D.G. Martin

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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Who Teaches us How To Live – And Die?

Alzheimer’s. Just the word scares you to death, doesn’t it? A few years ago, I saw an article that described and gave examples of a new mental test that can make a very reliable preliminary diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. I read every word. I answered every question. I will tell you why in a minute. My family has a long interest in this disease. It slowly robs its victims of the ability to remember and to reason. Then it takes their personalities and slowly steals their lives away. My father was a victim. After his death, my mother spent the last part of her life comforting the families of victims, organizing support groups, and raising money to find the causes of Alzheimer’s. But there is more to it, more that explains why any article about Alzheimer’s always stops me in my tracks.   More than 40 years ago my father, only 58 years old, learned he was afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s. A successful college president, widely admired and loved, he seemed happy with his work and ready for many years of additional service to his college and community. It never seemed fair. But, of course, the killer diseases that bring about premature death never seem fair. Now, why did I try all the questions on that test that made the preliminary check for Alzheimer’s? Well, we all...

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One more year of believing

What does my brief appearance last month on stage in “The Murphey School Radio Show” have to do with Christmas memories? It is a little bit of a long story, starting with the confession that for a long time I wanted to be a ventriloquist like Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Okay, “The Murphey School Radio Show” is not the “Grand Ole Opry” or Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” But many of the hundreds of people who saw the show in person or the countless others who heard the broadcast would say it was just as good. I got to do a skit with popular author Lee Smith. She played the host on a program called “Bookwitch,” and I was her guest. The made-up title of my book was “Dummies for Dummies.” My ventriloquist’s dummy (or puppet) and I had small speaking parts. It was a dream that began more than 60 years ago, about the time I had begun to figure out the role of Santa Claus. My parents knew that I wanted Santa to bring me two things–a new basketball and a small ventriloquist’s dummy. They told me that Santa couldn’t be expected to bring me two “big” presents and that I would have to choose which one I wanted the most. Of course, I wanted both. I needed the new basketball. The older kids...

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Missing someone special at holiday time

Harder, isn’t it, when the loss of a best friend or a loved one comes at holiday time? Maybe we already had a present picked out. And we are left wondering what gift for us might have been in the plans of our lost one. Harder still, isn’t it, when an accident or health crisis suddenly shatters the expectations of a long, happy, comfortable, supportive association. Gone. No time of reunion, no laughing with and at each other, no exchange of secret hopes and worries. Just an empty chair at the table, an unused bed in the guest room, and an unopened bottle of a shared favorite beverage. Thirty years ago, Robert Whitton first gave me the unwelcome news that old age was chasing me down. He and I were teaching at UNC-Charlotte, riding together from our nearby homes in the morning and then to downtown Charlotte to our regular jobs when our classes were over. That day, after my last business law class, I walked to his math classroom to meet him for the ride downtown. He was not there. “We’re taking a test. He will be back in a few minutes,” one of his students told me. Later, when we were in the car, Whitton asked, “Do you know what that student told me?” Then, without waiting, smiling devilishly, “She said that some ‘gray-headed’ man had come...

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Winter reading suggestions from North Carolina Bookwatch

It is time to talk about books again. If you are looking for some special holiday gifts for some hard-to-give-to friends, I may have some help for you, thanks to UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch’s programs during the next few weeks. Here is a book for lovers of history or politics: One of North Carolina’s most popular speakers about European history and the history of ideas is Lloyd Kramer, chair of the department of history at UNC-Chapel Hill. He makes complicated topics understandable and interesting. That is what he has done in his new book, “Nationalism in Europe & America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775.” I always thought of nationalism as our collective loyalty to our country, a good thing that binds our country’s people together. But Professor Kramer challenges those ideas in his book and in his conversation with meon Bookwatch on Friday, December 9, at 9:30 p.m. Sunday’s Bookwatch will be preempted by special Winterfest programming. For those who love down to earth stories about North Carolina people, I recommend Ruth Moose. She is widely admired as an author, storyteller, poet, teacher, and supportive reviewer of the works of other writers. What grabs my attention are her stories about farmers, townspeople, preachers, teachers, handymen, and regular people struggling to get to the next day. Most are set in and near the Uwharries, where Moose grew up. Her book...

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