Monday, June 29, 2009

Make That Biscuits AND Gravy, Mr. Sheriff

After asking myself the rhetorical question, "What kind of people are we?" upon reading the NYTimes editorial this a.m. on cutting prison food budgets, I noted that one crooked old boy sheriff from 'Bama is now serving a stretch in his own jail for pocketing $200,000 in food money. Seems the state allows sheriffs to keep the food budget dollars they don't spend.

My guess is that he invested the money in sherrif's belly futures, a shrinking portfolio in this case.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Campbell Avenue Soap Opera Updates

More from the land of cut and past over on Campbell Avenue at The Roanoke Times, where the news department continues to be patched together. Seems the pasting of the newsie leaks continues, judging from the e-mails I'm getting.

Here's the latest from somebody I trust:

"Lerone Graham--a recently married man who's been working as an intern for well over a year now--either has or is about to head to the Roanoke bureau [from the New River Bureau, which produces Current for that area] to cover night cops. He will not be replaced [in NRV], so the bureau will go down another body. That would be two in less than three months. The staff was already at just under half its size of three years ago.

"That's part of a shuffling of deck chairs that--at least in one scenario--will include the end of the religion beat." [This is the beat Rob Johnson covered when he was shoved out the door. Rob was brought in several years ago from the Wall Street Journal to head the business department, but was demoted to reporter, then given the religion beat. He's done some work for us at FRONT of late. Good work, I'll add.]

Religion reporter "Tonia Moxley [who used to do business reporting for] is up for the Virginia Tech/Radford University beat--though she's been on the religion beat for only a short time and was assured the beat wouldn't be canceled beneath her if she left her Blacksburg beat to take it." [I saw Tonia downtown the other day and she was excited about covering religion and said she had some great ideas how she was going to do it.]

"One scenario would have Courtney Curtight leaving her Bedford/Botetourt County beat (I think for the K-12 beat -- isn't that the departing David Harrision's territory?)." One other scenario has the RT "adding a genuine, experienced journalist ... something they haven't done for a good long while." ["Genuine, experienced" journalists are expensive. Adding one won't hurt, since Beth Macy, a solid, experienced writer/reporter is leaving for a Harvard fellowship. She's expected to return. We'll see.]

Old Agnew Seed Lives Again as Walkabout

Kirk and Tina Miller this morning, finishing the move^

Tina and Kirk Miller with Auctioneer Ken Farmer just after the sale in March^

Tina and Kirk Miller, owners of Walkabout Outfitters on Roanoke City Market, are spending today moving their store into the former Agnew Seed a few doors down. The new store opens tomorrow. The difference for the Millers is that they are now owners instead of rentors, having purchased Agnew in March.

Agnew had been the sole occupant of the building for nearly 100 years, but a death in the family led to its sale and the Millers, who own three other stores--two in Lexington and a kitchen shop a couple of doors away on City Market--bought it at auction.

Kirk Miller says the most significant obstacle in the renovation process was the unanticipated levels of dust, generated by a seed store. "We're going from agricultural to retail clothing," he says, "and the one thing we can't tolerate in clothes is dust." The renovations in the store have primarily amounted to removing, rather than adding. The banks of shelving along both walls are gone and everything has been painted and refinished, including a lovely hammered tin ceiling.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

We're Moving to the Jefferson Center

Come September 1, Valley Business FRONT is moving to the Jefferson Center at the West End of Downtown Roanoke, one of my favorite buildings in the Roanoke Valley. This is an arts center that initially didn't rent to for-profit enterprises, but has changed its mind and we're among the first to get in the door. I'm thoroughly pumped about it because my office is going to be in that turret at the far right, ground floor. I always wanted an office in a turret.

Jefferson opened as a high school in 1924 and closed in 1974, only to be renovated and re-opened again in 1993 as the Jefferson Center for the arts, following an impressive fund-raising campaign organized by Judge Beverly Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick Hall opened in 1995 and the Shaftman Center for the Performing Arts debuted in 2001, each the result of local fund-raising. The Jefferson opened its many offices to non-profits initially, but has recently made those offices available to businesses like the FRONT.

A Morning at Happy's Flea Market

You have no idea how much I wanted this helmet for my bike. Christina would'a killed me.

This old boy was proud of his dog, which looked like a pit bull somebody'd left in the dryer.

These girls were texting. Each other, they said. Their mother was amused.

Would you put one of these on your head ... considering where they've been?

No, I have no idea what it is, but it's fruit--I think--and it's pretty.

OK, I can't eat churros, but that doesn't mean I can't look.

This woman chatted on her cell while looking for a size on the jeans.

The missing box? Heh, heh. Mine.

The woman in the middle and my truck are basically the same size.

These old boys were selling Jesus. They said it was new, with tags.

Barbie is a big seller.

Mennonites are among the customers.

This young woman was surprised by the photo and a little scared.

This morning at about 9 a.m., I pulled my scooter into the parking lot at Happy's Flea Market in North Roanoke, lifted my Nikon (with the 10-20mm lens) out of the carry-all and started shooting. Here's some of what I came up with.

Happy's is the most international four acres in Western Virginia and though it's not especially cosmopolitan, it's full of people, character, food I can't identify (but which I'll eat in a heartbeat), great little brass thingys, old tires, people with stomachs that defy biology, cigarette smoke, women navigating with small-wheeled strollers, hot sun, large pickup trucks, Jesus salesmen, Craftsman tools, dust, old cameras (which I collect), match box cars, Texaco airplane banks (which I used to collect until I got them all), vintage Pendleton shirts, a clarinet with no mouthpiece, jeans for $8, books for 50 cents, old LIFE magazines with Jacqueline Kennedy on the cover, Tonka Trucks and cactus you can grill. There's also a guy selling fish from buckets filled with ice. The prawns weigh about half a pound each. I wouldn't any more eat one than I'd take a bite out of a warm, steaming dog deposit, which would probably be safer.

Happy's is a wonderful place if you like people, hell if you don't. If you're into courtesy or A+ deportment, go to charm school. If you like cigarette smoke wafting your way or smelly armpits, this is your place. It's full of a variety of smells, bright light from a too-direct sun and languages I simply can't understand, but wish I could. And there are a lot of nice people there, people for whom you don't have to put on a show.

I like it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quality Filmmakers at Virginia Tech

Paul Harrill and his wife Ashley Maynor at the Kindigs^

I ran into Paul Harrill at the Perry F. Kendig Awards Wednesday and wasn't aware of who he was until afterwards. He reminded me that I had interviewed him several years ago for a column I was writing when he was working on the film that won him one of the Kindig awards.

Paul's a Virginia Tech professor whose 30-minute movie, "Quick Feet/Soft Hands," the story of a minor league baseball player and his wife dreaming of the Bigs, has a date with PBS and took a Kendig for visual arts. Here's a trailer for it. His movie "Gina, an Actress, Age 29" won short film awards at the Santa Fe, Nashville and Sundance film Festivals.

Paul and his documentary-making wife, Ashley Maynor (who also teaches at Tech), and I chatted briefly after the awards dinner, talking about projects and me asking if either of them would be interested in making a movie of a book project I either will or won't undertake in a month or so (this one's really and truly made for the movies), but they didn't seem interested. Still, I think I'll ask both of them to speak at the next writer's conference at Hollins (I recruited Roland Lazenby today; he has written some very popular sports books and his journalism students' coverage of the Tech shootings a couple of years ago embarrassed the professional media with its quality).

Paul writes a blog that concentrates heavily on film and it is literate, passionate and a great read. It's here. Of the group of eight winners of the Kindigs, my money goes on Paul to make the biggest splash ultimately. His work is quite good; too good for a small market.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Ever-Shrinking RT Newsroom, Part Deux (Or So)

One of my Roanoke Times insiders provided the following in commenting on the piece we ran here about a week ago on the changes within that institution's newsroom. It's much more dramatic than even I thought. Here's the accounting I got:

"In addition to the changes you site in your June 17 blog on the ever-dwindling Roanoke Times staff:
  • "Greg Esposito is leaving the New River Valley bureau/education beat to go to grad school;
  • "Stellar photographer Josh Meltzer, who was on a yearlong sabbatical will not be returning;
  • "Seth Gitner who headed up videography/online is leaving to teach in Syracuse, N.Y;
  • "Reporter Pete Dybdahl is leaving for Long Island.
  • "On the copy desk, Kelly Short, a lead designer since 2002, left June 19, and Alec Rooney, a veteran copy editor with 20 years' experience and about 3 years at the Times, has dropped back to part time."
Pete Dybdahl spent a little time working with us at The Blue Ridge Business Journal and I've always thought of him as a terribly underused and perhaps major talent (given the opportunity). He would have made a splendid local columnist, though I think Dan Casey is the best of that breed at the RT since Mike Ives was burning up the pool tables in the 1970s.

I saw Pete on City Market at lunch a bit ago and he said this "just seems like the right thing to do now." He'll be close to his mother and "my sweetie" (a lovely young woman who's occupied that special position for some time) has a good job. Pete says he might look for something in weekly newspapering. I hope he finds something he likes and something that uses his talent.

My colleague sees "a huge decline in the editing. Typos, grammar, bad [headlines], etc." I hear that often from people who are compulsive proof readers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Night at the Oper ... uh ... Arts Awards

Perry Kendig's son Bill poses with me (nose to the grindstone, as usual)^

From left: Christina Koomen Smith (my wife), moi, Emily and Tom Field; cute couples, huh?

Here's the period of small talk; you'll note that I'm above it (with my camera). Heh, heh, heh ...^
One of my favorite people, Laura Rawlings, director of the Arts Council, flanked by two Literary Artist types^

So, here's the magic publishing duo enjoying an evening of being wined and dined (not so much wine for me) as winners of Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's Perry F. Kendig Awards. Ours was the Literary Arts Award, the first the council has ever given out.

We did have a good time and I just love dragging out those old tuxedoes for one more wear. (Did I mention that I'm the only journalist I know who owns three tuxedos? All those marriages.

A Little TV Exposure for the Arts and the FRONT

That's host Bob Grebe, me in the middle and Tom Field on Mornin'^

This morning television gig is truly a parallel universe, as I discovered once again this pre-sunrise. My business partner, Tom Field, and I appeared on WDBJ7's "Mornin'" show today and that meant showing up at 5:15 a.m. Kimberly McBroom, the news anchor gets to work at 4 a.m. in order to write the news, Bob Grebe, the guy who interviewed us, said. We were actually finished for the day (three segments) by 6:45. My wife had just gotten out of bed.

Bob is a young guy--a former sports reporter in Bluefield--who can handle these early hours, getting to bed by 10, but for me ... well, I'll take what I have, thank you. I worked at an afternoon newspaper for several years and had to report to work at 6 a.m., thinking that was early. 5:15 is about six hours earlier than 6 o'clock.

There is an almost surreal feel to looking across the room and seeing a pretty young woman (Ms. McBroom, who is, for my money, the most attractive of the TV newsies in the region) putting on her makeup at 6:30 in the morning, of entering a facility where people are working before the sun comes up and no smell of coffee (there wasn't any in the building, that I could determine), of trying to stay awake without said coffee.

But this show was something Tom and I needed to do in order to promote the Arts Council Perry F. Kendig Awards gig tonight (Tom and I will receive the first Literary Award presented by the council) and to mention the FRONT, as we do every chance we get. Bob asked this a.m. if we had a secret to our success as "literary" people and I really wanted to mention self-promotion at the top of the heap, but, instead, said that what we do isn't literary, but we'll take the recognition (self-promotion at its best).

I did an interview with Gene Marrano for his Public Radio show "Studio Virginia" this past Sunday (for airing Thursday and Sunday evenings, after the awards are presented) for the same reason. If you're going to make a magazine successful, people have to know it exists. Same for the Arts Council.

It's all part of the game. One of the more pleasant parts, I'll say.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Greens and Squash To Make You Happy

Mother Smith's been back in the kitchen stirring up some of his world famous vittles tonight and the star on the plate is a little Southern comfort: turnip greens and squash "kilt*" in olive oil and garlic (that's more Southern West Virginia Coal Field Italian, actually).

Here you see the little mess o' greens sitting on a plate with a pork chop (standard fried variety), fresh corn on the cob (microwaved 3 minutes with the husk on to seal in juices) and a salad of green leaf lettuce, palm hearts, tomatoes from my garden, sliced cukes, Vidalia onion, mozzarella cheese squares with a light vinaigrette (and if you can spell "mozarella" and "vinaigrette" without sneaking a reference peek, you certainly have my full attention).

It's the mess o' greens we're primarily concerned with. Chop about a half a pound of turnip greens into one inch squares and put them into a hot skillet with about an ounce of olive oil in the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the mess with lemon pepper, chopped garlic, sea salt and pepper. Let them sizzle for about three minutes then flip them briefly and remove them from the pan.

Put another half an ounce of olive oil in the pan and sprinkle in one sliced small yellow squash and one zucchini (another spelling challenge). Let these little beauties brown on one side, then turn and put the turnip greens back into the pan on top of them. Cook for another two minutes, drizzling about an ounce of pear-infused balsamic vinegar over the top of them and serve them with a big ladel.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Good stuff.

(* "Kilt" is old South for "killed" meaning it's covered in hot grease, or, in this case, stirred around in hot olive oil. Better for you.)

Response: Weed Eater, Huh! Try This

My pal Mary Sproles Martin sent me the above in response to my puny little weed eater with the comment that "She wanted a lawn mower; he wanted a chopper." Don't you just love compromise?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Natives at Home, Part II: Tools

Yes, students, here we have the noble Urban Savage as he attacks a corner of his dwelling with the ancient hand tool, the weed-eater. It was given to him by No. 1 son on the occasion of a festival celebration, quaintly called Father's Day, wherein large portions of food, cooked on an open fire, are consumed and gifts from what was commonly called a "Big Box Hardware Store" are traded.

'Remarkable Trees' Author to Speak

Jeff Kirwan (right), forestry professor at Virginia Tech and co-author of Remarkable Trees of Virginia, will give a Powerpoint presentation of this unusual, illustrated story of trees across the state for the History Museum of Western Virginia's Lecture Series June 23 at 7:30 p.m. The lecture is at Christ Lutheran Church on the corner of Brandon Ave. and Grandin Rd. in Roanoke.

A review by Bill Hackworth (Roanoke City Attorney) in the June issue of Valley Business FRONT raved about the book.

Among the many handsome trees pictured in the 206-page book are an American elm at Roanoke Country Club; a redbud in Botetourt County; sweet birch and pignut hickory in Floyd County; sugar maple in Rockbridge County, and a black locust in Wythe County.

Kirwan, also a tree farmer and Extension specialist, coordinates the Virginia Big Tree Program and he leads a statewide 4-H and youth natural resources program. He serves on the state advisory committees for Project Learning Tree and the Master Naturalist Program.

He is a member of the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians on his native Eastern Shore of Maryland. His co-author of the book was Nancy Ross Hugo, an outdoor writer, author of Earth Works: Readings for Backyard Gardeners, who directs Flower Camp, an outdoor education center in Howardsville, Albemarle County.

This is the last in our lecture series for the Museum's year which ends June 30.

Oh, Hell, There Goes Civilization

"Blackberries have become cartoon thought bubbles" is the way the New York Times describes the phenomenon in a story this a.m.

And there's this discouraging observation: "The phone use has become routine in the corporate and political worlds--and grating to many. A third of more than 5,300 workers polled in May by Yahoo HotJobs, a career research and job listings Web site, said they frequently checked e-mail in meetings. Nearly 20 percent said they had been castigated for poor manners regarding wireless devices." Despite resistance, the etiquette debate seems to be tilting in the favor of smartphone use ..."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Look At the Kendig Awards

I did an interview with Gene Marrano of Public Radio's "Studio Virginia" a little while ago mostly dealing with the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's Perry Kendig Awards. Tom Field (my business partner in Valley Business FRONT) and I will be presented the first Literary Artist Award from the council Wednesday at the Taubman Museum of Art and I wanted to talk a little bit about the award's history and the guy who gives it his name, so instead of concentrating on Tom and me, Gene and I chatted a bit about what has become the major award for the arts in this region.

This will be the second award for either me or the company I was working for at the time. We picked up one in 2004 while I was editing the Blue Ridge Business Journal. Since I left the Journal in August of last year, I don't recall seeing any arts coverage and no sponsorships, so that part of the legacy is gone. However, we're carrying it on full tilt with FRONT.

The Kendig, named after Perry F. Kendig, the former president of Roanoke College and a man who left a huge mark on the school, was begun in 1985 to celebrate those supporting the arts and that year, Dominion Bank was the winner. The following year, there was a single winner again (painter John Will Creasy) and for the next nearly two decades, the Kendigs honored three people or organizations a year. Last year it went up to four and this year there will be eight, with several new categories, including the literary award (here is this year's list). In 21 years, there have been 59 winners.

The only other print media winner was The Roanoke Times in 1988 (I also worked for The Times at one point) and the only other media winners have been WVTF Public Radio in 1996 and Cox Communications in 1999.

There have been three dual winners, including Dominion Bank and Dominion Bankshares; art critic Ann Weinstein who won by herself and with her husband, Sidney, 1989 and 2000; and me.

Perry Kendig was an interesting man who arrived at Roanoke College as a dean in 1952 and became president in 1963, just as the Civil Rights Movement hit high gear and at the dawn of Vietnam. RC became integrated in 1964 and Kendig guided the small liberal arts college through some choppy waters for the next decade-plus (his tenure ended in 1975) without serious incident.

He was a man who took students seriously (allowing them to help shape the mission of the school) and who was a dedicated supporter of the arts.

The Kendigs are open to the public Wednesday at 6 p.m., but cost a hefty $75 (for that you'll get a good meal, a video and you'll get to see me in a tux--woooooo-hoooooo! You'll also get to support the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, a worthy enterprise if one exists). Call Krista Engl to register at 540-224-1203. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Liberty's Democratic Ban: It's Not Quite That Simple

Jerry Falwell Jr. (right) is a man I both like and respect. We differ politically on nearly everything, but when I heard he had "banned a student Democratic club from campus," I went looking for a grain of salt. I simply didn't believe it and said so at the time. I was right, but not very many media outlets corrected the original erroneous version of the story. It is complex and not nearly as sexy as a headline that screams, "Liberty Bans Democrats!"

In the June/July issue of Liberty magazine, Jerry Jr., Liberty's chancellor (and the Business Person of the Year several years ago when I was at the Blue Ridge Business Journal, an award he richly deserved), explains exactly what happened, how it was misunderstood and what it means. I still don't agree with Liberty's choices here--I think they are wrong-headed and contrary to the mission of a university to expose its students to many truths (and many untruths)--but I think it's important to understand exactly what it did and what it didn't do.

Falwell explains succinctly: "Liberty University has not banned Democrats from campus. Nor has the Democrat club been banned from meeting. And, never has the university or its officials said that a person cannot be a Christian and a Democrat" as was reported of Dr. Mark Hine, a 35-year veteran at Liberty. Liberty does not endorse the club and does not allow it to use the Liberty name to imply that it does because of its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage which many Democrats support.

Falwell says that "the club's sponsor may have been the source of these erroneous reports, but one phone call to Liberty officials could have prevented all the false headlines" as is often the case in journalism. The phone call might not have prevented the headlines, but it would have told another side of the story.

Falwell goes on: "The students who formed the Democrat club last October are good students. They are pro-life and believe in traditional marriage. They can continue to meet on campus. The only thing that has changed came about as part of a university-wide review of all student organizations for official recognition status. Official recognition carries with it the benefits of using the university name and funds. While this group will not be an officially recognized club, it may still meet on campus."

He further says that "we told the students who do have proposals that would allow them to operate without supporting pro-abortion and anti-marriage causes that we would consider those proposals after the club sponsor issues a retraction of her misstatements of fact and an apology" to Hine.

The problem here is that many Democrats* believe in a woman's right to choose what to do with her body and everybody's right to choose a partner. Notre Dame is facing much the same dilemma in inviting pro-choice people to campus to speak. The Catholic Church is as anti-abortion as Liberty is.

Frankly, I understand the intensity of emotion among those who believe abortion is "killing babies." It is difficult for those who believe that to accept abortion as anything but murder and I'm not sure why more abortion physicians are not shot. I certainly do not approve of that, but if I thought I was witnessing murder every day, I would be tempted to stop it by any means available to me. That's off-topic, so I'll shut up about the right and wrong of the positions.

It's the banning of an entire political party from a college campus that we're concerned with here and that didn't happen. Liberty is not as open to opposition ideas as I would like, nor is it as closed to them as been reported. Maybe we all need to listen a little better.

(*I wish Republicans would stop trying to insult Democrats by intentionally refusing to say "Democratic Party" which is a registered trademark, preferring instead "Democrat Party," an intentional slight and hardly an engaging way to argue. While we're explaining things, let me make sure you understand that I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican, either.)

And a Chip To Mark the Best Birthday

A good friend passed her first birthday in AA yesterday and I'm simply thrilled about it. Her chances of ever getting that far began at such a low degree of possibility that, had she known, she probably never would have tried. She talked yesterday of the struggle and the triumph with an excitement I've heard over and over in my 15 years of sobriety. It never gets old.

We mark a lot of birthdays, anniversaries and milestones in our lives, but for me the first year of sobriety outstrips them all for sheer impact on the lives of those of us who've done it. Without that year and the ones that follow, there is no other milestone of importance because our lives are full of failure, heartache, disappointment and sorrow.

My friend talked about the difficulty of measuring progress over that first year because it is slow--a day at a time and sometimes closer to a minute at a time when the demons are crowded around and howling to slake that thirst. It can be a crushingly lonely and uncertain time: "Will I be interesting again? Will I ever have fun again? Can I make friends?" Hundreds of questions and so few answers, save from the important one from the newbie's sponsor: "Don't drink and go to meetings."

As my friend noted on her birthday (and in AA, we have a "belly button birthday" and a "real birthday," much as the Christians are "born again"), the year gives perspective. She can look precisely at where she was and where she is. There's a dramatic difference that some refer to as "the miracle."

The last three years I drank, I couldn't get high. I was simply sodden and incomprehensible, a man with no mission, no concern, no energy, no ambition. I cared for nothing save the next drink, which did nothing but leave me immobile. I was listless, unengaged, unconcerned and disinterested in anything--save that drink. I was a blowhard without resume. In sobriety my life is full, interesting and involved. I am surrounded by people I love and who--talk about miracles--love me. I'm still a blowhard, but I have a resume. Some things don't change.

The brass one-year AA chip (pictured above) is my talisman. I carry it on my key chain and it is nearly always with me. I have had others ask if I would present them my one year chip on their first birthday--an AA tradition of sorts--and I have simply said, "No. You need to earn and keep your own. Your sobriety has nothing to do with me or my chip. It has to do with you and how you choose to work your program." It is a symbol of taking personal responsibility and, in my case, finding a higher power to lean on when I'm not strong enough to exercise that responsibility.

I'm truly proud of my buddy for her year, but this effort and growth doesn't stop. I recall the elation I was feeling when I slid my one-year chunk of brass into my jeans pocket. My late friend and sometime mentor Matty Kargl--a tat00-covered, motorcycle-riding, Brooklyn-born veteran of the drinking wars--leaned over and quietly said, "Don't get too smug. It takes five years to get all the shit out of your system and to be really sober." It was a sobering moment ... so to speak. Matty gave me my five-year chip.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Griffith's Opponent: Nice Try, Ma'am

I just read the brief profile of Ginnie Weisz (right), the woman running against Salem Del. Morgan Griffith, the majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates and, as I assumed from the start, she has no chance to win. None. Nada. Book on it.

Nice. Intelligent. Accomplished. Impressive woman from what I read. And no chance. It'll be 70-30 percent. So sad. Nice guys finish last. Or second to people who are utterly incompetent, in this case.

But, hey, the picture is an improvement over the one on her Web site.

The profile is here.

New Play Coming From Studio Roanoke

Studio Roanoke is closing in on its production of Maura Campbell’s "Rosalee Was Here" (directed by Cheryl Snodgrass). Kenley Smith’s new theater on Campbell Avenue in downtown Roanoke (one block off City Market) is taking on new and sometimes edgy works that will challenge you.

I’ve seen a couple of them already and I can testify that this is good theater. It’s not always going to be top-level stuff, but Kenley’s an adventurous guy, willing to take a chance on new people and new works and I think that’s worth your support.

Here’s the synopsis of this effort: "It’s the story of a young Hispanic girl placed on constant surveillance, provided by Molly, a teacher's aide with her own family problems.

"Within the confines imposed by the middle school principal who is compelled to enforce the harsh rules and restrictions imposed by the educational and juvenile justice systems, Molly attempts to help Rosalee struggle with issues of personal identity and freedom.

"Inspired by actual events, Maura Campbell has crafted a moving and often very funny commentary on the insanity of any system that does not account for its own flows and imperfections."

The new play runs June 23-28 at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at p.m. tickets are $10.

My Pal Picks Up the Gauntlet

Business Journal's Elizabeth Parsons addresses the panel at NCTC this a.m.^

My colleague, pal* and nemesis Elizabeth Parsons was in fine form this morning, introducing a good show at the NewVa Corridor Technology Council Technology & Toast breakfast in Blacksburg. You can read about the discussion--a good one centering on public relations and advertising--at moreFRONT.

I was tickled to see Elizabeth. It was the first time I've seen her since she referred to one of her colleagues (whom she didn't name, but I deduced to be moi) in a column as "unethical" and "bitter," a guy who didn't hesitate to criticize others because he's so devoid of ideas. Except for the bitter part, I guess that would be me, though I think a better word than "unethical" would be "combative," words I see people getting confused upon occasion, especially when the barbs are pointed in their direction. It's so much easier to attack the messenger than the message. I do it on occasion when I'm not certain how to respond or when my opponent has a good point that I don't want to admit.

I have criticized Elizabeth's publication--the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which I helped launch and build over 20 years and which she edits now--because I believe the people in charge of it have tossed it into the toilet, diminishing some fine work over many years. I think Elizabeth has done some good things as editor (she's smart and resourceful), but I think that she's facing a pretty steep mountain with no hiking boots.

In any case, I was tickled to see her swing back. A brisk competition is good for everybody and when it has an edge, it's even better. Good for you Elizabeth.

(* Elizabeth may argue about the "pal" part, but I like her and our competition won't make me like her any less. In fact, the more fiercely she fights, the more I'll respect her.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reporting Changes Underway at Roanoke Times

(I posted this a few days ago, but noting it was nearly a month old, took it down because I thought it was not timely. Apparently, few people are aware of the changes being made at the region's largest newspaper, changes that will affect the news many read. So here it is again.)

The Roanoke Times is preparing to reorganize its news reporters and some editors to emphasize "what should we look like and how should we operate as a smaller newsroom?” Executive Editor Carole Tarrant (pictured) asked in a memo to the staff. Most of these changes will be implemented by the end of June, according to the memo.

Tarrant announced several structural changes that "we hope [will] reinforce [certain] priorities within the newsroom and our readership as a whole.” Emphasizing that the company's target reader remains a mother with children at home (a goal it shares with Bella magazine), she wrote that "the entire company is re-evaluating how to work in the most efficient manner. We recognize that we've taken many steps in that direction already, with a number of newsroom jobs transformed altogether or not filled ... The challenges we faced as an industry before the recession will remain--and even intensify. It is not likely, in fact, that we will be hiring from outside for the rest of this year.” [The rumor mill suggests that last statement might be premature.]

Among the changes:
  • Steve Hemphill becomes sports team leader,” replacing Jeff Gilbert, who will teach journalism at Cedarville University.
  • New Channels editor Dwayne Yancey will supervise Chris Winston at The Current (the paper's New River Valley edition), consolidating niche publications under one senior-level manager. Yancey "will be a conduit between the news and advertising staffs that work on Current, and a planned TMC entertainment pub.”
  • Natalee Waters has been named photo "team leader."
  • Rob Lunsford will report to Andrew Svec in a change that "will effectively merge the art and advance design teams [and] increase the collaboration between the designers and the graphic artists."
  • Stephanie Ogilvie will join as dayside delivery editor, "which will focus on's greatest advantage--the ’now-ness’ it offers.” Her previous position will not be filled.
  • Matt Chittum will become part of the "public safety team" and "will retain his data delivery duties.”
  • Mike Allen becomes arts beat reporter/blogger and Kevin Kittredge will be one of two new regional [general assignment reporters] in features. Allen will cover Botetourt, Lexington and points north and Ralph Berrier will work the New River Valley "and points south."
Not reported in this memo was that schools reporter David Harrison is reported to be planning to attend graduate school beginning in the next few months.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Greenway To Connect in Front of Roanoke Memorial Hospital By October

The greenway will extend from this bridge (white pavement, ending abruptly here) and go beneath the pedestrian bridge in the background, just below the parking garage.

My wife, who is with the city's public information department, sent me this (and man am I happy about it!):

"Construction is expected to begin on the missing section of the Roanoke River Greenway during the weekend of July 4th, with a targeted completion date of Oct. 2009. This approximate 600-foot section will connect to the existing lower trail bridge (which stops abruptly in front of Roanoke Memorial Hospital now), cross under Carlion's pedestrian walkway, and run alongside Hamilton Terrace until it connects back into the existing trail near the former Piedmont Street location."

I'd wondered how that was going to be done and now we know. At this point, a rider or walker has to exit the greenway at one of its most dangerous intersections directly in front of the hospital where the traffic count is high. This will make for a much more leisurely ride.

Kurt Rheinheimer's Short Fiction Class Tomorrow at Center in Square

Just a brief reminder that Kurt Rheinheimer's "Short Fiction" class in the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge series is tomorrow night (Tuesday) at Center in the square, 7-8:30. This class has been popular at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in the past and we're hoping for a good crowd. See you there. Kurt, of course, is the editor of The Roanoker magazine and a highly thought-of short fiction writer. His most recent collection of stories is Little Criminals.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Me and Maddy Down By the Ball Yard

Saw my buddy/grandkid Madeline at the Salem-Myrtle Beach game this evening. Salem's been pretty awful of late (four straight shutouts, one of which it won) and it blew a pretty good lead tonight. I didn't stay, so I have no clue who won.

Frankly, I'm not so sure that more than 10 percent of the people in the Salem Red Sox park at any given moment give a purple poop who wins. Last night's crowd was reported at more than capacity for the 5,500-seat stadium (6,100) for a team that had just lost three straight shutouts. It's such a pretty place to watch a game, though, that the baseball is often secondary.

New Journalism Delivery System: Here It Comes

At a time when newspapers are near the end of their string of centuries of dominance of delivering news to the public comes the news that the Associated Press--long the base for much of the non-local news in the local paper--will deliver investigative journalism from non-profit sources in the coming months. This is an experiment, but it looks like the next logical step in the process of changing over from newspapers to whatever's next.

The New York Times' story this morning says that reporting from Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica will be delivered to 1,500 news outlets, as any other AP dispatches would show up on copy editors' computers.

The AP says the experiment will last for six months. It reports that "independent groups doing investigative journalism have grown in number and size, fueled by foundations and wealthy patrons, and are offering their work to newspapers, magazines, television and radio news programs, and news Web sites. ProPublica was created in 2007 and the Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2008. The Center for Investigative Reporting has operated for more than three decades, and is doubling in size. The four groups combined have more than 50 professional journalists."

In our own region, we have a miniature non-profit version of news gathering at New River Voice, Tim Jackson's newspaper-turned-Web site in Radford.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Deeds Shoots Out To Six-Point Lead (Surprise?!? That Would Be a No)

That's Creigh Deeds celebrating his "upset," which was no upset>

Throughout the primary season, the constant drumbeat from the Democrats was that this or that candidate was the only one who stood a chance against Republican Bob McDonald. I can't tell you how many times that line of reasoning forced me--absolutely no choice--into saying, "Bullshit! How's a short version of George Bush going to beat even an orangutan if the Dems choose to go with that candidate?"

The Repubs are in complete disarray, devoid of any ideas save the same crap we've heard for the past 20 years and this McDonald fellow fairly screams: "MORE OF THE SAME; LONG LIVE THE BUSH LEGACY!"

Now comes this (OK, it's from the Dems' campaign boys, but it's as good as anything floating around out there and we'll filter out the rhetoric):

"After touting Bob McDonnell as their best hope for a Virginia victory and stocking his coffers with cash, Republicans are now scrambling to catch up with our new Democratic candidate ... It's only been three days since Sen. Creigh Deeds won the [Democratic] primary, and the early numbers are promising, with Rasmussen's poll yesterday giving him a six-point lead over McDonnell."

Told you so. Don't underestimate Deeds. He's formidable and even his opponents like him.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Opponent for Griffith--After a Fashion

Ginny Weisz takes on Griffith>

I was energized recently when I was told (incorrectly as it turned out) that Dave "Mudcat" Saunders--the veteran Democratic Party insider from Roanoke County--was mounting a campaign to unseat Salem Delegate Morgan Griffith, the majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates and one of the worst representatives of any district in Virginia for many years. His has been a tenure marked with a complete lack of accomplishment, of sending our tax money to other sectors of Virginia, by extreme partisanship and the kind of politics of hate that I abhor.

Too bad about Mudcat because I suspected the "mud" in his name would be slung hard and that Griffith would have been softened up for defeat in the next election. It's almost impossible to beat an incumbent in Virginia and, as Tom Perriello found out, softening up the opponent in a race or two ahead of yours (as Al Weed did to Virgil Goode) is of great benefit. Mudcat could have thrown some hefty roundhouse punches and though he wouldn't have won, people voting for Griffith would have held their noses while pulling the lever (as they should in any case).

Now comes the word that one Ginny Weisz, a long-time party activist who lives on Bent Mountain and is an assistant professor at the Radford University School of Nursing, will be Griffith's Democratic opponent (barring any other entries). I don't see a lot of benefit here. There's a complete lack of name recognition and my guess is that she is not the kind of gutter political veteran who is needed to punch out Griffith with hard personal campaigning. (It would go something like this: "My opponent, a lawyer who defends rich drunk drivers ..." or "My opponent, who believes students should be able to take hunting rifles to school, drunks should be able to go into bars armed (maybe so they can drive afterwards], and that we should all be able to take a Magnum 44 to the park for a day with the kids ..." or "My opponent, who professes to believe the government has no place supporting the arts and culture, but who has been responsible for huge expenditures for museums in Roanoke and Salem ...".)

Remember this about politics: who's right doesn't mean a damn thing. Reason and intelligence are without merit. A great resume gets the voters' attention for nearly a second. Creative marketing and hard punches against incumbents (preferably something to do with public bathrooms and little boys) win the day.

I wish Ms. Weisz all the best and hope she'll clobber this thoroughly incapable representative. But I doubt she will.

(Note: Somebody please help this woman with her Web site. Especially the photo. I volunteer to take a better one and, frankly, just about anything would be better than what you see here--copied from the site.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

April Drummond's Newest Play Packs the House

Here's April Drummond with her favorite blogger (right) and a scene from today's play (that's her daughter at the right)^

OK, I'll go ahead and say it: April Drummond will win a Pulitzer Prize for one of her plays in the next 10 years. There. Done.

Christina and I (and a packed house) just saw a production of April's short play, "The Way To a Man's Heart," at Studio Roanoke--the lunchtime free play that replaced Mill Mountain Theatre's Centerpieces--and it was simply splendid, full of street truth, precise comic timing and a hoot-inducing twist at the end. This was pure April with that innate voice of hers splashing through and onto the stage. She is a natural and Hollins (where she is a junior--as a 40-year-old with seven children) is making her a polished natural.

Kenley Smith's Studio Roanoke is quickly filling the void left by MMT and the infrequency of plays at other venues in Roanoke. The fact that a full house showed up at lunch today demonstrates that there is a hungry audience out there. Find a schedule--which I couldn't do online--and go to a play here. It's a real adventure (and Kenley finally got rid of those folding chairs and has some comfortable seats).

Kurt Rheinheimer Next Week's Writers Workshop Speaker

Kurt Rheinheimer of The Roanoker Magazine and a respected writer of short fiction will be the presenter at June's Arts Council of the Blue Ridge Writers Workshops series. This one is Tuesday (June 16) at Center in the Square, 2nd floor.

Kurt is known especially for his baseball fiction, which has been featured in a number of collections, and his Little Criminals was received well and reviewed favorably by The New York Times. He has been a popular fixture at the first two Roanoke Regional Writers Conferences and his tips on writing have been popular among local writers.

The class starts at 7 p.m. and it is free to everyone, regardless of writing skill or interest. Be sure to take a pen and pad to class. Call Rhonda Hale at the Arts Council to register (540-224-1205). Here's the schedule and the contact information:

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

Northern Virginia High Schools Near the Top

Blacksburg High is the top-performing high school in the region, according to the survey>

The NYTimes this a.m. has an interesting look at the 1,500 top performing public high schools in the country and 25 of the top 200 are in Virginia, almost all in the D.C. area where the money is.

The best from Virginia is HB Woodlawn of Arlington at 36. The top high school from this area is Blacksburg High at 410, followed by Heritage of Lynchburg at 1,383 and Patrick Henry of Roanoke (surprise!) at 1,421. I did not see another local school in the top 1,500.

Virginia had seven of the top 100 schools on the list.

Here's The Times' explanation of how the list was arrived at: "Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2008 divided by the number of graduating seniors. All of the schools on the list have an index of at least 1.000; they are in the top 6 percent of public schools measured this way."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Yeah, But What About Real Role Models?

Into the Disney cast of Princesses charges Tiana (below), poor thing

In this overprotective, kid-centric culture of ours, I have no explanation for the Princess Phenomenon other than the simple fact that marketing trumps good sense, materialism has more meaning than role models of substance, that spending equals good.

Else, my suspicion is that Walt Disney's princesses, regardless of their race, creed or color would have been laughed outa here as impossibly frivolous and even dangerous stereotypes years ago. But it didn't happen and now our little girls are dressing as a variety of dependent, entitled little beauties whose only goal in life is to be pretty and to marry that guy with the big horse. The sooner the better, so let's get a nice boob job at 13 to enhance--so to speak--our chances, ladies.

Disney's newest profit center ... uh, princess ... breaks ground in that she's African American and stars in "The Princess and the Frog." This is ground I'm wondering if my African bretheren need to have seen broken. Equality is great when what's being sought is desirable. This princess, Tiana, is so hot she gets to have a Brizilian boyfriend, and we have to wonder what are the young African American boys thinking about not qualifying as princes.

I don't know exactly how this story will play out, but it appears to be yet another chapter in the saga of young women--girls--using their "feminine wiles" as they were once called, in order to entrap rich young men so the princesses-in-waiting can get what they deserve: a castle full of clothes and other necessities, a stable of the best Arabian stallions, 100 handmaidens, all the makeup Max Factor can imagine and, well, whatever they want to imagine.

She's a princess. She's pretty. She's entitled. She won the prince and never has to lift a finger--not to mention a brain--again.

So who's responsible for this misplaced emphasis? Marketers? Yes. A society that places far too much value on being pretty and not enough on having something under all that hair besides air? Yes. Mothers? Yes. Fathers? Not so much, in my experience (let me emphasize in my experience so Betsy Gehman won't call me a "misogynist" again). Grandfathers? Not this one.

I don't know where I'm going with this except to scream fecklessly into the digital netherworld. Nothing I can say or do will change anything. My granddaughter and your child will continue to gather mounds of princess gear at every occasion and when, at some point in the future, she is lying on the shrink's couch lamenting her tortured childhood, not a soul will dare point to a body image created by Disney animators, to values built on a cartoon storyboard, to interests formed by marketers whose only goal is to sell "product," no matter how that's accomplished--even at the cost of the very culture they seek to shape. These are as completely amoral a group of people as it is possible to create.

All this is an exasperating thought, one I had hoped not to have again after George Bush left Washington.