D.G. Martin

Who can tell us how North Koreans really live?

Charles Robert Jenkins. Does that name ring a bell? Jenkins is a North Carolina native whom I have wanted to meet for a long time. Why? I would like to talk to somebody who knows how North Korea works and how North Koreans think and live. As an outsider living half a world away, I find that the country and its people just do not make sense. Jenkins is one of a very few Americans who have lived for a substantial time in North Korea. While serving in Korea, Jenkins surrendered to the North Koreans and wound up living in North Korea for 40 years. As a North Carolina native, he could explain things to me in terms I could understand. Before the Soviet Union broke up and the Iron Curtain came down, I had the same kinds of questions about life in Russia. Then in 1981, a great crime novel came to my rescue. “Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith followed a Russian detective’s search for the solution to three murders. The story was gripping, but the best part of the book was its description of how life went on inside Russia. When I finished the book, I had a feel for how people got along day-by-day in that totalitarian system. Not being able to talk to Charles Robert Jenkins, I have wished for a “Gorky Park” type...

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Birds from Dinosaurs? Not so fast, says one North Carolinian

The publication of a new book by retired UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Alan Feduccia could make our state a battleground in an argument among evolutionary scientists. This fight between evolutionists could make creationists as happy as Democrats watching the Republican presidential candidates tear each other apart. This difference of opinion between two groups of scientists, all of whom accept the tenets of evolution, pertains to the origin of birds. The majority view embraces the idea that birds are the “last dinosaurs.” Based on fossils and bones representing millions of years of evolutionary development, the scientific majority believes birds are the lineal descendants of dinosaurs. Evidence of dinosaurs with feathers, wings, and bird-like features supports their idea that some dinosaurs could fly, and these flying dinosaurs, they say, are the ancestors of present-day birds. Or put another way, our birds are dinosaurs. If there is any question about the idea that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, you will not find it in respected popular science publications such as National Geographic. In its November 1999 edition, it proclaimed in headlines, “We can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals.” (Theropods were or are a variety of dinosaurs.) Although the fossils that were the “proof” of the Geographic’s claim turned out to be inauthentic–a glued-together composite of entirely different creatures, the resulting embarrassment did...

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Celebrating George Washington's failures

George Washington was a failure. But that is not the reason we do not celebrate his birthday (February 22) anymore, unless you count Monday’s President’s Day.   Washington’s failures are not the reason there are no more cherry pies or axes to help us remember the legends of his honesty and character. We just don’t pay that much attention to him anymore in normal times, do we? That is a shame.   His leadership skills, military successes, common sense, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice still merit our admiration. And so do his failures. This country’s government works, thanks to his management of the Constitutional Convention.  His even-handed administration bound this country together in its first days. He was a genuine hero. George Washington’s many successes are important to remember.  We should be grateful for them.  They should inspire us to higher standards of service to our country. But I am not thinking so much of those successes today.  More important to me now are his failures and disappointments.  There were many.  In romance.  In his military service.  In politics. Miss Betsy Fauntleroy rejected him twice.  She was not the only one who broke Washington’s heart.  He also fell in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of his friend, and he suffered because she could only be a good friend to him. He began his military career in embarrassment.  In...

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Gen Zers – your Social Security may depend on them

Gen Z, I thought to myself, what in the world is that? Because it was the theme of the annual Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh last week, I knew I was behind the times. Just so you will not be so far behind, here are some basics. Gen Z is shorthand for Generation Z, young people born during the nineties and the early part of the current century. Not everybody agrees on the exact dates, but the Emerging Issues Institute defines Gen Z as “today’s 9-to-21 year-olds.” Why label them with the letter Z? They follow Generation Y, the group born during the 15 years or so before the nineties, sometimes called Echo Boomers because they are the children of the Baby Boomers. Before Generation Y came Generation X, those born in the late 1960s into the 1970s. “Newsweek” characterized them as  “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.” Hence, they are sometimes called the Lost Generation. They were preceded by the post-World War II generation known as Baby Boomers. Why would the important Emerging Issues Forum focus on Gen Z, the demographic group that is mostly still living at home and not working, or voting, or making policy? The forum sponsor and speakers quickly delivered a series of answers.  In 2020 this new generation “will...

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My coach did not spit on anybody's hand

It is too bad that sports reporters and historians at Atlantic Coast Conference headquarters are not reading “ACC Basketball.” This UNC Press book by Sam Walker was published last year and chronicles the game during the conference’s first 20 years. On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing for my old basketball coach, Lefty Driesell. How do I know sports reporters and ACC staffers are not reading the new book? It came out in the controversy that developed about UNC Coach Roy Williams taking most of his players off the court 14 seconds before the game ended in Carolina’s recent loss to Florida State. Williams thought the game was ending early. One story line in the following days was about other times that ACC basketball games ended early. After checking with an ACC staffer, the Raleigh News & Observer reported, “As best as anyone can tell, UNC’s loss at Florida State would have been just the second ACC game to end before time expired. The first time it happened – and apparently the only time – came in Maryland’s 60-55 home victory against N.C. State on Jan. 7, 1967.” If the ACC and N&O had read “ACC Basketball,” they would have found, on page 2, Sam Walker’s description of another early game ending when Maryland played South Carolina in Columbia. “On December 16, 1970, South Carolina was...

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Opening ever so slightly

It is the kind of surprise for which every ambitious politician must be prepared: the unexpected decision by an incumbent elected official to retire. It is, my friend Jay Rivers told me, the kind of window of opportunity that opens ever so slightly and rarely. Be ready to decide quickly and pounce on the unexpected opportunity, before the window closes as a result of others’ decisive action. John Spratt, the former South Carolina congressman, once told me about his first campaign. It started when his congressman dropped the bombshell that he would not run for reelection. Many other ambitious politicians would have loved to go to Congress, but all were surprised and unprepared to gear up a campaign. Spratt, though surprised, was ready. Sometime earlier he had made a telephone list of key people in his district. Before the day was over, he called everybody on the list. First, he asked for their support. He tried to get them to make a solid endorsement. When seasoned political leaders make such early commitments, most try to keep them. There are exceptions, but whatever their failings, such leaders like to have a reputation for keeping their word. Politicians, like the rest of us, have a hard time turning down a request for support from a friend. Although the people on Spratt’s list had other friends who might have wanted to run,...

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Does time heal all wounds?

Will John Edwards someday be the new Newt Gingrich? Where did this crazy question come from? To get the answer, read on. First, we should wrestle with the questions political experts have been stuttering over since Gingrich’s stunning upset of Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary last weekend. How can a candidate like Gingrich get over the deathblows his campaign suffered in Iowa and New Hampshire? How can he sidestep the disgrace from the damning condemnation of his colleagues in the House of Representatives who censured him for misconduct 15 years ago? How can he get around the moral consequences of his conduct in the breakup of two earlier marriages? How does he get around the lack of support from people who worked with him when he was House speaker? How does he get around the panic shown by so-called establishment Republicans who believe his nomination for president would lead to a disaster for their party in the fall? How can these questions be answered? It would be easy to say, simply, that South Carolina voters are different. From John C. Calhoun to Strom Thurmond, South Carolinians have shown a fondness for brilliant, confrontational, no-holds-barred, attack- dog politicians. Newt fit their bill. But what about other states? Both Calhoun and Thurmond had fans in other states. How about Gingrich? We will begin to find out next...

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Learning about North Carolina from a Favorite Mystery Writer

What is the best book I could read to learn about North Carolina? I get this question all the time from people who know about my interest in books about our state and those written by our great writers. My answer differs, depending on what kind of books my questioner likes to read. For instance, if the questioner likes murder mysteries, I will tell them to read one of the 17 books in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series. Knott is a smart country woman lawyer who is now a state district court judge in rural Colleton County east of Raleigh. Colleton is a fictional county that might be Johnston, or, more likely, Harnett, in the area where Maron grew up and, after a few years in New York, has been settled for many years. Whatever the name or whichever the real county is Knott’s home, it is home to typical and real North Carolina small-town and rural life. Deborah Knott is smart and good, but not perfect. She comes from a large farm family led by her father Kezzie Knott and populated by 12 children from Kezzie’s two marriages, plus spouses and numerous grandchildren. Kezzie has not always been a simple farmer. For instance, his other activities were the basis for the title of the first book in the series published in 1992, “Bootlegger’s Daughter.” Having a former bootlegger...

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Replacing elections with lotteries

There has to be a better way. Some of us reached that conclusion after discussing the mess our congressional and legislative governing systems have come to. Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I wonder if he would agree today, after taking a look at the U.S. Congress deadlocked by political divisiveness and mean-spirited partisan competition that stifle almost every effort to deal with challenges crying out for practical responses. Instead of being free to work fulltime with their colleagues on the nitty-gritty work of crafting legislation, our representatives are slaves to a system that requires them to spend most of their time on electoral politics and fundraising. Taxpayers pay them to be legislators. But keeping those jobs requires them to do something else altogether. The time spent raising money and the obligations that come with begging money from people and organizations that “want something” takes more than just time away from the job. It drains away the independent judgment of the legislator. So does the extreme loyalty to political parties, to the caucus, and to the legislative leadership. The demands to “stick together” handicap the prospects for working on solutions that do not fit into the agenda of one of the political groups. Efforts to maintain control lead to ugly...

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Following Daniel Boone to the west

First there was Daniel Boone. Boone’s real exploits on America’s frontier made him a legend in a new country whose people were ever pushing westward, driving the boundaries of their nation to the Pacific and beyond. The history of our country’s push westward has never been easy to write, wrapped up as it is with contradictory themes. The tenacious heroism of the settlers braving the long dangerous treks to new homes has to be matched up against the greed, deceit, and callousness that forced the original inhabitants off their lands. While the expansion of democracy led to a land of freedom admired throughout the world, it was built in part on lands seized from a weak neighbor. How can that story best be told? North Carolina native poet, novelist, and teacher Robert Morgan showed us one way in his recent biography, “Boone.” Using his great storytelling skills, Morgan demythologized Boone, while, at the same time, showing him to be an extraordinary and fascinating person. From his home base along the Yadkin River in North Carolina where he grew up, Boone explored Kentucky and then pulled his kinfolk, neighbors, and countless others across the mountains to his new home country. Later, many of them followed Boone further west to Missouri. Other men, some of them with adventurous spirits similar to Boone’s, continued the push westward long after Boone left the...

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