Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year, Old Focus?

New Year's Eve and Day are filled with their share of traditions: Some people watch the ball drop every year, others get fitshaced, there's all the kissing at midnight. And don't even get me started about the foods ...

(My parents made me eat black eyed peas every year on New Year's Day. They said that the "eyes" look out for you and however many peas you ate, you would have that number of days with good luck. Most years, I started with about a week of mushy, forced good luck. But I digress ... )

In Memphis, we have a special New Year's tradition: What will Mayor Willie Herenton say at his/Myron Lowery's annual prayer breakfast/State of the City address?

Mayor Herenton likes to start each year off with a bang. We don't know what he'll do or say this year — odds are, he doesn't even know! — but here are some of his ideas from previous years:

2008: A renewed push for consolidation. In last year's case, his plan was to change the state constitution so that suburban voters wouldn't have a say (meaning they couldn't block it, if that's what city residents wanted).

2007: Out of seemingly left field, Herenton says he wants to build a new football stadium to replace the aging Liberty Bowl. He thinks the idea will stimulate economic development at the Fairgrounds.

2006: Herenton is in recovery mode. After budget shortfalls in the previous year, he pledges to get the city's finances back in the black and restore its bond ratings.

I think (so don't quote me) it was around this time when he brought in Robert Lipscomb as the city's chief financial officers.

2005: He once again pushes for consolidation of city and county government and schools.

2004: He claims God gave him a vision for the city and that he'll keep running for mayor because there isn't another elected official in the city that could do the job.

He also says he has enemies on the City Council and County Commission — and no wonder if he's going around saying none of them are mayor-material.

2003: Focusing on education, Herenton says the city school board is a disaster. (Maybe he's not always controversial, after all ... Just kidding! Sorry, cheap shot.)

He also says he has a plan to overhaul funding for both the city and county schools and that, essentially, he's ready for a fight with suburban leaders.

2002: He says consolidating the city and county governments will be his major goal in the coming years (well, he stuck to it as a goal, that's for sure).

2001: Herenton says he wants to see a light rail system in Memphis. But he also thinks local government should consolidate.

Actually, looking back on it, I predict he's going to say something about consolidation, maybe with a focus on crime and outward population migration.

Frankly, as long as he doesn't say anything about black eyed peas, I'll be fine.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ideas, from A to Z

I love the NYTimes' Year in Ideas series.

This year, their eighth alphabetized list in a row, included 53 ideas.

My faves:

Airbags for the elderly (to prevent injuries from falling, a motion detector vest inflated at the hips and neck)

The Biomechanical Energy Harvester (which attaches to a person's knee and collects energy as they walk)

The cloth car (basically just that, a model from BMW)

The dog-poop DNA bank (it's exactly what you think it's for — to ferret out non-pooper scoopers!)

Mini-cattle (more efficient than their heavier cousins)

Upside-down demolition (starting at the bottom and working their way up)

Vending machines for crows (okay, I haven't read this one yet, but it sounds interesting)

and, unfortunately,

Women in Power are Set up to Fail (Two British researchers found evidence of what they called "the glass cliff," an invisible form of prejudice in which people will only give women a position of power if there is a strong chance of failure. They say the idea also applies to minorities.)

Anyway, if you have a chance to give it a look, it's really fascinating. A little out there at times, but fascinating nonetheless.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

That is all. Continue with the family time/present opening/eating/goodwill toward men/movie watching.

Oh, but according to USAToday, your favorite restaurant may be open today. Just another effect of the downturn economy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Cheer

I was watching Rudolph the other day — the one with Burl Ives, tho I don't know if there's another one — and something struck me: What's up with the female reindeer?

When Rudolph first goes to reindeer training, Rudolph's new friend (Rocket? Maybe?) explains what the reindeer games are and says it's a great time to show off in front of the does. Because, of course, the does don't get to do any flying or gaming of their own; they just stand on the sidelines, watching.

Rudolph's poor mother doesn't even have her own name! They just call her Mrs. Donner.

But now wildlife experts at Texas A&M University are saying that Dasher and Dancer, as well as all the others, Donner and Rudolph included, were probably female:

"'Santa's reindeers were really females, most likely,' said Alice Blue-McLendon, a veterinary medicine professor specializing in deer who cites the depictions of Santa's helpers with antlers as the primary evidence. It turns out reindeer grow antlers regardless of gender, and most bulls typically shed their fuzzy protrusions before Christmas.

But Santa's sleigh helpers might also be castrated males, known as steers, said Greg Finstad, who manages the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks."

Finstad said sledders often use steers because bulls are typically tuckered out from rutting season — when they mate with as many as a dozen does — in the months leading up to Christmas.

Read more here.

For those who don't celebrate Christmas, here is a nice little story about potato pancakes. Seven pounds of potato pancakes, that is.

A 23-year-old mechanical engineering student recently ate 46 latkes in eight minutes to win a Long Island deli contest:

"Pete Czerwinski says he'd never eaten a latke before consuming about seven pounds of them Sunday at Zan's in Lake Grove. The Toronto bodybuilder says he's just 'a power eater' whose brain never signals that he's full, according to the Long Island daily Newsday.

Association of Independent Competitive Eaters Chairman Arnie Chapman says Czerwinski demolished the contest's previous record of 31 latkes, set in 2006."

Yum.



Naughty vs. Nice

With Santa making his rounds tonight, I was just thinking about who might be on his naughty list.

I was going to post my predictions about such a list, but then I thought, if I do, I'll surely end up on the naughty list myself. (And there's no guarantee I'm not already there!)

Y'all have any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Wonderland, Part 2

I have to say, the U.S. Postal Service tore it up this year. That was my experience, at least.

I put my holiday cards in the mail Wednesday afternoon and by the next day(!), most of them had arrived at their Memphis destinations.

And I really wasn't expecting them to make it places outside of Memphis before Christmas, but seems like they did. And not a moment too soon, either.

Totally worth the $.40 stamps ... maybe.

Quick Note

Looks like the MPD's inclement weather policy is currently in effect.

If you have a traffic accident without injuries and the vehicles involved are drivable, the MPD asks that you exchange license information with the other driver and report the accident to the local police precinct after the weather has passed.

If there are injuries or you need a wrecker, call MPD at 545-2677.

UPDATE: MPD has lifted the inclement weather policy. If you have a wreck, and I hope you don't, but if you do, go ahead and call MPD at 545-2677.

States in Budget Troubs

BusinessWeek has a slideshow of the 20 States in the Worst Budget Trouble.

Tennessee comes in at a respectable, tho not disastarous, 13th.

Topping the list is Arizona, with a $3.1 billion budget gap. Coming in second is California, with a 30.6 billion budget gap (I think the ranking is done by the percentage gap of the total budget, not the actual dollars of the budget deficit).

About Cali:

"The Golden State is looking a lot less golden these days as it is being forced to hold off on $3.8 billion in financing for road, prisons, school, and other projects because of the current budget shortfall. California, which has been battered by foreclosures, needs the money to pay for immediate needs, including health care and public safety. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been unable to agree on a compromise. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supports new spending cuts and tax increases in addition to previously enacted cuts to the state's health insurance program for the poor and other social service programs."

Tennessee budget gap is $1.2 billion. BusinessWeek notes that the state depends heavily on sales tax and has been hit hard by the drop in consumer spending. So far, the state as cut between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs and reduced funding for higher education.

ps. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Retail, Robotic Pets, Revamping the Work Week

Sorry, internets, I know I've neglected you today. Over here at the Flyer, we've been working like little elves to get our various year ends/year begins issues out and ready to go before the office closes for the holidays.

It is exhausting.

At any rate, here are some interesting stories that you've probably already read, but if you didn't, here you go:

— The NYT had a story about Emeryville, California, yesterday, a town across the bay from San Fran that built its economy on being a retail mecca:

"It is also one of many American cities that hitched its wagon over the last several decades to what seemed like the limitless ability of American shoppers to spend money. Now that faith in the retail engine is being sorely tested. Consumer spending dropped 7.8 percent in November, according to the federal government, and many economists think it will fall further as consumers are buffeted by losses in the stock market, declines in home values and the unsettling fear that they may lose their jobs."

The town was once steel mills and factories and reinvented itself with retail after those industries left for other countries. The town banded together with a redevelopment agency, tax incentives, and a plan that basically gave land to developers. It was successful until this latest downturn, which has seen area businesses post declines and the city thinking of raising taxes.

— Slate has a story about the best robotic pet for Christmas. Now, to be honest, I don't really see the point in having a virtual pet when you could have a real pet, but between mountains of dog hair, crazyloud barking at anything more than dust, and, oh, crazyloud barking, I am beginning to come around to the idea of taking the batteries out of your pet when you're tired.

Writer Daniel Engber got the chance to petsit and realizes his membership "in a sad demographic that includes shiftless magazine editors, small children and senior citizens. We're the sorry lot that adores animals but is too lazy, uncoordinated, or inform to take care of them."

Engber surveyed a wide spectrum of robot/pets and had this to say:

"As much as I enjoyed the exercise, it soon became clear that at every price point, a robot pet can be described by its signature combination of essential robot qualities: It's annoying, disturbing, offensive, pathetic, or scary — or some mixture thereof. In the end, though, one fake animal whirred and purred his way into my heart."

It was the Pleo, which is an 8-inch-high, automated Camarasaurus. (Just to cut to the chase.)

(If you're looking for more of a robot doll — the kind for kids! — than a robot pet, click here.)

— More employers are looking to the four-day work week to cut costs. From BusinessWeek:

"Like many companies, Pella is looking to cut expenses because of the economic downturn. But instead of laying off more workers, the Iowa manufacturer of windows and doors is instituting a four-day workweek for about a third of its 3,900 employees. Chris Simpson, a senior vice-president at the company, acknowledges it's an unconventional move. But Pella believes the economy could turn around faster than most people expect, and it doesn't want to be caught short of experienced workers. "Our contention is, consumer confidence will rebound," says Simpson. "If there's a [government] stimulus package of some kind, we think people are going to respond."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Catching a Ride

Memphians have longed used Google for finding information, images, and maps. Now, through a collaboration between MATA and Google Transit, they can use it to find local bus routes.

"Google Transit is a trip planning program that Google provides that integrates with their Google map program," says Tim Moreland, a member of the Sustainable Shelby initiative and a planner with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). "Anytime you get directions on Google maps, you can click to get directions by car, by transit, or by walking, and you can see how long it will take to get there by each way."

MATA had an existing trip planner, but Moreland had heard about Google Transit — which is available in places such as Denver, Miami, Chicago, Austin, and New York — and thought it would be good for the city.

"I had used the MATA trip planner, but I really liked the interface of Google Transit. It's much slicker; it's more intuitive," Moreland says.

MATA just had to provide Google with their data and routing information. The service is free and currently online.

"Since it's Google, you get to use their database. When you create your own trip planner, you don't have an index of where different businesses are," Moreland says. "With Google, you can do simple searches like 'I want to go from the FedExForum to the Flying Saucer."

Google Transit can also be used on smart phones, so that people already out and about can use it to find their transit options. Both the MPO and MATA say they are interested in increasing ridership on public transit.

"This is really simple," Moreland says. "The hope is that this will make it easier for existing riders to use MATA, but also make it easier for visitors and choice riders. They can get online and see what's available."

For a quick tutorial from Moreland, click here.

(Hat tip to Smart City!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Wonderland

I think this is hilarious: A town in Iowa has been using garlic salt to de-ice its roads.

The salt, which is being used in a suburb of Des Moines, was donated by a local spice producer.

Also, totally unrelated, I went to the post office today and boy, howdy, was it crazy. Drivers were acting like it was demolition derby time in their attempts to get to the drop boxes, the line inside was out of control, and the lobby do-it-yourself stamp machine was being commandeered by a woman with several packages.

Which is, you know, part of what it's there for. But it's definitely Christmas crunch time, that magical time before the holiday when everyone goes insane.

Gut Check

This will interest all my old pals — Viper, I'm talking to you — the NYT has a story today about the man — yes, the man — behind the modern revival of roller derby.



The story seems like it almost strives to be an investigative gotcha piece, like, 'you thought this was about female empowerment? Well, surprise, it was started by a man.'

But if you've ever seen the roller derby documentary Hell on Wheels, you will know that his vision of roller derby is not exactly the one that took off. His vision involved bears on unicycles. And frankly, the version most known in the mainstream — banked track, popularized most recently by A&E's Rollergirls, and used back in derby's former incarnation — is not the version most modern derby skaters play. The most widely played version now is flat-track (see photo above).

But if derby progenitor Dan Policarpo wanted "women with tattoos, Bettie Page haircuts and guts," well, that he definitely got.

(Hat tip to PD!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nothing But the Truth

The NYT has a review of "Nothing But the Truth," the Kate Beckinsale/Alan Alda/Angela Bassett journalism movie based loosely on the Valerie Plame/Judith Miller situation and partly filmed in Memphis, most notably, perhaps, in the CA's newsroom.

Unfortunately, review Manohla Darvis is disappointed:

"It is evidently impossible to make a movie about two adversarial women without dragging in their families, because without needy children and angry, fed-up husbands — David Schwimmer plays Rachel’s mewling husband, while a barely present Jamey Sheridan plays Erica’s — these two female characters and their desires, successes and rages apparently wouldn’t rate screen time. That’s too bad for all sorts of reasons, including this one: when not cooing inanities at pipsqueaks, the actresses are pretty good, both together and individually. There’s pleasure in watching them go Manolo a Manolo against each other, particularly Ms. Farmiga, who fills out her size 0 with macho swagger. Despite a shaky start, Ms. Beckinsale does eventually look the part of the harassed and haggard heroine, if largely by not wearing any eye makeup."

Does this soccer field look familiar?

I'll probably still see it, if not for the journalism connection then for the inside peek of the CA newsroom.

I think I posted some clips from the movie a few weeks ago on memphisflyer.com, but then again, maybe I didn't. If you're interested in seeing them, click here.

If we can give billions to Detroit ...

... why not fully fund the Green Jobs Act?

I got an email this morning from Van Jones and Green for All, the group that brought the Dream Reborn conference to Memphis in April for the 40 anniversary of Martin Luther King's death. Green for All's mission is to create a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

"We believe all people deserve access to healthy food and clean energy sources," Jones said at the time. "Environmental solutions are not just for people who can afford to buy a hybrid car or put solar panels on their second home."

In short, the environment affects everyone, (advocates of environmental justice would say it affects people of color disproportionately and I would agree) and the industry has the potential to help America's struggling workers.

Green for All is asking people to write Congress and tell them to fully fund the Green Jobs Act:

"The Green Jobs Act will create green pathways out of poverty in this country. Working with allies, Green for All got the program included in the Energy Bill of 2007. Bush signed the program into law last December. But he failed to include a penny for it in his 2008 budget proposal."

Frankly, at $250 million, funding the act seems like a bargain. And if we're giving out money to companies with older, out-dated business models, why not invest a small amount in promising technologies? We have nothing to lose, but quite a bit to gain.

To send an email to your Congressional representatives, click here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More of the Green Stuff

Been busy this morning, but didn't want to overlook these:

USAToday has a story about three companies that have made technological advances in solar, wind, and geothermal energy production. It's definitely worth the read if you're interested in alternative energy. (It even includes a simple explanation of how these forms of energy are "collected.")

— On a similar note, NPR did a story about president-elect Barack Obama's so-called "green team," picking Nobel laureate Steven Chu to lead the Energy Department.

"Obama said his energy appointees will aim to make public buildings more efficient, modernize the electricity grid, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve natural resources."

The story notes that Chu has been an advocate for reseearch into global warming and the need for carbon-neutral renewable sources of energy.

— NYT's science blog Dot Earth the last meteorological year — from December through November — was cooler than recent years, but still warmer over all (since temperature record keeping began in 1880). Look for the scary graphs.

— A little off topic, but still interesting, from Slate: How foreign car factories have transformed the American South:

"Time was, the Big Three were the U.S. auto industry. No longer. Over the past two decades, enticed by cheap labor and massive incentives, a second auto industry has emerged: nonunion, Southern-based, and foreign-owned. Large plants, with names of Asian and European carmakers emblazoned upon them, now dot the Southern landscape. By moving aggressively into Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, foreign manufacturers — call them the 'Little Eight' — have transformed the economic geography of the nation's auto industry and the political debate surrounding its future. ...

"Today's Southern solons have watched their local economies blossom thanks to a younger, more-vibrant auto industry unencumbered by the Big Three's legacy costs and union work rules—a sort of anti-Detroit that has the flexibility and ability to turn profits by making the types of cars that Americans actually want to buy."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Troubled News

There's been a lot of talk about the troubles at large newspapers and magazines, but the NYTimes has a story today about the impending death of a little newspaper in Bristol, Connecticut.

The newspaper, which has been publishing since 1871, will either be sold by mid-January or will close:

"Yes, this is another story about a newspaper in jeopardy, one that may well prompt dismissive responses about Paleolithic business models and pointless mourning over throwaway sheets of paper and ink. In other words: Get over it, hack, your day is done."

It is, at least, a poetic pre-obituary, asking the reader to pause and "appreciate what a small, imperfect daily newspaper means to this small, imperfect city":

"Let us watch, too, as Greg Fradette ... feeds two quarters into a machine and returns with a copy of The Press. In this city where, he says, 'springs are big,' the newspaper matters because it contains the intense coverage of sports at the high school and City Hall level; the listings of births, deaths and potluck suppers. 'The information you take for granted,' Mr. Fradette says."

Obviously, stories like this interest me on a personal level. Here I am, working for a weekly newspaper, writing on the internet for that same organization. (Btw, Chris Davis recently wrote about John Malmo's take on the future of newspapers for memphisflyer.com.)

But I also once interned at a teeny-tiny afternoon daily (in a teeny-tiny town, appropriately) and it really was an integral part of the town. Sure, everyone got the larger daily from the neighboring "metropolis" for regional news, but you had to get the Reporter — good-naturedly called the Repeater — for the police blotter, the news from city hall, and just generally to know what your neighbors were up to.

(And who in a small town doesn't want to know what their neighbors are up to?)

At The Bristol Press, they wonder about the stories that will go untold should they close.

"For now, a heavy-hearted editor will continue to be who he is, and do what he does. And a small band of reporters, working for a small, imperfect newspaper, will record for posterity the challenges facing a wounded soldier; the fire that roared through an animal shelter and the number of cats (30) and dogs (9) saved; the death of an 88-year-old woman named Henrietta; and the birth of a girl named Ava Marie."

HUD Help with Economic Crisis

President-elect Barack Obama says that the department of Housing and Urban Development will play a key role in his plan to create or save 2.5 million jobs.

From USAToday:

"'To end this economic crisis, we must end the mortgage crisis, where it began,' Obama said during his weekly address Saturday. [Housing secrectary pick Shaun] Donovan 'knows that we can put the dream of owning a home within reach for more families so long as we're making loans in the right way.'"

The incoming administration has talked about using some of the $700 billion economic bailout fund to stem foreclosures. In addition, Obama said HUD will focus on keeping homes affordable in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what exactly that means, come January.

In Congressional hearings in June, Donovan, a New York City housing official, said that "cities like us across the country cannot preserve [affordable housing] on our own."

(Closer to home, HCD head Robert Lipscomb has told me several times that they knew foreclosures were a problem in Memphis before the larger mortgage crisis, but they couldn't do anything without backing from the federal government and that it wasn't a priority of the current administration.)

I will say, Obama was on Meet the Press two weeks ago and he drew a great analogy after Tom Brokaw asked him why homeowners who were paying their mortgages but seeing their neighbors "getting bailed out" wouldn't just walk away from their mortgages.

"We don't want what you just described, a moral hazard problem where you have incentive to act irresponsibly," Obama said. "But, you know, if my neighbor's house is on fire, even if they were smoking in the bedroom or leaving the stove on, right now my main incentive is to put out that fire so that it doesn't spread to my house."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Digital Divide

In a recent study, the FCC found that up to 5 percent of Tennesseans are not ready for the digital TV transition February 17th.

In fact, about 5 percent of Americans nationwide aren't ready, so the FCC is sending representatives around the country to talk about the switch.

FCC lawyer Katherine Power will be at the Oak Court Mall tonight from 5 - 8 p.m. and at the Kmart on Austin Peay Highway tomorrow (Saturday) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., answering questions about the digital switch and demonstrating how to plug the digital converter box into an analog television.

"You should plug [the converter box] in now. Don't wait," Power says. "Digital television is on the air now."

The federal government has a coupon program to offset the cost of the digital converters. Each household can apply for two $40 coupons by visiting www.DTV2009.gov. Each analog television needs its own converter box.

"Television has been free all these year for people with analog sets. To have to incur a cost for these converter boxes, we felt a coupon program would help people make the transition," Power says.

The conversion will free up broadcasting space for health and public safety uses.

Not sure you need a converter box?

If you have cable, satellite, or a newer TV, chances are you don't need a converter box (the exceptions are if you live in rural area and have satellite service and pick up your local channels over the air AND if you want a back-up should your cable service go out). To test it, local stations will be doing a soft test Wednesday, Dec. 17th, sometime between 6 to 7 p.m. If the screen goes blank, you need a converter box.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dark Days for Midwestern Towns

Forbes has created an interesting slideshow of America's fastest-dying towns.

(Don't worry, Memphis isn't on the list. Then again, the places ranked have a population between 20,000 and 65,000.)

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's three-year American Community Survey, Forbes tracked income growth, domestic in-migration, the change in poverty, and the percentage of the population with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Bensenville, Illinois, a town south of Chicago, tops Forbes' list. Other contenders include towns in Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Here's what Forbes said about Middletown, Ohio, which ranked 10th on the list:

"The town's median household income is $37,000, and its poverty level has jumped from 12% in 2000 to 22% in 2007. And it's not likely to get better anytime soon. With only 12.2% of residents possessing bachelor's degrees or better, the city isn't a prime candidate to attract highly skilled jobs that have lifted some other post-industrial cities."

Just for a comparison, I checked Memphis' 2005 - 2007 estimated stats with the American Community Survey. The urban area includes parts of Mississippi and Arkansas and has a median household income of $42,239.

About 16 percent of families in Memphis had an income in the past 12 months below the poverty level.

About 16 percent of the residents have bachelor's degrees, as well. Nine percent of residents have a graduate or professional degree.

How to Make a Living During the Recession?

YouTube.

The NYTimes had a story yesterday about YouTube partner Michael Buckley — among others — who are benefiting financially from the video sharing site. YouTube places advertising within and around its partners' videos. Though YouTube declines to say how much money its partners are making, Buckley told the paper he makes $100,000 annually.

"Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show 'is silly,' he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt."

Buckley, a former host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel, had minimal upfront costs: $2,000 for a camera, a $6 backdrop, and lights from Home Depot.

Of course, those looking for a get-rich-quick-scheme, the article notes that building an online audience can take time:

"In a time of media industry layoffs, the revenue source — and the prospect of a one-person media company — may be especially appealing to users. But video producers like Lisa Donovan, who posts sketch comedy onto YouTube and attracted attention in the fall for parodies of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, do not make it sound easy. 'For new users, it’s a lot of work,' Ms. Donovan said. 'Everybody’s fighting to be seen online; you have to strategize and market yourself.'"

In related news, the Flyer's cover story this week is "13 Upsides to the Downturn ..." The story cites better public health, no more credit card debt, and a new crop of entrepreneurs as positive aspects of the recession. So, you know, it's not all bad.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just in Time for the Holidays

Those of you with kids might have already seen this, but it takes the holidays to get me thinking about toys. That said, look at this cute, little New Urbanist LEGO set.



One of LEGO's town-themed sets, the Green Grocer is three floors of mixed-used LEGO development.

The first floor is the grocery with shelves and cartons of food (and a stairway that leads to the apartment above) and it has a small frontage to the "street" outside. There's also a roof terrace, a blue and white striped awning, and a lampost and fire hydrant.

Two caveats: it's hard to find and a little expensive.

But, according to the reviews, it might be worth it. The town-themed sets also include Market Street (below) and Cafe Corner.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jackson, Miss., Mayor Faces 20 Years

Even a mandate can be revoked. That's perhaps the lesson — one of many — to be learned from Jackson, Mississippi, mayor Frank Melton.

Melton, elected mayor in 2005, was seen as a straight-talking, tough-on-crime candidate. The Flyer even ran a cover story that detailed Melton's penchant for donning police-issue bullet-resistant vests and joining police checkpoints. (He was once the head of the state's narcotics bureau.)

But a year later, Melton participated in a raid on a duplex that opened him up to a host of legal problems. A state jury found him innocent of burgulary and malicious mischief, but he is scheduled to appear in federal court January 5th.

USAToday has a longer story about Melton today:

"Justice Department prosecutors say Melton directed a band of men, some with criminal records, to attack the duplex with sledgehammers, tearing out its front wall.

Melton has never specifically said what he did that night. He has called the raid a 'procedural error' that, he said, is a matter for the civil courts.

Despite the mayor's insistence that the house was used to sell drugs, no drugs, cash or weapons were seized that night. The owner of the duplex has sued the city."

Jackson City Council president Leslie Burl McLemore was quoted as saying that "no one in the state of Mississippi, no one in the city of Jackson, had the mandate Frank Melton had, from rich and poor and black and white. That doesn't happen. That's the work of movies, of fiction. But he squandered it."

During the Leadership Academy's luncheon with Newark, New Jersey, mayor Corey Booker, much was made of Booker's ride-alongs with police. For Booker, it seems like it was more of a way of getting buy-in from the police department for his crime initiatives.

However, I think there is danger in putting more emphasis on the ride-along than it deserves. It got a lot of lip service at the Leadership Academy's young politicos forum, as well, and while I think it's great for elected officials to see first-hand what police are dealing with on the streets, Melton is a good example of how it can all go very wrong.

In a related but unrelated note, I happened to be in Jackson over the weekend and had dinner at the Mayflower Cafe. I would suggest it if you're in the area, but you might want to go to the bathroom before you get there. Especially if it's cold.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday morning odds and ends

— Thursday's Tunica Caberet auction netted the state almost $25,000. By comparison, September's Platinum Plus auction yielded $60,000 for the state. Both strip clubs were closed following nuisance claims and Environmental Court judgments.

Two neighborhoods in Milwaukee are considering printing their own currency to promote shopping at local businesses (sort of like this, but not.) Downtown retailer Divine Mafa had a similar idea a few months ago in which he would give people $10 in Divine bucks for $8 American currency. A story in the Chicago Trib. says there are at least 2,000 local currencies all over the world, but I think it's almost always a hard sell.

— My internet is a slow, slow place, full of turtles, molasses, and spinning beachballs. Just thought I'd mention that as I waited for a page to load.

— In November, the most American jobs were lost since 1974, resulting in the highest unemployment rates in 15 years. 24,000 jobs were cut from auto dealerships, 82,000 from construction, and 36,600 from hotels.

— In addition to MIFA gift cards (similar to what the Church Health Center does), MIFA is currently taking gift donations for homebound seniors. The gifts will be given to 1,000 seniors during a special Christmas Day Meals delivery. Suggested gifts include: blankets, stationery, postage, winter caps, sweaters, gloves, crossword puzzles, playing cards, or dominos. For more info, call 529-4551 or email ascott@mifa.org.

Pezz Dispenser

So this totally isn't a music blog — and let's face it, with my taste, it never will be — but I did want to mention Pezz's record release party at the Hi-Tone tonight.

Here's what Flyer music editor Chris Herrington had to say about it this week:

"Pezz, a Memphis music fixture for nearly 20 years, retains original members Marvin Stockwell and Ceylon Mooney, currently joined by now-longtime fixture Christian Walker and relatively recent addition Anthony Siracusa. Pezz's half of the 11-song split disc [with While I Breathe, I Hope] is inspired by Mooney's recent political activism, including trips with peace delegations to Palestine and Iraq. Some proceeds from sales of the record will go to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. The band plans on recording a new full-length album next spring."

The bill includes Pezz, While I Breathe, I Hope, and the Antique Curtains, as well as Streetside Symphony. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5.

For more info, visit www.makeshiftmusic.com or www.myspace.com/pezz69.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Held Back

Early in his tenure, MCS deputy superintendent of academic operations Irving Hamer identified one overarching problem plaguing the district.

Yes, the district suffers from high poverty rates, low graduation rates, myriad student migration, and sluggish test scores, and Hamer's problem — students overage for their grade level — is either a cause or an effect for all of those things.

In August, Hamer told the school board that by 12th grade, 22 percent of the district's students — more than a fifth — are overage.

About 9,000 are held back during elementary school, 7,000 get held back in middle school, and 10,000 are held back during high school.

In January, the district plans to begin MCS Prep Academy, a program for students 14 years old and older who are at least one year overage for their grade. In its initial stages, the academy will take 200 students from each region of the district.

Those 800 students — registration will begin December 11th, I hear, but I don't know exactly how the students will be chosen — will have an extended school day, go to school 11 months out of the year, have individualized learning plans, and receive accelerated credit accumulation.

The district hopes to enlarge the program for the 2009-2010 school year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For Sale by State

Hot on the (hooker) heels of September's Platinum Plus auction, an auction of state-seized personal property from the Tunica Cabaret will happen tomorrow, December 4th, 10 a.m. at 5599 South 3rd St.

The doors open at 8 a.m. for the public to inspect the wares for sale.

I haven't seen any of the pictures for this auction, so I have no idea what might be sold. However, at the Platinum auction, they sold chairs (ugh), poles (yuck), and previously worn stripper costumes and shoes (ick). But you know, you might want some of those things. Who am I to say?

Just like the auction at the Mt. Moriah Performing Arts Center (or the Purple Church, if you prefer), the Tunica Cabaret building is owned by the federal government and will not be auctioned off tomorrow.

For Fans of the Dude

I couldn't let this go without a link: a story about "Caucasians," bowling, and a Lebowski Fest.

And there's video!

Greening Hawaii

Residents of Hawaii, with plenty of sun and wind but no oil, have begun a campaign to wean the islands from fossil fuels in 10 years.

Backed by Tetris licenser (for Nintendo, beating out Atari) and software entrepreneur Henk Rogers and his private Blue Planet foundation, the campaign is designed to supercharge a state effort to cut its reliance on foreign oil by 70 percent by 2030.

From a NYT editorial: "Jeffrey Mikulina, a longtime environmental activist in Hawaii, jokes that his home state, which is almost completely dependent on imported oil, is one supertanker away from being Amish. It also is one superheated ocean away from being underwater."

The NYT says that the plan includes revamping the obsolete electrical system of Hawaii's main utility to allow customers with solar panels to sell power back to the grid.

The push, should it be successful, seems like it could prove to other states that energy independence is a real possibility. This will be an interesting initiative to watch exactly for that reason. (Plus, I really like Tetris. Still.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lee-gal Bills

The City Council's MLGW committee voted down a resolution approving the release of more than $426K in legal bills for former MLGW head Joseph Lee this morning.

The full council already voted against the measure in October, but then the minutes of that meeting were pulled after chairman Myron Lowery suggested a compromise of a lesser amount.

"[MLGW] President [Jerry] Collins has been working with Mr. Lee and his attorneys to work out a different or the same compromise and they have been unsuccessful," councilperson Barbara Swearengen Ware told the MLGW committee she chairs.

"We have the option to approve this or deny it. If it is denied, then we could possibly spend a lot more in attorney fees, because it will go to court."

Council members Wanda Halbert and Janis Fullilove wondered why the council was second-guessing the MLGW board, which already approved the full amount. The council has to approve any MLGW expenditures above $25,000.

"We are stepping all the way outside our responsibility," said councilperson Wanda Halbert. "Why are we talking about this? Are we trying to overrule their body? is that what we're trying to accomplish?"

Ware responded: "I think so, because the compromise offered a lesser amount. ... This body thought it had the authority to supersede what was recommended by the MLGW board."

Committee members Jim Strickland, Shea Flinn, Bill Boyd, and Bill Morrison voted against paying Lee's legal fees. Ware voted to do so.

"It's not like we haven't paid more [before]," Ware said. "It's just this case that has become the issue."

The measure will now be taken up in full council.

Odds and Ends

— I don't know whether to be shocked or ashamed: USAToday's Report: Mass Media Harms Kids

I think it's mostly TV, but we all get painted with the same brush. The studies, done over 28 years, said that heavy media exposure increases the risk of obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol use, attention problems and poor grades, and that 93 percent of studies found that children with greater media exposure had sex earlier.

On the other hand ... at least they're well-informed.

— On a somewhat related note, if you're interested in plan B, Oxford, Mississippi, or Walgreens pharmacies, here's a first-person account about that.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. has been in a recession since last December. I think the only person surprised by that information is John McCain.

— And this morning, the City Council's public safety and homeland security committee discussed the possibility of having Shelby County deputies patrol in Memphis with county sheriff Mark Luttrell and MPD head Larry Godwin.

Godwin said he was concerned "about the drain on the sheriff's department" and that they would have to figure out how the county officers would file reports.

"It would require those officers working for MPD, answering our dispatchers," he said. But more on that later ...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Look Out, Herenton

In the wake of the arrest of Birmingham mayor Larry Langford, Gawker offered these words of wisdom:

"We're not saying the Bush Justice Department has been politicized, but the Bush Justice Department has been politicized. Also Langford is obviously corrupt as hell but so is Norm Coleman and no one will put him in jail, no matter how many impassioned, profanity-laced comments we leave on StarTribune.com.

Look: Black Democratic mayors across the country should just stop being corrupt for a while, until the new administration takes over and Justice transitions to caring about reading terrorists their rights or whatever."

Their headline: "With Just 50 Days to Go, Bush Still Collecting Black Democrat Indictments".

For more, click here.

Money Talks

Related to today's previous post, Memphis' budget will be the focus of tonight's Neighbor Talk on Comcast channel 18 WYPL.

Hosted by council chair Myron Lowery, the live, call-in program will feature city CAO Keith McGee and city finance director Roland McElrath. Callers can dial 415-2756 to ask Lowery, McGee, and McElrath questions.

From a release about the show:

"The City of Memphis is not immune to the economic challenges being faced across the country. Lowery’s guests will discuss the city’s bottom line and highlight the strategies and plans they recently proposed to the Council to address the shortfalls in revenues and other critical areas of concern that have commanded the attention of the administration and the legislative body. Information presented will be of particular interest to current city employees."

Put like that, I think if I were a city of Memphis employee, I would definitely try to tune in.

Budget hearing for the upcoming fiscal year (which starts in July) typically begin in February. Final budget approval generally occurs in June.

City Shrink, part two

Something to watch for:

"Battered by record foreclosures and falling tax revenue, cities are laying off workers, raising fees and closing libraries and recreation centers," says today's USAToday.

A fall survey found that 79 percent of cities expect their finances to worsen in 2009 and that city finance officers expect revenue to decrease 4.3 percent this year.

At least we're not alone.

So what are other cities doing?

Philly is closing 11 of its 54 libraries, and 200 of its 23,000 employees will be laid off come the new year.

In Atlanta, they're cutting 4,600 employees' salaries, including the mayor's, by 10 percent.

In Seattle, they're trying to increase parking fee revenue and decrease spending on social programs.

What will we do? I guess we'll see. But popular targets from last year include libraries and community centers.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Metal Shop

I don't want to get all endorsementy on you, but if there is one recommendation I would make for your holiday gift giving, it is this:

The National Ornamental Metal Museum's gift shop.

I spent a few years writing Memphis magazine's Fabulous Finds column (which featured six retail products each month) and if there was one thing I could depend on, it was that when winter rolled around, I could find wonderful, inexpensive gift items at the metal museum to feature: ornaments, mirrors, jewelry, pendulums (pendula? Sometimes the dictionary is no help at all), and all sorts of things.

I even gifted myself a couple of times.

NEXT Sunday, December 7th, the museum will host a holiday open house from 12 to 5 p.m. Members who mention the sale will get a 20 percent discount in the gift shop; non-members will receive 10 percent off. Holiday treats will also be provided throughout the day.

For more information on the museum or its classes (register by December 14th and get $50 off), click here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Divine Update

Divine Mafa, the owner of Divine Rags, has changed his mind, as Katy Perry would say, "like a girl changes clothes."

Clothing shop Divine Rags, which has been open on South Main Street for some time now, was scheduled to close and relocate to Germantown's Saddle Creek.

The store has opened a location in Saddle Creek but Mafa has decided to keep the Downtown location for now, as well.

Just so you know.

Black Friday Bingo

Good morning, Black Friday shoppers!

The Consumerist, one of my favorite websites, has created a handy-dandy Black Friday Bingo Card.

It includes spaces for crying children, shoplifting, sold-out deals, overflowing parking lots, and all the other things you see and experience on the biggest shopping day of the year.


Play with your friends!

Or make your own bingo card online here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Hotness

Now that it's Thanksgiving — Happy Turkey Day, btw! — Christmas is right around the corner. Then there's New Year's, MLK, and Valentine's Day.

They'll be here sooner than you think.

I mention Valentine's Day now because every so often, someone will contact me and say, I have a person who would make a great hottie. And I usually respond, "That's great! Where were you last January?" or if I'm less grumpy, "That's great! Remind me in January."

One of last year's hotties, Lux owner Tadd Feazell

This year, we're getting a jump on things. We're soliciting nominations for our annual Hotties issue, which coincides with Valentine's Day each February, beginning now and running until mid- to late-January.

Please email hottienoms@memphisflyer.com with your nominee's name, a little bit about them, a way to get in touch with them such as their phone number and email address, as well as, and this is very important, a picture. Of them.

We're not trying to be all superficial, but the issue is called The Hottie Issue ...

What's in it for you?

Well, the Hotties will be the Flyer's special guests at our annual Hotties party and if you're the one who nominated them, maybe they'll bring you as their plus one?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City Shrink

Last weekend's New Orleans Times-Picayune had a two-part series on what Nola needs to learn from Pittsburgh and Buffalo — how to cope with getting smaller.

"Lost population usually translates into widespread blight, crumbling infrastructure, stretched budgets and the loss of civic confidence and clout. But more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans must confront the reality of a reduced population, as resettlement has slowed to a trickle.

Embracing or even accepting a downsized city can be painful for leaders and residents accustomed to seeing their town as the center of the universe -- with reason."

Reading that, I was reminded of something Councilman Kemp Conrad brought up several times when discussing the police residency proposal:

"Memphis has lost 7 percent of its population in the last 10 years if you don't count annexation. That's scary. ... We need rapid change," he said during a Leadership Academy forum.

Of course, New Orleans suffered a devastating tragedy, though the population was already declining before Katrina; our city shrink is more like a balloon deflating.

The story says that the process should be just as thought-out as smart growth, saying some call it "smart decline":

"The process offers opportunities, not just unpalatable choices.

When the warehouse is in disuse, should it be demolished? Can the site be reused in an inventive new way? Can green space be used to mitigate flood risk? Should we rethink zoning laws in lightly populated areas? Can we deed vacant land to neighbors so it will be better kept? Do we need to sustain the entire network of roads, sewer pipes, bridges and gas lines?

Perhaps the most direct — some might say draconian — approach to shrinkage has occurred in Youngstown, Ohio, which has lost more than half its population after a series of steel-mill shutdowns since the mid-1970s."

Youngstown (which, a personal note, was basically where I went to high school and, if memory serves, where Reid Dulberger, the chamber's vp for the MemphisED initiative, was the chamber's executive vp before coming here) has started decommissioning sections of town that have already begun to return to nature. City officials in Cleveland and Pittsburgh steer public money toward areas that have "a fighting chance."

Of course, if you're a glass-half-full-type person, growth has its own problems: sprawl, over-crowding, etc.

The second story in the series talks about ways New Orleans could slim down to match its smaller population. It might be worth Memphis taking a look, as well.



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Savings for Any Age

USAToday has a helpful piece today about what you should do with your money and, unlike many similar stories, it customizes its advice depending on whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60 or older.

I'm not going to make a guess as to how old my average readers is — google analytics only goes so far — but USAToday says experts agree:

"You should do something. The financial meltdown is the most serious since the Great Depression. Nearly $2.1 trillion has evaporated this month alone."

Younger investors can take solace in the fact that they haven't lost as much as older investors; the article says if you're in your 20s, you should be putting 80 percent of your savings in stocks, but you might ignore the old advice that you should put your money into riskier stocks, which can have higher gains ... and losses.

If you're in your 30s, the story says to keep contributing to retirement accounts and try to protect yourself from the risks of unemployment by having at least 6 months of cash squirreled away.

If you're in your 40s, you should be stuffing as much money into your retirement savings plan as possible but stay diversified.

If you're in your 50s, don't do anything rash. Of course, it also says don't overlook any way to boost your savings. If you're in your 50s, I'd read the entire section.

But if you're in your 60s or older, you might skip it: The story suggests over-60s put off Social Security as long as possible, cut back on withdrawals, work part time, and move money to safer investments.

Tips for the Time

My second favorite holiday is this week: Black Friday, the time where generations of American families come together to get up at the crack of dawn, wait out in a dark Wal-mart parking lot for some poor, unfortunate soul to open up the automatic doors, and then trample inside like a pack of wild dogs intent on getting the cheapest presents possible. Even if it means ripping it out of someone else's hands.

(It kind of reminds me of roller derby.)

At any rate, the MPD has sent out a list of helpful tips to start the season. You can find the full list at the MPD's website, but I've picked out a few:

— When possible, shop during daylight hours.

— Dress casually and comfortably (ed: This is just practical. I mean, you wouldn't run a marathon in high heels, would you? No, not unless you were Kelly Ripa.)

— Do not carry a purse or wallet, if possible. Keep cash in your front pocket.

— Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with a check or credit card if possible. (Your financial advisors would tell you the exact opposite. Well, except for the carrying large amount of cash part. They'd probably agree with MPD there)

— Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason (Same as any other time of year, really)

— When driving, keep all car doors locked and window closed while in or out of your car.

— Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells, or cars with tinted windows (That's if you can find a parking space at all)

— Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car.

— Be sure to locate your keys before going to your car. Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.

— When leaving home for an extended period of time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.

— Leave a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.

— Donate to a recognized charitable organization (I like this one. I think they mean as opposed to donating to a charity you've never heard of, but a little good karma at this time of year can't hurt.)

In the event you need to contact the police, call 545-COPS for non-emergencies or 911 for emergencies.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bicycling's Worst

Bicycling Magazine has released its best cities for cycling and guess what?

Memphis ... Not on the list.

Actually, the Bluff city did make one of their lists ... the one of the worst cities for cycling, along with Miami and Dallas.

Here's what they had to say:

"No bike lanes exist within the city limits of Memphis. And the city government, comprised of layers of bureaucracy, has repeatedly ignored or rejected requests from bike clubs, shops and other organizations to create facilities. For example, in 2005 the Tennessee department of transportation and the city engineer's office conducted a study of Walnut Grove Road, a main artery in Memphis which leads into Shelby Farms Park, a 4,500-acre urban park run by Shelby County. The study concluded that the road would be unsuitable for bikes, and recommended a few simple changes to its design to accommodate a bike lane. The lane would allow access to the park for bikes, instead of just cars. Officials promised to explore a plan, but new curbs, gutters and sidewalks were built without explanation, effectively eliminating the possibility of a lane."

I don't know much about cycling or whether this is a good city for it (the presence of Memphis drivers alone makes me nervous ... ). However, I will mention one thing: There are now bike lanes striped on Shady Grove, which means there ARE bike lanes within the city limits.

Deemed "still the greatest" cities for cycling were Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boulder.

Neighborhood Stabilization

As I've reported in the past, Memphis and Shelby County are set to receive about $12 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Funds through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA).

The money has several stipulations: It has to be used in areas hardest hit by foreclosures, for starters. It can be used to buy foreclosed property, renovate or rehab foreclosed property, and create land banks for redevelopment.

But it cannot be used to prevent foreclosures.

And with the credit market in the shape its in, rehabbing foreclosed property for sale or redeveloping property, again, for sale, might not be the most successful solution.

In order to meet the stipulation regarding the hardest hit areas, the city and county used Chandler Report data to find the "top 10" zip codes with the greatest percentage of foreclosures, as well as those zip codes with the highest percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage-related loan.

But a recent Op-ed from Planetizen suggests that by concentrating assistance in the hardest-hit areas, few places will be saved.

Charles Buki, a principal at a Virginia-based neighborhood planning firm, says that local governments should focus on the hardest-hit areas, but also those areas where they have the greatest chance for success.

He says:

"HERA requires that resources go to areas with the most foreclosures, thereby attaching dollars to the markets where demand is weakest. Not surprisingly, with some exceptions, these are the weakest areas of the weakest urban centers, and almost precisely the geographies where we community developers have been working so hard to turn things around for so long. ...

"The tools we have with HERA are in actuality little different than those we have been using. The conclusion: same places, same indicators, same constraints, same tools, same outcome."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday morning odds and ends

— The Midtown North Collaborative will host a one-day community market and Thanksgiving celebration tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (perfect for those of us who aren't early risers). Though it's late in the season for produce, the market will feature late falls items and "late fall items and baked goods including greens, sweet potatoes, pies, jams and jellies."

The market will be held in the parking lot of the Hollywood Community Center at 1560 N. Hollywood Street (north of Chelsea). The Midtown North Collaborative plans to begin a weekly small-scale farmers market next spring and through the summer.

— A painting by artist Danny Broadway graces this year's holiday card from the Church Health Center. The suggested gift from each card is $10 and the cards can be sent in memory or in honor of someone.

Public Relations and Communications Coordinator Jeff Hulett says, "Once we get their list of people they want to send the cards to, as well as what they want to say, we have an army of volunteers who hand-inscribe word for word what they want to say. And then we mail it for them."


For more information about the Church Health Center holiday cards, call 272-7170 or visit churchhealthcenter.org.

— Local government is set to receive $12 million in HUD neighborhood stabilization grant money, only those funds can only be used to buy and renovate foreclosed properties, demolish blighted structures, and create land banks for redevelopment.

But with the economy the way it is, the idea of people buying property as a way out of the foreclosure crisis is a little suspect. AlterNet says to "Keep It Simple: Stop the Foreclosure Crisis with the Right to Rent."

From the story:

"Congress can temporarily modify the rules on foreclosure to give families facing foreclosure the right to rent their homes at the market rate for a substantial period of time. Rep. Raul Grijalva proposed such a change in the Saving Family Homes Act, which would allow homeowners the option to remain as renters for up to 20 years following a foreclosure.

This bill would immediately give families security in their home, so that if they like the home, the neighborhood, the school for their kids, they would have the option to stay in the house for a substantial period of time. This also has the great benefit for the neighborhood that homes will remain occupied."

It also gives banks an incentive to negotiate with the homeowner, something that, even now, people close to the crisis say banks are not eager to do.

— On the opposite side of the issue, USAToday has a story about several areas that escaped the mortgage crisis altogether. They are mostly small cities surrounded by rural areas that never saw any of the housing boom and where many of the residents own their home outright:

"Some mortgage-free clusters are in declining areas that have suffered job losses and dwindling populations for years. Residents who remain often have lived in their homes far longer than the conventional life of a mortgage.

Others are in thriving retirement communities popular with seniors who earned enough equity on the sale of their old homes to buy their retirement nests without borrowing money.

Being mortgage-free doesn't shelter people from a worldwide recession. Although their homes are paid for, they're still feeling the pain of a sinking stock market, threatened pensions, layoffs and credit squeeze."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Yellow Fever to the Sanitation Strike

After Memphis historian Perre Magness visited a class of elementary school students at Christ Methodist Church last year, her next project spoke to her.

"The children were so cute and so eager," she says. "Most schools teach some local history in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. They said, 'Why don't you write a children's book?' They really had the idea."

So she did.

Memphis: A Children's History is Magness' 10th book. Released last week, it is available at Burke's Bookstore, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Babcock Gifts, and the Pink Palace Museum.

"Children are so bloody," Magness says. "They love things like the Sultana explosion and the Yellow Fever epidemic. You would think you wouldn't want to tell them those stories, but they just love it."

The book also includes stories about the Native Americans who traded at the Chickasaw Bluff, Ida B. Wells, W.C. Handy, and the wedding of the waters. (In celebration of the completion of the Memphis-Charleston railroad, they filled up a railcar with water from the Atlantic Ocean, brought it to Memphis, and then dumped it in the Mississippi River. And then they did the same thing with Mississippi River water.)

"I've been writing Memphis history for 20 years," Magness says. "All of this is in my head. I wanted to tell some of the fun stories that children would like, such as the first steamboat and the first fire engine."

Magness thinks local history is a good gateway to get children interested in history.

"When you tell that that Poplar Avenue is an old Indian trail, you can see their eyes light up," she says. "They get excited because it's something they can identify with."

She also hopes her book can supplement history texts in local classrooms. She's read the American History book that the Memphis City Schools use in their fourth-grade curriculum, and says that each chapter has a small mention of Tennessee. Only it's not really local.

"It's all about East Tennessee," she says. "There's not even any mention of the Mississippi River, for heavens' sake."

Cops and the Cycle of Crime

I've got to tell you, I've vacillated back and forth on the whole "Should police officers live within the city limits?" deal.

On the one hand, I kind of think that if you work for the city, you should live in the city. It's like how employees of Coke shouldn't be seen drinking Pepsi (and vice versa). Only it's worse, because it means taking Memphis money — paid by local taxpayers — and spending it on homes, goods, and services somewhere else.

I'm not saying you're biting the hand that feeds you, but you aren't nuzzling against it, either.

On the other hand, people are victims of crime or just hear about something horrible (say, the theft of Annabelle Hulgan's $8,000 custom-made wheelchair) and they think, understandably, I don't want to live in a place where that happens.

And that includes police officers and their families.

The irony is that one of the ways to attract new officers who would want to live inside the city limits is to lower the crime rate.

(And, frankly, that's the way to attract other people, too. That and taxes.)

If more officers — even ones that live outside Memphis — can help do that, it's something we need to consider, even if it's just as a stop-gap measure.

Yesterday, at the Leadership Academy's panel with young politicos, councilmember Shea Flinn said that lowering the crime rate would allow the city to get more economic development.

His new colleague, Kemp Conrad, said, "Memphis has lost 7 percent of its population in the last 10 years if you don't count annexation. That's scary. ... We need rapid change."

In the ideal world, I would want all the Memphis officers to live in Memphis. But the truth is — we don't live in an ideal world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Young Politicos

After bringing Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker to Memphis to speak, the Leadership Academy felt like it needed a special event to follow the energetic young mayor.

The result was one of the group's Celebrate What's Right luncheons, this one with a panel of "young politicos."

During the luncheon — held today at the FedEx Institute of Technology — city school board members Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart, County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, and City Council members Shea Flinn and Kemp Conrad (as of yesterday) talked about how they decided to run for office, what their youth brought to their respective bodies, and how people could get involved.

"The average age of your district nine reps, now that we got rid of Ol' Man [Scott] McCormick, is 33," Flinn joked.

Moderator Darrell Cobbins went through a list of what he called Memphis' "rich history of young leaders" — which, if we're to be honest, made me sort of think that it's time to get on the stick:

Harold Ford Senior first got elected when he was 29, Fred Smith founded FedEx when he was 27, Dick Hackett became mayor of Memphis when he was 33, and Henry Turley founded his company when he was 36.

The Leadership Academy also played clips of last month's luncheon with Booker.

But the most important message from the young leaders seemed to be about getting involved, whether on a board or commission or just by showing up at meetings. Jones, for instance, began his public service as a member of the the Memphis Alcohol Commission.

(I can also personally vouch that he was a faithful attendee of the school board meetings. He told the crowd he attended them because, at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, they were most convenient than the County Commission's 1:30 p.m. Monday meetings or the City Council's 3:30 p.m. Tuesday meetings.)

"The power does not lie in the elected official. You're only one in 9 or one in 13. It's the people's government, " Hart said. "We gauge the public's reaction on something by the 100 people who show up at a meeting in a city of 600,000."

When asked what issues Memphis needs to move on, the responses centered around education, crime, taxes, and, what Hart called the "umbrella of the issues," poverty.

"More immediately is lowering the crime rate," Flinn said. "That will allow us to get more economic development. ... In a more abstract way, we need to look at who we are as a community. We need to look at consolidation. We need to look at how we see race."

Wii-Wise

I'm sure this will interest my friend over at the Bird blog, and not just because her kids love the Wii (actually, I do too, except when it creates Wii elbow or Wii toe).

At any rate, the Natural Resources Defense Council just found that the energy consumed by video game consoles equals "an estimated 16 billion killowatt-hours per year," roughly the same annually as the city of San Diego.

"Through incorporation of more user-friendly power management features, we could save approximately 11 billion kWh of electricity per year, cut our nation's electricity bill by more than $1 billion per year, and avoid emissions of more than 7 million tons of CO2 each year."

At least 40 percent of American homes have at least one gaming console and the NRDC's study offers recommendations for users, manufacturers, and component suppliers for improving the efficiency of video game systems.

One tip: turning them off.

Users who turn off the newest Sony PlayStation 3 when they're not playing spend about $12 each year for electricity, compared to the $134 spent by players who leave the console on.



However, Nintendo's Wii doesn't use that much energy. Wii owners who leave the console on after use spend $10 a year on electricity, less than users of the other gaming systems who turn them off after use.

Addressing Police, Another Folo

UPDATE from the previous post: The council split along racial lines to vote down the 20-miles-from-the-county-line residency proposal, mostly due, it seems, to the belief that the police department is not hiring enough African-American officers.

A few months ago — and unfortunately this is all from memory — director Larry Godwin and a police academy representative were before the council. They were quick to point out that the racial split of officers follows the racial split of the city, meaning roughly 60 percent of officers are African American.

However, when they looked at the data on the applicants, the council noticed that the department had more African Americans applying than whites and the department was thus disproportionately turning away African American applicants.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Courting Cops

City Council is going to be interesting tonight.

In a some times heated executive session earlier this afternoon, the council discussed the recommendations that the police hiring task force presented a few weeks ago. One, based upon evidence that a previous group of applicants would not have applied if they had to live within the city limits, centered around the police department's residency requirement.

"There were a couple of issues that this council had discussed," said Council member Wanda Halbert. "One of them was the residency requirement. The media has inappropriately and incorrectly said that this group said to only relax the residency requirement."

The full council is expected to vote tonight on a resolution to allow police officers to live within 20 miles of the Shelby County line.

Longtime member Barbara Swearengen Ware has been against the measure from the beginning. She, along with Halbert, have implied the police department is turning candidates away unnecessarily.

"We don't have a lack of folk applying. We have folk who are being disqualified systematically," Ware said. "That's something we should be concerned about."

After Council Chair Myron Lowery said they had all been contacted by constituents about applicants being unfairly disqualified, Councilmember Bill Boyd said that he represented a wide area of the city and had not received "one piece of mail, one e-mail, one telephone call about anything being unfair" with MPD, and that when the chair said they all had, "we all haven't."

Halbert returned that she had a number of families contact her.

"Their boys have been wrongfully arrested; the tickets have been dismissed; and then that's used against them in police hiring," she said.

The executive session also included discussions of the fairgrounds redevelopment plan and the city's foreclosure crisis plan.

Journey to Iran Tonight

Tonight's the Francis Mah Travel Grant Lecture "Ancient and Sustainable: A Journey to Iran."

Presenter Babak Keyvani will start the journey with a brief history of Iran and its architecture. After that, he'll "explore Iran's historical and contemporary approaches to sustainability and what lessons can be learned through an examination of the use of architectural and natural elements in sustainable buildings and neigborhoods, and how buildings of the past have become integrated into the built environment today."


The evening begins with a reception at Howard Hall (2282 Madison) at 5 p.m., with the lecture running from 6 to 7:30 (for those of you who like to know what time things should be over).

It's free and open to the public and, since I can't go, someone out there should and then tell me all about it.



The travel grant is funded by the Mah family and TRO Jung|Brannen with additional support by AIA Memphis and the Architecture Department at the University of Memphis.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Fun

Two more pictures from my Friday afternoon field trip ...



Bike Path

It couldn't be helped. After I read about Outdoors Inc. Annual Cyclocross Championship, I had to see it for myself.

So Sunday morning found me at Mud Island's Greenbelt Park, coffee cup in gloved hand, watching some truly amazing cyclists peddle up hills, glide down them, jump off their bikes (without stopping) to run up another hill with little obstacles, and then jump back on their bikes and ride away.



"Part of the sport is getting off the bike smoothly, because you come into the dismount going 15 to 20 miles per hour," Outdoors Inc. owner Joe Royer was quoted as saying in this week's Flyer. "Riders have to go over the hurdles, which are about 15 inches high, and then get back on the bike while they're still running. ... It's a very hard sport."

No doubt about that. Have you seen the hills at that park? Very steep. And I don't know how many laps the riders had to do, but it was definitely daunting.

After walking down close to the river to see the hurdles at the far end of the track, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to walk back up the hill, much less run up. Carrying a bicycle. And jumping over foot-high hurdles.

But it was a beautiful day and a great race. It doesn't look like the 2008 results are in yet, but here's a link to more information, if you're interested.

Fun with Pictures

Went on a secret field trip Friday afternoon (but forgot my camera cord so couldn't post the pics). The inside isn't much to look at right now ... a lot of concrete, some old motor bank equipment, scary elevators.

But the outside is still remarkable and the view from the top is pretty rad. Vertigo-inducing, but rad.


More later.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local Love

You'll have to excuse us for saying so, but the Flyer has always been a bargain. Now we're bringing readers — and retailers — even more of a deal.

The Flyer is asking readers to pledge to spend $100 at locally owned shops this holiday season. In exchange, readers will receive weekly emails with "deals and steals" from area retailers.

"Right now, when the economy is what it is, it makes sense for people to try to spend locally as frequently as they can," says Penelope Huston Baer, Flyer advertising director. "We know it might be convenient to shop online or to shop the 'Big Boxes,' but if you do so, fewer of your dollars stay in the community."

According to Civic Economics, 68 cents of every dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community versus 43 cents if that same dollars is spent at a national chain.

If 1,000 people pledge to spend $100 at locally owned stores, the economic impact is $25,000 greater than if they had spent that same $100 at a national chain.

"We're not trying to encourage people to spend money they don't have," Huston Baer says. "Part of what we're telling everyone is to spend responsibly. But if you're going to spend, spend locally. It means so much to the community."

Shopping locally can also encompass area artists markets, consignment shops, and antique stores.

"I was talking with a local retailer and she said that she felt like so many people in Memphis wear the 'I shop in New York' as a badge of honor: 'I got this in Miami,' 'I got this in New York.' She wanted people to be proud so say they got something in Memphis," Huston Baer says.

"We're just trying to help our readers and our retailers find each other."

To make the pledge and get signed up to receive great deals, email "I pledge" to shoplocal@memphisflyer.com.

Here's a list off the top of my head of local retailers (this is by no means all encompassing; it's what we call a start. And, yes, I alphabetized it.):

Baer's Den
Burke's Books
Celery
Divine Rags
Ella, Eve, and Isabella
Eye-Con
Gestures
Goulds
Graham's Lighting Fixtures
Indigo
James Davis
Joseph
Lansky Bros. and Lansky 126 (which, btw, is actually having an expansion party and sale TODAY!)
Lux
Kittie Kyle
Mango Street Baby
Mednikow
Mode du Jour
Mona Spa
Muse
Oak Hall
Peria
Reverie
Runway Boutique
Satchi
Wink
Zoe

Pass the Tissues

Everyone at my office is either sick, getting sick, or just gotten over this horrible, debilitating sickness called "the worst cold known to man."

I'm pretty sure that right now, as Google is tracking flu outbreaks with keywords such as "flu symptoms," "body aches," "fever," and "feel so bad I want to die," the internet search engine is homing in on 460 Tennessee St.

Google seems to think its keyword system can predict regional outbreaks 10 days before the Centers for Disease Control, (and it probably can, because is there anything Google can't do?) so this is just fair warning if you had any plans to visit chez Flyer.

I personally have not been infected yet but, judging by the runny noses and red eyes around me, it's only a matter of time and how much vitamin C I can consume.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Urban Chicken

Last week, after eating at Caritas Village and looking at their community gardens, a friend of mine pointed out a house in VECA with what looked like a number of chicken coops in the backyard.

I know of someone in Uptown that raises chickens, and a few months ago, I posted evidence of free-range chicken in East Memphis, too.

But what about downtown?

The Winston-Salem Journal had a story last week about how, in the age of "eating locally," city officials in downtown Greensboro has loosened regulations on raising chickens.



From that story:

"Earlier this year, [Amy] Williams and her boyfriend, Brian Talbert, found themselves fighting for the right to keep chickens. They also found themselves in the midst of a growing trend across North Carolina -- city dwellers who are taking "eating locally" beyond their vegetable gardens and farmers' markets by building coops and enjoying eggs from their backyard flocks. ...

In August, Talbert and Williams' efforts persuaded Greensboro city officials to loosen the ordinance covering backyard chickens and bees. Property owners with as little as 7,000 square feet of land can have hens -- as long as the coops are 25 feet from the property line and 50 feet from a neighbor's house. Roosters are banned. But chickens will lay eggs without the help of their male counterparts; they just won't be fertilized."

It's really an interesting story, with a lot of arguments for and against home-grown chicks, and it's an issue that may become more common with the economic situation. Of course, I don't know exactly what the laws are here ... I'm assuming it's against code ... but if I find out, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boxed Out

A few years ago, the Shelby County School system was looking to convert an empty Schnucks into a temporary elementary school.

In researching that story, I stumbled on a project by Ohio artist Julia Christensen in which she looked at how communities around the country had re-used former big-box retail spaces, turning them into schools, churches, and rec. centers.

Her investigation has now resulted in a new book: Big Box Reuse.



From the website:

"Christensen crisscrossed America identifying these projects, then photographed, videotaped, and interviewed the people involved. The first-person accounts and color photographs of Big Box Reuse reveal the hidden stories behind the transformation of these facades into gateways of community life. Whether a big box store becomes a 'Senior Resource Center' or a museum devoted to Spam (the kind that comes in a can), each renovation displays a community’s resourcefulness and creativity — but also raises questions about how big box buildings affect the lives of communities."

A Federal Focus on Cities

Valerie Jarrett, the co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, says that the new administration will include a new Office of Urban Policy. It will be charged with focusing on cities and will include a "comprehensive approach to urban development."

From Tuesday's All Things Considered on NPR:

"It is unclear who will lead the office, which will be tasked with advocating for cities and targeting programs in a 'logical and systematic way,' but it is a key position, according to Jarrett.

'For those of us who have worked in city governments across the country, we recognize how invaluable that person will be,' she says."

NPR's Melissa Block asked what the office would do that's not being done by other departments already. Jarrett replied, "What President-elect Obama recognizes is that it's really important that we take all of those different agencies and have a comprehensive approach to urban development. Having someone in the White House who is going to be an advocate for cities and who can take the variety of different federal programs and help target them in a logical and systemic way, I think is what president-elect Obama is trying to get at with this position."

According to Obama's website, the new office will strenthen the federal commitment to cities, with a strategy for metropolitan America and accountability that federal dollars earmarked fopr urban areas are "effectively spent on the highest-impact programs."

If you're interested in reading the new administration's plan for cities, click here (you'll have to download it as a pdf, however).