Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bail-Out Bust

I am having a hard time reading about the economy. I just don't have the stomach for it, especially since there's nothing I can do about it anyway.

But it's always good to be informed, so to that end, here are some links.

— Business Week asked several economists about the possibility of a recession. The short answer is ... yes.

— The NYTimes tries to answer the question: Is your money safe? The short answer, if it's FDIC, should be.

(If you are thinking about moving some capital around, here's one question and answer from that piece:

Is it time to buy stocks?

A. Like gambling? This is a great time to make bets on the wide price swings that we’re seeing in some stocks and entire sectors of the market. Just be prepared to lose big, as plenty of professionals have done of late.")

— Kiplinger's has a list of 10 Things That Will Change once the smoke clears. Things like bigger mortgage down payments, fewer financial firms, greater scrutiny of executive compensation, and higher long-term interest rates.

Here's Kiplinger's take on buying now: "Investors with cash, the patience to wait out a gradual recovery and a heart stout enough to withstand periodic wild swings, will be in the catbird seat. They're positioned to make a bundle, snapping up undervalued assets -- businesses, real estate, securities, etc. Even out-of-work talent will go cheap to employers savvy enough to nab it."

— And the Wall Street Journal's Brett Arends is saying it's time to cut your expenses because that's the one thing you can control: "This is now a financial war: You versus the economy. And most Americans are badly prepared. They have far too little cash on hand to cope with a major downturn."

Oh, and just to add another take on things, here's what he says about investing now:

"Ordinarily in a panic like this I'd be urging people to invest. My usual approach is that the worse people are panicking, the more aggressively you should buy. And that might still be the right thing to do.

But the political and financial situations right now are chaotic."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to Town

Got back into town late last night and something struck me: Memphis International is really creepy.

I know the airport authority is proud of their (fairly) recent renovations to the B concourse, but little ol' C looks like the perfect set for a slasher film. Even in the daytime, it's a little drab. Just brownish concrete block and tornado shelter bathrooms. Utilitarian. Institutional.

But when it's dark and there aren't many passengers around ... and all you hear are the echos of your own footfalls and the squeak of luggage as it rolls beside you down the long, empty corridor ... yikes!

I mean, install some art. Sell some more wallspace for ads. Just show some signs of life.

(For the record, I did see a few Memphis panels over the window, so that's a start. And yes, I do realize it was Sunday night, so not peak hours.)

I like the idea of John Kasarda's aerotropolis (cities have always been built around modes of transportation, after all) and I don't know how the energy crisis or the economy will ultimately affect Memphis International ... but the only thing I could categorize it as last night was a ghost town.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pocket Park Party

Looks like this weekend is going to be a busy one. I see a Rock-n-Romp, a number of AIA architecture tours, and this pocket-park party on my calendar:

(Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend any of these great events — not even the SkyCottage tour! — because I will be in the wilds of west Texas, watching my baby sister get hitched.)

However, I once wrote about the tiny triangle park at Belvedere and Madison where the block party is. I believe the city was thinking of selling it at the time. Don't know what ever happened with that.

What I do know is that after I wrote something about how those small pocket parks can provide a nice break in the urban landscape — former council member Madeleine Cooper Taylor had said "I may not stop. I may drive by, but they offer a visual resting place" — someone sent me a picture of a homeless woman passed out in that park.

They included their own caption, too: something like "Woman rests in Belvedere Park."

With apologies to the passed-out woman, it still makes me laugh.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apologies, all

To anyone I spoke with at the Best Of party last night, I am deeply, deeply sorry.

Also, next year's Best Of is only 12 months away, so I'd just like to take this opportunity to begin campaigning now ... you can always vote for me — Mary Cashiola — for Best Newspaper Columnist. Or Best Blog.

I'm not picky.

Oh, and for the 3 people who voted for me this year, thank you. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Parking Minimums

Can cities rethink decades worth of parking doctrine?

MSNBC has a story about how a number of U.S. cities are reconsidering the idea that every building must have a minimum number of parking spaces attached to it.

From the story: "D.C. is now considering scrapping those requirements — part of a growing national trend. Officials hope that offering the freedom to forgo parking will lead to denser, more walkable, transit-friendly development.

Opponents say making parking more scarce will only make the city less hospitable. Commuters like Randy Michael of Catharpin, Va., complain they are already forced to circle for hours in some neighborhoods."

The story opens anecdotally: Jeff Speck and his family don't have a car, don't want one, and had to fight DC zoning regulations for nine months to build their house without one.

(I'm not sure Jeff Speck is an everyman, tho. He was the director of design for the National Endowment of the Arts and collaborated on Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream with Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. He also spoke here earlier this year.)

But he does make a good point when he says this: "Half the great buildings in America's great cities would not be legal to build today under current land use codes. Every house on my block is illegal by current standards, particularly parking standards."

That's one of the reasons OPD was redoing the unified development code, to not hamper an area like Broad Avenue with suburban-like zoning.

But getting back to parking, I remember talking to Henry Turley (who, full disclosure, is one of the Flyer's ownership group) once about parking affects retail development. National retailers mandate a certain number of spaces; you want those retailers, you have to give them their parking lots. (And how often do you see a full parking lot unless it's near Christmas?)

A parking lot. Just in case you've never seen one before.

And not to go all Doug Farr on you again, but he did mention last week that he thought cities would be wise to exchange parking minimums for parking maximums.

Of course, the caveat is that it doesn't work without good transit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Farr Side

When Sustainable Urbanism author Doug Farr spoke at the Sustainable Tennessee Regional Opportunity Forum last weekend, he traced the streetcar back to early electric companies looking for a way to use excess electric capacity during the daytime.

Of course, most of the trolleys and streetcar systems now are financed by the federal government (tho Portland, Oregon, is a notable exception; that system was paid for locally).

"Once you federalize it, innovation goes out and overhead comes in," Farr said.

More importantly, for the book, he asked about the density needed to support transit systems and was told that "density is old think."

Instead of looking at population density, transit lines are now planned around nodes: the university area, downtown, the airport.

It's more connect-the-dots than connect-the-people.

Farr's discussion reminded me of our own Madison Avenue line, which links the medical district to downtown ... and judging by the ridership, didn't seem to take into account whether people wanted/needed to ride from the medical district to downtown and vice versa.

And the proposed airport extension is just another node.

I link to this cover story quite a bit, but I'm going to excerpt a bit here:

"It's little wonder that light rail has generated so little excitement. The airport-downtown line would serve only a small fraction of the residents of greater Memphis, a low-density metro area of more than 300 square miles. The train trip would take 29 minutes from beginning to end and make 10 stops. A car can make it in less than 15 minutes. Most customers would have to drive their cars to a light-rail station. ...

"With the uncertainties of $4.52 gas, tight budgets, and a declining Memphis population, the grand vision of a light-rail line from downtown to the airport is by no means a sure thing. Nor does it necessarily make sense.

'Memphis is not a high-density market, so it's pretty difficult to make the numbers work, but I don't want to prejudge them,' says Larry Cox, head of the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority.

The project is premised on easing traffic congestion, improving neighborhoods, and sparking development near the rail line. Connection to the FedEx sorting hub is also thrown out occasionally, but suffice it to say that if FedEx, with 35,000 area employees, really wanted a light-rail line, it would be well under way by now.

The other rationales can be easily debunked. Traffic congestion was eased by widening Interstate 240 and the Midtown interchange. It will be further reduced if people drive only when they have to. Except for a fledgling neighborhood called the Edge, Madison Avenue looks even more desolate since the trolley line was built. Ironically, the one big-bucks development MATA might have partially claimed credit for is off the line. In 2006, MATA's board killed the so-called Fairgrounds Alternative and shifted the proposed airport line from Midtown and East Parkway to Lamar and Airways. A year later, developers secured more than $100 million in state Tourism Development Zone funds for the fairgrounds."

(See? I said there would be more on Doug Farr later and here it is. I'm a woman of my word — well, I try, anyway.)

Mayor/Council Relations

No time to chat, but this morning, council chair Myron Lowery sent the following to the mayor, the CAO, and all the division directors:

"The City Administration needs to be more forthright in sharing information with members of the City Council. Too often the Council becomes aware of issues involving the City through the media. We are receiving calls and demands for answers from citizens when we have little or no information regarding these issues. Recent examples are the removal of furniture and equipment from the Pyramid, the proposed purchase of the Hickory Ridge Mall and the Convention Center Task Force. These are items that are in the public domain and the Council has had little or no information regarding these plans and on-going negotiations. It’s embarrassing when the Council has no information about important issues the Administration is discussing privately. As the legislative body of this city, we should be informed about such important City business. This is common courtesy and it is the right thing to do."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Giving Mother Nature a Face Lift

Interesting piece in the NYTimes today about a landscape architecture professor from MIT who is re-engineering a wetland in Terracina, Italy, to filter out pollution.

From the story: "Designing nature might seem to be an oxymoron or an act of hubris. But instead of simply recommending that polluting farms and factories be shut, Professor Berger specializes in creating new ecosystems in severely damaged environments: redirecting water flow, moving hills, building islands and planting new species to absorb pollution, to create natural, though 'artificial,' landscapes that can ultimately sustain themselves."

I have to say, if you get into the second page of the story, there is a description of the water runoff that is just really ew. The professor even said in this case you really needed to know where your food was produced and that he would only eat "from uphill."

Tent Revival

The tent city is back. With the foreclosure crisis worsening and the economy faltering, more people are living in cars or tents. In Santa Barbara, a parking lot has been designated for people who sleep in their vehicles. In Reno, Nevada, Portland, Oregon, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, tent cities have sprung up.

A recent AP story focuses on Reno and how, a few weeks after the first tents were pitched near the railroad tracks, more than 150 people were living "in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters."

From the AP: "From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.

Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report's release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening."

In Reno, where even the casinos have started to lay off employees, city officials have let the tent city stay because the homeless shelters are already at capacity.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Farr Side

Hopped over to the Sustainable Tennessee Regional Opportunity Forum with Doug Farr this morning.

I heard Farr speak a few months ago at the Sustainable Shelby kick-off and he's always an engaging speaker. He cited some of the usual statistics: between 1970 and 2005, the average American house got 60 percent bigger while the average American family got smaller. In the U.S., people drive more than 10,000 miles per capita each year.

One thing he likes to talk about is how neither more efficient light bulbs nor hybrid cars nor "green" buildings will reduce CO2 enough.

"It's not about the efficiency of objects," he said. "As things become more efficient, we use them more."

Instead, sustainable urbanism ("walkable, transit-served urbanism integrated with green buildings and high performance infrastructure") becomes a way to conserve. When looking at vehicle miles traveled, for instance, the most important factor in reducing the amount of travel is destination (the other factors interrelate — design, diversity of uses, and density).

"It's about how we organize our lives," Farr said.

If neighborhoods are dense, have a mixture of residential, business, and retail, and it's easy to get from one place to another, people will be more likely to forgo their cars.

Will probably have more later. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Vacant Lot as Blank Canvas

I often think of Detroit as one of Memphis' sister cities.

Detroit has 834,000 residents; Memphis has 643,000. Both have large African-American populations; both have fairly high rates of poverty, though Detroit has more. The median household income in Detroit is $28,000. In Memphis, it's $32,500. Then there's Motown and Stax.

It's not the exact same city, but I think both cities struggle with a lot of the same problems.

Detroit's Metro Times has a piece this week that says Detroit's greatest resources are its abundant land and artistic talent. And suggests ways to use both.

(BTW, if you click on this link, you might notice they are in the midst of their Best Of issue, too. Rest assured we didn't steal it from them; it's a pretty common issue in the alt weekly world.)

From the story:

"Detroit, through misfortune, has one natural resource which every other major city in the world except for Paris, with its extensive parks system, covets: land space. It allows for many opportunities transforming the land or placing objects on it. Working with vacant land in some manner is probably the least expensive way to make transformation. You could change the city landscape more cost effectively than a $20 million building could."

With quite a few vacant properties here, I just thought it was something to think about.

Last Minute Reminder

The Sustainable Tennessee Regional Opportunity Forum is tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 19th, and Saturday, Sept. 20th.

The conference opens Friday morning with Sustainable Urbanism: Advanced Techniques and Metrics, with Doug Farr.

Saturday's keynote speaker is Bob Ford from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the Climate Change Strategic Planning Team.

For more information about on-site registration, click here.

The forum, organized by ULI Memphis, the U of M, and the Sierra Club, will include seminars, presentations, and discussions to encourage strategic approaches to sustainability in West Tennessee.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seeing Sustainability

Fire up those Flickr accounts — the Sustainable Shelby initiative is looking for your digital photos.

Earlier this year, Sustainable Shelby came up with 52 recommendations to make the area more sustainable, including walkable neighborhoods, protecting the natural environment, and creating unique public spaces. (This is all the detail I plan to go into right now. Need more info? Click here or here.)

Now the initiative wants local photos to illustrate its upcoming implementation plan and website.

From the info I got:

"We need your help to capture images that will help us illustrate the importance of sustainability for the future of our community — the things and places that you love about Memphis and Shelby County. We are especially interested in 'active' photographs that include not only local places but local people as well."

If only this had people in it — it'd be perfect. Yes, says me.

Digital photos can be emailed to photos@sustainableshelby.com and should include a brief written description of the photo, including where and when it was taken. Higher resolution images are preferred, but not required.

The deadline to submit photos is October 8th.

And if you take pictures all the time but aren't really sure what you'd send in, Sustainable Shelby has a list of examples, including local examples of natural features, active downtown streetscapes, your favorite place to walk, run, or ride your bike, Beale Street, historic districts, and community gardens.

If I get more info, I'll be sure to pass it along.

Do you want to be in pictures?

Every year (for the last few, at least) I put together the Flyer's fall fashion issue. And every year it's always a challenge to find models because:

A. They have to be available during the day for the shoot.
B. The job doesn't pay.
C. We like to use college students for a variety of reasons (please see A) and I simply don't know that many college students. I am old.
D. It's creepy to walk up to people you don't know and say, "Have you ever thought about being a model?"

That's all to say, I'm looking for models. I've got quite a few ladies interested already but not that many guys (which I always expect, but it would be nice to have a few). So if you know of anyone, or you are someone, that this appeals to, please let me know.

From last year's shoot at the Peabody Hotel

Ideally, models should be college-aged (any younger, the Flyer gets in trouble), attractive, slim to medium builds, comfortable in front of a camera (if you always think you look weird in photos, this might not be the right opportunity for you), and think that I am somewhat funny (trust me, it helps.)

Interested parties can email me at cashiola@memphisflyer.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transportation Odds and Ends

— From BusinessWeek: The 65 mpg Ford that won't be sold in the U.S. and why. It looks cute, but you won't see it on American roadways, so don't fall in love.

— From Next American City: Amtrak can't handle rising ridership. (It sounds a little bit like the MATA situation here in Memphis.)

— More about bag-check fees and crowded overhead bins from USAToday.

The Flying 7-Eleven

Anyone who knows me knows I get cranky when I fly. I'm sorry: I'm impatient, I can't stand downtime, I hate other people, I always think I'm running late even when I'm running right on time, I don't like to use airplane lavatories, the list goes on and on ....

I just want to get on the plane, read my book, take off at the appointed time and get to my destination/connecting flight at the appointed time, and have my luggage arrive there safely and conveniently with me. (It occurs that this will be the second post in a row I should tag as "hassles.")

My sister and I are flying American in a couple of weeks and were recently discussing the $15 surcharge for checking your bags.

Neither of us plan to check our bags for the upcoming trip (it's only a weekender) but she, unfortunately, has to bring a full-length satin bridesmaid dress with her. I have no idea how she's going to do it. She says she's going to vacuum-pack it, but I suspect she may have to wear it, airplane courier style.

A bad bridesmaid dress on Katherine Heigl

It is going to be an interesting trip. It will be my first time flying since they instituted the surcharge for checked baggage, so I'm expecting it will be tense.

But there may be one group of people that have it worse than airline passengers: airline flight attendants.

If you're interested, the NYT had a good piece yesterday on flight attendants and what their jobs are like now ...

Said one flight attendant: “Who would have thought, after 30 years, that we’d be a flying 7-Eleven."

Update: At least I'm not flying United. They've upped the price of a second checked bag from $25 to $50.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We Run on Gasoline

Or, here is my stupid gas story from this weekend.

Last Friday morning, I get a call from my dad right after I get into work. One of his good friends does something with propane (maybe a supplier? I'm unclear) and that good friend has a fleet of trucks (he must be a supplier) and he's already being quoted gas at some ungodly price.

So my father advises me to get gas before Ike hits. I tell the aforementioned dad that I'm on the scooter, but I've already heard similar stories on the radio, so when I get home, I'll fill up the car.

I'm like a boy scout: I like to be prepared.

Friday evening, I get home and head to the gas station a block from my house. It's still got a great price on the sign and is surprisingly empty. And then I realize that's because all its gas is gone.

The station across the street is already a teeming, sprawling madhouse, so I head down the street aways to another station. The price seems reasonable and though there's an accident right in front of this gas station, it doesn't seem too terribly busy.

So I pull in and wait. It's going slow because an inordinate amount of people are having to prepay inside and I almost leave. Then I see other people swiping their credit cards outside like nothing's wrong. I stay.

Finally I get up to a pump and realize that this particular one has a broken screen. I'm feeling invested at this point (and it's not like it's going to be better anywhere else) so I go inside and prepay $30 worth and hope that amount will get me enough gas but not too much (I had more than a quarter of a tank at the time).

I get back to the pump and put the 89 nozzle in my gas tank. Nothing happens.

I go for the 91 nozzle. Still nothing (except I begin to curse like a sailor).

I try the 93, which is over $4 a gallon. But then again, I've already pre-paid so what am I going to do about it? There's a tense moment when I think that is gone, too, but it slowly lurches to life and I get a few precious gallons.

Not that I'm happy about it.

The AP is reporting that gasoline prices went up to $5 a gallon in some places because of the fear of gas supply shortages and a disruption in fuel production.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: People hear there is going to be a run on gas, so there's a run on gas. And we're so dependent on it; of course a legitimate fear about supply disruption is going to cause mass panic.

I'm just glad I wasn't one of those people filling up extra gas cans. (Of course, if Ike had done more damage, maybe I would be upset that I wasn't one of those people.)

Today's my carpool day, but tomorrow I'm back to the scooter.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nothing to like about Ike

My family, like most I suppose, has its own folklore: things are said, repeated as fact, remembered later, conclusions are drawn, and you have these little anecdotes of family mythology that may or may not be true.

At any rate, the one that's on my mind today is my family's supposed entrance to this country, and how the first job they had was to haul the dead bodies off the beaches and streets of Galveston after the 1900 hurricane, the deadliest weather disaster in the nation's history. Between 6,000 and 12,000 people are estimated to have died.

I spent quite a few childhood summers in Galveston, jumping waves, trying to avoid tar in the sand, and looking at eight feet high water marks on the parlor room walls of historic mansions.

Here's a story from the LATimes about the 1900 hurricane.

Pot Parks

Maybe something to look out for the next time you go camping.

USAToday is reporting that about 80 percent of marijuana grown outdoors is being cultivated on state or federal land. The culprits appear to be Mexican drug cartels.

From the story:

"Tighter border controls make it harder to smuggle marijuana into the USA, so more Mexican drug networks are growing crops here, [National Drug Control Policy director John] Walters says.

'We are finding more marijuana gardens in the park year after year,' says Jim Milestone, superintendent of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Northern California.

'We're dealing with some bad characters,' Milestone says. 'We are arresting people … who have criminal records in Mexico, and almost all of them are here illegally with false papers.'"

More Common Ground

Marvin Stockwell of the Church Health Center and the band Pezz called me yesterday in hopes that I might remind you that the deadline for Common Ground is fast approaching.

Common Ground, a race-relations initiative started by CA columnist Wendi Thomas, is starting its second round of community discussion and action sometime this fall. The deadline for registration is September 19th, and participation requires a seven-week commitment.

I don't have any more details, but it you're interested, visit the Common Ground website.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The End of an Era (a gross era, but an era, nonetheless)

Today's the Platinum Plus auction. If you're interested in any of the following items —

Assorted stripper outfits

a weirdly discolored chair

a cage-dancer's cage

the sign

— you need to be at the Mt. Moriah Performing Arts Centre right now.

I wonder if they're taking one-dollar bills.

UPDATE: The Flyer site has a small story about this morning's auction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grocery Shrink Ray

The Consumerist routinely reports on what it calls the "grocery shrink ray," a trend of manufacturers reducing the size of grocery products while charging the same price.

But now it looks like even the grocery stores themselves are being hit by the shrink ray.

After years of SuperTargets, MammothWal-Marts, HumongoKrogers, grocery stores are beginning to slim down. (Maybe with all those smaller products, they don't need as much room?)

From a NYT story:

"Here in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, the grocery chain Giant Eagle opened a Giant Eagle Express last year that is about one-sixth the size of its regular stores. It has gas pumps, wireless Internet and flat-screen televisions in a small cafe, a drive-through pharmacy and an expansive delicatessen that offers sushi, rotisserie chickens and ready-to-heat dinners.

'It’s perfect,' said Dusty McDonald, a 29-year-old bank teller who was buying breakfast sandwiches recently for her co-workers at the Giant Eagle Express. 'It’s on my way to work. It only takes me 10 minutes to get in and out.'

The opening of smaller stores upends a long-running trend in the grocery business: building ever-larger stores in the belief that consumers want choice above all. While the largest traditional grocery stores tend to be about 85,000 square feet, some cavernous warehouse-style stores and supercenters are two or three times that size."

In some respects, it seems boutique-y. In others, it just sounds like they're trying to compete with gas stations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bottled Water Ban at City Hall?

Even the City Council is trying to get a little greener.

During a parks committee meeting this morning, City Council members provisionally voted to reestablish the City Hall recycling committee.

"This started from a conversation about how can we, as a city, be more green?" said parks committee head Jim Strickland. "This is an easy first step."

Strickland also floated the idea of prohibiting city funds from being used to buy bottled water.

"Why are we buying bottled water when we have the best water in the world?" he asked. "Not only is it wasteful but a lot of green folks think it's heresy."

The idea didn't get much traction — the convenience of bottled water won out — but council members did seem to recognize that Memphis could be more ecologically friendly.

"I see now, after spending a few days in Denver, we don't have a big emphasis on recycling," said council member Barbara Swearengen Ware. "Everywhere you go, on the streets, everywhere, there are recycling bins. It's obvious to me that we have not done a comprehensive job on recycling."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Speaking of ...

never talking politics, David Duke is coming to town.

As usual, anyone knows where this is happening, feel free to email me.

Goodbye Republicans?

I don't generally talk politics at all (hi, Mom and Dad!), but I thought this piece on the "Vanishing Republican Voter" in the NYTimes magazine was interesting. In it, David Frum posits the more inequality a place has, the more to the left it leans.

And in a country that is becoming more and more unequal, that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the G-O-P.

Here's a sample:

"My fellow conservatives and Republicans have tended not to worry very much about the widening of income inequalities. As long as there exists equality of opportunity — as long as everybody’s income is rising — who cares if some people get rich faster than others? Societies that try too hard to enforce equality deny important freedoms and inhibit wealth-creating enterprise. Individuals who worry overmuch about inequality can succumb to life-distorting envy and resentment.

All true! But something else is true, too: As America becomes more unequal, it also becomes less Republican. The trends we have dismissed are ending by devouring us."

Of course, Frum is trying to be warn Republicans before it's too late, but it's still interesting.

Dachshund Dash Redux

I'm a sucker for an underdog.

Yesterday was the Running of the Weenies at Germantown Festival. Now I didn't actually go (that would involve driving to Germantown and actually getting off my couch) but I was happy to hear that Mia, the runner-up for the last two years, finally won the title.

Not the winner, just a wiener

I spoke with Mia's mom, Jenni Anderson, last year. Like many of the weenie owners, they had brought a favorite toy — in this case, a giant pink ball — to coax Mia and her sister Mattie to the finish line. Just before Mia hit the finish line, they roll the ball backwards to guarantee a sprint to the very end.

"They love that ball," Anderson said at the time. "I had to hide it all summer so they wouldn't pop it."

And I can't be sure it was the same ball (what with me on my couch and everything) but judging by news reports, it looks like a giant ball was definitely involved in the winning.

If you want to read my take on last year's Running of the Weenies, click here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Odds and Ends

The Globe and Mail explains McCain's strategy for dividing America into rural (red states) and urban (blue states) areas under Karl Rove's playbook. The concept was written about as the urban archipelago during the last election (or was it the one before?) and the idea was that it wasn't a contest between red or blue; it was a contest between cities and rural areas.

If I remember correctly, blue states are blue because their large cities (where more minorities and more well-educated people call home) dominate their rural areas. Red states are red because the number of rural residents outnumber the urbanites.

— Speaking of red and blue states, Strange Maps has a map of the U.S. broken down into whether people there use the term "coke," "pop," or "soda," for those non-medicinal, non-alcoholic, fizzy concoctions (that, for the record, I call coke. But then I grew up in Atlanta). One note — no one calls a coke a pepsi, but people call a pepsi a soda, a pop, or a coke.

— If anyone knows any comely or handsome young Rhodes students who might be interested in a non-paying modeling gig, would you please have them email me at cashiola@memphisflyer.com? Actually, students who attend any of the city's other fine institutions of higher education are welcome to email me, as well.

Yes, I know this is skeezy, but it would be way more skeezy if I was walking around telling people I think they should be a model.

— USAToday has a story about how to get things for free, and not just with Freecycle, either. They do mention couch surfing, which Flyer writer Shara Clark did a story on a few weeks ago.

— And, yeah, I'm on Facebook now. If anyone cares.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Does anyone know ...

a good real estate attorney?

Or anyone who knows a lot about renters' rights?

If you could email me at cashiola@memphsflyer.com, that'd be awesome.

A Little Build Up

When Heather Baugus Koury began working with the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the organization was interested in constructing community.

"There was a growing need for us to develop new community outreach programs," says Koury, the executive director of AIA Memphis. "Our mission is to assist in the creation of a better built environment, and there was change at the national level to include more community involvement."

The idea for Architecture Month was born five years ago when Koury got together with Memphis Heritage executive director June West.

"We started with the idea of architecture week, but June and I don't know how to do anything small," Koury says.

This year, Architecture Month includes America's Favorite Architecture, a touring exhibit that will be at the Central Library September 9th through October 13th, a lecture by National Trust for Historic Preservation COO David J. Brown at the Brooks, and the Downtown Chalk Art Festival.

Last year, about 17 groups competed in the chalk art festival and Koury expects about the same number this year. The festival, currently held at the Main Street farmers market, is looking both to expand in 2009 and to include more artist participation.

"We've maxed out our space," she says. "We get more inquiries than we can actually accomodate."

Each year, a certain architecture firm has taken home Best in Show. Though there is already a "youth" category for younger participants, AIA thought it would be more fair to include a category for professional architects.

"That way they're competing against each other and not the family at the market who just walks up and decides to compete," Koury says.

Other highlights of Architecture Month include a tour of the Central Library, a tour of LeMoyne-Owen's Sweeney Hall (currently undergoing restoration), and a tour of SkyCottage, a 2,500-square-foot residence on Harbor Town.

West and Koury will be on WKNO's Checking on the Arts this afternoon. For more information on architecture month, visit AIA Memphis' website.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Here's a Question

What's your favorite thing about Memphis?

Fireflies Burning Out?

With mounting evidence that fireflies are disappearing, researchers in New England started a citizen science project.

Boston's Museum of Science teamed up with Tufts University and Fitchburg State College to ask regular people to spend 10 minutes one night each week of the summer tracking the number of fireflies they see in their yards.

Researchers surmise that pesticides and outdoor lighting, among other things, may be affecting lightning bugs' habitat.

It looks like citizens from all over the country have signed on, though it doesn't appear that anyone from Memphis is registered to participate.

The museum has a very cute virtual habitat feature to teach its aspiring data collectors about flash color, pattern, and location. For instance, the male will flash while patrolling an area while the female will flash from a perch. Who knew?

Here's a story in USAToday about the anecdotal evidence that supports the diminishing numbers of fireflies theory.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Where did you sit in the high school cafeteria?

If anyone wants one of these lovely buttons, shoot me an email. You don't even have to explain why you think you're a heartthrob or a rebel or whatever. (Although if you do, that would certainly be entertaining to me.)

Speaking of high school, did anyone catch the season premiere of Gossip Girl last night? I loved it when B used the phrase "that Chuck Bass-tard."

I know we're all fluffy bunnies and kittens today. We'll go back to wonky tomorrow. I've been scanning the U.S. Census Bureau's "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007" report, so watch out!

A cupcake of a contest

My Flyer colleague Bianca Phillips is a vegan, but she's also something of a cupcake specialist.

She's currently participating in the Iron Cupcake challenge and she would love it if you would vote for her here. The voting sheet is on the left side and her blog — Vegan Crunk — is third from the bottom on the ballot.

Bakers were asked to come up with a cupcake recipe using chili pepper and she came up with Holy Mole Vegan Chocolate-Chili Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream frosting.

Unfortunately, you can't actually taste the cupcakes — unless you whip up a batch for yourself, which you can do because the recipe is on the website — but if you want to trust me, and in this one particular instance you can, they were very, very good. Very good.

(I think the mole might have been my idea, so I'm going to go ahead and take credit for it here. Because, again, they were very good.)

I can't wait until next month's Iron Cupcake challenge.

The cupcake in question.