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April 11, 2000


The 2000 Census and Civic Engagement, Blah, Blah, Blah...

It took me less than five minutes to complete the short form of the 2000 United States Census for a household of three people. If I were one of the six persons who received the long form, I am sure I could complete it pretty quickly. And if there are questions about personal information that I think the government has no business to know, I’d say so on the form. That’s why I don’t understand all the consternation about the 2000 Census or the long form from politicians such as the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, Trent Lott.

I agree with the director of the Census Bureau who says completing and returning the census form is an act to “reverse a long tide of civic disengagement.” Since federal aid for schools, roads, sewers, anti-poverty and other programs are tied to census data, this simple act provides our community the financial resources to meet those needs in our community, and believe me, Mobile and Alabama need all the help we can get to address education, infrastructure, environment, and human needs.

I wish all Mississippians would listen to their senator. According to The New York Times, Senator Lott’s constituents receive on average about $2000 per person more than they pay in federal taxes. Maybe some of that money will come Alabama and Mobile’s way if fewer Mississippians return the census form. So please complete the census form and send it in, and do your part in civic engagement.

On another front of civic engagement: In this issue of The Harbinger you will find excerpts from Envision Mobile-Baldwin’s Progress Indicators for Coastal Alabama on education and the environment, two local issues that are dear to the heart of this paper and its readers. Envision Mobile-Baldwin is the process to give South Alabamians an opportunity for civic engagement to enhance the quality of the community. This report shows us where we are on that path and the way still to go to reach a higher quality of life. We want to thank Dr. G. David Johnson, the lead author of Progress Indicator, and Ginny Russell of Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Relations Division, for the permission to reprint these sections.

-- Edmund Tsang

Life Forms by Dan Silver

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

My wife and I were saddened to learn last week of the death of Mr. Selden Kearns. While working in Mobile for Dravo Corporation during the mid-1980s, I had many enjoyable and interesting experiences, but none as memorable as coming to know Selden Kearns. As you may know, Selden's daughter Emily is a member of the USA staff; if you know Emily, you probably know about Selden, Emily being so much her father's daughter. I submitted the following letter to the Mobile Register in the hope that it would serve as a small memorial to Mr. Kearns' memory, but apparently the Register has no space for letters from foreign correspondents. I'm hoping that a publication like yours might be more sympathetic to the memory of a prominent Mobile businessman who labored as diligently as Selden did to enlist corporate support for local cultural and charitable organizations.... Thank you for considering my request, and best of luck with your most interesting publication. As someone who can remember shopping in the downtown Gayfers (is there any spot in Mobile more pleasant than Bienville Square in the early springtime?), I especially enjoyed the "then-and-now" photo essays on your web site.

Ron Sommer
Pittsburgh, PA

"In his account of Union spy James Andrews's attempt to sabotage the railroad connection between Chattanooga and Atlanta, Civil War historian Shelby Foote notes that the Ohio soldiers who accompanied Andrews on his mission all received Congressional Medals of Honor. The Confederate troopers who foiled the plot received a vote of thanks from the Georgia legislature. But no medals. "The Confederacy never had any," Foote explains, "then or later." I would have never understood this Confederate approach to service recognition if I hadn't met Selden Kearns. Selden was one of those rare individuals who by their very person define the artfulness of living a life fully and well. Brilliantly far sighted in his advocacy of business support for the arts, he harbored a withering contempt for aggrandizers and artistic poseurs. Master gardener and gourmet chef, discriminating New Orleans antique shops habitué and perennial Broadway theater patron, Selden was at one and the same time the host of an extraordinarily gracious home and an avid collector of clowns. He was all that, and so much more. A talented musician unmatched in his ability to turn bawdy piano tunes into an instant party, he was also a doting father who delighted in the accomplishments of two talented daughters. A loving son and husband, his ceaseless attention to his mother and beloved wife Elizabeth during their prolonged illnesses bespoke the true meaning of fidelity. An officer of our company many years and several corporate levels superior to me, Selden took time to write a personal letter of congratulation to my son when his work was displayed in a children's art show at the Fine Arts Museum of the South. The soul of hospitality in welcoming visitors to the Gulf Coast, he imposed only one house rule on guests staying at his company's apartment in New Orleans: that they extend an appropriate level of respect and consideration to the building's doormen and maids. Playing the prince to my six-year-old Cinderella, Selden encouraged my daughter to put on her prettiest dress and join the grownups for a jazz night downtown at John Word's. Samantha learned to love live music that night, but she had long since fallen in love with Mr. Kearns. As had her dad, her mother, and her older brother. Our hearts were broken when we learned of his death this week. Knowing how much good he did in the city where we named our cat Moonpie, we pray that the memory of Selden Kearns will live on in Mobile's heart.

Ron Sommer"

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