Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beginning Now: 'The Last Quadrant of Life'

That's me (back left) with some old high school pals
Today begins what my favorite ex-wife calls the "last quadrant of life." I doubt it will be a full quadrant because for that to happen, I'd have to live to be 100 and I'm not sure that's an appealing prospect.

In any case, though, the "last quadrant" is generally identified as "old" on the spectrum of life's phases: child, young, middle-aged, old. My friend Tommy Denton, upon turning 60, termed himself to be in "late middle age." Tom, whose optimism doesn't exist when discussing our political leadership, is certainly optimistic when referring to his own longevity and I wish him thus.

Sixty-five, though, is an official designation, government approved and insurance company verified. It's "senior." It's "codger." It's "C&W" (canes & walkers, as in the line at K&W Cafeteria on the third of every month when the Social Security checks arrive). It's a place where somebody else lived for all these years and now it's my place.

A couple of years ago, I attended a high school class reunion and, like so many, wondered who the hell all those old people were and what was I doing right in the middle of them, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and squinting to recognize any youth I could still find, maybe in the eyes. Paul Simon, in "Old Friends," wrote, "how terribly strange to be 70." We can lower that to 65 without much of a stretch.

It is, indeed, terribly strange to look at the number, handle it, ponder it, absorb its fullness. Ugly little number, round on one end, sharp on the other. Asymmetrical. Leans to the right and rocks on the rounded bottom. That's how I walk, with these worn out knees.

I was born in the summer of 1946, just after all those horny, young soldiers came back from overseas and started getting married, moving into 1,000-square-foot houses with four bedrooms, and pumping out kids to fill the bedrooms. A lot of us--a whole lot of us--were born that summer and for about 15 summers after it, creating the largest population bulge in our history. We've been such a big, loud group for lo these many years that it's hard to ignore us and easy to tire of our constant demands.

We have not been the greatest generation, though some of us have excelled. Mostly, my group began with a marvelously creative approach to life and country: protest what is wrong until you fix it. But that soon faded as events overwhelmed us, needs of our families took control of our spare moments and the political and social landscapes changed. We did some good early, but not so much since.

The country has gotten away from us, if we ever had it. It is in the hands of a very small group of extremely insistent people (much as we were in our youth, though there were a lot more of us than there are of them) whose goals are intensely selfish and foreign to my understanding of the meaning of our country.

This is a difficult way to go out. It's like soldiers coming home from lost wars, the retiree leaving a company that has been crippled by an economy destroyed by greed and ignorance. But I remain the optimist in many things--government not being among them--and I'll cling to that optimism until somebody proves it wrong. God knows they're trying.

'Adamantine nihilists' at the Tea Party

Bless Maureen Dowd's purple tongue. In an otherwise sane and prescient piece today in the NYTimes, she wrote the following:

"Like gargoyles on the Capitol, the adamantine nihilists are determined to blow up the country’s prestige, their party and even their own re-election chances if that’s what it takes."

What she's taking the long way around to explain (like around the butt to get to the elbow), I think, is that our Tea Party buddies are depressed sick-os whose goal is to destroy the government. No news in that.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bush on 9/11 News: That Was His 'Calm' Look

George Bush tells an interviewer for National Geographic that the look on his face when he was informed that the U.S. had been attacked by terrorists in 2001 was a projection of calm.

"... I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm. I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm.''

So, those of us who thought the look was confused terror were all wrong. How 'bout that?


Friday, July 29, 2011

Quote of the Day: The Simple Truth

"The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse." Paul Krugman, NYTimes. Here's the column.

Krugman makes the strong case that much of what is happening with the budget in Washington is not about two cranky political parties going at it. It's about a bunch of nutcases holding American government "hostage" and demanding its way as ransom. Its way keeps shifting to the right as the Democrats agree to demands and today Democrats stand to the right of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank whose goals have been met by the Dems.

I have to agree that the press' reporting of "two equal sides" in this standoff is folly, since one of those sides is hell-bent on destruction and the other has no spine.

Today's Photo: The Lineup

This bank of free publications outside Five Market Place (the Wells Fargo Building) in downtown Roanoke serves as a reminder of the competitive nature of publishing in the Roanoke Valley. Our magazine, Valley Business FRONT, did a story a couple of years ago on small publishers in the region and found 26 of them at that time. There have been more started since. And a few have crashed--notably the Blue Ridge Business Journal, which its owner said had "a bad business plan" after being successful for 20 years.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fire Burns on Roof of Patrick Henry Hotel

Fire trucks nearly surrounded the Patrick Henry Hotel.
Firefighters rest in the 100-degree heat.
The face of a firefighter.
Too pooped to pant.
The captain's gear.

An explosion and fire in an air conditioning unit on the roof of the newly-renovated Patrick Henry Hotel in downtown Roanoke has caused an undetermined amount of damage. Smoke was detected on the fourth through 10th floors, according to officials and there was no word on anybody being injured.

A maintenance worker is said to have put out the fire.

It appeared that just about every piece of fire apparatus in Roanoke was on the scene. I was eating lunch next door when the commotion began and ran out and shot these photos.

The PH is occupied with residents in apartment units and there is no immediate word on how the incident will affect occupancy. The hotel is to have a number of Jefferson College students occupying apartments. Businesses are on the bottom floor.

Educating the Educators: Use the Language Properly, People

There was a conference on workforce training yesterday at Hotel Roanoke (report here) whose primary contribution to the conversation ("How the hell do I get a job?") was stating the obvious and this from Roanoke School Board member Mae Huff:

"We have to be able to dialogue about how to improve our school system and also add valued employees to the business community,"

Miss Mae, you might want to get your butt into a remedial English course before the next school board meeting--where you are making policy to help kids read and speak our language. "Dialogue" is not a verb. It is a noun. One does not "dialogue." He "engages in dialogue" or he "has a conversation" or he "discusses" or "talks" or "speaks." 

Using nouns improperly as verbs is one of those maddeningly lazy, disrespectful (of the language and the person you're chatting with) and thoroughly uneducated traits found so often in those who have the podium.

Education conferences, even those that include business people, are all too often exercises in inflating the egos of those on the podium, not teaching the teachable and helping people become prepared for a tough job market. The very least we should expect from our educators is that they speak our own language properly.

Today's Photo: All In

City buses cram into the Campbell Avenue garage in downtown Roanoke during lunch Wednesday. Getting out is the problem. The buses often tie up traffic down Campbell as they force their way back into it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Serving the Customer: It's About Making It Easy and Convenient

Late yesterday afternoon, I went scurrying to buy homeowners insurance for a house I'm closing on in a couple of weeks. I called a big local agency and nobody answered the phone. I called GEICO and the little lizard wasn't home. The lady answering the phone said, "The person who handles homeowners won't be in until later."

I Googled "homeowner insurance quotes" and got a site that asked for a bunch of info, then promised four bids. I got two, none from anybody local. But I did get a price range that the site considers fair for a house like mine and at least I had something on which to base what would be fair quotes.

So I went to the only other logical place to get a quote: Facebook.

I put up a post asking for a quote and 30 minutes later I had 17 internet replies and three phone calls. The people who went to the trouble to find out my phone number got my attention and I gave the one who called me back at 9 a.m. today with a quote the business ... but not without a snafu, even with that.

I like assertive people and this agent was assertive. She also got me a good price and asked if I could have the monthly payment removed from my checking account. I said I'd rather be billed. She said that would cost $8 a month extra. I said I didn't think I'd like that. Would the insurance company take a credit card? She said she'd ask the insurer. It said "no." I said, "Find another insurance company. If this one is so hard to get along with upfront, imagine what its service would be like." She found another in minutes and all my requests were respected.

I have insurance without being humiliated by a company and it happened quickly and without a lot of difficulty--save for the knowledge that a company would charge me to tell me what I owe it and then would not take a credit card to pay for all this "service." Boggles the mind.


Tea Party Nutjobs and Roanoke County's Environment

Those who thought themselves safe from the Tea Party's fringe nutcases got a dose of reality at the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday, according to a story in a local daily (here).

A group of Tea Partiers addressed the board, questioning its membership in a national group that promotes environmentalism--which the Tea Party apparently opposes. The dues for membership are $1,200 a year and the Tea Party wants that stopped. Seems the association is concerned about a number of issues caused by climate change and the Tea Party simply won't have public discussion of that issue because its members don't believe people have anything to do with what's happening to the earth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Sudden and Well-Deserved Fall of Netflix

When Netflix announced its 60 percent price increase a little more than a week ago, its perception among consumers took a nosedive and that is charged in this interesting piece by Jason Gilbert today.

Seems the company has been the target of intense anger on most social media sites and even charted the fall from grace to a pretty lofty perch to a sub-zero ranking (below Blockbuster, see graphic above).

The company's response is the most interesting, a clinic in how not to handle angry customers. It comes in 10 easy to digest pieces with Gilbert's article.

Today's Photo: It's Not the Heat, It's the Exercise

Sometimes little girls just need to take a break from all this hiking stuff--especially in this heat--and take a little nap on the nearest park bench. That's Maddie napping while grandpa waits to resume the walk.

Countryside-Co-op: A Plan Is Offered Up

John Bryant of the Co-op: An offer has been made.

Here’s an interesting proposition for those of you with even a casual interest in the future of the former Countryside Golf Course: The Roanoke Valley Natural Foods Co-op has tendered an offer to the city to buy 12 acres of the course in order to farm it.

Says John Bryant, marketing director of the Co-op, “The Co-op did make an offer for a 12 acre plot. We're hopeful that the city accepts the offer and we can begin farming the land as a off-shoot of our business. Until the city makes a decision I can't say much more about it, but I'll certainly let you know when we hear back.”

Countryside, of course, has been at the center of a political storm for years. City officials want to create tax revenue from the undeveloped land, homeowners want few if any changes to the course and most of the rest of us want something to be done with the large open expanse that will benefit the Valley most. My friend Tom Cain, in fact, sees the future of the course as a combination teaching farm, flood preventative and open space. I like that idea best.

From what I understand from a knowledgeable source, the city has tentatively approved the Co-op's plan but the final selection of who gets this property will not be announced until August 1 at the earliest. Co-op officials are confident in their proposal, I'm told. Under the plan, the Co-op would continue to work with all of the local growers it now works with, but would be able to offer customers produce that typically is not being grown by others, and a greenhouse would provide winter produce, as well.

A retail market is planned for the property as part of the Co-op's plan. No organic, local offerings exist in that area.

The next official step is for Valerie Garner to weigh in. Can't do anything with Countryside without a Val consultation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Today's Photo: Walkers Welcome

The Sunnyside Barber Shop on Roanoke City Market makes no pretense of being a part of the 21st Century and therein lies its charm. The walker to the left of the trash can indicates that some of its clientelle must be holdovers from another century.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good News for Diversity: Crime Rate Is Lower

Roanoke's symbol of diversity is Pearl Fu of Local Colors. The Swastika isn't hers.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece about diversity and economic development. Seems the more diverse cities in the U.S. were--including and especially those who welcomed the gay community--the more successful.

Now comes some new findings by economic development guru Richard Florida telling us that diversity is behind the monumental recent drop in crimes in inner cities, going against all traditional thinking and trends. When the economy is in the bag--as it is--crime almost always goes up in congested areas. But this time around, in the most crowded and poorest parts of our urban areas, it's going down.

Florida's Atlantic piece is here and Kaid Benfield's observations in Grist are here. They're both worth reading, but I don't want to repeat them here.

I'll leave the speculation about why all this is true to others, but it seems to me that doing the right thing often has positive results.

Today's Photo: Memories ...

This is to remind you--as the temperature hovers around 100--what cool means. This was taken from Mill Mountain overlooking Roanoke last winter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today's Photo: Tomato Sammich Quest

If you're looking for the perfect tomato sandwich and you don't have your own supply in the back yard, Roanoke's City Market has some goodies for you. Like these.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Captain America": Republicans Kick Nazi Butt

Repeat after me: It's OK to go see "Captain America." It's OK if your friends see you there. It's OK to like the movie. Really.

No need to be embarrassed, just so long as you know exactly what you're doing: escaping everything you know is real into a Republican utopia where a guy dressed in an American flag (Ronald Reagan) is representing all that's best in humanity (and who has a really cute girlfriend with too much lipstick). He fights Nazis, one of whom is worse than Hitler and who gives new meaning to the term "redhead." Red's right-hand man is a Karl Rove look-alike who manages his campaign with the slogan is "Ve vill rule de vorld."

This isn't just a movie with flashy special effects; it's a movie about flashy special effects. The plotline is so thin that if you turn it sideways it becomes invisible: good guy created by good scientists represents good against evil guy created by evil science representing evil. Straight-ahead stuff. The good people are pretty (except for Tommy Lee Jones and he's interesting) and the bad people--especially Karl Rove and Red--are ugly and overdressed.

Fun movie. It's at a bunch of theaters and if you've seen everything at the Grandin Theatre that's worth seeing (and you probably have, since pickings there are thin this week; "Midnight in Paris" is it), the Captain is a nice diversion.

Layoffs at Breakell Inc. in Roanoke

Nell Boyle
(Updated: Stan Breakell confirms layoffs.)

Breakell Inc. in Roanoke, the much lauded construction company with the hyper-green reputation, has laid off several employees, including highly-regarded Nell Boyle. Breakell has won a number of awards in the past few years and has been the contractor on a string of high-profile projects.

Nell has pretty much been in charge of Breakell's green efforts for the past few years as director of sustainable practices. She's a former executive director of C2C Home, LLC.

Owner Stan Breakell confirmed the layoffs, saying, "Due to the continued economic slowdown and other business issues we have elected to 'get lean' for a while."

Nell's a good one, and the company has some very good people.

Most Dangerous Sport? This Will Surprise You

I was in the process of looking for some statistics to make an argument that sportwriter Hank Koebler is wrong when he says NFL players aren't overpaid. I ran into something that doesn't further my thoughts on that topic, but is pretty interesting, in any case.

Quick now: What sport has the most injuries in the U.S.? Football? Boxing? Xtreme whatever? Skiing? Skydiving? Fighting?


Here's a list I found from a 2006 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that includes the number and types of injuries:

  • 529,837 Basketball - Cut hands, sprained ankles, broken legs, eye and forehead injuries.
  • 490,434  Bicycling - Feet caught in spokes, head injuries from falls, slipping while carrying bicycles, collisions with cars.
  • 460,210  Football - Fractured wrists, chipped teeth, neck strains, head lacerations, dislocated hips and jammed fingers.
  • 275,123  ATVs, Mopeds, Minibikes - Riders of ATVs were frequently injured when they were thrown from vehicles. There were also fractured wrists, dislocated hands, shoulder sprains, head cuts and lumbar strains.
  • 274,867  Baseball, Softball - Head injuries from bats and balls. Ankle injuries from running bases or sliding into them.
  • 269,249  Exercise, Exercise Equipment - Twisted ankles and cut chins from tripping on treadmills. Head injuries from falling backward from exercise balls, ankle sprains from jumping rope.
  • 186,544  Soccer - Twisted ankles or knees after falls, fractured arms during games.
  • 164,607  Swimming - Head injuries from hitting the bottom of pools, and leg injuries from accidentally falling into pools.
  • 96,119  Skiing, Snowboarding - Head injuries from falling, cut legs and faces, sprained knees or shoulders.
  • 85,580  Lacrosse, Rugby and other Ball Games - Head and facial cuts from getting hit by balls and sticks, injured ankles from falls.
Koebler's premise on the value of pro football players is interesting, too, and you can read it here.  I lost interest when I found the bigger picture.


In Virginia, Shifting Attitudes on Gay Rights

Polling numbers from the most recent Qunnipiac University study show at least one result in Virginia that should raise eyebrows: Although the population is not yet ready for gay couples to be married couples, it accepts the simple fact that being gay does not preclude being a good parent.

(Qunnipiac is a tiny liberal arts college in Hamden, Conn., with an excellent reputation for polling.)

It was five years ago that Virginians set in stone the ban on gay marriage with an amendment to the Commonwealth's constitution, but the support for refusing couples that right stands at just 52 percent today. For Virginians younger than 35, the support for gay marriage is 63 percent to 29 percent who oppose. It's coming, people. It's coming in Virginia.

More surprising, though, is that Virginians of all ages believe the law that forbids gay people from adopting children is stupid. Fifty-one percent agree that gay couples should be allowed to adopt.

These simple attitude shifts represent an enormous change in attitude, much like that which took place after landmark civil rights legislation was passed by the Congress in the 1960s. Yesterday, the nation's new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said gays could serve openly in the military, erasing yet another barrier to these beleaguered citizens being able to live normal lives.

In unrelated, but interesting findings by Qunnipiac, Republican George Allen leads among independent voters 46-38 over Democrat Tim Kaine in their race for Jim Webb's seat, which will be vacated. Overall, though, owing to a larger number of registered Democrats, I'd guess, Kaine leads 43-42. Both are former governors.

On other issues, Virginians trend conservative as you might expect, except when it comes to extracting ourselves from wars. We want out of Afghanistan 55-38 and Libya 60-38. By a 49 percent to 42 percent margin, Virginians want to repeal the Obama Administration's health care law (liberals support the law 75-19 and conservatives oppose it 73-17).


Today's Photo: 'Sing Me a Song and I'll Dance for You'

Street musicians wail away in downtown Roanoke. The woman has a lovely voice.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Plowshare Peace Center, WVTF Public Radio Go At It

Larry Hincker (left) listens to Plowshare argument after meeting.
It was difficult to sit there at the Hotel Roanoke and watch people from two organizations I have a great deal of respect for going after each other over a difference of opinion a couple of hours ago, but it was inevitable.

The good people from the Plowshare Peace Center have been trying to get WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke to run an excellent, left-leaning show called "Democracy Now" (stream the radio or TV show here) for some time with no success. WVTF's reasoning revolves around the fact that the show is highly charged from a political standpoint (which is why the lovely people from Plowshare want it) and that they would feel obligated to balance it with another view if it ran; that and the fact that it would alienate a lot of conservative listeners at a time when revenues are threatened.

(My friend Betsy Gehman of Lynchburg writes that "Democracy Now" has its own channel on DirectTV in the Hill City.)

The notion that WVTF still tries to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine, which the Regan Administration and its judges killed, giving full power to right-wing talk radio, is fascinating in itself and I laud the station for that stance.

Glenn Gleixner (left) and Larry Hincker (right)
That "Democracy Now" is readily available via computer and can even be streamed as a television show, doesn't seem to satisfy these advocates for a place in the WVTF lineup. They want it available to all WVTF listeners on a regular schedule, same as "Antiques Road Show" is. WVTF executives insist that this is about Plowshare pushing a point of view and I can't disagree with that. The honest people in Plowshare would also agree, even though they say the argument is not about the show, but about who should run WVTF, a public station that is supported by donations from listeners, among other avenues. They want a strong say in programming. Virginia Tech, which owns the station, say the programming is done by professionals and that's not likely to change.

I don't want to plop my fat ass down between these warring sides, but I'd really like for them to settle this dispute. The Plowshare people say they want to be heard and haven't been. WVTF insists they have been heard, and heard, and heard and Larry Hincker of Virginia Tech--who has ultimate responsibility for the station--says they'll be heard again because he will offer to set up yet another meeting. Hincker was not happy that the man chairing today's meeting cut off comment abruptly and angered several of these generally peaceful people (hell, about half of them are Quakers, for heaven's sake).

I've known Larry and Glen Gleixner, the station's general manager, for years and I know they are willing to listen. I also know that when they make a decision--and this one has been made--you have to make a hell of an argument (and a new one) to get the first decision overturned. I don't see that happening here.

Plowshare members packed the small room for the WVTF budget meeting today at Hotel Roanoke.
The Plowshare are on the side of the angels in most of their crusades (including standing against war--quite literally), but I think this one's a bridge too far for them. If there were no alternatives, I probably wouldn't say that, but they can do everything from streaming the radio and TV versions of "Democracy Now" to using public access TV to run it. Just ask.

Elsewhere today's meeting had little new information. The budget for the coming fiscal year was passed unanimously and there were only a few mildly interesting aspects to that:
  • The new budget calls for $2.994 million, up from $2.927 million and still under the magic $3 million level. 
  • The station recently raised $1.58 million from listeners, its highest ever. Next year' it's shooting at $1.7 million (and that is certainly a reasonable expectation, given that they've set records the last three years).
  • The station has a $500,000 reserve, which makes sense for one that has 7 transmitters, 13 translators and covers more than half of Virginia with its signal. Things could break at any time and the slush fund is welcome.
  • WVTF's Friends Council, which it has in lieu of a citizens board--required of commercial stations--has been quite active in the past two years, according to Gleixner. It is making suggestions in all areas of the operation.
  • Broadcasting expenses are down 40 percent from last year ($78,806 from $131,906), partly because of the elimination of some equipment needs.
  • State and federal funding continue to shrink and it is almost inevitable they will be eliminated completely in the near future. In fact, Virginia's Republican governor has promised that will happen on his watch.

OK, So How Hot Is It?

I spent a good portion of my growing up years in west-central South Carolina, just across the Savannah River from Augusta, Ga., which we often referred to as "the armpit of civilization." Augusta and my little suburb, North Augusta, were hot, epically hot. Miserably hot. Painfully hot.

I often showed up at football practice at 9 a.m. in late August when the temperature and humidity were both in the 95 range. We didn't have any fat football players. Kids fell over dead on occasion until the South Carolina General Assembly mandated water breaks--imagine the government having to do something that basic--and coaches started giving us salt tablets.

It was the kind of misery that sticks with you over a lifetime and during these middle days of July as the temperature climbs toward the dreaded 100 degrees, I am reminded of just how hot hot is. I spent much of yesterday in air conditioning, something I generally avoid because I don't breathe well in treated air and it gives me a headache. But that's better than being sucked dry by oppressive heat. Today, I'll likely repeat.

All this brings up the questions, "How hot is it and who has it worst in our country?" to which the Internet provides a quick answer. Here are the U.S. cities that average the most 100 degree days a year (with the number following):

Phoenix 106
Las Vegas 72
Riverside, Calif. 25
Dallas 21
Sacremento 15
 Austin 12 (it had already passed 30 by early June of this year)
Oklahoma City 10
San Antonio 9
Salt Lake City 6
Houston 5
Kansas City 6

The average high temperature in Phoenix--that means every day of the year--is 84.5. By comparison, Charlotte's average is 72, Boston's 59, Kansas City 64, Memphis 72, Hartford 61. Phoenix, like so many big cities, has paved its way into extremes of temperature and made air conditioning a year-round requirement.

In Roanoke (where the highest temperature ever was 105, a number Phoenix and about half of Texas finds familiar), the average annual high daily temperature is 67.2, which most of us would welcome even as a daily low right now when temperatures aren't dropping out of the 70s. The average high for July is 88, our hottest month.

What all this means is "not much." It's hot and little mental exercises, I suppose, remove the mind from the misery for a few minutes at a time.

Today's Photo: Roanoke in the Rain

The water fountain at the Norfolk Southern Building in downtown Roanoke, which went dry because of budget cuts recently, is back in full flow and creates a lovely focal point in the rain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today's Photo: What Is Art?

In the "eye of the beholder" category stands this solitary piece of metal with a break in the middle, resting in the green area beside the SunTrust building in downtown Roanoke. To its lower right is a more complex stack of metal tubes with blinking lights that takes you to another level if you want to go there.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Today's Photo: 50 Years of Weiners

Johnny Liakos, who's been at the Roanoke Weiner Stand for nearly 50 years, lays another hotdog into a soft bun as the rain falls on Campbell Avenue in Roanoke outside.

Photographers' Rights Aren't Always So Clear

A colleague of mine was covering a children's sports event recently and she wanted a photo of the winners in various categories at the end of the competition. One of the parents said she did not want her child's photo published unless it was without his name. That presented a dilemma and brought up a question of rights about what can be photographed and what can be published.

My take on it was that my friend could photograph and publish anything taking place at this public event, where the children's names were being broadcast over a public address system and their names were part of a public list of winners.

So today, Jill Elswick, who writes occasionally for our magazine (Valley Business FRONT) has a Facebook post of my old pal Andrew Kantor's column in USA Today, talking about some of the same issues. It's worth your time if you take photos in public places and wonder if what you're doing is legal. Andrew's take is that just about anything you want to shoot is legal. If it feels like you're doing something wrong, you probably are, but the boundaries in this area are wide, indeed.

Here's an example of how complex it gets: "if you shoot individual kids playing in a school football game, you can't try to sell those shots to the parents; the kids have a right to the use of their likeness. You can sell photos of the game in general, though, and any shots where what's happening ("A player celebrates a goal") is more important than who's doing it ("Star running back John Doe takes a momentary rest").

"Sound like a gray area? It is if you're planning to sell the pictures, but not if you're simply displaying them. And if you're using them for news purposes, all bets are off — you can pretty much publish whatever you want if it happens in public view."

Andrew talks a bit about the fact that you can't photograph on military installations and, from my experience, that includes children's soccer games on the grounds of the VA Hospital in Salem. I stopped there a couple of years to take a shot of kids playing as the sun set--a truly beautiful sight--and was all but shot by a woman who said she was a security guard and barked, "You can't take photographs on government property!" I don't know how right she was about that, but her gun made the point pretty well.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Today's Photo: Paddling Into the Sun

Sometimes my pals say, "Don't you dare put that picture on your blog" and I try to honor that. But this shot of some pals paddling at Carvins Cove last week is just too good to pass up. You'll have to guess who they are, though.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Today's Photo: Maddie on the Porch

OK, so indulge me. This is my joyful little granddaughter Madeline, who--at 6--is learning how to pose for the Hollywood career she seems certain is on the horizon. This one's pretty good.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is Ralph Smith Stupid or Just a Bigot?

Why is Ralph Smith smiling?
Ralph Smith of ... well, wherever he's living today ... was pondering a run against Roanoke lawyer John Lichtenstein, a high-profile professional with excellent credentials, and, according to Valerie Garner, said:

“What is a Philadelphia lawyer going to say to the Floyd County voters” and “How are they going to understand his style in Wythe County?”

Ralph's going to have to stop condescending to the good people of Floyd and Wythe Counties if he has any intention of representing them. They're not as dumb as he is and a whole lot of them are smarter than just about anybody he knows. Smith is an intellectual flyweight and he believes just about everybody else is, too. If he wins, he will be proved right.

Headline of the Day

From our ever-fattening file of "guns don't kill people, people shooting at dogs kill people" comes this from the Huffington Post today:

"Woman Shoots at Puppy; Misses and Kills Husband"


Today's Photo, Part Deux: Bikers Abound

Legends on Williamson Road was host for a large gathering of bikers at midday today. In times past, a gathering like this (bikes all the way around the building, tough looking guys and gals hanging all over it, drinking beer) would have struck fear in the neighbors. These days, with many of the bikers on Social Security, it has become a mild curiosity.

The Art Is Just Fine; The Omission Isn't

Cheryl Foster at work on her Market Building piece
And a lovely smile it is
The N&W porter was a valued member of the community
Cheryl talks to a mother-daughter
Cheryl faces her critics
My buddy (sometimes) Susan Jennings, who was scandalized when I criticized the selection of four people who were not from Roanoke to do the important artwork at the entrances of the renovated Roanoke City Market Building, asked me yesterday to go by and evaluate what was being done.

I did today. The work is good. It is appropriate: a Norfolk & Western Railroad porter. It is significant because these porters held high rank in the Black community here for many years and because N&W employed so many African-Americans, the middle class was large and thriving. That helped alleviate racial strife in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. When people are comfortable, they aren't likely to be unhappy.

I like piece. The artist, Cheryl Foster, is a lovely person and quite talented (she's also damn near my age at an astonishing 62; look at that smile above). Those helping put the tiled mural together are Roanokers who are among our immigrants (Cubans). That is good.

I think Cheryl's work is worthy and I'm sure the art of the others will be, as well. None of which addresses the essential criticism, which I think is still valid: there should be a Roanoker represented on this building--the very symbol of Roanoke. There isn't and won't be. I accept that. I don't know what else to say.

Today's Photo: Awaiting a Little Sunlight

These little guys were picked just ahead of a critter invasion and put in the window to finish ripening. They're destined for 'mater sammiches. Gotta go make some mayo. Mmmmmmm.

GAMUT's 'The Lover' Getting Big Crowds Because It's Good

(UPDATE: Saturday's final performance is sold out. Sorry.)

I slipped into an impromptu, last minute bank of seats on the side wall of Studio Roanoke's theater last night for a sold-out performance of Harold Pinter's "The Lover" and an hour later was truly glad for the squeeze play.

The sellout is the mark of this GAMUT production, a delightful--if a tad dark--comedy by the master of confusion. GAMUT has been around for years, producing about three plays a year, having no permanent home (though the new Community High School could well serve as that in the future) and doing quality work with a mixture of small theater veterans and newcomers. It's the kind of community theater we're consistently spoiled by these days in Roanoke with the combination of GAMUT, Studio Roanoke, Hollins University, Star City Playhouse and Showtimers all producing winners in the absence of Mill Mountain Theatre, the region's professional stage.

"The Lover" in GAMUT's world is punctuated by music and dance in a delightfully-random fashion (the dancers are Elyse Daye Hart and Trey Mitchell, who do splendid work), but it's still about Pinter's go-to-hell vision of the world. This one features Richard (Michael Mansfield) and Sarah (the always watchable, flame-haired beauty Amanda Mansfield) as a couple married for 10 years but keeping boredom away by playing a game that seems to be wearing thin at the edges. That's all I'll say for fear of spoiling it, but it's a fun hour (and I just love plays that are tight, short and full of everything you want in a disciplined script).

The Mansfields, by the way, have both been around as actors for a long time, but this is the married couple's first appearance together.

Miriam Frazier's direction is spot-on and if you want to see this whole package, you'd better hurry. It ends tonight. Call 540-521-6049 for tickets.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Downtown Roanoke Parking Taking a Toll

Pam Berberich: Little choice but to move.
(This is updated Saturday, July 16, to include Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill's comments.)

For Pam Berberich, it finally came down to parking. There were other issues, but as more and more customers circled the block looking for a space, came in angry holding pink parking tickets, mentioned the dread they had at showing up at a pleasant place to do pleasant things, it was obvious the move was coming.

Pam owns Glazed Bisque-It, a happy little business where mostly mothers and children decorate white ceramic pieces with their own creations. During the summer, the building on Campbell Ave., in the heart of Roanoke City Market, sings with children's eagerness. At other times, women hang out in clusters talking and creating. It's the kind of business Pam, a chemist and former academic and drug representative, dreamed out before she bought in four years ago. Glazed Bisque-It had been in operation for 10 years by then and she simply took over and kept the mojo in place.

But recently there has been a problem with the roof, a problem with a lease, a problem with the cost of rent and, finally, that parking situation which has grown to the point of the unbearable the past few months with massive construction projects coalescing to create a worst-case scenario for the businesses. Pam will not be the first to escape the din. Several others have moved or closed.

There's noise and dust to deal with, but mostly it's the almost personal nature of parking that has had most of the impact.

Pam is moving to a small Roanoke County strip mall--Promenade Park on Va. 419--where it is quieter, there's an ice cream shop next door, and there is plenty of parking a short distance away and no threat that a zealous cop will cite customers for being in a spot too long--costing $15. Employees can park for free, too, and won't have to go outside and move every hour or so.

This is a problem Roanoke and other cities have faced forever, but it seems so much more intense these days in downtown Roanoke. I got a parking ticket the other day for parking on the wrong side of one of those confusing signs. The streets are cluttered with fences, trucks, orange cones and yellow tape. Merchants will swear half the parking has evaporated, though it is substantially less than that. The confusion and congestion are obvious.

Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill says, "A parking system designed to meet resident, worker, shopper, and visitor needs is critical to a successful downtown. Part of it is dealing with reality (we need parking that is convenient and affordable) and part is dealing with perception (if I can't park directly in front of where I am going and stay there as long as I want, there is a parking problem).

"We have a parking enforcement program to make sure that there is adequate turnover in spaces. Otherwise, downtown workers would park on street all day taking up the spaces needed for shoppers, diners, and others doing business downtown. We have not added more resources to our parking enforcement efforts so I think it may be more perception that 'intensity of ticketing' has increased.

"Beginning this month we've consolidated all parking operations under one department so we can better manage it as a system. Previously, parking enforcement, parking garages, and parking violation collections were in separate departments. By consolidating, we can better coordinate, plan, and communicate downtown parking."

Pam says she has "absolutely" lost customers because of parking. "My target is mothers with children," she says, and the moms don't want to spend half a day looking for a parking space. "I like the city and I love being where I am," she says, "but this is not conducive to business. If you're navigating the streets holding a small child's hand and pushing a stroller ... We try to be family-oriented, but the parking problem doesn't help."

Pam is paying $15 per square foot for her building (in an area that averages about $11-$13), but will pay "a good bit less" at Promenade Park. She says she looked for another building downtown, but that didn't satisfy the issues. She says Downtown Roanoke Inc. tried to help and so did the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, but nothing came of it. She says she hasn't heard from the City of Roanoke about her move.

Pam would love to see "parking meters back on the street." There's something stable and predictable about meters, she says, even though many resist paying for parking. Fact is, you pay one way or you pay another.

I don't know what the solution is, but somebody needs to find one quickly. I think we all understand that the construction downtown will create a better space eventually, but if everybody's gone before it's finished, what's been gained?

Pam's is one of the types of businesses that makes a downtown special. But it has to stay in order to continue that. It won't do downtown Roanoke any good at all when she's at Promenade Park.

More from Chris Morrill:
We have a cross-departmental task force focusing on parking system improvements. Here are some of the tasks they are undertaking. Trying to increase the number of on street parking spaces by reviewing every loading zone and no parking zone to see if we can add spaces. Just yesterday we walked several blocks of Campbell and Salem, identifying the potential for up to 20 additional spaces.
"While we have plenty of capacity in our garages, we know that most people find it more convenient to park on the street. The task force is reviewing the parking time zones to be sure that they meet the current customer demands on that block. For example, there may be a block with 15 minute time zones because the previous use was a bank where people just needed to run in and deposit a check, etc. The bank may now be replaced with a sit down restaurant so a 1 hour time zone may be more appropriate. We'll do this review block by block (with input from the merchants) to align the time zones with the uses and customer needs. We also believe this efforts will allow us to consolidate some time zones and reduce the number of signs downtown -- easing the visual clutter.
"The task force is working on the public education, marketing and perception issue. We really don't have a parking supply problem. I've attached a visual of downtown that blacks out all the public and private parking garages and lots. You can see that a major portion of downtown is already dedicated to parking. We are looking for effective ways to get information out about the many parking options downtown--including private lots. We are partnering with DRI on these efforts. You may have noticed that new banner on Market Street promoting free parking the garages on weekends. DRI also has new parking information on its Web site.