Saturday, December 31, 2011

Headline of the Day: How's that Work Again?

From crooksandliars:

"3.5 Million Homeless and 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in the US"

Photo(s) of the Day: Flea Market Breakdown

The old boys get down.
Listening along the wall
Pickin' and grinnin'
Walking through Happy's Flea Market this morning, I heard sounds like a group of hounds baying at the moon, walked toward the sound and this is what I found. Bunch of old boys with their instruments making sweet music (sweet to some, anyway).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Season's Movies: Lots of Duds Out There

Christmas is generally my favorite time for going to the movies because the studios--even the Independents--tend to save their best stuff for the two weeks of Christmas and New Year's. This year, the cupboard has been bare.

Here's what I've seen and what I think of it:

Young Adult: Charlize Theron is always nice to watch (this is a guy talking here), but this time out, she's such a troubled child that it is difficult to see how pretty she is because she's shining inside out and inside ain't so lovely. Her character here, a writer of young adult novels, has no life in the big city, so she returns to her small town to pursue her high school sweetheart. Who is happily married and has a new baby. Which presents no obstacle as far as our heroine is concerned.

I went in thinking this was a comedy because it was so thoroughly dark (and it was written by Diablo Cody, who has a wonderful body of comedies, including "Juno") it couldn't possibly be anything else. But it is. Not much funny here. Dark, depressing and nobody to like. If I wanted this experience, I'd go to an AA meeting where everybody has less than a week of sobriety.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: It's a Tom Cruise vehicle (he also produced it) and he's still short. Of the four movies I've seen this break period, this is the most entertaining, but it does not trouble you with plot, character development or subtlety. Nor does it bother at all with logic. Suspend disbelief more than you would for, say, "Star Wars," and you'll be OK. Some of the stunts are fun (and I love the theme), but you'll be left scratching your head wondering how anyone could possibly believe the human body could take what these bodies take.

Descendents: George Clooney is always great and he's great here, too. The acting, writing, directing, music, cinematography are all wonderful. The story just left me completely flat, though. Mom is dying, the result of a boat accident and Dad is trying to help bring the family to some form of closure before he pulls the plug, even as he considers selling the family's great virgin land holdings in Hawaii. What a quandary.

The Hawaii in this movie is not the one you're accustomed to and it is one of the stars. This is destined for an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but it's not on my list. Reminds me of "Ordinary People" in its level of angst, but it's not nearly as violent (OP was the most violent movie I ever saw).

The War Horse: Filmed through gauze with too much saturated color, too many rising violins (the music is laughably manipulative), dialogue that is forced and an illogical progression of events that makes some of Mission Impossible seem perfectly plausible, especially what this poor horse goes through physically. Little to recommend this one, save for some pretty good WWI battle sequences and the people who are interested in this type of horsie movie won't appreciate those.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Quote of the Day: Rick Santorum Figures It Out

"Number one, graduate from high school. Number two, get married. Before you have children. If you do those two things, you will be successful economically. What does that mean to a society if everybody did that? What that would mean is that poverty would be no more. If you want to have a strong economy, there are two basic things we can do."

--Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (where the hell do the Republicans get these people?)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quote of the Day: And the Radical Said to the Nutcase ...

"I think Ron Paul's views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American."

--Newt Gingrich

Cheetah's Dead, but Jane Looks Great Naked

That nice butt belongs to Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) from the censored scene
Some of us oldtimers, who didn't know that Cheetah was just a baby chimp and that when grown he'd be meaner than a Tea Partier on April 15, note the old boy's passing. Chimps live a long time.

Cheetah, of course, was the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan sidekick, the same Tarzan who swam naked in "Tarzan and His Mate" in 1934. At the time, individual states had the say-so about censorship. Shortly thereafter, the Hayes Commission took all sex out of American movies and made them faux virtuous--except for all the killing and general mayhem.

Here's a look at the Tarzan nude scene, which right-wingers forced off the screen and into a vault for many years (but they let Cheetah stay up there for us to admire, bless 'em). Jane, you will note, has a nice ass.

Quote of the Day: TV Prices Falling Down, Falling Down ...

"There were roughly 32 million television sets sold in North America in 2004, for an average cost of $400 ... The average size of a television was 27 inches. Today, 44 million sets are sold a year in North America, with an average cost of $460 and an average size of 38 inches. "

--From NYTimes story this a.m. on falling TV prices. Pick me up a 60-incher while you're out.

Photo of the Day: Is It Hair or a Helmet?

Question of the Day, and one of great political significance everywhere but in Virginia (where husband Newtie is not on the Republican primary ballot):

Is that hair on Callista Gingrich's head or a nicely disguised helmet? Given Newtie's marriage history, it is reasonable to assume either. What's your guess? I'm betting helmet. I mean if she fell and hit her head ...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tea Party and the News: It's Not About Accuracy

My goodness, the coincidences we find when we're not looking:

From the NYTimes today (in a story about what constitutes the Tea Party):

"Tea Partiers also receive their information primarily, or in some cases exclusively, from Fox News and talk radio, outlets that are unlikely to turn a critical eye on conservative advocacy organizations."

From a recent Fairleigh-Dickinson University poll:

"Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all."

Congressional Wealth Growing Faster Than Top 1 Percent

The New York Times this morning tells us this, which we deeply suspected:

"Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress—many of them among the '1 percenters' denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters—have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years ...

"... While the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent from 2004 to 2010, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat. For all Americans, median net worth dropped 8 percent, based on inflation-adjusted data ..."


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Photo of the Day: The Colors of Christmas

Hawthorn and holly trees on Huff Lane in Roanoke bring out the colors of the season Christmas morning.

A Christmas for Jennie

(The following was written for my friend Janeson Keeley's blog. I reprint it here for my daughter.)


By Dan Smith

Chris’ face was stony and pinched and she was unusually quiet as I entered the living room of our log cabin after a day at the paper.

“What’s up?” I said. “You look worried.”

“Nothing,” she said, turning from me and moving toward the kitchen.

“Aw c’mon, Chris. Let’s not do the silent thing. What is it?”

“What are we going to do about Jennie’s Christmas?” she said sharply. “I can’t see any extra money; not one cent. This will be the first Christmas she’s aware of and I know the other kids have been talking to her about it. She mentioned Santa today and I didn’t know what to say to her. I don’t even want to mention a wish list.”

I had put off thinking about Christmas because I knew I would get mad at Christ for being born and hanging this financial burden over my head. “You looking to blame me for something else, Chris?” I said. “I’m doing the best I can.”

The “best I can” was being the 24-year-old sports editor of Asheville’s afternoon paper, The Times, a 35,000-circulation bird cage liner that was losing readers on a daily basis. It was a hotshot job—as far as my buddies were concerned—but it would have been a much better gig for a single guy. In 1970, the days of the two-newspaper small town were over and I was on the front edge of the change, earning $90 a week. Most of that went to rent a log cabin in the Kenilworth section of Asheville, food, upkeep on a battered old Chevy and Chris’ school at UNC-Asheville. She was a junior, studying social work and occasionally worked as a telephone operator overnight.

Our three-year-old daughter’s Christmas didn’t figure in that. In fact, Jennie’s expenses in general didn’t figure much. My mother kept Jennie during the day because there was no way we could afford a nursery and most of her other needs were met with hand-me-downs.

I went to bed that night without an answer.

When I awoke the next morning, I had one.

I rolled toward my young wife and blew in her face until she stirred. “Mmmmmm,” she said, and she smiled. “What are you doing awake? It’s still dark outside.”

“I know what we can do for Jennie,” I said. “It won’t really cost anything and I think she’ll love it. It involves a refrigerator box, which I will get at one of the furniture stores, that old watercolor paint set of yours, the curtains you had set aside to give away and a couple of other things we can come up with.”

“What in the world are you thinking?” she said, the smile still there. “Today’s Christmas Eve and we’re going to have to hurry if we’re going to do something complicated.”

“That’s the beauty,” I said. “It’s simple. And I think it’s pretty elegant.”

I only had to work half a day, giving me time to make some rounds and pick up what we needed in the afternoon. Chris was on break from school, but she was taking care of Jennie, so she couldn’t do much, other than decorate a tree, which I had salvaged from a nearby elementary school when the Christmas break started. Jennie delighted in the shared time and the two of them were giggling when I got home from work.

“Did you get the stuff?” Chris said. I nodded.

“Santa’s coming,” Jennie squealed. “He’s bringing toys.” She ran to me and sprang into my arms, wrapping up and hugging me.

At 8 o’clock, with Jennie tucked in, storied, hugged, kissed and snugged to sleep, Chris and I sat about the task at hand: building Jennie a house.

I went out to the ’56 Chevy Bel Aire and untied the refrigerator box from the top. I had broken it down, so it was flat. The box squared back up and I slid a cap over one end to stabilize it. I entered the box with a carpet knife and cut out two windows and a door on the side and slipped the cap on the other end, creating a boxy—quite literally—house. Then Chris went to work with the watercolors, painting in flowers, shutters, a doorknob and patterns in the door. She even gave the front of the house a brick look.

I pulled a small cable spool that I had salvaged at the power company from the back seat of the car and slipped it into the house. Chris covered it with an old bed sheet and we put two pillows at the side of the table. Chris sat cups and saucers at the table and would put out cookies and milk just before morning.

I had picked up a couple of dolls at a thrift store—the Next To New Shop—downtown that my mother frequented so much that she was on a first-name basis with the staff. She had urged me for years to go in and see what was available “for next to nothing.” The dolls were nearly new, quite nice and had cost 50 cents each. Chris put them in the house, sitting them on the pillows at the spool table.

">We looked at each other like we were in the middle of a plot to overthrow the government, grinned, laughed and fell into each other’s arms. We lay there just outside Jennie’s new house in the light of the Christmas tree for hours until I awoke just before dawn. “Better put the cookies and milk out,” I whispered. “Little feet will be padding in just a bit.”

We went to our bedroom and quickly returned to sleep. But shortly, we were awakened by a squeal from a little girl discovering Santa Claus. We ran to the living room and saw a bright, smiling face looking out the window of her house at us. “Santa came,” she said.


Merry Christmas to my favorite daughter. I love you.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Headline of the Day: But Morgan Griffith Qualifies for Congress?

This from the Huffington Post this a.m.:

"Newt Gingrich Fails To Qualify For Virginia GOP Primary Despite Residency"

OK, so 'splain me this, Lucy: How the hell does Morgan Griffith qualify for a seat in Congress from the 9th District when he lives in the 6th? Oh, that. State law. Dang.

'Work-Life Balance' from VW: Kill the Blackberry

This little bit of business sense comes today from Reuters:

"Volkswagen has agreed to deactivate e-mails for its German staff members’ company BlackBerrys when they are off duty.

"Under an agreement reached this week with labor representatives, staff members at Volkswagen will receive e-mails via BlackBerry from half an hour before they start work until half an hour after they finish, and will be in blackout mode the rest of the time, a spokesman for the company said.

"The new e-mail protocol ... applies to staff members covered by collective bargaining, so it would seem that board-level executives will still be attached to their BlackBerrys. Very few companies have taken such drastic measures to force workers toward a better work-life balance."

There was no report on whether grief counselors have been contracted to work with the employees over the loss.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Photo of the Day II: I Saw Maddy Kissing Santa Claus

Is Santa above or below?
In one of these two photos, Maddy is kissing Santa Claus today on Roanoke City Market. In the other, she is kissing an African mask at the Binaba Shop of African goods. You guess which is which. Hint: Santa (Pampa in real life) is the handsome one.

Photo of the Day: Roanoke's Ugliest Christmas Tree

I didn't go looking for this, but when I ran into Roanoke's official tree on Roanoke City Market during lunch today, the immediate reaction was, "Charlie Brown's been here." This is the tree and it's pug ugly, decorated with used car lot lights and random other stuff with no thought of composition or symmetry. Ugly, ugly, ugly. But a nice thought.

A Good Time To Consider Changing Our Congressmen

The lovely Morgan Griffith
The continuing soap opera in the House of Representatives remains an embarrassment to every American who cares about whether we have an effective government. Next year those of us living in this small, rural area of the country have a large opportunity to make a change in it. We have three Republican Congressmen--Bob Goodlatte of the 6th District, Morgan Griffith of the 9th and Robert Hurt of the 5th--who are at the very core of the Intransigence Blockade Movement.

Goodlatte: Let's kill some horses
Each is a Republican and each is standing for re-election, Hurt and Griffith for the first time. Goodlatte, who initially ran a campaign based on term limits more than 20 years ago, shucked that little burden as soon as it came to involve him directly.

Griffith, Goodlatte and Hurt represent six votes--not three--because if they all lost, we'd be minus three Republicans, who vote "no" on nearly every piece of legislation benefiting the American middle and plus three Democrats, who would consider the merits of legislation. That's a significant swing in an election where Dems are targeting just 20 Republicans. My guess is that none of these three is among those targeted because this region is thought to be so solidly in their far right corner. I'd love to see that disproved.

Griffith and Hurt upset two of the most competent men in Congress--longtime 9th representative Rick Boucher, a paragon of Congressional competence, and Tom Perriello, one of the smartest and best equipped young people in the body. Griffith and Hurt represent two of the least competent, most radical at a time when the House votes "no" on nearly everything worthwhile and the Supreme Court tells us corporations are people, thus solidifying bribery as government policy.

Yesterday's backdown vote on the extension of the payroll tax cut, shrinking Medicare payments by 27 percent to doctors and the extension of unemployment benefits--all of which would be helpful to those without a lot of income--shows the Repubs know they are vulnerable when ignoring those who aren't rich. But it also shows what lengths the Dems must go to to enact even the simplest legislation--and only two months' worth of it--that benefits somebody other than a millionaire.

Out of focus Goodlatte with Robert Hurt
This is government on the brink and it simply won't do. When Newt Gingrich shut down the government under President Clinton, the Repubs were clobbered at the polls. Republicans now believe that because of Fox News and talk radio they are invulnerable to that kind of backlash  and so they have become increasingly reckless.

Goodlatte and Griffith have mostly run under the radar, letting Richmond's Eric Cantor serve as the mouthpiece of the radicals, but each is vulnerable based on votes, and each has an additional cross to bear: they have strongly supported the killing of wild horses in the American west more because it costs a tiny part of our budget to keep them alive than anything else. Horse lovers are not a demographic one wants to piss off and Goodlatte/Griffith are both on the equestrians' "to do" list.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to the Republican Party that the government belongs to us, not to them and their corporate masters. It is an opportunity we don't often get and Christmas is a swell time to consider giving ourselves a thoughtful and long-lasting gift.

(Photos: Goodlatte,;  Goodlatte-Hurt photo by Lynn Mitchell,; not sure who took the Griffith photo, but looks it like his camera had horns and a spiked tail.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Tea Party's Threat to Republican Solidarity

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, one of the truly bright cabinet members of the past 25 years, has an absolutely fascinating look at where the Tea Party came from in today's HuffingtonPost. His conclusion is that much of the Tea Party has existed under other names since ... well, for a long time. He also believes that this splinter group could well fracture the Republican Party permanently, which would not necessarily be good for government in the U.S.

Reich quotes Michael Lind as saying that the latest version of the TP "is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority -- predominantly Southern, and mainly rural -- that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way." He talks of the construction of Southern states that send most of the Tea Party members to the House (Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri) but doesn't note that others who share the radical philosophy--like Virginia's 9th and 6th District representatives Morgan Griffith and Bob Goodlatte and party leader Eric Cantor of Richmond--are as good as there.

Reich talks extensively about the differing views of traditional Repubs and the TP Repubs and they are not slight. It's almost like another party.The differences range from belief in global warming, evolution, abortion, gay marriage, states' rights, the Department of Education's usefulness, the federal deficit vs. jobs.

Reich writes, "In other words, the radical right wing of today's GOP isn't that much different from the social conservatives who began asserting themselves in the Party during the 1990s, and, before them, the 'Willie Horton' conservatives of the 1980s, and, before them, Richard Nixon's 'silent majority.'" I would suggest they predate even that, going back to the roots of the KKK, the civil rights and women's rights movements of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, through today. Theodore Roosevelt--who would be called a "Godless Socialist" today was thought of that way in 1912, too, when he was, essentially, thrown out of a party because he was too liberal. And that was a much less conservative bunch than the TP repubs.

Reich suggests that the modern movement likely began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is when the redneck whites of the South began deserting the Democrats. Then, he says, "The watershed event was Newt Gingrich's takeover of the House, in 1995. Suddenly, it seemed, the GOP had a personality transplant. The gentlemanly conservatism of House Minority Leader Bob Michel was replaced by the bomb-throwing antics of Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay. Almost overnight Washington was transformed from a place where legislators tried to find common ground to a war zone. Compromise was replaced by brinkmanship, bargaining by obstructionism, normal legislative maneuvering by threats to close down government -- which occurred at the end of 1995." That's where we stand now, a time when closing the government seems like a normal thing to do.

Reich writes, "America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way -- seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010. Newt Gingrich's recent assertion that public officials aren't bound to follow the decisions of federal courts derives from the same tradition."

There's a line the GOP should not cross, says Reich (without saying where it is; I thought it was crossed decades ago) because "We need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing. Our democracy can't work any other way."

Look at Washington right now for evidence he's right. Nothing--except maybe the agreement among Republicans and Democrats that pornography must be defended--is working.


Facebook Page Up for Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

Janeson Keeley and I (mostly Janeson) finally got around to putting up a Facebook page for the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I have no idea why, for four years, it had not occurred to me to do that, but Brooke McGlothlin, who will teach this year, suggested it the other day and I slapped my head and called Janeson.

Over the next month or so, we'll post interesting stuff about the conference, highlighting who's teaching, what's being taught and inviting those who want to come to tell us what they'd like in the future. This year, as in the past, we have a couple of especially interesting sets of classes: science fiction and two New York literary agents telling you how to sit down in the same room with people like them so you can make your elevator speech for your book, hand them a piece of the manuscript and go away to await a verdict. It's humiliating, annoying and absolutely essential to the process. These lovely people will give you some tips to make it less painful.

Janeson and I will join Rachael Garrity (we all write for FRONT) to talk about marketing your own book. Rachael has just joined us in this venture because, frankly, she probably knows a good bit more about it than either of us. She certainly knows e-publishing inside-out. We think this will be a popular and it's one of 24 to be held Saturday, Jan. 28 at the two-day conference.

You can find out all kinds of stuff here and here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dems, Repubs Gang Up in Favor of Porn

Finally: Democrats and Republicans in Congress have found common ground. They ganged up yesterday--in a vote that was 2-1 against hurting the porn industry. Which goes to show what money can buy.

Even Rep. Steve King, an Iowa social conservative and leader of the movement, thought protecting the multi-billion industry, which has owned Congress--along with other major corporations--for years voted in favor of the porn industry's interests.

Fascinating stuff: here's the link.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Photo(s) of the Day: A Shocking Christmas Discovery

OK, hold on to your chair. Don't quite know how to break this to you, but I'll just tell you outright:

Santa is a woman. A Black woman. Who's on crutches. I saw her yesterday at Valley View Mall ... in line to see the fake Santa, I guess so she could throw off any undue attention.

I'm a little worried by the boot on her left foot. Will she make it Saturday? My nerves are shot just thinking about it.

Photo of the Day: Shopping Break (a Serious One)

This old boy, who must have been exhausted Christmas shopping Sunday at Valley View Mall, conked out in the vibrator chairs and found something to cover his head from the light and noise. He seemed at peace, which was a better place than most shoppers found themselves.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quote of the Day: Challenging a Raging Nutcase

Good old Bob
"Mr. Speaker, you know, the old saying in legal circles is that the Supreme Court is not last because it's right. It's right because it's last. There comes a point where you have to accept things as the law of the land. How does the president decide what is a good law -- and I'm going to obey the Supreme Court-- or what's a bad law and I'm just going to ignore it."

--Face the Nation host Bob Scheiffer responding to Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's outrageous assertion that--in essence--he'd send the Capital Police or U.S. Marshall's Service to arrest judges with whose decisions he disagreed. Good old Bob.

'Anonymous': Take it With a Box of Salt

"Anonymous" is the Holocaust denial of literature placed before you in movie format. It has long been rumored--and frequently debunked--that one Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote all of Shakespeare's works in anonymity because writing was heresy or worse among England's titled. The good earl, it is postulated in this movie, was a lot like modern writers in that he wound up in poverty. Problem with him, though, was that he began as a fabulously wealthy titled gent.

You get the usual British crown intrigue (which grows more tiresome with each depiction) with some truly nasty people in positions of power and even the writers--Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, have little to recommend them. The British huddled masses share just one commonality with the Republican-like power brokers: bad teeth. And they are monumentally bad.

The story is actually interesting if you look at it strictly as a work of fiction. Shakespeare, for example, is portrayed as an illiterate buffoon of an actor who falls into deVere's plays quite by accident and has no hesitation about putting his name on them and taking the bows, the fame and the money that come with all that. Keeping the secret that he didn't really write them becomes increasingly difficult, especially with a throne change looming and intrigue at its height. Words, says de Vere, are power and they can trump swords. They don't here, but you get a an inkling of his point.

The recommendation here is to suspend disbelief, see the movie and enjoy it for what it is: a respite from convention, a visual triumph and a movie acted and directed quite well. One aspect that may throw you: this is not a linear story and it jumps all over the place in a most confusing manner.

If you want to see Shakespeare, rent "Shakespeare in Love."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Left vs. Right: Here's the Final Word

"Democrats have moved to the right and the right has moved into a mental hospital ... Democrats are the new Republicans."

--Bill Maher (here) in a truly spot-on assessment of where we are and where we aren't.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Little Glitch in Christmas Shopping Psychology

It's coming to the Christmas gift wire and you're looking for that one more little do-dad to give a special someone, something to go with the Big Gift that will knock her shoes into the nearest creek. Don't Do It!

That's the finding--in a nutshell--of Virginia Tech assistant marketing professor Kimberlee Weaver, who works out of the Pamplin College of Business. Her study (here), co-written with a couple of guys from the University of Michigan, sees a real paradox in gift-giving, one where the value of a group of gifts finds an average in the mind of the person receiving them.

In her example, the the value of a combination of a nice cashmere sweater and a $10 gift certificate falls dramatically because of the gift certificate. Leave it out and let the sweater make the statement, Weaver advises.

Shopping, it seems, just got tougher.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NTSB Wants You to Shut Up and Drive

The National Transportation Safety Board is finally weighing in hard on cell phones in cars: it wants their use banned. I couldn't agree more.

The suggested ban is not just for hand-held phones. It is for anything that allows you to chat, text, send e-mails and all the other multi-tasks people involve themselves in electronically these days.

Virginia prohibits drivers 18 and younger from cell phone use while driving, but it is a secondary offense, meaning you must be stopped for something else in order for the law to be enforced, the same way the seat belt law is enforced.

Cell phone use is as responsible for highway mayhem--especially among younger drivers--as any other type of impaired driving, including drunk driving, driving while watching TV, driving while fighting with your spouse or the children, driving while reading the newspaper and drinking coffee, driving while cussing other drivers, driving while sleeping, etc. People do all of those. I certainly have.

As Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the N.T.S.B., puts it in a NYTimes story this a.m., “Every year, new devices are being released. People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car.” She's underselling her point.

Deborah, who seems to know that she's putting herself in the middle of what my old buddy would call a "shitstorm" says, "“It’s going to be very unpopular with some people. We’re not here to win a popularity contest. We’re here to do the right thing. This is a difficult recommendation, but it’s the right recommendation and it’s time.” The storm is likely to come from the industry, not the user, however. People generally have more sense than industry, which stands to make money, even they use these little monsters while driving.

Our brothers and sisters on the right will insist we don't need the government to tell us what to do, but I suspect in this case we do, too. It's like motorcycle helmets, safety steering wheels, airbags, seatbelts, plastic dashboards and a whole list of safety items that have saved many thousands of lives over the years.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Do I Have a Christmas Gift Suggestion for You?

I suspect that most of us are looking hard for a perfect, inexpensive but tasteful Christmas gift for somebody close. Do I have a goodie for you, boys and girls!?!

Visit Oliveto on Virginia 419 in Roanoke County (in the strip mall anchored by the new Fink's store and across the highway from Promenade Park). Oliveto features high end olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That's the inventory and it's high end, as in $14 for 200ml (about a pint).

The oil is the best I've ever had and will astonish we un-sophisticates who've never had really, really, really good olive oil--the green stuff that is the density of the 20W50 motor oil used in race cars.

Combined with a perfectly blended white balsamic vinegar infused with cranberry and pear, this leaves you at a point where you can just go ahead and die. The vinegar costs the same as the oil, keeping everything simple. So, for roughly $30, you can give the gift of taste that is oh, so rare in these parts. Toss in a block of truly wonderful cheese (more difficult since our gourmet cheese shop closed) and a little extraordinary chocolate and the recipient will fall in love with you.

Combine enough of these goodies (say, eight) and you get a marvy Chanukah fest.

(UPDATE: "Fresh Air," an NPR program, had this today. It tells you how to buy olive oil from a guy who wrote a book about it. There's a lot of scandal in this industry and most of what you buy is not what you think you're buying.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Photo(s) of the Day: Maddie and Me Go to the Ballet

Maddie wanted me to know she can pose like a dancer, too.
I know, I know. It's getting a little heavy on the wallet pix of the grandkid, but it's been a busy weekend for Maddie and me. Today, we did her first ballet. Thank god she's 6 because the dancing was awful, but the spectacle is made for a first-grader (many of the dancers, in fact, appeared to be in first grade).

Maddie and me at the tree.
In our seats
This was the Southwest Virginia Ballet's annual  "Show Mama What You Learned This Year (in Two Minutes or Less) and Help Us Raise a Heap of Money" extravaganza. "The Nutcracker," I think, was the official title.

Maddie loved every minute of it and so did a lot of other people in the awkwardly over-appreciative crowd. Seems every time somebody didn't fall, there was an ovation. Ah, life with little kids.

We have Maddie's choral performance at her school Tuesday and my guess is I'll be just like the people clapping tonight. Guess that's what it's about.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Photo of the Day: Maddie Goes Christmas Shopping

Maddie finds her treasures.

Maddie wraps her treasures.
Maddie and I trooped out into the shopping wilderness this morning to find some goodies for her parents, grandparents and a couple of buddies and she came up a winner. The kid has the shopping gene. At 6, she managed some nice finds and a couple of swell bargains. I'm proud of her. Mostly the pride comes from her sense of giving, not her accomplishment in shopping.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Photo of the Day II: Charming the Ladies

This young fellow had two pretty girls in tow this morning, I think, partly because he had the good sense to stop at the music store in the mall, sit down and play "Christmas Bells" for them. Them seemed enamored. Nice goin', dude.

Photo of the Day: The Perfect Christmas Gift

Finally found what I want to give for Christmas: the Christmas Story Lamp. This is a shrimped-up version of the Major Award Darren McGavin was so excited about in the classic Christmas tale that has its own festivals this time of year. The cost at FYE, a store at Valley View Mall, is $10 and $30, depending on the size you want.

Quote of the Day: The Myth of the Wealthy Job Creators

"... the current orthodoxy among Republicans is that we mustn’t even criticize the wealthy, let alone demand that they pay higher taxes, because they’re 'job creators.' Yet the fact is that quite a few of today’s wealthy got that way by destroying jobs rather than creating them. And [Republican presidential candidate Mitt] Romney’s business history offers a very good illustration of that fact."

--Paul Krugman in today's NYTimes

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quote of the Day: A Conservative Defends Socialism

"Maybe we Americans will never call ourselves socialists, any more than these presidents did, and that's fine. But, whatever name we give it, we are doing our history a disservice by exiling this tradition just when its concern with inequality, economic power, and the worst tendencies of markets are most relevant. We should revive these very American ideas. They can help us to articulate our discontent and ask more of our leaders, our economy, and ourselves."

--Jedediah Purdy in the Huffington Post

Photo of the Day: ' ... By the Chimney With Care'

We're ready now. All over but the singing and wrapping and visiting and celebrating and opening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Kip Knutzen': Who Cares What It's About? It's Good

I'm not quite sure how to convince you that you should troop down to studio Roanoke in the next few days and see Deke Weaver's "The Crimes and Confessions of Kip Knutzen: A Hockey Way of Knowledge."

It's about hockey and talking pheasants and falling into the ice and deer driving snowmobiles and twin sisters and a girl playing a boy and things like that. It's about a few Lynchburg actors stealing the show right out from under everybody. It's about laughing till you feel like you can't sit up and sitting there in silence trying to figure out what the hell just happened. Sometimes, it's about all of that at once.

Mostly what I take from it, though, is a kind of freshness brought by a cast to some wonderful writing by Weaver, a college professor in Illinois and a guy with good theater background

Director Melora Kordos, I'm told, is responsible for recruiting Diane Belmont and Jennifer Abbot (both Liberty Unviersity grads) from Lynchburg for the show. In addition, Darlene Federle taught at Liberty at one time and has worked in theater there. So, there's a distinct Lynchburg lilt to this one. And it's a good accent for this play, especially the appearance of Miss Abbott, a scene-stealer who burns into you.

I won't get into what the play is about because I haven't figured that out yet and, frankly, I'm not sure it matters much. This is some fine entertainment and I'll recommend it.

You can get tickets, show times and other information by calling 540-343-3054 or going here.

Catsup Aside, David Stockman Is Right

David Stockman ... No catsup on this burger
This comes from David Stockman, Reagan's budget director who was so parsimonious and unfeeling as chief bean counter/budget director that he decreed catsup (or "ketchup," if you prefer) was a vegetable on school lunch plates so the government could save a few pennies.

He was on a radio talk show (Public Radio, so don't get your knickers in a twist) this morning going off on the prospect of retaining the middle class tax cut--and he made a whole lot of sense, even to an unconvertible liberal like me.

He favors the middle class paying higher taxes. He favors the rich paying higher taxes. He says Reagan's legacy is underscored by a $150 billion tax increase he signed into law in 1982, one that kept the government operating.

"We desperately need revenue," he said. "We need to snow plow the tax incentive holiday and the tax breaks one year at a time," suck it up and fork it over. He sounded a lot like Barack Obama yesterday, saying the burden must be shared by all of us--and he's right. We don't need to separate out the rich; we just need to tax them at a rate commiserate with needs. We need to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and eliminate payment to those who don't need it (and to my mind, that's anybody with a retirement income of $100,000 or more or a net worth of more than $2 million, both of which are quite generous).

If Stockman's on board with this "spread the misery" philosophy, I sure as hell am. It's fair, and it's rare when a Republican acts in the public interest. Good for you, David Stockman. We can almost forget the catsup jokes now. Almost.

Obama and TR: The Republican Is the Liberal

A hero of the revolution: Teddy Roosevelt
It is interesting that President Obama selected a small town in Kansas (Osawatomie) where Theodore Roosevelt laid out his "socialist agenda" a century ago and got himself thrown out of the Republican Party over it to make an important speech on the middle class. Obama and Roosevelt have a lot in common philosophically, though I think Roosevelt was a bit more liberal and would have kicked some Wall Steet ass if he were in Obama's shoes today.

In any case, bringing up Roosevelt is a good idea. Republicans want to be associated with this short giant, but not with his politics, which they oppose on every level and which they misrepresent at every opportunity. His political philosophy, like Lincoln's (another mis-labeled Repub), has as much to do with the modern party as Likud has to do with Hezbollah. And that ain't much, boys and girls. Roosevelt said, and delivered upon, “Our public men must be genuinely progressive.” Roosevelt wanted to regulate corporations and said he was in favor of "completely controlling them in the interest of the public welfare.” Doesn't sound a lot like Rush Limbaugh.

Roosevelt defended America's workers against its corporate bosses, political bosses and the sheer inequity of the times. Obama has not done that and I won't believe his sincerity until some of those fat Wall Street butts are resting in federal prison cells.

It has been years since the public crimes on Wall Street and in banks' board rooms and we're still waiting to see some perp walks. I'm not sure how Obama can possibly expect broad support on his policies until there is retribution for the near-destruction of our economy in the name of greed. His polling points could surge by double figures instantly if he'd simply announce--then follow up--that his Justice Department is working on indictments of the people who caused this mess. I would love to include George Bush in that, but it ain't happenin'.

At minimum, though, Wall Street and the banking community should be terrified to pursue the path it is so casually continuing to follow these days. I don't see anything but a continued case of arrogance by a powerful elite.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Photo of the Day, Deux: Cornbread Derivatives

Earlier, we shared a glass of cornbread and buttermilk. Those of you who understand. And now we have a bit of cornbread left over and are wondering what to do with it.

Coincidentally, last night I baked a turkey and had a whole lot of wonderful jellied broth left from that venture (which was heaven; I used to dream as a kid of sitting down to a table with just me and a big, hot turkey, fresh from the cooker. We were poor and it was a marvelous dream).

I also had some frozen whole wheat bread crumbs that I've been saving for a special occasion. The special occasion had arrived. I mixed all that up with some celery, onions, oregano and a couple of eggs and put it in a square iron skillet, which I slid into the oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. It came out looking like what you see above ('cause that's it). "Heavenly, heavenly, heavenly," to quote Brother Dave Gardner.

Ain't Southern cookin' fun?

Photo of the Day: A Southerner's Statement

OK, all you Yankees: you might want to turn away from this. It won't do anything but gross you out.

Anyhow, I had a Jones a bit ago for an old Southern staple--one of the seven basic Southern Food Groups--and so I went into Mother Smith's World Famous Kitchen and whipped up a batch of cornbread, ran over to Kroger for half a gallon of buttermilk and had myself a party. Above's a photo of the result. I just love this stuff and I feel like parking my truck in the front yard and putting it up on blocks when I eat it. Mmmmmmmm.

A Fix for Medicare?!? Repubs Say 'No Dice, Barack'

Donald Berwick
Here is another prime example of the Republican headlong dash toward governmental mediocrity, based entirely on the narrow political philosophy of beating Barack Obama. It seems to be all Repubs stand for these days.

Dr. Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement was President Obama's choice to help solidify Medicare, but Republicans in Congress blocked the appointment because ... well, that's not clear, but he did praise the Brits for their system and that seems to be a prime mover for these xenophobes.  Obama knew the Repubs opposed this wild-eyed socialist, so he gave him a temporary appointment to the position, one that didn't require their approval. That lasted a year and in that year he got a lot done. Now, he's gone.

After Elizabeth Warren's rejection as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for vague political reasons (there is nobody in the world more qualified for that position, which she created), this one grates strongly, maybe even more. Warren is strong, smart a woman who irritated the hell out of the old boys on the right side of the aisle of the Senate because she was so much more intelligent and honest than they are. Berwick is a humble man who says things like, "I ... think Medicare can be a force for change" and "I tried to reconceptualize it as an improvement organization.”

That means, in effect, he  believes he can help save a ton of money, make significant changes to the way healthcare is delivered and stabilize the program to the satisfaction of both Repubs and Dems. That would be no mean feat, but if it were accomplished, the credit of Obama would likely go to the administration and if the Repubs stand for anything at all, they stand for fighting Barack Obama every step of the way, even when the step makes sense to them. I think somebody once described that as "cutting off your nose to spite your face." Those no-nose Repubs get uglier every day.