Archive for July, 2011

“The Phenix City Story” Packs the Springer

July 30, 2011

Why did the Springer almost sell-out for last night’s showing of the 56-year-old movie The Phenix City Story?  No doubt the front-page Ledger-Enquirer story about Rachel and Becca Wiggens, the twin babies in the picture, now adult women, being at the showing had something to do with it.  But, I think it was more than that, even more than the fact that the movie is about the murder of attorney Albert Patterson by the Phenix City mob, and how his son John and the good people of the city overcame the crime bosses.  Probably the chance to see the “film classic” on the big screen in a theater had a lot to do with it. The first time I saw the movie was in 1955 at a U.S. Army theater at McGraw Kasern in Munich, Germany.  What an impression Phenix City and  Columbus made on my Army buddies!

Now, I can watch movies on my HDTV, and do, but I still enjoy going to movie theaters.  It’s a different dynamic when you are a part of an audience, sharing the same experience with hundreds of others – well, some of the time, since the last time I went to the Screening Room at the Ritz 13 there were two of us in the theater –  who are  reacting to what they are seeing on the screen.

And last night at the Springer, the audience reaction was the strongest I have seen in a long,  long time.  No doubt the old black- and-white 1955 movie had strong camp appeal, with people laughing at some of the corny over-acting in some serious scenes not meant to be funny. Still, the story, with its heroes and villains, pulled everyone into it, and the audience broke into enthusiastic applause when the good guys overcame the bad guys. It was really loud when Richard Kiley, portraying future Alabama Attorney  General and Governor John Patterson,  decked some mob goons, and loudest when Albert Patterson finally gave in and decided to run for Attorney General.  That decision was probably the thing that eventually brought down the crime bosses.

And the audience enthusiastically applauded the movie when it was over.  Rachel and Becca Wiggins, the twins in the movie, along with Columbus-Phenix City historian Fred Fussell, took the stage after the movie.  The charming ladies were immediate hits.  They were witty. Although, too young when in the movie to remember anything about it, they learned about it from their parents.

The movie was unique for its time, opening with interviews with some of those involved in the Phenix City clean-up.  It wasn’t totally accurate, for instance,  as clean-up leader Hugh Bentley’s son Truman told me after the movie,  the part about the little African-American girl being run down by a mob car and thrown in the Patterson’s yard was “Hollywood.”  It never happened. Nor were any real names of the gang’s bosses used.  However, overall, in essence, it did, with a little of Hollywood’s coloring,  tell the true story.

Thanks to the folks who run the Springer for keeping alive the Springer as a live performance center, but also for remembering that the grand old opera house was also a movie theater for a while.   The Film Classics series will continue with a showing of Jaws next month.

MCSD Superintendent Andrews and Board Chair Cathy Williams Anwser “”Among the Worst” Tag

July 27, 2011

 Here is a letter released by the Muscogee County School District Communications Department combatting the description that the district is “among the worst” Georgia school systems.

The headlines in last week’s paper announced that Muscogee County Schools were “among the worst.” On behalf of the district’s educators, I must respond.

Under No Child Left Behind, states must set annual goals for schools to meet. The students in each school are then divided into subgroups: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and economically disadvantaged. Each subgroup must meet the goal in order for the school to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If one subgroup of students fails to meet the goal, the whole school fails to make AYP. The overall goal is for all schools to have 100% of their students meet standards by 2014.

The Preliminary Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data is clear. The percentage of schools in the Muscogee County School District which met the new AYP goals on the preliminary report is in line with those Districts having the lowest percentage of their schools meeting the goals. We know that several more of our schools will make AYP on the final determination. Some of them missed the goal by fewer than ten students on a single indicator and, after retests are considered and appeals have been determined, more of our schools will make AYP.

Unless you live in this world of AYP with us, you cannot imagine the heartbreak when teachers literally have counted students all year as they have met their formative goals and have mastered standards, only to find that on the test, their school missed the goal by a single student, in a single subgroup. Principals face huge disappointment upon finding out that they needed three more of the students who began ninth grade four years ago to have graduated this year, causing their school to miss the graduation rate goal by less than one percent. A perfect example of this is at Muscogee Elementary School. Muscogee Elementary would have made AYP by reducing the number of students who did not pass the math test by 0.23 percent. That is fewer than one student.

Since there is not enough space here to go through every school and discuss their scores, I want to focus on the data of a few from all over the district which did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in the preliminary determination.

At Midland Middle, 86.8 percent of all students met the standard in math; 93.2 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. This is not among the worst.

At North Columbus Elementary, 81.9 percent of all students met the standard in math; 93.2 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. This is not among the worst.

Shaw High School met the bar in percentage of students meeting the standard in math and 92 percent of all students met the standard in English/Language Arts. With laser focus, the teachers and students worked on this goal. This resulted in Shaw making AYP in Academic Achievement but missed AYP on Graduation Rate by 3.5 percent. That is not among the worst.

Veterans Memorial Middle School had 82.9 percent of all students meeting the goal in math; 94.2 percent in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Fort Middle School had 88.5 percent of all students meeting the standard in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Gentian Elementary had 89.8 percent of students meeting the goal in English/Language Arts. That is not among the worst.

Carver High School met the standard in math and had 84.8 percent of all students meeting the standard in English/Language Arts, missing AYP by one subgroup. This is not among the worst.

In our twelve middle schools, let’s review the scores. In sixth grade: nine schools increased percentage of students meeting standards in reading; six schools increased in science; eight schools increased in social studies. In seventh grade, nine out of the twelve schools increased scores in reading; five increased in language arts; nine increased in math; ten increased in science; and nine increased in social studies. In eighth grade, eight out of twelve schools increased in reading; five increased in language arts; eleven increased in math; six increased in science and five increased in social studies. Is this not adequate progress?

Spencer High School has gone from having only 50 percent of the students meeting the standards in math in 2009 to 69.7 ercent meeting the standards this year. Is that not adequate progress?

The graduation rate for students in the Muscogee County School District continues to improve. Last year we had 82.2 percent; this year we have 83.6 percent. The state average for this year is 79.5 percent. Is this not adequate progress?

Are there some schools in our district which need intensive care and improvement? Yes.

Do we have to review the data with renewed intensity and an increased sense of urgency? Yes.

Do we need to expand our efforts to assist students with disabilities in order to improve their academic achievement? Yes.

Do we have some schools which score significantly higher than others and we need to focus on replicating those promising practices throughout the district? Yes.

We accept that we have much work to do; we accept that our AYP determination at this point puts us in poor company. We accept that we have some great challenges. We do not accept that we are “among the worst.”

We know how important public education is to this community, to this State, and to this Nation. We do not take that obligation lightly. We will face the brutal facts, we will rework our plans for moving forward, and we will continue to make progress. The community should continue to hold us accountable for the work that we do.

In closing, I must ask one more question. Do we have many schools in the Muscogee County School District that are “among the best?” The answer to that question is a resounding YES!

School begins on August 8. We invite you to visit a public school in Muscogee County. You will be pleased with what you see.


Susan C. Andrews, Ed.D.,Superintendent of Education

 Cathy Williams, Chair and Member at Large,  Muscogee County Board of Education

Rupert and William Randolph

July 25, 2011

Being a retired broadcast journalist, it’s de rigueur that I comment on the News of the World fiasco in the UK.  No doubt it adds even more tarnish to the news industry, but it’s certainly not the first time that a news corporation put profits above ethics.

Time put Rupert Murdoch in the same category as William Randolph Hearst,  and that makes a lot of sense. Controlling information is the source of great power and influence.  And making a lot  money is a part of that  equation. Hearst, in large part,  achieved his power through yellow journalism with his  New York Journal. That paper was credited with playing a role in starting the Spanish-American War in 1898.  He ended up, like Murdoch, owning a lot of papers, magazines, a movie production company, and added broadcasting when it came along.  He basically lost control of his empire when he greatly over-extended it.

Murdoch’s power is basically the same as was Hearst’s, though on a global basis, it is probably much larger.  Just as Hearst relied on sensationalism with his New York Journal, Murdoch did the  same with News of the World.  Murdock’s biggest money-maker is not his papers, though, but his movie studio, 20th Century Fox.  His Fox network, with shows like American Idol, is very lucrative, and so is his  Fox News cable channel.  His problem is not the same as Hearst’s, though. It’s not that  he overextended, it’s that one of his high-profile newspapers got caught being unethical and illegal by allegedly hacking phone calls.  It may not be his downfall, but it has  definately damaged his brand’s reputation, and the value of News Corp has dropped since the scandal broke.

What does all of this do to the credibility of the journalism business?  Probably not much.  Its credibility had plummeted before this ever happened.  I suppose it has always been about the money, but there was a time when it was also about a lot more, especially doing the right thing for the common good.  Actually, though, it is also about more than the money, because, in my view, especially with people like Murdoch, it’s about influence.

There is  hope, though. There are still some old-fashioned, dedicated, ethical, and committed journalists. Name one, you might say. The first to come to  mind is Bill Moyers.  


July 23, 2011

Now, another blog about something the mainstream media didn’t cover at all. This is a good one!

Oliver Boone, Director of the  High School Band Directors National Association, says the organization is now a supporter of The Sound of Perfection,  the movie inspired by  my Reader’s Digest article Unforgettable Bob Barr. He told the audience at  last nights’ Bob Barr Community Band Concert and Induction Ceremony for two new members of the High School Band Directors Hall of Fame that the organization has agreed to act as a liaison for the movie project, and has already contributed financially to it.

The movie effort is now being pursued by David Yarbough of Los Angeles, who wrote the screen play.  He has lined up support by a number of major school music organisations including the National Association of Music Merchants,  and has tentative support from some major corporations. Boone said the movie will be made in Columbus.  Yarbrough visited Columbus during the first effort at producing a movie about  Barr and his national championship Jordan Vocational High Red Jacket bands. That was about  20 years ago.

The two new inductees into the NHSBD Hall of Fame are Johnny Folsom, director of what Boone calls “the prestigious Cairo High School Band of Georgia,”  and Earl Shaffer, Jr., of Chesterfield County in Virginia, who directs the Cosby High School Band.

Johnny Folsom

Folsom spent twenty-five years as a successful band director in Alabama, before moving to Cairo, where he is leading the  Syrupmaker Band to winning  a number of awards, and invitations to play at college football games and other events.  His bands over the years have played Sugar Bowl,  Notre Dame – Navy,  Troy University games and other events.   

Earl Shaffer, Jr.

 Shaffer has been a high school band director in Virginia for more than thirty years, also winning a number of awards, and being invited  to plat at Disney-World, and at University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute, and the University of Richmond. They also played concerts on the Carnival Cruise Ship “Sensation.” 

Taken with my iPhone.

The Bob  Barr Community  Band really sounded good to me at the Friday night concert.  Being an Army band veteran myself, I really liked it when I saw some members of the Fort Benning Band playing in our community band. That was so appropriate because Fort  Benning is such an important  part of our community. The Bob Barr Community Band is now directed by retired Army band director Fred Catchings.  You have to like a band director that goes back to the percussion section and plays the cymbals for guest conductors. His directing the band is also quite appropriate since Bob Barr was still a lieutenant at Fort Benning when he first visited Jordan as director of the Fort  Benning Soldier’s Chorus for a school assembly program.  He took the job of band director after he left the Army right after World War II.

Too bad this important community event got virtually no publicity  because a lot of band music lovers would have probably been there had they known about it.  The  band and the national band directors music association deserved a much  larger audience than it got.  

A Blogger’s Report on Governor Deal Dealing with Columbus Rotarians

July 20, 2011

It’s the duty of the blogger to report stuff you won’t get in the mainstream media, so I’ll try to pick out a few things that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said today at the Rotary Club of Columbus that you probably won’t read in the paper or see on TV. I don’t claim they are important, just something nobody else will probably tell you about.

Take this picture, for instance.  Nevermind.  I already took it.  Hey, even retired newsmen get to be corny sometimes. Anyway…now, where was I?  Oh, you won’t get  this shot anywhere else of Jim Cawthorne of Camera1 getting his picture of Governor Deal. Usually, I use Jim’s Rotary stuff, but I thought, hey, sometimes the photographer needs to be seen, even if it is from the back.

Here’s something the governor said you probably won’t get anywhere else.  He said he was walking down the corridors of the  state capitol heading for an important meeting, when some middle school kids spotted him and wanted to get their picture taken with him.  An aide told him not to stop because he had to make the really important meeting, so they tried to just walk around the kids. However, he said, the kids decided to surround him. He explained that he couldn’t stop because of the important meeting. One little girl said, “But we voted for you.”

“You did?”

“Yes, it was just a straw poll, but you won.”

“She got her picture.”

Now why did he tell that story?  (Analysis warning!) Was it because he wanted to reenforce what Muscogee County Rep. Richard Smith said in his introduction?  Richard- I can call him Richard because we are old friends, not close, but old – said this about Deal, “He is a good man.”  Remember, you heard it here first!

You’ll probably read in the paper or hear on TV what he said about the water wars.  But, just in case you don’t,  he was happy that three federal judges threw out a lower court ruling that  Atlanta had to stop slurping up million and millions of gallons of water from Lake Lanier so the oysters at Apalachicola can stay happy, and Alabama can keep its nuclear power plant  buzzing.  But will you hear what  he said about  Columbus’ white  water theme park?  You really shouldn’t, because what he said didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  He said it will help the city economically. Who hasn’t  said that? Well, come to think of it, seems like I read in the Ledger-Enquirer’s Sound Off thing a comment by some spoil-sport who said there is no guarantee it will make money, only that it will  cost a lot..

The governor said the state has some good schools, and some really bad ones, and we need more really good ones.  Can’t argue with that.  He pointed out that the state actually increased the education budget, but, certainly, one could reason, not enough since, answering a question from the audience, he said more teachers will have to be furloughed, though not by the  state, because the state doesn’t furlough teachers. He gives the local schools systems credit for that.

You’ll probably  get some of that in the mainstream media.  But will you learn that Columbus Rotary’s new president, Rev. Jimmy Elder, who is also pastor of the First Baptist Church, said that Governor Deal “is a courageous man” because he took question from the audience. He said he would never do that after a sermon. You have to go to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to witness that event.  Yes, it does happen often there. He didn’t say those last  two sentences. I did.

That’s all I can think of now about things you probably won’t hear or read in the mainstream media, though you might.  Just remember, you read it here.

Do I Have a Deal for You! Join me at the Friends Bookstore 2 – 4 p.m. Tomorrow, Thursday

July 20, 2011

Billy Crystal’s autobiography 700 Sundays is one of the funniest and moving books I have read in a long time. It is a gem. I laughed out loud a number of times. I paid $3 for it in the Friends of Libraries Bookstore at the Columbus Public Library last Thursday.  I let Don and Carol Nahley read it and they loved it as much as I did.


But, you’ll have to be there before someone else buys it. I’m donating it back to the bookstore when I am working there tomorrow between 2 and 4 p.m. Now, if someone has already bought it when you get there, don’t worry, because there are a lot of fun books for you to buy at incredibly  low prices. And the money goes to helping the library, so you can feel about not only getting a good book, but for contributing to a good cause.

Be there or be square.

So Long to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Luke Skywalker

July 17, 2011

STS-135 Mission Specialist Sandy Magnus, in zero gravity,enjoys the panoramic views provided by the multi-windowed Cupola aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

The final shuttle launch got a lot of coverage, but then it stopped. To find out  about  what’s going on aboard the International Space Station, I’ve called up NASA on the internet. The transferring of supplies that Atlantis brought up on its final flight is over, and the transfer of items from the space station to the shuttle is almost over, and Atlantis will be heading back with that in a couple of days.  I must admit that the news is not very exciting. And, frankly, I hope it doesn’t get exciting because that would mean the shuttle would be in trouble.  No doubt when it touches down, that will be covered because that will signal the end of the program, and perhaps the Space Age. .

And, really, it’s time for the shuttle program to end.  The shuttles never really lived up to their early advertising. As the Economist says, “The shuttle was supposed to have been a truck that would make the business of putting people into orbit quotidian. Instead it has been nothing but trouble. Twice it’s killed its crew.” It has also been extremely expensive.

The magazine says the Space Age is over. That inner space, though, is useful with its satellites that provide weather information, telecommunications, and incredible cameras that have revolutionized a lot of things, including warfare. “No power can mobilize its armed forces in secret. The exact location of every building on the planet is known.”

The reason for the race to the moon has gone. What sent us there was to beat the Soviet Union there because of military considerations. The states of the world are not vying for military advantage in space any more. They are cooperating with one another to explore space. Just take the space station as an example.  No one country owns it and a lot are contributing to its cost, $100 billion.  But is it worth it? It must  not be  because it scheduled to be “de-orbited” in 2020. And you really don’t find many people raising hell about that.  A lot think the money can be better spent on project to help people on Earth.

That doesn’t mean robots will stop exploring planets and asteroids. They will probably as long as governments are willing to pay for it. And private companies are working on providing commercial inner space rides, but only the very rich will be able to afford them.  Is the end of the Space Age a bad thing? Probably, if the scientific search for astronomical knowledge is abandoned. That’s probably unlikely because we are creatures of curiosity and some of us never stop asking what’s it all about and will continue to try to find out.

Meanwhile, NASA is saying the Space Age is not  over.  It still  plans to send humans into deep space, meybe not the moon, because there is no need to do that again.  You can check out what NASA plans by clicking on this link.

Space Shot Finals

July 10, 2011

Atlantis lifting off on final mission as seen from a NASA training plane

As Atlantis does the last Space Shuttle work delivering supplies to the International Space Station, I reflect on another last NASA final flight, the one that took place on December 7, 1972, when Apollo 17 made America’s final trip to the moon and back. That one was a big deal anyway, but for me, an even bigger deal, because I was on Cape Kennedy filming it, and snapping a few slides of my own. Good thing I did, because I have the slides, but who knows what happened to the WRBL-TV film.  The TV footage turned out better than my inexpensive automatic-exposure camera, mainly because NASA told all professional photographers on the scene exactly what F stop to use with a 16mm film camera.

Here’s the way my cheap camera shot turned out. I had the 16mm movie camera running in one hand, while I rapidly snapped stills with the other hand.

NASA had a little bit better luck. Here is the official  photo.

I can thank then Ledger-Enquirer Chief Photographer Lawrence Smith for my being there.  He called and said a buddy of his was flying down in his small Cessna and had a spare seat and I could have it. Naturally, I jumped at  the offer.  The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer owned 51 percent of WRBL-TV and Radio at the time, so Lawrence could invite me without catching any flack from the paper’s management.

The flight down was a thriller. It was storming that day. But, the storms were scattered, so we took off.  It took us a little longer to get there because we had to fly around the storms, and when we got to Orlando where we were going to land and rent a car, it was socked in, and we couldn’t land. The pilot – I wish I could remember his name – decided to try for a small strip near  the Cape.  It was just one runway, but long enough for the big private jets that carried the big shots and celebrities to the Cape, and certainly long enough for the puddle-jumper we were in.  When we got there and looked down, there was a cloud, but it sat right next to the runway, not over it. We must have been living right.

By launch time that night, the weather cleared, and we got to experience that spectacular lift-off.  When that last Saturn 5 rocket was lit, it lit up the Cape.  And, it was one of those “you had to be there” moments. You could see it at home on a TV screen, but you did indeed have to be there to hear the roar and feel the vibrations of that Saturn loaded with enough  fuel to power the moon orbiter and lander out of Earth’s gravitational field and hurtle it to the Moon.

Now, we watch hopefully that there will be no tragedy to report as the very dangerous mission is being performed by the crew of Atlantis.    Getting to the space station and back home is dangerous.  Docking with the space station is dangerous. The shuttle itself is dangerous. For those wishing the shuttle program to continue, perhaps they need to understand that  the imperative for launching space shots has changed. It’s a new ball game. More on that next. Stay tuned.


WWII Thoughts on the 4th of July

July 4, 2011

On this, the most patriotic day of the  year, I reflect on the most patriotic time of my life, World War II.

I was eleven when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The nation immediately united behind  the war effort.  With 14 to 16-million Americans in the armed forces, just  about  everyone had someone  in potential harms way. Not so now. Few have a friend or relative in the  services. A relatively small minority is bearing  the  sacrifice as the rest watch.

My late sister Betty and brother-in-law law Jack Gibson during world War II.

Both my brother Elbert and brother-in-law Jack Gibson were drafted.  Jack, a machine-gunner, was wounded a few days after landing  at  Normandy, and awarded a Purple Heart medal.  My sister Betty made her first trip out of the South when she took trains to Wisconsin to see Jack a few days before he went overseas.

My late brother Elbert in Germany, 1945

Elbert, who was younger than Jack, was drafted near the war’s end. He was in the UK, heading for France when Germany surrendered.  He drove a Jeep for a lieutenant around Germany looking for the lieutenant’s German relatives.  Before he shipped overseas, my mother decided she and 13-year-old me would visit him in Joplin, MO, where he was getting  Signal Corps training.

What an  adventure that was for untraveled me. The railroads had every car that would roll in service. With gasoline rationing, you took a train or bus, especially on  a long  trip. When we boarded the train in Columbus, there was only one seat available. I had no seat from Columbus to Birmingham, sitting in other folk’s seats when they would go to the restroom or to smoke.  We did get seats when we had lunch in the  diner, my first  diner experience. I loved it.

13-year-old me

There  were no hotel rooms available in Joplin, but people in private homes rented rooms to visitors like  us.  My mom and dad did the same  thing, renting out a room to Ft. Benning soldiers and  their wives. One couple had a little girl. She was meaner than any boy I knew, and I couldn’t  hit her becaused she was a girl.  Wanting to keep their room, her parents tried to make it up to me by taking me to a movie with the three of them. It helped.

Keeping everyone involved in the war effort, we were encouraged to buy war  bonds and stamps. Kids like me would buy dime stamps and put them in a book that we could cash in or use toward buying a $25 bond when the book was filled. Folks also saved and took tin cans, old tires and scrap paper to collection centers to be recycled  to make things for the armed forces. Just  about  everyone I knew did it. As a Boy Scout, I remember riding  in the  back of a truck, going door to door to pick up scrap paper people were saving.

Yes, it was a very different time and a very different war. Today, people do respect and support our troops, even though most are war weary and want  us out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  But, there is definitely not the involvement and  the  sharing of the sacrifice as there was then.