Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hello Dalai! Or Things You Can't Make Up

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 3:20 PM

So I get a call from Film Commission head Linn Sitler today around noon.

"Bruce," she says, "you need to get a reporter and a photographer down to Tom Lee Park in the next 15 minutes."

"Why?" I ask.

"I can't tell you, but it's big, trust me." And she's gone.

So I send out a call for a reporter to check out what's up at Tom Lee. Chris Davis volunteers. He texts me a few minutes later that there are lots of cop cars and that the rumor is that the Dalai Lama is about to appear. It was around lunchtime, so I got on the company intercom, announced the Dalai Lama was soon to be in our neighborhood, and if anyone wanted to say, "Hello, Dalai," now was their chance.

"Hello, Dalai," is, of course, the most obvious and overused joke about the Dalai Lama. I said it ironically, okay?

Apparently Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery thought this joke was somehow original, and somehow a good idea to try out on the Dalai Lama himself. So when introduced to his holiness, Myron babbled something about a fistbump being a local tradition (really?) and started awkwardly forcing his fist at the DL, saying "I've always wanted to say this: HELLO DALAI!"

Mayor Wharton, Mayor pro tem Lowery, the Dalai Lama, and Linn Sittler
  • Chris Davis
  • Mayor Wharton, Mayor pro tem Lowery, the Dalai Lama, and Linn Sittler

Get ready Myron, you're probably going to make the Daily Show, David Letterman, Keith Olbermann, etc. in the next 24 hours. After that, you will live on Youtube.com forever and ever. Yep, the Mayor Pro Tem is fixin' to get his 15 minutes, and he ain't gonna like it much. This clip is going get played and played (The Flyer will have one up by Davis later today.), and it will probably destroy what little shot he had at the mayor's office. Surprisingly, we Memphians still like a little dignity in our public officials, especially after the Herenton clown-show of recent years.

I did hear that Myron and his advisers had been thinking about trying to chest bump the Dalai Lama, but decided to save it for the Pope.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Joe Wilson's Come and Gone

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 10:02 AM

The saga of Representative Joe Wilson and "the shout" provides an instructive primer for how social networking and the Internet have utterly transformed not just the coverage of the news, but the very making of it.

I was watching the president's healthcare speech from home and Tweeting casually about it, along with a number of other local Twits, some in journalism, some not.

Joe Wilson
  • Joe Wilson

When Wilson shouted "You lie," several people tweeted, "Did someone just call the president a liar?" Who was it? Everyone wanted to know. Within seconds, we did know. The culprit had been identified on CNN and his identity tweeted to millions. Within minutes, Wilson's Wikipedia entry had been updated to include the shout in his bio. Wilson's Twitter and email addresses were sent out and thousands of people began sending him messages demanding he apologize. Within 15 minutes, the name, address, website, and phone number of Wilson's opponent in the 2010 Congressional election had been spread around the blogosphere. Within 8 hours, more than $400,000 had been pledged to him.

So many website URLs about Wilson's background were sent out via email and Twitter, that within a half hour I'd learned more about an obscure South Carolina congressman's history and record than I know about my own representative's. And this was a man I'd never heard of a half-hour earlier.

Wilson had to change his Twitter account. He quickly apologized, more or less, for his actions. The next day, he appeared on Fox News, where he received sympathy and understanding as only Sean Hannity can deliver it. Rush Limbaugh, predictably, offered his support. On the opposite side of the spectrum, on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann did a typically histrionic "special comment" on Wilson, elevating the man and his moment of stupidity to even higher planes of outrage.

Let's review: Within 24 hours, South Carolina representative Joe Wilson went from an absolute nonentity on the national radar to a household name. His opponent now has twice as much as money to campaign with as Wilson does. A national campaign to unseat him has been put into motion. Millions of people think he's an ungracious ass.

Fifty years ago, Wilson's outburst might have been reported in the morning paper. A few of his colleagues might have insisted he apologize, which would have been duly reported over the next day or so. Most people would never have heard about it or cared, if they had. Now, we're all connected, like bees in a cyber-hive. Consequences come quick and hard. Public — and even private — stupidity is much more difficult to get away with.

That's a good thing, right?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The President's Socialist, Nazi, Communist Speech to Our Beloved Children

Posted By on Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 2:15 PM

In the interest of furthering the Memphis Flyer's stated agenda of subverting America's future and completing the overthrow of democracy by our Fearless Leader Barack Hussein Obama, I present this sneak preview of the president's nefarious speech to our soon-to-be-brainwashed children. Hahahaha! BWAH-hahaha! (And for those evil immigrants, Jajajajajaja! BWAH-jajajaja!)

Hello everyone — how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

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I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday — at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer — maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper — but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor — maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine — but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life — I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that — if you quit on school — you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home — that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school.

That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you.

Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer — hundreds of extra hours — to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education — and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you — you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust — a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor — and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you — don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down — don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Great White Nope

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 10:42 AM

If you live in one place for a long time, you tend to get cynical about it. At least that's been my experience, having lived in such disparate cities as Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., St. Louis, San Francisco, and Columbia, Missouri, over the past 30 years. Long-time residents of all those cities are convinced that their politicians are the crookedest, that their drivers are the worst, that their clerks are the rudest, etc.

51mDE3YoO8L.jpg

Memphis is no different. To our huge native legion of cynics, we're "the most racist city;" our politicians are all greedy crooks, our crime problem is the worst in America, etc. etc. (Often, the folks making these remarks are the ones who proudly write letters to the paper about how they've "escaped" to Fayette or DeSoto or Tipton counties. I think they're just lonely out there.)

At any rate, I was reminded of our universal provincialism when I read this article, about how Atlanta, a majority black city, like Memphis, may elect a white mayor for the first time in many years. My first reaction was, HA! See, racial politics — just like Memphis. And, yes, the article does point out how some black leaders are calling on one black candidate to drop out, to help assure that the mayor's office stays in the hands of an African American. But what really struck me were the following paragraphs:

And while blacks have been the majority population and voting bloc in the city for decades, the demographics have changed in recent years.

A large voting bloc — residents in the city's public housing — was erased as Atlanta's crumbling projects were demolished over the past decade. And young professionals, black and white, have flocked to opportunity in the city.

In 2000, Atlanta was 33 percent white and 61 percent black. In 2007, the numbers were 38 percent white and 57 percent black, according to the U.S. Census.

In addition, blacks may no longer feel obligated to elect a black mayor, Boone said.

"You have a young generation of blacks — not native to Atlanta — who don't necessarily see that as something that has to happen," Boone said. "They may be staking their vote on matters more critical than race."

This information truly gives me hope. If Atlanta can finally get past racial politics, so can Memphis. If Atlanta can lure young professionals, black and white, back into the city, so can Memphis. If Atlanta can get beyond "racial-majority rules" politics, so can Memphis. Can't we?

Just as we look back and are appalled at the firehoses and bombings and injustices endured by those struggling for civil rights in the '60s, I think the next generation will look back and be appalled at the racial stupidity of the Herenton/ThaddeusMatthews/MikeFleming/SidneyChism/etc. era, when the struggle was all about which skin color gets to wield political power. It won't happen overnight, but Herenton's retirement — if the stars are with us — will at least help stem the unbridled cronyism and attendent cynicism of the past few years. Then, it would help if we could elect a mayor who would govern and hire solely on the basis of competence and the best interest of the electorate. After that, the sky's the limit.

I hope.

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