Friday, December 18, 2009

My YouTube debut

A few weeks ago I read some of my work at Story Slam! Charlotte as part of a local writers' night. The lovely and talented Tonya Jameson shot some video, and Lord help us all, I'm now on YouTube. Five things you should know before you watch:

1) Why yes, I am a rather large man. I noticed that too.

2) I'm still working on the first set of reading glasses I bought a year and a half ago. They were the $7.98 special at Costco. I had no idea they had gotten quite that crooked.

3) Believe it or not, that's my real voice. I had throat surgery years ago and ended up with a voice that I like to call "obscene phone caller in training."

4) We didn't realize my beard would scratch the microphone, so every time I turn my head to the right, it sounds like somebody unwrapping a peppermint in church.

5) This bumps right up against YouTube's 10-minute limit, so there's a little skip in the middle and you don't get to see the wild applause, panties being thrown on stage, etc., at the end.

So if I haven't run you off completely, here's my essay on the song "Chevy Van." I wrote this for the book "Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas." The fellow on guitar is the great Steve Stoeckel of Charlotte's legendary Spongetones.

If you want more -- and if you do, well, thanks, Mom -- you can see three more videos from that night over at my YouTube channel. Yes, I now have a YouTube channel. The world is a strange and wonderful place.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill James, same-sex benefits, and the big picture

I had been agreeing with Bill James a lot lately. He properly demanded more accountability in the tangled mess involving the DSS Giving Tree -- a mess that I have some personal interest in seeing solved. He's a necessary check on county spending, even if I'd rarely cut the things he wants to cut. He even sent me an e-mail educating me on the wonders of Blu-Ray. I thought we had a good thing going.

Should have known it wouldn't last.

Bill said a cruel thing to fellow county commissioner Vilma Leake during the debate Tuesday night over county benefits for same-sex partners. He might not have thought it was cruel -- still might not think that -- but imagine if Leake had been talking about a son who died of a drug overdose, and Bill had leaned over and said, "Your son was a junkie, really?"

There's been a lot of predictable reaction on all sides. But to spend time and energy worrying about Bill's stray comment misses the bigger point: His side lost. Providing benefits to same-sex couples is a logical step for any business, or government agency, that has a vested interest in the health and goodwill of its employees. It's just common sense.

Jeff Taylor at the Meck Deck blog has it right on the next step in the process -- a heterosexual couple will sue to claim their own benefits. That's fine. It gets us one step closer to the legislative and court decisions that will settle the issue and let people get on with their lives.

In the meantime, if you don't let gay couples marry, but you allow them benefits, it only makes sense to extend benefits to any couple that can prove a long-term relationship. (How about this compromise: No benefits for ANY couples, including married ones, until they've been in a stable relationship for three years. Given the divorce rate, that might save the county a bunch of money.)

These things move slowly, with fine-toothed gears, but over time the wheels turn. The arc of history is bending toward placing gay couples in the same civic space that heterosexual couples occupy. That's where the world is headed, and that's where Mecklenburg County headed Tuesday night. The vote was the story. All the words are just thin air.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stories of the decade -- your thoughts?

So I'm doing a piece about the stories of the decade in the Charlotte area. It won't be just stories from this area -- of course there were events such as 9/11 that affected everyone, and I'll definitely mention those. But for now I'm trying to figure out the events that meant the most to people here at home. I'll be talking about a lot of different stories, but for our online package we're trying to come up with the 10 biggest stories of the decade.

That's where we need your help.

What follows is a list of ideas we came up with. Here's what I'd like you to do in the comments: 1) pick the two or three stories that you think were the biggest and 2) add any stories that you don't see on the list. We might end up changing or merging some of these ideas -- for example, I'm still trying to figure out how to frame THE big story about everything that happened with Charlotte's banks.

If you have time, I'd also like to hear about your life through the prism of these last 10 years. How did these events affect you? What changed for you between 2000 and 2009? What do you hope the next 10 years will bring?

(If you'd rather not talk about all that in the comments, just e-mail me at

Here's our working list of stories of the decade:

School desegregation trial

Panthers go to Super Bowl

First Union-Wachovia merger

Wachovia-Wells Fargo merger

Bank of America buys Merrill Lynch

Ken Lewis/Ken Thompson step down

Closing of Pillowtex mill in Kannapolis

Billy Graham leaves the public stage

Miracle on the Hudson

Officers Clark and Shelton killed in the line of duty

Rae Carruth trial

The lottery comes to the Carolinas

Jim Black goes to prison

Death of Dale Earnhardt

Foreclosure crisis hits home

Light rail comes to Charlotte

Charlotte Hornets leave town

Arena referendum fails; new arena built anyway

Plane crash at Charlotte-Douglas kills 21

Charlotte building boom

Charlotte building boom goes bust

Deaths of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond

2002 ice storm

Independence High football wins seven state titles

OK, that's plenty for now. So what do you think?