Archive for January, 2007

Our changing world

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

A brief story in today’s paper caught my eye.

“Passport, eBay events planned,” was the headline. The story explained that Ida Post Office is hosting information sessions Saturday on how to apply for a passport and how to buy and sell online at eBay.com

We live in a world that is changing rapidly – faster than ever in human history. The Ida classes provide insight into two of the tidal waves of change sweeping over us: the war on terror and the internet revolution.

Because of the increasingly unsafe world, we’ll soon need passports to visit Mexico and Canada. And because of eBay and the internet, we can buy and sell virtually anything from the comfort of our homes. Just a few years ago, both notions would have seemed preposterous. Now, they’re a fact of life.

Change isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it’s always a little uncomfortable. Kudos to the folks at Ida Post Office for helping folks cope.

Weather forecasts not much help

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Have you noticed that the weather forecast has been the same, day after day.

High in the 20s. Chance of snow showers.

It seemed like that was the forecast every day last week. Then one day, it actually snowed.

Now that’s the forecast for most of this week. Does that mean it will snow every day? Some days? No days?

It reminds me of the summer forecast. Humid, high in the 80s, chance of thunderstorms. Some days it rains. Some days it doesn’t.

With all the technology at our disposal, it’s still a case of Mother Nature 1, forecasters, 0.

Wal-Mart trial, forums, raise interesting questions

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

The internet has changed life for many people – certainly for journalists.

But think what it must be like for the legal profession – judges, prosecutors, attorneys – to have their work analyzed on internet forums while the trials are in progress.

Jon Whitman sued Bedford Township in mid-September. The trial began Jan. 2. Meanwhile, a thread on the Eyes and Ears forum on monroenews.com, entitled, “How will the judge rule in the Whitman lawsuit against Bedford Township” was posted on Jan. 1, the day before the trial started.

In the last three weeks, there have been 44 posts on the thread, ranging from predictions to attacks to offering insight to cheerleading for both sides.

I don’t know whether the judge and attorneys read the forums on monroenews.com. But if they do, they’ve probably gone through several emotions, from puzzled to angry to humored.

There isn’t a jury in this trial, so there aren’t issues with jury access to the forums and possible prejudicial comments. But that’s undoubtedly already become an issue in some trials. The Sonya Moussaed trial last November, which was before a jury, also was accompanied by a discussion on the forums, titled “Is Sonya Moussaed guilty or not.” The discussion eventually was joined by a juror, after the trial had concluded.

Personally, I have enough confidence in the resiliency of the American justice system to believe that it will find a way to deal with the challenges created by the internet. But it raises some interesting questions.

The judge in the Whitman/Bedford trial expects to take several more weeks to come to a decision. There undoubtedly will be plenty of people willing to help him on the forums over the next few weeks.

 

Eagle flying down First St.

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I just saw an eagle fly down First Street in downtown Monroe.

OK, it wasn’t on First Street; it was about 50 feet above the street, soaring gracefully (isn’t that how you describe an eagle’s flight) northwest, probably toward the River Raisin.

My second-floor window at The Evening News looks out onto First Street. At about 9 a.m. I noticed a large bird heading my way; my first thought was it must be a great blue heron. But as it came closer, the white head and giant wing span were unmistakable – it was an American bald eagle.

As a newsman, my first reaction: this is news.

Then I calmed down. Just because I saw a bald eagle doesn’t mean it’s a news story. Thirty years ago, yes. Even five years ago, probably.

But today one of the greatest conservation success stories of the last century is that a bald eagle flying low over a city like Monroe no longer is front-page news.

Biologists estimate the bald eagle population in Michigan is approaching 500 nesting pairs, and a dozen or so of those are in Monroe County. Nationwide, an estimated 20,000 bald eagles are nesting in all but one (Vermont) of the lower 48 states.

That’s still a far cry from the 300,000 – 500,000 bald eagles experts estimate populated North American 300 years ago. But it’s a huge increase from just 40 years ago, when the population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states was down to about 140 nesting pairs.

Thankfully, our nation woke up to what was happening. First, DDT was banned, then the Endangered Species Act was passed and bald eagles were added to the list.

Now, it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence to see a bald eagle flying just above the treeline in Monroe, Mich. But, thankfully, it’s not big news, either.

Look who’s warming up to global warming

Friday, January 19th, 2007

It wasn’t long ago that it was popular to scoff at scientists who claimed that greenhouse gases were eating away the ozone layer, leading to global warming.

Environmentalists were labeled as wackos, and any mention of greenhouse gases was followed by a joke.

Now Congress is talking about a special committee to study the effects of global warming and propose legislation to head it off.

It appears that global warming has gone mainstream. Republicans are joining Democrats in taking note of their constitutents’ growing concerns.

The questions aren’t about whether it’s happening, but whether and how we can do anything about it.

Monroe County is in an interesting place on this topic. Our coal-fired power plants are among the nation’s largest producers of carbon dioxide, considered the leading culprit in the global warming debate. And we have a nuclear power plant and an energy company actively considering building more nuclear plants – which could end up being one of the alternatives to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.

We’re also dependent on the auto industry – also a major producer of greenhouse gases. Our congressman, Rep. John Dingell, is chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over environmental issues. Rep. Dingell is known as both a supporter of the auto industry and of the environment.

And our governor is pushing Southeast Michigan as a leader in the development of alternative energy sources – sort of our niche in the world of new technology.

All this adds up to an interesting next few years.

For more on global warming, check out Ria Rogers’ blog, “Our World.”

Good news sometimes sells, too

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

The most-viewed pages on our Web site almost always involve death.

Murders, tragic accidents, trials, the loss of local soldiers in Iraq — you get the idea.

So it was uplifting this morning when I checked the top stories of the first half of January and found three that featured “good news.”

Second on the list for the month, following only a profile of a soldier who died in Iraq, was a story about a an old suitcase full of love letters that was bought at an auction and returned to its owners.

The Monroe antiques dealer who bought the suitcase didn’t know there were 500 World War II era love letters inside. She used the internet to find a son of the couple who exchanged the letters and returned them in an emotional meeting at Zorba’s restaurant in downtown Monroe.

Also making the list were a local couple winning the lottery and a family that puts gifts on a tree in front of their house to help the less fortunate.

The top 10 list for the month so far:

1. Soldier ‘a funny, caring man:’ a profile of Army Sgt. Christopher Messer, who died in Iraq.

2. Lost love rediscovered: a suitcase of love letters returned to the family they belonged to.

3. Local soldier dies in Iraq: The news story on the death of St. Messer.

4. A mission of healing: A look at the Comair Flight 3272 crash 10 years later.

5. Remembering the victims: Another story in our coverage of the Comair crash’s anniversary.

6. Area residents share memories of a president: Local reaction to the death of former President Gerald Ford.

7. Sgt. Messer: ‘His spirit is alive forever:’ Coverage of the funeral for Sgt. Messer.

8. Brownstown gets instant millionaire: A local couple win a million dollars in the lottery.

9. Suspect arrested in crime spree: Two men arrested following a string of burglaries.

10. The tree of life: A local family that puts gifts on a tree to help the less fortunate.

Cleaning the basement

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Ray Kisonas is a funny guy.

If you read his regular Sunday column, you know that.

But sometimes his columns not only make me laugh, they also strike close to home. This Sunday, Ray is writing about cleaning his basement because it flooded last weekend.

Now, my basement is dry. But my wife has been planning a basement cleaning weekend for months, and the dreadful day  is here.

This weekend we’re cleaning the basement, with all that entails.

When you read Ray’s column, you’ll likely get several good guffaws. Enjoy an extra laugh on me. It’s my turn.

You can find Ray’s column here.

 

Honoring those who serve, sacrifice

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

I attended a military funeral this week, complete with the playing of taps and the presenting of the colors.

The clear, simple notes drifting through the air, mingling with the wind in the trees and the muted sobs of mourners, makes an indelible impression on the senses.

If the emotions of a funeral aren’t enough to bring a lump to your throat, taps will.

I wasn’t at the funeral of a local soldier who died in Iraq, which was held Monday in Monroe County. I was at the funeral of my mother-in-law, 2,000 miles away in Oregon at a tiny hilltop cemetery surrounded by towering cedar trees.

My wife’s mother was a Navy WAVE, serving in San Diego during World War II, supporting the troops who moved through the base on their way to the Pacific. She also worked in a factory building parts for war planes.  

The honor guard was a trio of women currently serving in the Navy. They said it was the first military funeral for a woman in that district in 30 years, and they were proud to participate.

When I returned to the office today and read the coverage of Army Sgt. Christopher Messer’s funeral, I was struck by the similarities.

Even though Sgt. Messer died a few weeks ago in Iraq, in the service of his country, while my wife’s mother served more than 60 years ago, both were properly honored for their contributions to our nation’s security.

Both were touching ceremonies that reminded us of the importance of honoring the men and women who serve their country – while at the same time remembering their special contributions to their families and communities.

At The Evening News, we look for every opportunity to publish news about our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Whether it’s a feature about a recruit headed to Iraq for the first time, or a special section honoring the veterans of World War II, we know how much our readers appreciate hearing the stories.

The two funerals came in the same week that President Bush announced a troop buildup in Iraq.

It’s not a popular announcement. But I’m convinced – and I think virtually every resident of Monroe County agrees – that it’s critical that we continue to show our support for our servicemen and women, regardless of what we think about the president’s decision.

As I stood at the graveside and listened to taps, I couldn’t keep my thoughts from wandering to Iraq, and to friends and relatives with children serving in the military.

I desperately want the U.S. military to get out of Iraq – to quit fighting someone else’s war with our young men and women. But I just as desperately want all of our armed forces to know that whether we agree with their commanders or not, we support their efforts.

Anyone who knows of Monroe County men or women going to Iraq or Afghanistan – or returning from the war areas – let us know about it. We want to continue telling their stories.

 

Deciding on Page 1 stories not always unanimous

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Editors at The Evening News meet each morning at 7 a.m. to decide what stories and photos to put on Page 1 of the newspaper that day.

We tend to select three or four local stories and one or two national or world stories. First and foremost, we’re a local newspaper. That’s why we exist, and that’s why the front page is dominated by local news.

But we’re also the only newspaper read by many of our subscribers, so we also try to balance the local news with at least a summary of the important state, regional, national and international news. When important events are occuring around the world, more stories from the Associated Press find their way onto Page 1.

This has been one of those weeks. The deaths of Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein, for example, both made page 1.

This morning the debate was between three national stories: The final funeral and burial of former President Ford; the Democrats poised to elect Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the first woman to run the House as they take over both chambers of Congress; and a survey of auto executives suggesting that slow sales would continue and more auto parts suppliers would face bankruptcy.

All important stories; only room for one on Page 1. It was a split vote among our editors, with one vote for the Democrats taking over Congress, two votes for Gerald Ford and three for the auto survey.

The logic: Mr. Ford’s various funerals had been on Page 1 for five of the previous six days. There was nothing really new in the Democrats taking over Congress; we had known about it for two months. The decline of the U.S. auto industry, while a national story, is also a local story for us. It affects many of our readers directly.

By the way, it’s not uncommon for the 7 a.m. decisions to be overturned by breaking news before we send the last page to the pressroom at 11 a.m.