Obama, In Speech, To Focus On Income Disparities

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is renewing his focus on the income gap between rich and poor.

He’ll deliver an address later today to argue his case that income inequality and wage stagnation are threatening upward mobility and retirement security.

White House says Obama will reiterate his call for an increase in the minimum wage and promote possible economic benefits of the troubled health care law.


Barilla My Heart

My mission to write a blog a day for the entire month of November was ALMOST successful. I came up four blogs short. But a promise is a promise…so, four more to go. Starting with this one–which was actually the one I’ve been trying to write for two months, that spurred me to start the blog-a-day mission in the first place. It’s finally done!


I am not a food snob.

Oh, sure, I guess I have my moments. I won’t eat Taco Bell, for one thing. I try to avoid any food whose name contains the word “Whiz.” At home we just upgraded from regular ol’ Digiorno’s to their schmancy new “Pizzeria!” line, with little flakes of oregano or parsley or whatever that green stuff is. And I usually go for the Kashi frozen dinners over Lean Cuisine. (Lemongrass Coconut Chicken, y’all. Seriously.)

But I am not a food snob. I drink Miller Lite and screw-top wine. My favorite restaurant is Cracker Barrel. I’ve actually consumed and enjoyed those frozen chicken wings so devoid of actual chicken that they’re legally required to call them “WYNGZ.” And while I do own several cookbooks, the only one I really use is something called A Man, A Can, A Plan.

So when the owner of Barilla Pasta went full-on homophobic on a radio show earlier this fall (that link covers some of his choicer comments), I was shocked to find—amidst the usual calls for the usual boycott—this weird strain of folks who kept saying it was no big loss, because Barilla was terrible pasta anyway.

“Noticeably poorer!” said one.

“Gummy!” said another.

And while I really really wanted to hate on Guido Barilla, all I could think from then on was:

“Seriously? There are pasta snobs?”

Let me go back. There’s a very simple reason why I’m not a food snob: I really can’t tell the difference. Not even lying. I’ve learned that steak is better if you marinate it, but otherwise it’s basically just beef. I can sip wine and tell you if it’s “red” or “white,” but I can’t tell a “shiraz” from a “cabernet.” Oh you should have seen me at the Biltmore last year, trying to make sincere comments at the wine tasting that didn’t involve the phrase “I’m only here for the free booze.” (What is a “note”? Somebody enlighten me.)

So when it comes to pasta, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same ol’ lina.

But—apparently—there are others with more distinguishing tastes.


“Nothing special!”

“I prefer DeCecco!”

What in the hell is going on? It’s pasta, people! Nitpick if you will over boxed versus homemade or gluten versus gluten-free, but good Lord, man, are they not all the same vaguely beige stringy sauce receptacles, regardless of the name on the package? Has this Barilla episode not taught us that discrimination in all its forms is wrong?

(Apparently it’s taught Mr. Barilla. Score one for international pressure.)

It boggled my mind. But then I thought—maybe it’s me. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. I’ve been a pasta fan all my life—ordering spaghetti-with-meat-sauce off the kids’ menu three times a week at the Golden Gate in Lansing, or dragging my parents to all-you-can-eat nights at this restaurant or that, or scouring central New Jersey to find the most perfectly wonderfully stereotypical pizza/pasta place in the state.

Had I been inhaling spaghetti so fast I never stopped to taste it?

There was only one way to find out.

I had to put Barilla—and myself—to the test.

From A To Ziti

Fortunately, at least, I wasn’t alone in my confusion.

“Wait,” said my friend Paula. “They’re saying Barilla sucks because—because it’s anti-gay?”

“No,” I said. “Well, actually yes, but it’s also the pasta. They’re saying the pasta sucks.”

“You mean, like, Barilla sauce isn’t as good as other brands?”

“No, it’s the pasta. They’re saying it’s low-quality pasta.”


A couple seconds went by.

“Because it’s not ‘al dente’?”

“I don’t even know.”

The mission! Test-taste a whole bunch of different pasta brands at once, and see if I can identify any tangible difference at all. (Aside from the ideology.)

The accomplice! Kit FitzSimons, my roommate and partner in crime.

The supplies! In my cupboard: one box of Barilla-brand elbow macaroni and several boxes of Harris Teeter store-brand spaghetti.

(Oh, I can feel you pasta snobs shuddering already.)

I needed more variety. But where to begin? So many choices—DeCecco! Bertolli! Tamagotchi!—and as far as I knew they all came off the same assembly line. This whole scheme would be a total failure if I went out and tried a dozen brands, only to have them all turn out to be differently-named Monsanto subsidiaries.

Clearly some research was in order.

So here’s what I learned, after a half hour on the internet:

1.    Good pasta is bumpy and dusty. Bumpy to hold the sauce, and dusty for some reason I couldn’t quite figure out that has something to do with how heavily-processed it is. But you definitely want something that doesn’t feel smooth, and if it looks like it’s recently been rolled in flour, all the better.

2.    Apparently it’s supposed to taste “nutty.” I did not know this. Did you know this?

3.    And DeCecco seems to be a popular brand, at least among the demographic that spends its time posting on Internet comment threads. So, minus ten points for DeCecco.

(And my very, very Italian friend Kristen added: “You have to try gluten-free. You’ll definitely tell the difference with gluten-free.”)

So, armed with all that, off I went to boost Orange County’s sales tax revenue.

I started with a bag of Trader Joe’s organic spaghetti. Some guy from the Sopranos had said good things about Trader Joe’s spaghetti, and you don’t want to cross a guy from the Sopranos. Check one. From there, it was off to Harris Teeter, where DeCecco happened to be on sale. Check two.

But I still didn’t have any really schmancy stuff. Trader Joe’s Organic was all well and good, but to make this work I needed something really pretentious. Where, where, where does one go in this town to buy the sort of food that thinks way too highly of itself?

Pasta blog Weaver Street Market

(My other option was Whole Foods, but I think I’m supposed to be boycotting them too.)

Weaver Street turns out to have a terrific selection. The first thing I spotted was something called Ancient Harvest: organic, gluten-free pasta made from quinoa, of all things. Well, gosh, you gotta have quinoa. (Plus, it was calling right to me. “YOU’LL NEVER GO BACK TO ‘PLAIN’ NOODLES AGAIN!” it said. Quotation marks and all.)


I figured that would be enough: regular pasta from Harris Teeter, DeCecco and Barilla; fancier organic stuff from Trader Joe’s; and the gluten-free quinoa. A nice mix, all in all.

And then—right there in the Weaver Street pasta aisle—I saw it.



Oh sure, I already had my gluten-free selection—and I wasn’t about to say no to quinoa—but good lord, how could anyone turn this down? Organic! Kosher! “GOOD CONSISTENT TEXTURE NOT MUSHY AL DENTE WHEAT-FREE GLUTEN-FREE!” Seven different distinct fonts, just for the product name! (Not even exaggerating. Count ‘em.)

And that’s just on the front of the package. On the back, it gets even better:

This pasta is made from quality rice and formed to gourmet class. For years, our focus has been on making a pasta from rice that delivers an ultimate enjoyment of pasta…

JOY! A rice pasta that cooks likes any regular pasta. Award-winning taste. Al dente and not mushy. Its texture, superb.

“Ultimate enjoyment of pasta,” you say? “JOY!”, you say?? “Cooks likes any regular pasta,” you say?! Sign me up!

Plus, who could turn down these cute li’l bunnies?


(Because if a BUNNY says it’s not mushy, it’s got to be true.)

So there it was. Armed with six different pasta brands, I marched off to the kitchen to make some magic happen.

A Penne For Your Thoughts

Now, when it comes to preparation, I’m pretty easy to please. I won’t go full Honey Boo Boo and pour butter and ketchup all over it, but I’m usually good with cheap tomato sauce in a can.

But even I knew that that wouldn’t do for such a highly scientific taste test as this one. Sauce covers up the pasta, and it was the pasta we were after. (“Harris Teeter rotini taste just like Barilla when you cover them in pesto and cheese!” reported my friend Brad. Well, that just wouldn’t do at all.)

So after much discussion (about fifteen seconds), we decided on a twofer. Taste all the pastas first completely plain, then once more with sauce and Parmesan.

Fire up the stove!

ROUND ONE: Barilla Elbows; DeCecco Spaghetti no. 12; Harris Teeter Half-Cut Spaghetti

The kitchen was hot and the action was hotter. Boiling pots bubbled side-by-side as the culinary world breathlessly watched, and waited. “Al dente perfection in seven to eight minutes,” the package said. Four minutes went by. Five. Six.

Oh, what the hell. It looks about done.

We sat down and dove in.


First, Barilla! We tasted the noodles plain.

“Hmm,” said Kit.

I agreed.

“I like it,” he said after a few seconds. “It’s hard to dislike when it’s my favorite kind of pasta.”

“What, Barilla?”

“No, elbows,” he said. “Like macaroni and cheese.”

“Without cheese,” I said.


I took another bite. I chewed slowly, pondering. The world turned.

“We’re not very good taste testers, are we,” I said.


Second, Harris Teeter! Indistinguishable by sight from Barilla, except for the shape.

By flavor?

“This—this has no flavor,” said Kit. “It—tastes like water.”

“Did Barilla have a flavor?” I asked.

“Sort of,” he said. “More than this, though, right?”

“I really couldn’t tell the difference.”

“I mean—” He started examining the back of the box. “I mean, I don’t know what ‘durum semolina’ is, but this is nothing but durum semolina.”

“Does that matter?”

“Well, Barilla—” He started reading that box. “See. Barilla has all these other ingredients.”

I looked at it. He was right.


“But I don’t know what any of those ingredients mean,” I said. “Is it the thiamine mononitrate that’s adding the flavor?”

“Maybe it’s the riboflavin.”

Third, DeCecco! Darling of the Internet message board!

The DeCecco was a little dusty out of the package, and it had a bit of texture. Score two.


We took a bite. Neither of us said anything.

We took a second bite.

“This tastes like—” Kit started.

I waited.

“—hard water.”

I threw up my hands. “Okay,” I said. “I can’t tell the difference between any of these.”

“Well, the texture’s different,” Kit said. “It’s—it’s chewy. Like Twizzler pull-and-peel.”

“That’s bad, right?” I said.

“Well, it’s not good.”

“Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough,” I said. “The package did say cook it longer.”

“Maybe this is ‘al dente,’” Kit said. “What’s al dente?”

“I think it’s—well, it’s like—” I started. I paused. “I don’t really know.”

We Googled it.

“Google says it means ‘firm but not hard,’” Kit said.

“That isn’t helpful.”

We’re bad pasta snobs, y’all.

So after all that, the verdict: three brands of fairly inexpensive, mainstream, store-bought pasta, and they all taste pretty much exactly the same, which is to say they didn’t really taste like anything at all. Adding sauce and Parmesan didn’t help distinguish them.

Oh well.

On to round two!

ROUND TWO: Barilla Elbows; Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti; Tinkyáda’s Gluten-Free Pasta Joy; Ancient Harvest Gluten-Free Quinoa Supergrain Pasta


With special guest stars Ragu sauce, Parmesan cheese, Coca-Cola, and I think that’s Cool Ranch Doritos photobombing there on the right.

Okay, there’s an extent to which pasta is pasta. But with organic, quinoa, corn, gluten and gluten-free all in the mix, there HAD to be a difference here.

And there was.

“The Trader Joe’s tastes like nothing,” Kit said at first.

“No, it does,” I said. “Wait for it.”

He waited for it.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s got a—it tastes like—”

“Cinnamon,” I said. “The Trader Joe’s tastes like cinnamon.”

Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti does, in fact, taste a little like cinnamon. It’s delicious. It’s even better with sauce, especially the kind of sauce that’s enhanced by a hint of cinnamon. (You know. Ragu and what not.)

“Wow,” I said. “I never knew.”

“Okay,” said Kit. “Let’s try the gluten-free.”

( I should pause at this point to mention that I’m paraphrasing a conversation that took place quite a while ago, so the conversation didn’t necessarily go exactly like this. For instance, Kit did not actually say the phrase “Okay, let’s try the gluten-free,” nor do I believe he’s ever said that once in his life.)

But we tried the gluten-free.

Oh Lord.

Now, I should pause at THIS point to say that we have a friend, Sylvia, who’s been a gluten-free baker for a couple years now, and her stuff is terrific. Good gluten-free breads and pastries and pastas are not easy to come by, but we know from experience that it’s not impossible.

But THIS gluten-free pasta? Not so much.

The Ancient Harvest actually wasn’t terrible. “But it’s gritty,” Kit said.


“It—” he paused. “It tastes like pasta with sauce, without the sauce.”


“The texture, I mean,” he said. “It’s as if there’s something on it, but there’s not.”

“Let’s try the Tinkyáda,” I said.

Again, I remind you that I may or may not have actually uttered the phrase “Let’s try the Tinkyáda” here. But let me assure you, I will NEVER utter it again.

“Ugh,” I said. “It’s—sticky.”

“It’s chewy,” Kit said. “Not in a good way either. Like—bouncy chewy.”

“It’s got this sticky film on it,” I said.

I touched it. The film came off on my fingers.

I checked the pot it cooked in. The sticky film had congealed on the edge.


Appetite spoiler alert.

“I am not finishing this,” Kit said. He physically pushed the bowl away.

“Do you want to try it with sauce?”

He looked at me.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

So into the trash it went. It didn’t even survive a three-bite taste test.


The bunnies LIED!

And thus ended—successfully, I guess—our quest to find a pasta that’s distinguishable from Barilla.

Durum Roll…

So after all that, what have we learned?

Well, first off, we learned that “food critic” is not the job for me.

What else?

Mainly, I learned that there are, in fact, real substantive differences between (some) different types of pasta. I’m still not convinced there’s any significant distinction between Barilla and DeCecco and Harris Teeter—except for the politics, that is—but man, once you go beyond the mainstream store-bought stuff, there’s actually a pretty wide spectrum. Both better and worse.

I will not be eating Tinkyáda again.

But Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti is a winner.


Always trust the Italian peasant over the bunny.

(Shame I’m having to leave my apartment. I’m walking distance from Trader Joe’s right now.)

So, chalk that up to an interesting culinary adventure. I haven’t had too many. The one that still takes the cake is that time in Albuquerque when my friends and I went into the Standard Diner (“Guy Fieri ate here!”) and I ordered something called the “Bourbon Butter Burger” (“as featured on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ with Guy Fieri!”). It came to the table, open-faced. “Man,” my friend Stip said. “That’s a giant hunk of cheese on top of the burger.”

“That’s—that’s not cheese,” I said.

It was an inch-thick slab of pure butter.

(It was delicious, by the way.)

So this didn’t quite measure up to that. But at least we got enough pasta out of it to last several months. And we’ll be buying a new kind of pasta from now on, assuming I can work up the energy to trek to Trader Joe’s.

(The whole point was to find something to replace Barilla, after all.)

The leftovers, though, I have to say, weren’t great.


So it is with my cooking style, I guess. Even when I try something fancy and gourmet, it always comes out looking like I would’ve been better off with Spaghetti-Os.


Welcome Chancellor Folt

From Maria Palmer.

Last weekend I participated in the innagural WW Finlator Lectures in Faith & Social Justice at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. The church Bill Finlator pastored for 3 decades celebrated his legacy as one of the great American prophets of the 20th Century. Thank you, Pullen, for an inspiring weekend and for reminding us that we have so much work to do.

It is easy for us privileged Chapel Hillians to think that our actions are always consistent with the highest ethical standards. We don’t break the law. We recycle. We donate money to great causes. I am sure, many of us also pray for justice and for the poor on a regular basis.

But justice is NOT like the climate, something we can call “an act of God.” Justice (or injustice) is the result of our collective decisions. Bill Finlator reminded us that the Bible calls us to DO justice. When we fail to protect women and girls from sexual violence; when one third of our county’s residents are low-income and thousands are uninsured; when one in five children in Orange Co. are living in poverty, I think we may be failing to DO justice.

As we welcome Chancellor Carol Folt, I take hope. After all, UNC president Tom Ross has said she meets his criteria of “unwavering integrity” and somewone who will “always stand for what is right.”

What is right, Dr. Folt, is leading UNC and the community in doing justice. What is right, is paying UNC workers a living wage, what is right is protecting women—students and employees—against abuse and sexual violence. What is right is celebrating and thanking whistle-blowers, not harassing or firing them. They are the heroes who will make our University great. What is right is mobilizing the brain power of our expert Educators to close the achievement gap in our schools. What is right is giving the children of our lowest-paid workers access to the resources of our great university for tutoring, to attend summer programs and enrichment opportunities that bring wealthy children from across the US to our campus. What is right is giving poor children in our community the help they need so that they can attend UNC, not because they pulled themselves up but their non-existent bootstraps, but because the University refused to stand by while children of color are channeled into a permanent underclass. What is right, Dr. Folt, is to find a way to provide adequate health care and transportation for the workers in this community that will make it possible for you to do great things.

Chancellor Folt. Welcome to Chapel Hill. We expect great things from you!


Surgery for Back Pain? Think Twice

Back pain can be an enormous obstacle to your daily life. Our spines are so central to every movement we make that any discomfort or pain can make ordinary activities unbearable.

There are numerous causes of back pain, from muscle spasm to disc problems to bone deformities. And there are almost as many kinds of treatments, from massage and acupuncture to steroid injections to surgery.

Our little Nurse Tip page is not big enough to provide an overview of all the treatments for back pain, but it’s important to know that according to the Mayo Clinic and recent studies, surgery helps in only a small percentage of cases and can create complications that can be even worse than the original problem.

Our advice is not to rule out surgery altogether, but to think of it as a last resort after trying every other treatment, starting with the least invasive. New studies have shown that acupuncture is very effective for treating back pain.

 For more information about treatments for back pain, check out these websites: Mayo Clinic webpage & Web MD on acupuncture for back pain 

You can follow Everybody Needs A Nurse on Twitter @ENANurse1

image by ginchyqueendangle via flickr


OCR Will Investigate UNC Over Sexual Assault Cases

CHAPEL HILL – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has decided to go ahead with an investigation of UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases on campus.

That investigation is in response to a complaint filed with the office by four current and former UNC students and one former assistant dean, Melinda Manning.

Among other things, the 30-page complaint alleges that sexual assault cases were handled by an untrained panel of staff, students and administrators, who subjected accusers to inappropriate and insensitive questioning. It also charges that Manning was personally discriminated against for having children—and that in 2010, UNC officials intentionally underreported the number of sexual assault cases on campus, in violation of the federal Clery Act.

General Counsel Leslie Strohm vehemently refuted that last charge before the Board of Trustees in January. But UNC officials have not commented on the complaint beyond that—except to say that many of the cases in question occurred when the University was in the midst of implementing several federally-mandated changes in procedure.

Numerous members of the Board of Trustees expressed strong support for the officials singled out by name in the complaint, including Strohm, Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp. But UNC has also taken at least one step in direct response to the complaint—hiring Gina Smith as a consultant. Smith is a former prosecutor who specializes in high-profile sexual abuse cases; she also worked with Amherst College after a similar controversy last year.

The OCR’s decision to investigate does not necessarily imply any wrongdoing on UNC’s part, but investigations of this nature are not common: in January, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the Office receives about 30 such complaints a year and investigates about 10 percent of them.

The University’s handling of sexual assault cases has been at the forefront of local debate all year—revolving primarily around the case of sophomore Landen Gambill, one of the four students who filed the official complaint. Gambill accused her ex-boyfriend, a fellow student, of sexual assault in the spring of 2012; a five-member University Hearings Board found him guilty of verbal harassment, acquitting him of the sexual-assault charge.

But Gambill says the whole matter was mishandled, with board members blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator. Indeed Gambill is now herself the accused—as her ex has charged her with “disruptive and intimidating behavior” in UNC’s student-run Honor Court. (While Gambill’s case was part of the official complaint, this most recent twist occurred after the complaint was filed.)

UNC released this statement in response to the news:

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has notified the University that it will investigate a discrimination complaint filed in January with its District of Columbia office. The complainants have made allegations about the University’s response to sexual assault and sexual violence cases. The letter noted that opening the allegation for investigation “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

During the investigation, “OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate.”

The University will respond appropriately to the OCR’s request for information and cooperate fully with the investigation.


Non-Profit Spotlight: Compass Center For Women and Families

“One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time.” Violence against women is an appalling human rights violation. But it is not inevitable. We can put a stop to this.”
– Nicole Kidman

After more than a decade of collaborating to serve the needs of women and families, the Women’s Center and the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County decided to merge on July 1, 2012, becoming Compass Center for Women and Families.
“The name Compass Center for Women and Families connotes an organization that helps people find direction in their lives,” says Ann Gerhardt, executive director of the Women’s Center and now Compass Center for Women and Families. “It reflects our collective work to create opportunities for individuals to change the direction of their lives through a variety of paths.”
The Compass Center’s mission is to help individuals and families prevent and end domestic violence and become self-sufficient. We provide domestic violence crisis services, career and financial education, assistance with legal resources, and adolescent empowerment programs. 
The ultimate goal of the merger is to expand services to more individuals and to provide a more complete continuum of services for clients.  “It takes courage to come to Compass Center for help,” says Development Director Marya McNeish.  “We’re really glad clients will no longer have to tell their story twice.” Together the two agencies have served nearly 4,000 clients, 700 of those are domestic violence victims.
The Compass Center helps people like Maria, who entered their financial counseling and support group in serious debt. She met weekly with the group for several weeks, and then maintained a regular schedule with the lead financial counselor for the fifteen month span of the program. She is now in a much better financial state, and is able to set an example for her two college-aged children.
Another client, Jane, was able to escape with her children from an abusive home life when the center helped her get safe, deal with the hardships of restructuring her family and pursue an advanced degree to help with future job prospects.
The Compass Center is currently in the process of extending its bilingual services; the center is hiring a bilingual court advocate, and will be filling an additional bilingual position in the coming months.
“We want prospective clients and community supporters to know we’re ready to help clients who are experiencing a domestic violence crisis issue or who are simply in transition and need our self-sufficiency services,” says Marya McNeish, development director of the Compass Center.
Through Women’s Eyes, By Women’s Hands, Compass Center’s Annual Art Show and Fundraiser, is coming up on March 8 at Top of the Hill.  Compass Center staff is especially inspired by the story of one participating artist who suffered emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her husband for decades.  Doing art has been part of her healing process, and she is contributing several pieces to the show.  They will share her work and the work of nearly 100 other women artists in our sale of $50 “anonymous mini-masterpieces”.  Fortunately and unfortunately at this time the event is currently sold out due to the excitement and passion that our community has for this great organization but, there will be future events so please make sure to visit their website at www.compassctr.org for more information. 

In closing with the recent events that have occurred on the campus of UNC with Landen Gambill and the stories that have been told above domestic violence is not limited to a specific class, race, status or community.  There are people in this community …..yes folks Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC… maybe neighbors, friends, co-workers who are experiencing these horrific events and I ask that you be cognizant of any signs and act immediately because there are people and organizations out there like this one that care! 

Giving in Orange County

When I reached the age of senior discounts, I wondered whether I should accept them. Because others likely have greater need for this generosity, it has become my practice to take the discount, collect these bits of change or occasional dollars that I would have paid absent the discount, and then contribute my windfall to the Interfaith Council on my birthday, a nice little bonus to our family’s philanthropic commitments. I enjoy sharing my thinking with cashiers and invariably it brings a smile to their faces. These smiles make me think about charitable giving in our community.

Recently the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a landmark study, including an interactive database, of charitable giving across the U.S. in 2012. Did you know that those with incomes greater than $50,000 donated 4.7% of their income to charity? Charlotte residents contributed 5.8% of their income, earning them sixth place among the 50 largest U.S. cities. Orange County and our neighbors in Durham paint a striking picture. In Orange County the median discretionary income was $73,000 and we donated 4.6% of that income to charity, less than the national median. For Durham residents, the median income was a more modest $50,000 and yet they more generously donated 6.1% of their income to charity. Think about this for a minute. The income in Durham is nearly 30% less than the income in Orange County and yet our neighbors to the east contributed nearly a third more of their income to charity. This bears repeating. Durham residents earned a third less in income, but contributed a third more to charity.

Just imagine all the good that could be done, if the median contribution in the WCHL listening area matched the 6.1% given by Durham residents. Go to Chapelboro.com to learn about the many organizations and causes in our community alone that would benefit from these gifts. Talk to your friends about why you give, where you give, and discuss how Orange County can become a more generous player in the philanthropic world.


Town Council Talking Budget At Wed Work Session

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Town Council will identify budget priorities at a work session on Wednesday.

Click here for the Council’s Wednesday agenda.

In a memo to the council, Town Manager Roger Stancil notes that the economic recovery is not moving fast enough to meet the town’s needs. He says revenues have only just returned to the levels seen in 2008, while expenses have continued to rise.

To cope with ongoing shortfalls, the town will make the shift this year to priority budgeting.

That process gets underway this week when council members will vote by anonymous ballot to rank key goals and objectives. Staffers will then compare these goals with town programs and projects to identify where funding is needed most and where reductions can be made.

The budget work session starts at 6 o’clock Wednesday at the Town Operations Center on Millhouse Road in Public Works Building Two.


Disfranchisement–then and now

They “disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

It sounds like what North Carolina Republicans might have said behind closed doors while they were gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to assure their party’s continuing dominance.

However, the words came from a white Democratic state senator more than 100 years ago. Legendary historian C. Vann Woodward used the quote to show the thinking behind the white supremacy political movement in the late 1800s.

Both efforts, the post-Reconstruction “disfranchisement” and the 2011 redistricting, reduced the influence of African Americans in state government.

What made me think about the link between these two events, separated by more than 100 years?

First, an early reading of an upcoming biography of Josephus Daniels by Lee Craig reminded me of the Democratic Party’s successful efforts to minimize or eliminate African American influence in North Carolina politics at the turn of the last century.

Secondly, talking recently to a Democratic former state legislative leader, I suggested that Republicans had gone much further in redistricting to marginalize opponents than Democrats ever had. He smiled, and said, “Oh no, we would have done as much [after the 2000 census] if we had had the tools and hadn’t had Republican judges looking over our shoulders.”

Was there an element of revenge in the modern Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting plan? It was certainly there in post-Reconstruction politics. Here is more of Woodward’s quote: “One main object was [so] to redistrict the state that for the next ten years not a Republican can be elected to the Legislature…I believe in the law of revenge. The Radicals disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

As Reconstruction came to an end, white Southerners blamed all their political problems on newly enfranchised blacks and their Republican or Radical allies, which they called “the Negro problem.”

“The Democrats employed a variety of devices to diminish the Republican vote,” according to Michael Perman in “Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South.” “One tactic was to redraw electoral districts so as to disperse black voters throughout the white-majority districts and consolidate the remaining black vote into one, perhaps two, congressional seats. Through similar gerrymandering schemes, they also diluted the black vote for the state legislature.”

In North Carolina during early post-Reconstruction times, black areas were put into separate governing units, which were controlled by the white Democratic-controlled state government. Meanwhile, white areas were given “home rule,” the power to govern locally.

These efforts to limit black participation were marginally successful. But they did not prevent blacks and Republicans, joined by white Populists in a Fusion partnership, from taking over state government in 1896 and dismantling many of these white-control devices.

In response, white Democrats mounted the successful white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 that finally “solved” the Negro problem by freezing blacks almost completely out of the electoral process.

In today’s North Carolina, the Republican program to disperse blacks and Democrats into Republican districts and crowd the remainder into a very few districts has been, like the white supremacy campaign, successful in minimizing African American influence.

With the shift from a Democratic majority in the legislature and the results of new redistricting plan, African Americans have gone from being a powerful minority in a majority party to a powerless majority in a minority party.

The warning a supporter gave to a new female African American legislator says it best. “[Y]ou’re going into a war where you are a minority in every sense of that word. Not just because you’re a woman, not just because you’re black, but because you are one of the few Democrats.”

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 13, 17) guest is Bland Simpson, author of “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bookwatch Classics airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). Wednesday’s (January 16) program features Anthony Abbott, author of “Leaving Maggie Hope.”

Bland Simpson’s new book covers the Civil War era from two different perspectives. The first is that of a talented waterman and captain, but one who was enslaved and badly treated. The second perspective is that of a naval officer who had his own set of challenges as he served first the United States and then the Confederacy. It is hard to see how anyone could bring these points of view together in the same book, but Simpson, has done it in “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

Next week’s (January 20, 24) Bookwatch guest is Wilmington’s Emily Colin’s author of “The Memory Thief.”


“Sexual Exploitation” Charge For Ex-UNC Employee

ORANGE COUNTY – A former UNC employee who landed in hot water last year after officials found an illegal gun in his office has now received additional charges stemming from a child pornography investigation.

Charles Hitlin of Pittsboro has been charged with two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Prosecutors say he used a UNC email account in November to distribute pornographic photos of an underage child.

Hitlin was first arrested in November for possession of a gun on school property, after officers from UNC’s Department of Public Safety discovered it while investigating the pornography charge. That investigation began after an undercover police officer engaged in an online chat with someone who claimed to have had sex with numerous underage kids; that person’s email was traced back to Hitlin’s campus computer.

Hitlin’s next court date is set for Thursday in Orange County. He’s also scheduled to appear in court on the weapons charge later this month.