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.)

Hillary Lost and So Did Gun Sales

Mass murderers prefer this killing machine which has a single purpose: killing people.

My son just sent me a link (here) to a story in the Financial Times of London about how American gun manufacturers were betting on a Hillary Clinton win over Donald Trump to drive sales through the roof. The result of the Trump win has been all but devastating to an industry whose sales were down substantially under Barack Obama.

The Times reports: “Shares in Sturm Ruger & Co, the largest US gunmaker, have fallen more than 20 per cent since the president took office, while American Outdoor Brands, the owner of Smith & Wesson, is down 60 per cent. America’s oldest gun manufacturer, Remington Outdoor, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month.”

Clinton, the reasoning goes, would have scared hell out of gun owners, sending them on an orgy of buying to avoid legislation that would make guns harder to get. Gun sales traditionally have gone up when there have been mass shootings or Democrats elected to office, even though those Democrats are doing absolutely nothing to stem the tide of sales. Sales are inspired by fear. A Gallup Poll concluded recently that “About 42 per cent of households owned a gun in 2017, down from 51 per cent in 1993,” according to the FT story. That’s a hell of a lot of guns in a country where 300 million guns are owned.

The FT reported that “Remington, for one, had prepared for a boom in sales, including of its Bushmaster AR-15 style assault rifle,” the one most used in school killings, which “has been a target of gun control advocates.” An Aegis Capital financial analyst is reported to have concluded, “Before the election, everyone thought Hillary was going to win and she had promised to tighten gun control. Companies like Remington expected people to stock up. But that didn’t happen.”

Gun critics have for years talked about how the National Rifle Association is little more than a marketing agent for gun manufacturers and this report is a clear indication of that. The worse the news on the gun front, the more guns are sold, which leaves manufacturers in the embarrassing (if not frightening) position of supporting mass murder–whether intentionally or not.



Roaring Run in Black and White and Color

This is where Roaring Run gets its name.

The 1840s-era furnace.

Yesterday was a Plan B day because of the wintry precipitation mess, but today was dang-near perfect for the originally planned hike. So, today, it was off to Botetourt County and Roaring Run Furnace with its always-lovely waterfall.

It didn’t disappoint, as you can see in these photos.

I’ve been to Roaring Run many times, but saw this bridge for the first time today.

The bridge creates its own artwork.

Tiny native rainbow trout haunt the waters and tempt fishermen.

I went up the mountain to get to the falls, instead of taking the usual trail.

The blues and browns of the winter woods.

The winter colors can be bright as neon.

The falls in black and white are striking.

The little stream has its own whitewater rapids after heavy rain.

I’m Giving Up My Pro Bowling Career

Come back here, ball!

Getting prettied up.

This is to officially announce that I have decided not to ditch my 50-plus year career as a writer to join the professional bowling tour. I made the decision earlier today and it is firm. No more bowling for this old boy.

My friend Susan and I had scheduled a mid-winter hike today, hoping Feb. 17 would feel more like April 17. It didn’t. General nastiness prevailed, so we went with Plan B, which we didn’t have immediately at hand. Susan suggested bowling. “Bowling!?!” I said. “Who goes bowling.” She suggested bowlers probably were not my demographic and if we went, I probably would have to avoid talking politics.

So we went to Lee-Hi Lanes in Salem, a 2-star rated complex near Salem Valley 8 Cinema, which has been in place since well before I moved to Roanoke in 1971. It looks about that age, but is perfectly acceptable for what we had in mind: bowling.

Susan and I as fashionistas.

I will admit that my game did not come up to my expectations. It did not even come up to Susan’s game. She pounded on me three straight games, in none of which did I break 100, quite an accomplishment in itself, I’d say.

At one point, I was rolling so many gutter balls (as she rolled strikes) that I pulled out the kiddie cart–the little thingy that helps 5-year-olds avoid the gutter. I rolled a gutter ball. Another one.

Susan was a good sport, winning with considerable grace and excuses for my performance. She seemed relieved when I told her of my decision to remain an amateur. So am I.

Susan has style …

… and panache …

… in her bowling form.

A gutter ball led to this, which led to a gutter ball.

This is … like, a dance. A bowling dance.

Man vs. bowling pin: the stare.

Susan and me: We’re happy to remain amateurs.

One-Issue Voters Control the GOP

It is not a secret that single-issue voters give the Republican Party much of its political power, even though those voters almost always represent a significant minority of American voters in general.

The three most common issues of this type are abortion, gun control and immigration, two of which are based in almost debilitating fear and ignorance, the other in a definition.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be fully legal (it is), while 37 percent oppose most–if not all–abortions, according to the Pew Research Center. Those opposing abortion generally believe that a fetus is a child and should have the same rights as a person living outside the womb, and that the issue has little to do with a woman’s right to control her own body. By party, 88 percent of Democrats favor legal abortion, 27 percent of Republicans do so, hence the single GOP voting issue. According to Gallup, 17 percent of Americans will not consider voting for a pro-abortion candidate.

According to NPR, more than 60 percent of Republicans believe the number of immigrants to America should be decreased, while about 25 percent of Democrats feel the same way.

The National Rifle Association is small, loud, rich and unbending on “gun rights.” A Supreme Court decision a few years ago expanding those “rights” made the NRA richer and louder, if not any larger. The organization has 5 million members, $54 million in campaign contributions in 2016. That sum is not especially large when you consider some of the billionaires who contribute much larger sums in order to have their way, but the 5 million members tend to be one-issue voters–on the conservative/GOP side.

According to Pew Research, more than 6 in 10 gun owners are Republicans by registration or inclination, but 77 percent of NRA members favor the GOP (20 percent Democrats). Among gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA, 39 percent are Democrats. Republican NRA members tend to be very conservativeaccording to Pew. That often translates to single-issue votes.

Pro-gun “people who feel most strongly about it are a minority, even among Republicans,” according to a story in Salon today. “But they care about it so much that they wield far greater political power than their modest numbers would naturally merit.”

A survey by Morning Consult and Politico found that 88 percent of Americans favor a background check, 84 percent favor background checks on private gun sales and 76 percent support a waiting period after a firearms purchase and creation of a national database of gun sales.

In June of last year, Pew found that 41 percent “of Americans either own a gun or live with someone who does” and that “self-identified Republicans also support many proposed restrictions.” That works out to 77 percent favoring background checks for gun sales at shows or for private transactions  … and 85 percent supported not allowing people whose names appear on the federal no fly list to own guns.” Pew found that 56 percent of Republicans “supported the creation of a national gun sales database, and 54 percent supported a federal ban on assault weapons.”

What we get from all this is that American “democracy” isn’t that at all. It is about being loud, passionate and getting to the polls with your one issue.

(Graphic: YouTube.)

Football Stadiums Keep Getting Emptier

Games played Tuesday night–like this one at the University of Miami-Ohio–play in near empty stadiums.

I find it interesting–if not surprising–that college football continues to sink under its own weight, and the weight of new technology, which renders attendance at games redundant.

According to CBS News (here), “Major-college football experienced its largest per-game attendance drop in 34 years and second-largest ever, according to recently released NCAA figures.

“Attendance among the 129 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in 2017 was down an average of 1,409 fans per game from 2016. That marked the largest drop since 1983 when average attendance declined 1,527 fans per game from 1982.”

That’s a lot of butts in the seats, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people are seeing games (though in many cases, that is so). People–especially college kids–are watching games (when they choose to) on their phones and laptops. They are watching 10 minutes here or there or just catching highlights. Many aren’t bothering to show up at the stadiums, even though their tickets are already paid.

Attendence at the 114 schools in the Football Bowl Division (major schools) averaged 42,203, the lowest in 10 years, the fourth straight year of decline, a record (since 1948 when the stats were first kept). Wright Walters, an executive with the bowl association says one of the major problems is developing technology: “The public is ahead of us every day in what they can get from technology. We have not been able to keep up.”

TV sports programmer Bill Lutzen is quoted as saying, “This issue is with lack of involvement of the college students. They no longer view attending sporting events as part of the university experience.”

CBS says that 1,693,661 fewer fans attended games in 2017 compared to 2016 when all divisions are counted. “Bowl game attendance also declined for the seventh straight year to an average of 40,506 in the 40 games. That marks a 23 percent drop-off in average bowl attendance since 2010.”

Look at some of those bowl games on TV and you can hear sounds echoing off empty seats. Some of the far too many games are played in stadiums that are relatively small (30,000 seats, for example) and games played in big stadiums often don’t half fill.

I keep trying to swear off football, something I’ve been promising myself for  the last 10 years or so. Maybe some day …




A Look at How Writers Write (and Why)

Darrell Laurant (right) teaching at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

My old friend Darrell Laurant, a writer constantly in search of ways to help other writers, has a new project . Darrell, the metro columnist for the Lynchburg News-Advance for 25 years and author of some notable (if little noticed) books, is the founder of the Writers Bridge and Snowflakes in a Blizzard, both of which help (or helped) writers improve their craft and get jobs writing for varying levels of money.

His newest is a culmination of experience working with those writers. Let him tell you about it:

“A while back, I sent out a mass e-mail about a project I’m working on called ‘Writing in a Crowd: Authorship in the Age of Amazon.’ The idea is to use some of the 350-plus writers who have been featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard (snowflakesarise.wordpress.com) as a sort of informal focus group. Starting out with the templates I received, I’m hoping to initiate a freewheeling conversation about the craft and business of writing, with all its rewards and frustrations.

“I see this an an extension of the Snowflakes project itself, and will be glad to mention each quoted author’s Snowflakes book, as well as listing all of them at the back of this book. This will probably be an e-book. I’ve gotten some great comments so far, and I’m really excited about this.”

Darrell is gathering quotes and stories from writers about how they go about their work, what it entails, what their routines involved. In short: How do you write? If you’re interested in taking part, email Darrell, who lives in New York these days (his hometown) here.