Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creative Confusion

Vetoes, overrides, overrules, and overlaps mean muddled outcomes.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM

You say you've had enough of apathy and do-nothing politicians in Memphis and Shelby County? You want civic engagement? You got it. This is what civic engagement looks like:

The Memphis City Council, after much debate and soul-searching and with the support of Mayor A C Wharton, votes to put a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot.

The Shelby County Commission trumps the Memphis City Council by voting for a countywide sales tax referendum instead.

Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell vetoes the Shelby County Commission's sales tax proposal.

The Shelby County Commission overrides the mayoral veto and the referendum is back on the ballot.

The county referendum knocks the city of Memphis referendum off the November ballot.

Voters in Shelby County will vote on the referendum in November, unless they live in Collierville, Bartlett, Germantown, Lakeland, or Arlington.

Approval of the countywide sales tax increase would override the sales tax increases approved in those suburbs in August.

Rejection of the countywide sales tax increase would put the sales tax increases in those suburbs back in force.

The suburban sales tax increase, possibly combined with a property tax increase, would fund municipal school systems whose school board members would be elected in November.

Unless the federal court, after a trial that begins in September, nullifies the suburban election results on the grounds that the enabling legislation violated the state constitution.

Then the unified school system is back starting in 2013, and the suburbs are part of it.

Unless the state legislature comes up with new legislation next year that passes constitutional muster and the municipal school systems are back.

Unless the federal court rules in another trial scheduled to begin in November that municipal school districts were racially motivated and violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Memphis and Shelby County school board members continue to serve on the interim unified school board only until September 2013, unless they won seats on the permanent unified school board in the August election and only if the election results were not challenged by a losing candidate and the challenge is unsuccessful.

School superintendents John Aitken and Kriner Cash continue to work for their respective systems unless Cash takes a job in Florida for which he is a finalist.

Aitken serves as interim superintendent of the unified school system until the unified school board completes a search for an omigod superstar superintendent, unless the search committee and board decide to abort the search or do the search but offer the job to Aitken anyway.

The "world class" unified Shelby County school system begins operations in 2013 with approximately 145,000 students, unless the suburbs start their own systems and siphon off 20,000 to 30,000 students.

The unified system starts in August 2013 unless the start is delayed until August 2014.

The 23-member unified school board, which will shrink to seven members in September 2013 unless the Shelby County Commission decides after that to increase it to 13 members, will run the unified school system, except for the charter schools, which are independent and have their own boards, and the failing schools in the Achievement School District, which are run by the state.

The operating manual for the unified school system is the 21-member Transition Planning Commission's plan, unless the unified school board has other ideas and decides not to adopt the plan or adopt only the parts that a majority of its members like.

The unified system starts with a deficit of $57 million, unless the TPC plan's proposed savings are scrapped and the deficit balloons to more than $100 million.

The city of Memphis is off the hook for $65 million a year it used to give to city schools before MCS surrendered its charter.

The Memphis City Council lowers property taxes next year unless members don't cut the budget and have to raise taxes instead or revive the sales tax increase six months from November, assuming it fails in the upcoming referendum.

Got it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sex and the Supermarket

Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan had roots in Arkansas.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Cosmopolitan is in the magazine rack at checkout lane seven at Kroger on Union, right next to the frozen-food aisle. Taking no chances, I picked up a half-pint of ice cream to beard my buy.

"The magazine, it's for my wife, see?"

No one looks twice at a man with ice cream. A magazine cover that touts "25 sex moves he secretly wishes you'd try, they're so specific, it's shocking!" is another story. Of course, I only bought Cosmo to check the ads and the page count — 270 of them, the envy of the struggling magazine publishing business — information as essential and illuminating to a journalist as the interview in Playboy.

The modern version of Cosmopolitan was the creation of Helen Gurley Brown, who died Monday at the age of 90. Before Fifty Shades of Grey, before Sex and the City, there was Sex and the Single Girl, Brown's 1962 bestseller, later made into a movie. She followed it up with two more bestsellers, Having It All in 1982 and The Late Show in 1993, which foreshadowed geezers-rediscover-sex movies like Hope Springs and Something's Gotta Give.

"I very clearly remember reading my older sister's copy of Sex and the Single Girl for the first time when I was probably in about the fifth grade," Jill Conner Browne, author of "The Sweet Potato Queens" books, told me.

"As I recall, she circumspectly spoke of a certain single girl who had men positively lining up, eagerly awaiting their invitation to while away a few hours in the single girl's apartment simply making brownies. It was a few years before I fully grasped the concept, but it did dawn on me eventually. It is no accident that the very first recipe in my first book is 'Chocolate Stuff.'"

Helen Gurley Brown was a lifelong writing machine and a fixture on television talk shows. A generation ago, it seemed like you couldn't turn on The Tonight Show without seeing her once a week. Now she's a name to Google, but Cosmo is her legacy: sex in the supermarket.

She was born in a small town in Arkansas and grew up in Little Rock. In Sex and the Single Girl, she described herself this way:

"I am not beautiful, or even pretty. I once had the world's worst case of acne. I am not bosomy or brilliant. I didn't go to college. My family was, and is, desperately poor."

She answered fan mail at a radio station for six dollars a week while learning shorthand, leading to countless secretarial jobs.

"There is a catch to achieving single bliss," she wrote. "You have to work like a son of a bitch."

Unmarried until she was 37, she preached the gospel of self-reliance, thrift, confidence, and sexual experimentation. In addition to her books, she wrote proposals for reality television shows featuring celebrity chefs in a cook-off and celebrities advising ordinary people on their marital problems. In that, she was ahead of her time, but, boy, did she know how to sell magazines. Even after a 15 percent drop in the first half of this year, Cosmopolitan is the top seller on newsstands, at 1.3 million copies per issue.

Unburdened by the responsibilities of weekly news magazines, Cosmopolitan delivers sex, celebrities, career advice, and models curvier than Brown, who looked borderline anorexic even in her prime.

"Now if you are already mounds of pounds overweight, you must Do Something, or you can't hope to be blissfully single," she wrote in Sex and the Single Girl. Even Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor "can't survive runaway fat."

The book was reissued in 2003 as "a cult classic" with a pink cover and a picture of a pair of hot-pink lips. It is remarkably similar to a recent cover of Newsweek showing a pair of disembodied lips open to receive some asparagus. The headline: "The 101 Best Places to Eat in the World."

"Yes, it was a cheesy grab for attention, akin to Time's cover gambit of having a 4-year-old hanging off his mother's breast," wrote New York Times media reporter David Carr. "But magazines are nothing if not desperate these days."

Some are more desperate than others. As long as there are drug stores and grocery stores and airports, I expect there will be magazine racks.

And as long as there are magazine racks, I expect there will be copies of Cosmo, with ever more tips to drive a man wild.

Right next to the ice-cream freezer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Almost Olympian

Bill Hurd set records at Manassas High and never stopped running.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 2:08 PM

When Usain Bolt, the "fastest man in the world," goes for an Olympic double-gold in the 200 meters Thursday, a former Manassas High School sprinter who was once arguably the "fastest teenager in the world" will be watching.

"He's phenomenal, the real deal," said Bill Hurd, a Memphis eye surgeon, jazz musician, and former world-class athlete who's pretty accomplished himself.

In 1965, as a senior at Manassas, Hurd ran the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds on a cinder track at the Fairgrounds, breaking a prep record held by the legendary Jesse Owens.

"It was actually never accepted as a national record because it was a small meet," Hurd said. "There were like eight runners, and I won by a wide margin. The fastest time in the city before then was 9.5 by my rival, Willie Dawson, at Melrose. By the end of the season, he had run a 9.4 and a guy at Carver had run 9.5, so there was a picture of the three of us holding up the numbers 3, 4, and 5."

Hurd, who was also an outstanding student and horn player in the Manassas band under the direction of Emerson Able, got scholarship offers from UCLA, Villanova, Southern Cal, and others. He chose Notre Dame, then a powerhouse in football.

"I had my eyes on an academic scholarship to MIT. A newspaper article said I could be an example of someone who chose academics over an athletic route," he recalled. "I wound up doing exactly the opposite, but Notre Dame was great and I came out well-rounded."

College athletes ran metric distances, and Hurd ran the 100 meters in 10.1 seconds, good enough to get him to the U.S. Olympic trials in 1968. He missed qualifying by one position for a team whose sprinters included Tommie Smith and John Carlos, memorialized forever in the "black power salute" of black-gloved fists and bowed heads on the medal stand.

Hurd's best event was the rarely run 300-yard dash, in which he set an American indoor record of 29.8 seconds. He also ran a 6.0 60-yard dash, when the world record was 5.9 seconds.

"I did not train that hard compared to what they do now," he said. "There was no such thing as steroids or performance-enhancing drugs when I was running."

In 1968, he was voted Notre Dame's Athlete of the Year, beating out future NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page and basketball All-American Austin Carr.

"Page is now a state Supreme Court justice in Minnesota," Hurd said. "He used to cut my hair. There were not many black students there at the time. I think there were like 12 in my class of 2,000. Page was typical of student athletes then, a smart guy who planned on going to law school."

After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, Hurd ran for the Philadelphia Track Club for a couple of years and traveled to Italy, Germany, and London. But there was no future in it. He enrolled in the management program at MIT, toured with the jazz band, played with trumpet player Clark Terry at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and worked as a consultant.

"I wanted to have my own business, and so many of my clients were physicians that I decided to go to medical school at Meharry in Nashville."

He returned to Memphis to start his practice as an eye surgeon. He and his wife Rhynette, an attorney, live in Collierville. Both of their sons graduated from Notre Dame.

Hurd spends two or three weeks a year doing voluntary eye surgery on poor people in Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. In 1994, he was one of the recipients of the NCAA's Silver Anniversary Award along with notable members of the Class of 1969 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, miler Jim Ryun, and football stars Calvin Hill and Leroy Keyes.

Whew. Oh, and he has four music CDs out.

Phenomenal, you might say.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Schools Snooping

What's the end game in finding racial motives in municipal schools?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM

So The Commercial Appeal is willing to go to the wall before divulging the names of anonymous commenters to attorneys for the Shelby County Commission.

Another reminder that it's not only the glamour or the pay or the easy dress code, print journalism is just so ennobling.

What's that famous saying? I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your First Amendment right to say "you suck," spread rumors, and use as many fake names as you can invent until they pry your cold, cold fingers from your keyboard.

Facebook, of all things, offers a practical solution to commenting with accountability that is used by several newspapers including The Tennessean in Nashville. But that cuts down on clicks and drives commenters who crave anonymity to other websites. This business isn't dying for nothing.

Accountability, one commissioner noted, has a chilling effect on commenters. Yes, it does. It's why the commission and other public bodies require speakers to identify themselves and limit their remarks to two or three minutes. And why letters to print newspapers are signed and verified. And why reporters value accuracy and are careful about slamming people who can come visit them or might run into them on the street.

The snoopiness of the subpoena is not so much the problem as the futility of it. What, exactly, is the end game of the pending federal court case asserting that municipal school systems are racially motivated?

As the county commission's brief says, under the Unified Shelby County School System, there will be approximately 153,000 students if there are no breakaway school systems. The student demographics will be 70 percent black, 22 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, and 2.4 percent other races and nationalities.

"The Shelby County Municipal School Acts will affect these demographics in a racially discriminatory manner, creating racially homogenous school districts in the municipalities," the brief says.

The assumption is that the school district demographics would mirror the demographics of each municipality, because those are the only students they would be legally authorized to educate. Germantown, for example, would be 90 percent white and 10 percent minority. In fact, Germantown and other suburban schools educate students from unincorporated parts of the county or neighboring suburbs, boosting their minority enrollment.

It is Memphis, of course, that has mostly one-race schools, because there are only some 9,000 white students in the system. That is the result of 40 years of white flight after court-ordered busing. There are 25,000 white students in the county system.

Municipal school systems, the county commission says, "would create predominately Caucasian schools in those municipalities" and leave the unified district predominately black, very much like the current Memphis system.

Anyone up for some judicial rebalancing? That would mean sending students all over the county. Suburban rebalancing only? Then there would be 100,000 students in former Memphis schools robbed of their constitutional right to be educated in a racially integrated system. How much segregation is acceptable?

No judge in the country can come up with a "solution" to resegregation. Municipal school systems, assuming voters approve them this week, are more likely to be derailed by the other federal court case in September on the constitutionality of the state law.

Municipal schools and private schools are not the only escape hatch from the unified system. Charter schools are gaining strength in Memphis and Nashville under a state department of education that equates charters with "reform" and a change in state law that clears the way for any child to enroll. Last week, the state board of education overruled the local school board in Nashville and approved a new charter school in a middle-class area. I had no idea this was a big deal until I read about it in The Wall Street Journal.

None of this — the subpoena or the federal court cases — will advance the transition to a unified school system by August 2013. An able and willing superintendent, John Aitken, is waiting in the wings while the school board decides how it will do a search. The transition plan lacks the votes and leadership on the 23-member school board needed to implement its cost-cutting proposals. No wonder. As every member knows, a year from September, the 23-member board will become a seven-member board, which the county commission could expand to a 13-member board.

There's an accountability issue, sort of like those anonymous commenters.

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