Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote of the Day: Newt's World View

Newt Gingrich (right, in business casual) was in fine fetter today as he went off on Barack Obama:

"They stand for some weird international elitist secularism that doesn't work" while he is rock solid for "American exceptionalism."

Newt hasn't quite caught the idea that "American exceptionalism" is an oxymoron (consider Congress as a starting point for that argument) and that being an internationalist is not elitist, but inclusive and thoughtful.


Citizen Journalism Leads to Job Losses at CNN

Now we have a direct cause/effect in the laying off of qualified journalists:

CNN just cut 50 journalist jobs--most of them photojournalists--because unpaid "citizen journalists" are contributing so much video that the professionals are no longer needed.

Here's what CNN says:

"We ... spent a great deal of time analyzing how we utilize and deploy photojournalists across all of our locations in the U.S. ... We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company."

What that is coming to mean is that every time you send a photo or a video to a news organization you are contributing to a decline in employment at that organization. And it is especially true with local news organizations where there are fewer jobs, no unions and much more of a willingness to cheap out on coverage.


Quote of the Day: Let's Shoot Ourselves in the Foot

"I reject the word."

--House Speaker John Boehner on why he refuses to compromise, thus giving us a Congress incapable of doing anything.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Photo of the Day, Too: Book Talk

Melvin Matthews Jr. (left) talks with journalist Gene Marrano tonight at the Shenandoah Club in downtown Roanoke on the occasion of a party to celebrate the release of his new book, Duck and Cover. It is a volume about civil defense in the 1950s and how they were portrayed on film. The event was held at the Shenandoah Club.

Photo(s) of the Day: Talking to the Kids About a Career

Steph and I in front of the class.
Stephanie and her slide
Stephanie Klein-Davis, a photographer at a local daily in Roanoke, and I talked with students at Community High School about journalism (past, present and future ... if there is one) this morning.

It was an enjoyable class and we were treated to a video piece Steph did on a high school jazz ensemble that simply crackled. I asked if it was available on Netflix. It's not. But it should be. She's a marvelously talented photographer who thinks like a journalist.

Steph's video came as the result of a class assignment in a course she took. We were talking to the kids about how there are no dull stories, only dull writers and this video demonstrated the point about as well as anything I can imagine. Steph's assignment was to do a piece on a high school jazz band and this marvelous three-minute video emerged. I think the students got the point.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good Space in a Cool Place

My good friend Steve Hartman, who used to own On the Rise Bakery on Roanoke City Market and who still owns the building the bakery is in, has a deal for you.

The building contains an 850-square-foot office on the second floor that is dang near perfect for an office where a lawyer or small ad agency might locate. It costs $750 a month and is smack in the middle of everything.

You can reach Steve at 540-992-2045 or e-mail at It's a good space in a cool place.

Business Jargon: Let's Amplify Those Change Initiatives

This comes from an unnamed Roanoke company's description of itself:

The company "is a business consulting firm that helps leaders build sustainable advantage by facilitating change initiatives that deliver competitive marketplace focus and amplify organizational effectiveness."

My guess is there won't be any advantage to sustain until these boys get a little clarification amid the jargon.

Headline of the Day: Bachmann Facing Bachmann

From the Huffington Post:

"Bachmann Opens Up About 'Ugly Duckling' Past"

Begging the question: What about her ugly duckling present?

Black Friday on Monday Doesn't Count

The offending publication in the recycling bin where it belongs
Under the heading of "Can't They Get Anything Right?" comes this:

I don't get a daily newspaper, but the institution that produces one in Roanoke sends me this advertising wrap with a bunch of stuffed ads in it about once a week. Try as I might, I can't get it stopped. This morning, as I was taking it out of my mailbox, an ad for hhgregg fell out and I saw something that interested me.

I've wanted to move from Nikon to Canon as my base camera for years. Nikon's digital cameras (except for the very expensive ones) aren't much good--especially in low light--and Canon is. But I have all these Nikon lenses, which are expensive, and buying a Canon would mean not only buying a body, but buying all the lenses I need, too. So I see this ad for a decent level Canon SLR with a couple of good Canon lenses for $599. That's a killer price, so I immediately run over to hhgregg, lay down the ad and say, "I want this." Kid says, "I don't think we have this in stock as a package because of all the selling we did on Black Friday, but I'll try to put it together for you from the components." He did that and rang it up.

Came up at nearly $900 and the kid went and got the manager who informed me that the ad was for Black Friday only. "I just got it in the mail a few minutes ago," I said. And he said, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do."

So, not only do we get the normal complaints about the daily to process, but now it seems these lovely people can't even get their ad inserts--the ones I've been trying to get rid of--to me in a timely fashion ... before the sale ends.

Poetic Justice: Alabama Slapped Down by Its Own Hand

It is all too rare in today's political climate that we get to smile, point a finger and say "I told you so!" with the kind of righteous indignation that Alabama is providing the entire country right now.

'Bama recently passed into law the most draconian emigration law in the land--and that's saying a lot when you look at some other states, like Arizona, and the laws on their books. This mean-spirited, xenophobic law created by insulated, racist and frightened people is on the way to killing Alabama's already paltry economy.

An editorial in the NYTimes this a.m. tells us that the work the 95,000 immigrants do in Alabama--work that is going undone these days--is not work real Americans want to do. Crops are dying in the field and Alabama farmers are bearing the brunt of the state's backward majority, a majority that we suppose will have to be content to eat imported food, since its own is still where it was grown.

The industrial recruitment people--those who help create jobs by luring factories of various kinds and investment from all over the board--are pulling their hair out, as well. This is a highly competitive field and when the people in St. Louis, for example, say, "Hey, guys, we'd love to have your Mercedes factory and we won't throw you in jail for having an accent," the Mercedes guys will listen.

Alabama is being seriously injured for its bigotry. It's not the first time that has happened. We hope that finally these morons will learn something and that this will be the last burp of this level of ignorance.


Quote of the Day: Politics and the Economy

"The easiest way to stand out in such a vast crowd of microbroadcasters is to be the loudest, the angriest, the most outrageous. If you want that precious traffic, you stake out a position somewhere in oh-my-God territory and proclaim it with a vengeance. Global warming is a hoax! Vaccines make you sick! Obama is a Muslim! In vanquishing the conventional wisdom, sometimes it seems we have vanquished wisdom itself."

--Bill Keller of the NYTimes on the politics of economics (and why we're in the economic crapper and can't get out)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Is More of a Light Gray

Sears trees look real, but ...
Shopper and child.
A pause for lunch at Valley View.
Hanging around for the sale.
"As the shoppers rush home with their treasures ..."

My buddy Heather at Big Lots checkout.
Going down?
Shopping rich at Finks.
The lot at Walmart shows that Black Friday has not fully struck yet.
Teens shop kiosk for handbags.
The promised unruly mobs of the Day After Thanksgiving (more commonly referred to these days as Black Friday) haven't showed up yet and it's mid-afternoon. This morning, traffic more closely resembled a normal Sunday morning than the biggest shopping day of the year.

I had no trouble getting to or parking at Valley View Mall, the largest shopping center in the region, today. The crowds inside were larger than normal, but hardly the savage throngs we've come to expect. I don't know what this says for the economy, but it means shopping is a little less stressful for many.

Now, we need to turn our attention to Small Business Saturday and buy our real Christmas gifts tomorrow in a small store where the people working there know us by name.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Drumbeat for the Drumstick Run (14,000 Strong)

FRONT Publisher Tom Field carries the drumstick torch to start the race.
ROTC gal carries the sign-age.
Awaiting the start.
Thanksgiving signs.
Another turkey (made of ties).
Another turkey.
And a yet another turkey (that looks like a pig).
Do we ride or walk?
Cheerleaders can always strike a pose.
One more turkey head.
Native American contingent.
Bagpipes. I hate bagpipes (and I have two Scottish clans).
Newspaper editor Michael Stowe and runner Karen Roberts Dillon.
Bullish on running (a Wall Street guy?).
Journalist Gene Marrano (who has lost a lot of weight running).
I love these costumes on the lead runners.
There's room for everybody in the Drumstick Dash.
South of the Border babes.
And they're off ...
Kids and dogs and runners and walkers and strollers and ...
Luxury dogs get carried and dressed.
Downtown back and forth runners and walkers.
Random musical act on the street.
This morning's Drumstick Dash for the benefit of the Roanoke Rescue Mission drew upwards of 14,000 runners, about 800 dogs, a whole lot of kids and a large number of people like me with cameras. It was a colorful festival of an event and the  beneficiary of all those entry fees could not be a better cause, especially on Thanksgiving when the RM gets a lot of attention for doing what it does every day: feeding the hungry and the dispossessed and abused.

Valley Business FRONT was one of the sponsors of the event and Publisher Tom Field actually kicked it off running with the torch (actually, Tom made a large drumstick and stuck a torch in its top).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Setback for April Marcell

April Marcell
April (Drummond) Marcell's string of tough luck continues. My buddy who has overcome so much over the years was excited beyond words that her new play "God's Eye," a look at religious hipocrisy, was going to open before a hometown audience this weekend at the Roanoke Civic Center. Low ticket sales, however, have caused its cancellation.

April, who started college at Hollins at the age of 40 a few years ago and finished last spring with a degree in theater, has had several unfortunate events occur recently. A few months ago, as she was preparing "God's Eye" for its opening in Norfolk, her house burned down. The producers moved the premier to Roanoke in order to accommodate her living situation.

April, who has seven children, hopes to open the show after the first of the year in Norfolk. Let's take her suggestion and say a little prayer for her.

Tech Grad's System Beats 'Jeopardy!'

Roger Craig (left) with host Alex Trebek
Like one of those college computer whiz kids who go to 'Vegas to beat the house, Roger Craig has gone one up on "Jeopardy!" He won the difficult and high-paying "Tournament of Champions" this week, taking home the $250,000 cash prize and finishing on top in a field of 15.

To help the Virginia Tech grad prepare for the tournament, Craig created a computer program custom-built to study more than 200,000 past "Jeopardy!" questions and answers for patterns.  Using statistical processes, Craig was able to group questions by category to figure out which topics were most likely to appear.

“It’s impossible to know everything,” Craig said.  “I wanted to determine which categories were most likely to come up and then find out where there were gaps in my knowledge.” Examples of some of the subjects he brushed up on included geography, Oscar-winning films, and Shakespeare.

Craig from Newark, Del., a 1999 Tech College of Science graduate with two bachelor's degrees (one in biological sciences and one in biochemistry), earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Delaware. He credits both of his alma maters for helping him to win. “For 'Jeopardy!' the name of the game is breadth, not depth, of knowledge.” says Craig. “I think the main reason both universities helped so much is that they cover just about all spheres of learning in extraordinary depth.”

Craig first appeared on “Jeopardy!” in September 2010, earning $230,000 as a six-day champion. During his original run, he set a new record for the highest one-day total winnings, $77,000, surpassing the $75,000 record set by Ken Jennings in 2004.

Craig admits his life a changed since he first appeared on the show. “Strangers now recognize me,” he said. “especially when my games are airing.”

While a student at Virginia Tech, Craig was a disc jockey for the university's student-run radio station, WUVT, and a member of the Academic Competition Organization.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Faux News Worse Than No News

You may have wondered just how bad Fox News really is and now you know. Two new studies show that the more Fox you watch, the less factual information you know.

A University of Maryland study, for example, finds, "Fox News viewers were were 'significantly' more likely than non-viewers to erroneously believe false information about the economy, taxes, climate change, bailouts and whether President Obama was born in the United States.

"These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it."

Meanwhile, a Farleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found Fox viewers were dramatically less well-informed about specific issues than people who got their news elsewhere, especially NPR, Sunday morning news shows, and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." In fact, it found that the more cable news people watch--all cable news--the less they seemed to know about the facts.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Turn in the Right Direction for Roanoke Theater

Todd Ristau
Live theater in the Roanoke Valley continues to run circles around that in most communities of comparable size and many that are considerably larger. Since Mill Mountain Theatre--the region's professional organization--closed nearly two years ago, a loose confederation of theater people has actually made theater better here than I recall it ever being before.

Now comes a play from Sam Macher, "The Arctic Circle (and a Recipe for Swedish Pancakes),"  that will be performed on the recently-renovated blackbox Waldron Stage at MMT for six performances beginning on Valentine's Day. It will feature Hollins theater professor, director, writer and actor Todd Ristau, Chad Runyon, Susie Young and Drew Dowdy in the cast. Bob Moss, founder of Playwrights Horizons and  a visiting faculty member in the Playwright’s Lab, will direct.

"The Arctic Circle (and a recipe for Swedish Pancakes)" is a comedy about a woman in a troubled marriage who travels through time, space and Sweden to reexamine her past relationships for solutions to her newly found troubles. Unable to find the clear answers she needs, she must look inside herself to find what she is looking for.

Says Todd Ristau, "It will be very similar to the kind of event we did at Studio Roanoke with the opening of 'Ashville' some years ago."

At an invitation only dress rehearsal, Bob Moss will talk about what an important economic and cultural driver new plays can be and how Roanoke is starting to be talked about in the same breath as the Provincetown Playhouse and Albee’s Playwright’s Unit in days past. "They are known for igniting the Off-Off Broadway movement," says Ristau. Moss was the artistic director of the Playwright’s Unit and it was Playwright’s Horizons that started the reclaiming of 42nd Street.

The entire production of "The Arctic Circle" will get on a train after the run closes in Roanoke and transfer to Manhattan for a week at the 440 Studios.

Ristau says, "This is really an unprecedented event, a demonstration of a tremendous new level of cooperation between Mill Mountain Theatre and the Hollins Theatre Department, and the start of something unique and new in terms of connecting our local theater scene with a wider network of theaters and arts organizations around the country."

Good theater in the region has continued to build for a while, and this production looks like another important step in the process.

'J.Edgar' About What You'd Expect: Uncomfortable

Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" begs one simple question: "Why bother?"

His biopic--starring the always watchable Leonardo DiCaprio under 17 pounds of facial makeup--examines the life of longtime FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, whom Charles Lindbergh called "a fussy little man" early in Hoover's career. He never became much more than that, but he accumulated power by keeping dirty-little-secret files on the powerful and hanging them out with a threat of public exposure.

He was as much a liar and a crook as those he sought to imprison.

This was not an admirable man and he is shown to be what he was in this treatment that left me feeling like I needed a bath. There's simply not much right with this movie, starting with layering makeup on the aged principals in a manner that makes Tammy Fae Baker--and even the spooks in the "Twilight Saga"--look subtle. It is even ghoulish, especially with longtime Hoover companion Clyde Tolson (a man with whom Hoover is thought to have had a secret--or not so secret, depending on whom you ask--homosexual affair).

Hoover was a despicable character in every sense, yet he became idolized by many as the head G-Man, a product primarily of his public relations machine. He distorted the Constitution at every turn and yet claimed to be the ideal American, protecting freedom from Commies, black people, gay people and anybody else who didn't fit his plastic mold. At one point, my companion at the movie leaned over and asked, "Why isn't anybody laughing?" Indeed.

Eastwood is a good movie maker--probably as good as we have--but this one misses. Even the good ones miss occasionally and the upside is that he will likely try again.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Budget Amendment Not Necessary; Courage Is

The balanced budget constitutional amendment that our U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-6th District) is so proud of having introduced failed to get its 2/3 majority vote in the house today, garnering a vote in favor of it by 261-165. Most of us had no thought it had a chance of passing even the Republican House, let alone the Senate. It would have also required a presidential signature and an overwhelming popular vote.

Balanced budget amendments are occasionally brought up by our conservative brethren using the logic that businesses must balance their budgets (all the while running up record deficits in administrations like Reagan's and Bush II's) and states must balance theirs. They avoid mention of where the cuts would come in the short run to achieve that balance. They also fail to mention that government is not business and does not have to be profitable in order to survive. Government is about serving the people, not making money.

During this cycle, according to various sources, the cuts would be about 17 percent across the board and would smother Social Security (by $1.2 trillion) and Medicare (by $750 billion in 20 years), among other programs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides those figures.

It would seem to me that if Congress is ever--I mean ever--serious about a balanced budget, it would do what the Clinton Administration did when faced with huge deficits: balance the budget. We don't need a constitutional requirement for that, we simply need to get the damn bribe money out of politics, elect some honest people to a body that is woefully short of them, and look to somebody to have some balls enough to lead.

Quote of the Day II: College Football and a Corrupt Nation

"The intersection of America's fake warrior culture of football with the nation's fake moral and ethical culture is instructive. It has many levels, like a convoluted freeway intersection of on-ramps, off-ramps, and merge-ramps.    

"First is the pretense that college football is a character-building endeavor. Rather it's an odious money-grubbing racket that chews up and spits out quasi-professional players who, with rare exceptions, only pretend to be students. It corrupts everyone connected with it. College football is little more than a giant conduit for vacuuming money out of alumni, hawking brand merchandise, and generating TV revenues."

--Author and Social Commentator James Howard Kunstler on his blog.

(Editor's Note: True. But--god forgive me--I still love it.)

Photo of the Day II: Parking in Blacksburg, a Guessing Game

I was in Blacksburg yesterday for lunch with a colleague and parked on the street in front of Gillie's (one of my favorite restaurants). I remembered that the last time I was in the 'Burg, a couple of weeks ago in a driving rain storm, I had parked and not noticed there was a parking meter. We don't have them in Roanoke, so it's not something I look for. Cost me $25, which I thought excessive, but I paid it before I left town.

This time I noted the meter, went into a business and got some change for it. I got back and discovered what you see above. I couldn't see the inside workings, so I had no idea how much time I had on the meter and couldn't figure out how much it cost to park. My guess is that all that bad parking revenue goes into everything but clear parking meters. My other guess is that if I parked overtime and got a ticket, this photo would get the ticket thrown out of court ... unless B'burg has no concept of being fair, which I am sure is not the case.

I say all this because I went up and down the street examining the meters. They're all like this, so it's not an aberration.

Quote of the Day: Consult the Teaching Staff

"The principle of 'shared governance' is the least well understood aspect of academic freedom, and as a result, it is honored chiefly in the breach. But if the administration is serious about restoring shattered trust at Penn State, it must start by trusting its own faculty; and we faculty members — invisible so far, too stunned and depressed to speak — must work with the administration to repair what Mr. Sandusky and his enablers have destroyed."

--Michael Bérubé, Paterno Family Professor in Literature and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. (From guest commentary, NYTimes here.)

Photo of the Day: 'Shift!' I Said 'Shift!'

Poor wrinkly newspapers. Sometimes they just send the wrong message. My business partner sent this to me this a.m. as a wake-up call. "Wish we could do that," I replied.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Looking for Ideas for a Downtown Business Center

John Garland, center, talks to about 25 people at the meeting downtown tonight.
Downtown Roanoke's innovative development community continues to bend the norm. Tonight at Spectrum Design, just off City Market, John Garland and two of his business partners, called together a diverse group of people to talk about the future of the Marketplace Center. This is the old S&W Cafeteria building that Garland and his posse bought two years ago with the goal of creating a center for shopping and health.

It has not worked out that way to date because a couple of businesses that committed to locate in the building backed out. It's not exactly back to Square 1 for Garland, et. al., but it's maybe Square 3 or 4. The unusual nature of tonight's meeting is that Garland was looking for suggestions, information, ideas from people who live and work on City Market and a couple of others that might be interested in investing.

It was a lively meeting full of free-flowing ideas and even some nay-saying, but Garland came away energized.

The primary thrust for the investors, says Garland, is to get activity going in the building. "We're not approaching it with the profit motive," he insists. "We want to see downtown be successful." That success would flow over into several properties Garland owns, most of them combining living space and business offices or stores.

Among the innovations he's offering is to help some of the businesses with centalized services. "We have investors who'll support [the businesses]," he says. "We'll put you in business." High on the wish list is specialty foods that would be a complement to an online grocery store, which appears to be ready to occupy one of the spaces at the back of the building.

There are a number of spaces of various sizes and  and even four kiosk possibilities.

There are 1,200 people living downtown these days and 9,000 more who work there. That's a small town, one, in fact, that is about twice the size of Vinton.