Archive for May, 2011

Milton Jones Suggests Civil War Naval Museum Follow Library’s Example on Cutting Costs

May 30, 2011

Retired state representative, Columbus attorney, and friend of mine Milton Jones emailed an interesting take on my post about saving the National Civil War Naval Museum.  I’m passing it along to you.

Dick – I tell you often when I agree with you, but I agree with you much more often than I respond.  So, I guess I should tell you when I think you overreach on something.

Such an instance is found in your recent blog about the Civil War Naval Museum: “This discussion also brings up the question of whether tax dollars should be spent on museums.  But then, if you ask that, you would also have ask if tax dollars should fund public education.”
As to the Civil War Naval Museum, yes, it is an asset to our community and I would hate to see it close.  However, it has turned out to be way below the projections for visitors and obviously does not have the appeal necessary to generate funds for its present level of funding and operation.   Perhaps it could continue to function on fewer days per week, as we are seeing with the public libraries.  You can say the same about many other items in our community, some with large constituencies and others with small.
However, there is one thing which, in my humble opinion, is the absolute, Number One by light years responsibility of local government — the public education of our children.  Yes, a trip to the Civil War Naval Museum would be interesting, but to compare that to the tens of thousands of students and teachers engaged daily in public education in Muscogee County does not jive.
As to the economics, I do not profess to know much about that.  However, I do know that the $300,000 the city has been putting into the museum is more than 10% of the total estimated revenue spent by visitors.   The city is not getting that $2,800,000.  Sure, local merchants, hotels, gas stations, etc. do realize it, but I would doubt that the city’s take from sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, etc., etc. while significant, would even come close to recouping the $300,000.  The taxpayers are the ones paying most of the bill.  I may be wrong on this, but I stand ready to be corrected by someone who knows more about it if I am.
Milton
PS – And I am one of those many  Jaycees who, under the leadership of the late Jim Woodruff, your former boss,  dug the thing [the ironclad “Jackson” whose ruins are on display at the museum] out from under the river bank  behind those coffer dams in the early ’60’s, so I do value it.
Good points.  The museum could probably close a couple of days a week without damaging its viability.  However, with a staff of only 6 paid employees, I don’t think layoffs would be a good idea. Not that Milton suggested that, but drastically cutting funds poses that possibility.  I agree with him about our school system being at the top of the  priority list.  Nothing is more important than public education to the future of the citizens of any city.
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Civil War Naval Museum Fights for its Fiscal Life

May 28, 2011

"Water Witch" Civil War Ship Replica, National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, GA

As I moved among the crowd at the National Civil War Naval Museum rally to “save the museum,” I had to reflect on what I learned in a political science class about budgets. They are more than just numbers on a page; they are political documents because they reflect priorities.

That means that the Port Columbus National Civil War  Naval Museum is way down on Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s priority list.  A flier being circulated at a rally to “save the museum” says that the proposed city budget cuts funding to the museum by almost 70%, while many other city departments are being asked to cut only 2%.  The flier indicates the museum may have to close if the budget proposal passes unchanged. That 70 percent cut whittles down the city’s funding of the museum’ from $300,000 to about $78,000.

The museum flier says the facility generates $2, 800,000 in spending by folks who come to Columbus to visit the museum.  State Senator Josh McKoon told me he thought that a $2,800,000 return on a $300,000 investment sounded like a no-brainer to him.  He joined as a member today and encouraged  the public to support the museum, but acknowledged that the state had to cut its $70,000 grant because of the state budget shortfall.

Of course, the state nor the city has to cut funding to the museum. Governor Deal chose to do that, and the city may also choose to slash the museum’s budget.  Those choices simply mean that they value other things more.

When I pointed out to the museum’s Executive Director Bruce Smith that the Columbus Museum is under the Muscogee County School Board, he said, that it is and it gets a million dollars from the school board.  I suggested that maybe the Civil War Naval Museum should also be under the school board, and he replied, ” Teachers would never stand for that,” pointing out that they are facing furloughs.

This discussion also brings up the question of whether tax dollars should be spent on museums.  But then, if you ask that, you would also have ask if tax dollars should fund public education.  Museums are also educational, and as one volunteer told me, there is no stronger or more effective way to teach folks about the history of naval warfare during the Civil War. That’s probably true. It is an impressive facility and I would  hate to see it go.

“Lakebottom Proper” Was Probably Funny, but Even Though I Saw it, I Wouldn’t Know

May 24, 2011

There have been some rave reviews by people I know who saw “Lake Bottom Proper,” the broad farce about a social-climbing Columbus family trying to get their daughter into upscale Brookstone School where most of the rich kids go, at the Springer Opera House.  And maybe it deserved them, but even though I saw it, I wouldn’t know how funny it was because I couldn’t understand seventy-five percent of what was said.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t hear the lines because I could,  but I couldn’t tell what the actors were saying.  I thought maybe it was just me because a lot of folks were laughing at the punch lines, but when I talked with some others who saw the play they said the same thing. They could hear what was being said but that couldn’t make out the words.  Also, another symptom that it wasn’t just my 80-year-old ears was that when Paul Peirce made his before-the-play announcement I could not only hear him, even though I was on row Q, but I understood every word he said.  I think the actors were relying too much on  their microphones and not making much of an effort to enunciate their words clearly. Yes, it is hard to sound natural when pronouncing words with clarity, but it can be done.  And it needs to be done.

News Media Cheapens Itself with Massive End-of-the-world Coverage

May 21, 2011

It’s really sad the way news media moguls are cheapening their products by devoting so much air time and ink to religious crackpots.  Every time one of them does something like predicting the end of the world or burns a Koran they treat the story as though it is right up there with killing the world’s most sought terrorist Osama bin Laden,  or the  historically futile efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement to bring peace to cure that never-ending, festering, and very expensive diplomatic sore.

If peace could be achieved in Israel it appears that would help end at least one huge element in the struggle to defuse the Mideast bomb.  Some people, including many Israelis, are afraid that the uprisings of Mideasterners who are protesting authoritarian regimes and demanding democracy could be bad for Israel because the protesters could be anti-Israel.  But, is that really the case?  The best argument made for the protesters is that they simply want better lives for themselves and their families.  The want jobs that pay decent wages.  They want freedom of speech. Their movement does not seem to be religiously based. This may or may not be true, and we won’t know if it is or not until democracy does take hold in the Mideastern nations.

Now, that’s a story has a huge impact not only on us in the U.S., but on people all over the world.  To give the same sort of attention to the story of some radical fundamentalist like  Harold Camping, a retired civil engineer, who founded Family Radio Worldwide,  who predicts the exact day and time the rapture will come leading to the end of the world is truly disgusting.

How History Lessons Could Help Carmike Cinemas Thrive During Hard Times

May 15, 2011

Carmike 15, Columbus, GA, home of Carmike Cinemas

One Ledger-Enquirer online reader, commenting on the story about Carmike Cinemas losing more than $18 million during the first quarter of this year, said the folks who run movie chains need to understand that they can make more by charging less.  Instead of charging $10 for a ticket and selling two, they could make a lot more by charging $2 a ticket and selling 20.  And that was exactly the philosophy back in the heyday of the movies.  I remember it well.  (Yes, I’m a geezer.)

Escaping the Great Depression of the 1930s,  people flocked to the theaters. For 25-cent evening tickets (25-cents in 1932 is $4.10 today) for adults and 10 cents ($1.64 today) for children they could enjoy a cartoon, newsreel, a short subject, and a movie, and in a few theaters like the 4,678-seat Fox in Atlanta they could sing along with a mighty theater pipe organ, and, like the 2,700- seat Royal in Columbus they could enjoy a live vaudeville show.  Also, there were Bank Nights which featured ticket stub lottery drawings for dishes, and other items, including some cash. 

Of course it didn’t hurt that TV didn’t come along until after World War II. (Because of the need to escape the realities of that horrible war, the largest movie audiences ever were during those four years.)   The only real competition was radio which featured comedy shows, dramas,  sports, live music, recorded music, and news.  Radio was popular enough to inspire the movie makers to feature radio stars like Jack Benny and Bob Hope in films, but without pictures radio couldn’t topple the film factories of Hollywood.    

I can remember all of that because I was around at the time.  And I can relate to the insiders of the movie theater business because I was an usher,  then a doorman who took up tickets and supervised other ushers at the first-run, 1,640-seat art-deco showplace called the Bradley Theater which stayed packed during World War II.  When comics Bud Abbot and Lou Costello pictures played on a weekend, the ticket line would go down  to the corner of Broadway and 13th Street, and then on down 13th Street to Front Avenue.   War-weary folks wanted something to laugh about.

Take advantage of this on Tuesdays when you can buy popcorn and a drink for $1 each and you'll have a really big deal.

If I remember correctly, the evening tickets at the Bradley in 1945, at 47-cents for adults and 14-cents for children, were the most expensive in town.  47-cents in 1945 would be $5.87 today according to the Inflation Caculator.  Evening ticket prices are close to twice that much now, but if you go between 4 and 5:30 p.m. hours you can get into Carmike theaters for $5. That means Carmike understands that a lot of people paying less can add up to more than a few people paying more, but if they really want it to make a difference they need to do it in the evening also.

The Power of One

May 9, 2011

Just Imagine What An Insane Terrorist Armed with Nuclear Weapons Could Do

To me, the most dangerous person in the world is a religious fanatic.  When a person believes he will go to heaven because he sacrificed his life to murder people who he perceives do not believe the way he does, I can’t think of a more dangerous person.  Logic and reason mean nothing to such people.  The fact that they are in the minority – it appears most religious people are not that fanatical – offers little comfort.

Just look at what 19 religious fanatics, armed with box cutters, accomplished.  Not only did they bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center,  killing more than 3,000 people,  they propelled the United States to go to war in Afghanistan, and were used as an excuse to attack Iraq,  all of this costing the US thousands more killed and wounded,  and more than three trillion dollars, much of which was borrowed from China because as we went to war our government cut taxes.

FBI's latest Ten Most Wanted poster of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, the late head religiously fanatical terrorist, was not living in a cave near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, protected by heavily armed al-Qaeda guards as media speculation led us to believe.  As we now know, he was living in Pakistan in a large house – some call it a mansion, but it didn’t look like one on TV to me – with three wives, and was guarded by one courier who was quickly dispatched by US Navy SEALS.  It didn’t take jet fighters, or a drone, or artillery or thousands of troops to bring this evil man down, only two helicopters and a few Navy SEALS. This man, without a large army and no nuclear weapons, led his relatively small group of fanatics to terrorize the world.  He is gone, but his organization is not and the threat remains.

Just think of the even worse havoc he could have caused if he had nuclear weapons, even primitive ones.  And just think what the terrorists who are still with us can do if they get them.  The reason that “mutually assured destruction” has prevented any nation from using a nuclear weapon is that its leaders have been sane enough not to set off the destruction of life on earth.  If a violent religious fanatic gets hold of one he would have no qualms about ending life on earth because he thinks he would be going the heaven for doing it.

World leaders, knowing no one is exempted from this threat,  are coming together to address it.  They started their nuclear nonproliferation efforts years ago. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty dates back to 1970, according to an article in the “Great Decisions” 2011 magazine edition.  It states that with that treaty in place, “the spread of the bomb has been limited to nine nuclear powers today.”  The fear is that the more nations get nuclear weapons the greater the chance of terrorists getting hold of them.  Not only preventing the spread of nuclear weapons concerns world leaders, but also the security of the weapons already stockpiled. The United States is leading a multilateral effort to secure nuclear material around the world in four years. President Obama hosted a 47-nation nuclear security summit last year to address the problem.

All it would take is for one terrorist armed with nuclear weapons to possibly set off the destruction of the world.  This thought leads me to the often-used excuse for not voting:  My one vote won’t make any difference. Never underestimate the power of one for good or evil.

“Water for Elephants” Gets Four Stars from Me

May 3, 2011

Hollywood can still make a  movie that relies on story, acting, and directing as much or more as on dazzling production values.  I just saw “Water for Elephants” and found it as faithful to the book as was “Gone With The Wind.”  If you’ve read the book, you’ll enjoy the movie. I did. If you haven’t read the book you will probably enjoy the movie even more because you won’t know what happens next.  Out of a rating system between one and four stars, I give it four.

Save Highway Trees; Urge Governor Deal to Veto HB 179

May 2, 2011

There is still a chance, perhaps a small one, but a chance nevertheless, to block the billboard industry’s attempt to clear-cut taxpayer owned trees on the state’s highways.  It will take a veto by Governor Deal. 

Former state representative and retired Columbus lawyer Milton Jones, who is an enthusiastic  Trees Columbus booster, states the problem and the solution.

Problem:

House Bill 179 allows billboard companies to clear-cut every single tree in a view zone in front of a billboard. Thanks to powerful billboard interests, HB 179 passed the Georgia General Assembly despite significant public opposition.

Billboard owners can already trim and cut trees in front of billboards under existing law, but HB 179 would cut down every single hardwood and pine tree in a 250 foot view zone in front of billboards. These are trees owned by the public that would be sacrificed for private gain. HB 179 harms the scenic beauty of Georgia.

Solution:

Urge Governor Deal to stand up for trees and veto House Bill 179.  You can email the governor by clicking here.