By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 6, 2002
Not Remotely Interested In
I am happy to report that my New Year's resolution to watch less TV is still being fulfilled. Not only did I not watch the first NFL playoff game, but I have yet to watch a single full TV movie or situation comedy. In fact, I cannot remember the last television show that I watched. I tried to watch President Bush's State of the Union speech, but quickly tired of the war rhetoric and the obvious fishing (successfully) for applause, so I went back to my book.
My resolve is aided by two factors. First, it's pretty hard to find a decent show on TV. I've seen all the old AMC and TNT movies and can bear not to see them again for awhile, and most of the new (as in made since 1966) ones hold little interest. The fall TV lineups are, in my view, full of inane or silly situation comedies and even worse "reality TV" shows. The baseball season has not started yet and the professional football season held no interest. Fifty-six channels (or whatever) of cable and nothing on TV (alt-hough I admit to watching the Super Bowl on Sunday).
The second factor is that our TV remote quit. No longer am I tempted to turn on the TV, check out the news, and surf through the channels to find four or five shows I can switch among until carpel tunnel syndrome makes it too painful.
Barbara discounts my willpower; it's the loss of the remote control device, she says, as though my resolve is less than absolute.
Whatever, I seldom find that I've missed anything of merit. I never found out who fathered Rachel's child in "Friends," or who's bedding who in "ER," but I'm reading much more and listening to CDs on my headphones, and though I have no science to back it up, expect that I'm better off for the increased exposure to literary classics, historical fiction, classical and Irish music.
But Barbara has a point. With the clicker in hand, a viewer need not find anything relevant on TV. It is the hunt for good programming that is the sport, and finding well-written thoughtful entertainment on TV is no less challenging than finding Bigfoot; you keep hearing that it's out there, but the odds of finding it are, pun intended, remote.
A guy can spend hours hunting and not finding the elusive prey and still feel like he's thoroughly covered the territory and might, on the next occasion, find the most rare of species. That is the optimism of Ponce de Leon in searching for the Fountain of Youth or Desoto in pursuit of El Dorado, but their odds of success were much better than yours of stumbling across a great TV show.
Still, with a functioning remote one almost feels obligated to take up the hunt. Ironically, while hunting good TV can entertain one for hours, sitting in the same room with someone relentlessly changing channels is a leading cause of domestic violence. Channel surfing is not a group sport.
I hear that Alltel is digitizing cable TV in Commerce. The first thought that comes to mind is that Iıll get a much clearer view, when I watch, of garbage. But, I realize, the countdown has started for Spring Training and opening day of Major League Baseball.
I may have to break down and buy a new remote after all.
The Jackson Herald
February 6, 2002
What do school rankings really mean?
Box scores used to only be found on the sports pages. The rankings of school athletic teams are closely watched as teams vie for playoff berths in their division.
Now, however, we have box scores for school academic performance. As reported elsewhere in this edition, schools across the state have been ranked according to their results on last yearıs standardized test results.
Unlike sporting events, however, these academic rankings are open to wide interpretations by parents, teachers, school administrators and state political leaders. Each of those four groups have something at stake in the outcome, yet we wonder what is the real outcome?
For example, take the rankings of two local elementary schools as reported in this weekıs newspaper: Third-graders at Commerce Elementary School were ranked 132nd in the state with their above-average percentile score of 61. That means that CES third grades did better than 61 percent of all students in the nation who took the Stanford 9 standardized test last year. CESı ranking put it in the top 12 percent of the stateıs elementary schools.
But just a few miles down the road, Benton Elementary School finds itself ranked 835th in the state with a percentile score 34, far below the national average of 50. That means that 66 percent of the students taking the Stanford 9 in the nation last year did better than third graders at BES.
But is the quality of education in these two schools as dramatically different as those test results indicate?
Thatıs a difficult question to answer because there are several variables which created those scores. For one thing, the Stanford 9 is a new test in Georgia and last year was the first time many children had seen this particular test. In addition, it is a dramatically different test than the older ITBS. Rather than testing basic skills, the Stanford 9 is touted as testing ³higher-order² skills.
Another variable is the schoolsı individual curriculums. Most schools had not adjusted their curriculums last year to accommodate the new test, meaning that the test likely covered subjects some students were not taught during the school year.
While the dramatic differences in these tests do raise some concerns, it is probably too early for parents to be alarmed by the results. Indeed, a vast majority of the stateıs elementary schools were below the national average in their scores, an indication that perhaps the newness of this test caught a lot of schools unprepared last year.
Letıs hope that adjustments made this year will lead to improved scores when students are tested this spring.
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 6, 2002
Thoughts on banning cell phones from cars
That the Georgia General Assembly is considering a ban on using cell phones in cars would be laughable if the implications of the move werenıt so serious.
This is the same government body, remember, that doesnıt take drunk driving seriously, enacting tougher DUI laws only when organized public pressure forces them to act. We wouldnıt want too many politicians arrested for drunk driving on their way home from the country club, now would we?
No one defends wrecks caused by inattentive drivers. But one suspects that much of the push to ban automobile cell phone use stems around the idea that cell phones are the creatures of suburbia. And as we all know, suburbs are the source of all that is wrong in our society.
I donıt know if cell phones cause wrecks or not. Iıve never actually seen a cell phone steer a car off the road, or into another vehicle. Iıve never seen a cell phone push the gas pedal. Maybe some cell phones are untrustworthy, but mine just seems to use up its free minutes and gobble up pay-for-talk time.
There are several things, however, I would like to see banned from cars.
First, ban the use of cigarettes in cars. Iım an impatient driver and I donıt like sitting behind a car at the green light while its driver fiddles with lighting his cigarette, looking for another match and rolling down his window to blow out smoke. I donıt know the statistics, but Iıd bet that more wrecks are caused by someone lighting a cigarette in a car than talking on cell phones. If someone wants to kill themselves with lung cancer, thatıs their right. Just donıt hold up traffic while you do it.
Iıd also like to see audio speakers over three inches in diameter banned from automobiles. I donıt know if loud music causes wrecks, but some of these cars could wreck and the driver would never hear the crunching of metal. For some reason, the drivers of these mobile music makers turn up the volume at red lights. My overweight SUV has actually started dancing in the street to the thump-thump-thump of a nearby carıs audio system.
If cell phones are a dangerous distraction worthy of legislative action, then shouldnıt loud music be banned? There used to be a law that you couldnıt have a loud muffler on a car. Why canıt we ban obscenely loud music as well?
I think we should also ban non-driving spouses from cars. The non-driving spouse always knows more than the driver ³Donıt turn here... youıre in the wrong lane... youıre following too close.² Talk about distraction.
Iım all for safety. I like safe drivers. I drive a government-approved vehicle with government-approved airbags. I use government-mandated seatbelts and I try to follow, more or less, government-mandated speed limits. Iım even willing to drive on government-maintained roads that are full of potholes and sit in government-created traffic jams because there arenıt enough highways being built by governments. I put a government-mandated tag on my car so everyone will know who I am. And I sit at government-made red lights where government-owned cameras monitor my smiling face. Iıll even tolerate governments like Arcade where government employees ask daily for involuntary financial contributions from auto drivers.
But government ought not to tell me I canıt talk on a cell phone in a car. To do so would be like the British tea tax of 1770 and lead to an uprising not seen in this nation since the 1960s. Suburban moms marching in the street, pushing strollers and chanting, ³Take our cell and weıll give you hell!²
No, politicians donıt want to mess with the most important appendage of middle-class America. The rich may influence government with money; the poor may influence government with self-perpetuating entitlement programs.
But donıt mess with Americaıs long-dormant and overlooked middle-class. We are a silent horde of SUV-driving, suburban living people who use cell phones in our minivans. Our expensive chit-chat on cell phones is what makes America great. We keep the economy afloat even during this difficult time of economic recession.
Cell phones are our tool of choice, worn on our belts like the gun-slingers of the Old West, weıre ready to talk all day long.
Remember, politicians, this middle-class slogan: ³When politicians take our cell phones, only idiots will be talking.²
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
February 6, 2002
CDC Needs Funds To Modernize Facilities
How soon we forget. The federal budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was increased from $4.3 billion last year to $6.8 billion this year in the aftermath of the anthrax scare that followed the September terrorist attacks. But now that it is apparent that the anthrax was not an attack from abroad and because there have been no new recent cases, the CDC stands to see its budget for next fiscal year reduced back to $4.3 billion if the Bush administration has its way.
A large chunk ($2.5 billion) of this year's money came through the Department of Defense, with $1 billion to go to state and local public health departments, $244 million to improve security at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, $593 million to the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile and $512 million to increase the supply of smallpox vaccine. Those expenditures will not be repeated.
Just as the Sept. 11 attacks created a new awareness of America's security shortcomings in air travel, so did the anthrax scare demonstrate our lack of preparedness for biological or chemical attacks. The CDC would be a centerpiece for responding to such attacks, but its physical facilities are old and outdated to the point that its ability to do basic scientific research is compromised. Its advocates say the Atlanta facility will require $250 million a year the amount appropriated this year for a five-year improvement schedule. That level of funding needs to continue.
Hopefully, Congress will see that the CDC role in America's homeland defense is critical and that adequate facilities are as important to responding to a bio-terrorist attack as airplanes and missiles are in a conventional war. While the anthrax scare of 2001 was of domestic origin, one of the primary fears about terrorist organizations is their entry into bio-chemical warfare. Iran and Iraq, friends of many terrorist groups, are known to be working on such weapons, increasing the possibility that America's enemies like Osama bin Laden (who is still at large) can acquire them.
The 2003 budget is far from settled. Congress will be remiss in its duty to protect its homeland if it fails to assure that the CDC has sufficient funds to improve its Atlanta buildings. The anthrax scare provided a warning. It would be foolish to ignore it.