The Commerce News
October 3, 2001
Are No Short Drives In Atlanta
I grew up in a Florida county famous for its major north-south
artery. Navigating the 30 or 40 miles of U.S. 19 was a nightmare
of multiple lane, easy access highway traversed by hundreds of
thousands of people daily.
But the difficulty of U.S. 19 in Pinellas County pales compared
to the routine horror of driving anywhere in Atlanta. I'd read
about the city's inevitable march toward gridlock; I'd call it
more of a stampede.
Having spent the last weekend there for the joyous occasion of
a niece's wedding, I had the challenge not only of navigating
the unknown-to-me streets in the Lenox area, but also that of
doing it while in the company of tens of thousands of people,
most of whom were conversing on their cell phones to pass the
time as we crept along.
Friday night, we were to be at a rehearsal dinner at 7:00. Our
savvy hostess advised us to leave at 6:30; the destination could
not have been eight miles. We left at 6:25; we arrived at 7:37.
Eight lanes of Georgia 400 were at a standstill. Toll booth operators
napped between vehicles. The road narrowed to four lanes and
traffic slowed proportionately, so we opted to try Piedmont Road.
All Atlanta, however, was en route to a concert at Piedmont Park,
most of it approaching from our direction. By 7:00, we were not
halfway there; I had visions of arriving at about the same time
The following day, it was a trip of similar length from the church
to the reception. It took us 40 minutes to go about seven miles
down Peachtree Street. All of Atlanta, having discovered culture
the evening before at Piedmont Park, had decided to experience
some more at the Fox Theater. To make matters worse, in the heart
of downtown Atlanta the car radio would pick up neither the Georgia-Arkansas
nor the Tech-Clemson game.
These incidents are more the rule than the reception. Gridlock
is no longer a distant threat; it is a daily occurrence.
My experience was not during rush hour (why they call it rush
hour when the top speed is 10 mph is another story) nor caused
God knows how many hours a week the average Atlantan wastes stopping
in traffic. Now I understand why they all carry cell phones;
cars should be equipped with microwave ovens so Atlantans can
fix supper on the way home.
How do Atlantans stand it? I could handle a 40-minute daily commute
to Gainesville from Commerce, but a 40-minute commute to drive
six miles would render me senseless and drooling in two weeks
or shooting fellow drivers in a month. Spending time in the car
is one thing; spending it while averaging six miles per hour
is quite another.
Here, we're driven to near road rage when the geezer in the car
in front of us on Georgia 15 manages but 40 miles per hour on
the way to Jefferson. Fifteen miles per hour on many Atlanta
streets is a cause for killing the fatted calf and weeping for
There are few places to go in Jackson County, but at least we
can get there quickly. There is no such thing as a short drive
The Jackson Herald
October 3, 2001
move beyond the past
If it's been said once by members of the Jackson County Board
of Commissioners, it's been said a thousand times - the county
government tax rate is going up this year because it was cut
dramatically last year by the "old" BOC.
OK, OK, guys, we get the message. But attempting to shift all
the blame for the higher tax rate to the "old" board
still misses a couple of very important points.
Admittedly, the "old" board did cut the tax rate too
much. While it was time for the county to use some of its reserves
for tax relief, the five-mill cut was too much too quick.
In addition, you can also blame the "old" board for
having revved up the size of the county government during the
last few years. Thanks to a growing tax digest, the county has
been rolling in the dough, making it easy to expand county government
with double-digit growth rates.
But that was then and this is now. The reserves are down, the
digest showed only a modest seven percent growth rate and economic
times may become difficult.
But instead of complaining about the situation, the current BOC
should look at this 2002 budget as an opportunity to restructure
county government in ways that before didn't get a second look.
Specifically, the board should look at the following:
1. Combining and downsizing departments. Merge some departments
where functions are similar and have one department head and
administrative structure instead of two.
2. Seriously study the cost-effectiveness of the correctional
institute. Maybe it's time for the county to get out of the corrections
3. Study all fees for all county services. Raise fees to make
some areas, like the transfer stations, more self-sufficient.
4. Find out why fine income from our courts is dropping. Is the
caseload less? If so, where can cuts be made?
5. Except for the lowest-paid employees, freeze salaries and
6. Look at downsizing some departments where there may be too
many people doing too little work.
With all the cutbacks and layoffs hitting private industry, it's
amazing to us that government never seems to shrink. Property
assessments never drop when the economy slows, although the actual
value of property does decline. And unlike private businesses,
governments never seem to find ways to make major cutbacks.
Even with additional cutbacks and consolidations, the county
government's tax rate would have increased a lot this year. Still,
it would have been an easier pill to swallow had the new board
taken this opening to carefully evaluate every department of
Instead, there's been a lot of hand-wringing and too much talk
about having been dealt a set of bad cards.
Come on, guys, move beyond the past and take responsibility for
the future. After all, isn't that what you expect the taxpayers
of Jackson County to do?
The Jackson Herald
October 3, 2001
I had no intention of continuing the recent column about New-New
Math again this week. But the issue is of such critical importance
to our schools, and by extension our children, that it merits
What we're dealing with here is nothing less than a major shift
in what we as a society will pass along in the way of mathematical
skills to future generations.
The New-New Math programs which are in vogue now stress the teaching
of process over the teaching of specific computational skills.
Proponents argue that this method is more inclusive of all students
and that understanding math is more important than mastering
Critics of these new programs argue that the fundamentals of
math are being ignored and that students are not being taught
to master basic math concepts.
In a 1994 education magazine article, a math consultant with
the Connecticut Department of Education argued that American
schools should abandon the old pencil and paper math computations
which have long been the staple of grade schools. The consultant
argued that unlike just a few years ago, our society no longer
relies on pencil and paper computations to run businesses. Instead,
we have calculators, computers and cash registers that do the
work for us.
"A few short years ago, we had few or no alternatives to
pencil-and-paper computation," he wrote. "A few short
years ago, we could even justify the pain and frustration we
witnessed in our classes as necessary parts of learning what
were then important skills."
Although that obscure article wasn't the start of New-New Math,
it does summarize the basic tenent of its proponents - that computational
skills are no longer important in today's technological world.
Why teach children how to add numbers by carrying digits when
in the real world, they will use a calculator to do the algorithm?
Although these arguments didn't get much attention among the
general public, they did gain footing with education professional
around the nation. Textbook publishers, education professors
and state education officials have responded to the New-New Math
concepts by embracing its basic tenents.
Ironically, a concurrent trend during this time was increased
public pressure on public schools to be more "accountable"
to parents and citizens. Thus was born the increased emphasis
on standardized testing as a tool to measure how well both students
and schools are doing.
But the rise of New-New Math and more standardized testing resulted
in an odd outcome - New-New Math is the basis for which students
are being tested, but math test scores have flattened because
New-New Math hasn't been taught in many classrooms.
And that's where we are today. Local school systems are piloting
or adopting New-New Math textbooks because state and national
standardized tests are New-New Math oriented. If local schools
want math test scores to rise, they believe they have to more
closely align their instruction to the test questions.
For an example of that trend, you only have to look at the Georgia
CRCT test from last spring. I recently downloaded questions from
the 4th grade CRCT and did a quick analysis of the math section.
Although some of the questions are blank because they will be
used again in future tests, there's enough old questions shown
to get a feel for what students in that grade are being asked.
Overall, the 4th grade CRCT math section is nothing but New-New
Math. Out of 47 questions shown on the test (23 others were marked
out), only a handful required actual computations. The majority
of the questions revolved around math processes, such as estimating,
rounding and place values.
The truth is, state-mandated standardized testing is driving
local curriculum decisions. By gearing the CRCT toward New-New
Math concepts, the state department of education is actually
imposing New-New Math standards in every school in Georgia.
Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I believe there is still some
value in having students master pencil and paper math computations.
While as adults we depend on technology to do the math legwork
for us, there's something to be said for training a student's
mind by actually working math problems with a pencil.
If we accept the argument that technology has made paper algorithms
obsolete, then we would also have to accept the argument that
technology has made other education subjects obsolete as well.
Why learn to read, for example, in our video-based culture? Why
learn history or geography when we can get the information we
want from the Internet? Why learn to spell or sentence construction
when our word processing programs will do that for us?
Indeed, why do we even have public schools if the process of
education has become nothing more than teaching students how
to push a button and get an answer?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
October 3, 2001
Bring New Defense Priorities
With the evidence from Sept. 11 still fresh in mind, the Bush
Administration should scrap its full-speed-ahead approach to
a space-based missile defense system. While the effectiveness
of such a program is debatable, the terrorist attacks on New
York and Washington, DC, show our vulnerability to less conventional
means of attack.
The so-called "Star Wars" defense system is hugely
expensive, and money spent in its development could be better
invested in making the United States more able to prevent, deal
with and respond to terrorist attacks.
Bush and Congress should first:
·seriously upgrade the capabilities of both the FBI and
the CIA for intelligence gathering, hunting down terrorists,
and even, in the case of the CIA, covert operations against them.
It will require substantial funding to not only track individuals,
but to sift through massive amounts of data.
·acquire the manpower and equipment needed by the military
to deal with forces not aligned with any particular country.
Our most dangerous enemies now are low-tech, well-financed and
mobile to the point of being incredibly hard to track, and they
are scattered. Conventional military techniques are difficult
to bring against terrorists.
·take over security at the nation's airports, ports, nuclear
power plants, major dams and other likely terrorist targets.
The airlines are incapable of providing the level of security
that must be consistent, day in and day out, even when no terrorist
activities are expected. The government must also give attention
to monitoring all general aviation airports, pilot training schools
and may find itself needing to protect mass transit systems,
ports and many federal facilities that could be targets.
·provide more resources for protecting our borders. It
is estimated that there are three to five million aliens living
in the U.S. on expired visas alone. When that number is combined
with the number of aliens who entered the country illegally,
the security challenge is enormous. The National Immigration
Service needs the manpower and budget to keep a watch on such
·provide more funding to keep track of financial transactions
of suspected terrorists and to follow suspicious transactions
·develop systems, methods, manpower and materials to respond
to one or more incidents involving chemical or biological weapons.
Already suspicions are high that terrorists have hopes of mounting
such an attack and while prevention is the first line of defense,
America must be ready to provide the care, treatment and cleanup
should the terrorists prove successful. No community can be fully
prepared to handle the devastation of such an attack, but plans
must be devised for a rapid massive federal deployment should
the need arise. During the Cold War, the Civil Defense system
was developed; a new version might be appropriate for the 21st
In fact, it is impossible to determine exactly what will be needed
and how much it will cost, but after Sept. 11 it is apparent
that this nation must devote more thought and resources to the
whole scope of terrorism. President Bush may be philosophically
opposed to "big government," but it is very clear that
while state and local governments will have roles to play, the
federal government must assume whole new areas of responsibility.
Sept. 11 changed everything.
We may one day face a nuclear attack from a Third-World nation
if the radicals take over Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq or some similar
country and have the same suicidal devotion exhibited by the
Sept. 11 terrorists. It seems far more likely, though, that major
attacks will come from within, where traditional defenses are
ineffective. After Sept. 11, the concept of a space-based missile
defense system seems much less important than mobilizing against
action by terrorists.