Dependable Erection

Friday, August 31, 2007

File under: Pleasant surprises

My younger daughter entered the workforce recently, and realized she needed to present both Social Security card and picture ID to get paid for her labor. Lacking both, i took a morning off from work earlier this week to help her get these documents.

Our first stop was at the DMV office on Miami Blvd., where we quickly learned that although Social Security card wasn't an absolute prerequisite for a state picture ID, it sure makes it easier to get one. The official birth certificate simply wasn't enough, and without an SS card, she would need multiple other documents attesting to her identity. So, off to the SS office, where we waited for about 45 minutes without getting any closer to the head of the line. Fortunately we were able to put that time to good use reading the fine print on the application for a duplicate card.

Those of you who have ever dealt with the bureaucracy could probably guess at what we read there.

You see, while a state issued picture ID isn't absolutely necessary to get a duplicate Social Security card, it sure makes it easier to get one.

So we were pretty discouraged when we left the office without even getting a chance to talk things over with anyone about the best way to proceed.

I took her to her other appointments that morning (there are some people who think i have poor time management skills, but they're wrong), and got on the phone with SS trying to make an appointment to come in and figure out how to proceed. I spent a goodly amount of time on hold, but eventually someone came on the line and, after discussing my dilemma, told me what papers i needed to bring and agreed to set me up with an appointment for earlier this afternoon. I'm not sure why she did that; i've been told that appointments are generally booked up to 3 or 4 weeks in advance. But we showed up at the scheduled hour, were called to the window, and the paperwork that i had been asked to bring turned out to be completely satisfactory for establishing her identity and getting a new card issued. Even though, as it turned out, she'd been using an incorrect SS number through most of her school years. We were in and out of the office in less than 10 minutes.

I know from earlier experiences with government bureaucracies that this is highly unusual. I'm grateful to the woman who saw exactly what the problem was, knew exactly what the solution was, and helped me get to that point with a minimum of wasted time and frustration. Extremely grateful.

I just wonder if it had anything at all to do with Teh Awesome power of this blog?


Continue reading File under: Pleasant surprises

What are the odds?

I'm willing to wager a sum of money that the institution of marriage, as well as the foundations of American society, yadda yadda yadda, survive this latest assault in the culture wars.

In fact, except for the two people involved, i doubt the rest of us will ever notice a difference. Which is as it should be.


Continue reading What are the odds?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Well, maybe i'm wrong

In previous posts i've argued that the County Commissioners should have put both tax options (.25 percent sales tax increase, or .4 percent land transfer tax increase) on the ballot for voters to choose. I believe that Durham voters are smart enough to make the right decision. I was disappointed when the commissioners chose not to put either tax on the ballot.

The N&O reported yesterday on the results of a telephone survey conducted on behalf of the county to gauge public sentiment regarding these taxes. Commissioners seem most fearful that putting the tax on the ballot will jeopardize passage of some $200 million in bonds, mostly for new school construction, that will also be on the ballot this fall.

The results of the survey seem to back that feeling up, as counter-intuitive as that seems. Because you know that the only other way to finance these bonds is by increasing the property tax, and the anti-tax forces will be all over that as well.

But here's what still confuses me. If you're a transfer tax opponent, and your data suggest that the transfer tax will be defeated decisively in an election, why wouldn't you want to put it on the ballot? If it does go down as predicted, then you'll never have to worry about it again. As it stands, enough Commissioners have stated they cannot support a sales tax increase that a referendum for that tax will be meaningless. The transfer tax is the only remaining option. commissioners can call a special election any time next year, with the transfer tax the only thing on the ballot. With the low turnout likely in a special election, who knows what will happen?

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"I'll pick up my guitar and play . . . "

George Bush - August 30, 2005


Continue reading "I'll pick up my guitar and play . . . "

Mmmmm, beer good

I had a chance finally to taste the new offering from recently opened Triangle Brewing Company last night. It's refreshing and well balanced with a nice hint of spice, and should be quite good drinking for the summer months. I'm hoping Andy and Rick can come up with something equally well suited to long, chilly February nights as well.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hilly Kristal - RIP

Probably you never heard of Hilly Kristal, even though he changed your life.

Hilly Kristal's death was announced today, less than a year after the final shuttering of the club he opened in lower Manhattan in 1973, CBGB (and OMFUG)*. Even though he was 75, and ill with lung cancer, i can't help but wonder if the inability to keep CBGBs open through the boom years of the aughts didn't contribute to his passing.

I don't recall being in the club but twice, and i couldn't tell you who i saw when i went. No tales of being at a Ramones show or a Blondie show before they were famous, just some no name bands who never went anywhere. It wasn't a comfortable club to hang out in, and though i loved the music, the punk scene wasn't mine. But i can't imagine a world that didn't have the Ramones, or Talking Heads, or Bad Brains, or any of that fertile, raw energy that recreated pop music at a time when music still mattered.

So, umm, thanks, Hilly. I'll drink a PBR for you tonight.

CBGB (and OMFUG) = Country, bluegrass, and blues (and other music for uplifting gourmandizers.) Which was the original plan for CBGB. Funny how that worked out.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Out of the loop, again

Well, maybe i've been so busy raising kids for the last 20+ years that i missed it, but when did "childless" become a politically incorrect pejorative?


Continue reading Out of the loop, again

A brief East End Connector update

Some of my more obsessive readers may recall some long posts earlier this year expressing frustration with some members of the City Council over their swaying in the breeze approach to the East End Connector. Council, led by Mayor Bell, made the EEC a major highway priority back in 2002. Now that we're approaching right of way purchase (2010) and construction (2012) phases of the project, community opposition from immediate neighbors of the Connector has given some council members the opportunity to downplay their previous support of the project.

As a result of that February public hearing, i found myself on what's being called the East End Connector Ad Hoc committee. There are a number of city and state personnel on the committee, as well as several residents from the East End neighborhood, and a couple from other areas of town.

I'm not going to be blogging much about the committee. As a city sponsored group, its meetings are public, and i'm sure if you root around on the city's website, or email the right people, you can get copies of the minutes and find out what all has been discussed.

I did want to mention one item that came up at yesterday's meeting. Back in 2001, when i first got involved in the issue, the information i had was that only between 8 and 12 residences would be directly impacted by the EEC. By directly impacted i mean the residents would have to sell their properties to the state and relocate. The current preliminary document presented last night listed 23 properties that may end up being acquired by the state to build the EEC.

The most curious thing is that over a quarter of these (7 by my count) are new construction, having been built within the past 18 or so months. A quick check of the city's GIS maps shows that only one of these properties is owner occupied.

Now, maybe my brain is calcifying in my old age, but i can only think of one reason why someone who owned undeveloped property in a highway right of way would go ahead and develop it just before the construction of that highway. Anybody else out there want to enlighten me as to other possible reasons why you'd build a rental house knowing the state would be buying it and knocking it down in a couple of years?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

County commissioners punt on new taxes

First the reportage, then the commentary.

Two weeks after a spirited public hearing regarding whether or not to place two potential new taxes on the ballot for voter approval, and facing an August 31st deadline to act, County Commissioners, following the recommendation of Manager Mike Ruffin, declined to place either tax option before the voters.

The commissioners made their decision without taking a vote of their own tonight, although only Becky Heron spoke in favor of a November ballot measure. The others, citing concerns ranging from organized opposition to the taxes threatening the passage of three bond issues to the lack of time to give the taxes adequate public debate, chose to punt the issue to 2008 and beyond.

Chair Ellen Reckhow, citing the ongoing slowdown in the housing market, said it would be "prudent to exercise restraint" and not rush into a vote on the taxes. Manager Mike Ruffin spoke to potential organized opposition to the sales tax increase from the Durham People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and certain opposition to the transfer tax increase from the Durham Board of Realtors and the NC Association of Realtors, who have recently elected Durham's Wendell Bullard to be their new president.

A majority of the commissioners (Heron, Page, and Cousin) indicated their opposition to a sales tax increase. (Quick reminder - an affirmative vote from the public is required to implement either of the tax options, however, even with that vote, the commissioners must also vote in favor of the tax for it to be implemented.) All of the commissioners alluded to the large number of emails they have received in the last two weeks.

All right, now the reaction.


What's the deal?

Commissioners have approved 3 bond issues to be on the November ballot, totaling some $210 million dollars in new borrowing. Property taxes to finance this new spending, and already approved spending, are going to go up by what, 10 cents per hundred dollars or so to pay for this over the next couple of years? Do they think there's not going to be opposition to the bond fund? Do they think that we're really not going to vote to approve the bonds if there's a separate tax option on the ballot?

Quite frankly, i found that argument insulting. We (the voters) know that approving the bonds means that somehow, taxes are going up. If we approve the bonds, we're also smart enough to make the decision as to how we're going to pay for them.

But most appalling, in my mind, was Chairwoman Reckhow's comment toward the end of the discussion. She mentioned that of the counties that have "rushed" to put the tax options on the ballot in November, none of them were in as strong a financial position as Durham. We have a "strong financial base," and we're not in a "desperate situation." We can afford to wait a bit.

Excuse me.

Haven't the commissioners been begging the Durham delegation in the General Assembly to give the county new taxing authority? Haven't we been saying for years that we can't pay for projected growth without some new revenue streams? Now, suddenly, we're in good shape?

Well, hell, how can you go before the voters now and ask for a new tax? You know that quote is going to be raised whenever a new tax is put on the ballot. And it's
going to make it difficult to support.

Bad enough that all it takes to scare the commissioners is a few emails from a lobbying group. Bad enough that nobody else seems to have noticed how the Durham Realtors played both sides of the impact fee issue to oppose the transfer tax.

Now we've got the chair of the commissioners saying we really don't need to raise the additional revenue. Kinda pulls the rug out from under anyone who was prepared to work for the new tax.

Let's hope this doesn't come back to bite the commissioners next year.

UPDATE: Herald-Sun and N&O reports are online.

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Best. Quote. Ever.

Representative Rahm Emanuel on outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:
Alberto Gonzales is the first Attorney General who thought the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth were three different things.

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Continue reading Best. Quote. Ever.


From the Herald-Sun:
Because their pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears elsewhere, defense lawyers have turned to Durham's top judge in a last-ditch effort to free a mentally retarded man held 14 years without trial for allegedly killing a woman in Wadesboro.

Court documents describe the case as a "quintessential example" of a prosecution run unconstitutionally amok, a "perfect storm of injustice."

On Oct. 8, Judge Orlando F. Hudson will hear arguments about whether the defendant -- Floyd Lee Brown -- will continue to be detained at the state's Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, and whether the homicide charge against him should be dismissed.

It wasn't all that long ago a great hue and cry went up around the land that out-of-control prosecutors needed to be reigned in. Supporters of the three wrongfully accused Duke lacrosse team members all over the internet (and, as i recall, one or two of the lacrosse players themselves) were railing against injustice and vowing to make sure this kind of thing never happened again.

Here's your chance to step up to the plate, folks. It's not like a whole lot of people are talking about this case right now.

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School's in

I suppose starting school the week before Labor Day is better than starting in early August, but not by a whole lot. With a three day weekend on the horizon, and summer temperatures still in the forecast, there's little chance of any real learning taking place the next five days.

Still, remember that there'll be a bit more traffic in the mornings on local streets, with school buses and parents running their kids up to school, and in some parts of town, expect to see kids actually walking or riding bikes to school.

Drive a little bit more carefully, OK?

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Highway 70, Durham, NC


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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Best spam ever?

In one of my inboxes this morning:
Dear Bolivar Tampon,

Thank you for registering with us!

Your request is subject for approval. For the mean time, this is the information you provided about your membership account. Please READ this very carefully and take note of it.

User Name: barry tampon
Password: XXXXXX

First Name: Bolivar
Last Name: Tampon
Address: Katugasan, Perrlos
City: Carcar City
State: Cebu
Country: Philippines
Zip Code: 6030
Phone: +63324878762
Actual Location Based From Your IP Address: EUROPEAN UNION

An email notification will be sent to you within 24 hours regarding the status
of your request.
For more information , please email us at

Thank you very much and welcome to the SCC Alumni Community Site!

The SCC Alumni Staff resolves to St. Catherine's College Alumni Organization, in the Phillippines. Unfortunately, by account has not yet been activated. So i can't share with you the benefits of belonging to the SCC Alumni organization.


Continue reading Best spam ever?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Warehouse blues blogging

For starters, congratulations to Durham Parks and Recreation, Music Maker, and all involved in putting the Warehouse Blues Series together, on winning the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association – Arts and Humanities Award. According to the press release, "the award was judged on the basis of content, contribution to the community served, and expansion of interest in the arts and humanities." It also means that the Warehouse Blues Series is up for national consideration. I can say without hesitation, it's the best time i've had at a city sponsored event anywhere in the country that i've lived.

Tonight's show featured an encore performance by Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes, and "Cool" John Ferguson, and was, as always, spectacular. Even more special, "Whistlin'" Britches made his first public appearance of the year after some serious health issues. Good to see him back flirtin' with the ladies.

Special cocktail tonight: Caipirinhas.

Here's what you missed.

Whistlin' Britches

Macavine Hayes

Some more Macavine

From left - Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes, "Cool" John Ferguson

"Cool" John gets 'em off their seats

UPDATE: It occurs to me that i really should have singled out Annette Smith DPR's Recreation Manager, for recognition for her work in putting together the Warehouse Blues series.

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Trees- update

Alex Johnson, who is the Urban Forestry Manager for the City of Durham, has taken the time to respond to some of the issues Josh raised in his email to the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, excerpted below. I'm reprinting Alex's response below. I think the dialog being established in this case is good for the city, its residents, and the future streetscape of our urban neighborhoods. There's a lot of expertise aroudn here. Making sure it's all utilized is in everyone's best interests.

You may have read the article in the N&O about Durham’s dying trees. You may have also seen Josh Rose’s plea to plant natives under powerlines and forego the exotics.

Please let me share my perspective as Urban Forestry Manager for Durham.

First; Replacement trees for ‘07/08 (Natives outnumber exotics):

Overcup oak (native) Ginkgo (exotic)
Live oak (native) Lacebark elm (exotic)
Willow oak (native) Trident maple (exotic)
American elm (native) Chinese pistache (exotic)
Red maple (native) crepe myrtle (exotic)
Sugar maple (native) Japanese dogwood (exotic)
American elm (native) Japanese snowbell (exotic)
Yellowwood (native) Chinese redbud (exotic)
Oklahoma redbud (native)
Snowdrop tree (native)

Second; Many native species are not available locally in the quantity, size, or quality required.

Third; No causal link’s been established between the introduction of Japanese dogwood and the appearance of dogwood anthracnose.

Finally; Although I prefer natives, they do best in undisturbed conditions. Most are very sensitive to soil chemistry, hydrology, compaction, pollution, heat, and other urban stressors, more so than particular exotics. This is particularly true with the understory trees suitable for planting under powerlines.

If your planting space consists of a 3’ gap between the curb and the sidewalk filled with the typical clay backfill of urban sites, Crepe myrtle is simply your best choice.

Even the tougher natives like smoketree and fringetree don’t lend themselves to being planted in narrow strips because they don’t grow into perfect lollypops with clear trunks under green canopies; this is what we are required to have in that streetside strip to allow motorists and police officers a clear view around and through the trees.

With the restrictions on what I can plant due to the challenging nature of urban planting sites, the scarcity of natives in the nursery trade, and the need to accommodate internal restrictions, I need to have a broad a pallet of trees to draw upon. This pallet is going to inevitably contain exotic species. To expect or demand anything else is understandable, but doesn’t take into account the complexity of the issue.

I've pointed out to Alex a particular planting in my neighborhood where several willow oaks were taken down and replaced with crepe myrtle, where narrow right of way, sidewalks, etc. were not an issue. It may be that the neighbors asked for these trees, or it may simply be a case where that was what was on hand. Hopefully, out of this conversation will emerge a policy where the right tree is matched to the right location, rather than the easiest or most convenient planting.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


There was a lot of talk in the local blogosphere a month or two back about the piss-poor job being done pruning Durham's beautiful willow oaks by a contractor hired by Duke Energy. (See here, and here, for example, as well as this news story.)

Turns out that's not the only problem with the willow oaks. Seems they were all planted at around the same time in the 1930s, and they're all reaching the end of their lifespans around the same time. (Gary indicates that they're only middle aged, but i think that even without the pruning, the stress of being planted in streetside right-of-ways has got to cut quite a bit off the useful life of a tree.) As i recall, the entire block across the street from Club Blvd. Elementary had its willow oaks removed in the late 90s as they were deemed to unhealthy and dangerous to leave standing.

Josh Rose, a biologist and former Old North Durham resident who lives now in Texas but still stays in touch, doesn't dispute that a lot of these trees are going to need replacing. But he sees some problems with the approach which Durham officials are quoted as presenting.
About the Willow Oak replacement discussed in the article, it
is disturbing to see that nearly all of the proposed smaller replacement trees, the ones for areas with powerlines (which covers a lot of Durham streets), are non-native. Trident Maple, Hedge Maple, Paperbark Maple, and Crepe Myrtle are all native to Asia. You might think that we would have learned to quit planting non-native trees in the US after we introduced Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut Blight and wiped out what had been two dominant trees from eastern US forests and neighborhoods, but apparently not, so now we have Dogwood Anthracnose, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, Oak Wasting Disease, Emerald Ash Borer...

The other issue with non-native trees is insect diversity. Native trees, including the Willow Oaks, have leaves edible to numerous caterpillars, beetles, and other insects. Native flowering trees, like redbuds and dogwoods, attract all sorts of pollinators like butterflies, bees, flies, and more. Not only do the butterflies themselves lend color to the neighborhood, but the other, less visible insects are food for songbirds like warblers, vireos, flycatchers, chickadees, nuthatches, and many others. You will very rarely see birds like these in a Crepe Myrtle or other non-native, because there is virtually nothing for them to eat. You might see the occasional mockingbird or cardinal there, not much else.

Seems like it shouldn't be that much harder to make smart decisions regarding our next generation of tree plantings, rather than short-sighted ones. Josh continues:
Anyone in Old North Durham, Watts-Hillandale, or other neighborhoods (and this includes virtually all of Durham's urban neighborhoods, including Trinity Park, Old West Durham, Northgate Park, Duke Park, Cleveland-Holloway, et al) with aging trees needing replacement, if you would like to see as many or more birds and butterflies around your yards, convince your city to plant only tree species native to the US. Note that even some commonly used dogwoods and redbuds are Asian (hence the Dogwood Anthracnose, a fungus carried by Asian dogwoods that threatens our native species), so make sure to specifically ask for Cornus florida and Cercis canadensis. Some other natives, probably not carried by
the city arborists, but available from some local nurseries, and which tend to stay small enough to not threaten powerlines, include Fringe-tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Parsley Hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), Fevertree (Pinckeya bracteata), and various species of Buckeye (Aesculus spp.). I'm sure there are others. Of course, in areas without powerlines, the possibilities are nearly endless, including Beech, Tulip Poplar, Sycamore, Red Cedar, various Birches, and many more...

(Neighborhoods listed in italics added to Josh's letter.)

All of my experiences with Durham's Department of Urban forestry have been overwhelmingly positive, and i can't imagine that the smart and dedicated people there haven't thought this through. But still, it wouldn't hurt to drop them a line and ask them to consider a program of replacing these willow oaks with native trees for the reasons Josh mentions. We'd like Durham to be even more livable for those who will be here long after we're gone.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

File under: pleasant surprises

I ordered a few books from the Regulator last week, and they've been trickling in one at a time. Arriving today was my copy of William Gibson's newest novel, Spook Country. I had taken the morning off work to run a few errands in town, and stopped by on my way to Hillsborough to pick it up.

Gibson, who is usually credited with coining the term cyberspace, wrote some of the best science fiction of the 80s. Some reviews of his previous novel, Pattern Recognition, as well as this one, tend to wards claiming he's now a mainstream writer, but really, i think what's happened is that the world we live in has become so much like the world inside Gibson's fictions that for many readers, there's almost no difference. In a recent interview, Gibson says:
If I'm going to write fiction set in an imaginary future now, I'm going to need a yardstick that gives me some accurate sense of how weird things are now. 'Cause I'm going to have to go beyond that. And I think over the course of these last two books--I don't think I'm done yet--I've been getting a yardstick together. But I don't know if I'll be able to do it again. I don't know if I'll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way. In the '80s and '90s--as strange as it may seem to say this--we had such luxury of stability. Things weren't changing quite so quickly in the '80s and '90s. And when things are changing too quickly, as one of the characters in Pattern Recognition says, you don't have any place to stand from which to imagine a very elaborate future.

But that's not the pleasant surprise.

That was discovering that for some reason the copy of the book i received was signed by the author. No idea why that should be, since Gibson's nearest stop on his publicity tour is up in Bailey's Crossroads. And i don't know if all of the Regulator's copies were similarly signed, or if i won the lottery. But it's cool in a nerdy kind of way. I don't really collect autographs, although if i'm at a reading and i buy a copy, it's a bit of an excuse to have a small conversation with the writer. I like the idea that this particular object, which has traveled from keyboard and pixels to a laser-beam exposed printing plate, from 22 x 35 sheets of #70 paper through the press, folding and cutting machines, stitched and bound, boxed and shipped, somehow managed a side detour through the writer's hands on its way to my bookshelf.

Continue reading File under: pleasant surprises

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Durham taquerias featured in Gourmet magazine

There's a couple of really good Durham food blogs out there (here, and here, and maybe more i don't know about?), plus Bull City Rising's staff of media interns is constantly monitoring every known line of communication for any mention of Durham, so i feel kind of privileged to break this news to the Durham community, courtesy of PB. But please don't expect this to become a regular feature of DE.

The September issue of Gourmet magazine, focus on Latino food in the US, features reviews of no less than five Durham taquerias. The article is, alas, not available online, but the SpiceLines blog has already done a followup, visiting Taqueria Lopez on Hillsborough Road (across from Kroger, in the space once occupied by La Fontina) and raving about the Caldo de 7 Mares and other dishes.

Other taquerias mentioned in the article include two that are within walking distance of Duke Park, Los Comales (in the old Dunkin' Donuts) and Super Taqueria, both on Roxboro St. I've done take-out at Los Comales (which means, i believe, clay ovens or clay pots) twice in the past month or so, and both times been thoroughly impressed.

Hopefully, none of these places will now become so popular that you can't get in to eat on a Friday night, but it's good to see some of this great local food getting some recognition.

UPDATE: Phil points out that he's got reviews of both Taqueria Lopez and Los Comales at The Archer Pelican.

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Help wanted: City/County Planning Director

Seems that Monday was a particularly busy day in town, with the Cleveland-Holloway/Housing For New Hope/Dominion Ministries tussle coming to a climax before City Council last night. Stories in the Herald-Sun and N&O discuss the voting at council.

Kevin and Gary have the bloggers's perspective, and get into aspects left out of the news stories, while Michael lays out some of the underlying reasoning behind the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood's position.

Meanwhile, as Kevin noted, a press release from the city and county yesterday afternoon tersely announced: "Durham City-County Planning Director Frank Duke has been named the new director of the Planning and Community Development Department with the City of Norfolk, Va.

Duke leaves after more than five years on the job with the City and County of Durham. His last day is Friday, September 21, 2007. An interim director will be appointed after City Manager Patrick Baker and County Manager Mike Ruffin meet later this week."

Frank Duke did, in my opinion, a stellar job throughout the process of drafting the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and overseeing its adoption by the City and County of Durham. The UDO is supposed to govern how Durham allows it undeveloped land to be brought into new uses over the next 30 years or so, while also providing a layer of protection for exisitng neighborhoods. It took a while to hash out, but in the end, i think it's a pretty good document, and Mr. Duke deserves a lot of the credit for that.

But administering a plan like that is quite different from creating it, and it's been becoming more obvious for some time that this is not where Mr. Duke's interest is focused. So now's probably not a bad time to be looking for someone with a different skill set to take over the department.

And that's not a small challenge. City/County Planning is that odd duck in Durham's bureaucracy, answerable to both the City Council and County Commissioners, who are not always in complete agreement about their priorities. On a personal level, having to be available to two sets of bosses, and double the meetings of most other department heads, has got to be taxing, as Duke alludes to in this N&O article.

Now might also be a good time to really think through the structure of the Planning Department. Similar to the changes made in Housing and Community Development a few years ago, splitting that department into an enforcement division (Neighborhood Improvement Services) and a Community Developmetn Department, might not the Planning Department be made more effective by creating something new out of it? Do functions such as enforcing whether signs are placed on utility poles, or whether someone is operating an illegal auto repair shop in their back yard really need to be under the same manager responsible for overseeing whether a 150 acre mixed use development follows proper setbacks, buffers, tree and surface water protections, etc.?

Seems to me the answer is obvious, but hell, i'm just a guy with a keyboard.

Good luck in Norfolk, Frank.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Vick sees the light, to plead guilty

"After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick has asked that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding charges pending against him," Billy Martin, one of Vick's attorneys, said in a statement.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter.

Vick can still do a lot of good after this by becoming a visible spokesperson against animal cruelty and dogfighting, provided he's willing to make that leap.

The states and the feds need to build on this and make eliminating, or at least reducing, dogfighting in this country by aggressively pursuing more of these cases. Vick is only the tip of the iceberg, and as long as he's the highest profile prosecution, there will be those who continue to claim that he was taken down just because he was a successful African-American.

And you know what? If the feds don't go after the rest of the dogfighting community with equal zeal, that will be a claim that's hard to refute.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Traffic circle blogging


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Ooooh, scary

Most Durham residents get their "free" weekly delivery of the The Durham News on the driveway or front porch every Saturday morning. They generally do a decent job of portraying the Bull City, and highlighting the positives. (They've also quoted from this blog in the 'NetCrashers column, but not over the past 6 weeks or so. What, did an editor decide the name is too risky for their delicate readers? Or has my stuff gone downhill that quickly? Some questions just answer themselves, i guess.)

This weekend, they've got a front page story in the Real Estate section, which, alas, i'm unable to find online. (If you can locate it, send me the link, OK?) The story, by Nancy Oates, is titled "Durham property owners to see tax values updated." It's got a huge graphic that takes up virtually all of the front page above the fold, and in total the image and text takes up about 75% of the front page. Here's the first two grafs:
Brace yourself, Durham. The tax man cometh, and he's revaluing your property for the first time in seven years.

"It's just going to be a little painful for everybody, " said Leslie Page, owner of West Durham Realty and the president of the Durham Regional Assocation of Realtors.

The article goes on to note that the revaluation is required by NC state law, at least once every eight years, and explains the process by which the county will figure out how much your house has appreciated since the last time they did this in 2001, and how you can go about disputing this new figure, because, after all, everyone knows that their going to come up with some hugely inflated figure in order to increase tax revenues and do whatever bad things it is that governments do with all of your hard earned money.

So, be prepared for the worst, right?

Well, keep reading. Buried in the 17th paragraph, well after the jump to page three, is this little nugget.
Although values will surely rise in most cases, the trend is for the tax rate to drop during revaluation years, Denning (UNC assistant professor of public law) said. In its budget, a local government must state a revenue neutral rate, that is, the tax rate that would bring in the same amount of revenue as the previous year, taking into consideration the higher assessed values.
(emphasis added)

In other words, if the total value of all real property in Durham County is $100 billion (and i'm just pulling that number out of my ass for easy calculation; the actual number is irrelevant right now.) and the property tax rate is 79 cents per $100 of valuation (which it is), the county collects $790 million in property taxes. If the total value of real property rises in the County rises to, let's say, $160 billion (a 60% increase over the past 7 years would not be unthinkable) the amount of money the County has to budget to collect in real property taxes is still $790 million. In order to do that, the county has to present a new property tax rate of 49 cents per $100 of valuation.

Now, if your property value has risen more than the average value, you're going to see a property tax hike. But if you're property has risen less than the average (which we're assuming is 60% county wide. We'll know the actual number sometime next year), you'll see your property taxes go down.

The point, of course, is that key little word "must," highlighted above. You see, it's just as much a part of the law that the tax rate remain "revenue neutral" as it is that values be reassessed every eight years. But if you don't read the entire article very closely, you'd never know it.

So, to summarize, some folks, whose properties have appreciated more than others, are going to pay a bit more for the privilege of living in Durham next year, some, who weren't so fortunate, will pay a bit less. Tax rates will be lower for everyone, which in the long term gives the local governments more flexibility to deal with revenue issues in the future, and makes Durham look a little more attractive to potential newcomers who are comparing tax rates of other Triangle communities when deciding where to live if they're moving here. There will probably be a modest property tax increase next year to cover the cost of bonds already floated, and, depending on whether either of the two proposed new taxes is approved, the property tax might see a more significant rise, but this has nothing to do with the revaluation.

Would have been nice, not to say more accurate, had the N&O told the story in that fashion, rather than the scare mongering that they chose to highlight. Nobody wants to pay taxes, but reassessing property values regularly is one way to keep the tax burden fairly distributed.

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Continue reading Ooooh, scary

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

And many happy returns.

Guess Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Friday, August 17, 2007

Warehouse blues blogging - Eddie Kirkland

Eddie's a guy i used to see in New Paltz as an undergraduate back in the 70s. Amazing that he's still kickin' it at 83. An absolutely wonderful set tonight.

91 degrees at showtime, so tonight's beverage - G&Ts.

Folks, next week Music Maker is bringing Macavine Hayes and Cool John Ferguson back to town. If you miss this show, shame on you.


Continue reading Warehouse blues blogging - Eddie Kirkland


One can only assume that, taking a page out of the Bush administration playbook, Michael Vick is waiting until after 6pm on a Friday to announce his plea deal, hoping that nobody will notice.

I still think he can get out in front of this by copping a plea, and becoming a spokesperson for the anti-dogfighting groups. But the time in which he might do that is now measured in hours, not days or weeks. And judging by the lack of movement today, it's highly unlikely he's going that route. Maybe he truly doesn't think he did anything wrong.

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Continue reading Vick

Presidential fashion sense

Oh. My. God.

Does the man own a single article of clothing without the presidential seal on it?


Continue reading Presidential fashion sense

Noted without comment

From the N&O:

Duke's Tauiliili OK'd to play
Despite facing criminal charges, Duke linebacker is reinstated -- with sanctions

Duke reinstated linebacker Michael Tauiliili to its football program Thursday, 11 days after he was suspended following an arrest on charges of driving while impaired and simple assault.

Duke's leading tackler during his first two seasons, the junior will be held out of the Blue Devils' Sept. 1 season opener against Connecticut and faces several undisclosed internal sanctions, coach Ted Roof said.

. . .

According to Durham Police citations, Tauiliili, 20, failed to stop at the scene of an accident that resulted in property damage to a vehicle owned by Jesus Alejo of Creedmoor. Tauiliili was arrested about 4 a.m. Aug. 4 and, according to police citations, had a .12 blood alcohol level, above North Carolina's legal limit of .08. (The legal age to consume alcohol is 21.)

Tauiliili -- listed under his birth name, Michael Shawn Brown, on the warrant -- also is accused of carrying a concealed knife and pointing an air pistol at Alejo.

I'll have some comments later on this development, when i get a bit more time. Meanwhile, your thoughts?

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Continue reading Noted without comment


If, like me, you've forgotten what it looks like, here's a picture of rainwater on parking lot pavement. Not that it's going to last too long, from the look of things.


Continue reading Rain!


Not that i'm going to make a habit of it or anything, but it wouldn't be right if i didn't mention that we had a very enjoyable evening in the capital city last night. OK, the drive in was a little stop and go, but i had flipped a coin and decided that 70 would be more convenient than 40 at 5:30 pm, so it wasn't unanticipated.

We had a solid meal at the Draft House (which really does have "more taps than you can shake a stick at") in Cameron Village, and successfully navigated the 4 blocks over to the Raleigh Little Theater, where we had no trouble parking, and time to enjoy a stroll through the rose garden before curtain.

I'm not going to play theater critic, but the production of Urinetown: The Musical was a lot of fun, in a Kurt Weill/Berthold Brecht kind of way (but with an American, post-modern twist) that, at least for me, is something i don't realize how much i've missed until i get a taste of it again.

Urinetown: The Musical plays Thursday through Sunday till august 26th, if you're interested.

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Continue reading Raleigh!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This pisses me off

From the N&O:
Raleigh has decided to make Capital Boulevard $420,000 safer for pedestrians.

In a report released Monday, the city's Department of Public Works said it would improve five crossings on Capital, Wake County's most fatal road for pedestrians, excluding interstate highways. Since 2002, eight people have died crossing Capital between Peace Street and Durant Road.

So, now we know that it takes 8 fatalities to get pedestrian improvements implemented.

But this really pisses me off:
"If you're talking about intersection improvements, that is a substantial amount of money," said Tom Norman, head of N.C. Department of Transportation's pedestrian and bicycle safety division.

Yeah, $52,500 per life is a "substantial amount of money," if you're talking about making intersection improvements. But we're really talking about saving lives, aren't we? And how much do those cost? No wonder we can't get the state to put up a "State Law: Must Yield to Pedestrians in Crosswalk" sign on any state maintained roads in Durham, if the frikkin' NCDOT bike and ped main guy can let himself get quoted in the N&O saying something that stupid.

UPDATE: added commentary in italics above.

UPDATE2: To clarify further why Tom Norman's remarks as quoted piss me off, i would expect an NCDOT budget analyst to talk about how expensive this project is. I would expect the resident engineer, or the traffic engineer, to refer to it in terms of an "intersection improvement project," and the higher up the chain you go, the more likely it would be for the two to be combined.

But NCDOT has a long history of designing, funding, and building transportation models for cars, and not for people. It's taken a lot of pushing and cajoling, some public and some behind closed doors, to get NCDOT to start taking pedestrian issues seriously. If the guy who is supposed to be the bike and ped advocate for NCDOT can't actually, you know, advocate for pedestrian issues as such, then how seriously can we take NCDOT's pronouncements that such things matter.

A more appropriate statement from the bike and ped guy at NCDOT would have been, "We realize that this seems like a lot of money to spend, but we anticipate avoiding at least a dozen fatalities over the next 8 or so years. We can't really put a price on human life. These pedestrian safety improvements, and other projects similarly designed to make walking in our community safer, may be expensive, but we think saving lives is worth the cost."

That's what we need to hear from our bike and ped advocates within the system. There's enough budget and traffic people to make the cost/benefit analysis, or to advocate for road designs that put vehicle throughput ahead of pedestrian safety. There aren't enough voices within the system saying something different.

(I'm bumping this to the top because the updated comments justify it)


Continue reading This pisses me off

Traffic circle blogging

And we mean it.

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Continue reading Traffic circle blogging

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A great game for name fans

Over on ESPN tonight, the Tigers and Indians had a good one going one.

Fausto Carmona pitched for the Indians, while rookie Jair Jurrjens made his Major League debut for the Tigers. The Indians, of course, have Jhonny Peralta, who always makes my all-name list by virtue of being unable to spell his own first name correctly. Special bonus for Cleveland was Asdrubal Cabrera at second base making the double play combination with Peralta.

One of the best games for name fans in quite some time.

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Continue reading A great game for name fans

What'cha reading?

I kind of assume that everyone who stops by here reads most of the other local blogs linked to in the side bar, at least occasionally. I also figure that you're checking out the big national progressive sites that i don't bother linking to, as well.

So i don't usually link to stuff over there.

But if you missed this (via TPM) this morning, you're missing a pretty big story that's not getting much coverage.
In an unprecedented move, the agency that oversees postal rates in the United States has approved a plan that would unravel much of what the founders accomplished. Earlier this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) rejected a postal rate increase plan offered by the U.S. Postal Service. Instead they opted to implement a modified version of an extraordinarily complicated plan submitted by media giant Time Warner. (Click here to read the decision and click here for a timeline).

. . . snip . . .

This year's rate increase was somewhat inevitable, as the postal service struggles to meet its costs. The method of rate hikes was hotly contested. Postal rates for magazines are basically a zero-sum game. Lower rates for some magazines, and others must pick up the cost. The USPS offered a plan to the postal Commission that featured relatively equitable increases for all magazines. Most magazines were budgeting for a 10-12 percent increase. The Time Warner plan proposed higher costs for small publishers and discounts for big publishers. The Time Warner plan is so complex that many publications are still unclear what their rate hikes will be if implemented; those smaller publications that have been able to do the math are finding shocking increases on tap, as high as 25-30 percent.

Check it out. "Cause what you're reading could change drastically in the next 12 months.

Continue reading What'cha reading?

Reading comprehension difficulties

I've heard it said that today's youth have trouble comprehending text written above, say, a third grade level; and often have difficulties drawing logical conclusions about the world around them based on their observations.

But you rarely see it displayed so thoroughly as in this brief conversation between morons.


Continue reading Reading comprehension difficulties

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Michael Vick update

ESPN is reporting that Vick's codefendants are preparing to plead guilty, and his lawyers are urging him to cop a plea that will get him a year in jail or less.

He should have taken the advice i offered for free a month ago:
The best outcome, AFAIC, would be for Vick to plead guilty, quickly, pay his fine, take his probation, and become a spokesperson for an anti-dog fighting (and anti-animal abuse in general) movement. Whether he's capable of that kind of personal growth or not remains to be seen.

Read Lester Munson's column as well.

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Continue reading Michael Vick update

Transfer tax redux

I had a couple of additional thoughts to make about the transfer tax, and the, well, silliness for lack of a better word, of the Realtors position that the option not be placed on the ballot this November.

If you were at the meeting last night, or if you read Michael's dissection of the Rick Martinez propaganda column in the N&O (the Martinez piece. Michael's response is at his place), you've heard the number 77%.

That's the percentage of North Carolinians that the Realtors say are opposed to the transfer tax.

Gary, who's making an effort to rebrand Realtors as "property salespeople," an effort i'm considering joining, by the way, argues that he believes given a choice between the sales tax, the transfer tax, and larger increases in the property tax, that most voters would vote for the transfer tax.

That's probably the best conclusion one can draw from the efforts to keep the transfer tax off the ballot.

But here's a thought. Let's say that the Realtors convince the Commissioners to only put the sales tax on the ballot, and it gets defeated by a 55 - 45 or greater margin. I guarantee the transfer tax will be on the ballot in a special election within 90 days. (If a measure is defeated it can be brought back up in a special election after a 30 day waiting period.) But if the transfer tax is on the ballot, and it's resoundly defeated, as the Realtors would have you believe it's going to be, then it'll be gone. A 3 - 1 margin of defeat would drive a stake through the heart of the transfer tax, and you'll never see it again.

So, from a gaming perspective, you'd have to weigh up how confident you are in your polling. If you think that your 77% figure opposed is accurate, why wouldn't you want to put the transfer tax on the ballot?

The only answer, of course, is that 77% opposed is simply not applicable to Durham.

On the other hand, i was surprised to hear any arguments that the sales tax should not be on the ballot. Although i would expect both the People's Alliance and the Durham Committee to oppose the sales tax, again, i think there would be a reasonable degree of confidence that the sales tax increase would be defeated in Durham.

As i've been saying, i trust that the voters of Durham are smart enough to make the best choice.

UPDATE: Johnston County Commissioners have put both options on the ballot for their voters.

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Continue reading Transfer tax redux

Holy cow!

RIP Phil Rizzuto.

Let's hope an entire generation never hears "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."


Continue reading Holy cow!

Transfer tax followup

Kevin makes a "modest proposal" for the transfer tax that you must read. Fortunately, no babies are harmed in the process.

You can view the presentation on each of the proposed taxes that the County Manager made last night at the Durham County website. It's the PDF file at the top of the page titled "Commissioners to Host Public Hearing."

Thanks to Michael for pointing out in the comments that the Realtors have not been involved in opposing the impact fees after all, and also for explaining the reasoning behind the failed attempt by Durham County to collect such a fee a few years ago. Since the president of the local Realtors board stated last night that she thought an impact fee was a better way to target revenues needed for growth than the transfer tax, perhaps we can count on the Realtors to support future efforts to get the state lege to allow Durham to enact such a fee?

And for now, since i've already used up my lunch break and other free time for the day posting and commenting, i'll be getting back to my day job.

See you at 5 o'clock.

: Michael revises his statement to confirm that, yes, the property salesperson lobby did in fact work to defeat the impact fee for Durham. Disingenuousness reapplied, based on last night's statement.

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Continue reading Transfer tax followup

Monday, August 13, 2007

Transfer tax public hearing - some quick comments

First - i was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, the number of speakers, and the diversity of the range of positions. There were some disingenuous arguments made by several folks advocating keeping the real estate transfer tax off the ballot, but also some thoughtful ones as well.

Second - the most egregious bit of disingenuousity came when a transfer tax opponent, who is also a member of the Realtor lobby, argued that the transfer tax unfairly affects home buyers and sellers who are staying in the area, and are not moving into new construction. An impact fee, she argued, would more fairly put the burden on new arrivals. All well and good, until you remember that it was the realtor lobby that put the kibosh on the impact fee for Durham County in the first place. Not all that dissimilar from the kid who killed his parents and then asked for the court's mercy because he was an orphan.

More tomorrow.

UPDATE: Carolyn Rickard at the Herald Sun observes "(m)ost people who spoke Monday night favored the transfer tax over the sales tax, though some real estate agents and homebuilders said they opposed the transfer tax."

I wasn't keeping tally, but i had the impression a slightly larger number of people spoke against the transfer tax, but i could easily be mistaken.

Chris Kukla of the People's Alliance, who also said he was speaking for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, to my recollection was the only speaker representing groups opposed to putting the sales tax increase on the ballot.

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Continue reading Transfer tax public hearing - some quick comments

To the County Commissioners

I'm going to be speaking at the public hearing tonight about the tax proposals. Here's what i'm going to say:
County Commissioners, Mr. Manager, fellow citizens -

My name is Barry Ragin, i live at 1706 Shawnee St, in the Duke Park neighborhood. I am an immediate past president of the Duke Park Neighborhood Association, and the current Democratic Party chair for precinct 19. I publish a daily blog about life in Durham, and, as i am sure many people in this room can relate to, i am a member of more partnerships, councils, coalitions, and committees than i can keep track of. Any organizations mentioned are, of course, for identification purposes only. I'm here tonight speaking on my own behalf.

Commissioners, Mr. Manager, fellow citizens, we will hear, before the night is out, from a significant number of people who will make a claim that either or both of the taxes under discussion are unfair to a certain class of people, will damage our economy if enacted, and, if some of the emails i've received are to be believed, will threaten our very way of life.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that enacting either of these taxes is not yet on the table. Rather, the question before us is whether or not the citizens of Durham County will have the opportunity to make the decision as to whether a tax increase is necessary, and if so, which of these two options makes the most sense.

Most citizens of Durham are not represented by a special interest industry lobbying group. For most citizens, attending a public meeting like this to make their voice heard is difficult and intimidating, and well out of their comfort zone. The ballot box is, however, within the realm of common experience, and the place where most people feel comfortable speaking their mind.

The North Carolina legislature has mandated that any county wishing to enact either of these taxes must receive a stamp of approval from the majority of the voters this November. Proponents and opponents of these taxes will have ample time to convince the electorate of the worthiness of their positions. I trust that the collective wisdom of the county's voters will lead to the best decision for Durham. They are, after all, the very same voters who elected each member of the Board of Commissioners. To allow a relative handful of well organized opponents of either of these options to influence your decision by keeping either of them off the November ballot is to deny the electorate the opportunity to participate in our democracy, and to make a mockery of the state Legislature's request that the citizenry vote on this important issue.

I urge you, therefore, to place both of these options on the ballot for the voters of Durham to choose, and let the debate begin.

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Continue reading To the County Commissioners

What's brewin'?

Via Joe, i've learned that the Triangle Brewing Company has officially opened it's doors and gotten its taps into a few local eating and drinking establishments.

Every city needs to have its own beer. I'm looking forward to my first pint. The boys have set up shop in East Durham on Pearl St. Good luck to 'em, though i wish they'd seen fit to include the word Durham in the name.

Just sayin'.

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Continue reading What's brewin'?

Public hearing on potential new taxes tonight

I just wanted to put a quick reminder out there about tonight's public hearing in the County Commissioners' chambers.

The NC Legislature has authorized counties to ask their voting citizens to approve one new tax from a choice of two, or to reject both possible taxes. The taxes are a .25% increase in the sales tax (counties currently collect 2%; this would raise that rate to 2.25% while leaving the state's 4.25% untouched) or a .4% transfer tax on all real property sales (Durham currently collects a .2% fee; this would rise to .6% under this proposal.)

Whatever you think about either of these taxes, the legislature specifically wrote this enabling legislation to require a vote of the citizens. Those lobbying groups, and i'm especially talking about the Durham and NC Board of Realtors, who are urging the Commissioners to scrap the transfer tax without a public vote are attempting to circumvent democracy.

This decision properly belongs to the citizens of Durham, not to any single industry lobbying group.

I'll be there tonight making that point.

7 PM at the Commissioners' chambers in the Old Courthouse, at 200 East Main St., in downtown Durham.

I hope to see some of you there.

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Continue reading Public hearing on potential new taxes tonight

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'll take game show inventors for $400, Alex

Answer: He died today at the age of 82, after a successful career as a talk show host, big band vocalist, game show inventor, and real estate mogul.

Question: Who is Merv Griffin?


Continue reading I'll take game show inventors for $400, Alex

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Erwin Rd., Orange County, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Hopefully, this story will be getting big play in all the Sunday papers tomorrow.

Here's the money quote:
Security firms earn more than $4 billion in government contracts, but the government doesn't know how many private soldiers it has hired, or where all of them are, according to the Government Accountability Office. And the companies are not required to report violent incidents involving their employees.

See, even with the double, triple, and even quadruple deployments among US ARmy, Reserve, and National Guard units, we don't have enough soldiers in Iraq to get the job done, however our government is defining "the job" this week. And $600 billion hasn't been enough to provide them with all the materials to do the job either.

So, we're subcontracting a good part of the job out. To soldiers for hire.

For which, i've always understood, the word is mercenaries.

Of course, if these guys were on the other side, we'd probably be using a different word for them.

And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.

Oh, wait. Maybe they are on a different side.


Continue reading Mercenaries


I posted earlier in the week about the great time i had hosting a block party on National Night Out, getting all the neighbors on the street together for a cook out on one of the hottest nights of the year.

This post is about those other neighbors who can't seem to figure out how to go about being good neighbors.

We met with Rick Soles, the property manager of 1705 Avondale Drive about a month ago, to discuss the ongoing problems his tenants have caused at that house. These problems have included domestic violence (we've called 911 several times in the middle of the night after hearing shouted threats of "I'm gonna kill you bitch!", breaking glass, etc.) loud music, cars being worked on under bright lights after midnight, 24/7 barking dogs tied to the carport posts without food, water, or shelter.

In the past, complaints directly to the owner of the property, according to the public tax records a Mr. David Johnson of Durham County, have not only not led to improvements, but resulted in Mr. Johnson appearing at my house, uninvited, and announcing that he has no intention of doing anything to improve the situation and declaring that we need to stop harassing him.

So i mentioned earlier that Rick Soles told us that he was tired of leasing to people who were trashing his property, and he was willing to work with us. Specifically, he said that his leases on that property always include a no-pets clause, and that he would appreciate hearing from us if tenants moved in with dogs. He also talked about not allowing cars to be parked in the back yard. And we discussed cleaning up the small, triangular piece of woods which lies between our respective fences. After researching the survey and tax records, i concluded that the woods actually belong to Mr. Johnson. I asked Rick Soles if he wanted to clean up the trash there, or if he would give me permission to enter the property and clean it up. He preferred the latter, which was fine with me.

Well, imagine my surprise when the new tenants moved in a week and a half ago with dogs, and a backyard full of cars in various states of being sold.

I spoke with the new tenants, and between their English and my Spanish we were able to communicate effectively. They said they were quite clear in their lease application about both the cars and the dogs, and that Rick Soles signed off on both aspects of the lease.

I don't know about you, but i can cut people a lot of slack for their misdeeds. We're all human, and none of us perfect, but one thing we can all control is the degree of honesty with which we approach those around us. And being lied to is one thing i simply can't abide. So that's why i'm posting some specific details about the property, the owner and the manager here. Got any more horror stories about this property manager and/or owner? Share them in the comments, or drop me a line at dependableerection AT gmail DOT com.

And by the way, here's some pictures of the trash i cleaned up from Mr. Johnson's property.

Anybody from the city of Durham who wants to weigh in on the propriety of dumping used motor oil containers in the watershed? I'd love to hear from you as well.

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Continue reading Neighbors

Econ 101

Lots of discussion about the proposed transfer tax over at the PAC2 listserv, of all places. I'm going to stick to my basic premise about allowing it to come to a vote for the time being, but assuming it does, there's going to be a ton of conversation, much of it basic blather, over the next 3 months about this topic. Hopefully i'll be able to shed more light than heat on the topic in the run up to Election Day, but we'll see how things work out.

My favorite comment over there was this:
Basic Economics 101 teaches us that raising the cost of an activity discourages that activity. Hence the tax on tobacco was raised to reduce teen smoking, toll roads are built to ease traffic congestion, etc.

That of course explains why economics majors have to take those hard 300 and 400 level courses to get their degrees.

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Continue reading Econ 101

Friday, August 10, 2007

Danger Will Robinson!

From the AP:
Airport officials searched about a half-dozen airplanes at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Friday after a man bypassed security screening.

The Transportation Security Administration noticed the man had slipped past screeners shortly before 8 a.m., said spokesman John Allen. Officials shut down Concourse C to conduct a search, but were not immediately able to locate him.

He was probably carrying a monkey under his hat.


Continue reading Danger Will Robinson!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

But will they offer eyelid-breathing lessons?

From Kevin's Bull City Rising, regarding the plans for a Minor League Baseball training complex and museum at the old DAP:
One of the other interesting elements to this plan lies in Minor League Baseball's stated annual programs for the site and neighboring facilities (available for download off the City Council agenda web site.) The list -- which seems to presuppose the creation of the national Minor League Baseball Museum, though my understanding has been that that remains conceptual -- includes:

* An annual MiLB promotional seminar, currently held in multiple cities, would move permanently to Durham, bringing representatives of 160 teams, exhibitors, and sponsors.
* MiLB-run academies for interns (seeking to break into the sport on the business side), groundskeepers, and broadcasters (possibly in partnership with Capitol Broadcasting).
* Quarterly "Business of Baseball" workshops
* Three annual Umpire Schools bringing as many as 200 prospective MiLB umpires to the Bull City
* The official headquarters of the MiLB Alumni Association would move to Durham (to be located in the Museum.)
* Four to six Minor League 'fantasy camps' per year, each bringing 40 campers to Durham

Altogether, the schedule of activities that Minor League has in mind is one of the things that, to me, make this a terrific deal for Durham. A steady stream of tourists and visitors bound for the DAP district -- at first for these camps and workshops, eventually to visit the museum -- means more traffic for the Marriott and the new boutique hotel, more patrons at local restaurants and shops. We're adding more and more things to do downtown; renovating the DAP and partnering with Minor League Baseball makes downtown Durham a destination for sports lovers.

Oh, and MiLB will (naturally) show the movie Bull Durham on a regular basis at the old park.

(emphasis added)

I'm thinking a Bull Durham themed fantasy camp ought to be a big hit with a certain demographic.

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Continue reading But will they offer eyelid-breathing lessons?

More thoughts on the tax debate

There's been an increasing amount of discussion, on the blogs and elsewhere, about the County Commissioners upcoming public hearing.

To clarify a bit, the Commissioners will take comments on Monday, August 13, starting at 7pm, on whether to place before the voters of Durham either or both of the tax options granted to counties in the recent session of the NC Legislature.

The debate at this time will not culminate in either tax increase being implemented.

The two tax options under discussion are a .25% increase in the general sales tax (the county currently tacks on 2% to all sales transactions, including food items; the state collects 4.25%); or a .4% increase in the revenue deed stamp tax, commonly called a transfer tax, from .2% to .6%.

County commissioners have the option of placing either or both of these proposals on the November ballot. The commissioners will then have the option of implementing only one of the tax increases, assuming they are approved by the voters. If only one is approved by the voters, then the commissioners can implement only that tax, if they choose.

There's been a lot of ignorance and fear-mongering on this topic. I posted yesterday a copy of an email sent out by the Realtors lobbying arm, encouraging their members to attend the hearing to prevent the transfer tax from coming before the citiziens of Durham for a vote. I'm speculating that their polling indicates the tax wold be approved by the voters of Durham, and they see not allowing that to happen as their best chance to avoid it.

Over at Kevin's place, commenter Mark further propagates some of the misconceptions and demonstrates an ignorance of the subject that's worth examining in and of itself.

" will not have any kind of noticeable impact on me." Maybe not, but for those who may sell their house at a loss, every dollar counts. There are issues of principle here as well, and those who have taken a risk of home ownership should not be penalized. Even if, as you say, is not that much and won't break a deal. Nope. It won't. But why nickel and dime a homeowner just because they are able to buy a home? Homeowners already pay property taxes. Do renters? Being a renter for most of my life, it was tough to become a homeowner. But now I am and I should not be penalized. Because once approved, then it's a tax that can be raised. It's not a one time thing. And if the Department of Real Estate wants to come in and protect a homeowner's interest, while preserving their own, so be it. But they won't be the only one or group objecting.

And, btw, when did everyone start believing that our present government here in Durham was spending the taxes they already receive wisely? Do you think that these new taxes will be allocated properly? So far, and from what I've read, I don't see a lot of people having a lot of faith in the present 'good ol' boy' staff at city hall. But I digress...

There are issues of principle involved in every tax policy. In this case, the issue is not "penalizing those who have taken a risk of home ownership." The issue is, who should pay for our growing infrastructure needs? New development carries with it increased capital costs for municipalities. Should we fund that by increasing the sales tax or by taxing those who profit most from this development? That's the principle.

"Why nickel and dime a homeowner?" Homeowners are not being nickel and dimed here. You're being nickel and dimed by ongoing property tax increases, and by fees (like the stormwater and yard waste fees collected by the city) that increase annually. This tax impacts home sellers, not home owners, and to a greater extent it impacts land developers and speculators. Want to minimize incremental annual property tax increases? Find another source of revenue.

Do renters pay property taxes? Of course they do. They just pay them on someone else's property, and don't get to take advantage of any tax breaks associated with them.

"Once approved, it's a tax that can be raised." It's already approved. There's a .2% tax in existence. The proposal is to raise that tax to .6%.

"The Department of Real Estate?" What are you smoking, my friend? The Realtors are a lobbying organization, not a government agency. Are they looking out for your interests? I don't know. If they were looking out for your interests, wouldn't they offer to cut their 6% commission on selling your house? (That's $12,000 on a %200,000 home. The transfer tax on a $200,000 home would amount to $1,200. Which would go to the general fund, not to a private bank account.)

Are our taxes spent fairly, wisely, and without regard to a good ol' boy network? Unlikely. A good part of that is because ordinary citizens like you and i are unable to afford lobbying organizations as well funded and organized as the Realtors. And if we want our tax dollars to be spent wisely, we need to get a lot more involved in the decision making process.

When the Realtors lobby to deny citizens the right to vote on tax policy, they make it less likely that we'll be involved in our government. Which may suit some interests. But not mine.

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Continue reading More thoughts on the tax debate

Grocery wars

Found in the British foods section at Kroger North Pointe. I couldn't resist. Not as robust as Twining's Irish Breakfast tea, but more than drinkable at less than half the price.


Continue reading Grocery wars


A few snapshots from our east Duke Park National Night Out block party.

That's our guest Phil in the middle of the above shot.

Lotsa little ones on the block. Hope you had as much fun as we had.


Continue reading Neighbors

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Durham Realtors: Don't let the people decide

Via email, Michael points out this post on BlueNC, discussing the tax options facing the Durham County Commissioners, discussed below, and over at Kevin's place today.

Seems the Commissioners are holding a public hearing on Monday to decide whether or not to put either or both of the possible tax increases on the November ballot. To be clear, the situation is a bit confusing. As i understand it, NC voters don't really have the legal ability to vote on binding referenda. But as Kevin explains, counties will have the option of placing a .25% sales tax increase, or a .4% transfer tax increase, or both, on the ballot. If passed, counties will have the option of enacting one or the other, or neither, but not both, of these increases. If only one tax passes the voters' approval, the Commissioners could still decline to enact that tax. If neither passes, then neither tax increase would be enacted.

The Realtors lobby is already gathering steam to urge the Durham County Board of Commissioners to deny Durham voters the opportunity to choose.
On Monday, August 13th at 7:00pm, the Durham County Commissioners will hold a Special Public Hearing to determine placing the .25 percent sales tax Option, .4 percent transfer tax option or both on the ballot this November. If the transfer tax is approved locally, the current .2 revenue deed stamp tax would increase to .6 percent. On a $150,000 home, sellers currently have to pay $ 300 at closing. Under this proposed tax, it would increase to $ 900.

It is critical that we have a room full of REALTORS® present to deliver the message that “this is a bad idea” and the impact it will have on housing affordability in Durham.

Please highlight your calendar and plan to join your colleagues next Monday night at the Durham County Commissioners meeting. _We need a strong contingency of REALTORS® present at this meeting_ or else this option will be placed on the ballot for voter approval.

Got that? The Realtors are concerned that the tax will be placed on the ballot for voter approval.

Umm, i thought that was one of the hallmarks of democracy. Why are the Realtors afraid of letting the voters of Durham decide what kind of tax, if any, they are willing to enact? Why should a handful of lobbyists deny the overwhelming majority of citizens the right to cast a ballot on this issue?


Continue reading Durham Realtors: Don't let the people decide

Carolina Theatre re-opening scheduled

Hooray - the Carolina Theatre has completed its renovations ahead of schedule and is ready to reopen Friday, 8/17. Hopefully, they've had a chance to put the new air-conditioning system through its paces with this week's heatwave, and everything is working properly.

they're going to have some ticket giveaways and free popcorn and stuff for the grand re-opening event.

Schedule available here.

UPDATE: edited to clarify that tickets will be given away for the shows. Sorry for the confusion.


Continue reading Carolina Theatre re-opening scheduled

Sales tax increase is the wrong choice for Durham

Kevin's got a pretty good analysis up over at BCR this morning on the Durham County tax debate. While a couple of the specifics are still unclear in my mind (specifically, i thought the real estate transfer tax was a completely new item, rather than an increase in an existing tax. i probably got that impression from the lobbying campaign against the tax.), the basic choice is pretty straightforward.

Kevin pulls his punches, though, when he concludes:
At the end of the day, new revenue streams are needed to get past these thorny problems. And I'll certainly understand a realpolitik decision by Ruffin and the gang to make that happen. Too bad the best options may still be off the table.

(emphasis added)

Let's be clear. An additional increase in the sales tax for Durham County is probably the most regressive tax choice we can make. It's still unconscionable that the County collects 2% of the purchase price from its poorest residents every time they buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, or a pound of hamburger. Even though food is, apparently, exempt from the proposed .25% increase in the county sales tax, other daily necessities like clothes and aliminum foil are not. We should be talking about getting rid of the sales tax on food, and creating an exemption for children's clothing, not increasing the sales tax.

Last weekend's so-called tax holiday, which was originally designed to help folks living on the margin buy back to school clothes and supplies, has really turned into a giant computer and electronics sale for the better off, further impacting tax receipts while benefitting those who need it least.

The upcoming property revaluations (which as i understand them are supposed to be more or less revenue neutral at first) will, over the next few years increase receipts for both the city and the county. But nowhere near enough to both catch up on the decades of deferred maintenance to our infrastructure and create new infrastructure for the anticipated growth in Durham. For that we're going to need some new revenue.

The sales tax is the wrong place to be looking for that. Those of us who realize that need to saying so. Kevin, i think gets that. I just wish he'd be more forceful in saying so. Realpolitik aside.


Continue reading Sales tax increase is the wrong choice for Durham

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Latest update on Mellow Mushroom and the Indy

Casey, the owner of the Triangle Mellow Mushrooms, has just posted in the comments over at Kevin's place the following.

I am Casey, the owner of MMs in the area. I absolutely regret the decision to remove the Indy from the restaurants. On Monday I was in contact with the Indy to bring it back to our stores. They want to bring it back as well and it will be there anyday.

The last thing we intended to do was discriminate against anyone. We always have and always will have employees that are gay as well as friends that are gay. Our actions as to how we treat them will hopefully speak louder than removing a newspaper. I will be more than happy to put you in touch with our staff members who are part of the gay community. Some who have been with us for years. They will certainly tell anyone how we treat everyone.

I sincerely apologize to anyone that was offended my our decision. Hopefully we will have a chance to make it up to you.


Good for you. Welcome back to Durham.

Now, if we can get you to understand that we're all part of our own, different and uniquely constructed families, we'll have made some real headway.

Continue reading Latest update on Mellow Mushroom and the Indy

National Night Out

Tonight is National Night Out. This is an event designed to encourage you to get out of the house and meet your neighbors.

Durham Police Department has a list of all the neighborhood events and block parties scheduled around town here. (CLick on the "Events listing by district" to download the PDF.)

We're hosting two events in the Duke Park neighborhood. On the west side, at Markham and Rand, and on the east side in the 1700 block of Shawnee St. Stop by either one if you get the chance, or go meet your own neighbors if you live elsewhere in the city.

If you do make it to Duke Park, say hi. I'll be guy giving out the Locopops.


Continue reading National Night Out

Thank God i live on the east coast

NBC's prime-time coverage (of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics) will feature swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball shown live despite the 12-hour time difference between the United States' Eastern time zone and Beijing.

Because i wouldn't want to miss a minute of the traditional sport of beach volleyball.


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Continue reading Thank God i live on the east coast

Are they trying to tell us something?

Reader JH alerts me to some surreptitious photos from the set of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight.

Of particular interest is the logo of the Gotham Police Department.

He wonders where they've drawn their inspiration from. Gotham City, of course, is a stand in for New York, and here's the NYPD logo.

Not a bad likeness, actually, but is there something maybe even more alike? Something a little closer to home?

Well, whaddaya know. We may have a winner.

Now, before you go saying, hey, all PD logos look alike, i've already googled "police department logo" for you. Take a look. I think you'll agree that given the wide variety of PD logos, there might be something more than coincidence at work here.

And as JH notes, the Gotham PD was portrayed in a less than flattering fashion in the most recent Batman movie. Let's hope that new Chief Jose Lopez, Sr., gives Hollywood a good reason to go looking elsewhere for a model for poor police departments in the future.

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Continue reading Are they trying to tell us something?

Update on "Inquiring minds want to know"

Last month i posted that i'd heard that Triangle area Mellow Mushroom pizza joints had yanked the Independent weekly from their restaurants in response to a cover story on transgendered people living in the Triangle. (My initial thoughts as well as an image of the cover in question are here.)

Since then, we've confirmed that did in fact happen, and also that a second restaurant, Hog Heaven over on Guess Rd., also did the same. There's a rumor that a third restaurant also responded to the Indy by having the distribution racks removed, but i haven't been able to confirm that, so i'm going to let that slide.

Of more interest to me is this post that Kevin's got up at Bull City Rising this morning, sharing the comments made by the owner of Mellow Mushroom to a BCR reader in response to a question about this incident.

I've gone out of my way to reiterate that Mellow Mushroom, or indeed any business, is fully entitled to control what newspapers ro other media are distributed within their premises. Neither the Indy nor any other publication has any guaranteed right to distribution inside someone else's business. So this is neither a civil rights nor censorship issue.

What it is, in my opinion, is a rather poor business decision, and, based on the comments published over at BCR today and attributed to Mellow Mushroom owner Casey, one that is copletely lacking in justification.

Here's the email:
Hi Will, I am Casey and I own the MMs in the area. I regret you do not agree with our decision about the Indy. It had absolutely nothing to do with the article but rather the picture on the front cover that was eye level of children in our waiting area. We have carried the Indy for so long I forgot it was there until a soccer mom complained about it. After a few more comments/complaints we removed them. Personally it takes a lot more than a newspaper to offend me. We understand and appreciate that Mellow Mushroom attracts all walks of life as customers as well as employees. We also know that is what makes the concept so successful. However, any business in the service industry should do everything they can to make sure no one is offend or complains for any reason.

The Indy is an adult newspaper and has become more so over the years. Since Mellow Mushroom has grown from the small college town stores to becoming more family oriented, we decided it would be best to remove the Indy.

We greatly appreciate your business.


I'm going to try and unpack exactly what it is about that rationalization that is so offensive to me. Maybe Casey will stop by and read this, and understand that he's going to have to work a bit harder to avoid offending his potential customers.

First, there's no reason to identify the source of his complaints as "a soccer mom." As i mentioned in Kevin's comments, i spent about 6 years as a Durham soccer dad. Soccer parents in Durham, and i suspect elsewhere in the country, are no different from the rest of the community. Pretty much every imaginable family situation existed among the various parents on the teams my daughter played with, including inter-racial and same sex couples as well as single parents. So, i don't appreciate being tarred with the "intolerant" brush by virtue of the fact that my kid played soccer.

Second, and more critical, is the implication that "families" only count when children, especially children whose eye level is the same height as an Indy rack, are involved. Kevin alludes to whether or not it would be a good thing for a group like Focus on the Family to take a look at the Mellow Mushroom's roots in the college stoner culture and make a decision as to whether that's a good thing for the family oriented folks who belong to that organization.

There's the rub.

Families with small children make up only a part of the spectrum of family arrangements that people live in. That a business owner can so casually toss off a remark like "Since Mellow Mushroom has grown from the small college town stores to becoming more family oriented, we decided it would be best to remove the Indy," without considering for a moment the notion that the number of families excluded far outwiehgs the number of families included, shows how much more work remains to be done within our culture.

For me, i can say that Casey has made it pretty clear that he doesn't want my business.

Obliging him shouldn't be much of a problem.

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Continue reading Update on "Inquiring minds want to know"