Two of My Books Available Downtown

Dolores Vest and me with two of my books, which are now on the shelves.

Two of my most recent books–the memoir Burning the Furniture and the novel CLOG!–are now available downtown, in Dolores Vest’s Booked No Further at 16 West Market Place..

Go by and see Dolores, who has an impressive, though small, space in the mini-mall and has packed it with good reads, including quite a number from this region’s talent pool of writers.

Justifying the Unjustifiable with Via Abortion

Most of us on the left have been scratching our heads since the day Donald Trump was elected president, wondering how in the world otherwise good Americans could vote for a man who seems to hate us all.

One of my Facebook “friends” is a guy named Jerry Basham, a Christian conservative and ardent anti-abortion advocate whose arguments about voting for Trump almost always come down to abortion. He’s pretty direct about it, which is unusual, even saying he’d vote for a liberal if the liberal was opposed to abortion and his conservative opponent was not.

I asked him at one point if he’d vote for anti-abortion Adolph Hitler against pro abortion Hillary Clinton. He avoided a direct response for several exchanges and finally allowed as how he’d not vote at all. But he wasn’t voting for Clinton. She is pro-abortion.

Here’s Jerry’s explanation: “It was either Hilary or Trump last election. Not a great field. As far as Christians go, a lot of this immorality with Trump is so depicted in the media as truth, especially by CNN. Some feel it is only because of political motivation. Also the religious community is so appalled with abortion they choose the less of two evils. They think, is it worse to kill an unborn child or better to put up with Trump? Almost every time they will say Trump because it is the higher issue not to kill the child.”

And Stormy Daniels? “He is already president. Not turning a blind eye. I choose the candidate that is in power. Next election give me a candidate against abortion with better morals and leadership I will vote for them. I didn’t know about the porn lady.” Oh, my, Jerry. How quaint: “porn lady.”

Regardless of how you feel about guns, the environment, women’s rights, gerrymandering, porn ladies, international standing, energy or the absolute chaos of the White House, it comes down to abortion for many of Trump’s supporters–I’d estimate a majority of them, frankly. Republicans have often ridden abortion to victory across the country and I’d say it got both Bushes and Trump elected. I believe that in many red districts–especially those traditionally blue–it’s the difference between a congressman who is (R) or (D).

I don’t think there is a solution, either. You are either against abortion or you are for it. I don’t like it, but I also don’t like the idea of taking control of a woman’s body from her to satisfy your religious beliefs. And there is a bigger argument in my world: the most significant problem facing humanity is excessive population. We have far too many people and the needs of those people (sometimes just the wants) are overwhelming the Earth’s ability to provide them. Food, water, shelter, energy and humanity are disappearing at an alarming rate–much like the erasure of the arctic ice caps. We’re doing that because there are so many of us.


A Sparkling Documentary at Roanoke College

‘Obit’ director Vanessa Gould with Roanoke College President Mike Maxey.

Vanessa Gould, film maker.

Tonight offered the second superb opportunity in the past few weeks for those of us either in the newspaper business, or we who have left it to get a perspective via film of the industry.

The Academy Award-nominated Hollywood movie “The Post” is getting all the press–so to speak–but Vanessa Gould’s little documentary, “Obit,” which I saw (with Ms. Gould a couple of rows away) last night at Roanoke College may be its equal, though a documentary.

This is a close examination of the obituary department of the New York Times, one of the few organizations big enough to still have a department strictly devoted to the recently departed. And was it ever illuminating. An old friend, who was at the showing, said, “There were points when I forgot I was watching a movie and thought I was there.”

It was that compelling, which makes the fact that there were almost no newspaper people in the audience all the sadder. Those who were present are mostly old (like me) newsies who revere what we used to know of the business. Much of what we admired is history, I’m afraid.

In any case, I was taken by the obit writers who were interviewed, people with sparkling resumes in the news business. One actually said, writing obituaries has “next to nothing to do with death and almost everything to do with life.” Another, talking about researching subjects of recent death, observed that “the thing you were looking for leads you to the thing you weren’t looking for, which is often better.” That applies to just about any storytelling, but I imagine it would be especially applicable to the obit, where you’re writing about people you don’t know, but find out you would loved to have known.

The movie is available on Amazon Prime and would be well worth your while to invest a little of your time. If only for old time’s sake.

What’s Up With the Fishburn Cottage?

Fishburn Cottage late last week.

I was in Roanoke’s Fishburn Park late last week, getting some exercise and as I was leaving, I noted the old Fishburn Cottage–which caused such a row a few months ago–sitting there getting older, grayer and less like an historic building.

As you might recall, architect Lora Katz offered to buy the cottage and renovate it, but a neighborhood group raised holy hell about the purchase, strongly objecting to it. Lora eventually backed out–more because she found the cost of renovation to be prohibitive than the protests. Nobody has stepped in, even though the neighborhood group said it wanted the house.

I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes (enlighten me, if you know), but the house is just sitting there, looking awfully lonely.

Croissant/Pizza: A Sunday Treat

I’m not sure this is much of an innovation in general, but it is for me, since I don’t generally care for pizza. Last night, I made some pizza rolls, using croissant dough and it was good.

I stretched out the croissants, using two individual pieces as one, and filled them with diced peppers (orange), onions, pizza sauce, mozzarella and mushrooms and cooked them for 22 minutes at 375. they were dang good. If I’d had room on the croissants, I would have added some spinach, but that was a right space and was filled.

The croissant gave the pizza a slightly sweet taste without a lot of sugar being used.

Americana at the Floyd Country Store

Margie and me at the Floyd Country Store (top right).

Violin unplugged.

Margie and I took advantage of a bright 70-degree day today to immerse ourselves in a little mountain culture, driving up to Floyd for music at the Country Store. This is a weekend tradition, when some good local bands occupy the stage and patrons get to listen for free and eat some of the interesting cafe offerings.

Today we saw a four-piece Americana band which, though not ready for the Grand Ole Opry, was entertaining enough.

(Forgive the quality of the photos. I forgot my camera and had to use my semi-intelligent phone.)

A Talk With My Best Girl in an Era of Hatred

I had a long, rich, deep, sad, funny, scary, soul-searching, proud talk with my grandgirl, Madeline, yesterday evening and came away with my belief that she will remain strong in this environment of hatred and lies.

Madeline will be 13 next month and she’s right smack in the middle of the national school malaise, one where the children are taking the lead to pull this country out of its self-dug hole–as they did in the 1960s with Vietnam. I mentioned to her how a large group of teenagers and people in their early 20s basically saved many thousands of soldiers from death in Vietnam by protesting–often violently and sometimes being tossed into jail–and finally getting those military kids, often in their teens, returned to their communities. Sometimes in pieces. But returned nonetheless.

I told her that the true American heroes are the ones who question, who protest, who change the country for the better.

Madeline talked about her small, tight group of friends (including a couple she still talks to almost daily in Spain) is pulling together, supporting each other, trying to figure out this mess and looking for answers. We talked about how community begins just that way–with those around us–and expands slowly to include the neighborhood, the city, the region, the state and finally the nation.

“We just want to be happy, to live in peace,” she said, echoing the mantra of people throughout the world, throughout history. It is a simple goal, one almost impossible to achieve in light of ambitious, greedy, power hungry white men who will stop at nothing to achieve their hateful goals. “I don’t know how we can stop war,” she said, “but I want it to stop.”

I mentioned that a Roanoke middle-school boy had been arrested for taking a gun to school this week and Maddie told me about an eighth-grader who had been jailed in her school near Memphis for raping and nearly killing a 5-year-old. She’s too young to be experiencing this level of violence, even indirectly (“I know the boy,” she said, “and I was shocked he would do something like that”) but so were the babies at Sandy Hook and the teens at Parkland. So are we all.

I thought a lot about our Facetime talk yesterday through the evening and my hope for my best girl was solidified. She’s going to be OK and she will help others in that, as well.

Feb. 22 and It’s Too Pretty To Be Inside

It’s Feb. 22 (Washington’s birthday, as I recall), 83 degrees and I’ve just finished my exercise class, so what’s next?

Well, hell! What else? A hike in the noble wood.

There aren’t any flowers yet (that I could see yesterday or today on hikes), but it’s just a wonder being out in shorts and T-shirt in the middle of the freakin’ winter.

Couldn’t find anything else interesting to shoot, so I fiddled with my self-timer and shot myself.



Students Can Help Stop the Killing, As They Did in the 1960s

The smattering of student demonstrations against the mass Florida AR15 murders don’t amount to much more than a single news cycle diversion right now, but I’m hoping that, like the Women’s March shortly after Trump was elected, they’ll grow to overwhelming numbers.

I’d love to see junior high and high school walkouts (small children are too small for that) with gatherings at the various city halls in the country, as well as at the offices of representatives at the city, state and national levels. Making their non-voting voices heard in Washington is important, but so is getting the attention of state delegates and even city council representatives. Cities can regulate guns much more effectively than we are led to believe and my guess is that local cops will be on the kids’ sides.

I can’t wait for my grandgirl Madeline to lead a contingent of junior high kids marching,  chanting and carrying signs like it was the 1960s again. Remember this: Students got us out of Vietnam. They can help stop the current killing of our young, as well.

(Photo: University of Iowa archive.)

News Employees Lose Jobs at Roanoke Times

Belinda Harris

Two of the Roanoke Times announced firings this week are news employees. They are Tiffany Stevens, a young reporter, and Belinda Harris, the long-time librarian who, as I recall, was actually let go during an earlier purge, but brought back.

Belinda, who has always been immensely popular among the newsies, was at The Times when I was in the late 1970s, so she’s a valued veteran and a woman reporters have relied on for research over the years.

Two others among the seven people laid off, from what I’m told, are advertising employees Tyler Hardin and longtime employee Tammy Burdick. The other layoffs are also from advertising, according to my source, but I don’t know who they are. I’m told the position of retiring sports writer Randy King (who began at the paper as a high school kid when I worked there) will not be filled.

Randy King

According to The Times, the layoffs were “spurred by a decline in advertising revenue from national retailers.” Across BH’s dozens of newspapers (31 of them dailies, including a number in Virginia) there were 148 positions eliminated and another 101 cut. There was no explanation of what constituted a “cut” position vs. an “eliminated” position.

Online shopping is apparently crippling newspapers across the country, which comes as no surprise to anybody.

Tiffany Stevens

Company Chairman/CEO Terry Kroeger is quoted as saying, “The data suggest our industry is changing, not dying” and hinted that BH is confronting those issues. He emphasized that “our news content has never been more important than it is right now and we will continue to deliver news to our customers the way they choose to receive it.”




The owner of The Times is based in Omaha.

(Roanoke Times photos.)