Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Important Winner from Roanoke Children's Theatre

The cast of 'Eric and Elliot' talks to the audience following the performance.
On occasion, it's important to be reminded that there should be more to theater than simply entertaining an audience. Roanoke Children's Theatre did that tonight and will continue doing it through March 3 with its production of "Eric and Elliott."

That's my date Maddie and me.
This is a play that deals head on with depression and suicide from the perspective of three children, one of whom committed suicide. It is a remarkable performance (at least tonight; there are two casts) by Noah Oldham as Eric and a laudable interpretation by Alex Cutting as Elliot that carries the show. Veterans Amanda Mansfield and her husband Michael Mansfield are solid and Gwyenth Strope is convincing as Daisy, the young girl who ties it all together and helps Eric begin to understand that facing his demons is not a bad thing.

This is the third in a series of serious plays aimed at middle school audiences (and by Tuesday, 2,500 of them in the Roanoke Valley will have seen "Eric and Elliot") and for my money, this introduction to theater for many of these children will permanently open the door. The actors talked following the play about how mesmerized many of their young audiences were with the dramatization.

Creative Director Pat Wilhelms continues to break ground with her little troupe and we all owe her for it.

I've said it a dozen times and never get tired of saying it: Theater in the Roanoke Valley is solid, creative, talented, courageous and valuable. And it just keeps getting better.

Quote: Oh, Hell, Who Needs a Voting Rights Act?

Antonin Scalia in attack mode.

“And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same ... I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

“I don't think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless—unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution ... [T]his is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress ... Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”

 --Far right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (here) commenting on the Voting Rights Act, which has overwhelming support in the House and Senate, where support is unanimous (name anything else that Congress is unanimous about).


Our Reps Oppose Violence Against Women Act

Here's what our representative boys support: The right to abuse women.
It appears our U.S. House of Representatives members--Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Robert Hurt--have distinguished themselves once again among the knuckle-dragging, grunting, mouth-breathing Cro-Magnons of the Republican right. (Report here. Link to the vote within the story.)

These cavemen were in the minority (would that it were a smaller minority) of House Members voting to kill--so to speak--the Violence Against Women Act, setting them square in the sights of being in support of violence against women.

They'll offer all kinds of bullshit excuses for their votes--generally preferring legal technicalities over honest assessment of their motives--but they voted against women and now it's time for women to vote against them. They've set the dogs on you, ladies, but my guess is you have a much, much more forceful bite (let's hope it's in the butt).


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quote: Goodlatte Backing Off Immigrant Statements

"We're open to the idea that the large number of people who are not here lawfully are not a good thing to have ... operating in the shadows ... I do have concerns about a lot of the different proposals I've seen, and rather than negotiate those concerns in public, I think it's better to let the process work and see what kind of consensus we can develop."

--6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, revising an earlier, much more radical approach to immigration (today on Huffington Post here)

Civil War Weekend at Hotel Roanoke in March

Those of you who are still fighting the Civil War in one way or another have a great opportunity to study up on it March 22 at the Hotel Roanoke.
Here's a press release from Virginia Tech about an event that will be of special interest to you.

During the days of March 22 to 24, 1863, the Civil War was taking a decisive turn as Union troops marched through Mississippi while holding the Confederate army at bay in northern-held Kentucky. Exactly 150 years later to the day, March 22 to 24, 2013, the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and Virginia Tech’s Virginia Center for Civil War Studies will host the 22nd annual Civil War Weekend at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in Roanoke. 

The two-day event will honor that period of American history and, this year, will celebrate new Confederate writings recently discovered in Roanoke and published in 2012 that detail the final days of the war. The cost per person is $270 and online registration is now open. For more information on Civil War Weekend, contact the conference registrar at 540-231-5182. 

Civil War Weekend will feature presentations from several Civil War historians, including Roanoke College’s John R. Turbyfill Professor of History John Selby. Selby co-edited the new publication “Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans,” which contains the personal letters, diaries, and recollections of 42 Civil War veterans. These writings were discovered by a collector at a Roanoke estate sale in 2004, and were published last year. 

Also presenting are:
  • William C. “Jack” Davis, director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and author and editor of more than 50 books on the Civil War and Southern history, as well as on-camera consultant for numerous episodes of the History Channel series “Civil War Journal;” 
  • Virginia Tech Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus, renowned Civil War historian, and Civil War Weekend founder Bud Robertson; 
  • Naval Lt. Adam Jones, currently assigned to Virginia Tech’s NROTC Unit as an assistant professor of naval science; keynote speaker Richard J. Sommers, senior historian at the Army Heritage and Education Center at the Army War College; 
  • former Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Deputy Commandant Lt. Col. William F. Stringer; 
  • and Virginia Tech Professor of History Peter Wallenstein. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

OK, Boys, You Have My Apology

Earlier today, I thoughtlessly posted a snarky note about the two guys above, walking their children at Valley View Mall and I was wrong to be an asshole, which I was. They're simply young fathers enjoying their children and each other and I'm afraid I was being a grouchy old man, giving old men a bad name in general. I apologize. Hope you guys enjoy your next walk and don't run into a grouch.

The Conservative Case in Favor of Gay Marriage

The same-sex marriage amicus brief before the Supreme Court "argues, as he does, that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couples to grow up in two-parent homes, and that it advances conservative values of 'limited government and maximizing individual freedom.'"

--New York Times today quoting former Solicitor General Ted Olson of the Bush Administration (the guy who kept Al Gore out of the White House) about the conservative position on gay marriage (story here). Real conservatives see this as an individual freedom, small government issue. Which it is.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Photo of the Day: Ain't She Purty?

Here's my honey Leah posing at the bridge at the Vinton Greenway extension yesterday in our quest for 10,000 steps. Nice, huh. Her, too.

For Madeline, a House of Her Own

Mads in her upstairs bedroom with the house.
So, Saturday, Leah and I are doing some antiquing and head to the antiques mall in Rocky Mount (between Boones Mill and Rocky Mount) and I chance upon this lovely, hand-made (lovingly hand-made, I'll project) Victorian doll house. It's in my grandgirl Madeline's favorite color (yellow) and it's $75, complete with furniture, much of it hand-made.

I spring. Don't even hesitate. I think maybe the furniture sealed the deal.

Anyhow, I get home and call Mads' dad and excitedly tell him the story and he says, "Are you watching the Tennessee game? What's the score?"

And then, "Uh, Dad, we're in the process of getting rid of about half of the toys Madeline has so she can walk in her bedroom." I'm momentarily crushed, but then it occurs to me: "I'll just keep it at my house and she can play with it here." These photos are Madeline's introduction to the house, which she immediately began infuse with her own decorative touches.

I think maybe the house was a hit. Sure as hell was with me. Wish I'd made it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Quote: The Filthy Rich Get Filthy Richer

Blogger and author Les Leopold lays it out for you in very simple, easy to understand terms (here):

The richest 400 Americans ... increased their wealth by 54 percent between 2005 and 2010, while the median middle-class family saw its wealth decline by 35 percent.

Additionally, he says:
  • In 2010, the top hedge fund manager earned as much in one HOUR as the average (median) family earned in 47 years.
  • The top 25 hedge fund managers in 2010 earned as much as 658,000 entry level teachers.
  • In 1970 the top 100 CEOs made $40 for every dollar earned by the average worker. By 2006, the CEOs received $1,723 for every worker dollar. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Goodlatte: Send 'em All Home Now

Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Roanoke used to be an immigration lawyer before he became a Congressman. He used to be against term limits. He used to be at least on the far right fringe of moderation, back when he was carrying water for Newt Gingrich.

Now, he's a radical who's been in the House of Representatives for far, far, far too long and he has just said, in a national interview, that if you came here illegally, you can't be a citizen and he doesn't even want to hear that possibility discussed for an immigration bill. I'm wondering how his ancestors got here and how many of us he'd send back to the land of our illegal ancestors. Here's his quote on NPR yesterday (report here):

"People have a pathway to citizenship right now: It's to abide by the immigration laws, and if they have a family relationship, if they have a job skill that allows them to do that, they can obtain citizenship. But simply someone who broke the law, came here, [to] say, 'I'll give you citizenship now,' that I don't think is going to happen."

Is it too much to ask that our representatives--who have no chance of representing us--at least not embarrass us with their xenophobia?

Photo of the Day: Bridge to Nowhere

I'm not quite sure what the purpose of this little bridge leading from a fence to an exposed drainpipe along the Vinton spur of the Roanoke Valley Greenway is. The back of it bumps up against the fence and it stops at the opening of the big pipe. Interesting to look at, but function? No clue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Six Decades In and Still a Champion

John Swann shows the determination of a champion.
My honey, Leah's, brother-in-law John Swann, who is 64 and is missing many of his functioning parts, re-claimed a little of that youthful dash a week or so ago when he won Lynchburg's Cavalier Pool Tournament in Lynchburg.

John, who played on a state championship basketball team at E.C. Glass High when he was a kid, knows that championship feeling, but it can't be much better than it is when you beat a guy who is 26 years your junior and the defending champ. John did that. And he's a good guy, too, not the fierce-looking competitor you see here.

(This photo is from the News & Advance in Lynchburg.)

Huff Lane: A Decision Based in Disrespect

Huff Lane School: Hotels to replace it.
Last night's 4-3 vote in favor of the development of two hotels and a restaurant in a residential neighborhood of Roanoke (mine) is a disgrace on a number of levels, not the least of which is Councilman Court Rosen's contention that all the opposition had going for it was the emotion of the moment.

That disrespectful and inaccurate assertion was typical of this entire long process wherein two hotels will be plopped down where a school (Huff Lane) now rests in Dorchester Court, which runs parallel to Valley View Mall, but was never meant to be part of that development. The school has been closed for some time now (a tragedy in itself) and council has pondered what to do with it to enrich the city treasury. This decision (and one more to follow) sets the stage for the sale of the school and about half its grounds to a hotel and restaurant developer. A view of the mountains around our neighborhood will be forever destroyed by the development, no small matter to us.

Council and the planning department have consistently treated people in this quadrant of the city as meddlesome rubes whose only argument is "not in my back yard," the same one they'd make if the hotels were going in next door to their homes. But there's more to it than that. There is an implied disrespect in Rosen's remark that is as troubling as the council decision. Councilman Sherman Lea felt it when he made his impassioned defense of the neighborhood. Mayor David Bowers--a man with whom I have disagreed often, but who took the high road here--has defended neighborhoods throughout his political career and Anita Price, as usual, landed on that side of this issue.

Those in favor of development--especially Rosen--will hear about this decision for the foreseeable future. They have created another segment, like the people around Countryside Golf Course, nearly everybody in Southeast, and those in Gainsboro, whose mistrust of City Council and the planning department is intense, earned and growing. Council has shown little respect for the desire of these neighborhoods to be apart from commercialization.

My guess is that we have not heard the end of this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chip Woodrum: A 'Damn Good Man' Is Gone from Us

I shot this, perhaps last, photo of Chip recently for a story in moreFRONT.
I just heard that Chip Woodrum died tonight and it is difficult to maintain my composure. This was a good and decent man, a Roanoker who understood public service, who felt for people who had little and knew how to motivate those with much to be the best they could.

Chip (nobody ever called him "Clifton" that I'm aware of) served in the General Assembly for years as part of one of the most effective teams of legislators this region ever had. They worked in concert--Democrats and Republicans--to make this little corner of the state's voice heard, to stabilize our economy, to enrich our arts opportunities and to lure important employers here. They did not create a nasty and bitter political climate, but worked together and with members with whom they often disagreed to create a better Virginia.

Chip, who was 74, was a steadying, sober, humorous and wise leader of the group for 24 years, tempering Dick Cranwell's penchant for political hardball and some of the others' more radical tendencies to create a force for good. I never talked to Chip when he didn't have a good word and a joke, mixed with political commentary that was insightful, mature, irreverent and fascinating to hear.

He did not suffer fools well and the current level of discourse--not to mention the level of people representing this region--in the General Assembly made him sad and angry, but it also brought out some of his best and most biting humor.

He leaves a fine family, two of whom I know well--his wonderful wife Emily and his daughter Anne, whom I adore. Anne and her siblings will carry on the monumental Woodrum name, much as Chip carried his father's, grandfather's and great-grandfather's names with such dignity, flare and grace. (His dad, U.S. Congressman Clifton Woodrum, Sr., was the namesake for Woodrum Field at Roanoke Regional Airport.)

I'm going to miss him strolling down Campbell Ave. in his navy blazer, blue shirt, regimental striped tie, kahki pants and beacon smile.

Chip was a good man. A damn good man.

Back to the Table With Broccoli Boy

Hmmmmm. Should I eat that green stuff? Dad's making those stupid noises and faces again. Maybe so. Won't hurt.
Through the lips and over the gums, look out tummy, here it comes.
Alright, get on in there little green tree. Hmmmm. Not bad.
But nothing--and I mean nothing--is as good as my Binky. Slip on in there, boy.
Oz visited Sunday for lunch and I made his new favorite, broccoli, for him. Kid has the appetite of an NFL linebacker, but it's the Binky he prefers. Says it helps keep him trim and in fighting shape.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Finally, After about 50 Years, My Own Converse All-Star Low-Cuts

Converse has been making one form of tennis shoe or another since 1908 and the Chuck Taylor All-Star since 1923, but it took me until today to get my first pair. They're white low cuts, the kinds the basketball players wore when I was a kid in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sort of the Air Jordans of the day.

My brother had a pair, even though we were too poor to afford these expensive $10 shoes, because he was on the high school varsity and the school furnished shoes (hell, in those days, the school furnished everything down to jocks and muscle bruise balm). I didn't make the team and had to wear Keds. The humiliation was great.

I was walking at the mall this morning (it was 17 cold ones and I wasn't going to walk outside) and passed a display of the new colorful low-cuts. I've seen a lot of these displays, but they never seemed to have the one I wanted: the white one. There were high tops and black and pink and orange shoes, but no white, low-cuts.

Today, there they sat: the splendid Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star low-cut, antique in style and feel, but brand new and as handsome as ever. I bought them. First time I've ever bought shoes in a mall and a rare retail purchase of any kind. They cost $48 and I will not complain for a second. That's less than $1 a year for these shoes I have so wanted for so long.

They're resting under my bed at this moment, awaiting tomorrow's walk. It will be glorious. I might even try a dunk with my new shoes and my new knee.

'Burning the Furniture' Is Now an E-book (and I Didn't Know It)

My Facebook pal Dusty Wallace just sent a note telling me he had bought my memoir Burning the Furniture in e-book format and was 27 percent through "absorbing material." (An earlier post quoted Dusty as saying "compelling," which he did not say. I'll take "absorbing," though. Sorry, Dusty.)

I'm really glad Dusty's enjoying the book, but I had no idea it was an e-book. Somebody did the conversion without telling me--or asking me. Can they do that? Hell, I guess they can.

It's on if you're interested (here). It costs $3.99, which strikes me as a lot for a Kindle edition. The print version is $14.99, plus shipping. I don't know whether to be delighted or pissed. I mean it's my damn book, but then if this gives it more readers ...

Quite a quandary. Technology is the blessing and the bane of the age and some day we'll find out what the rules are.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Today's Quote: The Case Against Libraries

Roanoke City Library
"Because it's been 150 years, we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

"Books aren't public property, and writers aren't Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They've got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don't expect to go to a food library to be fed."

--Author Terry Dreary here

Friday, February 15, 2013

A View of Pipes from the Top Floor

This shot was taken from the fourth floor of the Wetern Virginia Water Authority Building in downtown Roanoke, looking down into an atrium that has become something of a water pipe museum. I spotted this as I stepped off the elevator on the way to a photo assignment at an investment and had to stop and look. Really cool stuff and it's all water pipes. I couldn't figure out how to get into the pipe room from the main floor, but the above view is better anyway.

Spring Sky in Mid-Winter

The Roanoke Valley Greenway stretch east of Roanoke Memorial Hospital was lovely--and quite busy--today in the early afternoon as I took a lunch walk. A front was moving in, one that lowered temperatures, brought brisk wind and shot these wonderful cloud formations across an azure sky. Felt like spring.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Smackdown of Absolute GOP Rule in the House

It's beginning to look like the U.S. House of Representatives is back in the business of governing if recent successes are any indication. The despised "Hastert Rule" has been ignored twice of late by Speaker John Boehner and both times good legislation passed (the Sandy funding  bill and the fiscal cliff compromise). The Hastert Rule is unofficial, but has been strictly adhered to by Republicans for a good while. It requires a majority of the majority party's votes before legislation is sent to the full House by the Speaker.

The NYTimes says this morning, "Their relevance is thanks in large part to an unlikely ally: Speaker John A. Boehner. Mr. Boehner has broken with Republican tradition by dispensing with one of the party’s unwritten tenets. It is known as the 'Hastert Rule' for its chief adherent, former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who declared: 'The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.'"

That rule put the Democrats in lockdown. They could not even vote on a bill until the majority of Republicans approved it and were left with nothing to do. Now they can keep busy, providing Boehner is serious about Democracy.

One additional, unexpected benefit for those of us from this region: The votes of Morgan Griffith, Bob Goodlatte and Robert Hurt--Republican extremists, all--will count a little less in the future.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Photo Essay: Hollins in the Snow

I love this view of the back entrance to the quad at Hollins.
Holly bushes beside the walkway.
Dorms on the quad in black and white.
Classic view of Cocke, the administration building.
I had a meeting over at Hollins University this a.m. and forgot to take my camera, but thank god for technology. I shot these with my humble little dumb phone. I'm not sure one can take a bad picture of this picturesque campus.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hey, Mom, Is It Bath Time Yet?

Oz digs in: Spaghetti for dinner.
Sometimes you just gotta lick where the food is.
Do I look like I think I look, Mom?
Hey, Tennessee just SCORED!!!
OK, Mom, I need a bath now.
My little grandbuddy Oz had one of his favorites for dinner tonight and he got to wear a lot of it to his bath after he finished. His mom, Kara, recorded the whole thing and you get to share it.

Southerners Eating Our Way Toward Strokes

If you're thinking of having another piece of fried chicken, a couple more biscuits with gravy or, maybe one more big glass of sweetea (Southern for "sweet tea"), you might want to consider a new study that says you're heading for a stroke.

The study looks at our region as the stroke belt and tells us that our lives are at stake (steak?) because of our Southern diets. We're eating ourselves to death.

Here's the Richmond Times-Dispatch story on the study.

Ally'all be sure to tell mama'n'em about this. Cain't go breakin' up the fambly.

GOP Redistricting Power Grab Broken by Virginia House Speaker

Yet another prominent Republican, recognizing injustice or simply being pragmatic in the face of a pissed off electorate, has acted--this time decisively--in the face of a raw power grab by the Senate. Here's the lead from a story this a.m. from ThinkProgress/Justice:

"Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R) killed the Inauguration Day sneak attack by Senate Republicans who hoped to pass a massive mid-decade gerrymander. Howell ruled that the Senate’s amendment to a House bill making minor technical corrections to the House legislative maps were not germane, as it was a “vast rewrite” and would “stray dramatically” from the legislation’s original purpose."

The whole story's here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

'The Matador' a Celebration of Hollins and Theater

Robert Plowman's "The Matador" was a perfect sendoff for the recent national recognition for the Hollins University master's playwright program. It is experimental, oddball, fun, chancy, delightful, unpredictable and, from what we're told, maleable. It may not be the same again.

It plays through Sunday on the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre. It plays evenings through Saturday, with matinees on the weekend. Tickets are $10.

This is pretty much what Hollins Master's Program director Todd Ristau is trying to get at with the program and it's working. This is a play developed at Hollins, by Hollins people (Plowman is a student and an award winning playwright) and presented to the community in Roanoke pretty much as a gift ... as Hollins Theater tends to be.

When we think of Theater at Hollins, we most often think of the wondrous Ernie Zulia and the miracles he produces several times a year with student talent.

Fact is, though, that Todd Ristau has had more of an impact on theater in the region than Ernie has because he's out among the local actors, producing, writing, acting, developing talent. No Shame Theater is his invention and he's constantly keeping theater stirred up in the area. It's so stirred up, in fact, that we're getting a national reputation. A good one. For quality theater at every level.

The play concerns a matador some consider the greatest of all-time, though his record is just 16-7 as he goes against El Toro del Rey. It is a fierce rivalry, much like the one for a sultry damsel/news reporter who spends the entire production trying to fall out of her too-tight, but fetching Spanish dress. Action is punctuated by the wanderings of a random little boy.

The cast is memorable. Drew Dowdy, who is becoming one of Roanoke's best and most sought-after actors, plays the Matador with comic grace; Charles Reynolds is a marvy bull with a Cockney accent; Emma Sperka (who has been in a number of memorable productions at Hollins) is hot-hot-hot as the Dame and Matthew Marshall is just about perfect as the little boy. Danny Reynolds, as the troubadour, holds it all together.

What does it all mean? I have no idea. But the music's good, the acting just about perfect for what this is and the evening thoroughly enjoyable (and--bless Mr. Plowman's heart--only 55 minutes long). Take it in. It's a hoot and it's just so ... well ... Hollins.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Photo of the Day: A Class from the Outside

Author Roland Lazenby addresses his class at the Writers Conference Saturday at Hollins.
The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference went off successfully Friday and Saturday at Hollins with yet another sellout crowd (its fifth in a row). A packed house enjoyed 22 classes, a roundtable discussion and almost continuous networking.

Those wanting more of a look at the conference can go here for a couple of photo essays with one more to come.