Friday, August 31, 2007

Local news coming this weekend

Here's what The Star's metro staff is working to bring you over Labor Day weekend:
  • Saturday kicks off a four-day look at labor unions in Alabama and the South. Star Assistant Metro Editor Mary Jo Shafer completed this series as a her final project for the Knight Community Journalism masters program taught at The Star by the University of Alabama. When she was done we hired her, and we're glad to be able to run this series. It examines the decline of unions in the South, a place where they were never all that strong to begin with, and how unions fit - or don't - into the state's changing industrial economy.
  • Labor Day weekend also means the return of college football. Knowing this is one of our state's most important annual rituals, we'll have staff writers Andy Johns and Sara Polsky in Tuscaloosa and Auburn, respectively (while yours truly is in Montgomery with JSU), to see just how happy fans are now that the season's finally here. That's in addition to the coverage of action between the sidelines from our award-winning sports staff. You can follow progress up to the minute at our new college sports blogs for Alabama, Auburn and JSU.
  • If you're not passionate about football, maybe sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books are more your thing. If so, staff writer Dan Whisenhunt, who also writes the video-game column Pushing Buttons, is over in Atlanta at the annual Dragon Con convention. Dan's updating us all on the action through his new Pushing Buttons blog.
  • Calhoun County's oldest house, what's now known as the Davis Farm in Oxford, has some new neighbors - the Oxford Exchange shopping center. That, and its location adjacent to busy Interstate 20, have ramped up pressure to develop the property for commercial use. Its owners have it up for sale, listed at $20 million. Oxford beat writer Todd South explores the house's history, and the potential for another shopping center versus a historical park
There'll be full papers all weekend long. Be sure to check us out when you're not watching the game or grilling something up on the holiday.

Coming Saturday on the editorial page

The Star's editorial board is addressing this week's news about Anniston's 2008 proposed budget -- a budget that contains no cuts and several other items of interest:
It didn’t warrant front-page news in The Star on Thursday when reporter Dan Whisenhunt wrote about the City of Anniston’s $32 million budget proposal for the coming year. To reuse the optimistic words of George Monk, the city manager: “My hope is the proposal is fairly vanilla.”
Monk may get his wish, though you can never count out acrimony and surprise when dealing with Anniston’s council.
Syndicated columnist Joe Galloway is, as usual, weighing in on the week it was involving the Iraq War and President Bush:
This week we saw two President Bushes in action. In a news conference in Canada, he acknowledged that while security has improved somewhat thanks to the surge, the Iraqis have made little progress toward meeting the benchmarks. Two days later, speaking at the national VFW convention in Kansas City, the president spoke at length about the need to stay the course in Iraq indefinitely.
We'll also have our normal fare of letters to the editor.

Riley on stage at The Star

Gov. Bob Riley was in town Thursday -- he was plugging the East Alabama Action Commission -- and was gracious enough to stop by The Star for a somewhat impromptu editorial board meeting. As usual, it was worth the price of admission.

Whether you're a D or R, a Riley supporter or not, say this much about him: He's comfortable speaking about our state. Our meeting was off the record, so we'll honor that and not post here was said there; how's that for journalistic (or blogging) ethics? But trust us -- it was entertaining and enlightening. We're glad he stopped by.

As someone said as the gov'ner was leaving, Riley could sell the promise of Alabama to people in Germany (or elsewhere in Europe) more than he can sell the promise of Alabama to people in parts of his own state. That's a compliment, and a testiment to his record of international industrial recruitment. And it's true, too.

Hopefully he'll come back soon.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Star photographers hit the gridiron


Star photographer Bill Wilson kicks off the '07 football season for the photo dept tonight as he shoots the Saks at Welborn game. Friday, chief photographer Trent Penny will shoot the Weaver/Jacksonville match. Steve Gross will be at the Sidney Lanier/Anniston game. Bill Wilson has the East Coweta (Ga.)/Oxford game. And I'll be in the valley shooting the Oneonta/Alexandria season-opener.

Saturday I'll follow the Gamecocks to Montgomery for the Alabama State game. Penny will cover the Bama game and Gross will shoot Auburn.

Look for all the great action photos in the paper and in photo galleries online.

Local news coming Friday

Here's what the metro staff is working to bring you in tomorrow's paper:
  • The long wait is nearly over. Football season has finally arrived. High school action is kicking off Thursday night between Wellborn and Saks, with a full slate of games Friday. Check annistonstar.com for full coverage Friday and Saturday.
  • There's sure to be a strange feeling in the air at one football venue tomorrow night: Lou Scales Stadium, where for the first time in more than two decades, Larry Ginn will not be coaching the Alexandria Valley Cubs. Features Editor Laura Tutor explores what it is about Alexandria that makes that fact matter so much.
  • Staff writer Matt Kasper visits Eagle's Landing, a drug- and alcohol-abuse recovery center near Jacksonville, where women learn to change their lives by being accountable to themselves and to each other.

Coming Friday on the editorial/op-ed pages

The Star's editorial board is weighing in Friday on two widely different-but-important issues -- the effect of the Southern drought and the effect of air and water pollution in China.

On the drought, The Star's edit board writes:
In years past much has been written about the family farm and how it must be saved. The family farm is an endangered species, made that way by the rise of agribusiness and the governmental policies that promote bigness. But of all the farmers hurt by this summer’s drought, the family farmer has been hurt worse, for those folks have fewer resources to survive the hard times nature has handed them.
This legislation will help. It needs to pass.
On China's pollution and its relation to America's environment, The Star's board writes:
Clearly, we have not done everything we can to protect our environment. It’s too easy to cite similar instances in the United States which industries have polluted waterways and our air, where cancer rates have been linked to industrial carcinogens, where Americans have suffered and died because of environmental mismanagement.
China displays the importance of governmental and environmental watchdogs and the need for requiring our politicians to make these issues a priority. Anything less is deadly and unacceptable. Just ask the Chinese people.
On the op-ed page, I'm taking a stab at the Anniston-Oxford football that's not being played this year because of the shootings that have taken place at past games:
But we owe it to ourselves and to the students of both schools — students who, like the county’s residents as a whole, may have heard the occasional bigot slather this incident in the hue of their racial dogma — to use this game as proof that Calhoun County’s largest cities can coexist in some form of harmony. And it’s absolutely incomprehensible to me that Oxford and Anniston, rivals forever linked by miles of common borders, can’t come together once a year without violence and fear.
And Paul Rilling, The Star's media critic, is curious if we're doing the right thing by limiting the number of stories that begin on our front page:
In an era of smaller pages and shrinking space, is The Star making the best use of its front page, with so much duplication of stories, out front and inside?
We'll have much more. Check it out Friday.

Belly up to the grill




It's steak day at The Star's newsroom. And the eatin's good.

Next Thursday -- grilled pizza day!

The Bird is the Word

It's actually "Bird's Word". That's our new title to the same old high school football pick 'em contest.

Nick Birdsong (of the Tampa, Fla., Birdsongs) is running it now. Back by popular demand/request from you, the loyal reader, we've brought back the staff picks.

Teams from Woodland to Cedar Bluff longed for it. I think some just longed to laugh at Al Muskewitz's off-the-wall picks. While it never quite worked (with respect to wins and losses) there was a formula.

1. Pick the local team.
2. If it's two local teams, pick the home team.

Proving that even a leopard (or just a really old dog) can change his spots, Musky went against his old plan. He's got Oneonta over Alexandria, Sidney Lanier over Anniston, and Jacksonville Christian picking up a road win over ASD.

Pick up a copy of Thursday's Star and check out our staff's lineup of picks (found on 6C).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Coming Thursday on the editorial/op-ed pages


The Star's editorial board is weighing in Thursday on Maryland's decision to release Arthur Bremer, who shot Gov. George Wallace in 1972, and Attorney General Troy King's political manuevering:

Some will wonder if justice has been done (by Bremer's release). There are those who believe that had it not been Wallace that Bremer shot he would have been released long ago. And there are those who are concerned, as was Wallace son-in-law and former Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy, “that someone who has committed a crime like this is actually going to walk free.”
The important point to remember, however, is that Wallace forgave Bremer and also credited the shooting for changing his life spiritually for the better.
And, as Gov. Bob Riley noted, “If Gov. Wallace could forgive him (then) the rest of us can.”
But apparently Attorney General Troy King can’t.


On the op-ed page, syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman is taking on the Sunni tribes in Iraq:
Warning! This important shift by the Sunni tribes could come unglued if the Shiite-led Iraqi government doesn’t start providing government services — water, fuel and electricity — to the Sunni areas the tribes have retaken.
It could also come apart because, well, this is Iraq. As one U.S. general said to me of the Sunni tribes, “They still hate us. They just hate al-Qaida even more right now and they hate the Persians even more than them. But they could turn their guns back on us anytime.”


We also have our normal fare of letters to the editor and a collection of international-based political cartoons on the op-ed page.

Tuesday's top online reads

1. A Valley Cubs legend steps down: Larry Ginn resigns as Alexandria football coach by Nick Birdsong and Rip Donovan (New stories on the coach's resignation drew about four times the typical number of online readers.)

2. Dog-attack victim remains in critical condition in Birmingham bv Nick Cenegy

3. Alabama Power responds to PSC inquiry on tree issue by Matt Kasper

(My)Spacing out

If, like millions of people around the world, you're a user of the social networking site MySpace, you can now find The Star there.

We set up a MySpace profile for the paper in June, and have been biding our time since. Now we're finally making ourselves available to other users. Anyone who stops by our profile can find a list of stories we think they'd be interested in, with links to the paper's Web site. We'll also use the profile to send users to our blogs, including this one, and other content.

We looked around first at what other papers have done with MySapce, including The Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune and The Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item, and a host of alternative weeklies. Like those papers, we're hoping to connect with younger people for whom the daily newspaper, or even the paper's Web site, isn't a daily habit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Local news coming Wednesday

Here's what the metro staff is working on for Wednesday's Star:
  • With 9,000-or-so college students pouring back into Jacksonville this week, education writer Steve Ivey takes a look at Jacksonville State University's standings in the recent U.S. News & World Report college rankings. JSU falls middle-of-the-pack among its peers in Alabama, but university officials, and many other critics, say the rankings don't mean all that much.
  • Larry Ginn, longtime Alexandria High School football and basketball coach, announced his resignation yesterday, citing his recent diagnosis with skin cancer. Star sports writer Nick Birdsong is working to find out how the Valley Cubs are preparing to begin their first season in 20 years without Ginn; they face Oneonta at home on Friday night.
  • Calhoun and Talladega counties are part of a pilot program to create electronic records and case management systems for Medicaid. Capitol correspondent Markeshia Ricks explores what the $3.7 million project will mean for patients.
We're also planning to carry coverage from our sister paper, The Daily Home, on Talladega's city election results. And as always, there's much more where that came from. Check us out online or in print for all the latest stories.

Coming Wednesday on the editorial/op-ed pages

We've got a double dose of Hurricane Katrina offerings on Wednesday.

The first is from The Star's editorial on the two-year anniversary of the horrible storm:
Paint the best picture you can, spin the facts however you will, but no one — even the Gulf Coast Business Council — is completely happy with where we are now or with what has been done to get us there.
The second is from op-ed columnist Hardy Jackson, who's weekly column dives deep into a different side of the anniversary:
But it ain’t just Louisiana that's still being affected.
For sheer lunacy, go down to Dauphin Island.
Back in 2000, well before Katrina, the western end of the island already was washing away. To stop it, local leaders took a combination of state and (mostly) federal money and built a $1 million sand berm. Dauphin’s own wall.
Two years later, tropical storm Isidore washed that away.
And what did they learn from this experience?
Apparently nothing.
The Star's editorial board is also weighing in on a new project that may begin next year or two at Anniston's incinerator:
Critics of the incineration project, which there are many, may have a field day with Anniston’s agreement to bring another mission to our facility. But Tim Garrett, the Anniston site manager, and others at the Anniston facility have given us no indication in years past that they would do anything but protect the safety and performance of our incinerator. The decision to test this machine in Anniston seems to be one made with diligence and common sense.
We're also giving a short opinion piece on the career of Alexandria High School football coach Larry Ginn, who is retiring after a long and successful career:
It’s unfortunate that health concerns have forced Ginn to step down as Alexandria’s football coach. He is a legend of Calhoun County sports, long ago joining a distinguished group of this county’s all-time football coaches that includes Alexandria’s Lou Scales, Oxford’s Bill Burgess and Anniston’s Bill Farrell.
We'll also have our normal selection of letters to the editor, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts' column and follow-up coverage of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation.

Monday's top online reads

1. Social Security move is canceled by Dan Whisenhunt

2. Oxford councilwoman wants to bring back city’s inactive beautification board by Todd South

Oddity: Trent Penny's excellent photo essay Santa Claus is Coming to Town generated a fair amount of online traffic Monday. Maybe somebody's got the Christmas spirit early this year.

Seeing Katrina


More on Katrina anniversary that was noted in previous post:
Just my opinion, but watching Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts has really served as a cruel reminder of our national tragedy two years back.

Hardy Jackson and Hurricane Katrina

Hardy Jackson, one of The Star's op-ed columnists and the owner of a deep appreciation of the U.S. Gulf Coast, has written a wonderful column on Wednesday's two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We'll publish it on Wednesday's op-ed page.

As usual, his take is particularly Hardy-ish ... Certainly worth the read.

I'll try to post an excerpt later today when I get to the office.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The weekend's top online reads

FRIDAY
1. Teacher accused of selling marijuana: Saks educator, spouse arrested by Andy Johns

2. Board fires Felton: Frazier named interim superintendent by Steve Ivey

3. Four pit bulls attack Anniston woman by Andy Johns

SATURDAY
1. Employees charged with stealing money by Dan Whisenhunt

2. Woman hospitalized after pit bull attack by Andy Johns and Nick Cenegy

SUNDAY
1. A city's bones by Todd South

2. Rumble on Noble takes over downtown Anniston by Todd South

From Russia with java


Commentary Editor Phillip Tutor dropped by my office first thing this morning and made quite the observation.
"I know this is supposed to be the 'Red Star,' but why does the editor of the Anniston Star have Russian writing on his coffee cup?"
"Hmm, I don't know," said the editor. "I got it from a doughnut shop in Oxford."
We may never convince the conspiracy buffs, but the real story is fascinating:
Dazbog Coffee is the realization of the American dream by two immigrants of the former Soviet Union, Anatoly and Leonid Yuffa. The dream that is now Dazbog began on a bitter, cold night among the cobblestone streets of Leningrad. The Yuffa family fled Russia to embark on a new and better life of freedom, democracy and opportunity. Their journey is the legacy of Dazbog Coffee. By bringing the richness of the Russian heritage and traditions to their quest for roasting only the finest quality Arabica beans from coffee estates around the world. Anatoly and Leonid have found a way to honor the past and enjoy the present in a rich-tasting cup of coffee. This is the Dazbog way. A way that applauds free expression by bringing out the unique flavor of every bean. A way that celebrates life itself in each and every cup.


UPDATE: The Oxford shop with the cool coffee cups is LaMar's Donuts in Oxford.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rumble on Noble coverage

Click over to The Star's new music blog, Off The Record, for photo coverage (from the second row, I might add) of last night's Rumble on Noble shows.

If you're a Star subscriber, you can click here for reporter Todd South's coverage of the entire Rumble event.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Coming Sunday in the Insight section

Don't forget ... The Star's Insight section is featuring a collection of drawings from refugee children in Darfur and Sudan. It's a compelling look at the effect of war on children. (I've blogged a little about these drawings in an earlier post.) We've moved some pages around so that the drawings can be in color, too.

Check it out Sunday.

Take ... my book ... out to the ball game

Greetings, sports fans! If you can peel yourself away from the fine sports pages our sports department has been working on so feverishly lately and from the actual sports that are being played out in murderous heat, you can plop down in a comfy recliner with a cold drink and the A/C going at full blast to enjoy this week's Bookshelf picks. Art Gould has put together a full lineup of reads that cover baseball, golf, and various sports highlights. One book he reviewed even tells you the official rules of baseball. (Note: I learned that the official rule isn't to bark "Play ball!" at the beginning of a game, but only "Play!" ... Reminds me that the famous "quote" "Play it again, Sam" isn't actually spoken in "Casablanca," just "Play it again.")
Also have John Vanderford's nice review of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy's book that's on the bestseller list right now. Very personal, as well as football/sports-related.
Lots of good things are happening in the reading community. First Christian Church of Anniston is starting up another round of book groups, with the information on our page, and our area book clubs have been busy. Three met together this week to discuss Georgia author Ferrol Sams' new book Down Town. (And yes, it's two separate words rather than just one, as I found out this week, and you'll have to read the very amusing book to find out why.)
Have a good week; may you find/make time to read something that elevates you (preferably above the heat).

Off The Record reminder

Don't forget -- The Star's new music blog, Off The Record, is off to a flying start. Check it out here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thursday's top online reads

1. Star's editorial on the president's comparison of Iraq to Vietnam, Bush’s propaganda

2. Police arrest Saks Middle School teacher, husband on drug charges by Andy Johns

3. Cheaha blaze still burning by Nick Cenegy

Coming Saturday on the editorial page

Following the action of the Anniston Board of Education on Thursday, The Star's editorial board is examining the upcoming search for the school system's new superintendent:
The students and faculty in Anniston need a leader who can caress when needed, can scold when it’s appropriate, and is not afraid to open his or her office door and let the community see the head of Anniston’s schools leading by example. Former Superintendent Sammy Felton rarely, if ever, did that – and as a result, we still hardly know him. He made things much more difficult than they needed to be.
The future of Anniston’s schools is now. It’s up to the Anniston Board of Education to kick-start that future. It can’t afford to make a mistake.

Syndicated columnist Joseph Galloway is weighing in on what was a not-so-impressive week for the Bush administration in terms of the Iraq War:
President Bush pleaded for the patience he said is needed to win in Iraq, and surprisingly put forward the example of the Vietnam War and our withdrawal from there after 10 years and 58,249 dead American troops as a reason why we must stick to our guns in Iraq.
He trotted out his administration’s now shopworn fear tactics, arguing that persisting in this senseless war will prevent a massacre of millions in Iraq and attacks on us at home by a reinvigorated al-Qaida.
The more things change in this administration, the more they stay the same.


We'll also have our normal letters to the editor package and a roundup of editorials from newspapers across Alabama.

The Star's newest blog -- It's hot!

I've mentioned The Star's upcoming music blog in postings here the last few days.

It's no longer just a concept. It's live. We're already bloggin' about a variety of local shows, YouTube and iPods, hair metal, bar bands in Jacksonville and other stuff. And more's on the way.

So pop over to Off The Record and see what we're doing. We think you'll like what you find.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coming Friday

Here's what the metro staff is working on for Friday's paper. It'll be a full one.
  • Features Editor Laura Editor tells us just exactly how hot it is, in a series of conversations with local meteorologists. We just set a record for the number of days in a month over 100 degrees today, at 14.
  • A Saks Middle School teacher and her husband have been arrested on charges of trafficking marijuana. Calhoun County Drug Task Force agents say they found significant quantities of marijuana on the couple's property in Ohatchee.
There's much more than that ... it's been a busy day around here. Check us out in print or at annistonstar.com.

It's not too soon for Sunday



On Sunday, The Star's Insight section plans to publish a collection of children's drawings from Darfur and Chad that offer an incredible view of violence and its effect on that region -- and through the eyes of impressionable children. The drawings are from the group Waging Peace.

The sample above is just one example of what we'll try to offer in Sunday's Insight.

Coming Friday on the editorial/op-ed pages

Gov. Bob Riley is considering calling a special session for this fall, so The Star's editorial board is opining about that possibility:
Left behind when the overpaid and underproductive legislators left town were a host of measures the state needed passed — but weren’t.
Gov. Bob Riley is now hinting that he might call a special session before Thanksgiving so legislators can do what they should have done in the spring. We hope he does. We also hope he does not put too much on the session’s agenda.

Also, we're taking a look at the ongoing controversy over Prison Commissioner Richard Allen's decision to seek ways for the state's prison system to turn a profit:
The idea of running a prison system for profit troubles us. Unless we are careful, inmates (who earn less than $1 an hour) can easily become, in effect, forced labor, and efforts at rehabilitation will be overshadowed by efforts to make crime pay.
Allen is a good man in a difficult job. We have confidence in him and are certain he will do his utmost to make this new approach as humane and fair as prison can be.
But when things are measured by the bottom line, the temptation to push harder and cut corners in the name of profit will always exist.

Did you know it's nearing election season? No, not that one. As will other cities, Anniston and Oxford will hold mayoral elections this time next year. So I wrote my weekly column about it:
And here's there’s reality:
Anniston and Oxford will hold mayoral elections next year.
Will Leon Smith be elected to a seventh term? Will Chip Howell indeed run for re-election? Will a legitimate, electable candidate with a known track record of political aptitude oppose Smith? Will Anniston elect its first black mayor?
The answers to those questions are likely to form one of the cornerstones of Calhoun County’s immediate future. And it’s clear that next August’s mayoral races may be the most important this county’s largest cities will have conducted the last two decades.

We'll have all that plus the usual other Friday morning goodies.

Wednesday's top online reads

1. Lincoln's market is flooded with new, unsold homes by Cynthia Dizikes

2. This year's blistering heat has some wondering if it's ... Too hot for school? by Sara Polsky

3. The Star's editorial on children's health insurance, This is sick

4. George Smith's column, At Johnny's — The 'four o'clock crowd' is here ...

Up all night

In case you haven't noticed, Star newsroom employees really don't sleep -- or so it seems.

Three posts before sunrise. Talk about commitment.

And, yes, kudos to editor Bran Strickland and the sports department ... the preseason football sections are looking great.

Problem is, Bran and his guys are likely worn out and the first games don't start for a week.

Ah, the glory.

Music to our ears update

I'm bleary-eyed from staying awake and wracking my brain trying to think of the proper name for The Star's new music blog. I'm also stumped and tired.

Yesterday, The Star's newsroom spent ample time bantering around ideas. Every time we thought of a possible moniker, we looked it up and found it was already taken. Rats! "Tune In" was taken. "On Tune" was taken. "Note this" was taken. I'm starting to think we're gonna have to name it "Star's Music Blog" or something benign like that. If so, I'll get over it.

(Woofer -- a.k.a., features writer Brett Buckner, half of the "Woofer and Tweeter" gang -- kept trying to steer us toward something inappropriate, but we perservered by shooing him back to his desk.)

So, we're still searching for the best name. The field's wide open.

Now, back to my coffee.

Two down, one to go

If you picked up a copy of the paper in the last two days, you might have caught a glimpse of our high school football previews. We're kind of proud of them.

I must tell you, while football season is my favorite time of the year, it is a love-hate relationship -- The preview sections first and foremost.

I love all the aspects that go into the previews: the planning, the designing, writing the stories, getting out of the office to see the local coaches ... all of it. However, it's a 10-day (at least) stretch where I see The Redhead only long enough for to hit the highlights of her day.

We put the county section to bed Wednesday afternoon. I've got until Saturday to finish the college section.

Again I say I love doing them, but I just woke up at 4:30 a.m. in a cold sweat because I thought for some reason it was Saturday. That another part of it I hate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Music to our ears

Nothing's set in stone -- in our biz, nothing's final until the press rolls -- but we're thinking about adding another blog to The Star's lineup.

If we can make it work, we'll add a music blog very soon. It'll cover all types of music -- rock, pop, country, jazz, classical and anything else that interests us. (Yes, even hair metal. Maybe.) Problem is, we don't know what to call it.

Any ideas?

We'd like to hear your thoughts. (That's the little comment thingie at the bottom of this post.)

Coming Thursday on the editorial/op-ed pages

The Star's editorial board is opining Thursday on President Bush's speech Wednesday before a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference:
The president even went on to make a comparison to the war in Vietnam. It was not the one so many think of — the quagmire comparison — but an altogether different version. We left Vietnam and chaos and death descended in the form of the Khmer Rogue and re-education camps, the president reminded us.
He got that right. But he also failed to mention that Vietnam was essentially un-winnable, just as this war is essentially un-winnable. And for what it’s worth, mainstream historians immediately and widely disagreed with the president Wednesday about the comparison of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam.


We're also discussing the No Child Left Behind legislation, and one of the many effects it is having:
If you have not familiarized yourself with No Child Left Behind and the movement to establish a federal graduation standard, now is a good time to try. No Child Left Behind is moving this nation closer to a national system of testing and grading schools, with sanctions for those states and systems that do not meet goals set in Washington.
The act is up for renewal. And unless Congress makes significant changes, this is the direction education in America is going.

As a sidebar, we're also diving into how the act deals with Alabama students who aren't among their classes' top scholars:
While no one disagrees with NCLB’s goal of bringing up struggling students who are not reaching their full potential, the act does little or nothing to encourage excellence among students at or near the top. Or to put it as a recent study did, NCLB has “forced schools to deeply subsidize the education of the least gifted” and other programs, including those for the most gifted, have suffered.


And on the op-ed page, we're featuring New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:
Have your eyes recently popped out of your head when you opened your electric bill? Do you, like me, live in one of those states where electricity has been deregulated and the state no longer oversees the generation price so your utility rates have skyrocketed since 2002?
If so, you need to listen to a proposal being aired by Jim Rogers, the chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy, and recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Duke Energy is headquartered in Charlotte.) It’s called “save-a-watt,” and it aims to turn the electricity/utility industry upside down by rewarding utilities for the kilowatts they save customers by improving their energy efficiency rather than rewarding them for the kilowatts they sell customers by building more power plants.
Rogers’ proposal is based on three simple principles. The first is that the cheapest way to generate clean, emissions-free power is by improving energy efficiency. Or, as he puts it, “The most environmentally sound, inexpensive and reliable power plant is the one we don’t have to build because we’ve helped our customers save energy.”


Oh, and don't miss a whole mess of letters to the editor about the on-going Bill Meehan-plagiarism story at Jacksonville State.

Tuesday's top online reads

1. Anniston has new engineer: Byrd was appointed after city received no responses for position by Dan Whisenhunt

2. Elder Castille: Son's arrest not warranted by the Associated Press

3. State Troopers: ‘Take Back our Highways’ was a success by Nick Cenegy

More on Meehan

I admit it: I'm amazed at how much feedback The Star is receiving from our readers on the Bill Meehan-plagiarism story.

Thursday's Speak Out column may contain a collection of letters to the editor -- from all sides of the spectrum -- about the Meehan story. I'm not going to be surprised if we continue to get letters on that subject.

And, remember, we published a lengthy Speaker's Stand on this story in today's edition. You can read it here.

The 'stickiness' of newspapers

While searching our wire services today for interesting stuff for Thursday's op-ed page, I ran across this column by Washington Post blogger Joel Achenbach about the future of the newspaper industry.

Here's a portion:

Newspaper journalism is different these days: Suddenly everyone is obsessed with eyeballs, page views, “stickiness,” “click-through rates,” and so on. No one shouts “Stop the presses!” anymore, but they do whimper “Why aren’t I on the home page?” The noble product that we manufacture and distribute throughout the metropolis — the physical thing so carefully designed, folded and bagged — is now generally referred to in our business as the “dead-tree edition.” It gets little respect.
And indeed, so often the print version of the news is Old on Arrival. (By the time Karl Rove’s resignation made the front page last Tuesday, the only people who didn’t already know about it were the ones who didn’t care anyway.) The motto in the corner should be What Happened Yesterday or Maybe the Day Before.


Something for all of us to think about, isn't it?

You can check out Joel's work here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coming Wednesday

Here's a bit of what the metro staff has in the way of local news for tomorrow's paper:
  • As teachers, students and the rest of us sweat out another week with 100-degree-plus temperatures, some may be asking, is this really the best time to be starting school? Intern staff writer Sara Polsky talks with school administrators about August power bills, and what it might cost to cool a school in June if we decided to start the academic year later and end it earlier.
  • The arrival of Honda's 6,000-worker plant in Lincoln in 2001 fueled what seemed like a justifiable building boom in the small town. But the optimism may have been misplaced. Lincoln has grown, to be sure, by about 10 percent since 2000. But many of the homes in 20 subdivisions there are empty, with the asking prices falling as the months go on. In her final story for The Star intern staff writer Cynthia Dizikes tells us about the difficulty of trying to sell homes in Lincoln.
  • In his "Of to Work" column tomorrow, Senior Editor George Smith visits Johnny's Barbecue in Gum's Crossroads, where loggers passing through the Clay County community stop to fill their gullets with biscuits, chicken tenders or ribeye steaks.

Coming Wednesday on the editorial/op-ed pages

Like baseball? The Star's editorial board does, so Wednesday we're opining on the possibility of doing more than honoring baseball legend Ty Cobb in Anniston:

In all fairness to Cobb, there’s much more to Anniston’s baseball history than a future hall-of-famer who played only a handful of games here.
So, a suggestion: Why not honor all of Anniston’s professional baseball history? How about a plaque at Johnston Field — where Anniston High School plays its games — that brings attention to the professionals who played there and the fans who cheered Anniston’s teams on sultry summer nights?
We're also taking a look at the health of the State Children's Health Insurance Program:

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program is a success story. For 10 years, it has helped families stuck in the middle — they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. While SCHIP has worked at keeping kids healthy, particularly in Alabama, more work remains.
On the op-ed page, columnist Hardy Jackson is diving into evolution and the Bible. Watch out:

It almost made me want to retreat into the certainty of Biblical literalism, which has everything starting with man and woman in the garden and coming up from there. Only (author Hal) Crowther says that won’t work because after Cain slew Abel he took off east for the land of Nod where he “knew” a lady.
Now, where did she come from? I thought everybody was supposed to be back with Adam and Eve?
And columnist Cal Thomas is weighing on Democrats, Republicans and the British government:

Democrats love it when Republicans focus only on cutting taxes, because it cedes to them the “fairness issue.” Focusing on waste, fraud and abuse, which admittedly some Republicans have been guilty of in the recent past, could restore the GOP to its previous position as guardian of our pockets and purses against the overreaching hand and insatiable appetite of government. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, government never thinks it spends too little or taxes too much.

It's all there Wednesday, plus the survey results from the Pew Center we mentioned in an earlier post.

What's for lunch update

If you ever wanted to know if eating grilled spam -- two pieces, with mustard -- between slices of white bread is fine eating, all you need to do is come by The Star's editorial department this afternoon.

I've had my first and last spam sandwich.

It's time to get back to work. If I can.

Our social values

I came across an interesting study today from the Pew Research Center, which has released information on Americans' public and social values.

Here's a snippet:

The percentage of Americans who completely agree that we will all be called before God on Judgment Day : In 1994 it was 61 percent. In 2007, it is 54 percent.


We're gonna try and get the entire study on Wednesday's op-ed page. I think you'll like it.

What's for lunch?


Hint: It went from a can to the grill.

Monday's top online reads

1. Early morning accident kills Weaver man by Dan Whisenhunt

2. Preseason All-America Tider Castille arrested by Creg Stephenson

3. Jacksonville poet writes about mental illness by Dan Whisenhunt

Monday, August 20, 2007

Coming Tuesday on the editorial page

The Star's editorial board is weighing in on recent alcohol-related voting measures in three different locations in Alabama:

The fact remains that in two instances voters were more comfortable with progress as defined by once-taboo liquor sales than with the more traditional sales taxes.
Also, our editorial board is tackling the issue of the difference between Republicans and Democrats -- if there is a real difference, that is:
A lot of folks used to think George Wallace was right when he said there “wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference” between Republicans and Democrats, and maybe back then there wasn’t. But today, in the heated partisan atmosphere on Capital Hill, you can see party lines forming and holding. And no state’s divided delegation holds to party loyalty more than Alabama’s.
We also have our normal letters to the editor package, Eugene Robinson's Tuesday column, and an absolutely hilarious editoral cartoon about Hillary Clinton's cleavage. Really.

One hot topic

I've been gone a week -- a great vacation; stayed home for a week to watch heat radiate off my patio -- only to return and see one thing hasn't changed:

The Bill Meehan/plagiarism story remains just as heated as the weather.

When I returned to work this morning, what I found was a folder full of letters to the editor concerning the controversy of the Jacksonville State University president's column and the charges of plagiarism levied against the column's ghostwriter, former JSU employee Al Harris.

So we're gonna give 'em to you -- some letters pro, some letters con. Look for them as the week progresses.

By the way, it's good to be back.

A weighty tome

One of the many cool things about working at a newspaper is the mail. You never know what the marketing departments at companies across the land are going to send you in an attempt to get their product in your pages. Of course, these unlooked-for packages often have unintended consequences; I recall one recent day on which newsroom productivity took a nose dive thanks to the dry ice that came as the refrigerant for a package of vegan soy ribs. But that's a whole other story.

Today the folks from the mailroom wheeled up six identical VCR-sized boxes, all of them suspiciously heavy. Each was addressed to a different editor and marked "Complimentary Gift." Since I wasn't one of the lucky few, I had to wait for Bob Davis to open his to satisfy my curiosity.

Turns out The Star is the lucky beneficiary of six copies of The Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya. Yahya, it turns out, is the pen-name of Adnan Oktar, a Turkish "scholar" who, on the book's back cover, is said to have written "many books on political, faith-based and scientific issues." The Atlas is a refutation of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and of much of the modern science that's based on it, all from an Islamic point of view. Fun.

According to a New York Times story I happened to read back in July, Atlas was shipped to colleges and science museums around the world. And now us. "Flawed" seems like a kind way to describe the book's logic. One chapter, for instance, wonders why there aren't hordes of mutated people and animals wandering the earth, and uses illustrations of human skeletons with six legs and three spines as examples that should exist if Darwin's theory is correct.

According to the shipping label, the book weighs in at 12 pounds, and runs nearly 800 11"x17" pages. A press release that came with the book said it's the first of seven volumes. I'd hate to pay Yahya's postage.

So easy a caveman could do it

The Guardian has a story this morning that gives us plenty to chew on.

The British newspaper reports:
A 5,000-year-old piece of chewing gum - one of the oldest ever to be discovered - has been found by a British archaeology student.
The discovery of the Neolithic gum, made from birch bark tar, was made by Sarah Pickin, 23, during a dig in Finland. The gum had tooth prints in it.
Trevor Brown, her tutor at the University of Derby, said: "Birch bark tar contains phenols, which are antiseptic compounds. It is generally believed that Neolithic people found that by chewing this stuff if they had gum infections it helped to treat the condition."


Hmmmm, that reminds me of this Anniston Star column from March.

Weekend's top online reads

FRIDAY
1. Anniston BOE votes down another assistant principal by Steve Ivey

2. New bank clears first hurdle in Anniston by Sara Polsky

SATURDAY
1. McCartney settles suit with 8 area residents by Nick Cenegy

2. Joseph L. Galloway's column Good riddance, Karl

SUNDAY
1. A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — The new home school by Joan Garrett (Special to the Star)

2. $65,000 water fee slows Intellimed deal by Dan Whisenhunt

Home school update


Joan Garrett's series on home schooling continues today.

As part of today's story Joan has a video extra that is not to be missed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Weekend opining

Saturday's editorial page weighs in on the continuing sage with the Anniston school board and its superintendent:
A surprising ambivalence bubbled up during the Anniston Board of Education meeting on Thursday night.


Also Saturday, Columnist Joe Galloway doesn't hold back when writing about Karl Rove's exit:
The man has all the charisma and charm and inherent kindness of a spitting cobra and nothing so graces the White House in six years as Karl Rove leaving it.



In Sunday's Insight section, Laura Tutor writes about the Coosa Valley Youth Services:
This is home, for a time, and it’s a spot in Alabama that state and regional criminal justice officials look at to see how successful gender-specific reform programs are at interrupting cycles of crime.
The only problem, its director says, is that no one with the program has come up with a way to consistently measure that success. They don’t have the money or the people to track the dozens of girls who come through, and the state of Alabama can’t afford to measure its success, either.


Also, in connection with the start of The Star's series starting on Page 1A Sunday, the LaRue family of Anniston gives us a first-hand account of home schooling. Parents Mark and Amy write:
Home schooling had always been in the back of our minds as an option but we wanted to explore the traditional public and private education choices first. Like most parents, we wanted our little nuclear family to become a more centered and closer unit. To do this we needed to exercise our faith together but, we, also needed to spend more quality time as well as increase the quantity of time together. That just wasn’t happening.

Thursday's top online reads

1. Speaker’s Stand: Words on a ghost-written column by Jeff Youngblood

2. Letters to the editor

3. Honda workers explore union by Todd South

4. Making a pitch: Henderson wants to install plaque for legendary baseball player Ty Cobb by Andy Johns

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Coming Friday

Here's what the metro staff is working on for tomorrow's paper:
  • The Anniston Board of Education meets tonight at 6 p.m., and the job of Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton could hinge on what happens there. Two weeks ago, two members of the board voted for a motion to explore ways to end Felton's contract, tying with two who voted against the measure. Board member Bob Etnire, who missed that meeting and has sided in the past with the members seeking to oust Felton, is back. Board President Vivian Thompson, who has supported Felton, will miss tonight's meeting. Education writer Steve Ivey will be there to see what happens. Check tonight at annistonstar.com for the latest.
  • The price per gallon just keeps going up, forcing some families to adjust their habits. Gasoline? No, we're talking about milk. Staff writer Sara Polsky examines why what does a body good isn't doing a wallet any good right now.
  • There's someone new at the wheel of the region's economic engine today. Col. Alexander Raulerson handed over command of the Anniston Army Depot to Col. Sherry Keller, who will be the 31st person - and the first woman - the lead the Army post. Staff writer Dan Whisenhunt was there for the passing of the torch today.

Coming for Friday's opinions pages

The editorial board weighs in on Alabama's ability to attract jobs:
Of all the imprints the Riley administration is likely to leave when the governor goes out of office, right up there with a scandal-free eight years(assuming he makes it through the next two) will be the success of Bob Riley as an industrial recruiter.

Phillip Tutor writes in his column:
What I imagine – and it’s wildly farfetched, but hang with me – is having our own multi-county alliance in northeast Alabama. An alliance that would bring the influential from, say, Calhoun, Etowah, Talladega and Cleburne counties together, all charged with recruiting billion-dollar industries and high-paying jobs – some assembly line, some research-based – to our neck of Alabama’s woods.

Syndicated columnist James Evans writes:
Of course, I wouldn’t mind a theocracy, which literally means "rule by God," if God was in fact the one who ruled. But what usually happens in theocratic states is someone who claims to speak for God ends up running things, and normally not too well.

Wednesday's top online reads

1. Center causes tension: Program for sex offenders has Morrisville Road on edge by Cynthia Dizikes

2. George Smith's column, A man of uncommon decency ...

3. Croyle cool under the pressure of Chiefs' QB battle by Jason King of the Kansas City Star

Opinion items were among the best-read online items yesterday including Wednesday's Speak Out, The Star's editorial on remarks made about Bradley Byrne (Joe Reed's slur out of bounds: Bradley Byrne owed apology) and Hardy Jackson's column (Redneck Riviera and gub'ment).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Coming Wednesday on our editorial pages

We probe deeply into the Karl Rove resignation with an editorial, column and roundup of other newspaper editorials.

Conservative Grover Norquist writes:
[Rove] managed four campaigns that will define America for a generation. None of these campaigns was easy or obvious, and that is why Rove will rightfully be remembered for his role in American politics. Who, after all, recalls who ran LBJ’s 1964 presidential campaign or Ronald Reagan’s reelection bid in 1984?


The Star's editorial counters:
During a press conference on Monday dealing with his resignation, Karl Rove turned to the president and said, "I'm grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve our nation..."
Mr. Rove, George W. Bush's long-time top political adviser and the architect of his presidency, could have put it more accurately by saying that he was grateful for the opportunity to serve the Republican Party.
For serve the nation he most certainly did not. What he did was to undermine the Republic, foster discord, divide our nation like never before and sow a deep distrust of government in the American people.


Meanwhile, Hardy Jackson weighs in on changes along the Gulf Coast:
For a while now I have been studying ways the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico – the fabled Redneck Riviera – has evolved since World War II.
I have examined how a string of “little fishing villages that reminded the visitor of the southern coast of France” became a playground for middle class Alabamians only to morph again into a getaway for flotsam and jetsam from places like Mountain Brook. I have chronicled the evolution of recreational activities from goofy-golf to Flora-Baming to outlet shopping, and witnessed fashion changes from flip-flops and cut-offs to "resort wear." Food once fried is now sautéed. Beverages have gone from Budweiser to Beaujolais. Folks have even cut back on raw oysters and started eating raw fish.
But the biggest change of all, and the change that may well be at the center of the story I hope to tell, is the change in government.
Gub’ment.

The power of literature

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, all dark and stormy nights. And The Star's book reviewers get to read about it all. I like to think that we have the greatest jobs ever (that's because we like to read, and we get to do it for a small living, or at least free books).
We get to read some amazing new stuff -- talented new voices or satisfying recent additions from established titans in fiction, fascinating true stories of real-life adventures, in-depth analyses of current important issues. We also sometimes slog through some dreck that makes us wonder how an editor could have possibly decided to invest in it. Believe me, it's a real mystery sometimes.
That means that The Star's readers get to hear about what's really good. There are so many great books out there, and so little time to read them (I have four daughters at home -- three in school and one infant, so I am busy but still fit in plenty of reading time), that it's nice to know what's really worth your time.
Several of us, for instance, feel it is definitely worth any reader's time to read all the Harry Potter books. Shawn Ryan very enthusiastically reviewed The Deathly Hallows; I myself even dressed up as Rita Skeeter for the Books-a-Million HP party.
Recently we had two books about schools and teaching reviewed by a schoolteacher and a superintendent; they were recommended as great reading for anyone in education or concerned about education. We've had some good new fiction and some interesting current-events topics. This weekend we'll have some short stories and two Southern novels reviewed. They come highly recommended.
So here's to great books. They transport us to other times and places and dark and stormy nights that are so real you can feel the rain pouring down your hair and dripping past your lashes into your eyes. Grab an umbrella, if necessary, and enjoy your book. Trust us to give you some ideas of what to read.

The right person for the job

Regular readers of the bog probably have noticed I refer to some of our writers as interns. These aren't coffee-fetchers rewarded with the occasional story. At The Star we tend to recruit interns we might just as readily hire for a full-time position. They typically spend 12 weeks with us in the summer, working as regular members of the metro staff. They're just as likely to get big, important stories as any of our other reporters.

Sara Polsky is a fine example. Since last week Sara has been covering one of our most important stories, the allegations of plagiarism leveled at Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan and the school's former New Bureau director Al Harris. Not only had she already proved herself a capable reporter and writer, she already had experience covering a scandal involving a university president. A recent graduate of Harvard University, Sara was working for The Harvard Crimson, the campus daily, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers, at a January 2005 academic conference, made remarks suggesting that woman were not as well-suited for scientific endeavors as men. As a faculty beat writer, Sara was responsible for several stories on the storm of protest from professors that eventually cost Summers his job.

Sara's latest story on the JSU controversy was published today.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Coming Tuesday

Welcome back to the work week, faithful readers. Here's what's the staff's bringing you tomorrow:
  • The Jacksonville State University established a panel to examine its communication practices in the wake of plagiarism allegations leveled at JSU president Bill Meehan and retired PR director Al Harris over columns published in the Jacksonville News. (Whew ... that's a lot of explainin') Well, the committee met for the second time today, the first time all members were able to attend. Staff writer Sara Polsky, one of our summer interns, was there.
  • Lots of us stare at computer screens all day for a living (or for entertainment). Not all of us have people's lives depending on that act. Staff writer Cynthia Dizikes, another intern, visited with the crew in Regional Medical Center's monitor room, where 13 screens display heart monitor readings from up to 130 patients, 24 hours a day.
  • With the state in the midst of a drought, Alabama's Water Resources Commission met in Montgomery to discuss the status of the "Water War" with Georgia, over access to resources from the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee rivers. Capital Correspondent Markeshia Ricks was there.
We'll also have an update from Andy Johns on the 100-degree-plus heat wave that's got us all sweating, plus council meeting coverage from Jacksonville and Hobson City.

Coming on Tuesday's editorial page

The Star's editorial board weighs in on an energy proposal before Congress as well as offering more on Alabama's two-year college system and its employment of state lawmakers.

Columnist Eugene Robinson writes about Iraq's future:
You might have thought that now isn't the most opportune time for the elected leaders of both the United States and Iraq to pack up and head to the beach, ranch or villa for a nice, long vacation. Silly you.
You probably reasoned that with 162,000 U.S. troops sweltering in the war zone, with the Iraqi government fracturing along sectarian lines and with what is billed as a make-or-break report from the U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, due next month, maybe tradition ought to be ignored and the summer heat withstood just this once. You doubtless pointed out that no matter how uncomfortable triple-digit temperatures might be for the grandees of Washington and Baghdad, soldiers burdened with body armor and combat boots -- and the constant threat of getting shot or blown up -- have it a bit worse.

Weekend top online reads

FRIDAY
Area parents jailed after leaving kids in hot cars by Andy Johns (This story had the most online readers of any over the week of Aug. 5-11)

Mixed emotions: School days return for area students from staff reports

SATURDAY
All troopers to be on duty for week-long traffic blitz by Nick Cenegy

Grape expectations: New vineyard to harvest first fruits by Christina Smith

SUNDAY
Plan to pave road in Choccolocco has some residents upset
By Dan Whisenhunt

'Buffy' is boss at new Lowe's ... by George Smith

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Full of wonder


The wonders keep on coming. A few weeks back, The Star published our readers' picks for the 7 Wonders of Alabama. (Hat tip to Commentary Editor Phillip Tutor for coming up with this idea.) At the same time, The Tuscaloosa News published its 7 Wonders of West Alabama.

The regional wonders keep on coming. Yesterday Florence's Times Daily published its 7 Wonders of the Shoals. Today's Anchorage Daily News (see page above) follows suit.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Coming Sunday in The Star's Insight section

Remember the cool tease I blogged about a few posts ago? Here's the more that I promised:

Sunday's cover story in the Insight section is penned by Katie Adams, a rising senior at the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile. She's from Saks; she's one of us. And she's written a particularly good essay on the pressures of applying for college and trying to decide which school to attend. Too bad she's gone back to Mobile; I'd love to have her on our staff.

Our Insight section also will have:

-- An op-ed written by Bradley Byrne, chancellor of the embattled Alabama two-year college system.
-- Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers' weekly column.
-- Syndicated columns by Nicholas Kristof and Paul Krugman of The New York Times.
-- And our weekly Bookshelf page.

It's all there Sunday.

Friday, August 10, 2007

An early hint from the editorial department

It's dirty pool here, but I'm gonna tease our Sunday Insight section by not teasing our Sunday Insight section.

A local high school student spent a few days with The Star's editorial department this summer. (How nerdy, right?) Anyway, she had a passion about a certain subject, so we gave her an assignment to write us a long-form essay -- and it rocks.

(Plus, Tosha Jupiter, one of our design whizzes, brainstormed a really cool-looking page. Much better than I would have done.)

Trust me here. You'll like it. Even if you're not a teenager from Saks.

More on this later.

Coming Saturday on the editorial page

Like moonshine? Got a still in your backyard?

Then stick two quarters in the box or click over to our Web site on Saturday. Our lead editorial is all about moonshine, stills and Southerners. What a combination.

By the way, we also have two eloquent letters to the editor in support of Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan, who has been involved in a difficult situation this week.

Oh, and did I mention the moonshine?

Thursday's top online reads

Oxford eatery fined for violating city’s smoking ordinance by Todd South

Schools' in: the newspaper's central online point for back-to-school news

Plagiarism and expectations: Honesty is paramount: an Anniston Star editorial

Vacation time for columnists

If you're a regular reader of The Star's op-ed pages, you've noticed that things have been a little different the last few weeks. Here's why:

Everyone is on vacation. Or so it seems.

Like most op-ed pages, The Star's page features a semi-regular lineup of columnists, some local, some syndicated. And it seems that for the last month all, or nearly all, of our syndicated writers have been doing 12-ounce curls on the beach.

These faces have been absent from our pages:

- Thomas Friedman, New York Times.
- Maureen Dowd, New York Times.
- Bob Herbert, New York Times.
- George Will, Washington Post.
- Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald.
- And a few others that I can't remember right now. (Not enough coffee yet.)

So, we've searched for a few temporary replacements, and will have to do so for the next few weeks, as well. We'll get back to normal soon.

I hope.

Now back to my coffee.

Breaking news in the Speak Out department

Normally, The Star's large staff of editors in the letters department works days in advance on our Speak Out submissions. It's more than rare -- ultra-rare, to use a bad phrase -- to have breaking news in Speak Out.

Until Thursday.

Al Harris, the retired former director of the Jacksonville State News Bureau, sent in a lengthy letter after quitting time. It took our crack staff of Speak Out editors all of 30 seconds to make a decision. Imagine yelling "Stop the presses!" So we did.

We tore up the page, removed our normal letters and published the letter of Harris, who is involved in the story of plagiarism involving JSU President Bill Meehan.

Go to our Web site and read Harris' letter, or read it in our print edition. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Coming Friday on the editorial/op-ed pages

Between cooking eggs (or trying to) on the pavement and slurping down ice cream in the middle of the newsroom, we've put together two pages worth the price of admission for Friday. I promise; no lie.

-- On the editorial page, The Star is offering its take on the Minnesota bridge collapse -- a clear sign of what happpens when the upkeep of our nation's infrastructure is ignored. And don't miss the accompanying chart that explains how our state's infrastructure measures up. We're also opining on the need for coal-mine safety, considering parts of our state are heavily invested in the mining industry.
-- Pastor James Evans, one of our syndicated columnists, takes a look at hate-crime legislation and the church.

-- On the op-ed page, my column examines a critical back-to-school issue for parents -- the importance of parental involvement. We also have an interesting story on the legacy-to-be of Alabama's-own Condi Rice and a collection of national editorials on the tainted, or not-so-tainted, home-run record of Barry Bonds.

Reporters get the scoop


The ice cream scoop, that is.

It's too hot - way, way too hot - to grill anything here at The Star, as is our usual Thursday routine.

Instead we popped open some ice cream and cooled down. Sure beats trying to fry an egg on the pavement.

Wednesday's top online reads

Column of JSU president copied content from health Web site by Sara Polsky

The last lunch: Terra Café will close Friday by Dan Whisenhunt

Area under heat advisory until Thursday night by Nick Cenegy

Four members of Huntsville family rescued from Gulf of Mexico by the Associated Press

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bobcasting

Don't miss Thursday's Bobcast, my regular podcast. Look for the player on the right-hand side of this page.

Andy Johns discusses our plans for covering the first day of school. Don't miss the blog set up to cover the scene. The link is here.

Hardy Jackson drops by to fill us in on his trip to the dog track, the topic of his Wednesday column. Hardy, gambling on greyhounds and panhandle Florida - what a combination!

No, it's not that hot.

Apparently, it's not hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement. Or even in a cast-iron skillet on the pavement. We greased up a pan (left out a few hours to heat it up) & some asphalt with margarine, which melted right away. But neither apparently was hot enough to cook our incredible, edible eggs. The Web site of Food Services of America tells us that we needed to get to at least 144 degrees Fahrenheit to get the whites to coagulate.

Below are the results of our attempts. As you can see, no coagulation. And no tasty afternoon snack, either. (Photos by Andy Johns)

Coming Thursday

Our eggs-periment now behind us, the metro staff is now focused solely on tomorrow's local news offering. Here's what we've got:
  • It's hot, and getting hotter. Staff writer Nick Cenegy spent the day sweating around Calhoun County with people who have the hottest of hot jobs: paving contractors, grocery-store cart retrievers and a guy in a gorilla suit selling pizza from the back of a truck.
  • Capital correspondent Markeshia Ricks is digging deeper into the roles two state representatives play at Gadsden State Community College. Reps. Jack Page and Blaine Galliher, both of Gadsden, each earn more than $72,000 per year from the school. Page's job as director of external affairs consists in part of securing government grants for the school. Galliher's job is similar but focused on the business community. Gov. Bob Riley and new college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne have proposed a new rule that would keep legislators from holding jobs with the system.
  • Thursday's the first day of school for many in Calhoun County. Education writer Steve Ivey looks at how teachers tried to keep kids from forgetting this summer what they learned last year. Meanwhile, intern Sara Polsky spent time with brand-new teachers who will be manning blackboards for the first time. How do they prepare for the first day of their new careers? Also, the staff will be fanning out across the area to capture the sights and sounds of the first day of school as a kickoff for our new education blog, Star Classroom. Check it out at starclassroom.blogspot.com.

Coming Thursday on the editorial/op-ed pages

If you like to sink your teeth into meaty subjects -- OK, that's a bit over the top, but it sounds good -- then pick any of The Star's offerings on Thursday.

On the editorial page:
-- Our editorial on the news that a column ghost-written for Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan contained plagiarized material. Meehan himself did not plagiarize, but doesn't it open a serious discussion about the negative light such a story places on Meehan and the university?
-- Our editorial on last Sunday's GOP presidential debate and the needless tendency to scare Americans with rhetoric about terrorism.
-- A well-done Speaker's Stand about last weekend's Woodstock 5K in Anniston.

On the op-ed page:
-- Columns on important international issues from The Star's wire services and the popular Views of the World -- a collection of editorial cartoons from around the globe.

And permit us to offer a shameless plug for two of Friday's offerings: My weekly op-ed column (as yet unwritten, but I'll make deadline, I promise), and the column by Baptist Pastor James Evans, one of our syndicated columnists.

Huevos plus Sol equals ???


Is it hot enough to fry an egg in the parking lot? Inquiring minds here at The Star want to know.
More later.

Tuesday's top online reads

2006-07 results of public schools' reports are released by Steve Ivey

Man walks away from attempted robbery by Nick Cenegy

Bridge status for Calhoun could use improvement, officials say by Dan Whisenhunt

Monday's top online reads

Calhoun County Commission mulls banning brick mailboxes by Dan Whisenhunt

Boy drowns but others rescued at Lake Martin by the Associated Press

City’s depleted work force struggles to keep up by Dan Whisenhunt

Where to play Barry?




How to play the new homerun record? That's easy enough if your Barry Bonds' hometown paper. But what about here in Alabama? It's front-page news, but just how big is it compared to the state's heat wave? Or the start of high school and college football practice? (It is Alabama, after all.)
A survey of Alabama papers at the Newseum's Web site showed that most papers in the state put the record-setting homer on page one, but not as the dominant item, which is what The Star did. Others -- Mobile and Tuscaloosa - made an equally valid call in putting Bonds' achievement as the top item on the front page.
What would you have done? Leave us your comments
One other note: We'll ask Bill Edwards, the master of our archives, to search back to the April 9, 1974 edition to see how The Star played Hank Aaron beating Babe Ruth's HR record.

Where are the letters?

OK, it's hotter than a Tabasco-stained jalapeno. And it's August. And its back-to-school week. And everyone has better things to do.

But where are The Star's letter writers?

Based on the online reports we receive each day, The Star's "Speak Out" feature is one of the best-read parts of the newspaper. People enjoy having their letters published, and they like to see what others have to say. It's community journalism at its core.

But we're struggling this week; what we've published has quality, but there just hasn't been enough of it.

So come on, letter writers. Log on, write, and hit send. We miss your input -- even if we don't agree with what your letters say.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Coming Wednesday on the editorial/op-ed pages

Sometimes things are planned. Sometimes they fall together with little, or no, planning on editors' parts. We'll let our readers decide which one it is Wednesday.

Our editorial page is carring a three-part package about the on-going situation involving the revamping of Alabama's two-year college system. We're publishing two editorials that try to explain what's gone on so far and what we feel should happen in the coming weeks. See what you think.

But that's not all. (Here's the planning part.) We've also received an op-ed column by Paul Hubbert, the Alabama Education Association executive secretary, who doesn't necessarily agree with our take about the two-year system. So we're giving that to readers, as well.

On the op-ed page, it's columnist Hardy Jackson's day to shine. He's talking about sleaze, and how he likes it. (Really.)

How hot is it?

Yes, this is Alabama, and it's August, and we ought to expect this sort of thing by now. But man, it's hot out there. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for 37 Alabama counties, including all of The Star's coverage area, amply reported by our own Nick Cenegy here.

According to the weather service, a heat advisory ...
(...) MEANS THAT A PERIOD OF HOT TEMPERATURES IS
EXPECTED. THE COMBINATION OF HOT TEMPERATURES AND HIGH HUMIDITY
WILL COMBINE TO CREATE A SITUATION IN WHICH HEAT ILLNESSES ARE
POSSIBLE. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS...STAY IN AN AIR-CONDITIONED
ROOM...STAY OUT OF THE SUN...AND CHECK UP ON RELATIVES AND
NEIGHBORS.
Whew. That's hot. So hot, in fact, that a casual repetition of a time-worn phrase has turned into a newsroom dare: Is it really hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement? Since we at The Anniston Star aim to provide readers with answers to all the important questions, we're coming tomorrow in hot pursuit of the truth, armed with a half dozen eggs and a stick of butter in the newspaper's parking lot. We'll also have a video camera so we can share our findings with you right away. Check this blog for the results around mid-afternoon tomorrow.

Thanks, and keep cool.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Coming Tuesday

I hope Monday was as productive for you as it has been for The Star's metro staff. Here's what we've got coming for you tomorrow:
  • Area schools today got their grades - stats that show how they're stacking up under the federal No Child Left Behind law. For many high schools in The Star's coverage area, the marks were not good. Seven of the 11 public high schools in Calhoun County fell short of state requirements for their graduation rates. Education beat writer Steve Ivey is digging into the numbers and getting reactions from local school officials, some of whom say the law doesn't fairlf measure what they do. Meanwhile, Capitol Correspondent Markeshia Ricks is looking at the results statewide.
  • Staff writer Dan Whisenhunt is checking in on the condition of bridges maintained by county and city governments here. In the wake of last week's tragedy in Minnesota, we hope to find out if problems with our smaller bridges are slipping through the cracks.
  • Two state representatives who also work for Gadsden State Community College could soon have a choice to make: Give up those jobs or their seats in the Legislature. Markeshia Ricks looks at how a policy proposed by new two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne would affect Reps. Blaine Galliher and Jack Page, who hold positions with GSCC.
As always, there's more where that came from. Check us out online and in print tomorrow.

Star runners (well, sort of)

Several Star employees ran in Saturday's Woodstock 5K, which was sponsored in part by the newspaper.
Here are the results of newspaper employees:

22:03 Robert Jackson, 38, Anniston

24:28 Todd South, 28, Anniston

27:20 Matt Kasper, 26, Anniston

27:30 Bob Davis, 42, Anniston

28:26 Dennis Dunn, 51, Anniston

29:28 Ben Cunningham, 31, Jacksonville

38:54 Bran Strickland, 32, Weaver

45:17 Leslie Ott, 41, Anniston

Bran's dog-gone account of the day is worth reading.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Coming in Sunday's Insight section

The Star only gives you one Insight section a week, so we might as well make it a good one. This week we have:

-- An analyis of the media's coverage of the recent -- and controversial -- trial of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.
-- The weekly column by Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers, who discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin's resemblance to a Southern demagogue.
-- Our Sunday letters to the editor package, which includes several on the topic of "Can Democrats be Christians?" Trust me; you'll want to read these.
-- An analysis piece by John Fleming, The Star's Editor at Large, who examines an influential op-ed article written this week about critics of those who have been critical of the Iraq War.
-- And Bookshelf, our weekly book-review page.

That's a lot for a four-page section. Don't miss it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Coming Saturday on the editorial page

As usual, Saturday brings Star readers our weekly dose of military columnist Joseph Galloway. But there's also more to consider.

The Star's editorial stresses the need for bipartisan unity in the Alabama Legislature. (That would be news, wouldn't it?) There's also a roundup of editorials from around Alabama, including one that addresses this weekend's sales-tax holiday.

Saban and the lottery

Star sportswriter Creg Stephenson shares this tidbit from yesterday's news conference with UA football coach Nick Saban.
A little background. Saban was asked a question about his philosophy on recruiting walk-ons (non-scholarship players) and it kind of snowballed from there ...

(A partial transcript follows ...)

SABAN: "I think recruiting walk-ons is something … when you have an academic institution like we have here, a place that has a great reputation, a great tradition, there are a lot of kids that would like to come to school here. I think any time you can get a guy to come here as what we call a ‘preferred walk-on’ and invite him to fall camp, that has the potential to possibly be able to contribute to your team some day, I think you take those guys based on their overall qualities and characteristics, and not try to recruit those guys based on need. You’re pleased and happy to be able to get guys that fit that position.
"There are other schools in (other) states, including the one I came from, that have an advantage, because if you have a state scholarship that you can qualify for, it helps to recruit those kind of guys.
"Everybody understand what I’m talking about? Georgia has it. Louisiana has it."

REPORTER 1 (Thomas Murphy, Mobile Press-Register): "If you advocated it here, we could probably get a lottery passed."

SABAN: "Until we lose a game. So we better get it done quick."

REPORTER 2 (Ian Rapoport, Birmingham News): "I think (baseball coach) Jim Wells would probably kiss you."

SABAN: "It helps. It helps all sports. I helps the ones that don’t have the numbers, and have to split up scholarships, like baseball, track and things like that.
"If you guys want to start a campaign, I’m all for. Don’t hesitate. Don’t hold back on my part.
"You guys want to do something else, I’m all for having an agent law in this state, like Texas and Florida instituted, and Louisiana, so there are consequences if agents don’t abide by, certain rules and regulations. So if you guys really want to get on the soapbox, I’ll give you three or four things to get out there and stump on."

REPORTER 3 (Creg): "There is an agent law. I don’t know how strong it is, but there is one."

SABAN: "I just know how I like it."

Thursday's top online reads

15 workers test positive for TB at Union Foundry by Dan Whisenhunt

Cleburne County makes effort to stop illegal trailer homes from entering county by Christina Smith

Speaker’s Stand: The need for Christian coaches by Mike Sutton, a former resident of Wedowee who lives in Lewisville, Texas

Lakeside luxury: High-end subdivision brings change to Wedowee by Andy Johns

16-year-old sets up Anniston concert to raise money for local AIDS clinic by Shawn Ryan

The Star's editorial lamenting the sale of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch

The rundown on Woodstock


This weekend's paper will include coverage of Saturday's Woodstock 5K road race in Anniston. Reporter Nick Cenegy is working on a story for tomorrow's Star as is Sports reporter Joe Medley. We'll have plenty of post-race coverage in Sunday's paper.

There's still time to register, click here for details.

Popping open another blog

We've added another to the list of Anniston Star blogs. Pitcher This, my every-two-weeks column on beer, now has an online component, at pitcherthis.blogspot.com. In addition to the columns, I'll share all the beer news I run across that doesn't make it into the column. I try anything new I can get my hands on, so I'll be sure to post when I've got a new brew. Hopefully, you'll let me know when you're drinking something new, too.

Bridges to the forefront




A catastrophe like Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minnesota can force other areas of the country to ponder if their infrastructure is up to par.

Many papers including The Star pondered just such a question this morning.