Friday, May 29, 2009

Arts Council, Police Working Together on Project

Hank Bostwick of The Star City Harbinger (a newsy-blog) is reporting this a.m. that representatives of the Roanoke City Police Department and the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge are working on a mural project together, one that has been in the planning stages for some time.

Though this is not a direct response to the arrest of a young performance artist on Roanoke City Market nearly two weeks ago, Director Laura Rawlings sees the project as a potential healer for ill feelings among between the police department and the arts community. Deputy Chief Tim Jones is working with the Arts Council on the Roanoke Youth Arts Connections program, which will bring in young artists who will paint a mural to be placed on the inside wall of the city parking garage.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We Can't Let Just Anybody Get Married

Andrew Churlin, who wrote the book Marriage-Go-Round tells us (in a radio show I picked up a bit ago) that the 10 states with the highest divorce rates voted for George Bush in 2004. Eight of the 10 voted for John McCain in 2008.

I'm not so sure what to take from that except that social conservatives seem to be more concerned about gay marriages than their own.

Gay Marriage Fight Finds Strange Bedfellows

Ted Olson (left) and David Boies join the fight>

Ted Olson and David Boies. Yep, same guys. As opponents, they pushed Bush v. Gore to the Supreme Court and gave us eight years of the worst government in our history. Now they're teammates in another epic struggle: Gay Marriage v. The American Right.

This morning's NYTimes story gives the details without using the most obvious reference: "strange bedfellows."

Olson represented Bush in the landmark Supreme Court ruling, on which the Supremes should never have made an appearance and was Bush's Solicitor General, arguing for the government in front of the court often (always on the wrong side and generally winning). Boies fights from the other side (the left, which is right) most of the time, but in this case, both are concerned about individual rights (as the political right used to be). It'll be interesting to watch them go forward.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cox Eliminates Mike Pedelty's Job

Mike Pedelty at a groundbreaking ceremony>

Cox Cable in Roanoke continues to trim its workforce, this time eliminating the position held by Public Affairs Director Mike Pedelty, who was active on a number of community boards of directors, as well as Cox Channel 9.

Local programming, in which Pedelty was heavily involved (as was his wife until recent months), will continue, I'm told. Margaret-Hunter Wade, who worked with Pedelty, will reportedly continue in her job. Cox maintains a high community profile and is involved in a number of community efforts. Pedelty led much of that.

Less than a week ago, Cox announced it had eliminated 20 percent of its workforce in Roanoke by closing its call center.

County Rec Center: What Should Membership Cost?

Roanoke County's new Taj Ma Rec Center (officially the Green Ridge Recreation Center, but I like Taj better), a 76,000 square foot extravagance in a time of diminished governmental capacity, brings forth a couple of interesting philosophical questions:

1. Is a huge recreation center financed by taxpayers needed and is that need a function of government?
2. If it is needed, are the fees that have been suggested for users ($66 for a family per month, plus $175 a season for water park use) out of line?

I'm a government guy, so my answer to Question 1 is, "probably no, but let's see how Question 2 goes."

Roanoke County is an affluent locality where few poor--or even marginal-- people live. But there are some and a single mother with three busy children (who could use a membership in a rec center) will have some difficulty coming up with a fair chunk of extra money every 30 days. "OK, kids, your choice: rec center, shoes, food, place to live ..."

The fee schedule (which also includes daily rates for the water park) has been structured to pay for operating expenses. The park is scheduled to open in January of 2010 and memberships will go on sale in August.

The question, class, is: if the locality builds it, should the price structure pay for it? That represents a user fee, which many people like, but which shuts out those with little.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Xenophobia, Thy Name Is Goodlatte

Bob Goodlatte (note the flag; it is for wrapping arguments)>

Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who represents our little district here in the western part of Virginia, has introduced a bill in the House that would prohibit our federal court justices from thinking--if their brains wander outside the boundaries of the United States. His "Reaffirmation of American Independence Resolution" is intended to prohibit people like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from contemplating the unthinkable: "I will take enlightenment wherever I can get it. I don't want to stop at a national boundary."

His idea of the judicial thought police has its genesis in a press release that landed in my in-box today: "Recently there has been a deeply disturbing trend in American jurisprudence. The Supreme Court ... has begun to look abroad, to international law, instead of our own Constitution as the basis for its decisions." I wonder where Bob thinks the Constitution came from. Maybe whole cloth. That'd be good.

He continues: "This is an affront to both our national sovereignty and the broader democratic underpinnings of our system of government. The introduction of this legislation comes at a critical time, for when judges and justices [mostly appointed by Republicans] begin to operate outside the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution, Congress must respond." As Congress tends to do; which makes Congress look more often the fool than not.

Goodlatte, a lawyer by trade, is aghast that Justice Stephen Breyer recently found a decision from the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe useful, because Zimbabwe is ruled badly and is, therefore, automatically ineligible for any intelligent thought (much as the U.S. was under George W. Bush, whom Bob just loved).

Goodlatte is worried that "a majority of unelected justices can alter the original intent of the U.S. Constitution by relying on foreign laws, constitutions, cultures, fads, or social mores." No, that should remain the domain of elected blockheads. No argument there.

A Movie for Your Artistic Side

"Everlasting Moments," showing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke is the kind of movie that gives the Grandin its shine. It is an homage to a Finnish housewife and mother of (eventually) seven children who finds the artist inside with the discovery of a castoff camera at the turn of the 20th Century.

"Everlasting" is from Swedish director Jan Troell and is subtitled. The story is based on real events and at its center is Maria Larrson (Maria Heiskanen in a marvelously understated performance) whose job description is strictly domestic (my mother always called herself a "household drudge"), but whose unspoken, unrealized and repressed dream is of the artist who looms inside. When she tries to sell her newly-found camera at a small shop, the kindly owner not only talks her out of it, but teaches her how to use the camera, process photos and even throws in the necessary materials.

Maria is married to a philandering, abusive, alcoholic (Mikael Persbrand in a tour de force) who puts her and the children through so much daily hell that when he is jailed, the children beg her to leave him.

This is a story of misplaced loyalty, of budding artistry, of goodness and determination. It is long and slow, but good character studies necesssarily are. And the look, oh, my! It is simply a beautiful movie in every sense.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Susan Boyle of Roanoke

Roanoke's Chastidy Anderson (above) is every bit the equal of Susan Boyle (right) as a singer^

Britain has its marvelous Susan Boyle and Roanoke has her absolute equal in little-known Chastidy Anderson, a long-time music director for her church, the New Life Temple on Airport Road.

Her performance at the Roanoke City Employee Talent Show April 4, 2008 simply stopped time for manyof us in the half-full Roanoke Civic Center Auditorium with a performance of Dolly Parton's "He's Alive," a religious piece. It was a jaw-dropping moment, much like that of Ms. Boyle's introduction on the English show "Britain's Got Talent."

My wife did a story on Ms. Anderson for the city's employee newsletter a while back. Ms. Anderson works in the city commissioner of the revenue's office--personal property tax--and her husband, Ike, is with the police department. They have two young children. She is a short, round, pleasant woman in her 30s.

She writes music and wants to record a demo tape. I suspect she'll show up somewhere, somehow in the near future--at least in part because of Susan Boyle, who has us looking for talent in the most unlikely places.

A Thought for Memorial Day

As I passed a flower-decorated grave yard this morning, I had a thought:

Memorial Day's genesis is honoring the dead, following the savagery of the Civil War and has become a day to honor dead people, regardless of how they died.

I'd love to honor those who have tried to make peace against all odds, dead and alive, on Memorial Day and every day. We have enough monuments to war, warriors and to human stupidity. Let's celebrate the courageous people whose goal is peace, honor, growth, intelligence and the better nature of humanity.

To that end, here's a little verse I penned this a.m.:

Soldiers are tools
of despots and fools.

Peacemakers reign
in the world of the sane.

Happy Peace Day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Today's Lesson: The Daily Newspaper's Alive and Thriving! Well. It is. Sort of ...

Alternate use for your daily newspaper, No. 1>

Looks like Roanoke Times Executive Editor Carole Tarrant and I are talking to different people. Her bouncy little missive this a.m.--which I won't link to, since everybody already reads it--tells us just how marvelous it is to be a daily newspaper in this part of Virginia these days. While her peeps are telling her they can't live without a daily dose of The Times, I'm hearing words like "irrelevant," "dead," "out of touch," "arrogant," "uncaring" and others we won't go into.

She seems to be basing her argument for the value of newspapers on the movie "State of Play," which, from my viewing, has as much to do with the operation of today's newspaper as "Angels and Demons" has to do with papal ascension. (It's an entertaining movie, though, unlike "All the President's Men," which was certainly more accurate.)

'Course, I don't suppose you would expect anything else from Ms. Tarrant, since selling papers is her job, but when she claims a daily audience of 245,000, including online followers, I have to smile. Is that total eyes, fingers and toes? When she says the RT is planning an e-paper--"a digital replica," for a fee--I have to wonder why, if all those eyes, toes and fingers are captured already. Ad revenues must be through the roof with that level of dominance.

She stressed the "staff of more than 100 journalists"* (some disguised as empty seats) and a "continued" emphasis on "community news and enterprise reporting." She wrote:"We merged the main and Virginia sections Monday through Saturday, yielding a substantial newsprint savings [yay, environment!] with little impact to our news content. We also furloughed employees for five days."

Her own local reporters bemoan on a daily basis the shrinking news hole that allows fewer and shorter stories. She talks of "bringing you in-depth stories before anyone else," oh, like say the "Must-see TV" story that everybody in civilization had before the RT recently--and it happened three blocks from the RT's front door.

And there's the matter of all those veteran reporters who have left--some as "volunteer" retirees (you take the retirement or take your chances on getting fired without it; logic and history favored the former)--at least one excellent reporter asked to leave without explanation ("this is not a discussion") and others just too exasperated and tired to stick it out, hoping for a change at the top.

Tarrant's is an interesting little cheerleading interlude. We'll see how it plays as we move toward a different delivery system for journalism.

(* A little story: A few years ago, when I was editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, a Times editor stopped me on the street and said, "Man, I wish we could do some of the stories y'all are doing." "Why don't you," I asked. "We don't have the resources," the Times editor said. At the time, we had one full-time editorial employee.)

The Power of Marketing to Women

My brother, Sandy, is constantly searching for seminar topics that will generate significant interest from corporate culture. It's how he earns his living at Sandy Smith Seminars and the closer he is to the collective pulse of those in charge, the more successful his efforts. He recently delivered a popular workshop on working with the millennial generation at Carilion Clinics in Roanoke and now he's working on the seminar equivalent of the gorilla in the room: women and spending power.

Here are some of his bullet-point findings:

The Largest Economies on Earth

3. The American Male
2. The Nation of Japan
1. The American Female

As an Economy, the American Female makes:
  • 80% of all purchasing decisions in a household
  • 70% 0f women {ages 25-54} work outside the home
  • In 2005 50% 0f all US businesses were owned by women
  • 10.2% of women earn more than their husbands
  • Sales people sell to women 81% of the time
Women over 55 are the fastest growing group on the net
  • 42% of managers are women
  • 80% of all checks written in the US are written by women
  • Women Influence:
  • 91% of new home furnishings
  • 92% of vacation plans
  • 80% of DIY projects
  • 50% of air travelers are women
Today Women Earn:
  • 55% of Undergraduate Degrees
  • 53% of Masters Degrees
  • 40% of PhD Degrees
Women Buy:
  • 65% of all cars in the U.S. and influence 81% of car buying decisions<
  • 51% of tires are bought by women
  • Women constitute 40% of NFL viewing audience
  • Women consume 30% of all light beer
  • In 1970 women had a 1 in 27 likelihood of participating in sports, today it’s 1 in 3

Death by 'MBA culture'

The following is from Keith Rabois in his essay, "How Facebook, MySpace and YouTube Killed eBay" at the Web site TechSpace:

" one point right after it bought PayPal, eBay had the leading actors of most of this entertainment revolution sitting in its offices. Chad Hurley and Steve Chen of YouTube fame, Peter Thiel (Facebook), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp), Max Levchin (Slide), David Sacks (Geni and Yammer), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn, board member of Zynga) and others, myself included, were all too alienated by eBay’s bureaucratic and political MBA culture. So we decided to create our own fun elsewhere instead."

Tom Field and I ran into that "bureaucratic and political MBA culture" and started our magazine Valley Business FRONT in response. We have watched that culture devastate our primary competitor in this publishing market, rendering it a laughable shell of its former proud self. The pub in question lost yet another sales person last week, one who walked out shaking her head at the stumblebum, heavy-handed, insecure, inexperienced, arrogant management. Good people disappearing as the ship goes down because of those Captain Blighs. It's a joy to be a fly on the wall for this.

Even without this personal link, the essay is smart, informative and quite revealing.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sharyn McCrumb Will Join Us in Workshops

Best-selling novelist Sharyn McCrumb is going to join us for the The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge/Valley Business FRONT writers workshop series on Nov. 17 for the seventh class in the series. Sharyn, who is a cousin--something removed--of mine and a marvelous chronicler of our mountain myths and legends will speak in an area where she's entertaining, knowledgeable and informative.

The title of her class is "Keepers of the Legends: Using History and Folklore in Novels and Short Stories." Sharyn generally fills big classrooms and we're ready for that with Mill Mountain Theatre in reserve as a venue if it looks like we'll overfill.

These are monthly workshops and Melanie Almeder's opener last week was quite a hit. We expect attendence to slowly increase over the months because the topics are some that have been strongly requested by a number of writers. They range from specific writing classes to information on the law and finances.

Here's the schedule and the contact information. The first six classes (counting Melanie's) are free. We'll begin charging $10 per class to cover expenses (and to pay the teacher) beginning with Sharyn's class. Each class runs 7-8:30 and they're tentatively scheduled for the second floor conference at Center in the Square (enter on the Campbell Ave. side).

Here's the schedule:

June 16, 7-8:30 p.m. Kurt Rheinheimer-"Writing Short Fiction"

July 21, 7-8:30 p.m. Cara Modisett-"What Magazine Editors Want from You"

August 18, 7-8:30 p.m. Gene Marrano-"Freelance Writing in This Market"

September 15, 7-8:30 p.m. David Paxton, Lawyer-"Protecting Yourself Legally"

October 15, 7-8:30 p.m. Joe Schaban, CPA-"The Financial Side of Writing"

November 17, 7-8:30 p.m. Sharyn McCrumb, "Keepers of the Legends: Using History and Folklore in Novels and Short Stories."

Admission: FREE, except Sharyn McCrumb's class, which costs $10.

For more information or to register for these free workshops please contact:

Rhonda Hale or 540-224-1205

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge

20 Church Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA 24011

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Step Back for Liberty University

Liberty University, which had apparently been moving into a more progressive world than it had occupied in the past with a first-rank law school, an aviation school, a building engineering curriculum, has taken a strong step back into a past many of us would like to forget.

The college has revoked recognition its students' Democratic club because, it says, the party opposes the school's conservative principals. See the story here in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

I have been working with some smart, professional people (and some impressive students) at Liberty for several years and my overall impression has changed dramatically. Liberty has impressed me in many of the same ways it impressed Kevin Roose in his recent book The Unlikely Disciple. Its image overall has moderated, as well, and this decision can do absolutely nothing but harden its perception to people of genuine conservative, moderate or liberal beliefs.

"Conservative principles" must include freedom of speech and expression, freedom from political pressure, freedom to gather in groups of like-minded people and freedom to vote as you see fit. The Constitution says nothing about abortion and sexual preference, but it directly addresses each of the aforementioned freedoms and they are as sacred as anything Liberty officials believe.

There are plenty of examples of conservative Democrats (our two Senators would be a good start) and "liberal" Republicans (George Bush was the biggest-spender in U.S. presidential history). Few, however, meet all the purity litmus tests of the fringes of their parties and that's where Liberty is establishing firm footing with this unwise--foolish, even--decision. A university is telling students they have no right to their own thoughts, their own beliefs, their own actions. They must be controlled by central thought command.

There are some good people at Liberty who will have a difficult time explaining this hard line opposing a basic freedom. This is disappointing to me personally because I like a lot of people at Liberty.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Roanoke Times and Joe Gaskins: Both Late, Neither Gets the Point

The Roanoke Times finally got around to substantially weighing in editorially about Chief Joe Gaskins' handling of the cop-busts-artist fiasco a week ago on Roanoke City Market. You'd think that after nearly a week, the editorial writers would have had enough time to and enough information to understand what's wrong here. What we got this a.m., however, is that Gaskins should have said something--anything--earlier.

Frankly, my guess is that Gaskins hasn't said anything yet. He simply signed a statement written for him, as is so often the case with public officials who can't be trusted with public statements. God forbid Gaskins would have held a press conference within a day of the incident and subjected himself to real questions from live people who weren't on his side. Now that would have been revealing.

When we finally got the Gaskins statement (it was initially swiped by an alert Internet reporter who got hold of an e-mail between the chief and the mayor, then modified for public consumption later), it was about a lack of communication. See, he (or somebody at the city) knows the words. What it didn't say, and what hasn't been said by anybody in the city government, is that police officer Rheinhold Lucas acted recklessly, boorishly, without discipline, without regard for an entire community and in the manner of a totalitarian police state (demanding an ID from a young woman whose "crime" is still in dispute). Rheinhold's actions reflect on the department and the department reflects on the chief. It has all led to the American Civil Liberties Union offering its services to the "criminal" here, saying, in effect that Katherine Gwaltney either didn't break a law or that her free speech rights were unconstitutionally interfered with. Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Gaskins' silence, siding with the officer's action, lack of willingness to face accusers and total misunderstanding of what's wrong here doesn't surprise me in the least. The Times' slow, plodding and disappointing coverage of an incident that happened within three blocks of its front door at lunch hour when some of its reporters had to be in the vicinity is not as easily understood. Social media (and I'll include this blog as part of that group) was on this one like flies on cow flop, reporting within minutes of the incident, and has clung to it with up-to-the-minute news and commentary all through the past week. Social media, in this instance, gets it.

That's yet another reason why I see a newspaper dying and a strong competition going on to take its place as a conveyer of information and commentary.

(Here's a response from Luanne T. of the Roanoke Times Editorial Board: Dan, you are welcome as always to disagree with our opinion. This was the second editorial we published on this incidence. The first one ran Monday, which was the earliest date possible for us from a production standpoint. [Remember, the function of the editorial page is not to break news.]

(Having already commented on the incident, our focus today was to comment on the manner in which the police chief bungled his response. We believe an effective leader would have come out front on this, mended fences and released the artist without charges. You are correct that print does not offer the immediate forum for chatter that people seem to want these days. That's why we have hosted a lively exchange since the start of this on our blog. You're welcome to join us anytime there.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Is That In the Trash Can, Tom?

Right there in the middle it sits. Look closely. Could it be a Blue Ridge Business Journal in the TRASH?^

My business partner Tom Field, who publishes our Valley Business FRONT magazine, stopped me yesterday and said, "You know when I was leaving the post office today, I saw three--THREE--Business Journals in the trash. They didn't even GET OUT OF THE POST OFFICE! Wish I'd had my camera."

Today, as he and I were leaving a business meeting, I spotted yet another Journal in the trash (above) and I had a camera. Here's the proof. This is something we both see pretty frequently, but I can honestly say I've never seen a FRONT in the trash. Not even my own and I'm overrun with the dang things. Hard to throw away.

I think I see an advertising campaign coming on.

Is It Just Me Or Is This Bullshit?

My colleague Elizabeth Parsons, editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, whom I like and respect, has just written an introduction for the little paper's annual Book of Lists that I find interesting. She calls the current edition "the best" in the 21-year-history of the BOL. It's certainly the smallest, but the best? As the former editor of the magazine, the guy who did the first half dozen of these publications virtually by myself and directed the rest, I take umbridge at her assertion.

The newest edition has color bars in the lists. I guess that's better. My colleague Dick Robers called several of the businesses in the BOL just out of curiosity and found that the information was incorrect in an unusually high percentage (that could just have been bad luck, I'll admit). Sharon Gnau, who compiled the BOL for us for about eight years, went five of those years without making a mistake. She almost never made an error in the others she worked, either. Emily Field's record last year was very close to that. The BOL used an intern to compile the info this year, according to Elizabeth.

A comparison to last year's BOL looks like this:

This year: 40 pages; 15 lists; probably $30,000 in revenue.
Last year: 84 pages; 33 lists; $80,000 in revenue.

Judge for yourself. Is Elizabeth involved in an exercise of hyperbole? Of rhetoric? Of bullshit? Or, indeed, is much, much smaller--but with plenty of color--better?

Is It the Economy or the (Mis-)Management?

Hampton Roads Magazine, in an examination of Roanoke Times owner Landmark Corporation's recent failures as a news corporation says this:

"In recent history, though, it seems that the voices that made Landmark different—the voices that understood that the short term was meaningless because company survival depended on unique long-term thinking—were being replaced with voices that just saw the short-term bottom line. Part of this was necessitated by their desire to sell the company, and in the recent market, selling a company has depended on making the company attractive in the short term."

Exactly. EX-ACT-LY.

Landmark, of course, owns The Roanoke Times, which has had a time of it lately, ditching many of its best, most experienced reporters. The newsroom joke for months has been that the top brass is "trying to make this the best 42,000 circulation newspaper in Virginia." The Times' circulation has been near 100,000.

If anybody asks, it's about the management, not the economy. Well-managed organizations thrive during difficult times because they have a plan.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daisy: Weirder Than Usual

Daisy dressed in her summer finery^

Our off-brand black fuzzy Persian cat gets a pretty close shave about once a year as weather allows. It's a defensive move for Christina and me, who have spent the entire winter picking up (or leaving lie) large balls of fur on the carpeting, bare floors, sofas and chairs all over the house.

The first year we had Daisy shaved, her normal neurosis intensified to what was an almost pitiful level. She was devastated. But after about a day of freedom, not carrying around all that hair, she became positively bouyant. She's home from her annual shave now, still floating on the meds (drunk, I'd say) and her housemate, Moochie, is looking at Daisy thinking, "I told you she was crazy. Look at this."

Tomorrow, she'll be happy. But ugly. Really, really ugly.

Hey, Grandpa, What's for Supper?

Gather 'round chillins 'cause we cookin' again tonight. This time it's a variation on the French peasant dish ratatoullie and we'll call it Mother Smith's World Famous Squash and Other Stuff.

Here's what you need:

1 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
2 thick slices of egg plant, quartered
1/4 onion sliced
2 slices spring onion, about 3-inches long
1/4 red bell pepper, slivered
12 cherry tomatoes
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 diced garlic cloves
salt and pepper
1/2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese

Arrange in layers in each dish squash, a fourth of the cheese, peppers, onions, zucchini. Place six tomatoes around each serving. Place four egg plant slices and the spring onion in the center. Sprinkle on the garlic. Beat olive oil, milk and eggs together and pour over the arrangement. Place the remainder of the grated cheese over the top.

Bake for an hour at 375-400 degrees (depending on your oven) and serve with grilled, lemon-pepper-seasoned talapia (as shown here).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gaskins Weighs In--And He's Wrong

It is not a bit surprising that--days after the event--Roanoke Police Chief Joe Gaskins has finally weighed in on the arrest of the young performance artist on Roanoke City Market last week. Gaskins, as you'd expect, has sided with the cop (with the appropriately Germanic name Reinhold "Bill" Lucas) in an e-mail, according to a story in the Roanoke Free Press.

Gaskins quotes the law requiring a permit to gather a group, but does not mention common sense, humor, art, youth, image (this thing has been shown all over the world on the Internet and has made the TV news throughout the country--mostly as a joke with Roanoke as the butt) or anything else that this was about. It certainly was not about impeding traffic, which the cop cited, and if it had been, he might have cited himself since his fat ass covered more sidewalk than that of the young woman he arrested, 27-year-old Katherine Gwaltney.

I chatted briefly Friday with Mayor David Bowers and Councilwoman Gwen Mason about the incident and both seemed genuinely embarrassed by it. What they'll do about it (what they can do about it) is another matter.

Getting Back What I Give Out--Ouch!

My friend Betsy Gehman (see the Mother's Day post below) suggests I need a "course in anger management" because of my little rant below (two rants, actually) about mothers who hog the greenway walking and biking path.

Even worse, she criticizes my syntax in a paragraph I--advisedly--removed, one having to do with overpopulating the planet. In that unfortunate grouping of words, I blamed the mothers without equally blaming the fathers. My excuse was weak: the mothers were on my greenway with their dang kids and the dads, probably out playing golf somewhere, weren't.

Betsy is sometimes the harshest critic I've ever had*. "Irresponsible, arrogant and stupid? Yeah, that pretty well describes the above paragraph," she wrote, turning my words about mommies on me. Good tactic. Effective in this case, too. Bruised hell out of what little ego I have left.

Once again, I take the responsibility for killing a fly with a hammer and I accept Betsy's criticism, which came packaged every bit as harshly as mine. Maybe I'll learn something. Maybe not. We'll see.

(* At one point Betsy called me a misogynist. That means I "hate women or girls." As my courser side suggests, that is bullshit.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chris Berry's 10 Rules for the Greenway

This is the kind of lovely, bucolic, dangerous scene that will drive a person on a bike crazy. Are mother and child going left, right, straight? Where? It's unpredictable and maddening^

Chris Berry, a Facebook/Twitter pal 'o mine has posted 10 Rules for the Greenway that I believe should be engraved on tablets and enforced by Homeland Security. They are sensible, safe and they can bring out the courteous humanity in all of us.

The reason the rules are necessary is because some of us are uncaring, self-centered, boorish, entitled jerks who believe the world revolves around us and our needs. Many of these lovely people are young mothers who seem to set the standard for air-headed negligence.

Here are Chris' rules. Read, obey and enjoy your greenway trip.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Day With the Sears Homes

On the way home from Bedford, Christina and I were looking at old houses, wondering "what's under that facade?" Rosemary Thornton planted the question during her talk on the Sears kit homes today--before a surprising packed house. It was so full that the lecture had to be moved to a nearby elementary school gymnasium.

Ms. Thornton, an expert on the turn of the 20th Century kit homes (there were several manufacturers, Sears the most prominent), mentioned that most of the 70,000 Sears homes that were build were altered in one way or another on the way to today. Some were modified by the original builders, others getting needed or wanted alterations along the way. Many, many survive in middle and lower income sections of most cities and even some rural areas.

One observation I found fascinating is that Sears homes were made available to women, minorities and immigrants who could afford them (prices ranged from $500 to about $3,000 at the beginning in 1908) and most went in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. They came equipped with most of what you'd need, but there were no plumbing, electrical or masonry components. they were shipped in train box cars and had to be unloaded and taken to the building site in 24 to 48 hours. the homes had 30,000 or so pieces, so moving them was not a cinch.

Sears promised at the time that a "man with average ability" with tools could build a home in 90 days. The wood for the homes was yard yellow pine for the interior and first-growth cyprus for the exterior. The first-growth woods were considerably harder than pine and cypress of today because they grew slowly and more densely. I tore off a porch on our 85-year-old arts and crafts house last summer and replaced it with wood that was probably half as hard.

Thornton, who has written a couple of books on these homes, travels the country talking and looking for examples. She says she often literally dances in the street (to some strange looks on occasion) when she finds a good, little-altered example.

The Good ...

Grandin Village in the Raleigh Court area of Roanoke continues to set the standard for what a neighborhood should be. A week ago, the Community Market (sponsored by the Co-Op) opened and today it was nearly sold out when I went by at 11 a.m. Good people, good food, good music, good community. Good everything. Now this ...

... the Bad ...

Oh, don't we love little mothers and their double-wide Hummer baby strollers, taking up every single inch of the greenway in Wasena Park this a.m. The one in the middle (wearing black) isn't satisfied with two little knee biters, she has another on the way and her T-shirt tells us that this is not an isolated group of mommies, but an organization (my wife calls it a "phalanx").

... and the Ugly

Here's evidence of the evolution of our species on the low water bridge at Wasena Park in Roanoke this morning after several days of rain. The bridge floods easily, giving rise (literally) to the habits of the pigs among us. Not a pretty sight.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Take It Off! Take It All Off!

This one's just too juicy to pass, so to speak. We've done mud wrestling, roller derby, hero games, X-games, All-American Baseball League, tackle football, two-girl softball and even the WNBA, but never before have we seen underwear football. Now we have it. Take a look. It's delightful. Maybe those boys in Salem who couldn't get that minor league football team started could switch modes and draw in one of these fetching teams.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out of Hand Cops and the Market Bust

I got to Roanoke City Market this lunchtime a few minutes after all the excitement about the performance art bust and wasn't really aware of it until I ran into a cluster of excited people reviewing what had just happened and not really believing it.

First, I passed three people I know having an ice cream at a little parlor with outside seats and they were excited about the "demonstration" that had just taken place, a bunch of people sitting on the sidewalk watching blank TV screens "to demonstrate the value of the arts, I think," said Kathy Chittum (she runs the Grandin Theatre). She was pretty close to right (and was actually one of the actors). This was a performance art presentation, mostly in fun, but putting a little art in the public square. All harmless stuff. Kathy and her lunch mates were smiling.

Moving along, I noted some agitation and then I heard that somebody had been arrested, "a girl who was pulled up, thrown around and taken away," somebody said. I found out later that the young woman had tried to continue her performance even as a loutish, loud-mouthed cop was bullying her and insisting she move off the sidewalk where she was "disruptive." From the tape of the event I saw later on Facebook, he was the one being disruptive and he was about twice her size, so he was also the one blocking the sidewalk.

There was a lot of screaming and yelling--all by the cops from what I could determine with the Facebook tape--and, ultimately, a lot of jaws on the ground when the young woman was hauled away to jail.

I am, frankly, astonished, appalled, pissed off and disappointed at these publicly-paid bullies who know no restraint and obviously don't have good sense. This must be laid at the feet of Police Chief Joe Gaskins, a guy I've never much liked. The cops were totally undisciplined, used bad judgment, and made a truly outrageous and stupid decision to arrest the youngster.

At a time when Roanoke is pushing hard to attract young people, trying to appear sophisticated and artistic, this type of stunt by a boneheaded, arrogant cop can really stink up the pot and it has.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

At the ER, It's About Who Waits Best

My wife became sick overnight and we wound up having to run over to the hospital emergency room first thing this morning. After I got her settled in (she turned out to be OK), I ran home to take a quick shower, thinking I'd get that done and hustle back over, collect her and get to a couple of photo shoots on time. I found out that hospitals don't operate on that kind of time equation, one that involves efficiency.

Walking back up the hill to the ER after the shower, a thought came to me: "I'll bet that far more than 75 percent of the people in this large building are, at this very moment, waiting for something to happen." Patients are waiting to sign in or to be taken into the back room; waiting for a nurse or physician to come to the room; waiting for them to come back; waiting for a blood test going one way or the other; waiting for somebody just to let them know they haven't been forgotten; waiting to break out of this joint.

Nurses are waiting for assignments, waiting for doctors, waiting for tests, waiting for specialists to call back. Doctors are waiting for much of the same and lab people are waiting to get blood or other fluids, then waiting for the tests to be complete.

It's a heck of a cycle and with all that down time, it's no wonder this is an expensive proposition. Imagine if things could happen in real-world time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

OK, So It's Not the Normal Course

Krista Engl of the Arts Council with Tom (center) and me at the taping^

My business partner, Tom Field, and I went over to Cox Cable this a.m. to tape a segment for the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's annual Perry Kendig Awards dinner in June and Krista Engl asked a question I wasn't quite ready for.

Tom and I have been named winners of the Arts Council's first literary awards (the council has concentrated on visual arts in the past) and Krista asked what "turned" us toward "the literary life."(The "literary life"? Me? I'm a hack journalist, Krista.) Tom survived a number of challenges that would have floored a lesser man, but the passion for the printed word (and the illustrated word) was there and he thrived with it. All good stuff.

My experience came through the backdoor. I was never a reader (until recent years) and didn't do especially well in school, so what was it for me? "I learned to dive before I could swim," I said. "Then I learned to swim to keep from drowning because I really liked to dive." Krista looked at me like I'd just grown a red wart on my nose, crinkling her brow, puzzled.

I went on: "I did the same thing with writing," I said. "I got a job with a newspaper when I was 18--at a time when you could still do that--but I couldn't write. I couldn't even type. I had to learn to write to keep the job, which I liked, so I did."

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Look at the Dying Camera Store

Gordon Ewald (above) talks about the demise of the camera store chain^

Former Ewald-Clark camera store owner Gordon Ewald, whose family had the regional chain in Roanoke for 50 years, takes a look at the demise of camera shops as we know them here. Today, Gordon is, happily, a flight instructor. I talked to Gordon today and some of his inside information and observations are fascinating. Read it at moreFRONT, the blog of Valley Business FRONT magazine.

In Defense of Brewhog (First and Best)

The publishers of Roanoke Valley Home, a three-issue-old publication landing in the Star City, claims it is "the first and only" magazine of its kind in Roanoke. That's just not true. My wife's Blue Ridge Home and Garden enjoyed a nice run five years ago, doing something RVHome doesn't do: it featured sparkling local stories and photography by local writers and photographers. No canned stories, no clipart, no generic "How To Set the Dinner Table" stuff.

RVHome is a pretty magazine, but it is not a Roanoke magazine. It is competently written, but its writers are not familiar to me, and I know Roanoke writers. They appear to be from Lynchburg and Tidewater, by and large (Erin Parkhurst, for example, used to cover Lynchburg for us at the Blue Ridge Business Journal and is a fine writer), and the stories--mostly generic or about the writer--have little to do specifically with the Roanoke Valley. So, in my estimation, it is not a Roanoke Valley mag. It is remarkably similar to Lynchburg/Tidewater magazines (Central Virginia Home and and another on the coast whose name escapes me). Look at the two covers on "Fragrance Gardens" in the current RV and Lynchburg issues. At least the photo is different. Slightly.

Christina's magazine was a tabloid that featured good writing and excellent stories nobody else was doing. These weren't vanity stories, but were journalism-based (Christina's a former editor the of Charlottesville Business Journal and a former TV newswoman) and the range was astonishing--from pinky-raised high tea to dumpster diving and "shabby" chic to the mansion on the hill (often on succeeding pages).

The RV and Central Virginia Homes magazines are attractive and they appear to have been successful thus far (they are quarterly; Christina's was monthly). The writing is solid and the photography striking (much of it clip art, which so many magazines are using on their generic stories--cheaper than hiring local people; at Valley Business FRONT, we have a company policy against using clip art because it cheapens the product). Publishers Colleen Dougherty and Julie Pierce have apparently accomplished what they wanted with these magazines, but they are not first and, for my money, they're not Roanoke Valley local.

Those who read Christina's magazine (which I affectionately called "Brewhog" for the BRHG) loved it. It was the first. For my money (speaking as a guy who's been doing this journalism thing for 45 years and not as Christina's favorite overweight old man), it's still the best.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Celebration in Four Octaves

Betsy Gehman (see post below) sent me this circa-mid-1960s photo of her four children (Pleasant, expressing appreciation of new arrivals, Chuck and the twins) this morning. This is why we celebrate motherhood.

Two Mothers for Mother's Day

That's Betsy above and Mom to the right>

Some of us are blessed with a good mother. The very, very fortunate among us have two good mothers. I'm in the latter group.

My birth mother was a nut case, a walking demonstration of Psyche 101 and one of the funniest people I've ever known. She could--and did--often turn poverty, alcoholism, hopelessness and pain into a Henny Youngman one-liner, but she could shut off the lights as quickly as she could illuminate a room. I guess she taught me resourcefulness with all that. Maybe not. But she taught me and my seven brothers and sisters how to laugh, something we remember well. That, for my value system, is far better than leaving each of us with an island dotted with swimming pools and dancing girls. Uh ... let me think on that a minute ... nah, the humor's better.

I spent a good big of the first half of my memoir Burning the Furniture talking about Mom and if you're interested, you can follow it here. If not, take my word for it, crazy or not, I would not have traded my mother for anybody else's.

Mom died nearly 20 years ago and upon her death a wonderful woman named Betsy Gehman stepped in to take her place. Betsy has been a very different kind of mother: sane, disciplined (with her often wild-assed charges), instructive and patient. She is every bit as funny as my first Mom, but in a more intellectual way, a bit quieter, more refined and learned, though more cutting at times. She can zing one minute and reassure the next.

Betsy wrote the definitive book on twins (Twins: Twice the Trouble, Twice the Fun) in the 1960s after being blessed (?) with a pair and her life reads like a Golden Age Hollywood script (big band singer, performer on early live television, author, college teacher, Broadway singer, Women's Movement leader, magazine writer and on and on; you can even hear her voice in some of the music in "Singin' in the Rain"). Betsy got to know my mother when she helped edit my memoir and Betsy expressed considerable approval of Mom.

As interesting as all that is, Betsy's value to me has been far more direct and personal: she has guided me when I needed it, forgiven me when nobody else would, loved me without question and been a late-in-life mother to a guy who needed one.

The Very Best of the Star Trek Movies

Let me enthusiastically join the chorus of those waxing effusive about the new "Star Trek (2009)". Christina and I saw it at the Grandin Theatre last night and it is slam-bang summer entertainment, respectful of and loyal to the original and it has carved its own niche at the same time. Quite a fete for a project that faced the heavy scrutiny of Original Trekkies, Latter Day Trekkies, I'm Not A Damn Trekkie(s) and a host of other people ranging from the addicted to the mildly familiar with the form and substance of the Gene Roddenberry creation. gives the movie a 96 percent approval rating, judging from an average among the reviews it has received.

I'm not going to go blowing the plot, but this is a "prequel" that goes back beyond the Enterprise to the childhoods of both Spock and Kirk and gives you believable background, context and full substance. All this is accomplished--along with a major battle in a continuing war--with fall-on-your-butt humor, great characterization (get a lot of Scottie and Bones: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a physicist!" and "Jim, I can't generate that much power!") and crisp writing and direction.

Go see it. You'll want to applaud when it's over.

(One itsy-bitsy warning for the Original Trekkies: There are two variations on the original story line involving death that will drive you nuts and allow you to say, "I told you so!" but, hey, get over it. This is the best of the Star Trek movies.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Keeping "Neighbor" in the 'Hood

Christina and I just walked over to our pals Kurt's and Brook's house for a neighborhood book sale and social hour. Those little events just sing with neighborliness. My long-time colleague Jeff DeBell, whom I haven't seen for a while, was there and between us, we bought all the good jazz and rock 'n' roll CDs (but not a lot of books).

Anyhow, on the way home, we passed the above scene at the Post Office and it reminded me of just what the "neighbor" in "neighborhood" means. This was the clogged loading dock at the Grandin Road Post Office, where postal workers and people from the Food Bank were loading all that donated food from people in Raleigh Court onto a truck for delivery to the bank.

The postmen and women picked up packaged food we left on the front porch earlier today in plastic grocery bags they stuck in our mail boxes Friday. I like everything about what this says about us and our institutions. At a time when we are overwhelmed with George Bush-inspired things to complain about, this one's about the positive side of being Americans.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yard Art (Recycled) From Mexico

That's my buddy the chicken with me and a nifty tractor above^

Radford's Kenny Edwards, who operated Lamp Post Mercantile & Pottery for years, has a fun little display of yard art set up at Grandin Gardens (next door to the Grandin Road Post Office in Roanoke). It's so good that my wife, the Goddess of Yard Sculpture, couldn't resist. She bought a chicken. It's not like the one pictured here (with its buddy, me), but it'll do.

If Kenny's name sounds familiar, you might remember him as a badass linebacker at Virginia Tech 30 years ago. His son, Touchdown Tommy Edwards (who was with his dad tonight at the Gardens), is pretty memorable, too.

The yard art (and I just love this little tractor pictured here) is made in Mexico from found metal. In keeping with with Grandin Gardens' mission, what we have here is recycling. We also have international relations, creativity, commerce and chickens. I love chickens.

Prices range from $6 for glass flowers to a $400 mailbox (neither of which seemed to fit with the good stuff made by the Mexicans). Go down and take a look. Talk football with Tommy (and with Grandin Gardins owner Pete Johnson, who played for the Bears--yep, Da Bears) and find my pal Polly Branch and chat about recycling. She's really into it.

The Roanoke Times is WHERE!?!

The Roanoke Times is showing up in the most unusual places. If you're a right-wing nutcase, you'll love this. Take a look here.

(Hint: Aljazeera English. See the video.)

Arts Council's Writers Workshops Begin May 19 With "Finding Voice"

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, in co-operation with Valley Business FRONT magazine, is adding a feature that the writers among you will just love--and it's free. Beginning in 11 days, on May 19 in the upstairs conference room at Center in the Square, the first in a series of writers workshops is scheduled.

The workshops will be held monthly and will last an hour and a half. They will feature writers, writing teachers, lawyers, CPAs and anybody else who can help you write better, get your work published and cover your legal and financial butt while doing it.

This is an ideal clinic for those in book or writing groups, for freelance writers, fiction writers, reporters, editors, or for those of you planning that long delayed memoir (I'll teach a class on that during the second round of classes in the late fall or early winter). We plan classes on getting published, print on demand and self-publishing, writing great leads, turning poetry into fiction and vice-versa, writing about your family, writing about the environment and nature and ... well, you get the idea.

The class schedule and registration information follow. I hope to see you there. These classes are going to be excellent and our kickoff class with Melanie Almeder of Roanoke College--one of the finest writing teachers around--will be essential to most of you. It's about finding and keeping your writers "voice," something that English teacher, editors and others have likely beaten out of you through the years.

May 19, 7-8:30 p.m. Melanie Almeder-"That Iffy Necessity: Finding Voice"

June 16, 7-8:30 p.m. Kurt Rheinheimer-"Writing Short Fiction"

July 21, 7-8:30 p.m. Cara Modisett-"What Magazine Editors Want from You"

August 18, 7-8:30 p.m. Gene Marrano-"Freelance Writing in This Market"

September 15, 7-8:30 p.m. David Paxton, Lawyer-"Protecting Yourself Legally"

October 15, 7-8:30 p.m. Joe Schaban, CPA-"The Financial Side of Writing"

November 17, 7-8:30 p.m. Sharyn McCrumb, "Keepers of the Legends: Using History and Folklore in Novels and Short Stories."

Admission: FREE, except Sharyn McCrumb at $10.

For more information or to register for these free workshops please contact:

Rhonda Hale or 540.224.1205

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge

20 Church Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA 24011

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Theoretical Answers for Real Problems from Tech A&E Students

Associate Professor Karen Till addresses the gathering. The cardboard mockup and drawing are of Katie Wallace's The Can Factory, a project the students worked on^

A group of Virginia Tech students and teachers in urban planning, architecture and engineering made interesting theoretical presentations on six different projects they're working on in the Roanoke Valley this a.m. at the Claude Moore educational complex downtown. Let's emphasize that these were theoretical solutions to some dicey problems, but the practical aspects--how to pay for it, how to accomplish it--are all left for another day.

I loved the kids' work. It is imaginative, considerate of the environment, uses the latest technology and construction philosophy and, in one case, even considers using a building as a billboard that would help pay for its renovation (never mind that the law would likely prohibit that).

The projects covered a broad area ranging from brownfield rehabilitation to renovation of historic or traditionally African-American neighborhoods. It looked at railroad and bridge crossings as part of the "urban effect" and examined property values in the historic Old Southwest neighborhood. In most cases, though, there were gaping holes caused by a lack of information on how these projects might be accomplished.

In the case of Old Southwest, there was a good bit of comparative information of property values in Roanoke, but there was a glaring omission: what happens to all that data when the renovated Cotton Mill complex opens next month? This complex, in conjunction with several other projects that are dramatically changing the area, could well add a dynamic that is far more important than anything that has happened there in the 25 years of the "historic" designation because it's running off the hookers and pushers and residents expect values (and safety) to soar.

The brownfields presentation was great if you don't have to do it. Cleaning up the urban messes in some of these properties--caused by toxic chemicals, petroleum spills and a host of other permanent pollutants--is what a physician would call a "primary disease" that has to be cured before anything else can happen. That part was skipped.

It is good to have these young people working on problems like this--real problems in real places. It is not good to withhold vital information and problems from them. When they're working for the companies that have to do this work, they'll be required to solve these very problems, so why not give it a test run here? Real-world problems need real answers, not theory.

Congress and the Newspaper Tax

A couple of bills making the rounds of congress (notably the Senate bills of Ben Cardin of Maryland and John Kerry of Massachusetts) would grant newspapers the same tax-exempt status it grants churches (some find the comparison appropriate) with some of the same restrictions. The exemptions would only go to ink on paper publications, not Internet pubs or electronic media, and in their current forms, the bills could prohibit endorsement of political candidates.

The Constitution grants the news media certain tax exemptions already, built in so that the boys in the marble-columned buildings would resist the temptation to increase taxes on publications that wrote bad things about them. You might remember that that Virginia Republican genius Morgan Griffith of Salem threatened a few years ago to tax and regulate The Roanoke Times--and other papers--out of business because The Times implied that his level of intellect was deficient. The Griffith threat proved The Times right, if nothing else had.

There are a lot of people wringing their hands that the tax exemption would slow down the move toward new media by giving print an unfair advantage (which online outlets have enjoyed all along), but I'm not sure anything is going to slow technology. I mean, I'm 62 years old and just opened a Twitter account. I blog daily. I use viral marketing for our magazine.

It's here and it's going to get you!

Still, I don't quite know where to come down on the congressional proposals, but I do have absolute faith that whatever comes out of those astute bodies will be wrong, absolutely wrong for everybody.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

As the BRBJ Ship Nears the Waterline

My late employer, the Blue Ridge Business Journal, is apparently seeing a deepening of the financial hole it has dug itself. Now even Steve Brewer, solid, slow, competent Steve, has left the fold, having had it up to here.

From what I've been able to judge at a distance in the past several issues, Steve, the Lynchburg advertising representative and the senior staff member (and the last full-time man left at the publication), was leading the field in ad sales (judging from the number of Lynchburg ads vs. Roanoke/New River ads) and he wasn't exactly killing the competition with four sales. I made some loose estimates at what has happened to the Journal's ad revenues (which set records for the first half of last year, before Tom Field and I left, trailed by the two top ad sales people) and it appeared that sales were at about 30 percent of where they should have been. That number has been confirmed.

Steve's departure follows by two weeks that of ad designer Cricket Powell and now the senior staff person has a little more than a year in the trenches. If you're counting turnover in the past eight months, that'd be about 80 percent.

The publication's Book of Lists, which was a solid profit center in the past, last year bringing in more than $75,000, was sent to the printer this week, I've learned, hitting 34 percent of its advertising goal. The BOL often pulled us out of the winter doldrums when things were slow. Not this time.

The editorial content is poor and uninspired. There is no personality to the publication and it reads as if it was thrown together at the last minute with no focus.

The ship keeps sinking and, frankly, I don't know how much deeper it can go before it disappears and the mothership (The Roanoke Times) is forced to abandon it. Subsidizing a poor performer which has no real market potential is not what troubled newspapers generally consider prudent. This is a tough time for publications, but this is ridiculous.

When times are tough, the dedicated work harder and smarter. I'm not seeing a lot of that in my old haunt. I feel bad for some of the good people left there, trying to struggle through the incompetence surrounding them. Wish we could offer a couple of them jobs.