By Sam Burnham
I'm writing an article that I would not have written five years ago. I'm writing an article that I would have been angry about ten years ago. I'm writing an article that I feel I have to write today. I'm writing an article that I think you need to read today.
In the interest of disclosure, I feel I have to write this article out of self interest. It's also a matter of friendship, loylty, and gratitude. But it has also become a matter of conviction for me.
The first time I entered the building at Georgia Public Broadcasting was in the summer of 1997. I was working my first job out of college. The company I was working for was a vendor providing a service for GPB and I was there overseeing a delivery. I mostly remember seeing that floor in the lobby. I wondered how much it must have cost the taxpayers that fund public media. There were well-dressed people shuffling in and out and going and doing whatever and all Icould think was "your tax dollars at work."
Flash forward almost 19 years.
I received an email from Linda Chen in late 2015. She was a producer for On Second Thought. She was inviting me to appear as a guest contributor for the Breakroom segment that the show produces the last half of each Friday broadcast. The entire purpose of the show is to build a diverse group of thinkers to thoughtfully discuss topics and disagree with each other like grown ups. You know, without screaming and fighting.
And so in early 2016 I returned to the GPB building and walked onto that same lobby floor - a floor that didn't look one day older than it did in 1997 because it is made of highly durable materials that are readily available in Georgia. And then Taylor Gantt, another OST producer ushered me up to the green room where I met the show's host, Celeste Headlee.
And THEN I really saw your tax dollars, and the dollars of thousands of donors, at work. I saw what a dedicated staff of young journalists and the future of radio can do with a limited budget and less than excellent equipment. And they gave me, a conservative (with a nasty libertarian streak) from the sticks, equal time to share my opinions in a marketplace of ideas while drinking some really good donated coffee. I have no doubt that many of you are reading this because you heard me spouting some crazy cemetery ephiany on OST.
But it isn't just the Breakroom. And it isn't even just OST. That same studio is home to Bill Nigut's Political Rewind where so many of my other ideas are shared as tweets that I send in to the show as they cover our local and state political news. Three times a week Bill calls in a panel of folks to give well-balanced commentary and reporting on politics as it pertains to Georgia.
The local programming also includes segments of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The local programming is where I've heard stories on Brian Brown of Vanishing South Georgia, Jon Jackson and his work with veterans with PTSD doing therapy on his farm near Milledgeville, and the work to document hundreds of unmarked graves in the old black section of Atlanta's formerly segregated Historic Oakland Cemetery. These are stories you won't find on commercial media.
Do I ever hear left leaning programming? Yes, the commentary shows that are produced elsewhere do tend to have a lean to the left. But the local programming is bringing real Georgian stories to Georgians every day of the week. This programming combines with top-notch national and world news provided by NPR. This is national caliber news on a state and local level. It's good, it's honest, and it's fair. The shame is that if funding is cut from the budget it isn't going to hurt left learning programming produced by well-funded northeastern stations.. It's going to hurt these local programs that are more expensive for GPB to put on the airwaves.
So while modern commercial news outlets are screaming at each other, GPB is broadcasting some reasonable discussions that might not be the dog and pony show you find from other media outlets- but it's the model of news we need today. Besides, where else can you hear reports by Sylvia Poggioli from old Rome, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from Dakar, and also get to hear the Breakroom gang?
It's worth noting the support of public broadcasting only amounts to .01% of the budget. There are much better and bigger cuts to be made This is how I came to not only oppose cutting funding for public broadcasting, but also to become a monthly donor. I ask you to consider the same.
By Sam Burnham
So Birdman (@GApasturedbirds) and I were laughing on Twitter the other day about a story tweeted out by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a 13 foot alligator being removed from a Florida swimming hole. First of all gators aren't rare in Florida by any stretch. Even 13 footers aren't unheard of. Throw in the almost criminal thought of removing a native for the benefit of undocumented swimmers and the story seems even less worthy of the AJC's time and effort. Would Henry Grady or Joel Chandler Harris tweet out this story? Probably not.
But then, as if on cue, one of my other Twitter acquaintances tweeted out a story of epic proportions. Let's set the scene. The story is very much one that might be sung about around dinner tables in mead halls 1000 years from now. Instead of a hero, this story is led by one of of the most spectacular antiheroes to ever grace the world of prose. It was a tale of one of the many adventures of the amazing Florida Man.
Anyone who has spent more than an hour or two on social media can tell you that Florida Man is an extraordinary being. In this case Florida Man had just been arrested on charges from a case from last October. Now don't be too worried about the star of the story. Florida Man goes to jail at the onset of every one of his stories. It is a required element in the plot formula in a Florida Man story. Without an arrest there is no story. Besides, we all know how hard it is to go an entire week without winding up in the pokey, right?
But back to the story. Florida Man pulled up to a Wendy's drive thru near Jupiter. To clarify, Jupiter is a town on the Atlantic coast. Florida Man is not capable of interplanetary travel. Lord help us all if he ever achieves that. He places his order and pulls up to the window. The person in the window hands him his drink and then turns to complete the order. That's when Florida Man saw his opportunity and struck. He took a 3 1/2 foot alligator from somewhere inside his car and threw it through the window and into the restaurant.
Now this story goes far beyond the acute consternation that would be caused by the unscheduled appearance of a crocodilian commando in a fast food kitchen. The level of skill and logistics behind this mission is astounding. It is a shame that Patton and Rommel are not around to work together to analyze these tactics. It would make for quite the conversation. Allow me to attempt to break this down.
First, there is at present no way to know if he was wronged by the restaurant and plotted revenge or if he found the alligator and then carried out a preemptive strike. Either choice could mean a difference in the question of just how or why he came into possession of the gator. We have to ponder this ourselves. Did he seek out the gator or just happen upon it? As I mentioned before, they aren't rare in Florida but you don't just adopt one from a gator rescue in Loxahatchee.
Second, alligators aren't as mean or aggressive as you might think. They typically leave you alone if you leave them alone. But grabbing one up and tossing it in the car for a spin around town isn't exactly leaving it alone, now is it? But Florida Man is a gator whisperer from way back and he was able to subdue the gator and convince him to go along with his plot.
Then there is the window. We are talking a Wendy's drive thru, not a Chic-fil-A. A CFA drive thru window is wide enough that a customer in a car could comfortably watch, without obstruction, an Old Crow Medicine Show concert that was going on in the kitchen. A Wendy's drive thru is just large enough to fit a bag out the window if the employee hands it out turned sideways. Granted we aren't talking about the 13 footer from the AJC story but a 3 1/2 foot isn't exactly puny. It's bigger than your dog. And gators have a lot of pointy and/or sharp features that begin to wiggle if the gator has any last minute apprehensions about a kitchen assault. Hurling one out of a car window and into that drive thru window on the first attempt took some skill. Trust me, if you miss the first time, the gator won't give you another shot.
But the most amazing part of the story is that the assault occurred in October. Florida Man wasn't captured until February. That's five months that he eluded and evaded police and wildlife officials while still carrying out his adventurous lifestyle. Think about it. A guy who chucked a gator through a Wendy's drive thru isn't going to just lay low for five months. He's still got stuff to do.
Like I said, this guy is a mastermind. They may have caught him this time but he has been caught before and as long as he doesn't wind up sitting in Ol' Sparky, he'll be caught again. Good luck, Florida Man!
By Sam Burnham
I've written often about Judge Augustus Wright. I happened across a letter from one of his sons, also a judge and legislator, Seaborn Wright to the editor of the Rome News-Tribune which was published in that paper on Sunday, January 6, 1901. The letter is his response to two lynchings as well as two other attempts in a nine month period in Floyd County. Reading through the letter from 116 years ago, I saw a message that is still pertinent today. So as we have seen both of our major political factions engaged in chaos, destruction and violence on our streets, I want to share these sagacious words and see how they might speak to us today. (The letter appears below unedited and as it was printed in 1901)
To the Editor of The Tribune: - Whatever may be the truth of Thursday's lynching it is well for the people of Rome in the quiet of this Sabbath morn to ask themselves what good or evil will result from the terrible scenes through which we have passed?
I am unalterably opposed to lynchings. Not because my blood does not boil at the crimes for which they are done but I know that course never corrects or defeats crime, but on the other hand excites and inflames men to the repeated commission of it. If there is one lesson plainly taught by all history, it is this.
For a time the reign of law has been suspended in this city. Are we the better for it? Has any body's respect for the law been increased? Has our confidence in the ability or willingness of officers of the law to protect us been enhanced? Do we feel that the bodies of our women, or the sanctity of our homes, are safe? Are we willing to go on with this experiment we began Thursday - relegate our courts to the rear. turn over the keys of our jails to the mob, and abide the consequences? If we are, all we have to do is remain silent, then then it will be repeated, it will grow, feeding upon the unrestrained passions of men, until the mob shall decide in all cases what authority the courts or power the officers of the law shall have. Yesterday The Anniston Hot Blast said:
"Within the last few days in one county of the state, a man was murdered by a mob for burning a barn; another in another county was murdered by a mob for merely being charged for stealing a bunch of keys, while a third was likewise disposed of in another county for cutting another man with a knife. The law of the land demanded life in neither case, but all the same the mob, assuming to be superior to the law, took vengeance into its own bloody hands."
Is any man fool enough to think he can limit the action of the mob? Today perhaps in righteous indignation it slays the ravisher of women, but understand tomorrow it murders men for sport.
Think of its hellish influence on the minds of the young. The children parading in the streets today with chips from the tree upon which the negro hung in their pockets, with pieces of his horribly mutilated body in their hands!
What does this mean? What devil is it stirring up in their little hearts? Is it teaching them respect for law and order? Does it teach them a holy reverence for chastity?
Rather does it not arouse the latent devil in their souls, and make them the heralds, if not the authors, of a future "reign of terror?"
Within nine months there have been four attempts and lynchings in this county. It is time to call a halt and arouse a public sentiment strong enough to teach all men - mobs and officers alike - that the law is supreme in this county.
I call upon all lovers of law and order to speak out in no uncertain terms and quit talking under breath about these matters. And I especially urge our ministry, God's chosen leaders in all great moral movements, to swing their ponderous influence boldly to the rescue of the law.
Trying to provoke social change or carry out justice via an angry mob can never be anything more than counterproductive. As the judge has communicated above, the mob cannot be regulated. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be trusted. And further, it can offer no resolution short of intimidation or violence. It is regulated only by the passions of its members.
We have a system. It isn't perfect but it also is without equal on this Earth and it's all we have to work with...other than the mob.
And so, from Floyd County in 1901, we have two terrible crimes, for which two men were sentenced, extra-judiciously, to death. Were they guilty of the crime for which they were accused? Maybe. Maybe not. They never had the benefit of a trial by a jury of their peers in which evidence could have been presented.
A free society requires us to fight for our system - the rule of law. It has to be fair for all. But most of all, we must never jump to conclusions, never be ruled by our passions and driven to acting outside the system because we think it is slow or less informed than we are. Without that system, all we have is the chaos of the mob.
We have to insist that cooler heads prevail on both sides.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire