Political Animals

Friday, November 2, 2018

No Next Day Election Results For Gannett Newspapers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 10:54 AM

If there was ever a news item worthy of the "Dammit Gannett" tab, it's this. Via The Nashville Scene:
"Editors at the [Gannett] chain’s papers around the country were informed two weeks ago that deadlines for the print edition could not be extended in order to cover elections. As a result, Wednesday’s editions of The Tennessean, Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel will not have final results for some of the most closely contested statewide races in years."
JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

“We do not believe print is a vehicle for breaking news," Tennessean vice president   and editor Michael Anastasi was quoted as saying.

Anastasi's not wrong, of course. Broadcast and online media do have advantages when it comes to live and breaking news. How that absolves daily print editions from obligations to print subscribers and expectations of  mere currency remains a mystery.

Folks who pay for paper say it with me now: Dammit!

UPDATE: NiemanLab weighs in:

"Conceptually, the push to separate print — “not a vehicle for breaking news,” that Gannett memo notes — from digital makes a certain sense, of course. And not adding any extra pages of newsprint for election results does save money. (“As you plan for print, please remember that we have tight controls on newsprint costs,” says the memo. “Any pages added need to be ‘made up’ by the end of the year preferably in November.”)

At the same time, it is those incredibly loyal print readers — the ones who have stood by newspaper companies through cut after cut in staff and in the product — who will now see that loyalty tested, again. Gannett, like a number of other newspaper companies, has more than a third of its print subscribers ages 70 or above in many markets. Most read in print; digital is a second and lesser option. (E-edition readers, who essentially get the print paper in digital form, will also be impacted by this decision.) Those subscribers, at Gannett and elsewhere, have seen their subscription rates hiked again and again, raised to the very limits of econometric modeling."
Ken Doctor's column notes that, in an effort to push more readers online Gannett is dropping its paywalls for 48 hours, enabling anyone with internet access to read Gannett's election coverage. It's a good read that takes a hard look at recent economic and subscriber history.

"What those numbers tell us is that that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month. Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."
Read it all here.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Great Works of Literature as Written by the Shelby Co. Election Commission

With Help from The Memphis City Council

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2018 at 12:22 PM

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Emboldened by national attention resulting from the careful and creative wording of current ballot amendments, the Shelby County Election Commission has committed considerable time and evident talent to improving the greatest works of world literature. While Fly on the Wall has yet to see a completed text, 5 first line samples were leaked this morning, revealing the epic scope of the Commission's City Council-aided writing project.

via GIPHY

Moby- Dick
Herman Melville with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall Ishmael serve as a common spoken or chirographic signifier not expressly for greeting, but sometimes for gaining the narrator’s attention?”

via GIPHY

Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall the sky elect to not to retain its natural silence, in favor of free expression, horizon to horizon?”

via GIPHY

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall the combustibility of literature, as it stands with all officers and offices engaging in the combustion procedure, be any reason to limit terms of pleasure?”

via GIPHY

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall we claim, of the times between 1770 and 1794, that each individual year, and the age collectively, was both better and worse than any other age pursuant to its wisdom, foolishness, belief, incredulity, lightness, darkness, hope, despair, and to the various seasons to which these qualities may be poetically associated?

via GIPHY

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Hunter S. Thompson with the Shelby Co. Election Commission

“Shall we agree that when the drugs took hold, all persons who had selected drugs, were in San Bernardino, east of Apple Valley but west of Needles and not so far north as to constitute the municipal boundaries of the city of Barstow?”
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Yes, this is a parody. Didn't you see the orange tab at the top of the page?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Men at War

Old Friends Won't Let Women Bring Them Down

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 11:31 AM

Armstrong & Cox - G.O. OGLEIMAGE
  • G.O. Ogleimage
  • Armstrong & Cox
Gunner Armstrong shakes his head, and digs into his backpack to retrieve a freshly purchased bottle of pepper spray. “I don’t know how effective this stuff is,” he mumbles, pulling on his reading glasses and skimming the directions. “I had a friend in college who would get a couple of beers in him and squirt it in his mouth like it was breath freshener.”

Like many manly men today, Armstrong lives in abject terror. “You never can be too careful with women being what they are,” he says, expressing an increasingly common, and deeply masculine sentiment. At least twice a week Armstrong says he finds himself walking a block or more past his house, keys clenched firmly in his fist like claws, because he’s convinced a woman is following him home, possibly to accuse him of harassment. “At some point I’ll find a nice bright street light and stop there to pretend like I'm taking a phone call or something. I'll just let them walk on past, you know?” Armstrong says. “It’s probably all in my imagination. But like dad always said: better safe than hungover and accused of some bullshit you totally don’t remember doing.”
Personal security coach Archer Cox doesn’t think Armstrong’s taking the threat seriously enough. “If you’re not wearing a body cam and packing a taser, you’re not prepared for this fight,” he says. “Look, Gunner’s my bud and I used to be just like him. I took some self defense classes. Got my yellow belt. Got to where I’d take alternative routes home from the bar to avoid running into any of those lady joggers who were always making comments about how I shouldn’t be looking them. Saying things to me. Hurtful things. But none of those things I did to protect myself stopped this one woman from calling me a ‘peeper’ on Facebook, all because I was awesome and surprised her at her window one morning with a egg and sausage plate from down at the Touch & Go.”

Armstrong has a theory. “I’ve heard this is all a kind of revenge because they don’t make as much money as we do. And if things keep going this way I don’t think they ever will,” he says, opening the front door of MacBoobies, a Scottish-themed watering hole in Midtown where Armstrong is having drinks with Cox, and some other friends from work. “It’s gotten to where just having a penis paints a target on your back, it’s practically against the law,” he says, visibly agitated and determined to get hammered.

After several rounds of beer the men settle into playing a drinking game called Devil’s Triangle. “It’s kinda like quarters,” Cox explains. “Only if you cuss at any time you have to call your mother on speaker phone and apologize for being a naughty boy with a dirty, dirty mouth.” A waitress named Tina, who’s been cut from her shift politely intervenes and attempts to close out the table’s check.

“Did you want to put the tip on your card?” she asks.

“Oh, don’t worry sweetie, I’ve got a tip for you right here,” Cox quips, causing everybody at the table to laugh except for Tina, who rolls her eyes and walks away sans gratuity.

“Gonna stumble home now,” Armstrong says, pulling out his pepper spray, and screwing up his courage.

“I’ll walk with you,” Cox answers, holding onto Armstrong’s shoulder to keep from falling down. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

If there is a war in America's streets, these two old friends are determined to face the worst of it together. "I've got you," Armstrong says.

"And I've got you, babe," Cox answers. "I've got you."

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*Yes, there is a parody tab at the top of the column.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Body Double: Trump's Other Memphis Connection

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 5:11 PM

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Of course, we all remember the time Donald Trump cost 2,500 Memphians their jobs. Don't we? You know, that time when the POTUS of today totally went after Holiday Inn like it was NATO? No? Well, it happened, and here's a link. That inglorious moment isn't Trump's only Memphis connection either. It's certainly not the weirdest. That distinction may belong to this little gem right here. It's not new information, but it's new to us and exactly the kind of thing we here at Fly on the Wall like to pass along.

There's no giving this devil his due here. The Donald in Chief says "fake news," when he means, "news I don't like." But way out there on the fringes of this textbook B.S. there is — as there always is with presidents and other public figures — plenty of grotesque caricature, propaganda, and general misrepresentation; all magnified in a politically polarized, social media environment.The modern myth-busters at Snopes.com have compiled a list of photo-manipulations that have been widely shared on the W.W. web. Some of them impossibly flattering, some not so flattering. In the latter category, among the most recognizable is an image that's been used to make the golf and fast food-loving POTUS appear even more bloated and slovenly than he is in real life. Turns out, in this instance, Trump's nearly crimson face has been pasted onto the body of Memphis' infamous bad-boy pro golfer, John Daly. And yeah, in the original Big John's teeing off while puffing on a cigarette. Like you do. If you're John Fucking Daly.
John Fucking Daly
  • John Fucking Daly
This isn't the first time internet artists have recognized Daly's viral potential. It all began when somebody unearthed this photo, which is basically a Renaissance painting.
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Friday, June 29, 2018

Forcing Cards — How to Identify Divisive Internet Propaganda Before Sharing

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 3:58 PM

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We’ve all seen magicians manipulate cards in ways that make them appear to have astonishing gifts and the power to know things no ordinary mortal could possibly know. But all they really know is how to force a card — to present you with a choice that's no real choice at all, all the while letting you believe you’re the clever little monkey queering the illusionist's game via the exertion of  free will. Our sense of self-determination is what gives the trick its tension and makes it fun. But there's also usually cautionary lesson or two embedded in the trickster's marvels.

Good propaganda is like a card trick. It appeals to the vanities of self-awareness and control. Good propaganda campaigns are like a Vegas act, replete with sexy assistants, ordinary misdirection, and lots of good old fashioned bait and switch. Great campaigns play all sides to the user’s advantage.

Internet memes create a spectacular opportunity for card forcing, and for injecting divisive, peer-to-peer-spreading viruses into our daily political dialogues. These memes won't look like propaganda, what would be the point? The worst will look like every right-thinking person’s heart’s desire or some piece of apparently unassailable conventional wisdom. It will also be framed in a way that ensures a healthy mix of reflexive consensus and bitter rejection. I noticed an elegant and completely insidious meme making its way around Facebook this week and thought it would make a great study example. I thought I'd share it with the aim of developing better conversations, and maybe a good set of questions for determining whether or not the content we’re sharing online will have a positive or negative impact.

Here's the meme:

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While making a number of valid-seeming points, the ultimate message here is one of uncritical surrender to... well... whatever. There's also a healthy serving of Trumpian, “Get over it,” tacked on at the end. But to what or whom exactly are we all supposed to be surrendering and submitting? What kinds of imperfections are we supposed to start getting over in advance of discovery? Who’s going to have to wait (again!) for a place at the table? Which children will we open our hearts to and which ones will our drones open up on? Does the former hinge on a corrupt bargain requiring the latter? The decisions we make at the polls aren’t light ones. They should never be myopic, reactionary, or strictly self-serving. And whether you’re a Hill shill or a Bernie bro, finger-wagging at voters charged with the confusing task of group self-determination is always a poor community-building strategy.

I’m sure a lot of Trump-fatigued people can’t see a thing wrong with this meme — That’s what makes it genius. Whether it was developed by a Russian troll farm, or by a DNC troll farm doing the Russian troll farms' work for them, or by some doof on the internet doing work the DNC might otherwise do for the Russians, whoever created this black and white text-only marvel deserves all the rubles. With almost zero actual content, it has the magical ability to start fights and make people who agree about current POTUS being a nightmare, yell mean things at one another before they even have a candidate to back. That’s a tell if I’ve ever seen one.

Here’s a list of questions that might help us  separate constructive content from memes that make ol' Vlad Putin dance the merengue. I'm not a propaganda expert, so I know this is not a perfect list. Corrections, suggestions, and contributions are all welcome. My objective here isn't to be right — I'm not invested in that at all. Instead of competing for that distinction, how about we start some critical thinking about critical thinking, and how the content we share actually functions on the internet versus how we feel about it? 

1. Can any part of the meme’s overall content be reasonably interpreted, “fall in line or else”?

If so — and that’s completely evident in our sample — chances are good that the message you are about to share is divisive propaganda using fear and longstanding grudges to motivate. It’s the kind of meme that results in people who need to be in active negotiation with one another typing, “PIGFUCKER,” in all caps at 2 a.m. instead.
Of course, there’s truth at the core of this message: When people don’t unite they tend to lose. That attractive and real fact is like a wad of top shelf peanut butter in the mousetrap of political discourse.

2. Is the message specific or vague? Also, is it active or reactive?

So you’re thinking about sharing a message you agree with. But is it addressing actual candidates, policy proposals, and goals, or is it making vague but nevertheless scary boogie-men? As we move closer to the midterm elections and to 2020, propaganda will personalize and get more specific, honing in on a handful of broad hot-button issues designed to provoke emotional and tribal response rather than critical analysis. But the most corrosive messages are sometimes the ones that keep us agitated, prevent old fissures from healing, and keep us squabbling over the past instead of plotting a course for the future. Our sample meme is exactly that kind of meme. When I shared it on Facebook with a cautionary message, people were arguing Bernie versus Hillary in a matter of seconds while trying to defend against my one and only point that this is purely divisive rhetoric with no tangible social value. Ralph Nader’s name made an appearance within the first hour, along with a few of the the usual odes to compromise and pragmatism that might also be reasonably translated, “Give up.” Absent any real objectives that might be debated or fine tuned, or named candidates with records and platforms to be parsed, vague memes create a perfect black mirror and purely reactionary environment. The latter of which is essential to herding.

3. Does the meme appeal to emotion or intellect?

We’ve all been exposed to some emotionally charged imagery lately. Mass shootings, children being separated from their families — it’s served up daily alongside a sampler platter of daily outrages. Emotional appeals aren’t intrinsically bad, but when a stated aim is to subvert rather than answer or engage critical analysis, chances are you might want to step back and take a second look.

4. Inclusive or alienating?

If your awesome meme’s goal is to recruit voters who must stand together to defeat a monstrously evil candidate that a good third of the country will enthusiastically support based entirely on racism and pissing off liberals, you probably want to build a big, strong coalition that includes a lot of the folks who didn’t, and still probably wouldn’t, vote for [insert your favorite 2016 here], regardless of your feelings for said candidate, their feelings about Trump, or any number of grievances regarding dirty politics, rigged systems, Russian trolls, or any other extenuating circumstance. Re-fighting this long lost campaign or even thinking about recreating it actually or by proxy in 2020, is insane by definition.

Our sample meme truthfully addresses the fact that no candidate will be perfect or pure, which is an obvious statement but with no evident value — like the attractive verities Shakespeare wrote about when he noted that, “Oftentimes, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence.”

It’s been said that folks who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, and it sounds really good. But maybe that old axiom's not complete. Folks who don’t let go of history get stuck fighting the same battles with the same eventual results. But the topsy-turvy looking glass result of 2016 presidential election is drifting further into the past and and there are real opportunities to learn from past mistakes and not fall for the same tricks. When you're up against homogeneity, the most inclusive messaging is always going to be the most desirable. If the message demands unity but offers no unifying principle beyond "or else," beware.

That's all I've got. Now it's your turn. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Quest for Grocery Store Porn — Testing Diane Black's Theories About School Shootings

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2018 at 4:05 PM

Bottom right. Easy access at Walgreens.
  • Bottom right. Easy access at Walgreens.
Diane Black, a U.S. Representative from Tennessee, has been getting a lot of media attention for her belief that grocery store porn is a "big part" of the "root cause" of why school shootings happen.

Or something like that. 

"It’s available on the shelf when you walk in the grocery store." she said. "Yeah, you have to reach up to get it, but there’s pornography there.

"All of this is available without parental guidance," the 67-year-old Republican candidate for governor added. 
Puzzle porn at Kroger.
  • Puzzle porn at Kroger.

I decided to see if there was anything to Black's claim. Saucy glossies are still in demand, if greatly diminished in number since the Internet made just about anything you can imagine in this arena free and available on our phones. But can you really get it in every grocery store easily and without adult supervision?

Not at my Kroger (Pop/Cleve 4-evvs). Unless you're talking about Cosmo.
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And whatever you think about the Cosmo is Porn campaign, we're pretty sure any smutty advice they may or may not have printed about "polishing your partner's assault rifle" was pure metaphor.

Newsweek had a really super-naked picture.
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There were Sudoku puzzles, sports rags, teen-crush mags, Little Golden Books and a Wonder Woman coloring book on the bottom shelf. I asked an employee where all the porn magazines were. She looked at me suspiciously (cant say that I blame her) and said these were the only magazines she knew about.

This one caught my eye though. 
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What kind of gun is that dude pig hunting with? It makes me feel all funny down there, if you know what I mean.
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So maybe Black misspoke. Maybe she meant corner stores or pharmacies. Some of them sell groceries too. So I went to the Walgreen's across the street.

You know, I do remember a time when porn seemed to be everywhere. I remember being eight or nine years old and looking at the dirty magazines on the bottom rack of a musty general store in Malakoff, Texas. I was a chubby kid and shirtless, wearing a big black cowboy hat with a big red and black feather band. It was the ’70s, man — even youngsters like me were letting it all hang out.
US Rep. Diane Black R-Tennessee
  • US Rep. Diane Black R-Tennessee
The pinch-faced prude behind the counter didn't tell me to put down the porn or say "This ain't a lending library," or anything like that. "Developing young ladies should cover themselves," is all she said to me. So, yeah, I was introduced to porn, and body/gender issues on the same sunny afternoon in Texas.

Porn magazines started losing "readers" in the ’80s — when video became cheap to manufacture.

At some point, magazine porn did get wrapped and placed on top shelves. And then it seemed to disappear from a lot of places where it used to be ubiquitous. I couldn't even find porn at convenience stores where you can buy homeopathic sex pills and bongs.

"Try Walgreen's at Poplar and Cleveland," one convenience store employee suggested. Clearly I live in a porn desert.

Walgreens was also a bust, with content similar to what I'd seen at Kroger. Stuff on the top shelf included news magazine special editions and Popular Science. A few titles did catch my eye though down on the bottom shelf, in more or less the same part of the magazine rack where 8-year-old me first encountered porn way back in the disco era.

Check out Sniper. So. Hot.
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And this Guns & Ammo AR-15 "pistol edition" with an assault pistol the cover. Or, whatever.
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Precision Rifle Shooter has yet another sexy rifle on the cover.
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And then there's all the 2018 Handgun Buyer's Guides right where little hands can reach them, free from parental guidance.
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Long story short: Black's weird claim just doesn't seem to be true. Can we please get back to the time-honored business of blaming society's ills on comic books, Atari, and satanic messages hidden on Black Oak Arkansas cassette tapes?


UPDATE: Similar porn deserts identified in Nashville.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wikipedia edit trolls the Tennessee House of Representatives

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 2:40 PM

Klandy Holt
  • Klandy Holt
It's not hard to troll ol' Klandy Holt and a Tennessee legislature that can't quite bring itself to denounce white supremacy, but can always rise to the occasion of punishing a majority African-American city for removing the public statue of a slave trader, Grand Wizard, and Confederate general. How can it be so richly satisfying?

Hats off to the author of this edit. Though Wikipedia has removed your fine work, let it always be remembered. 
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Friday, February 9, 2018

City Accidentally Erases Wrong Murals

Posted By on Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 2:26 PM

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The big, gray, sorta-kinda controversial zombie painting by Dustin Spagnola still haunts Lamar Ave. but some really nice murals created by 15 other artists have been accidentally removed from S. Willett.  The Commercial Appeal's Ryan Poe reports:

In a statement Friday, Public Works Director Robert Knecht said there was a "miscommunication" that led to crews painting over too many murals.

"This was not intentional," Knecht said.

A recent Flyer cover story about Satanic panic on the City Council and the midtown mural project chronicled the history leading up to what Paint Memphis founder Karen Golightly describes as a violation of the city's written agreement with her organization.

If you want a comprehensive look at what the project was like before the repainting here's a slideshow. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Marsha Blackburn's Hair Identified as Brain-Eating Parasite

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2018 at 8:49 AM

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Astrobiologist Tom Ichbaum opened his Twitter account Monday afternoon and typed out a dire warning about U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and women who seem to wear their hair like U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn. According to Ichbaum the Tennessee legislator's trademark mane isn't a mane at all, it's a brain-eating alien parasite "that's dangerous and probably self-replicating."

"Look, I don't want people to get the wrong idea," Ichbaum explained. "This isn't some kind of blonde joke. I'm not the kind of person who'd ever make fun of how other people look or dress, especially not women. That's a terrible double standard in this country and I would never be part of perpetuating that. But holy shit, have you listened to some of the stuff Marsha's says?"

Although Ichbaum's worried about Blackburn for some time, it wasn't her behavior that ultimately led him to begin his strange inquiry.

"I started noticing all these other women with the exact same hair," he says. "At first I told myself, 'This isn't weird.' It's not an unusual look. I'm just being paranoid. There's no way that hairdo's really a brain-eating visitor from another planet. That's crazy. But then I started listening to what all these people were saying. And everything they said sounded like the kind of crazy stuff Marsha says. It's like they didn't have minds of their own and were just repeating the most insane things they've heard on American Family Radio."

To illustrate his point Ichbaum played a clip from a CNN segment about conservtive evangelical women who believe Donald Trump's affair with porn star Stormy Daniels was okay because "God ordained" the President.

"I don't think I can watch this again," Ichbaum said, averting his eyes. At that exact moment one CNN panelist with Marsha Blackburn's hair defended her President saying, "We all have gotten a Mulligan because of Christ Jesus, and so that's the bottom line."


"Who talks like that?" Ichbaum screamed into his laptop. "Jesus didn't play golf! Golf was invented in 15th-Century Scotland for Christ's sake! What the hell is wrong with you people?!?!?!"

According to Ichbaum there is only one scientific explanation for all this homogeneity: Alien parasites.

"Technically they're symbiotes," he says describing an exotic, otherworldly life form that bonds with human beings in order to survive on Earth. "On one hand they take over your brain and feast on your mental energies," Ichbaum explains. "On the other hand, you do look fabulous."

Ichbaum believes there's currently no good defense against this kind of invasion. "But if somebody you know or love just shows up one day looking like Marsha Blackburn stay alert and try not to get too close," he says. "Chances are very good this person is no longer your friend. It's possible they never were."

Monday, October 2, 2017

President Dedicates Karaoke Performance to Puerto Rico

Posted By on Mon, Oct 2, 2017 at 1:09 PM

"Huey Lewis & the News' early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically." — President Donald Trump, karaoke enthusiast.
  • "Huey Lewis & the News' early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically." — President Donald Trump, karaoke enthusiast.
Following a long weekend of golf and golf-related activities President Donald J. Trump decided to blow off a little steam at the Jersey City Karaoke Club where he made a somber dedication. “What is happening is horrible," he said, holding one index finger aloft as if to indicate this is where his story begins, not where it ends.  "But, in spite of all the things you may have heard, we've got this disaster thing under really great control and all the people who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes, I want to just remember them.

"This one's for you Puerto Rico," President Trump said as the familiar opening to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" started to play.


"This is from the band's huge, chart-topping 1981 album, Escape," the President said over the piano intro. "And I think we all know what it's like wanting to escape sometimes, don't we? Am I right?"

Watching Trump from the audience Doreen Rustbelt swooned. "He's got such a wonderful voice," she said, legs turning to jello. As the junior-vice-president of the Make America Great Again Fan Club, Rustbelt had been invited to  to join Trump in singing the classic Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes duet "(Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong," from the tremendous 1982 hit film An Officer and a Gentleman.  

"He's almost as good as the real Steve Perry and way better than that Filipino wannabe," Rustbelt said before joining Trump onstage for the big finale. "When he sings about South Detroit and  living in a lonely world, you can tell he really understands people. I'm just so happy to have shared this special moment with our President and the ungrateful disaster queens of Puerto Rico."

By all accounts Rustbelt's duet with Trump was his best performance since teaming with his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton for a cover of, "I Had the Time of My Life," from the 1987 box-office-smash, Dirty Dancing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Remember When Memphis Comment Trolls Wanted to Remove Public Art?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 11:31 PM

This art will be the end of us!
  • This art will be the end of us!
The year was 2002 and five little words had some of Memphis' most prominent white Conservatives frothing at the mouth: "Workers of the World Unite."

From a cover story I wrote at the time:

In 1934, the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers adopted the principle that art should promote only a rigid slate of political and social ideals established by the state. This movement was dubbed Soviet realism.
In November 2001, Memphis City Councilman Brent Taylor, and Shelby County Commissioners Marilyn Loeffel and Tommy Hart, took umbrage at one of nine public artworks sponsored by the UrbanArt Commission (UAC) for the new $70 million Central Library. Their aim was to have an offensive quotation removed from a public walkway because it expressed a sentiment which they deemed to be out of step with wholesome American values.

The irony grows sweeter considering that the offending "Workers of the world, unite!" is excerpted from The Communist Manifesto, which sparked the revolution that eventually birthed the school of Soviet realism whose precepts were unknowingly co-opted by Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart.

A pious group of Memphians led by one William W. Wood of the hastily organized Shelby County Coalition to Save the Memphis Library began a biweekly vigil to pray over the wicked artwork. The same group sent out scorching mass e-mails comparing the presumably elusive UAC with Osama bin Laden and labeling the board and administration of the Memphis/Shelby County Library "a special branch of the CIA."

Toss in the eccentric patriot in a red, white, and blue suit who makes regular protest pilgrimages to the site and you have all the ingredients for an old-fashioned dog-and-pony show. Even The New York Times got in on the action, noting that "The cold war may be over, but Marx and Engels have nevertheless managed to create a small political furor in this old river city."

The backlash came as a complete shock to Brad and Diana Goldberg, the Dallas-based husband-and-wife team responsible for designing the artwork. They intended that their piece function as "a metaphoric record of important events and knowledge that have shaped Memphis, the Mississippi River Valley Region, and the rest of our world" since the beginning of recorded history.

It was less of a shock to local political columnists who practically stumbled over one another to spank Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart for striking such a provincial pose. Susan Adler Thorp aptly observed in The Commercial Appeal that "Tearing down the Iron Curtain and destroying communism were simple tasks compared to accommodating [their] need for political opportunism, and logic."

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE STORY.

Why mention this vintage kerfuffle? Because debate over the removal of Confederate monuments rages on in comment sections across the World Wide Web. It's nasty, getting nastier, and even the President of the Comment Section himself, Donald J. Trump, weighed in on the side of White Supremacy. I'm revisiting it because there was a time, not so very long ago, when white Conservative Christians — spearheaded by elected officials — thought it was wrong to memorialize the enemies of America.

Thing is, the library sculpture aimed to reflect world-changing ideas generally, and wasn't political in nature. It certainly wasn't ideologically aligned with Communism, and guess what? Memphis didn't transform into a hotbed of socialism. The hullabaloo blew over. People mostly forgot it was a big deal and the piece just kind of blended into the landscape, as it was intended to — like concrete and granite shrubbery nobody ever had to water.
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But let's not kid ourselves. It wasn't JUST the Communist history upsetting the easily upsettable. In a right-to-work environment, it was also the out of context message of worker unity, divorced as it was, of its Marxist origin. Nothing's more terrifying to the unreconstructed set like the idea of a united working and underclass or any unified threat to the hegemony.  This has always been true.

Public response to public art is directly and proportionally-related to public values and the degree to which those values are reflected in the work. That's why modernism in the public sphere met with so much backlash at the end of the last century. As one heartland critic noted in the 1970's: "I think people are tired of New York Arty-art. You can keep it in museums where it won't bother anybody." Coming full circle, abstract work becomes attractive in the public sphere again for the exact same reason — people can't ascribe values, making it harmless. We tend to divorce the Confederate memorials from similar conversations about public art. Probably because it clears the fog of war and makes the question of values (or negative values) so apparent.

 All art speaks to the future, and public art speaks with authority. That's why this battle has been so bitter. It's not about the past, it's for the future. As the City of Memphis, spurred on by united activists, creeps forward with plans to execute this long-overdue removal (a process gummed by Tennessee's regressive and cowardly state legislature) I thought it might be interesting to remember when all those people down in the comments today screeching, "history," and "heritage," were out in the street chanting (okay, praying) "tear it down!"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Remember The Time Andy Holt Said Nathan Bedford Forrest Was a Civil Rights Leader?

Posted By on Sat, Aug 19, 2017 at 1:18 AM

Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Civil Rights Hero. According to Andy Holt.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest. Civil Rights Hero. According to Andy Holt.

Hey kids, sometimes current events make old news relevant again. So let's all hop in the way-back machine and chart a course for July, 2015 when Tennessee Rep. Andy Holt declared an abiding love for Confederate General and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Holt encouraged people who really care about ending racial strife to get in touch with the gentle, loving Civil Rights leader he knows.
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Forrest made millions of dollars as a slave merchant before achieving the rank of General in a hostile army in open rebellion against the US government and fighting to preserve the institution of Southern slavery. But the Butcher of Fort Pillow did soften a bit near the end of his life and after white Southerners established political victory and supremacy the KKK he led was indeed disbanded. But Civil Rights Champion Nathan Bedford Forrest never needed anybody to speak for him. He knew exactly who he was and what he stood for.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meet the Tennessee Lawmakers Who Think Running Over Protesters Should Be Protected

Matthew Hill and Bill Ketron foresaw tragedies like what happened in Charlottesville, VA and attempted to make the world a safer place -- for terrorists

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 8:47 AM

Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Matthew Hill introduced legislation to make drivers who hit protesters immune from civil liability.
  • Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Matthew Hill introduced legislation to make drivers who hit protesters immune from civil liability.
On Saturday, August 12, 2017, a nazi sympathizer killed one person and injured many more when he drove his car into a group protesting the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. With that in mind, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look a pair of Tennessee politicians who were farsighted enough to imagine just such a scenario and introduced legislation to make drivers immune from civil liability for doing something similar.
MATTHEW HILL
  • Matthew Hill
Tennessee Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Chumpsville) is a "firebrand Southern conservative." Swipes right for tort reform, the Ten Commandments and good old-fashioned nullification; left for abortion and taxes. Hill's the owner of Right-Way marketing and the host of Bible Buddies Radio. He's super against child rape but favors fear-mongering legislation and thinks sometimes rolling over protesters in your SUV is totally justifiable. Hill has been a vocal proponent of birtherism, the racist conspiracy aimed at delegitimizing Barack Obama's presidency. (For fun, here's a recording of our Bible Buddy interviewing birther gadfly Orly Taitz.) In 2010 Hill introduced HB2685,[24] requiring employees to only speak English in Tennessee workplaces. Hill was called out by media for taking a "dangers of Islam"  fact-finding trip courtesy of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, a designated hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

HB0668 failed in Civil Justice committee.
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Bill "Muslim Mop Sink" Ketron
  • Bill "Muslim Mop Sink" Ketron
Bill Ketron (R-Suckertown) has sponsored many bills but, apart from making it okay to run over protesters if you're using due caution, the Senator from Murfreesboro is probably most famous as the national laughingstock who mistook a mop sink for Muslim prayer basin. And had a spell about it.

When he's not hard at work pushing legislation crafted by white supremacist David Yerushalmi to criminalize Sharia Law, Ketron has also made time to see the world courtesy of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, a hate group that dines well, apparently.

Ketron wasn't the only Tennessee Senator who thought this idea had merit. SB0944 Passed on first and second consideration and was assigned to General Subcommittee of Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Friday, August 4, 2017

Shelby Co. D.A. Has Twitter Meltdown, Internet Watches

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 12:34 PM

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Boy Scouts are Political Props

Posted By on Tue, Jul 25, 2017 at 11:43 AM

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There's no real point in recounting a story that's been all over social media since yesterday. We all know the President told a lurid story to to the Boy Scouts of America who were gathered at their annual Jamboree, turning his opportunity to inspire young America into a deeply weird political rally. Regardless of one's political leanings, nobody needs an opinion columnist to tell them that's uncommonly bad form, even for this Chief Exec. But there's another question we already know the answer to that may be worth asking: Why didn't somebody cut Trump's mic?

I know — "You don't cut the mic on the leader of the free world, it's just not done, ever." Undeniably true.  Then again, a lot of things just aren't done, ever. Like using the fine young men of the BSA as political props. Only, that IS done, I suppose, and maybe more often than folks realize. I can share at least one example in the form of this video from Memphis' first Tea Party where conservative Mid-Southerners sporting anti-immigrant signs and pictures of former President Obama with bullet holes in his face, got themselves good and radicalized.

4/15/09

I'm not offering this as any kind of evidence that the BSA is overtly political — I know too many Lefty Eagle Scouts who've kept themselves physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. But for anybody wondering why the scouts cheered Trump's political message, there's plenty of not-so-ancient history to consider.

Scouting of all kinds took a membership nosedive during the 1970's. Girl Scouts USA reversed that trend, while the BSA continued to lope forward, declining all the while. Why? University of British Columbia political science professor Barbara Arneil may be on to something:

"A younger civil rights generation, informed by a new set of post-materialist values, did not join traditional organizations like the BSA and GSUSA because their values were deemed to be outdated. The challenge for traditional organizations therefore was how to respond. Using path dependency theory, I argue that BSA and GSUSA—shaped by their own unique origins and identities—responded very differently to the critical juncture of the civil rights generation, which in turn explains the subsequent divergence in membership patterns from the 1980s onward. While the BSA rejects such changes in order to defend traditional values, the GSUSA, which established a commitment to challenging gender norms from its birth, embraces the new values and adapts virtually every aspect of its organizational identity to this new generation."

In spite of its melting-pot image, the BSA's history of racial justice has ranged from spotty to poor. The organization only reversed policies allowing discrimination/segregation in the middle-1970's, and only because they found themselves on the losing end of legal action. Signs of progress appeared in 2015 when the BSA appointed its first Chief Diversity officer and just this year the BSA reversed a century-long ban of transgendered scouts. That doesn't add up to welcoming, and one has to believe that, all real exceptions and exceptional leaders considered, the organization's dug heels, and hard fought battles against acceptance and diversity, have shaped membership and culture.

#notallscouts, of course. And #notallscoutleaders, obviously. But there's a reason why the kids cheered the immoral President, and nobody cut his mic that has nothing at all to do with decorum.  This moment wasn't an anomaly as the BSA's subsequent press release suggests. It was a culmination.
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