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This week my daughter had to phone Live Nation about some concert tickets. As she worked her way through endless voice-mail menus and critiqued the different “on hold” songs, I told her a story about the olden days.

Politicians do it.

“Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city's wealth of public life may grow.”

Sure, the economy is still tanking, your house is worth thousands less than two years ago, and you're seeing any possibility of retirement before age 80 fade to black. Time for some positive news:

This time of year editorial boards across America labor under a crush of candidate endorsement interviews – so much democracy, so little time. But we emerge keenly aware of what politicians think voters want. And this year what

I got my hair cut this week, and we did not talk about “American Idol” or new diets or even Paul Newman. We talked about John McCain and Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

So many Americans are focused on whether our government can keep the financial system from swirling down the drain, that they might not have seen this: In China thousands of children are sick, and four are dead, because of contaminated milk.

Civic navel-gazing and obsession with image are as much a part of Charlotte's culture as stock car racing, bankers in pin stripes and church on Sunday morning.

I had barely heard of Sarah Palin before Aug. 29. Almost all I knew was that she sued the Interior Department last month to keep polar bears off the Endangered Species List. Today, only 14 days after John McCain named her his running mate, I've heard enough. Too much. TMI on SP.

A lot of people would say Jan Thompson has spent the last 121/2 years coddling criminals.

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Mary Newsom
Mary Newsom, associate editor of the Charlotte Observer, has been writing about growth, development, urban design and urban life since 1995. Write her at The Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230.
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