Representing the First Amendment: Two Slimebags

Larry Flint outside the Supreme Court in 1987.

The Trump Administration’s charge of violating the Espionage Act against Julian Assange is reminiscent of a number of efforts by a sitting administration to shut down the press’ ability to report the news.

The example that first occurs to me is the case against porn producer Larry Flint. We have the much more serious Pentagon Papers, among many efforts, but Flint and Assange both fit this description from First Amendment lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr.: ““The calculation by the Department of Justice is that here’s someone who people don’t like. There’s a real element of picking the weakest of the herd, or the most unpopular figure, to try to blunt the outcry.”

No, we don’t like Assange. He’s likely a sexual predator and a man who can be blamed for elevating Donald Trump to the presidency. But that’s not the point. He’s also a publisher–as was Flint, though his “sin” was porn–and is in the big mix of a profession that includes Fox News and the New York Times, as well as Bob Guccione’s entire empire that included both Penthouse magazine and Omni (the great science mag edited by my friend Keith Ferrell, a true and fine journalist).

In 1983, Flint’s Hustler magazine parody of Jerry Falwell Sr., led to a lawsuit by the Moral Majority leader from Lynchburg, but the Supreme Court decided in Flint’s favor in 1988. The First Amendment Encyclopedia writes, “The decision demonstrated that the adult entertainment industry is frequently in the vanguard of free speech court battles that affect the wider culture.” If porn is legit, I suspect so is political tale-telling, which is one of the primary reasons journalism exists at its highest levels.

You might also remember that Flint offered $1 million to any woman who would come forward with tales of sexual encounters with members of Congress, during the lead-up to the Clinton impeachment. That led to the resignation of a powerful Republican legislator named Robert Livingston. Flint later, unsuccessfully, challenged a military ban on interviewing combat troops, citing press freedom.

So, is Flint a Hero of the Revolution and, more important at this moment, is Assange?

This one sticks in my craw. Neither Flint nor Assange is a hero in the small book I keep, but there’s a good case to be made for both in keeping the press free and effective, especially in light of the Trump Administration’s full-on effort to destroy the press (“enemy of the people”) in general and press freedom in particular. The case against Assange would have been a certain defeat before Trump’s courts were packed with far right-wing Republican activists, but it is, maybe, 50-50 now, if that close.

Former Justice Department (under Obama) spokesman Matthew Miller is quoted by the NYTimes as saying, “The Espionage Act doesn’t make any distinction between journalists and non-journalists. If you can charge Julian Assange under the law with publishing classified information, there is nothing under the law that prevents the Justice Department from charging a journalist.”

A dangerous time for the American public just became more so and the defenders of the flame are hardly role models.



Don’t Piss Off Formable Grabber!

These Gauntlett competitors get a financial boost from the Advancement Foundation’s competition.

My friend Annette Patterson is at it again–for the fifth year in a row. Annette, whose goal in life is to help every living soul on the planet at least once–has just finished her Gauntlet competition, which gave a bunch of money to small business people with good ideas.

Formable Grabber, a Covington company that invented a “grab” tool for auto mechanics, won the recent Fifth Annual Gauntlet Business Competition in a beginning field of 122 entrepreneurs and 84 businesses.

The Formable Grabber company literature says, “We’ve re-invented the idea of a mechanic’s grabber, fixing everything that pissed us off about the ones on the current market.”

The competition, which represented the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Highlands is sponsored by the Advancement Foundation, based in Vinton and run by (founded by, as well) Annette. The foundation presented substantial cash amounts to its top 12 finishers, including $21,095 for Formable Grabber.

The entries in the competition participated in 10 weeks of training and then 50 of them proceed to the business competition portion. All 50 businesses won prize packages based on their needs for their startups or expansions to further advance their business goals and strategies.

The top 12 companies are:

12th Place-Valley Cryotherapy, Roanoke County, $4,575.00

11th Place (tie)-The Foundry, Roanoke City, $9,380.00

11th Place (tie)-The Harvest Collective, Roanoke City, $9,245.00

10th Place- Born Again Custom Woodworks, Alleghany Highlands, $6,399.00

9th Place- Keely Massie Photography, Alleghany Highlands, $6,595.00

8th Place (tie)- Advanced Racking, Botetourt County, $9,745.00

8th Place (tie)- Downshift Outfitters. Roanoke City, $7,245.00

7th Place- Accelerated Academics, Roanoke County, $10,145.00

6th Place- Honeycomb Grove, Alleghany Highlands, $14,045.00

5th Place- Quest Knight Enterprises, Alleghany Highlands, $7,845.00

4th Place- Why Knot Boat With Us, Roanoke County, $11,929.00

3rd Place- Easy Workings, Alleghany Highlands, $17,345.00

2nd Place (tie)- IVO Limited, Alleghany Highlands. $18,845.00

2nd Place (tie)- Roanoke Neuromuscular, Roanoke County, $18,185.00

1st Place- Formable Grabber, Alleghany Highlands, $21,095.00

To the Boats, My Boys! It’s Spring!

I like this shot a lot and it is natural, no fiddling with PhotoShop.

This is me shortly before I pushed off the island and went straight into the cove, head first.

OK, I get it. It’s May 21 and I’ve just unpacked my kayaks from a looooooong winter’s nap. But, boy, did I pick a day to paddle the cove! Warm, breezy, busy, bright with wondrous clouds and I even got to turn over my boat and take a good soak–first time that’s happened in years.

Paddler hugs the bank on the far side of the cove.

I packed a full-sized Nikon–for the first time–and was bright enough to have stored it in a drybag, which I don’t generally do with my point-and-shoot cameras (and I’ve lost two that way). When I went over, it simply floated back to me. Wish I could say the same for my paddle, which I had to swim out away from the island to retrieve.

But what’s a day without an adventure? Wet pants, rocky shoes and a big smile tell the story.

So do these photos (I didn’t get any shots of me falling over. Wish I could have). But I did get some pretty good photos of other stuff. The picture at the top is one of my all-time faves.

These Canada geese objected to my presence. They always do, but they didn’t attack.

Sometimes the most beauty is in the simplest things.

I never get tired of taking this picture.

This young woman has discovered the key to successful work (that’s a laptop she’s working on).

The beauty beyond my toes. (That’s my drybag, which saved my Nikon.)

I won’t say I wasn’t warned.

25 Years Sober: A Time to Celebrate

This evening at about 7:10 in the basement of a church in the Raleigh Court neighborhood of Roanoke–where it started in earnest–I will be given a bronze medallion emblazoned with XXV, signifying 25 years of sobriety.

My prize and me.

I’ll be at the first AA meeting I’ve attended in a while and I’ll be picking up the symbol I never expected to see in my hand. I’ll likely drill a hole in the top of the delta on the face of the medallion and hang it from the mirror of Daisy, my yellow VW Bug. That way, I can daily see both the reminder of who I am and that it doesn’t have to kill me.

These 25 years have been an accounting, I suspect, for the 23 that preceded them when I knew I was an alcoholic and tried oh-so-hard to be something else. I collected a fist full of white chips, signifying my commitment to a sober life, but I could not make it to that one-year chip in all that time.

Finally, one day I wanted to be sober more than I wanted to drink. It was that simple. I began to understand what the lovely people in AA had been trying to tell me for all those years and I went to a lot of meetings (about 180) in the first three months following what I hope was my final commitment. My sponsor at the time told me, “There’s a reason behind the 90 meetings in 90 days suggestion. You will likely be confronted with everything you need to know to get sober in those meetings. It won’t take immediately, but it will be in the back of your mind for reference.” So I doubled up, often taking my lunch hour for a meeting, then catching another at night.

I was working with Jim Lindsey at the Blue Ridge Business Journal at the time and when I told him what I needed to do, he didn’t hesitate before saying, “Do whatever you need to do. We’re behind you 100 percent.” And he meant it and delivered it.

Getting sober, in my experience, is a team effort. I thought for a long time that I could do it by myself and for a dozen reasons other than that I needed to do it for me. Once I figured that out, the path was cleared.

Being sober is more than I ever–in my wildest imaginings–thought it would or could be. My life has been full and complete and my initial fear that I would be both bored and boring proved to be simply silly. What in the hell is interesting or entertaining about a drunk? What does a drunk accomplish; whom does he help; what mark does he leave when he finally leaves this mortal coil?

Twenty-five years later, I know the answer to those questions and quite a few more.

A Pleasant Sunday for a (Civil) War in Buchanan

The cavalry charge was not full speed, but it was fun.

Re-enactors Beau Robbins and Lynn Price.

Margie and I drove up to Buchanan early this afternoon after I accidentally bumped into an internet page that told us there would be a reenactment of the tiny Civil War Battle of Buchanan. I’m anti-gun and anti-war, but these faux battles can be a lot of fun and the people who take part in them are careful to be historically accurate. They spend a lot of time and love on their interpretations.

We ran into some interesting characters during our two hours or so at the battle, including Gregory Newsom an African-American artist and writer from New York who  was spreading his gospel of Stonewall Jackson (who defied Virginia law to teach black kids to read in Lexington) and Nathan Bedford Forest, founder of the KKK, who left it when the group turned truly ugly.

Gregory Newsome defends Southern Generals.

There was also the re-enacting couple of Beau Robbins, a professional re-enactor (didn’t know there was such a duck) and his partner Dr. Lynn Price, a University of Virginia history professor, in period dress.

I was truly surprised that the crowd was tiny, maybe 150 people, mostly relatives and friends of the re-enactors. This was the third day of the re-enactment, but it was the day of the battle, something I would have thought a highlight.

There were no food vendors at the site and the only stuff for sale was the suttlers’ gear for the re-enactors. Margie and I went over to the Burger King/convenience store where I had two of the best hot dogs I’ve eaten in a long time. Great chili. And a truly enjoyable day (especially since it gave me the opportunity to be a war photographer, which I’ve always wanted to do).

Soldiers camped for two days.

Mr. Anti-Gun with his new cannon.

Not everything was historically accurate.

Soldiers awaiting battle.

Young soldier slips on his boots.

Recruiting poster urges men to “Jine the Artillry.”

Rebs lined up to fight.

The calm before the battle.

Some soldiers were quite young.

Rebel line faces the Yankees.

The boys in blue fire a volley.

Probably not a lot of women in the Confederate cavalry, but there is one here.

Northern artillery makes a lot of noise and smoke.

The crowd was surprisingly sparse.

This sweet-faced kid carried the Confederate battle flat.

Union officer rides hard and shoots high.

Southerners bunch up their defense.

Johnny Reb rescues his buddy.

North and South going hard at it.

The North won and the dogwood bloomed.

An Easter in the Mountain Sun

Susan finds peace with a yoga pose overlooking a lovely valley from the Parkway.

This new trillium was simply lovely.

As has become our custom over the past three years or so, my friend Susan and I spent yesterday’s religious holiday celebrating the spiritual side of our lives by spending time outside in the sun and on a mountain.

This time, we drove up to the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County and sought out Fallingwater Cascades and its lovely, long, loud waterfall and accompanying steep hike. It was just about perfect for the hike of hike we needed on this day, one that is brisk, challenging (over a two-mile course) and full of the new life of spring, spectacular in its light green foliage and its occasional new flowers.

Here is some of what we saw on the way to the Peaks (Fallingwater is about a mile past the Peaks of Otter Lodge) and on our life-affirming hike.

This creek was tricky because the rocks were mostly wet and the fall to the right was dangerous.

We sat on a rock at the base of the falls to eat a little lunch, my boots taking a little cooling water (which was quite tasty).

The views along the Parkway yesterday were simply spectacular because of the clarity of the air.

The first half of the hike is a steep downhill. The second half of the loop trail is a steep uphill, which is backwards for hikers.

Susan crosses the creek, stepping lightly.

Views like this are 30 minutes from my front door. You want spiritual? We got spiritual.

Susan pauses to enjoy the beauty of this wondrous place.

The colors of spring are apparent all around this falling water.

The waterfall is just behind me here.

This shot by Susan might be my favorite of the 300 we shot yesterday.

This is Susan’s “watercolor” of the falls (actually a photo).

Susan found this image of a cross etched into a rock. Rock of Ages …

This sluggish young fellow–a water moccasin, I think–ignored us completely.

The light covering of leaves let us see through to the mountains beyond.

Another (Bradford Pear) Bites the Dust

The Bradford is an instant from coming down here as Bruce saws and his buddy pulls with the truck.

The nasty wind we endured last night took half of what was left of my fully-grown Bradford pear tree at the back of my yard. Today, I called in a guy named Bruce Rainbow–who looks like a Civil War veteran and works like a Louisiana convict–to clean it up. That meant cutting up everything on the ground, then cutting down the rest of the tree and getting rid of all of it.

Burce and his pal did the whole deal in a few hours and charged $400. I bargained with him and got him to go up to $500 (because I thought he deserved it). A steal at the price.

The Bradford pear was a popular tree for urban landscaping in the 1970s because it simply eats pollution, is pretty, well shaped and grows fast. There was a little problem with it, however. It is so brittle that it falls apart on the mere forecast of bad weather. Find a whole, mature Bradford pear and you’ve found a rare species.

These are photos of the duo getting the last piece of the tree to topple, using their pickup truck and a chain, along with the chainsaw. Nearly crushed my Staymen apple tree, but didn’t quite damage it. Thankfully.

The tree crashes to the ground here.

Awards for Two Exemplary Journalists

Dwayne Yancey: His mind is not as cluttered as his office.

I’m working on a story about journalists bailing out of the profession, often to go into public relations, and a little while ago, I noted a story in the local daily about some of its journalists winning state awards last night.

The two most decorated are Dwayne Yancey, who won the Virginia Press Association’s highest award for the second straight year,  and Laurence Hammack, reporters from the old school who, I don’t expect, will never be among those seeking greener pastures. They are dedicated to this profession and they’re damn good at what they do. I say that hopefully, rather than knowingly. Journalism has tended to eject its best in recent years.

Laurence Hammack

Dwayne has the highest profile of the two for a number of reasons, foremost being his position as the editorial page editor, the voice of the paper. His is the most conservative overall that I’ve seen at The Times since I moved here in 1971 and Harold Sugg was in Dwayne’s spot. Sugg was a 5-foot-6 square little man who wore white suits, bow ties and spoke precisely, when he spoke at all (especially to young journalists). He liked to pontificate in a thick Southern drawl once he got started.

Dwayne is disheveled, singular, attentive, removed and he seems completely non-partisan. He writes good plays, very good plays that are produced all over the world. I’ve seen him cosey up to former far right Congressman Bob Goodlatte on a personal basis, but my guess is he doesn’t share many of Goodlatte’s political beliefs, which are extreme. Dwayne is not extreme and his conservatism plays better in this region than my liberalism. He is a heck of a researcher and asks the questions others don’t even know about. He figures things out and explains them in words we can all understand. He–like his colleague Dan Casey–almost always sides with the underdog.

Hammack is like Yancey in that you can’t tell where he stands. He has covered–in some depth–the ungodly Mountain Valley Pipeline without ever (at least in my experience) stepping into judgement. He gives facts, lets others give opinions–often based on those facts.

Although I am not, never have been and won’t be the equal of these journalism specimens, I feel good that I know them, know their work and share their profession–even if at a much lower level.

Are We Past the Point of Touching Without Permission?

This is my good friend Anne Adams, editor publisher of the Recorder in Highland County. My hand is on Anne’s shoulder (and I’m sure I had just hugged her). Is there a problem here?

The accusation of inappropriate kissing five years ago by middle-aged Nevada Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Lucy Flores could well sink any chance Joe Biden has of running competitively for president. I, like so many Americans, respect Joe Biden, but can’t see him–especially at his advance age–winning the presidency or serving if he did.

He’s a flawed man, like most of us, but I’ve always thought of him as truly decent. Ms. Flores’ accusation, made in an article, basically says Biden kissed the back of her head and put his hands on her shoulders during a rally. A Nevada Democratic official said Ms. Flores and Biden were not alone for even a second at the rally. Biden says he doesn’t recall anything like that happening.

Who do we believe? Who is most credible? Why would Ms. Flores lie? Why would Biden kiss the back of her head? Is touching people on the shoulder and a light kiss in a moment of excitement verboten? Should Biden have asked before touching/kissing? Should Ms. Flores made him aware of her offense immediately and reported him to higher authorities without delay?

When my daughter was 10 or 11, about 40 years ago, I coached her youth soccer team (as an assistant, not as the boss coach). We had a little girl on the team who was completely devoid of any athletic gift, but she was a sweet kid, full of joy who loved being part of the team. During a game near the end of the season, a little boy kicked a ball toward her and instead of simply looking at and smiling, as she most often did, she kicked the bejesus out of it and another of our players converted that kick into a goal. I never saw anybody as happy as that little girl and when she ran off the field, she ran straight toward me, squealing and jumping into my open arms.

After the game, the girl’s mother rushed over to me and put her face within inches of my nose, tightened her lips and said, with a threat that was not as veiled as it was indignant, “You keep your filthy, pedophile hands off my little girl!” I turned, collected my kid and drove home, hurt, angry and ready to strike back. Instead, I called the head coach and told him about the incident and said, “I won’t be back. My wife will bring my daughter to practice and games.”

That has stuck with me all these four decades and has helped form my behavior toward others. I’m naturally a toucher who enjoys hugging and being hugged by men, women and children. But the simple act of touching another human being makes me hesitate, think, wonder where it will lead. I most often simply ask, “Do you mind if I touch you.” Most don’t. Some do.

I find it sad. I’m not a rapist or a sexual harasser, but it would be easy to convince others that I am if I lay my hand on a shoulder without permission.

What are we to make of the Flores/Biden incident? I am at a loss.