Sunday, September 30, 2012

Photo of the Day: My Baby and Me

The doc set me free to drive for the first time this weekend (OK, I've been driving for a couple of weeks, but he didn't know it), so I promptly went over to Lynchburg to see my girl, Leah. This is us on the Blackwater Trail this morning. Later we drove out into Amherst County to see her buddies Joe and Fran who own the wonderful hillside Finally There Farm. Enjoyed every minute with. She's special.
Leah looking gorgeous on the trail.

A Roadside View of the Virginia 10-Miler

Julius Kogo (in green) is going back while much if the field is still going out.
More Kenyans follow Kogo.
This is the view of the race from Leah's porch.
I spent the weekend at my Leah's in Lynchburg and was given an unexpected treat Saturday morning. Leah lives in the Rivermont section, which s a main pathway for the Lynchburg 10-miler, one of the east's most prestigious races.

I got to sit on the front porch and watch as Kenyans dominated the race (as you might expect) and to view a progression of 4,000 people running and walking various distances. They filed past, some quickly, some slowly, some smiling, others sweaty, miserable and grumpy. It was, as my old pal used to say, "the human cavalcade."

This was a notable race because the winner was a guy named Julius Kogo  who took a wrong turn last year and was disqualified, and the eighth-place runner was Elkahah Kabet, last year's winner. Between them were five other Kenyans. They were notable for their absolute quiet as they passed. They were like electric cars.

This one was also interesting because 10 runners finished the race in less than 50 minutes (that's a series of sub-five-minute miles) and 39 runners--two of them women--finished in less than 60 minutes. That's flying.

Interesting stuff, it was.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Quote of the Day: Jim Webb on Obama

Webb and Obama
"We all know we have big problems to solve. This is not the time to turn over the helm of the ship of state to someone whose views on foreign policy seem awkward and uninformed, whose economic policies favor those who are already advantaged, and who does not seem to understand that many of those who need government assistance today want to live the American dream just as much as those who have already made it. That they don’t think of themselves as part of a culture of dependency, but maybe need a little help here and there so that they might say they are living in a land of opportunity.

"It’s six weeks before the election and we still don’t really know what Governor Romney wants to do as President. That should make you worried. On the other hand we’ve heard a lot about what Congressman Ryan wants to do. And that should make you scared."

--Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, campaigning for Barack Obama

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Asking the Candidates About Citizens United

I don't normally get involved in politically-motivated petitions, but here's one that caught my attention.

A group  called Free Speech for People is asking Jim Lehrer of PBS to ask of our two presidential  candidates in next Wednesday's debate their stance on Citizen's United, the absurd Supreme Court decision--opposed by more than 80 percent of Americans, across party and ideological lines--that opened the floodgates to corporate control of our elections by buying them outright.

Mitt Romney has said he opposes unions being able to contribute vast amounts, but has been mum on the corporate infusion. President Obama, a couple of weeks ago, said he was opposed to all that company money being spent to buy politicians. They both need to say what they think in this focused forum, where millions of voters will be watching.

We also need to hear what candidates for other national offices--people who will represent us--feel about this. It has been pretty well established so far that Republican officeholders overwhelmingly support the Supreme Court decision and that incumbents across the board are generally in favor it it because they perceive it gives them an advantage. Ever wonder why we all have such monumental disrespect for politicians? Google "Citizens United supporters." That'll tell you all you need to know.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Sad, Sad Loss of Lime Kiln Theatre

Lime Kiln during better days.
It looks like the Theater at Lime Kiln in Lexington, one of the region's oldest and most venerable venues, will close for good this weekend at least partly because of the notion that government has no business supporting the arts--a specious argument at best. It is an argument used almost solely by those in the United States, among First World nations. The others think nothing putting money into the arts, which they consider--properly--an educational venue.

This would be the second significant loss of a theater venue in a little over a month in this region. Recently, Studio Roanoke, a front-edge facility that featured new works in Roanoke, closed for lack of funding.

Lime Kiln, which was quite literally that for many years, was carved into a theater by one Don Baker about 30 years ago and transformed into an outside theater that had few parallels on the East Coast, either for sheer beauty or creativity. Baker, with his friends Robin and Linda Williams, nationally known folk singers, wrote "Stonewall Country," which became the theater's cornerstone for years (I saw it 25 times--swear to god--and it was never bad). Don produced Shakespeare each year (often in Appalachian settings) and the theater produced people like Lee Smith ("Earrings From Oral History") and the wonderful "King Mackeral and the Blues Are Running." Their original productions demonstrated just how good local/regional theater could be when in the right hands.

Baker, however, was too big for Lexington and when the local board began bitching about his techniques, he left for Atlanta and told them to run the theater themselves. There has been a succesion of directors since then, but never a Don Baker and the theater has suffered. It has also help a less exhalted, but solid entertainment and tourist draw spot in the touristy county. It features some fine national music acts and an occasional play of substance and creativity.

But that's not enough, especially without some bucks from the local governments (and maybe the state's and federal endowments for the arts). I'm going to miss the place being there, although I haven't been in several years. It said "good theater" to all who know this region and its theatrical heritage.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Killer Lineup for 2013 Writers Conference at Hollns

River Laker: Marketing Guru
The 2013 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference has scored several coups that I just can't hold on to any longer because the excitement level in me has just exploded all over the place.

Kathy Grissom
Let's start with our keynote speaker. It was to have been Gina Holmes, the successful Roanoke novelist, but Gina has a book due Feb. 1 (the conference is Jan. 25-26 at Hollins University) and couldn't put together a talk that quickly.

She is being replaced in that role by Lynchburg writer Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House, which has sold half a million copies worldwide in the past two years. Kathy was also a reluctant keynoter, but agreed to give it her best (she'll teach a class on marketing, as well. Kathy's success with the book is primarily due to her own marketing efforts, even though she has a major publisher).

Gina Holmes
Gina, meanwhile, just came at me with the most scrumptious proposal I've had in a long time. She and River Laker--the Roanoke library promoter who recently resigned because some people in government have little sense of humor--will teach a class on marketing. Who better? These two are so different and so successful with what they do that they will be irresistible.

There's more:
  • Roanoker Greg Trafidlo, the Roanoke folk singer with the huge national reputation, will not only teach a class on songwriting, he will also write a song to open the conference (and my money goes on it being a good song that will stick a tune in your head for days).
  • Floyd's Neil Sagabiel, whose monster golf book was a manuscript without a taker until he learned how to write a proposal, will teach what he learned--and there will be enormous value in that.
  • Tiffany Trent, Angie Smibert and Carrie Brown each has several successful books and a lot of wisdom about the process they will share in their classes. Tif, who writes for young adults, taught a popular class several years ago, but moved out of the area. She's back now. The others are new to the conference.

There are quite a few more writers you'll want to hear this year, even though we've reduced our number of classes from 24 to 20 on Saturday. The classes will be longer (an hour, instead of 45 minutes) and the cost will remain $60 for a wine reception, all those classes, the keynote address, coffee and all the networking and learning you want to do.

The website will be up by Nov. 1 and you can register then. Keep watching for it (it'll be hosted by and will be under "events"). Watch closely. The last two have sold out pretty far ahead of time and my guess is this one will, too.

Quote of the Day: The Republicans' Lost Soul

"Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition."

--David Brooks, NYTimes this a.m.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Showtimers' 'Dracula' Is Both More and Less

The Showtimers' production of the Hamilton Dean/John Balderson theater rendering of "Dracula" is like so many community theater efforts in that it is both more and less than you'd expect.

This one features some fine performances--especially Kevin McAlexander's Renfield, Spencer Meredith's Butterworth and Caitlin Coleman's Lucy--and one that is simply miscast (Stephen Baltz as Jonathan Harker). Kris Laguzza's direction is generally spot-on, though there are moments here and there when the audience didn't quite know whether she was going for a laugh or a fright and what you got was nervous laughter.

Even the costuming and makeup were uneven. It was generally pretty good until we got to Chris Reidy's Dracula, dressed in what appeared to be a Naval overcoat from the wardrobe of another play (which I suspect it was) and white makeup on his face applied so unevenly that it looked like he'd fallen into the flour vault.

Remember, though, that this is community theater, not professional theater and what you get is the amateur--and often far more charming--version of these works. Accept it for what it is and you'll get a fine evening's entertainment out of it for a low price ($12 and $5 for kids and you can safely take the kids; not much here will frighten them).

The play runs through Sept. 30 at the Showtimers' studio in Southwest Roanoke County.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trusting the Media? Give Us Something to Trust

Graphic from The Monkey Cage shows declining trust in media.
This presidential election, like so many others of recent vintage, has been reported abysmally across the board. We all remember the great importance put on Al Gore's brown suits, how John Kerry--an honest-to-god war hero--was reported as a coward, how George Bush was called a "rancher" (he bought his damn ranch in 1999 in order to run with it), and other examples abound.

This election season, it's not so much a mis-characterization of candidates--I think they've been pretty well nailed down by most--but the fact that nobody in the country has a poll that is believeable. They're all over the board with these things. On the same day, we see that Obama has virtually locked up the Electoral College (Huff Post), but the candidates are in a dead heat (CBS News). The important contested states (and Virginia is one of them) give a 5 to 10 point lead to one, then the other.

Republican Party insiders are throwing in the towel in one report and the Democrats are panicking in the next. What the hell's going on? Somebody has to know something. Has corporate influence upon media so corrupted the system that simple reports can't be affected? It's frustrating and exasperating--like watching Tennessee play Florida in football, if you get my drift.

We won't even talk about local reporting of statewide and congressional races because it's almost non-existent. Why a local daily paper or a medium-market television station can't have seasoned, excellent, insider political reporters who tell us important things about our candidates (like who their opponents are, for example--quick, who's running against Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith?) is beyond my comprehension. They have full-time reporters doing cute animal stories, but most of us are concerned about issues larger than that.

John Sides at The Monkey Cage has this explanation (partially):

"Party polarization has raised the stakes in elections. And polarization combined with the growth of partisan media options has created an incentive for party leaders and activists to discredit the mainstream media among their supporters. Party leaders convince their partisans in the mass public to resist informative messages from the mainstream media and ideologically hostile outlets, and instead rely more on ideologically friendly new outlets. 

"In doing this, they can help to inoculate their supporters against voting for the other side. Polarization created the incentive for political media criticism, but the changing media industry created the opportunity for it to be effective because there were so many nonmainstream media outlets providing alternative messages.

"Republicans were the earliest to adopt this strategy, and are still by far its most intense practitioners. But Democrats have also pursued this strategy to a lesser degree."

Where the hell is the news media? What has happened to it? Can it possibly be revived? And people in my profession wonder why the hell their companies are dying. Sheesh.

Driving While Texting: Here's Proof It'll Kill You

Researcher Tom Dingus
If you think the jury is still out on the dangers of yakking or texting while driving, you can close that door. Researchers at Virginia will tell you otherwise today, based on measurable research.

Here's some of what they found, according to Rich Hanowski, of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety: "Taking your eyes off the road to dial a cell phone or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 percent."

The paper is titled "Estimating Crash Risk" and is written by Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute, Hanowski and Charlie Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute. It recently received the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s 2012 Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award.

Klauer says, "The tasks that we should focus heavily on correcting are the newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialing, and reaching for a phone."

 The researchers conclude with recommendations found here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

River Laker: A Personal Retrospective (Video)

River Laker is always interesting and now that he doesn't  have a job at the Roanoke Library any longer and can pretty much say anything he wants, he's even moreso. He recently gave a talk that led to this video and you should watch it. It's a retrospective of what he's done in the Roanoke Valley during the past few years and the sheer volume of goofiness is astonishing. It's goofy, but it's fun, educational and most of his "stunts" had a point. Wish I could say the same for city government.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

'Antigone' Nearing Production With Garage Rehearsal

Setting up for the opening scene.
Introduction underway.
Kathy Guy (left), Miriam Frazier directing in the garage.
When it's community theater, sometimes it's garage theater, as Gamut producers Kathy Guy and Miriam Frazier demonstrated this morning with one of their final rehearsals for "Antigone," which runs Oct. 4-13 at the June McBroon Theater at Community High School in Roanoke.

This is June Anouilh's 1940s re-imagining of Sophocles' tale of balancing the needs of the individual  against the needs of society. It is a strongly political play, set against this fall's election.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

River Laker Resigns; Put Life Into Libraries

River Laker
Well crap! I guess it was inevitable, but River Laker has resigned as the guy who made the Roanoke City Library system cool and I, for one, will miss him. My pal Val Garner is reporting the resignation here.

Val quotes Riv as saying, “It is with a degree of sadness that I announce my resignation as Resource Development Coordinator at Roanoke Public Libraries, effective September 24, 2012. In the words of Thoreau, 'It seemed to me that I had several more lives to live.' And so, I am moving on."

River has been with the city for five years creating excitement around the hide-bound library system with promotions that sometimes bordered on a circus. He packed them in, showed people where the libraries are and had them using it as a resource.

River, always reveling as the center of attention, ran into trouble about 18 months ago when he stripped during a promotion at 202 Market Street. He was reprimanded, challenged the reprimand and wound up with a lesser role with the library. That would be hard for a live wire like River to take and his resignation is understandable. but it's hard to lose his energy and his excitement.

Good luck, Riv.

Hey, You Want Some Dirty Air? Vote Republican

The three U.S. House of Representatives members from our region of Virginia—Republicans Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Robert Hurt—are among 193 House members and 39 Senators are rated as “Dirty Air Villains” in a new analysis by the NRDC Action Fund published today on the website here.

In the House, 99 members are rated as “Clean Air Heroes” while in the Senate the 43 “Clean Air Heroes” outnumber the chamber’s villains. All 193 Dirty Air Villains in the House are Republican. In the Senate, 37 Republicans and two Democrats voted down the line against clean air. All 99 Clean Air Heroes in the House are Democrats, while in the Senate, 41 of the Heroes are Democrats and 2 are Independents.

The NRDC Action Fund analysis also found that on average, House members who took more than $100,000 in career polluter campaign contributions voted against clean air laws nearly twice as many times as those who accepted less than $100,000 from dirty industries. In the Senate, members taking more than $500,000 in career polluter campaign contributions voted against clean air laws three times as often as those taking less, on average. Contributions data was obtained from OpenSecrets in August, 2012.

Goodlatte, who represents Virginia’s Sixth District, has consistently rated a zero in environmental matters by a respected environmental agency since he has been in Congress.

The analysis also finds that a large number of the House and Senate “villains” – 48 in the House and 25 in the Senate - represent citizens living in towns and cities rated by the American Lung Association (ALA) as ranking among the 25 most polluted metro areas in America for air pollution.

Virginia’s six Dirty Air Villains are Reps. Scott Rigell (R-VA2), Randy Forbes (R-VA4), Robert Hurt (R-VA5), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA6), House Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA7) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA9). Virginia’s three Clean Air Heroes are Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11), James Moran (D-VA8) and Robert Scott (D-VA3).


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Baldacci Movie Needs Two Young Local Actors

Two local boys between the ages of 7 and 13--without any experience acting--will be selected to play key roles in the new movie "Wish You Well," being filmed in Giles County next month. The movie is from David Balcdacci's novel and is another production of Sarah Elizabeth Timmins, who did "Lake Effects" at Smith Mountain Lake last year.

The young actors will play Diamond and Oz in the film. The movie will be filmed in October, so time is short. Casting information can be found here.

Here's what the movie producers are looking for:

Diamond is a mountain boy, unique, confident, strong-willed, opinionated and charming.  Diamond marches to the beat of his own drummer…fishing, exploring, and sometimes getting into trouble. 10-13 yrs old.  Caucasian. Diamond has a pet dog (if candidates have their own dogs, bring a photo of the dog to the open call.)
Oz is a quiet boy who takes his stuffed bear with him everywhere  He looks up to his big sister, and remains hopeful even when things seem impossible. 7-9 yrs old. Caucasian.
An open call will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Price's Fork Road in Blacksburg. 

Nutcase of the Day: Let's Retire Pat Robertson, for God's Sake

Pat Robertson: Retirement time?
OK, it's time to collect some money, buy a small ice flow and put Pat Robertson on it. He's been batshit crazy for years, but now he's become totally unhinged and even cruel.

His latest target is a wife who won't obey her husband. His solution is to have the couple move to Saudi Arabia and become Muslims so this wimpy alpha male can legally beat her.

Here's part of the story from the Huffington Post this a.m.:

On Monday's broadcast of Robertson's television show "The 700 Club," he answered a question from a viewer named Michael about how to repair his marriage to a woman who "has no respect for me as the head of the house." 

Robertson's response: "Well, you could become a Muslim and you could beat her ... I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done to make her." He called the woman a "rebellious child" who doesn't want to "submit to any authority." Since the Bible doesn't allow for divorce, Robertson urged the husband to "move to Saudi Arabia," where beating the woman would be permissible.

Quote of the Day: The Evidence Before 9/11

"The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that 'a group presently in the United States' was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be 'imminent,' although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible."

(Those who didn't know this haven't been paying attention, but this story contains the most comprehensive and damning evidence that the neo-cons in the Bush Administration ignored overwhelming evidence that terrorist attacks were coming and that they'd be big. Anything the Clinton Administration was involved in--and it was deeply involved in tracking and preventing terrorism--was discounted by these war mongering fools who wanted desperately to go to war with Iraq, which, of course, they did on the thinnest pretense.) 


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Photo of the Day: Oz Discovers Dirt

Just a week past his first birthday, my little grandbuddy Oz, discovered dirt today. It came encased in a pot on the front porch of his family home in Old Southwest Roanoke. No surprise: He loved it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Paper: How Does One Get Delivery Stopped?

(Update: According to a comment posted by an anonymous reader, Roanoke's City Code prohibits the leaving of these products in our yards without written permission. The next time the local daily delivery person deposits one in my driveway, I'm calling the constabulary. Asking nicely hasn't worked. Calling in the heavies might.)

I'm going to work hard to keep the profanity out of this post, but I'm chewing nails right now. I don't know exactly what it will take to get Roanoke's daily newsletter to stop throwing its plastic-wrapped newspaper advertising supplement onto my driveway every Friday and I'm at wit's end with the effort to get that done.

I have called three times to get it stopped and each time the 12-year-old on the other end of the phone says in a squeaky voice that "it will take two to three weeks to get it stopped" and two to three weeks later, it's still lying there. It was there again today, as it was last week and the week before. I called the city attorney at one point and he said there wasn't much he could do. Fact is that if I went around the neighborhood throwing garbage onto people's driveways on a weekly basis, there would be a black and white squad car in my driveway soon enough.

I do understand that the paper charges for the number of households whose driveways it pollutes with this crap, but the advertisers are not told how many of us are offended or how many simply take the paper straight to the trash can or (I hope) the recycling box. The paper is suffering hard times, I understand, but it's not up to me to solve that.

If anybody has a suggestion of how I might end this insulting and disrespectful behavior, please let me know. I'm filling up precious space in our landfill with these little deposits of bullshit (sorry, had to get at least one in).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tudor's Biscuit World Closing Next Friday

Well, here's the worst news in a while for a whoooooooole lot of people:

"After 28 years Tudor's in downtown Roanoke will be closing next Friday. I want to thank anyone and everyone who watched my four children grow up in this place, who came in for the banter instead of the biscuit, or who came in for the biscuit despite the banter. I will miss you all."

-- Louis Tudor

The restaurant has become a victim of rising food prices, increased overhead in other ways and a declining number of people who eat foods like this, says Louis.

He has been an outstanding swim coach at Hunting Hills for a long time after being a star swimmer at UNC and his daughter, Erin, was a scholarship swimmer at WVU and my granddaughter Madeline's mentor. Good family. Good business. Good biscuits. A whole lot of people will miss them.

A Quick Perspective on the Knee Replacement Surgery

My good friend Roland Lazenby told me the other day that as soon as he finishes his newest book, a biography of Michael Jordan, he's going to have knee replacement surgery. He wanted to know what I thought about it and I gave him a short answer that I wasn't satisfied with.

Let me expand upon that a little bit by telling all of you what it's like at the three-week mark.

This is a painful surgery. It is painful. Let me stress that it hurts. Don't skip over that part mentally when the docs, nurses and teachers of your class tell you it is painful. I did and was blindsided. Some of the pain comes from the simple fact that I've had two of the biggest bones in my body sawed in half, had--essentially--a spike driven into them, and been sewn up again. For me, a lot of it comes from the fact that pain meds don't seem to work with my chemistry.

The pain is distracting, uncomfortable and forbids sleep, which is needed for recovery.

My digestive system has been in an uproar for about four weeks now, beginning a week before surgery when I began taking medication. That can be as painful as the knee. My appetite didn't exist (it's coming back), but I've also lost 25 pounds. Food tastes awful and my sense of smell was out of whack for a while.

I have required myself to have a level of discipline in order to move around, exercise and do as much for myself as possible. I'm walking a mile to a mile and a half a day now and am doing my own household chores. During the first two weeks I had three wonderful friends (Christine Ward, a nurse; Janeson Keeley, who used to write for us at FRONT; and Christina Koomen, my favorite ex-wife) waiting on me hand and foot. My Leah was spending the weekends with me doing it all, as well. Not many of us have that luxury. I am extremely fortunate and I will suggest that they made the impossible possible. There's no way to repay that kind of friendship, either, so enjoy it.

I have forced myself to eat the right foods even when I either couldn't taste them or when they tasted so bad that they almost made me nauseated. That was a good move because all of my vital numbers remain good.

My substitute physical therapist gave me some important inside info yesterday about why we were doing some of the painful exercises we were doing. One reason is to break up scar tissue that would have to be taken out surgically otherwise. Another is to strengthen weak quadriceps that are a key to walking properly in the future. I'll need flexing and extending to the degree I can get it and the more the better. That means pain and work.

One of the strongest pieces of advice I can give is this: if you're not in good shape, delay the surgery until you are. Work especially hard on getting your quadriceps strong because the stronger they are, the quicker you will recover. They are a key element in the strength of your leg and your knee. I was in good physical condition going in and getting there helped me develop good habits for recovery.

Here's a hard one: It is necessary to be patient. It's hard to get a straight answer from anybody about how long this or that will take because "it depends on the indvidual," so get ready for the long haul. You will not be back to work in two weeks; you won't be driving in a month; you won't climb McAfee's Knob in October. I was told yesterday to count on six months of vigorous healing.

The drugs--especially early--mess with your mind. Don't think about writing or doing anything that requires concentration. Ain't happenin'.

Listen to the people who know what the hell they're doing and follow directions.

And remember it hurts.