Dependable Erection

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday afternoon whingefest

I was saying to Mrs. D the other day that i hadn't indulged myself in a really good whine about the incomprehensibility of some of our local government's actions in quite some time.

So here goes.

I love the landscaping at the Guess Rd. and Hillandale Rd. interchanges of the widened I-85.

There's that lovely brickwork at the ped crossings.

The plantings, daylillies and whatever that fuzzy, red topped grass is called, are also quite attractive, and functional, keeping cars off the median.

In fact, it's so nice, you'd think that the gateway to downtown would be landscaped just as attractively.

Boy, would you be wrong.

According to folks at the NCDOT and the city's Transportation Dep't., the decision to upgrade the landscaping at Guess and Hillandale from the DOT's standard poured concrete was made after members of the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) saw just how ugly the interchanges at Roxboro and Avondale turned out. So they spent the extra money, which comes from local government coffers, and not out of the state's highway budget, on the pretty landscaping.


Guess Rd is the gateway to empty service stations and used car lots.

Roxboro St. is the downtown Durham exit from I-85. It's the exit you take if you're going to a Bulls game, or to the new theater, and you're not coming into town on 147. And Roxboro and Avondale both cross the Ellerbe Creek.

You can also get to the largest beaver pond east of the NC mountains right off of Avondale Dr.

On the other hand, there's a hundred thousand square feet of retail space that's sat empty where the K-Mart used to be, and some really depressed property values and empty houses along the stretch of Avondale just south of I-85, which basically functions as the gateway to North East Central Durham.

So i can't figure out why our elected officials wouldn't want to spring for the upgrades to the landscaping for Roxboro and Avondale as well. Is this how we want to welcome visitors to our city:

Wouldn't this be smarter:

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Begging for change

Interesting discussion on the ABCD list the past few days about getting more people out into the CCB (or See Say Be, as our old friend Blazer used to call it) Plaza.

The question was asked about having street musicians or artists busking there as a way of drawing interest and spectators.

Joy Mickle, Downtown Development Coordinator for the city, wrote in to explain some of the roadblocks:
DDI, and the City of Durham's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Parks and Recreation have had discussions related to how to encourage/support/finance street performers in the CCB plaza and in downtown. Currently the issues of insurance/risk management for performers who may be injured and/or sue the City or the sponsoring company remain a hurdle. We are still working through some of these issues for a final solution.

Fair enough, i suppose. I know that New York, for example, at one time sponsored performers to busk in the subways; so there are probably models out there for dealing with the insurance issues. but Durham may have enough liability issues on its hands in the future not to want to take on more, and that's understandable.

Ben Kimmel then asked:
But what if I wanted to hang out there and play music? I don't mean set up a stage and massive speakers - just me and a guitar and 50-80 bikers? ; )

Here's where it gets interesting. Joy responded:
Legally you can sit out and play music on the street all day long as long as you don't ask for money (which violates the City of Durham's panhandling ordinance) and if you are getting paid (by the City or by a private entity) then you need a City of Durham business license (so City taxes can be tracked) and if something happened to you and you were being paid whoever is paying you then becomes liable.

The point is that there are questions to be answered if we are to have PAID street performers in Downtown. If people want to do it for free and are not "panhandling" then you can play your guitar till your heart is content (and then as long as it doesn't create a disturbance or violate a noise ordinance).
she also posted the relevant sections of city code, which the Attorney's office apparently determined meant that you cannot play your guitar with an open case in front of you.

Let's look at the ordinance. (Note to any city officials reading this - a big fat link to the city's Code of Ordinances on the city website is probably a good idea.)

Section 12-28 is the relevant section. Paragraph (a) defines a bunch of terms, including "To beg or solicit alms or contributions," "Accosting another person," "Forcing oneself upon the company of another person," and "Public place."

Paragraph (b) states, pretty clearly: It shall not be unlawful to beg or solicit alms or contributions except when performed in the following manner:

and then goes on to use the terms defined above to expressly forbid accosting or forcing oneself upon the company of another person. The ordinance also sets some location limits, to wit, not within 20 feet of a bank entrance or ATM, or within 6 feet of a bus stop. Finally, subsection 4 reads:
(4) In a public place twenty (20) minutes before sunrise and twenty (20) minutes after sunset. For purposes of enforcement of this section, the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" shall be determined by and based on the times for those events published daily by the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department.

I guess this last is confusing. Does it mean, between 20 minutes before the sun comes up, and 20 minutes after the sun goes down, you can't solicit? Or does it mean that prior to 20 minutes before the sun comes up, and subsequent to 20 minutes after the sun goes down (ie, during dark hours) that you can't solicit. I'd assume the latter, but i'm not a lawyer. The key is that paragraph (b) clearly says that soliciting is legal unless you do it wrong. So i'm curious to know what reasoning the city used to make the blanket announcement that it's not.

Anybody able to enlighten me on this?

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Continue reading Begging for change

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Transfer tax revisited

You may recall that back in August, the General Assembly gave counties in North Carolina a bit of discretion in enacting new sources of revenue. Counties could add a quarter of a cent to the sales tax, or increase the tax on property transfers by .4 percent. In Durham the transfer fee is currently .2 percent, so that would have increased the tax to .6 percent (60 cents per hundred dollars, or $600 on a one hundred thousand dollar sale)

The catch was that voters in the county would have to approve the increase. Sixteen counties around the state put the transfer tax increase on the ballot, and it was defeated in every case. Chatham County was the nearest to Durham to ask voters to weigh in on this.

The conventional wisdom is that the real estate and development lobbies successfully argued to voters that taxing home sales unfairly put the burden of financing new schools and other infrastructure on current residents who are selling their homes, and not on newcomers. In one stunning moment, i heard the president of the Durham Association of Realtors actually speak in favor of impact fees, which would be assessed on new development, even the Realtors at the state and local levels have lobbied against these in the past. We'll see if that marked a change in actual policy or merely a convenient rhetorical device.

Regardless, most county commissioners in the state are now convinced that the transfer tax is dead in the water.

A recent poll done by Public Policy Polling for Wake County yields some interesting results.
The most important message to convey to the voters is that there are costs associated with growth and that they will have to be paid through some form of taxation. Foes of transfer tax measures this fall created the impression that not paying was an option. It isn’t, and the counties with referendums this fall failed to get that message across to their citizens.

In order to leap that hurdle we prefaced our poll with the statement that ‘Wake County is growing rapidly and must increase its revenue to pay for new schools, parks, roads, water and sewer.’ Given that background and before being asked about alternative ways of paying for growth, poll respondents supported a transfer tax by a margin of 49-40%.

Support for the transfer tax increased when folks were given the choice of a transfer tax or another form of taxation. For instance when pitted against the specter of property tax increases, a transfer tax was preferred by a spread of 59-20% among survey respondents. If counties effectively communicate that a transfer tax will help relieve the burden of property tax increases, their voters are much more likely to support a referendum.

Lots of folks out there want to live in the fantasy world that all the new people who move into the Triangle will increase municipal revenues enough to pay for all the new infrastructure to support them. Those folks no doubt are comfortable with their kids spending their entire scholastic careers in trailers.


Continue reading Transfer tax revisited

Everybody, repeat after me


. . . more here.

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Continue reading Everybody, repeat after me

Parking discussion

Kevin and Gary have posts up about the possible closing of Seminary St. by the downtown Y for conversion to a surface parking lot. Right now, i'm trying to revisit my thoughts yesterday to determine whether or not the sentence "The Y also recommends adding family/youth locker rooms to the downtown facility (a widely-cited need) and trying to close Seminary St. with the City's blessing in order to add more parking capacity for the facility." should be interpreted to mean that the Y is seeking the "City's blessing" to close Seminary St., or whether the City has already given its blessing to closing the street.

My problem is with the hodgepodge of conflicting city policies and initiatives, of bike plans, pedestrian plans, new bus hubs, and rhetoric which all seem to say "Onward into the less car dependent future," and construction projects and actual decision making which in fact does just the opposite. Anybody from city government want to chime in and tell us definitively whether or not the city has given its "blessing" to closing Seminary St.? And while you're here, maybe you can talk about how the city intends to actually, you know, implement these fine plans and initiatives it's spent so much money creating over the past few years?

UPDATE: In comments over at Kevin's, Councilperson Mike Woodard flat out stated: "The City has not "blessed" a proposal to close Seminary Street."

That's good to hear. Hopefully, that will remain the case.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scoopin' the food bloggers with some bad news

Word on the street is that Starlu is closing just before Christmas. I'm trying to confirm this now.

I've had several enjoyable meals at Starlu, but i think it comes down to location, location, location.

If true, i hope the owners give it another go at a place that doesn't feel quite so desolate, especially during the nice weather when you'd like to dine al-fresco and look at something other than a parking lot.

UPDATE: Confirmed. I think this is a real loss for the Durham food scene.


Continue reading Scoopin' the food bloggers with some bad news

Downtown parking

So i'm reading the coverage of the Lakewood Y community meeting last night in the Herald Sun and over at Kevin's place. This is another one of those issues that i don't have a personal stake in. My experience with the Y over the years has been decidedly mixed. But i have a great deal of respect for the community members who are doing everything they can to convince the folks in Raleigh that the undersized facility in their part of town is worth saving. That they're having an impact on the process is a decidedly Durham thing.

But this post isn't about that.

Here's a quote from Kevin's piece that got my attention:
The Y also recommends adding family/youth locker rooms to the downtown facility (a widely-cited need) and trying to close Seminary St. with the City's blessing in order to add more parking capacity for the facility.
(emphasis added)

That's actually a throwaway line about parking. Kevin's main point is that the Y is committed to expansion, just not necessarily in the right places.

But the parking issue is a key one, at least for me. The city has some pretty misguided policies when it comes to parking. At a time when major cities are limiting the availability of free or cheap parking in their downtowns, as a means of encouraging people to get out of their cars, Durham is building parking decks and garages all over the place. Some cities have zoning laws that limit the number of parking spaces for new, urban development and redevelopment. In Durham, we have minimum parking requirements. We have pedestrian plans, we have bike plans, we have underutilized transit systems, we have new transit hubs being discussed and built and argued over. But when the rubber hits the road, what we end up with is more and more parking spaces.

Of course, what will inevitably follow is the dreaded "traffic congestion" caused by too many cars on our urban streets. And that will end up being accompanied by calls for wider streets, more turn lanes, and an infrastructure that is increasingly hostile to forms of transportation that are not automobile-centric.

More parking isn't the solution to every damn downtown problem, and it's time that all the different facets of Durham's disparate decision making authorities got on the same page with that.

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A thousand and one

I just wanted to take a brief moment to note that the post immediately below this marks the 1000th post to DE.

I guess i was wrong when i worried that i would run out of things to say.


Continue reading A thousand and one

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


From the Herald Sun, 21 December 2000:
Duke University's half-million dollar payment to the
city this week for under-billed water use ends a saga
that fueled heavy criticism of city and university

And the payment may herald more city efforts to
collect hundreds of thousands of dollars it says
others - including Durham Regional Hospital and IBM -
owe on their water bills.

. . .

Duke also agreed to pay $20,000 to cover an
independent study of city billing.

The study, conducted by Brown and Caldwell of
Charlotte, checked four Duke water meters for
underbilling. It found problems with one - a 10-inch
meter at 2535 Erwin Road.

"Brown and Caldwell estimates that the meter
under-reported water consumption by approximately 40
percent, at the time it was changed out
, based upon
the meter calibration provided by Durham," project
manager Rick Carrier wrote in letter faxed Tuesday to
Duke and the city staff.
(emphasis added)

I don't know about the rest of you, but i sure hope the city has been keeping its meters well maintained and calibrated. As that article and others noted, many of the city's larger water customers saw very large increases in their water bills when their meters were replaced in 2000, leading to the conclusion that they had been under billed (and their water usage under recorded) for years before that round of meter maintenance. Its been seven years, and i can't say as i know what the maintenance schedule for meters is. I know that mine failed in the summer of 2006 while i was on vacation, and was replaced when a neighbor reported a major leak in the front of my house. If you can confirm that the city has been keeping its meters maintained and calibrated since this incident, let us know in the comments.

thanks to an anonymous reader for digging up the HS article about Duke's previous water billing issues.

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Durham moves to Stage IV mandatory water use restrictions

As Ray Gronberg in the Herald Sun and Kevin at BCR reported earlier, the City of Durham announced a few minutes ago that Stage IV mandatory water use restrictions will be in effect beinning Monday, December 3.

Stage IV increases the goal of reducing water use to 50%, from the 30% reduction in Stage III.

From what we can tell by reading the city's website, the reduction is calculated from a baseline of just before restrictions were introduced, not from an equivalent period from a year ago. The website indicates that water usage in Durham has dropped year over year from 25.8 million gallons per day (mgd) to 23.7 mgd, or about 8.1%. Elsewhere on the site the claim is made that water use has been reduced by 28%, so clearly we're not looking at year over year figures. Since this September was one of the hottest on record, it should be pretty easy to get to numbers siginificantly below that baseline.

Our biggest question remains in dealing with those entities that have been given exemptions from the ban on outdoor watering, etc. About 70 or so exemption have been granted, including one to Duke University which allowed the athletic department to water artificially surfaced playing fields. According to the city,
Customers may secure a written license from the city manager (or his designee) to use water contrary to the Stage III mandatory conservation measures if it can be shown to the manager's satisfaction that the licensee's use of water will result in an overall thirty (30) percent or greater reduction in water use.
(emphasis added)

According to Ray's article, entities with a Stage III exemption will have to reapply for a stage IV exemption. The city should be making sure that those applying have in fact complied with the 30% reduction requirements before extending these exemptions to Stage IV. We've been asking, along with other citizens, for the city to show whether they've confirmed that exempt entities are in fact in compliance. That's a question that should be answered ASAP.


Continue reading Durham moves to Stage IV mandatory water use restrictions

Monday, November 26, 2007

Early stirrings in Lt. Governor race

i don't really have a dog in this fight yet, but this email from the Dan Besse campaign gives me something to hope for. Lt. Governor is not, as far as i can tell, a particularly significant position in NC government, but if Dan can bring these kinds of issues to the table, that's a good thing regardless.
The days after Thanksgiving are a great time to remember the importance of walking as exercise for our health, to be grateful when we have the safe opportunity for it, and to press for building safe walking opportunities for neighborhoods that don't have them now.

I'm speaking of the importance of safe pedestrian options like sidewalks, greenways, and safer street crossings. This also means good programs like "Safe Routes to School" (which helps promote healthy walking habits by schoolchildren through providing safe walking routes from neighborhoods to schools).

These are increasingly critical to dealing with a serious public health problem in our state and nation: the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. After all, how do we get our families out for a healthy walk unless there are safe places for them to stroll or run?

Both local and state actions are needed to bring safe, healthy walking opportunities to more of our citizens. As an elected local official—and one of my city's representatives to our urban area Transportation Advisory Committee—I understand the actions needed and have had the chance to actively promote them.

The email goes on to talk about the role Besse played in getting Winston-Salem to adopt its recent pedestrian plan and the importance of such blueprints to both growth and health issues.

Dan Besse's website is here.

As i said, i have no idea if Dan is the best candidate for Lt. Governor at this time. But it would be great if any of our Durham Councilpeople would remember that we've had a pedestrian plan for almost a year and a half, and start talking it up and finding the money to get it implemented.

UPDATE: Good discussion on the LG race over at Blue NC this morning. So far, only Hampton Dellinger has chimed in, but i expect to see comments form at least one if not all of the other Democratic candidates. More discussion here.

: LG candidates Pat Smathers and Dan Besse have also posted some remarks at the BlueNC threads linked to just above.

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Continue reading Early stirrings in Lt. Governor race

On Durham, Hollywood, and storytelling

Looks like i missed my opportunity to be the first to weigh in on John Schwade's column in the Durham News over the weekend, about the movies. But that's OK. I was having too good a time enjoying Durham to think about our town's image.

Schwade, in a piece called "When Hollywood calls, Bull Citizens always play the fool," takes issue with the portrayal of Durham in the national media, beginning with the classic "Bull Durham."
The rubes in the stands were presumably content to listen to a stadium announcer -- one of many locals who spoke in a parody of a Durham accent -- who would have had her microphone unplugged at a Little League game. Her condolence to a strikeout victim -- "Too bad, Butch, better luck next time" -- was more appropriate for Bulls fans who had hoped for a better movie.

Radio listeners endured an inarticulate play-by-play announcer who couldn't have been more unlike the future major leaguer at the microphone during the 1986 season, Gary Cohen, who has been broadcasting New York Mets games since 1989.

Leaving aside the fact that, after 15 years in town i couldn't begin to tell you what constitutes a "Durham accent," let's try to remember that "Bull Durham" is a story about two people in their thirties coming to terms with the loss of their youth, acknowledging that their dreams of glory are not going to come true, and finding happiness with each other anyway. Baseball simply provides a wrapper to tell this story, and Durham is only brush strokes filling in the edges. The storytellers have no more obligation to "accuracy" than did the makers of "Young Mr. Lincoln" or "The Green Berets". Or "Major League", which portrays a Cleveland that is much further removed from "reality" than anything in "Bull Durham."(Let me add here that, like Kevin, i saw this movie before moving to Durham, and found nothing unflattering in it's protrayal of the town or its people.)

It's no different for the documentaries. There's no such thing as minute-by-minute, historically accurate portrayal of the people, places, and events that make up our past. It's all story, and it's all filtered, and it's all, at least the good stuff, presented to create meaning where none exists. Our obligation, if we think the story is wrong, or the meaning irrelevant or simplistic, is to retell the story and give it the meaning we think it should have.

Besides, everyone knows that if you want historically accurate protrayals of North Carolina life, the way it really was, you stop searching at The Andy Griffith Show.

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Continue reading On Durham, Hollywood, and storytelling

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Royal Ice Cream marker

There's a heightened push being made to get a commemorative marker installed by the state to make note of the 1957 sit-in for civil rights at the site of the Royal Ice Cream parlor on Roxboro St.

Although i've written about this event, (as have a number of other Durham bloggers), and the commemorative events that took place earlier this year marking the 50th anniversary of the sit-in, i don't know as i've flat out said here that i support, at a minimum, the state installing a commemorative marker at the site.

I'd like to correct that oversight. Put the marker up.

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Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Rose of Sharon Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Several quick notes of thanks to make on this holiday weekend.

First off to Sean and everyone else who helped put together the Black Friday Beer Fest yesterday evening at Rigsbee Hall. Turnout was somewhat more than Sean expected, and somewhat less than i was afraid of, so i think everybody was happy. With luck, this will turn out to be the first annual. Durham used to be home of the Southeastern Microbrewers Association festival back in the early - mid 90s, so there's room in the schedule for a second event. Another dozen or so beers to sample and this will be a must attend event for all Triangle beer lovers.

Second, thanks to all of you who stop by and read occasionally, especially to those of you who take the time to comment on what i've written. It's somewhat trendy in the Durham blogosphere this week to take note of milestones and anniversaries. Just so you know, over the next two or three days, i'll make the 1000th post to DE, and between Christmas and New Year's we'll celebrate our 2nd anniversary. The very first post to DE is here, for those of you who missed it, and what i lovingly refer to as The Origin Issue can be found here, published on New Year's Day, 2006. I didn't even bother opening a Sitemeter account until June of this past year, figuring that no one was really reading this thing. But, again, thanks to everyone who stops by on occasion to check this site out. November is already far and away our busiest month, in terms of visits, visitors, and page views. I hope i can continue to say things interesting enough to keep you stopping by in the future. 2008 will be another election year (the Most Important Election Until The Next One™ if i'm not mistaken) and i will certainly have something irrelevant and obnoxious to say about the runup to November.

In the meantime, drink local beer, eat local food, and listen to local music. That's why we live here, isn't it?

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Continue reading Thanks!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lawyers and judges

Lawyers take a lot of shit in American popular culture, and a lot as well from well funded efforts to paint lawyers as the enemy of the people by driving up prices (especially insurance prices) with expensive, frivolous lawsuits.*

I think for a lot of us, we don't really have much contact with those in the legal profession on a daily basis, and when we do, it's usually because we're in trouble or getting screwed. so it's easy to look unkindly upon those whose profession allows them to get paid even while we're forking over the last of our paychecks.

But i think lawyers in general get a bad rap. After all, the Founding Fathers thought highly enough of the legal profession to guarantee our right to a jury trial in civil cases.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Never mind that this particular amendment is now about as well enforced as the one that guarantees us protection against unwarranted searches and seizures. It's still, technically, the law of the land.

But a couple of articles today really got me thinking about the legal profession, those who practice it, and just what it is, exactly, that we're teaching in law schools these days.

In the N&O, Titan Barksdale writes about the case of Staples Hughes. Hughes is a longtime attorney in the state's Office of the Appellate Defender. (That means he represents those appealing their convictions who can't afford their own attorneys.) Twenty some years ago, one of his clients confessed to a murder. Hughes, being bound by attorney/client privilege, kept that knowledge to himself, and watched as an innocent man was convicted of the crime. Hughes' client died 5 years ago and he recently came forward with his information. Turns out the rest of the evidence against the guy who's been in jail for the last 20 years wasn't so hot either.

However, the judge who heard Hughes' information not only dismissed it, and refused to grant a new hearing for the convicted man, but now a complaint against Hughes has been filed, which may lead to his disbarring. So, it's better that a man be wrongfully convicted and serve over two decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit than that a lawyer reveal what a man dead for 5 years said twenty years ago? I'd like to hear the upside of disbarring Hughes, or even of rejecting his testimony.

Second, Spencer Ackerman over at TPM, writing about a piece in the WaPo reveals that the US government has essentially carte blanche to monitor "real time tracking data" associated with cell phones, without having to show probable cause.
. . . in December 2005, Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein of the Southern District of New York, approving a request for cell-site data, wrote that because the government did not install the "tracking device" and the user chose to carry the phone and permit transmission of its information to a carrier, no warrant was needed.

that's the kind of legal reasoning that makes people wonder just who it is that the law is supposed to serve. And why so many people in the legal profession are willing to take these really unforgivable positions.
*note - i'm not making the claim that this case was "frivolous" but it certainly got played that way in the popular press.


Continue reading Lawyers and judges


If anyone in a decision making position at the Durham Herald-Sun wonders why nobody gives a flying fuck about their stupid paper anymore, perhaps this article will answer your questions. Yep, it's another press release from a partisan organization passed off as news, in this case from the morons at the John Locke Foundation attempting to debunk the climate change scenario by claiming:
Environmentalists claim that their alarming view of the Earth's climate represents the 'consensus' of climate scientists, and that the scientific literature provides no room for a more benign assessment of the causes and nature of climate risks. In reality, papers that contradict this ostensible consensus are published in the major scientific journals nearly every week.

Umm, the only "scientific journals" that publish this kind of bullshit are the ones sponsored by the JLF and their ideology first, science last brethren. The real science is pretty much indisputable.

There's still a handful of people attempting to do good work over at the Herald Sun. Too bad for them, because this kind of idiocy tarnishes everything else that appears in the same pages.

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Continue reading Credibility

A little help?

There's someone on my gift list for whom a GPS device would be the perfect gift. I'm more or less clueless when it comes to features, brand quality, etc. for these things. Anybody have a GPS system that you want to recommend (or better yet, advise to stay away from)? Leave a note in the comments. And yes, price is always a factor.


Continue reading A little help?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sore Loserman

John Ham.


Continue reading Sore Loserman

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's a little something for your holiday viewing pleasure.

See you on Friday.

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Continue reading Happy Thanksgiving

Our allies

from the BBC:
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have defended a judicial sentence of 200 lashes for a rape victim.

The justice ministry said in a statement that the sentence was justified because the woman was in a car with an unrelated man.

. . .

The 19-year-old, who has not been named, was travelling in a car with a male friend last year, when the car was attacked by a gang of seven men who raped both of them.

. . .

Four of the men were convicted of kidnapping - but the court also sentenced the woman and her friend to receive 90 lashes each for the crime of "illegal mingling".

Last week the court increased the woman's sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

. . .

A state department spokesman on Tuesday called the verdict "astonishing", but said it was not its place to call for the ruling to be changed.

"Authorities in Saudi Arabia"

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I'm not crazy, but his prices are insane

This one is inspired by Michael's search for the worst Christmas creep out there. You know, the entity that gets into the Christmas spirit by playing jingles, putting up decorations, or advertising Christmas sales sometime before the kids have finished trick or treating.

If you lived in or around New York in the 70s and 80s, you remember Crazy Eddie, and his Christmas in August commercials.

Although they were something of a joke, you could, if you wanted to, make the case that they represented an early invasion of Christmas advertising.

Whenever i think of Crazy Eddie, though, i think of the commercial i saw one time, very late at night, possibly in an enhanced state of mind. It was filmed on the Crazy Eddie set, and had all the same production values as a standard Crazy Eddie commercial. However, instead of Jerry Carroll in whatever getup he was in, this one featured a rather large duck quacking directly into the camera in exactly the same cadence as the standard Crazy Eddie fare. No one else i knew ever saw this particular commercial, and i've been left to wonder over the years whether i either hallucinated it, or saw the work of some late night local television stoners making an in-house goof on the Man.

fortunately, there's google, and a search on Crazy Eddie duck commercial turned up this exchange:
Posted 11 October 2005 14:36
Growing up in New York, the Crazy Eddie commercials were stuff of legends. I lived about a half mile from the main store on Coney Island Avenue and Kings Highway.

Anyway, I don't know what made me think of this, but does anyone remember this one? Unless it was a parody that I somehow missed, this one spot had, presumably, Jerry Carroll dressed in a giant duck outfit and the duck "quacked" out the entire "typical" commercial, giving the same signature cadence and motions to phrases like "...and he'll beat it..." "...his prices are insane...", etc. He spoke ZERO words, he just quacked the whole thing thru.

Can anyone on this board confirm the existence of such a commercial?

Yes - but it was more like a chicken. We were going to produce a Thanksgiving commercial, but the turkey costume provided by Rubies Costumes looked more like a chicken. Just goofing around Jerry put on the head piece and started clucking like a chicken and we started rolling tape. It was so hilarious we decided to edit it into a finished spot. Like most Crazy Eddie commercials from those days, the spot was shot around 2AM in a soundroom at the Coney Island Avenue store.

Mystery solved, and just in time for Thanksgiving too.

Thank you Jerry Carroll, and thank you Larry Weiss as well.


Continue reading I'm not crazy, but his prices are insane

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Late breaking news

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Unfortunately, fascism is not.

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Continue reading Late breaking news

This is so fucked up

Just when you think you've seen the lowest of the low, you stumble across this:
Just in time for the holidays, there's a special place in Hell just waiting to be filled by some as-yet-unknown Pentagon bureaucrat. Apparently, thousands of wounded soldiers who served in Iraq are being asked to return part of their enlistment bonuses -- because their injuries prevented them from completing their tours.

go read the whole thing. Just do it before you eat dinner.

UPDATE 11/23: TPM is reporting that the Army says it will not ask for any bonuses to be returned under these circumstances. But it doesn't know how it happened in the first place, and it really can't say how many times it's happened either. In many cases, re-enlistment bonuses are paid incrementally. If something happens to the solider, and the Army withholds the balance of the bonus, where does the burden lie for getting that disbursement?

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Continue reading This is so fucked up

If Johnny Cash were a Durhamite

He might be singing:
How low is the water, Mama?
64 days and fallin'
How low is the water, Mama?
64 days and fallin'

Well we can make it to the springtime if we all conserve
Three showers a week, that'll have to serve
We're already down to the deep reserves
64 days and fallin'


Continue reading If Johnny Cash were a Durhamite

Idle amusements

This being the short work week that it is, i'm squeezing 40 hours of projects into about 30 hours of work time, so posting will probably be light this week.

In the meantime, if you've got idle time to fill, check out the Guardian's list of the 1000 albums You Must Hear Before You Die (i'm not making that up either, that's the title of the series.) If you grew up in the days when music, you know, mattered, you'll find something to like, or at least argue over, about their take on the last 70 years or so of pop music. Unlike Elvis Costello's list of 500 Albums That Can Only Improve Your Life, this one attempts to limit each artist to one entry. Exceptions for people like Brian Eno, whose multiple collaborations were counted as separate entries, were rare but not absent entirely. Costello's list was originally published 7 years ago, before the Day That Changed Everything. The Guardian's list skews, i think, toward music released since then, or music that has come to be appreciated since then. A lot of it i'm unfamiliar with. But it gives me an idea of where to start.

Listened to any good new music lately?


Continue reading Idle amusements

Monday, November 19, 2007

Black Friday

There's a whole weekful of days that are called "black" in memory of some terrible event that happened on that day. For some reason, i'd had it in my mind tht Black Friday originally referred to the 1929 stock market crash, but those days are appropriately referred to as Black Thursday (October 24) and Black Tuesday (October 29).

I'm not the only one who makes that association, though.
When Black Friday comes
I'll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor
When Black Friday comes
I'll collect everything I'm owed
And before my friends find out
I'll be on the road

sang Steely Dan on the 1975 LP Katy Lied.

More recently, Black Friday has come to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, the kickoff of the holiday shopping season and commonly assumed to be the busiest shopping day of the year. Generally it's not. By most accounts the term was originally a negative one, although more recently people tend to say the Black Friday marks the time when the ledger books change their ink from red (for a net loss) to black (for a net profit). I kinda suspect this is simply a folk etymology.

So, what's the point of writing about Black Friday? I'm getting there. Bear with me another paragraph or so, and your patience will be rewarded.

See, one of the things i really like about Durham is that, with very few exceptions, all of the good things are accessible. Very few restaurants require reservations to enjoy a good meal, for example. Most evenings, you can walk up to the ticket window and get seats at a Bulls game, or at the Carolina Theater. Same with Duke women's basketball. Even if you're one of those people who likes the mall on Black Friday, it's going to be pretty much navigable. I don't like it when one of my favorite haunts gets written up and becomes inaccessible, which almost happened to the Oyster Bar's Friday special last February, after the Indy highlighted it in their Valentine's Day oyster eaters special report. So i'm a little nervous about mentioning this next item.

But it's a good deal, it supports a good cause, and it's put together by good people who assure me that, regardless, i won't be iced out even if it gets too crowded.

Here at DE we're thankful for the work of Pop The Cap, who successfully lobbied the General Assembly a few years back to allow the brewing, sale, and consumption of high gravity ales and lagers in our state. Next time you're in Sam's Blue Light ogling that wall of Belgian imports, or picking up a Dogfish Head 90 minute, say thanks to Sean Wilson for his hard work. And think about coming out to his Black Friday Beer Fest (BF2) at Rigsbee Hall this Friday afternoon and evening from 3 to 7 pm. Bring a new, unwrapped toy (to be donated to Toys for Tots) and a twenty dollar bill, and enjoy some of the finest in dark and high gravity beers from the state and around the country. There'll be snacks from Pop's and Rue Cler as well.

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Continue reading Black Friday

Speaking of history

This weekend's premiere of Durham: A Self-Portrait has gotten a lot of people talking about the history of this town. I learned a few things hadn't known before, about the "Secret Game," about Evans' department store, and even some stuff about former mayor Wib Gulley.

Gary's got some practically ancient Durham history (well, 1830s anyway) up on his blog today.
When Dilliard died in 1824, William Pratt bought his land and established a store on the Hillborough Road.

This store was accompanied by a "grog shop" and a "tavern." (I don't know the difference.) It also had a cotton gin and press, as well as a blacksmith's shop. The post office was soon transferred to Pratt's store.

The settlement quickly gained a reputation for intemperate activity. Jean Anderson details a court case brought against Pratt in 1833 for:

"keeping a disorderly house for his own lucre and gain at unlawful times as well on Sundays as on other days [for] evil disposed persons of evil name and fame and conversation to come together [to] upset the peace and dignity of the state [by] drinking, tipling, playing at cards and other unlawful games, cursing, screaming, quarreling, and otherwise misbehaving themselves."

It's worth noting that one of the Durham area's other dens-of-iniquity, Pinhook (in the area of the Erwin Mil/9th St. in West Durham) was originally owned by Pratt as well. While debauchery along a major transportation route neither began nor ended with Pratt, he, as any good businessman, knew his customers' taste. Barter was often the transaction method of choice - exchanging bushels of corn for liquor was not uncommon.

No wonder i felt so at home here from the first time i turned off the freeway at the Duke St. exit.


Continue reading Speaking of history

Maybe the drought isn't so bad after all

Not yet, anyway.
According to the U.N. panel of scientists, whose latest report is a synthesis of three previous ones, enough carbon dioxide already has built up that it imperils islands, coastlines and a fifth to two-thirds of the world's species.

As early as 2020, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will suffer water shortages, residents of Asia's large cities will be at great risk of river and coastal flooding, according to the report.

Europeans can expect extensive species loss, and North Americans will experience longer and hotter heat waves and greater competition for water, says the report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore this year.

The panel portrays the Earth hurtling toward a warmer climate at a quickening pace and warns of inevitable human suffering. It says emissions of carbon, mainly from fossil fuels, must stabilize by 2015 and go down after that.

Meanwhile, in Washington:
Despite the report’s added emphasis on a list of “reasons for concern” about the continuing growth of long-lived emissions that trap heat, senior White House officials said Friday and Saturday that it remained impossible to define a “dangerous” threshold in the concentration of greenhouse gases or resulting warming.

This has always been the response, despite President Bush’s repeated pledges to uphold commitments made by the United States when his father signed, and the country ratified, the first climate treaty, the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. One provision of that treaty is that countries pledge to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases at a level avoiding “dangerous” interference with the climate system.

We really need to send these clowns packing and get a team with a clue back in charge. It's not like we're going to have too many second chances to get this right.

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Continue reading Maybe the drought isn't so bad after all

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Highway 70, Hillsborough, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Penny's Bend

And one more from Penny's Bend.

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Continue reading Penny's Bend

Catsburg Country Store

Another shot from Friday.

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Continue reading Catsburg Country Store

Durham: A Self-Portrait

So, who went to one of the screenings of Durham: A Self-Portrait last night? I know that everyone's a critic, so what did you think? Learn anything new about the Bull City?

Mrs. Dependable and i made a last minute decision to go and grabbed some tickets for the second showing. While i was picking them up i saw half of the city council, manager Patrick Baker, and a host of staffers from several city departments. Pretty much 2000 people saw the film last night, and a bunch more will see it at the Sunday matinee screening at the Carolina.

Let's talk about it in the comments, and consider this an open thread for Saturday.

: More discussion at Kevin's place


Continue reading Durham: A Self-Portrait

Friday, November 16, 2007

Penny's Bend

It's been a while since i posted any Friday flower pics. You're not going to get any today either. But i did get up for a hike around Penny's Bend earlier. Here's one of my shots from today.

And of course, i'm unable to head up to Penny's Bend without making a stop at the Catsburg Country Store.

Just an absolutely amazing building that really needs to be preserved and turned into something that both celebrates its history and serves the community. Lots of the land around it has for sale signs, and a new elementary school is going to be built soon about a mile or so north on Old Oxford. It certainly seems to me that the opportunity is there to do something worthwhile with this building.

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Continue reading Penny's Bend

$3.7 billion a week

That, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is how much money the Iraq War costs. And that's over and above the $9 billion plus per week that the Pentagon gets in its annual budget.

Could you imagine if we allocated resources to dealing with problems based on the actual seriousness of the threat to our way of life, rather than satisfying the egos of old men in Washington who need to see their will triumph?

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Continue reading $3.7 billion a week

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Drought thoughts

I was poking around on the WRAL weather site to check on how much rain we got today (looks like around a quarter of an inch in Durham). they have a little graphic on the right of the page that tells what "average" rainfall through this time of year is, and what our total so far in 2007 is.

The numbers, if you're interested, are 38.43", and 30.92" respectively, or a shortfall of about 7.5". Put another way, our shortage of rain this year over a "typical" year is just under 20%.

I was curious to find out just how uncommon a 20% rainfall deficit is in the Piedmont. I was able to locate the charts below at this site.

This graphic shows annual rainfal totals averaged statewide for the 20th century. I'm pretty sure our numbers in Durham are a touch lower than the statewide average, which, making a rough estimate from the chart, would appear to be about 46" or 47".

This second graph shows seasonal variation in the rainfall received in the Piedmont throughout the 20th century, averaged in 10 year increments. It shows that, on this scale, average precipitation throughout the year has remained constant, but seasonal variations have diminished over the past hundred years. In other words, summer used to be far and away the wettest season, and fall the driest, with the difference between the two seasons of about 9", or more than double. As of 2000, that difference had shrunk to about 3" of rainfall.

I think this is interesting data, and points toward some solutions in and of itself (summer is obviously the time of greatest water use in agricultural and residential areas, while commerce and industry are probably more evenly spread out. If water is not plentiful in the summer, then we probably need to be increasing our storage capacity by a lot more than what we're currently planning.) But it's not the data that i'm really looking for.

What i really want to know is how common or uncommon is a 20% deviation from the "average" rainfall year? If you graph total annual rainfall on the vertical axis, and number of years with that amount of rainfall on the horizontal axis, do you get a normal distribution, or do you get a tall, narrow bell curve, or a wide, flattened one? Anybody who has that data is encouraged to point me in the right direction. Knowing how typical this type of "exceptional" drought is should help guide decision making regarding development issues in particular.

I have to say, just intuitively and without any data backing this up, that a single year of 20% rainfall deficit should not be enough to create "exceptional" drought conditions. What that suggests to someone who has spent time living in Arizona and California, is that we're not mamaging our water wisely, and we're not paying attention to our system's maximum carrying capacity in a lot of our development decisions.


Continue reading Drought thoughts

Massive time sink discovered

Thanks to the folks at CookingEatingDurham, i doubt i'll be able to get anything productive done for the next 72 hours.

Click here to play this addictive vocabulary game and help distribute some food to those who need it most at the same time. 50 is as high up as i got, but i didn't stay there long.

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Continue reading Massive time sink discovered

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Property tax revaluation

The N&O is reporting today that Durham County is getting ready to mail out tax notices reflecting the new assessed values of property in the county.

We've talked about this in the past, mostly in the context of the transfer tax debate. NC law requires that property revaluations be "revenue neutral," so that the increase in value of property over time between assessments is compensated for by a lowering of the tax rate.

This, however, just strikes me as intuitively wrong:
The value of property in Durham County will rise an average of 30 percent next year under the county's recently concluded revaluation, officials said Monday.

Residential property values alone rose an average of 24 percent.

The 30 percent increase covers all property in the county including commercial and industrial.

It's been 7 years since the last assessment, during which time the real estate market in the rest of the country has gone absolutely nuts. Durham may have escaped some of the worst excesses of that, but residential properties are up only 24% over 7 years? That's a shade over 3% a year after compounding. Which simply doesn't jibe with anectdotal reports of home sales that i've been hearing.

I can only think of a couple of reasons for this. One is that there's a much greater number of new units in the tax base than i thought, and that most of these were already assessed at their current value. This would mean that new construction has been much higher in the last two years than in the previous 5. I don't know if that's the case. A second is that the assessment actually caught some of the recent housing market downturn. My real estate friends keep telling me, though, that Durham hasn't been affected by that so very much.

Other reasons i can think of are sheer speculation, and i don't feel like printing them, but feel free to explore your imaginations in the comments.

What i will say is, if you live in a neighborhood that's appreciated more than 30% over the past 7 years, be prepared for some sticker shock when the new tax bills come out.

UPDATE: Obviously, the simplest explanation is that, on average, property values in Durham have only increased by 24% over the past 7 years. But that would mean large chunks of town have seen property values fall in order to balance out the increases in other parts of town. I know there are major depressed neighborhoods, but is that enough to counterbalance the increases in value seen elsewhere?

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Continue reading Property tax revaluation

A restaurant question

For all you foodies out there, here's something you can help me with.

My work "team" (i hate that word) goes out for a holiday lunch on a Friday afternoon in mid-December. Many of my co-workers are not open to menu experimentation, and we usually end up at one of the 15-501 corridor chains (Macaroni Grill, On the Border, Texas Roadhouse). On the one occasion about 5 or 6 years ago we managed to try a smaller, more interesting local establishment, i think we overwhelmed the waitstaff.

We usually have about 15 or 16 people. Beer, wine, and cocktails are a must.

Here's a list of alternatives to the chain restaurants that i've suggested.

Any places you would add to the list? Any you would avoid (for various reasons, which could include a too eclectic menu or a too intimate setting for such a large group)?

Rue Cler
Pizza Palace
Bull McCabe's


Continue reading A restaurant question

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lakewood Y

I guess we got this because Mrs. D is a member at the downtown Y. If anyone wants to weigh in on whether this is good news or not, please do.

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Continue reading Lakewood Y

Election question - followup

I wanted to followup yesterday's post with some of my thoughts about the 2008 elections. Like a number of commenters, i'm not terribly plugged into the 08 presidential campaign just yet. Part of that, i think, is the overall depressing quality of the candidates. Unlike 04, there's no Howard Dean-like figure* seeking to reclaim the Democratic Party for Democrats. The candidates who are currently holding office have often seemed reluctant to use their position to take leadership roles on Iraq, FISA, potential war with Iran, and other critical issues. On the Republican side, these guys would be amusing in a Friday the 13th kind of way if there wasn't the real potential for another poorly run Democratic campaign to actually put one of them in the White House.

In North Carolina, there's a couple of races that are on my radar. Here in Durham, David Price is probably in a safe seat for re-election to the House. Just down the road, though, in the 8th Congressional District, Democrat Larry Kissell is gearing up for a rematch with incumbent Republican Robin Hayes. This is a race that the DCCC has come to regret not getting behind in 06, as Kissel came up a scant few hundred votes short of an upset victory. they're not making that mistake again. Heath Shuler up in the 11th Congressional District has disappointed a lot of statewide Democrats with some of his votes. It'll be interesting to see if he is able to pick up suppport from Dems for his re-election campaign, or if he proves to be a one-hit wonder.

By far the most interesting race is for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Liddy Dole. Liddy's approval ratings are below 50%, which is a sign of vulnerability in an incumbent, even though no one on the Democratic side is polling above her. That's mostly because all of the big names have declined to enter the race. As a result of that, businessman Jim Neal, who's never held elected office, threw his hat in the ring. One of his first campaign appearances was a live-blogging question and answer session on BlueNC. At which the following exchange took place:
I've heard...
Submitted by omega_star on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 9:09am.

I've heard you're gay...


Submitted by JimNeal on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 9:18am.

I am indeed. No secret and no big deal to me-- I wouldn't be running if I didn't think otherwise

Do you...
Submitted by omega_star on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 9:21am.

...really think a gay man can be elected in North Carolina?

I'm not running this race to

Submitted by JimNeal on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 9:26am.

I'm not running this race to lose. I'm not running to make some social statement. I'm running to lead in the Senate for the voters in NC-- something Senator Dole has not done.

When people meet me, they'll see beyond the labels and into my character.

Gay Marriage

Submitted by omega_star on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 9:28am.

Where do you stand on gay marriage?

It's okay if churches want

Submitted by JimNeal on Sat, 10/20/2007 - 10:05am.

It's okay if churches want to unite same-sex couples; it's okay if they don't. That's their Constitutional right which I support 100%.

But when it comes to the Government, I'm not in favor of any laws that discriminate against anyone for any reason.

This revelation inspired a fair amount of talk that, despite his resume, North Carolinians simply weren't ready to elect a gay man to a federal office, and that Democrats were going to shoot themselves in the foot again.

Following this, State Senator Kay Hagan, who had earlier declined to enter the race for the nomination to oppose Sen. Dole, had a change of heart. Word is that Chuck Schumer at the DSCC and Gov. Mike Easley helped to convince her to run.

Neal has also had a liveblogging question and answer session at Pam's this past weekend; Hagan's got a standing invitation to do a similar session at BlueNC, which she has not yet taken up.

So for me, what with holidays around the corner (Thanksgiving is next week!), the drought (water runs out around January 20th with no additional rain), worldwide financial turmoil, and various personal priorities, the 2008 elections are not my highest concern either. But, as the music industry gurus say, they're bubbling under. And 2008 promises to be The Most Important Elections Ever (until the next ones.)


* (meant to include this the first time around) Even Howard Dean is acting less Howard Dean-like these days.

You know what i really want? I want a political discussion sphere and media where political leaders are willing and able to say, "I'm not really concerned about the afterlife. I got into politics because too many people in this life are cold, hungry, overworked and underpaid, worried about whether or not they can pay the bills if their kids get sick. Your preacher can help you figure out what you have to do to go to heaven, assuming that's what your goal is. I'm too busy trying to make life a little bit better on earth to worry about that."

I know. I'm dreaming again.


Continue reading Election question - followup

Monday, November 12, 2007

Election question

Now that the municipal elections are over, i'm curious, how many of you are paying attention to the 2008 balloting?

North Carolinians figure to have competitive races for Governor, Senator, and a number of House seats, plus the General Assembly in Raleigh.

Oh, yeah, there's some folks running for President too.

Are you tuned in yet? Why, or why not? When do you start paying attention?


Continue reading Election question

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
--Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
- Wilfred Owen

(Photo from the WW I document archive)


Continue reading Armistice Day

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Hillandale Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Social whirl

Major celebrating in Durham today, so i'm cooking not posting. No tortured chickens on the menu, though. Maybe i'll see some of you at one or another.


Continue reading Social whirl

Friday, November 09, 2007

Fun new toys

From my daughter, a site that generates poems based on google search terms.

Here's some couplets based on a search for Dependable Erection:

- public internet sites with
sexual safe and dependable delivery of manhealth

- Dependable Erection - 1 day
There is no quicker, more dependable or safer way

day ago. The N&O is reporting that the latest
- Our field erection crews utilize the latest

Daily Kos Dependable Erection Dependable Renegade
the latest construction techniques to provide

that, in our town, erection can be depended
manhealth tabs to your home. - ED is identified

the Net Now · Visit NCBlogs. Durham and
seconds) Since erection meds is able to be found

clicking on "search" Dependable Erection . Bull
maleshealth medications is effective as well

City Council candidates · Save the Net Now
a healthy erection . - How

Erection . Bull City Bloggers Questionnaire
improvement of erection quality for many . were

English pages for . ( 0.07 seconds) Tip: Save
- ED is identified as the inability to achieve

soundly, secure in the knowledge that, in our
and dependable delivery of manhealth tabs to your


Continue reading Fun new toys

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A persuasive argument

In which Alan Dershowitz loses the last vestiges of his credibility.
Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack. The only dispute is whether he would do so openly with accountability or secretly with deniability. The former seems more consistent with democratic theory, the latter with typical political hypocrisy.

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

See, it worked for the Nazis. Of course it will work for us. Next, we round up illegal immigrants and others without proper documentation and ship them via railroad to special camps set up in North Dakota. That technique worked out pretty well too.

(via Jonathan Schwarz at TMW)


Continue reading A persuasive argument


Holy chickenshit, Batman!

Seems like every listserv in Durham has gotten a request to sign the petition to allow chickens in the city limits.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Currently, chickens are only allowed in Durham Residential Suburban Zone 20. There is no reason they should not be allowed in any urban backyard. A hen raised around people can be an affectionate pet that also provides fresh eggs, reduces waste by eating yard waste and kitchen scraps, provides rich fertilizer for the garden, controls pests, and brings us closer to our food source. The noise level is no more than a dog. A chicken coop that is properly designed and maintained poses no threat to sanitation. Please click on the following link to sign a petition asking the City Council to reconsider allowing chickens within the city limits:

No link provided from here. If you think it's a good idea, find the link on your own.

Here's my response:
There are two points made in the email to consider.

First: "The noise level is no more than a dog."

For a great many people in Durham, the noise level of dogs is already a serious concern, and the current means of enforcing the noise ordinance in the city and county when it comes to barking dogs is broken. Adding to this problem is not a good idea, in my mind.

Second: "A chicken coop that is properly designed and maintained poses no threat
to sanitation."

the number of dogs in Durham county that are kept in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions, tied at the end of too short chains without shelter, and often without food and water, is staggering. It's naive to think that every fowl owner is going to provide a coop that is "properly designed and maintained."

For those people who are already keeping chickens in urban environments, and are doing so without bothering the neighbors, my attitude is, what's the problem? If you're not bothering anyone, then you've got nothing to worry about.

But opening this up without providing any means for dealing with what will inevitably become a problem among neighbors is a bad decision at this time.

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Continue reading Chickens

Great moments in capitalism

It's not clear why 1,4-butanediol was substituted. However, there is a significant difference in price between the two chemicals. The Chinese online trading platform ChemNet China lists the price of 1,4 butanediol at between about $1,350-$2,800 per metric ton, while the price for 1,5-pentanediol is about $9,700 per metric ton.

Buried at the bottom of an article discussing how the children's toy Aqua-Dots came to be manufactured using a chemical that durns into a date rape drug when ingested by kids. Come to think of it, it's a great moment in journalism, too.

Continue reading Great moments in capitalism


For what it's worth, i think the next three or four days are going to be the peak of the fall color season in and around Durham

So go hike the Eno or something.


Continue reading Colors

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New Hope for Durham?

A new group calls for a moratorium on development in Durham until resource and infrastructure needs are addressed. They're asking folks to attend the City Council meeting on November 19th, at which a 308 unit development off Garrett Road will be voted on.

Details at Phil's and Kevin's.

Kevin in particular notes that growth was much less of an issue in Durham elections than elsewhere in the region. Part of that, i suspect, is that regional and national developers have long eyed Durham's demographics with skepticism, not thinking that development was going to be especially profitable in and around the Bull City.

That's changing. As is the the understanding that our resources may not be adequate to support all the development that some folks might want to bring to the table.

For example, as Jim Wise noted in his column in the Durham News this past Saturday:
As days in Durham go, maybe so. Of course, that was 30 years ago, and so much has changed since then for the better.

On Nov. 3, 1977, as the second drought year in a row continued, Lake Michie was 16 feet below full.

This week, Lake Michie is down only 12.2 feet.

Yet, the water shortage this year is so much more critical, despite the fact that we have additional storage capacity online, because the population of Durham is more than double what it was thirty years ago.

If only the New Hope folks had a blog.

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Continue reading New Hope for Durham?

Election dissection pt. 2

I had a chance to do a little number crunching myself.

There were 31,966 votes cast in the mayor's race yesterday. Each of those voters could have cast up to 3 votes for city council, making a total of 95,898 votes available. Only 82,286 votes were actually cast.

That's 13,360 votes that were left on the table.

Now, it's possible that there were 13,360 voters who all selected only two candidates for council. Equally, it's possible that there 4,543 voters who didn't bother to check off any of the candidates. But it's more likely, i think, given that most of the endorsers selected three candidates, except the Durham Committee, which only endorsed one candidate, that most of the missing votes came from ballots in which Farad Ali was the sole candidate selected.

Which would mean there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,680 voters who did so.

Given that Ali finished just over a thousand votes ahead of David Harris, i'm rethinking my earlier contention that the lack of endorsement by the Committee was not the critical factor in the election. It's certainly possible that had Harris run a different campaign and finished higher in the primary, the "split progressive vote" factor would not have worked against him.

But it's clear that, with so many missing votes in the final tally, the Committee's endorsement of just a single candidate was a major factor in how things played out.

So put me back in the camp of those who say that not getting the Committee's endorsment cost David Harris a seat on council.

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Continue reading Election dissection pt. 2

Election dissection

For starters, Kevin's got a good crunching of the numbers up at BCR. If you're interested in Durham politics, you should bookmark it.

I'm going to eventually disagree with some of his conclusions because if i didn't, well, i'd have nothing to say, right?

The Easy Races

Dianne Catotti and Eugene Brown were the only council candidates to be named on over 50% of the ballots. That makes sense. They both enjoyed broad support from across the political spectrum, they're both incumbents whose tenure on the council has been commendable. The council race was always going to be about who landed the third seat, and we'll talk about that more later.

The bond issues were similarly supported and all passed by wide margins, the Life and Science Museum bond the only one failing to attract 70% support. That probably reflects a lack of familiarity with the museum among parts of the population. Basically, if you don't have kids or grandchildren under the age of twelve, the Museum is probably not even on your radar.

I want to also add my .02 about the city's road repair bond.

Durham has not, in the time i've lived here, had any difficulty in getting bond issues passed. (The stadium bond/COPs plan was just before my time.) The problem has been actually spending that money. Much of the 1996 park bond monies weren't spent until 2001 or later, and i think it was Kevin who pointed out that some of the 96 money was still being spent. Unfortunately, the longer you wait to spend bond funds, the less you can buy with them. This is especially true when it comes to construction, as prices for steel and concrete have increased at rates much higher than overall inflation the past decade. It's also a problem that so much of the revenue raised in Durham bond issues goes to maintenance and repair. Infrastructure maintenance, repair, and even incremental upgrades to systems are items that should be budgeted for out of general revenues. Borrowing needs to be confined to capital investment and new infrastructure. If Durham continues to fund repairs by borrowing, two things will eventually happen. First, voters will stop rubberstamping new bonds. And second, new projects will be put on hold even longer than they are now, increasing citizen dissatisfaction with the government. This isn't inevitable, but the city really needs to shift gears with the way it deals with bond monies.

The Harder Races

The two contested races, for mayor and for the third council seat, especially the latter, were where all the action was. Let's start there.

Here's the primary results for the candidates who finished third through sixth:
Farad Ali . . . . . . . . . . 4,962 13.74
Laney Funderburk . . . . . . . . 3,775 10.45
David Harris . . . . . . . . . 3,414 9.45
Steve Monks. . . . . . . . . . 3,225 8.93

Ali's strong showing in the primary was the result, i think, of his early backing by key members of the progressive community who were, to a greater or lesser extent, affiliated with the Democratic Party. Steve Schewel, former publisher of the Independent Weekly comes to mind as one of the most prominent. David Harris, on the other hand, had to wait until after the primary reduced the field to three Democrats before he was able to benefit from party GOTV efforts.*

The order of the primary finish, in which Republican Laney Funderburk actually edged ahead of Harris for fourth place, created a dilemma in the minds of some voters, namely that if progressives split their votes between Harris and Ali, would that create an opening for Funderburk to sneak in and grab a seat on council? One local activist sent an email out yesterday alluding to precisely that scenario in encouraging votes for Ali:
I prefer David Harris for that third seat. I've seen a candidate forum and talked to folks and I remain lukewarm on Ali. Since Harris and Ali are in direct competition for that third seat, I considered voting ONLY for Catotti and Harris. However, Funderburk is also a serious contender. He's a conservative with no real strong sense of city functioning -- it's basically a protest campaign and he's running so that Stith will have some conservatives on council.
So withholding my vote for Ali (to help Harris) might contribute to Funderburk getting in, and I don't want that.

Finally, toward the end of the campaign, Ali started picking up financial support from some of Thomas Stith's backers, and there were rumors that Stith himself was encouraging his supporters to vote for Ali.

Kevin is of the opinion that Farad Ali's endorsement by the Durham Comittee on the Affairs of Black People, and their lack of endorsement of David Harris, was the contributing factor in determining the outcome of the race. Here's where we disagree. I think that Ali's early progressive backing and strong showing in the primary were significant contributing factors. Without those, i don't think the Committee's endorsement alone would have been enough to put Ali on the Council.

The question now, for Ali, is having won a seat, what will he bring to the table? Will he show why so many progressives backed him early, or will he lean towards those conservatives who contributed heavily to his campaign in the stretch run?

The other contested race on yesterday's ballot was the mayor's race. Incumbent Bill Bell ended up with a solid 58 - 42 victory over Councilman Thomas Stith, whose Republican star would appear to be fading. There are two ways to look at this race. One is that despite a 1-4 disadvantage in voter registration, the Republican Stith managed to achieve a respectable showing. I don't think that's a serious analysis though, for a couple of reasons. First is that Stith essentially ran away from his Republican base. He didn't trumpet his conservative bona fides on the campaign trail, especially after his initial foray into conservative hot-button issues like illegal immigration blew up in his face. I think he achieved his 42% by denying his affiliation, not embracing it. That's not going to be a model for Republicans to run on in future elections, especially those in which partisanship actually counts. The second reason is that when all the receipts are finally tallied up, we'll find that Stith outspent Bell by somewhere around 5-1. He ran an extremely well financed campaign, and raised the bar for Durham elections in years to come. And still only attracted 42% of the vote. So maybe not so respectable after all.

The other way to look at the race is that Bill Bell faced his strongest challenger since defeating Nick Tennyson by a relative handful of votes 6 years ago, and put together a winning coalition. Thomas Stith raised serious issues of Durham's problems, and attempted to lay them at the feet of the incumbent. A majority of Durham's voters understand that our problems are community based, and that one man or woman can neither bring them to pass nor solve them by force of will. These election results show that at least a strong segment of the citizenry is willing to work together to fix our problems, rather than cast about for a scapegoat to blame. That's good news, as far as i'm concerned.

Finally, what Durham voters did last night was swap Thomas Stith for Farad Ali on the city council. While i would have preferred that David Harris would be sitting in that seat come December, i'm hopeful that the trade will at least prove an upgrade.


* One of the consequences of a "non-partisan" municpal election is that the political parties do not hold primaries, and therefore cannot run official candidates. There were four registered Democrats in the council primary, and the Democratic Party would have been unable to endorse only three of them had all four survived the primary. The Republicans, on the other hand, essentially ran a slate of three candidates (remember those red signs with "Funderburk, Parrish, Monks?" That was the Republican slate.) Makes you wonder exactly why Victoria Peterson changed her registration from Republican to Democrat earlier this year.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Place your bets

Now that Bill Bell has sent Thomas Stith into early retirement from public life, how long will it be before Stith is re-employed by one of Art Pope's think tanks?

Place your bets in the comments. Whoever comes closest wins a $20 gift certificate to the Regulator Book Shop, a fine locally owned establishment.

UPDATE: I should have noted that entries into this contest will be accepted until midnight, Friday, November 9. Also, since blogger does not capture email addresses when you post, you should also email me at DependableErection AT gmail DOT com and let me know how to reach you in case you win. In the event the winning entry does not provide me with contact information, the prize will be awarded to whoever is the next closest entrant that i can get in touch with.

Oh, and by the way, a really heartfelt thanks to everyone who stopped by over the past few days, especially to all of you who commented on various threads. Traffic on the site over the last two days was almost 4 times greater than any previous two day period, and i'm both astonished and humbled that so many of you take the time to read my rantings.

Thank you all.

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Liveblogging election returns

I'm at the Federal with Kevin and Michaelwaiting for election results We'll all be posting our thoughts as the returns come in. Kevin's got a spreadsheet up ready to plug in the numbers, so we're just waiting now.

Turnout in precinct 19, where i vote, was 23%, more than double the primary. I'm taking that as a good sign.

Bell with 14256 and Stith 11,256 in the first returns. That's with 87% of the precincts reporting. Looks like Bell will win.

Ali and Harris are neck and neck at around 10,000 votes each.

UPDATE: With 49 out of 57 precincts reporting, Bell has essentially wrapped the election up. David Harris has pulled ahead of Ali by 37 votes.

UPDATE: Kevin's analyzing the precincts remaining to report inthe election. In those precincts, Democrats hold an approximate 5-1 registration edge over Republicans. Based on that, he's calling the mayor's race for Bell.

He's right.

Looks like all the bonds are passing by a large margin as well.

UPDATE III: With 51 precincts reporting, Farad Ali has pulled ahead of David Harris by 400 votes in the race for the last remaining seat.

UPDATE IV: 53 precincts reporting. Ali has opened up an 800 vote lead.

DE is calling this election for Bell, Catotti, Brown, and Ali. Congratulations to everyone. We'll be back in a little while with some more discussion about the results.

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Election day thread

Have you voted yet? What was the turnout like in your precinct?

I voted at 7:10am, and was voter number 29. That's about 5 times as many voters as for the primary in my precinct at an equivalent time.

Supporters of Farad Ali and of the Democratic Party endorsed candidates were out at my precinct.

Share your stories in the comments.

UPDATE: i see in the comments at Kevin's place that Liddy Dole was making calls urging people to vote for Thomas Stith today. So much for the man's claims of beng above partisanship.

UPDATE: Thoughtful comments from Carl Kenney (whose blog i need to read more regularly) on the Stith/Bell race.


Continue reading Election day thread

Is Jon Ham a moron or what?

I keep telling myself that there's absolutely no reason to waste my time reading the John Locke Foundation's "Right Angles" blog. And yet, like a wreck on the highway, sometimes i can't help driving by at a slow speed, staring in disbelief.

Jon's latest, under the headline Crime at a polling place, is really no different from the rest of his drivel.
Durham Police shot and killed a robbery/carjacking suspect this morning at the Durham County Main Library downtown. A polling station. On election day. In an election in which one mayoral candidate made crime an issue and an incumbent who said it wasn’t really a problem. How long before some lefty commentators claim the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy engineered this?

So, after seeing the headline, and reading the lede, you're no doubt thinking, "Oh my god, right there with all those people waiting to vote! Someone tried to carjack someone. How horrible."

But reality, as it often does, has a way of intruding on right wing fantasies. From the N&O report, which is linked to above:
The shooting happened after undercover officers saw the occupants of a 2007 Jeep Commander try to rob a woman near Holloway Street and Guthrie Avenue about 12:30 a.m., police said. The officers followed the Jeep and called for backup from uniformed patrol officers.

Officers tried to stop the Jeep on Geer Street, but the driver refused to stop, police said. The officers then chased the car down Geer Street to Camden Avenue and back onto Geer Street. Officers continued the chase to Holloway Street, where one of the Jeep's tires blew out. The vehicle then turned onto Oakwood Avenue and headed the wrong way on Liberty Street.

The Jeep stopped on Liberty Street near the Durham County Library, and three of its occupants jumped out and ran. One ran to the front of the Jeep, then turned and pointed a gun at the officers, police said. Opitz then fired, striking the man in the torso.

Officers on foot chased and caught two of the Jeep's occupants: Jesse Arce and Steaphan Ascencio Vasquez, both 16, of Raleigh. Police said Vasquez had been driving the Jeep.

See, a normal person, even a lefty like myself, would first want to know how the attempted robbery victim was doing. Then, we'd praise for the law enforcement personnel for their actions, and follow with some questions as to whether or not the shooting itself was justified and, perhaps more importantly, how someone in custody manages to free themselves by "kicking out a window of a patrol car." I would also want to know if police consider the remaining suspect a danger to the community. In the longer term, we'd talk about how to reduce the odds that young men like these would end up committing crimes like this in the first place.

But not Jon Ham.

His first response to this is to write a misleading blog post about "Crime at a polling place," and try to figure out if there's a political advantage to be gained for his candidate. And second, to make up some bullshit about "lefties" who, in his fantasy world, act just like he does, but on the opposite side of the fence.

The scary thing is, he gets paid to do this. And by the same guy who used to pay Thomas Stith's salary.

But that couldn't possibly make it a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, could it, Jon?

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