Scott McLeod

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op frWhen next week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News hits the streets Wednesday, June 15, my youngest will be a high school graduate and my wife will be gone for a month to walk across Spain with our middle child Hannah.

The fact that those two events are happening at almost the same time is purely coincidence. When Hannah made plans to spend the spring semester of her junior year studying abroad, we didn’t think about how that would coincide with Liam’s graduation. And when we decided it would be a lifetime adventure for Lori and Hannah — both fluent Spanish speakers — to walk part of the Camino de Santiago together, we didn’t really consider that Liam and I would be home for a month, alone, two men.

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op frOver this past Memorial Day weekend I found myself reading essays and columns about freedom, about military men and women and their sacrifices, and how those sacrifices and the freedom we take for granted are so infused into the American psyche. 

We do take it for granted, and as the son of a retired serviceman I think freedom is a birthright, or at least it should be. Humans deserve to be free. And although no one would ever describe me as a conservative, I share the belief with my conservative brethren that society generally works better in direct relationship to how much freedom we provide. Break the shackles of government and society’s expectations and we are, generally, better off. 

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op frHaywood County Schools has been a part of my life for 24 years now — as a journalist, the husband of a teacher, and the parent of three children who were each students for 13 years in the system — and never has there been a time when I have heard more criticism about its leadership. 

I sort of get it — you close a school, that’s what happens. Understandably, people get emotional. But the larger, more important issue for parents and taxpayers, though, is whether the school system is in good hands. Is there any validity to the voices critical of Superintendent Anne Garrett and the school board’s leadership through these trying times?

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op potThe last couple of years have brought a sea change in attitudes about marijuana. I’m convinced pot will be legal in most of the U.S. within the next decade, and I think it will do a lot more good than harm.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a conservative tribe. Yet its Tribal Council voted two weeks ago to start drafting legislation that would allow marijuana to be produced on tribal land and prescribed for medicinal uses. Such a move would, of course, spawn a whole subset of economic development possibilities for growing and processing cannabis.

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op frI’ve been observing something for years — though recently it has snowballed  — and it has always struck me as hypocritical: the intolerance of progressive liberals toward conservatives who hold diametrically opposing political and social views. The hypocrisy, of course, is that progressives espouse a philosophy of tolerance and openness. Bring a climate change denier, an evangelical Christian or a supply side, free market capitalist to the party, however, and many of my liberal friends will write off said individual’s political and social commentary before they’ve tossed back their first IPA.

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op frIt’s not the 1960s in terms of political activism, but recent episodes at Western Carolina University and across the country do signal that young people today are willing to engage in important discussions about race and culture.

These are difficult topics that have bedeviled supposedly enlightened societies for centuries. Nearly every student of history has encountered one of those instances where juxtaposing the accepted social mores of an earlier time against today’s standards would have ruined the legacy of an otherwise prominent and honorable figure. Conventional attitudes and behavior change — sometimes at a glacial pace, other times too fast for comfort. This country, I think, is at one of those tipping points.

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op fr“I feel like a one-legged man at an ass kicking. They don’t care for me because I call them out. I try to inform the public of the truth, and they don’t like it.”

That’s the colorfully candid state Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who is back in Raleigh this week as the General Assembly kicks off its biennial short session, which is traditionally devoted to making a few budget tweaks and perhaps passing some noncontroversial legislation.

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op frWhen we reported that Mountain Discovery Charter School and Swain County commissioners were working together to hopefully build a gymnasium, the symbolism of that relatively small venture almost went unnoticed. 

Mountain Discovery was founded 15 years ago by an independent-thinking and hard-working group of Swain parents who beat the odds and started a school during the era when there was a 100-school cap on charters in North Carolina. Its leaders did not win many friends among Swain’s public school supporters and from county commissioners who provide funding to the school system.

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op fr“The arts are so incredibly vital to a quality of life, smart business and the health of a community. The arts teach us to appreciate beauty, to make visible our thoughts, ideas and inspirations and to continually problem solve. These are important life skills that apply to every aspect of community, family and business. The survival of the arts is paramount to our happiness and also our innovation.”

— Kari Rinn, Haywood Community College director of Creative Arts

When regional arts leaders gathered two weeks ago at Western Carolina University for the “LEAD: Arts” summit, comments like those from HCC Creative Arts Director Kari Rinn were coming from the mouths of many in attendance. It was as if a group of under-appreciated creative minds finally got their few minutes in the spotlight, and they were eager to share their views. Not that anyone was whining or walking around with their hats out. Quite the contrary.

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op frLet the campaign to unseat Rep. Michele Presnell begin. During her two terms in office Presnell has been an obstructionist and a demagogue who has blocked progress in Haywood County on several fronts.

Presnell, a Republican from Yancey County who represent the 118th District, will face Democratic primary winner and Haywood County School Board member Rhonda Schandevel in the Nov. 8 general election.

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op frWhen small towns think and act big, amazing things can happen. Anyone who has traveled has come across communities that have taken risks and been rewarded for it, vibrant small towns that are just fun to visit.

I think the town center plan currently being studied in Maggie Valley fits that description.

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op frSometimes I forget why I love it so much. The truth is that newspaper work is partly satisfying, partly frustrating. Just ask any of my co-workers.

Luckily, the satisfaction that comes from helping a small business gain new customers and find success, from a story well-told, and from making a small difference in the way an important issue is decided is what sticks, making up for many of the frustrations.

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op frWho you going to trust, Apple or Uncle Sam? By deciding not to obey a court order to unlock the iPhone phone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, Apple says it’s taking a stand for privacy against government intrusion. The company insists breaching Farook’s iPhone security system would be tantamount to opening the floodgates and endangering the security of the data on millions of phones.

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NorthCarolinaLargeMaybe North Carolina will be a shining star of a state working to resolve petty partisanship, and maybe it won’t. 

A three-judge federal panel ruled last week that two of the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered, that they were unconstitutional because they were redrawn by the GOP-led legislature based on racial proportions. That, obviously, is illegal. The panel ruled that these particular districts — the 1st and 2nd — have to be redrawn, meaning other districts will also have to be change.

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nc houseIt’s a fundamental question and voters will be the ultimate arbiters: is North Carolina spending adequately on education? The short answer is no, and I’ll show you why I believe that.

With Haywood County officials pondering the likely closing of Central Elementary School due to funding shortfalls, the question of the state’s commitment to education has been thrust into the spotlight. The back-and-forth has included emails and press releases from both Haywood school officials and Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville, with our legislator stooping so far as to calling local officials “shameful” and “disingenuous.” Not quite the behavior you’d expect from a state representative, but hey, an uninformed electorate gets its just deserts.

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op frThe imminent closing of Central Elementary School in Waynesville is fueling heated debate on many fronts. A small school in many ways is like a sun around which the lives of children, families, teachers, cafeteria workers and a community orbit, a center that brings purposeful togetherness to an otherwise random group of people. 

That’s the human element, and most of those in that orbit are hurting badly right now. But a school is also an arm of government that is paid for by our tax dollars. That money should be spent wisely. Central is very small and losing more students each year, the economies of scale tipping out of balance as children move to other schools, as families decide to home school or go to a charter school, as kids age up and go to middle school and fewer elementary age families move into the district.

op frFormer county commissioner, mayor and longtime Haywood County political player/observer Mary Ann Enloe was dead on in her column last week about the firing of Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal (www.themountaineer.village-soup.com/p/marcy-onieal-is-a-classy-lady-who-will-be-fine-so-will-the-town): it was a bad decision by aldermen, but Waynesville and Onieal will survive this small-town political firestorm. Both have too much going for them.

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op frThe idea to start handing out annual spoof awards instead of the traditional year-in-review that most newspapers do was the brainchild, as I recall, of staff writer Becky Johnson. Those who know Becky and have read our paper for a while know she’s been both an editor and reporter here at SMN, and has written many award-winning pieces.  She’s always looking for different and better ways to do things, and this idea has stuck.

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op frIf there was ever a time in recent memory when Haywood County leaders and its citizens need reminding that they live in a county too large and too populous and too beautiful to be without land-use planning, it’s right now.

Just last week at a county board meeting, we learned that Jule Morrow wants to put an indoor shooting range and gun store on his property in the Francis Farm area of Haywood County. Some neighbors (who plan to attend the 9 a.m., Jan. 4, Haywood County Board meeting to voice their objections) say the range and gun store will be a blight in what for generations has been a cove of farm fields and pastures. As someone who travels that area frequently since my own home is not far away, I personally agree with those neighbors.

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op frSometimes in the world of journalism, the story becomes more about the reaction than the original news event. By my estimation, that’s what’s going on right with Franklin Mayor Bob Scott and his decision to put his hand on the Constitution instead of the Bible when getting sworn in for his second term.

Scott is one of those small-town politicians who seems to come to public service naturally. He is a former alderman, has led the local chamber of commerce and the Rotary Club. He’s been a journalist and a public affairs officer who believes passionately in open government. He’s retired, but from what I’ve seen he works nearly all the time as chief cheerleader and advocate for his adopted hometown.

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op frI’m not running for office and never will, but as a citizen of Haywood County and Western North Carolina and the U.S., it’s somewhat sporting to imagine what positions I would campaign on if I was running for election in one our towns or counties, hell even at the state or federal level.

It’s interesting to find out just what motivates people to put themselves out their and run for office. Today’s media — and I’m not talking about local newspapers — creates a challenging, frenzied political arena.

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op frWhile I was living in Elizabethtown in southeastern North Carolina in 1988, Walmart opened a brand-new store. Most everyone was excited, and how could you blame them? The retail giant hadn’t yet taken over the world, although it was already by then the largest retailer in the U.S. But how could you argue with the cheap prices all the one-stop variety, especially in an area that was poverty-stricken as textile mills were shuttering their operations?

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op frSo much going on locally and around the world that it’s just a tough week to bear down on a subject to write about. So let’s just run through the “column ideas” list and clean things out as we head toward December. It’s the beginning of the holidays and I’ll pretend I’m sitting with my chair pulled up close to the table. The Thanksgiving dinner is laid out banquet style with so much food it’s almost impossible to choose what to eat. I give up, and instead will try a little of everything. Here we go …

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op frWhen terrorism strikes like it did this weekend in Paris, the first reaction to the horror is shock from the utter senselessness of intentional violence against innocent people. Most of us don’t understand how anyone could do something so innately evil.

But then, as the dozens of news reports and politicizing of the tragedy wash over me, I begin to worry. Not about further terrorist attacks — which we all know are coming and unfortunately are part of the world in which we live — but for the coming epidemic of ignorance, grandstanding and bellicose chest thumping.

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op frHindsight is indeed 20-20, and this time Haywood County commissioners very likely saw things exactly as they should have.

The plan to sell 55 acres in Haywood County’s industrial park to a start-up recycling sorting company has been scuttled. A press release sent out by the county Monday, Nov. 10, said that the company had withdrawn its offer. With the decision made, it’s way too easy to sit comfortably at my desk with my laptop and write with confidence about why this wasn’t a good idea.

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op frJackson County commissioners are going to pass a smart steep slope ordinance that will help as this region shakes off the devastating effects of the recent recession.

Commissioners are expected to pass a revised steep slope ordinance that will weaken the threshold from 30 to a 35 percent slope for the ordinance to kick in. While this change essentially does indeed weaken the ordinance, things could have been much worse, so Jackson is to be commended for the stance it’s taking.

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op frI sincerely hope Waynesville citizens support Mayor Gavin Brown for reelection.

Municipal elections carry more import than most people realize. The decisions made by mayors and aldermen do not have as direct — and large — of a bearing on your pocketbook as the decisions made at the county, state and federal level, but they do matter. Down at the municipal level, it’s really more about impacting our quality of life and putting in place the amenities we enjoy in small towns.

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op fr“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, 

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

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op frJust a few more dollars, that’s all. When you get your car fixed or a new dishwasher installed, now you’ll have to pay the 7 percent sales tax on the labor provided by the mechanic or the repairman. As you pay, give a nod to the state legislature’s decision to tax a few more services as part of its ongoing reform that moves North Carolina further toward a reliance on consumption taxes versus income taxes.

A new ranking released this week by WalletHub pegs North Carolina as the 50th worst place in the country for public school teachers. We managed to beat out West Virginia but have been passed by economic powerhouses like Mississippi and Washington, D.C. (there were 51 spots, including D.C.) The ranking is based on median starting salary, pupil-to-teacher ratio and per pupil spending. Our 50th spot was — you guessed it — up one spot from last year.

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op frThis is one tradition that could just die and I don’t think many will care. I’m talking about the recently announced plan by Haywood County Schools to do away with the time-honored ritual of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Haywood joins many school systems across the nation in going this route. Some want to argue that this is more evidence that we are dumbing down our schools and finding ways to tell all students that they are all fantastic and that everyone will succeed.

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op frWith the right leadership, it can happen. If the national and regional economy continues chugging along for another few years without a stumble, it can happen.

I’m talking about a rejuvenation of the small east Haywood County town of Canton, where elected leaders are saying they want business growth and new residents. That’s the town dominated by the giant paper mill that sits unabashedly in the town center, the mill that still occasionally emits a smell that envelops the town, the mill that still discolors the Pigeon River.

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op frRecently released figures on the impact of tourism in Western North Carolina are encouraging. More visitors are spending more money, and that means new jobs and increased sales tax revenue. 

But there’s even more relevant news for those of us who believe that tourism should be viewed as a long-term, viable industry for the region. A study conducted in Buncombe County found that successful tourism marketing leads to direct increases in more traditional manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are increasingly difficult to attract in this era of cheap overseas labor.

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op frI was watching my son’s soccer game last night and the old Al Stewart tune, “Time Passages,” kept running through my head:

Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on, are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then, my line gets cast into these
Time passages.

And so it started last night. It continues this week, and will keep coming around until August 2016. It’s what I’ve been calling the “year of lasts.”

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op frI’m sure the founders of Haywood County’s new charter school — Shining Rock Classical Academy — never imagined a week like the one they just had.

Not only was our newspaper challenging them on what we feel sure were violations of the N.C. Open Meetings Law, other media were giving ink and air time to problems at what may become the new location for their school. Seems surveys done at the property damaged the corn crop of the farmer currently leasing the site. Lawyers have gotten involved, meaning the site acquisition process just got more complicated.

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op frThe Tribal Council kicked us out again. Holly Kays, a reporter for The Smoky Mountain News, was told on July 9 to leave a meeting of the Cherokee Tribal Council. No meaningful reason was given as to why members of the council did not want our reporter present. 

This is the second time in the last seven months the Tribal Council, under the leadership of Chairwoman Terri Henry, has decided to exclude the media from their meetings. Such actions would be against the law in all 100 counties in North Carolina.

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op frThe North Carolina Senate has become emboldened in its partisanship over the last couple of years, and there appears to be no end in sight. Under the leadership of Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tem, and his troops — including our own Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin — it has ventured so far to the right and is making moves that are so politically heavy-handed that even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-controlled state House often call foul.

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op frI should get over being astounded by the way the world works. And I’m talking about the good stuff, not the negative.

The package of stories that graced the cover of The Smoky Mountain News last week, “The Golden Children,” is almost allegorical in its arc. Staff writer Holly Kays traveled to an orphanage in a remote part of Bolivia to help do some construction work and spend time with the children. Her reporting about the orphanage — named Kory Wawanaca, which means “Golden Children” — its founder, Carrie Blackburn Brown, and the connection to Western North Carolina and particularly Haywood County, is so touching that it could never be scripted because it would come off as too heartwarming, too many people doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

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op frComplicated. Ignorant. Entrenched. It’s easy to come up with words to describe the state of race relations in this country and especially in the South, but some come to mind more easily than others after what happened in Charleston last week. Dylann Storm Roof attended Bible study with black congregants of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and then summarily gunned down nine of those in the group.

And once again we in this country are forced to confront the ugly reality of racism, compelled to search for ways to turn tragedy into change.

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op frI remember someone once telling me that all the seemingly trivial, decidedly unimportant choices you make every day prepare you for when the big thing comes along and the right decision might have life-changing consequences. Do right everyday for the right reasons and you’ll most likely do right when that moment arrives. At least we all should hope that’s the way it will turn out.

I think that admonition has more to do with morals and ethics than actual actions, but it still popped into my head when I was editing one of the stories in last week’s paper. I’m referring to the school bus driver in Macon County who may have saved the lives of children and staff at South Macon Elementary School with a singular act of courage.

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op frWhat’s your dream job? Recent college graduates are perhaps honing in on the difficult task of searching for a satisfying career, but I’m standing at my desk today thinking “what next?” I’m 55, and for the last 16 years I’ve had my dream job. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather have done during that time than own and edit a weekly newspaper in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Not that I’m moving onto something different soon (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of many readers and some of our staff). It’s just that time of year when my concentration begins to wander off track, thinking about where this newspaper is headed and what the future may hold, both journalistically and from a business perspective.

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op frI don’t know if it reaches the magnitude of a moral dilemma, but I feel for the Frog Level merchants who appeared before the Waynesville town board recently. They came seeking help in dealing with the patrons of The Open Door soup kitchen that’s located in the historic business district. 

The soup kitchen clientele, needless to say, are the most needy among us — some are poverty-stricken, others suffer from mental health issues, others have drug and alcohol problems — and so it is bound to come off as callous if you say you want to be rid of them.

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op frThe rioting in Baltimore has settled down and we haven’t heard much out of Ferguson, Missouri, recently. The uproar and incessant debate over what is happening in our inner cities — racism, poverty, violence, drugs, police brutality — has, for the moment, quieted down. But problems don’t go away just because they are left unspoken.

The festering wounds in those towns were on my mind as we settled down Sunday night to watch the award-winning movie “Selma.” The film is about a few weeks in Martin Luther King’s life as he organized and marched in Selma, Alabama. The marchers were specifically calling for an end to laws that kept blacks from voting, and despite the mortal dangers they faced — there were deaths in those few weeks among whites and blacks who supported the marchers — it worked. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that same month.

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op frHe was tall, maybe 6 feet 8 inches or taller, and was standing at an intersection studying a map. My wife, Lori, and I had just dumped out from a favorite trail at Bent Creek in Asheville onto the well-used Forest Service Road 491, jogging along as we enjoyed the warm early spring afternoon.

We gave him some directions, and he asked if he could just follow along for a while so as not to get lost. His strong French accent made it obvious he wasn’t a local.

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op frDozing in and out of sleep on the flight home from Leon, Nicaragua, I was thinking about circles. More to the point, I was contemplating the work of my father-in-law, Bill Sullivan, at the hospital in Leon, the Hospital Escuela Oscar Danilo Rosales Arguello.

I had read something recently about people who lead meaningful lives and how they move in circles, how as they circle back to relationships, places, or important work they add layers of emotional depth to their existence. Returning again and again to those touchstones, everything becomes more relevant and worthwhile as all those interactions add up over days, months and years.

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op fr“You bet I’m happy. I feel this was only right. My goal is to improve Waynesville and set it apart as a first-class mountain community.” 

— Former Waynesville Mayor Henry Foy in May 2003, upon receiving notification from DOT about the roundabout and other modifications to the Old Asheville Highway plan.

The passing of former Waynesville Mayor Henry Foy on April 15 brought back a flood of memories for me. Foy’s tenure as mayor of Waynesville (he was elected in 1991) was closely aligned with my move to Haywood County (1992) and my introduction to mountain politicians and their motivations.

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op frNothing would reflect better on this country than to have a rational, reasoned debate on gun violence and what steps could be taken to curb it while still adhering to the Second Amendment. One look at the statistics shows how badly this needs to take place. 

But we aren’t getting close. In face, a recent law introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly would be a step in the wrong direction.

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op fr“Many of us are not living our dreams because we are living in fear.” Not sure where I came across that line, but I pasted it into my folder for column ideas and then came across it last week when it suddenly seemed appropriate.

My daughter had just skyped us from the airport in Amman, Jordan. Amman is just a few hundred miles from where some of the most horrific violence in the Middle East is taking place. And there Megan was, smiling and laughing, on her way to Istanbul, Turkey, for a 10-day vacation from her teaching job in Dubai.

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op coverMy cousin has always been an inspiration. Wilton Collins Jones Jr. — he’s always been called “Corky” — is one year younger than me (54) and has been a lifelong professional musician. We were raised in Fayetteville, our mothers were sisters who both ended up divorced and raising sons as single moms. We had that single mom bond and that of family, and so we were close. 

As I headed off to college, he was getting schooled in music, playing in rock bands, jazz fusion bands, duos, trios, sometimes groups that toured the country and kept him gone for long periods of time.

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op frTurning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ….

— The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

The dissension among Haywood County Republicans took a decisive turn last week at the party’s convention, signaling a new era for the GOP in Haywood. The question many are now asking is just how the new group will lead. One thing  for certain is they won’t be leading from the center, not this group.

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I'm sure my paranoia was partly flamed by the buzz about the case of the CIA operative whose name was leaked to the media by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, with many still suspecting - and even more on the left hoping - that the case could eventually lead to presidential adviser Karl Rove or Bush himself. Would the inner Bush circle really make a concerted effort to retaliate in this manner because of bad publicity concerning the run-up to the war? Are the reporters, including Judith Miller and Robert Novak, way too involved with their sources? Why did Miller spend so much time in jail rather than reveal her source?

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