It now appears that Stuart Smalley (aka Al Franken) has won his long court battle with incumbent Norm Coleman and will be named the junior senator from Minnesota. Senate comedy gold to ensue!
Franken's Smalley character was created as a spoof on those who are obsessed with self-help programs. Smalley was a member of several such groups, including Children of Rageaholic Parents and Overeaters Anonymous. My favorite part of the schtick was Smalley's casual mentions of his lovers, who never appeared on-screen and who all had names that could be appropriate for either sex, such as Pat, Merle, Dale, etc.
Reportedly, Franken's first assignment will be to the Senate Self-Esteem Committee.
The most nervous man in America at this moment? My money's on South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who's scheduled to give a press conference at 2:00 p.m. EST today. He's facing the ultimate lose/lose situation. The latest story is that he zipped off to Argentina on a whim — without telling his wife, staff, or even the lieutenant governor, who would have ostensibly been in charge during his absence. Assuming he just went to take in the sights of Buenos Aires, eat some charrusco, and hang out on the beach in this sexy, alive, and European-built city, he still comes off as a nutjob. And that's the best case scenario.
If, on the other hand, as some suspect, he was off on a romp with a paramour (for his sake, let's hope it was a female) or catting around with the locals, he'd better not try to fib about it. It's well-nigh impossible, unless you're Steve Jobs, to go anywhere secretly these days and cover your tracks. The hotel where he stayed will be public knowledge in no time, if it isn't already. If he used a government cell phone, those records are public information. Ditto with a state-issued credit card (though surely he wasn't that stupid). He did, rather stupidly, use a state vehicle to drive to the Atlanta airport, where it was parked for the duration of his trip.
It's possible that the "press conference" will consist of nothing more than a statement from Sanford and a walkaway with no follow-up questions. Bad idea. Another scenario is that he will make a full confession of some un-family-values-like behavior, with his loyal wife and family standing behind him, as he announces, say, an alcohol problem and an upcoming trip to rehab and asks for our prayers.
The worst case scenario would be if he continues to try and brazen it out with more lies. If that happens, he's toast. These days, being a public figure means just that. He may need a good lawyer. Elliot Spitzer comes to mind.
UPDATE: It was an affair. Classic. And my headline was soooo appropriate: [Sanford] told reporters he spent "the last five days of my life crying in Argentina" and the affair is now over. Sanford, a rumored 2012 presidential candidate, refused to say whether he'll leave office.
Walletpop.com has compiled a list (using FBI crime stats) of the "25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods" in America. Two of them are in Memphis: The area around Bellevue and Lamar and the area around Warford St. and Mount Olive Rd. See the complete list, with helpful maps, here.
As with most of these proliferating national "best" and "worst" lists, readers need to be aware that they are created primarily to draw readers and web traffic. But still, it's not a bad idea to know when (and where, at least, statistically) you're increasing your odds of running into trouble.
I was little bored yesterday and decided to go take a look at the house that the national media have decided is being occupied by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The backstory, in case you haven't heard, is that Jobs supposedly had a liver transplant in Memphis and has purchased a house here. The house in question, according to several websites, is on Morningside Place, only a few blocks from my own extensive Midtown holdings.
Morningside Place is a lovely, lovely street, just off Parkway East. Large oaks shade the winding cul de sac. A few children play on the median. From the street, 36 Morningside looks empty — no window treatments, no cars in the drive, no signs of occupancy. It doesn't even look like a "mansion." But from space, via satellite, it's much more impressive, certainly a worthy joint for a man of Jobs' means. They probably even have wireless.
But there's no security, at least none that was visible. I did read that there were cameras installed in the trees. If so, they got a nice shot of me jumping out of my ancient 4-Runner and snapping a pic of the place. Hi, Steve! Call me — 575-9450 — and we'll do lunch. I'd be happy to show you around the Bluff City.
As I mentioned in my column in this week's Flyer, I've been following developments in Iran through Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog. Sullivan's site is providing an aggregation of links, twitter posts, and commentary from the frontlines and from various Middle East experts. It's one of the best uses of the Internet that I've seen, and may provide a model for the future of newsgathering: a combination of personal on-the-scene experiences, real-time news reporting, and analysis — all in one place.
Here's a piece of a commentary that Sullivan published today from a Muslim writer named As'ad AbuKhalil:
I am in no way sympathetic to Moussavi. He is a man who suddenly discovered the virtues of democracy. When he was prime minister back in the 1980s, he presided over a regime far more oppressive than Ahmadinajad's. And why has no Western media really commented on his rhetoric during his own campaign: the man kept saying that he wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini. I in no way support a man who wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini. But Western media are always quick to pick villains and heroes ...
And that, of course, is exactly what is happening in the U.S., as congressional Republicans use the Iranian unrest to disparage President Obama for not "supporting freedom." But, as anyone who's spent any time watching and reading about the situation would tell you, it's not simple. I'm no expert — far, far from it — but I've read enough in the past week to learn that it's not a simple matter of picking the "side of freedom." It's not black and white. It's not good versus evil. It's past versus future. It's fundamentalism versus secularism. Iran is a country wrestling with itself. As its vast middle-class populace becomes cyber-linked to the world at large, they see what appears to be green grass on the other side of the fundamentalist wall. But the struggle is ultimately theirs, not ours. We have our hands absurdly full in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do we really want to donate our dwindling blood and treasure to another Middle East quagmire?
We tried a president who kept things simple, who believed in swagger, in the cowboy way. We tried a military, interventionist approach in the MIddle East. We're still paying the cost of those follies. This time around, let's give the Iranians a chance to work out their own destiny. And let's grant the Obama administration room to monitor the situation as it unfolds, rather than demanding "action" or offering meaningless grandstanding for domestic political gain. Intervention should only occur to stem a bloodbath. And that may well happen; there's little doubt that a showdown looms. But if there is to be an intervention, it should be done by a (real) international coalition of the willing, not unilaterally.
More, much more, here. Events are in the saddle. In a few hours (Saturday, Iran time), we shall see if Iran is destined for a Tiananmen Square moment of truth.
You may have heard about the phenomenon that took place in towns and cities around the world last week. I'm speaking, of course, of the World Naked Bike Ride. WNBR events are, according to various WNBR websites, "a peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic. It's the world's biggest naked protest: 50+ cities and thousands of riders participate worldwide."
They also appear to be a major hoot. Check out this one in Chicago. Try as I might, I can't imagine this happening along, say, Walnut Grove in Memphis. With a police escort, no less.
Sherri Goforth, a staffer for GOP state senator Diane Black, has admitted sending out the racist poster shown here in an email. It's funny, see, because Obama's black and so his official portrait is a pair of cartoon eyeballs on a black background. Don't these people have some gun bills to pass, or something?
Despicable creeps, thy name is TNGOP. Nashville's Talking has more details.
Just got the following release from the UrbanArt Commission:
As the University of Memphis moves its law school to Front Street in downtown Memphis, the Riverfront Development Corporation is building a pedestrian bridge that will span the length of Court Avenue to connect the law school to Confederate Park across the street. As part of the City’s Percent-for-Art program, UrbanArt is seeking an artist to create a lighting design to be applied to the bridge after the construction is complete.
With the bridge running parallel to Riverside Drive and Front Street, this lighting project will allow for the structure to become a Memphis landmark, reflecting across the Mississippi River and enhancing the Memphis skyline. Artists will be selected for the project based on previous experience with lighting projects. The art selection committee, made up of various local residents and arts administrators, is also looking for an artist who has experience with “green” lighting production, such as those projects with lower energy consumption and a longer lifespan.
Application guidelines are available from the UAC and at www.urbanartcommission.org, and artists are encouraged to call the UAC with any questions regarding this project or the selection process. All proposals must be received by 4:00 PM on Friday, June 26, 2009.
Okay, you now have a head's up on what is sure to be a topic of great interest — and controversy. Here's my first question: If we're talking about seeking a design that will become a "Memphis landmark," shouldn't we be giving those submitting their ideas a little more time than two weeks to come up with something?
Due to last week's weather action, the "letters to the editor" file was somehow eliminated on my computer. So, if you've written a letter to the editor lately, please resend it. Or, if you'd like to whip up a letter, fire away (e-mail please). Your odds of getting in the paper this week are pretty darn good at this point.
Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Now that the Tennessee legislature has begun the great transformation of our state into a perpetually armed camp, it's time to ponder some of the more interesting ramifications of their zealotry. Restaurants in this state are now, of course, faced with a choice: whether or not to allow legally armed customers onto their premises. Writer Chris Davis interviewed a number of bar/restaurant owners for the Flyer's recent cover story and discovered that there is no overwhelming consensus as to what most owners are going to do.
The choice is not a simple one. Restaurant/bar owners must consider several factors in making their decision, including insurance liability, what their customers might prefer, personal politics, the safety of their employees, etc. But the bottom line for most will be, well, the bottom line. When new, more restrictive smoking regulations were passed, restaurants had to figure out which option brought in more money — catering strictly to an over-21, smoking crowd or staying family friendly. Now proprietors must figure out what most of their customers will prefer — an armed or unarmed establishment — and act accordingly.
Similar choices will face consumers. Let's say you're a gun-totin' smoker. You have to find a joint that allows both, or you'll have to leave either your cigarettes or your gun in the car, where they're sure to be stolen (at least, according to carry permit holders). People on both sides of the issue are saying they won't patronize establishments that favor the other side. As for the often-cited Applebee's, I don't eat there anyway, but I wouldn't worry much one way or the other during dinner hour at legitimate restaurants. Bars are the real issue for me. For the record, any late-night bar that allows guns won't get my business.
Here's an idea: Why not let bar and restaurants establish "Guns Allowed" and "No Guns Allowed" areas, just like they used to do with smoking? That way we'd at least know where the nuts are sitting.
Live in Memphis long enough (say, two weeks or so) and Mayor Willie Herenton will do something to tick you off or, at least, confound the hell out of you. I've been living in Midtown Memphis since 1993, long enough to have been ticked off and confounded dozens of times.
Herenton is the media's go-to guy for a good story — and has been for more than 20 years. His angry naivete (or arrogance), his unbridled willingness to play the race card when it suits him, his proclivity for surprise announcements ("Hey, let's build a stadium." "Hey, I'm resigning." "Hey, I wanta be the director of Memphis City Schools." "Hey, I'm running for Congress."), his pugnaciousness (Actual, as in the case of his boxing match with Joe Frazier, or potential, as in the cases of former councilmen Brent Taylor and newsman Cameron Harper) all make Herenton a lightning rod for controversy — and a sure ratings/readers magnet for local media.
His is a cult of macho personality. He is our Hugo Chavez, our Kim Jong Il, our Castro — seemingly destined to stay in power as long as he chooses. His statements this week to the City Council on the MSARC issue are just the latest examples of a man so confident (or delusional) that he was almost daring the council to confront him. For example (as quoted by Mary Cashiola in her blog):
"I was not moved by the television appearances of some of the council members. I was not moved by the private interests groups. I was not moved by any segment of this community."
"I do regret that my office was not shown proper respect. I don’t care about people liking me but I care about people respecting me."
"Only a few of the people involved give a damn about rape victims."
The mayor also played the race card, suggesting white members of the council didn't do anything last summer when three black children drowned in city pools (not true), and that that "influential" (read, "white) groups were behind all the controversy at the MSARC.
There's little doubt in my mind that in a one-on-one race with almost anybody, black or white, Herenton would lose a mayoral election if it were held today. He's ticked off too many people for too many years. His cronyism is overt and in-our-faces — the appointing of former bodyguards to high-paid administrative positions, which, of course, includes Yalanda McFagdon, a former bodyguard who served time on a drug conviction and was subsequently rehired and promoted by Herenton to run the city agency in charge of MSARC.
Is Herenton a clever provocateur or an angry, insecure megalomaniac? Is he in over his head and past his prime, or a smart politician who knows that if you spell his name right, even "bad" publicity will appeal to some of his constituents? No one seems to know the answers, but everyone has an opinion.
The long-lingering FBI "investigation" just adds to the puzzle. Is Herenton a crook or just a businessman with solid-gold connections? Which leads to the biggest mystery of all: Will he ever leave office? Or are we destined, like Cuba, to have a leader for life?