Friday, November 28, 2008

Hey, Want Some Wake Forest Tickets Cheap?

It's about 11:30 on a Saturday night--Oct. 4--and Vanderbilt's football team had just beaten Auburn 14-13 to go 5-0. I'm so excited with the prospect of seeing a couple of good bowl teams just two hours away from here that I instantly order four tickets for the Vandy-Wake Forest game today in Winston-Salem. Wake was 4-1 at the time and this one was looking like the kind of game that would capture the imagination of the entire country: two schools whose players can read playing football in a game that matters.

Today, after trying to sell my four tickets to see two 6-5 teams who've hit a swoon after a fast start, I'm understanding the definition of an impulse buy. When I found out the game was going to be played at 7:45 in late November, that was just too much. I got my son to put the tickets on E-Bay. We got no takers. Neither did a whole bunch of other people. A few of them got 99 cent bids for a pair of tickets--mine cost $17 each, not much by major college standards, but a lot more than 50 cents.

This still could be a pretty good football game and it looks like both teams will go to bowls, but this won't be the Rose Bowl for either of them ... more like the Tidy Bowl. But I wouldn't get home until about 2 a.m. and I'm too damn old to be driving U.S. 220 after midnight.

My son and his family, including my three-year-old buddy Madeline, an honest-to-goodness fan, were going to accompany me until they found about the TV-dictated start time. Just too much for all of us. TV, you suck. Wake's been playing at noon all year, so why the change? Because I bought tickets and you found out? Probably.

Oh, hell. Anyway, my Tennessee Volunteers appear to have hired a new football coach to save them from the Philip Fulmer doldroms. He's a 33-year-old wunderkinder with a 5-15 record in the past two years. I've just heard him thoroughly trashed by several TV sports guys and my football day is turning increasingly sour. But for one shining moment ...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Way God Intended It

If God had intended that we should carve turkeys and hams on feast days, he would have given us sharper fingernails. And he would have removed the sensual element in stripping the warm meat from the steaming bones with our fingers and stuffing it whole into our watering mouths.

That's probably my favorite moment of any feast day, especially Thanksgiving. Because I've cooked most of the Thanksgiving day birds and hams I've eaten in my life, I have been in the especially enviable position of removing them from the oven and putting my eager fingers on the nearest corner squeezing and pulling. It's the natural way, the way I envision Neanderthals eating their birds, their pigs. It's probably how humans learned to smile.

Here is me today, stripping a ham. Wanna bite?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Day for the Cursed to be Blessed

Some years ago, while I was in the middle of the titanic struggle to get sober and was going to AA every day--sometimes two or three times, depending on the need--one of those osmosis moments that my old friend and mentor Tom Shirley used to talk about happened to me.

I was in my second meeting on this particularly difficult Sunday, one where the urge to drink was pulling hard and the demons were telling me nothing mattered, so I might as well just get drunk. This was a discussion meeting and somebody brought up the topic of gratitude. Every time gratitude is the topic in AA--in my experience--there is a groan when it's introduced and a lot of people pass quickly until somebody says something that sticks. It is a difficult topic for people who are in the midst of a war for their lives. But, when we think about it and talk about it, we start to understand that there's nothing threatening about being grateful.

On this day a guy I'd known for a long time broke the ice. "Let's just look at the concept," he said. "Let's not do a litany of things we're grateful for. That's easy, it's perfunctory and it's recitation. It doesn't mean much. But the concept of being grateful--no matter what the circumstance--means a lot."

"You mean we need to be grateful for the things that hurt us?" I asked, breaking in on his time, an act severely frowned upon in AA. I wanted to know. I had a feeling about this topic on this day and I wasn't about to let tradition, form and etiquette get in the way of something that could be important.

"That's exactly what I mean," he said. "Those are the things we have to be most grateful for if we are going to change the way we look at the world and the way we look at what we are and why we're that way. All of this is an attitude. We can be full of pity for ourselves for what we lack, or we can celebrate what we have. What we lack may not even be important; we often give it importance it doesn't deserve. What we have is real. We have sobriety in this room right now and that's something to celebrate."

Yes, it was. It certainly was. It was what I'd wanted for years and what had so consistently eluded me, mostly because I couldn't frame it, couldn't understand that there was an alternative to what I was doing to myself. And here was a guy telling me how to do it in simple, accessible terms: be grateful.

Tom Shirley later told me--again putting all this in a perspective that I couldn't approach alone--that I was fully responsible for everything that had ever happened to me, for every thought I had, for everything that ever would happen to me in the future. Good or bad, I could lay it at the doorstep of no other human being. I rebelled. "But what if ..." I blurted. Tom was adamant: "No buts, no ifs," he said. "It's all yours, nobody else's, no exceptions. When you finally accept that, you have the beginning of freedom."

And so it was. Gratitude. Responsibility. Acceptance. All elementary. Each elusive. All gaining momentum. At that very moment, the urge was gone and it hasn't come back in nearly 15 years. Everything's changed. It started that day, though not dramatically. I remember thinking how slow the process was at first, then looking back after a few weeks, a few months and marveling at how rapidly, how dramatically, how miraculously everything had changed.

Gratitude. A time of gratitude. A day of thanks. A day of giving. A day for me. A day for all those of us so cursed and so blessed as to know gratitude and thanksgiving.

("OK," my wife said upon viewing this, "so what's the connection with the picture? It's a fishing float hanging in a tree. The fish would be grateful, but what about you?" "It doesn't really mean anything," I said, "except maybe what you want it to. Your decision." When I shot the photo, it meant one thing. Today it's something else entirely.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Knee Has Finally Caught Me

Old Doc Tate told me a long time ago--when I was 17 and still bulletproof--that I would regret playing that senior year of high school football. "It won't come at you soon," he said, sternly, "but it'll come. You'll be 40, maybe 50 or even 60, but it'll come and you'll regret what you're getting ready to do."

In the mean time, what he was warning me about turned out to have likely saved my butt at least once. I didn't have to go to Vietnam because of my bad knee, the one Doc Tate said would trouble me for most of my life. I guess that was a good trade; certainly seemed so at the time. Today, as I hobbled from my office to my truck, completely unable to take that hour-a-day walk I promise myself, I wondered.

The knee has always been problematic. It would simply fail at the most inconvenient times, though on occasion it could prove an ally. Patti Hull was killing me in a tennis match years ago when the knee buckled and I hit the asphalt like a dropped watermelon. Through my groans, I said, "This match doesn't count!" She was furious, but I was so pitiful lying there in a heap that she didn't show it until later. "You'll do anything to avoid losing," she finally said. "Not anything," I said. "There's one or two things I won't do, but I forget what they are."

For many years, it was just the one bad knee, the right one. I learned to hop around on crutches with a certain flair--especially in high school when crutches were wooden medals. You shudda seen me bound UP those steps. Impressive stuff.

About two years ago, flush with the joy of my first Vespa-style scooter and again feeling like bullets wouldn't penetrate--I'm 60 at this point and riding that scooter like Audry Hepburn's on the back--I wrecked in a curve when the front tire buckled. Reflexively, I tried to right the falling scooter with my left foot as this 250-pound machine was going down. My knee gave and I knew the feeling well, though it was more familiar on he other side. It buckled and hurt and was weak and I yelled more in anger than in pain.

Now, it was two bad knees, each making the other worse as I adjusted my gait to lessen the pain and with each adjustment put pressure where it shouldn't be. I felt like Dizzy Dean trying to pitch with that broken toe, which ruined his arm. Go figure.

Today, I finally realized that this isn't going to get better. It's probably going to be a lot worse, but I'm too young for a replacement or, God forbid, a walker (I can hear the old man jokes already and I'm still not even adjusted to being a grandpa). I simply can't afford to stop working on this new publication before it's fully established--and, man are we off to a good start! Knee surgery of this radical kind, from what I understand, takes six weeks or more to heal. And it hurts like hell, which is not appealing to me.

So I'll hobble on, hoping to get in my hour a day one way or another. If I don't, the diabetes kicks in and we don't want that. Old age, as my friend Betsy says, ain't for the faint of heart or the sissy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Stuff(ing) of Legend

A friend of mine baked her first turkey over the weekend (celebrating Thanksgiving) and here's part of a letter I sent her, including a recipe that's dear to me:

"The sheer size of the turkey, I think, intimidates the would-be cook, but actually there's nothing more to it than spicing the boy and shoving him into the oven for the proper period of time (20 minutes per pound, 350 degrees).

"I have a friend who heavily salts a turkey and bakes it for a minute a pound. The salt seals in both the heat and the juices and the turkey is superb, but I can't do that because salt and I don't mix. Another friend deep-fries his turkey--again, juices sealed in--but you have to have a monster fryer and what in the world would one do with the leftover oil? Environmental hazard that the EPA, under anybody but George Bush, would have a cow over. Bush would have it poured over the bushes.

"Now, my recipe for "dressing" (which is what we called stuffing when I was growing up):


"Bake a 12-inch iron skillet of cornbread (unsweetened, recipe on the corn meal bag), let it cool and crumble it into a bowl. Chop about 1/2 pound of whole wheat bread (multi-grain is fine, too) finely and combine it with the cornbread.

"Boil the giblets from the inside of your turkey in four cups of water.

"Coarsely chop several stalks of celery (remember, this stuff is powerful and can overwhelm any dish) and a medium onion and throw that into the pile. Mix in two eggs, a tablespoon oregano and 1/4 cup of sugar (you can use honey, molasses, brown sugar or splenda in very moderate amount).

"Pour the broth from the giblets into the mix and stir it until it is slightly less than soupy. Re-use the same skillet you baked the cornbread in (this will overfill the pan, so use two if you want; I grew up in a big family and don't know how to cook little) to bake the dressing. Grease it slightly with canola oil and bake this at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Let it cool and serve it with turkey, cranberry sauce and all the other T'giving goodies. I don't like stuffing it into the turkey to cook it, but you can if you want. Simply stuff the bird instead of baking it in the iron skillet.

"It's good stuff(ing), baby, so enjoy."

(By the way, your dressing won't look like the one pictured here; it's flat and in a pan. But this is the best picture I could find without cooking the dressing four days ahead of time.)

(My pal Lori wrote this: "Just thought I'd tell you that I tried your stuffing for Thanksgiving. Had to wrestle Mom, because she tries to make Grandma's stuffing [fairly difficult; no recipe]. Didn't have a whole wheat bread, so i subbed some Pep Farms stuffing mix, and still turned out fabulous. lots of compliments I/you were the reigning Stuffing Queen. The sweetness of the corn bread and the sugar, I think, is what makes it. Very yummy.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Use the Right Tool, Boy!

It was one of those hot, sticky South Carolina July days and Mike Graybill and I were about 15 feet up a tree putting the finishing touches on our fort-in-the-sky. I was banging on a board with the heel of my hand, not really paying attention when the board slipped through the spot where I was trying to secure it and I followed it, dropping in a lump to the ground hollering with a great yelp as I hit.

Dad, who had just arrived home from work, parked the car and was ambling toward the house, tired as a farmer in October. He reacted quickly to my pain and as he picked me up he asked, "What were you doing?" I told him and he said, "You know, son, somebody went to a lot of trouble to invent the hammer so you wouldn't have to use your hand to do that job. Keep that in mind."

If Dad were still here, he'd be proud of me. That advice has stuck with me through the years and I was recently named the Belleville Road King of the Right Tool for the third consecutive autumn. Most of my votes come from the neighbors who know that when there's a job, Ol' Dan has the tool for it.

Just today, me 'n' my next door neighbor Dewey--best neighbor God ever put on earth--shared my 5.5 horsepower, deluxe edition leaf vacuum and blower (pictured above with its proud owner at the helm) to collect and grind up the entire 'hood's accumulated supply of maple, oak, crepe myrtle and dogwood leaves. Leaves gravitate to Dewey's and my yards (mostly mine) no matter what the neighbors do or don't do about raking.

I bought the vacuum--which seems to actually have five horses inside it, judging from its power--for $500 from Lowe's about three years ago and I've loved it since. Dewey and I made mulch out of those babies in about an hour. He piled his up around the fig tree he planted in the spring. I just spread mine over the back-to-nature back yard I'm creating. Native plants mostly.

Thanks Dad. The advice was good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Dramatic Changes in Publishing

When I started in the newspaper business during the summer of 1964, the industry's technology wasn't much different than it had been more than a century before when Mark Twain was a young printer's devil.

Like Twain (whose adventures are detailed in a good book titled Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the Publishing Revolution by Bruce Michelson, $34.95 at, I started as an apprentice at the end of an era when being an apprentice was still an option. My experience was not directly with the printing end of the business, but I was close enough to observe it first-hand and to understand that it had changed very little in the half millennium since movable type was invented by Johann Gutenberg in 1439.

The next significant leap in technology came when the Linotype (pictured) was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1839. The primary difference between that machine and the ones I worked around for several years (125 years later) was that electricity was added to help melt the lead. The Linotype (line of type: get it?) set type mechanically; type had been individually assembled by hand before the Linotype existed. When I was young, some type (that larger than 30 point) was still set letter by letter in a separate part of the composing room and delivered to the page forms to be placed properly with the other type.

That was the prevailing technology until the 1970s when we went to "cold type," which was printed stories that were trimmed and pasted onto a master page, then photographed and a mold made from that for the press. It was meticulous, but a lot quiter and cleaner.

We talked about "pagination" in the 1970s in the same sense people in the 1930s discussed going to the moon or replacing bad hearts. But it finally showed up for real in the 1990s and the claim in 'Printer's Devil' that printing changed more during Twain's lifetime than ever before or since was rendered to be a significant stretch of the truth. Pagination today means designing the publication on a computer screen and sending that design via electronic impulse to the printer whose printing technique is as different from lead type as flying is from walking.

At the Valley Business FRONT--our new magazine that is two issues old ('re already talking about removing paper from our process because people's reading habits are changing daily. We go online 10 days to two weesk before we show up in the mail box and we are getting a lot of positive response from that.

I don't, for example, read a newspaper that I can hold in my hands these days, though I read several papers each day. Reading online is cleaner, quicker and much more up-to-the-minute. I can read it at my own pace and my own leisure. It's more envirnomentally friendly (no trees destroyed, no ink in our water supply) and it eliminates two of our higher costs: printing and postage.

Publishing has always been an industry of change, never more so than now.

It's coming, the all-electronic world; bank on that. The number of publications that will be available strictly on the Internet is already becoming significant. It won't be long before they're the majority. And we want to be in that wave--near the front of it, not at the back.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Few Lessons for Everybody

The room full of healthcare professionals was eating out of my brother's hand this morning when it occurred to me that he'd been born to do what he was doing. Sandy was talking about change, something these hardy souls know a good deal about, having experienced a lot of it in the past two or three years.

The largest health group in this end of Virginia has changed its model, changed its computer system, changed vendors and goals and even intent. So, these people knew what Sandy was talking about. And still, they howled at his jokes, nodded at his poignancy, turned and looked at each other on every right cue. As he said at the top, "I'm not going to tell you anything you don't know. But I will remind you of a lot you know, but might have forgotten temporarily."

There it was, laid out: a plan, a solution, a goal. Stress relief. Tolerance. Determination. Toughness. All of it together for these managers who need it now more than ever.

My friend Nancy Agee, an upper-level executive at the hospital group, invited Sandy site unseen because I assured her he was good. I was feeling self-satisfied at about 11:50 this morning, a few minutes before the break for lunch. I didn't see anybody squirming, ready to plough into that boxed lunch sitting in the lobby. They were intent, listening hard, waiting for one more good line, one more funny visual, one more piece of wisdom.

Later Sandy said, "These people are so professional, their dress, their manner, everything about them. I get a lot of groups of managers [in his seminars and workshops,] who don't even pretend to be at the level of these Carilion managers. I was impressed with them."

So it was mutual. I suspect they both came away with something valuable.

And, yes, I got to spend pieces of a couple of days with the brother I don't see enough talking about important things and not so important things. Nice trade.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No, I Can't Fix It; I'm a Writer

I make a very real effort every day to be a modern guy, to get with the digital revolution, to remember to turn on my cell phone, to post a daily blog entry, to write advice for business people for Anne Clelland's Handshake 2.0 ( even when I don't know what I'm talking about, to sit at my laptop in public places and look important.

Some days though, I fail. Yesterday was a failure day. It was a failure of the technology, of the spirit, of the courage to face this evolution on steroids for one minute past 5 o'clock.

I've been wading through a construction site every day this week at work because a job that was scheduled to be finished (our Valley Business FRONT office) in September has taken longer than anticipated. We got a commode Tuesday and a lavatory Wednesday. A door was put on the bathroom late Wednesday afternoon, relieving the feeling of peeing against a tree. There's noise and dust and guys with pot bellies and paint spattered clothing going in and out the front door for smoke breaks and to select another tool. It's been 20 degrees outside and I sit in the draft ... quietly, most of the time.

That was all fine because at least I was in the office.

Then the technology started to fail me ... or I it. The printer had worked perfectly after my pal Alicia Nash installed it and all my other electronic equipment Monday. Wednesday, it didn't want to print documents. It was more than willing to print photos, to fax, to scan, to take out the garbage. But print a story assignment for a writer waiting in my office for it? N0000000000. I told her I'd e-mail it. Big mistake. The e-mail went down shortly after she left, smiling because she was getting her first Valley Business FRONT assignment (nice woman from Memphis with a great resume). Alicia swears it's the server ("Let me tell you about those guys ...").

Then I lost my entire wireless digital signal, the one Alicia had gone to so much trouble to connect, secure and teach me about. Gone. Just gone. I checked the connectors, turned everything off, then on again. Nothing. "Alicia," I said on my trusty--sometimes--cell phone, "I don't know how to tell you this ..." She was sympathetic, then told me she was going out of town for five days.

So I called my brother, who was on his way to Roanoke from Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he lives. He's giving a talk to a bunch of managers at Carilion Health System (which he does for a living) Friday. I wanted some sympathy. I got him on his cell and the signal wasn't good. Then I lost him. Must have hit a dead zone. I'm starting to freak.

Oh, hell, I thought. I'm going home. I've lost this one and maybe I can start over in the morning. So I packed up everything, lugged it to the front door, put in the key, turned it and ... It wouldn't turn. I stood there with that 1,000-yard stare for a long minute. Then our construction supervisor, Steve, shows up at just the right minute. "You look like a desperate character," he said, taking the key from me and turning it. "Go home and sit down." I did.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The SPAM Returns

I really thought I'd shaken this SPAM thing. When I bought a new computer (a Dell, don't make my mistake; it's a real turkey, second Dell bomb in a row) a year ago, I thought, "I'm starting over and I will not do anything to invite SPAM in." And I didn't.

Until last week when I filled out an "application" for a free flash drive in order to open that little page-turning device we have at our FRONT Web site ( I couldn't get the driver we offer on the site to install correctly (my techno guru tells me my search engine--Foxfire--was being a Jewish mother and protecting me by blocking the download), so I went searching for a free alternative.

Boy, did I ever find one: it was at the Adobe site and it said "free download." That meant I had to fill out some things, beginning with my e-mail address and from that minute on I was doomed. The junk mail started almost as soon as I backed out of the site (I saw what was happening and tried to un-do the damage; can't do it). Now, I'm getting probably 200 SPAMs a day and no matter how many I kill and report, they get replaced. Really pisses me off.

My tech guru says my most recent disaster in murdering my hard drive (a problem with these dang Dells) was an infected flash stick and she gave me something akin to an anti-poison pill (download, and run it every time you use a flash drive). But that was after the fact.

Computers. Can't live with them, can't live without them. Or was that women? I forget.

* You're wondering about the photo? No real significance. Sort of shows how I showed my ass in this one, but beyond that, I guess it got your attention, huh?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pass the Biscuits and Gravy, Please

In today's "Exactly what is it you're saying?" category, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a newish study telling us that Huntington, W. Va., is the fattest city in the country; that fat cities have high rates of heart disease and diabetes and that their residents don't exercise. This comes on the heels of a much criticized study that says "people who are overweight but not obese are at less risk of early death than people of normal weight" and "that being very thin increased the risk of early death, even if the thinness was long-standing and not the result of illness." That last bit comes from the International Herald Tribune in May of 2005 and if it's not a direct contradiction, it's certainly a point of confusion.

Fat or thin? Which is it to be?

Regardless, I can tell you from experience that thin is better than fat. Fat, for me, has meant diabetes, elevated blood pressure, bad knees and generally failing health. Thinner has meant that all those things improved. Thinner also meant better diet, an hour a day of exercise (which I used to get--at a minimum--as a healthy kid) and a kind of consuming attention to the detail of eating right and making room to get the required exercise. Tom Field and I have one company policy at Valley Business FRONT: one hour of exercise a day.

I have discovered through my diet just how unhealthy and almost completely clueless most restaurants are about what health means. The meals are generally fatty, carb-filled, artery-clogging and far, far too voluminous. A few restaurants--I'll cite Olive Garden as a good chain here--get it. You can get whole wheat pasta, for example, at OG and that bottomless pit of a salad that's served is quite good.

I imagine Huntington feels picked on today with all this publicity because, frankly, Huntington's not that much worse--and not that much different--from most Southern cities where laying on the lard is a way of showing love. It's one of the few ways poor people have of gaining and giving a little momentary pleasure and it's very, very sad.

Sausage Gravy Recipe. If you want to live dangerously, here's how to make the sausage gravy: Break up about half a pound of sausage into small bits and fry it until it's done and there's plenty of grease in the bottom of the pan. Remove the sausage and leave the grease, keeping the heat at medium. Sprinkle several tablespoons (one at a time) over the grease and stir them until the flour is absorbed and is browning nicely as a paste. Slowly pour milk into the mix, stirring until you get the consistency you want. Put the sausage back in. The whole process takes a few minutes (seconds once you start pouring the milk). If you want this Southern breakfast staple to be a real killer (literally and figuratively), lay on the salt and pepper. That'll get the blood pressure to spike even as your arteries are clogging. Nice combo.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moving In

Today's Day 1 at 28 Kirk Ave. in Roanoke for Valley Business FRONT. I spent a good portion of the last part of last week hanging pictures, moving furniture and plants, buying rugs and cleaning supplies and a coffee pot and this a.m., I meet my computer guru Alicia Nash to get the technology online. That's the kickoff.

Here's what my lobby-office looks like. I selected the front of the building instead of one of the small back offices, removed from public view, on purpose. That's where stories live; walk-ins are full of ideas and they don't hesitate to interrupt a writer in progress. "You're not busy, are you?" they'll ask and state at the same time, as I'm deep in thought, hands on the keyboard, research notes piled up around me. "Oh, no," I'll reply, "I'm just thinking."

Anyhow, here it is. Stop by. Interrupt. But have a good story for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Real Sexual Deviants

My wife and I went to see "The Secret Life of Bees," an uneven, but interesting little movie, last night and I came away with one strong reminder: those stupid redneck creeps I grew up with are still out there. Their cause is a little different--anti-gay these days instead of hating every black person they see--but the method is the same: intimidation, stereotyping, grotesque distortion of Biblical intent and stigmatizing those who defend the rights of those targeted by the bigots.

These are tactics that have worked well for this faction, but I'm hoping, in light of the country's substantial and impressive vote for an African-American to lead it and what that implies about our growing understanding and acceptance of people in general, these deviants' message will be rejected.

Truth be told, though, that message was a winner in several states in the recent elections--including California where you wouldn't have thought it possible (the Mormon church threw $8 million into disenfranchising gay people there). The most dangerous precedent was established in Arkansas. There the crafty bigots put together a law that would prohibit unmarried people--of either gender or sexual pursuasion--from adopting children, or even serving as foster parents.

At its most extreme, this law would prevent parents and grandparents who are either gay or "living in sin" from giving homes to their own children and grandchildren, all in the interest of subverting the gay community's "threat to the sanctity of marriage." That's bullshit! It's bigotry of the most destructive type at a time when abused and abandoned children are quietly crying for somebody to love them and this faction of our society--most often opposed to birth control, but who rarely adopt--is eliminating potential parents and surrogate parents.

It's madness coming from a crowd of which we've learned to expect little more than this. These "pro-life" perverts demonstrate by their actions that they are anti-life (pro-gun, pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-cigarettes). They scream about gay pedophiles preying upon children, trying to convert them to their sexual orientation when absolutely no evidence of any kind supports that contention. As a matter of fact, the studies that have been conducted in this area have shown gay people to be--in general--better parents than their straight counterparts and their children grow up no more apt to be gay than those growing up in a more traditional setting.

We must--must--counter this revolution with good sense, with sensitivity to the needs of abandoned and abused children and with the proper Biblical underpinning--the entreaty to "love one another." That, it seems to me, is what's lost in all this deviant behavior.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Learning Curve

Dick Cavett, in a New York Times blog aimed at that odd social phenomenon Sarah Palin ("who seems to have no first language") this a.m. (, writes the following:

"What will ambitious politicos learn from [Palin's Victory Tour]? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences** that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?"

I would have thought they'd already learned all of that from George Bush. It's called the "Bushism." Casey Stengel probably refined it to an art form, but Casey wasn't blowing anybody up.

** Example: "My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Red Sox Return; Keep the View

For those of you laboring under the misconception that the Red Sox are coming to the Roanoke Valley--as the Salem Red Sox--for the first time next spring, let us clarify:

The Boston Red Sox had a Class B Piedmont League club called the Roanoke Red Sox 1943-1952 and the Roanoke Ro-Sox 1951-1953. They played at Maher Field, next door to Victory Stadium.

Roanoke won the pennant in 1946 (the year I was born; I have a game program dated a week after I entered the world) and 1947. The Roanoke & Salem Friends preceded these teams 1939-1942 with a sponsorship agreement with the Indians in 1940. That was the last time "Roanoke," "Salem" and "friends" all appeared in the same sentence.

Roanoke's minor league baseball history goes all the way back to the Virginia League in 1894 and showed up variously as the Braves, Magicians and Tigers over the years prior to the entry into the Piedmont League in '43.

Now that we have that clear, let's offer a piece of advice to the new team owners: don't mess with the view no matter how strongly some of our resident idiots lobby for a Green Monster wall in left field. One of the truly outstanding features of Salem's beautiful ball park is its pristine view of the mountains. A large green wall does not a mountain make and I suspect it would alienate far more people than it would attract.

Now, about that dang over-loud P.A. system ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today's Hero of the Revolution

I've been grumbling for some time now about how The Roanoke Times and its subsidiaries have tried to capture and get an exclusive hold on the area's freelance writers, telling them that if they write for a Times property, they can't write for others--especially Valley Business FRONT or the Roanoke Star Sentinel.

Most of the writers who wrote for us at the Journal have told the Journal/Times to put their demand where the sun don't shine. None has done so more eloquently than Lori White, a marvelous writer-photographer, who wrote part-time Business Journal Editor Alec Rooney* the following in response to the brass's demand ("Has Kate Krumpleman talked to you about the writing-for-one-local-biz-publication-only requirement that's now in effect with us?"):

"No, she has not, and I will be brutally honest with you, Alec: I will not do that. As a freelancer, I feel strongly about my right to write for whom I please. A freelancer is an independent, self-employed contractor who works independently with clients. I will not compromise that independence. I feel that I am well able to write and do photography for both BRBJ and the FRONT, but I will not be a toy to be tugged over and manipulated. If you want to use me, I'd love to continue writing for you, and you know how to get in touch with me."

I replied to Lori's note thusly:

"If you were a man, I'd quote the line from the David McCullough bio on Harry Truman (talking about laying down the law to the unions and labor in a steel strike): 'As he left the meeting, his balls clanged.'" Yeah, Lori! You're my hero today.

This "rule" is obnoxious, offensive, unethical, immoral and maybe even illegal. It's also stupid, but that seems to be the norm on Campbell Ave. these days.

Here are a off-blog comments (came in my e-mail) and another fired writer's lament:

"It's such a power play gone wrong. It's hard to reconcile the lack of strategy behind it. They would have been much better served to have ridden the storm in a classier fashion, shared some honest competition--along with their freelance journalists--and either allowed BRBJ to rise to the competition or fall to it, whichever."

And: "I learned early in my business career that you learn most not from the ones that do it well. You learn most from those who teach you how not to do things. Those lessons pierce the brain, soul and attitude most clearly. An MBA is not required."

And (from Bobbi Hoffman, who was writing for FRONT and the BJ), following her "dismissal" shortly after all this: "I had 'the conversation' with Kate Krumpleman today. Interesting that she said 'we decided' to enact the rule. I asked if 'we' meant The Roanoke Times or Landmark and she said no. It was within the Biz Journal. Does that mean she made the decision herself? Anyway, I told her that I was gonna dance with the one who brung me."

* Note: Don't blame this Rooney fellow, who, from all reports, is a decent guy. He's a part-time, fill-in editor who's just following orders. When I was still Journal editor, we got orders from Carole Tarrant, the executive editor of The Times, to stop using Gene Marrano, Sarah Cox and Liza Field because they were contributing to The Star Sentinel. We ignored her.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The idea that I was eventually going to have to re-finish my memoir, Burning the Furniture, has been hanging around my head for some months now, but it wasn't time before now and, frankly, I may still be a little early with this. Finishing your life is a dicey proposition when you're not ready to stop living it.

But I felt like I could start the epilogue and tonight I did. Wrote 2,000 words about leaving the Blue Ride Business Journal, covering the last months there and the reasons it all fell apart after 20 years--mostly a bunch of people who don't appear to be the sharpest pencils in the box. It was an easy write and will be an easy re-write, filling in details.

The next segment on starting Valley Business FRONT will also be relatively easy to write because it's so fresh but there is a lot of detail to recall. I kept quite a few e-mails and notes about what was going on as the gig with the Journal ended and we got started on the new one and that will be helpful to a mind that sometimes doesn't wrap around things as tightly as it once did.

As has been my habit in writing about myself, it's pretty blunt. I generally wind up softening the blows on the bad guys, but I think I've tempered it already and even made some of these lovelies comic book characters.

This is going to be a fun project and I suspect I can finish in a few weeks. Then, maybe, I can start on that novel/memoir/I don't know which yet about the Cranberry High School square dance team of 1966 and if you think it sounds dull, you just wait. Trash talkin' square dancers in your face, baby!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Little Help from Our Friends

Bethany Hall in Roanoke is a non-profit that is close to my heart. It has hit upon hard times and needs some hlep. This little outfit has taken care of a lot of recovering, abused women over the years and now its contract with the prison system is threatened, putting a number of hopeful women in jeopardy.

Here's how Executive Director Vickie Price puts it:

"Since 2003, Bethany Hall has had a contract with the Virginia Department of Corrections to provide alternative and transitional substance abuse treatment for women whose addiction resulted in their imprisonment. On Oct. 10, we learned that this contract wold be halted because of the state's budget cuts.

"While the majority of the women at our facility through this contract will be able to complete their treatment program, there are a few who will not. We believe that returning them to the correctional system would undermine their progress. The women would likely view a return to the system as punishment. This is certainly not the message we want to convey at this point in their treatment.

"We have proposed that they be allowed to remain at Bethany Hall. We believe it is critical for them to continue receiving the treatment, life skills training and employment opportunities that are helping them recover and are reducing recidivism. We are seeking other sources of funding to ensure that they are able to complete the program here."

This is a good program, one that takes people who have been a weight on the system and makes them taxpayers and productive citizens. I can vouch for the fact that many of these women are bright, ambitious, good people who need a break. Let's help give them one by giving some coin to the program at:

Bethany Hall Inc.
1109 Franklin Rd. SW
Roanoke VA 24016


My Tennessee Volunteers have fallen upon hard times that roughly resemble a George Bush economy*, losing even to a Wyoming team that represents a state whose entire population would just about fit into Tennessee's football venue, 13-7. The fight song has gone from "Rocky Top" to "Rocky Bottom" and I've encased my front-yard Tennessee flag in a paper bag, lest the neighbors should be embarrassed.

Oh, grief. Oh, shame. Bring on basketball.

* Uh, maybe not that bad. Bad, though.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Virginia's Best Magazine--Already

When Tom Field and I decided to found Valley Business FRONT magazine in July, Tom said he didn't see any reason we couldn't be the best business magazine in the region coming out of the box and the best in Virginia in six months. I said I thought we could do better than that.

I belive our first issue in October set the standard for business publications in the state. I just finished proofreading our November issue and I believe we have established ourselves as the best magazine in Virginia with it. This is, quite simply, an astonishingly good read and it is also--because of Tom's deft design touch and some top-notch photography, especially Greg Vaughn's cover--beautiful.

Look at it for yourself Tuesday night online at and tell me if I'm exaggerating. I've been in this business for more than four decades and I know a good read when I see one. This is it, boys and girls.

The stories simply sing, from Keith Ferrell's cover on social networking to Alison Weaver's marvelous piece on a company that makes artificial limbs, Catherine Mosley's profile of the impressive Mary Miller and Warner Dalhouse's commentary on the banking mess. The innovative Dick Robers offers a way out of our health care dilemma and coming from Dick, I suspect it would work. The photos are striking; examine the photos with Alison's limbs piece and those with John Montgomery's story on the Preservation Society.

Even when you get past what you might consider the "meat" of the magazine and wander to the back of the book, you'll find small, informative featurettes sprinkled in our "Career" and "Briefs" sections, stories that will keep you occupied. The magazine is 90 pages and I proofed it in three hours. That means the writing is crisp and entertaining.

Judge for yourself. I'm euphoric after having read it because we're so far ahead of our goals for excellence right now. Ad revenue's next, so look out competition.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Album Side?

We're on the way home from a football game in Winston-Salem early this evening and Public Radio is playing "roots music." The featured songs in this session are from Allison Krauss and Robert Plant from a CD they released recently "Raising Sand." I mention that we're hearing the third straight song from the duo and Christina--my wife--says, "Yes, they must be playing an album side."

"Yeah," I say, "except for two small things: They don't make albums anymore and CDs don't have sides. Otherwise, I think you're right."

Good music, by the way. Krauss is positively luminous, sounding like Burnadette Peters signing Broadway gypsy on one stirring song.


Well, I'll be hornswaggled: Somebody who left his name as "robertplantfan," posted the following message: "Actually they DO make albums still. Robert Plant is one of the few artists around who has his albums also released on vinyl. 'Raising Sand' did, in fact, have a vinyl version." My apologies to the audiofiles.

Perriello-Goode on Slate

There's a marvelous story on Slate magazine's Web site covering the Goode-Perriello 5th District race this a.m., chock full of lines like this (about Perriello): "When Democrats talk about him, cartoon birds sing and cartoon butterflies play small cartoon harps." And this (about Goode): "Goode being the congressman whose re-election campaign was predicated on insulting immigrants, Muslims, the mentally ill, homosexuals, teenagers, Northerners, and, eventually, pretty much everyone, in as many different ways as possible. In August, polls showed Perriello running 30 points behind Goode, who, right up until the night before the election, refused to learn how to pronounce his opponent's name."

It's a must read:

By the way, you might want to track to this blog's Oct. 31 post and see who the genius was who forecast Perriello's victory five days before the election. (Hint: It was me.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Charlottesville 'Miracle'

Virgil Goode's (below) calling it the "Charlottesville Miracle" (even as he struggles to spell " ballot") and maybe he's closer to the truth than even he imagines. There aren't many people outside padded rooms who would have given Tom Perriello (above) the most remote possibility of upsetting Goode in the 5th District of Virginia only weeks ago, but today he holds a 745 vote lead and declared himself the victor--with good reason.

In a release, Goode sounded ironic: "With the vote counting process almost complete, it has become clear that there have been a number of reporting irregularities-including the misplacement of paper ballets (sic) and tape records from electronic machines and miscalculations in vote tallies." That comes on the heels of the discovery of some paper ballots in the Periello stronghold of Charlottesville.

Regardless, Goode will have the opportunity to challenge the count and demand a recount, but those things rarely work out for the challenger and, as Creigh Deeds--who finished second in the 2006 Virginia Attorney General race--can tell you, it's dang expensive. Goode's campaign was so expensive--which I doubt he anticipated--that additional spending could be problematic. This is without taking into account Goode's legendary parsimoniousness.

Fact is that this race may have been as exciting, as telling, and as indicative of a sea change in the body politic as anything since 1994, maybe longer than that. It is a come-from-behind, nail-biting classic where the ain't-got-no-chance underdog executed a brilliant, disciplined game plan, one mixed with humor, ideas and structure, and beat the entrenched, entitled incumbent. Better than a ball game, I'd say.

Unexpected Pleasures

Commercial and institutional food services generally leave a lot to be desired for people like me who are either old or diabetic or have other food limitations, so it's especially gratifying to find a decent meal at something like a civic center. Today I'm at the Ecology Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center and lunch is on the house, courtesy of the Civic Center's caterer, Encore Catering by Ovations Food Services.

The photo here is of the roast beef on whole wheat. Earlier, I ate a turkey on wheat and reluctantly bypassed a veggie on wheat. This one even goes to the length of including fresh lettuce and tomato. Frankly, I thought the caterer was the Roanoke Valley Natural Foods Cooperative because of the quality and sensitivity of the fare, but my wife, who works for the City of Roanoke's PR department and knows these things, set me straight.

Roanoke has done a good thing here.

The Changing Landscape for Business

We're here at the Energy Expo at the Roanoke Civic Center and as I look around, what I see is a lot of businesses who get it. Pictured here are Rob Clark of MKB Realtors (left) and Pete Krull of Krull and Company socially responsible investing, a couple of businesses that, in the past, might have been on the other side of the environment, calling environmentalists "wack-o."

But Rob has earned his "EcoBroker" designation, which is new (his colleague Bill Dandridge was the first in the region to earn it), and Pete started his busines, after leaving Merrill Lynch, because he wasn't comfortable with investments in companies who were not friendly to the environment or the inhabitants of the Earth. I see that over at Breakell Inc., which has become the region's best-known environmental construction company, even though it is nowhere near alone. My friends Vickie Damico and Nell Boyle are standing at their booth, smiling and pulling people in with their environmental enthusiasm.

The enthusiasm permeates this place because we have a lot of people who believe in what they're doing. It shows.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ticket Costs

Here's a sign in the entrance of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, giving prices for admission. It is estimated that the museum will require $3.5 million a year to operate. Do the math yourself and figure what tickets should cost.

A Force in Art

Debra Force, whose face you'll know as the art expert on Antiques Road Show, introduced two new pieces for the Taubman Museum of Art collection in Roanoke this morning. Ms. Force owns Debra Force Fine Art Inc. in New York and was, I thought, a cool celebrity to have at an event like this (introducing a new center at the museum; see below). She and a PhD, whose name escaped me, gave us an art history lesson--some of it a bit much for my taste--and just about doubled my knowledge.

The Fralin Connection

The accompanying photo is of art expert Debra Force, whose visage is familiar from "Antiques Road Show," introducing two new pieces of art for the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, as it prepares to open. One, with her in the photo, is Thomas Hart Benton's "The Cotton Picker" and the other is Emil Carlsen's "The Leeds Jug."

On the eve of the opening of Roanoke's new Taubman Museum of Art, which is causing something of a national stir in art circles, a final burning question was answered: What about the museum will be named for the Fralin family, which is hugely responsible for its existence? Answer: The Horace G. and Ann H. Fralin Center for American Art. Heywood Fralin, Horace's brother, introduced the new center, speaking admiringly of his late brother's love for this region and of Ann Fralin's love of art.

The center will emphasize the study of American art before 1950 and will look at art created within Virginia and the region. The museum already has a large collction of that art, primarily thanks to the Fralins.

Oh, Sarah, You Kidder You!

The Palin jokes are flying this morning. Funny, funny woman, that Sarah Lipstick. Here's one from my pal Tom Cain:

"The bathrobe thing in the motel room (Sarahbelle met McCain staffers at the door naked but for ...) sounded like something Larry Flynt should put in his sequel to 'Nailin' Palin,' tentatively entitled 'Nailin' Palin Part Deux: Back to the Pole.' The governor gives up politics to pursue her first love - interpretive pole dancing, only to be thwarted by her inability to grasp anything."

(A Fox News--FOX NEWS!--director reports that Sarah Palin, when questioned, thought Africa was a country.)

2012, President Palin's First Press Conference

Question: "President Palin, which African country will you visit first during your presidency?"

Answer: "Is that a trick question?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The News Corner

It looks like we're finally going to move the FRONT into that marvelous space at 28 Kirk Ave. in downtown Roanoke next week and I can't wait. It's the news heartbeat of the city, if my recent experiences tell me anything.

Take today. I was down there watching the painters and waiting for the cable company to connect some stuff when I ran into Evie Slone, a planner with Hill Studio and the former planner for Roanoke. We chatted a bit about the upcoming Valley Business FRONT story on the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation, which she helped found, and she said her mama operated a beauty salon in our new space during the 1950s. I took her on a tour of the totally re-worked building and she was still on the verge of tears as she searched for landmarks. It must have been unrecognizable to her, but you could see that she felt the presence of her mom.

On the way to my scooter, I ran into Bill Elliot of Davis H. Elliot, which is situated in the suite above our offices, and he was talking to David Hill (Hill Studio) about his plans for the Campbell Mart/Woolworth's building across the street. Bill says he hopes to turn it into apartments or condos and maybe put a parking garage on the ground floor "if the city will go along with it." Even if that's a "no" from the city, something's going to happen and here is where it will happen: on the street in front of 28 Kirk Ave.

This is probably a story that will wind up on our pages, as have four pieces I've picked up just hanging out here so far--and that's two issues and me visiting occasionally instead of sitting in my street level, picture window office where people will feel free to drop in and chat.

It's already the best place in town for a news conference--whether you want one or not.

A Cautious Celebration, But a Celebration

"Mark this down in your book," I said to my anxious wife in August. "52-46. That'll be the count and Obama is the 52." She remained unconvinced until first thing this morning when she looked at the cover of the Roanoke Times, then went online to the New York Times "for a second opinion." She was crying.

Virginia, my adopted state since 1971, reflected America: 52-47, giving people like me who have been outside the state's mainstream of political thought something to cheer. Even in years when our side has won some small victory nationally, there was rarely anything to celebrate in this Cradle of the Confederacy.

Today, we have Obama, Mark Warner in a landslide victory over one of the worst of the worst, Jim Gilmore. And there's Tom Pierello in a stunning, thoroughly unlikely, one percent race with the entrenched hardline, hardheaded, unreconstructed 1950s politician Virgil Goode in so-red-it's-burgundy 5th District. Periello may not prevail in the final numbers which are dependent on absentee ballots from some of Good's strongholds, but put it in your pocket: Virgil got the scare of his political life from a man he wrote off in his bigoted way as "a New York lawyer" and if he doesn't change, he's gone.

Pass that lesson on to people like conservative Bob Goodlatte of the 6th District (mine) and on up and down the spine of the Blue Ridge where the right wing is fluttering aimlessly and broken right now.

There is a distinct temptation to take utter delight in this most complete victory of my voting years (when Lyndon Johnson won a landslide, I was not on his side because of Vietnam). Until we see how the noble Obama and the ignoble U.S. Congress navigate our monumental challenges, I suspect we'd probably better hang on to our skepticism.

The presidency has changed, Congress still has about 95 percent of the people in place who helped put us where we are. The federal courts, which can be involved in a lot of mischief, retain a 60 percent Bushes/Reagan majority. That's significant because of what those old white boys can do to any progress.

So, let's celebrate, but let's hang on to the handle of reality after today--when we're allowed to throw a triumphant fist into the air.

Crichton Died Before He Could Take It Back

It is thoroughly disheartening that Michael Crichton, one of the more entertaining and sometimes enlightening novelists of our generation, died before clearing up the State of Fear mess. That's the book where this man, whose science had been widely respected for years, denied our species' contribution to global warming. He did it in the book and he did it again before a Senate committee, giving credibility to a bunch of right-wing nutcases.

Crichton had earned considerable credibility beginning with The Andromeda Strain, written as a 22-year-old college student in the 1960s (he was 66 when he died yesterday of cancer). His books often combined great action with a philosophical approach to science. Jurassic Park is an excellent example of marvelous entertainment with a captivating and important message about fooling with mother nature. It was trivialized as a movie (though it was thoroughly entertaining), but I'm not so sure that was a bad thing. The book's still there to read.

I was mightily put out with Crichton for State of Fear because it was such a thorough sellout and I could never figure why he did it. I simply refuse to believe he believed what he was saying and I'm astonished he allowed himself to be used by the forces of greed and denial. One of them was Senator James Inhofe, a delusional Oklahoma Republican who has called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

Crichton, a lanky 6-foot-6 Harvard medical school graduate, never took the time to debunk his debunk of global warming, and I wish he had. I wish he had written one final book that would have pulled him out of that mud State of Fear plopped him in and told that buffoon Inhofe to go breathe some exhaust.

Getting Even: A Start

OK, troops, the investment guru is here to help you clear the deck of those Bush-tainted stocks.

Let’s start with the premise that companies that sold their souls to the Bush Administration will be persona non grata. Foremost among those are Halliburton and its subsidary Kellogg, Brown & Root, who, according to the Project for Public Integrity, won record amounts in contracts from the Defense Department during the Bush years. War profiteers, pure and simple. The bottom of the scum pond.

AT&T has been a huge Bush contributor, with Verizon making major soft money contributions, as have Philip Morris and UPS. Other biggies are MBNA America Bank, Fedex, the late and not so lamented Enron, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer and AOL.

The Texas-based Wylie family, which owns the Michael's stores (where I have bought art supplies in the past), among other large properties, was a big donor. Michael Dell of Dell Computers—mine just croaked and it will be replaced by something else—was a significant supporter. George David, head of defense contractor United Technologies Corp., which had $84 billion in federal contracts in 2002, is a Big Bushie.

Other large companies in the Bush camp: Credit Suisse First Boston, Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, AXA Group, and Bank of America. You might note that some of those have come upon hard times. I'm so sorry.

If you’re looking to dump stock in these companies because of their support of the worst, most corrupt administration since the 19th Century, e-mail my buddy Pete Krull (pictured), whose schtick is ethical investing. That would preclude the Bushies. And it would make you feel like you’d just had a nice financial enema. (My investments, with Pete directing them, have done well throughout the current markets, by the way.) He’s at And, no, lovely people, I have nothing to gain by recommending him except for the satisfaction that the economic chickens come home to roost for people of questionable motive.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hot Entrepreneurs

My pal Anne Clelland over at Handshake2.0, a networking/informational site, occasionally asks me to contribute opinions and observations to her interwoven readership and just today she wanted a list of entrepreneurs I believe worthy of recognition from this region of Western Virginia. I listed 16 of them and you can see them here:

A Festive Election

Two trips by the polling station on this historic election morning sent me to one conclusion: the mood is festive and that means the Bush nightmare is probably over. I went by Patrick Henry High School, where voting is held in the gym, at about 7:15 a.m. and there were probably 100-120 people in line, so I went to the park and walked for an hour. By 8:15, the line was much more modest, but the people in line were still smiling, talking and enthusiastic. My guess is that McCain voters aren't all that enthusiastic, judging from the mood of the campaign.

A light rain was falling and the only partisan workers outside were my friend Bobbi Hoffman and a young architect from Maryland, helping her hand out literature and post-voting Obama stickers. I asked why she'd come all the way down here to work the polls and she said, "Maryland's solidly Democratic and you need me." She smiled broadly. My wife had done some canvassing with another woman from Maryland last week.

Those of us who want desperately to end the Republican screw-ups are biting our nails today, but my suspicion is that we don't need to. I'm thinking "landslide."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Liberal Profs and the MythBusters

An interesting story this a.m. in the NYTimes about the influence liberal professors have on their students (, which the study finds is minimal. A friend last week complained bitterly to me in an e-mail that his daughter had come home from college full of these socialist ideas implanted by her Commie profs and he was pissed and wasn't going to take it any more. I just sent him the link.

Seems "three sets of researchers recently concluded that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students." And that, lovely people, doesn't just go for those of us on the left, but the right-leaners, as well. If you want anecdotal evidence, simply visit the Liberty University campus, the center of the world for the Christian right. There are left-leaning students on campus and they're not hiding behind the pew.

We're dramatically underestimating young people when we believe that the only--or even the most important--influence in their lives is a college professor. Teachers at all levels are an influence, as any person in a position of authority would be, but the influence is not always positive, not always high in impact and rarely lasting. Students are far more influenced by their immediate environments, including friends, family and jobs--a short lifetime of those. When I was college-age, I would have been--by today's standards--considered a conservative. I thought, in the early stages, that the Vietnam War was necessary to stop Communist aggression.

It took time, took listening, reading, experiencing to determine that what I believed didn't fit me. I'm from a poor family and I was espousing a kind of Republicanism that was counter to my instincts, needs, basic beliefs. I got that from the people around me; their arguments were constant if not necessarily persuasive upon examination. Conservative teachers helped form it, as well. But they didn't lock me into anything.

So, forget the fear of the professor. These people are simply one element in the growth process. Your children are going to be what they are going to be and no single element in their lives will shape that. Thank God.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bush's Best?!?

The New York Times, three days from the election that will replace the worst occupant of the White House in the history of the Republic (I still can't call that demented son of privilege "president"), is giving six noted people an opportunity to say something good about the guy who's moving out in January. It's a stretch, but I'll take the opportunity to join them.

George Bush owns great suits (unlike Sarah Palin, who's only borrowing her clothes) and he looks good in them. OK, you say, but what's an empty suit--even a wonderfully made suit from the finest wool available--in the scheme of things? Probably not much, but we've dealt with frumpies in the White House for far too long--Clinton, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson--and Bush sets a nice standard here, one Obama will follow.

I was trying to find out what brand Bush prefers and Googled "Bush's clothes." I came up with many, many references, all leaning toward "the emperor's clothes." So, I tried "Bush's tailor" and got all those stories about the communications device hidden in his suit during the debate with John Kerry.

I did, however, finally discover that the Bush family's favorite tailor (and that of a lot of famous Americans) is in Thailand and is owned by a couple of Sikhs, Jesse and Victory Gulati (pictured). Their shop is Rajawongse Clothier ( You, too can be like--or at least dress like--George W. Bush simply by ordering some nice Egyptian cotton shirts from these boys. Happy shopping.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Collards: A Southern Recipe

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Collard greeeeeeens. I just got back from a wedding featuring my pals Mark the chef and Michele the designer and as averse as I am to weddings in which I'm not the groom (kinda got used to being the star), this one was a dandy. Not so much because of the wedding ceremony as it was for Mark's collards. Best I've ever had. Being from the South and knowing something about the basic poor people food groups (grease, sugar, flour, sidemeat, salt, collards), I'm confident that's quite a statement.

These little beauties were cooked to perfection, spiced to within a whisker of God and served in the middle of a barbecue spread.

Here's how Mark did it:

Fresh, locally grown collards get it started. Prepare some bacon (and sidemeat and jowel, all cut into small--tiny--pieces) and saute an onion in grease. As the onion sweats, add a bit of garlic and some pepper flakes and heat them for several minutes. Toss in the collards on low heat and let them simmer until they're deep green, limp and gorgeous. If you got the greens before the first frost, don't put any sweetener in them. If it's after the frost, put in a bit of sugar or whatever you choose to use. Top it all of with a bit of apple vinegar and chicken stock and let it simmer until you put it out for the crowd.

Serve it to the best, nearest king you can find. This stuff is unbelievable. And it's good for you. (Don't take that last part as a threat.)

'The Best Game' (Bull#@%!)

On those days when I'm feeling particularly expansive, especially honest and open and have already told my conversation pal that I am a recovering alcoholic, I take the next step and admit to having spent 17 years as a sports writer. It's an ignoble profession most often peopled by the intellectually lazy and those who cannot accept any challenge in life. Sports writing can be, at its best, a fun job, but it's not one that will stretch the practitioner to his (and increasingly her) creative limits.

Sports writers most often settle for a life of ease, of beer and TV, of reminiscence of better days when, well, men were iron, ships were wood and women didn't make the waves that gave the sailors seasickness. (I will note that some of the best pure writers in the history of our republic have been sports writers, but those are the guys who got out of it and sought fulfillment from reality.)

So, let's get to today's grumble: I pick up the local daily on a Saturday morning and find, at the bottom of the first sports page, that Pulaski County High School has defeated Christiansburg High School 28-7 in football. It's the only high school game on the front and it's about a game half a hundred miles away. On Pages 6-8, we have stories on six Roanoke teams in this, the City Edition. Why in the hell is the game from the New River Valley, which has its own edition of the paper, on Page 1 of the section? It's a game in which maybe five people in the Roanoke River Valley have an interest and all of them are sports writers.

I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer from the sports guys about the positioning of high school sports events on their pages. They always say the game played on the front page is "the best game." Well, no it's not. The "best" game for my wife is the North Cross-Catholic game. She went to North Cross. For me, I guess it's Patrick Henry against whomever, since both my kids went there and, second, it's any game that Salem loses (because Salem plays my favorite team every week). But it's not Pulaski-Christiansburg. I can't foresee many circumstances where it would be Pulaski-Christiansburg, unless my best friend's son was the quarterback for one of the teams.

(Pictured above was the "best game" a couple of years ago. William Fleming High of Roanoke had just finished second in the state and I shot this photo of the celebration.)

You know, at a time when George Bush has lived in the White House for eight years, I suppose this is a niggling complaint. So, I'll shut up and go root out who beat Salem.