Thursday, July 14, 2011

Congress, It's time to be Sensible about Gun Control! a Civic Soapbox Essay by Patty Pullen

In 1950, when I was twelve years old, my father decided it was time for me to learn how to shoot a gun. I was ecstatic and thought I would fire a gun that afternoon. It was days before I fired a shot.

First, I had to learn how to take apart the gun, clean it, and put it back together. Then Daddy taught me how to hand a gun to someone; how to crawl under or over a fence while holding a gun; and how to walk safely behind someone with a loaded rifle. These were long training sessions; experiences I still treasure.

At the beginning of every lesson, Daddy pointed to the rifle and said, “Patty, this is not a toy. This is a gun. And guns were made to kill.”

Times have changed. Guns are not just family bonding experiences anymore. Deaths due to misuse of guns have increased in America. Thirty-four people are murdered in United States every day with guns. Since the Tucson killing in January, more than 3,000 people have been killed with guns.

Please understand. I don’t want to ban guns. I believe people are entitled to own guns for target practice, hunting, or for their protection. But, because our current laws are weak and not strictly enforced, guns are accessible to felons, the mentally ill, and the troubled youth in our society, and as a result, innocent people get hurt.

Here’s one problem I see with our current system. Licensed gun dealers are currently required to do background checks to determine whether customers are mentally ill, or have served time in prison; and most licensed gun dealers accommodate this responsibility. But sales by private citizens at gun shows are not regulated. According to the Brady Foundation, 40% of the gun sales in the United States occur at these gun shows. I want the law changed to require everyone who purchases a gun at a gun show to have to undergo a background check.

I also want tighter regulation of large capacity ammunition magazines, which are designed to enable someone to shoot efficiently and quickly without reloading. In 15 seconds, the shooter in Tucson fired more than 30 shots from one magazine, wounding 19 people, one of whom was Gabrielle Giffords and killing 6 including a 9-year-old girl. According to the law enforcement in Tucson, “There’s absolutely no doubt the magazines increased the lethality and the body county of this attack.” (Isikoff, 2011) They should be banned.

I also want better communication in the enforcement of existing gun control laws. Four years ago, a Virginia judge designated a Virginia Tech student as mentally ill and a danger to himself. Unfortunately this important information never made it to the gun shops so he bought two semiautomatic pistols, which fired 174 rounds in twelve minutes. He killed 25 students, five teachers, and wounded seventeen people, before he killed himself.
Whenever I hear of a gun tragedy, I think about my father’s comments. “Patty, this is not a toy. This is a gun. And guns were made to kill.”

You’re right, Daddy.
--Patty Pullen lives in Charlottesville.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lost Art of Letter Writing, a Civic Soapbox by Val Matthews


I recently handed over to my daughter four bulky old folders full of letters. These folders have over the years filled up as members of our family have moved to different parts of the globe for longer or shorter periods, and have sent back to other family members news of their lives. Often in my times of moving house or moving to another continent, I have pondered ditching the files, but in the end they would be packed up and moved with us.

I am not even sure exactly which family members are the authors of the letters or where they originated, but there is a special file for my father’s letters, because he didn’t write often, but when he did they were very detailed and often very funny. During the second World War he was stationed mainly in North Africa and the Middle East and his letters to my mother were very regular and full of intriguing facts about the countries he moved through.

Before handing the files to my daughter, I looked idly through one of the files and found a neatly handwritten letter from my late husband to his mother, written when he must have been not yet a teenager. His mother was on a visit to her native New Zealand leaving her husband in charge of the four sons, the youngest of whom was still quite a baby. The letter (to dear Mummy) was mainly a horrendous description of the four older males bathing the baby. Amazingly this was a letter I never remember seeing – my husband would be seventy nine now if he was still living.

People used to save letters. I think of all the letters of famous people through the ages whose letters are still on record. Now this form of communication is almost dead and sending letters through the mail is thought of as snailmail.

Somehow one slows down a bit, becomes a bit more thoughtful ( I think) when, pen in hand, one puts one’s words onto paper. We’re simply in a different mode when sending emails. And it is also so easy just to text someone.

I know all of it is on record somewhere in the ether, but will we ever be able to retrieve it and reread it with love and amazement sixty years on. Are we not losing something very important, as we let go of the art of letter writing? Are we not losing a magical bit of history?
--Val Matthews lives in Charlottesville

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Kind of Vegan, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Mona Williams

I became a vegan after reading a leaflet about the suffering of animals raised under factory-like conditions. That day I decided to use up all the animal foods I had and not to buy any more. Eggs hadn’t suddenly become repulsive to me; I just didn’t want to contribute any longer to an industry that was packing laying hens into small cages just to increase their profits.

But I began to see that veganism was complicated. I had to read labels. Powdered whey in cookies was a reason not to buy them. But neither did I want to eat them if other people had bought them. The perfectionist aspects of veganism began to dawn on me.

I know that being a perfectionist isn’t healthy, but I am one anyway. In this respect, veganism suited me fine. I was a perfect vegan, for about a year. Then I got married to a wonderful vegetarian man, who wanted, on our honeymoon, to treat me to what he considered the world’s best cheese omelet. Never, in the preceding year, had I run up against a conflict like this one. And perfectionist that I am, I am also weak. I ate the omelet, and then began ten years of being a vegan except for when it was too hard to say no.


My wonderful vegetarian husband, who is now my ex-husband and best friend, became more of a vegan while I became less of one. We decided to be vegan in our respective homes, where we could control things, and vegetarians on the outside. I became a not-too-bad vegan cook, and introduced many guests to the wonders of tofu mayonnaise and mystery Parmesan.

But, to reveal yet another flaw in myself, I am easily bored. And I was getting bored with my culinary repertoire. Not that I wanted to cook meat again, or even seafood. That was definitely over. But I had once spent two years learning classical French cuisine and I missed, I don’t know, crème anglaise.


I thought about the reason I had originally become a vegan—to reduce, even in a small way, animal suffering. And then I thought about an organic farming conference I had attended one year out of curiosity. There I heard something I knew already—that there are plenty of farmers around who are good to their animals, who raise cage-free hens, happy goats and contented cows. You just have to find them and be willing to pay their price.


So I began to do that. I used the Internet and my formidable label-reading skills. I called 800 numbers. I asked people at the farmer’s market how they treated their animals and found that they were absolutely happy to tell me. And then I made a lemon tart for my friends that both I and the hens involved could feel good about.

Mark Bittman.
(Suzy Allman for The New York Times)
I just don’t know what to call myself these days. Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, made up his own category when he decided to be a vegan all day and eat whatever he wanted for dinner. He calls himself a vegan till 6. Maybe I can just call myself a kind of vegan.The kind who isn't perfect.
-- Mona Williams lives and cooks in Bridgewater

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Best Present Graduates Can Give to Themselves, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Katrien Vance

Dear Graduates,

Right now, as you graduate, you probably feel like a set entity, a “you” fully formed. You are. For now.
Be ready for everything to change. And the most important, most exciting thing that will change as you grow—if you let it—is your mind.

You will change your mind about little things: what music is good, what food is good, what’s funny.

You will change your mind about big things: what you want to do, how you want to do it, and with whom.
You’ll realize your parents were wrong about things you thought they had right, and right about many things you thought they had way wrong.

You will change your mind about things that right now seem set in stone: your political views, your ideas about human nature, your sense of where you draw the line.

It can be frightening to discover that you think something different than you thought you did. History is littered with people who have hung on to what they thought in the face of evidence that those thoughts didn’t work for them any longer—and it’s littered with the remains of the people who tried to offer a new way of thinking.
You have the choice to let each experience in and let it shape you, or to shut out the experiences that don’t match the person you already think yourself to be. You have the choice to judge those whose opinions don’t match yours, or let those opinions in and learn from them. You have the choice to pre-screen your potential books, friends, and ideas by comparing them to what you already think and seeing how well they match. But I guarantee, at some point, there will be that book you thought you would hate, that you finish only out of obligation, that you find yourself weeping over at the end, wondering “Why on earth is this affecting me?” You will meet that person who is the antithesis of what you believe, and suddenly realize he is a thinking, caring, admirable person. You will have an idea that rocks everything you’ve staked your life on. And what you do in those moments, whether you shut down or open up, will make all the difference.

There is a reason people call this time “commencement.” Go out there and commence changing. You might try on 40 different opinions for some things. If you don’t let yourself try those on, you’re stuck with the one you have right now. And just as I hope you’re not wearing only the same clothes or listening to only the same music in 20 years as you are now, I hope you’re not thinking only the same thoughts 20 years from now as you are now.

You’ll probably get a lot of wonderful gifts for graduation. I hope you’ll give yourself this one amazing gift: the gift of a mind that can change. Open it up and enjoy it for a long time to come.


--Katrien Vance teaches 7th and 8th graders at North Branch School in Afton

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beach Scenes, a Civic Soapbox essay by Ellen Adams



Biking three miles on the boardwalk in an early morning mist is a good beginning. Yesterday’s tracks in the sand have been swept away overnight, leaving a clean slate.

Leaning my bike against Neptune’s regal statue, I join the mythical king in looking out to sea. Rescue personnel are leaving the scene of an accident on the beach. A homeless person, sleeping in a sand chair, was overrun by a trash truck at dawn. His legacy will be a cordon of yellow ribbons and a ten second spot on the evening news.

As the sun moves across the sky, umbrellas offer circles of shade for a random mix of vacationers.
Wannabe athletes invite attention by throwing footballs. Under her grandmother’s careful eye, a youngster teases breakers splashing over her feet. The flesh colored prosthesis attached below her left knee is not as obvious as her fashionable green Crocs.

A toddler wearing a floppy pink sunhat does not clamor for anything. She nestles in her father’s lap and silently watches the others playing. He whispers in her ear, setting her down on a Barbie towel. Daddy’s little princess is a special needs child.
A threesome arrive carrying room towels. The slender teenager and portly middle-aged man frolic in the waves while the woman snaps pictures. If she viewed the scene through a wider lens, would she see his inappropriate touching of the girl?

A noisy bunch pulling coolers and overloaded wagons sets up camp. The surf is up and guys with boogie-boards run full speed ahead as mothers talk to other mothers. One lone boy idly kicks the sand, standing apart. He wears wearing a long sleeve shirt under a blue flannel hooded bathrobe printed with scenes of super heroes. A short time later, this autistic child stretches prone on the hot sand in the broiling noonday sun. The temperature has reached 98 degrees.

A young man rushes by shouting, “Have you seen my little boy with blond hair and plaid swim trunks? He’s five years old and his name is Caleb!” A terrified mother, holding a sleeping baby, scans the crowd. Strangers rise to their feet like sports fans doing the wave, and fan out, calling for Caleb. When a sniffling son is finally handed over to a jubilant dad, onlookers swallow lumps in their throats. The grateful parents pause to thank well-wishers, then turn for home.

Beach life moves on. Conversations pick up where they left off, and readers pick up their paperback novels. But, in the fading afterglow of finding Caleb, are there any among us who do not feel sense the wonder of human connectedness and its innate capacity for caring? Are there any among us who do not feel pleased in by playing a fleeting role in something larger than ourselves?

And, who among us does not love a happy ending?
-- Ellen Adams lives and writes in Gainesboro on the outskirts of Winchester.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some Things Just Bug You, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Kim Johnson

Take the townhouses at the end of my street, for example: They bug me. Over the past nine years that we have lived in our house, the townhouses nearby have wilted a bit, a missing shutter here, an overgrown shrub there. I’m not fancy, but I do fancy a neat street, and these townhouses are not passing muster anymore.


But what really bugs me is some of the townhouse residents’ lack of regard for the bulk trash pickup policy. The good city of Harrisonburg picks up bulk trash in our neighborhood on the second Wednesday of each month. I appreciate this service, and I have merrily set out junk in the past on the second Tuesday of the month to be whisked away the following day. I find this therapeutic. Some of the occupants of the townhouses, however, throw bulk items to the curb whenever the spirit moves them, and the spirit does not recognize the 2nd Wednesday of the month policy. On many a morning as I drive to work, even, on occasion, the day AFTER bulk trash day, I go by the townhouses and see a Lazy-Boy carcass or a wounded sofa, spilling its stuffing, at the curb. Then I must look at these offending objects until the next bulk trash day, while thinking dark thoughts about my house value hemorrhaging further than it already has in this wretched market.

This bugs me.


So, I’m driving home recently after a very long day, and I that see a big, ugly mattress has appeared on the curb. A mattress! I seethe as I drive by, and continue to seethe daily as I pass it, calculating the days until the next second Wednesday. On a beautiful afternoon, though, when the scarlet tulips and yellow daffodils are waving, I see that a group of children has gathered at the mattress. They shout. They giggle. They jump. Boy, do they jump, leaping, stretching, and reaching for the turquoise April sky. I can imagine the games they are playing amid the scent of the new grass: King of the mattress! Mattress Olympics! I remember a 6 year old me, and how she would have thought a mattress at the curb was the greatest thing ever. You could have a mattress club!

A mattress club: How cool is that?

What I saw as a sign of the imminent decline of civilization, they see as a gift from on high. Amazing.
Perspective is a lens that changes us, not our surroundings. Sometimes… often, in fact, perspective is the only aspect of our life that we do control in this bewildering world. Now, I still like order and I still prefer that people on our street follow the bulk trash policy; however, a group of joyous kids showed me that sometimes a mattress at the curb can be a thing of beauty that is a joy forever…or at least until the next bulk trash day.

And maybe, just maybe, I need to chill out a bit.
Kim Johnson puts her trash out in Harrisonburg.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rolling Thunder, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Jeff Ell

Two hundred and twenty-three. That’s the number of motorcycles I counted in an unbroken line heading north on I-81 last Friday morning.

A train of north bound bikes coupled together in the annual Memorial Day event held to honor the POW’s and MIA’s of the Vietnam War. The rally is called Rolling Thunder, because the sound of all those motorcycles reminds the veterans of the bombing campaign of that name waged between 1965-1968.

One by one, these bikers find their way along narrow roads and graveled dirt tracks to the interstates that flow toward Washington. They meet up with a handful friends, and together throttle up the on ramp to join in a two-wheeled migration in honor of their comrades.

Some come from places where they push automated garage door buttons and coast their shinny bikes down the drive way. Veterans who furtively leave their cul-de-sacs, trying not to disturb their neighbors slumber.

They wear body armor and full helmets with tinted visors. They protect their hearing and chat with their passenger on a wireless communication system.

Others come from places where they pull tarps off their choppers -- those bikes with elongated front ends and long low saddles; with handle bars so high the drivers have to hold their hands above their heads. These veterans rev their motors in the pre-dawn dim to wake up their neighbors in double wide down the road.

They wear embroidered leather vests, and helmets modeled after the ones worn by an enemy in another generation’s war. They and their tattooed passengers let the heavy metal roar ring their ears while their beer and Bar-B-Q handle bars hang over their blue jeans in unashamed exhibition.

As ever larger numbers of bikers link up, their voices turns from solitary thunder to the guttural rumble produced by hundreds of thousands who still remember things they wish they could forget.


Two Hundred and twenty-three of them roared by me a week ago today. That number rattled around in my skull until it pinged off a trivial storing neuron.

Two-hundred and twenty three, I recalled, is the numerical designation of the bullets used in the M-16 rifle; the infantryman’s weapon during the Vietnam war. I shook my head, and went into the house and googled the number.

Sure enough, in improbable numerical irony I had managed to count off not 224 or 222, but 223. The number given to that small high speed round that was fired millions of times during the decade or so that a generation of young men stumbled around in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Rolling Thunder, that’s what they call it, made in America engine exhaust; I stand and listen to the guttural groan that rises from the floor of our valley, up the Shenandoah and all the way to Washington. Where those gray headed veterans will quietly visit a black wall where 58, 267 silvery names are etched in stone.

Jeff Ell lives in Roanoke. He is the author of Ruth Uncensored: The Story You Thought You Knew.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

After Oprah, a Civic Soapbox essay by Mariflo Stephens

A woman I hadn't heard from in over 20 years sent me a Christmas card. After two decades of being out of touch, Debbie tracked me down. She’d seen me on Oprah one year earlier, in 1990. Then, my best friend from childhood, Jane, sent me a birthday card that read: "Now you're 40. Only 60 years until Willard Scott announces your birthday on T.V."

"After Oprah," she wrote, "I figure Willard's next".

After Oprah, I acquired an unearned fame, vague in scope. I say “vague” because some in Charlottesville can't quite remember the basis for my celebrity, though they remain convinced of it. "Look," a beaming woman once said to her daughter, pointing to me. "There's Mariflo. She’s the famous...uh, famous famous."
In the even smaller town where I grew up, in front of the courthouse and behind the fire station, there is a creek. I remember the lot surrounding the creek as uncleared and weedy, the kind of place that attracts broken bottles. But community activists turned it into a park and each year it is the site of an arts festival with everything from a literary contest to a doll show. In this town of 5,000, hundreds swarm the park every June. I try to go there almost every year myself for their now-annual Chatauqua festival, there in the town where I grew up.

The June I was on national television coincided with Wytheville’s Chatauqua festival. My older sister told me that someone walked the park, calling out, "Mariflo's on Oprah in 15 minutes," and the park cleared. She estimates that there were 100 video tapes made of the event.

The next year when I went to Chatauqua I caught a little, freckle-faced boy staring at me, staring in absolute wonder. I was the woman he'd seen on the T.V. And because I flashed on the screen of his television for fifteen minutes, I was more real to him than anything he'd ever experienced in his small town.

Most of us don't live where we grew up. The first thing we do to ourselves in this culture is leave. But because I went before an audience of 25 million, I reached people I hadn't seen in years: my old college suite mate, my childhood friend, a kissing cousin.

So how did I end up on Oprah?

The Oprah staff had plugged the "suppport group junkie" idea into their computer service and found my satire “I Was a Support Group Junkie” from The Washington Post. Then they asked me to appear with some real support group junkies. “We need a humorist,” they’d explained.

Not one bad thing has happened to from being on Oprah. Not one negative phrase has been uttered. No one has called me a wet blanket or a spoilsport for saying that I, myself, didn’t really believe in support groups. And after the show taped, Oprah’s people promised to ask me back.

Now this is Oprah’s last week and I’m mad, because that promise was never kept. So what’s the deal with those people? In 21 years, they never had another need for a humorist? I wonder if Ellen DeGeneres would be interested in one? Hmmm.
 --Mariflo Stephens is from Charlottesville. She teaches creative writing at Hollins University.
Oprah says goodbye

Thursday, May 19, 2011

7 Myths about Urban Chickens, a Civic Soapbox by Pat Foreman

There are many false beliefs and prejudices about keeping chickens, and the seven issues that routinely surface are:

  1. disease, 
  2. noise, 
  3. odor and flies,
  4. predators and rodents,
  5. property values,
  6. appearances, 
  7. what will the neighbors think?

Here’s the facts about each issue.

Myth 1:  Urban Chickens Carry Diseases. 
Fact: Small flocks have literally no risk of avian flu transmission to humans. The 2006 Grain Report states: “When it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry is the solution, not the problem.” Why? Because small flocks have better immune systems.
Myth 2. Chickens are Noisy. 
Fact: Laying hens — at their very loudest — have about the same decibel level as human conversation (65 decibels). Roosters make most of the noise and many times they're not allowed in urban areas.
Myth 3. Waste and Odor. 
Fact: a forty pound dog generates more doggie-do (about ¾  of a pound) then ten chickens (two-thirds of a pound of poo daily ).  Both poops are smelly. But the key is to keep the chicken manure from accumulating, and this is done by composing.Composted chicken manure is valuable as a high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Myth 4. Chickens Attract Predators, Pests and Rodents.
Fact: Predators and rodents are already living in urban areas. Wild bird feeders, pet food, gardens, fish ponds, bird baths, and trash waiting to be collected all attract raccoons, foxes, rodents and flies. Modern micro-flock coops, such as chicken tractors, elevated coops and fencing provide ways of keeping, and managing, family flocks that eliminate concerns about such pests. 
And about those pests, chickens are voracious carnivores and will seek and eat just about anything that moves including ticks (think Lyme disease), fleas, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, stink bugs, slugs, and even mice, baby rats and small snakes.
Myth 5. Property Values Will Decrease.
Fact: There is not one single documented case that I know about a family flock that has decreased the value of real estate.
Myth 6. Coops are Ugly.
Fact: Micro-flock coop designs can be totally charming, upscale and even whimsical.Common design features include blending in with the local architectural, matching the slope of the roof and complementing color schemes.
Myth 7. What Will Neighbors Think?
Fact: You can’t control what anyone thinks, much less your neighbor. But in my experience, once folks experience the advantages and charms of chickens, the prejudice and fear evaporates; especially when you share some heart-healthy, good-for-you eggs from your hens.
Often overlooked is the value of chickens as clucking civic bio-recyclers. They can divert tons of “waste” from the trash collection systems. Chickens will eat just about any kitchen “waste,” including “gone-by” leftovers that have seasoned in the refrigerator. Combine their manure with grass clippings and leaves to create compost and top soil.


My chickens are charming, amicable and entertaining beings that bring so many advantages to my home garden. They are truly “pets with benefits”.

May the flock be with you!
--Patricia Foreman has kept chickens for years in Rockbridge County

Friday, May 13, 2011

What You Miss by NOT Biking to Work, a Civic Soapbox essay by Tim Godshall

Tom Godshall's well-traveled bike
In 2002, I bought a new bike, hoping to ride it across the U.S. Although that trip never happened, my bike has logged more than enough commuting miles to reach the west coast.

At first, biking to work was an obvious choice. In Washington DC, it was the fastest and cheapest way to get to my office. But when my wife and I moved to Harrisonburg and I got a construction job, I questioned the feasibility of bicycle commuting in my new work situation -- hauling heavy tools to far-flung job sites in the hilly Shenandoah Valley. Even so, I gave it a try, and two years later, I’m still at it.

Here's how it works: I carry all my hand tools in saddle bags made from plastic buckets. My co-workers carry the power tools in their trucks. Most jobs are within 10 miles, but sometimes I catch a ride if we're working farther away. And occasionally, I drive our car. Yes, we own a car. So why not drive to work every day?

First, biking saves money – not only in fuel costs, but by allowing my wife and me to avoid the expense of buying and maintaining a second car.

Second, when biking, I feel more connected to my surroundings. There's nothing like the sunrise over the mountains on a cool morning ride. Even when weather makes riding unappealing, there’s something exhilarating about engaging the cold, heat, rain, or wind. I also gain a truer sense of distance between points, and a greater respect for hills that I would ignore in a car.

Third, bicycle commuting builds the health benefits of aerobic exercise into my week. Reaching work after a bike ride, I feel far more alert. Returning home, I feel the satisfaction of a good workout.

But isn't biking on the road dangerous? Like any form of transportation, cycling has risks. However, a recent study showed that transportation cycling increases life expectancy, through good health, far more than it lowers it through injuries. Freak accidents happen, but the overall benefits of bicycle commuting outweigh the risks. I also choose to focus on the risks of not cycling. What are the costs of a car-dependent society? What sort of world do I want my daughter to inherit?

Ultimately, I commute by bike as one small way to bring about the world I hope for. Each revolution of my pedals is one step toward paying the full cost of my transportation, rather than passing environmental debt to future generations. It's not enough, but it is a start.

And if this inspires you, there's no better time for you to start than the beautiful month of May. In fact, next Friday, May 20, is National Bike to Work Day. Look online to find events in your area. If nothing is organized in your town, don't let that stop you from peddling to work! You'll join tens of thousands of bicycle commuters across this country, and add your heart, soul and legs to this human-powered movement. It will enrich your life, and may just change the world as well.

 -- Tim Godshall lives in Harrisonburg.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boomerang Boy, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Bobbi Snow

This year my twenty-four year old son came home to live with me. He finished college, lived with friends in a house, completed several rites of passage and then moved home. At first, there was something compelling about having some more time with this child I adore since I believed there were so many lessons I failed to teach him. Would this be my opportunity to make up for all the things I wished I had done earlier? Maybe he would learn to fold wash right from the dryer. Cook something healthy that took longer to cook than to eat. That would be nice. Perhaps he could learn to write a decent thank you note.

As time goes on, I realize we are just mother and son in real time. No going back to redo anything. Habits are set and, in fact, are even more pronounced when he slips into his old bedroom and old patterns. If I thought I ever had impact or control over his behavior, I was delusional anyway. It is clearer to me now that my son is his own person, on his own journey, and just happens to be my roommate. It is safe and comforting for him here. We have set up a routine of daily life as if he were a young dependent. But he is not so young. I did not mean to set this up; it just emerged.

I am an in-charge type of person and I took charge. I cook all the dinners. I feed his cats. I keep the calendar and assure we are responsible about appointments. I clean the house and make sure he helps by giving him his to-do list. I ask two or three times for the recycling bins to be brought back in without showing impatience or stress. This routine is just like when he was ten years old

I have always loved being Jake’s mother. I still do. But when is a good time for him to be more independent? According to the last census, 56 percent of men age 18 to 24 and 48 percent of women live with their parents. Certainly I never would have dreamed of moving in with my parents after college. I never would have expected any financial support or wanted any guidance, but then my parents did not know who I was. I kept myself hidden, had a superficial --but loving-- relationship of respect and distance. I took care of myself. In contrast, I know so much about my son Jake. My friends and relatives today know so much about their kids. We are in a different kind of culture than the one I am familiar with.
We are on speedial with our kids. They come to us for everything. Of course they want to live at home. We have worked hard to make a home that works for them. I see this glorious connection to our sons and daughters and wonder how they will ever become independent of us. How will they maneuver through the tough challenges of life outside the warm confines of the home? Are we coddling them into a connection of collusion that stunts their growth? Are they prepared to face the realities of the big world out there when we are defining the realities for them daily?

On this Mother’s Day I will celebrate how lucky I am to be Jake’s mother and will seriously consider whether I should propose that he and we might be better off if he had roommates closer to his own age. I am not sure how the conversation will go or if Jake will take me up on my suggestion but I do know I will reassure my “boomerang child” that he can stay as long as he needs to.

  --- Bobbi Snow is the co-founder of the Community Public Charter School in Albemarle County

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stuff, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Devan Malore

I do carpentry and construction for a living, so I think a lot about human shelter.

Sociologists call the complex system of relationships required to keep our modern world spinning along, organic solidarity. In the village, we had a butcher, baker, candle stick maker. That simpler system of work and relationships is referred to as mechanical solidarity.

After lifetimes spent in caves, dark leaky huts and walled-in castles, organic solidarity feels great. It’s a pleasure to live in conformable spaces, paint walls any color, not worry about rain or cold. However, organic solidarity tends to be consumer driven, so lots of us these days find ourselves dealing with too much stuff to pay for and care for.

Today, somewhere in rural China a factory is producing components for a phone that is smarter than last year’s. On better days this seems a good idea, one that promotes innovation, peace and prosperity through commerce. On bad days, it seems like relentless production of an avalanche of un-needed things, all clamoring to be bought and taken home. I mean, who doesn’t get tired just from imagining cleaning the garage, basement, storage sheds.

Consumer choice is an important mantra of our times. Yet why we need fifty kinds of ketchup in the supermarket is hard to understand. Of course, ketchup companies do employ good folks at their factories which are often located in struggling communities, and I do realize that our economy is almost hopelessly complex. Yet, for my own peace-of-mind, I still chose l to live by this alternative to consumerism as it’s practiced today – something from the popular Buddhist Monk, activist and writer, Thich Nhat Hanh, which he calls “Mindfulness trainings,”

It goes something like this. First I become aware of the suffering created by unmindful consumption. This might be debt, stress, poor health or negative environmental impact related to buying and consuming. Next, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental for myself, family, and society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming of all material goods. I’m also asked to consider what news, advertising and media I expose myself to, because I consume lots of information these days that has an effect on how I view life and how I act.

Thich Nhat Hanh

This simple, but not easy, training doesn’t ask me to do the impossible: It doesn’t ask me not to consume. All I’m asked to do is mindfully consider the impact of what I consume on myself the environment and community.

Imagine a culture built on an “economic system” where we place greater value on creation of healthy relationships, good health, peace, love, happiness, consciousness, and intelligence. All those simple not-things that use fewer resources, yet are often difficult to create.

Sure, our sacred stuff would still get made, but hopefully we’d create, use, and pass on that stuff in a more mindful manner.

I, for one, am convinced we’re much more than what we produce and consume. Why shouldn’t each of us consider becoming more, rather than buying more? Surely, mysterious force “the economy” will eventually shift to meet out greater needs.
 -- Devan Malore lives on the Maury River, wondering what stuff will float by in the next flood . . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Dark, Lurking Force beneath the Valley's green lawns, a Civic Soapbox essay by Bruce Dorries


I learned a lot about septic tanks during a recent chat with Gary Flory, Department of Environmental Quality, supervisor for 14 Virginia counties, including our area.

Real pro. Nice fella. Poor guy….

I peppered him with questions. You see, my family had just paid two hundred and fifty dollars to have ours cleaned. It had been about six years since the last servicing. My wallet still felt the pain.

It had seemed steep to me, especially after the suction pros joked, "Looked pretty good down there. And no noxious fumes. You must be living right, bud!"

Did this mean the tank could go longer between bills?” The previous owner had never had the tank serviced. Some neighbors operate on the “No smell, no foul, no fee,” septic maintenance program.

So, had I flushed two fifty down the drain? No, no, my new friend, the DEQ guru, told me. You invested two fifty.

And to convince me of the value of my investment, the guru told me
-- horror stories of homeowners finding themselves ankle deep in “failed systems” that took weeks to repair.

-- dark tales of replacement systems that must meet new environmental standards, sometimes costing four times as much as twenty thousand dollars.
-- blood curdling accounts of contaminated well water both near the tank and on neighboring property.
And, most shocking of all for greens such as myself –the cumulatively destructive impact of septic tank waste being flushed downstream is incalculable. Septic system failure contributes significantly to the fact that 62 percent of this region’s rivers and streams are more contaminated than water quality standards allow.
Not to mention augmenting the catastrophe that is the Chesapeake Bay.

My family lives on the Middle River in Augusta County. From a distance, the water around us looks pristine. Up close, you see slime covering the bottom. Don’t eat the fish. Don’t go swimming. It will take decades to clean. That’s a damn pity.

Many farmers in these parts have made a good faith start to improve practices that will clean our waters and save the bay. But we homeowners need to do a better job of taking care of our business, too. We can reduce storm water run off, use fertilizers sparingly, and get septic tanks emptied every five years.

The truth is that a dark force lurks beneath backyards throughout the Valley. Treated well, it is benign, even beneficial. If left unattended, these unassuming, often forgotten cement giants can foul our waterways and take massive bite out of a homeowners' bank accounts. Soil and water conservation districts have funds to help offset costs of pumping out the grit in tanks that clogs septic lines. County government can help homeowners make that connection with such funds.

Next week is Earth Week. Here’s hoping we all take it as a reminder to unearth the hatch, clean the tanks, and then reseed the soil. Let’s all join together in keeping the Valley’s backyards as green underneath as they are on the surface.

-- Bruce Dorries is a member of Friends of the Middle River and teaches at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The first intermittent blog post is on the new (?) American Dream . . .

My morning's reading about President Obama's deficit speech included a column in the Washington Post by frequent NPR guest pundit, E. J. Dionne. Mr. Dionne, who's what I call a thinking liberal (as opposed to a reactionary liberal) obviously liked what our president had to say, for he called his column "Obama’s deficit speech: Worthy of a president."


In it, Mr. Dionne writes that there were at least four things to like about the president's speech. The second, third, and fourth of these were:
  • "he was willing to talk plainly about raising taxes."
  • "he was right to focus on the need to cut security spending."
  • "he was eloquent in defending Medicare and Medicaid, and he proposed saving money by building on last year’s health-reform law."
It was E.J. Dione's first likable point about President Obama's speech that set me to thinking about the American Dream this morning. Mr.Dionne writes: 
. . .First, without mentioning Rep. Paul Ryan by name, he called out Ryan’s truly reactionary budget proposal for what it is: an effort to slash government programs, in large part to preserve and expand tax cuts for the wealthy. “That’s not right,” he said, “and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
Oh, those Bush era tax cuts. I, for one, will be quick to admit that I'm not enough of an economist to talk learnedly about how extending them will help an economy that's been fairly shaky a good part of the time they've been in effect.

What has left me long baffled, however, is listening to people who are not in the least rich defend them. Does this, I wonder, imply some fundamental shift in the good old American Dream? Which I'd always construed as a dream that if one works hard, tries one's best and looks out for others, one will be rewarded with the opportunity for a decent, fulfilling life.

Has that dream become too modest for us non-rich Americans who support continuing tax cuts for the wealthy? Are we, in our heart of hearts, dreaming that someday we, too, will be rich enough to benefit from those tax cuts? Is having enough no longer enough? Furthermore, do we dream that once we get more than enough, we certainly don't want to have to use any of it to fund Medicaid?

To put it simply, has being an American come to mean we're entitled to as much as we can get our hands on without being bothered by pesky taxes?

To me, a country is morally defined by its societal dreams. Has accruing surplus personal wealth really become the great American Dream?

I've got the question. You got an answer?


Monday, April 11, 2011

Everything changes, including Martha's job . . .

Martha here.

This is the 482nd post on the WMRA blog. I'm happy to report that up to 400 different people take a gander at them every day. I have loved managing and writing this on-line conversation.

To quote the Bible or the Byrds (channeling Pete Seeger), however, for everything there is a season, and my season as WMRA's blogger-in-chief  is winding down.

Why?

Because I'm cooking up a new WMRA creation that will put me back on air regularly; and much as I hate to come to terms with this, there's only one of me, and I just do not have the time any more to tend to a daily blog.

I will continue to post Civic Soapbox essays on Fridays, and may occasionally still write something myself (about which I'll alert you on Facebook).  Also, the blog remains at the service of any WMRAer with something to say.

All you have to do to submit a post is e-mail it the station, c/o me, Martha Woodroof.

I cannot thank enough those of you who have regularly read and responded to this blog. It has been exactly what I'd hoped it would be: a way to expand the WMRA Community conversation.  And, although I'll miss that conversation, I have to admit I'm tremendously excited about this new project. Hopefully, it will involve lots of us in its production, and make compelling, entertaining and informative radio for all of us!

All my best,   M

Friday, April 8, 2011

In Praise of Public Service, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Reid Wodicka

I am a career public servant.

And as I watch government budgets being slashed, what disturbs me most is the ever-increasing blame being upon public employees. I stand today on WMRA’s civic soapbox to remind you of what public employees do and why it is important that our professions remains respected.

Ideally, government does that which can be accomplished better or more efficiently collectively than individually. A few of the public service professionals who keep life civilized are garbage collectors, teachers, firefighters, police officers, sewage treatment professionals, drinking water operators, highways workers, school cafeteria workers, janitors, maintenance workers, and on and on. Can you imagine life if no one were here to pick up the trash? Sure, you’d save a few dollars, but at what cost to your environment and health?

And heaven forbid your house catches fire, if no one’s around to put out the flames? What if your neighbor’s house also caught fire as well, and the whole block burned down? How about if no one treated sewage? I’ll let you imagine that one on your own.

Now about those government regulations and the people you pay to enforce them – who are perhaps the most unpopular public-sector professionals. It’s true the cost of sewage treatment is driven higher by state and federal regulations, duly enforced by regulators. Naturally, it would be much less expensive for towns, cities, and manufacturing facilities to let sewage flow into a river or a lake. And seriously, if now one were watching businesses, what do you think the possibility is that some of them might try to save money by using this less expensive method of treatment? So what if you live in the next town down river and your drinking water comes from that river? Yes, it’s a gross, but it’s also just the kind of situation regulations prevent. Regulation is not about making it more difficult to do business as some would have you believe.

As a career public servant, however, I also say to my fellow public employees: We must never forget that we serve the people. We can expect to be valued only to the extent that we do our jobs well. Just as with any profession, a career in public service requires continual improvement. Also, we public servants should accept that constant organizational change is our way of life. It takes a dynamic culture to provide quality public service.

As we move further into recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, I call on you to stop for a moment to imagine a world in which there are no public servants; no one to pick up trash, to fight fires, to teach children history and calculus. I would argue that without me and my fellow public servants, our quality of life would tumble drastically.

Public service is my calling and in one capacity or another, I will spend my life working towards a higher quality of life for all people. I also hope that public policymakers will stop blanket vilification of those of us who’ve chosen careers in public service, and instead to value our dedication to building an even stronger social fabric.
--- Reid Wodicka lives in Harrisonburg and is the Town Manager of Elkton. He will receive a Master of Public Administration degree from James Madison University in May.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Na-Na-Na Factor . . .

I'm starting today with Congress, although I could just as easily start with Glenn Beck. Because both
  1. talk a lot; and 
  2. taunt a lot, while they're talking. 
About Congress . . .

shockingly humorous study came to light yesterday in the waning hours of funded Federal government. As members of Congress postured and squabbled over a tiny fraction of the federal budget, Harvard Professor Gary King announced he's discovered that these people use 27% of their written communications to taunt colleagues. Members with so-called "safe" seats are the worst (best?) taunters.

From the Washington Post:
Prof. Gary King
“It’s jarring and surprising,” said Prof. Gary King, an expert in using computers to find patterns in large amounts of data. And, King said, probably counterproductive if we want Congress’s members to trust one another enough to make deals. 
“The entire government may go bankrupt, I guess. This week, right?” King said in a telephone interview. “We probably want our representatives to be listening to each other rather than calling each other names.”
There's really no need for me to comment on this. I'm sure you can come up with plenty of pithy observations of your own. And maybe, heaven forbid, a few taunts, as well!

On to Glenn Beck, arguably the Grand Master of Taunting ...

As David Folkenflik reported last night on All Things Considered and writes on NPR.org:
At long last, we have an answer to the enduring question: Is it possible for someone to be too incendiary, even for the Fox News Channel? 
And the answer is yes. 
Glenn Beck's daily spot on the nation's leading cable news station is coming to a close little more than two years after his start on Fox News. While his contract runs through December, his show is not expected to last that long. . . .
Photo credit: Jose Luis Magana/AP
It was about ratings and revenue, rather than about ethics or anything to do with ignoring that pesky journalistic mandate for confirming the truth of one's assertions. The LA Times writes:
... Less than three years after joining Fox News from CNN's Headline News amid a burst of publicity, Beck is being booted off the air. His sinking ratings certainly didn't help — they fell 32% for the first three months of this year, to 1.9 million total viewers, according to the Nielsen Co. 
And after months of reported friction between the host and Fox News as well as an aggressive advertiser boycott after Beck dubbed President Obama a racist, analysts professed little surprise. ... 
"The ratings drop was significant and couldn't be ignored," McCall continued. "The advertiser boycott didn't hurt the program or FNC as much in terms of dollars as it did in terms of bad publicity. Beck was no longer just a personality with a show on FNC. He became an easy target for Fox News critics to characterize him as representative of the entire channel."
Calling President Obama a racist certainly qualifies as taunting, don't you think? Does this mean that Glenn Beck, in effect, taunted himself off the Fox News air?

If so, does this mean that Americans, across the board, are finally tired of people constantly and unproductively na-na-na-ing away at each other?

Perhaps it would behoove our elected representatives to use Glenn Beck as a role model for how not to keep a job -- no matter how "safe" it is considered.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Keeping the faith and growing potatoes . . .

Rep. Ryan and his optimistically named budget proposal
I started my day about 7 a.m.trying to come to terms with Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis., House Budget Committee Chair) "Path to Prosperity" Budget Plan. I quickly moved on to wishing that I trusted people in power to really, truly mean what they say  when they claim to have the interest of the poor, sick, or the elderly -- or even the middle class -- at heart.

Most politicians look so glossy. It's hard to imagine them having much concept of the struggles and troubles of the less-glossy.

I moved on to take a look Tom Graham's morning e-mail (a.k.a. the Graham News Service). This led me to open a link to Anita Kumar's "On Politics " post, which begins:
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) told reporters at a Tuesday news conference that he opposes proposed regulations developed by his Democratic predecessor that would for the first time allow gay couples to adopt children in Virginia.
Oh dear! As a parent (and a lifelong sucker for anything small and helpless), I had to wonder if our governor was letting the political ramifications of supporting gay anything in Virginia trump consideration of the welfare of the legions of parentless children around the world. How did we let adoption get tangled up in politics in the first place? Shouldn't it be about giving abandoned kids a better life? What is wrong with us?


To stop thinking about parentless children, I started thinking about Japan off-loading radioactive water into the ocean, Terry Jones' firebug proclivities, all those federal government employees facing what appears to be mainly politically-motivated temporary job loss, all the bombs people are dropping on other people. 


And then I just ground to a blogging halt. 



To paraphrase Lena Lamont (Jean Hagan, Singin' in the Rain), I couldn't stan' it. I could not stand spending this particular April morning blogging about things that tempt me to wallow in cynicism and hopelessness. Once I give in to those two temptations, I've resigned my larger humanity for the day for the ranks of the glossy self-interested; the what's-in-it-for-me crowd. 


Snarkiness has always been easier than optimism. Pessimism has long been the chief characteristic of all former humans who still have beating hearts.


Well, phooey on that! Today, in open defiance of the depressing news of the day, I'm going to write about something that isn't news at all. I'm going to write about Dan Easley's garden. 


Dan, the Man
Dan Easley is a 21st Century Geek Supreme, as well as a former and much-missed WMRAer. He speaks computer as fluently as I speak English. Dan's expertise is in technology, but he's ambivalent, at best, about fully embracing the pace and apparent values of 21st Century America. And, he's refreshingly unafraid of living that ambivalence; i.e. he has mixed feelings about spending 40 hours a week at a conventional job and is willing to live with the financial consequences. Dan does not need to acquire stuff -- except for musical instruments. Charlie, my husband, steals from the late George Carlin by referring to Dan as the High Tech Low Life.


What I'm saying is that Mr. Easley's heart and energy (outside of his personal relationships) appear to be firmly invested in his music and his garden. About the latter, he e-mailed me last week that 
as the weather gets warmer i get more and more cranky sitting at a computer. at least i got my yellow potatoes in the ground yesterday, and a heckuva lot of certified organic seeds ordered. and 2 1/2 pounds of seed potatoes of the All Blue variety. delicious! 
I'm going to use Dan and his garden this morning as an antidote to my temporary attack of the World View Blues, for it takes true optimism for Dan to plant his garden. He has to have faith down to his toes that, despite humanity's energetic efforts to self-destruct, the sun will keep shining, the rain will keep falling, the world will keep spinning. Also, as a garden is a lot of work, planting one isn't about feeling hopeful; it's about being hopeful. It's about actively keeping the faith that we flawed human beings -- including those glossy politicians -- will somehow find our way forward together.

Holy seed potato, Batman! Surely I can follow Dan's example today: Surely, I can find something hopeful, embrace it, and get to work making it happen.

You with us?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Arms and the college student . . .

Once again, I was all set to blog about some entirely different subject before I read my e-mail. Always risky. . .
Sure enough, there was a note from Liz Nutt who runs the website matchacollege.com (which mainly gives information about online college education, about which I know nothing). Ms. Nutt sent me a link to a post she'd done on "10 Colleges That Allow Guns on Campus," and wrote, "Considering this overlap in subject matter with your blog; I thought perhaps you would be interested in sharing the article with your readers?" 
States where guns are allowed on some college campuses armedcampuses.org
Which is exactly what I'm doing by posting it below. To me, Liz's list, (although incomplete as 25 colleges allow guns on campus according to armedcampuses.org), provides enough information for a reality check: Guns are allowed on campus in this country; it is possible to go to class and sit next to someone who's packing. 
And there's nothing like a good reality check to make us face some really hard questions. Here, my friends, is Liz's list:

10 Colleges That Allow Guns on Campuss

Unfortunately, shootings at high schools and on college campuses punctuate recent American history. But while some students and teachers feel vulnerable if they’re unarmed and unable to strike back should another tragedy occur, others believe that the more guns that are on campus, the higher the risk for accidents and shootings. The debate is going strong in state legislatures, on Facebook, and at school, and if you’re a prospective college student, you should know the existing gun laws at the schools you want to attend. Besides the schools listed below, even more colleges do allow guns — these are some of the biggest, well-known schools and ones that represent different states and regions.
  1. Colorado State University: Colorado schools have the option to allow or prohibit guns on campus, and the large CSU in Fort Collins has granted students permission to carry guns since 2003.
  2. Dixie State College of Utah: This four-year university in St. George, Utah, allows of-age concealed handgun permit holders — they must be 21 — to carry guns on campus.
  3. University of Utah: Located in Salt Lake City, the U of U has a total enrollment of over 29,000, and approved permit holders can carry concealed guns on campus.
  4. Utah State University: Another large state school, Utah State is the number one public university in the West — and one that allows students to carry guns.
  5. Weber State University: Located in Ogden, UT, Weber State is an attractive choice for nontraditional and traditional students alike, but students can carry guns on its 500-acre Ogden campus.
  6. Michigan State University: As more states debate allowing guns on campus, Michigan’s largest state school — one of the largest universities in the country — does allow guns on campus. The ruling isn’t statewide yet, though.
  7. Southern Utah University: Cedar City’s SUU offers technical through graduate programs, allowing approved students to carry guns.
  8. Blue Ridge Community College: Virginia’s Blue Ridge Community College, a Shenandoah Valley-area school, is a rare East Coast school that allows students to have guns. [more on this later from Martha]
  9. Utah Valley University: Utah Valley is the second largest institution in the Utah System of Higher Education, and it, too, allows guns on campus.
  10. Community College of Denver: Denver’s community college has also chosen to allow guns on campus. The school actually has four campuses scattered throughout the city.
Liz's list represents , if you will, the piecemeal approach to allowing guns on campus. Texas, however, is poised to pass a bill that would allow guns on the campuses of all state schools. Utah already has such a measure -- as you might surmise from the number  of Utah state schools on Liz Nutt's list.

Virginia law already prohibits students or visitors from carrying guns onto the grounds of public and private K-12 schools. The state also prohibits concealed weapons in courthouses, places of worship during a service, jails and on any private property where the owner has posted a "no guns" notice. State employees are barred from possessing guns while at work unless needed for their job. 
But Virginia code is silent on guns and public colleges. And two bills seeking to give college governing boards the authority to regulate firearms on campus died in committee during this year's General Assembly session.
About guns and Blue Ridge Community College (that lone eastern college on Liz's list). Guns are there because of David Briggman, who lives in Keezletown (Rockingham County), Virginia. Mr. Briggman appears to take arming Virginia's college students as his personal mission.
David Briggman
Briggman, who is a former police officer, said he forced Blue Ridge Community College to allow him to carry a gun onto campus while a student. And he sued James Madison University over its ban on concealed weapons even among permit holders. While JMU's policy still stands, Briggman said he has been told by campus police officials that they will not arrest visitors who carry a gun legally. 
"It's extremely easy to challenge university policy by looking at ... whether they are given the statutory authority to regulate firearms on campus, and of course, they're not," Briggman said. ...
Virginia Tech survivor Collin Goddard, who was shot 4 times on April 16, 2007, appears to have a different mission: Keeping guns out of college. Goddard testified before the General Assembly against allowing students to carry on campus, a message he willingly carries across the country.

Collin Goddard's argument: "The fear is in the wrong place, the fear needs to be at the point of sale when people are getting these guns, because we do a horrible job of keeping them from dangerous people."

Colin Goddard 21, lays in his hospital room at Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, VA, a few miles from Virginia Tech.  Sean Dougherty, USA TODAY 
So now, with the reality check duly absorbed, it's on to the hard questions:
  1. What to do about guns in this country? What does our Constitution allow us to do? Nothing? Something? If so, what? 
  2. Are college campuses different legal animals when it comes to gun control? 
  3. If arming students on campus is about personal safety, does this mean the campus police are incompetent? 
  4. Whenever we consider college students, like it or not we have to consider college students out of control on alcohol and drugs. Is it possible to allow guns on campus and keep them in the hands of rational people only?
You got any answers?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Negro League baseball and Virginia's redistricting

As far as I can tell, WMRA's Tom Graham gets up at an indecently early hour (for anyone who doesn't have to milk cows) just to read newspapers. Then every morning  about 7:30, he sends out  links to Virginia news stories. I always look forward to getting Tom's morning e-mail, and regularly poke through as many stories as time permits. So, first let me start with a public thanks to Tom for the Graham  News Service.

A lot of this weekend's and mornings stories from the GNS concerned Virginia's struggles to redistrict itself. This morning's Staunton News Leader ran an AP story about redistricting reflecting the population growth in Northern Virginia. UVA's Larry Sabato is quoted as saying, "Southside, southwestern Virginia, the Valley, they're all going to lose seats, and that's the bottom line. After this, the rural legislators are the outsiders looking in."

Okay, that sounds reasonable, don't you think? Aren't we supposed to parcel out Virginia's political districts so as to best represent Virginia's people?

The GNS, however, also sent out a link to an article written by the Washington Post's Anita Kumar (Tom's frequent guest on Virginia Insight) that begins:
RICHMOND — A decade ago, the last time Virginia embarked on redrawing boundaries for its legislative districts, lawmakers created maps that protected incumbents and punished challengers, leading observers to complain that the process lacked outside input. 
George Barker
This year, despite the appointment of a bipartisan commission to advise legislators, the lines were largely drawn by two men: Sen. George L. Barker (D), a health-care planner from Prince William County, and Rep. S. Chris Jones (R), a pharmacist from Suffolk. 
Chris Jones
The pair was part of a small cadre of legislators who worked quietly to draw the maps with input primarily from the majority party in each house. Fewer than 10 of the state’s 140 legislators were privy to the lines before they were made public last week, according to lawmakers and aides. 
The General Assembly, which returns to the Capitol on Monday for a special session on redistricting, expects to approve the proposed maps with few alterations and within days. 
The Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled Senate have already agreed to vote for their own plans, and then each other’s, as part of a deal between the chamber’s leaders. 
The result? Lines that protect incumbents and punish challengers, observers say.
Is it just me, or does this imply that Virginia's politicians have made the redistricting process more about themselves than our well-being? Doesn't this represent yet another sad example of self-interest trumping what's right?


I was thinking about powerful people and self-interest and the blight it has visited on our country yesterday, as I stood in a church yard in Buena, Virginia, watching the new Pete Hill historical marker being unveiled.

If you've just asked who's Pete Hill, then you've just helped me make my point du jour. And for what it's worth, I helped make it as well. I didn't have a clue who Pete Hill was until I got an e-mail from Randy Jones of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources telling me about him. It was so interesting that I immediately asked to do a story on both him and his marker for Virginia Public Radio.

As to who Pete Hill was, he was arguably one of the greatest baseball players ever. You and I have never heard of him because he was also black and ignored. Pete Hill spent his long and staggeringly brilliant career playing in American Negro, Cuban, and Mexican leagues; his prowess unacknowledged by the white and the powerful. Those who decreed what was baseball and what wasn't simply chose not to notice the inconvenient reality that there were black players who could take on any group of white players in the land, and on any given day, beat the tar out of them.

Pete Hill was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, 55 years after his death at the age of 69. Here is Pete Hill's Hall of Fame bio:

A standout center fielder with a rifle arm, Pete Hill was one of the greatest line-drive hitters of his era. From the turn of the century to the early 1920s, Hill was a giant among Giants, starring with legendary clubs such as the Cuban X Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Leland Giants and Chicago American Giants. Playing alongside baseball greats Rube Foster, Pop Lloyd and Bruce Petway, Hill captained the legendary Leland Giants of 1910, credited with a record of 123 wins and just six losses. For eight seasons with the Chicago American Giants, Hill tormented opposing moundsmen with his knack of fouling off pitch after pitch. Hill wound down his stellar career as player-manager for the Detroit Stars during their early days in the newly formed Negro National League.
The historical marker unveiled yesterday corrects an historical mistake: Pete Hill's name and place of birth were wrong on his original Hall of Fame plague. The great outfielder was not Joseph Preston Hill, born in Pittsburg; he was John Preston Hill born in Buena, a tiny dot on the map in Culpeper County. This information was uncovered by a group of people, led by the redoubtable Zann Nelson. The Hall of Fame ceremonially hung a corrected plaque honoring Pete Hill last September.

Researcher Zann Nelson (front, center) poses with Pete Hill's family members in front of his new recast plaque at the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr.)
Yesterday's ceremony in Buena was a homecoming.

I'll be reporting about Pete Hill and his homecoming in full in a later radio story, but today I just want to make the point (particularly to those incumbents in the Virginia General Assembly) that we play games with what's right and honest at our own cost. I've always loved baseball history, but today I wonder if all those white-only baseball stats from the Ruth and Gehrig era mean anything.

Yesterday in Buena, I met two retired Negro League players who are old now. They claim to be at peace with their race-related obscurity, and I hope they are. It would be a shame to be denied your rightful place in sports history and also be stuck toting buckets of anger around for a lifetime.

I also listened to white politicians and bureaucrats voice regret for past mistakes and then talk about how well we all get along these days, regardless of the color of our skins. Hmmmmmm, I thought.

Then this morning, I read about how Virginia politicians have taken it upon themselves to re-district our state, not based on fairness, but to protect their power. Why, I have to ask, do we let politicians get away with such shenanigans? But then, why did early generations let baseball historians get away with ignoring Pete Hill?

It took close to a century for us to partially undo the neglect of Pete Hill. How long will it take us to do the same for those challenging voices in state politics about to be effectively silenced by redistricting?

Any thoughts?