The State of Things

M-F 12 Noon, M-Th 8p, Sat 6a

Host Frank Stasio.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC

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Questions of racial identity and cultural heritage have long surrounded a group of Appalachians called the Melungeons. In recent years, curiosities have been piqued about this loosely connected group of people, spawning DNA testing, numerous books, Web sites and a documentary film.

Mix Victorian-era fashion and culture with powerful, futuristic machines and what do you get? Steampunk, a quirky subgenre of science fiction that is again growing in popularity. This weekend, a celebration of steampunk sponsored by Bull Spec Magazine comes to Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, North Carolina. 

Josh Ritter
www.joshritter.com

Josh Ritter’s popular Americana music is the product of his childhood spent in the small western town of Moscow, Idaho and his years as a student of American History and Scottish folk traditions. His strength as a narrator and balladeer has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan and acclaim from both the mainstream press and indie music magazines. He’s released close to a dozen albums and EPs and played at Radio City Music Hall. So what does a guy in his 30s with that much success do for an encore? He writes a novel of course. Ritter’s debut work of fiction is called “Bright’s Passage” (Random House, 2011). It’s the story of a World War I veteran and his talking horse. Ritter calls it a comedy but reviewers have called it “tender, touching, moving and genuine.” He joins guest host Isaac-Davy Aronson in the studio today to talk about writing fiction and to perform a live preview of his concert tonight at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

Ron Liberti
Ackland Museum

Ron Liberti's screen-printed posters for music shows have been integral to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro scene since Liberti moved here in the 1990s. A musician as well as a visual artist, Liberti has performed with seminal '90s band Pipe and The Ghosts of Rock and designed posters for everyone from Southern Culture on the Skids to Tift Merritt. His work has been shown around the world and is collected in the University of North Carolina's Southern Folklife Collection in the Wilson Library.

When organizers of North Carolina's public Governor's School summer enrichment program learned that the state General Assembly had cut their funding, they went to work raising money. So far, the group has secured more than $100,000 in hopes of keeping the program afloat, but not every public educational program at risk has the ability to keep itself funded. What problems arise when we rely too heavily on private donations to pay for public school programs?

Minrose Gwin
www.minrosegwin.com

Minrose Gwin grew up in a segregated Mississippi town much like the one she wrote about in her debut novel “The Queen of Palmyra” (Harper Collins/2010) and like the book’s protagonist, she was disturbed by the willful ignorance of white people in her community who blinded themselves to the problems of racism and violence. Gwin, Kenan Eminent Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, now makes her home in North Carolina where she continues to reveal the unspoken truths of Southern culture in her writing.

It's Electric

Jul 22, 2011

The Plug-In electric car conference wrapped up its four-day run this week in Raleigh. It's the first time the conference, which draws car makers and utility planners from around the country, has been held on the East Coast. Conference planners were drawn to North Carolina's capital by the growing demand for electric vehicles in the Triangle.

The National Black Theatre Festival is a longstanding tradition in Winston-Salem. Founded in 1989 by North Carolina native Larry Leon Hamlin, the biennial celebration of African-American stage performance draws thousands of people to the Triad.

Skank Fest 2011

Jul 22, 2011
Skank Festival
www.skankfestival.com

Durhamite Brian Hill is the lead singer of the ska band Regatta 69, even though the rest of the band is based in Berlin. There’s still a big ska scene in Europe, and Hill wants to lead a revival of the genre stateside, so he’s starting locally. He’s organized a concert series called Skank Festival 2011 that visits Greensboro this weekend.

Smoke Damage

Jul 21, 2011

North Carolina State University sociologist Michael Schwalbe’s new book, “Smoke Damage: Voices from the Front Lines of America’s Tobacco Wars,” (University of Wisconsin Press/2011) is a collection of portraits of people whose lives have been changed by tobacco. The images and the stories that accompany them span a wide range of ages, social classes and professional disciplines, from lawyers and farmers to disease survivors. The intimate photos tell a story not captured by statistics, but the book is not merely sentimental.

When Marcia Owen began the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham in 1992, it was a traditional gun-control advocacy group. Over time, Marcia realized that new laws weren't going to address the root causes of the violence plaguing the Bull City. Instead of working for Durham's underserved communities, she began working with the people who lived in them. That particular method of social engagement is what Dean of Duke Chapel Sam Wells has been advocating in his theology for years. Wells and Owen have co-authored a new book called “Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence” (IVP Books/2011).

Pre-K Funding Flap

Jul 19, 2011

Yesterday Superior Court Judge Howard Manning declared portions of the state budget that deal with preschool education unconstitutional. Manning says the Republican-authored budget provisions limit eligible at-risk children from enrolling in a state funded prekindergarten program. 

John Hart
bigail Seymour Photography

Durham-born writer John Hart has had three New York Times bestsellers, won several awards, and had his books optioned by Hollywood. North Carolina's open spaces and its dark corners continue to inspire his work.

Dex Romweber Duo
Judy Woodall

Jack White of The White Stripes calls Dex Romweber a huge influence on his music...and he's not alone. Romweber's stripped-down style has inspired a generation of indie-punk rockers. For the last few years, he and his sister Sara have been playing together as the Dex Romweber Duo.

Katina Parker
Katina Parker

Writer and musician Shirlette Ammons is not afraid of intimacy. Her poems and songs are like diary pages that she invites audiences to flip through at their leisure. Ammons is used to sharing her personal space. She grew up in a rural country home with a twin sister and dozens of cousins. After she left home for college, she started to explore her race and sexuality and used the power of the pen to document her self-discovery.

When America’s last space shuttle mission blasted off, astronauts weren’t the only living creatures aboard the Atlantis. Thirty mice also went along for the ride. After orbiting the Earth, they may return with some important answers about bone density that can help scientists treat human bone diseases like osteoporosis.

The Small Ponds
www.thesmallponds.com

The Small Ponds combines the vocal and instrumental talents of Triangle musicians Caitlin Cary and Matt Douglas, backed by Jesse Huebner and Skillet Gilmore. Their music has been described as gorgeous art folk.

Filthybird

Jul 15, 2011
Filthy Bird
www.filthybird.com

The partnership that fuels the heralded local band Filthybird is both creative and romantic. Renée Mendoza and Brian Haran found personal salvation and professional redemption when they met in Greensboro, NC a few years ago.

Gambling is big business in Western North Carolina. A new report by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that Harrah's Cherokee Casino pours more than $380 million into the local economy there. That has led to improvements in life expectancy, poverty rates and even education in the area.

NC Symphony
www.ncsymphony.org

Classic rock meets classical music as the North Carolina Symphony takes on the music of iconic British band Queen. In “The Music of Queen,” hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love” and “We Will Rock You” have been arranged for a symphony orchestra by guest conductor Brent Havens.

Bolívar Blvd.

Jul 14, 2011

A new exhibit at Duke University explores the footprint of Simón Bolívar in the United States. Bolívar was the liberator of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama from Spanish rule in the 19th century. He was heavily influenced by the principles of the American Revolution and spent time in the United States learning about the new democracy. Numerous towns, cities and memorials in the U.S. have been named or erected in Bolívar’s honor.

Nearly 55 million Americans live in communities that are governed by homeowners associations, or HOAs. In exchange for dues, residents have access to neighborhood amenities like pools, parks and club houses. But more and more, HOAs are responsible for providing services and maintenance once offered by city and municipal governments – like trash pick-up and sewage system repairs.

In a move to help reduce the rate of unemployment, more North Carolinians are getting a clean slate. In the last 10 years, expungements of criminal records have tripled.

Great Dismal Swamp
http://www.fws.gov/northeast/greatdismalswamp/

It's tough to imagine the 112,000 muck-filled, bug-swarmed acres of the Great Dismal Swamp looking like paradise. But for enslaved people in the 18th- and 19th-century, the swamp provided protection from those who wished to keep them in bondage.

A fiery tractor trailer crash on I-40 claimed three lives earlier this month and the trucking company involved had numerous safety violations. The accident was one of the latest in a recent rash of deadly highway crashes involving big rigs. Other major accidents in recent months involved budget bus lines that also that have long lists of citations for, among other things, driver fatigue.

Josh Whiton
www.joshwhiton.com

North Carolina entrepreneur Josh Whiton had his first business at the age of five when he sold tadpoles to his neighborhood friends. Now, he is the CEO of TransLoc Inc., a company that tracks city buses in real time.

The world we live in is a complex, evolving ecosystem. North Carolina State University ecologist and evolutionary biologist Rob Dunn wanted to explore how mankind’s interaction with other living species has come to define who we are and why we act the way we do. He found that the human body itself plays host to a myriad of living creatures, some good and some bad, and that our relationships with these life forms are as mysterious as they are vital to our existence.

Mountain Goats
www.mountain-goats.com

Musician John Darnielle got his start by recording tunes on a boombox in the early 1990s. To his surprise, folks went crazy for his lo-fi sound and his band, The Mountain Goats, quickly formed a huge cult following that spans the globe. The band’s 7th album, “All Eternals Deck,” was recently released on Merge Records. For it, Darnielle abandoned the nostalgic vibe that initially earned him critical acclaim and turned to horror flicks from the 1970s for inspiration.

More than 190 million people in the United States are overweight. That’s two-thirds of the American population and almost half of that number are obese. Research into the causes of obesity is showing that much more than willpower is needed to tackle it. Obesity has ties to addiction and depression and a person's environment may play a bigger role than once thought.

Economists say the recession is officially over, but many people remain out of work and the unemployed are still feeling the effects of the down economy. But new research suggests that those who never lost their jobs are also still suffering. Some took on twice the responsibilities for no new pay or reduced pay. The effect of that kind of pressure has yet to be studied but experts suspect we will feel the strain at work and at home for years to come.

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