Friday, December 18, 2015

Guess What's in the Rearview Mirror

Yep, that's exactly what it is, the one thing we don't want in our rearview mirror: a cop car with his lights flashing.

I was coming back from Tazewell around lunch, hurtling through space, running from the snow and saw the lights in the mirror. I thought they were for somebody else, but when the dude didn't go around me, I figured it out. He said I was going 69 mph in a 55 mph zone and I guess I was. Wanted to get home to take care of some other business.

I contacted the Mercer County, WV, magistrate's office, found out the fine was about $200 and wrote the check. Pretty much cancelled a good bit of the money I made running down to Tazewell. But it was a pretty drive and I liked the snow.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Margie the Elf: Entertaining the Old Folks

Margie gets to be Santa's elf tomorrow as Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg--where she works--celebrates Christmas for its elderly residents.

She makes a dandy elf, complete with pointy ears, which are made of tape and which have a hard time staying on.

Cute, huh? Wish I could go (as Santa), but I gotta be in Tazewell for work. Dammit. I love to watch her perform. She's a natural.

Good News for a Couple of Our Best Writers

Roland Lazenby (left) and Neil Sagebiel
My friends Roland Lazenby and Neil Sagebiel have good news for the holiday season.

Roland's blockbuster book Michael Jordan, The Life (here) has gone into its fifth paperback printing in English. Add nine hardcover printings and a bunch of foreign editions (including Polish and Japanese) and you have quite a success.

His new biography on Kobe Bryant--as yet untitled, so far as I know--is due out next year.

Ro will give the opening address for the 9th Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Jan. 23 at Hollins University. He will talk about "The Future of the Book." You won't want to miss this one. You can register here.

Neil, who will teach a class at the upcoming writers conference. as we;;. has just released the e-book Ho! Ho! Ho! The Life and Legend of the Jolly Green Giant (here). The accompanying press material describes the book thusly:

"First appearing in 1928, the Jolly Green Giant went from a vegetable mascot to a company brand to a cultural icon. ... The Jolly Green Giant was the face of what would become the Green Giant Company, makers of canned vegetables ─ first peas, then corn and much more. This giant went on to tower over much of the 20th century as the invention of a legendary ad man, the subject of a hit song, the partner of a TV star, the promotional stunt of a radio station owner and the tourist attraction of a small Midwestern town.

"Ho! Ho! Ho! is the full amusing account of how the Jolly Green Giant came into being, and how, over time, he became nearly as appealing and wholesome as a helping of sweet niblet corn."

Neil is best known as a golf blogger with a huge national following and the writer of two notable golf histories:  The Longest Shot and Draw in the Dunes. The former was one of the Top 10 sports books of the year in 2012.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Calling Me Names Won't Help or Offend, but Be Real

Is this an effort to recruit black Confederate babies?
This is from a Daily Kos post that I found interesting. It is about Donald Trump and his views that many Americans seem to adopt in order to make their views legitimate--when they are not:

"It's not that a certain segment of Americans weren't already complete misogynists and bigots. They are. They have just been too ashamed to be public about it because the rest of us would pile on the minute they tried to air their offensive views. Trump and the bigots and misogynists who adore him sneeringly call this 'political correctness.' The rest of us call it 'not being a complete and utter dick.'

"Trump has managed to erase much of that by 'saying what people are really thinking.' It doesn't matter that it's not what most people are thinking. All that matters is that enough Americans hold these disgusting views and opinions that, once they are unleashed, it looks remarkably like this is what America is."

This all comes up as I'm fielding a lot of criticism (which I don't mind at all) from people who say they don't believe the Confederate battle flag is racist and that their actions in flying it are anything but racist. They call me a racist, a crybaby, prejudicial and uncharitable, immature, intolerant, idiotic, a 'fucking whiner,' an ignorant fool, 'right childish,' a damn hypocritical Yankee (I was born and reared in the South and have never lived outside it), elitist, disgusting, perverse and stupid.

They complain that my "observations ... parade as journalism." This is a blog; it is not a newspaper and you are told forthrightly and bluntly in the right-hand column that this is not to be confused with journalism.

I am told to "get my facts straight" (about a man being in the NAACP, which I stated) and about the history of the Confederacy and the flag, without hinting where I made a mistake. They tell me to get educated without saying where the hole in my education is. I have studied this topic far, far more than I have wanted to and feel pretty comfortable with it.

To their credit, most have signed their complaints. I respect that. Many have spelled and punctuated correctly and have written eloquent defenses of indefensible positions. I appreciate the effort to be respectful of our mutual language.

Still, I am confused by the term "politically correct," which the right seems to use any time one of us on the left makes a statement about anything with which they disagree. We are being "politically correct," which I suspect means we are playing to the crowd with no real argument. I would suggest the contrary and the reverse are true.

I am constantly impressed with the Confederate battle flag devotees' absolute fealty to their position, regardless of what history tells us. They totally ignore, for example, that one of the foremost Civil War experts in existence, James Robertson of Virginia Tech, said on a Public TV show he hosted that anybody who said in his class that the Civil War was not fought over slavery would get an immediate F in his class (this is confirmed by Jim Hammerstrom, who produced the award-winning show).

I would suggest that if the Confederate battle flag ever stood for anything but slavery--and it did in the beginning, when it simply identified an army--that it does now, especially since it has been used since 1948 by those who see nothing at all wrong with racism. Most Americans who have any thought at all about the flag believe it to be a symbol of racism. That being the case, I think it would do those supporting it as a symbol back up a bit and fold that flag. They can easily unfurl one of several others that haven't been tainted.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gratitude: Being Involved

Today, I am grateful for being involved.

I have had a busy few weeks with various involvements that include political (Confederate flag protests and gun protests), professional (meeting a number of deadlines representing a ton of work), personal (Margie), family (some good, some challenging) and sometimes difficult (you don't want to know).

They are all in play, keeping me alert, interested and very busy. I love every minute of it, even the minutes I don't love.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Three Percenter Asked for Armed Support at Xmas Parade

Highberger from his Facebook page.
A man named Daniel Terri Highberger asked his fellow guns rights advocates to join him at the Roanoke Christmas parade Friday and to "carry your weapons. Put 'em on your hip."

Highberger was soliciting support for the alleged heritage group the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which marched in the parade and carried Confederate battle flags, amid significant protest.

Highberger posted a video on Facebook with the request for support (here).

He asked his fellow gun advocates to "support our Second Amendment rights" at the parade and he called the NAACP, which called for the SCV to march without their battle flags, "the biggest racist group I can think of."

He said the video was "a call to arms. Get off your keyboards; get off your asses" and support the SCV. He instructed those attending to shout "your rebel yells" when the battle flag passes.

This casts an entirely different light on the SCV's claim that it is simply an historical organization which counsels "history not hate."

There Was More to the Parade Than Flags and Guns

The Regional Water Authority's pirate ship entry.
Father-daughter in costume.
If you've been following this blog for the past couple of days, you probably have the idea that the Roanoke Christmas parade for 2015 was about nothing but the Confederate battle flag. That, of course, is not true, although the flag was the elephant in the room.

There was a lot of traditional Christmas parade music, marching and floating going on that was lost in the controversy. Some of it was good (like the always great float entry from the Regional Water Authority and Haley Toyota's downsizing of its 15-car entry in 2014 to a banner amid Dickens of a Christmas traditional dress) and some that was not so good (the young girls in snow costumes twerking).

Overall, though, if you remove the flags (and their advocates, many of whom wore no costume), it was a normal parade, one that can certainly be improved, but not overpoweringly offensive.

Here is some of what it looked like.

Parade sponsor Haley Toyota showed a lot of class with this simple banner amid Dickens marchers.
This was a group of random people sans costume (right) and twerkers (left)
These children were twerking, a lewd dance many thought inappropriate for their age or for a Christmas parade.

III%ers Militia Marches with SCV Parade Entry

About half of those marching with the Sons of Confederate Veterans were dressed like this.
Friday night, during Roanoke's Christmas parade, a young African-American reporter for WSLS TV 10 in Roanoke named Duke Carter interviewed a man named Tim Boone, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned "III 1776." That is a Three Percenters T-shirt. He had been marching with the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, which flew a number of Confederate battle flags and drew protests from several groups.

This is a white militia and a gun advocacy group.

The list of complaints against this year's Christmas parade in Roanoke is growing:
  • too long at nearly two hours and more than 100 entries (the wonderful predecessor--the Dickens of a Christmas parade was about 30 minutes, just right for children), 
  • too racist (say what you will about the Rebel flag, but many consider it a symbol of slavery), 
  • too commercial, 
  • features a Vape entry (Vape is a vapor cigarette--heavy nicotine delivery--and the marketing here is to teenagers), 
  • has young teens and pre-teens twerking (that's a semi-lewd dance, made famous by Miley Cyrus at her most outrageous) 
  • and now a threatening militia group. 
This parade, which ostensibly celebrates Christmas, has become a PR nightmare for the city and for DRI, whose board chairman is head of one of the most effective advertising/pr agencies west of Richmond. He's also a good guy who does not deserve this crap. (The list of the membership of the board of directors for DRI is here. If you object to what is happening to the parade, let them know.)

Three Percenters (III%ers) are radical advocates for gun "rights" and a loose militia.

Here is a statement from the III%ers' website: "The Three Percenters' ...  mission is give our members the capabilities and resources necessary to execute Military Strategies to defend against foreign and domestic enemies. 

TTPC forces provide the capability to combat any threat, force, or occupation who's purpose is to gain, sustain, and exploit comprehensive control over [the U.S. The capability compliments the other militias and resistance groups' capabilities. 

[It] is charged with providing Tactical, Logistical and other functions to enable other Militias and Resistance groups to accomplish their missions and to provide support during local and national emergencies by assisting civil authorities in maintaining emergency preparedness. ..."

They say further (here), "We are the people that the collectivists [liberals] who now control the government should leave alone if they wish to continue unfettered oxygen consumption. We are the Three Percent. Attempt to further oppress us at your peril."That is a pretty raw death threat, I'd say.

I suspect this development is not one Downtown Roanoke Inc. and the City of Roanoke, which sponsor the parade, had foreseen, but it most certainly is one some of us of expected because of the presence of the SCV, a group that celebrates war, guns and a divisive flag.

It is going to be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Respite on a Late Fall Day

My buddy Janeson Keeley and I took a break from our over-the-top schedules today to get back to the reality of a hike on a beautiful day. And it was, indeed, a beauty: 75 degrees, clear and bright on December 12.

Suggestion: Get the City Out of Parade Business

The "hate" is obvious; where's the "heritage"?
Bill Carder, a thoughtful former member of Roanoke City Council (and a Republican, if you can believe it) lives in "paradise" Central America, but keeps a close eye on his hometown from a distance. He was on Council when it created Eventzone and Dickens of a Christmas was formatted as a Downtown Roanoke Inc. event.

The current Christmas parade was moved into that purview, with oversight by the city, and thus public rules. That is what prevents DRI and the city at this point--according to their conservative lawyers--from barring the Confederate battle flag, an undeniable embarrassment for the city and DRI. And Roanoke in general.

Carder has watched with concern the devolution of this parade into the right-wing circus it became last night, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans abandoning all pretense of "heritage over hate" and smacking us all in the face with its flags.

Carder--always an idea man--has a suggestion, a serious one that could work without a lawsuit, which so terrified the city and DRI. Here it is:

The city "should separate out the parade and make it fall under the Dickens of a Christmas. Let Dickens be a stand-alone event without specific city funding. Set it up as its own LLC. 

"The monies raised for Dickens through sponsorship and [other income] should be more than adequate to do it all and take the city out of this mess. But the total amount of funding events stays the same for the city."

With the city out of the equation, the parade becomes a private event and DRI can pick and choose its entrants without fear of lawsuit. And it can honor the birth of Christ without hate-mongers drowning out the Christmas carols.

Roanoke's Chance Hall All-SEC Freshman

Roanoke's Chance Hall (76): Injuries led the way for him.
Roanoke's Chance Hall, a university of Tennessee offensive tackle, has been named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team.

Hall, a three-star prospect who was injured his senior year in high school and was mostly overlooked as a blue-chipper, won a starting role at right tackle after UT's line suffered a number of injuries and was seriously depleted.

He played in nine of Tennessee's 12 games and started the last six, including a 19-14 loss to the University of Alabama, where he was outstanding against one of the best defensive lines in the country. He also accounted himself well against stiff defenses from Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Hall was an all-star at Northside High School in Roanoke.


Confederate War on Christmas: Roanoke's Image Takes Another Hit

The Confederate battle flag overwhelmed the message of the birth of the Prince of Peace.
When the Confederate battle flag first appeared in the Roanoke Christmas parade last night, there were cheers from the crowd, from the reports I've seen. I was at another point in the parade (corner of Campbell and Jefferson in downtown Roanoke). These people were not cheering the confederate heritage, they were cheering the arrogant, in-your-face display of a symbol of hate, a symbol of humans owning each other. A symbol that is the very antithesis of the celebration of Christmas, the birth of a man who taught only peace and love.

Downtown Roanoke Inc., the City of Roanoke and the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their minions should be equally ashamed that they have converted one of the sweetest, most thoughtful Christmas parades I've ever seen into a rally for racism. The Sons have preached all along that their message is "heritage not hate," but you couldn't prove it by last night's obscene display, where celebration of the lost cause was not confined to Confederate role-playing among men-boys.

Journalist Don Peterson with Edgerton.
It included a bunch of marchers in T-shirts, camo and baseball caps, hardly Rebel uniforms. There was even an outrageous short black man named H.K. Edgerton from my hometown of Asheville, N.C. (giving me two homes to be ashamed of) who pranced around, waving a Rebel flag as he often does in various localities, said reports. This guy needs a different hobby.

This atrocity comes on the heels of our mayor making us an international curiosity with his pronouncement that we should put Muslims in holding cells. We're getting clobbered by the forces of ignorance.

My friend Bill Carder, a former Republican vice mayor of Roanoke, who now lives in Central America (a place he calls "paradise") was crestfallen when he was told what happened last night. "I was chairman of the City Special Events Committee at the time we brought this parade to Dickens of a Christmas. We insisted on Christmas-themed and specifically Dickens era entries [and] we brought in specialty Christmas entertainers. ... [The parade] was smaller, but all Christmas in theme. We did not allow the Sons to march [because] it was not in theme.

"[The current city] council had a choice: [it] could have made a statement by not allowing this to happen. Let the Sons sue; they lose more cases than they win. Unstead of being afraid of a suit [council] should have stood up for what is right. [It] did not and that is sad. The money spent on defending a law suit is nothing compared to the negative publicity and feeling this generated."

The fact is that if this is the city of Pearl Fu, the city of Local Colors and of a welcoming attitude to minorities and immigrants, it must stop these displays, especially during the Christmas parade when people should be sharing reasons to celebrate, not reasons to hate. 

I am shocked that the Christian community--of which I am not a member--which is so ready to pronounce anybody who says "Happy Holidays" as waging war on Christmas and on their religion don't see the damage being done by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their allies. It would be appropriate for these Christians to raise their voice in protest. 

The Confederate battle flag is winning right now and it is winning the same way these causes often win: because most people are passive and thoughtless. 

It really pisses me off. 

This is the mixture of SCV and civilian flag-wavers.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Roanoke Confederate Christmas Parade: Perpetuating a Fraud

This will be my lasting memory of tonight's parade: a black man carrying a racist symbol to "honor Christ."
(UPDATE: Apparently there were far more people like me at the Christmas parade last night--people opposed to the appearance of the Confederate battle flag--than I saw. They were gathered in significant numbers at another spot, much nearer the judging stand. Thank you all for being there. I don't feel so isolated in this now.)

Simple truth: we lost this round. Lost by a mile. The Confederate battle flag supporters are organized and they turned out like Donald Trump's hairstylists.

H.K. Edgerton was an embarrassment.
I don't know how well our protest of the flying of the Rebel battle flag went, frankly, because the NAACP's protest call was ambiguous (it instructed its people not to turn their backs) and my gang, which I wanted to show up in black and turn their backs when the flag passed, had a crowd of one: me. That was what I could see from my stationary perch, in any case.

Authentic confederate soldier
So, I will concede in much the same way Al Gore conceded to George Bush in 2000.

I won't concede with a great deal of grace, however, because, as you can see from these photos, the flying of the Confederate battle flag had only marginally to do with honoring Confederate veterans by accurately portraying them (as the Sons of Confederate Veterans consistently insists) and more with sticking that damn flag up people's noses.

Authentic confederate soldier II.
The most outrageous little trick was to have H.K. Edgerton, an African-American from my hometown of Asheville, N.C. (and former president of its NAACP), carrying a battle flag and running into the crowd, playing to the children--who should be protected from these people. He apparently travels around to various localities doing this.

I kept waiting for one of the white boys to give him an instruction and for him to reply, "Yas, massa." It was really that bad.

You see here that many of the flag wavers made absolutely no attempt to portray Civil War soldiers. They simply wanted to wave the flag.

Mark Craig, one of the SCV commanders, was quoted on WDBJ7 tonight as saying, "It's not about racism. We're not here to upset anybody or hurt anybody's feelings. We're here to honor our ancestors and our culture."  It would seem to me that honoring ancestors would have looked a good bit different than these people looked--and acted--tonight. It is a sad Roanoke chapter, following closely on the international embarrassment caused by our mayor, David Bowers, who suggested putting Muslim immigrants into concentration camps.

I left what was shaping up to be a good parade after these people passed, sick to my stomach for the second straight year.

The parade--up to the point when I left--was better organized, less commercialized and more Christmasy than I can remember it--except for the obscene display of the battle flag in a parade honoring the Prince of Peace.

Authentic Confederate vehicle.
Authentic confederate general's uniform in every detail.
The SCV spared no expense to be authentic.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Haley Toyota: Looking for a Parade Solution

Chris Reavis of Haley Toyota
Just got a call from Chris Reavis* of Haley Toyota, the sponsor or Roanoke's Christmas parade, which will take place Friday.

I expected a bawling out because I have not been overly kind to Haley because the event it is sponsoring will be defined this year by the display of the Confederate battle flag in entries by Sons of Confederate Veterans. In the past, it has been defined by the overt commercialism of its sponsors.

The SCV has been asked to hold the flag out of the parade and flatly said, "No!" Its representative would not give an inch, would not discuss compromise. Downtown Roanoke Inc., which sponsors the parade in cooperation with the City of Roanoke, is not in a position to legally ban the flag, so the SCV boys get to make the decision for all of us.

I was impressed with Reavis' attitude during the phone conversation. Not only did he not attack, but he asked for the rational behind the protest, listened to my response and offered a response of his own that sounded reasonable and inquiring. He seems to be looking for a compromise that will make as many people happy as possible.

Haley has come under fire (by me) for its sponsorship of the parade before because of its garish display--15 cars last year which took a long time to pass by. It was the first entry in the parade each year it has been the primary sponsor, as well, giving the parade a heavy commercial look and feel.

When Chris asked what I thought, I told him less would be more with the sponsorship. Simply let people know Haley is the sponsor, tell them "Merry Christmas" and let them enjoy the parade. We don't need to be assaulted with commercialism or politics or militarism. It is a Christmas parade, one that celebrates a man called "The Prince of Peace."

I was delighted with Haley Toyota's attitude and look forward to seeing what it comes up for a display tomorrow night. I hope it is as thoughtful as Chris Reavis' phone call.

(*As a side note, Chris Reavis is the son of the legendary radio man Herm Reavis, who is a teammate of mine in the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. Herm was quite a ground-breaker and it appears he has raised a good son.)

Just How Extreme Are the Holy Books?

Does the Bible teach this? Some believe it does.
A guy named Gary Jerome posted a graphic on Facebook today with 13 alleged Muslim "commandments"--for want of a better term--each of which counseled some pretty awful consequences for non-believers.

Anybody who has read the Qur'ran would have a difficult time pulling out these atrocities, much as anybody who has read the Bible believes its philosophy turns on some of its more outrageous pronouncements.

Jerome says the Qur'an instructs Muslims to kill, steal from, terrorize, lie to, crucify, beat, enslave and rape pretty much anybody they want (other than other similar Muslims) whenever they get the Jones to do it.

A young woman named Khristina VanHall Williams responded to Jerome's post by saying, "I dislike hypocrisy--so I am not a fan of any imaginary sky man fan clubs." Then she went on to list some of Christianity's most outrageous assertions.

She asked Jerome directly, "You the church type? If so I am curious if you will be killing the kid at the McDonald's this Sunday like the Lord commanded?" Then she went on her Biblical quotation tear: 
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Exodus 31:15 

And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. - Leviticus 24:16 

And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death. Numbers 1:51 

But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you. - Deuteronomy 22:20-21 

Combine those random verses with some of the extraordinary (and dated) instructions in Leviticus and you get a religion that is far more reflective of the Jihadist view of Islam than of mainline Christianity. Extremists can read holy works--which are always written in broad, sometimes extreme terms--in many ways.

Remember, the founders of these religions were not mainline stock brokers. The more outrageous among the practitioners--say those who would vote for Trump, Cruz, Pat Robertson or Hickabee--will assault us with absurdity and then "prove" it with a Biblical verse, much as the Jihadists do.

Beating ISIS Means Changing Tactics

"Strategists will tell you that it is a mistake to fight the battle your enemies want you to fight. You should impose your strategy on them, not let them impose theirs on you. These lessons apply to the struggle with the leaders of ISIS. We have applied pressure upon them in Syria; they have replied with atrocious attacks in Ankara, Beirut, and now Paris. They are trying to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the Crusader infidels. We should deny them this opportunity."

--Michael Ignatieff, in the NYTimes Review of Books (here

This is the lead on a long think piece in the Review of Books that essentially supports President Obama's notion that we can't play ISIS' games and come out a winner. It takes a while to read this, but the essence is pretty simple: "Don't be outsmarted by a weaker opponent again."

The Jihadists know how to fight us and they are successful in that war because they don't care how many soldiers they lose in the small, hit-and-run battles. The more we fight them on their terms, the more soldiers they recruit and the more mayhem they can cause. It is a vicious circle, one in which we are penned in the center.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quote of the Day: Creating Radicals

"The people who serve mass movements are not revolting against oppression. They are driven primarily by frustration. Their personal ambitions are unfulfilled. They have lost faith in their own abilities to realize their dreams. They sometimes live with an unrelieved boredom. Freedom aggravates their sense of frustration because they have no one to blame but themselves for their perceived mediocrity. Fanatics, the French philosopher Ernest Renan argued, fear liberty more than they fear persecution. ...

"These movements generate a lot of hatred. But ultimately, Hoffer argues, they are driven by a wild hope. They believe an imminent perfect future can be realized if they proceed recklessly to destroy the present. The glorious end times are just around the corner."

--David Brooks, conservative NYTimes columnist, here 

This observation applies not only to the jihadists, but to our own radicals who are killing Americans by the score and who are very difficult to detect by conventional means.

Goals for 2015: Here's the Report Card

Every year about this time, I review my Jan. 1 goals and begin putting together goals for the coming year, to be published here on New Year’s Day. Below are the goals and what happened. It was a very good year for accomplishment.

It is important with these lists to set goals that are within reach, but not necessarily easy reach and it is equally important to be flexible. If in mid-stream I discover that a specific goal is something I don’t really want, I change it. I did several of those in 2015 to good effect. 

It is vital to set goals that aren’t impossible to reach. That simply becomes an exercise in futility and these goals are meant to help me improve myself and my life, not frustrate and discourage me.

The banjo is in place; now to play it.
Here are the results from this year:
  1.  I’ll give yoga a try. Tried it. Hated it. Flexibility is not my forte. Took up exercise classes. Loved it. Still doing it. My coach is extraordinary in many ways: she understands the aging process (she's 55 and in extraordinary physical condition, something she adopted in the past 10 years), she's encouraging, she challenges without expecting, she is constantly introducing new exercises and routines. She has become my friend.  
  2. Buy a banjo--mid-January--and try to learn to play it. Bought the banjo. Now I need to learn to play it. That will be a 2016 goal. I simply have not made the time this year because of other demands. But I've started the process. 
  3. Reconsider my lifelong interest in football. Still re-considering, but watching. Addictive personality. It didn’t help that the University of Tennessee had one of the more memorable (if not completely successful) seasons in my lifetime. Through the frustration and unexpected victories, I experienced again why the love/hate relationship.  
  4. Work harder at putting myself in other people’s mental, emotional and intellectual places before making judgments about them. Having some success with this, but I’m not sure this effort is ever over.  
  5. I will finish my sixth book. Finished it in August. Corporate history. Not what I imagined, but it’s a book and it’s finished. Started another recently and have several others (which aren’t moneymakers like the current batch) on the back burner in some stage of progress.
  6. Margie made intimacy possible.
    Work at creating an entire series of family photo books that will last. Have compiled and printed several this year. Five are Christmas presents. Did one nude compilation for a friend, a fun project.
  7. Be less afraid of intimacy than I have been the past number of years. This is the scariest of the entire lot and quite probably the most difficult to achieve because it involves a level of trust that has been hard for me to come by. Three words: “Margie” and “conscious effort.” It’s working. And I’m thrilled.
  8. Will speak out as forcefully as I am able (that that’s often pretty forceful) when I perceive a wrong, but be more willing to listen to the other side’s position before scorching the earth. Have worked hard on this. Failed at a solution, but plan a protest of the appearance of the Confederate battle flag at the Roanoke Christmas parade Friday. Several conservatives I used to shout at have become friends and mentors. I pay attention to them, even if I don't adopt their philosophy.
  9. Work harder to get the congressmen from this area replaced by people of integrity who care about something besides their careers and their unreasonably wealthy, smarmy donors. No luck on the national level here, but helped re-elected the estimable Sam Rasoul to the Virginia General Assembly and helped send John Edwards back to the Senate. John is much less than perfect, but he is far superior to his opposition.
  10. Allow the spiritual side of me a little more room to grow. I have had it in a box for years, not letting it breathe. I’m not sure how this is going, but I do think a lot in spiritual terms and have met some people who have influenced me.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

80 Bowls, 128 Eligible Teams: A Problem? Yep

Independence Bowl: Tech's last game.
Once upon a time when there were fewer than a dozen college football bowl games--and not all conferences accepted bids to them--good teams were rewarded for above average records. That doesn't apply any longer. Bowls--there are 80 of them now--are profit centers for the NCAA and the sponsors.

This year, three teams, Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State, don't even have .500 records and will play in bowls. It is actually worse than having a 5-7 record. It means the teams have won just three games--and lost 7--in their FBS division. Teams play 12 games, two of them most often against much lesser competition.

Here's the problem: We have 80 bowls and just 128 FBS teams. Because FBS teams play two or three games out of conference against lesser opponents, a substantial majority finish with better than .500 records. That doesn't mean they're any good, though.

A team--say the University of Tennessee--with an 8-4 record is actually 6-4 without wins over Western Carolina and North Texas. That is not a bowl-worthy record. Virginia Tech is 6-6 and will play in a bowl in Shreveport, La., the Independence. One of Tech's wins was against FCS member Furman. Tech had an admirable schedule otherwise, playing Perdue, East Carolina and Ohio State outside its conference. But still, it was 5-6 against that schedule. It plays Tulsa, which finished 6-6, in a 65,000-seat stadium, which will have a lot of echoes bouncing off empty seats.

The University of Virginia is one to feel sorry for because UVa had a schedule that would have severely tested any of the Final 4 with games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State at the very front of its schedule. Virginia, which played those games close, probably deserves a bowl much more than a lot of 6-6 and 5-7 teams.

Fact is, though, that a team with fewer than six wins against FBS teams should be watching bowl games on TV during the season and we should trim the number of games down to a level where they mean something to those who attend--other than an extra month of practice.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Obama's Strategy Will Weaken ISIS, Won't Bolster Recruiting

President Obama "believes that powerful, structural forces will lead liberal democracies to triumph over their foes—so long as these democracies don’t do stupid things like persecuting Muslims at home or invading Muslim lands abroad. His Republican opponents, by contrast, believe that powerful and sinister enemies are overwhelming America, either overseas (the Rubio version) or domestically (the Trump version)." --Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic

Journalist Peter Beinart's superb essay in the Atlantic, at its essence, compares the terrified GOP presidential candidates' approach to the ISIS terrorism threat to Obama's composed, reasoned and rational approach.

The GOPers want to bomb the hell out of everything that moves in the Middle East, invade and occupy for "as long as it takes," which likely would be somewhere near forever. Meanwhile, Obama rejects the ground troops alternative, favoring tactics that would not put ISIS in good light, would not help its recruitment (as George Bush's philosophy consistently did).

As usual, while Republicans are screaming that Obama is a sniveling coward for not sending our troops into unwinnable situations, he calmly and with considerable thought--as opposed to wild-eyed reaction--seeks out ways to shrink ISIS, knowing that its ideology is not a winner. The GOP seems to believe that ISIS and the jihadists have a winning governmental philosophy and that the only way we can defeat it is with overwhelming military power--something that has not worked for us in the Middle East, in Vietnam, in Korea or anywhere else since World War II.

Obama's strategy is less expensive in every way--lives, money, natural resources--and has a good shot at working. The only way the GOP strategy is good for anybody is that it continues to fund the war machine--whose owners are mostly Republicans. It totally disregards American military lives as being expendable and it tries to terrorize Americans with the thought of incidents of mass killings--much as is happening regularly without jihadist help.

Obama has the smart and workable solution here and, as usual, the Republicans are lost in the woods somewhere, looking for a way to make money for their sponsors.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

'Spotlight': Best Movie of the Year (So Far)

Wouldn't be a bad idea if the Academy would just go ahead and make the Best Picture Oscar presentation for 2015 to "Spotlight." I can't imagine a better movie this year that has yet to open and this one's by far the best so far.

It has important elements of "All the President's Men" and "Doubt," both nominated as Best Picture, but for my money is better than either. This is a story loosely based upon the Boston Globe's investigative work on the pedophile priests of the early 2000s, which won the 2003 journalism Pulitzer Prize and it plays as a thriller.

It is much like "All the President's Men" in that it shows the value of good journalism, as well as the extremely hard and sometimes boring work involved, all without being boring.

Much of that can be laid at the feet of superb director Thomas McCarthy (an Oscar nominee in 2010 for best director) and an ensemble cast of high-end Hollywood professionals, several of them award-winners in the past (the superb Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Leiv Schreiber and John Slattery of "Mad Men"). It is a story that builds slowly without a slow feel (which "President's Men" had) and deals with a difficult subject as delicately as did "Doubt."

I left feeling that pride I used to have for my profession. It was, indeed, noble.

Go see this one before it escapes Roanoke. You'll remember it in February when the Oscars are doled out.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

MMT's '42nd Street' Sparkles with Life

Mill Mountain Theatre's current version of the classic Broadway story "42nd Street," which was based on the novel and the 1932 movie, is special for a number of reasons. This one simply overflows with talent, beginning with choreographer, Eileen Grace, a woman with an eye-popping resume.

I've seen "42nd Street," which was first presented as a play in 1980, probably five times and Director Ginger Poole's version is the first one I'd call "memorable." The story of director Julian Marsh's fictional effort to put on a great musical during the Depression--with funding constantly on the brink--is a play that must be full of life to be effective. And this one is. It has a cast of more than 20 mostly young dancers who carry its energy from scene to scene.

Anna Kimmell: No Ruby Keeler (she's better)
While the music, the dancing and the acting are solid throughout, it is the tap-dancing, so rarely seen these days, that consistently stops the show, especially with the title song. Grace's version of "42nd Street," coming near the end of the play, features the fearless, fast-paced and wildly entertaining hoofing of Mill Mountain Theatre Director of Education Anna Kimmell (who has starred in MMT productions of "The Sound of Music," "Swing" and "Hairspray"). During one particular number, I leaned over to my Margie and whispered, "She ain't no Ruby Keeler. She's betta."

Poole's direction, as is generally the case, is flawless, creative and has a new feel for an old play. Keith Schneider's costumes and Jimmy Ray Ward's sets are superb. Ward's sets are reminiscent of those of the recently departed--and sorely missed--John Sailer.

One of the many improvements Mill Mountain Theatre has made since re-opening last year is its liberal use of local talent in this professional theater. "42nd Street" is sprinkled with some of our best:
  • Elizabeth Hedrick,who recently sparkled in Showtimers' "Cabaret", 
  • Roanoker Mary Hannah Garber, who now lives in New York, 
  • Patrick Henry High sophomore Cathleen Turner, who thanked her mother in the Playbill for giving her rides to rehearsal until she can get her driver's license, 
  • Radford University grad Taylor Moore, a production intern at MMT,
  • non-musical actors Chris Shepherd and Patrick Kennerly 
  • and MMT associate artistic director Matthew Glover.
Roanoke (and Virginia college/university) influences were all over "42nd Street."

We sat next to New York actor Katherine Gentsch's mother, a woman who lives in Texas and follows her two acting daughters on both coasts to watch them perform. She has even gone on cruises with Katherine, who was a cast member a couple of times. Another daughter is a successful editor on the TV show "Mean Girls." It's an interesting life, she says.

As with a number of recent MMT productions, this is what we hope for in regional theater for this part of the country. It continues what has become a tradition of excellence for our small--but quite talented--city.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Loss of a True Writing Pro

Lynn Nystrom
Lynn Nystrom, a writing professional I knew, worked with and respected for a lot of years, died of cancer yesterday at 63 and her death saddens me. Lynn was such an extraordinary pro, an employee of Virginia Tech's public information department--specializing in engineering, which she loved and studied in great depth.

I often worked with her in developing stories that needed a certain high level of expertise and Lynn connected me. She knew the engineers, their research, what it meant and what it would mean to my story.

She began with Tech in 1977 and over the years, not only helped hacks like me, but also wrote a lot about what went on Tech for its various publications.  At one point, she was advisor to Tech's Collegiate Times, Blacksburg's oldest newspaper, and a student publication my father served as sports editor in the early 1930s (while he also played a pretty good game of football, and one of baseball, as well).

Lynn was a striking woman with this great shock of white hair--all the years I knew her. She was exceptionally bright and interested and I always thought she reflected well on Tech.

I'm sorry she's gone.

Staying on Topic with Christmas Parade

Dickens of a Christmas begins tonight in Roanoke.
Roanoke kicks off its annual Christmas celebration, Dickens of a Christmas, tonight with the lighting of the city's Christmas tree and Margie and I will be there, parading around before going to Mill Mountain Theatre's production of "42nd Street."

This year's Dickens is especially important to many of it because it features the first Christmas parade since we took notice of the Confederate battle flag being flown in a parade honoring the birth of the Prince of Peace. I called for its elimination from the parade, but Downtown Roanoke Inc., which sponsors both Dickens and the parade, discovered it is powerless to prevent the Sons of Confederate Veterans from flying the flag with its display.

Christmas? No!
Discussions dragged out for months and finally came to a head when I met with representatives of DRI and the Sons one morning downtown. The Sons' rep refused to even discuss a solution other than doing whatever his group wanted to do.

There would be no compromise, because his group recognizes absolutely nothing wrong with the flying of a flag that, to many of us, represents approval of slavery.  "We're not racists!" the rep insisted over and over, while basically saying the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.

Anyhow, I initially called for a boycott of downtown merchants, but on further thought rescinded that request. It would hurt people who oppose the flying of the flag and we don't want to do that.

We'd like to see the flag go away for this parade ... and for this parade only, as far as I am concerned. It is thoroughly inappropriate here, as it, frankly, any military or paramilitary display.

This parade is about peace and love. And, for once, we need to stay on topic.

(Graphics: and

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Evaulating Aldi: It Doesn't Make the Cut

If that seems arbitrary, it is, but it's my grade and I base about 35 points of on the fact that Roanoke's newest grocery store carries one kind of lettuce: iceberg. Nothing else.

How in the hell can Aldi's call itself a grocery store if it doesn't have at least three or four different types of lettuce? No baby greens, no spinach, no red or green leaf, no romaine. I mean, hells bells, how you gonna make a Caesar salad?

It also didn't have split peas, which at this time of year are almost a menu staple: people have leftover ham. I had to search high and low to find cream cheese and the bread choices are almost as slim as the lettuce.

Mostly what Aldi has is boxed and canned goods a few cents less than Kroger sells them (and cheap wine, Margie tells me; I don't drink, so I don't care). The quality of what I've bought has been just fine and some of the prices are eye-opening. With that in mind, it is incumbent upon the shopper to weigh the overall cost.

I rent my shopping cart and return it to its rightful place in order to get my quarter back. I bring my own grocery bags and load my own groceries. I don't mind any of that.

I mind iceberg lettuce.

I mind not being able to buy three apples and four oranges, two bananas and a grapefruit. I'm single and although Margie and I share quarters most of the time, we don't need food in bulk.

So, here's the deal: I'm back to Kroger ... and even Food Lion occasionally. They supplement the specialty stores, like the Co-Op and Fresh Market. I like choices, especially when my choice is sitting there. And all those stores have variety.