Dependable Erection

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday morning church marquee blogging


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Friday, September 28, 2007

To do list


make up guest beds (done)
haircut (done)
pick up out of town guests at airport (in process)
pick up shrimp (done)
pick up oysters (done)
pick up miscellaneous seafood (done)
pick up beer (done)
pick up bouquets (to do)
cook seafood (in process)
pick up ice (to do)
slice limes (to do)
grill steaks (to do)
drink beer (in process)
pick up chairs (to do)


get married (to do)
drink champagne (to do)
drink wine (to do)
drink bourbon (to do)
eat crab stuffed chicken (to do)
other married stuff (in process)


Continue reading To do list

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Beach blogging

Oh, and if you didn't know, it's National Bourbon Heritage Month.

I hope you enjoy it as much as i am.


Continue reading Beach blogging

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I've always enjoyed reading William Gibson, despite the fact that one of his short stories was turned into one of the worst movies ever made. Chalk that one up to some godawful casting and a director who simply didn't get it. I've always thought that Bladerunner, a movie which did get it, at least in presenting a future which felt exactly like you thought the future would feel, owed as much to the vision which Gibson was articulating back in the early 80s as to anything that was actually on Philip K. Dick's pages.

So, in the four days that Soon-to-be Mrs. Dependable and i have been down at our oceanfront hideaway taking care of final details for our upcoming nuptials (the officiant and the cake are confirmed, i've located the best oysterman and shrimp seller and figured out the workings of both the hot tub and the multi-zone stereo system), i've had enough time listen to the surf and chow down on Spook Country, the latest from the master of cyberpunk.

this is, i'm pretty sure,Gibson's first novel (not counting The Difference Engine) set in the past, February 2006, to be precise. In his fiction, Gibson has always been describing, perhaps midwifing, a certain late 20th, early 21st century world that has, after a long and painful delivery, finished being born. (He has some wry comments early in the novel about how it doesn't really matter how wrong many of the details were in those 70s and 80s pieces. Part of the process, really.)

But more so than just capturing the feel of the times, which would not make him a special writer no matter how well he did that, Gibson usually rewards his readers with at least one insight of staggering proportions. Spook Country doesn't disappoint. ("She" is one of the main protagonists, former singer in a postpunk band; "Inchmale" is a former bandmate, and a peripheral character in the novel.)
She remembered Inchmale describing Stockholm syndrome, the fondness and loyalty one could supposedly come to feel for even the most brutal captor. . . . Inchmale thought that America had developed Stochkholm syndrome for its own government, post 9/11.

Worth the price of admission

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Continue reading Insights


Local TV news anchors all over the country are praying they don't have to do any stories about the new Japanese Prime Minister.

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Continue reading Fukuda!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Marcel Marceau, dead at 84.

Tasteless jokes about memorial moments of silence are discouraged.


Continue reading Speechless

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Highway 64, Mocksville, NC


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Friday, September 21, 2007

Boy does my timing suck

I'm one of those people who always seems to be buying high and selling low. That's life, i guess, and it doesn't really bother me. A few months ago i made plans to head out of town for a couple of weeks with Soon-to-be Mrs. Dependable and tie the knot at a secret beachfront hideaway with a few close friends and family members.

Who knew then that this would turn out to be the most exciting election season in Durham in many a year? And i'm going to be missing a lot of the good stuff. I think we've got wireless at the hideaway, and i'll be checking in with all of the Durham bloggers to keep up with all the latest, but it's not going to be the same

And you know what the worst thing is? I'm going to miss the damn beer festival.

That hurts.

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Continue reading Boy does my timing suck

Coming out with both barrels blazing

Kevin tells our local TV media where to stick their coverage of the John Locke Foundation/Thomas Stith inspired immigration flap in Durham.

Me? I don't watch local news, because, despite being an enlightened and tolerant guy, i get pissed off very easy.*


* Actual correspondence received from a Durham resident.

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Continue reading Coming out with both barrels blazing

Say what?!

From the N&O's updated article on yesterday's city council work session:
Stith was asked whether he thought the swift turnaround in the Police Department's position on the issue was in any way politically motivated.

"To me, it's just very curious," Stith said. "Whether politics was involved, who knows?"

Stith was asked whether someone else's action was politically motivated? And he doesn't know? Holy cow!

Tell you what. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for the meeting that's going to happen between Ron Hodge and Jose Lopez this afternoon*, that's for sure.


* No, i have no idea whether or not Hodge and Lopez are meeting today, or met last night, or will meet next week, or whatever. But be real. Something about this whole process smells like yesterday's fish. The DPD may have internal disagreements about how to implement policy. But those are supposed to be aired behind closed doors. The deputy chief should not be going before council and presenting a policy statement that is, as Thomas Stith put it, "180 degrees" removed from what the chief says.

That ain't right.

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Continue reading Say what?!

East End Connector

The Independent has their article on the East End Connector up, and it's quite good, to be honest. Close readers of DE know that i've been a public supporter of building this road, mainly because it will eventually take as many as 25,000 vehicles per day off of our neighborhood streets, like Duke, Gregson, Avondale, and Roxboro, and give them a means to get from north Durham to RTP that doesn't turn those streets and others into uncrossable rivers of traffic.

After the City Council approved the so-called Alternative 3 for the route of the connector in February, it also agreed to establish an ad hoc committee to help ensure that residents, homeowners and business affected by the Connector are fairly compensated, receive adequate reloaction assistance where needed, and have the impact to their lives and neighborhoods minimized. I'm sitting on that committee and, like most other committee members i declined to be interviewed for the Indy article, for reasons that i think are obvious.

I'm hopeful that our job hasn't gotten even more difficult as a result.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Math lesson

From the Herald-Sun:
Duke University will invest $1.25 million over the next five years for its law school to establish a center devoted to the promotion of justice in the criminal justice system and the training of lawyers to fight against wrongful convictions, Duke President Richard Brodhead announced Wednesday.

Addressing problems in the North Carolina legal system highlighted by the Duke lacrosse case, the center will incorporate and expand the law school's Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project, which investigates credible claims of innocence made by convicted felons in North Carolina and works to raise public awareness of systemic problems in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions.

"The lacrosse case attracted a lot of publicity, but is not the only case in which innocent people have suffered harm through the state's legal system," said Duke law professor James Coleman, who led a university committee that examined the lacrosse team's behavior apart from the case and later was prominent in criticizing the actions of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

Let's see. 30 million divided by 1.25 million is . . .

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Continue reading Math lesson

City Council work session

Most Council work sessions are boring and tedious affairs for which, if you ask me, Council members are severely underpaid to attend. Not today.

Following the dustup Monday night which resulted from the Thomas Stith "illegal immigrant" robo-call of last week, several immigrant rights groups (El Centro Hispano and Durham CAN among them) promised to bring numbers to this afternoon's session.

I'm stuck at work in Hillsborough (you guys don't think this blogger thing actually pays money, do you?) so if anyone who attends the session wants to let us know how it's going, feel free to post in the comments.

UPDATE: See what a full time reporter can do?
City Council members won't change a policy that says police cannot inquire about people's immigration status unless they are under arrest.

Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. told the council today that the police department's practice is consistent with the current policy. He did not recommend amending the policy, as was proposed by Councilman Thomas Stith III.

That view contradicted a memo to Stith from Deputy Chief Ron Hodge earlier in the week. Hodge's memo called for repealing the policy and said it could hamper law enforcement abilities.

But Lopez said his reading shows no conflict between policy and practice.

"We treat everyone equally," Lopez said. When people are witnesses or victims of crime, "it's not our issue their legality here in the country," he said. But "it's a different story" for people who break the law, he said.

"We will not be an arm" of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Lopez said.

Thank you Matt Dees at the N&O for the timely report.

UPDATE II: Nicky in Durham has a first person account in the comments. Thanks for filling us in.

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In case you were wondering

Ever wonder how much money there is in the world? Not bank accounts and 401(k) and that stuff, but real hard cash money.

Found this at the bottom of an article about the new five dollar bill.

The government is only about one-third of the way through the redesign of the $100 and hopes to have that process completed by this time next year. Extra effort is going into the $100 makeover since this bill represents more than 70 percent of the $776 billion of currency in circulation, two-thirds of which is held overseas.

So, i can't tell about the rest of the world, but in the US, there's about $225 billion in folding money out there, about $150 billion of that in hundreds. How much you got on you?


Continue reading In case you were wondering


OK, so you probably don't follow English Premier League football on FSC as closely as i do. (And if you do, your team isn't stuck at the bottom of the table like mine is, most likely.)

But Jose Maurinho abruptly quit as Chelsea's manager early this morning after 3 years, with 3 more years to run on his contract. Maurinho won the EPL with Chelsea his first two years in charge, Chelsea's first in 50 years.

So, for a large chunk of the sporting world outside of the US, this is a huge shock. For a Tar Heel comparison, imagine if Roy Williams announced three games into the season that he was going back to Kansas.

Yeah, that big. The Guardian has about 8 stories on it this morning.


Continue reading Whoa!

City Council candidates forum

I was doing my civic duty in another part of town, and couldn't make it to the Young Democrats/NCCU Student Government forum for City Council candidates last night.

Fortunately, Kevin did.

And Ray Gronberg's report in the HS is up as well.

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The word from BoE

That's the Durham Board of Elections (via email):
Ro-bo calls are not covered/mentioned under any state laws. This may change in the future, but for now, no legend or "this call paid for" or "I'm the candidate and "I approved this call" is required.

If this is being paid for with campaign funds, the expenditure must be disclosed on the appropriate forms.


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Continue reading The word from BoE

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bell responds to Stith campaign flier

So much has happened in the past seven days, that it's hard to believe that Thomas Stith fired the opening salvo in the mayoral campaign just one week ago.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Bell has got a point by point response to the issues raised by Stith in the "Clueless" flier up on his website. Here's some highlights:
CLAIM: "Durham's total crime risk is twice the national average."

TRUTH: Stith omits the fact the "national average" he references includes municipalities of all sizes – including small rural communities – not cities the size of Durham.

MORE TRUTH: According to the FBI, Durham's per capita violent crime rate continues to be below the average of cities of similar size, like Richmond, Va., and Rochester, NY. Additionally, the FBI admits Durham's 2006 data cannot be fairly compared to previous years' data because of improvements made to Durham's reporting structure. (Federal Bureau of Investigation Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report, January-December 2006)

. . .

CLAIM: "More police officers on our streets."

TRUTH: When Thomas Stith had an opportunity to put more police on our streets earlier this year, he voted AGAINST it. He voted against a budget that would have added 12 new police officers and declined to offer an explanation for his vote against funding 12 new police officers. (Source: Durham City Council Minutes, 06/18/2007)

Not a bad start from the mayor. The interesting point to watch will be whether Stith's emotionally charged campaign attracts or repels those voters who don't pay too close attention to city politics. We'll post any responses from the Stith campaign.

FULL DISCLOSURE:I am a contributor of $40 to the Bill Bell campaign.

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Continue reading Bell responds to Stith campaign flier

BiF on Stith's response

Michael's got some righteous indignation up at his place.

Here's the good stuff:
he issue here, of course, isn't Stith's proposed reform. Hell, barely anyone can figure out what it would actually do. The issue is his rather obviously misleading robo-calls, which while ostensibly about some immigration policy, are of course entirely related to his unmentioned mayoral candidacy. Given the almost complete lack of any meaningful information in his calls, the message here is, of course, "illegal immigrants are everywhere! Elect me and I'll run them off!"

So let's review: Stith is in the middle of a campaign in which he's trying to claim that he's a better person to be mayor, a job which under the council-manager system Durham operates under, is mostly to chair city council and to be the public figurehead of the city. He's now demonstrated his fitness for this job by springing an issue on his fellow council members unawares, and stirring up the city with an emotionally charged, misleading robo-call that he's now backing away from as fast as he can. This is how he demonstrates his leadership?

Thomas Stith is a disgrace.

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Continue reading BiF on Stith's response

BCR on Stith's response

Kevin raises some worthwhile points in his analysis of the Thomas Stith email which i discussed below.

Go read it.

Here's the money quote:
Put directly: the robo-calls created an outroar precisely because they left a far different impression on callers than reconciling City policy with on-the-beat practice. They were best interpreted as, and -- I can only conclude -- intended to be, red-meat fodder to shock and awe the voting public.

Can you directly reconcile Stith's more nuanced statement yesterday about aligning policy with practice with a close textual read of the robo-call? Yes. Can you make a case that a variance of policy and practice sets up Durham for still more litigation, as Stith asserted on Monday night at Council? Yes.

But is it reasonable to believe that the robo-call was meant to inform citizens about this procedural question -- instead of using the specter of "illegal immigration" to score points among Stith's political base and moderate voters? That the typical recipient would perform a close analysis of the message text and cross-reference it back to the interaction of two policies and one in-the-field practice?

I doubt it. There's no logical reason for Stith's campaign to have chosen the robo-call tactic, in terms of the precise word choice and the (alleged) targeting of recipients, except to appeal to the basest, darkest, most emotional instincts in us. Not to say you can't and shouldn't have a rational debate over immigration policy (a subject on which I'm fairly middle-of-the-road, personally.) But rationality seemed far removed from this discussion.

Quite right.

: i've left a comment on Kevin's blog. hopefully he'll be back from the candidate's forum soon enough to respond to it. But it's the reference to "Stith's campaign" in the last paragraph of the quote above that i want to keep focusing on. As far as i can tell, Stith's call was worded in such a way as to avoid campaign finance disclosure rules. In other words, by avoiding the phrase, "I'm Thomas Stith, and I'm running for mayor," or something similar, Stith was able to avoid having to disclose who paid for the call. That's something i'm curious about. I'd think all of durham's voters should be as well.

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Continue reading BCR on Stith's response

Call Liddy

Senator Elizabeth Dole is reportedly considering a yes vote on the Webb Amendment, or Dwell Time Amendment, as it is also known. This would give active duty forces in Iraq time at home equivalent to their deployment before being sent back to the war zone.

From Jim Webb:
We will be offering an amendment that requires our troops have a 1:1 deployment-to-dwell ratio for active units and members. This is a minimum floor. The Department of Defense's historic policy and current goal is a ratio of 1:2. Currently, Army units are deployed for 15 months with 12 months at home. It is not unusual for Marines also to have less time at home than the length of their last deployment.

This amendment is vital to the continued morale and effectiveness of our Armed Forces, which are breaking under the strain of unprecedented long deployments in combat zones.

Call her office and let her know you support the Webb Amendment:
DC: 202-224-6342
Raleigh: 866-420-6083

or click here to send an email
UPDATE: Filibustered! Well not surprisingly, Republican members of the Senate managed to block bringing the amendment to the floor for a straight up and vote. 56 Senators, actually a solid majority, voted in favor of it. But 44 Republicans (actually 43 Repubulicans and Joe Lieberman) voted against closing debate.

When Democrats attempted to do that when they were in the minority, holy shit did people get pissed. Now, it's SOP for the GOP. And the media lets it go like it's the most natural thing in a democracy.

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Stith robo-call: An unexplored angle

I mentioned this briefly in the post below, but i wanted to highlight it here and hope that someone smarter than me can shed some light on this.

Listening to the recording of the call, and reading the transcript, you almost don't notice that it's not a campaign call. Nowhere does Thomas Stith say that he's running for mayor, nor does he state who is paying for the call. In fact, the call says, he's going to introduce a resolution at City Council on Monday night, and he'd like your support.

So the call is being made in his capacity as a City Council member.

Does that strike anyone else as highly unusual? If the calls were paid for by the city, would that be merely a poor use of taxpayer funds, or a violation of some kind. And would it be illegal, or merely unethical, if the calls were paid for by a third party? And if they were paid for by Stith personally, would the political exemption allowed for in the Do Not Call legislation still apply? Shouldn't it have been made clear in the phone call who was financing it?

Coupled with the use of Stith's campaign contributors today to get out his message (which, like his robo-call does not specifically appear to be part of his campaign for mayor) about the resolution he intends to submit to Council, it appears that Mr. Stith might be having some trouble separating his position on Council from his campaign for Mayor.

Is that something that needs looking into?

UPDATE: See this post for the word from Board of Elections. Bottom line - robo calls aren't covered at all by current NC election law.

My prediction. If this loophoole isn't closed, expect to get a lot of robo-calls in future campaign seasons.

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Continue reading Stith robo-call: An unexplored angle

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Deconstructing Stith

I posted Thomas Stith's open letter to the community attempting to justify his actions over the past few days, below.

Now it's time to take a look at Stith's letter and the circumstances surrounding its publication.

For starters, the letter appeared on the Partners Against Crime, District 2 listserv this afternoon at around 4:10 pm. It was forwarded to the list with the following information appended at the beginning:

Fwd: Please forward to your PAC listserv.

I am forwarded this, since it does refer to criminal activity.

Robert H. Appleby (Bob)
Durham, NC 27702

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Thomas Stith"
Date: September 18, 2007 12:51:18 PM EDT
To: "Bob Appleby"
Subject: Please forward to your PAC listserv


Let's start our analysis right here. First of all, Mr. Stith emailed his letter to someone with the request to forward it to your PAC listserv. And this person did, with the only addition that "it does refer to criminal activity." (For those of you unfamiliar with PACs in this incarnation, they refer to Partners Against Crime. There are 5 of them in Durham, one for each of the police districts in our city. They are generally considered to be beyond the reach of partisan or electoral politics. Mr. Appleby knows that this post probably breached that protocol, so he attempted to justify it with the claim that it referred to criminal activity.)

But might Mr. Appleby have another motivation for posting Stith's letter? Let's have a look.

Well, it turns out that Robert Appleby was an early, $500 donor to the Stith for Mayor campaign. How about that.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I have contributed $40 to Bill Bell's campaign)

So, Stith emails his campaign contributors, asking them to distribute information that can legitimately be considered campaign material to an inappropriate list. And they follow through, in an inappropriate forum without acknowledging that they're Stith campaign contributors. Lovely.

Now, follow me back a couple of days to review the phone call in question. Starting last Thursday, and continuing through Saturday, an unknown number of Durham residents reported receiving this automated phone message from Thomas Stith.
Hello, this is Thomas Stith.

Did you know that Durham is a sanctuary city, a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported? That's right, our local police can't inquire about the citizenship of people who commit a crime in our city.

We can change that with your help.

In Monday's city Council meeting, I'm going to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants. Call members of the City Council, and attend the City Council meeting on Monday to show your support. I'm Thomas Stith. Thanks for your time.

The first thing we should notice, although i have to admit that it slipped by me, is that this is not a campaign phone call. At no point does Mr. Stith say, "my name is Thomas Stith, and I'm running for mayor of Durham." Nor does the phone call include any information about who paid for the call. Yet, i have to admit, in fourteen years of living in Durham, i've not heard of a Council member calling residents to encourage turnout at a Council meeting in support of a resolution.

Let's take a brief look at what Stith does say.
"Did you know that Durham is a sanctuary city, a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported?

That's a pretty bold declaration, don't you think? Do we have any examples of this actually happening in Durham?

Here's the guidelines of enforcing the city's policy as put forth under order #4073, issued by former chief Steve Chalmers:
it is the policy of this department that officers will respect the stated objectives and enforcement guidelines of the DHS and will not make a routine effort to direct efforts at individual violations of immigration status.

If upon investigation probable cause to arrest exists unrelated to a person’s individual immigration status, officers may arrest for an offense, using discretionary guidelines set forth in General Order 1005, Limits of Accountability, Authority and Discretion. Verifying the undocumented status of any person and processing prisoners appropriately will be the responsibility of the detention facility.

In other words, according to police guidelines, Durham police offers will investigate crimes and persons suspected of committing them without taking into account the immigration status of the suspect. But once taken into custody, if the person is in the country illegally, they have no special protection against being having their status determined or being deported.

How does this jibe with the original resolution passed by Council 4 years ago? Let's have a look.

Section 1. It is the policy of the City of Durham not to violate the constitutional or statutory rights of any person, including any such rights protecting persons from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, national origin and immigration status.

Section 2. Unless otherwise required as part of a City officer or employee's duties, by law, or by court order, no Durham City officer or employee, during the course and scope of their employment, shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person. This policy shall not be construed to prohibit any Durham City officer or employee from cooperating and sharing information with federal or state authorities and other governmental entities as required by law.

Section 3. In the event of conflict between federal law, regulations or any other requirement and this City resolution, the Federal law, regulations or any other requirement shall control and supersede any conflicting provision of this resolution.

Section 4. This resolution shall take effect upon adoption.

So, section 2, which tells Durham officers not to "inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person," also provides three circumstances under which they can, namely if there's a court order, or a law, or if it's "part of a City officer or employee's duties."

I highlight this last clause because, to me, it's seems like a pretty blanket exception that is wide open to interpretation. And it's the responsibility of the chief to determine what the duties of his officers are.

So what's the big deal here?

Why does Thomas Stith write in his open letter:
The police currently determine status when they are investigating a criminal act. Our council policy states they should not do this.

Reading above, it appears that not only the Council resolution, but also the guidelines issued by Chief Chalmers state this should not be done. If anything, police seeking to determine immigration status during an investigation would be violating both the Council's resolution and the Chief's guidelines. So that would be an issue for the new Chief to take up, no? If both the resolution and the guidelines say the same thing, which it appears to me they do, and the police are not following those guidelines, that's an internal police matter.

Of course, there's that big out, and if the Chief should determine that it's part of the officer's duties to perform that investigation, then that could happen without violating the Council's resolution.

Stith goes on to state in his letter:
I agree that some people have characterized this
issue in a negative manner and that is unfortunate.

Well, let me be blunt. That is a steaming load of disingenuous bullshit which a candidate for citywide office should be ashamed of putting out before the public. It is not the "issue" which is being "characterized" in a "negative manner."

It was Thomas Stith who stated in a misleading phone call to many Durham residents that "In Monday's city Council meeting, I'm going to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants." There is nothing in either the resolution or the guidelines, even if followed to the letter, that makes Durham a "safe haven." Stith's phone call can only be characterized as a piece of fear-mongering, and it's he who has to bear the burden of bringing this negativity to the campaign, not "some people."

Stith closes by saying:
I would hope that we would not let the real issue of providing our department with the proper guidance become lost in the current misinformation that is curculating (sic).

But did his now infamous robo-call even once mention the issue of "providing our department with the proper guidance?" It did not. For Stith, the real issue in his call was "end(ing) the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants."
Too bad for him that it backfired so spectacularly. And his transparently lame attempt to recast his water-carrying for Art Pope and the John Locke Foundation as a simple administrative procedure is not going to be a winner either.

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Continue reading Deconstructing Stith

Stith responds

This response from Council member and Mayoral candidate Thomas Stith just reached my inbox, through the Partners Against Crime, District 2 list.

I'm going to post it in its entirety, without comment or markup, for you to read, and i'll be back later with some thoughts.
I feel it is important to correct the misconceptions about my effort to correct our current city policy that states our police in particular should not determine legal status of individuals who they are investigating for specific crimes. I belive it is important to provide our department with the proper tools to effectively investigate apparent crimes. I am not asking for the police to target Hispanics or any other group within our city. The police currently determine status when they are investigating a criminal act. Our council policy states they should not do this. I am asking that our policy reflect our practice. The police support this position based upon their review of the situation. This would apply to all persons and not single anyone out. I agree that some people have characterized this issue in a negative manner and that is unfortunate. I would hope that we would not let the real issue of providing our department with the proper guidance become lost in the current misinformation that is curculating.

Thomas Stith

And as a reminder, here's a transcript of the phone calls from last week:
Hello, this is Thomas Stith.

Did you know that Durham is a sanctuary city, a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported? That's right, our local police can't inquire about the citizenship of people who commit a crime in our city.

We can change that with your help.

In Monday's city Council meeting, I'm going to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants. Call members of the City Council, and attend the City Council meeting on Monday to show your support. I'm Thomas Stith. Thanks for your time.

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Continue reading Stith responds

Giving credit

Before this all washes down the memory hole, i want to make sure that Joe gets his due for breaking the Thomas Stith robo-call story.

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Continue reading Giving credit


After something like 85 days in a row of 90 degree plus heat, i'd be remiss if i didn't say something about just how lovely it is in Durham this week.

Now if we could only get some rain.

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Continue reading Lovely!

Some immigration news from New Jersey

Given the recent attention to immigration issues brought on by the unfortunate robo-calls from the Stith campaign, i though this little news item was worth sharing.

From the ACLU:
The American Civil Liberties Union praised Riverside’s (New Jersey) township council vote tonight to repeal an unlawful ordinance that would have punished landlords and employers for renting to or employing individuals it classified as “illegal” immigrants. Tonight’s vote was prompted by a lawsuit brought by a coalition of residents, businesses and landlords represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of New Jersey, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the People For the American Way Foundation, and the law firm of Ragonese, Albano & Viola.

The ACLU has challenged a number of anti-immigrant ordinances in court, including those passed in Hazleton, PA; Escondido, CA; Valley Park, MO; and Farmers Branch, TX. Courts have ruled against each of these ordinances on a temporary or permanent basis. The Riverside ordinance is the first of the challenged anti-immigrant ordinances to be fully repealed by a government body vote in advance of a court ruling.

Let's take a deep breath and really think this through before we go jumping into the deep end, shall we? There's a lot of folks who have moved to Durham recently. But that doesn't mean we need to be frightened into turning our town into something it has never been.

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Continue reading Some immigration news from New Jersey

Funny neighbors

Some mornings i wake up and say to myself, "what the hell am i going to write about today? I emptied myself yesterday, and there's nothing left."

Fortunately, the Lord provides.

for those of you who are constantly placing Durham above Wake in the grand hierarchy of places with too many idiots, go read it. I'm especially grateful i was able to leave a comment before he shut them down. Guess he got tired of looking in the mirror.

Oh, btw, the neighbor reference in the title is just to the fact that Durham County and Wake County are in theory two points of a triangle. In reality, i don't live anywhere near this guy.


Continue reading Funny neighbors

Monday, September 17, 2007


The first thing i noticed as i drove by City Hall looking for a parking space tonight was a group of around 30 or so folks gathered on the sidewalk in front of the revolving doors. By the time i found a space around the corner and walked back the group had grown to nearly 50 people. I chatted with Tamara and Carlos and Roberto, and found that they had all been inspired to come down to tonight's Council session by reports circulating via email regarding Council member (and mayoral candidate) Thomas Stith's robo-calls.

As it turned out, despite Stith's promise "to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants," no such item was on the agenda.

What happened?

Well, Stith maintained that City Manager Patrick Baker, who was not in attendance tonight (Ass't. Manager Wanda Paige filled in) had verbally assured him that the item would be on the agenda.

Then Mayor Bill Bell reminded everyone that the minutes from the most recent Council work session clearly indicated that various city departments would be presenting their reports on the issue at the next work session, and that discussion was continued until then. Stith responded by stating that his reason for revisiting the city's policy on immigrants was to make sure that our policy and our practices were in line. In other words, what the police may be doing during encounters involving people who may have immigration issues may not be the same as the guidelines set forth under the policy passed by Council four years ago, and we may need to revisit those guidelines.

Which was quite the step down from describing Durham as "a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported."

After this, Eugene Brown thanked the 85 or so people who had by now packed the auditorium section of chambers, many wearing pink stickers that read "Immigrant rights are human rights," for their attendance and participation in civic affairs, even though the item was not going to be discussed.

Then, Cora Cole-McFadden delivered the coup de grace. "I've been out of town for the past few days," she said. "Could someone explain to me why so many of these people thought the immigration issue would be on the agenda tonight?"

Which gave an audience member the opportunity to step up to the microphone and explain that many Durham residents had received a robo-call from a Mayoral candidate urging them to come to Council tonight to support a change in the immigration policy in Durham.

I'm not sure if Stith can get the votes needed to win the election in November. A number of people i speak with seem to believe he has a chance at that. But based on what i saw tonight, i can't imagine that he has what it takes to actually lead this city no matter how many votes he gets. What a sorry-ass performance the past few days from the man who would be mayor.

UPDATE: Almost forgot to mention that the organizers who brought out folks to tonight's session say they'll be back in larger numbers for Thursday afternoon's work session. I'll have more details on that soon.

: Coverage of last night's Council meeting in the Herald Sun, and the N&O. Also a report from BCR.

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Local endorsements

The Durham Peoples Alliance and the Friends of Durham have announced their endorsements for the primary round of voting for City Council.

The PA is endorsing Diane Catotti, David Harris, and Eugene Brown for City Council, while the Friends, as previously reported, endorsed Eugene Brown, Laney Funderburk, and, surprising some observers, Diane Catotti.

Over at, there's a post saying that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People have endorsed Farad Ali and Victoria Peterson, opting not to endorse a third candidate.

(Links are provided to official candidate websites only.)

If Frank's theory holds true, then all six of these candidates should make it into the general election. (Durham's October primary is intended to whittle the field to no more than two candidates for each seat. There are three at-large seats, so that tranlsates to six candidates.) Assuming that no endorsements change between now and then, the struggle for that third seat should be very interesting. But that's quite the assumption. Many of recall that in the 2003 at-large election, Thomas Stith did not recieve the DCABP's endorsement in the primary. He finished 3rd. He did replace Diane Catotti in the Committee's endorsement list for the general election. Catotti still led all vote getters, but Diane Wright, who had finished second in the primary, fell to fourth, a scant 100 votes behind Stith for the last Council seat. Eugene Brown, who had finished 4th in the primary,30 votes behind Stith, finished second, 400 votes ahead of him.

We're still waiting to hear back from the candidates inresponse to our questionnaire. Hopefully we'll get those in time to help you all make an informed decision.

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Stith robo-call update

Nicomachus has a recording of the "white" version of Thomas Stith's robo-call.

Give it a listen.

: Here's a transcript:
Hello, this is Thomas Stith.

Did you know that Durham is a sanctuary city, a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported? That's right, our local police can't inquire about the citizenship of people who commit a crime in our city.

We can change that with your help.

In Monday's city Council meeting, I'm going to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants. Call members of the City Council, and attend the City Council meeting on Monday to show your support. I'm Thomas Stith. Thanks for your time.

Anybody have a recording or transcript of the "black"version, where Stith reprotedly says that he "knows what it's like to be pulled over by the police because of the color" of his skin? We'd like to get one of those up as well.

Therre's nothing on tonight's agenda about Stith's proposed resolution, so it'll have to be done as a new business item if it's done at all. According to other City Council members, this item was discussed at the work session, and is on the agenda for the next work session. So one might legitimately raise the question as to why Thomas Stith is so anxious to bring this up tonight. Is it an effort to turn a City Council meeting into a campaign rally? Get some free media coverage for his campaign?

There's a good discussion at Kevin's place as to whether or not Stith's comments even accurately reflect current Durham policy. It's clear to me, regardless of how the specific resolutions and policies are parsed, that this is fear-mongering of the first water. It's not the Durham i've grown to love in the 14 years i've been here. It's especially disappointing to hear these kinds of things coming from a candidate with a long family history of the pursuit of social justice in Durham and North Carolina.

Maybe it would be a good idea for lots of community members to show up for tonight's meeting.

UPDATE II: For educational purposes, I've posted the text of Steve Chalmers order #4073, which spells out how the Durham Police Department has been interpreting the City Council resolution of 2003, in the comments. You be the judge as to whether or not this makes Durham "a city where illegal immigrants commit crimes without fear of being deported."

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Continue reading Stith robo-call update

O.J.! Mukasey! Microsoft! Blackwater!

I'm drowning in media today.

One thing i've always heard about mamagement is that once you leave a position, never tell your successors how to do their job. Especially in public. You'd think a smart kid like Alan Greenspan would have learned that as well.


Continue reading O.J.! Mukasey! Microsoft! Blackwater!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

An interesting tidbit from the mayoral race

I had an opportunity to chat with Mayor Bill Bell this evening, and naturally, i brought up the subject of the Thomas Stith robo-calls.

Turns out that the Bell household got a call. The one where Stith says he knows what it's like to be singled out by the cops because of the color of his skin.


UPDATE: Probably should have mentioned that this was a Bell campaign event. And several attendees told me they have saved the call on their answering machine. I'm working on getting a copy and/or transcription.

UPDATE II: Council member Mike Woodard reports (in the comments at Kevin's place) that he also received a robo-call from Thomas Stith.

Curioser and curioser. Also, i have not yet encountered anyone who lives east of Roxboro St. (as i do) who reports receiving this call. Anybody reading this who both lives east of Roxboro and received one of these calls, please leave a comment or drop me a line at DependableErection AT gmail DOT com.

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Continue reading An interesting tidbit from the mayoral race

A change in operational tactics

Jim Webb (D-VA) is bringing a bill to the Senate floor to change the way US troops are deployed in Iraq, requiring that troops spend as much time back home between deployments as in the war zone. That's a legitimate topic for debate.

Defense Secretary Gates says he'll recommend to the President that he veto the measure if the Congress passes it. That's also legitimate.

Here's where things have gotten wacky.
Supporters of Webb's proposal say it has at least 57 of the 60 votes needed for passage. It would need 67 votes to override a veto.

As i recall from high school civics, and news items before the mid term elections, a bill only needs a simple majority to pass the Senate (generaly, 51 votes.) The 60 votes mentioned are necessary to close debate on a bill and bring it to what the Republicans used to call "an up or down vote." That is, every time Democrats, who were in the minority, would contemplate using the procedural hurdle known as the filibuster to keep debate open on a bill or a nomination, and delay or prevent a final vote, Republicans would scream at the top of their lungs that Democrats were preventing an up or down vote. As though somehow that was an evil tactic.

Nowadays, the Republicans don't even have to say that they'll filibuster. Our news media simply reports that 60 votes are "needed for passage."

I wonder what the press will have to say the next time our chocolate rations are cut?

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Continue reading A change in operational tactics

Durham past, Durham future

Two events the past few days helped me to better understand where Durham has been and where Durham is going, but not necessarily where it is today.

Yesterday, Eddie Davis organized a panel discussion and gathering at the Durham County library to celebrate and honor the Royal 7, seven African Americans who took part in what was probably the first organized sit-in protesting America's apartheid era, fifty years ago. The Royal Ice Cream parlor stood on the corner of Roxboro and Dowd; in recent years it was the site of Charles Dunham's restaurant, but was recently torn down to make way for a church related education center.

Virginia Williams (above) and the Rev. Douglas Moore, who both participated in the 1957 sit-in, were present, and talked about how the event came about, and how it transpired, and how the North Carolina legal system upheld the convictions of the seven for violating the then existing racial segregation laws, which made it a crime for African Americans to sit in seats reserved for whites.

For someone like me, who was a very small child when these events, and the subsequent, more publicized protests in Greensboro a few years later were taking place and leading, eventually, to sweeping changes in our nation's laws, seeing this living history helps me understand a little better the process by which cultural change of this magnitude can take place. We tend to look at the process through a media magnifying lens which makes it easy to forget the real struggles of the essentially ordinary people who took these extraordinary steps.

A day prior, a different event pointed toward the future, when the public swearing in ceremony for Durham's new police chief Jose Lopez, Sr. was held in City Hall. In 1957, the laws of the city and state, and those sworn to uphold them, were used to deny justice to many of our residents, for no reasons other than skin color and fear.

The appointment of a Hispanic police chief in a city like Durham, which historically does not have a Spanish speaking population base, but which is changing rapidly, speaks volumes to the way we choose to embrace the future. New residents bringing cultural differences into our lives need not be a source of fear moving forward, unless we choose to be afraid. The send-off that Mr. Lopez received from his colleagues in Hartford, and the welcome shown to him by his new associates in Durham was encouraging and heart-warming.

All of which makes these recent reports all the more troubling. Thomas Stith's dad was part of the movement for social justice in our town. He is reportedly campaigning by condemning racial profiling on the one hand, yet calling for increased police action against a group of people based on nothing more than their appearance and the language that they speak?

Is that a choice we want to make for Durham?

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Continue reading Durham past, Durham future

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Highway 601, Yadkinville, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More on Candidate Stith's campaign of fear

Kevin hits a home run today, linking the Thomas Stith campaign's recent robo-call about illegal immigrants to a Right Angles blog post (Right Angles is the blog of the John Locke Foundation, one of Art Pope's conservative mouthpieces). As Kevin notes, the JLF's John Ham is not above claiming some credit for Stith subsequently raising the immigration and sanctuary city issue in Council:
(Interestingly, Ham notes in his follow-up that only hours after his post about illegal immigration went up a the JLF's Right Angles blog, the 'sanctuary city' question "became a topic of discussion among City Council members," though not noting that Councilman Stith and Ham shared, until this spring, a common source of funding for their employment.)

For the record, the common source of funding Kevin refers to is none other than Art Pope, who employed Mr. Stith as vice-president of his Civitas Institute.

More damaging to Mr. Stith than the revelation that he is prepared to carry water for Art Pope, though, is Kevin's exposure of his flip-flopping on the immigrant issue:
The second, and just as interesting, question is -- what's up with Stith coming out with automated phone calls questioning Durham's policy on illegal immigration?

After all, Stith was on the City Council that voted in the policy four years ago.
Even more eyebrow-raising: Stith not only voted in favor of the policy, he seconded the motion on the floor to do so.

From the media coverage of the Sept. 6 Council meeting, I accepted at face value Stith's mention of wanting to review the policy as typical electioneering, but not the worst example of it I could imagine. And, technically, wanting to review a decision you made four years ago is not per se a flip-flop; it's reasonable to reconsider past decisions. Anyway, it's passive campaigning, taking a stand in a meeting and living with the news coverage.

But when you start making a campaign issue out of it, marketing yourself as wanting to change the City's policy when it's a policy you voted for four years ago -- you've stepped from passive to active campaigning. And, to my mind, you've officially flopped what you once flipped.

Many of us raised eyebrows when Mr. Stith resigned his 6 figure position with Civitas in the spring. Clearly he couldn't run for mayor in Durham with Art Pope as his employer, so his resignation was widely interpreted as a signal that he was running. Now that is, though, can he dispel the notion created in the early stages of his campaign that Art Pope is its manager? And that he's willing to change his positions to suit Pope's whims?

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments on Kevin's blog.

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Continue reading More on Candidate Stith's campaign of fear

Good things to do around town

Although i've got a pretty big event coming up in a couple of weeks in my personal life, i'm trying to find the time to get out for a few of the many things going on around town. What i find is that a lot of groups and organizations take the summer off because it's too damn hot to work, and then when September comes, they cram a lot of stuff into a couple of months, because before you know it the holidays are here, and you've got another two month dead period where nothing can get done.

So today, i'm going to try and get to the Main Branch of the Library for the remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the Royal Ice Cream parlor sit-in at 4 pm.

Today and tomorrow of course is CenterFest, this year taking place on Foster St.

Looking further ahead, the Coalition to Unchain Dogs is holding their first benefit concert at Durham Central Park, on Saturday, October 13. I can't say enough good things about how this group has gone about the business of changing the culture of dog ownership in Durham. In a perfect world, there wouldn't need to be a coalition to unchain dogs. Thankfully, in our world, one exists.

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A campaign of fear?

Over at the Fallout Shelter, Joe reports receiving a robo-call from the Thomas Stith campaign, whose main focus seemed to be stirring up the pot against illegals.

The answer is, no, i don't believe that Durham's police department should be spending their time checking the immigration status of every Spanish speaking person whose path they cross. Speaking Spanish is not evidence that a crime has been committed. Haven't we just been through an entire year long process in which the law enforcement community got its collective ass kicked for going after people without sufficient evidence that a crime had been committed?

Or is that only a problem when those people have a certain class status?

Durham's Hispanic residents are, in fact, as diverse as is the rest of the community. There are Spanish speaking professionals and homeowners in town (some on the same block as me) as well as business owners and day laborers. There's no evidence that the Spanish speaking community has a higher crime rate than any other segment of the Durham community. Fear of Teh Illegal is just a poor way to run a citywide campaign in Durham, don't you think?

UPDATE: I hear that Bell and Stith will be Verna Collins guest Sunday on the NBC-17 public affairs show "At Issue." The show airs at 11am. I can't tell from the website whether it's a live broadcast or not (i suspect it is), but you can email her at VCollins AT wncn DOT com and ask her to ask Mr. Stith if he really thinks Durham residents will support a fear-based campaign.

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Continue reading A campaign of fear?

Friday, September 14, 2007

A rain travel tip

Here's a thing i learned from 8 years in the Central Valley, where 5 months without rain every year is the norm.

A bunch of oil and grease builds up on the roads. Normal, regular rain washes that away mostly, but long periods without rain allow them to accumulate. Then, that first rain comes along, and all that oil floats to the surface, making the roads a lot slicker than you'd expect.

So, if you're getting ready to leave work soon, drive a bit more carefully, especially on those on and off ramps.


Continue reading A rain travel tip

I hope he wins

Just because i'd like to hear newscasters all over the US try to say Yasuo Fukuda with a straight face.


Continue reading I hope he wins


As it has for pretty much the past ten or twelve days now, today's forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain, with an equal chance tomorrow.

Needless to say, it's been wrong every one of the last ten or twelve days. In fact, the last measurable rain we've gotten in Durham was nearly a month ago. Since summer began, we've had no more than four or five measurable rainfalls, and perhaps one real thunderstorm. Considering that July and August are usually our wettest months, and the fall season the driest, this could get to be a real problem.

Which explains why there has been virtually no garden blogging this summer. Who wants to look at dead flowers, anyway?

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Continue reading Rain?

Relative worth

Kudos to Matt Dees at the N&O for his story earlier this week comparing the settlements received by a number of people who've spent upwards of a decade in jail after being prosecuted and convicted of crimes they didn't commit, with the settlements being sought by three Duke lacrosse players wrongly accused of rape.

Kevin and i have both mentioned this, but Matt's got a bigger megaphone.

A little necessary perspective, if you ask me.

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Continue reading Relative worth

Dirty rotten scoundrels

That's a picture of some folks in my neighborhood a couple of years ago at the installation of our neighborhood sign. The sign was based on a design created by Grace Richardson, an artist who used to live in the neighborhood. Her life was cut short in an automobile accident, and she is remembered as well by her friends who have built the Grace Garden, in Durham Central Park.

Andrew Preiss, another neighborhood artist, (pictured front with the white t=shirt and baseball cap) created the sign in his studio on Foster St. two years ago. Andrew is a 1991 graduate of Duke University. The construction of the sign was financed by many months of fundraisers held by the neighborhood association. Upwards of 15,000 people drive past it every day.

That's what neighbors noticed on Tuesday.

Initial speculation centered on the theft of the copper letters for scrap metal, and area scrap dealers were alerted to be on the lookout.

DE has learned that is not the case, at least as far as the initial theft is concerned. (The remaining letters were missing as of Thursday afternoon in what may have been a copycat theft inspired by the original reporting. We're still looking into that.) Negotiations for the return of the missing letters are apparently ongoing. We're not prepared at this point to name the culprits, but we will say this: When all is said and done, this will probably not mark a high point in Duke/Durham town/gown relations.

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Continue reading Dirty rotten scoundrels

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NCDOT follies

Lord knows the North Carolina Department of Transportation causes me enough grief, whether it's their inability to pave a major interstate highway properly, road widening projects that lead to pedestrian fatalities, or just the resistance put up by NCDOT bureaucrats to installing proper signage at a crosswalk in front of a park.

But what one of my co-workers is dealing with really fills out the ridiculous end of the road that starts with the sublime.

Seems his house in Guilford County is on a road that's maintained by NCDOT. Here's what his mailbox looked like earlier this week.

Seems the contractor who NCDOT hired to mow the right of way dropped the blades a little too soon passing the mailbox.

And now, of course, he's having a hard time getting anyone at NCDOT or the contractor to own up to the deal and replace it. I figure 2 months till they reimburse him.

He's just hoping that Publisher's Clearing House check wasn't in the mail the other day.


Continue reading NCDOT follies

That'll help

Making a strategic alliance with our former Sunni enemies in Anbar province, and enlisting them to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq has been one of the key factors enabling Gen. Petraeus to claim a degree of success in promoting the "surge" before Congress this week. Of course, whether the Anbar strategy has anything to do with the surge is debatable, but if it results in safer conditions and fewer casualties among US service men and women, it sounds good to me.

I'm neither smart enough nor serious enough to comment on the wisdom of arming people who used to blow us up, and may very well do so again. But here's something i think i can talk about:
A Sunni tribal leader instrumental in driving al Qaeda out of Iraq's Anbar province was killed by a bomb attack on Thursday, less than two weeks after he met U.S. President George W. Bush.

Abdul Sattar Abu Risha was killed near his home in Ramadi, capital of Anbar. He was the most influential leader of an alliance of Sunni Arab tribes that joined forces with U.S. troops to push al Qaeda from much of the western region.

All right, you say. People get killed in Iraq all the time. It's really no different than Philadelphia. And maybe you'd be right. But by all accounts, Abu Risha was a pretty important guy in enabling this whole Anbar thing to take place and be successful, and you'd think that both Washington and Baghdad would have a little more invested in his safety. And what was Baghdad's response to the murder?
"We believe Abu Risha was one of the most important security personnel in Iraq," said Brigadier-General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

"The minister of interior has made an order that a statue be erected where he was killed or in any other place that the people of Anbar select."

That'll show 'em who's boss.


Continue reading That'll help

Disappointing news

While Kevin's been highlighting a lot of good news about store and restaurant openings recently (see here and here, for example) i was pretty disappointed to pass by the Red and White Market at University and Chapel Hill Rd. this morning and learn that they're shutting their doors for good this Friday. Whenever a part of Durham that was here when i first moved here disappears (and the Davis Bakery on Chapel Hill St. is at the top of that list) i feel like i've lost something worthwhile. It doesn't matter that something new and different comes along to take its place, at least not in the short term.

Oh, well. They've got a closeout on beef ribs for $.99 a pound. i'll stop by tonight and stock up and say goodbye.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Go Bulls!

The Bulls evened up the Governor's Cup series with the Richmond Braves tonight, 5-1. A good game with lots of extra-curricular activities, which i'm sure you'll be able to read about tomorrow in the papers. I may even post some pictures in the morning myself.

Memo to Jim Goodmon: You don't have to have the frickin' music blasting between every pitch. Give us a chance to chat with the people sitting next to us, or, heaven forbid, heckle the umpires once in a while. It's a baseball game, not a freak show. Oh, and the crowd still wants to do that "whoop - whoooo" thing when the opposing team brings in a relief pitcher in the middle of the inning. Imagine that. Twelve years after the old ballpark closed, and the fans still have their own memories. We really don't need electronic scoreboards and stupid animations to get us to make noise. We can do that ourselves.

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Continue reading Go Bulls!


I'm enjoying reading comments on various legal blogs about the recent hiring and subsequent firing of Duke law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky from a position as Dean of the newly created UC Irvine Law School.

Particularly amusing is the reaction of several commenters apparently incredulous that anyone in California, especially Southern California, has ever been turned down for a job because they're too liberal. Because nothing conservative has ever come out of Southern California.


Continue reading Interesting

I'm not a conspiracy theorist . . .

But this is just a little too creepy.
The Op-Ed by seven active duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq questioning the war drew international attention just three weeks ago. Now two of the seven are dead.

Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance T. Gray died Monday in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad, two of seven U.S. troops killed in the incident which was reported just as Gen. David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress in the "surge." The names have just been released.

. . . snip . . .

One of the other five authors of the Times piece, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head while the article was being written. He was expected to survive after being flown to a military hospital in the United States.

UPDATE: Added link to the original op-ed. h/t to TL.


Continue reading I'm not a conspiracy theorist . . .

Municipal election update

Mayoral candidate Thomas Stith showed off his deep pockets yesterday by dropping an 11 x 17 slick brochure to an unknown number of households.

Local political activist and former City Council member Frank Hyman was one of those whose household received the mailing. His reaction on a local listserv was pretty quick:
The [brochure] crosses a line that hasn't been crossed in Durham to my knowledge. Stith uses 3 grossly unflattering pics of Bill Bell as a Karl Rove way to influence voters.

Here's a scan of the brochure.

Frank also speculated that Stith was mailing this anti-crime piece to white males, but i'm not so sure. Soon-to-be Mrs. Dependable also received one in her name at out house, and last night i was door-to-door delivering our quarterly neighborhood newsletter, and saw several of these brochures in mailboxes belonging to someof my African American neighbors. I think it's more likely he's dropping this to small business owners and/or a list associated with the Chamber of Commerce.

Anyway, Frank's knowledge of Durham politics is much more extensive than mine, so i'll take him at his word that this kind of thing is relatively unknown in Durham.

That said, it didn't strike me as particularly outrageous, but maybe that's a statement on the current nature of our political discourse more than anything else. I think, though, that Stith is walking a fine line.

Stith has been on Council since 1999. It's pretty hard to blame the Mayor, who is under Durham's charter simply the presiding officer at Council meetings, and not the head of the executive branch, for Durham's problems without having to accept some of that blame himself. Additionally, it seems like half of Stith's campaign is designed to give the impression that he's the incumbent. He probably doesn't want to make Durham seem like a terrible, scary place, if he's going to be running as someone who's got some responsibility for that.

And then there's the whole issue of this kind of a negative campaign. How will Durham voters respond? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: There was some discussion in the comments about exactly where the names that Stith dropped the flier to came from. I said that my information indicated the names could not have come from a voter registration list. It turns out i was interpreting that information incorrectly. I don't know where the names came from, but a voter registration list is not ruled out.

Sorry about that.

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Continue reading Municipal election update

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I was thinking this morning about a guy i roomed with for a brief time when i was in college.

Back in 76 i dropped out of school for a couple of years, hitchhiked around the country, worked some sucky jobs in Wisconsin and Arizona, spent some months in the woods in upstate New York and Colorado, even hustled some money playing foosball in college towns. But by 78 i was ready to go back to school, and i talked my way into university starting in January of 79.

I found a place to live in a house with 3 other guys in Ronkonkoma. One of their buddies had graduated a semester earlier; they were all on track to finish up in May and needed someone to fill out the house for a semester. So it was a good fit.

These guys were mostly from Staten Island, and had known each other in high school. Nearly 30 years later, i don't really remember much about most of them as individuals. We cooked meals for each other a couple of times a week, and hung out talking politics, music, movies, and stuff, a few nights as well.

I remember Carlton, though, and not only because no one called him Carl, at least not in my presence. He was the best cook of the bunch. He drank a Guinness in a large coffee mug after dinner most nights. He was smart as shit, one of the few 22 year olds i knew who had a pretty good idea of what he wanted from life. There was a little fried fish stand about a mile from the house that we would walk to sometimes that he had found (and me, a Long Island boy, had never seen it before) where you could get a soft shell crab plate with two crabs, fries, slaw, and bread, for $3.50. Add a cold Bud for a buck and a half, and it was the best five dollar meal you could imagine.

He graduated in May 79, and we moved on with our separate lives. Later that year, i got a call inviting me to a Christmas Eve dinner at his parents's house on Staten Island. As unexpected as the invitation was, my acceptance was probably more so, to both him and me. I was working that holiday season managing a Christmas tree stand. You Long Islanders may recall it - on the intersection of 112 and Sunrise Highway in front of the old Modell's.

Christmas Eve that year was a Monday. I shut the lot down around 1:30, and took a trip from Patchogue to Staten Island that affected me profoundly in several ways. First, i took public transportation the entire way, in several different modes. A bus from the lot to the train station. The LIRR into Manhattan. The subway to South Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry across the Narrows. And finally a bus to the Bartels' residence. That ability to travel for just a couple of bucks to a place i had never been using public conveyances had never before impressed me so much. That single trip has had a major impact in my thinking on public policy matters for the past 28 years.

More personally, though, the 45 minutes on the ferry was a trip back in time to an important place for me. As a young child, i would spend weekends with my grandmother in the Bronx, and our excursions almost always included a ride on the ferry. It was only a nickel (and she probably snuck me on for free most of the time), and with a Coke and a sandwich, it was one of the best picnics you could imagine. But after age nine or ten, those trips pretty much stopped, and it had probably been more than a dozen years since i had stepped onto the ferry that Christmas Eve. The thick green and grey paint, and the worn, heavy, and dark wooden benches brought those picnics back to me even more sharply than i felt the cold salt breeze stinging my nostrils. And this time i etched those memories of my grandmother permanently. And i still have them. Thanks to Carlton's invitation.

After that Christmas party, we probably exchanged a few postcards. But we moved on to our separate lives, like so many people whose paths we cross briefly. I heard he married his high school sweetheart, a woman named Jane who used to hang out at the house with us a lot, although i don't think she ever actually lived there.

A couple of years ago, i was back at Stony Brook, walking around campus, taking some pictures (i eventually finished my degree; it's in the attic somewhere), when i found the Stony Brook September 11 memorial. It's a tasteful garden with a sculpture of some vines climbing a pair of columns and forming an arch between them. Milton Glaser designed it.

I took some pictures, including this one.

And that's why i was thinking about Carlton Bartels this morning.

Continue reading Rememberings

Monday, September 10, 2007

Upcoming municipal elections

Following up on my post last week describing the composition of Durham's City Council, i had planned to write a bit about the players in municipal elections. By state law in North Carolina, municipal elections are "non-partisan," meaning that party affiliations are displayed neither on the ballot nor in campaign materials. So you won't see, for instance, signs saying "Thomas Stith, Republican for Mayor," or "Diane Catotti - Democrat," in the run up to the election.

Locally, the big players are the three independent political action committees (or PACs, not to be confused with the five Partners Against Crime districts in the city, also referred to as PACs. Those are almost always accompanied by the number of the district - PAC1, PAC2, etc., and rarely if ever involve themselves in electoral politics.).

I say "had planned," because Frank Hyman has a very good rundown of exactly that in this past Saturday's Durham News:
Durham is one of the very few places in the United States where candidates with the most money often lose the election.

Why? Because the big bucks don't translate into endorsements. Personal contacts and a history of civic involvement do.

Candidates without endorsements rarely get more than 400 or 500 votes from their friends, neighbors and fishing buddies. Your candidate will need more votes than that -- say, about 6,000 to 7,000 -- to survive the October primary. And that means getting at least one endorsement.

To win the general election in November, it'll take 10,000 to 15,000 votes. That means probably two endorsements. It's the candidate with a coalition of endorsements who wins.

Take a turn at a polling place handing out flyers and you'll see many voters turn up clutching an endorsement sheet clipped from the newspaper or received in the mail or handed out by another volunteer just like you -- except they're working for one of the big four political groups in town.

I'm not sure that i agree with Frank's assessment of Durham CAN as "one of the big four," but that's as likely to be a result of my ignorance as anything else. His analysis of the three main PACs, (The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, The People's Alliance, and The Friends of Durham, referred to colloquially as the Committee, the PA, and the Friends, respectively)) though, is pretty spot on. Kevin's already commented on the, shall we say, unusal endorsement by the Friends, nominally a pro-business, pro-development group, of Diane Catotti, who is a long time member of the PA. And Frank highlights the interesting nature of the Committee's dillemma in the upcoming Mayor's race.
At endorsement meetings, turnout counts, but the ground rules have become arcane, because the Committee's Democratic leaders have been trying (with limited success) to stop Republican mayoral candidate Thomas Stith from packing the meetings with his supporters. With Mayor Bill Bell's re-election at stake, this is the fight to watch.

Close observers with long memories, will recall the 2003 council race, where Diane Catotti received the Committee's endorsement over Thomas Stith in the primary, only to lose it in the weeks before the general election. It didn't hurt her campaign, as she still finished as the highest votegetter, but the endorsement was enough to propel Stith into the third at-large seat, 104 votes ahead of Diane Wright, who had finished second in the primary, about 1400 votes ahead of Stith.

This year promises to be even more interesting.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Blues Festival blogging

Booker T. and the MGs, y'all.

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Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Cole Mill Rd., Durham, NC

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Why am i not surprised?

Here's some news from the AP:
When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved implanting microchips in humans, the manufacturer said it would save lives, letting doctors scan the tiny transponders to access patients' medical records almost instantly. The FDA found "reasonable assurance" the device was safe, and a sub-agency even called it one of 2005's top "innovative technologies."

But neither the company nor the regulators publicly mentioned this: A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had "induced" malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats.

That's not terribly surprising, but the lack of surprise there is not significant.

There's this:
To date, about 2,000 of the so-called radio frequency identification, or RFID, devices have been implanted in humans worldwide, according to VeriChip Corp. The company, which sees a target market of 45 million Americans for its medical monitoring chips, insists the devices are safe, as does its parent company, Applied Digital Solutions, of Delray Beach, Fla.

. . . snip . . .

The FDA also stands by its approval of the technology.

Did the agency know of the tumor findings before approving the chip implants? The FDA declined repeated AP requests to specify what studies it reviewed.

But wait, there's more.
The FDA is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, at the time of VeriChip's approval, was headed by Tommy Thompson. Two weeks after the device's approval took effect on Jan. 10, 2005, Thompson left his Cabinet post, and within five months was a board member of VeriChip Corp. and Applied Digital Solutions. He was compensated in cash and stock options.

(emphasis mine in all cases.)

There's simply no aspect of our lives that's safe from the Bush administration and the Republican Party in general. None.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Upcoming municipal elections

First, a quick primer on this fall's elections, then, i want to announce something i'm really excited about, and i hope you all will be as well.

Durham has a seven member City Council. There are three ward seats, three at-large seats, and a mayor. The mayor's office is voted on every two years; the at-large and ward members serve staggered four year terms. This year we're voting on the at-large seats.

In a very real sense, ward seats are also at-large seats: these seats are voted on by the entire electorate, although candidates must reside within the ward they represent. Also, unlike the at-large seats where the top three votegetters win the election, it's possible for a losing candidate in a ward to actually outpoll the winning candidate in a different ward.

Because ten candidates filed to run for the three at-large seats, there will be a primary election on the first Tuesday in October. Voters will be able to select up to three candidates (no weighted ballots, please) from the field of ten. The top 6 votegetters will then appear on the November ballot. There are only two declared mayoral candidates, so the mayor's race will not appear on the October ballot. In November, the three top votegetters for Council, and the Mayor, will be elected.

There will also be several bonds on the November ballot, from both the city and the county. The county will be askig for around $200 million in borrowing authority, mostly for new school construction, but lesser amounts for the Museum of Life and Science and Durham Technical Community College. The city is putting up a $20 million bond for road and sidewalk construction and maintenance.

I'll have more in the upcoming weeks about Council, especially some changes that i think need to be made, but for now, i want to let you know about something i think is pretty cool.

Durham's on-line community has really started to find its voice over the past year or so. There are more good blogs than i have time to keep up with. This is the first municipal election taking place in the presence of that community. A number of local bloggers have been meeting to try to figure out how we can best use our new media to get more information about the candidates and their positions out to our readers.

To that end, we've developed a questionnaire which was sent out to all Council candidates last night. We're setting up a central webpage (link provided as soon as we go live) where we'll be posting the questions and the answers we receive from the candidates in their entirety. Additionally, each of us will also posting and analyzing the answers, especially when they fall within our areas of interest or expertise. Your participation in the form of comments and additional questions will be an important factor in whether or not the candidates take this new exercise in citizen participation in the electoral process seriously.

Blogs participating in the election questionnaire are The Archer Pelican, Bull City Rising, The Bull in Full, Dependable Erection, Endangered Durham, Fallout Shelter, Nicomachus, Toastiest, and We Love Durham.

If you write a blog about Durham and you'd like to be a participant in this project, drop a line to DependableErection AT gmail DOT com and let me know.

Check back in regularly over the next two months for election updates., and be sure to visit each of the participating blogs for a spectrum of opinions on our upcoming municipal elections.

UPDATE: Thanks to Joe, our questionnaire is now posted online. Check in to see responses from your City Council candidates.

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What needs to be said

Kevin pretty much nails what needs to be said about the leaked details of the settlement offer proposed by attorneys for the three Duke lacrosse players.

The only thing i have to add is that if the $10 million each is seeking were to be used to start a trust fund to compensate other victims of miscarriage of justice, i have no problems with it.

As far as the ombudsman goes, hey, that's a great idea, but any lawyer worth his salt, as Barry Scheck most assuredly is, knows that the measure of Durham's clout in the state legislature is minimal. And that if this is a reform that they really want to happen, they'll need to do more than just ask for Durham to get behind it. Threatening legal action against the state, which as Kevin correctly notes was Mike Nifong's employer, might better get the attention of the folks in Raleigh.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Great moments in marketing

I've always figured there was a reason why Steve Jobs has a closet as big as my house filled with black turtlenecks while my wardrobe consists mostly of promotional tee-shirts picked up at MacWorld Expo and Durham Bulls games. It certainly wasn't the G4 Cube that's differentiated us.

Today i got my lesson.

Here's the background.

Earlier this year, Apple released the iPhone. Lots of reviewers talked about some of its inadequacies as a phone, and its $600 price tag raised a few eyebrows.

But it was an iPhone, and for many people with more money than brains having this cool as shit toy was worth paying 2 or 3 times what other comparable devices cost.

So that's good marketing move number one from Steve.

But he did himself one better this week.

Yesterday, Steve announced, among other things, that iPhones were coming down in price by $200. If you bought your iPhone within the last two weeks, you'll get that discount reimbursed. But early adopters, who for the most part made the conscious decision that having an iPhone before anyone else was worth paying whatever obscene price Steve asked for, were not happy.

And here's where Steve's genius becomes apparent.
This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.

Third, even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of iPhone, and even though the technology road is bumpy, we need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.

Therefore, we have decided to offer every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration, a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store. Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple's website next week. Stay tuned.

That's right - your reward for buying an overpriced iPhone is getting a coupon worth a hundred bucks off your next overpriced purchase of another piece of Apple hardware.


Oh, and by the way, i write as someone who has made a living using Macs since 1988, and has owned nothing but Macs since 1990.

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Unintended consequences?

I don't know how closely any of you have been following the story of Colony Collapse Disorder which has afflicted honeybees in the US over the past few years. My own interest, aside from hoping i'll have fresh vegetables and tree nuts to eat next year, is mostly academic, not commercial. Every couple of years i'll acquire a gallon or two of honey and ferment a batch of mead. It's an interesting beverage with a great history and mythology, relatively easy to make, and uncommon enough in the US that it makes a great gift and can be imbibed on special occasions.

I've got a notion in the back of my head that meadmaking might keep me busy in my golden years, but they're still a little ways off.

Seems like there was a breakthrough recently in figuring out what might be the cause of CCD, which has claimed anywhere from 30% to 65% of commercial honeybee hives the past three years, depending on which source you read.
The scientists report using a novel genetic technique and old-fashioned statistics to identify Israeli acute paralysis virus as the latest potential culprit in the widespread deaths of worker bees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

Next up are attempts to infect honeybees with the newfound virus to see if it's indeed a killer.

"At least we have a lead now we can begin to follow. We can use it as a marker and we can use it to investigate whether it does in fact cause disease," said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and co-author of the study. Details appear this week in Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.

the article goes on to describe the techniques used by scientists to reach this preliminary conclusion, which makes for interesting reading, if you like that sort of thing.

Here's what catches my eye:
The earliest reports of colony collapse disorder date to 2004, the same year the virus was first described by Israeli virologist Ilan Sela. That also was the year U.S. beekeepers began importing bees from Australia — a practice that had been banned by the Honeybee Act of 1922.

Now, Australia is being eyed as a potential source of the virus. That could turn out to be an ironic twist, since the Australian imports were meant to bolster, not further damage, U.S. bee populations devastated by another scourge, the varroa mite. Meanwhile, officials are discussing reinstating the ban, said the Agriculture Department's top bee scientist, Jeff Pettis.
(emphasis mine)

How many times do we see this over the past 150 or so years? From gypsy moths to kudzu and all kinds of little shellfish creatures, someone says "hey, I've got an idea," and the next thing you know we're all ass-deep in caterpillars.

I'm hoping the biologists have figured this one out, and the solution will be relatively straightforward. I like having bees around.

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