I t was a good year for Steve Cohen. If and when he decides to retire from Congress, he deserves a (blue) Chair of Political Excellence at some university. After he turned 50, Cohen reinvented himself from a veteran state senator in a safe Midtown enclave into a white guy representing the majority-black Ninth Congressional District. In November, Cohen, now 65, was overwhelmingly reelected while fellow Democrats near and far got whipped. Sure, incumbency is an advantage, but Cohen has now beaten four credible black challengers in Democratic primaries, including Ricky Wilkins this year. Say what you will, he is obviously doing something right. It was a bad year for democracy. Voter turnout, according to The New York Times, fell to a 72-year low in November’s mid-term elections. Tennessee ranked fifth from the bottom, at 29 percent. It was a bad year for plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s work without giving them credit. Some nerdy politicians and nerdy Internet sleuths have used plagiarism charges to smear people they don’t like. In the Tennessee Senate race, BuzzFeed charged that Democrat Gordon Ball plagiarized some boilerplate language about fiscal discipline in a position paper in his campaign against Lamar Alexander. The Commercial Appeal seconded the motion in a lazy column based on BuzzFeed. Boilerplate is not plagiarism. It is petty bull-poo. And THAT sentence is plagiarism, because I stole it from Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten. It was a good year, sort of, for bicycles. Bikes used to be about fun and childhood. Look, Ma, no hands. Put a playing card in your spokes, flip your handlebars, ride off to nowhere in particular just because. Now bicycles and bicycle lanes are deadly serious stuff. Millions of dollars are being spent to build a bike and pedestrian bridge to West Memphis. Advocates invoke city-planning theorists and obscure Italian Communists in passionate blogs and in newspaper columns. Opponents write heavy tomes about “gentrification” and urban demographics. Traffic lanes are taken over. Neighbors get upset. Memphis architect Frank Ricks told me he has never heard such mean, angry comments as he heard at a public hearing on Riverside Drive, which is ground zero for bike-driven change.
It was a bad year for testing. Three things were bound to happen when Tennessee jumped on the school-testing bandwagon years ago: teachers would teach to the test; some of them would find a way to cheat; and some have-nots would make really low scores. All of this has now come to be. The Tennessee Report Card is widely publicized and testing advocates, also known as “reformers” for no good reason, are in control of the Tennessee Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and the Shelby County School System. The surest way to raise scores is to discourage low-scoring students from taking the test at all. Graduation rate is no guarantee of college readiness. Two years after being visited and praised by President Barack Obama, Booker T. Washington High School has seen its enrollment fall below 400 and its average ACT composite score fall to a district-low 13.7.
It was a bad year for wine merchants. In a year or so, wine will be available in grocery stores in Memphis and some other parts of Tennessee that approved a referendum. I voted against it because I think wine should only be available in grocery stores in places where I don’t live but like to visit, such as Nashville and Destin and Montana. In Memphis, Buster’s and Joe’s and Arthur’s and others are good employers, faithful advertisers, and generous go-to sponsors for lots of us.
And it was a bad year for the future of the Internet. In November, the Huffington Post ran a “story” predicting that Kim Kardashian would “definitely break the Internet” with an upcoming magazine photo shoot that includes a picture of her balancing a glass of champagne on her butt. Which leaves us to ask, if this is really true, would that be such a bad thing?