August 2009 Archives

Background on Benjamin Yeung, Hybrid Kinetic mega-plant in Tunica

 
Automotive News has a fascinating story today on Yang Rong, aka Yung "Benjamin" Yeung, who was behind plans to build a $6.5 billion hybrid-electric car plant in Tunica County, Miss.

Details of the Hybrid Kinetic Automotive venture -- which is projected to occupy 3,500 acres, provide 25,000 jobs and produce a whopping 1 million cars a year -- emerged when a federal judge in Mississippi revealed details of a convoluted lawsuit involving Yang and associates including Xiaolin "Charles" Wang. The lawsuit stemmed from a disagreement between Wang and Yeung over whether Wang was Yeung's employee or an equal partner. Furthermore, Wang and others appeared to be going their own way under a very similar name. Under a settlement, Wang and Yeung would compete in separate ventures, each of which would dwarf Toyota's mothballed Prius plant in Mississippi.  One industry analyst called the plan "outrageous" and suggested that investors "vet that business plan carefully."

Of course, as the Automotive News article points out, most of the investors were Chinese nationals who were investing with the promise of obtaining U.S. residency.

A commercial investment of $1 million, or $500,000 if made in an economically distressed area such as northern Mississippi, qualifies a foreign family for a permanent-resident green card. "A lot of people in China want to move some of their money out of China," [Yang's spokesman Vincent] Wang said.

Yeung himself had to flee China without most of his assets after running afoul of the Chinese state:

In the early 1990s, Yang was one of the first entrepreneurs to strike it rich in China's auto industry. He was hailed in China as part of a new generation of savvy businessmen and credited with catapulting Brilliance from making dreary buses into BMW's partner in making BMW 3- and 5-series cars.

In 2001, Forbes magazine said Yang was the third-richest entrepreneur in China. He listed Brilliance's stock on the New York Stock Exchange, a first for a Chinese enterprise.

But in 2002, after feuding with a Chinese provincial governor over the location of a new factory, Yang found himself charged with unspecified economic crimes. He fled the country under a false passport for Los Angeles, where he joined his wife and four children. Most of his own personal wealth had to be abandoned in China.


The story keeps getting weirder. The provincial governor claimed that Yeung was actually a government agent, and a court in Bermuda -- where Yeung's Brilliance company was incorporated -- ruled that he never actually owned any of the company.

So will these two competing hybrid-electric car mega-plants be an economic boon for Mississippi, or a boondoggle of visa fraud for wealthy Chinese?

UPDATE: Here's a story from The Miami Herald with more information on EB-5 or investor visas.


Al Green testifies on music and preaching

 
algreen.jpg Memphis soul legend and minister Al Green talks about the tension in his life and career between the spiritual and secular realms in an interview published today in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Forrest City, Ark., native says it was Hank Williams' wife, Audrey Williams, who got him to think about singing secular music again after a decade singing only gospel:

"I can't tell the man upstairs what to do, so I had to go seek and ask and inquire, 'What are you doing?' " he says. "And the answer that I got is, 'If the people are asking you what am I doing and how can you sing what you're singing and be my son, ask them how did they get here?' "

Green, who preaches most Sundays at Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, also says that his sermons are improvised, much like the vocal riffing on his hit records:

"Sometimes I don't sing what's on the page in the studio, or I don't write anything for preaching at all because I figure, like, if I don't know enough about Him now, after 30 years, I'm not gonna know it by reading a little bit this afternoon," Green, 63, says by phone from his Memphis office.

"Isn't that fantastic?" he asks, laughing.

Green performs Wednesday at The Warfield in San Francisco.

Memphis: Where Bob Dylan meets postmodern design

 
Bob Boilen of NPR's All Songs Considered blog checks in from vacation to comment on Bob Dylan's announcement last week that he is in negotiations with "a couple of car companies about being the voice of their GPS system":

Imagine asking your GPS to find the nearest Piggly Wiggly, and having it chime back, "Oh, mama, can this really be the end / to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again."

9_9Lg.jpg That got the wheels turning in my head. "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" is one of the few Dylan songs I actually like, and I heard the Grateful Dead play it at The Pyramid back in April 1995, their last tour before the death of Jerry Garcia. The song also inspired the name of a Milan-based design collective of the early 1980s that embodied the kitschy, garish styles of the MTV era:

Originally dubbed The New Design, the project was rechristened Memphis after the Bob Dylan lyric "Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)" stuck repeatedly at "Memphis Blues Again" on [Ettore] Sottsass' record player. "Sottsass said: 'Okay, let's call it Memphis," wrote Radice, "and everyone thought it was a great name: Blues, Tennessee, rock'n'roll, American suburbs, and then Egypt, the Pharoahs' capital, the holy city of the god, Ptah."

I was quick to make this connection between the Dylan song and the Memphis design group because earlier today I had run across an article about the movement on the Web site of the Canadian pubication Tandem. This article happens to give a decent definition of the Memphis style:

... which under the guidance of the veteran Sottsass, introduced bold colours and kitschy 1950s style graphics to Western consumer culture in the '80s.

Although Memphis wasn't a huge commercial success, its design influence could be felt during the decade in the popularity of, for instance, fluorescent and neon colours in consumer products. After the seriousness of modernism, Sottsass and company gave designers implicit permission to loosen up and have some fun with their work.

The New York Times had a nice article about Memphis design a couple of years ago, when it declared that "Memphis is back again."

So there you have it -- the nexus between Bob Dylan's 1966 Blonde on Blonde album and Karl Lagerfeld's '80s pad in Monaco -- is good old Memphis.

Memphis rated No. 6 city for live music

 
The Society of American Travel Writers has rated Memphis No. 6 on its listing of the top 10 North American cities for live music. Here are the blurbs:

"Barbecue and blues, blues and barbecue.  Memphis is a foot-tapping, sensory delight."  John H. Ostdick, freelance travel writer

"Doesn't get any better than Memphis, Beale St. and barbecue, wow, what a concerto.  Plus the ghost of old Elvis is always hanging around somewhere, munching on a fried banana and peanut butter sandwich and strumming his guitar."  Rich Browne, host, Barbecue America

Sen. Edward Kennedy's shining moment in Memphis

 
Many of the obituaries for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., mention his 1978 speech in Memphis as a key step on his path to challenging President Jimmy Carter for the party's nomination in 1980. Says The New York Times:

 Although Edward Kennedy supported Carter in 1976, by late 1978 he was disenchanted. Polls indicated that the senator was becoming popular while the president was losing support. In December, at a midterm Democratic convention in Memphis, Kennedy could hold back no longer. He gave a thundering speech that, in retrospect, was the opening shot in the 1980 campaign.
   "Sometimes a party must sail against the wind," he declared, referring to Carter's economic belt-tightening and political caution. "We cannot heed the call of those who say it is time to furl the sail. The party that tore itself apart over Vietnam in the 1960s cannot afford to tear itself apart today over budget cuts in basic social programs."
   Kennedy did not then declare his candidacy. But draft-Kennedy groups began to form in early 1979, and some Democrats up for re-election in 1980 began to cast about for coattails that were longer than Carter's.

The 1980 campaign turned out to be a disaster for Kennedy, and Carter went to on to defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan.

The Boston Globe obit also mentions the "sail" speech and includes Carter's response, which would not be at all out of place in Memphis politics:

Carter's response to a group of Democratic congressmen: If Senator Kennedy did challenge him in the 1980 election, "I'll whip his ass.''

Blogger Ed Cognoski hears echoes of Kennedy's Memphis speech in today's debate over budget priorities, especially health care reform:

Today, thirty years later, Kennedy's goal is still unfulfilled, the country still adrift. Voters have the best chance in generation to elect a President and a Congress who can do something about that. The wind is shifting.

This 1981 article from The Atlantic mentions Kennedy's Memphis speech in its examination of the budget battle going on at the beginning of Reagan's first term (it's pretty quaint in that the budget-deficit figures they're talking about are on the order of about $50 billion).

This convention had not only the normal, built-in dissatisfactions but also the issue of President Carter's budget directions and priorities to chew on. ...

In commenting on the speech, Adam Clymer of the New York Times wrote, "Senator Edward M. Kennedy today confronted President Carter over the spirit that should guide the Democratic party.

"In a ringing speech to a cheering audience of 2,500, the Massachusetts Democrat seized a building mood at the conference, where unhappiness about budget proposals was heard again and again at workshops on the cities, inflation, arms control and health insurance."

UPDATE: WMC-TV has a video clip of the 1978 speech. Thanks to commenter John David for pointing this out.

Remaining charges dropped for casino cheat Richard Taylor

 
Richard Taylor, a Memphis man who was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for masterminding a craps cheating scheme at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, had additional charges dropped today from another, smaller scheme at the Mohegan Sun.

Taylor, 43, who called himself "Mr. Casino" and the world's greatest craps player, refused to cooperate at various points of the trial and always maintained that it was his winning system, not cheating, that accounted for his success. His accomplices -- casino employees who accepted large tips in exchange for letting Taylor place illegal or late bets -- fared somewhat better in their punishment:

Foxwoods employees who had testified at Taylor's trial that they took money in exchange for paying him for late or illegal bets have been allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses or apply for accelerated rehabilitation, a diversionary program in which the charges are wiped from their criminal record if they successfully complete a probationary period.

Says casino cheating expert Richard Marcus:

You can bet your ass his fellow jailbirds will be watching him like a hawk around the prison makeshift craps table, which will probably be a dirt pit in the prison yard and not one of those miniature craps tables you can by in novelty stores that the prosecution brought into the courtroom during Taylor´s trial. In any event, Taylor got more prison time for his little $70,000 2-casino scam than those so far sentenced in the Tran Organization baccarat scam that netted $20 million in fifteen casinos over five years. I guess his attitude in the courtroom didn't help him much.

Valero restarts Memphis gasoline unit

 
Valero Energy Corp. restarted a key gasoline-making unit at its Memphis refinery over the weekend, according to The Wall Street Journal's table of production outages. The unit was taken offline Aug. 6 when a catalytic cracking unit needed repairs.

According to The Commercial Appeal, "Valero is the only oil refinery in Tennessee, and it provides most of the fuel sold in West Tennessee. The refinery has operated since 1941 through a succession of owners. It can process about 195,000 gallons of oil per day, and supplies fuel to Memphis International Airport via pipeline." It employs about 500 people.

FBI's WMD unit touts Memphis anthrax conviction

 
It won't go down in the annals of audacious terror attacks, but the conviction of hapless Marshall DeWayne Williams still counts to the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

The WMDD, formed in 2006 to track threats involving chemical, biological and radiological weapons, touts the Williams conviction and five-year prison sentence in a list of accomplishments released today.

Williams was serving time at the Federal Correctional Institute at Memphis for killing his stepfather with a pipe bomb. He maintains he should have been paroled in 1994 -- before the federal system abolished parole -- and he sent letter containing suspicious powder to a federal judge in what he called "a high-stakes gamble" to draw attention to his case. The powder turned out to be artificial sweetener, and the gamble obviously did not pay off.

Steve Jobs' Memphis transplant surgeon speaks out

 
Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn't game the system by choosing to have his liver transplant surgery earlier this year in Memphis, his surgeon said in a profile published today by Bloomberg.

Dr. James Eason, head of the transplant program at Methodist University Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, had addressed misconceptions about Jobs' case earlier this summer, when he told The Commercial Appeal that the Apple icon was in fact the sickest patient on the waiting list. In his remarks to Bloomberg, Eason went further, laying out his criteria for performing such an operation:

"It's not gaming the system," he said in the Aug. 18 interview in Memphis. "It's people choosing where they want their health care. Some people would leave Tennessee to go to California or somewhere else to seek treatment. Now we have people coming from California to Tennessee."

Eason said he will only perform a liver transplant on a neuroendocrine tumor patient when certain that he can eliminate all the spreading cancer. His results with these patients have been about the same as those with other liver-cancer sufferers, about 70 percent of whom have healthy organs five years after surgery, he said.

A. Benedict Cosimi, a former Harvard surgery professor who trained Eason, said that Eason's experience in performing transplants for patients with neuroendocrine tumor simply made Eason the right choice:

"This is just an example of how if someone is good, people in the know will figure it out," Cosimi said Aug. 19 in a telephone interview.

Of course, a surgeon working out of Methodist University Hospital in inner-city Memphis doesn't just work for the rich and famous, as Eason himself stressed:

Eason, whose 693-bed hospital is the largest in Memphis, said he treats a higher percentage of blacks than the national average. Last year, 15.4 percent of its liver transplant recipients were black, compared with a national rate of 10.3 percent, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, a national database of transplant statistics based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While patients of Jobs's stature are welcome, they aren't regarded differently than anyone else, Eason said.

"Memphis is a very impoverished city in and of itself, with a large minority population," he said. "I can tell you our floors aren't full of billionaires."

Read the rest of the story for more background on neuroendocrine tumors and Jobs' case in particular, not to mention the story of how Eason moved his practice to Memphis after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his clinic in New Orleans.

In Memphis area, it's almost cheaper to own home than to rent

 
The Memphis metro area is the fourth-cheapest market for home ownership, according to a ranking by BusinessWeek along with research firm Reis. The own/rent ratio is 114 percent, with average annual ownership costs at $8,593 and rental costs at $7,524. Here's how BusinessWeek calculated the ranking:

To create a fair matchup between owning and renting, we calculated ownership costs assuming a fixed 30-year loan for 100% of the purchase price with no down payment. If we had instead decided to factor in a 20% down payment, owning would have been the cheaper option for the top 10 metros on our list. [Emphasis added]


Don't hold your breath for lower prices from U-Verse, critics say

 
AT&T's U-verse Internet-TV service, which debuted Monday in the Memphis area, has its share of critics, who charge that AT&T's heavy lobbying effort in Tennessee and other states fulfilled the telecom giant's wish list without any price benefit to consumers. Karl Bode of dslreports.com writes:

The problem with such laws, as we've well discussed, is that they often streamline franchise approval at the cost of citizen eminent domain rights, price controls, cherry-picking restrictions and other consumer protections. In most states the laws are written by AT&T lobbyists and are essentially wish lists for baby bell operators, hidden under the promise of lower TV prices for consumers. Not too surprisingly, consumers who were promised lower TV prices are looking at AT&T U-Verse pricing in Memphis and wondering where their savings is.

Obituaries and tributes to Jim Dickinson

 
I took a sick day on Monday, so now's my chance to get everyone caught up on the multitude of tributes and obituaries to Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson, who died Saturday at age 67.

Writer Joe Nick Patoski shares the oral history that Dickinson contributed to the Voices of Civil Rights project earlier this decade. It helps to place Dickinson as well as Memphis music in general into the greater narrative of that period in history:

Jim Dickinson makes a passionate, articulate case for Memphis being the greatest music city in modern history. As the home of Elvis Presley, it was for all practical purposes the birthplace of rock n' roll. It is also the rich melting pot where blues, rhythm 'n' blues, and soul, hillbilly, rockabilly, and country & western mixed and blended to create the most American of sounds. To achieve this feat, Memphis musicians like Dickinson, both black and white, defied Jim Crow laws and crossed color lines out of the simple desire to make music. By doing so, they broke down barriers long before the courts or lawmakers got around to changing laws.

The Wall Street Journal's pop-culture blog Speakeasy posts a clip from the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary "Gimme Shelter" in which the band listens to a freshly recorded "Wild Horses," on which Dickinson played barrelhouse-style piano. You can see Dickinson kicking back on the couch next to Keith Richards.

Paste Magazine's short write-up merely covers the bases, but it does include a nice picture of Dickinson with what appears to be Jack Yarber in the background.

Broadcast Newsroom carries a testimonial from John Fry, founder of Ardent Studios, where Dickinson was a major creative force. Jody Stephens, the Ardent manager and Big Star drummer, says Dickinson "defined independent spirit in music."

The New York Yankees-focused blog Fack Youk offers an insightful recap of Dickinson's career and influence, noting that" you may never have heard of Jim Dickinson, but chances are you've heard Jim Dickinson." The post includes a video of Dickinson's roots-blues project Mud Boy and the Neutrons, which also featured Sid Selvidge and son Luther Dickinson.

UPDATE: David Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times empties the notebook from his past conversations with Dickinson, who spent some of his boyhood in Chicago:

Our two-hour conversation included Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, Bob Dylan, Memphis wrestler Jerry Lawler (a faded photo of the wrestler hung above Mr. Dickinson's sofa), Oxford writer-fireman Larry Brown and Chicago ragtime player Two Ton Baker.



Report: Memphis Mob figures jumping bail in New Mexico, coming home

 
When police in Albuquerque, N.M., announced in the spring that they had busted up a cocaine-trafficking network from Memphis, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin puffed out his chest and tried to claim credit, even though he hadn't even been aware that the so-called Memphis Mob was operating out West:

"When can I send the rest of them to New Mexico?" Godwin said.

"I've been saying for three years now that we're pushing crime out of here. I think we are pushing it out, all the way to New Mexico," he added. "I think we're doing things here that are making them uncomfortable."

But it's hard to keep a Memphis dope boy down. KOB-TV in New Mexico reports that up to a dozen members of the Memphis Mob have left the state after posting bond. After 10 Memphis Mob figures were indicted for racketeering and conspiracy, those who bonded out on lesser drug charges are heading back to Memphis before the other shoe drops on them. And even one of the men who was indicted, 30-year-old Mark Bradford, fled the charges and is believed to be back in Shelby County. 

Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz says it's frustrating, but, hey, that's the system:

"We're very glad they're gone, but at the same time I think we need to send more of a message, the fact that we're not going to forget about them," Schultz said.

One hopes that Schultz's counterpart in Memphis hasn't forgotten about the Memphis Mob, either.



Charter-school spotlight shines on Memphis

 
A story in today's Wall Street Journal explores how states, under pressure from the U.S. Education Department, are expanding opportunities for students to enroll in charter schools, public schools that are run by autonomous groups and that trade increased accountability for greater freedom. Power Center Academy, a charter school in Memphis' Hickory Hill area, gets prominent mention in the story.

Tennessee is among seven states that recently lifted restrictions on charter schools, expanding eligibility to low-income families and increasing the maximum number of charter schools in the Memphis City Schools district from 20 to 35. (Eligibility had been restricted under the 2002 charter-schools law to students from other charter schools, or students who were either low-performers themselves or went to low-performing schools.)

Parents in Memphis already are taking advantage, according to the WSJ story:

Power Center Academy, where Ms. Byrd's son is now enrolled in sixth grade, is a new middle school in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Memphis. Students don uniforms, each gets a laptop, and they learn business concepts along with their other classes.

The school had a waiting list of 30 families who wanted to get in but couldn't because of the existing law. After the law changed a few weeks before the first day of school, Power Center leader Yetta Lewis made a "mad race for the phone" and called those applicants whom she had previously turned away. "I've had parents shout and scream" with joy, she says.

I was puzzled to find that the front page of Power Center's Web site has not been updated to include the new, looser eligibility rules.

 

York, Pa., police study 'Memphis model' for mental-illness calls

 
As part of a four-part series on mental-health issues, the York (Pa.) Daily Record reports on how York County police representatives traveled to Memphis in April to study how the Memphis Police Department handles mentally ill people in crisis. The April visit was just a two-day overview; the York departments lack funding for the full 40-hour training program.

The Daily Record story holds up the Memphis Police Crisis Intervention Team as a successful model that York police want to emulate. Furthermore, the article says that Tennessee laws give police more options to deal with the mentally ill, and that Memphis has more treatment options and facilities than York.

The article provides a bit of background on the Memphis police approach to responding to crises involving mentally ill people:

The Memphis Model started in the late 1980s after public outcry over the police shooting of a mentally ill man who was cutting himself with a knife.

The idea was to be able to train officers to handle the crisis as it's occurring rather than waiting for mental health professionals to arrive.

Officers learn how to calm the person, call relatives to help or summon a mobile crisis unit so counselors can make an assessment at the scene, said Maj. Tim Canady, coordinator for the team.

In Memphis, police also can drive someone to the Crisis Assessment Center, where medical professionals can determine whether the person can be involuntarily committed.

Police can go back to work within 15 to 30 minutes, said Dr. Randolph Dupont, who also helped to develop the Crisis Intervention Team.


Dave Brown, Lance Russell reunite for wrestling fanfest

 
russell_hoh.jpgI thought I'd post about this for all those of you who, like me, spent part of your childhood Saturday mornings glued to Channel 5.

Dave Brown and Lance Russell (right), the broadcast duo who hosted WMC-TV's Saturday morning wrestling broadcasts for decades, brought a Memphis flavor to last weekend's NWA Legends Fanfest, a nostalgia event that brought hundreds of fans to Charlotte, N.C. Brown inducted Russell into the Hall of Heroes during the weekend's centerpiece banquet.

Canadian Web site SLAM! Sports has a rundown of the proceedings. Some highlights:

* On their professional relationship:

Brown explained how he owes his career in TV -- he's still doing the weather on Channel 5 in Memphis nearly 40 years after he started calling matches -- to Russell, a former TV executive in the city.

"It was fun all the way down the line," said Russell, hailed by banquet emcee Jim Cornette as the "greatest wrestling announcer in history."

* On Saturday morning wrestling:

Joined by legendary Tennessee promoter Jerry Jarrett, they walked fans through the angles and plots that made Memphis TV must-see broadcasts every Saturday morning.

"It was something we enjoyed doing," Brown said. "It wasn't something we had to do. We came to work on Saturday, which was our day off because we had fun and we enjoyed what we were doing."

Memphis-based Cooper Hotels cranks up solar power

 
Memphis-based Cooper Hotels is installing solar power technology to provide hot water at two of its Tennessee properties, according to a story today in Hotels, a hospitality industry publication.

The Hilton Knoxville Airport and the Doubletree Hotel Oak Ridge are the first two hotels in Tennessee to use solar power systems, which Cooper President and CEO Pace Cooper boasts will pay for themselves in cost savings in a short time (Obviously, hotels use a ton of hot water for showering and laundry.).

The article says that Cooper Hotels plans to move forward aggressively with environmental sustainability programs at all 10 of its Tennessee properties, which include the Doubletree East Memphis.


Cirque du Soleil preparing Elvis-themed show for Las Vegas

 
The King will return to Las Vegas soon ...

Acrobatic circus troupe Cirque du Soleil is putting together a show based on Elvis Presley's life and music to take up residence at the new ARIA Hotel & Casino at CityCenter, according to theatermania.com.

The production, which has not been officially named, will fuse dance and acrobatics, live music and iconic tracks, nostalgia and modernity, high technology and raw emotion.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has more information about rehearsals and last week's preview, which was attended by Priscilla Presley.

The ARIA is already promoting the show on its Web site.

In short, the show will be in Elvis' image: powerful, sexy, whimsical and truly unique.

UPDATE: Read the story in today's Commercial Appeal here.


Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Elvis tribute artist

 

With it being Elvis Week and all, The New York Times' The Lede Blog finds disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich breaking into the ranks of tribute artists as a way to earn a living in this tough economy. (Recall that Blago was denied in his bid to appear on the reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"; then his wife, Patti, eventually did appear on the show.)

Blago's choice of song is "Treat Me Nice." His voice is pretty weak, although the hair works in his favor and he works in some of Elvis' martial arts-inspired motions. Maybe the weirdest part of the clip -- filmed at a party for a video production company -- is the Fabio impersonator who shows up in the beginning (the guy's name is Butch!). Enjoy ...


Trial date set for Memphis woman's suit against Morgan Freeman

 
APTOPIX-People-Morgan-Freem.jpgDemaris L. Meyer of Memphis will get her day in court against actor Morgan Freeman next August, The Associated Press reported late last night.

Recall that early last August, Freeman was driving Meyer (right) in her car near his home in the Mississippi Delta when it left the road, flipped and landed in a ditch on Miss. 32 near Charleston. Both of them were seriously injured.

The aftermath of the wreck got ugly, with Meyer retaining celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and denying that she was Freeman's mistress or the reason for the breakup of his marriage. For Freeman's part, his attorney claimed Meyer was partly to blame for the crash.

Meyer is suing Freeman for negligence. She claims medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages from her job at FedEx, permanent disability and property damage. The trial is set for Aug. 9, 2010, in Oxford.


By now, you have probably read about the three award honorees announced today by the National Civil Rights Museum: the Dalai Lama (International Freedom Award), Julius "Dr. J" Erving (Legacy Award) and Myrlie Evers-Williams (National Freedom Award). So I thought I'd get everyone caught up on what these three luminaries have been up to lately.

The Dalai Lama, in Geneva for a conference on the Tibet question, said today that China has failed for 60 years to win the trust of minorities. That failure was underscored by deadly clashes in July in western Xinjiang province involving the Turkic Muslim Uighur people. Of course, the Xinjiang clashes came just weeks after the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, making for a very tough summer for China in the court of international public opinion.

Evers-Williams was honored today as the Jackson (Miss.) Free Press' Person of the Day. The newspaper's article gives a good rundown of her accomplishments, and notes that the "NAACP credits Evers-Williams for spearheading the operations that restored the association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization." She served for three years as chairwoman of the NAACP after the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith in the 1963 slaying of her husband, Medgar Evers.

Erving is living in Atlanta these days. Last year, he purchased the Heritage Golf Course in Norcross, and he is looking to buy a home in the area. In addition to serving on a host of corporate boards and foundations, he starred last year in commercials for Dr. Pepper.

University of Memphis-hatched Sport Sales Combine this weekend

 
The director of the University of Memphis' Bureau of Sports & Leisure Commerce is one of the founders of a program happening this weekend that will help identify hot prospects in sports ticket-selling.

The Sports Sales Combine, started by the U of M's Dr Richard Irwin and Bill Sutton of the University of Central Florida, lets prospective sellers pay for a shot at proving their talents for such franchises as baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, the NBA's New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, soccer's Chicago, and legendary venue Madison Square Garden. CNBC's sports business reporter Darren Rovell says "it just might be the next great idea in sports marketing."

As the name suggests, the Sports Sales Combine is a bit like the NFL Combine before the spring draft -- a chance to poke, prod and measure the next crop of stars. And it pays big dividends for both the sellers and the participating franchises, according to last year's program in Atlanta.

For the host team, the whole idea is a no brainer. In Atlanta, $17,000 worth of tickets were sold and the teams found some great new people. Sutton said that 13 of the 50 people from the Atlanta event were hired within a month and 19 eventually got jobs in the ticketing business.

Sutton said he believes that at least 20 jobs will be available from this weekend's event.


City of Memphis suing bankrupt Lehman for about 9 bucks

 
Reuters has a story today about strapped states and municipalities going after bankrupt financial giant Lehman Brothers for unpaid taxes, as well as contracts and investments. For example, New York City leads the pack with a $627 million claim, and California seeks $22 million. According to bankruptcy procedure, tax liens like New York's would get higher priority than unsecured ones like the $155 million claim of San Mateo County, Calif., which invested in Lehman notes.

Another municipality with a tax claim, though a bit smaller, is the City of Memphis, which has entered a claim in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for -- wait for it -- $8.91.

Financial adviser Jon Barrack's post-Stanford struggle

 
Finding a job in this tough recessionary market is a lot more difficult if your former employer collapsed in the flames of scandal. The Wall Street Journal blog Managing Your Career explores today some of the problems faced by job-seekers late of tainted companies, such as how to explain away that tenure with, say, Bernard Madoff's outfit.

One man struggling with rehabilitating his career is Jon A. Barrack, a Memphis investment adviser who lost his job with Stanford Financial Group after federal authorities took over the company, which was implicated in the second-biggest Ponzi scheme in history (after Madoff's).

Paychecks stopped for Mr. Barrack and many of the financial firm's 3,000 employees. He lacked income until April, when he began working for Oppenheimer & Co. in Memphis, Tenn. On July 15, Oppenheimer closed his office--part of its broader layoff of 20 of the roughly 90 ex-Stanford counselors hired. Mark Whaley, an Oppenheimer managing director, blames the advisers' insufficient transfer of Stanford clients and their assets because some assets remained frozen and some clients switched providers.

Mr. Barrack became a personal wealth adviser again in July in the Memphis office of a midsize firm, after tapping his extensive web of personal contacts to help land the job. Getting hired there "is a miracle," he says. After his Stanford and Oppenheimer experiences, Mr. Barrack feels extremely lucky to have landed employment again so fast. "I have been struck by lightning twice and am still standing," he says.

But he doubts he soon will make a good living again. "It's going to take a substantial rebuilding process to get back to what I was making at Stanford Financial," he predicts.


Another complication for Barrack that the WSJ article does not mention: Texas attorney Ralph Janvey, the court-appointed receiver who terminated Barrack and dozens of others in Memphis, filed a lawsuit in April seeking to recover millions of dollars in commissions from Stanford investment advisers, including Barrack and four others in the Memphis office. Barrack alone could be on the hook for $241,751 connected to incentives from the sale of allegedly fraudulent certificates of deposit. Janvey would distribute the money to defrauded investors if the suit is successful.


See trailer for Oher movie 'The Blind Side' with Sandra Bullock

 

The trailer is out for "The Blind Side," the movie starring Sandra Bullock and based on the best-selling book "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game." The subject, of course, is the wealthy white Tuohy family and their adoption of young Michael Oher, an African-American teenager from a broken home who overcame terrible circumstances to become a star left tackle at Briarcrest and Ole Miss and a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

Although the movie is based on events that happened in Memphis, it was filmed in Atlanta, with the Westminster Schools standing in for Briarcrest. Bullock takes top billing as Oher's adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, and native Memphian Kathy Bates plays the young man's tutor. Country-music star Tim McGraw plays Leigh Anne's husband, Sean Tuohy.


Catching up with the Hill Country Revue

 
hillcountry2.jpgJust one year into the band's existence, the Hill Country Revue is racking up an impressive list of accomplishments.

Formed by Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars after brother and bandmate Luther Dickinson was hired for the lead-guitar chair in The Black Crowes, the band's "You Can Make It" -- first single from debut album Make a Move -- was featured last week as the free Discovery Download on the iTunes Music Store. In addition, the Revue's summer tour will include a couple of dates opening for Dave Matthews Band at Noblesville, Ind. (the old Deer Creek venue).

Hill Country Revue had to cancel an appearance in July with rappers Eightball & MJG at the Hi-Tone, but you can catch the band in a special "acoustic jamboree" performance at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, at Otherlands in Midtown. In the meantime, check out the video for "You Can Make It" on the band's YouTube channel.
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