Friday, October 30, 2009

'Something Amazing Is Happening' in Salem

Seems there’s a buzz that’s increasing in intensity today over in Salem because some voters are smelling an upset. Carter Turner, who is challenging long-time incumbent Morgan Griffith for his seat in the General Assembly has apparently struck a nerve among voters and they're starting to support him with their words and their dollars.

This came around noon from one of my buds: "Something really amazing is happening at the Turner for Delegate campaign! The money has been pouring in over the last 72 hours. Seriously, people really think he can win. [Turner was] just able to double [his] TV and radio [time] between now and election day. He'll be on Ch. 10, Ch. 7, Comcast, WFIR, Q99 and a few other radio stations. Anything [that can be done] to encourage people to get out and vote would be wonderful. Working on this momentum ... closing the gap ...”

If you want to take part in this surge, go here. You can give money and support at Carter Turner's Web site.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DRI President Confident in Face of Construction

Roanoke's new Market Square Parking Garage will be finished soon, just in time for construction to start elsewhere^

Got a chance to chat a bit this a.m. with the new president/CEO of Downtown Roanoke Inc., who's stepping into a real challenge with City Market effectively scheduled for massive construction over the next three years.

Sean Luther, a 27-year-old who looks younger, says the construction will be a challenge "but that's pretty much why I was hired. It's something we've been dealing with in Pittsburgh for several months and I'm in the process of developing a plan."

My guess is that he'll come up with something, but will it be something that will work in Roanoke--which distinctly is not Pittsburgh, a city with a considerably larger downtown area. The development in Roanoke, which will encompass both sides of Campbell Ave. at once and will have several satellite projects (including the one based at the Patrick Henry Hotel, where Sean and I met this morning), is occupying a relatively large percentage of the geographic area of the center of the city. It will also involve the rehabilitation of two of its most significant points of interest: Center in the Square and City Market Building.

There has been a great deal of talk about displacing the farmers on the market and the vendors in the Market Building. As significant as that disrpution is, it could be even more severe for the businesses in stand-alone locations: the restaurants, boutiques, offices and the like whose daily routines will be severely disrupted with everything from noise and dust to vanishing parking spaces in a place that is often a parking challenge.

Ed Walker's Patrick Henry Hotel project, which will result in about 100 new rental units ranging in price from $500-$1,000, should be up and running in about a year and a half--half the estimated time required to repair the two main buildings. What will that do to the leasing potential for the apartments?

Laura Bradford, who owns Claire V and just started work to open a boutique portion of her shop in the former Good Things on the Market candy shop, expressed a good bit of fear about what she's facing, being right in the path of the construction. "I didn't really know about it until I saw the article in the paper this morning," she says. "It's really scary. We're putting a lot of money into this place."

Told that there was an assurance no new major construction would start until after the Christmas season, she said, "At least there's that."

Luther seemed confident, though. We'll see how it shakes out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ed Walker To Rehab Patrick Henry Hotel

The 1925-era Patrick Henry Hotel in Roanoke^

Developer Ed Walker has purchased the Patrick Henry Hotel in downtown Roanoke and plans to spend $14 million in renovations, creating apartments, office space and a restaurant in the 1925-era building. He'll be using the same construction team he has employed for three other major Roanoke projects, but has yet to select an architect. For full details, go here.

I'm pumped about this because I used to eat at the old Four Parrots restaurant about twice a week and our best annual company dinners at the Blue Ridge Business Journal were in the marvelous lobby of the old building. We had a jazz trio and more food than a small country consumes in a week at these things, feeling like big shots and thoroughly enjoying the elegant life.

Ed is simply a miracle in responsible development and we're damn lucky as a community to have him and his family caring about us and our infrastructure.

Kunstler To Speak at Hollins Nov. 11

My friend Kurt Navratil, who is smart, educated, sophisticated and urbane (and a Wake Forest basketball fan), says James Howard Kunstler is "one of my heroes.” That’s enough of an endorsement for me to suggest we all meet Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Niederer Auditorium (Wetherill Visual Arts Center) on the campus of Hollins University to hear him speak. It’s free.

Kunstler is an urban planning expert, social critic and writer, whose book The Geography of Nowhere is something of a Bible for urban planners. He says Geography emerged "Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work."

He followed that significant work with Home From Nowhere, continuing the discussion of remedies and more recently wrote The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition and finally The Long Emergencyabout the pending oil crisis, climate change and "converging catastrophes of the 21st Century."

For more information call 540-362-6359.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Old White Men and the Rules of the Game

Hatless Cody leaves field following block (AP Photo)>

I don't generally care to comment on college football officiating because, first, it's futile; second, it sounds like sour grapes; and third, it just deepens my frustration with it. But Saturday, when Tennessee came back against top-ranked Alabama--a team prohibitively favored to win--and finished within a blocked field on he last play of the game of winning, I couldn't shut up.

The Southeastern Conference, where these teams play, has had a season of bad calls on important plays in crucial national games. Each time, the higher-ranked team was the beneficiary either of a call not made or one made dramatically incorrectly. This is important to know because the conference is generally considered the country's strongest and having undefeated or nearly-undefeated teams at the top is important to that image.

Last week, an officiating crew was suspended until mid-November because of a bad call. Calls have helped Florida (No. 1 in the BCS ratings), Alabama (No. 1, in the AP Poll) and LSU (No. 4)--the league's highest rated teams--win close games. Yesterday, Florida used a bad call (one that was clearly bad, but not changed upon review) to beat Mississippi State. Arkansas was victimized late against Florida. Georgia was beaten by LSU a couple of weeks ago when it scored late, was called for a foul for excessive celebration--which all agree wasn't there--and the penalty led to LSU's winning points.

Alabama legitimately blocked the Tennessee field goal on what turned out to be the game's last play Saturday. That's not the problem. The lineman who blocked the kick--a 352-pound kid called "Mount" Cody--was so excited with the block (his second of the quarter) that he ran off the field before the play was over, stripping his helmet and throwing it in the process. That's a violation of the sportsmanship standard and should have resulted in a personal foul penalty. There was simply no question that was the case, but it wasn't called. (In defense of the officials, I don't think I would have called it in Tuscaloosa, either, but that's another seminar.)

The rule, like the excessive celebration rule, is stupid and racist. It was implemented by white officials some years ago when Black kids began celebrating in ways those officials thought unacceptable. It was a cultural expression by the players, one the old white men didn't understand and couldn't accept. I despise the rule mostly, though, because it strips the game of joy. These old men are asking 18-year-old kids to restrain their celebrations at the biggest moment of their young lives and if they don't, they get a severe penalty that all-too-often costs their teams dearly.

All that said, if the rule is being enforced, it should have been enforced against Cody and Tennessee should have kicked again from much closer to the goal line. Maybe Cody would have blocked it again--and given the recent history, the potential was good--but that's not the refs' call. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of the unimaginative mind, but in officiating, it is necessary and desirable.

So today, the Southeastern Conference doesn't come out with a statement of its officials' mistake; it issues a sanction against the Tennessee coach for bringing the incident to its attention. These white guys are unreal--or, as an old girlfriend once said, "White men are from outerspace. Swear to God! It's the only explanation."
Firehouse No. 3 this morning^

Firehouse No. 3 in 1909 (note the small tree at the left, which is a big tree today)^

Interactive Design Group, a small Web design firm in Roanoke, plans to open in its new quarters, the re-designed Firehouse No. 3 on Sixth Street Thursday. The firehouse, one of the prettiest in Roanoke, surrounded by old, colorful trees, dates to 1909 and was actually the second Fire Station No. 3. This one has that look of an old blacksmith shop where the village smithy would be standing under the oak, banging out a horse shoe.

Interactive Design Group (not to be confused with Blacksburg's Interactive Design & Development) was the primary contractor in designing an interactive Web site for Arlington National Cemetary. The 2005 project was announced as being worth between $10 million and $15 million at the time and, according to a Roanoke Times story, "involves moving hundreds of thousands of paper records into a modern database; documenting every plot, headstone, building, pipe and streetlight; building a system to allow easier scheduling of resources; and linking it all to outside databases such as those of the Social Security and Veterans administrations."

The grand opening is Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Interactive Design Group.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The NRA Intelligently Gets to the Heart of the Matter

This is the ad New Yorkers just love^

The National Rifle Association is an organization that has been beneath contempt for a couple of generations, but I swear it has finally hit on something that would work for our country. The television ad it is running for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (who's such an empty suit that I have to look up his name every time I mention him) would be wonderful in our nation's arsenal--if the courts would allow.

My suggestion is to play it for terrorists until they break down and spill their guts to interrogators. 'Course, this could be all over the Geneva Conventions--my guess is it would--but, hey, it's worth a try. Don't try and the terrorists win.

This screamer of an ad is perfect for McDonnell, a guy who makes George Bush look substantial. ... Uh ... Maybe not substantial, but certainly more ... something. The ad essentially assumes (probably with a certain amount of credibility) that American citizens are basically cowards, terrified of everything that moves, and that we in Virginia need Bob McDonnell and a very large gun to protect us.

The ad talks about a "they" who want to take our guns away without ever telling us who "they" might be. Couldn't be McDonnell's opponent, who has a too-high-for-me NRA rating (an A, I think).

In another NRA pro-McDonnell ad, it seems the threat to take your guns is New York Italians and Jews (Mayor Bloomberg) whom the ad says McDonnell ran off when New Yorkers came down here "threatening our Second Ammendment rights." That was the time Bloomberg asked Virginia to quit illegally selling guns to New York criminals, who used them to kill Bloomberg's people. He wasn't asking that Virginia shut down gun sales. He asked that it enforce its laws against illegal sales. McDonnell, the state's attorney general and the guy responsible for that enforcement, told him to jump in the lake. Nobody cares about dead New Yorker Jews and Italians. Just don't take our guns. We may want to form a militia.

There has been a great deal of dishonesty in this election, probably not record levels, but certainly a lot. It is refreshing to see the NRA take the direct approach laying bare its monumental fear of dang near everything that can be shot, its xenophobia, its hatred and dismissal of Jews and Italians and its firm belief that in Virginia it is in the majority with those feelings.

Don't you just love the way the NRA makes us all look so educated, wise and cosmopolitan?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Roundhouse Swing at Morgan Griffith in Debate

Carter Turner: The gloves came off last night>

Apparently, Carter Turner took off the gloves in his second debate last night with 8th District Del. Morgan Griffith at Back Creek Fire & Rescue, Griffith's home field. Carter had mentioned earlier in the day that he was tired of playing Mr. Nice Guy while Griffith got a free ride back to the Virginia General Assembly and that he had every intention of being assertive in this second—and probably last—debate with the incumbent. I was not able to attend, though I really wanted to, because I’m fighting bronchitis.

Griffith has never really been challenged by a Democrat, though he has had opponents. His fuzzy record, which is highlighted by backroom deals and power plays, is difficult to pinpoint because his influence is rarely on public display. He avoids more votes than he makes, often seeing to it that key legislation doesn’t make it out of committee.

One who was in attendence last night wrote me, "Carter absolutely threw Griffith back on his heels such that he never recovered. Carter took Griffith head on and used the facts and research related to the cigarette tax to illustrate the differences in their approach to things. Morgan's face was beat red—and I seriously thought he would blow his top.

"I had the video rolling for some of it ... but there was no news media to cover it. It killed me! Carter's closing remarks were in regards to his ’Not For Sale’ slogan—and he simply illustrated that he ’couldn't possibly know if the $57,000 [Griffith] had received from the tobacco industry influenced his opposition to such a tax,’ saying that it's up to the voters to determine.

"However, he wanted the voters to know that he/Carter is not accepting contributions from large corporations—in order to be sure his decisions and better judgment are not somehow compromised in the process. Morgan spent the entire night defending, explaining, and back peddling.”

One of the primary points Carter made during the evening is how Griffith's rigid and doctrinaire approach to taxes--no increases, ever, period--is counterproductive when things like the 30 cents tax on cigarettes is considered. Cigarettes cost the state and businesses within the state millions of dollars a year in health care and insurance costs and lost days at work.

Cigarettes are a leading cause of lung and heart disease, which kills 400,000 Americans every year. Griffith said an increase would cost jobs and would hurt the poor and that simply isn't true; never has been. The money saved by people quitting or not starting because of the cost is spent on other things. Griffith posing as a champion of the poor is beyond laughable.

Regardless of how this plays out, it is marvelous to hear that somebody finally lit into Griffith about his abysmal record—what there is of it for public consumption. He needs to face this kind of argument every time he ventures out of his office. An examined politician is a responsive politician. Carter says he will propose yet another debate since this one was head-to-head with the Lieutenant Governor debate, but my guess is that Griffith has had enough debating a candidate who plays rough.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Greenway Connector at Carilion Proceeding Nicely

Looking west from pedestrian bridge at Carilion^

View toward parking garage from Carilion pedestrian bridge^

View from road back toward Carilion pedestrian bridge^

Even as city workers rip out the low water bridge a mile to the west, breaking the continuity of the Roanoke greenway, crews are finishing the important link in front of Carilion Clinic. These photos are from this morning.

The link has been a sore point for bikers and hikers for a couple of years and now will make the five-mile run from Wasena Park to the city's water treatment a one-piece stretch without the dangerous traffic hazard in front of Carilion.

It is a nice engineering feat, routing the greenway under the pedestrian bridge along a narrow right of way beside the Roanoke River. And, frankly, it's quite attractive. Still, we won't be able to ride the finished five miles (10 mile round trip) until after the low water bridge is replaced, probably March, the city says.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Money Talk for Writers at Tuesday's Workshop

CPA Joe Schaben>

All right, writers, it's time to take your medicine. The fifth installment of the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's Writers Workshops features a CPA talking about money most of you don't have. But you will. Some day.

Joe Schaben, a partner in Boitnott & Schaben CPAs in Daleville, will offer a lot of money management advice, if not a lot of money, Tuesday 7-8 p.m. at the Arts Council offices on the second floor of Center in the Square.

Joe will talk about tax and money management responsibilities ("How much of that freelance check do I owe Uncle Sam?) and will answer questions like these:
  • How much freelance income can I earn from a single source before having listing it?
  • Am I responsible for self-employment taxes?
  • If I buy my own health insurance policy, is it deductible?
  • What travel expense and mileage reimbursements is a freelancer entitled to?
  • Do I need to pay business license taxes?
  • Is it OK if I don't make estimated tax payments?
  • What items that I use are tax exempt?
There are quite a few more and my guess is that you have a few questions of your own, which you can ask Joe in person. The session is free.

Next month we get back to the business of writing with the only Roanoke Valley appearance this year--other than last January's Roanoke Regional Writers Conference--of novelist Sharyn McCrumb. More on that later.

No More Macaca Moments

I gather from a press release by Roanoke College abut a Lt. Governor debate next Monday that our political peeps are on guard against future Macaca moments. Since George Allen went down to defeat in a Senate Race against Jim Web a couple of years, partly because of his "macaca moment," which is being taught in college political science courses these days, politicians have been unusually wary of pocket cameras, phone cameras and all sorts of recording devices.

Roanoke College's press release warned members of the press that "The only filming of the debate will be done by WSLS cameras. No recording devices, including video cameras, are allowed in the room in which the debate will be conducted. Still photography will not be allowed in the debate room by anyone other than the VBA, WSLS, Associated Press and Roanoke College." That's a lot of control and we're only talking about lieutenant governor candidates.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roanoke Eliminates Loose-Leaf Pickup

Roanoke has announced it’s no longer picking up loose leaves this year, which, by my estimate, puts us yet another step closer to mulching them ourselves and putting them where they belong: in the garden.

I have both a mulching mower and a wonderful leaf vacuum that grinds up the leaves and makes instant mulch of them. They’ve helped me turn the back yard into a verdant forest floor. By mulching, there’s the added benefit of keeping all those plastic bags out of the landfill. They keep the leaves from biodegrading, leaving them as a semi-permanent lump in the landfill. According to a city press release:

Residents should put their bagged leaves out on the same days as their paper recycling is normally picked up. Regular plastic lawn bags are acceptable for bagging leaves, but citizens are encouraged use 30-gallon paper bags as an environmentally friendly alternative. Both types of bags are available at local hardware stores and home centers.

Households may put up to 25 plastic bags at the curb each of the three scheduled collection weeks, or an unlimited number of paper bags. There will be no bagged leaf collection in the alleys. It is a violation of City law to rake loose leaves into the city's right-of-way.

A Young Veteran for the Journal

My good friend Annie Johnson, who worked for us at the Blue Ridge Business Journal while she was still a student at Randolph Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg a few years ago, is the new reporter for the Journal, which is undergoing almost complete reorganization.

Annie brings a good bit of street cred to the Journal. She has been with Congressional Quarterly for more than a year, having left a job as a reporter at The Roanoke Times for the D.C. gig. Even as a student, Annie brought incredible energy and creativity to her work with us at the Journal. She became one of our most reliable reporters before she was old enough to buy liquor.

She moves into a publication that has suffered massive losses of advertising in the last year and whose editorial signature vanished.

She will be a worthy opponent.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mill Mounain Theatre Sets Children's Play

Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory will perform “Annie Jr.,” the all-youth production based on the Broadway musical, Dec. 10-20 at Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Stage.

It will be the first production at MMT since it closed last winter. The theater is not expected to re-open permanently before 2012.

Based on the popular comic strip, “Annie Jr.” tells of a spunky Depression-era orphan determined to find her parents, who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan.

“Annie, Jr.” is a production of the Conservatory and designed to be an educational experience for all the children involved.

The cast of 20 plus actors are local and regional school-aged children ranging from 6-18 years old. Ginger Poole, Mill Mountain Theatre’s Educational Director, will direct. Susan Braden is musical director.

Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory is the organization’s educational division. The Theatre’s education programs continue to thrive, offering year-round classes in theatre, dance, technical theatre and musical theatre to ages kindergarten through adult.

The Board of Directors of the Theatre organization is in the process of reinventing its business model and will unveil plans to the public soon.

For more information and curtain times call or e-mail Ginger Poole, 540-342-5749,

More BS from the USPS

My buddy Kurt sent me a note this a.m. about a new U.S. Postal Service directive telling us we have to present any package of more than 13 ounces, containing only stamps (no metering) to a live postal clerk, rather than putting it into a mail bin. Seems terrorists are winning again.

That's another layer of inconvenience on top of the USPS' almost laughable lack of staffing at its counters. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into the post office needing something as simple as a single stamp (the machines are gone) and seeing a line of 12 people waiting for the single clerk to get to them. The clerk leisurely goes about his business, as if he has but one customer to deal with. The standard is for the customer to look in the door, get an exasperated expression and leave.

I don't know what the solution to the massive inefficiency is, but one more requirement of my time isn't in the equation I'd select. As customers, we're already doing the half the job the USPS used to do and our rates continue to climb. The little episode last week of charging more than $3 for a tenth of an ounce package difference infuriated me (see previous post). There is little recourse, however, other than to ask the people who run the post office to get their collective heads out of their collective butts and work FOR us, not against us.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Men vs. Women: Defining Tastes

Abbie Cornish is Fanny Browne, a woman's woman in 'Bright Star"^

I'm gonna get some crap about being a sexist for this, but here goes:

There are some movies that define the genders. "Bright Star," the story of John Keats and Fannie Brawne's infatuation, is just about as good an example as I can find. Women hope the movie will never end. Men become certain it won't.

This is one of those "romantic poet gonna die from consumption" movies where we're given all this dreamy romance--the rationale for which is barely explained--for two hours and the wasted-away hero coughs up blood and croaks. Keats is hardly an admirable figure, a man kept by his friend whose belief is that Keats' poetic talent needs to be developed by lying on the floor "musing." Ben Whishaw's Keats is appropriately scrawny and delicate. Not my kind of hero.

His great love--with whom he shares about six kisses--is a tough, opinionated seamstress who drools on him when she's not fawning over him or breaking down completely because he hasn't written her a letter. When Fanny Brawne learns of Keats' death, she, of course crumbles like old bread, but this scene is actually touching in its power (as delivered by Abbie Cornish). Didn't save the movie for me, though, except that I saw the end coming and started breathing again.

Difficult as it might be, guys, take your honey to see this one. We almost never get more than a point for any consideration (including a new Mercedes), but this one'll ring up a good five for you.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Elections and Postal Rates

Is Gwen Mason going to be toasted?^

I ran into a colleague at the Post Office a little while ago and got into a revealing chat about the upcoming elections. My colleague, who has worked as a manager on Democrats' campaigns in the past (and has one race this cycle) predicts an overwhelming Republican victory at the upper end of the state ticket and in just about every race in this region.

Any exceptions? I asked. Maybe one or two, he said, but nothing noteworthy. Complete sweep of the top three state offices and even Gwen Mason, the Roanoke City Councilwoman of whom much is expected, will lose by a substantial margin, my colleague predicts. He says Mason's district was gerrymandered a few elections back in a way that won't do her any good at all and with a distinctly conservative turnback in Virginia since Obama's election, she's toast. "Besides," he said, "who in Roanoke County would vote for a Roanoke City Council member?" Probably nobody, I thought.

Carter Turner's run at Morgan Griffith in Salem never had much of a chance, my colleague says, and the lack of a truly aggressive campaign seals the fate. I have had quite a bit of hope for this one because Carter's a breath of intellectual fresh air, but guys like him--people who deserve to be in positions of influence--rarely get there because the electorate's ... well ... the electorate. How else to explain George Bush and Morgan Griffith?

(By the way, my favorite candidate of them all is Carole Pratt down in the New River Valley. Carole's a dandy: a smart, good woman who belongs in the General Assembly. Vote for her if you're in her district. Oh, hell, vote twice for her.)

And while we have your attention, let's dish a bit about postal rates. I've become a bit of a seller on e-Bay (a very little bit of a seller) and I'm looking at prices to mail small parcels with increasingly widened and disbelieving eyes. Last week I sold a shirt, charged $3.99 to mail it (thinking that'd be plenty) and found out it cost $5.75 (the shirt sold for $9.99). I took a shirt almost exactly like it in a very similar envelope to mail today and it rung up at $8.40 for the same category of mail.

The clerk said the package came at 1 pound, .1 ounce and it bumped up to the next level of cost. I asked him for the package and some scissors and tape. I snipped off part of the end of the package and resealed it, bringing the price down to $4.95. That's nearly $3.50 for a tenth of a freakin' ounce on a package that's grossly overpriced even at $4.95. No wonder you can't really sell used stuff on e-Bay any more. On this item, shipping was half what I got for the shirt (a vintage Pendleton, by the way).

Democrats and Their Nobel Peace Prize

I haven't had the courage to watch the hand-wringing, whining and bitching I'd expect on cable TV and talk radio today in light of Barack Obama's Nobel Prize, but let me assure those who are surprised that they shouldn't be. There's plenty of precedent and very good rationale.

Three recently elected Democratic presidents have won Nobel Peace Prizes: Obama, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. (Bill Clinton should have one one for keeping the Repubs at bay for eight years. Almost as soon as he left office, we went to war and in the case of Iraq, optional war.) Seems to be a trend following Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (a modern Democrat with an "R" after his name) being named early in the 20th Century.

Roosevelt was never officially a Democrat, but certainly was a liberal. He was thrown out of the Republican Party in 1912, forming the progressive (much more progressive than either mainstream party at the time) Bull Moose Party. That's when the Repubs took a hard right turn from which they have yet to recover.

My impression of Obama's prize (which he doesn't yet deserve, I'll agree, but will before his term is over) is that it's a middle finger extended to the Cro-Magnon international policies of the Bush Administration. Bush was so awful--so thoroughly out of touch with any kind of reality--that you could feel international relief with Obama's first utterance about multi-lateralism.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let Me Clarify the Record Here ...

Competition in any business sometimes brings out the worst in us and I'm afraid that the lovely people who remain at the Blue Ridge Business Journal are telling those who'll listen a distinct untruth about those of who used to run it.

The word being spread (I have a written copy of what's being said) is that when Tom Field and I were at the BJ, we gave away news space in trade for advertising. That is not true. It never was true. We fought those requests daily, lost a number of advertisers over the requests during our years there and never regretted our stand that editorial was separate and independent from advertising. Some publications in this region regularly trade editorial content for advertising revenue and advertisers use those examples to demand the same treatment from those of us who do not do that.

This is slander and it is intentionally misleading in order to degrade the product we built over the years, one that was respected and held in enough regard that we won many, many awards from our industry and the community for our efforts.

I will say distinctly and without reservation that our policy of keeping advertising and news separate remains strong at Valley Business FRONT. Our direction is slightly different and our emphasis is not the same as it was, but our integrity is intact and we intend to keep it that way, regardless of what's being said by those without a clue.

Climate Rallies Taking Shape in Region

This region of Virginia will be quite active in the climate rally scheduled Saturday, Oct. 24. There are four localities--Roanoke, Floyd, Lexington and Blacksburg--that will have events around the rally, which is intended to familiarize people with the threat of global warming.

You can get full information about who/what/why/when/where here. In Roanoke, people will form "the Valley's largest-ever aerial photo" subject, spelling out at the site of the former Victory Stadium. Granola Central--Grandin Gardens in Raleigh Court--will also hold a harvest festival in conjunction with the rally.

In Blacksburg, ground zero will be Town Hall. Floyd will hold its rally on Black Ridge Road and Lexington's rally is scheduled on the front lawn of Washington & Lee University. All the sites will have photos taken to post in the Web site.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Chickens Next Door

This little beauty is waiting for visitors^

Here's the harvest, the urban harvest^

Happy chickens (including that gorgeous rooster in the middle) all around^

Dewey and Sheila have about a dozen chickens in a pen he built a couple of months ago, next door to our house in Raleigh Court. When Dewey started the project, I thought maybe he was building a utility building, like the one he and I put together a few years ago in the back yard of my house--the one Christina calls the "Taj Ma Tool."

But no, Dewey was investing about God knows how much money and time into a lovely little building and fenced area to take care of fewer than a dozen of what I take to be Orpington chickens, pretty little gals who are brown, shiny, friendly and not especially loud. Their rooster pal was pretty vigorous, but I haven't seen him for a couple of days, so I figure Dewey has taken him to the property in Craig County for a breather. That boy could cock-a-doodle-do all night long--and did.

I hadn't thought much about chickens in a while--live ones anyway--until we saw "Food Inc." a couple of months ago and got the impression that what we were eating when we were avoiding beef was these poor, miserable, genetically altered beasts that could have started out as chickens, but didn't end up that way. Their breasts were so outsized by breeding that their legs couldn't hold them.

Dewey's chickens aren't even the same species as those poor devils, I'd guess. They are genuinely happy little creatures who chirp and always seem happy to see me when I go over to vist. They cluster at the front of the pen, sticking their heads through the wire as if they want a pat on the head. I like them. My wife loves them. My grandkid can't wait to run next door when she comes by. The neighborhood kids drop by to see them, which delights Dewey and Sheila, both in their 70s.

Within the last week, the New Yorker and a marvelous little North Carolina magazine called Our State, have had long feature articles on urban chickens, pointing out that raising them has become trendy and it's been since maybe WWII that we've had chickens so close and in such numbers. Could be the move to local food, the economy, the realization that nature's getting away from us. Anyway, the trend is going the right way.

Most localities--Roanoke included--limit the number of chickens you can have at home to 10 (and most ban roosters for obvious reasons; you think a barking dog is annoying, try a rooster at 4:30 a.m.). But they seem to be catching on. And I don't mind it a bit.

Wiley Drive Bridge To Be Replaced; No Car Traffic Allowed

Debris which accumultes (left in photo) at the hydraulic openings in the Wiley Drive low-water bridge in Wasena Park after almost any rain is a significant problem that a new bridge should help alleviate^


Those of you who use Wiley Drive in Wasena Park for exercise are in for yet another adjustment to your schedule. The low-water bridge, built by contractor Wiley Jackson many years ago in order to take his construction debris to a dump in what was to become the park, will undergo a reconstruction and will be out of service until March.

The park was down for about a year recently when flood control measures were taken.

Beginning on Monday, Oct. 12, construction crews will begin replacing the Wiley Drive low-water bridge. There was no word from the City of Roanoke whether the proposed greenway bridge just west of the low water bridge would be constructed during the down time. The bridge will be for pedestrians and bikers and will connect with the former mobile home park on the other side of the river.

The cost of the project is $850,000, of which $750 will be paid for by the USDA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Fish America Foundation. Only one of the two low-water bridges will be replaced, says City Engineer Luke Pugh. The second bridge, at the center of Wiley Drive, does not limit fish passage and was not eligible for a grant. Pugh also says automobile traffic into the park will be stopped during the work. The traffic lane in the park will be closed until March.

The bridge will split access to the park in half. Wasena will be accessible from the Memorial Bridge end of the park and Smith Park will be accessible from the River's Edge end of the park. Essentially, three parks are connected by Wiley Drive.

The purpose of the low-water bridge project, according to a city news release, is to promote wildlife biodiversity along the Roanoke River through fish passage restoration. The new bridge will eliminate the concrete bottom and create a mud line for fish to progress up and downstream.

The bridge will also be constructed with larger hydraulic openings to minimize its footprint within the water. Funding is from the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Fish America Foundation. For more information, please contact Luke Pugh at 853-5208.

Business Journal Selects Schnabel Editor

Megan Schnabel>


The Roanoke Times has named one of its metro editors, Megan Schnabel, editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, replacing Elizabeth Parsons. Parsons has said her departure from the BJ was characterized to her as a "layoff," which generally implies a temporary loss of job. According to an internal memo, Dwayne Yancey will be in charge of the Journal's overall news operation.

Schnabel has held several positions with The Times and has been a metro editor in charge of public safety since 2004, according to a story in the paper this a.m. At one time she was a technology reporter at The Times. She is married to Neathawk Dubuque & Packett executive John Griessmayer.

Her first day with the Journal will be Oct. 19. Publisher Debbie Meade is quoted as saying that "the business journal, which until recently operated separately from the newspaper, will be integrated with core newspaper operations." There was no word on whether the publication would continue to be delivered to a subscriber list separately or would be a physical part of the morning paper. The Times has a circulation of 89,283, according to its most recent Statement of Circulation.

Megan is an accomplished newspaperwoman and a genuinely nice person. I welcome her to the fray.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Carter Turner and the Debate Ahead

Carter Turner prepares for Thursday's debate*^

Carter Turner gets a marvelous opportunity to show voters what they're voting for on a personal level Thursday at Bent Mountain Elementary School at a debate sponsored by the Bent Mountain Woman's League. It runs 8-9 p.m.

This will be a heavily-Republican forum favoring incumbent Morgan Griffith, but don't discount the impact of that boyish, gap-toothed smile of Turner's before the fact. Griffith will know more about the inside-baseball of the issues (and he's wrong on nearly all of them), but my money goes to Carter when it comes to charm, likability and good sense. He is not a policy wonk and will offer more philosophical differences than specific individual detail on some of these arcane issues.

I'm not sure that most debate audiences want to hear Clintonian detail on complex issues, in any case. Seems to me they want a chance to shake the candidate's hand, to make eye contact and see if they like him on a personal level. That makes it far easier to vote for the new guy and Griffith is so devoid of anything resembling an attractive personality that he finishes second in that area before Turner opens his mouth.

This election is more about Griffith's failure as a delegate (and it is complete) and Turner's positive, upbeat attitude and the idea that maybe the Salem area can actually take part in state government as something other than a "no" vote on every issue.

(*I'm not sure where I got this photo, but I think the Turner campaign furnished it. I didn't take it. If Valerie Garner took it, I'm sure she'll let me know and I'll pass it on to you.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Weekend With My Buddy Maddy

Saturday was portrait in Highland Park day^

She loves mugging in the rainbow tights and purple sneakers^

Maddy found a round piece of wood and played soccer with it^

Launching her new foam airplane ...^

... and watching it fly^

Eating lunch ribs with her dad^

Posing with the nice lady who painted her face like a butterfly at the Harvest Festival^

Wishing Granny a happy birthday^

Indulge me if you would. My granddaughter was up for the weekend and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Madeline brings a little sunshine with her wherever she lands.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

BRBJ Dismisses Editor, Office Manager; Will Become Part of Roanoke Times

Elizabeth Parsons>

UPDATED Sunday, Oct. 4:

The Blue Ridge Business Journal continues to make radical changes as it searches for a market niche. I got a call this a.m. from a Times middle manager telling me that BRBJ editor Elizabeth Parsons and office manager Susan Cousins were laid off Friday. They were told they wouldn't be needed any more, and that the Journal was being "reorganized" (again), said the source.

A second source said the publication is "recruiting one reporter and one editor--sounds like it's fulltime from within" to fill Parson's position. An internal memo from Publisher Debbie Meade said veteran editor Dwayne Yancey will direct coverage as another part of his job and apparently he will add a reporter. The publisher's memo said The Times "will envelope [the Journal] into core operations." The Journal's general manager has also been reassigned, according to the memo.

Since Tom Field and I left a summer ago (to found Valley Business FRONT), virtually the entire staff has turned over and what I'm taking away from the changes is an admission of failure that has been obvious for months. Susan was one of two people left on staff who worked with us. Only Michele George Crim remains. She is the Journal's designer who has apparently been retained as a designer in The Times' newsroom.

Elizabeth didn't finish a year as an employee. She was brought in several months after we left. The editorial had been handled by a part-time copy editor from The Times.

The man who is in charge of the Journal, Marc Vosskamp, had told Tom Field after I left that "one of our girls" (as he called them, at the Laker Magazine and Laker Weekly) could easily--in a part-time role--do what I did as editor. He is publisher of those Roanoke Times-owned publications (which are ghastly, by the way).

The BRBJ recently moved into The Times offices from its separate quarters in a building across the street.

The elephant in the room remains advertising sales, though the memo says the Journal will get an accomplished ad manager. Advertising has been down significantly the past year. We have estimated the drop to be 70 percent. Could be a little less or a little more, depending on the deals being offered. The publication itself has been stuck on a small 28 pages per issue for more than a year and most issues have not supported even that size (if a 60 percent news hole is the goal).

Elizabeth is a competent editor who was probably miscast as a business editor, but she worked hard at it and had some successes. Susan Cousins is one of the best office managers I've ever been around. She is thoroughly competent, leads well and has high standards (which tend to annoy less dedicated employees).

Stay tuned. I don't expect this is over yet.

(Here are some responses from the Facebook post. Sharyn McCrumb: "Hmm... you sound like the guy who got off the Titanic when it docked in Cork." Lori White: "yup. called that one around a lifetime ago." Marie Hodge [former Roanoker editor]: "Please tell Elizabeth how sorry I am that this hasn't worked out. She should not feel that she contributed to this situation at all. I'm sure she was never given adequate direction, and she's the kind of writer/editor who needs to be nurtured. [Don't we all?] In the end, that's the best kind of editor to have, if you know how to appreciate her/him." David Perry: "Does Dan Snyder run the RT too?" From one "who couldn’t post this for obvious reasons”: "what on earth is the matter w/ the times? ... the writers who knew something about the valley are gone and the replacements seem to know or care little about their subjects."

(And there was this from Elizabeth Parsons: "Hi Dan (& friends): I prefer "lay off," as that's how it was presented to me. With that slightly persnickety correction aside ;), I wish to extend my earnest thanks to you and to everyone else for the supportive comments I have read and received since Friday. Although I'm not in a position to address any of these comments in this quasi-public forum, please know I do appreciate the concern. On to bigger and better endeavors, right?")

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Lesson in Consistency from the ACLU

Conservatives love to hate the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its meddling in things like public expression of religion. So now we have this instance at Gate City High School:

The ACLU asked Gate City High to stop broadcasting prayers in Jesus' name before its home football games on Friday nights. Those prayers--wrong as they are, since it constitutes a state (the school) endorsement of a religion, which is strictly prohibited by the constitution--are as much a part of that culture as cornbread and beans and my guess is that a bazooka wouldn't change that. But the ACLU is trying.

Students at the high school were apparently so stirred up by the ACLU demand that they determined they'd wear protest T-shirts saying, in essence, that they'd pray wherever they want to pray (and if they do it silently, I don't have a problem with it either; do it myself, in fact). School officials directed the kids not to do that. The ACLU jumped right on top of that one, telling school officials to mind their own dang business; students have a right--guaranteed by the Constitution--to protest whatever they choose, including the ACLU.

I just love these guys.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Big News for The Big Read

Lucy Lee, who is heading up the Roanoke Valley issue of The Big Read, got some good news yesterday. I'll let her tell it:

"We got such an exciting piece of news that I want to share it with all of you. Roanoke City Schools is going to have 1,450 students participating in The Big Read Roanoke Valley! More specifically, the book will be taught at Noel C. Taylor Academy, Forest Park Academy, William Fleming (9th grade), Patrick Henry (9th grade) and the Center for the Humanities.

"Many thanks to Deb Landgraf, member of the Roanoke County Friends of the Library Board and the Planning Committee, for her tremendous efforts in working to get Valley schools on board."

The Big Read is an effort to get as many people in this area to read and discuss a single book--Ernest Gaines' 1993 Lesson Before Dying--in as many forums as possible. Read an earlier blog entry explaining what's involved here.