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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup reveals "hopefulness, a newness, a sense of progress" in South Africa

Posted by on Tue, Jun 29, 2010 at 1:01 PM

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — Cape Town, June 29, noon, and the streets are filling up with fans of Spain and Portugal wearing their scarves and wigs and jerseys, the national flags draped across their backs, faces painted. The vuvuzelas already blare, as they do almost every moment.

Bzzzzzzzz off, vuvuzelas.
  • Andy Mead/YCJ
  • Bzzzzzzzz off, vuvuzelas.
So let’s talk about the vuvuzelas. They are, indeed, a South African tradition, and there are some beauts — beaded and painted masterpieces. But Coca-Cola has got hold of them, too, and filled the Fan Fests — the giant outdoor viewing areas with the jumbotrons and music acts — with vuvuzelas bearing the Coke logo.

I am glad that FIFA President Sepp Blatter made the decision to let a thousand vuvuzelas blossom, or a million vuvuzelas blare, but the truth is that they are a one-note wall of sound blocking out all the other national chants and cheers and songs, and I am sorry about that. The vuvus only truly bother me, though, when someone blows one directly into my ear or fills a shuttle bus with the relentless mooing.

But that’s the only bad thing I have to say about being at the World Cup in South Africa. Without exception, the South Africans I have spoken to in my first week here are thrilled and proud of have the Cup here. They are excited to show off their country, to break the stereotypes their visitors have about their country and continent. And they want to talk about soccer. Taxi drivers compare Messi to Ronaldo. Grocery clerks want to tell me why the English will never win the Cup. Waiters want to analyze last night’s game and predict tomorrow’s.

South Africans flock to the Fan Fests and the games themselves to watch, taking their children who have the month out of school for the Cup. My family and I saw two games in the gorgeous lowveld town of Nelspruit, nestled in a familiar Blue Ridge, and South African fans filled half the seats at both games. We saw Australia vs. Serbia, and the Aussies brought thousands of rowdy fans with them. We also saw North Korea vs. Ivory Coast, and we could spot nary a North Korea fan in the stadium full of South African’s who roared for the Elephants.

Can I admit that, as a fan of U.S. soccer, I was not unhappy when we lost to Ghana? True, when Landon Donovan scored the miracle goal to beat Algeria and put us through, my boys and I made a flesh pile in our hotel room. But here in Africa the desire, the need, for an African team to make good in this African World Cup is a very powerful force. Other than U.S. fans, I didn’t see or hear a soul pulling for our team. When Ghana won — and wasn’t it a glorious goal in the overtime? — Cape Town’s Long Street filled with a parade of cheering South Africans and young tourists from every other nation. Before the U.S. and Ghana earned their match-up, I heard plenty of South Africans praise and support the U.S. team, but the desire to support an African team trumped everything. I am praying, with Africa and most of the world, that Ghana beats Uruguay.

Unemployment in South Africa is chronic and stands at about 25 percent. Beggars walk the tourist areas with their hands out and sleep in the doorways. The shanties of the townships house millions of people. I expected that, but I hadn’t expected the rest — the sleek modern prosperity of much of Cape Town, black and white; the young, educated black South Africans in their stylish clothes and multi-lingual comfort with the tourists flocking to their country; the kindly, small-town feel of Nelspruit, where white and black South Africans mingled to work and eat and drink and dance and make us welcome.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, we hung a huge African National Congress flag on the outside wall of the Independent’s office in Durham. I had written for the Independent in the 1980s about North Carolina corporations doing business with the apartheid government of South Africa. I remember demonstrating with South African poet Dennis Brutus at Pinehurst, of all places, when — against the bans of world sports bodies — an American group invited the all-white South African golf team to come to Pinehurst and play. So perhaps all that now-ancient history gave me my predisposition to expect something very different here from what I am finding. The South Africans I meet, rich and poor, are proud of their country, proud of its progress and its burgeoning economy, proud to show off South Africa to the world. Yes, there is massive frustration that the government can’t eradicate unemployment or replace the shanties in the townships with real housing. There are gangs and drugs, and violent crime here is rampant. Corruption cases fill the newspapers. But there is a hopefulness, a newness, a sense of progress that I rarely experience in my own country.

It is now raining hard outside. I suppose we will be wearing our rain gear to the stadium tonight for the game. But nothing can dampen the spirits of the fans and the South African people who host us.

Steve Schewel founded the Independent Weekly in 1983 and coaches the Riverside High School girls varsity soccer team

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beyer upsets incumbent Martin for Durham school board seat

Posted by on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 9:16 PM

Beyer
  • Beyer

Parent and community activist Natalie Beyer bowled over incumbent school board member Stephen Martin tonight in a runoff for the final seat on the Durham school board.

With 98 percent of precincts counted, Beyer won 61 percent of the 2,452 votes cast for the District 4B seat. Martin, who has been on the school board eight years, won 38 percent of the votes. Provisional ballots will be counted Friday.

The two faced each other in a runoff today after a close finish during the May 4 election, where they were separated by a mere 181 votes.

Beyer, along with newcomer Nancy Cox and incumbents Fredrick Davis and Omega Curtis-Parker, will take office in July.

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Medenblik easily wins Orange County schools race

Posted by on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 8:23 PM

Orange County School Board Chairwoman Anne Medenblik sailed to victory against parent advocate Laura Nicholson in Tuesday’s runoff election, earning 74 percent of the 2,301 votes cast.

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Medenblik won all 16 precincts by at least 19 votes a piece.

She finished fourth in an eight-person race for four seats in the May 4 primary, but her 2,574 votes (12.16 percent) were not enough to pass the threshold. A hopeful must achieve more than the total number of votes divided by the number of candidates to avoid a runoff. She was just 62 votes shy of securing the seat in May.

Nicholson, who finished fifth with 2,507 votes (11.85 percent) wasn’t able to close the gap in the seven weeks in between election days. She serves as president of the Central Elementary PTSA and was hurt by a recent audit that found several problems with record keeping and spending.

Medenblik now joins incumbent Debbie Piscitelli, former Orange County budget director Donna Dean Coffey and former school board member Brenda Stephens in earning a four-year term on the board.

Orange County voters lent their support to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the battle to face Richard Burr in the U.S. Senate race in November. She earned 67.3 percent of the 6,808 votes in Orange compared to 32.7 for Lexington lawyer and former state senator Cal Cunningham, who served as UNC’s student body president.

Marshall won Orange in May with 38 percent of the vote. Cunningham was second with 32.2. Marshall benefited from an endorsement of Chapel Hill resident and Durham lawyer Ken Lewis, who finished third in the statewide May primary.

Voter turnout today was lacking as expected in this midyear runoff election. In Orange only the Weaver Dairy satellite, the Carol Woods retirement home, crossed a 13 percent turnout as 69 percent of voters cast a ballot there. Overall, 7.7 percent of the county’s 90.693 registered voters participated today.

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Legislator pushes for bill to curb puppy mills

Posted by on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 3:53 PM

Darla sat quietly, panting on her owner’s lap at the General Assembly on Tuesday, seeking attention from anyone looking her way.

Just a year ago Darla weighed about 6 pounds only half what she does now. Her hair was so matted that she had to be almost completely shorn, whiskers and all.

“She was pregnant, but her babies were all dead because her teeth were so rotted that she couldn’t eat,” says Denise Austin, a Raleigh resident who adopted Darla from Saving Grace, a nonprofit rescue agency.

Darla was one of almost 200 dogs living in dingy, crowded, substandard conditions in a Wilson County puppy mill that was shut down last year. The owner now faces 13 charges of animal cruelty.

Stories like Darla’s led to Tuesday’s press conference during which Sen. Don Davis, D-Wayne, continued his push to pass stricter rules against operating puppy mills.

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Durham: a gnome man's land?

Posted by on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Gnome watcher Pamela King says she knows who is stealing the gnomes, and took this picture of the thiefs stash.
  • Gnome watcher Pamela King says she knows who is stealing the gnomes, and took this picture of the thief's stash.

UPDATE, 6/22: Apparently some gnomes have gone missing. Here at the Indy, we just received a call from gnome-watcher Pamela King, who says she knows who is responsible and is trying to persuade the thieves to put the garden ornaments back. King sent us the above photo of the apparent gnome-nabber's stash. Apparently, stealing the gnomes isn't a crime because the property is technically abandoned. Keep up with the developments at the gnome bloggers' website and Facebook page.


ORIGINAL POST, 6/18: This one moves to the top of the "What I Love About Durham" list.

Garden gnomes have been popping up in landmark locations around Durham since fall of last year. There seemed to be a lull in the gnome sightings earlier this year. But the charming little garden decorations are now back in large number, appearing randomly atop notable Durham buildings and highway underpasses.

Katie Smith and Shannon Bauman, two twenty-something downtown residents, have been tracking the gnome spottings on their website, DurhamGnomes.com.

"My girlfriend noticed them first," Bauman said about Smith. "She creates personas for each new gnome we've found."

Bloggers at DurhamGnomes.com named this guy Alastair Lazy Legs. He was discovered Sept. 2009.
  • Bloggers at DurhamGnomes.com named this guy Alastair Lazy Legs. He was discovered Sept. 2009.

The gnome names go alphabetically, like hurricanes, Bauman explained. The couple dubbed the first one they documented as "Alastair Lazy Legs." The next was "Bartleby Green Thumb." The little statues are about 6 to 8 inches tall, Bauman said, but now that he has eyes for gnomes, they're hard to miss.
The couple welcomes others to document their gnome sightings, and send in tips to the site.

The blog has gained a lot of popularity lately with the recent explosion in new gnomes around town, Bauman said. The website usually averages about 30 visitors a month, he said, but in the past two days, the site has gotten more than 900 hits, likely due to two recent TV news features (News 14, ABC 11) on the random phenomenon. There is also a Facebook page for the Durham sightings.

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House committee approves offshore energy bill

Posted by on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 11:12 AM

oilrig.jpg
  • U.S. Coast Guard
The House Judiciary I Committee today unanimously passed a bill that essentially removes the caps on costs that must be paid in the event of an oil or natural gas spill in North Carolina’s coastal fishing waters.

According to SB 836, any person or company that leaked, discharged or spilled oil natural gas, or drilling waste into coastal fishing or offshore waters to pay all costs for the cleanup. You can read the bill here. SB836.pdf

In addition, the bill would allow the state to assess the potential for such an accident—and its environmental and economic impacts—in reviewing plans for offshore facilities.

This is known as a consistency review, which authorizes states to comment to federal agencies, notably Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, on proposals or plans for offshore facilities. States must limit their comments to potential direct impacts of the facilities as opposed to general concerns about them.

SB 836 adds other information that the state should consider when commenting on proposals or plans.
The full House and Senate must pass the bill before sending it to the governor.

If the bill becomes law, the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission would also review state laws on offshore energy exploration and recommend any changes to the Environmental Review Commission by October 2011.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

751 developer responds to protest; planning director gives update on petition

Posted by on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Area proposed for 751 South
  • Area proposed for 751 South

UPDATED Friday, June 18, 1 change at the bottom, in italics

As relay runners gear up for a demonstration against the developers proposing the 751 South community this afternoon, Southern Durham Development's president released an announcement countering some of the claims made by protesters.

The protest, called "Relay Run for a Paycheck" begins today at 4:30 p.m. Runners will relay for 11 miles from East Durham to South Durham to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed 751 South development, and the fact that there currently is no mass transit to 167 acres that could be developed into 1,300 residences, retail and office spaces. The lack of transportation is a major concern for potential workers there, said Kate Fellman of the Durham People's Alliance, which organized the race. (See the original post about the race).

In his statement, Southern Durham Development President Alex Mitchell said, "The opponents' complaints are based on misinformation, false assumptions and illogical claims that are designed to strain relationships between our company and supporters of the project."

He added:

Detractors of 751 South have complained that there is no currently committed mass transit linked to 751 South, that the site is too far away to attract labor from other parts of Durham and that most of the jobs will likely pay only minimum wage.

Mitchell said, "They should not assume that transit will not come or that willing workers won't travel to the site on their own, both during construction and beyond."

SDD officials also point out that successful employment centers have been completed all over the Triangle for decades without initial mass transit. Employment centers such as Treyburn Industrial Park and the Research Triangle Park are long distances from parts of Durham, yet attract thousands of employees from all areas of the city. Read the full statement (PDF)

In other news, resident and project opponent Steve Bocckino met with planning staff this morning. He got a short update on the protest petition filed by residents opposed to the development of the community. (Skip the next two grafs if you know what a protest petition is.)

The protest petition, if found to be valid, would make it more difficult for the developer to get permission from the county to rezone the land it wants to build upon. Ordinarily, a developer would need approval just from a simple majority of the five county commissioners. A valid petition requires four of five commissioners to approve the rezoning, which, based on prior votes, doesn't look likely. Commissioners Ellen Reckhow and Becky Heron have in the past been opposed to building the dense project in a rural corner of the county, while commissioners Joe Bowser, Michael Page and Brenda Howerton have in the past cast favorable votes.

This is the second protest petition to be filed in an attempt to stop 751 South from being built. It's a touchy subject, considering the last one ended in a lawsuit against Durham County that still hasn't been resolved.

So residents like Bocckino are eager to find out the current petition's validity. Planning Director Steve Medlin said no preliminary ruling on the petition's validity has been made. But what he could confirm: 1) the petition was filed on time; 2) the planning staff is reviewing tax records and deeds to ensure people who signed the petition are the correct owners; 3) the signers represent owners of 45 percent of the eligible properties on the east side of the property to be rezoned, well above the required 20 percent;

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Internet sweepstakes legislation languishing

Posted by on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 12:05 PM

internet-sweepstakes-1.JPG

This post was updated Thursday at noon.

Just when you thought Internet sweepstakes was dead this session, House Bill 80, which would ban them, is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate Monday night. Here's the text of the bill: HouseBill80.pdf

The bill runs counter to one filed by State Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Charlotte Democrat, introduced House Bill 2030 that would assess a fee per establishment—as much as $5,000—and would tax revenues at 20 to 25 percent. The terminals would also be connected to the N.C. Department of Revenue, Alexander said, “so you know instantly in the revenue department how much is being generated. You’re doing daily deposits; the government is getting paid up front and you don’t have the opportunity of losing the revenue stream.”

However, in April, the Mt. Airy Business Center challenged in federal court the city of Kannapolis’ taxing authority, contending the taxes and zoning regulations are unconstitutional. The court has not ruled on the case. kannapolis_complaint.pdf

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ABC nixes Bud Light naming rights for Raleigh amphitheater

Posted by on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM

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The Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival Site, as the Raleigh Convention Center’s website now calls it, is still seeking a title sponsor.

Thursday morning, the chairman and commissioner of North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission denied the City of Raleigh and Harris Wholesale the advertising exemptions necessary to put Bud Light’s name and logo on the $2.5 million downtown space. The decision would have set a new precedent for the state, which does not allow public buildings to be named for alcoholic products.

“The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is not here to condemn alcohol as an industry, but we are here to regulate the alcohol industry,” said Chairman Jonathan Williams after seven representatives of various religious, legal and social organizations spoke against the name. “And it’s a highly competitive industry. The dynamics of opening up this kind of competition in the advertising field would be difficult to contain. For that reason, I am inclined against granting the exemption.”

Williams went on to wish the city well in its search for a new sponsor to replace funds—$300,000 annually—lost with the nixed proposal, calling it “a wonderful project and a wonderful asset for the community.”

As reported in an Independent Weekly story earlier this month, if Raleigh Convention Center, which manages the new venue, cannot find a sponsor, the financial burden will fall to tax payers. The city, meanwhile, might fall behind in its seven-year plan to pay for the space.

“As a taxpayer, I know the cost of increased alcohol advertising is way more than what the city needs to cover its costs,” said Aidil Collins, a coordinator at Youth Empowerment Solutions, an organization that pays teenage students statewide to speak out against alcohol and tobacco marketing in North Carolina.

Just before the hearing drew to a close, Collins led three Raleigh high school students into the meeting room. They took turns holding a massive sign that read, “How will your vote protect me?” and delivering prepared remarks about the potential impact of the exemption.

Representatives of the Raleigh Convention Center and City of Raleigh did not speak, though they offered to answer any public questions about the proposal. The convention center’s assistant director, Doug Grissom, did not return phone calls about the decision Thursday morning, though the city did issue a press release looking for new sponsors less than an hour after the decision was delivered.

“This is a very attractive venue that has great appeal to other potential sponsors,” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said in the statement. “The City is actively pursuing other name and title opportunities to defray the costs of operating this facility.”

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Justice Department adds Kosovo connection to alleged Boyd-Wake County jihadist cell

Posted by on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 10:19 AM

DepartmentofJustice.jpg

The Justice Department has charged a ninth man — this one a resident of Kosovo (part of the former Yugoslavia) — with being part of an Islamic cell based in Wake County that is accused of conspiring to commit violent crimes abroad. The man's name is Bajram Asllani. He's 29. According to a statement issued by the Justice Department:

An April 19, 2010, criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Asllani was a member of the conspiracy involving the defendants listed above. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Asllani has had repeated communications with the conspirators; solicited money from the conspirators to establish a base of operations in Kosovo for the purpose of waging violent jihad; tasked the conspirators with completing work to further these objectives and accepted funds from the conspirators to help him travel.

The full statement can be read here:Alssani_Arrest_Press_Release.pdf

Asllani has been arrested in Kosovo, and the U.S. is seeking his extradition to Raleigh for trial.

The other eight defendants, including the alleged leader Daniel Boyd and two of his sons, have been in prison for almost a year awaiting trial. Their arrests were headline news last summer. Whether there's enough evidence against them to support convictions remains to be seen.

Later, three of the eight — Daniel Boyd, his son Zakariya and Hysen Sherifi, who is a native of Kosovo with legal permanent resident status in the U.S. — were also charged in a conspiracy to commit murder on U.S. soil:

A superseding indictment returned on Sept. 24, 2009, added new charges against Daniel Patrick Boyd, Hysen Sherifi and Zakariya Boyd, alleging, among other things, that Daniel Boyd and Sherifi conspired to murder U.S. military personnel as part of a plotto attack troops at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. These three defendants were also charged with possession of weapons in furtherance of a crime of violence and Daniel Boyd was further charged with providing a firearm to a convicted felon.

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