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D.G. Martin

Hard Facts and Hard Heads on the Outer Banks

Every week we read another news story about access to our coastal islands. Last year Hurricane Sandy and two other storms pushed water across Highway 12, cutting the road to shreds one more time. The channel across Hatteras Inlet filled up, forcing the ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke to close down. Bonner Bridge, which crosses Oregon Inlet and connects Hatteras Island to the mainland, was closed for repairs. As the Oregon Inlet moves southward, the bridge’s support system is washing away. Planned ferry toll increases will penalize island residents and working people who will be denied the kind of access from their homes that other North Carolinians take for granted. When is all this uncertainty going to end? Never, according to retired East Carolina University Geology Professor Stanley Riggs, unless North Carolina’s decision-makers come to grips with certain facts about the long-term future of our barrier islands and other coastal areas. Riggs and his co-authors lay out their version of these facts in their book, “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future.” Their book explains some of the complex factors that operate in coastal zones where water and land meet. Although the science may be complicated, its application to North Carolina has simple, easy to understand lessons as Riggs explained for his publisher, UNC Press: “Shoreline erosion is the direct product...

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Political Power Grabs in 1875 and 2013

“We could use your help in the Republican Party. We need more moderate voices.” One of my longtime friends was tempting me, noting that his political party was in charge now. If I wanted to participate in the new regime in North Carolina, I should change my registration. “And,” he said, “we could use some more moderate voices in our party.” “Well,” I said, “if you, as a moderate, are uncomfortable with the takeover of your party by the ‘non-moderates,’ why don’t you change your registration to Democrat? You might feel more at home there.” “Maybe in 10 or 15 years,” he said. “But not until we settle some scores that the Democrats built up against my party over the past more than 100 years.” If you wonder why the Republicans now in control are moving so fast to turn government upside down, you should remember that they have been waiting a long time and have a bag full of grievances to settle. Turning out the boards of agencies and educational institutions, gutting popular programs that were pet projects of prior Democratic office holders, and taking away powers from local government entities that are or could be controlled by Democrats, are all part of a political revolution. At least there are no firing squads. Not yet. But, as my friend reminded me, there are grievances to settle and, perhaps,...

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Life According To Jill McCorkle

Is there really “Life after Life”? People asking me that question are not talking about survival of the soul. They are teasing me about my excitement about popular writer Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. The book was officially released this week. So it is time to evaluate the results. The novel is set in the fictional Pine Haven Retirement Center, where characters come together as residents, staff, visitors, and family. The central character, Joanna, provides hospice-like counseling and comfort to dying residents and their loved ones. Her activities give the novel a gentle storyline and provide a persistent reminder that illness and death are an inescapable part of the experience at Pine Haven. A mentor tells Joanna, “Make their exits as gentle and loving as possible. Tell them how good it will be, even if you don’t believe it yourself. You’re Southern, you know how to do that.” McCorkle describes how family members embrace Joanna “like she is one of them. Lung. Brain. Breast. Uterus. Pancreas. Bone. The families discuss and explain the symptoms and diagnoses for her as if they have never been heard of before, have never happened to anyone else, and she listens.” Each of McCorkle’s characters has a different set of challenges, but the onset of fatal illness and death is a constant. For instance, there is Stanley, a lawyer and widower. After...

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Remembering Reynolds Price at his 80th Birthday

If Reynolds Price has not died two years ago he would have celebrated his 80th birthday last month. Why am I thinking about Price today? I noticed that next Wednesday morning one of UNC-TV’s cable-only channels is re-airing a 10-year-old Bookwatch program featuring Price talking about one of his most provocative books, “A Serious Way of Wondering: The Ethics of Jesus Imagined” in which he speculates about Jesus’s views on homosexuality, suicide, and the plight of women under male domination. It has been more than 50 years, but I still remember my introduction to the work of Reynolds Price.  In 1957 my mother was reading a new book called “A Long And Happy Life.” “This is one of the best books I have ever read,” she said.  “And it is written by a North Carolinian.” My mother thought that she had “discovered” Reynolds Price and his engaging characters.  But lots of other people quickly discovered Price as well–and not just in North Carolina.  His sensitive and moving stories are about people whom his readers come to know as if they were next-door neighbors. The stories and the characters have enchanted people all over the world.  “A Long and Happy Life” won the William Faulkner Award, and his fiction kept on winning awards throughout his life.  Reynolds Price was probably the most prolific of North Carolina’s nationally known writers–with 40...

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North Carolina Writers Serve Up Spring Reading Options

Ready or not, spring is here and it is time for a seasonal update on new books important to North Carolinians. This month’s most important literary news is the release of “Life After Life,” popular author Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. McCorkle fills a southeastern North Carolina retirement facility with quirky residents, staff, and visitors whose encounters with each other make readers wonder whether to laugh or cry. She will be the guest on North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, March 31 and Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m. Understanding the actions and attitudes of our parents and grandparents in dealing with the system of oppressive racial segregation that confronted them is one of our great challenges. Some of the best Southern writers deal with our past in ways that make for compelling storytelling. UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Pam Durban steps up to that challenge in her new novel, “The Tree of Forgetfulness.” (April 7, 11) The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18) Vicki Lane sets her popular novels...

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Lottery and Drones Bring Bipartisan Divisiveness

Are you tired of the partisan divisiveness that is poisoning the political environment of our state and nation? Do you wish that the politicians from the two parties would work together more often on issues of common concern? Me too. Maybe we are getting what we wished for, thanks to the North Carolina lottery and our country’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill our enemies throughout the world. Welcome to the world of bipartisan divisiveness? You might get tired of this form of divisiveness, too. The legislature, then controlled by Democrats, established the state lottery at the urging of Democratic Governor Mike Easley, whose pro-lottery positions were major campaign planks. It was a popular issue for the governor, too. Schools needed the money. People wanted to play the games and were going across state lines to buy lottery tickets. A lottery would be a voluntary tax. Free money.  Most Republicans opposed the lottery’s establishment. So did lots of Democrats. Liberal Democrats agreed with libertarian Republicans that running a gambling business is not a proper function of government. Government, they said, should encourage its citizens to work and save for their future, not on fostering dreams of getting rich by winning the lottery. Certainly, they continued, government should not stoop to the low level of a carnival barker selling chances on games in which the odds of...

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Good Results From Virtual Education Won't Come Cheap

Mention on-line education around some of my friends and you will get an emotional reaction. Some senior university faculty members teach classes filled with several hundred students and they worry that famous on-line lecturers could take their places. Others wonder if they can transfer their talents to the on-line market and, if so, how much compensation they can demand for their extra efforts. Public school advocates worry that private businesses will persuade decision makers to replace more expensive traditional classroom-based instruction with programs delivered directly to students’ computers. The result, they fear, will be high profits to the providers and a loss of hands-on support from classroom teachers and fellow students. Whatever our worries about on-line education, our state should be braced for changes. Governor Pat McCrory’s challenging remarks about the role of universities, discussion of further drastic cuts in the higher education budget, new proposals for education vouchers, consideration of approval for off-site, profit-making charter schools, and a host of other possible “improvements” let everyone know that change, big change, is coming. But worries about negative aspects of pending changes ought not lead people to oppose on-line educational tools that improve a classroom teacher’s effectiveness or provide supplemental instruction that a stretched-out local school cannot offer. Whenever I think about current educational challenges, I remember how important the classroom teachers at North Mecklenburg High School were to my...

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The Eerie Quietness Of A Once Thriving Island

Portsmouth where? Maine? Virginia? Like many North Carolinians, my friend had not heard of Portsmouth, North Carolina. He was resisting my push to visit Portsmouth in connection with a planned trip to Ocracoke Island to participate in a program for public school teachers organized by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, known as NCCAT. Take out a state road map, I said, and look for an island just south of Ocracoke. You will see Portsmouth Island, and on it is marked the town of Portsmouth. Portsmouth is just a small village with a few old buildings: Houses, a store, post office, church, a former lifesaving station, and a graveyard. But no living people. By the 1970s only three people remained on the island and they are long since gone. The buildings, maintained by the National Park Service, stand as reminders of what Portsmouth once was: a thriving and important commercial center. Portsmouth lies to the south of Ocracoke Island, separated by Ocracoke Inlet, which, according to the late Dirk Frankenberg’s recently reissued classic, “The Nature of North Carolina’s Southern Coast,” is “the only inlet on the Outer Banks that has been open continuously throughout recorded history. It was a major entry into North Carolina’s coastal sound and estuaries in colonial times—first for pirates and smugglers” including Blackbeard, who was killed at the inlet in 1718. After...

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Is North Carolina Manufacturing Dead?

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” So said Mark Twain after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. And many of the more than 1,000 people who attended the Emerging Issues Forum last week are saying something similar about the reported death of manufacturing in North Carolina. “Manufacturing is not dead; it is on the upswing in our state.” Wait a minute. Even the forum’s sponsor, North Carolina State’s Emerging Issues Institute, acknowledges that between 1992 and 2010, manufacturing employment in our state declined by 30.6 percent, leaving fewer than 620,000 manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, although the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, plastics, and food processing products is growing rapidly, employment in textiles, furniture, and tobacco manufacturing is down. Maybe not down and out. Maybe not quite dead. “Manufacturing has a public image problem,” reported the institute. By showcasing a host of new manufacturing activities, the forum attacked the public image problem and persuaded attendees that there is a manufacturing renaissance in our state. But the renaissance the forum touted is based on a new model. For instance, Gart Davis, founder of Durham-based Spoonflower, explained how his manufacturing business makes it “possible for individuals to design, print and sell their own fabric, wallpaper and wall decals.” So, if you want your own design for a fabric or wallpaper, Spoonflower can manufacture those products, quickly, in...

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