Saturday, August 23, 2014

Post on the Warpath; New Redskins Name?

I like this alternative long; no name change.
The Washington Post has taken the partisan position of refusing to refer to the city's NFL team as the Redskins, which could be a critical move in forcing the team to re-name itself to something less offensive to a number of Americans.

The new policy refers only to the editorial board, not to the news and sports departments, which is a good thing. They have no business taking sides in this.

Some alternatives (including the one pictured here) have been suggested. In the old days of really bad teams, my brother Buck called them the "Deadskins" or the "Foreskins." Political junkies seem to prefer the "Thinskins."  I kinda like the "Porkskins," an underappreciated snack we all love. "Skinheads" might be a tad on the political side and "Danskins" (which would not reflect me, please) could be a bit commercial and suggestive of another controversy. Anyhow, there are plenty of choices. I even thought of the "Crooked Politicians" (a fearsome thought), but that's redundant.

The Post's editorial said, in part, Owner Daniel "Snyder doesn't seem ready to budge on the issue, and the NFL hasn't shown a willingness to step in to force a change. Whether these actions will alter the outlook from the team or the league is a mystery."

Re-branding (oh, I hate that term) may happen and it may not. The original Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall, was a noted racist and the last in the league to integrate his team (the great runner Bobby Mitchell in 1962). He would not have even considered a name change, unless it was to something more offensive.

The important issue here is that a major national publication has taken an institutional stance that will have some influence. But it's going to take a heck of a lot more than that to change the mindset that allows the use of racial stereotypes as nicknames with those using the names insisting they "honor" the groups named.

The use of Native American nicknames in sports is extensive. Consider these from major college and pro sports:

Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians (probably the most offensive icon), Golden State Warriors, Edmontom Eskimos, Chicago Blackhawks, Universies of Utah, San Diego State, Hawaii, Florida State, Central Michigan and Bradley. Florida State's nickname, the Seminoles, is supported by the tribe.

In this region, the former Blacksburg Indians became the Bears under pressure in recent years. 

You can see a dated list of nicknames here.

(Graphic: ktar.com)

Gratitude: Roast Tomatoes

Today, I am grateful for:

Roast tomatoes. I'm heading into a hot kitchen to roast a bunch of them because I have about half a ton from my overgrown garden. Hope they're good and I hope they freeze.  Photos to come (if they turn out well; otherwise, you'll have to guess).

A Hint of Fall Color in August

One of the trees on the island in Carvins Cove (the one where I used to go skinnydipping) is turning.
This thistle (thithle?) reminds that it's still summer.
It is 8 o'clock Saturday morning, August 23, 2014. It is 75 degrees on my deck, which is not unusual for the first day of fall. But fall is a month away.

Practically speaking, however, we've been involved in some good early season football weather for a couple of weeks now and this summer has felt almost anything but.

I have not had my air conditioning on once in August and only ran it twice in July (for brief late-afternoon periods to cool the house for evening). My wallet likes that situation. My mind wonders, however, what is going on.

Virginia of the 2000s has had a climate far closer to that I grew up with in Piedmont South Carolina than Virginia of the 1950s. My guess is that the throwback climate is what we're getting now. It is a climate people used to visit in the summer for relief. I like it, but don't consider it anything like permanent.

A long-range forecast I saw yesterday told me to prepare for an especially cold winter. Two years ago, the winter was record warm and my heating bills were down 75 percent (I put in a new system, which helped some, but when it's 75 degrees in February, one does not use a lot of electricity).

Worry about it? Nah. I think I'll enjoy it. The only real challenge has been keeping up with the lawn. In a normal year it is brown and not growing very much. Right now, it's needing a good mow twice a week. And that's good for my activity regimin.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photos: Hiking Down to the Water With Deb

My new friend Debbie Stevens and I did double duty today, hiking the Hollins Greenway up Tinker mountain to the overlook for Carvins Cove, then going down to the Cove to paddle it.

Debbie's a veteran hiker and paddler and I'm delighted to get to know her. We began chatting over a political issue, I think, on Facebook and wound up on the water. Cool. Facebook is like a neighborhood bar without the booze, which means I get to go there.
Debbie in hiker mode.
Water buddies on the Cove.
Debbie looking pretty and content. Great smile, I'd say.

Photos: And after the Rain, the Mushrooms

This beauty was simply spectacular. I wanted to put it on a fire and eat it right there.
This is not broken. It's whole.
The rain today on the Hollins Greenway Trail up the back side of Carvins Cove brought out an array of mushrooms the likes of which I've never seen.

This is a few of what my new pal Debbie Stevens and I saw on the hike. They were spread throughout the hike, sometimes in large bunches, often in the path itself. The colors were vivid and intense, the plants straight and strong. The growing conditions must have been perfect.
University of Tennessee orange was everywhere. Go Vols!
Debbie said this one looked to be smiling.
An orange sentinel.
Debbie photos the big one.

Commentary: The Death Throes of the Daily Paper

New York reporters in the 1920s, when newspapers were king (and queen).
This is a remarkable commentary by national columnist Clay Shirkey, who is a native Roanoker. It uses the local daily as a great example of how the newspaper business is falling in in itself.

"What happened in Roanoke — gradual financial decay punctuated by bouts of firing — is the normal case at papers all over the country, and more is coming," Shirkey writes. Reporters seem blind to the dilemma, he writes: "A friend tells a story of reporters being asked the paid print circulation of their own publication. Their guesses ranged from 150,000 to 300,000; the actual figure was 35,000. If a reporter was that uninformed about a business he was covering, he’d be taken off the story." Or fired.

Conclusion: "The future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade."

It has been clear for some time that papers not yet dead are only a breath away and I've written about it for several years, concentrating on the demise of the local daily here. We've watched circulation and ad revenues decline in dramatic fashion. We've seen layoffs and firings (31 almost immediately when Birkshire-Hathaway bought it from Landmark recently). We've seen the photo department of what used to be a mid-sized daily shrink to three and the newsroom at levels not seen since the late 1940s (my guess).

There is a scramble to bet on the website, but the truth is the web is only a reflection of the product and the product is weak and getting weaker by the day. What percentage of the local daily's paid circulation is younger than 40? My guess would be "not much." How many new subscribers are being signed up by those guys in the lobby at Kroger? Same answer.

Shirkey writes, Sunday inserts "are now the largest single source of print advertising for many papers. Classifieds have imploded, local display ads are down, and black newsroom humor long ago re-labelled the obituary column 'Subscriber Countdown.'"

This is difficult for me to write about, especially on the very day of the 50th anniversary of my start in journalism (see previous post). My heroes for many years were journalists, courageous people of great principle. I can count the journalists I know who are in that category on a single hand these days and it saddens me. I feel like a guy driving a buggy as a car honks its horn and passes.

Gratitude: Today Marks 50 Years in Journalism

This is me in my office at the Blue Ridge Business Journal about 15 years ago.
Weekly editor in 1981.
Today marks my 50th year as a journalist. I walked into Asheville Citizen-Times Sports Editor Bob Terrell's office Aug. 22, 1964 and asked for a job. My mama had told me to give it a try. I was working as a fry cook at King Arthur's Roundtable.

I had no idea what the job would be, just that I wanted to work there, to become a sportswriter. He said, "Our copy boy left for the newsroom yesterday. Want that job?" I didn't know what a copy boy did, but I lept at the opportunity and began work that night. The pay was $5 per shift. I was happy to get it.

It has been an often bumpy, always gratifying ride through embarrassing failure and soaring success and it has never been dull.
My home office, 1986 (I was 40)
I don't consider myself to have been an exemplary journalist, or even an especially good one. When Casey Stengal was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said something to the effect that his career was not a glorious one, but he always showed up and "when you do that, people notice." I probably fall in there somewhere.

The fact is, however, that regardless of the quality of the journalism I have practiced over the years, I have loved the profession since that August day in Asheville. I have met and become friends with people who would never have been in my life without journalism. I have been presented opportunities to do some good, to influence the community, to help shape opinion.

Here's how I remembered a day that would shape my entire life in my memoir Burning the Furniture:

"The first time I walked into a newsroom—a late August afternoon in 1964—I couldn’t see enough of it in my view shed. I turned around and looked at people and machines; listened to clattering, urgent noises; smelled cigarette smoke and coffee and paste and an asphalt- and oil-tinged breeze off the parking lot, as it wafted through open metal-framed windows. I wanted to touch something, and knew instinctively that a final level of stimulation would complete this sensual feast.

New to Roanoke, 1971.
1975 column pix.
"As I sat in front of Bob Terrell’s editor’s chair in the sports department while he interviewed me for a copy boy job, my head continued to roam. His office had walls only rib high and above that I could see the activity at the city desk; I could watch reporters type and argue simultaneously on telephones; I saw the AP wire editor as he tore copy or watched AP Photos as they rolled out of their machine in magical fashion, making a screeching noise.

"At one point, I heard Bob say, 'Dan, are you listening?' and I realized I’d strayed from the interview. I said, 'This looks like so much fun. I want to do it.' I think the depth of sincerity of that innocent pronouncement from an 18-year-old who’d barely ever held a job got me a desk, a chair and a typewriter that I didn’t know how to use, starting that day, that hour, that minute."
Virginia Communications Hall of Fame induction, 2010.
Roanoke World-News, 1975. I'm top left, dark sweater.
Mid-1970s, covering a high school all-star basketball game. I'm dead center, front. You may recognize some of the others.

Capitalism Vs. the Middle Class (A Reminder)

These are capitalists' friends, Americans' enemies.
"Despite what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or see on Fox News, capitalism is not an economic system that produces a middle class. In fact, if left to its own devices, capitalism tends towards vast levels of inequality and monopoly. The natural and most stable state of capitalism actually looks a lot like the Victorian England depicted in Charles Dickens’ novels."

--Thomas Hartmann, Alternet (here) in a piece titled "How Reaganomics killed the American middle class." It's an old argument, but no less valid for its age. Reagan got the oligarchial urges set in motion seriously and the Bush boys, along with a compliant GOP Congressional contingency, carried it to what we have now.

(Graphic: skydancingblog.com)

Here's How Obama Can Lead If He Will

Salon Magazine's Thomas Frank (or is it Frank Thomas?) has a suggestion for President Obama about not only saving his presidency, but turning the tables on obstinate Republicans and actually governing. It would be a clinic in presidential power, should he choose to follow the suggestions. The entire piece, well worth your time, is here, but here are some highlights:

Enforce antitrust law: This one would be enormously popular with everybody but the oligarchists (think Koch brothers and their GOP serfs like local Congressmen Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Robert Hurt). Even the poor white trash Repubs would love it. Big companies like Amazon are forcing smaller companies out of business and simply taking over, doing what they will with prices. Small businesses would love this move by Obama. They haven't realized it, but the GOP has been a small business enemy for years, rhetoric aside. Should the GOP fight back here, it would lose its base constituencies and, frankly, there's not much it could do but bitch and withhold funds for enforcement from the Justice Department, which would carry its own risk.

Prosecute the big bank crowd, which has been scott free since nearly putting the entire economy in the tank. This group has been rewarded, not jailed and the resentment continues to fester in middle America. A few perp walks among the elites here would do wonders for Obama and his administration and would show that it is not in bed with these white collar criminals (even though it is). Frank suggests going after the Top 25. That would be a good start before the statute of limitations expires.

Work to stop college tuition's dramatic increases. This can be done, according to Salon, with a series of audits, bringing practices and placements into the light and weilding the enormous federal funding like the Sword of Damacles. High tuituion costs are bankrupting the middle class and its children and leaving a frightening number of Americans undereducated at a time when education is vita.

Those are Frank's suggestions. I would add these:

Stop appointing people like Monsanto executives to watch our food. That is one of the most egregious examples, but others abound. Look for people with resumes who want to serve the American public, not the industries trying to kill us.

Make a lot of noise about judge appointments and point fingers at the people in Congress who are blocking them.

Have the Justice Department question every instance of obvious gerrymandering in the United States and go after this hard. If he can un-do some of the district lines and have them re-drawn, the voting public might actually be reflected in House representation.

The point, though, is to stop playing nice and to lead. The tools are available to make the GOP intensely uncomfortable.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Real Texas Tavern

I shot this about 10 years at 4 o'clock in the morning from the parking garage across the street from the Texas Tavern in Roanoke. I think it pretty well says everything you need to know about the TT.

Gratitude: A Small Ray of Hope

Today, I am grateful for:

Hope. I don't always have a lot of that when politics is the consideration (there's far more despair), but after writing the below blog piece on Mitch McConnell's run for Senate Majority leader this morning, I can see where the good guys win whether McConnell is victorious or summarily dismissed from his Senate job this November.

To call Democrats "good guys" is recognizing that the bar has become historically low for that designation, but relatively, they're saints when compared to this version of the GOP, which ain't so "grand."

In any case, those among you who are cheery optimists in the face of historic lows in the political arena, thank you for hanging in there. I may have just caught your bug ... at least for a bit.

The McConnell Dilemma: Are Losses Better Than Wins?

McConnell: Is a loss really a win?
There's bad news and a shimmer of good news on the Mitch McConnell front these days. The Senate Minority Leader says if Republicans win the Senate in the fall and if he wins his Senate race and if he becomes Majority Leader, he'll likely shut down the government if President Obama does not become his toadie. Lot of "ifs" in there.

The good news is two-fold: Not all of that is  likely to happen. He has bitter challenges at every turn and could well go 0-3. The other good news is that if he goes 3-0, shuts down the government and leads ruling Republicans into the 2016 biennial elections (in a presidential year), the GOP will almost certainly re-lose the Senate and could well drop the House while electing yet another Democrat to the White House.

Politico has a good piece this a.m. on the choices.

So, how do we root here? Should McConnell win it all this year, then get killed in 2016, or should the Dems barely hold on, whip McC in the Kentucky Senate race (to a strong, worthy woman with a lot of guts) and keep the government in a state of semi-permanent gridlock.

Tough choice.

(Photo: NYPost.com)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gratitude: Sharing Friends and Colleagues

Today I am grateful for:

Sharing the wealth. My pal SarahBeth Jones (see previous post) once said to me, "That's what you do," after I mentioned getting a couple of people together and how they became valuable to each other.

If I don't do anything else, I'm pretty satisfied with that evaluation. I know a lot of people and take great joy in sharing them with others who will like them and get a lot from knowing them. I suppose there are less important traits a person can have.

Photos: Eric Fitzpatrick Quick on the Draw

Eric Fitzpatrick fills in this view of the Woods vegetable stand on City Market this morning.
Roanoke's most celebrated artist (and easily its nicest), Eric Fitzpatrick, was on City Market this morning doing some preliminary work for a painting he will give away.

This will be a market painting to be donated to Blue Ridge Public TV for its fund-raiser, coming soon. He will also have a painting of the Texas Tavern on the auction block to benefit the station.

Eric says he generally visits a site several times to do what he's doing here before he sets the painting in stone--so to speak. What he's doing here is promising. I shop buy vegetables at Woods all the time. Good place and in a prominent setting on the market: out front.

A Bright New Photographer for the Roanoke Valley

Jeff Jackson shot this photo of SarahBeth Jones and me this morning.
My friend SarahBeth Jones, who spends a lot of her time putting people together to help produce interesting results, brought Jeff Jackson in to Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea on City Market this morning so we could chat. Jeff is a high-end photographer with a national reputation who is settling here and looking for something that will help him earn a living.

I know a few people, so I offered some suggestions (some of you will hear from Jeff soon; listen to him; it will be to your advantage). He's a nice guy with good ideas and an immediate project--a documentary about cancer victim support--that has a promising ring to it.

Listen for Jeff and listen to Jeff. I think you'll be happy you did.

This is my selfie version of the same shot. Selfie King strikes again.

Can the Wasena Building Be Waterproofed?

The Wasena train station building this morning. (Not a "file photo".*)
John Ansty of Ansty-Hodge, a marketing/advertising company in Roanoke, has bought the old Wasena train station, which used to house the Roanoke (later Virginia) Museum of Transportation--before the flood of 1985 ravaged it and caused the museum to move. It has been empty since.

Ansty wants to create something of a community center (food and retail next door to the skateboard park and softball fields) for the area. He paid the City of Roanoke $2,000 for the building and agreed to put $200,000 into renovation.

A few years ago, when the flood reduction project for the Roanoke River was underway, I suggested to City Manager Darlene Burcham that the dirt from that project be used to build a berm around the old museum. I reasoned at the time that it would be a cheap fix to making the building desirable. Darlene said the dirt "has been previously assigned." I don't know what that meant, except that it wasn't used for the berm.

The flood insurance was always going to be expensive and I thought this could help reduce it and make the building marketable. East Coasters bike shop recently found out just how expensive the insurance is--$28,000 a year--when it looked at setting up shop there. East Coasters' owners changed their minds.

Richard Rife of the architectural firm of Rife & Wood (and a good friend of mine) is doing the design on Ansty's building and I put the question of the berm to him. Here's his response:

"The 100-year flood elevation is about 3.5 feet above the floor level [of the building], which is another 2.5-3 feet above grade. So it would take a berm 6-6.5 feet high to protect the building. A berm could certainly be engineered to protect the building, but it would greatly complicate things.

"You would need a handicapped ramp to get folks over the berm and then back down to floor level OR some sort of floor gate where the ramp goes through the berm. You would also need storm drains inside the bowl of the berm to drain normal rainfall, but they would also need some sort of backflow preventer to keep floor waters from flowing back into the bowl during a flood.

"Esthetically, the berm would obscure the public’s view of the building and make it less attractive to renters. You also cannot build a berm (or any new thing) in a floodway that would displace water and cause the flood to be higher unless you also dig out a similar amount of existing earth to even it out.

"John’s building is not in the floodway, but a berm for it might be. And if you do this you have to get the Corps to review and approve, which adds much time to an approval process.

"The flood insurance rates quadrupled in the last year as a result of the hurricane-related flooding in NYC and other places and is expected to continue to increase. The previous buyer was borrowing money to renovate the building so his lender required insurance. It would have been about $28,000 a year – more than the mortgage payment.  It killed the deal.

"John is self-financing the project and will take his chances on the flooding. He’s had a lot of interest from potential tenants and today’s article will only add to that. I hope this works out for him.  He’s a really good guy and a delight to work with. We did the renovation on his agency’s offices in the old gas station in front of the Hotel Roanoke" which won a renovation award from the Preservation Foundation.

(*Unlike the local daily paper, which does not seem to use its photographers much any more--even the few it has--I drove over to the park this morning to get this photo. I'm about three times as far away as the newspaper, but I thought it was worthwhile go give you a current view.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'Powerlessness Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy'

Oligarcy is not new, it's just worse. This cartoon is from the 19th Century.
This piece by Robert Reich in EconoMonitor gets directly and precisely to the heart of why what we're calling "Democracy" these days is actually something else entirely (think "oligarchy"). Reich has a way of cutting through the bullshit and telling the unvarnished truth.

And the truth, from a study by two university professors, is this: "The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

In a nutshell, there it is. The oligarcy we have so anticipated with dread is here and there is absolutely nothing we will (as opposed to can) do about it. We have been marginalized as a people and the money managers have purchased our government, while we have tried to earn a living and make them richer.

It is a terrible quandry, one we keep hoping someone will lead us out of, but one that is so deep and so wide that there is not likely to be a solution that satisfied anybody but the wealthy. They will eventually see the error their ways, but by the time they recognize it, there will only be room to place blame, not to repair the damage.

In this region, we can look directly at Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Robert Hurt--our congressional delegation--to see exactly what Reich is talking about. These three are prefect examples of our Congress giving away our most valuable assets (our people) to the interests of the few (think Koch brothers, for example). All for a few pieces of silver.

I'm afraid we might as well stick a fork in ourselves because we're done.
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” - See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/blog/2014/08/the-disease-of-american-democracy/#sthash.mBQZVJz3.dpuf
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” - See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/blog/2014/08/the-disease-of-american-democracy/#sthash.mBQZVJz3.dpuf"
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” - See more at: http://www.economonitor.com/blog/2014/08/the-disease-of-american-democracy/#sthash.mBQZVJz3.dpuf"

Gratitude: Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

Your fave editr addresses the 2014 RRWC.
Today, I am grateful for:

The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I founded this baby seven years ago and it has helped create a close and active network of the region's writers, which are some of the best in the country.

This morning I spent about three hours putting together biographies for this year's group of teachers/writers who will have classes Saturday, Jan. 31 at Hollins. Friday is dedicated to writers getting to know each other, presenting a scholarship and hearing some great keynote addresses.

For me, this is a labor of absolute adoration. I love the writers, the setting, those who help organize and those who contribute their time to teach. We paid the writers a small honorarium the first two years, but when we started giving our scholarship to a Horizon student at Hollins, they all wanted to chip in, so that money goes to the scholarship automatically now. That writers like each other and support each other has been a splendid lesson for me. Their generosity--and most of them don't have a lot of money--is impressive.

Hope you'll join us Jan. 30-31 at Hollins. The website will be up by Nov. 1 so you can register. The lineup, as is always the case, is a killer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gratitude: The Clarity of the Moment

Robin Williams in 'Dead Poet's Society'
Today, I am grateful for:

Clarity. Linguistic and philosophical clarity, especially. Example:

"Language was invented for one reason boys: to woo women. And, in that endeavor, laziness will not do."

--Robin Williams in "Dead Poet's Society"

Couldn't-a put it better me-self.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gratitude: The Healthy Part of Downtime

Today I am grateful for:

Downtime on a summer Sunday. Nothing's pressing. No deadlines. No need to get my overalls in a bunch over anything. I'm a little bored, a smidge tired, marginally pissed off and those are warning signs for drunks. So now, I get to concentrate on "gratitude" because that's a large dose of health for the same drunks.

Photos: A Few Items from the Flea Market

Solid brass for my grandboy Oz (Oscar in real life).
Found one redhead; not for sale.
One of the true lures of flea marketing is finding the unexpected. That was the case this morning at Happy's in North Roanoke where I wound up with a brass belt buckle, some good veggies and an oddball fruit and a couple of photos that I like.

There was, of course, the speculative cowboy boots that my buddy Sonya would love, but I didn't want to fork over $150 on spec (or otherwise). Still, they really look like her style.

The solid brass belt buckle ($2) will go to my grandboy, Oz (short for Oscar) when he's a good bit older. He's not quite 3, so we have probably 18 or so years left to hang on to it. I like it, though.

The fruit, found at a Vietnamese food stand, is a dragon fruit and let me tell you that it is wonderful. I've had it in the past, but generally avoid buying it because it's $4 a pound. The one shown here is about the size of my fist and cost $2.75. It is dense and tasty, but only for special occasions in my house.

Here's some of what I found.

These have 'Sonya" written all over them.

She'd probably like these, too.
Somebody discarded these gems.
Dragon fruit (left and right)


Goshen Pass: Not Much There There for Hiker

It was a lovely day for a swim in the Maury River at the Goshen Pass in Rockbridge County.
The view's pretty, the hiking's not.
I spent the day yesterday trying to find a place to hike--a trail with a view--at the Goshen Pass and we came away empty. This is one of the prettiest places in Virginia, but, frankly, the hiking sucks.

I tried a little train called Laurel Run--a hunter's access--and it went up the mountain completely devoid of view. The little creek ran out in about 200 yards and we were left with a gravel road for about 1.5 miles.

Then we spotted a swinging bridge a couple of miles up Virginia 39 and tried it. Same result. A path along the Maury River, which is lovely, but grown over and no view. We could hear the river, but couldn't see it.

Finally, we settled for the views on 39, where a lot of people parked, got out and swam or picnicked. That, I guess, is what people do at the Goshen Pass.

Swimming in the Maury is the primary passtime.
There's some privacy ... but not much (don't skinnydip, boys and girls).
It's a cool bridge ... to nowhere.
Pampa clunks across.
The view from Virginia 39, which is the best.