Yes. Yes. Yes.

Aaron Sorkin may not be my kind of people, but he is so spot-on with the op-ed piece he had in the NYT earlier this week.

There are so many money quotes in Sorkin’s piece, but here are a couple that stand out:

So much for ever getting a good review from Variety again. And so much for our national outrage over the National Security Agency reading our stuff. It turns out some of us have no problem with it at all. We just vacated that argument.

* * *

If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel.

White Christmas watch: Dec. 18 edition

I’ve held off on posting this for a day or two, but there are growing signs that snowflakes will be flying in the air around the northern Cumberland Plateau on Christmas Eve, perhaps lingering into early Christmas Day. There is broad model support for this, including both the GFS and the European models. 

It’s too early to talk about accumulation specifics, but the bottom line is that it does look like there could at least be snowflakes in the air to set a festive mood on Christmas Eve, and I sure wouldn’t bet against some minor accumulations across the northern plateau after the sun sets on Christmas Eve.

And, from there, it appears that winter will continue to make its presence felt as we head into the new year.

Stay tuned . . .

That’s racism?

People magazine has a feature on the First Family and their personal experiences with racism. Michelle Obama weighs in:

“I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.” 

Does racism exist in America? You betcha. Have the Obamas experienced it face-to-face? I’m sure they have. But is America’s racism problem often overblown? Absolutely. And this is a perfect example. 

Just last week, I was in Walmart talking to a friend and a woman interrupted our conversation to ask if I could get something off the shelf for her. She wasn’t tall enough to reach it. She didn’t see me as (insert self-serving title here), she saw me as someone who could help her. I suppose if I weren’t a white male, I could cry foul. 

Of course, the lady at Walmart may have just been a fellow citizen in need of some help. But I suppose the first lady is above helping out Fellow Man. 

I’m sure she doesn’t mean to, but Michelle Obama consistently comes across as haughty and beyond reproach. 

TN hunting license increase: a necessity or fleecing of sportsmen?

Pending approval by the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission next month, Tennessee’s hunting and fishing licenses are set to increase by about 22 percent across the board in 2015. 

That announcement came today from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which went into full propaganda mode in an effort to sell the need for the increase to the state’s sportsmen. 

The full list of current license fees and proposed new license fees is here. Basically, a sportsman license will increase from $136 to $166, while the general hunting/fishing license and each supplemental big game tag will increase from $28 to $34.

Now, before everyone gets worked up into a lather, let me point out that there are some caveats to Tennessee’s exorbitantly high hunting license fees. I’ll get to those in a moment.

But, first, let me say this: I would be more apt to shrug off the news of a hunting license fee hike and move on if TWRA simply said, “Hey…our current revenue vs. the costs of our services isn’t cutting it. We need more money.” But the wording of TWRA’s press release didn’t set too well with me, and I’m willing to guess that I’m far from alone.

TWRA starts off by saying, “For only the second time in 25 years,” TWRA is seeking a license rate increase — and that’s true enough. The agency’s last license price hike came in 2005. Prior to that, Tennessee hunting licenses hadn’t gone up in price since 1990.

The agency follows that with: “It wasn’t too long ago that the sight of a white-tailed deer, a bald eagle or a wild turkey in Tennessee was a rare treat. These and other key wildlife and fish are now thriving across the state, thanks to intensive restoration and management by the TWRA.”

Again, I won’t necessarily bicker with that. The northern Cumberland Plateau has especially benefited from wildlife restoration programs. We have elk and black bears roaming our forests now, and as recently as 20 years ago you wouldn’t catch a glimpse of either in these parts.

But, then, after a statement from TWRA executive director Ed Carter extolling the need for the price hike, the agency drops this tidbit: The license fee increase sought by TWRA is the “smallest increase in the TWRA’s 65 year history.” 

I understand the need for propaganda to sell your point. I do. But if you’re a Tennessee sportsman and your newfound knowledge that this 22 percent cost increase is the smallest in TWRA history makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, raise your hand. No hands? Figured so. 

Here’s what the press release doesn’t say: Tennessee’s hunting and fishing license fees are among the nation’s highest, even before the 22 percent increase. Only a handful of states currently have license fees higher than Tennessee’s.

The press release also doesn’t point out that while this may be only the second license fee increase in 25 years, it also means that if you’re a deer hunter in Tennessee, the cost of your license and permits will have almost doubled since 2004. Doubled!

In 2004, Tennessee hunters paid $21 for a hunting/fishing combo license, and $18 for each big game weapons permit. Deer hunters who took advantage of the archery, muzzleloader and gun seasons paid a grand total of $75. With the looming increase, the same license and the same three permits will cost a grand total of $136. This may be just the second cost increase in 25 years, and it might be the smallest price increase in TWRA’s history, but that’s still an unsettling statistic. (The cost of the all-inclusive sportsman license during that same time frame has increased by 66 percent, from $100 in 2004 to $166 in 2015.)

The press release doesn’t make mention of the fact that you can drive to several other states and hunt as a non-resident (hunting privileges generally cost far more for non-residents than for residents of any particular state) cheaper than you can hunt as a resident in Tennessee. One of those states is Ohio, where the deer hunting is considered much better than here in Tennessee. 

Here’s the truth: Tennessee’s hunting and fishing licenses are already substantially costlier than most of the surrounding states. The only one that is comparable is Virginia, where a sportsman license is $123. You can hunt anything that is legal in most other neighboring states for less than $100 a year.

With this proposed increase, Tennessee’s hunting and fishing licenses will cost more than any state east of the Mississippi River. Period. They will also be among the nation’s highest. I haven’t done enough research to determine exactly where Tennessee’s new license fees will rank; the western states are much more complicated and I didn’t look at all of them.

However, of the states I did look at, Oregon was the costliest for hunters, at $164.75 for an all-inclusive residential hunting license. (Back east, the costliest state is Wisconsin, at $165.) I can’t say it with certainty, but it’s quite possible that Tennessee’s license fee increase will make the Volunteer State that costliest state in the nation for hunting.

Now, as I mentioned, there are caveats. Unlike most states, Tennessee does not receive state tax dollars to fund its wildlife conservation efforts. TWRA’s funding comes from two primary sources — license sales, and the federal Pittman-Robertson Tax, which is applied to the purchase of items such as ammunition. 

There is a benefit to that setup: because TWRA’s biologists and wildlife managers don’t have to turn to the state’s lawmakers when they need money, the state’s lawmakers generally have less say in what TWRA does. That isn’t a guarantee, of course; the state legislature recently restructured the TWRA’s governing council — the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission — and legislators occasionally pry into other wildlife matters as well. 

Since TWRA can’t turn to the state for more money from the taxpayer coffers, ensuring that the agency’s budget stays in the black becomes the responsibility of sportsmen. Thus, the exorbitant license fees.

But one has to question where the breaking point is for Tennessee sportsmen? One of the reasons TWRA is pressed for money is because license sales are declining – which makes this a bit of a catch 22. In my business, newspaper sales are declining. As those sales decline, revenue from the sales declines. The easiest way to make up that revenue would be to increase the single copy price of the newspaper, but that would be the best and most effectual way to ensure that sales decline even more. And I suspect the same will hold true with hunting license sales.

Among sportsmen who do continue to buy licenses, how many will buy sportsmen’s licenses? TWRA and other state wildlife management agencies benefit from their sportsmen’s licenses because hunters and anglers will often buy the all-inclusive license rather than purchasing licenses and permits individually. For example, a hunter who hunts for turkey and deer will purchase a $136 sportsman license, even though he doesn’t trout fish, hunt WMAs or hunt small game. With the fee increase, it seems possible — if not likely — that this will result in additional revenue losses for TWRA.

Proponents of the license fee increase are fond of pointing out that the increase amounts to only 58 cents per week. That’s a small price to pay, they say, for a year of hunting and fishing privileges . . . especially in a world where we pay $10 for movie tickets or $50 for a meal at a modest sit-down restaurant. They also point out that even with the price increase, it will only cost 45 cents per day to hunt and fish in Tennessee.

But that’s a disingenuous argument. For the sportsman who hunts and fishes religiously, it’s a valid argument. But for the weekend warriors that make up the vast majority of sportsmen, it doesn’t add up. The typical sportsman hunts 8-10 days during deer season, 4-5 days during turkey season and spends a few Saturdays each summer tossing crank baits. I’ll use myself as an example. This year I decided against purchasing the sportsman license but still purchased the general hunting and fishing license, a WMA permit, a muzzleloader permit and a big game gun permit. The total cost was $105. I fished two days and have hunted five days thus far. For me, it’s hardly pennies a day. And the question I must ask myself next year is this: is it worth it? 

I’ve written in the past about how the declining number of people who participate in hunting and shooting sports across America will eventually doom those same sports. The surveys have been done, and they aren’t pretty. Unless something happens to reverse the trends, the number of people who participate in hunting will continue to free fall. That not only spells big trouble for cash-strapped wildlife management agencies like TWRA and for wildlife conservation efforts in general, but it also means hunters will lose a lot of the political clout that they rely upon to fend off encroachment from anti-hunting organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States. 

Among the dwindling number of hunters, I suspect, are guys like me: we purchase hunting licenses, but we don’t really hunt that much — not like we used to. We mean to get our butts in the deer stand or in the quail fields a little more when life slows down and we can find the time, but that never happens. In the meantime, though, we’re still counted as hunters because we purchase our hunting licenses.

As the cost of hunting licenses continues to go up, how many of those guys will stop purchasing licenses altogether? 

I suspect that TWRA’s hunting license cost increase is inevitable . . . a necessity unless the agency is to cut a lot of the services that we rely on as hunters. But I also suspect that these inevitable and necessary moves are going to prod sport hunting just a little quicker towards its ultimate demise.

Donnie Knoxville’s big win

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Donnie Tyndall has a signature win in his first season as Tennessee’s basketball coach. The Vols rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to defeat No. 15 Butler on Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Bulldogs led by nine at halftime, then started the second half with a 3-point shot to extend the lead to 12. The Vols rallied, though, and won the game going away, 67-55.

Tyndall’s hire wasn’t warmly received in Knoxville last year — mostly because he wasn’t the “sexy” hire that fans are always looking for. He doesn’t have the name recognition and certainly doesn’t have the look of a major D-1 basketball coach.

But he impressed most fans by assembling a ragtag team that can compete against high-quality competition, and now he’s impressing with his coaching ability.

Coming out of last season’s Sweet Sixteen appearance, many didn’t feel the Vols could even make it to the NIT this postseason, let alone the NCAA Tournament, even if Cuonzo Martin were still the coach. And that isn’t to say that this UT team is going to win the SEC, or even make the NCAA Tournament. But competing for an NCAA berth no longer seems like a long shot. The Vols will close out pre-SEC play with games against NC State (Wednesday in Raleigh), Tennessee Tech (Friday), Mercer (Dec. 22), Tennessee State (Dec. 27) and ETSU (Dec. 31). NC State will be a tough test, but the rest are games UT should win — meaning this team could travel to Starkville to begin SEC play on Jan. 7 with a record of 8-4. If that’s the case, Tennessee would only have to go 7-11 in SEC play to be NIT-eligible…and would need a manageable 12-6 in league play to be in consideration for an NCAA tournament berth — and the Vols only have to play Florida and Kentucky once each.

This Tennessee team is tenacious and doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” In fact, this might be the hardest-playing Tennessee team to take the court since Bruce Pearl’s Elite 8 team. And it’s certainly the funnest Tennessee team to watch since that one. The pressure defense and up-tempo offense create a fan-friendly pace. Throw in the energy that Tyndall brings to the bench as he works the crowd, the officials and his team, and it all adds up to a team that will put fans in seats over the next few seasons.

Of course, it’s too soon to know if Tyndall will even be the coach for the next few seasons. First he has to survive the NCAA’s examination of alleged recruiting violations that occurred under his watch at Southern Miss. If those allegations are substantiated, and Tyndall is connected to them, he would become a repeat offender (Southeast Missouri State ran afoul of the NCAA during his tenure there). While the NCAA isn’t going to levy a show-cause penalty and force Tennessee to fire Tyndall, a la Bruce Pearl, they could suspend Tyndall for a number of games (similar to what they did to Frank Haith at Missouri). But the bigger issue is whether such a scenario would create an atmosphere so toxic that Tennessee has no choice but to can Tyndall. After all, if it’s proven that Tyndall had violations at not one but two prior coaching stops, he’s going to be tainted goods, and any championships Tennessee wins with him as coach could very well have an asterisk by them in the history book. 

But if Tyndall is able to survive the NCAA’s probe into the Southern Miss incident, UT athletic director Dave Hart may well have found his very own diamond in the rough.

Don’t look now, but . . .

I want to highlight this graphic that was published this afternoon by the National Weather Service’s weather field office in Nashville:


As you can probably discern from the graphic, it’s a comparison of three different models and what they’re depicting with an expected storm system next weekend. On the left, is the trusty GFS model; on the right is the trusty European (ECMWF) model. In between is the somewhat less-relied-upon but still reliable Canadian model.

And, as you can probably discern, the Euro model would result in a fairly significant pre-Christmas snow for much of Tennessee, were it to come to fruition. The GFS, obviously, is much different. And while the GFS seems more likely from a simple climatology standpoint, here’s the thing: Not only has the Euro been very consistent over its past few runs, but it’s also a blend of two opposite extremes depicted by the GFS and the Canadian models.

The formation of a surface low pressure system next weekend appears likely. The question is where it tracks and how potent it is. Cold air (or, rather, lack thereof) will be an issue as we move into the time period of this system. But if it phases correctly and deepens correctly, the system can pull down enough cold air from northern latitudes to result in a bonafide wintry weather threat for Tennessee. But if it takes the more northerly track projected by the GFS, it’s going to wind up being what is often referred to in meteorological circles as a “lakes cutter,” meaning Tennessee will be on the warm side of the storm system and there will be no chance of snow. Essentially, the core of the system needs to track south of us, but not as far south as what the Canadian model is depicting. The  Birmingham-to-Atlanta track depicted by the Euro is almost perfect for accumulating snow on the northern Cumberland Plateau and in northern Middle Tennessee.

Of course it’s likely that all of this is moot, but the bottom line is that the pattern is changing and we’re going to be discussing the possibility of wintry weather much more in the weeks ahead, I’m fairly certain.


Knoxville’s new newspaper project

Knoxville will soon have an independent newspaper to compete with the Scripps-owned Knoxville News Sentinel.

The Knoxville Mercury is a project spearheaded by former editors of the Metro Pulse, the News Sentinel’s alt-weekly that was closeted by the KNS in October. When the Metro Pulse’s operations were shuttled, their staffers threw a mighty fit. But there’s more behind their chagrin than a temper tantrum . . . and that’s giving birth to the Mercury. 

And Knoxville will be better for it. 

Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the News Sentinel, really. Sure, it has its flaws, and you’ve seen me blog about a few of its bigger ones. Overall, though, it serves its readers well enough. Competition is never a bad thing, though, provided the market is big enough for healthy competition, and the Knoxville market certainly is. 

I, for one, am looking forward to this new newspaper venture. Chief among its founders is Jack Neely, who was editor of the Metro Pulse. If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t too familiar with Neely’s work before his journey at the Metro Pulse abruptly ended, despite the fact that we’re both journalists in East Tennessee. Since his layoff from Scripps, however, I’ve spent a lot of time perusing his blog, and I’ve found that he’s one of East Tennessee’s best writers — if I dare say so, maybe it’s very best. And that’s a bold statement, because East Tennessee has some fine writers. 

Anyway, Neely lays out the reasons behind the start-up newspaper and his plans for the future in his latest blog post.

The bottom line is that it’s nice to see new newspapers starting up in this time of uncertainty in the print media field. Sure, it’s easy to start up a newspaper fueled on little more than sour grapes after you were laid off by the paper that will soon be your competitor. But, in this case, it looks like Neely & Co. have lined up a healthy list of investors, and that lends credence to the goals they’re chasing.

Closer to home, meanwhile, my friend Brian Langley recently took a route similar to Neely’s. Fired by Landmark-owned Morgan County News after nearly two decades as first sports editor and then managing editor of the Wartburg weekly, Langley is leading a charge to provide a competing newspaper in Morgan County. 

Morgan County Today, which does not have a website (at least not yet), printed its first edition last week. It’s owned by a Morgan County businessman. And Langley made waves when he successfully recruited another long-time Landmark employee to join his staff. Goose Lindsey had been the sports editor at the Roane County News for many years, but left his post to join Langley at Morgan County Today.

That sets up a battle that will be interesting to watch play out. A locally-owned newspaper is almost always a better option than a corporate-owned newspaper. But the Morgan County News made an excellent hire in Beth Braden, who got her start as an award-winning reporter at yet another Landmark paper — the LaFollette Press — before assuming managing editor duties at the MCN. Braden is an Oneida native who is still relatively new to the journalism field. But if I ever laid any sort of claim to being the best news writer in Scott County — and, trust me, that’s a claim I would never want to make or be able to make with a straight face — I could no longer do that. With her at the helm, you better believe that the MCN isn’t going to just roll over and go belly-up.

Newspapers may very well be staggering towards their demise, but they aren’t on their deathbed just yet.

Conservatives’ embarrassing racism problem

Perhaps feeling frustrated by the recent events in Sanford, Ferguson and elsewhere, or perhaps simply feeling emboldened, some factions of American conservatives are increasingly wearing racism on their sleeves.

The latest example is the comments section on this Breitbart article about African albinos being murdered by witch doctors for their body parts.

Breitbart is a conservative website, and the article was linked by the Drudge Report, which drove countless more conservative readers to the article. And, there, in the comments section, it’s open war on black people.

Obviously Breitbart readers and commenters don’t speak for all conservatives, but conservatives constantly — and correctly — chastise liberals for their bigoted and hateful comments on online news sites, so turnabout is only fair play.

I give the “reverends” Sharpton and Jackson and the rest of America’s race-baiters plenty of grief for keeping racial tensions high in this country, but when you read through attitudes such as these, you find the other side of the equation.

One commenter, calling himself H.D. Rennerfeldt, posted this rant, which he (like most others who post it online) attributed to Charles Darwin: 

Since the dawn of history the Negro has owned the continent of Africa – rich beyond the dream of poet’s fancy, crunching acres of diamonds beneath his bare black feet and yet he never picked one up from the dust until a white man showed to him its glittering light.

His land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never dreamed a harness, cart, or sled.

A hunter by necessity, he never made an axe, spear, or arrowhead worth preserving beyond the moment of its use. He lived as an ox, content to graze for an hour.

In a land of stone and timber he never sawed a foot of lumber, carved a block, or built a house save of broken sticks and mud.

With league on league of ocean strand and miles of inland seas, for four thousand years he watched their surface ripple under the wind, heard the thunder of the surf on his beach, the howl of the storm over his head, gazed on the dim blue horizon calling him to worlds that lie beyond, and yet he never dreamed a sail.

As misguided as he may have been, Darwin didn’t actually write or say those words. But they do represent an attitude that seems to be becoming increasingly common…or perhaps the internet just makes it seem so, and that attitude is that slavery actually improved the lives of black people. Obviously you could make an argument that today’s black people live better than they would have had the American institution of slavery never been implemented, though there are certainly enough variables that no one will conclusively win that debate. But to use that as an argument to justify slavery is simply mind-boggling…and a sad testament to the political states of mind of those who endorse such a notion.

White Christmas watch: December 11 edition

So remember what I said 72 hours ago about how chances for a white Christmas are basically over before they had really even gotten started?

Yeah. Well, while the chances are still really slim, there are changes starting to occur on the medium-range modeling, and we may be smack-dab in the middle of a pattern change by the time Christmas arrives.

As I detailed in that post on Monday, if the pattern is going to change to a colder and more winter-like pattern, that could well happen between Christmas and New Year’s Day. 

If anything, the details since Monday have made it even more apparent that a pattern change is going to set up — and maybe even a bit quicker. The GFS computer model in particular is now showing big changes in both the Arctic Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation — two of the key indices in determining winter weather potential in our part of the world — by the week of Christmas. 

And while Christmas itself still looks relatively dry, the models are trending colder for that specific time period. Raw data from this morning’s 0z run of the GFS projects a high of 40 on Christmas Eve and 43 on Christmas Day, while the data from the 12z run is several degrees warmer.

Both runs of the GFS show a fairly significant storm system pushing through between Dec. 20 and Dec. 22 that could help usher in the pattern change. What happens after that should be interesting. For now, there’s nothing significant out there, but I wouldn’t bet against winter weather in Tennessee between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1.

Declaring war on the sinner’s prayer

I recently discovered the ministry of Paul Washer. And while I don’t agree with all of what he preaches, he certainly is a refreshing alternative to the 10-cent, street-corner, repeat-after-me evangelism that is so dominant in churches in this modern era.

“The scripture does not say that Jesus Christ came to the nation of Israel and said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand now who would like to ask me into their hearts? I see that hand!’ That’s not what it says! He said, ‘Repent, and believe, the gospel.’”

And: “When Paul came to the church in Corinth, he did not say to them, ‘Look, you’re not living like Christians so let’s go back to that one moment in your life when you prayed that prayer and let’s see if you were sincere.’ No, he said this: ‘Test yourselves, examine yourselves, to see if you are in the faith.’ Because I want you to know, my friend, salvation is by faith alone. It is a work of God. It is grace upon grace upon grace, but the evidence of conversion is not just your examination of your sincerity at the moment of your conversion, it is an ongoing fruit in your life.”

Rebuke of the “sinner’s prayer” and the church’s focus on numbers alone are central themes to Washer’s sermons. He is criticized for that by those who say that what he is preaching is a works-based salvation. I suppose that’s an opportunity for debate, if you consider repentance as a prerequisite to salvation to be a work, but his beliefs on salvation align more closely with the gospel than the “sinner’s prayer” does.