Phil worked for us for a few years and did a lot of great stories. Then he started going places. He moved to Seattle, where he wrote a novel, Grassroots ..., that got turned into a movie. Then he moved to Brooklyn, where he got married, had a kid, and continues to write and put his energy into various projects.
But he never forgot Phil Campbell, Alabama, and a little more than three years ago, he decided to get the Phils back together again for another reunion. Everything was rolling smoothly. Lots of Phils were committing to being there. But as fate would have it, a few weeks before the scheduled reunion, Phil Campbell, Alabama, was wiped out by one of the devastating tornadoes that struck the state in May, 2011.
Undeterred, the Phils turned what was to be a happy reunion into a relief mission. Now they're trying to make a film about it. A few weeks back, Flyer Phil contacted me about getting some assistance on building the film's website and told me about how they were trying to make a trailer but had little money. I told him about the MGMT song, "Pieces of What," which the band played at Memphis in May in 2011, and dedicated to the tornado victims of Alabama.
Shortly thereafter, the band made the song available and the trailer got made. You can watch it here. It made me well up a little at the end. Feel free to contribute. It's for a good cause. Learn more here.
Sure, there are the usual complaints about morale, crappy management, lack of advancement opportunities, poor equipment, etc. — the kinds of things you'd get in almost any company's internal anonymous survey. But, one aspect of the officers' jobs that drew much criticism was the statistics-based evaluation, in other words, a quota system for traffic tickets. Here's a portion of Bianca's story:
"They've started tracking officer's stats, from alarm citations to how many calls to report to arrest tickets," one anonymous patrol officer told the Flyer. "A felony arrest can take hours, and they're more difficult to come by. So if an officer has six felony arrests in a month, then he's going to be in the red zone, because he hasn't written enough alarm citations or traffic violations. And then he is counseled by his lieutenant."
The officer said the program deters officers "who love to sniff out big crimes and be a police officer." Williams agreed, saying it can also cause less mature officers to violate citizens' civil rights, because they're just looking to make an arrest and boost their productivity points.
This intrigued me, because I'm about to go to court to fight a traffic ticket for running a stop sign. I don't normally fight traffic tickets, and I've had a few through the years, mostly for minor speeding, i.e. 45 mph in a 35 mph zone.
So why am I fighting this one? Because it's totally and egregiously bogus. I'll explain:
I drive Peabody/Vance Avenue from my Midtown home to the Flyer's downtown office at least twice a day. I've been doing this drive for 20 years. I know that there's a four-way stop at Vance and Lauderdale. And I always stop.
A few weeks back, I was heading home for lunch, and I stopped at the intersection of Vance and Lauderdale. In fact, three cars stopped simultaneously at that intersection on that day — one approaching me from the east on Vance, wanting to turn south in front of me; one from the north, on Lauderdale, wanting to go straight in front of me. We all did the "wave the other guy through" routine. After a few moments, the guy across from me went first. I went second.
Imagine my shock and surprise when blue cruiser lights appeared in my rear-view mirror about 10 seconds later. The officer approached and said (I shit you not), "You know there's a stop sign back there, don't you?"
I said, "Yes, I do. That's why I stopped."
The officer said, "No sir, you totally disregarded that stop sign. You ran right through it."
I sputtered and looked at him in disbelief. I went through the whole scenario of the three cars, the waving, etc. No dice. This cop continued to insist I "totally disregarded" the stop sign, and gave me a ticket.
So, even though it's a pain in the butt to go to court over this, I'm doing it. I've even got a lawyer (who I'm sleeping with, by the way). And also married to. She's going to represent me in fighting this stupid injustice.
I have no idea whether this cop just wanted to mess with me or whether he had a quota to meet or whether he somehow(??) mistook me for another vehicle. But he's going to have to tell his tall tale in court. And I know I'm fortunate to have access to legal help; most people would probably just pay the fine, which may be the whole point.
I go to trial in September. I'll keep you posted.
But let me just say that the idea of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian buying Graceland and hanging around Memphis gives me goosebumps. Or is that just a toxic rash? I dunno. Anyway, this story does give me an excuse to post a picture of Kim and Kanye and tap some of that sweet, sweet Internet traffic.
I keep a close eye on this website, which lets me know the Mississippi's water level, now and for the near future. Over the past couple of weeks, the Mississippi has dropped from 26 feet above normal to around 10 feet. That's a quick fall, which means there are now hundreds of acres of freshly exposed islands and sandbars, which we love to explore. Sunday, we pulled in on an island called Hickman Bar, a couple miles north of the city. In fact, it's close enough that you can still see the skyline if you get to high ground. But this is a place where we've seen bald eagles, deer, foxes, coyotes, herons and egrets, and where I've caught a few nice big catfish, emulating my hero, Jeremy Wade.
But Sunday, it was all about exploring. I'm fascinated by the footprints you find in the drying mud near the waterline. Like this one, a coyote, no doubt.
And these nice great blue heron prints.
And there was this, which looks like an alligator, but I ain't sayin' it is.
And finally, this oddity of tide and current. (Or some sly "artist" who beat us to the spot and thought this piece of driftwood deserved a display.)
Here are a few screenshot highlights.
I have a confession to make about a secret obsession I harbor: I am a huge fan of a television show called River Monsters. It stars a charmingly oddball Englishman with bad teeth (is that redundant?) named Jeremy Wade, who calls himself an "extreme fisherman," and fancies himself something of a piscine detective.
The show's enduring conceit, which never seems to vary, is that Jeremy hears about a mysterious death or horrific attack in some faraway river somewhere, supposedly caused by a fish — a "monster." So off goes Jeremy to Nigeria, the Congo, India, South America, Russia, you name it — to "investigate."
Upon arriving in, say, Nicaragua (to cite a recent example), Jeremy begins interviewing locals who may know something about the incident in question — the victim's friends, family, etc. This usually entails a visit to some obscure hut along a jungle waterway, where Jeremy learns a few details, which he dutifully scribbles into a notebook.
Next, he typically visits a local fish-market and talks to local fishermen to see if there are any creatures who might grow to sufficient size or fearsomeness to be able to kill someone. I should add here that most of these deaths are not due to anyone being eaten by a river monster, but more often by their being dragged or knocked out of a boat. But still, ooh, scary.
At this point in every show, Jeremy will tell his viewers that that in order to prove whatever fish he's decided to try to catch can kill a man (or child), he "has to try to catch one."
Well, of course, he doesn't, really. We know that and Jeremy knows that. There are no big fish in any waters that he is fishing that are unknown to science. And if we (or he) really wanted to know if, say, a South American arapaima has or could kill someone by knocking them out of a boat, it's easy to google. But that would ruin the fun.
So, after the requisite half hour or so of set-up, Jeremy finally starts a-fishin'. Normally, he'll throw out a small bait or lure on light tackle, just to "see what might be out there." Then there will be a few intriguing catches of exotic (and to me, at least, fascinatingly weird fishes). But none of these, Jeremy will say, helpfully explaining the obvious, could "kill a man."
Then Jeremy ups the ante by a) going further up-river where no man has gone before (sort of) and b) rigging up some big-ass tackle with large chunks 'o bait. If there are tigers, bears, caimans, crocodiles, poisonous snakes, or anything else remotely dangerous nearby, Jeremy will let us know in no uncertain terms, that he is risking his life. For science.
The pay-off is, of course, watching Jeremy finally catch a giant-ass fish in the last 10 minutes of the show. Those who watch regularly can quote his catch-phrases and revel in his googly eyes and nervous tics and breathless narration. I primarily admire the man for coming up with a schtick that enables him to travel the world chasing giant fresh-water fish in the name of pseudo-science. Plus, I like pseudo-science. And pseudo-nature shows.
I'm not sure how much longer Jeremy can keep it up, though. After four seasons, he's running out of even semi-plausible river "monsters." A recent show, for example, featured Jeremy "investigating" whether a giant tarpon could knock a man out of his boat and kill him. Well, first, a tarpon is a saltwater fish and Jeremy stretched the show's concept by claiming it was in "brackish" water. Second, he was fishing from a high-tech kayak with a fly rod, using a guide. Lots of fisherman pay big money to do this. Science, it's not. Fun, I'm sure it is. Watch the video for a sample dose of the action.
And if you've not seen it, prepare to laugh inappropriately.
Note: The station has since apologized for the error.
Anyway, in short, due to the fact that the state's previous beer tax was based on the price of beer, rather than volume, as it is in most other states, Tennessee had the highest beer tax in the country, and ...
Well, it's sort of complicated, and it's Friday, and I want a beer, so I'm just going to publish the state's press release. Cheers!
(NASHVILLE, TN), June 28, 2013 -- On Monday July 1, beer tax reform legislation that was overwhelmingly adopted by the General Assembly in April will take effect as a vast array of new laws are enacted. Upon enactment, the Beer Tax Reform Act of 2013 will convert Tennessee’s outdated price-based tax to a volume-based tax, bringing the state in line with neighboring states and modernizing its tax structure. The bill was sponsored by State Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).
“This new law promotes competitiveness and economic opportunity, as well as choice for consumers,” said Senator Kelsey. “Tennessee beer sales have declined 5 percent over the past decade, while the revenues from the wholesale tax climbed to over 30 percent. This demonstrates the punitive nature of this antiquated tax which just doesn’t make sense.”
Under the current law, which was created in the 1950s, Tennessee leads all other states’ beer tax rate by a 12% margin at $37 per barrel. This is more than 4 times the $8.69 rate in Virginia. Other states in the region include $19.13 in North Carolina, $23.96 in Kentucky, $7.51 in Arkansas and $13.23 in Mississippi, $32.65 in Alabama, $1.86 in Missouri and $30.73 in Georgia.
According to Kelsey, the new tax structure will still preserve the current levels of funding that the state’s local governments receive from the tax. The legislation was supported by a coalition consisting of a wide variety of businesses and consumers.
Some facts about Tennessee’s old beer tax system:
• Under the old tax, Tennessee had the highest beer tax in the country, and because it was largely based on price, not volume, it would have continued to keep growing and growing if left unchecked.
• Tennessee’s old beer tax rate used the barrel as its standard rate of measure. A barrel is 31 gallons of beer. That beer can be sold by the can, bottle, case or keg, but as far as the old tax was concerned, the rate was based on the barrel.
• For the past decade, beer sales have declined by five percent in Tennessee, but the local wholesale tax revenues have climbed rapidly, up more than 30 percent.
• Tennessee became the highest beer tax rate in the country in 2008, overtaking Alaska.
• Higher price-point beers were taxed higher, which unfairly penalized Tennessee’s young craft-brewing industry.
I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad about this. We know this decision could mean more unsafe cars on our streets. And it might mean more air pollution. On the other hand, the great majority of vehicles built since 2000 don't pollute as much as older vehicles. Cops will pull you over if one of your lights is out, and the inspection process may have kept some folks from getting plates who now will get them. I'm more worried about bad brakes on the street than anything else. You're on your own for wiper blades.
The announcement added that if your vehicle tags expire in June, you are expected to get your car inspected before the stations close forever on Friday. Yeah, that will happen. I bet the "lines" at the inspection station have been nonexistent for weeks, in anticipation of the closings.
In other news, my vehicle's plates expire in July, which means I might just delay fixing that 7-inch windshield crack on my XTerra a little longer.
After the race, contestants gathered for beer, music, and camaraderie. Here are a few photos I took.
Graham has worked at the CA for 33 years, the last three as managing editor. Here is Graham's quote from the CA release: “This is not something I envisioned when I started as a bureau reporter in our Jackson, Tennessee, bureau right out of college. But it’s something I take very seriously," Graham said Monday. "I revere the institution and what it has meant to the region for 173 years. My goal is to contribute to its history in a meaningful way by keeping the journalism strong and relevant.”
Here's the CA story on Graham's promotion (paywall).
Delta Airlines announced Tuesday that it would cut the number of its Memphis flights and no longer use the city airport as a hub for its operations. As of September 3rd, daily Delta flights will drop from 94 to around 60 or so. The airline will also cut 230 jobs in Memphis.
In a memo to employees, senior Delta vice presidents Tony Charaf and Gil West wrote: “Despite a series of adjustments in recent years, high fuel costs and the predominant use of inefficient 50-seat regional jets in a small local-traffic market have made Memphis unprofitable as a hub.”
As the Flyer has reported, Delta has been raising fares and reducing its Memphis flights for several years.