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March 6, 2001


Movies, Movies, Movies

Kitchen Table FablesA riddle: What do all critically acclaimed films have in common? Answer: You guessed it -- they can't be viewed in Mobile. Many of us enjoy reading movie reviews in national magazines such as Time and Newsweek, featuring original and provocative film literature from all parts of the world. Sadly, none are likely ever to hit the big screen in our community. At best, a few may be rented as visually diminished videotapes years from now.

Another riddle: How many motion picture theater companies are there in Mobile? Answer: Darn few! This explains why all the theaters feature the same films. It probably also makes good business sense: The movie-chain moguls determine what is suitable for local tastes, and benefit from volume marketing of standard Hollywood fare. It is an endless and predictable merry-go-round of car chases, slashers, and sappy romances. Those fascinating non-Hollywood films you read about in the newsweeklies can only be seen in big-city "art" cinemas.

Who is to blame? Theater-chain owners will tell you that they can't help it; they only give the public what it wants. We are not very sophisticated down here, after all, and Mobile's tastes don't run to art films. In other words, it is uneconomical to screen them here. In fact, it is part of a larger business strategy to standardize mass culture. Consider the book-publishing industry, which produces fewer books each year. Marketing managers have discovered that it is far more profitable to limit themselves to a few large-volume blockbusters by writers such as Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, or Stephen King. New and different voices are hard to come by.

Is there any hope for fans of cultural diversity? Don't look to the entertainment giants to change their stripes. In fact, relief probably will not come until movie theaters and video rental shops become obsolete - in about twenty years. The next-generation technologies do offer some hope. Today's home-view videotapes do provide a bit more variety than theaters, but the picture quality of magnetic tapes really stinks. The images are often wavy, blurred, and marred by hideous colors. Digitized compact discs offer some improvement, but the important next step will have to come via the so-called digital "high-definition" screens that will allow home videos to approach the quality of celluloid film. High-speed internet will provide a delivery system that reaches all the way to Alabama and can be profitable even with small volume.

What to do in the meantime? Give Mr. Carmike a break and check out what local alternative film clubs have to offer. And don't forget the U.S.A. film series, the Foreign Language Film Series, and the Fairhope series. The Mobile Museum of Art also recently announced plans for a film series that will initially be screened at Mobile's Expo Hall and then at the Langan Park site when the museum reopens.

Life Forms by Dan Silver - Revisited

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Read more comics in the Life Forms Archive!

Letters to the Editor

Dear Sir:

In regards to the Legislature's review of the method by which we put individuals to death in Alabama, that have committed one or more capital crimes, there is a segment of the population that has not been considered. We look at the convicted person. We look and rightfully so at the families of the victims of the capital crimes. But as in all other phases of the criminal justice controversies we fail to look at the innocent families of the convicted individuals.

You may ask, what part do they have in this? They have lost their loved one to the justice system. He or she will be put to death. So what business is it of theirs how it is done? I work with families every day that have loved ones incarcerated. That is our mission. We attempt to make their life a little easier while their loved one is incarcerated, thus giving the incarcerated individual one less worry. This frees their minds to make something good happen from the prison experience. They feel more at ease about applying themselves to turning their lives around.

But when death is the only outcome, then a new dynamic takes affect. I, in addition to having been in the ministry over 30 years, have been a correctional officer at Florida State Prison at Starke, Florida. They have their death row. It has been over 20 years since I was there, but I had the opportunity to work and get to know several infamous people. I will not name names out of respect for their families. However, they were human beings. They walked around and talked, ate, joked and lived. You got to know them. But death was ever present with them and their families. Losing their loved one to death was bad enough, but the pain of the "Chair" drove several mothers and others to nervous collapses.

I read the Commissioner's comments the other day. He is speaking from a purely administrative perspective when he talks of the cost of building a new unit. I have not discussed this with him so I do not want to put words in his mouth. However, I know him and I know the kind of man he is. The concept of the death penalty is the law and he will follow it. And the use of "yellow momma" is the law presently and he will follow it. But the use of such violence, I believe, does bother him. I know it bothered me and the other CO's that worked death row in Florida.

My point is why do we have to be so barbarous and execute in such a violent manner? I am not arguing the death penalty here. I believe there are certain crimes that probably should carry it. And if we are sure, not some legal "mumbo jumbo" but really sure of guilt in such crimes, then yes it is appropriate.

But the style of execution says volumes about a society. Is any among us so blood thirsty that we want to see torture for torture? That is not the letter or the spirit of the law. The law merely states that a person forfeits his right to life for committing such crimes. If anyone wants to exact more, then they are wrong in the eyes of the law and of God.

I pray that our legislators will see their way clear to pass the law allowing "lethal injection," and fund the necessary buildings and equipment to do so. And the concern expressed that old sentences can "have a walk" if we change the method of execution is a smoke screen. Our legislature is smart enough to walk through that legal mine field

Jim Holmes (Rev)
Executive Director
P.O. BOX 180201
Mobile, AL 36618-0201

Dear Editor

My name is Kevin Smith. I live in Mobile and I have only four words to describe the situation with the Mobile County Public Schools: ri-dic-u-lous. What's going on here? Broke? How? We pay a 9 percent sales tax, a 9 percent grocery tax, a 10 percent restaurant tax, and on top of that, people are being robbed blind Monday through Friday down at Government Plaza! Just where is all of this money going? What happened to the monies generated by Mardi Gras, the Senior Bowl, and the Mobile Alabama Bowl? Inquiring minds want to know.

Part of the problem is our government "leaders" that play us like we're stupid; the ones we elected. The other half lies with the citizens of Mobile County for allowing them to do so, thus proving them right. Cutting music and sports from the curriculum is unacceptable, especially in Mobile. Football and music is a part of the culture here; it's all we have. Mobile has a tradition of producing great athletes. There are more than a few college and professional caliber student-athletes currently in the Mobile system. Participating in sports is a way for those kids to do something positive with themselves. It doesn't matter if one student or one hundred is awarded college scholarships through public academic sports programs, it is worth the cost. Take Darryl "Electron" Williams out of Vigor High School for example: he went to Auburn on an athletic scholarship, and although injuries prevented him from playing pro ball, he now serves this community as a counselor at the Strickland Youth Center. Ask his opinions on the matter. He'll probably tell you that we are going to invest money in our children one way or another: to either educate or incarcerate them. Make a choice.

Abolishing Mardi Gras in Mobile is also unacceptable; this is a tradition that has gone on here nearly 300 years and will continue to do so, whether you like it or not.

So just what are we to do then? First of all, we need to find a fair, all-inclusive source for school funding. The city and the county shouldn't be so autonomous that the one can't help the other out of a bind because we all live here in the Province of Mobile. The Alabama School of Math and Science is in dire financial straits, and although it is funded by the state, it is still here in Mobile and it should be a source of great pride to have such an institution here in the city. We should try to help this school, and if the city can lend a hand to the county in times of need, and vice versa, then it should be done. It only makes sense.

Back in 1999, I personally delivered a letter to Mayor Mike Dow's office. Included in it was a list of things that could help make the city a better place in which to live, work, and play. Among the subjects I talked about was a one cent per gallon fuel tax. With the price of gas now, one penny per gallon would be painless. It would also be much fairer because unlike the homeowner's tax, in which the burden of the many would be carried by the few, almost everyone would take on the burden, making it a lighter load for all; even tourists and non-residents would be taking part if they fueled up in Mobile County. Another was an occupational tax levied against out of state workers and those freeloaders from Baldwin County. Very small increases in various taxes like automobile purchases, new license tags, and yes, property taxes could help. Also, putting penny jars in participating area businesses like the ones they now have in the gas stations would also help greatly; instead of giving money to UCF to "Save the Children," lets save our own. Letting the people pledge $1, $5, $10, $50, or however much they could on their utility bills would also help; it is tax deductible and best of all, it is voluntary. I put all of this knowledge among other things on Mike Dow's desk and it was disregarded. I bet you he probably took this to the City Council members, they discussed it thoroughly, and agreed that these were some great ideas. And after everyone agreed that these were great ideas, they unanimously agreed to throw them in the garbage.

That's the kind of leadership that has gotten us where we are now. I am so sick and tired of seeing the mayor, the city council, and groups like Citizens for Better Education sit up and argue back and forth just for the sake of arguing, never accomplishing anything, and when a regular person like you or me stands before them and makes a suggestion or asks for answers, they get dissed and dismissed by repugnant, smart-mouthed politicians. The very same ones that we elected.

Well, it's about time that we reversed the game and dissed and dismissed them, and on the city, county and state levels. Since they want to treat us like we're stupid, let's show them how stupid we really are and evict them all. Think about it: all they do during the week is dress up in nice clothes, sits in ultramodern, climate-controlled offices while our children burn up in the summertime and freeze in the winter, take trips all over the world, eat in fancy restaurants, stay in luxurious hotels, collect fat paychecks, and play golf. All at the taxpayer's expense. That's you and me. And then they sit back and laugh at us about it. Could you blame them? Let's end this; if you are an elected official, and it doesn't matter if you are a judge, district attorney, school board member, city council member, or the mayor, take a good look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, "what is my purpose here, and what have I done to better this community?", and if your answer is "nothing" and "to get paid," then step aside. And if these people find it so hard to let go of their reigns of power that they won't get to stepping, then it's our job and constitutional right as voters to help them on their way.

Anything that would be positive for Mobile gets nullified; remember Mystic Island? There are no decent jobs here, no real entertainment alternatives, no decent transit system, and it looks like there won't be any schools, either if this keeps up. This is ridiculous for a city the size of Mobile; our city is larger than many U.S. state capitals. Mobile has the potential to be in the same class as other southern cities like Houston, Atlanta, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, or New Orleans, if we let it. How many people do you know of have left Mobile for other cities in search of decent employment, and a better future for their children, vowing never to return until something changes here? More than a few, I'm sure. Mobile has nothing to offer to anyone unless your last name is, and I apologize to families that I fail to mention, Antwerp, Bedsole, Steiner, Bender, Delchamps, Naman, Saad, Zoghby, or White-Spunner.

I'm not an aspiring politician, a member of some special interest group, well educated, rich, or even well-to-do. I'm not even white, but what I am, is real, and I care. I'm sick of this crap. The time is now to elect people who also are real, and who care to live among us instead of the career politicians that we have grown so accustomed to who only want to live above us. I've given you all something to think about, the rest is on you. Let's cut out all this bureaucratic red tape and the wasting of our money. I'm 'bout it, are you?

Kevin Smith
Mobile, AL


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