The Wire

  • Rep. Byrne to Hold 12 Town Hall Meetings

    From a Congressman Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced today that he will hold twelve town hall meetings during the August District Work Period.

    Known as the “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour, Congressman Byrne will hold public town halls in each of the counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne will discuss how the American people are better off now thanks to a booming economy, stronger military, and safer communities.

    Byrne ranks among the top of all Members of Congress for the number of town hall meetings held. Since assuming office in late 2013, Byrne has held over 100 town hall meetings, including meetings over the phone and through Facebook.

    All the town hall meetings are open to the public and free to attend. All the information can be found online below.

  • HudsonAlpha technology director to present at Google Cloud conference

    Excerpt from a HudsonAlpha news release:

    HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Technology Director Katreena Mullican has been invited to present at the Google Next ‘18 conference in San Francisco, Calif, July 24-26.

    Google Next is an international conference where more than 10,000 developers, technology leaders, and entrepreneurs come together to have a collaborative discussion about the Google Cloud Platform.

    Mullican has more than 20 years of experience in architecting Linux, virtualization and hybrid cloud solutions. As HudsonAlpha’s Cloud Whisperer, Mullican brings her expertise in automation of on-prem composable and public cloud infrastructure for scientific applications and workflows to the Institute.

    “HudsonAlpha is one of the top sequencing centers in the world, so it’s my job to think outside the box to design hybrid platforms appropriate for our sequencing and research workloads,” said Mullican.

    Mullican will participate in a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cloud Talk Tuesday at 1:00 pm in the South Hall to discuss how HudsonAlpha uses the composable HPE Synergy platform for an on-premises Kubernetes cluster that can scale to Google Cloud Platform.

  • Tabitha Isner claims Russia hacked campaign website — ‘Russian meddling in U.S. elections continues to be a real and immediate threat’

    Excerpt:

    Late Thursday afternoon, Democratic congressional hopeful Tabitha Isner issued a press release claiming “incidents of ‘brute force attacks’ on her campaign’s main webpage.”

    “When investigating the source of these attacks, the website administrator discovered over 1,400 attempts to login to the website as an administrator in the past week,” the release from campaign manager Megan Skipper said. “Of those 1,400 attempts, 1,100 came from Russian I.P. addresses. Russian meddling in U.S. elections continues to be a real and immediate threat.”

1 year ago

Cullman ranks as a top ‘micropolitan’ for economic development

Officials celebrate an expansion at Rehau in Cullman. Rehau was one of 19 major economic development projects during 2016 that led Site Selection magazine to rank Cullman the No. 2 "micropolitan" in the country. (Made in Alabama)
Officials celebrate an expansion at Rehau in Cullman. Rehau was one of 19 major economic development projects during 2016 that led Site Selection magazine to rank Cullman the No. 2 “micropolitan” in the country. (Made in Alabama)

By Jerry Underwood

Site Selection magazine placed Alabama among the top states in a new measure of economic development success, while Cullman ranked No. 2 in the publication’s ranking of top U.S. small cities.

Cullman ranked behind only Findlay, Ohio, in the Site Selection “Top Micropolitan” list for the second consecutive year. The economic development-focused magazine examined new facility and expansion projects in 575 cities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.

In 2016, Cullman had 19 qualifying projects, while Findlay had 22.

“This is an outstanding recognition for our community and the industrial base here,” Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith said. “Site Selection is a recognized leader in the economic development field, and this lofty ranking reflects Cullman’s tremendous industrial growth.”

Alabama ranked No. 8 among the states in Site Selection’s per-capita project rankings, which levels the playing field for small and midsized states. Alabama’s 2016 ranking improved from No. 10 in the previous year. Nebraska received the top ranking.

According to Site Selection’s criteria, Alabama had 132 qualifying projects in 2016. To be considered by the magazine, a project must involve either a capital investment of more than $1 million, construction of more than 20,000 square feet or the creation of 20 new jobs.

“This ranking validates the hard work put in by Alabama’s economic development team and underscores the strong appeal of our state when it comes to new investment and job creation,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Alabama is consistently ranked among the nation’s top states for business, most recently by Area Development magazine, which polled site consultants to prepare a list of the best states for business. Alabama ranked No. 6 in that survey.

Positioned for success

Situated along Interstate 65, just 45 minutes from both Birmingham and Huntsville, Cullman has become a thriving hub of diverse businesses such as auto suppliers, distribution operations and manufacturers.

Rehau had one of Cullman’s top projects in 2016, expanding two of its operations for a total $7 million investment creating 137 jobs. (Contributed)

Industry announcements in this city of 15,000 residents are common, with projects totaling nearly $70 million in new capital investment and 460-plus jobs launched last year alone.

Smith said she is confident that Cullman can eventually climb to the top of the Site Selection rankings of micropolitans.

“We ranked third in the nation in 2014 and improved to second in 2015,” Smith said. “I am excited that we closed the gap on Findlay, and I am optimistic that we can be No. 1 because of the strength of the workforce here and the quality of the industries in our community.”

Some of the top projects in Cullman in 2016 included:

    • Reliance Worldwide is investing $7.8 million to expand its Cash Acme plumbing products manufacturing operation in the city, creating 50 jobs. The company has expanded repeatedly in Cullman over the years.

    • Two Rehau operations in Cullman launched expansions in 2016. Rehau Automotive, which makes plastic parts, is investing $2 million and adding 80 jobs. Rehau Construction, which makes PEX pipe and gaskets, is investing $5 million, creating 57 jobs.

    • Retail giant Walmart is expanding its Cullman distribution center with an $8.5 million investment that will add 121 jobs.

‘Real winners’

Smith said Cullman County will continue to prosper because of its central location on the I-65 artery, the area’s strong workforce and job-training programs, and the quality of its education system.

“While it is disappointing in some respects to be second, there are 573 other communities envious of this ranking that would gladly trade places with Cullman to move up on this list,” Smith said. “Plus, we are the No. 1 micropolitan in the South.

“But the real winners are the companies that continue to create jobs and invest capital in Cullman,” she said. “We are so appreciative of their role in the economic stability of this community.”

In addition to national rankings for Cullman and Alabama, the Birmingham-Hoover area ranked No. 4 among Site Selection’s list of top-performing metropolitans in the South Central region, with 70 qualifying projects in 2016.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

1
1 year ago

Historic tax credit bill ‘vital’ for Birmingham and Alabama

The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)
The Pizitz building is nearly ready for its second life as a mixed-use development after a $70 million restoration. (contributed)

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills said he plans to again sponsor an Alabama historic tax credit bill in the Legislature to rehabilitate abandoned buildings.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 7.

Waggoner wants to renew Alabama’s historic tax credit, which has benefited nearly two dozen projects in Birmingham and more than 50 statewide, including the Lyric Theatre, Redmont Hotel and the Florentine Building.

The three-year program expired in 2016. The state Legislature failed to renew the historic tax credit program before the end of last year’s legislative session.

“The historic tax credit bill is vital not only for Birmingham but this entire state,” Waggoner said. “It has transformed downtown Birmingham. You look at the Redmont, you look at the Pizitz Building, you look at the Lyric and the list goes on.

“And it’s not just in Birmingham. We’re talking about Mobile, we’re talking about Montgomery, we’re talking about Huntsville, we’re talking about some buildings in rural Alabama that have to have the historic tax in order to bring back to life some of these buildings,” he said.

Waggoner sponsored the bill in the past session, but it failed to gain traction in the Senate. “A couple of guys in the Senate had heartburn,” Waggoner said. “Bottom line, it did not pass.”

A forensic audit company has been hired to look at all of the tax credits in Alabama, said Waggoner, who estimates there are “probably 3 or 4 billion dollars worth of tax credits in the state.”

The audit is expected back today.

“If they come back and say the historic tax credit issue is a good thing, positive for the state of Alabama, I will responsor the bill and I am very confident it will pass,” Waggoner said.

Re-establishing the tax credit is more than an economic incentive tool for rehabilitating and developing historic structures, Waggoner said.

“You don’t attract a Mercedes to come to Vance, Alabama, without a tax credit,” he said. “It’s all about industrial development, and they need tax credits. And Alabama through the years has taken advantage of them.”

The program has been responsible for $384 million in private investment in Alabama since it started in 2013, according to a report in January 2016 by a Maryland-based accounting firm.

1
1 year ago

Deontay Wilder will face more capable Washington in replacement Birmingham bout

Deontay Wilder will face Gerald Washington in a title fight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex's Legacy Arena on Feb. 25. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder will face Gerald Washington in a title fight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena on Feb. 25. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

What do you do when your scheduled challenger for a heavyweight title fight is dropped when he fails a drug test? You pick up a better fighter.

That’s what promoter Lou DiBella says happened as Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk has been replaced by California’s Gerald Washington in Deontay Wilder‘s Feb. 25 World Boxing Council heavyweight title defense.

“This is a much more attractive fight,” DiBella said of the main event of the fight card that is set for Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Wilder, the Olympic Bronze medalist, has 36 knockouts in his 37-0 professional career.

The 6-foot-5 Wawrzyk would have brought a 33-1 record with 19 knockouts had he not tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. In his place comes the 6-6 Washington, who has an 18-0-1 record with 12 knockouts.

Washington’s most recent KO came at Legacy Arena as he took down Ray “The Rainman” Austin in the fourth round as part of the undercard for Wilder’s last fight in Birmingham in July 2016.

“This is a more competitive opponent, a more dangerous guy,” DiBella said. “He’s a physically imposing, huge guy. He’s a physical specimen. He’s a great athlete.”

Gerald Washington will face Deontay Wilder in Birmingham on Feb. 25. (Photo: Premier Boxing Champions)

Who is Washington? He was born to an African-American father and a Hispanic mother, and lived in Mexico for part of his childhood. His nickname is “El Gallo Negro,” The Black Rooster.

The 34-year-old is a United States Navy veteran who went on to play tight end and defensive end for the University of Southern California. In the NFL, he was a member of the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills practice squads.

“This is, by no means, a walkover fight,” DiBella said. “This is a real fight.”

Based on Washington’s 2016 comments to skysports.com, the challenger has long wanted a shot at the champ.

“Bring it on, I would love to take on Wilder,” the Californian said. “He’s a big guy and he likes to go at it, but I feel that my athleticism really comes to the fore when I’m up against a big guy, because I’m a lot more agile than a lot of bigger guys. If not, I’m definitely a lot stronger than him.

“I cannot wait for a matchup of that magnitude,” Washington continued. “It’s going to be very exciting for me, for my team and my gym.”

Wilder has been on the shelf since breaking his right hand and tearing his biceps as he defeated Chris Arreola in a seven-round technical knockout. The promoter has said that he wants to see whether Wilder is ready to take the next steps toward “more significant fights” later this year.

The Arreola fight took the place of the scheduled bout with mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin in Moscow. That fight was canceled when Povetkin tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

1
1 year ago

Take Action: Dr. Josh has battle plan to keep germs at bay

Every journey begins with a single, often small, step. But the challenge for many is getting started.

Dr. Josh Klapow wants to help you take that first step toward positive change in your life. The clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at UAB is featured in our weekly multimedia series called “Take Action.”

He encourages you to simply set a goal and move forward – whether to improve your health and overall well-being, or to learn ways to be safer in your workplace, while driving or at home.

Here’s how to “Take Action” this week.

Take Action: Try these easy, effective ways to fight the spread of germs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

1
1 year ago

Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility prepares offenders for a ‘brighter tomorrow’

Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)
Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)

Scott Frye said he has received a “second chance” at life, thanks to the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility (ATEF). Now Frye, who was convicted of securities fraud, is passing along that gift by giving former prisoners a second chance.

Frye is a graduate of ATEF, a facility in Columbiana that helps prepare offenders for successful re-entry into the community.

“ATEF really cares about you and helps you,” said Frye, an employee at the Foundry in Bessemer and a legal, financial and technology consultant. “They helped me put together a plan. They gave me the tools to become successful and to help other people become successful.”

Alabama statistics show that about 56 percent of offenders return to prison after their first year in the community. ATEF opened in 2008 to reduce recidivism in Alabama.

Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility gives prisoners a better chance upon release from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

ATEF is owned by the Community Education Centers (CEC), a re-entry treatment and education services provider that operates in 16 states. The 115,000-square-foot facility was created through a partnership between CEC, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education (PSE). It provides treatment, educational opportunities and vocational training geared to meet the individual needs of offenders to prepare them for transitioning into the community.

“This program is unique in that it lends itself to a culture that is not available anywhere else,” said Gary Hetzel, formerly ATEF director and now director of Re-Entry Operations for CEC. “Our residents are treated with give and take and respect – the way you want to be treated. When you step through the door, the labels go away. Through our program, we transform people, providing them with the skills and education they need to become productive citizens.”

Residents are housed in dormitories on site, while taking part in the six-month program.

They begin by completing the treatment phase of the program. Treatments address behavioral issues, such as addiction, stress and anger, and offer targeted interventions, including self-help groups and group counseling.

After that phase, residents are provided educational and vocational opportunities. They can receive training to help them prepare to obtain their GED, their post-secondary degree or a certification in a vocational trade, such as plumbing, carpentry, welding, forklift driving, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), and even culinary services. The residents attend classroom lectures and take part in hands-on skill-development activities to prepare them for their chosen trade.

“When offenders are sent to us, we interview them and assess their needs so that we can formulate a plan that will change their behavior,” said Hetzel. “Our mission is to change a person’s criminogenic thinking and the way of life they had in the past so they can start making progress. It’s important for our residents to know how to make good choices and how to have a good work ethic so they will not go back and repeat their crime.”

Hetzel said ATEF also helps offenders to repair family relationships that may have been severed or damaged during their time in prison.

After completing the program, graduates are paired with an appropriate facility that can help re-integrate them into the community. One of those community partners is the Dannon Project, which provides newly released individuals with housing, short-term training, job placement and other re-entry services.

Those participating in ATEF learn a new skill to help them find employment after prison. (Joe Allen / Alabama NewsCenter)

“When ATEF graduates walk through the door, we can tell immediately that they are from ATEF. Their heads are held high, they look you in the face, and they have confidence,” said Kerri Pruitt, executive director of the Dannon Project. “ATEF restores a person from the ground up. They remind those individuals that good and decent qualities reside in all of us, and that they can use those qualities to become a success after incarceration.”

Jim Stefkovich, a volunteer from the Church of the Highlands, gives his time and shares his faith with ATEF residents. He is among 20 volunteers from his church who host Sunday services and a weekly Bible study at ATEF.

“We do not view the residents here as projects. We view them as part of the church family and treat them as church family,” said Stefkovich. “We are honored and privileged to be able to serve here. Any blessing the residents get, we get as much and more.”

Hetzel said ATEF doesn’t forget graduates after they leave the program. Through its alumni association, ATEF offers counseling services, as well as continuing support through its website and social media. Graduates can call ATEF staff directly for assistance.

Many of ATEF’s graduates have turned their lives into success stories, Hetzel said. Ranking among ATEF alumni are authors, motivational speakers, underwater welders and an accountant.

Since his graduation from ATEF in July 2015, Frye has become one of those success stories. Along with working at the Foundry, he has started Genesis, a program that assists offenders in transitioning into the community.

“ATEF laid the groundwork for what I am doing through the Genesis program,” said Frye. “Learning, or anything else you do, is what you make of it. ATEF can’t make you succeed. They can’t make you want to do right or make good choices. They give you the tools here, but you still have to apply them. I am so grateful to ATEF for helping me succeed.”

1
1 year ago

UAB, football legend Tony Dorsett partner in creating sports helmets that prevent concussion

NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett (left) discussed helmet safety and preventing concussions with Mason Ellenberger, general manager of IMG College Sports/Blazer IMG Network, on Jan. 24. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)
NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett (left) discussed helmet safety and preventing concussions with Mason Ellenberger, general manager of IMG College Sports/Blazer IMG Network, on Jan. 24. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

Former NFL star and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Years later, he’s paying the price for his determination to excel on the football field with memory loss and other physical ailments.

Dorsett talks openly about sustaining numerous concussions and the resulting brain injury he suffered as a result of the sport. Dorsett’s new life’s mission is to protect today’s football players from the serious injuries he sustained.

“I’ve been involved in quite a few concussions, mostly from the NFL,” Dorsett said. “I’ve taken a lot of hits. But look at the helmets I was wearing.”

“I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I go through every day,” he said. ”I have good days, I have bad days. Thank God for GPS. If not for GPS, I’d have a tough time. I think new helmets from VICIS will keep athletes from experiencing what I experienced.”

That’s why Dorsett visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus on Jan. 24. He and Dave Marver, CEO of the helmet manufacturer VICIS, met to announce the creation of a football helmet that will revolutionize the sport in terms of safety.

Several neurosurgeons, along with Dorsett, Roger Staubach and other sportsmen, partnered with VICIS to develop ZERO1, a state-of-the-art helmet that promises to make head injuries a thing of the past.


Dorsett (second, right) was thrilled to share his message about the need to prevent concussions in children and adults. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

VICIS has reduced the impact of forces on the helmet. The VICIS design aligns with the technology coming out of a UAB Engineering lab. UAB’s Dean Sicking, Ph.D., and his team of researchers designed technology based on physics principles that inspired much of the work he has accomplished during 30 years as a world leader in impact reduction in sports.

President Ray Watts said he is extremely proud of UAB researchers who are working to improve helmet safety, based on science and engineering, to help prevent injury and concussion.

“We’ve identified the markers of concussion,” Watts said. “The core of this project is to keep the athlete safe. We have formed the ideal partner in VICIS.”

The ZERO1 features “omnidirectional layers” that absorb the impacts of hits from any direction, Marver said. “It’s a multilayered, highly engineered solution, and it will make a difference. We are so pleased to have forged a relationship with UAB.

“Four million kids play football,” Marver said. “That’s one reason we’re doing this with UAB, to make a difference in children’s lives.”

Marver said that VICIS plans to launch the helmets to the NFL, the Canadian Football League and major college football leagues in April.

“It’s a damn good padded helmet,” Dorsett said. “It looks like it’s got all the protection you’d need. I think we’ll see a lot less head injuries because of this. I’m impressed with this helmet.”

As one of football’s best-known players, Dorsett’s mission was to gain yards as a running back. He was the first college running back to gain 1,000 yards all four years in college, and the first to total 6,000 yards.

It was an unlikely achievement for someone who remembers himself as a “very introverted, very shy kid” while growing up in Pittsburgh. The fifth of five brothers, Dorsett played pee-wee football.

“I had four older brothers I wanted to be like,” he said. “My brothers were my role models, they were outstanding athletes and they also pushed me hard in the classroom. My dad always said, ‘Get yourself a quality education’ because he knew education was the way out of the steel mills.

The new UAB Blazer helmet from VICIS features state-of-the-art technology to prevent skull fractures and concussions. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

“I put rocks in my pockets to make the weight requirement so I could play football,” Dorsett said.

When Dorsett went to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, then-Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian motivated Dorsett to take down the Fighting Irish.

“They put out a story that Dorsett was a skinny little kid who’d never make it in college football,” Dorsett said, cracking a smile. “The grass was 6 to 7 inches deep. They were trying to slow down the rushing game of the Pittsburgh Panthers and Tony Dorsett.”

Dorsett’s football career is the stuff of legends. He led the Panthers to the national title as a senior in 1976 and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the first-round draft choice of the Cowboys in 1977, the second overall selection. Dorsett was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and played for the team for 11 seasons, through 1987. He played for Denver the following year, then retired because of injuries. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Football helmets get a major safety design upgrade from VICIS, thanks in part to UAB research from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Dorsett is proud of his “glory days” and wants others to have their own glory, without suffering the traumatic brain injuries resulting from concussions.

“I’ve played a small part in the development of this helmet by VICIS,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s probably going to be considered one of the best helmets on the market. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be a very safe helmet. It’s going to reduce concussions, something that I experienced a lot as a ball player.

“I am sure that, over the years, it’s probably going to get better and better,” Dorsett said. “It’s probably going to be, “quote, unquote” the best helmet of football.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.

1
1 year ago

UA study: Fatal crashes increased in Alabama in 2016

Alabama traffic fatalities climbed nearly 25 percent in 2016, a University of Alabama study finds. (iStock)
Alabama traffic fatalities climbed nearly 25 percent in 2016, a University of Alabama study finds. (iStock)

Deaths from the state’s traffic crashes in 2016 increased by nearly a quarter from 2015, according to a recent study of data by researchers at the University of Alabama.

Critical causes of more traffic fatalities include increased speeds, lack of safety belts and more distracted drivers as well as pedestrians, according to the analysis of crash reports statewide.

Although final numbers for 2016 are not yet official, the count to date is 1,058 traffic fatalities in Alabama through the end of 2016, which is 24.6 percent more than the 849 people who died in traffic crashes in 2015, according to state crash records.

Alabama NewsCenter graphic by Jay Parker

Total traffic collisions, however, increased only slightly. There were 149,339 crashes in 2015 and 152,532 in 2016, an increase of 2.1 percent.

“That this increase was less than one tenth that of the fatalities indicates that there are issues on our highways that need to specifically address the fatality problem,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at the UA Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS).

Brown directed the study using the Critical Analysis Reporting Environment, or CARE, system that enabled researchers at CAPS to isolate the major causes of the increase in traffic fatalities.

“A variety of factors were found, but, in order of importance, I would say that speed, safety belts, distracted driving and pedestrian faults all had major contributions to the increase,” Brown said. “These causes were often further intensified by their occurring in combination with driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.”

Speed

In 2016, there were more crashes with impact speeds faster than 50 mph, and for all crashes at 50 mph or faster, impact speeds were more than in 2015, according to the study. The largest percentage increase was at the highest speed category of 91 mph or above, which increased from 21 fatal crashes with 28 deaths in 2015 to 33 fatal crashes and 44 deaths in 2016.

CAPS research has shown every increase of 10 mph doubles the probability of the crash being fatal.

“With the increased speeds that we are observing while on the highways, it is surprising that the fatality increase is not even higher, and speed also adds to lack of control, which increases crash frequency as well,” Brown said.

Safety belts


Buckling up likely would have prevented at least 200 of last year’s fatalities. (iStock)

In 2016, 403 people died during crashes without using restraints despite them being available, according to the study. Brown estimates well more than half of these, or at least 200 fatalities, could have been avoided by proper use of restraints. The greatest offenders of the seat-belt law are those who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other studies have shown 90 percent of drivers and passengers in Alabama use seat belts; however, for those who die in auto crashes, less than half were using restraints. Brown said CAPS researchers using recent data have determined the probability of being killed in an auto crash increases by a factor of 30 for those who are not properly restrained. In other words, for those restrained, only one in about 400 crashes is fatal, but when restraints are not used the odds increase to one in 13 crashes.

Distracted driving

Nationally, studies have concluded that 16 percent of fatal crashes are caused by some form of distracted driving. In Alabama, the number of reported cases in which distracted driving caused the crash increased by about 20 percent in 2016 over 2014, according to the analysis of crash statistics.

Despite numerous campaigns to prevent it, distracted driving accounted for 16 percent of fatal crashes in Alabama in 2016. (iStock)

Pedestrian at fault

Of every 10 collisions with a person walking, six were the fault of the pedestrian, according to crash records. Of the 120 pedestrians killed, 72 could have been averted by improved behaviors of the person killed, according to the study. Records show drug use to be eight times the expected involvement in pedestrian fatalities than in nonfatal pedestrian injuries, and alcohol involvement was over-represented by a factor of two.

“This, coupled with the obvious distraction of pedestrians using their cell phones while walking, creates a very serious increase in these extremely severe crashes,” Brown said.

Safety tips

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error. With that in mind, traffic safety professionals at CAPS make the following strong recommendations:

    • Buckle up every time you get in a vehicle.

    • Put aside all distractions, look ahead and concentrate on constantly moving to safer situations as you drive.

    • Do not even think about driving if you have had any alcohol or disabling drugs, including marijuana.

    • Put up the cell phone, and don’t text while driving or walking near roadways, even if they do not seem to be busy.

• “It is imperative that mindsets be changed and citizens realize personal responsibilities if these tragic events are to be averted in the future,” Brown said.

1
2 years ago

Corps of Engineers approves higher winter levels for Alabama Power lakes

The Army Corps of Engineers is allowing Alabama Power to maintain higher water levels at Logan Martin Lake this winter because of the persistent drought. (Contributed)
The Army Corps of Engineers is allowing Alabama Power to maintain higher water levels at Logan Martin Lake this winter because of the persistent drought. (Contributed)

Streams that feed Alabama Power reservoirs have not recovered from the severe drought conditions of last year, even though the state has seen wetter conditions over the past several weeks.

A number of those streams are approaching or have reached record low levels for this time of year.

The weather outlook calls for dry conditions to continue.

Without significant additional rains, groundwater resources will not recharge as they typically do during the cool season. That can have a negative impact not only on streams but on Alabama Power lakes.

Those who boat and fish on Logan Martin and two other Alabama lakes should be aware that Alabama Power is going to keep the water levels higher this winter. (Contributed)

With drought conditions expected to persist, Alabama Power requested and has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to store water at higher-than-normal levels at Weiss and Logan Martin lakes on the Coosa River, and at Lake Harris on the Tallapoosa River. Here are the approved, temporary lake level variances:

    • Weiss Lake – up to 560 feet until Feb. 1
    • Logan Martin Lake – up to 462 feet until April 16
    • Lake Harris – up to 787 feet until April 8
Those who boat and fish on Logan Martin and two other Alabama lakes should be aware that Alabama Power is going to keep the water levels higher this winter.(Contributed)

These temporary variances are designed to take advantage of winter and spring rains, and improve the chances that Alabama Power’s reservoirs on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers can reach full summer pool later this year.

Alabama Power’s Weiss Dam. Weiss Lake is one of three lakes where the company has received permission to keep water levels higher this winter. (Contributed)

Alabama Power will continue to closely monitor conditions on the lakes and manage the limited water resources carefully. Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should be aware of these temporary lake level variances. All lake users and property owners should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their property.

For details about Alabama Power lakes, visit https://apcshorelines.com/ or add the free Alabama Power Shorelines app to your mobile device. To view specific lake advisories, click on the lake name and then click the circular information icon.

Individuals can also call Alabama Power’s automated Reservoir Information Line at 1-800-LAKES11 (1-800-525-3711).

1
2 years ago

Revolutionary blood processing lab opens at UAB

One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time at UAB's new lab: That is when blood tubes arrive from UAB Hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. (UAB)
One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time at UAB’s new lab: That is when blood tubes arrive from UAB Hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. (UAB)

Until now, a team of late-shift clinical technologists in the University of Alabama at Birmingham analyzed between 4,000 and 5,000 tubes of blood every night, providing information to help guide patient care, while keeping watch for abnormal test results that require immediate notification to clinicians.

Now a new $6.8 million, automated lab in the UAB Department of Hospital Labs, Division of Laboratory Medicine does the work. With clicks, whirrs and blinking lights, a moving track carries tubes to workstation machines that can centrifuge the tubes, remove caps, process samples to place in aliquoted tubes for chemistry and reference testing, count cells and create smears on microscope slides, replace caps, and place finished tubes in refrigerated or room-temperature storage towers. At each stop, the tubes are twirled in front of a laser light as a sensor reads their bar codes. The work goes on, untouched by human hands. Yet, the lab employees monitor and keep the analyzers maintained with reagents, so there is a human element.

Lab supervisors are thrilled about the capabilities of UAB’s new, automated system. (UAB)

“Every tube represents a patient,” said Mary Alice “Mac” Crum, retired administrative manager for UAB Laboratory Medicine and consultant for the new lab during its installation and months of validation studies and fine-tuning.

While the automated line was being installed and calibrated, the hands-on analysis by laboratory technologists had to continue in other lab spaces. “It’s like redesigning a plane while you are flying it — the technologists and lab techs have been phenomenal employees working in such complex conditions during the renovation this past year,” said Sherry Polhill, MBA, the administrative director of UAB Hospital Labs and Respiratory Care. Polhill says the technologists and lab techs are able to make a move to newly established laboratory industry lines within Hospital Laboratories as the automated equipment is coming online. Donna Scott, the lab medicine administrative manager, monitored data on the effectiveness, efficiencies and productivity of the workload to advise the best timing to move personnel.

A moving track carries tubes to workstation machines. (UAB)

Thousands of tubes processed

Each day brings a flood tide of work to the new lab in University Hospital’s Spain Tower.

One–by-one, a robot arm lifts tubes to another rack. (UAB)

One to 5 a.m. is the busiest time. Blood tubes arrive from the hospital floors in large pneumatic carriers like the ones used at drive-through banks. Lab techs load the tubes into racks, and place the racks at the start of the long, moving track that winds around three sides of the lab. Then the analyzers take over.

Tubes with gold caps, after automated centrifugation, hold serum for immunological, reference or chemistry tests such as sodium, potassium, glucose and bilirubin levels. Tubes with blue caps, after centrifugation, hold plasma for coagulation studies. Tubes with lavender caps, which are not centrifuged, are used for hematology testing, where white blood cell counts, red blood cell counts, platelet counts and other blood analysis take place.

These robot arms dip down and up, and twist left and right, as they add reagents for tests. (UAB)

At the end of the line, small, grasping mechanical arms pick up the tubes and place them into refrigerators that can hold 10,000 tubes or into room-temperature storage for 5,000 tubes, in case further testing is needed.

Staff watch for yellow warning lights on the top of each workstation that signal low levels of reagents or a problem reading a bar code. Medical technologists retrieve tubes that show abnormal test values and verify the information for immediate reporting, as necessary.

Routine findings are automatically updated into each patient’s electronic health record.

During the hospital lab renovation, the work area was sealed and kept under negative air pressure to prevent any dust from escaping. The project also required construction above and below the lab — an emergency power generator in the basement and new air-handling equipment on the third floor, to deal with heat produced by the line.

As is common in high-tech fields like genome sequencing or super computers, the laboratory workstations have been given names to make it easy for staff to talk about which station needs attention.

“The techs voted to pick names from the television show “The Big Bang Theory,”’ Crum said. “There are Sheldon, Leonard, Bernadette, Raj, Penny and Howard.”

The automated line was purchased from Beckman Coulter. After delivery of the equipment in two tractor-trailers in January, teams of Beckman installers, application personnel and service engineers worked for three months to get the first of the line going, as further installation and validation continued. Three UAB laboratory staff went to Beckman for training as key operators.

UAB has invested $6.8 million in the automated lab, which supplies state-of-the-art testing services. (UAB)

“This is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes,” Polhill said.

“This $6.8 million project will have significant impact in our patient care in Birmingham and the state of Alabama,” said X. Long Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Division of Laboratory Medicine. Zheng holds the Dr. Robert B. Adams Endowed Professorship in Pathology.

Polhill and Juan de Onis, director of Program Planning for UAB Facilities Planning, were co-chairs for the laboratory renovation project. De Onis, Jared Sparks, Robert Sharpe, George Griswold Jr. and Faith Blocker were partners from Facilities Planning for the project, and Susan Markem served as the UAB Health System Information Services project manager.

UAB’s new, $6.8 million lab is an investment by the University Hospital that will shorten turnaround time and allow testing to become standardized for quality purposes. (Jeff Hansen)

1
2 years ago

Boxing champion Deontay Wilder announces fourth Birmingham bout

Deontay Wilder said he will let his fists do his talking in the ring in Birmingham in February. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder said he will let his fists do his talking in the ring in Birmingham in February. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder said he will let his fists do his talking in the ring in Birmingham in February. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Deontay Wilder is heading back to a ring near you.

The World Boxing Council heavyweight champion announced today that he will defend his title against Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

The event will air nationally via Premier Boxing Champions on Fox with the broadcast beginning at 7 p.m.

“When you have two giants in the ring with fantastic records, what more could you ask for?” the Tuscaloosa native asked. “I’m looking forward to the fight. You know me. I’m always prepared.”

A sign at Wednesday’s press conference announces the fight. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
A sign at Wednesday’s press conference announces the fight. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

The championship bout will be Wilder’s fourth in Birmingham and his third straight at Legacy Arena. This will make four heavyweight title defenses in one city in 20 months, a distinction that even Las Vegas does not have.

Wilder’s most recent fight was a seven-round technical knockout of challenger Chris Arreola in July 2016. Wilder won despite breaking his right hand and suffering a torn bicep.

WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder announces Birmingham title fight against Andrzej Wawrzyk from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

 Deontay Wilder signs autographs. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Deontay Wilder signs autographs. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Wilder has 36 knockouts in his 37-0 professional record. Wawrzyk, 29, stands 6 foot 5, 230 pounds; he has a 33-1 record with 19 knockouts.

The challenger notched a victory in Birmingham as he fought as part of the undercard when Wilder beat Arreola. He is the No. 13 ranked fighter among WBC heavyweights and has won his past six fights by knockout.

Via satellite and through an interpreter, Wawrzyk said the fight was confirmed around Christmas and thus he views the opportunity as a gift. He cautioned that he is not simply coming to step into the ring.

“Everything that we do is to go to Alabama and bring the WBC belt to Poland,” he said. “I am there to make history.”

The announcement followed ticket sales that began during the New Year’s holiday weekend. Gene Hallman, whose Bruno Event Team is promoting the event with DiBella Entertainment, said tickets are selling briskly.

Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team speaks at the press conference. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team speaks at the press conference. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

“Tickets are pacing right along with the last fight’s record crowd,” he said. “The last fight had 11,974 and five days removed from on-sales last time, we’re about where we were with that fight.”

Ticket prices begin at $25 in the upper deck and range to $65, $135, $275 and $650 with VIP access.

“And we’re about out of the $650 ticket,” Hallman said.

Tickets are available online at www.alabamatitlefight.com. Doors open on Feb. 25 at 3:30 p.m. and the first bout of the undercard begins at 4 p.m.

Deontay Wilder poses with a fan. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
Deontay Wilder poses with a fan. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)
1
2 years ago

Alabama-built Honda Ridgeline wins 2017 ‘Truck of the Year’ award

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline won top honors today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda)
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline won top honors today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda)
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline won top honors today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda)

The Alabama-built Honda Ridgeline pickup has been named the 2017 North American Truck of the Year.

The award was announced this morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Ridgeline bested two other finalists: the Ford F-series Super Duty and the Nissan Titan.

In accepting the award, John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., credited the team behind the Ridgeline for “re-imagining the pickup.”

Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker's assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)
Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker’s assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)

“The Ridgeline has been incredible for us,” he said. “Consumers love it. It’s been virtually sold out since we introduced it here last year.”

The Ridgeline, produced at Honda’s $2.2 billion, 4,500-worker Talladega County plant, was redesigned for the 2017 model year and went on sale last summer.

Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, called the new Ridgeline “a very innovative new pickup truck.”

“I congratulate all of our associates for their commitment to our customers as the Ridgeline returns with new features that will deliver even more of what today’s truck customers want and need,” he said last spring during a plant celebration to mark the start of mass production.

‘Ultimate tailgater’

Honda is hoping to take a bigger bite of the U.S. light truck market with the second-generation Ridgeline, which adopts a more traditional pickup profile than its predecessor.

Promoted as the “ultimate tailgater,” the 2017 Ridgeline has an audio system built into the truck bed, along with a 400-watt power inverter that can energize a blender, flat-screen TV or other gameday gear.

John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., accepts the 2017 Truck of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda)
John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., accepts the 2017 Truck of the Year award at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Honda)

Also this morning, the Chevrolet Bolt EV was named the Car of the Year and the Chrysler Pacifica was named the Utility Vehicle of the Year, a new award category for 2017.

The awards are given annually at the beginning of the Detroit auto show; eligible vehicles are those that are brand new or have been substantially changed.

The winners are chosen by a panel of about 60 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada, based on innovation, design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

1
2 years ago

Celebrities, alumni join Samford University in celebration of its 175th year

Samford’s 175th Anniversary Ball is one of the ways the university marked the milestone this year. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)
Samford’s 175th Anniversary Ball is one of the ways the university marked the milestone this year. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)
Samford’s 175th Anniversary Ball is one of the ways the university marked the milestone this year. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)

When you turn 175 it’s good to have some friends around you and Samford University had some good friends to draw from.

Comedian John Crist, actor Tony Hale, Little Big Town, National Football League players and other alumni and student groups are among the Samford University community wishing the institution a happy 175th birthday in this special video produced by the Division of Marketing and Communication.

1
2 years ago

You’re not alone: Alabama psychologist on how to cope with the holiday blues

Many people get down during the holidays, but those around them may be able to help if they take the right approach. (iStock)

Many people get down during the holidays, but those around them may be able to help if they take the right approach. (iStock)

Every journey begins with a single, often small, step. But the challenge for many is getting started.

Dr. Josh Klapow wants to help you take that first step toward positive change in your life. The clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at UAB is featured in our weekly multimedia series called “Take Action.”

He encourages you to simply set a goal and move forward – whether to improve your health and overall well-being, or to learn ways to be safer in your workplace, while driving or at home.

Here’s how to “Take Action” this week.

Take Action: When a friend or relative has the holiday blues, here are some ways to help from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

1
2 years ago

WOW: Samford pharmacy students, faculty complete breakthrough in pediatric cardiac treatment

Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy faculty member Greg Gorman, left, worked with students Logan Joiner and Rachel Miller on the pediatric research. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)
Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy faculty member Greg Gorman, left, worked with students Logan Joiner and Rachel Miller on the pediatric research. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)
Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy faculty member Greg Gorman, left, worked with students Logan Joiner and Rachel Miller on the pediatric research. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)

By Rachel Williams

On the second floor of Samford University’s College of Health Sciences, Logan Joiner and Rachel Miller step out of the laboratory with exciting news. They have just completed research that can change the way pediatric cardiac patients receive medication and nutrition.

Pediatric patients in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at Children’s of Alabama often receive many medications and nutritional support that often require multiple intravascular (IV) access lines. Clinical management of these multiple lines can complicate medication delivery and increase patients’ risk of infection. Also, larger fluid volumes may be required to individually deliver the numerous medications.

The research that Joiner, Miller and McWhorter School of Pharmacy faculty members Greg Gorman and Kim Benner have completed has demonstrated that up to seven specific medications and nutrition can be delivered safely and simultaneously through a single IV access line to pediatric patients. Prior to this research, “potential compatibility issues with administration of these medications and nutrition often resulted in stopping administration of the nutrition while the medications were being delivered,” Benner said.

The just-completed research at Samford University could change the way pediatric cardiac patients receive medication and nutrition. (Samford University)
The just-completed research at Samford University could change the way pediatric cardiac patients receive medication and nutrition. (Samford University)

The study began in the spring semester of 2016 when Joiner was in his final weeks of pharmacy school and was performing research under Gorman. During this time, a CVICU physician approached Benner, who also practices at Children’s of Alabama, regarding this problem. In conjunction with CVICU pharmacists, the two approached Gorman about conducting laboratory work to solve this problem. While physicians and pharmacists at Children’s identified specific medications and nutrition commonly used in the CVICU, Gorman and Joiner designed and developed the procedures to be used to evaluate their compatibility.

This research conducted by Joiner and Miller is novel, because it tests the compatibility of more medications than ever before. While compatibility data for Y-site – a device that provides an access route for two IV fluids to infuse at the same time – is available for many medications, it is limited to the physical compatibility of only two medications mixing together just prior to being delivered to a patient.

“What makes this research so unique is that we are evaluating up to seven medications along with nutrition all combined together, so we’re getting questions answered that you can’t get from a textbook or other medical literature,” Gorman said.

Now that the compatibility of these multiple medications is known, it can soon begin to benefit pediatric cardiac patients. “We hope that it can eliminate the need to start all those other IV lines,” said Miller. “It’s exciting, because it translates from the lab to the patient immediately.”

The work that Joiner, Miller, Gorman and Benner have done along with physicians and pharmacists at Children’s is not limited to the CVICU.

“While it’s going to be applicable to our patients at Children’s, it is also worthy information for pediatric ICU patients all over the world. Other units of the hospital can use this information, too,” Benner said.

Team members are compiling, analyzing and writing their findings for publication. They hope to have their work submitted to a peer-reviewed journal by the end of 2016.


Rachel Williams is a journalism and mass communication major and a news and feature writer in the Division of Marketing and Communication at Samford University.

1
2 years ago

“The end of teller lines? The future of banking is coming to Alabama”

Universal bankers are a key element to Regions Banks' bank branch of the future. (contributed)
Universal bankers are a key element to Regions Banks' bank branch of the future. (contributed)
Universal bankers are a key element to Regions Banks’ bank branch of the future. (contributed)

Regions Bank on Thursday formally unveiled the company’s most modern branch location in metro Birmingham to date.

“In many ways, this location represents the future of branch banking,” said Brandon Greve, Consumer Banking Executive for Regions. “Regions is making a visit to the bank more convenient and more meaningful. We’re doing this by helping customers develop plans to reach their long-term financial goals. And we’re offering new technology so when a customer needs quick, efficient service early in the morning, in the evening, or even on Saturday or Sunday, this branch has what that customer needs.”

Regions Bank, Trussville Chamber of Commerce and Trussville city officials cut the ribbon on the new Regions Bank branch in downtown Trussville. (contributed)
Regions Bank, Trussville Chamber of Commerce and Trussville city officials cut the ribbon on the new Regions Bank branch in downtown Trussville. (contributed)

The open design of the branch at 193 Main Street in Trussville does not include a traditional teller line.

Instead, customers are welcomed directly by Regions’ universal bankers. Universal bankers are professionals who meet a wide range of branch banking needs. If a customer is looking to open an account or conduct a transaction, a universal banker can help. If a customer is looking for a more in-depth conversation about creating a savings plan, developing a personal budget or building a roadmap to reach future goals, a universal banker is equipped to help meet those needs as well.

The branch becomes the latest in Regions’ network to offer Regions Video Banking. The video banking ATM in Trussville connects customers with a Regions video banker via live, two-way video. Along with processing most teller transactions, Regions video bankers can help customers with account maintenance and general inquiries.

Regions video bankers offer live, personalized service through two-way video during extended hours on weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. (contributed)
Regions video bankers offer live, personalized service through two-way video during extended hours on weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. (contributed)

Regions video bankers are available during extended hours on weekdays (7 a.m.-8 p.m.). They are also available on Saturdays (8 a.m.-5 p.m.), Sundays (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) and most holidays.

The video banking ATM in Trussville is located in a secure, 24-hour vestibule at the front of the branch. Customers can access the vestibule after branch hours by swiping their debit card to enter. Non-Regions customers can also access the vestibule by swiping their own magnetic-strip card to take advantage of standard ATM features.

The Trussville branch also offers a Regions DepositSmart ATM. In addition to dispensing cash, DepositSmart ATMs can accept deposits and cash checks for customers at any time, day or night. A drive-up ATM is now included at the facility, rather than the walk-up ATM that was previously offered at the downtown Trussville branch.

“Certainly, we see increasing demand for mobile and online banking channels, and Regions continues to invest in digital banking. However, we also find that the same customer who uses online and mobile banking often uses multiple banking channels, including branch locations,” Greve said. “This branch is designed for them. It’s designed for anyone who values both modern technology and personal service. This location is the latest example of how, now, more than ever, Regions is here to serve customers when, where and how they want to be served.”

Instead of teller lines, the new Regions branch offers all banking services through universal bankers. (contributed)
Instead of teller lines, the new Regions branch offers all banking services through universal bankers. (contributed)

Regions Universal Banking, combined with Regions Video Banking in the same facility, were first unveiled to the local market in fall 2014, when Regions opened its extensively renovated UAB branch in Birmingham. Over time, evolving technology, a consistent focus on improving the customer experience and feedback from consumers have combined to form the design seen in the new downtown Trussville location.

1
2 years ago

Alabama actor goes viral with worst version ever of ‘O Holy Night’

Since leaving Alabama, Martin Landry has forged a career as a pianist and actor. (Photo/Kristin Mulligan)
Since leaving Alabama, Martin Landry has forged a career as a pianist and actor. (Photo/Kristin Mulligan)
Since leaving Alabama, Martin Landry has forged a career as a pianist and actor. (Photo/Kristin Mulligan)

Martin Landry really can sing. Really.

The 31-year-old performer graduated with a musical theater degree from Birmingham-Southern College, making his professional debut in Red Mountain Theatre Company’s “Forever Plaid” before heading to New York, where he works consistently.

But you’d never know that from his most-seen piece of work. His lip-syncing to an excruciatingly bad recording of “O Holy Night” has gotten more than 600,000 views on YouTube since it posted in 2008.

“It’s amazing how it has become part of people’s Christmas seasons,” Landry says. “It’s right up there with the egg nog and the Christmas movies they watch.”

Landry first heard Steve Mauldin’s version of the classic Christmas carol in 2002, when fellow RMTC actor Dylan Hunter sent it out with the note, “You have to listen to this.”

What he heard was Mauldin, an accomplished musician himself, playing around in a studio and singing a purposely bad vocal to an instrumental track underneath.

“I fell in love with that recording, a pure, unhealthy obsession, I would say,” Landry says. “I made my family listen to it, and I would ‘amuse’ them in the living room by lip-syncing live to it.”

In 2008, Landry and his roommate at the time, Trey Tatum, decided to videotape Landry’s performance for their electronic Christmas card.

They posted it on YouTube, and it began to get attention. Including from Mauldin, who wanted to remind people that it’s him doing the vocals.

“I tried to make it super clear it was a lip-sync,” Landry says. “But some people thought it was real. They thought I was the one singing. I wanted them to know the truth for two reasons: One, this is my career, and I don’t want people thinking I sing like this. And second, this guy’s a genius, and he deserves the credit.”

Landry, who lives in New York with is wife, Janice, has enjoyed a little bit of fame from his viral video.

“I was invited to lip-sync live to it once at Birdland, a club in New York City,” he says. “It’s the strangest performance I’ve ever given in my life. Half the audience enjoyed it. The other half was baffled and silent and maybe a little bit angry.”

He also, apparently, has fans in the Broadway community.

“The most glamorous story I have is that I went to see ‘The King and I’ on Broadway, and I had a friend in the cast who had won a Tony Award,” Landry says. “ She told me that one of her fellow actors in the show recognized me on the front row as the ‘O Holy Night’ guy. I apparently made a Broadway actress so nervous that she almost couldn’t do the show.”

Landry loves that his video is a must-see for many during the holiday season.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “I love making people laugh.”

1
2 years ago

Smart pitching: UAB engineer investigates rise of the teen Tommy John surgery

The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman's, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)
The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman's, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)
The strain of throwing a Major League fastball, especially one as fast as Aroldis Chapman’s, puts the arm and shoulder under constant pressure. (Contributed)

Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., an alumnus and adjunct faculty member of the School of Engineering, has done pioneering research that is making baseball safer for Major Leaguers, and Little Leaguers.

As the epic 2016 World Series between the Cubs and the Indians wore on, there was one question on everyone’s mind: When will Aroldis Chapman’s arm wear out? (The answer: Game 7, 8th inning.)

When sports biomechanics expert Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., an adjunct professor in the UAB School of Engineering and graduate of the school’s doctoral program in biomedical engineering, looks at fire-throwing pitchers like the Cubs closer, he sees a more fundamental problem: How can any human throw 100 miles per hour without his arm falling off?

Fleisig, the director of research at Birmingham’s American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), answered that question during a standing-room-only lecture at UAB’s Heritage Hall as part of the weekly lecture series hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Fleisig also encouraged the crowd of undergraduates to investigate the growing field of sports biomechanics research.

Ligaments strike out

“Baseball is in general a safe sport,” said Fleisig. Except, that is, for pitchers. As Fleisig pointed out, more than one-quarter of current Major League pitchers have already had a major elbow surgery known as “Tommy John surgery.” For decades, Fleisig has studied pitchers at all levels of the game, from Little League to the Major Leagues, compiling detailed biomechanical analysis on thousands of players in the ASMI database. He is a member of the Major League Baseball Elbow Task Force, a research collaboration established to find out what’s behind the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries among professional and amateur players. (See chart below.)

Tommy John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in 1974 and was the recipient of an experimental UCL reconstruction surgery by Dodgers team doctor Frank Jobe, M.D. (Fleisig noted that Jobe had been pondering the problem of UCL reconstruction since a torn ligament ended the career of Dodger legend Sandy Koufax a few years earlier.)

The surgery, and John’s successful post-surgery career, made the procedure standard practice. Still, “there were only about 5–10 Tommy John surgeries per year among professional (Major League and minor league) pitchers for 20 years,” Fleisig said. “And then it started going up and up. Then a year or two ago it went way up, to 100 per year or so.” As Fleisig pointed out, more big leaguers had the surgery in 2014 than in the all of the 1990s combined. This increase was obviously troubling to Major League teams. Despite the historic success of the surgery, and post-Tommy John careers for most pitchers, some 20 percent of players don’t return to their old level after the operation. And the increase in UCL reconstruction surgeries among youth and high school athletes was perhaps even more concerning.

Image courtesy of ASMI
Image courtesy of ASMI

Arms race

Fleisig and James Andrews, M.D., the noted sports surgeon who is a founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute, have led several studies looking into the problem. That includes long-term research following hundreds of youth and professional players, along with cadaver studies investigating the biomechanics of the joints and tissues involved. “We have data from testing of more than 2,000 pitchers at ASMI, including an elite database of more than 100 professional pitchers who throw greater than 87 miles per hour during testing,” Fleisig said.

Using a high-speed, three-dimensional, automated motion analysis system, the researchers computed kinematics (motions) and kinetics (joint forces and torques) to gauge the stress on the crucial elbow and shoulder joints during a pitch. During a critical instant when the arm is cocked back, the stress on a major leaguer’s elbow is 100 Newton-meters. He illustrated the concept with an analogy and a visual image: “That’s the equivalent of having five 12-pound bowling balls pulling down on your arm,” he said. “It makes sense that this ligament is near its maximum on every pitch.”

Beginning in spring 1999, Fleisig and Andrews followed 476 youth pitchers, tracking their innings pitched and injuries over a full season. “Then we called these same kids every year for 10 years,” Fleisig said. In a 2011 paper, they published the results, showing that athletes who pitched more than 100 innings per year had more than triple the risk of arm injury compared with those who pitched less than that threshold.

mix_baseball

TMP + PM = TJ

Fleisig summarized the results of all that research in a single slide. There are two main risk factors for baseball arm injuries, he said:


    • Too much pitching

    • Poor mechanics.

“This isn’t just a Major League problem, or a Little League problem, but a baseball problem,” Fleisig said. “So the solution has to be at all levels, too.” The ASMI research has had a significant impact, with numerous leagues adopting pitch limits for players. The Elbow Task Force also developed a website with Major League Baseball, called Pitch Smart, that summarizes its findings for coaches and players of all levels. The site includes detailed pitch counts and rest recommendations for players at various age levels. It also includes a step-by-step guide to proper mechanics.

That type of translational research, which is helping thousands of young athletes avoid injury and surgery, and improve the game he loves, is thrilling, Fleisig said. “Biomechanics is big and exciting and fun.”

He also welcomed any interested students to apply for internships at ASMI, noting its location just down University Boulevard from UAB. “You can tie in motion studies and cadaver studies and more to solve problems that are important to real people.”

1
2 years ago

Birmingham’s Southern Research conducting high throughput Zika screening for NIH

Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)
Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)
Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)

In 2014, Southern Research received funding from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through a multi-center U19 grant (U19AI109680) administered by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct high throughput screening (HTS) against six disease-causing viruses: dengue, West Nile, SARS, influenza, Venezuela equine encephalitis complex, and chikungunya. With the program in place and as Southern Research has completed screening the viruses, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently issued a supplementary $650,000 award for the Birmingham organization to expand its program to include high throughput screening for Zika.

“Southern Research has a long history in antiviral research, including screening viruses in the same flavivirus genus as Zika, so we’re pleased the NIH saw fit to expand the U19 program to include screening on Zika,” said Bob Bostwick, Ph.D., director of the High-Throughput Screening Center at Southern Research. “For drug discovery purposes, we hope to identify compounds that work well across this entire genus.”

According to the supplemental grant, Southern Research will construct an assay for Zika that can be conducted in HTS, and test over 300,000 compounds against the virus, a process that will take nine months.

Developing robust screening capabilities

zika-virus

For Southern Research, compound screening has been a part of the organization’s efforts since the mid-1950s, when researchers began manually screening anticancer drugs under a contract with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Around this same period, the Virus Research Division began evaluating antiviral agents against a wide range of pathogenic viruses, including the herpesviruses, poxviruses, acute upper respiratory disease viruses, and mosquito-borne viruses, such as Yellow Fever virus.

By the 1960s, the early work had already shown promise. Manual screenings conducted by the viral research team had identified the compounds that led to the discovery of Ara-A, an antiviral used to treat human herpesviruses, chicken pox, shingles, human cytomegalovirus — a cause of childhood hearing loss — and a lethal encephalitis.

In the 1980s, following the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, Southern Research expanded into HIV antiviral research through a series of contracts and grants with the U.S. Army and the NIH. This effort involved screening compound collections consisting of approximately 20,000 samples, and developing a staff of scientists proficient in working with many infectious diseases. By the following decade, the organization’s anti-HIV screening program had become the largest in the country.

While earning a global reputation for producing high quality antiviral research, Southern Research’s screening capabilities were expanding far beyond antivirals to include screening of other infectious diseases and cancer. In the late 1990s, the organization invested in emerging HTS technologies to maintain a prominent role at the forefront of drug discovery. This involved assembling a large compound collection — consisting of over 1 million samples — and acquiring robotic platforms for automated screening, enabling the organization to test hundreds of thousands of compounds for each new target. Eventually, the program would become involved in the NIH Roadmap Molecular Libraries initiative, and serve as one of 12 centers in the NCI Chemical Biology Consortium.

southern-research-logo

“Southern Research’s in-house screening capabilities are unmatched by most universities and private research organizations across the globe,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “With our Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) facility, an active in-house library of over one million compounds, and a wealth of institutional knowledge, our researchers pride themselves on finding chemical structures needed to develop drugs against some of the greatest global health threats.”

High throughput screening and drug discovery

Today, HTS is an automated process that allows researchers to rapidly test a large number of compounds in order to determine their potential use as starting points for the invention of new drugs. With time and advances in technology, the process of screening compounds has evolved significantly from the early days. However, despite these advances, some things remain the same.

Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)
Working with assays in Southern Research’s High Throughput Screening lab. (Southern Research)

“Whether you are working on an antiviral or an anti-cancer medication, the drug discovery process is incredibly complex and often starts with screening,” said Bostwick. “HTS usually requires screening hundreds of thousands of compounds to find three or four good chemical starting points for medicinal chemistry.”

With the recent expansion of its U19 program to include screening of the Zika virus, Southern Research maintains a prominent global position in antiviral research. Its work has led to the fight against HIV/AIDS – supporting the U.S. government and numerous drug companies in the production of many of the FDA-approved antiviral drugs currently on the market — and screening of compounds that allowed for numerous other drug breakthroughs, including several against previously drug resistant strains of tuberculosis and malaria. Yet, despite this record of success, researchers acknowledge a cure for Zika will still take time.

“Even though we know a lot about flaviviruses, discovering and developing effective therapeutic agents may take several years,” Bostwick continued. “Just like any other project we’ve undertaken, we will use data as our guide and hope our efforts will yield results which can be helpful to the scientific community.”

1
2 years ago

UAB, Jefferson County offer free eye exams, glasses to low-income patients

UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)
UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)
UAB will offer free eye exams in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health. (UAB)

University of Alabama at Birmingham Eye Care and Jefferson County Department of Health are partnering again this year to provide comprehensive eye exams and glasses for low-income or underinsured patients through the outreach program Community Eye Care, Nov. 30-Dec. 3.

Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)
Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)

Established in 2013, the Gift of Sight program provides patients with complimentary eye care at the Western Health Clinic in Midfield and the UAB School of Optometry. Eyeglasses are provided to patients who need them, thanks to the generous support of the program’s partners, VSP, Remote Area Medical, Lions of Alabama and Allergan.

“Though the Gift of Sight is a relatively new event for our school, it has very quickly become something that our students, faculty and staff truly anticipate,” said Dr. Kelly Nichols, O.D., Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Optometry. “We spend countless hours in the classrooms and teaching clinics preparing our students for what they will encounter as practicing optometrists; but during these few days each year, we all have the opportunity to learn, invest and provide care in ways that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)
Gift of Sight program will offer free eye exams Nov. 30-Dec. 3. (UAB)

Applications to qualify for the eye exams are available through the Jefferson County Department of Health and the UAB School of Optometry. Early this fall, UAB School of Dentistry provided teeth cleanings, fillings and extractions at no cost to those in need throughout the Greater Birmingham area. The Dentistry Cares Community Day provided another platform for UAB’s Gift of Sight program to provide applications to those in need.

UAB Community Eye Care provides eye exams at little to no cost to thousands of patients each year at the Western Health Center in Midfield, The Foundry in Bessemer, Lovelady Center in East Lake, M-Power Ministries in Avondale and the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham Adult Day Program at LincPoint in Homewood. UAB Community Eye Care also partners with various campus entities to provide care to underserved residents throughout the Birmingham metro area, as well as the Black Belt communities throughout Alabama.

To inquire about making a donation to the Gift of Sight, call UAB Eye Care at 205-975-2020.

1
2 years ago

Airbus will fly Alabama-built jet over the Iron Bowl

This Airbus A321 built in Mobile will fly over the Iron Bowl before the game. (Airbus)
This Airbus A321 built in Mobile will fly over the Iron Bowl before the game. (Airbus)
This Airbus A321 built in Mobile will fly over the Iron Bowl before the game. (Airbus)

By Michael Tomberlin

When the Iron Bowl is played in Auburn, an eagle flies over the stadium prior to the game. Airbus is upping the ante in Tuscaloosa this year.

An Alabama-built Airbus A321 commercial airliner will conduct a pregame flyover at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday at 2:16 p.m. prior to kickoff of the Iron Bowl.

“This participation in the Iron Bowl, the most-anticipated football game of the year in Alabama, is our way of showing our Alabama pride and showcasing the skills of the men and women of Airbus,” said Allan McArtor, chairman and CEO of Airbus Group Inc.

 The first Airbus A321 built in Mobile for Delta Air Lines conducts a test flight over the Mobile plant. The plan will fly over the Iron Bowl prior to kickoff on Saturday n Tuscaloosa. (Airbus)

The first Airbus A321 built in Mobile for Delta Air Lines conducts a test flight over the Mobile plant. The plan will fly over the Iron Bowl prior to kickoff on Saturday n Tuscaloosa. (Airbus)

It is the first A321 that is being produced for Delta Air Lines in the Airbus plant in Mobile. It will be the 15th Airbus A321 delivered from the facility, which opened in September 2015.

Airbus now has more than 370 employees at the Mobile plant, with more than 85 percent of them from Alabama and the Gulf Coast region.

McArtor said many more Airbus employees also look forward to the annual Iron Bowl.

“Airbus is proud to call Mobile home for an Engineering Center, the U.S. Manufacturing Facility and a Defense & Space Military Aircraft facility,” he said. “More than 600 Airbus employees and their families live and work in Alabama and the Gulf Coast region designing, building and maintaining world-class aircraft.”

The freshly-painted Airbus A321 will fly over the Iron Bowl on Saturday. (Airbus)
The freshly-painted Airbus A321 will fly over the Iron Bowl on Saturday. (Airbus)
1
2 years ago

Davis Cup returning to Birmingham in February

Davis Cup tennis, which drew fans from 30 states to Birmingham in 2009, is coming back in February. (Contributed)
Davis Cup tennis, which drew fans from 30 states to Birmingham in 2009, is coming back in February. (Contributed)
Davis Cup tennis, which drew fans from 30 states to Birmingham in 2009, is coming back in February. (Contributed)

Davis Cup tennis returns to the Deep South early next year, and it’s coming back to the same address.

The United States Tennis Association announced Thursday at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame that Team USA will open play in the 2017 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

That first-round tie will be against Switzerland Feb. 3-5, 2017.

Coincidentally, the same teams faced one another in 2009 in Birmingham.

“We loved Birmingham the last time we were here,” said Jeff Ryan, senior director of USA Team Events for the USTA. “Players talk about it. We liked the atmosphere and it helped us win last time, so why can’t it happen again?”

Davis Cup returns to Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The big rematch

Gene Hallman said he and his Bruno Event Team have been trying to get the Davis Cup back to Birmingham since hosting the tie in 2009.

“It was so successful,” he said. “We sold tickets in 30 states, and we anticipate that happening again.”

Andy Roddick called the 2009 Davis Cup tie between the United States and Switzerland the best Davis Cup tie in which he had ever played.

“Of course, they had just won,” Hallman recalled, “but that’s our goal again, to rally the community, show our Southern hospitality, show our patriotic nature, support the U.S. team to victory and have everyone leave saying that was a great experience.”

While the same countries will play one another, the U.S. team will be much different, as Roddick and James Blake have retired.

“Things have changed since that last time,” Ryan said. “There’s a whole new crop of young, very accomplished American players out there.”

Potential team members

Top Americans who could take the court include former University of Georgia standout John Isner, who is ranked No. 19 on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour.

Jack Sock, who teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win gold in mixed doubles in the Rio Olympics, is ranked No. 23. Other top Americans are No. 31 Sam Querrey, No. 33 Steve Johnson and No. 70 Taylor Fritz.

Team USA could also include the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.

Switzerland’s top players are former world No. 1 Roger Federer and current world No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. Federer missed the 2009 tie in Birmingham because of injury. He has not played since losing to Canada’s Milos Raonic in the semifinals of Wimbledon to rehab his surgically repaired knee.

Team captains will name the members of their teams no less than 10 days before the tie. Jim Courier, a former world No. 1 player, is captain of the U.S. squad.

Gene Hallman (left) of Bruno Event Team and Jeff Ryan (right) of the United States Tennis Association
Gene Hallman (left) of Bruno Event Team and Jeff Ryan (right) of the United States Tennis Association
A poster at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame announces that Birmingham will again host a Davis Cup tie pitting the United States against Switzerland. (Solomon Crenshaw/Alabama NewsCenter)
A poster at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame announces that Birmingham will again host a Davis Cup tie pitting the United States against Switzerland. (Solomon Crenshaw/Alabama NewsCenter)

Hallman said his aim is to give the Americans a huge home court advantage. Toward that end, he hopes to tap into the membership of the USTA Southern Section, perhaps the largest of the USTA’s 17 sections with 178,000 members.

“It’s fantastic for the city and fantastic for Alabama,” said Elaine Francis, executive director of USTA Alabama. “It will increase, we hope, our tennis-playing public when they can see what fun it is and how much enjoyment they get from it.”

USTA members get the first chance to buy tickets with a presale event Dec. 7-8. Three-day tickets, ranging from $90 to $500, go on sale Dec. 9 through Jan. 5.

Depending on availability, single-day tickets go on sale on Friday, Jan. 6. Those tickets will be $40 to $175.

Tickets are available at www.usta.com/daviscup or by calling 888-484-USTA.

1
2 years ago

James Spann: Alabama drought gets even more intense



James Spann: Another mostly rainless week for Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

 

HISTORIC DRY SPELL ROLLS ALONG:

The last measurable rain in Birmingham was on Sept. 18 with 0.32 inches. The last time we had more than 1 inch in a 24-hour period came on July 30, when the total was 1.33 inches. No rain has been measured so far in November.

We have gone, counting today, 57 consecutive days without measurable rain. We blew past the record of 52 dry days in a row (set in 1924) last week.

A drought emergency remains in effect for all 67 Alabama counties; no outdoor burning is allowed, and water conservation is crucial.

COLD MORNING, PLEASANT AFTERNOON:

A weak short wave aloft will pass over the state today, but with no moisture, there is no chance of rain. Some Northeast Alabama communities were below freezing this morning (29 at Black Creek, 32 at Fort Payne), but we will see a high near 70 this afternoon with a partly sunny sky.

MID-WEEK:

Still dry. Mostly sunny days, fair nights tomorrow through Thursday. Expect low 70s tomorrow and Wednesday, followed by upper 70s Thursday. In fact, some spots could touch 80 degrees Thursday afternoon as the lack of soil moisture contributes to warmer afternoons.

HOPE FOR RAIN:

A major storm system will move through the Northern Plains Friday, with blizzard conditions developing over the Dakotas. A trailing cold front will approach Northwest Alabama Friday night, and a band of showers will enter the state. Unfortunately, moisture will be limited, and the primary dynamic support well to the north, so this won’t be any kind of “drought buster” or big rain event, but the chance of rain looks good for the northwest counties of the state, with amounts of one-quarter to one-half inch for cities like Florence and Hamilton.

Showers will thin out as the front works south and east. Amounts for places like Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Anniston and Gadsden will be under one-quarter inch, which won’t come close to making a dent in the drought. And those south of I-20 won’t see enough rain to measure, if they get any at all.

The main window for showers with the front will come from 10 p.m. Friday through 10 a.m. Saturday.

REST OF THE WEEKEND:

The sky becomes partly sunny Saturday afternoon with a high in the 60s, but Sunday will be windy and sharply colder behind the front; some places up in far North Alabama won’t get out of the 40s; other North Alabama communities will see a high in the low to mid 50s despite sunshine in full force. A north wind of 10-20 mph will make it feel colder. It will be the coldest air we have experienced so far this season.

A freeze is likely for most of North/Central Alabama by Monday morning.

FOOTBALL WEATHER:

For the high school football playoff games Friday night, rain is possible over the northwest corner of the state. Otherwise, clouds will increase with temperatures in the 60s.

Alabama will host Chattanooga Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium (6 p.m. kickoff). The sky will be mostly fair, with temperatures falling from 62 at kickoff through the 50s during the second half.

Auburn hosts Alabama A&M Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium (6:30 p.m. kickoff). Mostly fair, with temperatures falling into the 50s during the game.

THANKSGIVING WEEK:

No sign of badly needed rain next week; the week looks cool and dry for now for Alabama.

LONG RANGE:

Still encouraged to see the European ensemble showing a relatively wet December, with potential for more than 5 inches of rain.

chart

SUPERMOON:

The moon this morning is the closest full moon to Earth since 1948. We won’t see another supermoon like this until 2034. The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical, so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth, it is known as a supermoon. At perigee — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter, and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth.

So, be looking again tonight. Moonrise for Birmingham today is 5:19 p.m. The image below was taken this morning from Arizona by Scott McCown.

supermoon

AT THE BEACH:

Sunny days, fair nights on the coast through the weekend from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach, with highs generally in the 70s. See a detailed Gulf Coast forecast here.

TROPICS:

A disturbance in the western Caribbean has some chance of getting organized this week, but it will move northeast and won’t be an issue for the U.S.

WEATHER BRAINS:

You can listen to our weekly 90-minute netcast anytime on the web, or on iTunes. This is the show all about weather featuring many familiar voices, including meteorologists at ABC 33/40. We will produce this week’s show tonight at 8:30. You can watch it live here.

CONNECT:

You can find me on all of the major social networks:

Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
Instagram

For more weather news and information, visit AlabamaWX.

1
2 years ago

This Alabama city continues its tradition of the longest running Veterans Day parade

Carl A. Pinkert, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama, and Joan A. “Jody” Singer, deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, sign a Space Act Agreement.
Members of the 117th Air Refueling Wing participate in Birmingham's Veterans Day Parade. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by SMSgt Ken Johnson, 117th Air Refueling Wing)
Members of the 117th Air Refueling Wing participate in Birmingham’s Veterans Day Parade. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by SMSgt Ken Johnson, 117th Air Refueling Wing)

For nearly 70 years, Birmingham has honored veterans with its National Veterans Day Parade, the nation’s first and longest-running Veterans Day parade. This year’s parade kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Friday in downtown Birmingham. The following article, by Mike Oakley, longtime Master of Ceremonies for the parade and an Alabama Power employee, tells how Veterans Day and Birmingham’s prestigious event honoring veterans got their start

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., became a focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.

Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where unknown soldiers were buried in those nations’ highest places of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). All three internments took place on Nov. 11.

World War I had officially ended in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles, but fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). In November 1919 President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day – set aside to honor veterans of World War I.

A quarter century later, in 1945, the nation celebrated the end of a second world war – the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in U.S. history. A World War II veteran from Birmingham, Raymond Weeks, had an idea: to expand Armistice Day to honor all veterans.

veterans-day-layout-1a

veterans-day-layout-1b

In 1947 Weeks organized “National Veterans Day,” in his hometown, which included a parade and other festivities. Shortly afterwards he led a local delegation to Washington, urging then-Army Chief of Staff General Dwight Eisenhower to support a national holiday to honor all veterans.

U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas, inspired by the idea, introduced legislation to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill and President Eisenhower signed it, establishing November 11 as Veterans Day.

In 1982 President Reagan honored Weeks with the Presidential Citizenship Medal for being the driving force for the national holiday. Weeks, who led the first National Veterans Day Parade in Birmingham, continued the annual tradition until his passing in 1985.

After Weeks’ death, Bill Voigt became the executive director of the event, which continued to grow. In 2013, local businessman Mark Ryan succeeded Voight as director.

Ryan said the annual event wouldn’t be successful without the ongoing support of numerous volunteers, supporters and sponsors. The Alabama Power Foundation is among the event’s supporting organizations.

For more information about the National Veterans Day parade and related events, visit http://nationalveteransday.org/.

The 2016 version of the Birmingham Veterans Day Parade will have a special addition among its 4,000 participants.

The Budweiser Clydesdales prance into Birmingham today for a six-day stay in stables set up at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

The National Veterans Day Foundation arranged for the horses to come to the Magic City to march in the parade, which begins at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 at 18th Street and Eighth Avenue North.

veterans-day-layout-2

During their stay, the 10 rare Scottish-bred horses will be housed in stables at the parking lot at 22nd Street North and Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard by Uptown Park. The public can view the Clydesdales for free starting Nov. 10:

Nov. 10, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Nov. 11, 5-7 p.m.
Nov. 12, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Nov. 13, 2-5 p.m.

The Clydesdales are also set to make an appearance at the Riverchase Galleria at 10 a.m. on November 13.

“With Legacy Arena, the Concert Hall, vast exhibit space and the Uptown District, the BJCC embraces its role in contributing to the community’s entertainment and cultural experiences in so many different ways,” said BJCC Executive Director Tad Snider. “Now, thanks to the National Veterans Day Foundation, we feel fortunate to play a role in being able to offer Birmingham the opportunity to see the most famous horses in the world – the Budweiser Clydesdales.”

1
2 years ago

Alabama Secretary of State observes Russian elections, deploys sports celebs to boost voting at home

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, right, on the job as an observer in Russia's parliamentary elections. (John Merrill)
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, right, on the job as an observer in Russia's parliamentary elections. (John Merrill)
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, right, on the job as an observer in Russia’s parliamentary elections. (John Merrill)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has been pulling double-duty on elections of late.

Last Sunday he served as an international observer for Russia’s parliamentary elections. Next week, his office will unveil its latest celebrity public service announcement designed to encourage Alabamians to register and vote in November, featuring “The Round Mound of Rebound,” retired NBA superstar and television personality Charles Barkley.

Merrill observed the election process in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. The Russian national election – to select members of the Duma, the 450-seat lower house of Parliament – was a landslide victory for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russian party.

“We had unfiltered, unbridled access and could walk in unannounced. There were no incidents I saw where people were heavily influenced to support one party or candidate over another.”

russia-election-layout-1
russia-election-layout-2
russia-election-layout-3

Merrill said he observed various precincts, and watched later that night at a central location where votes were tallied.

One polling location “was a two-room schoolhouse with no running water and no indoor toilets,” Merrill said.

“The thing most interesting to me overall was I saw some of the most extravagant living environments I have ever been exposed to in my life. And I saw some of the most disadvantaged environments I’ve been exposed to in all my life.”

Merrill said he was the only elected official among the 50 or so American election observers. Why?

“It was a lot of work,” he surmised.

From the time he started observing at 7 a.m. until the next day’s follow-up surveys, Merrill said he worked 23 hours with a four-hour sleep break.

Sports figures and voting

Merrill’s office next week will launch new televised public service announcements and posters urging Alabamians to register to vote and bring a photo ID to the polls. The latest spot features Barkley, the former Auburn University and pro basketball star and current analyst for TNT’s studio show “Inside the NBA” with Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and host Ernie Johnson.

A recently released video spot by Merrill’s office enlisted Tuscaloosa native and current WBC heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder.

Last year, Merrill’s office tagged University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn to promote voter registration “because they’re the most recognizable people in Alabama,” Merrill said.

“This year, we wanted a couple of native Alabamians who can help us that are easily recognizable. One is the heavyweight champion of the world and the other is Charles Barkley.”

Merrill said the state had 2.8 million registered voters when he took office in January 2015, and now is just shy of 3.2 million.

“We’ve registered more voters in the last 18 months than we have in the history of the state of Alabama, and we have the highest number of registered voters in the history of Alabama,” he said.

Merrill said he didn’t know how much of the increase to attribute to using popular sports celebrities to get attention.

“I really don’t care whether it’s that, or the fact you can now register electronically or when you get your driver’s license or get it renewed,” Merrill said. “My goal is to ensure every eligible U.S. citizen who is an Alabama resident is registered to vote and has a valid photo ID.”

1