Tuesday, May 31, 2011

31 MAY 11: Cruising for a Bruising

The Saturday night run was a heat-filled workout, but with a great payoff - as I made it three miles non-stop on the Riverwalk! Hopefully my sweaty body didn't ruin the romantic mood for several couples I passed. Who knows - maybe I made things steamier.

I picked up dinner on Buena Vista Road after the run. Saturday night freight trains east of downtown led me to drive home down Tenth Street - and at a traffic light, the driver of a car to my right motioned for me to roll down my window. It was a busy Saturday night on a holiday weekend, but the purple-shirted "ambassadors" were NOT out giving directions.

BLOGGER BEGGAR #5: I rolled down the passenger side window a bit - and then came the surprise. "Do you want to date?" a woman asked me. A second woman was with her in the car. Even in 2011, some old-fashioned "values" about romance remain in Columbus.

This question was the last thing I expected. "Want to date?!" I asked.

"Are you a cop?" If that's the second question, I don't think the woman was expecting to share a sandwich at Momma Goldberg's Deli.

I tried to point out my humble Honda was not a police car. And in the process, I tried to turn on my emergency lights to show I was stopped - except in the shock of the moment, I turned on the rear-window defroster.

"Do you have money?" the woman in the other car asked next. That's one problem with modern-day downtown Columbus - the 12th Street Library isn't around anymore for reading books.

"You're looking for a date with someone you've never met?" I asked in further disbelief. Whatever happened to old-fashioned matchmaking? Dating sites like Match.com certainly don't require burning gasoline costing more than three dollars a gallon.

"Find a place to park. I'm following you," the woman said. I was six blocks from home, and suddenly was leading someone against my will. At least NASCAR drafting partners tend to be on the same team these days.

But downtown Columbus was a very busy place at 10:00 on a Saturday night. I realized I couldn't park legally on First Avenue from where I was, so I kept driving down Tenth Street - only there were no parking spots at all, much less two of them. I never face this dilemma at other times downtown. But of course, that's when banks are open instead of nightclubs.

I was forced to turn left at Front Avenue, and found one spot next to Dillingham Street. I pulled over at the triangle in front of that spot, so the women in the other car could back into the legal spot. Instead, they stopped to my left for further discussion. Excuse me for forgetting females tend to be more verbal.

"Do you want to date?" the question came again from the other car.

"I'm just trying to go home and eat dinner," I admitted. "But you need to go on a date right now." If they would simply ask for directions to Scruffy Murphy's, we could settle this.

"Do you have money?" the woman asked again. While I didn't answer that, I had less than two dollars in change from Burger King. I also had a credit card, but somehow I didn't think they would count that.

"Park in that lot over there. We're following you." The woman pointed to a lot between the Convention and Visitors Bureau office and the Front Avenue parking deck.

"No, YOU lead," I demanded. "You're leading this whole thing." Sadie Hawkins Day in the comic strips never was done on four wheels....

The women turned around their car at Ninth and Front to enter the open parking lot. While that lot was full as well, I was thankful at least it was in the open. If something strange happened to me, there could be plenty of witnesses - quick to point out my bright orange running shorts.

I found a parking place near the garage, while the women parked two rows away. I got out of the car, and simply stood by the trunk -- intent on having these women come to me, if they're really that desperate for a date.

But the woman refused to get out of their car, and motioned me toward theirs. Finally I walked over and tried to end all doubt about what was happening.

"I'm going to put this in language we all can understand. Are you two prostitutes? Yes or no?" I spoke in a loud voice, to make sure strangers could hear me - and if the strangers happened to carry badges, so much the better.

"Yes or no??" I asked again. The women said nothing -- not even invoking their fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

"Because if you are, I don't want to have anything to do with you," I added firmly. No one seemed to stop and watch this moment. Perhaps they thought I was the real weirdo.

Finally the female driver answered: "Can we have the medicines you're using?" Medicines?! No - this was more like a "runner's high," mixed with high anxiety.

"I'm not using any medicines," I told the women. "What is this - something like the Mark Shelnutt case?" [3 Oct 10]

With that, the woman rolled up her car window, backed out of the parking space and went on her way. Can I get an attorney referral fee for that?

I walked back to my car, and drove home with my dinner down Front Avenue - making sure no one was following me as I did. A classic Bill Purvis sermon came to mind, about a Saturday night when he met prostitutes in downtown Columbus. Purvis wound up "left for dead." My choice was simpler and less bloody -- left.

This wasn't the first time women have tried to "pick me up" after dark. Another car tried it on a winter night in downtown Kansas City, when I was a college intern at a television station. I turned down that offer, too - and it's a good thing they didn't ask about money, because I didn't even have a credit card then.

But if you're wondering if prostitution is lurking in downtown Columbus, what happened to me over the weekend ought to provide the answer. And amazingly, the offer came right outside the Government Center. If Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson wants to start another task force, she can move from copper thefts to call-girl lifts.

So we seem to have rolling prostitutes on Tenth Street, in addition to "courtesy patrols" of Fort Benning soldiers on Broadway. If this is what downtown Columbus is becoming, I'm not sure I want to be part of it. Perhaps the "second shift" of visitors shows up around 10:00 p.m. -- as families go home, leaving the rowdy singles to themselves.

We received one e-mail involving downtown activities Monday, but I'm going to hold it until some reviewing can be done. In the meantime, let's check other (ahem) fun and games from the holiday weekend....

+ The Monday high temperature in Columbus broke another record, at 96 degrees F. WTVM counts seven days in May where the record high either has been tied or broken -- and jumping dogs must miss the Aflac Outdoor Games pool.

+ Scott Ressmeyer returned to Columbus from his three-week cross-country fund-raising trip for the Children Miracle's Network. It was billed as "Scott's Ride for Miracles" -- but WLTZ called his motorcycle posse "The Freedom Riders." Maybe freedom from sickness, but not from expenses....

+ WURY-FM returned to the air, after being silent for more than a week. The Seventh-Day Adventist station was down during Harold Camping's "Judgment Day" - which makes you wonder if Uchee Pines Institute was waiting for law officers to show up, and see if the staff had been raptured.

+ Columbus and Spalding split a doubleheader, to send the Georgia AAA high school baseball finals to a decisive third game today. The scores were 18-1 and 12-2 -- so fans shielding themselves from the sun provided the only "in-tents" moments of the day.

(The final-round doubleheader attracted a big crowd at Randy Jordan Field - so big that WDAK's Scott Miller found some people trying to sit inside the ballpark, against the centerfield fence. Who are these people, unemployed basketball photographers?)

+ The Columbus Lady Wings won their first women's basketball game -- except they won because the opponents from South Carolina forfeited and never came to town. Either the Wings are that good, or this semi-pro league is that bad.

+ Callaway Gardens hosted the annual Masters Water Ski Tournament. Jimmy Siemers and Whitney McClintock won the titles in "men's tricks" and "women's tricks" - which is strange, because I've been told all these years that tricks are for kids.

+ Instant Message to Skipper's Seafood on Buena Vista Road: Which one is it? One side of your sign offers a "blue crab boil" on Friday nights. The other side offers a "blue CARB boil." Would I need to enroll in Weight Watchers, to know which color of carbohydrate is better for me?

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Monday, May 30, 2011

30 MAY 11: Bin-Laden to Rest

Happy Memorial Day to you. The U.S. military can take comfort this year in the fact that their number-one target has been eliminated. And the last four weeks have proven beyond all doubt what a bad guy Usama bin-Laden was -- since he had pornography in his compound.

LAUGHLINE FLASHBACK: We wrote often about Usama bin-Laden (in various spellings) for national subscribers during the LaughLine years. Today we offer a sample from 2001:

12 SEP 01: Several TV reports suggested Osama bin-Laden was behind the Tuesday of Terror. He's been difficult to track down and capture for years - because Osama's "been hidin'..."

13 SEP 01: We heard one report Wednesday that prime terrorism suspect Osama bin-Laden moves to a new location three times a week. Before you call this suspicious, keep one thing in mind: he could pass for almost any player in the National Basketball Association.

14 SEP 01: Secretary of State Colin Powell declared Osama bin-Laden a "prime suspect" in the hijackings. Trouble is - how do you spell his first name? ABC spells it "Osama." Fox News says "Usama." But if the armed forces can track him down and hit hard enough, they might change it to "OW-sama."

17 SEP 01: Afghanistan's government showed no signs of backing down over the weekend. The Taliban first released a statement declaring, "You won't find Osama bin-Laden with missiles...." If the U.S. drops enough of them, at least he'll have to get some exercise digging tunnels.

Osama bin-Laden issued a statement Sunday, claiming he was NOT "personally responsible" for what happened in New York and Washington. We think we recall someone else saying this several years ago - and John Gotti's in prison now.

18 SEP 01: President Bush went to the Pentagon Monday, to check the damaged building and rally the military. He indicated he wants Osama bin-Laden "dead or alive." Of course, if bin-Laden is killed, it'll be harder to give him a fair trial....

Afghanistan's officials say a decision on Osama bin-Laden will be made today by a "Grand Council" of top Muslim ministers. You see, that country's not very different from the U.S. - only here, we call the decision-makers a Grand JURY.

Afghanistan's Ambassador to Pakistan tried to explain why Osama bin-Laden is still in his country. He says bin-Laden is a "guest" - and in their culture, you don't ask guests to leave. Maybe the U.S. should send Afghanistan some Western culture. Can Sally Jesse Raphael go there, and do a "freeloaders" episode?

The U.S. isn't the only country concerned about the terrorist threat. In Liberia, it's now against the law to buy or sell PHOTOS of Osama bin-Laden! [True/BBC.co.uk] This seems a bit extreme. How can Baptist churches hold a mass burning?

A number of people in Liberia's capital are selling stolen and copied photos of Osama bin-Laden. The government now considers that a terrorist act. In other countries, it would be called a great new way to encourage dart-throwing.

19 SEP 01: Afghanistan's government reportedly offered to turn over Osama bin-Laden Tuesday - but with some conditions. For one thing, it wants the world to recognize the Taliban rulers. Recognize them? Most U.S. residents have trouble pronouncing their names....

Jay Leno returned to late-night TV for the first time since the skyjackings. His emotional monologue noted only nine days ago, the big issue was Anne Heche's book "Call Me Crazy." Nine days later, that title seems more fitting for Osama bin-Laden's biography.

20 SEP 01: President Bush flatly refused a suggestion from Afghanistan that the U.S. negotiate a handover of Osama bin-Laden. The idea now rests in a new computer file created exclusively for the White House - the "Recycle Bin-Laden."

If the Tuesday of Terror was a statement against Western capitalism, it didn't get through to everyone. A T-shirt protesting Osama bin-Laden was spotted on sale in Manhattan Wednesday - for 34 dollars! [True/AP] Who's going to buy this? People losing their shirts in the stock market?!?!

21 SEP 01: Somebody's gotta say it - are we in for the first "Politically Correct" war in U.S. history? We're told not to say anything negative about Islam, Arabs, the U.S. military, natives of Afghanistan OR President Bush. Next thing you know, we'll learn Osama bin-Laden is really a blonde -- and those jokes will have to stop, too.

24 SEP 01: Didya hear about the new computer game - one that people in BOTH the U.S. and Afghanistan can play? It's called, "Where in the World is Osama bin-Laden...."

Afghanistan's Taliban government claimed Sunday it has no idea where Osama bin-Laden is. They have a special "guest" in their country -- then they lose track of him?!?! Some hosts THEY are! Instead of bombs, let's drop some Martha Stewart books on them.

We heard one report Sunday [NPR] that Osama bin-Laden was seen a week ago, riding his horse into the mountains of Afghanistan. Wow, maybe those "wanted dead or alive" posters are appropriate after all....

Pakistan is divided about whether to back Osama bin-Laden or the fight against terrorism. Some bin-Laden backers burned President Bush in effigy, after Friday prayers. That's a pretty mean thing to do - but at least they didn't add further insult, by spelling words wrong on their signs.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice scoffed Sunday at Afghanistan's demand for proof of Osama bin-Laden's involvement. She told CNN that country does NOT follow a western standard for justice -- proving the Taliban and right-wing radio talk shows have something in common.

25 SEP 01: President Bush announced another step in the fight against terrorism Monday. He signed an executive order freezing the U.S. bank accounts of 27 people and groups.... Osama bin-Laden DID make the list of frozen bank accounts. So if you happened to have a debt to this man, apparently you don't "OWE-sama" any more....

The world's most wanted man emerged from hiding Monday, as Osama bin-Laden released a fax statement. Now we wish the U.S. government HAD given Afghanistan some high-tech equipment - or at least "caller I-D."

Osama bin-Laden's fax calls on Pakistan to challenge what he calls a "Jewish crusade" led by President Bush. What's bin-Laden trying to do - get on the John Birch Society's mailing list?

The U.S. reward for capturing Osama bin-Laden currently stands at 25 million dollars. Yet no one's been able to bring him out of hiding. You know it's difficult when David Copperfield won't even try that stunt.

The Taliban leaders and the Bush administration DO seem to agree on one thing: Osama bin-Laden's demise will NOT mean the end of terrorism. Today it's al-Qaeda - tomorrow it may be Al Yankovic or Al Martino....

26 SEP 01: U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Associated Press his country will NOT go after the Taliban government, if it turns over Osama bin-Laden. In fact, he suggested the Afghanis might even receive Western aid. Now THAT'S the way to promote "compassionate conservative" values -- such as religious tolerance.

27 SEP 01: Mullah Mohammed Omar still refuses to turn over Osama bin-Laden. He says the issues here are Islamic prestige and Afghan honor. We don't get it. Where's the "prestige" in killing 40 times more people than Timothy McVeigh did?

28 SEP 01: A delegation from Pakistan went to Afghanistan Thursday, making a "last request" for Osama bin-Laden. So what happened to the 72-hour "ultimatum" - that expired eight days ago? It looks like wimpy parenting knows no national boundaries....

7-8 OCT 01: Osama bin-Laden's brother happens to be attending college at Harvard. That brother told Sunday's "Boston Globe" he and his family condemn the terrorist acts bin-Laden ordered. If that's true, bin-Laden's will must be unique. Can he leave his fortune to those seven virgins in paradise?

11 OCT 01: As you might guess, the number-one terrorist on the FBI "Most Wanted" list is Osama bin-Laden. How many U.S. residents would love to make him "number one with a bullet"?!?!

The Taliban rulers reportedly have lifted all restrictions imposed against Osama bin-Laden. This is important, since now he can carry as many bags aboard Afghanistan's airlines as he likes.

12 OCT 01: President Bush told reporters five nights of allied air strikes have put Osama bin-Laden and the al-Qaeda network "on the run." This will give U.S. special forces a big advantage inside Afghanistan. The military has sneakers, while the terrorists tend to wear sandals.

President Bush admitted it could take a year or two to bring Osama bin-Laden to justice. Some U.S. residents probably don't like to hear that. Take those Democrats in Congress, who want to win back the House next fall....

15 OCT 01: President Bush rejected a new proposal from Afghanistan's government Sunday. The Taliban offered Osama bin-Laden, in exchange for an end to bombing and evidence of his involvement in the skyjackings. Doesn't the President remember his days with the Texas Rangers? We thought trades and deals made that team a contender.

One report Sunday [NPR News] claimed the military alliance is after the Taliban army's "55th Brigade." That group includes the troops who surround Osama bin-Laden. This proves the government's suggestion about "staying alive at 55" has been completely forgotten.

16 OCT 01: Q: What do Osama bin-Laden and Fred Flintstone have in common?

A: Both can look out their windows, and see "Rubble!" [Thanks, Sandy Collins!]

Besides, a Taliban diplomat told "Meet the Press" the other day a U.S. trial of Osama bin-Laden would be a "joke." President Bush already has publicly declared bin-Laden guilty - and how many evangelists will be waiting for bin-Laden outside the courthouse every day?

17 OCT 01: Despite ten days of bombing, U.S. intelligence experts suspect Osama bin-Laden still is alive in Afghanistan. Many people hope the attack has done a LITTLE damage, though - such as bringing him down to his last two turban changes.

CNN announced Tuesday it has given the "Al-Jazeera" Arab news network a list of questions for Osama bin-Laden to answer. The White House staff privately hopes one of the questions is, "What are you doing a week from Saturday night?"

18 OCT 01: We should have seen this coming - an e-mail offer for "Osama bin-Laden toilet paper!" We assume this paper works a bit differently. For instance, when you finish unwrapping a roll, there should be a person's head in the middle.

(There's one thing we do NOT expect with Osama bin-Laden toilet paper -- any promises about softness, if you know what we mean.)

19 OCT 01: Q: What do Osama bin-Laden and Hiroshima, Japan have in common?

A: Nothing - YET! [Thanks, Sandy Collins!]

22 OCT 01: Sunday's "Washington Post" reported President Bush has given the CIA approval to kill Osama bin-Laden. Wow, the President IS desperate about this - not even waiting to bring him to the U.S., to strap in an electric chair.

26 OCT 01: The U.S. Defense Department will announce the winner today of a five-year contest to build the next generation of fighter jet. This jet can land vertically, after flying at supersonic speeds. But if it doesn't recognize Osama bin-Laden's face, what good is it?

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted Thursday the hunt for Osama bin-Laden is like looking for "a needle in a haystack." We applaud the Secretary for his careful choice of words. He could have used the phrase, "needle in a stack of turban towels."

29 OCT 01: Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" pointed out Osama bin-Laden is a Wahhabi Muslim, while Iraq's population is mostly Sunni Muslim. So it's no wonder fundamentalism doesn't catch on - too many Iraqis have a Sunni outlook on life.

31 OCT 01: In several countries, the "hot costume" for adults this Halloween is none other than Osama bin-Laden. We hope that's NOT the case in the U.S. - because police still are recovering from all those bogus anthrax calls.

1 NOV 01: State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said if the Taliban wants proof Osama bin-Laden is a terrorist, it should watch his video statements. Trouble is, the Afghan leaders have banned television -- so we hope some U.S. pilot drops a big-screen TV on Kabul soon.

2 NOV 01: The Al-Jazeera cable system presented a statement Thursday that reportedly came from Osama bin-Laden. It says the world is divided into two camps - one with "the banner of the cross," the other with "the banner of Islam." Aw, c'mon! If someone suggested putting a cross on the Star-Spangled Banner, civil liberties groups would sue in no time.

SCHEDULED TUESDAY: The women who asked me for a date.... and more....

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

29 MAY 11: Sending Out an SOS

Hey, about that title -- why didn't Port Columbus call its big event Saturday an SOS? As in "save our ships?" Did the management decide too many people see those letters nowadays, and think of soap pads?

Instead, Saturday's event was simply called a "Rally to Support Port Columbus." Managers of the Civil War Naval Museum estimate 800 people showed up during the two-hour rally. They called it a "great turnout" on short notice - and now the pressure is on Columbus High School's baseball team to top it on Monday.

Port Columbus encouraged people to attend the two-hour rally by offering free admission, and giving away door prizes. The door prizes might qualify under the mayor's idea of an effective "business plan," but I can't see free admission doing it.

The Port Columbus blog claims several "friends, staff, volunteers, pirates, VIP's" attended Saturday's rally. No names were named -- but if Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson had shown up, she probably would have been listed under "pirate."

State Senator Josh McKoon gave a speech supporting the museum and opposing any cut in city funding. Dick McMichael's blog notes McKoon even became a member of Port Columbus - a first step toward moving the museum to West Point Lake, if all else fails.

(Port Columbus actually is in Ed Harbison's state senate district. I don't know if he's a member of the museum or not - but if it's any comfort, Harbison gave thousands of dollars last year to the Port Renaissance Hotel in downtown Atlanta.)

Josh McKoon admitted Port Columbus is losing $70,000 in state grant money, because of a tight budget in Atlanta. I thought Governor Nathan Deal was going to care more about Columbus than Sonny Perdue did - but maybe that interest stops with his daughter at the Springer Opera House.

Port Columbus Executive Director Bruce Smith told WTVM he's willing to accept a 17-percent cut in city funding, or about $50,000. The mayor's proposed city budget would make a cut of about 70 percent, or $222,000. The museum staff should have illustrated this during the rally, by holding a limbo contest.

But here's things become confusing for me. The Ledger-Enquirer reported Port Columbus gets almost half its annual budget from the city. But WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley said in an editorial the city only provides 11 percent of the funding. And a real-life Civil war-era museum doesn't have calculators, to sort out the math.

Assuming Lee Brantley's numbers are right, a 70-percent reduction in city funding for Port Columbus actually would be only a seven-percent cut in the total budget. Why would a seven-percent cut force the museum to close? A well-organized Sunday afternoon telethon on WTVM or CCG-TV ought to make that up.

As Port Columbus staffers left feeling encouraged, a new budget bombshell came Saturday from seemingly out of nowhere. Richard Hyatt's website reported proposed cuts in the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office could force the removal of Government Center security checkpoints. Anyone who renews a driver's license in person probably is rooting for that....

-> We received something rare at our Thursday night poker tournament. Read what happened at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Our Saturday memories of a weekend in Joplin, Missouri brought a response from a reader in Ohio....


I enjoy your blog a lot, even though I'm by no means a resident of Columbus (neither one, as a matter of fact). However, today's has to be the best post I've read from you yet. It was touching in so many ways, and I'm sure it will similarly touch others as well.

Have a Blessed Sabbath,

John D

Thank you for the kind words -- but let's not overlook the 15 other states which have cities named Columbus. I doubt Christopher Columbus ever would have imagined his name at the north edge of North Dakota, practically bordering Canada. But then again, it's also hard to believe some Egyptian moved to southwest Georgia and called a town Cairo.

SCHEDULED MONDAY: Memorial Day laughs at al-Qaeda's expense (rescheduled from earlier this month)....

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

28 MAY 11: Out of the Depths

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: You may find the following items humorous, serious, or a little of both - but we offer these thoughts from time to time, as we keep a seventh-day Sabbath.)

Parts of the Columbus area had no power all day Friday, after Thursday's fierce thunderstorm. The damage and death from storms across the country this spring truly have been stunning to see. It almost makes you wonder how Harold Camping could have had the date wrong for Jesus's return.

One disaster zone which gained my attention this past week was Joplin, Missouri - especially because I had a close call with death there when I was a boy. I'm not sure my family realized it, but I thought I'd made a mistake which would kill me. Sadly, all it takes for that in Columbus right now is an evening walk near the Civic Center.

I don't remember the circumstances behind the trip, but my family took a weekend getaway to Joplin when I was about eight years old. We stayed on Saturday night at a Holiday Inn which was co-owned by baseball legend Mickey Mantle. The child in me thought Mantle might actually be there -- but the discovery online Friday of a wine list tells me he was at least there in spirit.

Mickey Mantle's Holiday Inn had an outdoor swimming pool -- and in the 4:00 hour of a sunny Saturday afternoon, my mother let me step in the shallow end. I couldn't swim, and I needed some courage to walk along the wall. My head wasn't far above the water -- but I'll resist the temptation here to draw a comparison with the Columbus city budget.

After a few minutes walking along the pool wall, I stumbled and fell -- and as I went to the bottom of the shallow end, my eight-year-old mind concluded I was doomed. You simply don't go down in the water and get back up again alive. Not without the gear I'd seen Lloyd Bridges carry on "Sea Hunt," you didn't....

So I sat at the bottom of the swimming pool holding my breath -- but aware that I would die in about five minutes. I didn't have much of a life to "pass before my eyes." In fact, most of my thinking focused on the few episodes of "Batman" I enjoyed.

But after presuming I'd blown it for about 15 seconds, a surprise occurred. A man walked diagonally across the pool and picked me up from the bottom! To this day, I can't tell you who he was -- but that man saved my life. I was prepared to give it up, if only to prove to my parents they liked my older brother more than me.

My mother was sitting near the shallow end of the pool when this rescue happened. But I don't remember her expressing any sigh of relief or concern over the situation. She probably thought I was being playful at the bottom. But I was, well, dead serious. I'd figured that one mistake was the end for me -- so I was playing by the Republican rules for President Obama long before my time.

I was ready to surrender, thinking I made one misstep too many -- yet a mystery man gave me new life. And what happened to me can happen for you. In Acts 2 of the Bible, Peter advises concerned listeners to "repent and be baptized.... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." My water in Joplin wasn't really a baptism, because I didn't repent of being awkward.

Many Joplin tornado survivors probably think their lives hit rock-bottom this past week -- joining survivors of the Georgia and Alabama storms a month ago. But there's been an outpouring of compassion to help those people on the slow road to recovery. Hopefully survivors also are asking God for wisdom in walking day by day - especially since stray nails still could be anywhere.

As I wrote this entry Friday afternoon, WBOJ-FM "88.5 the Truth" played a song called "God of Second Chances." I received one on a Saturday afternoon in Joplin. God is ready to give you one as well, if you'll repent of the sins you've committed and mistakes you've made. If only poker tournaments gave me that privilege when I make bad bets....

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Friday, May 27, 2011

27 MAY 11: One Call, Off the Wall

The forecast warned strong storms were coming Thursday -- and sure enough, they did. Gusty winds were NOT strong enough to flip over my car. As old as my car is, a small part of me wanted that to happen for the "total loss" payoff.

But the stormy weather brought one surprise around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, as "tornado sirens" sounded across Columbus. A check of the television showed only a severe thunderstorm watch across the area, with a warning in one east Alabama county. This was certainly a bad way to promote that "Stop the Violence" rally....

The local meteorologists noted NO tornado warning was ever issued for Muscogee County. So why did the siren sound? Only WLTZ's Pat Walker had an answer - and he was standing in a studio in Iowa. Of course, that meant he had more free time to make long-distance calls.

Pat Walker explained someone called Columbus 911 and reported seeing a tornado. In response to that, the siren sounded -- even though no tornado warning ever was issued in this area. I'm not sure that's a much better senior prank than unearthing bricks from the sidewalk.

I can't say with full certainty the "tornado siren" went off Thursday, because the Emergency Management office can make the system broadcast several different sounds depending on the situation. But how many people know the difference between a tornado warning noise and a lesser "alert" noise? Both have to be equally scary and annoying.

The line of storms left plenty of damage, anyway. The late-night news showed large limbs blown down around Lakebottom Park -- all the better for morning joggers to test their hurdling skills.

Trouble was, WRBL had no late-night newscast. At least it wasn't on my broadcast-only TV set. I'm not sure if there was a problem at the station tower, with connections between the Columbus studios and master control operations in South Carolina - or if the news department simply ran out of money again.

Speaking of the weather and television: Thursday's Ledger-Enquirer reported Bruce Lee will leave WTVM next week. That means Derek Kinkade can be declared the winner and undisputed champion of Doppler Radar controls....

Meanwhile, former WTVM weathercaster Kurt Schmitz confirmed he's talked with WRBL managers about working there - but said it wouldn't happen before 2012. These contracts with local TV "stars" can be tough. I mean, the newspaper didn't even set up a camera to interview Schmitz.

As it happens, I called Kurt Schmitz's attorney this week about the possibility of legal action against WTVM. Mark Casto told me he "couldn't say anything about it." Stacey Jackson would have called at least one news conference by now....

-> We received something rare at our Thursday night poker tournament. Read what happened at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION on Columbus trash pickup closed Thursday afternoon - and it was almost unanimous. All but one of our 14 voters preferred a reduction to one collection day a week, as opposed to higher monthly fees. Of course, for all I know the poll may have been hacked by prison inmates.

One voter who apparently chose "other" commenting once-a-week garbage collection is fine, IF something is done to keep costs down in the future. I'm not sure how the city would accomplish that. Watching garbage crews pedaling giant bicycles would look a little strange.

(Instant Message to that voter: Yes, you can recycle cardboard in Columbus. There's a big bin for it at the recycling center on 22nd Avenue. If you can "break down" the boxes, maybe you can also break down any resistance to driving across town.)

We've changed the Big Blog Question, to ask whether the Teenage Parenting Center should be closed to save the Muscogee County School District money. School Board Chair Cathy Williams told Thursday's Ledger-Enquirer TAP costs about $35,000 per student -- and teenagers can sell only so many magazine subscriptions in the Internet age.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Our look at the proposed Columbus city budget Wednesday raised a question for one reader....


In your blog today you make a comparison of the Columbus Museum and the Naval Museum. You point out that the Columbus Museum is not on the city budget. This may not be a fair comparison - from what I understand, the Columbus Museum receives funding from the Muscogee County School District - well over a million, I believe. Not City, but that's still tax dollars.

Just my $0.02. Cheers,


The museum on Wynnton Road indeed does come under the school district, and has its own board of trustees. The recommended budget for this fiscal year was $1.2 million. As we head toward Memorial Day weekend, it's helpful to know the price of a free museum is not free.

The current school district budget sadly is NOT posted online -- nor is the proposed budget for next fiscal year, so we can see if Columbus Museum funding is being cut. But have you noticed the museum staff hasn't offered any paintings to Port Columbus for a possible fund-raising auction?

Another branch of the school district tops Thursday's other news....

+ The Chattahoochee Valley Library Board approved a budget which will close branch libraries one extra day a week. Please pretend those librarians are following the example of veteran doctors.

+ Attorneys in metro Atlanta revealed Bishop Eddie Long has "resolved" the abuse lawsuits by four young men, before the cases went to trial. Truly the spirit of Michael Jackson is alive and well....

+ The Columbus Lions annihilated Alabama 62-27. The visiting Hammers simply asked for trouble -- by coming to Columbus in uniforms which reminded many people of the University of Oregon.

(The Lions promised to give free team jerseys to the first 1,000 fans through the Civic Center doors. But there was a small problem, because all the jerseys were youth extra-large. Is this some sort of sneaky message against obesity?)

+ Georgia eliminated Auburn from the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament 3-2. The Tigers are 29-29, and are barred from the NCAA tournament because they don't have a winning record. Aw, c'mon - if that rule applied to college football, at least five bowl games would have to be canceled.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: My own near-death experience in Joplin....

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

26 MAY 11: TAP Out?

Do you watch those "Teen Mom" reality shows on TV? I don't have cable or satellite, so I haven't. But part of me wonders if they glorify sexual immorality. If you're a teenager and you can't sing or play a sport well, the next best path to stardom may be getting pregnant.

Teen mothers in Muscogee County may have to change their plans come fall - as school district leaders are floating a proposal to close the Teenage Parenting Center, called TAP for short. I pity any Fort Benning private who's confused it with The Uptown Tap.

The Teenage Parenting Center is located in the old Waverly Terrace Elementary School on 11th Avenue. For 12 years girls have continued toward a high school diploma, while their babies receive day care in a separate part of the building. The fathers do not join them for some odd.... oh wait. Some of them could be facing criminal charges.

(I didn't realize until I checked the TAP website that young mothers have to bring eight changes of diapers with their babies every day. I should ask my niece/new mom Dr. Heather for a ruling on this -- but they must teach hydration at a very early age.)

But the Teenage Parenting Center's day care program has relied on donations and grant money, as opposed to school district funding. District spokesperson Valerie Fuller showed WTVM numbers indicating donations and grants have declined over the last five years. Those babies simply aren't crying loudly enough to get people's attention....

Valerie Fuller says without the outside funding for day care, the Teenage Parenting Center could be closed to save Muscogee County schools more than two million dollars. I'm not sure why this has to be an "either-or" choice. Right-to-life groups can volunteer to care for those babies - showing even their recommendations can have consequences.

Superintendent Susan Andrews told the Ledger-Enquirer the money saved by closing TAP could add two days to the overall district's school year. That would mean two more days of pay for teachers. And imagine the economic growth from teen mothers paying for private day care.

Under this proposal, the teen moms would return to their regular high schools. I recall a news story several years ago about a girl who actually wanted to stay at Hardaway High, because she didn't think the Teenage Parenting Center's instruction would be as good -- not to mention the soccer team.

In a way, I can understand why that girl wanted to remain at Hardaway. Moving teenagers to a special "parenting center" can have a stigma attached to it. It certainly had a negative reputation during my high school days in another state. They were "bad girls" long before Donna Summer turned them into a disco song.

Part of me says the Teenage Parenting Center is a form of school segregation. But another part of me says expectant mothers could face all sorts of peer pressure and emotional distress by staying in regular middle or high schools. For one thing, the girls could be accused constantly of flunking the sex education class.

The Teenage Parenting Center has been at the edge of this budget knife before. A big anonymous donation came at the last minute several years ago, to keep it going. Since this latest proposal isn't going before the Muscogee County School Board until 6 June, Wednesday's "floating" could have been a hint for that donor to come forward again - hoping that donor isn't also a fan of public golf courses.

But at the risk of sounding preachy, a Teenage Parenting Center wouldn't be needed if young men and women acted more responsibly. Yes, sagging pants can lead to sagging morals....

We may have a new Big Blog Question here. Check back to see - and we'll check other Wednesday news:

+ Columbus tied a record, with a high temperature of 95 degrees F. I caved in during the late afternoon, and turned on the home air conditioner for the first time this season. Blame it on the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, for opening those swimming pools.

+ A Mobile contractor complained to the Russell County Commission that a contract for expanding the county jail was awarded illegally to a local firm. WRBL indicated the dispute could boil down to whether the extra wing of the jail is new construction or remodeling. I hope no one organizes an inmate uprising to settle this....

+ The Opelika-Auburn News reported accused Toomer's Corner tree poisoner Harvey Updyke Jr. entered a plea of NOT guilty "by reason of mental disease or defect." In other words, his brain may have been spiked before he used anything called Spike.

(So if this case goes to trial, shouldn't the video rights automatically go to Spike TV?)

+ Georgia high school student Lauren Alaina finished second in the "American Idol" voting. WXTX didn't go to northwest Georgia for big final-round coverage, like it did a few years ago for Taylor Hicks in central Alabama. Does that reveal an Alabama bias? Or did the managers decide that other singer Haley was robbed?

+ Auburn University announced the top scorer on the men's basketball team is leaving school. Earnest Ross reportedly was unhappy with Coach Tony Barbee and his staff. Barbee probably wishes he could trade Ross to Kentucky for a couple of junior varsity players.

+ Alabama outlasted Arkansas on the opening day of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament. Auburn and Georgia both lost, and will meet in an elimination game today. This game needs to be postponed at least one day - so wrestling announcers can head to Hoover and hype it as a "loser leaves town match."

+ Instant Message to the Georgia Department of Labor: I came across one of your job listings, which had this requirement. "Must have six months continuous employment with one employer within the last 90 days." Is this a math puzzle that you want applicants to solve? Or does the employer only want people who will work double shifts?

LAUGHLINE FLASHBACK: Oprah Winfrey ended her daily talk show Wednesday - but Columbus residents may remember a three-year period when she wasn't on local television at all. Station managers considered her program too expensive to show. We mentioned the "Oprah-Free Zone" in LaughLine issues for a national audience during September 2000:

11 SEP 00: Our town may now be the only one in America where you CANNOT watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show!" A local station [WRBL] canceled her last week, because she lost badly in the ratings to "General Hospital." Hotels in town are now on alert - expecting Oprah to vacation here, to avoid getting noticed.

(And to make matters worse, we don't think "Oxygen" is on cable in our town, either. If we didn't know better, we'd think the town was full of cattle farmers.)

12 SEP 00: Albert Gore made history Monday, as the first Presidential candidate to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." We weren't able to watch - so did he talk about financial freedom, or getting in touch with his inner spirit?

Oprah Winfrey explained she's interviewing the candidates because she wants her viewers to decide "who feels right to be the next President." Trouble is, the only people allowed to actually feel the candidates are their wives and running mates.

"Oprah" asked "Al" what he's most comfortable in, in the bedroom. The Democrat's answer: "Bed!" After some of those White House fundraisers, we thought he might say a money belt.

(Oprah Winfrey asking bedroom questions? Apparently she's trying to beat MTV to the punch....)

20 SEP 00: George W. Bush took his turn on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Tuesday - and many viewers cringed at the thought of it. After all, the last time an "O" and a "W" got together, it was painful.... [OW!]

The Republican scored points right away by kissing Oprah Winfrey on the cheek. The host noted last week, Albert Gore only shook her hand. Then again, if Mr. Gore kissed Oprah the way he kisses Tipper, it might have sparked a scandal.

(Hopefully Stedman Graham was paying attention to this show. Keep shaking your woman's hand, Stedman, and your "poll numbers" will drop, too.)

Mr. Bush is trying to show how his proposals will benefit "ordinary people." But he missed a golden opportunity Tuesday. How much would his tax cuts help Oprah Winfrey's personal chef, trainer and financial consultant?

A touching moment came when The Republican told Oprah Winfrey about his twin daughters. He actually began to cry when he discussed their birth 18 years ago. We all understood Mr. Bush's emotions - since there's no male heir to continue the dynasty.

The Bush appearance on "Oprah" brought a first - when a member of the audience interrupted, trying to ask a question about Iraq. Winfrey called that man the first heckler in the 15-year history of her show. There could have been more, of course - but the cattle ranchers in Amarillo boycotted the show instead.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

25 MAY 11: Boats, Bucks and Bogies

It's the unofficial first day of summer in Columbus -- as the city's four public swimming pools open for the season. If you go, keep in mind the city budget is very tight. Any water splashed onto the deck might be collected, for sprinkling the fairways at public golf courses.

The latest Columbus city budget hearing occurred Tuesday, with several departments at risk of losing all sorts of funding. The director of municipal golf courses presented a business plan - but the bottom line still reminded critics too much of those classic words from Caddyshack: "It's in the hole! It's in the hole!"

John Milam told WRBL under his business plan, Bull Creek Golf Course could become self-sustaining. That seems logical, since "Golf Digest" magazine has named Bull Creek one of the top 25 public courses in the country. Who knows how many tourists are coming to Columbus, simply to shoot the Bull?

But John Milam noted even with a business plan, a city subsidy would remain necessary for the nine-hole course at Oxbow Creek. Somehow this doesn't make sense - with a smaller golf course costing the city a lot more money.

John Milam estimates $200,000 in city money will be needed to keep Oxbow Creek Golf Course open. For you "Figure Filberts" (in the classic words of Georgia Tech sportscaster Al Ciraldo), this comes to about 70 dollars a yard based on the long course. That beats about 540 dollars a yard for the most logical alternative....

Why should it cost this much money to operate a nine-hole golf course? Could it be that golfers simply aren't heading down South Lumpkin Road to Oxbow Creek? It's far better for Fort Benning veterans to let out their emotions there, than inside the National Infantry Museum.

On the other hand, maybe golfers are afraid of Oxbow Creek Golf Course because it's located next to Oxbow Meadows and all those wild animals. I think there's a way to combine the two facilities, and make things more entertaining. Build a mini-golf course with live creatures such as alligators on the greens.

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson's proposed budget would end a city subsidy of nearly $620,000 for the municipal golf courses. But she said Tuesday the $300,000 subsidy being proposed by some Columbus Councilors is "much more appropriate." Well, OK -- but I'm not sure reaching the green in four strokes is better than reaching in two.

(Hopefully the golf course business plan doesn't get too creative - with the club pros challenging customers to wager on every hole.)

Meanwhile, the managers of Port Columbus are organizing a Saturday rally to oppose any cuts in the city subsidy. The Civil War naval museum has a tool in this fight that the golf course pros don't. The staff can turn around those old cannons, and aim them toward the Government Center.

The mayor's proposed budget notes Port Columbus has more than 20,000 visitors each year. But Executive Director Bruce Smith says without a $78,000 city subsidy, the museum would have to close by the end of the year. Before you jump to conclusions - I have yet to hear fellow "doomsday prophet" Harold Camping make the same appeal for money.

Maybe Bruce Smith needs to contact another local museum and compare budgets. The Columbus Museum receives no city subsidy at all (at least not in the proposed budget) - and as they say, "it's always free." Port Columbus charges at least five dollars to enter. So the north is free while the south is.... naaah, I shouldn't go there....

Hmmmm - what do Oxbow Creek and Port Columbus have in common? They're both located on the south side of town. What we may have here is a question about whether Columbus Council should spend city money on keystones of Columbus South revitalization -- even though they were around long before the new Victory Drive hotels.

Tight museum budgets extend far beyond Columbus, of course. GPB reported Tuesday the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon will close in June after 15 years. All the items will be placed in storage in Athens - coming out only if R.E.M. stages a reunion tour.

But has there ever been a spring when the proposed Columbus city budget brought such a widespread uproar? I mean, from groups other than public safety officers - who still are trying to recover their voices, after Jim Wetherington left the mayor's office?

There's good news for some budgets, in the rest of the Tuesday headlines:

+ The Georgia Gas Prices website showed Fort Benning has the lowest price for regular unleaded in the state, at $3.42 a gallon. The price dropped six to eight cents Tuesday near the Columbus Civic Center, to a low of $3.51. So who sent oil companies phony e-mails claiming President Obama canceled Memorial Day?

+ Columbus Police told the Ledger-Enquirer someone walked out of Advance Auto Parts near Columbus Park Crossing, stealing $455 worth of antifreeze. C'mon, guy - simply leave the box of burgers on the kitchen counter to thaw, and they'll be fine this weekend.

+ WTVM reported a federal grand jury indicted Tracey Pearson on 19 counts of stealing money from the accounts of SunTrust Bank customers. One older woman admitted she became suspicious when Pearson "started being dressed nicer and nicer." And since all the new thrift stores hadn't opened yet, that may have given Pearson away.

+ The Georgia AAA high school baseball finals were postponed from Saturday to Monday. Columbus High will wait because Saturday is graduation day for the opponents at Spalding High. What's going on here? Any good dictionary will show you baseball comes before commencement.

+ Instant Message to Richard Hyatt: I had a sneak peek at today's Ledger-Enquirer column. Thanks for reading this blog. Thanks for the extra traffic you'll undoubtedly send my way. But please adjust your spell-checker on my last name - you're better than that.

Our count of unique visitors is up nearly 24 percent from 2010! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

24 MAY 11: Spring Race, Fall Race

He put small warning ads in the Columbus Times - but consider the things Elijah Johnson could have done. The Columbus business owner was ready to wrap his pickup truck with the message: "Judgment Day, May 21." But he never did it - which I'm guessing actually makes its resale value a lot lower now.

I went back to Johnson's Camera Repair on University Drive Monday, to get the owner's view on what went wrong over the weekend. Elijah Johnson bought into the Harold Camping timeline that Jesus would "rapture" true believers away. At least one of his relatives thought it happened Saturday - which is what happens when you're away from your phone for a while.

Elijah Johnson told me he ordered "Judgment Day" bumper stickers, for making one of those "auto wraps." But he never got around to taking his pickup to a detailing shop. "I'm glad I didn't," Johnson admitted. For one thing, trips to the car wash would have increased from so many teenagers throwing eggs at it.

The racks with Family Radio literature were noticeably absent from the front counter of Elijah Johnson's shop Monday. But he still had the network's Internet streaming audio on, as he waited to hear Harold Camping's explanation of what happened. It's a little like asking political candidates why they haven't fulfilled their promises.

Elijah Johnson admits one or two of the tracts published by Family Radio to defend "Judgment Day" didn't seem to make sense. Johnson gave me one of those tracts a couple of years ago -- "God Gives Another Infallible Proof." It fell in my white paper recycling bag during this year's spring cleaning.

But believe it or not, Harold Camping still may be infallible after all. After admitting he was "flabbergasted" by the lack of a great earthquake and rapture, Camping said on his live radio talk show Monday night "Judgment Day" DID begin - only with God judging the world in a spiritual way. Talk about giving new meaning to "the quiet storm"....

Harold Camping still insists we're now in the midst of 153 days of judgment, which will culminate with the salvation of believers and destruction of the world 21 October. He says the number 153 has Biblical significance - so please ignore the fact that his two momentous dates happen to occur around the times of NASCAR races near Charlotte.

(If I were Harold Camping, I wouldn't take that message of judgment and destruction on tour to Tuscaloosa anytime soon.)

So instead of apologizing and repenting for setting a date which he claimed "the Bible guarantees," Harold Camping is in effect saying he was right all along. He simply was too focused on physical things occurring -- as if his physical body was the one which was destined for heaven, anyway.

I didn't speak with Elijah Johnson after Harold Camping's "Open Forum." But Johnson told me another message on Family Radio earlier in the day made a lot of sense - that "God's timing is not our timing." Either Camping didn't hear that message, or he's found the first staff member to be eliminated as donations dry up.

Put yourself in Elijah Johnson's shop for a moment. Would you accept Harold Camping's explanation, postponing the salvation of believers five months? Especially since his prediction of a second coming in 1994 was wrong? After two strikes, Camping appears ready to go down swinging.

(When friends bring up Harold Camping's 1994 prediction, I note how one apocalyptic event actually did occur that year. The baseball season was cut short, with the World Series canceled.)

As of now, the 21 October date of "doomsday prophet" Harold Camping would occur at the end of a personal fall vacation. Maybe I should stay one extra day after all - but sleep outside. After all, I wouldn't want to risk being charged for extra nights while I'm covered by a crumbling motel room.

While you start preparing for another "end of the world" party, let's check other Monday news:

+ Phenix City Manager Wallace Hunter defended the practice of assistants working in multiple city offices. He told WRBL the extra positions have only $1,000 stipends, instead of spending $450,000 for separate people in those positions. So if these executives can multitask, can the rank-and-file city workers have permission to play computer games while on duty?

+ Leading Atlanta chefs visited "Georgia's Finest Organic Farms" in Waverly Hall. One of the founders of the organic farm is former Columbus car dealer Chris French - who's probably now saying to workers at harvest time, "Let's dig 'em all up."

+ Columbus torpedoed Thomson 6-0 and 16-0, to advance to the Georgia AAA high school baseball finals. Kyle Carter struck out 15 batters in Game 1 - and I'm sure the fans appreciated those whiffing bats on a hot May afternoon.

+ Columbus will host the finals beginning Saturday, taking on Spalding. It's time to make this a real rivalry, and make sure all the players have Wilson gloves.)

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Lady Wings: I guess you lost that first home game Saturday night. None of the TV stations seemed to pay attention to it. But at least you were honest enough to post the score on Facebook, without bragging about it being an "all-time high score."

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Monday, May 23, 2011

23 MAY 11: Wild Adventure?

The Saturday night run was better this weekend, at 1.55 miles non-stop on both sides of the Dillingham Street Bridge. Trading the gusty winds of March for the mugginess of mid-June made a difference -- even though all that occurred in the middle of May.

There was another athletic event in downtown Columbus over the weekend which I had to skip. I only knew about it through a giant billboard on Wynnton Road: the "31901 Urban Adventure." Or as they might call it on 12th Street - a postal delivery route.

Saturday's Urban Adventure was one of several "Strong 4 Life" events organized by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. I'm not sure why they're invading Columbus, which already has two established hospitals. Maybe this was timed to sneak in and out before Scott Ressmeyer's motorcycle ride comes home.

The 31901 Urban Adventure was based downtown, with two-person teams undergoing a mini-triathlon. They went running, paddled on the Chattahoochee River and bicycled through a parking garage. With an entry fee of 50 dollars per team, hopefully people didn't have to pay a parking fee.

But the instructions for the Urban Adventure left me puzzled, and I wonder if others were puzzled as well. The starting point was "Woodruff Park in Uptown Columbus." A news release explained that was on the Riverwalk. But a map of city parks puts Woodruff Park closer to Manchester Expressway and Interstate 185, outside the 31901 zip code. Was this a mandatory bow to "One Columbus?"

I've taken runs through Uptown Columbus for 14 years -- but I'm not sure what Strong 4 Life did really counts as an "Urban Adventure." Unless, this is, the organizers intentionally pulled up sidewalk blocks on Broadway like I found Saturday night.

As someone who lives in the 31901 zip code, I know many other ways to truly make this part of Columbus an "urban adventure." Without requesting a consulting fee, I suggest....

+ The Broadway high hurdles -- as in jumping over sidewalk café tables.

+ The Tenth Street BMX course -- riding a bike over all the jagged railroad tracks between Sixth and Tenth Avenues. (Bonus points if you can do it without a train in your path.)

+ The TSYS Turnaround - several laps on the sidewalk which replaces Broadway from 14th to 15th Street. But please don't ride your bicycle over the stars of tribute to corporate executives.

+ The B.T.W. sprint -- racing through the Booker T. Washington housing complex as fast as possible, before beggars or criminals stop you.

+ The Plaintiffs' Poker Run - stopping at every law office in the Historic District to pick up a card.

BLOG UPDATE: The proverbial "other shoe" reportedly has dropped at WTVM. Your blog is told Derek Kinkade has been named Chief Meteorologist, taking the title of the departed Kurt Schmitz. This probably means the end of those "I Challenge Derek" stunts - because you never saw Schmitz flipping pizza dough or trying to be a cheerleader.

I thought Derek Kinkade earned the Chief Meteorologist title by the way he handled the tornado outbreak in late April. He showed live pictures from Tuscaloosa, and had discussions with a "storm chaser" car in east Alabama. If WTVM is sending cars into the path of potential tornadoes, it must be making more money than I realized.

-> Our other blog starts poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: There may have been a cloud over commencement weekend for one Muscogee County high school. A reader responds to an item we mentioned Friday....

I am really disappointed in the destruction done to the bricks on the walk at Cols High.Unless those same bricks are returned to their honored positions they will never match in color or hold the same meaning..I hope part of the punishment is the cost of replacing the missing bricks and some week ends in jail and community service..CHS might have some of the most intelligent students in the district ,but this was one dumb decision..This goes beyond a senior prank and becomes vandalism ranking up there with the death of the AU trees..

We noted here several years ago that a few "Olympic bricks" with names and titles on them were removed from the area near Golden Park. They finally were replaced, but with no names on them. That's what happens when the registry book nearby mysteriously vanishes as well, seemingly without anyone noticing.

The Ledger-Enquirer reports the four Columbus High seniors accused of vandalizing the school pleaded guilty to reduced charges Friday. Their records will show misdemeanor "criminal trespass." But they'll apparently avoid jail time, so repeat criminals won't paint the walls with their bodies.

The four Columbus High seniors also will have to pay restitution, and perform 100 hours of community service between now and September. I won't be surprised if some of that time is spent repainting school walls - or even worse, laying bricks for the Carver High School building.

We also have a comment on another curious criminal case:

"Sir" Richard:

Perhaps justice IS moving closer to "Hurt'sboro. When the entire Bullock County Commission was arrested for not letting bids on jail food - it's evidence that Luther Strange is focusing in on the most menial violations in small town government. Union Springs (the Bullock County Seat) is within shouting distance of "Hurt'sboro. Jail food (I hope they enjoy it) is small potatoes in comparison with what has been done with public funds, here in our town!

I have once again asked for public records - and the due date is dwindling. If they aren't forthcoming, I guess I and Judge Albert Johnson will engage in another toe to toe.

R.J. Schweiger

If that "toe-to-toe" happens, hopefully this time I'll be told exactly where and when....

From what I saw on TV, the Bullock County Sheriff played a role in the arrest of the county commission. Of course, the sheriff is normally the direct overseer of the jail. Will we learn in court this all involves switching from lima beans to pinto beans?

A lack of education money led to a farewell ceremony in Hurtsboro Sunday. Russell Elementary School was closed, after 82 years of instruction. Who knows how many math lessons led to the recent creative uses of city tax dollars?

There's another curious crime, in our review of other weekend news:

+ Columbus had a record Sunday high temperature of 96 degrees F. I'm still being brave, hoping to avoid turning on the air conditioner until Memorial Day weekend - so if you come to visit, please ignore the sweat drops all over the kitchen floor.

+ Columbus Police reported two dancers at the Carousel Lounge had an argument about tips -- and it led to one dancer using a stun gun on the other, then trying to run her over with a car. Wait till The Learning Channel hears about this! Columbus could become a reality show attraction....

+ WRBL discovered several Phenix City officials are working multiple city jobs, and in the process are increasing their incomes. If Columbus Assistant City Manager Lisa Goodwin finds out, she may wind up earning more than her boss.

+ Federal bank examiners took over First Georgia Bank near Columbus Park Crossing. The intervention occurred Friday evening - but for some Synovus executives across town, the news must have felt like "Judgment Day" coming one day early.

+ WXTX showed Port Columbus employees staging a demonstration outside the complex. They warn the museum will have to close, unless a city subsidy continues. Apparently there are only so many ghosts they can sell.

+ Commencement weekend ended in Muscogee County schools, with diplomas for Hardaway and Jordan seniors. Those ceremonies were held on Sunday afternoon -- something I don't recall Muscogee County ever doing before. If we find out Saturday night was left open because of "Judgment Day"....

+ Fort Benning staged its annual combatants tournament. WTVM reported six of the 136 contestants were female -- so you see, those dancers at the Carousel Lounge obviously were inspired by our military.

+ Aflac was named the new sponsor of the Heisman Trophy. Talk about good timing! If this had happened in 2010, an Oregon Duck probably would have won over Cam Newton.

+ Instant Message to the "Livin' Large" birds Larry and Marty: Don't tell me - let me guess. You flew to Columbus and bought those winning lottery tickets after Alabama Power fired you.

Our count of unique visitors is up nearly 24 percent from 2010! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 744 (- 35, 4.5%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

22 MAY 11: The Day the Earth Stood Still

"I don't see the earthquake happening! Ha! Ha!" How would you like to wake up to that on a Saturday morning? That's what I heard outside the bedroom window - as if someone had moved me to Los Angeles overnight.

"I don't feel the ground trembling," my next-door neighbor said in a loud voice minutes later. "I don't see any smoke rising!" Things might have been different if we lived close to Fort Benning.

Of course, my neighbor was spouting off about "Judgment Day" - the supposed return of Jesus, which Family Radio's Harold Camping warned would occur Saturday. But Columbus had no "great earthquake" Saturday evening at 6:00. Not even a small earthquake. And rock bands didn't start shaking downtown clubs until around 10:00.

In a way, Harold Camping hijacked my usual Sabbath routine. I was drawn to a Twitter feed which provides constant updates on earthquakes around the world. The biggest quake during the Sabbath was a 5.6 Friday night in the Sandwich Islands. The wrong sandwich at the wrong time of day could give anyone at least a 3.2.

WFRC-FM 89.5 was my radio setting most of Friday and Saturday. But when the time came for Harold Camping's live talk show "Open Forum" Friday night, Family Radio aired a rerun from the previous Friday. Camping apparently took advantage of that "paid holiday" he approved for everyone else -- only now we know who will sign the next set of checks.

(Wire service reports indicated Camping was NOT at his northern California home Saturday morning. I sincerely hope he hasn't done anything rash - such as climb his 89-year-old body onto a trampoline to jump toward the heavens.)

Harold Camping expanded his "Open Forum" to seven nights a week in the weeks before "Judgment Day." But that didn't happen this weekend - and Family Radio brought out one of his old sermons on divorce in its place Saturday night. I knew it was really old, because his voice sounded almost young....

As I expected, WFRC-FM and Family Radio did NOT provide any special coverage of "Judgment Day" Saturday. If Harold Camping lived in Columbus, things could have been very different. We might have seen Mark Cantrell on WTVM, urging Muscogee County teachers to repent of teaching evolution.

(Come to think of it, consider all the TV newscasts of recent days. If the return of Jesus and "the end of the world" wasn't the top story, shouldn't we conclude the news staff was a little skeptical?)

But amazingly, at 11:45 Saturday night Family Radio played a recorded "Something to Think About" feature in which Harold Camping declared the rapture date was locked down "tight, tight, tight! So there is no question, it is going to happen!" Apparently the network computers were locked down TOO tight during the day....

As Saturday came and Saturday went, I stepped outside for a twilight run - and realized I missed out on a golden business opportunity. Imagine how many T-shirts I could have sold on Broadway proclaiming, "I survived Judgment Day."

While some people scoffed to the point of holding "end of the world" parties Saturday, I actually feel sorry for the people who believed Harold Camping's bogus timeline. Hopefully they won't turn away from God and the Bible completely. After all, Republicans didn't flee the country after President Obama took office -- not even when he signed health care reform into law.

But a big question remains: where do Harold Camping and his ministry go from here? Family Radio has stations in Columbus and Americus, along with five translators from LaGrange to Albany. A failed "guarantee" could cause donations to dry up, and force those stations to be sold. So if the church you attend makes a special appeal for a "Camping trip fund" today, this could be why.

-> Our other blog starts poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Some things are more reliable than Harold Camping's predictions - such as an e-mail from the Columbus Mayor when we touch a nerve. On Thursday we tried to get to the bottom of a message Tollie Strode sent Teresa Pike Tomlinson. Strode told us he sent it, but Tomlinson didn't recall receiving it. So Thursday morning, the mayor followed up....

Gentleman - Frankly, enough is enough already. I appreciate you all fairly displaying the facts of the false blog Richard Hyatt posted. I am happy to make the email Mr. Strode did send to me at 1:39 p.m. Saturday available for your viewing, at which time you will see that what Hyatt posted is not an "excerpt" it has been completely re-written to be another document entirely - the point of which I do not know. I don't publish private correspondence, but you will note in a glance the two documents are completely different. For some reason there is a whole lot of tap dancing around what should have been a straight out admission that what was printed was not sent to me, was completely rewritten to be another document entirely, and was falsely passed off as something which was sent to me. Again, I can only speculate as to the motives, but it is mischief indeed and should be far above the bar of respected journalism.

This was sent not only to me, but Michael Owen of the Ledger-Enquirer. The issue came up in "Chattahoochee Chatter" this past week -- only it seemed more concerned about Hyatt's spelling than his content.

So now Mayor Tomlinson agrees former campaign manager Tollie Strode DID send her an e-mail last weekend. But Strode told me Richard Hyatt DID post an "excerpt" from that e-mail. So to be fair, we passed along the mayor's words to Strode and offered him a chance to comment:


I will affirm, again, that the excerpts posted by Richard Hyatt are from an e-mail I sent to Mayor Tomlinson. She is correct in stating what Richard posted is not the complete e-mail that I sent her. However, the contents ARE from the e-mail that I sent her. Some names are removed and some very pointed recommendations made in the original correspondence are removed. This type of content is redacted.

While I'm surprised that the Mayor is still entertaining a discussion of this issue in the public domain, if I may, I would like to express my complete agreement with Mayor Tomlinson. We should not share our private correspondence, but since she has offered an opportunity for you to review the e-mail sent at 1:39PM on Saturday, I guess this and the full range of e-mail correspondence between the Mayor and me on this issue is in play. Unfortunate.

However Richard, I believe we (our community) are best served by returning to the fundamental discussion which prompted my e-mails to the Mayor. The intent of my correspondence with her was to assist her assist the Marshal with becoming more factual and less defensive in his budget presentation and advocacy for the needs of his department.

There were many signals sent by several City Councilors about the Marshal's budget and, since then, other budgets proposed by department that tinkering around the fringes was unacceptable. I understood why, completed my analysis, and provided it to Mayor Tomlinson with additional information about the basis for the public perceptions referenced by the Councilors. The intent was to help, not hinder or hurt.

Herein rests the basis of my request for your support in helping turn our community's attention to our budget challenges and the Mayor's guidance that serious cuts will need to be made. I will appear before Council next week and attempt to do what I'm asking you to do. I hope you can join me in this mission ... for the betterment of our city and government in emerging tough financial times. In this regard, Mayor Tomlinson and I are in TOTAL agreement.

I look forward to your personal reply.


So at the surface, what we have here is a matter of definition. What qualifies as an "excerpt?" The Ledger-Enquirer undoubtedly has attorneys, who will provide the proper definition for a reasonable fee.

Yet there's a deeper question here that's potentially more troubling. Who is taking e-mails to the mayor, trimming them down and passing them on to Richard Hyatt? Tollie Strode assured me his e-mail accounts were NOT hacked. Hmmmm -- whatever happened to that writer of "The Truth About Teresa," anyway?

Richard Hyatt seems ready to drop this e-mail mess completely, without reviewing the complete message from Tollie Strode to the mayor. Unless blog readers demand it, I'll do the same. I only wanted to settle the issue of whether Strode sent the message -- and now it's turned into a word game along the lines of "climate change" versus "global warming."

But asking me to support a "mission" - well, I have to be careful there. Even before I turned to blogging, I was a reporter more than a crusader. That meant not taking sides, and following the leads wherever they might go. Besides, one potential city budget issue remains a mystery - where in the world the Ice Rink's mascot went.

SCHEDULED MONDAY: An update on the firing of Kurt Schmitz.... and e-mails ranging from local high schools to Bullock County....

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

21 MAY 11: Y Not

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: You may find the following items humorous, serious, or a little of both - but we offer these thoughts from time to time, as we keep a seventh-day Sabbath.)

If you're expecting fresh comments about the big warning/prognostication about this day - sorry. Not today. I'm applying Election Day rules to "Judgment Day" - and I think that's fitting, since we could find out which Christians are the "very elect."

It was already a big weekend for high school seniors in Columbus, as it's graduation time. And Spencer seniors who received diplomas Friday evening have something else to remember -- their senior prom, which brought an apology from the National Infantry Museum. I didn't think that museum was designed to stage proms, much less promote retreating.

The apology resulted from a complaint by a Spencer High School teacher. The teacher said she and several students were told off by a museum employee, because the prom set-up included confetti. I actually consider this a hopeful sign for our teenagers -- because the complaint wasn't about drugs or booze.

But the Spencer teacher especially was concerned because the museum employee's ranting included several uses of a phrase the teacher considered racist. Hopefully no one will be offended if I include it here - "you people." If the prom had occurred at the University of Utah, the spelling and intent might have been different.

The museum employee has apologized, and the museum director plans to bring in the Pastoral Institute to give the entire staff "sensitivity training." But I read online comments this week asking why that phrase would be considered racist. Would even abbreviating it be wrong - and force the Columbus Chamber of Commerce to change its Young Professionals program?

As far as I know, the controversy over Y.P. (so I don't offend anyone further) goes back to a speech H. Ross Perot gave during the 1992 presidential campaign. He used the phrase several times while addressing an NAACP convention, and Al Sharpton led the complaints against it. Being an "independent" can be troublesome - even if it's your political party.

(It could have been worse, though. Earlier this year, Assistant City Manager David Arrington used the "C-word" at Columbus Council while discussing a possible slave cemetery. No one complained about that, for some reason - as if people thought Arrington was doing laundry or something.)

Yet I found something interesting a couple of years ago, when a similar uproar occurred. Al Sharpton is a minister by trade - yet the phrase "you people" can be found in the New International Version of the Bible. Not once, but 15 times. But to be fair, the King James Version includes some words for using the bathroom that I never say, even privately....

On top of that, the NIV Bible quotes Jesus as saying Y.P. twice in the book of John. One case seems to address Middle Eastern royalty. The other is aimed toward the Pharisees - but maybe that's justified, because it was all in the diverse Jewish family.

(We should note that phrase is in the New King James Version ten times -- but NOT in the 1611 King James Version. Perhaps "progressive" Al Sharpton is more old-fashioned with his reading material than we realize.)

My point of all this? Words and phrases can mean different things to different people. What offends one group may be biblical and acceptable to another. That can be true of religious groups as well as ethnic communities. Don't you dare talk to some of my friends about the "Lord's Supper" - they'll correct it to Passover on the spot.

We should be sensitive to other people's feelings. If you're not sure about that, review I Corinthians 8 this weekend. The context there involves meats sacrificed to idols - but I don't really think this applies to cookouts by political campaigns.

I personally have avoided using Y.P. since the Ross Perot controversy erupted. If you're stumped over what to say instead, you must be new to the South. My late stepmother knew a good answer, and she lived in the Kansas City area. Use the Southern plural - all y'all.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

20 MAY 11: She's Thinking Single, They're Seeing Double

If our title today seems familiar, you must know classic country music. It's adapted from an old song by Gary Stewart which involves drinking. But I changed the words, because for all I know our mayor could be a T.T.-totaler.

The issue here isn't music or alcohol at all - it's trash collection. Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson said on TV last week she's received a good response to a proposed reduction in city trash pickup [10 May]. But the response from Columbus Council Thursday was different - although no one was rude enough to declare the idea rubbish.

Public Services Director Gary Stickles showed a city map to a budget review meeting, showing once-a-week trash pickup would occur on four weekdays. Wednesday would be a "day off" - so garbage supervisors can join doctors and downtown business owners on the golf course.

When once-a-week trash pickup was suggested at public hearings in 2008, the "off day" for collection was Monday. This made a lot of sense of me, because it would end the confusion which often occurs on federal holidays. In fact, it would give prison inmates on work crews the feeling every September that they're really laborers.

But Councilor Glenn Davis was unimpressed by the proposed reduction from twice-a-week to once-a-week garbage collection. He warned it would produce all sorts of problems, such as rodents and "the smell...." If Davis wants to prevent something smelly, he should jog with me close to the Riverwalk some weekday morning.

(The mayor should explain to Glenn Davis the economic advantages of having "the smell" from once-a-week garbage collection. Sales of air freshener at grocery stores could skyrocket.)

Councilor Skip Henderson admitted to WRBL he only takes out his garbage once a week, so the proposed change would be nothing stressful for him. But he said it's a potential problem for other residents. If the members of "Muscogee Moms" demand a meeting with the mayor like real estate agents are getting today, that could be a sign of trouble.

But Skip Henderson raised another issue involving the two options for garbage collection in the city budget. He said even if service is reduced to once a week now, monthly trash fees still might have to be increased in a few years. In other words, you'd pay more for less - as if you're not already used to that with ice cream.

This explains why Columbus Council is considering an increase in the monthly garbage fee, while keeping twice-a-week collection. The fee could nearly double, from 14 dollars to 24 dollars a month. So the choice is clear: either pile up the dollar bills or the trash sacks.

In a rare speaking appearance on the TV news, Councilor Mike Baker admitted he's heard conflicting opinions about what to do what the Integrated Waste Fund budget problems. A lack of consensus on Council might lead to some kind of compromise. How about doing it like the water bill - and you're charged so much per trash bag?

Mayor Tomlinson admitted to the Ledger-Enquirer after Thursday's meeting her proposal to reduce garbage collection to once a week is in serious trouble. It might not be all the way to the Schatulga Road landfill yet, but it seems to be well east of Woodruff Farm Road.

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION has changed, to get your opinion on the garbage issue. Should the budget be balanced by reducing service to once a week? Should the monthly garbage fee go up? Or is there a better way to solve this problem - short of having everyone throw trash bags in the river?

The previous question on the future of the Muscogee County Marshal's Office closed Thursday afternoon. Our stupefyingly non-scientific poll found 13 voters want the office either eliminated or consolidated. Four want the Marshal's Office kept as is -- and I guess the other Marshal deputies were too busy serving eviction notices to vote.

The big question in our comment section was why Deputy Marshals have radar units to check for speeders. It's apparently allowed under Georgia law, since the Marshal and Sheriff have the same "duties, powers and authority...." Maybe the guns are pulled out when the number of "nulla bonas" is more like nil-a.

I'm going to let this week's e-mail mess related to the Marshal's Office rest/simmer today. With thanks to Richard Hyatt for the nice plug in his latest update, let's move on to other Thursday things....

+ Your blog confirmed Books-A-Million has finalized plans to open a new store at Peachtree Mall. I'm hearing the store will be located near Macy*s - which could pose a dilemma for shoppers. Do you buy the Paula Deen cookbook first, or the food processor?

+ The new Chick-Fil-A opened in Midland - but developers told WTVM there's not enough room around the restaurant to build a SuperTarget store. That's OK, folks. Some of us would be happy with a regular-sized Kroger.

+ All five members of the Bullock County Commission were arrested on felony charges. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says they spent county money on jail food without opening the process for sealed bids. Aw c'mon - what if Publix has a big one-week-only half-price sale?

+ Four Columbus High School students were arrested on charges of attempting a "senior prank" involving vandalism. Police believe the students pulled up a few memorial bricks, hoping to leave gaps in the shape of the number 2011 - which leads me to think there were "loose bricks somewhere" long before this week.

+ Developers of the Chattahoochee River whitewater course told WRBL the Eagle and Phenix Dam will be removed in stages over nine months, beginning in September. The dam will NOT be imploded - thus denying Fort Benning soldiers a wonderful training opportunity.

+ Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson hosted the first-ever "Bike With the Mayor" evening downtown. I know the mayor didn't want to take a city car in her pay package, but isn't this a little extreme?

+ North Carolina-Pembroke pinned Columbus State 6-0 in the opening game of the NCAA baseball playoffs. The Cougars only picked up two hits all day. Yeow -- that barely tops the total of Rebecca Black....

+ Reports from Canada indicated a deal is close to move the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team to Winnipeg. It looks like that new South Commons Ice Rink opened in the nick of time, to keep the Cottonmouths from moving to the big city.

+ Instant Message to the Auburn University library: Did I read this right - you're going to display some rare historic Bibles? To hear some ministers talk, I thought left-wing liberal universities such as yours didn't even allow them on campus.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: The mayor responds to what Tollie Strode wrote.... and waiting for the great earthquake (if there's no post Sunday, I might not be here anymore)....

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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