Sunday, August 30, 2009

Carter Turner: Maybe a Chance Against Morgan Griffith

I was pleasantly surprised at what I found in an hour of conversation with General Assembly candidate Carter Turner--a guy I had dismissed as an academic without a chance--this morning at a coffee shop in downtown Roanoke.

Turner is running for the seat being held hostage by Republican drunk driving lawyer Morgan Griffith, a man who has no business in public office--or public anything else. This is a seat Democrats have mostly conceded, even when they had an opponent for Griffith in past years. They've run intelligent people who are accomplished as community participants, political activists and professionals, but who simply have not had the heart for the kind of earthy--that would be muddy--politics necessary to beat Griffith.

Griffith is a man whose mother is a beloved school teacher (she taught Turner) and who has, frankly, corralled enough power and influence within a small segment of the General Assembly and the electorate to frighten and intimidate many, including some of those who give money to him. I've had business people tell me they reluctantly give to his campaign because "I'm afraid of what he'll do if I don't."

Griffith, who was married several years ago in a graveyard (a fact Republicans would hammer a Democrat with if the Dem did something that creepy), is looking at his second Radford professor opponent within a couple of months. The Dems put up Radford nursing professor Ginny Weisz, but she thought better of it after a bit and the party turned to Turner, who teaches religion (and has been to seminary) at Radford. He's a former Salem High football player and a Christian with portfolio, both important in this solidly Republican (gerrymandered that way), conservative district where high school football is as important as a job.

Turner talked about his agenda, which is quite a bit more conservative than I am comfortable with, but which sounds wildly liberal compared to Griffith's Cro-Magnon Kunckle-Dragging subset of the Repubs. I would easily stick Turner in a philosophical room with Mark Warner, Rick Boucher, Tim Kaine and even some moderate Republicans like Preston Bryant and John Chichester: effectively, mainline Virginia.

We chatted about strategy, history and the simple fact that calling Griffith a "representative" is a misnomer since he's represented few outside his small circle, his own interests and rarely--and only coincidentally--the economic interests of the people and the businesses of his district. Griffith, who sees himself as anti-tax, is one of those guilty of sending the tax money his constituents pay to Northern Virginia and Tidewater. His truculence on the budget has several times threatened the state's AAA bond rating, a rare and valuable rating for a state government. That rating means the state can borrow money at low interest rates. If we lost it, we pay more for borrowed money and that is an additional tax, one easily avoided.

We need roads, Northern Virginia needs roads and you can guess who gets them. We need educated children and post secondary students, but Griffith doesn't want to take the necessary steps to make sure these kids are educated. Tuition at our colleges is a disgrace. (My son went to the University of Tennessee as an out of state student, paid double tuition and it was still cheaper than Virginia Tech.) We need business services, health care, support of the arts and on and on and Griffith supports none of that in deed, only in words.

I honestly hope that Turner (surrounded by a group of allies and advisors that includes Mudcat Saunders, veteran political marketer Stephanie Kohler and, perhaps most important, a key member of Tom Periello's impressive campaign staff) can overcome what is necessary to overcome here. A good start would be in the money area, the one that worries him most. His Web site is here and you can use it to donate to him.

Let me strongly urge you, whether or not you can vote for Carter Turner (I can't), to give him the money (I will) to get Griffith out of office and back to wherever it is he crawls out from. Turner, a gap-toothed, easy-going, smart guy who I suspect of having a tough gene, will be a monumental improvement.

(Valerie Garner asks for a photo credit on Carter Turner's pix and she can have it: Photo Roanoke Free Press. Yeah, Roanoke Free Press. Good job, guys.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Tour With a Tale To Tell

Our Star City Rollergirls contingent gets a shot of the Transportation Museum's Mercury rocket^

Christina Koomen Smith (my wife) talks about the emergence of Studio Roanoke and its remarkable design^

The tour stops in front of The Taubman Museum for some background^

This shot of the Link Museum with a train passing in front is instructive^

I like this shot from this morning's tour because it is an introduction to Roanoke: Link Museum, Wachovia Tower, Dominion Tower, Taubman Museum all behind a welcome sign^

Eldon Karr's notion that a walking tour of downtown Roanoke that was accompanied by information about what was being viewed and an idea of how to photograph it proved to be nearly irresistible this morning. A total crowd of 22 showed up for the first Heart of Roanoke tour and the planned one hour visit turned into an hour and a half of lively conversation and photography. (The group was an odd mix of roller derby participants, professionals, news types and the simply interested.)

My wife, Christina, provided the details about several downtown buildings and I gave a few tips on photographing, but the star of this morning's event was Eldon Karr and his idea to stir up some feeling about the Roanoke center city, which has been missing for some time. Karr was one of the literal and figurative architects of Design '79, the downtown plan that revitalized what had become a failing, deteriorating area and made it the middle of a renewed vibrancy that seems to have taken hold, even as it changes to this day.

Eldon--with his social media guru Jill Elswick in tow--plans more of these events and I recommend them for what they will become and for what can result from this renewed interest. One of the most interesting conversations this morning, for example, occurred in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation where questions were asked about how an exterior display could broadcast attractions and how some type of pedestrian-friendly plaza could help make the transition from street to museum.

Could be that nothing will come of this because it affects The Roanoke Times' parking areas and my guess is the RT would rather give up lives than parking. Still, it was the start of a conversation and that's where solutions begin. Watch for announcements of future events of Facebook and Twitter (Jill's specialty) and for heaven's sake lend your voice. It's your city.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teaching Smokers Neater Habits

Downtown Roanoke Inc. is taking up my wife’s personal mantle with its Friday noontime campaign to deal with cigarette butts and the butts who deposit them on our streets.

Volunteers are meeting on City Market Friday noon-12:30 p.m. to hold signs, yell at people discarding cigarettes and generally get the message out that if you toss cigarettes, you’re a creep … or worse.

If you’re willing to get involved, call Lyndsay Smith at 540-342-2028 x11 or email by later today. Here are some factoids Lyndsay coughed up:
  • Every littered cigarette butt can take up anywhere from 2-12 years to biodegrade;
  • About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which does not quickly degrade and persists in our environment;
  • Cigarettes are often littered within 10 feet of a permanent ashtray;
  • Most littered cigarette butts travel into waterways through the storm water system.
  • Just imagine what that looks like;
  • Only 10 percent of cigarette butts are deposited in litter receptacles; In a span of two blocks and Century Park Plaza right here in Roanoke, 1,399 butts were collected. 654 of them were found in Century Park Plaza alone.
So show up and discourage a smoker--already something of a parriah--from also being a slob.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poetry for the Masses From My Pals

That's Mary Hill above and Melanie Almeder, my homie, at the right>

You’d never know it unless you knew it, but the Roanoke Valley is a veritable hotbed of sizzling poets. Three of them—all of whom teach at Roanoke College—will be reading and talking Friday, Sept. 11 noon-1 p.m. at the Taubman Museum of Art downtown and I insist you go. It’ll be good for you. Like chocolate spinich.

The women, Melanie Almeder (one of my best friends), Mary Crockett Hill (whom I absolutely adore) and Cynthia Atkins (whom I've known through a conference) will each read from her own works and they are quite different, quite good.

Melanie’s On Dream Street is of such depth, good sense, and so thoroughly accessible that I’ve always thought she was something of a miracle.

Mary’s a lot like that, as well with A Theory of Everything: smart, senisble, sensitive and so thoroughly full of life.

Cynthia, who has taught in Lexington and Roanoke, among other places, has the dark edge of the group, delving into the darkest corners of the mind, especially with Psyche's Weathers, her latest book of poetry.

These are pleasant, brilliant, lovely, accomplished people whom I think you’ll enjoy as I do, so be there. I mean it. Your grade depends on it.

(By the way, Mel and Cynthia has each taught at our annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, which is scheduled Jan. 15-16 at Hollins next year.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kenley Smith's New Play Fulfills the Hope

Kenley Smith with director Pat Wilhelms just before the opening curtain^

Kenley Smith's "Shade of the Trees," a 75-minute, one act drama that premiered tonight at Studio Roanoke downtown is exactly the kind of fare I hoped against belief would be the standard for this new, experimental undertaking. It is a story of friendship, growth and evolution that has its roots in Kenley's grandmother's oft-told tales and a play that began in a young adult writing class at Hollins University.

It was expanded and filled out--and given a good bit of maturity--before it found the stage as--in Kenley's words shortly before curtain time--"a Kenley Smith play."

It is, in short, the recollection of a grandmother's early years on the farm during the Civil War when she clandestinely befriended a runaway slave who taught her to read in exchange for her kindness. The ramifications of that relationship at that time are splattered all over some marvelous writing, something for which Kenley has earned a solid local reputation during his several years with No Shame Theater.

The production showcases the directing talents of my friend Pat Wilhelms, who was at one time a Mill Mountain Theatre staple, but who was fired during the theater's waning, troubled days. She took her act across the street to the Taubman Museum of Art, where she started a successful children's theater. "Shade of the Trees" featured a solid ensemble case of Roanokers (Heidi Klockenbrink, Dorian Dozier, Martha Boswell, Chris Brumback, Barry Bedwell, my pal Mary Best Bova [who once played my wife in a production], and a scene chewing performance by Brian O'Sullivan as a thoroughly dispicable neighbor) and an appropriately simple, believeable set by Jimmy Ray Ward.

Pay close attention at the end of this one--after, it appears, everything is settled--because there's a subtle, powerful plot twist that will drop your mouth. It's quite a touch and if you don't watch and listen closely, you'll miss it.

I will not go another line without mentioning that the funniest woman in Roanoke, Michelle Bennett, introduced the play, something she did hilariously for years at MMT before being banned from the stage by the now-gone administration. Michelle's return is as welcome as anything about this theater.

Let me strongly recommend you plunk down your $15 and see "Shade of the Trees," then sign up for what's coming next (that would be "Eliss Blossom" by Sunny da Silva Sept. 22-27). Kenley has good sense when it comes to theater and his own work is not all that recommends Studio Roanoke. You can find out everything you need to know here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Market Seems To Be Exercising Responsibility

As more and more advertisers express their displeasure with talk show host Glen Beck for his ill-tempered appraisal of Barack Obama as a "racist," it appears that some sense seems to be gaining sway in our national debate--a direct contribution of the marketplace.

My business partner Tom Field, a conservative, constantly hammers at me about the power of the marketplace to shape its will and I'm constantly hammering back that I'm not in the mood to trust big business or the marketplace to make moral judgments. This time, though, morality and good business seem to be aligned with the stars.

Beck is one of those loose cannon-mouths who's far more concerned with his ratings--and, thus, his income--than in truth, justice and the American way. And we're seeing, from the blue streaks following his former advertisers as they flee (33 of them by latest count) that he's not able to leap tall buildings and bring them home, either.

I thought it instructive that Kathleen Dunleavy, a marketing manager at Sprint, is quoted as being surprised at how quickly and dramatically the news of the Beck abandonment shot across the social media spectrum and how the advertisers responded to that phenomenon. We're even hearing marketing people make a lot of sense: a spokesman for Clorox (which has a truly clean image ... heh, heh, heh) was quoted on Huffingtonpost as saying, "we do not want to be associated with inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts."

That decision may be more important than rounding up and re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine, whose death at the hands of Reagan Administration judges is at the root of so much of the uncontested hate speech today, mostly and most prominently from the far right, but some of it eminating from the left, as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Was the Camera's Role in the Behavior?

Tianenman Square (above) and Tea Party protesters: Which was affected by the camera?^

Roanoke Times Managing Editor Michael Stowe wrote an interesting piece this a.m. about a "complaint about a feature photo [by photographer Kyle Green] we published showing a 13-year-old Roanoke boy jumping off a second-story stairway onto a trampoline."

One reader was outraged at the publication of something she thought might promote the activity. Stowe asked around for the rationale in the publishing and ultimately agreed with it. I wrote the following letter to Stowe:

"Your photo controversy column this a.m. was interesting but for the omission of one vital element: Did your photographer's presence at the site encourage the children to engage in dangerous behavior?

"As a photographer, I have seen the very fact that I have a camera in the presence of people--children and adults--suddenly change the nature of what they are doing. Children act out, adults pose or run away. It's the nature of the beast and a camera is a powerful tool to affect a situation in positive and negative ways.

"Two examples of a photographer's presence or lack of profile affecting a photo: The protester in Tiananmen Square stood in front of the tanks, unaware of a camera. Protesters often arrange their activities around the needs of the photographer (where's the light, is he close enough, etc.?). Some of those "Tea Party" and town hall protests were far more animated than they might have been because of the camera's presence.

"I have often shot children willing to do nearly anything I might ask of them. Given the facts you presented, there is no question the photo should have been published, but with this question of cause and effect, I think we need to await the full information before passing judgment."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Evening of Elegance at a Stately Park

It doesn't get much more elegant than the 74-year-old Calfee Park in Pulaski at dusk^

Older fans like to park their lawn chairs on these bleachers^

They measure the speed of the pitcher's heat from these seats^

Eating outside as the sun goes down with a ballgame in the background^

This is the place where burgers are designed--not made^

From right to left Christina, me desguised as an empty seat, Richard, Luanne, Grace, Jean and Tommy^

Ruth, Lucy and Ralph Berrier. Lucy wants some of Dad's burger^

Calfee Park in Pulaski is--officially--an historic landmark. But it's more than that. The Pulaski Mariners' stadium, which has served minor league baseball since 1935, is a piece of the way it was ... that still is. Why else would groups of people travel 50 miles through driving rain storms to see the very lowest level of professional baseball--the rookie Appalachian League--when they could stay home and see it played at a much higher level in a modern stadium with a spectacular view?

Maybe it's the burgers. Could be that grilled sausage dog or the big soft drink or the circle-cut Mariner fries--all for about $7. The burgers are as good as any I've eaten anywhere. They're fried to a crisp and loaded with vegetables I'd swear somebody within a block of the park is growing in a garden. The tomatoes and onions are sliced by real people with real knives--I'd guess gray-brown carbon steel--and the lettuce is broken by hand. The pickles cover the whole bun.

But I think it's the park. On one side, the shed-covered bleachers don't have permanent seats. They're deep concrete steps where you can put your lawn chair. Older people sit there. The old Salem Municipal Field had bleachers like these. On the opposite side--the home side--is a patio-like feature that businesses or individuals can rent for gatherings.

Part of the attraction could be the right field oddity of having two fences, one low on the hill, one near the top of it. A ball that goes between the fences is a double. If you see the ball disappear and take a high bounce off the roadway behind it, that's a home run. Often people sit on the porch of the houses overlooking right field and take in a free game as the sun goes down.

We sat in the nickle seats Friday night, all seven of us who drove down from Roanoke. One of us--Richard Rife, an architect, is a real baseball fan. My friend Tommy Denton and his wife Jean are or have been around journalism for years, Tommy as an editorial writer (and former college football player), Jean was a sports writer (and college basketball player) long ago and is now an artist of some note. Journalist Luanne Traud and her daughter Grace--like the rest of us--appreciate baseball festivals more than we appreciate baseball games. (See update below.) My wife, Christina, likes sports, but pays little attention to baseball.

Sitting behind our posse on this night were another journalist (funny how we bunch up), Ralph Berrier Jr., who can tell you everything about this stadium and a lot about its teams, his delightful wife Ruth and a charming little blonde named Lucy, who spent the night flirting with everybody.

Pulaski lost a doubleheader to the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins (Louanne wanted to know if it was really pronounced Eliza-BETH-ton), but I'm not certain anybody in our group cared. When I mentioned that Pulaski's catcher was a No. 1 draft choice this year, Tommy seemed interested until he learned it was No. 1 for Seattle, not for everybody. And the talk--as goes the talk among journalists--was not so much of baseball, but of hardball: politics.

My guess is that if you turn back the clock 74 years, the conversation would have been much the same with the people sitting in this spot on that night (Roosevelt being hammered or praised for the Depression he inherited), munching those burgers and dogs (about 5 to 10 cents apiece), pouring down soft drinks that'll eventually kill us (a nickle then), and all and laughing a lot.

(Update: An annoyed Luanne takes exception with my lumped-in characterization of her as a fan more of the baseball festival than the game itself: "I was raised on a front stoop with a transistor radio listening to Pirate games." The presence of the Salem baseball franchise in the Roanoke Valley, she says, was an important lure when she decided to move here. Sorry Luanne; I owe you a Pulaski Mariners cap.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Other Way To Eat a 'Mater Sammich

OK, so I went to all that trouble to make gourmet mayo (see below post) and send up the recipe for a proper 'mater sammich and Christina comes home, finds the heirloom 'mater in the 'fridge (the one I used for my lunch sammich), plunks it down between two slices of white bread (oh, yuck) and ... well ... I can't go on ...

'Mater Sammich Time in the Mountains

Heirloom tomatoes, chives, good bread and fresh mayo make the perfect summer sammich^

My colleague Jane Dalier, a master gardner (and senior ad rep for Valley Business FRONT), brought us some of her marvelous heirloom tomatoes yesterday, so I have determined it is time to drag out the mayonnaise recipe again and get you people fed the way you should be.

Pictured here is the result of all that mixing and chopping, and all of Jane's garden expertise. This one's served on an Arnold's oat bran bread (I can't stand white bread, though many whose neck is less red than mine swear it's the only way to eat a 'mater sammich; they also insist upon Miracle Whip) and is put together simply: mayo, tomato, bread.

Once you've scored the tomato of choice (this time of year, they're all choice), get ready to make the mayo. Here's what you need:
  • 1 whole egg and the yolk of a second
  • 1 1/8 cups of vegetable oil (I used Canola and olive combined; this is a healthy mayo if that's not an oxymoron)
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped scallions or chives
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (very optional; my wife hates this stuff and I love it)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice (the lime can be spectacular)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • (You can also throw in 1/2 teaspoon of dill, but I find that guilding the lilly)
Put everything but the oil into your blender or mixer. Slowly drizzle in the oil, stirring at a moderate speed until it is all poured into the mayo. Oil must be drizzled slowly, otherwise, you get mayo the consistency of milk. It takes about 10 minutes start to finish.

Enjoy your sammich. Tell 'em Mother Smith sent you.

Goodlatte Schedules Town Hall Meetings

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-6th District) will hold his first face-to-face town hall meeting of the current congressional break Thursday, Sept. 3, 7-9 p.m. at Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County, a heavily-Republican area.

Goodlatte has scheduled a meeting in Bridgewater Sept. 5 (Turner Ashby High School, 7-9 p.m.) and intends to hold a third in Lynchburg, but that has yet to be scheduled.

He held his annual telephone town hall meeting--a meeting that was much more easily controlled--Aug. 18, but during this hot political season, market by contentious town hall meetings in person, Goodlatte determined it would be best to meet his constituents face to face. “I feel it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of the 6th Congressional District,” Goodlatte says.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Murray Run, Early Morn

This was my view along the Roanoke greenway trail Murray Run early this morning. This view is 10 minutes from the center of the city and about 10 minutes from my house.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A New Weekly Newspaper for Vinton

Chris Manning at tonight's writers workshop>

Chris Manning, who was once the advertising director for Main Street Newspapers in the Roanoke Valley, will launch his own weekly newspaper, the Vinton Voice, Aug. 26 because he believes Main Street no longer serves Vinton adequately.

Chris was at our Arts Council of the Blue Ridge Writers Workshop tonight and talked a bit about the genesis of the Vinton Voice, which he will publish and edit. He teamed with Gene Marrano, who also was with Main Street as an editor until he was laid off last February, to talk about freelancing in the area.

Chris, a native of Vinton who wrote a book (One Team, One Dream) about his William Byrd High School state championship baseball team, says he has "a passion for my hometown" and that he will "try to generate the kind of excitement that has been lost in the last few years. It's a small town and it needs something to be passionate about."

Chris will produce what has become a successful formula over the years for weeklies: a mixture of community news and features with a heavy emphasis on schools and sports. Lots of names and photos. In this economy. In this newspaper climate. "I read recently in Quill magazine," he said, "that the only newspapers showing growth in recent years are community newspapers."

A number of years ago--make that a large number of years ago--I was the editor of the Vinton Messenger, which, insiders have told me, Main Street has talked about closing because it makes little money, when it makes any at all. It has no presence in town since the closing of its office several years ago.

A subscription will cost $25 a year. The print run, says Chris, will be 3,000 (Vinton has 3,200 households) and about a third of them will be mailed free to homes initially.

"I announced this in 600 e-mails," he said tonight. "In two hours, I had 50 responses. That told me something."

Great Mascots of the 21st Century

The boys and girls at Access, one of Roanoke's best ad/PR firms, do things a bit differently from the rest of this. The little guy pictured above is the company's unofficial mascot. I photo'd it on the way out the front door this a.m. Cute guy. And that tail! Oh, my!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Roanoke River, Blue Heron, Today

Shot this blue Heron in the Roanoke River this a.m. Pretty bird.^

A Trip Simultaneously Back and Forward

Nick's Riverside is the building just ot the left of the Yorktown Bridge ^

A few observations on a lovely weekend in Williamsburg where Christina and I celebrated nine years together (tying my personal best for longevity in marriage).

Williamsburg is a strange place where we were transported to 1780 and 1980 at the same time. The 1780 is what all the talk is about, but the 1980 came quite by surprise when I determined that this city's cellular telephone service was designed by Ben Franklin. I spent the entire weekend cell phone-less (which Christina celebrated) because, as a bored hotel clerk explained "AT&T is new here" and so are a couple of other biggies and there simply aren't any towers. I saw one person talking on a cell phone the entire weekend. I'm not so sure how Williamsburg--with its extremely tight sign ordinances and an architectural review board from hell--would deal with normal cell towers. But right not, it doesn't appear to be dealing at all.

I also saw two--TWO--people smoking cigarettes during the weekend, which may put Williamsburg up to 2080. That is certainly progressive.

We ate dinner Saturday night at Nick's Riverside in Yorktown, the same great seafood restaurant I ate at 30 years ago on a visit to that gorgeous little riverside town about 30 minutes from Williamsburg. The food was pretty much the same (and I remember it 30 years later). I recommend it. That's the view (above) from the small beach beside Nick's.

"Informed, Inclusive and Respectful" is not Beck

Those of us who've been hammering Wal-Mart for one ghastly act or another for years are raising our eyebrows these days. The largest--and often greediest--retailer in the world has done some strangely marvelous things of late (See "Food Inc.") and the latest is to pull its advertising from cable nutjob Glenn Beck's show. Wal-Mart is one of 20 huge advertisers reportedly dumping Beck (we wish we could say "dumping on Beck," but proprietary prevails).

Eight pulled out today, according to several sources, Daily Kos among them. Others among the eight (whom we hope you will patronize) include Allergan (Restasis' maker), Ally Bank (GMC Financial Services), Best Buy, Broadway Security, CVS, Re-Bath and Travelocity. Others on the gone list are ConAgra, GEICO,, Men's Wearhouse, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, RadioShack, Roche, SC Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Sargento, and State Farm Insurance.

Understand, if you would, that pulling an ad--a very, very lucrative ad--from a network show is a big deal. It is the kind of market pressure that could offer a civilizing effect to loose cannons like Beck, who recently called President Obama a racist and said Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people."

CVS' corporate communications VP Carolyn Castle is quoted as saying, "While advertising on Fox is part of our communication plan, we had not requested time on Glenn Beck's show specifically. We have instructed our advertising agency to inform Fox to ensure Glenn Beck's program is not part of our advertising plan.

"Our position is simple: We support vigorous debate, especially around policy issues that affect millions of Americans, but we expect it to be informed, inclusive and respectful, in keeping with our company's core values and commitment to diversity."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Goodlatte on Tour: Presidential Homes, Town Meeting

Congressman Bob Goodlatte talked before a packed house (including a guy wearing an orange hat, which he left in the seat to take photos)>

OK, gather up your bruised tomatoes, your old eggs and your worst language. Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R) said tonifght that he's planning more than just the "teletown" meetings this trip home. He'll have a couple of live ones and you Democrats can give him the business in the way the Repubs have been savaging people like Tom Perriello (D-7th District).

Actually, I was chatting with Goodlatte before he gave a talk on presidential homes at the History Museum tonight and I mentioned to him that I was on the phone recruiting some of my peeps to come disrupt his talk this evening when my wife butted in with, "DAN SMITH! It's not that kind of meeting. Now you be nice!" So I did, but I promised the congressman we'd be there for the fireworks.

Goodlatte's "teletown" meetings (is that related to teletubbies?) are a way of meeting the constituents without actually getting any spit on you. They call in, get into a cue on the telephone line and ask civilized--screened, I'd bet--calls in a polite manner. I told Bob I thought it was wise--and gutsy--of him to do the real town meeting. That is participatory democracy and since he's willing to expose himself to that democracy in action, I think it is incumbent upon the loyal opposition to clobber him.

In any case, Goodlatte has visited homes of most of our presidents and he gave an interesting talk tonight. He doesn't know how many homes qualify under his loose definition as a "presidential home," but he thinks it "could be hundreds," many of them still occupied by somebody or other, some closed to the public, others lived in, but not available for visits. He says he's visited some of those: "I did what politicians do--knocked on the door. Met some nice people."

Virginia has eight presidential home sites: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Wilson and Harrison, which are open; Tyler and Zach Taylor, which are not. I found it facinating that two presidents--Nixon and Harding--lived in Sears kit homes in California and Ohio. We saw a presentation on Sears homes a couple of months ago.

So there's your travelogue and your marching orders. When Goodlatte announces his town hall meetings, mark your calendar. And say howdy to me when you get there. I'll be the guy on the front row with the orange hat.

Salem Amphitheater: That's It?!?

Officials in Salem have to be pleased with themselves for the one they pulled on Roanoke today. The amphitheater Salem is planning to build in December, the one that caused such a stir yesterday, is a puny 35-by-20 feet with a roof standing 15 feet over it. Its initial construction is $48,000 (and I really can't see where that's going) with more to come later. That will be borne by a civic group, not the city.

The premature announcement yesterday had Roanoke officials scurrying around looking for a response. Roanoke is considering a $13 million amphitheater.

The "seating capacity" for the Longwood Park-based amphitheater is estimated at about 2,000, but that's not permanent seats. It's your chair in the grass around the structure. In the future, the facility could see lights and a sound system.

Frankly, you have to wonder why the news conference. This has the look of an auxiliary building in a public park that will be a nice addition, but not much to write home about.

Gene Marrano on 'Writing for This Market'

Gene Marrano is probably the best known freelance journalist in this region, and with good reason. He's everywhere: newspapers, magazines, television and radio. He has worked nationally for a number of publications, as well, mostly covering sports.

For Gene, journalism is a relatively new undertaking, but he has gone at it with an enthusiasm that has kept him busier than anybody else who is plying the trade as a freelancer in this region. Many will tell you that this is a difficult place to make a living as a freelance journalist, but Gene Marrano will tell you how to do it Tuesday 7-8:30 p.m. at Center in the Square (second floor) in downtown Roanoke as part of the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's Writers Workshop Series. The event is free and open to the public.

For anyone who wants to break into the freelance market or simply wants to know how it works (what the editors want, what they pay, how much time it takes to produce a story, whether you should bother to learn photography, and a lot more), Gene will get into the specifics at this workshop.

Here are the details:

Gene Marrano - "Freelance Writing in This Market"
August 18
7-8:30 p.m.
Presented by The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge
2nd Floor Galleries Center in the Square Roanoke, VA

Admission: FREE

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

Rhonda Hale
or 540.224.1205

Listen First, Then Blow It Up

My friend Janis Jaquith says in a Facebook posting this a.m. that Congressman Tom Perriello, who faced a tough crowd at a town hall meeting in Bedford the other night, looked into the eyes of support Monday in Charlottesville. I'm not at all surprised by that. Charlottesville is a wealthy, educated, liberal place and it is, in Janis' words, undeniably "civilized."

Bedford is civilized, too, but it is poorer, older, more Republican and much, much more frightened--with good reason. Southside and Central Virginia, which comprise the bulk of Periello's district (one he won in the biggest upset of the most recent election cycle), are in the midst of a depression with the loss of thousands of jobs, two industries (tobacco and furniture manufacturing) and education levels that are far less notable than those in Charlottesville. These good people don't want to lose their health insurance (those who have it), don't want to see dramatic change even though what they have rarely works and are listening almost exclusively and intently to the negative take on the Obama plan. They're showing up at Perriello's meetings angry and with a lot of questions.

It's a scenario that will take place in Franklin County next week and all over the country in the coming days. It would be to the benefit of the good people of Franklin County and Bedford to go to these meetings with some good, specific questions about health care and not worry so much about other issues: immigration, abortion, gay rights, all the trigger issues that the hard right wants to bring up in order to fire the pitch of these meetings and change the subject.

I'd like know the details of the various proposals, but the more people scream, the less we know about the policies being considered. I am not suggesting for an instant that those with serious reservations be anything but good citizens, people who question and argue. But do it in a manner that is fair to everybody and gives the legislators a chance to answer the questions. Be thoughtful of the other people in the room because this is about all of us, not simply a mad sliver of the citizenry.

Let's understand what we're either opposing or supporting before we blow the roof off the building. And frankly, I'm not opposed to that scenario, either, once we know what's going on, but to blow it up on assumption is just stupid. And it's bad PR, which may be worse for those in opposition.

Salem Leaps into the Amphitheater Competition

"This is a stylized, idealized rendering of Roanoke's proposed amphitheater^

Once again, it appears, Salem is on the verge of handing Roanoke its head in the area of capital improvements—whether or not the improvement is necessary. The Roanoke Times tells us that Salem plans to announce it will build a community amphitheater in the coming months without having held so much as one community meeting.

Roanoke has been embroiled in its debate for some time now and in the course of a single month recently reversed a 4-2 vote (Councilman David Trinkle absent) against the structure to a 4-3 vote in favor of funding morre than $1 million for initial plans for it.

Roanoke’s building would be an expensive professional structure, costing about $13 million and opening in 2013 or so, and Salem’s would not be especially expensive or delayed—or at least so goes the guesswork prior to the news conference today.

Salem PR man Mike Stevens insists the Salem building would not compete with Roanoke’s amphitheater. I’m not sure where that reasoning comes from, since two of just about anything commercial by definition is a competition.

Salem’s history of trumping Roanoke entertainment venues is impressive, beginning with its construction of its own civic center when Roanoke failed to agree on a joint structure (which, of course, would have been built in Salem). Then, more than 10 years ago, as Salem faced the loss of its professional baseball franchise and Roanoke talked about building a baseball park, Salem threw up a $15 million structure before its residents could “TAX.” Roanoke had been the home of minor league baseball years before (remember the Roanoke Red Sox?).

The Salem ballpark is, of course, a jewel in the minor league system and the Salem Civic Center, which is not a jewel in the civic center system, has always outperformed Roanoke’s larger and much more expensive building. Those facilities with tennis courts and softball fields—and a high school football stadium that small colleges envy—are included in the James Taliferro sports complex that surrounds the civic center and has had a history of pulling thousands of visitors to Salem each year.

The Salem amphitheater would be physically separated by about a mile from the Taliaferro complex, but its location in Longwood Park would put it in downtown Salem. Roanoke plans its amphitheater downtown, as well, if it is ever built.

The fact is that when Salem city council wants something, it has had a history of ordering it done. In Roanoke, there are so many ddiverse populations pulling for and against any proposal that city government is almost—by necessity—frozen into place. Shifting moods bring shifting loyalties and changed votes. Think "Victory Stadium," which has become a byword for ineffectual, nervous government.

My hope—and nobody asked—is that Roanoke sees the writing on the stadium wall here and steps back to see how Salem’s building does. It won't take long; Salem works quickly because of that lack of "interference" from residents. One near historic certainty: Salem's theater will almost certainly set a high standard for performance and it will give Roanokers a chance to see if these things really do bring in money (which I strongly doubt). Now that would be Roanoke’s smartest move.

(David Perry of Roanoke comments via Facebook: "A small amphitheater with appropriately-scaled acts can make money. But Jimmy Buffett is not coming to Salem, or Roanoke, for that matter. It's way, way ... way past time for regional government around here. Four separate governments in this little valley? Talk about duplication ... In the meantime, there are no sidewalks on most of Brambleton Ave. and much of Franklin Rd. What's more 'Clean and Green' than walking?")

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Puzzling Letter From the Publisher

The single strong impression I took away from Roanoke Times Publisher Debbie Meade's (right) looooong (1,834 words ), full-page ad in the Sunday edition is that the paper could really use a PR representative. I can recommend several good ones.

It was difficult to tell if the "letter" was motivated by a genuine effort to make certain we're not believing the "newspapers are dead" mantra being spoken by so many (me among them), desperation because most of us are believing it, or some other more esoteric view.

She insists The Times is making money (I believe that), that it is healthy (depends on the definition of "healthy," I'd say) and that it will be here as is for the duration (I definitely don't believe that). My guess is that, like the rest of us in print, the end of the paper era is near and the beginning of the digital era is upon us. Not just in a marginal sense, but--very soon--as our primary outlet.

The Times has lost a lot of its economic base in the past couple of years and it's not just the Bush economy talking here. The paper won't get back what Craig's List took and I'm not confident the automobile advertisers are long for the print world, either. Look at the dollars involved in either classified or car ads. They're huge. Real estate is gone to its own genre of magazine (that god-awful Laker publication The Times owns is hardly more than a bad real estate magazine for Smith Mountain Lake). The Times' business publication, the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which I left a year ago after 20 years there, is in the toilet, bleeding money and so devoid of content that many, many people in business tell me they don't even open it any more. It goes from the mail to the trash.

The Times has cut a lot of its higher salaries in the past two years with buyouts and firings and that has not been done without losing what those talented, experienced people contributed to the product: quality, institutuional knowledge, a real concern for our communities.

One point I have tried to stress in every conversation about the future of journalism is that newspapers are not journalism. They are a journalism delivery system. Journalists are journalism and I don't see them going anywhere. We are simply faced with the challenge of making journalism pay these good people a liveable wage in the neighborhood of what they've always made (that would mean less than a pipefitter, but more than an entry-level elementary school teacher).

The joke among the reporters in the newsroom in recent months is that The Times has a goal of "being the best 40,000-circulation newspaper in Virginia," understanding that its circulation now is somewhere around 90,000. That is funny. Sadly funny because it speaks to me of morale problems (newsies are chronically discontent and always have been, but this seems deeper) and perhaps gives an inkling of the regard they have for those leading the charge.

A number of people have accused me of cheering for the demise of newspapers and that simply isn't true. I grew up a newspaperman (back when it was called that). I always liked newspapers. But it's a different age and we need to be part of that age. Newspapers won't be.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Return to the Tactics of Destruction

As annoyed as I am with the viciousness of the protests at town hall meetings being held across the country to try to gauge sentiment--and get suggestions--on healthcare, I have to harken back to days of my youth when many of us used some of the same harsh tactics to protest Vietnam, civil rights and women's rights issues.

My peeps didn't threaten violence; they did violence--blowing up whole cities--and we have so far escaped that. I don't expect the trend to continue, though, because of the torrent of hate talk from right wing dependables like Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Hannity, O'Reilly, Kristol and the like. Their ridiculous misinformation ("the Democrats want to kill you") feeds the frenzy and the frustration and scares the hell out of anybody who's old or sick or both.

It does not appear that any amount of rational explanation will douse the flames of passion on the opposition side and I'm truly affraid that what we will get from the health care debate is absolutely no change. That is a worst case scenario, but it's what the right's power elite is about these days: continue the Bush years; destroy the republic and its protections ("starve the beast" is how one put it); keep the government out of everything, even those places where its solutions are the best ones.

I was especially distressed to see the abuse a guy like Rep. Tom Pierrello got in some of his Southside Virginia meetings. This decent, intelligent and courageous (while Bush was cutting brush, Periello was helping save a nation in Africa at great risk to his own life) guy is the very picture of rational engagement, of participatory democracy. The screamers not only didn't want to hear what he had to offer, they didn't want anybody with views different from theirs to talk, either.

That's totalitarian. It has nothing to do with what these people think of as a republican or democratic (little "r", little "d") form of government. It encourages only those with the most base instincts to dominate this part of the debate and, frankly, it makes us believe there are far more of them than there are of people who have different opinions on the issue. There are not. They're just louder and more obnoxious.

The Huffingtonpost's Sam Stein (among a number of others) reports that those who would subvert a health care bill are threatening violence upon those who support the Obama plan (or one of several others). Here's a published note from one of those highly-evolved opponents:

"You socialist fucks have the nerve to say stop the violence at the town hall meetings when they weren't violent until you pussies showed up because your nigger leader obama said to?????? When we have ours in Racine, Wi, I want you there. I want one of your little bitches to put his hands on this Marine. I want one of you to look or talk to me wrong. I'll be the last thing your ignorant faux body guards will remember for a very long time. You can fucking guarantee that."

Sarah Palin, the former VP candidate who doesn't seem to be able to finish anything, is now claiming there is some kind of "death panel" in the Obama proposal that will make the decisions on who lives and who dies and Newt Gingrich is yelling, "You go, girl!" in support of this absurdity. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky--I honestly can't stand to look at this guy, but that's just me--says that because of the threats of violence, the Republicans are winning the debate. Nice tactic, Mitch. Keep it up.

As one who is not opposed to violence in a good cause (the aforementioned Vietnam, civil rights, women's rights and a few others), I will not flip on that and say it should never happen just because my opposites are doing it. I guess it's time for my side to start sharpening our spears again. Now that will be some sport.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where Credit Is Due

We’ve been critical of The Roanoke Times of late for its often comic errors, but today, let’s flip a little switch and give some credit where it is due: to the business writers who have done some excellent work of late.

We’ll start with Duncan Adams, the solid veteran whose work always shines with intelligence, fine writing and one-more-step research. Today, his piece on the Coca Cola plant—which could have been eye-glazingly dull—fairly sparkles with relevance. I dropped Dunc a note the other day on a fine job of reporting on another story and I owe him one for this.

Jenny Boone’s piece on the sale of the Patrick Henry Hotel, a followup from a story earlier this week, was solid, informative and easy to read. That is an accomplishment for a deal as convoluted as this one (was it sold or not? What’ll happen with it? Who “bought” it and will money change hands?).

And finally, Amy Matzke-Fawcett and Jeff Sturgeon did a nice job on the possible sale of Intermet, the Radford foundry that is having some financial difficulty. Solid stuff that is of some significance.

Nice work, all of you. (Sorry I don't have photos of all.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Pal Cara Modisett Knocks 'Em Dead at Women's Mag Awards Gig

Cara Modisett (right), editor of Blue Ridge Country Magazine, has scored a biggie: her mag was just named the best publication in the country by the National Federation of Press Women. The award was one of seven landed by Leisure Publishing staff in the NFPW’s annual communications competition.

Cara won a first place for food writing, a second place for headline and caption writing and an honorable mention in the category of nonfiction book for “Blue Ridge Parkway Simply Beautiful,” a project in collaboration with frequent BRC photographers Pat and Chuck Blackley, published by Farcountry Press.

My other Leisure Publishing pal, Kurt Rheinheimer (who may have suffered because of his gender in this competition*) won a couple of seconds--which gives real meaning to second class citizens. Marie Hodge, the Roanoker Magazine's former editor, won a couple of firsts and a third.

Congrats to all of you good peeps.

(*OK, ladies, don't get your knickers in a twist. I'm just kidding.)

For Sale: Easy-to-Park Car-Like Thingy

Tim Hogan showed up with this little gas-powered, three-wheel, 60 mpg car-like thingy (which is pretty easy to park, you'll note) at the Patrick Henry Hotel auction this morning at the Roanoke City courthouse.

Tim, who says he regularly drives the car between 55 and 60 mph on flat roads, recently drove to Pennsylvania and got 66 mpg. He says it has a 350-pound capacity and is fitted with a 150 cc motor (the same size motor as my scooter; it requires a driver's license to drive).

Tim says he rented one like it in Savannah recently, fell in love with it and paid $7,800 for this little baby in Miami. He has put 2,500 miles on it and has decided to sell it for $5,000. If you're interested, call him at 540-330-8827.

One Photo, Two Different Men

This is starting to sound like piling on, but the red faces in The Roanoke Times newsroom are lighting up the sky again. This a.m., we have two lovely examples of sleeping on the copy desk.

First--and least--there's the sports headline "Wake's Skinner quietes his doubters," which my wife said, "must be the British spelling" of "quiets." (This one also made it onto The Times' Web site.)

A bit more gravely--so to speak--are the death notices (one a news story, one a paid obituary) of old time bluegrass musician Bill Reid (1921-2009, the news story) and Dr. William M. Reed (1950-2009), which carried the same photograph. Dr. Reed is referred to as "Mike" in the obit. Judging from the hairstyle in the photo, my guess would be the photo is of Reed, since it looks to have been shot in the 1970s. But guessing is problematic here, so we'll wait for the correction. In any case, it's not one of them. Of course, there's the additional identifier in the spelling of their names: Reed and Reid.

Reed, who lived in Radford, was an accomplished educator, beginning professionally as a high school English teacher and moving into teaching and research at Virginia Tech. He became a professor at West Virginia University and at New York University. He wrote the book Kelley Barracks about his experiences in Europe while in the Army. He was twice a Fulbright scholar.

Reid, on the other hand, was one of 230 bluegrass musicians recognized in 2001 to be among the first generation of the genre by the International Bluegrass Association. He was also a noted radio disc jockey in the region.

Very different men. Same photo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Stuart Mease Leaving Roanoke Government Job

Stuart Mease:>

(Update: Stuart Mease said Wednesday his new employer will be Rackspace in Blacksburg.)

Roanoke is getting ready to lose a guy who has had an almost thunderous impact in the last 3 1/2 years since City Manager Darlene Burcham created a job for him. Stuart Mease, who has been Special Projects Director and has made the city safe for young people in suits, is leaving the job for some vague and unspecified position "in private industry," he said just a few minutes ago when I ran into him on Roanoke City Market.

Stuart, the father of a baby girl, never moved from Blacksburg to Roanoke and the daily 40-miles each way commute--with a young family--has become a bit much for the entire family. His is going to be a big loss and it comes as the city is still trying to replace his immediate supervisor, Brian Brown, who left as economic development director a few months ago to go with a security firm in Botetourt County. The department has seven employees.

One of Stuart's primary charges was to recruit and retain young workers, something cities across the country have targeted as a priority. Cities across the country, didn't have Stuart Mease, who approached his job like a sports promoter. His enthusiasm, warmth and detailed knowledge of both the workers and the jobs has been an enormous benefit to the entire Roanoke and New River Valleys. Stuart often worked with NewVa Corridor Technology Council Director Cory Donovan in creating a kind of excitement about working in this area that I'd never seen before.

Stuart jumped all over social media and created the blog "Connecting People" (where the announcement of his resignation was first made) which did just that. He has been a superb contact for anything we were doing at The FRONT that had to do with younger workers. He was not only a wealth of background information, but it sometimes appeared to me that he knew every worker in the region younger than 30--and he liked every one of them.

I suspect that when Darlene Burcham created Stuart's job, she had him in mind to fill it. He's that rare. I'm personally and professionally sorry to see him to go. My guess is that his job may be the hardest of all the city's vacancies to fill with his level of competence.

Monday, August 3, 2009

E. coli Cases Suspected in Roanoke

(Update: Let me stress in strong terms that the source of this virus has not yet been officially identified. Duffie Taylor mentioned that she and her friend had eaten at a restaurant before becoming ill, but that could be a coincidence. Tainted food is available in a variety of places, as you will note from the recent tomato, peanut butter, hamburger and spinach infections. There is no source yet identified for this specific case. Period.)

My young friend Duffie Taylor, a recent Hollins University graduate who has been writing for FRONT for a couple of months, is home from a hospital stay with what she says is an E. coli infection.

E. coli is Escherichia coli, a large and diverse group of bacteria, some of which will make you sick, most of which won't. The most dangerous strains have made international news and have killed people.

I had been trying to reach Duf to see what her progress on a couple of stories for October has been when I got an e-mail from her yesterday giving me the shocker that she and a friend were both hospitalized with the potentially dangerous virus. She says she believes she contracted it after eating in a restaurant.

Yesterday, Duffie wrote, "Oh Dan, no I didn't fall off the face of the earth; rather made a quick detour through hell this week. I have been in the hospital since Sunday--with E. coli and another GI infection usually contracted by people visiting third world countries. In order to come into my hospital room, the full protective garb was needed. I was SO sick; I came home yesterday and I hope I won't return. My friend, who ate the same thing as me, is still in the hospital. It is not good; I am still am very weak--but wanted to give you heads up."

This morning Duffie wrote, "My friend is facing kidney failure and they're putting him on dialysis. They think it's HUS [Hemolytic uremic syndrome, primarily a disease of infancy and early childhood and is classically characterized by the triad of microangiopathic hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, and acute renal failure] which is not good. Public health inspectors are checking it out. I still feel bad, but there's nothing I--or you--can do for it really, just wait it out. I'm most worried for my friend."

As an afterthought, Duffie added: "(e. coli in Roanoke? It could make a good story)."

No, That Gig Was Last Year, Guys

Becky Mushko, a Franklin County writer whom I've known for a while, caught the error first thing this a.m. in the Extra section of The Roanoke Times and rushed it onto her blog with the headline "Scooping Dan Smith." Becky's not always subtle.

It was yet another error in a high-profile spot, this time a "Bookmark" on the section front that suggests things to do in the near future. This one was a book talk at the Franklin County Library Book Festival that took place last year about this time and featured, among its speakers, Times culture editor Mike Allen (who writes for the Extra section), Becky and me. The error was repeated on Page 6 in the Books & Talks calendar. I'm hoping that this doesn't count against the publicity we hope for get next time we're really scheduled to do something.

My next gig is before a group of women writers (Pen Women, Becky included) September 2 at Mama Maria's in West Salem. I don't imagine The Times cares, but if it does, here it is.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

An Explanation from The NYTimes

Error-prone Alessandra Stanley>

The New York Times' Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, has a column this a.m. explaining the major meltdown on Alessandra Stanley's obit of Walter Cronkite recently and it's a doozie, full of the kind of embarrassing detail many would deign to publish about themselves and their product. It is an admirable confession.

Hoyt concludes with this: "Looking back at it all — a critic making mistakes in haste, editors failing to vet her work enough, a story sitting for weeks without attention and then being rushed through — one sees how small missteps lead to big trouble, leaving readers to wonder what they can trust."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Departures," A Movie To Love

"Departures," playing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke, is easily the best movie I've seen this year. Easily.

It is a warm, funny, kind, loving story of tradition and ceremony, of grace and dignity, and of closing a book on a chapter of life with the best possible care. It is a story of loss and gain, of misunderstanding and perseverance.

Yojiro Takita's movie is the reigning Academy winner for Best Foreign Film, beating out "The Class" and "Waltz With Bashir," a couple of popular choices, and it's easy to see why this Japanese film is held in such high esteem.

This is the story of a failed cello player pushed into a job of preparing people for the undertaker, a position that is steeped in tradition, care and gentle understanding of ritual. It is also considered "unclean" by some, including our hero's wife.

The movie is peopled with first class acting from Masahiro Motoko's plodding Daigo Kobayashi, his loving but skeptical wife Mika, played by Ryoko Hirosue--a thoroughly attractive-in-every-sense young actress--and a solid group of veteran support throughout.

The humor is stacked up front of this deliberate movie, helping to develop characters to care about. We are then taken to the reality of what it is Daigo does for a living and we get a full dose of it (my wife cried through much of this and I caught myself with a lump or two, as well).

Entertaining, enlightening and a marvelous evening. See it.