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After a brief spate of new episodes that feels like it lasted only as long as your average commercial break, television is headed back into reruns again. The sets of many of the top rated television shows around are dark already, with many more going dark this week.

The general consensus is that this thing either gets wrapped up quickly, or it drags on until summer.

And it’s all because of the people involved in entertainment that, with the possible exception of production assistants, are the most underappreciated in an entire industry that is known far and wide for eating its young— The writers.

We’ve all seen the benefits of good writing vs. bad. I would urge anyone who doesn’t understand the value of good writing to check out the entire run of The West Wing. For the first four and a half years, the show was written almost singlehandedly by a man whose dialogue was so captivating that an episode about the markup of an appropriations bill (“The Stackhouse Filibuster”) was arguably one of the most captivating hours of television ever, with an emotional payoff at the end that was simply beyond the scope of Jack Bauer’s finest hour. When he quit, the next writer on the show was a putz that wrote a two part episode about the president quitting without a vice president and turning the White House over to the Speaker of the House from the other party without anything that had so much as the emotional gravitas of your average infomercial.

Or better yet, check out any of a number of brilliant BBC series. The BBC understands the value of writing when it comes to character development. Rather than a room full of writers cranking out 22-24 episodes per year, their seasons run only six to twelve episodes apiece— It allows the same writer to carry it from start to finish, ensuring that the character development, mood, and continuity are consistent from episode to episode.

Ben Affleck in a Kevin Smith movie = Emphasis on writing.
Ben Affleck in “Armageddon” = The film was halfway finished shooting by the time they had a fully functional shooting script.

Get it?

Yet once again, the entertainment industry has found a way to screw over the people that create and craft the stories that they pass up no chance to pat themselves on the back for telling.

Among the problems— A new revenue stream has opened up for the television industry. Releasing an entire season of a TV series on VHS would have been a miserable undertaking. If you still have any videotapes at home, line twelve of them up against one another. That’s the space it would take up on a retailer’s shelf, and there was no way they were devoting that much to it— Particularly when one considers that, while blockbuster VHS tapes might have been only $20 apiece, most cost the video stores closer to $50-70 apiece. Anyone who’s ever lost something from Blockbuster and had to replace it can attest to that.

But DVD came along and changed that. My Season 1 of “24” takes up less shelf space than my hardcover copy of Les Miserables. And with an average price anywhere from $30-60 for a season of a TV show on DVD, they make sense for retailers and consumers.

But this revenue stream wasn’t available the last time the Writers Guild negotiated a contract. Nor was it even imaginable that a failed TV series like “The Black Donnellys” might live on in DVD.

The superstars of the field were able to negotiate that into their individual contracts when they signed on with the production company. But those are few and far between. The writers are expendable, right? Most television writers are struggling, and desperate to take jobs that allow them to entertain us and make a fair living at it. Jeph Loeb might get a cut of the DVD sales for the episodes of “Smallville” he wrote, and Tim Kring is likely getting the DVD cut for “Heroes”. But the rest of the guys in the room with them are not getting those same cuts.

This would be unthinkable for a music fan. Would someone record a cover of “Hold On, I’m Coming”, and not pay Isaac Hayes and David Porter their fair share? Can someone repackage and sell Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on CD and not give Willie Nelson his due as a songwriter?

Yeah, I’m missing out on some TV I like, just like you are. But it’s damn important that the people that create the stories we love are given their due.

Hugh Laurie deserves credit for the brilliant job he does playing Dr. Gregory House. But someone planted every word of that witty dialog in his mouth.

And if a few months without any new original episodes of TV are the price to be paid to make sure that happens, then count me in.

I’m not the most avid reader of the Smart City blog, but my friend and brother Leftwing Cracker sent me a piece of theirs today that raised my eyebrows— And didn’t all at the same time.

From Smart City:

*Willie W. Herenton 16.38 percent
* Carol Chumney 13.35 percent
* Herman Morris 8.21 percent

Those abysmal numbers are the turnout from the city elections last Thursday. And that’s the top of the ticket— It doesn’t even factor in the trailing off that we typically see once we get to the bottom of the ticket and ordinary voters are starting to see names that they don’t recognize. I suspect that the typical full third quit paying attention by the time they got down to court clerk positions.

On November 2, 2004 (Black Tuesday, as most Democrats know it), voter turnout in Shelby County was 373,409. It was a presidential year, and both parties put on impressive Get Out The Vote campaigns.

Two years later, turnout was down a little bit. That’s to be expected— Midterm elections always draw a little bit less than presidential years. 284,217 turned out to vote.

The top four candidates for mayor got only 163,633 votes— And I’m defining “top” very loosely, as John Willingham’s sad 1118 votes were counted in that total (Total votes cast are not yet available from the Election Commission). We have yet to find out whether all were actually alive when they cast their votes, but those are the numbers as of now.

It’s clear that some things have to change— So the rest of this post is directed toward the members of the Charter Commission, who are the only ones in a real position to implement the necessary changes.

First, we need to change the election cycles in this city. We certainly can’t do anything about the federally mandated cycles— Nothing can change there, nor should it. Every two years sounds perfectly reasonable.

For the moment, let’s assume that you live in the Evergreen district in Midtown. You voted in the Shelby County primary on May 2, 2006. Three months later, you went to the polls to vote in the Congressional primary and county general election. In November, you went to the polls yet again to vote in the congressional general election. That’s three times in the span of nine months that you’ve had to take time off from work and get out and stand in line at the polls.

Of course, if you live in Evergreen, your State Senator, Steve Cohen, was sent to the US Congress in November. So on January 25 of this year, you voted in a primary to decide who would go on to the special election— Which you voted in two months later.

Your state rep was elected to fill the vacancy in the state senate— So it’s time for yet another primary in May 2007. And another general election in July 2007.

Three months later, it’s time for the city election. For Evergreen residents, that is eight votes in the last year and a half (Depending on where you live in the city, you might well have a runoff in a few weeks that could easily be alleviated by another of my proposals.).

Personally, I’m experiencing voter fatigue, and I haven’t had as many votes as them. I shared their fatigue part of the way, as my address falls into the same Senate district, but I was able to coast from March to October election-free— And even that seven months didn’t feel like much of a break.

We have got to quit holding municipal elections in an off year. I realize why the politicians that made that choice did so in the first place— It allows them not only greater access to the finest election staff out there, but it allows them to buy air time to annoy us with at a much cheaper rate than in a year where there’s a congressional, or God forbid, a presidential election season.

This isn’t about the cost of holding elections on off years. Democracy is always well worth an investment that pays off. But this one has not.

I can already hear you saying it. “But Rick, that’s going to be a ridiculously long ballot”. I’ve got such good hearing that I heard it before you said it. How about that? But don’t worry— I’ve got an answer for you.

There are elected positions that are so obscure that not even a politico such as I really gives much of a damn who fills them. Unless Republicans and Democrats use a different alphabet, I really do not care who is filing papers in the courts. And to be perfectly frank, the only people who do are the ones running for the position. I have no issue with a position such as that one being filled on an appointment basis. Unlike the voter, the Shelby County Commission/Memphis City Council would at least get the opportunity to confirm whether or not the candidates did indeed know the alphabet.

These positions exist merely as a Single A team for players to earn experience on before trying out for the AAA team. And that’s simply the wrong reason to hold an election.

For many Memphis voters, it’s still not over yet. The elections are a gift that just keeps on giving, as several city council races aren’t even over yet.

This could easily have been taken care of in one night rather than spreading the misery over several more weeks. And there is a solution that has been employed in areas before us, works very well, and gives the voter a much needed break.

It’s called Instant Runoff Voting.

It sounds a lot tougher than it is. Instead of simply voting for a candidate, you list your candidates in order of preference.

We’ll take the Mayor’s race as an example. Let’s say I walked in and broke it down with Morris as my #1 choice, Herenton as my #2, Chumney as my #3, and Willingham at #4 if I even chose to rank him at all (And it should be noted at this point that you are not required to pick so much as a second place.  If you were a hardcore Morris guy and wanted to be sure your vote went to no one but him, you would be well within your rights).

If the race was close enough to demand a runoff, judging from the results the other day, Morris would have been voted off the island first. His votes would be cast out, and my vote would have been among the thousands redistributed to Herenton and Chumney.

Might it have led to a Mayor Chumney? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But there is one feature built into Instant Runoff Voting that would have all political hacks salivating—

It completely nullifies the “spoiler” vote. Can there be any doubt that the Democratic votes Mary Wilder managed to leech would have ended up going to Desi Franklin?

That’s not to say that it would work out in favor of Democrats all of the time— In one of my favorite races this year, assuming that all of Joe Saino’s voters would have picked Kemp Conrad as their second choice, and Frank Langston’s would have made Shea Flinn their #2, Conrad would have won that race by 1500 votes.

But it’s not about partisan angling at this point. Voter apathy is spreading like a sickness across this city, and most elements of it— Namely Voter Fatigue— Are utterly preventable. We simply need leaders who are willing to step up and make the right choices.

And at this point, it falls on the Charter Commission. As they rewrite the Memphis City Charter, they need to ask themselves— Do we do right by the gladhanding politicians that thrive on vote suppression, or do we give Memphians a greater voice?

I spent the day in the field with Team Flinn. And I’ve gotta tell you, it was a great experience. I’ve never witnessed field work from the perspective with which I had the good fortune to see it yesterday, and it was a humbling experience. I’ve never been one to undervalue good, old-fashioned shoe leather before, but I’ve never really seen The Sweet Science on display as it was yesterday when I rode along with Team Shea.

And the end result? A very good man got elected to the Memphis City Council despite steep opposition. When I told a good friend whose opinion I respect to a level that approaches hero worship that I would be riding along, he told me “I wish Shea had a chance”. To that very good friend, I can only say that sometimes… The best man really does win. I can honestly say that I’m proud of a city whose voting population realizes the value of such a man and elevates him to a position where he can serve the people of this city. And I can only think of one time that I’ve been as truly happy to be at a victory party as this one— It was the day we sent Steve Cohen to Washington DC, an event that propelled young Mr. Flinn to the Tennessee State Senate as an interim senator.

He was far from the only good person elevated to a position to serve the greater good on a day that will go down in history as the day that we elected one of the stronger city councils that Memphis has ever had.

Jim Strickland scored a decisive victory, racking up such an impressive win over Bob “Vote Bob” Schrieber that he likely coul have gone the distance even if only his early voting totals were applied toward the final tally. Having lost to Carol Chumney for the District 5 seat in 2003, he finally got his richly deserved and overdue victory.

Bill Morrison didn’t land a decisive victory, or any victory at all— But he was close enough to guarantee a runoff that will see the very best operatives in Memphis politics at his disposal. That’s a damn impressive turnout, considering that he was competing for votes in a field only slightly less crowded than a Kennedy family reunion at the shake joint.

The news was not uniformly good— Mary Wilder managed to siphon off just enough of the vote to keep Desi Franklin from the victory she deserved. My advice to all those who did anything to aid Mary Wilder in her abortion of a campaign— Bust your asses to make sure the Democrats mnage to win every single runoff. For you damn sure don’t want to be remembered as the Judas Goats that aided in the victory of Reid Hegepeth. And at this point in time, it is hard to regard it any other way.

Edmund Ford managed to keep the dying Ford Faction on life support until the next runoff, when he will be defeated by James Catchings.  Catchings is in the advantageous position of never having sounded utterly bugshit crazy during public meetings and never having been tainted by scandal.

Janet Fullilove and Wanda Halbert both scored convincing victories over their opposition, much to the surprise of absolutely no one. Joe Brown, Myron Lowery, Scott McCormick, and Barbara Swearengen Ware all held onto their seats.

And now, for the biggest race of the night.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been asked why I offered no commentary on the mayoral race. And that is simply because I had no guidance to give on it.

Were the city to be attacked by a weapon of mass destruction, I’m not sure I could say with any certainty that it would have a deeper negative impact than the last several years of Herenton’s occupation of the top office in this city. While he has performed some legitimately good tasks, including the redevelopment that turned some of this city’s most blighted spaces into its most coveted, it’s impossible to ignore a soaring crime rate that has once agained turned this city into #1 for all things terrible and last place for everything good. One cannot ignore the ego with which he invokes God as someone that has such a vested interest in his victory that the FEC should really screen him for donations, nor can I ignore the election season political Viagra that was an ill-advised football stadium so that we may give the Tigers a nicer venue to lose in.

Does this make me a “hater”? Well, if one must reduce political rhetoric to the level spewed by a three hundred pound Springer guest in a tube top and a “Please wax your business before wearing this” miniskirt shouting at the older brother who refuses to quit pimping her, then perhaps it does make me a “hater”. I hate seeing the good people of this city constantly denied the rich future that they deserve. I hate seeing a 50% plus dropout rate in a city being run by a former school board superintendent that seems to not have any idea what to do about it if he even cares enough to take action— Something that he has as, of yet, not proven. I hate the idea that anyone who opposes the kind of wholescale corruption and cronyism that we’ve come to expect of Mayor Herenton is dismissed as a “hater”. And I damn sure hate that his ideology is spread not through open and frank discussion, but through patronage in the form of $80,000 per year make-work jobs that seem to have no clear purpose when it comes to actually serving the people of this city.

But most of all, I hate seeing this city reduced to a state where race is the deciding factor in electoral politics. Just as the Republican Party has decided that it can thrive without a single black vote as long as they solidify the angry white vote, Mayor Herenton runs a photo negative version of the “Southern Strategy”, making a calculated wager that he can show all white voters that aren’t real estate developers nothing but scorn and derision and maintain his grip on power as long as he solidifies the black vote.

Does the lack of melanin in my skin make me a supporter of Carol Chumney? No. It is my earnest belief that she is at her best when serving as a hairshirt for the political structure that exists today— Not as the new leader of the power structure.

A dear friend of mine wrote that Herman Morris played the role of spoiler— Instead, I turn that idea on its head. Had Chumney not been enslaved by her own ego, she would still be on the City Council (Granted, Jim Strickland likely would not be) and we could have taken care of several of our problems with one vote.

I was loathe to report my support for Herman Morris before the election. Certainly not out of any sense of shame— Just the opposite. I watched the way things were playing out and saw that he could be portrayed as the “acceptable black candidate” in this race. There were reasons for my support that go far beyond skin deep. I genuinely liked the man and liked the platorm to the point that I coudn’t be bothered to give a steaming pile of Dubya what color his skin was.

And so I felt that, as happens from time to time, our endorsements could do more harm than good. Much as when Tom Guleff ran against Mark White in the 2006 GOP congressional primary. I genuinely like the man— But an endorsement from me would have done more to harm him than help him.

And that is the quandary I found myself in throughout this race. Expressing my admiration, my support of the candidate of my choice could easily undermine him with a cross section of the electorate. I will be a great many things to the candidates I support. “Albatross around the neck” (That’s a “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” reference for all those who haven’t studied fine literature) isn’t even in the top 100.

Am I entirely unhappy with the results in the mayor’s race? No. We were in a situation where the worst case scenario is four more years of what this fine city has already survived sixteen years of. I can always wish for more, and I want the people of Memphis to rise up and demand more than what they’re given now.

Mayor Herenton has a nasty habit of shitting into a bowl, sticking a spoon into it, and serving it up to us, telling us it’s actually chocolate soft serve ice cream. And no matter what the election results are, we must demand more as a city.

Mukasey

The president will yet again show his devotion to diversity today by nominating a non-Texan to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

Michael Mukasey isn’t the typical Bush nominee. Unlike the last Attorney General, he appears to actually believe in the rule of law.

But in a way, you have to admire the persistence of the Bush White House. After all, one of the names they tossed around as a possible replacement for the attorney general that purged prosecutors for not proving they were “sufficiently loyal Bushies” by issuing baseless indictments to Democrats at election time was one of the engineers of “The Arkansas Project“, a multi-million dollar rumor mill funded by Richard Mellon Scaife. Had it not been for a stronger Republican Senate presence, emboldened by a Democratic Majority that had not been on the receiving end of of six years of screwjobs from the White House, he would have had to face the questions about it under oath in 2001.

And we all know how much “sufficiently loyal Bushies” love answering questions under oath.

Others worried about the prospect of Olsen being approved by the Senate. I did not. Confirming Ted Olsen as the supreme arbiter of justice in the United States would have been about as easy as confirming Khallid Sheikh Mohammed as Homeland Security Secretary— Something George W. Bush would surely be willing to do if only Mohammed would go on TV and say “the surge is working” at every available opportunity.

Mukasey is about as far right a nominee as Dubya could get confirmed these days, considering that he wields slightly less political influence than Larry Craig.

Among his more notable rulings:

  • He ruled that Jose Padilla could be held as an enemy combatant, but that he could not be denied the right to legal counsel. Fair enough.
  • He issued an injunction preventing the MPAA from enforcing its ban on the distribution of screener movies to Academy voters, stating that it was an unlawful restraint of trade unfair to independent filmmakers. Agreed.
  • He sentenced “The Blind Sheik” to life in prison. Works for me.

If you listen very closely during George W. Bush’s announcement today, you will hear his heart breaking as he announces a nominee that Democrats might actually approve. Chuck Schumer actually suggested Mukasey as a decent nominee back in 2003 when Gonzales was nominated.

Another Year Gone By…

There are very few “it moments” in life. The moments where you view your life in terms of before “it” and after “it”. “Before I got married”. “After Dad died”.

Six years ago today was one of those days on a global scale. For people around the world now view their lives through the prism of “before 9/11” and “after 9/11”.

Save for nineteen, neither the passengers nor crew on those four planes that cool Tuesday morning had any idea that as they walked towards their planes, death walked among them, elbowing its way through the crowd like some obnoxious tourist.

Nor did any of us have any idea that six years later, their murders and the murders of the thousands inside the World Trade Center and Pentagon would be largely unavenged, their president using their lives and deaths as leverage to bargain for the war he wanted rather than the war that began that day.

Freedom is but a flickering candle in the gale force wind created by an administration that saw 9/11 as opportunity rather than tragedy. As the flaming remains of the World Trade Center leapt into the New York skies, spreading the residue of burning jet fuel and the ashes of the fallen into the lungs of the brave souls who dug through the rubble searching in vain for survivors, the White House planned an assault on two fronts.

One seemed a logical counter response to the administration’s claims that “they hate us for our freedom” by eliminating that which it claimed they hated. A set of laws that only Stalin could have loved wound its way through the corridors of Washington DC, voted on by a Congress full of enablers and “opposition” that were too timid to risk being seen as “un-American” by the very people that did their level best to destroy all that America was supposed to stand for. The USA PATRIOT Act, Orwellian in both name and scope, ushered in the era of “sneak and peek” warrantless searches and national security letters, closely followed by a warrantless wiretapping program that the founders of this nation would have horsewhipped anyone for suggesting.

The second front was a war not against those who attacked us, but against those that this administration prioritized out of sheer dislike. Certainly, our armed forces made a brief pit stop in Afghanistan— But there was never any doubt that all roads led to Baghdad. Before he even addressed the nation over the World Trade Center attacks, George W. Bush was bellowing “Saddam! Iraq! Iraq! Saddam!” to his cabinet.

The administration used strategy in Iraq that would have to be improved upon before it could even be called “dismal”. It waged a proxy war against those who attacked us and the government who harbored them not because it was strategically sound, but because doing it right would have meant that the American people were weary of war long before George W. Bush got the conflict he wanted. Al Qaeda pumped millions of dollars per year into a nation where the average annual income for a family of four was under $25. The militias that fought on our side in Afghanistan cared nothing for the murders of our people in Washington DC, New York City, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania— They cared about taking their country back from another violent militia that left them out of the loop. We liberated the Afghan people from a government of murderers and delivered them into the hands of people that think murdering a former president and dragging him through the street is an honorable means of transferring power.

And for what? So we could spend our “six days, six weeks, I doubt six months” taking down Saddam Hussein, he of the terrible Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, he who cavorts with Osama bin Laden, dancing on the graves of New Yorkers in drag in the pale moonlight.

Of course, all that we were told in the buildup to the war with Iraq that had any resemblance to reality is that yes, there is a nation called Iraq, and its capital is Baghdad.

Saddam was scum. Whether you opposed the war or thought of it as a nifty idea (Presumably while sending someone else’s kids off to bleed the desert red), he was indeed scum.

But “He’s scum” isn’t a proper justification for warfare. So the American people were fed a steady diet of fiction with a thick layer of “9/11” spread across the top like icing.

2,998 people were murdered by a madman that twisted and distorted the Koran into a justification for murder. And the legacy of those 2,998 people has in turn been twisted by a madman into a war which, while it might wear noble trappings, feels just as murderous to the innocents caught in its crossfire.

Just as the people in the Towers and the Pentagon needed rescue while the president impotently read a children’s book for seven long minutes, the legacy of all those murdered on September 11, 2001 must be rescued. For every injustice committed by our government in the days since has been committed in their name.

We “need” to let the federal government listen in on phone calls— It’s the only way to prevent another 9/11. We “need” to go to Iraq because Big Bad Saddam with his “nookyaler” missiles might bring down another 9/11 on us. And now, we “need” to stay there because fighting them over there means we don’t have to fight them over here.

Our government shows just how much they believe in that notion every day of our lives— If fighting them over here was what it took, why would we need to dispense with civil liberties here?

The soldier that dies in Iraq today does not do so because the White House wants to avenge two-year-old Christine Hanson, whose trip on United Flight 175 was her first and last, or its own Solicitor General’s wife, conservative pundit Susan Olsen, or Todd Beemer, the man that uttered the “Let’s roll!” sentiment that has been misappropriated by men far less courageous than he was, or even Betty Ong, the flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 who was the first to alert anyone that there was even a problem. The soldier on the battlefield may well have had any and all of the four or the 2,994 other souls that perished with them when he agreed to trust the commander-in-chief to expend his life wisely rather than recklessly. But this White House has no such concerns.

It now invokes 9/11 only as a shield to deflect criticism of its disregard for the basic liberties guaranteed by the Constitution or in telling us why we have to fight a nation that had nothing to do with the attack.

Today, we will all take a moment today and pause, thinking of the horrors of that day, saying a prayer either silent or aloud that their souls have found peace.

And then pray that we become better at guarding their legacy so that the dimming, flickering candle of freedom is not extinguished by this or any other administration.

In 2006, Nikki Tinker refused to say where she stood on any actual issues in the congressional primary, instead allowing surrogates to attack Steve Cohen for (a) not being black and (b) ridiculous misinterpretations of bills he voted for.

And in 2007, she still refuses to speak out on the issues, deigning to do the attack work for herself only when Steve Cohen accurately points out the game she’s playing.

From the city’s best newspaper:

“Rep. Cohen is playing the worse [sic] kind of politics and attempting to lay his failure to have a positive and constructive dialogue with the constituents at my feet — and his accusations are pure fiction. I am not going to play the politics of divide and conquer with Rep. Cohen — my values simply will not allow it.”

She says a lot in that brief statement.  She tells us she doesn’t like having her hand tipped— She wants her surrogates to Swift Boat Steve Cohen, but she doesn’t like being pointed out as the George W. Bush of Memphis politics, thus benefiting from their attacks.

Note what she doesn’t say— She doesn’t say where she stands on this issue.  She doesn’t say how she would vote on a bill that allowed for the use of federal resources in investigating hate crimes.

According to the FBI, 53.9% of hate crimes in 2004 were committed because of racial bias, with an astounding 67.5% of the victims being black.  Bias based on sexual orientation made up just 15.6% of the hate crimes.

Almost three and a half times as many hate crimes are committed against blacks as against homosexuals— Yet Nikki Tinker’s surrogates oppose a law that allows federal resources to be used in the investigation of those crimes?

As I’ve said before, reading the bill tells you what you need to know about it.   There is nothing in the language of the bill that says that you cannot preach against homosexuality.  All that you cannot do is all that you could not do before— You cannot stand in the pulpit and encourage violence against gays.  You couldn’t do that before this bill either, as it’s illegal to incite violence against another human being.

And let’s be perfectly honest here— If you stand at the pulpit and encourage violence against another human being, you’re not exactly a man of God.  He has a place for people that fan the flames of hate and encourage violence against others, and I would forget about getting an iced tea down there.

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