Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Charlotte Observer and the (Raleigh) News & Observer on the ending of a yearlong dispute over a reality TV star’s oversized American flag:
The big flag controversy is over. Reality TV star Marcus Lemonis will get to fly his gigantic Stars and Stripes over his Gander RV dealership in Statesville, thanks to an agreement he reached on Oct. 7 with city leaders. It was not a pretty victory, but it certainly was American-made, with behavior that should make you wince and a resolution that should make you roll your eyes.
It began last fall, when Lemonis - the star of CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit” - began flying his 40-foot-by-80-foot flag at Camping World/Gander RV along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte. The company had previously applied for and been granted a permit to erect and fly a 25-foot-by-40-foot flag, but the bigger flag was a violation of Statesville ordinance and a potential hazard on the edge of I-77. When Lemonis declined to take it down, he faced a $50-per-day retroactive fine and a lawsuit.
The dispute wasn’t particularly unusual. Disagreements about flags (and other public displays) are a regular occurrence in the U.S., with businesses fighting towns or homeowners battling their neighborhood association over their right to express themselves however they choose. Often, Old Glory loses out in these standoffs, because the right of individual expression generally ends where the rules communities set for themselves begins.
If you’re Marcus Lemonis, however, things are apparently different. Lemonis, who does a lot of good things on his TV show for regular folks, wasn’t nearly so charitable on his potent social media platforms to the small-city leaders in Statesville. He pitted them as “bureaucrats” against the flag and what it represents. He said the flag wasn’t endangering anyone and vowed he would go to jail before lowering it. He linked to a Change.org campaign, started by Camping World, that declared: “This is about our Veterans, Military, and the men and women that have sacrificed for this great country.”
The subsequent backlash to Statesville was inevitable - and ugly. A city council member and his wife were threatened. Said Mayor Costi Kutteh in May: “Some terrible things have been said about our wonderful town and it hasn’t come from our citizens, but people from all over the country have jumped on this issue and called us names I can’t repeat.”
Ultimately, the parties reached a compromise. The agreement announced on Oct. 7 has something for everyone. The city will create a special rezoning for Gander RV’s property that will allow the company to continue flying the flag. Lemonis will pay his accumulated fines to the city, which allows Statesville officials to pretend there are consequences for flouting city rules.
The real lesson? If you have a big enough wallet and big enough platform, you have a much bigger shot at getting your way. That’s not what we think the flag represents, but it sure feels a lot like America.
Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com and https://www.newsobserver.com
The (Wilmington) StarNews on what recent drownings in North Carolina waters may indicate about climate change:
The drownings of two swimmers in rip currents off Kure Beach raise a number of questions, and many of them come back to climate change.
1. It used to be axiomatic that “beach season” ended on Labor Day. But is that still the case?
Last week saw at least two temperature records broken along the Cape Fear. We’re seeing highs in the 90s in October, which makes pumpkin season almost indistinguishable from mid-July. Which means that more folks, visitors and locals, are dipping in the ocean.
Do we need lifeguards now? Most lifeguard services, such as the excellent Kure Beach Ocean Rescue, are necessarily seasonal. Should the season be extended another month or six weeks?
Swimming in the ocean is a matter of personal responsibility. Rip currents are an expected hazard, once you get in the water beyond your knees. Responsible adults should know how to handle rip currents (coast or float with the water, parallel to the beach; don’t try to swim straight for shore). Either that, or they shouldn’t go in at all.
Even strong, experienced divers can get in trouble, though, and what about children? It may, indeed, be advisable to keep lifeguards out longer and deploy them earlier in the year.
2. It’s worth noting that many beach towns in Brunswick County have no lifeguards at all. If local municipalities can’t afford the service, perhaps Brunswick County should consider stepping in. Long term, a lack of lifeguards might prove a drag on local beach business. It might also cost some lives.
3. The rip currents, at the moment, are being churned by the remains of Hurricane Lorenzo, a behemoth which set records by reaching Category 4 strength at an exceptionally northern latitude.
Lorenzo dodged us, thank goodness, but as a tropical storm, it’s been pounding the British Isles, which used to be largely invulnerable to hurricanes but have seen more and more strikes in recent years.
As with Florence and Dorian, we’ve seen more and more hurricanes spinning out of the tropics. They’re keeping their punch longer and longer, even as they spin into supposedly cooler waters, and they seem to be moving more slowly, which ensures more damage when they pass over land.
Something, clearly, is happening with the weather. How long our elected officials can keep on ignoring this is a matter of increasing wonder. And how long will it be before they start wondering if there’s anything we can do about it? Cutting back on greenhouse gases, perhaps?
The Winston-Salem Journal on recipients of the MacArthur Foundation grants who have ties to North Carolina:
Recipients of this year’s MacArthur Foundation grants - often referred to as “genius grants” - were announced last month and include three North Carolina natives and residents whose names we’re proud to know. They deserve recognition for their accomplishments and - a requirement for a MacArthur grant - their potential.
Among them are Mel Chin, a visual artist and educator who “uses his practice to raise awareness of social and environmental concerns,” according to Artforum. Born in Houston to Chinese parents in 1951, he began making art at a young age. He received a bachelor’s degree from Peabody College in Nashville and later settled into the mountains north of Asheville. His work has been displayed nationally and internationally.
His bronze sculpture, “The Structure of Things Given and Held,” has been on permanent display at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington since 2009. An animatronic sculpture, “Wake,” designed, engineered and fabricated in collaboration with students in UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio, was unveiled in Times Square in 2018.
Another recipient is Jenny Tung, an evolutionary anthropologist and geneticist who teaches at Duke University. Her work concentrates on the long-term health consequences of social stress.
Tung earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Duke before becoming an assistant professor in 2012. Last year, she was named one of “Ten Scientists to Watch” by Science News. Her work has taken her on repeated trips to Kenya, where she has studied the wild baboons of Amboseli, analyzing their DNA and observing their social structure to see how they influence one another. She’s found evidence that low social status leads to disparities in health, which may have applications to human health.
A third recipient with North Carolina ties is internationally recognized landscape architect Walter Hood, a native of Charlotte and graduate of North Carolina A&T; State University. He now lives in Oakland, Calif., and is a professor at the University of California, Berkley - he received his master’s degree there - as well as the head of his own design studio. He creates “urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring communal histories,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
In addition to imaginative works installed across the country, Hood has produced one of the bridge designs that the Creative Corridors Coalition hope will span the renovated Business 40. It’s a pedestrian strollway designed to connect downtown Winston-Salem with Old Salem, with large planting beds on either side of the walkway. It would be the first urban land bridge in North Carolina.
The MacArthur grants are awarded to “individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the foundation. Recipients each receive $625,000 over five years, which they can use as they please. They come from a wide variety of disciplines including philosophy, literature, law and design as well as artistic and scientific disciplines. Grants can’t be applied for - they’re awarded by MacArthur staff, who consult experts in various fields.
We like it when those with connections to our state receive recognition. We like to think that the rich, open North Carolina culture has provided an environment that allows creativity and initiative to thrive. And we don’t mind basking a little in their reflected glory.
Congratulations to all of this year’s MacArthur Foundation grant recipients.