Friday, May 29, 2015

Indians and the Spelling Bee: Dominance Again

Vanya Shivashankar (left, 13) and Gokul Venkatachalam (14), winners.
The Asian Indian population of the United States--second only to Mexican-Americans in number--is about 1 percent, or 3.1 million. These Indians comprise 4.7 percent of all immigrants, according to the Census Bureau.

So how in the world do two Indian kids wind up tying for the National Spelling Bee championship, which began with a million competitors? The kids are Vanya Shivashankar (13) and Gokul Venkatachalam (14), a couple of finalist veterans of the competition. Their tie is the first since 1962 and probably could not have been predicted.

An Indian winning the competition, however, would have been a good bet. There were 10 Indian champions in the past 14 years--before this year. gives us some hints about why Indians excel in these competitions:

1. Indian culture values memory-based (memorization) learning, which is what spelling depends on.
2. Indians in the U.S. have tight family and social communities, which value learning.
3. Organizations support Indian-American kids' efforts.

But there's probably more, beginning with the fact that people who speak more than one language tend to spell better and that immigrants--especially educated immigrants--tend to consider spelling important. Americans often poo-poo the value of spelling and grammar, much to the horror of people like me. Just take a look at Facebook any time of any day if you want some grammatical atrocities from otherwise intelligent people.

A list of Bee champions, seems to show Balu Natarajan as the first Indian champ in 1985 (and I'm guessing Balu Natarajan is Indian). After that, we have another Indian in 1988 and finally a succession of Indian names beginning in 2002. (Here are the winners.)

I recall clearly a few years ago when Taiwan was consistently winning the Little League World Series because it had become isolated internationally (through no fault of its own; China was flexing its muscles as the "real China") and national pride was at stake. Most of the kids in the rest of the world played baseball for fun; in Taiwan, it was a calling like military service. (Here is an interesting look at Taiwan Little League baseball.)

The Indian kids seem to prepare for the Spelling Bee harder and find it more important to them and their values. That is a powerful incentive.

Another Congressional Outrage: Stealing Sacred Lands

Apaches gather at Oak Flat.
"The deal is an impressive new low in congressional corruption, unworthy of our country’s ideals no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. It’s exactly the kind of cynical maneuvering that has taught the electorate to disrespect politicians — a disdain for government that hurts everyone. If ever there was a time for Congress to prove its moral mettle to the public, this is that time."

-- Lydia Millett writing this morning in the NYTimes (here)

This story details the shameful appropriation of Apache sacred burial grounds (compared to the Christian reverence for Mt. Sinai) in Arizona, a bill sneaked through as part of a defense appropriations act at the last minute and without public scrutiny.

Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake (a former uranium mining lobbyist) engineered the disgrace and Ms. Millett noted, "If Oak Flat were a Christian holy site, or for that matter Jewish or Muslim, no senator who wished to remain in office would dare to sneak a backdoor deal for its destruction into a spending bill — no matter what mining-company profits or jobs might result. But this is Indian religion. Clearly the Arizona congressional delegation isn’t afraid of a couple of million conquered natives."

The offending mining company is foreign-owned (Australian-British) and promises a few jobs for Arizonans. This bill has appeared in the past, but was summarily smashed each time, until McCain figured out that it could be a rider on a crucial defense bill, rushed through Congress without much oversight.

When will we shut the door on Congress? Will it ever happen?


Thursday, May 28, 2015

FedEx or USPS: Either Way, It's Sloooooooow

Which of these vehicles is delivering my package? (Hint: none of them.)
(UPDATE: OK, so USPS gets the package yesterday in Roanoke, and when I got home from my exercise class after noon today, the package was on the front porch. Good for USPS. Not so hot for FedEx.)

I'm not quite getting this shipping agreement with FedEx.

On May 21, I ordered a camera (yeah, yeah, I have too many damn cameras, but as the drunk said when caught at the beer cooler, "It's for somebody else. Promise"). The tracking info said it was picked up at noon and shipped out at 10:27 p.m. from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

That sounded reasonable. It'd fly somewhere, then somewhere else, then wind up in Roanoke. Right? No. Not quite.

From Colorado Springs, it went--likely by old, rickety truck or pack mule--to Henderson, Colorado; Sweet Springs, Missouri (you're kidding, right?); Thornhill, Ohio; Haggerstown, Maryland; and Martinsburg, West by god Virginia, where it sat until today. I have no update on which wagon train it's on today, but FedEx tells me THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE--for christ's sake--will deliver it Saturday. I don't know how that works. My guess is that I don't want to know.

One has to wonder why the hell Fed Ex is getting paid if USPS is delivering the camera to me. One also has to wonder if this baby is being walked from Colorado to me. Maybe biked.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

'Bama Tops SEC in Offseason Grid Arrests: Roll Tide

Tide Coach Nick Saban: "Oh, shit, man! Not another one!"
The University of Alabama not only has the top-ranked football team in the Southeastern Conference, it also leads the league in football players arrested this off-season. Here's the tally from Saturdays Down South (note that 12 of the 19 come from Alabama and Mississippi schools):

  • Alabama 5 (Cyrus Jones, Tyren Jones, Jonathan Taylor, Geno Smith, Ryan Anderson)
  • Miss St. 3 (Deshun Dixon, De’Runnya Wilson, Elgton Jenkins)
  • Ole Miss 2 (Trae Elston, Damore’ea Stringfellow)
  • Auburn 2 (Elijah Daniel, DeNorris James)
  • Florida 2 (J.C. Jackson, Chris Thompson)
  • Tennessee 1 (Coleman Thomas)
  • Arkansas 1 (Tevin Beanum)
  • Texas A&M 1 (Frank Iheanacho)
  • LSU 1 (Jevonte Domond)
  • South Carolina 1 (2015 signee, Shameik Blackshear)
Vanderbilt, Missouri, Georgia and Kentucky are the only SEC teams without an arrest this offseason.

Memories of the San Diego Paper--Before the Merger

Back in the early 1980s, I was on one of my infrequent excursions to get away from a life that was falling apart and wound up in San Diego. I didn't have any money when I got there, so I thought maybe I should fall back on what I knew to earn some: the newspaper bidness.

I applied at the San Diego Union and after getting a fair hearing, it was determined I needed to keep looking.

Today, I read that the Union-Tribune (the morning and afternoon papers merged in 1992) has been sold and has laid off a third of its staff, something that is becoming more the norm than the exception in this dying business. I'm sorry for the Union, the people of San Diego and the people--Tribune Publishing, owner of the L.A. Times--who bought it. They all lose.

The Union-Tribune, which dates from 1851 in various iterations, has eliminated 178 of its 600 employees after being sold for a measley $85 million last week. The layoffs were primarily in printing and delivery; nine were newsroom positions. I find it interesting that 36 jobs were cancelled in advertising. That's shooting the seed corn in my world.

The Origin of Red

Those of you who have wondered in the past at my fascination with redheads--I seek them out at community events and photograph them, probably to excess--now have your explanation. Just look to the left.

This is me about 15 years ago before the white entered the beard and the gray flecks penetrated the mop on top. That's red, boys and girls. In this case, I suspect it's mostly due to the light on the Blue Ridge Parkway down around Craggy Gardens in North Carolina, but the red is definitely there.

When I was a kid, my mother let my hair grow shoulder length, bright red and full of Shirley Temple curls. I carried a doll. Everybody thought I was a girl. Mom smiled at that. Never one to miss a good joke, that Mom.

Quote of the Day: Conservatives and Fox

The quality of information on Fox is ... well ... astonishing (click to make graphic larger).
“I don’t think that word ['self-brainwashing'] is too strong — I think many conservatives live in a bubble, where they watch only Fox News on television, they listen only to conservative talk radio — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, many of the same people. ...

“When they go on to the Internet, they look at conservative websites like National Review, Newsmax, World Net Daily, so they live in a universe in which they hear the same exact ideas, the same arguments, the same limited amount of data, repeated over and over again — and that’s brainwashing.”

--Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan, George Bush I aid on the effect of Fox "News" (here on

Barblett said liberals don't have the same affliction, probably because the national news media has traditionally leaned more left than right and they got news from a variety of sources, even some  conservative.


Gratitude: The Pursuit of Morning Coffee

This morning I am grateful for a perfect cup of percolated coffee.

This is a photo of my coffee making its final perc this morning.The brown coffee swirls through the glass cap and I can see when the color is right for my cup. The pot makes an increasingly urgent gurgling, bubbling sound as it nears readiness and the smell from the spout is simply heavenly.

I have never been able to replicate this coffee "experience" with any other type of coffeemaker and I've tried. Lord knows I've tried.

About a year ago, I set out on a quest to find the kind of coffee pot I grew up watching and adoring, as my mother made her morning coffee each day. I simply adored watching the perc reach its climax (and I think that's probably the best way to describe it, since "orgasm" probably wouldn't do here).

When I went searching, I thought finding one of these little jobbies would be easy and they would be inexpensive. Wrong on both counts. J.C. Penney had one. For $110. I found them at flea markets and yard sales, but none with the glass top. They were all plastic of one kind or another. Some had Bakelite caps, which had a certain charm, but they wouldn't do for me. I caved in and bought one with the plastic top a year ago and have never been completely happy with it, because I couldn't see the coffee until I poured it.

Yesterday, on the way home from my exercise classes, I ran into this little wonder at Goodwill. Cost $3 and was in splendid shape. This morning I made coffee.

(Note: I went to eBay looking for these General Electric A4P15 coffeemakers and they seem to be quite common, costing between about $15 and $25. Apparently, GE made them for J.C. Penney some years ago. There are a number of other attractive percolators available for a wide range of prices, so, if you want one ...)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social Conservatives No Longer Outnumber Liberals in U.S.

I don't quite know how to read this, but for the first time in the history of American poll-taking, social conservatives don't outnumber social liberals in our country. They're tied at 31 percent with the remaining Americans not quite sure how to label themselves.

This represents the lowest total ever for conservatives and, as I said, the highest for liberals. Here is the story.

So, what's happening? Are liberals simply braver than they have been, or are there really more of them. I suspect that the Republican political candidates (a real looney bin), right-wing pundits who mirror the candidates, and the fringe of the evangelical Christian movement have combined to offend so many thoughtful people that they have simply changed their stripes.

I'm not sure liberals are offering anything different than we've always offered, including higher taxes and more services. But the right has changed, become far more radical, is represented by people we used to laugh at and not take seriously. Those people are now running for president with a shot at getting the party's nomination (though not much of a shot at living in the White House).

Frankly, I think a good number of Americans are simply fed up with outlandish political philosophy and would like very much to become the country we believe we are: the one that cares for its people. Maybe we're on the way. This is certainly a good sign.

There is one small caveat: "On economic issues ... Americans still call themselves conservative rather than liberal by a wide margin (39 percent to 19 percent). Yet that gap is shrinking, too, and is lower today than at any point since Gallup began keeping track in 1999." They're realizing that real values--the ones that help other people--are not free and won't be paid for by the 1%.

(Top image:; center image:

The First Memorial Day: Parade of Slaves

Children of slaves pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag.
This opinion by David Blight was in the NYTimes this morning (here) and it includes a remarkable re-telling of the first Memorial Day, one in Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War began and led by freed slaves before the war ended:

"The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

"After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, 'Martyrs of the Race Course.'

The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

"The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song 'John Brown’s Body.' Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang 'We’ll Rally 'Round the Fla,'  and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.
"The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration." 


Monday, May 25, 2015

Pink Flamingo, Schmink Flamingo: Go Vols!

This is the guard flamingo overlooking my tomatoes and other veggies.
It was suggested--all seriousness aside--the other day that a pink flamingo was a complete waste of time and effort in my yard, where orange is the national color. So, being the non-passive type I am, I shot over to K-Mart, picked up an aerosol can of Right Color paint and sprayed my flamingo Tennessee Orange--the only real orange.

Now, the boy strikes a fearsome pose in my garden as he protects the tomatoes (which are now the size of my fist).

Filmore the Fighting Flamingo oversees my summer food source. Alliterate dat!

Plenty of (Free) Theater, Dance at Hollins This Summer

For those of you running a smidge short on cash, but who'd would love to catch some theater and dance this summer, do I have a deal (or several) for you! Actually, I don't have it, but Hollins University does.

My favorite school (outside UT, of course, because UT plays football and Hollins doesn't) is holding quite a number of dance and theater performances during June and July, mostly at the Hollins Theatre, and they're all free and open to all of us.

The dance--the Hollins International Summer Gathering--is sponsored by the dance department and features seven different performances from faculty/staff, students and a Mobile Tour. If you've not attended any of these performances, you're in for a treat. While Hollins Theatre Department is gaining a national reputation for its excellence, dance is not all that far behind and there are some fine dancers on campus.

You can get a complete schedule here.

Taylor Gruenloh
Theater performance--mostly staged readings--has a full plate, as well, and includes the always popular "Overnight Sensations" July 11, 8 p.m. (I'll take part as an actor, if you can call what I do "acting"). In addition, Taylor Gruenloh's newest play, "My Alexandria," a wonderfully promising newbie, will be staged in the Upstairs Studio Theatre June 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. This one is about African-American soldiers sent to France to fight during World War I and features two actors playing 30 characters. Taylor, an MFA student, is an extraordinarily promising new playwright whose work is at the next level already.

There is a Centerpieces reading July 8 at Mill Mountain Theatre's Waldron Stage (noon) and the Festival of New Works at Waldron Stage, July 24 at 6 p.m. This is 10 new plays from Hollins students and you can bet that buried in there will be two, three or four keepers. There always is.

One more event caught my interest, though it has nothing to do with the stage. Hollins has workshops all summer for children's literature and one event that caught my eys was Peter Hunt's "The Truth About Alice," a look at Alice in Wonderland. Hunt is a professor emeritus at Cardiff University in the UK and is has written 26 children's books.

So, as my mama might have said when I was whining about being bored, "Shut up and go play!"


Saturday, May 23, 2015

'Mad Max': Good Moviemaking

Charlize Theron
Everything about the new, updated version of "Mad Max" is superb with a couple of caveats: There is no story to speak of and the actors don't have a lot to do except look pained.

Of course, anything that has Charlize Theron in it is worth watching. And she is good, but I don't know she has to be.

I'm not going into plot here because there isn't much to go into: bad guys have something (water) good guys want. Chase scene ensues. Lasts two hours. Bang! Pop! POW! Boom! CRASH! Lots of cool-looking Rube Goldberg vehicles in the post-apocalyptic landscape. One has its own rock guitarist hood ornament.

This is about moviemaking, the craft, and that technical part of it is superb. Often, the sheer speed of the movie, special effects, cinematography, lighting, sound, costuming and feel are simply arresting. This is a wildly violent movie, but there is something of Quinten Tarantino's tongue in cheek throughout. How many ways can you kill a human and, more important, how many ways can you maim that same guy without killing him?

I liked it. You may not. You will not be neutral.

A Plant for My Garden: Stevia

Been telling people about the stevia I grew a couple of years ago and have been looking for since. Well, today on City Market, I scored again ... and I think this comes from the same woman who sold stevia to me initially.

This is a natural sweetener that I use in place of damn near everything else because it's good, it's natural and it doesn't affect my diabetes. I like it a lot and you really, really don't want to use much of it. I'll take a small piece of a leaf and stick it in a glass of tea and it suddenly is Southern Sweetea (one word, no hyphen).

It has the added benefit of growing like Bermuda grass and mint. You can mow it and it's back in a couple of days. Good stuff.

Festival in the Park in Pictures

The guy in stripes smoked the kid.
Porta-potties at the festival. A busy place.
Roanoke's annual Festival in the Park kicked off today with a bunch of crafts, music and activities for children. I went down to wander around and take some photos. Was going to try to make it to the Beatles concert tonight (no, not those Beatles, the 1964 Fake Guys, who are pretty cool), but a pal wanted to go see Charlize Theron in "Mad Max" and I, for one, can't resist Charlize Theron in anything ... or nothing.

Anyhow, here's some of what the festival looked like this afternoon.

Isha Devine, like her mama Katherine, paints kids' faces.
Kids loved the soap suds pit. Mothers not so much.
This little boy is pondering whether to slide downhill.
The bubble machine ...
... was popular with blondes.
I have no idea. None at all.
My pal Janeson kisses a gator.
Having a chat on top of a rock.
Youth: Painfully pretty.
Iron Butterfly ... updated.
Pampa draws on the sidewalk.
You sure you wanna do that?
And Steve loves Jill.
The climbing tree in the kids' park.
Let 'em eat fried.
1950 Ford Grille.
Children react to the magician.
Any time is a good time for a book.
Some would rather smoke.
I love this nose ... and face.
Noisy ...
... Noisier. But interesting. Teen angst band.
An homage to Daisy, my VW Bug. Yay, Daisy.

Today's Best: Pretty People

Anne Vaughan: She of the golden smile.
Aaron and Anne Vaughan of Floyd show up on Roanoke City Market during the warm months to sell Anne's marvelous jewelry (I have bought a bunch of it, and every piece was loved dearly by somebody) and it has occurred to me from the beginning that her jewelry is not the only beauty around.

Anne and Aaron are two of the prettiest people--as a couple--I've ever seen anywhere. And they are perfectly delightful, outgoing and warm to make the beauty complete.

I saw them today on City Market and took these photos to prove my point.

Aaron Vaughan: James Bond is not better looking. Ever.

Festival Art: You Gotta Kiss a Lotta Frogs

The final product.
My pal Katherine Devine, whom I have photographed many times over a lot of years, was painting kids' faces at Festival in the Park today and, as I photographed her again, something occurred to me: she'd never painted me. We could fix that with $3 and a willingness to sit still for five minutes. The $3 was easy. The sitting, not so much.

Anyhow, Miss Patience asked what I wanted to adorn this craggy old editr's face and I thought about it for a bit. I just finished a story yesterday on internet dating where I quoted a woman as quoting Grimm's Fairytales: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince." I'm no prince, but I could pass as a frog and if this would get me kissed ... well. What was the question again?

(Janeson Keeley photos.)

Katherine happily slaps on the paint for the frog man editr.

To Be, Or Not To Be (in Favor of Trade Deal)?

Here's the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in a nutshell (according to Huffington post, here):

"Labor unions, environmentalists and Internet freedom advocates oppose TPP, while corporate lobbyists, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support it." Rush Limbaugh opposes it only because, "Since it's an Obama deal, the odds are it isn't good. Since it's an Obama deal, the odds are the United States is gonna take it in the shorts."

So, I'm stuck. The organizations I support oppose the deal, but so does Limbaugh. Of course, Limbaugh's reasons have nothing to do with the bill. But the fact that we are including Maylasia, which supports slavery as part of its economy, gives more than a little pause.

But, as the boy said, "It's complicated."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Important New Roanoke Movies to Play at Grandin Theatre

The Grandin Theatre will present a couple of Roanoke-made or focused movies in the coming weeks that could make a national splash.

“Crossing Streets,” which is set in Roanoke, shows Wednesday, May 27, 7:30 p.m. in the main theater. It costs $10. It is a detective story shot here.

Sarah Elizabeth Timmins’ Life Out Loud Films has produced David Baldacci’s “Wish You Well,” which he wrote, based on his popular novel. It will play June 2 at 7 p.m. in the main theater and tickets will cost $10. The movie, released in April in the Netherlands, is a drama.

Here are the particulars:

"Wish You Well": Produced by Sarah Elizabeth Timmins (“Lake Effects”) of Smith Mountain Lake, this is the story of a young girl and her brother coming of age at their great grandmother's house in Virginia during the 1940s. It stars Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, Josh Lucas and is directed by Darnell Martin. David Baldacci, who lives at Smith Mountain Lake, adapted the screenplay from his novel. The movie isn’t rated.

"Crossing Streets: Detective Marcus Williams (Kevin Nichols) is a Roanoke City Police detective who is unwillingly thrust into a partnership with Minister Samuel Gray (Chris Cleveland) to solve a gang-related shooting. As the mismatched duo begins its journey, the two soon discover the incident is part of something bigger, and catching the killer means stopping an all-out gang war. Through the investigation, Marcus and Samuel both learn that saving lives means learning to work together in this action packed buddy-cop drama.

The movie is not rated, but has some violence and mild sexual references. It is directed by Marc Hutchins and written by him and D.C. Bowden. The stars are Kevin Nichols, Chris Cleveland and Jen Lilley.

'The Death Knell of the American Experiment'

Here, in the NYTimes this morning, is as fine an example of the devolution of American politics in the 21st Century as I have seen. It is short, simple and direct.

This is about who is running the Republican Party, Carl Rove or the Koch brothers, both of whom have jumped on the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (one of the very worst and most destructive in history) to play the game their way.

The amount of money Rove and the Koch brothers have spent in order to have our government represent their oligarchial views is disturbing and depressing. That our government allows--even encourages--this level of bribery, cheating and theft of American self-will is outrageous.

So long as Citizens United is the law of the land, we can only dream of a democratic (or republican--small "d," smaller "r") government. This is not representative government; it is government by money, oligarchy. And it is quite simply the death knell of the American experiment.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Private-Public Schools Athletic Conferences: Yes!

Liberty Christian football on Liberty University field.
This story is another example of the Falwell empire in Lynchburg getting its way simply by threatening an overwhelmingly expensive, lengthy lawsuit. I agree with the outcome, but am not thrilled that Liberty Christian (part of the Thomas Road Baptist Church/Liberty University conglomerate) is at the center of the storm. It is, however, a storm Liberty created several years ago.

Private schools should be able to play public schools in sports if they're all playing by the same rules. My guess is that few wanted to play Liberty for two reasons: politics and recruiting. Most of the private schools will argue that they don't recruit, but that's simply bullshit. I saw some private school basketball teams a year or so ago that would have competed in college Division III quite capably. Those 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 (and in one case, 7-feet) kids didn't show up in groups out of coincidence.

This also goes to the Tebow Rule question of whether home-schooled kids should be allowed to play for public schools.  I say "yes," but, as is usually the case, the Virginia General Assembly says "no." We all know the stated reasons, but I think there is a deep resentment among public school parents of those who choose to teach their children at home, even though they still pay taxes to support public schools.

Kids deserve opportunity and the allowing of private schools into public school athletic--and other types of extracurricular activities like forensics--participation is a good thing. So would be the adoption of the Tebow Rule.