Monday, September 30, 2013

A Lovely Walk Along the James River

An idyllic view of the James River, early fall.
Initials on a tree: How romantic is that?
Leah and I took a walk along the James River, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday and I continue to be surprised and pleased with the number of hiking/walking trails within our region.

They're easy to find, easy access and generally easy to walk (and when you're my age with my knees, all that's good). This hike was just outside Lynchburg in, I think, Bedford County and accessed an old lock. Locks are cool and a significant part of the James River's history.

Nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon--especially for old codgers.
This is Leah and Meah looking pleased with ourselves and each other.
Leah takes overlook break with the James glistening.
Here's the rock and I'm ready to roll.

In North Carolina an Atrocity and Citizens Fighting Back

A recent Moral Monday drew 8,000 in Asheville, giving home of recovery.
I am not so much shocked as disgusted by these developments in my birth state of North Carolina.

A very wealthy (inherited) businessman named Art Pope has basically bought North Carolina and re-formed its government into one that fits his philosophy that everything is about business prosperity and the state has no responsible for its citizens. He owns discount stores (Variety Wholesalers) in 13 states and pays Walmart-type wages. He has spent $40 million on the infrastructure of his political organization, which got Republicans elected to a majority of the General Assembly seats with a minority of the state's votes (gerrymandering at its best and most illegal) and elected a governor to rubber-stamp everything the legislators do.

North Carolina at this moment is a capitalist nightmare ("government bad/business good"), a right-wing wet dream that has jammed social legislation down the throats of the state's citizens after promising to concentrate only on jobs. Bills have been introduced to outlaw certain religious practices, vastly broaden guy-carry laws, foul the environment in favor of bad business practices, to prohibit large blocks of Democrats from voting, to slash unemployment insurance while dramatically cutting the tax rates for the wealthy.

North Carolina's voters--like many more oppressed and passive groups around the world in the past--have gone along with this outrage for quite a while now, but at the end of April something happened. The NACCP organized a series of Moral Monday meetings in the capital (the GOP reps smirked and made bad taste comments) and those grew across the state. One in Asheville (my hometown) drew 6,000 people and the governor's ratings plummeted from more than 60 percent to the mid 30s. General Assembly seats--in what were thought to be safe districts because of the gerrymandering--are now being contested. The people are speaking.

What will happen next is uncertain, but North Carolina has been one of the more forward-looking states since I can remember (former Gov. Terry Sanford is a character in my novel CLOG! and he's not there for being a dumb-ass redneck).

What we're seeing in North Carolina is the GOP at its power-grabbing, vote-suppressing, religious fanatic, poor and middle-class bashing worst. This is the model the party has for the country and it simply won't do. We in Virginia must be vigilant because the guy running for the governorship would enthusiastically approve of this form of government (although he's killing himself right now to look "moderate," a term he doesn't even understand). Out legislators have moved far to the right and people like Ralph Smith of Botetourt County not only don't have the brain capacity to be representing anything beyond their neighborhood, but they cause enormous damage.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Child Gun Violence: 'America Needs an Enema'

How long before we see how wrong this is?
The New York Times has conducted a new study of firearm deaths among children and discovered that the NRA's contention that most of these deaths are homicides caused by criminals is wildly incorrect. (Story here.)

In fact, in most of the states where it conducted its survey, the rate of accidental death--child to child shooting--is more than twice what is reported because of the reporting methods used by states. The death of a person caused by another is often reported as a homicide, whether or not that is the case. For example, one case had a two-year-old shooting his nine-month-old sibling--while in a crib--resulted in a "homicide" finding, which was clearly not the case. Says a Georgia medical examiner, "A homicide just means they died at the hands of another. It doesn’t really connote there’s an intent to kill.”

The NRA opposes all efforts to keep guns out of the hands of children, which is an irony since one of the reasons the organization was founded years ago was to teach children gun safety. Now the NRA is in the business of preventing gun safety. Even the kind of technology that makes aspirin caps difficult for children to open is offbase with the NRA. It seems to want anybody to have access to guns all the time and with the ability to shoot anything they want any time they want. The stance helps gun manufacturers' profits and that's what the NRA's only reason for existence is these days.

Here's how absurd this all gets, according to the story: "Even self-inflicted shootings that are clearly accidental, like that of Lucas Heagren in Ohio, can wind up classified as homicides. Lucas’s father, Joshua Heagren, had tried to teach the 3-year-old to respect firearms. The boy had gotten a .22 rifle for Christmas, and his father showed him how to fire it. But he also warned him to handle it only when an adult was present." The boy was killed by an unsecured rifle. But the question is: What in the hell is a three-year-old doing with a rifle--of his own?

Gun politics has been far, far out of balance for 30 years and like so much the right wing does, once it goes over the line, it's almost impossible to bring it back to within reasonable limits. There is no longer outrage at the mass killing of children, of a three-year-old gun owner, of abusive husbands shooting their wives, of boys getting mad in a bar and shooting each other, of the spate of suicides that simply would not happen without gun availability.

It is, sadly, just another sign of a culture that has outlived its good sense, its usefulness and its humanity. America needs an enema.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Photo of the Day: A Beauty at the Cove

It's days like today that you that you want to thank Alexander Wolcott for inventing the camera (1840). I would also like to thank early humans for inventing the kayak and a group of moderns for sticking a camera into a phone.

The last part of that equation allowed me to take these photos a little while ago at Carvins Cove in Roanoke County, even though I had forgotten to load my camera into the boat when I left the house. No matter. The phone took these pix.

The sailboat here (something you don't see a lot at the cove) was bought recently by the captain--a guy about my age--for $800. He put a couple hundred in the rigging and now has a wonderful little boat.

The boat reminds me of the Sunfish we used at Annapolis Sailing School when I attended in the early 1980s. Great little boat that responded to a puff of a butterfly wing. 

I don't know that earth gets any prettier than it was 40 minutes ago on the cove, but if it does, I can't wait to see it. Thanks, god. You done good.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Writers Conference Web Site Up and Running (So Register)

Author Roland Lazenby makes a point that's over Dan Casey's head.
The website for the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, 2014 is up and functional. You can read about who's talking and register at the site (here). Remember, the last five have been sellouts and the
first one was not sold out only because we didn't have a limit.

This year's headliner is the truly gifted writer Sheri Reynolds from Virginia Beach. Sheri's keynote address is titled "Giggling Past the Funeral Home: A Look at What Makes Us Laugh," and her class is "Dreamwork for Writers: Using Your Dreams to Deepen Your Stories."

She will be joined opening night by novelists Carrie Brown and Rod Belcher, both of whom have hot new novels--Rod's a debut, Carrie's her sixth.

This is, once again, an impressive and deep lineup of writers from our region, continuing to demonstrate that our talent pool is full and overflowing.

Join us. The cost (two days, 24 classes, a wine reception, all the coffee you can imagine, lunch) is still $65 and the only consistent complaint we get is that we give waaaaaay too much for the money.

Quote of the Day: It's 'Not About Being Normal'

I've been working on updating my memoir, Burning the Furniture, and came across the following exchange with my old friend Betsy Gehman, who has been a surrogate mother to me for years. We were discussing the fact that memoirs can't end if the writer is still alive.

"Well, Betsy, what about the later years, the ones I’ve been living since I met you and Christina [my last—I hope— and best wife] and got sober and made peace with a lot of people and joined the natural order?” I asked.

“This is not a book about being normal,” she said. “It’s a book about you.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stone on Stone: Tech's New Helmet Outshines Research

It's not made of stone, thought what it covers may well be.
I hate to sound like an old grump, but when a football helmet gets more press than people working on causes of addiction, the major changes in old people's brains, innovative technologies, food and nutrition for the future, new forms of energy,  ...

You get the drift. All that research is happening at Virginia Tech, but what the football team will wear against Georgia Tech Thursday night in its ESPN game seems to have captured far more attention than all the previous studying and investigating put together. Tech's study about football helmet design--a legit scientific examination of how and why football players suffer head injuries--gets much less coverage than why quarterback Logan Thomas (by all accounts a nice and intelligent young man) is having a crappy year.

I have interviewed a number of scientists at the awe-inspiring Virginia Tech-Carilion Research Institute, as well as at Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus in many disciplines, and I can state without reservation that these people are far--FAR--more impressive than the best football players and best football teams ever to come out of there or anywhere else.

They are also far more important, as well. But you have to dig to find out anything about them and they certainly don't have an entire series of television networks floating around campus all day and night looking for stories that will "bring them to the people." These should be our children's role models, not people who wear plastic helmets that look like stones.

The helmet may have the most appropriate design ever, in any case. Stone over stone. What could be more perfect?

From the Roanoke Movie, a Serious Conversation

Andrea Shreeman: Talking about the end of life.

My buddy Andrea Shreeman, who is making her movie “A Good Day To Die,” in Roanoke, has scheduled an event to discuss end-of-life decisions Oct. 24-6-8 p.m. at Shaftman Hall at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke. 

The movie is a comedy. The story behind it is not and it is something many families must face. Andrea is a Roanoke native and this is yet another way she is giving back to the community with her movie.

Here’s what she says:

 “Since February of this year, I have been meeting with a team of committed medical professionals, faith leaders and the like in Roanoke, Virginia to create an event for the public that explores planning and care for end of life. 

“Part of The Die Movie's intention in making a film about end-of-life, is to spark events and conversations just like this one. And it is with great anticipation that we ask you to join us on October 24th. Please share this invitation widely as everyone is welcome.

“I will be introducing the evening alongside City Councilman Dr. David Trinkle, and our crew will be speaking with guests about their needs and experiences surrounding these important issues, both before and after the interactive panel. So please stop by and say hello.

WSLS TV anchor Karen McNew is the moderator of a panel discussion about end-of-life issues. The panel includes: Dr. Aubrey Knight of Carilion Clinic Hospice; Dr. Dave Trinkle of
Carilion Clinic, Geriatric Psychiatry; Rev. Bill Lee of Loudon Avenue Christian Church; Kathy Stockburger of her own consulting firm and president of the board of Good Samaritan Hospice; and Richmond attorney Nathan Kottcamp, chairman of the National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Abraham Challenges Rush on Uranium Mining

Michael Abraham is stirring the pot in the New River Valley's race for the 7th District House of Delegates seat and his incumbent opponent, Nick Rush ("Limbaugh") is not responding. I think Michael wins on this issue no matter what Rush does because the seat-holder's indecisive, waffling and seems to be leaning toward the position that makes money on a potentially dangerous situation.

Rush's position is thusly stated: "Lastly, the ban on uranium mining will be on the table this year. One of the largest uranium mining deposits in the United States was found in Southern Virginia at Coles Hill. Because there is currently a moratorium on mining uranium in Virginia, the deposit sits there untouched. I have heard from many constituents that oppose and support uranium mining for environmental and economic reasons. I will wait to hear the opinions from more of my constituents, and continue to study the plans and analyses before I make a final decision."

Michael is against uranium mining because of the potential danger. He has made that clear. Rush is hanging out there in waffle land, avoiding a commitment because if he opposes mining, he pisses off the industry (industry has a tendency to buy its representatives, lock, stock and barrell) and if he supports mining, he has to pay the price of a voting public that's unhappy. If he sits on the fence long enough, he seems to be saying, he suffers no pain at all. 

My thought here is that if he doesn't have a clearly stated opinion on a central issue, he must be in favor of mining because even though the industry can provide campaign money, it can't vote en-masse and the angry public can. 

Keep pushing, Michael. I'd say you have an issue.

And while you're looking for issues at the edge of coal country, I don't know why nobody has proposed the re-training of coal miners for the growing alternative energy segment. Coal is filthy and coal mining is dangerous. Coal miners--this is a guess--likely don't want their children going into the mines and would much rather they work in a solid industry that doesn't kill them with black lung or falling rock. Michael, you listening?

(Graphic: Southern Poverty Law Center)

Monday, September 23, 2013

GOP Bargaining Chip: Higher Medicare, SS Eligibility Age

TeaParty wants government out of government.
Republicans want to change the rules on Medicare and Social Security, raising the age of eligibility for both, without even suggesting a better alternative.

That would be asking rich Americans who are eligible to pay Social Security taxes on all their income, not just the first $113,700 of it. Medicare taxes all payroll income (at 1.45 percent, except for the self-employed who pay double on both--a travesty in itself, since most self-employed people don't make much money).

According to a "report from the Center for American Progress ... if lawmakers were to raise the [Medicare] eligibility age from 65 to 67, as many as 5.4 million 65- and 66-year-olds would have to search for alternative sources of coverage by postponing retirement, enrolling in private insurance, or qualifying for Medicaid. Loss of coverage would also exacerbate the economic insecurity of workers close to retirement, 62 percent of whom say they will delay their retirements as a result of the recession."

That comes from ThinkProgress here.

Let me tell you from experience that good health insurance in your early and mid-60s is absolutely vital. The body begins rapid deterioration at that point and medical conditions you never even imagined crop up quickly. Preventive care--such as I have had in good supply--saves a ton of money over the long haul.

If I have to wait until a crisis to take care of some of these conditions, it would require hospitalization and the bill would go through the roof. Medicare is an investment, one that helps cut the potential bill by a considerable sum.


An Explanation of Why Republicans Are the Way They are

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it this way:

"SNAP [food stamps], in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.

" Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are."

"Meanspirited"? Yes. They. Are.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Photo of the Day: Putting the Fun in the Sunday Stroll

Taking a Sunday morning walk with an eight-year-old girl can bring out a lot of the little boy in an old man, just by watching.

Maddie sat in the mud on a couple of occasions (evidence above), stood on the water fountain's "on" lever--at every single fountain we passed--and even walked the top of the rail fence in the top pix.

I watched. Often in amazement with just what it takes to entertain a young one. Fun time of life for both of us.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Playing Cocktail Party at Goodwill

Here's Maddie trying on dresses (with Leah's hand holding the one on the left together) at Goodwill today.

She also found a pair of shoes she thought made her look elegant, so she grabbed a wine glass, a beaker and feigned pouring a drink at her cocktail party.

Fun times at Goodwill Industries.

When Losing, Resort to the Haircut

Tennessee was getting belted by Florida 17-7 and I thought, "Hell's bells, no need to waste the day. Leah's here and I need a haircut." She accommodated. Here's proof. I'm beautiful again.

(Photo by Madeline Smith)

The Difference Between Kaine and Griffith

Sen. Tim Kaine vs. Rep. Morgan Griffith on the future of coal (from Roanoke Free Press):

Tim Kaine
“We have an obligation to reduce carbon emissions in a way that makes economic sense. We can do this by encouraging American innovation. As I explore the proposed rule, I will work with all stakeholders to make sure our regulatory approach does just that.”

--Tim Kaine

"These regulations will fulfill one of the President’s promises from his 2008 campaign, and send our electric rates sky-high.  President Obama also admitted in 2008 that the cost of these policies will be passed on to consumers. We all know who those people are. Those ‘consumers’ are
Morgan Griffith (without normal scowl)
hard-working, middle-class Americans. I strongly urge President Obama and EPA Administrator McCarthy to declare a ceasefire in the war on coal and stop the regulatory assault on America’s power sector, related businesses, and hard-working American people.”

--Morgan Griffith

Griffith stands foursquare with both feet in the 19th Century on the nation's energy future, and everything else Congress votes on. If we don't convert, we won't convert. It will take some effort and some sacrifice--on the part of the people and on the part of the filthy coal industry, which has had a history of gruesome mistreatment of its workers. Whose side is Griffith on? The mine owners' side. He most certainly is not on the side of the people, working or otherwise. 

Just this week alone, he has voted to remove $40 billion in food stamps, much of that going to hungry poor children and to--for the 41st time--take away health care coverage from Americans who did not have it without the healthcare act. For the people? Bullshit.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Barking Dogs: What Can You Do About It? (Hint: Nothing)

I got this question a little while ago, based on a blog post from a year or so ago:

I so very much related to your article on dogs barking that I found on line.

Too bad we aren't TV watchers. It would be easier. But we read and it is hard to read with dogs yapping incessantly. We have a horrible issue on Westover (southwest Roanoke). The whole neighborhood has called Animal Control but nothing is happening.

My question is: How did you ever get the animal control people to stop the problem. It all seems like a lot of talk around here. Thanks for any advice.


I responded thusly:
I simply began to complain every time a dog barked. Every time. All of the dog barking is against city noise ordinance, so there are no exceptions. They all break the law and I complained about all of them.

Problem is that the "solution" is, at best, temporary. The police can really only warn the owners and told me that if I wanted to pursue this in court, I'd have to provide tapes/video, etc., and then the court might fine the owners, but probably wouldn't. It would issue yet another warning.

City Councils are loath to put teeth--so to speak--into dog barking laws because dog owners vote and my guess is more people own pets than don't. I have a Salem police officer living across the street (in Roanoke) and she puts her young dog out every morning at 5:45. It barks wildly until 6 a.m. when she takes it back in.

I called the police department yesterday to complain and was told "call back when the dog is barking." That doesn't make much sense, either, because when I do that, I'm told, "We'll get an animal control officer over there when one becomes available." When will that be? I ask. "Could be a couple of hours." By then, the dog's inside and the owner's at work and I look like a liar.

I don't know what the solution to bad neighbors, inconsiderate neighbors, awful dog owners and boorish people is, but I sure wish I had one.


Here's How House Republican Obstruction Works

And let's not forget 40-plus votes on Obamacare.
President Obama yesterday accused House Republicans of using "extortion" to bargain for its goals and he's exactly right in that. Here's how Rachel Maddow explains it (on her blog):

"Consider an example from earlier this year. House Republicans approved a budget plan and challenged Senate Democrats to do the same, assuming they'd fail. The GOP miscalculated and Senate Dems approved their own budget plan in the spring.

"From there, lawmakers were supposed to enter bipartisan, bicameral negotiations, which is what always happens when the House and Senate approve competing budget blueprints. But a funny thing happened -- Republicans refused to enter the budget talks they said they wanted.

"It hasn't generated much attention, but it's important to understand why. GOP lawmakers couldn't go to the negotiating table because that would mean ... negotiating. Republicans weren't prepared to compromise on anything, so why bother with budget talks? What GOP officials wanted instead was to wait until the fall when they might at least try to claim leverage in an extortion plot."

That's precisely what's happening and I don't think there's even a point where an argument can start. I'm not even sure the Republicans want to disagree. Those on the far right fringe want to disrupt government, they want a shutdown, they want anarchy, though they have absolutely no idea what that means and when it affects them, they shit all over themselves.


Privatizing Government Is Crazy

So now we're putting people in prison based upon a quota system established by private companies running state prisons? Here's the story.

We're jobbing out our military, our jails, our garbage pickup and god knows what else to companies that gouge the public (think "Haliburton") at every turn. It's time for the government to get back to being the government and pulling in these private contracts.


An All-Too-Brief Glimpse at Al Jazeera

Late Tuesday afternoon, I was taking a break from writing magazine stories and turned on the TV to go with my healthy snack (mmmmmm, ChexMix and homemade sassafrass tea). There, smack dab in front of me sat Al Jazeera America, the new news channel from the Middle East that just took over Al Gore's ("Al." Funny how that works) faltering network, Current.

I watched it for a bit, liked it and marked the channel--358--in the back of my mind so I could return when the opportunity arose. Next day, I watched briefly again. Good channel, I thought. A lot like CNN used to be--before Fox polluted everything. News, features, talking people who weren't ... well ... stupid.

I knew there had been a xenophobic backlash against Al Jazeera, but I had little idea the network was getting ready to debut an American edition here. Al Jazeera was the channel news junkies watched on the Internet, a lot like those who used to seek out the BBC before it established a network here (both TV and radio). Both outlets are superior to just about anything I can find that is American made (save for Public TV news--which is boring as hell--and Public Radio News, which doesn't have pictures, but is great).

Anyhow, I went back again Thursday and Al Jazeera's gone. I resorted to Facebook to find out what the deal is and after a while, get this link to a NYTimes story telling me AT&T's masters of culture  ditched the cable feed for the Arab network, using some contractual pretext (which works out, in general, to bullshit).

Here's what the NYT said: "As for the channel itself, when it started Tuesday afternoon, it seemed to deliver on what it promised — serious, straightforward news. The first hour had a lengthy promotional video that said, among other things, 'We will connect the world to America, and Americans to the world.' Then, at 4 p.m., the news began, led by the former CNN anchor Tony Harris, who updated viewers on the unrest in Egypt and a shooting at a school in Georgia." I later saw a solid report on bullying in American schools, one that offered problem/solution. Good stuff. In depth and unafraid.

I hope America's ready for this. I sure am. TV news, in general, sucks. Al Jazeera doesn't.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Unions, Middle Class Suffering the Same Fate

For those of you who have an unalterable aversion to unions, I present (actually, HuffPost presents here) a graphic that should give you pause.

Seems the decline in income for the middle of America is tied almost like crossed fingers to the drop in union membership, something that has been orchestrated by Republicans and Southern Democrats for decades. I'm not quite sure why Southern Dems are on this particular train to nowhere, but it's obvious what the Republicans want: cheap labor, slaves where possible.

The story notes, quite correctly, that, "Unions typically increase the wages of their workers while also raising pay [not to mention benefits] for nonunion workers in industries with a strong union presence." We're not talking here about increasing wages at unprofitable companies, something that should not be attempted, even though they always seem to have plenty of money for executive bonuses. We are, however, discussing the possibility that the Koch brothers and the Waltons might shed a home or two, a yacht or two, a few Congressmen.

Unions have had a difficult 40-year ride and are apparently a low, low priority for young people. There is apparently some evidence, as well, that states with regulated unions (meaning weak unions or no unions) have fared better economically--as a whole--during recent down times. But that is not sustainable over the long haul. A healthy middle class means more for everybody because it ultimately means more and stronger consumers. Unions, like the businesses they often battle, can also be corrupt and that has had a devastating effect--like jihadist Moslems on the entire religion.

It's too bad that we're where we are and, frankly, I don't have an answer. The power brokers own Congress and the courts and when you get there, there's little recourse for the people in the middle.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Photo of the Day: A Chat About E-Books

Liz Long addresses the class.
Becky Mushko talks about the Kindle.
Tonight's Writers Series (Roanoke Regional writers Conference) class on e-books turned a lot of corners I didn't see coming and I think the gathered writers appreciated the look ahead.

I'm considering putting one of my books up as an e-book and got a great deal of information on how to do it from Becky Mushko and Liz Long in the process. Each of them has considerable experience and shared it with the 13 or so students.

The next class is Oct. 16, 6:30 and features Alice de Sturler talking about writing true crime. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Photo of the Day: Oh, the Stresses on the TV Chef

I knew instinctively this couldn't be right. The TV chef, Paula Dean's son, for chrissakes, said to bake the butternut squash strips two hours at 475 degrees. I suggested you could melt steel under those circumstances.

What we have above is 475 degrees for about 40 minutes. Crisp, toasted and black. Dead butternut squash fries. Damn. I was so looking forward to this.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Photo of the Day: It's the Ultimate These Days

I shot the photo above a little while ago at Raleigh Court Park where a pickup game of Ultimate (formerly Ultimate Frisbee) was taking place, and I like the picture a lot. Happy people doing happy things. The story I'm doing is about the young woman in the front, Jodi Meyer, a lawyer in town here.

The sport, designed loosely like football (without all the bumping of heads), looks like a heck of a lot of fun and it would certainly fit your requirements getting in shape--there is a lot of running. A lot.

You can find out all you need to know about Ultimate by calling 540-632-2386 or going to the Facebook page at

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Virginia Senator Inspired Obama's Move

Tim Kaine proves to be an old-fashioned diplomat.
This could be huge. Virginia freshman Senator Tim Kaine proposed that President Obama go to Congress for consultation on the Syria question and how that his idea has proved successful, Obama is apparently considering doing the same thing on domestic issues.

That would mean Congress and the president talking to each other, trying honestly to reach agreement. This Congress has been one of the least effective in our nation's history, deadlocked as it is by a complete inability to compromise. Maybe Kaine's idea will help, or even work. If so, he deserves a Nobel Prize.

Exposing Virginia Colleges' Slave History Should Spread

Isaac G. Jefferson, son of a Thomas Jefferson slave.
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan has put together a group of 27 members of the university faculty, staff and students, along with alumni and community members to once and for all study and release the details of UVa's slave history. (Report here.)

This is a good thing to do and I would suggest every college and university in Virginia should follow suit. The history's there. It needs to be revealed.

I was at a football game in Lexington last weekend, sitting with my friend Doug Cumming and his wife and Doug, a journalism assistant professor, mentioned that W&L is one of the few colleges that  actually owned slaves. Both founders were slave owners (though Robert E. Lee's "ownership" has some asterisks attached, since his wife was the owner of record).

Washington College President Henry Ruffner, in fact, was both a slave owner and a proponent of releasing slaves, a conflicted view that was not as unusual as you might suspect. Lee held it, as well, and so did Thomas Jefferson, who owned 600 slaves.

In 1847, Rufner wrote (source here) that "as we are nearly all slaveholders, and none of us approve of the principles and measures of the sect of abolitionists, we think that no man can be offended with us for offering to the people an argument whose sole object is to show that the prosperity of our West[ern] Virginia--if not East Virginia also--would be promoted by removing gradually the institution of slavery, in a manner consistent with the rights and interests of slaveholders."

I'm not sure many people know this chapter and it remains a source of embarrassment for W&L. Coming clean, apologizing and creating discussion would lighten this dark stain on an excellent university's blouse. The commission would also offer a valuable learning experience for everybody involved, not just students.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Who's Out, Who's In at Roanoke's Daily

(Update: The rumor that sportswriter Randy King was part of the layoff is apparently untrue. He has been ill and "is expected to return to work soon," according to somebody who knows. Three designers and team leader Chris Church were fired. One of those designers, Michele Crim, used to work for Tom Field and me at the FRONT.)

 Looks like the local daily in Roanoke is responding to the Internet chatter over the last day (including mine, I suspect) by offering up this excellent piece by veteran reporter Ralph Berrier Jr. on its 11 percent staff reduction (31 jobs), announced briefly yesterday.

News outlets have traditionally been terrible about reporting on themselves, but this report--which is still without the names of the five newsroom people who lost their jobs--is one of the most complete and balanced of this type of story I've ever seen. The story shows respect for readers by reporting straight. If this is where the paper is going in general, it is a good thing. The layoffs are sad and even tragic for reporters, several of whom have been with the paper for a long, long time.

Here's what I've heard from at least two sources each so far: Ray Cox, the paper's best natural writer and a long-time sports writer in the New River Valley, was let go. Two editorial writers, Michael Sluss and Luanne Traud Rife, have been moved to the newsroom, helping to establish a gain of one local reporter overall.

Natalee Waters, head of photo, was let go and the paper's managing editor, Michael Stowe, will assume her duties. Kathy Lu, the features editor, announced she was leaving for Kansas City last week--ahead of the layoffs. David Ress, a veteran reporter and editor who recently moved to Roanoke from Staunton to take Mason Adams job as city reporter (Mason was a crackerjack reporter who left for a job outside the industry in Floyd), is gone. He Tweeted this yesterday: "afraid the 11% of staff the roanoke times laid off included me. a great paper, gonna miss it lots."

Word is that the paper's online presence will be run from somewhere besides Roanoke (I've been told it will be operated in Richmond, but can't get that verified). The future of print publications is online, so this is a crucial decision, taking the operation out of Roanoke--if, indeed, that is true.

Berrier's story says the paper's circulation has fallen to 67,000 on weekdays and 85,000 on Sunday. My guess is that the circulation has not been that low since the 1960s. Employment has dropped from 633 in 1986 to 253. I don't know how many of those are in the newsroom, but my guess would be that the news total is the lowest it's been in 40 years or more.

It's easy to get mad at daily papers for losing jobs. It was especially easy under the previous regime at the local daily here when the management was ... well, you put in the adjective you prefer. Publisher Terry Jamerson is doing what she was directed to do by new ownership (Berkshire Hathaway) and I don't think she's taking any joy in these layoffs and staff maneuvers. Will it result in a better newspaper? We'll see.
the local editor of The News Leader in Staunton since 2010 and is happy to return to reporting a beat.
David was an investigative reporter, business reporter and projects editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for many years, and also has reported for The Star Ledger in Newark, the Daily Press in Newport News, The Baltimore Sun and Reuters.
- See more at:
the local editor of The News Leader in Staunton since 2010 and is happy to return to reporting a beat.
David was an investigative reporter, business reporter and projects editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for many years, and also has reported for The Star Ledger in Newark, the Daily Press in Newport News, The Baltimore Sun and Reuters.
- See more at:
the local editor of The News Leader in Staunton since 2010 and is happy to return to reporting a beat.
David was an investigative reporter, business reporter and projects editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for many years, and also has reported for The Star Ledger in Newark, the Daily Press in Newport News, The Baltimore Sun and Reuters.
- See more at:
the local editor of The News Leader in Staunton since 2010 and is happy to return to reporting a beat.
David was an investigative reporter, business reporter and projects editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for many years, and also has reported for The Star Ledger in Newark, the Daily Press in Newport News, The Baltimore Sun and Reuters.
- See more at:
the local editor of The News Leader in Staunton since 2010 and is happy to return to reporting a beat.
David was an investigative reporter, business reporter and projects editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for many years, and also has reported for The Star Ledger in Newark, the Daily Press in Newport News, The Baltimore Sun and Reuters.
- See more at:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Strange Coincidence on 9/11

Twelve years ago this morning, I was driving in to work hearing that the Salem Avalanche had won the Carolina League championship the night before. A few minutes later, the network broke in and said a plane had flown into a building in New York City.

This morning, on the way to a doctor's appointment, the guy on the radio was talking about the Salem Red Sox winning the Carolina League championship last night, after winning 11 games in a row. That was followed by mention of this being the 12th anniversary of 9/11.

Sad. And spooky.

Update: Local Daily Lays Off 31 People; Editorial 'Gutted'

(Update: Word comes that the editorial department at the paper, the one conservatives love to hate, has been "gutted." Also understand photo department head Natalee Waters is looking for work and Managing Editor Michael Stowe will direct that department. Kathy Lu is leaving features for a job in Kansas City, but that was previously announced.)

After hearing most of the morning that Roanoke's local daily paper had laid off a bunch of people, the paper finally posted a story (when the rumor mill was running at full throttle). Here's the gist of what Publisher Terry Jamerson announced in print:

"As part of the restructuring announced today, The Roanoke Times will add news gathering resources, and our circulation department will reinstitute delivery of missed newspapers in the near future, within our primary market area. The eliminations came primarily in the digital, technology and production areas, where the enterprise will take advantage of corporate resources that are now available through BH Media.

"Although some jobs are being combined and restructured, the total number of jobs eliminated today was 31. Following today's announcement, the Roanoke Times and will have a total of 253 employees."

So, next, we need to know who in news was fired, what resources will be added and how this will all affect what the newspaper of record is publishing in this market. More questions than answers. That seems to be typical of the news media reporting on itself.

Language Atrocity of the Day: 'Vigiling'

These people have gathered to conjugate the verb "to vigil."
When sportscaster Mike Golic said, "The Ravens were not out-talented" by the Denver Broncos last week, I made a note in my "Murderers of the Language" book, so I'd remember to write about it later when I had some more examples of blockhead sportscasters' gaffs. Today, however, I bring you "vigiling," not by a sportscaster, but by a bright, educated committed woman who knows better.

"I have been working with Plowshare Peace and Justice Center vigiling most days across from the Poff Federal Building and I set in motion a local march sponsored by Plowshare against strikes on Syria."

This is from a sentence on Facebook written by Cynthia Munley, a dedicated peace worker and a woman who gives politicians a lot to think about--much of it making them nervous. But "vigiling"? She was trying to tell us that she was holding a "vigil," which is not a verb. "Holding" is the verb and she didn't use it. Cynthia, please.

Photo of the Day: The Patience of the Monks

Pardon the camera shake in these photos, but the light was so low in the Randolph College chapel yesterday that shooting good quality was pretty much out of the question, especially without flash. In any case, this is an RC class listening to a Buddhist monk explain the sand artwork he and his brethren were engaged in.

This is an intricate, delicate art that requires great patience, working virtually a grain of sand at a time. When the work is finished--in the next day or so--it will be dumped into the James River, a statement of some kind by the monks, who don't seem to have a lot to do with their time.

Lovely work. Well worth the effort to get by and see it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Candidate Says Repairing Bridges Costs Too Much

Michael Abraham would maintain roads and bridges.
Del. Nick Rush (Limbaugh Light), the Republican running against challenger Michael Abraham (my pal) in the 7th District (NRV) said last night that he--in essence--favors Virginia's ridiculously, dangerously low taxes over preserving human life. (Story here.)
Rush Not Limbaugh

That, my friends, is the Republican mantra.

Rush (and, no, I don't think he's related to Rush Limbaugh, though in his heart, I suspect he'd like to be) voted against the Commonwealth Transportation package last year because he was afraid of paying for things like repairing bridges whose pieces are falling on people, threatening life and limb. He's a former FedEx driver who should have some idea of the value of maintained roads, but the guy has little formal education, so maybe he didn't study that.

Here's his reply to the suggestion that we need to maintain roads and bridges:

“I stand by this vote because I know families in the New River Valley can’t afford to have more of their hard-earned money taken out of their pockets in these tough economic times.” Even when money spent could save lives, huh, Nick. I'd say that's a hard line.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Blog Post Will Teach You To Use E-Cigs

I think most of you who read this blog know that I quit smoking (3.5 packs a day for 25 years) 20 years ago and that I am an irreconcilable tobacco Nazi. I hate it. Hate those who sell it. Feel sorry for the farmers who grow it and for the poor addicts who smoke it.

But there is apparently hope for those who desperately want to do something--anything short of quitting--about the habit and Janeson Keeley is writing about her switch to e-cigarettes in her blog here.

Here's what Janeson has to say, briefly:


I know how you feel about people smoking and that you thought that my switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes was a good idea. You probably know other people who smoke who you'd like to see quit, so I wanted to let you know that I'm doing a series of blog posts about switching from tobacco to e-cigs. 

"Using e-cigs is really much more complicated than smoking, and I just became an affiliate for the company I buy them from (I get to review free stuff!), so I thought I'd combine education with my reviews to help other folks. I've already got two people "hooked" on the blog posts.
[The link] displays excerpts of the posts in reverse date order (newest at the top). I also have a subscribe by email option at the top of the second column.

E-cigarettes, by the way, are not without controversy, so you might look for as much info as you can find on them. Anything, however, is better than smoking those damn cigarettes and making really bad people rich by killing 400,000 Americans a year.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's Never Too Late To Follow Your Bliss (Ask Ashley)

That's Ashley's "soccer legs" (her term) right center. 
Ash (center) mixes it up.
Ash cools down.
Hannah (yellow), who has the prettiest running stride I've seen since Hank Aaron, dribbles.
Here's Hannah again. She scored after I left.
Hannah's little sister kicks into an opponent.
Ash and her boy talk during a break.
Ashley's coach takes care of business
Ash's daughter Hannah (yep, another one) is on the left; her pal on the right.
Ashley playing defense.
Teammates at halftime on the bench.
Are we tired yet?
Ashley leads the charge.
My buddy Ashley Mullen, the woman I told you about who cleans my house, has taken up soccer (again) at 40. Ash was a player at Patrick Henry High School about 22 years ago and now, after a long drought, she's back at it.

Today, I went to one of her games at the Greenfield Center in Botetourt County to take photos for her and found a lot more to shoot than Ash--or even her two good kids. Here's some of what I found.

Ash's Facebook page had the following tonight: "It's official ... I LOVE SOCCER!"