February 2012 Archives

Dallas Observer blogger Jim Schutze points out a scholarly rebuttal of a 2008 magazine piece that Memphians and particularly readers of my blog might remember: Hanna Rosin's "American Murder Mystery" for The Atlantic Monthly.

In that piece writer Hanna Rosin cited what she said were statistical clusters in Memphis in the first decade of this century to argue that crime was spiking wherever recipients of public housing subsidies settled after being pushed out of the old public housing projects. I remember reading it when it was new and finding it pretty disturbing.

But you know 2008 was a long time ago. If you're going to reach that far back for an argument to use today, you need to keep Googling. If an argument is that old, it's important to see what has happened to it since it was born.

In fact, what you find -- easily available all over the net today -- is solid evidence from serious scholars to show that Rosin's article was bull---- magazine journalism.

Writing at the National Housing Institute journal Shelterforce, urban policy scholars Peter Dreier and Xavier de Souza Briggs use slightly more elegant language, but manage to make a pretty devastating case against Rosin's piece. Namely, that the Hope VI and "Section 8" programs that Rosin cites involve only a couple to a few thousand households in a city of 650,000 people, and that there is no evidence given that families and individuals who were involved with those programs committed any of the crimes in question.

Some excerpts:

Rosin leads her story with the observations of one Memphis police officer, Lt. Doug Barnes, who sets the tone for the article. He reports that certain neighborhoods--which Rosin calls "suburban" but are actually within the Memphis city limits--used to be quite peaceful until the displaced families, gang members and violence moved in. This is asserted despite a long history from the early 1990s of high levels of crime in Memphis. It had high levels of crime long before the current spike.

She then reports Barnes' view of working in this largely African-American area. Barnes tells Rosin that "my job right now is to protect the people from all the animals." The "animals," we easily infer, are the drug dealers and other criminals, who the article confounds with former residents of public housing. Without providing any proof that the former residents of Memphis' public housing projects are responsible for the rise in crimes, the article uses this racist code language to stigmatize both the tenants and the programs. It is not guilt by association but by mere proximity.

One more:

Where do the families with Section 8 vouchers live? For cost and other reasons, a small share live outside the Memphis city limits. Rosin's notion that Section 8 families were bringing a crime wave to once-bucolic suburban neighborhoods is simply baseless.

There is some evidence that most Memphis families with Section 8 vouchers, including those displaced from public housing, moved to areas that were already on the decline, with rising crime rates, caused by private disinvestment and the exodus of middle income families to Memphis' suburbs. Comments by a Memphis resident, posted after Rosin's article appeared, challenge her notion that these areas were peaceful prior to the alleged influx of Section 8 families. "I do have to take exception to the notion that North Memphis or Frayser were little slices of heaven as late as 2000. It may be worse now, but it was pretty rough in those areas before."

The bottom line here is that journalists, even accomplished ones like Hanna Rosin, are notoriously bad with numbers and scientific data. 

She indicts a program, without any hint of direct or clear evidence, using the simple version of an ongoing mapping project by two University of Memphis researchers. Basic statistics textbooks tell us: correlation is not causality.

Those researchers, Richard Janikowski and Phyllis Betts, knew that their findings were explosive, as they said in a Commercial Appeal profile that came out soon after the Atlantic piece:

"You have to understand that this did not make us happy," said Betts. "On the other hand, if we're wrong, there's something else we have to figure out."

Skillet---MainPub---David-M.jpg Memphis rock band Skillet has found popularity among both radio-rock and Christian-pop audiences, as well as touring successfully on both circuits. But it's all the same to the band, frontman John Cooper says in a piece for Audio Ink Radio:

Memphis hard rock quartet Skillet are currently headlining the 2012 Winter Jam tour, which also features fellow Christian acts Sanctus Real, Peter Furler, Kari Jobe, Newsong, Building 429 and more. The trek spans dozens of dates and wraps April 1 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

While Winter Jam is a bona fide Christian tour, Skillet are also a regular on mainstream bills alongside the likes of Puddle of Mudd, Three Days Grace, Papa Roach and other modern rock heavy-hitters.

Frontman John Cooper says he treats all of the Skillet's tours the same, and he has always found good company in the band's tour mates, no matter the type of tour. "We toured with Papa Roach on a co-headlining tour. They didn't come up to us and say 'Hey, you can't talk about Jesus when you're on stage,' and we didn't say to them 'Hey, you guys can't cuss during the show,'" Cooper told GoUpstate.com. "We could do whatever we wanted and they could do whatever they wanted. It's a mutual respect."

Aardvark from Memphis bears baby for Chicago's Brookfield Zoo


Ready for more cute baby zoo animals with Memphis-linked parents? Good! The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago has welcomed a baby aardvark -- Chicagoist calls it "the cutest looking alien pig we've ever seen" -- born to a mother, 7-year-old Jessi, on breeding loan from the Memphis Zoo. The sire, 17-year-old Hoover (get it?), is from the San Antonio Zoo. More good work from the Memphis Zoo! CBS 2 in Chicago has more about the baby, which despite being 6 weeks old and 15 pounds is still of indeterminate sex. Boy or girl, it is pretty darn cute ...

'Undefeated' directors on Memphis, Oscars, working with Diddy

With the Academy Awards less than a week away, the directors of the made-in-Memphis documentary "Undefeated" have been busy making the press rounds to talk about their Oscar-nominated film, the story of the underdog Manassas High football team and the volunteer coaches who worked to restore pride and winning at the historic school.

The New York Times' Carpetbagger blog spoke to the two directors, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, about filming in Memphis and about new business partner Sean "Diddy" Combs, who is set to executive produce a fictionalized feature film based on "Undefeated."

Q. Did you make this film before "The Blind Side"?
A. Mr. Lindsay: We were aware of the book but the film was not in production, nobody was even sure it was going to get made. We went to Memphis on a couple exploratory missions, and then right as we were moving there in July, "The Blind Side" started production. And the movie came out, Sandra Bullock won an Oscar, and we were still in Memphis [working].


Q. What has it been like working with Sean Combs?

A. Mr. Lindsay: When the Weinstein Company called us and told us that he wanted to add his support to the film and come on as executive producer, I was kind of cautious. I obviously don't know the guy personally. Beyond knowing what he would be able to do in terms of reactions, why is he doing this? We went over to his house, which was ridiculous, last week and we walked away thinking he was genuinely moved by the movie. And there was also a moment when I was talking and I was like, why is this guy from the "Mo Money Mo Problems" video  staring at me? It's because we're having a business conversation! And that's even stranger.

Mr. Martin: It's pretty amazing. Literally this guy almost single-handedly created the soundtrack to my high school experiences.

On The Huffington Post, Lindsay and Martin tell the story behind the film in their own words, starting with a memorable quote from a teacher:

"North Memphis looks like New Orleans after the flood; we just never had a flood." That's how the neighborhood where Manassas High School is located was described to us by a teacher and, unfortunately, it's a chillingly accurate description. The closing of the Firestone plant in the 1970's started an economic downturn that the community has yet to recover from. An all too familiar story for many communities around this country.

Huffington Post blogger praises vegan, vegetarian dining in Memphis

Over at the HuffPo, green-lifestyles blogger Carolyn Scott runs down some of what she saw and ate on her trip to Memphis. Scott, who is a vegan, says she was "beyond delighted" with the quality of vegetarian and vegan options among Memphis restaurants. Among her findings:

Imagine Vegan Cafe:

Located in the hip Cooper Young district, this fun diner has got everything a vegan comfort food joint should have. And I mean everything! Their menu is giant and everything on it rocks. Being in the south, I had to have their "pulled pork" BBQ sandwich with hush puppies. Oh, and I split the spinach artichoke dip with some buddies!

The Majestic Grille:

Playing old films and vintage cartoons, the menu is just as cool as the location. And cooler yet are their plentiful vegan dishes! Try their homemade veggie burger or their delicious veggie flatbread with caramelized onion base. And their bloody Marys and mimosas are not to be missed either at brunch or dinner.


Chef Gary is not only one of the most fun people you will ever meet but he will treat you right in his place. Always packed to gills, customers are more then happy to squeeze in with perfect strangers to enjoy a meal at DejaVu. Chef whipped me up a fabulous creole pasta full of veggies along with plantains, veggie rolls, carrot cake and banana nut bread.

R.P. Tracks:

College kids are so progressive, so you are sure to find health conscious dishes nearby. RP Tracks is exactly that kind of place. ... Famous for their BBQ tofu, they can sub it for basically anything. I shared the BBQ tofu nachos and the BBQ tofu burrito loved every bite!

Longtime Memphis provocateur, political candidate and misunderstood landscape artist Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges has appealed a recent finding that his Daytona Beach, Fla.-area home is a nuisance, what with its "manmade sand dunes, sculptures, kitsch and clotheslines with panties, bras and other clothing."

Mongo, of course, is no stranger to this sort of thing. When last we heard about the Zambodian snowbird, authorities in Florida were excavating his uniquely decorated yard with heavy equipment while he was away for the summer. The latest alleged violation is a result of his "redecorating." Nor is he a stranger to lawyering up and making it very expensive for local governments to deal with him.

Hodges has been quarreling for several years over his yard with neighbors and county code enforcement. Similar issues over his yard decor have followed Hodges at his home in Memphis and former home in Fort Lauderdale.

"I call it decorating, art and landscaping," Hodges said. "They are like Hitler, like back in Germany. I have a house and I'm landscaping it, but this is all a political thing and totally irritating."

DP shows off Memphis jookin' moves for 'Hurt Village' cast


You can't stage an Off-Broadway play about North Memphis and not show some jookin', that homegrown street ballet style that is Memphis' hottest cultural export at the moment. Former Memphian Katori Hall's new show "Hurt Village" includes scenes of jookin', and to train the actors, the Signature Theatre Company retained the services of Memphis "jookin' consultant" Daniel "DP" Price. Below, on Vimeo via Broadway World, check out DP showing the "Hurt Village" cast how Memphis gets down, and see some more of his moves from a recent Memphis Grizzlies game.

Hurt Village: Jookin' in Rehearsal from Signature Theatre Company on Vimeo.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, WGRZ TV-2 in Buffalo, N.Y., gives us a good old-fashioned love story from the Buffalo Zoo, starring three rather telegenic gorillas. It turns out the leading man, Koga, came from the Memphis Zoo, and Amari -- the baby gorilla of Koga and his mate, Sydney -- is a star in the making.

This is a story about love. This is a family. Koga, his lady, Sydney, and their baby, Amari.

This story started at the Memphis Zoo, where Koga was in an
all-bachelor group destined to be single forever, until he was sent to
the Buffalo Zoo and immediately fell for Sydney. There were no flowers
or chocolates or hand-holding. The only way zoo keepers knew of this
affection was the fact that Koga was willing to share his food with

Soon, their love brought them little baby Amari. An adorable 15-pound
baby girl gorilla. Amari just rides along on her mama's back. Turns out
Sydney is quite the mama. Koga takes a more hands-off approach.

Keep an eye on the family's doings at buffalozoo.org. Click here for the story of another Memphis Zoo-linked gorilla, silverback Timmy, who died last summer. Watch the WGRZ-TV 2 story below:

Katori-2.jpg The new play "Hurt Village" by Katori Hall, the Memphis-born playwright whose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. play "The Mountaintop" picked up a host of awards on the way from its premiere in London to a celebrity-studded production on Broadway, premiered this week Off-Broadway in New York. Here's the synopsis:

Here's how Signature bills Hurt Village, which received a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award from TCG: "It's the end of a long summer in Hurt Village, a housing project in Memphis, Tennessee. A government Hope Grant means relocation for many of the project's residents, including Cookie, a 13-year-old aspiring rapper, along with her mother Crank and great-grandmother Big Mama. As the family prepares to move, Cookie's father Buggy unexpectedly returns from a tour of duty in Iraq. Ravaged by the war, Buggy struggles to find a position in his disintegrating community, along with a place in his daughter's wounded heart."

Hall created the play as part of a program called Residency Five, sponsored by the Signature Theatre Company. She attended the Signature's fundraising gala a couple of weeks ago, and The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy was there:

Hall said being part of the "Residency Five" at Signature Theatre - a program which grants playwrights three world-premiere productions of new plays over a five-year residency - is a dream come true. She said when she moved to New York after acting school, the Signature was her favorite theater. "I just felt like my particular experience was being put on stage, and it was being crafted with care and with this nuanced detail," she said. But at the time, Signature seemed to work only with established playwrights, so Hall told herself to give the dream up. "But fast forward almost five years later, and it's like no, they're opening their arms and embracing new work, and I can be a part of that new work."

Norfolk, Va., police raid Mo Money Taxes; employees skipped town

Memphis media have been reporting for several days about complaints from customers of Memphis-based Mo Money Taxes about late or unavailable income-tax refunds. Earlier today, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked the U.S. Attorney General's office to look into the complaints and possibly refer the matter to local U.S. Attorneys. Other cities where Mo Money has outlets have seen similar complaints. From earlier this week in Norfolk, Va.:

More than 70 people waited, some for hours, outside the empty Mo Money Taxes office on Granby Street late Monday. Maybe this time they would receive their refunds from the tax-preparation company. Several said Mo Money had broken promises over the past two weeks to provide the checks.

Nearly a dozen representatives from Mo Money got to the Riverview storefront about 5:15 p.m. and entered through a back entrance, avoiding the crowd. Then they allowed only a handful of customers in at a time.

When they left, several still had no checks.

"I do feel as though I've been robbed," said one of them, Rhoda Williams of Norfolk.

The plot thickened today in Norfolk as police executed a search warrant and found that the Mo Money employees -- who had moved there from Memphis to work at the business -- had skipped town. The search warrant was based on complaints from eight Norfolk residents:

According to search warrants, the first victim told officers she filed her taxes on January 17th.

When she didn't get her money at the beginning of February, she called the IRS and found out her refund was deposited in someone else's bank account. The account belonged to a man named Clayton Bullard she says.

Coincidentally, the 2nd victim who came forward to police said Mo' Money lied about how much they would charge him to prepare his taxes and the person who did his taxes was a man named Clayton as well.

Victims four and five say Mo' Money quoted them lower tax refund amounts than what the company actually filed on their behalf after checking with the IRS. Both discovered the company kept more than $1,100 of their refund money for fees.

Victim eight told police that Mo' Money filed her taxes without her W-2 information available.

No relation: Don Trip, Notorious BIG both born Christopher Wallace

One more Memphis rap item for the evening ...

XXL catches up with up-and-coming Memphis rapper Don Trip for an quick interview involving a fun fact: It turns out that Don shares his government name with that of the late, great Notorious BIG, aka Christopher Wallace.

Do you have any other stories you wanna share in regards to your name? Anything ironic or special happen?

Not quite. Actually now, you know when I catch flights, people tend to assume that I am Biggie's son. I don't know how that would be anatomically possible. But that tends to be what they ask.

More on Don Trip from the Links to Memphis archives here.
He might not be blowing up on the indie underground or on the rap charts, but Memphis MC Adam WarRock is making his presence felt in his own particular niche of the hip-hop world. Kotaku, the Gawker Media site for video gamers, features WarRock today in a post titled, "A Resplendently Dorky Hip-Hop Tribute to Mass Effect."  It links to the original post on Destructoid, which explains that WarRock's tribute to the sci-fi-themed video games is a follow-up to an EP based on the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation."

Some people call this type of hip-hop fan-fic "nerdcore."

The Los Angeles Times' Pop & Hiss music blog features today the new anthology After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles and Rarities, 1964-1965 from unsung Memphis soul singer Wendy Rene.

Listen to Adele and you can hear the sound of Memphis and Muscle
Shoals reinvigorated, but those interested in going back to the source -- Stax Records in Memphis -- would be well advised to check out Wendy

If you've heard a Wendy Rene song, it's probably "After Laughter
Comes Tears," which was a minor hit for the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1964
and later resurrected via a classic Wu-Tang Clan sample on the song
"Tearz." Rene was a young Memphis singer when Stax was starting to fly
high in the early 1960s with Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Sam
& Dave and Rufus & Carla Thomas, and it released a string of
underappreciated Rene gems over a two-year period, all of them collected
on the new "After Laughter Comes Tears."

Seattle-based Light in the Attic Records, which produced the anthology, has more biographical information on Rene, who never quite scored a real smash hit:

Born Mary Frierson in Memphis, Tennessee, home of Stax Records, Wendy
Rene was christened by Otis Redding on signing to Stax as a teenager in
1963. Back then, she and brother Johnny Frierson, both singers at the
Church of God In Christ, were determined to make it in music. Forming
singing quartet The Drapels with two friends, they took the bus to 926
E. McLemore Avenue, auditioned for Stax co-founder Jim Stewart, and won a
deal on the spot.

"As soon as we finished with the Drapels' songs and [the rest of the
band] were going to the bus stop, I showed Mr. Stewart my songs,"
recalls Rene. The result? Stewart found two acts in one, and Mary had
two contracts with Stax.

Then there's this rather spooky anecdote involving Rene's Stax mentor:

Wendy was due to perform one last show with Otis Redding and the
Bar-Kays, but changed her mind at the last minute. It was an auspicious
decision - that weekend, Redding and four Bar-Kays died when their plane
crashed in Lake Monona.

Below are clips of Rene's "After Laughter (Comes Tears)" and the 1993 Wu-Tang Clan song "Tearz," which is built on loops sampled from Rene's single.

France-Premiere-Tinker,-Tai.jpg The cast and creative team is coming together for "Devil's Knot," a movie about the West Memphis 3 case based on Mara Leveritt's 2003 book of the same name. Today, it was announced that Colin Firth, last year's Best Actor Oscar winner for "The King's Speech," would play Ron Lax, the private investigator whose pro-bono work helped free Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. From TheWrap.com via Reuters:

Lax, originally from Memphis, Tenn., built a successful private investigation business that is one of the largest in the southeast. When he heard that the state of Arkansas planned to pursue the death penalty against Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley, he offered his services.

But he was reluctant to participate in a movie, according to Fowler.

"He's a private investigator," Fowler said. "He's not a person who seeks attention or publicity."

She said that she convinced him to participate in the project "so we could tell the story with him as our male lead because it was important to get this story told, and a feature film would reach many more people."

Atom Egoyan, director of such films as "Chloe" and "The Sweet Hereafter," has signed on to direct. Filming is to begin this summer in (wait for it) Louisiana. Nashville-born Reese Witherspoon will star alongside Firth, according to Deadline:

Witherspoon will play Pam Hobbs, the mother of Branch. She initially believed the trio murdered her son, is eventually persuaded that the three suspects are innocent and wrongly accused.

PICTURED: Colin Firth at the French premiere of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" two weeks ago in Paris. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)
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