Wednesday, October 31, 2007


There's a stack in my living room that's been slowly building for months. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had 26 cards on it. But no, I'm NOT doing some weird experiment to build a poker deck from trash on the street.

The stack in my living room consists mostly of credit cards. Some are phony, sent with offers from various companies. But a few are real cards, which I really didn't want and never bothered to activate. If a burglar breaks in, he'll probably run out of time and patience trying to figure out which are which.

The stack of cards also includes a few souvenirs. I've kept credit cards from the old Montgomery Wards store at Peachtree Mall, and the Rich's store which replaced it before merging with Macy's. They'll be museum pieces 100 years from now - you know, when everyone in the U.S. can only shop at Wal-Mart.

Have you ever kept track of how many credit card offers you receive in the mail? I've guessed that if I took advantage of every mailing I received, I'd have a different card for every week of the year -- and the Discover Cards filled with a waving U.S. flag could be saved for federal holidays.

Now a new BLOG SPECIAL EVENT will allow me (and you) to see exactly how many credit card offers come my way. I've been asked by a survey company to collect all new offers, throughout the month of November. I'll put them in an envelope, and mail them to Iowa in December. As many as I receive, I'm thankful the survey company is paying the postage.

Why would a survey company want a month's worth of credit card mailings? A letter from the company says it's for "analyzing and comparing APR information, fees, incentives promoted, etc." As if most people really look at the first two of those....

(I should note this one-month survey will cover only five major credit cards - well, that's if you consider Diner's Club major. But how can you take that card seriously, when a chain of "diners" like Waffle House doesn't accept it?)

This one-month survey actually allows me to take advantage of any new credit card offers I like. I'll have to fill out a separate questionnaire if I do - but to be honest, I'm not expecting that to happen. Unless someone offers me a free pizza for every ten dollars I spend on gasoline....

My reward for collecting credit card offers is a free magazine subscription, and entry into a drawing for cash prizes of up to $1,000. OK, you TSYS employees involved in handling credit cards - how many of these perks do you get?

Since the survey company is asking me to count credit card offers for them, it's only fair that I share the information here. We'll see how many promotions really show up, how high my stack of cards becomes - and how much postage these companies are wasting, by thinking I just might be interested.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our Wednesday comments about a Civic Center religious conference led to a history lesson. I never knew this TV celebrity had local roots....

Did you know that the lovely Jan Crouch is from Columbus. Her maiden name Jan Bethel. Attended Jordan High, father was an Assembly preacher. North Highland I think.

I was channel surfing one night and heard her tell about the tornado here in the early fifties and a story about her Easter chicken. She cried and cried while telling her story

She wears more makeup and dresses weirder than Tammy Fay.

I recently read somewhere that she and Paul are being investigated for fraud.

We did some online probing, and found most of this background information is correct. Her name as a teenager actually was Jan Bethany. I'm not sure why she didn't keep that name after marrying TBN's Paul Crouch - since Bethany sounds much more Biblical.

The recent death of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner means Jan Crouch has the field all to herself, when it comes to TV ministers wearing makeup. In fact, I keep wondering why she doesn't follow the lead of people like Jessica Simpson and Naomi Judd. Develop your own makeup line, and sell it on home shopping channels....

Paul and Jan Crouch have faced several run-ins with the government over the years. A Google News check at our post time found it has critics among "ministry-watching" groups. But if you believe Wikipedia, the only real "fraud" involving Jan Crouch is that she wears wigs.

By the way, I drove by the Columbus Civic Center Wednesday night. The parking lot seemed to have plenty of cars for that Christian conference with Eddie Long and Paula White. So did anyone dare to ask for a special offering, on top of the $47.50 admission price? And is it going to low-income residents of Columbus, or to orphans in Haiti?

Let's see what else happened Wednesday - besides the obvious stuff with costumes and candy:

+ WRBL reported Columbus had more than 961,000 visitors last year. Columbus State University research showed the number of visitors held steady, but the amount of money they spent went up 25 percent - and I hope all the Circle K store managers appreciate those higher gas prices.

+ The governors of Alabama and Georgia flew to Washington, for talks on regional water-sharing. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told National Public Radio an 18-year dispute cannot be solved in 18 days. But if Kempthorne can do it, maybe he should join Jimmy Carter as a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

(Dirk Kempthorne noted other parts of the country have water-sharing disputes. Seven Western states will sign an agreement in December to share the Colorado River, and "sacrifice together." Tell people in West Point about sacrifice, and they might offer Florida mussels as a burnt offering.)

+ Former LaGrange High School baseball star Mike Cameron was suspended 25 games at the start of next season, for using illegal substances. And if that's not enough, Cameron just became a free agent - so he needs to hire the agent for Barry Bonds as soon as he can.

+ Instant Message to former WRBL news anchor Blaine Stewart: Are you kidding me?!?! I'm stunned - no, I'm SHOCKED! I mean, what would Candace Cook think? No, not the picture - but the fact that you're still doing part-time weather reports in Norfolk, Virginia....

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: Gas for $2.81 a gallon at Manchester Expressway and I-185.... half-price chocolate at Target and Walgreens.... and women searching online for ways to turn old jack-o-lanterns into pumpkin pie....

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The "One Community, One God, One Christ" conference begins tonight at the Columbus Civic Center. With a name like that, you wonder why it's being held over two nights.

The two-night revival at the Columbus Civic Center features two big names in TV ministry. Bishop Eddie Long has developed a megachurch in suburban Atlanta over the last 15 years. It was big enough to hold Coretta Scott King's funeral service - but yet not big enough that he's become an archbishop.

The other big name at the Civic Center tonight is Tampa-area television preacher Paula White. She's gained national attention through the TBN cable channel - and she's done it without wearing nearly as much makeup as Jan Crouch.

Have you seen the TV commercial for this two-night conference? One of the speakers is a pastor named Greg Sutton - and all you hear him say in the ad is: "I am.... (dramatic pause) BACK!!!!" If you didn't know better, you might think he's a deranged character on "Prison Break."

It's Halloween, I'm quite against keeping Halloween, and there's a Christian alternative a short walk from my home. So am I going to this conference? No, I'm not - and the reason involves money. You have to buy a ticket to get in. And for one night, it costs $47.50. I could go to four Columbus Cottonmouths games for that price - and maybe have enough money left for one small cup of popcorn.

Am I the only one who's a little suspicious about ministers charging an entry fee to hear them preach? Especially when the cost is more than 45 dollars? And unlike the RiverCenter, they're not even bringing local chefs to prepare dinner -- not even loaves and fishes.

It's awfully tempting to compare this Columbus conference to what another TV preacher is doing. Joyce Meyer appears in Gwinnett County Thursday amd Friday -- and her web site says admission to her meetings is free. Of course, they're likely to "pass the plate" for an offering at some point. These days for big ministries, plates are out - and plastic buckets are in.

(Joyce Meyer also is likely to raise money from the "resource tables" at the Gwinnett Center. People can buy her books or CD's. But it's probably a BYOB event - you know, bring your own Bible.)

But Joyce Meyer seems far closer to the Biblical approach for a preaching tour, than what Eddie Long and Paula White are doing. People in the audience are free to give whatever they wish, or even give nothing. From what I've read, Jesus never asked His listeners for money. The Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on my door sometimes actually follow that example.

Along these lines, we shouldn't overlook what one Columbus church did Tuesday night. Greater Shady Grove Baptist Church held a one-night outdoor revival, at the Chase Homes public housing complex on First Avenue. Those residents aren't likely to afford a big donation to the ministers. And those who did might come under a police investigation....

So thanks for coming, Bishop Long and Pastor White. I agree with "One Community, One God, One Christ" -- but you make it come with one really steep price tag.

E-MAIL UPDATE: We heard from several of you Tuesday about Rep. Richard Smith's water proposals. One reader takes him on point by point, and with a new name....

My response to His Royal Communist Richard Smith

These are some of the solutions I feel require immediate attention. First, we need to require all counties in urban areas(MSA'S) to prohibit septic tanks on parcels of land less than a three (3) acres (New construction). My justification is as follows, WATER THAT ENTERS A SEPTIC TANK WILL NOT MAKE IT BACK TO THE RIVER IN OUR LIFETIME.That is a dubious claim- especially since aquifers lead back to where????

Second, REQUIRE all counties in urban areas to convert septic tank systems to an integrated sewer system in the next five (5) years. Failure to do so would result in a strict penalty ,such as, moratorium on new water connection permits for that community.Why should the state have control of construction, commerce, and normal living? Why should the state have the ability to usurp local controls in all areas of life?

Third, REQUIRE all new construction in urban areas that exceeds one (1) residence per three (3) acres shall be on an integrated sewer system. Who will pay for that?

Fourth, REQUIRE all communities to return a minimum of 75% of the water they withdraw back to their source. This requirement should be mandated to be in effect within five (5) years. Failure to do so would result in a moratorium on new water connection permits.This sounds a lot like Mr. Smith needs to go back to counting trees for a living. He is obviously living under some sort of Napoleonic complex in which he thinks Georgians will relinquish all rights to his delusions of grandeur. The state cannot seize the power of the local municipalities.

Fifth, place a moratorium on septic tank permits in urban areas the moment a urban area is declared to be in an 'Exceptional Drought' status. What ifs don't work- planning ahead does.

Sixth, REQUIRE communities to identify infrastructure failure and to correct the problem.IS he planning a punishment for infractions?

Seventh, put in place a 1% sales tax to help communities reach this goal and to fund the Statewide Water Management Plan.It will be a cold day before he gets that. He needs to become a good HONEST democrat .

Eight, new reservoirs are a necessity. Plus we need to look at desalination.Mr. Smith's #8 should be #1. We need new reservoirs- about 8 of them and we need desalinization not state controlled commerce. The world Mr. Smith lives in has no place in AMERICA- land of the free. Mr. Smith needs to retire and live on the proceeds of his imagination elsewhere.

Mr. Smiths's normal short sighted and opportunistic power hungry megalomania needs to be vanquished at the polls the next opportunity. He needs to stop trying to make America into a communist state. He who controls the water controls all life. Mr. Smith would have the state in control of water, in control of business, raising taxes, and doling out punishment for imagined infractions that are actually God given rights of life. Mr. Smith needs to join the rest of the world in the real AMERICA, where we have federal, state and municipal authorities, not Small Bodies conquering the legislature with power grabs at our Constitution.

Yeow - Richard Smith is a Communist?! I mean, just because he was unopposed in the last election....

I'm no engineer, so I can't address the pros and cons of septic tanks compared with sewer lines. But Richard Smith's statement admittedly made me wonder if he gets campaign donations from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union.

Richard Smith's one-percent sales tax for water management goes against the flow (pun) of what Georgia state officials have been proposing for 2008. Some want to get rid of all property taxes - which in effect would prove global warming is happening, because the Columbus tax freeze would melt away.

But I would ask a question of this critic - doesn't the state of Georgia control water and commerce to a great extent already? The fountains are shut off across Columbus because of rules from the state Environmental Protection Division. And the Kia plant was announced before West Point gave away the secret, by purchasing plenty of homes.

Columbus Water Works officials suggested Tuesday they may ask the state to exempt Muscogee County from "stage four" conservation rules. Robert Tant told WRBL Columbus returns a lot of water to the Chattahoochee River, related to all the city uses. I didn't know that many people let their garden hoses run for hours....

Another reader looks at Richard Smith's eight-point plan this way:

Maybe I am missing the point but what is God going to do with a tax increase? Give it to the Corps of Engineers so that they will stop letting the water go? Use it to get the mussels out of Florida and move them?? We don't need a tax increase for a water shortage, we have to plan better. And now that we are in this situation I think it is alittle late to buy our way out of it.

Maybe the sales tax money will help the Army Corps of Engineers buy a new ruler - because if I remember correctly, their faulty measurements led to all that water going down the Chattahoochee River.

Speaking of which: the Army Corps of Engineers made a surprising announcement about Lake Lanier Tuesday. Tests of several small pools show the lake doesn't have a mere 80 days of water left - it has 280 days. Maybe the state needs to send construction crews to West Point Lake, and bore some holes in the bottom to find gushers.

Meanwhile, WRBL reported Tuesday that the Phenix City Council voted to enter a merger of water systems with Fort Mitchell and Russell County. Maybe now the historic buildings at Fort Mitchell will have running water....

Now let's see what else had people talking Tuesday, as they chomped on those free Taco Bell tacos:

+ The evening news revealed Columbus State University's Davidson Center was the place where a noose was hung for a Halloween display. Some students considered it inappropriate - which makes you wonder how many pre-med students oppose all the pictures of Halloween skeletons.

+ Federal immigration agents told WXTX "News at Ten" they arrested 30 suspected illegal workers, at the site of the new National Infantry Museum. I know South Korea's government made a big donation to this project, but I didn't think there were strings attached....

+ A Johns Hopkins University study indicated Russell County High School is a "dropout factory." That label was put on any high school where less than 60 percent of the freshman are still around for their senior year. If the teenage workforce is that big, shouldn't there be "4 Pizza Pirates" shops all over Phenix

SCHEDULED THURSDAY: Details of a new Blog Special Event, which involves our mailbox....

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This lack of water in area lakes is really starting to get scary. The other day the LaGrange Daily News web site warned in a headline: "TROUP FACES 100% WATER REDUCTION." In other words, people will be reduced to having cats lick them for baths?!

The headline must have been a mistake, because the first line of the LaGrange Daily News story mentioned a need for Troup County to cut water usage "by 10 percent." Now that's more doable. I can cook my spaghetti in three quarts of water, less ten percent - simply by filling that sixth one-pint measuring cup to the top, then pouring a little bit down the sink.

But perhaps we should have seen this coming - a call to raise taxes, in the wake of Georgia's water problems. The suggestion came Monday from a surprising place: Rep. Richard Smith of Columbus. When a Republican calls for raising taxes, things are serious - especially when it's not a converted Republican, like Sonny Perdue.

In an e-mailed statement, Richard Smith calls for a one-percent sales tax to fund a "Statewide Water Management Plan" in Georgia. Somehow, I think borrowing leftover border fences from The Minuteman Project won't quite be good enough for this.

Rep. Richard Smith mentions the new one-cent sales tax seventh, in an eight-point plan of water solutions for Georgia. But at least he mentions a sales tax at all. Some candidates for President are making plenty of promises, but forgetting to bring out that H. Ross Perot pie chart showing how to pay for them.

The eight-point plan of Richard Smith includes a requirement that major Georgia cities and counties convert septic tank systems over the next five years to "an integrated sewer system." It's sad to learn parts of Georgia still aren't integrated, almost 40 years after the death of Dr. King.

Another point in Richard Smith's plan would require all Georgia cities and counties to "return a minimum of 75 percent of the water they withdraw back to their source." Is this really a good idea? Some bars might turn it into a weird promotion to sell beer - if (ahem) you know what I mean....

Several of Richard Smith's suggestions specifically are aimed at stopping septic tanks. His statement puts the reason for this in all-capital letters: "WATER THAT ENTERS A SEPTIC TANK WILL NOT MAKE IT BACK INTO THE RIVER IN OUR LIFETIME." It's almost like Smith is trying to force us to have septic shock.

Rep. Richard Smith says a long-term plan is needed because "this is not the last drought we will have to deal with." I could point him to a few preachers who say otherwise - and say the U.S. will go under by 2010.

Richard Smith says Georgia cannot conserve its way out of its current water crisis. But some places are trying. As of Wednesday, Columbus Technical College will shut off its drinking fountains until further notice -- which could make it the first completely BYOB college in Georgia history.

Muscogee County school officials assured WXTX "News at Ten" Monday night they've stopped watering athletic fields. This is potentially great news for The Home Depot -- which could become the official supplier of green paint to Kinnett Stadium.

(Yes, some football fields are painted green. My dad taught me this, when he recalled how he went through World War II training at the Los Angeles Coliseum - a field where he said grass didn't grow. Maybe that's the real reason why the National Football League is playing games in London, and not there.)

E-MAIL UPDATE: Monday's trip to the InBox included a response to a couple of items....

Sir Richard:

Tut Tut Ol' boy! My phone number IS listed on page #279 it's the 25'th item from the bottom in the far right hand column. Give me a call anytime!

On the other hand - the mare is shy almost to the point of being reclusive. You might be able to catch her at the Jet Center. It's listed on page #167 and it' listed as the 20/21 items in the left hand column. Or if she really gets careless you might catch her at City Hall (334) 667-7771.

If you get to actually talk to her; you will do far better than I and a barrage of media folks! Don't waste your time!!

Stay tuned there is much more to come!!!!

Constable R.J. Schweiger

PS my address is incorrect.


Now hold on here - the small town of Hurtsboro has 279 pages in its phone book?! The ads for attorneys must be even bigger there than I thought....

Constable Schweiger and I must be examining different telephone books. The old BellSouth and new AT&T Columbus directories do NOT show his name in the main listing - and the section with Hurtsboro phone numbers totals only five pages. It's so small that the Constable can chart out exactly which people have left town.

Another e-mail does some Monday (I don't know if it was morning) quarterbacking:

Carver has a great football team...Remember before Charlie Flowers left for another job out of Cols he was encouraging football players,esp.from Shaw,to transfer to Carver?...Well,this winning team is the one Charlie built...

Did Coach Flowers really do that?! Then how many parents were offered jobs at the Miller brewery in Albany, before he went to Dougherty High?

Now for other highlights from what would have been my mother's 83rd birthday....

+ Which local place of learning is apologizing, after putting out a noose at a Halloween display? Are dozens of old Western movies going to need re-editing?

+ A dark red Cadillac crashed through the front door of Wild Bill's Party Shop on Buena Vista Road. This is NOT the right way to determine if your car is wine-colored.

+ Auburn University hosted an event called "Cotton, from Blue to Green." Students were encouraged to turn in old denim jeans, to be recycled as home insulation. If you buy this insulation and feel cool spots in your living room, maybe the jeans had holes in them.

+ The Georgia Agriculture Department announced a recall of Kroger salmon dip, because it might contain listeria. So why doesn't the store simply remove the germs with Listerine?

+ Atlanta's baseball team traded shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit. The last straw may have come when he demanded Aaron Rents open stores for Hispanic customers, and name them after him.

+ Instant Message to the operator of the RiverCenter clock above Ninth Street: Hmmmm. Either you switched back to standard time one week too soon -- or my Monday evening run lasted a negative-32 minutes, and I can be that "Journeyman" character on TV.

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: Bars of soap for 20 cents, with a Walgreens coupon.... FREE tacos from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at Taco Bell (one per person).... FREE mud from the middle of the Chattahoochee River, merely by walking out from Tenth Street in Phenix City....

COMING WEDNESDAY: Would you pay nearly 50 dollars to hear a preacher? In Columbus, you can....

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Monday, October 29, 2007


"I think that's your phone book," I said to my next-door neighbor Sunday evening. A wrapped phone book was on the porch, near both our front doors - and I'd already picked up my own.

"You can have it," my older neighbor answered. "I don't even have a phone." And then people are stunned to learn I don't have Internet broadband.

The new AT&T phone book actually landed on my front porch Thursday night, while I was down the street playing (and did I mention I won again?) Texas Hold 'em Poker. Those commercials are right after all -- the delivery guy always comes when you're not looking for him.

The new Columbus phone book is the first one since AT&T merged with BellSouth. Come to think of it, maybe that explains why my neighbor received one -- BellSouth didn't hand over a "do not throw" list.

AT&T always promotes it as "the Yellow Pages," but in Columbus the white pages come with the book as well. Well, they're in the big book. The smaller "companion" book has no white pages at all - as if all Columbus business owners commute here from Eufaula and Americus.

Last year's BellSouth phone book had the Northern Little Leaguers on the cover, celebrating a World Series title. The new AT&T phone book has the Columbus Lions indoor football team on the cover. It's enough to make the South Atlantic League champion Columbus Catfish think about playing at that new ball diamond in Seale.

But there's a problem with this inside the phone book - because the "community information pages" say the Columbus Lions play from June to February. It's actually the other way around. And this season, the Atlanta Falcons have only pretended to be playing until the Super Bowl in February.

We mentioned last week that the competition "Yellow Book" didn't spell Cooper Creek Park correctly on its Columbus map. But at least it shows the entire city -- while the AT&T map shows no details north of about Britt David Road. The people who run stores at Peachtree Mall probably don't mind that at all....

The AT&T phone book's map pages also include a nice picture of the "Tour de Georgia in Columbus." Considering the bicycle race hasn't been here in a couple of years, maybe that's a hidden ad for the Historic Columbus Foundation.

The "white pages" with home phone numbers cover 324 pages this year. That's 11 fewer pages than last year. The phone book is the same size - so did that many Fort Benning soldiers get sent to Iraq?

Is it only a coincidence that WRCG radio isn't listed in the new white pages - and Archway Broadcasting doesn't list any of its stations under "radio" in the Yellow Pages? The Chuck McClure Building is giving a whole new meaning to "fade pattern."

The Yellow Pages section also is smaller this year. At 508 pages, it's down 25 from last year. And when the number of pages for ads for attorneys drops by three, you know it's a bad year. [True!]

The Columbus Lions return in the last page of the AT&T Yellow Pages. Their ad includes the words, "Come Watch Us Play!" What former Columbus State University basketball player did they hire, to recycle this line?

Again this year, the coupon section of the AT&T Yellow Pages is skimpy compared to the Yellow Book. AT&T has only one page, dominated by a hair salon. The Yellow Book has more than 30 pages, include an attorney who's offering "free health care" with a will. Sometimes you can tell which lawyers are

So we're now set in terms of phone books for the next year. AT&T has its new Yellow Pages. The other guys have their new Yellow Book. And one of these days, someone will have the wisdom to put the "YellaWood" cowboy on the cover.

E-MAIL UPDATE: I knew there was something I'd forgotten to do this weekend....

Sir Richard:

For your information! Save yourself the effort of any research you may have planned! My appearance in Russell County District Court was brief, justice was swift, and the decision of the lower court was upheld. Now is'nt that a big surprise.

Stay tuned there's more to come!!

Constable R.J. Schweiger

I went ahead and did the research, anyway. The Constable from Hurtsboro was found in contempt of court last Thursday. A Russell County judge sentenced him to five days of "hard labor" - but thankfully, it was suspended. The thought of him picking up all that uncollected garbage is simply too stunning.

By the way, Hurtsboro is included in the new Columbus phone book - and there's no phone number listed for either Constable Robert Schweiger or Mayor Shirley Tarver-Yoe. The better not to accuse each other of harassment, I suppose....

Our next e-mail came with a baffling title: "What is your favorite flavor?" It continues:

How are you enjoying the koolaid?

This was puzzling at first - because I usually drink diet cola, and without the extra stuff. For that matter, I save chocolate syrup for my ice cream....

But then I realized this e-mail came from someone who's written us with criticism of Cascade Hills Church. We've mentioned the church several times here in recent weeks - and yes, I've been "trying it out" for a few weeks. But Kool-Aid? You have to pay one dollar for a simple cup of coffee, at the church's Resource Café.

If this writer is using "Kool-Aid" to compare Cascade Hills Church to Jim Jones and the People's Temple, that seems a bit of a stretch. So far, Pastor Bill Purvis has talked a bit about going to heaven - but nothing at all about visiting Guyana, or even taking communion.

(But then again, the services for two weekends in a row have included a song about the cross which "bids me come and die, to find that I might truly live." But the only thing close to that I've seen is a couple of people getting baptized -- and they seemed to survive it.)

Last Thursday's topic about Masterbuilt may be connected to that church as well:

I think if you called John McClemore (Cascade Hills too by the way) you may be wrong about your China comment...seems they have made several trips for some reason that has to do with business no doubt....

Well, maybe Masterbuilt is adding 40 jobs in the next five years because it plans to sell its products in China. A chicken fryer might spark an uprising against General Tsu.

OVERHEARD OVER HERE: A woman walks into a church school class, talking about a local haunted house. It costs something like ten dollars to go through it - but some people in the room are skeptical.

"So I should pay money to be scared."

"Yeah. I can drive on the J.R. Allen Parkway, and do that for free."

We hope you're comfortable with some of these news items from Sunday:

+ The Columbus Public Library displayed the winners of the "My South Now" photography contest. The blue ribbon went to a picture of a young man and woman holding hands, as they walk on opposite rails of a railroad track. As long as Amtrak doesn't serve Columbus, that should be OK....

+ The annual "Christmas Made in the South" show concluded at the Columbus Trade Center. I saw motor homes parked outside Golden Park, apparently driven by show vendors - yet I never saw any one-horse open sleighs shuttling them down Broadway.

+ Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But what was the deal with pole-sitter Greg Biffle? He's about 100 miles from Columbus, yet he had Lumber Liquidators on the hood of his car instead of Aflac?! Did that goat from the TV commercial chew up his schedule?

+ Former Georgia Tech catcher Jason Varitek won his second World Series in four years, with the Boston Red Sox. Now he hopes to follow the example of fellow Georgia Tech graduate Nomar Garciaparra - and date the women's soccer star of his choice.

This blog has thousands of visitors each month, from people in Columbus and around the world. To advertise to them, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007


The top stars of NASCAR take to the track today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, for the Pep Boys Auto 500. The Nextel Cup season began President's Day weekend, and still has four races to go - which makes this chase almost as long as the campaign for President.

Some of us can remember when NASCAR races in Atlanta were blacked out on Columbus television. Spring races even were blacked out in Atlanta by the speedway owners, because they couldn't sell all the tickets. They simply didn't make the race interesting enough, by having the cars race around Interstate 285.

I've been to a few NASCAR races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but not to watch them. I've worked behind the scenes - but no, not helping with the broadcasts. Would you believe I had to wear something resembling a tuxedo? And I never even was allowed to get close to the winner's trophy....

I kept notes on my work at Atlanta Motor Speedway during the mid-1990's, and tried to sell them to magazines. It was the era before blogging - and just before TV Guide decided to put pictures of NASCAR drivers on their cover, to boost sales....

4:30 a.m.: My alarm clock goes off. On most Sundays it wouldn't even be set, and I'd be sleeping in. But I'm up early for a November race then called the Napa 500. It's a work day, raising money for the church I attend - and the long lines of traffic stretching toward Hampton won't begin for about four hours.

5:30 a.m.: I head for my car, thankful the forecast of possible snow showers did not come true. I've already eaten two heavy, sour cream doughnuts for breakfast. A third will be chomped on the way to Atlanta Motor Speedway. There's a strategy behind this: to fill my stomach so much that I won't be tempted to eat any of the food I'll serve later in the morning.

There will be plenty of food to serve, since the church fundraiser involves serving in "hospitality tents" outside the east turn of the track. Dozens of corporations and sponsors purchase space in the tent village to wine and dine clients, invited guests and.... oops, check that. "Beer and dine," since this is NASCAR.

The hospitality tents are a side of NASCAR most people never hear about, unless you happen to win entry through a contest. But they reflect the racing circuit's "good ol' boy" image in a way -- with perks coming to those who know the right people.

The drive to Hampton takes about 40 minutes from my home - and on the way, I listen to an all-news radio station from New York. That way, I can carry on enlightened conversations with the tent visitors. The sportscast mentions hockey, basketball, football and boxing. Nothing about NASCAR - even though the Waldorf Astoria hosts that big year-end banquet.

6:00 a.m.: One hour before sunrise and even before I arrive, "tent captains" assemble in the east turn for a meeting. They're in charge of dining arrangements, and make the decisions for workers like me. One woman is a diabetic who secretly breaks the rules - by taking sips of smuggled-in fruit juice.

The captain of my tent will be Mark - a man with a somewhat stereotypical NASCAR look. He's tall, bearded, and stocky. He even smokes cigarettes, in the era when the circuit is still called Winston Cup. But compared with other fans, he's not THAT huge around the waist.

6:10 a.m.: I reach the speedway complex, which covers a massive 870 acres. Our group was advised to park on the grass, so I choose a spot in the northeast corner of the grounds. There's a paved parking lot between my car and the track - but of course, you need a reservation for those spots.

6:28 a.m.: After taking a long walk around the track and fearing I'll be late for check-in time, I spot fellow church members near a group of freight trailers. We come forward in small groups to sign in at a folding table. Then comes the first bad sign of the day - as I'm assigned to the Camel tent.

"No souvenirs for me," I mumble as we walk toward the tent village. Hospitality workers often receive "tips" from tent sponsors, ranging from insignia-covered caps to cash. But I don't smoke, and I don't want to promote cigarettes at all. My mother smoked for years and died before age 60 - and come to think of it, she smoked RJR's Salems.

But of course, I don't dare bring up my mom at this hospitality tent. I don't even bring up my denomination's long-term policy, which barred smokers from attending. We're saving the smoke for the Biblical "lake of fire," thank you....

In semi-darkness, my group begins setting up the Camel tent. Folding chairs and tables already are in place, along with giant beverage coolers. We have to add everything else by breakfast time at 8:00, to match a drawing of the food display which is left for us. But no, there are no toy stock cars to set a proper mood.

One of my first assignments is an important one: icing down the beer. A morning temperature in the high thirties makes this an even chillier job than usual - and almost a bit redundant.

But of course, beer is as critical a fuel for NASCAR fans as the modified gasoline in the race cars they watch. Speedway managers realize this, and allow fans to bring in coolers - but only big enough to hold six regular-sized cans. Probably not cans of soda, for most people....

7:00 a.m.: As the sun rises and the temperature slowly warms, Camel staff members arrive at the tent. They bring their own purple decorations, such as pennants and balloons. The track-supplied black ashtrays are replaced with Camel logo models. But cigarette packs and cartons are NOT displayed. NASCAR is supposed to be family-friendly, after all.

The Camel people never ask if I smoke, or what I think of smokers. But they spot a slight problem with Mark -- because his white sport shirt pocket shows a pack of Marlboros. Within minutes, Mark covers this pack with a one-dollar bill.

8:00 a.m.: The East Turn hospitality village officially opens for business. Despite the cold, a large crowd is waiting. Unarmed security personnel check carefully for the proper identification to enter the area - as no unauthorized people can claim free food.

The crowd entering the hospitality village seems to be 99-percent white. The only minority group members seem to work either for the speedway, or on a serving crew such as mine. I still wonder after all these days why Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson hasn't gone after NASCAR, or marched around the pits in protest.

Some fans are allowed to take pit tours, which are organized by race sponsors. Other visitors choose to stay in the tent to eat, relax and converse. Our tent table is arranged with breakfast pastries, coffee, juice, soda and beer. Amazingly, even on this cold morning the coffee gets more attention than the beer.

People travel to Atlanta Motor Speedway from all sorts of places for NASCAR. One man told me he drove all night from Jacksonville for a spring race. On this November day, a couple is visiting from Indiana while another is heading toward Texas. And they're not all talking about race cars; many are thrilled when I tell them who won the heavyweight boxing match the night before.

8:20 a.m.: A giant rooster walks by our tent. Terry LaBonte was driving the Kellogg's Corn Flakes Chevrolet, complete with a cartoon rooster on the hood. I joke the rooster must be his relief driver -- but I'm never told if the Kellogg's tent next to ours is serving cereal.

9:20 a.m.: It's time to light the Sterno for lunch. A book of matches provided for our tent became too moist to use, due to overnight condensation. But this IS the Camel tent -- so someone has a cigarette lighter handy.

We actually start the fires too early - 70 minutes before meal time instead of 60. That's because a celebrity is coming. No, not Joe Camel....

9:30 a.m.: Jimmy Spencer arrives at the tent, which by now is filled with dozens of people. Spencer drives the "Smokin' Joe's Racing" car, featuring the familiar Camel emblem. He even wears a leather jacket with the team logo to prove it.

"I didn't qualify worth a flip," Spencer admits about today's Napa 500. In fact, he's starting 41st - third from the back. Yet he gives the optimistic speech that many also-ran drivers give. There's always next week - except Atlanta is the final race of the season, so there's next year.

"Does everybody here smoke Camels?" Spencer asks. I focus on the crowd, and say nothing. Tent Captain Mark's eyes grow large, but his mouth stays shut - and the dollar bill stays put around his Marlboros.

Spencer then takes questions from fans - and even takes a side trip into politics. "I'm sure glad the Republicans kept Congress, so we can stop the anti-smoking bunch," he says before practically an amen corner. But wasn't it a Republican Georgia Governor who signed that 2005 smoking law?

"I've never tried to make anybody smoke, or get young people to start smoking," Spencer continues. "We're just trying to get smokers to switch brands." I'm waiting for research into how many NASCAR fans have quit smoking, after seeing Jeff Gordon's Nicorette car.

10:00 a.m.: I begin several trips back and forth to the food trailer building area, to fetch lunch. As I walk behind our row of tents, I pass a woman putting on a pink costume. I take a guess, and ask if she's the Eveready Energizer bunny. Wrong. She's the Pink Panther, promoting Owens-Corning Fiberglass.

10:30 a.m.: Dinner is served - already. Two hours before race time, when stay-at-homers might be sitting down to Sunday brunch, the tent crowd feasts on grilled chicken and barbecued pork. Smoked barbecue, I'm assuming for a Camel tent....

As I stand and serve (no sitting around on the job is allowed), I'm reminded of how loyal some NASCAR fans can be. A woman sits to my right wearing Dale Earnhardt's name and number three - on her white casual shoes. She wrote them on, with a black marker pen.

More boastful "motor heads" can buy hats, T-shirts or jackets at their choice of dozens of sponsor vendor trailers, parked on the grounds around the track. It's an atmosphere a lot like old-time shopping center parking lot carnivals. Only the prices are much higher - and the cars go around and around, instead of a Ferris wheel.

12:00 noon: Most visitors have left our tent to find their seats. As our tent crew begins cleaning up and returning uneaten food, a voice in the distance sings "Georgia on my Mind" on the public address system - and I wonder why the state song is never sung at Atlanta baseball and football games.

12:20 p.m.: During another of my countless walks back and forth behind the tents, I see two guys lift a case of beer over a fence separating the East Turn village from the rest of the Atlanta Motor Speedway grounds. I never stop to ask if they followed track policy, by signing out for it.

12:45 p.m.: As the green flag falls nearby, Tent Captain Mark says we're free to check out. Mark and his petite wife came prepared to watch the race in the stands, because he bought a padded headphone radio. This is one of those days when the padding blocks out not only noisy cars, but cool breezes.

Our crew's tip for serving breakfast and lunch is a bag of assorted "Smokin Joe's" goodies. There's everything from a disposable camera to an ashtray to a purple tin box filled with small matchboxes. The tin box remains an unused souvenir today - and I think the other stuff went at a moving sale.

1:00 p.m.: The tent workers assemble at the holding area. With practically every guest out of the village and inside the race track, it's at last our turn to eat. All sorts of chicken and breakfast muffins are left to enjoy - but one woman who signed in with me isn't stopping with one plate of food. She takes four full plates. Finally sitting down to dine, I ask: "Which shelter are you taking those to?"

The woman answers me with her home address. Four full plates of food are heading for a house with a husband, wife and no children. Our church congregation needs a sermon on greed - soon.

A member of the catering staff who unloaded a food trailer for us is not pleased by the sight. She pulls me over and says, "First of all, there are some catering workers who haven't eaten yet! And do you know where all this leftover food is going?" I'd guessed it was shipped back to the contracted catering company in Charlotte - but no. "It's going to Atlanta's Table." A food bank?! They DO care about ordinary folks.

It happens that I'm holding a plate of food that's actually a second helping, to eat at home the next day. But I don't mention that, agreeing with the staff member that four plates are too many. Little did I know way back then that I was perfecting skills for winning at poker....

We settle on a word to describe the virtue missing from the woman with four plates of food. It's moderation - as drivers circle around a race track nearby at more than 160 miles per hour.

1:20 p.m.: I officially sign out at the folding table where I signed in. A quick check of the workers' notebook shows the local Humane Society also had volunteers working at the tents. I wonder if they felt the same way about the pre-race balloon release as I did about working in a cigarette tent.

2:15 p.m.: After a little browsing at the vendor trailers (not buying - tight budget), I walk to my car and head home. I could have found a seat inside the track to watch the race, but sometimes post-race traffic jams last until well after dark. Maybe the hospitality tents should serve all-day suckers, too.

As I approach my car, I meet two Hispanic men picking up beer cans scattered throughout the grounds. The track doesn't have any noticeable recycling bins. And if all the parked vehicles were removed, a NASCAR race would be a homeless person's field of dreams.

"¿Muchas cervezas en muchas cabezas, si?" I ask the men in Spanish. They chuckle in agreement - there are many beers in many heads. Yes sir, NASCAR is all about moderation....

E-MAIL UPDATE: Now back to the present, and a puzzled TV viewer....


What's the deal with reporters doing the Weather on WRBL? I guess any recent college grad can do just as good of a job as a "Chief Meteorologist". All that certification for nothing, huh? Where's the On Your Side angle to that?


That's a good question, AR. Chief Meteorologist Bob Jeswald was on duty Saturday night - but I was surprised to find him wearing a tie. Apparently his "Casual Friday" look isn't allowed on the weekends.

Weekend meteorologist Elissia Wilson has been notably absent in recent weeks. If WRBL has given a reason why, I haven't heard it. But her picture still is on the station's web site - so apparently WLTZ hasn't stolen her away yet.

The absence of Elissia Wilson has forced some WRBL reporters into weather duty. David Spunt filled in one morning last week. Jennifer Serda also has done the job at times - and I don't mind that at all. She's cute enough to make me get a fake driver's license, with the age going in the other direction.

Let's take one more e-mail, stemming from last Wednesday's topic:

When the Muscogee County chopper flies over neighboring counties doing search work will those counties help support the cost ? I have not seen this question answered on any of the TV interviews..

As I understand it, this is not really a "Muscogee County chopper." It officially belongs to the Metro Narcotics Task Force, which is a combination effort of several area law enforcement agencies. Maybe the funding is based on whoever makes the biggest drug bust of the month.

We'll save one other message for Monday, and conclude now with a look at weekend news headlines:

+ The Ledger-Enquirer devoted several pages of detailed coverage to Synovus's decision to spin off TSYS as a separate company. But one vital question still isn't settled in my mind. Will TSYS be allowed to have its own glowing sign above the Riverwalk, like Synovus does?

+ Rep. Lynn Westmoreland went to West Point Lake, to check on the lack of water. He told WRBL his message for the Army Corps of Engineers was simple: "Mother Nature ain't the answer." We're waiting to see Westmoreland's plan to truck in millions of gallons of water from Texas.

+ Muscogee County school bus drivers used a Friday off day from classes for training sessions. There are right and wrong ways to yell at grade schoolers to calm down, you know....

+ Carver won a key high school football over LaGrange 19-10. Carver is still unbeaten, while LaGrange suddenly has lost two in a row. The day this happens is the day Kansas has a better football record than Auburn and Georgia, and that could never.... oh wait.... ha ha....

+ Instant Message to Columbus Police: With all due respect - is the murder suspect you're after right now the first one you've ever called a "Goober?"

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Friday, October 26, 2007

26 OCT 07: B.Y.O. H2O

Instant Message to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue: If you're really serious about keeping that water in West Point Lake, you should show it. Make a bet about it with Florida's Governor, for Saturday's football game in Jacksonville.

White House aides announced Thursday that President Bush will meet with the Governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia next week about the allocation of water in the Chattahoochee River area. After what we saw Thursday, the President might ask them to donate water to put out the California wildfires.

Governor Sonny Perdue doesn't seem thrilled about having a White House meeting about the big water fight. He told Atlanta reporters Thursday the "time for holding hands and singing Kum-ba-yah is over." [True/GPB] NOW we learn what really happened at those Columbus Trade Center meetings....

Governor Sonny Perdue called an Atlanta news conference to announce plans for the state of Georgia to develop its own reservoir system. If we're still in a drought, I'm not sure how he expects to do that. Is Coca-Cola agreeing to pour in leftover bottles of Dasani water?

Meanwhile, Alabama Governor Bob Riley staged his own media event near Dothan. He went to the Farley nuclear power plant, which relies on water from the Chattahoochee River. It's a wonder those endangered mussels in the Florida panhandle don't glow in the dark.

Governor Bob Riley went to a nuclear power plant to make a point. He says the Southern Company is receiving only a minimal amount of water now for the Farley nuclear plant -- and Sonny Perdue's demand to slow water releases could make the plant unusable. But at least it would be easier for alligators to head upstream toward Columbus.

Governor Bob Riley says his concern over water flow is NOT about mollusks and mussels, but.... well, saying "money" wouldn't really sound right. So he explained it's a matter of protecting Alabama's economy. After learning Thursday that Auburn University needed a bank loan in the 1950's to field a football team, that economy must be fragile.

The governor of Florida has come down on Alabama's side in this fight, but that's probably not surprising. More water means healthier mussels, happier mollusks - and far fewer visits from the Sierra Club.

For all the talk about a water shortage in north Georgia, it's hard to believe that large amounts of water are not far away. Macon Mayor Jack Ellis says his city has a 500-day supply, that could be sold to meet metro Atlanta's needs. But then again, this is the same mayor who thinks Venezuela's President is a nice guy.

BLOG UPDATE: Call it Night of Glory II! Your blog won the Thursday night poker tournament at Lil Kim's Cove, for the second time in three weeks!! I now have more wins this fall than the Atlanta Falcons!!!

I outlasted 20 other poker players, to win the Thursday night tournament - and this time, I decided NOT to split the prizes with the runner-up. So it's 50 dollars for me, while Rodney the slightly disabled man won a "bucket of beer" for second place. Let's face it: it's a lot easier for someone like me to tithe to a church on money, instead of beer bottles.

The biggest early clue that it might be my night came when someone to the right of me had a full house - but I beat him with four 7's. In poker lingo, losing with a great hand is known as a "bad beat." The phrase probably means something different to the staff at Rock 103....

My hands eliminated three players in a row, at the start of the evening. But the most satisfaction came when I won a smaller pot over an older gentleman named Len. He's known for unpredictable plays and bluffs, and he bet 50 big chips at a time against me. I kept calling him, and he finally confessed to a pair of 7's. I laughed out loud as I showed a pair of 9's - which may have put me on his enemies list.

The last two opponents of the evening proved hard to eliminate -- not only Rodney, but a grandmother who isn't even 40 years old. They seemed to hang on longer than Superman at the edge of a sea of kryptonite.

Because of a late poker night, we'll have to hold several e-mails for another day - and wrap up now with some other quick news from Thursday:

+ Columbus Police revealed surveillance pictures of a robbery at Comfort Suites on Armour Road. Two people apparently robbed the manager around midnight, using a hammer as a weapon. If I had a hammer, I would have hammered in the morning....

+ The new crime-fighting helicopter was flown on its first mission since law officers introduced it. But hold on - it was flown to Mount Olive Elementary School, to mark Red Ribbon Week? Do the pilots have a weekly "flight quota" in their job contract?

+ South Commons hosted the Georgia high school girls' softball tournament. Taylor County lost a class A game 7-3 to Georgia Military Academy -- which stunned me, because I never expected Georgia Military Academy to have ladies' sports. Well, at least beyond a marching drill team carrying batons....

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: Reflections on a NASCAR work project.... and questions about a missing meteorologist....

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Thursday, October 25, 2007


Try to find Milgen Court on a Columbus city map, or even a Google map, and you may run into trouble. You'd figure it intersects with Milgen Road somewhere. But is it one of those new apartment complexes? Or is it where the latest "Yellow Book" indicates - down the street from COPPER Creek Park? (True!)

We won't have to worry about finding Milgen Court anymore, because its name officially changed Wednesday. Mayor Jim Wetherington is renaming it Masterbuilt Court, because the Columbus company Masterbuilt plans to construct a warehouse there. Imagine if last year's campaign donors at the Foxy Lady Lounge planned to move there....

I'd driven by the Masterbuilt office on Brown Avenue, but never thought about it much. The company makes items such as outdoor fryers and grills. But it's only been in business 34 years - so the executives haven't learned how to move grill-making jobs to China.

Masterbuilt will move from Brown Avenue to the former Milgen Court, and spend two million dollars on a new warehouse. President John McLemore predicts the company's business will triple in the next five years - much of it from selling fryers outside that new Phenix City poultry plant.

John McLemore expects Masterbuilt will add about 40 jobs in the next five years. So do eight new jobs a year earn your own street in Columbus? It's a wonder there's no Wal-Mart Avenue near Columbus Park Crossing.

The last time a street name caused this much interest in Columbus, a new subdivision had a street named after then-Mayor Bob Poydasheff. That didn't help him win a second term in office. But the Fraternal Order of Police might name a driveway after Jim Wetherington one of these days.

A few other short streets in Columbus are named after private companies. You enter WLTZ by driving down "NBC-38 Drive" off Buena Vista Road. But it appears drivers no longer can say, "It just feels great to be on NBC-38."

Down the street from the new home of Masterbuilt, a sign was added on Milgen Road several months ago pointing to "Woodmen of the World Drive." It's really a simple driveway leading to a Woodmen of the World insurance office and meeting hall. But until there's an Aflac Avenue, this company has a key sales point.

By the way, Mayor Wetherington and the Chamber of Commerce were all smiles at the Masterbuilt announcement. But hold on - what does this mean for the Brown Avenue area, and Columbus South? There seems to be plenty of open property around Martin Luther King Boulevard for a warehouse. Or are there plans for a few more beauty supply stores?

BLOG UPDATE: Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue traveled to Troup County Wednesday, and stood by what he called "the remains of West Point Lake." [True/GPB] It's a wonder his handlers didn't surround his speaking stand with dead fish.

Governor Perdue ordered Georgia state agencies to take steps to reduce water consumption. Among other things, state vehicles will go unwashed -- which might give speeders a slight advantage in a chase with a State Patrol car.

Governor Perdue wants President Bush to come to Georgia, and personally see the impact of drought and Army Corps of Engineers decisions on several lakes. Instead, the President is going to California today -- surprisingly preferring a day under fire to a place that's nice and Sonny.

Meanwhile, Alabama Governor Bob Riley plans to hold his own media event near a water source today. He's traveling to a nuclear power plant near Dothan, which relies on the Chattahoochee River. We'll see if "no-nukes" protesters show up, to show how you can create condensed water by standing under hot solar panels.

The TV news hunt for "Water Wasters" made an interesting discovery Wednesday - as a fountain was still running outside the Columbus Chamber of Commerce office on Sixth Avenue. Attempts to explain how Mike Gaymon drinks from it every day were met with skepticism.

Let's see what else splashed across our windshield Wednesday:

+ The high temperature in Columbus was only 61 degrees F., making it the chilliest day since mid-April. If we have a couple more cool nights, I might actually have to put a blanket over my one sheet on the bed.

(The mild temperature at sunset resulted in my best run in more than a year: 3.75 miles non-stop! Yet for some odd reason, the guys who gather on the 14th Street pedestrian bridge still don't feel inspired to jog after me - not even to ask for a handout.)

+ Aflac stock closed at a record high of $61.72 a share. I never realized winning NASCAR races could have such an impact....

+ WRBL reported Calvary Christian High School was closed, due to a small electrical fire. So how many teachers plan lessons today on Moses and the burning bush?

+ reported Atlanta Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich had ankle surgery. Until he returns, the team's third-string emergency quarterback will be Warrick Dunn. San Diego doesn't even use LaDamien Tomlinson for a "halfback option" like this.

(Meanwhile, Falcons cornerback D'Angelo Hall complained that team managers are giving up on the season. Hey, at least they waited seven games. Some of us gave up when Michael Vick was barred from training camp.)

+ Instant Message to Clint Hurdle: You may be managing the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. But I remember when you were a highly-hyped rookie with the Kansas City Royals. I even remember the radio commercials you did for soft drinks. So congratulations, "Mister Pop Shoppe...."

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Columbus police chief announced a big step forward in law enforcement Tuesday. And local conspiracy theorists also took a big step forward - because there's now strong evidence that a mysterious black helicopter may have flown over their neighborhoods.

A new black (except for white on the bottom) helicopter was shown off by the Metro Narcotics Task Force. It was obtained from Fort Rucker, where I suppose the Army could have used it for narcotics work as well. Did any Fort Rucker units ever serve near opium fields in Afghanistan?

The new helicopter is based at Columbus Metropolitan Airport, and already has been used for a couple of law enforcement projects. Yet it was officially introduced to reporters only Tuesday - as if the Metro Narcotics Task Force needed not only one test drive, but two.

The new helicopter will be available for law enforcement in Harris, Muscogee and Russell Counties. But due to budget restrictions, Police Chief Ricky Boren says it will only be used in certain specific situations. Aw c'mon - think of all the restaurants which would advertise, with banners hanging from the back.

(In fact, the helicopter was purchased in part with money from drug seizures. So the more pot police find, the bigger the pot for aviation fuel....)

Chief Ricky Boren says the new helicopter will be used for things such as homeland security threats, finding bank robbers and tracking down lost people with Alzheimer's Disease. He said nothing about using it in high-speed chases - and that's a shame, because I want to see a video camera hooked up to it to record wild speeding criminals on Macon Road.

Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell is looking forward to the new helicopter. He notes his county has 640 square miles, and much of it is "wilderness." Those homebuilders simply aren't building new houses for incoming Fort Benning soldiers fast enough....

Up to now, local law enforcement agencies had to borrow helicopters from the Army or state agencies for crackdowns. Those state choppers now will be freed for other things - such as tracking down speeding drugged drivers in Talbot County.

The last time a helicopter received this much fanfare in Columbus, it was thanks to a television station. WRBL unveiled "Chopper 3" around the turn of the millennium, to cover news around the area. Brian Sharpe even rode in it on live TV one morning -- but after a few months, it mysteriously disappeared. Has the CIA asked the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay about that?

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our mention of Trees Columbus on Tuesday apparently inspired this thought....

Remember when the beautiful Bradford Pear trees were cut down near the gov't center because a house was being moved?...Now,Columbus wants to plant more trees because we don't have enough..Sort of talking out of both sides of the mouth...

Actually, I don't remember the tree-cutting for a house. But the idea of cutting trees and planting new ones isn't that unusual. Maybe the city wants to make money from timber farming.

Now let's chop down the stack of news, notes and other discoveries we made Tuesday:

+ Columbus Councilor Skip Henderson called for tougher city rules, to enforce water restrictions. Right now, Columbus Water Works can do nothing except shut off the service of repeat offenders. If you see your neighbor unloading cases of bottled water in the driveway, that will be a clue.

+ The director of Chattahoochee RiverWorks warned if the drought conditions continue, people might be asked to flush their toilets only once a day. So where are the real pioneers at a time like this - you know, the ones selling outhouses?

+ WRBL interviewed an Eastwood Christian School employee, who claims he can produce oil from the algae in swimming pools. This talk about "going green" is getting a bit out of control....

+ Richard Hyatt's blog revealed the veteran newspaper reporter plans to retire from the Ledger-Enquirer in January. But uh-oh - it also says he plans to launch a "news/opinion web site" in February. I might have to go out and buy another joke book...

+ Wire service reports indicated Garrison Keillor has been harassed by a female stalker, ever since "Prairie Home Companion" was broadcast at the RiverCenter in April. This finally explains why Keillor has "Guy Noir, Private Eye" on his show so often.

(There are signs Prairie Home Companion could return to the RiverCenter next spring. The Opelika Performing Arts Center already is promoting "An Evening with Garrison Keillor" in April. But if a stalker keeps hounding him, he might just declare Lake Harding the new Lake Wobegon and broadcast from Beulah.)

+ GPB Radio thanked more than 1,700 people who pledged money over the last two weeks - but admitted its fall fund-raising goal was NOT met. So why don't they follow the example of the local United Way? Keep on asking for money until the spring pledge drive starts.

+ Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for President. If you think about it, this is only logical. Giuliani is on his third marriage - so imagine how much life insurance he's bought.

+ Civil rights leader Al Sharpton appeared in Atlanta, and called for a one-day nationwide economic boycott. He says you should buy nothing on Friday, November 2. Why not move this up a couple of days - and have everyone knock on doors Halloween night, exchanging food with each other?

+ The Associated Press reported five Alabama football players were kept out of last weekend's win over Tennessee because they were given free college textbooks. So?! How many of them also needed free tutoring to read them?

+ Instant Message to Chester's Bar-B-Q downtown: Congratulations on your "Hoodie Award" from Steve Harvey! But calm down here - your sign says you have the best barbecue "in the world"?! I don't think people listen to Harvey's radio show in Mexico.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: The jokes for today officially have concluded, but you're welcome to read on for some other observations.)

BUT SERIOUSLY.... Our sympathies to the family of longtime TV and radio personality Robbie Watson. We learned only Tuesday that her father died in a car crash last Friday in Russell County. The funeral service occurs today at Morningside Baptist Church.

We went to the visitation for Bobby Watson Sr. Tuesday afternoon, and were surprised to find Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters there. He admitted he joined Watson for games of cards "about 30 years ago." Back then, any card game beyond spades might have been scandalous -- but it looks like all the players turned out fine.

"God's been good to us," Robbie Watson said at the visitation. She seemed to be holding up well - and may God continue to be good to the family, so a great family reunion can occur someday.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Several emergency vehicles arrived late Monday afternoon at the Phenix City Amphitheater. Included with them was a supply of fake blood. If you didn't know better, you might have thought WWE wrestling had brought "Monday Night Raw" back to town.

This was no pro wrestling card, but there was a good bit of acting involved Monday night. The Russell County Homeland Security office staged a mock disaster at the Phenix City Amphitheater - and no, it had nothing to do with the recent concert by The Grass Roots.

The disaster drill was an opportunity to train local members of the Community Emergency Response Team - or CERT. Did they handle this the way CERTs were treated years ago? You have a breath group and a candy group - and they're two-two-two groups in one.

But seriously: Columbus area public safety relies on members of CERT to provide assistance in case of a major disaster. For instance: if people start passing out en masse because the price of water is as high as gasoline....

Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell admitted his department needs CERT members, because he lacks the personnel to handle a major disaster. That's surprising - because you don't hear him complaining about a lack of personnel, the way the Columbus Mayor does.

Russell County Homeland Security Director Chance Corbett says CERT members go through 16 hours of classroom instruction, before facing a mock disaster. So it's a little bit like pro football training camp - only the Atlanta Falcons' disaster hasn't been phony.

Monday night's mock disaster involved a tornado striking the Phenix City Riverwalk, killing or injuring nearly 40 people. This struck me as curious, because Columbus went through that very thing back in March. But after the last few months, a flash flood overwhelming the Riverwalk seems downright impossible.

CERT members had plenty to do, as pretend casualties were spread all over the Phenix City Riverwalk. I'm glad that wasn't my scheduled running course for the evening - because I might have tripped over somebody, and REALLY gotten hurt.

Chance Corbett says on top of the dozens of phony deaths and injuries, CERT members had to deal with firefighters shouting instructions. They were told to do that to "raise the stress level a little bit." So when do the CERT members get to experience the other side of all this - and be honored at fire stations on chili night?

Hopefully all the citizen responders did well, in handling the mock disaster. Perhaps some of them will now become CERT-ified. Others may have been happy simply to get home, and flop on a CERT-a mattress.

Now for some things which really, really did happen Monday....

+ A director of Trees Columbus told WRBL tree planting still should be done during the fall and winter, despite the lack of rain. She said trees can "mitigate the drought." If you plant enough of them side by side, I suppose you could call it a rain forest and expect monsoons.

+ Alabama's Governor sent a letter to the White House, warning an emergency water request from Georgia's Governor would hurt his state. Bob Riley claims reducing the flow of water down the Chattahoochee River would hurt Alabama industry. You know it's bad when the Mead WestVaco plant managers in Cottonton are thinking about switching from paper to Blackberries.

+ The main Columbus post office was named after Frank Lumpkin Jr. The Columbus State University sports arena down Milgen Road is named after him, too. If this trend continues, someday an entire town near Columbus could be named in Lumpkin's honor. Wouldn't that be a wonderful.... oh wait....

+ Briggs and Stratton confirmed it's laying off 90 workers at its Auburn plant, because people aren't buying emergency generators and other equipment. Those laid-off workers should ask Colorado hurricane forecaster William Gray for financial assistance -- because he overstated the danger this year, and he's still working.

+ The Atlanta Falcons determined quarterback Byron Leftwich's injury is a "high ankle sprain." No one's ever explained to me how that's different from an ordinary sprained ankle. Maybe you squeal in pain in a higher-pitched voice.

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Quarterback Club: OK, how many of you lied Monday night? How many of you claimed you hear guest Wes Durham broadcast Georgia Tech football games on Columbus radio - knowing full well that no station carries them?

SONG OF THE DAY: The Vice President is talking tough about nuclear weapons. Iranian officials say they're going nuclear, no matter what. And my mind goes back to a 1980's rock song, by that one-hit wonder group A Flock of Seagulls....

I can't stand Ahmadinejad.

His talk of nukes and Jews strikes me as odd.

He just seems very odd.

He knows the ayatollahs, too -

And all their words of peace are such a fraud.

They're all a great big fraud.

To I-ran, I-ran so far away....

We should fly, and bomb their plans away!

Make them so yesterday!

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Monday, October 22, 2007


A bit of history came down in the Historic District Sunday. A group of men did it during the late morning, and even brought an all-terrain vehicle to do it. But don't worry - the shotgun houses on Fifth Street still are standing today....

As I stepped outside for a Sunday road trip, I found three men uprooting a set of four tall gas lanterns. The natural gas kind used to be common outside houses in some neighborhoods. But then I guess people exercised their freedom of choice -- and only chose to turn on an electric porch light once in a while.

These four gas lanterns actually had dates on them, indicating they were made in 1894. So to borrow from a country song, I suppose "the old lamplighter of long, long ago" walked by and turned them on. Nowadays, the only time people "light the lamp" is when the Columbus Cottonmouths score a goal.

So who were these guys digging up gas lanterns, and even their concrete bases? I stopped to ask, and happened to meet the man who owns my apartment complex. He said he's owned it about 30 years, while I've dealt with a separate landlord for the last ten. It's a good thing I didn't mention the lack of a rent increase in all that time....

The complex owner told me he was taking the gas lanterns to his home in Anniston, Alabama. He indicated he'll put them up in his front yard - which seems like a lot of work to set up a clothesline.

The owner admitted the gas lanterns hadn't worked in about 30 years. It seems they hadn't been adjusted for natural gas, either. I didn't smell anything unusual from the uprooted lanterns - and no one in the complex had moved their grills over, to try for a low-priced Sunday cookout.

"Have a good day," the complex owner then said to me. I took that as my cue to move on, so I did. Either the men wanted to keep busy on their project - or they thought I might be a spy for the Historic Columbus Foundation.

There was a busy day ahead of me, anyway. Before a Sunday afternoon in the office, I drove to southern Troup County for the big yard sale we mentioned here in recent days. It was set up next to a gas station - but sadly, the gas was NOT on sale at half-price.

We first brought up Shirley Smallwood in a "church picnic report" here a couple of years ago. She's waiting for a kidney transplant - but the waiting list for such things can stretch for years. Kidney donors are almost as scarce as University of Georgia alumni giving up football season tickets.

The Smallwood family decided during the summer to organize a yard sale, to raise money for the kidney transplant. The Kidney Foundation agreed to match her, dollar for dollar. With plenty of donations from church members and friends, the result was an extra-large sale Sunday. It almost made you wonder if the Lee County Flea Market started the same way.

The yard sale had a little bit of a lot of things, but the most unusual thing on sale was the Smallwood family's horse. No, I did NOT buy it - because I simply didn't have room in the trunk of my little Honda.

I donated several items to the yard sale, but did NOT have to buy them back. I bought several others items instead, including a very nice crystal decanter for ten dollars. It was tempting to call it the "steal" of the sale - but church members put this on, so it seems wrong to talk positively about stealing.

Church members offered baked goods for sale as well - and I carted home a big round chocolate chip pound cake, which even came with the recipe attached. Maybe someday I'll make one of my own. But the entrepreneur in me would be tempted to sell the recipe to Paula Deen, for a hefty "finder's fee."

Our thanks to all of you who made the drive to Troup County and bought items at Sunday's yard sale. If you missed it, Charter Bank in LaGrange has a "Shirley Smallwood Fund" where you can leave donations - and the Kidney Foundation still will match them for several months. I can't guarantee you'll wind up with a horse. But the Smallwood family certainly won't neigh-say you.

(By the way, we need to correct something from last week. We found out Exit 30 from Interstate 185 is NOT the exit with a Waffle House. The restaurant must blend into the scenery very well, because we never saw it.)

Let's wind down the antiques road show now, and check some Sunday news stories:

+ City Manager Isaiah Hugley spoke at Carver Heights Presbyterian Church, and urged men to "take a stand" in their community. Of course, that doesn't always work - such as when Mr. Hugley lobbied for a big raise a couple of years ago.

+ Port Columbus finished its annual "Pirates of the Chattahoochee" weekend. So who played the role of the Army Corps of Engineers?

+ The annual Ossahatchie Pow-Wow ended in Hamilton. Did you see the TV ad for this festival - which used phrases like "we will share stories of courage and triumph for our people"? I almost expected the ad to end with, "War Eagle, fly down field."

+ Montgomery attempted to have a "crime-free weekend," as officially declared by the City Council. We mention this for the benefit of Columbus Police - because it could help solve that holdup at the River Road Piggly Wiggly.

+ Atlanta Police arrested Kid Rock, after a fight broke out at a Waffle House. Several other people were arrested as well - but apparently Tommy Lee knew what to do at a Waffle House, and he scattered.

+ The Atlanta Falcons lost to New Orleans 22-16. Come to think of it, doesn't the team logo look like the bird is in a nosedive?

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Sunday, October 21, 2007


Don't be surprised if one church in Phenix City has a bigger crowd than normal today. It won't be due to a special singer, or even a potluck dinner after the service. People will want to see how a pastor responds to getting arrested last Sunday -- and it wasn't even for opposing homosexuality.

The pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on South Seale Road had to post bond, after he was arrested during last Sunday's service. A Russell County sheriff's deputy charged LaFayette Claiborne with disorderly conduct. Well, the name says the grove is pleasant - not necessarily the ministers....

(So we're clear: this case does NOT involve the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Seventh Street in Columbus. I doubt the two congregations even play in the same church softball league.)

Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell told WRBL LaFayette Claiborne became disorderly by "raising his voice" during a church service. Aw c'mon - a pastor can't raise his voice during a church service?! How many Pentecostal people will be praying today for God to smite the sheriff's tongue?

Sheriff Tommy Boswell explained Pastor LaFayette Claiborne "alarmed people around him" when he raised his voice. Well, maybe that was his point. Maybe he wants to scare people about the consequences of their sins - or at least wake them up, if they're falling asleep.

But there's apparently more here than a pastor simply raising his voice to evoke the fear of God. LaFayette Claiborne seems to have a dispute with the family of Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry - so a sheriff's deputy showed up last Sunday to enforce some kind of court order. Some ministers would have waved their hands, and knocked over the deputy through the Holy Spirit's power.

Arthur Sumbry's family apparently has held a concert every year at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church - but this year, Pastor LaFayette Claiborne objected for some reason. If the pastor needs a white singer to achieve racial balance, I'm available....

The pastor and City Council member wouldn't talk on TV about the disorderly conduct case. Perhaps they met during the past week, and settled their differences. If they didn't, the attorneys at LaFayette Claiborne's trial will face a challenge - because if you call a pastor to testify, he might talk more about salvation than the case at hand.

(And if that's not enough, ask a pastor the wrong question and he might give you a 20-minute-long answer.)

But I'm still puzzled about a pastor being arrested for "raising his voice" during a church service. Some ministers almost consider loud voices as proof of a worshiper's conversion. I've heard some on radio remind congregations that they wouldn't hesitate to shout and yell, if they were at a football game....

Some ministers even demand worshipers talk back to them during services -- telling congregations, "Say amen, somebody!" Maybe that was the problem here. Maybe someone answered the Pleasant Grove pastor by quoting a Bible verse which disproved his point.

Not all churches and ministers act this way, of course - and you can tell some denominations by how the members conduct themselves during a service. As Cascade Hills Pastor Bill Purvis put it this weekend: "Baptists raise one hand. Pentecostals raise two hands. Episcopalians put their hands in their pockets and watch."

BLOG UPDATE: "WATER CRISIS LOOMS" screamed the front page of Saturday's Ledger-Enquirer -- only a few days after it warned of rationing on the front page. NOW will you stop the showers, and switch to tub baths filled with bottles of Callaway Blue?

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency Saturday in 85 counties, due to the drought. The list of counties includes Harris, Muscogee and Sumter - but for some reason NOT Chattahoochee. Maybe Fort Benning soldiers moistened the soil enough, by putting out all those controlled burns.

Governor Perdue wants President Bush to declare a "major disaster" in Georgia. He'd also like the President to intervene, to stop the mandatory daily release of water down the Chattahoochee River from Lake Lanier. But this might not be realistic - since Mr. Bush already is under fire for waterboarding.

A Saturday morning walk around our neighborhood found three separate violators of the Georgia water rules. A sprinkler system was running outside Whitaker and Whitaker - which is a law office on Broadway. Are these the attorneys handling the Governor's lawsuit?

As it happens, Columbus Water Works marked "Clean Water Week" Saturday with a special event on South Lumpkin Road. People were invited to tour the wastewater treatment facility. Hopefully no one (ahem) was moved to leave a donation....

E-MAIL UPDATE: Now for another powerful person, trying to show some clout:

I saw in the Ledger where MCSD superintendent Phillips made a selection for a dept.head at the main office without opening the position for applications...A big no no...but,then the board approved his recommendation. I guess he can break all the rules without getting detention...Seems I remember once before he tried to slide in an old friend,but was caught..

Yes, I remember that as well. Maybe this department head hasn't already bought an expensive home in Russell County. Maybe this one's actually in Columbus.

Now let's see what else is on people's minds this weekend:

+ A new office for the state Environmental Protection Division was opened at Columbus State University. Too bad - that place really needs to be on Victory Drive, to watch the waves of carbon black roll in.

+ Police reported a worker was arrested for stabbing a co-worker at the Columbus Foundry on Northside Industrial Boulevard. This could have been a lot worse, you know. They could have grabbed some hot metal, and tried to throw it at each other.

+ Mayor Jim Wetherington read a story for children at the North Columbus Public Library. I wasn't able to attend this - so did the mayor drop any hints about an upcoming sales tax vote? I mean, did the story have a character named "Henny Penny?"

+ The Northland Neighbors "transactions" section noted St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Hilton Avenue plans $500,000 in renovations. The reason was listed as "alter church" - which is strange, because I thought most churches came with that already. Oh wait....

(This week's edition also has pictures from the "America's Next Top Model" auditions at Peachtree Mall - the auditions which took place ten weeks ago. This paper is starting to make the Columbus Times look current and up-to-date.)

+ Organizers of the Fountain City Classic football game confirmed they're working on a replacement entertainment act for jailed rapper T.I. If someone pointed a machine gun at me and told me to stay in school for a college degree, I'd probably listen to him.

+ Louisiana State edged Auburn in college football 30-24. L.S.U. was in position for a winning field goal, but instead threw a surprise touchdown pass with one second left. Coach Les Miles thus takes his first step toward becoming the next Steve Spurrier.

(The Auburn radio announcers kept calling L.S.U. the "Fighting Tigers." I know Auburn's nickname is Tigers as well, but you kept waiting for them to call Auburn the team of peace and love.)

+ Georgia Tech overran Army 34-10. WRBL noted it was Fort Benning Day at Bobby Dodd Stadium - but I think the football team was more likely to say "God Bless West Point."

+ Instant Message to Chase Card Services: The credit card bill was postmarked Wednesday. I received it Friday. And the "due date" for payment is this coming Tuesday?! If you expect me to apologize for paying my bill on time and in full, forget it....

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