Friday, November 30, 2012

Quote of the Day: The Fear of Being Called a Liberal

For at least a generation’s time, liberals in this country have been afraid to call themselves liberal. Was it the excesses of their creed, from race-based preferential programs that went on far too long to crude speech censorship by the politically correct and humorless (one and the same) that soiled the brand? In blindly embracing, say, the teachers’ union in the face of overwhelming evidence that public education needs a jolt or in never questioning the efficacy of government programs, the left earned its years in exile.

--Timothy Egan in a wonderful NYTimes editorial (here)

Quote of the Day: A Bonus for Fleeing Executives?

This is going to be a quote of the day, even though I can't put a name with it. The writer said, in an e-mail to me, she didn't want people to know she uses F-bombs. It's good, though. Wish she hadn't diffused the F-bombs. Here it is:

"Apparently, some court has approved millions of dollars worth of bonuses for Hostess executives on the rationale that -- wait for it -- they don't want the executives to quit while the company's bankruptcy proceedings are underway.

"I just about did a spit take with my cereal.

"ARE YOU F---ING KIDDING ME??? DON'T WANT THEM TO QUIT??? No, no -- PLEASE QUIT! In fact, the whole f---ing world would have been better off if you'd quit a lot sooner. DO let the door hit you on the way out, and I hope it leaves a mark. In fact, follow the Japanese model and F---ING KILL YOURSELF!!! You bastards managed to run your company into the ground and cost 18,000 people their jobs, and YOU'RE GETTING A F----ING BONUS?!?!?!

"It's not as if this kind of thing hasn't happened before, but the whole "please don't quit" thing makes me want to bust some heads. What IS it with American business that jerks like this keep being REWARDED for what would get the rest of us fired??? It blows my freakin' mind.

"Oh, and let's not forget that these members of the 1 percent are the supposed "job creators"! The irony is too thick to cut even with a chainsaw."

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reading about Growing Up

Your favorite editor read a "coming of age" piece from his memoir, Burning the Furniture, earlier this evening at Community High School. I was one of a bunch of readers for an overflow crowd on this popular series. Regional writers, students and others read at these events. I always enjoy these things.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Photo of the Day: Moon on the Move

I've been shooting photographs for a long time and often I get good shots. Never seems to happen with the full moon, though. I simply have not learned how to shoot the moon. I can shoot the moon by dropping trou, but not with my Canon or even my Nikon.

I got this tonight (with the flying ghost head on the right) because I moved the camera on a long exposure, which I suspect I didn't need. Hell of a lot more interesting than the shot of the moon just sitting there, though. It's a pretty moon. Really pretty.

And What Part of This Poll Don't You Understand?

Sixty percent of poll respondents support higher taxes on annual incomes above $250,000, with 37 percent opposed.

--Washington Post/ABC News poll released today

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Commercial Advertising on Roanoke's Greenway?

This sign appears to be strictly commercial and is on Wiley Drive.
This one appears to be sponsored by the City of Roanoke (on Wiley Drive).
This banner is from the City.
This instructional sign is acceptable.
This morning, on a walk along the Roanoke River Greenway at Wiley Drive and Wasena Park, I was greeted with a first: a commercial sign.

We've had signs and banners in the past, but they've been for events sponsored by the Greenway or one of the localities. This morning, there were a couple of those, as well as the permanent signs telling you about the ecology of the greenway and environs. I don't have much problem with those unless there are too many of them (as there are right now).

The problem was with the sign in the top photo, which appears to be advertising a commercial fitness studio. I, of all people, don't oppose advertising. I co-own a magazine, for heaven's sake. But there are proper places for ads and along the Greenway is not one of them. The fitness sign needs to be put somewhere else.

By the Chimney with Care ...

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Leah organized all my Christmas stuff, creating a workspace where I could package and wrap with maximum efficiency.

I took over Sunday evening, after she'd left to go back to Lynchburg, and began the annual task of setting it all up. Here's what happened.

My tendency is to begin Christmas shopping (I love Christmas for all the wrong reasons) in April and by Dec. 1, I'm through ... for the first time (there are often about nine more "I'm throughs" coming).

It looks like Christmas, though, and I'm playing some of my Christmas standards to make it sound that way. I love this time of year. Just love it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spielberg's 'Lincoln': An Extraordinary Movie

Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is all you have every right to expect from a man who can make movies as well as they can be made. I don't know if this is his best, but it's close.

The riveting and brilliant script by Tony Kushner, based on Doris Kerns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, covers four months near the end of President Abraham Lincoln's life when he was fighting hard to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (freeing the slaves) passed. The writing is as a much a star in this production as anything else, and there is plenty of competition for "star" status.

Spielberg's direction is all but flawless: measured, dark, thoughtful and often very funny, as you would expect from Lincoln. Several actors had me whispering "Academy Award" as the movie progressed. Daniel Day Lewis' Lincoln is, of course, exemplary. Sally Field nearly steals the movie as Mary Lincoln, a woman with more problems than you can possibly imagine. David Stratharian, as Secretary of State Seward, is forceful and often dominating. There are a dozen others (including Tommy Lee Jones) who have moments of brilliance--all combining to give a look, a feel and a sound that rings with authenticity. (By the way, look for Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier in a tiny cameo role.)

Makeup, lighting, set design, sound ... all of it are first level, but it's the story that is simply extraordinary and worth the two and a half (three if you run into the technology glitch we hit) hours you'll spend in the theater, living a piece of American history that could have come from the halls of Congress yesterday. You'll recognize many of today's personalities and you'll see a House of Representatives that is the equal of today's in its absolute inability to understand its responsibility to the American public.

Heck of an experience.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Basketbrawl: A Family Tradition

There won't be the annual Smith Family Basketbrawl this year. Didn't happen last year or the year before, either. Fact is, we're all too old, regardless of the excuse we use not to play any more.

We're in our 60s, those of us who've been involved the longest. Even the sons and nephews are in their 40s and have lost a few steps, when they can take the steps at all. Bad knees run among the Smiths.

But, oh, those glory days when one of us scored with a long, floating jumper from the top of the key,  stripped a dribble from that hotshot nephew Jason, reached out a hand to bulky nephew Nick who'd just planted us on the asphalt under the basket with a bump of his 260-pound hip. The games never had the finesse of even the roughest sort of street ball. They were junior high recess without hall monitors, anarchy in the 18th Century streets of Paris. They could be bloody, bruising and bone crunching, intimidating, humiliating, exhilarating and full of the kinds of high hand-smacks that were not yet the fashion.

My greatest pleasure always came in beating my older brother, Sandy, who was by far the best athlete in the group. It didn't happen often, but when it did, the result was a year of fist-pumping for me, even if I'd committed every basketball horror in the playbook in the process of bringing him down. Foul? What foul? No blood no foul! Yes, I see the blood, but I didn't do that!

It was left to the officious Jason to keep score and keep it he did, calling the score out after every shot, not after every basket, as was the norm. "Three to two, us," he'd yell after I'd put up a limping scoop shot that didn't come anywhere near the basket. I'd snatch the rebound that didn't rebound off anything and sling a pass at Jason's head. "Will you shut up!" I'd scream. All our discussions on these days ended with exclamation points. There were no periods, no commas and god forbid anybody should inject a semi-colon.

We never picked sides going into these wars. The Smith boys just separated into equal groups, as if anointed by god. One side would strip off its shirts because that's what you did, not because there would be any confusion about who was on who's side. Air temperature made no difference. The shirts came off.

Thanksgiving during these years was generally at my younger brother Paul's house. He always had the biggest house and it was always equipped with a high-end basketball goal and asphalt driveway, the kind that can skin an elbow to the bone with one slight slide along its length. Paul opened the garage doors so we didn't run into the wall at the end of a floating layup. There was a grassy bank on one side of the court--out of bounds--and a brick wall on the other side, the kind that led to concussions.

Mom was alive then and she'd never watch. She never came to our football games--the ones for the school--either because, as she said, "If I wanted to watch y'all get killed, I'd be doing the killing." Wives and girlfriends also avoided the mayhem. They were generally cooking, but I don't think they ever understood the appeal. And, no, I'm not going to explain it. It's that thing Harley riders say, "If you don't know why and blah, blah ..."

It's pleasant on Thanksgiving morning to think back on those basketball games, to recall Mom finally yelling, "Y'all get on in here and eat. You can play more later if you don't stuff yourselves." The whole deal's even more pleasant now, knowing I don't have to play any more of those damn games.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boom! The Angel Food Bomb in the Kitchen

OK, I get it now. You can put too much of that angel food batter into the 4X9 inch pan and when you do that, it blows over the top and burns on the upper heating unit. It also spills onto the pizza ceramic and the sides of the oven and the grate and everywhere else it can fall. Then it smokes. And it's ugly. But it tastes good and that's what I'm banking on as I put together the lemon glaze for this two-part disaster. I do cakes, but I obviously don't do them very well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Reflection on the Gratitude Built Into Thanksgiving Week

It's Thanksgiving week and being thankful is institutionalized for a while. My pal Gina Holmes begins every morning on Facebook by telling all of us what she's thankful for. Several other people I know concentrate their early-morning energy every day on recognizing their gifts for that particular day. It's become a habit for them and it shows in their outlook in ways that make them among the more attractive people I know.

Gina's thankfulness is most often faith-based and I think most of us who have any spirituality about us (even the religious ones) will recognize when that faith is coming to our rescue as the blues descend.

I learned a good while back--during my early days of AA study--that being grateful is the cornerstone of being sober, being happy, being productive, being a good father and friend, being a good ... well, being good. That gratitude becomes a way of looking at the world, a way of accepting the little, or big, expectations that didn't go as we had planned or wanted. A grateful heart takes a setback and turns it into a success because, frankly, those setbacks teach us lessons we need to learn.

Today, I have more to be grateful for than I can say at a single sitting and many of those items are situations, events or challenges I once would have bemoaned and whined about all day. Today, they are simply my life as it is supposed to be. They are the parts of my life that often make it more interesting than it would be without them. The challenge each day is to take the downside and paint a smiley face on it--one that won't wash off. That's not a phony smile, either, but one that comes from a deep understanding that I get to exercise my heart, my soul and my brain on a regular basis, making each stronger for the next challenge.

What a wonderful week this is, but, more than that, what a wonderful life I have been given.


Quote of the Day: What It Was Like in the 1950s

"Economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible. America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again."

--Paul Krugman, NYTimes (here)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Oz Becomes a Football Fan

My grandbuddy Oz has finally figured out what a touchdown is. Here he is signalling one at the City Market Building today at lunch. Seems pleased with himself, I'd say.

Vikings on Parade in Grandin Village

Charisse and the Viking girls. Maddie's left, Maggie right. Don't know the kid in the middle.
Maddie armed with her battle ax.
Jeff, Charisse and their Viking navy.
The good guys.
The Vikings storm Grandin Village.
Here are the Vikings of the Valley, my grandgirl Madeline's group (that's her above in the middle of the photo with the red cape). Jeff Rigdon (left center in the same photo) has been putting on this charming show for years and the kids adore it and him. Cool stuff. Wish I could have done something like this as a kid. This took place today at the Grandin Village Christmas Parade (see the following post for a view of the parade).

Photo Essay: Grandin Christmas Parade

Fetching flutists from Woodrow Wilson Junior High band.
Captain America is Checka Brindle, 7.
Some clowns have better smiles than others.
The butterfly baby is with Mysticon, a sci-fi outfit.
Earth mama represents Local Roots Cafe.
My pals Jim and Lucy Lee.
Miss Roanoke Valley Teen Queen 2013.
The mouse: You know him.
More Mysticon, an interesting collection of characters.
Mysticon, the whole group (look at those costumes; even sneaked Santa in).
Kid gets some brownie points.
Another Woodrow Wilson Jr. High horn player. This was a very good band, considering the age of the kids.
The real Santa (actually, the "real" one is me) on his fire truck.
My buddy Gracie and her mama Tammy.
Jeff, Charisse and those wild viking kids (including Maddie in the red cape).
The thoroughly charming Grandin Village Christmas Parade was held this morning to kick off the Christmas season officially, as far as I'm concerned. Who cares if it's nearly a week before Thanksgiving? The day was beautiful, the crowd big and enthusiastic and the parade long and heavily involved with the neighborhood. Here's some of what my camera and I saw.

A Brief Look at What's on the Budget Table

The budget talks in Washington are confusing at best, exasperating and confounding at worst. Here's a little something I found on the Huffington Post that gives a glimpse at what our representatives are discussing. Here is the slide show (scroll down to get there) and below is the "in brief" version of proposed cuts to the federal budget:

1. Military health care ($166 billion) and retirement pay ($116 billion)

2. Federal retirement pay ($36 billion)

3. Agricultural subsidies ($30 billion-$33 billion)

4. Food stamps ($20 billion)

5. Flood assistance ($4 billion)

6. Home Health care services ($50 billion)

7. Pell Grants and other higher education funding ($10 billion)

8. Medicaid and other low-income health care ($110 billion)

9. Medicare ($250 billion). Obama would increase premiums for higher income people and raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67

10. Tax reform ($800 billion-$1.6 trillion). The higher figure is Obama's

11. Social Security ($112 billion)

12. Tax loopholes ($180 billion)

13. Elimination of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy ($950 billion). The tax cuts added $1.8 trillion to the deficit 2002-2009.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Photo of the Day: Uh, I Forgot ...

I love the smell of fresh jeans, dried in the afternoon sun on my deck. But, hey, sometimes I forget and get the dew instead of the sunshine. Pretty, though, sitting there silently hating me for leaving them out all night.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Quote of the Day: Republican War on Women Continues in Missouri

"To make a woman pay for birth control on top of premium [insurance] payments has real economic consequences.That’s the equivalent of five weeks of basic groceries for a family of four, or 14 tanks of gas in the minivan or four hours of tuition at a community college. For a family living paycheck-to-paycheck, imagine the impact as they might have to make a choice between birth control and groceries."

--Rep Jill Schupp, Missouri, on the legislature's new law allowing insurance companies to exempt coverage of birth control for "religious" or "moral" reasons. (Story here.)


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Higher Taxes for the Rich Equals Higher Growth Rate

A study from the Congressional Research Service — the non-partisan research office for Congress — shows that "there is little evidence over the past 65 years that tax cuts for the highest earners are associated with savings, investment or productivity growth." In fact, the study found that higher tax rates for the wealthy are statistically associated with higher levels of growth.

--Robert Frank, CNBC

Quote of the Day: A Republican Definition

Republicans "have so much of their own collective identity wrapped up in the belief that they're surrounded by free-loading, job-averse parasites who not only want to smoke weed and have recreational abortions all day long, but want hardworking white Christians like them to pay the tab. Their whole belief inherently insulting to everyone outside the tent – and you can't win votes when you're calling people lazy, stoned moochers."

--Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Krugman on GOP Motive: Hard To Argue It

“What we’ve just seen is a peek into the modern right-wing psyche, which is obsessed -- more than anything else -- with power.”

--Paul Krugman, NYTimes columnist

Virginia Women Get Even Across the Nation

Women protest in Richmond last winter.
Virginia not only voted for Barack Obama as president and Tim Kaine to represent it in the Senate Tuesday, but its Republican House of Delegates strongly influenced a number of races at every level across the nation. In a negative sense.

Last winter's debacle in Richmond, where the Commonwealth's women were forced to gather in protest of draconian measures aimed at them, helped get blockheaded Republican misogynists and those with loose tongues--spewing things like "legitimate rape" and "god's will"--defeated. I've wondered all my adult life why a woman (or an person of any color but white, or a gay person, an immigrant or any number of other segments) would vote Republican. There's nothing in that party for them and they are, frankly, voting against their onw interests in most cases.

One of the most telling quotes from yesterday's aftermath of the electoral result was this from Republican strategist John Weaver (quoted in the NYTimes): “We have a significant problem with female voters.” No shit, John? So what will the Repubs do about it? How about a marketing campaign with some of those billions that were thrown into the River Mitt.

It would seem to me that a change of attitude, a new era of real inclusiveness, an effort to pass meaningful legislation to benefit those who are so obviously pissed off might be a better goal if you can get past the far right wing's recalcitrance. Those old boys ain't changin' nothin' for nobody. And the results will stay the same until they do.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Precise Cailbration of the GOP Defeat

John Cornyn
"While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight."

--Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee


The U.S. Senate and Women: The Way It Should Behave

"When women are part of the negotiation and are part of decision-making, the outcomes are just better.  When we have our dinners with the women in the Senate -- the Democrats and Republicans -- we have so much common ground. We agree on so many basic principles and values. I think if there were more women at the decision-making table, we would get more things done."

--Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of 20 women in the new Senate, a record

(Photo: NYDaily News)

The Day After: Listening to Talk Radio

I got a chance to be in my truck this morning and to listen to talk radio while driving to some appointments. This is the best time to listen. The talkers--all far right in this market--are simply beside themselves, whining, making excuses, blaming the media, blaming the "uneducated" (read "indoctrinated") voting public, blaming everything but their basic flawed philosophy.

It is telling that none of the talkers was saying, "Hey, maybe we'd better re-think this," but concluded, "We'd better double-down, talk louder and pray harder."

You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results? It's insanity.


Election 2012:The Good News, and the Bad News

Jubilant Tim Kaine, Virginia's new Senator
Amid the warm feeling of waking up to find America continues to have the president it needs and Virginia has elected a strong, sensible senator to replace the same, there is the nagging question of "What were we thinking?" here in this region.

Once again, we have elected three of the crankiest, most contentious, far right wing congressmen in that body in Bob Goodlatte, Robert Hurt and Morgan Griffith. The reason Obama's presidency will never ascend beyond "good" is because of a House of Representatives peopled by representatives like these three. Their philosophy of tiny government--or no government at all--has resulted in a clampdown on the effectiveness of our government and a lack of movement on crucial issues that is, has been and will continue to be crippling.

Roanoke City and Montgomery County were the only localities in this end of the state go to for Kaine and Obama, but the urban areas of Virginia forged a strong alliance, much as they did nationally, to elect the moderate forces. The far right remains strong in rural states and rural areas of urban states.

Obama managed to squeeze out a health care bill against this opposition, but his legislative accomplishments since then have been measured in baby steps and generally with no GOP support at all. During the most recent four years, Congressional Republicans have been slavish to the basic philosophy that their only duty to their constituents was to defeat Obama by blocking every move he made, up to and including legislation they agreed with.

Let us hope that this latest sound whipping from the American public will force them into a re-evaluation of that position and help them understand that they are in Washington to serve the people, not to beat the president. All three of our representatives could be good and effective in their jobs if they would only do it. Maybe a solid push from the electorate would help them understand that as a good idea.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Poll Glitch; Interference with the Working Press

This is a photo of the voting machines (three of them for the whole precinct) at Williamson Road 5 late this morning as I was waiting to vote. The guy in the center of the photo is repairing the third machine, which had been down for a while. I am not surprised at a glitch at this heavily-Democratic precinct.

When I took this photo and several others, one of the voting officers told me I could not take photos. I mentioned that I was a journalist and she left to consult with somebody. When she returned, she said I'd have to erase all the photos I took. I told her I would consider that when she produced an authority figure who had some clue about the First Amendment.

Voting in the world's leading democracy just gets more and more difficult as I get older. And it's sad.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Fading Light of Fall 2012

This yellow glow is in front of Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Roanoke and is an annual treat to those walking past.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

'Flight': 'A Safe Way To Understand Hell'

Everything you've heard about Denzel Washington's performance in the remarkable "Flight" is true. It's likely the best of his career and it is one that is especially resonant with those of us recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction.

He simply nails the addictive personality as Captain Whip Whitaker, who miraculously lands a disintegrating airplane, saving all but six of those on board, but faces the possibility of life in prison because he did it drunk. He acts from a script written by John Gatins and directed by Academy Award winner ("Forest Gump") Robert Zemekis, a man known more for action pictures than this kind of thoughtful, compelling, even upsetting work.

I found myself reliving difficult memories at every turn with Washington's portrayal of a man lying to himself and everybody who would listen, drinking himself to sure destruction and hanging on to the last thread of denial until it finally breaks in a predictable, but powerful finish.

Washington is surrounded by strong performances (and authentic southern accents, though Washington--to his everlasting credit--doesn't attempt one; he's from New York and it simply wouldn't work). The best of them is from John Goodman, a drug dealer and Whitaker's only real  remaining friend. This is the second scene-stealer in a couple of months for Goodman, who (with Alan Arkin) simply walked off with "Argo."

If you're a recovering drunk (or druggie), one who isn't recovering or somebody who's interested in how this disease works, the movie will get you inside for a while--and it will let you out. A safe way to understand hell, it is.

Another Dazzling Football Day at W&L (and a 4-Overtime Win)

Ex-Tennessee quarterback Nash Nance (6, right) completes an early pass against W&L.
The always-late-arriving crowd was packed in tight.
Leah and meah in our 50-yard-line seats.
Leah and meah shot up to Lexington this afternoon to catch an ODAC conference championship football game in one of my favorite settings: Washington & Lee University. We got more than we bargained for: a perfect day, big and enthusiastic crowd and a 45-42 W&L victory over Hampden Sydney in four overtimes.

It was a rare football game on a rare day. Good stuff and I think Leah's becoming a fan. She was talking "we" and "us" and "our ball" and she almost gave out a couple of those all-American yells she's capable of.

W&L gives you as good a show as you'd get anywhere and there's no admission. We stopped at a deli in downtown Lexington and bought a couple of sandwiches in order to avoid stadium food. Imagine trying to take in food anywhere else. It is just a delightful experience and even if you have a big family and little money, you can afford it.

Above is some of what we saw. (By the way, Hampden-Sydney's quarterback, Nash Nance, was at the University of Tennessee last year, a third-stringer but still a Division I scholarship player).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hemingway and the Singer Show Up at Monica's Gala

Hemingway and his torch-singing babe at Monica's party.
Leah and I went to Monica Rokicki's late Halloween party tonight in one of those "come as your alter-ego" gigs.

Leah, a natural entertainer, gussied up as a torch singer (replete with feather boa) and sang "Cry Me a River" and I donned the corduroys and tweeds of a 1940s Ernest Hemingway, a little older, a little fatter, wearing a beard. Hemingway is not the guy I wanted to be, but he's the one I'm closest to in appearance. I wanted to do Robert Service or Jack London, neither of whom wore a beard. But all were drunks, writers and crazy people, much like your favorite editor.

Lots of fun. Lots.