Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Movie picks

Can I recommend you see Southland Tales when it makes its way to the big screen?

I plan on doing so. The reason?

As if you had to ask.

The Reed fiasco

The good folks in the Athens blogosphere have already touched on this - particularly Publius at Athens Politics - but I think the snafu involving the Athens Banner-Herald's recent 'In The Loop' item claiming Republican Lt. Governor candidate Ralph Reed bears a little more discussion.

As most of you know by now, this past Sunday (Nov. 27) ABH reporter Blake Aued wrote that the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce would be hosting a fundraiser for the controversial Reed, with proceeds benefitting his campaign. Aued lambasted the Chamber for such a move, accusing them of hypocrisy (among other things) and saying it would be interesting to see if the organization would invite leaders like Casey Cagle, the GOP challenger to Reed in next year's primary, or even Democratic candidates for the office.

It turns out, however, that Aued almost completely misrepresented the entire event. An email from the Chamber to the ABH shows that, and the paper quickly backpedaled by removing that item from its online archives and running the following correction on Tuesday (Nov. 29):

An item originally published in this column incorrectly reported that Republican lieutenant governor candidate Ralph Reed would benefit from a fundraiser sponsored by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. The "Energizing the Leaders and Rallying the Troops" event, which has since been canceled due to low interest, was designed to raise money for the chamber. Reed was scheduled to give the keynote address.

The email sent from the Chamber, which I have a copy of, offers a considerable amount of explanation of what this event really was about. This 'fundraiser' was actually the first of a series of 'Executive Lectures' designed to bring in successful business owners or managers to speak to the Chamber membership. While I fundamentally disagree with the vast majority of Reed's ideological views - and hold serious questions about his ethics - it's hard to argue that he's been an effective leader, serving at the helm of of the Republican takeover of this state.

No proceeds from the event were to go to him, his organization or his political campaign.

As for the accusation that the Chamber was now in the pocket of Reed and shunning other candidates, revealing its true stripes as a Republican outfit - turns out the organization held a meeting with Cagle during a mid-year event with 300 of its members in attendance. The Chamber also sponsored a table honoring Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irwin last month. Furthermore - and I knew this from previous discussions with folks I know in the Chamber - the organization is planning to invite all political candidates for local and state office to meet with its membership (the email lists Mark Taylor, Cathy Cox and Sonny Perdue).

Aued's article also implied the Chamber had done nothing as far as offering a plan on how to address the problems facing Athens-Clarke County, but the email revealed otherwise and even showed some members were to appear on a local radio show Thursday (Dec. 1) to discuss those very things.

So, it appears the ABH got it almost wholly wrong, and that's bad. Being out of that circle these days, I can't even begin to suggest how that happened, but my guess is it was probably merely an oversight - an awful one for sure, but not intentional. What probably happened was an overzealous reporter either saw the names 'Ralph Reed' and 'Fundraiser' on a Chamber invitation and jumped the gun or someone who has quarrels with the organization fed him faulty information.

Should he be fired? Absolutely not. He should face some sort of disciplinary action - particularly in light of a recent front-page article (concerning the dismissal of an ABH reporter who lifted quotes from other publications) which featured a statement from the paper's management stating they wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior or irresponsible journalism.

I've had my professional and ideological disagreements with some folks at the ABH, but they're good people who try hard to put out the best product possible. They've struggled recently, no doubt, but such struggles can be expected with a youthful staff which has endured numerous amounts of turnover in the past year.

Is this excusing them of this mistake? Absolutely not. But it does attempt to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Now, all of that said, I'm also not letting the Chamber off the hook here. While this event is not a fundraiser for Ralph Reed's campaign, let me also say that for an organization striving to be taken seriously in town and seen as non-partisan, inviting the most controversial conservative in the state to speak to you about leadership is terribly unwise. While I'm not excusing the ABH of its error, it's also easy to see how one could make such a leap.

And while the Chamber's email says they have an active PAC which handles its political affairs, that's merely splitting hairs. In print endorsement ads the organization ran during the 2004 election, there is little, if any, mention of the PAC anywhere. Rather the ads stated this was who the Chamber was endorsing (it's worth noting that all of the endorsed candidates who ran in a contested race lost). The PAC and the Chamber are, for all practical purposes, one in the same so an attempt to say they're different is foolish and a tad misleading.

With regard to the Chamber's ideas for the community, there actually has been quite few. I've heard from more than one person involved with that organization that the lack of positive ideas is very frustrating and hurting them in the public eye.

And, the final point raised in the email defends the selection of Chateau Elan as the caterer for the now-canceled event. Aued, in my opinion, was right to chastize the organization for tabbing a business not located in Athens-Clarke County (Chateau Elan is in Jackson County). The email states that 'Chateau Elan is a Chamber member in good standing ... as a regional Chamber of Commerce with 1143 members throughout Northeast Georgia, we are committed to improving the regional economy, growing and improving job opportunities, and bringing members access to the leaders shaping public policy throughout our state.'

OK, that's fine and dandy ... but why does the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce serve all of Northeast Georgia? As far as I know, Oconee County, Jackson County and other Northeast Georgia counties have their own Chambers, so why does this particular one feel the need to serve the whole region?

And what does that say to the businesses in Athens-Clarke County about their own Chamber when it opts to go outside the city limits to bring in a caterer for what would have been a premiere event? How can places like Five & Ten and Mia Madonna expect the Chamber to defend them when the very organization designed to promote their interests looks outside the community for business?

Of course, this is nothing new for the Chamber of Larry McKinney. McKinney, the organization's president, made an unceremonious splash in the community when it was revealed he had purchased a home in Oconee County, thus meaning he would pay taxes in that county as well as do much of his shopping for groceries, gas and other items outside of Athens-Clarke County.

So I don't buy the whole argument that it's OK for the Chamber to go elsewhere for its services. It's mission is to promote business in Athens-Clarke County, and that means spending dollars in this community. So far, the Chamber hasn't done a bang-up job doing that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On the bowls

Real quick, let's discuss the at-large spots in the BCS.

There are currently four teams vying for the two at-large slots in the upcoming Bowl Championship Series.

- Auburn (9-2)
- Notre Dame (9-2)
- Ohio State (9-2)
- Oregon (10-1)

It's a given, unfortunately, that Notre Dame will lock up one of those two spots. I don't agree with that selection based on what I've seen on the football field. The Irish have beaten only one team of note, and that happened to be a down Michigan team. The loss to Michigan State is a blemish due to the Spartans' dismal finish, while the loss to top-ranked Southern Cal - while heroic - is still a loss. Notre Dame's quality wins don't match up with Auburn's (Georgia, Alabama) or the fact that Ohio State is the co-champion of the Big Ten. Plus Notre Dame has downright struggled in recent weeks, particularly on defense, and looked quite beatable in a nailbiter against Stanford.

On the other hand, Notre Dame is Notre Dame. Folks will tune in to watch them and their fans will travel the globe to see them play. Money, ultimately, drives the bowls and the BCS bowls know they can make some serious coin and garner some serious attention with Notre Dame in the mix.

Who should go? I'd stick with Auburn and Ohio State. No team in the country is playing as well as Auburn right now. The Tigers are only a missed field goal (or five) away from being in the SEC Championship Game and have looked most impressive in back-to-back victories over SEC East champ Georgia and former SEC West frontrunner Alabama.

Being the Big Ten co-champion, I'd give the other nod to Ohio State. The Buckeyes have more than earned their shot at a BCS bowl. If we're comparing losses, I'd say Ohio State's losses to No. 2 Texas and fellow Big Ten champion Penn State hold much more weight than Notre Dame's two defeats. Plus they've got victories over teams like Iowa and Minnesota, which turned in solid seasons.

Oregon shouldn't go because, well, the Pac-10 is always soft outside of USC. Sure the Ducks are 10-1, but who have they beaten? And that one loss, albeit to USC, was by 32 points. Their fans travel well, but the national attention won't be there.

Two things could throw more wrenches into the mix. If a 9-1 UCLA team can upset Southern Cal, then who's to say the Bruins don't deserve to nab one of those at-large bids. Being the streakbusters alone should garner them some points.

Likewise, if Georgia knocks off No. 3 LSU in the SEC Championship Game and takes the SEC's automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl, then you've got a 10-2 LSU team which is worthy of consideration.

Could get interesting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The horse is dead ... let it be

There's a point when something ceases to be relevant, and Flagpole is inching dangerously close to that territory for me.

Now, I like Pete McCommons and we agree considerably more than we disagree, but his peculiar obsession with the issue of three-laning Prince Avenue is beyond irrational at this point. McCommons, once again, bemoans the fact that the Athens-Clarke County Commission opted to not three-lane Prince Avenue. I'm not sure of the exact count, but I know that McCommons has penned similar columns at least twice in the past month after the vote ... which doesn't even include the number of times he voiced his concerns prior the vote.

Now, he's the publisher and it's his paper. He has the right to write about whatever he wants, but with so many other issues confronting our community - things like poverty, affordable housing, relations with the university, job creation, public transportation - it's more than a tad trivial and definitely short-sighted on McCommons' part to dwell on something like three-laning a rather small portion of Prince Avenue.

I've already stated my opinions on the matter, and safe to say I was pleased with the turnout of the commission vote. The way I see it, this is a community and the opinions of those who live along Oglethorpe Avenue are just as valid as those who live in Cobbham, so forgive me if McCommons' 'neighborhood first' platform rings a little hollow for me.

Likewise, do I think his concerns about the Chamber of Commerce are unfounded. I'm not a huge fan of the Chamber, and I think much could be done to improve that particular organization (and, for what it's worth, with someone like Annette Nelson heading it up, I think it's slowly heading in the right direction), so I'm is not endorsing what they do by any means. But to think that a mostly progressive community will all of a sudden embrace candidates who are more conservative - and, contrary to McCommons' concerns, those differences are apparent during a campaign - is lunacy.

We may see more conservative candidates crop up in different parts of Athens-Clarke County, but it will be because the people in those districts connect with them for some reason or another, and not because of some nefarious plan enacted by the Chamber.

Furthermore, I have no tolerance for the 'single-issue voting' which McCommons appears to support. It's true that he includes a paragraph in his column devoted to other issues - such as the tree ordinance and the (unfortate) failed pursuit of multi-use pathways - but make no mistake about the point of this column. He uses the three-laning of Prince Avenue as a rallying point in all that is wrong with our current government, and wrongly puts too much emphasis on one mere commission vote. In doing so, he is just as guilty as those he decries for being influenced by the Chamber as McCommons is very much in step with the wishes and wants of the Cobbham district.

Again, I hold no ill will toward McCommons. In fact, I have never met the man, and, as I stated earlier, I feel that we agree on more than we disagree. But this illogical hitching-of-his-horse to the wagon of Prince Avenue's failed three-laning offers little to the dialogue of how best to plan for our community.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The week that was (from tailgate to tailgate)

For those few loyal readers of this particular blog, you may have noticed a severe lack of posting over the past week. My apologies as the wife and I embarked on a much-needed vacation to Boston and Maine ... book-ended by a pair of memorable tailgating experiences (and one not-so-memorable Georgia game). Seeing that I owe you good folks an explanation of what's transpired in my life the past eight or so days, I present you with this tremendous running diary:


I can't even begin to stress how much we had been planning for this tailgate. Ever since the first game of the season against Boise State where Ed uttered those fateful words - 'we should do a gumbo or a boil at a tailgate' - this event had been building. It only made sense to do it for the Auburn game, and the fact the executives at ESPN decided to reward us with a 7:45 p.m. kickoff made it that much more perfect.

I kid you not, a substantial portion of my day on Friday was devoted to preparation for this tailgate. There were trips to Sam's and Kroger, time spent dividing items up and organizing coolers, a trip to campus to set up the tent (a quick side note ... the case which holds our tent has wheels on it to make for easy transporting ... this, for some reason, sent Matt and I into hysterics and culminated with him wheeling it around in my driveway while shrieking ... high entertainment). Mom and Dad arrive later Friday night, and we're all set to go.

Matt and I arrive at the spot at roughly 10:30 a.m. with the bed of his truck overflowing with tables, chairs, coolers and cookers. It takes a lot of effort to do a Low Country Boil, but your fearless leader was up to the task (well, Matt was I suppose since he actually did the chopping and boiling and what-have-you ... still, I helped with the vision). Hartman is already there, and already seeking help on getting a signal for the satellite for Tent City (my little enclave had been more like a suburb for the majority of the year, though last week we were officially consolidated into the sprawling tailgateopolis ... sort of the opposite of what happened with Sandy Springs). He pulls it off, and in one can only be considered one of the greatest ideas in the history of Tent City ... we have TV.

Now it's important to remember that Ed was one of the main catalysts for this whole endeavor. He was thrilled at the possibility of doing a gumbo or a boil, and we even spent an hour on the phone on Wednesday night 'planning' this thing, though in actuality we merely talked about how excited we were. Ed, with wife Lindsey in tow along with a house full of guests, were to arrive between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

Plus, the kid's got the double burner which is perhaps the most pivotal component of our boil plans.

The spot starts to fill up ... the usual Tent City suspects like Tim and Carrie and Meimi and Matt T. and John and Melissa and the like, along with some of our invitees like Jason and Lee as well as the wife and my parents arrive. Still, as 11:30 a.m. rolls around, we have no sign of Edward. This leads to a slew of harassing phone calls ... Matt calling up Ed and giving him directions to Sanford Stadium ... me giving him a ring and asking if he's been unjustly incarcerated because that's the only feasible reason he's late.

Around 1 p.m. - and after much ragging from all of us, my father included - Ed and his car full of folks arrive.

From this point on ... it's a bit of a blur. The boil goes off in outstanding fashion (we had 12 pounds of shrimp), and we seriously begin feeding strangers who pass by the tent and inquire about the aroma. As South Carolina beats Florida, saving Georgia's hide by the way, Tim does a most impressive impersonation of a Gamecock crowing victoriously ... complete with overly dramatic leg and arm gestures. Carrie and I decide to 'mix up our laughs' ... including one really obnoxious one which involves the entire left side of our bodies violently jerking backward (this, by the way, was insanely funny to us but no one else). The wife does a shot of tequila with my father egging her on.

Then the game ... and you know the rest. On fourth-and-11, Brandon Cox completes a pass to Devin Aromoashoduonoenueodo and Auburn goes on to break our hearts (proverbially, not literally) 31-30.

Still ... we had a Low Country Boil. Awesome.


A mere five-and-a-half hours after going to bed, I am forced awake so I can drive to Greenville, S.C., to fly up to Boston. In hindsight, we probably should have thought this through a little more. Still, at 6:20 a.m. ... only so much you can do.

Let me also recommend to anyone reading this ... if you going up the east coast, always fly out of Greenville. It's a small airport which goes to all of the major airports, was a breeze to get in and out of, featured inexpensive long-term parking, and was substantially cheaper than flying out of Atlanta. My third flying experience ever was very smooth, and, because we changed planes at LaGuardia, I kept saying 'well I can always say I've been to New York' (the wife said that got old really quick).

Our shuttle ride to the hotel is daunting. The van is full of interesting characters. The gentleman behind us spoke little if any English, while the man in front of us openly complained that he should have taken a taxi. Along the way, Texas gives me a holler to talk about the Georgia game.

We stay at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston (North America's oldest hotel according to sign in the lobby ... though, for some reason, I have my reservations about that), and we're literally a block from everything. We're next to Boston Commons and right up the street from Quincy Market. There's a T station around the corner, so we're pretty fired up.

Riding a high from getting in Boston, we immediately venture out to Quincy Market which the wife and I had seen profiled on The Food Network. It's a long, older marketplace full of local eateries and stands (the chowder stand was odd to us). We get a sandwich of some sorts - and I ridicule the wife for picking the most tame thing in the whole market - and have a seat outside. For a Sunday night, it's weirdly crowded. While sitting, the incredible fatigue hits us right in the face, and we drudge back to the hotel for the rest of the evening (it's like 6:30 p.m.).

I'm so tired I take a nap ... which never happens. We order room service, which is spectacular since it comes from a five-star restaurant ... and features the original Boston Cream Pie which is absolutely tremendous. Even more tremendous is the fact that our waiter asks where we're from, we reply Athens, Georgia, and he responds in a thick Boston accent 'Oh, a buddy of mine played for yous guys ... Jermaine Wiggans ... I was in his wedding a little while back.' Turns out this guy loves to follow Georgia football because of Jermaine. Small world.

Somehow, we get roped into watching How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and then pass out for the evening.


When we began making plans for our Boston trip, I had two things I wanted to do - go to the JFK Library and tour Fenway Park. Monday morning, we knocked out the latter. This was like a trip to the promised land for me ... as we approached the stadium, I literally began shouting out the street names and bars that I recognized from all of the books and columns I've read over the past few years (this was only mildly embarassing for the wife). After buying our tickets for the tour, we head over to the official Red Sox store and I plot out what I'll buy (eventually, I drop $75 at the place).

We couldn't have asked for a better tour guide. This guy is from South Boston, grew up a Red Sox fan and has followed the team for more than 60 years. He's got, of course, a thick Boston accent and has a penchant for strongly enunciating unusual syllables in his phrases ('following the 1918 World Series, the Red Sox sell George Her-MAN Ruth to the Yan-KEES!'). I take pictures of everything ... and I mean everything.

We then head to Cambridge to take a look at Harvard. Nothing fancy. I'd venture to say that North Campus at UGA is better looking. Cambridge itself was pretty cool. Lots of local delis and grociers and stuff like that, so I enjoyed it. The ride on the T back to the hotel is even more entertaining as there is an intensely awkward - and loud - argument between a woman, her mother and her partner directly in front of us. It involved the purchase of a sweatshirt and some loaned rent money ... the whole thing was kinda hazy. In the middle of it, I whisper to the wife 'this would be uncomfortable if it wasn't so awesome.'


Just prior to our meal on Monday night, I noticed something unusual as I swallowed ... a tickle in the back of my throat. By Tuesday morning, that tickle had transformed itself into a full-blown sore throat. Great. This is exactly how I want to spend my second day in Boston - a cold and rainy one mind you - as we take the T to the edge of Boston to visit the JFK Library.

I soldier on, and the trip is well worth it. Seeing that I work at a museum now, I notice different things as I visit different ones and the JFK Library is top notch. It's laid out chronologically to follow his life, beginning with a video that takes you up to the 1960 Democratic National Convention and then you enter a room designed to look like the convention floor while Kennedy's acceptance speech plays around you. There's a reconstruction of the White House press room, the Oval Office and Robert Kennedy's attorney general office. Quite awesome, I must say.

I spend more money at the gift shop, and then we head back to the hotel because the sore throat has set in something fierce. We're forced to cancel the remainder of our plans for the day because I feel so crummy, and my wife is a trooper through it all. We get more room service and see more bad movies (Coyote Ugly anyone?).


The sore throat has mercifully retreated somewhat, and I can feel the congestion stages of the cold starting to set in. And that's fine. I can handle a stuffy nose and sinus pressure with some medicine, but there's not a whole lot you can do for a sore throat.

Today we leave Boston, renting a car and heading up to Maine. Maine is, quite frankly, everything I thought it would be. It's a beautiful state and is full of the most fascinating little towns. Kittery is very touristy on the main strip, but if you take 1A along the coast it's very impressive. We stopped at Frisbee's, which claims to be America's oldest grocery store, where I purchased a pint of Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale because it sounded cool.

There were tons of antique stores and rare book stores throughout places like York and Kennebunk, and we spent almost the entire day driving through these places.

Now, I haven't mentioned this yet, but it's important - it gets dark absurdly early up north. It was dark at 4:30 p.m. in Boston, and the sun began setting in Maine around 3:55 p.m. I don't know how those folks can stand it. I mean, everything would close up around 7 p.m. So as we pull into Portland around 4:45 p.m., it's pitch black and has been that way for more than half an hour.

We stay at The Pomegranate Inn, which is actually only a few streets down from where my great-grandmother lived. My grandmother, it should be noted, is ecstatic that we're back in her hometown and tells us all of these places to visit and eat. She scores on all but one ... The Village Cafe.

This was billed as a nice, family-owned Italian restaurant, and I'm sure at one point it was. But as we arrived Wednesday night, it had a definite Steverino's feel to it ... not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not what I'm looking for on vacation. So we go to Ribolitto's instead, and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits Portland. Best Italian meal I've ever had. It's a small restaurant, seating only 15 people at the most, but it was excellent.


If going to Fenway Park was my trip to the promised land, then our sojourn to Freeport and the L.L. Bean outlet was the wife's. And the store is, for lack of a better word, awesome. It's three stories tall and is jammed back with everything you see in those catalogs. I was fully prepared for her to plunk down a hundred bucks, easy ... but to my surprise, she spent not a dime. The CPA in her emerged, and she couldn't comprehend paying sales tax (really, I'm not making this up).

We poked around Freeport's other shops, got a lobster roll from a stand, and then headed back down to Kennebunkport where we saw President George H.W. Bush's massive estate. It's visible from practically everywhere in that town ... sort of like the Marsten house in Salem's Lot.

At night, we ate at the Old Port Sea Grill and had a steamed lobster. I thought it was great, while Julie was unimpressed.


One last stop in Kittery to pick up some gifts for folks back home, and then we drive back into Boston. I don't understand how people can function behind the wheel in that city ... the sheer volume of one-way roads, rotaries, traffic circles and tunnels is maddening. We exited at one stop under a sign which was clearly marked 'Route 60 South' but somehow ended up on Route 60 North. Eventually we get back, drop off the car and get into the airport.

Now, while waiting in a lengthy line to get our bags checked, a lady who is behind us asks if she could try one of the self-check terminals. We say 'no problem' and the lady goes ahead. It doesn't work for her, so we expect her to return to her spot behind us in line. She doesn't, cuts us and goes to the next open station. I'm a bit bothered, having stood in line for about 20 minutes only to see her cut in line. The wife is unconcerned, and only says 'karma.'

We saddle up to our station, and the gentleman there asks if we could do him a huge favor by taking a slip down to the gate we were heading anyway. We say 'no problem' and take the form. Before leaving, he takes back our tickets, punches something in the computer, hands them back and says 'my gift to you.'

The guy just upgraded us to first class ... and it would have gone to the lady who cut us if she hadn't done so.


First class, by the by, rocks ... even if we were on it for just 35 minutes.

We get back home by 9:45 p.m. and find it to be 57 degrees in our house. That's what happens when you don't have the gas turned on and can't run your heater.


The reason we came back on Friday? To attend the Georgia-Kentucky game on Saturday.

After watching Georgia miss in its first two chances to clinch the SEC East, it was about time the Bulldogs did something. Not much tailgating beforehand - the wife and I pretty much stop by and say 'hi' and head over to the stadium. It's irrationally cold in Sanford Stadium with the wind and our inadequate clothing. Georgia finally gets going thanks to a Gordon Ely-Kelso fake punt (Chaz promptly calls me to discuss how fast Gordon seemed to be), and rolls to an easy win and its third SEC East title in four years.

The tailgate gets going after the game, despite the cold. The TV is back out, and a smaller crowd watches Auburn hammer Alabama. Two highlights of the day - Dave owning the karoke machine with his best Keith Jackson impersonation and Matt T. and Tim debating the name of the bully in A Christmas Story (Scott Farkus if you're wondering).

So, as you see, it was a busy week. But definitely one of the more interesting ones I've been a part of.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Way off target

I don't want to keep blogging a dead horse, but JT and the Athens Banner-Herald editorial crew are way off when it comes to the flap between state and local officials.

I'm not saying I'm excusing Keith Heard, but let's give the man the benefit of the doubt here. He's a Democrat representing a very liberal town in a state legislature that is controlled from top-to-bottom by Republicans who share very different views on the role of government in the fight against poverty. Heard could propose some sort of poverty initiative at the state level, but it ain't gonna do squat. So it's completely foolish and more than a tad silly to lay the blame at the feet of Heard ... especially when you have a commission which has so blatantly and brazenly ignored poverty in this town for the longest time.

Plus, the editorial's patting-on-the-back of Heidi Davison for her challenge to Heard is horrifically misguided. They're blaming the acts of the Republican legislature on Heard, when in fact Heard has consistently spoken out and voted for increases in spending on public education and transportation.

And then, in this drama of the absurd, the ABH then says 'well ... Heard wasn't too keen on that whole sales-tax-for-education-thing.' What? An inherently regressive tax which wrests control of public education away from the local government and places it in the hands of state officials, leaving the funding dependant on the ebbs and flows of the economy is a good measure to fight poverty?


I thought the endorsement of Bush last year was the oddest thing I had seen this paper's editorial staff do, but this may take the cake right here.

The editorial makes a feable attempt to capture the higher ground by - rightfully - chastising those who heckle and offer no coherent plan of action. But then it marches right on with its absurdity by bashing Heard, calling his speech 'a cheap political stunt.' This leaves me scratching my head ... it's 'OK' that the local government either has no plan or an inadequate one (and, once again, stiffed some of the poor with these assanine 'artsy' bus shelters) but it's wrong of Heard to call them out on it because he's in the political minority in a legislature obsessed with things like illegal immigration and redistricting?

And what's with the ridiculous football metaphors at the end? "Snap on a chinstrap and get in the game?" This whole thing is high comedy at its finest.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

About poverty

The folks at Athens Politics are holding a pretty interesting discussion on poverty in Athens, and who's to blame. Publius applauds Keith Heard for chastizing our local government, while an anonymous poster points out some of the hypocrisy from Harry Sims' opposition to the artsy bus shelters when he doesn't really have any sort of plan to deal with poverty in the first place.

I'm not the biggest Harry Sims fan, but I'm not as sold on the latter argument. I do think, however, that Publius makes a good point in giving credit where credit is due. Technically it is unfair of Heidi Davison and other local officials to criticize Heard for doing little about poverty because there really is little Heard can do with a Republican-controlled legislature that outlawed living wages and is focusing on illegal immigration. If there was a concerted effort by the legislature to actually get something done with regard to addressing poverty - be it from whatever ideological angle you like - that would be one thing. But that's not the case here.

So while I'm not happy with some of our state officials for some reasons, I'm definitely irritated with the lip-service the local government pays to poverty. A lot of folks have started to talk about poverty, but few, if any, are doing anything about poverty in local government. And if they are, it's the best-kept secret in town.

What we need, as I alluded to before, is a comprehensive plan to fight poverty that includes the public and private sectors, our non-profits, the University of Georgia and the religious community.

The blame game (local edition)

Nothing like some good, old-fashioned finger-pointin' to kick off a legislative discussion meeting. Keith Heard says Athens-Clarke County officials are to blame for not doing anything for poverty. Heidi Davison says 'no way, we've got a plan ... you don't have a plan.' Jane Kidd does her best Jane Kidd impression. The two Republicans, Brian Kemp and Bob Smith, don't even bother to show up (thanks for caring guys).

So what comes out of this meeting, you ask? Nada.

No one wants to take responsibility for high poverty in Athens-Clarke County or the rising unemployment rates, when in fact there is plenty of blame to go around. You've got a state legislature which hasn't paid any attention to issues of poverty and has in fact defeated some measures to address poverty such as the living wage ordinance which came out of Atlanta. You've got a county commission - save Commissioners Elton Dodson and Alice Kinman - which has shied away from developing any sort of master plan to tackle poverty. You've got charities which are struggling to make ends meet because charitable donations are slumping and because some organizations are mismanaging funds. And you've got a community which is struggling to attract jobs to the area which can help alleviate this problem.

I'll be more than happy to point the finger at everyone in this little spat. If folks really want to get serious about poverty, then the public sector, the private sector, the non-profits and the religious community is going to have to find a way to develop a plan to take this on. Huffy little meetings won't get it done.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What to do?

Got to admit, it's kinda weird when your team actually wins elections.

Election Day 2005 shaped up to be pretty good for Democrats, as voters in the Red State of Virginia elected Democrat Tim Kaine by a solid margin, while Jon Corzine captured the governorship in New Jersey. And there were other good signs for the party elsewhere, such as in Tucson where Democrats swept Republicans out of control of the city council. The unhappiness with the Bush administration and the current GOP leadership is quite evident, particularly in examining some of the numbers from the Virginia race.

For instance, Kaine ran exceptionally strong in the suburban areas of the state, long perceived as a Republican stronghold. Northern Virginia is beginning to trend solidly to the left and backed Kaine with 60 percent - much higher returns than his popular predecessor Mark Warner received. Northern Virginia also elected several Democrats to the House of Delegates in races that were supposed to be leaning Republican.

Someone, as several media outlets and blogs like Daily Kos and MyDD have noted, who comes out of this whole thing looking quite rosy is Warner. He is an extremely popular governor who has worked terribly hard to rebuild the state Democratic Party, and, judging by Tuesday's results, he appears to have done quite a job. Warner has presidential aspirations, and I think he'd make a fine candidate.

I've been leaning Wesley Clark for the past few months, with Hillary Clinton and Warner fighting for No. 2. But after reading some of the things Warner has done for Virginia, he's moving up rapidly on my list. If I had to say right now, I'd switch my support in 2008 to back a Warner candidacy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Winning means everything

Got to say, I was quite disappointed to hear that Clarke Central decided to not retain William DeVane as its head football coach for next year. I consider Coach DeVane a good friend and quite an excellent football coach. Truth be told, I was very much involved in the selection of DeVane as football coach, serving as an intermediary between some of the school's officials and him during the early days of the hiring process back in 2002. I recommended him quite highly to Clarke Central athletic director Jon Ward, yet another good friend of mine.

I can understand one of the rationales for not retaining DeVane next season ... that being his inability to surround himself with experienced and knowledgeable assistant coaches. DeVane's coaching style resembles that of a CEO at a business - he puts together a team of coaches around him who he trusts and respects, and lets them do their job. At Hart County, where he compiled three undefeated seasons and won three Region 8-AAA titles, he had a tremendous coaching staff with him and the Bulldogs were very successful. At Clarke Central, he had inexperienced coaches in high-ranking positions who, at times, appeared to be completely overwhelmed and unprepared. Ultimately, as Texas points out, that cost him.

But I don't necessarily agree with dismissing DeVane after merely four seasons at the helm of the Gladiators' ship. Clarke Central won the region title in 2003 and reached the playoffs in three of the four years with DeVane. Furthermore, DeVane's system of developing players from the high school level on down to the middle school ranks was just beginning to take root. In 2006, he would have fielded his first team that had been completely immersed in the way he liked to do things.

The intangibles, however, are where I think this decision is the most short-sighted. DeVane possesses, unlike any other coach I've seen outside of Jeff Herron or Steve Savage, the abililty to see the bigger picture. In the midst of Clarke Central's 2003 region title run, the Gladiators stumbled against cross-town rival Cedar Shoals. It ranks as one of the two most heartbreaking defeats I've seen suffered by an area team (the other being Oconee County's 2000 loss to Marist at Warrior Stadium) ... and it absolutely devestated the Clarke Central players.

And DeVane did something remarkable in the wake of that bitter loss - he singlehandedly saved that team's season. I wrote about it then, and it still stands out as one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen in high school athletics.

Coach DeVane has that knack - that rare ability to connect with his players and recognize that while football is his job, it's also just a game for the 15- and 16-year-olds who suit up for him. There's a bigger picture that involves character and pride and getting a good education and being a good role model for some students who have no role model in their homes.

Yes, it's true Clarke Central was not as successful this past season - and the Gladiators did, at times, look so overmatched on the football field it wasn't even funny. But there's more to high school football than wins and losses, and it's shame that isn't always taken into account.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

LPDS and a hard place

While I'm pleased that Prince Avenue will remain a four-lane road, one of those votes in favor of keeping it has to raise some eyebrows.

Elton Dodson and David Lynn, the two commissioners who represent the district in question, both voted for three-laning claiming that's what their constituents wanted (though I'd dispute that ... but no matter). States McCarter, however, voted against three-laning.

Now why is this important you ask? Because throughout the debate over La Puerta del Sol, McCarter has repeatedly instructed his colleagues to respect the wishes of the affected district's commissioner and defer to them on issues which impact their areas. He even went as far as making an absurdly big deal about voting against Alice Kinman's common sense idea for a multi-use pedestrian pathway on Old Hull Road solely because Harry Sims wasn't crazy about it.

Yet here - with two commissioners claiming they represent the wishes of their constituents - McCarter completely forgot all about deferring to 'home' commissioners and marched ahead with what he wanted to do. Even though I happen to agree with McCarter's position on this particular issue, he has lost the ability to urge commissioners to vote against LPDS solely because he is the affected district's representative.

Traffic won't be so bad on Prince

The Athens Banner-Herald updates its web site and tells us Prince Avenue will remain four lanes thanks to a 6-4 vote early this morning by the Athens-Clarke County Commission.

Kathy Hoard, George Maxwell, Tom Chasteen, Harry Sims, Charles Carter and States McCarter voted to keep Prince Avenue the way it is, rather than three-laning the road from Milledge Avenue into downtown. Elton Dodson, Alice Kinman, David Lynn and Carl Jordan voted to three-lane the road.

Opponents of three-laning, according the ABH's reporting, outnumbered proponents two-to-one and folks from Jackson County and Oconee County spoke out against the move. The commission also opted against taking over a stretch of Prince Avenue from the control of the state ... which will save Athens-Clarke County more than a million dollars in the next decade ... money which perhaps can be invested into improving our public transportation system.

Not much to comment on, aside from a hearty kudos to the commissioners who voted against the three-laning efforts. I will say that Dorothy O'Neill of BikeAthens is more than a tad off on this:

This is not about cyclists and pedestrians taking something away from cars."

It's entirely about taking something away from cars. You're talking about removing two entire lanes of traffic in lieu of 'better' sidewalks and bike lanes. If there is ever a more clear case of something being taken from cars, this is it!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

And I saw a pale rider ...

Is it just me, or is this latest proclamation from Martha Stewart have sort of a deluded, end times ring to it?

"I have learned that I really cannot be destroyed."

You'd be surprised what a few months in the joint will do for you.

Three versus Four (redux)

Tonight's the night for the Athens-Clarke County Commission to make its decision about three-laning a portion of Prince Avenue. I've waxed poetic on this subject before, so I won't needlessly bore you with any more of my rants. I do, however, think it's worthwhile to go over some of my key disagreements one final time.

Quite simply, this will significantly increase traffic congestion and further clog up one of the main traffic arteries which flow into downtown Athens. As a result, a large number of cars will probably jump over to the nearby streets in Cobbham and Boulevard as they attempt to bypass the logjam.

Contrary to some assertions in the Athens Banner-Herald in recent days, three-laning Prince Avenue will do little if anything to encourage walking or increased bicycle use. What it will do is further congest an area which is already starting to reach its limit with traffic.

Furthermore, some on the commission want to take over the majority of Prince Avenue from the state DOT in an attempt to possibly three-lane the entire road heading into Jackson County. This would be wrongheaded for a variety of reasons including - but not limited to - increased expenditures in a needless area for our local government (depriving funds from going to other avenues such as a master sidewalk plan or The Bus) as well as the potential threat of hindering the ability of emergency vehicles from Athens Regional Medical Center to quickly respond to situations downtown.

I haven't seen eye-to-eye with the Banner-Herald's editorial board in recent days, but they get it right on this one. Let's hope the commission can do so now.