A Time to be Silent

The world’s woes require younger, more energized leaders

LENOIR, N.C. – I am retiring from journalism.

This is a decision I’ve been pondering at least a year. I reached the tipping point after reading something I haven’t read in at least 20 years – Ecclesiastes. As I’ve already written, I don’t attend church. That doesn’t mean, however, that wisdom can’t be found in scripture. Actually, if appropriately named, Ecclesiastes would be The Book of Absurdity. I can hear it in Mass now. “A reading from the Book of Absurdity.” Why absurd? Because I consider it the most authentic book in the Bible. The author’s struggles and questions are our struggles and questions.

And, like the author, I realize more and more as I age that I don’t know much of anything new. That’s why it’s time. As the author observes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to be silent and a time to speak …” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 7b).

It’s time to be silent. Perhaps in the future I will again be inclined to speak; if so, it will be in a different manner.


I have been speaking through journalism since 1980. Actually earlier, if you count getting expelled from high school in 1972 for printing a different newspaper than the one I showed the principal for approval. I was standing up for free speech! I happened to forget, I guess, that I was in a Catholic high school and free speech was a laughable notion.

When I haven’t been working in journalism full time, the jobs that I did have and the additional education I received for those jobs have informed and improved my writing.

So, for now, I’ve had my say. But this old hippie isn’t going to put down his peace sign. I am, however, eager to hear from the Young Turks – whether here in Lenoir or those recently elected to the U.S. House. The question is, how I can I help them achieve their dreams? They certainly deserve more than the backward slope we’re on.

I have confidence in them. I see how our 35-year-old daughter, 34-year-old son and their friends approach life. They’ve yet to sell out, the main failure of our generation. They are free thinkers. They work hard. Most of the ones I know have seen through the lies and traps of the “American Dream.” In short, while it’s in my nature to needle them to move them along, the truth is they are much more prepared and competent to deal with today’s world.

I am fortunate. I can’t complain about the writing opportunities and audiences I’ve had. Twenty years ago I had the good fortune to be hired by a national nonprofit watchdog ministry as their editor and lead writer. The catch – I first had to learn this new thing called the internet. So for four months I holed up in my home office and learned HTML coding, how to lay out on a web page, and many more new things. Amazingly, we managed to make our launch date – Labor Day, 1999.

I was fortunate – though reluctant – to move from print newspapers to two online magazines. I quickly learned to love the transition once I understood its potential. We had true news websites, not blogs. We had nationally known authors and tens of thousands of readers. We collaborated with national news organizations in exposing the dirty deeds of so-called Christian leaders. This, not surprisingly, lead to unemployment in 2006 because independent thinking is not rewarded within Christian circles. In short, our donations dried up because we were attacking sacred cows.

Shortly thereafter, the blogosphere exploded. I have deluded myself into thinking that what I learned as a journalist would transfer to blogs. Also, the internet is now overwhelmed with so much of nothing and idiocy, that the room has just become too crowded for me. And, I’m spent.

I deeply appreciate every person that has read my articles and essays. I am equally thankful to my sources, many of whom have risked much to share their stories of shenanigans by the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia and Virginia or skullduggery by GOP election officials right here in Lenoir. These sources have fought the good fight. They continue to despite attacks upon their character and integrity by the roque gas, coal and oil companies and a political party that has cast its lot with Donald Trump.

So, it’s not easy deciding to stop writing about these topics. However, a very wise priest, now 93, reminded me a few years ago, “You’re not the savior of the world. There is only so much you can do. The most important thing to do is love.”

I know myself well enough to know I must step away from journalism if I am going to be able to make the transition my old friend is nudging me towards. My M.O. is predictable – attack. I’ve allowed writing to become a tool to wage verbal warfare on people. In today’s climate, such a method only escalates the anger, division and incivility. It is ineffective. I must learn new ways. Not easy for an old dog.

In short, I’m being selfish. A person who wants to be mentally healthy can’t live like this. So, I’ve got some rearranging to do in my attic. I suspect that will take a while. I’ve neglected it for a long time.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2019.


Why I Don’t Attend Church

LENOIR, N.C. – If my memory serves me correctly, I managed to stay out of church for all of 2018 with two exceptions – attending the funeral of a family friend and briefly stepping into a church in Chapel Hill to run an errand.

That’s two more times than I planned. I do not attend church.

Not going to church in Caldwell County does not go unnoticed. Neighbors, aware that our car doesn’t leave the driveway on Sunday morning, express concern for my salvation. As a backslidden Catholic living in in the evangelical/fundamental Bible Belt, I am perceived as a heathen bound for hell.

I have no idea what will happen to me after I die because nobody has come back to tell me about it over a cup of coffee. Still, I do have beliefs that guide how I interact with other people and nature while I’m alive. I’m a follower of “The Way.” That is, Jesus. However, I do not claim exclusive entrance to a heavenly afterlife because of that belief. My beliefs simply inform how I live.

Which is why I don’t go to church. It contradicts the teachings of Jesus in two critical ways:

  1. It has forfeited its prophetic voice.
  2. Creeds and doctrines often interfere with loving concern for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable.

That’s it.

Where is the outrage from pulpits across the land over the way we are treating immigrants? And, why do the same people expressing concern for my salvation apparently have no problem with us detaining children and then allowing them to die in our “care”?

Because the church is irrelevant at best. Rather than condemn our government’s cruelty, many Christian leaders have abandoned their prophetic voice in exchange for the power – elusive and as temporary as it is – that comes with their alliance with Donald Trump, a pathological liar and architect of some of this nation’s cruelest policies and statements of my lifetime.

The “shepherds” have led the sheep astray. That is why the same people who express concern for my salvation also express disdain for the immigrants. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Church at Grandfather Mountain

So, my goal for 2019 is to skip church entirely. Even funerals are not reason enough to get me to church anymore. I can’t abide a preacher using the death of a person to terrify people about the flames of hell. In my view, the funeral should be about the deceased.

I know that I’m in the minority. So was Jesus in his time, hence the nailing to the cross. I will do as Jesus said to do. I will try to love my neighbor as I love myself. I will try to do onto others as I would have them do to me. And, I will never abandon my prophetic voice, knowing that we are to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11).

I do not need to be a member of a church, congregation or denomination to do those things. By abandoning its prophetic voice and allowing man-made creeds to interfere with concern and love for fellow human beings, organized Christianity has lost any claim on me.

In fact, it has my disdain. It is worse than ineffective. It is harmful.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Mountain church Photo by the author.

The #MeToo Movement is Tone Deaf

Demanding ban of Christmas classic is a disturbing display of censorship

Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief
MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

LENOIR, N.C. – It was inevitable I suppose. While I generally support the #MeToo movement, I knew it was only a matter of time before the intolerant extremists that are part of it would turn the movement into thought police.

They have. They have proven to be tone deaf in demanding that radio stations ban the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as reported by NPR. The demand is based on the belief that the song encourages date rape. You can listen to a cover of it by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

I guess you hear what you want to hear.

The censorship must stop here. Before long, classical poems such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (written in 1681) will be banned. Read it. You’ll find it incredibly offensive if this song bugs you.

So, I’ve got to oppose the #MeToo movement on this. Censorship seems totally inconsistent with the movement’s values. Perhaps not, but I am an ally because it is consistent with my values. Decades before the #MeToo movement was born – before most of those involved in it were born! – I was working hard in North Carolina in the second half of the 1970s to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If the #MeToo movement cares about keeping its allies, it needs to avoid ridiculous debates such as this.

Courting METoo

Finally, I wish to remind the #MeToo movement that there are sometimes attractions between members of the opposite sex and persistence doesn’t always lead to rape; sometimes it leads to a lifetime of commitment and maybe even a family. It’s called courting and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t today. I’d just be a committed bachelor. There was once excitement and joy in courting. If the #MeToo movement has its way, you’ll have to read about it in the history books. Or, you could read Marvell’s poem above. But prepare to be scandalized. It seems that for centuries, this desire has always existed. There is nothing desirable about being metaphorically stiff-armed before you get a chance to say, “Nice to meet you.”

Yes, courting is a delicate dance. But it is a dance. Sometimes, when you dance, you get too close. Other times, you get pulled closer. What do you do then? Keep dancing and take your chances.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Angry are the Peace-makers

Angry are the Peace-makers.

You understand


You have eyes to see;

You have ears to hear;

You have a mind at work.

If you do not understand;

If you are puzzled

By the anger of the peace-makers.

Then you do not comprehend

The Sacred or the Righteous.

You are the Problem.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Tear-gassing Jesus

Rejecting Immigrants is rejecting Christ

LENOIR, N.C. – The shameful display of evil being perpetrated by the U.S. government on immigrants seeking asylum in the United States is the direct – DIRECT – result of the unholy alliance between evangelical “Christian” conservatives and the Trump administration.

In short, our treatment of immigrants is the result of a hijacking of the faith by false religious leaders. Otherwise, they would not be harming the poor and vulnerable, they would be helping them. Judging from their fruits, evangelicals are many things, but Christian isn’t one of them.

We don’t need to spend much time on this. Let’s recap by comparing a few scripture verses with what is happening on the ground at San Diego.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Our soldiers have attacked immigrants with tear gas. So, we’ve tear-gassed Jesus.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Ouch. True here too. We also were all once foreigners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). So, here we can reach only one of two conclusions. Either evangelical Christians in the United States would have no problem with being tear-gassed for simply seeking freedom from tyranny, or they are just simply liars. I’m going with the latter.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). There are many literal orphans and widows, but each immigrant is an orphan in the sense that they are refugees. An opportunity to demonstrate pure faith is missed. Why? The second command in the verse is being ignored. Evangelicals have allowed themselves to be completely polluted by the world as they seek political power.

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). Evangelicals have lost their moral authority because they deny their own faith. We then, must have nothing to do with their sinister deeds, but instead demonstrate the proper response through our own actions. Let us help these fellow humans who are simply looking for a safe life.

You are loved.jpg

Perhaps we could start by encouraging the establishment of a modern Underground Railroad of sanctuary homes right here in Lenoir – the buckle of the Bible Belt! We would then be offering a living Sunday School lesson that is aligned with scripture, not opposed to it. Most importantly, we would be helping people, not harming them.

You know, like Jesus wants.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. All scripture verses from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. ‘You are Loved’ photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Bill Stone ‘Not a Team Player’

Fellow BOE member Houston Groome: ‘You are not a team player. You’re a Bill Stone player’

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 can be read here.

Caldwell logoLENOIR, N.C. – As reported on Oct. 31 on this site, Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.

This is nothing new. The North Carolina Republican Party has done everything in its power since taking over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 to subvert voting rights of minorities, the poor and vulnerable in North Carolina. They’ve largely succeeded – despite the many court rulings against them – because of people like Bill Stone.

FTR BOE meeting

For instance, at the Caldwell BOE meeting on Oct. 30, Stone would not allow questions from the public because public input was not on the agenda. Fortunately, Stone is not the only member of the board. In addition to Stone, there are three other members of the BOE – Vice-chairman Fred Piercy, Secretary Houston Groome and member Pete McIlwain. Like Stone, McIlwain is a Republican. Piercy and Groome are Democrats.

In any event, Groome put forward a motion that in future meetings, time for public input be allowed. Groome looked at McIlwain and asked, “You’ll second that won’t you Pete?” McIlwain did. Stone said he didn’t like the idea, saying, “These comments always get personal. I don’t want that.”

Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.” – Houston Groome, Caldwell County BOE Secretary.

Groome replied, “Bill, the only ones that are personal are directed at you. You’re a lightning rod for controversy. You need to stay out of the parking lot.” Groome referenced an incident the previous week, when voters were complaining about aggressive behavior by volunteers for campaigns. Director of Elections Sandra Rich asked all four board members to go out together to talk to all the volunteers. As Groome noted, “Bill, the three of us could not get out of our chairs before you were outside saying whatever you were saying to them.”

Groome added, “Bill, you’re not a team player. You are a Bill Stone player.”

Groome also noted that when he had previously served on the board, public comment was part of the agenda. He said, “They can say anything they want about any item on the agenda or anything about voting. That’s why we’re here.” Piercy also called for adding a public comment period, saying, “We serve the public.”

Ultimately, a public comment period was added to future BOE meetings on a voice vote. Director of Elections Sandra Rich said after the meeting, “In the past, anyone could come to the meetings and be allowed to speak. But since the board has changed, that ended.”

The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.” – Caldwell BOE Director of Elections Sandra Rich

Groome and Piercy also cautioned Stone about appearing to favor Republicans. They asked Stone to not roam around the parking lot during early voting, as his time speaking with Republican Party candidates and workers calls into question his impartiality. Instead, as reported in the first story, when others at the table reminded Stone that he represented the BOE and hence had to be impartial, Stone replied, “I am going to represent myself.”

When asked about the complaint leveled against him by Michael Careccia, Stone seemingly underscored the concerns expressed by Groome and Piercy. Stone refused to answer, but did turn to McIlwain and say, “This is politics. We need to take this up with the (Republican) executive committee.” Immediately thereafter, though the meeting was not in recess, Stone and McIlwain retired to Rich’s office for a sidebar conversation.

So, during a meeting intended to have impartial discussions about voting rights, Stone was doing political calculus rather than heeding the calls of his BOE colleagues to hear from those complaining against him.

Rich finds Stone’s behavior disturbing. “As a board, when they come in that door, they are to leave the party at the door and serve all of the voters of the county.”

Indeed, Rich, who during her many years as the Director of Elections would never comment publicly or privately on board members, said she could remain silent no longer about Bill Stone. “The way I see it, I want all board members to represent all of the people and do their job. They need to cooperate, and I don’t see that with Bill. They need to work as one, not against each other.”

Stone We the People

Rich is right. We can do better. The people serving on the Board of Elections are supposed to be advocates for voters. Bill Stone, ironically, is actively working to discourage voting. Because the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly has mangled election laws so badly, the future of local boards of elections is unclear. Hell, everything about North Carolina’s future elections is unclear thanks to the intentional undermining of our democratic processes by the North Carolina GOP.

What is clear however is this – it’s time for Bill Stone to go. Our voters deserve someone that believes in our Republic rather than actively works to subvert it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo: Bill Stone, center, conducts the Oct. 30 Caldwell County BOE meeting. “We the People” photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash.

Caldwell, NC Elections Chair Bill Stone Accused of Wrongdoing

Stone, a Republican and Caldwell County Board of Elections chairman, responds defiantly

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part article. 

LENOIR, N.C. – Bill Stone, the chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Elections (BOE), has had at least three complaints filed against him with election officials in Raleigh regarding allegations of wrongdoing during Early Voting in Lenoir.

These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.” – Bill Stone, Chairman, Caldwell County Board of Elections, responding to complaints against him.

Complaint 1

In one complaint, Michael Careccia, a campaign staffer with the campaign of state senate candidate Art Sherwood, alleges that Stone both misrepresented and failed to properly exercise his authority as BOE chairman. Careccia sent his complaint to the North Carolina State Board and Ethics Enforcement earlier this week. The incident Careccia reports occurred on Oct. 22.

Careccia presented copies of his complaint to the full BOE at the beginning of its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Stone took exception to the presentation of the document. After Careccia left the room, Stone rebuked Sandra Rich, the Director of Elections for the BOE, saying, “You know when we get these sort of things you need to bring them to my attention.”

Rich countered that she would not present a document to just one member, but the entire board at once. In an interview after the meeting, Rich reiterated that view. “I give it to the whole board because I serve the whole board.”

Stone BOE meets

Careccia’s complaint recounts, “On Monday, October 22, 2018, I was working at the Lenoir Early/Open Voting location …. Shortly after noon, I noticed a green pick-up truck parked in a parking spot designated for voters only. Upon noticing that the owner of the truck was not there to vote but to pass out political literature, I went into the county Board of Elections office to report it.”

Careccia added that because Stone had stated that he “was the person in charge,” “I asked Mr. Stone to have the person move the vehicle. He refused. After multiple attempts to request that he enforce the rules that he had presented to candidates and poll workers only a few weeks before during a BOE training … (and) since Mr. Stone had said he was in charge, I insisted that he had invoked jurisdiction and was therefore responsible to enforce voting laws.”

Careccia concluded, “He continued to ignore my requests until I informed him that I would report him to the state and take legal action if necessary. It was only then that Mr. Stone finally asked the owner to remove his truck from the designated voter parking spot.”

So, Careccia posed six questions to the Board of Ethics:

  1. Does Mr. Stone oversee the local Board of Elections staff, or does the Director (and hence staff) not answer directly to the N.C. Board of Elections?
  2. As Chairman, is Mr. Stone’s legal standing not limited to his role and status only when the Caldwell County Board of Elections meets as a corporate body, or may he (or other members) act in an official capacity apart from a legally called public meeting?
  3. Are there times when Mr. Stone (or any person in the position of BOE chair/member) is the person designated as the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) on behalf of the Caldwell County Board of Elections? If so, when?
  4. If Mr. Stone was the AHJ, why did he fail to act immediately?
  5. If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, then did he not misrepresent his role and overstep his authority?
  6. If Mr. Stone is not the AHJ, who is?

Following the meeting, I spoke with Rich about these questions. She was unequivocal about Stone’s authority over her. “I am hired and fired by the state board.” Regarding the questions about who is in charge, again she was clear. “Me. By statute, the Director of Elections is the person in charge.”

Complaint 2

Two other complaints were filed, both having to do with incidents that happened on Oct. 24. In one incident, Lorene Reece, a worker in the office at the Lenoir Early Voting location, recounted an event when Reece was taking a complaint from a voter about the behavior of Republican poll workers who “… really felt threatening.” According to the report by Reece, Stone replied, “Let her (the voter) fill out her complaint. It would not go anywhere. These campaigners can say anything they want to as long as the don’t put their hands on them. They can campaign anywhere they want to.”

Stone article Campaign workers

Stone’s statement is not accurate. There are specific rules regarding campaigning outside of an election precinct, and Stone should know that since he was one of the trainers in Caldwell County for campaigns and candidates this election cycle regarding campaign law.

When Rich presented the board members copies of the other two complaints, Stone snapped at her, “You know I’ve got a problem with an employee making a complaint.” Rich again stated that all board members would be shown complaints simultaneously. After the meeting, Rich noted that Reece was well within her rights and insisted, “She was doing her job.”

Complaint 3

The third incident involved Robert Reece. He reports that when he came to the voting location to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment, “As I was heading into the building at the single glass door entrance, I spoke to a campaigner at the area near there and asked him why he was there instead of up in the designated area assigned to campaigners. He told me he could campaign anywhere he pleased.” Reece continued, “I returned outside with my wife through the same door where I saw him and Mr. Stone laughing and joking around at the bed of his truck. He told Mr. Stone that ‘He’s the one,’ indicating me.”

Stone was with the husband of the Republican candidate for Clerk of Superior Court. Reece continued, “Mr. Stone told me that Mr. Kidd could campaign anywhere he chose. I said I thought I would call Raleigh and confirm that. Mr. Stone said he was chair of the Board of Election and that that those rules meant nothing.”

FTR Stone

Stone was defiant throughout the meeting, not only regarding the complaints, but also in response to pleas for cooperation from Rich and the other three board members – Houston Groome, Pete McIlwain and Fred Piercy.

When Rich pleaded with him to understand that he represented the entire board, Stone said, “I am going to represent myself. So unless you have three votes, go on with your agenda.” When Groome replied, “Bill, every time you go outside something happens,” Stone exclaimed, “I’m not going to change!”

Stone then added, “I keep an attorney on retainer.”

When Piercy asked Stone to work with the other board members, Stone argued, “Show me the statute.”

Piercy replied, “It’s just common courtesy and decency.”

And on it went until Stone returned to the complaints. Looking at Rich, he said, “These are bullshit. We’re not going to do anything. Just send them to Raleigh.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo: Bill Stone, center, chairs a meeting of the Caldwell County Board of Elections on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Middle photo: Campaign workers outside the Early Voting location in Lenoir, N.C. Bottom photo: Signs outside the Early Voting location.

My White. Male. Privileged. Life. (Part I)

What happened to being judged by the content of our character?

FTR Confederate monumentLENOIR, N.C. – This past weekend, I had a long, enjoyable conversation with a dear friend. We make sort of an odd couple, which I love. We have the same general worldview, but we don’t have similar backgrounds. He is rational; I’m emotional.

So, it helps that he is patient and accepts that I get a bit passionate sometimes.

Like this weekend, when he hit me with all the benefits I enjoy from my White. Male. Privilege.

Confederate raiders in Lenoir

I did not and do not dispute that I am a beneficiary of my birth. I know of instances that I have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from a police officer that a black person, for instance, would not enjoy.

Still, I will admit to becoming somewhat defensive at his remarks. I simply denied that my birth defined my character.

You can decide for yourself by reading on.

Confederate flagIn November 1998, I was elected to the Caldwell County Board of Education. I was sworn into office sometime in early December. My first act as a school board member was to use the bully pulpit of the Lenoir News-Topic. In that op-ed, I called for a ban of the Confederate flag on school grounds – t-shirts, hats, flags in trucks, it didn’t matter. My reason was simple. I knew that it was generally being used as a symbol of intimidation, if not outright hate.

The reaction to my essay was fast and furious. Had I written it a few days before Election Day, I would not have been elected. I heard the usual arguments – the flag is our heritage. The Civil War was about state’s rights, not slavery. While there are thin slivers of truth to the latter argument, it is not the motivating factor to fly the rebel flag in Caldwell County.

This is how I know. After that column was published in the newspaper, I attended my very first Caldwell County Republican Executive Committee meeting (for being a Republican, I plead temporary insanity). Anyway, the first order of business was for the party to present me with a Confederate flag with black letters emblazoned across it saying, “Hell No I Won’t Come Down.” Though I was initially stunned, I quickly recovered. I replied, “I accept this in the spirit in which it is offered.”

Frankly, I don’t think too many people there got what I meant so let me make it clear now. Hate. That flag was given to me in the spirit of hate.

Confederate flag on house

Then, after two-and-a-half years of sitting on the school board, I realized I was in the wrong place in the school system. I wanted to teach again. Fortunately, it worked out for me and I ended up at South Caldwell High School, where there were about 1,400 white students and one black student. There was also a small population of students from Mexico and Central America (and no, I didn’t check papers for ICE, nor would I ever).

From the first day, I would challenge the students that were wearing rebel flags on t-shirts as they walked into my classroom, asking them why they were doing so. To a person, I got the answer, “It’s our heritage.” So, I immediately peppered them with questions about their “heritage.” I would ask, among other things:

  1. What heritage are you celebrating?
  2. Who were the leaders of that heritage?
  3. What was the objective of that heritage?
  4. Do you know the context of that heritage in relationship to our nation’s founding and economic growth?
  5. Have you considered how that image might affect others in this school that recoil – maybe even in fear – at seeing you wear that shirt?

FTR confederate flag

And on the questions went until they slid into their seat, mute. I might have made them think, but now, as I look around Caldwell County, I kind of doubt it. At the end of the Civil War, Union soldiers called Lenoir “The damedest little rebel town.” I wasn’t here in 1865, but I’d be willing to bet there are as many – if not more – Confederate flags flying in Caldwell County right now, especially when one counts the license plates and bumper stickers.

Now, let me pause and say I believe the First Amendment offers protection to people who wish to fly the rebel flag on private property or affix a rebel flag on their truck bumper.

However, as a school board member and a teacher that wanted a safe classroom, civil discussion, and most importantly – an accurate portrayal of history – allowing that flag to fly in our schools was too much then and it’s too much now. It is an affront to education and terrifying to minority children.

I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

Now then, how did a White. Privileged. Male. get to this point?

It’s how the hell I was raised. I was born in Harrison County, West Virginia. It was the hotbed of anti-secessionist movements when Virginia seceded from the Union. Eventually, many of West Virginia’s first leaders would come out of Harrison County.

Additionally, my great-great-great-great grandfather established the first Union newspaper in Morgantown in 1862, while it was still part of Virginia. That took gumption. That blood – or should I say ink – runs in my veins.

So, I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

It is true, that when I was born, I had to be with my mom. She was white, as was my dad.

Martin Luther King JrBut you must also remember that it was Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged us to judge one another by our character. In fact, I developed a week-long study of the life and literature of Dr. King for my sophomore English students. As powerful as his “I Have a Dream” speech was for the students, what really started to challenge their outlook was reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Oh, and my wife just reminded me of some writing I did while at the News-Topic as a reporter in the mid-1990s. I met with elders in the black community about the many challenges facing it, and I was surprised to find many within the community critical of it; yes, they talked with hard experience of suffering under white, male, privilege. But they also argued that the generations behind them had to continue the battle to overcome it.

So yes, it’s a long struggle. But I, by my birth, did not contribute to it. I have, however, to the best of my ability, helped how I could through what talents I have, to counter it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo is part of the inscription on the Confederate Monument in Lenoir. Flags are on home near downtown Lenoir. Historical marker is in downtown Lenoir. Other Confederate flags in the public domain. Martin Luther King Jr. photo in the public domain.

Monday Musings

Views on relevant stuff by the Curmudgeon-in-Chief 

The World Series Returns! Yes!

FTR baseball

LENOIR, N.C. – Well, much madness continues, so it’s time for a diversion – in life and writing. So, let’s spend a little time pondering on what used to be our national pastime before it was replaced with our new national obsession of hating one another.

I am referring, of course, to baseball.

I love baseball for lots of reasons, but the main one is that I love to see people perform at their highest levels, such as happened here in Game 7 of the Dodger-Brewers NLCS series Saturday night. It is inspiring. I expect to see much more of the same as the L.A. Dodges and Boston Red Sox meet in the World Series beginning tomorrow.

Oh, and except for the occasional bench-clearing brawl, it is not a violent sport.

Less violence is good. Sportsmanship is something we could use a great deal more of in every corner of the United States.

Baseball field [Atlanta].jpg

Those are just two reasons why I coached Little League baseball and basketball for a decade. Well, I started because I wanted to coach our son, Allyn, which I did until the last two years, even after he had aged out of the league. I kept coaching for a very simple and selfish reason – it was fun.

Now, my coaching style wasn’t warm and cuddly. If you got it right, I said good job. Not lots of praise for what is expected of you. However, if you got it wrong, I hounded you until you got it right. Now, I like to believe that those boys – who are now men in their 30s – understand my methods. I simply wanted their best. Just as I told my classroom students, “I want to see evidence of a mind at work!”

When coaching, that was my focus – share my knowledge. Trying to develop that hand-eye coordination, learning new rules, meeting new friends, playing against friends, dealing with a coach you don’t know, and learning to become a master of the sport – or at least the position you played – all were effective in moving these fellows to realize just how much they could accomplish, so long as they put their minds to it.

Baseball boys playing

So, I miss coaching and I miss the youngsters.

Now, I’m more passive. I see my games live watching the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. I never cease to be amazed that the young men I’m watching are just a few years removed from playing in leagues like where I coached.

It’s also time generally spent alone, as baseball just doesn’t have appeal for anyone else in my family. That, frankly, is just fine with it. They did go to one game last year – to see the Independence Day fireworks. Thank goodness that show was spectacular, because my granddaughter is still trying to figure out why we had to sit through nearly three hours of watching men stand around on the grass and then run back and forth to the dugout every so often.

At least she avoided the temptation to grab a cell phone and capture the fireworks on video like about 75 percent of those around us did. She saw the whole thing. There is just no comparison between watching the whole show and watching a sliver of it through a viewfinder. And that’s another reason I enjoy baseball. A fan that watches like a coach, I scan the whole field between every pitch. In short, I take in the whole view – sights, sounds, smells, and most importantly, strategy.

Baseball Crawdad logoIn any event, except for that annual 4th of July excursion, I don’t have to concern myself with satisfying anyone else. I can enjoy the strategy behind every pitch and at-bat, at the insertion of relief pitchers, the use of sacrifices, bunts, steals, and roster changes without having to explain it. I simply enjoy the game.

Of course, I preferred the wins, but I didn’t go for that. I also didn’t go for fast-paced action. And, I didn’t go because I knew exactly when the game would be over and when I’d be home.

In fact, it is because of the slow pace and because of the uncertainly about when the game will end that I love it so. Very few things in our culture afford such luxuries anymore.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Crawdad logo from one of my many hats purchased over the years. All other photos from Unsplash. Baseball by Joey Kyber, baseball stadium by Joshua Peacock, children playing baseball by Eduardo Balderas.




Early Voting in Appalachian County Shows Strong GOP Turnout

GOP early voters are outpacing their registration numbers by nearly eight percent

Unaffiliated voters and Democrats accounting for less than half of ballots cast

LENOIR, N.C. – Republican Party voters in Caldwell County are starting off the 2018 election cycle as they ended it in 2016 – energized and voting.

FTR GOP logoIndeed, after only three days, of the 3,609 votes cast so far, 52 percent – 1,894 – have been by Republicans, a number that exceeds the number of GOP registered voters by about eight percent. It represents a burst of energy that began on the first day of voting this past Wednesday and has not subsided.

Democrats account for 909 votes, or 25 percent; and, unaffiliated voters have cast 798 votes, equaling 22 percent of the total, according to data provided by the Caldwell County Board of Elections.

Vote totals through Friday represent nearly seven percent of the 54,515 registered voters in the county. Republicans make up the vast plurality, accounting for 24,747 of the total voters, or 44 percent. Unaffiliated voters now outnumber Democrats. There are 15,867 unaffiliated voters, accounting for 30 percent of total voters, and 13,901 Democrats in the county, representing 25 percent of the voters. Less than one percent of voters are registered with one of the other political parties.

Voters have been turning out consistently since the first day, averaging about 1,200 early voters per day at the county’s two One-Stop Voting locations.  In Granite Falls, 1,420 voters – 39 percent of the county’s total – have voted; in Lenoir, 2,188 have cast ballots, accounting for 61 percent of vote totals.


Caldwell County Republicans are voting at a pace that could be record-setting, especially for a mid-term election. Unaffiliated voters, which Democrats are undeniably counting on this cycle, are not turning out, as their voting numbers are eight percent below their percentage of registered voters in the county. Democrats are holding steady with their registration numbers.

CCDPIn a perfect year for Democrats, overcoming such registration numbers would be virtually insurmountable; ticket-splitting is virtually nonexistent today. So, while unaffiliated voters can be a wild card, those registered by party are counted upon by party officials to vote their ticket. There is no evidence to suggest this year will be any different.

Republicans are enthused; Democrats are not; unaffiliated voters are yawning. Since 2016, pundits and politicians on both sides have said that 2018 is, “The Most Important Election of our Lifetimes.” It’s rather obvious the Republicans believe so, but they would appear to be alone in that thinking, at least in Caldwell County.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

How and Where to Vote

According to the Caldwell County Board of Elections, here is what you need to know about voting this year:

If you have not yet registered to vote, you can register when coming to One Stop/Early Voting.


There are 2 One Stop/Early Voting Locations:

  1. Caldwell County Alden E. Starnes County Office Plaza
    City/County Chambers
    905 West Avenue NW, Lenoir
  2. Shuford Recreation Center
    56 Pinewood Road, Granite Falls

The One Stop/Early Voting Dates and Time:
Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, October 29 through Friday, November 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 3 – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  (the only Saturday)

The Last Day to Apply for Absentee Ballot – October 30, 2018

Click Here to See 2018 Sample Ballot