Friday, April 30, 2010


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Through the Looking Glass.

The White Queen

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Alice in Wonderland.

Public Records

We've had a few discussions over the past year or so about public records in North Carolina. Among other things, a public record is pretty much any record made of the public's business.

Here's what North Carolina General Statutes have to say:

"§ 132 1. "Public records" defined.

(a) "Public record" or "public records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

(b) The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, "minimal cost" shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.)"

Seems pretty clear.

So any record made by a public official in connection with the people's business is a public record. It doesn't matter whether it was made on or with a privately owned piece of equipment, it is a public record. And it must be turned over to the public agency's official custodian of public records.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More on Learning

It's good to learn from your mistakes.

It's better to learn from those of others. As Eleanor Roosevelt once noted, you can never live long enough to make them all yourself.


A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.

Will Rogers

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Voting Convenience

I've been telling people about the on-line conveniences for voters in North Carolina, but I hadn't tried them out.

Until now.

I decided to look for my very own sample ballot for the May 4th Primary. Here's how:

1. Log on the the Pamlico County Government web site;
2. Click on Departments;
3. Select Elections;
4. Click on "Registration Lookup and Sample Ballot;"
5. You will find yourself at the State Board of Elections site;
6. Fill in your name and date of birth, then select Pamlico from the drop down list of counties;
7. Click "submit" and you will see your voter information, including voter history;
8. Click "my sample ballot," and you will see your very own ballot style for the May 4th Primary, based on your party registration and where you live.


The State Board of Elections has posted this information for every registered voter in North Carolina.

You still have to make up your own mind who to vote for.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Voter Qualifications

Every citizen of the United States has the right to vote somewhere - unless that right has been taken away by a court. Even citizens who live abroad have the right to vote.

It wasn't always that way. As I pointed out elsewhere, the United States began with a restricted electorate, but has been expanding it over the years. Of the four individuals who take part in meetings of the Pamlico County Board of Elections, I am the only one who would have been allowed to vote by our original constitution. If, that is, I had owned enough property and didn't adhere to the wrong religion.

I am old enough to remember poll taxes, white primaries, protracted residence requirements, domicile restrictions (wife must have the same domicile as the husband), literacy tests, and polling place obstacles preventing those with handicaps from voting. My mother was born before women had the constitutional right to vote. My daughter in law's parents (Pottawatamie and Cherokee tribes) were born before Native Americans were granted citizenship rights. I remember when voter registration offices were seldom open.

Those obstacles have all been removed.

There are procedures to be followed, but the presumption is in favor of the opportunity of the voter to vote, not in favor of procedural obstacles to voting.

The reason we have election judges at polling places is that some circumstances require judgment. As the Executive Director of the NC State Board of Elections has said, "Since the voting process involves so many people and a never-ending variety of situations may present themselves, we must trust our elections officials to use good judgment and common sense."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wallace v. Sanford

Many people remember the key sound bite from George Wallace's 1963 inaugural address as Governor of Alabama: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Fewer remember the central theme of Wallace's 1962 campaign: opposition to registration of African American voters. That theme emerged as early as 1959 when then circuit court judge Wallace refused to turn over voting records to a federal commission investigating discrimination against black voters. He eventually turned the records over under threat of jail, but continued to posture against the federal government.

Elsewhere in 1962 while Wallace was running for governor, Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi incited a mob of people proud to call themselves "rednecks" to riot at the University of Mississippi to prevent James Meredith from entering the University.

1963 was a blur of events: George Wallace "stood in the schoolhouse door" to oppose entry of two black students into the University of Alabama; Medgar Evers was shot and killed; Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech in Washington, DC.

Almost unnoticed in the rest of the country, four days after George Wallace's defiant inaugural, Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina said it was time to "quit unfair discrimination and to give the Negro a full chance to earn a decent living for his family and to contribute to the higher standards for himself and all men."

A long-lost eight-minute film of that speech - a unique declaration by a Southern governor in that era - was shown publicly for the first time earlier this evening in Chapel Hill.

Talk about a profile in courage!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Voting Starts Thursday

One Stop voting starts Thursday morning at 8:00 at the Board of Elections office in Bayboro. It continues until May first.

One stop is a great way to vote. The polls are open for thirteen days. You can pick your own day and avoid the crowd.

You can also register and vote the same day. North Carolina is one of ten states with some form of same day registration. If you have moved, you can correct your voting information.

Come on by and vote. If you have questions about the candidates, ask your party chair for the lowdown.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Two Kinds of People

Long ago I concluded there are two kinds of people in the world: sail boaters and power boaters.

You may complain that not everyone owns a boat.

That misses the point. It is a question of attitude, not platform.

Sail boaters are always alert to the world around them. What is the wind doing? What will it do? Which way is the current moving? Sailors don't just analyze the surface of things. They want to know what's under the surface. There may be unseen obstacles.

Sailors know how to reach their goal by indirection. If the destination is upwind, change course back and forth (tack) to reach the goal. It might take a bit longer, but it works. They trim their sails to make the boat go faster, and sometimes to operate more efficiently.

Most of all, sailors know that every destination is just a way station toward another destination, not the end of a voyage. It's about the going, not the getting there.

To be sure, there are people who own and operate power boats who think along the same lines. I say they are really sailors at heart. Many of them own trawlers.

But if you hear someone express disdain for tacking and trimming sails, that person is a power boater. Especially if they just want to aim the pointy end in a particular direction and push the throttle all the way forward.

There's room in the world for both kinds.

As my fellow Oklahoman, Will Rogers observed:

A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read.

Mark Twain


"You can lead a man up to the university, but you can't make him think."

Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ron Paul and the Census

A couple of nights ago I saw Congressman Ron Paul of Texas declaim on TV against the current US Census. He claimed that the 2010 census, which arguably asks the fewest questions since the 1790 census, exceeds the requirements of the US Constitution.


Congressman Paul, who admittedly has some interesting ideas on a number of subjects, is a physician. Apparently he believes, like some other physicians in Congress, that this qualifies him as a Constitutional Scholar, an Economist, a Historian, an expert in International Affairs, nuclear physics and Rocket Science.

As I have pointed out before, the US Census was NEVER just a head count. For one thing, since slaves only counted three fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives, they had to be counted separately.

It's in the Constitution.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Energy: Key to Survival

There's a helpful opinion piece in today's on-line edition of the New York Times.

Andrew Revkin offers some thoughts on the energy gap and climate crisis. Key thoughts: the world is well on its way to having nine billion inhabitants. Some two billion right now essentially have no access to energy. This will worsen as both China and India move toward an automobile-based transportation system.

Most discouraging is that our own basic research into energy is lagging. Take a look at the colored graph Revkin posts in his article. It makes the point.

A few years ago Public Radio's "All Things Considered" contacted a think tank that thinks about such things "what is the maximum population the world can sustain at a European standard of living?" The answer: we already have three times the population that could be sustained at a european standard of living.

Think about that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Public Figures and The First Amendment

First Amendment to the US Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Originally this was only a constraint on the Federal Government. In modern times, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it also applies to the states.

The way this plays out is to pretty much allow the press to say anything they want to about public figures. Libel laws, for example only come into play if an aggrieved public figure can prove "actual malice." Figuring out what phrases like "actual malice" mean is why lawyers earn the big bucks.

Who is a public figure? Pretty much every elected and appointed official falls in that category.

What if the press prints something that isn't true? What if the press or even a private person mischaracterizes something a public figure says? Tough!

There's that pesky first amendment.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

South Avenue

I just bicycled past the fence at the end of South Avenue. There had been a sign on the fence announcing the Corps of Engineers project to repair the town breakwater. That project is now completed and the sign is gone.

It's time for the town to clean up the street end and remove or cause to be removed the fence that blocks the end of South Avenue and a portion of the town's right of way on Avenue A.

The case is over. Let's take possession of what is ours.

Voting in North Carolina

Just got back from a very interesting training session for county election officials offered by the State Board of Elections. I'm still digesting the information.

One message came through loud and clear: North Carolina is one of a very small group of states leading the way in modernization and reform of election law and procedures. Other states and the federal government often look to North Carolina for ideas.

An example is the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 which amended prior law (Uniformed and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voting Act)concerning overseas voters. Of ten provisions in the law, only one provision will require amendment to North Carolina law.

In fact, the US Department of Justice has asked to use North Carolina as a model for other states and as a pilot for new ideas. That speaks well of the leadership of our State Board of Elections.