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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.

op frThe swearing in of new Gov. Pat McCrory this past weekend brought to mind a conversation at a recent holiday party. I was sequestered with a few political types and several issues came up that had been covered in The Smoky Mountain News and other media outlets. Several of these discussion points are going to fall into the lap of the new governor and the General Assembly.

op frIt all started with a simple book fair at the middle school. My daughter, inspired perhaps by viewing the trailer for the movie about 12,000 times during the past few weeks, bought a paperback of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit. She couldn’t wait to see the movie, but as the daughter of an English teacher, she naturally wanted to read the book first. Bless her.

op frBy Bob Scott • Guest Columnist

After the killing of 26 children and adults by a young man using a semi-automatic gun best used for combat, the knee-jerk reactions have begun.

Politicians on the Democrat side of the aisle are calling for assault weapon bans. Some Republicans are saying we need more guns. Others are claiming that if we arm more people, they will stop a shooter. If more people carry guns, there will be less crime. Schools should have armed guards. All of these solutions are inconclusive. However, 19 mass killings in the past five years have produced no reasonable answer to this terrible national problem. Stronger gun control will probably have no effect as there are more than 300 million guns in our society. It would be impossible to round up these guns or even attempt to register them.

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