D.G. Martin

Praying for Bad Things to Happen

Why are so many people these days praying for bad things to happen to good people? And what does the answer to that question have to do with the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare? Here is a short answer to the first question. Whenever things are going bad for our country, it hurts the political party trying to retain control of the presidency. And it helps those out of power who seek to turn out those in power. Back in 2008 some Democrats secretly rejoiced at the economic disaster plaguing the country. Although George W. Bush was not running for reelection, the Republican candidate, John McCain, represented the party that controlled the presidency. Both Republicans and Democrats knew that the worse things got for the country, the better chance Barack Obama and the Democrats had to win. Can you blame some Democrats for wishing for the worst in 2008? They thought a bad economy was a small price to pay for the changes an Obama victory would, they hoped, bring about. Were they actually praying for bad things? I do not know for sure, but I would not be surprised. This year the shoe is on the other foot. The economy is still struggling to recover from the 2008 downturn that helped get Obama elected. Republicans...

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Bookwatch returns with authors who were worth waiting for

Those who missed North Carolina Bookwatch on UNC-TV while it has been off the air to make room for “Festival’s” special programming can look forward to this Sunday afternoon at five o’clock. Bookwatch returns with an encore lineup of books, authors, and characters. It all begins next Sunday with Rachel, the blue-eyed child of a black American GI and a Danish mother, who is the central character in an award-winning novel, “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” by Heidi Durrow. Durrow herself is the child of a Danish mother and an African-American father, whose military assignments brought him to North Carolina. The author’s real struggle to find her identity provided the background for the similar fictional struggle that Rachel faced. But the novel is a darker story, a more compelling one, of a child whose mother loved her so much she wanted her child to die with her. (Durrow will be my Bookwatch guest at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, April 1.) From “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 to Hattie McDaniel in “Gone with the Wind,” to Ethel Waters in “Member of the Wedding” in 1952, African-American actresses made their way into American movies in the first half of the last century.  In her new book, “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900–1960,” UNC-Chapel Hill professor Charlene Regester tells the real stories of these women who became stars...

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The Etch A Sketch problem is not with Romney's campaign

“What you need to do as soon as you can is to move as far to the right as you can in good conscience.” A very liberal and savvy North Carolina political advisor gave that advice to the winner of a Democratic primary in a conservative congressional district almost 30 years ago. Why would a liberal want his candidate to move from liberal positions towards a more conservative line? Simple. He wanted his candidate to win. Some liberal positions that helped win Democratic voters in a primary would scare off moderates and moderate conservatives. Unless his candidate adjusted enough to get some of those voters, the liberal political advisor knew his candidate would lose. I remembered that long-ago moment last week as I followed the news coverage of the “Etch A Sketch” story that caught Mitt Romney’s political advisor in an embarrassing gaffe. Eric Fehrnstrom was explaining how Romney, after taking far-right positions in primary contests, could appeal to the moderate voters he needs to win in November. “You hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” Pounce. Romney’s competitors in the Republican presidential primaries and Democratic supporters of Barack Obama raced to see who could pounce on Romney first. Rick Santorum held up an Etch A Sketch...

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There goes my Britannica status

It was a great run. You know what I am talking about: since the news about the end of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s print edition, as Scott Hollifield, editor of the McDowell News, writes: “Writers and commentators have waxed nostalgically on the demise of these revered tomes of knowledge in the wake of the digital revolution.” I have a special reason to “wax nostalgically” about the Britannica; it gave me one of my highest honors and certainly my best job title. Whenever I said that I “authored an article in the Britannica,” it got me attention and respect.  Maybe it was undeserved, but I cherished it. It all came crashing down last week when the Britannica announced that it was discontinuing its print edition. Everything else, I knew, would pass away some day, like the crumbling statue of the mighty king Ozymandias. But I thought the Britannica would be forever, and I would always be “co-author of the North Carolina section of the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the United States.” It began more than 20 years ago when my friend Marshall Gilchrist called to tell me that his family recommended me to the Britannica to update his late father’s article on North Carolina. What qualified me for this honor, other than my friendship with the Gilchrist family and their recommendation? Nothing, really. I had recently become secretary of the University...

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A Chapel Hill Soldier's World War II Uniform – Safe in Austria

In May 1945, the war in Europe was racing towards an end. General George Patton’s Third Army was chasing the broken German forces into Austria. A young North Carolinian, also named Patton, was part of General Patton’s forces. On May 2, Staff Sergeant Robert Patton, along with other soldiers of the 65th Infantry Division were poised on the banks of the Inn River preparing to cross a bridge over the river and secure the small town of Scharding, Austria. Because the retreating Germans blew up the bridge, Sergeant Patton’s group crossed in small pontoon boats and rafts. The Inn River, surging from springtime rains, swept nine American soldiers to their deaths. On the other side, the Americans quickly overran the resistance of the local militia and Nazi Youth, captured Scharding and moved on. They helped liberate Mauthausen Concentration Camp a few days before the war ended. The “Battle of Scharding” would be just another personal memory in the wartime experiences of the “Greatest Generation” except for events that took place years later. Once the war was over, Patton returned to Rutherfordton. His mother packed up his uniform and carefully stored it in the attic. Patton finished college at Davidson and began a career in business, leading to his own computer consulting firm and a move to Chapel Hill in 1965. In 1993, when his mother died, Patton found his...

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Do the lessons of Vietnam still haunt us?

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. True enough. But does that obvious truth mean that there are no lessons from our experience in Vietnam? Are there no haunting legacies that affect today’s leaders? Does the Vietnam War have an impact on Americans as they decide on actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and other places that call for the application of our military might? In their recent book, “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama,” former prominent journalist Marvin Kalb and his daughter, Deborah, explain how Vietnam has been an important factor in the decision-making of every president since John Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had to deal directly with the reality of that war, which each ultimately determined could not be won. Gerald Ford had to watch while Saigon fell. He felt compelled to demonstrate that the U.S. still had the might and the will to crush any country that challenged our interests. In response to the seizure of a U.S. merchant ship by Cambodian pirates, he launched overwhelming force in a risky but successful operation. On the other hand, Jimmy Carter, responding to the loss in Vietnam, aimed to keep the United States out of military conflict. However, unprecedented events in Iran forced him to change his posture and attempt a rescue of the embassy hostages. The failure of that mission tarnished Carter’s presidency...

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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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