Dependable Erection

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I've been hearing some talk about these deceptive robo-calls over the past week. Now, it looks like some real journalists are following up.

From Facing South:
Who's behind the mysterious "robo-calls" that have spread misleading voter information and sown confusion and frustration among North Carolina residents over the last week?

Facing South has confirmed the source of the calls, and the mastermind is Women's Voices Women Vote, a D.C.-based nonprofit which aims to boost voting among "unmarried women voters."

What's more, Facing South has learned that the firestorm Women's Voices has ignited in North Carolina isn't the group's first brush with controversy. Women's Voices' questionable tactics have spawned thousands of voter complaints in at least 11 states and brought harsh condemnation from some election officials for their secrecy, misleading nature and likely violations of election law.

First, a quick recap: As we covered yesterday, N.C. residents have reported receiving peculiar automated calls from someone claiming to be "Lamont Williams." The caller says that a "voter registration packet" is coming in the mail, and the recipient can sign it and mail it back to be registered to vote. No other information is provided.

The call is deceptive because the deadline has already passed for mail-in registrations for North Carolina's May 6 primary. Also, many who have received the calls -- like Kevin Farmer in Durham, who made a tape of the call that is available here -- are already registered. The call's suggestion that they're not registered has caused widespread confusion and drawn hundreds of complaints, including many from African-American voters who received the calls.

The calls are also probably illegal. Farmer and others have told Facing South the calls use a blocked phone number and provided no contact information -- a violation of North Carolina rules regulating "robo-calls" (N.C. General Statute 163-104(b)(1)c). N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper further stated in a recent memo that the identifying information must be clear enough to allow the recipient to "complain or seek redress" -- something not included in the calls.

It is also a Class I felony in North Carolina "to misrepresent the law to the public through mass mailing or any other means of communication where the intent and the effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters from exercising their lawful right to vote."

Kudos to Chris Kromm for his excellent work on this story. Hillary Clinton supporters aren't going to like his findings.
For such a sophisticated and well-funded operation, which counts among its ranks some of the country's most seasoned political operatives, such missteps are peculiar, as is the surprise expressed by Women's Voices staff after each controversy.

In at least two states, the timing of Women's Voices' activities have raised alarm that they are attempting to influence the outcome of a primary. As we reported earlier, in Virginia, news reports surfaced the first week in February that prospective voters were receiving anonymous robo-calls telling voters that they were about to receive a voter registration packet in the mail.

The timing of the calls was astoundingly off: As the Virginia State Police confirm, the calls were made Feb. 5 and 6 -- about 10 days before the then-critical Virginia primary, but more than two weeks after the deadline for registering in the state had passed (Jan. 14). The Virginia State Board of Elections was deluged with calls by confused voters -- many who were already registered. When they heard the calls from Women's Voices, they feared that they really weren't.

. . .

Some have also questioned the ties between Women's Voices operatives and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton. Gardner, for example, contributed $2,500 to Clinton's HILLPAC on May 4, 2006, and in March 2005 she donated a total of $4,200 to Clinton, according to The Center for Responsive Politics' She has not contributed to the Obama campaign, according to the database.

Women's Voices Executive Director Joe Goode worked for Bill Clinton's election campaign in 1992 as a pollster; the group's website says he was intimately involved in "development and implementation of all polling and focus groups done for the presidential primary and general election campaigns" for Clinton.

Women's Voices board member John Podesta, former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, donated $2,300 to Hillary Clinton on April 19, 2007, according to Podesta also donated $1,000 to Barack Obama in July 2004, but that was well before Obama announced his candidacy for president.

"The reports from other states are very disturbing, especially the pattern of mass confusion among targeted voters on the eve of a state's primary," Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall tells Facing South. "These are highly skilled political operatives -- something doesn't add up. Maybe it's all well-intended and explainable. At this moment, our first priority is to stop the robo-calls and prevent the chaos and potential disenfranchisement caused by this group sending 276,000 packets of registration forms into North Carolina a few days before a heated primary election. We need their immediate cooperation."

Page Gardner is the founder of Women's Voices. Women Vote. She's attempting to address the controversy over at HuffPo.
We understand concerns have been raised about the source of phone calls placed by Women's Voices, Women Vote. These calls were our sincere attempt to encourage voter registration for those not registered for the general election this fall. We understand North Carolina's primary registration effort deadline was April 11, (other than those participating in early voting who may register and vote at the same time this week). We apologize for any confusion our calls may have caused. Our intent and purpose was solely to call attention to the registration applications we hope will be completed and returned to the Board of Elections office making thousands more North Carolinians participants in one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.

Judging from the comments there, and at BlueNC, among other sites, doesn't look like a lot of people are buying what Ms. Gardner's selling.


Continue reading Robo-calls

Stayin' hip

Honest to god answer on Jeopardy! last night:
A: Julie Powell's book about mastering Julia Child's recipes began as this type of online journal.

Q: What is a blog?

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Tripped out

Albert Hofmann, who once upon a time invented LSD, died yesterday at the age of 102.

Farewell, and thanks for Dark Star.


Continue reading Tripped out

Census data

I'm not trying to advocate for any of the 3 finalists for the Durham city manager position. But in the comments, there's been some suggestion that the planned community of Sunrise, FL is different enough from Durham that the managerial skills needed there might not be transferable here.

Here's some "quick facts" from the Census Bureau.

Population, 2003 estimate 198,376
Population, %change, 4/1/00 to 7/1/03 5.9%
White persons, 2000* 45.5%
Black persons, 2000 43.8%
Persons of Hispanic origin, 2000 8.6%
Median household income, 1999 $41,160
Persons below poverty, 1999 15%

Sunrise, FL
Population, 2003 estimate 89,136
Population, %change, 4/1/00 to 7/1/03 3.9%
White persons, 2000* 69.5%
Black persons, 2000 20.5%
Persons of Hispanic origin, 2000 17.1%
Median household income, 1999 $40,998
Persons below poverty, 1999 9.7%

Peoria, IL
Population, 2003 estimate 112,907
Population, %change, 4/1/00 to 7/1/03 -0.1%
White persons, 2000* 69.3%
Black persons, 2000 24.8%
Persons of Hispanic origin, 2000 2.5%
Median household income, 1999 $36,397
Persons below poverty, 1999 18.8%

Wichita, KS
Population, 2003 estimate 354,617
Population, %change, 4/1/00 to 7/1/03 1.0%
White persons, 2000* 75.2%
Black persons, 2000 11.4%
Persons of Hispanic origin, 2000 9.6%
Median household income, 1999 $39,939
Persons below poverty, 1999 11.2%

At the city level, the quick facts pages don't break out Hispanic v non-Hispanic white persons, so the numbers aren't going to add up to 100%. Also note that in three of the four cases (Wichita, Peoria, and Durham) the city comprises most of the population of the county. Sunrise, FL is in Broward County, and is probably one of the smaller cities in that county. By the way, Wichita KS is in Sedgewick County, not Wichita County, which can be confusing, at the least.


Continue reading Census data

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A correction

A short while back i discussed Durham's Unified Development Ordinance in relation to impervious surface creation on individual residential lots. I also talked about whether or not parking was allowed in back yards. What i said, essentially, is that the UDO remains silent if an individual wants to turn their back yard into a parking lot. My comments made their way to Steve Medlin, new Director of the Durham City/County Planning Department. He had this to say:
Mr. Ragin's original question/statement about impervious surface limitations on single-family lots is not totally correct. The Unified Development Ordinance does deal with the issue in Section 8.7. Single-family lots located within watershed overlays are subject to the watershed restrictions that were in place at the time the lots were created if prior to January 1, 1994 and the current regulations if after this date. As some lots were created prior to the adoption of watershed
overlays and the regulations in effect at the time of creation did not contain limitations on impervious surfaces then these lots are not restricted on the amount of impervious surfaces. Any lots created after January 1, 1994 are subject to the current watershed restrictions including the maximum impervious surface limitation, (Sec. 8.7.3).

The second issue is the ability of property owners to park vehicles in the side and rear yards. The UDO only limits where you can park vehicles within the front yard, as correctly pointed out by Ms. Carstensen. The standard is that if required parking is proposed between the structure and the street that it must meet certain performance standards for surfacing, width, and edging. The UDO is silent on parking in side and
rear yards. As long as the passenger vehicles are located to the side or rear of the primary structure there are no prescribed standards and parking in these areas is deemed to be permissible. This has been the application of the parking requirements under both the UDO and the former Zoning Ordinance.

Basically, my initial statement is correct as it regards older neighborhoods, such as the one i live in. New neighborhoods may be subject to restrictions regarding the amount of impervious surface that can be installed on a lot.

I apologize for any confusion, but repeat my contention that this is a loophole big enough to, well, park a truck on. It needs to be fixed.


Continue reading A correction

How odd

A Dallas man who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit is free.

James Lee Woodard was released on a personal bond Tuesday -- cleared of a 1980 murder by DNA test results. Woodard served more prison time than any other wrongfully convicted U.S. inmate to be later exonerated by DNA testing.

Wearing a purple shirt and tie with a black sport coat, the 55-year-old Woodard stepped out of the courtroom as a free man and raised his arms to a throng of photographers. Supporters and other people gathered outside the court erupted in applause.

Woodard became the 17th person in Dallas County to have his conviction cast aside, a figure unmatched by any county nationally, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

If only he'd been a lacrosse player.


Continue reading How odd

Beaver Queen Pageant blogging

DE is honored once again to have been named the official blogger of the 4th Annual Beaver Lodge Local 1504 Beaver Queen Pageant. Over the next month we;ll be providing updates on our contestants and celebrity judges, highlights from previous pageants, and the opportunity to purchase some really high quality Beaver Queen swag.

We're especially excited that Beverly Woody, the very first Beaver Queen back in 2005, is returning to Durham to be a judge in this year's pageant.

Here's Be Vel Bevon performing her medley from last year's talent competition.

Saturday, June 7th. 6 pm, at the Duke Park Meadow, Acadia Dr.
Special pre-pageant children's hour begins at 5.
Official site of Beaver Lodge Local 1504 is here.


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Tell me he didn't say that

ABC News' Eloise Harper Reports: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton received the endorsement of North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley Tuesday morning in Raleigh, NC. After touring a bio-manufacturing training center, Gov. Easley, First Lady of North Carolina Mary Easley and Clinton held a ceremony at NC State University. The Governor formally expressed his support saying that there was "nothing I love more than a strong powerful woman." Easley concluded his remarks saying Clinton -- "makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy".

What a friggin' idiot we have for a governor.


Continue reading Tell me he didn't say that

Lakewood Y

This kind of got lost in the shuffle of city manager news yesterday, but i wanted to note that the resolution of the Lakewood Y situation announced yesterday seems to be a good thing all around. From the press release:
After months of consideration, Durham County Government, Durham Public Schools, and YMCA of the Triangle announced a joint venture initiating the redevelopment of the Lakewood YMCA located at 2119 Chapel Hill Road. In an effort to preserve the facility, the partnership between the private and public agencies will involve the County purchasing the Lakewood YMCA property and completing renovation.

“This is a triple win for the community, the school district and the YMCA. Durham County is delighted to partner with the Durham Public Schools and Triangle YMCA to provide an exciting new educational opportunity for middle school students, while retaining the YMCA as a community focal point,” said Ellen Reckhow, Chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.

An Interlocal agreement between the County and Durham Public Schools will include construction of a new middle school on the site on behalf of the school system. The school will be designed to service approximately 300 students.

“This is yet another example of the unparalleled levels of support that Durham Public Schools receives from the Durham community,” said Minnie Forte-Brown, Chair of the DPS Board of Education. “We are very grateful to the Board of County Commissioners for providing such a perfect space for a new middle school to serve our young people. So many young lives will be greatly enhanced by this splendid partnership.”


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Kevin has teased out what i think is the most significant nugget from the hiring process:
To my mind, a better question (and one which we can assume and hope the Council is asking of the Mercer Group) is whether this was a sufficiently deep pool to attract the right candidate for Durham. The Bull City search attracted 54 candidates, a far cry from the 120 that the Town of Chapel Hill drew two years back.

Seems to me that a worthwhile goal for the next city manager would be that when he leaves, he leaves the most desirable job in the field.

Matt Dees highlights a quote from Mayor Bell in his article today, which is definitely a head-scratcher:
"It's never been a guarantee the ones we brought in would be the ones we chose," Bell said. "We just need to go through the process."

Let me be the first to note that if the city council doesn't select one of these three men to be our next manager after going through this much of the process, that would be a very bad thing.

UPDATE: I wanted to note a second point that Matt brought up, which is that the city apparently attempted to add a couple of currently employed assistant city managers to the pool of finalists, but that they balked because they didn't want to "upset their current employers." Come on, people. Grow up. You've got an assistant city manager, you should be proud that they've learned enough on the job to be considered for the top position somewhere else. Could you imagine if Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the Duke athletic staff tried to prevent Johnny Dawkins from interviewing for the job at Stanford? Give me a break. That's what these programs do. Whoever the two cities in question are that are stifling the career advancement opportunities of their assistant managers need to take a lesson from the sports world. Fear of repercussion for seeking other opportunities is no way to get the most out of your people.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

City manager finalist forum

As mentioned below, the three finalists for the city manager position met the public this evening at City Hall. The forum was structured similarly to the police chief forum last year: each candidate had the opportunity to speak about themselves for two minutes, then a series of questions were posed which each candidate had the opportunity to answer, and finally, each was given two additional minutes to sum up.

I was caught up in some personal conversations outside, so i missed the opening statements and perhaps the first question or two. I'm not going to try to put together a transcript, but i'll try to highlight some of the areas that i think showed the differing philosophies of the candidates.

For example, when asked why Durham appeals to them as a place to live, George Kolb, recently the city manager of Wichita, Kansas, responded that he considers Durham to be a "benchmark" city among those that have a council/manager government. He was familiar with the HOPE VI project and the public/private partnerships in downtown redevelopment, and considered those to be models that other cities strive for. Randy Oliver talked about Durham being recognized nationally in the fields of medicine, education, and sports. He was excited by the Durham "renaissance" and the melding of cultures & ideas appealed to both him and his wife. Patrick Salerno, recently city manager of Sunrise, Florida, noted that Durham is small enough to be able to effect change, yet large enough to have the resources to accomplish that.

The one question that generated the widest range of responses dealt with using Strategic Planning to develop the three top priorities of the next managers administration. Mr. Oliver said that a strategic plan needs to extend beyond the next fiscal year or budget cycle in developing, and also beyond the city government in implementation. He mentioned that Peoria had identified 30 partners, ranging from utility companies to neighborhood groups, that were needed to help implement the strategic plan, and that room was made at the table for all of them to be part of its development. Mr. Salerno stated that the felt strategic planning was an outmoded concept base on "where you've been in the past." He preferred a process he called "scenario planning,' in which 2 or 3 "plotlines" were laid out along "what-if" scenarios, and contingencies developed to keep moving toward the vision at the end of the scenario. Mr. Kolb felt that the city needs to have both sustaining values and a definitive mission, with specific goals measured on a regular basis to see whether those were being kept. he also placed value on having a vision of what the community should lool like in 20 years.

All the candidates agreed that there is no specific number of departments that is optimum for the city administration. Mr. Oliver talked about the complexities of Durham's structure, though, and pointed out that we have a number of both "departments" and "offices," which probably reflect differing staff sizes and missions. Mr. Kolb listed a number of specific tasks that need to be accomplished, and indicated that organizing the administration to perform those would dictate the department structure. Mr. Salerno offered that he would need to know what the service levels and expectations of the community were before developing a logical organizational structure.

There were additional differences among the candidates in response to questions about sustainability, especially of our water supply (Mr. Oliver was very specific about tiered water rates, for example, while Mr. Kolb talked about the use of porous asphalt to build parking lots that didn't increase runoff, and Mr. Salerno was more general about the "interdependence of the environment, the economy, and social justice.") and about the use of economic incentives for attracting new business. Mr. Oliver talked about how Peoria got stock options from Caterpillar in exchange for policies easing the creation of the Caterpillar spinoff Firefly (i feel like i'm talking about little known science fiction TV shows here) which makes environmentally friendly(er) lead free batteries. I guess if the business is successful, the city cashes in its options and makes more money than it gave away in incentives, which is certainly innovative. I wonder if that's legal in North Carolina.

All in all, this was an interesting and worthwhile evening. I'm sure that council chambers would have been overflowing if Barack Obama hadn't been speaking in Chapel hill tonight, or Bruce Springsteen playing in Greensboro. As it was, all 7 members of council were present tonight, which is a good thing.

At the post forum press briefing, Matt Dees of the N&O asked each of the candidates to talk about the circumstances for their recent "mutual agreements" to terminate their employments in their respective cities. Hard for me to judge how effective their answers were. I also had the chance to ask Mr. Kolb about the details behind the Sunflower Community Action case, linked to in the post below. In that case, community activists, upset over the pace of the city's efforts to force a property owner to bring a house that was being used, literally, as a dump into compliance with city codes, held a demonstration at the city managers house. The city DA then decided to prosecute the demonstrators on charges of, ironically, illegal dumping, after they left their picket signs behind. I'll say that i didn't find Mr. Kolb's description of the case to be reassuring, although to his credit he didn't shy away from it despite being apparently surprised that anyone in Durham knew of it.

It looks like i'll be the first to get my impressions of the forum posted tonight. I'll put up links to other coverage of the forum in the morning, and flesh out any details i may have missed. I'll probably have some pictures, too, but i'm too tired now to post them.
UPDATE: Actually, looks like Kevin hit the submit button about the same time i did. I'm not certain i'd rank the finalists in the same order he did, though.
Ray Gronberg's article in the Herald Sun is here. N&O has coverage of last night's meeting here, and bios of the three finalists here.

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City manager finalists announced

Welcome readers from Peoria and Wichita. I'm trying to gather as much information as possible regarding the applications of the former city managers of your towns to be Durham's new city manager. Comments are open, but you must have an ID somewhere. No anonymous comments. Civil is better than uncivil, but you'll find i'm not such a stickler for that.

I should also mention to Durham readers that the finalists will be at City Hall from 7 pm tonight for an informal meet the public and staff session.

Area media outlets are reporting that the names of the 3 finalists for the Durham city manager position have been made public (so far no general email blast from the city's public affairs department):
* George Kolb, a member of Wichita State University’s Hugo Wall School Advisory Board and guest lecturer teaching public administration. Kolb was also the city manager of Wichita, Kan., from 2004 to 2008.
* Charles “Randy” Oliver, a consultant to local governmental entities and private-sector clients. Oliver was also the city manager of Peoria, Ill., from 2003 to 2008 and city manager of Greenville, S.C., from 1999 to 2003.
* Patrick Salerno, the city manager of Sunrise, Fla., from 1990 to 2008. Salerno was also county manager of Cobb County, Ga., from 1987 to 1989 and county manager of Chatham County, Ga., from 1985 to 1987.

I'm real curious why both Kolb's and Oliver's recent tenures as managers of Wichita and Peoria respectively are given in the past tense. Off to drill through Google now and see if anything interesting reveals itself.

: From the Wichita Eagle:
Kolb, who has been working as an interim lecturer at Wichita State University's Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs, resigned from his post as Wichita city manager Jan. 2 under pressure from city council members.

Kolb's severance package pays him for nine months' salary, valued at $182,700.

Emphasis added
Other media reports use the phrase "philosophical differences" to describe why Mr. Kolb resigned from his position in Wichita.

UPDATE 2: Much less info available about the departure of Charles "Randy" Oliver from his post as Peoria City Manager. Here's an interesting Peoria blog about the situation.

: Here's some more from the Peoria blogosphere on Randy Oliver.

Update 4: More from the Wichita blogosphere on a specific incident during George Kolb's tenure that may (or may not) have relevance to Durham.

UPDATE 5: Hat tip to Matt Dees over at the N&O for revealing that the third candidate, Patrick Salerno, is also no longer employed at his most recent job as city manager.


Continue reading City manager finalists announced

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What time is it?

Well, it's 7:45 on a stormy Sunday evening. That must mean it's time for the neighbors on Avondale Drive to be ignoring their dogs again. I love the philosophy of keeping your dog tied outside 24/7 as a watchdog. So that when he barks for two hours straight you can ignore him.


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Marketing disasters

Every once in a while, there are hilarious, if unintended consequences of marketing decisions that appear to have been less than fully thought through. The comments over at Kevin's place following the recent opening of Pop's Backdoor is the kind of thing i'm thinking about.

Serendipitously, a reader pointed me to this article in the London Telegraph, regarding the recent efforts by the Office of Government Commerce to update their logo. Here's what they came up with:

Pretty standard stuff, really. The Brits love them some acronyms, so using the initials of the office was a natural. Like most logos, i'm certain the designer submitted half a dozen different treatments in different typefaces, and the versions got kicked around in committee and vetted by mucky-mucks throughout the department before the money was actually spent to put the logo on whatever materials needed to carry it. The process typically takes months from beginning to end.

Interestingly, it only took about thirty seconds for low level staffers, who hadn't been involved in process at all, to discover that the logo had some, er, unintended consequences.

Fortunately, a spokesperson for the department rose to the occasion, declaring "it is not inappropriate to an organisation that’s looking to have a firm grip on Government spend."

Closer to home, I did some paddling on the Haw River yesterday. Can anyone tell me what the hell the folks in Alamance County were smoking when they named this road?

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Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Highway 70, Hillsborough, NC


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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday flower blogging


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Are we still in a "drought"?

Julia Borbely-Brown opened last night's Women for Wise Growth forum on the drought with an emphatic "The drought is not over" statement. In the Herald-Sun today (and circulating as well on local email lists) is a letter from Joe Curtis and Sylvia Le Goff (of Keep Durham Beautiful) saying the same thing.

In both instances, the people saying this are hoping to convince others not to give up on the conservation measures they've been practicing over the past 6 or 8 months, since water supplies in the Triangle dropped perilously low.

After listening to last night's presentations, and monitoring rainfall, stream flows, and reservoir elevations for the past 6 months or so, i've reached the conclusion that, regardless of whether or not we're in "a drought," it's simply no longer useful to be discussing our water woes on that basis.

Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly spoke at length last night about water quality issues in the Haw basin and Jordan Lake. Most of these issues relate to stormwater runoff, especially nutrient (phosphorus and nitrogen) pollution and sedimentation. This pollution impacts the ability of Jordan Lake to act as the region's buffer against water shortages, and is actually increased by normal rainfall. Barry Jacobs, of the Orange County Board of Commissioners addressed development issues, and more than once referenced the innate carrying capacity of the system as a limiting factor in how much population can be supported.

What i realized is that the constant reference to "the drought" leads to a way of thinking, which has found expression in the comments here, at Bull City Rising, in letters to the editor at our local newspapers, emails to elected officials, and private conversations, that once we get adequate rainfall, "the drought" will be over. And i think that as long as we keep referring to our water issues as "drought" related, that kind of thinking will be the logical and appropriate response. What we need to do is start addressing our water issues as a long-term, systemic imbalance between supply and demand which cannot be addressed as an economic problem simply by increasing supply. That's beyond our capability. We can manage our supply better, but how much rainfall we're going to get in any given one, five, or ten year period is not ours to determine. We can also manage our demand a lot better, and that's where the most significant change in our thinking has to come. Stage III and Stage IV water use restrictions are emergency measures designed to respond to a crisis. We need to move beyond those.

Melissa Rooney, a South Durham activist, presented a slide show at the conclusion of last night's forum, showing some pretty abominable development practices, including clearcutting and mass grading. The result of these practices is quite predictable: increased stormwater runoff leading to lower groundwater retention, higher pollution levels, and increased water use by new homeowners trying to "green up" their properties.

It's almost inconceivable that these practices are permitted under Durham's new UDO, but apparently the rules requiring buffers and trees are flexible enough that developers are able to work around them as they see fit. On a smaller scale, i've recently discovered to my dismay, that the UDO similarly contains no provisions dealing with creating impervious surface on existing residential lots. If you want to pave your entire backyard and turn it into a parking lot in Durham, you have the blessings of the city.

The solution to what seems to be becoming a chronic issue of water supply is complex, but most of the answers are available. It's going to require a lot of creative thinking on the part of our elected leadership to get these best practices implemented however. Especially if we continue to have leaders who are more comfortable managing crises, rather than preventing them.

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Obama in Chapel Hill on Monday

In case you haven't heard yet.

Details on how to pick up a ticket here.

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So, did I get redlined by Durham Magazine?

I'm still waiting for my copy. Did you get yours? Let me know what neighborhood you live in for my map of who's in and who's out.


Continue reading So, did I get redlined by Durham Magazine?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Words of wisdom

This is from an unlikely source, an anonymous commenter over at Kevin's place, in a post about Scott Howell's new pizzeria, opening soon between Nana's and Q Shack:
Every neighborhood should have a little collection of unique shops and restaurants within walking distance the way Rockwood does. It is not quite "urban" in the sense that the buildings do not hug the street, yet it still has a very human friendly, pedestrian scale about it with simple, but eclectic architecture.

Umm, yes. Exactly. And if the city keeps allowing NCDOT to build monstrosities like Guess Rd., N. Duke, and soon, Alston Ave., you can kiss that pipe dream goodbye.

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This is pretty cool

Superchunk & Arcade Fire doing free concerts in support of Barack Obama in Carrboro and Greensboro next week.

Details on how to pick up a ticket (required) here.

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More highway stupidity

Kevin and Gary have the details:
Never mind the opposition of the city's Economic and Workforce Development department - who know this won't bring economic development. Never mind the opposition of the city's Transportation Department, who know that this will do nothing to improve travel time, and do much to create hazardous conditions for pedestrians, including mass transit users.

Never mind the kids that will be hurt or killed trying to cross a 6-lane intersection. Never mind the kids that become obese because their parents, wisely, won't let them walk to school across a highway.

Never mind the people that won't buy and refurbish old/abandoned housing in the Golden Belt / Morning Glory historic district or Cleveland-Holloway because when they ask a realtor where the nearest park and school are, the realtor will say "across Alston Avenue."

Never mind the houses and business that will be destroyed. Never mind the loss of the neighborhood grocery store that the owner says he would invest $30,000 in tomorrow if he knew he wasn't going to be kicked out.

Never mind that East Durham is already on the upswing - with new businesses and new/renovated housing, with people excited to explore a neighborhood they didn't know, and longtime residents excited to see new businesses, people, and housing. Never mind that this is happening because investment in a human-scale landscape is already occurring - by the public and private sector - without Alston Avenue being turned into a freeway.

From the first point I saw this design, I advocated for a compromise design solution. Perhaps that was a mistake - perhaps I should have just advocated to kill this project from the start, before it, and neighborhoods, could become pawns in a local game of who-brung-the-money.

For the councilmembers who will endorse this project - I hope that this highway is your legacy. That every kid who can't cross the street without fearing for their life, every bicyclist run off the road, every speeding vehicle that runs off the road across a sidewalk on Alston Avenue reminds people that you voted for this boondoggle to feed your own political ambition. Thanks for showing that the politician's invocation of the oft-lamented destruction of neighborhoods by the Durham Freeway is absolute pandering b.s. - that, given the same choices, you would make the same exact mistake for the exact same reasons.

Gas is approaching 4 bucks a gallon. Anyone with vision can see that within two generations, maybe less, the one person/one car paradigm is going to be deader than 35 mm film cameras. Widening Alston Ave. according to this design locks that entire section of Durham into the 1980s for the next 50 years or more. There are very good proposals out there to turn this into the streetscape of the future, instead of the barren highway to yesterday. Too bad our elected officials are too blind to see it and too chickenshit to implement it.

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I was pleasantly surprised by this AP article, discussing NC's role in the primary process, which managed to go something like 20 paragraphs without cliche:
Not since 1988 has North Carolina had much of a voice in choosing a presidential nominee. Back then, it joined several Southern states to help pick Al Gore, a neighbor from Tennessee.

But the longer-than-expected race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination will thrust the state into the national spotlight when it has its say on May 6. Indiana also votes that day.

. . .

North Carolina has roughly 9 million people, making it the nation's 10th largest state. It is home to the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune and the Army's Fort Bragg, two massive installations whose troops have suffered heavy losses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What's left of a once vibrant manufacturing and textile industry is in tatters. Many voters blame the North American Free Trade Agreement, agreed to under President Clinton, for the decline and the thousands of job losses that followed.

The state's largest city, Charlotte, has become an international financial center as home of Bank of America Corp. and Wachovia Corp., the nation's leading retail and consumer banks.

It's high-tech economy, led by the many companies with facilities based at Research Triangle Park outside Raleigh, have withstood the national economic downturn. Home values have not suffered the same widespread decline as in other states, and North Carolina's income tax revenues remain strong compared with others.

Then i read this:
In the race for governor, a fictional sheriff could be a political heavyweight.

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday introduced a television ad featuring Andy Griffith endorsing Perdue's bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Griffith, who played the sheriff of the fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry in "The Andy Griffith Show," touts Perdue's vision, strength and honesty. He mentions her endorsements from various groups, including, "of course, sheriffs."

"Oh, you're going to be a goooood governor," Griffith coos to Perdue in the ad.

. . .

"Andy Griffith is a North Carolina icon, somebody people can relate to," Perdue spokesman David Kochman said.

Make it stop.

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Continue reading Mayberry

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Johnny One-Note

North Carolina Republican Party.

What makes this so special is that it gives McCain a chance to elevate himself above the fray, while still spreading the bullshit. And it is total bullshit. Both Richard Moore and Bev Purdue have been elected to statewide office in North Carolina at a time when George Bush was carrying the state in national elections. The voters already know exactly how "liberal" they are. The NCGOP knows exactly how far down they're going in November.

h/t to reader T

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Zoning again

Susan asks a very good question in the comments to the previous post:
"Is it the UDO or the city's refusal to support neighborhoods in the face of any development. It can't work if you don't stand behind it."

I think it's a bit of both.

Let's start with the Morreene Rd. case. The problem, as i see it, is that the UDO left the definition of the category "Neighborhood Commercial" vague enough so that two different Planning directors, first Frank Duke, and then Interim Director Steve Medlin, came to two different conclusion as to whether the proposed D&L facility was a conforming use. That's a huge problem.

When i think of "Neighborhood Commercial", i think of a corner store like the Triangle D mart on Trinity, or a beauty parlor with 4 chairs, or even a restaurant like Magnolia Grill. I don't think about a two story retail with a warehouse space and 20,000 square feet of parking. The language of the UDO is vague enough, though, that D&L's initial proposal was approved under NC zoning. (Leaving aside the issue of how accurately the proposal described the actual plan.)

The current ruling allows the structure to be completed and sold, and used for something resembling the initial approved use. It's hard for me to imagine how that fits in with Neighborhood Commercial, but the language of the UDO is imprecise enough to allow that.

There are other issues where it's not just the language, but the enforcement. Take lawn parking, for example. Parking cars on lawns became a violation a number of years ago, after a concerted effort by the Inter Neighborhood Council. Parking on lawns is a problem for a number of reasons, not just aesthetic. It compacts soils, killing trees and other vegetation, and increases stormwater runoff, leading to increased air and water pollution. Shade trees help keep air conditioning costs down in summer months as well. Additionally, the presence of multiple cars parked in a front yard, when most neighborhoods in Durham have adequate on-street parking and most dwellings have driveways, is often a sign of other violations, including the presence of too many people living in a house. (Many landlords i've met really don't care about this, but in the longterm, having 8 adults living in a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath house is not a good plan for enhancing the value of your investment.) It's been my experience that getting Planning Department inspectors to enforce this provision of the ordinance is like pulling teeth. Anyone who drives through almost any neighborhood in Durham on their morning commute can point out 4 or 5 houses with one or more cars parked on the lawn, but the onus is on the citizen to document these violations, and then request the Planning Department to enforce the code. Often this takes multiple complaints from multiple citizens over a period of months before any citations are written.

The ordinance part of the problem comes into play when a property owner decides to tear up the yard and replace it with gravel or concrete. Once that's done, it's no longer a violation to park on it, although the compacted/impervious surface issue remains, and in fact has gotten worse, not better. The UDO also fails to address impervious parking surfaces on parts of the property other than front yards. You can essentially park as many cars as you want in your back yard, and pave the whole thing with concrete without violating any provisions of the UDO.

I'd be remiss if i didn't point out that the UDO does allow for something called Neighborhood Protection Overlay, and kudos go to the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood Neighborhood Association for being the first to take advantage of this provision. They've now written additional protections into their zoning (including a provision mandating that all hardwood trees above a certain diameter must be saved when building on an empty lot.) That would not have been possible without the UDO.

Personally, i think the citizens of Durham would be better served by the creation of a code enforcement department which would deal with things like parking violations and other non-trivial yet non-criminal problems, and let the Planning Department (and the Solid Waste Department, and the PD, and others as well) deal with their real issues. but that's a discussion for another time.

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Continue reading Zoning again

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I'm beginning to think that Durham's new Uniform Development Ordinance is going to turn out to be an unmitigated disaster.

So much of it is vague and discretionary, full of good sounding terms that end up being meaningless. Like "Neighborhood Commercial."

No wonder Frank Duke bailed for Norfolk.

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Continue reading Zoning

Random numbers

Oil @ $120/barrel

Euro @ $1.60

Existing home sales down almost 20% year over year; median price down 7%

69% of Americans disapprove of the job George Bush is doing as President

Continue reading Random numbers

Church signs in the news

Wy couldn't this guy have been in Durham?:
The sign in front of a small church in a small town is causing a big controversy in Jonesville, S.C.

Pastor Roger Byrd said that he just wanted to get people thinking. So last Thursday, he put a new message on the sign at the Jonesville Church of God.

It reads: "Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?"

Byrd said that the message wasn't meant to be racial or political.

"It's simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ," he said.

When asked if he believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, Byrd said, "I don't know. See it asks a question: Are they brothers? In other words, is he Muslim ? I don't know. He says he's not. I hope he's not. But I don't know. And it's just something to try to stir people's minds. It was never intended to hurt feelings or to offend anybody."

Because Osama bin Laden represents everybody in the whole fucking world who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ.

UPDATE: Commenter parsnips recommends contacting the South Carolina State Election commission, to complain that this church is in violation of laws regarding non-profits discussing candidates. He/she has thoughtfully provided the SCSEC contact info:

South Carolina State Election Commission
2221 Devine Street, Suite 105
Columbia, SC 29205

Main: (803) 734-9060
Fax: (803) 734-9366
Executive Director , Marci Andino (803) 734-9060

Give 'em a ring!

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Continue reading Church signs in the news

The kids are all right

Some mornings i wake up wondering what it's going to be like to have kids, and then, between the shower and the coffee, i realize that part of my life is passed. And, all in all, it didn't go that badly.

I don't write about the kids much. Do you need to know that my oldest has been accepted into the Peace Corps, and will head out sometime this summer? Or that my youngest was the one who waited on you at LocoPops on Hillsborough St. if you stopped in during the week between last October and mid-March?

But the youngest is out of town these days, and sent me something in the mail recently. I thought i'd share a little bit of it with you.


Growth of the Successor

Durham Song

: More music here.


Continue reading The kids are all right

Day off

It wasn't the plan to skip posting yesterday. Just an extraordinarily busy day at work, and taking advantage of the cool weather to move some more big rocks around the back yard for the Big Dig project, which, unlike its namesake, is still within budget and almost on schedule. Plus, i got the pastrami in the smoker for 4 hours, and watched the Mets get creamed on national TV for the second night in a row.

So stay tuned for more bloggy goodness. After today's primary up in Pennsylvania, we're getting ready to become the ant hill at the focal point of the magnifying lens of the American political media.

Good times.


Continue reading Day off

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Going to the dogs

It's a quarter to five on Sunday afternoon. Durham county is under a severe thunderstorm warning. There's major wind and thunder and lightning around my house.

So why am i listening to the dogs barking at the fucking assholes' houses that i call neighbors on Avondale Drive? Bad enough you leave your dogs without food and water during the day. But making them hang out without shelter during a storm like this?

Fuck you.


Continue reading Going to the dogs

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Roxboro St., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday flower blogging

Blue Eyed Grass
I found one of these guys volunteering in a patch of liriope in my back yard last year. One of my neighbors identified it, and i picked up a bunch of plants last fall at Niche
in Orange County. It started blooming yesterday.


Continue reading Friday flower blogging

"Mr. Gorbachev . . .

If there's one thing that the myth of Ronald Reagan is built on, it's this speech.

Which should make the irony of this news even more painful.
Trying to stem the infiltration of militia fighters, American forces have begun to build a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

The construction, which began Tuesday night, is intended to turn the southern quarter of Sadr City near the international Green Zone into a protected enclave, secured by Iraqi and American forces, where the Iraqi government can undertake reconstruction efforts.

“You can’t really repair anything that is broken until you establish security,” said Lt. Col. Dan Barnett, commander of the First Squadron, Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment. “A wall that isolates those who would continue to attack the Iraqi Army and coalition forces can create security conditions that they can go in and rebuild.”

On Wednesday night, huge cranes slowly lifted heavy concrete blocks into place under a moonless sky. The barriers were implanted on Al Quds Street, a major thoroughfare that separates the Tharwa and Jamilla districts to the south from the heart of Sadr City to the north.

The avenue was quiet except for the whirring sound of the cranes and thud of the barriers as they touched the ground. Contractors operated the cranes, but American soldiers transported the barriers on trucks and directed their placement.

The team building the barrier was protected by M-1 tanks, Stryker vehicles and Apache attack helicopters. As the workers labored in silence, there was a burst of fire as an M-1 tank blasted its main gun at a small group of fighters to the west. An Apache helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at a militia team equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, again interrupting the night with a thunderous boom. A cloud of dark smoke was visible in the distance through the Stryker’s night-vision system.

Concrete barriers have been employed in other areas of Baghdad. As the barriers were being erected in other neighborhoods, some residents said they feared being isolated. But walls have often proved to be an effective tool in blunting insurgent attacks.

I'm trying to imagine the effect of, say, Ahmadinejad standing in Baghdad giving a speech that included the line: "Mr. President, Tear down this wall."

That would be pretty effective, dontcha think?

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Continue reading "Mr. Gorbachev . . .

This is awesome

If you're a baseball geek. I've mentioned before that i went to the first game at Shea Stadium, April 17, 1964. Which happened to be 44 years ago yesterday.

This is the most complete box score i've ever seen. Two things stand out for me. First, this was only the 3rd game of the season. Because teams played many more Sunday doubleheaders, and the only post-season games were the World Series, you didn't need to start the regular season in March to finish in mid-October*. And second, both teams combined only used 3 pitchers.

And i still don't think i've ever seen a ball hit harder than Willie Stargell's leadoff home run in the 2nd inning.

* That the baseball season is almost 6 weeks longer than it was when i was a kid may be the single most persuasive argument for the existence of global warming.


Continue reading This is awesome

He shoulda said God told him to

Oklahoma sheriff charged with using inmates as sex slaves
Authorities have charged a western Oklahoma sheriff with coercing and bribing female inmates so he could use them in a sex-slave operation run out of his jail.

Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess resigned Wednesday just as state prosecutors filed 35 felony charges against him, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official.

Burgess, the top officer in the county of 26,000 since 1994, appeared in court Wednesday was released after posting $50,000 bail.

"We are stunned," Undersheriff Kenneth Tidwell said Thursday.

Attorney Steve Huddleston said that he has not had a chance to review all the allegations against his client, but that "Mr. Burgess is anxious to go to court and clear his name."

Among other things, Burgess is accused of having sex with a female drug court participant who was in his custody. The crimes are to have occurred between October 2005 and April 2007.

A federal lawsuit filed in October claims Burgess told one drug court participant he would have her sent to prison if she didn't comply with his sexual demands.

Because if he was doing it as part of his religion, that would be OK:
"When the prophet decided they were to be married – and no age is too young – they would be married, and they wanted to have as many babies as they could." said Child Protective Services supervisor Angie Voss, who testified for several hours during a marathon child custody hearing in San Angelo. "The boy children, the girl children, the male adults, the female adults, this is their belief."

. . .

She said one girl said she hadn't seen her mother in two years and told her that Merrill Jessop, the ranch leader, said it was "none of her business" where her mother was.

She also said that children reported that they were happy to be at the ranch and that some of them had come from Arizona and Utah, not always with their parents.

Among the complicating factors in Ms. Voss' investigation has been determining which children belonged to which parents – tangles that still have yet to be worked out.

"If a father fell out of favor in some way, his wives would be reassigned to another man and he would become their father, so the children moved to different houses," she said.

The children were "not at all upset by that," Ms. Voss said.

. . .

Under questioning, Sgt. Crawford revealed some details about the ranch families – including at least one case of a 46-year-old man being married to a 17-year-old girl. There was no evidence of whether she had a child listed on the forms and nothing to indicate she'd been married illegally.

One attorney asked Sgt. Crawford how many others were listed in the documents.

"Whoo," Sgt. Crawford exclaimed in a deep drawl from the stand, to chuckles in the courtroom, as he shuffled the papers in his hand. "Well sir, right here there's 14 on this one. I believe [one of the fathers] had eight or nine. There's one over here with 22. They're shown as wives."

The files were incomplete. They didn't show birth dates, and they didn't delineate the relationships between the children and the mothers – only the husbands and the wives.

The names Sgt. Crawford read from some of the papers indicated the unusual culture and, in some cases, the confusion surrounding some of the families and their relationships. The hundreds of children had only a handful of last names – Jessop, Jeffs, Johnson and Steed being among the most common.

As i commented over at Claire's place last week, i don't believe that anyone will be convicted of anything in this case. If God tells you, as a middle aged man, that you should fuck a lot of teenage girls and keep them pregnant, what right does the state have to intervene? It's right there in the Constitution, isn't it? Isn't that what freedom of religion is all about?


Continue reading He shoulda said God told him to

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Food shortages

Interesting article in the Times today about food shortages around the globe.
The Deniliquin mill, the largest rice mill in the Southern Hemisphere, once processed enough grain to meet the needs of 20 million people around the world. But six long years of drought have taken a toll, reducing Australia’s rice crop by 98 percent and leading to the mothballing of the mill last December.

Ten thousand miles separate the mill’s hushed rows of oversized silos and sheds — beige, gray and now empty — from the riotous streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but a widening global crisis unites them.

The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months — increases that have led the world’s largest exporters to restrict exports severely, spurred panicked hoarding in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and set off violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

I'm hearing lots of grumbling in the break room at work about food prices, which is unusual in itself, as food has been relatively affordable throughout my entire working life. Not seeing any signs of shortages in these parts just yet. How will people react if bread hits 5 bucks a loaf?


Continue reading Food shortages

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oooooh, that makes me mad

So, i'm playing trivia at the bar tonight. And my teammate writes down "Lucy" when i say "Lucille" for the name of B.B. King's guitar, and Ivory Soap instead of Ivory Snow for the product that Marilyn Chambers advertised before she did "Behind the Green Door" and we lose by two points. Oh, yeah and i got the Hemingway question right, but i got outvoted and the rest of the team thought it was Mark Twain. I could live with that.

I hear there was a debate or something tonight? Who won?

UPDATE: Apparently the debate was even more trivial than what i was doing, thanks to the stylings of ABC's Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous. Awesome.


Continue reading Oooooh, that makes me mad

Obama picks up two NC "superdelegates"

From the N&O's Under the Dome:
U.S. Reps. David Price and Mel Watt will endorse Barack Obama.

The two Democratic superdelegates are slated to announce that they are backing Obama in a conference call at 1:15 this afternoon, Dome has learned.

In recent weeks, both had said they would make an endorsement before the state's May 6 primary, but they had kept their preference private.

The two are influential in state politics. Price, often called the dean of the state delegation, is a political science professor who helped design the superdelegate system while working for a national commission led by former Gov. Jim Hunt.

Watt, who served as campaign manager for Harvey Gantt's race against U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, had previously expressed doubt that America is ready for a black president. He is the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Obama now leads Clinton in NC superdelegates 6-1, with 14 more who are uncommitted. Hillary's road got that much harder, and this isn't going to endear her to a lot of Democrats, either.

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Continue reading Obama picks up two NC "superdelegates"


Bush welcomes Pope to the White House:
Mr Bush added: "In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism."

Supreme court clears way for executions to resume
The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions, clearing the way for a resumption of executions halted since last September.

By a 7-2 vote, the high court rejected a challenge by two Kentucky death row inmates who argued the current lethal injection method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting needless pain and suffering.

"We too agree that petitioners have not carried their burden of showing that the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court's main opinion.

The Supreme Court's decision was announced as Pope Benedict, an opponent of the death penalty, visited President George W. Bush at the White House.

If the answer to the question "Is killing people wrong?" is "It depends," isn't that moral relativism?

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Continue reading Paradoxes

All this and lower pay, too!

A separate report showed that higher prices and rising unemployment resulted in falling wages in March. After adjusting for inflation, average weekly earnings for nonsupervisory employees dropped 1 percent last month, compared to the same period a year ago. It was the sixth straight month that inflation-adjusted wages were down.

The Consumer Price Index report showed that energy costs jumped 1.9 percent in March, with gasoline prices up 1.3 percent and natural gas prices soaring by an even larger 4.6 percent.

Food costs rose by 0.2 percent in March, with beef prices up 0.6 percent and vegetable costs up 2 percent.

John McCain wants to put an extra 3 bucks a week in your pocket this summer by cutting the gas tax.


Continue reading All this and lower pay, too!

John Kessel at Quail Ridge Books tonight

I've been a fan of John Kessel's science fiction since i found his story "The Lecturer" in Michael Bishop's essential mid-80s anthology Light Years and Dark. Kessel doesn't publish a lot of fiction. A few stories a year, perhaps, and a novel, it seems, every decade or so. But as Spencer Tracy is supposed to have once remarked of Katherine Hepburn, "what there is, is cherce." His work almost always appears on the Nebula Awards ballot, and in the best of the year anthologies. He won a Nebula for his story "Another Orphan," in which a Chicago commodities trader awakes one morning and discovers he's become a minor character in the novel Moby Dick.

Kessel's new book, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories has just been published. He'll be reading from it tonight at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, and on Tuesday, April 22 at the Regulator, on Ninth St. A review/interview with MetroNC is available here. Another, in ForeWord magazine, is here.

John has graciously taken time out of his schedule to answer a few of my questions, as well, and i'm sharing that conversation here. With luck, part 2 will appear next Tuesday.
DE: By my count, this is your second story collection since your last novel, "Corrupting Dr. Nice." What is it about the story format that appeals to you so much? Do any of these pieces fit into a larger work that we haven't seen yet?

JK: I have always liked the short story a lot. I grew up reading classic sf stories in anthologies and magazines of the 1950s and 60s. I like the compression of the short story, the way it can produce strong effects in a small space. The intensity and clarity, yet allusiveness, of a good short story is something unavailable to the novel. When a story is done right, it is a complete and perfect work of art. Though I’d hesitate to claim that for my own work, I do aspire to produce such stories.

Not to say I do not also admire novels and aspire to write them. Just as my short time travel stories featuring the cynical Detlev Gruber are set against the same background as my novel Corrupting Dr. Nice, so the lunar stories in The Baum Plan for Financial Independence are related to a novel I have worked on set in this world of lunar colonies, including the Society of Cousins. “Sunlight or Rock” is actually the first chapter of that book. But it‘s far from being a book yet.

DE: At least two of these stories (Baum Plan, and It's All True) were originally published online. We've seen the hysteria in the music business over the failure to figure out a business model for the 21st century. How do you think digital distribution is affecting/will affect the fiction publishing business? For myself, I still prefer the bookstore and the serendipity of finding something on the shelf that I can pick up and hold in my hands. We're losing that with music (in many towns, we've already lost that.) Will fiction go the same way?

JK: I love books as physical objects, and I think I always will. I think we have a ways to go before digital books or alternatives replace them. But it’s clear that the status quo is not going to persist indefinitely. I do think something will be lost when readers can no longer, for instance, wander through the stacks of a great library looking at the books ranked on the shelves. Many times in doing research I would go to a section of the library looking for a particular book from the catalog, and end up checking out a book that sat next to it on the shelf. I don’t think digital indexing yet allows that easily if at all.

I was happy to see those stories published online (at SciFiction, edited by Ellen Datlow) but that website, though it paid well, was pretty much a PR arm of the SciFi channel, and thus never was expected to earn money. So when the channel retrenched, the web magazine ended. Until someone figures out a good business plan to make a profit publishing fiction online (such as Fictionwise, which has a dozen of my stories available, and which will offer The Baum Plan for download) I do wonder how this will play out.

As a story writer and reader, I just want there to be a market enabling such work to reach an audience. It would be nice if that market paid well enough for everyone to make a profit. I’m prepared to move to new platforms if that’s necessary.

DE: The stories that make up The Lunar Quartet (I believe this is the first time they're published together?), make up the heart of the book. I think they're your most direct exploration of gender issues to date. I've just finished reading the Alice Sheldon biography "James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon." What are some of your thoughts on how the role of gender in science fiction has changed over the 40 years since the first Tiptree stories appeared in print?

JK: I read Tiptree in the 1970s before he was revealed to be Alice Sheldon. Along with Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, and later writers like Karen Joy Fowler and Maureen McHugh, Sheldon has been a great influence on me. Add in Octavia Butler, Nancy Kress, Gwyneth Jones, Kelly Link, and a dozen others, and you realize how much the sf field has been changed by women writers and the exploration of gender issues. Along with my becoming the father of a daughter, this has caused me to think a lot about gender and male/female relations over the last fifteen years or so.

I think this exploration has been one of the most exciting things to happen to SF in my lifetime. Not all the stories that have come out of that have been great, but that’s true of any movement. By this point, it’s not exactly a movement anyway—I don’t see many writers attempting to write to a program or ideology. That’s what makes this work so interesting. It would be hard to write a serious sf or fantasy story today without thinking at least a little about gender issues.

DE:The underlying question of all SF is, I think, "what if?" It's why, even though much of your work doesn't have a lot of science fiction elements in it, it’s definitely SF. I'm thinking about a story like "The Franchise," which asks the question, "what if George H.W. Bush and Fidel Castro had been better baseball players, and pursued their careers in the big leagues rather than their respective capitols. When did you realize that you were asking these "what ifs" that could only be answered in using the language of science fiction? Or, in layman's terms, "where do you get your ideas?"

JK: Since as far back as the 1970s, I’ve thought that much of my fiction is as much fantasy as it is sf. But the term “fantasy” has come to be owned over that period by Tolkienesque “secondary universe” or medieval fantasy. I don’t write that. So I suppose I’d call my own work in the non-technological mode “speculative fiction” or “slipstream.”

You are right that I generally start with some “what if” speculation, and I proceed as rigorously as I can from that initial idea. The way that a sf writer, if he were writing about a Mars colony, would do tons of research on the Martian environment and the technologies that would be necessary to live there, so I, in writing a story like “Pride and Prometheus,” (which conflates Frankenstein with Pride and Prejudice) did a lot of research on life in the early 19th century England, and carefully fit my story into the actual narratives of Shelley and Austen, making it work as much as possible into the received framework of those tales, and using details of that actual language, social environment, and science of the times.

This is another way of saying, I think, that even when I’m writing literary fantasies, I still think like a science fiction writer. Kim Stanley Robinson has said that the closest genre to science fiction is historical fiction. I think he’s got a point. I am always concerned with grounding my speculations in the real world. To my mind, that makes them more interesting. The juxtaposition of the strange with the mundane is what gives sf much of its force.

And these speculations are irresistible to me. A story about the imaginary baseball careers of Bush and Castro offers great opportunity to explore politics and history and the American mythology of the hero, just as crashing together the husband-seeking heroines of Jane Austen with the bride-seeking Frankenstein’s monster offers an opportunity to think about men and women, what they want from one another, what they expect from marriage. When I come up with something like that, I can’t help but write about it.

John's at Quail Ridge Books tonight, reading from The Baum Plan. By the way, the book is available as a free download from Small Beer Press. But support a local author and buy a damn copy, OK?


Continue reading John Kessel at Quail Ridge Books tonight

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bush to announce goal for stopping greenhouse emissions

President Bush, stepping into the debate over global warming, plans to announce on Wednesday a national goal for stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.
And heads explode all across the wingnutosphere.

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Continue reading Bush to announce goal for stopping greenhouse emissions

The awesome power of Dependable Erection!

Last month i kvetched to City Council about the idiotic intersection near my house, which features a Yield sign mounted to a piece of tin that turns into a kite whenever the wind blows above five miles an hour.

Well, whaddaya know!

Maybe next year they'll get around to putting a sidewalk at the Avondale Drive bus stops and figuring out how to enforce the friggin' noise ordinance?

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Continue reading The awesome power of Dependable Erection!

Nuke LaLooosh speaks out

"This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball."


Continue reading Nuke LaLooosh speaks out

Noted without comment

But at least it's being noted.
At 39 months in the doghouse, George W. Bush has surpassed Harry Truman's record as the postwar president to linger longest without majority public approval.

Bush hasn't received majority approval for his work in office in ABC News/Washington Post polls since Jan. 16, 2005 — three years and three months ago. The previous record was Truman's during his last 38 months in office.


Continue reading Noted without comment

Thinkin' on your feet

From the comments:
Does fine when reading a prepared speech. Thinking on his feet? Not so articulate. Maybe he's still clean although it's hard to stay that way when you've just peed your own pants.

Who do you think she was talking about?


Continue reading Thinkin' on your feet


So John McCain is responding to the news that energy prices are rising faster than at any time in the past 30 years by proposing to eliminate the federal tax on gasoline and diesel for the duration of the summer.

Empty gesture, for so many reasons.

First, if you use 15 gallons of gas a week, eliminating the federal tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day is going to save you a whopping $38 or so, or a little less than 3 bucks a week.

Second, to the extent that high energy costs are related to the falling value of the dollar, this proposal does absolutely nothing to address those costs. Crude is up somewhere near $112/barrel. The dollar is down to .632 euros. Meaning oil is still 70 euros a barrel. High by historic standards, certainly, but not rising as fast for people buying with euros as for people buying with dollars.

Third, to the extent that market forces are responsible for high fuel costs, eliminating the tax will further stimulate demand for oil, raising prices even higher. I thought Republicans didn't like to fuck with the market?

We had an opportunity, back in the mid-late 90s, when oil was $12/barrel or so and gas was about a buck twenty a gallon, to slap a pretty high tax on fuel and use that revenue to both repair our infrastructure and fund research and development on alternative fuels. Instead, we chose to "let the market" decide. The result was a generation of gas guzzlers and the only "alternative" the market created was ethanol. And we can see how well that's working out.

Really, if this is McCain's best, it's not hard to imagine America as a full fledged Third World country at the end of a McCain presidency.

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Continue reading Clueless

Monday, April 14, 2008

Video worth watching

This is worth 90 seconds of your time. Trust me. (And no cute kitties, either)


Continue reading Video worth watching

Misleading headline of the day

March retail sales unexpectedly rise 0.2 percent
Basically, gas got so expensive in March, that it wiped out outweighed (and probably even caused, to some extent) falling sales in the rest of the economy. We bought less stuff, but it cost us more to do it.

Hey, maybe these can be recycled!


Continue reading Misleading headline of the day

Understanding the Durham PAC endorsements

All three of the major Political Action Committees in town (Friends of Durham, Durham Peoples' Alliance, Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People) have made their endorsements public. There are three key local races - the at-large, non-partisan seat for Durham School; Durham District Attorney, and Durham Board of County Commissioners, where ten candidates are vying for five seats.

The math is a little complex, especially in regard to the Commissioners race. For the School Board, with three candidates, and the DA, with four, if the leading votegetter has a substantial plurality, generally defined as 40% or more, they win. If none of the candidates has 40%, there will be a runoff election in June. As i've noted in the past, there are no Republican candidates for DA (or for BOCC, for that matter) so whoever wins the Democratic primary will be essentially unopposed on the November ballot.

Kevin's done some of the heavy lifting in analyzing the impact of endorsements on the BOCC race, using what i call the Frank Hyman Theory of Durham Politics. Basically, Frank says you need endorsements from two of the three PACs to win. By that logic, the three incumbent commissioners (Heron, Page, and Reckhow) and newcomer Don Moffitt are in, while the fifth seat will be a scrap between Josh Parker (Friends), Brenda Howerton (PA), Fred Foster (DCABP), and former Commissioner Joe Bowser (DBACP). Tracey Cline (PA and DCABP) should win the DA position. Leigh Bordley (Friends, PA) is in the driver's seat for the at-large School Board position.

Here's the wild card in all this, however. Voter registration, at a little over 150,000 as of March 31, is not quite at an all-time high (it topped 164,000 in the 2000 general election), but turnout is expected to exceed 60%, and possibly reach 65%. Those are staggering numbers for a primary election, and pretty impressive for a general election as well. The assumption that i'm making (and i don't think i'm alone in this) is that a lot of people are preparing to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, where North Carolina matters for the first time in, well, probably forever. As far as the downticket races go, a lot of those folks, especially the newly registered, are what people in the trade call low-information voters. I think it's a mistake to assume that this election will automatically play out the same as previous elections. The local races aren't getting a lot of media play. The Herald-Sun is running a series of brief candidate profiles, but that's probably not enough to familiarize voters with everyone running. I think the local elections especially are going to be unpredictable this year, except maybe for Michael Page, who was endorsed by all three PACs, retaining his seat on the Commission.

By the way, if you didn't register before last Friday's deadline, you're not completely shut out of the system. You can still take advantage of North Carolina's modified same-day registration. Beginning Thursday, April 17, and continuing up through Saturday, May 3, you can register and vote at the Board of Elections Office at 706 W. Corporation St. Call 560-0700 for details.

I'll post who i'm voting for, and why, later on in the month. And i'll try to post information about as many candidates as i can between now and election day (May 6), but hey, i'm just a guy with a blog. This democracy thing is hard work, so go inform yourselves on who's running, and what they say they'll do if they're elected.


Continue reading Understanding the Durham PAC endorsements

Tone deafness

Michael's got details about a pretty insensitive PR move at the Durham Bulls game this weekend. I missed this, i'm guessing, due to a technical difficulty which prevented the clip in question from being shown Friday night:
But more troubling was one of those silly video spots they put on in between innings, this one featuring the Bulls' head groundskeeper giving tips on how to have a good lawn. What was the crux of his advice on this one? (I'm not making this up.)

Water your lawn. A lot. 2-3 times a week, give it a good healthy soaking. When in doubt, use more water. The man even ended the clip with this priceless nugget:

"Remember, no water means no grass!"

Sitting in the stands, I kept feeling like I needed to check my ears to make sure I was hearing things. Was the image-obsessed Jim Goodmon's baseball team REALLY that tone deaf?

Here's a tip for the Bulls -- don't run that clip any more, and get Mr. Water-a-lot to shoot a video about xeriscaping for you.

I'm making progress in my quest to rid my yard of lawn. I'm about 75% done. Maybe sometime this spring i'll post some photos. I'm not claiming by any stretch to have created a water-free xeriscape. Half my front yard is vegetable garden, and that does take some water. But i should be able to toss the mower completely by this summer.

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Continue reading Tone deafness

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Oh, dear

A 26-year-old secret could free inmate
For nearly 26 years, the affidavit was sealed in an envelope and stored in a locked box, tucked away with the lawyer's passport and will. Sometimes he stashed the box in his bedroom closet, other times under his bed.

It stayed there — year after year, decade after decade.

Then, about two years ago, Dale Coventry, the box's owner, got a call from his former colleague, W. Jamie Kunz. Both were once public defenders. They hadn't talked in a decade.

"We're both getting on in years," Kunz said. "We ought to do something with that affidavit to make sure it's not wasted in case we both leave this good Earth."

Coventry assured him it was in a safe place. He found it in the fireproof metal box, but didn't read it. He didn't need to. He was reminded of the case every time he heard that a wronged prisoner had been freed.

In January, Kunz called again. This time, he had news: A man both lawyers had represented long ago in the murder of two police officers, Andrew Wilson, had died in prison.

Kunz asked Coventry to get the affidavit.

"It's in a sealed envelope," Coventry said.

"Open it," Kunz said, impatiently.

And so, Coventry began reading aloud the five-line declaration the lawyers had written more than a quarter-century before:
An innocent man was behind bars. His name was Alton Logan. He did not kill a security guard in a McDonald's restaurant in January 1982.

"In fact," the document said, "another person was responsible."

The Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take says "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone." Maybe the legal profession needs to rethink certain aspects of lawyer-client confidentiality? How could anyone let something like this happen?

Noting, of course, that this still doesn't rise to the level of The Worst Injustice in the History of the World™. But you gotta admit it's pretty close, no?


Continue reading Oh, dear

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Avondale Dr., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Word on the street is that the Durham Committee made its endorsements in the local races earlier today.

Incumbent Michael Page, and challengers Fred Foster and Joe Bowser got the nods in the BOCC race. Hopefully, i'll be able to confirm this in the morning, or post a correction if my source is wrong. Assuming this is the case, i'll have some speculation later in the weekend on what this means for the County Commissioners race.

UPDATE: Looks like my sources know what they're talking about.

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Continue reading Endorsements

Revising my thinking

Last month i thought that the Trinity Park listserv was the best entertainment value in town.

Now, though, i think it's the Herald Sun comments.


Continue reading Revising my thinking

Big mouth!


Continue reading Big mouth!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Opening Day - Durham style

There've been a few changes around the no longer brand spanking new DBAP, besides the naming of Goodmon Field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. (Ummm, Jim, it wasn't a good idea when Duke named it Krzyzewski Court, and it's not such a hot idea at the ballpark either. These things really should wait until after someone dies, you know. But what's done is done.)

First up, there's a new bull in left field. Rumor has it that they'll eventually get around to putting a another bull on the back of this one, but for now, it's just plywood. He's missing a tail, but fortunately, he's not a steer, if you catch my drift.

The party deck is now being sponsored by the AICPA, apparently without irony.
Party on, Wayne!
Here's a nice wide angle shot of the view from the cheap seats, Row Z, Section 211. To be honest, i would have killed for seats like this at Shea Stadium when i was younger.

But wait, what does that ad say next to the 20th anniversary of Bull Durham the Movie logo?
Has anyone thought this ad campaign through? Does anyone care?
The Bulls came out to meet the crowd packed into a bunch of Saturn crossovers. I kept expecting guys with big shoes and red noses to jump out and scare the kids.

But things were made right by the Hillside High School trumpet section opening the season with the Star Spangled Banner.

Thank goodness for that uplifting moment, because the game didn't work out so well.

Memo to Goodmon: lose the ads on the Blue Monster, OK? They still suck. Oh, and check the beer taps, please. My Newcastle never made it out of the tap, and the LongHammer i got as a substitute tasted like powdered lemonade. The ESB was drinkable, though.

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Continue reading Opening Day - Durham style