Saturday, January 31, 2009

Leann Kleinmann Leaves Skirt! Magazine; Takes Commercial Appeal Blog With Her

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2009 at 4:00 AM

After a long career in Memphis journalism, The Commercial Appeal's Leanne Kleinmann -- the iDiva herself -- will step down from her position as columnist and editor of Skirt! magazine on February 6th. She has been hired by St. Mary’s School, where she will serve as Director of Advancement.

After 15-years with the CA, what prompted the career switch? "St. Mary's offered me this really incredible job," says Kleinmann, who is also a former editor of Memphis magazine. After 15 years at The Commercial Appeal, it was time to try something different.

"Of course, I'll always be a journalist," she says. "I don't think I could ever not be a journalist. ... After writing [iDiva] for the last four years, I can't imagine going for a week not writing about what's going on in Memphis."

Kleinmann will have a well-established forum for sharing her thoughts. When she leaves, she'll be taking a little piece of the CA with her.

"The Commercial Appeal is going to let me keep the iDiva blog as my personal website," she says. "I think I have a pretty authentic voice, so I don't imagine that the blog will change very much."

According to Kleinmann, her as-yet-unnamed replacement at Skirt! will be a lucky editor. "It's a plum job," she says.

In September 2007, the CA started publishing the Memphis version of Skirt!, a woman's magazine founded in 1994 in Charleston, South Carolina. Kleinmann was its first editor.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Kleinmann says of her time at Skirt, adding that she's proud of the diversity she's brought to the magazine. "There are so many women doing things out there who just fall through the cracks."

-- Chris Davis

AC/DC Concert Blasts FedExForum

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2009 at 4:00 AM

I know quite a few people who feel the cannons fired during "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" -- the number that usually closes an AC/DC show -- is hokey, but I happen to think it's one of the iconic images in rock-and-roll theater.

And judging from the cheers, shouts, and wild applause from the sold-out crowd that stayed on their feet during the Australian group's entire show at FedExForum Friday night, I guess I'm not alone.

It was a helluva concert, one that left me with my ears ringing from the sounds cranked out of a row of 10 Marshall stacks, my brain numbed by truly stunning visual effects, and my hands sore from clapping.

The show opened with a tremendous stunt -- a larger than life-size locomotive, belching flames and steam, slid out from behind a curtain to complement the opening number, "Rock and Roll Train." Add to that a four-story doll that inflated (and even tapped her foot to the beat) during "A Whole Lotta Rosie," the huge "Hell's Bell" that dropped from the rafters to kick off the classic song of that name, great videos (including a B-24 dropping guitars and babes from its bomb-bay doors) projected on a pair of giant screens behind the band, and then the row of six massive cannons that boom, boom, and BOOM during the band's closing number, and you have a truly classic AC/DC concert.

The almost two-hour performance featured non-stop hits -- "T.N.T.," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Back in Black," among others -- from the group that's now been touring for almost four decades, with three songs from their new album, Black Ice, thrown in just to show the band hasn't lost its touch.

Singer Brian Johnson's screeching vocals were actually in good form, and lead guitarist Angus Young -- still wearing that schoolboy outfit at age 55 -- seemed as nimble fingered as he was 20 years ago. His blistering 10-minute solo on his Gibson SG during "Let There Be Rock" not only brought almost constant applause, but a rather surreal scene, when hundreds of concert-goers suddenly whipped out their camera phones to capture him playing on an elevated platform that rose from the middle of the arena.

Johnson told the crowd, "This is for you, Memphis," when the band cranked out "Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)," but he really had the audience in his pocket the whole evening. Diehard fans of AC/DC surely left satisfied, and anyone not familiar with the band or their music probably left impressed. After more than 30 years, these guys can still rock with the best of them, cannons and all.

-- Michael Finger

Friday, January 30, 2009

Everything You Wanted to Know About Grand Juries But Were Afraid to Ask

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

So what do we know about the investigation of Mayor Willie Herenton and how do we know it?

That's one of the hottest topics in town, not only because of the subject matter but because of the problems it presents to prosecutors and to reporters and their readers and viewers. Fact and rumor are easily confused, and the innocent often get lumped in with the guilty.

One person who has been there and done that is Hickman Ewing Jr., former United States attorney in Memphis in the 1980s and one of the Whitewater prosecutors in the 1990s. I asked him to explain the role of the grand jury in investigations of political corruption.

But first, I can say on my own hook that there is an ongoing investigation of the mayor. Several sources have told me they have been interviewed in recent weeks by FBI and IRS agents. No surprise there. The questions, as The Commercial Appeal has also reported, involve the Greyhound Bus terminal downtown and the future terminal near the airport. MATA is another topic.

And this month, questions have been asked about the mayor's annual Christmas holiday party and why the $1,000 donors were told to make their checks out to the mayor's special assistant, Pete Aviotti. Some Memphis bluebloods -- "Herenton’s hypocrites," as one contributor referred to them in 2007, when it was clear that the mayor’s political support was waning in the white community -- have been interviewed by FBI agents about this, and some of them have been subpoenaed to talk to the grand jury.

I've given them anonymity for a couple of reasons. One, I'm most interested at this stage in finding out the direction of the investigation. Two, it seems a little unfair to me to identify some witnesses but not others, especially when being interviewed much less investigated by a grand jury can unfairly cast a person in a negative light. Of course if someone publicly announces an FBI interview or grand jury appearance, that's different, and some people have done that.

Anyway, here's what Ewing has to say about the Grand Jury process.

What's the difference between an FBI interview and a subpoena to appear before a grand jury?

One is voluntary and the other isn't. "If the FBI asks to talk to you, you don't have to talk to them," Ewing said. "If you get a subpoena, then you do."

FBI agents gather information from all kinds of people in pursuit of the facts, just like reporters do. The agent writes up a memo of the interview. "The problem with that is it isn't word-for-word. It's questionable whether it can ever be used," Ewing said.

What about a grand jury appearance?

"You get them in there under oath," Ewing said. Prosecutors and grand jurors get to see the demeanor of the witness. And prosecutors "lock 'em in" as to what they say, what they remember, and what they did. That can be a problem later on if a witness changes his or her story. This testimony can be and often is admitted into evidence if there is an indictment and the case goes to trial.

Is a grand jury investigation typically wide-ranging?

"A lot of times you call virtually every important witness to the grand jury," Ewing said. There should not be any negative implications drawn, which is not to say that doesn’t happen. "The FBI is just trying to find facts from anybody who might have information, even if they are on the periphery."

Does the person or persons under investigation get a target letter?

Without consulting the current U.S. Justice Department manual for any updates, Ewing said his experience is that "normally, you do not subpoena a target of a grand jury to appear before the grand jury." But the target does get an opportunity to appear, usually late in the game. "Most targets decline, but a few [appear]," Ewing said.

What are the exceptions?

Sometimes, in high-profile cases, when a person wants to influence potential jurors or the general public, he or she will publicly offer to meet with the grand jury. Also, a target can be compelled to come to the grand jury by subpoena if the prosecutor, the grand jurors, or both want to hear from the target. In the case of former University of Memphis basketball coach Dana Kirk, Ewing got a judge to order Kirk to appear. Kirk took the Fifth Amendment in response to questions.

Can a witness bring their lawyer into the grand jury room?

No, but the lawyer can be right outside, and the witness can leave the room to consult with the lawyer after each question. Lying to a grand jury can result in a perjury charge.

Are witnesses sworn to secrecy?

No. Prosecutors and grand jurors can't discuss an ongoing investigation, but "witnesses can say anything they want about their appearance. They can have a press conference if they want to," Ewing said. He recalled a case where a target witness refused to answer any questions in front of the grand jury, then went outside and told the press he had answered every question and, in the process, said things prosecutors knew were not true. The person was never indicted because prosecutors couldn't make a strong enough case.

Is a grand jury subpoena public information?

No. But reporters can and do hang around outside the federal building and the fourth-floor grand jury room on days when grand juries are meeting in order to see who comes in and out, as they did this week when, as reported, Rodney Herenton and MATA chief Will Hudson appeared.

Program Plans for Better Health Care for African Americans

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

An Ounce of Prevention

Program plans to improve health care among area African Americans.

Two days after Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president -- widely cited as making Martin Luther King’s dream a reality -- a local initiative announced a plan to address continued disparities in health care for African Americans.

The Community Health Partnership’s In Our Hands initiative, a program led by pharmaceutical company Sanofi-aventis, hopes to improve patient care in the African-American community by linking patients to health care professionals and resources.

In Memphis, African Americans are 2 1/2 times more likely to die from diabetes than their white counterparts. They are also more than 1 1/2 times more likely to die from a stroke. Deep vein thrombosis and hypertension are also common within the African-American community.

Cevette Hall, a member of the Healthy Memphis Common Table, says that many African Americans will attempt to "self-treat" before going to a health-care professional.

"There is a large unmet need in the African-American community for better access to care and improved health outcomes," Hall says. "To address this, we engaged in dialogue with both national and local community organizations to build our understanding of the African-American community’s needs and to identify how the partnership can help bridge health disparities."

The partnership’s Community Health Resource Guide, a pocket-sized booklet, contains information about low-cost and free health insurance, prescription assistance, drug treatment programs, food and nutrition services, and contact information for local and state health departments.

"Although a range of health resources are often available to patients in major cities and urban environments, there often is not enough awareness about available programs, treatments, or access to proper care," says LaDorris Knowles, local liaison with the Community Health Partnership. "Consequently, these resources often go underutilized and the patients that need them most remain undeserved."

The guide will be available at local churches, libraries, community organizations and doctors’ offices.

The Community Health Partnership also plans to host several special events. Much of the focus will be on prevention and getting patients help while their health problems are in the early stages.

For more information about the Community Health Partnership, please call 866-61-HANDS (866-614-2637).

By Kimberly Kim

Learn to Lap Dance and Wield a Knife This Weekend

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Just don't try lap dancing while wielding a knife. That moves from sexy to, um, crazy. And we don't need any of that.

Eccentric Studios, the strip-tease workout studio in Bartlett, is offering a Valentine Teaser workshop for women on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. You'll learn to impress your Valentine with a lap dance and an exotic chair routine. Dress in your hottest outfit because a photographer will be on-site taking "sexy" pictures for you to give in place of paper heart valentines.

Accidentally slicing your finger off while chopping onions is no way to impress your Valentine's date. Learn knife skills from Edible Memphis editor Melissa Petersen before you go to work on that romantic dinner. Petersen's class, part of the University of Memphis' Cooking at the Garden series, will be held on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m at the Memphis Botanic Gardens.

Since you’ve likely already failed at your resolution to eat better this year, go ahead and gorge at the annual Chocolate Fantasy benefit for the National Kidney Foundation. Treats made with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and probably even white chocolate will be available for tasting in the Oak Court Mall from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Because dudes who sing in harmony are kind of hot, round out the weekend with a performance by Rockapella. The all-male a cappella group sings pop, soul, and rock ballads. The show starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. For more weekend fun, check out the Flyer's searchable online calendar.

-- Bianca Phillips

Circuit's "History Boys": Not Quite Right, Not Half Bad

Posted on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

"I didn't realize you wrote such bloody awful poetry, Mr. Shankley" --The Smiths, "Frankly Mr. Shankley"

I left Circuit Playhouse's mostly entertaining production of The History Boys with a song on my lips. It wasn't, I am sorry to say, one of the songs prominently featured in the show's ostentatious sound design. It was a Smiths' song, "The Queen is Dead." This verse in particular:

"I checked all the registered historical facts and I was shocked and ashamed to discover how I'm the 18th pale descendant of some old queen or other… Oh, has the world changed, or have I changed? Oh has the world changed, or have I changed?"

Yes, this is a theater column and I really should be writing more about this self-consciously poignant, clever, and literate play that author Alan Bennett has set in the '80s, in a boys' school in England, where everyone seem to be a little bit homosexual except for the predictably doltish headmaster who can't stop squeezing his secretary. But honestly, I'd rather think about The Smiths, a band I closely associate with prep school in the '80s. Johnny Marr's crashing, post-glam guitar sounded like a throbbing beacon from space while Morrissey, the wounded gay protagonist of his own personal A.E. Houseman poem, sang baleful songs inspired in equal parts by George Elliot and Groucho Marx.

Driving home from History Boys I couldn't help but wonder why I'd been subjected to loud samples of bands like The Boomtown Rats, The Clash, and Pet Shop Boys at a play that would have been so much better served by groups like Joy Division, The Damned, or The Cure. Even Duran Duran's awful but hugely successful "The Reflex" would have been perfect for the bit where it's revealed that Hector, an eccentric but beloved general studies teacher likes to "fiddle with" his students' genitals while -- improbably -- driving them about on a motorcycle.

"I'm on a ride and I want to get off, but they wont slow down the roundabout," Simon LeBon whined. "I sold the Renoir and the TV set, don't want to be around when this gets out." It's a perfect fit.

While marveling over all the missed opportunities for a production team determined to bring period music to bear on a show about developing sexual identities in England in the '80s it occurred to me that although History Boys had it’s heart in the right place it was somehow out of tune.

"This is a cliché," snaps Irwin, the amoral, if intellectually dazzling history teacher who's been brought in to groom an exceptionally bright group of young men prior to their interviews for Oxford and Cambridge. One of Irwin's students, a lothario in turned-up lapels who's been banging the school secretary and exhaustively comparing the experience to German political history between world wars, had just offered Irwin a thank-you blowjob for opening his mind to the idea that historical facts are never as useful as a good angle or a sexy story.

The audience is probably not supposed to like Irwin much. He begins the show with a Richard III-style admission of villainy, as he explains how to go on TV and make the case that eliminating the right to trial by jury and the assumption of innocence is actually an expansion of civil liberties.

"Oh, but clichés can be fun, Irwin's amorous student answers, "that's how they got to be clichés." And this, I'm sorry to report, is the thin thesis of an otherwise delightful play that is genuinely full of big ideas.

Everything about History Boys is cliché to such a degree that it has to be confronted. It's Goodbye Mr. Chips, Rushmore, Dead Poets Society, Catcher in the Rye, and Measure for Measure rolled up in one big salute to Henry VIII.

But it is fun, and the Thatcher-era questions about manipulating language for political advantage are sexy indeed in the context of a post-Tony Blair, post-George W. Bush world. Well, at least in the same sense that all those '80s Goths thought Dracula, and torture, and death were sexy.

Dave Landis, Playhouse on the Square's reliable workhorse, pulls double-duty this time out playing Hector, the play's weirdly heroic pedophile and sharing directing duties with Rhodes' artistic director Julia "Cookie" Ewing. As the troubled professor making his students fall in love with dirty vaudeville songs and sonnets shouted at the top of one's lungs, he clowns and cries and passionately passes on romantic notions about how we feather our deathbeds with knowledge. And it's difficult not to root for him even when the ugly truth is out there.

As Irwin, Eric Duhon pulls off the very difficult task of finding attractive qualities an icy and easily unsympathetic character. The students are played enthusiastically by a who's-who of young Memphis talent: Steven Brown, DJ Hill, Joe McDaniel, Michael Towle, Ed Porter, Darrin Miller, and Omair Khattak.

Irene Crist has been on a real wining streak having turned in a spectacular performance as Vivian Leigh in Orson's Shadow last Season. She's only so so as Mrs. Lintott, a history teacher and the play's grumpy conscious. Like Irwin's opening monologue all of Lintott's well-made points about gender roles and their relationship to history feel tacked on.

Now I'm thinking about "Cemetery Gates," a droll dash of literary criticism masquerading as a song that found poor put upon Morrissey taking unoriginal artists to task. "There's always someone, somewhere with a big nose, who knows, they'll trip you up and laugh when you fall," he sang scoldingly. I don’t want to sound like the guy with the big nose, but History Boys, which is still a joy in its own right, really needed to find room for Smiths.

History Boys is on stage at Circuit Playhouse through February 15th. Call 726-4656 for ticket information.

by Chris Davis

George Jones to Sing at Sam's Town

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

For those who may not have heard, times are tough, cash is scarce, and everybody is wondering what new troubles this new year will bring. Well, folks, nobody feels your pain like George Jones, the Cadillac of country music. Over the years he's seen good times — like gold records — and bad times — like having his liver cut in half in a car wreck ...

More about Ol' Possum's upcoming gig here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Elkington, Lipscomb Talk Beale Street

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 4:00 AM

A pair of names in the news, John Elkington and Robert Lipscomb, want to clarify their roles in proposed changes in and around Beale Street ...

More at John Branston's City Beat.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

City Plans for Parks

Posted on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Looks like the city of Memphis is looking closely at its parkland.

The City Council heard from Parks Services Director Cindy Buchanan today about an upcoming city parks master plan.

"The purpose for this project is to provide recreational activities in the best fiscal manner," she said. "We will not bring any major construction projects to the council for various facilities until the master plan is complete."

Buchanan said they would be looking at all facets of the city's parks, including whether there was property the city could "divest ourselves of."

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

More Buffalo Join the Herd at Shelby Farms

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Twenty-eight adult buffalo were added to the Shelby Farms herd today, thanks to a donation by Jeff and Traci Lowe of Medina, Tennessee.

"We've known for a while that we needed new buffalo. The ones we had were inbred, so we had to bring in some new blood," said Jen Andrews, communications manager for the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

The Lowes offered the buffalo after Shelby Farms officials contacted them to purchase used buffalo handling equipment in late 2008. With the new addition, Shelby Farms now has 45 buffalo, several of which are pregnant.

The Shelby Farms master plan calls for improvements to the buffalo range, as well the introduction of new bloodlines.

The new animals are currently separated from the old herd by a fence, allowing them to acclimate to their new home. The barrier will be removed after several weeks and the public will be invited to meet the new bison.

-- Bianca Phillips

Council Approves Residency Change for Police

Posted on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 4:00 AM

The City Council broke a months-long stalemate Tuesday by voting 8-5 in favor of permitting non-Shelby Countians to join the city's police force.

The vote, which saw Harold Collins, chairman of an ad hoc committee studying the issue, and council colleague Janis Fullilove reverse their prior opposition, followed the committee's presentation of its findings earlier in the day.

The revised regulations will permit new police applicats to live within a 20-mile perimeter beyond the Shelby County line if they pay an annual fee of $1,400 and apply before December 31, 2009.

Police director Larry Godwin had told council members the department currently has about 2,100 applicants, due in part to a large marketing campaign, but the department also loses about 100 officers each year to attrition.

"After the marketing campaign is over, the applicants will diminish," said Collins at the earlier presentation. "We're trying to provide enough applicants going forward over the next three years."

Some council members objected to the resolution because a similar provision went before the full council two months ago.

"To bring it back before us, simply because an ad hoc committee decided to, is very disappointing," said councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware. "In our rules of procedure, once a matter has been approved or rejected at one meeting, any such item may not be placed on the agenda ... for consideration before six months after the original consideration of the matter."

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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hear Neal Conan and Watch Tango Dancers This Weekend

Posted on Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Unfortunately, NPR's Neal Conan will not actually be tango dancing in tonight's performance of Guillermina Quiroga's Tango, Historia Breves at the Buckman Performing & Fine Arts Center at 8 p.m.

But you can hear Conan's soothing voice as the narrator of Universe of Dreams at the Germantown Performing Arts Center tonight at 8 p.m. The multi-media concert explores the mysteries of the universe through poetry and prose ... whatever that means.

Tomorrow night, impress your friends by heading to the opera. Lucky for you, Opera Memphis' current show is far from traditional. Scott Joplin's ragtime opera Treemonisha centers on the life of an African-American girl living in Texarkana, Arkansas in the late 1800s. The show runs Saturday and Sunday night at the Orpheum.

Sick of all this anti-gay marriage talk? Learn how to lobby in favor of gay and lesbian rights at the GLBT Lobbying 101 workshop at the University of Memphis Law School on Saturday at 2 p.m. The workshop is hosted by the Tennessee Equality Project.

Pick up early Valentine's gifts at the Memphis Gift and Jewelry Show at the Memphis Cook Convention center. The annual trade show features more than 200 exhibitors selling jewelry, apparel, perfumes, artwork, and more. The expo runs Saturday through Monday.

For more weekend fun, check out the Flyer's searchable online calendar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Frayser to Get Foreclosure Funds

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Somebody call the mayor of Frayser. It looks like he'll be getting some new constituents.

Last October, Memphis and Shelby County held an emergency summit to discuss how to spend more than $14 million in federal foreclosure funds ...

Read the rest here.

Kelsey-Williams Spat Continues

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Representative Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) released the following statement today from his law office in Memphis:

"For the Speaker [Kent Williams] to go ahead and appoint the members of the Ethics Committee, knowing that they will be hearing a pending complaint against him shows a further lack of ethical judgment. It's a clear conflict of interest for the Speaker to hand-pick all his own jurors."

Kelsey filed an Ethics Complaint yesterday against Speaker of the House Kent Williams for Williams's acts of sexual harassment and for making a false statement to the public regarding the allegations. Kelsey's complaint included a motion that that the Speaker recuse himself from the appointment of the Ethics Committee and instead allow Leaders Odom and Mumpower to appoint the members of the Ethics Committee, each appointing members from his own party caucus in equal numbers. Instead, this morning Speaker Williams appointed the members of the committee himself. The Ethics Committee will be charged with holding a hearing on the Ethics Complaint filed against Williams.

For more, read Jackson Baker's Politics column.

Joe Scott Documentary Nominated for Regional Emmy

Posted on Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 4:00 AM

"Joe Scott: Memories of the Negro Leagues," a documentary in which Memphis Redbirds vice president Reggie Williams interviewed the former baseball player, was recently nominated for a regional Emmy award.

Scott played for the Memphis Red Sox from 1944 to 1949 and was the first African American to play at Wrigley Field. Last summer, the Memphian was "drafted" by the Milwaukee Brewers in a special draft for the surviving Negro League players.

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

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