Thursday, November 20, 2014

Smokeout Day: Here Are Some Stats


I’ve been bitching about cigarette smoking for nearly 35 years and have only been a “former smoker” for 20 of that. I knew even before I quit that it was killing me, but funny thing about addictions: they’re difficult to break. 

Took me nearly 22 years to quit drinking and more than that to stop smoking. But I did and a year into healing, my primary care physician looked into my eyes during a physical exam and said, in an astonished voice, “Your lungs are clear.”

The body has amazing healing powers. For the next 20 years, I was without even a touch of bronchitis, which I had tolerated nearly six months of every year as a smoker—smoking through the coughing. 

These days, I try to convince people with the logic of numbers to quit smoking or to avoid starting. That probably never works. If I say, “You stink,” to a smoker, or perhaps, “Your teeth are really yellow,” I think, it’s far more effective.

Still, I’m going to give you some stats from the American Cancer Society as the Great American Smokeout approaches. They will get your attention, I think, though my guess is smokers will simply blow a smoke ring at them. Here they are:

  •  Nearly half a million (480,000) Americans are killed every year by smoking and second-hand smoke. The worldwide numbers—which I don’t have—would dwarf that. Eighty-seven percent of lung cancer deaths are smoking related.
  • There remain 42 million Americans who smoke cigarettes, 13.4 million who smoke cigars and  2.3 million who prefer pipe smoke.
  • Non-smokers live 10 years longer than smokers. 
  •           Low-income New Yorkers spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes. 
    • There are 7,000 chemicals and compounds in tobacco and 69 of them have been found to cause cancer.
  • Every day, 3,200 American children smoke their first cigarette.

Temple Grandin To Speak at Tech Dec. 4 (Free)

Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin, the autistic activist and one of the most respected scientists in the humane livestock handling industry, will speak Dec. 4 at Virginia Tech and her appearance is open to the public and free.

Grandin, subject of a well-reviewed HBO movie starring Claire Danes, has quite a following among those concerned with animal welfare and her biopic intensified a profile that was already high among many.

Though she had severe autism as a child, her gritty ambition led her to a Ph. D. in animal science from the University of Illinois and she has written quite a lot about  designing animal handling facilities. Her equipment houses about half the cattle in the U.S. at any one time and she has become a noted consultant for the food industry. In the world of autism, she is a rock star.

Grandin's free talk for the public will take place 6:45-745 in the
HBO movie poster.
auditorium in Goodwin Hall on the corner of Prices Fork Road and Stanger Street. The title of the talk is, "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds." She will give a talk at 2 p.m. at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute on the principles of livestock behavior for Tech students, faculty and staff.

Grandin has witten several books, including, The Autistic Brain, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, Improving Animal welfare: A Practical Approach, and Different Not Less.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gratitude: Material for Stories, Blogs

Today, I am grateful for:

A continuing wealth of interesting stuff to write about on a daily basis. I love stuff that keeps me occupied and pre-occupied. I think the blog stays pretty interesting and I'm working on some stories professionally right now that have my full interest.

Here Are Some of My Daughter's Pix

For those of you thinking that perhaps I was blowing a little smoke when I said the other day that my daughter and granddaughter were becoming quite the photographers, since I gave each a camera, I present these photos.

Here's proof positive that my daughter, Jenniffer, is excelling without a single lesson. She has an innate eye, a wondrous sense of color and composition and I love her shots. Hope you do, too. The gal's good and the dad is proud.

You will note that Jennie likes horses. She's a rider, used to barrel race. Thank god I never got to see that. I'd have been like my mama watching me play football.

Naked Ladies of Grandin Calendar Is Here

Susan Stidham of Sole To Sole.
Pennie Auhero of Viva La Cupcake.
The calendars--you know the ones--are here and they're selling like latte macchiatos at CUPS in Grandin Village. This is The Grand Ladies of Grandin Village, the calendar that takes women business owners in the village--mostly middle aged, mostly pretty dang sexy--and shows you what they look like in the suit they came with. Which is to say naked.

I've written a ton about this and the first blog post has been one of the most popular in the five-year history of fromtheeditr.

The photos, by my friend Cricket Maiden and Patricia Giovannini, are exquisite (as you can see from these examples) and will not challenge your morality if you display them in your kitchen. They're pretty modest by most standards. Banks may not like them.

Getting the final lineup of 12 owners presented some problems, however. After the daily paper did a story on the calendar, the officials of the bank in the village, who had given permission for its VP to appear, withdrew that permission. My guess is that the reality of what was happening settled in and a semi-nude banker didn't fit the image.

Another old pal of mine, Linda Steadman, who owns Too Many Books and is slender and attractive, pulled out because, she said this morning, her family was beside itself over the exposure ... so to speak. She said she got e-mails and texts from "all over the country" after my blog post appeared and that her family expressed its disagreement with her decision.

In any case, I think everybody knew this wouldn't be easy, but it's here in time for Christmas and if what I saw this morning is any indication, you'd better get a calendar quickly if you want one. They're going to sell out in a heartbeat.
Sandra Meythaler of Roanoke Ballet Theatre.
Cherie Love of Mon Cherie's Salon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Will Goodlatte Frack the GW National Forest?

It's beginning to look like the George Washington National Forest's management plan for the next 10 years will include fracking and one of the primary backers of that is Rep. Bob Goodlatte, whose 6th District includes much of the forest.

Goodlatte was one of those (along with his comrades in arms, fracking industry leaders) howling the loudest recently when a ban on fracking in the million-acre forest was proposed. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The Forest Service originally proposed to prohibit horizontal gas drilling on any future federal oil and gas leases in the GWNF, and at this time, no one knows if that proposal will stick in the final plan." Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration opposes disrupting the forest.

The T-D article continued: "Fracking, as is well-known, is a wretched process that ignores regulatory law — oil and gas companies have been given waivers from liability and regulation from nine federal laws that protect the environment and public knowledge, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. In cases where property owners fail to own mineral rights, a situation called 'split estate' occurs. That means anyone owning mineral rights has a right to develop those rights virtually without recourse to the land owners. In the GWNF, about 160,000 acres have existing private mineral rights."

Goodlatte in the national forest a few years ago.*
The T-D in its editorial (here)  says only 40,000 acres (five percent of the forest) "are currently and likely will continue to be available for oil and gas exploration and fracking." Already, 12,000 acres are being leased for oil and gas exploration (mostly by one Texas company).

The paper says that two years ago, when the Draft Forest Plan was initially introduced, "Handfuls of industry representatives and elected officials — led by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, whose district covers much of the GWNF — were outraged."

Goodlatte has had a zero environmental rating since the day he was elected to Congress initially more than 20 years ago. He has always been a friend of business in any conflict with the environment and when he was head of the House Agriculture Committee several years ago, he championed the Healthy Forest Initiative. That was one of those Orwellian Republican zig-zags that, in essence, said that in order to save the forest, we had to cut it down (with the logging rights going to big business).

Goodlatte has been routinely returned to Congress year after year by an ignorant or uncaring or uninformed electorate and this time, that electorate could see its decision making a West Virginia coal mining community out of one of Virginia's wondrous national forests. Remember one thing: The national parks are yours. They do not belong to business.

(*I took this picture of Goodlatte at the Devil's Marbleyard in Rockbridge County a few years ago when he invited me to join him on a hike so he could explain his "Healthy Forest Initiative." I didn't buy it then; I don't buy it now.)

A Little Help from Sam Rasoul

Sam Rasoul, my delegate and I'm happy about that.
I went by Delegate Sam Rasoul's (D-11th District) office this morning to tell him my tale of woe about the DMV dustup (see previous post; it's two back) and was delighted at his attention and understanding of the issue.

Sam is a guy whose bandwagon I climbed on early, during a campaign a couple of years ago that he lost. He finally won last time around and has proved to be one of the best reps we've had at the state level in a good-long time. He is consistently responsive and has an understanding of how things work that go far beyond his years and even his station as a politician (they don't generally seem to understand much of anything).

I was pleased that he was looking into it, though I don't expect much of a result. It would be easy to blame the DMV for the mess that was made of my driver's license suspension (because somebody whose bank loan I co-signed was late on a liability insurance payment). But I won't do that. The DMV's people are simply enforcing laws passed by the General Assembly, where the fault lies. And that's where the fix should start.

A Busy Morning at the Mall

Santa's in full swing a week before Thanksgiving. Not many customers, though.
This guy was having his teeth cleaned, I think.
For the first time this season, I wasn't able to take my daily walk outside, so I went over to Valley View Mall to do my 90 minutes. It wasn't a busy day in the conventional sense, but for those looking a little closer, a good bit was going on.

Santa, of course, was there waiting patiently for somebody, anybody to pay attention to him and just a short distance away a young clerk working a hair-care booth was working on her own hair. I guess you could call that marketing.

A bit further on, a guy inside a walled-off booth was--I think--cleaning a man's teeth. You could see it from above, but not from the ground floor. Thank heaven for small favors.

I liked the table full of codgers who were reminiscing over an old sports scrapbook. A young African-American man stopped by and seemed truly interested in the show-and-tell. Here's some of what went on in photos.
Old Boys Club looking at the scrapbook.
Is this really a marketing effort by the young clerk?
This is the animal orchestra the kids seem to like.
Me in front of the band. I like bear cello players.

Dan Casey's Article is Spot-On

Dan Casey, the best metro columnist The Roanoke Times has had since I've lived in the Valley (moved here in 1971), wrote a solid piece this a.m. (here) about my difficulties with the DMV's draconian approach to breaking its rules.

It appears the problem has been solved to the degree it can be--at an extreme cost that will stretch to over $1,000 very soon ($2,000 if you consider lost income)--but I'm meeting with Del. Sam Rasoul of the Virginia House of Delegates this afternoon to see if anything can be done legislatively to modify the strange and unfair laws/rules regulating the responsibility for automobiles' insurance in this often-repressive state.

I was partially at fault in this, but my fault was based on an almost complete lack of information from the DMV, the various insurance companies and anybody else I dealt with during the process. I'm not sure most of the workers in those agencies understand the rules and regulations here. The employees are good people who are only following their directives and can't give me information they don't have. Most of them were surprised at my dilemma. But they couldn't help because they didn't have the info and didn't know where to get it.

I'm hoping we can get this law clarified. It is vague and truly unfair. Meanwhile, let me offer one piece of advice that comes at great expense: Don't co-sign a loan for anybody (not even your spouse or your child) until you know all of the ramifications. There are big holes on the road in this one.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Apples and Shadows: A Mid-Fall Hike

The apples await at Ikenberry Orchard in Botetourt County.
My overflowing peck of staymans.
Today was an open invitation to a crisp, refreshing walk in Botetourt County and a stop at Ikenberry Orchard on the way home to harvest some stayman apples, which are at their peak.

Staymans are my favorite because they are so very tart. They're a great cooking apple and I make my best butternut squash soup with them in late October and early November. The stuff is so good it will make you cry.

The walk up the side of a mountain was exhilirating and the the clear, blue sky lovely. Now for some serious football.
Lingering color and a blue, blue sky.
These allergy-inducing weeds have their own charm.
Self-portrait with shadows.
Mid-fall shadows show a low sun.

Showtimers' 'Charm' Thoroughly Entertaining

Kathleen Cahill's "Charm" is, if not a must-see, then certainly a should-see at Showtimers Studio in Roanoke. It runs through Nov. 23 and you can get tickets for $13.50 at 540-774-2660.

This play, about little-known feminist writer, editor and free-thinker Margaret Fuller, is an often-whimsical, sometimes heartbreakingly honest look at an educated woman's struggles at a time when women--even the best and brightest--were assigned only minor roles in our society.

Fuller was a Harvard-educated, tall, homely woman who surrounded herself with some of the giants in literature of the mid-19th Century. She seemed to mesmerize and captivate them. Her playmates (and they weren't sexual) were Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorn. She was a woman of great intellect, but--according to this account--unfulfilled in an almost constant sexual longing. She was blunt and honest, strong and persistent. And a bit sad.

The world turned for her later in life when she was assigned by a newspaper to be the first woman foreign war correspondent in Italy. Fulfillment came to her in many ways, including sexually.

This telling, directed impressively by Amanda Cash, comes in a series of brief vignettes that are often fall-down funny and the role of Fuller is marvelously played by Linsee Lewis, a Showtimers veteran. Lewis dominates--as she should--but is given solid support by other frequently-seen Roanoke Valley actors like Stevie Holcomb (always a highlight), Blair Peyton, Chris Shepard and several others.

This is a community theater production in the best sense. Cash serves not only as the director, but also the set designer and one of those constructing the sets. Half the actors in the production play more than one role. See it. There seem to be plenty of tickets remaining and this is thoroughly entertaining.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Woman I Loved

This photo of my favorite ex-wife Kathryn (actually, she's tied for first with Christina) was taken in about 1980 during a hike at Twin Falls in Floyd County, where we wound up skinny-dipping under the falls. This is the Kathryn I fell in love with and adore to this day. I think you can see why.

One Last Look Before It's Gone

Before you can blink, fall will be gone. Here,  without comment, is some of what it looked like through the lenses of my Canon and Nikon in Roanoke's Wasena Park. Hope yours was as pretty as mine.

A Couple of Photo Beauties Following the Old Man

My best girls: Jennie and Madeline.
Today, I am thankful for:

Being able to pass along the photographic gene (or at least the interest) to my daughter, Jenniffer, and my grandgirl, Madeline.

I gave both their cameras and they are excelling. Both have excellent eyes (which you can't teach) and neither hesitates to stick the camera in your face to get a good shot. The great photographer Frank Capa once said, "If your photo's no good, you're not close enough."

Jennie and Madeline don't seem to have that problem. They both understand angle, back-light, framing and the importance of being close. I think that understanding is more intuitive than anything else.

I love seeing Madeline buzzing around with her little point and shoot, firing off frame after frame, never asking anybody to pose. Jennie, who just got a nice Nikon from Dad for her birthday, seems to specialize in the odd angle or the unusual perspective to get photos that are telling.

I like that they've followed that lead and I know they will both have great joy from their photos in the future.

Shadows and Ghosts and Nice Photo Accidents

Sometimes interesting photos show up, breaking every rule of photography. Like this one.

That's my friend Pat Wilhelms of Roanoke Children's Theatre in front and the fiddle player is a young Miss Virginia contestant, practicing in the background. I was taking a picture of Pat for a story (January, I think) in the Roanoker Magazine.

This has a surreal, spooky feel that I like a lot. Think I'll frame it and bring it out on Halloween.

A GOP Win? Not on Your Life

This map should scare the hell out of every Republican in America.
This remarkable assessment of the recent state and national elections by hardcore Republican Chris Ladd (in the Houston Chronicle) should give heart to everybody in the country who didn't vote for the GOP. It is counter to much of the 100-year-Reich chatter we've been hearing since the election and is quite blunt in telling Republicans to enjoy the ride right now because it's going to be a short one ... the numbers say so.

Ladd's breakdown of the results--accomplished with historically low turnout, voter suppression that should be (and may eventually be ruled) illegal and a radical right-wing base that always votes--show temporary gains in traditional states, but losses in key centers that are telling for the future.

Ladd fears that Republicans, caught in the celebration of the moment, have no clue that the grizzly bear is around the corner and it's hungry. He says the GOP has no shot at the presidency in 2016 and that it will lose the Senate and probably the House, as well. His home state of Texas ("Baptistan," he calls it) holds a tenth of the House seats and he says that there are no white Democrats left in Congress from the old Confederacy. That's the GOP base.

He says Texas is on the edge of a monumental financial collapse if oil prices continue to fall because its economy is "roughly as diverse and modern as Nigeria, Iran or Venezuela." All oil all the time. That's why the climate change denying. It's about Texas' economy. And it could eventually mean that Texas' obsession with social issues would jump in the back seat while economic collapse replaced those issues.

If you read one political piece this week--whatever your political affiliation--this is a good one to pull out because it speaks truths that are so obvious and so hotly denied that they can't be ignored.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Ordeal Is Over (for Now); The Lesson Learned

Me at the DMV today
OK, so now I have it back. It was frustrating, irrational, stressful, anxiety-laden, humiliating and damn draconian, but the driver's license is back in my wallet where it should never have left.

Two weeks ago today, a Roanoke cop pulled me over for a minor violation (I was guilty, but he only warned me--bless him) and discovered my driver's license had been suspended since April. That's nearly eight months and I didn't know it. Never got the letter the DMV says it sent (it was not registered; it should have been).

Seems I was the victim of the cancellation of a liability insurance policy on a car for which I was co-signer on the loan. It is not my car. I've never even been in it. I co-signed for a young woman who was in financial trouble, not knowing the ramifications of that signature and thinking it only guaranteed the loan. But nooooooo.

Seems I'm responsible for a lot of other stuff, mostly hidden from view ... like liability insurance and personal property taxes. I even had to buy a form from my own insurance company swearing to the DMV that my truck was insured. I still don't know the connection of that.

Today, I am more than $1,300 poorer with all the fees and a whole lot smarter. And I have my license back. You have no idea how old I felt without the license, having to depend on others to do the simplest things, having to turn down a lucrative writing contract, having to consider driving without the license.

I learned a lot beginning with this pearl: Don't ever co-sign a loan. Don't do it. If you feel like you absolutely have to, ask what the total responsibility entails and get it in writing. I didn't. I should have.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Local Daily To Charge for Thanksgiving Ads

This is what you'd be paying for.
OK, so here's one of the more novel ideas I've ever come across for stiffing people who buy your product:

The Roanoke Times has sent a letter to subscribers telling them they will be charged $3 extra for the Thanksgiving issue. That issue is traditionally the largest of the year because it is full of advertising inserts, getting ready for Black Friday, which often occurs on Thursday these days. Thursday is Thanksgiving.

In any case, The Times wants subscribers to pay to get advertising. It has always been my understanding that advertising paid the freight and that subscriptions and newsstand sales were small supplements to that major profit center. I have never heard of anybody requiring customers to pay for extra ads.

The letter says, in part, the edition "is one the most expensive newspapers to produce and the most difficult to distribute. From reserving additional space to store the papers, to hiring additional staff to assemble the packages, our planning process begins months before The Big Day. Moreover, many of our delivery contractors utilize additional help to complete deliveries so that you may enjoy your paper Thanksgiving Day."

This is yet another indictment of the printed version of the publication. If it were online only, the ads would weigh nothing and there would be no additional cost for printing, mailing, throwing them all into the landfill and the like. They would be digital images.

It is truly fascinating following the gyrations of this business trying--against all traditional business practices that work--to generate profits, whether or not short-term and whether or not sustainable. I hope our area business schools are following this closely.

(I just got this e-mail from a Times subscriber: 

("I used a simple solution.  I ordered a vacation stop to my subscription for Thanksgiving Day and ordered a credit to my subscription balance. I don’t need, and wouldn’t read, the advertising garbage.  I wonder what the advertisers will think when many subscribers do what I did?  Did the advertisers know in advance that the Roanoke Times was going to piss off their intended audience?  Is that smart advertising practice?
(One thing we can almost be certain of, the Thanksgiving Roanoke Times will NOT “be loaded with news.”  The Roanoke Times has not been “loaded with news” for quite some time.)

Gratitude: The Peacemakers

Vietnam Veterans (one in a wheelchair) protest the war.
On this Veterans Day, I am grateful for:

Every person who has ever protested any war, who has attempted to bring our military personnel home in one piece, who has fought against our tendency to go to war when problems could be solved by simple diplomacy.

An old friend of mine was a member of Army Intelligence in Vietnam, stationed with Montagnard Tribesmen in Cambodia for some time. He became a character out of Heart of Darkness, an almost wild thing. Upon returning to the U.S. (he was a captain), he was released from service and from that point, he began looking at Vietnam with a different eye. He determined it was wrong for us to be there. He began to object publicly and during one especially large protest in Washington, he and the veteran in the wheelchair he was pushing, were beaten senseless. He later said to me, "This is the real war; these are the real heroes."

Those opposed to war have often risked their freedom and their lives in order to protect our fighting people from harm and they have often been jailed and been termed "traitors" because of their efforts. I believe them to be courageous and dedicated, "heroes" in the vernacular and I celebrate their efforts. War is not the answer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Krugman Calls Courts Corrupt; Has Good Point

The states challenging the constitutionality of the ACA are almost all benefiting from the law.
A lawsuit making its way to the Supreme Court and approved along the way by Republican judges acting without the support of any judges appointed by Democrats could, in effect, kill the ACA and in a real sense kill Americans. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. It is a simple fact that the "Pro-Life" party is willing to risk death for a large number of our citizens simply because they don't like a law, but don't have the votes to overturn it.

This is a typical modern-day Republican Party response: If you don't like it, find a way to kill it. If you don't have the votes, rig the system until you can get them. Cheat, cheat, cheat. Lie. Steal. Do anything to get your way. Don't even dream of compromise because you can get your way by throwing a tantrum and then cheating.

NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman writes about the "corrupt" judges who are making the decisions on the ACA and you can read the entire column here.

Krugman says, "The fact that the suit is ridiculous is no guarantee that it won’t succeed — not in an environment in which all too many Republican judges have made it clear that partisan loyalty trumps respect for the rule of law."
He points out that, "In places like New Jersey, where G.O.P. politicians refused to take a role, premiums would soar, healthy individuals would drop out, and health reform would go into a death spiral. (And since many people would lose crucial, lifesaving coverage, the deaths wouldn’t be just a metaphor.)"

This is a drastic accusation, but sadly it is spot on true. Pro-life my ass.

'Interstellar' Poses Good Questions; Answers Few

"Interstellar," the Christopher Nolan epic with the all-star cast, has left me in a quandary. About halfway through the long (168 minutes) science fiction story, I was ready to declare it the best movie of the year. By the end, I was hoping to remember some of the good stuff long enough to tell you about it.

The movie raises interesting--fascinating, even--questions about mortality, dimension, physical understanding, scientific boundaries and all the exestential questions you can muster, but something important is missing. Maybe it's a soul.

"Interstellar" is--above all--interesting in that it asks good questions. It tries, in a clunky way, to answer some of them and maybe that is the mistake. I don't know that we can answer the questions it poses. We simply don't have the technology or the understanding to even pose some of them intelligently.

Still, we are dealing with a technically well-made movie that obviously has a huge budget and all kinds of Oscar ambitions. Big-name actors (Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon, Michael Caine) are tossed in almost effortlessly, but the performances are rarely above average. The look is good, the score impressive, some of the special effects special, the sound not so much. I often missed a good bit of dialogue because it was so thoroughly underplayed.

"Interstellar" has good intentions that I don't believe were achieved. It talks too much, pauses too long, drags out scenes and makes few real points. But it is entertaining at one level and probably worth the admission price.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Overt Voter Supression Was Key to GOP Victory

Very few news organizations are talking about the stark reality of voter disenfranchisement as a primary reason Democrats were defeated in a number of states last week.

A respected publication, The Nation, wrote the following: "Nationally, voter turnout in 2014 has been estimated at 36.6 percent, the lowest level since 1940. In North Carolina and across the country, the electorate was older, whiter and more conservative than in 2008 and 2010, which is exactly what Republicans wanted. The new voting restrictions contracted an already-minuscule electorate. Nearly twice as many Americans chose not to vote as voted in 2014."

There were 600,000 registered voters who don’t have the required voter ID in Texas but it issued just 407 new voter IDs as of election day. The Texas Observer wrote. "There are more licensed auctioneers (2,454) in Texas than there are people with election identification certificates."

Republicans are rigging the system at every turn because they are in a distinct minority, but that minority is committed to voting. Democrats depend on racial and ethnic minorities (not right-wing white minorities), older voters and college students. All those groups were specifically targeted with the Republican-state and GOP sponsored laws for suppressing votes. These laws are similar to the Jim Crow statutes that Southern States once used to keep black people from voting. Those laws were unconstitutional and the Supreme Court said so. Slowly ... ever so slowly ... the new ID laws are being struck down, but not quickly enough to overturn the recent election, which gives Republicans still more power to affect the voting rights of Americans.

These laws, combined with gerrymandering, which is also illegal, have given the Republicans huge advantages in places like Virginia, where the House of Delegates is 2/3 Republican, even though Democratic votes are more than 50 percent across the state in total House elections.

Writes The Nation: "Since Republican legislatures across the country implemented new voting restrictions after 2010 and the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, it’s become easier to buy an election and harder to vote in one."

We are having our right to vote systematically taken from us by an evil and manipulative power force that we don't seem to be able to control.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Color's Still There; Go Find It

The maples still highlight the Appalachian forest.
The backlit maples are like house lights.
Today was my first opportunity for a real hike since I got back from Europe more than a week and a half ago and it was a good day to go. The leaves are faded, but when the light hits them right, they are simply spectacular. These shots were taken near Carvins Cove, where the water levels are very low and the color isn't all that obvious until you look closely.

Here's me and my stocking cap, proving it's pretty chilly.

Gratitude: Understand the Value of Patience

Today, I am grateful for:

A growing sense of patience, not always one of my more notable attributes. This has been a trying week, almost a record-setting week of bad news, frustration, brick walls, long waits with no result at the end of those waits. It has been exasperating, maddening.

Today, the mess is still a mess, but I am calm and philosophical. I have asked for guidance about this and enough good sense to follow the response. Maybe a result is coming to fruition. The problem will be solved when it is supposed to be solved. I must work around it for now.

The solution is simple, I think. Just be patient and do what I can do.

Can Football Survive Head Injury Revelations?

Hits like this have an immediate and a cumulative effect.
Michael Sokolove's piece in today's NYTimes (here) on the lawsuit that could send the NFL to the same margins of society that boxing now occupies is a gut-wrenching truth for those who have spent our lives following this sport in an almost religious sense.

Football's time may have passed us all. Teddy Roosevelt considered banning the game in 1905 because of deaths associated with a formation called the "flying wedge," among other things. His threats helped lead to the reshaping of the ball, and to the forward pass. Deaths declined, but the game remains a menace to those who play, intensifying in its brutality as the players become bigger, stronger and faster. It is common for a lineman to be nearly 350 pounds and 6-foot-6 now and for that mammoth of a man to be as fast as a running back was 20 years ago. Imagine being hit my a small train.

Sokolove asked this rhetorical question: "...what happens if [school districts] don’t follow the [new safety] protocols or don’t have certified athletic trainers on staff or coaches smart enough to deal with possible concussions while they are also deciding on the right third-down play? What’s more, insurers may in time deem the sport too risky. Health insurers might treat it as a costly risk factor like smoking or a bad driving record. As football becomes more and more regulated, many districts may reasonably conclude that it’s more than they can handle." That means they would disband their teams.

He says the NFL "has instituted rules changes to make its own games less violent and is funding and promulgating supposedly less dangerous ways to play at the youth level. But there is no assurance that any of it will make football any more healthful than low-tar cigarettes made smoking."

The fact is that football is too dangerous for the human body. Even the bodies of these almost superhuman men are beaten beyond recognition and their brains are damaged at a rate even boxing has not eclipsed.

Is football dead? No. Not yet, but Sokolove's comparison with the fate of tobacco in our country (40 percent of adults smoked just a few years ago; 18 percent and falling now) seems appropriate. It's just a matter of time.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Newspaper Reporters: No Raises Now or in the Future

Low pay is frozen in time.
Would you go to work for a company whose stated policy was: "We don't believe in giving raises to employes"?

Probably not, right? What if a company bought the company you work for and instituted that policy? Would you look for another job post-haste?

Seems that in a company-wide meeting recently, representatives from B&H Media Group, the Warren Buffett-owned company that recently bought The Roanoke Times and owns a number of Virginia's biggest papers, that very sentence was spoken out loud by an official. The explanation is that the company gives bonuses to employees (something called SPIFF) based on quarterly performance and that can be--but almost never is--up to five percent of their paycheck for the quarter. But no raises, except for promotions.

Young workers are really getting clobbered by the no raise policy because that means they could conceivably spend a long, long time at entry level pay. Promotions generally mean an increase in pay, I am told, but can you imagine the increase in a company that has an official policy of not giving raises?

Richest Lifestyle recently named "newspaper reporter" as the No. 2 worst job in the country (behind lumberjack and even trailing by a couple of spots "TV reporter") because median pay nationally is $37,000 and it is estimated that the decline in jobs by 2022 will be 13 percent. Print journalism has become a young person's profession because older people can't afford to raise their families on the pay. TV reporting has always been for the young.

Morale "is the lowest I've ever seen it anywhere" I'm told, and that is in a business where discontent has traditionally been chronic. Apparently, "about six or seven" people have left the newsroom of The Times recently for other jobs "and a lot more have their resumes out." Not only has the paper instituted the no raise policy, its pay freeze has been in place for seven years and employees are paying more for insurance than ever before. Even the cost of a subscription--always free--is now split between the paper and the employees.

What is alarming here is not so much what is happening at this one company, but that it is beginning to look like the industry standard, one put into place in order to maintain profitability. Cuts will lead to temporary profits, but that is not much of a business model over the long haul. I'm not sure how much more The Times can cut or withhold or how much more like cattle it can treat some very intelligent and good people.

The one change I would suggest, however, is that executives at The Times re-evaluate their expensive redecorating of the building until some arrangement can be made to improve staff morale. Being pretty doesn't help if you're being treated for deep depression.

This is my industry and I am embarrassed. Truly embarrassed.


Is U.S. Still the Best? Hint: No

Jeff Daniels in "Newsroom": We're not No. 1.
A seminal moment in the TV series "Newsroom" had Jeff Daniels' character responding to a student's question, essentially, "Why is the United States the greatest country." The clip is here.

Daniels' response is a classic of television, beginning with "The U.S. is not he greatest country in the world." He threw out a bunch of statistics to back up his claim and I've looked for a few more. Here is evidence he is right.

No. 1 by category:
  • Health care: France (U.S. 38, No. 1 in cost). 
  • Lowest infant mortality: Monaco (U.S. is 169).
  • Per capita income: Qatar (U.S. is 10th). 
  • Medium household income: Luxembourg (U.S. is fourth). 
  • Employment rate: Iceland (U.S. is 16th). 
  • Happiness: Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden (U.S. is 17th). 
  • Education: Finland (four of top five are Asian; U.S. is 25th). 
  • Home ownership: Romania (U.S. is 34th). 
  • Most billionaires: U.S. with 492 (China is second with 152). 
  • Poverty: Haiti (77 percent; U.S. is 15 percent).
We like to think we are No. 1, but we are No. 1 in areas where it's embarrassing to admit (like number of rich people). My guess is we'd rank pretty high in the amount of money spent to buy Congress, but I couldn't find those statistics. As Daniels' character so succinctly pointed out: we used to be No. 1 in a lot of areas that counted. We aren't any longer.