Monday, August 26, 2013

A Pick (Guns) and a Pan (Bill O'Reilly) in New Books

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 1:50 PM

One winner and one loser, which is about my usual batting average, from my weekly haul at the public library.

"American Gun" is well worth reading, whatever your views on gun control. Author Chris Kyle takes a gun-centric view of American history focusing on ten innovative firearms from the Kentucky long rifle to the M16. A brilliant idea, well executed, by telling the story of the gun's invention and manufacture and then highlighting its game-changing importance in gunfights, battles, and wars.

History, not to mention folklore, might have been different, Kyle convincingly argues, if General George Armstrong Custer and his men had packed a couple of Gatling guns instead of single-shot 1873 Springfield carbines against the Indians' Winchester repeaters at Little Big Horn; if Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and Machine Gun Kelly (Memphian and Central High School product George Celino Barnes) hadn't fallen in love with Thompson submachine guns; if 18th-century American sharpshooters had not killed key British generals with Kentucky rifles; and if GIs in World War II had not carried what General George Patton called "the greatest battle implement ever devised," the M1 Garand rifle.

If you're a gun lover, you'll appreciate the mechanical details. If not, you'll still love the stories about Wyatt Earp, the Texas Rangers, buffalo hunters, and Sgt. Alvin York. I'm in the latter category, although a scary incident involving my daughter and a mountain lion has me wishing I had known enough to school her in firearms before she moved to Montana and started hiking the backcountry.

Sadly, Kyle, a much-decorated former Navy SEAL, died earlier this year. Coauthor William Doyle completed the book.

I can't say much for Bill O'Reilly's "Keep It Pithy" from the dismal shelf of celebrity and self-improvement nonfiction books which all seem to somehow be "#1 New York Times Bestsellers." I figured it would take a couple of hours to read it, but I plowed through its spare 142 pages in less than an hour. O'Reilly is an entertainer and shameless self-promoter who is never at a loss for words or certainty. Fair enough, Job 1 is to put on a show. This mini-book, however, a fair amount of which is recycled material from his columns and programs, is little more than a commercial and some quick bucks for O'Reilly and his publisher.

"I know that sometimes I come off as "all about me" he writes in conclusion. "But I think you know that's not why I am in business. It's about you."


There's good pithy, which O'Reilly can be in his no-nonsense interviews, and there's bad pithy, which O'Reilly can also dish out. At his worst is his "secular Ten Commandments" which purports to "expose" the "explicit agenda" of secular humanists and people who do not share his traditional views of organized religion. Look it up if you must. It is one thing to state your own pithy convictions, another to misstate the convictions of those who do not agree with you.

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Broken Windows at Sears Crosstown

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 12:24 PM

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and a renovation of a building with a thousand windows begins with five of them on the fourth floor of Sears Crosstown in Midtown.

"It's not construction, it's due diligence for the window companies," said Todd Richardson, spokesman for the project.

Still, it's something for a blighted building that has been closed for years. The five windows on the south side of the building were removed so that bidders could do a mock up. About 65 percent of the building is windows, Richardson said.

The cost of replacing them will be several million dollars because they must comply with historic guidelines to insure tax credits and be more energy efficient than the originals.

"It's going to be an interesting bid process," said Richardson.

Asked if this indicates that the project is moving forward, he said "work is ongoing."

Plans call for a mix of educational, medical, commercial and residential users.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Downtown Parking Reign of Terror

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 10:52 AM

If the odds of getting a parking ticket on any given day are one percent then put me down for two of them a year.

That's $42 if paid on time, and $186.75 and/or a court appearance if one of them is unpaid due to negligence, willful or otherwise.

The new meters the Memphis City Council approved this week in their ignorance will cost at least $1.7 million and produce, allegedly, $892,000 a year in new revenues. The new parking rate, payable by change or plastic, will be $1.25 an hour.

No problem, says the city engineer, because parking fees and fines underwrite this daisy chain "so that the taxpayers don't have to." Except that Memphians are taxpayers and Memphians who work and get out and about downtown are especially likely to get parking tickets and pay the fines for procrastination.

The parking ticket, of course, is just the ante. The big money comes from the fines. If it takes one mugging to make a Memphian avoid a neighborhood, two or three parking tickets should do the job.

And why set the bar at $892,000 in new money? Why not $1,892,000 or $2,892,000? Only a matter of time in a for-profit enterprise like this. Same goes for those drone cameras in school zones and red lights and speed traps.

The city operating budget is over $600 million a year. Nickel and diming citizens won't balance it, nor will it benefit downtown where meters will still be located selectively, malfunction occasionally, and disadvantage downtown against the rest of the city. To make a struggling downtown more attractive, parking rates and fines should be going down, not up.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Praise for Elmore Leonard

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Elmore Leonard wrote so many great lines that would work on his tombstone if he has such a thing.

Leonard, who died Tuesday, made the hard job of writing dialogue look easy. Memphis and Mississippi figure in a few of his books, including "Tishomingo Blues" which features a high diver, casinos, Civil War reenactors, and naughty-child pie. His adopted home town was Detroit, which a writer for the Detroit News called "the gift that keeps on giving" to him.

“I like it,” Leonard said in 2012 of the Detroit area. “Great music ... lot of poverty. I wouldn’t move anywhere else. Now, it’s too late. I'd never be able to drive in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

The friend who introduced me to his books 30 years ago said Leonard was a writer of Westerns like "Hombre" and "Three Ten to Yuma" who shifted to urban Westerns in a modern setting. The heroes were iron workers and such and the bad guys were sadistic but often amusing whackos. There was always a showdown at the end. As the saying goes, his books, all 45 of them, were hard to put down.

A few of those tombstone worthy lines:

(to aspiring writers) "Leave out the parts readers skip." (This applied to chapters, sentences, and even phrases such as WTF which he usually wrote as simply "The fuck?")

"We all die, just a question of when." (the 1967 movie version of "Hombre")

"Mister, you got a lot of hard bark on you." (Bad guy Richard Boone to Paul Newman in "Hombre")

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Monday, August 19, 2013

A Top Ten List Worth Reading

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is August 28th. The publicity has already begun, but unless you are at least 60 years old you probably don't remember the historic event and march that drew more than 200,000 people.

What was it about? Media accounts will focus, understandably, on Dr. Martin Luther King's speech, the crowds, President John F. Kennedy who would be assassinated three months later, and the music of Peter Paul and Mary and Marian Anderson. But there is no better answer than the organizing manual for the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" and its list of ten demands. Here they are:

1. Comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.

2. Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.

3. Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.

4. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment — reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disenfranchised.

5. A new executive order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.

6. Authority for the attorney general to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.

7. A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers — Negro and white — on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.

8. A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2 an hour fails to do this.)

9. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.

10. A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

There was also this footnote: Support of the March does not necessarily indicate endorsement of every demand listed. Some organizations have not had an opportunity to take an official position on all of the demands advocated here.

The organizers were Cleveland Robinson and Bayard Rustin. King was one of ten chairmen along with Mathew Ahmann, Eugene Carson Blake, James Farmer, John Lewis, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.


Buttons were a quarter.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Norah Jones Helps Cory Chisel and Candles Shine at Shell

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2013 at 11:13 PM

A surprise appearance by a gracious Norah Jones added star power to another outstanding concert at the Levitt Shell Friday night.

Cory Chisel and the Wild Rovers Tour backed by the Candles did a three-hour set that paid tribute to Elvis, Sun Records, the city of Memphis, and Gus's fried chicken at various points. Jones played keyboards on the first set, waving away fans who came to the stage to take her picture, so as not to steal the spotlight. Chisel and the band were terrific. So was Jones, who was featured on three songs and sang or played backup on others. Her appearance was leaked on Twitter but not widely publicized in the concert billing.

Class act, classy concert.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Facing Down a Mountain Lion

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 at 3:23 PM

The written correspondence from my daughter in Montana is infrequent but it sure is interesting.

To summarize: went camping, went for solo hike, packed bear spray, encountered mountain lion, lived to write the tale. Oh, you and Mom might want to hold off reading this because it might spoil your visit out here.

Katy takes seriously the "Outside" magazine motto "live bravely." I live cautiously, hike on well-worn trails, and like my recreational activities on lined courts and playing fields. That is not the Montana way.

Two weeks ago, Katy, 26 years old and a three-year Montana resident, went for a hike to the top of the Hogback Ridge Trail in remote western Montana.

Katy (left)
  • Katy (left)
"I looked for signs of wildlife but only saw what looked like deer, elk, and moose droppings. I had taken my bear spray out of my backpack and tucked it into an outer pocket for easy access. Mountain lions had not even crossed my mind as a real threat even though I had an encounter with one in the Cabinet Mountains a year ago.

"Once the trail became more forested I began shouting and clapping regularly, once or twice a minute to ward off potential threats. I wasn't feeling scared or in danger, just taking standard precautions to avoid an unwanted encounter. I hoped to see a moose or maybe a bear from a safe distance, like on the hill across the ravine. When the trail got steeper and my breathing picked up I still made sure to make whooping noises and 'hey bear' calls. I told myself not to fall into a sense of security just because I was almost to the top of the ridge. Bears can go high, too.

"At the ridgeline I stopped for about ten seconds to take in the view and spotted a large rockslide on the mountain to my right and more forest to my left. Eager for a better view, I kept walking. That's when I saw it — a mountain lion nestled in the rocks about 25 yards in front of me. I froze. The cat stood up as soon as it saw me and took a step forward. My immediate instinct was to turn and run, which I did. I had only gone a few steps when I looked back and saw it chasing after me and gaining quickly. The thought flashed through my mind: if I don't stop and face this thing it is going to attack me. I had to show it that I wasn't scared, even though every part of me was telling me otherwise.

"So I did what I never thought I would have the courage or instinct to do. I turned around, grabbed my bear spray, faced the lion with my arms spread wide and let out a giant roar. The lion stopped in its tracks just ten yards from me. Then we had a stare-down for what seemed like ten minutes but was probably more like 10-15 seconds. Neither of us moved as I looked into its dark eyes, hoping to intimidate it. The lion flinched, which reminded me I needed to do something or risk it making the first move. I again spread my arms as wide as I could and roared at the top of my lungs to seem as big and scary as possible. It worked. The lion turned and ran away, disappearing behind the rocks.

"I didn't waste a second to turn and run the other way, but my head was still turned to where I last saw the lion. I ran as fast as I could down the steep, rocky trail, roaring loudly and watching my back. I knew mountain lions are stealthy hunters so in no way did I feel safe yet. I feared the cat might have turned back in my direction looking for its next meal. The thought injected pure terror and adrenalin into my system as I sprinted rock-dodging and roaring down the trail.

"After several minutes I came to a spot where the trail turned through the woods back to the trailhead, but I wanted a more direct and open route. Too many objects for a cat to be crouching behind and limbs to be creeping on top of. Ahead of me the mountain side was grassy and exposed and I knew it would still lead me back to the homestead. So I took off over ankle-breaking rocks and a steep grade as fast I could. The hill seemed to go on forever. I spotted the roof of the cabin in the distance but I couldn't stop looking behind me every few seconds. I still let out a roar every now and then, picturing the cat crouched in the tall grass beside me, tracking my scent. I wasn't in the clear yet, and I wouldn't be until I was on the other side of the door of the cabin.

"I lunged forward clumsily over rocks and loose dirt. The cabin didn't seem to be getting any closer and I was getting tired, frustrated, and wobbly-legged with fear. I finally reached a flat stretch of land before the dirt road leading to the cabin. From the hillside it had looked like a short stretch, but at the base it seemed much longer. When I reached the dirt road I charged into a full-on sprint for the last 50 yards. I lunged up the stairs, barged through the door and bent over gasping for breath. I was safe. I was alive. But I nervously watched out the windows expecting to see the lion glaring back in at me."

The barest outline of the story was "leaked" to us by Katy's brother, who also lives in Montana, and suggested we might want to wait until the end of our trip, if ever, to get the first-hand account. It was a story too scary for comfort but too exciting not to tell. So on the last night of our visit, eating pizza in a Missoula restaurant next to a wall decorated with the hide of a mountain lion, she handed me three folded sheets of paper.

"Read this when you want to," she said.

I read it on the plane flying home to Memphis. My wife hasn't read it yet. Katy is off on a six-day float trip of the Salmon River in Idaho, in back country inhabited by elk, deer, bears, and mountain lions.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Should College Athletes Get Paid?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 12:02 PM

With all that money in big-time college football and basketball — and much more to come under new television contracts — should the players be paid?

Second question: what, if anything, should the University of Memphis do to become more like its old rival, Louisville, which is in the preseason Top 10 in football and is graduating to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) next year? In basketball, Louisville reported an astonishing $42 million in revenue in men's basketball in 2011-2012 — nearly six times as much as Memphis. And this was the year BEFORE winning the NCAA tournament.

Some perspective first from Wren Baker, deputy athletic director at University of Memphis. As is often the case with well-intentioned disclosure mandates, the reporting from different colleges and universities to the U.S. Department of Education is "highly inconsistent." Some (including Memphis) were told to make expenses and revenues balance, but DOE didn't get around to everyone. Baker, who was athletic director at a previous employer in Oklahoma, said including or excluding a major fundraising campaign such as the $7 million Tiger Scholarships in basketball makes a huge difference. Generally speaking, he said, expenses are a more reliable figure than reported revenue. Basketball revenue is probably understated, while football revenue is overstated.

Continue reading »

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

College Football Spending/Revenue, Part 2

Posted By on Sun, Aug 4, 2013 at 1:21 PM

After looking at football expenses and revenues for the USA Today preseason Top 10, I was curious to see the numbers for the 12 teams that will play the University of Memphis this season.

Duke, Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida made money. Connecticut and Central Florida lost money, and the rest, including Memphis, reported breaking even or virtually even.

Not surprisingly, the gap between the elites and the struggling teams in Division 1-A such as Memphis is huge — the bigs spend two or three times as much and make tens of millions of dollars in profits. The only Top 10 team on the Memphis schedule this year is Louisville, which is the model for Memphis as it attempts to be a breakout program. Memphis has enough ingredients — big stadium, southern location, Top 50 television market, major-league status, wealthy boosters — to sustain, as Frederick Exley wrote in "A Fan's Notes," the illusion that fame is possible.

The figures from the U.S. Department of Education are for the 2011-2012 academic year. Expenses come first, followed by revenues and, in some cases, a comment or two.

Memphis: $12,983,962, $12,983,962. Tigers spend and earn $7.5 million on men's basketball.

Duke: $20,480,154, $25,373,768. Duke spent $16 million and earned $25.6 million on bball.

Middle Tennessee: $7,629,932, $7,629,932.

Arkansas State: $4,341,626, $4,341,626. Under former coach Hugh Freeze, Tigers' nemesis did more with less than just about anyone.

Central Florida: $13,636,867, $12,211,638. Lost money.

Houston: $8,250,249, $8,250,249. Also-ran and relatively small spender in a big wealthy market in Texas.

SMU: $13,163,600, $13,163,599. Not a typo, the Mustangs lost a buck.

Cincinnati: $12,594,857, $15,322,430. Money maker.

Tennessee-Martin: $2,599,061, $2,699,094. Low budget Division 1-AA school made $100,000.

South Florida: $12,609,350, $16,832,236. Nice profit in crowded Florida market.

Louisville: $18,769,539, $23,756,955. Not bad, but men's basketball made $42.4 million on $15.4 million spending.

Temple: $16,961,995, $16,961,995.

U. Conn: $14,445,521, $12,910,583. Lost money playing some big boys.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong location for the University of South Florida in Tampa.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

College Football Top Ten and Expenses/Revenues

Posted By on Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 10:23 AM

At last. It seems like forever since the college football season ended in January. Seven agonizing months later, the USA Today preseason coaches' poll is out, and national champ Alabama is on top.

Alabama is also the biggest spender in the Top 10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education's website on spending in college athletics. The Crimson Tide spent almost $37 million on football and earned $82 million. Not bad, but not best either. The University of Texas, which didn't make the preseason Top 10, had revenue of $103,813,684, while Michigan had $85,209,247. Notre Dame, which is ranked 11th and lost to Alabama in the 2013 national championship game, earned $68,986,659 and is a football independent.

Most bang for the buck? That would be Georgia and Florida, each with more than $3 in revenue for every $1 spent. Most likely to improve this season? That would be Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel, the newest member of the Southeastern Conference, which earned a paltry $44 million last year.

(The University of Memphis reported football expenses of $12,983,962, balancing out revenue of $12,983,962. The only Top 10 team on the schedule this year is Louisville.)

Here's the Top 10, with expenses and revenues in parentheses. Remember, football players are student athletes and academics comes first.

1. Alabama ($36,918,963, $81,993,762)
2. Ohio State ($34,026,871, $58,112,270)
3. Oregon ($20,240,213, $51,921,731)
4. Stanford ($18,738,731, $25,564,646)
5. Georgia ($22,710,140, $74,989,418)
6. Texas A&M ($17,929,882, $44,420,762)
7. South Carolina ($22,063,216, $48,065,096)
8. Clemson ($23,652,472, $39,207,780)
9. Louisville ($18,769,539, $23,756,955)
10. Florida ($23,045,846, $74,117,435)

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Facebook, Me, George Will, and Flower Your Buttocks

Posted By on Thu, Aug 1, 2013 at 12:03 PM

The end is near. I am into Facebook, to the tune of $940 and four new friends.

On Wednesday Facebook stock hit $36.80, just below its initial public offering price of $38 but well above its September 2012 low of $17.73. As much of a lemming as the next person, I bought 25 shares at slightly over $37 bucks with no commission thanks to my 50 free trades at my discount broker. If l live to the biblical three score and ten I should make some money if this isn't a fad.

Penny wise and pound foolish? Maybe. Facebook was $26 a week ago. But that was before I added four new friends to my list that previously included only my son and daughter, who rarely post anything the old man can see anyway.

I prefer to believe my decision moved the market.

George Will
  • George Will
I have previously dissed Facebook as a stock and a pasttime. I unfriended a friend, then refriended her and was rewarded with this photograph of an unusual yoga pose. And I see that George Will, the columnist, is on Facebook, although he has only followers and no friends, and offers only his college pedigree and no funky family vacation photos. His approach, like his picture, seems as sensible as most of his columns. He probably grinds his teeth whenever he posts to his Facebook page, which he has not done since May.

But if I see a picture of him doing a flower-your-butt yoga pose I'm doubling down on my investment.

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Teach For America Memphis Corps Hits 350

Posted By on Thu, Aug 1, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Athena Turner
  • Athena Turner
Bolstered by national attention to school reform, Teach For America will have 350 corps members in Shelby County classrooms when schools open next week.

That number includes 200 first-year teachers and 150 second-year teachers, said Athena Turner, executive director of Teach For America Memphis. An additional 250 TFA alumni are working in the Memphis area, the majority of them in teaching positions, she said. Memphis is one of the Top Ten TFA locales in the country.

"Education reform is the reason," said Turner, a member of the 2006 TFA Memphis corps.

She said Memphis ranks somewhere between Number 10 and Number 20 in preferred placement for prospective corps members, behind such favorites as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco among others.

The Walton Family Foundation announced this week that it is investing up to $2.7 million in Teach for America in Memphis — the first such investment in Memphis by the Arkansas-based foundation. The money will be used to recruit and train nearly 4,000 new teachers. TFA has clout in Tennessee, with alumni including Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Achievement School District Superintendent Chris Barbic and a growing number of charter and non-traditional schools. For the first time, TFA Memphis did its summer training in Memphis and boarded corps members at the University of Memphis this year.

"It was a good bonding experience for them and the full-time staff," said Turner.

Only two corps members will be teaching in legacy Shelby County schools, one at Millington High School and one at Lucy Elementary. One corps member is placed at academic powerhouse White Station High School but is teaching in the traditional as opposed to the optional program.

TFA Memphis plans to have 250 new corps members each year starting in 2014.

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