Oct 31 2009

Happy Halloween

Posted by Steve Ross in Puke

It’s Halloween y’all, and what better way to celebrate it, before the inevitable parties and whatnot tonight, than with a scary story. I know I’m stealing Aunt B’s schtick. She’s been telling scary stories all month and almost got one read on this weekend’s All Things Considered.

When I was a kid I was all about some Edgar Allen Poe. Here’s one of his stories that has stuck with me since Junior High…

The Masque of the Red Death

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven — an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange — the fifth with white — the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet — a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away — they have endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood — and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him — “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him — that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly — for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple — through the purple to the green — through the green to the orange — through this again to the white — and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.Source)

Hope you enjoyed the story. You may also want to check out some of the analysis of the story. Interesting and timely.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 29 2009

New Hate Crimes Legislation and Discussion Panel

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, Policy, State Politics

Yesterday, the Obama Administration signed into law new hate crimes legislation that extends federal protections to victims of hate crimes on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The law was attached to a military spending measure.

When I read the list of groups covered, I found it remarkable that gender and disability were not currently covered in federal hate crimes law. Better late than never, I suppose.

While federal protections for victims of hate crimes is important, having those same protections on the state level is of equal or greater importance.

Last session State Rep. Jeanne Richardson and State Sen. Beverly Marrero introduced a measure that would extend hate crimes protections to people on the grounds of “gender, or gender identity or expression”. The bill made it out of sub-committee in the House, but was taken off the calendar in committee.

Tonight at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis there will be a discussion panel (Facebook link) featuring Rep. Richardson and Sen. Marrero, as well as Memphis attorney Murray Wells, hate crime survivor Jack Robinson, and Tennessee Equality Project Board Member Darlene Fike.

The discussion panel starts at 5:30 this evening in rooms 250 &252 at the University. Parking will be available in the Central Parking Lot across from the law school. Assurances have been made by University Parking Services that no tickets will be issued for off-campus visitors who lack a parking hang tag the evening of the event. Please be considerate of the University Holiday Inn’s parking lot, which is reserved for its paying guests.

Come out and be a part of the discussion.

Oct 27 2009

Defining “Greatness”

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

Yesterday in the Eye on City Hall blog Zack McMillan poses the question ”Has Memphis Ever Had a ‘Great’ Mayor? Can AC Become One?”. It’s an interesting read that lists many of the challenges facing our newly elected Mayor as well as the failures of past Mayors. From the post:

Generations of Memphians have taken history from University of Memphis historian Charles Crawford, and he often makes the point that the problems that plague Memphis, with roots dating back to the 19th Century, are so vast and complicated that even the best and boldest civic administration would have difficulty solving them. Each subsequent generation of Memphians — and by Memphians we include all those who live in the eight-county Memphis metroplitan area — wants to believe that problems just shot up out of the soil, but in fact things like deep-seated poverty, violent crime, lackluster universal public education and a low-wage low-skill job base have been here for a long time.

“He will run into the traditional Memphis problems that previous mayors have run into and that I won’t say are impossible but are intractable,” Crawford said in a story we have running today. “Some of these things are outside the capacity of anyone as mayor to solve.”

You know, on several levels, he’s right. First of all the …” deep-seated poverty, violent crime, lackluster universal public education and a low-wage low-skill job base”… is a problem that has faced Memphis for generations. Even our own city history page lists many of these problems. Further, Crawford’s assertion that many in the metro area want to believe that these issues “just shot up out of the soil” couldn’t be more right. Many of these issues have been going on since the inception of Memphis, which is not to say that solving them is hopeless, but that it presents challenges that are far greater than even we may recognize.

Which gets me back to the point of the post I referenced at the beginning. In order for us to determine whether a Mayor or community leader has been “great”, we have to define what “greatness” is. If greatness is fixing everything, then no, we have had no great Mayors. But as the post rightly points out:

“Some of these things are outside the capacity of anyone as mayor to solve.”

So, if these things are outside the capacity of any mayor to solve, then what really defines greatness in the position of Mayor of Memphis?

The truth of the matter is, under this standard no leader of any stripe could be considered truly great. No matter how many problems any leader might solve, there are a hundred more lurking around the corner waiting to be discovered. Taking this reality into account, how does a leader achieve “greatness” in the face of generational challenges that are, to a large degree, outside of his or her power to fully address?

Think back to the beginning of our nation. While the Declaration of Independence may spell out the foundation of American philosophy, and the Constitution may spell out the rights of citizens and the responsibility of government, the truth of the matter is that what we think of as “freedom” today, wasn’t the freedom of the late 18th Century. Just look at the right to vote. Early on many states had restrictive rules about voting. Unless you were white, male, and a land owner, you didn’t necessarily have the right to vote (Source). Over time, as the nation matured, these rules changed, and became less restrictive, removing property restrictions and other hurdles, then allowing women to vote, and eventually guaranteeing the right to “All Americans of voting age” (though for some, particularly those who have served their time in jail, having their right to vote restored is still a huge hurdle).

Of course, none of these changes came thanks to any one individual. It took the voices and actions of thousands of people working for a common goal to extend these rights to the disenfranchised. And while each of these accomplishments are “great”, with every victory came the recognition of another form of disenfranchisement. A good example of this is protecting the choices of the voters through legislation like the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act which is a long way away from early attempts to bring voting rights to the disenfranchised and is still being fought out.

That said, I don’t think anyone would say that those who fought for voting rights for the disenfranchised weren’t working toward something “great” regardless of whether it was for women, minorities, or the poor. While achieving these goals certainly is great, it isn’t the achieving that defines greatness to me, it’s the willingness to stand up and fight for the betterment of those around you. Inspiring that action in yourself and your fellow man is the definition of greatness. Recognizing that the fight is continually ongoing and continuing work on the big goal, long after the little goal is achieved is the definition of greatness.

So, under that definition what would a great Memphis Mayor be? A great Memphis Mayor would be someone who inspired the public at large into positive action…a Mayor who, through their advocacy, action, and attention worked for the betterment of the city and those who have been wanting for generations. A great Mayor would connect the sick with the healthy, the poor with the wealthy, and the undereducated with the scholarly for the benefit of both sides of the equation in every instance.

True lasting solutions cannot be dictated, they have to be discovered. Connecting people of all stripes and backgrounds is the way to discover our individual and societal solutions. Removing the barriers of class, race and God knows what else, and encouraging people to discover the humanity of their neighbors is the way to transformational change that raises tides and lifts all boats.

So I’ll ask again, what would a great Memphis Mayor be? Well, solving all our problems certainly would qualify, but we all know that’s highly unlikely. How about we start with the small goal? Using the office to bring people together, opening up the lines of communication and helping nurture a community wide conversation that lead to community wide action would start a Mayor down the path of greatness.

Will this be AC’s legacy? Only time will tell.

Oct 23 2009

After the Storm

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Shelby County

Things seem to have quieted down a bit since the Tuesday’s kerfuffle. This is a good thing. There’s a lot to do, and while all the attention was nice, it couldn’t have come at a more difficult time. I ready to settle back into my routine of working and writing. And even though I haven’t been doing the latter that much as of late, I promise that I’ll get back on task.

There are a lot of people to thank right now, more than I can really do justice, but I’ll give it a try. To all the commenters, well wishers, and random people that have shown support I want to say thank you. Your support over the past few days has been awesome. To LWC, Newscoma, Mike, Tom, Christian, and Betsy I say thank you for the support, and for shining a light on the core issue…that in America, speech may be free, but in often there’s a heavy price to pay for that freedom. As Bill Dries reported for the Memphis Daily News, I’m the second blogger in recent weeks to be denied an appointment to a board or commission because of blogging. I doubt I’ll be the last.

Here in Memphis, there’s so much to be done and so many things in flux that it just about boggles the mind. The Charter Commission is just one of many things, and while I’ll not be serving, I will be covering it, just like I promised the other night. There’s also The MED, the schools, the crime, the poverty and infant mortality, and a whole host of other issues that really just boggle the mind. We’ve got a lot of work to do here, and I intend to be a part of finding a solution for Memphis.

It’s going to be a heavy lift, but we have to do it. Over the coming weeks I’ll be talking about these things and more. They’re not sexy topics necessarily, but they need to be addressed if Memphis and the surrounding area is to recover from not only the short term problems we face, but the generational issues that have gone largely untouched for far too long.

Oct 20 2009

No Sour Grapes

Well, today has been pretty wacky.

First of all, I want to thank City Councilman Shea Flinn, Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery, and County Mayor/ City Mayor Elect AC Wharton for having the courage and outside the box thinking to nominate me. Even though I didn’t get seated on the Charter Commission, I’m honored and humbled by the consideration they gave me. Kudos to all of you. I would also like to thank Mike Carpenter on the County side, who also put my name up for consideration.

On a certain level, I’m not really that surprised by the result. I’m not particularly politically connected, and I don’t have a great resume. I’m a guy that works a “blue collar” job for a living that just happens to be really interested in politics. Am I disappointed? Sure, but in all honesty, just being nominated is an honor that I didn’t really think I would get.

I am surprised at some of the rhetoric used by City Councilman Joe Brown in reference to me. Invoking the word “blogger” as if it were a slur or a swear is something that I have heard more than once, but never in a public meeting. Councilman Brown has every right to voice his opinions, but in the end, I’m a concerned citizen that uses my blog to talk about areas of concern in my community, as well as in state and national politics. How that constitutes something negative is lost on me.

In the end, I still intend to cover the goings on of the Charter Commission, just as I would have had I been confirmed. Uniting our community is the only way to move the Memphis area forward. Uniting our governments is one of the steps to accomplish this goal.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the 15 members of the Charter Commission on their confirmation. You’ve all signed up for a huge undertaking. Good luck and Godspeed.