Friday, December 31, 2010

'The King's Speech' Another Winner in Roanoke

The year ends, but the string of outstanding movies showing up in Roanoke doesn’t. Tonight it was “The King’s Speech,” a wonderful story (at the Grandin Theatre) about a King with a speech impediment that simply wouldn’t do for the leader of the free world and the man who helped him overcome it.

This is a wondrous vehicle for two of our finest actors, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth as, respectively, the therapist and the king. Director Tom Hooper tells an engaging, sometimes irreverent and often funny story sprinkled with crackling dialogue of the relationship between this commoner with a special skill and the king who needed him. It is a true story told with marvelous period detail and cinematography that could pretty well stand alone.

Solid support is provided by Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother and Guy Pearce as King George’s brother, David, who abdicated the throne “for the woman I love,” American divorcee Wallis Simpson. David and Wallis don’t come off well in this telling.

Like several of the other good flicks showing in town these days (scroll down for their reviews), this one has “Academy Award” written all over it, especially for spot-on performances by the engaging Frith and Rush, whose chemistry in this one is strong enough to be sent to the lab.

Go see it, but be warned: the Grandin is a small theater and the crowds are big. My guess is that they’re experiencing sellouts for the 7:30 and 9:30 movies, but the 5:15 is approachable. You can also expect to wait in a long line for your popcorn. There weren’t enough counter people working tonight and the theater lost a lot of concession sales to people who refused to wait in the line.

Two New Sunday Offerings From Studio Roanoke

Just got the following press release from Studio Roanoke, an intriguing addition to its already interesting Sunday mix at the Campbell Ave. theater:

Studio Roanoke is expanding its "Sunday at the Studio" programming in 2011 to include two new recurring events - the Workshop Reading Series and Guerrilla Cinema.

Literary Lounge and Acoustic Lounge, which round out "Sunday at the Studio" programming, continue on the first and third Sunday of each month, respectively.

Under the guidance of Associate Artistic Director Don LaPlant, the Workshop Series will succeed the previous Lunchbox program as a showcase for new and developing plays in a simple, seated-reading format.

The series will begin on January 23 with an 8 p.m. reading of Ed Falco's “Possum Dreams” and will alternate fourth Sundays with Guerrilla Cinema. "The move to Sunday-night reading slots opens up some interesting programming possibilities," says Artistic Director Kenley Smith. "We can now consider full-length plays, and we can give our audiences a first look at shows scheduled for upcoming seasons."

Possum Dreams,” for example, will receive a full production at Studio Roanoke in 2011-12. With its simple format, the Workshop Series also can give voice to quality scripts that would be difficult to produce fully in the theatre's intimate, black-box space.

Using Studio Roanoke's new, HD-capable projection system, Guerrilla Cinema will feature original work by area filmmakers and multimedia artists. Guerrilla Cinema, like the Workshop Series, will be offered on the fourth Sunday of alternating months; its debut will be February 27. Ben R. Williams, who has hosted Guerrilla Playhouse since its inception last May, also will oversee the new program.

"Guerrilla Cinema and Guerrilla Playhouse share the same goal," Williams says. "We'll offer the audience daring and original programming the likes of which they have never seen before." Guerrilla Playhouse, with its trademark mix of live theatre and original music, will continue on the second Sunday of each month. The next show is January 9 at 8 p.m.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Social Network for Scots and Would-be Scots

Social networking may be getting out of hand. I just got a press release from that informs me I'm eligible to become part of its network of people with a Scottish connection.

I thought at first these lovely people had looked into my family tree and found the Buchanans and McCourrys (Macquarrie, in the original Scots), but my guess now is that because I live on Edinburgh Drive, I'm eligible. Pretty loose requirements upon investigation (as you can tell from the naked woman, Loch Ness mini-monster and the Scottish Terrier).

The press release tells me there are "seven times more people of Scottish decent living outside Scotland than inside," but that if I like scotch whiskey that's enough in itself to qualify me.

Here's the explanation: "KILTR brings together 40 million Scots worldwide to network online and tap into the vast knowledge, experience and opportunity offered by the Scottish community, which is renowned as canny and entrepreneurial in business. The company has recently closed a Series A round of financing with Par Equity of Edinburgh [the city, not my block] as the lead investor."

"Unlike other social networks, where people may find themselves connected to
strangers with no common interests, KILTR uses a built-in search and recommendation
engine that pushes relevant opportunities to the users. The site is focused on
delivering valuable business and networking opportunities to members. Professionals,
entrepreneurs, companies, organizations, clubs and societies can immediately get
started networking with others who have a known shared connection or affinity for

So, there you have it. Scots being stingy and entrepreneurial together. Slainte Mhath to ye (that would be "cheers" in a bar).

(Illustration by Willy Pogany. Found on

City Calendars Available Online

Those of you bemoaning the loss of Roanoke City’s annual calendar—the one that told you whether to leave out plastics/bottles or paper for recycling—will not be getting the paper version this year because of budget cuts, but you can call up the calendar online and get all the same information (save for the lovely photo of Mr. December, 2010).

Simply visit the city’s Web site (here) and click on the "2011 Municipal Calendar" link under the "Read About" heading. The pages will also be posted on a monthly basis on the City News kiosks at library branches.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Woman Looks Like Barbara Bush and I Gots the Blues

My friend Betsy Gehman, who used to sign jazz, but probably not blues (mostly with big bands), sent the following examination of what the blues is and what it is not. She says, "It was sent from Hollywood [to her]. This is the kind of thing those comedy writers do when they're between jobs. I suspect it was Larry Gelbart's work." Gelbart, of course, was responsible for TV's "M*A*S*H."

Here's the whole e-mail from her; a little long, a lot funny:

Contrary to what you may have been told, you may not have a right to sing the Blues. If you are new to Blues music, or like it a lot and you are eager to sing it -- it is important that you really understand the fundamental rules:

1. Most Blues begin with: "Woke up this morning...."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes, sort of: "Got a good woman/with the meanest face in town./Yes, I got a good woman/with the meanest face in town./Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher/and she weigh 500 pound."

4. The Blues is not about choice...” You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch...ain't no way out.”

5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the Blues lifestyle. So does “fixin' to die.”

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or anywhere in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the Blues in any place that “don't get no rain.”

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg 'cause you were skiing is not the Blues. Breaking your leg 'cause “a alligator be chomping on it” is.

9. You can't have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues: a. highway b. jailhouse c. empty bed d. bottom of a whiskey glass.

11. Bad places for the Blues: a. Nordstrom's b. gallery openings c. Ivy League institutions d. golf courses.

12. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an old person, and you slept in it.

13. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? YES, if: a. you're older than dirt b. you're blind c. you shot a man in Memphis d. you can't be satisfied. NO, if: a. you have all your teeth b. you were once blind but now can see c. the man in Memphis lived d. you have a 401K or trust fund.

14. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods could not sing the Blues until recently. Sonny Liston could have. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues.

15. If you ask for water and your darlin' gives you gasoline, it's the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are: a. cheap wine b. whiskey or bourbon c. muddy water d. black coffee The following are NOT Blues beverages: a. Perrier b. Chardonnay c. Snapple d. Slim Fast e. Starbucks.

16. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So are the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken-down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

17. Some Blues names for women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie d. Fat River Dumpling 18. Some Blues names for men: a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Big Willie

19. Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Jennifer, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

20. Blues Name Starter Kit: a. Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Mute, Lame, etc.) b. First name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, etc.) c. Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, Clinton, etc.) For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Pegleg Lemon Johnson or Lame Kiwi Clinton, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

21. I don't care how tragic your life is: if you own a computer, you cannot sing the blues, period. Sorry.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'Saving Homer' is Here; Order Your Copy Now

After a long wait, my first children's book, Saving Homer, is here. You can order your copies now, directly from me--signed and without shipping cost--for $15. Simply call at 540-556-8510 or e-mail me at and I'll have it in the mail to you within 24 hours.

Be sure to let me know how you want the book signed.

Saving Homer is the story of a Basset hound who patrols his idealized 1974 Roanoke neighborhood daily, taking care of the children as they arrive home from school each day. He is their friend and protector. Then one day, the dog catcher arrives and the kids swing into action.

The book is illustrated by Ursula Dilley, a senior at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ben Beagle's Dismissal Means Loss of Still More Institutional Memory

With the announcement that Ben Beagle (right), who began writing a column for Roanoke's daily newspaper in 1954, will be jetisoned after today, the institutional memory toll of the past two weeks has easily passed 125 years.

Combined with the dropping of longtime, part-time movie reviewers Jeff DeBell and Chris Gladden last week (they were both feature writers or editors at the paper for many years before leaving), Beagle's half a century-plus sends the numbers to the outer reaches of the career longevity galaxy.

The reason given by Managing Editor Michael Stowe in his column today is that Beagle's removal from the column roster was "made to reduce newsroom expenses." That was the same reason given for eliminating the movie reviewers. In recent years, the paper has increasingly grown to depend on people who write for free or for little money to fill their pages, especially the little zoned editions they put out daily. I can assure you that Beagle, DeBell and Gladden are not paid a lot of money (they loved what they were doing and didn't require much compensation), so times must really be tight on Campbell Ave.

Meanwhile, the paper's circulation director says its print audience is up 9.1 percent (according to a blog post at the Newspaper Association of America) and the paper's Web site gives daily circulation figures of 88,403 and Sunday circulation at 100,387. Not so fast, my friend. The Audit Bureau of Circulation this past spring put those numbers officially at 75,740 and 91,186, part of a steady decline in the past two years. That doesn't look like "up" to me.

The publisher was recently quoted in Media Life Magazine as saying the paper is "a profitable, well-managed company." That would be due in part to a hiring freeze, wage freeze and five unpaid days of leave in recent months, in addition to a trimming of older staff members (remember the buyout "offer" a while back, the one that wiped out a huge swath of institutional memory?).

Beagle's column was popular among long-time (read "old") readers and, like Andy Rooney on "60 Minutes," he couldn't connect with anybody younger than, say, 50, but you must remember that an awful lot of us are older than 50. The largest generation in American history, in fact, will hit 65 in June. I am not and have not been a fan of Beagle's column, though I think that he is one of the finest feature writers and newsmen this region ever produced. I realize that a guy who is 84 years old and has been writing a column for more than 50 years will be left with a hole in his life, the same one some of his readers will feel on Mondays when they pick up the local paper and see something else in his spot.

This is just one more reason--on top of a pile that grows almost daily--to find something else to read. A lot of people are doing that.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Constitution Just for Republicans

A good friend gave me this copy of the Constitution for Christmas. Judging from its size, it appears to be the one Republicans use.

Not Many Lifts in Startling 'Black Swan'

Be forewarned: "Black Swan" is a Hitchcockian thriller about a dancer's pursuit of perfection that will leave you exhausted, a shade dazed and wondering what in the hell hit you between the eyes.

Remember that this is Director Darren Aronofsky's companion to his haunting "The Wrestler," an equally spooky piece about human endurance in the quest for something just beyond reach. "Black Swan" takes its title literally: it is a dark, haunting, fluid, beautiful, grotesque, gentle, violent story of a young dancer growing into the challenging role of a career, one that is threatening her physical and mental health and winning on both counts.

Natalie Portman gives the performance of her young career as Nina, the tiny, breakable perfectionist in search of a soul to go with her technique.Vincent Cassell, as the damanding director; Winona Rider, as the recently discharged and aging prima; and Mila Kunis, as Lilly, a lively anti-Nina who tries to befriend her are stellar in support.

The line between the reality of Nina's preparation and her fragile sanity is thin and often disappears into madness, violence and the unthinkable as the film hurtles toward a climactic finish that will simply leave you open-mouthed and worn out.

Portman, of course, will be nominated for an Oscar for this performance and my guess is that Aronofsky will, as well.

The movie is stunning, but don't go for a lift. These dancers don't do lifts.

'True Grit' II: Better Than the Original

You'll want the comparison between the two "True Grit" movies, so here goes.

The Coen Brothers' new version is better in nearly every sense.

In the 1969 Henry Hathaway original, 61-year-old John Wayne (recently off surgery to remove a lung because he smoked like a locomotive) was a clean-shaven Rooster Cogburn, his eyepatch over his left eye (an homage to director John Ford, his friend). Most important, though, is that Wayne, who won an Oscar for the role, played himself. The Academy Award was generally considered a career Oscar, one many thought overdue. Wayne was better in both "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and his last movie, "The Shootist." (Wayne was nominated in 1949 for "Sands of Iwo Jima" in a year when Broderick Crawford won for "All the King's Men.")

Bridges, who recently won his first Oscar for "Crazy Heart," is also 61, but looks older, more grizzled (eyepatch over the right eye) and far more cussed and ornery than even Wayne, as Rooster Cogburn--and not as Jeff Bridges. He's so nasty as the aging lawman with a mean streak the width of the Rio Grande that you can just about smell him. When he screams, "Fill your hand you sonofabitch," you have to believe he means it.

Hailee Steinfeld, as Mattie Ross, the 14-year-old who hires Rooster to pursue the bad man who killed her father, is every bit the equal of Kim Darby in the original. Both are quite good.

Matt Damon as full-of-himself Texas Ranger LaBoeuf is solid in the new version. Glen Campbell was an embarrassment in the 1969 role, during the height of his popularity ... as a singer. Campbell was in the movie because Wayne wanted him. He should not have been. Wayne seemed to like pop singers backing him up in his movies.

The Cohen Brothers' version is sprinkled with sparkling performances from smashing character actors like Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper (whose teeth are so bad in this one that you'll look around for a dentist). The bad guys in the original were not memorable, although they included Robert DuVall.

The true star of both movies remains the wonderful late 19th-century writing in Charles Portis' 1968 bestseller, much as it was in Clint Eastwood's classic and Oscar winning "The Unforgiven." The stilted, stiff and formal language is a highlight of the book because that language is used so effectively to show these people in their natural habitat, not in ours. It translates well to the 42-foot screen, especially when the dialogue is coming from Jeff Bridges or Hailee Steinfeld.

Go see this one and be prepared to laugh out loud all the way through. It's a delightful experience.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A 'Don't Miss' Documentary Coming to the Shadowbox in Roanoke

"Marwencol," the story of the recovery of a brain-injured and peculiar man, is quite possibly the most engaging documentary I've seen in years. It is a welcome break from the usual run of political horror stories--whose details are all too familiar to most of us--presented in documentary form to those who already know the ending.

"Marwencol" is one you'll have to catch on the run, since it's not playing on the big screens at the traditional movie theaters in Roanoke. Instead, Jason Garnett, who was fired from the Grandin Theater about a year ago in a move that still haunts the theater, has booked it for his Shadowbox Community Microcenima at the Kirk Ave. Music Hall Jan. 7. Mark it on your calendar and don't miss it. I got a look at it tonight on a preview DVD and was both surprised and pleased with the production by Director Jeff Malmberg.

Marwencol is a World War II Belgium town created by Mark Hogencamp as he tries to recuperate physically and mentally from a near-fatal beating from a bunch of rednecks in a bar who find him to be too different from them. They nearly kill him.

Hogencamp's memory is erased and he must rebuild his motor function, which he does by meticulously constructing a miniature village inhabited by American and Nazi soldiers, Barbi dolls and a rich fantasy life. Many of his characters are based on real-life friends and neighbors and the worst of the Nazis are the men who attacked him. He deals with them in his mind and in the village.

Following Hogencamp's rehabilitation all the way to a show of his work in Greenwich Village is fascinating. I strongly recommend a bathroom trip before this film begins. You won't want to break away.

Movies at the Shadowbox cost $5 and you can get a schedule here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Texas School Books: Novel History

A couple of civil rights organizations are preparing to sue the Texas School Board for absurd changes required of textbooks used in their schools. This is one of those horror films produced by the far right religious nuts that not only affects Texas, but has far-reaching application because Texas buys so many text books. Because of that purchase power, the books are offered to school districts all over the country.

Here’s some of what your children could be studying in the future. It comes from here.

Jefferson Removed: Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson out of the world history standards.

Church and State: “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

State Religion: The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over others.”

McCarthyism Redux: [Requires] that the history of [Sen. Joe] McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” Those papers are Russian documents.

One-sided Politics: High school students will learn about leading conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s, but not about liberal or minority rights groups.”

Sex Ed: There will be no discussion of the difference between sex and gender in classrooms.

No Mexicans: An amendment that would require books to tell the story of Tejanos (Texas Hispanics) at the Alamo was killed. This is now all white boys fighting. Truth: the white boys and the Tex-Mex breteheran were fighting to preserve slavery, brought by them from America.

There's more, including the elevation of Ronald Reagan (the second worst president of the 20th Century) to god-like status and the replacing of a number of congressional icons, men of vision, with Newt Gingrich, for heaven's sake. The world is ending.

(Book photo: BBC Mobile.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christian Bale Simply Marvelous in 'The Fighter'

Mark Wahlberg's "The Fighter" has ACADEMY AWARD written all over it in about four different fonts. This one is truly one of the better movies of 2010 with Christian Bale's supporting performance an over-the-top tour-de-force the projects far above its status as a major production.

Academy Awards could easily await Amy Adams (who won in supporf for "Junebug"), Melissa Leo (a past Oscar nominee as Best Actress in "Frozen River") and Bale and perhaps even Wahlberg (nominee in support for "The Departed") who is, frankly, asked to do the least of the majors in the cast.

Bale likely destroyed at least two shots at Oscars in the past because of his legendary temper, but there may be no denying him for "The Fighter" because no matter who he is offscreen, in this movie, he is startling real.

Leo, a character actor with an enormous talent, nearly steals the movie and would have had it not been for Bale's portrayal of a former fighter who has fallen into a crack addiction and lives on the one great fight in his life.

The story revolves around "Irish" Micky Ward's (Wahlberg) unlikely climb to the welterweight championship in the 1980s, overcoming all the things a boxer normally faces, but also working against a dysfunctional family that would be at home on the Jerry Springer Show. You want a definition of white trash? Here it is in Ward's controlling, dominating, guilt-smearing fish wife of a mother (Leo), addicted brother and seven ugly, spiteful, stupid sisters. Where casting found these people is beyond me, but did I mention Jerry Springer?

Amy Adams, always impressive and again showing her range, plays a foul-mouthed, brash, college dropout (she was on a high jump scholarship) bar maid who falls for Micky and helps separate him from the destructiveness of his family, but falls victim to the same possessiveness that grips that gang.

Ultimately, this is a movie about redemption and there's plenty of that in the end, but getting there is a frazzling, often frustrating trip through a world of poverty, ignorance and desperation most never visit.

It is a fine movie and a testament to Wahlberg the movie maker, a man who is slowly becoming a latterday Clint Eastwood. We should be so fortunate that he succeeds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Governor Shooting at Public Broadcasting Again

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting (here) that Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell (above) will propose eliminating state funding of public broadcasting in the next budget session. One or two Republican House members bring this up in every session of the General Assembly, citing bias in NPR and PBS news, which simply doesn't exist, but I don't remember a governor proposing it before last year. Usually it dies in the Senate.

This is one of those areas where I feel certain a few of us have a direct vote in the decision here, if you're in the district where voters are trying to replace right-wing idealogue Morgan Griffith. My guess is Republican Gregg Habeeb would enthusiastically support McDonnell and Democratic challenger Ginger Mumpower would vote for public broadcasting.

In 2010's session, McDonnell wanted to cut nearly $600,000 and this year, he wants to trim $2 million in 2012 and $4 million in 2013. All the while, he says, ""Public broadcasting is a wonderful resource, providing quality programming that is cherished by many. However, in our modern media world there are thousands upon thousands of content providers operating in the free market. Simply put, it doesn’t make sense to have some stations with the competitive advantage of being funded by taxpayer dollars.”

The first sentence of that statement is blowing smoke up our collective asses. The second part is right wing dogma and an attempt to silence one of the few impartial voices in our culture.

One of the ironies of the new calls, especially nationally, to eliminate funding for public broadcasting is that Fox News is one of the prime motivators, hopping on the Juan Williams dustup--and hiring the not-so-liberal newsman after his faux pas recently. He was severely criticised by public broadcasting and fired because of what it considered racist statements. My take is that NPR was wrong to fire Williams, he was wrong to equate murder with all Muslims and Fox News is always wrong about everything.

Virginia Republican Eric Cantor is leading the Republican charge against public broadcasting in the U.S. House.

McDonnell is proposing a number of budgetary adjustments, moving money around in programs and he is looking at adding $500,000 to Virginia Federation of Food Banks, the one idea in the whole bunch that rings of sensitivity to those with little.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Cuccinelli's Business Pal: The Judge Who Ruled in His Favor

If you're still wondering how in the world Virginia judge Henry Hudson's opinion in favor of Ken Cuccinelli's lawsuit could be justified, get a load of this from the Huffington Post. The inbreeding among Republicans in a position to have an impact on our future is simply astonishing.

The Bush-appointed judge who ruled in favor of Cuccinnelli offered up no surprises, given the circumstances, the deep financial ties, the phil0sophical underpinnings that obviate any pretense of impartiality. These Bush judges are not traditional jurists. They are what the right has screamed about for years: judicial activists on steroids.

Bush's leavings--aside from our lovely economy--include a lot of federal judges who will push his programs and his bent philosophy forward, regardless of what Americans want (and what they want is to be rid of Bush forever).

Radford U. To Take Over NR Voice; Tim Jackson to Asheville

(Update: The comments section below asks some important questions about the future of Voice. I posed them to Tim Jackson, the resigning founder/editor. Here's what he said:

(As I said in the initial letter, “A few details need to be ironed out.” And that is very true. Here’s what I know:

(I agreed to gift the Voice to the RU School of Communication [or another RU entity that would allow the School of Communication to operate the Voice] provided they agreed to the three terms I mentioned, which was that it would maintain editorial independence, it would continue to serve the entire New River Valley, and it would continue to use contributors from the community.

(The School of Communication is very interested in making this happen, but they are working out the details of just how the gift would be designated and how it would be operated within the school’s curriculum.

(The most recent word I received from folks at the School of Communication was that it would have professors acting in capacities such as Managing Editor, Community Editor, and Business Manager. The School of Communication, or I guess the Director of the School, would act as publisher. Students would obviously have a major role in content creation, but the Community Editor would also make sure that content is coming from outside contributors as well.

(As I said, that was the last I heard and only one scenario. I think they are debating the details daily. So all of that could change.

(As they finish up with exams this week, I think they will hold more meetings and I may learn additional information.)

The promising New River Voice, which was launched a few months ago as an online, non-profit local newspaper will be absorbed by Radford University and its founder (and my friend) Tim Jackson (right) will move to Asheville to take another publishing job.

Tim put a lot of heart and soul into this effort, but it didn't work the way he thought it might. He might have been premature with the "new media" launch, one that is almost certain to be at least part of the solution for the crumbling newspaper empires. Like the Studebaker of old, maybe this one's just a bit ahead of its time.

Here's what Tim had to say in a letter to those involved (I am on the editorial board):

"Well friends, it’s been quite a ride. When I first came up with the idea for the New River Voice about four years ago, I felt the New River Valley needed a publication that was not afraid to look at alternative viewpoints and that truly would be a voice for the people of the New River Valley.

"I tried every way I could to make it work, but financially, it has been a major drain, and the time has come to move on. Perhaps someone with greater business acumen could have made it work as a for-profit entity. And perhaps with more time it would have survived, and maybe thrived, as a nonprofit journalistic organization under the purview of the new Freedom Foundation of Southwest Virginia (FFSWVA).

"But my time ran out. Faced with all the debt and financial strain we could handle, Taryn and I knew that something had to change if we were going to survive. And so things are changing. I am taking a job as the Web editor for an arts and culture publication called The Laurel of Asheville, which is, obviously, located in Asheville, N.C.

"Asheville is a great town with lots of opportunities and we are excited about the move. But, of course, part of me feels battered, bruised, and defeated in letting go of the Voice.

"As for its future, the tentative plan is for it to be passed on at the end of the year to the School of Communication at Radford University. A few details need to be ironed out, but if this works out, fellow Editorial Advisory Board member Bill Kovarik will have a strong hand in overseeing the new New River Voice as it becomes part of RU and, it is hoped, a great learning tool for its students.

"The Voice is being turned over with the agreement that it maintains its editorial independence, continues to cover the full New River Valley, and continues to work with community members for content in addition to the content provided by students.

" I know that Jenn Mackay and Patrick Beeson had experience with Dateline Alabama back in the day at UA and Melissa Chessher may have experience with a communication school operating a publication, too. I’m sure Bill will welcome any ideas or suggestions as we make this transition.

"I had hoped to utilize you all better as folks who could critique what we were doing, but the money to do those social justice and investigative pieces I dreamed of just never materialized. In fact, the money to pay even for our expenses never materialized, which made such a move necessary.

"I am disappointed that we could not make the New River Voice into the solid independent publication that this area deserves but I do believe we’ve had a substantial impact on this community."

Good luck Tim. May you complete your dream some day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ken Cuccinelli: Where We're Going With the Right?

Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli has a smirk worthy of George Bush.^

They're calling Ken Cuccinelli a nut case today for his proposal that Virginia drop out of Medicaid and I tend to agree with that assessment. But not just because this fringie has gone public with what people like him want: the destruction of all aid to those who need it, paid for it, earned it and for many American citizens on the short end of the culture who simply can't take care of themselves.

Here's your Attorney General:
  • He's suing to reverse our national health care bill, the one that is so minimal as to be embarrassing, but a start.
  • He said--overruling the General Assembly--that the Board of Health can require abortion clinics to meet hospital-level standards.
  • He issued a ruling allowing cops to ask anybody they stop for immigration papers.
  • He ruled that gay people are not protected in Virginia from discrimination.
  • He demanded a judicial review of the EPA's greenhouse gas rulings--one that has overwhelming scientific backing and has been thoroughly reviewed.
  • He wants to challenge federal fuel efficiency standards.
  • He sought to sue a former UVa professor for--essentially--tax fraud for his findings on climate change, one that was substantiated completely by the National Academy of Sciences.
  • He put a breastplate on Virginia's state seal to cover a ... well ... breast.
  • He authorized law enforcement to search students' phones.
  • As a legislator, he sponsored legislation to repeal laws against carrying guns in bars.
  • He is opposed to any but abstinence only sex education.
  • He is a closet "birther."
Cuccinelli's is a sex-soaked, anti-individual, diseased philosophy that says "every man for himself," but keeps in place the structure that has divided our culture into haves and have-nots since the Republic was founded. His is a belief that if the rich are simply allowed to accumulate all they can, that they'll give some of it to the rest of us because ... well ... uh ... We'll have to get back to that.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicade help separate us from the Third World with our effort to take care of people who are old, very young, sick or simply on fixed incomes. None of the programs is perfect. Social Security, for example, should not be paid to the rich who don't need it, even though they paid for it. Consider it a tax on wealth if you want, but if you're worth millions, a couple of thou a month is going to constitute lunch money. For somebody on the other end of the scale, it could be the determinate of whether there is food in the house or even a house to have the food in.

Medicare, probably covers too many people, as well, but Medicad--especially in Virginia, which ranks near the bottom in the U.S. in disbursements--doesn't. It covers too few with too little. And Cuccinelli wants to reduce that to nothing.

According to one estimate, about 80,000 Virginians would be expelled immediately from care facilities if Medicaid goes. The poor and the sick would go to the streets--where Cuccinelli's ilk believes they should be.

His is a heartless, inhuman and inhumane philosophy that believes money is more important than human lives and this guy calls himself "pro life." So many of the "pro-lifers" hold on to the idea that the lives worth saving belong to the unborn and the rich. Everybody else is on his own. Forget the sick children, the elderly with dementia, those who can't and never could afford anything because they never had a chance in the first place. They were born poor in a state that elected Ken Cuccinelli to office, partly because he is "pro life." Talk about your political Big Lie. Pro life, pro tobacco, pro guns, pro death penalty and against the very things that can help make life livable for so many Virginians.

Send this man back to the rock he crawled out from and do it before he causes any more damage.

(Washington Post photo.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'The Tourist': A Delightful Surprise

"The Tourist," which is playing at Carmike and Regal chain theaters in the Roanoke are, is a movie short on promise and long on entertainment. A light, romantic vehicle for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, it is quick, witty, tricky and a heck of a lot of fun at every step along the way.

Depp, as Frank, the title tourist, is an often bewildered college math teacher bewitched by Jolie's involvement in international intrigue involving police from London and Venice and a really bad mob guy who has had something more than two billion dollars swiped by a mysterious man named Pierce, whom everybody is chasing.

The whole caper is convoluted, but like a good Hitchcock movie, it doesn't matter who they're chasing or what he has, it's the chase that's fun and in "The Tourist" the chase is everything.

This is a movie with quite a troubled background that at one time had Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron in the lead roles and went through quite a few people before settling on Depp and Jolie, whose chemistry is simply charming. Critics have generally been luke warm to the movie for all the reasons I like it. So, what the hell?

Loads of fun. It'll leave you smiling. Especially with that wicked twist at the end.

Friday, December 10, 2010

'A War on Control of the Internet' posted the following after talking with Salon's Glenn Grenwald after the arrest of WikilLeaks' Julian Assange (link forwarded by my pal Beth Wellington in Blacksburg):

"Glenn Greenwald, constitutional attorney and blogger at Greenwald says:

'Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from Internet … their funds have been frozen … media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization. What is really going on here is a war over control of the Internet, and whether or not the Internet can actually serve its ultimate purpose—which is to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions.'"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Continuing Decline in Coverage

Looks like the financial situation is reaching epic depths at the local daily newspaper in Roanoke as circulation falls through the floor, people are sent packing and departments are flattened. The latest cutback, following on the heels of the ditching of the 22-year-old Blue Ridge Business Journal, is with reviews, which I don't expect to get much notice.

I'm told by a source inside that Jeff DeBell and Chris Gladden, both of whom have been tied to the daily for far more than 25 years, will no longer be freelance reviewers. The paper will apparently go with wire service reviews and take the local feel out of it, ala Clear Channel. Each was a long-time employee of the paper before leaving. Jeff was features editor and Chris was one of the best read feature writers ever.

Jeff and Chris were colleagues of mine when I was at the paper in the features department in the late 1970s and early '80s, the heyday of cultural coverage. The three of us reviewed just about anything that moved (and you can throw books into that mix, too). It was a lively section and the reviews led to interviews with some of the biggest acts and actors in America for the hometown newspaper. The arts felt relevant.

Now you simply cannot find a review of a play in town and there's not much else reviewed, save for an occasional opera or symphony performance. Books has gone from being important, to having two part-time editors, to one (one was fired) who has so much else to do that she can't possibly do a good job.

It looks like they're giving up, if they didn't give up two years ago when this snowballing seems to have started.

We can all grieve for what was, but I doubt we can get it back. Too bad.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Wooden Snowflakes': A Rare and Wonderful Tale

Catherine Bush's "Wooden Snowflakes," playing at Studio Roanoke in the City Market area, is just about the perfect theater experience for Christmas, "The Nutcracker," "The Little Match Girl" and "The Homecoming" notwithstanding.

This one is a love story, a story of belief and hope and grief and devastation and redemption powerfully directed by veteran Charlie Boswell and acted by Stevie Holcomb and Joel Gruver. Miss Holcomb is especially powerful as Eve Lawson, the woman whose automobile accident lands her in the home of a man in a Santa suit, who carves figures and snowflakes for a living, awaiting a wrecker. Simon Peter Whitaker actually believes in Santa ... and in God. And he loves Christmas.

The conversation that weaves us through the plot is adult, intelligent and believable. At times it is difficult and at other times touching to the point of tears.

I saw it tonight, walking to the theater in the snow and the entire evening bordered on magic, especially when the lights faded on the second act of the small, nearly empty theater and the intimacy of the experience reached its peak.

This was sparkling theater, the kind that keeps people like me going back again and again. "The Wooden Snowflake" runs through Dec. 12 and tickets are $20 at the door and $15 in advance. You can order tickets tickets here. Don't miss this one. It's rare. Be sure to order snow ahead of time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Working the Energy Expo

Pete Krull took this picture of your favorite editor at work.^

My good friend Pete Krull of Krull and Company talks with the disembodied, but lovely, head of Stacy Hairfield of Natural Awakenings, the prettiest publisher in the region.^

The fun here is in the people I know and some I don't yet know. My friend Pete Krull is in the booth next door and all around me are people I know and like.

I met Cristina Siegel of the Clean Valley Council this morning. She's on the other side of me and was here briefly to set up the booth. I interviewed Cristina by phone when she took the job a couple of months ago, but had not met her in person. Nice lady.

The Politics of Wind Energy: Just Waiting

My buddy Sara Huddle with the Invenergy exhibit on the corner, just in case picketers show up.^

Solar panels across the aisle from wind energy producer Invenergy. There's power in numbers.^

Virginia Tech mechanical engineering senior Andrew Karpin mans the desk at the experimental hybrid car exhibit, one of the Expo's most popular.^

Sarah Bumgardner of the Western Virginia Water Authority chats with children who have questions about water use. She turned the questions back on them.

There's an interesting political situation--potential political situation, we'll say--sitting up on the corner of the outside aisle at the Energy Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center. Invenergy, the controversial wind energy producer, is housed there across the aisle from a solar producer.

There's plenty of room around the booths for pickets, should some of the Bent Mountain residents who oppose windmills on their mountain show up. My friend Sara Huddle is manning the booth and my guess is that Sara's charm would disarm even the most ardent of those in opposition. Very interesting dynamic, though.

Governor's Rep: Yay Pollution!

Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Maureen Matson opens the conference with a robust endorsement of--gulp!--coal.^

This Thaxton Elementary School class has a booth and its teacher, Viola Henry was presented an award.^

Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, Maureen Matson gave the launching speech at the Energy Expo this morning by apparently forgetting who she was talking to. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's energy advisor told the crowd that we should not forget the importance of coal to the economy of Virginia and to employment, but she didn't mention that it pollutes the bejesus out of the planet.

Matson also gave a tacit endorsement of "fracking," a controversial method of extracting naturla gas from shale and surrounding water. It has vast potential for both helping solve the energy problem and intensifying it at the same time.

Going to be an interesting day.

Energy Expo Kicks Off at Civic Center

Jim Crawford (left) of the Sierra Club and Ken Frances of Conservation Strategies share a laugh.^

Jeremy Holmes of Ride Solutions puts chachkas in place.^

Cristina Siegel of the Clean Valley Council prepares to staff her booth.^

The Energy Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center's exhibition hall starts in about eight minutes and exhibitors are furiously putting together thier displays and booths. We're going to the opening ceremonies, so take a look at these photos and I'll be back with you in a bit.

Cronauer's Chamber Talk: Not Exactly 'Good Morning Vietnam'

Adrian Cronauer (above) and Robin Williams (right).^

A Hotel Roanoke ballroom capacity crowd of about 500 people got a truly good look at just how far a Hollywood bio-pic can miss its mark last night when Adrian Cronauer, the former Roanoke disc jockey and central figure in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam," spoke to the annual Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce dinner.

In the movie, Robin Williams played an offbeat, rebellious, liberal and almost anti-military Air Force radio personality in Vietnam. The real life Cronauer is hardly that. He launched into a right-wing, blue collar patriot, anti-government, anti-press, anti-first amendment screed last night that left many of us uncomfortable and embarrassed. I simply can't believe that the chamber execs who signed this former Bush Administration official (he is a lawyer) to speak knew what they were getting.

Cronauer was a pleasant and even entertaining speaker as long as he stuck to his radio career and the movie, but the minute he broke script with a series of Sarah Palin applause lines, he lost me and a whole big group of others who attended the dinner for a networking diversion, not a political rally.

The chamber--this one and just about all the others--would never be mistaken for a liberal or even moderate organization because a goodly percentage of the high-dollar members are Republicans who are looking out for their financial interests. Typical chamber legislative agendas read like Dixie Manifestos from the 1950s, but the membership is a rich mixture of economic levels, ethnic groups (not so much), educational backgrounds, political interests and community involvement.

The central purpose of their chamber membership is to further their business interests in ways that are individual to each member. I'm not sure that most of them want to go to a chamber dinner in order to hear an embarrassing and highly partisan political speech.

(Photo from