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Bass Ackwards

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"Backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind": That was 20th-century parodist Wolcott Gibbs' immortal take on the highly mannered prose style favored by Time magazine back in the mid-century salad days of founder Henry Luce.

The founder is long gone, and so is the quirky prose. Time reads these days like most other mainstream magazines -- which is to say, still mannered but in a more tepid and well-behaved way. But maybe it's time to bring back the goofy backwards style. It fits the times. Consider, just from a few breaking-news events:

New Orleans -- indeed, the nation itself -- is still convulsed in a Category 5 disaster at least partly because the administration in power chose to ignore convincing information from experts concerning the clear need to devote resources to levee construction in Louisiana, while choosing to pursue speculative information from amateurs concerning the unclear need to devote 10 times as many resources to regime change in Iraq.

Hearings have been scheduled in Washington to determine whether John Roberts should be chief justice of the nine-member Supreme Court, highest tribunal in the land. But Roberts, a relatively unknown appeals court judge, has not even been vetted for a position on the court itself.

At a time when an aging population, market fluctuations, and natural disasters underscore the need for a social safety net and a committed national government, the administration in power persists in proposals to downsize and privatize social services, thereby subjecting them to the vagaries of the economy.

And speaking of the economy: In the face of a horrendous and rapidly worsening budget deficit, the administration in power proposes more tax cuts for the wealthy. Next on the agenda? Elimination of the estate tax.

See a pattern here? Backwards run policies until reels the mind.

Convention Center Cave-In

On Monday, the members of the Shelby County Commission devised three new ways of answering a roll call: "Reluctantly," "On lawyer's advice," and "Reluctantly on lawyer's advice." That was how the majority couched their aye votes on giving in to Clark Construction Company's demand for a $14.5 million settlement for convention center cost overruns that most commissioners privately concede were the fault of the mega-firm itself.

When the $2.8 million in intervening legal fees is added on, the settlement sum is virtually the same as the $17.8 settlement figure rejected by the commission just last year. Commissioner John Willingham, who, with Commissioner George Flinn, resisted this week's cave-in, accurately termed Clark's tactics "blackmail," based on the deep-pocketed firm's implied threat to bankrupt the city and county in endless court proceedings.

We would have preferred that the commission had voted in accordance with a former first lady's advice: Just Say No.

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