Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roanoke's My Radio Featured in Big Movie

My Radio (from left): Jeff Hoffman, J.P. Powell, Brett Lemon, Hunter Johnson.^

Roanoke band My Radio is suddenly one of the toasts of the music world and we're going to have to wait a bit see if this is 15 Minutes of Fame or PermaFame. We should know soon enough.

The band--comprised of J.P. Powell (transplanted here from Boston with his his symphony violinist wife, Shaleen), Jeff Hoffman, Brett Lemon and Hunter Johnson--is a featured group on MTV's music page (here) this week and has a prominent musical role in the new movie "Meet the Joneses" with Demi Moore and David Duchovny (the trailer is here with the song, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah," playing in the last two minutes).

This is all designed as part of a marketing plan that is both newly conventional and ahead of the business, says Powell.

My Radio has worked as a group with this very moment in mind. Everything it has done--writing, arranging, performing, marketing--has been designed "to parlay the momentum we're building" into a career centered on making music, not just making money.

"When I met Hunter (two years ago) after moving down here from Boston," says J.P., "we decided that if we were going to make music, it was going to be different from the way we had done it in the past. Our first goal was to find other like-minded misicians and put together a band. Then we'd write great songs [J.P. writing most of them], record them the best way possible" and get them to the public. That was the function of the Internet Age, he says, because it "makes the world smaller--and more confusing." Getting "above the noise" was a goal and finding a company to help was a major step in that.

Micah Wilshires "is the common link for us in recording" songs at three studios in North Carolina and two in Charlottesville, says Powell. He "helped shape the sound" and when it was ready, "We targeted Ocean Park Music in California" to push it. "They loved it," he says.

My Radio is the only completely independent group represented by Ocean Park, says Powell. Using a "placement company" is "becoming a trend," Powell says and the exposure has been good in a number of ways, especially in driving people to the band's Web site (here) where you can buy records. The movie, says Powell, is also quite lucrative.

Powell is philosophical about the movie: "We have no control over how the movie does," he says, "but we understand that this is our moment and we have to take full advantage of it. This week, we're featured on the 'Needle in a Haystack' portion of MTV's music Web site and that's a big deal.

"If all this pulls together the way we thing, we'll have enough money to make another record and, for us, that's what it's about."

With all this swirling about, Hunter and J.P. are opening a bar downtown in Roanoke. It's called Lucky. "That fits what's been happening lately," say J.P.

Teabonics: A Sign of the Times

We're all for making English the national language, no excetions.

What real American wouldn't oppose amensty?^

Being opposed to socialism doesn't require being able to spell it.

It's called "Teabonics" and it's sweeping the political landscape. Tea Party members are doing a stealth attack on English and the political system at the same time in an attempt to make the public underestimate their linguistic acumen.

Take a look at the whole list of examples of that stealth attack at Tea Party events where the message is hidden beneath spelling and grammar that, well, wouldn't get you out of third grade. It's here and it's coming after you in your sleep.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Warner To Help Kirk Ave. Music Hall Celebrate 2nd

One of the most innovative organizations to be born in the Roanoke Valley in the last 25 years is the Kirk Ave. Music Hall. The hall—and its founder, Ed Walker—will have its second annual Gathering of the Tribes April 5 at 5 p.m. and Sen. Mark Warner (right) will be the special guest. Let’s let Ed tell you about it:

“Last year was a blast and we hope you can come - free food and cash bar benefiting the Music Lab at Jefferson Center. Senator Mark Warner, who is very excited about Roanoke's continued renaissance, is attending and will speak and hang out. He's always been a great friend to Roanoke, and he cares about our efforts to make Roanoke and this region stronger.

"We also have some cool surprises lined up. So here are the details:

"What: An event to celebrate last year's progress in the music scene, to recognize some of the great achievers, and to continue to pursue the idea that Roanoke is Virginia's Music City and one of the U.S.'s more dynamic small cities. A small number of music awards will be presented, we'll celebrate some of the especially exciting recent career developments for My Radio.

"Who's Coming: Roanoke's creative community generally and especially its music community. If you care about making Roanoke a stronger, smarter and more vibrant city, we hope you will come. This is a family reunion of sorts to improve connectivity among some of the region's most significant change agents. If you know a musician, manager, venue owner, agent, educator, studio owner, sound engineer, music retailer, etc we want as many folks in the creative family to come as possible.

"Free food will be available from Mark Baldwin's Blue Ridge Catering as well as from Jeff Farmer and the guys at Lucky, who will be opening their new restaurant on Kirk Ave. in a couple of months.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Look Inside the Health Care Ruckus

NYTimes Columnist Frank Rich's take on health care legislation rage (which he insists has almost nothing to do with the legislation) is an opinion well worth your time this a.m. It offers a sober look at the people who are drawing a bead with their 30-30s on the process and those who oppose their views of what America should look like (them). It's here.

Go Vols: A Brief History of the NCAA Tournament

Tennessee (orange) and Michigan State know defense wins championships.

Today is probably--highly likely--the first time in my life that I've anticipated a basketball game this late in March. My Tennessee Volunteers play Michigan State at 2:30 or so in the NCAA Mideast Regional final, a first for the Vols. On the opposition side, Michigan State has been to the Final 4 five times in 11 years and nobody who has played for Coach Tom Izzo for four years in East Lansing has failed to go to the F4.

As different as these programs' histories are, the teams are actually quite similar: metal lunchbox players without real stars (since MSU lost its point guard and UT lost its best forward) who play great defense and rebound well. The teams are defined by intensity, toughness and will, not flash and trash (think Kentucky, which is no longer playing).

The Knoxville press talks--perhaps rhetorically, but certainly without any real sense of the history of the NCAA tournament--about UT going farther in the field than it has in 101 years. The tournament didn't begin until 1939, which is 71 years ago. Before that, we had the National Invitational Tournament in New York and Kansas Coach Phog Allen thought that wasn't good enough, so he and the coaches association spearheaded the NCAA tournament.

Here's what's happened to the field since (according to Wikipedia):

"The NCAA tournament has expanded a number of times throughout its history. This is a breakdown of the history of the tournament format:

1939–1950: eight teams;

16 teams;

varied between 22 and 25 teams;

32 teams;

40 teams;

48 teams;

52 teams (four play-in games before the tournament);

53 teams (five play-in games before the tournament);

64 teams;

65 teams (with an opening round game to determine whether the 64th or 65th team plays in the first round).

"To date there has been much speculation about increasing the tournament size to as many as 128 teams [Note: Oh, God! No! Please, no!]. However, there have been no formal talks of doing so, and many consider the current format a huge success. Prior to 1975, only one team per conference could be in the NCAA tournament."

I recall the limited field in 1974 having a direct effect on one major college's conference affiliation: The University of South Carolina under Frank McGuire had the best team in the U.S. and was undefeated until N.C. State knocked it off in the ACC tournament. Only the tournament champion was invited to the NCAA (as was the norm nationally for the few conferences that had tournaments) and that was State, which promptly lost. South Carolina, furious, pulled out of the ACC and eventually joined the SEC (with Tennessee).

I will mention--as a tiny historic footnote--that Eddie Biedenbach (coach at UNC Asheville, where I matriculated for about an hour) was a key player in that N.C. State win, stealing the ball near the end of the game from guard John Roach and scoring on an important layup. In the process of the steal, Biedenbach broke Roach's wrist, but no foul was called. It was little wonder McGuire was in such a, uh, foul mood. UNCA, which is in the Big South Conference with Radford and Liberty, is the only team from that league ever to win an NCAA tournament game: it won a play-in a few years ago because of the 65-team format.

So, today, we consider history and pull for the Vols to be the first team in 71 or 101 years on Cumberland Ave. to reach the Final Four where--because of the upsets that have eliminated three of the four No. 1 seeds and most of the 2s, as well, they have as good a chance as anybody of being the champion. Who'd-a thunk that a week ago?

(Knoxville News-Sentinel photo.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

He Who Writes (and Edits) Has Rights, Too

My good friend and colleague Darrell Laurant (right), longtime columnist for the Lynchburg News & Advance and the director of The Writers' Bridge, wrote the following as a blog entry at ( The Bridge is an international community of freelance writers whose reason for existence is not just to market and sell the work of our members (although that's certainly a priority), but also to do its part to change the very culture of freelance writing.

"We think [the culture]needs changing," says Darrell. "In many ways, the relationship between editors and writers has always bordered on the adversarial. True, both groups have very specific concerns, rights and needs, but many of those are shared. A published article is really a collaboration, and needs to be seen that way throughout the process.

"That's the way TWB wants to operate. At the moment, we have over 100 members representing more than 30 American states and a dozen other countries. Any of them are welcome to post their opinions, personal stories and writing in this space.

"For openers, I'd like to offer these suggestions for making life easier for both editors and freelancers. Call it a Bill of Rights." Here is Darrell's bill:


1. Editors have the right to article pitches that reflect at least some knowledge of their magazine or Website.It is unrealistic to expect writers -- who are, in most cases, equally busy people -- to plow through years of back issues. It is, however, reasonable to presume that they have some sense of the subject, scope and tone of a publication, as well as what has been printed in recent issues. They should also have thoroughly read whatever writers' guidelines might be available.

2. Editors have the right to enough information in queries for them to make a decision.How is this a story that will fit this particular market? Who is this writer, and what are his or her credentials?

3. Editors have the right to establish their own rules for queries.If a market requires that queries be snail mailed, then that's how you should do it. The only exception might be a story with an extremely short shelf life -- if, for instance, a writer wants to know if an editor would like him or her to cover a breaking event.

4. Editors have the right to ask for stories on speculation. If they've never worked with you before, they have no idea what you're going to send them. Even published clips don't always help, because they may have been heavily edited. Spec status should be made clear at the time the article is requested, however.

5. Editors have the right to receive the article for which they contracted.Any significant changes in subject or tone should be worked out during the writing process.

6. Editors have the right to receive material that is reasonably free of grammatical or spelling errors. If you can't spell, find someone who can to go over your manuscript.

7. Editors have the right to set deadlines, and to have those deadlines met. (But see No. 3 below). In the case of magazine editors, they also have the right to have their requests for story lengths met, since they are often trying to fill a specific hole in their layout.

8. Editors have the right to communication from their writers. If you're having trouble meeting a deadline or finding a source, by all means contact the editor with whom you're working and let them know in advance. On the other hand, they also have the right not to be pestered as to whether a particular idea has been accepted or is being considered. If possible, respect their stated window of response time.

9. Editors have the right to check your facts. They'll be the ones left holding the bag if you get something wrong.


1. Freelancers have the right to shop their ideas around, just as they would to sell a car or a house. Markets that say "No simultaneous submissions" are simply being unrealistic -- in the time it takes a writer to hear from one editor, a story may have grown stale and unsellable. For their part, writers should be honest about this -- trying to sell the same story to two similar markets who each think they're getting an "exclusive" is highly unethical.

2. Freelancers have the right to a reasonably quick response to queries. Magazines and Websites are often understaffed these days, it's true. But if a query is obviously off the mark, it shouldn't take long to hit the return button on an e-mail and say: "Thanks. Not for us." Or to write the same comment on a snail mail query and drop it back into the SASE. If an editor is considering a pitch, it would also be nice to let the writer know, and how long that decision might take.

3. Freelancers have the right to reasonable deadlines. Editors should be organized enough to plan ahead and not have to ask that stories be done on rush order. That benefits neither party.

4. Just like editors, freelancers have the right to communication. The editor should be clear about what he or she wants in a story before the fact.

5. Freelancers have the right to be paid as advertised. It's a lot to ask to begin with to expect a writer to wait until publication, rather than upon acceptance, to receive a check. But if that's what's been agreed on, renumeration should be prompt. A house or car payment might depend upon it.

6. Freelancers have the right to be informed in advance if their work is going to be used in any other manner than what has been agreed upon.

7. Freelancers have the right to request a signed contract -- even a contingency contract for stories on spec.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another Winner at Studio Roanoke

Adam Hahn's "Dear Abe," which runs through Sunday at Studio Roanoke, is the very definition of what the little independent theater represents to a city that has lost its professional theater, but it is a good bit more than that, too.

This is smart, creative, risky, edgy theater that Mill Mountain Theatre, the lost-for-now staple for many years, would would have been unlikely to produce. It's written by a student (Hahn is working on his MFA at Hollins) who grew up in improv ("No Shame Theatre" at its roots) and it mixes serious drama with eyebrow-raising comedy in a story that plays at the edges of the absurd until it ties into a tight knot real human drama.

Basically, this is a piece centered on two brothers, whose cynical, closet-Jew, wealthy, advice columnist dad (Abe) has died and left them his property, split with just enough of an unfair division to create intense and permanent friction. The story is moved along with the reading of letters to "Dear Abe" and the sons' answers. (My wife Christina and I are among the off-stage, recorded readers and neither of us had a clue how what we were reading fit.)

The play is superbly directed by Joe Banno and the acting--Hahn as one brother, Caitlin Ann Morgan as his wife and Drew Dowdy as the other brother--is solid.

Studio Roanoke, with a succession of first-rank new and finely-crafted plays, continues to give our little city a voice in this artform.

A Little More Background on the RRHA Dispute

There's an enlightening piece on the op-ed page of a Roanoke daily this a.m. (here) that gives a good bit of insight into the rationale behind the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority's decision to condemn property that sits near the center of the extensive medical facility development along Reserve Ave.. It has been such a hot-button issue for several years.

RRHA Chairman Daniel Karnes insists, essentially, that the organization did what it was pushed into doing and that it pursued condemnation ("an action that should be and has been used rarely by RRHA") as a last resort. He further stresses that RRHA is "mindful of the fact that funds provided by the city for acquisition of property in the redevelopment area are taxpayer dollars ... [which is why] RRHA cannot simply agree to pay a landowner's asking price, when that price far exceeds the appraised value of the property."

RRHA has made two different offers for the disputed property: $1.25 million in 2006 and $1.53 million in 2008, Karnes says, but those offers--on property that cost its owners $168,840 in 1999 and was developed)--were rejected. RRHA offered to reassess the property after the initial bid, says Karnes, but "the landowner refused to grant [the assessor] access to the property."

It is a complex situation involving good people with honorable intentions on both sides, but like so much in American life these days, it has devolved into a mud wrestling match where the facts are covered with a thick layer of brown sticky. Karnes says "media reports have been incomplete or inaccurate," which just about anybody following this would agree to be the case.

If you read Karnes' entire piece, you will also note that the word "Carilion" does not appear. If you find that strange, maybe you'd better read it again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Update on the Wasena Park Bridge

Here's an update in pictures on the new low-water bridge at Wasena Park. It looks a lot lower in real life than it did on the drawings I saw earlier and I'm wondering how a canoe with somebody in it might maneuver beneath this bridge. If that somebody was an ample me (above), we'd portage.

Anyhow, Liz Belcher, the doyenne of the Roanoke Valley Greenway, on which this bridge rests, says it'll be May before it's ready to cross on your bikes or your feet--or even your car.

One thing I'll give the builders: this looks quite a bit more substantial than what it's replacing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You Want Mulch? I'll Give You Mulch

I'm a sucker for good lawn working stuff, but this is ridiculous. That hose the guy is using in this photo is spraying MULCH from the truck in the background! The guys work for Creative Nursery and Landscaping, which has my undying affection after seeing this over at the Hotel Roanoke.

Man, I want one. Bad.

OK, Lefties, Here's a Rant Worthy of the Repubs

My pal Kurt Navratil introduced me to James Howard Kunstler a while back when Kunstler (right) spoke at Hollins University. Kunstler's an author, planner and left-leaning mouth whose vitriolic rhetoric is worthy of his own talk show, should he believe such a disgraceful profession worthy of his considerable intellect. Which, fortunately, he doesn't.

Kunstler writes a blog titled "Clusterfuck Nation" and even if that's a little south of good taste, it's simply a wonderful example of vent-ology with the unencumbered virtuosity only a skilled debater with a bit of the brawling Moroccan Goumiere on leave in him. His latest example (here) will have liberals standing and cheering, Republicans whining to mama about how unfair it all is. (You will note that I am differentiating these days from "conservative" and "Republican" because they aren't synonymous. The Republican rogues are no longer safely conservative and genuine conservatives are rarely as base as the Repubs.)

Kunstler, whose several books on planning (The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, among them), to far oversimplify their messages, are almost biblical in some circles, gets right down to cases in his latest essay with this observation: "The most striking elements of so-called health care in America these days is how cruel and unjust it is, and in taking a stand against reforming it the Republican party appeared to be firmly in support of cruelty and injustice. This would be well within the historical tradition of other religious crusades which turned political -- such as the Spanish Inquisition and the seventeenth century war against witchcraft. Whatever else the Democratic party has stood for in recent history, it has tended to oppose institutional cruelty and injustice, and notice that it has also been the party for keeping religion out of government."

And he's not finished ... hell, he's just getting started. He proclaims the Repubs "enemies of every generous impulse in the national character." Because they refuse to govern, but choose only to obstruct with no alternative plan, "Republicans gravitate toward superstition and the traditional devices of improvident religious authorities -- persecution of the weak, torture, denial of due process, and dogmas designed to spread hatred."

There's a good bit more and I urge anybody feeling put upon by the Limbaughs, Becks, Hannitys, Coulters, et. al., to take a little break from those sociopaths and enjoy one of our own--a man just as disagreeable on these topics as the aforementioned cretins, but one who shares the basic philosophy that we need to be good to each other. There's a difference between him and them that defines the chasm between Dems and Repubs (neither of which am I, by the way).

And, just in case you don't have it yet, here it is in a half a paragraph: "... the Republican opposition ... is ... a gang of hypocritical, pietistic sadists, seeking pleasure in the suffering of others while pretending to be Christians, devoid of sympathy, empathy, or any inclination to simple human kindness, constant breakers of the Golden Rule, enemies of the common good. In fact, the current edition of the Republican party has achieved something really memorable in the annals of collective bad intentions: they have managed to create a sense of the public interest whose main goal is the destruction of the public interest."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ashley Maynor's New Documentary Showing in Blacksburg

Virginia Tech film professor Ashley Maynor's (above) half-hour documentory "For Memory's Sake" plays Saturday (March 27) at 3 p.m. and the following Monday at 7 p.m. at Blacksburg's Lyric Theatre and I want you to be there. Ashley and her husband/producer Paul Harrill are the First Couple of Film in this region. Paul won a Perry F. Kendig Award (Arts Council's prestigious award) last year and they are both quite talented.

Director Ashley's short film "investigates the life and work of Angela Singer, a Southern homemaker who has taken an average of a dozen photos a day for the last 35 years, compiling a mysterious and strange archive of over 150,000 photographs of her daily life."

The movie is free, but it's not for kids. The content would be a bit challenging for them.

You can take a look at the trailer for the documentary here.

A Short, Sincere Prayer for Alan Frumin

Get ready to know a lot about Alan Frumin (right), the Senate Parliamentarian and the guy who pretty much has the health care bill in his obsessive-compulsive control.

The NYTimes says of 63-year-old Frumin, "His rulings on arcane procedural questions may determine whether President Obama winds up signing a health care overhaul or whether the administration’s signature policy initiative collapses." He has been described as "scrupulously non-partisan," which, in this case, may be a bad deal for the Democrats who sent their health care bill to the Senate yesterday with no Republican support.

The bill must pass the Senate without tinkering or be sent back to the House for another vote. That's where Frumin comes in. He can rule that the Repubs are being frivolous with their attempts to amend the bill or he can allow the amendments, thus requiring a re-vote. Here's a short-ish film about what has to go on before we have a real law.

He began learning the job (working closely with Majority Leader Tom Daschle) in 1974 and was appointed to the top job by Democrats in 1987, relieved by Republicans in 1995 and appointed again in 2001 by the Dems. The job is non-partisan; appointment to it is not.

Laurie Kellman, writing in Huffingtonpost, says, "Frumin's outsized influence over health care stems from the fact that he's one of only a few people who fully understands the rule that will govern its progress on the Senate floor. But technically, he's only an adviser to majority Democrats."

It is disturbing that the Senate's rules are so complex that a referee is required, but that's one of the reasons our government is tied in knots these days.

Let's all say a little prayer for Alan Frumin today--to whomever might be listening. He's going to need it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

'Ghost Writer' Fully Adult, Fully Entertaining

"Ghost Writer" is an adult movie that makes you appreciate being an adult. It is complex, challenging, sophisticated and thoroughly enjoyable. Ewan McGregor, as a man hired to ghost write an antobiography for a disgraced former prime minister of England, is superb in the title role and he spends so much time on screen--in virtually every scene--that you wonder how he catches his breath.

McGregor gets solid support from Pierce Brosnan (as the ex-PM), Kim Cattrall (as the PM's mistress), Olivia Williams (the active PM's wife, who finds time for a little activity of her own) and Tom Wilkinson as a shadowy government spook.

Roman Polanski's movie revolves around McGregor's efforts to write the book, while running into some mysterious information about his predecessor's death. The PM is obviously loosely based--and this is very loosely based--on Tony Blair during the Bush Administration (with all that Chaney intrigue and the accusation that Blair was a Bush dupe). A Condoleezza Rice figure makes a brief--and somewhat amusing--appearance (you're not hiding anything from us, boys).

It is a serious movie, interrupted occasionally by some truly funny dialogue. Of course, the CIA the bad guy and my wife observed that it has been used in that role for so long that she's a little tired of hating the CIA and maybe a new bad guy would work better. Anyhow, that's what we got and I didn't have a problem with it. A Bush CIA working to advance a totalitarian regime is believable to me.

I liked the movie, especially a twisty end that bumps and grinds to an almost totally unexpected finish. (Let me add one little caveat to the enjoyment profile here: If you have trouble with the British version of our shared language (or the inevitable mumbling in some of these productions), you might want to take a translator. I wish to goodness the makers of these movies would understand that some of us don't speak fluent Brit and we need subtitles. This movie needs subtitles.)

More Evidence of Fast Food's Value to Humanity

Mmmmmm. Smells like a good day for a fast food burger. Right? Uh, maybe we'd better re-consider after reading this:

"If you’re in the beef business, what do you do with all the extra cow parts and trimmings that have traditionally been sold off for use in pet food? You scrape them together into a pink mass, inject them with a chemical to kill the e.coli, and sell them to fast food restaurants to make into hamburgers. That’s what’s been happening all across the USA with beef sold to McDonald’s, Burger King, school lunches and other fast food restaurants, according to a New York Times article. The beef is injected with ammonia, a chemical commonly used in glass cleaning and window cleaning products. This is all fine with the USDA, which endorses the procedure as a way to make the hamburger beef 'safe' enough to eat. Ammonia kills e.coli, you see, and the USDA doesn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that people are eating ammonia in their hamburgers."

You can read the whole thing--if your stomach can handle it--here.

Is There Any Lasting Value in Journalism Awards?

The managing editor of a Roanoke daily newspaper, Michael Stowe, has a column this a.m. (here) talking about all the awards his paper won at last week's Virginia Press Association contest and how ... well, shucks ... it's not really about the awards; it's about serving you wonderful people.

This is one of those column types that ranks up there in the annals of clichedom with "It's that time of year again ..." and "Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains ...". It is worn out, but unlike most cliches, it doesn't have that strong ring of truth. Competitions among news people, in my opinion, represent the seamy side of the industry and I, for one, don't want to have anything to do with them. I won a number of VPA awards in the past, but that was years ago, before the dark underbelly of cheating and a warped sense of professional values intruded.

Consider this: The VPA yesterday handed out 771 awards and had 3,140 entries. That's seven hundred seventy-one awards! In one night. Of all those, the one that resonates with any lasting credibility, I think, is for integrity and community service. One of those three--based on size--was for my pal Anne Adams' Monterey Recorder up in Highland County and I can vouch for Anne deserving recognition on an annual basis for her morality. I can also vouch for the fact that Anne does it her way.

Stowe makes his case thusly: "Our biggest reward and the goal of our newsroom is reporting stories that resonate and make a difference in this community. In other words, we shouldn't pursue a story because we think it may win a contest ... We believe that the newsroom benefits--by increasing credibility with readers and sources and boosting employee morale--when the quality of our work is recognized outside the community. And readers gain, too, because the competitions push us to constantly improve our journalism and make sure it holds up against our industry peers."

It would seem to me that each publication needs to be its own judge, using its own measures to "make sure it holds up," not so much against other pubs, but against its own values. I don't like rigid uniformity in my profession because it inhibits innovation and keeps journalism boxed in a system of values and standards created for another age. I don't want journalists from West Virginia or Pennsylvania (judges are generally from other states) telling me if my work is good or bad, because I should determine that based on the goals of my publication. When you standardize, you get a sameness that is great in Holiday Inns, lousy in publications.

Stowe makes a point that his paper won "more than two dozen awards" in the contest, putting a premium on numbers, but didn't tell you it didn't win any of the most important awards: Mims for editorial leadership in the community or the valued public service award. Its "two dozen" awards didn't win the sweepstakes category, best in show or (for its various properties) any of the specialty awards.

Granted, some good work was recognized, but did any of the winners learn anything about their work that they either didn't know or find valuable? I doubt it. My own experience in this would underscore that feeling.

Nearly 20 years ago, when I was at the Blue Ridge Business Journal and we were still entering contests, we drew a blank from the VPA because, an official told me, our tabloid size threw off the judges and they "didn't quite know how to judge you." Lordgodawmighty! What the hell would those judges think of a 6"X10" glossy magazine like Valley Business FRONT? The very next year another judge said, in effect, that the BJ had hung the moon. Our size, stories, design and intent were essentially the same as the year before, but this judge thought we were "innovative, creative and far ahead of the field ... blah, blah, blah."

Who were we to believe? How about ourselves? We'd agreed with the second judge all along and our readers tended to agree with him, too, based on our feedback from the people who read us with an almost religious fervor. But that wasn't the point. We found ourselves feeling put out by an issue of absolutely no value. With or without those awards, we knew who we were and were happy with it. Based on what we saw as a daily newspaper bias, a couple of cheating scandals, strong disagreement with the organization's self-interested political stances (and one VPA internal issue we won't get into), we decided it would be in our best interest to vacate the VPA.

Stowe says that staff morale is a benefit of contests. I would suggest that if a publication doesn't have strong morale because it values its people and treats them with dignity and respect, a few VPA awards aren't going to do it for them. Frankly, I think that line of reasoning is a form of bullshit that helps managers avoid the hard part of their job: managing with sense of the value of the individual.

Newspapers are a dying breed engaged in their final bleats and pleas of self-importance so thoroughly characterized by telling you how many awards they won last week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'Dear Abe' Features Your Favorite Editor ... Sort Of

OK, now you really have to go. My lovely wife and I are … well, I guess you could say “acting” in the upcoming Studio Roanoke production of “Dear Abe.”

This is a new play by Adam Hahn, directed by Joe Banno. The scene is thus: Abe Mann, the author of a widely syndicated advice column, has died. His two sons have inherited their father’s resort hotel on a tropical island and are forced by circumstance to come to terms with life, loss, and the meaning of humanity.

Somewhere within this plot, somebody is reading some of Abe’s letters or columns or something (we haven't received our script yet) and Christina and I are among those doing the reading. You won’t see us, but you’ll hear us, kinda like Jeff Bridges doing a Lexus commercial only without the car.

“Dear Abe” runs March 23-28 at 8 p.m. (with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.). Admission is $15 ($12 for seniors and students; $5,000 for children.*)

The Web site is here. You can call the studio at 540-343-3054.

(* This is hypothetical, should anybody be dumb enough to try to sneak a kid in.)

And a Happy St. Paddy's Day to Ye All

And it's a top o' the mornin' to ye on this lovely, warm spring St. Paddy's Day. I'm covering my Protestant and Catholic tail with the wearin' o' the orange and the green this day. As me lovely wife and I strolled the market of the town, we were entertained by Irish dancin' girls Beth O'Deel (left, above) and Wendy O'Schuyler of the Water Heater and their hired man, a bagpiper. And a lovely day it is for us all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keeping Our Churches Warm--Affordably

My pal Mary Bishop sent the following information to me tonight about a problem churches in the Roanoke Valley have been having this winter with high electric bills. Her group, the Cool Cities Coalition, is coming to the rescue, after a fashion, with a seminar on how to get those under control. Let's let Mary tell it:

"High ceilings, large windows and spacious facilities heated, cooled and lighted even when not in use mean that religious buildings are often big users of electricity. This winter, some local churches paid $3,500 or more per month for electricity. To help congregations as well as the environment, Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition is sponsoring a free forum to help faith groups explore ways they can reduce electricity use.

"Led by Cool Cities Chairwoman Diana Christopulos, panelists from several congregations will explain how they reduced energy waste in their buildings. Participants will learn how to analyze their electric bills and begin formulating a plan for reducing energy use. The free workshop, open to lay people and clergy of all faiths, will be held Tuesday, April 27, 7:30-10 a.m. at the Natural Science Center, off Winding Way Road at Virginia Western Community College. The Natural Science Center is next to the college greenhouse on the western edge of campus.

"Coffee and bagels, provided by co-sponsor Breakell Inc., will be available at 7:30 a.m. The program begins at 8 a.m."

A Class Before Dying

That's me at the top right pretending to know what the hell I'm talking about.^

This is the studious class (from left, front): Raquel Roth, Bettina Mason, Alice Duehl, Susan Ayers and Millie Willis; (rear) Misty Sweet, Jim Morrison, Betty Aliff, Beth Ross and Ann McCollum.

Raquel, Jim, Bettina and Alice hard at it.^

This is Raquel writing her story (above) and Susan assuming the traditional student slouch (below right).^

The "voice" in The Big Read was quite a production tonight at the Blue Ridge Library and we had a dang good time listening, reading and writing our own work.

At issue was Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying and how voice was used to convey the message--hope, defeat, manipulation, selfishness, cowardice; you pick it. Interesting discussion.

The group was 10 strong and I found a couple of potential talents among them, along with some people who picked up what we were talking about and, I think, will benefit from it in their future writing. I enjoyed the class and I think they did, too.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Get Your Fund-Raising Hands Off 'Antiques Roadshow'! Dammit!

As one who's been bitching for years that Blue Ridge Public Television's fund-raising interrupts "Antiques Roadshow" with programming that would insult an idiot (the music is so lowbrow that it hits the jaw), I was interested tonight to see that one of the few TV shows I watch has been incorporated. I was a little nervous at the prospect. I was right.

The Roadshow ran for about 15 minutes before taking a fund-raising break (which is going on still, nearly 20 minutes after starting) that has been interminable, repetitious and thoroughly without interest on any level. It is the loop-like quality of what Jeff DeBell once called the "beg-a-thon" that annoys the hell out of me.

My wife just left, she said, to "call and give them some money" and I asked, "So they'll shut the hell up?" and she grinned. I was on to her. And I'm on to them. They wear you down and now they're doing it with the only show on TV (other than ballgames) that I enjoy. They're using it on me and I'm pissed.

As I've said for years, BRPTV could take a lesson from WVTF Public Radio in fundraising. Radio simply sticks with the programming that has made it what it is, breaks occasionally to ask for money and gets it in short order. I admire that. I don't admire what Public TV does and if it keeps interrupting and riffing off "Antiques Roadshow," I may be forced to shoot somebody.

Cuts to Arts Funding Less Than Expected

Alan Albert, legislative council for Virginians for the Arts, says letters and calls from people in the Commonwealth who support the arts had an impact on the General Assembly and led to cuts that were less severe than expected. I'm not so sure that's the case, given the constant threat to the funding by the House of Delegates year after year, but I'll take the funding.

The U.S. is least among equals of First World nations in funding of the arts, even though that investment has shown to have returns that equal 700 percent of each dollar spent. The conservatives in the House have traditionally used the revocation of funding for the arts as something of a Sword of Damocles in bargaining for lesser reductions to the arts and more severe cuts elsewhere. I don't really consider this much of a victory, though if you're threatened with death and only lose an arm or a leg, I guess there's a victory in there somewhere.

Here's what Albert said in a release:

"The House and Senate budget conferees have compromised on the questions of arts funding and the continuing existence of the Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA) by recommending an additional cut of $669,673 -- approximately 16.4 percent--to the state general fund appropriation for grants to arts organizations throughout the Commonwealth.

"This cut, while unfortunate in light of the 30 percent in cuts to arts funding previously made during 2008 and 2009, is a far cry from the proposal in the House budget plan, which would have cut VCA funding by 50 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and eliminated the Commission, and all arts funding, a year later. I am absolutely certain that this relatively small cut--in the larger context of a $4.2 billion gap between base spending needs and available revenues--is a direct result of the wonderful outpouring of advocacy efforts from every corner of Virginia since the House plan was unveiled on February 21.

"Arts advocates rose to the challenge and contacted legislators in unprecedented numbers, making clear the enormous breadth and depth of support for Virginia's rich and diverse arts and cultural resources. But for this heartfelt display of support, this cut could have been far worse--and the Commission itself might not have survived.

"Assuming that the Governor does not choose to suggest amendments to this budget item--something we consider unlikely--total state general funds available for arts grants in FY11 will be approximately $3.37 million.*

This represents a significant decline--some $2.4 million, to be precise--from the high point of funding, achieved in FY08, of $5.78 million, and regrettably will bring Virginia below 50 cents per capita in arts funding for the first time in a number of years. Nevertheless, we count ourselves fortunate in comparison to those in several other states. facing similarly unprecedented budget pressures, that have made more draconian cuts, and even zeroed out arts funding altogether."

(*This figure represents the state general fund appropriation for arts grant funding, the "yardstick" by which we measure progress toward our dollar-per-capita goal for state arts funding. This does not include (a) funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (approximately $721,000 this year, plus one-time stimulus funding of approximately $300,000), (b) the operating budget of the VCA itself ($532,137), and (c) a small amount of revenue derived from sales of the "Virginians for the Arts" license plate and income tax refund checkoffs (totaling approximately $43,000). Other published reports regarding arts funding occasionally refer to the combined general fund appropriation for grants and for administration; that figure will be $3.9 million in each of the next two fiscal years once this additional cut is taken into consideration.)

Join Me Tomorrow for The Big Read

I hope all you lovely people will join me tomorrow night (Tuesday) at the Blue Ridge Library on U.S. 460 just east of Roanoke in the Bonsack area for a discussion of the voices used in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. It starts at 6:30 and goes until we're all tired of each other.

This is one of a series of events this month in The Big Read, a community-wide event featuring this book at its center. The Big Read is a national organization that promotes community reading both for its own value and as a community-building event.

Gaines' book tells the story of a man whose mission is to--reluctantly and with considerable prodding--help a condemned felon feel a sense of worth before his execution in Louisiana. Cheerful little book, it is.

Anyhow, come by and help us figure out just exactly what Gaines is saying, how it plays out and how you might have done it better.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Writers Workshop: Marketing Your Work

Thomas Becher (right), president and owner of Roanoke-based PR and ad agency tba (the becher agency), will talk about marketing your work at the monthly Arts Council of the Blue Ridge Writers Workshop Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Center in the Square.

He will as you questions like: Are you interesting? How can you get your work noticed? And then he will talk about ways you can get the most from your greatest strength—the ability to write and communicate – through PR and social media.

He will discuss developing your personal brand; building a strategic marketing plan; planning and executing public relations strategies and tactics; social media must-haves and ideas to market your self-published book.

This is a presentation that has been requested several times and I think you’ll find Thomas to be knowledgeable, well informed and a good speaker. If you’re looking to market your book or just your writing skills, this is where you belong. The cost is a meager $5 for non-members (free for members).

Call Rhonda Hale at the Arts Council at 540-224-1205 or e-mail her at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Paddy's Day Parade: It's a Basic American Value

Double click on any photo for a full-screen view.^

Dan Chitwood blows his horn for the Norman Fishing Tackle Choir.^

There were no horses in he parade. There were dogs. Lots of dogs.^

This young woman was in the spirit.^

The O'Blues Brothers were present.^

Media Guy Gene Marrano (center) was a parade judge.^

Hair came both long ...^

... and short.^

The training starts early--too early?--for some of our beauty queens.^

OK, so they're not the Rockettes; they're cute.^

Chris Berry peddles his kids.^
The Norman Fishing Tackle Choir makes music ... ^

... and makes more music ... ^

... and finished with a flourish.^

Old Southwest had one of the few floats in the parade.^

The Scots were there with drums ...^

... and bagpipes.^

The Star City Rollergirls are our own rollerderby team (and yes, she could kick my butt).^

Wild hair? I'd say.^

Feathers on the head and hair on the face. Now that's British.^

Some facial hair wasn't hair.^

McGruff entertained the children along the way.

The Raleigh Court segment of Vikings was blowing its own horn.^

There were hats aplenty at the parade.^

Mamas and babies were not in short supply.^

The issue of jobs is ever-present.^

Some hats went on the face.^

Roanoke City Council candidate with his wife Anne (right) and his kids.^

One of these pre-teens has a great hat AND a great smile (which her buddies share).^

My daughter-in-law Kara wore the Catholic green and the Protestant orange. Kara's not one to start a fight over nothing.^

My son Evan and granddaughter Madeline share a moment.^

Roanoke, looking pretty cosmopolitan.^

And finally, my pal Jill Elswick and her damn ceegar.^

The Roanoke St. Patrick's Day Parade is a simple celebration of the playfulness in all of us, and with that in mind, I cannot fathom why this event is so heavily salted with military marchers.

As if to make a statement from the beginning, this year's parade was led by a group of combat-ready soldiers, giving candy to the kiddies, followed by a McDonald's float with Ronald McDonald aboard. There we had on display our penchant for war and truly awful food--as well as advertising--and the huge crowd was applauding, as if this is the way the world is supposed to be.

In any case, my incessant cultural bitching aside, it looked like nearly everybody there had a good time, including the obligatory politicians (some running, some not). Lots of mamas and babies, big green hats, my buddy Jill Elswick and her damn cigar, a smattering of orange (that would be the Protestants, as opposed to the Catholic green), fire trucks, dogs (no horses, thank God), those riotous Vikings of Raleigh Court and the estimable Norman Fishing Tackle Choir.

It was, after all the military crap, a good parade and a fine time on a spring day that Mayor David Bowers swears he ordered up special (he's a Hibernian, after all).