Monday, May 21, 2007

Someone Had a Bad Night...

I was walking back from lunch today and noticed a blue teddy bear holding a big pink heart in the gutter. Its head was torn off and laying near it. Farther on down the road there was a shattered beer bottle. I'm assuming those were related.

It's a tragedy.

The teddy bears always suffer the most from a break-up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

No Reserved Seating

One of the most frustrating things that we had to deal with as a campaign during the Congressional election was that we were constantly hearing that the TN-09 House seat should be held by an African - American. The argument was that Congressman Cohen didn't even deserve to run for the seat because he didn't match the skin color (and in some cases it was religion) of a large group of people that he would be representing.

We had a great group of people standing with us, helping us overcome those ideas. And, in the 5 months that the Congressman has been in office, I would think the majority of people would agree that the TN 9th Congressional District has been very well represented by the white man from Midtown.

So, I always find it irritating when I see emails or letters written by the very people who supported the Congressman saying that the District 89 seat should go to a woman just because we were well represented by women in the past. District 89 does have a history of held by women - Pam Gaia, Carol Chumney, and Beverly Marrero have all served in that seat. So, therefore, some are arguing that only a woman can serve in District 89 from this point on.

The logic was faulty in the Congressional race and it is faulty now. Jeanne Richardson doesn't have dibs on the seat just because she is the only woman running.

I have only met Ms. Richardson one time. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about her. I trust my friends who tell me that she is a good person who would make a good State Representative. This isn't an attack on her ability to serve.

It also isn't an attack on wanting more diversity in our elected officials. I would love to see all people represented by their elected officials. I would love it if they had so many women and minorities serving in various political offices that groups like EMILY'S List, the Women's Political Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and other groups would no longer be necessary.

I guess my hope for this campaign is that we will stop focusing on gossip and gender and the various people behind the scenes in the race and start focusing on the issues that face District 89. Who will do the best job when it comes to education, crime, and the environment. I think most of you know by now that I think Kevin Gallagher is that person.

So, let's get past the petty issues in this campaign. Let's get beyond race and gender. Let's get beyond the gossip and the backstabbing going on behind the scenes. Let's all show up on Sunday at the Stonewall Democrats' forum and listen to two candidates discussing their positions on issues that affect the people who live in District 89. Listen to what they talk about. Listen to what they want to do. Then vote for the candidate who you feel will represent you best.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Stax Music Academy: A Bright Jewel Right Here in Memphis

Last night, for paltry sum of $5, I was treated to two and a half hours of incredible homegrown musical talent at the Stax Music Academy SNAP spring concert. The Rose Theatre at the U of M was sold out, and everyone was on their feet clapping and cheering repeatedly, definitely including me.

There are no less than five musical ensembles at the Stax Music Academy. First up were the Premier Percussionists, who were just as described, and had some great dance moves, too. I think I'm going to try swinging those big bass drums in the air like they did for my next cardio and upper body workout. Next time they perform, I expect to see them do Stomp - they were that good.

Then the Soulsville Symphony Orchestra, looking to be mainly middle school students, performed a medley of Stax songs ("Mr. Big Stuff", "Hold On, I'm Coming", "the Theme from Shaft") with real dexterity. My favorite of their set was "I Got You (I Feel Good)".

Next up was the Stax Swing Band. These high school kids have only been playing together in this band since last fall, and they just returned from a gig at Jazzfest in New Orleans, where we should be proud that all in attendance went away knowing that Memphis music is alive and well. Oh my God.... they were FABULOUS! Their skill, their stage presence, their choreography, their sun glasses, they got it all, including a conductor who wears a white dinner jacket and bow tie. Smooth.

But wait, there's more.

The Stax Rhythm Section performed during the last half of the concert. These look to be mainly high school juniors and seniors (although the talented and eccentric Forrest Sansing, a 9th grader who went to day care with Desinator, Jr., was featured on keyboards). They are hot!! The saxophonists, the bass player, the drummer - all incredible. Two of their group are heading to Berklee School of Music in Boston on scholarships. The seniors were highlighted at one point, and I closed my eyes and thought, I'm in a great jazz club somewhere in Chicago or New Orleans. They were that good.

Then the Rhythm Section backed up a group of mostly female vocalists, the Street Corner Harmonies, who sang a tribute to Carla Thomas ("Gee Whiz", "Baby") as well as a pretty saucy version of "Who's Making Love to Your Old Lady (While You Were Out Making Love)".

Finally, as if two hours of all this musical fabulosity - performed by Memphis middle and high schoolers, most of whom attend the Stax Academy charter school and/or after school program - wasn't enough, Memphis natives Kirk Whalum, the artist in residence at Stax Music Academy and my favorite Grammy nominated jazz saxophonist, and Wendy Moten performed with the Rhythm Section, doing their cover of Stevie Wonder's "All I Do", "Come In Out of the Rain" and Aretha Franklin's "Think".

For the finale, a shy young boy named Aaron sang "Falling In Love With Jesus" and brought down the house.

I ask you - where else can you go and be entertained like this for $5? Of course, on the way out, most of the audience, including me, gladly threw something more in the Jam Jars in the lobby.

If you weren't there, let me suggest that you go straight to the Stax Museum/Music Academy website and, after you click on "Donate" and support what they're doing over there at Soulsville, click on "E-News Signup" so you are in the know for the next concert they perform. This was the second such concert, and from now on I'm sure they will all be sold out.

I'm hoping that some of these students will grow up and provide venues for jazz here in Memphis. In the meantime, next time you're feeling like this city of ours is hopeless, just know that efforts like Soulsville, overseen by the great Miss Deanie Parker, are what make Memphis great.

Whew!!! I'm still excited.

The True Meaning of Mother's Day...

A lot of people would like us to forget the original meaning of Mother's Day. It was meant as an advocation of peace, and a rejection of violence and war.

This is a short documentary, put together by Robert Greenwald, that is meant to remind us of the true meaning of Mother's Day. These are things we all need to remember every day, when our children are innundated with the glorification of violence and war.

Julia Ward Howe's poem is performed at the end. It is very moving, if taken to heart. I believe mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends should take up the responsibility of propigating peace. Teach the children that something as simple as a smile can make someone's day. Teach them that problems cannot and should not be solved with violence, and that war itself is failure. There is no victory in violence.

This is so tough. As a teacher, I often see kids whose own parents encourage them to get in fights at school. I've seen kids duke it out over a stolen pencil. I've had kids tell me that their parents don't care if they get in fights as school, as long as they "win". I've seen a teenage girl threaten to kill another teenage girl over a plastic headband. How can we fight this? How does a society prevent it's children from decending into bitterness and rage?

I suppose it all has to happen one step, and one child at a time. I feel like Sisyphus on a daily basis.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A C For Tennessee?

Bredesen will leave office in a couple years, and we'll have an open seat race for Governor. The Republicans are already having some stirring about Bill Frist and Marsha Blackburn. From the Democrats, I hear a little mumbling about Lincoln Davis, but not a whole lot. An interesting idea. What about A C Wharton? He'd have a strong base in the Democratic primary because of his Memphis background. He's a well-liked moderate who could play well across the state. If Ford can pull the Senate race as close as he did, how much could A C do without Ford's youth and family troubles? Plus, the governor's race is less ideological, and therefore easier to swing Democratic in a marginally Republican state than is a Senate seat? What are your thoughts? Is there any excitement out there for turning up the AC in Tennessee?

NOTE: No. I did not get asked to post this, nor have I been hearing rumours to that affect. I'm merely thinking out loud.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Yes we can! Well, maybe, if it isn't raining. Or hot.

Si se puede

It boggles my mind that 150,000 people were able to ban together to protest immigration policy in Chicago. Not because I disagree with them, but just the picture in my head of 150,000 people getting together to do anything amazes me. There are plenty of issues that I care about - but nothing has ever pushed me into a protest. When I was a kid in Central Gardens, and they were planning on building the Clanlo homes, some of the kids on my block wanted to protest the loss of our special place, but let's face it we were going to lose, so we decided to play capture the flag instead.

Every morning as I drive to work, I pass the corner of Central and Parkway. Every Wednesday morning, this small group of people have gathered on the corner to protest the war. Sometimes it is only one or two people, sometimes it is more. Rain or shine, those people are there. I always hope that the crowd gets bigger as the morning goes on, but somehow, I doubt that it does.

So, to Martin Sheen (my president) who apparently has been arrested for protesting hundreds of times, to the over 150,000 people in Chicago who came out to protest their issue, and to my little group of war protesters on the corner - Si se puede.