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comments powered by Disqus Memphis AC Mayor Wharton cuts a rug at the Community Legal Center benefit in October. More pictures and event info here. (10.27.11) Executive Director of the Memphis Botanic Garden James Duncan speaks to a group of about 50 MBG members at the opening of its recent interesting addition, the Herb Garden. Sylvia Goldsmith Marks, garden benefactor, cut the ribbon. If you haven't visited the Garden in a while, by all means get back and take in this new feature--a great addition to what has always been a wonderful Memphis excursion.
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Chinese women prisoners executed.
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What does the movie Game Change really reveal?

(3.13.12) by BenQQ
I worked in and out of Washington for about 12 years, the last ten of which was in communications for the AARP. I noticed in one of their ads they've since dropped the "the" when referring to themselves, like Staples did when they wanted you to to say, "Staples Center" as opposed to "the Staples Center." Its a way of saying we're just not another nonprofit organization, we're an organizational God among Gods that is eternal and omnipresent in American life and never, ever wrong. Nevertheless, I prefer to be grammatically correct.

As I watched HBO's Game Change about the alleged meltdown of Sarah Palin, a familiar feeling came over me. Could there have been something, shall we say, organic at work here instead of Palin's putative personal failings and inadequacies as the producing team, by the way who were writing and producing about themselves, would have you believe?

Washington is full of staffers, some very young, who are quick to buy into the Washington thing--I'm big, powerful and know more than you. Of the latter they are not far out of school where they have been indoctrinated in a constant flow of "we're right and all of them in the sticks are wrong" academia by doctrinaire anti-intellectual professors. They subsequently go to Washington to get a rare high paying, frequently not matched anywhere else, job in government or a nonprofit. Not only is there a psychological incentive to keep with the party line, there's a personal financial one too.

Regardless that, the town has its own brand--except for Hollywood--of self serving isolation. Its a spiral of self reward. The more you live there, the more you know you are right, just right and that's all there is to it. I saw this attitude constantly in my dozens of stays in DC.

I believe this very well could have been what Palin, perhaps the opposite of some of the more programmed cave dwellers within DC culture, encountered when she got into a major league campaign. Now from here, let's deconstruct, as they say in college.

Though fundamentally opposed, on personal religious grounds, to any abortion for any reason, she agrees to support her running mate John McCain. She then is pictured in various strung together scenes--between hand ringing of the real "professionals" and her alleged breakdown-- that we all remember in the news: the expensive clothes flap, troopergate, the bad interview with Couric.

But let me offer another interpretation that I've not seen anywhere else. Game Change unintentionally reveals the ambition of established Republican pillar John McCain, as well as his staff and consultants, to buy cheap and then beat into shape the the very un-DC Palin product. That process is what created the dramatic tension between her fidelity to her values as only Palin knew them or giving in to DC drift. So McCain and crew soon discover the product is not a windup robot. The thing just wouldn't go as programmed and they couldn't send it back. This movie begs to be remade into a comedy for Tea Party partisans.

The now lionized political consultants are the darlings of MSNBC for valiantly waging the impossible fight of getting this "Alaskan moose hunter" (from the movie) to play right with the big boys. Possibly had they let Sarah be Sarah, they might have a better gig today. But its not their fault. It's like the cop said to Jack Nicholson in a movie many years before about one other overwhelming drift of culture that is (at least in that movie) impossible to change: "Its all right, Jack. It's just Chinatown."

It's all right, Sarah. It's just DC.

How conservatives should consume comedians:
Use Them
Example--Newt Gingrich has the opportunity to get votes after Bill Maher maligned the people of Mississippi

(3.11.12) by BenQQ
Bill Maher on his show Bill Maher's show on HBO ran about a dozen quick comments from what apparently was supposed to be representative Mississippians. He said the filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, (yes, daughter) had written him assurance that the people she interviewed were just like any other she could have filmed. In other words, all she encountered were variously as equally wretched, toothless, uneducated, desperately poor and socially backward.

Pelosi's own bias shows here: had she interviewed poor women, blacks and Choctaw Indians, she could have hobbled together a similar piece, but no doubt would have been ideologically thorny to a liberal audience.

Maher, ever reflexive and strategic as he circled like a shark for the laugh, said Pelosi (who actually produced a wonderful documentary on immigrants) would submit other pieces, including one from Harlem. See? We do this to everybody.

The hilarious takeaway is that Mississippi is populated only with poor angry white males who are either toothless, racist, and ignorant as a result of the state being "the poorest" if not, even more tragically, isolated from the coveted values and wisdom of Hollywood.

But where was that context? In fact, Pelosi's report had no context other than intentionally misrepresenting the character of a state that is currently Republican. You could feel the audience pause its condescending laughter as the malicious nature of the piece rose to the top like curdled cream on a June day in...where else?...Mississippi.

An easy laugh was souring fast. Guests Catherine Crier, former SEIU President Andy Stern and none other than formerly #1 Republican Michael Steele, who just richly declared the tone of the Republican party was no longer his--convenient since he is now an MSNBC commentator--all seemed a bit uncomfortable at what was an obvious hack job.

The clip was without Maher's usual funny bite when using visuals--like a couple weeks ago when he showed a closeup pic of round eyed, helmet haired Callista Gingrich caught in a a response and compared her to a Republican space alien--or something like that. Unexpectedly hilarious that even Newt if not Callista herself, might find funny, even if privately.

This is why Maher is right up there with other HBO satirical shows like Eastbound and Down, Life's Too Short, Flight of the Concords, Curb Your Enthusiasm and finally the one on Showtime about the British couple who come to Hollywood to produce a series. For me, these are appointment TV at their current best. They are, following an old comedy rule of letting the audience in on the laugh, (except posibly for Maher's when his liberal sanctimony meter bursts like a bulb of an overheated thermometer) more self-satirical than not.

Regardless, Newt Gingrich has been handed the opportunity to use the entertainment elite to his political advantage, especially now in Mississippi. Mississippians can show Obama's million dollar contributor and perhaps best supporter in media, that they will respond in kind to this type of democratic malific media with votes. And Gingrich, as the only Republican candidate that is campaigning on ideas and content, should go after those votes with a vengeance. (see pictures and outline of his recent speech in Mississippi here below the pictures)

Southerners have been the butt of jokes just like any other people. And, just like any other people, they especially enjoy when the joke that was made at their own expense is turned on the teller. That could happen Tuesday. Read Gingrich's 21st Century Contract With America

J.C. stumps for the man who would be Winston

(3.4.12) by BenQQ
(3.4.12) by BenQQ
This is what happens when Republicans break from their focused economic message of small government, budget reduction, lower taxes and business growth: about fifty folks greet a major supporter of Newt Gingrich at a Super Tuesday campaign event. Fifty. Meanwhile Rick Santorum and wife took his message to the true believers at a religious pit stop--a big one--at Sunday services at one of the areas largest membershiop church, Bellevue Baptist, before thousands.

The one and only time I personally met the former Speaker of the House was in 2003 when he spoke before the national convention of the Sons of the Confederacy organization in Memphis. A documentary on the organization and its members, I filmed the entire week long event, the highlight of which was Newt's presentation to promote his book Gettysburg, co-authored with William Forstchen, that considered--not wished-- what history would have looked like if Gen. Robert E. Lee had won the Battle of Gettysburg. Newt's 2 hour off-the-cuff presentation was riveting and erudite, putting a lie to the claim by a liberal media commentator that Newt was "really not an historian." Well, one useless major I had in college was history and I've heard a lot of historians. Newt is an historian.

(Anyway, I hope to have that video of Newt's presentation posted here in the future. It is a live illustration of how he thinks, presents before a crowd and arrives at conclusions. Haven't seen that from any other candidate.)

Former Congressman (OK-R) J.C. Watts, with humor and generous of time, in a good talk that nevertheless apparently caused Newt supporter Mayor Stan Joyner to be late, or miss entirely as far as I could overhear, the birthday party of his ten year old grandson. That party might possibly have had more attendees than this, uh, modest affair. Even the urging from a woman I took as his wife to speed things up, which perhaps led him to say in introduction under the picturesque Collierville town square pavilion that "while they waited for our special guest there was another speaker" -- which prompted the local Newt Gingrich campaign director, Willy Ayers lll, to shout from the peanut gallery, "He IS our special guest!"

Totally understandable this faux paux, given that the special guest arrived late and the square was virtually empty, prompting one attendee to tell me they should have hired a band. But perhaps more relevant is that J.C. was stumping for what I believe is the best Republican candidate during a week that Limbaugh called a woman a "slut," crowning an issue that started out as a legitimate religion vs. government issue. And by so doing demonstrated aptly how the Repubs have lost the conversation and the support of independents, according to some of today's polls that also show Obama's approval ratings going up.

Ironic that the best "conversant" of *contemporary* conservative issues is, I still think despite his apparent political disappearance, Newt Gingrich. I heard he thinks of himself as Winston Churchill. Not a bad model considering our land, somewhat like Britain when she stood alone against the Nazi beasts, now faces economic and policy routes dreamed up by a socialistically inclined president that will be hard, very hard, to roll back.

But as J.C. gave his solid unfaltering talk on behalf of Newt, my thoughts drifted back to my sausage hoagie I had ordered from Cafe Grill on the square. The hoagie now was neatly boxed on top of various pieces of equipment in my Jeep. The little restaurant that created it was an all American business on this iconic Southern American civil war site--a Chinese owned restaurant--where they apparently spoke only the language of their lineage--that offered a mix of Chinese stir fry for dinner and for lunch an assortment of sandwiches and hamburgers ("incredibly huge" according to the testimony of my companion who was left to eat alone as I went back to the square in search of pictures). Hours after I got home, the hoagie was incredibly delicious but a trite soggy. I imagined what it would have tasted like hot--perhaps the spices would have erupted, the juices competing...

But the fact that I was thinking about my hoagie is the point isn't it? Would Newt's Winston like oratory allow our minds to wander? Could he handle Obama head on in a debate that would determine the course of our country? Could he be creative and trenchant in confrontation? I think so.

Those are political assets that no other candidate has short of the flawed Ron Paul. However, Newt was penalized in the media for being "too creative" and the party quaked. It drifts toward choosing either another moderate mintzy aristocrat or someone who sounds like he leapt forth from 1956 on social issues.

But, hey, that hoagie was damn good.

More pictures Purchase prints from that page.

Glenn Beck Calls Out Memphis Radioman Thaddeus Matthews for His Treatment of GOP Candidate

Feb. 1--by Ben "BenQQ" Harrison
At first I had a certain amusement this morning from Glenn Beck's minor mistake of misidentifying Atlanta with Memphis. But before the good people of Atlanta rise up in protest, let's try to set the sorry record straight.

The bearer of bad news this time is none other than the conservative radio talker and media entrepreneur who promoted on air the clip featuring "Atlanta" talk show host Thaddeus Matthews appallingly berating and racially insulting 9th District GOP candidate Charlotte Bergmann.

Of course, we all know Matthews, an old crony of unsuccessful congressional primary campaign candidate and former Mayor-for-Life Willie Herenton (who thought ever so wrongly a racialist platform would defeat Steve Cohen (D) in the 2010 congressional primary campaign) is ensconced behind his frequent racially demagogic mic in Memphis. (And that mic is his toy; he owns the station, WPLX-AM.)

Now that a national spotlight has been thrown on this radio throwback, the real question is will local media continue to give him a pass on his racialist, frequently anti-semitic, rants that are vented in an environment where he meets not only no criticism, but enthusiastic endorsement from his listeners. His style is not only illegitimate commentary, but akin to a form of personal radio abuse sometimes seemingly geared to only whipping up his fans. Conservative Mark Skoda (WMPS-FM) is the first radioman in Memphis to condemn Matthews.

No need to go into details here. Watch Matthews' self humiliation at Beck's post on his blog to see Matthews in action for the truth. Matthews, for the first time ever on air, did apparently offer an apology, but so parsed on his show this afternoon as to be meaningless. Also see previous posts on Matthews at the links below in the piece on the Memphis Animal Shelter.

Followup Feb 2: Conservative talker Ben Ferguson was among the first to pounce in a classic mediagenic contest with Matthews personally on Fox 13 Memphis with anchor Ernie Freeman. It was an event live TV loves: raw, immediate and somewhat embarrasing. Interesting: On a mic that he couldn't control, Matthews made a smaller impression than his usual big voice playing almost exclusively to his own radio audience. (In his arena, little effort is made to bring in whitey, meaning conservative, views.) When he called Ferguson an "idiot," to which Ferguson openly laughed, much the same as Bergmann did on the clip above (what else can you do with an attack teddy bear?), he seemed merely defensive and not the image of the great black media hope he he has created about himself over the years. The takeaway that the Thaddy Bear should learn from all of this: playing to the lowest common denominator of his audience (and his psyche) works only when he has control--and when he is playing only to that uncritical audience. Freeman gave him the last predictable forgettable word, but, at least, that word will bring him larger audiences that either loves or hates him.

Feb 7: Bill Pollack, reportedly the owner of WPLX, apparently shut down the transmitter Feb. 3, but Matthews forced him to turn it back on with a restraining order. This comes as a revelation to many, as Matthews had made claims when he first launched WPLX he was getting away from the "white power structure" with his "own" station. Subsequently, Charlotte Bergmann filed a restraining order order against Matthews, claiming on Fox Business nationally today that she was getting threats and harassment.

Is it Reale or is it Beale?
Happy New Year to the World from Memphis!

Three Girls on New Year's Eve, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, 2012

"Memphians have turned New Year's Eve into an iconic social event on Beale Street, an event formerly held by Memphis in May when everybody locked arms on the very banks of the Mississippi and sang the deep slow resonant paean "Ol' Man River" directly to the ole man himself wide awake a few hundred feet away. While they may still sing to the river in that reassuring and ancient primordial ritual on those humid summer nights, this past New Year's eve offered a crisp cool window to attract a record throng of natives and pilgrims alike to welcome the ancient new year in yet another timeless blast for all."--BenQQ
Click the pic to see more.

L-R Council Members William C. Boyd, Bill Morrison, Mayor AC Wharton, Director of Public Services and Neighborhoods Janet Hooks at the peak moment.

Memphis Animal Services (MAS)-- the "Penn State of Animal Care?"

Dec. 3--by Ben "BenQQ" Harrison

You really can't go wrong in the PR department when you gather politicians, bureaucrats, volunteers, staff and activists all working to get residents of the shiny new Memphis Animal Services out alive.

Smiles and acknowledgements are not inappropriate and are even well deserved for the players (some of which pictured above) for realizing the new building, but for thousands of pickups it is only a clean holding facility before the calendar dribbles fast away to a lonely and largely unnecessary end if the city would mount an all out effort to address the animal overpopulation in Memphis.

But that issue is deep background in the wake of legal cases for former officials and staff. The Memphis Animal Shelter has made themselves the "Penn State of Animal Shelters" (my quotes). As with the opprobium that has been visited on Penn State as a result of officials remaining conveniently blind to an obvious pathalogy internally, the look away MAS has apparently functioned within its own cultural deviance as well--with similar public scorn.

"This is like putting lipstick on a pig," ridiculed one animal activist. Comparisons are painfully obvious: alleged abuses, in this case to animals, by executives and staff, an internal institutional culture that allowed, if not perpetuated, abuses while a larger population ignored the broader problem: dogs--mostly pit bulls, a favorite for the criminal and thoroughly demented dog fighting set. Pits and others now roam the streets and eventually, if they do not die there, end up in the MAS incinerator.

And just as at Penn State, heads should (and of course already have) rolled in personnel house cleaning that included the president of the university, though apparently that of City of Memphis Director of Public Services and Neighborhoods Janet Hooks remains firmly attached.

Mayor Wharton's seemingly principled stand of providing "due process" for suspected animal abusers on payroll not so coincidentally provides him a political firewall. It ignores the fact he could transfer suspect employees until returned to work at the shelter, fired and/or prosecuted as warranted.

Not to say current staff are not mostly dedicated and hard working, but continuing to employ less than acceptible workers on touted fairness grounds within the very scandal ridden agency that is charged to care for lost pets and strays doesn't even make political sense. Remember in the last District 9 Sen. primary election, radio commentator Thaddeus Matthews and former Mayor Willie Herenton tried and failed to make the new animal shelter a political and racial football. Clearly, pet owners of every race are watching. And they remember.

Beyond that, the mayor should again make the video in the animal shelter viewable by all instead of only by the police department, a tacit admission he not only mistrusts MAS employees and volunteers, but regular citizens, let alone activists who have inherent interest and reasons to monitor live video.

Besides, what level of animal abuse would the observing officer be trained to look for anway? Would he be offended at an apparent legal activity of dragging a dog to his death? (link below) Or whould he be trained to spot policy infractions of the shelter? Would the officer, sipping coffee and wondering why he is on "video duty," devote the same attention of a citizen looking for a lost pet? That brings up this question I submit as only a helpful suggestion: why not stream video to the internet to show incoming and adoptable animals on a regular basis?

To its credit, MAS does hold seminars and lessons for animal care and behavior, but it should go further, way further. It should take the lead in launching a broad strategy to fix the city's animal issues, including over population and street habitation. This would go a long way to repair the image of an agency that has so blatantly failed its covenant. And money need not be an overwhelming block.

In the wake of city budget cuts, Mayor Wharton should show leadership and responsiveness to the animal crisis in Memphis by creating results oriented strike teams of different purposes and increasing responsibilities for volunteers.

Neighborhood teams could be created to report roaming unlicensed animals; PR teams could produce cheap public service announcements while still others held neighborhood meetings in community centers about animal care and regulations, chipping and vaccinations; etc. College students and retired persons, not to mention activists themselves, could be recruited to volunteer for such duty.

In fact, I predict MAS would have a hefty platoon of talented volunteers to present, produce and observe within a public awareness and action campaign the results of which would match that of any PR firm.

Finally, there should be a point by point response to the Rotary Club's recommendations (link below) instead of just lip service and thanks. The people of Memphis and their animals deserve real action now.
11.22.11 related...
Above the political and emotional quagmire surrounding the new, as it did the old, Memphis Animal Shelter, Mr. and Mrs. William Strong, members of the Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue, attend to a golden retriever just adopted by the group. After accepting affections, the dog, retreated under the seat. The rescue group adopts golden retrievers from area shelters and finds homes for them. Strong was complimentary toward many of the staff.

MAS puts opening ceremonies off until Dec. 3 due to bad weather; skittish over "observers with cameras"

(11.22.11) There to cover the opening and ask a few questions about the city's most recent scandal mass involving a host of problems at the shelter, we were soon met with suspicion as observers with cameras (OWCs--my epithet). After introducing myself to the clerk behind security glass so clean I didn't even realize it was there until seeing the payment insert below it. I told her I wanted to take a picture of the cats (right) in the the waiting room where visitors can watch them. Seriously, the most fun waiting lobby I've seen anywhere.

But soon thereafter we were confronted with what I always think is a rather condescending question, "Who are you with?" as if freelance writers and photographers do not belong to the pantheon of working media urchins. Regardless, when I responded to my questioner "freelance," as well as memphispixnews.com and demotix.com, (links below) her eyes narrowed like an antagonist in a Laurel and Hardy skit.

Another staff member approached me and asked me to join her while she spoke with Janet Hooks, Director of Public Services and Neighborhoods, oversees animal services. Hooks' department, a former city council member appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowry in 2009, is also responsible for the Office of Multi-Cultural and Religious Affairs, the Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau, the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board and the Weights and Measures Bureau. She replaced Kenneth Moody, who retired in 2009 following a scandal at the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center. That service was shifted to the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department.

Considering the department had promoted the grand opening for today with no cancellation notice on its own Web site (a marquis now crawls across the top), any questions should be more than fair. But to my surprise Hooks told me she didn't want people "just walking in and taking snap, snap, snap."

(cont. above)
And heeeeeres....Chris! Chris Parnell looks contemplative as he takes questions from a few local media members at the 14th Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival Nov. 6. He is introduced by volunteer media specialist Christina Meek, who does the same thing not too far away in real life as communications cpecialist for the Greater Memphis Chamber. Parnell is a perfect contributor to the festival. Locally raised, he went on to do summer stock in envious professional places and made people laugh in LA at the the Groundlings Theatre. He was cast member of Saturday Night Live for 8 years and was in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Appearing at Indie Memphis--Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, producer Jonathan Silberberg (left) and former Memphis Three defendant Jason Baldwin at press conference at the Playhouse. (Story also posted on Demotix.com. Search "West Memphis Three")
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Newt Gingrich and wife Callista walk the line after a speech in Southaven, Mississippi Thursday. Click the pic for pictures and speech outline.

12-5-11 Great Free Things in Memphis
Deco photobooth. Crosstown Arts on Facebook.

Saved--Savannah Austin of Memphis holds what is guestimated to be a sheppard mix she adopted after the ribbon cutting. She plans to name it "Baby" on approval of her fiance.

And Baby was saved from this located behind the MAS building. Director Hooks said at the opening the 16,000 animals that go through the facility "face a challenge." Right. That challenge is not ending up in the above. Most do, though the MAS 2010 annual report said the euthanasia rates were "trending down." Many are returned to owners. MAS publishes its intake statistics on its page. (link below).
11.22.11 related...
(cont. "Memphis Animal Shelter")

No doubt discussing their anticipated adoption, two young kitties watch the photographer from their display area in the lobby of the Memphis Animal Shelter.

She asked if I were conducting an interview over the phone at that moment. I said yes, in fact I was. Surely they would have responses ready to recent scandals involving a dog pickup now gone to criminal court, arrests of a former director and veterinarian on animal cruelty charges, the official disabling of public video monitors installed afther those arrests, allegations staff have ties to dog fighting rings and other issues addressed in the October Memphis Rotary Club report. (One can only ask where was such a report on the missing floor of the Fedex Forum parking structure.)

But the department's skittishness at OWCs is understandable if you take a look at these images from a local animal activist blogger called YesBuscuit! and this video from ABC 24 news. There has been much PR generated around the new shelter, but few notices of policy changes surrounding issues that still ire local animal activists. So we ask a few of them here:

*What steps are being taken in response to the Memphis Rotary report? *Considering ongoing personnel problems, who has more control of the MAS, management or unions?
*Related, has any staff member been fired in the last 12 months for lack of performance? *What kind of screening and training do shelter employees receive? *Did the previous director resign after rumored threats from dog fighting gangs in Memphis or animal activists?
*Why are the formerly online cameras viewable by everybody now seen only by the police?
*Why not rid the MAS from the antagonism the shelter has generated internationally among animal activists by employing them directly in day to day operations?

We will post any responses unedited from the Memphis Animal Shelter upon receipt.
Memphis Animal Services
2350 Appling City Cove
Memphis, TN 38134
Phone: (901) 636-1416
TTY: (901) 636-1416

Michael Douglas declares victory
Methodist and West Clinic declare partnership

11.4.11 Michael Douglas, appearing at the benefit for the Methodist Healthcare Cancer Foundation before a crowd 1,150 contributors, declared he was cancer free from stage 1V throat cancer after chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Above, he chats with medical oncologist/hematologist Sylvia Richey, M.D. of the West Clinic. Afterwords, she wrote us: " I was able to have lunch with him and he was as gracious as you could imagine and was very personal with his story when we were able to visit. He shared points in his cancer journey with me that only occur in a doctor patient relationship. The funds raised from todays event will help provide cancer care to those who may not otherwise be able to afford expensive cancer treatments-- and that is the first step toward building a comprehensive cancer center that is ultimately planned with the partnership between methodist and The West Clinic. " (Also on Demotix.com for picture distribution. Search Michael Douglas.)