Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Add it up: Annus not totally horribilis

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 9:41 PM

Number of people who died jumping from metro Atlanta highway overpasses in 2008: 1

Number of buses to plunge off a highway overpass: 0

Number of people who threatened to jump from metro Atlanta construction cranes over this past year: 0

3344 Peachtree
  • 3344 Peachtree

Number of new Atlanta skyscrapers under construction or completed in the last 12 months: 11

Of all regional banks that failed in 2008, percentage based in Georgia: 20

Number of major banks headquartered in Atlanta when 2008 began: 1

Number of major banks still headquartered in Atlanta as 2008 ends: 1

Number of Atlanta-based Fortune 500 companies that went bankrupt in 2008: 0

Hartsfield-Jackson’s 2007 ranking among major U.S. airports for flight delays: 7

Hartsfield-Jackson’s 2008 ranking among major U.S. airports for flight delays: 9

Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Emporis, Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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Rep. Kevin Levitas is a busy guy

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 9:27 PM

The collection of pre-filed bills before the start of each General Assembly usually falls into one of three categories: frivolous legislation by wack-job House members, such as Bobby Franklin and Martin Scott; important bills by big-cheese sponsors who want to give the rank-and-file time to prepare; and one-shot bills by single-issue lawmakers who've devoted themselves to achieving a particular goal.

However, Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-DeKalb, has upended the model by pre-filing an astonishing 17 separate pieces of legislation – not including a bill that he apparently rewrote and resubmitted the next day. And the subject matter runs the gamut from insurance fraud to the governor's veto power to the election of law-enforcement officials.

Lawmaking is politics, and politics is a game of knowing how hard to push and when and who's likely to help. The mere fact that he's willing to draw this kind of attention to himself before the session begins made me wonder if Levitas – the son of a former congressman, let's not forget – had become frustrated with the sausage-making process and decided to throw caution to the wind.

After chatting with him, I suspect that was part of his motivation. Levitas reminded me that several of his bills were introduced last year without making much of a splash. He reasons he could have more success by dropping them in the hopper as early as possible. But mostly, he says, he hopes to "get discussion started" on the issues.

The bill with possibly the greatest chance of success – because it's the most local – would further fine-tune the balance of power between the DeKalb CEO and commissioners. Most substantively, it would revoke a provision that allows the board to nominate its own appointee to a county position after having rejected the CEO's choice.

We'll see if Levitas' unusual strategy meets with greater success this year.

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Word: ‘He hand-dug those graves’

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 8:02 PM

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Clayton County commissioners approved a developer’s request to relocate 311 graves from a historic African-American cemetery next to Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport. On Dec. 16, opponents held a press conference to criticize the decision.

"I've seen my daddy dig many graves back there. He hand-dug those graves, so I know where they are.”

Betty Bowden, who says she has ancestors in the cemetery, in the Dec. 18 Clayton Daily News.

“Some of these developers will put cement over their mama.”

John Evans of Operation LEAD, an anti-discrimination group, in the Dec. 16 AJC.

"The person who wants to move these graves has met the standards of the state, as well as the board…I have invited the families to monitor [the transfer of the grave sites] as it takes place.”

Clayton Chairman Eldrin Bell in the Dec. 18 Clayton Daily News.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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Atlanta is the nation's fifth most literate city!

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:52 PM

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For the third time in four years, Atlanta is one of the nation's top-five cities for literacy. The ranking is based on local newspaper and magazine circulation (yay for Creative Loafing!), library data, online news readership (thanks, Fresh Loaf!), book purchases and educational attainment.

Minneapolis and Seattle were tied for first, followed by Washington D.C., St. Paul, San Francisco and Atlanta.

According to this story, the data for the 2008 rankings came from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Booksellers Association, Audit Bureau of Circulations, Yellow Pages and other sources.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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Player's Club: Top 10 Video Games of 2008, Part 1

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:35 PM

Oh, 2008: some might remember you for your global economic meltdown, or your historical presidential election, but to me, you'll always be the year I struggled with malaria in an anonymous war-torn Sub-Saharan country. You know, in a video game. Overall 2008 didn't see quite as large a crop of great games as 2007, but there was still no lack of high-quality experiences to be found. I'll be counting down my top ten favorite games of the year here today and tomorrow, and here's a look at the first five. For more video game year-in-review nonsense, feel free to take a look at my blog, Hot Fighting History.

10. Bionic Commando Rearmed (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PC)

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Sure, it’s just a remake, and a surprisingly faithful one at that, but it’s a remake of the greatest NES game ever, so it totally deserves to make this list.

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First Person: Diane Wright, former public housing tenant

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:27 PM

Diane Wright, outside her new apartment
  • Diane Wright, outside her new apartment

Editor's note: This is the first in a regular series of commentaries that gives voice to those not commonly heard in Atlanta media.

For nearly two decades, Diane Wright, 63, lived in Hollywood Courts, one of the last public housing projects left in Atlanta. Most of the rest have  been demolished to make way for mixed-income communities. Wright was the longtime president of her residents' association, as well as president of the group representing all Atlanta housing projects. In that capacity, she was an outspoken critic of the displacement of public housing residents. She also was a business owner under the federal government's Section 3 program, which provides grants to low-income entrepreneurs.

I'm from Chicago. When I moved, I was in my late 40s. I had went back to school. I got a degree in accounting. One of my girlfriends was living down here, and she told me Atlanta was a great place to live. This was '88, '89.

I moved into public housing. When I first went there, it was hell. But we got together and formed our organization. And then we started working with the residents. We told the dope boys that we wanted them out of there. We knew most of them. I hired some of them, too. I even asked the housing authority about that. They said that would be a good idea.

[Housing authority officials] always would come to me when they want something done. They wanted a Section 3 [business]. They came to me to start the business. I've been hiring people that come out of prison and go into a halfway house. I never had a problem.

All of a sudden, here comes the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] investigators. They pulled me aside, into the maintenance shop. And then they showed me a picture of this person, and told me he used my address. I used to go with him, and he became a sex offender. He used my address [on Georgia's sex-offender registry], but he used it without me knowing it. The sheriff's department didn't come to my house, didn't check his address or anything.

I've never had any problem, nothing with a criminal check or background check. I've never been to jail. But still, all of a sudden, they treat me like I'm the criminal.

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CNN's Rick Sanchez, film buff

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 5:04 PM

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He always struck me as more of a film noir type. Interesting.

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Dick Pettys of InsiderAdvantage's 2008 review

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 4:47 PM

Gold Dome sentinel Dick Pettys of InsiderAdvantage provides an excellent rundown of 2008's state political stories, complete with links that give you a rare glimpse behind the online news service's subscription firewall. If you want a good take on what happened this year, it's all right there.

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Streetalk: How has the economy affected the local music scene?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 2:57 PM

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Will: With the Atlanta music scene, there’s a lot of swapping out. It’s kind of an unspoken thing that if I go out to see your band, you’ll come out to see my band. That’s definitely changed. There’s less musicians supporting other musicians. Atlanta is more of an incestuous music community. It keeps itself afloat, because you have guys in other bands coming to see you — and then their friends come out. It adds up. As a whole, this city doesn’t support local musicians as much as they should. This is going to compound things.

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Cisco: I’ve been playing for five years. Now you have to use your muscles rather than your talent to make a living. I’ve pawned some guitars. But I still have what I need to perform. Clubs gives you less gigs. Before, you used to play twice a month in every venue. Now it’s once a month. But you never give up. You can ask any musician here and that’s all we talk about now. Now it’s, "Can you lend me your cable? Hey, do you have an E-string, because I ran out?" It’s never been easy, but it’s never been this hard.

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Leah: The economy is creating sort of a realistic stress that’s making people really want to localize. It’s bringing people out more so there’s a little bit more camaraderie and support around us. Shows are really full. People are taking that economic stress and realizing they have to funnel that energy and go listen to some music. Local bands are really having a strong and powerful impact. There is that need to connect, and that happens through music. So the music is actually thriving and working as a voice. And the audience is more passionate because they need it.

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Heavyweight genre films rescue insubstantial dramas in 2008

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 2:00 PM

WING NUT: Heath Ledger (front) as the Joker and Christian Bale as Batman in 'The Dark Knight'
  • WING NUT: Heath Ledger (front) as the Joker and Christian Bale as Batman in 'The Dark Knight'

Genre entertainments invariably rake in more money than heavyweight film dramas — that’s what they’re made for. The striking thing about 2008 wasn’t just that the popcorn movies had more explosions and sight gags, but that they had more to say than the theoretically more substantial films. Movies about monsters, robots and caped crusaders seemed more engaged with present-day issues than the work of such celebrated filmmakers as Ron Howard, Sam Mendes, Clint Eastwood and the Coen Brothers.

Iron Man and The Dark Knight both depicted costumed zillionaires fighting injustice, but also contained pertinent metaphors for the duties of the individual in the face of urban and global problems. In the bright, frequently funny Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. offered a playful but revelatory turn as a weapons-building industrialist reassessing his company’s — and, implicitly, his country’s — influence in the world. The Dark Knight’s knotty, expansive crime story became an increasingly fraught exploration of the risks of imposing civic order, unleashing chaos and taking responsibility for collateral damage. The film’s tragic dimensions were only heightened by the late Heath Ledger’s compelling portrayal of the Joker as an anarchic psycho.

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