October 2011 Archives

Shelby Count officials in Fresno to study anti-gang program

A delegation from Shelby County's anti-gang unit is visiting Fresno, Calif., this week to study that city's nationally recognized Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium or MAGEC, the Fresno Bee reported this week:

Since its inception in 1997, MAGEC has significantly helped increase the conviction rate for gang-related crimes and has made neighborhoods safer, Egan said.

"That's the model that we want to follow," said Ray Lepone, chief prosecutor for the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office.

Shelby County officials are especially interested in finding out more about the multi-agency approach, gang injunctions and gang crime prevention, they said.
20101103_hamilton_0200.jpg In a Saturday op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, education philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates discuss their quest to improve teacher performance and the need for schools to evaluate what teachers do and help them do better at it. As part of their Gates Foundation's research, the Gateses sought teacher volunteers last year to participate in a project where their teaching was videotaped and they could then watch themselves work. As The Commercial Appeal reported last November when the Gateses visited some Memphis City Schools:

The Gates Foundation is combing through thousands of hours of video, comparing teachers' performances with their students' test scores to isolate attributes that propel some teachers to the top of their profession .

In the WSJ, the Gateses write that some of the best teachers they observed appreciated the feedback and the opportunity to improve:

The 3,000 teachers who are helping us with the MET project are already getting feedback on their teaching. Last year, we visited Ridgeway Middle School in Memphis and sat down with Mahalia Davis while she watched a videotape of herself teaching. Ms. Davis had many years of experience, and it was obvious to us that she was a standout. She watched her video because she wanted to get even better at something she already did well.

We were impressed by how much Ms. Davis enjoyed taking apart the craft of her own teaching. She leaned forward in her chair and said, "Look, I just lost that student." Then she said, "The class wasn't with me on that point. I need to teach that concept in a new way."

Another interesting finding from the Gates Foundation's teacher surveys:

The teachers who took the survey were given a list of 15 things that might help to retain the best teachers. Higher salaries ranked 11th on the list, behind benefits like more time for preparation and opportunities for professional development.

PICTURED: Bill Gates visits with students in a math class at Hamilton High School during a visit on Nov. 3, 2010. (Photo by Barbara Kinney/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Praise from Atlanta for Miss Crumpy's Memphis hot wings

The venerable Memphis wings-and-soul-food brand Crumpy's has spun off an Atlanta restaurant that is taking the city by storm. Writing for Creative Loafing, Brad Kaplan says the competitors in the ATL's crowded wing scene "don't hold a candle to Miss Crumpy's."

Their technique for the upper end of the heat register involves coating the fried wings in a layer of dry spices first, then a secret ingredient that is ladled out of a large pickle jar and looks a lot like pickle juice (but it's not!), then some doctored up Frank's hot sauce, then a coating of cayenne powder. The "Super Hot" (just below "Suicide") packs just the right amount of heat for my taste buds, with an addictive burn. I love that they toss the carrots and celery in with the wings, so they, too, take on the flavor of the wing sauce.

Kaplan also loves the Miss Crumpy's logo, which features "an oddly seductive chicken woman" posing in front of a stylized Memphis skyline, complete with The Pyramid and the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

(M)arvel in the beauty of Miss Crumpy standing in front of the Memphis skyline. She's on her way to bigger things.

FURTHER READING: Here is Jennifer Biggs' 2009 review of the original Crumpy's location in Downtown Memphis. It reopened that year under the original owner after being closed for a decade.

From Jim Crow South to unfamiliar North: a former Memphian's journey

As part of a project dedicated to collecting the stories of African-Americans who left the Jim Crow South to make a better life up north, former Memphian Betty Ellison-Harpole recounts to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder tales of living under the degradations of institutionalized racism.

We lived in an African American neighborhood, where the people were very supportive of each other. At home they would tell us, more or less, what we could expect out in the world and how we might be treated. We were prepared for it, in the sense that we knew about racism.

In high school, the books we had came from the White schools. When they got new books, they sent all the old books to us with the school's name still on them. We could not go to the downtown library. If there wasn't a book in your school, you could go to a little neighborhood library, which was not really well stocked, and they would call the downtown library, and maybe in two weeks they'd get the book to you.

After her family moved to Wisconsin, Ellison-Harpole attended the University of Wisconsin, where she was one of just a handful of black students. "The first semester it was like being in a foreign country," she says:

I graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee with 479 African American students. Then I started at the University of Wisconsin.

When I started my freshmen year, that was the cultural shock. I literally spent the first semester staring at Caucasian students because I wanted to see what was different. There were only about 15 African Americans in the college. We had two African American professors.

The counselors didn't have a clue about how we felt; I didn't know how I felt. If I hadn't been comfortable with who I was, I think it could have been traumatic. I happened to come from a situation where we were taught to feel good about ourselves.

Behold the Memphis burger, with peanut butter and bananas, of course

In a restaurant news column, Charleston City Paper mentions that a mini-chain called Sesame Burgers and Beer is expanding with a new location in suburban Mount Pleasant, S.C. Among Sesame's "freshly made, cooked-to-order burgers" is one called the Memphis, "which comes with peanut butter and bananas. Yum."

From watching lots of Food Network programs, I have heard of peanut butter on a burger -- but never banana. Here's a recipe for a similar concoction if you're dying to try it. Meanwhile, New York chain Shake Shack last year tested an item that surely would pique Elvis' interest: the peanut butter bacon burger. Come to find out they're not the only ones ...

NPR's 'World Cafe' looks back at 'The Sound of Memphis'

NPR's "World Cafe" program dug into the archives this week for a take on "The Sound of Memphis." Included are past conversations with Isaac Hayes, Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones and Al Green. Many of the stories they tell are familiar to those who know their Memphis soul basics, but the show is worth a listen if for no other reason than to realize just how big these artists were in the '60s and '70s, and just how radical they were for the time, both creatively and socially. Says Hayes of the integrated staff at Stax Records:

"We were a family, and that's a testament to the power of artistry, because it has no boundaries. Music has no boundaries. And it's a healing process, and that's what brought us together."

Compared to Milwaukee, Memphis looks good on race, writer says

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Annette Mertens describes her new city as being in a state of denial on the issue of race compared to Memphis, where she lived for eight years. Racial tensions and inequalities are facts of life in both cities, Mertens says, but at least black and white Memphians tend to cross paths and interact.

In Memphis, race is the issue, but I saw black people everywhere -- at the grocery store, at the library, in church, in City Hall. Memphis is not fully integrated, but both black and white people are fully visible in every aspect of life.

In Milwaukee, I don't see black people at my church. I don't see them at my doctor's office. I don't see them at the fish fry I go to.

What I do see is a city with a black infant mortality rate that is better than Memphis' but nothing to brag about: 14.1 per thousand for Milwaukee, according the City of Milwaukee's website, vs. 19 per thousand for Memphis in 2002.

High school graduation rates? Milwaukee has a worse rate than Memphis: around 40% vs. 43%.

Poverty? In 2009, Milwaukee had the nation's fourth-highest poverty rate for a big city at 27%. Memphis ranked seventh at 26.2%.

Male black unemployment? A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that Milwaukee's black male joblessness in 2009 was 53.3%. In 2007, that rate in Memphis was above 40%.

Mertens ends her essay by scolding Milwaukeeans -- and by extension, all non-Southerners -- for harboring a sense of superiority on racial matters.

We have our own problems to fix, and they belong to all of us.

Catching up after Rick Ross' health scare on way to Memphis

Rick-Ross.jpg Confusion and uncertainty continue to surround this past weekend's health scare involving Miami-based rap mogul Rick Ross, who canceled his scheduled appearance at Friday night's "Memphis Madness" event for the University of Memphis men's basketball team after suffering a pair of in-flight seizures on his way to town.

Various outlets have shown a photograph, posted Sunday night on Twitter, of Ross along with manager Gucci Pucci and associate DJ Khaled in front of a Memphis-area Wing Stop restaurant (note the "901" area code on the door). As MTV reported:

Can we get a Rozaaaaaay? After being hospitalized two times in a single day, Rick Ross is now out and about and appears to be doing better. At approximately 9:30 p.m. ET, the Bawse's DJ, Sam Sneaker tweeted a photo of the Maybach Music Group head honcho with the message: "The Boss is good...@rickyrozay #MMG."

Around the same time DJ Khaled sent out a separate but very similar photo via Twitter with the message: "My brother ROZAY!!IS GOOD!!! @rickyrozay @Iamguccipucci #powercircle."

Ross, a Wing Stop franchisee, had been scheduled to appear Saturday afternoon at the opening of a new store on Winchester. How Ross managed to gather the strength to travel and do PA's just hours after being hospitalized serious medical issues is unclear; however, DJ Khaled apparently did offer Ross the use of a tour bus to continue his travels.

Meanwhile, some people who know Ross are expressing concern for his well-being:

Actress Elise Neal, who dated Rick Ross earlier this year, recently spoke out about Rick Ross' recent health emergencies, blaming them on the rapper's workload, his label and hs entourage.

"I hate to say this, but I saw this coming," she told rumorfix.com. "I think they're pushing him too hard... They don't think about him or his health--pushing him to do all these videos, pushing tours and shows. He is not 20 years old anymore. No one seems to care about him really or overall his health."

How copper theft in Memphis stings investors; get ready for more

Copper Investing News has an interesting piece linking recession-era theft with fluctuations in the commodities markets. Specifically, the metal's recent price plunge has been made worse by thieves flooding the market with fenced booty. Things are just that desperate out there:

Copper theft has risen across continents as robbers seek to liquidate assets in a hurry. In the US city of Memphis, Tennessee, for instance, the occurrence of scrap-metal theft via air conditioning units skyrocketed some 515 percent this year in comparison with 2005 levels, according to The New York Times. Market participants are responding with heightened awareness and supporting ramped-up legislation that could turn the tables on criminals.

(Here's a link to that New York Times piece, which tracks the trend of thieves nicking copper components from air-conditioning units in the very dead of summer. And radio towers, live electrical lines, Alzheimer's facilities, etc.)

The good news in the future for the shrewd thief or junk collector? Copper appears to be getting close to its price floor. Steal low, and sell high:

Perhaps if  copper thieves had the fortitude to follow China's example and wait for the price of the raw material to bottom, they too could legally participate in an eventual comeback. Whether scrap metal regulators are ready or not, market signs appear to be pointing toward recovery. "Regarding the direction of copper prices, there were many discussions during LME week which led to a slightly more positive picture as the industry only slowly felt the impact of the financial markets," said Triland Metals' Schmidt.

Impressions of Memphis, Oxford from National Review's Jay Nordlinger

In his Impromptus column at National Review Online, conservative commentator Jay Nordlinger has some reflections on the Mid-South after he traveled to Oxford, Miss., for a wedding. Having flown to Oxford previously on a private flight, he discovered this time that there's not much of a commercial airport scene in the picturesque university town. So, as he puts it, "'it's Memphis for you, buddy.'" ("We have a great airport," Jay.)

Surely one of the best things about the Memphis airport is the smell of barbecue. I'm later told that the joints in the airport are lousy. That they are pale imitations of their counterparts in town. I'll test one of those airport joints on my return.

Across from the rental-car agency is the Catfish Cabin. "From 11 to 4, you can't get a place in the parking lot," someone says. "It's completely full."

In the rental-car agency, I hear one of my favorite terms: "ink pen," with the second word pronounced "pin."

Once he gets to Oxford, Nordlinger enjoys his dinner at City Grocery, notices that a lot of attractive young women attend the University of Mississippi, and gets a kick out of how people around here pronounce "Lafayette."

See trailer for Big Star documentary 'Nothing Can Hurt Me'


NOLA.com shares a trailer for a forthcoming documentary:

A trailer is now up online for "Nothing Can Hurt Me,"
the forthcoming documentary on Memphis powerpop legends Big Star.
(Frontman Alex Chilton, passed away unexpectedly in New Orleans in March
2010; he had lived here on and off since the 80's.)

The film, produced and directed by Danielle McCarthy and Drew DeNicola,
is the first feature-length portrait of the band, which throughout its
brief career suffered essentially every awful piece of luck that can
happen to a band. In light of the group's backstory, Chilton's
masterfully dark yet wistful songwriting cuts even deeper into the

Remembering Glenn Allen, landscape designer, world-class Memphian

The Sydney Morning Herald ran two days ago a belated obituary for Glenn Allen, the world-renowned landscape architect and native Memphian who died July 30 from a heart attack at age 59. Allen had lived and worked in Sydney for three years while helping redevelop parts of the city's suburbs for the 1996 2000 Summer Olympic Games. It was, according to the SMH, his favorite overseas posting in a career that took him all over the world. He died in Baton Rouge, La., where he held an endowed professorship at Louisiana State University. More from the Sydney paper about this fascinating former Memphian and his legacy:

Allen escaped the confines of southern society to embrace the freedom of San Francisco, moving there to work with the giant landscaper SWA Group. There he met the young Harvard-educated George Hargreaves. Their work together on the chequer-board ''hardscape'' of Harlequin Plaza of 1982, now considered a seminal work of postmodern landscape design, marked the beginning of a collaboration formalised in 1983 as Hargreaves Allen Sinkosky & Loomis (later Hargreaves Associates).

The style of this new company -- a minimalist approach to vegetation combined with sculptural, geometric landforms, more earthwork than soft landscaping -- was honed in the mid-1980s through projects such as Candlestick Point Cultural Park in San Francisco. Allen also played a leading role in major waterfront reclamation projects in Louisville and Chattanooga, the masterplanning of the University of Cincinnati, and most recently, the William J. Clinton Presidential Centre in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The SMH writers seem almost awed by Allen's purported brushes with (Memphis-linked) celebrities, but such connections would be almost expected of a Memphian of his age:

He had a talent for dropping names and startling facts, very casually, into conversation, in tales that seemed almost too tall until verified by the pages of magazines such as Vanity Fair. Could he really have been best friends with Cybill Shepherd at high school? Was he the inspiration for the character Mouse in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City? Did Elvis really give his aunt a car?
Making the rounds of the film festival circuit, the documentary "Better Than Something: Jay Reatard" stops Friday at the Tucson Film Festival in Arizona. This story in the Arizona Daily Star explains the screening's venue, the historic Rialto Theatre, in the tragically short life of the late Memphis garage-punk icon:

The Memphis garage rocker made frequent stops in Tucson over the years. Opening for The Black Keys at the Rialto in 2008 turned out to be his last performance here before his death in 2010 at age 29.

"It's an incredible portrait of a really prolific musician," said Michael Toubassi, the festival's director. "The film showcases a broad range of music and the Rialto's the best place for that kind of thing. You want to enjoy that live footage and really ... experience his musical career."

'The Mountaintop' designer on recreating MLK's Lorraine Motel room

With the award-winning play "The Mountaintop" -- written by former Memphian Katori Hall -- set to open next week on Broadway, New York magazine caught up with the set designer to talk about his meticulous recreation of the Lorraine Motel's Room 306, where Dr. Martin Luther King stayed on the night before he was assassinated. Of course, that room is now a museum piece:

"There are very few places on Earth where time stopped," says David Gallo, the scenic designer for The Mountaintop, a play set on the last night of King's life that opens October 13. Since 1991, the motel has been the National Civil Rights Museum, and the room, virtually untouched, is viewable through glass. For his work on the play, Gallo was allowed inside the room, spending eight hours measuring and photographing every fixture, wall panel, and cigarette burn. He walked us through his work.

Dan Machin: Ex-Memphian now organic farming as '1 dude, 1 acre'


A former Memphian who turned a newfound passion for growing vegetables into a unique business on Long Island was spotlighted Monday in the local Riverhead News-Review. On just 1 acre of on the East End of Long Island, Dan Machin grows 100 varieties of veggies that he sells to restaurants or through so-called Community-Supported Agriculture share programs. He calls the venture The Lone Acre, and his motto is "1 dude, 1 acre, 100 varieties. certified organic."

His secret to stocking as much food onto one little acre as possible
is to grow in rows so close together that there is just a tiny path wide
enough to walk single-file between the rows.

Some plants, like chicory, love the tight spacing, which protects
them from the glare of the sun so that they blanche and are sweeter than
chicory grown farther apart.

But other plants, like tomatoes, need as much space as possible
between plants, particularly in a region that has been hit by late
blight, which has a far more disastrous effect on crops that are grown
very close together.

"It's better to have a little more spacing" for them, he said.

"I have friends who grow on 15 acres, and if you add up the beds,
it's about one acre worth of growing space," he said. "It encourages you
to be resourceful with small spaces."

Serious Eats New York had a nice video of Machin showing some of the bounty from his 1-acre plot. View it below.

Notes from a Lone Acre: 1 Dude. 1 Acre. Many Little Anecdotes. from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

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