Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Remarkable Year

2008 offered many "bests" and "worsts."

Posted By on Wed, Dec 24, 2008 at 4:00 AM

What kind of year was 2008? A remarkable one, of course. They all are. But this one really was.

Best news: Most of us have enough stuff.

Worst news: Most of us have enough stuff. If they didn't make another car, flat-screen television, or pair of sneakers in 2009, would we really be worse off?

Best performance by a Memphis public company: AutoZone, hands down. The Fortune 500 company, up 12 percent, was one of four companies in the 50 "stocks of local interest" (Fred's, Gtx Inc., and Kirklands, all relatively tiny companies, were the others) that went up in 2008. Incredible.

Worst performance by a Memphis public company: Tie between Fortune 500 biggie International Paper (down 60 percent) and little Pinnacle Airlines (down 80 percent), but if you include companies with a big presence but no headquarters, then the casino (Boyd Gaming), retail (Macy's and Dillards) and financial (Regions, SunTrust, and First Horizon) sectors would place.

Worst trend: The growing acceptance of anonymous rumor-mongering, stupidity, and slander on the Internet in the name of free expression.

Best trend: Skepticism of all financial experts.

Biggest story: The astonishing loss of wealth in Memphis stocks, mutual funds such as Longleaf Partners (down 50 percent), bonuses and salaries (FedEx), and layoffs.

Most irrelevant thing: The zero, or the string of zeros in large numbers, such as the size of the bailout or the loss of wealth in Memphis. We are in the numerical realm of astronomers.

Worst movie release: The timing of the release of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a moving film about the Holocaust, at the onset of the holiday season. I saw it on Thanksgiving, spoiling an otherwise upbeat and festive day.

Best movie: Purely subjective — I don't see many movies in theaters because I resent the commercials — but I liked Memphian Bob Compton's Sole of a Hustla, which goes into general release in February. The story is about a venture capitalist's attempt to partner with street-smart Memphis dudes with big dreams. Shot in Memphis and China, it doesn't flinch from the truth and turns itself in and out a couple times.

Best move by a (former) public official: Bruce Thompson's decision to plead guilty instead of going to trial. He got a six-month sentence. Had he gone to trial he could have gotten several years, and the particulars of his "consulting" business as a Shelby County commissioner would have been explored in the detail they deserved instead of, alas, being left in limbo.

Worst move by a (former) public official: David Kustoff's decision to resume his role as local spokesman for the Republican Party a few months after resigning as United States attorney. By failing to lay low for a decent interval of at least a year or two, Kustoff gave credence to every suspicion that politics perverts the administration of justice, from Washington to Memphis.

Worst courtroom performance by a key witness: Joe Cooper in the Edmund Ford Jr. trial. Brave as he was to go undercover for the government, Cooper was an easy target for the defense despite the presence of incriminating tapes.

Best courtroom performance by a key witness: Edmund Ford Jr.'s wife, Myrna, as his business partner, loving wife, and mother of his children.

Most uncanny parallel: The undercover tapes of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the undercover tapes of John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, and Barry Myers in Operation Tennessee Waltz. "Show me the f****** money!"

Most dubious claim: That Illinois is the most corrupt state in the U.S. Shouldn't Tennessee at least get some consideration?

Most overexposed: Annual Memphis-centric "civil rights" games by the NBA and Major League Baseball.

Worst investment decision: MATA locking in a year of diesel fuel futures for $4.52 a gallon in August. Current price: $2.50.

Best investment decision: Refinancing your mortgage at the never-seen-in-this-lifetime rate of 4.5 percent.

Best crowd: Filling FedExForum for a meaningless game between Memphis and U-Mass with an 11 p.m. start.

Worst crowd: 15,000 or less for the U of M's last football game.

Deadest holiday party tradition: Willie Herenton and Pete Aviotti's $1,000-a-big-dog bash.

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