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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dude, college is *next* year

Five or ten years ago, Taylor Killian would just be a really foolish high-school senior. Today, he's enjoying his 15 minutes of fame across the country and overseas as far away as Germany:

A Westerville North High School student who stripped naked, lubed his body in oil and ran amok through the school commons during lunch yesterday was arrested after police twice zapped him with a Taser. "It just seemed like a good idea at the time," Taylor C. Killian, 18, told police later, said Westerville Lt. John Petrozzi. It was right about noon when a clothed Killian, who made his school's honor roll in each of three grading periods during the 2005-06 school year, strolled into a bathroom near the crowded commons.

In the past, this prank would have likely resulted in a local newspaper story, a local TV story or two, maybe an AP brief in other newspapers and, if Taylor were lucky, space in an upcoming installment of News of the Weird. Now, it means that his police report is online, anyone can see a live local TV news story about the incident, the local paper's article is online complete with more than 30 comments (as of 7 a.m. Central time), 1,200 people have starred the incident on, and we know that Taylor really likes geeking out with his Xbox.

I have a feeling that all of this makes the whole thing more rewarding, somehow, for Taylor, but probably not for his parents. Yikes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

If Karl Dean can keep this pace up...

... he'll have $5,182,000 by Nashville's election day (August 2, 2007). The City Paper just broke the following news about Dean's fundraising success on the campaign trail:

Mayoral candidate Karl Dean, who served as director of the Metro Law Department until January 9, raised $156,450 for his campaign between his departure from the department and mid-January, his campaign said today.
As of mid-January, Dean had $151,448 still on hand. That hopefully means he spent $5,002 on developing a visually pleasing and informative Web site, which his campaign continues to lack at present. Dean's balance is within $80,000 or so of Buck Dozier, who has been raising funds since January 2006. While this may be apples-to-oranges considering that the election is much closer now than when Dozier entered the race, Dean raised more money this month than Dozier did in the last six months of 2006. At the very least, this leaves me curious to see where the other candidates, particularly David Briley, weigh in as the fundraising deadline (Jan. 31) nears.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let's make this history

Despite all of our complaints and our differences in the United States, we are among the most fortunate people on the planet today. We are among the most fortunate people who have ever lived. I mean all of that to say that, myself included, we are all guilty of taking our welfare and our blessings for granted. Reading a story like this one from CNN reminds me just how much we have to be thankful for and how horrible conditions are for many people in the world even now:

Four Papua New Guinea women, believed by fellow villagers to have used sorcery to cause a fatal road crash, were tortured with hot metal rods to confess, then murdered and buried standing up in a pit, said police. The National newspaper said on Wednesday that police had only just uncovered the grisly murders, which occurred last October near the town of Goroka in the jungle-clad highlands some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the capital, Port Moresby. Black magic is widespread in the South Pacific nation where most of the 5.1 million population live subsistence lives. Women suspected of being witches are often hung or burned to death.
I have nothing but sympathy for these women and their families. The idea of living in a culture that would condone this kind of atrocity is so foreign from what the rest of us experience each day that I really can't imagine waking up to find myself in their country. At the same time, this level of thinking is where we as Americans existed a few centuries earlier, and we would have burned or drowned innocent people in similar circumstances. I'm reminded again of the U2 song, "Crumbs From Your Table:"
Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
This will never be a perfect world, but it will be that much closer when horrible actions like this no longer take place. I'm relieved only that this kind of tragedy is uncommon enough, at least on our side of the world, to qualify as news. Here's hoping that it qualifies only as history someday soon.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Show us the money is reporting that mayoral candidate Buck Dozier has officially disclosed his campaign fundraising as required by election law:

In the last fundraising quarter, Dozier raised $102,734, bringing his campaign total to $319,300 thus far. Dozier also report that he presently has $228,000 in cash on hand.

Other mayoral candidates that will be filing by the end of the month are At-large Councilman David Briley, former Congressman Bob Clement, former Metro Law Director Karl Dean, businessman Kenneth Eaton, Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, and community activist Dave Pelton.
That's a significant war chest for a campaign with a full roster of candidates. I am very curious to see how Bob Clement (whom some see as the early frontrunner) and Howard Gentry (whom some are concerned will struggle to raise enough money to remain competitive) report. They are required to do so by January 31. I'm especially curious to see how the two progressive candidates, David Briley and Karl Dean, stack up compared to each other and to the rest of the field.

How you know when you like your pet a little too much

If for no other reason than the resulting back problems, this wearable dog house sure seems like a bad idea to me:

Hey, feeling a bit lonely, need some attention? Well you'll get all the attention you need when you walk through any public place sporting the new, uber attractive Wearable Dog House! It's designed so you can bring your pet to any function and enjoy your dog's company while keeping both hands free for.... whatever. The inventor suggests the WDH's air permeable construction will allow Benji "to view outside events and experience the textures of the outdoors in safety and comfort". And for your own comfort, we're hoping it has an absorbent bottom for when Benji gets all excited and springs a leak.

There are plenty of other reasons why this is just bizarre, even though it is reportedly an authentic patent illustration.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Garrigan (n.): Well-reasoned editorial

Thanks also to Garrigan and the Scene for reviving her weekly editorial. Yes, it’s been adapted into a column headlined “Garrigan” apparently because Scene corporate owner the Village Voice has a no-editorial policy, but it’s still the same good read that is usually my first stop in each week’s issue. Garrigan is a knowledgeable and convincing writer, one who is married to likely incoming deputy mayor Curt Garrigan. It will be a shame if Garrigan (Liz) has to curtail her city politics coverage when her husband assumes the post. Granted, Liz is reportedly expecting soon, so readers can likely anticipate at least a temporary hiatus one way or another.

Vote for mayor like it's 1999

Update: Liz Garrigan's column referenced below is now online.

I’m hoping Nashville Scene editor Liz Garrigan is right in the remarks she wrote for this week’s issue (not online yet). Attempting to forecast the upcoming mayoral race, Garrigan compares Bob Clement in 2007 to Dick Fulton in 1999. Fulton served as Nashville’s mayor from 1975 to 1987 and continues to be a respected figure in the community. Seeking to return to the office twelve years later, Fulton emerged as the frontrunner based on name recognition before placing a distant second to Bill Purcell on Election Day. As Garrigan notes, he humbly conceded the race even though he qualified for a runoff because Purcell was the clear, though not majority, choice of the electorate.

Clement, a career politician looking to make a comeback, may well be in Fulton’s shoes as the next election inches closer. I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I consider Clement – along with Buck Dozier and Howard Gentry – to be less-than-appealing options for the city’s next leader. Garrigan agrees:

Bob Clement is this year’s version of Dick Fulton – a man who has little vision for a city that has changed dramatically over the last decade or two, someone who’s already had a full political career (less distinguished than Fulton’s was, it would be fair to say) and the kind of not-so-fresh candidate we predict will hide behind meaningless press releases and innocuous appearances, instead handling questions in writing rather than handling tough questions live, the way he responded to inquiries from The Nashville Business Journal at the end of the year.
Garrigan is calling for Dozier to face David Briley or Karl Dean (who continues to decline to launch a Web site) in a runoff where “the voters couldn’t have a starker contrast in candidates.” I’m hoping she’s right, and I hope Briley or Dean emerge as Nashville’s next mayor. In the meantime, I hope the two of them will sit down for coffee and figure out which one of them has the better shot at winning and which one ought to run for vice-mayor instead. [Aside to both: I will likely vote for either of you compared to the field, so please stop dividing the progressive vote.]

Pick up lines that need some work

Surely this one would make that top-10 list. It's good personal policy, I think, to never embrace a request that includes the phrase "Come up to my room and see the blueprints." []

Friday, January 19, 2007

As less traveled as it gets

Why do we do the things we do? I wonder just how much of our lives comes down to doing what most of the herd does. I'm in favor of doing each of the following things, for example: brushing my teeth every day, wearing deodorant, owning a car and living in a nice, though not extravagant, home. I doubt that very many of us would seriously consider abandoning even one of those habits voluntarily.

I do all of those things (and have no plans to abandon them, especially the toothbrushing or the deodorant), but I do them primarily because I started doing what other people taught me to do. I didn't ask whether there might be advantages to doing things differently. Mark Creek-Water (pictured above) asks -- and answers -- that question every day:

Of course, how we lived was extravagant in Mark’s eyes. Some of us wore prescription sunglasses, for instance, where Mark chose to do without any eyewear even though he could not see clearly past fifty feet. We made personal purchases of toothbrushes, sunscreen, and deodorant, all of which he did without. We wore new, specialized walking clothing and shoes, where he wore only the clothes he found along the road or purchased second hand. We walked the country with an R.V. support vehicle and a fifteen passenger van to shuttle guest walkers. While he readily made use of these, he would have been content without them...

Despite Mark’s idiosyncrasies, we learned to appreciate deeply the pleasure he derives from the simplest of things. A crusty piece of two-day-old bread here, a gurgling creek there; a change in wind direction, an old wrench by the side of the road, a new moon, a few pieces of discarded paper with nothing written on the back which he could use for a new pamphlet, the kindness of someone who made him photocopies of his pamphlet for free...

Even though Mark walked a double shift for most of the journey, he was never in a hurry to finish walking for the day. The rest of us walked at 3-3.5 mph, thinking we were doing pretty well to slow down from our 65 mph lifestyles. Mark preferred to walk at 2-2.5 mph, and not because he was out of shape. “You miss too many things if you rush like that,” he’d say. “Slow down! What’s your hurry? Look, there’s a creek up ahead. I’m going to check it out.” He would stop for fifteen or twenty minutes, jogging afterwards to catch up with us (his thin legs are amazingly strong!) or he would accept a ride from Ray as he passed by in the R.V.

This passage is from a to-be-published book called Asphalt Jesus by author Eric Elnes, who participated in CrossWalk America last year. This emerging Christian movement is dedicated to making Christianity more compassionate and just by encouraging others to love God, neighbor and self fully. Mark Creek-Water is a 59-year-old “voluntarily houseless” man who decided to walk alongside Elnes and others who traversed the country to support their cause.

I don’t know whether I would be willing to walk in Creek-Water’s shoes for longer than a few days (if that long), but I wonder whether I would be happier and more fulfilled if I did. I think I know the answer, and that answer begs the question: Why not follow this example? Maybe the simple answer is that I am unwilling to change that dramatically, but I can’t help but admire this approach to life. If we all walked along even 10 percent of Mr. Creek-Water’s path, the world would be a more peaceful and more pleasant place to live. This raises another question, too: What 10 percent could I take from this heartwarming and remarkable example to instill in my own daily life? I don’t know yet, but I am already thinking about it. I may not follow the letter of this example, but I am inspired by its spirit.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Get a (Second) Life

If a protest takes place in an Internet-based virtual-reality world, does it resonate in real life? If you're talking about a recent protest by Second Life users regarding the opening of a virtual Front National office, then the answer is yes.

I'm not sure whether to marvel at how quickly Second Life has evolved and at its diverse and rich virtual experience or to stare in disbelief at the entire spectacle. Front National is a far-right political party in France that many of its critics consider fascist, intolerant and racist. As CNET and many others have reported, users who opposed the party's arrival in Second Life's virtual world staged a protest recently that featured machine guns, rainbow explosions and pig-shaped grenades. At least one blogger "attended" the protest and shared his experience:

The first night I arrived at the protest against the Second Life headquarters of Front National, the far right French political party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute. By the second night I came (this was late last week), the conflict had become more literal, for many Residents had armed themselves. Multi-colored explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine, a shopping island which FN had inexplicably picked for the site of their virtual world HQ, in December...

It didn't begin like this. After Front National took root, at least two groups, antiFN and SL Left Unity, rose to oppose them. They had placards and T-shirts, and billboards on the land of sympathetic neighbors, all making plain that FN's arrival in Second Life was distinctly unwelcome. For their part, Front National members-- mostly muscular young men dressed in white T-shirts with the FN logo-- stood inside their headquarters, impassively watching the outrage build outside.

But the SL Left Unity group had press releases of their own. "We have acquired land next to the FN office," one announced, "and will be manning a protest there until FN go or are ejected. Wherever fascists are we will ensure they get no peace to corrupt and lie to decent people."
I'm amazed at the level of importance Second Life has earned in the lives of many people. I briefly signed up and explored the virtual world a few weeks ago. While I found it intriguing, I quickly realized that the giant social experiment was demanding a choice: Either immerse myself to my eyeballs in its world, or flee back to reality. In other words, to have a Second Life, I would have to risk sacrificing my first one. How in the world do users who are this consumed with Second Life have time to do anything else? (Maybe others are asking the same of we bloggers right now, and they might have a point.)

On the other hand, maybe there could be some value out of transferring our differences from the real world into cyberspace. How much of an improvement would it be to shift tragic and life-crushing hostilities such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a world such as this? I know there isn't a practical way to eliminate real-world consequences by relocating them to a land generated by bits of code, but I sure wish there were. I wish we could move the unyielding and hateful fundamentalists on both sides who refuse to look for compromise on this and so many other issues onto a Second Life island and allow the people who suffer in their midst in reality to begin rebuilding their communities and their lives.

We can build a fake world to fill our time, but we can't escape the pain and turmoil of the one we were born in. Unless we address the problems we face, they will follow us into cyberspace and anywhere else we go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where the sun don't shine

The U.S. Senate joined the House yesterday in passing legislation requiring disclosure for earmarks, which are often referred to as pet projects that legislators anonymously insert into spending bills. The disclosure legislation requires members of Congress to list their names along with any earmarks and certify that they do not have a financial stake in the projects in question.

The bill passed 98-0 because no one wants to be seen as anti-transparency come election time, and I'm glad this kind of policy will become law. It begs the question why this didn't happen a long time ago, but at least it has happened now.

Here in Tennessee, I hope our lawmakers will follow this national example when it comes to ethics and disclosure. The Tennessean reported earlier this week that while the public must follow a 10-step procedure to view how legislators voted on a particular bill via the General Assembly Web site, lawmakers themselves can see the same results with a single click.

In a political climate where many citizens already question the integrity on both sides of the aisle, this inconsistency at the very least reinforces the perception that lawmakers don't want the sun to shine on their activities on the Hill. Senator Rosalind Kurita called this week for a new focus on open government in the wake of John Wilder's ouster as speaker of the Senate. I completely agree with the need for this change in direction:

It was time for a change in the structure [in the Senate]. The dedication to keeping a status quo was preventing our state from putting real energy and bi-partisan effort into solving problems and moving Tennessee forward. I chose to break the logjam so there can be a vigorous, but civil, policy discussion over the current and future direction of our state. We face a host of issues—from improving education, healthcare, and job creation to new alternative energy proposals and a more open government. We cannot afford gridlock or stagnation if we are to help solve these problems. It may seem ironic to some, but only now are Democrats and Republicans free to work together on real issues. I voted my conscience.

Open government should also be a part of the legislative agenda. One way to accomplish this would be to allow every voter an equal opportunity to vote for our state's constitutional officers: Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Comptroller. They are currently elected by the members of the General Assembly. Tennessee is one of very few states where voters are not empowered to make such important decisions on high-ranking government officials. Letting our citizens vote increases accountability and makes sure government is held accountable...

Every member of the Senate is tired of being 49th in so many areas. I intend to work with my fellow Democrats and Republicans as well as the new Lt. Governor to create legislation that moves our state forward. The era of the smoke-filled back room is over and we are now free to have a healthy public policy debate that can only benefit the citizens of this great state.
As I mentioned earlier, this era should have begun a long time ago, but I am grateful that it is happening now. There will always be political maneuvering in the General Assembly, but Tennessee is taking baby steps toward having a more open and honest governing body. I hope this trend continues, including making it easier for local residents to see how their elected officials voted on the bills put before them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is it lonely at the top by design?

Why can't leaders balance boldness with humility? USA Today has a great story today about CEOs and their reluctance to accept criticism.

It's remarkable to me how many leaders from various segments of society consider their role to be a top-down, one-way relationship with their subordinates. As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that effective leadership requires service and sacrifice, not arrogance and isolation. In my opinion, humility isn't being a wimp. It's about facing and acknowledging contrary schools of thought and legitimate criticisms. Those skills require courage, and they are essential for anyone holding a leadership position, yet they are extremely tough to master and to maintain. At least that's what a PsyMax solutions study found recently, and I can't argue.

I admire Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, who is featured in the article, for being willing to accept 360-degree feedback from his coworkers, even though it had indicated that he is "impatient" and "chronically late to meetings." Lafley says he listens because "feedback leads to growth." I think he is absolutely right.

Unfortunately, his opinion among leaders is very rare. Consider this insight from author Jean Lipman-Blumen (The Allure of Toxic Leaders):

"[Leaders sometimes] suffer from narcissism and grandiosity that blind them to the shortcomings of their own character ... Toxic leaders feed their followers the illusion that they are omnipotent and omniscient."

Making matters worse, leaders often not only disregard feedback and contrary points of view, they take steps either knowingly or by default to isolate themselves from opposing opinions and alternative ideas. Author Jeffrey Sonnefield (Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters) makes an astute observation in the article:

"[Some leaders] put lawyers and public relations specialists between them and the world more than the World War II veteran CEOs of 20 years ago, and they are more reluctant to admit mistakes for fear of looking weak or mortal. That is a mistake in itself because the pattern in heroes throughout history has been to err, suffer and learn. It's the rise from the setbacks that separate leaders from the 'conveyor belt of fate.'"

If you ask me, this is one of President Bush's most critical weaknesses as a leader. It may well cost him more than his actual policy decisions do. A president who could effectively acknowledge other points of view even while choosing an alternate direction and one who was more willing to admit mistakes would likely serve as much better as a nation.

A book named Egonomics is set to publish this fall, and it will tackle issues of ego and leadership in business, among other topics. The authors are maintaining an intriguing blog in the meantime that is well worth a look.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A new definition of greatness

I hadn't heard these inspiring words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., until today, but they are already among my favorites of the quotes attributed to him.

If you want to be important -- wonderful. If you want to be recognized -- wonderful. If you want to be great -- wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve ... You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
I like the refreshing take on the "greatest among you shall be least" citation from the Bible. I've always taken that to mean that being selfish will leave you empty or diminished somehow, or even that you'll receive the smallest portion at God's table (whatever that may mean). The way Dr. King describes it turns that notion on its ear: He says instead that by serving, you will reach your ultimate potential. People are at their best, Dr. King points out, when they are helping others. It's not so much that you will be punished for stockpiling whatever you can gather, it's that ultimately you will be missing out on the best reward: the satisfaction of making contributions that benefit someone beyond yourself.

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting things or desiring success and recognition. Despite all that we can collect, though, we are at our finest -- and we are most fulfilled -- when we are reaching out, not taking in. Thanks, Dr. King.

Way to go, George!

My first thought upon reading this article was, “Does he really want to be in the Guinness Book that badly?” I’m encouraged to see that George Hood of Aurora, Illinois, who apparently broke the world record for riding a stationery bike on Saturday, used the feat to raise money for an organization that helps families of slain police officers. That’s a wonderful and worthy cause for anyone to ride a bike for 85 hours. Even better, he may have given the biggest donation in the organization’s history:

Hood hoped the feat would help raise thousands of dollars for the Illinois chapter of COPS, an organization that helps the families of slain police officers. Illinois COPS president Jennifer Morales has said Hood could be the largest single fundraiser the local group has had. Baron said Hood raised $25,000 for the group – $5,000 more than his goal.

Congratulations to Mr. Hood on achieving his goals, physical and philanthropic.

I wonder why people are so compelled to earn world records. I understand the desire for excellence when it comes to athletic or artistic achievements because those pastimes are widely followed and performed by a large population of people. In other words, holding a world record in track is significant because millions of people around the world run on a regular basis. Holding such a world record means that very likely no one, or at the least a very small number of people, can surpass your effort at that activity. That is an accomplishment to savor, no doubt.

I have no interest in diminishing Hood’s achievement because it is remarkable, but it’s important to note that he did not technically ride for 85 consecutive hours. For those of you wondering how he went to the bathroom, here’s your answer: “Hood took a few brief power naps along the way. Guinness Book rules allow a five-minute break for every completed hour of cycling.”

Nonetheless, I could not match Hood’s achievement without a serious period of conditioning training, and I have zero desire to try. Nicely done, George! [Image: AP via]

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Shame on me and Patrick McHenry

In a Friday post, I fell for a Washington Times article that I will not dignify by linking again. In my opinion, a few House GOP members (particularly Rep. Patrick McHenry) are dishonestly making the claim that Pelosi's minimum wage bill is somehow providing preferential treatment for a manufacturer in her district that has facilities in American Samoa. According to Sean Braisted and Hill News (below), this is absolutely false:

Efforts to bring the U.S. territory in the Northern Mariana islands under federal minimum wage law is creating political headaches for House Democrats because the U.S. has long held American Samoa to a different wage standard.

House Republicans are making plenty of political hay over the disparity between the two territories’ wage policies, lambasting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) for "exempting" American Samoa from their minimum wage bill and claiming that they’re being motivated by the fact that Del Monte’s headquarters are located in Pelosi’s district. Del Monte owns StarKist Tuna, which owns one of two packing plants in Samoa that together employ a large portion of the islands workers.

But the disparity between American Samoa and the Northern Mariana islands’ wage policies is nothing new, and the Democrats’ minimum wage bill does not mention American Samoa in any way.

While the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has been exempt from any federal minimum wage standards – an exemption that former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked for years to protect – Samoa has operated under federal minimum wage laws for years.

Samoa, however, has a federal wage review board in place that allows it to evaluate the effect incremental increases in its minimum wages would have on the territory’s economy. This wage review board, made up of representatives in Samoa’s business and public sector who are appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, has set Samoa’s wages and has managed to keep them well below the mainland U.S. minimum wage.

Or, as blogger dday put it more succinctly (bold added by me):

[I]t's important to note that the substance of the Republican argument, that the minimum wage bill specifically exempts American Samoa from federal minimum wage laws, is factually incorrect. American Samoa has ALREADY been exempt from those laws for some time, including for 12 years under a Republican majority. Currently wage floors in American Samoa are set by the US Department of Labor.

Mea culpa for calling out Pelosi for something she was not doing. Shame on those who tried to fool the public (and fooled me) by claiming she was trying to pull a fast one.

What would Jesus speak?


Friday, January 12, 2007

Where on the Web is Karl Dean?

I can't find a Web site for Karl Dean, a candidate to be Nashville's mayor in 2007. Dean announced his candidacy on December 19, nearly a month ago, and appears to be the only major mayoral candidate who does not have a campaign presence on the Web.

According to many, Dean's base is young and/or wealthy progressives in West Nashville. I think Dean may be a very strong candidate for mayor, and I know that his base spends a lot of time on the Internet. Where are you, Karl?

I promise I'm not looking for podcasts and streaming video, just a basic Web site with background information, platform details and a photo or two. While we're on the subject, David Briley, who is likely Dean's biggest challenger for the progressive vote, has an innovative and attractive Web site. I won't vote for him merely because of a Web site, but at least I know where to find him when I need him. Here's where you can find the other candidates on the net:

Dave Pelton, who just announced his creative and engaging plans to run through 36 of Nashville's neighborhoods beginning tomorrow morning, isn't quite as creative and engaging on the Web. Dave, please give us some new content and post your news releases.

If I've missed anyone, including you, Karl, please let me know.

Three observations from the Hill

I'd like to hear Rep. Nancy Pelosi's explanation for this bit of pork barrel in the House's minimum-wage bill. I support this bill, but exempting favored businesses or areas is wrong. The Washington Post has reported on the emerging controversy:

One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island's work force. StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi. The other plant belongs to California-based Chicken of the Sea.
2) Members of Congress should read bills, or make sure their staffs have, before they vote on them.
"I was troubled to learn of this exemption," said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican. "My intention was to raise the minimum wage for everyone. We shouldn't permit any special favors or exemptions that are not widely discussed in Congress. This is the problem with rushing legislation through without full debate.
3) Rep. Patrick McHenry has a pretty good sense of humor.
During the House debate yesterday on stem-cell research, Mr. McHenry raised a parliamentary inquiry as to whether an amendment could be offered that would exempt American Samoa from stem-cell research, "just as it was for the minimum-wage bill."

A clearly perturbed Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who was presiding, cut off Mr. McHenry and shouted, "No, it would not be."

"So, the chair is saying I may not offer an amendment exempting American Samoa?" Mr. McHenry pressed.

"The gentleman is making a speech and will sustain," Mr. Frank shouted as he slammed his large wooden gavel against the rostrum.
Our hopes for change and progress in Washington do not yet appear to have taken root. In fairness, both parties do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Why did Pelosi think this would go unnoticed, especially considering her prominence and her recent public words about honesty and positive change? I want those things, too, so I would really like to hear an explanation for this.

Cingular is dead

AT&T will axe the Cingular brand name now that it has acquired BellSouth. I think this is a big mistake. I am a Verizon customer, but I didn't choose Verizon because of its name. I chose it because it offered me a better deal through my office than I could get as a consumer.

Cingular has invested billions of dollars creating and promoting this unique moniker. BellSouth abandoned the name BellSouth Mobility in order to do that. AT&T is claiming dollar savings and increased opportunity for bundling services by making the change, but I tend to agree with this take:

But with its long and complicated history, AT&T may face customer confusion over its name, marketing experts said. Also, Cingular built up a reputation among younger customers who may not easily associate with the AT&T brand.
Furthermore, if customers do associate AT&T with wireless phones, here's what they think:
The new AT&T was formed in the merger of SBC Communications and AT&T Corp. in late 2005. Adding to the mix, in late 2004 Cingular bought AT&T Wireless, eradicating that brand because of its poor reputation among customers.
In a somewhat related note, someone please acquire Vonage and get rid of that excruciating theme song. I mute the TV every time it comes on. Aargh.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

One punk under God

I highly recommend checking out the six-episode Sundance Channel documentary One Punk Under God that began airing in December. It recounts the recent adventures of Jay Bakker, son of maligned 70s and 80s televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, and his wife Amanda.

After rebelling and partying for a few years (as most preacher's kids do), Bakker settled down, grew up and started a church of his own, one that's a little different from the average steeple on the corner and a far cry from his parents' scandal-ridden PTL days. Not surprisingly given his childhood, Jay is focused on avoiding the kind of hypocrisy and self-righteousness that left him with a bad taste of Christianity in his mouth. He has concentrated instead on humility and grace and being authentic and loving to other people in seeking a relationship with God. Here's a quote from Bakker spoken on Larry King Live in 2001 that resonated with me:

"I think we get caught in this idea of pleasing God rather than trusting God. And I think once you learn to trust God, it's a lot easier to please God."
If you're God, do you really want people bringing you grapes? I think Bakker this is absolutely on to something with those words. In my opinion, one reason Christians and dedicated people of many other religions generate a backlash is that they are awfully quick to speak for God instead of letting God speak. Now I'm not really sure whether God uses words or performs miracles to get his points across, but I do think he acts within our hearts and minds. I think it is better to act with respect and love than with hostility and judgment. Bakker appears to agree with me here, too, based on the stickers he likes to place on parking meters and road signs to promote his church:

"As Christians, we're sorry for being self-righteous judgmental bastards."

Lately I'm tending to err heavily on the side of grace when it comes to God because I sincerely think that, if God as an all-powerful supreme being is real, why wouldn't he demonstrate his power with compassion and grace? Is there a better way to say "Hi, I'm God?" What would sending millions of people to Hell really do to prove that he is mighty?

Many media outlets have reported on Jay and Amanda's story, including the New York Times Magazine and The Seattle Times. Both are good reads if you are looking to learn more about this generation of Bakkers, and Jay's church has its own shop on the Web. Sundance has plenty of repeats of all the episodes running.

Keep riding the old cycle, too

I'm glad to see that newspapers still have some life left in them:

A recent survey by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center and Ketchum found that consumers still depend heavily on newspapers and TV news for information, with nearly 70 percent relying on their local newspapers.
The survey seems to confirm what I've long observed. People today are swimming in a sea of media. Newspapers aren't going away, they're just not alone anymore in an increasingly crowded ocean.

This "crowded ocean" is a good description for the evolution of media I wrote about earlier this week. I'm also encouraged to see that the survey indicated that young people are in fact newspaper readers, despite the common perception that recent generations don't read the paper:

More than half of adults 18 to 24 read local newspapers, the survey shows, with 16.4 percent reading a national newspaper or newspapers. Young adults are the most well rounded in their media habits, making significant use of all types of new and traditional media.
There are disadvantages to having more media options, including feeling overloaded by content, but I for one am happy to have more choices than ever for news sources. Thanks to Brittney for spying this information.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Is technology making us stupid?

Generally speaking, I think technology does make us more intelligent and allows us to do things we may never previously have thought possible (or necessary, in some cases). Are we becoming too dependent on it, too?

I'm not worried about computers taking over the world, yet, but I wonder if we aren't gradually being dumbed down by technology. We were warned: Our teachers and parents told us to learn math before relying on calculators to crunch numbers for us. Calculators would make it so easy, they said, that we wouldn't pick up the underlying logic and technique.

I wonder whether cell phones are doing the same thing to us. When I was a kid, I knew my home phone number. We had a second line for a while as well, and I still remember both numbers. I remember the number of the family that lived across the street, but I haven't called them in 15 years. Today, I can't tell you the phone numbers of my three best friends or the home phone numbers of my brother or my father. I don't have to remember them: They're all stored in my cell phone.

This reminds me of a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy and his dad have a memorable conversation about the things we remember (and the things we forget):

Professor Henry Jones: Stop. You're going the wrong way. We need to get to Berlin.
Indiana Jones: Brody's this way.
Professor Henry Jones: My diary's in Berlin.
Indiana Jones: We don't need the diary, Dad. Marcus has the map.
Professor Henry Jones: There is more in the diary than just the map.
Professor Henry Jones: Well, he who finds the Grail must face the final challenge.
Indiana Jones: What final challenge?
Professor Henry Jones: Three devices of such lethal cunning.
Indiana Jones: Booby traps?
Professor Henry Jones: Oh yes. But I found the clues that will safely take us through, in the Chronicles of St. Anselm.
Indiana Jones: But what are they? Can't you remember?
Professor Henry Jones: I wrote them down in my Diary so I wouldn't have to remember.
I wonder if this is what cell phones are doing to us. I joke sometimes that my cell phone is my brain because it contains my calendar and contacts. Without it, I'm on my way to Berlin, too.

Tomorrow is faster than you think

Even Crave, CNET's blog about technology, isn't fast enough to keep up with the pace of innovation. Here's a post from Monday (emphasis added):

If there were no buttons on your cell phone, imagine how big the screen could be...

Synaptics is doing just that with its Onyx phone (below), a new concept in cell phone technology. Shaped like a remote, it's a bar-style phone that would integrate GPS, music, teleconferencing and calendar events.

But the coolest part is the screen, which takes up nearly the whole handset. Synaptics calls it ClearPad, a thin, high-resolution touch screen based on the company's proprietary sensing technology. With it, there would be no need for buttons to input information. Information can be entered into the Onyx concept phone with two fingers, or via text entry.

Unfortunately, no company is planning on releasing this phone anytime soon, but the Onyx is out there and could be an indicator of what's to come in the design of mobile handsets.
On Tuesday, Steve Jobs confirmed that "not anytime soon" is this coming June. Apple will release the iPhone (above) this summer, and I have to say that it looks revolutionary even for Apple. The iPhone seems remarkably similar in concept to the Onyx, although on first glance it looks better implemented.

The iPhone has been rumored for weeks, but I honestly didn't think it would be this significant a leap forward in technology. I have to confess that I don't care for the iPod's proprietary format that won't allow the use of subscription music services, so I don't know if I'll be an early adopter. I'll probably hold out to see if Palm or anyone else building for the Palm OS can develop a comparable alternative, but I'm sold so far on this new interface.

I think it's wild to see Crave highlight what appeared to be a distant technology on one day, only to see a similar (and possibly better) innovation launch the following day. Things are moving fast around here, and they aren't slowing down anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This goal shouldn't have counted...

... but I'm sure glad it did. Did anyone else notice how much the Preds' Martin Erat was offside before he assisted on David Legwand's goal in the second period tonight? The Preds went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 in overtime, but I could tell watching in real time that Erat was either much faster than everyone on the ice or past the blue line before the puck. I didn't hear Pete and Terry point out the missed call, but maybe they were just being nice.

The DVR didn't lie: Erat was easily five feet ahead of the puck into the zone. I think the ref must have missed the offsides call because he was busy avoiding the puck. His head was turned away from Erat, and by the time he recovered Erat and the puck were even.

I'm happy the Preds won against the NHL's current best team, but these two points should come with an asterisk attached. Regardless, go Preds!!

Ride this cycle

I am amazed how fast the news cycle has shortened. I just received an email from the City Paper reporting the breaking news that John Wilder is no longer speaker. My first thought was that this news is no longer breaking because I read about it 150 minutes ago. Granted, I'm a news junkie, so I'm essentially wrong: This major, first-time-in-35-years news is still breaking, and plenty of people still haven't heard about it. Note that I just wrote "still."

Newscoma has an interesting and related post today about, among other things, how news is (or isn't) evolving. It begs the question, what is all of this going to look like in 5, 10 and 20 years?

Marrying the new media with the old media is a conversation I’m having with a lot of folks. You see, I may run a bi-weekly paper but the thing is, I would like to see how to arrange this effectively where everyone wins.

There are people in this world (I’m one of them) that loves the smudged ink stains on the tips of my fingers, the smell of a newly printed paper still toasty from coming off the press, reading the cutlines with an editor’s words describing their interpretation of a picture and opening the box of a newspaper box, the change clicking into the small box offering me a little slice of the world.

I also love the blogging community I’m in. Instant feedback, intimacy, dialogue and slices of worlds that I used to not have access to.

There has been plenty of ink and plenty of pixels devoted to the notion that newspapers are gradually dying out (some claiming not so gradually), but I'm not sure that's the whole story. Too many of us still like to read, even if a future newspaper doesn't look the way Newscoma describes above sooner or later, so I don't think we're headed toward an all-video future, as some have suggested. Hopefully, there will always be room for the written word alongside the spoken word and the image (moving or still).

[Thanks to Nashville Is Talking for pointing this post out.]

Related case in point: Even the media we choose to consume is changing. Despite the drawbacks that come from an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, Wikipedia is a favorite site of mine. The entry regarding John Wilder that I have been referencing recently in my posts has already been edited to refer to his tenure as speaker in the past tense. Aside: Does Wilder know about the series of tubes??

Great riddance

I'm relieved by the State Senate's decision today to replace John Wilder as Lt. Governor. I applaud Senator Rosalind Kurita for following her conscience, as she explained, in voting for Sen. Ron Ramsey for speaker. Whether there were the usual machinations behind the scenes to bring about this result, I have no idea, but this is a good change for the state. In my opinion, voting against her party, regardless of other political implications, was the right thing to do.

Reportedly Sen. Jerry Cooper voted for Wilder, but not before privately urging him to step down as speaker. I would have liked to see him vote against Wilder, but I still respect his direct request of the former speaker. I like the sound of that last phrase.

It is a sad situation that Sen. Mike Williams, who many thought might be the deciding vote, likely made his decision only after seeing Kurita vote against Wilder. With Wilder unable to get the required 17 votes regardless of what Williams did, Williams did the politically expedient thing and voted with his party rather than for Wilder. If the speaker election were a secret ballot announced only after the counting instead of a public roll call vote, Wilder's tenure as speaker may have ended a long time ago. That's a shame.

Even Wilder

Bob Krumm isn't as optimistic as Kleinheider. Is he right?

My best guess is that the legislative session will begin as it has for the last 36 years–with John Wilder at the helm. And if that is the case, my sincerest wishes are for the old man to do his job well over the next two years. The future of our State depends on it.

I hope he is wrong, and Bob does, too. He goes on to raise an even more significant issue:
I made John Wilder’s leadership a center piece of my campaign to change the culture on Capitol Hill. The majority of people seemed to agree that he was incompetent. But acknowledging that Wilder needed to go was not the same thing as making Senator Douglas Henry precede him out the door...
Based on what I have read in the past few months, I would have to say that nearly everyone outside of the State Senate (and many within its walls) realizes that having John Wilder as our Lt. Governor is not in Tennessee's best interest. Making that assumption, why is it that a small group of men cannot act in the best interest of six million people whom they serve? It is disappointing to see, though perhaps no surprise, that we struggle as a society to create positive change through government. Here's hoping that Wilder's tenure as speaker ends today and that we inch toward a government better suited to serve as many of its constituents as possible.

Wilder than ever

Today may (or may not) be decision day regarding the next speaker of the Tennessee State Senate. Whenever a verdict is reached, I sure hope Kleinheider is right:

They say in Tennessee Politics never to bet against the old man [incumbent speaker John Wilder], but I am tempted to this morning. My out on a limb prediction is that a week from now, John Wilder will no longer be Speaker. It may be [Sen. Ron] Ramsey or it may be someone else, but it will not be Wilder.
I think this would be a very positive development for Tennessee. In my opinion, Wilder has succeeded in establishing some level of bipartisanship that may well not have existed without him. That is a good thing. He has failed, though, in doing much other than maintaining his position as speaker, and he is largely responsible for the quagmire that the State Senate often is.

Here's one question I can't answer yet: Would Ramsey make a better speaker? Unquestionably, I think he would be a more credible figurehead for this governing body, but his ascension would likely lead to a much more partisan atmosphere.

I also wonder how much that atmosphere would change if Wilder is no longer the speaker. Regardless, I think having someone other than Wilder as Lt. Governor would be a good thing for the state, but how would the Senate operate in the wake of such a big change? Keep in mind that Wilder has served as speaker since 1971, so suffice it to say that there's a well-worn, if undeniably eccentric, pattern of (or lack of) leadership in place.

I am holding out hope that Randy McNally emerges as the speaker, as Kleinheider speculates may be the case.
If no one can bust through the gridlock, someone very well may put McNally's name in the hopper. He is a Republican, which would be fitting since the GOP holds a numerical majority. Also he is viewed as a Republican that Democrats can work with. If no one is able to achieve 17, I would look for a Lt. Governor McNally on a third or fourth ballot.
All of this leads me to a larger question: Is there anything that can reasonably be done to improve either legislative body of the General Assembly? There appears to be plenty of cynicism, self-interest and corruption to go around for quite some time, and I would sincerely like to see things change for the better. Unseating Wilder would likely be at least one solid step in that direction.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Don't (just) throw more money at it

I really can't fault Tennesseans for not wanting to spend more money on public education, as a new Vanderbilt study indicates:

The study showed that Tennesseans are concerned about their public education system and do not rate it highly or have confidence it is on the right track. But respondents said they are not eager to spend more money on the system, even though they say they would like teachers to be better paid.
Don't get me wrong--it's not that I don't want to see public education improved. I do. I also think a major portion of the local budget should be dedicated to education in order to help allieviate crime and poverty.

I have two disclaimers to make: I never attended public school, and I have no idea what is wrong with our schools. It seems like a very complex problem with plenty of politics and competing agendas. (See my previous post regarding Nancy Pelosi and replace the political references with educational ones.)

Only increasing the budget isn't enough. Is there a diagnosis and proposed strategic solution for improving our schools? Has there been an independent audit to look at how existing funds are spent?

Partnership, not partisanship

Representative Nancy Pelosi (above), who was elected Speaker of the House today, is expected to emphasize partnership over partisanship in her remarks this afternoon, according to CNN.

Former Rep. J.C. Watts, participating in CNN's coverage, noted that that spirit will last about "100 hours" before gridlock ensues. He also noted that Washington is driven by ego and power and that that combination is "dangerous." No kidding.

Can this ever change? Why won't the Democrats seize the opportunity before them to genuinely try to build consensus and focus on constructive compromise? I'm not just singling out the Dems, either, because the GOP didn't do much in the way of bipartisanship over the past 12 years despite much mention of collaboration.

Is Congress designed, whether intentionally or not, to drive division and reward arrogance and hostility? It is a sad state of affairs, I think, that our leaders cannot come together and find a way to act in the general best interest of the nation. Here's hoping that the spirit of hope and opportunity that will be heavily promoted today is more than smoke and mirrors by next week. Please, Dems, take this opportunity to make our country a better place, together with the GOP.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Map your happiness

Have you seen this world map measuring happiness?

The academic term is subjective well-being (SWB), but that's essentially an analytical euphemism for happiness. Adrian G. White of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom has developed a visual depiction of the world that is color-coded by overall level of happiness, as measured in individual nations.

Some of the findings aren't surprising. The United States and most industrialized nations rank high on the SWB index (indicated in deep red on the map). Poor and undeveloped countries, including Russia and most of the former Soviet republics, generally rank low (yellow on the map). There are no yellow countries and only one orange-yellow nation in all of the Western Hemisphere (French Guiana). There isn't a single country in Africa that is red or light red. Reviewing the map, I couldn't help but think of the U2 song, "Crumbs From Your Table:"

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Unfortunately, in too many places in the world, that is exactly what it does. According to White, SWB generally correlates to health, wealth and basic education access. It would be easy to conclude that money buys happiness after looking at the map, and there is a case to be made to a degree. I wonder, though, if something is else more predictive of happiness, something that is frequently associated with good health, good income and good education: the resources and the ability to change your circumstances.

Does SWB boil down to a personal sense of empowerment? Consider that Mongolia, a poor nation in a remote location, is red. Then again, so is Saudi Arabia, and even Iran is orange. Albania and Bulgaria, former authoritarian Communist Bloc countries that continue to struggle economically, are yellow. Perhaps personal empowerment combined with political stability are prerequisites for happiness.

Progressive and (relatively) pacifist countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Canada rank highest on the list, all of them above the United States. Yes, they've benefited greatly from military strength of the U.S. and Western Europe, but should they also be telling us something? If so, my guess is that we should lighten up on worrying so much about moral issues and focus on making sure as many people as possible have enough to eat, access to sound medical care and the ability to read. Here's hoping this map someday looks like a giant tomato. [Image: University of Leicester]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Auction to benefit James Kim family

Several artists are holding an online auction to benefit James Kim, who passed away last month while attempting to save his family in the Oregon wilderness.

An auction of fine art + craft to benefit the family of James Kim organized by sisters Lisa Congdon and Stephanie Barnes and their mother Gerrie Congdon. 100% of the auction proceeds will go to the The James Kim Memorial Fund. Auction items from the artists listed below will be available for bid starting January 3, 2007on eBay. There will be a link to the eBay listing for each item from this site starting the morning of January 3. Bidding ends January 7th. Thank you for visiting and bidding!
This is a great cause for a family that has clearly been through a lot in the past several weeks. Spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. [The image above is an abstracted quilt depicting Spooner Lake near Lake Tahoe by artist Gerrie Congdon. Source: Kim family auction blog site.]

Like we care

Now that New Year's Day has passed, I think we're safe to discard all of the kindness, compassion and peace-on-earth mumbo jumbo that we've been force-fed and spewed forth since mid-November.

Just kidding. Or am I? Why do we only celebrate (and encourage) compassion and goodwill once a year? If Christmas really is not our birthday, why can't every day be a little more like Christmas? Well, why can't every day be a little more like Christmas could be: Everyone could just try a little harder to treat each other with respect and kindness?

I don't mean the Southern flavor of kindness, the one where you pretend to be nice because you'd feel guilty if you didn't (guilty as charged, although at least we're not all swinging at each other down here). I mean the authentic variety where you take responsibility for yourself and your actions and think about other people pretty often, too.

Yes, this is a little idealistic, but I can be practical, too. I know we're all going to have days between now and 2008 where someone cuts us off in traffic, gives us a nasty look or flips us a bird. On some of those days, we're each going to be that someone, too, in one form or another. We're going to have bad days, and people are going to disagree with us. Still, I'd like to think that at least somewhere in our souls, nearly all of us meant what we said or read or sang (or all of the above) a week or two ago, including the parts about loving our neighbors and being kind to others.

It's not Christmas, and it won't be again for another 356 days, but let's all resolve to pretend that it is, OK? [Image:]

Franklin cinema update

The Tennessean is reporting the following encouraging news this morning via its Web site:

Franklin Mayor Tom Miller says he is acting as a facilitator to bring together two potential financial backers who may buy or lease the 70-year-old, two-screen Franklin Cinema.
This is wonderful news for a beloved and historic venue scheduled to close permanently this Sunday night (Jan. 7). Mayor Miller says he is "guardedly optimistic," and I hope that his efforts are fruitful.

I've previously written about the Franklin Cinema's fate and acknowledged that I haven't done much to support it in the past. If it survives, I plan on seeing movies there more often. I'm pulling for you, Franklin Cinema! [Image:]

Monday, January 01, 2007

I can't say it any better...

Happy 2007 everyone!