op frThe Haywood County School Board narrowly voted (5 to 4, with Chairman Chuck Francis breaking a tie) to contribute money toward a lobbying effort by the N.C. School Boards Association. The decision is the right one given the current situation in Raleigh and hopefully will be money well spent.

Lobbying is a catchall phrase that often has a negative connotation. I get that. When business groups direct thousands of dollars to candidate campaigns and then try to use that support to influence legislation, things often get sleazy. We’ve all read about it happening too many times.

op frI watched world leaders with arms linked lead a march of about 1.5 million people in Paris to commemorate the ideals of free speech following the massacre at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo by Muslim terrorists. I read about the outpouring of support for the newspaper’s gutsy cartoons that lampooned — in addition to Islamic terrorism — anything and everything.

And then I sought out the cartoons that infuriated so many Muslims so I could see for myself what kind of artwork could engender such emotion. If you haven’t looked, you may or may not want to take the time to do it. These are rough, sometimes vulgar images that are cringe-worthy. Satire has always been one of the cruelest forms of free expression because at its best it insults your sensibilities to get a message across. And these cartoons are insulting.

op frTwo miserable characters — the larger one in a terry cloth bathrobe and fleece pajama bottoms, the smaller one in his new school clothes and orange parka — stand at the bus stop, huddled together in a sad and pathetically ineffective attempt to generate some small bit of warmth between them on a brutally cold and windy January morning, the first day of school and work after Christmas vacation.

Teachers worry that their students will lose momentum or enthusiasm for learning during their time away from school right in the middle of the school year, but the boy in his new school clothes has indeed learned something over these past few weeks. He has learned about inertia, not just the dictionary definition of it, but the implacable reality of it.

op frOne of my wife’s childhood friends lives near Wilmington. Her daughter, a senior at Appalachian State, died last week in a tragic car accident. We went to the service two days after Christmas. 

One of the young lady’s sorority sisters had the courage and strength to speak, but could only do so with six or seven of her friends surrounding her, literally helping her keep standing and keep talking at times when she was overcome. When they got to the podium — most of them in tears — it was as if the grief, already overwhelming, was multiplied by 10.

op canaryBy Thomas Crowe • Guest Columnist

In case you didn't know it, right here in our midst we have a gem of an organization — an organization that has been fighting for clean air and water for all of us here in Western North Carolina since 1999.

As a founding board member, while I know that many folks have probably heard of the Canary Coalition (think “canary in the coal mine”), there are many that may not be aware of what it does to raise public consciousness about environmental issues and to influence public policy related to these issues.

op frWe’re all at home, on vacation at last. Ella Fitzgerald is wishing us a swinging Christmas, as she does every December. First “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” then “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and on and on, her voice like honey butter on a hot dinner roll. Tammy and Kayden are in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies and joking about the utter foolishness of boys of all ages, including the one who keeps darting in and out of the kitchen to swipe Hershey Kisses — which are intended for the cookies — and another one who is sitting in the living room, enjoying a glass of Pinot noir while watching the cat make a punching bag out of a silver ornament hanging on one of the bottom branches of the tree. The dog is curled up on one arm of the recliner, also watching the cat, as he often does.

op hermitSerendipity: an aptitude for making significant discoveries by accident.

I have always loved that word, and I have had numerous serendipity moments. I would like to tell you about the one that happened today. I have been bemoaning the fact that I am not “a Christmas person.” Without children or family, and having the restraints of living on social security, I have come to feel left out of “the season to be jolly.” Of course, I have found that there are others who seem to be condemned to spend the holidays alone or at the Huddle House.

op ellisBy Steve Ellis • Guest Columnist

As we leave this political season, which has been nasty, brutal and long, I’d like to offer some thoughts. If you doubt my description of nasty, brutal and long, I remind you of our recent controversy here in Haywood County over the newly elected tax collector.

op frBy Bill McLarney • Guest Columnist

We humans are highly skilled and devilishly clever. We can create ball fields, schools, prisons, highways, airports, strip malls, industrial parks, reservoir lakes, landfills, farms of all kinds, Superfund sites, babies  and sustainably managed timber lands — the list goes on. One of the few imaginable things we can’t make is what has come to be called wilderness.  So just maybe we shouldn’t destroy a whole lot more of it.

op medicalDr. Graeme Potter • Guest Columnist

As one of the practicing, board-certified OB/GYNs in the community who provide prenatal care, I’ve been honored to care for more than 800 babies born in Western North Carolina. When I moved here in 2007, I was first associated with a larger practice, and since 2008 most of these babies were delivered with my private practice, Dogwood Women’s Health, and more recently Dogwood Wellness. For much of this time, I delivered babies and did surgical procedures at Harris Regional Hospital.

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