Friday, February 27, 2009

Even With the Pyramid ... Nothing

James Blakeway has spent the last 20 years photographing skylines.

So when he picks his favorite cityscapes, people tend to listen.

Blakeway, the author of Skylines of the World, recently listed his top 10 favorite viewing spots for USAToday. They include the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, the Montparnasse Tower in Paris, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

And the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh:

"One of the city's more interesting architectural elements is the plethora of bridges, which span the city's three rivers: the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers, which meet to form the Ohio River. 'They're not your usual flat-deck bridges, but these beautiful older bridges that have been rebuilt,' Blakeway says. 'There's a lot of ironwork to them.' Take the Duquesne Incline up Mount Washington for a sweeping view of the city, rivers and bridges, he says."

Ramses, we've been robbed.

Then, again, not many people have been up to the observation deck, arguably the best view of the city from three out of four directions.


I have one of the company video cameras in my possession. Be afraid, be v. afraid.

Broadway Bound

Here's some interesting news for fans of keeping the Main Street Mall vehicle-free:

"Broadway, the world-famous boulevard that meanders the length of Manhattan, will become a pedestrian mall around Times Square."

The plan, which will close Broadway to cars and trucks from 47th to 42nd, may be implemented as soon as May. In the place of automobiles, chairs, benches, and cafe tables with umbrellas will be placed on the avenue.

Broadway will also be closed to traffic around Herald Square. Both moves are meant to alleviate traffic congestion.

I sort of wonder where the congestion will shift. By closing streets, you don't eliminate traffic, you just disperse it. Hopefully.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Overcomers Share Mall Plan

Last February, Scott Kim had to shutter his women's clothing store after the Hickory Ridge Mall was damaged in a tornado.

Today, he was back at the mall — in his store's old space — to hear what the mall's new owners, the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church, are planning.

"People keep saying to us, you're a church, what are you going to do with a mall?" says Al Cousins of the World Overcomers. "We want to talk to those retailers who are returning, those who are on the fence, and those who weren't here in the first place and tell them, here's our plan."

In addition to 40 retail and food court stores, the mall will include social services, church ventures — such as a day care and a book store — and family entertainment. Part of Macy's is slated to become a banquet and conference center. There are also plans for a youth recreational center and a movie theater.

"We don't believe the community has been abandoned by the residents. We believe the community has been abandoned by the national retailers," Cousins says. "Are we going to have a Macy's and Dillard's? We don't need them for a community mall."

The church hopes that by creating a mix of retail, social services, and educational facilities it can revitalize both the mall and the surrounding community. It has been in negotiations with entities as disparate as Incredible Pizza and Southwest Tennessee Community College to lease space in the mall.

"A mall with 100 retail spaces won't survive. It doesn't work like that anymore because of the economy," Cousins says.

Vickie Reyes is the director of Southwest's Educational Opportunity Center, which tries to get more adults a post-secondary education. Since January 2003, the center has been at the corner of Mendenhall and Winchester, but its lease is about to expire.

Reyes came to the meeting to see what other services the church was planning to include in the mall.

"We've always said, wouldn't it be great to have a one-stop shop? We'll be able to touch more people here," she says.

The church is currently generating letters of intent from interested retailers and will begin writing leases in 45 days. Store owners will have 60 days to get their spaces ready before the mall's grand re-opening in the summer.

"It's a unique concept that I think is right for Hickory Hill," says mall manager Pat Jacobs. "People ask me who's going to be here. I don't know, but I can almost guarantee you Circuit City won't be."

The grand opening is slated for the end of June.

Kim, who owns six other 4 Ever Young stores in the area, plans to return once the mall opens.

"I still have my store here," he says, pointing to the fixtures. "I have a lot of stuff still here."

As for Cousins, he says the church will make money on the venture, but that's not its primary goal: "We're coming back to make the mall work for you."

Bonus: For those of you who had heard the rumor the church was going to build an old folks home in one of the anchor spaces, I did ask about it, and Cousins just said they were talking about having a day care for Alzheimer's patients.

But he also said he couldn't tell me what the church had planned for the Dillard's space.

Power Plant Protest

Monday, global warming activists will be protesting in front of coal-fired power plant in the nation's capital.

It might seem like the environmental movement doesn't need acts of civil disobedience right now. After all, the president is sensitive to environmental concerns. But Bill McKibben argues this is the perfect time to up the ante.

He says we need a powerful and active movement to give the administration and the Democrats in Congress political space to do what they need to do. Besides, he asks, do you think Dick Cheney would care?

"Consider what has to happen if we're going to deal with global warming in a real way. NASA climate scientist James Hansen -- who has announced he plans to join us and get arrested for trespassing in the action we're planning for March 2 -- has demonstrated two things in recent papers. One, that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with the "planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted." And two, that the world as a whole must stop burning coal by 2030 -- and the developed world well before that -- if we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below that 350 number."

That won't be difficult at all.

McKibben plans to get arrested Monday at the Congressional owned power plant (who knew?) and says you should to (but also cautions that sit-ins aren't the most important tool in the activists' tool box).

I can't get arrested Monday — way too much to do; in fact, I'm getting hives just thinking about it — but I won't stop anyone else from doing so.

Seriously, if anyone goes to this, let me know.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the event you need to flee the country ...

We have a pretty good package on the local impact of the Standford Financial investigation this week in the Flyer.

But if you're interested in what you should ever do if you find yourself in a similar situation (and let's be honest, who isn't considering a life of crime these days?), Slate has the answer: head for one of the 90 countries that doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States. Such as Russia, Libya, or Iran.

Hmm, I know.

Apparently there are some loopholes — if the criminal would be punished for political reasons, some countries don't extradite in death penalty cases, Cuba.

"Most extradition treaties have a so-called "dual criminality" rule, which mandates that the crime must be illegal in both states, not just one. That's why financier Marc Rich fled to Switzerland. The crimes for which he was charged — tax evasion, primarily — are not illegal there, so Switzerland wouldn't extradite him."

TERRA House Tour

So, I'd just like to mention that I'm a print journalist, first and foremost. And frankly, I've always considered myself better with the writing end of things than the reporting end of things.

That being said, the world is multi-media and we're trying to do our part over here at 460 Tennessee St.

Below you'll find a link to a virtual video tour of the University of Memphis' TERRA House project. DPC's Eric Criswell was nice enough to take me on a tour of the house last week to show me all its environmentally friendly features. And there are a ton so, especially if you can't get to one of the tours in March, you should check it out.

But before you watch it, I think I have to also say, in my defense, that:

1. I am something of a spaz.

2. I have not used any movie editing software before.

3. Next time I will try not to say as much, seeing as how my mouth was right next to the video camera (since I was holding it and all). And I might try to get a professional voice-over person/coach.

4. I was filming at — essentially — a construction site. Not only was there a lot of background noise, sometimes workpeople had to move past me to get where they were going. And it is hard to move your feet without moving your arm.

But as they say, it's a poor carpenter who blames his tools (or, alternately, my dad's favorite, "Excuses, excuses").

So, roll 'em. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Money Talk

So everyone is waiting to hear what the president will say about the economy tonight. Many hope that he'll say something uplifting, because if he says something too depressing, even if it's the truth, it could make the recession worse.

Economics is not an exact science. It has as much to do with psychology as anything else. We're not on a gold-standard anymore: once people think the economy is in trouble, they start acting like it's in trouble, and those actions stem the flow of money, thus ensuring the economy is in trouble.

I'm not saying it's not bad. It's bad. But, as one economist recently said, a crisis of consumer confidence could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Flyer editor Bruce Van Wyngarden wrote an editor's letter to this effect a few months ago and, truth be told, I vacillate between wanting to spend for the common good (or shoes, ahem) and wanting to bury all my money in a pot in my backyard where I know it's safe (which, btw, I have not done, so don't come sniffing around. You'll only dig up the creeping Jennies, and I would hate that.)

The NYT has an "object lesson" about Japan and how its spend-thrift ways have kept it firmly in a recession, one in which it is so dependent on exports that when the world economy falters, it almost collapses:

"The economic malaise that plagued Japan from the 1990s until the early 2000s brought stunted wages and depressed stock prices, turning free-spending consumers into misers and making them dead weight on Japan’s economy.

Today, years after the recovery, even well-off Japanese households use old bath water to do laundry, a popular way to save on utility bills. Sales of whiskey, the favorite drink among moneyed Tokyoites in the booming ’80s, have fallen to a fifth of their peak. And the nation is losing interest in cars; sales have fallen by half since 1990."

I'm not saying everyone should go out and spend carelessly. Not by any means. That's what got us into this mess. But as some point, if we continue on this pessimistic path, the potential end result is a out-of-control race to the bottom. Only there isn't one. (And that doesn't sound scary or pessimistic at all, does it?)

On a related note, a 93-year-old Grandma named Clara has been vlogging Depression-era recipes on YouTube for two years. You can learn how to cook pasta with peas, egg drop soup, and what's called the "poorman's meal."

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's a Miracle?

It's the type of claim you might see on a late-night infomercial or on the HSN.

A miracle cleaner that is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores, but doesn't harm people or the environment. And it's made from tap water and table salt.

I mean, who would believe that? But, apparently, it works.

From the LAT:

"Researchers have dubbed it electrolyzed water -- hardly as catchy as Mr. Clean. But at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso -- the miracle liquid. ...

Used as a sanitizer for decades in Russia and Japan, it's slowly winning acceptance in the United States. A New York poultry processor uses it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses. Minnesota grocery clerks spray sticky conveyors in the checkout lanes. Michigan jailers mop with electrolyzed water to keep potentially lethal cleaners out of the hands of inmates."

When the liquid is zapped with low-voltage electricity, sodium ions are converted to sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases with the best of them. And it's inexpensive.

"It's big in Japan. People there spray it on sushi to kill bacteria and fill their swimming pools with it, eliminating the need for harsh chlorine. Doctors use it to sterilize equipment and treat foot fungus and bedsores. It's the secret weapon in Sanyo Electric Corp.'s "soap-less" washing machine."

Unfortunately, the liquid loses its potency fairly quickly. The machines can be pricey. Not all the claims made by some sellers of home ionizers are true, and there's a mentality in this country that if a cleaner doesn't smell, burn, or bubble, it's not doing its job.

But, no, I don't know where you can get some.

NASA's Next Laboratory

NASA has a unique proposition for astronomy enthusiasts. And everyone else, too.

According to USAToday, under its "Hubble's Next Discovery — You Decide" campaign, NASA is letting people vote for one of six areas of spaces that the Hubble should focus on next. Online voting will continue until March 1st.

Depending on the vote tally, the Hubble will study a star-forming region, a spiral galaxy, a spiral galaxy on edge, or a pair of galaxies merging together. (This, unsurprisingly, is apparently the current top vote getter.)

One of the six choices

Apparently, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. (Who knew?) It has been four centuries since Galileo ('s head was on a block ...) first demonstrated his telescope.

And April 5th - 7th is the International Year of Astronomy's 100 Hours of Astronomy. During that time, the winning image will be released (by voting you also enter to win one of 100 copies of this image).

In May, the Hubble is due for long-delayed repairs that should make it more powerful.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Morning Filing

File under "horrifying": The Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, has such a bad mice problem that they've been seen falling from ceiling tiles and staffers have to check their handbags for "stowaways" before leaving for the day.

Under "invasive": Passengers at Tulsa International Airport are among the first in the country to go through full-body scanners instead of metal detectors.

From USAToday: "The machines use electromagnetic waves to create pictures of energy reflected off people. The metallic-looking images show outlines of private body parts and blur passengers' faces. Two Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners in a closed room near the checkpoint view the images on computer monitors and relay information on radio headsets to checkpoint screeners."

Under "off-beat" or "ouch": A dispatch from the international yoga championship — who knew there was such a thing? — where yogis trash-talk, young girls arch back and put their toes in the mouth, and the goal is enlightened bliss.

Under "red wrigglers": About composting in New York, or any place, really, where you compost inside.

Under "stimulus package": States will be responsible for doling out federal stimulus funds and that could slow down the process (especially if local elected officials call for rejecting said funds). Highway building funds must be deployed within 120 days or they are sent back to the federal government. But other funds just need to be spent by 2010.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pizza and Planners: What Could Be Better?

The Coalition for Livable Communities is hosting the second in its Pizza with Planners series tonight, this time with a focus on area transportation planning.

"In this session, Kimley-Horn transportation consultants will explain Memphis’ Long Range Transportation Plan and review current transportation options/opportunities. Learn how you can give feedback to the different kinds of plans throughout the process. Learn how implementation decisions are made. Hear from the citizen activists on Bicycle and Pedestrian Action Committee (BPAC) of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Find out who makes the decisions about what gets implemented.

— Explore the concept of “complete streets” including public transit, bike lanes, pedestrian friendly crossing & sidewalks.

— What does a sustainable road system look like and how does that compare to what we have now?

— How does vehicle speed, road width, and road type effect a neighborhood.

— Explain basic concept of “connectivity” and the relationship between roads and development trends.

— Glossary of transportation terms: TIP, connector, arterial, collector, etc.

— Who designs the roads? How do plans response to and influence the needs of the city? [ed: and how many of us haven't been stuck on the road somewhere — cough, Union Ave., cough, cough — and thought, who the heck designed this? ]

—When/what is the most effective way to influence the process to ensure neighborhood friendly streets?

— How can citizens accomplish a specific goal? Who to call to fix a sign, add a median or cross walk."

All important information, I'd say.

In the first session of pizza with planners, residents learned about neighborhood planning and zoning.

At the time, CLC program director Sarah Newstok had this to say about the series:

""It's both a means to allow [DPD] to have access to the neighborhood and to give citizens the tools to make their neighborhoods better places," Newstok said. "[We want] to give people the skills to be active participants in the planning process — when to go to a meeting, what meetings they should be looking for."

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. tonight. It's free, but a reservation is required. I don't know if it's too late to RSVP, but the number is 725-8370 if you wish to do so.

Future topics include planning boards and commissions, public transit, the Sustainable Shelby vision, and economic development.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I would be remiss if I didn't note that the fun and friendly treehuggers over at CPOP are having a fundraiser tonight at the Hi-Tone.

The Old Forest Jamboree starts tonight at 7 p.m. Admission is a $10 donation to CPOP. (Kids 12 and under get in free.)

Hoots & Hellmouth, Jimmy Davis, Bluff City Backsliders, and Giant Beer will be performing.

I also hear that adults 21 and over will each get a complimentary draft beer from Ghost River Brewing. Should be a fun time!

Magnetic Me?

There's a question we ask all the hotties each year -- my favorite question, in fact: If you were arrested tomorrow, what do you think you'd be arrested for?

I've heard some great answers: mistaken identity, trespassing, indecent exposure, you name it.

Until recently, I did not have an answer to this question. But now I do: It would probably be shoplifting.

Not because I'm a shoplifter; to the contrary, I'm not. But a very strange thing has started to happen.

Whenever I walk INTO Walgreens, Target, or Celery Re-Sale on Brookhaven Circle, I set off the door sensors.

And when I walk out of Walgreens, Target, and Celery, the same thing happens.

Luckily, so far, no one has really cared. At Celery, I reminded them it went off when I walked in. At Target, I walked in and out with a bunch of people. At Walgreens, where it's happened several times, I just look around, like, "Who, me?" and then carry on.

But I'm not going to lie; it has started getting a little uncomfortable.

It's been at least a month and I've worn different shoes, different outfits, I've left my purse in the car, it still goes off.

So, internet, any ideas? (Other than using Walgreens drive-thru pharmacy option?)

Fairgrounds Update UPDATE

Yesterday, I wrote that council members Barbara Swearengen Ware and Kemp Conrad had called the funding plan for the fairgrounds redevelopment project "pie in the sky" and "half-baked," respectively.

Conrad asked me to clarify his position on the fairgrounds proposal, saying he thought the plan half-baked because the process isn't working:

"I like the idea of private development paying for public improvements. I like the development team and their vision for the project, their track record and their diversity.

What is 'half baked' is a project totally predicated on $100 million in retail sales – yet we have just now receiving the retail study (which I recommended months ago) that

A) will confirm or not if this level of retail sales is even feasible – especially in this economy, and

B) where will these sales come from? I.e. Are we cannibalizing existing retail dollars that are being spent in Memphis? Or are they net new dollars that are currently being spent in Mississippi or Arkansas?

One has to look no further than the Winchester corridor – a carcass of once vibrant retail – now dead due in large part to retail spending migration to Wolfchase once it was built.

Also, if the majority of the $100 million are Memphis sales tax dollars now – the sales tax dollars these sales generate will then be diverted from the general fund (and we have a deficit as I’m sure you know) to be plowed into the public improvements."

The council is expected to hold a three-hour evening meeting in the near future to discuss the project.

Mitigating the Mortgage Crisis

The city is still pursing a lawsuit against national mortgage lenders as part of its response to area foreclosures, says city CFO Robert Lipscomb.

Lipscomb and a team of public/private partners went before the City Council yesterday to update them on local plans to mitigate the mortgage crisis.

Co-chairs of four committees presented several strategies to the council, including job fairs, a sort of for Memphis residents, and asking the Postal Service and MLGW for information on vacant homes.

(Inside baseball alert: My colleague John Branston and I talk a lot about how many foreclosures and vacant homes there are, exactly. County assessor Cheyenne Johnson, who is co-chair of the committee looking to MLGW, has one number. RealtyTrac and other data services have others, and it's very confusing, b/c it just doesn't seem like anyone really knows.

Johnson's committee, the IT and fiscal planning committee, says that the postal service knows when a house is vacant and MLGW knows when they get a cut-off notice and they're trying to collect as much data as they can.)

The city and county also are expected to receive a combined $14 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Funds from the federal government.

Housing and Community Development deputy director Beverly Goines said the city expects the neighborhood stabilization contract to come from HUD within the next 30 to 60 days. Within 30 days of getting the contract, the city will execute its program.

I think we might have talked about this program before. More than once.

Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware asked Goines if the program is going to help homeowners whose houses have been foreclosed on: "[If] they desire to be back in their homes, is that money available to them?"

"They would have to be able to qualify for a 30-year fixed-term loan and it would probably be difficult to do if you already had a foreclosure," Goines replied.

"So this program will not help a person who has lost their home?" Ware persisted.

"It might help them in terms of a rental property, but not home ownership," said Goines.

The money is really intended to shore up neighborhoods (thus the name). It's not going to help Joe Schmoe who just got kicked out of his house.

I'm not sure this was the way to go. It seems it might be a good idea to try to keep people in their own houses instead of letting them get kicked out under a foreclosure procedure, buying the house, renovating it, and reselling it. I mean, first question: Reselling it to who?

But under the federal guidelines, the city and county are only allowed to use the money in very specific ways. They're allowed to use the funding to acquire land for a land bank, for instance, but they're not allowed to use it to maintain the land in the land bank.

The city plans to acquire and rehab about 145 vacant homes with help from local community development corporations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Herenton's Response to MCS Suit Ruling

Today Chancellor Kenny Armstrong ruled in favor of the Memphis City Schools in the city/MCS lawsuit.

Mayor Willie Herenton told the council this afternoon that he had a sense of urgency about the decision:

"I think this particular ruling that we received today, one of my expectations was the court would really define what governmental body had the responsibility for maintenance of effort. I'm not a lawyer but I don't think that designation has been made.

"Your administrative staff are heavily involved in making a budget for next year. I've got to now direct my staff to develop a budget that potentially would be required to absorb an additional $57 million, in addition to what we were planning to present to you.

"I know CAO Keith McGee and [finance director] Roland [McElrath] have worked with you and told you the upcoming budget is challenging. Hopefully you've looked at other municipalities, the state, the corporate sector. All of those entities are facing significant layoffs, facing significant diminution of benefits. Obviously, we've got to make some deep cuts in our budget.

"We cannot be all things to all people. ...

"As we trim personnel costs down, we want to have the flexibility to impact some managerial positions so that the overwhelming burden of balancing budget don't fall on the employees that are traditionally in the lowest quartile.

"This administration needs flexibility and we'll have to curtail services like never before."

Fairgrounds Update

Mayor Willie Herenton is in front of the city council's economic development committee right now, talking about the Fairgrounds development project.

"I'm growing weary of getting all of these innuendos. The press has gotten involved. I keep hearing there are councilmembers ... concerned about development fees," said Herenton. "At the end of the day we're going to do this project or we're not.

"What are your issues?"

Under the proposal, the developer, Henry Turley (full disclosure: Turley is one of Contemporary Media's stockholders) is set to get $9.5 million in development fees.

Council member Shea Flinn asked that the mayor take the focus off the stadium and onto the Children's Museum of Memphis.

"It needs to stop being about a stadium. People in this city are worn out about stadiums and sports authorities," he said. "The guiding light has to be the children's museum. ... It already brings disparate parts of our community together right there."

Herenton said he heard what Flinn was saying but that the Liberty Bowl Stadium is "a horrendous challenge" because of the ADA requirements that haven't yet been met.

"We're not going to build a new one, but we've got to improve that stadium and we've got to do it in concert with the ADA requirements," Herenton said.

Under the current proposal for the fairgrounds redevelopment, $50 million in funding will be generated by the developer from retail sales.

Council members Barbara Swearengen Ware and Kemp Conrad both called that plan into question:

"I hate to use the terminology, but it sounds a little pie in the sky," said Ware.

"It's predicated on $100 million in retail sales, but the economy is not good right now. People are not spending money," Conrad said, calling the proposal "half-baked."

Herenton then said that based on what he was hearing from the council, the project was not ready to be moved forward and that he would instead focus on the stadium upgrades required by the department of justice.

The council plans to schedule a three-hour meeting to discuss the fairgrounds proposal in detail.

Monday, February 16, 2009

St. Louis Blues

Just got back from a quick jaunt to St. Louis and probably the coolest museum ever built.

I got to see the world's largest pencil, play in the skateless park, buy shoelaces at the shoelace factory, and slide down seven stories (of course, I had to climb up those seven stories, too, and my thighs are still feeling it), all at St. Louis' City Museum.

City Museum is housed in a former shoe company building and was created out of reclaimed building materials. One wall, for instance, appeared to be created out of old catering dishes. It also includes a crazy outdoor climbable scupture with two planes, a fire engine, and a castle turret, or "the most monumental, monolithic, monstrous montage of monkey bars in the world."

Their website says the museum is "an eclectic mixture of chidren's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects," and I really couldn't have described it better.

I just wish I was a little smaller and a better climber. And that it had been a little warmer.

On another note, I also saw two skateparks just driving around the city. They looked more like small hockey rinks than anything elaborate, but they were both filled with kids.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It Just Doesn't Have the Same Ring as Dirty South ...

But maybe the Clean South is a better moniker.

A new report by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says that the 11 Southeastern states can fulfill a national mandate for renewable energy.

"Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Renewable Energy Standard" confirms the states can tap homegrown clean energy resources to generate 15 percent of electric power demands by 2015 and the proposed renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025.

SACE says that Tennessee is rich in potential alternative energy, from wind in higher altitudes to solar and agricultural solutions in others: "The Volunteer state is home to nationally important solar and wind manufacturers. With these resources and active state leadership, Tennessee is an emerging powerhouse in clean energy action."

It looks like, however, that TVA-affiliated utility companies are excluded from Renewable Energy Standard requirements. That might be the case, but I'm sure TVA and MLGW will pursue alternative energy sources even if they weren't federally mandated to do so.

Hottie Happy Hour Tonight

Come hang out with me, Melissa, the whole Flyer crowd, and this year's hotties!

Juan Jurado, Candyce Thompson, and Camille Patterson
Photo credit: Melissa Anderson Sweazy

We'll be at the Red Rooster downtown from 5 to 8 p.m. (Well, maybe not right exactly at 5 ...) See you there!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post-Hot Odds and Ends

Now back to our regularly scheduled seriousness ...

Speaking of regular schedules, more than half of U.S. TV stations will shutdown their analog signals February 17th, as originally planned, according to USAToday.

Though President Barack Obama wanted to delay the switch from analog to digital until June, many stations in small and medium sized cities will shut down analog signals in February. The major broadcast networks, mostly in larger cities, have pushed their plans back to June 12th.

On a personal, selfish note, I would love it if they would go ahead and make the switch in February. I've made the switch and though most of my channels come in crystal clear, Channel 5 — yes, Joe Birch, I'm talking to you — generally looks like a cubist painting.

I'm talking blocks of color, maybe you can make out a face or a sitcom set, but mostly not. And I've heard, though I don't have this confirmed, that they're not yet broadcasting their digital signal at full strength.

On a more unselfish note, waiting is probably not a bad idea. It doesn't hurt anyone to wait, and it gives people who aren't ready a little more time to get there. All the funding for the converter box coupon program has been used. I think the boxes cost about $50 and though that's not a huge amount, I could see it being cost-prohibitive, especially now.

Last month, statistics showed that about 5 percent of U.S. households weren't ready for the switch. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it comes to about 5.8 million families.

You could say, TV is a luxury, and that's true. But when you think about how many people get their news from television (I hate to admit it, but it's true), it behooves us to make sure they don't get left behind.

— Here's another interesting story, also from USAToday: A Chinese house-hunting group is looking for the American dream, at a bargain.

"More than 40 affluent house hunters from across China will begin a trip to Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Feb. 24 in search of cheap homes to buy. Their goal: to find investment property and housing their children could use when they go to the USA to study or work. Their budget: $300,000 to $800,000 apiece."

— "Not to freak you out or anything," says a Slate reporter at the beginning of a piece about regenerating — and potentially immortal — jellyfish. Having watched the video, I can say that, yes, it does freak me out. It is freaky!

Did I say we were going back to seriousness? I think I might have lied. Sorry, an immortal jellyfish is too good (bad?) not to share.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Turning Up the Heat

Just a little taste before tomorrow.

Mollie Fontaine is Hot

This year, the hotties photoshoot was supposed to look like a party with ridiculously, ridiculously good-looking guests.

You know, eating, drinking, chatting ... just having a good time.

I was initially kind of worried that we'd get our assorted group of hotties (and some spouses, partners, etc.) together and they'd look at each other and it would be


BUT it totally wasn't. At all. We set up shop at the unparalled Mollie Fontaine Lounge around 5 p.m. and the hotties started getting there a short time later.

We had the upstairs pretty much to ourselves, which was good, b/c I think we would have been disruptive to any other diners.

We got everyone drinks and Melissa started shooting and we started talking and some people actually knew each other and, suddenly, it didn't just look like a party. It WAS a party.

Seriously, people who didn't know each other an hour before were suddenly laughing like they were old friends. I felt like I had known them all forever (and not just because I knew all of their favorite colors).

So, first off, thanks for everyone who nominated someone for the issue. It was extremely hard to choose, b/c everyone was so darn good-looking, and we couldn't have done it without you.

Secondly, thanks to all of our hotties and Melissa and Chip for showing up, smiling pretty, working hard, being nice, and just generally making all the magic I plan to take credit for around the office.

And last, thanks to Mollie Fontaine's for letting us soak in their atmosphere and to the wonderful staff who were pleasant and helpful and made pretty drinks. We had a great time and, by the way, the mac&cheese is really quite excellent.

The issue will hit stands tomorrow morning — look for it!

We're also having our now annual Hotties Party at the Red Rooster Thursday night from 5 to 8 p.m. I hear the drink special is the Rooster Booster and that we'll have free appetizers. I'd love to see you there!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sustainable Unsustainable?

The energy crisis may be more challenging than we think.

A friend of mine sent me a link to this piece from NewScientist, which says that renewable energy needs to come from more renewable resources.

Silicon, which is abundant, is not the most efficient material for solar cells. That would be indium, "which is far from abundant."

"There are fewer than 10 indium-containing minerals, and none present in significant deposits – in total the metal accounts for a paltry 0.25 parts per million of the Earth's crust.

Most of the rare and expensive element is used to manufacture LCD screens, an industry that has driven indium prices to $1000 per kilogram in recent years. Estimates that did not factor in an explosion in indium-containing solar panels reckon we have only a 10 year supply of it left."

Hydrogen energy needs platinum, which "makes indium appear super-abundant."

After reading the piece, I had a very Malthusian dystopia moment like, there are just too many people on this planet.

Then I thought, maybe we could just pay people to generate energy. It could be a job. There are certainly enough people unemployed and underemployed in this country — would it be feasible to set up an energy farm with stationary bicycles or something? Maybe not, but it seems we need to keep thinking on a solution.


Do me a favor:

When Valentine's Day rolls around next year, try to make it out to Rhodes' annual production of "The Vagina Monologues."

I went Friday night (I had something else to do Saturday) and the only thing I regret is not buying a "vaginista" T-shirt while I was there.

At times powerful, moving, and downright hysterical, the production is part of the V-Day College Campaign to raise awareness and funds for local organizations working to end violence against women and girls. This year's Vagina Monologues, performed by Rhodes students, faculty, and staff, included a short piece about sexual torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It's not always an easy listen, but it's always a worthwhile one.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cash on Cash

431,232, 142

431,232, 142

431,232, 142

That's the number Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash has burned into his brain — 431,232,142 — the one he recites from memory like Hurley, Lost's unlucky lottery winner.

"That's the figure the state expects and I haven't heard anything different," Cash says.

Cash has to submit his legal budget to the state October 1, 2009, but so far he's about $100 million short.

For years, the district has been funded by the county, local sales tax, and the city. But last year, the city cut the $66 million slated to go to the district, leaving the school system with a funding nightmare on its hands.

Under the "maintenance of effort" clause, the school system must be locally funded at the same level as the previous year. The cut sparked a lawsuit — still unresolved — about who exactly should make up the shortfall. The city argues that the money should come from the required local funder, the county.

But right now, Cash is looking for a solution to next year. The school system expects to be out of money August 1st.

"What can we do while we solve all the arguments? And there's a lot of arguments out there. If it's the city, the county, it doesn't matter to me," Cash says. "We just need this amount."

Last November, the idea of giving both the city and county school systems taxing authority began to be discussed. Cash says the idea has gotten bogged down around the tax rate but, along with additional funding from the county, he sees district taxing authority as a possible long-term solution.

"I'm for both, as long as they make MCS whole, whichever comes first," he says.

In addition to his reform agenda, which I wrote about this week, Cash is also looking at places he can either save or earn money. He's re-examining transportation routes and how much square footage district custodians clean (a figure he says is below industry standards) and how many children buy breakfast and lunch. The district also has new software for contract and procurement services that Cash says will save several million dollars.

"No matter which way we cut this, I can't get to $100 million. I feel fairly confident I can get to $20 million," Cash says. Even if they cut all the administration positions — from superintendent down — it would save $17 million.

"It's like a big onion," Cash says, " You just keep peeling it ... it makes me cry, too."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

MCA Looks Pretty Good for 50

When Rust Hall turned 50 Monday, one of the Flyer interns, Kimberly Kim — or as I like to call her, Kim Squared — was there to witness it. I think she also got some champagne and cake, so it wasn't a bad assignment to pull.

The story didn't get in the paper, so I thought I'd post it here:

MCA's Rust Hall Turns 50
Reception honors award-winning architect

Award-winning architect Roy Harrover was honored Monday at a reception for the 50th anniversary of Memphis College of Art’s Rust Hall.

During the reception, Harrover, who designed the building in 1956 as part of a local architecture competition, also donated an original model of Rust Hall to the school.

“I put the Fine Arts Center and the Art School together in one building, instead of putting it in several separate buildings,” Harrover says. “That’s probably why I won.”

One of the first examples of modern architecture in Memphis, the building includes exterior screens that shade the building but still allow lots of natural light to stream in.

Once called the “Taj Mahal of Memphis,” Rust Hall opened its doors in 1959 and won the national Progressive Architecture award the following year. It was also named the “Building of the Decade” for the 1950s by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

“The first part of the building built was the north end,” Harrover said. “Several years later, the art school had grown, and with more students, they needed more space. Than the south block of the building was built.”

The building was a result of a public-private partnership between the City of Memphis and the college’s Board of Trustees.

“[The partnership was] an alliance that envisioned a great and growing city as the home of a unique institution focused on developing creativity at the highest level,” MCA president Jeffrey Nesin said in a released statement.

Harrover, an AIA fellow, has designed other local buildings, such as the Memphis International Airport and the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island.

He and his wife, Stephanie, live across the street from Rust Hall, but she says that’s just a coincidence. — by Kimberly Kim

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Borrowed Books, Borrowed Time

As cities face uncertain economies, more are looking to limit library branches, hours, and budgets.

A USAToday story cites library closures in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Muncie, Indiana — America's tester town! — and says that at the same time "more adults are using free internet services to search for jobs or apply for unemployment benefits, and more peole are economizing by borrowing books, DVDs, and CDs."

"Cities are making tough choices, says Chris Hoene, director of policy and research at the National League of Cities. As people lose income or curb spending, income tax and sales tax revenue falls. Local officials must choose between core services, such as police and fire protection, and services such as libraries and parks.

'Obviously, when push comes to shove,' he says, city governments facing budget cuts 'will protect city services considered more vital to the safety of the community.'"

So far, the Memphis Public Library isn't facing cuts, but both the number of customers and library-card applicants are up since last year.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Now that Memphis is done, onto the oceans

For what seemed like a long while, Memphis wasn't available with Google Earth.

Now it is, of course, and Google is ready to "Google Earth" the oceans.

From a story in the NYT:

"On Monday, the oceans will be the most significant of several upgrades to Google Earth, with the new version downloadable free at, according to the company.

Another feature, Historical Imagery, provides the ability to scroll back through decades of satellite images and watch the spread of suburbia or erosion of coasts."

I don't know which is cooler.

Reporter Andrew Revkin recently got a sneak peek at Google's offices, virtually exploring canyons and reefs off the coast of Hawaii and watching, over years of data, as communities near Galveston, Texas, grew and then were washed away after Hurricane Ike.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention a book I just read: Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know.

It was really a fascinating — and, at times, disquieting — look at the company. On the one hand, the business side is pretty interesting. The book makes the case that if the company started a few years earlier or later, it wouldn't have survived.

But the idea that they want to organize all the world's data is even more interesting/disquieting. If you use gmail, you probably know a little bit about what I mean. Like when you send an email to your friend Susie Purse* and the little bar on the right side pops up with all sorts of places where you can buy purses.

I know it's all done by algorithm, and that's how they make their money, but it can be creepy.

*Obviously, a fake name. I can't go around outing my friends on my blog, especially those with product-like last names. That would be an invasion of their privacy. Plus, I can't remember whose name I noticed this feature with.