Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fairy Ballet Camp in Germantown Starts This Week

Posted By on Sat, Jun 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Little girls wishing they could be Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty no longer need to just dream. All they need are ballet shoes.

Designed around classic fairy tales, Fairy Ballet Camp at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre will begin June 25, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. The camp will teach participants ballet movement and creative expression while allowing them to watch story ballet on video, take part in arts and crafts, and enjoy story time.

Family and friends can watch a brief performance of the tiny dancers on the final day of class. The camp is open to children three-and-a-half to seven years old. This session — the first of two — concludes June 29.

To register or for more information, call 751-7665.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Memphis Homes of the Rich and Famous

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Most Memphians know that Cybill Shepherd grew up here, and more than a few know that Oscar-winning Kathy Bates is a proud graduate of White Station High School.

But not so many, we suspect, know that actress Shannen Doherty was born in Memphis -- in Whitehaven, to be more specific -- along with quite a few other celebrities.

Devin Greaney has not only tracked down the childhood homes of famous Memphians (and former Memphians), he has photographed them and compiled them on a website.

Want to see where Tim McCarver, Aretha Franklin, Henry Turley, Elvis, and even Machine Gun Kelly grew up in Memphis? Sure you do. Go to Devin's website to find out more.

And, even though he's not rich, semi-famous Flyer writer and former-editor Tim Sampson's childhood home is also included.

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Miss Memphis Competes for Miss Tennessee Title This Weekend

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Miss Memphis, Nicole Jordan, 18, began competing against a field of 36 contestants from across the state for the title of Miss Tennessee 2007 this week.

Wednesday was the first of three nights of preliminary competition leading to the crowning of the new Miss Tennessee on Saturday. The pageant is held annually at the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson.

Miss Tennessee contestants compete in swimsuit, talent, evening-wear, interview, and on-stage questions. During the competition, the contestants will win more than $73,000 in scholarship funds. The winner of Miss Tennessee 2007 becomes the Governor’s Official Spokesperson for a Safe and Drug Free Tennessee. Miss Tennessee will compete for the title of Miss America 2008 in January 2008.

Jordan was crowned Miss Memphis 2007 in December 2006. Currently, she serves as the city’s official ambassador making numerous appearances promoting her platform SAFER: Sexual Abstinence for Endless Reasons.

(And no, we did not make up that last part.)

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Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel Are In Love. Awww.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

And this time it's real, dadgummit. The London Daily Mirror says the world's most important romance is on again, and they have the photos to prove it.

From the Mirror (via the Mail website; it gets confusing when you're borrowing content): "It looks like things are getting serious for loved-up couple Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel.

"Despite protestations that he didn't want new love Jessica to accompany him on tour, it seems Justin has been bitten by the love bug.

"The couple shared a tender kiss aboard a luxury speedboat

"The couple were seen kissing aboard a speedboat as Justin touched down in Oslo to continue his European tour.

"The SexyBack singer said he was forced to send the actress back to the U.S. recently because he finds it difficult to focus on his work when he is with her."

"Sexyback" indeed. Was that song written about her??? More pics and story here.

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Networx: Will The City Council Get the Real Story? Will Anyone?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

MLGW Commissioner and Memphis Networx board member Nick Clark should be commended for the tech-savvy openness he displayed this week. He managed a digital "press conference" where traditional media and bloggers like Richard Thompson of Mediaverse-Memphis were given equal access.

But Clark's generous candor wasn't always as candid or generous as it seemed. His explanations about how Networx lost so much value in so little time were often cloaked in the less than transparent language of business.

"The 'business model' was failing," he said repeatedly. "We realized we had to change the business model" ... "The business model had to change" ... "Changes to the business model weren’t working." etc. etc. etc.

Ah! It was the plan that failed, not its creators or executors. That explains ... nothing. What, exactly, is Clark talking about when he references Memphis Networx's various misfired business models? And how can an understanding of those models provide insight into the nature of the company's impending sale to Communications Infrastructure Investments, a telecom-related holding company headquartered in Boulder, CO? Let’s take a look:

For eight years, Memphis Networx had a basic pass to operate without media and rate-payer scrutiny. Reporting by Andy Meek, in today’s Daily News, looks a little deeper into some of Networx excesses.

Meek's reporting turns on the testimony of Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting, who studied Networx's fair-market value in 2005 and determined that the company was overstaffed, overpaid, and overvalued.

"Wholesale companies in any industry by definition live on slim margins," he was quoted as saying. "Wholesale companies typically pay low salaries all around — it's the nature of being wholesale ... and Memphis Networx pays about the highest commissions I have ever seen anywhere."

But Networx wasn't only secretive about its generous compensation packages or its excessive overhead. The company's marketing strategy was also a disaster — one that did nothing to earn public confidence. It was a partly municipally owned company that ate truckloads of money while doing nothing to woo or wow the public — a recipe for disaster.

In addition to spending issues, there are also questions about the zeal with which Networx approached some potentially lucrative business relationships.

Conversations with Clark revealed that Networx may have missed out on some big opportunities — or liabilities — depending on whom you ask. Clark confirmed rumors that had circulated throughout 2006 that Networx had been approached by the Atlanta-based Internet provider, EarthLink, concerning a potential build-out and municipal wi-fi deal. This is relevant, particularly if the deal in question was anything like the recent partnership struck between Earthlink and Wireless Philadelphia, a not-for-profit organization committed to making Philadelphia the most wired city in America.

In October 2005 — about the time Networx stopped communicating with the public — Earthlink signed on with Wireless Philadelphia to create the largest wireless network in the nation. Shortly thereafter, Earthlink starting building a 135-square-mile wi-fi mesh connecting the entire city. Earthlink's investment in the Philadelphia project has been valued at $15 to 18 Million.

Clark was cagey in his descriptions of how such a deal might have affected the value of Memphis Networx — and how it ultimately fell through. He cites various competitors in the wireless market as a potential reason for cold feet on both sides. But Clark's final concern is somewhat puzzling in light of recent news. According to Clark, there was some concern that if a deal was struck with Earthlink, that company or some other competitor might eventually try to buy Networx. “

"The challenge [was whether or not] Networx could control the muni wi-fi system so it could profit, or would an outside entity just attempt to buy Networx on the cheap for the benefit of its fiber ring and not recognize value elsewhere."

There's one tiny problem with Clark’s answer: By the time negotiations with Earthlink broke down in 2006, the decision to sell Networx on the cheap was only months, if not weeks away. The decision to hire a private consultant to broker the deal had likely already been made.

In December 2006, Memphis Networx hired the McLean Group, a private banking firm headquartered in McLean, Virginia, to create a list of 50 potential buyers. CII, who, according to Clark, had been systamatically approaching companies like Memphis Networx for some time, in an effort to increase its infrastructure holdings, was one of those potential buyers.

Cut to the present: Last week, as Memphis media chattered endlessly about snakes, strippers, and a mayoral sex tape that didn’t exist, it looked like MLGW's decision to sell Memphis Networx for a $29 million loss would go unchallenged. It was something of a surprise when MLGW's board decided to remove the Networx vote from Thursday's board agenda, and reschedule the vote for July.

The decision was made to satisfy concerns raised by the City Council, particularly that the $11.5-million offer made by Communications Infrastructure Investments was not the highest bid. According to Clark, the delay is risky, but shouldn’t impact the deal.

Theoretically, the board was under no binding obligation to answer the City Council's concerns, and their decision to do so comes in light of a odd arrangement between Networx and CII — that Networx’s sale price will drop by $1 million if the Memphis City Council gets too deeply involved in the process. But it's unlikely that a cursory investigation into the bidding process by the council will yield anything definitive.

Although he agreed to provide the council with requested information about the top companies bidding for Networx, Clark offered words of caution:

"It's like when you’re selling a house," he said. Tipping your hand on the low bids might give the winning bidder second thoughts about the asking price.

The council's stepped-up interest in the sale comes in the wake of Tuesday's news that American Fiber Systems of Rochester, NY, claimed to have offered a bid for Networx valued at $13.5 million.

Clark was mildly dismissive of the council's concern, noting that AFS's offer included stock. He drew a round of knowing laughter from observers by comparing AFS's stock options to promises made by Memphis' all-purpose bogey-man Sidney Schlenker, the smooth-talking chiseler from Denver who sold Memphis on The Pyramid, a rideless theme park on Mud Island, and — pre-dating a memorable episode of The Simpsons — a monorail. Anything that can be compared to a bad guy like that must be extra radioactive. Right?

Maybe. MLGW and Networx did find CII via McLean Group consultant Tom Swanson. Swanson's participation adds another layer to the onion, and at least suggests that MLGW's decision to sell to CII rather than AFS is both impartial and justified. On the other hand, AFS is a serious company, and Memphis wouldn’t be its first municipal buyout. When Marietta, Georgia, decided to eat its $25 million investment in a Networx-like venture, AFS was there to take the tanking telecom division off the city's hands.

While determining whether or not the Networx sale is on the up and up, the City Council needs to look beyond the technical process leading up to the sale. The company made a point of operating under the radar to avoid the theoretically watchful eye of the council. Clark has confirmed as much.

And as the Flyer has reported previously, Networx was never run like a business bent on success.

From December 2005, until the present — a period of total media blackout for the company — Networx seems to have been engaged in a process geared toward reducing value while preparing for an eventual sale. Neither the media or the City Council was notified when Networx CEO Mark Ivie stepped down in 2006. Nor did the company announce that Dan Platko had been named COO, specifically to run the company during the period leading up to and through its eventual sale.

Perhaps all the suspicious behavior amounts to nothing more than the death throes of a failing venture struggling to find an quiet exit strategy. But such a spectacular failure couldn’t have come off better if it had been planned. And if Networx's ever-changing, ever-failing business models are any indication, it's possible that it was.

— Chris Davis

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Virtual Raiford's Hollywood!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Hey, the weekend's here! Time to head out for happy hour! A little later, we'll all head on down to Memphis' favorite disco -- Raiford's Hollywood.

What's that, you say? Raiford's is closed? Well, yeah. But hey, that doesn't mean you can't take a trip back in time at the new Raiford's Myspace site.

From the first chords of Prince's, um, "P Control," you are back in da house that Raiford built. Sipping those $6 40-oz's. Dancin' like a white boy. Actin' the fool, etc. Drink, rinse, repeat. Almost.

All we can say is, bring it back, Robert. Memphis is not the same without you. (And shouldn't we be naming a street after this guy, or something?)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Newsweek: Caution, Graceland May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2007 at 4:00 AM

August marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock-and-Roll, and already the national media have begun focusing their attention on Memphis. The current issue of Newsweek takes readers on a tour of Graceland, and among other -- some fairly obvious -- observations is this one: The place needs to issue a warning -- kind of like the ones on cigarette packs, maybe. We're not really sure.

"The management would do some good by warning young visitors against the drug abuse that denied Presley a longer life. The only references to his addiction are unwitting. Among the 'friends' listed near the JFK-style eternal flame above Elvis' grave is one of the doctors who scrawled him those many prescriptions."

To read the article, go here. To see what other Memphis attraction Newsweek recommends for visitors to Memphis, go here.

Here We Go Again: Memphis City Schools Taking Applications for Interim Superintendent

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Memphis City Schools (MCS) is posting an interim superintendent job on its Web site today. The job has a salary from $150,000 to $185,000, and resumes are being accepted through June 29th.

Superintendent Carol Johnson recently decided to leave the beleaguered school system to accept the top job in Boston. More info here.

The school system also warns those who plan to apply for the post that their names will be subject to public review.

And so the school superintendent merry-go-round begins anew. (For our part, we think they ought to give serious consideration to former city councilman John Vergos' take on the situation.)

And for a real chuckle, check out the CA's headline on this story. Hurry, before they catch the error.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Memphis Sweaty, Other Cities Sweatier

Posted on Wed, Jun 20, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Old Spice has released its annual ranking of the country's 100 sweatiest cities. Last year, Memphis made the top 20 at number 18. This year, Memphis is again ranked at 18.

Phoenix was named the sweatiest city for the 3rd time in 4 years. In honor of this distinction, Old Spice sent a year's supply of its Red Zone antiperspirant to Phoenix' mayor.

According to a press release issued by Old Spice: the "rankings are based on the amount of sweat a person of average height and weight would produce walking around for an hour in the average high temperatures during June, July and August of 2005 for each city."

San Francisco was judged the least sweatiest city.

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Selmer Drag Racer Had Prior DUI, Records Show

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2007 at 4:00 AM

By Woody Baird (AP) - An Australian drag-racer whose car careened into a crowd of spectators during a car show parade, killing six young people, was convicted of drunken driving in Virginia in 2000, court records show.

Troy Warren Critchley pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in April 2000, according to court records from Loudoun County, Va.

He lost his driver's license for a year and paid $381 in fines and court costs, the record shows.

Critchley lost control of the dragster Saturday during a "burnout exhibition" at a Cars for Kids charity event in Selmer, a small town about 80 miles east of Memphis.

The burnout, with the powerful car spinning its wheels and sending up clouds of smoke, was staged on a city street with no protective barriers between the dragster and hundreds of spectators lining both sides of the road.

Six spectators, ages 15 to 22, were killed and at least 23 other people were injured, many seriously.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash and no criminal charges have been filed.

District Attorney General Mike Dunavant said Critchley has given a blood sample that will be tested for drugs and alcohol.

No one answered the door Tuesday at Critchley's rural home in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, and a neighbor told The Associated Press he had not seen Critchley since the accident.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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MLGW Networx: Keeping Us in the Dark?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2007 at 4:00 AM

BY CHRIS DAVIS | JUNE 20, 2007

The less you know about Networx, the better. Until very recently, that would appear to be Memphis Networx's attitude toward both its citizen ownership and the Memphis City Council. According to commentary by MLGW Commissioner and Networx board member Nick Clark, secrecy was probably in the "best interests" of the ratepayer. If "best interests" means MLGW taking a $29-million dollar bath without any public oversight, he would be correct.

Memphis Networx has been in trouble for some time. Clark says he's held concerns for two-and-a-half years about the city's telecom venture. Two years ago, apparently someone at Memphis Networx decided it was time for the company to zip its lip. The company stopped updating its website in March, 2005, and from December of that year until last week's announcement of Networx's impending sale, it maintained a virtual media blackout.

There was no public announcement when Networx COO Mark Ivie left the company in 2006, nor was there an announcement about the hire of Dan Platko, Ivie's successor. (Platko had worked as the COO of Infinium Labs -- now Phantom Entertainment -- and as head of North American global customer service for Equant, a subsidiary of France Telecom, before joining Networx's sales division in 2005.)

Why didn't Networx want the public to know about the transition in leadership? According to Clark, it was a political decision, designed to keep the general public uninformed.

In an e-mail to the Flyer, Clark explained that "given the long-standing concerns of Networx's financial strength and the negative press it tended to receive due to MLGW's ownership, and politics at City Council, the desire was for a simple transition in executive management."

In this case, "simple" apparently means "secret." Networx didn't make any effort to inform the ratepayers, who own 49 percent of the company, of the changeover at the top. Clark views the company's decision not to disclose even the most basic information as a good thing:

"Fortunately for Networx and for MLGW's investment in Networx, Mark Ivie's departure was not publicized," Clark says.

He then listed the top three priorities of Networx board of directors: "The goal for the board is first net asset preservation and then, secondly, net income growth, and thirdly, net asset appreciation." But Networx's determination to function under the radar in order to avoid bad press borders on deliberate obfuscation.

According to Clark, Networx hired Platko because the Networx board didn't think it was financially in a position to search for a new COO or to attract a potentially better candidate.

Finally, Networx failed to notify either the City Council or the public of the decision to sell the company. Nor did it allow any scrutiny of the bids until after the bidding process was over. But MLGW is ratepayer-owned, and Networx's failure to include the public in this process is, at the least, a breach of trust. It becomes more troubling in light of the fact there may have been more lucrative bids than the one that was finally accepted.

At City Council on Tuesday, it was revealed that American Fiber Systems of Rochester, N.Y., offered what appears to have been a higher bid for Networx. In apparent violation of a nondisclosure agreement, AFS revealed that it had offered a deal valued at $13.5 million. AFS is the company that acquired a Networx-like venture started by the city of Marietta, Ga. Marietta lost $25 million dollars in the deal.

Still, after purchasing FiberNet, a municipal investment so bad it prompted Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway to pronounce “Thank God and Greyhound they’re gone,” AFS, still thinks high-speed fiber is a pretty good investment.

Which raises another question: What do all these guys know that we don’t?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Boston City Council Demands To See List of Candidates

Posted on Tue, Jun 19, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The Boston Herald reports that the Boston City Council members feel "blindsided" by the selection of Carol Johnson as superintendent and are demanding to see a list of candidates.

“We need more information, than information on Carol Johnson. They don’t need to give us specific names; they need to give us the framework of other candidates,” [Council president Maureen Feeney] said. “We need to know what kind of interest this position held for people beyond the Greater Boston area.”

Johnson is scheduled to be in Boston on Tuesday.

Read more here.

Elvis' Pill Bottle Fetches $2,640

Posted on Tue, Jun 19, 2007 at 4:00 AM

A prescription pill bottle belonging to Elvis was sold at an auction on Saturday for $2,640. The auction had drawn media attention because originally 12 pills remained in the bottle and were included in the sale.

The prescription, written by Dr. Nick, was for the antihistamine Naldecon. The auction house's president Darren Julien removed the pills after being told by the Los Angeles Police Department that selling them would be against the law.

A pistol belonging to Elvis sold for $28,000, and an umbrella used by Marilyn Monroe during a photo shoot took in $48,000.

Proceeds from the auction will go to Yoko Ono's John Lennon Education Bus Tour, a music-education program.

Jesus' Image Seen on Tree

Posted on Tue, Jun 19, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Reportedly, members of St. Michael's Church on Summer Avenue have spotted what appears to be the image of Jesus on a tree trunk near their church. Given what's been going on in this city lately, this might not be a good sign.

From NBC 10 out of Philadelphia:

"A member of St. Michael's Church in Memphis, Tenn., said she noticed the image a few days ago. The tree is in a garden located not far from the church.

"The tree is planted between two other trees, and some Christians say the overall scene is reminiscent of the three crosses near ancient Jerusalem.

"To further the parallel, the reported image of Jesus appears on the middle of the three trees."

University of Memphis to Honor the MGs

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2007 at 4:00 AM

On June 22nd, the University of Memphis will honor the seminal Memphis musicians, the MGs, at a luncheon. But "Green Onions" won’t be on the menu. It's all about the barbecue.

The University of Memphis College of Communication and Fine Arts is set to award the MGs (of Booker T. and the MGs) with the Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts. Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and the late Al Jackson will be honored. Two years ago, the university gave Booker T. Jones the award.

The luncheon will take place 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Rendezvous. Seating is limited. For reservations, call 678-5085 or 678-4372.

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