Dependable Erection

Monday, March 31, 2008

Quick drought update

Lake Michie is still full, and Little River is within 5 inches of being full. Water use is down just about 16% year over year for the month of March. The city says that means we've got 318 days of "premium" water on hand in our two reservoirs. Remove the 2 million gallons a day we're currently getting from Jordan Lake via Cary, and that figure drops to about 289 days at March's usage. If we make the reasonable assumption that we can continue to use water at a rate 16% lower than last year, when consumption peaked at around 33 million gallons per day, the real number of days of "premium" water is closer to 240 or 250.

Still, a vast improvement over where we were in November and early December, when we approached a 30 or so day supply.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that reservoir levels did not drop during last week's "dry spell." Inflows were still at or near historic lows for most of the week, suggesting that ground water has not been replenished, but they were apparently high enough to meet demand.

All this could change if we have a summer and fall of no rain, as we did last year. That's why now is a good opportunity to be seriously thinking about long term policy changes to make in balancing our supply and demand for water. Word on the street is that the city is getting ready to make some big announcements regarding conservation measures. Let me just say, if you've purchased an ultra-high-efficiency toilet int he past couple of months, make sure you hang on to the receipt. And don't be surprised to see a lot more information and messaging coming from the city about the state of our water supply and the need to conserve.

The first of a two part forum on the drought sponsored by a grass roots group called Women for Wise Growth will be held at the main branch of the public library on Wednesday the 2nd, from 7 - 9 pm. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, who has controversially called for Durham to tighten its development policy if it wants to maintain access to regional water supplies, is one of the speakers.

And another, as yet unnamed citizens' group, has been meeting and discussing via email a series of initiatives the city should be undertaking to raise awareness about the drought and to encourage reduced use of water as a matter of course and policy. Look for a document from those folks pretty soon.

My own thinking is that is that the Stage III or Stage IV restrictions we've been operting under for the past 6 months or so manage crises. They don't manage growth, or resources, or the city, for that matter. Crisis management is not a substitute for good planning. (In fact, if you're spending most of your time managing crises, it's a
pretty good sign that you haven't done good planning.)

The real question isn't (as Reyn Bowman over at Bull City Mutterings seems to think) whether the reservoirs are filled in April. It's whether they're filled in September. And next September. And the one after that.


Continue reading Quick drought update

Striking the right note

Seems to me that Sen. Barack Obama has once again found exactly the right note in a speech:
"As this primary has gone on a little bit long, there have been people who've been voicing some frustration," Obama said.

"I want everybody to understand that this has been a great contest, great for America. It's engaged and involved people like never before. I think it's terrific that Senator Clinton's supporters have been as passionate as my supporters have been because that makes the people invested and engaged in this process, and I am absolutely confident that when this primary season is over Democrats will be united."

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Continue reading Striking the right note

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Opening Day - US style


Continue reading Opening Day - US style

B'ball question

While everyone is wondering whether Texas or Davidson can crash the all number 1 seed Final Four, here's something i was wondering about after having watched more hoops in the past 10 days than in most of the rest of my life.

Which phrase coming out of the announcer's mouth is more likely to provoke the gag reflex for you: "putting up a floater," or "getting dribble penetration?"

Whatever happened to "put it in the books and take it to the line," anyway?


Continue reading B'ball question

Obama campaign HQ open in Durham

Philip has the details. Meanwhile, i saw my first Obama commercial last night. Expect to see a whole lot more between now and May 6. Take a look at the ad, and one that's running in Indiana, which also has a May 6 primary, here.

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Continue reading Obama campaign HQ open in Durham

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

S. Roxboro St., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Bikes for the World

Don't forget - Bikes for the World is collecting bicycles for repair and donation to individuals in developing countries, where they can make a huge difference in someone's life.

The collection site is down in RTP, at 2224 E Highway 54, from 10 am to 2 pm this afternoon. Call 919.688.9347 or click on the link above for more info.

UPDATE: I hear that well over three hundred bikes were donated yesterday, nearly double what the organizers had hoped to collect. Good job, everyone.

Continue reading Bikes for the World

Friday, March 28, 2008

Viewing Iraq

I mentioned in passing in a comment that, depending on your preferred news source, you could have a completely different understanding of events in Iraq this past week.

Here's a quick example. First, an AP story that will undoubtedly appear in many US newspapers in the morning.
"Any government that presumes to represent the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law," Bush said at the White House. "And that's what's taking place in Basra and in other parts of Iraq. I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."

It's also a key juncture for Bush in the five-year-old war that has claimed 4,000 American lives, worn U.S. forces thin and dominated his presidency.

Bush said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's crackdown in Basra against Shiite militias vying for control of the oil-rich region is a positive milestone in the birth of a democratic nation. The Iraqi prime minister's decision to move against enemy elements in Basra shows "evenhanded justice" and the Iraqi government's willingness to go after both Sunni and Shiite insurgents and outlaws, he said.

Just as important is how the violence plays out. The ability of Iraqi security forces to control places like Basra will color the president's decision on whether to order more U.S. troop withdrawals beyond the five U.S. brigades already returning home by July — something that's already looking unlikely.

The renewed violence, which has followed months of relative calm, threatened to unravel a fragile cease-fire with followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. How much U.S. troops are drawn into the fight will be a telling sign of the Iraqi forces' ability to protect the nation.

Bush stressed that those Iraqi forces remained in the lead, yet U.S. forces stepped deeper into the fight.

U.S. pilots assisting Iraqi forces conducted airstrikes on Basra on Friday. American jets dropped bombs in the city, marking a sharp escalation in the fight against insurgents the Pentagon accuses of having links to Iran.

Here's the London Times:
The intention was to withdraw British forces from frontline duties and concentrate on training Iraqis and offering support when needed. But the problem from the outset has been the failure of the Iraqi army and police to take control of the city, a mission that British troops, with the advantage of modern equipment and training, had failed to do during their four years in southern Iraq. Instead the Shia Muslim militias — the Mahdi Army loyal to Moqtadr al-Sadr, the Badr Brigades of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the smaller Fadillah Party — effectively took over the streets.

The three groups were in open contest for control of the city. The battle has little to do with ideology but everything to do with economics. Basra is the hub of Iraq’s valuable oil industry and the militias are making millions by taking their cut of the exports.

The problem now facing the British is how to respond to the fast-changing situation.

Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who flew to Basra to take personal control, said that his forces would fight “to the end” against the militias. Unfortunately for him, the end may come sooner than he expected. The Iraqi Army contingent of 30,000 troops has failed to dislodge the Mahdi Army, there are widespread reports of defections from the police to the militias and there are clear signs that the operation could backfire badly.
Before you make the assumption that the Times is taking some DFH, bring 'em home tack, the article goes on to cast the blame for the situation on the British failure to secure Basra in its desire to bring its troops home quickly, credits the surge for reducing violence in Baghdad, and proposes that the US step in to restore order in the south of Iraq as the solution. Probably not going to go over well in the Pentagon.

But it's a more honest portrayal of the situation on the ground than you're likely to read in your morning paper tomorrow.


Continue reading Viewing Iraq

McCain for President . . .

of the American Dodgeball Association of America

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Continue reading McCain for President . . .

Pretty flowers

Gotta say that i'm impressed with the blooming daffodils over at the Guess Rd. and Hillandale Rd. interchanges off I-85. Folks who live along those corridors owe a big thanks to County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who went the extra mile to find the funding to upgrade from the standard NCDOT fare.

The only question i have is which of our County Commissioners, incumbent, retiring, or soon-to-be elected, is going to step up to the plate and find the funds to upgrade the rest of our I-85 interchanges like Duke St?

Or Roxboro St?

Or Avondale Dr?


Continue reading Pretty flowers

All you need to know about what's going on in Iraq this week

Maliki on Wednesday gave militants in Basra 72 hours to surrender themselves and their weapons, but on Friday extended the deadline for handing over the weapons until April 8.

"All those who have heavy and intermediate weapons are to deliver them to security sites and they will be rewarded financially," he said in a statement issued by his office.

You don't even have to read between the lines. Maliki put his foot down, and no one listened to him. He tried to bust Moqtada al-Sadr's movement ahead of the upcoming elections, and it's backfiring. His forces aren't fighting for him, and he's counting on us to bail him out.


UPDATE: And the backtracking begins:
Al-Maliki's office also announced it has given residents in Basra until April 8 to turn over "heavy and medium-size weapons" in return for unspecified monetary compensation.

The deadline is separate from the three-day ultimatum announced Wednesday for gunmen to surrender their arms and renounce violence or face harsher measures, government adviser Sadiq al-Rikabi said.

The move instead appeared to be aimed at noncombatants who may have weapons like machine-guns and grenade launchers either for smuggling purposes or to sell to militants or criminal gangs.


Continue reading All you need to know about what's going on in Iraq this week

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Keeping your world safe from pierced nipples

"Our security officers are well-trained to screen individuals with body piercings in sensitive areas with dignity and respect while ensuring a high level of security," the agency said in a statement.

Which explains, of course, why the United States hasn't been hit by terrorists since 9/11, excepting that little anthrax incident which no one talks about anymore anyway, since we never did figure out who it was who did that, and we we don't really care too much anyway, do we?

I think everybody who flies more than once or twice a year got a good chuckle out of that "well-trained" line, didn't they?

Continue reading Keeping your world safe from pierced nipples

Killed his own people

At what point does the charge become applicable in the new Iraq?
Iraq's prime minister vowed Thursday to fight "until the end" against Shiite militias in Basra despite protests by tens of thousands of followers of a radical cleric in Baghdad and deadly clashes across the capital and the oil-rich south.

Mounting anger focused on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is personally overseeing operations against the militias dominated by Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters amid a violent power struggle in Basra, Iraq's southern oil hub.

The Iraqi leader made his pledge to tribal leaders in the Basra area as military operations continued for a fourth day with stiff resistance.

"We have made up our minds to enter this battle and we will continue until the end. No retreat," he said in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state TV.

. . .

Street battles that started Tuesday in Basra and Sadr City have spread to several other neighborhoods and southern cities, leaving more than 200 dead, including civilians, Iraqi troops and militants. That three-day figure was a rough estimate provided by police and hospital officials who could not give a more specific breakdown.

Iraqi officials reported 17 more people killed in overnight clashes in Sadr City, raising the total there to 40.

The death toll in the Shiite city of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, also rose to at least 60 in fighting that continued into Thursday, according to a senior police official who asked not to be identified because of security concerns.

The U.S. military said four suspected Shiite extremists were killed in an airstrike but it had no further details.

The police chief in Kut, Abdul-Hanin al-Amara said 40 gunmen had been killed and 75 others wounded in that southeastern city.


Continue reading Killed his own people

Thinking out loud about census numbers

How'd you like to live in Dallas-Fort Worth, which added a whopping 162,000 new residents to the MSA between July 2006, and July 2007, according the Census Bureau.

In North Carolina, Charlotte added almost 67,000 new residents in that span, topping the state's list numerically, while Raleigh/Cary grew at an astounding 4.7%, putting it on track to double in size again in only about 15 and a half years. The Durham MSA, which included Orange and Chatham counties, added a little over 10,000 new residents, for a 2.2% growth rate. As of 7/1/2007, we were at 479,000 people. No breakdown as to where in the MSA those folks moved, but south Durham and north Chatham are the most likely candidates.

Those kinds of growth rates (Charlotte's was 4.2%), recorded before the worst effects of the 2007 drought were felt, should have planners in the Southeast reaching for the Maalox. Atlanta, for example, added over 150,000 residents during that period, a 2.9% growth rate. And, like Durham, Atlanta's water supply dropped to less than 60 days late last fall.

Here's an interesting find via Google
It's been two years since Georgia, Alabama and Florida ended rancorous high-level negotiations over how to divvy up the Chattahoochee River, metro Atlanta's primary water source.

Since then, drenching rainfall has washed memories of the searing drought of 1998 to 2002 off the front page and out of the public's mind.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn't capped growth in metro Atlanta, as some feared, and water still flows when we turn on our faucets. The lawsuits that broke out when the talks broke down are mostly yawners, highlighted by nicely dressed attorneys making convoluted arguments in wood-paneled courtrooms. All the while, thousands of new homes and businesses are tapping into water mains across the region.

But scientists and state officials say this is exactly the time when the region should prepare for the next drought. Doing nothing will spell disaster. As metro Atlanta's population doubles in the next 25 years, rising demand and a static supply would equal a serious water shortfall.

According to the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District's 2003 plans, the region would face a water deficit of 284 million gallons a day by 2030 without aggressive conservation measures and new lakes to store water. The potential shortfall is close to the amount used today by everyone in Gwinnett and Fulton counties and the city of Atlanta.

The option is to spend more than $60 billion over the next 30 years to pay for water and sewer improvements and ongoing maintenance, according to the district. But progress so far is hit or miss in the district, which comprises 16 counties and hundreds of communities.

Two reservoirs are under construction, and five more are in the works while other, more basic water-wise polices have hit stumbling blocks. Most local governments are reluctant to impose stormwater fees on property owners to pay for systems to handle urban runoff and reduce water pollution. And some have been unwilling to charge a sliding fee for water that penalizes wasters.

Last year, the real estate industry scuttled the district's No. 1 conservation measure, which was to require home sellers to update their plumbing fixtures to meet today's low-flow standards. All the talking and planning have so far yielded few long-lasting results.

But here's the worst part: Even with all the well-laid plans about how to maximize the water from our rivers and streams, no one knows how much can safely be taken out.

The watersheds contain only so much water that can be used for drinking, cooking, flushing, showering and sprinkling lawns. The rest must stay in the rivers to keep them and their aquatic species healthy. Site-specific, scientific research that includes monitoring stream flows and surveying aquatic species hasn't been done.

Only the water rivers can spare during severe droughts can be guaranteed, according to Mark Crisp, a water expert who has studied the Chattahoochee River for more than 20 years. Counting on more water than that would be "like designing the structural steel of the building to withstand just a windstorm of 60 miles per hour, knowing full well we've had hurricane winds of 100 miles per hour."

What's particularly interesting, to me at least, is the date on the article. June 17, 2005. Atlanta's population increased from 4.1 million in the 2000 census, to 5.2 million in this latest estimate. And they're still not taking water supply as seriously as they need to.

So far, the lower cost of living in the Southeast continues to attract residents from other parts of the country. What happens when shortages of critical resources like water eliminate that lower cost of living?

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Continue reading Thinking out loud about census numbers

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hal Riney 1932 - 2008

If you're not a media geek like i am, this may not mean much to you. But Hal Riney died this morning.
During his career of almost 50 years, Mr. Riney developed advertising around the notion that understatement sold better than overstatement, and any conclusions about a product were better left to the audience. He also pushed against advertising that was intrusive or insulting, and he wasn't ashamed of ads that made people laugh or cry.

. . .

Once called "the Paul Bunyan of advertising," Mr. Riney also worked for Republican political candidates and in the 1980s was part of the so-called Tuesday Team, a group of admen working on Ronald Reagan's campaign. His "Bear in the Woods" spot, which subtly compared the Russian communists to a bear in the woods that some declined to see, and his "Morning in America" campaign for Mr. Reagan are political classics.

I don't know that Mondale would have had a chance against Reagan in 84 regardless of the ads that Reagan ran.

But John McCain is not going to have Hal Riney at his back in 2008.


Continue reading Hal Riney 1932 - 2008


Many people were killed and wounded by a U.S. air strike called in support of Iraqi forces in the town of Hilla south of Baghdad, Iraqi security sources said.

One police source said at least 11 people were killed and 18 wounded in the strike, launched after Iraqi security forces called for support following street battles with Shi'ite militia members in the city's Thawra neighborhood. Another police source said 29 people were killed and 39 were wounded.

Two other security sources said the combined total of dead and wounded was in the dozens, although they were unable to give precise casualty figures. All of the sources spoke under condition they not be named.

A spokeswoman for U.S. forces south of Baghdad said she was checking the reports.

That ain't good. It's gonna be hard to keep those reduced levels of violence going for much longer, don't you think?

In Hilla, several Iraqi security sources spoke of large-scale casualties after a U.S. air strike called to help Iraqi police fighting militiamen. U.S. forces confirmed the helicopter strike but denied there were large numbers killed.

Take that at face value, or with a large grain of salt.


Continue reading Surgin'

Bikes for the World

This seems like a pretty good idea. The Triangle chapter of the organization Bikes for the World is accepting donations of bicycles and cash to help repair them and distribute them in developing countries. It's happening this Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, at Headquarters park, 2224 E Highway 54. That's between Alston Ave and Highway 55, if you're planning to head down there.

The flier says no bare frames, please, so your donation should have wheels, a seat, and handlebars, at least.

More info at (919) 688-9347. Or see Bikes for the

Continue reading Bikes for the World

It's a free concert, man

Sunday afternoon at Durham Central Park, the good folks at 307 Knox Records are putting together a real tasty show. The Future Kings of Nowhere kick it off at 3 pm, and Kimya Dawson (Moldy Peaches, Juno soundtrack) closes things out 4 or so hours later. In between catch local heroes Midtown Dickens, Eberhard, and more. says it'll be cloudy and in the 50s. So bring a blanket or two.


Continue reading It's a free concert, man

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Oy, i've been tagged. Now i'm supposed to "Post 10 random things about yourself. Choose five people to tag and a reason you chose them and make sure to tell them. Don’t tag the person who tagged you."

Well, i can do the first part, but i don't know if i know 5 bloggers who have not yet been "tagged."

1 - I went to my first big league baseball game when i was two, in 1958. At the Polo Grounds. I don't know who the Giants played. I returned to the Polo Grounds to see the Mets many times in 62 and 63. I also saw the first game played at Shea Stadium in 1964.

2 - The earliest memory that i can date is Election Day 1960, walking with my mother and sister, in the stroller, to the polling place.

3 - I still remember walking home from 2nd grade with my neighbor John on that awful November day.

4 - I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

5 - In high school, i once ran the mile in under 5 minutes.

6 - First record: Herman's Hermits On Tour (with Henry VIII I am I am). First concert: Badfinger/Cactus at the Commack Arena. Although i'd seen Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna several times before i graduated from high school (in 1973) i didn't see the Grateful Dead for the first time until 1980. At the Frost Amphitheatre on Stanford's campus. A daytime show on Mother's Day. My college roommate made a couple of dozen counterfeit tickets. I got into the show with one. I saw the Dead four or five more times, always in California. I stopped going to shows when my 4 year old daughter knew more people at the show than i did.

7 - I've been arrested at political demonstrations twice. Once, at a Reagan State of the Union address protest organized by the late Mitch Snyder, i even gave my real name.

8 - I once walked from Orient Point to Stony Brook on the north Shore of Long Island. I took about a week, and slept in people's back yards and on the beach. All told, i've walked the entire breadth and length of Long Island, across both the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges, and from the Battery to the Cloisters in Manhattan.

9 - My first paying job was mowing lawns for a small, single proprietor landscaping service in Central Islip. My father was telling me i needed to have a summer job. So i picked this guy's name out of the phone book, told my father i had a job, and then called him up and talked him into hiring me.

10 - I once voted for a Republican.


Continue reading Tagged?

This just fills me with confidence

The U.S. military mistakenly shipped four fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan in 2006 and never caught the error, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, acknowledging an incident likely to rile China.

The military was supposed to ship helicopter batteries to Taiwan, but instead sent fuses used as part of the trigger mechanism on Minuteman missiles. Taiwan returned the parts to U.S. custody last week.

What the Chinese government thinks of this is really secondary to the main problem. Which is, how many other client states does the US routinely ship helicopter batteries too? And how many of them could have been receiving the wrong parts? Israel? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Parts that could make assembling nuclear weapons just a little bit easier. Parts that might never end up being accounted for. We arm a pretty big sample of the world's countries, after all.
What led to the misfired fuse shipment is still unclear, Henry and Wynne said. The Pentagon also does not yet know who was responsible.

. . .

U.S. military officials did not understand the nature of the problem until last week.

"We on our side thought we were talking about different sorts of batteries. There was an effort to resolve and reimburse them. It wasn't until this past week that we became aware that they had something akin to a nose-cone assembly," Henry said.

"So there were early communications but we thought we were hearing one thing. In reality they were saying something different."
Good thing the grownups are in charge.


Continue reading This just fills me with confidence

Commissioners election followup

I heard back from Mike Ashe, at the Durham BoE, who confirmed that a runoff election in the Board of County Commissioners race is only possible if fewer than 5 of the candidates receive a weighted vote of more than 40%. See the post directly below for an explanation of how that 40% figure is calculated. What this means is that if 6 candidates exceed the 40% threshold, there's no runoff between the 5th and 6th place finishers.

It also means, i think, that at least one, and possible all three of Durham's main political action committees (Durham Committee on the affairs of Black People, the People's Alliance, and the Friends of Durham) will endorse less than a full slate of candidates, and encourage their members and supporters to vote for only those candidates endorsed. The reason for this is that the more voters who cast an incomplete ballot, the lower the 40% threshold becomes, and the less likely that someone else sneaks above your candidate for the 5th seat on the Board. We saw this last year in the City Council race, where the Durham Committee only endorsed 2 candidates for the 3 open at-large seats, one of whom eked out a third place finish.

I have to say, i'm not liking this plan all that much.

Here's why.

Let's say, to use round numbers, that 5,000 people cast ballots for County Commissioner. If everyone votes for 5 commissioners, as they're entitled, that means there are 25,000 votes cast in the race, and the 40% threshold of 1/5 of the votes is 2,000. But, let's imagine that everyone only names 3 commissioners on their ballot. that means there's only 15,000 votes cast, and 40% of 1/5 of those is 1,200 votes. That's a significantly fewer number of people supporting what could end up being one or even two out of 5 people on the commission. And it also makes the necessity of a runoff that much less likely.

I'm thinking there's got to be a system that's less amenable to gaming than this.

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Continue reading Commissioners election followup

Monday, March 24, 2008

County Commissioners elections

The May primary election features ten candidates for the five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners. All ten candidates are Democrats, so only registered Democrats and independents who choose to vote in the Democratic primary are eligible to cast ballots in this race.

I had been under the impression that with ten candidates and five seats, the top five vote getters in the May primary would be the new Board of Commissioners. After a brief chat last week with Durham County Democratic party chair Kevin Farmer, i learned that's not exactly the case.

From the Board of Elections website:
If six or more Party candidates file, they compete in the primary and the five winners move to the Nov Ballot.—
MAYBE. To move directly to Nov, the winners in this case must receive a SUBSTANTIAL PLURALITY or the
sixth/seventh place candidate can, in writing, request a second primary. Substantial Plurality in a multi seat
race is determined by adding the total votes cast for all candidates, dividing by the number of seats and then
multiplying by 40%.

Examples of Multi Seat Substantial Plurality:
If: A receives 2500 votes
B receives 2000 votes
C receives 1800 votes
D receives 800 votes
E receives 300 votes
F receives 200 votes
G receives 100 votes

Then: 7700 total votes. Divide by 5 = 1540
1540 x 40% = 616 + 1 =617
Substantial Plurality is 617 votes.
Candidates A, B, C, D are ok and move to Nov.
‘F’ may challenge ‘E’ and request a 2nd primary
‘G’ is history.

If: A receives 2000 votes
B receives 1900 votes
C receives 1400 votes
D receives 900 votes
E receives 800 votes
F receives 500 votes
G receives 100 votes

Then: 7600 total votes. Divide by 5 =1520
1520 x 40% = 608 + 1 =609
Substantial Plurality is 609 votes.
Candidates A,B,C,D,E are ok and move to Nov.
No second primary.
‘F’ and ‘G’ are history.

To try to clarify that, consider this. Voters are entitled to choose up to five candidates when they cast their ballot in May, but they don't have to use all five of those votes. By adding up the total number of votes received, and then dividing by 5, the threshold for election is actually lowered.

Let's say that 5,000 people vote in the primary. If each of them selects five candidates, then the 40% threshold for votes is 2,000. If 1,000 of those voters only selects four candidates, while the other 4,000 choose five, the threshold drops to 1,920 votes. Personally, i think if you've got a vote, you should use it, but we've seen that game played out before in Durham. What's still unclear to me is what happens if more than five candidates exceed the 40% threshold. Will there be a runoff between the 5th and 6th place finishers if that happens? I've got a call into BoE director Mike Ashe for clarification.

Of the ten candidates, three, (Ellen Reckhow, Becky Heron, and Michael Page) are incumbents. The conventional wisdom is that the remaining seven candidates are in a race for the last two seats, which are being vacated by Lewis Cheek and Philip Cousin. And there are some pretty impressive resumes seeking this office, in addition to some of the usual suspects. I'm not entirely happy with the way the Commissioners dealt with the roadside panhandling ban earlier this year, and i'll be taking a pretty thorough look at some of the challengers before i decide how to cast my vote. I hope that incumbents aren't counting on a free pass from me. Check back occasionally before election day if you're interested in seeing how my preferences evolve between now and then.

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Continue reading County Commissioners elections


Kelly has a first person account of being "rescued" from Tibet by the Chinese government last week.

I hope that this particular crisis helps Americans to understand that when their president says we need to overthrow a dictator because he "killed his own people," that the "killed his own people" part of the equation is nothing more than window dressing. Lots of governments kill their own people. Most of the time, that doesn't seem to bother us too much, does it?

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Continue reading Tibet

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

North Duke St., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday flower blogging

Happy birthday, Viv Stanshall!

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Continue reading Friday flower blogging

Count me in

So, prior to this week, i viewed the 2008 elections as a holding action, a continuation of the battle begun in early 2005 when, fresh from his "landslide" triumph over John Kerry, an energized George W. Bush decided to spend his hard earned political capital dismantling the Social Security system.

That worked out pretty well, didn't it?

In 2006, Democrats established majorities in both the US House and Senate. And although great things have not yet happened, the worst excesses of the Bush administration have been avoided. Back in 2000, i wrote on some mailing list or other, in response to someone urging me to cast a vote for Ralph Nader, that a Nader presidency would be a miracle, but that a Bush presidency, more likely the result of voting for Nader, would be a disaster that would take the country a generation to recover from. I thought i was being hyperbolic.

As it turns out, by virtually every social and economic measure you care to make,the US has fallen further behind the rest of the world. We own far fewer of our assets and resources than we did eight years ago. We're creating fewer jobs, and those we are creating pay less. The dollar is worth half or so of its peak, and falling daily. Over 2/3 of Americans believe we're on the wrong track.

So, I've been looking at 2008 as consolidating our gains from the past 3 and a half years, for regaining control of the rudder of the ship of state, and basically not allowing things to get any worse before we start trying to make them better. And given that, it didn't really matter to me who was the Democratic nominee. They were all better than McCain (or Giuliani, or Romney, or Huckabee, or whoever the Republicans were going to anoint as their successor to George Bush.) It was clear that all th eRepublcians have to offer is more fear and more war. No solutions, just a steady erosion of the American dream wrapped in a flag and a picture of a collapsing building.

Barack Obama's speech the other day changed that for me. For the first time, i think we can do more than hold our ground. I think we can restart the process of making America the place it needs to be in the 21st Century.

Count me in.


Continue reading Count me in

Because legislators are cheaper than building repairs?

Rumor has it that Kevin Davis does, in fact, have a day job. Hard to be sure, because the guy's blog is everywhere you want to be.

Yesterday, he broke this news:
Housing inspections kiboshed? One of the real eyebrow-raisers in this year's short session is SB 1507 -- a bill that's passed the Senate and is due up in the House that would, if passed, effectively ban the City's ability to conduct regular inspections of all rental housing stock in Durham.

Housing inspections have been a much-ballyhooed and talked-about topic over the past year; the Council didn't provide the funding requested by Neighborhood Improvement Services last year, though NIS has taken a voluntary, opt-in approach with landlords instead. (I'm suspecting those abusers of rental property responsibility, our friendly neighborhood slumlords, aren't lining up to be test subjects.)

A staggering 99% of housing code violations, according to the City, occur in rental housing. Yet SB 1507 would prevent cities from distinguishing between rental and owner-occupied housing, or between single- and multi-family rental units, when implementing an inspection program. Obviously, this provision -- which appears in a bill that's had the strong support of the realtor and apartment industries -- makes it far less feasible (i.e., more expensive) for cities to undertake such an inspection program.

Cities could still target "blighted" areas or those receiving CDBG grants from the Federal government for regular housing inspections, but otherwise inspections would only be allowed where "probable cause" exists based on the presence of a housing complaint or a landlord having a track record of violations.

The City reports that the N.C. League of Municipalities opposes the bill, and that the state's tenants rights organization is negotiating with the real estate industry over this bill. Still, it passed the Senate easily and a concerted effort is needed to avoid this bill sailing through the House and gubernatorial offices.
(emphasis added)
So, 99% of all housing complaints come from rental stock. I'm willing to bet that some variation of the 80/20 rule holds sway here as well: The vast majority of those complaints are generated by a small number of slumlords. But rather than deal with the problem, or allow the city to deal with the problem, the landlord lobby decides its better to protect their profits than be good citizens.

And don't go all Fourth Amendment on me, either. you don't see restauranteurs lobbying to have health inspections banned on the grounds that their kitchens are private property, do you? You don't see the hotel and motel industry saying their buildings don't need to have the fire marshalls come through every once in a while to check on the sprinkler systems and make sure the exit paths are marked and clear. And Cherie K. Berry sure makes it a point of making sure every elevator in the state is functioning properly, doesn't she?

So what's the difference between those industries and the home rental industry? I mean besides the fact that neglected and decrepit rental housing stock blights the entire community? Why shouldn't municipalities have the right, if they choose, to require that rental properties meet certain community standards? Why does the landlord lobby need to go to Raleigh to make sure that communities don't have that right?

The only answer is because it's cheaper in the short term to buy legislators than it is to invest in your rental property. Long term, after the slumlords have made the community completely undesirable, who knows? Maybe they'll be swooping in to pick up those same properties in preparation for gentrification, at bargain prices.



Continue reading Because legislators are cheaper than building repairs?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I hear winter ended sometime this morning. Maybe i can get away from the damn computer long enough to enjoy it today.

Continue reading Spring

That's odd

USGS data for both Little River and Lake Michie reservoirs hasn't been updated since midnight. Wonder what's up with that?


Continue reading That's odd

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

End of an era

He was never my favorite SF writer growing up. I think Asimov's geeky sense of humor and Bradbury's overwhelming nostalgia for the years before puberty resonated better with my 12 year old self. But it would be remiss of me not to note the passing of Arthur C. Clarke, whose story/script for 2001: A Space Odyssey, released almost exactly 40 years ago, finally and permanently brought science fiction into the mainstream of American culture.

Rest in peace.

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Continue reading End of an era

Five years

I hear we're still winning.


Continue reading Five years

Alston Avenue

Phillip Barron has a good column in the HS on the Alston Ave. widening.
A March 2007 report from the John Locke Foundation (JLF) encouraged the state Department of Transportation and cities around the state to widen roads as the primary transportation strategy for economic development and alleviating congestion.

In April that year, I wrote a column for The Herald-Sun questioning the study's findings, and casting doubt in particular on whether the findings even applied to Durham. As I did then, I still encourage you to read it for yourself at

I noted then, that by David Hartgen's own admission, single-occupancy driving declined in Durham between 1990 and 2000, the time period at which his academic gaze is focused. The data show, and so he also admits, that carpooling and use of public transit increased. He further notes that Durham is the only urbanized area in the state to report declining solo driving times and increased carpooling and transit shares between 1990 and 2000. You might think, then, that the conclusions he reaches for Charlotte or Raleigh ought to differ from the conclusions he reaches for Durham's future.

Across the state, however, it's all the same. Eliminate transit. Widen roads. Pave early and often.

Concluding the article, I asked whether DOT will side with the John Locke Foundation or Durham residents. That remains to be seen, but the question remains for each of us to consider. Do roads exist to serve people or cars?

Also at the time, I wrote that I thought Durham had strong, visionary leadership that could see through the misguided Civitas/John Locke Foundation mindset, which thinks of road widening as economic development.

The city still has an able Transportation Department, and in November, the people of Durham voted against the Art Pope-backed candidate for mayor. So, why is the City Council considering toeing the JLF line? What happened to our leadership?

Why, indeed? Several city agencies, including the Transportation Department, are opposed to the NCDOT's Alston Ave. widening plans. There are better ideas out there. Tell your City Council you want to see them implemented.

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Continue reading Alston Avenue

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Because he's clubhouse poison?

Union to examine why Bonds has no offers

Because he doesn't make any team he's on better?

Because being under indictment for lying to a grand jury might be a distraction during a pennant race?

I don't know, what do you think?


Continue reading Because he's clubhouse poison?

Alston Ave. widening project pulled from Council agenda

City Manager Patrick Baker commented over at Kevin's place the other day that the proposal to accept the NCDOT's plan (and funding) for widening three or four blocks of Alston Ave. north if I-85 was not going to be on the agenda for this Thursday's work session, and the published agenda bears that out.

That's pretty good news. Word last week was that Mayor Bill Bell thought he had the necessary four votes to get the project approved. He may still have them, but racially divided 4-3 votes in Council, especially for a project that is generating opposition within the community most directly affected, are not a good thing for Durham. Once again, you can email the entire City Council at and tell them you support the city's Transportation Department and Office of Economic Development in wanting something better for this part of town. Councilmembers Farad Ali and Howard Clement are said to be open to persuasion on this issue. Their contact information is here.

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Continue reading Alston Ave. widening project pulled from Council agenda

Obama's big speech

I just took a few minutes to read the text of the speech that Barack Obama is delivering this morning in Philadelphia.

I'm not sure if an American political figure office seeker has delivered anything this powerful in my lifetime.

UPDATE: Some extracts:
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

. . .

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

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Continue reading Obama's big speech

Water wars

From USA Today:
Now comes a tougher challenge: resolving new and long-standing disputes over water that some experts say could hamper the region's emergence as an economic and population powerhouse. In a part of the nation where water shortages have not traditionally been an issue, it's difficult to tell whether even a historic drought has made a lasting difference, some scholars say.

"The Southeast has not yet come to grips with the fact that it has a water problem, that it needs to plan for its water usage, that it can't take for granted that all the water it needs will always be there," says Robin Craig, a law professor and water expert at Florida State University's College of Law.

Bitter battles over water could thwart the Southeast's evolution as one of 10 "mega-regions" across the USA, says Harry West, a professor at Georgia Tech's Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development.

"We've got to get around the parochial way of thinking about things and understand that these issues don't stop at the state line," he says.

Graeme Lockaby, director of Auburn University's Water Resources Center, says the Southeast needs a regional approach. "A lot of these watersheds cross state lines," he says. "Ideally, you would get people that have a vested interest in a river basin to just come to the table on a rational basis and try to work things out."

The article goes on to talk about inter-state disputes between Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and also between the Carolinas.

Just a foretaste of what's to come if our weather follows the patterns of the past several years, i suspect.


Continue reading Water wars

Too much information

Some things i just don't need to know.

People like sex. So?

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Continue reading Too much information

Monday, March 17, 2008

Road work?

I wrote last week about the presentation i made at Coffee with Council, citing the embarrassing condition of the Roxboro/Markham/Mangum crossover. It's especially embarrassing as this is the main "gateway to downtown" for folks coming to the ballpark or the new expensive theater on Mangum St. from North Raleigh or North Durham. Actually, it's more than just an embarrassment. It's dangerous, too. so far there haven't been any fatalities there, but lots of property damage accidents, including a couple in the past 4 years that have knocked power out to the surrounding neighborhoods for a couple of hours at a time.

I was surprised to see that work had started on the intersection already.

Although i have to admit that based on the visual evidence, it's entirely unclear exactly who is doing the work. It sure doesn't look like it's either the city or the state.

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Continue reading Road work?

24,000 gallons a month?

Kevin discusses some of the implications of a paper presented by Duke student Wichsinee Wibulpolprasert, which analyzed a month's worth of water usage data from summer of 2007 and came to some interesting conclusions.

While both the paper, and Kevin's post, focus on the conclusion that new homes use more water than older homes, presumably because the new landscaping requires more irrigation than established landscaping, there were other, more interesting data presented.

It certainly appears from that graph that water use is strongly correlated to household income, more strongly than with the age of the house. According to the study, census blocks with 40% - 60% of houses built within the past 8 years used more water than blocks with 60% - 80% new construction, and blocks with 0 - 20% new contruction used slightly more water than blocks with 20% - 40% new construction.

But water use rose in all cases in lockstep with income increases, culminating in an 85% increase in water use between the $40,000 - 60,000/year category, and the $80,000 - 100,000 year category, from 12,700 gallons per month, to 23,300 gallons per month.

At all income levels, though, water use according to this study was absolutely astounding. Households with income below $20,000, for instance, are still using 9,000 gallons of water per month, or 24 units during a 2 month billing cycle. At the highest income levels, we're looking at a whopping 63 units for a two month cycle.

I'm really curious to hear from the city if these numbers, even leaving out the demographic information regarding household income, sound right. How many of Durham's households are using less than 10 units per billing cycle? How many are using more than 60? That might help answer the question of just how much are those of using minimal amounts of water subsidizing the wastefulness of our fellow citizens. And provide some good guidelines for how a tiered water rate system might be structured.


Continue reading 24,000 gallons a month?

Politicizing tragedy

Last week an anonymous commenter cheesed me off by trying to use the tragic murder of Eve Carson to score political points.

Looks like he was in good company.


Continue reading Politicizing tragedy

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Guess Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Off day

No big mouth blogging today. Go do something wonderful.

Continue reading Off day

Friday, March 14, 2008

There's a feeling I get

Maybe you know it.

You're thinking about an old friend. Someone whose path no longer crosses yours with any regularity, someone you used to hang with a lot, but maybe haven't seen for what, 6, 8 years now? You almost pick up the phone, but there's a three hour time difference, and calling information to get that phone number is such a waste of time. The garage needs to be cleaned, the yard raked, maybe you've just been yelling at the kids for something stupid, and the moment passes. There'll be another time next week, next month, to make that call.

Until one day you learn that there won't be another time.

Do you know that feeling, when you learn that?


Neither did i, until this morning.

Here's some words by John Darnielle that somehow seem to fit.
I will rise up early and dress myself up nice
and I will leave the house and check the deadlock twice.
and I will find a crowd and blend in for a minute
and I will try to find a little comfort in it.
and I will get lonely and gasp for air.
and send your name up from my lips like a signal flare.


Continue reading There's a feeling I get

Alston Ave. widening

I don't have much to add to what Gary, Kevin, and Aidil have already said about the Alston Ave. widening project. Just that the city has talked a great game over the past few years when it comes to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other, non-automobile transportation modes. But when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, it appears to be same old same old.

If you want to add your voice to the opposition to this project, and in support of the alternative being put forward by community activists and some city staff*, you can email the entire city council directly at

I'm told that Howard Clement and Farad Ali are likely to be swing votes on this project. Their contact information is here.

And this is what we can do. Although people seized on the "shift the money" thing publicized a few weeks ago as a way to manipulate the process, the suggestion was: shift the state money to Fayetteville St., and let NCDOT do their unitary suburban highway design down by Martin Luther King. Then shift the city money that would have been spent on Fayetteville to Alston - so that the city can design a better road. Combined with streetscape funds from the Office of Economic Development, we could build a functional and beautiful street that would be the envy of other parts of Durham.

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Continue reading Alston Ave. widening

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More turds

Well, that didn't take long, did it?

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who thinks that using the tragic murder of Eve Carson to score cheap points is acceptable, i'm turning off anonymous comments again.

Permanently, i think.

I'm not sure i have the words to express how truly disgusted i am. I really hope i never meet you in real life.

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Continue reading More turds


Gary highlighted this particular story yesterday about folks in the Cleveland Holloway neighborhood temporarily saving one of their historic homes from destruction. Turns out that city policies make it cheaper and easier for a property owner to neglect a home, allowing its value to fall, and then bulldoze it, than to repair it and sell or rent it.

The Herald-Sun follows up today:
The inciting event was the presence of a bulldozer Tuesday morning in front of 407 Ottawa Ave., a 1920s bungalow assessed at $43,603.

Neighbors had thought the house was up for repairs, but a quick call to the property manager, attorney Jack Walker, confirmed their fears. Ultimately, one of the residents put up $900 of his own money for the demolition crew to leave. Demolition has been put on hold for a week.

"For the neighborhood, what's significant is that when these houses are bulldozed, they become vacant lots that can't be built on," said Natalie Spring, a Cleveland-Holloway leader. "One of the problems we've had in the neighborhood is because there are a lot of vacant lots, there are fewer eyes looking at what's going on."

The incident has brought back memories of when the century-old 501 Oakwood Ave. house was put on the demolition block by the city last fall and has undermined, to some degree, the growing trust between residents and the Neighborhood Improvement Services department.

Residents are working with the city to expand historic preservation in the area, located east of downtown along Holloway Street. But the incident suggests there is a communication problem with city departments at best, according to the residents, and active encouragement by the city to tear down buildings at worst.

Here's the part that jumps out at me, though:
NIS' mission is to ensure safe housing by enforcing the minimum housing code. The department notifies neighborhoods of homes that are up for repairs and ones up for possible demolition.

Another agency, the Durham City-County Inspections Department, actually issues permits for demolition.

Under city regulations, any house with renovations costing more than 50 percent of its assessed value could apply for demolition.

NIS Director Constance Stancil said the department was simply doing its job and does not have the authority to stop demolition by private owners. Further, the NIS and the inspections department do not communicate on demolition permits.

I'm sure there's a very good reason for that. And someone smarter than me can tell me what it is. It might be the same reason the Planning Department and the Inspections Department don't communicate when it comes to reports of illegal construction, either.

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Continue reading Communication

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dog food?

UPDATE: Welcome North Carolina Hunting And Fishing Forums readers!
UPDATE II: Feedback from WRAL below.

Shame on Sampson County. I'm certain that the Beaver Lodge will be springing into action soon.
"The beaver problem seems to grow despite our best efforts," Holder said. "The professional trappers go deep into the heart of the problem, and they're able to, hopefully, break up dams and solve the root of the problem."

From December through February, Thompson and the other two trappers netted 558 beavers.

“It’s certainly working,” said Kent Wooten, Sampson County's director of the state Cooperative Extension Service.

During the three-month trapping season, property owners can call the county and have trappers remove beaver dams for free. Outside the season, trappers charge for the service.

Thompson, who has trapped beavers for 40 years, paddles and plods deep into the swamps to get the job done. Beavers can wreak havoc in the county if left unchecked, he said.

"You got to keep the water moving for the drainage. If they keep building beaver dams, they're going to have water running everywhere but in the creek," he said. "The water will be so high, it runs across the road. We got farms where the water is running all through the people's fields."

One pair of beavers breeds two to seven babies year, he said.

"If they're not caught, next year, that crowd will raise some more," he said.

The carcasses of the trapped beavers are sent to Barbour Fur Co. in Smithfield, where they’re used to make dog food and fur products. “No part is wasted,” Thompson said.

Hey, WRAL, where's the other side of the story? You know, the part that talks about how beavers help to purify the water and provide habitat for dozens of other species? You can contact WRAL General Manager Jim Hefner through this web page and let him know how disappointed you are in this story.

Contact info for Sampson County is here if you want to let them know how you feel about these ignorant and barbaric acts. One of these days, i guess, Sampson County will get around to providing email services for their commissioners and employees.

UPDATE: My email to WRAL.
Your recent story on beaver eradication in Sampson County did not mention any of the ecological benefits of having a local beaver population, nor did it discuss any of the other possible solutions to beaver/human co-habitation besides eradication, which a brief Google search would have helped uncover.

As a member of Beaver Lodge Local 1504, founded in Durham County several years to, among other things, find solutions other than eradication to beaver issues, I really wish that you had taken the time to explore additional aspects of this issue. As it stands, your coverage was disappointing.

Barry Ragin

UPDATE: Email from WRAL:
This is Bryan Mims, the reporter who did the beaver story. You’re right – we need to explore the benefits of beavers to the ecosystem. The story came across as a bit flippant, and this is an issue that shouldn’t have been treated as such.

That said, I plan on doing a story in the next week – or at least in the next month – about the virtues of beavers. I could certainly tap the expertise of your organization.

Thanks for watching,



Continue reading Dog food?

Now that that's over . . .

Now that Eliot Spitzer has resigned as governor of New York, is there any reason for David "It's between me, my wife, and the Lord" Vitter to be hanging around the Senate?

I mean, besides the obvious IOKIYAR?


Continue reading Now that that's over . . .

Thinking about the drought - shorter version

Stage IV (and Stage III for that matter) water use restrictions are tools for managing a crisis. Crisis management is not a useful method for creating and maintaining long term, beneficial public policy.

Any resemblance between that statement and other policy matters affecting our local governments is purely coincidental.

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Continue reading Thinking about the drought - shorter version

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Out walkin'

Noontime scenery, Hillsborough, NC


Continue reading Out walkin'

Mark your calendars for the 2008 Beaver Queen Pageant

Yep, it's that time again. Beaver Lodge Local 1504 presents the 4th Annual Beaver Queen Pageant, Saturday, June 7th, 2008, at the Duke Park swamp in Durham North Carolina.

Check out videos from last year's pageant here. We're still looking for contestants and judges. Stay tuned for details on how to put your tail in the ring.


Continue reading Mark your calendars for the 2008 Beaver Queen Pageant

Coffee with Council

Every year around this time, Durham City Council members meet with their public, usually in conjunction with the various Partners Against Crime (PAC) meetings held monthly around the city. the idea is to listen to what various citizens consider to be funding priorities as the Council puts together the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

I made my usual appeals for enforcing speed limits on residential streets, enforcing noise ordinances, implementing the pedestrian and bike plans that Council spent so much damn money on developing over the past 4 years, and maybe finding some money to fix the Roxboro/Markham/Mangum intersection before the new downtown theater opens up and people from north Raleigh start coming to Durham for a night on the town.

I mean, really, is there another city of our size on the east coast that puts a traffic sign mounted on a cut steel barrel in the middle of a busy intersection?

The folks from the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association brought about 80 supporters to request more funding for greenways in general, and the Pearsontown and West Ellerbe Creek trails in particular. Very impressive presentation.

One thing that both surprised and disappointed me was the number of neighborhood representatives requesting sidewalks. Come on, Council, this is why you spent $315K on developing a pedestrian plan. Much of the money went for creating an inventory of existing sidewalks, and developing a priority list for constructing new sidewalks, improving existing sidewalks, and creating connections where sidewalks end. Take that blueprint, and put together a five year plan that says, these are the sidewalk projects that are going to be funded in each of the next five years, and this is why we've prioritized them in such a way. Otherwise, we're still back in the same old situation where whoever yells the loudest or is the best organized gets the goods. You basically guarantee continued inequity when it comes to infrastructure throughout the city. Some neighborhoods have the resources to lobby for improvements, others don't.

The best proposal i heard all night, though, came from the Durham People's Alliance, who called for a new position to be created at the Assistant City Manager level for Neighborhood Advocate:
We ask the City Council to hire a Neighborhood
Advocate at the assistant city manager level. The neighborhood advocate should be an attorney or an experienced city planner who would help tackle many of the issues raised at the Coffee with Councils.

The new position would assist neighborhoods and would evaluate rezonings, planning initiatives, and board of adjustment matters -- independently of other departments.

The neighborhood advocate would serve as a liaison between City and County governments and neighborhood groups –and provide support and staffing for a new neighborhood advisory committee.

I hope Council can find the money to create this position. Ten years from now, it will be looked back on as one of the best decisions made, if they do it.

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Continue reading Coffee with Council

Redbud day

Saw the first redbuds of the season on the way to work this morning. Four days earlier than last year.

Film at eleven.


Continue reading Redbud day

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thinking about the drought

I've had a couple of real-world conversations about the drought in the past few days, and i guess i'm not expressing myself as clearly as i'd like.

First off, read this little article by Matt in the N&O.
The city's Lake Michie reservoir is full, while the Little River reservoir us about five feet blow full.

Durham now has 361 days of water available at Michie, the Little River and Teer Quarry.

Meanwhile, city officials said demand dipped below 20 million gallons per day last week. City leaders have expressed concern that Durham residents will stop conserving water as vigilantly because of the recent rains.

City Manager Patrick Baker said staff members will talk this week about possibly dropping water restrictions from Stage IV to Stage III, which would allow some outdoor irrigation. But Baker said he didn't think the move was likely.

City Councilman Eugene Brown noted the city's water supply was at this level in May. By December, the city had only about a month of easily accessible drinking water left.

If the city has another dry, hot summer like last year's, Durham could find itself in the same boat should conservation efforts flag, Brown and other city leaders have said.

I quite understand that another summer like this past one could deplete that 361 days of water in less than 200 days. We do need to keep our conservation efforts up as individuals.

But, as individuals, we're only able to conserve on the margins, to use an old Econ 101 term. Based on population, there's a certain structural level of water use built into the system. Planners like to use 120 gallons per day per person as the overall level of use. We've actually been below that for most of the past 5 months or so. Our 200,000 plus population has been averaging around 20 million gallons per day, or 100 gallons per person. Please note, that figure includes industrial and commercial uses, as well as water lost in transfer and through evaporation. It does not mean that the average household is being billed for 100 gallons per person per day.

The point, though, is that Durham is currently storing all of the water it is capable of storing. We didn't design the system to store more water, because we've never needed to. But individual conservation efforts can only go so far, even if everybody is on board. So, given that we're using our system as best we can, and it is still inadequate to provide a quality of life* that we've come to expect, why are we adding to our water supply needs by continuing to approve new development all throughout the county and city? If the system is inadequate, how can we justify stressing it further? How can we justify adding more demands on the system if we're going to turn to our new residents and say, "Welcome to Durham. Oh, by the way, don't flush. And don't even think about watering that new landscaping you just paid your builder an extra $5,000 to put in."

I've done my part to lower my water consumption. Quite honestly, i'm using less water than i did when i lived in California's drought stricken Central Valley in the early 90s. Where i was still able to grow a vegetable garden, by the way.

If the problem is as serious as all that, and i believe that it is, then our leaders need to do more than just ask the residents to keep conserving. Other segments of the community need to be biting the bullet as well.

UPDATE: Todd has posted some good ideas in the comments. Go read them.


* I don't know about you, but keeping a bucket in the tub to catch all my warming up shower water to use to flush the toilet, and not being able to grow vegetables or brew beer are definitely negative factors in my quality of life. If they're going to be permanent restrictions, as a result of poor planning and poor decision making, this place just got a whole lot less attractive as a place to live.


Continue reading Thinking about the drought


Boy, if there was one guy in politics i thought could be trusted to keep his dick in his pants, it was Eliot "Ness" Spitzer.

Continue reading Spitzer?!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Flower blogging - bonus Daylight Savings Time edition


Continue reading Flower blogging - bonus Daylight Savings Time edition

Air of inevitability?

Rob Christensen in the N&O:
There is an air of inevitability about state Sen. Kay Hagan. She has been recruited by the national party, her campaign literature includes the blessings of the governor, and she has earned her spurs at the legislature.

That's just lazy writing. If one thing has become clear throughout the early months of the 2008 campaign, it's that the stale "air of inevitability" that some candidates try to wrap themselves in has gotten blown away by the overwhelming desire for change among the electorate.

People are pissed off.

Kay Hagan didn't get into the race until after Schumer and his pals at the DSCC panicked and twisted her arm after Jim Neal's announcement. Why? Because she didn't think she could win.

Do we really want a candidate who doesn't think she can win?

Hagan may win the nomination. But it won't be because of her inevitability.

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Continue reading Air of inevitability?

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Umstead Rd., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spring ahead?


Whose stupid idea was that?

Continue reading Spring ahead?

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Friday, March 07, 2008


The news out of Chapel Hill is sad enough.

So maybe someone from the N&O can explain just what purpose this serves?

UPDATE: No idea if this was a regular cycling of the story elements, or an editor coming to their senses, but the link to the 911 audio is no longer up at the N&O's coverage of this story as of Sunday morning.

Thank you.


Continue reading WTF?

The contradiction of having full reservoirs and being in a drought

From the N&O:
City Manager Patrick Baker said he didn't anticipate dropping down to Stage III, but indicated that if the city gets a lot of rain this weekend, as projected, the idea of dropping to Stage III will at least be discussed next week.

It's entirely possible that by the end of the day Monday, both of Durham's reservoirs will be filled to capacity.

Yes, we understand that both reservoirs were near full last May, and that all it took was 5 months of no rainfall accompanied by little or no conservation efforts to get us down to about a month's worth of water in the storage bin.

But doesn't that mean, in addition to asking residents not to flush the toilets and limit themselves to 4 minute showers 5 times a week, that our city and county leaders need to start thinking about development issues also?

Or are we going to continue to say yes to every proposed new subdivision, only to ask the new residents to let the yellow mellow every other summer?

I mean, if we've stored absolutely as much water as our system can hold, and we're still forced to act as though we're in a drought, how can we even think about putting more strains on the system by accepting new development?

Just sayin'.

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Continue reading The contradiction of having full reservoirs and being in a drought

Jamaica Jamaica

The worst part of the I-85 widening project, for me anyway, was that my mechanic moved from a very convenient spot at Guess Rd. and I-85 to one way the hell down in south Durham off highway 55. The only good things to come from this, i guess, are that i can not only blog from the waiting room while my oil is getting changed, but that i can eat lunch at Jamaica Jamaica while waiting as well.

I'm not one of Durham's many food bloggers, but because food is such an important part of life in this town, you can't help but write about it once in a awhile. So for about 7 bucks, the jerk pork with yellow rice and black beans was not only great, but i've got enough for lunch tomorrow. And there was live music.

I'll be back in three months or 3000 miles.

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Continue reading Jamaica Jamaica

On the big screen

At the Carolina Theater:


Continue reading On the big screen

Obviously, she's not taking her campaign advice from me

When i wrote:
First, an explicit recognition that Democrats are not running against each other. This means a declaration from each of the campaigns that their opponent is fully qualified to lead the nation and expresses all of the values of the Democratic party: equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal rights in a society that is not governed by fear. Grassroots Democrats get this. We know that we have two strong candidates capable of leading America out of the morass that 4 decades, and especially the past eight years, of mostly Republican rule have left us in.

this wasn't exactly what i had in mind.

But just what on earth is Hillary Clinton talking about when she says she's crossed the "commander in chief threshold" which John McCain has also crossed but Barack Obama hasn't?

. . .

Hillary Clinton seems to think she's a strong contender in this latter category. But that's a joke. She's starting her second term in the US senate, where, yes, she serves on the Armed Services committee. Beside that she's never held elective office and she has little executive experience. I think she can argue that she'd make and would make a strong commander-in-chief. But she's pushing a metric by which she's little distinguishable from Barack Obama. I'm honestly surprised she's not drawing chuckles on this one.

A lot of people are seeing red that Hillary's so aggressively pushing the Republican nominee's credentials to be president. And I can see their point. But I'm more surprised that she's pushing an argument she doesn't need to make and frankly can't make credibly.


Continue reading Obviously, she's not taking her campaign advice from me

Things that are good to see

The rain this morning.

Not one, but two speed traps set up on southbound I-85. One near Duke St., and one near Cole Mill Rd. Staffed by Durham cops, too, not the Highway Patrol. Maybe when they're done on the freeway, they can bring that expertise and equipment into the neighborhoods and slow some of those morons down.


Continue reading Things that are good to see

Invisible man

From the comments:
And the neighborhood (Trinity Park) is almost all white.

Well, actually, it's not. According to Durham County voter registration data, it's only 57% white. Why would someone argue that a neighborhood that's over 40% non-white is "almost all white?"

Who knows?


Continue reading Invisible man

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Throw the book at him

Pro golfer Tripp Isenhour apparently was irritated by a noisy red-shouldered hawk while he was taping a video at Orlando's Grand Cypress Golf Club. So he took took aim with his golf club and after 9 attempts felled the protected bird, which was singing away in a nearby tree. Now Orange County prosecutors have filed two misdemeanor charges -- cruelty to animals and killing an migratory bird -- against the 39-year-old Nationwide Tour player. Tripp could face up to a $10,000 fine.

The fatal swing took place on Dec. 12 while Isenhour was taping a video "Shoot Like a Pro." A film crew was taping the Orlando golfer saying some lines when the hawk started singing about 300 yards away. Its noise stopped the taping at least twice, said sound engineer Jethro Senger. That's what appeared to set Isenhour off, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports. He hopped into a golf cart and drove around a lake to the tree where the bird sat. For 10 minutes, while the crew waited, Isenhour hit several golf balls toward the bird.

The golfer gave up and returned the set, Senger told investigators. The bird then flew closer to the crew and perched in a tall tree about 75 yards away. He continued singing. Isenhour started hitting drives at the bird -- getting closer with each swing, witnesses told investigators. One ball hit the tree trunk, making a loud sound. On his 10th swing, the ball hit the bird, causing it to fall more than 30 feet to the ground. Isenhour yelled, "I didn't think I would hit it."

We've had red shouldered hawks nesting within a block or two of our house for at least three of the past 6 years. They're amazing creatures, and when you hear a pair of them calling to each other, you know it's time to get the cats inside. That this guy spent so much time tracking this bird down is inconceivable. Not only does he need to spend a bit of time behind bars, as well as pay a hefty fine and do some community service, the rest of the damn film crew needs to take some lessons in responsibility as well.


Continue reading Throw the book at him


Well, it looks like i've been mistaken about Durham's relationship with the Teer Quarry for the past several months. Somehow, i conflated the news that the city was able to draw water from the quarry with the plans that the city has to pump water into the quarry. The former is happening now. The latter is scheduled to begin sometime in 2010, after new pumps are installed and the state gives it's OK. I blame my second grade teacher for instilling poor reading comprehension skills.

Thanks to Ray Gronberg at the Herald Sun for catching my error.

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Continue reading D'oh!


Thanks to Katje at Manbites Dog, Mrs. D and i got to take in last night's performance of Dying City. The two person production takes place entirely in the Manhattan apartment of Kelly Conners, played by Dana Marks, and tracks between two separate, parallel conversations therein. The first is between Kelly and her brother-in-law Peter, whom she hasn't seen in a year and who drops in unexpectedly one evening. The second, about 16 months prior, shows the last night together of Kelly and her husband Craig, who is shipping out to Iraq the following morning. Craig and Peter are twins, played by Jay O'Berski. The event at which Kelly and Peter last saw each other, one year earlier, is Craig's funeral.

Things, of course, are not what they seem. And as the parallel conversations unfold we get deeper into the darker sides of the tangled relationships between these three people. A TV showing alternately scenes from Law and Order, Congressional hearings involving Ted Kennedy and Donald Rumsfeld, and The Daily show with Jon Stewart, provides a Greek chorus of context and commentary.

But the play's not a polemic. In a pre-show interview, O'Berski explains.
MDT: So right away with a character bio that includes Harvard—a credential earned on an ROTC scholarship, no less—we know that Mr. Shinn isn’t writing the standard-issue war protest play—


MDT:—or a reprise of Fahrenheit 9/11. In fact, it seems the war itself is more of an offstage specter, right? Something beaming out of the TV or a faraway job that Craig can disappear into.

O’BERSKI: I think Dying City is the first—at least as far as I can tell—of the sort of second generation war or 9/11 plays, just like in the late 80s and early 90s you had all these second-generation AIDS plays that where only tangentially about AIDS and more about the aftershock.

That's not to say that the message of Dying City is explicitly one of reaction to the Iraq conflict. There are complex metaphors on the stage, twin brothers who choose completely different paths in life, the abusive childhoods experienced by all the characters, the wife who's a therapist, the soldier whose death may have been an accident, may have been suicide. And after watching these characters being emotionally wrung dry i wasn't particularly sure i had gotten all of the explicit relationships between them, let alone decoded the underlying semiotics. I've spent most of the morning trying to.

Good theater does that.

Dying City plays through Saturday night.

Other reviews here and here.

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Continue reading Political/theater