Sunday, February 28, 2010

Signs Along Lick Run Are a Nice Touch

Brown-Robertson Park sign (above) gives you its history, while the sign below talks about the trail's woodland habitat.^

It's been a while since I walked the Lick Run portion of the greenway in Roanoke and today, while pretty much having it to myself, I discovered that the Kiwanis Club has been busy with what the bureaucrats love to call "signage."

This signage, all along the roadage, presents lessons in history and ecology and they give the walk a little extra spring in the step. You'll learn the importance of the nature you encounter along the greenway and find about how the Flood of 1985 (Hurricane Juan's little beauty) took the lives of two marvelous old women, who now have a park named for them.

These women, Dorothy Brown and Hazel Robertson, were a taxi driver and a child care provider who often gave away their services to their neighbors who needed them and could not afford them. They were women whose sense of community led to this recognition.

This is a nice walk, made nicer. Thanks Kiwanians.

Mirren, Plummer Steal 'The Last Station'

Mirren and Plummer are memorable in 'The Last Station'^

It is difficult to sit through the sweet, touching final few minutes of "The Last Station" without smiling, but getting there--the arduous journey to that final stop in Leo Tolstoy's life--was not without an emotional tug of war. That constant confrontation between the utopian and aged Tolstoy and his gentrified, materialistic wife releases brilliant performances from Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

Mirren, in fact, may well have given as good a performance here as she ever has in a career full of them. She is simply superb in a layered, difficult part. Plummer, meanwhile, is the often exasperated husband wanting to live his final days writing and thinking quietly while all around him want something from him and his wife is the loudest of all.

Her Sofya is in direct competition with Paul Giamatti's brilliantly-rendered Tolstoy confident Vladimir Chertkov (leader of the Tolstoyians, the utopian branch of the movie) and the movie simply crackles when the two are on the screen together.

The third leg of the plot involves a young associate (James McAvoy) and his discovery of love in a way he had not imagined it to be (sex, for a beginning) with appealing Irish actress Kerry Condon.

It is a lovely movie, not so much based on the historical Tolstoy (that would have been entirely too much for a movie to handle) as it is--at its most basic--several love stories, often in conflict with each other.

It is a satisfying movie and these days, I'll take that.

Picking Dems for Tuesday's Primary in Roanoke

Valerie Garner (above) and Ray Ferris (below).

Roanoke's Democratic primary for its May City Council elections are Tuesday and here's how I'm going to vote:

Incumbent David Trinkle has been solid and will get my first vote. David's smart, honest and has strong opinions. I don't always agree with him, but I trust him completely to do what he believes is best for the city. That's good enough for me.

Ray Ferris is a Roanoke lawyer and that's not a lot to write home about by itself. However, he is a co-owner of Sav-A-Lot food store at the old Roanoke-Salem Plaza, the existence of which I consider community development in its highest form.

This is a grocery store that serves a depressed minority neighborhood with fair prices and a supermarket selection. I am especially impressed that Ferris manages to keep produce prices relatively low because the poor often opt for cheap, unhealthy foods over vegetables because of price. Kroger, years ago, moved out of inner city neighborhoods because the return per square foot didn't meet its corporate goals. Other major chains have reacted similarly. There's a good living to be made with these smaller stores, but the value is in the service to an under-served community and I'm taken with that. It is, simply, good citizenship.

Valerie Garner is something of a gad-about citizen-journalist whose voice is loud and consistent on certain issues (the fate of Countryside Golf Course, for example). Val can be annoying on occasion (ask any current city council member), but she's smart, studied and knows the system. She's also tough and blunt and my guess is that she could flush out some excellent discussions that need to take place. (The one question that remains--my wife keeps asking it--is whether Val will continue writing about council while she's on it. I know of no law that would prohibit her from doing that, but it would be an ethical minefield if she kept her little online publication going and covered city issues with it.)

That leaves out Bill Bestpitch, whom I like personally and who has served quietly and well on council in the past. If Bill's the choice, I would have no problem with it. But the other three are ahead of him on my ballot.

More Fine Writing From Dan Casey

While we're referring readers this a.m., let us give you the writings of Roanoke daily newspaper columnist Dan Casey today as yet another example of why I think he is the best local columnist in these parts since Mike Ives 35 or 40 years ago. Read this. It's about a Carilion court case and if it was a basketball game, Dan would be a color commentator.

Among his observations:

Judge Cliff Weckstein "lectured one of the lawyers with lines from ... 'My Cousin Vinny.'"

Carilion's lawyers "looked fit, fashionable, attentive and very expensive."

A plaintiff's lawyer is "a successful medical malpractice specialist from Annandale whose office is in a commercial district just down the street from a fried chicken stand," who needs a haircut and "was dressed in a blue suit that probably cost a lot of money but looks cheap anyway ..." This lawyer's briefcase "looks like something the Fuller brush man would have carried door to door in the 1940s."

Though "I am wholly unqualified to judge whether malpractice occurred," Dan offers up an opinion just the same. Read it to find out how it goes. Might surprise you.

Excellent piece, Mr. Casey.

ESPN's O'Neil: Here's How To Write About Sports

Dana O'Neil is a writer, not a TV reporter as this photo would suggest.^

As a former sports writer (17 looooong years), I subscribe to the oft-stated notion among these journalists that they are most often the best writers in the profession. As today's evidence of that bromide, I offer one Dana O'Neil of ESPN, a woman who writes smashingly about basketball.

Yesterday's column focusing a couple of disgraced and run-off coaches from major programs (former UNC coach Matt Doherty and ex-Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy) is compelling, whether or not you have a dog in the fight.

Presented here are the cases of two former national Coach of the Year winners who rested at the very top of their professions--Doherty at his alma mater--just a few years ago. Eustachy, a recovering alcoholic, got drunk and got fired; Doherty simply lost too many games to suit one of the elite programs in the country.

They have found happy homes in Conference USA (Doherty at SMU; Eustachy at Southern Miss), a bottom rung of the big leagues of college basketball and one of the reasons this story is so compelling. Read it if you're in need of a good writing fix. Here's a sample (the lead):

Your first thought as you approach Southern Mississippi's Reed Green Coliseum: The Golden Eagles play in a yurt.

Your second thought, as you enter the gym: The environmentally conscious, amenity-eschewing people who live in actual yurts would be aesthetically offended. The walls, presumably, were once yellow but now sit on the color spectrum somewhere between dirty mustard and old oatmeal. Three-quarters of the seats are old wooden bleachers that have seen a few decades worth of derriere wear and tear.

The lighting would be welcome in prison.

Thirty minutes before tipoff, 19 people are in the stands -- a pack of kids behind the basket, a collection of older folks toting their own chair backs opposite the benches, and a handful of locals spread across the rest of the building.

Student section? Haven't found it.

Pep band? No sign.

Cheerleaders? Not yet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Boucher vs. Griffith: The Game Is Afoot

Let the mud-slinging begin: Morgan Griffith (right) has made official the rumors he's running for the 9th District Congressional seat held since the early 1980s by the competent and popular Rick Boucher (above).

Boucher is a traditional Southern Democrat (more conservative than the national party, but a guy living in the 21st Century); Griffith is a right-wing Republican who has far more in common with Grover Norquist (who wants to shrink government to a size you "could drown in the bathtub") than Theodore Roosevelt.

Griffith has held his seat for years because of his overwhelming popularity in Salem. He is little known outside the district, even though he has been the Republican House Majority Leader for some time.

Griffith does not live in the 9th District (it is legal for him to run, though he does not live there) and says he has absolutely no intention of moving into it. The word is that he will attempt to help fellow Repubs gerrymander the district to suit his needs, rather than make an effort to be part of it.

(Boucher photo: Declan McCullagh.)

Saving the World: Here's a Good Start

My friend Cara Modisett (editor of Blue Ridge Country Magazine) asked if I would help get out the word on Roanoke’s Stop Hunger Now project, of which, she says, “Haiti ramped up SHN's efforts, and the Haiti projects are enormous. SHN Roanoke would like to double its project from 140,000 meals to more than 280,000, and the biggest hurdle to cross--in a week--is raising $70,000 to do it. Hence the need to get the word out. The project has no shortage of volunteers--more than 1,000 have committed.”

SHN’s press release explains the concept:

The idea took root in one small Episcopal church, right after the earthquakes that shattered Haiti. In a short time, the project grew, and on March 14, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 volunteers will gather at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke to pack as many as a quarter of a million meals to ship to Haiti.

The project is Stop Hunger Now, affiliated with the nonprofit Stop Hunger Now based in Raleigh and founded in 1998; it’s sent $66 million worth of food and water to more than 70 countries around the world. In 2005, it started Operation Sharehouse, a meal-packing program, coordinated by volunteers in American communities, and has packed 20 million meals of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavoring mixes. The meals have a shelf life of five years.

Jenny Fife, wife of St. Elizabeth’s rector, had already talked with Stop Hunger Now about doing a basic Operation Sharehouse project – raising $2,500 and packaging 10,000 meals – when the earthquakes struck. Then the plans changed: “Why not help Haiti?”

Helping Haiti meant expanding the project. “We had to go from $2,500 to $35,000, and from 50 volunteers to 500 to 800.” An organizational meeting resulted in $28,000 worth of pledges, and the goal of creating a community-wide, non-denominational project inviting volunteers of all ages, backgrounds and denominations. “I’ve never been in a room together, since I’ve been in Roanoke, with Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, all working together on a project like this. It’s rare – all of us are so busy in our own parishes.”

The event will take place March 14 at Patrick Henry High School. Volunteers have signed up in the hundreds from schools, churches and organizations. Individuals, churches and businesses are donating the funds required to purchase the meal supplies. The ultimate goal--to raise not just $35,000, but $71,280, and package not just 140,000 meals, but 285,120. To double its efforts, the Stop Hunger Now Roanoke event is working fast to complete its fundraising by a week prior to the event.

It can be done: An organization of Methodist churches in Lynchburg held a meal packing event that drew more than 3,000 volunteers and packaged 210,000 meals in a few hours. So far Stop Hunger Now has sent 2.5 million meals to Haiti.

There’s something life-changing in the SHN experience, says Fife. “You know this little packet is going to be opened over a fire, or by children in school uniforms. The power of this event is you feel connected to the people you’re helping.”

“Our goal is to end hunger in our lifetime,” says Troy Henson, the Virginia program coordinator for SHN. “I’m a pretty young guy, and I’d like to go get another job because there is no longer hunger in the world.” Stop Hunger Now is online at The site includes video updates on SHN’s Haiti relief.

The Stop Hunger Now Roanoke project is online here and on Facebook and Twitter at @SHNRoanoke.

Is This a Record for Corrections?

The local daily newspaper had two corrections in its paper edition today--dealing with yesterday's two top stories. I don't recall that happening before. Oh-for-above-the-fold.

The Page 2 corrections (and an elaboration of one of them on Page 7) dealt with the screaming story on arts funding (essentially, the correction tells us the world of art will not end tomorrow because the state contributions to the organizations is relatively small); and a lawsuit against Carilion. (Why am I surprised to find this at the top of Page 1 and the important story of the organization's leadership changes on Page 14 of today's edition--days and days after it was announced? Carilion also had an announcement about closing the door on drug reps a few days ago that I don't recall showing up on Page 1, though it is important).

What you find on the Web site is this. It's dated more than a week ago and doesn't involve either of these corrections. (Note: The Web boys and girls finally updated the site with the correx.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

So, Who's Reading All Those Books?

My pal Kurt Navratil, who finds some of the most interesting things on the 'Net, sent over a survey of readers this morning that's revealing. The survey is here, but I'll tell you some of what's in it.

Readers, by a slight--and surprising--margin, buy their books at local independent shops. They prefer those shops by a margin of 21.5 percent to 21.4 percent over chains and 20 percent online. Big box retailers (Walmart, for example) are preferred by one in 10.

The most avid readers (five hours a week or more, which I wouldn't call avid so much as average) are older. The group between 25 and 34--out of school, involved in building careers and rearing children--read less than any other group. What surprises me is that 40.9 percent of us read two hours a week or less, which is tragic in a country that's not very smart to begin with. Just 27.7 percent of us read more than five hours a week. TV watching still bumps books is my guess.

Why do we buy books? More than half say they're for "entertainment/education" and 22 percent buy them for somebody else (gift, grandkids). Eleven percent buy business books.

And what prompts the purchase? A book signing brings in 69 percent of purchasers; 42 percent buy based on staff recommendations;' 35 percent because the book is a bestseller; and 33 percent because they saw the book in an ad. Half buy on the basis of the author's reputation and half have had the book recommended (there's a good bit of overlap there, as well).

Do you want an e-reader (like a Kindle)? A stunning 49 percent said "no, baby." Two percent of readers own one. Of those who have e-readers, 28 percent read while traveling and 41 percent read at home.

Take a look at the entire survey. It's an interesting snapshot of our culture and perhaps a predictor of our future.

Coming to the Rescue of the Arts ... Again

My mailbox has been filling up the past two days with screaming alerts from arts organizations that are not uncommon this time of the year, when the Virginia General Assembly is in session. These alerts warn of a vote in the House of Delegates today that could kill the Virginia Commission for the Arts, a small agency that, in its way, helps set our culture apart from the Third World (Mississippi, for example).

Just about every year since the Republican Party took over the House, there has been a threat to eliminate arts funding of one kind or another, whether it be Public Radio and TV money or a much broader slash that seems to be fomenting today. The commission is an umbrella organization that supports arts all over the state and the current vote--House only, remember--would cut its state funding in half.

Virginia has cut or eliminated much of its arts funding in recent years and very few non-state agencies (mostly in Richmond) are getting fat on state money. The Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke got an infusion of funds for construction when it was going up, but even this sacred cow (its supporters have given a lot of money to Republican candidates over the years) is looking a little peaked in the state monies department.

I am close enough to arts organizations on a daily basis to know that de-funding at just about any level right now could kill some of them. Many people consider these organizations to be what former Gov. Doug Wilder called "niceties" without considering that they are some of the least expensive education programs we have. They are an economic development/quality of life issue that industrial recruiters and ED professionals hold dear in trying to recruit (imagine, for example, trying to sell Roanoke to a large manufacturing company if it had no arts organizations, no theater, independent movie houses, no symphony, no Arts Council, no Jefferson Center or Center in the Square).

Though I have no idea who's listening, I would urge those of you with any sense of history, culture and educational value to call your representative (Onzlee Ware and Bill Cleaveland from Roanoke; don't even bother with Morgan Griffith of Salem because he won't take your call anyway) and express your support for funding for the arts in general and the commission in particular. Cleaveland's at 804-698-1017 or and Ware can be reached at 804-698-1011 or Griffith's at 804-698-1008, if you're into banging your head against the wall.

Suggest a funding source: a two cents per pack levy on cigarettes or a penny per ticket tax on entertainment or sports events. I know that's not going anywhere, but don't make any suggestions without alternatives and those are alternatives. I don't think suggesting cuts in other areas has much merit since our state's budget is about as lean as budgets get.

The real shame here is that the House of Delegates does not seem to understand that the arts has any value and has had its knife ready to slash for years. The U.S. is last among First World nations in arts funding and my guess is that Virginia is hovering around Mississippi levels in state rankings (I choose Mississippi because it is permanently fixed around the bottom in everything and Virginia's House members seem to revere that). There's a philosophical divide here and it seems to be getting wider as Griffith's boys move in for the kill.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Darlene Burcham: Final Official Act

Darlene Burcham (the redhead in the middle) cut part of the ribbon for the opening of Roanoke's new $7-plus million police academy this afternoon in what is likely to be her final official act as city manager. Her last day on the job is officially Sunday, but word is she will take vacation the rest of this week and get on to whatever's next.

Darlene has adamantly denied that retirement is her goal at this point and has said pointedly when asked--on several occasions--"I'm looking for a job." She will be replaced Monday by Chris Morrill (find out about him here).

Darlene's 10 years as city manager have been among the most turbulent in the city's political history and with City Council finally asking her to retire at the end of February. Reluctantly, she did and, for all intents and purposes, today does it for her.

I like Darlene--though I disagreed with much she did--but I will say honestly and sincerely, Good luck, ma'am. You gave it your best shot.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Crowd--Mostly White--Hears About Civil Rights Lawyer

Historian John Kern addresses a large crowd, speaking about civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill, who grew up in Roanoke.^

Crowd eagerly awaits the start of John Kern/s talk this evening.^

Kern and the Historical Society's George Kegley chat before the talk.^

Recently retired Virginia state historian John Kern, an expert on African-American history (and one of my closest pals), shared some of that knowledge this evening at Christ Lutheran Church in Raleigh Court with a packed house gathered to hear about local hero Oliver Hill.

Hill was a member of the eight-lawyer team that won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, the case that opened schools to segregation and was a significant point in the movement to make African-Americans equal to the white population of America.

Hill was a Howard University-educated lawyer who grew up in the home of railroad worker Bradford Pentecost and his family, which gave Hill a great deal of love and support. Hill, says Kern, was an indifferent student until he discovered the law and then finished first in his class at Howard (future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was later one of Hill's associates in the Brown v. Board case, was second).

Kern's talk was revealing on several levels, especially in that Gilmer Ave. in the Gainsboro section, produced three notable Virginians in Hill, former Liberian Ambassador and New York Supreme Court Justice Edward Dudley and Dr. G.H. Roberts, founder of Gill Memorial and owner of a pharmacy in Gainsboro. Oscar Micheaux, the "race films" director who was nationally known, also lived in the area in the 1920s.

Fascinating stuff for Black History Month and the only negative of the entire evening was that only four African American Roanokers showed up. The rest of the crowd was white.

I observed the same lack of participation from the Black community when former Gov. Linwood Holton, who certainly qualifies as a hero of the Civil Rights era (even though he's white), spoke to an all-white audience last year. Holton was discussing his book, a significant portion of which dealt with the Civil Rights Era, in which he played a major role. More's the pity.

As I asked Mayor David Bowers (a favorite in the Black community) tonight, "When in the hell are we going to get together?" He shook his head.

The Big Read Is Inching Closer

I wanted to remind you lovely people that we're rapidly moving toward the opening of The Big Read in the Roanoke Valley, so get Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying and read it so you can attend all those wonderful events based around it. You can see how much I enjoyed the book (above). I get to referee a discussion/workshop about the book's "voice" March 16 at the Blue Ridge Library (and no, I don't know where the hell it is; do a Google Maps on it and be there).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

'Shutter Island' Too Heavy for Its Own Good

Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is a big, convoluted, relentless, complex, psycho-drama that implodes from its own weight. This is a movie that simply can't stand up because it is so heavy, slow and fat.

An impressive cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams) and Scorsese's marvelous period settings simply can't rescue a movie I wanted to like, at least partly because DiCaprio is one of the two or three most consistently compelling actors in the business today.

The story, though, as my wife so succinctly pointed out on the drive home, would have been marvelous had Alfred Hitchcock directed it. It would also have been 30 to 45 minutes shorter and would not have suffered from the death knell for movies like this: far, far more plot than is necessary.

I'm not going to get into a lot of detail because one small slip can be a plot spoiler--in much the way we all had to shut up about "The Sixth Sense." Suffice it to say that you won't leave humming the soundtrack. My guess is that, for those of you who imbibe, a stiff drink will be in your hand shortly after you get home from "Shutter Island."

A Couple of Good Ones in the Local Daily

There are a couple of fine pieces of newspapering in Roanoke's local daily this a.m.

Sarah Bryun Jones' story on the growth at HCA's hospitals in the region counters the flood of Carilion Coverage with some news about its larger competitor. Ms. Jones' stories are always readable. Here's the HCA piece.

Laurence Hammack's update on former Roanoke City Councilman Alfred Dowe profiles a man on the comeback trail from political purgatory. I've always liked and admired Alfred, but he got in trouble over a niggling amount of money, made restitution and he has entirely too much talent and energy to remain outside at 43. Here's Hammack's well-done story.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Griffith: It's About Reach and Grasp

Morgan Griffith (right) is attractive to his mother.>

Reporter Michael Sluss of a Roanoke daily newspaper is reporting that Salem General Assembly Delegate Morgan Griffith is almost certain to challenge incumbent Rick Boucher for his Ninth District seat in the U.S. Congress, even though Griffith does not live in the district, and in spite of the fact that Griffith's mother is virtually unknown there.

Griffith lives in the Sixth Congressional District where Bob Goodlatte, a fellow Republican, is the representative, but Griffith obviously believes it is likely that with Republican gerrymandering looming in the near future, he will move himself into Boucher's district without having to move his residence in Salem.

Griffith, one of the most consistently awful politicians in my memory of Virginia politics (and Virginia politics is full of fools and rogues), has held his seat in the General Assembly since 1993 when he beat Howard Packett (a bald city councilman who handed out combs during the election) for the empty seat.

Boucher is a moderate Democrat who has held his seat since 1983. He has been a popular representative and has most often run for re-election without opposition. Boucher has held many views that have not been in line with the national party (pro-gun, pro-tobacco, for example), but he has also opposed the coal industry--a big industry in the far southwest corner of his Virginia district--on several issues. Opponents have consistently called Boucher "liberal," which is ludicrous. He is a classic Virginia Democrat, which has little in common with the national party on many issues.

Frankly, I think that what we'll see here is what Freddie "Boom-Boom" Cannon referred to as a "Kansas City Star" arrogantly overreaching beyond his mother's name recognition. Griffith's mother has been beloved by many in Salem as their long-time school teacher. She has not taught in Blacksburg, Pulaski or Abingdon, however, so he's on his own and he has to face the electorate with the mug you see above. Daunting, daunting task.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

McDonnell's Dixie Manifesto and the Trashing of the Poor

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's (above) first budget proposal is a cross between the Dixie Manifesto and Morgan Griffith's most persistent wet dream. It is also a nightmare for the Virginians most exposed to things like malnutrition, domestic violence, disappearing health care, homelessness, missing child support payments, and teen-age pregnancy ... the things Republicans rarely think about.

It is, quite simply, a clinic in cutting budgets at the expense of those least able to take care of themselves. It is a budget without a the slightest hint of human concern, of compassion, of understanding the value of education, of caring even a little about the poor. Cut a kid's breakfast instead of a rich guy's yacht? Done. Erase poor children's health care instead of boosting the tax on cigarettes? Sure, makes sense to McDonnell and Morgan Griffith (the House minority leader from Salem, whose territorial marking stinks up this entire budget).

Even before embarking on this folly, McDonnell had rolled back protections for gay and lesbian Virginians employed by the state with a Feb. 5 executive order.

Here are a few lowlights of McDonnell's draconian and soulless budget proposal:
  • Eliminate millions from free clinics, health department dental services, teen pregnancy programs, child support supplements, homeless assistance and the Healthy Families Initiative, all geared at the poor. The result $300 million in cuts.
  • Five days of furloughs and less funding from the state in the retirement system. The total is $925 million in state employee cuts. These are your friends and neighbors, not the "soulless bureaucrats" demonized by Republicans looking to line their own pockets.
  • A massive $730 million in cuts to education at a time when schools are being closed, teachers fired and programs cut. Among the smaller proposals is the elimination of state stipends to coaches and department heads, elimination of mentor programs and school breakfast programs (poor kids again). Goal: Keep the populace stupid.
Republicans in Richmond are cheering in the streets because they finally have a governor who will give them the kind of government they have wanted all along (almost none), all the guns they can carry in an 18-wheeler, state highways as a racetrack and the perception of a Mississippi-like state where the poor are ignored when they are not resented or despised. It is a sad, sad state these days.

(AP photo.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stuart Mease Makes Move to Pamplin

Stuart Mease, who only recently moved from a role of recruiting and retaining young workers in Roanoke (where he was immensely popular) to Rackspace Email & Apps in Blacksburg, now has another gig: he'll be working with job prospects at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

In a post on Handshake 2.0's site (here), Mease announced he will become director of the Undergraduate Career Services, responsibl "for employer development, providing jobs search assistance to students and overseeing the annual Business Horizons Career Fair" in September.

Finally, Some Sense in Virginia Gun Laws!

Imagine this baby mounted on your Hummer-tank whizzing down I-81 at break-neck--and now legal--speeds in Virginia.^

It's looking good that Virginia's going to get all those much-needed gun law changes that have been delayed by Democratic-Socialistic governors for all these years, laws that, for example allow us to take guns into bars or lock them in our pickup trucks at church.

The Virginia Senate passed a whole passel of them yesterday and we can feel safe to return to our favorite restaurant, despite what pinko, panty-waist Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (a Dem, of course) said, "I've really never been afraid for my life in a Red Lobster." Well, she's never been to the same Red Lobsters we've been to. Ever look in those dark corners, lady? Whipple, indeed.

Equally important to Virginians who see armed enemies at every turn--as every real American should--were bills that remove the oppressive and unrealistic one gun a month purchase rule. I mean, one gun a month?!? Lordgodawmighty, that's just 12 guns a year. It'd take a decade to properly arm the home of a right-thinking American.

In what was unofficially called the "Stick This One Up Your Butt, New York Act", the Senate ruled that guns made and used in the Old Dominion would not be impacted by those oppressive, commie federal laws. We need to do that across the board with all the federal laws. Just wipe them out.

Now, when that old military boy governor of ours signs these freedom-celebrating laws, we'll rank right up there with Texas in granting full Constitution-guaranteed (and don't you dare bring up that militia thing, you sissy) gun freedoms to our citizens. Next up: tanks. Every god-fearing, Homeland-Security-thinking American should have the right to buy the tank of his choice. Uh, wait a minute. A Hummer IS a tank, right? Well, how about let's arm it and with the Senate's new 70mph speed limits we can zoom through the night protected from the gathering hoardes of Virginia thugs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Progressive Republicans for Jesus Say ...

Saw this bumper sticker today on a little red pickup truck that looked like it had been left in the dryer too long:

Guns Save Lives

Really wanted to engage the driver in some intellectual discourse like: "How the hell did you figure that out, bub?"

The Passing of a Woman of Significance

Margie Fisher (right), probably in the 1950s.>

It is with a tinge of sadness that I noted the passing of Margie Fisher, something of a Brenda Starr figure during her best days as a reporter for Roanoke's local daily paper. Margie will be remembered as "the first woman" this and "the first woman" that, but I remember her as being one of the most respected reporters on a staff of good news people at the paper during a time when it was an outstanding newspaper.

Margie was a flashy, good-looking blonde who wore bright-colored dresses that swirled and whose smile could buckle the knees of some of those grizzled editors. She was also as tough as any of them and a woman who'd sit with you and talk for hours about things that were important to you. She was known as a political reporter of grit and substance, but she was also a fine and sensitive writer whose wit always shone through.

Seemed to me, she took life in small bites, chewed them well and digested thoroughly. I had the impression that Margie was about as well adjusted as anybody I knew, despite the obvious difficulty of being a woman in a new world for women at the time. I don't recall hearing her complain about it, or, frankly, even mention the subtle discrimination--especially in Richmond, where she covered the exclusive boys club of the General Assembly--except to laugh at it and its practitioners.

Margie came up through the ranks, starting as a minor functionary in advertising and moving over to the bottom rung of the news department. When I got to the local daily in 1971, she was already established as one of the best reporters on an excellent team--and one of the genuine eccentrics in a newsroom full of them: Ozzy Osborne (one of her best friends), Mary Bland Armistead, Cecil Edmonds, Ben Beagle, Bill Brill, Buster Carrico, Mike Ives, Chris Gladden (as a young and intimidated "editorial assistant") and a bunch more like them.

It was a very different time for all of us and Margie made it better.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One More Long Look at Roanoke in the Snow

Downtown Roanoke in the snow (double click on it for a large view).^

Trees on Mill Mountain.^

Greenway seating along Riverland Road.^

The old American Viscose plant from the Greenway in Southeast Roanoke.^

Greenway runner in the snow.^

Young couple enjoying Valentine's Day.^

Why anyone would ride a bike in the snow is beyond me. Mom's entreaty not to eat yellow snow (below) is not a mystery.^

A walk along the greenway in South and Southeast Roanoke this morning was a visual feast, so I continued the adventure by driving to the top of Mill Mountain for a snow photograph of Roanoke. Mighty pretty up there. Here's some of what I saw.

Are Soft Drinks Killing Your Kids (Hint: Yes)

The lead in a Week in Review story in Friday's NYTimes is tantelizing: "Is soda the new tobacco?" The answer is, of course, yes (else there would be no story). But what does it mean and what's shaping up with this looming battle over the health of our children ... and our adults?

The soft drink industry says there's nothing wrong with a modest indulgence of soda, but the story points out correctly that there is nothing modest about drinking 50 gallons of this poison a year, which many of us do. It's one of the primary leaders in the fattening of our population and of the new trend toward Type II ("adult onset") diabetes, which is no longer "adult onset."

If you're interested, here's the link. It's an interesting read and my guess is you'll be reading a lot more about it as mamas realize the industry is killing their children.

'Crazy Heart' a Little Too Real, but Excellent

Jeff Bridge is excellent as a drunken country singer.^

Jeff Bridges' Oscar-worthy performance as journeyman country singer-songwriter Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" threw me to another time, one I'd just as soon forget. Bridges is as convincing an alcoholic as I've ever seen on screen and this comes from one who's denied every wrong, lied every lie, worshiped at every porcelin throne, bedded every Queen of the Silver Dollar and been dumped by every type of good woman.

Bridges is something of a poor man's Waylon Jennings (sounds a bit like him, in fact) in this role of a lifetime, one that 15 years ago would have been played--badly--by a worn out Kris Khristofferson in a movie that would have quickly been forgotten. This one won't be. It won't be a big commercial success, either, because it's entirely too good for that broad an audience.

You can see just about every turn of events in this movie coming like an 18-wheeler on a West Texas highway, but in Bridges' hands it's all new, all shocking and saddening and even the ending, which must have come from a focus group of 10-year-sober alcoholics, has the feel of something real, something that is inevitable and valuable.

Bridges and Colin Farrell, who plays Bad Blake's estranged singing buddy, sang their own tunes and each has a rich authenticity, though the stretch here isn't into the five-octave opera range. It's basic three cord country with a gravely whisky voice and a touch of Merle Haggard world-weariness.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose acting I simply adore, is just about perfect as Bridges' unlikely love interest. Robert Duvall plays a small role with considerable impact.

This, however, is Bridges' movie and he grabs the role by the throat and won't let go. Highly recommended, especially if you're interested in what it's like at the bottom of the bottle.

Eating Hearty (and Badly) at the Texas Tavern

I shot this picture a few years ago, early in the morning when one of the TT's customers was leaving to sleep it off.^

Dan Casey's column this morning in a local daily newspaper (here) splashes the "chile" on the counter at the Texas Tavern, which celebrated its 80th birthday yesterday.

I thought that, after my last experience with a TT birthday (75th), which I celebrated by discussing how awful the food is, would be my final reference to Texas, Taverns and birthdays for a while. ("Chile" is supposed to be chili, but the misspelling is only the first misrepresentation.)

Dan, however, has brought it up again in a column that is just about perfect. He likes the food as much as I did.

Here's a story I regaled Dan with this a.m. while telling him I liked the column:

Owner Matt Bullington's dad Jim, an old buddy of mine (and an accomplished photographer), tells this story: "We get people coming in at 2 in the morning so drunk they can barely lay on the floor without holding on. They've had a bottle of wine, a couple of mixed drinks and a six-pack of beer when they get to the restaurant and they order a cheesy western, hot dog with and a bowl with and one of our eight-ounce Cokes in the bottle, thinking that will get rid of any hangovers they might have the next day. When they wake up feeling like they've been hit by a garbage truck, they blame it on us. Every time."

'A Single Man': The Mercedes Steals the Movie

Here's Colin Firth (left), a potential love interest and the more interesting than either 1958 Mercedes 220SE.^

Here's another example of the great gender divide: Christina and I saw "A Single Man" last night at the Grandin Theatre (yes, I still go). She cried out loud at the end. I was nodding off periodically from about 10 minutes in. I am told crying signals approval among those of the female persuasion. Sleeping does not.

My friend Kurt told me this was "the best movie of the year." I usually agree with Kurt on matters cultural and otherwise. Not this time. This baby was a homo-erotic snoozer from the opening scene of our hero kissing a dead guy.

I don't consider myself insensitive, but Colin Firth never did convince me that his grand suicide scheme in the wake (so to speak) of his lover's sudden death was anything more than a diversion, although I found it mildly amusing that every man (and the only woman with anything like a role) in the movie had the hots for him. Seemed to me to be a pretty boring English professor with a mild, but mostly hidden, philosophical bent and a great car.

The saving grace of fashion designer Tom Ford's movie was a combination of its look (perfect 1962 with an affecting use of color and black and white to emphasize emotion) and a startlingly beautiful forest green 1958 Mercedes 220SE coupe. Point being, I guess, that if you have a great car, you can find love.

Why Concern Yourself With Positive News?

There's a perception among business people that a local daily newspaper in Roanoke chooses the negative angle whenever possible in reporting its stories and there's a nice example of that in today's edition. (It is on the third page of the local section, but I couldn't find it online.)

The story today is about Roanoke City's bond rating, which saw two of three ratings services maintain it at an AA level and one drop it slightly to an A1 in the worst economy since the Great Depression. By my figuring, that's an accomplishment. By the daily newspaper's, it's worthy of a report that concentrates on the A1 rating.

These bond ratings are important to governments because they determine the rate at which money can be borrowed. The better the rating (the state has a AAA rating, for example, which I suspect the Republicans will threaten again, or maybe even lose) the less expensive borrowed money is. That is reflected in lower tax rates. Therefore, the maintenance of the rating in this economy is pretty impressive.

This particular report (which Valley Business FRONT covered two days ago here) reminds me of a story from a few years ago when Center in the Square won a major national downtown revitalization award and the story in the paper the next morning led with something like this, "Center in the Square announced it had won the [name of the award] yesterday, but that it does not come with money."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Diabetes Threat: A Simple Overview

If you look like this, you may have Type II diabetes.>

I’ve been studying diabetes for several years now—because I have it—and quite possibly the best brief overview of it I’ve seen in that time is today’s column on the Huffington Post by Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The good doctor tells the tale simply, convincingly and with a positive message that you can beat this merciless disease with a little effort and some discipline.

About 90 percent of those of us with diabetes are Type II, meaning we developed it later in life and much of that is because we eat like pigs and don’t exercise. Belly fat is one of the primary culprits. If your pot is half your height, you have too much (at 5’ 10”, your waist should be 35”; I'm 4” over that).

Oz says there are 24 million diabetics in the U.S. (and six million don’t even know it). Those numbers are similar to stats on alcoholism. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a third of Americans will develop diabetes in coming years—and live 15 fewer years fewer as a result. The costs are huge ($175 billion now and looking at doubling in 25 years).

Oz says our culture has led to “a perfect storm” for the growth of Type II because our diets are awful (full of things like high fructose corn syrup—it’s ubiquitous—and sugar in nearly everything we eat that comes in a jar, can or box). We sit on our butts at work and after work, when we’re too tired from sitting on our butts at work to exercise.

I’ve been preaching for some time now to simply stay away from white food (except maybe cauliflower) containing highly processed flour, which turns into sugar. A physician once compared the flour to crack cocaine because it goes into your bloodstream without anything to slow it down.

Bad white foods include processed sugar, potatoes, pasta, white flour and the like and all have alternatives (sweet potatoes, whole grain flour in breads and pastas, for example). The doc says we eat 140 pounds of sugar a year. Each. Not per family or per neighborhood. That’s a little less than a cup of sugar per day. A soft drink has nine teaspoons of sugar in it.

Here’s what happens when diabetes is about to enter your life: you pee a lot; you’re tired; infections are frequent; your toes tingle (and this is not about sex, boys and girls), your vision becomes problematic. If your belly is big, you probably are diabetic or pre-diabetic. If you don’t exercise—an hour a day is good and don’t tell me you can’t do it; you can watch TV an hour a day—you’re being set up.

This one's up to you. Nobody can go to the greenway and take your walk and nobody can decline that piece of white bread except you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Rule: Good Enough for Print, Good Enough for the Web

Virginia Tech's Commission on Student Affairs' demand (published in a local daily newspaper today) that Tech's student newspaper Collegiate Times bend to its will or else, is a situation where my kneejerk reaction is to side with the paper--being an old news guy and all.

This time, though, something's out of wack and even though its method is heavy-handed (threatening revenues and support), the commission is right in asking Collegiate Times to dispense with publishing letters on its Web site that are racist, homophobic and--worst--unsigned. The Collegiate Times is pointing to examples of newspapers that publish unsigned letters on their Web sites, but that doesn't make it right. There are very few publications that publish unsigned letters in their paper editions, which is still considered the "real" edition, the gold standard, as it were.

It people are going to say stupid things, the least we can demand of them is that they take full responsibility by being identified publicly. Our constitution gives everybody the right to face an accuser and I think publications have exactly the same responsibility. If want to be heard, you must be required to have your say out loud and with your name attached.

Granted, there are times when publications must use unnamed sources to get important stories, but calling somebody a "nigger" or a "queer" in print does not quite reach that level of "need to know." If you're going to say it, take responsibility for it. It the writer doesn't take responsibility, the letter goes in the dust bin. That's a minimum and publications must get away from this idea that if it comes in the front door of the Web site, it is worthy of publication, name or no name.

If a rule is good enough for the print edition, it is good enough for online.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Minnie and the 'Supervisorial' Guffaw

Mr. Language Man is on the lookout for abuses in his constant effort to protect you from the horrors of bad language--especially nouns used as verbs, subject-verb agreement and those disagreeable dangling participles.

Today's example comes from Public Radio where reporter Carrie Kahn, this morning, used the inventive word "supervisorial," apparently in an attempt to say "supervisory." Carrie compounded the feloniousness-ial of it all by sounding like Minnie Mouse on laughing gas.

A Walk for Understanding and Tolerance Scheduled

My pal Elizabeth Parsons (right) and some of her brethren and sistren are putting together something called a BridgeWalk initiative, sponsored by S.T.A.R. (Spirit of Arts and Tolerance in the Region), Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m.

Elizabeth says, “It's an interdenominational, inter-faith walk, starting at the O. Winston Link Museum, that crosses bridges and railroad tracks--once the divisive symbols between black and white in Roanoke. The significance is that through this shared experience, we can transform these symbols into ones of commUNITY and common purpose. I think it is a beautiful idea for an event and expresses well what S.T.A.R. is all about.”

There will be an organizing session leading up to the walk Monday, Feb. 15, 5:30 p.m. at Kirk Avenue Music Hall. Everybody is invited to the walk and the planning session.

Global Warming Is Over, Part Deux

When somebody says global warming ain't so, take this advice (right).>

Somebody is going to have to define "weather" and "climate" for the lovely people who are insisting that because we've had some snow this winter, global warming must either be over or all those scientists were wrong in the first place. A story in the NYTimes this a.m. (here) tells us that the anti camp is newly armed with strong evidence that there is no warming because we have gobs of snow in the East. The Virginia Republican Party has been all over this with a YouTube posting (here) for days now.

As The Times points out, however, "Most climate scientists respond that the ferocious storms are consistent with forecasts that a heating planet will produce more frequent and more intense weather events ... independent climate experts say the blizzards in the Northeast no more prove that the planet is cooling than the lack of snow in Vancouver or the downpours in Southern California prove that it is warming." The "most" in this case is a newspaper "most" like the newspaper "some critics say," which implies that somebody, sometime, somewhere might have made a stupid claim, so we'd better cover our butt with a disclaimer.

Your Government at Work: One Company, One Bill

House Speaker Bill Howell (right) wants protection for one company.>

The Washington Post has a story this morning (here) that tells you just about everything you need to know about abuse of power in the Virginia General Assembly and one of the prime players is Salem Del. and drunk driving lawyer Morgan Griffith. Another of those pushing for a bill to benefit a single company fearing lawsuits over asbestos is Del. David Albo of Fairfax, Griffith's law partner.

Basically, Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell has been trying to ram through a bill for some time and has gone to great lobbying and manipulating lengths to get it done. He has even changed the makeup of one committee to get a favorable result in his attempts to help Crown Cork & Seal, which has 300 Virginia employees, but is based in Philadelphia. The bill would limit the company's liability in lawsuits and it would affect no other company in Virginia--or anywhere else. That simply isn't done. But it may be if Howell twists enough arms and then can persuade the Senate to comply (which is doubtful). Crown Cork & Seal has contributed $8,000 to Howell's PAC in the past two years.

Read the story. Start your day off right, understanding how your government works.

Monday, February 8, 2010

'Ashville': Bringing Real to Downtown Roanoke

Lucy Thurber (from left), Todd Ristau and Paul Mashejan at the post-play discussion and Todd and Lucy (right) outside the theater.^

Lucy Thurber and Paul Mashejan, a couple of the fancy-schmantzy, big-city theater people Todd Ristau and Kenley Smith like to bring in and show off at Studio Roanoke, was making a point after Lucy's play, "Ashville," had finished its performance less than an hour ago.

It was a point that Roanoke and small communities like it need to hear: Don't let fancy-schmantzy, big-city people and plays take your mind off what you're doing. It's not about showing off; it's about developing theater and the arts; it's about growing your own. Lucy said that and Paul underscored it. They've both seen what happens when that dynamic doesn't occur and Todd, who directed Lucy's play for the Roanoke audience, agreed enthsiastically. He kept saying, in effect, "It's not about the money."

It is a simple matter of knowing what you are and being that, they strongly agreed.

It was a lesson the Grandin Theatre board of directors should have been there to hear. It is a philosophy that could solve some of the problems they've created for themselves by depending on the things they shouldn't depend on, like big, Hollywood movies--in an art house. But that's another argument for another day.

Lucy's play was another matter altogether: a fine piece of very difficult writing, presented by a talented, local group of people--most inexperienced, all solid--and appreciated by a small, eager audience. I got the feeling that a little hum ran throughout asking, "Where in the hell has this type of theater been? Certainly not here."

Even when Mill Mountain Theatre's "B" stage was going full tilt, it was not this experimental, this raw. Lucy's play was as basic as early Elvis and she had to talk about it for a while to convince me that it was about love. But, indeed, it was. Not so much the love I see in my neighborhood, but the love that's in evidence, as Lucy said, "among the people I grew up with." And, yeh, I've known a few of them, too: rough, vulgar, needy, violent, addicted to far too many things. Not so much "The Sound of Music" that you'd have seen at MMT.

My thought is that the entire mass of people who will be interested in going to studio Roanoke in the near--or far--future probably does not exceed 500 and I'd be surprised, frankly, if it's anywhere near that big.

This play will run for the rest of the week and I strongly urge you to see it in order to get an idea of just what real theater--experimental, exciting, creative theater--can be in a small room with a small crowd, a small stage and some big talent.

You can get tickets ($15 for most, less for old farts like me and kids) at 540-343-3054. I will warn you that if you're sensitive to harsh language, drugs and sex, stay home and watch TV. No! Wait! Not that. Just go to bed.

City: Clear Your Sidewalks, Or Else!

A well shoveled sidewalk, for example, looks like the one in front of ... uh-hum ... my house.^

OK, boys and girls, the time for gold-bricking is over. Get out the snow shovel and hop to it, right now!

Roanoke city officials have sent out a reminder that you can either clean up your sidewalks (the ones in front of your house and your business) or you will be cited for it (Article I, Section 30-16 if you're quoting code). That means you can be fined. There was no word about death penalty applications, however. Here's the release:

"Given recent snowstorms and the threat of others in the near future, the city is more aggressively identifying, and is prepared to cite, property owners who do not comply with this ordinance. Code Enforcement staff will be out today providing reminder notices to businesses and residents who have not yet shoveled the sidewalks adjoining their property.

"In accordance with the City Code, if sidewalks adjoining a residence or business are not cleared of snow or ice, the city may cite the property owner. If there is no tenant or occupant of the property and the owner or agent cannot be found, the city may have the sidewalk cleaned at the expense of the owner, with an additional 20 percent penalty.

"Sidewalks covered by ice and snow can create treacherous conditions for pedestrians. Area schools often delay reopening after a snowfall because sidewalks are unsuitable for children to walk to school. In addition, slippery sidewalks are a danger to citizens who rely on public transportation as they walk to catch the bus.

"The city asks residents and business owners to be mindful of the requirements of the City Code and respect the safety of all citizens. The most effective way to restore safety to sidewalks after a snow or ice storm is for everyone to do their part in clearing them."

Don't say you haven't been warned. (If you're old, sick or just too damn lazy to do it, call somebody at the city and see if you can get an exemption. The first two probably can. The other guy will just have to lie.)

Snow Means End to Global Warming--GOP

I see where the Republican Party of Virginia has declared that because we had a snow storm this past weekend, global warming is over (here). Will these bozos ever understand that this is serious and that it is life-threatening? And that it is real.

It is also here to stay, and getting worse every day, if we don't do something about it now. Like vote the damn Repubs all the back to the rock they crawled out from. Just unreal.

A Hearty Welcome to Gwen Mason

The selection today of popular Roanoke City Council member Gwen Mason as director of the Clean Valley Council is an inspired choice and one that will serve the region in a way that her predecessor, the beloved Ann Masters, did for years.

Gwen is an enthusiastic environmentalist and has unapologetically pursued that philosophy for years. During a lot of that time, the very term was not always endearing--especially to the business community. Ann helped turn that dynamic around in the Roanoke Valley and the kind of pragmatic approach she used to lure businesses to her side ("It's about the bottom line, stupid!") will likely be Gwen's approach, as well, if I know her--and I think I do.

Gwen is enough of a seasoned politician (she's been on council for a while now and just this past fall lost a hard-fought election for a seat in the Virginia General Assembly) to be tough, thick-skinned and determined to do what she thinks is right. All of that is good for the Roanoke Valley in her new position.

I welcome her and her keen mind, enthusiasm, sense of humor (something she shares with Ann) and her creativity to an important position. Ann Masters would have approved and I don't think you can get a much higher endorsement than that for this job.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Boucher Among Obama's Super Bowl Guests

You might have noted that Ninth District Congressman Rick Boucher is a guest at the White House for today's Super Bowl.

Boucher is a Democrat whose district runs from Abingdon to Roanoke County and he's a former jock (even if he looks more like Mr. Peepers than Julius Peppers*), though his sport was basketball.

He joins seven other members of Congress (one a Republican, one a woman and one--Chris Dodd--you are likely to have heard of) as guests. There are nine other guests (four of them women) and one would assume spouses or significant others for all.

Boucher's basketball was played at Abingdon High School (class of 1964, same high school class as me; he's one day younger than I, born August 1, 1946). Boucher, a former Wall Street lawyer and state senator, is a graduate of Roanoke College and the UVa law school and has been in the House of Representatives since 1983.

* Carolina Panthers defensive end for the non-fan.

It's a WHAT symbol? Ooooooooooh

I'm not going to get into a lot of speculating about where this snow ... thing came from, but I can guess. My wife (who ran into the football room yelling, "Come outside! You gotta see this!") calls it a "snowpenis" and it's right across the street from our house. You can't walk out the front door without seeing it and speculating about it. Nice conversation piece, I guess, but when I see the neighbors again, I'll be wondering what they've been doing.

UPDATE: We just got home from a movie (4:30 p.m.) not at the Grandin Theatre and the snow thingy was gone. Couldn't tell if it was knocked down or simply ceased to be aroused.