Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Adventures With MATA: In & Out

Regular readers know that Mr. Mike doesn't own a car. It's nothing legal. I have a valid driver's license and all. It's just that I made conscious decision about 15 years ago do do without. (Hah! All you middle-class liberal enviromentalists with your recycling and carbon credits can bite my bus pass!) Trying to get around courtesy of MATA can often be an adventure in itself.

Take the recent Memorial Day holiday. On the old MATA website notices about holiday bus schedules appeared on the front page. Not so now, thanks to the chucklehead who redesigned the website! Notices like that are on a deeper page for "News and Press Releases." If they appear. There was nothing about a changed schedule. Knowing better, I called the MATA number and after playing a frustrating game of "whack-a-button" got to a human who told me the changes. I pointed out the website didn't say anything about it and she didn't really care. Not her job. the website was never updated. Thanks MATA!

On June 10th, a whole lot of route change went into effect. New schedules aren't released in advance, so I went, once again, to the website where, on June 11th, they still didn't have the new route schedules posts. Some of these changes were important routes to me (2-Madison, 50-Poplar and 53-Summer) but it seemed the only way I'd learn the new routes was to make a special trip downtown to the North End Terminal. Or risk waiting a long time for a bus that might not be coming....

[Digression the first: Turns out, the Memphis Center for Independent Living right around the corner had the complete, updated library of schedules. Way to go, MCIL! And thanks to Mark for the pointer.]

So today, I'm waiting for the 2-Madison and it's already 10 minutes late. Across the street I see a 13-Lauderdale sitting full and motionless at the other stop. He's waiting for a replacement bus to show up because his crapped out. No idea when it was coming.

Mine shows up and I learn, to my surprise, that busses going out along 2-Madison are the same, but if they are incoming to downtown along that same route, they are now 13-Lauderdales. Which explains why that other bus was on Madison. Glad I learned that before I was out east near the UofM and let that 13-Lauderdale pass me by unknowing!

[Digression the second: Don't let the names fool you. Just because it's a 2-Madison doesn't mean it travels along Madison. Near the Downtown and the Medical District it bounces around like a pinball in bumper city along all sorts of detours. Heck, the 53-Summer takes a sidetrip off Summer such that it's possible to be between two other bus-stop signs but not actually be on the route! Same with the 50-Poplar around the UofM area.]

Today's lesson: You really have to do your homework if you're going to ride the bus. And don't depend on MATA to help. That's not the office's job. (But the drivers are good about helping out.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Welcome to Our Downtown Overlords

Thanks to Paul Ryburn for the mention! And welcome to the folks swinging by from there.

I ran into him yesterday at Otherlands. I've only recently discovered the place as somewhere fairly close by with large tables good for gaming and a quiet atmosphere. Prices are coffeeshop ridiculous -- $1.69 for a 20 oz. Coke -- but it's nice enough.

The board game Paul's talking about is Twilight Struggle. (Baord Game Geek page here.) It's a game about the Cold War, US versus USSR. Each superpower vies to control the other nations of the world via influence. You can also use Coups and Realignments. You win by either dominating the world or not being the one who start a thermonuclear war.

It's a type of board game called a "card driven wargame." Both players have a handful of cards that allow you to either take a number of actions or trigger the event on the card. There's nothing like hitting the US with a "Red Scare" or thowing the "Marshall Plan" on the Soviets.

It's an absorbing and fun game with lots of tough decisions and some pretty high drama. In yesterday's game, I was the Soviets and had control of Japan! How's that for alternate history?

It's funny, too, that whenever that game is out on a table in public, folks always walk over to look at it. It never fails. Something about the big colorful map does it, I think.
Dr. Johnson: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish!

Richard Thompson of Mediaverse Memphis has a good round up of stories and links on Dr. Carol Johnson's sudden departure from the Memphis City School system here.

It's important to remember, I think, that she wasn't just plucked out of thin air. Like a lottery winner, she had to buy a ticket. She put her name into consideration some months ago. Some folks think it's the decision by the County Commission to not disburse some funds the MCS thought they were entitiled to that did it. But clearly she'd been disaffected before that.

I guess after she's gone, we'll hear from folks inside the MCS who are free to talk.

I also wonder what's going to happen to the Blue Ribbon Campaign. With the two main institutional boosters gone (Johnson and school board member Lora Jobe) who will back it now against those who view it as a mistake? (Count me in that column.) Any kind of confusion from the administration -- translated down to principals and teachers -- will automatically be picked up on by the kids in school and chaos will result. We may find ourselves forced to back away from BR whether we want to or not.

I've never agreed with BR simply because it requires a prior buy-in from the parents of the kids and, clearly, there's a wide swath of parents who just don't think that way, never have and never will. Or maybe that was the point? With a choice between a harsh, punishing home life and the wonderland of love and support in the schools, kids will gravitate to the schools, leaving the old life behind? Isn't that how cults work?

Was Dr. Johnson doing what some professionals do? She didn't really want another job, she just tossed her resume into the inbox to see how she stacked up against the competition. It's a kind of profesiional competition, a way of seeing if you still have the juice.

But the fact remains: Despite the tears and proclamations, she is leaving all "her kids" in the lurch. She's dumping them for money and status. Is that the message she wants her kids to learn? Her goodbye to the school board was full of kids, flowers, speeches and tears. Why? She knifed the kids in the back.

I have to wonder what might be going on. Where are the expressions of anger? Why isn't anyone closely associated with her pissed off? Is there an understory here?
Another Milestone Missed

I just happened to look at the Manage Posts page a little more closely and Blogger tells me I have 2505 posts on this blog! Wow.

Blogger used to tell you how many words you had written, but that went away several versions ago. I had something close to 500,000 words back then. I'd love to have that feature back because it used to give me a little frisson to know that in five (or four) years I'd managed to write enough for six novels. I'd be a mid-list author by now.

Sigh.... I could use those advances.

Anyway... 2500! Woo! Party!
Same As It Ever Was

Take a look at this front page from the Minneapolis newspaper in the 1920s. There are eight stories and seven have to do with scandal, tragedy, crime or violent crime. The last one is a sports story.

Does the modern Commercial Appeal even have eight stories on its above the fold front page any more? Truthfully, I couldn't tell you since I haven't looked at one in ages. If I check out the CA at all, it's online. But I do notice that the CA seems willfully cheerful, and its headlines are models of obfuscation and muddiness.

Notice how dense the Minneapolis paper's page is. That's a lot of information for you to absorb right there. The CA went the old USA Today route with large pictures and lots of white space.

But it's the subjects of the headlines, the focus on crime and scandal that should ring familiar. Doesn't it look like the evening news?

Our circumstances may change, but fundamental human nature is largely the same, decade after decade. People then are like people now. This I believe very firmly. Did you know that some of what we know about Greek history comes from the grafitti written on the walls of the public forums?

Do you know why perfume was invented? Europeans didn't take baths, so of course they stank like a barn. But they wanted to cover that smell to appeal to each other. Even though we today are hygenic, the habit contines, it's roots forgotten. People who are otherwise clean and fresh smelling cover that up with a chemical bath because it's what we do, because the body is filthy and smelly.

People want to know the crime and scandal of the day. It appeals to the part of our brain that is concerned with our place in the social heirarchy. We are status-oriented creatures, Alpha males watching out for the scheming Betas, Gammas hoping that misfortune will knock aside some Delta so we can move up a notch.

I suspect that's part of the reason that the newspaper is suffering locally. People are turning to television news for their fix of "today's social standings." Editor Chris Peck has set the CA on a course that lets readers know that it inhabits a higher, loftier plane, one that it will bring you up to if you but repent your ways. I can't tell the number of times some editorial has just reeked of "we watch what we say because we don't want to stir up those dangerously volatile masses." They are Better People who carry the White Man's Burden of bettering their inferiors.

They don't give the people what they want, but what "they" think "you" should have. Television news doesn't operate under any such restrictions and so it gives viewers what they want. One stays popular and the other withers away.

Is there a niche for what the CA does? Yes. Remember the "good news newspaper" Grit? Oh, you don't? Well, there you go.

Watching the CA move into niche-dom while believing it's found the path to wider readership, all the while cloaked in the belief that they are doing "good work," is not unlike watching Ignatius Reilly in The Confederacy of Dunces. It didn't end well for him, either.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Song Lyrics of the Day

Bright lights, the music gets faster.
Look girl, don't check on your watch --
Not another glance.
I'm not leaving now, honey, not a chance.

Hotshot, give me no problems.
Much later baby, you'll be saying never mind.
You know life is cruel; life is never kind.

Kind hearts don't make a new story.
Kind hearts don't grab any glory.

Bonus points if you can name this song without Googling! There are many versions of this. Which is your favorite?