Tuesday, December 30, 2008

GOODBYE 2008, HELLO 2009!

One of the most often repeated comments in our Christmas cards and letters this year was, “Where did 2008 go?” It did seem to fly bye at a record pace, except towards the end when the those annoying and unhelpful campaign commercials at all levels made me think November 4th would never arrive!

But it was still a fast year, and we even had an extra day because like all presidential election years, it was a leap year. Now we are told that we even have to add an additional second to the year. As The Associated Press reports,

The custodians of time will ring in the New Year by tacking a "leap second" onto the clock Wednesday to account for the minute slowing of the Earth's rotation.
The leap second has been used sporadically at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich
since 1972, an adjustment that has kept Greenwich Mean Time the internationally
agreed time standard.

OK. It was a longer year because of the extra day and extra second, but it still flew by. Maybe the speed is related to all of the things that happened at the local, state and national levels. The elections, the wars and the economic crisis loomed large and it’s a certainty that 2009 will see more of the same. We will have our municipal elections in November and I suspect the "early" campaigning will begin shortly, meaning that we could see a longer than usual campaign season.

It will be interesting in Chapel Hill because for the first time we will have public financing. How this will shape the field or even the outcome is of course unknown, but it’s clear that this is big. In July, the General Assembly passed a bill that allowed Chapel Hill to do a pilot program for public financing in municipal elections. I personally believe this violates our First Amendment rights, even though there is a lot of disagreement on this. I guess we might see more court action on this in 2009.

Another major focus in 2009 will be on UNC --- breaking ground at Carolina North, closing Horace Williams Airport, and efforts to secure a new field somewhere in Orange County. Sometime in the first quarter, the authority for the airport will be appointed. According to the legislation enacted last summer by the North Carolina General Assembly, the panel will have four members each picked by the UNC Board of Trustees and the UNC Health Care system, two by the legislature, three by the county, one by Chapel Hill and one by Carrboro and Hillsborough on a rotating basis.

This process of appointing and then their studying and identifying potential sites will be interesting to say the least, but so will the Board of County Commissioners final selection of a site for the transfer station somewhere in Orange County. All of the growth, development and land use issues, as well as implementing the County’s newly approved Comprehensive Plan means that the plate is full, even before we add an extra second to bring 2008 to an end.

We can only hope that we will pull together to face all of these challenges. I can see no other way to resolve successfully the many issues that confront us in our area, the nation, and the world. Good luck to all of our leaders, elected and to be elected, and to those who work hard for the common good. With decreasing economic resources that will make their tasks even harder, they really do need a lot of help!

I guess in 12 months we can reflect on how that went. Go ahead, scratch off the days right here!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Do you remember that old saw that says, “a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boot on?” Well in this Internet age, I’m changing it to “Internet falsehoods are all over the World Wide Web before the truth can even boot up and login!”

What brought this home to me recently was that an acquaintance that always has something to say about Chapel Hill being so liberal called me to say that he heard that the University had banned Christmas trees. I asked him where he heard that and he said it was all over the Interned and he had heard a particular commentator on Fox News claim that the university was guilty of political correctness run amuck, fueling much Internet discussion.

I told my caller that the chancellor indicated that displaying Christmas trees was up to the various departments and not a university policy. I also told my caller that his grasp of this issue was another perfect example of how stuff gets manipulated on the Internet, and talk radio to satisfy their agenda. Accuracy and truth don’t count for much.

Then I asked him if he knew that two UNC students had just won Rhodes Scholarships, or that our Women’s Soccer Team had just won the NCAA Championship and our men’s team was in the playoffs for the national championship. Of course he hadn’t heard these things. Why is that? I guess the real truths just don’t get around much anymore.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I think that it’s safe to say that the reason so many of us like Thanksgiving is because it gives us an opportunity to get together with family and friends and enjoy good food, good fellowship, and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. One of the things that I included on my list this year was the tremendous work of our non-profits in Orange County.

Did you know that November was nonprofit awareness month? Our Board of County Commissioners issued a proclamation to call attention to the many ways that they serve us. We should know that we have more than 266 charitable nonprofit organizations providing diverse services to our community and these organizations spend more than $448 million annually serving the people of Orange County.

We also know that in these challenging economic times, things are getting tough for nonprofits. The same economic forces that affect us personally also affect these groups. Folks have fewer disposable dollars to share. The grant-giving organizations all have fewer dollars to share as the market’s decline has also reduced their holdings. As we struggle to get through this bad patch, what can we do?

Those of us who can still share monetary gifts should continue to do so, but those who can’t might consider donating their time to help one of our many organizations. They always appreciate and can use volunteer help, just ask them! And best of all, the time you donate can help our community in a very significant and powerful way!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Today is a significant generational event for me. It still is as fresh in my mind as the day it happened back in 1963. Many of my friends and I thought August 28, 1963 was a really important day we would never forget because of the 250,000 participants at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have A Dream speech.

But November 22d is at the top of my list because it ended the “era of innocence” for me and many of my classmates. I remember clearly that I was in French class at Detroit’s Mumford High School 45 years ago today. French was my last class of the day and as a senior, I really didn’t think that I should have had a class that late. Worse, because I had lived in France and had taken several years of it, I was forced into French 4, a literature course that I extremely disliked.

When the announcement came over the PA system that someone shot President John F. Kennedy in Dallas (we didn’t know he died), there was stunned silence, followed by the sniffling, the sobs, and then the crying. I often wonder why we had the spontaneous reactions that we did. At our various reunions over the years, the conversation invariably gets around to the question, “What class were you in when they made the announcement?” Just knowing what “the announcement” refers to says a lot about how deeply the event is embedded.

The school sent us home that Friday afternoon and some people missed the last two hours of the day. Taking the City bus home (we didn’t have school a yellow school bus!) was an eerie experience; silence all the way, except for the quiet sobbing and sniffling. Everyone knew. Everyone seemed lost in his or her own thoughts. No one ever seemed to be trying to make sense of what happened.

We all watched TV for the next few days — it was Walter Cronkite in our home who brought all of the news. Saturday the remains were at the White House and laid in state at the US Capitol on Sunday. Our new President, Lyndon Johnson, issued Presidential Proclamation 3561, declaring Monday to be a national day of mourning. As one source reported:

In the only public viewing, hundreds of thousands lined up in near-freezing temperatures to view the casket. Over the span of 18 hours, 250,000 people, some waiting for as long as 10 hours in a line that stretched 40 blocks up to 10 persons wide, personally paid their respects as Kennedy's body lay in state. Many of them were weeping when they viewed the bier. Capitol police officers politely reminded mourners to keep moving along in two lines that passed on either side of the casket and exited the building on the west side facing the National Mall.

That Monday was the first state funeral I had ever seen, and I guess the same applied to most folks. All of the pomp, ceremony, and precession had a lasting impact. And who can forget the image of John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s casket while standing with his mother, uncle and sister?

I think we went back to school on Tuesday but I really don’t remember. I do remember that we followed the investigation, read all of the reports in the newspaper, discussed things in our classes even though it was off topic, and followed the coverage at home on TV. As the new year and second semester came, we turned our focus to college applications and preparing to graduate, but the shock never wore off.

Some things in our lives changed and there was a sadness that continued to prevail. With the firing of a bullet in Dallas, it was clear that superfluous stuff like a late afternoon French class became small potatoes. Life went on, but it was clear that Camelot died.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


In recent weeks, you have heard two commentaries in support of a petition to create a civilian review board for our Chapel Hill police; today you will hear one opposed.

Mr. Barry Freeman said a board is needed because of the way he and his wife were treated by an officer while they were protesting the opening of the Army’s Career Center in December, 2006. I was there and observed a police officer politely ask the couple three times to put down their sign while on private property, or move to the public area where they could protest with their sign. They refused. The officer told them he would have to cuff and arrest them. They still refused and the officer did as he said he would do. I observed the officer exercising extreme care and courtesy. The Freemans, not the officer, displayed improper behavior.

During 2007, out of thousand and thousands of citizen contacts, the Chapel Hill Police Department received 26 citizen complaints and only one complaint was sustained. I fear that a citizen review board here is a solution looking for a problem because we already have several mechanisms. Also, it would take authority away from our chief to hold officers accountable for their actions in a timely and appropriate fashion, and it would make our force less effective. If we don’t think our chief can the job that we have asked him to do, we need to get a new chief.

Our officers have a very tough job, and they typically do it very well. If only all citizens upheld their responsibilities just as well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

2008 ELECTION (WCHL Commentary)

Did you hear or even participate in the collective sigh of release on early Wednesday morning? People seemed happy that the 2008 election was finally over. After all, many believed that at every level the campaigns appeared to be swimming in the deepest end of the slime pool. We were tired of the charges, the counter charges, the attack ads, the robo-calls, and that so many candidates refused to deal with the issues that really concerned us.

But along with the sigh of relief many experienced feelings of extreme joy, ecstasy and delight over the outcome of the presidential election and the North Carolina governor’s race for what it says about us and America. We also heard some amazingly gracious concession speeches, and we heard many talking about what we as a nation, working together, could do when we pull together, regardless of party, race, sex, and economic condition. Good feelings, good words, and good aspirations, but it isn’t going to be easy!

On our local level, our leaders will face similar challenges during what will certainly be tough economic times ahead. Some of our days ahead could difficult, but it would sure be a waste if we squander any of our needed energy on the trivial and insignificant. I think many people really believe that hope won on Election Day.

President-elect Barak Obama laid it out well:
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get
there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.”

Let’s all come together right here and beyond to do our part to make it happen!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Everyone seems to agree that the Chapel Hill Town Council will not replace Bill Thorpe; rather, they will fill his seat. After the October 15th meeting spilled over into October 16th, the Council approved their process to fill the vacancy. It appears to be a very sound process and the Council has made an excellent effort to get the word out to citizens who might be interested in serving on the Council until December 2009.

Clearly, being interested in serving is critically important, but that’s only part of the equation. To be blunt, the eight serving Council members will have to decide if they want to pick someone to be a seat-holder for 13 months, or whether or not they want to select someone and jump-start a future candidate’s campaign. To be blunt again, it’s important to remember that this is politics, but what needs to be paramount in my opinion is that we need someone who the Council feels that they can work with, and that someone needs to go into this with their eyes wide open.

They must be willing to devote an enormous amount of time and hard work to the critical issues that are on the horizon --- the 2009 budget, the Carolina North project, parking lot 5, and a host of other issues that will emerge from the current economic situation.

These are tough issues and the 9th member has to have the knowledge and skill to add to the discussions and the decision making process, and not just be a seat holder. To do less will be an insult to Bill Thorpe’s memory.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Recently, a friend sent me a link to a US geography puzzle that required you to properly place the states where they belonged and without benefit of their names. He aasumed that I knew the shapes because I had been to every state and lived in 15 of them, so he challenged me to complete the puzzle in under two minutes.

Using the Great Lakes as the fixed landmark I was off to a great start --- but it took longer than two minutes. Of course, it was the fault of my mouse because it slipped a few times. You know the state is properly seated when the abbreviation of the state appears, but sometimes the mouse just didn't make it happen. Well, of course I did the "Type-A" thing and did the puzzle several more times until I could do well under two minutes!

Go to http://mistupid.com/geography/uspuzzle.htm and try for yourself. Don't feel bad it your mouse does you wrong like mine did! And no fair using another map as a guide.

Even though I had studied US geography, as I studied the completed map, I wondered about some of the quirks in the various state borders. So I "Googled" the question and was directed to a new book, How The States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein (Smithsonian Books, 2008). It's a quick read and does a great job explaining all four of each state's borders. It also reminds you of some US history you might have forgotten. For example, did you remember that Oklahoma got its panhandle as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that modified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 on the issue of slavery in new territories?

I was also interested in the explanation for some of the border quirks with our state of North Carolina. I now understand the southern border with South Carolina and the western border with Tennessee. I now also understand the straight line northern border that originally ran clear across the nation, and why there is some deviation in that straight line, especially in Tennessee and Missouri, and then the new line in Oklahoma New Mexico, and Arizona.

It's just facisinating, even if you aren't willing to ring in on the $2000 US geography question on Jeopardy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Did you know that September 17th is a US holiday? Don't feel bad, most don't! On September 17, 1787, all 12 state delegations approved the Constitution and 39 delegates of the 42 present signed it and the Convention formally adjourned.
The law establishing the holiday was created in 2004 with the passage of an amendment by Senator Robert Byrd to the Omnibus spending bill of 2004. Before this law was enacted, the holiday on September 17th was known as "Citizenship Day." In addition to renaming the holiday "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day," the act mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day. Just in case you might have just thought that you missed it, this holiday is not observed by granting time off work for federal employees!

In May 2005, the United States Department of Education announced the enactment of this law and that it would apply to any school receiving federal funds of any kind. Teachers and schools are free to design Constitution Day programming that best addresses the needs of their students. Federal executive employees observe the day with some sort of edifying lesson, program, or distributed materials about our Constitution.

For me, who as a commissioned officer took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," understanding these words was an important part of our education. Gaining understanding begins with the Preamble:

We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We are fortunate that some governments offices and others have several handy links to resources that can be used to enhance learning:

Also, Constitution Day, Inc., a tax deductible, non profit, and non partisan organization maintains a website, http://www.constitutionday.com/

Happy learning, and Happy Constitution Day and Citizenship Day!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

KUDOS! (WCHL Commentary)

WOW! We sure were lucky with the intruder named Hanna, and even more so when you think about her relative named Fran who was very unkind to us that terrible 5th and 6th of September 1996. Fortunately, Hanna did nowhere near the damage, and for that, we should be very thankful.

But Hanna was clearly wasn’t a non-event for everyone.
For our governments, significant time and resources went into planning for the storm. Some folks after the storm called it about much ado about nothing, but sanity dictates that we plan for the worst and hope for the best. After all, predicting the exact track that an unpredictable storm will follow just isn’t possible.

We had a lot of water fall on us and we did experience flooding, fallen trees and power losses. We received great information and I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to WCHL for what they did during the storm. Once again, they proved the value of a community radio station by providing the kind of LOCAL coverage that they did. Not only did they air field reports and updates from their staff, Duke Energy and Town officials on the conditions in the local area Saturday morning, they also had listeners call in and share what they were seeing.

We as a community are truly fortunate to have a resource like WCHL to provide accurate, timely and useful information on what’s happening as a result of these weather events. Kudos to you WCHL and all of the members of the 1360 family; you are a true asset to our community.

Monday, August 11, 2008

MORE TAXES (WCHL Commentary)

Us baby boomers who remember our 50s TV know the answer to the question, "Say kids, what time is it?" Well, in August 2008, the answer isn’t "It's Howdy Doody Time!" The modern answer is, It’ Tax Bill Time! Even knowing what the increases were really doesn’t prepare you for seeing the numbers in print.

For my house, the new city, school and County rates translated to a 7.76% increase from last year. But when I compare this new bill to our 1995 bill, it comes to a whopping 70% increase. I think we get a lot of value for our tax dollars, but here’s the thing. We have more and more people who will be forced out of our community if we aren’t careful.

Those citizens on fixed incomes, and many still working are not going to be able to keep pace with these increases. We all know that we depend much too much on personal property taxes and that we need more businesses paying commercial taxes. I think we have to reexamine constantly our needs and wants. We have to fix what prevents us from having a more balanced tax base. We also have to take a hard look at how we are using our tax dollars.

If the greatness of our community is placed in jeopardy because more and more citizens can’t afford to continue living here, then we are not the community that we should be. Even Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the clown would understand this threat and they would support the need to fix this. How about you?

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Last night's opening ceremony was nothing short of spectacular in every respect. As we watched, we were reminded of our time in Beijing in the summer of 2006. We were staying at the Crowne Plaza and my wife was attending a management conference at the International Conference Center just down the street. The Crowne Plaza Hotel is a truly beautiful five-star hotel and now is serving as a headquarters hotel for the Olympics!

The added benefit of our hotel was that it was just across from the Olympic Green where the "Bird's Nest" and the Olympic Village were under construction. One afternoon, my wife went out to look at the stadium and decided to take pictures of the construction site. She was quickly spotted by a guard who followed her around while she snapped away. The guard never said a word, but carefully followed her to ensure that she was not going to harm what would become the "pride of China" on 8/8/08.

Here is what it looked like in June of 2006. Note the smog! One day, we could not even see the construction from our window, but then it rained and the smog disappeared. Seems like they are still dealing with the smog.

(Double click on the "Photos by Sylvia" to make them larger.)

For more information on the Bird's Nest, click here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


While in DC last weekend, I had some free time on Saturday afternoon so I walked down to the White House to see the happenings. Back in the 60s when we protested at the White House, you did it on the sidewalk that was between the wrought iron fence and the traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, the street is blocked off and they have erected barriers all over the place.

The topic was WAR and the protesters and counter-protesters were nearly in about the same numbers as the media and police. As their signs indicate, there were many concerns. Irrespective who happens to be living in the building at any moment, the White House is simply a spectacular building. I hope my shots from the front and back are doing it justice. But the fact remains, we have the freedom to protest our government and leaders, and protest those protesting our government and leaders. Is this a great country or what!

(Double click photos to enlarge)

Monday, July 7, 2008


The week of June 20th, we took a group of our church youth to Knoxville, TN to participate in a summer urban ministry program. We as a group have participated in other summer programs but this was the first in an urban setting. For a week, we experienced a variety of faith formation, leadership development activities, and hands-on mission work with the homeless and less-fortunate folks in the heart of downtown Knoxville.

We worked in a facility much like our IFC. We assisted in Project Live, doing yard work for the elderly poor. We sorted and bagged food donations at Salvation Army and worked in their warehouse. We spent time at youth center. We helped at a day shelter for the homeless. We worked at their Fresh Air Camp, and we worked at a great community garden project adjacent to a public housing complex. A unique service was to walk up and down the street with a Red Flyer wagon filled with a pot of ice water to help refresh the men women and children on the street. What a week of growth!

Someone asked the obvious question; why couldn’t we do these same things in our community? The camp director provided the answer: it took them a while to structure all of the legal and bureaucratic requirements in order for young people to work at the various sites and projects. Their model works, and I’m sure that with some sound planning and hard work, we could provide our youth with similar experiences right here in our community.

Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of JULY

This is my favorite picture of mine taken in Philadelphia, PA. I like that our two important images are present, for the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall tell a great American story.

Pardon me for being more than a little upset with those who desire to attach significance to the fact that former Senator Jesse Helms died on the 4th just like patriots Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. To now try to convince me that he respected all people and loved everyone is just too hard for me to accept.

He does not compare to those two patriots and I just wonder where we as a nation and state might have been if he had not fought so vigorously against civil rights and the equality of all people. What he and his supporters were willing to do to win an election is well documented and he, unlike others of the great Southern segregationist, never apologized for his words and deeds.

I prefer to look at my picture and remember how we as a nation got started. Even though we didn't get everything right in the beginning, we're at least moving down the right path.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


On Saturday June 14th, our community had a great happening – we graduated almost 750 young men and women from two of our high schools. There were many, many family celebrations after graduation, but we as a community ought to celebrate too. Some discount the notion that it takes a village, but it truly does. Families and friends provided lots of support to these young people as they developed to the point of graduation. The administrators, staff, and faculty worked hard to provide the education that they received, but it’s the people of the village, if you will, who provided critical resources that were necessary to help make this great education possible.

We want our children to receive a solid education from talented and caring professionals and we know that the costs of doing this are rising rapidly. Our budgets are tight and it’s hard to fund everything, but we as a community remain committed to providing resources to help prepare our children for the future. We also know that not every aspect of education is about money, and many in this community devote a lot of time to guiding, supporting, and nurturing. These things will never appear in a budget.

As our graduates now go out and build on the foundation they received in our schools, whether it is additional education or the workplace, we as a community should celebrate their success and the successes to come. Yes, it takes a village, and this one has every right to be proud of this most important product --- those we have helped to educate!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

IS THIS RIGHT? (WCHL Commentary)

You’ve heard the old line, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!” On Monday June 9th I appeared before our Town Council and spoke against public financing of elections. In my statement, I asked our elected leaders to consider the state of the economy and the tax increases at virtually every level. I ended by asking them to show citizens where their priorities are.

My bad! They did show it in a pretty dramatic way. They first passed an ordinance granting council members who serve two terms to continue their health insurance with tax dollars paying 75% of the cost. This is the same as what a 15-year full-time employee receives. They did approve public financing of elections, but we have no clue about how much it will cost. And when they approved the budget, it granted council members a 3% cost of living increase too.

I don’t begrudge them their pay and benefits; they work hard for us, but even our Congress passed the 27th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992 to provide that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Would you believe that this was first submitted in 1789? Maybe one day we will also catch up, because it just appears wrong to increase your own compensation without having an election before it takes effect. The test of the ballot box is one of our great traditions; maybe we should use it in cases like this!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


As we begin the unofficial start of summer, please take a moment to pause from your normal activities and honor those brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our nation.

The "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution, passed on Dec 2000, asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps."

In case you want to see some data, here are the numbers through 2006.

Since that report, we have lost another 997 of our men and women, as of May 23d.

Taking a moment or two to remember is the least that we can do.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Yes, we should vote, but should we subsidize the campaigns of those asking us for our votes?

On Wednesday evening, May 14, our Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a public hearing on a proposal to fund a voter owned elections. The details are here on the Town page. The idea is that candidates who voluntarily participate and qualify can receive a $3000 public grant as a council candidate and a $9000 public grant as a mayoral candidate. The Council proposal recommends allocating funding of $50,000 in the 2008-09 Recommended Budget that’s also being considered.

This is the same budget where our Manager recommends an 11% increase in our taxes. I won’t be to attend Wednesday evening, but if I were, I would raise several questions. Are we fixing a problem that really exists? Is campaign spending corrupting our local electoral process? In our last council election, the number one vote getter spent the least amount of money! If this isn’t one of our most pressing problems, should we raise taxes and fund political candidates, or should we address many other pressing needs like maybe using our dollars to add another firefighter or police officer?

We also should know how this program would keep someone from independently spending unlimited funds in support of, or opposition to a candidate or group of candidates. Our recent experience with opposition spending for the transfer tax ballot item shows the power of such dollars.

Finally, will this program result in more people running for office? I believe that our real problem is not raising funds, but folks having the time to serve and still meet their work, family and other obligations. Our Council should study this before implementing taxpayer-subsidized campaigns in Chapel Hill.

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2008


My wife and I attended our 40th Class Reunion at Howard University last weekend. A major topic of conversation was the announcement of our new president. The current president, H. Patrick Swygert (1994-2008) was a student when our class was in residence, earning a BA in 1965 and receiving his law degree with us in 1968, so he was a "friend" of many of us.

The debate was familiar - the Trustees ratified the recommendation of the selection committee chaired by Gen. Colin Powell and Richard Parsons, Chair of the Time Warner Board. The new president is Dr. Sidney Ribeau, currently the president of Bowling Green State University. Some were bothered that he had no prior connection with Howard and it would take him a long while to ramp up. Sound familiar? I guess many institutions and organizations have this debate.

The institution has only had two of the 15 former presidents receive degrees there. The current president has been there 13 years and has been president of two other schools. The first graduate president was there only four years and had many problems before leaving.

So back and forth it went, with no resolution on what model worked best. One classmate who is a dean elsewhere observed that after the long tenure of an "insider," an "outsider" has some definite advantages. I tend to agree. Is the reverse true as well?

The other topic of discussion was the absence of three of our more "well known/highly placed" classmates: The Prime Minister of Bermuda, the Mayor of Atlanta, and The Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Could have gotten real interesting!

I guess the 50th will be here before we know it!

Monday, April 28, 2008


The other day, I got one of those emails that end with the "share this with everybody you know" line. As I read this junk sent by a "friend," I could only wonder if he read it before sending it on to me. If he did read red it, I had to wonder if he believed it, or maybe, it was a test to see if I would believe it!

Clearly, this is a downside of the Internet: people can write just about anything they want and send it around the world in nothing flat. There have probably been a score of dissertations done on this issue already that might provide some insight, but I am still left with my question: why do "friends" send you junk that you hope that they can't possibly believe. After all, don't we want to believe that our friends have good sense?

Well, in my recent experience, I dutifully got the cite from Snopes and sent it back to my "friend" with a comment suggesting that he might want to bookmark that cite so he could check out stuff before forwarding it. The message back was even more telling: just because Snopes says it's a hoax doesn't prove that it is one.

With the modern twist to how we on the sidelines can "participate" in politics in a significant way, it's easy to help attack someone with one of these type messages. So natch - Barack Obama really does want to change our National Anthem to the "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" song. Maybe he would also designate Coca-Cola our national beverage while he's at it!

Silly me, it has to be true, it was on the Internet!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The other day, Jesse DeConto of the CHN posted a comment on the N&O Blog about a happening in Carrboro. It has drawn almost no response I guess for obvious reasons.

I personally reacted to his post because of where the logical conclusion to what he wrote took me. There's a store in U-Mall I no longer frequent because of the guy that picks up my trail when I walk in. I know others who have had the same experience there and in other establishments as well. I don't like what these sort of behaviors say to me and say about us as a community.

Sure, we are all angry about crime in our community and I guess some would argue that there are good reasons for all of the fear. But George Patton put it well: Do not take counsel of your fears. Bad things happen when we do, but some clearly disagree. Here's what Jesse wrote:

Carrboro Police: Citizens define "suspicious"
Monday, April 21, 2008, 7:06:32 PM | Jesse DeConto
Last week, after receiving a warning from her property manager about a recent armed robbery, a University Lake Apartments resident called 911 to report a black male teenager riding his bicycle through the complex. The General Services Corporation, which manages University Lake and the adjacent Royal Park Apartments, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone guilty of crime in the complexes. Victims have described the robbers as black men, 18 to 20 years old.

Carrboro Police Capt. J.G. Booker encourages citizens to make such calls, even though police often discover the suspect hadn't done anything wrong. Booker said officers can speak to a potential suspect with courtesy and professionalism, so it's better to call them and let them decide whether someone is up to no good.

"It's absolutely what we're looking for," Booker said. "If they see anything that appears to them to be suspicious, they should call. They know that neighborhood and that complex perhaps better than the police do. Without a call like that, the chance of us finding the people who are responsible for these incidents is greatly reduced."

What would you do? Is the sight of a black teenager you don't know in your neighborhood cause for a 911 call?

I asked (tongue-in-cheek) what made a person a suspect or even a potential suspect, riding a bike? The only responder indicated that a person "riding a bike at 5 miles an hour means you are going from point A to point B. Riding a bike at two miles an hour means your casing joints where you can do your crimes."

I called that an ignorant and gross generalization and the responder invited me over: "Come live in my neighborhood Mr Black and you'll see how ignorant and gross this generalization is. FYI: 3 break ins in the last 18 months." Well, I asked, "And during that 18 month period, how many people rode their bikes in you neighborhood, three?"

I think the point was lost on the person, but it is significant that no one to date has responded to Jesse's original question. " What would you do? Is the sight of a black teenager you don't know in your neighborhood cause for a 911 call?"

It's not really about the bike, is it? It's all about who's on the bike, the fear someone might have about the person on the bike, and a commitment to a disturbing kind of thinking: If it walks like a duck, and quacks like duck, it must be...?

Maybe Joe Biden might think the kid on the bike is "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." I'm still wondering where our fears will take us as a community.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I wanted UNC to win the national basketball championship as much as any Tar Heel fan, but I can live with accepting a great season without a championship. Obviously, some others can’t, and it appears that their inability to do so really drives them off the edge.

You have to have been living under a rock to be unaware of the hateful reaction directed towards Coach Williams for appearing at the championship game with a Kansas “Jayhawk” sticker on his shirt. His doing this brought out not only the hate speech types, but the conspiracy theorist clearly identified who they were.

It appears that wearing the sticker was a sign of disloyalty in their way of thinking. After all, their reasoning went, KU had just beat UNC so how could Coach Williams shift his loyalties like that. For the conspiracy types, they offered that Coach Williams must have told the team to throw the game because he wanted KU to win.

OK, we have never had a shortage of weird and convoluted thinking in sports, but what are these people thinking? I thought that maybe they have never had their hearts invested in different things and therefore they couldn’t understand someone who did. Then I thought that maybe their outlandish allegations on talk radio, the sports blogs and in letters to the editors were part of who they were and how they grieved and sought closure.

Naw, none of the above – these people just don’t understand that this is a game, this is a sport, and someone can love their team without hating all the other teams that they may have been associated with. Roy Williams should be proud of the Kansas team - he is part of who they are, and being proud is not a zero-sum game.

It’s interesting that when UNC beat a Williams coached team in the NCAA playoffs some years ago, Williams was at the UNC's next game cheering on his former institution. Did he tell the KU players to throw the game or hate his former team? Of course not, all he did was to show that he was a good sport.

I hope all of those who have impugned the integrity and character that so wonderfully defines Coach Williams will have some sort of enlightenment experience. Maybe they will somehow figure out what’s really defines a champion and a coach that produces winners.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


This year’s "March Madness" has sure been exciting – How ‘bout our Heels! And when madness ends next week, it will quickly be replaces with another round of madness, and this one is of the political species. You may remember early on all of the pundits said with their normal insightful certainty that because of our late primary in North Carolina, everything would be over with when May 6th rolled around.

Well, once again they are wrong, at least in the case of the Democratic Party presidential primary. We are now part of the mix and the reminders are everywhere – candidates opening local campaign headquarters, commercials on TV and visits trying to drum up support. As exciting as a presidential campaign might be, we can’t forget that there are other important races.

Depending on where you live and which ballot you vote, you can help select the November candidates for US Senator and House of Representatives; North Carolina governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor, commissioner of insurance, superintendent of public instruction; State Senate District 23, non-partisan judges, the Orange County Board of Education, Orange County Commissioner seats, and you can have your say on the proposed land transfer tax.

With many decisions to make, now's the time to study the issues and learn where the candidates stand. You can register prior to April 11th and even do same day registration and early voting from April 17th to May 3d.

I hope that you will cast a ballot in our May 6th primary. True madness would be not having your say! Care enough to get informed and then go to your polling place and be an informed voter!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


There has been plenty of press coverage of Eve Carson and how she made a difference in this world. As the president of the UNC-CH student body, as a scholar, as a volunteer helping numerous causes, as a friend - in every instance folks have portrayed her as truly special person with a big heart.

The cause of her death and all of the specifics are still not known, but we at least have been able to identify two suspects. Sadly, because of the suspects, some in our community see this case in terms of black and white and want to portray it in only those terms.

UNC-CH Chancellor James Moeser had some fitting words about this when he spoke at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Banquet in January. In his remarks, he told the audience the Cherokee legend of the “Two Wolves”

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

So, when I read a letter like the one in the 3/19/08 Chapel Hill Herald by a local resident, I have to wonder if he realizes which one he’s feeding:

Our real crime problem

It certainly appears that Eve Carson of the University of North Carolina and Lauren Burk of Auburn University, both white females, were cheerfully murdered by black males.

Will the editorial pages of major news" papers demand that hate crime charges be appended to the indictments? Will the Justice Department nullify the constitutional protections against double jeopardy and order that the Alabama defendant stand trial for civil rights violations if the' first jury returns a verdict of not guilty? Will a Chapel Hill white mob riot and loot black businesses if the Orange County district attorney treats the black-on-white crime as a misdemeanor complaint?

Umm ...maybe not.

The simple fact is that if the United States did not have a black violent crime problem, the United States would not have much of a violent crime problem.

Now, back to our obligatory Black Studies coursework, and another recitation of real or imagined white-on-black offenses that occurred in nineteen-aught-something.

Frank Hurley
Chapel Hill

There’s probably not much point in responding to Mr. Hurley, but I think he best be real careful about that well-fed wolf he he’s got. How about the rest of us?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

PATIENCE (WCHL Commentary)

All our lives we told that patience is a virtue, it makes us better people when we are able to tolerate delay and exercise self-control. We must understand that we can’t always get what we want, when we want it. We learn and typically relearn the folly of our ways after we have jumped to conclusions.

We as a community find ourselves in the midst of an investigation of a tragic murder of a truly outstanding and popular woman who was the Carolina student body president. I want this to be as it is on that TV show – the perp is apprehended before half after the hour, convicted before the top of the hour, and then we get see the cops and the DAs reflect for a minute or so on their success.

Well, real life is not like that TV show. In real life, we have to be patient, and that’s really hard, especially for us TYPE A’s! I’ve been very impressed with the way UNC, the town leadership and our police chief, Brian Curran, have handled the case thus far, but I still want speedy answers. We know that a rush to judgment based on the released photos isn’t right, but it’s hard to await the facts.

Shock, fear, dismay, sadness, revulsion, and anger work against us being patient, in spite of us knowing what’s right. And getting this right is an important thing our community can do to honor the memory of Eve Carson. Hopefully, it will also help the healing process for her loved ones and all who care about this appalling and horrific crime. So we need to draw on our well of virtue, tolerate delay and exercise self-control. Let’s all be patient.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TOWING (WCHL Commentary)

What do panhandling, the men’s homeless shelter, and Kidzu have in common with the current towing issue? All these issues are related to the vitality of downtown Chapel Hill and the willingness of people to come downtown. Furthermore, each provides significant opportunities to demonstrate where we as a community stand when we have to prioritize competing values.

In the current towing discussion, the Town Council heard from citizens who believed that there is predatory towing. They also heard from those in the towing business who told their version of the story. So how do you balance the interests of the small business owners and not discourage people from coming downtown? No matter how you slice it, some will never be satisfied with whatever compromises our leaders implement, but whatever they decide, they will have to prioritize some value over another.

Some would be happy to require businesses to open their lots at night instead of towing those who purposely or not ignore the private property – no parking signs. Others think people should have to take responsibility for their illegal parking choices and pay for it. Where’s the balance point for you? For me, I oppose predatory towing practices and I oppose people parking wherever the desire. I want a vibrant downtown. I want us to do what’s right for everybody, and that’s the rub; just what is right?. What do you say?

Thursday, February 7, 2008


All of the faithful and loyal Carolina fans just knew that we would beat Dook last night. After all, it's just the way things in the world are suppose to be. When Dook comes to "our house," they are just required to have a long, painful and quiet ride those eight miles back up 15-501, reflecting in their loss and secretly wishing that they could have stayed in town to enjoy the celebrations on Franklin Street. Rumor has it that you'll find lots on Dookies on Franklin street anyway, as they have to come to us to party.

The odds-makers had Carolina by 6 points. How were they to know that our shooting would go cold, our defense would be sub-par, and we would make too many turnovers? They knew Lawson would not play, but they had UNC winning anyway. And it should have been as it should have been - we should have won!

Alas, we didn't! But March 8th is coming and we will beat them Dookies on their floor. That's why we play the game!

Monday, February 4, 2008


I don’t know how much money was lost yesterday because of the Super Bowl victory of the Giants over the Patriots, but I suspect that the upset involved a lot of money. Super Bowl XLII (BTW, do people really know their Roman numerals anymore?) was supposed to complete the Patriot’s “perfect season.” The Patriots even trademarked the line and variations on it to ensure they controlled the market for using it.

As a Giants fan, I was happy and had said in the weeks leading up to the game that the stats don’t really mean much more than what they are – stats; that’s why we play the game! If you were to fall for the hype, the Giants should have just sat at home and forfeited. Over and over, the media hype concluded that the so-called “greatest team ever” could not loose this game (another clue about the betting line being what it was!).

But it’s not just football’s Super Bowl and other sporting contests where this is a problem. Political contests are victims of the same kind of thinking. Phrases like “it’s a sure thing,” he or she is a “lock,” “no one can beat him or her,” “not worth the money to try to run,” and "they just isn't able to win" are all part of our political dialogue. Why bother having the election if all this so-called expert data is so accurate?

We have seen this problem already this year in the primaries, and of course, tomorrow’s Super Tuesday falls prey to the same thinking. Studies have shown that these reports in the media really do affect people. Why bother registering or voting, the winner is a foregone conclusion, some may believe. My one vote can’t change the outcome, others may complain.

Yet repeatedly, like last night’s Super Bowl, we are reminder why we play the game. Data is not supreme. We play the game because the underdog can in fact win. Human behavior is not and never has been a done deal. Stuff happens and underdogs do win. All sorts of things might explain why this happens, but it can never happen if we don’t accept this simple position – play the game and see who wins! Don’t let “them” tell us who the winner is! Let the efforts of the competitors answer the question, not the green eyeshade data manipulators!

Play the game!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The other day while waiting for my appointment, the conversation went something like this: “It was great; you should have been there,” she said. “I didn’t know about it,” her friend replied. “I sent you an email,” the answer came back. Friend came back with “I get too much mail so I probably ignored it! You should have called me.” “Well,” her friend retorted, “I hate talking to your machine since you always let your phone calls go to the answer machine.”

And so it goes. Are we ailing from too much information being made available to us? I think a good question is how do we learn about things that are happening that we care about?

The problem is that between emails, radio, TV, blogs, newspapers, information and video feeds on the Internet, discussion groups, poster signs, telephone calls, and word of mouth, I think it’s reasonable to think one can suffer from information overload. Yet and still, there are always people who don’t get the word. Remember the old line: some don’t know, some don’t care, and a small number both know and care!

Since each of us “manage” information differently, a lot of us probably manage to miss stuff that we care about because our process "blocks" stuff that we would really want to know. Fewer people read newspapers. Fewer people watch TV news. More people turn to the Internet, but how do they know what they might have missed until it’s too late?

I wonder how others are dealing with this and what recommendations they have for how to help busy people stay informed. What really ails us, apathy, ignorance, overload or a combination?

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Last year I wrote a column entitled "Private vs. Public, Where's The Line?" I concluded it by saying, "Let’s hope that our representatives do what’s necessary to ensure that we don’t become victims of technology or the valid need for public documents. Being a victim is not a good thing."

They did! Effective December 1, 2007 our General Assembly passed Session Law 2007-534 (House Bill 454):

AN ACT to protect the identity of individuals by authorizing the taking of a photograph of a person who is cited for a motor vehicle moving violation, who does not produce a valid drivers license upon the request of a law enforcement officer, and where the law enforcement officer has a reasonable suspicion regarding the true identity of the person, and to provide a cause of action for a person whose identifying information is published over objection.

This law adds to North Carolina's existing identity theft protection act by making it a violation of the act for any person to "knowingly broadcast or publish to the public on radio, television, cable television, in a writing of any kind, or on the Internet, the personal information of another with actual knowledge that the person whose personal information is disclosed has previously objected to any such disclosure."

Other details can be seen in the actual law. In my mind, it's very important for us that this law explicitly states that it can be enforced by individuals, rather than limiting the right to bring suit under the law to the state attorney general. Also, the North Carolina law includes a statutory damages provision, which addresses difficulties that individuals seem to experience when trying to show actual damages in cases in the past.

We can thank an individual named Glenn Hagele who lobbied for this specific law to help deal with the situation where an individual's personal information was made available on the Internet as a reprisal for some public statements amde by an individual. Without Glenn's work on the law, there is simply no reason to think it would exist. Also, there is growing organized pressure on to act to solve this problem.

Kudos to the members of the GA who voted for this and helped the law catch up with our technology!