Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Happy Trails To Me...

I know it's a blow to my trio of devoted readers, but I've chosen to discontinue this blog for now, because I no longer really find it interesting.

Ye political bloggers, keep doing what you're doing. But don't get too serious about it. Don't measure self-worth by page views. Don't get too hung up on yourselves. You're not journalists, but occasionally a blind nut finds a squirrel. Occasionally.

There are still a few of us trying to do good work in the media, despite the corporate pressures not to do so.

Thanks to those who have constructively commented. ***Thbthbthbthb*** to a select few.

Like everyone who abandons a blog, I'll say there's a chance I'll post from time to time. Perhaps.

If you know me, you'll be getting an email with a link to my latest online venture. Something much more personal that I hope to update much more regularly.

If you don't, I leave you with this:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Requiem for Jerry? Not Quite.

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
Rev. Jerry Falwell on 9/11

A force in American politics is gone. Some may say for the better. Few wished for him to be silenced by death. Many would rather him be marginalized by his misplaced comments.

By no means am I any sort of Jerry Falwell fan. In fact I've found him quite repugnant for as long as I can remember.

I feel no grief whatsoever for his passing. I do not think he was a great man. I think he was a great salesman of his brand of religion. A shyster, a huckster, a modern day P.T. Barnum (and that may not be all that far from the truth).

He inserted himself into the modern dilemma, injecting himself into political, social, and religious America with a strange measure of self-authority. The word blustery comes to mind.

Mistakes were made, and I think he was most himself when he erred. Tinky Winky, the mess after 9/11, calling the prophet Muhammad a 'terrorist', encouraging apartheid, using "The Old Time Gospel Hour" for political purposes against Bill Clinton. He opposed desegregation and Martin Luther King, Jr (both positions he retracted later).

So what is his legacy? The gaffes? The 22,000 member Thomas Road Baptist Church? The Religious Right? Liberty University?

Although in the past few years Falwell passed on his business to his sons, he was TRBC. It is hard to see the Gospel Hour continue without its leader. An untaxed $200 million a year ministry will not continue at that level without its charismatic leader.

The Religious Right? A once-powerful poltical action committee that seems to have fallen on hard times in the last few years. They couldn't save the Republicans in 2006. Iraq, and not social issues, is the elephant in the room in the 2008 debate.

How about Liberty University? Is that the legacy?

This is what Falwell focused much of his energy on in the last few years of his life. He wanted it to be the BYU or Notre Dame for Baptists. A close study reveals some disturbing facts.

Liberty currently holds a poor fourth-tier rating from most college ranking publications. It holds only a $6 million endowment, a paltry sum for any institution of higher learning. It is especially bad for a campus that claims more than 10,000 students. By contrast, the University of Richmond (still not a highly acclaimed University) holds a $1 billion+ endowment with 3600 students.

Liberty has seen numerous financial crises over the years, and I have the feeling we'll see more as its charismatic leader has passed.

Liberty's campus is sprawling, but cheap from what I've seen. Quick and inexpensive construction will not hold up to the elements, and will see major capital needs arise within the next few years.

In an ever freedom-loving society, how many teens will see strict reprimands for viewing 'R' rated movies as part of the college experience?

Just wait, it doesn't stop there.

This is a list of the most egregious offenses a Liberty student can commit, taken from its own code of conduct:

Academic dishonesty
Assault/sexual assault (minimum two semesters out)
Commission/conviction of any felony
Failure of three Christian/Community Services without reconciliation
Illegal drugs-association/possession, use/distribution (minimum two semesters out)
Involvement with witchcraft, séances or other occult activities
Life-threatening behavior or language to others or oneself (immediate removal/exclusion from campus and a minimum of two semesters out)
Non-participation/disruption/non-compliance (possible removal/exclusion from campus)
Possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages
Refusal to submit to an Alco-Sensor test and/or drug test as specified by the administration
Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex
Stealing or possession of stolen property (plus financial restitution; minimum two semesters out)
Two or more individuals of the opposite sex together in hotel/motel room without proper permission
Unauthorized possession/use of weapons

A few are valid. But cheating is seen as the equal as spending a night with a member of the opposite sex, involvement in the occult, or the legal act of abortion. Is the theft of someone else's intellectual property really as bad as drinking a beer? This is a place supposedly dedicated to crafting young minds for critical and independent thought.

Of course not all of these offenses merit dismissal. Just 30 demerits and a $500 fine. The cynic in me says, "Of course there would be a monetary penalty, Falwell's involved."

There will be a market for that type of education for some, but it appears to be diminishing returns.

By the way, what is a Liberty degree worth these days? Can a Liberty degree be held seriously? What student of the sciences should go out into the workplace learning that the earth is a few thousand years old, and that dinosaurs were present on Noah's Ark? These 'ideas' are actually tought in Lynchburg. Geologic and empirical data confirm otherwise.

Teachings of sciences should be based on testable truths, not beliefs. There is most definitely a place for the independent study of religion, but it should not be in the laboratory. That is a place of scientific tests, not beliefs.

There are clearly problems within that university (lowercase emphasized for a reason). Is this really a beacon of enlightenment and independent thought?

Is Liberty University Jerry Falwell's greatest legacy? It appears so, and that would be quite appropriate. And any critically-thinking person should realize it. The university is the mirror of the man: highly flawed, yet strangely popular.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

We Will Return

A madman will run loose again.

Families will cry again, mourning their losses.

There will be another disaster. And yet again, you won't think it can get any worse.

Time may heal all wounds, but tragedy can open them up again. Ask the families of the Oklahoma City bombing what they thought about during 9/11. Ask the families affected by Columbine if Virginia Tech brought back the anguish of senseless loss.

The people will decry the handling of the story by the media again as they watch for hours on end the regurgitated facts from the faces on the cable news networks.

When will it end? When will Virginia Tech return to being just another school known for football in a rural setting?

There may be a lull now, but be prepared for an onslaught of media coverage in the future. For graduation. For the first day of classes. At 9:45 am on 4/16, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010... and so on.

It doesn't end. The University of Texas is still trying to get past the bell tower. Kent State - an expression of horror frozen in time. No child can graduate Columbine without a hushed whisper and prayer.

When it happens, we'll be there, but not bearing gifts. We'll be bringing the sins of a dozen other madmen, trying to find sense in their madness. We'll try to equate one disaster to another, subconsciously trying to find whose grief is worse based on the body count.

The students at Virginia Tech have asked for peace. They've asked for privacy. They've asked for time to try to make sense of a senseless act.

As awful as it may sound, what Virginia Tech needs is another tragedy, or another astronaut going crazy. Perhaps another Imus. Something to move the spotlight from Blacksburg. Most importantly, it needs to happen somewhere else. Maybe then, when the attention is pointed elsewhere the members of the Virginia Tech community can grieve in peace and begin to heal.

Television satellite trucks will sprout like dandelions again in some far away place you've only heard about once or twice before. And yet we'll all watch. For a little while... until something else grabs our attention.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Today, We're All Hokies... Even Journalists

On Monday morning I was late for work. I'd stopped by the post office to mail some bills.

I was driving my usual route. The wind was howling.

At exactly 9:15, I looked up through my windshield and noticed a single branch on a tree shaking violently and strangely in the wind. With a strange feeling, I said out loud to myself only: "Something bad is going to happen." For some reason, visions of the Pentagon on 9/11 crossed my mind.

I didn't know what it was. I also didn't know at the time that I was right.

Just about that moment a crazed gunman was walking through the front doors of Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, chaining the doors, about to lay waste to 30 innocent victims. Two were already dead. I knew nothing of this when I noticed that single branch, but something struck me that something was amiss in our world.

I share this deeply personal experience not because I believe in ESP. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. No ghosts, UFO sightings, pet psychics, or mediums for me. I don't believe in the paranormal. I don't think I'm special. I don't think I'm "touched" or have any sort of a special gift. I just had a bad feeling. Unfortunately, it was spot-on.

For some reason, that image of a single branch blowing in the wind remains to me the most disturbing and unnerving image of the Virginia Tech massacre. Perhaps because it's something only I saw.

Within moments of learning that at least 20 people were dead in the attack, I was on my way to that seemingly quiet mountain town to try to deliver a sense of the tragedy to the viewers. Or at least the best sense that the television news can provide. I think I helped bring the emotion of the event to thousands of viewers, but I just can't shake the feelings that I, as a person, did not accept the scope of the disaster until after I left Blacksburg.

I arrived on campus with just enough time to gather as much information as possible and settle a few logistics. Police were just starting their investigation into what happened.

Nothing is more difficult for a local television station than trying to cover the huge national story that's in your own backyard. This was the third event of national scope I have covered in about a decade of journalism.

Within moments of arriving upon a momentous occasion, the first thought is not about gathering facts. It's about getting a face on the air as soon as possible. It's not journalism, it's simply the nature of television today.

It may sound very strange, but with events such as this, the facts are almost secondary. Most of the information filters through the national outlets first, and then trickles down to the local media outlets. Close connections that take years to develop vanish under the bright lights of a CNN or NBC mobile set. Police and other officials whose wives' names you know quickly forget you in favor of the big networks. In part, this is out of neccessity. Wouldn't you rather tell something to five people instead of 150?

I spent three days standing just feet away from Charlie Gibson, Geraldo, Brian Williams, Tucker Carlson, Wolf Blitzer, Matt Lauer and a host of other faces and names you'd know. I resented them for their presence. This was OUR story, the Virginia media outlets. They fly in with their personal assistants to take the glory. They fill 24 hours by interviewing the so-called "experts" who jump to conclusions based on the same information we're reporting. One quickly learns who the prima donnas are, and the real people who truly feel sorrow for the victims and their families and almost feel embarrassed for being there.

Not being innundated with information like someone watching TV, you almost forget why you're there. You forget about the 32 dead and the madman who caused it. You're more focused on getting your job done. It's easy to get lost in the spectacle. It's easy to talk about your status-quo life with the people you used to work with years ago, sharing hugs, handshakes and laughs.

Then, during a quiet moment, the reason you're there crosses your transom. You begin to imagine the contorted bodies still lying inside the faceless building you've been staring at for hours on video. It's hurry up and wait, furiously getting the job done, followed by imagining yourself as a participant inside the tragedy you're trying to cover.

You find yourself incensed at the hordes of your ilk. They're accosting survivors. They're using those people not for the public good, but to try to get a piece of the big story. You're among a crowd of 60 arms holding microphones reached forward trying to capture the memories of someone who escaped death at the hands of a madman with just a bullet through the arm. His arm is in a sling, and as he walks reporters and photogaphers are grabbing his wounded arm trying to turn him to a better angle to get a picture of his face and a few muttered words. He cries out in pain. Then you realize that you're one of -them- and get disgusted by the entire scene and walk away, no matter the consequences.

I took the time to wander past hundreds of people on the drill field at VT. You could see their eyes and slumped shoulders mourning the loss of life and the loss of innocence. I looked at the still open windows of Norris Hall through which a lucky few plunged to safety. Parked in front was the armored State Police van. It was still backed up to the doors to haul away shell casings and skull fragments in individually labeled plastic bags. Blood swabs and bullet fragments. Its next stop the state crime lab to deposit its horrific cargo.

I could only imagine the carnage that lay behind a foot of Hokiestone and millimeters of glass. At the time, standing among the orange and maroon clad masses, I felt sadness. I felt for the crying, those who could not contain their grief under such trying circumstances. At the same time, I shed no tears.

Now a feeling of sorrow sticks in my gut and tightens my throat. It waters my eyes.

Now, I've left and waves of grief wash over me at the slightest provocation. A simple photograph of a survivor or kind gesture kindles emotions I didn't feel when I was feet away from the scene.

I feel for the lives cut short. I feel for the families grieving. I feel terrible for using disaster and pain for the profit and prestige of my company.

But I will go on. I will be at the next tragedy, checking a part of my soul at the gates, trying to talk someone into giving me an interview.

I hope you'll be informed and entertained. I expect no sympathy. I'm one of -them-. But I hope you'll realize the personal costs it took to bring you a small slice of American history.

And the next time something like a branch blowing strangely in the wind catches my eye, let's hope it's not an ill wind blowing. I'd love to sit comfortably behind my desk and be absolutely wrong.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Transportation - Everyone Dance!

There's dancing in the streets because our government has actually passed some sort of a plan to deal with massive congestion in the state. Well, not quite. The entire state won't see their problems fixed. And Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads won't see their problems fixed anytime soon - there will just be a lot of construction there over the next few years (and isn't that fun?).

The Governor can claim a win.

The Republican leadership can claim a win (in an election year too).

So who lost? Any part of Virginia that's not in the north or the southeast.

This plan is dedicated to the largest two urban centers in Virginia, and forgets about fixing PROBLEMS - not congestion.

Like Interstate 81 - a truly awful driving experience.

I say we rent a fleet of 143 Ford Escorts and make all of our legislators, the Governor, Attorney General, and Lt. Gov drive the entire length of Interstate 81 - in both directions. Not only will we see how many get pulled over, but we'll see how many of them get flattened by tractor trailers on this dangerous and overcrowded road.

We could do more in Virginia for transportation with zoning than construction. Stop urban sprawl and the massive 3,000 home developments on what used to be farmland, and you won't have transportation problems. Of course, if you buy one of those homes, I'm glad you'll be sitting in traffic for the next few years while your precious roads are torn up and expanded. I'll be in my cozy bed while you'll be sitting in your car staring at the same license plate for two hours.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why Transportation's Going Nowhere

Well, I suppose there's a plan. So why will it not go anywhere? Because it's not a compromise.

"Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, was the only transportation negotiator who said he will not support the compromise. Puckett said he opposes the use of general fund money to retire debt and charged that Republicans have failed to include him in discussions of the plan since Tuesday." Roanoke Times

I've heard Puckett was not even invited to the final transportation negotiations, and was seeing the plan for the first time at the press conference touting how great it was. That's why the Gov. says it's a plan drafted "in secret".

"I can only speak for the Democratic caucus, but I don't think this will be received very favorably," Puckett said.

Second of all, it's simply another bad plan. I'm glad to see that the House Repubs will allow some sort of new funding, even if it's just in NOVA and Tidewater.

Have any of these guys driven in the mountains lately? Have they white-knucked down Interstate 81 in the last few years?

That's my problem with the plan. There's almost NOTHING for the rest of Virginia in the plan, yet drivers across the state will be paying higher registration fees, higher license fees, and will be impacted if they travel... but they won't get a dime of that back.

This sure is one crooked road they're trying to take us down.

PS - In elections, the Republicans have counted on votes from the Shenandoah Valley for years. These voters drive on 81, and know it's a disaster. Perhaps, just perhaps, when they see their fair legislators have passed them by,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hitch Your Wagon to a Star

Virginia's Eyebrow-In-Chief will announce in about six hours that he's joining the Obama-nation and endorsing the Senator from Illinois for President

Why now? Revenge for buddy Mark Warner being shooed out of the race? (you can find much more about that on other blogs) The need for a boost? Simply because he's Teen Beat's Man of the Week?

I'll let him explain his reasons for doing this. I'm sure he'll be peppered with questions, which he will artfully dodge.

But, lost for the most part is Dickie Cranwell's endorsement of John Edwards.

Dickie's the man on the right.

Why would the Democratic Party Chairman of Virginia do this at this time? Trying to steal Tim Kaine's thunder? Trying to put the Gov. back in his place? Wanting to keep up appearances of remaining relevant?

Dickie, while remaining pretty much under the radar lately, still is a very powerful force in Virginia politics. He's a rare bird, one who wields power in the back rooms, but probably misses the spotlight just a little bit.

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Second Verse, Same as the First

The transportation plans in the General Assembly right now are in more of a mess than Anna Nicole Smith's will.

We've seen the usual backbiting, sniping, and general chicanery about what's happening with Virginia's roads. It's all about saving face right now. Bill Howell and crew can't stand to give an inch to anyone, and Sen. Chichester won't even consider using a dime of old money.

What is so bad about committing money from the General Fund (the state's basic coffers) to transportation? Well, it's not about current money, it's about future money. Say things aren't so financially rosy for the state in a few years, would transportation be funded while schoolchildren have to read surplus textbooks from the 1940's? Of course not. But it is a bad precedent to simply pawn off current problems on future Assemblies. The car tax fiasco proved that one...

I have come up with the words that could solve this entire mess... Ready?

"Money from the general fund will go towards transportation as long as there is a surplus and committments to state services are funded in accordance with rates of inflation. If the state cannot achieve a surplus, taxes on gasoline and higher user fees on drivers will be enacted."

There. Everybody's happy. As long as we have enough money, we drop a ton of it on transportation. If we get into a bind, the people pay up. Surely the House Republicans would feel confident that their rosy predictions on Virginia's economy will come true. They can say they haven't raised taxes, and Chichester et al. can say that they are not raiding the General Fund. Everybody saves face, nobody really gave in, and we start clearing some of the transportation disasters across the state.

If we can't agree to a compromise like this, I think this session will end like last year, and the one before, etc. It's time to forget about grudges and GET SOMETHING DONE.

What I'm most upset about is some of the newer legislators not speaking out more strongly. They are the ones who promised change, but have not delivered so far.

I am glad to see two wings of the Republican party battle it out. It shows that a handful of people out there are still thinking for themselves and using their own versions of reason (even if it may be wrong), instead of merely toeing the party line.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's the Time of the Session

So the election burned me out a little... But I'm back, now that something interesting is happening again.

Pretty much everybody I've talked to is trying to remember why they agreed to hold the first day in Jamestown. A logistical nightmare, they say. A lot of people are wondering exactly what Dick Cheney has to say to the General Assembly, and why he's interjecting himself into Virginia politics.

Going to Jamestown is a nice gesture, but there's a lot to be done. I just hope Del. Ben Cline's and Del. Chris Peace's mothers packed their lunches and remembered to sign their permission slips.

I have no grand expectations that anything substantive will get done in this session. Everybody's transportation proposals are rehashes of what nobody could agree upon last year. Of course this IS an election year for our representatives, so the grandstanding will be grander, and the speeches will be louder. That's about it.

The Governor will blame the House Republicans. The House Republicans will blame the Governor, taxes, and the Senate Republicans. The Democrats will simply sit back and watch the carnage. Del. Bob Marshall will blame every vice known to man. AG Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will continue to try to pretend they live in the Governor's mansion. Del. Algie Howell will remain embarrassed by the Droopy Drawers bill (at least he should be).

And the people of Virginia will get hosed yet again by a group of men and women who can't seem to give up a sliver of their ideals to make the state a better place to live.

So yeah, something interesting is happening. It's just all stuff we've seen last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Oh, and even the year before that.

I almost forgot. I hope the legislators whom I had dinner nearby last night slept off all the wine they drank. Go to any fancy restaurant in downtown Richmond, swing a dead cat, and count the number of Delegates and Senators you hit. I'll bet it's more than 10.

If you don't, you'll miss some fun times. A few bottles of cabernet will make some Delegates start quoting (quite loudly in a quiet restaurant) movie lines like: "Squeal like a pig!" and "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Ah, deliverance from politics as usual indeed.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Well, here goes some more prognistication...

First my votes...

I'll be voting for Webb. This is more of an anti-Allen vote than anything(macaca was overblown, what was overlooked was the bill where he stole the text and replaced "will" with "shall").

Amendment 1 - A hearty no.
Amendment 2 - Sure, why not?
Amendment 3 - A hearty yes.

House of Reps - A protest vote for Brad Blanton (even though he's saying 'Don't vote for me')

Richmond City Council - Paul Goldman. There's a major rift between him and Wilder, and I'm all for annoying Wilder.

Now for my predictions... A recount, with Webb pulling it off. He's got too much momentum going on. Gail Parker pulls in an important .8 - 1.2%.

Amendments go yes, yes, yes.

No great changes in the House of Reps in VA. Drake beats a very bad candidate in Kellam. Obviously, Dems take control of the House convincingly. At least 3 republicans then switch over on Wednesday for key positions.

In the Senate, I'm predicting a 50-49-1, and the beginning of more Supreme Court battles and general gridlock.

This is a time of great change in our country, and I'm looking forward to some of it. One just hopes the Democrats see the greater good ahead in '08 and don't try to take their agenda too far left.

Despite what most partisans will say, this wants to be a very moderate nation. The voters will reward the party that drifts to the middle, and right now that's the Donkeys. Of course, drifts to the middle are usually done by neccessity.

Remember... vote early and often! (oops, I was channeling LBJ for a second...)

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