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op frCigar smoke swirled around my face as the eardrum splitting street preacher invaded the festive mood of the thousands meandering around the entrance to the old market in downtown Charleston. A few minutes earlier, we had finished off a meal with an old friend, and afterward, my wife had departed for a spring break trip with her father. That left me, one of my daughters and my son to enjoy a couple of days in this great Southern city. 

op frWhen the city of Asheville decided that this year’s Bele Chere street festival would be the last it funded, little more than a whisper of protest was reported in the local media. The monstrous festival had become a victim of its own success. The largest street party in the Southeast cost nearly half a million dollars of taxpayer money each year, took just as much time to plan, and then during the summer buildup needed weeks of preparation. Many long ago decided it had become too big to enjoy.

Bele Chere may survive under the auspices of some other entity other than the city government, a move that would be helpful to the nonprofits that depend on it for a significant portion of their fundraising. The downtown association is a likely candidate, while the city could still help with security and garbage, writes Jason Sandford, the creator and writer of the blog Ashvegas.

op frBy Stephanie Wampler • Columnist

Our Saturday morning cave adventure started out innocently enough. We would need flashlights. Check. I had purchased three apiece, plus four spare AAA batteries. Change of clothes. Check. Layers for warmth, since it was after all underground and therefore likely to be chilly. Check. Hiking boots. Water bottle. First aid kit, including snakebite venom extractor just in case we did happen to run across an angry and poisonous snake two miles deep into the cavern. (You never know. It could happen.) In any event, first aid kit, check. Sandwiches. Chocolate chip cookies. Check plus. They were very good cookies. I put a few in a bag to take into the cave and left the rest in the car for when we came out. We were packed and ready. The possibility that we might need anything else, like rope or a ladder or a safety net, never occurred to me. 

op fr“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

For years I had ascribed those words to Thomas Paine, the fiery British-American writer who fanned the flames of America’s revolutionary spirit with his pamphlet “Common Sense.” A quick search, though, reveals it was penned by a little-known (to me) British playwright in 1839, though several writers of greater fame danced around that particular wording of the phrase before Edward Bulwer-Lytton found the syntax that helped it gain a level of immortality.

op frBy Ken Stahl • Guest Columnist

There appears to be controversy concerning the proposed 2 percent occupancy tax increase. This is a good thing as it generates a reflection on concerns of the stakeholders. Several issues have been discussed, and a lot of people have been confused as to what this is all about.

We here in Haywood County must rely on tourism for our livelihood. Almost all of our industrial jobs are gone. The big players in tourism here in Western North Carolina are our neighbor to the east, Buncombe County, and our neighbors to the west, the Cherokee. Buncombe County tourists spend approximately $729 million per year in the county. Swain County tourists spend approximately $256 million. We struggle to get tourists to spend $116 million annually with us.

op frBy Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

The United States spends twice as much on health care as most other modern nations, with less to show for it in terms of longevity and other true measures of health. The reasons why — and what we could and should do about it — make the March 4 edition of TIME probably the most important single issue of any magazine ever published.

Steven Brill’s cover story, “Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” takes up nearly the entire edition. Anyone who cares about this — and who doesn’t — needs to buy or borrow the magazine now or download the article from TIME’s website. It’s a keeper.

op frBy John Beckman • Columnist

Thirty-five years ago, I moved into my first dorm room and this small-town lad had high hopes of the excitement and new people he would meet at this big university hundred of miles from his sleepy town. I surveyed the 60 or so inhabitants at the Introductory Floor Meeting that day and noticed a few “possibilities” for friends and a bunch of “forget-its.”

Among the latter was a short, loud, monied know-it-all, Jewish guy from New Jersey — “Nothing in common here, I thought. People like this annoy me.” But as might have been guessed, I’d soon sing a different tune. Once the partying and shenanigans began, we found our vast differences to be great compliments, and the next semester, we moved into a house off campus together with three other guys and the “Moose Breath Club” was born.

op frBy Stephanie Wampler • Guest Columnist

Well, it seems that John Kerry is our new secretary of state, ready to take on all the problems of the world. Up until recently, I would have been fine with that, but I have now realized that a better choice for chief diplomat could have been made. That better choice? Me. OK, so perhaps I wasn’t an obvious choice; in fact, I myself wasn’t really cognizant of my skills as a diplomat and negotiator until recently — this morning actually, 7:58 a.m. to be exact.

op frRepublican Gov. Pat McCrory is trying to temper disparaging remarks he made early last week about the value of a liberal arts education. He certainly needs to, and while he’s at it he should assure this state’s citizens that he understands the value of our university system.

In an interview with Bill Bennett — the education secretary under Ronald Reagan who has become a conservative pundit on political and social issues (and who has a degree in philosophy, by the way) — McCrory said the university system should be funded “not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs.” He also said we only need so many philosophy majors, and that the state should not continue to subsidize arcane courses that don’t lead to employment: “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it,” McCrory told Bennett during the interview. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

op frThe teenage cashier at the grocery store is conversing with a customer. “That’s right,” she says. “The only thing that will work is for civilization to collapse so we can all go back to nature.” Later I encounter a friend at a party, a married woman in her 50s who has just completed an advanced handgun course, has stocked a year’s worth of provisions in her house, and hopes to purchase a farm in a remote area of Madison County. “When everything falls apart,” she had said to me earlier in the year, “I want a place for my family to feel safe.” Seeing her reminds me of a dozen other acquaintances who believe our civilization is teetering on the verge of an apocalypse. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to these mountains: the Internet is rife with bloggers predicting breakdown and widespread disorder, and advocating ways of survival.

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