Thursday, November 30, 2006

They miss WBT up in Maryland

The other week my old college roomie called from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he puts crooks in jail and maintains law and order when he’s not busy rooting for the Tar Heels and trying to find some decent barbecue.
He was hot under the collar because he couldn’t find the season’s first game on the radio station where he’d been tuning in for three decades.
“What,” he demanded to know, “have they done with WBT? And what are you going to do about it?”
He was just finding out what many other UNC fans up and down the Eastern seaboard have found out this year: Charlotte radio station WBT, which carried the Tar Heel Sports Network since the crust of the earth cooled (ok, since Dean Smith wanted his games on WBT in the 1970s), no longer carried the ‘Heels.
As the Observer’s Mark Washburn reported early last summer, the Tar Heel broadcasts shifted to station WFNZ AM 610 after WBT found the UNC broadcasts too often interrupted more lucrative talk radio programming such as John Hancock in the evening and Rush Limbaugh during daytime ACC tournament games.
Tar Heels fans up and down the east coast enjoyed WBT’s evening broadcasts of basketball games in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and halfway through the first decade of the 21st century. You could be a long way from Charlotte, but after dark WBT would come through strong and clear. Still, does, in fact, but not with the Tar Heels. Evidently the WFNZ signal doesn’t reach all the way up to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, especially with a local station on a similar frequency, and thus the Tar Heel Radio Network has at least one less happy listener as the season gets seriously underway.
Times change, of course, as they always do, usually for the better. But don’t tell that to the State’s Attorney in Talbot County, Md. He might just run you in on false pretenses, or something.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rummaging online in North Carolina's attic

If I were still a student at Chapel Hill and a little more interested in history than I was 40 years ago, I know where I’d spend most of my time: in the North Carolina Collection and the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. That library really is North Carolina's and the South's attic, full of things that someone saved, thankfully.
In fact, I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the years, researching such matters as N.C. native Kenneth C. Royall, the last secretary of war and the first secretary of the army, and his role in the secret military trial of Nazi saboteurs who sneaked ashore during World War II.
Earlier this month I spent time at the library researching former Charlotte Observer writer H.E.C. “Red Buck” Bryant’s role in the 1898 white supremacy campaign.
The library is a wonderful place to learn things you never knew, but until fairly recently you pretty much had to drive to Chapel Hill to take advantage. You still do, I guess, but more and more things are available online that make the library – and North Carolina history – accessible from anywhere in the world.
My colleague Lew Powell clued me in the other day to a new offering, the North Carolina Collection’s online history of the evolution debate in this state. It’s a quick, digestible, look at the controversy the state went through after Gov. Cameron Morrison objected to textbooks promoting the theory of evolution.
So is the collection’s online exhibit on the racist 1898 election campaign.
And if you just want to scroll from some fascinating things about N.C. History, click on to the collection’s blog called North Carolina Miscellany.
Here’s the main website for the North Carolina Collection . At the top of that page are links to other UNC library collections, including this one for the Southern Historical Collection .

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sheriff of the N.C. House steps aside

For months, political prognosticators have figured that House Speaker Jim Black’s four-term tenure in the leadership was coming to an end. The various state and federal investigations of his allies and the guilty please of several have eroded what support remained for a fifth term as speaker if he was reelected.
Now comes word from the Observer’s David Ingram that veteran Republican Joe Kiser, the House GOP leader in recent years, is also planning on stepping down. “Four years is enough,” Kiser told the Observer.
You may not know much about Kiser, who many members still call Sheriff Kiser from his days as Lincoln County sheriff. But he might have been elected speaker himself in 2003 when Republicans won the House back in the 2002 election and held a slim advantage with 61 Republicans and 59 Democrats. That was before Republican Mike Decker switched parties to help Black stay in power, creating a 60-60 tie and forcing the political stalemate that resulted in a co-speakership with Black and Republican Richard Morgan of Moore County.
If Decker hadn’t switched, it’s not clear who would have won. Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Johnston Republican, was a leading but controversial candidate; the GOP caucus finally got behind Rep. George Holmes of Yadkin County.
For a time, though, some observers thought Kiser would be a logical choice. He’s smart – he majored in physics at Lenoir Rhyne, for crying out loud – and experienced, having been sheriff for five years, vice chair of the Lincoln County board of commissioners for three years and in the legislature since 1995. He might have been able to keep the peace.
It probably wasn’t all that much fun for Kiser to try to work with warring factions of his own party in recent years. There was a sharp split between newcomer Republicans who wanted to get things done and cooperated with the Morgan-Black alliance, and other Republicans who disliked Morgan’s and his followers’ willingness to work with Democrats and wanted them out.
Kiser is stepping aside for new leadership in minority ranks. It appears that Republicans will have 68 Democrats and 52 Republicans – five more Democrats, five fewer Republicans than this past session. Rep. Paul Stam of Wake is likely the leading candidate to replace Kiser. But Sheriff Kiser won reelection to his House seat and will still be there to offer his steady advice and, from time to time, keep the peace.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Hijacking Andy Griffith's good name

If this doesn’t beat all
You may have seen the story in Saturday’s Observer: A Wisconsin fellow named William Harold Fenrick legally changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith so he could run for sheriff as Andy Griffith.
Doesn’t that beat everything you ever saw?
It must have worked on the real Andy Griffith. He’s suing the former Mr. Fenrick for trademark violation, according to this story from the Associated Press.
Who’d ever have thought Sheriff Andy Griffith, uh, we mean Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andrew Jackson Taylor, to be sure) would have to go to court to protect his good name? In the town of Mayberry, he was usually the wise, level-headed fellow everyone respected – not that he didn’t get in a little trouble every now and then over some misunderstanding or other with Ellie Walker or Helen Crump.
Of course, you can’t be too careful around politicians. Not long ago Rachel Lea Hunter, a candidate for N.C. Supreme Court, asked the State Board of Elections to put her name on the ballot as Madame Justice. Fortunately, there is some justice, and she wasn’t.
There was justice in Wisconsin, too.
Fenrick lost.
Here’s the story:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

George Esser: Helping the strong grow greatest

George Esser: Helping the strong grow greatest
Those who knew the late George Esser -- he died this week at 85 -- recall what an important contribution he made in North Carolina in the early years of the state’s campaign against poverty. A Virginia native, VMI graduate and Harvard Law grad, Esser was working at what is now the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill when Terry Sanford asked him in 1963 to direct the North Carolina Fund.
As Sanford put it in a speech at Harvard 43 years ago next week, the fund was set up with $10 million in grants from the Z. Smith Reynolds and Mary Reynolds Babcock foundations to support efforts to turn around the cycle of poverty. “We expect to say to the superintendent of schools, to the directors of welfare, officials of public health, city and county government, social agencies, that we need to work together; let’s pick out a few neighborhoods to see what we can do to stop the cycle of poverty which blights the lives of so many of these young people.”
At another speech in the fall of 1963, the official “Papers of Terry Sanford” relates, Sanford said the point was to train children “so that they would not become parents of poverty. The state’s official toast called North Carolina a land ‘where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great’; Gov. Sanford concluded by saying ‘that the strong grow greatest by helping to lift up the weak.’”
Here’s a link to the Associated Press obituary on Esser.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Should political robo-calls be banned?

When the N.C. legislature adopted a no-call law in 2003 and the Federal Trade Commission set up a national Do-Not-Call Registry, they pretty much prohibited organizations from making telephone calls to customers who didn't want to be bothered by solicitations for this and that.
But the registry exempted certain kinds of calls -- those from businesses or organizations that already had a working relationship, for example. Charities. And political calls.
If your home telephone is like mine, you've gotten bombarded by such calls lately -- sometimes from a live person, and more often from an automated machine delivering a message in behalf of one party or another.
In recent days I've heard from former Gov. Jim Martin, former Gov. Jim Hunt, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, enough appellate judges and candidates to fill out three or four tables of bridge and I don't-know how many others. These calls get the delete button about as fast as I can punch it.
This morning I read about how one party in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania had used these robo-calls to irritate potential voters from the other party, apparently in hopes of holding down the opposition turnout. It's a sad commentary on politics when the best idea is to discourage folks from taking party in this basic act of democracy.
Here's what the FTC says in part in its online FAQ about the no-call registry:

Will All Telemarketing Calls Stop If I Register?

29. If I register my number on the National Do Not Call Registry, will it stop all telemarketing calls?

No. Placing your number on the National Do Not Call Registry will stop most telemarketing calls, but not all. Because of limitations in the jurisdiction of the FTC and FCC, calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls.

30. Are calls from political organizations or calls soliciting for charities covered?

Political solicitations are not covered by the TSR at all, since they are not included in its definition of “telemarketing.” Charities are not covered by the requirements of the national registry. However, if a third-party telemarketer is calling on behalf of a charity, a consumer may ask not to receive any more calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If a third-party telemarketer calls again on behalf of that charity, the telemarketer may be subject to a fine of up to $11,000.

31. What about telephone surveys?

If the call is really for the sole purpose of conducting a survey, it is not covered. Only telemarketing calls are covered — that is, calls that solicit sales of goods or services. Callers purporting to take a survey, but also offering to sell goods or services, must comply with the National Do Not Call Registry.

So here's the question: Should political robo-calls be prohibited? Or would you prefer to keep getting them?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ruth Easterling's Better-Than-Sex Cake

Charlotte's Ruth Easterling, who died at age 95 this week, was an unforgettable legislator who brought an undersized frame and an indomitable spirit with her when she came to Raleigh nearly 30 years ago.
She and I arrived at the General Assembly the same year – she as a first-term Democratic representative in 1977 when there just 19 women in the House, and I as a Raleigh correspondent for the Greensboro Daily News. Carl Stewart of Gastonia was speaker that year, the first of two terms he would serve, and he named her to the powerful Appropriations Committee – a panel she would chair years later under Speaker Jim Black.
Ruth Easterling made an impression right away, supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, opposing reimposition of the death penalty and voting for the right of the governor and lieutenant governor to run for and serve a second successive term.
Former Rep. Jack Hunt of Lattimore in Cleveland County was one of many admirers of Rep. Easterling. Folks marveled that this small, white-haired woman – she stood just a little over 5 feet tall – could make such a significant impression on people. In the 1980s when she was in her 70s, she served on the House Rules Committee, which Hunt chaired. On the last day of the session, Hunt’s wife, Ruby Hunt, had made one of her delectable Italian Cream Cakes to be served at the final rules committee meeting.
Hunt loves to tell the story how his secretary brought Ruby Hunt’s cake into the meeting room, and everyone oohed and ahhed over how good it was.
Then Ruth Easterling piped up: “Well, I make a pretty good cake too, Rep. Hunt.”
Jack Hunt said “I’ll bet you do.”
Easterling said, “You know what the name of it is? It’s called “Better-Than-Sex” cake.”
Hunt said, “Well, if it’s got that name, it’s got to be good.”
“Oh,” Easterling shot right back, “It’s not THAT good.”

(By the way, here’s a recipe for Better Than Sex Cake the Observer printed in 1988, sent in by several readers:
Barbara Crouch of Statesville, Helen Brown, Carol Tate, Meredith Moore and Judy Warren of Charlotte, Gwen Brown and Gaye Edwards of Mint Hill, Mary Jane Reel (no address) and Sarah Horne of Spindale, sent Better-Than-Sex Cake recipes in answer to a recent request.
Better-Than-Sex Cake
1 box yellow cake mix without pudding
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple
1 cup sugar
1 package (6 ounces) vanilla pudding mix (not instant)
1 carton (9 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
3/4 cup flaked coconut
Prepare cake by package directions. Spoon batter into a 9-by-3-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until cake tests done, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine undrained pineapple and sugar; heat and stir until sugar dissolves.
Remove cake from oven and, using a toothpick, punch holes all over surface of cake. Ladle pineapple mixture over cake. Make pudding by package directions. When it is thick, spoon it over cake. Chill cake well.
To serve, top slices with whipped topping and a generous sprinkle of coconut. Keep cake refrigerated.