Thursday, May 29, 2003

Burning Mississippi

Writers and filmmakers won't let go of Mississippi's racist past.

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Mississippi, it's often said, is stuck in the past. But is any other state so constantly reminded of the worst elements of its past by authors, journalists, and moviemakers?

Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy by Paul Hendrickson, a former feature writer for The Washington Post who now teaches writing, is the latest exploration of the desegregation of Ole Miss in 1962 by James Meredith. Just two years ago, Nadine Cohodas plowed much of the same ground in The Band Played Dixie. Newspaper reporters revisit the story on increasingly frequent "major" anniversaries or whenever Meredith makes a ceremonial visit. Sometimes the mere revival of the periodic controversy over the Colonel Rebel mascot is enough of an excuse to dust off the story.

The desegregation of Ole Miss isn't the only target. The 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County has been the subject of a book and two movies, Attack on Terror and Mississippi Burning. The assassination of Medgar Evers and the long-delayed trial of Byron De La Beckwith were made into the movie Ghosts of Mississippi. An effort is under way to reopen the 1955 murder case of Emmett Till. If it is reopened, a movie won't be far behind.

Other states have unsolved murders and travesties of justice, but they don't capture the national imagination -- or at least the imagination of writers and editors and publishers -- the way Mississippi does. I worked in Mississippi for three years, and my wife's family lives there. The surest way to get national attention for a story was to write about civil rights and the Ku Klux Klan. Anniversaries generated articles which generated books which generated movies which generated more articles and books until a new genre was created: Mississippi porno.

Hendrickson does an exhaustive and, ultimately, exhausting examination of the seven Mississippi sheriffs in a semifamous magazine photograph taken days before the rioting in Oxford that killed two people and tore the campus apart. While one of the lawmen seems to be showing off his batting prowess with a stick or club, others sneer or grin in apparent approval.

That picture may well be worth 1,000 words. But Hendrickson takes 300 pages documenting what happened to the sheriffs (two of whom were alive and willing to be interviewed by him) and their children to explore the legacy of racism. In some ways, Sons of Mississippi is a companion book to David Halberstam's 1998 book The Children, about the black college students who desegregated the lunch counters in Nashville in 1960.

But unlike Halberstam's Children, who included future Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry and future congressman John Lewis, these seven old racists did nothing remarkable with their lives. The two surviving sheriffs turn out to be somewhat conflicted about their past but not all that different in their racial attitudes from what we've learned about some of the cops in, say, Chicago, South Boston, or Los Angeles. Hendrickson gains the trust of the families and former colleagues of the seven sheriffs and chronicles their dinner-table conversations and reactions to the picture and its aftermath. Surprise! The children got on with their lives, no matter how hard Hendrickson tries to tie their fate to a 40-year-old picture of their fathers.

The most extraordinary person in the book is Meredith, who might be leading a quiet life in Jackson, Mississippi, if writers did not insist on making him an American icon. Hendrickson is the latest to chronicle Meredith's failures as a political candidate, crusader, businessman, aide to Jesse Helms, and university lecturer. But Meredith was a very competent writer, and his autobiographical book, Three Years in Mississippi, is must reading. Everything else on Ole Miss in 1962 is an epilogue.

Hendrickson pays homage to the standard good guys, including Ole Miss history professors David Sansing and the late James Silver and the late writer Willie Morris. This is Mississippi by the numbers. He talks with former Mississippi governor and historian William Winter about sheriffs and the black-market whiskey tax that put as much as $100,000 a year in fees into their pockets. (As state treasurer in the Fifties, Winter was also a fee-paid official and profited from the bootleg-whiskey tax before abolishing it, but Hendrickson gives him a pass.)

The photograph itself is seriously misleading. Whatever their mindset, the sheriffs were not in Oxford to give James Meredith a beating. As Hendrickson notes, they were at a conference and did not take part in the rioting. Meredith surely went through hell but was not physically beaten by anyone. The picture is arguably less famous than one taken three years later in Neshoba County of Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price, laughing and sharing a bag of Red Man chewing tobacco during a court appearance. Price was convicted of conspiracy in the murders of three civil rights workers (and the picture became a derisive poster about law enforcement on college campuses).

Different lawmen, different circumstances, but all "sons of Mississippi," then and forever, in the eyes of the national media.

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Thursday, May 22, 2003

Strange Bedfellows

Jews and evangelicals in Memphis find common cause in Israel.

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2003 at 4:00 AM

I've prayed for Israel since 1936," testified 91-year-old Olga Simmons of Myrtle, Mississippi, as a group of about 65 people burst into applause with the enthusiasm of a Southern tent revival.

But this was no revival. It was a luncheon last week at an East Memphis hotel for a mixed group of evangelical Christians and Jews who have found common cause in their hard-line defense of Israel and opposition to compromise with the Palestinians.

The group included three Memphis rabbis, two members of the Israeli Knesset, and several ministers representing Crichton College, Southern Baptists, the Assembly of God, and others. It was organized by Ed McAteer, founder of the Religious Roundtable.

With Southern Baptists alone claiming over 100,000 members in Shelby County and Baron Hirsch Congregation being the largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the country, even a tentative, single-issue alliance is potentially a political force. All the qualifiers are necessary, however, because 65 people don't represent two large and diverse communities, and McAteer is no slouch when it comes to self-promotion.

But let's at least grant that something interesting is going on when Jews and evangelicals embrace in the manner of ambassadors and shouts of "amen" and "bless you" mingle with the singing of the Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem.

"These people have proven themselves to be friends and we appreciate their support," said Lawrence Zierler, senior rabbi at Baron Hirsch. Zierler moved to Memphis eight months ago from Cleveland. He said he has been doing interfaith work for 12 years.

"We are all better for the friends that we have in other faith communities than for the friends that we need in a moment of crisis," he said. "It is better to relate and debate than to wait and equivocate."

Don Johnson, head of the Apostolic Coalition, got a standing ovation when he said, "I'm glad to be here with our Jewish friends because when the United States quits backin' them then we've backed out."

Others in both the Christian and Jewish camps seemed more reserved. Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel, the largest Reform congregation in Memphis (1,800 families), left before the program began, citing another commitment. "You leave your theology at the door when it comes to the survival of Israel," Greenstein said.

The groups find common ground in their reading of parts of the Old Testament regarding Israel, but there are sharp political differences. In the 2000 presidential election, American Jews generally supported the Gore-Lieberman ticket, while evangelicals went for Bush-Cheney. The Belz family, represented at the luncheon by Andy Groveman, senior vice-president of Belz Enterprises, has been a strong financial supporter of several local and statewide Democratic candidates. McAteer was an ally of the first President Bush.

There seem to also be differences of opinion about the current President Bush. Groveman said Bush has been "exactly on course" in the war on terrorism since 9/11. But McAteer was passing out flyers in which he was quoted as saying, "Bush is absolutely, 100 percent wrong on supporting and even talking about an idea called the road map" with regard to Israelis and Palestinians.

"We pray that our President will understand that God gave the land to the Jew," said the relentlessly upbeat former Colgate salesman. "We do not believe the land should be divided."

The guests of honor were Knesset members Joseph Paritzky and Ilan Leibovitch, who were in Nashville and Memphis as part of a goodwill tour. The luncheon group was mostly middle-aged or older. There were two black preachers and one black politician, City Councilman Rickey Peete. Evangelicals outnumbered Jews about two-to-one. They sat around six round tables and ate pasta and sandwiches while McAteer made introductions and called for "a prayuh," imitating the accent of Billy Graham. Tom Lindberg, pastor of 2,800-member First Assembly of God Memphis, did the honors in ecumenical fashion. That was followed by enthusiastic renditions of the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem, and the Hatikva.

Paritzky seemed particularly touched. "We felt, in a way, embarrassed," he said. "We in Israel have forgot what it means to be simply happy." He sat down to a standing ovation and a chorus of "amen" and "bless you."

McAteer claimed there are "millions of Bible-believing Christians in this country who believe as we do" and put the ranks of evangelical Christians in the United States at 70-80 million. Outside the dining room, he had set up a table with flyers urging people to call the White House with the message that "President Bush Honors God's Covenant with Israel."

Other than Peete, the only elected official in attendance was Shelby County Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, who called Israel "my home country because every Christian thinks of Israel as their home country."

Is Memphis in the vanguard of a hot trend here? The Wall Street Journal, which did a front-page story on this general subject a while ago, seems to think so. But journalists, mimicking economists, have spotted 10 of the last three hot trends.

David Kustoff, a Jewish Republican activist featured in that article, sees some erosion of the Democrats' four-to-one margin among Jewish voters in the last three presidential elections -- and more to come if Joe Lieberman is not the candidate in 2004.

"One Memphis rabbi told me Bush was the best president for Jews in America since Harry Truman," he said.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Faking the News

The New York Times committed some of the same sins as the Tri-State Defender.

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2003 at 4:00 AM

When The Memphis Flyer uncovered serial plagiarism and a pattern of bogus stories at the Tri-State Defender last month, I thought it was the worst case of journalistic fraud I would see for a while. After reading Sunday about the adventures of Jayson Blair at The New York Times, I'm not so sure.

The Tri-State Defender, according to insiders, has a circulation of about 6,000. Counting Internet subscribers, The New York Times has a circulation of millions. Blair, a 27-year-old reporter, made up quotes, datelines, and descriptions while also plagiarizing the work of others in at least 36 stories since last October.

The Defender made no effort to clear the record. The Times is making a huge effort. Both papers said they were victimized by a rogue reporter. That's off the mark. Serial fraud can only happen when there's trouble at the top. I say that based on my interviews with former key employees of the Defender, published accounts in the Times, and my own experience, including being plagiarized by the Times six years ago.

The Times, according to a spokeswoman quoted in The Wall Street Journal, wrote 50 corrections of Blair's work during his career, only six of which were caused by other employees. That is a remarkable record of inaccuracy and a remarkably tolerant error policy. I have worked for three news outfits in 24 years -- United Press International, The Commercial Appeal, and Contemporary Media, the parent of Memphis magazine and The Memphis Flyer, and freelanced for half a dozen more, including the Times. A string of unintentional errors (misspelled names, wrong titles, quotes misattributed or imprecisely recorded) in a month or two would earn you a reprimand and possibly a demotion or desk assignment. Falsifying a dateline, which is a news organization's way of telling its audience that its reporter was on the scene, is a firing offense. I can only remember it happening a couple of times (once for a concert review), and it was the talk of the newsroom both times and raised lasting suspicions about the reporters who did it.

A rogue can fool readers who either have no way of detecting bogus stories or suspect them but don't bother to do anything about it. But you can't fool colleagues, who tend to be savvy, gossipy, and pretty honest when not covering their asses.

At the Defender, a second employee -- former classified-advertising manager Myron Hudson -- has come forward to support the accusation of former managing editor Virginia Porter that the plagiarist was the newspaper's owner, Tom Picou, writing as a "consultant" under made-up bylines.

"As a former, 11-year employee, I can emphatically state that Tom Picou is Larry Reeves/Reginold Bundy or any other alias he might have used," said Hudson. Picou said Reeves is an elderly white guy who wrote 142 stories for free and never came to the office.

The Times is doing a thorough investigation and disclosure of Blair's sins and its internal policies, to a point. "Let's not begin to demonize our executives -- either the desk editors or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher," cautioned publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. What's next? The investigative Pulitzer? According to the Times account, some of Blair's editors and colleagues were wise to Blair and complained about his errors and deceptions long before he resigned two weeks ago. (See Viewpoint, page 13.)

I would say I can't imagine higher-ups failing to heed such a stern warning, but the trouble is, I can. In 1996, I wrote a package of stories for Memphis magazine about Tunica and the casinos. Three months later, on an autumn morning, I opened a copy of the Times we got at the office and was flattered to see several bits of my work in a front-page story on Tunica by a veteran Times reporter. The problem was, there was no attribution to me or Memphis whatsoever.

Once you know where to look, plagiarism is easy to spot, like shoplifting caught on tape. In this case, I had spent several weeks researching the stories and had plenty of time to loaf, rewrite, interview people, travel, collect stories, and play around with the abundant statistics in the monthly reports of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. I found the smoking guns right away, and Memphis publisher Kenneth Neill packaged them in a letter and dashed off a polite but firm objection and request for a printed apology and correction.

To make a long story short, it took us a month, a lawyer, and a few more letters to get it. Maybe that's understandable. A newspaper's first duty is to its employees. The "editor's note" was roughly two parts defense of the Times and one part grudging apology. We asked for and got nothing more.

The Commercial Appeal and The Village Voice did articles about it. The big journalism watchdogs, Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review, were silent even though they routinely write about similar sins of lesser papers. The Times also never mentioned this little incident when writing about plagiarism at other papers.

We were the first to agree it was hard to believe, not at all like the Times. But there it was in black and white with "All the News That's Fit to Print." I still read and enjoy the Times, but I've never looked at it quite the same way. Now I suppose other readers won't either.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

Tornado Story

"This is what happened in Denmark."

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2003 at 4:00 AM

JACKSON, TN. -- Tornadoes aren't supposed to smash downtowns. They're supposed to destroy subdivisions, trailer parks, and little towns out in the country.

Sheriff's deputies and dispatchers aren't supposed to huddle under tables and scramble into bathrooms for shelter. They're supposed to ride around with their flashing lights on, scouting the path of the storm or manning their post at the radio.

Tornado monuments are supposed to be sacred memorials for the ages, not targets for an even worse tornado less than two years later.

And brave boys caught in the storm rescue their mothers while clinging to a pole for dear life in the movies, not in real life.

But the people of Jackson -- the unluckiest city in America this week -- saw all those things happen in the terrifying storm that struck Sunday night.

Anyone who ever watched the Weather Channel and wondered what a decent-sized downtown would look like if it took a direct hit from one of those fearsomely photogenic tornadoes found out this week in Jackson. Cemeteries, historic downtown churches, eight-story buildings, utility plants, the police station, the sheriff's department, the jail, and the Carl Perkins Civic Center all took major hits. So did the fortress-like building where the Tennessee Supreme Court meets, and the two federal buildings, and the most popular downtown restaurants. The Civil War memorial on the square was still standing, but not many of the trees around it.

Johnny Williams, CEO of the Jackson Energy Agency, called it "the most severe disaster in Jackson I have experienced in 30 years, as far as utilities." Both of the city's water treatment plants were damaged and lost water pressure. The day after the storm, you couldn't get a drink of water downtown, and a single glow-stick lit the otherwise darkened restroom at the police station.

Unity Park, a memorial to Jackson's deadly 1999 tornado that was dedicated on October 24, 2001, was a popular focal point for photographers and television news crews. One of eight huge concrete balls commemorating victims of that tornado had been blown off its pedestal and the little park was littered with storm debris.

Jackson residents marveled that the damage wasn't even worse. "I picked up a hailstone as big as a softball in my front yard," said David Burke, 53, who teaches theater at Union University in Jackson.

Curtis Love, 50, was working at a homeless shelter near downtown when the tornado approached. As lightning flashed, he could see the outline of the funnel trailing pale green flashes "that looked like green lightning" as transformers exploded. "It was awesome," Love said. "It was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life."

The roof and half of the sanctuary were gone at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, built in 1845, making it the oldest building in continuous use in Madison County. Members of the church were climbing a pile of rubble to pick out bricks and stacking them on the sidewalk.

"We will rebuild," promised the Rev. Charles Filiatreau.

There was a nervous hour Monday afternoon when the sky got dark once again and rain began to fall. People driving through town spread the word that another tornado watch had been issued for Madison County and a tornado was on the ground somewhere out in the country.

At the Madison County Sheriff's Office, battered squad cars with broken windows were draped in black plastic and most of the doors and windows of the building itself had been blown out. The warning sirens had also been knocked out and weren't able to sound the alarm when, incredibly, a second tornado warning was issued at 2:45 p.m. Sheriff David L. Woolfork and a couple dozen employees were as helpless as everyone else as hail and sideways rain pelted the windows that hadn't been broken and wind and water blew through the open space where the front doors used to be.

"I've got this one," Woolfork joked as he headed for a bathroom that had already drawn a small crowd. "It's kind of like driving around in a Volkswagen."

That brief storm proved to be just a scare. The funnel cloud that had been spotted near the rural Denmark Elementary School south of downtown didn't touch down this time. But the big one the night before had ripped a path three miles long through the community of small homes, farms, and trailers.

On a driveway at the bottom of a hill in front of two piles of rubble, Anita Rhodes came up to talk to a reporter who wanted to know what happened in Denmark. She considered the question for a few seconds and then waved a hand at the piles of sticks.

"This is what happened in Denmark," she said.

In a weary voice, she told an incredible story. Her sister-in-law, Rhonda McLaughlin, and her two sons had been in their trailer when it flipped several times into the woods. During a pause in the storm, 15-year-old T.J. found his mother in the woods, lifted two trees off her, and toted her toward the shelter of a car. But the wind picked up again, and he had to wrap one arm around a post while clutching his mother with the other one. Finally he got her to the car, then set off again in search of his 7-year-old brother Lee and their grandfather, Larry Kiddy, who lived in the other trailer and was recuperating from heart surgery.

T.J. found Kiddy and put a tarp over him to protect him from debris. He was later taken to a Jackson hospital where he is in intensive care. Mrs. McLaughlin was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Memphis.

Lee's body was found in the woods, one of nine fatalities in Denmark.

Florida Comes to Memphis

The Memphis Manifesto Summit brought 100 "creatives" together -- at least for a weekend.

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Carnegie Mellon University's Richard Florida is that most unlikely of combinations: college professor as rock star, love child of his self-professed heroes -- freak-flag-flying guitarist Jimi Hendrix and academe-baiting urbanist scholar Jane Jacobs. Florida's most recent book, The Rise of the Creative Class, has made him one of the country's most prominent public intellectuals. Its ideas about how to build smart, vibrant communities and about how to transform regional growth policy have seemingly coalesced into a movement of sorts over the past year.

But every movement needs a manifesto, and that's what Florida got in Memphis last week, when he hosted (along with organizer and local consultant/radio host Carol Coletta) the Memphis Manifesto Summit. A hundred or so "creatives" from around the country -- and 25 local participants -- met downtown for three days to draft a document outlining a community-development strategy driven by "creativity." The purpose, in part, was to give Florida something to present to a national mayor's conference in June, but it was also intended as a set of guidelines for summit attendees to take back to their communities to implement.

There is admittedly something of the demagogue to Flordia's role in all this, and cynics who've seen the Frank Capra film Meet John Doe may wonder whether Florida fits the role of well-meaning frontman, feisty ghost-writer, or shadowy power-broker in relation to the emerging network of Good Samaritan clubs (Memphis' MPACT was a co-sponsor of the event) that have sprouted up around his ideas.

To his credit, Florida attempts to dispel this view, telling the assembled on Thursday, "I'm not a guru. I'm not even a political activist." And despite some only half-joking murmurs that Florida would show up, pre-written manifesto already in hand, he exerted little direct influence on the crafting of the document. The first draft was written by Coletta, who synthesized ideas from the first two days of the conference. The subsequent and final drafts were crafted in a rather chaotic group session on the summit's final day.

Florida's book, and most of the research presented by other panelists, presents a country that is sorting itself into like-minded enclaves, with the most talented young workers coalescing in cities such as Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston, leaving other cities in danger of being left out of the so-called creative economy.

Though the conference drew attendees from all across the country (as well as Canada and Puerto Rico), it was those "other cities" that were most prominently represented: Memphis, St. Louis, and Greensboro sent the three largest delegations, and places such as Duluth, Fort Wayne, Iowa City, and Milwaukee were typical of the turnout.

They came seeking succor, and that's what they got. Austin American-Statesman reporter Bill Bishop, after explaining that his city imported much more wealth than it lost over the past decade, delivered an appreciation on the self-made success of Tupelo, Mississippi, ending in a moral that was exactly what much of the crowd wanted to hear: "It's not a question of 'You have to be in the right place.' Your place can be the right place."

For a while on Thursday, there were whispers that a cabal of Midwestern delegates from St. Louis, Kansas City, and Iowa City would refuse to sign the document if it focused on attracting talent from other cities, but Florida defused the issue, saying in his address: "We have to get over this vocabulary about 'attracting.' The real goal should be harnessing the creativity you already have." Another panelist, Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin, echoed this prescription for self-reinvention, pointing to Memphis' Stax Music Academy as an example of a civic initiative geared toward cultivating homegrown resources.

The reaction to the summit seemed to be a mixture of cynicism and hope. While many professed to be inspired and energized by the meeting, others grumbled about the time and money it took to come when other work could have been done. Memphian Michael Graber, who had described the event as absurd early on, said that after his "wall of cynicism was penetrated," he became a believer. "In the end," he said, "Memphis was blessed to have great minds gather here and dream up a community vision for all citizens."

The document that finally emerged from the conference calls for communities to cultivate and reward creativity, promote and embrace diversity, be authentic, invest and build on quality of place, and remove such "barriers to creativity" as intolerance, sprawl, poverty (good luck there), and environmental degradation.

The manifesto is less specific and more slogan-oriented than Florida's book, a result, in part, of crafting a document that 100-plus people could agree on. The meaning of diversity, for instance, is never spelled out. And Florida's insistence that municipalities put more effort into fostering a "people climate" than a "business climate" and that small, street-oriented projects are more effective than larger-scale but hackneyed development schemes is only alluded to. The result is that the intellectual spirit of the summit itself may be only moderately conveyed by its product.

Friday, May 2, 2003

Slowpoke Prosecutors

Are the feds taking their time or just plain stumped on four big cases?

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Eight years ago, the United States Attorney's office in Memphis was pushing something called Operation Trigger Lock to combat violent criminals. You might say the feds have been in a different kind of trigger lock lately, unable to pull the trigger on four high-profile cases that have been around for anywhere from six months to almost two years.

The cases include the Albert Means football recruiting scandal, the terroristic attack on Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O.C. Smith, the misuse of county credit cards by former county mayoral aide Tom Jones, and the political corruption in former Shelby County Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun's office centered around Wilbun aide Darrell Catron.

U.S. Attorney Terry Harris and his staff, along with the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, haven't said anything about progress in the Smith case since the reclusive medical examiner was bound with barbed wire and had a bomb tied to him 11 months ago. And the slowpoke prosecutors appear to be either befuddled or biding their time on Jones, Catron, and former Trezevant coach Lynn Lang.

As a result of the feds hanging fire, the citizens of Shelby County don't know if the administration of former Mayor Jim Rout was rife with corruption and greed or just sloppy bookkeeping. The current administration of Mayor A C Wharton is hamstrung by a climate of suspicion and mistrust. A mad bomber with a grudge against the medical examiner apparently is still on the loose. And Logan Young, the University of Alabama football booster who supposedly paid Lang $200,000, remains unindicted but subjected to what amounts to water torture instead.

Taking the four cases in chronological order, here's the latest:

· In August 2001, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and his former colleague Harris jumped into the Albert Means case. In a joint news conference, they announced the federal indictments of ex-high school football coaches Lynn Lang and Milton Kirk. An indictment of Young, widely reported (although not in the indictment) to be the source of a payment of as much as $200,000 to Lang, seemed imminent.

But in 20 months since then, the prosecutors still haven't moved the ball past midfield. Kirk, who thrilled readers of The Commercial Appeal with his tales of "slave trading" by Lang and the University of Alabama, pled guilty to a minor charge. In November, Lang, who previously insisted he didn't get any money from Young, reversed his field, made a guilty plea, and said he got $150,000. Once again, Young's number seemed to be up. But the wealthy booster, who has said several times that he did not pay Lang, still has not been indicted.

So last week it was Alabama's turn to get the football. Attorney Tommy Gallion represents former Alabama assistant football coach Ronnie Cottrell, whose career was derailed by being connected to the recruiting of Means. Cottrell has sued the NCAA, the university, and several individuals for $60 million. Gallion came to Memphis to take depositions from three Memphians he believes are behind the Means story -- attorneys Karl Schledwitz and Arthur Kahn and UT football booster Roy Adams, aka "Tennstud." Adams didn't show up, so Gallion grilled Schledwitz and Kahn.

Gallion ran a couple of plays into the line for short gains but hinted that he will start throwing bombs soon. The bad blood between Young and Adams is well known since the publication in 2000 of Bragging Rights, Richard Ernsberger's book about Southeastern Conference football, and Adams' frequent Internet postings under his well-known alias, Tennstud. Without the star accuser, Gallion was forced to work around the edges of what he believes is a grand conspiracy against Alabama involving NCAA investigators, former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer, UT football coach Phil Fulmer, The Commercial Appeal, and the Memphis Three.

Schledwitz is a Tennessee graduate and fan who briefly represented Kirk then helped him find another lawyer. Kahn is a former assistant U.S. attorney who owns Arthur's Wine and Liquor and set up a fund to benefit the mother of Albert Means before it was revealed that she had, according to Lang, received $10,000 of the payout for Albert's services. Gallion noted that Kahn is married to Lisa Mallory, who was Logan Young's former girlfriend at the time they began dating. Gallion asked Kahn if Mallory was "wired up" by federal prosecutors. After some jousting about whether this was a privileged communication by virtue of marriage, Kahn declined to answer, leading Gallion to conclude that she was.

Gallion said Cottrell is a "scapegoat."

"I believe Logan Young is innocent," he said, adding that he had not met Young until three weeks ago. "Apparently they're having a hard time getting anything on him through the grand jury."

Last week Lang's sentencing was postponed for four more months.

· It was 11 months ago that the bizarre assault on medical examiner O.C. Smith shocked Memphis and brought a swarm of federal investigators to town to look for clues in a real-life version of television's CSI. With its overtones of terrorism, the case was called the "top priority" of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. But real crimes are a lot tougher to solve than fictional ones, even when the victim is a medical examiner with exceptional powers of observation who remained conscious and alert throughout the ordeal.

A spokesman for the Shelby County Health Department said Smith remains shaken by the experience and is not doing interviews. The office declined to provide a picture of him, although Smith participated in a televised news conference the day after he was released. There has been no trace of the religious nut investigators believe sent threatening letters to Smith, planted a bomb in the office that didn't go off, and then attacked him with razor wire and another homemade bomb, possibly over Smith's testimony in a murder case.

· The feds have been investigating Tom Jones since last fall after disclosures about his county credit card use. There have been no indictments in the case and Jones, a top aide to former Mayor Jim Rout, has not commented publicly about it.

Prosecutors and the FBI have interviewed Jones and his daughter and son-in-law about a honeymoon trip paid for through the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce's Memphis 2005 account. Sources told the Flyer that investigators are looking at other Memphis 2005 expenditures as well.

Memphis 2005 is a chamber-led effort to improve the Memphis business climate. Under the Rout administration, county government and the chamber were partners in a grab bag of loosely defined "economic development" projects with five- and six-figure appropriations. Chamber CEO Marc Jordan has said Jones was often his county contact and that his okay was usually good enough for funds to be released. The only person in county government with more power than Jones was Jim Rout.

· The focus of the second front in the county corruption investigation is Darrell Catron. Catron is cooperating with the feds; that much everyone agrees on. He pleaded guilty to information in lieu of indictment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Discenza told a federal judge that Catron was singing about unnamed contractors with the clerk's office. Catron was an aide to former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun, a former member of the city council and the county commission.

Last week the government announced that Catron's sentencing, scheduled for May 2nd, had been postponed until October 24th.

Is This Man Larry Reeves?

Tri-State Defender owner Tom Picou
We've written so much about the Tri-State Defender and multitalented owner Tom Picou in the last two weeks that we felt like we should get his picture. Here it is, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Former Defender managing editor Virginia Porter told the Flyer last week that Picou, nephew by marriage to John Sengstacke, founder of the Tri-State Defender and the Chicago Defender, was behind the weekly newspaper's long-running plagiarism scheme.

Porter said Picou "wrote" at least 184 stories and commentaries under the aliases Larry Reeves and Reginold Bundy. Many of the stories were stolen from other weekly newspapers.

Picou denied the charge but declined to talk about it. He earlier said that Reeves was an elderly white freelance writer who worked for free and was never seen in the office.

"Writers are a dime a dozen," Picou told us before he stopped talking. So are thieves.

Immaculate Conception, Central Gardens, and Landmarks Commission at Odds

Environmental Court judge Larry Potter has given Central Gardens residents a two-week reprieve in their effort to keep Immaculate Conception Cathedral from tearing down a house it owns so it can build a parking lot.

The case is worth noting for a couple of reasons. It raises the issue of "willful neglect" as a way to tear down buildings in historic districts. And it brings together several powerful players in the continuing Memphis saga of historic preservation, church expansion, and enforcement of environmental anti-neglect measures.

The house is on York behind Immaculate Conception, which is a bastion of both the Central Gardens neighborhood and Midtown in general. York is on the fringe of the Central Gardens Historic Preservation District. York residents think the house could be saved. Immaculate Conception, which doesn't have the vacant land for expansion that suburban churches do, says it's too far gone and needs to come down. On Monday, Potter put the proposed demolition on hold for at least two weeks.

On April 23rd, the Memphis Landmarks Commission voted 5-0 to deny the request for demolition. But there were two absences and two recusals, and commission spokesman Nancy Jane Baker said members did not have all the information about the condition of the building that was available to Judge Potter.

Candy Justice, a spokesman for the York neighbors, said Immaculate Conception allowed the house to fall into such disrepair that it became a candidate for demolition. She said that could set a precedent for other property owners to acquire houses or buildings in historic areas, neglect them, then tear them down on orders from the environmental court.

Gambling with Oblivion

Greg Cartwright: A selective discography.

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Is Compulsive Gambler Greg Cartwright, aka Greg Oblivian, aka Mr. Reigning Sound, a creature of unnatural origins, expelled like a peach pit from the quivering hindquarters of Jerry Lee Lewis? Man, you listen to these records and tell me. His punk side is buttered with gospel, slathered in blues, and served up Replacements-style -- only rawer, with nods to Chuck Berry and a host of forgotten garage-rock heroes. In less extreme moments, he finds kinship with the Byrds, the Kinks, Buck Owens, and yet another host of more plaintive but equally forgotten garage-rock heroes. Here's an incomplete but representative discography -- a Top 10 list if you will -- of Cartwright's recordings with the Compulsive Gamblers, the Oblivians, the Tip-Tops, and the Reigning Sound:

1. Oblivians Play Nine Songs with Mr. Quintron -- The Oblivians (Crypt, 1997): This is Cartwright and fellow Oblivians Jack Yarber and Eric Friedl at the absolute top of their game. Raw blues, punk fury, and mid-century pop balladry are wrapped up tighter than a dollar-fiddy joint in the squall of Mr. Quintron's gospel-drenched organ. "How Long" sounds like an outtake from Tom Waits' opera The Black Rider that got cut because it was too freaking scary. But Cartwright's haunting interpretation of "Live the Life" steals this show. It's a perfect cut on a record that is nearly perfect, in spite of itself.

2. Break Up Break Down -- The Reigning Sound (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001): In terms of sheer fun, the Reigning Sound's sophomore recording, Time Bomb High School, may be the better record, but I've got to rank this Byrds-inspired beauty at number two on both the strength of the songwriting and the shock value. I mean, c'mon, who would have ever expected something so beautifully mellow from the madman who once screamed "I'm not a sicko/There's a plate in my head"? A beautiful recording where grievous country-drenched heartache mixes with the wide-eyed innocence of a Jonathan Richman love song.

3. Time Bomb High School -- The Reigning Sound (In the Red, 2002): Front to back this may be Cartwright and (present) company's most accomplished recording, but in spite of its sprawling guitar licks and driving organ, it's never quite as joyous, or as lonesome, as Break Up Break Down. From the supercharged sock-hop rhythms of "Stormy Weather" to the Lou Reed-meets-Velvet Crush grandeur of "She's Bored with You" and "Reptile Style," Time Bomb High School is almost too sophisticated to be called a garage rave-up. But you gotta call it something.

4. Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing -- The Compulsive Gamblers (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000): Forget the Strokes, White Stripes, and Hives for just a minute. This record should have kick-started the garage-rock boom. In terms of energy, it's the closest the Compulsive Gamblers ever came to aping the Oblivians. But the ferocity is tempered by heavy doses of mid-century pop and a dollop of plaintive country and western. Choice line: "Call Dr. Nichopoulos!"

5. Popular Favorites -- The Oblivians (Crypt, 1996): A great party record. Well, if pounding Pabst and jumping up and down is your idea of a party. Jack Yarber's "The Leather," a raunchy ode to good old cow skin, may be the centerpiece of this disc, but that takes nothing away from Cartwright's hysterical meta-rocker "Guitar Shop Asshole."

6. Headshop -- Greg Oblivian and the Tip-Tops (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1998): This unsung solo effort is a lo-fi masterpiece in the spirit of Break Up Break Down. The beautiful, impossibly earnest balladry of "Oh My Precious One" makes it hard to get beyond the second track. "Amazing Grace" never sounded so sweet.

7. Bluff City -- The Compulsive Gamblers (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999): A record for all those kids who loved Saturday afternoon horror movies, who remember when comic books had ads in them, and who liked the ads more than the comics. Fun, fun, fun.

8. Best of the Worst -- The Oblivians (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999): This 25-song package catches the Oblivians at their silliest and most charismatic. Essential if only for the Johnny Thundersesque "Pill Popper Blues Parts 1 & 2."

9. Gambling Days Are Over -- The Compulsive Gamblers (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1995): A little Link Wray, a little Tom Waits, and a dash of the Sonics. This record features the original Gamblers lineup, including such notable ex-Memphians as former NTJ texture man Greg Easterly and Linda Heck & the Trainwreck's sax blower Jimmy Enk. It also features the Gamblers' anthem "Sour and Vicious Man." Liner notes include a quote from Shangri-La founder Sherman Wilmott saying, "Nobody ever went broke selling alcohol in Memphis." Amen, Sherm. A-freakin'-men.

10. Soul Food -- The Oblivians (Crypt, 1995): Just as the title implies, this disc is best enjoyed with a head full of malt liquor and a belly full of fried chicken. Most Memphis moment: An ode to once-ubiquitous Memphis scenester Jim Cole (who has "so much soul" it's upsetting) made ol' JC the hippest librarian in town.

Also of note: The Oblivians' Sympathy Sessions (if only for the hot cover shot of starlet D'Lana Tunnel); Wild Zero's, a raucous soundtrack for a Japanese action flick featuring a handful of Cartwright's solo recordings; Jack [Yarber] Oblivian's So Low (think the New York Dolls too messed up to play but determined to do it anyway); Jack Oblivian's American Slang (think the same); the Oblivians' 17 Cumshots, a Dutch bootleg with lots of dirty pictures on the cover; and The Deadly Snakes' I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore, where Cartwright joins Toronto's answer to the Compulsive Gamblers as both producer and guitar player.

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