Friday, December 04, 2009

Star discounting publishing weekly stocks/mutual funds reports

In an effort to save on the cost of newsprint, The Anniston Star newspaper will no longer publish the weekly reports on stocks and mutual funds. The information, however, will continue to be made available through The Star’s Web site at

Complaints about 'Jump Start' comic

UPDATE II BELOW: Follow-up cartoons online

UPDATE BELOW: Response from cartoonist

Today's installment of the Jump Start cartoon has at least two e-mailers upset. It shows a police officer apparently being shot by a shadowy figure.
One e-mailer, a former Anniston police officer, writes:
As a former officer in your fair city, I find the printing of this comic inexcusable. ... Rest assured that this will not be accepted by the law enforcement community. I feel the Star is treading on dangerous ground by allowing such images and messages to be printed. The comic section is intended to make us forget about the tragedies we face every day thru the avenue of humor. I challenge you, Mr. Davis, to find the humor in today’s "Jump Start." I even dare you to justify it.
[name and city withheld]

Another e-mailer writes:
How in the world could anyone find this cartoon humorous in any way? How in the world could you allow such a tasteless comic to be run in your paper?
If you ran this cartoon expecting a public reaction I certainly hope you get it. I think most law abiding citizens that see this will also be appalled and hopefully let you know. I think an apology to the Law Enforcement community and our citizens is in order. Please don't hide behind it being a syndicated cartoon you have to publish. As editor you are totally responsible for the content of your paper.
[name withheld]

My response:
Regular Jump Start readers will recognize that the strip is in the tradition of others that deal with all of the complexity of life, the funny and the serious. For Better or Worse is another example of a strip that can be serious or humorous.
Today's Jump Start strip is one in a series that reminds readers of many things, not to take the work done by policemen for granted and how those helped by officers reach out to return the favor with gratitude. Hence, the mention of the officer's medallion, a gift from a homeless family whom he helped over Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow's - meaning Saturday's - strip will show that the large medallion actually protected the officer.
I will grant that today's strip out of context is in fact jarring. Even in context it's jarring to many, I would say. One regular reader told me it was a shocking reminder of the dangers police officers face daily.
Further, I would add that if I, as editor, believed that the strip was glorifying violence, I would have not run it.
Yet, in context, this series offers an uplifting view of the work done by police officers, as well as the dangers they face.

I didn't, but could have mentioned Batman, Dick Tracy and other comics where bad guys have attempted any number of violent acts against law-enforcers since the the 1930s.

The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle has a response from Jump Start cartoonist Robb Armstrong. He writes:
I am saddened and horrified whenever I learn of an officer or anyone else being shot at or murdered.
Sometimes I wonder if our society is becoming numb to news of a shooting or some other anti-social atrocity. I wonder if being in a seemingly endless war overseas has caused us to accept inexplicable violence as a normal part of life. ...
The point of this series is to implore officers to wear their vests every day. "Joe," the character in JumpStart who gets shot, happens to be wearing a steel medallion given to him by a homeless man. Joe and his family fed the homeless man’s family on Thanksgiving, and he is given the "Hero Medallion" as a display of gratitude. Joe is reluctant to wear the strange gift, but wearing it ends up stopping an assailant’s bullet. A later strip points out that all officers have a life-saving "Hero Medallion," it is their bullet-proof vest, and they should wear it proudly and fearlessly.

UPDATE II: Next two JumpStarts are online. Here and here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kids Count in Alabama

Voices for Alabama's Children release details today on well-being of children of all 67 Alabama counties. Details here.
The above graphic comes from the national Kids Count data center.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Things to do in Atlanta during a football game

Jacksonville State and the University of Alabama both kick off the 2009 football season in Atlanta this Saturday.
JSU plays Georgia Tech in the afternoon. Alabama plays Virginia Tech in the evening.

The Star's John Fleming is working on a story for fans looking to make the trip to Atlanta for one or both of the games. He'll offer tips on driving to the stadiums, taking public transit, where to eat, where to park, where to drink, etc.

Got any tips on driving, tailgating or anything else Atlanta-related? Share them with John at

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Coming soon: Kickoff '09

The Star is preparing its preseason prep football magazine. It will soon be for sale at retail outlets throughout the area. Prep teams from Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah, St. Clair, Talladega, Clay, Cherokee and Randolph counties are profiled.

We thought we'd offer a sneak peek of the cover.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Joe, return to base

For a brief time - near the end of elementary school - my bedroom had a G.I. Joe action figure and a Kiss album.

The music was ascending and my devotion to Joe was in the decline.

Yet, in its prime a G.I. Joe was an it toy for most boys in the 1970s. I'd have to check with my parents to see if old Joe is stashed away in the attic; I'm pretty sure the Kiss albums are long-gone.

With a new G.I. Joe movie opening this weekend, The Star's Escapes section is looking for people willing to share their memories of G.I. Joe.

Got some memories to share? Contact Entertainment Editor Deirdre Long by e-mail here:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A eulogy

I'm taking the editor's privilege of posting my eulogy to my great-uncle who died over the weekend.

Robert Hugh Kirksey was known by many names.
To those who knew saw him at the Pickens County courthouse from 1962 until 1981, he was "Judge Kirksey."
To those serving with him in World War II, during which he was decorated for his bravery, he was "Lt. Kirksey."
To those who knew him more casually around his native Pickens County, he was "Mr. Robert Hugh."
At his church, he was known as devoted servant of Christ and congregational leader.
To his wife of more than 60 years, he was known simply as "Bob."
To his four daughters, he was "Daddy."
To his other relatives, he was "Boss," a nickname bestowed upon him by the household cook when he turned 12 and asked her to begin addressing him as "Mister Robert Hugh." She opted to call him "Boss" instead.
That young man shouldn’t have worried. Respect and accolades followed Robert Hugh Kirksey for eight decades.
Though never an official designation, "storyteller" may have best fit him. Robert Hugh Kirksey always had a story to tell. Usually humorous. Never hurtful. The family favorite involved a talking parrot that belonged to his mother, and that tormented young Robert Hugh.
He collected his life's worth of stories in two books, "With Me: Growing up in the Faith" and "People and Places." They are a lasting legacy to his family and friends.
He never stopped sharing his stories. Late last month, he commenced an e-mail exchange with his great-great-nephew and namesake, Hugh Kirksey Davis, age 8.
"Your invitation to me to be your pen pal is very encouraging to me. I like the idea of being your friend," Robert Hugh Kirksey wrote to the young boy. In the space of a few days, Kirksey filled an e-mail inbox with stories -- stories about two dogs he had as a youngster (Skeeter and Bob). Stories about taking a picture of a tornado when he was 16, and seeing it published in a newspaper. Stories of playing in his school playground. Stories of getting caught with candy in his mouth during elementary school.
We can take many lessons from the life of Robert Hugh Kirksey – his undying faith in his Creator, his family, his community and his country.
I plan to tell some stories today in his honor.
-- Bob Davis

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bobcast: Torture's burning issue: What did Nancy know and when did she know it?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Power failure in north Anniston

UPDATE: Anniston Star story is here.

Star reporters, photographers and editors are out covering a power failure in the Lenlock area. As I typed this the lights just came back on at The Star's offices.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star's jumpStart front page on Newseum's Top 10 Front Pages

The Newseum writes:

Today’s Top Ten are a tribute to front-page designers. As more and more readers go online for their news, a designer’s challenge is to make the cover more enticing, surprising, innovative and different from the rest. There’s no rhyme to these front pages, but there’s plenty of reason to take a second look — and plunk down a few quarters for the whole package. Note to The Anniston Star: You dress up well. (Emphasis mine.)

Link is here.

Bobcast: Unraveling hits home

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

In 2003, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman published a book criticizing the Bush administration called "The Great Unraveling."

Six years later and with the affects of those policies playing out in rising jobless claims, failing industries and declining home values, Americans are left wondering when the great and terrible unraveling ends.

The butterfly effect is usually summed up by saying, "A butterfly’s flapping wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas." The economic butterfly effect is in play all around us.

Sunday’s Anniston Star article by Dan Whisenhunt provides a local example. As part of its restructuring General Motors and Chrysler are shuttering dealerships, here and across the country. In the abstract, it’s a perfectly sensible idea aimed at coping with new economic realities.

In its real-life application, closed dealerships can mean pain for more than the employees at a local dealership.

Many car dealers, like many other responsible local enterprises, are pillars of a local community, sponsoring youth sports teams and contributing thousands of dollars to charity.

Body blows are landing on local communities, many of which have already endured the rise of mega-marts and subsequent decline of mom-and-pop shops. From retail to banking to media, local authority if not local ownership has given way to large corporate control based in a far away headquarters.

It’s unfair to count this rise of the corporations and decline of locally owned businesses as all bad. The advantages of centralized power – big retail, if you will – can mean lower prices and greater continuity in doing business.

Yet, like that Brazilian butterfly flapping its wings and damaging Texas villages, trouble at the top of these corporations is a pain that won’t be isolated.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A new start

By Ben Cunningham
Metro Editor

The Star's Monday edition will feature a new look starting this week, with changes to both the format and content.

The new Monday paper, re-branded "jumpStart," will be printed in single-fold, tabloid form, 11 inches by 17 inches. Editors say it's an effort to freshen the paper's approach to news on Mondays.

Editor Bob Davis said the redesign is the result of a months-long process taking into account editors' and readers' thoughts on what a new version of the paper should look like. He said the goal was a product that could be useful throughout the week.

What readers see Monday morning will be the paper's attempt "to try to keep up with the changing readership habits and appeal to new readers while staying true to our core mission, which is community journalism," Davis said.

The most obvious physical change is the tabloid format, which Managing Editor Anthony Cook likened to a magazine in the way it feels and handles.

A color photograph from a single story dominates the covers of a template and the first edition, with colors and graphics directing readers to other content inside.

Editors plan each week to feature a single story, typically a profile of someone in The Star's coverage area, and not necessarily a newsmaker.

"What we want to do is highlight the people of our community," Cook said. "These are your neighbors who you might know, but this will help you to really know them."

The story planned for this Monday's edition is about Blake Waddell of Hokes Bluff, who runs a faith-based boxing program in Gadsden for local youth.

Another key feature in the new jumpStart is a look at the week ahead, with details on what's expected in local government, entertainment and cultural events.

"These things will help you plan out your week," Cook said.

Davis noted that other newspapers throughout the country are experimenting with new formats, including switching to tabloid editions. He cited the Chicago Tribune, which in January switched to a tab size for newsstand sales five days per week while keeping home delivery copies in the familiar broadsheet format. In March The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News ended home delivery four days per week, instead making tab-size editions available at newsstands.

The Star will retain its traditional format the other six days of the week, and jumpStart will be delivered to subscribers just as the other days' issues are.

Cook and Davis said jumpStart also will contain regular coverage of any important news happening on Sunday.

Realizing the departure from tradition may elicit some comments from readers, the paper's staff has set up several ways to invite feedback.

Continuing The Star's recent "Grill the Editor" sessions, Davis will be at Jack's restaurant in Anniston (1900 Quintard Ave.) on Monday morning from 6:30 to 7:30 to discuss the new Monday paper.

The Star's marketing department will have free copies of jumpStart for the first 100 customers at Jack's locations in Heflin, Munford, Coldwater, Oxford, Anniston and Lenlock.

Also Monday, Davis will be hosting a digital "Grill the Editor" at noon on Readers who want a sneak peak at the format with a prototype edition can visit and leave comments.

The Star also has set up a phone line at 235-3552, at which readers can leave messages with their thoughts on the new format. Readers also can e-mail comments to Davis at

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Noble Street Festival video

Sights and scenes from last weekend's fun on Noble Street.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Star stands by reporting on Cleburne schools

David Easley, Cleburne County schools superintendent, takes issue with a story in Tuesday's Star, Cleburne County Board votes to not renew school employees due to poor job performance.

A fax sent by Easley on school district letterhead Tuesday to Cleburne district principals reads:

"In the Anniston Star today, the article regarding pink slips in our system was totally misquoted by the reporter. As we all know, this is not the first time misquotes have been made in this paper and probably will not be the last. I would like to reassure everyone the information that was printed is not at all true and that no reasons are ever to be given for pink slips."

The newsroom of The Anniston Star disagrees with the fax's assessment. We stand by our reporting and the accuracy of the quotes attributed to the superintendent.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On the air

Had a fun time this morning visiting local radio station WDNG. (Background here.)

Thanks to WDNG's Chuck Stricklin and J.J. Dark for allowing me on to discuss our madeover Monday edition, jumpStart.

We also took several calls from readers, some with complaints and some with compliments. Thanks to all who listened and/or called in. It was fun.

One bit of housekeeping. One caller asked about restaurant health inspection notices. We no longer publish them in the print edition. They are available online at The most recent is available here.

Vern Gosdin, RIP

Over the weekend, a Roanoke subscriber complained that we had not written a story on the passing of country music singer and Woodland native Vern Gosdin. The e-mailer wrote:
I subscribe to your paper to keep up with things of regional interest. How could you not report on country music star Vern Gosdin passing away? He was born and raised in Randolph County (Woodland to be exact) and has many relatives and fans in your coverage area. If by some chance I missed your report on his passing I'm not the only one. Thank you for your time.

Ours was a sin of omission, not commission. Our editors had simply missed the news of Gosdin's death, even though it warranted obituaries in the Los Angeles Times and Billboard magazine.
To us, the complaint was more like a news tip. This morning's paper had our obituary, nicely penned by staffer Nick Cenegy:
"The Voice" sang country music with bare-boned honesty.
Randolph County residents and country music fans remember Woodland-native Vern Gosdin, 74, who died in Nashville early last week, as a singer and songwriter whose lyrics were at times aching with lonesome and other times soaring with love-struck.
Friends remember him as an ordinary country guy, a lover of fried okra mixed with cream corn, who was relatable and intelligent.
Gosdin's country music wasn't the slick-marketed alternative rock blend that has since blurred the lines between Nashville and Los Angeles.

I e-mailed our Roanoke reader to offer thanks for sending along the tip. The response from reader was, "Thank you, you have redeemed yourself."
That's good to know.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grill the Editor update

As mentioned earlier, I'll be at Courthouse Cafe this Monday morning.

The following Monday -- May 11 -- we'll have another Grill the Editor session at Jack's in Anniston.

Bobcast: Chickens in the city

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

It’s a twist on the old saying. The updated version is that if it looks like a chicken, clucks like a chicken and pecks like a chicken, most cities don’t want it around.

Anniston is no different. Its city code bans fowl, except for exotic breeds.
Some friends found this out first-hand several years ago. A chicken who had apparently fallen off some farmer’s truck took up residence in our friend’s yard. My friends looked after the rooster, feeding it and giving it a name, Cogburn. Not so fast, said the city bureaucrats, who pointed to the city code while hauling Cogburn away.

The reasons for the city prohibitions are obvious enough – public health concerns as well fears over noise.

The reasons more city dwellers are pushing back against the bans are equally obvious. They are rising food prices as well as health concerns over eating poultry products raised on all sorts of growth hormones while confined to massive corporate farming operations.

Its part of the locavore movement, to eat local. Increasingly, American consumers are concerned with how groceries get to their table. With food-borne scares cropping up with greater frequency, the reasons obvious enough. A Google search reveals urban chicken-raising is a spreading across the country.

Thursday’s New York Times notes that some cities are taking a “don’t cluck, don’t tell” policy. That means so long as city residents keep just a few hens in their backyard (no noisy roosters, please), then the bureaucrats look the other way. After all, dogs and cats, which are legal in most towns, can be just as noisy or dirty.

It’s too late to save poor Cogburn. But if the pressure continues apace others here and elsewhere may somebody soon enjoy fresh eggs from their backyards

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Me, on the radio

I'll be on WDNG/AM-1450 from 8:20 until 9 a.m. this coming Tuesday. The topic: Coming changes at The Anniston Star, including our revamped Monday paper and a redesigned Web site.

Wednesday's Star: The tale of a '54 Pontiac

This is my favorite story from today's paper. It's a nice job by Bill Edwards, who last week wrote about getting out of his own car and walking around town. - Bob
Before Pontiac was a sports car, it helped raise families
By Bill Edwards
Staff Writer

One of the strong points of a 1954 Pontiac was the way it hauled children, assuming its owner was handy with tools.

That's one of the recollections retired Anniston physician Kirby Bryant had Tuesday about a favorite old car, as he and no doubt millions of other Pontiac owners pondered the sad news they had heard from General Motors: During 2010, Pontiac will become automotive history.

Like Plymouth and Oldsmobile of the recent past, the brand has fallen victim to cost-cutting. But also, like the passing of a popular celebrity, the passing of a popular car line evokes memories.

Former owners of Studebakers, Packards and DeSotos know what that's like.

Bryant got his Pontiac at the same time he married, in 1955 — that's because his bride, Shirley, had bought it new the previous year at a Tupelo, Miss., dealer.

"Our honeymoon was driving from Tupelo to Boston to go back to school," said Bryant, a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

Not long after, when their two children at the time were babies and Bryant was in the Air Force, numerous trips between Texas and Tupelo were necessary. To make the trip safer and more comfortable for the tired little ones, Bryant created a wooden frame that was just the right size to fit in the back seat of their Catalina coupe and hold a baby crib mattress.

In general practice at the time, Bryant made house calls in the car from 1959-65, then passed it along to a cousin to drive for a while; the couple brought it with them when they moved to Anniston in 1969.

Until the late 1990s, the car hung around their house like an old dog, sometimes out front, sometimes in the driveway in the back.

The last time Bryant fussed over it was when one of those aforementioned back-seat children, his daughter Kathy, got married in 1985. The vaguely light orange chariot was cleaned up enough to be presentable at a Country Club reception.

"It was in pretty good shape," he recalled.

Since, then, however, time has taken a toll. Sometime in the late '90s, Bryant said, the car was sent to a family member's house in Wellborn, and there it has remained. Restoration was anticipated, but the man who was going to do the work died.

When a good battery is under the hood, the old "Straight-8" still cranks and runs, but with flat tires it's not going anywhere fast.

People who still want to create their own Pontiac memories, or those who already own Pontiacs shouldn't notice any changes in the wake of GM's announcement, said Ken Wesenberg, owner of Classic Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC in Anniston.

"It's business as usual. No changes at all," he said Tuesday afternoon.

All warranty work will be honored, he said.

Additionally, not only does the dealership have a "sufficient" supply of Pontiacs on hand now, it has more cars on the way and "we are still able to order," he said.

"We're not seeing it going away in two weeks or two months or six months," Wesenberg said.

Pontiac has long been a familiar brand in Anniston. Fowler Motor Co. sold the cars in the late 1940s, then P. O. Wilson bought the dealership from Marvin Fowler in 1954 and continued to sell Pontiacs from the 600 block of Noble Street.

In 1978 Wilson Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC moved from Noble Street to the site where Classic Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC currently does business.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bobcast: Budget cuts and pandemic preparedness

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here.

Starting May 11, JumpStart your Mondays

UPDATE: The launch of our new made-over Monday product is delayed by one week. JumpStart will now make its debut on Monday, May 11. The delay is caused by computer software adjustments required in the billing department, far out of the control of the newsroom.

(Image from prototype.)
Starting on the second Monday in May, the Monday edition of The Anniston Star will undergo a radical makeover.

We'll still have the same local, state, national and international news, columns, comics, editorials plus great sport coverage. But it will arrive with new bonus features in a different-sized package.

On May 11, look for JumpStart in a tabloid-sized format. (Tabloid-sized, but not tabloid-sensationalized.) It will feature colorful magazine-styled layout and a variety of features:

► In-depth profiles of local people
► Weekly calendar of events
► Enhanced workplace news
► More community and neighborhood news
► Health and fitness tips
► Lifestyle features, tips and advice
► A listing of entertainment options
► How to navigate office politics
► Personal-financial advice

You'll be seeing and hearing more about this Monday change in the coming weeks ahead of the May 11 launch.

Monday, April 27, 2009

JumpStart promo is up

Click here to see and here promo.

Grill the editor next Monday morning

I'll be at Anniston's Courthouse Cafe next Monday morning from 7 until 8 to meet with readers and discuss The Star's launch of JumpStart.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crossword in the crosshairs

We had a technical problem today with our Crossword puzzle.
The far right column of the puzzle was missing, and some puzzle fans, understandably, were not happy.
Here's what happened:
We have a new wire service providing our crossword puzzles. (The old crossword was discontinued.) On occasion, the new puzzle doesn't quite fit properly in the space that's reserved for it, which led to the missing column in today's paper.
Fortunately, there's a computer function that allows us to manually re-size the puzzle to make it fit properly, and that will be done in the future. This step wasn't necessary with the old puzzle because it automatically re-sized itself to fit in the alloted space, and only recently did we discover that re-sizing will sometimes be necessary with the new puzzle.
We apologize for the inconvenience, and will try to prevent it in the future.
Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A forced march for Earth Day

6 miles, 3 ½ hours and 1 fish: I reduced my carbon footprint with my own 2 feet
By Bill Edwards
Staff Writer

The oddest thing I saw walking the route from The Anniston Star building to the Starbucks coffee shop in Oxford was a dead fish.

Really. It was on the east side of Anniston's South Quintard, at E Street, just lying there on the sidewalk. A com-pletely whole dried-out dead fish.

I'm taking it as proof that this area was indeed once covered by a shallow ocean.

The exercise that produced this discovery was an effort to reduce my carbon footprint on this Earth Day 2009. If one were to give up one's car, how far would one be walking to take care of essential activities (not necessarily grabbing a cup of coffee)?

The answer, in this case, 6.2 miles, give or take.

The walk began at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday from the newspaper driveway, and ended at 12:15 p.m. inside the coffee shop. Following in his car, Star multimedia intern Whit McGhee manned the video camera to document my progress. It took nearly 3 ½ hours, but included along the way were pauses to talk, take pictures, use the facilities at a sympa-thetic business, etc. That means the distance could easily be walked in three hours, maybe 2:45 if one were brisk about it.

I found that surprising. It makes walking, at least in the flatlands, seem more feasible.

My legs did start getting a little sore, though. Later, it was good to sit down.

Additionally, sidewalks or some other created footpath would be good to have the entire distance, not just the por-tion from 22nd Street south to Greenbrier-Dear Road.

Along the way — the entire path was on the east side of the highway, facing oncoming traffic — the ground was surprisingly clean. We're gonna give credit to the city prisoners (the fellas in the gray-and-black stripes) who are taken outdoors under guard to keep the roadsides picked up. Thanks, guys. Oh, by the way, there's a dead armadillo down there in front of one of the King car lots.

Random note: Billboards are really big when you're not driving past them. I observed this at the Putt-Putt golf course.

Even the drainage ditch above 22nd Street was generally clean. I could see the individual segments of old paving that made it up — it looked like an old Roman road. One chunk of stone was evidently a piece of sidewalk from town: The abbreviation AVE, as in "avenue," can clearly be seen.

The walk through Anniston was pleasant as always. Founding fathers would likely be pleased to see that so much of their landscaping survived, and was even improved upon when dogwoods were first planted in the Quintard parkway around 1964.

The sidewalk down the hill south of Fifth Street was pretty ordinary as sidewalks go. I did wonder about a steep flight of stone steps that led down to the "A Street" neighborhood. Who built them? When? Who needed them?

In that territory, I saw the fish on the sidewalk. Shown a photo, newsroom observers declared it was a catfish; not unreasonable, given how a restaurant was like 30 yards away.

Maybe it was trying to escape.

The path south of Greenbrier-Dear Road, as noted previously, lacks a sidewalk. This doesn't make foot travel impos-sible, but if someone were attempting the route in flip-flops, for example, it would become messier.

The most interesting feature on the southern leg of the journey was the viaduct over the railroad tracks at the Annis-ton-Oxford boundary. It's a long way down to those tracks and Snow Creek that runs beside them. That, combined with the relatively low guard rail and the shimmy of the roadbed as semis rumble past, creates keen incentive to reach the other side as soon as possible. I was disappointed that no one had bothered to carve into the bridge's stonework any indication of the year in which it was built.

Under the bridge were signs of occasional human habitation. Count your blessings, people.

The path through Oxford held no unusual hazards. Although no sidewalk exists, the verges are wide enough to allow a safe walk. Motorists here, as everywhere else along the route, were polite. Well, no one yelled anything rude, even though I looked awfully suspicious.

Upon finally reaching the Starbucks service counter, I enjoyed seeing an old friend making my coffee and serving a yummy pastry.

All right, Whit, let's go back to the paper. My feet hurt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bobcast: Where the 1st and 16th Amendments meet

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Wednesday is tax day. Or it’s Tax Day if you take special note of the date when the IRS expects income tax filings.

Seems the 15th day of the fourth month has become more than a day to pay Uncle Sam his due.

Tax Day (uppercase, please) has morphed from just another dreaded day to one where various advocates trot out their favorite causes.

Peace-loving tax resisters opposed to spending on weapons of war step forward to proclaim their firm opposition to U.S. foreign policy.

Advocates for alternative taxation methods, such as the flat tax or a national sales tax, promote their ideas.

People claiming the IRS is an invalid arm of the federal government have a field day on April 15. We’d expect that’s less so for the income tax deniers currently serving in the federal pen.

Opponents of recently passed stimulus packages are gathering at so-called tea parties across the nation. The events, heavily promoted by Fox News and propped up by large, well-heeled conservative advocacy groups, will highlight opposition to government spending.

There’s word that anti-tea partiers will make their voices heard, presumably cheering on the Obama administration’s policies.

The U.S. income tax was created with the passage of the 16th Amendment. Even so it might be best to call this day 1st Amendment Day. (That’s the constitutional amendment guaranteeing, among other things, the right of free speech.)

You pay your dues, you get your say.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bobcast: The Phantom Red 17

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate contains an amusing scene involving a U.S. senator clearly modeled on real-life red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

In the movie, a fictional senator, John Iselin, is having a hard time remembering the precise number of commies who have infiltrated the U.S. government. He begs his wife/adviser for "one, real, simple number that'd be easy for me to remember."

As the senator picks up a bottle of Heinz 57 Tomato Ketchup, Mrs. Iselin has an idea.

Cue the senator addressing his colleagues from the floor of the Senate, "There are exactly 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Department of Defense at this time!"

No such easily understand reason is yet known for why Alabama congressman Spencer Bachus told a Trussville group Thursday that he knew of 17 socialists in Congress.

The Birmingham News quotes the congressman as saying, "Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists."

He named only one such colleague, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who identifies himself as a socialist.

It will be a shame if Bachus doesn’t follow up with names, or if the phantom 17 don’t all rise up on May Day. The only "17" we can think of carries painful memories for fans of Alabama football; it’s the amount of points the Crimson Tide scored in its 2009 31-17 bowl game loss to Utah.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bobcast: A slow-moving honor?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Sea-faring lore holds that sailors often mistook manatees for mermaids. Anyone who's ever seen the large, milky-white sea mammals whose other name is "sea cow" is left wondering just how lonely it must get for men on the open sea.

The U.S. Geological Survey describes them thusly, "Manatees are large, gentle, her-bivorous, slow moving mammals." While it’s difficult imagine them as mythic ocean beauties, manatees are captivating to observe.

The state Legislature is considering making them Alabama’s official marine mammal. That’s good, but it’s also what a therapist might describe as "projection," that is attributing one’s undesirable traits onto another.

While interesting to watch, manatees lack a certain, a-hem, aggression. That's one reason they are endangered. Fast-moving recreational boats often crash into the lethargic mammals that don’t move fast enough to get out of the way.

Sort of like Montgomery, stuck in its ways, resistant to moving quickly to fix what needs fixing in Alabama. And nobody would ever consider Goat Hill to be filled with mermaids.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cheaha Mountain High

It's a rare day when John Denver song and Anniston Star editorial are mentioned in combination. Thanks to commentary editor Phillip Tutor, tomorrow's editorial page will be the rare exception.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bobcast: Doing the CDA shuffle

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

You convene to the left.
You meet to the right.
Hand out a bunch of dollars.
Attract a bunch of jobs.
Now you’re doing the CDA Shuffle.

Commercial development authorities (or CDAs) are an instrument Alabama cities can use to, well, develop commercial centers.

As recently demonstrated in an Anniston Star series, Oxford has put its CDA to heavy use. The secretive board has handed out almost $9 million in no-bid contracts over the past 15 years. CDA advocates point to phenomenal retail growth during that time.

Yet, the riches came with a price – the CDA board and its benefactors are deeply inter-connected through of campaign contributions and professional ties. Using public money in a largely accountable way can lead to mischief.

Anniston officials say they are looking at the creation of a CDA, though with more public accountability than Oxford’s.

Nothing wrong with CDA’s in theory. Cities need reliable tools for developing commer-cial districts. Let‘s not let the sunshine of open government be a casualty of a commercial development authority.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Bobcast: The Legislature's two jobs

Latest Bobcast, a preview of my Sunday column, is up. Listen here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bobcast: A royal iPod

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

President Barack Obama, while visiting London for this week’s G20 global economic summit, presented the queen of England with a gift, an iPod preloaded with show tunes.

Whoa! Change has come to Washington, from a president who spoke of THE Google and boldly declared he didn’t "do" e-mail to one addicted to his Blackberry and distributing iPods across the globe.

Diplomacy and protocol being what they are it must be quite the challenge to load the queen’s iPod with music.

Don’t download the Sex Pistols’ punk anthem "God Save the Queen," which includes the line, "She ain’t no human being."

Do include anything from 1970s and 1980s rock supergroup Queen.

Don't include Queen’s "Fat-Bottomed Girls," for obvious reasons.

Do include most of Merle Haggard’s catalog; something tells us Queen Elizabeth II would enjoy a strong drink and "Mama Tried" late in the evening.

Don’t include any syrupy Elton John ballad; she’s surely heard enough of that?

Do include Royal Crescent Mob’s cover of the LL Cool J classic "Mama Said Knock You Out."

Don’t bother with Queen Latifah’s early rap efforts.

Do include anything by Aretha Franklin, who is famously known as the Queen of Soul.

And finally, don’t include Madonna, with her obnoxious fake British accent.

Do include "50ft Queenie" by PJ Harvey, who has a genuine British accent.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bobcast: News to recall

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

And now for some news you can use from Anniston’s City Hall.

Mayor Gene Robinson is apparently sticking with his vow to reverse a rash decision last week to pull funds from downtown development organization. Looks like city dollars will continue flowing to The Spirit of Anniston.

Two councilmen – Herbert Palmore and Ben Little – continue to suggest the former Fort McClellan may not have been properly annexed into the city 10 years ago when the military post was closed. Officials and residents are scratching their heads wondering what will become of city-owned ballfields and a fire station

Earlier this week, Councilman Little, who is black, filed suit against the mayor, claiming Robinson, who is white, is a racist who has threatened his life.

And finally, Alabama Code Section 11-44E-168 remains on the books.
That provision dealing with city government reads, "The mayor or any commissioner shall be subject to recall. To institute a recall election, any registered voter may present a petition to the city clerk having the signatures of no less than 30 percent of the registered voters having voted in the last preceding election."

The law continues, "Upon receipt of such petition, the city clerk shall make ar-rangements under Alabama law to hold such election within 30 days of receipt by the city clerk of such petition.

"Provided that a majority of registered voters vote for the recall, then the city clerk shall thereupon declare that office vacant and the office holder shall no longer be an elected official."

And that’s the news you can use.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bobcast: Fly them to the moon

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The skies are decidedly more costly for Auburn University’s top officials than they are for their counterparts in Tuscaloosa.
According to a story in Sunday’s Huntsville Times, AU administrators and trustees racked up $492,640 in expenses associated with use of the university’s two jets dur-ing the ’07-’08 fiscal year.

Over the same period trustees and administrators at the University of Alabama spent $30,500 on travel on one corporate jet. Neither school owns the jets; they belong to the private athletic booster clubs at both institutions. (As an aside this is but one more sign of where the real power resides – one the playing field and the court, not the class-room or the library.)

An Auburn spokesman defended the costly air travel, saying it saves time when compared to flying commercially.

And, we’d add, no commercial flights between Dothan and Andalusia exist. That’s the 65-mile distance flown in an Auburn jet by AU trustee James Rane to get to a May 2008 speaking engagement. The pricetag: $3,213.

Costs associated with college are rising. Taxpayer revenue to support higher ed is falling. A state fund set up to help parents save for college is in serious trouble.

The point seems to be that tooling around on a university jet on the state’s dime is a perk that looks distinctly out of touch with today’s economic downturn.

New Bobcast: Anniston's home-grown terrorists

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here. Inspiration comes from the Star's recent series on the 1965 killing of Willie Brewster.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bobcast: One more for Sunshine Week

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Let's have one more from the files of Sunshine Week, those seven days set aside to talk about the value of open records and open government.

"What do you want with it?" is the least meaningful question ever posed by a public official to a citizen and/or a reporter asking for public documents.

Let’s keep it simple. Public records are public for a reason. Accountable government doing its business in the amble sunshine builds trust. An unobstructed view puts more sets of eyes on the workings of the government, which is very the reason legislative bodies have made the laws in the first place.

"What do you want with it?" should never enter the equation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bobcast: A bracket we can believe in

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

President Obama shared his NCAA basketball tournament bracket with the world the other day. (You know the thing where you take all the empty blanks of the tournament, fill ‘em and name a champion.)

Change, indeed, has arrived at the White House. Out goes the president who once owned a Major League Baseball team. In comes the president who is a basketball fan (and pickup game player).

Anyway, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina and Pittsburgh make up Obama’s Final Four. Two swing states made it – hooray. The prez picked the Tar Heels of North Carolina to win the title.

It’s a smart pick and one millions, including the Bobcaster, would agree with, yet it’s not an inspiration worthy of man who recently won a historic campaign.

C’mon, Mr. President, what about the underdogs?

For example, why not audaciously pick the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, the South region’s 14th seed? They play Syracuse Friday in the opening round. The school from Nacogdoches, Texas, is making its first trip to the big dance.

A Final Four with the Lumberjacks or any of the countless other under-dogs would really be change we could believe in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bobcast: Sunshine in Oxford

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

It's time for another tale for Sunshine Week, the seven days set aside by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to call attention to the public’s right to know about government.

Today we look in on Oxford.

In late January, The Star asked the city of Oxford for recent data on road-paving – money spent, roads paved and so on.

We know by state law and by common sense that there’s no doubt that this sort of information should be public. Public money spent on public roadway equals public document.

The good news is that Oxford compiled. The bad news it took more than a week for the city to hand over the data. City officials deftly passed the buck until they got an OK from Leon Smith, Oxford’s long-time mayor.

Here’s the point, and it's bigger than one city or one city’s would-be monarch.

Freedom of information is a cornerstone to a healthy and vital democracy. A public record is open to the public, not because of the whim of one elected official. It’s public because the law and good government practices say so.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bobcast: Mad about Sunshine Week

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

College basketball fans recognize this as the time when teams are selected for the NCAA tournament.

The event is a buffet of catch-phrases. Selection Sunday comes before the Play-In which builds upon March Madness. By next weekend we’ll have a Sweet Sixteen, then eventually the Final Four on the way to a champion.

Another spectacular starting this Sunday has its own name. I’m thinking of Sunshine Week. Its sponsor, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, calls it “a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Credit for the name goes to a famed quote by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant" for closed and unaccountable gov-ernment, he said.

Alabama could use a little more of these healing rays. That’s why a group of reformers in Montgomery is hoping to improve the way we keep our eyes on state politicians. Currents rules allow for plenty of shadow when it comes to who is giving what to legislators.

History and statehouse insiders tell us the reformers’ odds are as long as the lowest of March Madness underdog. But the reason we watch the games is because sometimes David beats Goliath and maybe, just maybe, Alabama’s governmental forecast can turn a little sunnier.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bobcast: Spending for the future

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

A talking point against rising federal government spending is picking up steam in conservative circles.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sums up the thinking, saying increased federal spending "means our children and our grandchildren for a very long time are going to pay off for the politicians of this generation who have refused to solve problems and just keep borrowing more and more money."

A favored expression is these plans will “mortgage the future” of ensuing generations.

Granted, a lot is going out the door in the form of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, the $700 billion financial system bailout and the $400 billion spending bill recently signed by President Obama (behind closed doors, we’ll add). And there’s more to come if one looks closely at Obama proposed $3.5 trillion budget for next year.

Lost in this is the notion that Americans, in their own budgets, are familiar with mortgaged futures. Millions – 50 million by several estimates – are paying a home mortgage.

Said another way those American homeowners borrowed money for a roof over their heads that they hope to pay off over time. In this sense, a home loan is a promise toward the future, a vow that the borrower’s economic circumstances will improve over time or at the very least won’t go down. We all benefit from this promise as money circu-lates through the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

No guarantees though. Economists tell us 1-in-5 mortgage holders are in the fore-closure process, a key cause for our economic meltdown.

Government spending to keep Americans working again is indeed a mortgage on our future, as the critics say. The world’s most vibrant economy is making an investment, borrowing money it believes can be repaid in better days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bobcast: Whole lotto college

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The ongoing Don Siegelman legal saga is a reminder of a missed lottery opportunity for Alabama.

The federal corruption case against the former governor centers on a contribution made to Siegelman’s pro-lottery war chest. Prosecutors claimed and a jury agreed that the contributor's loot came in exchange for a seat on a state medical board.

The case is on appeal, but that’s a story for another day.

Our concern for now is 1999’s state lottery vote. Siegelman campaigned in 1998’s gubernatorial race on delivering to Alabama what neighbor Georgia already had – namely, a lottery that funded college scholarships for Georgia high school grads.

Since 1993 when the Georgia lottery began, the state has helped more than 1.2 million students with $4.5 billion in college tuition.

The idea is spreading. In 2002, South Carolina implemented a similar lot-tery/scholarship plan. It’s been reported than in seven years schools there have received $2 billion in lottery proceeds.

If things had worked out differently in '99, Alabama would have had a lottery. It would have also opened college to tens of thousands of the state’s residents who might otherwise not have attended. That would have been good for students, state colleges and over time all residents, who reap benefits from a better educated state.

Alabama chose another path. It said "no" in 1999. Problem is it hasn’t said yes to a more viable and lucrative funding proposal for college or college students in the intervening 10 years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RIP Willie King

AP reports: Alabama blues singer and guitarist Willie King has died, ending a career that took him from backwoods juke joints to the largest blues festivals in North America and Europe. He was 65.
More here and here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Bobcast: Sleepy savings

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Today’s offering: Quick facts about Daylight Saving Time, the recent affliction causing so many sleepy stares and missed appointments.

William Willet, a British inventor, is credited with devising Daylight Saving Time in the early part of the 20th century.

Willet was said to have been offended when he discovered how late Brits were sleeping in on summer mornings. However, his notion never took hold until the start of World War I.

In 2005 Congress mandated the extension of Daylight Saving Time by two months, meaning it now begins on the second Sunday in March and concludes on the first Sunday in November.

The 2005 bill contained numerous subsidies to large petroleum companies. In fact, Hillary Clinton has called it the "Dick Cheney lobbyist energy bill." A recent Department of Energy survey discovered the extension of Daylight Saving Time saved half of 1 percent of electricity usage in 2007.

There’s more to say on the time change. At least a dozen more facts on the setting of the clocks forward in spring could be listed. However just now, this correspondent is feeling the effects of a lost hour of sleep and so they’ll just have to wait.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bobcast: is the stimulus buffet line closing?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The Mississippi House of Representatives sent its governor a message Wednesday: The cafeteria is closing.

Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., had decided he would treat the federal government’s recently passed stimulus package like the buffet line at a restaurant. Figuratively speaking, he is willing to take the meat and the gravy (transportation dollars, for instance) but leave off the broccoli (in this case, $50 million in unemployment benefits for part-time workers).

Hold up, said the Mississippi House.

It voted to accept all Mississippi’s $2.8 billion share of the stimulus. The measure is now moving to the Senate in Jackson.

For his part, Barbour isn’t budging from his stance, despite seeing his state’s unemployment reach 9.2 percent in January.

Of course, Barbour isn’t alone. Several other Republican governors, including Alabama’s Bob Riley, have opted for a pick-and-choose stimulus plan.

Perhaps Mississippi is showing others how to shut down the cafeteria.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bobcast: Suspending free speech?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

What would you call a presidential administration that would consider rescinding the First Amendment?

Until the release of 2001 Bush legal memos earlier this week, it’s likely that’s a question few ever pondered, or ever wished to ponder.

An Oct. 23, 2001, memo, by President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel reads, “The government’s compelling interests in wartime justify restrictions on the scope of individual liberty.” The author, John Yoo, continued, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

We’re presented with another reminder that the previous administration believed terrorists more powerful than the U.S. Constitution. What else can we conclude? In pursuing bad guys after 9/11 the Bush White House took liberties with our liberties. Bush’s team detained prisoners without trial, employed interrogation techniques deemed torture by international treaty, spied on citizens without the benefit of a warrant, and so on.

What would you call a presidential administration that would consider rescinding the First Amendment?

Would it be wrong to note these actions were directly opposed to the principles laid out by our founders? Would it be wrong to call it anti-American?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bobcast: Ring, ring ring (Ha, ha, hey)

UPDATE: It's official. Get those dialing fingers ready.

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

To handle increased phone usage in Alabama’s 256 area code, state utility regulators are considering a fix that would require 10-digit dialing for all calls, even local ones.

Nobody likes change, especially when it comes to telephones. But in an earlier time 10-digit dialing would have been far more daunting. Those three extra digits will be a pain, but imagine doing it on those ancient rotary dial contraptions. It would make one long for the days when a caller picked up the phone and say, "Hey, Sarah, get me Mount Pilot."

Estimates project that more than 8-in-10 Americans own mobile phones today. By 2013, one industry observer predicts, that figure will move to 100 percent. Already in some parts of Europe there are more mobile phones than people.

On mobile phones, the digits used can range from one – to call a friend's number stored in memory – to scores when using the text-message function.

In Japan, a recent craze is cell phone novels. A young woman with time on her hands pounded out a novel using the keypad on her mobile in 2007. When the book called “Dreaming Firefly” was published, it became a bestseller, thus spawning many more cell-phone novelists.

Compared to all this, 10-digit dialing looks like practically nothing.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bobcast: Health care debate, 2.0

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Would 1993’s failed presidential health care initiative have worked out differently in an era of an activist netroots and a steadily worsening economy?

All the signs are suggesting we may soon find out.

This week President Obama’s administration plans to roll out it its health care ambitions, which might be summed up as crafting coverage that is more universal and less costly.

In 1993, the newly elected Clinton administration tried something similar. The proposal went down in flames, killed by a mixture of White House cluelessness, con-servative foes and health insurers.

The opposition was best summed up by a series of TV commercials featuring a fictional couple, Harry and Louise.

The message: Clinton would grant government health care regulators the ability to "choose."

"And we lose," Louise adds.

Times have changed. In fact, Harry and Louise were back during the 2008 presidential race, urging a national dialogue on improving U.S. health care.

The economy has changed, as well. And for the worse.

For the better since 1993, is the addition of an Internet, well-stocked with activists. Watch for real-life people to exercise their online power to illustrate frustrations against the current health care system and its inefficiencies and inequities.

Regardless of how Obama’s plans work out, it’s clear we’ll hear more voices in this year’s debate than we did in 1993.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bobcast: Train the ethics watchdog

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Too often, Alabama’s rules governing officeholder conduct resemble a Caribbean island bank where U.S. companies park their money away from the prying eyes of the feds.

State campaign finance laws are so dodgy that politicians can legally conceal tons of tainted dollars from well-heeled contributors wishing to remain in the shadows.

Of course, once in office politicians find the going just as smooth. Lobbyists can spend up to $250 a day on an elected official before having to report it. Over a full year that comes to more than $90,000 a legislator could legally take from his good friends the Allied Widgetmakers Association and never have to report a dime.

That sum, while impressive, is less than recently convicted state Rep. Sue Schmitz earned in a sham job strung together through the two-year college system and her fellow lawmakers. The Democrat from north Alabama earned a $177,000 salary for doing essentially nothing, nothing but being a state representative with influence over how much money the two-year system gets.

Several lawmakers are trying to clean up this mess. Bills would cut down on the under-the-table lobbying giveaways, increase reporting requirements and hand more power the state’s ethics watchdogs. Attempts like this have been tried in the past only to fail.

We’ll be watching to see how these measures proceed. So should the rest of the state.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bobcast: Bob, Bob, Bo-Bob...

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Some of us are “Bobbys.” Some of us are “Roberts.” And some of us are “Bobs.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the man tapped to offer the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s congressional address Tuesday, is quite clearly a “Bobby.”
Gov. Jindal’s’s sing-songy cadence has been almost universally panned, by both the left and the right. Many are saying the address sounded like wonky Mister Rogers.
Would you be mine? Could by mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Unless you lost your house.
Bobby is not Jindal’s given name. The inspiration for his adopted first name is said to be the youngest brother on “The Brady Bunch.”
On this point, I must acknowledge my clear pro-Bob bias.
Though it’s a cute name for a kid on a TV show, I believe “Bobby” is a high hurdle for a politician.
Bob Dole? Yes. Robert Kennedy? Yes. Bobby Jindal? Uh, maybe not, though these things are subject to change. Who would have believed last year we’d have a president named Barack?
When I was 4 my imaginary friend was named “Bobby.” (Hey, just because you have an imaginary friend, doesn’t mean you have much imagination, at least in the name department.)
Forty years on, no word on my where my imaginary Bobby landed, but it’s a safe bet he’s stayed clear of politics.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bobcast: A call for patience to an impatient nation

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Speaking of his plan to revive the ailing U.S. economy, President Obama on Tuesday sent out a caution. The recovery plans will work over time. Step by step, he predicted, a domino effect will spread from lenders to borrowers to sellers to buyers.
And thus, Obama said, “Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.”
“Slowly, but surely?”
In this culture?
Our people, our politics, our elected leaders and our economy are not equipped for “slowly, but surely.”
We are, after all, a nation that taps its collective foot standing in front of the microwave. “When will the baked potato be ready?” we whine. “It’s already been a full 60 seconds!”
And now the president pledges his corrections will work … over time.
Our shot-clock mentality owns a large slice of responsibility for our current financial crisis. Profits had to be maximized now. This quarter. Even top-flight U.S. corporations went for the short-end money.
“Slowly, but surely” seems the right way to rebuild the economy on a firm foundation. If an impatient nation can wait is another question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bobcast: Unity through roundball

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Given the muted civic response so far to the news that Anniston High’s boys and girls basketball teams are two games away from state titles, the proper question for the time is not, "Who let the Dawgs out?"
It should be the less lyrical but more poignant, "Who’s muzzling potential boosters of the Dawgs?"
Of course, we’re not thinking of the students, parents, faculty and boosters of the Bulldogs. They are thrilled by the prospect, and not hiding their excitement under a bushel.
We’re thinking instead of those not releasing their inner Bulldog. In other words the larger community with or without any ties to the school except that they live or work here.
The ball teams will carry the name of our town on their uniforms this week. They are, in ways large and small, representing our town. This is cause for celebration and support.
A cruise down the city’s main retail arteries reveals hardly a trace of excitement. Anniston could take a lesson from its neighbors. No visitor to Clay County during football title game time could miss that the community is supportive, if not rapid over the Panthers. The same could be said for other cities in our region and state.
To Anniston’s shame none of that local school boosterism was present on the eve of Wednesday’s game. Thus it appears a chance at creating unity over good news is slipping away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The common journey

In Sunday Insight section of The Anniston Star, San Francisco photographer Nancy Farese presented images from her recent travels in Africa. Hat tip to Star presentation editor Tosha Jupiter for the page design.
She wrote:
As I have photographed organizations delivering humanitarian and relief aid, I can't believe the access that I get with my camera into circumstances of severe need — an AIDS patient in Malawi, the refugee situation in Kenya, the impoverished but determined woman entrepreneur in rural Uganda. I not only find so many people in need, I find so many people willing to use their talents to meet those needs in ways that are creative and compassionate. In the face of overwhelming challenges such as famine, poverty and disease, the support I see being given by the organizations I cover is being delivered with dignity and respect.

Bobcast: Hate the stimulus. Love the stimulation

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Is it hypocritical for a politician to oppose an economic stimulus package, and then turn around and promise the folks back home he’ll claim their fair share?
Well, duh, of course it is.
Hypocrisy – doing one thing and saying the other while sitting upon a high horse of pontification – is deeply imbedded in politics. Heck, it’s deeply imbedded in humanity; few are immune. So much so that pointing it out is hardly worth pointing out.
Still, we’ll trudge on.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, speaking late last week in Anniston, admitted he is no fan for the stimulus bill recently signed by President Obama.
The declaration was hardly necessary; he’s made his opposition clear during the lead up to the bill’s passage.
Despite his opposition, Shelby said Friday, “We need to do everything we can to make sure we get a proportionate amount of money.”
Make of that what you will. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Politicians gotta deliver the bacon.
It could be worse. Several Southern governors are still riding up on their high horse, vowing to turn down stimulus dollars.
And yet, it could be better. Shelby and the rest of the Alabama congressional delegation who opposed the bill even though they knew it would to pass could have fought harder to include money for state’s neediest projects.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bobcast: A state Senate stalls

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Imagine this scene at the worksite. The loading dock foreman says to Ed, “Hey, we need those boxes to the warehouse.”
Ed responds by standing up and stiffly reciting a bunch of rhetorical nonsense. Never straying anywhere near relevance or the boxes he’s supposed to move, Ed prattles on throughout the morning.
Finally, the exasperated foreman shrugs, pays Ed for a full day’s work, sends him home and tells him he’ll see him tomorrow, when Ed might or might not do the whole thing all over again.
Doesn’t seem very likely in the real world. Of course, Goat Hill is frequently an unreal place.
Stalling is often standard in the Alabama Senate. The so-called legislative body in recent years has witnessed such blathering, known formally as a filibuster. In recent terms, the state Senate has spent nearly two-thirds of its annual 30 working days in filibuster-shortened sessions.
The sorry tradition has started again for the 2009 session. Over the course of seven days, Phil Poole, a Democratic senator from Tuscaloosa, twice halted proceedings in disputes that might best be described as highly local and highly personal.
And on the games go as if Alabama wasn’t facing a massive $560 million budget shortfall, rapidly declining employment and a collapsing economy that could hit the state’s working-class and the worksite extremely hard.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bobcast: An audit to nowhere

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Last year, the Anniston City Council agreed to pay a Uniontown woman $2,500 to review its human resources policies. The work was not competitively bid. The only person considered for the job was Yolanda Jackson of the west-central Alabama city of Uniontown. She was selected at the urging of one member of the council, Ben Little.
According to various sources, Jackson spent somewhere between two hours and two days working on the project. That works out to somewhere between $150 an hour and $1,200 an hour.
Oh, and the actual audit. None of Jackson’s HR suggestions have been implemented. Nor, according to Anniston’s ex-city manager, could they without a complete reworking of civil service guidelines. Councilman John Spain, who is calling for a probe into Jackson’s sweetheart deal, termed the audit "boilerplate information."
For her part, Jackson is clamming up, despite repeated attempts by a Star reporter seeking comment this week.
Apparently, it pays to speak softly and perform a useless audit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bobcast: A bigger threat than terrorism

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

A recent visitor to Congress delivered a warning.
The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” the man told a Senate panel.
The speaker said that in terms of global threats, terrorism comes in second behind the current economic turmoil that has seen 3.5 million Americans thrown out of work and that is expected to leave 50 million jobless by the end of the year.
Who said this?
A softie who has taken his eyes off the global war on terror?
A lefty think-tanker going theoretical on us?
No, it was Adm. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence. In 34 years with the Navy, Blair served at top levels in the Pentagon hierarchy.
Point is Blair knows what he’s talking about.
He does not appear to be downplaying the threat posed by terrorists, merely putting it in perspective. That’s a change from the past eight years when it seemed terrorism was a nifty trump card to keep the people and the policymakers in line.
Blair’s economic warning last week came with a reminder.
“The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us re-call the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.”
Indeed we do, admiral. And if we don’t, we should.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Bobcast: Where there's smoke ...

Latest Bobcast is on a relic of Anniston's industrial past. Listen here or read below.

Anniston City Hall politicians are debating whether a 129-year-old smokestack that recalls the city industrial roots should stay or go.
Last week, following a vote of the City Council, the smokestack, Anniston’s first, looked like a goner.
This week, not so much. The mayor told The Star he was reconsidering his vote to demolish the smokestack.
This is good. As one local preservationist remarked, anything that can stand for more than 100 years deserves a chance to remain standing.
So much for structures that have lasted 13 decades.
The crumbling, run-down and mostly empty storefronts that dot Anniston’s retail corridor are another story. Those buildings are one, two, three and four decades old. They stand as monuments to nothing but poor city planning, ugly design and the declining economic prospects of a city. They demand the city’s highest attention, energy and innovation.
Building something up is tougher that tearing something down, yet this is precisely where Anniston’s emphasis belongs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bobcast: Radio silence on Knoxville killer

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

During a busy news week that included a tragic plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., and the passage of a massive federal stimulus bill, Jim David Adkisson’s guilty plea last Monday was largely ignored.
Adkisson is the man who shot up a Knoxville, Tenn., church in July, killing two worshipers and injuring six. By his admission, Adkisson singled out the church because of its support of liberal causes.
Informing this hatred, authorities say, was a penchant for books authored by right-wing media figures, including Bernard Goldberg’s "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America."
On his shelf were Michael Savage’s "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder," Sean Hannity’s "Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism," and Bill O’Reilly’s "The O'Reilly Factor."
In a letter penned before what he termed a "symbolic" shooting, Adkisson wrote. "Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate and House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the main-stream media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me."
None of this received much play in conservative talk radio circles last week. Hosts had shifted to demonizing President Obama and the congressional Democrats’ stimulus package.
The First Amendment guarantees talk radio’s right to spew hate-filled nonsense. However, its silence on Jim David Adkisson says more than all the yelling done in the name defeating liberalism.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bobcast: Score-settling

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Abraham Lincoln is easily the most famous American user of the word “score,” as in a measure of 20 years. It was his famous Gettysburg Address that began, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
With the celebration this month of his 200th birthday, it’s clear some are still trying to settle the score, as in airing old grievances against the man who saved the Union and freed the slaves.
A few misguided souls across the Internet, including comment-posters at the Anniston Star’s little corner of the Web, have labeled Lincoln a “tyrant,” “murderer” and “terrorist.” With the exception of Alabama and Louisiana, the Confederate states are staying mostly quiet on the occasion of the great man’s birth.
Even 140 years after his death and the end of the Civil War, there’s no accounting for bitter words and actions (or non-actions in the case of most Southern states) of the irrational, the dead-enders, as Donald Rumsfeld might call them.
The rest of us can vow to make good on Lincoln’s challenge “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bobcast: On the rural sidelines

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Alabama’s governor said Wednesday the federal economic stimulus package has a distinct anti-rural flavor. Gov. Bob Riley believes the bill’s winners are urban areas; he singles out California and Illinois as hitting the mother lode.
Hey, who can blame any governor for wanting more federal bailout money?
Riley may be correct, though it’s far more difficult to verify his claim that the imbalance is due to the Obama administration paying off political allies.
If Riley’s claim is accurate, Oregon, a reliably blue state, has a right to complain that it gets more than a billion dollars less than deep-red Alabama, according to one state-by-state estimate.
But beyond this, there’s another explanation.
The money goes where the people are. Urban areas – long neglected by conservative federal governments and by definition places with large populations – have significant needs. Perhaps the most recent example of anti-urban bias in the previous administration is its failures in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Maybe Riley’s best strategy is to press Alabama’s Republican senators to get off the sidelines next time, and to start claiming a greater share of stimulus money for significant needs of rural areas.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

In the 1970s - before our current president was even out of high school, amazing - Happy Days was a wildly popular sitcom on TV.
One running gag of the series was that the coolest character Fonzie could not apologize or admit fault. He would try to say, "I was wrong." But it came out, "I was wr...wr...wr..."
Last week, President Obama had no such trouble in discussing one of his Cabinet selections whose nomination was sunk by tax problems. The president told an interviewer, "I screwed up."
"Whoa!" as the Fonz might say.
This is made all the more stunning by the last eight years. Even as he was leaving office, George W. Bush was having problems taking responsibility. He told one TV interviewer inquiring about Bush administration missteps, "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment. Not having weapons of mass de-struction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."
Translated, Bush’s comments come out as, "I was wr...wr...wr...wr…"

Radio static

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

My car radio has a problem. Most mornings when I turn it on I hear something familiar, namely portions of the stories published in the latest edition of The Anniston Star are read aloud word-for-word.
Credit to the newspaper doing the original reporting is rare, very rare.
What’s presented from these local Les Nessmans is their "news" from the studios of W-whatever-it-is. But the shoe-leather reporting applied to this broadcast amounts to dropping two quarters in the newspaper box. In the print world, lifting others work without credit is a serious no-no. Careers have been ruined for such.
To be fair we should now the list the local radio news stories cribbed by Star reporters.

Everybody get that?
Here’s the point. There’s lots of talk about how newspapers ought to charge for its original reporting online, as The Star does. A chorus is building in the newspaper industry that “free” is a losing business strategy.
Let’s not debate the merits or demerits of this point now. Instead, let’s consider it from the standpoint of original reporting. Lots of online readers say they get their news from Yahoo News or Google News. Problem is Yahoo and Google don’t send reporters to cover the Anniston City Council or the senior citizens Valentine’s party at the Oxford Civic Center.
In fact, those Web sites don’t cover anything, national or local. They merely link to the original reporting of others.
Seems to me if the original reporters go away, the online aggregators will produce nothing but static when it comes to news, and so will most of local radio.