Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday after Thanksgiving marks beginning of Advent

The Christmas decorations came down from the attic Saturday, a rainy, dreary day that seemed prescribed for indoor tasks and needing the antidote of joyful, memory-filled decorations. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the long prelude to the 12-day Christmas season. Scripture readings will be all about anticipation and eagerness.
Retailers, worried about an economic downturn and a tightening of consumers' wallets, are far out ahead of these four Sundays before Christmas. Decorations and Christmas accessories have filled store aisles for weeks, some of the merchandise preceding even Halloween. This year's late Thanksgiving — Nov. 27 — made retailers' concerns more urgent than ever.
Advent gets lost in the annual rush from Oct. 31 to Dec. 25. There are decorations to be displayed, shopping to be done, cakes and cookies to be baked, plans to be made, and a whirlwind of activities that give us no time to slow down and reflect. An observance of Advent, through something as simple as an Advent calendar or lighting an Advent wreath at home, can help slow down the mad rush toward Christmas, even if just for a few moments.
The hymns of the season — "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Prepare the Royal Highway," "Hark the Glad Sound," "All Earth is Hopeful" and the rest — rein in the joyful celebrations found in Christmas carols and provide a spiritual reflection needed this time of year. When Christmas comes at last, its joyousness stands in contrast to the reflective meditation of Advent.
At my house, the decorations will go up gradually. Over three decades-plus, my wife and I (mostly she) have collected a range of Christmas paraphernalia that will be scattered throughout the house. A tree from the Optimist lot will be carefully placed and decorated with items collected along our journey through life. These include keepsakes from places we've lived, places we've visited and people we've known. Another tree will hold my wife's collection of angels. This recent addition to our Christmas decor evolved as her angel collection became too much for our single tree.
Unlike some people, who haul their tree to the curb by nightfall Dec. 25, we'll keep our house decorated through the 12 days of Christmas, removing decorations only on or after Epiphany, Jan. 6.
On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, Advent has begun, and Christmas lies ahead. Let us pause, reflect and meditate before it arrives.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday shopping turns ugly

Each year at this time we are provided a new testimonial to excess, otherwise known as Black Friday shopping. The Wilson Daily Times chronicled people who got in line shortly after midnight for predawn store openings. These people wanted to be sure to be first to get the limited-quantity early-bird specials. The Associated Press reported that a Wal-Mart employee in New York was trampled to death by overly eager shoppers. What has happened to sane judgment?
While the world suffers through its deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, shoppers on Friday were lining up to buy discounted flat-screen TVs at around $1,000 a pop, computers for several hundred dollars and navigation units in the hundreds of dollars. These same shoppers were complaining about the economy and about not having as much to spend this year.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the coming New Frugality, a potential return to the tight-fisted regimen our parents and grandparents knew in the Great Depression. I guess it hasn't arrived yet.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Violence in Mumbai worse than economic crisis

Wednesday's coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, are a reminder that the world has more to worry about than the global economy, and we Americans have more to worry about than the state of our 401(k) accounts.
Today's reports indicate that no one is sure just who is responsible for these attacks, but they appear to be directed by Islamic radicals, and they are frighteningly well-organized and carried out. In attacking Mumbai, the terrorists singled out Western tourists and business people working in the heart of India's toehold on the global economy and also India's economic modernization itself. Like the Taliban and al-Qaida, these terrorists want to turn back the calendar to about the seventh century, a time when tribal elders dictated trade policies, women were subservient and covered up, and modern values, ranging from democracy to live-and-let-live moral standards, were unknown or forbidden.
The attacks also are an affirmation that no place is safe. Although India has a long history of political violence, these attacks targeted upscale Western hotels, where tourists and business travelers had every reason to feel safe. They also tellingly targeted a Jewish center —  a target that points the blame at Islamic radicals.
Wednesday's attacks reassert the axiom that no country can sit on the sidelines while Islamic radicals strive to bring down world markets, democratic institutions and the safety and security of travelers. The radicals want a new worldwide theocracy that will eliminate most of the freedoms achieved in the West since the Reformation and the Enlightenment. There are no "unaligned nations" in this battle, and no nation or nationality is safe. Nations that tolerate or harbor these terrorists, including Iran, Syria and Pakistan, must be penalized. They must be excluded from the world of civilized countries and from global trade and travel. Nations, such as Afghanistan, that host radical organizations while battling against them must be aided in their efforts to oust or capture the militants. Only coordinated global efforts, not some unilateral invasion or cruise missile strike, can succeed against the worldwide threat to civilization.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New policy will regulate comments

No, I will not allow this blog to devolve into the new version of the Wilson Times now-canceled Forum. That venue was canceled for a reason: It had become nothing more than a gripe bulletin board for a handful of malcontents who liked nothing better than deriding their community and all who occupy it. I  had nothing to do with the decision to cancel the Forum, but I believe it was the right decision.
I won't let this blog descend to that gutter. Apparently some refugees from the Forum had migrated to this blog and were continuing their negative, hateful remarks here. I won't allow it. Therefore, I have changed the settings regulating comments. You can still make comments anonymously, but all comments will be vetted through me before posting. Therefore, you can write all the personal attacks and insults you want — they just won't be posted on this site.
I do welcome and encourage anyone who wants to comment on the topics I raise.

Much to be thankful for

Thanksgiving Day arrives with an obligation to be thankful for all that we have, and I can affirm that I have much to be thankful for. I am grateful for family and friends, for good health, for the quiet harmony of a long marriage, for grandchildren, for a home that truly feels like home, for adequate food to eat, for a future to look forward to.
But for the first time in nearly 30 years, I can't be thankful for work. For the second Thanksgiving since graduating from college, I find myself unemployed. In 1979, I had just resigned from editing a newspaper in Virginia. I had assigned a reporter to get the goods on a local politician who was rumored to be corrupt. He got the story. The attorneys okayed it. The publisher killed it. He and I resigned in protest. Three weeks later, it was Thanksgiving, and I had no job. Looking back, that holiday does not seem particularly eventful. We traveled for a big gathering of my wife's family. I do not recall being particularly anxious about my unemployment, although I had three small children and a wife who stayed home with them (putting three kids in day care would have been a fiscal negative). I picked up some work helping out at a couple of small newspapers who could use my services. Today, we'd call that consulting, but I never used the term. It was just a way to bring in some money until I found a permanent job.
That permanent job came as an offer to be managing editor at The Wilson Daily Times. It looked like a job I could stick with for a lifetime. It looked like a good town, a good place to raise children, as then-editor John Scott told me. So I planted roots here, expecting to retire, perhaps even do some work in retirement for the paper, take on a title of editor emeritus. And for a long time, that looked like a good plan. It was not a lack of ambition that  kept me at a small daily. I had opportunities to go elsewhere, to climb the ladder at metropolitan  dailies, but I was satisfied at the Daily Times. My wife and children were satisfied with Wilson, and so I settled in.
Being laid off from the Daily Times before the age of 60 was not part of the plan, but here I am. Just as happened 29 years ago, I don't feel particularly anxious about finances. My seven-week job search has not been fruitful, but I feel an inexplicable confidence that this situation will resolve itself, that it will all work out. "All things work for good for those who love God," I've been reminded frequently. I will continue to check job listings and pigeonhole anyone I can about a job, but on this Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for, even if a steady job is not one of them.

Will president-elect influence fashions?

We have entered the Age of Speculation, that time between the election of a new president and the inauguration. The news media are full of speculation — and some actual news on the matter. What will the Obama administration do about the economy, Iraq, Iran, Detroit, etc.? What kind of White House puppy will be Obama girls get? What impact will Michelle Obama have on policy, parenting and fashion?
Here's another speculative question: What impact might the new president have on fashion? The question is more significant than the then-revolutionary preference of John F. Kennedy to go hatless. Kennedy's dislike of hats was the death knell of the fedora, pork-pie, bowler, top hat and all the rest that were a standard part of the male wardrobe until the 1960s.
I'm eager to see what impact Obama will have on the fashion tastes of African-American boys and young men. Obama's fashion sense is 180 degrees from the gangsta-influenced saggy pants, gold chains, backward caps and oversized T-shirts of the rappers, pimps and drug dealers who have led African-American fashions for the past generation. Obama's style is the epitome of conservative, Ivy League, business professional. His dark, two-button suits, white dress shirts and neat ties proclaim successful, confident, respectful, traditional, modern. His neatly trimmed hair and his trim, athletic body also make a statement about his priorities. It is impossible to imagine Obama dressed in saggy pants with the waistline below his buttocks, showing off his boxer shorts, a cockeyed cap on his head, and a baggy dark hooded sweatshirt adorned with gold chains.
This fashion style originated by musicians and emulated by many professional athletes (but not, notably, Tiger Woods) has dominated black fashions, likely because many young black males saw rappers and basketball stars as their only successful role models. But his election Nov. 4 makes Barack Obama by far the most successful black role model in the country, perhaps in the world. And he is, by any definition, a role model, succeeding against the odds to earn an Ivy League degree and a Harvard Law diploma. His astoundingly rapid political rise culminated in an election that many see as revolutionary. If young black men — or young white men, for that matter — want a role model and mentor, Obama should be the one.
The first indicator of how successful Obama will be in turning the "angry black male" attitude into "yes we can" confidence might lie in how quickly, if at all, young blacks eschew the rapper/pimp style for presidential fashions.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Raleigh editor gives Wilson arts a plug

News & Observer executive editor John Drescher's front-page column today is ostensibly about the impact of N&O photographs, but it also gives a huge plug to Wilson as an arts community. Drescher quotes Burk Uzzle, a former N&O photographer who went on to work for Life magazine and establish a legend as a photographer, about Wilson. Uzzle, who only recently moved to Wilson, tells Drescher, "I keep turning up people who are active in the art world here. It's a great place to live. I just love it."
Wilson has welcomed Uzzle to the community. I attended a reception welcoming Uzzle to Wilson, and his photos are now on exhibit at Barton College's galleries. I have not been to see the exhibit, which also includes the work of other photographers, but I hope to make it this week.
And now the editor in Raleigh has taken notice and given Wilson a nice promotion.
Several months ago, Lindsey de Guehery, a Wilson physician, suggested in a letter to the editor that Wilson promote itself as The City of the Arts. (Don't bother looking for this letter in the Wilson Times online archive; I just did, and I couldn't find it.) As opinion editor at the time, I endorsed the idea, but Wilson's claim to such a lofty title seems endangered now. The last two theatrical productions in Wilson — Barton College's "Crucible" and Wilson Playhouse's "Christmas Belles" — were not reviewed by the local newspaper. The Edna Boykin Cultural Center, venue for most live performances in Wilson, is closed for ceiling and roof repairs. Unless the repairs are done quickly, the 2009 Theater of the American South festival could be jeopardized. Wilson has a plethora of visual artists, such as Oona Lewis, Keve Clayton, Vollis Simpson, Mark Gordon, J. Chris Wilson and dozens more, but these people who give this old tobacco and agriculture community a patina of beauty and sophistication get little recognition in their own town.
Wilson has a vibrant arts community that can set this town apart. Too bad that, like a biblical prophet in his own town, these artists don't get much local respect or recognition.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wilson's Cultural Center needs repairs now

Playhouse's production of "Christmas Belles" was performed over the weekend at the DelMastro Auditorium at Wilson Community College. Although the Thursday night crowd (when I attended) was respectable and appreciative, the college auditorium lacked the ambiance and the capabilities of the Edna Boykin Cultural Center, where Playhouse usually stages its productions.
The ceiling in the city-owned 90-year-old theater is sagging and needs extensive repairs. Concerts, plays and other events slated for the Boykin Center have been moved or rescheduled. The latest, unofficial word I heard was that it could be months, even up to a year, before the Boykin Center is ready for showtime again. A delay of that duration would deal a serious blow to entertainment in Wilson.
Even six months of delay would jeopardize the Theater of the American South, scheduled at the end of May. Moving TOTAS to another location would break the theater festival's continuity and its focus on Wilson's historic downtown. TOTAS, in its third year, has begun to develop a strong fan base and attract patrons from other cities. Wilson businesses and individuals have supported the festival financially. Founding director Gary Cole exudes his love and appreciation for Wilson, but this festival could go anywhere in the region. And plenty of cities would love to be known as home to Theater of the American South.
Wilson officials had better get on the ball and finish the repairs to the Boykin Center — and do so while retaining the 1920s charm of its plaster work on walls and ceiling. Wilson's claim as a host of vibrant theater and performing arts is in danger, and the two decades it took to restore the theater initially, could be lost.

Forty-five years ago still reverberates

Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That number of years — 45 — still astounds me. The most significant world event in the first half of my lifetime is being relegated to near-ancient history. Most Americans alive today do not remember the assassination — a fact emphasized to me by an offhand comment I made while teaching a college journalism class some 20 years ago. I was talking about the importance of big news events. "You remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the Kennedy assassination ... ," I began, and was greeted with blank stares. Finally one student explained, "We were born in, like, 1965." Suddenly, I felt old.
Today's mantra is that you remember where you were and what you were doing Sept. 11, 2001.
That day in Dallas just doesn't seem so long ago. On the 10th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I was working in Washington, D.C. While living in the area, I visited the Kennedy grave at Arlington. On the 20th anniversary, I pulled out my old color slide I had taken of the Kennedy grave with the Capitol in the distant background and published it (a rare front-page color photo) in the newspaper. The 30th and 40th anniversaries were less memorable.
On this 45th anniversary of the destruction of the dream Kennedy embodied, we have elected a man who is too young to remember the Kennedy assassination. Many comparisons have been made between Kennedy and Barack Obama. Both men have inspired youthful followers. But despite all the youthful exuberance Obama embodies, he is four years older than Kennedy was when elected. He is older than Kennedy was when JFK was assassinated.
My generation was set adrift by an assassin's bullet, never again to trust wholeheartedly in an elected official, never again to believe that individuals can change the world, never again to think of politics as a noble calling. The aura of martyrdom has inflated the Kennedy mystique and has obscured his failings, the same phenomenon that turned Lincoln into the embodiment of all things positive about America. But an objective analysis of Kennedy's presidency has to admit that much was lost that long-ago day in Dallas. He had inspired the Peace Corps, endured weekly press conferences to speak directly to the public (and spar with the press), used self-deprecating humor to disarm critics, initiated civil rights legislation, pushed for Medicare, set America on the path to the moon and armed the baby boom generation with principles and causes.
As Nov. 22, 1963, fades into the distant past, its impact on America's future will never diminish. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

What's good for GM is good for newspapers

Congress snubbed Detroit's automakers Thursday. The Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) want billions in taxpayer money to prevent a collapse of the industry and the loss of millions of jobs. Detroit will be back later with a new proposal for bailing out the industry, but Congress doesn't seem particularly sympathetic toward the industry that once ruled America.
Congress has appropriated $750 billion to bail out the finance industry (banks, brokerages and others), but the infusion of cash with a promise of more to come has done little to reassure investors or to restore credit.
Everyone has his hand out in this financial crisis. Has Congress considered bailing out the newspaper business? Seriously.  Newspapers are facing the worst crisis since they were reporting the Civil War. Readers are fleeing to the Internet and other media. Advertisers are pulling back. Web sites such as e-Bay and Craigslist are killing classified advertising. As a result, journalists are being snuffed out like fleas in a flea dip. McClatchy newspapers, which boldly bought the troubled Knight-Ridder chain, has had to cut payroll and pages at all of its newspapers to make debt payments on its loan. Newspapers are offering buyouts. Great newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post are getting rid of reporters and editors. The Charleston Post and Courier has shed dozens of people with buyouts. The Greensboro News & Record has offered buyouts to everyone on the staff. I can certify that even small newspapers are being hurt. I am one of five people (so far) laid off by The Wilson Daily Times. News coverage is being curtailed.
The Founding Fathers thought enough of newspapers to write the First Amendment, which guarantees that government will not interfere in the operations of the press. Shouldn't the current Congress care enough about whether constituents are informed about important issues to provide a small incentive to newspapers that keep news staff on board or hire additional journalists or maintain the number of news stories they publish at pre-collapse levels? Perhaps a tax credit for the hiring or retention of reporters and editors or a credit for the purchase of newsprint and ink. 
If banks, brokerages, insurance companies and automakers get a government handout, why not newspapers?

A rare snowfall before Thanksgiving

Here it is Nov. 21, and I'm watching out the window as snowflakes fall in eastern North Carolina. This whole week has been a chiller. Overnight temperatures in the 30s or below and brisk winds left residents shivering only days after balmy temperatures in the 60s. The cold weather has killed the impatiens and other warm-weather plants in our yard and has brought the feel of winter earlier than in most recent years.
Today's snow shows no sign of sticking. The ground, despite Thursday's chilly temperatures, is much too warm to support frozen precipitation. Nevertheless, this must be the earliest real snow that Wilson has seen in some years. A few snowflakes swirled in the chilled wind Tuesday, but today's snow is more persistent and pervasive. It gives hope that eastern North Carolina might have its first real snow in years. The past two years were busts for snow fans around here.
Eastern North Carolina gets little snow, but one or two measurable snowfalls had been the par for a number of years. The past couple of years have not lived up to tradition. The last really good snow with a blanket of white over the landscape was Dec. 26, 2004, if I remember correctly. It was a beautiful snowfall, and most of it melted by the end of the day. That's the kind of snowfall I like.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Secretary of State Clinton rings hollow

Rumors out of the Obama transition say that the president-elect has offered the post of secretary of state to his former chief rival, Hillary Clinton. This offer must make sense at some level, but it's difficult to see how this appointment benefits Obama or Clinton.
You'll  remember that during the Democratic primary campaign, Clinton's claims of foreign policy expertise were ridiculed. Yes, she accompanied her husband on trips around the world and made a few trips without him. She met some heads of state. But, truth be told, she had no official capacity or authority. She didn't negotiate any treaties or referee any international disputes. And as for coming under "sniper fire" in Bosnia, well ... let's just say that lying is not an asset for a diplomat. Clinton's sometimes abrasive and divisive style seems ill-suited to the task of sensitive diplomacy.
She did serve more than one term in the Senate, and any senator warrants some foreign policy expertise, but there are other senators with far more foreign policy experience (Richard Lugar comes to mind). And there are other well-qualified candidates for secretary of state. Back before the Democratic presidential field dwindled down to two, I wrote that Bill Richardson, a former senator, diplomat and governor, was probably the most experienced candidate in the field. Richardson still looks like the most qualified candidate for secretary of state.
But in politics, experience and qualifications aren't everything. Perhaps Obama and Richardson don't get along. Perhaps there's something about Richardson's personality that makes him ill-suited to being secretary of state.
The unofficial, semi-public offer to Clinton may be a shrewd ploy by the Obama people to disarm any lingering ill will among the Clinton enthusiasts against Obama. He may be betting that she won't take the job, but because the offer has been made public via the rumor mill, it will be her decision, not his. Clinton might recognize that she can do far more in the Senate as, essentially, her own boss than she can as implementer of Obama's policy. She has won kudos for her work in the Senate, and she has proven her electability. That is probably more valuable to her than an appointment as secretary of state, a stressful, burdensome job with no real political future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Separate and unequal high schools

Can the Wilson County Board of Education get away with leaving two high schools overcrowded while the third county high school has vacant space? Perhaps it can.
The board voted this week to leave high school attendance zones alone. Those current attendance lines, along with explosive growth in the north and west of the county have left Fike and Hunt high schools overcrowded while Beddingfield, in the southeastern part of the county, dwindles in enrollment. Because of these disparities, Hunt and Fike will remain 3-A schools for athletic competition while Beddingfield drops to 2-A. The Beddingfield supporters who have long complained that their school is treated like a despised stepchild are seeing their complaints validified. Beddingfield will be second-class in enrollment and athletic standing regardless of its academic and other achievements.
The biggest problem with the board's refusal to shift attendance lines to even up high school populations is the waste of taxpayer money. At Beddingfield, where space is under-utilized, money is wasted on space (brick and mortar) that is not being adequately used. At Fike and Hunt, temporary classrooms and overcrowded buildings will cost taxpayers money. Rather than making optimal use of space at all three high schools, the school board has decided it's better and politically safer to waste space here and add space there. Only Eunice Lindsey voted against keeping the current high school lines.
Unless Wilson County voters rise up indignantly over this poor stewardship of the public's money, the lines will not change. And since most parents seem to prefer keeping the Fike and Hunt lines as they are, the waste of tax money doesn't seem to bother them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Discussion of theology brings out a crowd

It's not often that discussions on religion pack the house. Theologian Marcus J. Borg packed Barton College's Howard Chapel Monday night and delivered a profound and enlightening lecture, peppered with humor, on what it means to be a Christian.
The gist of Borg's lecture was that Christianity is not about salvation, which is how most Christians view their faith. Rather, he said, Jesus' message — and the message of Paul — was about the Kingdom of God (or, in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven). What does this mysterious term mean? Borg makes a convincing argument that Jesus and Paul saw the Kingdom of God as not some spiritual afterlife but rather the reign of God on Earth brought about through the actions of the faithful. I have not read his "The Heart of Christianity," but after hearing him speak last night, I want to read it.
Perhaps more interesting than Borg's liberal theological viewpoint is the fact that a religious lecture could attract such a large crowd. About two-thirds of those present last night had also attended Borg's afternoon lecture. Both were part of the Allan R. Sharp lecture series. Many in the audience last night were Barton students in the religion and philosophy department. Many others were Disciples of Christ ministers. Many others were merely Christian lay people who find such heavy topics challenging and stimulating. If there is an audience for such discussions — and Borg proved there was — then there is hope yet for intellectual pursuits, the most challenging of which is understanding mankind's relationship to God.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Status of Forces Agreement: It all depends

Two years ago, it was the issue in the presidential campaign. Now it's an afterthought, an inside-the-A-section story. Iraq, where the United States is spending $10 billion or so a month, has dropped out of view and was a minor issue in the presidential campaign.
Iraq's Cabinet has now approved a Status of Forces Agreement that calls for removing U.S. troops from Iraqi cities next summer and have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011. President-elect Barack Obama made Iraq the centerpiece of his early campaign, but it's no longer at the top of his agenda. The global financial crisis has taken over as the only issue that matters.
Despite the agreement negotiated by the Bush administration, which nearly matches Obama's own intentions to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as quickly and carefully as possible, I'm not convinced that the withdrawal plan will work. It depends largely on Iraqi troops' ability to maintain security without U.S. support, and it depends on Iraqi politicians' ability to set aside sectarian differences and compromise for the common good. That's a concept unfamiliar to Iraq's spiteful sects.
If neighborhood security fails when U.S. troops pull out of Iraqi cities, the whole deal could fall apart. Obama wants U.S. troops out of Iraq for myriad reasons, not the least of which is his plan to use the money wasted in Iraq to bolster his domestic agenda. But he's smart enough to know that he can't afford to pull troops out if they are leaving behind a chaotic, dysfunctional government.
Unless Iraqi troops step up and prove they can keep Shi'ite and Sunni militias at bay, and unless Iraqi politicians can put aside their generations-old differences and compromise for the common good, this Status of Forces Agreement will be a useless document.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No lazy afternoons while leaves are falling

The words I had not heard in months, maybe years, came back to me this afternoon: "Lazy day, Sunday afternoon, got to put your feet up, watch TV ... ." They were from a song by the Moody Blues, a favorite musical group from my college years. Sunday afternoons truly could be lazy in those days, but this afternoon was anything but lazy for me.
After three days of rain and winds, my yard was carpeted in a fresh coat of fallen leaves. I spent a couple of hours blowing and raking leaves and didn't come near finishing the job. I'll be back at it, perhaps tomorrow, in the hope of getting ahead of the leaves' rate of fall. The rain and wind, which a few miles away sparked a deadly tornado, ripped most of the leaves from the trees in my neighborhood.
This afternoon's symphony was Leaf Blowers in F Sharp. The drone of the blowers, some seen and some only heard, choreographed the dance of the homeowners who were out on a brisk Sunday afternoon to push the layers of leaves into mounds and piles. While the leaf blowers roared, some people chose to clear the leaves away with rakes, a slower, quieter method that also requires greater muscle power and provides a bit of aerobic exercise. I was one who used both a blower (a slightly quieter and less powerful electric model) and a rake.
Leaf-raking time is as much a part of fall as leaf-peeping, the search for exquisite vistas for viewing colorful autumn leaves. In places like college campuses, where shade trees are plentiful and lawns are broad, leaf season requires considerable labor and specialized machines. One tradition of this season is missing. Fire regulations and city laws forbid the burning of leaves, which produces an intoxicating aroma that once was as indicative of fall as the scent of daffodils was a sign of spring. Only on rare occasions can one catch a whiff of burning leaves, and that, too often, is the result of a dangerous brush fire.
For most homeowners, this season requires blowing or raking leaves and dragging them to the curb for pickup, where they will become mulch somewhere. Until the leaves stop falling, there will be no "lazy" Sunday afernoons.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thunderstorm was more than an annoyance

I dragged myself out of bed sometime this morning after our thunderstorm alarm went off. Our thunderstorm alarm is a furry, four-legged chow-border collie mix who hates thunderstorms. She tries to scare them away by barking louder than the thunder sounds. She still hasn't figured out that it doesn't work.
I got out of bed, probably sometime around 3:30, let the dog out, turned off the computer and crawled back into bed.
It was not until mid-morning that I heard that the thunderstorms that passed by my home caused tremendous damage and killed two people between Kenly and Elm City. Spectacular photos are on the Wilson Times Web site. That's the strange thing about tornadoes. One spot can be tragically dangerous while a spot a block away is unscathed. Less than a mile from my home, the storm took the roof off a commercial building and snapped telephone poles. What was an annoyance for me was a tragedy for families not far away.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two years of my writing is lost in cyberspace

It appears that my former employer has taken down my old blog from Google's Blogger site. I had included a link to the old blog in my Erstwhile Editor profile, but I will correct that now. My former employer had already removed the link between the Wilson Times Web site and my old blog but had not erased the blog itself, which could still be accessed through its blogspot address. But no more. When I checked on the old blog Thursday, I found it was no longer there.
I find myself powerless to do anything about this, of course. I do wonder what benefit there could have been in eliminating my old blog, which had about two years of posts on all manner of subjects. I blogged, as my employer had directed me to do, nearly every single day. I had occasionally referred back to an old blog or reread one on a particular topic. Now that's no longer possible. That writing no longer exists.
I can't say I'm surprised to have that link broken. I just wonder why anyone felt it necessary to get rid of what I had written day after day for two years.

Detroit wants your business, and your taxes

Members of Congress are eager to toss another $25 billion to the U.S. automotive industry, and industry sources are saying the money can't come too soon. Some are predicting that at least one of the Big Three automakers might not last until the Obama administration, which has supported a Detroit bailout, takes office. The New York Times is reporting today that Democrats supporting the bailout might not have the votes in the lame-duck session to salvage Detroit. Conditions in the automotive industry are dire, with billions of dollars in losses in the last quarter. The News & Observer is reporting that a collapse in Detroit will ripple through North Carolina's automotive supply industry.
But not everyone is in favor of sending taxpayer money to Detroit automakers who have failed miserably to innovate, upgrade or respond to consumer interests. By almost any measure, the Big Three have failed to be competitive with leaner, more innovative and more responsive Japanese and Korean automakers. Detroit is in this mess in large measure because it insisted on maximizing profits by producing huge, heavy, gas-guzzling SUVs. Other factors, such as labor costs, union restrictions, retiree health care and pension costs, play a role, but, fundamentally, Detroit has missed the boat on how to thrive as 21st century automakers. Japanese automakers are building quality cars successfully and economically in U.S. factories, so it's not just the American labor market that's the problem. Detroit trails in quality of construction, consumer comfort and satisfaction and reliability.
Full disclosure: I drive a 14-year-old Japanese-made car, and my wife drives a 7-year-old car made in America by a Japanese company. The two vehicles combined have more than 200,000 miles on them and remain reliable.
A bankruptcy by GM or Chrysler or Ford would ripple through the economy. Automobile manufacturing is one of the last heavy industries left in America. It would be painful. The question for Congress is whether the pain of bankruptcy would be worse than the pain of having taxpayers subsidize the poor decision-making of Detroit's management. One thing taxpayer dollars should definitely not do is accommodate a merger between GM and Chrysler, which has been openly discussed. The proposal is idiotic. Combining two losing companies does not create a winner; it creates an even bigger loser.
Both GM and Ford have new products in the pipeline that could make the companies more competitive. GM's Volt plug-in electric car is especially promising, if the engineering problems can be resolved. But unless the culture changes in Detroit board rooms, these new products, with or without taxpayer subsidies, will not turn the behemoths around. 
Detroit claimed to have learned its lesson in the aftermath of the disastrous oil shocks of the late 1970s, when its giant road hogs were driven from the market by smaller, more efficient vehicles designed to compete against Japanese and European cars. But Detroit quickly shifted to the manufacture of SUVs, taking advantage of Congress' exemption from mileage standards of "small trucks," which conveniently included big, gas-thirsty SUVs.
A bailout of the Big Three might be in the long-term best interests of the country, just as the 1979 loan guarantee for Chrysler proved to be a wise investment, but I'm not convinced yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New era debuts for Barton dramatics

The Adam Twiss era began at Barton College last night with a preview production of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." If anyone needed any additional affirmation that Theatre at Barton's future is bright, it was obvious Wednesday night before an audience of invited guests.
Twiss, formerly of Raleigh's Theatre in the Park, put his own mark on Barton's makeshift venue, Howard Chapel, extending the stage into the audience and using every part of the venerable chapel for his production. Outside the chapel, just a few dozen feet away, the Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre was taking shape. The steel superstructure of the black-box theater is in place with the lobby space easily discernible facing the campus green and the chapel. Fund-raising for the theater continues, but it's obvious that the theater will become a reality, allowing Twiss and Theatre at Barton to move out of the chapel into a more suitable space.
"The Crucible" showed what the Barton playmakers can do even with the handicaps of a space not made for dramatic productions. Twiss brought in two "ringers" for this production — Eric Carl and David McClutchey — who gave powerful performances in key roles. But these two pros were nearly matched by a Barton freshman, Wesley Pridgen, who is not even a theatre major (he lists studio art). Pridgen, as central character John Proctor, acquitted himself well in a demanding role that required a range off emotions from anger to guilt. The rest of the cast of students from a wide range of majors (conveniently listed in the program) did very well in putting on Miller's frightening and wrenching drama.
Overall, it's a promising debut for the new director and an affirmation of Barton's tradition of theatrical quality. Bob Wagner, the former theater director who left Barton to promote motorcycle safety, was on hand to see his successor's debut. It was Wagner who had originally scheduled "The Crucible."
Miller's 1953 Tony Award-winning drama was meant to teach a lesson about the intolerance of the Red Scare era, but watching the play Wednesday night, I couldn't help but see the parallels with the Edenton Little Rascals child molestation case of the 1980s. The witchcraft accusations of the 1600s were little different and no more credible than the child molestation accusations of the 1980s. And the courts of our modern era, initially at least, were no less credulous and gullible.
Wednesday night's reception to welcome Twiss and the preview performance give assurance that Barton's (and Wilson's) strong theatrical tradition remains secure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day draws a crowd

On this Veterans Day, the 90th year since the Armistice was signed to end The War to End All Wars, the crowd at the Wilson County Courthouse was unusually large. Perhaps it was because the 90th anniversary constitutes a memorable mark. Perhaps it was the two wars that are under way this Veterans Day. Perhaps it was the imminent change in administrations. But more likely the crowd exceeded expectations because so many school children were involved in the 90-minute ceremony.
This ceremony, like others sponsored by the Wilson Patriotism Committee, was long on involvement. Three JROTC units took part, two school children placed a wreath, and others sang patriotic songs. There were prayers and demonstrations, flag lowering and raising and a 21-gun salute from a squad of elderly men with M-1 rifles. The noon chiming of a church's carillon competed with the speaker's voice when the ceremony ran past an hour. 
Regardless of the motivations of the 500 or so people who came out on a beautifully clear fall day, it was good to see so many gather to honor veterans. And many veterans were there to absorb the adulation and to honor their comrades. Among them was E.D. Winstead, who was trapped on Corregidor at the beginning of World War II and spent most of the war trying to survive in a Japanese prison camp. When he was liberated, Wilson welcomed him home with ceremonies at that same location where he sat today, in front of the Courthouse steps. Winstead, a quietly genial man who became a math professor, once told me that after his treatment as a POW and the cruelties he saw from 1942-45, he could never buy a Japanese car.
This 90th anniversary of the Armistice that ended a war — but not all wars — makes for a great day to honor Winstead and others like him.

Autumn paints the landscape as solstice approaches

The last few days have painted eastern North Carolina in unusual beauty. The autumn colors are sparkling beneath a deep blue sky. The low humidity and cool nights have turned green leaves into reds and golds, and the blue sky forms a matte for nature's painting. The low-hanging sun glares on leaf-covered lawns and blinds drivers.
It's still six weeks until the winter solstice, when the daylight marks its shortest span. Until that date the darkness seems to be winning its battle against the light. Our ancestors celebrated this mystical date, when the conquering darkness begins to recede, when daylight begins to regain its strength, when light and warmth at last prevail over the fearful power of cold and dark. You can still see bits of these ancient joyous celebrations in modern Christmas traditions, by which Christians co-opted the ancient solstice celebrations and Roman Saturnalia — the lighting of candles, the collecting of evergreens, the nighttime festivity, the yule log.
As the darkest of days approaches, we are treated to nature's most spectacular display — colors unknown through 10 months of the year. The flat land of North Carolina's coastal plain lacks the spectacular views of the mountains four hours to the west, where the bright colors seem to go on forever, crease after crease of reds and golds spread out like a rumpled quilt. But even here, where there are no peaks or overlooks and few hills worthy of the name, the colors are spectacular, and even a stroll through neighborhood streets can dazzle the eye.
I spent a couple of hours Monday blowing and raking leaves in my yard, repeating the work I'd done just a few days before. This annual labor of autumn is the price we pay for the spectacular combination of red and gold leaves against a blue sky. It is well worth the cost.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Joblessness forces a new routine

Another Monday, another week without a job. This week marks the midpoint of my three months of severance pay and an increased urgency to my job hunting — a frustrating task thus far.
Every job I've held has had its own routine. Even in the newspaper business, which offers fresh and often unexpected events every day, my job followed a routine, and I became a creature of habit. On each day, I knew what I needed to do to get through the day and to be prepared for the next day or the coming week. At The Wilson Daily Times, where (my elder daughter recently pointed out) I spent nearly half of my entire life, I knew I had to write an editorial every day, plus an extra one on Wednesday, and I needed to get started on a column at least by Tuesday, and I had to devote nearly every second of the morning to getting that day's paper out. Advance work and optional tasks had to be relegated to the afternoon. The daily deadline gave the workday a real sense of urgency.
My routine is much changed, but my life in unemployment has taken on a new routine and a kind of discipline not much different from that needed to produce a daily newspaper. I now divide every day into segments devoted to work around the house (cleaning, painting, yard work, etc.), job hunting, blogging (like this) and personal writing. I am beginning to understand retirees who have told me that they are busier than ever in retirement. My new routine has offered few opportunities for reading the stacks of books I've wanted to dive into, and I've spent no time watching movies or daytime TV.
This routine, it is hoped, will be only a temporary diversion. In my new career, whatever it might be, I will develop a new routine. I don't know what it will be, but I know that this new routine will guide my days and wash away the languid routine of watching the way the early morning sun plays upon the yard and the rooms of this house. Developing this new routine will be stressful — any job change (I've just experienced one) is stressful, and the stress remains until the new routine becomes habit. That's when the new job is no longer "new."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

ElectriCities CEO folds his cards

Critics of ElectriCities, the umbrella organization that manages the two public power agencies in North Carolina, have a trophy. The criticism became too much for ElectriCities CEO Jesse Tilton, who resigned Friday. The critics might have Tilton's head, figuratively, but that doesn't necessarily a change in attitudes or finances at ElectriCities and its two power agencies.
Tilton, who made around $450,000 a year, had been the target of most of the criticism about high electric rates and wrong financing decisions. But he was one of a number of ElectriCities executives pulling down six-figure incomes. Now, if you eliminated all those big salaries, you would have only a negligible impact on electric rates paid by residents of 51 North Carolina cities and towns that share in electricity generated by power agencies and the additional power bought wholesale from Progress Energy and Duke Power. So Tilton's resignation isn't going to make anyone's electric bill go down.
If member cities and towns are developing a new attitude of stricter oversight and more skeptical attention toward power agency and ElectriCities decisions, things might actually change. Cities, including Wilson, are hearing it from their residents. The impact of high utility rates on economic development, personal finances and business growth is beginning to sink in. Activist residents are howling about high electric rates. These residents are also voters who might carry their frustration and anger into the voting booth.
Unfortunately, the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and its sister power agency have few means of significantly reducing power rates. NCEMPA is paying for debt incurred in the early 1980s to buy into then-Carolina Power & Light power plants. Servicing that debt plus paying for the universally rising costs of power puts NCEMPA in a bind. Defaulting on the debt is not an option. It would ruin the credit-worthiness of all 32 NCEMPA cities. Probably the best that can be done is to trim costs wherever possible and pay off that debt as quickly as possible. Background talk of possibly floating new bonds to buy into the construction of more generating plants should be squelched immediately. The one thing NCEMPA and ElectriCities don't need is more debt.
Tilton's resignation won't affect those options.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Speculation puts Wilson residents in Obama administration

The News & Observer offers an article this morning about North Carolinians who might be named to positions in a new Obama administration. Interesting speculation, but mostly just plain speculation.
A couple of speculations caught my eye. The N&O suggested former Gov. Jim Hunt, who nurtured a reputation as the "education governor" and who is genuinely passionate about education, might be Obama's choice for education secretary. Hunt barely seems to have lost any of his famed intensity since leaving public office almost eight years ago, and that intensity would translate well in Washington, where he could call senators and congressmen instead of lowly state legislators at all hours of the day and night.
But I would be very surprised if Hunt got the appointment. Hunt, 71, did not endorse Obama early in the campaign. When Obama came to Wilson's Beddingfield High School before the state primary, Hunt and his wife, Carolyn, were in the audience, and Obama recognized the former gov, but there was no endorsement. Hunt did campaign enthusiastically for Obama in the general election, and he might be credited for a piece of the narrow victory Obama won in North Carolina. Hunt organized Wilson County, which went for Obama while neighboring counties with similar demographics fell for McCain.
Obama does not owe a great debt to Hunt, but there's a bigger reason why Hunt won't be education secretary: He doesn't want it. Hunt has said repeatedly since losing the 1984 Senate election to Jesse Helms that he has no desire to move to Washington. I believe him. He has a pretty good life out on the family farm at Rock Ridge, just a few miles west of Wilson. Most of his grandchildren are nearby, and the area is still rural enough to look like it did when he grew up there in the 1950s. Why would he give that up for Washington pressure, traffic and frustrations?
The N&O speculates that U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson could be named to the federal judiciary. Before he ran successfully for Congress, Butterfield served as a Superior Court and state Supreme Court judge. He won wide praise for his judicial temperament but lost an election to remain on the court, a victim of North Carolina's ridiculous judicial election system. Butterfield says he's happy in Congress, and he seems to be enjoying himself in Washington. But Obama could do worse in judicial appointments at any level than Butterfield. Although his law practice was adversarial as he advocated for civil rights clients, he proved himself to be a principled defender of the Constitution and the law when he sat on the bench.
In my former career, I kept a copy of an extemporaneous comment Butterfield made from the bench in response to a motion brought by the newspaper I served. Superior Court Judge Butterfield admonished the Wilson County Board of Education for handing off to its insurance company a decision about settlement of a lawsuit against the school system. The insurer had mandated that the settlement be kept secret, in violation of state law. Butterfield reminded the board that elected officials are responsible for making decisions, and they can't shirk that responsibility. The newspaper won the right to know the amount of the settlement, thanks to Judge Butterfield.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An addiction to politics isn't easily cured

Tuesday marked the first national election I had not been a part of covering since 1976. For 32 years, my election night consisted of going down to the local elections board to await the returns, then heading home to see how the state and national returns looked. I put aside the urge the go downtown Tuesday and only called a reporter I knew would be there once. Wilson County returns were ridiculously late, with first returns coming after 11 p.m., about four hours after polls closed. I can remember when hand-counted ballots came in faster than that.
Politics is addictive, as you can see if you hang out at the elections board on any election night. A half dozen or more addicts will be there, getting their fix of the excitement and stress as the returns dribble in. Sometimes, a reporter or editorial writer can pick up a few tidbits of insider information from the candidates and campaign workers who hang out. Hours of waiting lead to conversations on a variety of subjects, not all of them related to the current election. I missed out on those conversations and good-natured ribbing this year, but I knew from experience that the returns would be late, and I allowed myself the luxury of closely following the national returns on television and the Internet.
I might not have been part of reporting this year's election, but I was part of the process. I voted. I followed the campaigns. I even wrote about them in this forum. My political addiction won't go away easily.

Change on this board requires four votes

The "change" mantra of the 2008 election didn't extend all the way through the Wilson County Board of Education election. One change was inevitable: Will Winslow was stepping down, choosing not to run for another term. But the other two seats at issue were retained by the incumbents. Marvin Sessoms had no opposition, and Henry Mercer turned back James Brake's challenge in District 4.
Gary Farmer, running a high-profile campaign, took District 6 by a landslide against two opponents. Joe Testino got his name out but still lost his first bid against the better-known Farmer, a former Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and Wilson County Schools teacher and administrator. Gale Shafer fell short again in his third bid to win a seat on the board. Shafer had been encouraged four years ago when he came close to toppling Winslow, but that close finish was largely the result of Winslow's not taking the challenge seriously and making little effort to attract votes. Will Shafer, an affable mechanic and small-business owner, give up on his quest or will he become the Harold Stassen of Wilson County politics?
Many supporters of Farmer, Testino and Brake had hoped the "change" mantra would sweep a new majority onto the Board of Education, one that would challenge the administration, listen more to parents and teachers and open up the decision-making process. To achieve anything on a seven-member board, you need four votes. With the re-election of  Mercer, a former school principal, the change candidates may have trouble finding a fourth vote. Mercer has not been one to buck the administration. Farmer and incumbents Robin Flinn and Wiley Boyette need a fourth vote. If they can't bring Mercer on board, perhaps Eunice Lindsey, who has shown sparks of independence, or Christine Fitch can be brought around.
Farmer promises to question the status quo and is unlikely to be silenced easily. The question is whether he can bring three other board members to his way of thinking.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Republicans fall short in key state races

North Carolina Democrats owe Barack Obama. There's little doubt that Obama's well-oiled political machine brought out Democratic voters who helped put state candidates over the top. At this hour, North Carolina's electoral votes are undecided as Obama clings to a 12,000 vote lead out of 4.2 million votes cast. Fifty-thousand provisional ballots remain to be counted.
Regardless of whether Obama puts North Carolina into the Democratic tally for the first time since 1976, his campaign has had a profound influence on state elections. Democrat Bev Perdue won a fairly narrow victory in the governor's race after Republican Pat McCrory ran out of steam late in the race. Democrat Kay Hagan trounced Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Democrat Larry Kissell finally knocked off Congressman Robin Hayes. Down the ticket, Obama might have had an even greater influence in lower-profile races such as state auditor (Beth Wood knocked off incumbent Les Merritt) and commissioner of insurance (Democrat Wayne Goodwin won the vacant seat).
Besides Obama's influence, Republicans this year just couldn't shake off the albatross of George W. Bush. The unpopular president had poisoned the well for all Republicans. The GOP also failed to effectively make corruption, secretiveness, unresponsiveness and fiscal excesses under the Democrats' administration a campaign issue. Despite the imprisonment of at least four powerful Democrats on corruption-related charges, North Carolina voters chose another Democratic insider to be governor and increased the Democrats' majority in the legislature. There seems to be no political consequences to bribery and insider dealings. Having ousted the Republican state auditor, Democrats have even fewer impediments to their wheeling and dealing with state money.
Despite Bev Perdue's promises in her victory speech, don't expect any real reforms in the wasteful and politically motivated state Transportation Board, in the secretive way budgets are written or in the state job preferences given to insiders such as the governor's wife. Barack Obama's campaign theme was "change," but don't expect much change, if any, in the way state government goes about its business.

We are witnesses to history on a huge scale

Historic change. Those two words describe Tuesday's presidential election. Barack Obama, born at a time when many African-Americans were systematically denied the right to vote, will be this nation's first African-American president. The magnitude of that achievement is breath-taking. Obama, the first-term senator with the audacity to hope that he could compete against more experienced, better-known, better-connected politicians has achieved a small miracle.
He did it by out-organizing and out-fund-raising his opponents. And he did it by inspiring voters young and old with his soaring rhetoric and his consistent promise of "change." His campaign was historic not only because of his racial background but also because of his great skill in creating a new kind of campaign, one based on grassroots organizing, Internet connectiveness, encompassing strategy and diligent hard work.
The importance and ramifications of electing the first African-American president are difficult to comprehend. Obama immediately displaces all the self-appointed black leaders of this nation who have made careers of jumping in front of television cameras whenever and wherever racial tensions flared. President Obama will be the spokesman for black America, but he will also be the spokesman for white America and red America and yellow America. He will be a visible example of this country's progress. Just a generation after legal barriers to civil rights were rescinded, America has elected an African-American to the nation's highest office. That is a breath-taking achievement that should inspire all Americans to renew their faith in this nation's founding principles. Our first black president should also inspire friends and adversaries around the world, proving that despite America's occasional errors and missteps, this country truly remains the last best hope of mankind.
Obama will take office at what is perhaps the country's most trying time since 1933. His electoral vote margin and his party's capture of so many additional congressional seats will pressure him to provide bold, decisive leadership, and he must be cautious not to over-reach. Although his electoral vote margin is wide, the popular vote was close, and he will need to lead from the center, appealing to and inspiring all Americans. The ongoing economic crisis will limit his options in other areas. America cannot continue to overspend and increase its debt, which already approaches $10 trillion. It cannot let down its guard against the forces of Islamic radicalism, which has sworn to destroy us. And it cannot allow the gap between rich and poor to continue to widen, contradicting America's assurances of opportunity and equality.
Obama first won the nation's attention with a speech that promised an end to partisanship and a vow to unite all Americans. He must make those promises foremost as he tackles the specific problems that lie before him.
John McCain fell short of his dream Tuesday, but he gave an unusually gracious concession speech and promised to work with the Obama administration. McCain and other pragmatists like him can be a key to Obama's success. Republicans must resist the temptation to begin gearing up now for the next election fight, and Democrats must avoid the pitfall of celebrating their majorities by shoving partisan legislation and policies down America's throat.
This historic election will be even more historic if Democrats and Republicans can put partisanship aside for long enough to address America's most serious problems.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day is here at last

It's Election Day, and I've done my duty, arriving at the polls about 20 minutes after the 6:30 opening to see a line of about two dozen people. It's the longest line I can remember in the nearly 30 years I've been voting in Wilson (though not all of those elections were in my current precinct). With reports of 42 percent of all registered voters having already voted, I was surprised to see the line this morning. A 60 percent turnout would be phenomenal, and that would leave only 20 percent of registered voters to vote today. Could this morning's line portend an even greater turnout — 70 or 75 percent? Such a huge turnout would be unheard of and could mark a new era in politics. The turnout, both in North Carolina and nationally, might be just as interesting as the outcome of the big races.
On Election Day, the projections are looking more and more like a Democratic sweep in North Carolina. I  had thought Republican Pat McCrory, the Charlotte mayor, might shock the Democratic establishment by defeating good ol' gal Bev Perdue. McCrory was running against the Democratic establishment in Raleigh, and he had plenty of ammunition — a congressman, a Council of State member, a speaker of the state House and others in the Democratic power base had all been sentenced to prison. And there was a strong impression of sleaze, if not outright corruption, in Raleigh. But McCrory, after first surging into a lead in the early polls, ran out of steam just as Perdue's ads (some of them paid for by the Democratic Party and interest groups) began pounding McCrory on some specious or contrived issues. In the state's U.S. Senate race, Republican Elizabeth Dole realized too late that she was in a tough race and should have spent the past five years paying more attention to North Carolina. Democrat Kay Hagan, hand-picked by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, looks like a near shoo-in as Dole's campaign never really got off the ground and never had any energy.
The interesting detail in North Carolina might be whether Barack Obama, who has  worked hard to organize this traditionally GOP presidential state, will pull N.C. into the Democratic column. Obama will make it interesting, but I'm still thinking he'll fall just short.
Poll workers this morning were going to extremes to make sure every voter knew that the presidential race is separate from all others, and you have to cast a separate vote for president even if you're voting a straight-party ticket. Each voter was handed a slip of paper explaining this process, and signs re-emphasized the matter. This anomaly goes back to 1968, when Democrats in the legislature worried that the Democratic presidential nominee would drag down state candidates (which was almost certainly the case). But recent studies have shown that a small percentage of voters still haven't figured this out. About 3 percent of N.C. voters have failed to vote for president. Furthermore, this year it looks like Obama might actually boost the Democratic candidates down the ballot.
So is it time for the Democrats who run the state to rescind their 1968 rule separating the presidential race from the rest of the ballot? Pending today's outcome, Democrats (who will assuredly still control the General Assembly)  might want to reconsider this rule.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I'll have a newspaper with my breakfast

Everyone who has written the obituary of the printed newspaper should have been at my house this morning.
The morning paper didn't come. Though I walked to the end of the driveway and even up and down the block four times looking for the Monday edition, it wasn't there.
So I was forced to sit with my morning coffee and bagel with nothing new to read. The newspaper was online, and I went to the Web site to see what I was missing, but the experience was not the same. Clicking on a headline and reading a story of interest is just not the same as turning page by page and absorbing a compendium of the day's news. The online edition omits the ads, many of the photographs and graphics and the tactile experience of holding the day's events in your hand.
A newspaper has been a part of my morning routine for my entire adult life. I need the newspaper to get me going in the morning as much as I need the coffee and food that accompany it. On vacation, I have hunted through hotel lobbies and down the street for a newspaper rack. On one occasion several years ago, I subscribed to the local paper for a month (the shortest period allowed) so that I'd be sure to have it for the week I was at the vacation house. It was well worth it.
Without a paper this morning, my wife perused the sections of Sunday's paper she had not read thoroughly yesterday, and I read from a Bible study book that I had left on the kitchen table the night before.
What obituaries of newspapers, sparked by declining advertising sales and stagnant or declining circulation figures, fail to consider is the tactile need dedicated newspaper readers feel for their morning paper. It's a need that online news sites, television or radio cannot fill.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Whirligig Festival looks like it's coming of age

Wilson's fourth Whirligig Festival was blessed with just about perfect weather Saturday. Thousands of people crowded Nash Street to see the vendors selling crafts, food and other things. The festival continues this afternoon. Music is part of any good street festival, and the Whirligig Festival was no exception. A variety of musical styles were available. I wanted to hear The Tams, a doo-wop, rhythm-and-blues group from the 1960s. I was not disappointed.
Beneath clear blue skies, in the shade of the BB&T towers, The Tams presented a high-energy, entertaining sentimental journey back to the days of "What Kind of Fool," "I've Been Hurt" and all their other hits, the vocals syncopated by the aerobic dancing quick-steps that could easily be a fitness video. The group even threw in a little James Brown and Jimmy Buffet.
I've attended most of the previous Whirligig Festivals, as well as the other incarnations of Wilson street festivals (remember Saturday on the Town, the Golden Leaf Festival and Another Bloomin' Festival?), and this year's Whirligig Festival had the feeling of having arrived. Whirligigs, created by legendary folk artist Vollis Simpson, give the festival a unique theme — something that's not a food, a crop or a flower that is celebrated in so many festivals across the country. Vollis was there, as were his whirligigs. Four new ones have been erected at Wilson's beautiful new Paul V. Berry Hickory Grove Park, and several additional Vollis Simpson creations spin in the breeze at downtown locations. Miniature whirligigs were available for sale. A number of Wilson homes and back yards display the Simpson originals. The Whirligig Festival may have a ways to go to match Salisbury's Barbecue Festival or Wilmington's Azalea Festival, but after this weekend it looks like it's well on its way.
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Halloween surprise that's not scary

After greeting a few trick-or-treaters last night, my wife and I headed downtown to discover a new Halloween surprise, but not a scary one — a reassuring, promising one. On the Night of the Dead, downtown was alive!
At the Arts Council of Wilson's Arts Center, a Whirligig Festival preview party was under way. Although we arrived late, near the tail end of the party, dozens of exhibitors and friends were wandering through the gallery, admiring the Wilson Woodcarvers' exhibit and munching on goodies from JAC's Grill.
Not content to eat supper off the hors d'oeuvre table, we walked across the Barnes Street Parking Lot, across the street and into Torero's, where a good crowd was enjoying the food, libations and live music. We shared a generous-size plate and a couple of drafts and marveled at the steady stream of patrons coming and going. Among them were families leading children in their trick-or-treat costumes and young revelers out for an evening a bit quieter than what they'd find in Chapel Hill or Greenville.
But downtown was clearly alive. Give people a destination, and folks will come downtown in the evening. Parking was more than ample. The Barnes Street lot, which is free in the evening, the Centre Brick lot, just behind Torero's, and street parking provided more than enough spaces for all the folks at the preview party, Torero's and other businesses. The crowd at the Mexican-themed restaurant was as diverse as you'll find anywhere in Wilson. There were the Hispanics you would expect but also a lot of whites and blacks. And a good time was had by all.
This, likely, is the future of Wilson. Downtown is being rediscovered. Jeff and Cindy Darwin have taken the bold leap of opening Torero's, and their success, which was clearly evident last night, will inspire others.