Friday, September 30, 2011

Quote of the Day: 'We're in This Mess Because ..."

"This reflects the [Republican] party’s broader slide into its own insular intellectual universe. Large segments of the G.O.P. reject climate science and even the theory of evolution, so why expect evidence to matter for the party’s economic views? ...

" ... The truth is that we’re in this mess because we had too little regulation, not too much. And now one of our two major parties is determined to double down on the mistakes that caused the disaster."

--Paul Krugman in the New York Times

Headline of the Day: Eating ... Uh ... Nothing

Headline from a Huffington Post teaser today:

"Food Chain on Verge of Bankruptcy"

Begging the question: Which end of the food chain filed?

Photo of the Day II: Sarah Beth Takes a Ride

Sarah Beth loves this stuff.
Cop bike left in dryer too long.
My buddy Sarah Beth Jones of Floyd is talking a lot these days about the Kaplan guys over in Salem and their Dominion Electric Vehicles, partly because she's related to them and mostly because they're selling electric vehicles, which she obviously adores.

We're right on the verge of a revolution in vehicles and energy use--I hope--and these guys are out front with some pretty interesting rides. Electric cars and motorcycles (like the little cop unit to the right) are not new. They date to virtually the same instant as the internal combustion engine. At the turn of the 20th Century the auto industry faced its Beta-VCR moment and went with gas over electricity, much to our loss over the years. But maybe we can get back there. We can thank Sarah Beth for helping get us there.

These pix, by the way, are from Sarah Beth's Facebook page.

Photo of the Day: Another Brick in the Wall

Work progresses ever-so-slowly on the renovation of Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke, and as you can see, a lot has been stripped away and is giving an idea of what is to come. The renovated building is going to be marvelous. Wish it would hurry, so we could get our parking back.

City Market Demonstrations: A Matter of Who Controls What

Like it or not--and I don't--the Roanoke's Market Building Foundation Board's decision to prohibit public demonstrations in front of the high-visibility structure is difficult to argue because of a technicality in the lease. The foundation leases from the city and part of what it leases is the sidewalks surrounding the building, where it has outdoor dining.

Plowshare Peace Center has conducted silent vigils every month on the Campbell Ave. sidewalk for years, but that will have to stop now and those silent protesters are screaming "First Amendment Rights!" today, though that's not a consideration here. This one is about the right of the foundation to control the property it is leasing and the vigils don't fit in the business plan, according to chairman Doug Waters in a nicely presented story in a Roanoke daily paper this a.m.

Few would argue that the Plowshare vigils are anything but civilized, honorable and not the least disruptive, but the potential would exist for demonstrations that are not as well organized if the sidewalk was in city control, and, thus, the control of the citizens. According to the lease, though, it is not.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

City Council Advice: You Use Local Vendors (But We Won't)

Cunningham Quill's exterior lacks ... well ... everything.
Spectrum's proposed rear exterior design had style and grace (and a blue sky).
Spectrum's interior design (note elevator).
Cunningham Quill's scribble of the interior was not done on a napkin.
The sad truth of a flat, ugly, uninspired City Market Building design today.
I understand that Roanoke City Council recently urged citizens to use local businesses to meet their needs. That is a good thing. It's a suggestion Council would do well to follow.

Not to beat a dead horse (oh, hell, let's beat it), but City Council jobbed out the design for the renovated City Market Building, perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Roanoke outside that god-awful star, to a company that is not in Roanoke and not even in Virginia. It was a company that came up with an inferior design and a flat, industrial finished product that is hardly inspiring. We could have had a dazzling building at a lower cost from a local firm, but noooooooooooo.

I thought it would be good to look back on what was presented and what resulted. Herewith is presented the drawing from Cunningham Quill of Washington, D.C., that beat our local firm's (Spectrum Design) vision. And we have a photo, taken today, of the result: a thoroughly uninspired and uninspiring building that looks like it was designed in a government basement office. I think we know why.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2012 Writers Conference Website Is Up; Register Now

The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference V, scheduled Jan. 27-28, 2012 at Hollins University, is now posted online, so you can register early and avoid missing the cut. Here's the link.

This is the best lineup we've had and this year we have a section on science fiction, as well as two New York literary agents who will talk in the Saturday morning session (and might even take a look at your manuscript if you're good).

The teacher lineup is full of people with new books, including Roland Lazenby (who will give the keynote address Friday and teach a class Saturday), Cathy Hankla, Rod Belcher, Mollie Cox Bryan (from cookbook to murder mystery), Gina Holmes, Brooke McGlothlin, Jim Minnick, Peggy Shifflett and Matthew Vollmer. We have locally well-known journalist Beth Macy, tech whiz and marvelous writer Michael Miller, as well as filmmaker Amy Gerber-Stroh and my buddy Sarah Beth Jones. And there's a lot more.

The cost is $60 and includes 24 classes, a reception, coffee and lunch on Saturday. On top of that, you get to meet other writers, mingle with them and some of you--I can say from experience--will come away with work to do ... for money.

Nouveau GOP Party Platform

Just picked up the following from Todd Cooper on Facebook. It's from Gandhi and it's called the "Seven Dangers to Human Virtue," but could easily be labeled the "Republican Party Manifesto, 2011":

  1. Wealth without work
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Business without ethics
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Religion without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle

Photo of the Day II: First, Read the Directions

John Frashure of Shoe Department Encore at Valley View Mall was working on the miniature merry-go-round this morning, instructions in hand, explaining that "their people sent our people the directions so we could fix this thing." He fixed it. That's an ode to following directions.

'The Parking Lot Movie' Was Right Here

 These two photos don't look like much, but they are part of a semi-famous location in Charlottesville: the entrance and exit for a parking lot that was featured in the documentary "The Parking Lot Movie," which I saw, thanks to Netflix, recently.

I was in C'ville this past weekend and as we drove past the entrance and exit of the lot--which I would have missed as if they were fire hydrants--it was pointed out that "a movie was made here." I hit the brakes and nearly caused a wreck. "Where?" "Right there." "Oh." Not much to look at.

It was an easy movie to miss, too, since its distribution was miniscule, but it was an interesting piece and with the nearly local focus, even fascinating. I'm told by an expert that everybody who has lived in Charlottesville over the past 30 years or so has parked in The Corner Parking Lot. The movie's "guru" (that's what he's called; honest) is Chris Farina, who worked at the lot, hired his buddies and made the movie.

I'm thinking, if you can make a movie about a parking lot in C'ville, why not make one of my new book, CLOG! ?

Photo of the Day: The Things I Didn't Know

On the way to Charlottesville for a football game Saturday, a little stop at the birthplace of Sam Houston--yes, THAT Sam Houston--jumped right out at me in Rockbridge County. This is on a pull-off just off the Interstate (a shortcut, as it were) and I had no idea Houston was a Virginian. I had always thought he was a Tennessee native.

Let us not ignore the fact that Sam and all those old boys at the Alamo--many of them Virginians--fought hard to give Texas independence so they could keep their slaves. Mexicans thought slavery immoral. What did they know about commerce?

(Chris VanCanofort adds this on Facebook: "Double down on Texas! The 'Father of Texas,' Stephen Austin, was also born nearby in Wythe County in a little town called Austinville where his family originated. There is a roadside marker off I-77 at the Shot Tower exit commemorating the fact.")

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quote of the Day: The Nagging Claim of Class Warfare

Old capitalist pyramid became an American diamond.
"Those who proclaim these two things – social flatness and vigorous market competitiveness – to be inherent opposites, in perpetual conflict, are simply fools or historical ignoramuses — or outright liars. They are pushing the sick illogic of the zero sum game. Indeed, Adam Smith himself contended, in both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that a relatively flat social order — combined with lots of opportunities for the poor to get education, so the total number of competitors is maximized — can vastly increase the total number of people who get rich in the best way, by delivering innovative goods and services."

--David Brin, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (whole article here).


Monday, September 26, 2011

A Compelling New Case for Regulation

An Office of Management and Budget study shows that  in every year between 2000-2010, the benefits of regulation outweighed the costs by an average of 700 percent.

Rarely has there been a more compelling case for federal regulation of an industry than the one staring at us right now: the drug industry is running shortages of vital drugs--the kind that keep people alive--because it is not profitable to produce them or because it is inconvenient or because .... well ... they just don't want to make them.

We're talking life and death and health and sickness here and a cranky industry that damn well does what it pleases and screams bloody murder if somebody like me suggests a little regulation is preferable to what is tantamount to murder.

The pharmaceutical industry is but one of many industries that simply rape us on a daily basis. Energy has to slip in there. Transportation and health care rank high. But Republicans will die before they allow life and health to trump profits. It's frightening.


Photo of the Day: Hiding in the Grass

This is my new best friend, Harvey, who was resting comfortably in the clover of my back yard this morning as I mowed. It is a testament to the quietness of the battery-powered mower that Harvey was not the least bit disturbed by my presence until I shooed him away so I could mow this patch. He seemed annoyed at me for that, but, heh, he came right back. Cute little guy. Just a pup.

Update on Newspaper Buyouts

Here's an update on the buyout situation at a Roanoke daily newspaper, which we told you about a week or so ago. It appears that reporter Duncan Adams and copy editors Mark Bullock and Jerry Stone are not eligible because they come up short of the 20 years of service necessary to qualify. Our contact said they might be. The combination of 20 years' service and 55 years of age is the cutoff.

A contact speculated this morning that metro columnist Dan Casey would be eligible for the buyout. He is not. He has been at the paper 17 years and is 53 years old, so he doesn't make the cut on either count. It would have been quite an irony if Dan had come in under the wire. The guy he replaced as columnist, Joe Kennedy, lost his job in a buyout in 2007.

One of those who apparently does qualify for the buyout is Publisher Debbie Meade, who has been at the paper for nearly 30 years and, by my accounting, is right on the edge of 55 (she was a Virginia Tech student in 1976).  It will be interesting to see if she takes the buyout, providing she is eligible.

The details of the buyout--again from somebody who has a copy of the memo--include 22 weeks' pay and $5,000. There is no mention of an insurance stipend. Employees leaving would likely be eligible for COBRA coverage (which they pay for about 18 months before being left uninsured).

Virginia Poll: Think Democratic, Vote Republican

Virginia congressional districts.

A new poll from Roanoke College, conducted with a little more than a year before the 2012 general election shows former Republican Senator George Allen ahead of former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine 42 percent to 32 percent with a significant 19 percent undecided.

The poll also shows Virginia voters tend toward thinking the way Democrats think, but still voting Republican. They believe, for example, that a combination of cuts and tax increases is preferable and that hard-core refusal to compromise is counterproductive.

Kaine leads among voters who describe themselves as “moderates” and Allen leads among “independents.” Allen has not yet said, “Maccacca.” He has, however, been the subject of a significant piece of journalism that ties him to the Big Coal industry, raking in so much money that the term “employee” comes to mind.

In another race of interest, President Barack Obama leads a generic Republican presidential candidate 41 percent to 33 percent, but trails Mitt Romney 45-37 and Rick Perry (RICK PERRY!?!)  42-40. That latter would come under the heading of, “What was I thinking?” Obama’s ahead of Michele Bachman, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin, all by more than 10 percent and Palin by nearly 20.

The Poll was conducted by interviewing 601 Virginia residents between Sept. 6 and 17. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent up and down.

Obama’s approval rating is 39 percent, with a disapproval rate of 54 percent. Congress has an 11 percent approval rating (and how could it not with bozos like Morgan Griffith serving?). Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has an approval rating of 67 percent, same as Sen. Mark Warner is doing.

Sixty-eight percent believe elected officials should compromise to get things done and 56 percent said they would vote for a candidate who believes compromise is desirable. Seventy-one percent believe gridlock in Washington is more the result of political gamesmanship, than a reflection of genuinely different views.

Virginians think unemployment is more serious than the budget deficit 65-21 percent. Just 35 percent think the budget must be balanced (6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, wants the balanced budget written into the Constitution). Sixty-six percent of Virginians prefer that the deficit be reduced through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases.

Tellingly, however, between 51 percent and 62 percent of our dreamers think a reduction can be achieved without cutting Social Security and Medicare, without raising taxes on most Americans (clobber the rich) and without cutting other important programs. Just 44 percent think it can be cut without trimming the military budget.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Fine Day for Softball at the Spectacular Botetourt Sports Complex

Tennessee and Longwood play in a wonderful setting.
Vols' All-American pitcher Ellen Renfroe lets one go.
Vols' Lauren Gibson smacks a single.
James Madison players put their backpacks on the fence.
This old Tennessee fan covered up against a light rain.
Little girls and Sno-Cones mix well and leave residue.
The food was good; the prices were astonishing!
Vols and Lancers congratulate each other after a 4-0 Tennessee victory.
My first look at the new Botetourt Complex today left me with a dropped jaw and some wide eyes. The people in Botetourt have out Salemed Salem with this new softball facility that sits amid a huge and picturesque pasture that contains a variety of athletic venues.

The occasion today was some kind of military appreciation softball tournament that had a bunch of Virginia teams and nationally ranked Tennessee playing four games each. Tennessee, which came into the exhibitions with a Top 10 reputation, actually lost in its third game, 3-2 to James Madison, but it scored three other shutouts, one of them 11-0 against Virginia Tech.

I have, in recent years, become quite a fan of Tennessee's softball teams, so it was nice to sit in a good crowd of Vol fans today and listen to Rocky Top. I'm told the place was overflowing and rocking Saturday when Tech and Tennessee played.

Not only is this one of the prettiest venues you'll ever see a game in (rivaling Salem's Class A professional baseball stadium for view and being superior to Salem,s softball facility), but you can eat good food and you can afford it. A barbecue sandwich and Coke were $3.50. That's less than the ice in the soft drink I had at the University of Virginia's game in Charlottesville yesterday cost. Hotdogs were $1.50. So were corndogs. Popcorn was 50 cents. A freezepop was a quarter. Those prices are frozen back in my high school days.

Botetourt County, you have my hearty and enthusiastic applause for all of this. Thank you.

The Smiths (All of Them) Go to the Ball Game

Evan and Kara Smith at the Tennessee softball game today.
Evan and his favorite daughter.
Madeline and her new pal.
Madeline finds a seat.
Oscar shows his interest in softball.
Oscar is hungry.
Oscar's call answered.
My son and his wife (Evan and Kara) brought along three-week-old Oscar and six-year-old Madeline to the Tennessee-Longwood softball game today at the new--and gorgeous--Botetourt Sports Complex.

Evan is a graduate of Tennessee, Kara of Longwood and she spend the final 10 minutes before the game stressing about who she was going to root for.

As seems to be the rule, Maddie had a couple of new buddies before anybody sat down and Oscar was in his own world, except when he got hungry. A lovely afternoon for the family, it was.

Mr. Peabody's Coal Train Hauling Away George Allen

George Allen: Coal guy
The Washington Post tells us today that George Allen, who's running to re-gain his old Senate seat, has been purchased pretty much outright by Big Energy, specifically companies like Peabody. You'll remember Peabody Coal from this wonderful lyric:

"And daddy won't you take me down to Muhlenberg County
"Down by the Green River where Paradise lay.
"I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
"Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

--From "Paradise" by John Prine

Photo(s) of the Day III: More Festive Moods

Cute kid, but who is he with those strange markings?
"Ugly fruit is good fruit." --Mom
The pumpkin patch at City Market.
John Deere frames the Jack Tale Players.
The fall festival at Roanoke City Market yesterday brought out the usual suspects, creating the festive air and a good mood for picking up your fall pumpkins. There are plenty of them. I saw one woman leaving the market with a large gourd-type fruit that looked like one of those people pods from "The Body Snatchers." I went looking for one of my own and couldn't find them. Maybe they really were people pods.

Photo of the Day II: UVa Crowd Disguised as Empty Seats

If you don't believe winning makes a difference, here's proof.
Southern Miss fans made their presence known.
Cav-man's entrance on his noble steed is always a highlight (sometimes the only one).
The crowd at the University of Virginia's game with Southern Miss yesterday (a 30-24 loss) was announced at 43,000, but you wouldn't prove that by me or this shot of the end zone crowd, where most of the people came disguised as empty seats. It's near Halloween, so I guess that is acceptable.

Capacity is 64,947 and my guess is that this team won't ring that bell much this season. Still, it's fun to go to the games and enjoy the festival. The football team is young and it'll get better.

Photo(s) of the Day I: Mountain Magic from Ferrum

Jack Tale Players lay down a Cajun tune.
Happiness is youth and talent.
Fiddle-girl can't find a smile.
Redhead from Central Casting.
Ferrum College's Jack Tale Players entertained a crowd sitting on hay bales at the fall festival on Roanoke City Market yesterday. The Players, whose stock-in-trade is the interpretation of the mountain Jack Tales, were founded by R. Rex Stephenson in 1975 with a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Since then, moe than half a million people in 34 states have watched more than 2,500 performances by the players, including this one. Jack is a character based in regional folklore. The preservation of this part of our heritage is something I highly commend, especially when it's done with energy, style and grace. It is a marvelous example of smart spending of state money for education.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quote of the Day: Do We Love Rick Perry, Or What?

Rick Perry launches grenades with this gun and with his mouth.
"If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."

--Texas Gov. Rick Perry's reply to Rep. Michele Bachmann's suggestion that Merck bought his support of HPV vaccine. Perry, of course, has a history of soliciting funds from those who would like him--his office, actually--on their side. Find the sordid details here as Perry continues to flame out.

Fixing the New Facebook

The Huffington Post has a useful tutorial this a.m., instructing those among you who are furious at Facebook for all its recent changes. Here's the link. Very useful service from HuffPo if you're dissatisfied with FB.

Friday, September 23, 2011

'Moneyball': Maybe the Best Baseball Movie Ever

If you're looking for an affirmation that life is a metaphor for baseball (yes, I said that right), then "Moneyball" is your movie. It's also my movie: I think it's the best baseball movie I've ever seen and one of the top three or four sports movies in my experience.

The book, a long-time bestseller by Michael Lewis, was one of the top two or three baseball books I've read--and I've read a whoooooooole lot of baseball books. Don't much like the game, but I love its literature.

In any case, this telling of the story is informative, uplifting, dramatic, touching and there's not an explosion in the entire two-plus hours (as my date happily noted), except maybe for some post-game fireworks, which don't count because they're celebratory.

People are going to try to convince you that this is a movie about everything in the world except what it's about: baseball. It's inside baseball about as far as you can go. There was a point where I thought lead character Billy Bean's (Brad Pitt) bad marriage was going to slobber all over us and turn it into a chick flick, but it didn't. It was played more for WOW! effect as in, "Why the hell did his ex trade him in for that nerd sitting on the couch with her?" There's also a little to-do with Billy and his young daughter, who sings a song that sticks with you (I'm sitting here humming the tune, "The Show" by Lenka), but that's all the girly stuff. Promise. The rest is baseball as you've never before seen it, like the book was.

The movie is based on the improbable rise of one of baseball's small-market have-nots, the Oakland A's (I hate that damn apostrophe, but I grew up loving Charlie Finley, his ugly mule and his A's) whose expenditures for players amounted to a small fraction of what teams like the Yankees and Red Sox spent. But under Billy Bean, Oakland became a contender with players nobody else wanted.

He did it with math and a Yale economics major ( played convincingly by Jonah Hill), selecting players who could get on base, who could foul balls off, wearing out pitchers and playing the game in the GM's office better than anybody else played it.

What Billy Bean did in Oakland ultimately led the Boston Red Sox, using his methods, to break their god-awful World Series drought. Bean wanted more than anything else to change baseball. He did. See how with the movie (or, hell, read the book; it's great, too).

Today's Photo: Rainy Days and Mondays

The rain started falling this morning about 8 o'clock and my guess is it will go most of the day. It's spilling out of the downspouts and onto a thirsty lawn, one that is recovering from a couple of months worth of drought. Going up to UVa for a football game tomorrow and out to Botetourt County Sunday to see the University of Tennessee's softball team play, so I hope we get a break. Beautiful, though.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TV Time for Next Week's Women's Forum at Hollins

"Daytime Blue Ridge" co-host Natalie Faunce (left) interviewed Melinda Cohan and me today at noon on her show about the upcoming Now That We're in Charge Women's Forum at Hollins University Oct. 1. Melinda will serve as moderator for the morning forum portion of a conference that is going to be simply marvelous.

You can replay the interview (it's just three minutes) here.

We will feature an all-star lineup of the region's women business owners and top-level executives (Nancy Agee of Carilion, Mary Miller of IDD, Nanci Hardwich of Shultz Creehan, Tamea Franco Woodward of East West Dyecom, Susan Still of HomeTown Bank and more) in a morning forum and eight classes to follow. The classes are substantial and practical for women in business or those who want to be in business. The cost is $30 and you can register (and get a full accounting of what's going on and when) at here.

(Photo Mike Wilson)

Heeeeeeeeeere's Doris Kerns Goodwin (Finally)

Doris talks to the assembled.
The crowd was near overflow.
Doris, in her Salem Red Sox hat, signs an autograph.
Doris and her favorite editor.
OK, so I finally bought my way into a way to download my photos from Doris Kerns Goodwin's talk at Roanoke College last night--and it wasn't easy.

I went online looking for a cable or a disk reader and they were expensive and would take forever to get here, so I went over to Big Lots on the offchance it would have one. It did, a Kodak 72-in-1. When I first plugged it in, it didn't seem to want to read the card from the four-year-old Sony camera (which I came into under strange circumstances; I'll tell you more later).

So I called Radio Shack to see what it had. Guy said he had something that'd read the card. Turned out to be the same Kodak (at $20 instead of the $14 I paid at Big Lots) and it worked in the store, so I came home to give the one I'd bought another try. It worked. Maybe it had to be convinced I knew what I was doing.

Any, here's the wonderful DKG (and her favorite editor). Look at that smile. Like an airplane landing light.

(Photo of DKG and me by Christina Koomen. I took the others.)