Thursday, July 31, 2008

N.C. beaches are clean. Brilliant!

North Carolina can boast some of the cleanest beaches in which to swim in the nation, according to a recent report.

"Nancy Stoner, director of the clean water project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which compiles the report, said only 1 percent of water samples collected at North Carolilna beaches exceeded the bacterial standards last year," according to the News & Observer.

"Of 240 sites tested weekly or bi-weekly at North Carolina beaches along the ocean and soundfronts, 14 sites had levels of bacteria that exceeded safe limits once or more last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council announced.

"Carteret County had the most trouble spots with four, followed by New Hanover and Currituck and Dare counties with three each, and Chowan with one."

According to the report, the safest spots were Jockey's Ridge Soundside Access in Dare County, Park on Woodhouse Drive in Grandy, Currituck County, Banks Channel in Wrightsville Beach at Waynick Blvd. between Snyder and Seashore streets in New Hanover, Cedar Island Beach Area southeast of the Wildlife Ramp in Carteret County, Chowan River Wildlife Ramp on the east side of the bridge in Chowan County, Fort Fisher Beach adjacent to the NCWRC Ramp in New Hanover County, Roanoke Sound, Manteo Waterfront on the southwest side of Doug in Dare County, and Core Sound White Point in Carteret County. All tested with 7 percent levels of bacteria.

Greening of Greensboro one of 50 reasons to love the U.S.

Travel + Leisure has listed the "greening" of Greensboro as one of 50 reasons to love the United States of America.

"Luxury and green don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as the Proximity Hotel in North Carolina is out to prove," says the publication. "This 147-room hotel has made so many energy enhancements (solar panels on the roof that heat the showers, for example) that it’s aiming to become the country’s first-ever building with a Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)."

Click here for the rest of the state-by-state guide.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

N.C. has an edge in medical training

It's a good feeling (being a Raleigh resident) and knowing that such wonderful health care facilities are nearby. However, the truth may be that highly-trained medical practictioners are staying in North Carolina as a whole -- not just the urban/metro areas.

"Several of the new medical residents who picked New Hanover Regional Medical Center for their training cited the smaller, hands-on program, respected faculty members and new facilities about to open as draws for applying," said this article in the Wilmington Star-News.

"But, once their training is complete, will they stay and continue practicing here? ...

"With warnings that growth in North Carolina’s population will outpace that of its doctors in coming years, retaining residents has become a major point of discussion among some health groups in the state. ...

"Of the nearly 18,400 active physicians in North Carolina, about 6,600 doctors did their residency in the state and stayed, according to the N.C. Health Professions Data System."

The location of their medical schools also plays a role in where doctors end up, though it’s less of a factor in North Carolina than residency location.

Among the state’s active physicians, nearly 27 percent graduated from one of the four medical schools in North Carolina, figures from the N.C. Health Professions Data System show.

Experts say states that have combined medical schools and residencies within their borders have significantly better chances of retaining doctors.

“The more contacts that the physicians have with the state in terms of medical and GME (graduate medical education), the more likely they are to practice in the state,” said Clese Erikson, director of workforce for the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Center for Workforce Studies.

Then, two-thirds of them, 66 percent, are likely to stay in that state. North Carolina is pretty much a similar comparison to the national average,” Erikson said.

Quick hits: Plans for Screen Gems and screen legend stamp move ahead

Screen Gems makes plan for 'dream stage'
"EUE Screen Gems Studios officially announced Tuesday the building of the East Coast's largest film and television production stage," said the Wilmington Star-News.

"Some news of the construction was reported two months ago, but this was the company's first official detailed announcement about the Wilmington project.

" 'We've submitted the plans, applied for permits, begun preliminary clearing and ordered materials. This is our dream stage,' said Chris Cooney, COO and president of EUE Screen Gems Ltd., in a press release.

"Completion of the new 'dream stage' is expected by early spring 2009. It will be a column-less 37,500-square-foot expanse with a grid height of 45 feet and dimensions of 150 feet by 250 feet. The building's footprint will take up 39,005 square feet.

"The stage will include a 60- by 60-foot indoor tank with a depth of 10.5 feet, making it one of the largest and deepest indoor production tanks in North America. Depth creates more opportunities for underwater filming. ..."

Plans for Ava Gardner stamp moving head
"U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge announced today that a U.S. Postal Service committee is considering an Ava Gardner commemorative postage stamp," according to the News & Observer.

" 'Ava Gardner was a big-time star who never forgot her small-town North Carolina roots,' he said. 'In addition to being a world-famous actress, she was a patriot who performed for our troops and she worked tirelessly in the fight against cancer.'

"Gardner, who died in 1990, was a native of Johnston County.

"The postal service has a 'citizen’s stamp advisory committee' that reviews recommendations for commemorative stamps and makes recommendations to the postmaster general.

"If approved by the committee, the stamp would not be available until at least 2010. ..."

Friday, July 25, 2008

The South is phat, er fat

Here's a top 10 list that North Carolina doesn't make.

And that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, many of our Southern neighbors have wound up on the list of the most obese states in the Union.

"The South tips the scales again as the nation's fattest region, according to a new government survey," says the AP.

"More than 30 percent of adults in each of the states tipped the scales enough to ensure that the South remains the nation's fattest region.

"Colorado was the least obese, with about 19 percent fitting that category in a random telephone survey last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The 2007 findings are similar to results from the same survey the three previous years. Mississippi has had the highest obesity rate every year since 2004. But Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia and Louisiana have also clustered near the top of the list, often so close that the difference between their rates and Mississippi's may not be statistically significant. ..."

These are the 10 states with the highest levels of adult obesity, according to a 2007 survey by the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention.
1. Mississippi, 32.0 percent
2. Alabama, 30.3
3. Tennessee, 30.1
4. Louisiana, 29.8
5. West Virginia, 29.5
6. Arkansas, 28.7
7. South Carolina, 28.4
8. Georgia, 28.2
9. Oklahoma, 28.1
10. Texas, 28.1

The article goes on to suggest fat-heavy and fried foods (you think?) may have something to do with it, in addition to the South having a "large concentration of rural residents and black women -- two groups that tend to have higher obesity rates."

North Carolina has its share of fatty, fried foods as well, no doubt. It's interesting that Virginia and North Carolina are not on the top 10 list. (Haven't seen the whole list; we could be No. 11 for all I know.) But perhaps a slightly higher-educated population, along with a migration to urban, metro areas may play into North Carolina not winding up on this top 10 list?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quick hits: One museum sees dwindling numbers, while another is running out of space

10 years after fire to Wolfe house, visitors dwindle
"Any other old home so badly damaged by fire would have been razed.

"Early on the morning of July 24, 1998," writes the Asheville Citizen-Times, "an arsonist broke a window in the dining room of the Thomas Wolfe House, a wood frame home memorialized in the author’s autobiographical 1929 novel 'Look Homeward, Angel.' The person started a fire that smoldered for an hour or so, then erupted into a conflagration.At 3:07 a.m., a call to 911 sent more than 25 firefighters to the house on Spruce Street, and they found flames shooting through the crumbling slate roof of the rambling, 29-room home.

"Built in 1883 and significantly expanded in 1916, the house was the boyhood home of the famous American author from 1906-16 and a tourist draw that brought in 30,000 visitors annually.

"And it was burning down.

" 'I would say in another five-eight minutes we would’ve lost that house,' said Tommy Brooks, a division chief with Asheville Fire and Rescue and a captain at the time of the fire 10 years ago this week.

"Firefighters saved most of the structure and 85 percent of the artifacts, though, and after an extensive renovation, the site reopened in 2004. But visitation has never returned to pre-fire levels, and state officials and site workers struggle to explain why. ..."

A museum loaded with N.C. history
"Walk into the North Carolina Baseball Museum, and you wonder where to begin," writes the News & Observer's A.J. Carr.

"The 3,200 square-foot space inside Fleming Stadium is stocked with about 4,000 items, from a 1893 Eastern League scorebook to an autographed bat by Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
"Since the facility opened in 2004, an estimated 30,000 visitors from 45 states have perused the montage of pictures, pennants, gloves, bats, hats and other memorabilia.

"Organizers say it's running out of space, while still seeking more memorabilia. A campaign is getting under way to raise $200,000 to add more room. ..."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things sure are wild in the Smokies

It only takes a few minutes of walking around Asheville on a Saturday night to see that Western North Carolina as some, uh, interesting "species" that are rarely found in other parts of North Carolina. Now a 10-year study confirms that (sorta).

"A 10-year study has found more than 6,000 species of plant and animal life previously unidentified in Great Smoky Mountains National Park," says the Associated Press.

The All Taxa Biodiversity Project also discovered nearly 900 species "that are new to science."

The results of the study were discussed Monday during a Senate subcommittee field hearing in Asheville.

The project began in 1997 to inventory all species in the park that covers more than 800 square miles in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. More than 1,000 scientists have studied species in the park, identifying a total of more than 16,000.

Clemson picked to win ACC football; App expected to win SoCon

The Clemson Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference's football championship this year, as predicted by members of the media.

Clemson was picked No. 1 in the (still ill-named) Atlantic Division. I'm guessing by looking at the preseason rankings that Clemson is expected to knock off Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. The Hokies are expected to leave the (equally ill-named) Coastal Division.

As far as N.C. teams go, UNC-Chapel Hill is expected to finish second in the Coastal, and Wake Forest second in the Atlantic. At the other end of the spectrum are Duke and N.C. State, who are expected to finish last in the Coastal and Atlantic, respectively.

In other football news, three-time national champ Appalachian State has been picked to win the Southern Conference ... again. The Mountaineers received eight of nine first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll.

Elon University was picked second, while Western Carolina was picked eighth.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ooh la la!

Who knew Vass, N.C., was such a culinary hotspot?

"In rural North Carolina, Susan Rice is planning her attack on the French.

"Her strategy does not involve guns or soldiers. Instead, the assault is gastronomical, as she starts a 200-acre black truffle 'farm' in hopes of earning beaucoup d'argent from the sale of the musky, earthy, aromatic fungi," writes the Associated Press.

"Truffles, which grow underground among the roots of trees, are prized by chefs and gourmands, but difficult to cultivate. A pound of fresh French Perigord truffles can cost more than $1,500 retail, depending on the season. White truffles from the Alba region of Italy are even more expensive.

" 'We're trying to make it more of an American product, where we can enjoy it here,' said Rice, whose farm is near Vass, N.C., about 50 miles southwest of Raleigh. ..."

"In America, the truffle has only recently wafted into popular food consciousness, which has become much more global with the popularity of cable food networks and the organic and natural foods revolution. Even Cheesecake Factory, the American chain restaurant known for giant portions, has offered white truffle oil as a topper to its pasta Bolognese, at a $3 premium.

"To help educate the American palate, Rice has enlisted the help of celebrity Italian chef Nick Stellino, who has had television cooking shows and written several cookbooks. ...

"Brent Demarest, a produce buyer for Whole Foods Market, is interested in Rice's operation and, if the quality of the truffles is good, plans to sell the North Carolina truffles in its stores. ..."

Kudos to Rice. And to North Carolina.

Quick hits: Burlington focuses on mass transit & journal focuses on state's humor

Burlington eyes public transit
"In Alamance County, the need for public transportation is growing along with the population – especially in Burlington, which is the largest city in North Carolina without a public transit system," said News 14 Carolina.

"Buses are filling up across the state as working class citizens opt to leave their cars at home. The best Burlington has to offer is 28 passenger vans. 'We do about 275 trips a day currently, and that demand continues to go up,' explained Dennis Williams, executive director of the Alamance County Transportation Authority. ..."

Annual journal puts focus on state's humor writers
"The 2008 North Carolina Literary Review showcases work by some of the state's best writers on the topic of humor," said the Greenville Daily Reflector.

"It may make you laugh out loud, or tear up in that 'laughed-so-hard-I-cried' kind of way.
Margaret D. Bauer, NCLR editor and Rives Chair of Southern literature at East Carolina University, admitted to having both of those reactions while she reviewed material for this year's edition.

"And she hopes readers — and listeners to special, supplemental CDs — will share the experience.

" 'Humor is a popular topic, and we thank these literary critics and the creative writers who responded to our call for contributions, and we know you'll enjoy reading the issue's content as much as you do listening to the CDs,' Bauer said. ..."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oil rigs (literally) on the horizon?

On Monday, President Bush lifted restrictions on offshore oil drilling, which could have major implications on North Carolina.

"At issue for North Carolina are 300 miles of some of the nation's most undeveloped coastline. Waters off the state's coast contain significant fishing and birding habitats, while the coastal tourism economy is among the state's most important.

"But North Carolinians are paying more than $4 a gallon for gasoline, and most tell pollsters they support offshore drilling," said the N&O.

"The only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress," Bush said. "Today, I've taken every step within my power to allow offshore exploration" of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Such exploration and drilling would have almost no effect on current gas prices, though. Experts point that it would take at least eight to 10 years to produce oil offshore once all the bans are lifted.

Bush's action is the latest salvo in an election year that has seen Democrats and Republicans diverge sharply in recent weeks on offshore drilling. Republicans -- including presidential candidate John McCain and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole -- have pushed to search for oil in the Outer Continental Shelf. Democrats such as presidential candidate Barack Obama and U.S. Senate challenger Kay Hagan oppose drilling offshore. ...

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican, said states' governors and legislatures should make the call on offshore drilling. He has been hearing from constituents who are agitated over gas prices.

"At this point, I know that we've got a critical need in this country, and I believe it's going to get more expensive," Jones said.

Among the politicians who have changed their minds in recent weeks about drilling offshore are Dole, who faces re-election this year, and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mel Martinez of Florida, all Republicans.

One person who has blatantly supported the potential of offshore oil drilling is Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, Republican candidate for governor. He told a Greenville audience earlier this month that this type of action could have major economic implications for Eastern North Carolina.

"The east has a higher unemployment rate and lower per capita income than the rest of the state, but it does not have to be that way," McCrory said. "With safe, environmentally sound drilling in the deep sea off our coast, we can create new high paying jobs, jobs that the people of our poor counties can fill."

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, McCrory's rival for the governor's seat, has said she is opposed to the idea, citing environmental concerns.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New site designed to help N.C. film industry

The North Carolina Film Office is revamping its website, director Aaron Syrett said, to make it easier for the film industry to learn about the state. The site also should make it easier for locals to find film-related jobs.

Syrett said his group wants to become more "friendly to Hollywood."

The new site, which should be online by August, will feature a list of locations that may appeal to film executives and a directory of industry professionals and their resumes. The site will also "enable the central office to present one package of locations to a producer rather than delegate those duties to the five regional film commissions across the state."

North Carolina has quite a solid history of making movies. Some famous flicks shot in the state include "Bull Durham," "Last of the Mohicans," "Firestarter," "Nell" and parts of "Forrest Gump.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

BHI among 10 most scenic spots sans cars

"Gas prices, traffic, kids screaming in the backseat.... It's enough to make you want to get out and walk. So why not do just that?" asks Budget Travel. "At these 10 spots, there are no cars at all (unless you count golf carts)."

Among the 10 most scenic spots without cars is Bald Head Island.

"Bald Head has a rowdy past as a pirate hideout, but the island has since become a vacation-home haven. Old Baldy, as the island's lighthouse is often called, was what inspired Jeff and Tonya Swearingen to first visit Bald Head. Last year, they bought a second home there. 'We love having no cars and having the woods next to the beach,' says Tonya. ...

"Over 80 percent of the island's 12,000 acres is conservation land. The Bald Head Island Conservancy leads nature hikes and special walks to sea-turtle nesting sites ..."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A not-too-distant trip: Monticello

We are in the days of $4-per-gallon gasoline and in the thick of summertime travel, so here is a recommendation of a not-too-far away vacation spot for most North Carolinians: Charlottesville.

It is here where if one wants "to understand who Thomas Jefferson" was, all he or she should do is visit Monticello, "his majestic mountaintop home in Charlottesville, Virginia," writes

... In the entrance hall at Monticello you can see one of his inventions: the Great Clock, with large iron weights that look like cannon balls. In the sitting room, another Jefferson invention: a dumbwaiter built into the side of the fireplace which lifts bottles of wine from his basement.

"He was a remarkably intellectually curious man," said David L. Holmes, professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary and author of 'The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.' "He was the Renaissance man, the Enlightenment man in the colonies; there were others behind him in the group but he was the one."

Jefferson read widely and was interested in the beliefs and ideas of others. Among his extensive book collection was a copy of the Quran. ...

For more on Charlottesville, visit here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Quick hits: Luring tourists and wine drinkers

Tourist sites aim to attract visitors from the Southeast
"With gas prices holding at a record $4 a gallon nationwide, tourism officials are touting Asheville as only a tank full of gas away for travelers from Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte and other Southeastern markets," writes the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"Local businesses are feeling the pinch from record gas prices and the sluggish economy, with fewer travelers staying at their hotels, eating in their restaurants, shopping at their stores and visiting their attractions this spring.

"These businesses’ leaders crowded the boardroom of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to brainstorm ways to bring more travelers to town over the summer.

" 'We want to see what we can do to get those people in those crucial drive markets thinking Asheville at the top of their minds when they do travel,' said Kelly Miller, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. ..."

Study profiles visitors to N.C. wineries
"In North Carolina's wine country, visitors tend to be middle-aged, highly educated and have higher than average incomes," says the Winston-Salem Journal.

"According to a survey released last week by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council, they also like to spend money at wineries, with purchases averaging $176 per travel party. ...

"The report is the first of its kind for the state's wine industry.

"North Carolina has more than 70 wineries in 31 counties, many of them in the Yadkin Valley. And wineries take in an estimated $48.2 million a year in sales. But for so long, state officials haven't known who is buying all of that wine.

" 'This is a really big step for us. We're really finding out who we are talking to,' said Margo Knight Metzger, the executive director of the N.C. Wine and Grape Council. 'It's just as your marketing gets more sophisticated, as your budget increases, you want to make sure every dollar is spent in the best way possible.' ..."

U.S. Olympic hoops team heavy with N.C. ties

I have a problem calling anything other than the Jordan-Bird-Magic U.S. men's basketball team the "Dream Team," and I won't here. But I will say that the latest incarnation of the Olympic hopefuls is not half-bad. And it's no surprise that some with North Carolina ties are involved.

First of all is the coach, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

"For the first time since it became evident that America couldn't just show up and dominate each game by default, there has been an emphasis placed on assembling a team with the proper mentality and court skills to successfully compete under international rules," writes the News & Observer's Caulton Tudor.

"But it still seems strange that Krzyzewski, a Duke fixture for almost three decades, was picked to coach this team. That's hardly a knock on his qualifications, preparations and resume. There's not a more highly respected basketball coach in the world. ...

"The selection of Krzyzewski to lead this team was a tribute to him personally and to the collegiate division in general. No one has to be concerned that he will take either honor lightly. He'll put as much effort into winning the gold as most of his team."

As for the actual players, there is PG Chris Paul, a Clemmons-area native and former star at Wake Forest. There's also former Blue Devil Carlos Boozer.

"He was picked because he's an all-star, and we're lucky to have him," Coach K said about Boozer.