Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays From Pith! See Ya Next Year, Suckas!

Posted By on Wed, Dec 24, 2008 at 5:29 AM

Pith in the Wind will be off-line for the holidays until Monday, Jan. 5, when we'll return with more scathing commentary, plucky repartee, sprightly banter, jaunty persiflage and, Lord willing, a better thesaurus. In the meantime, all of us here at Pith wish you a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kickin' Kwanzaa, a joy-filled Boxing Day, an overlooked (God willing) National Fruitcake Day (Dec. 27), a spicy Pepper Pot Day (Dec. 29), an odor-free National Bicarbonate of Soda Day (Dec. 30), a decisive Make Up Your Mind Day (Dec. 31)--and of course, a happy New Year! We leave you with this thought--the holidays are what you make of them. And to that end, we present you with our dual-option "Make Your Own Holiday" video greeting: For you high-spirited types, we offer the following morsel of magical musical merriment, courtesy of Nashville treasure (and the most recorded guitarist ever), Harold Bradley: And for you grim, cynical scrooges--that includes, you, Woods--we offer this dour, disconsolate ditty, courtesy of Miles Davis and Bob Dorough:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weak Gun Laws = More Murder and Gun Crime, Study Says

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 2:25 PM


No topic on PITW attracts as much discussion and vitriol as the topic of gun control. So, without further ado, I give to you the findings of a study commissioned by this group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Now I will preface this by saying that the study finds a majority of this type of crime is committed by a minority of gun owners.

Mandatory background checks go a long way to keeping guns out of the hands of unsavory characters with checkered pasts, but that doesn't stop the interstate trafficking of guns from states with weak gun laws to states with strong gun laws--the primary focus of the report. Those states that supply the most guns used in crime across state lines are, predictably, mostly southern: Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Indiana and Nevada. The rankings are calculated by number of guns exported per 100,000 people. Tennessee ranked 15th in the nation--more than Florida, Texas and California.

The long and short of it is that these states, which literally export crime guns at more than twice the national average, are all missing certain gun control laws. Not only are these states supplying the armament for violent crime elsewhere, their rates of gun-related crime are higher than those states who have fewer weapons illegally exported. Now when the study deems a state weak in that respect, it means there's no requirement for background checks at gun shows and no law that requires lost or stolen guns to be reported to police.

Interpret these results as you will, PITW readers, but this study says tighter gun control is good for public safety, not just here but across state lines.


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Nashville Free Press: Biweekly Newspaper to Launch in January

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 10:35 AM

You are not going to believe this, so sit down. Take a few breaths. Here goes: Nashville is about to get...another newspaper.

Whaat? That's right: Amongst all the hand-wringing about the dire future of print media, let alone the death-spiraling economy, someone is actually about to launch a stubbornly old-media, printed-on-dead-trees biweekly newspaper called the Nashville Free Press, starting as soon as Jan. 15.

The founders are publisher Ginny Welsch, a community activist and former contender for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper's seat, and editor Paul Erland, whose former Middle Tennessee publication The One Paper is something of a model for the Free Press. The progressive-leaning paper will partner with Radio Free Nashville, the Pegram-based low-power community radio station Welsch co-founded and got on the air in 2005.

Why start a newspaper now when chains are slashing their staffs both locally and nationally, and ad revenues online are expanding while print is shrinking? The answer lies in this manifesto on a Nashville Free Press email announcement:

The corporate dominance of local markets like Nashville by companies like Gannett and Village Voice has subdued the debate, silenced conflicting voices, shuttered the unfettered marketplace of ideas, and steered the ship of state into dangerous and narrow straits. Robust competition and ownership diversity are more essential than ever to the economic health, vitality and viability of our community....

The monopoly of the media marketplace has led to less in-depth reporting on politics and elections, the environment, minority and labor affairs, education, government malfeasance, assaults on civil liberties and civil rights, and a score of other subjects.  As a result, the identity, values and informational needs of our local community are at risk.

To meet his mission, Erland says the Free Press will have no salaried staff, though he hopes that will change as backers come on board. He's even editing without pay. Content will come from what Erland jokingly calls "cheap labor"--mostly the staff of Radio Free Nashville, whose hosts include community journalists such as co-founder Greg Welsch, Ginny's brother.

As for sales staff, the paper's writers can buy a page--roughly $100, which Erland says would cover printing costs of that page for 5,000 copies--and sell as much as half of it to advertisers, hopefully at a profit. Erland admits that "a lot of creative people aren't entrepreneurial, and vice versa," but he hopes for a model such as a theater reviewer buying a page, writing a review on half, and selling ads on the other half to make some money.

Of course, there's a reason papers typically maintain a wall between edit and sales, for the integrity (and sanity) of everyone involved. But for now, the prospect of new, additional journalistic voices at a time when all is woe is an unexpected holiday gift. Especially these days, as the Nashville Free Press' editor agrees.

"This maybe the absolute worst time in history to start a newspaper," Erland says.

"Or the best," the caller replies.

Erland just laughs.

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School Board Member Karen Johnson Says She's Under Pressure to Vote Based on Race

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 7:58 AM


OK, this is exactly what I'm talking about when I say we ought to disband the school board. It started with blogger Kay Brooks criticizing board member Karen Johnson for saying she wondered if a white guy could run a diverse school district like Nashville's. Johnson was talking about Jesse Register, our soon-to-be new superintendent.

Then Johnson, who actually wound up voting for Register, defended herself in a comment:

"What most people don't understand is the constant fire I am under by a small group of people who want to paint me as being against my own race. I am not against anyone and the wall that I was up against at this meeting I am not going to go into. The fact is I was told that here you go again, voting for someone who is a white male versus the black candidate. I was accused of this for the vote I made for the chair giving my vote to David Fox. I was accused of being against blacks by the rezoning vote, and now I had accusations around this situation. I was told 'we are watching to see if you do the right thing this time.' The fact is that my vote is not based on race 'ever' but I did have to lay it out there what I was challenged with."

Now, I ask you again Dear Pith Reader, is this any way to run a school district? It's like we're talking about the Italian parliament here. That Johnson's under pressure to vote based on her race is bad enough.  But it's no worse than the Chamber of Commerce giving great wads of campaign cash, then bullying board members to vote for a student rezoning plan to remove inner-city black kids from Hillwood. Johnson may have resisted pressure from black constituents when she voted for the rezoning plan, but did she knuckle under to the Chamber, which funded her campaign?

Switching to an appointed board with mayoral control wouldn't entirely stamp out interest-group politics like this, but it might help.

h/t Kleinheider

Titans Fans Are Lame--The Sequel

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 5:03 AM

A couple of weeks back, after witnessing my beloved Cleveland Browns take a whoopin' from the hometown heroes, I posted some musings on my experience at LP Field, including the observation that Titans fans are lame. There were many empty seats, and the Titans supporters seemed apathetic compared to the fans of my hometown Browns. Of course, at the root of my screed was envy: Browns fans may be great, but the team sucks right now, and the Titans are kicking ass. But after Sunday's Titans/Steelers game, it appears the lameness of Titans fans has become a hot topic. A couple of my friends, both die-hard Titans fans, were shocked by the thousands of Steelers fans in attendance. In fact, they were convinced there were nearly as many Pittsburgh fans as Tennessee fans. Even if they were exaggerating, most accounts online seem to put the number of Terrible Towel wavers at somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000--an enormous embarrassment to the hometown team. During the LenDale White towel-stomping incident (shown in the above video), even Phil Simms noted the preponderance of Steelers fans: "I think the Tennessee Titan players, as you see them stomping on a yellow towel, are probably a little upset because there are so many Steelers fans in the stands today." While watching the game at home, I stepped away at one point to do laundry. After hearing what I was sure was the fan response for a Titans score, I ran into the other room to find out that Pittsburgh had just scored. The Steelers fans were so loud it was hard to distinguish the home team by listening. And check out this rant--titled "When Did Titans Fans Become Sellouts?"--from a Titans fan website, Here's a brief excerpt...

Continue reading »

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Breaking News: Convicted murderer Edward McGee pleads guilty to second killing

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 4:17 PM


Eddie McGee walks down the courthouse steps on Nov. 17, 42 years later

Eddie McGee, 61, who is featured in this week's cover story, just pleaded guilty to second degree murder for killing 9-year-old Deborah Ray a week before Christmas in 1966. He'll serve 20 years--more than enough to keep him out of circulation.

Literally the guy next door, McGee sexually molested Ray and her cousin, Phyllis Seibers, 8, and beat them to death with a rock in the Shelbyville City Dump. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison for Seibers' murder, as the district attorney general at the time, James Kidd, assumed 99 years for the one crime would keep McGee locked up for the rest of his natural life. 

But a change in Tennessee law altered the arithmetic for calculating sentences with good behavior time. Under it, McGee was due to be released in August. Bedford County put a detainer on him before his release so that he could answer for the death of Debbie Ray.

The charge seems appropriate, considering McGee's mental problems. The killings themselves didn't necessarily reek of forethought or intent. Rather, this was an act committed in the moment by a 19-year-old hard-luck drifter with the emotional age of a 12- or 13-year-old, psychologists have testified. Bo Melson, a reporter for the Shelbyville Times-Gazette back in those days, wasn't terribly surprised by the plea. He knew McGee didn't stand a chance out in the world on his own. And so ends the final chapter of a story that went 42 years without resolution.

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Police Bust Crazy Dumb Crackers, Er, I Mean White Boyz Gang and Drug Ring

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 1:50 PM


Crazy White Boyz Samuel Lusty and Joseph Tarre

Following a months-long investigation, the police gang unit arrested and indicted members of the misanthropic Crazy White Boyz (the 'z' is actually my addition) on drug distribution charges Monday. They might sound white supremacist, but they're actually just grown men living out some sort of misguided gangsta existence because they, and I quote, "did not get the respect they deserved" as teens. Now, whether this perceived lack of props owes to the fact that they're white, or, rather, because they are your garden variety urban/suburban outcasts, only members of the Boyz know for sure. Or what Boyz remain on the street.

One thing is certain, their ability to sniff out undercover cops buying large quantities of Ecstasy, Percocet and Lortab, an opiate, was certainly underdeveloped. Over the course of 10 weeks, undercover officers bought 1,200 Ecstacy pills from the ringleader, Joseph Tarre, 33, mostly around Hermitage, and some 400 Lortab and Percocet pills from Samuel Lusty, 28.

Police believe Tarre was cooking the Ecstasy in his Shadowlawn Drive home. Tarre faced an attempted 2nd degree murder charge here in Davidson County in 2003.

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Police State Update

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 11:06 AM

So I get back to the office after a little vacation and find some voice mails from loyal readers waiting on my phone.

Most of the callers were veteran Metro cops, thanking the Scene for running the cover story "Police State" last month. 

"I've been a police officer for 17 years," said one, who didn't leave a name. "I've been so mad (at the Scene) at times that I could just pull my hair out, but thank you for doing such a good article." Other officers mentioned that pressure from Serpas to achieve certain numbers of arrests and traffic citations hurt their ability to do really engage the community in a meaningful way or spend time on investigations.

Not everybody was happy with our story.

"I just called to say that I think your article on police state (sic) in Nashville was outta line," drawled one anonymous caller. "I think your paper's outta line. I think your Mr. Toe-bye-ah is probably one of these people that likes to drive intoxicated...We don't need Mr. Toe-bye-ah's attitude."  

I do have an attitude and maybe you don't need it, pal, but I'm certainly not "one of these people that likes to drive intoxicated." Riding my bike home from the bar is another matter, however...

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Alexander Woofs at Obama

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 8:53 AM


Lamar Alexander is picking a fight with Barack Obama in the New York Times. "The change that people voted for was a change in management," he says. "If they think the change the country elected them to provide was a lurch to the left, they're in for a big surprise."

As planks in Obama's "far-left agenda," Alexander cites universal health-care, non-oil energy subsidies (Lamar just hates windmills because they might spoil his Nantucket view), and Obama's coming economic stimulus package that could reach $1 trillion.

"I don't even want to think about a number that big," the senator says. He might find a little disagreement in Tennessee on that one. Gov. Phil Bredesen and state lawmakers really love thinking about a number that big. The state government needs a federal bailout. It's fun to toe the party line when there's no price to pay, but what will Alexander say when state workers are losing their jobs and the home folks are crying about Draconian cuts in higher education and health care?

New York Times: Vols' Hiring of Kiffin Exemplifies College Football's Race Barrier

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 5:45 AM

Can you spot the difference between these two coaches? Sunday's New York Times featured a piece investigating the dearth of black college football coaches. In a sport where 50 percent of the players are black, 3.4 percent of the coaches are black. Among the two recent decisions cited as prime examples of the problem--the Vols' hiring of Lane Kiffin:
"The hiring problem was underlined when two white coaches who had failed spectacularly in their previous jobs--Lane Kiffin with the N.F.L.'s Raiders and Gene Chizik at Iowa State--landed plum positions. Kiffin went to Tennessee, Chizik to Auburn. Meanwhile, the country's hottest young African-American coach, Turner Gill of Buffalo, was passed over. Gill took one of the worst programs in college football and turned it into a Mid-American Conference champion in three seasons. But he was overlooked for the marquee openings."
"Failed spectacularly." Come on, Times, don't mince words--say what you mean. Of course, the writer is referring to Kiffin's recent tenure with the Raiders, where he went 5-and-15 over a season-and-a-quarter. Among the contributing factors discussed: Unlike in the NFL, prospective college coaches have to run the gauntlet of university administrators, athletic directors and boosters, who all have sway. As former Temple basketball coach John Chaney explained it, "It's all related to the fact that we want to make sure that we keep it safe and stay safe. And they do that by recruiting people that look like them and think the same way they think." That's a rather magnanimous way of putting it. Interestingly, before the Kiffin hiring, much of the chatter on the Vol Nation forums dismissed the 46-year-old Gill because, among other things, he was too young and inexperienced. "Too young yet. Has no idea what it's like to play the big boys," read one post. "Simply not ready to be handed the reigns [sic] of an elite big time program. He will be one day, but today is not the day," read another. It would be interesting to know what those Vols fans are thinking now, with the 33-year-old Kiffin at the helm.

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