Tigers hold off Southern 72-67

By Jason Smith of The Commercial Appeal Updated: Yesterday 11:05 p.m

With the University of Memphis struggling to stay ahead of Southern University in the second half Tuesday, Dedra Lawson screamed instructions at her sons from her seat 20 or so rows up from the court at FedExForum.

Lawson demanded her boys to go up stronger with the ball, to play harder. Fortunately for the Tigers, her oldest son, K.J., heard mom’s orders, scoring 15 of his career-high 16 points in the second half to help Memphis edge Southern 72-67 and earn its fifth straight victory.

“That just goes with playing basketball. She’s been yelling since I was 5,” said K.J., whose 5-of-6 shooting performance in the second half included a critical layup with 20 seconds left that gave Memphis a 70-67 lead. “You’re gonna (hear) that one voice — I don’t care how many people (are) in the stands.”

Southern (7-3), which has road wins this season at Mississippi State and at Wyoming, had a chance to tie with 17.2 seconds left.

But junior guard Trelun Banks missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds with Dedric Lawson draped over him and Memphis leading 70-67. Memphis senior Ricky Tarrant Jr. (11 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals) sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds, allowing Dedra Lawson and a crowd much smaller than the 10,752 announced to breathe a sigh of relief.

“We found a way to win. It wasn’t pretty,” said coach Josh Pastner, whose Tigers will face a tougher test Friday when they host Ole Miss (8-2) at FedExForum.

For the third straight game, the Tigers got off to a slow start on both ends and fell behind early, prompting Pastner to say afterward that he might consider a change in his starting lineup. Southern led by as many as eight points in the first half and had a five-point lead (50-45) with a little more than 11 minutes to play.

But unlike their previous two games, the Tigers (7-2) didn’t dominate their opponent in the second half. It didn’t help, either, that senior Shaq Goodwin was in foul trouble the entire night (Goodwin fouled out in the second half with just five points and three rebounds) and that Dedric Lawson struggled offensively (2 of 9 from the floor, five turnovers).

But Memphis got enough from K.J. Lawson and senior Trahson Burrell (15 points, eight rebounds) down the stretch to remain undefeated this month.

“I thought K.J. Lawson, (in the) second half, made some big plays, some big shots to help us win,” Pastner said.

Said K.J.: “In the first half, we weren’t taking our time. When they were bumping us, we weren’t gathering ourselves. We were just quick and had the first-half jitters. In the second half, we kind of picked it apart. We knew what we wanted and we kept going to the goal.”


LA Schools Will Reopen Wednesday


By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff  Posted Dec 16, 2015 1:06 AM CST | Updated Dec 16, 2015 4:33 AM CST

(NEWSER) – Some 640,000 kids in the nation’s second-largest school district won’t be getting a second terror-related day off from school. Officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District say all 900 schools have been inspected following an emailed threat that has now been discredited by the FBI and they plan to reopen for classes Wednesday morning, reports the Los Angeles Times. A similar threat, supposedly from Islamic radicals, was received by officials in New York City, who rejected it as a hoax almost immediately. Gawker reports that both emails, which threatened attacks involving bombs, guns, and nerve gas, came from a profanely named server associated with the message board “8chan.”

Officials trying to trace the emails say they were routed through Germany but probably didn’t originate there, theTimes reports. School board officials, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck defend the decision to close down schools, saying the threat was specific enough to be taken seriously, KTLA reports. “When parents make their determination about the decisions that were made today,” Beck says, “I would ask them to look at it this way: If you knew what the superintendent and the school board knew at 5:30 this morning, when the decision had to be made, would you have sent your child to school? Every parent I’ve asked said, no, of course not.”


SCS salary changes

SCS salary adjustments to affect 2,000 non-certified staff

By Jennifer Pignolet of The Commercial Appeal Posted: Yesterday 5:13 p.m.

More than 2,000 Shelby County Schools employees will see changes to their paychecks next fiscal year as the district finishes adjusting salaries and wages following the merging of the county’s two school systems almost three years ago.

About 785 employees, which could include cafeteria, maintenance and other non-certified staff, will see a pay cut. About 1,300 employees of the same classifications will receive an increase.

SCS Chief of Human Resources Trinette Small announced the changes in a phone call to The Commercial Appeal on Tuesday.

Of the 785 who are losing money, Small said 78 percent of them will see a decrease of less than $5,000. But a small handful could see a loss of up to $10,000 per year.

Of those who are seeing an increase, Small said 95 percent of them are in the lowest-paying jobs.

The salary adjustments take effect June 30, the same day that state law sets as the deadline by which all employees from legacy Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools must be on the same salary schedules.

All of the salary changes will be cost-neutral for the district, Small said.

Employees will be notified this week if their salaries or wages will change.

“We also wanted to make sure we gave employees enough time to plan in the event their salary was decreasing,” she said. “So that’s why we’re doing this now.”

During the merger process, SCS worked to merge the salary schedules for teachers and principals immediately.

“A lot of work had to be done in a short period of time,” Small said. “Sometimes those job titles didn’t exactly match up, there were different salary schedules.”

Secretaries and educational assistants followed the year after. Almost everyone else, a total of about 4,200 employees including the central office staff, had their salaries and wages reviewed this year.

Small said in determining whether a person would get paid more, less, or stay the same, they used market data to determine how much the job is worth and then factored in how long that employee has worked for the district.

Small said there will be an appeals process to review cases on an individual basis as necessary. An employee assistance program will also engage with workers starting in January for anyone looking for help with financial planning.

Small said most of those affected were working for one of the two districts from before the merger, although a few are new hires since then. She said she was not aware of any member of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s staff who will be receiving a raise.

The cafeteria, maintenance and other non-certified staff in the district are not covered by a union or other representation. Janice Chalmers, president of the AFSCME Local 1733, said the union is in the process of organizing the workers at SCS, but does not currently represent them, and did not work with SCS on the salary and wage adjustments related to the merger.


Congress Reaches Deal to Avoid 2016 Shutdown


By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff Posted Dec 16, 2015 2:29 AM CST | Updated Dec 16, 2015 5:03 AM CST

(NEWSER) – Congressional leaders have reached a deal that will let them go home for the holidays and avoid spending most of 2016 squabbling about government shutdowns. House Speaker Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers on Tuesday night that a $1.1 trillion omnibus funding bill that will keep the government running until October next year has been agreed on, reports the Hill. Under the “three-day” rule, lawmakers will have time to review the 2,009-page text before a vote takes place on Thursday or Friday. The government’s spending authority expires Wednesday, and lawmakers are expected to pass a stopgap spending bill that will give them until Dec. 22 to vote on the new package, the Washington Post reports.

The bill—which includes a $650 billion package extending numerous tax credits—meets some key Republican demands, including the lifting of the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports and the suspension of some taxes linked to ObamaCare, while the Democratic wins include five-year extensions of wind and solar credits, the AP reports. An agreement to reauthorize health benefits for 9/11 first responders made it into the deal, and restrictions on Syrian refugees didn’t. “A lot of us feel like we didn’t get things we wanted, but we got some stuff that we did want, and I think that’s going to be true on both sides,” says GOP Rep. John Kline, per the Post. “We need to move past this, get this done, let’s put 2015 behind us and get on to 2016.”


Last Night’s Debate

Six takeaways from the fifth Republican debate

Heidi M Przybyla, USA TODAY1:02 a.m. EST December 16, 2015

The fifth Republican debate Tuesday night in Las Vegas was heavy on foreign policy and national security, spotlighting the approaches of GOP candidates to fighting the Islamic State and protecting the homeland. Here are six takeaways:

Cruz in cross hairs

Ted Cruz, who is gaining in national polls and taken the lead in Iowa, was, for the first time, a primary target throughout the debate.

That included his Senate vote to end the National Security Agency’s bulk records collection program and his opposition to toppling Middle Eastern dictators. Marco Rubio hit Cruz repeatedly, saying his vote against the phone metadata program means the nation lost a “valuable tool.”

The Florida senator circled back for another swipe against Cruz’s vote against the Defense Authorization Act. “You can’t carpet bomb ISIS if you don’t have planes and bombs to attack them with,” said Rubio. Cruz has said he’d bomb ISIS until the sand glows.

In the undercard debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham delivered one of the night’s most memorable lines in attacking Cruz for opposing ground troops in Iraq and Syria. “Getting in bed with Iran and Russia to save Assad is inconceivable,” said Graham. “Princess Buttercup would not like this,” he said, referring to a character in The Princess Bride, a favorite Cruz movie.

Trump takes a pass

Somewhat surprisingly, Donald Trump wasn’t among Cruz’s antagonists.

Just days before the debate, Trump accused Cruz of acting like a “maniac” in the Senate. “I’ve gotten to know him over the last three or four days,” Trump said in walking back his criticism. “He’s just fine, don’t worry about it,” said Trump.

He also soothed Republicans concerned about a potential third-party run, which could hurt the party’s eventual nominee. Trump said he’d abide by a pledge to support the eventual nominee.

Bush and Trump fireworks

The testiest and most personal exchanges were between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, who at one point repeatedly interrupted Trump.

“You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” Bush shot at Trump. Leadership is not about “attacking and disparaging,” he said, referring to Trump’s proposal to ban all non-citizen Muslims from the U.S. “He’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president,” said Bush.

Bush’s repeated attacks worked Trump into red-faced irritation as he raised his voice in anger.

Trump revived a personal attack about Bush being low energy. “I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well,” said Trump.

Asked why he’d make an effective leader, Bush took another indirect shot at Trump. “I know what I don’t know,” he said. “I won’t get my information from the shows.”

Rubio answers for immigration stance

Rubio was pressed on his previous support for a bipartisan Senate bill creating a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. Rubio said he doesn’t support any legalization until the U.S. beefs up border security and implements other measures such as e-verify for employers.

Yet the moderators pinned him down, and Rubio ultimately said he is open to allowing people to apply for a green card, “but that’s down the road.”

While Paul joined the criticism, Cruz pounced, claiming to have led the fight against Rubio’s “amnesty” bill. When pressed, Cruz drew a sharp contrast, ruling out a path to citizenship.

Trump’s Muslim ban

Trump’s proposed ban on all non-citizen Muslims was a major topic. He defended his controversial plan, which his opponents largely agreed was unconstitutional and unworkable.

Trump bemoaned people coming to this country with ISIS flags on their cell phones. “They’re not coming to this country,” he said. If they come, “they’re leaving, they’re going.”

Rubio and Cruz were measured in their criticism. “Everyone understands why Donald has suggested what he has,” said Cruz, faulting President Obama’s policies. “There are millions of peaceful” Muslims all around the world, said Cruz, and U.S. policy should focus on countries like Iraq and Syria.

Other candidates were more blunt in their denunciation, including Bush and Graham.

“ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just don’t believe in dancing,” said Graham in the undercard debate, seeking to appeal directly to U.S. allies in the Middle East such as Jordan. “He does not represent us” and has “made us all less safe,” said Graham of Trump.

Divide on troops

There was a sharp divide in the field over the approach to ground troops in Syria and Iraq.

In support of a more robust U.S. presence were Kasich, Bush, Rubio and Christie, who argued that Arab allies will not join the fight in large numbers unless the U.S. leads. On the other side of the issue were Paul, Cruz and Trump, who argued that U.S. wars in the Middle East have destabilized the entire region and made the U.S. less secure.

“We have to go massively like we did in the first Gulf War,” said Kasich. That stands in contrast to Cruz, who said the Sunni Arab fighters the U.S. seeks aren’t materializing.

“It’s like a purple unicorn. These moderate rebels end up being Jihadists,” said Cruz.

The U.S. has “done a tremendous disservice” to the Middle East and humanity with wars that have cost the U.S. over $5 trillion, said Trump. “We can’t be fighting everybody at the same time.”


500 pounds of chocolatey gingerbread goodness (if that’s correct English)

500-Pound Chocolate Gingerbread House Unveiled At The White House

The gargantuan gingerbread house that’s now taking center stage in the White House’s State Dining Room is no ordinary confection.

Modeled after the White House itself and designed by Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, the saccharine structure is made of a whopping 250 pounds of gingerbread, 150 pounds of chocolate and another 75 pounds of sugar and other baking ingredients.


This year’s White House Gingerbread House is unique from its predecessors.

As the Associated Press notes, this one is covered in dark chocolate, “instead of white chocolate as in years past.”


Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the giant gingerbread house to the public, along with the rest of the festive decor that’s adorning 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this holiday season.

Among the many decorations are 62 fir trees with over 70,000 ornaments; larger-than-life replicas of Bo and Sunny, the Obamas’ dogs; and a gathering of “snow people” on the White House grounds.

Several top designers, including Carolina Herrera and Humberto Leon, as well as dozens of volunteers, took part in the effort of getting the White House picture-perfect for the holidays, according to a news release.

“The holidays really are an all-hands-on-deck time frame for us, where every single shop in the house has to step up, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work has to take place before we get to the actual finished product that we all get to enjoy,” Angella Reid, the chief White House usher, told The New York Times of the holiday preparations. “Our mission is really to make sure that whatever we do is unseen. I sometimes describe it as Disney — you throw the pixie dust, and it all looks perfect.”

Approximately 68,000 guests are expected to visit the White House this holiday season.

Scroll down for a glimpse of this year’s White House holiday decorations:

The Library on the ground floor of the White House on Dec. 2, 2015.
Snowflakes adorn the ceiling in a hallway at the White House on Dec. 2, 2015. 
A display of the Obama family dogs, Bo and Sunny, at the White House on Dec. 2, 2015. According to a White House press release, the replicas were “created out of nearly 55,000 feet of yarn knitted into 7,000 yarn pom-poms.” 
A gum ball machine in the State Dining Room at the White House on Dec. 2, 2015. 
The Red Room at the White House on Dec. 2, 2015.
A secret service officers walks by “snow people” at The White House on Dec. 2, 2015. 
A decorated tree stands in the Blue Room on Dec. 2, 2015. 
First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled this year’s White House holiday decorations on Dec. 2, 2015.


THIS is our kind of tree

If Carlsberg did Christmas trees: brewer creates 27ft beer dispensing Christmas tree on London’s South Bank

The 27ft fir invited punters to pull their own beer, while the first 100 vistiors were given free Carlsberg-branded “beerbles”

Christmas came early for visitors to London’s South Bank yesterday, as Carlsberg created a 27ft, beer-dispensing Christmas tree giving away free booze.

The giant fir at Observation Point was adorned with beer bottle baubles and a giant beer hop on the top, with a pump at the bottom dispensing free lager to passersby.

The first 100 visitors were also given glass blown “beerbles” which could also be used to drink from.

The stunt by the Danish brewer ran from midday to 7pm yesterday.

Read more: Carlsberg luggage stunt: Booze giant shows what would happen if they really did do holiday baggage

Dharmesh Rana, senior brand manager at Carlsberg UK, told Event Magazine : “We wanted to give something back to our consumers with our final activation of the year, and we’re hoping that they can join us for a beer to cele Carlsberg luggage stunt: Booze giant shows what would happen if they really did do holiday baggagebrate a fantastic 2015 for the brand.”


How many Christmas trees will fit in YOUR house?

Tree-mendous! Port St. John woman has 110 Christmas trees

Not to sound like an Andy Williams song, but to me, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s not the presents or anything material or commercial. I just genuinely love how kind people are, the lengths people go to to, ahem, make spirits bright.

Sandy Gomme, for instance, transforms her Port St. John home into a winter wonderland worthy of admission. It’s that good.

Here are some stats to back me up:

110: number of themed Christmas trees on display

2,000: number of pieces that make up her “pride and joy,” a miniature Christmas Village

200,000: rough estimate of Christmas lights inside and outside of her home

5: number of remotes needed to activate the lights and displays

60: amount in dollars of her electric bill during December

4: number of months it takes to get the trees and Christmas village up and running

“I start decorating in August every year,” she said, “and I finish around Thanksgiving.”

Each tree has its own set of ornaments and lights. Some rotate, others have animatronics. The house becomes a warehouse of all things Christmas, with five showrooms, the smell of cinnamon sticks boiling on the stove and Christmas music filling the air. Not to mention: the whirs of holiday robots turning to and fro.

Of all the trees — some miniature, some 4-foot, 6-foot and 8-foot — asking Gomme to name her favorite is a mission impossible. After all, she has a gingerbread man tree, red Solo cup tree, Betty Boop, Snoopy, M&Ms, Bob the Builder, Hello Kitty, Raggedy Anne & Andy, Wizard of Oz, Pez dispenser, Tampa Bay Bucs, Florida State, the Grinch, a toilet paper tree, Econo Lodge with a beer bottle cap garland, and “A Christmas Story.”

She has trees decorated in honor of people, too: the Ellen tree (as in Ellen Degeneres), Shania Twain, Danica Patrick, and “King of Queens” actress Leah Remini. An autographed picture of the actress sits atop.

“I sleep on the couch through the entire season till it’s over,” Gomme said. Well, she has to. She gave up her bed for the carnival section of the Christmas village, and she gave up her bedroom to display the entire Christmas village.

With a little help from daughter Christee White, her mom, sister and brother-in-law, Gomme plans to keep this tradition going for as long as she can.

“I get so excited, I’m just like a kid again,” she said. “At 51, to see the look on people’s faces makes every single ounce of blood and sweat worth it.”

Gomme recently hosted an open house; 200 people got to geek out over Christmas, too. She’ll host another on Sunday, then by appointment only.


Last week, Joe Beyel of the Rockledge Country Club called me about the club’s tree, a 65-foot-tall, almost 100-year-old beauty that looks like a Christmas tree.

Since it looked like one, the club decorated it like one.

“I want to say it’s got over 2,000 lights on it,” Beyel said. “It took about two weeks worth of planning, took three guys and an 85-foot boom lift to get the guys up to the tree and about three days to (decorate) it.”

Visible from Fiske Boulevard, Beyel said, “we’d love for people to stop by and admire the tree because we’re proud of it.”

This gift to Brevard will be lit up at 6 p.m. nightly through New Year’s.

Christmas Tree Collection

What: Sandy Gomme’s winter wonderland

When and where: Open house is at 6 p.m. Sunday, then by appointment online through Christmas at 6195 Alden Ave., Port St. John.

Cost: Free

Info: Call Gomme at 321-243-7719.


The world premiere of the awesome, epic, amazing movie of the year

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: A recap of the world premiere from celebrity cosplay on the red carpet to the first reactions

The Los Angeles Times was inside the world premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ Now that our “Star Wars” team members  have watched the movie and gotten their phones back, the first impressions are rolling in from all over.

Earlier, we gave you a play-by-play of the red carpet, which included such highlights as J.J. Abramsembracing George Lucas, Joseph Gordon-Levitt dressed as Yoda, Rainn Wilson dressed up as a #ChubbyJedi, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s hints about the movie, Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew rocking a lightsaber cane, a very grateful Gwendoline Christie and a whole lot of Stormtroopers.


‘The Force Awakens’ premiere looks backward with nostalgia — and forward with a new hope

J.J. Abrams acknowledges George Lucas as he continues down the carpet toward the Hollywood premiere of

J.J. Abrams acknowledges George Lucas as he continues down the carpet toward the Hollywood premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Onscreen and off, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” world premiere was a night of both nostalgia, looking back with reverence to the much-loved original Star Wars trilogy, and of looking forward, as the franchise shifts to a new generation.


Wolfgang Puck knows from after parties — after all, he’s the guy who caters the Oscars’ annual Governors Ball. And tonight Wolfgang is telling people on the ground that he cooked for 3,500 “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premiere guests.

The party is going on where the red carpet launched the event, out on Hollywood Boulevard. Some kids are building BB-8 toys and others are playing the Star Wars: Battlefront game. And it’s time for dessert!

Finn, C-3PO and Han Solo on pudding. Because it's Hollywood. (Meredith Woerner / Los Angeles Times)

Finn, C-3PO and Han Solo on pudding. Because it’s Hollywood. (Meredith Woerner / Los Angeles Times)

For the fan who has everything, Millennium Falcon macarons. (Meredith Woerner / Los Angeles Times)

For the fan who has everything, Millennium Falcon macarons. (Meredith Woerner / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, after the end credits rolled and before hitting the party, people had to reclaim their cellphones.

So that's how they kept the collected cellphones straight — lots and lots of little brown bags. (John Corrigan / Los Angeles Times)

So that’s how they kept the collected cellphones straight — lots and lots of little brown bags.


No reinstating the “Hit King”

Pete Rose Still Banned From Baseball: MLB Commish


By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff  Posted Dec 14, 2015 1:23 PM CST

(NEWSER) – The MLB player with the most hits in the league’s history should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but that’s hard to do when you’ve been permanently banned from baseball—again. Commissioner Rob Manfred was reportedly set to tell Pete Rose on Thursday he won’t lift the permanent ban against Rose that’s been in place since 1989, but queries by the New York Times appeared to expedite Manfred’s announcement, which he made Monday instead. MLB.com notes Manfred informed Rose, both verbally and in writing, of his decision. The “stark language” of the league’s rules dictates “that the penalty for a player or manager who bets on a game in which he has a duty to perform is mandatory, permanent ineligibility,” Manfred says in his announcement accompanying the MLB press release. He adds he had instructed staff to gather any new evidence that may have emerged since the 1989 Dowd Report that helped place Rose on the league’s ineligible list, based on evidence Rose bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds—including bets on his own team.

In addition to a polygraph test and a private meeting between Rose and Manfred in September, that new evidence included an incriminating notebook revealed in a June ESPN report that indicates Rose also bet while still playing for the Reds. Manfred notes that during that conversation, Rose had inconsistent stories, made contradictory statements, and couldn’t remember important facts from the Dowd document. Another nugget came to light during Manfred and Rose’s meeting that appears to have influenced the decision. “Significantly, [Rose] told me that currently he bets recreationally and legally on horses and sports, including Baseball,” Manfred notes. Interestingly, Manfred says that while Rose won’t be reinstated, that’s an entirely different issue than whether he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a debate he says “must take place in a different forum.”