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.