Thursday, December 24, 2009

From Pranav's perspective . . .

Eleven-year-old Pranav Chavan is a 6th grader at Charlottesville’s St. Anne’s-Belfield School. The picture below  was taken when he recorded today's Civic Soapbox essay "How Lucky We Are."




Pranav's essay is, in my opinion, an extraordinarily perceptive and unsentimental piece of writing about the interrelatedness of the human family. It's not just extraordinary for an eleven year old; it's extraordinary for anyone.

When I went to St. Anne's-Belfield to record Pranav, I liked him immediately. He's slightly squirmy, obviously very bright, fun to talk to, courteous, but still opinionated. As we chatted, I learned he likes to swim and play soccer, and that he wants to go to Duke--both for undergraduate and medical school.

Other tidbits gleaned:
Pranav loves America for the opportunities it offers. "It’s a country where the speech of liberty is allowed which is one of many people’s desires," he said.

The only subject in school that gives him trouble is his first year Spanish. He also speaks a little Hindi.

Both of Pranav's parents are nurses at the University of Virginia Hospital. He and his family are Seventh Day Adventists.

So where did Pranav's extraordinary essay come from? What experience could make an eleven-year-old think so deeply about the human condition.



Both of Pranav's parents are from India; his mother from Nagpur; his dad from Pune. The whole family, which also includes Pranav's two sisters, makes frequent trips to India, visiting mainly in Nagpur, where his grandmother on his mother's side still lives.

At one point when Pranav and I were talking, I asked him whether he was going to practice medicine (after he graduates from Duke Medical School) in India or here in America. This is a transcription of what he said:
I think when I grow up, I’ll go back to India so I can help people less fortunate than us. I want to become a doctor so I can help people who are sick. This summer when I went to India and we went to the mall and on the roadside we saw this child dying. Because they were very sick. And the mom was begging for money. She did not have any money. When I grow up I want to go back to India so I can help children like these. The mom was comforting her child. The child was on the sidewalk.
If you didn't hear Pranav's essay, I urge you to listen to it. You'll find a link to it on our website.

May you and your family have a wonderful holiday. May you all be filled with good food and good cheer.

And thanks for being part of the WMRA community.

I'll see you in the New Year.

The last day of (not much) work before the holiday break. . .

There weren't a lot of us around the office yesterday. Those of us who came in were, I think it's fair to say, focused on getting done what needed to be done, and then getting out of there for the next 10 days! This means you'll just be hearing Sara Prince and Dan Easley on WMRA for a week or so--voices you haven't heard for a while.

Frankly, I need a break--from tasks, from deadlines, from fundraising (you, too, on that one, right?). What I, however, do not need a break from is daily contact with the WMRA community. How did I ever come to rest amidst such beautiful country, among such interesting people?


Take Kieran Tang (pictured left), who's in the first grade. He came by the WMRA studio recently with his mother, Eva Robertson. Eva, who's a fine writer and blogger, was there to record a Civic Soapbox. Kieran was there to see how radio worked.

After our recording session, we three took a look at the current WMRA art exhibit of work done by students from Harrisonburg and Eastern Mennonite high schools. Kieran made a lot of astute comments on the artwork, particularly the pictures.

"Do you draw?" I asked.

"Sometimes," he said.

"If you ever feel like it," I said, "I'd love to have one of your pictures."

"Okay," he said.

Yesterday when I got back from the gym there was a gift bag and a note sitting on my desk. Inside the bag was a rolled-up picture  The note was from Kieran. It said: Here is my picture. It was hard to do.

I unrolled the picture. It was remarkable, fully filled in with bright, beautiful Crayola colors. The image was of a head, very striking and compelling.  I plan on framing it and hanging it in my office, right there with Charlie's photographs and the page proof from my essay in the New York Times Magazine.


Yesterday I also got a visit from Becky Martinez, an old WMRA intern and boss of WXJM, the JMU student radio station. As an undergrad, Becky interned at NPR on the arts desk and, after graduation, worked at NPR on a variety of the shows for close to two years. When she wasn't working, she babysat Scott Simon's kids.

About six months ago, Becky moved back to be the roving reporter for the Staunton News Leader. She stops by to visit from time to time, bringing coffee and journalistic chat. Yesterday's chat was about Virginia's courting of Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln biopic (starring Liam Neeson) and about tiny girls with pink guns shooting bears. Becky's writing about both subjects for the paper.

Oh yes, we also chatted about today's piece (lead story on the front page, no less) about some of  Staunton's beleaguered local shops.

As if that weren't enough community enrichment of my life for one day, yesterday I also got to have lunch with Chuck Slott (whom many of you will remember as WMRA's long-time classical music announcer), semi-retired writer and reporter, Chris Edwards, and Bob Bersson, activist, artist, and musician. Bob had been to the recent J Street Congress, which was convened around the idea that the "security and future of Israel as the democratic home of the Jewish people depend on rapidly achieving a two-state solution and regional comprehensive peace."

Bob had also recently visited Israel and could talk first-hand about the shocking treatment of Arabs there, both behind the West Bank barrier and in general society.We had a long lunch, learning, exchanging views, asking and answering questions.

Is this the community to live in or what ? Happy holidays to me! And happy holidays to you. May we live long and prosper as fellow WMRAers!

NOTE: One more blog post tomorrow on a very interesting student at St. Anne's-Belfield School who wrote tomorrow's Civic Soapbox.

And then, no posts until January 4th. Even bloggers need occasional breaks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From my past to your table . . .

A couple of careers ago, over a span of about eight years, I co-owned three restaurants in Charlottesville.


My favorite was the first. It was in an old house on a dead-end street close to the University. There was a five-item blackboard menu that changed constantly. We were always cooking, so that when we ran out of one thing, we could offer something else. Each entree was served with a salad and bread. There were always 2 desserts--a fruit crisp and something else.

My partner and I ran it for five years, but it stayed open under the same name until just this year. I had great fun there while I stayed, and I stayed just long enough.

I'd never worked in, let alone run, a restaurant before co-opening that one. But I did love to experiment in the kitchen. My partner had cooked his way through law school at a pancake house, so why not give it a try?

The way I remember it, the night before we opened, I realized I needed to come up with a bread. And from somewhere came the muffin recipe that became the muffins, so popular we were never allowed to serve any other bread.

When thinking about what to blog about on this Christmas Eve Eve Day, the day that my family kicks off the winter holiday Ritual of Festive Eating, I thought it would be nice to pass that muffin recipe on to you. It's easy, the muffins store well, and they make a nice alternative to all the sweet breakfast breads that are around this time of year.

I had to call my daughter to get the actual recipe. I'd lost it through years of baking mostly by just throwing things together. Lizzie, who's a brilliant cook, is also an organized one, and so had kept up with it.

So, here 'tis.
Martha's Cafe Muffins

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
.5 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
6 T melted butter
Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Mix together (don't beat, just mix). Spoon into muffin pans. Bake till done (20 minutes) at 375degrees.
I usually use a little less sugar and buttermilk, because I like a toothy muffin. You can also add bran, oatmeal, or raisins, if you take out a little of the flour.

General note: I love baking with buttermilk. It gives a tang and makes things tender. I recommend trying it in pastry, as well, for quiche or any kind of non-dessert pie.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An architectural channeling of Mr. Jefferson's spirit. . .


This was the first beautifully functional building associated with the University of Virginia and Charlottesville to garner national admiration.



This is the latest:  
Sports Illustrated's new arena of the decade, no less.



This is what Sport's Illustrated had to say about John Paul Jones Arena
BEST NEW ARENA: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
The University of Virginia spent $140 million to build John Paul Jones Arena, which opened in 2006. The arena is a perfect size (capacity 14,593), includes state-of-the-art practice, training and academic facilities, and it blends perfectly into UVA's stately campus.
Charlottesville architectural firm VMDO were JPJ's lead designers. Bob Moje, one of the firm's founding partners, had this to say about designing the current Pantheon of college basketball (and yes, he channels Thomas Jefferson, de rigueur when talking about U.Va. architecture):
I am a little biased, but it was pretty cool to have JPJ named the best new arena of the decade. It is a pretty remarkable accomplishment for the University.  Thomas Jefferson's vision for the University was to strive for excellence in all areas so the students would have the opportunity to be exposed to all sorts of experiences. I think that the arena has helped to do this by bringing all kinds of events and people to the University that otherwise would not come to a relatively small city like Charlottesville. Athletically it sets a very high bar which is in keeping with the goals that the Athletic Department has set for itself. The competition at the highest levels of the NCAA is fierce but the University's Athletic Department has been attempting to match Jefferson's dream of excellence in all areas. This venue certainly contributes towards that goal.
I remember when Bob Moje and his partners founded VMDO in Charlottesville in 1976; back when Charlottesville as a community was just starting to make the transition from Old Boy enclave to what it is today. And you know, when I stop and think about it, that march is perfectly symbolized by VMDO's own march to international recognition for innovation and excellence in the designing of public spaces.


I remember U. Va.'s arena-before-this-one, U-Hall, with great fondness. After all, when it opened in 1965 it, too, was heralded for its innovative round shape and multi-purpose functionality. And it housed those really, really great years of U.Va. basketball when Harrisonburg's Ralph Sampson decided to go to college close to home.

But it never quite worked for concerts, something for which JPJ arena cannot be faulted. I mean after Bruce Springsteen deems a facility appearance worthy, what else is there to say?

I must add, as a long-time, dedicated rock-n-roller it was The Bomb to have the Boss play in one of WMRA's communities. So you go! VMDO.

I did ask Bob what VMDO is up to these days.
We are working on some other cool things. Just finished what is probably the "Greenest" school in Virginia up in Manassas Park. Next to open will be the home for The Jefferson Fellows which should finish this winter, and we are just starting a new high school in New Orleans which is part of rebuilding that community from the devastation of the Hurricane.
NOTE:  Today, U.Va. men's basketball has yet to rival the acclaim garnered by its praise-worthy digs. But for those of us (which certainly includes me) who still care about U.Va. men's basketball, I'd like to add that the 'Hoos were home in JPJ last night, and they beat the New Jersey Institute of Technology, 68-37.

ANOTHER NOTE: Tom Duval, who is this blog's Higher Power,  just informed me that VMDO has been a WMRA underwriter, and that I would do well to let you know that as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts on health care reform fatigue . . .



The picture above was taken this morning after the 1 a.m. strict party-line vote to end debate on the Senate's $871 billion health care reform bill. All signs point to a final vote on the bill, itself, on Christmas Eve.

It has not been a pretty process.

Conservative Democratic Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had held the vote up until he got what he wanted. Among his wishes, more restrictions on abortion coverage and a provision requiring the federal government to cover Nebraska's costs for expanded Medicaid coverage after 2016. No other state is currently slated to receive such a benefit.

There are quite a few such inglorious provisions in the Senate bill, according to The New York Times.

Truthfully, a large part of me just wants the health care debate to go away. It's the holidays, my daughter arrives this week, we just got a record December snow storm, and, most of all, I'm tired of keeping up with the debate itself. It's ugly, it's undignified, it's been going on forever (in terms of my all-too-American attention span). How much longer do I have to keep plowing through long, complicated, depressing articles--which seem to be mainly accounts of  name-calling, legislative back-biting and skulduggery?

Surely, what's been going on in Congress during the health care reform debate would be more appropriate in third-grade lunchrooms than in the great halls of American government. I mean, do these people even recognize the truth anymore. Where is their dignity?

But then I think about my five-times-a-week, fairly grueling workouts at the gym and my nightly yoga sessions. Charlie calls those sessions "flopping around," which leads me to think I don't appear any more dignified during them than our lawmakers have during the health care debate. Yet I've come to accept those undignified activities as what it takes to keep me keeping on the way I want to keep keeping on as age and old sports injuries work their black magic on my body.

Could it be the same with American governance? Is Ben Nelson et al's  holdup of the Senate bill just the dark underbelly of a process that, in the end, does a pretty good job?

Oh dear, such complicated, gnarly thoughts to be having the week that winter holidays begin. . .

I do know, however, that as things stand now, I cannot afford to get sick--as in  long-term or catastrophically sick.

This means, as a responsible American Citizen, I'm duty-bound to keep up with the unseemly process of legislating health care reform; for, my fellow Americans, as a democracy, our legislative process is only as intelligent and thoughtful, as ethical and responsible, as conscientiously well-informed as we citizens push ourselves to be.

There are some--sigh--good articles today in The New York Times (on last night's Senate vote) and in CNN (comparing the House and Senate bills). And a good comparative interactive graphic in The Washington Post.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Major fun in tiny spaces at NPR central . . .

An article about NPR's Tiny Desk Series in The Washington Post.

.


I love the image of heads bobbing along to the music without even looking up from their computers. . .

Snow day . . .

In back of my house, where the wind blows across the slope of Little North Mountain which is just a pasture or two away, the snow is falling horizontally. And, by the way, you can't see Little North Mountain. You can't even see the pastures. All you can see is the fence.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was on the phone with Joe Matazzoni, who lugs around the title of NPR's Executive Producer, Digital Media, and still manages to be a lot of fun. Before we got around to talking about assignments, we talked about something much more pressing: sledding.

Charlie and I, I said, have the American Flyer primed and ready on the breezeway. Joe said he had sledding promises to keep with his five-year-old son.

Joe wanted to know if I was taking my grandchildren on a fast ride down the impressive country hill we live atop.

Nope," I said. "I'm taking myself!"

"Don't break anything!" said Joe.

Charlie has been out to feed the birds and take this picture of Little North Mountain draped in an invisibility cloak.



He also reported that the snow is too deep for sledding until the road gets pushed. Then, he said, it will be perfect!

I have a to-do list a mile long and I can't do any of it. At least any of it that involves driving. What a gift to be forced to have a simpler day.

Evidently, it's at least as snowy east of the Blue Ridge. This e-mail came in from Lee Catlin, Albemarle County's Community Relations Director:
Weather conditions continue to cause serious driving situations in the County.  Yesterday evening and last night local police and fire rescue personnel were busy rescuing motorists from stranded vehicles, with particular problem areas being the Thomas Jefferson Parkway and Scottsville Road.  At some time at around midnight, stranded motorists began to be transported to the Monticello and North Garden fire stations, with a total of about 25 being sheltered there overnight.  Officials are now in the process of opening a shelter on UVA grounds at the Aquatics and Fitness Center.  Albemarle County has declared an emergency and we are receiving National Guard assistance to help sweep Scottsville Road (Route 20 South) and Monacan Trail (Route 29 South).  There are about 100 cars with people in many of them on Scottsville Road and about 75 tractor trailers and another 100 cars stranded on Monacan Trail.  Most of them have been there since 5 pm yesterday.

Albemarle County Social Services personnel are staffing the Aquatics Center shelter.  The Red Cross has been notified and they are taking their trailer full of cots and blankets to the Aquatics Center.  The National Guard is transporting people from the fire stations to the shelter.

Rescue worker and VDOT worker are hampered in their efforts by the significant number of stranded/abandoned vehicles on roads throughout the county.  Residents are strongly encouraged not to drive until conditions improve.  Anyone with a four wheel drive vehicle that can help transport hospital personnel and other essential workers is encouraged to call the Emergency Communications Center at (434)979-INFO.
It is officially a day to stay home. And, for once, do a whole lot of not much!  A gift? A frustration? A bit of both, perhaps?

But then, since wisdom suggests that we accept the things we cannot change, I think I'll just go with it and experience the unbearable lightness of relaxation

Friday, December 18, 2009

Text on, say I!

What is this worry about texting and “eroding” our interpersonal skills, raised by Tim Groeling, associate professor of communication studies at UCLA, a couple of days ago in the LA Times and referred to during yesterday morning’s Morning Edition? What, exactly, are the interpersonal skills Mr. Groeling’s worried about eroding?

I’m old enough to have been raised by a mother who was raised by an Edwardian mother. This means I was taught Manners growing up, which means I was taught that good human interaction followed rules. Human beings got “interpersonal” with each other within the confines of established rituals. If you deviated from either rules or rituals, you were automatically Rude. Of which there was, according to mother who had it straight from the great Ms. Manners in the Sky, no greater Social Sin.


I also had engraved calling cards and a stack of white gloves as a child, for making formal “calls” on ancient great-aunts, because that was what made ancient great-aunts comfortable.

It wasn’t until a kind housemother in girls’ boarding school explained it, that I understood what those rituals and rules—those manners—were for. They were established so to that people who didn’t know each other—or didn’t know each other very well—could still be comfortable around each other. And so that people would always know how to put other people at their ease no matter what the social situation might be.

Manners, the code name for those rituals and rules, were at heart about civil interaction.

Well, times do change. And changing along with the times has been the comfort zone of social interactions. Things are a lot less formal, a lot less structured. I don’t “call” on anyone anymore, ancient or otherwise; and, heaven forbid, that someone “call” on me, even though I am creeping up on ancient-hood.

What still endures in our social interaction is an appreciation for—and, indeed, a reliance upon—civility. Civility is the enduring, indeed the ineludible, foundation of any kind of skilled interpersonal interaction.

And I, for one, see no reason why one can’t be delightfully civil in 140 characters or less. . .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's 7:30 in the morning . . .

. . . and I am getting ready to drive to Staunton. Big WMRA community doings (fingers crossed, pleased) hopefully in the works.

But no early morning take-off is going to stop WMRA's maniacal blogger! Just, perhaps, tempt her to blog quickly by borrowing heavily.

But first, one note of business, or "bidness," as Flannery O'Connor refers to it in Sally Fitzgerald's fine collection of her letters, The Habit of Being (which, incidentally, is the one book I'd want with me if I were stuck on a dessert island with just one book.)

Call for Essays: Please consider submitting a Civic Soapbox essay geared for the new year. What are your hopes, worries, plans for 2010? Or perhaps, what changed in your own life or your view of life in general during 2009? Serious, fun, autobiographical or contemplative; to use a famous phrase from a former president: Bring 'em on!


Now, on to the borrowing.




I found a wonderful profile of NPR's famous and fabulous Kitchen Sisters, which I enjoyed mightily and thought you might as well. To tempt you into clicking on the link and reading further, I've transcribed the first two paragraphs below. . .
Kitchen Sisters explore obscure culinary worlds in 'Hidden Kitchens' (latimes.com)
The public radio hosts seek out little-known food rituals.
By Jessica Gelt,

Food brings people together, just as much as a lack of it can tear them apart. What we cook, how we cook it and when we eat it says as much about ourselves as our body language and our choice of friends. How communities come together through food and the richness of the resulting culinary traditions is of particular interest to Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, better known as National Public Radio's "Kitchen Sisters."

Since 2004, the women have been searching for and chronicling cooking and eating rituals in unexpected, under-the-radar places across the country. The stories began airing in 2005 as "Hidden Kitchens" on NPR's "Morning Edition" and spawned an eponymous book. Now with the winter holidays and their attendant family meals upon us, the women admit that, try as they might, they just can't get away from food. It informs nearly every project they touch.
If I've tempted you to read further, here's the link.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The promised link . . .

The piece on the death of E&P and Kirkus has gone up on NPR.org. So, here's the promised link . . .

Backstory of an NPR blog post . . .

I just filed a post for NPR.org's culture blog "monkey see," which I called "Another Two Bite the Dust." (I'll post a link when  goes up, in case you're interested. Don't know if the title will hold, but my daughter and her two inseparable middle school friends loved Queen when they were thirteen, and so "Another One Bites the Dust" played incessantly behind the closed door of Lizzie's room. Lizzie, Kristina and Matilda,  my title for this NPR.org post is in your honor.)

I was never sure whose biting of the dust Queen was talking about, but the two I'm talking about biting the dust on NPR.org are Editor & Publisher and the Kirkus Review. The death notice of these two venerable journals was casually tacked on by Nielsen Media to its announced sale of eight publications (including Hollywood Reporter and AdWeek) to e5Global Media.

While not exactly magazines you'd display on your coffee table, I think they are well worth a moment of silence from all of us who read.


You're probably familiar with Kirkus if you ever buy books on Amazon. It reviewed some 5000 books a year pre-pub, and these reviews were posted on Amazon right there with the ones from Publisher's Weekly. Having two reviews from established review sources is very important to authors, as it means their books are eligible for public library purchase.

When NPR.org asked me to post about the death of Kirks, I immediately thought about Charlotte Abbott. It’s always been my opinion that Charlotte Abbot knows, or can find out, everything about anything that’s going on in publishing.

I met Charlotte  years ago while covering the National Book Awards. She was then News Editor at Publisher's Weekly; she's now a PW Contributing Editor and writes for the blog EarlyWord.com: The Publisher-Librarian Connection

Charlotte e-mailed back some information that's in the NPR.org post (don't want to scoop myself, so I won't include that), but she also had this to say: 
The loss of Kirkus means that there is now less diversity in critical opinions on books available to librarians in advance of publication. It's not a fatal blow, but it does mean that some books will get less exposure. Also, it gives more weight to a bad review by one of the existing review publications.
Blogging, I'm finding out, involves peppering your friends/contacts with e-mails! And sending out blasts of e-gratitude when they get back to you quickly!

Jane Beirn, senior director of publicity at HarperColllins--whom I'd also met while in New York covering books for NPR--lamented the further diminution of the public conversation about books. "Advance reviews are the only way we have of giving reviewers and interviewers an advance heads-up from an outside source." 

As to Editor & Publisher, I'll rely on Dirk Smillie of Forbes.com to put its importance to publishing into perspective.


For a trade magazine with circulation hovering at 15,000, Editor & Publisher has always wielded clout beyond its numbers. The leading authority on the newspaper business for over a century, it has delved into news culture, grappling with workplace issues and how chain ownership shapes content. E&P was there to chronicle the diminishing power of unions. It has investigated war coverage and explored the role of embedded reporters from Vietnam to Iraq. It's been there to cover this year's newspaper bankruptcies, paved by the advertising ice age newspapers have endured for 13 quarters.
As you'll read in my NPR.org post, the ax fell on these two venerable journals with no warning. Reached Sunday at his Hudson Valley home, E&P Editor Greg Mitchell said they all knew something was up, but didn't really suspect the ax to fall. And that he still didn't know why it had.

Guess that makes Nielsen Media a 21st Century's Queen of Hearts.

You know, the one who shouts, "off with their heads!" And the heads roll.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thoughts on us and Mr. Woods . . .

It's hard not to think about Tiger Woods these days.

If you're interested in professional sports (I am), there he is; if you're interested in business (I am), there he is; if you're at all attracted by scandal (I hope I'm not, but am afraid I might be, at least a little bit), there he is.

The man is incontrovertibly a great athlete who has incontrovertibly not been leading a conventional personal life.  And I think our outrage comes, in part, from the fact that he appeared to do just that. In this, he reminds me of Bill Clinton. Why the pretense of monogamy, I want to know?

But then, in Mr. Woods' case, maybe the pretense is mostly our own projection of pretense. Beyond the public fumblings of the last couple of weeks, I don't remember Mr. Woods talking much about his private life.

We Americans so want our heroes, our role models, our leaders, to be bound within conventional morality. In this country, founded by Puritans, fueled by Conservative Christianity, there's nothing that knocks a glitterati off his/her public pedestal faster than getting married and then playing around.

I feel great pity for all of us in regards to Tiger Woods. I feel sorry for myself, because I won't get to watch him play golf next year. I feel sorry for the sport, because its TV ratings will tank. I feel sorry for anyone who feels the right to judge another human being's behavior--even to waste energy being outraged about it, for Pete's sake! I feel sorry for Mr. Woods, because being the greatest golfer ever isn't enough. And I most of all feel sorry for most Americans in that we cannot seem to allow famous people any privacy, which means there's something sad going on among us.

As to what I feel about Tiger Woods as a husband and father? I feel sorry that any human being has to go through what he's going through--and by this I mean having your private life seen by the public as its property. But other than that I don't  feel anything about his behavior as a husband and father, because I don't know anything.

What I do know is that every marriage sets its own rules, and that just because someone's rules are different from mine does not automatically make them evil or even immoral. Marriages need to work for the people involved, not for me. I do not know, or care to know, anything at all about anyone else's marriage rules other than my own.

And that includes Tiger Woods.

Tomorrow, if nothing else crops up to write about, I'm going to write some thoughts on another great athlete: Ralph Sampson.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ned Studholme on presidents waging war . . .

I came into contact with Ned Studholme while wearing my “Civic Soapbox" editor’s hat. He was responsible for the Soapbox, "Truthful Trillions" that aired on WMRA last September.

When we met to record "Truthful Trillions," Ned told me that his current fascination was with the way the United States goes about getting itself into wars.

Ned has a BA and Masters degree from George Washington University. He's also had forty years of professional experience in planning civil and military airfields, weapons testing facilities, launch facilities and training installations, as well as the evaluation of the operational effects of related programs on civilian communities. Along the way, he developed a technology evaluation and commercialization process for a major IT science firm with 45,000 employees.


Last Friday Ned Studholme sent me the following reaction to President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

I read it with great interest and spent some time thinking over his points, before--duh!--it occurred to me that you  might like to read it as well.

Conundrum
The conundrum evidenced by Mr. Obama’s speech on the occasion of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of the state of American constitutional laws addressing war powers. To hear the President speak, you would think that he controls war powers and is responsible for the initiation of wars.
The trouble is, he’s not, and Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says he’s not. Hence, confusion, conflict and conundrum prevail.
Congress alone holds those powers, and regularly approves or disapproves of war powers the President requests. However, since World War Two, the last time Congress declared war, the power to initiate wars has gradually been assumed by the office of the president in a process driven by the ends dictating the means.
When we are really frightened, or really angry, we just smudge out a few more lines in the Constitution and give the President more war powers. Hence, the final straw: in 2001 the President was given the authority to “use military force against nations, persons or organizations HE determines” were complicit in the events of 9/11. At last, a tear in place of a smudge: a statute has given the president the power to determine who our enemies are and to commit acts of war against them.
Unlike recent presidents, Obama is a constitutional scholar, and he knows that there is a high wind just waiting to blow across the tightrope he has inherited. He knows full well the Congress can’t just change the Constitution with a statute; incrementalism has a way of eroding even stone. Besides it passed the dumb President test at the time. Can you imagine being President and KNOWING that you have the power to pick a nation, person or organization and initiate warfare against them?
Once inheriting this power Obama goes on the world stage, receives a PEACE prize, and explains that he will use his power, if necessary, knowing that he now decides what is necessary. A lesser man would be heady about this kind of power, but Obama is understandably cautious and perplexed.
Someday, an American President will inherit this power eagerly and put it to good use. Finally, we will be a nation of men rather than laws, but we won’t be America.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bill Fawcett at work

Bill Fawcett is the WMRA engineer. Without him, none of us would have this station to listen to.

Bill's life is bit like that of a doctor on call, 24/7/365. If something happens to any of the equipment, including our far-flung transmitters and translators, Bill gets beeped automatically. Then, off he goes in his big, heavy-duty, trail-climbing truck.



Not alone, however. One of his beloved spaniels usually rides shotgun. That's Drake in the picture above. Born and raised in Fawcett-ville.

Bill is also a photographer. When he sent me a couple of photos taken on his latest transmitter runs, I thought you would like to see them as well. To better set the scene, I asked him to write a paragraph or two about them for this blog, and this is what he sent me:
As a child, some of my fondest memories were the 2 or 3 times-a-year visits to the Skyline Drive. Working here in the Shenandoah Valley is so wonderful; I could never consider returning to Northern Virginia.
WMRA has several transmitter sites back in the mountains. Being paid to work at these sites is the icing on the cake. I especially like the winter when the lower angles of the sun and the contrasts of ice and snow make what many consider the bleakest time of the year my most favorite time of the year. There is almost always a camera in the truck. These are a few photos from my journeys this month.



 


Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I love blogging. . .

I just finished doing a piece for NPR's monkey see blog. It's generally on Picador's re-issuance of a whole slew of Tom Wolfe books; specifically on his just re-issued first book, a collection of essays called The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

If you're interested in reading the piece, here's a link to it on NPR's website.

To write about any book, one has to read it first. And although I've read quite a lot of Tom Wolfe over the years, I'd never read this one, so into it I dove. The first essay, "The Marvelous Mouth" (written for Esquire in 1963) is about Muhammad Ali.  Or, more accurately, it's about Tom Wolfe hanging out with Muhammad Ali and reporting the experience in great detail.




Oh golly, did Wolfe's experiential take on Ali take me back in my own life. And seeing as I was writing for a blog and not for a more formal entity, I could begin my own snippet of a piece this way:
Many years ago, say in 1966, I ate dinner in the same Rice University college dining room as Muhammad Ali and fell in love with the man's mouth, his attitude, his playfulness, and his ability to make us lily-white, well-mannered, certifiably intelligent college kids a wee bit nervous. We were of one culture; he was of another. Or rather, we were of one culture; he was Muhammad Ali -- a culture unto himself.
What fun I had writing that! Because I was blogging, I didn't have to not include a personal experience because of journalistic conventions.  And so it was only while reading Tom Wolfe's essays and writing about them for NPR.org that I realized why I resonate so with blogging.

Tom Wolfe, and the other New Journalists, bodaciously, flagrantly insert themselves into their stories. Yet once you stop and think about it, reporters are present in all reporting, whether acknowledged or not. A reporter's personal experiences, prejudices, education inform their use of language, their decision to include some facts and exclude others, their selection of detail.

There's no way to avoid this -- to keep reporters out of their pieces -- because all reportage, no matter how objective its format, is limited in scope, because it's limited in time on the air or space on the page. Yet conventional, formal journalism demands that we disguise our presence as thoroughly as possible. And claim it isn't there.

Tom Wolfe, and the rest of the New Journalists, took a truth out of the closet and flaunted it; boldly recognizing that every report of the news has a human being's point of view embedded in it; that the reporter's education, experience, knowledge and, yes, prejudices cannot help but come into play.

Blogging is New Journalism unchained. It's relaxed, it's personal, it's driven by personal voice; it's honest about being only as honest as the person writing it.

Plus, it's fun,

And so, for this reporter, blogging is the bomb!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hari Sreenivasan and Walter Cronkite . . .

NPR and PBS share some resources and audience. Among them are the Woodroofs.

Night-before-last, Charlie came in to my home office to announce that another chunk of the world, as we knew it, had ended. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer had become the PBS NewsHour. It had also changed formats. And, this new guy was reading the news summary.

"It's all got a much more network news look," said Charlie. Which I don't think he meant as a compliment.

Naturally, I ran to check out the new guy.


Hari Sreenivasan, the new guy, is the pleasant-looking fellow shown left. Until recently, the Bombay-born Mr. Sreenivasan was the Dallas-based correspondent for CBS News. Before that he was with ABC News, as a reporter and anchor. Mr. Sreenivasan does have a network lilt to his reading of the news, but I know from personal experience that it takes a while to pick up the public media cadence.

From what I can find out, the move was made for two reasons: Jim Lehrer's age (75); and a decision to merge the show's broadcast and digital platforms. Mr. Sreenivasan will work cross-platform, reading the broadcast program's nightly news summary while also reporting and anchoring for PBS NewsHour online. Indeed, he closes the on-air NewsHour with a summary of the additional news and features viewers can find on-line.

Which, in my opinion, is very cool.

All news organizations are scrambling to figure out how to use the net to disseminate more detailed information, without diminishing the quality of their reporting; and my initial reaction to the PBS NewsHour is that they've done just that.

As to what gave me my Walter Cronkite flashback. . .

Hari Sreenivasan reads the PBS NewHour news to us in front of a bunch of diligent reporters working away at their computers, giving his stories that fresh-off-the computer feel.


That's just what Walter Cronkite used to do in the early, early days of CBS Evening News. Except that the reporters in the room with him were working away on papers fed into hulking, upright typewriters. At the end of the show, one of those reporters would walk up to Mr. Cronkite, hand him a bunch of papers, and the last shot of the Evening News would be of Mr. Cronkite going to work on his next newscast.

Until the melee, that is.

An old friend of mine was watching the night the reporter didn't simply hand the papers to Walter Cronkite, he threw them at him. At which point the legendary news anchor leaped up and punched the reporter. At which point the screen went black.

The next night Walter Cronkite was back, reading the news from the same room, in front of the same typewriters and desks. There was, however, not another person in sight.

I would give almost anything to have seen Uncle Walter (my daughter's name for Walter Cronkite) throw that punch. My friend did say it was a pretty good one.

Of course, the reporters working away behind Mr. Sreenivasan work in a mostly paper-free world, so he's insulated from the particular insult of thrown papers. Might history repeat itself because of a perfectly timed tweet?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mara Liasson flappette. . .

Thought you all might want to read the communication from NPR central that came to Tom DuVal late yesterday. It's from NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard. 

I would, of course, love to know your reaction to it . . .
Barely a week goes by without my office getting an email or phone call insisting that NPR tell Mara Liasson or Juan Williams that they should not and cannot appear on Fox News.

Now, some NPR fans are defending their right to appear on Fox.

Monday, Politico wrote a story--based on anonymous sources--indicating that NPR in early October had asked Liasson to reconsider her regular guest appearances on Fox's "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday."


Politico's story by Josh Gerstein claims that two top NPR editors asked Liasson to spend 30 days watching Fox and see if she still felt it was a good fit. According to Politico, the "early in October" meeting occurred "about the same time" as the White House was encouraging other news operations not to treat Fox as a peer--although those White House statements came later in the month.

NPR officials said they had received no communication of any kind from anyone at the White House regarding Mara Liasson or Fox news and that, beyond that, NPR policy was not to discuss internal discussions with individual employees.

The story added that Liasson had seen no significant changes and would continue her appearances on Fox.

Despite misinformation on the Internet, NPR has not ordered her to stop.

"I am outraged that NPR would try to control the appearances of Mara Liasson and Juan Williams on Fox News," wrote Anna Moore of Amherst, VA. "You are now (and have been for a long time) guilty of the very thing you are accusing Fox News of--bias. Mara and Juan bring a different perspective to the discussions on Fox News, something all the media should welcome instead of stifle. Leave Mara and Juan alone!"

More phone calls than usual came in as well, all on Liasson. By 11:30 this morning, we had 142 emails, with the majority supporting her right to appear on Fox. Liasson, who joined NPR in 1985 and now is a national correspondent, began appearing on Fox as a "political contributor" in 1997.

"I enjoy listening to Mara Liasson on Special Report. She provides another viewpoint in a non-antagonist manner," wrote Howard Kirsh of East Meadow, NY. "Your attempt to pressure her from appearing on this show is an outrage. Stifling free speech because you do not agree with a network's point of view is dangerous to say the least."

Back in October when the White House-Fox battle began I asked Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news, about this issue. She said then that the Obama administration's actions had absolutely no bearing on NPR's thinking or its relationship with Fox or any news outlet.

Monday, no one at NPR--including Liasson--was talking publicly except to make clear that the White House did not ask NPR to remove Liasson or Williams from Fox.

"NPR has not had any communication of any kind with the White House regarding the status of any of our reporters or their work for anyone outside of NPR," said Dick Meyer, executive editor for news, in an email. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false. Internal discussions about the application of NPR policy to each NPR reporter are just that, internal discussions. That is why we do not comment on them publicly."
It appears ironic that some folks are coming to Liasson's rescue and defending her right to appear on Fox when I have hundreds of previous emails suggesting she shouldn't. But really this is yet another indication of how polarizing Fox News can be. Fox remains a controversial topic for NPR listeners, and thus is one that NPR executives and reporters need to handle carefully--which it appears they have done in this case.
That from NPR's Ombudsman.  Okay, it's your turn. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The retreat of Kilimanjaro snow . . .

It is a glorious mountain rising up out of glorious country.



Jacob Mayiani, currently a student at James Madison University, grew up at  the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. He sent me the following account of what's happening in his homeland of Kenya as, he believes, the combined result of global warming and bad agricultural practice.
I was born and brought up in Loitokitok a small town located in the southwest of Kenya near the border between Kenya and Tanzania. I have watched the shining snow of the world's highest freestanding, snow-covered mountain retreat over the years.
In the last two decades, this region has experienced unusual weather conditions that most can’t explain. I remember when I was about 8 years old, I woke up every morning ready to walk to school (Nkama Primary School) and the first thing I saw as I placed my foot at the doorstep were the clouds as they cleared to reveal a glimpse of the towering peaks of Kilimanjaro, snow-covered and glinting in the sun.
Besides the glacial recession on the peaks of Kilimanjaro, other major ecological changes in the region include drying up of water catchment areas. About 5 streams in Loitokitok area alone, that I personally know by name and that ran down from Kilimanjaro, have dried up over the last 15 years. This has led to people who depended on those streams to think that it’s their Tanzanian neighbors that are over-using the water, leading to increased tension as all scramble for this rare commodity.
Several years ago when weather conditions appeared normal (when local people cultivated and harvested their crops), the change in the glaciers appeared less important to most of them. However, it wasn’t too long until the precipitation pattern took a different course, forcing them to be concerned. The fertile volcanic soil accompanied by high relief rainfall has made the Kilimanjaro environment one of most productive regions in TZ.
The disappearing glaciers of Mt. Kilimanjaro are evident and real and it’s imperative that we talk about this phenomenon as it is damaging the natural world and is of serious concern to people living around it. There is increasing evidence to indicate the grave impact that these changes and conditions will create.
This summer (2009) I went back to Kenya to visit my family. Words fail to explain the situation that I found for my people, both farmers and cattle herders. There was massive crop failure in the region around Mt. Kilimanjaro from the Kenyan side. Herders, who depend primarily on cattle for their food and income, lost up to 90% of their livestock even though they have moved them hundreds of kilometers to seek pasture and water for their cattle. Several studies have indicated that the increase in global temperature is responsible for retreating glaciers of Mt Kilimanjaro.
It’s hard to explain this cause to local people who do not share an understanding of causes of global warming. The irony of this situation is what ecologist refers to as the cost distribution effect: the fact that the people who are mostly affected by global warming and the climate change effect are the ones who least contribute to it.
Another less conspicuous, but significant cause of change of the weather patterns in the region is the increase, frequency and intensity of fires on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. These fires have led to downward shift of the upper forest line by several hundred meters resulting in drier and warmer climate over the last several decades.
While I was growing up, I witnessed multiple times the forest fires on the lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro as a result of human activity, and I remember asking my grandfather repeatedly: "Why is the mountain burning?" The answer never changed: “the honey collectors.” Clearing for agriculture, and forest fires often caused by honey collectors as they smoke bees out of their hives, have greatly reduced the surrounding forests.
The loss of foliage results in less moisture in the atmosphere, leading to reduced cloud cover and precipitation, and increased solar radiation and glacial evaporation. If current climate conditions persist, the legendary glaciers icing the peaks of Africa's highest summit could be gone entirely not too long from now.
It’s about time to look for solutions to reverse the process and save the mystical appearance of Kilimanjaro.

Photographs of Kilimanjaro's disappearing snow.


Jacob says some scientist argue that the fires, and the subsequent defoliation of the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, rival global warming as the strongest human influence on glacial recession. I did some quick web research and couldn't figure this out.

Any scientists out there know anything definitive? Or willing to express an educated opinion?

Monday, December 7, 2009

One issue at a time?????

It's the economy, stupid. . .


It seems that Americans are worried about jobs, money, retirement, and just don't have enough room in the worry section of their brains to grapple with the threat imposed by global warming. Of the twenty big issues facing Americans today, in the worry poll, climate change comes in at number 20.

Okay, I can accept that we, like the poor polar bears in the picture, are, at the moment, focused on our own survival.

What I can't understand is why we've decided to cope with the problem by denying it. Why we're allowing our tired minds to get away with saying this is just too confusing, too overwhelming and so I'm going to just say it isn't real.

I can't understand why we are turning into a nation of science deniers. Why we are listening to people who, for whatever reason, are nay-saying the data of climate change?

Of course, there are those emails to be dealt with, which sullied the aura of scientific-ness around the science of global warming. And which, naturally, have been happily embraced by those nay-sayers. But there are decades of good, unsullied science to back up the assertion that the world is warming up.

The 200 nation conference in Copenhagen begins today. Do any of us really care what comes out of it?

There was a good, concise summation of the situation the conference has to grapple with on Morning Edition last Friday.

Tomorrow, in this blog, a JMU Kenyan student's account of how he's watched the snow cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro shrink during the years of his young life.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Does anyone seriously--SERIOUSLY--think we all can't have fun during WMRA fundraisers???

Well, if so, I'm here to flatly disagree. Yes, we can! says I. 

And that is not just me talking, it's everyone you will hear fundraising on WMRA today; from Terry Ward this early morning right through The Professah and gang late tonight.

Yes, WMRA is faced with $43,000 in funding cuts from state and national grants. And so today, on-air, we're having a one-day fundraiser to raise as much of that as possible. And I'm here to promise that we--and that "we" means all of us in WMRA Land--are going to enjoy ourselves in the process.

As a small part of this fun. . .

I'm sure most of you are familiar with, or have at least heard about, the Four Bitchin' Babes  that gloriously inspired and irreverent quartet of women singer-songwriters, the 1997 iteration of which is pictured below..




Well from noon to 2 today, as part of a day-long's worth of on-air, good humored bonhomie and requests to call 1-800-677-9672-- the Four Bitchin' Babes, will shed two members and, in the spirit of keeping the fun in fundraising, change their name to become Acoustic Café's . . .




Two Pitchin' Babes!

Tina Owens and I will ask for your support while playing the results of our listener poll of favorite Acoustic Café songs. At two, I'll gracefully pass the microphone to Bob Leweke, who will be wearing a blond wig as an honorary male member of the Pitchin' Babes . . .

On a much more serious side, as we thought you might want to know where $43,000 in funding cuts came from, so Tom DuVal supplied these figures:  
State Community Service Grant = $22,000;  
State Radio Reading Service Grant = $3,400; 
Corporation for Public Broadcasting Community Service Grant (federal $)= $10,000+;
JMU = $7,700+
So, I'll end with a plea to join in WMRA's One Day Fun Fundraiser. Give what you can. If you've been listening for a while without supporting, pick up that phone! Call 800-677-9672!

The WMRA Community only exists if we all do just that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In appreciation of other people's words . . .

This post is about two people's words; one a WMRA community member; the other a columnist for The New York Times.


As the Times part of the post is short, I'll start with that. In the interest of continuing a nuanced reflection on President Obama's West Point Speech, I enthusiastically recommend today's column by conservative David Brooks.

It made me think, rather than just react emotionally, to the current situation in Afghanistan.

It ends this way:
The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.
The disadvantage is the tendency to bureaucratize the war. Armed conflict is about morale, motivation, honor, fear and breaking the enemy’s will. The danger is that Obama’s analytic mode will neglect the intangibles that are the essence of the fight. It will fail to inspire and comfort. Soldiers and Marines don’t have the luxury of adopting President Obama’s calibrated stance since they are being asked to potentially sacrifice everything.
Barring a scientific breakthrough, we can’t merge Obama’s analysis with George Bush’s passion. But we should still be glad that he is governing the way he is. I loved covering the Obama campaign. But amid problems like Afghanistan and health care, it simply wouldn’t do to give gauzy speeches about the meaning of the word hope. It is in Obama’s nature to lead a government by symposium. Embrace the complexity. Learn to live with the dispassion.


WMRA community member Eva Robertson is the second person whose words I wish to appreciate. First of all, Eva's had experiences most of us haven't. Before she moved to Harrisonburg, she'd danced in American Ballet Theatre in New York City, under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov, and worked as a lawyer with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

This experiential combination of the creative and the analytical is present, I think, in her writing as well.

I met Eva when she joined the first ever WMRA essay writing workshop. I get the feeling Eva thinks about herself as a beginning writer, because she's only been writing seriously and in public for a couple of years. I, however, do not consider her a beginning writer. In my opinion she puts words down on the page that are well worth reading, that are about subjects well worth pondering.

And in today's case, worth listening to as well, for Eva is the author/voicer of today's "WMRA Civic Soapbox" (links to audio and text). In it she gives us her thoughts on a woman's right to choose and the Stupak amendment. Whether it makes you go yeah! or yuck! I think you'll appreciate the writing for its combination of close reasoning and good writing.

Eva's "Soapbox" is  an essay that didn't start out as an essay, but as a blog post. Eva writes The Dogwood Diarist, a blog on which she posts her thoughts a couple of times a week, writing about whatever strikes her. Her posts are sometimes about politics, sometimes about people she knows, sometimes about her personal life. And, in my opinion, no matter what Eva's subject is, the writing is makes her thoughts worth reading.

Good writing, to me, is one of life's great enhancements. I always have access to my my own thoughts; what I crave is access to other people's, at least when those thoughts are well-considered and well-expressed.  I'm sure most of you already know and read David Brooks. But I figured not all that many of you may know and read The Dogwood Diarist, so I thought I should let you know about it.

One other thing: Every time I insert a link into this blog that takes you instantly to another person's writing that I think you might find worth reading, I give a silent hooray! for the internet. I do celebrate the access it gives us all to other people's words.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A response. . .

Chris Edwards is a fine writer, who's reported around these parts for years. She sent me this response to yesterday's post, "Obama's West Point Speech," and I thought, for the good of our ongoing conversation here in WMRA Land,  it was worth a posting unto itself.
I noticed how young those faces in the audience at West Point looked. And how President Obama has gotten thinner since last winter, and acquired gray hairs. 

As a 95 percent pacifist, I danced on tables on election night ‘08, despite remaining skeptical about his stand on Afghanistan (which by the way seems to have remained consistent).

Didn’t most of the 9-11 attackers come from Saudi Arabia, and do their covert scheming in the USA & Europe? Why is Afghanistan so crucial? I’m still puzzled, and inadequately informed, tonight, after listening to Ambassador Susan Rice take tough questions from Rachel Maddow. 

Could there be gains worth more of our soldiers dying? More civilians? Afghan children?

Obama’s speech, though, dramatically contrasted with most presidents’ war speeches; he seemed to level with us about selecting the most pragmatic from among a menu of no really good choices. No rah-rahs (as hawks lament). I came away convinced he has studied the issue intently, solicited advice from many experts (some no doubt self-interested), and become convinced that it would jeopardize our safety not to push on in Afghanistan. 

Maybe he’s right, I thought.

Yet each friend and relative I happened to discuss the issue with or see emails from today calls the move a disaster. They say Obama has sold out. Some say he has become identical to Bush (a clueless assessment that calls to mind the Naderites of 2000 and their “Gush vs. Bore” blasts, and where that got us). A knowledgeable friend predicts certain defeat for Obama in 2012.   


If that’s right, then, given today’s political climate, the Mayan forecast about the world ending in 2012 may take on a chilling reality, and peace won’t be part of it.

There is a hint of gloating in these forecasts from fellow-progressives. Of course, some seem to thrive on being marginalized and awaiting doom. It could be addictive, but I don’t have room for it. I have grandkids (and the oldest has been drifting since finishing high school this spring. He's thought of enlisting. The training, discipline, etc. might be good for him, but combat wouldn't). 


I want to mostly avoid discussing the issue. People around me are mad; I’m just sad.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Obama's West Point Speech"



That's what PBS News Hour host Jim Lehrer said history will call last night's presidential address. He was talking, post-speech, with his regular dueling pundits, liberal Mark Shields and conservative David Brooks, two people whose usually diverse reactions and opinions I value highly.

Both men are quick-witted, terribly smart, informed, thoughtful, non-reactive, take history more seriously then themselves, and both have fines senses of humor. And yet last night, both Mr. Shields and Mr. Brooks, usually fast on their verbal feet, seemed to me to want time to ponder what our President had said before they offered their full analysis of it.

So did I.

Afghanistan is Afghanistan is Afghanistan; history's savagely recurring problem.

This morning I saw in the NY Times that Republicans had reacted with cautious support to Obama's address while Democrats remained skeptical. The Times editorial asked how are we going to pay for what we are about to do.

One thing I did react purely positively to was Obama's closing line in which he channeled Abraham Lincoln's 1860 Cooper Union address--made before Lincoln was even his party's presidential nominee. Lincoln, talking about slavery, said:
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
 President Obama ended last night's speech  this way:
America - we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.
I did note President Obama's concise, vivid, clear use of the English language; his complete refusal to rah! rah! war; his lack of need to reduce this deplorable situation to good guys vs. bad guys.

This morning, I'm still figuring out my own reaction to the speech. What about you? Did you listen/watch/read the speech. If so, I do especially today invite you to post your reaction to last night's speech or to e-mail me if that's easier and I'll do the posting.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An optimistic opening . . .

Kyle Saxton is a senior at Harrisonburg High School who is serious about his art. So serious that this Saturday he's heading up to Washington to meet with colleges on a National Portfolio Day event at Corcoran College of Art & Design.



The photograph of Kyle Saxton shown above was taken at last night's opening of the Harrisonburg High School/ Eastern Mennonite High School art show at the WMRA studios. His painting/collage is a visual representation of Kyle's reaction to studying the Civil War in his AP History Class. In it is a partial text of Frederic Douglass' "The Constitutionality of Slavery," a piece of a Civil War map, a circle, some lines. There are also some figures and a shadowy face that is obviously experiencing much pain and confusion. The piece is called "Civil."

Kyle Saxton is a "special" art student at HHS, meaning he's taken all the formal art classes the school offers, but his teachers, Kelley Shradly-Horst and Jauan Brooks, keep on teaching him. In my opinion, his teachers are to be commended.

Ashton Pease, a senior at Eastern Mennonite High School, was there with friends to take a look at his first-ever, self-developed, analogue photograph. It shows a sharply focused Teddy Bear on a wall in front of a soft-focused house.

Ashton says his father takes a lot of digital photographs of his sister, who plays several sports, so he already knew how to work in digital. Ashton says he took the EMHS class because he wanted to learn the process of working with film, and that he's found that experience "awesome." So awesome in fact, that it's made him wish he could have his own darkroom.

Harrisonburg High School first year Samantha Heitsch's quite wondrous turtle was the result of an assignment: Pick an image and draw it using dots. She says it taught her a lot about creating visual detail on the page. And, she says, she likes her turtle. "It's one of the better things I've done."

Her father, Paul, was obviously proud. "She knocks me out," he says. "Since she was little, she's had this amazing gift for drawing. She carries whole pictures in her head."

To me, last night's opening was truly, truly full of promise for the future. Not only do young people still have the urge to create; our schools still provide them with the necessary instruction, time and materials to stimulate that urge. Much credit for the show goes to Eastern Mennonite High School's Barbara Gautcher, and Kelley Shradly-Horst and Jauan Brooks at Harrisonburg High School.

And hooray for Harrisonburg's Daily News Record. City Editor Rob Longley thought a high school art opening was important enough to send reporter Jeremy Hunt (pictured right, on the left, talking with Jauan Brooks) to do a story on these young artists and their young art. And their teachers. Jeremy spent real time at the opening, looking at the pieces, talking to people, really working at finding the story. This, even though he told me he's more at home reporting hard news.

So what's the difference? In talking with Jeremy, it seemed to me that we two reporters thought of hard news as writing dispassionately about what happens, while features explore why what happens happens as it does.

There was quite a big crowd at last night's opening. And it was wonderful to have it. I do hope you know that our WMRA studios are your WMRA studios--the doors at 983 Reservoir Street are open 9-5, Monday through Friday. Come by anytime. If we're not on deadline, we who work there are always happy to stop and chat with our fellow WMRAers.

The HHS and EMHS art show hangs on our walls through February.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The joys of 983 Reservoir Street!

When I came to WMRA, nigh on to ten years ago (and who knew I'd be anywhere for ten years), we were officed in a hole. A beloved hole, but a hole nonetheless.

Management had windows; the rest of us were encased in cement blocks. I, personally, was housed in the satellite room, along with the equipment that captured our national programming and put it on the air. This equipment also regularly hummed, beeped, spoke (yes, spoke), and needed very cold temperatures. Needless to say, in the battle for temperature control of our shared space, the equipment won. I worked in my coat.

Four years ago we moved to 983 Reservoir Street, and, while already tremendously happy with my job, I became tremendously happy with my office. It is the one with all the clutter, and with a window that looks out on a scrub of woods in which live birds, squirrels, an obese groundhog, and foxes. My window faces north, making it the perfect light for African violets. And, best of all, it lets in natural light, which is so good for the soul.

983 Reservoir Street is a grand place to hang out and make radio. And it's also a very welcoming space, a perfect community center for the WMRA community of listeners. Its arrangement was configured (mostly by our engineer, Bill Fawcett) so that staff offices ring a kind of big square atrium-like central area that contains two on-air studios, a talk-show studio, and a couple of production studios.

This means we also have a big square of wide, white-walled hall.

A couple of years ago, All Things Considered host Terry Ward and artist Mia LaBerge got the brilliant idea to turn that hall into a gallery. They've just hung what I consider to be our most hopeful show, for it consists of the creations of students at Harrisonburg High School and Eastern Mennonite School.




I look at the work of these teenagers and somehow feel that this country will be alright; that our culture will not be engulfed by ignorance, anger, cynicism, and video-game addiction.

The opening is tonight, 5-7; and, yes, there will be food and music. I will be there interviewing students for this blog, and I want to underline what we've been saying on the air: You are most emphatically invited.

Hopeful art, good snacks and live music--what more could one want?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Neighbors

We did some modest traveling to reach our family celebration of Thanksgiving. I enjoyed myself there almost as much as I enjoyed getting home again.

Home to me is marked by a constellation of house, yard, cat and neighbors.

In my opinion, neighbors are underrated these days as an enrichment of our lives. So, in honor of all my neighbors, current, past and future, today I'm posting an essay I wrote about five years ago. It celebrates the first neighbors we got to know when Charlie and I moved to the Valley.



It's called "The Sisters."
The sisters were way up in their eighties if they were a day. During the two years I lived one farm down from them, I passed Marjory and Elizabeth most mornings on my way to work—Marjory, driving the tractor; Elizabeth, riding shotgun—heading out to tend the sheep, or plow a field, or mend a fence.

I’ve always been drawn to happy, unconventional, un-helpless people. A month after becoming their neighbor, I told the sisters I was a journalist and asked if I could record their story. Elizabeth is deaf, so Marjory shouts, and she shouted at me they'd have to think about that.
Six weeks later, there was a fortissimo message on my answering machine: "This is Margery. If Martha still wants to hear our story, tell her to come on."

Margery wasn't a particularly good storyteller—she's not at all interested in the past—perhaps the only eighty-year-old I’ve ever met who isn’t. "The past is over!” she bellowed into my microphone. "Who wants to think about the past?"
But she did play an old recording of her and Elizabeth singing hymns, and she showed me a lot of old photographs—two dark-haired sisters smiling in pretty hats and flowery frocks, Elizabeth drop-dead gorgeous, Margery handsome and obviously nobody's fool.
It struck me that these were the photographs of women who could have gone anywhere, done anything that women were allowed to do in the mid-part of the last century; yet here they were, and here they obviously wanted to be. Even when talking into a microphone, they felt no need to explain or justify their odd course to the rest of us.

"Did you ever think about marrying?” I asked. They were—after all—of a generation of women that usually did.

Margery hooted. "Awe, fellows asked us, but we didn't pay ’em no mind. One came around a couple of years ago crying how his girlfriend had died, and he was all alone and wouldn't one of us marry him. Elizabeth told him to get a dog.”

I’ve moved a lot and had a lot of neighbors. Most of them have come and gone without leaving anything permanently useful inside me. But my life is richer and steadier for having lived for a while one farm over from Marjory and Elizabeth. I simply haven’t met many other women—many people, really—who are living as they truly wish to, without worrying at all about the sideways glances of the rest of us.

The only bumper sticker I’ve ever put on a vehicle is one my daughter, Lizzie, sent me years before I met the sisters. It read “Uppity Women Unite,” and when I slapped it on my truck’s bumper, I thought, “There! That’s who I am!”

After meeting Marjory and Elizabeth, however, I realized I am a mere wannabe in the uppity woman department. That bumper sticker would have really belonged on their tractor.