February 2010 Archives

The name Malcolm Fraser might not ring a bell for Memphians at first glance. But if I were to describe him as the former Australian prime minister who was involved in the notorious "Memphis Trousers Affair," that might help jog the old memory.

Fraser was about three years removed from his political career when he showed up in the lobby of the seedy Admiral Benbow Inn in Memphis in 1986. He was wearing only a towel, and was confused as to what had happened to his pants. The incident was widely reported, but was never explained. Now Fraser, who is 80, has released a new political memoir, but while there is plenty in the book about his controversial rise to power in 1975, there is nothing about the "Memphis Trousers Affair."

The incident was such a laugh in Australia that it actually inspired the name of a long-running TV show: "Roy & HG's Memphis Trousers Half Hour." Here's another little anecdote about the imbroglio from a veteran Australian journalist, writing in 2002:

It is 16 years since I last wrote about Malcolm Fraser. It was after he lost his trousers, and a lot more, at the Admiral Benbow Inn in Memphis, on October 14, 1986. Back then, when I called the former prime minister to tell him I had the Memphis story, there was a silence, then, after a few exchanges and another long pause, he said: "I wish I'd never been to bloody Memphis."

The region of Ayrshire in Scotland will celebrate next week the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley's only visit to the United Kingdom. It was only an hour stopover as Elvis flew from his military service in Germany back to the United States. The Herald has a story about the occasion, including some quotes from the official British Air Ministry photographer who was there that day:

"Every time I see or hear Elvis I'm immediately transported back to that night," says (Ian) Ghee, 75, who lives in Kilmarnock. "I really feel an affinity to him, although that's maybe slightly misplaced. I've had a lot of mileage out of that particular night."

The article notes the controversy over theater producer Bill Kenwright's revelation a couple years ago of Elvis' supposedly secret visit to London in 1958, and says a spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises denies that such a visit ever took place. That suits fine the town of Prestwick, which takes some pride in being the only spot of British soil on which The King trod.

Columnist not surprised by fight at Memphis Chuck E. Cheese

In re. the fracas last week at a Chuck E. Cheese in Memphis, Richard Montenegro Brown of the Imperial Valley (Calif.) Press is not surprised:

It's not difficult to understand why a near riot broke out in a Memphis Chuck E Cheese this week after a man punched a woman in line at the photo booth. How there isn't some kind of violent assault at each and every restaurant throughout the country each and every minute it's open to the public baffles me.

UPDATE: I never imagined what a phenomenon this is. Violence is widespread at Chuck E. Cheese locations. A commenter passed along a link about a shots-fired brawl at a Chuck E. Cheese in Toledo, and my friend E.J. Friedman sent me a link to a 2008 Wall Street Journal story about fights at Chuck E. Cheeses all over the country ("Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, again").

Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese's, since it is designed to be a haven for children. Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children's birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

New York Times on accused Little Rock shooter Abdulhakim Muhammad

The New York Times had an interesting takeout Tuesday on Abdulhakim Muhammad, the Memphis native and convert to Islam who will stand trial in June for the deadly shooting at a military recruiting center last year in Little Rock.

This is the first story I have seen on the topic that delves into Muhammad's earlier years as Carlos Bledsoe, as well as his family. His parents reportedly were displeased by his conversion to Sunni Islam, and his father set up Muhammad with a job in Little Rock after the son returned from Yemen, where he had been jailed. The father, Melvin Bledsoe, wants shine a light on his son's radicalization, The Times reports:

Though he has hired a lawyer for his son, visits him in his cell in Little Rock on weekends and contributes to his defense, Mr. Bledsoe, 54, says he has no illusions about his son's guilt.

"My heart bleeds for the families of the victims," he said.

What he wants, Mr. Bledsoe says, is to understand how "evildoers" brainwashed his son, as he puts it. And he wants the F.B.I. held accountable for what he considers its negligence in preventing the attack.

"They didn't pull the trigger, but they allowed this to happen," Mr. Bledsoe said. "It is owed to the American people to know what happened. If it can happen to my son, it can happen to anyone's son."

Memphis ranks 103rd out of 104 in rating of best cities to find love

As you ease your way into Valentine's Day weekend, consider this item from The Daily Beast, where a rating of America's 104 largest cities finds Memphis second from the bottom of the best "Cities to Find Love." Memphis got a D in the social life category -- measured by dividing the number of restaurants and bars by the number of over-21 adults -- and a big fat F in something called "emotional health." It's as silly and arbitrary as these city rankings come, but it's something to converse about this weekend.

So which hapless city came in dead last? Lexington, Ky., tarred with an F in each category except "divorce," in which it gets an A-plus. If you actually do find someone in Lexington, you won't be able to get rid of them, presumably. At Technorati, former Lexingtonian Todd Wright is glad that he now lives in Italy. But he's still ready to throw a little smack Memphis' way:

And you, Memphis, Tennessee: stop laughing! You weren't that far ahead of us. And we got your basketball coach.

Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and unsuccessful 2009 candidate for the Virginia governorship, is bidding with Memphis-based International Paper Corp. to buy a paper factory and turn it into a wood-fired power plant. This comes from the Washington Examiner via the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

IP plans to close the mill this year, throwing about 1,100 people out of work. McAuliffe hopes to create hundreds of green jobs, a point of emphasis in his bid last year for governor.

It was not immediately clear how many jobs the McAuliffe-led offer might generate. However, there was speculation it could ultimately produce about 1,000 jobs -- not just at the plant, but in related areas, such as harvesting trees as fuel.

Further, such a plant could link up with the power grid, perhaps selling electricity to Virginia's vast information-technology industry.

"I am interested in moving (the state) forward in green power ... to preserve and create jobs," said McAuliffe, who also is the head of an electric-car company that is considering building a factory in Virginia.

For more news about green jobs, sustainable living and more, check out Going Green, a new section of the digital edition of The Commercial Appeal. You can explore Going Green -- and the rest of the e-Appeal -- at no charge through the end of April. After that, the digital edition will be available for free to subscribers to the paper editions, or for just $10 a month for online-only access.

UPDATE: Anita Kumar of The Washington Post has more on this story. McAuliffe would be eligible for job-creation tax credits available under the administration of new Republican Gov. Bob McConnell.

KOB-TV, the NBC News affiliate in Albuquerque, N.M., had a segment over the weekend on Ernest Alexander, the former Memphis Animal Shelter director who was arrested last week in New Mexico after being indicted on animal cruelty charges here in Memphis.

Alexander was no stranger to Albuquerque; he had once managed that city's animal shelter. Animal-rights activists filed complaints about the shelter in 2003 when Alexander was in charge.

The Smoking Gun, which has long had fun revealing the fussy tour "riders" of pop stars, has gotten hold of Harold Ford Jr.'s contract for his $20,000-a-pop speaking gigs. Page 2 is the rider, a document which typically lays out specific instructions for the artist's accommodations, travel arrangements and the like.

Of note, Ford's rider mentions that he is allergic to shellfish. But what really gives The Smoking Gun a kick are the portions that seem to anticipate "swarms of adoring fans."

Ford demands that when his limo driver picks him up, the chauffeur must be carrying a sign reading "H.F.." Presumably, if the Democrat's name was spelled out, hordes of fans/groupies would be alerted to his impending arrival and swarm him (something that has bedeviled the Jonas Brothers). On the security front, if he is appearing before a packed house, Ford, 39, needs an "alternate entrance & exit at the venue," to, again, apparently avoid the crush of devotees.

The particular contract that The Smoking Gun posts is from Ford's speaking engagement Wednesday at Northwest Missouri State University. His appearance brought yet another round of jeers and guffaws from Ford critics, who jumped on him for seemingly being ignorant of New York City geography. The St. Joseph News-Press originally reported that Ford, in a question about whether the 9/11 terror suspects should be tried in Manhattan, said that he lives "about a block" from the federal courthouse. Said Daily Kos diarist brooklynboy: "Apparently Mr. Ford has no idea where the Federal Courthouse is New York City is."

But why would he travel to conservative rural northwestern Missouri, where people definitely wouldn't know such things, and say that he LIVES A BLOCK FROM THE COURTHOUSE?

The answer, in my view, is simple: Harold Ford is a born liar. In a pathetic attempt to kiss up to the locals in Missouri about his anti-terror bonafides, he attempted to imply that he would be personally impacted by terror trials taking place in New York. He did that even though it is abundantly clear they would be nowhere near either his home or his office.

Back in St. Joe, the News-Press published a correction to its story on Ford's speech, saying that Ford actually lives a mile and a half from the courthouse. The newspaper chalked up the confusion to "a reporter's error."

Does anyone out there actually believe that it was an honest mistake, and not a browbeating phone call from Ford himself or a handler, that occasioned the St. Joe paper's correction?


Is Sandra Bullock's 'Blind Side' accent authentic?


Writing in The Carpetbagger, The New York Times' Academy Awards blog, Melena Ryzik --  last seen trumpeting the Midtown Memphis nightlife scene --  notes that "Blind Side" star Sandra Bullock's accent in the movie has generated some controversy. Ryzik passes along a complaint she received from a Memphis reader:

"Just for the record, those of us here in Memphis are not necessarily impressed with Ms. Bullock's accent," Susanne Nan Bayes Koenig wrote to the Bagger recently to register a complaint. "She sounds like she is from Georgia, where the film was shot. Lovely woman, great work, two states off."

What do my readers think about this? Does Bullock pull off the accent of her character, Leigh Anne Tuohy? Below, I am posting the official "Blind Side" trailer. Below that, I am posting some video of Tuohy being interviewed. Compare and contrast. And discuss.

In a story about small investors getting clobbered in the commercial real estate market, The Wall Street Journal leads with the example of 1023 Cherry Road, the glass-and-steel buildings, nestled in the woods next door to the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, that used to house Holiday Inn and Harrah's Entertainment offices. A consortium of 27 small investors lost their $7 million investment after they were unable to refinance a $14 million loan on the property. The WSJ says, "Cherry Road's collapse is an ominous sign for thousands of other commercial real-estate deals in which mom-and-pop investors pooled their money to get a tiny piece of the action." After that, you'll need a subscription to read on.

Here are a couple of stories we ran last year in The Commercial Appeal about the property: here and here.

Churches using mixed-martial arts to bring Gospel to young men

The New York Times continues its recent string of Memphis-datelined features (see here and here) with a story in Monday's editions about evangelical Christian churches using mixed-martial arts to minister to young men.

The setting for the story was a Cage Assault MMA show on Beale Street. One of the teams participating in the card was Xtreme Ministries, "a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy." Xtreme is one of a growing number of churches -- the story stresses that nearly all of them are white -- that are using cage fighting "to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in."

The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries -- and into the image of Jesus -- in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. "Compassion and love -- we agree with all that stuff, too," said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. "But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter."

The background to this effort is to increase church attendance among young men. Some pastors interviewed for the story say they fear that churches have become too focused on women and children.

Men ages 18 to 34 are absent from churches, some pastors said, because churches have become more amenable to women and children. "We grew up in a church that had pastel pews," said Tom Skiles, 37, the pastor of Spirit of St. Louis Church in Arnold, Mo. "The men fell asleep."

Memphis Symphony a model for evolution of orchestra mission

Classical music producer and ArtsJournal blogger Joseph Horowitz singles out the Memphis Symphony Orchestra as an example for other orchestras to follow as they broaden their mission away from simply performing concerts to providing an array of education and other services to the community. This is a necessity, Horowitz says, because "concert supply outstrips demand." Therefore, an orchestra must come up with creative ways for its full-time employees to fulfill their contractual services, besides producing expensive -- and perhaps poorly attended -- concerts.

Horowitz caught up with Ryan Fleur, the Memphis Symphony's CEO, at a recent orchestra conference, and he recounts some of what the MSO has been doing in what Fleur calls "a cultural shift":

Eighty per cent of the Memphis Symphony's 36 fulltime musicians engage in "approved partnership activities" totaling up to 45 of 266 contracted services per season. They mentor students at an inner-city charter school. They furnish "leadership training" for local corporations. They produce performances outside the concert hall, replacing traditional subscription weeks.

One obstacle for some orchestras in adopting what Horowitz calls "the Memphis model" is getting the musicians' unions to cooperate. These nonperformance services are outside of what a professional musician traditionally has been trained to do. However, musicians are coming around, Horowitz says Fleur told him, because "they believe this redefinition is essential to the survival and necessary transformation of the orchestra."
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