Category Archives: Uncategorized

Biscuits Beat Rays

We went to see the Montgomery Biscuits hosts their pro affiliates, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (we’re never dropping the “devil,” no matter what the marketing people say). The minor league guys won!

It was a nice day for baseball once the gray clouds passed by and the sun broke through. The stadium was full (early reports say this was the 6th largest crowd in Riverwalk Stadium history). Everyone was in a good mood.

Rather than write up the game, we’ll hold off on saying a lot more about the new season because Opening Night is Thursday. We might say more then. The Biscuits have a new manager and a bunch of new faces on the team.

Until then, go back and read the tremendous volume of writing (and robust conversation in the comments section) from our season preview from 2012. Enjoy!

Unspooling Your Mind

It can be tough to write about Montgomery because our current world encourages us to hide in shells crafted by globalization. Local quirks are being slowly smoothed out into a series of memes shared between you and the people of every other city.

Our local festivals and traditions are being kept afloat by pre-Internet generations, those who haven’t fled for larger regional centers. Our disposable income is being spent on isolating video games and isolating marathons of binge watching television shows. That’s not a slam against “House of Cards,” which we hear is quite good, but it’s a recognition that there’s quite a lot to Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” thesis.

If you’re not familiar, Putnam uses the decline of public bowling leagues as a lens through which to examine the death of civic life. With a decline in shared public spaces, democracy suffers. People don’t know their neighbors, live in silos, etc.

Montgomery already had a lot of that going on due to the whole racism thing. We didn’t need a decline in bowling leagues (or public swimming pools) to suggest that people were self-segregating in our community. We also are a city that has struggled to support music venues and restaurants and parks and many of the other places where people mix and mingle. Our shared sense of community can too often be reduced to political complaining — and that in turn encourages folks to just stay home at night. When we stay at home with the television (or Internet), the problem gets worse.

Our talking points naturally evolve and become less local. We say less about Shashy’s or Capitol Book and News, and mostly talk about whatever media products we are passively consuming. Enough has already been said about how Amazon and Ebay (not to mention soulless chain stores) undercut local businesses.

But what’s so great about the local anyway? Aren’t we all just digital natives that transcend petty borders and outdated tribal identities?

I’m not sure. But I do know that we all suffer when the public sphere is abandoned by the public. And although I can go from breakfast until bedtime without doing anything “authentically Montgomery” these days, I know that the burden is on me to engage. Left alone, I could well drift into isolation: pets, favorite shows, work, digital space.

I’m going to work on being a better citizen, embracing unique elements of local identity, improving my community, and emerging from the protective armor of globalization. Part of that means kicking this blog back into a higher gear. I was recently encouraged by a compliment from a friend (who I didn’t know even read this blog) and am inspired and humbled that our writing is appreciated. Being resolved and following through is the only thing I can do.

Paul Finebaum Has Sold Out

Here in Alabama, we don’t allow the government to forcibly confiscate tax money and spend it on higher education because we are especially invested in the idea of the humanities or training our workers. That would be Socialism and something that could be better accomplished by private institutions.

Instead, we let the state take our money and spend it on schools for two reasons: 1) Tradition. That’s how it was done before time began. And 2) College football. The NCAA has some rules and we need to have state-funded brick buildings and well-manicured green lawns and the illusions of academia because that’s how they let us have the football. Women’s sports? It’s because Title 9 says we have to have them in order to have the football. We need the government to perform this function because, what are we? Vandy?

That is why in FY2013, the state legislature appropriated $3,263,719,262 to the University of Alabama system and $1,103,638,219 to the Auburn University system and a mere $164,440,991 to Alabama State University. S-E-C. S-E-C.

All of which bring us through the Sunni-Shiite cultural stuff of Iron Bowl loyalties (I am on the Crimson Tide side of this particular arrangement) and into my point of the day, which is that Paul Finebaum has sold out. Finebaum is a ringleader of a lot of this college football stuff, a radio talk show host with a knack for simultaneously humoring and inflaming idiots. If you don’t know who he is, this New Yorker profile from last year ought to give you the gist of it.

The fact that there IS a New Yorker profile demonstrates the first part of my argument, which is the irrefutable fact that Finebaum has gone from a city newspaper columnist into a statewide radio figure into (now) a national television presence now featured on ESPN’s college football GameDay™ monolith and most of their various media tentacles. And for that, I say “Good for Paul.” He’s good at what he does and deserves money and acclaim. He’s not the vile kind of sports talking head that you might associate with names like Bayless or Cowherd or any of the other yammering sewers employed by The Worldwide Leader™. I don’t care if the Finebaum show is on WJOX or ESPN or a podcast on Slate (Hang Up and Listen is very good). If Finebaum is talking college football, I’m interested in listening. And his callers remind me of parts of Alabama that rarely get much attention, certainly not the kind of attention where people care about the opinions of people that live there.

So, I think I shared a kind of pride that our very own Paaawwwl (to borrow the plaintive and sometimes-furious intonation of his callers) has made it onto the big time, soaring ascendant like the SEC itself, sharing his opinions first with a satellite radio audience and now with a national television audience. Our regional quirks are now causing the Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and USC fan bases to ask if they don’t actually, in fact, prefer the football played on Sundays.

I still listen to Finebaum’s radio show — not every day, but as time allows, more often during football season — sometimes several times a week. I’ve listened as long as I can remember, even though Wikipedia tells me that his show wasn’t syndicated until 2001, and so I probably didn’t actually listen in high school. But his voice and his memorable cast of callers are part of the landscape here (even if the callers are increasingly annoying because they have a warped sense of their own celebrity, causing them to play to types the same way people do on Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dynasty). That history is part of what makes it painful when Paul becomes less of the attack dog print journalist making droll quips at callers and more of the mega-connected friend of the well-heeled elites of the College Football Industrial Complex.

Beneath the surface of the wry provocateur cooking up the angry froth of quasi-lucid callers, Finebaum was occasionally a strident moral voice. But it became easy to forget this fact until he got called out two days ago by a caller who wanted to talk to him about a call in Saturday’s Alabama-Texas A&M game. I don’t have the audio clip readily available here, but it’s archived somewhere in ESPN’s online Temple of Doom. The gist is this: An Alabama player (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, yes, that is his name) was penalized for “targeting” an A&M receiver on a play and briefly ejected. I say “briefly” because officials used instant replay to examine the hit and determined that it was not intentional “targeting,” and overruled the ejection. However, the 15 yard penalty would remain.

How, the nation asked all at once, was it possible for a review to absolve the player of an ejectable offense, but allow the penalty against the team to remain? Evidently, replay officials are not allowed to reverse this kind of penalty — just the ejection. Those are the rules and that was that. Alabama went on to win a thriller.

Callers to Finebaum wanted to talk about this scenario and Paul, having lost of lot of his famous patience with angry rednecks in recent years, was having none of it. He just kept reasserting that “rules are rules” until finally someone (I wish I could remember this caller’s name) said (I’m paraphrasing a bit here), “Paul, why don’t you do what you used to do when you were a print journalist and grab onto this issue and carry the torch and advocate for a change to the rules?”

Paul had nothing. The caller was right. Paul had lost the ability to demand reform as he once did in the role of a journalist and could only resort to the authority figure’s favorite default rationale for things: “The rules are the rules.”

He was totally unwilling to entertain any sort of call for larger reform of the rules, any sort of normative discussion about what the rules should be.

This observation caused me to look back at other recent Finebaum foibles with a new cognitive light. When he was schooled by Desmond Howard on the GameDay™ set on the subject of paying players? Same deal. Howard was saying that players were providing free labor in a system reaping billions of dollars from their dangerous work. Fact. Finebaum’s response? The 1950s line that scholarships constitute compensation. Howard’s outrage over the fact that college student-athletes are some of the only people in the world who are not allowed to profit from commercial uses of their own likeness? Finebaum: “The rules are the rules.”

This limp defense of the poverty-exploiting status quo is not befitting of someone once considered a journalist. It’s one thing to have a TV gig but maintain a reporter’s personality (see also: Pardon the Interruption). But when you are hanging out with university chancellors, heads of athletic conferences, and ESPN suits all the time, you can’t let the expense account lunches and nice shoes prevent you from having some kind of idealism and passion about what the world ought to look like. You can’t (or shouldn’t) divert otherwise valid criticism leveled at the system, even if that system is paying you lots of money.

Or to put it in the words of one of the regular callers, “Aw c’mon Paaawwwl!”

Free Magazine Review: Montgomery Monthly (August 2013)

It is time for another Free Magazine Review. Look upon our works, Ye mighty … and despair.

What’s it called? Montgomery Monthly

P1050151What is it? The subhead says, “The key to your community.” I was unclear that my community was locked, but I guess a lot of white people around here do try to live in gated communities if possible. But those white people are probably not the target audience for Montgomery Monthly, as you’ll see shortly.

Where’d we find it? They mailed it to us. No, seriously. We’ve talked before about how a nice-looking free magazine is expensive to produce. You want it to look classy so that people will keep it around and so you can charge a lot for ads. But if you’re adding media mailing to an entire city? I don’t see this thing sticking around for very long, even if their cover features a model every month.

What’s the deal? This thing appears to be owned by a British company called Hibu, and was mailed to us from King of Prussia, PA. So, it’s got that going for it. We can assume from the title that one will be produced each month (until they go out of business). The editor appears to be a 20-something lady named Jourdan Cole (we’ll have to assume that’s how her name is really spelled). She uses her “Message from the Editor” column to introduce herself as “the new editor,” but we’re unclear if she is taking over from a previous editor or if this is the first issue ever. We’ve never seen another issue and, as you can tell, we’re pretty into picking up free magazines when we see them around town. But if she’s fronting like she’s just the “new” editor and it’s really the inaugural issue, why not welcome everyone to the new magazine? What are you hiding Jourdan?!?

What sections do they have? A note from the editor; “Around town” (which you’d think was the calendar, but that’s another section); Gotta Go! (which is also like a calendar); “Snapshot” (“community residents share their photos with readers”) and something creatively called “And Another Thing…” On the table of contents page, they assure you that they are willing to publish things that you send them.

Who advertises? The back cover’s a 2/3 page ad for a plumbing and air conditioning repair place. They’ve got some full page ads, including one for a car dealer. The entire inside front cover and entire inside back cover are full pages house ads begging you to please contact the publishers and tell them what you think of their magazine. This doesn’t bode well for their ability to sell ads.

What’s interesting in this issue? Yeah, um, about that. Sigh. Not a lot. This thing is pretty bad. The first article is about the food bank. We’re fans of the food bank. We give them money. You should give them money too. Go do it now. We’ll wait.

The article offers a byline for Jaime Robards and describes her (or him) as a “community contributor.” But at the end, the article offers Jaime’s email address and it’s to an address at feedingamerica.org. OK, so this person what? Works at the food bank? What is Feeding America? Do I have to Google this to see who is writing about our food bank? Why can’t the magazine just say who is writing the articles? This isn’t a writer for Montgomery Monthly, so if you’re dealing in contributed stuff, just identify the authors. It’s not that hard.

The “community” section is really three items: There’s a new CEO at Baptist East (the white flight hospital), that same hospital won an award, and the Council on Aging is having a fund raiser. So, the “community” section is three press releases trimmed to fit around some gigantic ads.

Schools? Private school cheerleaders went to cheerleader camp. Private School #2 has graduation. Private School #2 also used Skype one day so that 7th graders could talk to some people in Norway. Amazing. Now you know what’s going on in, um, two private schools. They have cheerleaders and they graduate and they have the Internet. Totally worth the tuition, ya’ll.

The good looking guy on the cover is a model and the cover story (by Jourdan!) is about the Alabama Beauty Awards. Evidently, this is a thing. It is actually happening tonight. The article says they are expecting 500 people to attend their, um, gala, which is at the Embassy Suites downtown. All ten of the models shown to go with the story are black. Is this a black models thing? I mean, I’m not surprised that modeling is racially segregated (everything else is), but I’m not reading a story about models, no matter how lubed up they are. Sorry Montgomery Monthly, I’m skipping a few pages here.

All in all, the events calendar isn’t laughable, I guess. I wish more publications (free or otherwise) would write more about what is happening in the academic research at local universities. We’ve got a bunch of professors here in town. What do they do besides teach? Are they publishing things? Going to conferences? This elevates the intellectual life of a city. We should care about these things and they are also often interesting.

For example, did you know that Alabama State has a Center for NanoBiotechnology Research? I did not. Evidently Turkish scientists are coming here to do vaguely-described experiments about nanogenomics. And evidently the best photo the Montgomery Monthly could find to illustrate this cutting edge international scientific collaboration was clip art of a book with its pages being turned — in what appears to be a law library. The last paragraph is the most interesting: These people are coming here on the dime of the Turkish government. I wonder if they think they are getting their money’s worth.

All in all, we’ll keep leafing through this magazine about our city if the Brits keep mailing it to us from King of Prussia. Otherwise, not worth picking up if you see it in a stack somewhere. A weak effort that will probably be finished by next spring.

Flying Out

There’s a lot to be said in recent weeks, about the direction of the city. A lot of questions have been raised, worth asking in public:

  • Will the departure of (Deputy Mayor) Jeff Downes and (Development Director) Chad Emerson fundamentally change the direction of the city’s development? Downes split for Vestavia and Emerson for Huntsville, both of which are richer (and whiter) than Montgomery. Who will replace their talents? Will the city keep doing the same stuff with regard to buying up buildings downtown and selling them at a loss to motivated developers? What about smart code? Will the city remain committed to spreading re-development to non-downtown areas (especially West Montgomery)? Will Mayor Strange replace these guys with visionaries or with functionaries?
  • What effect will the summer heat have on our skyrocketing murder rate? The Montgomery Advertiser has been doing something that closely-resembles journalism by running a three-part series on our violence-spike. But we need more than PR from the police chief and a college professor keen on blaming rap music for everything. We get it: Some popular music promotes criminality. But that music wasn’t just invented. So all this cultural stuff doesn’t explain the spikes. Solutions involve investing in communities and not treating them as source of potential athletes.
  • When does the substance take hold? It’s perfectly fine that the city is talking about a Wright Brothers sculpture to adorn the Wright Brothers park before we pay money for some weirdo’s private (and terrible) “Wright Brothers collection” to turn it into a Wright Brothers museum. Or bowl games. We might get some Sun Belt team to play in the Nobody Cares Bowl, which is not to be confused with the college football all-star game we launched last January. These are all terrible topics of conversation, especially if we’re not talking about anything below the surface. Does the city need some tourism stuff? Sure, the Chamber of Commerce has its place and we’re glad to attract visitors and all that. But is the newspaper doing any digging beyond helping the city publicize its various schemes? In a world where we don’t have a real alternative weekly (going, for example, to city council meetings), I expect more from our civic voices.

Just a few stray thoughts while sitting delayed in the Montgomery Airport. Speaking of which, it would do a lot for Montgomery tourism and our general reputation if they could do something about all the delays to and from Montgomery. This place should seem like an inviting destination, not a prison from which it is impossible to escape. Our sleepy, broken, lazy airport adds to the perception that nobody is in a hurry to help anybody get anywhere, certainly not if you’ve raised up the audacity to try to get on a flight out.

World’s Widest Yard Sale

Evidently girth matters. Or so we were led to believe by the promoters of the “World’s Widest Yard Sale,” held this past weekend along U.S. Highway 80 all the way from Phenix City to Cuba. It’s not the world’s longest yard sale – the annual sale along the 127 corridor has claimed that sobriquet. That event goes from Michigan to Anniston, boasting almost 700 miles of stuff. This local and much newer event was organized by the Alabama Rural Development Office and the Black Belt Commission’s Marketing and Tourism Committee. From what we could tell looking at the advance list the website provided, vendors included established shops (the “Hillbillie Mall”) as well as entrepreneurs. It assured us that although the site provided no maps, once we got to a sale on the route any vendor would be able to guide us and provide navigational support.

Mid-morning on Saturday we hopped into the car, listening to the new Daft Punk album like everyone in the world is right now, and headed east. Our plan was to take 85 over to Notasulga, then head down to Tuskeegee and go back to Montgomery through Shorter and Pike Road. Even on the way out of town, we saw three yard sales. None of these had “world’s widest” branding, so it was hard to tell if they were the usual Saturday fare or were planned to coincide with the big event. We took the exit for Notasulga and headed north. On our right, we saw the first “World’s Widest” sign in red and white. It flagged a sale in front of a small home adjoining an abandoned gas station. The proprietor seemed a bit bemused by the larger event, though happy that he’d seen some business so far. He seemed to think it was a good thing and told us he wanted to do more yard selling, but his job was getting in the way right now. It was interesting to reconcile this with the week’s economic news.

Most of his goods were still in the box. We were most struck by the popcorn bowl with Authentic Clip-On Replica Basketball Hoop. That attached to one side of the bowl, while on the other was a popcorn-sized catapult. While this seemed like it might add whimsy to our popcorn-eating experience, we were more compelled by the mystery of its journey to the sale. Why was it still in the box? It’s not as if it was a collectible figurine. How had this man and the silent, sweating woman behind him come to possess several of these boxed items?

Up the road a little bit, we found two enterprising women sipping giant insulated cups. From their lawn chairs, they presided over a dozen or so folding tables displaying piles of objects curated to more or less successful effect. The clothes were singularly unappealing, largely mushed together and humid to the touch. A number of plus-sized dresses and a prom dress in a Dillard’s bag hung from a rack kept level by a large rock. A round table held some gadgets and metallic objects, the usual collection of giant fake pearls and plastic hoop earrings, and an old lighter that fascinated one of our fellow shoppers. He flicked it repeatedly, muttering to anyone who would listen that he could probably fix it with some flints and lighter fluid he had back home. We bought our first item here, a plate claiming to be made of bamboo and featuring a giant marauding robot movie poster ($.75) The ladies gave us some change and advised us to drive on up the road to “Not As Ugly.”

When we got there, it was clear that the enterprising citizens of Notasulga as well as their extended families had decided to go all in for this event. Stores that looked as if they were probably closed up the rest of the year had been opened and stocked with couches, brass framed mirrors, metal objects of obscure purpose, the usual frilly Auburn-or-Alabama handicrafts, piles of shoes with worn-down heels, paperbacks, and just about everything else you knew you didn’t need. There were also sidewalk vendors (“Need a serving tray? How about a clock?”) and folks putting tailgating tents to good use on downtown’s perimeter. Here we met some nice folks who had driven down from Illinois to visit family and sell some things. We bought some comics from them, including paying a dollar for one that the Internet claims is worth $80. At another stand, we got a little confused about mutual bargaining tactics and ended up getting talked into buying a “flaming pumpkin.” That’s right. It hangs up and, battery powered, glows into whispery paper flaming from its top ($5.00). Looks like real fire! boasts the box. Because the flaming pumpkin is totally a thing which demands verisimilitude. It will grace our sunroom. If it is anything like our other Halloween decorations, it will live there year-round.

After Notasulga, we headed off the grid for a little while. Not seeing any yard sales, we decided to return from whence we’d come and head down to Tuskegee. Although we had a nice drive through the campus, we didn’t see a yard sale at all until we got back on 80 down there. By this time, we’d developed some unspoken but totally agreed-upon criteria for when to stop or not. Neither of us were looking for clothes, so that ruled out a lot of the content at many sales. We weren’t going into compounds where the chainlink was decorated with frilly dresses and coats on hangers. Some sales seemed just a little weird, or like they might have been a sale on the previous day but had evolved into an excuse for neighbors to have lunch outside under a tent with a few old board games lying around. We did stop at a fire station hosting a sale. There we bought two old blue Bell jars ($10.00 each) and a ridiculously good piece of chocolate cake ($1.00) which we ate from the wrapper, being careful not to touch it with yard saling hands. We did not buy the surprisingly tiny coffee cup advertising that someone with one of our names was a “coffee hound,” accentuating the point with a picture of a dog.

Along 80 around Shorter, we found a church that has evidently been converted into a thrift store. Presumably for the occasion, the grounds were occupied by other sellers boasting rainbows of flower vases, partially chewed plastic toys, boxes of metal parts, and (as everywhere we went) a startling array of the collected works of Danielle Steele.

We didn’t see anything in Pike Road, but by then we’d wandered off the 80 route a little bit. When we tried to get back on, we found ourselves back on 85 heading home. We saw a sign for something called “Amy’s Antiques” on 231 and figured we’d stop there to see if they were participating in the festivities. There wasn’t any indication of the “World’s Widest” at Amy’s, but we did find a nice shop with reasonable prices that lacks some of Eastbrook’s often-overwhelming clutter. We bought a cool six-pot plant stand ($9.99), a set of four tiki mugs ($4.00) an old Alabama history textbook ($7.00) and two first-edition Stephen King books ($4.00 each). So much bounty!

We decided to call it a day. It was hot, and given that most of the sales we’d been to seemed both picked over and just about done, we figured it wouldn’t be worth it to go on to Selma. Like any yard sale adventure, you’re probably best getting out on the first day and early on. We did have a good time, and the sellers seemed like they were enjoying themselves too. It’s a nice idea to encourage folks to check out some parts of Alabama they might not otherwise drive to, and we hope it continues. Next year they really should think about some maps or a little bit more systematization, but we did appreciate the chaos of it all. It felt a little bit homemade, honestly, but so was our best purchase of the day – the dollar slice of firehouse chocolate cake.

Alabama Accountability Act

At the end of the legislative session of 2013, congratulations are due to the Alabama Legislature on its passage of the Accountability Act, which provides a fundamental restructuring of K-12 education in our state.

Millar

The flight from West Palm Beach

Waiting at the gate…

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So many Delimas!

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Progress!

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Finally, Montgomery gets the public transportation we’ve been waiting for!