The Commerce News
October 1, 2003
Now Completed, Thank Goodness
Braves manager Bobby Cox won his
1,900th ball game recently and Gary Sheffield had his 2,000th
hit. Imagine my shock to discover Id hit something of a
milestone myself last month, my 1,500th column.
That hardly ranks up there with Greg Madduxs 16 consecutive
seasons with 15 or more wins or winning the triple crown of horse
racing particularly in the areas of pay and fan interest
but thats a lot of newspaper columns.
Those who start writing columns do it for ego, no doubt about
it. I recall launching my column in 1974, desiring to enlighten
readers with my storehouse of knowledge and wisdom. That required
two weeks, and its been pretty much hit or (mostly) miss
ever since. The eagerness to expound upon the issues of the day
has been replaced with resignation about the weekly task of writing
92 lines to fill a 2.481-inch by 15.382-inch hole. Never longer,
never shorter. Scarily, there remain hundreds of readers who
have suffered through most of those columns. And others who quit
reading them entirely.
I gave you a break from November of 1985 to February of 1987
when I took my skills to the coastal plains of North Carolina,
to which I am reasonably sure my columns did no lasting damage.
One highlight of that absence was reading in The Commerce News
a tiny bit of respect in a letter to the editor who declared
that the former editor (yours truly) at least had a juvenile
sense of humor. My wisdom failed to turn a profit in North
Carolina, so I scuttled back to Commerce and picked up pretty
much where Id left off.
Since the first one, the process has changed very little. About
half of the time, Ive either written my column for the
next weeks paper by the end of Friday or at least know
what Im going to write about. The rest of the time subjects
are more elusive. More than once Ive waited until the absolute
minute and thrown something together. Usually it shows.
Coming up with the ideas, now theres the catch. Sometimes,
inspiration jumps out and grabs you. Those are the times when
circumstances either demand or inspire a column. But theres
only so much low-hanging fruit, so the rest of the time I sit
staring dumbly at my computer monitor in the vain hope that the
muse will arrive.
Strangely enough, reader reaction to the inspired
and the put-something-on-paper-because-there-is-a-hole-to-fill
column are about the same totally unpredictable. You can
never be sure what people will absolutely love or hate.
To me, a good column is one that is done and a bad
column is one that is not. This one is getting better every
I dont have any secrets, because when the inspirational
drought hits, Ill grasp at anything to fill the space.
You read about my vacations, hobbies, political opinions, my
likes and dislikes regarding anything, and about my family, although
writing about the latter is riskier now that every column is
online. I share the good times and the bad and too often the
boring or inane.
After 1,500 columns, Im not sure whether I should have
a plaque made to mark the achievement or send an apology to each
of you. Maybe both.
The Jackson Herald
September 24, 2003
with 10 Commandments
Far be it for us here in Jackson County
to offer Barrow County advice about what to allow on its courthouse
walls. But the debate in our neighboring county over a display
of the 10 Commandments has reached far beyond Barrow County and
has become another in a string of Church vs. State lawsuits.
All the usual suspects are on the Barrow County stage
the ACLU, the Klan and of course, a number of politicians looking
for a way to take advantage of the situation for their own personal
What a mess.
While we agree that government shouldnt be in the business
of promoting any particular religious indoctrination, we fail
to see how a small display of the 10 Commandments on a corridor
wall would unduly infringe on anyones rights.
But what is really sad about the current debate is just how weird
our society has become in the battles we choose to fight. Compared
to the civil rights movement, which really did free a large number
of people from official government domination, the debate over
a courthouse plaque is minor.
Isnt there some more important problem in Barrow County
that needs attention?
Arcade probe just the start
We dont know what state investigators
will find as they look into the City of Arcades history
of writing speeding tickets. But as most locals know, the small
town has long had the reputation of running a speed trap
along Hwy. 129.
The completion of the new bypass has allowed for even more speeding
tickets since speeds on that highway are higher than when traffic
had to snake its way down the old Hwy. 129 through
We dont have a problem with local law enforcement officials
keeping our roads safe. But the truth is, some of our local governments
look at speeding fines as a major source of income.
Both directly, and indirectly, these local governments pressure
their police departments to write tickets to raise money for
the towns general fund. Often that process targets out-of-county
vehicles and even minority groups, people who generally wont
cause too much of a fuss locally.
That isnt right. There is a fine line between acting in
the interest of public safety and acting in the interest of money-hungry
Local citizens know the difference.
The Jackson Herald
October 1, 2003
Life, or something
It was a year ago that I stood along the
coast of Maine and watched the waves crash among rocks below.
In front of me was a small childs wheelchair where my seven-year-old
son, Clark, sat with his head wrapped in bandages and covered
with a red stocking cap.
We had gone to that small coastal town following Clarks
surgery in Boston a few days before. He was still weak from the
surgery and while he could stand and walk, he tired easily. Here,
he could rest for a couple weeks to recover.
The violence of the waves was in stark contrast to the calmness
of the scene, the surreal beauty as the sun peaked between the
clouds. But as I stood there, I wondered what the future would
hold for him. All parents want assurances about their children,
even though we know there is no such thing.
Clark had begun to have seizures when he was six years old. After
months of trying various medications and undergoing dozens of
tests, it became clear that surgery was the only real hope of
getting his seizures under control.
So in late September 2002, surgeons opened his skull and cut
out the part of his brain where tests indicated scar tissue was
causing his seizures.
I wrote in some detail about that experience late last year and
in the months since, many of you have asked me how Clark has
been doing. Im happy to say that for the most part, he
is much better and his seizures less frequent.
But they have not totally stopped. The interval varies, but every
40-60 days, he will have a major convulsive seizure while sleeping.
Thats better than having multiple smaller seizures for
days at a time, but of course we would like for the seizures
to stop altogether.
Clark also continues to take his anti-seizure medications, one
of which we discovered has a strange side effect. Early this
summer, we found that one of his medications caused him to stop
sweating, putting him at risk for a heat stroke. Since a withdrawal
from such medications can trigger seizures, we have been slowly
cutting his dosage level back and phasing in an alternative medication.
In other ways, however, Clark has seemingly made a strong recovery.
We were concerned about how the surgery would affect his school
work since the part of the brain that was removed affects memory
and verbal learning.
Follow-up testing last spring indicated that indeed he does sometimes
reach a point of overload when the brain simply cannot
process information fast enough. But by working with his teachers
and tutors, those problems have begun to recede.
Whats amazing is that our brains have the capacity to rewire
some functions. The functions lost from his surgery are slowly
being rebuilt with new connections in his brain. That process
may take a couple years, but it does appear to be happening.
In the months since Clarks surgery, Ive spoken or
corresponded with dozens of parents whose children face similar
problems. Epilepsy and seizures are much more common than I thought,
although they take many different forms and have a lot of different
We still dont have all the answers about what the future
holds for Clarks seizures. They could diminish, or they
could become more frequent. He may yet face more surgery in the
future. Or maybe gene therapy or some other cutting-edge medical
advancement will end his lingering seizures.
A year ago, standing on that rocky Maine shore, I wasnt
sure what the future would hold. Im still not sure about
that, but I do know that the kindness and concern expressed by
many of you has meant a great deal to Clark and to our family.
For that, I thank you.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
September 24, 2003
Birthday To The Cold Sassy Players
This week, the Cold Sassy Players will
celebrate their 10th anniversary with the production of Our
Town, the Thornton Wilder classic with which the CSP began
production in 1993.
The starting of a community theater group was a huge step at
the time. Since then, residents have come to expect two or more
plays a year and the old Presbyterian Church in which
the first play took place has been renovated into the Commerce
In the past decade, the Cold Sassy Players have provided a wide
variety of top-quality plays, ranging from comedies to musicals.
The quality of the plays, from the acting and singing to the
costumes and sets certainly surpasses what the public expected
when Our Town went on stage in 1993.
Only those involved in the production of a play really understand
the commitment each participant must make. Even the actor with
the tiniest part must show up for each and every rehearsal, as
must the stage hands working with lights, sound and other critical
Commerce is more culturally rich today for the efforts of the
hundreds of people who have worked on the Cold Sassy Players
productions. The names and faces may change, but the commitment
is the same. Congratulations to the Cold Sassy Players for the
first 10 years of local community theater.
U.S. Morally Obligated
To Iraq Reconstruction
Now that the bill is coming due, enthusiasm
for Americas adventures into Iraq seems to be waning. President
Bushs request for $87 billion to go toward Iraq and Afghanistan
is sparking tremendous debate among both Democrats and Republicans.
Of the request, $5.8 billion is targeted to rebuild Iraqs
electricity system, $2.1 billion for its oil infrastructure,
$3.7 billion for water and sewer projects; $800 million for telecommunications
and transportation improvements and $900 million for hospitals
and health care. In addition, the taxpayers will build two prisons,
build houses and import $900 million in fuel. In all, only about
$20 billion is going for reconstruction; the rest is to maintain
We can debate the amount of money that should be spent on operations
and the administrations options for raising it, but let
no one who supported invading Iraq complain about its rebuilding
cost. America broke it; now we pay to fix it, and the $87 billion
is just for the next year. There will be more bills in the future.
An America gung-ho to wage war has an obligation to rebuild what
it helped destroy. And just as the administration under-estimated
the amount of troops needed to do the job, under-estimated the
resistance to American opposition and under-estimated the support
we would get for the war and its aftermath, it also low-balled
the cost of rebuilding Iraq.
It remains to be seen just how much the United Nations and other
countries, most of whom opposed our foray, will help, but dont
expect much. America went to war over most of the worlds
opposition, so most of the world understandably figures were
the ones who must cover the costs.
The $87 billion comes as the Bush administration sets a record
for deficit spending. That figure is more than twice what the
government spends on homeland security, more than the combined
total of all state budget deficits in the country. It is more
than 10 times what the government spends on environmental protection
programs, more than nine times what it spends per year on special
Still, the United States has a moral obligation to rebuild Iraq.
We got the war we wanted and its too late to complain about
what it will cost.