Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt RIP at 81

Posted By on Thu, Dec 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The original and the best.

Coal Sludge Disaster Devastates Eastern Tennessee River and Environs

Posted By on Thu, Dec 25, 2008 at 4:00 AM

From Alternet: An environmental disaster of epic proportions has occurred in Tennessee. Monday night, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA's Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site. Read Alternet's report. With aerial video.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fred Thompson Lands Radio Show: Naming Contest!!

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 4:00 AM

From the Hollywood Reporter: Actor and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson is getting his own radio show.

Westwood One said Monday that "The Fred Thompson Show" will debut March 2, replacing "The Radio Factor With Bill O'Reilly," which ends its six-year run February 27. O'Reilly announced his decision to step down from the show this month, saying the workload for his radio and TV duties had become too much.

In his show, Thompson will share his conservative views on politics, topical issues and pop culture stories as well as conduct guest interviews and take listener calls.

(Editor's note: Snark begins here.) Rejected names for Thompson's show, included: "Sleepy-Talk With Uncle Fred"; "Drones and Phones"; "Noddin' Off With Gramps", and many more.

Perhaps you, clever Flyer readers, can come up with a few more rejected names for Thompson's show. Hint, hint.

BV

States in Trouble: Arizona Leads the List; Tennessee 13th

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 4:00 AM

BusinessWeek has a slideshow of the 20 States in the Worst Budget Trouble. Tennessee comes in at a respectable, tho not disastarous, 13th.

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

More at Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Title Lenders Regulated Under New Ordinance

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 4:00 AM

From his vantage point at Wolfsburg Automotive on Summer Avenue, co-owner Jim Boyd can see four title loan and cash advance businesses.

"That's just looking out the front window," Boyd says. "There are another four within a block of here."

But, under a new ordinance, title lenders won't be allowed to cluster in a neighborhood ... Read the rest.

It's Almost 2009. You Need a Sarah Palin Calendar.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 at 4:00 AM

When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, her vice-mayor was a woman named Judy Patrick. Judy is a photographer, it turns out, and she is offering a stunning Sarah Palin calendar for only $13.56 (marked down from $15.95).

The calendar features more than 50 pictures of the Palin family, including the rifle-packin'-mama pic shown here. To order, go here.

Phil Bredesen, eat your heart out!

Friday, December 19, 2008

MATA Hitches A Ride with Google

Posted on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

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

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

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

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

For more, visit Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog.

Listen to Rap and Bake Cookies This Weekend

Posted on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

If you've had it up to here with "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer," you may want to consider added some class to your Christmas tune repertoire. At their annual "Classical Christmas" performance, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra will perform holiday songs by Handel, Fauré, and Respighi. The performance begins at 8 p.m. tonight at First Congregational Church.

Tried of bringing that same old batch of gingerbread people to the holiday potluck? Sample new cookies and swap recipes with other home bakers at the Whole Foods Cookie Recipe Swap. Participants are encouraged to bring printed recipes and cookies to share. But there will also be plenty free samples of provided by the staff of Whole Foods (including vegan and gluten-free cookies). The swap begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Head to Hattiloo Theatre this weekend for an urban twist on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Called If Scrooge Was a Brother, the play features black culture icons in place of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The play runs though Jan. 4th.

Christmas isn't the same without at least one viewing of It's a Wonderful Life. Learn how angels get their wings during this classic film screening at Majestic Grille's Sunday Supper and a Movie. Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.

When rapper T.I. penned the lyrics to "Whatever You Like" ("You need to never ever gotta go to yo wallet/ Long as I got rubberband banks in my pocket"), he was obviously thinking about the true spirit of Christmas (because everybody knows it's really all about receiving awesome gifts). T.I. will perform that song and others, along with Young Jeezy, during the Holiday Hip-Hop Jam at FedExForum on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local Economy Could Be Worse?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce president John Moore predicted a somewhat positive local economic outlook today at a Center City Commission board meeting.

"I feel confident going into '09 that we will have at least as good of a year as we did in '08 in terms of job potential,' said Moore.

Moore said the chamber has 41 new business projects in the pipeline for 2009, and though he doesn't expect all to reach fruition next year, the projects will eventually create 11,000 jobs in the city.

'That's more in the pipeline that we had at this time last year,' said Moore.

While some existing local businesses, like FedEx and International Paper, are cutting jobs and salaries, Moore said Memphis' orthopedic industry -- Medtronic, Smith & Nephew, and Wright Medical -- hasn't really been affected by the recession.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Your Memphis: Take One" Winners Announced

Posted on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The Memphis Area Association of Realtors have named Brian Pitre's "My Memphis – Home" (seen here) the winner of its "Your Memphis: Take One" YouTube contest.

The contest, offering a little over $20,000 in prize money drew more than 50 entries. Pitre of Lakeland took the first-place prize of $10,000 for his entry, "My Memphis – Home," an autobiographical clip with rustic warmth. Pitre evacuated to Memphis when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his New Orleans-area neighborhood. Now he's a happy homeowner in Lakeland, where he's found welcoming friends and a good church.

Dan Baker and Chris Pollock of Memphis won a $5,000 second prize for "My Memphis is My Voice," a collection of man on the street-style interviews. David Shipley's third place entry "My Memphis—The Arts" is a nicely shot video list of Memphis arts groups.

Clay Hurley, a realtor and Cordova resident, won the $5,000 REALTOR® prize for his entry, "Something for Everyone," which features words appearing magically from happy citizens' hands. It's a good spot.

They also got a Chaplin-esque peek into the daily routine of Memphis sign painter, playwright, filmmaker, and general provocateur Jim Esposito titled "My Memphis Pie," which was made by Esposito and David Hymel and received a $1,000 prize for being the most watched video.

The two big winners here are MAAR and Esposito. The realtors, because they've gotten some solid viral-marketing materials. Esposito made $1,000 spending a day having fun with his buddies.

To view the videos, go to yourmemphistakeone.com.

Bruce Thompson Gets Light Sentence in Fraud Case

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 4:00 AM

There were times, during and after Bruce Thompson's sentencing in federal court on Wednesday, when it almost appeared that the former county commissioner was there to be given a good citizenship award, not a punishment for admitted fraud in the amount of a quarter of a million dollars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza, who can sink battleships with his ferocity, went extra-light on his prosecutorial rhetoric and was almost gentle. In pre-sentencing discussions, he yielded on key points to the defense and then asked for a sentence of only a year and a day -- far lighter than the 21-to-27-month incarceration that federal sentencing guidelines for an already watered-down indictment called for.

U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla ended up bestowing a sentence that was lighter yet - only six months, to be followed by two years of supervised probation, a hundred hours of community service, and a $10,000 fine. The math was easy enough for courtroom spectators to do in their heads: Subtracting $10,000 from the total sum involved in the fraud left a remainder of $260,000. Keepers for Thompson, who had been paid $270,000 by H&M Construction of Jackson, Tennessee, for his help in securing a Memphis school-construction contract.

'Consultant' Thompson

Much - perhaps most - of that $260,000 was long gone, of course - some of it expended in the course of what a publicly penitent Thompson told the court had been a "painful and expensive divorce," some of it paid to his legal defense, led by the able Leslie Ballin, much of the rest consumed in the last year to compensate for Thompson's "depleted savings" and the loss of clients from his investment business. Some, too, had been set aside for use as payments to members of the Memphis school board.

The idea, as Thompson had repeatedly and admittedly told the construction company, was that these "campaign contributions" to board members -- along with "consultant" Thompson's influence as a member of the county commission, which substantially funded the schools' budget - would induce the school board members to award H&M the multi-million dollar construction project which it sought.

And therein, in a touch that most comic ironists would shy away from as over the top, lay the legal basis for the fraud. Thompson had been indicted, not for what lay people might consider a shakedown of the construction company, but for deceiving the company into believing that he had more power over the school board members' votes on awarding of contracts than he actually had. Thompson was being judged not for extortion, in other words -- nor the construction company for bribery - but for his inordinate boasting.

The construction company, as Judge McCalla noted, had not asked for restitution - perhaps, he theorized, because the H&M folks had had enough dealings with Shelby County. Another possibility, of course, was that, as Ballin candidly suggested, "they did not seek restitution because they got the contract."

In any case, neither the prosecution for the judge considered restitution a necessity.

'Good people who make bad mistakes'

There was one character witness for Thompson prior to sentencing - his Presbyterian minister, Craig Strickland, who testified that this instance of law-breaking by Thompson was "inconsistent with his character," that he had performed valuable service in the church's mentoring program, and that he purposely sought to achieve humility by scrubbing the church's toilets.

Judge McCalla, too, seemed taken with Thompson's better side, likening him to other "good people who make bad mistakes," telling the now acknowledged and sentenced felon that he "appreciated the way you've handled this" (presumably by offering a guilty plea and eschewing a trial), and going so far as to tell Thompson directly, "Thank you."

When Ballin rose to ask if Thompson's six months could be served at the nearby federal prison camp at Millington, a minimum-security dormitory-style facility, McCalla assured him he thought the Bureau of Prisons would assign Thompson to a venue "more appropriate even than Millington." There was no clue as to what that might be. ("The Peabody?" one wag would venture afterward.) Even Ballin, asked to venture a guess afterward, was buffaloed. He theorized that another minimum-security facility at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, might be his client's destination.

Wherever he ends up doing his time, Thompson, grinning ear to ear, was clearly pleased with the outcome. (He might have suffered from nerves earlier; asked how his client had handled the hour or so in the courtroom, Ballin had jested that Thompson had been just fine "but for the bowel movement halfway through.")

At a subsequent press conference, Ballin was asked: Would the apparent lightness of the sentence serve as a deterrent for others tempted to similar crime? "For someone like Bruce Thompson, just to be prosecuted is the deterrent to the individual," he answered.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Man Bites Dog! Newspaper Gives Hundreds of Thousands in Christmas Bonuses!

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Christmas came early for employees at Little Rock's Democrat-Gazette. From newpaper trade journal Editor & Publisher: With once-unimaginable cutbacks being imposed at newspapers nearly everywhere, an event that never would be covered in the past is suddenly newsworthy: Employees of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its Wehco Media Inc. parent got Christmas bonuses this year.

"We wouldn't want to disclose the exact amount, but it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars company-wide," Democrat-Gazette Publisher and Wehco owner Walter E. Hussman Jr. told E&P.

The Little Rock paper and its siblings still have a hiring and salary freeze, but continued its tradition of the year-end bonus for all company employees.

"It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas over here," Executive Editor Griffin Smith said in a Friday memo to Hussman as checks were being distributed in the newsroom.

More at E&P.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Newspapers: "Black and white and totally over?"

Chris Davis Explains it All

Posted By on Sun, Dec 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

On a cold, gray Tuesday afternoon last week, John Malmo brought heat to the Memphis Rotary Club's lunch meeting, with a fire-and-brimstone take on the shabby state of the American news industry.

He began with a salty anecdote and an apology. The media consultant and 50-year veteran of Memphis' advertising scene shared a backhanded compliment once bestowed upon him by a business associate: "Malmo," said associate allegedly barked, "If I ever order a car-load of S.O.B.s and it arrives with only you inside, I won't feel cheated."

The man whose business column ran for 11 years in The Commercial Appeal had some tough love for his former publisher. He mocked the full pages the CA devotes to reader-supplied photos of "ribbon cuttings." And he promised to delver a formula that could rescue newspapers from going the way of the telegraph.

"If I offend anybody, it's not personal," Malmo growled. "It's just my nature."

And offend Malmo did. ABC-24 News anchor Cameron Harper stood up to protest what he felt to be a negative stereotyping of TV news. He was dismissed by Malmo, who said Harper's profession was too busy chasing "flashing blue lights and yellow tape" to do any real reporting.

Malmo's speech was timely. News is big news at the moment. The CA's parent company, E.H. Scripps, is trying to sell the Rocky Mountain News. Industry wide layoffs and the Tribune Company's bankruptcy are making national headlines. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart may have said it best when he riddled, "What's black and white and completely over?"

For all its timeliness, Malmo's message was anything but up-to-date. His criticisms of Internet content, especially sharing and networking sites like Digg, were reminiscent of Steve Allen back in the 1950s, calling rock and roll a fad and Elvis a talentless flash in the pan.

"I went to Digg I saw the top story was, 'Awesome Old Lady Goes Berserk,'" Malmo said, with an eye roll, as though that was somehow relevant to the fact that the way people access information has changed forever.

Malmo went on to grumble about "the bloggers" -- those perennial straw-men and women of the Internet -- generalizing in a fashion once reserved for ethnic stereotypes. "There are no reporters on the internet," Malmo declared, which must have come as a surprise to Harper, a sometimes blogger, and to other reporters and media professionals in the room who produce credible, Internet-only content.

Like a Baptist preacher talking Bible, Malmo held forth on the superiority of serif fonts and wrinkled his nose at the very idea of all those wimpy, hard-to-read sans serif fonts that are used by the Internet. And that's where everything else the venerable expert said stopped making sense.

So what was Malmo's plan to save the daily newspaper business? He outlined three basic steps: First, he said that regional papers should get out of the national news business and focus on own backyards. Second, papers should invest in good human resources who can provide comprehensive local coverage and, more importantly, expertise. And finally, raise the price of papers and subscriptions -- "double the price," if necessary. Malmo's stated goal was not to saturate the market, as papers have tried to do in the past, but to capture only that share of people who are willing to pay more for a quality product.

I believe Malmo's basic assumption is correct: Even in a sour economy, people are willing to spend a little extra money on a quality product. While retail sales falter and newspapers across the country bleed subscribers, i-Phones are selling briskly this holiday season. That should be an unmistakable signal to anybody reasonably well-versed in market trends: people want to get their old media in new, more convenient ways.

All nostalgia and tactile pleasures aside, daily papers now appear on telephones, and being a media guy, Malmo certainly knows this. The digital and cellular revolutions have already happened, and as content providers, newspapers have adjusted far better than their reputation suggests. Online, they now function as television stations, documentary film producers, blogs, vlogs, and repositories for traditional newspaper reporting. Many news sites, most notably The New York Times, even use -- yes, Mr. Malmo -- a serif font.

Best of all, digital newspaper news arrives several times a day, is never soggy, and anybody can get it anywhere in the world without delay.

Newspapers are ready to get out of the tree-killing business and consumers seem to be loving all the new things their phones and mobile devices can do. Of course, the big rub is that the revenue model hasn't made the jump to hyperspace, though online revenue is growing. In fact, the CA's smallish "online only" sector is the only slice of the paper's financial pie to show growth in the last tough quarter. But everything else is withering.

Malmo ended his self-described sermon, appropriately enough, with an altar call. He asked everybody in the audience to go out in the world and do their part to save the daily newspaper. "Subscribe to The Commercial Appeal," he implored, stressing his firm belief that as the inked word goes, so goes America. "Tell your friends," he requested.

Sadly, a few hundred new subscribers aren't going to do anything to save the CA, which recently ceased home delivery to nearly 10,000 households in what have been traditional territories for 100-years because it cost more to create and ship the product than the company could recoup.

"If I had to pick one reason why our democracy has survived, it would not be geography or ethnic diversity or capitalism or talented leadership," Malmo said. "It's impossible," he said, to imagine what will become of our democracy when newspapers aren't there to use their resources, "to protect us from our government."

Props to John Malmo. Newspapers need all the cheerleaders they can find these days. So do other legacy content providers, as witnessed by the surprising layoff of brand-name anchor Donna Davis and 14 of her co-workers at local news powerhouse WMC-TV this past week. There can be no doubt that it's time for tough talk and tougher decision-making.

That all starts with letting go of the fable that there will be less available information because wire service and picture-padded daily papers may soon only deliver a physical product three times a week instead of seven. There will simply be fewer opportunities for broadsheet advertising.

Daily newspapers took massive revenue hits when eBay and free online classifieds made that kind of newspaper advertising obsolete in print. Malmo quoted figures indicating that the amount of time Americans spend reading newspapers has slipped from 18 minutes a day to 13. He attributed this to there being less news to read. But that's a bad metric and a bad example. Chirographic forms of communication are actually surging rather than fading, thanks to text messaging, email, social networking sites, and the simple fact that more and more people are reading newspaper content online. If anything, that's the positive newspapers and their supporters should be cheering instead of constantly accentuating the negative.

Perhaps it's time to call the newspaper crisis what it really is: an advertising-sales crisis. And if "Double the price" is the best sales pitch a lion of the persuasion industry like John Malmo can come up with, then there are indeed more difficult days ahead.

--Chris Davis

Friday, December 12, 2008

From Analog to Digital

Posted on Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 4:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more, visit Mary Cashiola's In the Bluff blog.

Vance Has Pure Gas

Posted By on Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I have recently talked about a couple of old Pure Oil Stations in Memphis. One was on Madison; the other on South Front Street. Both were built in the 1930s in the company's distinctive "English Cottage" style. You should also know, if you had been paying attention, that the Lauderdale Library recently purchased the photo archives of all the Pure Oil Stations erected in Memphis from the 1930s through the 1960s.

So what I want to know is: Where was this station? ... Visit Vance Lauderdale's Blog for more on this mysterious gas station.

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