Monday, December 22, 2014

Sexual Assault: 'Women at the Edges' Most Vulnerable

"Women at the margins are the ones who bear the brunt of the harshest realities, including sexual violence, and they do so with the least resources."

The heavy emphasis of late has been on sexual assault on college campuses, but that emphasis may be misplaced. The previous quote is from a study at American University by Callie Rennison and Lynn Addington on the vulnerability of women in our society to sexual assault. It is, of course, the poor and uneducated who are most frequently the victims.

Consider these study findings:
  • College students between 18 and 24 years old are raped at a rate of 6.1 per 1,000, while other women are at 8 per 1,000, 30 percent higher.
  • Poor women are victims of sex crimes at a rate that is 3.7 percent higher than middle income women and a jaw-dropping six times that of high income women.
  • Women in rental housing are assaulted at a rate of 3.2 times that of women in homes they own.
  • Single women with children have the highest rate of sexual assault, nine times that of married women with no children, 3.6 times that of married women with children and 3.2 times the rate of single women with no children.
  • Women without a high school diploma are sexually assaulted at four times the rate of women with a bachelor's degree.
Rennison, writing in the New York Times (here), notes, "The one risk factor that remains consistent whether women are advantaged or disadvantaged is age, and women ages 16 to 20 are sexually victimized at the highest rates."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Friends Get Hitched in a Viking Wedding

The newlyweds: Charisse and Jeff
My friends Jeffrey Rigdon and Charisse Asvor had a Viking wedding on Mill Mountain in Roanoke today. These are two of the very best people I know. They recently had a lovely girl baby and decided to tie the knot on this longest day of the year (longest ever, Jeff says).

Their little one.
It is the solstice and a good time for Vikings to get married. Wedding days for Vikings are normally on Friday, but the equinox is a pretty good incentive to change it to Sunday. Viking weddings most often last a week, but this one will likely be over late tonight, since work awaits. 

They were boiling mead on the mountain. Mead is a honey-based drink and with the wedding officially lasting a month, we get the term "honeymoon." This was a lovely wedding of two people of wildly different ages (Jeff's in his 60s, Charisse in her 20ss; different ethnicities and different ... well, who cares? They are suited. You could tell from the smiles, the cracked jokes during the solemn moment, the quiet touches and glances.

I'm happy for both of them and for their little girl and all the grandkids and kids. It's a great blended and extended family.
Jeff with the mother of us all, Pearlie Mae Fu.
Jeff and his grandgirl.
Looking for diversity? Try this.
My friend Anne Sampson shoots the details.
Anne shoots me shooting her.
The ceremony.
More ceremony (that's Charisse's dad on the left).
Taking the pledge with a sword.
The new family.
A procession of Vikings.
Celebrating their friends.
The exotic bride.
The noble groom.
Charisse takes a moment for herself.
Anne looking all pretty.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Photo: Frosty and Santa and Leah and Meah on the Market

This is Leah Weiss, Frosty the Taubman Showman and me(ah) downtown on Roanoke City Market today. Leah was over from Lynchburg and we had a grand time running all over the city. That's my ever-present camera in my left hand. I left the photo disk at home, so we had to use Leah's iPhone for the pix. Damn.
Me and my buddy the Saint.

Gratitude: Looking for Confederate Flag Compromise

One of several similar flags of the Confederacy.
Today, I am grateful for:

Efforts to reach a compromise on the Christmas parade flap that I wrote about last week. City Manager Chris Morrill and Downtown Roanoke Inc. Executive Director Tina Workman, along with Roanoke's city attorney have been studying ways to solve the complex dilemma.

In this case, the primary problem is freedom of speech/expression vs. a citizen's right not to be assaulted with insulting symbols--among other things.

Southern Cross: Confederate battle flag.
This came up because the Sons of Confederate Veterans displayed their Southern battle flag with unnecessary (in my opinion) prominence during the recent Roanoke Christmas Parade. There were other issues with the parade, as well (overt militarism in a Christmas parade and a shocking display of overt commercialism, especially by sponsor Haley Toyota), but the SCV Confederate battle flag display is probably the most serious and the most difficult to solve.

My suggestion to the organizers was for DRI to make the parade by invitation only and to set up a series of standards for entries that would be in keeping with the season of peace and joy--and not of guns, war and commercialism. DRI is a private entity and can do that. If the city ran the parade, it could not.

SCV would be invited to take part, but its display would need to be about Christmas, and not fighting. Christmas was celebrated by lonely, young, homesick soldiers in both camps during the Civil War and it would be historically accurate to portray the soldiers--with their wives and girlfriends, who often visited them in camp, sitting at a fire singing and perhaps enjoying a meal. There would need be no flags and no guns.

The display of the Stars and Bars is the most controversial issue and the one the SCV has battled localities over for years. It is the equivalent of the Swastika to many in our culture and its public display--and tacit approval by the organizers--is a slap in the face of those who believe it to be a symbol of the approval of slavery. Sons can tell us all they want that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, but that is simply not true on any level (a look at the various articles of secession by states will verify this), but even if it were, the symbol has made its mark, especially for our African-American citizens who have the right not to be insulted in a Christmas parade.

Stonewall Jackson's army's Christmas.
I would suggest that the Sons of Confederate Veterans have a very good alternative to the Southern Cross in the Flag of the Confederacy (which is the Stars and Bars, though the Cross is often incorrectly referred to as such), the official flag of that temporary nation. The Southern Cross was an impromptu creation (leading eventually to 180 different designs for various armies), drawn up to differentiate between two armies whose flags looked alike.

The Southern Cross came out of the First Battle of Manassas when Southern Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard (a flamboyant figure and noted actor before the war), cited the confusion in the similar flags. In a letter to Gen. Joseph Johnston, Beauregard said that "we should have two flags — a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle — but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter — How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."

The Flag of the Confederacy is not dramatically different from the American flag, as you can see in the top photo. The fact, though, is that the Flag of the Confederacy does not come with the baggage of the Stars and Bars. Many people who are not Civil War buffs don't know its importance. Flying this flag--like a Christmas campfire float--would give the SCV historical accuracy and a Christmas theme all at the same time. It makes sense unless they are so entrenched and unwilling to accommodate the needs of others that they simply won't agree to compromise. And, of course, that would bring up another whole set of problems.

But let's hope they will agree to a small compromise to show how grown up they are in an increasingly divided country. That would truly be a cause for gratitude. An effort is being made to find an acceptable solution and for that, at least, I am grateful.

Confederate soldiers riding under the national flag.

(Drawing:; painting:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Executions Declining in the U.S.

"When almost all of the executions are in so few of the states, you have to question the relevancy of the death penalty in the country whole."  -- Richard Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center.

A new report from the center (story here) tells us that the number of executions in the U.S. is dramatically reduced with just seven states carrying out state-sponsored murder during the past year and three of those--Texas, Missouri and Florida, all bright Republican red--responsible for 85 percent of them. That's the lowest number in 40 years.

In 1999 there were 98 U.S. executions and in 2014, there were 35.

A Pew Research Center poll shows 55 percent of Americans favoring the death penalty (when life in prison without parole was not presented as an alternative), down from 67 percent in 2011. Opposition was 37 percent. When life without parole is figured in, most Americans oppose execution. Republicans, the "pro life party," heavily favors public killing.

The story reports, "Exonerations of people who were wrongly convicted, the availability of prison terms of life without parole and the cost of capital trials and the appeals process also are factors in the persistent decline." There were seven exonerations and some high-profile cases where deaths were so gruesome that even hardcore death penalty advocates flinched.

California has 745 prisoners with death sentences hanging over their heads, by far the most of any state, including Texas where the death penalty seems to rank only behind football as public entertainment. California, despite the sentences, has killed three people since 2006 and 13 in the past 35 years. The land of fruits and nuts seems to have little stomach for sanctioned murder.

Virginia first killed a citizen by execution in 1608 and has carried out a national-high of more than 1,380 since, according to Wikipedia. In February, 1951, Virginia mass murdered five black convicts, four of them for allegedly raping and killing a white woman (the Martinsville Seven) and another in an unrelated murder. Two more of the rape convicts were killed later. The last execution for rape in Virginia took place in 1961.

Virginia killed eight inmates between 2009 and 2013 and none in 2014. It killed one in 2013.

The least amount of time between conviction and execution occurred in Texas where a woman was killed after eight years and the longest took place in Florida, as well, where a 62-year-old man was murdered after waiting 30 years.

A Few Small Suggestions for the Jock Interview

Josh Dobbs being interviewed: "The ball's not that heavy."
I left sports writing a long time after 17 years of banging it out it because, frankly, I was bored. After leaving, it was five years before I could go to a sports event and enjoy it. I had sat stone-faced and glass-eyed for a long time, watching the same people do the same things, interviewing marginally intelligent coaches and man-child athletes who gave the same answers to my stupid questions.

The only real respite in the last few years of that gig was placing an emphasis on girls and women playing sports. They were smarter, fresher, more enthusiastic and much less predictable than their male counterparts. Title IX had not yet been passed, so their games remained on the margins and their numbers were small. They weren't playing for publicity because there was little to be had. They played because they loved it and that was refreshing to see.

I still follow some sports for reasons that are not clear to me and I still read sports stories that glaze my eyes and respond to those stories like I was watching "Mystery Science Theater."

I just finished watching a video interview with the University of Tennessee's quarterback, Josh Dobbs, an intelligent young man who majors in aerospace engineering and has close to a 4.0 average. Still, he has the sports interview disease. He is a running quarterback, so when he was asked if the large number of carries of the ball he had at the end of the season wore him out, he gave the same tired answer half the QBs in the country would have given.

I would much prefer he had said, "No, I didn't get tired. The ball isn't heavy. Now, if you'd been carrying the ball--with that gut you're wearing--my guess is it would have been a chore, but I'm 22 years old and in peak physical condition, which is why you are interviewing me instead of the other way around."

He was asked about his bowl opponent, Iowa, a team with a mediocre record from a mediocre conference and after deeming the Hawkeyes "a great team," said it "plays downhill." A good reporter would have followed that response with a probing question: "How does the playing downhill thing work? The field has always looked pretty level to me. Is somebody bending a rule by bending the field here?"

UT has injuries among its receivers and when asked about those, Dobbs reported that several players had "stepped up" and I couldn't quite figure what they'd stepped up to. My guess is that they're doing what they're supposed to do: catching passes. "Stepped up" was used by the sports writers asking questions seven times during the interview. "You guys" was used so often by the writers that I lost count at 14. "Guys" by itself seemed to be in nearly every sentence.

So, I'm still sitting here watching, hoping to find some gem somewhere and, as always, I don't. But I keep watching. That's a disease. A 12-step program--Sports Interview Anonymous--may be next.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Long, Tall Walkin' Man

Long winter walks take on a new meaning in the late afternoon when the longest part of the walk is the shadow of the walker. That's me at the left, shooting a photo as I approach the Wasena Bridge from Vic Thomas Park in Roanoke. Took it just before sundown today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photos: Celebrating the Clothed Naked Grandin Gals

A big crowd squeezed into the upstairs lobby at the Grandin Theatre for the Grand Ladies party.
My pal Crickett Powell and I got to chat and pose.
It was a night of celebration for the 12 women who posed (sort of) nude for the 2015 The Grand Ladies of Grandin Village calendar, which came out last month.

The women hob-nobbed with admirers and customers (they own businesses in the Village) and watched as big pictures of themselves in their calendar poses adorned the Grandin Theatre movie screen.

T'was a grand(in) time. (God forgive me for puns.)

Debbie Remington (left) with calendar models Cherie Love and Debbie Ellis.
Michelle Bennett (center) had the idea for the calendar.
Entering the theater with gals onscreen.
Elegant calendar girl Jenny Prickett (right) chats.
Pal Richard Rife serves wine to pal Debbie Stevens.
Bill and calendar girl wife Diane Elliott.
My buddy Rob Fries with one of his admirers.
New Grandin Manager Ian Fortner (who's done a marvy job).
Haints still inhabit the theater and occasionally get out of hand.
The ladies of the village have tea  (well, wine) and conversation.
Calendar girl Marilyn Moody.
Calendar girls Kathie Clifton and Diane Elliott.

Lunch with the Boys

This was lunch over in Salem today with some of my favorite people, almost all of them writers, editors or both.

Front center and far left are Roland Lazenby and Mike Ashley, who have just collaborated on a fine book (which got a few signings at lunch today) titled 'Best Regrets,' about a VMI football coach who made Keydet football matter in the '50s and '60s.

I'm to Mike's right and to the right of me are John Montgomery, who was the GM of the Blue Ridge Business Journal when I was editor, and two down (in blue) is Rob Fries, who designed the BRBJ. Howard Wimmer, at the right, is a former Roanoke Times sportswriter. Jim Bain is the good looking guy in the middle/back.

When you eat with these guys three things are guaranteed: You get enough food (OK, yes, I'm eating salad); you laugh a lot; Mike has some kind of sports trivia challenge. Today is was naming ex-athletes who had continuing parts on television series.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gratitude: Progress On Upgrading the Christmas Parade

Today I am grateful for:

A Roanoke City manager and those below him who are showing an enthusiastic willingness to listen to the complaints about the shortcomings of the Roanoke Christmas parade, which offended so many last week.

They are working with Tina Workman of Downtown Roanoke Inc., which puts on the parade, to answer concerns (racism, overt commercialism, gun/military culture at Christmas) that have been expressed and to create a parade that can be enjoyed by everybody.

 I have been invited to contribute to the conversation and my guess is that your thoughts would be welcome, too. You can e-mail Chris at or Tina at Please respond in the spirit of working to create a better, more inclusive, more appropriate Christmas parade and not as somebody with a chip on your shoulder. You'll get a lot farther being constructive.

Let me mention that I am not a Christian, but I respect this parade and those who take part in it and attend it. It is privately-run, so the government is not sponsoring a religious celebration here. If you are of another religion and want to have your own parade, my guess is the city will happily oblige.

The Power T Retains Its Color

This is from yesterday's walk along the Roanoke River in my UT Vol for Life baseball cap. Even black and white photos can't diminish the lovely orange of the Power T. Go Vols!

Special Santa Mailing Station Downtown

For those of you who have a tendency to put things off--and you know who you are--Roanoke has installed a special Santa Mail Express in the City Market Building. Guaranteed delivery of the mail to the North Pole by Dec. 24 at 5 p.m. if you get it sent by Dec. 23. Don't delay and make sure the mail fits in the slot.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photos: A Self(ie) Kind of Day

Got a little self(ie) absorbed on a brief trip to Roanoke City Market today. I was down there to buy a Christmas present, thinking it was Saturday. Imagine my surprise when I parked and walked toward the farmer's stalls, which were all but empty.

Anyhow, I compensated for that disappointment with a bowl of Pho Soup (pronounce that "fu") and some selfie photography.

Look at the ball above and you'll see your favorite editr with his Canon. Same thing at the right: halfway down on the left. That's moi in my Tennessee orange cap photographing all that Christmas orange. Cool, huh. And narcissistic, I suspect.

Best 2014 Books By Our Region's Writers (in Time for Christmas)

The NYTimes has just released its 10 best books for the Christmas season, so I'll release mine, based on books written by people in our region. Here you go, in no particular order (although I have 12 because our region is rich in outstanding writers and ... well ... I included my newest):

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past is the new novella by the Grand Dame of the region's fiction writers, Sharyn McCrumb (my cousin, I'll add).  Sharyn's ballad novels have become classics among a large group of readers and her stories are always wondrous tales of our Appalachian lore and culture.

Mercedes Wore Black by Virginia Tech's Andrea Brunais. A wonderful novel
about backpack journalism during a governor's race in Florida, where Andrea used to work as an editorial writer.

Toughs by Ed Falco, head of Virginia Tech's writing program (good year for Tech). Ed wrote The Family Corleone a couple of years ago and had great success with it. Much is expected of Toughs.

Draw in the Dunes is Floyd's Neil Sagebiel's worthy follow to The Longest Shot, which was named one of the top 10 sports books in the country a couple of years ago. Like Longest Shot it deals with a golf tournament (Ryder Cup) and is a hell of a lot more than a golf book.

Factory Man is former Roanoke journalist Beth Macy's debut, a non-fiction work based upon a
furniture factory and its owner in Bassett, about 50 miles south of the Star City. NYTimes bestseller and roundly approved by reviewers.

Michael Jordan: The Life is one of 60 or so books by Roanoker Roland Lazenby, an internationally recognized sports biographer and recorder of NBA history. Roland writes wonderfully and tells a story of Jordan you won't expect, especially when he's talking about the Jordan family history.

Dream Boy by Mary Crockett of Salem (known for her poetry) and Madelyn Rosenberg, a former Roanoke Valley Journalist, is a young adult novel that is quite the "dream." Superbly written by a couple of pros. You don't have to be a teenager to like this one.

Fierce Convictions is Karen Swallow Pillow's second book in short order (Booked is a literary memoir) and it is impressive. This is "the extraordinary life of Hannah Moore: poet, reformer, abolitionist," and it is impressively written and researched. Quite
woman that Hannah. Karen teaches English at Liberty University.

Best Regrets is a team approach by Roland Lazenby (his second book on the list) and sportswriter Mike Ashley, a Roanoke native who writes out of D.C. This is something of an in-house book at VMI (published by the Keydet Club) and tells the story of football coach John McKenna and his unlikely success at the military school. This one's worthy of wide circulation that it won't get. Mike and Roland are teriffic writers.

Family Inheritance is publisher (BQB Publishing in Christiansburg) Terri Leidich's novel dealing with family and death. Terri writes well, which helps her earn points with those she publishes.

Waltzing with Horses is Felicia Mitchell's small volume of poetry that I find fascinating. Felicia was at a Hollins poetry reading recently and I asked her to teach at our 2016 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference and she gave me this delightful little book. She teaches English at Emory & Henry College.

Since this is my list, I will throw in a shameless promo for my novel CLOG!, which I like. It revolves around a competition square dance team at a tiny high school in the mountains of North Carolina in 1963. It is, I think, a fun read and it will make me rich if you buy enough copies. Yea, rich!

One more promo: Most of the writers above will teach at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University Jan. 23-24, 2015 (less than two months off). If you want to join us, it's only $75 for two days, lunch on Saturday, 24 classes, a roundtable discussion, three keynote talks (by three of my writing heroes: Anne Adams, Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell) and networking you won't believe. Register and find out the details here (last paragraph).
Shameless promo: Me and CLOG!