Saturday, December 03, 2005

That Was Nice

As I noted yesterday, I wasn't feeling all minty fresh. I forced myself out of the house this afternoon to go to the monthly West meeting of the Memphis Strategy Board Gaming club. They aren't just war-gamers (all those little markers and the complicated rules, though I like those games, too) nor do they play the dumbed down American department store stuff. What they play, and the reason I went, are what's called Eurogames.

These are time or turn limited games that are less competition- or win-oriented and much more social in design. The rules are usually easy to grasp quickly, though not simplistic, and games play in less than ninety minutes. You can learn more at Board Game Geek.

I met Alan and another nice guy whose name I have forgotten, and someone I know already from the blog community, Brock. We played an Egyptian themed Eurogame called Ra. It uses a combination of resources and auctions to force some strategic thinking. Nothing deep, but still a lot of fun. We managed two games in as many hours. And I was a total newbie to the game! It's tough enough you have to pay attention and think about things, but not to the point that it's a chore or the fun side is lost.

I had a great time and my spirits are certainly boosted. I definitely plan to go back again. If you're interested in playing friendly, challenging but not mind-numbing games, you might want to look this club up. They bring a variety of games, and are open to others.

We met at Cafe Francisco, across from the Pyramid and the Central Terminal bus station (a plus for me!). I had a much better experience with CF this time, and found myself enjoying the place. Still a bit too dark, but not as noisy today.

It was weird to see so many tables taken up by singles with headphones plugged into laptops, quietly typing or clicking away, both enjoying and oblvious to their environment. It's a strange form of socialising, to say the least, but I guess this is the "new normal" for that generation. One table was three young (and cute!) women industriously working away, only occasionally interacting with each other. Passing strange....

Anyway, as you can see I'm feeling better.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Flat Tire on the Bicycle of Life

Sorry for the not-posting, but I haven't been up to it the past couple of days. Just not feeling all outraged and self-righteous right now. Give me another day or so and I'll likely be OK. Thanks.
Totally Wack

An editorial in today's Commercial Appeal contains the following passage:
It's a long story, and it's complicated, but the bottom line is simple: If there's any way to stay off Interstate 240 at Walnut Grove, by all means do it.

The Walnut Grove improvement project is totally wack right now -- at a stage that goes beyond mere traffic jamming.
Is this any way for a "world class" city newspaper to write? I know the paper long ago made its peace with using contractions to sound more like its readers, but "totally wack?"

Do these people even look up as their car careers over the road's edge?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wah! Wah! Wah!

Cindy Sheehan is thin-skinned. Blogs like mine linked to AP photos of her book-signing event which showed an empty tent. The implication is she gave a book signing and no one came.

She's peeved, as the Kos story shows. She even got a note from her mommy publisher to back her up. Apparently, using unflattering pictures in a misleading way to make an untrue point is fine for Democrats to do to George Bush, but not fine for Republicans to do to... well, anyone.

But, if you look at her, the table, around and behind her, there's something conspicuously missing --

A stack of books to sign.

Obligatory Warning

Just so ya know, those of you who are new or occasional to this blog, Wednesday is Busy Day, so there won't be any posting until very late, if at all. It might even be Thursday.

Y'all watch yourselves until then.
The Revolution Will Be Subsidised

In this provocative and intruiging essay, Adam Stenburgh begins with three premises:
(1) Last month, Apple unveiled yet another new iPod, this one capable of playing video. At the time, it seemed underwhelming—little more than another Bravo, Steve Jobs! moment and a chance to watch U2 videos on a screen three inches high. As an ancillary benefit, however, Apple started selling commercial-free episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives on its iTunes Website, along with select music videos, for $1.99 each. Three weeks later, iTunes had sold its 1 millionth such video.

(2) This summer, Universal did something kind of weird: It released Serenity, a sci-fi movie based on a poorly rated TV show, Firefly, that had been canceled after eleven episodes. Making movies of hit TV shows has a self-explanatory logic, but there aren’t too many movies based on TV flops. But I saw Serenity and liked it a lot, so I went out and bought the entire run of the Firefly TV series on DVD, watched it, and liked it a lot as well.

(3) Last week, Fox announced that, owing to scheduling conflicts, it planned to put its new series Prison Break... on hiatus until late May.... One fan-generated suggestion to Fox was, why not move the show to a less-competitive time slot, such as Friday, where die-hard fans can still find it? I’ve been recording the show on my DVR (TiVoing it, you might say, except the folks at TiVo don’t like you to use that word unless you own, you know, a TiVo) and enjoying each episode at my leisure. So naturally, my first reaction to this debate was, Wait a minute. Prison Break airs on Monday nights?!
He develops this into an interesting theory of what television production might become. It involves Joss Whedon and Firefly, but that's just a bonus.

There was a story today (sorry, can't find the link) that the new head of the FCC has changed direction and ruled that so-called a la carte cable programming packages are the way to go. That means subscribers will be allowed to choose only the channels they want for their television. For some families, it means never even having objectionable programming enter their homes. For the art-crowd or the science or history geeks, it means only buying the movie channels, or only paying for Discovery or the History Channels. It also means news-junkie channel packages.

The Brave New World of television is coming soon, within a few more years. The only downside will be finding the great shows, since there will be fewer than ever broad demographic sources of culture. Word of mouth will become the driving force, not a PR campaign.
Canada Bashing!

Being an American of Canadian descent (as we used to call it) I am allowed to bash the nation of one of my parent's birth and you can't call me on it! Hah! Sometimes PC has its uses....

Anyway, Samantha burns lists some things that are true Only in Canada. Here are some samples:
Only in Canada......are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.

Only in drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

Only in people order double cheese burgers, large fries, and a diet coke.
Thanks to whoever is coming here from her blog. That's how I found it.
Haiku for the Day

Via Board Game Geek comes this:
Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

I blogged the other day about the Metropolitan Planning Office wanting to take another look at the MATA "light rail" project, which will cost the City of Memphis at least $100 million. I'm opposed to the project on a variety of ground which you can read in the post.

Moving at its normal plodding pace, the Commercial Appeal's editorial staff today makes its pronouncement. Their stance? Here you go:
If light rail is worth doing, it's worth doing right. And that means getting a broad community consensus before any plans move forward.
They aren't exactly saying don't build it, though there's wiggle room there if they need it. But they are saying "When we decide to do it, we must have the community lined up in support." I don't read that as "make sure the community is in support" but as "make the community support it."

One of their arguments in support of the "light rail" is this:
Light rail will ultimately succeed or fail because of its ability to move large numbers of people back and forth between Memphis and its fast-growing suburban neighbors.
One problem there, Pecko. The rail line under discussion goes nowhere near those "fast growing" suburbs. It's a direct line through south and midtown Memphis between the airport and the Downtown!
It only makes sense for the local governments that represent those suburbs to have input into the plans. They should work with Memphis leaders to develop a system that best serves the entire region's interests.
Don't you just love the Memphis paternalism and condescension dripping from that statement?
Even with high gas prices, it's going to take some doing to convince many commuters to trade in the convenience of their cars to ride on public trains. And if the trains get bogged down in the same rush-hour traffic cars muddle through, then light rail could be a very tough sell.
It's all about the PR. About changing people, not responding to their needs.

It's called opinion leadership. They are where they want you to be. They are going to take you there, where you like it or not, because it's for your own good. They are smarter and better informed than you -- they're journalists, after all! -- so just do your duty and line up quietly.

The wise sages at the CA have studied the issue for you and given you their considered opinion. It's a very good opinion indeed. The best that the Church of Journalism can produce. Those protesters banging on the door? Ignore them. They will be burning soon, and burning in Hell slightly later.

The CA's masthead says "Give light and the people will find their own way." Their logo is a lighthouse beacon. But what the crew there does isn't to build an enormous fire lighting up the landscape for the people to study it. Nor do they act as the lighthouse, marking your position along the coast and warning of dangers to ships conducting their business.

No, they act like the guy who has the flashlight. "It's mine and I'm pointing it there. You can follow me or stay behind."

No thank you.
Watch Your Wallets

There's something in this Commercial Appeal story ("Support builds for authority to levy new taxes") that irks me, and it's not just that County officials want to find more ways into our wallets and paychecks.

It seems to me that writer Richard Locker, who was part of the mooing press crowd supporting the income tax a few years ago, is trying to inflate what's happening to make it look larger than it might be:
Last week, West Tennessee county mayors met in Jackson for a briefing on the issue. And next month, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) is expected to endorse the concept, within limits.
That sounds like two, separate, things doesn't it. But...
The TACIR report, to be released at the think tank's Dec. 13-14 meeting in Nashville, could make the push for broader local tax authority a statewide effort.

Wharton said the Nov. 22 meeting of West Tennessee officials took no stance on the issue but was called to "begin to underscore the need for local autonomy for counties."
Well, it seems to me that if a State legislative committee is laying out the groundwork for giving Counties more and broader taxing powers, that's a pretty secure level of support for it. Yes?
State Reps. Randy Rinks, D-Savannah, and Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, attended the TACIR briefing in Jackson. Both said Monday the issue should be nonpartisan. Both formerly served in local government: Rinks as mayor of Savannah and Eldridge on the Madison County Commission.

Rinks, who is also chairman of the TACIR board....
Ahhhh... there it is. It's all the same thing. TACIR calls a meeting to brief West Tennessee County officials on their legislative response to the requests of County leaders for increased taxing power. There's nothing "broad" or "increasing" about this. It's all part of the same, ongoing push to further gouge taxpayers.

Perhaps Wharton and the Shelby County crew might want to find out when Governor Bredesen is going to restore the "state shared tax revenues" he took from them when he submitted his first budget. Bredesen claimed it was needed to balance his first "austerity" budget. Three budget years later, with the State having run hundreds of millions in surpluses in tax revenue since, those revenues have never been restarted and sent back. Instead, Bredesen and Nashville's State legislators are making plans to spend it.

Bredesen took about $30 million that first year. It's what, in part, helped to precipitate the current County financial crisis, and has hobbled the County's ability to respond since. I'm sure Shelby County could do some real budget good with an infusion of $30 million this year.

Where's the Tennessee Municipal League been in all this? We pay them good money every year to lobby the State Legislature on behalf of the County, to no apparent avail. Maybe there's some more money to be found in taking back our dues.

There are options to explore before they start finagling to pilfer out wallets and pocketbooks and purses and money clips. Why is no one pressuring Wharton et al to do that first?
Canada Does It, Why Not Us?

We hear from those on the Left how superior the Canadian health care system is to ours, so I'd like to hear what they think about this program, er... programme in Canada?
Tory MPP Bob Runciman brandished crack cocaine paraphernalia in the legislature yesterday, demanding to know whether taxpayers are paying for a "harm reduction kit."

He asked Premier Dalton McGuinty whether government funds go to a Toronto Health Clinic for these kits.

"Do you think it's appropriate that taxpayer dollars are being spent to distribute crack cocaine kits in Toronto, given that half of all homicides in the city, according to Toronto police, are due to gangs fighting over this illegal drug?" Runciman said.

McGuinty said the decision rests with the City.

The Liberals later handed out a release that said the Queen West Community Health Centre has distributed safe crack kits for six years so "Bob Runciman's government approved the use of public health dollars on the distribution of these packages."
With so many of Memphis' poor on the crack, we should seriously consider this, don't you think? Maybe we need a publicly funded free crack program, like the methadone program in Frayser. Crackadone anyone?

And if the rumors are true, some of Memphis' political leadership might appreciate a little help. Having to maintain a crack habit on an elected official's salary must be tough. It leads to bribery and corruption. Or so I hear.
Blogger Triumphalism

Via Instapundit and this post on the fall of the Canadian government on Monday comes this thought:
Conservative bloggers have now taken down [Trent Lott,] Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and the fricken Canadian Government.

Liberal bloggers have taken down Jeff Gannon and Jim Guckert—oh wait, that’s the same person.

Advantage: Conservatives!
Whoohoo! We rule!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pod People

I was surfing around BoardGameGeek, a website for board gamers that is also a treasure trove of great memories and fun games. They have pages on more than 20,000 games! These are not just the old stand-byes like Monopoly and Risk, nor wargames like PanzerBlitz and Squad Leader, but seemingly everything released in the past forty years, both here and in Europe. They have an active, vibrant and fun community there. It's an easy site to get lost in, believe me.

It was this thread, though, that caught my eye. A player of the board game Ticket to Ride, Europe was baffled by the reaction he got in one recent game session. Read the following:
Tell me if I'm mean. Here's the story: So we get together with some friends to play some Ticket to Ride Europe. All four of us have played before, but not together. I begin by placing all the single-track routes needed for my long ticket, and to play it safe I stockpile some cards in my hand for several double-track routes. At this point it is semi-clear what routes other players are playing in another part of the board, so I take a turn to "block" a fellow player by playing a critical two-train link that is clearly part of his route, even though it is nowhere near mine. The next turn I play another two-train link in the middle of a second player's route (which also helps safeguard my "longest train" points).

At this point I am nearly lynched by a very upset group! Comments like: "You're not supposed to do that!" "You're blocking others from getting their trains! The only reason you are doing that is to block people!" Reply: "Well...yeah, exactly, isn't that part of the game?" "That's just not nice, that's not the idea of the game!" "Reply: Why not? I'm taking a risk by doing this, aren't I, using resources and time and leaving myself open for the same thing?" But my reasoning doesn't go over too well, and it seems like the group only wants to play with everyone focusing on their own routes, and playing anywhere else is just unthinkable and absurd. Although it clearly wins me the game in the end.

Are they being unreasonable? Or am I being overly mean? I have learned not to do it again with this group, because it will spoil the gaming experience for the others. But it seems to me that the game itself does allow this style of play, and that a good player will also take into consideration how he can slow down his opponents by a carefully chosen "blocking" move. (Alan Moon's game Elfenland takes this a step further by giving each player an "obstacle" token, which seems to me a very similar idea.)

So in my mind it wasn't too big a deal - the game even has its own solution in the form of Stations, which admittedly cost a few points to play. But the group wasn't happy, and it didn't help that I ended the game by hoarding some cards, and then surprising the other players by ending the game with three quick routes in consecutive turns to use my last ten trains - with most of the other players receiving minus points for multiple incomplete routes. To top it off, I had the longest train, so nobody even had the slightest interest in adding up the points.

So what do you think: was I too competitive and mean? Or was I just playing the game strategically the way it was intended to be played?
Read the long comment thread, where the concensus is that he's right, but he wasn't paying attention to his fellow gamers.

What fascinated me was the attitude of the others. They didn't seem to be competing but working in parallel cooperation of a sort. Something about that makes me think these were youngish people, or left-leaning parents of young children. It sounds too much like the stories you hear of schools removing games of competition to replace them with group games.

I like playing games, but I like competing. I try to keep it friendly, to always remember that the point is to first have fun, then to win. Something in the attitude of this guy's group bothers me.

What say y'all?
It's Not Theft When an Artist Does It

To fans of Star Trek, they are akin to the Apostle's Creed, words that can be recited from memory, a promise of a future to be believed in:
Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
But as this article shows, they might have been taken from a government brochure called "Introduction to Outer Space":
…the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before.

The author shows the links between Roddenberry and the Southern California space industry and this paper written for President Eisenhower. It was distributed nationwide in the wake of the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite.

He even shows where the design for the K-7 space station came from!

Remember, when you do it, it's plagiarism. When an artist does it, it's inspiration.
Yet More Proof of the Obvious

A commenter below asked for my opinion about this Commercial Appeal story on the police promotions / testing process. What can I add? This is a corrupt and covetous city, rife with folks who are only too happy to blame others, or profit from the blaming. Strong leaders are called for, like 'em or not. Yes, they make do things you don't like, but they get things done. What we have instead is an enormous "go along to get along" community of mutual self-profit and protection. Surrounding that is a milque-toast rabble too afraid to do anything.

The story doesn't say anything that anyone paying attention doesn't already know. What it also doesn't say is who is doing anything to change this culture. Not in namby-pamby Oprah-lite stories of struggling and overcoming, but in digging in, naming names, rooting out and shaming those who promote or acquiese to the culture of corruption.

I got nothing more. The solution is a frightening one, involving uprooting a lot of lives and careers, and making dramatic, shattering change. No one likes that, few communities ask for it. It's too much. It's dangerous. It might affect me. There's the months and years of insecurity until we see results. There's the chance that the revolution might be seized by the very elements we seek to remove, and subverted.

Too dangerous, too risky. Unlike what we have now.

And while we're looking at this story, I want to lambaste, to bathe in flames of excoriation, to reduce to embarrased pixies, the idiots responsible for the online version of this story.

Go to the bottom of the story. Look at this section: "A Look at the Headlines." That's a list of all the stories the Commercial Appeal (presumably) wrote on this subject. I say "presumably" because...


It passes beyond excusable, beyond thoughtless, beyond flabbergasting even. For a website that archives their stories NOT TO LINK TO THOSE STORIES IN A STORY ABOUT THOSE STORIES is simply an abandonment of the principle of journalism.

If there were a competition for Commercial Appeal incompetence, this would be the prize winner in a long, long list of potential winners.

I'm not even going to try to locate these stories through their Search tool. I'm willing to bet almost all won't be findable. They found 'em. They showed 'em to you. But you can't read 'em! Too bad for you!

I Was Wrong

Well, only part wrong. When I blogged about the latest Morgan Quitno Press crime ranking placing Memphis at #5 for metropolitan areas over 500,000 (16 in all cities) I joked they wouldn't report it. Well, the did! Eventually. And, if you read the whole story closely, you see they still put all sorts of weasel phrases and fudges into the story to cut it's impact.

There are complaints about methodology, of course, though you usually don't see such attention paid in other CA stories where rankings or statistics or polling are concerned.

The story is also padded with anecdotal "evidence" from average citizens. These, of course, mean nothing. Maybe they could have added a couple of balancing stories from victims of 2005 crime? I can look from my front door any day and see drug dealing, prostitution, vagrancy, speeding, etc. We haven't crossed over into crimes of opportunity like mugging and stickups and robbery, but everyone on the block worries it's coming soon.

Regular Memphians know we have a crime problem. A bad one. We also have a police problem. We routinely go through new police Chiefs. The paper and the television news regularly report about new probes, investigations, allegations and arrests involving Memphis police. But they don't paint these individual stories into a larger canvas where people can figure out what to do. It's all treated as isolated cases in an otherwise healthy system.

Partly, it's their fault. But partly it's the nature of their media. They sprint every day to keep up with the latest press releases. Once in a while, I wish they would take someone off the track and give them the time and resources to look deeply into the issue.

Inviting the usual suspects to write guest editorials, which are often little more than smoke and mirrors or ass-coverings, isn't the way to go. It's always the same people with the same excuses. Look deeper; invite the true critics to speak. Find and report on the cities that are making dramatic turn-arounds in their own corrupt police and dangerous communities.

More importantly for the media, get away from the same old reliance on police and authorities to take care of things and start showing the average citizens how to take care of themselves. Rather than get all breathless wide-eyed when a citizen kills a criminal, examine what happened carefully. Report responsible gun use in self-defense as the right thing to do, which it is. Report neighborhood action to root out and clean up drug problems. I had a friend tell me how his neighborhood, which is Mexican-American, had a house taken over by crack dealers and users. The men of the neighborhood one day gathered with their bats and paid the house a visit. The drug problem went away.

OOOOOH! some of you are shrieking. Civil rights! Vigilantes! Nope. It's about protecting my personal and property rights against those who don't respect them. You have a drug problem or a job problem? Too bad. I'll help you get clean and look for a job, but it's your problem. Deal with it. Don't pass along your consequences for poor choices to me. I've got enough of my own to deal with.

On a related note, there's a story I've wondered about that doesn't seem to be on anyone's radar. New Orleans was a notoriously corrupt and gang-ridden city. When its residents scattered after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, those gang-bangers went somewhere. I'd like to know where. Are they moving to places like Memphis, taking up residence and fighting with the established gangs, or are they being absorbed by their brothers? Tens of thousands of gang members didn't suddenly clean up their act and go straight. They just moved, taking their attitudes and problems with them. Did they come here? In what numbers? How is that affecting us? What does it mean?

I doubt the Memphis police will give straight answers. After all, they lied to us for years about the gang problem even existing in Memphis when the evidence was everywhere. So why isn't the media going into this?

Oh, wait. I just reread the story above. I got my answer.
This Might Be Good News

The Metropolitan Planning Organisation, which MATA touts as the driving force behind the proposed "light rail" system between Downtown and the Airport, is now reconsidering it's support.

Presently, we're told it will cost the City of Memphis alone about $100 million to build. (Another $300 million comes from the State and the Federal governments.) That assumes there won't be cost over-runs or unexpected additional costs. Where does the City expect to find that kind of money? With the recent continued lowering of our bond ratings, how can we justify the additional interest costs for a city that can't even meet its own reduced budget? We already have to find at least $25 million to make up last year's shortfall (and it might be more, we've been warned before an accounting study is released); we face shortfalls for this year as well.

Take a look at some figures: The original capital cost was supposed to be $36 million, but when it was finally opened, MATA President William Hudson crowed about coming "under budget" at $56 million! Don't think the same cost-creep won't happen today.

There is also the issue of surface-level "light rail" cars moving along high-traffic areas like Madison and Cooper and East Parkway, or Pauline and Lamar. I was under the mistaken original assumption (thanks to terrible explanations from MATA and the local media) that the line would use trolley cars, like the Madison and Main Street Trolleys. What will be used is something larger and, supposedly, faster but it will still use the same overhead tangle of power lines and tracks imbedded in the road surface. How this system is supposed to work quickly, mixed in with regular Memphis traffic, is never quite explained. And, as I have noted before, the light-rail experience in Houston is that traffic accidents are a common occurence. Imagine how much worse it will be in red-light running, crackhead driving, drunk driving, aggressive, impatient Memphis. (You can review the proposed routes here and read MATA's plea here.)

We're told it will relieve congestion and attract more riders, but already the Madison Avenue Trolley line is well below its projections. (The Commercial Appeal had a story on this, but an attempt to use their search tool to find it was frustrating and pointless. There is a gap in their list of "trolley" stories from 2003 to 2005! Go figure....) Expecting different from a light rail system is foolishness.

The Madison Trolley currently enjoys a Federal subsidy of nearly $3 million a year. In another year or so, that will be cut and then a few years later it will disappear. Where will we make up the difference? Even propenents admit that light-rail doesn't pay for itself. So we will soon be carrying the costs of two systems to the tune of millions a years. Millions we don't have at all today.

There is no good reason, in realistic terms, for this project to go forward. But I still suspect it will. The Memphis road builders are looking at $400 million to be dumped here. You think they won't spread some of that around to the various public boards and the City Council? There are also the social utopians who want to remake the city to their ideal, no matter the cost. This project is a centerpiece.

It will be used to "tie in" with the projected redevelopment of the Fairgrounds, and claimed as a "kickstart" for the declining Overton Square. The folks at Cooper-Young want no part of it. They have enough traffic problems and congestion without the headache and chaos of squeezing in a lane for light-rail cars and over head wires. The folks along Lamar Avenue would love to get it, but they aren't the target demographic for connection and redevelopment.

I would hope we can kill it, but like so many bad, but profitable, ideas it will limp along until opponents are paying attention and the bribes finally add up to a sale.

While I've linked the story in the Commercial Appeal, let me highlight this passage:
MATA president and general manager William Hudson acknowledged that transit officials must make their case and show there's "enough support to move the light-rail project forward." He noted that a survey conducted in the 1990s found 85 percent of respondents favored light rail.
Clever, that, except that since then the City has gone into a financial death spiral that shows no signs of turning around. Try asking them now.
At a public meeting this summer, Hudson pointed out that the council vote that nearly axed the light-rail project was "along racial lines." White members voted against the funding, while black members voted to keep it in the budget.

But in a recent interview, Hudson said he doesn't think "there's anything racial" about the council vote.
See the kind of dirty hardball proponents are willing to use? That's a sign of how much push there is behind it, and resistance.
Although MATA has some leftover funds that could be applied to light rail, much more significant funding commitments are needed to proceed further with the project.
Leftover funds? From where? Why aren't they being used to reduce fares? Buy new, cheaper buses? MATA is about to reduce routes yet again (including reducing the famed Madison Avenue Trolley! I told you.) but they have money squirreled away?

Someone's got some 'splainin' to do.
Too Cool For Words

Via Z Geek (WARNING: Not Safe For Work) comes word about The Me 262 Project. That's a group of Americans who are building five flightworthy Messerschmidt Me262s.

The Me262 was the world's first operational jet fighter, and served the Nazi Luftwaffe in the waning days of World War II. The stories of Allied pilots and bombers crews encountering them for the first time are some of my favorite stories of WWII. Most planes of the time flew around 200 or 300 mph, so when bomber crews spotted them on the horizon, they knew they had several minutes to prepare before the attacks and dogfights began.

Until the Me262. Crews would spot them from afar and begin the preparations for the attack, only to be shocked when these jets, with their hellish roar, screamed immediately past them. They were unnerving and frightening, to say the least, not only for air crews but for Allied Command.

Fortunately, the Nazis production capacity was seriously crippled, and the willingness to embrace innovation that characterised the early Nazi military was long past. The war ended soon after their introduction. We were very lucky never to have to face designs like these.

I should also point out that the German rocket scientists at Peenemunde (including Werner Von Braun) were experimenting with a two-stage, atmosphere-skipping manned intercontinental missile that could be launched from Germany. It had just enough power and aimability to have been considered as a "V weapon" against New York City! The possibilities of this kind of terror weapon are sobering to consider.

Oh! While I'm on the Nazi rocket program, I remember reading somewhere a story, almost certainly apocryphal, that the Germans actually launched the first man on a rocket into the upper atmosphere. Apparently, so the story goes, an engineer was stuffed into one of their V-2s with an oxygen canister, but did not survive the flight, hence the suppression of the story. Anyone heard of this?

Anyway, while noting the atrocity that was the Third Reich, I'm also very envious of the men who will get to fly those Me262s. I hope they tour the air show circuit and make it to Millington or Halls sometime soon. The Me262 is one of those sleek, beautiful designs that matches form with intent, to create a shark-like appearance of menace. Scary beautiful.
The History of the Universe in 200 Words or Less

The science and language geeks in me just love The History of the Universe in 200 Words or Less:
Quantum fluctuation. Inflation. Expansion. Strong nuclear interaction. Particle-antiparticle annihilation. Deuterium and helium production. Density perturbations. Recombination. Blackbody radiation. Local contraction. Cluster formation. Reionization? Violent relaxation. Virialization. Biased galaxy formation? Turbulent fragmentation. Contraction. Ionization. Compression. Opaque hydrogen. Massive star formation. Deuterium ignition. Hydrogen fusion. Hydrogen depletion. Core contraction. Envelope expansion. Helium fusion. Carbon, oxygen, and silicon fusion. Iron production. Implosion. Supernova explosion. Metals injection. Star formation. Supernova explosions. Star formation. Condensation. Planetesimal accretion. Planetary differentiation. Crust solidification. Volatile gas expulsion. Water condensation. Water dissociation. Ozone production. Ultraviolet absorption. Photosynthetic unicellular organisms. Oxidation. Mutation. Natural selection and evolution. Respiration. Cell differentiation. Sexual reproduction. Fossilization. Land exploration. Dinosaur extinction. Mammal expansion. Glaciation. Homo sapiens manifestation. Animal domestication. Food surplus production. Civilization! Innovation. Exploration. Religion. Warring nations. Empire creation and destruction. Exploration. Colonization. Taxation without representation. Revolution. Constitution. Election. Expansion. Industrialization. Rebellion. Emancipation Proclamation. Invention. Mass production. Urbanization. Immigration. World conflagration. League of Nations. Suffrage extension. Depression. World conflagration. Fission explosions. United Nations. Space exploration. Assassinations. Lunar excursions. Resignation. Computerization. World Trade Organization. Terrorism. Internet expansion. Reunification. Dissolution. World-Wide Web creation. Composition. Extrapolation?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Another Unheeded Lesson for Memphis

Great in-depth history and review of the San Diego Sports Arena that shows how it's been a profit-maker for the team owners but a major tax drain for the city itself.

You'd think we would have learned our lesson with the Pyramid. It was a sham sold to the city in a hurry, cheerled by a compliant media itself seeing visions of advertising profits. Questions and calls to slow down were brushed aside as carping. It was built anyway and today we, the people of Memphis who are paying for it, are still stuck with nearly $30 million in debt. The people responsible have moved on.

Then came the Houston Oilers fiasco. The backers were poorly funded and organised. They hadn't greased the right palms and didn't have their ducks in a row. They failed. Lessons were relearned and reconsidered.

They did indeed learn their lessons and had a plan already in place to rush through the FedUp Forum. City leaders had their "tiger team" already in place and well funded when the announcements were made. The Commercial Appeal made sure to demonise and isolate those who were skeptical or resistant by collapsing all protest into the lone "renegade" and solitary figures of Duncan Ragsdale and Heidi Schafer.

My question today is: How much tax revenue has the Forum generated for the City? Not ancillary taxes from businesses around it, nor "multiplier effects" taxes, but how much money has the Forum put directly into the City's coffers? How much has it generated? How does that compare to predictions? (I seem to remember hearing that it was below expectations. Am I wrong?)

Is it more than the costs of keeping the Pyramid and Coliseum on "maintenance death?" I'd wager not.
Pictures Don't Lie

Poor Cindy Sheehan had a book signing at the Crawford Media Compound and Herbal Healing Center in Crawford, Texas, that didn't go over well, even in the throbbing heart of anti-Bush passions. You can see, she had a special guest though:

Hearing the Obvious Through the Din

Seems like the mainstream media is filled with stories of how badly it's going in Iraq: soldiers glad to be home, bombs exploding, increasing casualty counts, gloom, despair, agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck, they'd have no luck at all....

Oops! Sorry, had a Hee Haw moment there.

Even with the press covering the bad news, the conflicts on Capitol Hill and between politicians and special interests, the American people haven't lost their common sense:
Seventy percent of people surveyed said that criticism of the war by Democratic senators hurts troop morale -- with 44 percent saying morale is hurt "a lot," according to a poll taken by RT Strategies. Even self-identified Democrats agree: 55 percent believe criticism hurts morale, while 21 percent say it helps morale.
Ah, but sensing an opportunity, through the lens of their only understanding of war in the Vietnam War, Democratic leaders continue to carry on.
Their poll also indicates many Americans are skeptical of Democratic complaints about the war. Just three of 10 adults accept that Democrats are leveling criticism because they believe this will help U.S. efforts in Iraq. A majority believes the motive is really to "gain a partisan political advantage."
Good luck to them!
The Scandinavian Myth

Here's an amazingly researched study of The Myth of the Scandinavian Model. It shows how excessive taxation and government spending (ie. generous social welfare systems) squash prosperity and overall economic growth. Lots of charts for the info-density challenged.
What Y'all Talkin' 'Bout?

This rather confused AP article looks at the Southern accent. It begins by professing the Southern accent is being stamped out or pushed aside, but then offers ample refutations. Go figure.

I'm interested in this because I've always had trouble with accent. Not in hearing it. I can tell the difference between someone from middle Georgia and north Florida and the Carolinas, for example. Central Mississippi and Arkansas or Alabama. It's also fun to listen for the difference between modern urban black accents and the rural Mississippi accent here in Memphis.

No, it's my own accent. My mother is Quebecois (French Canadian, for those public-schoolers who might be confused). She came to America in the mid-Fifties when she was in her twenties. She still has a pronounced French accent, though I can't hear it, having grown up with it. But all my childhood friends used to love to listen to her talk, because she sounded so different from other Alabamians

My Dad is from south Georgia, and grew up in south Florida, but he went into banking, so he eradicated any accent he grew up with to adopt the Standard American accent, what television news anchors used to use. Meeting his sister -- my aunt -- was a surprise, as she has a strong, thick Georgia accent.

The result? Even though I was born in Alabama and lived my first thirty years there, I was forever being asked "Where y'all from?" In fact, I had to learn to say "y'all!" It was painful, as I consider myself a Southern man, and proudly so.

I'm told by family that I do indeed have a Southern accent now, though nowhere near as strong as my Georgia or Florida cousins.

The article I started out talking about only briefly mentions the influx of Northerners, and their class prejudices and gleeful bigotry towards Southern speech. A Southern accent, in fact, is still one of the acceptable forms humor bigotry. Need someone to be a hick, a pumpkin or a racist? Just give 'em a Southern accent, of course. Everyone will immediately know what you mean. Never mind that the state with the largest Klan membership -- both in raw numbers and percent of population -- was Indiana.

Anyway, it's the old stereotype of the Southerner as slow and stupid. Life in the South, until the advent of air conditioning, was by necessity slow-paced. There was little sense in getting out into the hot, humid sun and unnecessarily working up a sweat. There was little to do in rural homes that required speed to get it all in. It was only in the invasion of the fast-paced, automobile powered, air conditioned, television and telephone connected modern world that the Southern way of life began to dramatically change.

Southerners are proud of their past. Until very recently, we were a land of farmers and croppers, tied to the soil. We are acutely aware of family and the bonds of obligation -- both ours and others. And we have the sensitivity of those who have been humiliatingly defeated in a bid for independence. Shame and resentment will sharpen your memory that way.

We have always held ourselves apart down here. Maybe it was growing up in Huntsville that made me aware. Huntsville was a sleepy farming town, and former State capital, in northeast Alabama. It was so little regarded that when Interstate 65 was being planned the designers routed it through nearby Decatur, as they judged Decatur as the town with the most future promise.

But then came the German rocket scientists to Redstone Arsenal. After that came the Marshall Space Flight Center, the third leg of America's space program alongside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Suddenly, a quiet corner of the rural South was swollen with a lot of German ex-patriates who only spoke halting English, and their fellow engineers and scientists from around the country.

Huntsville quickly became a rather cosmopolitan small town. One of the FM stations, until well into the Seventies, turned over its weekend programming to German music -- oompah polkas! German restaurants were followed by restaurants that served a wide variety of American and world cuisines for the employees of Redstone Arsenal and the MSFC. Farmers developed a keen interest in seeing that their children received solid science educations, so they could compete with the immigrants for jobs.

And so a small out-of-the-way community developed German, Indian, Nigerian and Chinese communities. And we had a welter of dialects and languages all around us. So maybe it's not so odd that I never developed a pronounced Southern accent, my parents being more aligned with the immigrants than the native Southerners.

Nor, I guess, is it any wonder that as a second-generation immigrant I developed a pronounced interest in, and immersion into, the culture of my birth.

My home's in Alabama, as the song goes.
Censorship or Correct Thinking?

Ah, who says the Left doesn't practice censorship? Take this story, via Michelle Malkin, of a publishing house that alters a photograph for political reasons (PC, of course) and then defends itself by arguing "It's for the children."

And yet, if the government came to them asking that something be changed for a similar reason, there would be howls of outrage! Where's the Modern Language Association or the American Library Association in all this?