Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yours truly on the American Jobs Act

Here's an interview I did with Carolina Journal Radio on a math problem we discovered when President Obama was promoting his jobs bill.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our long national nightmare is over (I break blog silence)

No, I don't mean the Obama administration, dagnab it. I'm talking about the Butch Davis era at Chapel Hill.

I probably couldn't find the posts now, but on Facebook I was calling for Davis to be fired a year ago, when the sordid mess came to light. And after the initial Marvin Austin tweets came to light, and the NCAA visited Carolina's campus, the situation worsened -- capped off by the academic scandal.

All along, Davis pulled what Triangle Internet Legend BobLee called the "Sgt. Schultz" defense: I know nothing!

BobLee — UNC alum, conservative curmudgeon, and all-around neat guy, has been the best source of info and insight throughout the debacle. He identified John "Black Santa" Blake, Butch's associate head coach and main recruiter (and, literally, former student, as Butch was one of Blake's high school teacher), who was on the payroll of a professional agent while he was recruiting high school kids and preparing them for the Lig. He also introduced us to Bob Winston, until recently the chairman of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, the man who orchestrated Butch's hiring and his strongest defender.

Today's installment covers the Davis resignation and the press conference featuring Chancellor Holden Thorp and soon-to-retire AD Dickie Baddour.

My JLF colleague Jon Sanders offers a nice summary of some of the important questions about Davis that remain unanswered.

But the main one plaguing the program is: Why Now? BobLee has it right in an Occam's Razor-kinda way that the more "reputable" outlets have failed to emphasize: Thorp wanted to get rid of Davis all along but could not do so as long as Winston and his cronies were in charge. When new board members took office and Winston rotated out of the top spot, the new board wanted to put this mess behind them ASAP.

And so, the first day the new board met, Butch was out.

While Butch was at Carolina, he brought in a lot of talent but didn't win much. It seemed as if every year, eight or 10 guys would go to the NFL, but the team would finish around .500 in a mediocre ACC and lose in a bottom-tier bowl game.

Why did UNC choose to fire Davis now, eight days before the opening of practice? And why, when the university could have attempted to fire him for cause, did it choose instead to pay the $2.7 million balance of his contract?

My guess is, the defense Thorp and Baddour made of Davis throughout the scandal (at the previous BOT's insistence, no doubt) painted the university in a corner. If, in the process of firing Davis, Carolina said his actions brought disrepute on the university and damaged its reputation, then why did university officials stand behind him without reservation from the first inkling of trouble ... and do so as recently as this week? And how could Carolina claim that Davis was responsible for this when the NCAA did not mention Davis in the Notice of Allegations it issued this summer?

If Carolina fired Butch, his attorney Joseph Cheshire V (best defense lawyer in the state and a proud Carolina alum) would have sued immediately. And would have had a reasonable chance of prevailing. Plus, the program would have been dragged through the mud even more for months, if not years, as additional allegations (truthful or not) were aired publicly. The $2.7 million Carolina must pay Butch might have been chump change compared to the legal fees and damage in reputation the university and the football program would have suffered.

Again, why now? Why not let him coach the season? Just a hunch. This team may not be as talented as the group he had last year. But the ACC also is worse, and this bunch could win 10 games. Under the circumstances, unless the NCAA handed down the death penalty for the program, if Butch won 10 games and (who knows?) went to a BCS bowl game, you could not fire him. In fact, pressure would be on to give him an extension.

He had to go now.

What's next? I like the choice of DC Everett Withers as interim head coach. He wasn't part of Butch's original staff; I'm not even sure he had any history with Butch before getting the Carolina job three years ago. He's 48, a North Carolina native, very popular with the players, and has been considered a strong candidate for a head coaching job on his own. He may be auditioning for the permanent job.

If Withers isn't the eventual pick, I think it would be a huge mistake to pursue a big name. Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? Rich Rodriguez? Please. If any of these guys would take the job, it likely would be a disaster. Either he would be a placeholder — the first time a "real" job came open, the coach would be gone in a flash. Or he'd be a white elephant, demanding a long-term contract and not producing. Kinda like Butch (ACC record 15-17; record against top rival N.C. State 0-4; 1-3 vs. Virginia Tech and the rather pathetic University of Virginia).

A much better outcome (if Withers isn't the choice) would be to find a young coach who's had success at a mid-major, much as Tennessee did by hiring Derek Dooley and Michigan did with Brady Hoke. Expect to be awful for three or four seasons but emerge from this disaster with an energetic coach who can make the program relevant for another decade.

For now, though, the legacy of Butch Davis is disastrous. Carolina's going to be hammered by the NCAA due to the mismanagement of a coach who didn't win. We got all of the punishment and none of the glory.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

King of all media?

Well, that was an interesting 36 hours.

Sunday, Reuters reporter Ned Barrett quoted JLF Commander John Hood in a story on the John Edwards indictment. NBC's Today Show wanted to interview the boss, who was on vacation. So, after a few phone calls, Today found me. We did an interview at the office Sunday afternoon, and a sound bite aired in Monday's program.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Then, Jon Stewart picked up on the story and did a segment on last night's Daily Show.

And I got a not-too-complimentary mention on the right-wing NewsBusters blog.

Not a bad day.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Merlefest 2011

2011 marked my fifth Merlefest and Cara's fourth. Last year, we swore we would not attend more than two days of the four-day festival. No matter how wonderful the music, how delightful the surroundings, and how enjoyable the company might be, spending more than 20 hours in the elements is too exhausting at our age.

So, of course, we ended up buying passes for all four days of Merlefest this year. We survived three (and would have made all four had we not both spotted the first signs of colds Sunday morning).

The original plan was to go only Friday and Saturday, but lineup was so strong this year that we decided to shoot for the entire weekend.

Good move. The weather was ideal -- highs in the mid-70s, night temps around 50. Sunny every day. From the initial counts, the initial counters put attendance at just over 80,000 for the weekend, in the top three all time.
We added Thursday when our friends the Wehrmanns got us tickets to the Wilkes Chamber Night event. For the cost of a one-night pass, the local Chamber of Commerce provides a buffet and reserved seating. Plus, the Del McCoury Band (my favorite performer among the long-time bluegrass artists) were on the bill that night. We bought a three-day pass including Sunday when Robert Plant and the Band of Joy were added to the schedule a few weeks ago.


Corb Lund and the Hurtin Albertans. Part Ian Tyson, part Hank Snow, part Marty Robbins, and a little Bob Wills thrown in for good measure. As my friend David Milstead told me on Facebook, "Sometimes I wonder at the ability of one person to write so many good songs. Particularly one person you've never heard of before."

Here's the band at the sound check on the Hillside Stage.

Harper and the Midwest Kind. I have little use for most jam bands, but these guys are good. Harper (from Australia) plays harmonica, John Popper-style, and -- yes -- a didgeridoo. The rest of the band hails from Michigan. Cara took a few photos on her camera of the band that I'll upload soon. We caught two sets and had fun.

Sarah Jarosz. I saw her appearance on Austin City Limits and had to download her first CD, not knowing she recorded it at age 17. Just another one of those Texas singer-songwriters who plays every string instrument under the sun and has an infectious voice. Among her several sets included one on the Cabin Stage (where the acts perform between sets on the main Watson Stage, so the music never stops) Saturday between Sam Bush and Lyle Lovett. The bookers must like her, because that's prime real estate -- it was the same slot where The Carolina Chocolate Drops made their prime time debut at Merlefest a few years ago. My nieces saw another set of hers where she said she was completely honored to be there. I hope they bring her back. Often.

Scythian. High-energy, kinda-Celtic, kinda-Cajun. Cara wanted an upbeat CD to play at the adult day center where she works, so we bought a copy of Cake for Dinner, their children's album ... and figured we might want to see them play. The CD is perfect, and the show was a blast.

Lost Bayou Ramblers. Think Buckwheat Zydeco meets the Rev. Horton Heat. Cara also bought their Vermillionaire CD for the day center. Another good choice.

Here they were on the Americana Stage.

The Waybacks and the Hillside Album Hour featuring The Waybacks with Joan Osborne.

OK, we're easy. We'll watch these guys play every day of the festival if we get the chance. The Friday afternoon set on the Americana Stage included a guest performance by Jens Kruger on banjo, who's surpassing Bela Fleck as my favorite contemporary banjo picker.

For the album hour, The Waybacks choose a classic rock record and play it in their own style, bringing lots of guest stars on board. It has become a highlight of the weekend, as this year an estimated 5,000 people crowded the hillside and surrounding parking lots to hear the show.

This time they chose the Allman Brothers Band's "Eat a Peach." From the reactions I witnessed, this wasn't as popular as their previous selections (Led Zeppelin II, Sticky Fingers, and Abbey Road). But I think it was their most successful execution. Warren Hood's fiddle made a terrific stand-in for Dickie Betts' slide guitar. James Nash's guitar work was stellar, as always. For her part, Joan Osborne had the perfect voice for those songs. Plus, cutting the interminable "Mountain Jam" from 33 minutes to about 12 was wise. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure others did.

Sam Bush Band. This is the second time we've seen them this year, and like The Waybacks, we could listen to Sam any time. The Merlefest set was much different from the one they played in Raleigh a couple of months ago, including several New Grass Revival songs and a cover of Jean-Luc Ponty's "New Country." No one holds a candle to him.

The Kruger Brothers. Uwe and Jens moved to the U.S. from Switzerland a number of years ago and have settled in Wilkes County. There are a lot of baroque influences in their compositions, and we find them fascinating. (Don't laugh. I'm taken back to some of the early Focus pieces when I hear them.) Plus, as I said, Jens is a terrific banjo player. We really like them.

We caught part of the sets of Jerry Douglas (he was opposite The Waybacks) and Lyle Lovett (we heard that on the radio heading home). Sonny Landreth put on an impressive performance but his electrified blues were out of place; fortunately, Jerry Douglas joined Landreth for the final number and, as Sonny said, "saved the day."

As I've written before, Merlefest is the most pleasant festival I've attended: best organized, most family/listener-friendly, with the clearest sound and sight lines. Plus, it's a relative bargain. Our Thursday Chamber ticket plus the three-day pass ran $160 per person. Even though we missed Sunday, we saw 17 performances. Try to beat that price.

Next year will be the 25th Merlefest. Will the bookers go traditional? Eclectic? Popular? We'll start to find out in October, when the first acts are announced.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Almost ready to embrace The Dark Side

In recent months, I've noticed my daily routine changing. After waking, smooching my wife, starting the coffee, and feeding the pets, I stumble outdoors and pick up the paper. I'll check the headlines and see what idiocy is on the N&O edit page, and then boot up my laptop and read the news online.

This is a big deal, and a total reversal of how I've consumed newspapers over the past four-plus decades.

As a child, we often subscribed to two daily papers (The Winston-Salem Journal and The Charlotte Observer.) When I went away to college, at times, I'd take three -- the Charlotte O, the News & Observer, and The Durham Morning Herald. I'd often catch up on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in the library. I'm a newsprint and ink guy. And yet, I'm getting more and more of my information over the Web.

For one thing, the N&O -- and most local dailies -- are shrinking, constantly. There was a time last year that, on a typical Monday and Tuesday, the N&O would put out a front and metro section that consumed 14 pages, combined. There's not much there there anymore.

And yet home delivery prices haven't gone down in concert with column inches.

There's a temptation to subscribe to the e-edition -- it's about half the cost of home delivery, and it provides what I find important in a newspaper: A representation of the layout, letting you know where stories were placed in the physical paper, providing insight into what the editors though were the most important stories.

What it lacks is the tactile experience of reading the paper.

In fact, if it weren't for the comics and the ad supplements on Sundays, I'd go digital with no regrets. I'm not there yet. But the fact that I'm even thinking about it says a lot.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Drew decision

The Drew decision

Well, that came out of nowhere. Larry Drew II was never likely to make frequent appearances in Carolina basketball highlight reels, but to quit the team in the middle of the season, five days before the Duke game? A guy averaging more than 20 minutes a game for a ranked basketball team just doesn't do that. Unless something's not right.

Sure, Drew had lost his starting point guard job four games ago. But his minutes hadn't dropped significantly -- he became the sixth man, a defensive stopper, and the quality of his play improved once he started coming off the bench.

Did Drew's mother play a role? She's been a pain to her other kids' high school coaches. Maybe she hassled Ol' Roy, too.

But the Heels' troubles with Larry II came from Larry Sr. -- not because the elder Drew (who was a backup point guard for the Lakers at the end of the Magic Johnson era and is now head coach of the Atlanta Hawks) gave Roy a lot of grief. At least as far as anyone knows.

It's because Larry II had the bloodlines and (apparently) a wonderful teacher and blew his opportunity. He was a McDonald's High School All-American, even though he never showed great athleticism or shooting skills or defensive prowess. Why? The old man. Larry Sr. probably taught him how to overcome his lack of physical talent by teaching him to read defenses, handle the ball in traffic, find open teammates, and defend the passing lanes. So he could take raw high school kids who were quicker and stronger and better jumpers to the cleaners by outsmarting them. When he had to do the same against Division I college talent, facing the level of competition Carolina plays, Larry II wasn't up to the job. Unless he worked really hard, which he showed little inclination of doing before he lost his starting position.

I actually watched the McDonald's All American game that Drew and Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller played in. One of the commentators said Drew looked like a four-year college player who wouldn't wow anyone with his sheer talent but would play a fundamentally solid game and provide decent leadership. This should have been code for -- he's not that good but he's learned a lot from his dad.

Drew's successor as point guard, freshman Kendall Marshall, also is a McDonald's All American. He's not that gifted athletically (his teammates joke about how slow he is), but unlike Drew, he's a pure gym rat who seems to learn fast.

If the Heels are to stay near the top of the ACC, and have a chance to play more than one weekend in the Big Dance, Marshall will have to be able to play 32 minutes rather than 22, stay out of foul trouble, and not be a defensive liability. Oh yeah, and it'll help if Dexter Strickland, who'll now become Marshall's relief man, stops being The Human Turnover. (Maybe one of the walk-ons can steal a few minutes at the point.)

Meantime, Roy will no doubt try to find an uncommitted high school senior or a JUCO who can help out at the point next year.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Four decades of Nick Lowe

Found on YouTube. Great tunes by one of my favorites.

Four decades of Nick Lowe

Amazing what you'll find on YouTube. Here's an overview of one of my favorite singer-songwriter's careers.

Starting with the Pub Rock legends Brinsley Schwarz, who formed in the late '60s (great 'do, Nick). That's Lowe on guitar, Ian Gomm bass, Billy Rankin drums, Bob Andrews B-3 and Brinsley piano.

Next, from '78, with Rockpile (Billy Bremner and Dave Edmunds guitars, Terry Williams drums). Given all the costume changes, there's clearly lip-synching going on, and yet the music was done live.

About five years later, it's "Half a Boy and Half a Man," with Paul Carrack keys, Marty Belmont (of the Rumour!) guitar, drummer unknown. Back when Lowe was Johnny Cash's son-in-law.

A few years later, he remade one of the Rockpile-era classics, with some help from Huey Lewis and the News:

In 1990, he did a great live set on VH1 (on a show hosted by Nile Rodgers' -- that's right, from Chic) that I saw when it first aired. Elvis Costello did the best-known version of this, but the Brinsleys recorded it in '72 or '73.

And here's a recent performance of a newer number. He's come full-circle, as the Brinsleys fashioned themselves as a country-folk band. Lowe's become a bit of a contemporary country troubadour in his 60s. Marty Robbins could have performed something like this. Hope he's on the road nearby sometime soon ...