Sunday, November 26, 2006


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite celebration. In our family, it has always meant getting together and sharing a feast prepared by many hands. If we were overseas or too far away from our immediate family, then friends and neighbors similarly situated came together as one big family to give thanks for our many blessings.

One of our annual traditions shared by many other families is to take the time to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. When our kids and their cousins were small, this tradition always produced some interesting, and sometimes even comical, responses. As they moved toward adulthood, their responses warmed our hearts, as their comments revealed what wonderful, thoughtful, and caring young people they were.

My list for 2006 is long and if delivered before dinner we would end up eating cold turkey. So when we gather around the table, I’ll share of couple of the items off my list and refer everyone to this column that will appear after Thanksgiving.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for family — my wife, my kids, and all my other family members. I am especially thankful because my son and his wife have given us two grandkids and they came to Chapel Hill to spend Thanksgiving with us this year. Those of you with grandkids understand what I mean when I say it’s great to have the kids back for the holiday, but it’s really, really great to have the grandkids!

Sure, they will probably make a mess, spill things and at times get fussy, but when it’s your grandkids, who cares. Kids just don’t get it. They constantly try to point out your inconsistent and changing standards: “If I had done that, you would have murdered me!” they whine. Why can’t they understand that we didn’t murder them because we wanted them to give us grandkids one day?

Good health is another reason to be thankful. As we watch the health of our elder generation decline, we pay more attention to the preventative measures that we can take. Even though we are not always successful and don’t always eat right or get enough exercise, it’s not because we don’t understand the importance of living right. I’m also thankful that we live in a place with such excellent health care facilities and so many caring health professionals. Thankfully, I have not had to call upon their skills this year except for the routine preventative visits.

I’m also thankful for our friends, our church family, our neighbors, and all of the people who help to make our community the special place that it is. We have so many who practice random acts of kindness! What’s so impressive about this place is that when you need help, there are people who are willing to provide it. When you identify a problem to be solved, there are people who will come together enthusiastically to craft a solution, then give their time, talents and resources to solve it.

Recently, there have been ample examples of the giving nature of our community. RSVVP last week is a great illustration and shows loads of generosity. I’m personally familiar with some other endeavors and greatly admire what the people involved do. For example, both Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and EmPOWERment, Inc. are doing fund drives. People give their money, time, and goods and services to help increase the stock of affordable homes. Other organizations also work to solve this problem, and one day we might really eradicate it here.

The Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation recently held a house party featuring celebrated author John Grisham. Their goal was to raise funds to purchase new books for our library. We as a community have a voracious appetite for reading material and we can’t wait until the addition to the building is completed to feed that appetite. The Town budget is already stretched, so the Foundation stepped in and purchased additional shelving; now we must raise the funds to buy the books to fill them.

We are also blessed to have those who serve us in elected office, first-rate professionals working for our various government bodies and the schools in our community, a university that does so much in and for this community, a giving business community and a chamber of commerce that represents their interests, and the list goes on.

We thankfully live in a blessed community and one that is “opinion-gifted”. We can and do disagree a lot, and yet, we reach compromises. I’m thankful that this is possible and that we have the freedom to express ourselves.

Family, friends, health and living in such a giving and caring community make me very thankful. Being thankful, that’s a good thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Veterans Day fell on Saturday this year so the three UNC ROTC units had their joint ceremony on Friday the 10th of November. I have attended these ceremonies each year that we have lived here because it gives this not-so-old veteran a chance to participate in honoring America’s veterans. About 100 people gathered or stopped for a moment to witness what I think is our community’s only ceremony.

This year’s ceremony featured one of UNC’s own, Walter Spearman Professor Emeritus for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Chuck Stone. He was drafted out of college in 1943 and served as a famed Tuskegee Airman.

In his remarks, Stone talked about the Veterans Day parades that he viewed in his youth. Those ceremonies and parades that remembered the WWI armistice and were conducted at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month were grand affairs. Stone said that he remembered standing there proudly as his WWI veteran-dad marched by.

I too remember parades on Veterans Day. They were big deals and the local community turned out in force. Local leaders riding in spiffy cars from a local dealership, high school bands, military marching units, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and a host of others added to the color of the day. I even marched in a few myself and remember the feeling you get when you hear the cheers of the crowds. Where have the parades gone?

Today, not only does our community not have a parade, but if we do any Veterans Day marching, it is to the nearest mall to participate in the day’s sales. Veterans Day seems to be a “holiday” that causes us great inconvenience at best or benign neglect at worst. After all, some government offices are closed, the banks are closed, and the kids are out of school.

The other thing that bothers me is that we seem to want to morph Veterans Day into another Memorial Day, the day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. November 11th of each year is set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our veterans, and not just those who are deceased.

One of my friends said that he thought that the decline in interest in Veterans Day might be caused by the fact that with the war, the nation is creating too many veterans right now, and some of them are seriously injured. With a totally volunteer force, it might be plausible to think that our citizens would want to honor those veterans, since unlike in the past, the government didn’t force them, their family members, or friends to serve.

Doing a quick Internet search for Veterans Day parades and other ceremonies that were held across our nation, I discovered that the day’s unpopularity must be a function of where we are. Small towns and big ones had parades and grand ceremonies, including over the way in Raleigh.

I appreciate the anti-war feelings that we find locally. Heck, the most anti-war people that I have ever known were those who served in uniform with me. So why is the veteran held to blame for a war he or she didn’t ask for or champion? Are there any local veterans who have the power to alter or refocus US foreign or military policy? Of course not, but the symbolism is very powerful.

After I returned from that Friday ceremony, I discovered that a release went out calling for a demonstrating against the Army’s new recruiting station on our Franklin Street. Why is having this renter take over an empty property a bad thing? Because the renter is the Army and it is looking to recruit four or so of our kids a month. Note that now, if our kids want info on military service, the closest station is in Durham.

The coalition of groups call to action asked students, youth, and community members to stand up to the new Army recruiting station, the continued occupation of Iraq, and U.S. threats against other nations and speak out against this new recruiting station. Why? The new station is seen as a blatant attempt to pull more youths and students into the U.S. war machine and the occupation of Iraq.

Lump every problem all together, make the veteran a symbol of evil, then go out and protest a recruiting office. What happened to making distinctions? I suspect that most of the 10,000 or so veterans in Orange County have mixed, but fixed opinions. Being free to have different opinions is what we veterans fought for and continue to fight for. Freedom isn’t free and freedom is what this nation is all about, and that’s a good thing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I suspect that I’m not the only one glad to say goodbye to this blue moon election! Every 12 years we have one of these blue moon elections, meaning that there is no race for the White House, Governor’s Mansion, or U.S. Senate to generate the kind of excitement that they say brings voters to the polls.

No excitement? I guess it depends on what you call excitement. Personally, I could do without that brand of excitement like they had in Durham with the DA race, or the venomous 13th Congressional District race with Vernon Robinson, or even the school bond issue in Wake County.

We had our own brand in excitement in our Superior Court race. Here were four people that everyone I talked to said would all serve us well because they were all capable and competent. Two had been appointed to the Superior Court by the Governor, one was a District Court judge, and the fourth is a practicing attorney who formed the first integrated law firm in North Carolina.

To get their message out they bombarded us with glossy card mailings, robo calls, yard signs, and campaign ads, all to generate name recognition. As a group, it looks like they spent more than $350,000 on their campaigns. Is money the ultimate arbitrator in local politics today? Well, it appears that number one vote getter Carl Fox spent the least amount of money.

Philosophically, I’m still not sure that I believe that we should make judge candidates raise money and campaign like other office seekers. Maybe we should make all of these races eligible for tax dollar funding. I think the idea should be given a good look.

Our House race was a barnburner too, wasn’t it? How many people watched the two candidates discuss their visions for the future? If dissolving the Congress and starting from scratch was on the ballot, it might have won. Why? It seems that, at best, people are pretty fed up with the institution, and at worst, thoroughly hostile towards it. Some incumbents in other places lost their seats, but David Price didn’t and will be part of the House majority in January. Let’s hope they can get the institution back on track.

Then there was the Orange County Board of County Commissioners race. On the Democrat side, there were three candidates for three seats, and two of them were incumbents. On the Republican side, there was one candidate. Some believed that a Republican could win in Orange County if a significant number of traditional Democrat voters joined with the Republicans and the unaffiliated.

Driving this was anger with Mike Nelson due to some of his actions while the mayor of Carrboro. Nelson finished third with 27% of the vote. I suspect that he benefited greatly from straight ticket voting but he won in the northern precincts where Republican Jamie Daniels did well in 2004.

Probably the most heat was generated by the referendum to change how we elect commissioners. The consensus seemed to be that moving from five to seven commissioners was a very good thing. The controversy was over the two electoral districts that the voters were asked to approve. It seemed that even the commissioners themselves weren’t overly excited with the plan that they crafted, but they pushed it as a forward step in the right direction. I hope that they take some more concrete steps to make our process better.

What wasn’t exciting in this election was the turnout. In this community, with fewer than 37% of those registered voting, we have nothing to be proud of. Why was it so pitiful? Don’t people care? Sure it rained, but remember all of the beautiful days we had during the early voting period? We can and must do better!

So is it just an excuse or did some people not vote because of more concrete factors? Is not voting a protest? Is not voting a statement of contentment? Some who don’t vote claim that they don’t know the candidates or the issues. Maybe it’s a good thing that they refrain. But why do so few citizens exercise their right, a right that so many fought for and even died for?

Well, I congratulate Weaver Dairy Satellite for their typical outstanding turnout (81.6%) and hope that the two precincts with the lowest turnout — Country Club and Mason Farm will benefit next time from more UNC student activism.

Congratulations also to all the winners and those many candidates who ran fair, honest, and inexpensive campaigns. I applaud you for seeking to serve us. For those folks who didn’t vote, remember, politicians read the winds. If your vote doesn’t stir the winds, there will be less accountability. Accountability generates excitement. Accountability is a good thing.

Sunday, November 5, 2006


Since UNC-Chapel Hill athletic director Dick Baddour announced Coach John Bunting’s termination and that he would continue to coach the remaining five games, plenty has appeared in the press about the coach and his fine qualities.

It has been said that he builds character, recruits young men who want a college education and also play football, loves his alma mater, and accepts accountability for his decisions. People have also praised him for his work ethic and the work ethic he instills in his players to excel in the classroom and on the football field.

Another source lauded him for how well he represents the school, the community, his family and himself. His team’s graduation rate has also been cited as one that many coaches wished that they could achieve.

If Coach Bunting’s players have learned that their actions have consequences and infractions will get a star benched, or even dismissed from the team, then they are way ahead of some programs. A team that enforces rules irrespective of how many yards you ran, touchdowns you threw, tackles you made, or passes you caught sounds like a program a university would be proud to call their own.

So what’s the problem? The official answer appears to be that the team under Coach Bunting’s leadership is victory challenged — a 25-43 record overall and an ACC record of 16-29 as of the Wake Forrest game. So what’s more important, being a builder of character, integrity, and academic success or Ws and Ls?

Obviously, its Ws and Ls. I understand that when a reporter asked Coach Bunting about coaching five more games after being terminated, he responded that the show must go on. The follow-up question should have been which show?

I can’t pinpoint when Division 1A football became the show that it has, but it’s clear that the show we are really talking about is business, bottom line business, pure and simple. Successful programs carry the entire athletic budget, garner large amounts of fan and alumni dollars, bring in logo sales, and attract students and faculty because of what the revenue stream allows them to do. Revenues from TV and bowl games add to the bottom line of not just the institutions, but their conferences too. Simply put, there’s real pressure to win.

When Douglass MacArthur was the superintendent at West Point in the early part of the 20th century, he provided a pretty credible raison d’etra for competitive athletics. He said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” He liked the words so much that he had them engraved over the entrance to the gymnasium.

Why? He knew the value of competition and what team sports could contribute. But MacArthur lived in another era. As Coach Bunting, his staff and his players have learned, there is the business beast that must be fed and satiated. Simply put, the game is no longer just about having fun, developing character, or instilling the values needed to be a success in life; these are nice extras. Those schools that still pursue those old-fashioned goals know that they play in a different league and on a different field. After all, how many pro prospects will they attract?

There are studies, scholarly papers, and written testimonies that reach high into the sky reporting faculty dissatisfaction with the role of revenue sports on today’s campuses. The Knight Commission recommended in the strongest terms that there be greater presidential control over college athletics and that the programs reconnect with the university’s fundamental mission.

Some continue to see high profile college athletics as a sham. Teams have players who just happen to be enrolled in the institution. . Academics aren’t the priority, getting the skills and notice to play for big bucks at the next level is. After all, success is contagious and successful teams help schools successfully get those dollars. Sadly, at some places it’s a pretty simple dichotomy, athletes who are enrolled at the school versus students who play sports.

Some also decry the different admissions process for an athlete and the course of study an athlete may take as a scholarship student. To the credit of UNC-Chapel Hill, these are not their problems; remember their problem is too few victories. So we get a new coach.

Will a new coach have all of the qualities of a Bunting and the ability to mold a victorious team? I and many other fans sure hope so. But it’s important to win on all levels. The show will go on as the new coach struggles to keep the right Ws to Ls ratio and demonstrate those other critical ingredients for a successful program — ingredients that the Coach Bunting show seemed to possess in spades.

Being able to succeed off and on the field will be a very good thing!