Thursday, December 27, 2007

'We're No. 6! We're No. 6!'

According to Census Bureau statistics, North Carolina is the sixth-fastest growing state in America, up to a population of more than 9 million people.

"North Carolina grew by 2.2 percent in the year ending July 1, adding more than 190,000 new people to reach 9,061,032," says the Associated Press.

Among other states with marked population growth is Louisiana, which gained 50,000 residents and appears to be rebounding from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. ...

The Census Bureau estimate is reached by measuring births, deaths and migration into and out of each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. ...

The fastest-growing states continue to be in the Rocky Mountain region and the Southeast. Texas also is still attracting new residents at a rapid rate.

Nevada returned to the top spot having increased in population by 2.9 percent to 2.6 million. Nevada held that title for 19 years in a row before being bumped off by Arizona last year. Arizona is the second-fastest-growing state according to the current estimate, with a population increase of 2.8 percent to 6.3 million. ...

Besides Nevada and Arizona, other Western states that made the top 10 list for fastest growth were Utah and Idaho, ranked third and fourth. In the Southeast, Georgia was fifth nationally, North Carolina was sixth, and South Carolina was 10th. ...

Quick hits: Military industry grows, while tobacco interest slows

Military industry growing in N.C.
"For anyone familiar with the state's ravaged textile industry, First Choice Armor's sewing room would be a shock: 100 workers stitching, their humming machines a cheerful undertone to a radio blaring 'Same Old Lang Syne.'

"The state is dotted with dozens of vast, empty mills -- or their wreckage. First Choice, though, moved into one of those shells in 2006 and is running six days a week -- two shifts in some departments -- making body armor, helmets, and bulletproof shields for SWAT teams. It has 200 workers and hopes to expand, said General Manager Paul Koren.

"One reason for its success: Its customers include the military," says the News & Observer. "That makes it exactly the kind of company that state and local leaders are trying to woo, or nurture from local roots. That push, which began in 2004, is aimed at capitalizing on the presence of some of the nation's largest military bases to replace jobs and income from faltering industries such as textiles, furniture and tobacco. There are signs that the efforts are paying off.

Tobacco state bans smoking in state government buildings
"On New Year’s Day, smoking will be prohibited in all state government buildings in North Carolina, a state in which tobacco was once king.

"While North Carolina continues to be the leading producer of tobacco in the country, research linking secondhand smoke to health problems has prompted the change for state buildings.

" 'I have a good friend who says that just because tobacco is our history doesn’t mean that tobacco has to be our future,' said Ashley Bell, chairwoman of the N.C. Alliance for Health, which pushed for the new law. 'It’s a change in thinking publicly.'

"Bell said that the law is meant to protect employees and people who visit government buildings," writes Freedom Press.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New statewide travel guide available

Looking for an easy getaway? Want to hit a festival in the mountains for the weekend, or perhaps hole away at a coastal B&B? Well, the 2008 North Carolina Travel Guide -- hot off the presses -- can help you decide.

The guide was released today in both print and online versions. (To get it, call 1-800-VISIT-NC or visit

“Whether you and your family enjoy hiking in the mountains, playing golf in the Piedmont or surf fishing on the coast, you will find something for everyone here in our state, as well as hospitable North Carolinians who delight in sharing our heritage with visitors,” Gov. Mike Easley said today in a news release about the guide.

The N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development produced the guide, which includes information on more than 650 attractions and nearly 4,000 accommodations.

Categories include family reunion vacations, outdoor adventures, nightlife, learning vacations, food and wine hotspots, motorsports and arts and cultural activities.

Quick hits: Blackberries, wine sellers seeing green, and white squirrels

The Napa Valley of blackberries?
"People weren't that interested in buying blackberries 25 years ago, said Kings Mountain farmer Ervin Lineberger.

"Most people picked 'em wild, he said, and didn't put much value on what they called the 'tame' varieties. Dewberries and boysenberries were what people wanted.

"That's changed," writes the Charlotte Observer. "Now the berry business is brisk as their health benefits make news. And Lincoln County farmers are getting in.

"About a dozen longtime Lincoln farmers have signed up to grow blackberries for SunnyRidge Farms, a Florida-based international berry seller. The company also plans to open a distribution center early next year north of Fallston around the intersection of N.C. 18 and N.C. 27, said production manager Stanley Scarborough.

" 'Lincoln County hopefully someday will be the Napa Valley of blackberries,' he said. ..."

Holiday season big for wine sales
"Christmas is a time when North Carolina’s wine industry benefits from their products being used as holiday presents all across the state," says News 14 Carolina.

" 'We love holidays because people are here and they are collecting and adding wines to take to parties, to take as house gifts, as presents,' said Lenna Hobson with RagApple Lassie Vineyards. 'Just general Christmas gifting, if you will, but they've also built in some time for them so they're also coming to taste wine and to have a good time.'

"With more than 60 wineries across the state, many residents are snapping up bottles. ..."

Brevard's famous white squirrels branch out
"Driving along, you see a flash of white, tail twitching, darting through a lawn or scurrying up a tree.

"You do a double take, slow down to get a better look. Sure enough, it's a squirrel, but snowy white instead of the usual gray with white underneath.

"But you're not in Brevard, where the rare white squirrel is plentiful and famous enough to have a festival and gift shop named after it, or even in Transylvania County," writes the Hendersonville Times-News.

"Readers report dozens of white squirrel sightings in Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Etowah, Horse-Shoe, Mills River and across much of Henderson County. Local legend has it the squirrels colonized the Brevard area in the 1950s from a pet white squirrel or squirrels that escaped. The snowy critters now make up about 25 percent of all squirrels in Brevard, according to the White Squirrel Research Institute, run by Bob Glesener, Brevard College associate professor of ecology/biology, emeritus.

"And they are spreading. ..."

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Chapel Hill institution closes its doors

(OK, so I lied about yesterday's post being the last before the holidays. So sue me. I just couldn't resist not commenting on this below.)

I was in either seventh or eighth grade, and my classmates and I from Dunn Middle School made the trip to Chapel Hill to visit the Morehead Planetarium. (It was for an educational show, by the way, not a Pink Floyd Lazer Show or some such.) Before the visit to the planetarium, we all went to the Rathskeller for dinner.

As a small-town boy from Harnett County, it was a cultural experience. The dankness of the place; the names written and carved into the tables and walls (we swore for years that we saw "Michael Jordan" written on our table); the bottomless cup of sweet tea.

As a lifelong N.C. State fan, I have been taught to mistrust and despise all things Chapel Hill (save for the magnificent School of Government, by the way). I will admit, however, that the Rathskeller has long stood in my mind as the quintessential college hangout.

Well, it is no more.

"Signs in the windows of the 59-year-old business stated the department had seized the property because taxes on it had not been paid," writes the Fayetteville Observer. "A note posted on the restaurant’s Web site by owner Francis Henry made it unclear when or if the place will reopen. ...

"That sense of history is part of what endears the place — known for serving extra cheesy lasagna, greasy steaks and apple pie topped with cheese — to alumni."

Genny Lou Exum, who lives in Fayetteville and graduated from UNC in 1958, likened the Rat to Franklin Street’s version of the Old Well, a campus landmark.

“I think the charm of it just never, ever leaves you,” she said. “I think everybody that ever went down there just fell in love with it.”

R.I.P., Rat.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quick hits: Gothic, Southern Christmas and the death of a film pioneer

(Note: This may be the last post 'til after Christmas. Happy Holidays, everyone!)

Haven Kimmel gets spiritual in 'Used World'
"Haven Kimmel - who spent a chunk of this autumn as a visiting writer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington - is one of those cheerful boundary-hoppers who's hard to pin down," writes Currents.

"She remains, of course, Indiana's greatest literary light since Kurt Vonnegut, having immortalized her Hoosier girlhood in the best-sellers A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch.

"For most of the past decade, though, she's lived in the Durham area, where she served a literary apprenticeship under Lee Smith at N.C. State, and her fiction often seems closer to Flannery O'Connor or Eudora Welty than to the great Midwesterners.

"This is especially true of her latest novel The Used World. Although set in Indiana, it's stuffed with literary props of the Gothic tradition, and it's as "Christ-haunted" (to borrow Flannery O'Connor's famous phrase for the South) as anything O'Connor ever wrote. ..."

Studio head Frank Capra Jr. dies
"Frank Capra Jr., the son of 'It's A Wonderful Life' director Frank Capra who followed his father into the movie business and helped build the largest television and movie studio on the East Coast, has died. He was 73," says the Associated Press.

"Capra Jr. died Wednesday night at a hospital in Philadelphia, said Bill Vassar, the executive vice president of Wilmington-based EUE Screen Gems Studios, of which Capra was president. Vassar said Capra died following a long fight with prostate cancer, which had spread over the past several months.

" 'With his Hollywood pedigree and extensive experience as a producer, Frank was the perfect ambassador to Hollywood,' Chris Cooney, chief operating officer of EUE Screen Gems, said in a statement. 'He will be missed as a friend and a colleague.'

"Under Capra's leadership, EUE Screen Gems' credits include several major motion pictures, including '28 Days,' 'The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,' 'Domestic Disturbance,' 'Black Knight' and 'A Walk to Remember.'

"... He discovered North Carolina in 1983 when searching for a home to burn down for the filming of 'Firestarter,' the Stephen King horror movie starring a young Drew Barrymore. The scene was shot at the Orton Plantation in Winnabow, and afterward Capra persuaded executive producer Dino De Laurentiis to build a studio facility in Wilmington.

"De Laurentiis eventually sold the facility, which again changed hands in 1997, when the Cooney family bought the studios and installed Capra as president. The studio has since grown into the nation's largest film production center east of California.

" 'He brings a certain cachet to the studio that would not be there and wasn't there before he came,' said Bill Arnold, the former director of the N.C. Film Office, said in an interview earlier this year. 'When Frank came on, I think it assumed a larger profile just because of Frank's name.' ..."

Monday, December 17, 2007

In 12 seconds, they changed the world

(I can't do better than this, so I'll just use it.)

"Most great breakthroughs were made on days long forgotten," writes the News & Observer.

"But there is something about the image of Orville and Wilbur Wright on the windswept sands of Kitty Hawk, coaxing an awkward mechanical bird off the sand -- and, with the shortest of flights, allowing humans the hope that they would not be forever confined to the ground.

"It was 104 years ago today that the Wright brothers achieved the world's first powered flight of a heavier-than-air craft, and the anniversary will not be ignored. ...

"But it's not just the Wrights' achievement that keeps people coming to the Outer Banks every December, said Darrell Collins, the memorial's historian. After all, the automobile, the telephone and penicillin also shaped modern life.

"Collins said it is the story of two brothers, working together with few resources other than their own hope and determination, that draws people to the memorial.

" 'In less than a minute,' he said, 'they changed the world.' ..."

The state of national champions

Congratulations to the Appalachian (that would be "App-uh-latch-ian," not "App-uh-laytchian") State University Mountaineers on their third straight Division I football championship. Jerry Moore has built the most consistent football program in the state in Boone, but the entire state of North Carolina should e proud.

The 'Neers now can ride into the history books.

Also, congratulations to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men's soccer team, which won its first NCAA title on Sunday in Cary by beating Ohio State, 2-1. The game was at a sold out SAS Soccer Park, which says alot about the interest in the sport in the Triangle. (Perhaps if the RailHawks continue to do well, then MLS may look to the area for another expansion team?)

Three with Tar Heel ties up for Golden Globes

According to published reports, three thespians with North Carolina ties are up for Golden Globe Awards (in the TV categories).

Michael C. Hall, who grew up in Raleigh and graduated from Ravenscroft School, was nominated for best actor in a TV drama for his role as the serial-killer police investigator in Showtime's "Dexter."

Kinston native Jaime Pressly received a supporting TV actress nomination as the sassy Joy on "My Name Is Earl." She won her first Emmy Award for the part earlier this year.

And Mary-Louise Parker, a graduate of the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, was nominated as best actress in a TV comedy for her turn as a marijuana-dealing suburban mother in Showtime's "Weeds."

Also nominated in the category for best comedy or musical film was "Across the Universe," which starred Raleigh native Evan Rachel Wood.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dunn, N.C., and the Rock Hall of Fame connection

I knew my hometown of Dunn, N.C., was famous for a couple of reasons. One was native son General William C. Lee, the "Father of the Airborne." (We even have a yearly celebration to honor this "other" General Lee.)

I was somewhat surprised years later to realize that Jack Kerouac name-dropped Dunn in "On The Road."

But I was floored when I found out -- years after I had left the city -- that one of the founding fathers of rock and roll was a Dunn native. Link Wray, the man responsible for the power chord, is from my hometown. Wow.

The power chord, for better or worse, revolutionized rock music. And while Wray is not in the Rock Hall of Fame, his surf music contemporaries The Ventures were just announced as new inductees. The Ventures even covered some Wray songs back in the day.

It should also be noted that the Rock Hall of Fame website has a list of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.

Making the list? "Rumble," by Dunn's own Link Wray.

Here's to you, Mr. Wray.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Charlotte awarded with ACC football championship game

According to published reports, Charlotte will host the 2010 and 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference football championship games, while Tampa will do the honors in 2008 and 2009.

"The decision was reached unanimously this morning in a conference call of the league's athletics directors and faculty athletics representatives, which ended a seven-month bid and selection process, a conference statement said," says the News & Observer.

"We are extremely excited about the future of the ACC Football Championship game at these sites," Commissioner John Swofford said. "Both Tampa Bay and Charlotte are tremendous destinations in terms of their football venue, community support and partnership with the Atlantic Coast Conference."

The games in Charlotte will take place on Dec. 4, 2010, and Dec. 3, 2011, at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers and the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The first three ACC title games have been in Jacksonville, Fla.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick hits: Grammy nominations for memorable N.C. music and grants for memorable N.C. vistas

Grammy nominees include some N.C. faces
" ...North Carolina 'American Idol' alumnus Chris Daughtry heads up a large group of nominees with four each, a pack that includes Akon, Bruce Springsteen and Feist," writes the News & Observer's David Menconi. "Daughtry's nominations include a nod for best rock album, but he was snubbed in the best-new-artist category.

"Also on the North Carolina 'American Idol' tip, High Point's Fantasia picked up a nod for best contemporary R&B album.

"Durham-based Merge Records earned its second-ever nomination, for Arcade Fire for best alternative album. Former Chapel Hill resident James Taylor's 'At Christmas' picked up a nod for best traditional pop vocal album. ..."

Grant will help protect scenic vistas
"There's good news on the horizon for motorists who like to take the long way occasionally, just to enjoy the gorgeous Tar Heel landscape," writes the Greensboro News & Record.

"The Conservation Trust of North Carolina recently was awarded a grant of $252,000 from federal highway officials for coordinating efforts to preserve scenic vistas along such routes as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherohala Skyway and Grassy Island Crossing.

"The statewide conservation group and nine local land trusts will use the money from the Federal Highway Administration to 'identify, map and prioritize key parcels' along 560 miles of scenic byways. ..."

Friday, December 07, 2007

N.C. Zoo looks, plans for the future

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro has some grand ideas for its future. Here's to hoping they come to fruition.

An enlarged elephant and rhino exhibit is on tap for next spring, according to the Asheboro Courier-Tribune.
"The new exhibits will feature the state zoo’s expanded herds of nine rhinoceros and seven elephants, the most ever, and improve the ability to breed both pachyderm species. The elephants are part of one of the largest African elephant collections in the United States," said the paper.

The zoo has other projects, dependent on public and private funding over the next several years, on the horizon. Among them are an enlarged exhibit to house more polar bears, including youngsters; a third continent, Asia; and the Children’s Discovery Center. ...

“The keeping of bears is the next big thing after elephants[, said N.C. Zoo Director Dr. David Jones]. They need land space, more than originally thought.”

Enlarged exhibits are needed for the zoo’s polar, grizzly and black bears.

Jones noted that the design for the present polar bear exhibit, which opened in 1994, “was state of the art at the time.”

The current plan for the Rocky Coast exhibit is to provide new holding facilities — capable of housing five or six polar bears, including youngsters — and three times the present exhibit space. Estimated cost is $6.2 million.

The next project would be doubling the enclosure size for grizzly bears and making modifications to the black bear exhibit. Estimated cost is $2.5 million.

Jones said that early planning work is already under way for the Asian continent, which would be constructed on a 100-acre area between the parking lots for Africa and North America. ...

The new continent would focus on Asian animals, plants and habitats.

Featured animals in the first phase would include the Great One-Horned Indian Rhino and the zoo’s most requested species, tigers.

The second phase could bring in Giant Pandas and other species, like snow leopards, from the foothills and high mountain tops of the Eastern Himalayas, themed around China’s largest panda sanctuary, “Wolong.” Orangutans and Malayan tapirs would be included in the third phase. Estimated cost is $43.5 million. ...

We are fortunate here in North Carolina have such a world-class zoo. And we are even more fortunate that its leaders want to keep forging ahead, making it better and better.