What to Watch For in Obama's Second Term

Washington, DC

An estimated 900,000 people showed up to the area surrounding the National Mall, Capitol Building and Pennsylvania Avenue to watch President Barack Obama take his public oath of office on Monday.

Per Constitutional rules requiring the new President to be sworn in on January 20th, Obama took his official oath on Sunday in the Oval Office. Several key Congressional players were also invited to partake in the ceremony. Sources have indicated that Mr. Obama took the opportunity to reset the playing field for his new term by “starting fresh.”

What’s on the docket for Obama’s second term? What should North Carolinians be on the watch for the next four years?

1. Gun Control

Following the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado & Newtown, the calling for greater gun control measures has escalated across the country. Unfortunately, like most things in politics, there is far from a consensus. Following rumors of greater gun control measures, the NRA saw a huge spike in membership, averaging 8,000 new members a day since the Newtown tragedy.

While gun control is a microcosm of the political division in America, there does seem to be a consensus that America’s problems in this regard are bigger than guns and point to a larger cultural issue. Obama’s recent proposals relating to the topic seem to want to address the broader crisis, including studying the role of the media in violence.

North Carolina will continue to be an indicator of the nation’s thought process moving forward. As a traditionally Southern and diverse swing state, the blend of ideology in North Carolina will result in a struggle for control in the debate, and will likely serve as an indicator of the overall sentiment of the nation. It is unlikely that the Republican controlled State legislature will make significant changes like New York enacted last week, and thus, any anti-gun advocates will have to look to Washington for changes in NC.

Lastly, it will be worth eyeing how Obama’s administration navigates the issues it will be sure to face with the Supreme Court in passing any gun legislation as it pertains to the 2nd Amendment. Obama and the nine justices have not seen completely eye-to-eye since Obama was first inaugurated in 2009.

2. Addressing ‘Failure’ From the First Term

Americans have been highly critical of Obama’s first term. Policy Mic released an article on Monday discussing the outlook to address Obama’s failures in his first term. While Obamacare passed under duress, there were more misses than ‘makes’ and the administration has acknowledged its shortcomings. “Change” and “Forward” have been the go-to sayings for Obama and he will look to leave a more significant mark in term number two.

During his second inaugural speech, he noted that addressing climate change would be a priority, acknowledging that “the path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.” And in a historical moment, Obama advocated for equal rights for “our gay brothers and sisters,” which was one of, if not the first time “gay” has been used by a President in a public address. Perhaps just as significant was the stage set for same-sex rights. Obama placed his comments regarding gay marriage directly adjacent to his comments on women’s rights and his equal pay for equal work initiatives. Analysts suggested that it was a calculated move by the Obama camp to put the two on level footing, demonstrating the importance Obama places on gay rights. These two issues look to be two that Obama will add to the leftovers from his first term agenda.

North Carolina will be in the cross-hairs of both topics in addition to many others. RTP’s prowess in the sciences field could see increased government dollars for research and development towards alternative energy. And the passing of Amendment One will stand in stark contrast to Obama’s desire to level the playing field for all genders, races and orientations.

3. The American Debt Ceiling

Last but certainly not least is the looming debt ceiling and exponentially growing national debt. Organizations like The Can Kicks Back are organizing to raise awareness about the consequences of the growing debt issue. The U.S. government spends almost 7 million dollars per minute per CBS news, a number that far surpasses any historical record high.

As leaders in Washington suggest temporarily raising the debt ceiling so as to avoid short-term economic catastrophe, a longer term plan must be developed that is generationally balanced to cut the deficit and, in turn, the debt. In the coming decades, interest payments on the debt will grow to over 50% of the federal budget, with debt exceeding 100% of annual GDP without significant action.

The government has kicked the can down the road for far too long and has shown little regard for controlling spending. With the temporary fiscal cliff ‘fix’ in December of 2012 to raise revenues, it will now be time to slice spending.

Long-term, this is an issue of immense importance and must be dealt with. The success or failure of Obama as a President from a historical perspective could be dependent on how he deals with this issue.

With Inauguration Weekend winding to a close, the 113th Congress will be sworn in and the approaching debt ceiling will come back into focus. Obama will have to hit the ground running to ensure the economic recovery remains on track and address his broad agenda.

Ryan Watts is a Chapel Hill native and recent UNC graduate in Political Science and Business Administration. Now living in Washington DC, he works as a Consultant. You can find him on Twitter @RyanVWatts or at his blog.

image by paul-w via flickr


The Violin Lesson

What was the best Christmas present?

For me, it would be something a family member made, like the pictures and the book my granddaughters made and gave to me last month.

Or, maybe it would be the certificate for “free violin lessons” from my seven-year-old grandson Jake.

Jake has been taking violin for about a year. One day he will be a good performer, but he is not yet ready for Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, nor has he been trained to teach others to play.

I have always wanted to know how a violin works, wondering, how does that funny looking instrument make such beautiful music in the hands of an unaccomplished player? In my efforts to play other musical instruments, I know I could never be an adequate musician. But my lack of talent does not keep me from wanting to know how good musicians make their instruments work.

Several years ago, when I told my wife that I wished I could play a violin, she bought me one. It was an inexpensive, mail-order version. I could never make it work. It had come without a bridge, a small but essential part that positions and supports strings, aligning them in a way that when the violin bow makes contact, there is a sound.

So we had packed up the violin until the other day when Jake came to give me the violin lesson he promised at Christmas.

With the help of Jake’s dad, we adjusted a new bridge and put the violin in working order.

Jake had a lesson plan in mind. He was going to teach me to play part of the scale using the violin’s E-string. Using tape, he carefully marked the places on the violin where my finger would push down that string to make different notes.

His plan for that first lesson centered on that E-string.

As we were about to begin, in a last adjustment, the E-string broke.

Although I thought we would have to postpone the lesson, Jake calmly said, “I think you can learn with the A-string. You can do the same things as on the E-string and get the same practice.”

That mature reaction to crisis made me think my grandson might have the makings of a real teacher, not just a child pretending, as he did in earlier times when he dressed up as a garbage man, firefighter, policeman, or pilot

My confidence in him increased as he carefully instructed me how to hold the violin and the bow, stressing that good posture is required for good violin playing. He gave me several drills to play a series of notes using the reference points he had marked. I respectfully responded to his suggestions for adjusting my positions and movements.

When the lesson was over, Jake, who has just learned to write, carefully put down instructions to prepare for the next lesson.

I was amazed at how much I learned from this time with a seven-year-old teacher. He was cool, calm and authoritative as he guided me through my beginning experience with a violin. Every time I hear a classical violinist or a country music fiddler, my pleasure will be a little richer.

Even more than the value of what I learned, I treasure the memory of the joy I got from having the seven-year-old teach the seventy-two-year-old—and know the pride my teacher had in doing such a good job.

If there are other lessons from Jake’s Christmas present, one of the most important may be this: There are people of all ages around us, with experiences and talents that could make them wonderful teachers if we just honor them by asking them to share with us.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage.

This week’s (January 20, 24) guest is Emily Colin, author of “The Memory Thief,” in which a young woman begs her mountain-climbing husband not to take on Mount McKinley in Alaska. He goes anyway, promising, “I will come back to you.” But, as she feared, he falls to his death. Still, that promise to return is haunting. Learning how it is fulfilled is the backbone of the novel, which is set in Wilmington with side trips to the Swiss Alps, Colorado, Chapel Hill, and Wildacres Retreat in the North Carolina mountains.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).
This week’s (January 23) guests are Catherine Bishir and Michael Southern authors of “A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina.”


How to Better Photograph Flowers and Plants

Flowers are such a source of inspiration to me. It is in my blood and upbringing as my parents and all siblings but one are absolutely crazy about gardening.  They throw around both the common and latin names for plants as if it is nothing. Growing up in chilly Green Bay, WI the growing season was short but my mother made the most of it. In the evening she and my dad would stroll around the yard slowly just taking it all in and catching up on the day. I find myself often in the yard, as well, at the end of the day, just weeding a bed or watering, enjoying the quiet. So as a photographer it is only natural that I would focus my lens on plants and flowers. This blog post will focus on how to make your photos of plants and flowers stunning and to more accurately and artfully capture what they look like.


At the very beginning of my career I worked at the News & Observer. On a slow news day we had to search for feature photos. Basically I drove around looking for something interesting to photograph.  I found myself gravitating to beautiful flowers and plants, of which we have so many in bountiful North Carolina. But for a photo to appear in the paper it needs to have human interest.  The two photos above incorporate the plants as well as their interaction with us crazy humans. In the photo above on the left I was at Pullen Park when I saw this amazing flowering tree. A grandfather and his grandson enjoying the view completed the photo. In the photo on the right there was a flood in an apartment complex by Crabtree Creek. This Bradford pear and flooded truck told the story of the day beautifully.

On a foggy, summer morning as I drove the back way to Raleigh I came across this field of cleomes. A farmer with a sense of humor had set up this beautiful scarecrow and her bicycle.  I think this image is so much more interesting than just a close up of a cleome. On a side note, I have tried to get cleomes going in my yard for years now. I know people who have too many of them and almost see them as a weed. Any suggestions on what I am doing wrong would be appreciated!


Another way to get a great photo of flowers or plants is to take advantage of great light. As I have discussed before, the best light is at the beginning and the end of the day. One early morning I took this photo of the black-eyed susans in my yard just as I was getting in the car to drive the kids to camp. I stopped for just a moment to take this image with my inexpensive, Olympus point and shoot. Early morning light coming through the moist air could have made anything look good!

ISO: 100

Shutterspeed: 1/400

Aperture: f/4,

Lens:200 mm lens

Flash: none

In this photo of red buds the late afternoon sun was backlighting the heart-shaped leaves and this beautiful butterfly. I was very careful to make sure that the wings of the butterfly were not overexposed, which would have been easy to do given their lightness. I managed this easily by looking at the histogram at the back of my camera. I promise to write a whole blog post at a later about histograms as they are soooooo important.

ISO: 800

Shutterspeed: 1/160

Aperture: f/3.2

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: none

Overcast light is nice and reliable, no matter what time of day. I just love these aspen trees as they remind me of the birch trees that I grew up with. I recently took a trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado where aspen trees are in abundance. I was mostly on horseback so I was very wary of carrying a lot of expensive equipment in my backpack, in case I fell or ran into a rain storm. So I packed equipment that I could bear losing. This is what was in my camera bag to shoot the rest of the images in this blog post:
– A Canon 40D shooting RAW images, not jpeg
– 50 mm f.25 macro lens
– 22-inch pop up reflector
– Canon 580 EX flash, with a swivel head

In this very dry environment with little color I found myself drawn to the few wildflowers that we came across. These wild roses were everywhere! I loved them set against the backdrop of the bark of the aspen trees.

ISO: 500

Shutterspeed: 1/200

Aperture: f/9

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: none

ISO: 800

Shutterspeed: 1/200

Aperture: f/6.3

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: yes

Macro, or close-up, photography is perfect for capturing the intricate beauty of a small flower. I focused in tightly on this wild rose with that same 50mm macro lens. I didn’t love the natural light on these flowers so for the rest of the images in this blog post I used my reflector as a flag to block the light on the flower. Then I used my swivel-headed flash, bounced off the same reflector, to illuminate the flower.  I almost always bounce my light on the white side, not the metallic side of the reflector.

ISO: 800

Shutterspeed: 1/200

Aperture: f/9

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: yes

In this photo of the blue bells there were a lot of distracting plants in the background. So I chose an exposure that was at least a couple of stops less than the ambient light. So in this case, let’s say that the background was 1/200 at f/5.6. By exposing at f/9 there isn’t enough light in the background to show all the details so it goes dark, which works in this case.




ISO: 800

Shutterspeed: 1/200

Aperture: f/6.3

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: yes

I just had to get a good photo of a columbine in the wilds of Colorado, as it is their state flower. Plus these flowers look so different from the columbines in my North Carolina yard.  The already dry area is in a drought this year, so this was just about the only columbine I came across on one of our rides. Unfortunately for me it was located across a mountain stream. I gladly trudged through the cold, rushing water to get this image, which I shot in much the same way as the bluebells. Although in this case I matched the exposure to the background so as not to have it go black.


ISO: 320

Shutterspeed: 1/250

Aperture: f/18

Lens:50 mm lens

Flash: yes

Using that same reflector/ flag method I photographed these dried blooms against the backdrop of the mountains across the San Luis Valley. I don’t know what kind of plant they are, sorry! At this point I had been taking so many of my images close-up, so it was nice to include the surroundings for once.


If you decide that you are really into photographing flowers you can splurge on some great equipment that will make your photos even better. I visited my favorite, local camera store, Southeastern Camera, to get a handle on prices and products.

FILTERS. You can invest in polarizing filters that can darken the sky as well as saturate the image.

CLOSE UP LENS. If you want to focus on just the petals, stamen and pistils of the flowers you can use a close up lens, which function in the same way as filters in that they screw onto the front of the lens. The close up lenses typically come in a kit of three that multiply your magnification 1, 2 and 4 times. These filter kits range from $40 to $100.

EXTENSION TUBES basically accomplish the same thing as a close up lens but they fit between the lens and the camera body. It is essentially a hollow tube that moves the lens farther away from the sensor, which allows the lens to focus closer. But beware that you will lose a stop or two of light when using them. Open up your aperture or slow down your shutter speed to accommodate.

TRIPOD. If I had room for one more thing in my bag in Colorado it definitely would have been a tripod! Because you really want to have nice depth of field it is better to use an f/stop of 5.6 or higher. In order to do this you need to have a slower shutter speed to compensate, especially in low light conditions. A good tripod can keep your camera still so you can get a tack sharp image. You can spend anywhere from $100 to $1000 on a tripod. I find it is better to go ahead and get a good one as you most likely will not have to replace it for a long time, which makes it a worthwhile investment.

REMOTE SWITCH. To keep your camera truly still on your tripod you can either set the timer or use a remote shutter. This way the motion of your had pressing the shutter will be eliminated as a source of movement. Wireless versions start at $69 and wired start at $20.

MACRO LENS. The 50mm lens I used for most of these photos is relatively inexpensive at $349. But you can get an even better 100mm macro for around $1000.

Please let me know if you have any questions! I wrote this column in response to a reader, Rex Mercer, who asked for some tips for amateur photographers who are more advanced.  Any other suggestions or ideas for photo stories may be sent to kpophoto@chapelboro.com. Thanks for reading!



American Craft Beer Week, May 16-22

Craft beer–you know it when you drink it, or maybe I should say you know when you’re not drinking it. If your favorite beer company buys ad space during national sporting events, let me whisper softly in your ear, That’s not craft beer. If your favorite beer features how many calories it contains prominently in its name or on its label,That’s not craft beer, and if you drink anything that has its caloric content in its name we need to have a conversation about a whole lotta stuff.  According to the Brewers’ Association, the Colorado-based nonprofit behind craftbeer.com, an American Craft brewer can pretty much be summed up in three adjectives: small, independent, and traditional. Click here to read more about their definition. 

Today begins American Craft Beer Week. This is the sixth year that folks across the country have been celebrating American Craft Beer Week, but 2011 is special because this is the first time that “American Craft Beer Week will see official events hosted in all 50 states, making it the largest-ever celebration of U.S. craft brewers.” 

The good news is that Chapelboro friends don’t need to leave the city limits to celebrate American Craft Beer Week with the proper small, indie, traditionally brewed pint. Plenty of locations around Chapel Hill and Carrboro will unofficially celebrate excellence in the craft beer being served and brewed all over the Triangle. A little inspiration can be found at the following locations: 
  • Brixx Pizza, Meadowmont, Chapel Hill – I’ve come to the surprising conclusion that this regional pizza chain also has one of the best selections of craft beer on tap in Chapel Hill. On top of that, almost all draught beers at Brixx are $1.95 on Mondays. Every Monday! Currently at least two dozen are available on draught, call (919) 929-1942 to hear the lineup. Be prepared to enjoy favorites like RogueHeavy Seas, and SweetWater. They almost always have at least one beer from Winston-Salem’s Foothills and Durham’s Triangle beer on tap as well. 
  • Carolina Brewery and Triangle Brewing Company team up for a joint beer dinner at Carolina Brewery’s West Franklin Street location on Tuesday, May 17th. Each of the four courses will be paired with a beer from these breweries, and the fun starts at 6:30 with a brewer’s reception. Call (919) 942-1800 for reservations (required). $35 per person plus tax and gratuity. Click here to read the info from their web site.
  • TJ’s Beverage and Tobacco in Carrboro (across from the snuggly Belgian beer bar Milltown) might look like a nondescript mini-mall stop for smokes, but this is one of the best places in Orange County to purchase some very hard to find North Carolina-brewed craft beer. Case in point: They are one of two places in the Triangle where beer heads can buy growlers of Pisgah (Black Mountain, NC), and they are the only place in the Triangle where you can purchase a sample from Morganton’s Catawba Valley Brewing Company portfolio that includes Hyper Monkey Coffee Stout, Berliner Weisse, and of course an IPA, Firewater Indian Pale Ale. 
Take a minute to leave a comment for chapelboro.com readers about how you plan to celebrate American Craft Beer Week. Cheers!