at a higher benefit rate. An informal meeting took place in Lanier’s office. Others present besides Lanier were Waverly Seward, Janet Shipman, Administrator of the Human Resources Department, Brian Kuhn and Susan Thorp who left shortly after the meeting. The discussion again centered on what actions were necessary to process Jones’ retirement request if he filed for fallback rights after his 55th birthday....

In discussing this situation with Thorp, she indicates that her sole purpose was to help a long time friend obtain much needed pension benefits. Her involvement was limited to asking general questions about whether or not the process was proceeding. She indicates that she has no experience with the Retirement Plan or the Civil Service Act, and played no part in moving Jones’ request forward. However, Thorp demonstrated knowledge of fallback rights and the affect it could have on changing Jones’ retirement date. The significance of this knowledge was evident when she spoke with Jimmy Moore, an Elected Official. Thorp told Moore that Jones was trying to exercise his fallback rights and needed a position with the County. Thorp asked Moore if he would hire Jones. Both Thorp and Moore described this conversation as “brief”, “off the cuff”, and “mentioned almost in passing” indicating that the discussion was of little or no import. However, soon thereafter, Moore followed up on the conversation with Lanier. Moore asked Lanier about Jones’ circumstance, and Lanier advised Moore not to get involved. No action was taken by Moore to place Jones on his payroll.
At no time did Thorp alert the Mayor to any of these circumstances....

Susan Adler-Thorp.
a. Had been advised on a previous occasion to separate work from personal friendships, specifically regarding Jones;
b. Spoke with Jones about pension and benefits, and agreed to help get the process started;
c. Spoke with Lanier about the possibility of helping Jones get his pension benefits;
d. Inquired of Lanier on several occasions about progress regarding Jones’ benefits;
e. On other occasions, discussed Jones’ benefits acquisition with Human Resources employees;
f. For a short time, attended a meeting of those working on Jones’ behalf where employment, retirement and benefits were discussed;
g. Briefly discussed Jones’ retirement and employment circumstances with an Elected Official, and at one point asked the official about employment possibilities for Jones;
h. Thought the Mayor was aware of what was occurring;
i. As Director of Public Affairs, failed to alert the Mayor to any of the events that were occurring.
So there you go. That certainly seems to contradict the Susie-supporters' claims. Given the choice between taking Fowlkes' official word and some anonymous commenters, I know which I'll take.

The interesting thing about Fowlkes' report is that he never specifically identifies the person responsible for placing Jones back on the payroll, though the strong indication is that it was Lanier.

There is another loose end. From the report's timeline of events:
May 28, 2004, (30 days from reinstatement request) by administrative act, Jones was reinstated to County employment;
10. June 1, 2004, Loudermill letter was hand delivered to Jones, notifying him of major disciplinary action. (Because of the holiday weekend, the Loudermill letter wasn’t delivered to Jones until he had been on County employment rolls for three days.);
11. June 1, 2004, Jones resigned and requested retirement;
12. June 4, 2004, by administrative act, Jones was placed on the retirement payroll;
Hand-delivered on the day after a major holiday weekend? That's serious. And who/what is the "Loudermill letter?" Notice the "by administrative act" citation; I assume this was Bobby Lanier?

I stand by what I said. Thorp was part of an effort to help out a friend by circumventing normal procedures and the specific edict of Mayor Wharton, at taxpayer expense. If it wasn't a strict legal violation, it was most definitely an ethical one. The County is not a piggy bank for hard-luck cases, especially not ones who are convicted felons because they abused their County position. With her long experience watching City and County government, and hearing from Commercial Appeal readers outraged at the shenanigans in those governments that she covered, there is no possible excuse for her actions.
But Will She Appear on the Today Show?

I swear I'm not kidding here:
Anne Rice, the chronicler of vampires, witches and—under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure—of soft-core S&M encounters, will publish "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," a novel about the 7-year-old Jesus, narrated by Christ himself. "I promised," she says, "that from now on I would write only for the Lord." It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" announced that he'd been born again.
This should be interesting.
You See? I Told You: Gas Price Department

Remember just a month or two ago, all the hysteria and panic and anger at rising gasoline prices? I blogged on it, rather disdainful of you gas whiners and those with short memories, so I hope you do.

Guess what? Gas prices have dropped almost 25 cents in just the past two weeks, to a national average of $2.65.

Admittedly, I thought gas prices would settle around the $3.00 level, so I was wrong there. But I'm glad to be wrong, in this case.

So all you whiners hush up, and you "blood for oil" conspiracists go back to your texts and come up with a new theory.
Local Weather Reporting Gripe

Whatever happened to the jet stream? Used to be that the position of the jet stream was a part of the regular weather forecast. You can give me a radar map, a features map and the position of the jet stream and I can predict the weather for the next couple of days at least as accurately as the weathermen do.

The jet stream acts to both divide and guide the fronts and storms that pass by. It divides warm and cold air; it propels storms from one area of the country to another. Depending on which way the jet stream jinks, you could have a warm, humid day or a cold stormy one.

So when and why did the position and activity of this engine of weather get dropped? And why do so many weather forecasters now just let the software predict the weather and they merely critique its predictions?

And while I'm at it, why do so many morning weather reports not conform to actual conditions? Especially at NewChannel 3? I can't count the number of times I've seen Todd Demers tell me that there's only a chance of rain when the radar shows a strong front bearing down. Is he a robot who can only do his prepared script, or does he just ignore reality and plow on? That's not to pick on him, but he's the worst of the bunch at it.

Wait! One more. What's with seven-day forecasts? For a brief while, the local weather reports were showing signs of scaling back to a more reasonable five-day forecast, but now everyone is telling you what the weather will be next weekend. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE WEATHER WILL BE THAT FAR AHEAD. And especially not with tropical storms and hurricanes. So just stop it, OK?

Ooh! Ooh! Wait, I got another. The whole "weather where you live" that wastes precious time showing the highs for a dozen or more cities in the area. The variation is only going to be a degree or two, and that's well within your prediction's margin of error anyway. Do I really care that it will be 61 in Millington and 63 in Midtown? Who can tell the difference?

How's about just a radar map, a map of current features (fronts, highs and lows, storms, isobars), a jet stream map, and maybe a prediction map you've done yourself? Just the facts, OK?
Skip the Real Story, Be Defensive

I've said it before and will repeat it: I love the Commercial Appeal columns by Editor in Chief Chris Peck. They are always an amusing mix of lecture, condescension, pats on the head and a shove out the door. So it is with today's column, where he indirectly mentions one of the most important topics being discussed in journalism today in order to defend himself and his paper.
Dan Gillmor apologized, sort of.

"I didn't mean to insult you,'' he said with a wry smile.

Still, his words echo in my ear even today.

''I wouldn't recommend to a young person that they go into print journalism,'' he said at a recent future of the media conference in Michigan.

Gillmor and I were part of a three-day retreat to talk about where journalism was headed. He's a very bright guy. He's worked a long time in newspapers. His words were difficult to hear.
Chris introduces Dan by putting him on the defensive first, to minimise him in our eyes.
I would recommend someone going into the newspaper business. It's the most exciting time ever to be part of the media.

As someone with 30 years in the trenches of daily newspapering, I can say without question that the need for good journalism has never been greater. All of us live in a big, complex world where our very democracy depends on the ability of journalists to help people make sense of what's happening around them so they won't be duped and can make good decisions about their politics and personal lives.
Buried in that is the sentiment that more and more Americans are rejecting: the "lecture" model of modern journalism. Newspapers talk ex-cathedra (as in the Pope talking to Catholics) to their readers, predigesting everything relevant and arriving at Very Good Opinions Indeed for you.

For example, in the CA's case, their crusade against "predatory" lenders. Don't you love that nasty term? The CA made a crusade of a series of stories about the evil, profiteering short-term, no-collateral lenders. But nowhere in those articles, that I can recall, was there an examination of the needs of low-income people for small, quick loans, nor any examination of why the big banks (their advertisers and allies) don't bother to service an obvious need by the average consumer! Nope, the paper had their opinion, pursued it vigorously, and gave it to you to accept.
Turns out that Gillmor also values journalism. He also wants people to be informed.

It's just that he thinks the future of journalism will reside less with ink-on-paper reporting by professionals, and more on a rising tide of citizen journalists using the Web.
Notice the construction here that places Peck and you, the reader, on the same side, the implied correct side, and Dan other there, somehwhere else, somewhere presumably less correct. Clever writing, that. Us and Peck versus [casts gimlet eye] those guys.
He has written a book that makes a compelling case that the future of journalism will look quite different from the past.

He published ''We the Media'' in 2004. He wrote it after 10 years of working for The San Jose Mercury News in California, where he covered the booming dot-com industries of the Silicon Valley.
So, who is this Gillmor guy anyway, to be casting aspersions on the Great and Holy Brotherhood of Journalism?

Turns out he's one of the leading thinkers of the movement that's sweeping journalism. He has a blog. (His old one is here.) He also writes a regular column for his ex-employer, the San Jose Mercury-News, although not recently. He does write another regular column for Silicon

Chris briefly mentions Dan's book. That would be We the Media, which also has a website of its own.

Notice how none of these links made it to Peck's column. We'll come back to that in a bit. The larger point isn't that Dan is just some guy with a book and an opinion. What Peck leaves out is that Dan's ideas are being put into action.

Go and read Jay Rosen's PressThink site and blog. Jay is a professor of journalism at New York University, and a respected educator. He's been documenting the changes tugging at professional journalism for several years now, showing how the landscape is changing and writing about the resistance to that change in the world of news. Go to his "Highlights" sidebar and pick any column there, but especially this one, discussing in great detail the grand and successful experiment underway in Greensboro, North Carolina.

What is happening there is that, basically, the new editor of the paper (the Greensboro News & Record) noticed that Greensboro had a vibrant blogging community that was frequently scooping the paper and fact-checking them ruthlessly. Ed Cone, the editor, was also a blogger himself, so instead of dismissing the blogging community in Greensboro as amateurs and annoyances, he decided to embrace them. He began to erase the line dividing the paper and the community, creating numerous forums and opportunities for the blogging community to interact with and guide the paper's website. It revolutionised the paper, and Greensboro, and this ongoing experiment is being watched nationwide to see where it goes.

There is another experiment, similar in nature, going on in South Korea. The editor of the OhMyNews website, Oh Yeon Ho, had studied journalism in America and developed some radical ideas. He took them back home and re-invented the idea of "news reporting." The Oh My News site employs "professional" journalists, but also has a resource of hundreds of citizen journalists who contribute stories on a daily basis.

The volunteers are housewives, students, businessmen, business owners, scientists and Koreans of every stripe. They write about what they know,what's going on around them, and what they learn. The readers decide what they want to read out of this incredible variety. The upside is that coverage of the community is increased a hundredfold, and areas of daily life that might never occur to, or come to the attention of, a reporter get the light of day. The site is an incredible kaleidoscope that leaves little undiscussed. It's a newspaper, the blogosphere and talk radio all rolled into one.

You can read Oh's interview with Dan Gillmor here. Oh is putting into action the ideas that Gillmor has laid out and explored.

Chris Peck, on the other hand, is trying a different experiment, one rooted very firmly in the old model of journalism. To judge by the Commercial Appeal's falling circulation, it seems not to be working so well. Notice how frequently Peck mentions "professional journalists in his column. That should tell you where he's coming from.

His changes are largely stylistic (using more contractions and colloquialisms; a chattier style; shorter stories and more one-sentence paragraphs) and marketing (lots of stories about people with lots of pictures; stories that pander to readers but are written in the classic "overcoming struggle successfully / enduring hardship with dignity and hope" mode; stories from businesses written by those businesses, hence reading like press releases and not objective news).But the heart of it is still the trained professional priesthood cadre of journalists, protecting and processing the news for the great masses who need instruction.

It's the battle between top-down and bottom-up. We already know which one wins, time and again. We already know which one accords better with the American tradition, which one is authoritarian and which is democratic. Peck wants you to trust in his authority and accept his New Model Newspaper, but the changing mediascape says he's on the losing side, no matter how he dresses it up.

Take, for example, the recent report from the New Orlean's Times-Picayne, which detailed how so many of the hysterical and frightening stories reported by television and print news had been wrong, very wrong. Yes, the CA put the story on the top of page one. Very good.

But the paper itself never addressed its own failures. They simply accepted and ran the stories from the national sources, not doing any fact-checking of their own, even though the paper made a huge deal about how they were devoting a lot of their own resources to reporting the biggest story in the area in decades. The fact that they should so uncritically accept and pass along such fear-mongering, and their own people never caught it despite being on the scene, is disturbing. It doesn't inspire trust at all.

What they did was to append the following paragraph to the article, which by the way was atributed to "From Our Press Sources:"
The Commercial Appeal published stories based on wire service reporting from the scene that referred to some of the reports now found to have been exagerrated or false. In most cases, the accounts were attributed to local and state officials, particularly early fears of a body count that would be in the thousands in New Orleans. An Associated Press story the newspaper published on Sept. 3 noted the wild stories circulating.
That's it. Nothing about the self-examination that ought to have been occuring, the re-evaluation of how wire service stories are used, the in-house changes that should be coming, nothing. It's just "oh well" and onward.

One thing that bothers me in Peck's column is this bit of rah-rah:
So at a meeting last week, the editors of this newspaper were given the task of considering how to get in front of the changing demands and expectations of what journalists do, who a journalist is, and what citizens expect of the work journalists do.
First of all, if they can't get it right none of this matters.

But second, the paper has been particularly lackadaisical at best and stubbornly resistant at worst about the move to the Internet Age. Stories in the online version still don't have hyperlinks. I've been told that this is a feature of their in-house software! That's nearly criminal for a website.

They have some blogs, but almost none of them function in the way most people understand the term. Some serve, as I have noted before, as resources for the writer to stripmine for the print version of the paper. Some are overflow catches for story ideas never published. Some are adjuncts to ongoing projects of the paper.

Many are dead, too, but still listed.

There are the forums, but these are standard-issue bulletin boards, and as you'd expect they are dominated by the same few voices and arguments. Nowhere is the paper actually trying to use their web resource as a place to have a conversation with their readers, as a place to interact, to learn and to grow. Nowhere.

So, Chris, spare me all this woohoo of yours. Yes, you've managed to reinvent the CA as the house organ of the "Downtown is Memphis" elite, capital city of the Kingdom of Greater Memphis. Lucky merchants will get the king's favor and lucky peasants will get the King's Indulgence of seeing themselves in His Paper.

But it would seem that the old biases and agendas largely survive, just in new clothes, as do the same old pretensions and condescensions. There is a deeper, more fundamental change, a re-orientation of point of view, that you seem unable -- or unwilling -- to make. That's a shame.

We could use the newspaper you could be.
First, I Gird My Loins

There is an guest column in today's Commercial Appeal from local left-wing nutball B. Keith English that brings up Jesus, God, religion and the War on Terror. Unsurprisingly, even for a nut, he's agin it; most of their guest columnists can be depended on to fall into this category.

But it gives me an opportunity to ask some questions of my more religious readers, those more familiar with the Bible than I. I must first point out that I am not being sarcastic or disrespectful, nor am I trying to provoke. I just want to know, so I'm asking.

Here we go.

Where in the New Testament does Jesus condemn slavery, which was widely practiced in his day?

Where in the New Testament does Jesus condemn the Roman Empire, which was worse in its day than anything we've done today? Where does Jesus call on the Emperor to renounce or embrace anything? Or call on the Roman government to change any of its ways?

Where in the New Testament does Jesus exhort the local government or the Roman Empire to take care of the poor, rather than exhorting individuals to do so?

Where in the New Testament does Jesus condemn armies, or call on the Roman Empire to disband theirs?

I'll probably think of some more, but these are a start. Any answers?
What They Say and What They Say

The editors of the Commercial Appeal weigh in on the chance of a Buck & Bass Superstore being opened in the Pyramid, and it's nearly what you'd expect, if you look closely.

There is the obligatory "Bubba" remark, the pleas to keep other -- any other, please -- options open. The gentle derision. You get the sense that they imagine a B&B store downtown and curl their lips with a mix of amusement and horror. "Can't you just see those hip-wadered, camo-dressed, capped yahoos wandering around open-mouthed in our beautiful, modern, exciting Manhattan on the Mississippi? It would be funny, if we didn't have to actually deal with them. What if they decide to gut fish right there on the Mall? Do we need ordinances for that?"
To some people, the idea of converting The Pyramid into a giant Bass Pro Shop sounds like a strategy guaranteed to reinforce Bubba stereotypes about Memphis.

It's hard not to laugh at the thought of the Downtown arena draped in camouflage canvas to resemble a giant tent.

It's all too easy to make jokes about an indoor aquarium where customers can don hip waders and nets to scoop out fish, or a showroom floor adorned with sawdust and spittoons, or a guy dressed in a deer mascot costume kibitzing with customers.
You see? But the B&B people seem serious and the Pyramid is just sitting there, draining money, so the CA folks seem to be urging Downtowners to suck it up for the good of the City.
Based on what he's learned about other Bass destination stores around the country, Lipscomb believes one in Memphis would include one or more upscale restaurants, animal exhibits and other family-friendly attractions.

"It's not just for duck hunters and fishermen,'' he said.

The store might be capable of attracting 2 million to 3 million visitors each year, which would have a significant impact on the local economy.
Now, if any other attraction, like that civic-improvement, high-minded aquarium for example, was to announce they were bringing 2 or 3 million visitors a year the CA would be wetting themselves with boosteristic excitement. Why, that's more than the FedUp Forum! And it's artistic - educational - civic - historical to boot!

But no, it's a haven for all those thinly veiled barbarians. You know, they (whispered voice of outrage) kill things! Keep 'em in Mississippi and Arkansas where they belong, not in the very heart of our World-Class Modern Metropolis.

I say bring it on. The Mid-South is a great area for hunting, fishing, etc. and if the Buck & Bass Superstore helps draw more hunters into the area that's a good thing. It's a family activity and most hunters and fishermen these days are good stewards of the woodlands.

Heck, the next time someone spots a deer in downtown, just send up the cry, "Hey boys! Huntin' season!" Problem solved.