Transitioning transit

Columbia Transit is hoping that changes to the city’s bus routes will improve on-time performance and attract more riders.

The city agency has proposed a number of changes to the current bus routes. The changes announced in December could take effect as soon as June if approved by the City Council.

Bill would ban traffic light devices

JEFFERSON CITY — Imagine a device that would let you change a traffic light from green to red without even stopping. Traffic preemption emitter devices shoot infrared beams at traffic signals, causing the lights to cycle from green to red early. The devices are only intended for police and emergency personnel, but some Missouri lawmakers warn the devices can be purchased by anyone willing to shell out $300.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is one of four state lawmakers working to ban the general public from using the device.

Free speech isn’t just about talking

I seriously doubt that the framers of the Constitution could have envisioned the many and varied ways in which freedom of expression would manifest itself in the years that have followed its ratification. Hmm, let’s see, there’s rap music shattering the night as it erupts from car stereos, there are pornographic images readily available to be pasted on the screens of home computers and vulgar and offensive language pouring out across the airwaves day and night, just to name a few examples.

Janet Jackson’s episode of wardrobe malfunction during halftime activities at the Super Bowl was all the incentive needed to trigger dialogues about the decline of the country’s moral standards all across America. Within the first 24 hours following the incident, probably everybody who had an opinion on the subject had taken an opportunity to express it. Frankly, I see this as just another occasion for daily life to duplicate television by enabling everyday people to audition for spots on the world’s largest and most spectacular open-air talk show. Except for a few cosmetic changes, it’s doubtful that anything concrete will come out of all this discussion. If things proceed in their usual fashion, the people that think something’s broken will lack the power to fix it, and those that think everything is fine will continue to advance and test the limits.

Who may marry?

For Rep. Larry Morris, a Republican from Springfield, homosexuality was never discussed while growing up in a Baptist setting. It was considered something sinful, a way of life he still believes is wrong.

For Melissa Stevens, a 25-year-old medicine student from Springfield and also a Baptist, homosexuality was something she battled most of her life. At first she thought it was sinful, but has now embraced it as a part of her identity.

Lower temperatures increase business

While you might be cursing the cold, some local businesses are benefiting from this winter's frigid temperatures. The dramatic drop in temperatures has upped January sales for many retailers selling cold-weather items.

TV task force hears public-access plans

Columbia’s cable companies are promising to establish a “phase one” public-access cable channel within 60 days, but a city task force will continue evaluating three competing proposals for a permanent channel.

The “phase one” channel would air for a trial period before the city council would decide to construct a permanent studio, according to the proposal put before the task force.

Valentine’s veterans

The curtains are closed and the lights are off. After what one of Columbia’s local romance emporiums calls the “busiest day of the year,” a tired owner closes shop.It’s been 24 hours since the last hurried inquiry for Valentine’s Day flowers was made. All day long, the staff at Kent’s Floral Gallery and Gifts filled requests ranging from the mundane ( a dozen roses) to the exotic (a serenading Elvis impersonator) for its customers.

The name game: MSU vs. SMSU

Since the state’s legislative session began last month, hardly a day has passed when there hasn’t been a squabble — or a full-blown filibuster — about whether Southwest Missouri State University should be allowed to change its name to Missouri State University.

Those who support dropping “Southwest” from the name say it represents SMSU’s progress over the past 15 years, from a regional school in Springfield to one with statewide appeal. Those who oppose it say SMSU is trying to cash in on MU’s heritage and state money.

Cow runs loose on College Avenue

Columbia police were called to College Avenue on Saturday afternoon to quarantine a cow that had made its way onto the road. Police said the black cow was spotted heading south on the road.

Joseph Fischer, who witnessed the incident, said he saw the cow go up a hill next to a ravine and witnessed two people whistling at the animal in an attempt to get it into a trailer on the back of a truck.

Satellites try thinking local

Brent Gardner enjoys watching MU basketball games. But because he subscribed to satellite TV instead of the local cable company, he couldn’t watch games aired on local channels. So, Gardner recently decided to subscribe to basic cable in addition to his satellite service from DirecTV.

Otherwise, he said, “I’d go to a sports bar or a friend’s house.”

Roadway frustrates residents

For frustrated residents of Brushwood Lake Road, wet concrete flowing out of a mixer Friday was a sight for sore eyes.

Local contractors have worked for months through persistent cold weather to construct a box culvert under the north section of the road, which crosses Hinkson Creek. All the while, residents have been forced to make a long, dangerously icy detour when traveling to and from their homes.

Decades of devotion

Mary and Bill Russell part with a hug and a kiss. She’ll be gone less than 12 hours, but for Bill each moment without her seems more permanent.

Bill waves goodbye and already misses her when he returns to their apartment at the Tiger Columns. They’ve never been separated for long.

Drawing a blank not much fun

It’s never happened to me before. And I never want it to happen again. Every week when I sit down to write this column, I have an idea or two as to what topic I will write about. But last week when I sat down at 5 a.m. (my usual time to begin writing), my mind went blank. I wasn’t worried, though. The coffee wasn’t quite ready, and I still had to go through my morning ritual of checking my e-mail.

After deleting about 75 spams and the 10 or so “jokes” sent by friends who have too much time on their hands, I played a couple of games of my new obsession, Solitaire 13. By then the coffee was ready, so I went to the kitchen and poured myself a cup. The morning paper had arrived, so I brought it from the front porch and sat in the kitchen and read the headlines.

Living in the presence of Swami

Dr. Ravi Kamath calls a pair of sandals his prized possession. This from a man who drives a Jaguar, owns a two-story home and has a parking spot marked “Trauma Surgeon Parking Only.”

The sandals, called paduka, were worn by the Swami Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a holy man in India who Kamath and other followers consider an avatar, an incarnation of God. They call him Sai Baba or simply Swami.

Downtown canopies may be removed

Change is only a few mouse clicks away for those who consider the cement canopies in downtown Columbia an eyesore.

Chris Davis of Peckham & Wright Architects Inc. has photographed the stretch of businesses on the south side of Broadway and will digitally remove the canopies and add trees, streetlights and canvas awnings similar to the ones adorning the buildings on Ninth Street.

A labor for love

Conor Malaney leaves his job smelling like roses, but the cuts and scratches on his hands tell a different story. The 18-year-old is one of Valentine’s Day’s unknown heroes.

Malaney, a senior at Hickman High School, is among many part-time workers hired by florists around town to perform the not so glamorous, yet important, task of dethorning roses.

Report tweaks school funding

JEFFERSON CITY — A joint legislative committee has adopted a philosophy — but not a mechanism — for funding Missouri public schools.

The Joint Committee on Education Funding approved a report saying that future state aid distribution should be done on the basis of “student need.”

MLK park to receive upgrades

New Century Fund Inc. set out to raise $100,000 to restore Columbia’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. After surpassing that goal, it is now trying to determine what to do with the extra money.

The Parks and Recreation Department met with the project committee and the New Century Fund directors Thursday night at the Activity and Recreation Center to discuss possible plans for landscaping, lighting, and curbing in the areas of the MKT Trail surrounding the memorial.

Rock, water & microbes. . .but no people on Mars, yet

The extraordinary successes of the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have captured the imaginations of Missourians, including one who has played a major role in previous space explorations.

Charles Gehrke is a former MU professor and scientist who was commissioned by NASA to analyze rocks gathered during the Apollo moon missions. He sees the potential for the rovers to detect the microscopic life on Mars that he never found on the moon.

Missourian makes his mark

For Charles Gehrke, a single photograph represents a high point in his scientific career. The picture shows Gehrke, 30 years younger, smiling and wearing a lab coat. In his white-gloved hands he holds a test tube, which holds a tiny piece of the moon.

In the 1960s, Gehrke was working for the MU School of Agriculture, where he was using a process called gas chromatography to analyze soil samples. Gas chromatography is used to determine if amino acids are present in a substance.